Whatever You Do, Don't Lose the Joy

Recently two people I highly respect have been communicating quite the same message (see links at the bottom of the post). And that message is: Don't take things so seriously that you lose the joy. Do everything with lightness and take care of the joy you find in creativity.

It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.
Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.
Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.
— Aldous Huxley

Sometimes when we start to take things more seriously, the joy starts to seep out. All of a sudden we're putting ourselves under pressure to achieve certain outcomes. All of a sudden we don't want to be "amateurs". Why do we feel this way? Well it's usually for the simple reason that we feel the great IMPORTANCE of what we're doing, and we want to do it justice. This is a very real and legitimate feeling, regardless of whether you are doing paid creative work or taking up a hobby. We want to be proud of our creative output, we want it to be perfect the first time and every time after that. After all, why would we risk putting that little bit of ourselves out there in the world? Why would we risk that vulnerability?

But there's another way to look at this. Many people don't realise is that the word "amateur" means "lover" from the Latin amator. When this word came about, it was something to be proud of! You could be proud of the love and commitment you gave to a certain thing. It was about the LOVE of the activity, not the "expected objective quality of the output" of the activity. The negative loading of the word "amateurish" only seems to have come about to distinguish between those being paid for their work and those who aren't. As if monetary compensation for an activity is the paragon of achievement in your chosen field, and anything less is not worth trying for.

But it is. It is worth it. Be a proud AMATEUR. Be a lover of creativity; a lover of the joy that it gives you. And never let that go. After all, isn't that why you took this thing up in the first place? At the end of the day it's not even about you, or how "good" you are at any one thing. It's about the love.

I highly recommend reading Austin Kleon's enlightening post titled Don't Lose The Magic. And this piece of advice from the wonderful mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato.

How to be both "normal" and "creative" or "normally creative".

Big Magic, the Elizabeth Gilbert book about finding creativity in your life.

At the moment I'm reading one of the most hyped creativity books of recent times: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. And one of the ideas that's explored quite early on in the book is an idea you'll find in many other books of this ilk from Julia Cameron to Austin Kleon; the idea that you can be both a perfectly normal, functional human and creative. In fact it's encouraged. 

Many people have this idea about "what creative people are like". They might be moody unstable types; mad people who sacrifice everything and cut their ties to move to Hollywood and pursue their dream. But you'll be happy to know that not only are emotional problems, moving overseas and quitting your day job not necessary to have a creative life, it's also not recommended. Too often we fill our lives with "drama" thinking it will give us inspiration or give us a story to tell, when in actual fact this is often an avoidance strategy, and the drama and overwhelm stops us from developing our inner artist and getting to work in the first place!

In Hugh MacLeod's book about cultivating creativity, Ignore Everyone, a chapter titled "Keep Your Day Job" discusses the theory that even a "creative life" will always have a divide between the boring, necessary parts (often the ones that make money or give you day-to-day stability), and the creative, inspirational parts. And this is unavoidable - equally for hobbyists as it is for those who seem to have it all together; those who have "made it". He says nobody is immune. There will always be a "day job"...

"Life is too short to not do something that matters" by Hugh MacLeod.

"One year John Travolta will be in an ultrahip flick like Pulp Fiction, another he'll be in some forgettable, big-budget thriller like Broken Arrow."

He explains that the people who move ahead fastest with their creativity are those who accept this fully; that being creative doesn't mean being madly inspiring all the time, or never doing boring stuff. It might just mean making a little more time for the things that you love!

So how do you become a normal creative person? It can start with a pretty simple and well-known exercise.

1. Make a list of activities that make you happy.

2. Do these things more often. 

That's seriously it. You're allowed to try winning a Grammy if that's really what you want, but if the only thing you have to show for your creative endeavours is joy, then know THAT'S ENOUGH. You don't need a certificate to get started. You don't even have to think you're any good! As Martha Graham says: 



And the funny thing is that when you follow your interests and make time for the things that make you happy (no matter how strange or self-indulgent this may seem to anyone else), your life does start to take on a little bit of the extraordinary. All of the knowledge and depth of character that you foster when allowing yourself to pursue your passions, enthusiasms and curiosities, will reveal to you an experience of life that truly is far more enchanting than perhaps you'd imagined for yourself. Far more captivating even than a move to Hollywood. Something far more balanced, authentic and truly beautiful. 




Self-interpretation: How to perfect your own songs.

This post is one for all you singer-songwriters out there.

Whether or not you're a regular performer and even if when you write your songs, you put your whole heart and soul into them, there comes a time when you're playing live and you're just not in the right headspace to be expressing what the song needs to say. Maybe you're on tour, and the last thing you want to be thinking about was that hard breakup, when you've been underfed and under-rested for the past two weeks. Or maybe you've been sick with a fever but you just can't give up the opportunity to play that career-making gig. Either way, there's some cheats to get around this, and make the song sound (roughly) as meaningful as if you'd written it yesterday. And this is what you've gotta do:

1. Change or specify the meaning.

What I mean by this, is you need to actively take a seat and write down what you can make the song about. You don't want to do this all the time, but if the song is about something that's too outdated, painful, generalised or silly for you to get the vibe of on stage, you need to make the song be about something else, that you can identify with easily. Make a note, draw a picture, do whatever you gotta do. When you're on stage, having something specific to express is pretty vital.

2. Map out your song.

Now if you're like me, this might feel a bit silly, but I guarantee you it will make your performance come out 100% better. First thing to do is print off or write down your lyrics, so you've got something to look at. Now, pretend that you're communicating the song's sentiment to someone and literally read the lyrics aloud. That's right, in your speaking voice. 

Now there's certain things to be garnered from this exercise. One is that your voice's natural prosody has a lot of clues in it. Prosody is just the way your voice rises and falls (intonation), the way it emphasises certain words (dynamic), and the speed at which you say certain phrases (rhythm). Your speaking voice is already very musical.

Now if there are certain words or phrases that you emphasise more than others, underline them. Likewise, if there are any noteable changes in intonation or rhythm in your speech, make a note of them too. This is your performance cheat sheet. If you can add some or all of these spoken elements to your song's melody, then your voice will sound like you mean it. Even if you're playing to an audience of 5 in a city you hate with a drunk hooligan trying to storm the stage, your voice will still retain all the hallmarks of meaningful communication.

It's some extra homework, but the results are definitely worth it. I also recommend this technique if you're recording take after take and are feeling like the results are a little lackluster. Try it out and let me know how it goes!