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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Creativity

So, David Bowie once said…….

………“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

I read this quote by David Bowie shortly after his death. It stayed with me, the way things do that make a strong impression. Some of my best creative output came about during the worst times and least secure moments of my life. As long as I was sitting in front of my computer, stringing words together and giving scenes and characters life, I was okay. Whatever was happening outside my little home became easier to handle and navigate. In short, regardless of the uncertainty of my future, my art allowed me to give voice and find strength.
However, as I reflected on Mr. Bowie’s words, I realized that maybe he wasn’t talking about the discomfort of the physical world, but the discomfort of our individual interior and emotional worlds. The analogy of water that Mr. Bowie uses can be interpreted in many ways. Swimming is the most immediate symbol – in order to become a competent swimmer, one needs to learn the basics of swimming. To be a competent or even a competitive swimmer, one had to be willing to push past fear and go into the deep end.
The other image of water that made itself clear to me was the subconscious, as in, “What lies beneath your conscious self?” What, indeed? What we fear the most, about ourselves, our loved ones, our worlds, is generally buried under the busy-ness of every-day living. A lot of times, we make ourselves busy so as not to address that which worries or scares us the most. It’s natural to want to feel safe and secure, but it can also hinder us from making the necessary changes in our lives that would bring us peace.
Embrace that discomfort and that fear. Get out your sketchpad or journal. Just let it all out onto that page, whether it’s haiku or musical notes, oil or watercolors. Let it be what it is. There is no judgement between you and that page – remember, this is for you to express yourself to yourself. Share it only if you want to.
Artistic expression is not just about romance and beautiful landscapes and silly love songs and enchanted cottages. It’s also about the flip side, about the things that scare us, make us angry or sad. The arts can give voice to both our light selves and our darker selves, what Carl Jung would call the Shadow.

Recommended reading:

Man and His Symbols

The Red Book

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Editor’s Note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

So, there’s this confounding thing that affects those who create with words…..

………..writer’s block, it’s called – but it has been known to strike in other art forms. Essentially, whether it’s through fear of not getting the final result of your art right on the first go or you’ve found yourself backed into a corner, the Block is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. How does one get around it? Well, as with creating one’s art, getting un-Blocked is unique to the individual as well. What works for one may not work for anyone else. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try any or all options in order to find the way out of being stuck.
As a writer, I get blocked and stymied on my own creative projects all the time. I’ve used water color paints and a sketch book to find my way out of the corner I’d find myself in. But I also have a background in theater and lately, I’ve been using an actor’s technique when floundering over a stalled chapter – The Moment Before.
What is The Moment Before? Well, as I learned it, The Moment Before is a tool used by an actor or actress to understand who their character is before they walk out onstage. The characters don’t just come into existence because the playwright wrote “So-and-so enters from the kitchen up stage right”. It is the actor’s job to know what the character was doing in the kitchen (cooking? Crying? Arguing over the phone?) prior to their entrance.
This process is internalized by the actors, giving them a rich interior life and insight into the characters they play. It is not shared with anyone else in the cast – it is a discussion between the actor and the director alone.
So is this Moment Before to you, regardless of your art. When your project feels difficult and you’re struggling to make the next sentence or paint the next stroke or write the next lyric, stop and step back. Take a breath, find that rhythm prior to the block.
Find your Moment Before, re-focus and go forward.

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Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

So, Stephen King has said, on many occasions……

……….“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
What does he mean by this? Read the top 100 lists, read pulp, read history, memoirs, fiction, science and more. Read what you love, what you’re indifferent to, what you dislike. Ask friends for their favorite books and read them.
What you gain from all of that reading is what works, what doesn’t, style, voice and structure. Try writing in the same style of your favorite author or break it down into specific acts (for example, Act One – Inciting Event; Act Two – Discovery; Act Three – Betrayal; Act Four – Revelation; Act Five – Resolution). Another way is to take a notebook and, while reading, keep track of what the author does to make seemingly unrelated events tie together by the last few pages.
Although King is clearly talking about writing, the idea behind his quote can be applied to any other creative endeavor. A creative artist doesn’t study just one master or medium in their chosen field – he or she studies as many as possible to learn and discover their own styles. It’s mixing and matching particular elements to find what works for you, then using it to push yourself further.
Whether you’re writing or singing or playing the guitar or acting, the more you learn about your creative passion, you’ll find that your own experiences with it has become richer. You’ll be better able to express yourself in whatever creative endeavor you pursue. It may be that you’ve discovered a passion for more than one creative art and that they feed off of and influence each other in delightful ways.
It worked out that way for me – in addition to writing, I spent many years performing onstage in local theater. It helped a great deal in developing stronger characters, understanding what motivated them, and finding the story’s beats (important moments). This may occur with you – if you enjoy poetry and music, for example, you may unconsciously find yourself writing poems in time with a specific musical beat.
There are infinite combinations to mix and match with. To discover them is to read, to play with your creative passion and be open to new opportunities as they present themselves to you. The worst that can happen is that it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped it would.
Say, “Yes,” to your creative self. Amazing things will happen. Trust yourself.

 

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Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal.

So, John Lennon once said……

………that every child is an artist until he is told he isn’t. It doesn’t have to be an actual person saying this to an actual child (or an adult) for them to feel ‘not good enough’ at being creative. A first attempt can be pretty intimidating, especially if this is a new experience for you or you’re trying something different. Comparing yourself to another’s artwork can be pretty tempting to do, but it’s counter-productive and wreaks havoc on your self-esteem.
By all means, look at another artist’s paintings or another writer’s work, but use their final product as a tool to guide you. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa from 1503 to 1506 and even then, it’s suspected he worked on it as late as 1517. Look at the back of any Stephen King novel and you’ll see two sets of dates – the start date and the finish date. It takes King anywhere from three to five years to write each novel and he works on more than one at the same time.
I’ve always regarded being creative as something akin to archaeology. You have a plot laid out, the tools to uncover it, and an idea of what it looks like. As with a chisel and hammer, you take pen and paper (or canvas and brush) and start to dig. You don’t find the whole thing right away – maybe a piece here, a fragment there. You follow a line that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and then find that it splits off into a different direction. Eventually, you have an almost complete skeleton to speculate and ponder over.
Are you finished? Hardly. The best thing to do with a roughed out draft or sketch is to set it aside for a few days. Then the real work begins. Details start to emerge that you didn’t see before. The piece which appeared to be apropos of nothing has now found its proper place. The fragment that didn’t seem to relate to anything is suddenly a crucial plot point.
This is where opening up to your creative self can be a little terrifying. It’s about letting go of the inner critic, ignoring that little voice that says you can’t do it, and taking that huge step forward. Because what you’re trying to unearth isn’t a work of art or the next Great American Novel. What you’re doing is sifting through the doubts and worries and ‘I can’ts’ to find that young artist and say, “I am an artist and I can.”

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Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

So, Julia Child once said…….

……..in reference to making an omelet, “When you flip anything, you really….you just have to have the courage of your convictions.”
While she was talking in terms of cooking, her words can apply to any part of your life, professionally, personally, and artistically. Opening yourself up to being creative is just as hard and terrifying as it is to open up to another person, which is why you need that courage of your convictions to take that leap of faith.
So, what now? How do you start? Well, what makes you smile? What makes your heart feel light and your feet want to dance? Is it poetry or sketching? Is it music or pottery? Trust your instinct enough to follow it. This is your time, your gift to yourself. Take a pen and a pad of paper, write down the first creative thing you enjoy that comes to mind. Then the next and the next. Make a list of creative, artistic things. Then go forth and create, whether it’s baking a cake or writing four lines of poetry.
Be prepared to do badly at first, but if you find your smile in the act, then keep pursuing it, whether it’s singing in the shower or strumming two chords on a guitar. If one doesn’t work for you, give yourself permission to try something else on your list.
Julia Child went to college with the intention of becoming a writer, but although she enjoyed the process, none of her writings were ever published. She developed a passion for French cuisine after moving to France and it was this that began her journey into French cooking, which resulted in the cookbook masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
This was not an overnight success story – first, she discovered a passion, then, with trial and error and persistence, she pursued the process and then she found success.
That’s a fairly simplistic analysis, but it has its own truth. Julia Child pursued French cooking because it made her happy. That’s the important take-away. To find the spark that makes you happy means listening to that inner voice, the one that whispers with excitement, “I want to do that”.
There is no right or wrong way to the process – everyone has their own method for their artistic self. Remember that this is your gift for you alone. What you choose to do with it is up to you. And, to continue this cooking theme, remember that in order to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs.

 

Editor’s note – this post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal – Ventura County. JJB

So, awhile back, I was talking to a friend about life……

……..the universe and everything. She mentioned the need to vent, but not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. I suggested a journal, but she felt it was too personal and could be easily read by unwanted eyes. Privacy was important. This led to a discussion of writing things down to purge them from the mind and heart, then tossing them into a fire place or barbecue pit and lighting a match, to maintain privacy.

The other idea I had was to take all those feelings and thoughts and create art with it, so that the only one who knows what it truly means is the creator. To anyone else, it would be art and what they got out of it would be what they brought to it (personal feelings, experiences, etc.).

My friend demurred, saying she was not creative like that. I encouraged her to think about it, because it would be only for her, not for anyone else, and that not even the great artists of all times started out brilliant.

But it got me thinking, about being creative, about needing to express feelings that are hurtful or loving, about being vulnerable to the process.

Because that’s what it takes, to be creative. It is a leap of faith, in opening yourself up to the blank page or the empty mixing bowl. And what if you’re not sure you are creative, but find a variety of things (like painting or ceramics or singing or knitting or writing or cooking) interesting? What if you find all of them interesting? What if you just don’t know where to start?

My suggestion? Try them all. Maybe not at the same time, of course, but try one type of creative art for one month. If it’s a chore or it just doesn’t sustain your interest early on, give yourself permission to stop and try something else. The point is to have fun expressing yourself in an artistic form.

Whether it’s mindless doodling, a few words in structured form or tiered cake, the point is, you’re creating. It’s for you alone. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to. The point is that you create with your heart and translate it to canvas, clay or paper.

 

Edited: This article is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

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