For about one year now, I’ve had a sticky note affixed to the upper shelf on my desk. I wrote it myself, but it’s a quote. Mid-November last year, we had to put my dog Oscar down. Prior to that, one of my favorite bands, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds put out one of the most beautiful and profoundly sad albums about loss I’d ever heard in my life, “Ghosteen.” The album resonated with me leading up to Oscar’s death, but even more so after. On the second to last track, a spoken-word piece titled “Fireflies,” Cave utters the words, “There is no order here, and there is no middle ground. Nothing can be predicted, and nothing can be planned.” Something about that line stopped me in my tracks, and before I even fully grasped what it could mean, I had already written out the quote and stuck it to my desk.
I live by that now. It’s a sobering turn of phrase – sobering, a funny word considering how fleeting sobriety can be for me. There really is no order, there really is no middle ground. It became clearer and clearer that though we posture and arrange and organize and plan, we’re ultimately in control of nothing. Everything is subject to change at the drop of a hat. You may have planned a beautiful fall Saturday with a loved one, but that plan changes the second someone hits your car, or you break an ankle on the way to get the mail. It happens, anything can happen.
And while at times Nick Cave’s words can prove to be a grim mantra, ultimately, I find comfort in the uncertainty of our existence. Not only do I embrace the fact that there is no order and nothing can be predicted with any certainty, but I also apply this lack of control to my own creative output and even more fundamentally in regards to how I conduct myself. As I’ve said before, I don’t enjoy people whose entire personality is a construction. I much prefer natural folk who just are who they are, no thought required. That there isn’t any order, that’s the key. Why construct a version of yourself to appeal to anyone? There’re no rules. The real “you” is so much better than the one you think we all like. Nobody likes a fraud, at least not once they’re found out.
But this unpredictability, I’ve tried to work it into every fiber of my being. As much as I possibly can, I do things “off the cuff.” I go into most creative endeavors with little to no planning. Sometimes, prep is necessary, and I will do that – I’m not a complete maniac. But, when it comes to writing, music, interviewing, art, or simple conversation, I don’t like to plan ahead. It ruins the spontaneity. Perhaps my love for the first thing that comes out – be it music, writing, or a phrase – is part of the reason why I had to leave the band. You never get that moment back, the first attempt at something. After the first attempt, you’ve got an idea and you’ll likely shape it into something – that’s fine, and I do that too. But, it’s when you simply open a vein and let the ideas flow without guidance that you find raw inspiration.
Planning ruins things, it’s as simple as that. There is a maximum amount of thought and consideration that you can give some matters, and anything beyond that is overthinking. Talk without planning, write without planning – it’s freeing. I make music, and when I do, I set up my equipment and hit record with no particular idea in mind. If I’m recording multiple tracks, I allow only one pass at each instrument. Anything beyond that smothers the flames of inspiration and creates something contrived.
The same goes for speaking. There are few things more unbearable than speaking with someone so rehearsed and so full of themselves that everything feels like an act, a put-on. Because of my heightened sense of awareness when it comes to whether or not people are genuine, it makes it difficult to meet people or care. When I can tell someone is rehearsed, their personality an avatar, I check out. But, it’s when I meet people so confidently strange, so removed from trends, so unpolished and inspired, that’s when my eyes light up. Real experience lies in doing something, not planning it. The things you’ll remember forever happened by chance.
“There is no order here, and there is no middle ground. Nothing can be predicted, and nothing can be planned.”