#48: Walking with mood oscillations

+ Output Before Input | The Bird on Elisabeth Nicula’s Head | Finishing is for furniture

I’m Bryan and this is my weekly newsletter on walking, photography, maps and New York City.

Walking & wellness: I started thinking about how I’ve been productive the last two weeks: developing a routine, working on building a new website, researching employment opportunities, walking and making photos, writing a lengthy article about walking and wellness. It’s been good. And then it hit. The sinking feeling, the reminder that I have no idea what’s going to happen the rest of this year. Will I catch the virus? How long will this pandemic last? Can I stay in New York City? What’s my next job going to be? In an instant, my mood shifted back to high anxiety.

I’ve seen other people share similar experiences on Twitter. We’re able to focus and stay productive, and even upbeat for a few days at a time, and then in a moment we’re reminded about the reality of the pandemic. I’ve read that it’s called anticipatory grief.

Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this.

There is no way for anyone to hide from it. But there’s also not much we can personally do to fix anything right now, other than supporting each other and our community the best we can. It’s maddening on so many levels that our brains can’t process it, so we shut down, bake bread and watch some weird show about a guy in Florida raising tigers and committing crimes (I don’t have Netflix right now so haven’t seen it.)

I’m comforted, to a certain degree, by understanding the systemic failure and grief all around me. It’s the knowledge that others are having similar experiences and feelings that grounds me. It’s a collective moment of reflection. I wonder if we’ll end up calling this ‘The Great Pause’ or something along those lines. I suppose that will depend on the final outcome which is still very uncertain at this point.

Each day I try to do my best to focus on what I can control, how I can make progress and comfort people that reach out to me, however I can. This is a good long term habit, a primary outlook for healthy living. I’ve always been excited about the future, dreaming up new ideas and projects, getting ahead of myself. This crisis has somewhat demonstrated the futility of trying to live too much in the future. That’s a huge wake up call that ripples across everything that I do. It’s an uncomfortable feeling but also an opportunity. I plan on making the most of it while acknowledging this grief we’re all experiencing.

What have you done to stay productive and creative during the pandemic? Any interesting new projects? Inspiring walks? Drop me a line info@bryanformhals.com


Productivity: This last week I stopped watching the news. I made it the entire week. It’s been all music and that has made a big difference. I typically read Twitter and the news first thing in the morning. It’s a habit or an addiction, I don’t know. I’ve known for awhile that I probably should make an effort to stop. This week I got a solid nudge to change when I read this GQ interview with artist Tom Sachs about his seven rules for leading a creative life. The first one: output before input. Boom!

"The first exercise of ISRU is first thing in the morning, before you look at your e-mail or Instagram or the newspaper or make a phone call or whatever: Write. Dance. Sing. Touch clay. Draw. Output before you input.” 

I started incorporating this the next morning by writing first thing upon waking. It has been helpful and I’ve felt more productive. I also had the feeling that this is something I’ve known for a long time, and believe I was even in the habit of doing it years ago. We fall in and out of good and bad habits. Starting the day with the most exciting tasks and projects seems like commonsense but sometimes we need the reminders.

getting tall
April 14, 2020

Artists & nature: Every day I wait for it in my InstaStories or feed. Sometimes it arrives, sometimes not, but when it does, I’m instantly happy. I don’t know the backstory. I haven’t bothered to research it because knowing too much right now would ruin the fun. It makes me want to have a bird friend too. It also makes me think, holy fuck there’s a dinosaur landing on her head!

Elisabeth is a talented interdisciplinary artist with a lot of projects to explore on her website. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter


Creative process: As someone with a problem finishing projects, I found these insights from 11 photographers in Aperture to be useful, especially this from Justine Kurland.

I teach with Nayland Blake, and I have heard him tell students, “Finishing is for furniture.” Once the problems of construction are resolved, of a table for instance, the process no longer involves thinking. Finishing is the stage where the person mindlessly applies polish but no longer pays attention. At this point you are no longer making art. Nayland is one of the most intelligent and clear-sighted artists I know. I often ask myself, “What would Nayland do?”

I’ve thought about this over and over since reading it, and recognize the tendency in my own work. I’ll often ask myself what’s missing and then mentally try on solutions that don’t often fit. Given this advice, it seems the best solution is to just be done with it and walk away, because deep down you don’t really have anything more to put into it.


Further Reading

  • I like this Teju Cole interview: “when I was younger, I wanted to make images that made people go wow. As I developed as a photographer, I realised I wanted to make images that make people go hmm.”

  • I love the ‘Invention of Hiking’ and accompanying photos from Tomas Van Houtryve in Smithsonian Magazine.

  • Lifeboat.Community: 200 leading photographers are offering prints and limited edition books for purchase

  • Instagram embeds were a hot topic this week after a big court ruling, here’s Photoshelter on Instagram’s Moral Imperative


I’m a photographer, editor and content marketer working in New York City. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter

This newsletter is a weekly digest mixing updates on my current projects with the articles and media that catch my attention during the week. Topics I’m focusing on these days include walking, urbanism, New York city history, news about photography and photobooks, the attention economy and existential dread.