The creativity pas-de-deux

  People who have dedicated their lives to the arts, or simply devoted themselves to making their lives a work of art, know well the feeling of reaching out towards inspiration, towards excellence. This yearning for that undefinable something has an ill-tempered neighbor, Mr. Frustration. He wears many masks: the composition that dies half-written because “I can’t make it come out on paper like it is in my head.” The comparison to another player – “I’ll never sound like her.” The fear of irrelevance – “Nobody wants to read this kind of story anyway. Why bother?” The conditional taskmaster – “If only you had worked harder, sacrificed more, then you might have made it.” And so many others. What a soul-sucking, time-wasting masquerade. Anyone who has done the cha-cha with the demon of perfectionism as often as I have knows the drill. It’s always the wrong tempo, and you always step on his toes. Get off that dance floor, friends. Now.
I recently listened to the marvelous audio book version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, a gorgeous meditation on creativity and allowing yourself to “make stuff,” even if it isn’t perfect. Even if you know it hasn’t a prayer of being perfect. Just Make The Stuff. It’s what we were born to do. And it’s fun. In her book, Gilbert challenges the belief in an indifferent or even hostile universe. If you love nature, she says, and yet believe nature doesn’t care about your existence, then how can you ever enter into a relationship with it? Why not believe that the love can flow in both directions? This is equally true for creativity. If the essence of the soul is creative, how can the universe not reflect that principle? 
I believe this is just as true for the interpretive artist as well as for the painter, composer, choreographer, chef, or novelist. An image that has come to me recently while playing my horn is that of each note loving me back as much as I love each note. It’s a different quality of music-making. We all know both performance versions when we hear them, the technically flawless presentation that leaves us cold, and the one that has love and passion. That second one reaches beyond itself, beyond the interpreter, and makes us feel those things too. Furthermore, I believe that the concertos, symphonies, songs WANT to be played beautifully. Imagine the pieces themselves blushing and going all shivery when a musician opens up to receive them! Throw them a great party, and they will want to come back and hang out and dance on the tables.
The beautiful things are out there waiting to be made, and so it is up to us to reach out for them with open arms, an open mind, an open heart. Music-making in this way is so incredibly rewarding. Indeed, it becomes its own reward. You will of course do your best to prepare with attention and discipline, and nothing can replace all the hard work. But you see, that’s not the same as being hard on yourself. You reach out for the music, for just the right voice or phrase…what if it’s reaching out towards you at the same time? That means you only have half the distance to cover.
I am reminded of that perennial quote by Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” What’s important to know is that our bliss is also skipping along half a step behind us, waiting for us to turn around and bump into it. When you approach your life’s work in this manner, you honor yourself, and you honor the source of that creativity. Now that’s one dance I don’t want to miss!

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