Monday, January 5, 2015


The metaphor of driving is easy to elaborate because the action is so ubiquitous in modern life. It doesn’t have to have a destination. When someone is said to have “drive” it generally connects to ambition as a quality, and that just tops the stack of less conscious urgencies. We stay on the roads we’ve traveled unless something draws us elsewhere. Since “being driven” cedes the power to the one who is doing the driving the important question is who or what gets to choose the direction? We may think we’re in charge when we are simply repeating a pattern conditioned from before we had memory. In regard to personal motivation, where does it shade into “overdrive” and is that a refinement of conditioned reactions? As a person who works all the time at projects with no deadline and that no one demands, the question of “why” is a frequent visitor. Examining my need to work
doesn’t change it, never seems to get close to the core of the drive to write and draw. They are the vehicle that takes me to see what I’m trying to see.

Shifting the blog to one essay and one drawing a month instead of two is hopefully a victory of realism over compulsion. This inner debate is a scene from the continuing drama of finding the distinction between motivation and irrational urgency. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it has more to do with the mood that makes the identification. I always look to this line from Henry James.
“We work in the dark. We do what we can. We give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task.”
Each time I reflect on these words I take something different from them. This time it confirms my sense that motivation and compulsion are just different parts of a multidimensional spectrum that takes its character from the other emotions involved. The nature of doubt prompts its resolution. Likewise we create images for what we need to see, to clarify and fill in the gaps in a pattern.
Attention is drawn to imbalance, to something missing or something that doesn’t belong and its feeling of tension requiring release by action. Even when actions have no concrete use, like obsessive
compulsive habits, repetitive activity sooths the emotional manifestations of what the hormones signal. Unproductive action may calm but ultimately leads nowhere. I once got stuck in an eight month compulsion, shading a long tube in a drawing. What I needed to see was there without the perfectionism that kept me making adjustments that required more adjustments. When a current project has a particularly demanding area requiring extended days what I think of as my OCD
drawing reminds me to ask what there is still left to see. Endless revision can leave new ideas as unexpressed impulses that become a burden as they accumulate. It’s useful to have the stark example of those months in an obsessive loop as an image of where motivation is a mask worn by underlying patterns of self-comfort. In the language of “driving” imagery, the odometer might have been going up, but I was still circling the same block, staying in motion, but not getting anywhere. All the variations expressible by this metaphor are as universal to the planet as driving itself.

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