James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

that may or may not exist

93: Minds like the bending of neon

I listened to the latest episode of 99% Invisible on neon and my mind was enveloped with gasses sucking in and out of man-made tubes illuminating the sky. I loved neon as a child because of what it represented beyond my childhood town. Neon represented growth and expansion, streaming past me as the field trip bus raced along Lake Shore Drive, keeping the skies of Chicago a tinted orange at 10pm.

Downtown a couple years ago.

Downtown a couple years ago.

A section that made me pause was the process behind the bending of neon. When bending the tubes, they must be heated way beyond their natural temperature so the tubes can be made vulnerable and manipulated by the benders to become the desired shapes. I sat with this episode through my routines and it flickered in my mind. I scribbled in my notepad: “Minds just like the bending of neon” and went to bed.

When you think about a new thing to work on, that’s a moment of heating up your brain. The bender is ready to mold those cells into a new product, illuminating yourself and others you plan to teach. When I feel that tingle in my temples and want to quit, I imagine these tiny workers going to town, gliding on excitement and anticipation. You’re always a fine line between burning and crushing the glass in front of you. I thought of moments when I’m working on a tough programming bug or looking at a terrible first draft. I’m exhausted but not sure if it’s my brain waiting to be molded or about to shatter. That’s when you have to decide:

Am I going to continue heating up my mind by digging deeper or am I going to cool down my mind and call it a day?

As I look back to adolescent me, gazing out of the school bus window at the blurring trails of neon, I remember my daydreams of being in the city surrounded by flickering lights and the bustle of ideas. Neon was this metaphor of dreams expanding and unfolding. Now, as I gaze out that window from a CTA bus, I have a new metaphor: the neon representing the new challenges that face me in the coming year. The glowing gasses representing the expansion of my mind. The fact that inspiration is false, and important progress happens when a gently heated brain is molded and acted on before it cools and solidifies.

James T. Green