A Tribute to a Man I Never Met

Last week I talked about maintenance writing. (ICYMI, I compared writing to sex, so go look that one up in your inbox or read it on my LinkedIn ?.)

Anyway, my point was that we are not going to write a heartbreaking work of staggering genius every time we put fingers to keyboard. We are not even going to write something particularly good every time. But we are going to write something.

The thing is, I made it sound like you need to show up more to write so that you can make space for those moments of inspiration when you write something that transcends your average effort.

You can only seize that moment if you’ve been writing all along.

But… what if the showing up and creating something, and doing it OVER AND OVER (that’s ?)… what if that in itself is a work of art?

Over on Insta, I talked about Jason Polan, an artist I’d never heard of until he died on Monday at the age of 37.

All I know of him I learned in this obituary, so apologies to his memory if I get anything wrong or miss some nuances.

Here’s what I know. He drew. A LOT. A fuck ton, you could say. He was prolific.

More facts:

  • He set himself the task of drawing every single person in New York City. He sketched more than 30,000 people.

  • He founded the Taco Bell Drawing Club, which “wasn’t so much about producing great art as it was about finding a meditative, observational moment in a busy city. Many of those who showed up to spend a few minutes drawing with Mr. Polan acknowledged that they had no particular artistic ability.”

  • The Whitney Museum owns at least one of his pieces.

  • He was a commercial artist and drew for brands including Uniqlo. His work has also been exhibited in numerous galleries.

because he went public with his work A LOT MORE than you and I are going public.

The sketches were on his blog.

The big ideas were public via the Taco Bell Drawing Club and his gallery shows.

Plus, there was the stuff he sold for money, and the stuff that skirted the category of “fine art.”

In total, he probably wasn’t more prolific than many other artists. The important distinction: he was a prolific publisher.

A few hours before I read about Polan, the topic I had chosen for this week was (I am quoting from my very advanced Google spreadsheet where I keep track of my ideas)

“Publish. Quit Journaling. Stop trying to journal your way into confidence.”

Polan could have looked at his sketches as “journaling.” He could have kept them to himself.

He could have said these sketches were practice for the REAL THING he was going to create and unveil SOMEday.

You know, that day when the creation was finally perfect.

That day is definitely coming. Right????

Also, he could have drawn alone at Taco Bell.

Listen, we don’t have to quit journaling. Creating in private has its place and its uses. I journal for entirely different reasons than the ones that prompt me to publish.

My act of publishing is the act of me telling myself, “I am entitled not just to think what I think, but to be heard.”

Here’s something else I know from his obituary: Jason Polan was a man.

When I look around at the creators I admire, it’s the men who more often seize their right to be seen and heard.

The rest of us… we have more trouble.

But publishing isn’t just an exercise in entitlement.

Publishing creates connection.

When I publish – even when I publish something that I don’t think is finished – I am reaching people who agree with my ideas, and we’re connecting in deeper discussion.

I am reaching people who don’t agree with my ideas, and we are teaching each other to disagree while respecting the other person’s right to exist in disagreement with us.

I never got the chance to talk to Polan, but I think he enjoyed the act of publishing as an act of creating connection. Maybe that’s why he did it so much.

And the fact that he published so much allowed him to connect with me posthumously.

He shared stuff, without knowing how good it was or where it would lead.

… Will we left here on Earth do the same?

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