On disclosures, Instagram photos of your kids, and the “artist as genius” myth

austinkleon:

“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.”
—Charlie Chaplin, Limelight

My wife and I have been talking so much lately about “authenticity” and “honesty” online — this insane idea that you can really tell who or what someone is and how they are doing just by what they show you of themselves on the internet. That social media is somehow a more “authentic,” or more “human” way of presenting yourself, warts and all, to the world. (As if it weren’t, in fact, making it easier to invent more perfect, alter egos — as if we aren’t all carefully selecting and choosing the bits and pieces of our life to show each other — and as if, “IRL,” we didn’t already choose what bits and pieces to show our friends when they came over to dinner [“Sweep that mess into the closet! Do the dishes! Put away the embarrassing records!”]) And how, inevitably, you start measuring your own life against what you see of the lives of others. (cf. “Keeping Up With The Joneses” and “The Referendum” and my friend Paige’s “Why Facebook Makes Us Miserable.”)

This used to happen to me with other artist friends of mine who I follow online, but actually, it was a positive thing. I would see that so-and-so had been on a drawing tear, posting tons of really interesting drawings, and some of them would be really good, and it would get me wanting to draw. Only later, when talking to them in person, would it turn out that they were just as lazy and uninspired sometimes as I was. The myth contained in the images, in a way, did me good, because it made me push myself. But I wondered, for other aspiring artists who aren’t as driven or delusional as me, if the opposite wouldn’t be true, and they would feel discouraged.

This quandery got ratcheted up a bit more after our son was born. I started thinking about how fundamentally unprepared I was for the experience of caring for a newborn. It was simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. (As I like to say, even the best baby in the world can still be a complete fucking monster.) I remembered how people told me it was tough, but nobody told me how fucking distressed and insane sleep deprivation would make me, how absolutely full of despair I would feel for that first month, how it would dredge up feelings I hadn’t felt in years, etc.

And yet, there I was, feeling pretty fucking dark, Instagramming perfect photos of my cute kid sleeping, my wife looking like an angel, etc. And there were my friends doing the same, even though I knew, after a drink at the bar, their struggles were mostly the same as mine.

I was talking about this with my friend Steven, and I suggested that there should be a kind of “shadow gallery” on Instagram — a place where you post pictures of your kid at his worst. He said I absolutely had to do this. (He had a friend whose first move after giving birth was to call all of her girlfriends who were moms and swear them out for not being honest with her.)

And then, of course, I thought of a “shadow gallery” for artists — places where they post their work at their worst, where they acknowledge, that they are, in fact, not natural-born geniuses. A blank Microsoft Word screen. A terrible, sloppy drawing. Their Google search histories…

(You’d think someplace like Dribbble would accomplish this — but every work-in-progress I’ve ever seen a designer post there has been borderline perfect. Things organized neatly…)

Then last night my wife sent me this post my a mommyblogger, acknowledging that the reason she seemed so productive is that she has a nanny.

Why are we, as women, so reluctant to talk about the people we hire to help us so that we can do what we do? What are we afraid of? People thinking we CAN’T do it all?

Well, duh.

We fucking can’t.

So what’s this big secret we’re trying to keep and who do we think we’re fooling?

And what is it doing to people who read our blogs and books and pin our how-tos and think that all of these projects are being finished while children sit quietly on the sidelines with their hands in their laps.

What is it doing to you?

We write disclosure copy on posts that are sponsored, giveaways that are donated. We are contractually obligated to label and link but where is the disclosure copy stating how we work from home with small children? How we shoot videos and meet deadlines and go to meetings and travel around the country attending conventions and conferences.

We have help, that’s how!

People have asked me, over the years, how I’m able to do so much. (My first thought is always, “So much? Boy, do I have you fooled.”) Now, I’m thinking of this idea of an Artist’s Disclosure. (Brian Eno had one in his Diary: “one of the reasons I am capable of running three careers in parallel is because I married my manager.”) I’m thinking about what my disclosure might look like, and whether I have the guts to share it, and whether it’d really do anyone any good, including me.

Reminds me: one hiker I met on the Appalachian Trail made sure to take pictures of himself during the worst days on the trail. Tired, cold, rain-soaked, heat exhaustion, dehydrated, muddy, cranky, whatever. It’s a way to remind yourself of the price of admission, and a reminder that you did, in fact, keep doing this cool thing despite the occasional suckiness.

On disclosures, Instagram photos of your kids, and the “artist as genius” myth

The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death | OutsideOnline.com

No one can yet predict exactly how quickly and in whom hypothermia will strike–and whether it will kill when it does. The cold remains a mystery, more prone to fell men than women, more lethal to the thin and well muscled than to those with avoirdupois, and least forgiving to the arrogant and the unaware.

In other words, I’m doomed. I remember reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire and watching the short film adaptation in middle school. Love it. Keep your gloves on, folks.

The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death | OutsideOnline.com

Gannet & The Grand: A Wyoming Whirlwind Tour | The Ultimate Direction Buzz

On speed in the outdoors (after summiting Gannett Peak in 9 hours):

I used to be of the opinion that speed isn’t important. And, in an absolute sense, I don’t think it is. In a relative sense, however, I think that one’s speed does matter. This is because–relative to one’s innate ability–striving to operate as close to that ability as possible requires a level of commitment to the craft and presence in the moment that I have yet to achieve by other means. For instance, because I wanted to move quickly when climbing Gannet (or any mountain), I made a point to study the map carefully, read other trip reports, solicit advice from friends who had already made the outing. Not to mention spending countless hours in the mountains building skill and fitness (and having fun!). Without the impetus of speed I would’ve undoubtedly taken a more lackadaisical approach that likely would’ve left me irresponsibly underprepared, with less respect for the mountain, and, ultimately, less connected to both the landscape and the community of enthusiasts who venture into this gem of a mountain range. Going fast requires–above all else–paying attention, and achieving that fleeting measure of grace where my effort and abilities are meshed perfectly with the challenge is a huge motivating factor in what I do. I find that this practice of paying attention is one of the more instructive and valuable takeaways that a trip to the mountains offers me. Plus, I’m just really inspired by wild landscapes.

Gannet & The Grand: A Wyoming Whirlwind Tour | The Ultimate Direction Buzz

Hiking Laugavegur

Wow. Unearthed this 3.5-year-old draft from the dusty back hallways of my computer. Read on for one of the best hikes of my entire life…—

In mid-September [of 2008], just slightly off-season, I spent a couple days hiking Laugavegurinn (translates something like “the warm pools way” or “the hot springs route”) in south-central Iceland. I started at Landmannalaugar and hiked south to Þórsmörk. Immensely helpful in planning my hike, which I sandwiched between some tourist days, were Andrew Skurka’s Iceland page, Jonathan Ley’s Iceland photos and advice, and Ferðafélag Íslands, a group that maintains some of the very nice huts along the way.

The weather wasn’t very extreme, but it did change frequently, like every half-hour or so. Temperatures were mostly in the mid-40s to high 50s F (5-10C). Low-hanging clouds mostly–just a few hours of genuine, full sunshine. No terrible rainstorms, but the occasional rain changed to sun changed to mist change to light rain change to fog, etc. Heavy winds were common, as there was no tree cover until the last 30 minutes of my hike.

I’ve got the full set of photos on the Laugavegur available on Flickr, but here are some highlights:

First morning out, looking back at the hut at Landmannalaugar:
Landmannalaugar valley

A short walk over a lava field and into the hills beyond:
First morning of hiking

Unfortunately fog and high winds were the norm on the way to Hrafntinnusker, where the trail skirts a volcanic crater at about 3000 feet. This is where I had repeated moments of being lost and found, lost and found. And when I stopped to take a break with no shelter from the wind, my hands froze. Lesson learned:
Limited visibility

I made it over the crest of the volcano and back down, then stopped and warmed up at Höskuldsskáli hut for an hour or so. The old season’s snow had melted, and the new snow hadn’t yet arrived. So the next stretch was up and down and up and down a series of small creek valleys.
Little waterfalls

Here’s a look back where I came from. The hut is a speck about 1/3 of the way in from the right edge of the image:
Rhyolite hills

Then uphill again, where thankfully the weather was fair enough to see those famous rhyolite hills:
The money shot

Next was a steep drop down to Álftavatn, where I spent the night:
End of the first day

The second morning featured several very cold river crossings. Bláfjallakvísl was easily the widest, deepest and coldest I’ve ever crossed on foot. Just over knee-deep at the worst, and really swift. NOT fun. VERY stressful. I had to run for about 10 minutes afterward to warm my frozen legs again.
Bláfjallakvísl

I was glad that the Nyrðri Emstruá had a bridge!
Nyrðri Emstruá

The most of the rest of the day was mostly flat, going through some very cool volcanic wastelands. Only a few little plants could eke out a living there:
A little life

I finished the second day in the early afternoon at Emstrur/Botnar hut, so I spent a few hours trail running and exploring the surroundings, like the Markarfljótsgljúfur. The Markar river canyon is about 500 feet/180m at the deepest point.
Farewell to Markarfljótsgljúfur

The third day was the warmest and best weather, the only day I got to wear shorts. The trail snaked down to cross the river at the bottom of the Syðri-Emstruá canyon (Entujökull glacier in the background), then bent back to head towards the right side of this photo:
Syðri-Emstruá canyon

A walk in the lovely Sandar, a glacial wash, and then up the basalt cliffs in the distance:
Short walk in Sandar

Up and over the basalt cliffs, it goes on to the Almenningar plateau:
Doing what I do

One last break to reflect on the trip before the last major river crossing…
Thinking it over

…and then into the more lush environs of Þórsmörk Reserve:
Lush

And lastly, I took a quick jaunt up Valahnúkur while waiting for the bus back to Reykjavik.
On Valahnúkur

I highly recommend this trail if you happen to be nearby. I’d gladly do it again.

The Zanskar Trek, I: Darcha to Padum

I just finished reading Chris Willett’s journals from the Indian Himalaya that I tumbled a while ago.

The purity of the alpine is not a reassuring quality. It is a fearful one, one that does not invite a person to linger or lounge. It is an abode that is best visited and not one to be domesticated, the living room of everything that is not the village, everything that is outside the bounds of settled, civil life.

But it is a place that one calls to some of us, bringing us to the hostile place to breathe the air and feel the sterility. It is a place, like the floor of Death Valley or, presumably, the ice floes of the Antarctic, that amplifies human existence. One does not feel insignificant in such places. Rather, one feels a sense of importance for no other reason that being alive.

It is not an importance born and cultivated to be ego satisfying or one that inspires arrogance. No, it is a sense that to be alive is an important quality and that to be alive is better than to be dead. Barren, lifeless places teach us this better than anything written, drawn, or recorded. And, besides, the alpine is a beautiful place to visit in fine weather.

The Zanskar Trek, I: Darcha to Padum

Trekking in the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Chris Willett’s journals from a July-August trip to Ladakh and Zanskar, India. I still agree with my claim that he has pretty much the best hiking journal on the internet when you consider the double-whammy of writing and photography. Usually pretty unvarnished. Sometimes travel is damn hard.

It was here that Tibetans fled when the Chinese liberated their country, and it was here that I was told Tibetan culture was still intact. Desert peaks leading to handing glaciers soared above irrigated valleys, with monasteries carved into the sides of mountains and an outdoor paradise, this was the objective for the summer. But as always seems to happen, my time was more an experience within myself, an experience that helped to bring clarity to my own life at a time of transition. I will not be back.