What My Cardio Workout Taught Me About “Engaging With Life”

Today in the gym, I noticed something interesting. Typically, my heart rate speeds up when I first do cardio – particularly if I am doing a strenuous exercise or series of exercises, or if I am just jumping into it. This could be seen as normal, except sometimes, it gets to the point to where I am prematurely out of breath. I think the main reason for this is my brain gets over-excited, causing my body to react by in turn boosting my heart rate beyond what is useful – a sort of malfunctioning stress response.

There could be more than a couple of reasons for this. I am a naturally “high-strung” person, and have battled with nervousness and anxiety in the past, so jumping into a moderately intense cardio workout like today’s could potentially trigger this condition. Also, I have genetically a faster-than-normal metabolism, and although I’m not a exercise physiologist, I have a hunch that that could have something to do with my body’s system unnecessarily jolting into turbo mode.

I noticed, though, that the more I pushed through, the more I simply did my sets and took some time to catch my breath between them, the more body sort of calmed down and began to take it in stride. It was almost as if after a certain point, my body began to “learn” how to manage the exercises – to pace itself. I was intrigued by this discovery. Strangely, about halfway through the sets (I was doing seven supersets of bodyweight squats followed by 60-second jump rope), it seemed to actually get easier.

This could be seen as analogous to the process that takes place when you decide to start a new habit or discipline. Not even on a long-term scale – just could be the activity for the day. Ever heard that it takes a rocket 90 per cent of its energy just to get off the ground? That’s what I’m talking about. For me, practicing falls into this category. Once I start practicing, I really have to force myself through the first five minutes, and usually, once I break past that, it’s smooth sailing.

The body knows how to acclimate to almost any activity, and so does the brain. My issue had been that my cardiological system would, initially, be working too hard, too hard to keep up a steady pace. But once I simply forced myself through this uncomfortable first stage, I found that it soon adjusted itself to fit what I needed it to do.

We can use this principle any time we want to explore untapped potential in ourselves. The more we push through, the more we notice things, and the more we notice things, the more real Learning actually takes place. This is called Engagement – our brains and our bodies are constantly interacting with internal and external stimuli.

How does this relate to the Impresario? Well I’ve already cited Seth Godin’s definition of the Impresario. But using what I’ve explored above, today in the gym and in this specific blog entry, I think I can safely now say that I’ve come up with my own definition. The Impresario is simply someone who engages with life!

If any of this rings true or strikes a cord with you, feel free to send an email to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. I’ll be sure to return to this concept of the Impresario, and this new definition I’ve just come up with, again and again in blogs posts to come.

Thanks for reading!

Living Philosophers, Yogis, and Free Jazz

Kenny Werner is a jazz pianist, composer, educator, author, and mystic, and one of my favorite people, although I haven’t yet met him (working on that). Last night, I stumbled across a YouTube of one of his talks. It was a clinic he gave on Free Jazz at the International Association of Jazz Education. Mesmerized, I watched the whole talk. Werner’s views on jazz and its aesthetic mirror to a tee my own. In fact, what he’s saying in this clinic is exactly what I am trying to put into words when writing about this idea of the Impresario.

Werner talks about free jazz more as a State of Being than anything else. He drives home the conviction that jazz, just as any philosophy or transcendent experience, has been separated to such a degree from its original nature that it is virtually unrecognizable. He goes on to make the point that if we truly desire to reconnect with this thing called jazz, or even music in general, we must “let go” and really fall back in love with the sound of our instrument again, forgetting about categories, pedagogy, and everything we think we know.

A couple of quotes from Mr. Werner’s talk really leapt out at me. First:

[Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter] were [are] living philosophers, like yogis in a way. They were not trying to play jazz, they were finding that filament of life, that thing that makes it Go, in themselves, and then writing odes to that… Now, to think outside the box you have to sort of think outside of jazz… because jazz has sort of become the box… I think “free jazz” means coming out of the box and really finding the notes that you passionately need. Getting back to that, getting back to what made jazz great, was great Beings played it. [20:14]

In an address to the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Awards made in 2014, Keith Jarrett says something very similar:

“If you hear something that changes you, it’s because what you heard was someone who became an innovator, and they became an innovator by hard work on themselves, not so much work on the instrument.” [8:26]

Werner and Jarrett are effectively getting to the heart of the philosophy of the Impresario. The Impresario is not fooled by labels, because she knows that such restrictions can only come about when you’re inside the box. True innovation comes about by actually innovating. This is such a fascinating and essential piece of being an Impresario.

This rabbit hole is too deep to explore in anything resembling sufficiency today, so I’ll just leave it at that for now. But tomorrow I’ll come back to the Werner clinic, and continue to explore the connection between what Werner calls “living philosophy” and Jarrett’s idea of an innovator (Impresario) who works harder on himself than on his instrument (Art).

Until tomorrow… send ideas and contributions to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com.


The “Craft”

In the last entry, I discussed the two ways that Impresarios relate to their audience and to each other: 1) sharing and collaborating in Art, and 2) relating.

I focused more on the second way, “relating,” and now I’d like to talk a bit about the first way. It’s true that Impresarios must have what I called “Intimacy” – a deep identification with their fellow Impresarios, and with the audience member or members, or anyone on the receiving end of their process. But before all of that can happen, the Impresario must have a “process” in the first place.

The “process” can go by many names: the Art, the Craft, the Practice, the Discipline. I prefer Stephen Pressfield’s term “Craft”, because, to paraphrase him, the Artist cannot over-identify with the Art. Seeing the Art as a Craft helps her de-mystify it and get down to business.

So, the Impresario must have a Craft. This is the wellspring from which all else flows – all opportunities, events, karma, and relationships. If the Impresario doesn’t attend to his Craft, then there will be no Art to share.

Even the collaborative presentation of Art can’t happen without each of its collaborators having their own, individual practice, and bringing that to the table. (An exception might be an audience made of people who are not themselves practicers of the Art being presented, but who might still be participating on some level. Even here, however, these folks must be guided by the Artists or Impresarios conducting the participatory experience. So no Art form can be said to work without a Craftsman, or Craftsmen, as the driving force.)

So, bottom line, an Impresario needs a Craft. Now, his Craft might be multi-faceted, but it still needs to be there, and he needs to be attending to it on a daily basis, for it to work. This may not be news, but I thought it would be worth revisiting if only for a moment, if for nobody else but myself.

Thoughts? Send them to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com.

A New Word For The Same Feeling

From time to time, when thinking and writing about the kinds of things I like to think and write about, I encounter a serious challenge. That challenge is, “How do I describe a feeling without using words that have become increasingly over-used?” When talking about the Impresario, for example, I’ve often used the word “Connection,” but the truth is, I really am bothered by this word.

I’m bothered by this word because it is overused. In circles of entrepreneurs, authors, other bloggers, psychologists, podcasters, and other twenty-first century weirdos, the word “Connection” pops up ad nauseum. Perhaps this occurrence of the word first started because we realized we were experiencing so little of it in this age of social media, smart phone hypnosis, and cyberfriends. But now the word, it seems to me, has lost much of its power.

I don’t like a cliché anymore than the next person, so my first inclination is to simply go ahead and use a new word. These days, I am using the practice of blog posting as a way to explore my ideas about the Impresario. The concept of the Impresario, to me, is rooted in personal interaction. This interaction happens in two ways, often at the same time: 1) sharing and collaborating in Art, and 2) relating. This second way, “relating,” can happen on so many levels, and it’s really key.

So if I’m going to find a new term for “relating” that’s not the now-cliché word “Connection,” I have to take all this into account. I’ve already thought a bit about it since yesterday’s post, and it seems to me that the best word to replace “Connection” would be “Intimacy.”

It may sound a touch extreme, but the Impresario is an extreme character. And in this conversation, if “Connection” goes out the window, we need a new, stronger term to describe really the same Feeling, because the Feeling is what we’re ultimately getting at. I like “Intimacy” because it implies a sense of closeness and vulnerability that is essential in the new way of making and presenting Art.

So in blog posts from here on out until further notice, I’m going to be using the word “Intimacy” quite a lot, rather than “Connection,” to describe what happens in the collaborative process of Impresarios. That is, until I get tired of it, and then I’ll have to find something else!

If any of this hits home, tell me about it by sending an email to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. Thanks!

“Dirty Laundry” Or Scented Sheets?: A Personal Life in the Artist’s World

In a conversation with a Duke University PhD student a few days ago, I brought up the question of the importance of a Personal Life in the Artist’s world. I was espousing that nowadays, the Artist is in need of not only a Personal Life, but a venue in which to connect with other Artists, and thus expand his or her Personal Life. I argued that such connection would have to be intimate; that is, close, vulnerable, and raw – in contrast to the more commonly accepted, traditional method of presenting the art for an audience of strangers.

The bright lady sitting across from me (a biomedical engineer) used a word which I really liked: “pockets.” She at first argued against my position, saying that an Artist doesn’t really need such a thing. She cited herself as an example, saying that she attended dance classes and taught yoga, so she already had her “social needs” filled through these “pockets.” She was also able, when engaging in them, to get her head out of the lab for a little while, a necessary way to refresh and reset. In addition, she didn’t view herself as an “Artist” in the traditional sense, because her mission is to solve a problem, to find a cure for a disease, and to do so in the most effective way possible. So she excluded herself from someone who creates something that can be interpreted subjectively, and for the purpose of relating purely on the basis of emotionality.

A bit heady I know, especially for afternoon coffee. Of course, I had a rebuttal. First off, I began, Artists have Personal Lives, which factor into the Art, to some degree. Also, it’s important to note that if your personal life is working out fine, you can disregard all of this. But for those of us who feel something lacking in that particular “pocket,” we must now choose to view the creating and presentation of Art in a different way. To me, it makes sense to now seek to, above all, make a true connection with someone who is involved in your Art process. This could be another Artist, or it could be a person viewing the Art – a fan or audience member. Really, it could be anyone. But it’s simply not enough anymore to simply present the Art, here it is, hope you enjoyed it, thanks for coming out.

To address the point about biomedical engineers, people who don’t see themselves as relying on subjectivity and emotion in their process but more on accuracy and pragmatism: I really didn’t see the two as being so different. True, Artists can afford to think more about their relationships, because so much of that “stuff” goes into their particular form of emoting (painting, writing, songwriting, and the rest). But engineers, doctors, activists, people who are out to solve a specific problem in the world, are involved in their own sort of creative process too. It may be better performed without personal “baggage” or “dirty laundry,” but it’s not like these activities function best by ignoring the experience of being human. In fact, one could argue, that being a biomedical engineer is no less fueled by a sense of the human spirit than being a musician is. Even when the biomedical engineer goes into the lab and asks her partner about his kids, and how his week is going, she is engaging on some level in an awareness of the value of social rapport. This is another way of saying, she is connecting, on a personal level, with someone who is involved in her process.

This is key when talking about the differences between the Artist and the Impresario. Both the Artist and the Impresario have “pockets” – but the Impresario truly recognizes the importance of those “pockets” not just for reasons of balancing his focus with other interests, but for the interpersonal value which they bring, which the Impresario simply cannot do without.

Thoughts? Reactions? Send them to me at piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!


The Woodchuck Game

In my last post, The Other Fifteen, I promised I would go into some examples in my own life where experiencing Resistance pointed to the thing I most needed to do. In War Of Art, Stephen Pressfield writes:

Resistance will unfailingly point to true north – meaning that call or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or purpose we must follow before all others.

This took a while to sink in, and, truth be told, it’s still sinking in. But it’s one of the most profound truths I’ve ever come across. How has it showed up in my own life? Well, usually, the thing I most need to do is the thing I am not doing. Example: I wake up. I know I need to learn a new song today, but I could really use some coffee. Starbucks has that new Coconut Milk Mocha Macchiato which I can’t seem to start my days without. On my way to Starbucks, I realize I need to slip by the bank to deposit a check. Once that is done, and I’m back at the house, I think, oh, I haven’t even eaten breakfast yet. So I make myself a good, hearty one: three scrambled eggs with feta cheese, grape tomatoes, kale, mushrooms, cayenne pepper, and garlic. That was good! Ok, now for that song. But wait a second. How long’s it been since I’ve been to the gym? Last week?! Better get it out of the way now. So I hop on over to the gym. You can see where this is going. The song gets pushed to the back burner (I’ll get to it right after this) and half the time, doesn’t get learned at all, at least, not until I make a valiant effort to sit down and ignore everything else.

For another example, I’ll use a blurb from one of my personal musings:

…[A] visit to the vice-ridden Hog Wild Saloon one night in Kingsport, Tennessee while on a cross-country trek to a gig in Richmond, Virginia … really drove it all home for me. I was standing there, agape at the small-town Tennessee girls who in truth, had they been transplanted to any run-of-the-mill nightclub in any major city, would not have appeared half as appealing, when it struck me that I was experiencing more resistance in dancing with these girls than I was with my own music.

At that point in time, I was finding it easy to sit down and practice, or write, on a daily basis. But the hard thing – the “true north” – was going up to some strange girls and dancing with them. So, at that time, that was the thing I most needed to do.

Resistance doesn’t always point to the same “call or action” all of the time. This, I believe, is a common mistake most Artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, or craftsmen – generally, anybody who takes what they do seriously – make. We think that Resistance is only trying to stop us from doing our Art. But this is not true. Resistance can, and does, show up in each and every corner, from our diets to our personal lives. Usually, when we are doing well in one area, Resistance sneaks up on us and takes hold of another one behind our backs. Ever played that kid’s game where the woodchucks are popping up, and  you have to keep punching them back down? It’s kind of like that.

So, this is a main difference – probably the difference – between the Artist and the Impresario. The Artist can afford to let other areas of his life go by the wayside, while he concentrates on his art, immersed in it, obsessed with it – think Van Gogh or Mozart. The Impresario can’t. His life is a constant balancing act, made up of all these “pockets”, of which his Art, while extremely important, is only one. The Impresario is always bouncing from one to the other in an elegant dance, because he knows that each area feeds into every other.

In the next blog, I’ll talk more about the differences between the traditional artist, and the new, more powerful Impresario – and I’ll take a closer look at some of what these “pockets” may be.

Any insights? Send them to piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com, and thanks for reading.

Boredom (Or Binging On Breaking Bad)

Here it is, Day 2. Well, guess I’m doing okay so far!

In the Tim Ferriss – Seth Godin I was listening to the other day, Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite contemporary fiction authors, gets brought up. Turns out Gaiman is respected by both Ferriss and Godin – no surprise to me, considering how good he is at what he does. Godin brings up an interesting fact about Gaiman:

Neil famously had said that the way he writes a book is he makes himself extremely bored. And, if he’s bored enough, a book’s gonna come out, because he needs to entertain himself!

This is brought up in the context of what Godin calls “conservation of Fear” and the “cognitive load.” Basically, he’s talking about why he doesn’t use Twitter because, although it would offer some extra hits of engagement with his readers, it would take up mental energy that would be better spent writing his blog. If this were to happen, he wouldn’t be abled to get bored enough to do what really matters to him!

I wanted to bring this up because yesterday, I was feeling quite bored. But instead of catching myself, I started binge-watching the show Breaking Bad. This is something I occasionally do when I am feeling Resistance and don’t want to own up to it. Today, I am getting back on track, but I still feel a pang of regret for having wasted my time and mental energy.

Being an impresario requires a lot of self-awareness, yes. But more than that, it requires the courage to Act. The hardest thing for me to do last night was pick up the pen and write, or sit down at my piano and start to play, and I failed the test (and now I am punishing myself by posting a public confession for all to see). The good news is that these occasions are actually our friends, because they show us when it’s time to Act, when it’s time to get down to business – to “get better at the things we want to get better at”, as Godin puts it.

This, for me, anyway, an Impresario in the embryonic stages, may be the first step. The step is two-fold: recognizing my Resistance (when I’m bored, can’t sleep, etc.), and taking a definite Action to overcome it. Although I love Breaking Bad, I’ve seen it before (well, except the final season, which I am not-so-secretly itching to get my hands on), and know for sure that it’s not exactly going to help me become a better Impresario.

The Impresario’s time is precious and he must be very wise with it. Neil Gaiman allows himself to get bored because he knows that he will sit down at his word processor and start writing.

What “techniques” do you use to get your own creative juices flowing? I’d like to hear about them. Just send me an email: piersonkeatingmusic@gmail.com. And thanks for reading.

Oh, and here’s the episode of the podcast I’ve been citing in this post and also the previous one.