I know this is contra-style to how one usually reads, but I'd like you to close your eyes for a moment. Sit back in your chair, take a couple deep breaths, perhaps turn on a bit of Andrew Bird. Now imagine all of the things happening in your life in this moment; be deeply present in all of the brilliant, painful, absurd, monotonous, exciting things in your life. Now imagine a blank space, and write out all of those things onto that space. Fold it up, as tight as you can, and imagine throwing it out into the universe, into the black space between bright faraway stars and quiet planets.
Go ahead, try it.
I did this for the first time a little while ago, and the most prevalent aspect of how I was feeling was that the noise had all but disappeared. Noise is a chaotic assemblance of individual sounds, selfishly existing all at once for their own benefit. It's dissonant, and all but impossible to follow, like leaves blowing around a parking lot.
The difference between noise and melody is that while noise is large in density, melody is touched with beauty in moderation and coherence. The two play onto one another, as each component of melody builds off the next in sacrifice to the collective direction. Melody is sweet in a world pushing out the busy instead of the walks; and filling calendars, drawers and great yellow storage facilities more fully than it does time in solitude, or a gas tank for a road trip.
In our sort of world, melody dances onto the floor with minimalism, ushering us into a tall cathedral of quiet, undisturbed space. In being minimal, our life's song begins to subside down from the sound of a broken engine to the soft hum of a Musk-mobile. The minimal is the benefited, in that perspective becomes more translucent than it does opaque.
I had a day off a little while back, and so I decided to walk over to the Tate Museum to look at an exhibition by Agnes Martin, who was a minimalist Canadian artist. I walked up a few floors, into a room that had several of her pieces up on a wall. I sat down on a small bench that was set horizontally towards the wall and began to look at them.
One that I noticed had only two tones - a light gray and white - set intermittently in lines going horizontally, like the bench, down the canvas. It was her piece, Untitled #5 (1991). I remember reading one Cereal Magazine's prints that had featured Martin, and in it, Charlie Lee-Potter writes that:
In order to remove the noise from her life, Agnes chose to remove the things that weren't necessary for her to live out her story. I just had the privilege to attend Storyline Conference, which was started by Donald Miller. Don spoke about our stories being the choices we make in life, and how we make decisions in our progression as individuals and part of a larger community.
One thing that he expressed, which I will never forget, is that it's acceptable, even sometimes significant to choose to not do things or to leave things behind that don't play into our stories. That means that all things in life - all of the things you may have imagined when you started reading this - are things that either necessitate or depreciate into your story.
In 2008, Tina Roth-Eisenberg began a Friday morning breakfast lecture called Creative Mornings. She hoped that it would be a place in which the creative community could share and discuss their new and exciting work, and now it's in over one hundred cities.
They happen to have a podcast, on which Anthony Casalena was just featured in his talk in June of 2014 in the New York chapter. He's the creator of Squarespace, which is coincidentally what this website is built with, and his talk was on minimalism. He mentioned a potentially successful program that he'd developed named Anchor, which was going to be used for team collaboration. But eventually, he realized that he wasn't able to devote himself fully to both projects, Anchor and Squarespace. Anthony decided one day to file it all away, and shut down the project. He said, "My creative energy could really only go into one project."
And there, then, the possibility of that thing happening disappeared. Sometime thereafter, Squarepace developed into a company that's worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He said, "Why doesn't everyone do this? Why doesn't everyone reduce things to their essence? Because it's really, really hard."
What would it look like to leave the things behind, like Agnes and Anthony did, that aren't part of your oeuvre? The effect would be like curtains being drawn back, one after another, until the curated performance of your life had the perspective and space in which it was able to play out. What if, in another sense, you were the one observing all of this happen in a way where you're swept up, like a current does with a grain of sand, and carried into a deep blue ocean of possibility? All that you can do is step back, and eliminate the obstacles so that something brilliant might happen.
I've tried this, and it's become contagious. Things that previously required time are no longer around; relationships, opportunities, plans and otherwise have either left and disappeared unexpectedly or have softly fallen through the cracks. That concentration of absence left not a void, but a space that has always been peaceful but was absent previously in the midst of a plethora of other things being present. As with most things, the principle applies to the ordinary, so my diet, sleeping and exercise schedule have changed, social media rarely finds itself on my phone, and I've found more time to walk into the things I've felt called to.
A man once told me that to balance life, I should evaluate my roles and goals. It's a similar principle to what Don and others were talking about at Storyline; who am I, and what do I do? Once that's answered, relationships begin to blossom, jobs become more enjoyable, there's more time to think, read, laugh uncontrollably, and to enjoy deeply. All of these things happen because purpose is introduced, and noise is eliminated. The melody enters as the chaos subsides.
A book mentioned by both Don and Anthony is Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. Over the course of thirty-four years, Booker reduced every plot in any narrative, be it in a film, book or otherwise, to seven basic plots. Don and Anthony both expressed the same: that in order to refine, it took a great long while. It's never finished, I think, because to minimalize is to be sanctified. That story comes to an end, or to a new beginning when "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
An the pilgrim goes on, in sorrow, yet ever joyful.
Embrace your melody, and make choices to escape the noise. Rest deeper still, and embrace the freedom of living life with purpose, joy and great peace.
I'll leave with one of the scripts that Shia LaBeouf read in his Campaign Book #Introductions project, which he started with two other artists (Rönkkö & Turner) that he did with Central Saint Martins for the graduating class of the Fine Art BA, which was organized and directed by a good friend of mine. Check their website out here.
"We're surrounded by forms. Yet it's still so elusive, right? I mean sometimes it feels like, like we fill that void between us with something that grows slowly, like it's overtaking us or something. Like the way we speak, what we do and where we put stuff around us, or the stances we inhabit or the faces we make or our body parts, you know? The food we eat, or whatever. Sometimes, it gets heavier, you know? Or more light. But it's like all the distinctions are starting to melt away. The forms, the resemblances, the symmetries, the repetitions, the patterns; the patterns that we know we've always had, that have always been there. And we're not sure why. And now, the outside looks more and more like the images that were contained in us since the beginning."