Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reflections & Perceptions

We tell ourselves stories all the time.  Is your story that you're not very creative? Or is your story that you are?

Someone recently told me that I must be "very creative".  I felt flattered, but asked, why? I don't feel especially creative.  I don't get up in the morning and think, "the muse is strong in me today..."  Mostly, I muck about with coloured bits and pieces, and do a bit of knitting or sewing, and play the piano (middling badly).

Turns out, my friend thinks I'm creative because I have crayons, building blocks, a piano and other craft items at my home. I thanked my friend for what was clearly a compliment. But, in a way, she has it almost exactly the wrong way around.

It's not because I'm "a creative person" that I have toys and a piano and craft materials at my home. Rather, I play with toys and music and craft materials because I want to become a creative person.  Our society's view of creativity (and talent, for that matter) is a bit like looking at a photo of someone gazing at their reflection in a mirror, and not being sure which is which.

I'm always intrigued by perception:  it can be both wonderful and disconcerting, or upsetting and disconcerting, to be presented with another person's opinion.  Thank goodness I'm over 40, I find that others' opinions no longer rock my self-perception the way they would have when I was younger.

On another occasion, recently, my husband and I were complimented for our creative courage, in starting our business.  The person who made the comment noted how (comparatively) young we were.  This made us laugh, privately, because at the time it was pretty clear most of our friends and loved ones thought we were nuts. We also recognise that being fairly young and with no dependents, we were in a good position to take a risk. 

Rather than congratulating myself on my entrepreneurial drive, I've spent most of the last decade feeling a wee bit ashamed that I couldn't "hack it" in the corporate world.  Which perception is true?  Possibly both of them, possibly neither.  

20:20 hindsight is certainly a marvellous thing.  It colours what happened.  If we had started our business, and then failed (as so many terrific, talented people do) then I suppose we would now be viewed (and view ourselves) as failed business people.  I doubt most people would praise our courage if that were the case, is it somehow less courageous to fail? Tthe amount of courage required in that moment of choice has not changed - it's safely locked in that past moment and is not available to be changed.  The only thing that has changed is the outcome.

So if you want to be creative, then you must create.  And, at the same time, let go of the need for others' to perceive your efforts as 'art' or 'creativity', and even let go of knowing what the outcome will be. If you continue mucking around for long enough, someone will notice. Most important of all, maybe you'll notice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Limits of Possibility

I'm learning a bit about the limits of possibility, just now.  I'm learning that some limits are reached more quickly than I'd like.  I'm learning that some limits are further away than I had imagined.

It's definitely forcing me to be more creative.

I'm focussing my music teaching on short courses and workshops.  As of today, I no longer offer regular, weekly lessons: which is a pretty radical departure for a suburban music teacher.  In finding a way to work that suit my constitution - think educational 'sprinter', rather than 'marathon runner' - I am also finding ways to work that create a niche market for my business.

Some choices don't seem to be very choice.  For a while there, I thought I'd either be giving up my day job completely - which made me miserable - or keep doing it and regularly make myself sick - which made me miserable.  I felt like I'd been smacked up the side of the head by the Limit of the Possible.  So I started wondering:  is it really so black and white?  It's true you can't be a little bit dead or a little bit pregnant, but everything else is up for grabs.

There are some certainties. My bank would like us to pay the mortgage, and since my husband already works hard enough already, there is a magic number I need to earn.  The other certainty is that sooner or later I'll have a bad migraine and need to take a day (or 3) off work.

After that, what if?  What if it were possible to have my cake, and eat it too?  What if I could teach everything I'm passionate about, but only sometimes? What if I had time to pursue other interests and skills? What if I want to stay home some days?  What if sometimes I like to work in the morning, and sometimes the evening?  What if I like to take regular breaks during my work day? What if I want to travel?

Asking the questions, led me to answers.  Some I liked, some I didn't.  So I asked more questions.

One question was, would I like to dip a toe back into my old work life? Is it possible to do a bit of telecommuting? No sooner did I ask this, than I was offered some freelance writing and editing from someone I used to work with.  It's demanding, but interesting, and its intermittent - that suits me just fine.  Even a few weeks earlier, I would have said, "No thanks" when this opportunity came up. I wouldn't have had the time.

I've been asked to run some Workshops overseas, too.  (Oooerr, let me think about that one.)

Six months ago, I had no idea this was where I would be.

I was at a party on the weekend, and someone - inevitably - asked me about work.  I told them roughly what I am up to, and they said, "It must be nice to be so creative and flexible.  It sounds great." 

Wow.  I had that moment where my life, which mostly seems muddled and ordinary to me, seemed enviable and exciting, seen through someone else's eyes.  Which it is:  ordinary and exciting, boring and enviable, muddled and planned.  Pretty much like yours is.

The limits of what's possible are usually a lot further out than our first thoughts tell us they are.  So keep looking, and keep asking questions.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Music Lessons: too much & not enough

Modern instrumental lessons take people too far, and not far enough.

They're geared to turn six year olds into professional musicians by around 22.  

The usual path is by private musics lessons after school or by being pulled out of class. This requires discipline, with a minimum of 20 minutes daily practice (at the beginning) going up to 90 minutes+ daily to pass a higher exam.  That lasts for around 12 years till you finish secondary school.  You might also be in a band or an orchestra.  At 18, you go off to the Conservatory of Music for an undergraduate degree in performance.  The people I know completing performance degrees play for a minimum of four hours daily, and up to eight hours daily.

This is necessary because, for the past couple of hundred years, musicians and composers have been pushing the boundaries of human limitation in much the same way that athletes have. Lots of people can run a 4 minute mile nowadays, but that doesn't mean you'll quality for the Olympics, let alone win anything.  It's similar in the worlds of Ballet and Opera.  Everybody has to be better, today, than almost anybody could be 50 or 100 years ago.

It's bad enough that people emerge from such an education, only to find that there aren't enough jobs, and are branded failures for being technically more proficient than many of their teachers.  I have met people sent away by their music teacher because they're deemed not talented enough, or not disciplined enough to bother with.  At the age of 8!

Where is the place of the amateur musician?  The musician who plays for love.  Who wants to grow and develop in skill, but not slave away in a vocational sense?  Such an amateur is often graciously "allowed" to continue with lessons, usually in the "appreciation" or "leisure" stream. Well and good.  (This stream attracts the same prestige for the teacher as Remedial Mathematics does when compared to Calculus.)

I hope that such amateurs are not always treated as second class citizens who have failed to make the grade, because without them, playing music - not just listening to it - will become as esoteric as singing opera.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Internal & External Motivation

My bout of persistent low-level ill health continued throughout March.  It was a good excuse for not posting - in that I am not making it up, I wasn't in a bar drinking.  So, poor me.  Let's move on.

I find it interesting that I am able to meet "real" deadlines (ie. external focus) because once I promise to do something for someone I hate to disappoint. Which I guess means that I fear the consequences. Yet a deadline that involves and impacts only me (ie. internal focus) is more-or-less optional.  There are no consequences, other than a mildly corrosive sense of shame.

I don't think I'm alone in this, either.

We're a lot more externally motivated than we are internally motivated, certainly more than we think we are.

And it is odd, if you think about it.  It's ok to lie to, and cheat myself but not other people? It's "only" me that is being disappointed, so that's ok?

It also begs the existential question of my cyber-readers.  Does this mean I have failed to truly perceive you as "real"? In the nature of the blogosphere, the consequences of failure to post are invisible, and often minimal.  No-one wrote to say, "where's the post you promised us, loser?" For which I am, on the whole, grateful.

Perhaps you need to comment more...  Or send chocolate...