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.

Second Guessing: Friend Or Foe?

I’m going to be honest: I haven’t completed a piece of music since June.

It takes me, on average, a month to write a song. But a song can take me up to six months to write, if I am not working on it regularly. Good thing I don’t have a quota, right?

I like and dislike aspects of my creative process. I like that I am quite picky when it comes to how I write. For example, I despise cliches, over-repetitions, and over-obvious harmonic progressions. So if I catch myself doing any of these, I will start editing, usually immediately. I like this quality because it ensures that my writing is truly original.

However, this same quality has a dark side to it, and that can be the feeling that nothing is quite good enough. I have written whole verses before, only to botch them completely and start again. Come to think of it, I’ve thrown away whole songs too. Editing too much can lead to a kind of creative obsessive compulsive disorder.

I’m sure every great artist, unless they’re Mozart, has their versions of being overly hard on themselves when it comes to their work. This, as I’ve just illustrated, can be good, but if not tempered, can lead to a vacuum of non-productivity.

Another reason for my extended period of low output might be that my interests have shifted somewhat over the past couple of months to other “pockets.” This blog, to name just one example, has become a main focus and a source of joy, one that I am inspired to be disciplined about. Perhaps songwriting, for better or worse, has taken a back seat.

I don’t see this as a bad thing, though. I am sure that I will come back to it – I already have, actually. And I am convinced that the time away was spent doing things which will actually enrich my songs. But to really get the most out of writing music, I will have to see it much like I see this blog – as a way to express myself and make sense of things in my life.

Once I see it like that, the filter might start to not be so invasive, because it will recognize the songwriting as a practice, and not a quest for perfection. Or so I hope.

The Magic Of “Who Gives A Fuck?”

Since my third move back to Nashville, Monday before last, life has been more or less a nonstop adventure. True, logistics have occupied much of my days – driving back and forth between here and there in a calculated zig zag of errands, but even these have been enjoyable. There was a time when I used to think such tasks a waste of time, endless hours in the car better spent practicing or composing, but now I see them as necessary steps in a larger picture.

I seem to have given up the ghost when it comes to wishing I had “more hours in the day”… now I am perfectly happy with doing whatever I happen to be doing in the hours I happen to be doing them. And if I can’t get to a certain thing that would be nice to get to, I simply think to myself, “There’s always tomorrow, or the day after.”

I didn’t used to be like that. Not so long ago I would grow frustrated and impatient with the demands of Life. I think I was like this before getting hurt. I remember flailing, moving from one project, job, or place to the next without conscious intent. But when I got hurt, and I had to lie in a bed for three months and not be able to continue the crazy impulsivity that had rendered me immobile in the first place, I slowly began to calm down and take an objective look at what was really going on around and inside me.

I started to ask questions like, “What do I really want?” “Why do I write slash play music?”

“What drives me?”

This last one is a question I believe we all share, at least as people who create. I believe that we do what we do because we strongly feel the need to know that, after so many thousands of hours spent honing our craft, and the indescribable shit we have gone through to do so, there will be something to show for it, some great reward. I’m not talking about the feeling of satisfaction after having created something – that soon wears off. I’m talking about a tangible payoff. Usually this boils down to two things:

Money and recognition (fame).

When neither money nor recognition show themselves in a fashion suited to our expectations, we feel we have been cheated. We feel that our efforts, which deserve the highest of return, have gone into the ether and evaporated, unnoticed. And we are right in feeling this. After all, we’re human – of course it makes sense that something should come of all this.

For those of us who go so far as to identify what we do with our lives, the absence of a return on our investment is heartbreaking. We go into periods of depression, sometimes long, sometimes short, sometimes intermittent. We lose motivation. We wonder what the point of it all is. And we start to question whether or not our lives have meaning.

At least, I have. If something I do, something I know I’m put on this earth to share and to cultivate, goes over flat, then, well logically, that must mean my life is meaningless. And if my life is meaningless, well, what’s the point of living?

But I did some more thinking and realized the point. The point is…

Well, the point is whatever you like. If you like there to be no point, there is no point. If you like there to be a point, there is one. Does this mean life is still meaningless? I don’t think so. Because if it were, I don’t even think we’d have the option of deciding whether there should be a point or not.

So much grief comes from thinking there should be a “payoff”. I guess another name for this is “attachment to the outcome.” We all know that’s bad, but it’s another thing to not be attached. Who can’t be attached? And therein lies the rub.

Maybe we can’t not be attached. Maybe we’ll always unconsciously be expecting something in return for our unrelenting struggles. And then, a phrase comes to mind. It’s a beautiful phrase, one that offers such a succinct point of view on the matter. It’s a phrase that sheds new light on an old issue. Here’s the phrase:

“Who gives a fuck?”

Who gives a fuck if you ever see any return on your investment? Who gives a fuck if after a lifetime of devotion, you hurdle into oblivion? Who gives a fuck if all you have to show for your countless hours of composing or painting or playing or writing are shunned by everyone, even God?

What if you just decided, right now, to stop giving a fuck? What would happen? I don’t mean stop doing what you “love.” What if you decided that by God you were just going to enjoy life, and forget about the return, and just sort of go about your day, a carefree swashbuckler? And whenever you had a little time you would write or play or paint or compose. And the rest of the time you would have fun, and eat good food, and meet people of the opposite sex or enjoy your spouse, and have adventures, and breathe?

The magic of “Who gives a fuck?” is not more nihilism. It does not provide an excuse to be lazy, to be discouraged, to have all the more evidence that life is meaningless. Quite the opposite. It provides space. The person who doesn’t give a fuck can look into the void that is life and say, “So… it really doesn’t matter if all of this is for nothing,” and not be disappointed. In fact, she should be exhilarated! Because if nobody gives a fuck, the world opens up to her. She stops identifying what she does with who she is. She stops worrying about whether Money or Recognition will come, because who knows if they will come and who gives a fuck.

And all at once, all this pressure gets taken off.

She looks back at her blank canvas. She takes a deep breath of oxygen. She knows that she can walk away from her easel and never paint another blotch of color ever again, because, who gives a fuck.

But chances are, she won’t.

The Impossibility Of Being A Modern Artist

Over the past week, I’ve had a lot of time to think. One of the things I’ve thought about is the multitude of responsibilities we artists are required to take on, especially in this day and age of online platforms, personal relationships, and sustaining our business and personal lives through our brand and, of course, our output.

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll probably have noticed that this is a pretty hot topic for me. A lot of my posts focus on the sheer volumes of, well, stuff, that is required from us in order to not only make ourselves heard, but to build a life doing so. I’d like to go ahead and put out there that this more than just a topic for me, this is a big part of my philosophy. It’s a Theme.

Whether or not you see eye to eye with my opinions, we can all agree that a lot is expected from the modern artist. From mailing lists to milage logs, everything we do as independent artists, musicians, poets, or comic book writers, plays a part in how successful we will be in an elaborate, holistic Tetris puzzle. I don’t think it’s enough to say it’s hard – damned impossible would be more accurate.

But yet, we still somehow manage. We still do it, for the most part. Any normal creative person as had thoughts of “giving up,” of “maybe I’m just not good enough,” or just plain being not sure of him or herself. But we can’t stop, not matter how much we may want to at times, or no matter how many hiatuses (hiati?) we may go through.

It’s in our nature to create. It’s in our nature to press on, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s in our nature to do the impossible.

When do you feel yourself pushing through what seems (and very well may be) impossible?


Image source: Tetris HD Wallpapers http://hdfons.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Tetris-Wallpaper-2.jpg


The Advantage of Being LESS Creative

First off, I know the last few blog posts have been kind of spotty. I’m hoping to get back into it, starting now, with renewed urgency and regularity. Here we go…

You know how when we’re young, it’s OK to be a “jack of all trades”? You can draw a purple tree one minute, then be a pirate the next, and it’s OK. In fact, it’s encouraged. At least, it was for me. As a kid, I was obsessed with film, went through a robots stage, an aliens stage, and eventually “settled” on music when it was decided that that was what I was really good at.

Now, I can’t really draw that purple tree. Time flies, and before we know it, we can’t so easily get away with doing everything. Trouble is, sometimes we still want to.

There’s a tendency in creative people to leave projects unfinished. For every band we’ve heard of, there’s about a million that never made it past the first four months. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the demands of adult life, but also a lack of focus on the part of the collaborating members.

This lack of focus seems to come with the creative territory, just as hyper-focus does. Mozart is said to have had attention deficit hyper-disorder. Though not a subscriber to common beliefs about ADHD, I do think that the condition of swinging from one branch to the next is a real issue for a lot of creative people.

A proposed solution: QUELL your creativity. The urge inside us to create more and more is ravenous, like a hungry bear, and sometimes can be destructive. What once served us as kids can now be dangerous. I find that in this distracting world, I really do need to “beat back” my creative impulses sometimes, in order to hone in on the one thing that really needs my attention.

Our brilliant ideas have to be marketable, at least when first starting out. That’s why developing the one thing that we’re really good at is one popular mode of progress in any artistic industry. It becomes an almost daily struggle to choose which impulses serve us and which do not – one which can only come about through intense focus on what it is we truly desire. When are some times that you have had to turn off, or turn down, your right brain (creative) in order to hone in on the right (practical)?

Passion, Creativity, and Freedom

I thought I’d kick off the week with a brief post about Passion. Some of you might have seen/heard my song, Passion Play. I love that expression because it is indicative of what so many of us go through who are on a creative path. We feel the turbulence, the unrest, that is natural for someone who is making something out of nothing.

Of course, such a life, until it pays for itself, must be tempered with financial obligations. Some of those obligations include the all-known “working a job.” The “job” is anything that is not your love, your dream, your Passion, but that is necessary for you to support your love, your dream, your Passion. Until your Passion can pay for itself, you must do the “job.”

A funny thing about the “job” is that, while in some cases it can be directly related to the Passion, it is usually not the strong point of the creative person in question. In fact, to use myself as an example, I’ve been through several jobs, having either been fired or quit, clearly because they were not what I was designed for. It’s not uncommon for creative people to not be able to hold a “job.”

This is sometimes seen by the outside world is impulsive or irresponsible. “Why can’t you keep a job?” “Don’t you want to be stable?” There is something seen as “wrong” with the creative person. The truth is, the creative person just wants to be creative. The “job” is the opposite, in most cases, of the creative person’s nature.

The creative person then has to work around the rigid demands of the “job” until such point that he or she can break away and have the “job” be the “Passion” (entrepreneurialism). This makes the “job” an interim necessity for the creative person. Problem is, most people do not see jobs as “interim necessities,” but as something that you’ll always have to do, or even a “career” (love that word). “You need to make money!” “Gotta have a job!” And the idea of the art paying for itself gets swept under the rug, because the art ain’t payin’ the bills.

I believe that we are all naturally creative. If we weren’t, there wouldn’t be cars, houses, or clothing. The man-made objects we’ve grown so used to would not exist. There would be no such thing as music or painting. The very fabric of reality is based on creation (birth). The grass is green, the sky is blue. A species is threatened, it finds creative ways to survive.

Does it follow that we would all be naturally entrepreneurs? No. There’s only a handful of people who even want to be. But I do think that we all want to be free – free to be creative, free to be debt-free, free to eat Doritos and watch television on the weekends. OK, maybe the Doritos thing is a notch or two below the “creative” impulse, but my point is that freedom and creativity are bedmates.

Passion has a price. You can’t just show up for work, then go home and eat Doritos. Passion hurts. Passion stings. Passion makes you get slapped around.

This is a touchy subject – I realize. But hey, I never said I would sugarcoat anything, did I?

Are you a creative person with a Passion? Do you find that your “job” is in harmony with your passion, or simply a means to the end of supporting your passion until your passion can support itself?