Every Wednesday I choose a topic for the Basilique Chat Salon. About a dozen people gather to discuss it over 2 hours. This week’s subject was Creativity – where does it come from, and where does it go, when it seems unavailable? This is the fourth part of that conversation. In case you’re hopelessly lost, here is the first, second and third.
Two days late on a promise of my own making (which is slowly becoming a theme), here is the fourth and last instalment sharing the wonderful conversation we had last Wednesday at the Basilique Salon. I’ve found that as I edited it for posting, I’ve resisted cutting too much of it, simply because there was so much insight in it. I hope you are finding the conversation as interesting as I did. This part is over 2000 words, so grab a warm drink and curl up on the sofa if you can…
“Becky…” said Mona, “You’re the one that calls the shots. You make the schedule. Not me, not any of the people that are in here, not any of the crowd. Stop worrying about where you’ll find inspiration. In fact, stop even expecting to find it in high art. You might find it in a mass-produced pop song, or in a few passing words in a conversation.”
“Indeed,” added Caitlin, “So this schedule, and ‘best times’ and all, who made that anyway? Like you can’t change it??”
“Yeah…” I reluctantly agreed, “that’s the other pressure… to be clever with high art. The criteria get tighter and tighter. I sound like I’m complaining though. I actually love it, that’s why I’m feeling the pressure.”
“I’m not a classical buff, Becky,” replied Mona. “I don’t normally listen to classical. I often find inspirational messages in rock ballads, blues, even in pop stuff. Sometimes, even entirely unrelated events might kick me into action. Well, seemingly entirely unrelated.
“I saw one huge problem with Paradise Lost, and Romeo and Juliet (besides the fact that they cause my GPU to raise temperatures high enough to bake a cake). They confine you to a certain framework and mindset. So, you expect of yourself (I don’t – I never expressed any expectations regarding your work) to keep doing what the pundits call ‘high art’.
“Mozart was his time’s biggest pop star. And he also had a huge thing for scatological humour. For instance, that song “Leck mich im Arsch” (Lick me in the arse). Don’t demand of yourself to be always in this genre. Try new ideas; even ones you’re not familiar with. Tell you what. Go out tomorrow and purchase an issue of “Guitar Techniques” Chances are that someone (perhaps Shaun Baxter) in there will be repeating once again that famous line that’s often told to the second stupidest category of musicians (and always ignored): ‘Expose yourselves to unfamiliar styles; stop imitating other guitarists;’ etc. Get out of your comfort zone. And this also means that you should get out of the box where you expect to find inspiration. Also: STOP pressuring yourself.
One of our two Nobel laureate poets wrote once “grab the ‘must’ from the t and tear it all the way to the m”. Tear the word “must” to shreds. You “must” have a concept by August. No. You don’t have to. Don’t expect your next project to be as big as Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost was huge, but it worked. Something else could have been as pompous and pretentious as one my guilty pleasures. You don’t need your next work to be as big as Paradise Lost. Perhaps you could do two smaller projects that you’ll really enjoy doing. Have you considered this at all?”
I had not, and said so.
“Let me put it this way: Would you like your next work to be a Julio Iglesias “Best of” double LP or a Beatles single?” asked Mona.
“Umm…” I struggled for a moment trying to figure out if this was a trick question, finally replying “the latter?”
“Precisely.” She said emphatically. “It doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t even have to be tremendously technical. What made Paradise Lost tick?
“The emotion.” I answered instantly.
“Exactly.” She confirmed. “The emotion. Not the scale.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “My ego wants the scale.”
“Then take your ego, put it in a tin box, weld it shut and throw it to the sea.” She replied.
“Ego’s are good friends,” added Caitlin, “but usually bad advisors…”
“Precisely.” Agreed Mona. “Paradise Lost was ginormous. But it also had taste and emotion. So, find something that appeals to you. Something that makes you think, or feel, or both. Or something that makes you laugh. Think it over. Think if you could do something with it. It doesn’t have to be huge. Apply taste and emotion. As for scale… Personally, I couldn’t care less.”
“Perhaps even a few small things that come together into a themed anthology.” Added Kay. “Delicious bites rather than a massive cake.”
“A triptych,” offered Juliette, “Three paintings come to life.”
Good ideas all. I was thinking, why do they all see it this way? I trusted their intentions were good. They didn’t want me to stress. They didn’t want me to pressure myself. But, isn’t that were the best stuff comes from? From stress and pressure?
“Maybe I’ve been influenced by cynics like Menippus and Diogenes quite a bit…” added Mona, “But really, I find greater beauty in a small, lovingly-built home than in those “I’m gonna fuck the sky” phallic buildings that are basically ways for impotent rich men to compensate.
As Mona was talking, I imagined bringing Eiffel a cup of tea as he was working on the drawings his eponymous tower, could I imagine myself saying: “Come on now Gustave, why put all this pressure on yourself? Isn’t it enough to stick to bridges?” Yet, I could see the logic in what they were saying.
“Mona,” I said, “I want to disagree with you so much except for that fact that you are making so much sense.”
“And again, don’t pressure yourself.” She reiterated. “It’ll cause you to rush things, and this will sabotage your efforts. Go for taste, emotion, insight, and what we call “μεράκι” (which can be translated as a combination of love and passion for your work). In fact, we have a short, anon-written poem that says “he who doesn’t love what he does must die, for in this world he only wastes the space he takes.”
“But really, if you pressure yourself, you might even end up resenting your own work and your own hobby and labour of love. What you do here is not a job; it’s your passion. We don’t necessarily love our jobs. But we love our passions. So, don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a self-imposed rut. After Paradise Lost ends, take a break. Go out, have fun, read, listen to whatever pleases you, expose yourself to other ideas, genres, whatever. What the hell, maybe even go out and listen to Allan Holdsworth or go visit a street photography exhibition or something. Or just go for a trip – short, long, who cares?
“Yeah, it all makes sense.” I agreed.
“Get as much input as possible, but without pressure.” She said. “Let it sink in. Let your brain correlate it to your own thoughts, ideas, experiences, obsessions, and passions. And that’s when you’ll have an “aha!” moment. Or two. Or ten. Or a hundred. Remember my post that was titled “On a personal note”?
“I was stuck in a rut. It’s no secret that Inara is my mentor in a million of things. I speak with her on a daily basis and I’ve learned from her in these two years more than I’ve learned since 2006. Still, I somehow felt obliged, blog-wise, to live up to her own style and work.
“This meant that, not only did I try to improve my writing (that’s good), but I also tried to provide quick news coverage of as many things SL as possible. But that turned out to be impossible. I couldn’t find the time to watch the Drax Files properly (much less listen to the Radio Hour), research stuff, put it together, comment on it… I started to feel like I was drowning.
“I know that feeling, when it comes to my blog…” added Caitlin.
I agreed: “Same here.”
“So, I said ‘sod it, I’ll do whatever the hell I want, I’ll write when I want, when I can, when I feel like it, when I’m ready.’” said Mona.
“It makes a lot of sense Mona,” I said after some more discussion had passed, “and also what the others have said. I am finding it a serious challenge to embrace the advice, but I know it’s sound. I think the issue is not that I disagree, but rather that it goes so much against my grain that I find it almost alien.”
“Becky,” said Kay, “I would agree with you and it’s why I’ve been quiet tonight, too. It’s all excellent advice, but not my nature either.
“Yeah,” I smiled at Kay, “I had a feeling. Yeah, I’ve been taking it in, and thinking… this all makes sense, but can I really do that?”
“Yeah you can.” said Caitlin.
“It may be against your grain, Becky,” replied Mona, “but remember: SL is a hobby. It’s not a vocation. Does your livelihood depend on it? It doesn’t. Since it doesn’t, then stop worrying.
“Well,” I replied, “my creative livelihood does, to a great extent.”
Kay added: “One can be passionate and intense about an avocation, too.”
“It doesn’t.” Stated Mona. “I’ll give you some tough love here, Missy.”
“Uh oh…” I laughed, “it wasn’t tough enough?”
“What depends on stressing out about getting things done in super-tight deadlines is the satisfaction of your desire to announce yet another big work. Guess what? It doesn’t have to be something big. Have you watched the “This Is Spinal Tap” movie?
“A long time ago yes,” thankful to actually know one of Mona’s sometimes obscure references.
“Heh,” chuckled Kay, “I used to use that when teaching project management classes, on the importance of writing accurate specifications… or leprechauns will dance around your henge.
“By pressuring yourself into thinking you have to prepare BIG things in a very short time, you also risk trapping yourself into thinking you have to do BIG things only. And size isn’t everything, as we all know very well. Well, OK, in some cases it does help, but it’s not the only thing that matters. If you trap yourself into wanting to do only big things, you’re going to enter Nigel Tufnel territory.”
“Ok. Tell you what.” I said. “I’m going to give what you’ve said serious thought. And I’m not just saying that. I’m going to really consider why I want to do certain things. I’m going to decide for myself the way to go, with a view of balancing the pressure and stress with what’s on the other side of that.
“That sounds like a more hopeful position than feeling blocked.” said Kay.
“Yes.” I agreed, “It definitely is.”
“Brava!” she shouted.
“Even if you don’t have a complete concept by August, you can discuss it with the rest of the crew and people can contribute their two cents.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “and it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t, you’re right.
“Who knows,” she added, “perhaps someone else from the Basilique can have some idea that might work as a project.”
“Yes, always possible.” I said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask your collaborators for ideas and suggestions.” she added. “You asked us here, and many of us are complete strangers.”
“Eek, another can of worms your opening now…”
Caitlin laughed: “I think I just felt Becky cringe.”
“That was your ego whispering…” added Caitlin.
“It didn’t whisper…” said Mona, “My cat woke up by it!”
We all had a good laugh at that.
“And I cringed on your behalf,” added Kay, “because collaboration is not my nature either. But I acknowledge it’s ego-based.”
“Thanks very much all of you. I appreciate that tonight has been a lot about my stuff, and I really am grateful for the time and energy you’ve put into helping me with it.”
“You know that allowing room for people to contribute and participate makes team members believe more in the team. And they become more dedicated to the team and to you.” Added Mona.
I agreed: “Yes, it’s a big weakness.”
“It’s really interesting to have a variety of personalities for a discussion. I’m lousy on teams. Do not play well with others. Bossypants. But, if I am directing, I love having engaged and independent team members. I just don’t surrender the reins easily.”
“But you don’t need to ‘surrender’…..!” said Caitlin, “that’s the whole point.”
And by then, as the clocked ticked onwards, it was time to go to bed. Overall, a great discussion. Lots of great ideas, and some real honest talk. Long may they continue.