Being Humble i.e. Productive

Being humble
i.e. productive
—From “The Blue Stairs” by Barbara Guest

When I first read this line I yell-thought YES! JUST DO YOUR WORK! Humility will happen as you’re too busy creating to worry about it. Head down at the desk or studio or wherever you do your thing.

But where is the humility in creating alone or with our artist friends?

I feel best when I’m deep into a couple of projects and they’re moving along one way or another (I had written “going well” and that felt less humble).

What if humility is the productivity?

Maybe it’s the results of being humble that equals productivity—the drive we need to create.

Humility is, at its core, peace. Much of this so-called productivity surrounding us just a mess of capitalism. Buy this one more thing and you’ll get so much done! Productive—limitlessly?

At the end of “The Blue Stairs” there’s a note: “The Modern Museum in Amsterdam has blue stairs.”

Being surrounded by incredible art can feel pretty fucking humbling.

We can even feel like we’re accomplishing a lot by just looking at this art. By participating in its greatness, by just being near it.

I remember going to The Centre Pompidou in Paris on a whim. After a day of biking around eating the best macarons in the city we found ourselves staring at this giant museum across its long, open, paved square. I remember saying to my friends, “I’m going in there if y’all want to come.”

My wife joined and we were floored for the 2-3 hours we spent walking around.

We felt humbled by all the great art (though going to The Centre Pompidou and writing about it can definitely feel like a brag and not super humble).

Is participating in art is essential to humility as artists?

It’s tricky to think of making your art as somehow less-than-humble. I write endlessly about how important it is for you to do you. That you doing you rubs off on me. That’s it’s your only true choice for progress—your gift to this lifetime. Your work is important and needed and it ripples out.

This way of interpreting Barbara Guest’s line might look like making our art and doing us—realizing it’s for the better of the crew at-large. More than just for us in our studios, or for money, or both. Searching for humility in our space of feeling the joy of working and completed work.

“Being humble
i.e. productive”


Not journaling

I joined an online Q&A with the author Nadia Owosu for her new book Aftershocks a few months ago. It was one of those events where you wonder how there aren’t more folks there, like when I saw Edan and Justin from Chances with Wolves DJ in Manhattan and I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a line around the block. Or when I chaperoned a coworker’s kid to see his fav DJ, Deadmau5, and he assumed everyone on the train was probably going to the show too.

I asked in the chat if Nadia felt like she was journaling while documenting the breakdown/breakthrough she weaves throughout the book, or if she had a sense she was onto something more. She very confidently responded that she considered it research. She was documenting was happening to her. All this long before realizing it would turn into a book one day.

She distanced herself from the word journaling and maybe that’s what’s important. Owning her stuff as something deeper, even if it’s just a name.

Patrick Rhone shares a metaphor with folks who write online to get them thinking about their work in a new way. He asks us to imagine what is it like to drink a Coke from a wine glass. The same taste in a different package. He wants us to look at our writing online or blogging as something more. As essays written online. Shed the idea of a ‘blog’ for a sec and look at what your writing looks like in this different container.

In Nadia’s case, the container of a journal for sure didn’t fit the depth of what she was documenting and creating.

Later in the interview, she shared that she had no intention to write this book until her professor noticed some of her research. They immediately asked her to scrap what she was working on and dive into this!

I think about how we can learn from Nadia and own our work a bit more too.

Humility is most lovely. But what about when it’s used to a level of self-deprecation? Such a balance for us as the speaker and the listener in these conversations with our art.

Once my friend Captain told me about how he just started talking about his art more. When people ask what he’s been up to, instead of saying, “chilling,” he pulls out his phone and shares a couple of examples of new work. He’s able to do this—and even tell me about doing it—in a way that doesn’t feel braggy at all. It feels natural and right.

In my notes for this essay, I wrote—ex. friends being overly humble. why not be overly confident too?

Guess that’s why Edan named himself “The Humble Magnificent.”

Confident & open love.


PS: Speaking of humble, confident, and inspiring humans—have you heard my interview with Nisey Shanks? 💜