Posted by Peter Himmelman
In 1979 there was a revolutionary new song out called Funkytown by a band called, Lipps Inc.. The damn thing was everywhere; on the radio, on MTV, in elevators, at clubs, even playing overhead in the frozen foods section of the Red Owl. As fate would have it, a local Minneapolis guy named Steve Greenberg who used to play the drums in a Bar Mitzvah band wrote Funkytown and he told me he wanted to produce a record for me.
Soon, I was going to Steve’s place once or twice a week to play him demos of things I’d written. There wasn’t a lot of pleasure in taking my stuff to him for an evaluation since it’s so easy to criticize music. All you need to do is raise your eyebrow or give a little laugh -like what you’re hearing is the stupidest idea ever. Steve was a gatekeeper of sorts or so I thought, and all my energies at the time were spent trying to come up with something I thought he’d like. One afternoon I came to his house with something I was extremely pleased with. It was an emotional song that was written about a friend of my parents named Erwin Fuff.
Mr. Fuff was an odd little man. He’d been a holocaust survivor as a young child and there were stories of him running alone through the woods after the SS had killed his entire family. Two weeks before I wrote the song, my Mom called me into her room and told me that the police had found Mr. Fuff’s wife, Riva, lying dead in the kitchen with a steak knife in her sternum. They knew Mr. Fuff had killed her, he’d told them as much and since he’d had a history of mental illness, the prosecutor felt there was no need for a trial. Erwin Fuff went straight to a mental institution where they pumped him up on so much Thorazine that he was in a semi-conscious state most of the time.
The trouble was that in the early mornings, during the brief time when the last day’s dose of Thorazine wore off and the new day’s dose was given, Mr. Fuff had gotten back some degree of consciousness and was able to feel some of the horrible grief and shame over having murdering his wife. It was in that small window of lucidity that he’d taken his own life just days after arriving at the hospital.
My Mother said he’d hung himself in his jail cell with strips of a bath towel. I wrote about Mr. Fuff in a song called, Cursed With What It Means.
She will sleep forever, you’ll be high on Thorazine she will sleep forever –you are cursed with what it means.
I raced over to Steve Greenberg’s cassette in hand. This was a whole new style of music I’d just written; dark, and spare with empathic lyrics and I knew Steve Greenberg, the writer of the hit song Funkytown was going to love it.
I put the cassette in his giant Marantz stereo and let the music fill the room. I didn’t play it too loud. Not as loud as Steve might have played his own stuff. That would have been presumptuous. When he got up off his recliner he was smiling. I smiled too because of course he loved my song. He was walking over to the stereo to turn up the volume –just like he’d do with his own songs. But instead of amplifying the music, he ejected the cassette and hiked it between his legs like a football player. It flew up into the air, end over end, until it crashed into the brickwork of his fireplace.
I stared at the tape cartridge now in pieces, wondering how it was that all my passion and enthusiasm for this song had vanished in less than four seconds…
An addendum: Though Steve Greenberg could be a tough critic, he's truly a hilarious person and he was always a real mentor to me. If memory serves me, I was probably belly laughing along with him fairly soon after the cassette hit the bricks
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September 11, 2012 | 11:22 am
Posted by Peter Himmelman
October 1978. Hopkins, Minnesota.
Today I’m going to do something dangerous. I’ll drive to Ridgedale. I’ll walk into Now and Then and ask to have my ear pierced. First though, I’ll drive to my father’s office to alert him of my plan. I’m sure he won’t be happy. Ex marines hate earrings.
'That’s great Pete,” he says. “Which ear are you gonna pierce?”
“Uhhh, my right ear I guess,” His expression catches me by surprise.
“Are you gonna get a hoop or a stud?”
What’s remarkable I think, is that my dad even knows the words hoop or stud.
“I’ll probably start with a stud and then get a hoop as the ear heals.”
“A hoop is nice,” my dad says. “How much is this whole deal gonna cost?”
“Twenty bucks.” I say.
My dad's smiling as he peels off three crisp ten-dollar bills and places them in my hand.
As I pull out of the parking lot I hear his big voice booming just outside the front door and I roll down my window.
“Pete, one more thing. Don’t come home.”
September 6, 2012 | 1:15 pm
Posted by Peter Himmelman
About four years ago, just after I was… dare I say it, “replaced” from a job as a composer on a major network television show, I began meeting with some friends to help get over feeling like the biggest loser in the world. I had failed hard. I failed miserably. Of course I had. That’s usually what happens when we become complacent -and did I mention, how bored I was from sitting by myself in a soundproof studio for ten, sometimes fifteen hours a day staring at a computer screen, writing the little pieces of music that would eventually underscore the various scenes in the show? I should have had a shred of self respect and cried Uncle, called it quits without letting the whole situation come down to my getting…ahh, there’s that word again, replaced (read: fired), but I kept telling myself I’m not a quitter. I stick to a task. I’m Mr. Responsible; I’m a veritable Boy Scout-Busload of Trustworthiness, Loyalty and Helpfulness. But looking back, that’s not really why I didn’t quit. I kept going because the money was just too damn good. Nope, not about being Mr. Dependable at all, I’d have quit in a nano-second if I weren’t so well paid. Though I had long ceased to be truly invested in the work, I kept hanging on for the paychecks alone. So much for integrity. The interesting thing was how many of my friends, even the ones who appeared extremely successful, seemed to be going through exactly the same experiences I was.
This “organization” to which I refer in the title of this piece consists of about twenty people of varying ages who are secretly afraid that their best creative years are behind them. To say aloud that you feel a little lost or a little old or a little worthless is almost impossible for us humans to do. We need our wives, our husbands, our kids, our clients, our parents and our bosses to keep believing that we’ve got everything under control. Oftentimes we get so good at purveying the control-myth that we start becoming believers of our own fiction -and of course, that’s precisely where all the trouble starts. We begin by deluding the people around us to protect ourselves from looking like failures and then without noticing, we begin to delude ourselves. At that point we’ve become so lost we don’t even know we’re lost. This is where the ODTF comes in. The Organization Dedicated To Failure
We’re a small group (but growing fast) of people who feel a little marginalized, left behind in a world for whom the very fact of being over thirty five is something to be worn like a Scarlet Letter. Ok, our organization’s not a real organization in the sense that we’ve got sign up sheets and membership drives. It simply consists of all of us, informally acting as one another’s personal board members, listening mostly, giving some advice and listening some more. I know it sounds a odd and maybe even a bit indulgent to say this, but the struggles we have are far from small. We’ve all got people to support, real flesh and blood folks depending on us to keep our confidence up and our creative juices flowing. I can’t tell you how many men and women our little organization has set up on their feet and gotten into the very condition they’d never thought they’d be in: highly energized, impassioned, and inspired.
How do we do this you ask? It’s pretty simple. We talk to one another. We create an environment that stands well apart from the jungle that is our professional lives. What we mostly do is ward off the feelings of isolation that take over when we move from communal beings in search of success to isolated beings coasting along in the furrows and routines of our success. That is to say that at some point after we’ve developed our skills, our list of contacts and had a few wins, we begin steering clear of new ideas and staying close (too close) to ideas that bore fruit years, perhaps even decades ago, failing to notice that the tree is dying and has no more fruit to give.
We encourage one another to take risks. Simple things like learning to dance in my case. My wife (and to be fair) many others, have remarked that I am literally the worst dancer they’ve ever seen. In spite of all that, I took a Salsa class last month and for the first time I saw in my mind’s eye how I could become -with a great deal of practice- something slightly less than a total embarrassment to myself and my species. Not avoiding embarrassment is the whole point. It’s the way we developed our skills in the first place. No kid ever picks up a guitar or hits a speed bag or goes in for a lay-up perfectly the first few times. It’s just that when we’re young, it’s expected that we’ll be bad at something. Somewhere along the way, after we received a certain number of accolades, we lose touch with the beauty, the poignancy of failure. That’s what our organization does best; it helps people learn to fail again. And through that failure and particularly the freedom from the fear of failure, we are made joyful. Not temporarily giddy but truly joyful. The joy comes from one place alone and that’s the place of renewed of possibility. When you have that sense that the world has opened up just a bit wider, that your dreams can be made to flourish again, you get this wonderful and elusive and very human feeling called hope -and I ask you, is there a greater joy than that?
We do our work in small groups, in emails, on the phone, during lunches, breakfasts, walks and talks, evening strolls. We don’t have corporate offices, we don’t have a movie or a website and yet, the work gets done. We’re people literally saving people, saving one another, one at a time.
Here’s how to get involved: call a friend and ask for advice. Everyone likes to dole it out and it’s a great way to break the ice and elevate the tenor of your conversations. Start a dialogue that goes beyond talking about the weather or worse, a non-conversation that’s merely a rehashing of that endless laundry list of complaints. Talk about renewal; talk about getting outside yourself and doing things for other people. Talk about the things you loved and dreamed about as a kid and ways, real practical ways, you can start doing those things again today.
Excuse me, but I’m going to put on a Salsa record now.
August 29, 2012 | 4:52 pm
Posted by Peter Himmelman
This question comes from Alan Roscoe of Olympia, Washington and it addresses a fundamental challenge of being human.
“Lately, every time I start something new, whether it’s a business proposal or a birthday card to my wife, I’m assailed from within. It’s like I hear a voice telling me how bad and how worthless everything I create is. How do I stop the negativity?”
Alan, I know it’s reassuring to hear that you’re not alone in this so let me say it:
You’re not alone.
In fact, this internal editor that you describe is a basic part of what makes us human. Everyone has to contend with it and I’d like to share some thoughts and strategies that have helped me in my many struggles with this guy.
What is this internal editor (IE) inside your head and what’s its purpose?
Since it seems to be such a universal issue, I’d argue that there’s something about the IE that makes it far more than just an annoyance. In my opinion, it’s a protector and a nurturer and though it’s often hard to imagine, the IE actually has our best interests in mind. It’s important to get a clear perspective on the IE’s function. It doesn’t exist to detract from our lives –even though it often does- it exists to save us from death.
I know that sounds dramatic.
But bear with me. When we were young and completely dependent on our parents for survival, it was imperative that we stayed in their good graces. We needed to be as cute and perfect as possible to avoid being abandoned. It sounds ridiculous to us now, the thought that our parents might or could actually abandon us. But at one time, when we were entirely dependent on others for our physical survival, there was a deep, latent and primitive fear of just that.
Our internal editor made sure that whatever we did or said kept us closely attached to those who were responsible for keeping us alive. It made sure that if we asked for something we did it in the most reasonable way we could manage –even if we threw a terrible tantrum, our IE made sure we never went too far. If we needed to express ourselves, our IE made sure we never said things that would get us permanently rejected. We could be unnerving, annoying and irritating of course, but there was always this limit and the IE made sure we knew were that was at all times.
When our parents were dismissive of our needs or somehow gave us the impression that our connection to them was tentative, our IE became even more dominant. We had to gauge everything we did our said. Everything needed to be weighed and tested for signs that it might possibly engender rejection. Remember, at a young age rejection isn’t a small thing; it truly represents life and death. In other words, our IE wasn’t trying to keep us down it was trying to keep us alive.
The reason I point this out is so we never make the mistake of going to war with our IE. When it rears its head and thwarts our latest creative endeavor with its nay saying and negativity, we’ll have the most success if we treat it with love and respect. The more we push it away the less able we will be of freeing ourselves from its deleterious effects. Framing an approach like this is helpful:
“Hey IE, I know you’re trying to protect me. I know you’re trying to spare me the shame and humiliation of coming up with something horrible but you know what, I think I’ll be good for at least a couple hours without you. Why don’t you get yourself an iced tea, take a walk for a bit and come back later? Yeah. Absolutely. Come back later. We’re partners after all. “
Nobody likes to be abandoned, not even an internal editor.
Recognizing that doing something horrible won’t kill you is probably the most crucial thing to remember -but since our fear of shame is so deeply ingrained this takes a lot of practice. In fact, practice itself should consist of mostly mistakes; horrible, disgusting, humiliating mistakes. As adults, most of us find ourselves doing only the things that we’ve developed proficiency with. It’s rare to find someone older than twenty who’s willing to try new things simply because the fear of looking like an idiot is just too painful.
I encourage you to finish things even if they’re terrible. Getting used to seeing yourself fail is probably the best insurance you have that you’ll eventually do things well. Becoming inured to the sight and scent and feel of your being lousy at something is more than just a wonderful exercise, it’s a method of gaining mastery as well. In fact, it’s the only pathway to mastery.
No one other than you needs to see your unrefined creations -but you need to see them. That is to say that you MUST see them. You need to look at them squarely, adjust the things that need adjusting and continue on. No one’s going to reject you now. Those visceral fears, those childhood memories will not harm you. Your internal editor needs to see you unafraid of facing them so that he can take the break you want him to take.
So set out an iced tea for him. Let him drink it and leave you in peace as you work fearlessly for several hours. Call him back when you’re finished. You may even need to wake him up. But on second thought, if he’s sleeping, leave him be. It’s tiring being someone’s protector after all.
August 15, 2012 | 9:41 pm
Posted by Peter Himmelman
When people think of creativity or creative people they usually think of painters and dancers, writers, and actors – people who make things for others to hear or look at. Recently, I’ve started thinking of creativity as something completely different. Take this example: In the mid-seventies there was an American anthropologist studying a remote East African tribe. He’d been observing a ritual that involved music and singing. When the tribal elders asked him to join in he politely refused by saying he didn’t sing. “I don’t sing” is something you hear people say all the time and it’s meaning is straightforward: they just don’t sing.
In the case of this tribe, the idea that someone didn’t sing was literally beyond comprehension. It wasn’t a language issue. The anthropologist was quite conversant in their particular dialect of Swahili. For them singing was not a choice. It would be akin to saying that you don’t breathe or that your blood doesn’t flow. It’s a very westernized sentiment that relegates “creativity” or creative expression to something outside the range of normal human interaction. Singing occurs in our culture of course, but only at specialized times and in certain environments. Someone singing This Land Is Your Land or In A Gadda Da Vida in a typical workplace would be considered by most people (myself included) to be mentally unbalanced.
I’ve come to think of creativity less as something sequestered away from normal life, than as the basis of life itself. In the right context even these seemingly mundane activities could and should be considered highly creative:
Preparing someone’s taxes – as long as the tax preparer remains conscious of the important role he is playing in the life of his client.
Having a conversation with a friend –as long as it’s engaging and you find yourself laughing or crying or otherwise stimulated.
Playing with a child – as long as you’re having fun yourself and not simply going through the motions.
Washing your car – as long as you don’t see it as a chore but see it as a way to preserve a valuable tool.
Calling your Mother – as long as you remain aware of the closeness of your relationship and aren’t doing it in a perfunctory way.
Cooking dinner – as long as there’s a sense that it’s an enriching experience and not a burden.
Each of these activities comes with essentially the same caveat: Be engaged. be consumed by the experience, be mindful.
So much of my own time is spent in uncreative ways. I’m constantly thinking about what was and what will be (although having said that, there are ways to make even those kinds of thoughts creative.) For example, if one is truly reflecting on the past, that is, in a manner that’s thoughtful and serves to bolster one’s involvement in the present by making amends or fixing mistakes, – there’s creativity. On the other hand, if looking back on the past becomes a depressing process of grieving what’s been lost, there’s a deficit of momentum, a stasis that stands in direct opposition to creativity.
The same can be said of thinking about the future. There’s always a choice between a useful awareness and a static, lifeless way of thinking about the future.
Simply put: A creative endeavor always makes something happen and fosters some kind of positive growth. Whether something positive actually accrues from our behavior (or not) is an ideal yardstick for measuring what’s truly creative and what is not. Of course, that yardstick is the most individual thing in the world and no one but us as individuals can accurately determine what those positive results are.
Over the years I’ve been involved in many activities that one would naturally assume were highly creative but in fact, were the exact opposite. I might be writing a song for example, something we’d all regard as pretty creative compared to say, doing someone’s taxes. But in the instances I’m thinking of, I wasn’t really “engaged” in the process of writing a song at all. I was going through the motions, thinking about what I’d done in the past and what affect and results the song I was purportedly working on might have in the future. I was everywhere but where I should have been, which is deep inside the moment, in a place where the normal passage of time means nothing. Where hours subdivide to a degree that one hardly notices their passing. But very often, most often perhaps, I’m struggling to be there, struggling to stay inside those moments.
Maybe creativity resides in simply trying to get there. After all, it’s in the attempt itself that we find growth. Next time a tribal elder asks me to sing along, I know that at very least, I’m gonna give it a try.
August 8, 2012 | 11:01 am
Posted by Peter Himmelman
I got this question from Loretta Ruiz of Tempe, Arizona and it got me thinking about how far we need to go to stretch our imaginations and fire up our thought processes.
“Peter, I consider myself a pretty accomplished songwriter except for one big problem. I find it extremely difficult to zero in on new things to write about. I find myself going over the same themes again and again. Lately everything I do is starting to sound like one big amorphous love song.”
Loretta, I’m so glad you’ve written and since I feel like I’ve been in similar straits many times, I’ve got a few tricks that might be helpful in getting you out of this rut.
I once read something about the legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis that stuck with me. Understand, his entire career as a jazz player is based on his ability to improvise, that is, to create new musical passages on the spot. Under the pressure of a live performance he’ll play spontaneous created melodies over complicated chord changes, all of them coming at break-neck speed. The wonder of it all is that he makes up these original melodic phrases in such a seemingly effortless manner. But when asked by an interviewer how many times he actually created -totally new- improvisations he thought for a moment and said:
“Maybe three or four times in my entire career.”
If Marsalis wasn’t creating these new pieces then what the hell was he doing - because it sure looks to the world like it’s new? He was drawing upon the vast canon of material in his musical arsenal, his library of stored ideas. These consist of phrases of music he’s heard or written or somehow absorbed over the course of his life. The astounding brilliance with which he puts them together (especially under the pressure of staggering speeds and live audiences) is awesome to me but it was his honest admission that the number of times he actually spontaneously created music (which is by the way, axiomatic to jazz) happened only three or four times just floored me.
Three or four times.
What was it about those moments that made them so rare? That they were inspired, gifted, let loose from heaven and dropped into his brain I suppose. But it’s impossible to will that kind of inspiration. Fruitless to practice for it, wait for it. And yet those three moments are etched in his memory.
My guess is that you’ve also had some deeply inspired moments and that you’ve tried for too long to recreate them; going over those same themes in the hope that you’ll be able to generate a similar inspiration. I suggest that at least for a while, you forget about inspiration altogether. You also need to forget about what you can’t control and start implementing some ideas that you can control.
This business of creativity is messy and it’s cruel. Loretta, you need to get your hands dirty, you need to spill some blood. Let me introduce you to Legal & Inspiring Thievery 101.
Just as an example, I’m going to take out today’s New York Times and give you an idea of what I mean.
I’m sure you remember the story about how John Lennon got the title to Happiness Is A Warm Gun. If you don’t, here it is: he got it from an ad in the newspaper. Yeah, he really did and that’s what creative and fearless people do. They borrow from anywhere and everywhere. That’s where Branford Marsalis got many of the licks in his musical library. He borrowed them, he aggregated them or he just plain stole them; it doesn’t really matter.
Ok, page one. I’ll read some headlines and pull out some interesting titles and ideas for songs.
Here’s the first headline I see:
Qatar Wields Outsize Influence In Arab Politics.
How much do you want to bet that we can cull a powerful song title from this?
Here’s one: Outsize Influence
Major Changes In Health Care Likely To Last
And the song title is…
Likely To Last
Here’s one more:
Justices To Hear Health Care Case As Race Heats Up
And the title is…
The Race Heats Up
I didn’t even get to the body of these stories where there are hundreds of good titles and thought provoking ideas buried away. This little exercise is just a microcosmic example of what I’m talking about. Open up a magazine, the Bible, your favorite novel and drink in the thoughts and inspirations of other writers. Look at a book of photographs from the Civil War, go to an art museum and look at one or two works that move you (I find I can only see a few paintings at a time before I just about fall asleep from over-stimulation.) Use bits and pieces of what other artists have done to get your own work refreshed. Get away from your own voice and your own rhythm for a time. You’ve inadvertently carved some deep furrows by trying to recapture those moments of your own inspiration. Now it’s time to let a new rain come and erase them.
Looking for inspiration to fall on you assures you of only this: you will wait forever.
The genius of Branford Marsalis and people like him isn’t that he’s constantly unearthing these nuggets of inspired soul-gems, it’s that he does the work of assimilating, storing, and then spitting back the tens of thousands of things he’s heard, felt, or seen, that have left him inspired.
By the way, Big Amorphous Love Song is a great title!
July 30, 2012 | 7:54 pm
Posted by Peter Himmelman
Today is the fast of the 9th of Av. I’m not gonna explain it for you if you don’t know what it is - and why should you? Who goes around afflicting themselves over the destruction of an ancient temple these days? Twenty-five hours without food or water. This isn’t some hippie juice-fast where you can pack away 2000 calories chuggin pineapple juice with protein powder and kid yourself that you were actually getting anywhere near the affliction zone.
It’s not having any water, any fluids at all that’ll get you thinking about ruined temples. And it’s not just the temples we’re mourning. It’s the hacked-off arms in Rwanda, it’s the Holocaust, it’s every rape and every murder, it’s every time someone looks at a kid with contempt and ruins his chances of a happy life. That’s all it takes really, just one look that says, “My god son, you’re such a fu&%ing dumbshit, what a worthless thing you are.”
I don’t have the scientific proof of course, but it doesn’t take test tubes and pie charts to know how fragile we all are, how susceptible to shame our tender selves can be. I was so afraid of getting hit in the nut with one of those bombs that I hardly ever told the truth. I was so afraid of letting my parents and my teachers and my friends know that I was human. I was so afraid of running the risk of hearing some of that awful shit, that from the time I was in kindergarten I began playing the part of one smart, on the ball, on the go, always got the right answer, always got the charm, sick motherf^$ker. And it worked. Worked like a charm until it didn’t.
I can’t remember when it stopped working exactly. It didn’t just grind to a halt, it sort of slowed down gradually, almost imperceptibly. I was the guy who was always doling out advice with a kind of concerned look on my face that said, “yeah, I hear you man, I know why you’re goin through what your goin through, I feel you.”
See, I could do this thing where I could bring a man low while he and everyone else thought I was really building him back up. That’s how I cut my competition. If you’re creating the illusion of always being on top, you sure as hell don’t want your competition standing tall. This is one of the things in life you do very quietly, very secretly; especially when you’re putting up this front of imperviousness. You gotta work really smart in the bullshit department. When I felt my alpha dog status was bulletproof, I’d start offering the advice, the faux kindness. And they fell for it every time. They never felt me kicking them in the balls. The problem was I didn’t have on my hazmat suit. I was wearing my regular clothes and the stuff I was doing and saying soaked through to my own skin and made me a believer too. I had effectively succumbed to my own bullshit. And like I said, it worked for a while until it didn’t.
Now, the train’s stopped, the temple’s burned down and I don’t know which way to turn. I’m suddenly hanging on, suspended by a wire in a strange place, in a state of mind that’s as infertile as the Mojave. I ask myself, how long can you live in fear? How long can you live without food, without water? I guess that’s the point. Sometimes life puts you in a place where you can no longer trick yourself; a place that just heaves you out. Out in the street. Out in the cold.
They call that place exile and sometimes it’s not a punishment at all, sometimes it’s a blessing. It’s a hard thing to understand when you’re in pain, I know, but sometimes being banished from what’s comfortable is an answer to a prayer. Maybe not the answer you expected, but what is?
July 25, 2012 | 2:09 pm
Posted by Peter Himmelman
A year ago I received a letter from a distraught man. He had every reason to be: his wife (“she really loves your music…”) was diagnosed with breast cancer. He was writing to me to ask if there was any chance I might send her a note of encouragement since she’d soon be undergoing treatment and would be too weak to attend my upcoming concert. Maybe it was a way of protecting myself, but my initial reaction to the letter was to ignore it and justify my doing so by adopting some mistaken belief that the bonds between an artist and his audience aren’t real, that there can’t possibly be an authentic connection.
But I read on. His letter was so raw and so emotional that I soon found myself in the very state of mind I go to when I do my best work. It’s a place we all know. For many of us it’s a rare but familiar place; a time of heightened receptivity, a suspension of our normal consciousness where we can sense the paradox of our insignificance and our enormity; our humility and our breathtaking fearlessness. For others of us, it became a place in our minds we lost touch with as we matured. Picasso once said: “When I was a child I painted like a master and all my adult life I’ve tried to paint as if I were a child.
As I continued to read, I felt this man’s attachment to his wife and his tremendous torment. I was moved and I reached out.
A year has passed and a couple weeks ago I met the two of them backstage before a performance in the Midwest. The woman was strikingly beautiful and at first she just stared in silence, but just as when I meet someone whose work I truly admire, I understood she wasn’t interested in –me. She didn’t care what I eat for breakfast or what kind of dog I own. What interested her was being near what she perceived as a conduit, or a bridge that allows human beings to channel creative energies from their source (however one defines that) and back into the world.
This bridge is a place of negation. It’s a point at which the ‘I’ of us must always give way to the ‘we’ of us. On this bridge, our left-brained, hard-wired conceptions of ourselves are suspended, creative ideas are given space to form, and then mysteriously, they’re broadcast to our conscious minds. This happens most often when we encounter something so emotionally riveting that we become able -if only for a short while- to stand outside of ourselves. It’s a state of consciousness where the sharp-featured identities we’ve manufactured for ourselves briefly step aside and permit our biases to melt away. It’s in this frame of mind that our preconceptions fade and our harsh judgments cease. This is the place where creativity flourishes best.
Back in the dressing room, I improvised a funny little song for the woman to break the silence between the three of us and she began crying. It was hard not to get emotional and despite my attempt at keeping the mood upbeat, it was impossible for any of us not to recognize the gravity of the situation.
Getting outside ourselves is the key to nurturing our creative souls. Being open to the stories and struggles of others helps us get the distance we need to embrace a perspective large enough to swallow our own.