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Rant #366
(published January 24, 2008)
The Audience is Listening
by David Erik Nelson
I started out as a writer. I make videos and write/perform songs, and used to teach and still occasionally do readings — which all files under performance art — and sometimes build sculptures, or pull some silkscreen prints, or do a little layout/graphic design, or code an application. The activity doesn't matter, because my method in all creative endeavors is modeled after the one I developed for writing, which is to break it into two stages: Making and Editing.

During the Making stage, I don't think about anyone, not an audience, not even myself; I just try to get inside of the thing I'm making and feel around, to figure out what it is, so that I can clear away all the parts that aren't integral, and free the thing up from the rest of the stuff of the world, in which it is encased. The first thing I ever wanted to be, when I was a little kid and learned that you had to want to be something someday, was an archaeologist or paleontologist. I guess, really, this part of my method is from that part of my life, and isn't Making so much as Finding.

In the second step, when I'm Editing, it is to refine that thing I Found in the Making stage into a specific thing for a specific purpose and specific people. These people tend to include close friends and my wife, but different aspects of different creative tasks are for different folks. For example, grammar and mechanics are always for two teachers — one from high school, the other university — who came down on me hard, publicly, and embarrassingly, about grammatical mistakes they knew I was making out of laziness rather than ignorance. If I'm making a video, my dad is in the audience, and I'm watching him watch my facial ticks, and then I shoot another take. I sing mostly for my son, who is a year-and-a-half old, and probably the only person in the Universe who actually enjoys my singing. I code for two pals who are coders, because I want that code to be graceful and efficient, and not clunky and amateurish (hard, because I'm a rank amateur). When I'm pitching articles or stories to specific venues, I try and read some of what the editor has written, and put her front and center in that audience.

And the rest of the audience — because it is a big audience; the house is always packed — I'm pretty sure they are all different versions of me, younger versions, from when I used to just take things in and enjoy them or not, before I started Making things — or Finding them — and Editing them down into something tight and polished and perfect. A me from the days when I enjoyed a thing without wondering how it was Made, and how I could go about Making something with those tools. Most of the auditorium is cheap seats, and most of those seats are filled with cheapass, know-nothing, kid versions of me, and I'm mostly trying to keep those distractible kids entertained long enough to get to the really good part of the show. Then, they're hooked.

Originally written for Ze Frank's little homunculi project. Are you a creator of things? Consider sending Ze a few paragraphs on how the audience influences your process.

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