creative development

In Praise of Beginners (part 1)

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Creative Commons License photo credit: jakeandlindsay

I have never regretted choosing music as my main creative idiom. There are so many reasons I think it’s the best thing I could have chosen to dedicate my creative life to. I’m not saying it’s ‘better’ than any other art form, but for me personally, I figure it has just about everything.

Music is infinitely deep and vast. It’s always going to be ‘bigger than me’ by orders of magnitude and I will never run out of amazing things to learn and discover about it. It’s the perfect marriage of mathematics and emotion. It combines the joys of physical technique and mastery of tools with those of storytelling, of spinning a narrative in an eloquent non-verbal (and verbal, if you lean that way) language.

Music moves people. I know of no other art form that can get so deep under peoples’ skin and cause them to tap their toes, bob their heads, clap or drum along, play air guitar or dance around the room. We don’t put it in museums and go to look at it while talking in whispers. Even dance, as an art form, does not often make other people want to dance; we tend to sit still and watch other people do it. Music makes us move.

Music is highly portable. You can play or practise all alone, for no-one but yourself, and get endless pleasure from it – or you can use it as a medium for profound connection and/or collaboration. Music connects people like little else. People define their whole identities around music that speaks to them or for them in a powerful way.

Music can express absolutely anything. It can be beautiful, light, airy, dark, angry, sensitive, aggressive, contemplative, meditative, virtuosic, stunningly complex or sublimely simple. And because it can be very simple, it can be made by nearly anyone. It’s this last point that I want to talk about today. More

Creating Grace

swans
Creative Commons License photo credit: neal young.

I picked up an unusual little ebook recently, called ‘Graceful: Making a Difference in a World that Needs You‘*. It’s by the notorious Seth Godin (and if you don’t know who that is, now would be a good moment to go find out…) and it’s a tiny little thing, consisting of 30 short chapters that are very much in Seth’s trademark rapid-fire, gently provocative style. You can read it in about half an hour.

I’m not exactly sure why but it’s really gotten under my skin. It’s not long on specific, actionable content, so if that’s what you’re looking for you’re likely better off seeking elsewhere. Rather, the chapters seem to unfold like a series of Zen ‘koans’, planting little seeds here and there which quietly blossom, as the book unfolds,  into something quite remarkable.

Without getting into a serious review, which could easily end up being longer than the book, I want to touch on what it’s had me thinking about…

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Authentic Creativity

The Holy Trinity: Onion, Celery, Bell Pepper
Creative Commons License photo credit: shawnzrossi

I did an interview recently, focused on my compositional work and approach (I’ll post a link when it goes live) and, as often happens in these things, once we’d wrapped it up and signed off I found my brain spinning with other ideas. You know, things we didn’t touch on but could have, things I wish I’d said or wish I’d said better. So it goes. I guess I just need to do more interviews…

However, one of these ‘afterthoughts’ has stuck with me, and I’d like to try to expand on it a bit here. It has to do with authenticity. Now, this is a subject I’ve touched on here before, and of course it’s also something of a buzz word in the interwebs generally and the blogosphere more specifically. We need to be more authentic, we’re told; people like authenticity, it’s generally considered to be a Good Thing.

But, ummm, what is it? What does it mean? I suppose standard answer would probably be something like “being true to yourself” – but let’s face it, that’s basically a meaningless cliché and doesn’t tell us much of anything at all. It’s an unexamined platitude.

(Quick aside: I’m generally allergic to unexamined platitudes – ideas or terms that are bantered around without anyone ever seeming to take the time to really question and define them, or find out if in fact there’s any substance to them at all. Or perhaps allergic is not the right word; I’m actually kind of attracted to these linguistic or logical black holes. I’m driven to try to figure out what, if anything, they mean – or at least, what they mean to me.)

Give The People What They Want…

A slightly better / more complete answer, then, for me – and the one I’ve been using for a while now, in various contexts – is this: Always try to be the best, most honest version of yourself, rather than being what you think people want you to be (or saying what they want to hear, and so on). It’s still pretty vague, but at least it’s something. The key here is that in fact we can’t ever know, really, what people want us to be, so it’s best not to spend a lot of time trying to reverse-engineer it.

However, I still think there’s room for improvement. And while I don’t claim to be any kind of ultimate authority on the subject, I do seem to have stumbled on something that is serving me reasonably well – for the moment at least – as a kind of guideline to help me move towards some kind of authenticity in my own life and work.

And it has to do with stew. Or goulash, gumbo, whatever, take your pick…
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Personal (Creative) Development

Pili Palas Nature World - butterflies chrysalis

Creative Commons License photo credit: smlp.co.uk

Well hello there fearless friends. I know it’s been a while since our last fireside chat, and I do apologize for that. It’s been kind of a wacky time here, part of  a rather strange and transformative year (and it ain’t over yet!). So, what’s been going on since our last installment?

Well, first of all I turned 40, which involved a lot more thinking and soul-searching than I really anticipated. I also went through an intense spurt of writing on the still-unfinished-but-really-actually-proceeding Cliffjump Manifesto. More on this shortly.

Then rehearsals for my big winter show started. It’s a circus/cabaret kind of thing, not my highest calling in the world but I’ve done it before and I know the terrain. Plus: the band is absolutely top-drawer, I needed to reconnect with playing, and frankly I also needed to make a bit of money for a while to stabilize things around here. There are certainly worse jobs! But the rehearsals are pretty intense and all-consuming.

Finally, I had a bike accident riding home from said rehearsals one day, and managed to dislocate my left thumb. No serious damage, nothing fractured or torn, so it’s not an outright disaster – I was able to return to playing, if a bit gingerly in the left hand parts, fairly quickly. But it was certainly a bit of a reminder that I am a vulnerable human being and need to keep that in focus even as I try to push the envelope a little, which of course is part of the goal with this site and this work.

Authority or Authenticity?

Which brings me to my point for today. During all the aforementioned soul-searching, I began to realize that I perhaps have a tendency to try to present myself here (and in life in general, for that matter) as Having It All Figured Out. You know, being a totally together, highly evolved person. I’m concerned about this.

In an attempt to make these posts helpful, informative and worthwhile I have put a lot into them, but I have also adopted a somewhat professorial tone (hey, I come by it honestly: my father’s a retired professor, and we do tend to try to emulate our role models), maintaining a detached and distant tone in the interests of authority – but at the expense, perhaps, of authenticity.

So here’s the deal. I’m not fearless at all. Not remotely. I touch on this in the About page, but I’m not sure if anyone really reads those, and I figure it’s good to get it out in the open here. I try not to let fear dominate my life, but if I’ve given the impression that I’ve conquered it entirely, or that I believe I have, I apologize… the truth, as usual, is a bit more complicated than that. More