One week later, and here I am writing the second entry of the New Blog, one which will hopefully see consistent weekly entries for the rest of time.
So I’ve been thinking a lot, what with this in-between job I’ve had where I just pop on my headphones and listen to podcasts and music all night, about Greatness, and just what it is. What does Greatness mean to you? If you like, leave a comment answering that question. For me personally, Greatness has always been something I’ve admired and aspired to attain, both through the works of others and through my own personal works. Greatness to me would be, hm, let’s see… the album I was just listening to on my drive home from work, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “The Tumbleweed Connection.” That’s Greatness. Don’t know what I’m talking about or don’t agree? Go and listen to it. I mean, really listen. One of the things I love about Elton is the character in his voice in certain songs – he just knows how to add so much vocally. Not to mention he’s an incredible piano player and songwriter. And Taupin’s lyrics tell such poignant stories.
What else? I’m currently reading Atlas Shrugged, that big huge book by Ayn Rand. Well, I’m doing my best anyway. Who knows how long it’ll take me to get through the whole bloody thing. But there are some passages in there, some glimpses into human nature, that are just breathtaking. And the book itself, God is it long! I mean, do you think anyone could write a book like Atlas Shrugged without locking him/herself in a room with nothing but a word processor or a typewriter for a long time? And saying “No” to pretty much everyone who knocked on the door? Personally, I don’t see how.
There’s two examples right there of what I think greatness is. I’m curious to see what yours are. However we exemplify it, we can start to see a pattern. Maybe it has something to do with Care. The Care that Elton puts into the inflections of certain lyrics because he took the time to read, understand and resonate with them; the Care that Rand put into certain passages in Atlas that convey detail and emotion so clearly.
We all hear stories of creative giants going into “hiding” for long stretches of time, away from the outside world. It’s very common. The first one who leaps to my mind is jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, who supposedly went off in a shack in the woods for a year and came back as John Coltrane (hence the term “woodshed”?). Guitarist Eric Clapton did the same thing, or something like it. I seem to recall reading about the great philosopher Socrates and how he and his wife lived in a secluded home, set apart from the rest of the Greeks. I watched the documentary on author J.D. Salinger and how after his second marriage he would retreat to a shack he built behind the house to write, where he would often stay for days (much to the dismay of his confused family). What’s going on here?
Obviously we can all agree that the people mentioned in the above paragraph are figures of some worth. They all seemed to be striving for some high achievement, some noble ideal, not to sound to lofty, but yeah, that’s basically what these people were doing. And they all seemed to feel the need, at some point or other, to get away, to do something in solitude, for a long stretch of time. Oh yeah, and I think we can agree that each of these people fall under the category of “Great.”
Still haven’t answered my own question. Well, who knows what they did when they decided to go off into that shack? Maybe we don’t want to know… but they all did it, and seemed to come out with some amazing stuff on the other end. I’m interested by the pattern here – the method seems to be the same: retreat. Now of course I’m not saying that every great figure in history went through a similar process – even though that’s not inconceivable – but clearly a lot of them did. Seems as though Greatness likes solitude.
I can definitely relate to this. The feeling of needing “me time,” of just wanting to “get away from it all,” is one that I share with many others and is not just a thing shared by the Coltranes and Salingers of the world. It seems to be a pretty human emotion. The need for solitude can be just as pressing as the need for company. In fact, one could argue that being around other humans all the time could be unhealthy, as in the case of someone getting used to having always had a boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend around, and when something changes in the relationship, turbulence ensues. By the same token, studies have been done where people get real ansy being by themselves for as long as 20 minutes (check out this interview). From an outsider’s standpoint, it seems that the rate at which people become overwhelmed by excess human contact is much slower than the rate at which people get uncomfortable being alone. I guess this makes sense evolutionarily, considering our ancestors flocked together in tribes for protection and the whole human desire to be connected to other humans. And I’m sure a whole scientific study could be done on exactly why it is that most of us can stand to be around people longer than we can stand to be around ourselves, but that is beyond the scope of this blog entry!
Where am I going with this? Back to Greatness. I think the reason why Greatness is such an amorphous thing, and difficult to discuss, is because it is by its very nature rare. From what I’ve read through my research done on some of my favorite men and women who’ve achieved Greatness, it seems that they did what so many people would, or could not – in fact, the opposite. There’s something so counterintuitive about it – almost like going against the whole grain of societal existence.
(As I write this, I’m feeling a surge of energy just thinking about it. I love thinking about this stuff because it fuels me, makes me more alert, more alive… and I type faster, too.)
At any rate, not to delve too deeply on this subject, the path to Greatness seems to include long stretches of solitude, which seems to be pretty uncomfortable for most of us. I know it is for me. It’s always been hard for me to say no to a social event, or to the temptation of reaching out to a friend for a drink or a jam, even when I have work to do be done. I’ve always been an extrovert, but I definitely find my own Greatness shine through more when I explore that introverted part of myself. Usually because that’s when I consciously drown out all distractions, I shut the door, ignore my phone and DO MY BEST not to get on the Internet (that part doesn’t always go so well). But usually, if I can stick with an idea long enough, a song comes through, or a musical phrase gets closer to mastery, or a blog entry gets written. But for me, that means consciously clearing space in my life. This could include a variety of things. Here are some that have worked for me:
1) Getting “away” geographically – like physically moving to another location. Can extend to the more extreme act of actually moving – to a new city, apartment, etc.
2) Taking time. Lots of it. Again, some extremes can be in order: taking two weeks, taking a month, taking a year, however long it takes to clear the head and re-prioritize and really figure out what I want and need to do and how I intend to do it. This can be dangerous, though, as too much time can lead to paralysis. Actually, I could write a whole post on this one, and probably will at some point.
3) Not always doing what other people say I should do. This doesn’t mean telling them to fuck off, but rather simply being conscious of what is actually best for me. What’s best for me may or may not fall under other people’s advice, but more often than not, it doesn’t. This one’s worth a whole other blog post, too. In fact, all of these are.
4) Centering and re-centering myself. This may not be as important for some, but for me, it’s crucial. The past couple of years have been a nonstop process of stopping and reevaluating what I want and how I intend to go about getting what I want. I’ve known for a long time that I’ve wanted to do music, to be a musician, but to really get to the heart of what I want to do with music, and how I will go about that, has been a soul search that is still going on. Not hardly a day goes by when I do not have to take a few deep breaths, preferably in some sort of meditation, to “center” myself and unwind. Like right now, as I right this, there are so many avenues I could go down in this paragraph, but I have to stop and think before I type the next sentence! And, of course, once I find my center, whether through meditation or some other means, a string of events takes place, or I take some sort of action, and that’s when I have to look around and repeat the process, and that’s what I mean by re-centering. In this way I hope to get closer to the core of exactly what I am here on this earth to do.
So those are my four ways to make space in my life. I’d really like to write a blog just covering those four ways, because I find them so important, and there’s a lot more I’d like to say than what was said in those paragraphs.
Greatness is a different journey for different people. My journey toward Greatness may be vastly different than another’s. On the other hand, my journey may be strikingly similar to another’s. Some people may not be concerned with pursuing Greatness at all, and that’s OK, because they are whether they like it or not. I have my own set of beliefs about it – like, for example, that everybody, no matter where they are in the world or whatever walk of life they are on, is on a paradigm, and that paradigm is right under another paradigm, and that under another and so on ad infinitum. But we all want to be Happy, and to me that means that we must all want to be Great!
So that’s what I have to say about it today (my Forrest Gump closer), and I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on this amazing topic. I’ll be posting this entry on Facebook and Twitter, but if you read this far than I really hope you’d also be willing to include your comment in the body of this post, down below.
Have an awesome week!