Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Hasn't been tough to find something to talk about around Creatavita, as friends have been dropping in to talk about their lives. Lives full of events, decisions and good ol' honest-to-god emotion. For many, too much emotion. Frustration as an artistic project gets delayed again. Grief when a family member dies suddenly. Sadness as a human body ages. Anxiety as life presents too much change. So grab yourself a cold drink because the time has come to talk about


As a creative person, I have found the response to this abundance of emotion fascinating. You see, emotion is an artist's basic commodity. Farmers grow food, manufacturers make products, bankers provide a safe place for our money (don't go there; that's what they are supposed to do) and artists, in all of their spectacular forms, express human emotion. Here - Victor Hugo said it well, specifically about music: Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”. As a musician, I think it was nice of Monsieur Hugo to direct our attention to music, but I'm generous enough to say we can expand that to all art forms.

I know this idea was presented to me many times throughout my education and training, but I currently credit opera director Bernard Uzan with providing the lightening-bolt moment for me. You know what I mean – that moment when a big question is finally answered and the pieces fall into place. That was the moment when I realized I wasn't crazy, that my emotions made me the artist that I was (and continue to become), and that there was tremendous value for the world in having people who are willing to turn this emotional activity into their life's work.

But here's the rub. If emotion is our commodity, this means those of us who call ourselves artists must become comfortable with experiencing all human emotions. The entire spectrum from bliss straight through normal all the way to lunacy. We must know all of these emotions well, like the back of our hand. We must know what they bring up in us, how they make us behave, how they affect our interactions with the world. We must be bold and courageous; we cannot be afraid of them. If we are afraid of experiencing our emotions, what about those poor schlubs who look to us for guidance? Yes, I'm talking about our audience, our readers, our viewers. They look to us to express the feelings they themselves didn't even know they were feeling, those feelings that had previously gone unexpressed. And you certainly know that they look to us to express the difficult feelings, don't you?

So back to the emotion flying around Creatavita this week. Here's an encounter I found truly fascinating. One person said to me, “I'm letting my emotions get the better of me.” My response? “Of course you are, you're a human. That's what humans do.” When did we decide that NOT feeling was an appropriate human response? Trust me, I've tried that road. It was not successful in many ways. I only ended up seriously depressed. I don't recommend it.

This leads me to another fascinating experience I have frequently in my studio and in my work as a faculty member at Walnut St. Theatre School.  A student will allow themselves to let go of the armor and find themselves in tears. The student then apologizes for crying. Really? Why would you apologize for feeling, particularly since you are engaging in an art form which requires you to, excuse me, express your feelings?

You can call me strange, but this is the moment when I encourage people to cry. Yes, I do. I hand them a Kleenax. I put my hand on their shoulder and I encourage them to be right where they are. You know what happens. I'll tell you anyway. 99.9999% of the time the emotion clears within minutes, the singer ends up in a better emotional place as well as feeling more confident in their ability to express themselves. The room is lighter.

Just so you all don't think I'm standing up here on my soap box all sassy-like, knowing every thing there is to know about emotions, I will confess a truth to you. I cannot sing the song “Anatevka” from Fiddler On The Roof without crying. If you don't know it, here it is:

Like Pavlov's dog, I start to tear up as soon as I hear the opening words. Yet I still sing this song, I don't avoid it. Why? Because singing this song reminds me of an emotion deep inside of myself. Something I am unable to express in any other way comes out of me.

So if you're dealing with emotion in your life or in your art, here's what I do and here's what I encourage you, no matter what your level of artistic ability, to do: Take out a blank piece of paper, grab your kid's crayons, open that sketch book, sit with your violin or at your piano, pull out that monologue that has been calling to you. Dive in. Sing, read, paint, write. Let the emotions flow. Don't judge yourself for having those emotions. Feel. Create until you can go no further (or until your 10 Minutes is up). Then leave it alone. If you feel you haven't grasped the emotion fully, repeat the experience when you can. The product does not matter, the experience matters. You might create ca-ca, you might create okayness or you might create the next Mona Lisa. Doesn't matter.

Do you know what you are doing? You are exercising your emotions, just like you exercise your muscles. As you allow yourself to exercise your emotions, a wider spectrum of your emotions will become familiar to you. The scary ones will lose their edge. They'll still be there, but you'll be able walk into that fire and right back out, with hardly a singed hair to show for your efforts.

I've gone on long enough today. If you've got 4 more minutes to spare, take a look at this video of "Emotion" by the Bee Gees and Samantha Song. I found it refreshing. Hope you will too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ten Minutes

I hope my previous post, Who Gets To Create? made you think. Today we're dealing with a nitty-gritty detail – finding time.

If you are like me, life is too short. When you look in your dictionary, you cannot find the word bored, as in “I'm bored”. You can find the words distracts, as in “Everything I should be doing distracts me from the things I want to be doing” or frustrated as in “I am so frustrated that I can't find enough time for my – you fill in the word -”. I fill the blank in with a variety of words, including music, relationships, writing, and especially, self.

Too many projects and not enough time to get to them, or so it seems. This is a common theme. Never fear, Creatavita is here to help.

First of all, the time has come for some good ol' attitude adjustment. This is particularly true if you have ever seriously studied an art form in your life. You learned early on in your study, that an hour a day was required to progress. Anything less was, at least for some of us, total and absolute failure. That's why we would meet each other in the hallways of our college music departments at ridiculous hours of the day, say 6:00 am or 10:30 pm, or my personal favorite time, 7:00 pm on a Friday night. I'd go to happy hour with my friends at 3:00, eat the free food (okay, I'd have a drink or two. But remember, the legal drinking age was 18 back then) and then I would, honest to God, go back to the practice rooms.

That worked in college and graduate school. But guess what. We're all grown up now, with our fancy-pants lives and the rent is due tomorrow. Gone is the luxury of hours on end spent daily communing with your favorite composer, painter or author. In order to get some artistic joy back into our lives, we're going to have to rework this outdated model.

Secondly, I hereby give you permission to lower the bar. Oh boy, I bet you weren't expecting that one. I stand by my original statement, Your Honor, lower the bar. Try this little exercise. Say to yourself, “Self, I bet you I could find 30 minutes a day to work on my novel.” If Self tightens your gut and your heart starts to race, then you have the bar too high. Lower that number until you find the number of minutes to which Self's response is: “Are you crazy? Of course I can find [X] minutes in a day to work on my children's book!”.

To give you courage, let me tell you that I am currently at 10 minutes a day. There have been times in my life when I've been at 20 and times when I've been as low as 5. By the way, the end of the road is 5 minutes. Any number lower than 5 minutes is not trying. We might have lowered the bar, but we are still trying.

Thirdly, use tools. Here's the link to an online timer.

Yes, you heard me, a timer. Use it. Some days your minutes will fly by and you'll be astonished when the timer goes off. Some days you will swear the timer is broken. Use it.

Now I know some of you are out there thinking this will never work. Gathering your materials to work for a small amount of time is pointless. You know what, if you write one good sentence, if you play one good phrase, if you sketch one tiny corner, you will have succeeded. And don't forget that being creative is a habit. Maybe today's work will be awful, but that means you'll be one day closer to the great work.

Finally, give yourself a chance. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will this new habit. You will have to tussle with yourself, as the Musts and Shoulds rear their ugly heads. This tussle could be epic, lasting as long as one month. Stick with it. I'm pretty certain there's a day in your future when you will surprise yourself with how easily you were able to find the time for your favorite creative pursuit.

By the way, you can also use this approach for problem-solving. Let's say you are stymied by a work project or you need to finally choose a dissertation topic. How about focusing on the, ahem, situation, for a chosen amount of time daily and then forgetting about it? I know, I know, difficult to forget about it. Oftentimes, the solution appears when we're not thinking about the conundrum. Deal with the situation for, let's say, 15 minutes a day and then drop it like an old flame for the rest of the day.

Gotta go. Since I spent my 10 minutes today editing this post, I've now freed up time for another fun part of life. Today's adventure? The Teen's playing baseball in South Philly. Cheesesteaks for everyone!