Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What Are You Afraid Of?

I'm going to talk to you today about practicing.  Yes, I'm thinking of practicing music, but honestly, you can apply the concept of practicing to so many aspects of life.  Practicing how you eat (or don't eat). Practicing how you exercise.  Practicing a new attitude about life.  Practicing a new career.

Practicing gets a bum rap with many people.  This stems from the vintage image of a mopey 9-year-old stuck at a piano with her mother yelling in the background, "Miss Burns said you should practice for 30 minutes every day.  That comes before playing outside with Mary.  Mary can wait".  Am I right?

You can stop wasting brain cells on that image right now.  Instead focus on your self, exploring a part of your soul that doesn't get to come out and play very often.  A part of your soul that you have stuck down in the deepest corner of your gut.

That's right.  You see, I think most of us resist practicing because we are afraid of ourselves.  We are afraid of failing, which is implicit in practicing.  We are afraid of bumping up against our big fears, that we aren't good enough.  I say what we are practicing isn't about being good enough.  It's about finding the ideal way to say what we have to say in our souls.  That's actually what we're afraid of.  We're afraid we have nothing of value to say.  We're afraid we have nothing new to say.  We're afraid we will be rejected for what we want to say.

Here's a quote I use to motivate my own practice:

Oh, you can't read that, can you?  I just wanted you to see that I actually have a paper copy of it.  It hangs in my office here:

Some day I'm going to take you all on a tour of those papers.  There's some gems in there.

Back to the quote, from Branford Marsalis.  You know him as a jazz musician, but guess what?  When that article appeared in 2014, he was here in Philadelphia playing...get ready for it...classical music.  Gasp.  Yes, a topnotch jazz player switched genres while he was famous, while he was getting paid for playing music, while he was further up the ladder than you are.

Oh, the quote.

"Most people tend to avoid areas where they're not comfortable for reasons I'm not really sure of because the benefits are so great...The only way to get good at something is to be bad - at first.  When you're young it doesn't hurt so much.  But it's OK to be bad as long as there's a goal.  It's taken me about 10 years of serious work, listening to this music, playing it, studying it.  It feels OK now."

It feels OK now. He didn't say it feels great, it feels awesome.  He said it feels OK.

Most people tend to avoid areas where they're not comfortable for reasons I'm not really sure of because the benefits are so great.  The benefits are so great.  THAT's what is great.  The benefits of getting uncomfortable.

The only way to get good at something is to be bad - at first.  Exactly.  Give yourself permission to fail.

When you're young it doesn't hurt so much.  I'm not sure I agree with him.  I actually find it easier to be uncomfortable now that I'm, er, not young.

It's taken me about 10 years of serious work, listening to this music, playing it, studying it. 10 years of serious work.  Feels daunting, I know, but look at what he calls serious work - listening, playing, studying.  Breathing it, questing after it - all the things you love about the creative pursuit anyway.  But you allow yourself to get hung up on the surface and don't dive into the water.

So, Creataviters, the next time you need to practice a new skill or habit and you find yourself looking for a distraction, ask yourself -

What am I afraid of?

See you later.  Gotta go practice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Walking Through Fire

I shouldn't be writing this post today.

I should be on my way to Machu Picchu.  But I'm not.

Here's why:

I'm still playing The Waiting Game.  Even with the attitude adjustments I've recently made, I honestly believed I'd be done with the game by now.  I also thought I would either be working on the new project or I'd be adventuring my way through Peru and Bolivia with Beloved.

I'm not.  I'm in my studio.

Don't worry, I'm not in a bad place...anymore.  I walked through the fire last Friday night and Saturday morning.

Here's why:

A final decision on the project, I was told last week, would absolutely happen last Friday.  After much thought, crunching of numbers, sleeping on it, and in the end, trusting our guts, Beloved and I decided to postpone the trip.  Machu Picchu isn't going anywhere.  We lost what feels like a lot of money (4 digits, 2 zeros, the other 2 under 6), but we didn't lose it all (buy the travel insurance) and here's a sincere plug for Gate1 Travel for working with us.

I was fine until Friday night around 8:00 pm.  That's when I became disheartened.  My thoughts started with "they're not going to communicate tonight", moved through "they're not ever going to communicate" and straight to "they're going to let me hang out here".

Friday night was uncomfortable.  I slept, but the worst was that 3:43 am wakeup call.  You know the one.  Your mind runs around the same situation over and over and over.  Even worse, I had the feeling that my instincts had failed me completely.  That every decision I had made in this was wrong.

THAT is the worst feeling to me.  To think that I couldn't rely on my instincts.  That was Fire No. 1.

I walked through it.  I faced it and reminded myself of all the positives that had already come out of this situation.  That this happens to other people as well.  That I had support and love from Beloved, colleagues and friends galore.

Fortunately, these positives settled in and I fell asleep.

Fire No. 2 came when I woke up and joined Beloved on the patio for our morning coffee.  Now he was down!  I let him talk, even though it was hard.  I just wanted to cry, which I did.  I cried.  And then I listened.  That was smart.  And then we agreed to


Hey, we were supposed to be on our way to the airport for a trip we had planned for 11 months!  And we weren't.  We had no work planned for the day, no appointments, no responsibilities, no one even knew we were in town.  So I hopped on the Internet and found this gem.  2 hours later (okay we had one responsibility.  We had to mow the lawn), we were on our way.

Central Pennsylvania welcomed us with open arms.  We visited natural sites, explored a cemetery, walked down hot country roads, ate ice cream and German food, drank wine, talked, sat in the fresh air, looked at the vistas around us and recovered.

By Saturday afternoon, I was on the other side of both fires.  My trust in my own instincts was rejuvenated.  Clearly, whatever was going on with this project was way beyond me.  I had taken the right steps.  Sticking this out was the right choice.  I give up so easily.  Here I was, sticking it out.  It was uncomfortable, it felt terrible, I lost money, BUT I was on the other side of the fire.

Now I honestly didn't care.  Now I was able to just go on.  Now I was able to live a day at a time.  I'm sure that will change, but for right now I could do it.  THAT is different. It feels great!

By Sunday afternoon, I was back.  I had a simple plan that wouldn't burn any bridges and that I could live with.  We headed home the slow way, off the interstate.  It was delightful.

Around 3:30, I glanced at my phone.  Lo and behold, the first communication since Thursday.

Still hang in there, please.


I'm still in there.  I'm just not hanging.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Flailing At Life

You Creataviters are lucky I don't subject you to more baseball analogies in my posts.  In fact, this might be the first one.  Trust me, there are plenty more in my draft folder.

While talking baseball with Cynthia, one of Creatavita's BFFs recently, I mentioned how frustrating it is to watch Maikel Franco flailing away at the ball. 

Let me back up.  Maikel Franco is a young, immensely talented baseball player.  Of course he plays for the Philadelphia Phillies.  What were you expecting?  He's known for his explosive bat (translation: he can hit the ball) and his fearless approach to the game.  Skills that line up with successful creators - talent and fearlessness.

However, when he gets in a slump, watching Maikel hit can be painful.  He just tries too hard, as you can see in these two photos (amazingly, I cannot find a video of him striking out).

Notice Maikel's helmet is no where to be found.  Not a good sign.

See what I mean about the helmet?

Maikel just tries too hard.  

Do you ever do that?  

I do. I assume if a little is good, a lot has to be better.  So I cross over the line and become obsessive.  About every little detail in a song, in a monologue, on my resume, in an email, on my website.  I spend hours parsing the correct word, looking for the correct sensation in my throat, uber-planning my trip to that audition in two weeks.

Sometimes, I just need to back off of myself.  Take a breath.  Let enough be enough.  If I've done the work I can do, I'm done.  I have to recognize I'm not in control of everything.  I have to let go and stop trying so hard.

In the spirit of Creatavita, I end this post with two videos of Maikel using that talent, focus and fearlessness to succeed.  Note:  If you're a subscriber and these videos don't appear in your email, click on the highlighted Creatavita at the bottom of the email.  You'll be directed to the actual blog and should be able to view the videos there.

First. An amazing throw from third base.

There's no flailing here. 
The helmet stays on and Maikel hits a grand slam.

So let's all stop flailing.  Let's stay focused and fearless.