Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, as Nietzsche once said… and yet here I am coming back for a second round. Yes, it’s time for a re-match with the Rambling Roses (Rosa Multiflora) that are not so slowly but ever so surely taking over my parents’ property here in beautiful Nova Scotia.
The lesson I drew from my last encounter with these invasive giants was about physical work and the creative value to be gleaned from it. This time I’ve been pondering what might be learned from the plants themselves – and from the nature of the battle. More
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
Note: this is a slightly edited re-post from the first ‘version’ of this blog, and functions as a bit of a teaser for the now basically finished and nearly release-ready ‘Cliffjump Manifesto’ that I’ve been talking about here for far too long…
About six or seven years ago I spent some time in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a stunning medieval walled city on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Some good friends/colleagues and I had the good fortune to have a ‘working holiday’ arrangement there for a couple of summers, whereby we would play music – basically whatever we felt like playing, but nominally jazz – in exchange for lodgings and food at a cool local taverna called the Sesame. Nice place, recommended if it’s still there!
During the daytime we could pretty much do whatever we wanted, which was naturally walking, exploring, swimming, and generally hanging out. Dubrovnik has incredibly thick and ancient stone walls, which in many places stand right on the water. In a number of spots there are narrow passages through the wall to little enclaves on the outside, often small cafés or restaurant. One of these, which we never really knew the name of but which we called ‘the Lav’ for reasons that will shortly become clear, was a favorite haunt in the late afternoon.
Everybody’s doing it…
Now ‘Lav’ in Croation (I am told) means ‘lion’, and the reason we called it that was this: next to the restaurants zone there was a kind of high rock terrace overlooking the water, and at the lip of this was a large rock on which someone had written this word, ‘Lav’. This was where people jumped from. I don’t really know how high it actually was, perhaps 15 meters (50 feet) or so. High enough to be daunting, but then lots of people were doing it; you could swim right underneath, the water was very clear and you could see that the shore dropped off very steeply and there was lots of uninterrupted water of great depth to jump into.
Nevertheless, it was a kind of test of courage, which built up over days and days while I built up my resolve to try this thing. I’m not a kid anymore and I don’t take these things as lightly as I used to, but I also haven’t completely outgrown the urge for a physical rush. So I have a very clear memory of standing up there on the rock on the day that I had decided I was going to do this thing, and taking deep breaths and telling myself that it was going to be OK, people were doing this all the time.. and fighting the biological imperative we all have built in that tells us to NOT JUMP OFF OF VERY HIGH THINGS, EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT….
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…
(or, the importance of having the wrong tools for the job…)
“To speed up the terraforming process in the Eridanus sector, giant pine trees were grown. Riding massive ion beams, each tree would carry billions of micro-organisms to a target planet, and there serve as an initial beachhead to kick-start the conversion process.” *
I used to build a lot of lego spaceships. First as an eager student with my older brothers, and later on, with my kid sister, as a wise and experienced teacher (though of course she’s taught me a lot along the way as well)… it was the late 70’s and early 80’s, the first trio of Star Wars movies were all the rage, and spaceships were pretty much the only thing we wanted to build.
However, we didn’t have a lot of special spaceship-lego, it was mostly simple old blocky stuff, and certainly if there were any official spaceship kits in the collection, they were dispersed and the instructions were lost and to be honest, we never had that much interest in building them in the first place. The real fun was in making new, innovative, original spacecraft out of whatever pieces we had at hand.
Intrepid readers may already have guessed where I’m going with this… especially since I’ve already written about observing the innate creativity of my young son, about the pour-the-blocks-out-and-get-into-it spirit of creative adventure that permeates everything he does. If you’ve read any of my previous posts (and of course, if you’re new here, I eagerly invite you to do so!) you’ll know that most of what I know about creativity does not come from reading lots of books on the subject, but from observing myself and other creative people and thinking about what seems to work and why it might be that way…
(Mind you, I also have a shelf full of books on creativity, but by and large they mostly give me other perspectives and ways of thinking about things I’ve already observed; hopefully, the things I write about here can do that for you, too!) More
Creativity is a peculiar word. It’s a noun, and its basic meaning is something like ‘the capacity or tendency to be creative’ – that is, it’s directly related to the adjective ‘creative’, as applied to people or actions. So we’re given to understand that what we’re talking about is a quality – and therefore, that people who are creative are inherently and/or always creative, and that they do creative things. But the reality is that many people who are quite capable of doing creative things (i.e. everyone) actually spend a lot of time not doing them. Witness, for example, myself.
I have called myself a composer for quite a few years now. Not because that word is a perfect fit for what I do (when I do it) but because I’m not aware of a better one. I have made a bunch of original music, which didn’t exist before I made it and afterwards did, and I guess that process is called composition. I don’t have any kind of ‘legitimate’ training in composition per se, but I do have a fair amount of knowledge about how to put notes and rhythms and textures and ideas together (some of it even acquired in a formal educational context!). Does this make me a composer? I’m not exactly sure. Does it make me creative? That I can answer: no, it doesn’t. Why not? Because I haven’t done much of it at all for a long time now.
Creativity, in my mind, should refer more to the verb than to the adjective. That is to say, I’m more interested in creating than I am in ‘being creative’. But I cannot say I’ve done a lot of the former over the last while – at least not in the realm of music, which is after all my home turf. So I’ve determined that it’s time I started walking the talk again… More