Sunday, February 21, 2010

I am a Tech Immigrant

My laptop has developed an annoying idiosyncrasy in the last week. It seems to like connecting to the web via Wi-Fi in the vast majority of situations and conditions where I need it to work, that is until I try to use it from home. From time to time it simply won't connect using the Wi-Fi network at my house. My techie friends roll their eyes and then patiently roll out elegant explanations of why this is happening and then offer solutions as to how to remedy the problem. My favorite is from one of my own offspring who will remain anonymous despite my funding of his college degree in computer science, who prefaces his comments with. . ."I'm not really a hardware guy, I usually only deal with programming code." Some time later his remarks conclude with the words, "buy a new router." And of course, the arcane incantation or metaphysical rant that was spoken during the space in between these two endpoints induced a narcoleptic reaction in me that rendered me comatose and made it impossible for me to remember anything said in between. While, I know that there is a solution to my laptop's aversion to social interaction that will probably not require extensive therapy or a religious conversion, it has prompted me to think about the ways technology effects my work life.

Several months ago a friend of mine commented to me that in terms of computers, the web and other technical wonders that have emerged during our adult lives; we are immigrants while our children are native citizens. My friend and I are both older than 45, and it is still possible for us to remember a world without e-mail and cell phones. She observed that we generally enjoy using new tools, especially when they work, but we freak out a lot more intensely than they do when a gadget doesn’t work. As immigrants, we are never quite “at home” with the new technology that surrounds us. When things don’t work smoothly, our tendency is to fear that we have done something irrevocably wrong and that we will never get the misbehaving device to conform to our wishes. Whereas, younger people tend to understand that it is the nature of machines to malfunction. Most gadgets have steeper than expected learning curves, and they tend to deliver something less than nirvana that was advertised in the hype prompting their purchase. Even so we look endlessly to these new toys for deliverance from our daily grind, or at least to make some piece of it a little bit easier.

So what does this mean, really? I still have lots of friends who seem to live with a deep seated belief that technology will save us yet. They are always looking for the newest wrinkle in software innovation or the latest greatest bright shiny object. Just dip a finger into the online buzz about Apple’s new I-pad™ or Google’s Buzz™ and you can see how hungry that segment of the population is for anything that feels like innovation. It doesn’t seem to matter if the thing works or not, just let it be something new and exciting. Others in my circle have decided that they just aren’t going to try to keep up anymore. They aren’t really Luddites who are ready to go back to the horse and buggy, but they have seen the pace of change and have decided they have done all they are going to do.

Me, I am somewhere in the middle—I do send text messages (albeit slowly), I use social media periodically, but then I refuse to pay the access fees for an i-phone™. Two years ago my PDA stopped syncing to my laptop and I decided to return to paper-based systems for many of my planning processes because I simply judged the personal costs of transitioning to something unknown as too high. My son tells me that the video game industry is just aching to capture the folks in my demographic group who have not yet bought into this realm of personal entertainment. While my kids’ exploits on Playstation™ have never had much appeal to me, I hear some of my friends talking about how much they enjoy using Wii-fit™ programs, and Amazon’s Kindle™ e-book reader has started to gain some traction with some of us. So yes, I am an immigrant and not a native. The tech stuff matters to me and my work demands that I use it effectively, but from time to time there are these odd barriers to access that simply baffle those of us who were not born into this world. And yes, I need to go buy a new router.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Clear Mind Leads to Mastery

I have to admit that the winter Olympic Games in Vancouver have captured my imagination more than I expected this week. It seems that there is no limit to the variety of events that seem to be added every four years. I am incredulous over jaw dropping demands that these competitions place on human bodies, often at unimaginable speeds, or aloft high in the air, or across terrain that God certainly did not intend people to navigate on skis, skates or snowboards. I was thinking about how athletes need to train to do these ridiculously hard things so that movement looks effortless. And then I was thinking about how pianists develop technical skills to overcome challenging difficulties so that their movements are as facile and fluent as a champion ski racer on a slalom course. This reminded of quote me from Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians: “Only when the form grows clear to you, will the spirit become so too.”

One of my pet theories that I think applies with equal veracity to both music and life is that mastery of anything worth doing excellently starts with clear thinking. It is only after I study a passage long enough to understand how it really works that I can make it sound easy. I may be able to read the music accurately and push down the proper keys in the correct sequence, but if I misread the essential design or form of a musical gesture, the results will usually sound awkward and clunky. Often my first understanding of a thing is superficial and distorted because some small detail has captured my attention inappropriately, and then I miss the big picture. Curiously, my first readings of things tend to be unnecessarily complex when underneath there is a simpler idea that is far easier to think and bring to life. I am coming to understand that cultivating this clarity of mind is the real work both in the music I play and in living life.

Incidentally, Project Gutenburg offers a free download version of Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians. This .pdf is a beautiful reproduction and includes the complete text in both German and in English translation. You can download it here.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Music for Mardi Gras

Happy Mardi Gras or Pancake Day or???

Here is some Brazillian Carnival music from Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras #4 to help you celebrate. Enjoy!

Villa - Lobos Bachianas Brasleiras No. 4, Iv. Dansa by Paul Kenyon, Piano  
Download now or listen on posterous
Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras #4, IV. Dansa.mp3 (2527 KB)

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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Joys of Puttering

Spring sprung at least a little today in San Diego. My wife and kids were home from school for the President’s day holiday, and the warm sunny day made it a struggle to work much. My work day has been punctuated by brief but intense episodes of training my mind and hands to navigate the vagaries of the Chopin preludes that I will be performing soon. These periods are interspersed with communications to colleagues across the country about upcoming projects, reading books and articles that catch my attention and then an occasional household errand. The bass rumbles from my son’s music two rooms away provide the accompaniment for my writing tonight. He seems to think that loud music of a contemporary urban extraction helps him study more effectively. Hmm, I don’t know what life is like for other practicing musicians, I only know the oddly textured surface of my own dappled experience. Still, elements that used to seem chaotic or disparate in my life years ago now seem normal, and I now choose to laugh at the odd juxtapositions of sounds and enthusiasms that float through our house at any given moment.

Focus and concentration seem to mean something different for me than for other people. These days my life seems to be composed of dozens of little twenty-minute cells, wherein I am totally absorbed in a given task, only to have myself shift to something completely different when I shift into the next cell. So I spend my days, changing mindsets and wandering around. Experts tell me that this is due to an “associative” rather than a “linear” thinking style. For a long time, I was absolutely convinced that it was a symptom of dysfunction and I tried to learn to make myself follow more “logical” paths through projects. The effort was doomed from the outset. It felt like I was running a race in someone else’s well-worn shoes, and I had the blisters to prove it.

I laugh about this now because I once recognized this same trait in my Grandfather years ago. He was a woodworker, a gardener and he had his hands into lots of other things all at once. His habit was to spend his days puttering here and there all day long, working intently on something until he came to a pausing spot where he could safely set it down. Usually, the projects would need to sit for a while as time was required for glue to set, varnish to dry, or seeds to germinate. I like to think that my way of working has some ingrained connection to a simpler, more natural way of moving from task to task than is typically understood by productivity experts. What probably looks like an attention deficit disorder to an outside observer seems perfectly normal to me by now. Throughout the day I do lots of things and even get things accomplished—just don’t try to track my progress on a flowchart.

Does anyone else think about these things? As I continue to study my own work process and learn how to help others, I would really enjoy hearing about what your patterns look and feel like. It would be great to hear from other creative folks about your experiences in this realm. Please leave comments here or send me an e-mail.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Gorecki Moment

Savor this sublimely moving music, sung here by Rebecca Evans

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How Much Great Work?

A few days ago I received the box from Amazon bearing my copy of Michael Bungay Stanier’s latest book, Do More Great Work, and I have thrown myself into reading and working through the exercises vehemently. Over the years Michael’s work has consistently prodded me out some of my ruts and confronted me with important questions about working more creatively and courageously. If you want a quick taste of his ideas, then watch this short animated video called The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun. Through interviews, case studies and other research Michael has been developing material around the theme of “great work,” which he distinguishes logically enough for "good work" and "bad work." Great work is deeply connected to our sense of purpose and gives our lives an intrinsic sense of meaning. The basic premise of Do More Great Work is that most of us invest most of our lives doing things other than great work. The distinction is important and it does provide an interesting criterion for measuring one’s individual contributions.

The text of the book is organized around 15 areas of inquiry, labeled “Maps.” After an introductory overview, Map 1 begins, simply enough, with an inventory of the work you are currently doing. Since the start of the year I have found myself in a season of exploring my personal approaches toward delivering measureable results through my various work processes. It has been interesting to observe my own work habits, routines and rhythms. My assumption has been that my big idealistic vision of the “great work” that I feel is my deep calling and purpose in life is too often deferred by the necessary business of doing good but lesser work. To my surprise, the map that I drew of my current work distribution did not show a picture of my great work being sabotaged by worthwhile but less important “good work.” The uncomfortable reality revealed in this snap shot of my daily work life is that I have spent more time during my work days than I have recognized doing “bad work.”

The ugly truth that this exercise revealed is that I have some really stupid habits. Apparently, I am addicted to checking my e-mail inboxes and some other trivial data points of my online existence, not just once in a while but constantly, over and over again. Last week I heard Seth Godin say in an interview that he doesn’t watch television and that he just couldn’t afford to be on Twitter. While I am not ready to jettison social media yet on a wholesale basis, I understand why he said this. My OCD fixation with some of these things has become ridiculous. What’s worse, I have been using these behaviors to distract and deflect myself from working on stuff that matters—my self-defined “great work” of touching audiences with great music and advocating for that process with my teaching and writing.

Earlier today I came across the following quote in a blog post from Clint Watson about visual artists and marketing their art: "Does it take you away from creating in your studio? The most important thing you can be doing is creating your artwork. So even if an idea is "good,” you might want to skip it for better uses of your time."     During my current semester-long sabbatical I have had an unusual level of freedom in creating my own schedule and work routines, as I do not have the usual volume of fixed appointments for lectures, lessons and meetings. And, to be honest, I have always been pretty good at creating own structures and adhering to them. I suspect that some of the time I have spent connecting with others online is a mild compensation for the lower level of social interaction I am experience during this time of not going to my campus office each morning. Still, it is surprising how easy it is to get detoured from one’s central purpose.

So, here’s to my best effort to keep my eye on the prize this week. I will let you know how things continue to work out over time.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Daniel Pink on intrinsic motivation at TED conference

A Different Project (Name the CD contest)

Hey, I need you help. I am terrible at thinking up titles for things and I could use some creative assistance.

Last summer I was inspired to play around with a concept that was inspired by my sister Carolyn's new business venture. You see, my sister, has a green thumb and can grow amazing things, especially tomatoes. If you want to see pictures you can click here to visit her blog and look for yourself.

Anyway, I found the images so stunningly beautiful that I decided to create some music that expressed some of those impressions. You should be able to hear three sample tracks that were recorded last summer while I was in the middle of my work on my recently released album, Chiaroscuro. These takes are unedited and quite raw, so you will need to forgive some of the warts, but you can get an idea of what the music will sound like.

Carolyn says I need to get this finished in the next few weeks so she can have them in her booth at the farmers markets, so I need to get moving on this. Oh yeah, about the titles--so far the working title has been "vegetable music" but no one I've talked to thinks that is any good. So here's the deal, send me your best ideas and I will send the winning entry a CD of your choice.

Solstice by Paul Kenyon, Piano
Download now or listen on posterous
Solistice.mp3 (3080 KB)

Phases by Paul Kenyon, Piano
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Phases.mp3 (3916 KB)

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Like Grass Peeking Through the Melting Snow"

The title of this post comes from today's installment of Robert Ian Winstin's series 28 in twenty-eight. The blog that posts the recordings and performance notes describes the project as:

"A month long text and audio blog about the creation of 28 new pieces of 'art music' in the twenty-eight days of February by composer & conductor Robert Ian Winstin."

The composer has created a companion site that makes the scores of these pieces available as free downlaodable .pdf files. Most of the 10 pieces produced thus far in the series are written for the piano and are admittedly short. In his notes the composer has written about how much he enjoys composing "miniatures" and that the series has afforded him an opportunity to do this.

Even if you don't like the music (but I definitely do), the concept of disseminating this much material in a serial offering over an 28-day period is an amazing idea. Smart people who know more about these things will provide comments about the long-term sticking quality of Mr. Winstin's writing, but I find the music well-crafted, intriguing and often filled with humor. Prior to the appearance of the series, I had heard the composer's extended work for violin and orchestra, "Taliban Dances," and as I have delved a little deeper into his past work it is clear that he is the genuine article--a living composer making music that matters.

So how cool is this! We can gaze into the composer's workshop window for a month to see what is going on inside, at least a little bit. Personally, I am fascinated by what I see.

Click here to visit the 28 in Twenty-eight blog where you can hear the music and read the composer's comments.

Click here to see the music scores for the series.

Click here to visit Robert Ian Winstin's artist website.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Enjoying the Dissonance

A few days ago I played for a group of music students at a local college. Immediately after I finished playing the faculty member presiding over the gathering lead a discussion with the kids about what they had just heard. In my experience these interactions can be awful or wonderful depending upon the skill of the moderator, the collective maturity or experience of the individuals in the room, or the particular lunar phase marked on the calendar for that date. In other words, it’s usually a crap shoot and I never know what I am going to get. My playing went reasonably well and I had enjoyed telling a few brief anecdotes about the three composers whose music appeared on the program. I was not prepared for one of the first comments that popped out from one of the bodies in the seats, "I really liked the dissonance in this music." This was a first. I don't remember anyone commenting on that element, especially in connection with the music I was playing--Scarlatti, Chopin, and Villa-Lobos. As a rule, this was pretty melodious stuff.

The student went on to explain that he had heard a very clear sense of the musical tension rising and then releasing through these composers' handling of dissonances. I have been reflecting upon this notion for a few days and I continue to be surprised at how insightful the comment was in reality. For my part, those tensions had become familiar and no longer carried the same sweet and sour tang that they would have when I was hearing the music with fresh ears. The fallout from the experience is that this week I am noticing these qualities in fresh ways both as I listen to recordings and as I listen to myself practice.

Click here to hear a beautiful performance of a Scarlatti's Sonata in B minor, K.87. Listen the way the harmonies morph and shift through moments of dissonant tension and release.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Sometimes When it Rains, it Pours

Over the past few days I have had a series of minor mishaps, unexpected changes of circumstances, or other petty annoyances show up in my life. Actually, these have been appearing with an alarming frequency, at a rate of 1-2 per day. In fairness I must qualify these comments by saying that no serious tragedy has befallen me and I have suffered no serious injury during this series of unfortunate events. No laboratory animals or small children were harmed in any of these experiences. The problems that showed up were merely irritating setbacks to my creative output, my income and the smooth operation of my blissful daily routines. The most alarming effect of all of this is that it is 12:26 p.m. on a Monday and I have yet to touch the piano or do anything else musical today. Instead I have spent my day simply "handling stuff." Nothing big or traumatic, just necessary stuff that needed to be processed. So with a head that is filled with distractingly noisy voices and an energy level that is less than optimum, I am going to fight against the urge to go back to bed. Instead, I am going to walk over to the piano and make some music.In the face of all that would oppose me today, I am going to practice. My intention is simple, that by the end of the day I will be able to play something just a little better tomorrow than I did yesterday. This, my friends, is the best revenge I know. 

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

On Editing Myself

As I have been developing my blogging concept more intensely over the past month I have learned a few things that seem really important:

1. Starting is the most important thing. It seems that I rarely have an idea of what I am going to say or even what subject I will cover until I begin. Once I start to put words on the screen, a reasonably coherent idea or message starts to emerge but almost never beforehand. The old adage, "Ready, fire, aim!" seems to be especially applicable to this phenomenon. The least productive thing I can do in a day is to sit around ruminating about what I should write, and how, all the whill tell myself that I really need to get started writing.

2. No matter how much I edit and improve my work as I am creating it, something will be wrong. There seems to be no end to my typing errors, grammatical gaffs and other regrettable awkwardnesses of style or voice. I am just beginning to grow up in my thinking about this reality. I will indulge my perfectionism for a few hours after I push the send button, so I do go back to correct the worst offenses as I compulsively check back to see if anyone responds to a particular piece. However, I have started to impose a statute of limitations--after 12 hours or so, it is time to let it go. Some of these issues have been connected to some annoying idiosyncrasies of the tools I am using. For example, I learned early on that my preferred word processor doesn't play well with my chosen blog platform.

3. The voice that is emerging through my writing is mine, for better or worse. At first, I wasn't sure if I was okay with what seemed to be coming through the pipeline, but I am settling in to a way of working that feels comfortable and sounds authentic most of the time. As I have said earlier, the positive responses to several of my pieces have been very encouraging, and I look forward to continuing the conversations that several of you have already initiated.

4. The things I have written have provided a wonderful opportunity to deepen relationships with people who have only known me through social media sites online. There are people whom I have never met who tell me that they value what I am offering and I gaining confidence that there is a need for the content I provide. I do not know yet how this will intertwine with my performance life but I imagine that it will all be a very good thing. Ideally, my musical work provides the fodder of material to write about. And then in turn, my hope is that some of the people who read my blog will engage with my performances and recordings over time.

So please forgive my self-consciousness as I continue to venture forth with this work. It is an interesting time to be a creative person. There has never been a time where an individual can be heard so easily by so many people. I also suspect that the world has rarely had a more desperate need for individual people to exercise their God-given artistic gifts and give voice to the vision that calls to them. So as I invest myself in making music and crafting words today, I would heartily encourage you to follow your own inner calling to craft beauty or meaning in your own unique ways. Don't allow the resistance of inner criticism, fear or indecision to keep you from exercising your own gifts and contributing your unique offering to our collective experience. We need you.

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Recovering Equilibrium

Yesterday served as an interesting laboratory experiment to test some of my theories about making my performance life work.

On Friday morning my life started normally with the household routine running smoothly in its divinely inspired order. I was fueled and lubricated by caffeinated coffee and a just enough bagel-borne carbohydrates to allow my brain neural networks to operate. This was a concert day as I had a performance/demonstration scheduled at a local college music department later in the day. So I was happy to get the family out the door so I could get to the piano to gently remind my head and hands about what they were supposed to remember later in the day.

All was going according to plan, but I made the mistake of checking my e-mail one time too many. Of course on the last glance there was an urgent message from someone on the East coast who desperately needed to tell me that my next performance trip scheduled for 5 days hence had fallen apart. I will spare you all the particulars, but the essential fact was that the trip was going to be postponed and my thoughts for the day would be overshadowed by all the things I needed to communicate to people on the other side of the country. All the while, I really needed to have my head on straight to play some demanding repertoire for an audience who was expecting me to be on the top of my game.

Honestly, my first response to the situation was not particularly poised or clear-headed. My initial reaction was to honestly own the disappointment with the reality. It probably did not take that long but it seemed important to just sit with the mess for a minute, in part to figure out what was true and what was not about the circumstance, but it also seemed important to own the emotional response in the moment. This is not my first inclination--usually I am one to bottle things up and go into deep denial. Soon I realized that it would be better for everyone involved if I took a brief period of time to verify the facts on the ground. My thinking was that then I would be able to put the necessary decisions behind me so that I could effectively turn my attention to the concert I was about to play.

As it turned out, the denouement of this mini-drama was boringly uneventful. After two phone conversations and some quick decisions about how to best frame the necessary communications with some disappointed people on the other side of the country, I was able to set the matter aside well enough to get on with the day. At the performance in the afternoon I felt that I played well and that I connected with my audience in a meaningful way. During the question and answer period that followed, the students were quite engaged with my ideas about the music and the process of performance.

So the moral to my story is this--shifts happen. Those adverse changes that we cannot predict and seem to disrupt everything we understood before. As performers we like to minimize the scariest of the surprises, but sooner or later your life will run over a speed bump of some kind. In those moments we rarely have much control of the big circumstantial framework in which we operate. There really isn't much of a choice except to adapt to reality to the best of our abilities. As Byron Katie has eloquently written in many different places, "You can choose to argue with reality, but you probably won't win very often."

As we prepare for our lives' performances we really cannot control the circumstances that confront us along our own individual paths. Sooner or later something is going to just show up that is at least inconvenient, or at other times even life jarring. In each of these moments we are presented with a choice of how we will respond in the face of the situation. Truthfully, one way or another, my plans will work themselves out over time. The best thing for me was that, at least on this one occasion, I did not allow the challenging change in next week's plans to ruin the work I needed to do that day.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Heavy Weather

Big storms have been brewing hither and yon. Yesterday I was on the phone
with a colleague in the Washington, D.C. area who was leaving her office
at midday to get home before the blizzard hit. Of course, we don't have
snow here in San Diego but the rains are back today and are falling
heavily. It is hard for people in other regions of the U.S.A. to
understand how catastrophic rain can be in southern California. So, I am
thinking of friends in blizzards as I peer out through rain covered
windows. The natural inclination is to hibernate, preferably in a warm
cozy place with good company or a good book. Productivity will best be
served another day, and today will be a mandatory break from the customary
scurry to get things done. The respite imposed will likely have benefits
that we don't readily notice. I expect that when we emerge from our
burrows once again after the sunshine returns, we will better for the

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Showing up

When I opened my computer this afternoon to start writing, I discovered that the last 500 words or so that I had completed the day before had now disappeared. It was lost and it had evaporated out into the cyber universe. I could imagine my orphaned paragraphs, lost and alone on a street corner or in the middle of a crowded intersection somewhere, holding up a sign that reads, "misplaced paragraphs, will provide inspiration in return for a new home."

Okay, maybe not. Still the fruit of a day's labor was lost, probably forever.

At this point my temptation to fall into despair was palpable. I could feel the tide of hopelessness rising, as one of my more obnoxious inner voices pronounced, "Well, that's it! If the work we finished yesterday is gone already, why should we sweat and struggle to create any more? You never know when stuff is going to get trashed around here, so why bother?" My calmer, more sane mind did its best to ignore the pessimistic complaining, and I tried to search the hard drive for every likely handle that might turn up a clue for the missing material. No luck, the stuff was just gone. Reluctantly I went back went back to the outline of the chapter I was writing, and by this point any inspiration that I had left had made a quick dash for the emergency exit. Nothing in my plans for the day's work sounded right. The pessimistic voice in my head returned with a vengeance, saying, "Who's idea was this anyway? This is stupid! It will never work, and by the way, this is a dumb idea for a book anyway."

The episode closed with a blank computer screen open before me, as I quietly started filling up the empty space with words. On this day I didn't allow the discouraging voice to keep me from doing at least some of the work that I had originally intended. Putting text on the page didn't silence the inner critic but I did demonstrate a resolve that I wasn't going to be deterred by a technical problem, a problem that was likely due to my own error. As I reflect back on this otherwise trivial event, it is clear that the things that keep me from making and doing the work I want are rarely big challenges. If I had listened to the voice that told me that my writing was pointless, I would have allowed a small, and routinely reccuring, mechanical failure to deter me from moving ahead on a project that matters to me. In this light, it is really amazing that human beings ever get anything done, let alone really great things.

The irony in all this is that the real threats to my productivity rarely come from what I most fear. In pursuing creative work my great fears tend to focus on my own perceived lack of talent, or that I don't have the proper training or experience to do what I am trying to do. These days if I miss a deadline or fail to reach some stated goal, it is far more likely that the failure was simply my unwillingness to fight through the petty inconveniences that show up each day as I make my way to the studio door.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

You Are Here. . .

You know the big maps that are posted on the walls of rest areas along interstate highways, those places where you stop while driving en route to some family vacation or similar event. Typically these maps have some sort of indicator, either drawn with a marker or printed more professionally, pointing to a precise spot with the words, “You are here.” My kids have read a little too much existentialist literature for their own good, and when I point out where we are, they typically respond by asking questions such as “How do they know?”

Trying to find yourself on a map seems to be the adult version of the clich├ęd children’s travel question, “Are we there yet?” We pause at the map to calculate how many more hours are left to ride in the car, how long before we need to fill up with gas, or how many more times do we have to listen to that same CD or DVD before arriving. Getting to “there” is always the obsession. Reaching the destination and arriving always seems to be the point of the trip.

So why am I thinking about this today? What does this have to do with bringing forth creative work into the world? As I read writings from really smart people who know what they are talking about, there is a lot of talk about learning to savor the journey; to find joy in the process not the product, etc. I do think that learning to cultivate enthusiasm for the day to day stuff of making your work happen is really helpful, and may in fact be essential if we are to stay in the game over time. As a student I was coaching last week observed, when you start to really pay attention to the qualities of what you are bringing forth, the work takes on the nature of meditation. In optimal moments, there is an amazing sense of timelessness and ease. Then there are other days.

Still, I am interested in the “You are here” message. As I mature in my work process I have a better “map” for my journey than I once did. There are experiences that are similar from one project to another, and this makes it easier to infer from past experience how things may unfold this time around. Even so these predictions are more in the manner of an experimental hypothesis, and not factually reliable based upon known information.

For me this means that most mornings, I start my workday by looking at my map. I always (or almost always) have an idea of where I want to go—a particular concert I am preparing, something I am writing, or some correspondence needing an answer yesterday—and then I plan out incremental steps that I believe will move me in my intended direction. Sometimes my map is harder to read and there are confusing details that just don’t look right. Occasionally, I make wrong turns and I need to go back to the map to get back on the desired route toward my destination. Still the process begins with a map and the words, “You are here.”

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Priorities, Commitments and Stories

I ate lunch with my brother a few days ago. He was in Huntington Beach on a business trip and had a gap in his work schedule. Since he lives in Saint Louis and getting to Orange County was a much shorter trip, I decided to squeeze the 75-minute drive north into my plans for the day. We connected easily enough and we found a place to eat that was not far from John Wayne Airport, from where he was to depart later that afternoon. After exchanging the odd greeting rituals of two middle-aged Caucasian males (more stiff and awkward than ever), I blurted out something about not doing a good job of keeping in touch. My brother simply said that he didn’t even try any more. And then to elaborate, he told the story of one his former bosses who had told him in a similarly awkward moment, “If something is a priority, then you do it.” It seemed an odd thing for him to say in the moment. Even now, I can’t decide if should get mad about what he said, or feel defensive, or just thank the serendipity of God’s universe for using the moment to teaching me an important lesson. Today, I am choosing to check box number 3 on the survey and express my thanks for the wake-up call. There is no point to arguing with the simplicity of this thinking, of course it is true. Our best intentions and rationalizations are simply stories that buffer our egos from a reality that scares us and actually serves to keep us in a state of mild distress over that large list of other things that “we really ought to be doing.” So today, my life seems to be calling me to keep my inventory lists of commitments short, and then to actually deliver what I promise both to myself and to the people who depend upon me.

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