Nikolas, my caterpillar eye-browed, olive skinned friend poured me another steaming cup of liquid. That frothy, velveteen, nectar of the gods that the Greek swear is different from Turkish coffee. He looked me square in the eye with that unblinking, mesmerizing stare which only the Greek can muster and said: “The trouble with you Americans is that you just don’t know how to argue. You think that anyone expressing an opinion which differs from yours must be an enemy.” I couldn’t move my lips. I had no retort that would have been worthy of the effort spent. He was right. We set up these divisions: black and white, Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative. Somehow these names that we’ve given to our petty differences create walls that we believe cannot be overcome. We seem to forget that underneath all the smoke and mirrors conjured by our politicians and religious leaders, we are all carting around the very same DNA.
Now Greeks, they know how to argue. So do the Italians, the French and the Spaniards. I’ve witnessed many, many debates in pubs and bars throughout Europe erupt into anger, fisticuffs and filth. I’ve seen men bloody each other’s noses and swear death by duel. I have also seen these same men, the very next day, hugging, kissing cheeks and buying each other drinks as if no argument had ever taken place. That rarely happens in my country. I wish that it would. Just a few short hours ago I opted out of a Facebook political discussion group because I just couldn’t stand the negativity, ignorance, and stupidity that I was witnessing there. I grew tired of watching as grown men were becoming bitter enemies. I couldn’t stand watching that wall being built.
Yes, I know I’m romanticizing. The various wars that constantly plague the European continent will attest that they do indeed have these walls over there as well. But isn’t it sweet to dream? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn how to argue? Maybe tomorrow we could pat each other on the back, buy each other a cup of that frothy Greek coffee and laugh about that debate we had last night?
I hate practicing. I have always hated practicing. I will probably always hate practicing. I hated my teachers for suggesting practice. I hated my mother for insisting that I practice. My students hate me for making them practice. I hate myself for insisting that my own daughter practice. If I never see another scale chart or modal exercise it will be too soon. But yet I still sit diligently for at least twenty minutes everyday…practicing.
I also hate writing. I really do. My journal makes me break out in hives. This damned blog makes me sweat and palpitate on a daily basis. I probably spend more time avoiding writing than I spend avoiding practice. (And I spend a lot of time avoiding practice)
I am a writer who hates writing. Go figure. Yet here I sit late into the night, every night, banging on this stupid keyboard.
Come to think of it, I seem to despise all things that involve structure and formula. That is partly what drove me out of Nashville. I cannot stand the idea of someone telling me that I have to do something in a certain structured way. For me it just has to be spontaneous and unstructured in order to be real. (Keeping it real-Yo!)
But what is the origin of spontaneity? What is the origin of creativity? I want to believe that they are gifts from the gods or some spiritual substance that simply arrives in the minds of the creative elite. But I know that this just isn’t true. Creativity is a product of countless hours of work, practice, and repetition. Montouri put it this way:
When self-correction is employed [in music], there is a discipline that aesthetically brings melodic lines, harmonic principles, and rhythmic sequences into account. It is not simply a “doing your own thing”, but a dance between the known form and the unknown, order out of chaos, the familiar and the wild.
In order for spontaneity to happen, all of the tools must be in place and you must know how to use them. This is why I practice. I do what I despise in order to be able to do what I love.
The guitarist, singer, and songwriter Ben Harper once said: “If you are not pissing off the traditionalists then you are not doing anything interesting.” Mr. Harper was speaking about music but his words reach far beyond the confines of music and art. They reach far beyond the world of commerce, government, law, legislation and the existing order.
When we look back at any great world changer; be they artist, writer, thinker, scientist, inventor, civic leader or spiritual teacher we see an interesting pattern emerge. Those who have effected lasting, positive change in the world were not the ones to have towed the line. They were not the ones who followed the letter of law nor did what they were told. They were all, every single one of them, visionaries who pushed the boundaries of traditional thought. They were the ones who broke the rules.
For some the rebelliousness was minute, almost imperceptible to all but those who chose to see. Yet their actions caused a ripple that would eventually reach the shores of every continent. Some were outright rebels and enemies of the state. John Steinbeck defied the accepted morality of his time by refusing to change the controversial ending to his novel The Grapes of Wrath. His stubbornness and conviction produced what is arguably America’s finest literary work. Jesus Christ challenged the accepted system and threatened to replace it with his own progressive belief. Charles Darwin looked well beyond the bounds of his own traditional upbringing. He did not perceive himself as a rebel but his theories challenged the very foundation of traditional thought. Rosa Parks recognized the existence of a greater order and she broke existing law to bring that order into practice. The very constitution of this great country was written not out in the open but in subversive, illegal meetings held in dark corners and behind closed doors.
Positive change has never come, and never will come, from the existing or accepted order. It will not come from the obedient, the peaceful or the meek. It will come from the rebel, the lawbreaker, the outcast, and the cynic. It will always come from the ones who are pissing off the traditionalists.
“She was an unfinished song abandoned at the bridge.”
The following is an entry from my journal dated 29 Dec, 2006:
This has been a rough week; probably the worst on record for me. It has been a tough year since receiving the news of dad’s cancer. It would seem that tragedy surrounds me right now. Everyone gets their turn; I guess it’s just my turn now. Four months ago dad’s doctor told him that he had just six to twelve months left to live. The cancer had started in his lungs and had now spread to several other organs. There is no treatment at this point; only a sentence.
I booked my ticket home for the 18th of December. I wanted to be there to spend dad’s last Christmas with him. I had no idea when I booked this ticket that there would be so much more to this trip than planned. Just days before I was to leave for Utah, I called mom to see how things were going. My sister answered and informed me that mom had been admitted to the hospital with a heart problem. She would have to undergo surgery on Friday the 15th. I hung up the phone, turned to Anne and said “I have a really bad feeling about this.”
Mom came out of her surgery and seemed to be doing well. I boarded my flight on Sunday feeling relieved but still a bit anxious. I arrived home on Monday and went straight to the hospital to see mom. She was doing very well and we were able to have a great conversation and catch up on the past year. She was breathing heavily and we joked that she sounded like Darth Vader. She was always so full of laughter.
When the phone rang at 5:40 on Tuesday morning I knew that it could not be good news. It was mom’s doctor telling me to gather the family as things had taken a turn for the worst. Roughly one hour later, surrounded by family, she closed her beautiful green eyes for the last time.
Mom, you are an unfinished song abandoned at the bridge.
January 9th, 1982, the first ski trip of the year. Throngs of audacious rich kids were bounding from their daddy’s Porsches and Mercedes Benz’ to flaunt their Telemark skis, Gore-Tex jackets and Lycra bibs for all to see. They were all shiny and new in the January twilight. From the other side of the parking lot Mouse sat glaring at them. He felt more than slightly apish in his Sears’s parka and polyester shell suit. He was always the odd one out, the perpetual loner forever seeking acceptance that he really didn’t want. Desirous to remain inconspicuous, Mouse sat in the cab of his fathers 74’ Dodge waiting for the last moment to sneak his hand-me-down Rossignols into the luggage compartment. With expertly orchestrated timing he slipped past the fashion police and boarded the bus to Park City.
At age 13 Mouse was well behind his classmates in two aspects. The boys occupying the back rows had been strapping sticks to their feet and barreling down mountainsides for years. This would be Mouse’s first time. These boys were no strangers to alcohol either. As the cowhide flask was passed around Mouse felt obliged to take a gulp of the vodka and coke therein; also a first for him. He drank heartily, having no idea what was soon in store.
As the Dutch courage began to take effect Mouse felt no need to not inform his new drinking buddy’s that he had never before attached skis to his feet. He actually began to brag about his prowess on the slopes. By the time the lift reached the top of the mountain it really didn’t matter that Mouse had lied. At this point he could barely even stand. God knows how he managed to make it to the drop in point. He stared down into the mogul laden abyss, set the Rossignols free to follow their own path, thanked god for his slippery polyester suit, then slid his way down the slopes. At least he could blame his temporary insanity on the cowhide flask. How he didn’t get arrested is anyone’s guess. Still, one lesson had been learned…
…Vodka and Rossignol do not a good mix make.
The greatest enemy we face is the one that we do not see.
Doubt ensnares us like a slowly creeping vine. We never see it because it always grabs us from behind. If we cannot see it then how do we rid ourselves of it?
We all spend a good part of our lives telling ourselves that we cannot do one thing or another only to find, much later on, that we were completely mistaken. Sadly many folks never reach the point of discovering their misjudgment because revelation always arrives straddling the back of necessity. When necessity is absent, discovery will not ensue.
In his book “The Hotel New Hampshire” John Irving stated that: “You need to become obsessed and stay obsessed.” I think Mr. Irving was trying to tell us that need has a way of eradicating doubt. If you absolutely need to do something then you will find a way to make it happen. The need will create an obsession. Obsession also brings with it a powerful diffidence removal system. You cannot hold onto obsession and self-doubt at the same time. One will drive out the other. Even a cursory glance at anyone successful in their field will reveal need and obsession in equal measure. The reason that most people don’t reach the point of obsession is that they rarely do anything for themselves. It is impossible to get obsessive when you only create for someone else.
So just how does one become obsessed and stay obsessed? You have to develop a need within yourself and for yourself. Do something; find something, anything that brings you personal fulfillment. Make it something that no one can take away from you. Learn to play guitar, grow a vegetable garden or write a book that no one will ever read. Set a goal and stick with the goal even when you don’t feel like doing it; especially when you don’t feel like doing it. Don’t do it for food, shelter, sustenance, fame or recognition. Do it because you feel incomplete without it. When need turns to obsession then creativity will be the result.
If you do this you will see the enemy before it sees you.