A Response to Vika Part 1

My dear students…. I just read an insightful blog post by one of you, Vika. She has a tendency to write insightful blog posts. Here is a link to it — it is well work your time: http://vikalongi.net/2017/02/02/limited-passion-happy-accidents/ This is such a wonderful post that I have to write directly to it.

Vika writes,”Creativity perplexes me and my confusion seemed to culminate during improv in STAC on Tuesday. Throughout class, there were many instances where students would pose before me and my brain would instantly provide context. There were also times when it would not. I have been informed, on many occasions, that in reality, the seeming absence of ideas is the result of a rejection of ideas that I have identified as “bad.” I have certainly experienced this in the past and have recognized it as such, though there have been instances where it seems as though I have skipped this process entirely. Is it possible for me to have suppressed these “bad” ideas subconsciously? How can we truly know that this occurrence is unanimous when we only exist within our own minds?”

The “informer” implied in this chunk of paragraph is me, and Vika seems simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with what I suppose could be one of my core philosophies regarding the teaching of creativity, which is that there is always an idea. First of all, I have to point out that the simultaneous agree/disagree is in itself proof of a creative mind. I forgot the source of the quote, but it goes something like, “An artist is someone who can hold two contradictory thoughts in his or her head at the same time.” This co-causality is woven throughout the fabric of creative endeavor. As creatives we’re always doing our best which is also never good enough, finishing paintings that still feel unfinished, writing songs that are original yet we absolutely know we’ve stolen from other writers. We are constantly embracing our stylistic and thematic ancestors in the same moment we’re pushing them away. We often drag ourselves by the scruff of the neck to work at something we truly love. What a mess! And typical. And I think universal. It’s the dichotomy embodied in going to the bathroom: It’s both disgusting and a wonderful relief.

But back to this idea of an idea always there and suppressing the bad idea… or is there in fact no idea there at times?

I base most of my thinking on personal experience. I read a lot, but I examine myself constantly, am constantly metacognitive. From my own life doing a variety of creative things with general success, I’ve found that I’ve always got an idea down there somewhere. The idea might be rather lame, but it is there. Often I don’t have the idea in the forefront of my mind until I begin to speak about it, and then it creates itself, fleshes itself out, with me describing it as it grows in my head. I guess the conversation might go something like this: “I’m looking at these people standing there, and they’re just standing there and doing nothing. Nothing at all. Standing there like boring trees…” And there is the creative spark, flickering to life in the simile. And this always happens, always to me. Always to the rest of you? Yes, I think so. I cannot believe for a second that I am so different from you, that Picasso or John Lennon or JK Rowling is so different from you and I. Me, you, Shakespeare, Carol King, Stephen King, Meryl Streep — we all go to the bathroom.

There’s also the matter of teaching. It is expedient, no, not that… it is supremely useful and good in an honorable way for me to present a model of creativity to you all that is hopeful. Do you really want me to agree with you when you say you don’t have an idea? How does that help you? How does that lead you out of your personal dark woods into a clearing with grass, flowers and sunlight? Do you really want this:

I’m ugly.
Yup.

No one will love me.
Yup.

I suck.
Yup. You sure do.

I don’t have an idea. Yes, you do. You just think it’s a bad one. There is the practical implication here that you could eventually have a good one. That a good idea is right around the corner.

And I tell you all to let ideas be ideas, neither good nor bad. That they’re always there and you just have to cultivate the habit of letting them out, good or bad, because a blockage is a blockage, flow is flow. And I tell you all this, that you always have an idea, because it is true, especially if you believe it.

I’ll have more to write regarding Vika’s wonderful post later today — she has so much in there, so many ideas. All good.

Competition and Daryl

I had a friend in high school – let us call him “Daryl.” Daryl was smarter than I, better looking than I, more athletic than I, had girlfriends (I didn’t) etc. And he was my best friend at that time. We did everything together – acted in plays, played in bands, went to parties, got in trouble doing dumb things with cars and eggs – all that stuff.

I looked up to Daryl, I think much the way li’l 5´4˝ John Hall with a 70’s porn mustache must have looked up to 6´1˝ blond god with The Voice Daryl Hall. It’s not an accident my friend from high school has “Daryl” as a pseudonym.

We went off to different colleges – he to an Ivy, me not to an Ivy, and at the end of our freshman year we reconnected back home, and we had an interesting conversation about being depressed. Freshman year isn’t easy, and I mentioned this to Daryl, that I found it hard and was a little depressed at school. Daryl quickly one-upped me: He was more depressed at school than I was. I felt slighted, felt that my depression wasn’t to be poo poo’d, so I upped back a bit: “Yes, but I blah blah blah…” I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember what Daryl said: “Oh yeah? Well I was CLINICALLY DIAGNOSED with depression!”

It occurred to me in that moment that we were competing about who was more psychologically disturbed. Yeeks! I let him win: “Ok, dude. You’ve bigger mental problems then me.”

After I said that our friendship fell apart. Much later I realized that as much as I was looking up to Daryl, he was in fact threatened, somehow, by me. Or maybe he was threatened by everyone and I was nothing special. I’ll never know, but that isn’t the point.

The point is this: Do you have a Daryl in your life? A person that has to be right and win, even at things that completely suck? Win at things that really you don’t want to win at? The worst diarrhea on record. The most forgetful person ever. The most depressed.

There are people who put on a negative identity and wear it like a crown. There are people who think the basement apartment is kinda like the penthouse.

Do you have a Daryl in your life, and is that Daryl you?

My students, so many of you procrastinate, as do I. So many of you can’t discipline yourselves, can’t finish assignments, can’t complete things, can’t start things. I’m the same way, and I feel for you. But when I, or someone else, offers you something, like a system to get things done, or a way of approaching a problem or task, or an assignment that offers the potential to move you to action, do you have a Daryl inside of you, whispering in your mind’s ear: “I’ll never be able to do that. You have no idea how bad I am. How lazy I am. How much I procrastinate. I’m so bad I can’t be fixed.”

Do you really want to win that one? Do you really want to be unfixable? Beyond hope? Beyond the energy and persistence of your teacher? Of yourself? And does this negative identity have many coats in your closet? No one will ever love me. I can’t do anything right. Blah blah blah.

You will have to shut Daryl up if it is possible. Or get him out of your life. Or not listen. Or if that all isn’t possible then you must learn to say, “Oh Daryl, I hear what you’re saying because you never shut up, but I chose to do this thing that you don’t think I can do. I chose to press on and go around you or over you or under you or whatever, Daryl, but you’re not stopping me, you asshole.”

Remember, and I am not trying to preach here, but, remember to compete only for things worth winning. Compete at things that help you get more accomplished, that make you long term happier, that improve you as a person, as an artist, as a human. Lose, or better yet, don’t even get involved in stupid contests that require you to go lower to win, especially if you’re lowering yourself. Don’t be the person who comes in first in the skydiving race by taking off the parachute. Don’t be an ass. Don’t be your own Daryl.