Pushing Up

The job I have now is an interesting beast. I’ve wrestled with it now for, well, as long as I’ve been doing it – about seven years. I’ve never encountered anything so emotionally challenging, nor something that has forced me to adapt with such immediacy.

What strikes me the most about it is how I am always needing to adjust my perspective. Sometimes my emotions can get the better of me, but when I take a step back and look at how good I have it, my perspective is slanted towards the positive. The most challenging thing is not being able to see the forest for the trees.

I think this can extend to all walks of life  – not only jobs, but also activities, or moments or stretches of time when we are just “not feeling it.” It takes quite a bit of discernment to know if it’s worth it to push through, or if it’s not. If it is, pushing through is smart. If it’s not, you may have no choice – pushing through may still be required.

Good for those who have reached a point to where they don’t have to deal with the emotional roller coaster. But I’m sure that ride still exists for everyone – even those who have graduated to doing work that resonates with every fiber of their being. Come to think of it, do those people even exist?

I guess perspective is not as important as I thought. Sure, it may make the pushing through easier, or harder, but the perspective is always going to be what it is at the time. So what’s left? Whatever is left is the stuff to be dealt with. It’s the dirty stuff – it’s the stuff that can be tough to swallow. But it’s also the stuff that makes us stronger, makes us grow.

We won’t get stronger or grow, however, if we don’t push up and not through. If we spend all of our time pushing through, we just might stay on the same ride for longer than we bargained for. If we push up, we might make a bit of our own luck, and be able to switch to another, better ride.

No Room For Error

I was watching a fire twirler today on my final break. He had a long pole with green fire on one end and a fire ring, with several smaller fire pockets attached to it. I was impressed with his apparent fearlessness.

I was impressed because he was standing on a street that sloped downward. There was a guy sitting on the curb, looking up at him. One false move, and the fire twirler might have had to drop the pole, possibly harming his devoted onlooker.

But then it dawned on me: there was no chance of that happening. This fire twirler had practiced his stuff – he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t going to get burned, and he wasn’t going to drop the pole. Again, no chance.

What makes a person want to twirl fire? Why not just twirl a baton? I’m sure fire twirlers have an innate reckless streak – they like to be inches from the flame. But they must also be especially confident in their abilities to want to play with such a harmful element.

I’ve always been impressed with fire twirler types. They seem perfectly relaxed in dangerous situations – but this must be because in their minds, there is no room for error.

Understanding Demotivation

Apparently there is a principle in Oriental philosophy according to which life goes in a cycle. (I’ll try to decipher where exactly this comes from so that I can properly cite it – it may be Confucianism.) I won’t pretend to totally understand this concept, but it has something to do with the Ups and Downs of Life. Emotional highs and lows, physical successes and failures, psychological break throughs and hang-ups. They’re all encompassed in the Cycle.

The German version of this, as I learned in Advanced Jazz Theory back when I was doing my undergrad at the University of Louisville, is called the Zeitgeist. My dictionary defines Zeitgeist as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs at the time.” I understood the idea more broadly as a study of the progression of an Art form, or of anything really, from human behaviors to the engineering of food, in a cyclical context.

My teacher was using the Zeitgeist concept to explain the trends in American jazz music. In jazz, he was explaining, you had traditional blues-based forms, which evolved into bepop in the 40’s and 50’s, which in turned evolved into fusion and more experimental, free-form jazz in the 60’s and 70’s, finally giving way back to a more conventional, “post bop” sound in the 80’s, and so on. The cycle in jazz, then, is “simple, complex, simple, complex.”

This cycle of alternating back and forth between two extremes can be seen as a universal principle. In my own case, I’ve experienced my own version of the Zeitgeist in my creative life. Usually the current takes me through periods of intense drive and passion, where I am super “productive”, followed by equally intense periods of demotivation and feeling completely uninspired.

I like the “Zeitgeist”, or Cycle, idea, because it’s a compassionate take on these alternating periods. Maybe it’s perfectly natural to feel uninspired, just as it is to feel gung-ho and ready to take on the world. For every point, there is an opposite point, so every mood or condition simply falls into the Cycle.

The friend who brought this idea back to my attention explained that the periods of de-motivation are just as important as the periods of motivation, because they indicate where our attentions should go during that period. Our attentions might be better suited, for example, away from the area of focus, so that the creative mind can refresh itself and prepare to receive more advanced information. The person in the frustrating period of “demotivation,” then, is actually there because he or she is not happy with the level of knowledge, aptitude, or awareness, she is currently experiencing. On some level, she wants to attain a higher level of awareness, and so her repulsion from the thing she is usually attracted to is allowing her to shift her focus to other areas, other interests, which may help her original area of focus when she comes out of the “demotivation” period and starts to return again to the “drive and passion” period.

Of course, she will return to the “drive and passion” period with renewed vigor, and stay there for a while, achieving her new level of Awareness. But again, this period will end, and she will hit another plateau, only this time it will be slightly higher, and the Cycle continues.

These scenarios may be over-generalizations, but I think they can be useful when thinking about our own creative Cycles. You, reading this, may be experiencing a “high-vibration” period of going full throttle, or you may be somewhere in the low-vibration period, where the Process has become drudgery. I believe that these low-vibration periods are the most telling, because they, aside from being naturally very difficult to deal with, reveal the kinds of Artists and people we truly are. They provide a chance to either embrace the grind and continue even though we just don’t want to, or to shift our focus for a while and explore other avenues until we feel that it’s time to come back to the first thing, about which we may find we have a fresh attitude.

What you do in these periods shapes you as an Artist and a Person, and it also speaks to your inner nature. I don’t believe there is a “wrong” or “right” way to go about it – as long as something is being done. Who’s to say whether the solution is to go deeper or to remove yourself altogether – especially when nothing is permanent?

The Causative Nature of “Interest”

Every Process eventually reaches an impasse where the values, goals, and visions get reexamined. At this point, the person or group behind the Process can decide which of these to keep, which to modify, which to throw away, and ultimately, whether to continue to engage (stick) or whether to hang it up.

Even if a company is doing well, the owner can decide to sell it if it is no longer in his interest to oversee it. By contrast, if the same company is suffering, the owner might decide to invest some more time and money and really do all that he can to pull it through. What he does depends first and foremost on his interest.

There are a lot of factors that may go into the decision of whether to stick or to get out. A financial concern will have a much different kind of effect than a personal one. But in the end, the decision will be made based on what the business venture, the relationship, the creative process, means to whomever is facing the fork in the road. Emotional investment outplays all. That’s what I mean by “interest.”

Sometimes it can be hard to see what the right move to make is. Maybe a change of direction is needed, but there is a lack of certainty as to how or where. Perhaps the Vision doesn’t need to be replaced, but massaged a bit. And maybe it was just a routine checkup, and everything can continue more or less as before. The outcome, however, will always be directly connected to the same phenomenon that got the whole thing started – a conviction, a sentiment, a feeling.

Navigating by Feel: The Essence of True Strength

We live in a very mind-centered world. Thanks to social media and texting, we have more time than ever to plan out our communications in the perfect way. Technical know-how is encouraged, as is strategy, tact, and autonomy, all requiring a great deal of mental strength.

I, for one, spend a lot of time in my Head. Whether I am a child of nature or nurture, the way I approach the world involves a lot of thinking, contemplating, “philosophizing”. It’s what I like to do, it’s part of how I operate.

But enough about me. I’m just one example of a kind of person in today’s world – a kind of person that you may know, or even be yourself. And this thought-centered way of being may be very useful, but, as with such things, can also be debilitating.

I think Emerson said it best:

What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New-Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white man to his grave. [Self-Reliance]

The more “cultured” we become, the more we have the danger of relying on the Brain to help us navigate. As information increases at an exponential rate, cluttering our consciousness, we can go one of two ways: we can either become more analytical, more thought-oriented, or we can become more feeling-oriented.

In times of doubt, Thought Orientation is often the best policy. A problem needs to be solved, information is gathered, experiments performed, and conclusions drawn based on impartial data. But, as today’s methods of navigating the fields of business and relationships become less and less like yesterday’s, Feeling Orientation may prove to be even more effective.

The kicker is, intuition and “going with the gut” are not things that can be taught, and therefore, not fostered by society. We’re not necessarily going to see them encouraged or advertised. But that’s OK, because we were born knowing how to do them. Learning to navigate our world by “feeling it out” is one of our most primal instincts. And perhaps, needed now more than ever.

The Impresario as Seducer

Seduction is a field where most of us tread lightly. We look askance and shrug our shoulders, we don’t venture into that forest, because, well, we are afraid. We have a vague idea of seduction being some kind of manipulation, something that is ethically wrong.

Seduction is not ethically wrong. In fact, if you are friends with somebody, anybody, it is because you and that person seduced each other, and still are.

When a musician puts on a concert for an audience, if it is a successful concert, he is seducing them. If a marketer succeeds in selling something – he seduced the buyer. If two strangers start to engage each other in conversation, you guessed it: seduction.

We are being seduced constantly, by friends, family, influences, and interests. Seduction is so common that it abounds everywhere without us even being aware of it.

So what does being an Impresario have to do with Seduction? Everything. An Impresario’s most important tool is Seduction. He uses it not to manipulate, but to facilitate a space: a space where other people can interact and share what matters to them. An Impresario knows how to do this because he thoroughly understands how to make people comfortable. He’s been in the social trenches – he knows how to introduce himself to strangers, and to introduce a stranger to another stranger. He is a connector. He is a Seducer.

It’s unfortunate that the word “Seduction” has been handed such a negative reputation. There is nothing in it that implies control, or acting against the will of another. Quite the opposite, actually. True seduction works through both parties. A piece of music, a work of art, even a conversation, is most enjoyed when the musician, the artist, or the converser allows him or herself to be swept up into an energy, a feeling, that is bigger than them. It has nothing to do with control – it’s more of a Surrender.

The Miracle Of Honesty

Zan Perrion says, “Honesty is the greatest aphrodisiac.” While this may be rather poetic, I believe that Honesty is the secret to all successful relationships.

To be honest with another person, we first have to be honest with ourselves. What do we want? What do we need? What makes us tick? If any of those shows up in the other person, we can start to build something.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is when some things come up, either in ourselves or the other person, or both, that we might not have known were there, that we might not immediately know how to deal with.

When these things happen, that’s when Honesty is most needed. All Honesty, if it’s true, is hard, because it means risking losing trust, respect, or love. And it’s a skill – it takes practice. And it’s not always second nature – sometimes it takes a self-knowledge that can only come about over time, and through many episodes of being in the dark.

I am convinced that Honesty is the one thing that can save all relationships. If we’re OK with the potentiality of losing trust, respect, or love, we are now in a position to gain it. Our capacity for these gifts is only measured by our willingness to let them go.

So if you are uncomfortable with the way an associate is doing business, tell him so. If you don’t like the way a lover is looking at someone, tell her so. If you aren’t sure about the integrity of a friend’s values, tell him so. If you sense that a part of you could hurt someone you care about, make sure that someone knows about it. If you are being hurt, or have been in the past, don’t keep that to yourself.

Secrets are the death of all relationships. Honesty is scarce because it takes a great deal of courage. Be the odd one out!

A Paradigm of Trust

After the show tonight, I was talking with my friend and colleague, Eric Forbis. I was pleased to hear that he had been diligently keeping up with this blog (I still get a swell of pride any time someone mentions they’ve been reading). Our conversation drifted over to family matters – Eric had recently had a son. Eric, like me, is an introvert, but he expressed a desire to have his son, in his words, “walk through the world and see the person coming toward him as a friend.”

This thought really struck me. We had also been discussing the Impresario, and how an Impresario sees relationships with people as paramount. For an introvert, this can sometimes be tricky – I know it was for me, and still is, in fact. But the idea of seeing a stranger as a friend, and starting from this assumption, could be a great way to start to operate in this worldview.

Trusting a stranger is certainly not what we were taught as kids, and it certainly doesn’t come without a degree of risk. And I’m not espousing that we should go around trusting every single person we see. But there is something to be said for the default setting of looking for the best in everyone we encounter.

“Smile, and the world smiles with you,” goes the saying, and I think it holds true when we meet a new person, or find ourselves in a room full of new people. Whether our role is simply to acknowledge a passersby, or to give a lecture, we can always start off on the right foot with a smile – or, at least, an awareness of the common fact of Humanity that we all share.

Operating from a paradigm of trust, things happen on a level beyond simply strangers “being nice” to each other. Psychological phenomenons take effect – we start to see what we expect, and others in turn do the same. We are free to expect what we like. If the trend were to start off expecting to meet a friend, then maybe seeing eye to eye would be all that’s left to do.

Of Love And Bagels

One of my favorite places to go in Raleigh is New York Bagels & Deli. It’s operated by real New Yorkers who use real New York bagel-making techniques – just about as authentic as it gets. They have just about every kind of bagel and bagel formation – everything from a bagel with nova lox, egg, and onion to your classic  bagel and cream cheese – all made in-house.

I gravitate towards places like this because I love being reminded that there’s somebody out there who loves something enough to want to evangelize it. Everyone has those things that make them tick. They remind us of home, bring a much-needed sense of nostalgia. We need these things like the air we breathe.

I’ve only been in NYBD (their clever abbreviation) a couple of times, but both of those times, I was not the only one in the store. There were other bagel-craving patrons, who, like me, probably went out of their way to ingest a piece of New York, rather than go to Starbucks or Panera Bread, which might very well have been more convenient.

People will indeed travel out of their way for a commodity that has been made in love. Even if it is not widely familiar at first, Quality catches on. At first, only a few might venture in out of curiosity, or because they just happened to be in the area.

But soon, word will spread. If you bake the bagels… they will come.

Control Is 1/2 Reconciliation

Today, I was out on the links playing eighteen holes with a couple of friends. I wasn’t playing my best – a few bad long game shots can really add up, especially when about ten golf balls end up in the shrubs, the water, or the trees. Although I hit mostly bad shots, there were a few here and there that I wouldn’t mind taking credit for – the kind that keep me coming back. And that got me thinking, somehow, about control.

How much control do we actually have?

In a golf game, one would hope for a fair amount of control – especially if he is an experienced golfer. But even then, how much control does he have, and how much of it is in the hands of the wind, the greens, the dryness or wetness of the grass?

And even excluding these environmental factors, what about internal ones? Like a slight miscalculation? An oversight? A one degree movement of the wrist that casts the ball into the bunker?

The idea is that if the golfer keeps coming back, he gains enough experience – deals with enough “hazards,” inside and out – to where he gradually gains more and more control. More control over his internal factors – his posture, his swing, his mentality. But what about the external factors?

Pro golfers are pro because they’ve gained more internal control, but I’m not convinced that they leave the environmental factors up to the gods. Their methods of control must include the environmental factors, must dance with them, no matter how adverse. The pro golfer uses them to his advantage.

So, in a way, control is admitting that half of the game is not at all being in control. It’s not like the pro golfer controls the direction of the breeze, the slope of the fairway, or the position of the hazards. Rather, he nods to them, and devises a way to have them work in his favor.

A great pro golfer can provide the illusion that he is bending heaven and earth to get that ball in the hole in so few strokes.

Perhaps he is, in a way.