Tag Archives: artist

A Million Little Pains

I have a really bad urge to write right now, but I feel like I’m taking my life into my own hands. Because I have tendonitis in my writing arm. It doubly sucks, because I also rely on that arm to, you know, play piano for a living.

This has happened before. A year ago, I was happily doing writing exercises every day in The Artist’s Way, the brilliant book by Julia Cameron all about reclaiming and discovering one’s own creativity. The number one thing out of that book that often makes the biggest difference for people is the morning pages, which are simply three pages of freewriting (stream-of-consciousness brain spill) done first thing in the morning. I did it for a good eight weeks and loved the opportunity it gave me to unlatch my brain after whatever kind of night of sleep I had. It gave me a chance to start fresh every day, and to even come up with some great ideas for creative projects.

But by the eighth week, I noticed with growing dismay that my morning pages had a constant theme – the pain in my right forearm. It was the result of an injury I got months earlier from wrestling with a sticky mic stand. The pain went from thumb joint all the way to elbow and sometimes a little beyond, and that was all my brain could express in my notebook. It was hard. I had to stop to pause several times and wiggle or massage my hand and elbow, even though I knew I was violating a cardinal rule.

My piano practice suffered too. I could only play short sessions and follow them up with an ice-down. I stopped playing at my favorite open mic for a while, reserving whatever I had left for paid gigs.

And then the morning pages stopped completely. After trying different kinds of pens and paper, switching to typing, writing fewer pages or more slowly, nothing relieved the pain. All I could do was stop.

That’s where I’m at now. After three days of trying to re-introduce morning pages to my routine, I’m once again stymied by another flare-up. I’ve had drugs, ice, heat, chiropractic, massage, reiki, yoga – anything I can throw at it. But no relief, nothing that will have me write comfortably every day.

I easily sound pretentious. There are a billion more things actually worth crying over. I’m not an NHL hockey player with a broken leg or a union electrician with a slipped disc and kids to feed. I’m not a military sniper who at any moment could step on a land mine.

But ask anyone whose living consists of millions of small movements how it feels to live with a small pain that won’t quit unless you do. And it’s the small pains that are the most sinister, because they could mask bigger issues or make you just pissed off enough to throw your commitment out the window completely.

It wouldn’t hurt my arm so much if it didn’t hurt my heart, my soul, my faith in who I am.

I have a friend who is a yoga teacher diagnosed with MS. She inspires me, not because she’s doing full-on yoga and teaching others in spite of her condition, but because sometimes she does have bad days and missed days, and complaints and annoyances like anybody else. She too is bothered by little pains.  And she doesn’t always have the answers to mine.

And I wonder if my drive to find answers to my pain is only making it worse. If only I can separate my mind from it, or not think so much about it. I don’t want to ignore my body and its needs, but my heart and soul are just as starved. If I can feed my heart and soul while giving my body the space to heal, that would be the best. It’s just that the things I normally want to do for that purpose require the parts of me that hurt the most.

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“…with no spoils of the game.”

Just read this: http://raprehab.com/confessions-of-a-failed-hip-hop-artist/

As musicians, we easily fall into the neediness trap: “If I just get in with this person and split a show with that guy and get reviewed on that blog…I’ll have it made!”

We think our success depends on how others view us, and so we push and push to make better impressions on the “right” people, thinking we’re lost without this or that big-name person giving us compliments and shaking our hand.

This is the poison.

Here’s the truth: Yes, it IS about who you know. But this truth can be anyone’s downfall.

What to do? Try to develop strong face-to-face relationships with average listeners; don’t just shout everything over the Internet. And if you happen to approach a person of clout, relate to them from your heart, and not from your business model.

Rob Jay learned the hard way, and I salute him for sharing his candid story.

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Have a Showstopper

Last week I was at the Iowa State Fair, in the middle of an agricultural orgy. I got to experience the famous butter cow, the yodeling contest, the livestock shows, and of course the savory sweetness of pulled pork.

I also got to see an artist demo. Barbara Vaske, an artist and art consultant in my home town of Des Moines, was giving a demo on wire crochet, something that combines two of my favorite non-musical activities: crochet and beading.

Toward the end of her presentation, she shared a whopper piece of advice that really challenged my thinking about being a professional artist: You want to have a SHOWSTOPPER.

A showstopper is the one piece that is the biggest, wildest, most awesome and unique amongst all your projects. It draws attention and curiosity. It’s not the same as a masterpiece, which is the best thing amongst your usual stuff. A showstopper stands completely apart from your usual stuff. Someone who does metalworking may do the vast majority of her pieces as jewelry, but the showstopper will be a ball gown made of metal that patrons can marvel at from a hundred yards away. (Extra points if Lady Gaga wears it.) And if it’s for sale at all, it will be at a disgustingly out-of-range price.

The artist who creates a showstopper will be remembered and known for that piece, such that people who want to buy something smaller and less expensive from you will feel like they’re getting a piece of the big one. In fact, that will be their reason for buying from you at all – the showstopper has them fall in love with your work, and its aura will be cast on everything else you offer.

The ultimate lesson: Not every piece you do has to be a showstopper. By having just one, you free yourself from the pressure of having to paint Picasso every time you sit down to create something.

I was blown away by this.

And it made me think, “This applies to other industries too.”

Take cars, for instance. A car company will produce the apotheosis of custom vehicles with a price in six or seven figures to be their showstopper. Its only real purpose is to revolve slowly on a turntable at an auto show and get people salivating over it. The company may produce only ten of these cars for sale. But the buzz created from this Supermobile will give extra selling power to all the mid-priced grocery-getters that the same company makes for the average consumer.

Of course, it got me thinking: How does the showstopper principle apply to music? Well, it can do that in hundreds of ways. An obvious example is the “one-hit wonder,” though most of us use that term dismissively. A better example, I think, is a stand-out project that stretches the limits of what an artist can do, without falling prey to assumptions and formulas – like Michael Jackson’s video for “Thriller.” No other Michael Jackson video at that time needed to have the breadth and scope of “Thriller,” just that infectious title track. And guess what? You know the rest of the story.

It’s about taking what you do best and asking, “What could I do with this if I had no limits?” Do it once, deliberately, and with love and patience. It’s not a rat race. It’s not about conquering the world, or having every one of your projects be an ultimate masterpiece.

I get myself tied in knots thinking this way – that every little thing I do must be THE thing.

No, just let one thing be THE THING, and let it be your mouthpiece. It will express the love of what you do, the best of your skill, your hearing of the muses. People will say, “So you’re the one who made the house-boat out of hubcaps?” And all you need to do is smile and nod – no need for mission statements here. You’ve already communicated something.

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