Life in Words
Woman. Writer. dreamer. Leader.
If you say you are not a singer, does that mean you never sing? If you say you are not a dancer, does that mean you never dance? If you say you are not normal, does that mean you are crazy? Why must there be this wall between the creatives (the crazies) and the supposed non-creatives ( normals).My granddaughter came to the dinner table one night and said, “Gigi ( that’s my grandmother name), what is this thing called normal?” Our family has never been that. She was comparing herself to the kids she met in her new school. We are made up of painters, dancers, singers, and musicians. We are also business men and women and sensitive hard-working humans. I would never call us normal. But it made me think that we really do not know what normal IS. And we do bandy about the word “crazy” a little too much. What exactly is the normal of now? It is good to be weird but bad to be crazy? By most people’s standards my entertainment business friends are the crazy ones. I am surrounded by varying degrees of pathology-bipolar, narcissistic, dreamers pushing their creative agendas. I like these people. I generally like the way their brains work. They are often shy, funny-haired, nervous, outside folk. They are risk takers who don’t mind sharing endless scripts, stories, and projects with strangers. In a word, they are interesting. They would never pronounce themselves “not a dancer or a singer” and would have no problem breaking into a tone-deaf version of “My Girl” while dancing like Elaine in Seinfeld. This is MY normal. If we are outside of something, then where is the edge?Today I was called to counsel a writer friend who is plagued with rage, depression, and brilliance. Yes a certain kind of brilliance is like a disease because it calls for immediate action which most assuredly goes against “normal and acceptable”. The medicine for this is some form of running down the street with your hair on fire, literally or figuratively. Or maybe the afflicted needs to wrap herself in a blanket like a taco, stay in bed for three days, and contain the ideas into small packages which can be later sold to clients. My friend had just stayed up all night writing a play that was in her head. She had to get out, an exorcism of sorts, and then get up and drive her child to school. Although she has a successful career and a beautiful family, she often longs to run away, alone in an RV, free of everything except for her next book or short story. I was forced to have the “mental-health-for-creatives talk” with her. This is how it goes….You can vent this stuff like steam through the cracks in your armor. You can hide it in blankets or bury it like a pig in a hole filled with hot coals. It cooks, it steams, it sends out a sweet odor. You WILL be haunted by it until a new idea comes along that takes its place. Maybe you can you write it down in long hand on a yellow pad and then rip it up. I like driving west into the sun as fast as I can. That has always worked for me. Very very loud punk or rap music also works. Once you find your hiding spot or your vents, you can expect the pressure to let up a bit. It never goes away completely though. Big ideas just cook like that roasted pig-long and deep. Now if you are trained as a therapist or a psychiatrist, you’re probably thinking this advice is not really medically sound. But it works for teenagers and my “crazy” friends. Some of them have won awards for their long-roasted pigs/ideas/books/songs. Like Jack Kerouac, “I go for the mad ones who burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles…” I told my granddaughter that being normal is over rated. She went off happily to write a song. I didn’t tell her that she might need to develop some coping skills someday for her raging mind churning out ideas faster than a sausage factory. Maybe the new normal is acceptance of this kind of mind. I hope so because I don’t plan to stop the burning.
Some people say, "I'm just not creative." I do not believe this. Everyone is creative. Many people just have it trained out of them by the time they are 12 when imagination becomes the thing of only artists and children. But the world needs creativity to imagine its future. Jobs as we know them will be gone. The tools and methods I use in my work today weren't even invented when I was in high school or even college. And it's going much faster now. You and especially your children will need to exercise your creative muscle to stay viable. You don't need to be an artist of any kind to spark, stoke, and feed a creative fire inside yourself. Or, if you are an artist, it's likely you have either lost your Mojo altogether or been stricken by a creative block. This method works for you as well. Some people might just be looking for evidence that they have one creative bone in their body. You just need permission to be free. Here are some tips on building the creativity you already have inside and the way to keep it coming from now until, well, forever.
Since this is the year of the Fire Monkey...
Make a place and a time to focus on your flame everyday. Find the perfect spot in your home for these activities. Leave the guitar out, make a writing spot, build altars, gardens, water fountains. Staring into space is allowed and encouraged. Walk, run, breathe or take a shower and let the sound of water free your mind of its usual clutter. This is an in-your-face process. You will also need space in your head to just imagine, connect random dots, and not be disturbed by reality. Think of it as your daily workout. Claim the place and time and don't let anyone ( including yourself) shame you out of this by filling it up with other more "important" demands.
I can not tell you WHAT will spark you. That is yours alone to discover. But I can tell you that it will involve opening up your senses in order to receive your very own special fire starter. The way your brain works may be different from mine but there is a sensory language that can help with the sparking. Use color, sound, light, movement, rhythm, texture, and shapes. It may be dancing or discussing architecture in a coffee shop with friends. Find what you like. This is the spark and an opening to the sensual world. You could take a walk in nature or feel a soft cashmere sweater. Your senses are ready and waiting to open new places in the imagination.
Poking the fire
You know how you have to find a stick and move the logs around a little to really get it going? This is your chance to move things around, rearrange, stare at the junk jar, look for some visual fodder like favorite images. Listen to music. There's something going on inside but you don't need to make sense of it yet. Chaos and uncertainty are your friends.
Stoking the fire
More logs please. You need to find fuel. Often this means a great chat with a mind you admire. Have a debate. Opposites open the mind to creative alternatives. Professional creative companies like to put a group of disparate thinkers, scientists and artists together to get different perspectives on the same problem. Take a position. Then take an different position. Once you get comfortable with your favorite one, choose your expression for what is burning inside you. You might write a poem, a letter or design a new program at work. It doesn't really matter cause the fire has been set. This is creativity. No paint necessary.
Observe the warmth of the feeling of your own idea or creation. Be mesmerized by the fire itself. Bask in it. Let it take you over for a time. Surrender to the unknown inside yourself. You made this. Shake and Bake, you helped create this new thing in the world. Your idea. Your plan, Your window treatments. They are direct results of you trusting the flame and the process of fire building.
Calmly accept the magic of the smolder. Thank yourself. Thank the gods and sit with it.
Just when you think it's over, something new sparks you. Be excited. Feed the beast.
The first thing I did was hit the Voodoo store across from my breakfast place where all the waitresses called me "Darlin and Sweetheart".I bought a candle that showed a man being drawn to a woman who had power rays shooting out of her eyes, Vien Ami, Come to Me. I lit the candle in my hotel room while I waited for the crew to arrive. It was good that I had opened myself up to the possibility of dating again. My host, Jean Pierre arrived at the suite. He saw the candle and laughed a warning for me not to mess with that Voodoo stuff. He had found some nice online dating sites for me. The candle burned as I dressed for my first night of pirate partying. The candle burned on for the next seven days and nights. It was New Orleans. What could it hurt? Right? (from the upcoming book The Joy Quotient)
My C-bomb happens over a single week in my favorite month of October. First comes the project closing, then the diagnosis, and then the final blow, a 4am call from my lover's secret lover.
Clearly the life I have known is over.... just gone. Every street looks unfamiliar. I'm in a slow-mo spray of the pieces of my old reality. I am Keanu Reeves in the Matrix bending backwards in half to avoid getting hit by the particles. I am reduced to a triangle inside a dodecahedron, the sacred geometry in which I take my only comfort. As witness to this deep anguish, I become intimate with rejection-speak. You know, the kind that pushes its agenda of fear of never being loved again. I am running along the edge of this war, waving my arms madly screaming, "Go ahead you bastards, take me".
Then I meet my guardian angel, Andy. Andy is an 8ft. black man with a wicked sense of humor. "What took you so long," I say. "I was waiting for you to ask for my help," he speaks like Barry White.
Slowly things come into focus, like the joy in a pie case in a midwest bakery. As bad as it is, there are these warm loving arms reaching out to me . They are strangers who are there to make sure I stay on the narrow path to the other side. Every minute of every day, I review the events leading up to this disaster, inner movies that showcase my mistakes, soundtrack featuring my angry voice, harmonized with repeating reasons. This poetry slam is written and directed by blamers and liars and me. When I'm sick of the endless loop, I simply say, "I am not going to die, am I, Andy?. You're going to make me do this again and again until I get it. It's cold and I have no hair and my skin feels funny all the time. Couldn't we just let me fade into the sunset?." He doesn't answer. He's not there to convince me or tell me what to do. He's just there to listen and reveal truth. It's infuriating.
But then the loved ones wake me up. They bring soup and flowers, stones and stories of the world I used to inhabit. I am stretched beyond the fire. I have become the ashes out of which the lioness appears. I think, "Thank God, at least SHE will not give up." One toe touches the other side of the chasm.
In July I wake up on the rocks of this moon, my home for 10 months. I am broke, naked and bald and there is chalk writing scribbled beneath my face. It says,"You must choose." Andy begins an angelic litany of 77 reasons to live. I choose two- unpredictable joy and pie.
I climb out of my bed, walk down the stairs, and open the refrigerator to begin again.
We were in Taos with the family after the shocking loss of our beloved Andrea, thirty-nine years old. She went to bed with a headache and never woke up. She left two young daughters, Indie, 3 and Bella, about to turn 12.
The whole family had driven caravan-style to Taos where I had rented a friend's mountain house for the Christmas holidays. I had arranged this trip months before, not imagining that it would be our house of mourning. We did not buy presents but made things and wrote songs and poems for each other. We were so sad but the glue of our family thickened that year.
Two weeks later I arrived home in Austin to find a voice message from Jean Pierre, " I know it's a terrible time, but you have been approved to be a part of the crew in New Orleans. You should consider going. It will be good for you." A famous eccentric game company owner has an elite invitation-only crew/party every Mardi Gras. The float is a full blown authentic pirate ship. The Saints would do their Super Bowl winning year parade in this ship. It was only two years after Katrina. There was need for a bigger party all around. The week's events would be held at a private hotel, all expenses paid for a week, five-star restaurants, costumes, you just had to get yourself there. I remember saying to myself, " Well, I do need to up my joy quotient."
The Joy Quotient, the formula by which joy is derived from a combination of things or events that would not normally result in joy. It's alchemy, transmutation, voodoo. Open yourself up to it and something is sure to happen, but you can never know what. The plane to New Orleans was 3 hours late leaving Austin. They got us to Houston where they announced that the storm had cause such a massive cancellation of flights, that there would be no seats getting to New Orleans for at least two days. Five complete strangers decided to take matters into their own hands. We headed down to the limo rental area discussing the pooling of funds as we walked. We each threw down $100 and we were off in a SUV Limo in less than an hour. The rains in Houston can be debilitating, for sure. But I was a native and I knew your best bet was to drive real fast out of there if you could beat the storm going in the opposite direction. The Limo driver followed our directions to drive on through the rains toward New Orleans. Our first stop around Port Arthur was a liquor store. The band of strangers each got their snacks and drinks and we drove east, Mardi Gras or bust! The young girls in the back seat were texting their weekend hook-ups while popping Ridalin. The guys in the front were downing their fifths of Jack Daniels as fast as they could swallow. I neither drank nor imbibed. I was slightly freaked out about the strangeness unfolding.
The driver wasn't taking shots so I relaxed a bit until I realized I had lost cell service somewhere around Orange, Texas. Maybe it was the storm but I never was able to connect by phone with anyone for the next 7 days. This time would be out of time itself like a dream. The Voodoo began.