Many Paths to a Meaningful Life

“Nobody has a right to be unhappy, or to live in a way that makes them unhappy” (James Agee).

Painting of Sunrise

Glowing by Nadia Parsons

There are many paths to the top of a mountain, and there are many paths to a meaningful life readily available to us. Paths are as innumerable as stars, and everyone has more than one.  If you think your paths are best, well then they’re best–for you, though even the person dearest to you might give you an argument. But even if they did, it wouldn’t matter. If you believe yours are best, no argument will convince you they aren’t. And if you believe someone else’s aren’t, no argument will convince you they are.

Some find that living what I call a “smart” life–a life rife with meaning and vitality and purpose involves acquiring wealth and luxury. Others–like me–have little interest in that at all. They can’t understand what the overly aggressive pursuit of wealth is all about and what makes pursuers of it tick. If you are a writer, artist, or actor, and I asked you about your attitude toward money I suspect you would be something like me.

Some people live to acquire power, and they run for political office or head a corporation.  Others, like many artists, like to stay out of the limelight and are not interested in acquiring power, they prefer quiet, modest lives. Some other people like to win and are so competitive that they’ll bet you that their pat of butter will melt faster than yours or their elevator will beat yours to the top. But others find no meaning in competitiveness and couldn’t care less about butter pats or elevators.

Painting of grey clouds over pink sky

Coating of Smog by Nadia Parsons

However they differ, all paths to meaning and living a smart life have this in common: for the people traveling them they have heart. Following paths that have heart brings you happiness. You don’t find meaning as if it’s lying around like a quarter on the sidewalk by a parking meter. You have to decide on the paths you’ll follow and hold them prominently in mind and commit yourself to them. That’s mature living.

These are ever-changing times. Everything is going faster. But here are paths that are leading people like you and me to meaningful creative lives.

 

Beauty

You and I have had moments of experiencing something so incredibly beautiful it was indescribable. It was then that we were reminded of what we had forgotten in the whirl of our everyday lives: we are insignificant and half the time we don’t know what we’re doing, but there’s pure joy in just being alive. The flow of life in our veins, in the world, before our eyes–the dazzling sun settled in the sky like a yellow coin, flopping in the whitest snow when we were children, sky-writing on a summer day in a clear sky, clouds, friends waving as they come down the street, a poem, a painting, the smell of a barbeque, a yelping dog chasing a squirrel in the yard– precious life at its simplest. What is more to be treasured than the energy I feel in my muscles right now, this moment, and the ability to think any idea I wish this moment, and excited now, to follow it wherever it leads?

Devotion to a Purpose.

A life without purpose is a meaningless existence. For many people life is tedious and unrewarding. But when, perhaps suddenly, they discover the purposes that ignite their imagination, their lives acquire a vital meaning. They focus on their most important purpose and their lives change instantly.

 

Adventure, Thrills, Excitement, and New Experiences.

Paintng of sky with blue and orange sections

Divisions by Nadia Parsons

 

This is the path of men and women of action: explorers, mountain climbers, high wire trapeze artists, etc. Race car drivers are the happiest they will ever be when they’re banking into a curve at 180 miles an hour.

 

 

 

Fun and Laughter.

Play comes naturally to animals, including humans. Every mother knows that even babies have a sense of humor. Smiles are universal. In every culture on earth a smile means the same thing. Laughter is therapeutic. There are more than five thousand laughter yoga centers worldwide.

 

Leading a Moral Life

“How lovely goodness is in those who, stepping lightly, go smiling through the world” (Virginia Woolf.) Our goodness tells us what we ought to do. During the Great Depression my mother found a hundred dollars on the floor of a bus. That was a lot of money in those days; money was scarce in our family. Instead of spending it she placed a notice in the newspaper, despite the fact that she and my father were broke, unemployed, and had a family to support. Here was a good woman and good man. No one claimed the money so it now belonged to my folks.

 

Achievement.

People often think of hard work and long hours as unpleasant and damaging to one’s health. They consider it something to be avoided, whatever the achievements it might lead to. It’s often thought that people who are like that are “work addicted.” Well, that’s true, they very well might be addicted, but hard work in pursuit of your purposes, overcoming obstacles to them,  is a positive addiction. People who train hard every day to run a marathon–for that achievement–are addicted, and it’s positive. We applaud them. Psychologist George Valliant studied the lives of leading achievers among graduates of the Harvard Business School. He found that they had unusually excellent health, and good marriages and happy lives, in spite of seventy hour work weeks.

 

Living Up to Your Duties and Responsibilities.

A duty is an obligation. It’s what we owe. Even the word “duty” sounds like a burden to some people.  But if we love what we owe the duty to, it is no burden at all, and we welcome it.

“Responsibility” is derived from the Latin “re-spurdere,” which means, “to answer the challenge.” We bear responsibilities to ourselves, our husband or wife, our children, our parents, our lovers, our friends, the earth, and all humankind. When we live up to them, we answer the challenge to a responsible life.

Painting of sky in white and grey

Climate Shift 2 by Nadia Parsons

Some people will shirk responsibility and refuse to answer the challenge whenever they can. You see that in personal life and at work. In any group or organization, given a task to perform, if one member of the group doesn’t do his job, the best workers will generally assume the responsibility he is avoiding rather than not accomplishing the task. To complete the task is their duty. Many people living smartly and meaningfully relish taking personal responsibility rather than being the pawns of circumstances. They owe that duty to themselves and to those who depend on them.

Some duties you bear as lightly as a feather and live up to gladly. But duties are not always pleasant. You would rather stay home on a rainy night when you are bone tired rather than driving twelve miles to visit your friend in the hospital. But you do what your duty requires you to do, without regard to how pleasant or unpleasant it is, and you’re proud of yourself and happy you answered the challenge. To lead a life of duties fulfilled is worthy of you.

 

Financial Security.

The need for security is a powerful human need, and people will do almost anything to satisfy it. It’s said, “Money can’t buy happiness.” But after having none of it for a long time and suffering, when you have it, it certainly does bring happiness. Some people have the need to acquire security, and when they do they’re at their best and leading a smart and happy life.

 

The Good Life

A life of ease, luxuries, good food, good drink, and good times brings meaning to the lives of many people. It has down through the long corridors of history. In the ancient Roman city of Timgat an inscription was found in the pavement which reads, “To hunt, to bathe, to gamble, to laugh, that is to live.”

 

Good Health

The young believe they are generally immune to illness, just as they are not quite convinced that they’re mortal and will not live forever. Older people know they are mortal and everything about the body goes through periods of disrepair. That’s why you hear them say, “The most important thing is your health.” For some people, attaining and preserving good health through such things as diet, exercise, and fitness is prominent in their life path.

 

Leisure

Some people value vacations, long weekends, or puttering around in nature. A famous little Zen poem reads: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing/ Spring comes/ And the grass grows by itself.” Wonderful nineteenth century American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Time is but the stream I go fishing in.”

 

A Spiritual Life.

Painting of heavy, dark clouds

Clarity by Nadia Parsons

It’s been said that the essence of modern life is that nothing is sacred. But for many people who are leading a smart, meaningful life that’s not true at all. Some people find happiness in material objects, but others find it by turning away from outward things. They seek happiness inwardly, in the spirit. Many find meaning in the belief that they belong to something cosmic, something beyond human existence. They believe that we all come from God trailing clouds of glory and are the beneficiaries of divine grace, and that one’s soul can be elevated toward God. Walt Whitman wrote: “I see something of God each hour of the/ Twenty four and each moment then/ In the faces of men and women/ In my own face in the glass.”

 

Unhappiness.

Some people are happiest and seem most alive when they’re miserable. You might be able to name people like that. But in some ridiculous way, they may have found something that suits them. Their unhappiness may be deceptive. Listen to your friend bitterly complain about a terrible job, nagging wife, troublesome children, interfering in-laws, the price of gas, a bad movie, problems with the boss, too-tight shoes, a medical report, crooked politicians, traffic, etc. In the middle of their complaints interrupt him and ask, “Are you happy?” They will stop talking, smile, and say, “Yah, I’m pretty happy.”

 

The Respect of Other People

We have a need for family, for friends, for company, to fit in and be a part of society, to belong. But at the same time we also have the contrary need–to be unique, to be different, to be noticed and singled out and respected for who we are alone, individually, for ourselves.

 

Self-respect, Self-esteem.

Life isn’t a courtroom. People needn’t prove their worth to anyone else. But they do need to find themselves acceptable, approve of themselves, be a person they can believe in, feel proud of being someone they can confidently reveal to the world and not hide. They can boldly declare, “This with my flaws, weaknesses, and strengths is who I am.”  Those who pursue a path of self-respect, no matter what circumstances they find themselves in, never lose sight of that goal. They strive never to do anything that is in any way unhealthy for them. Then they are in good company with themselves.

 

Loving and Being Loved

“Love is patient and kind…. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (First Corinthians 13) “Love seeks only one thing. The good of the one loved” (Thomas Merton). We are intended to be loved and to love, and not to be lonely and unloved. We are not isolated islands in a sea of humanity. If we love, we will be loved. D.H. Lawrence wrote: “Those who go searching for love/ Only make manifest their own lovelessness/ Only the loving find love/ And they never have to search for it.” To have a day as I have and you have when everything turns against you, to arrive home, to be greeted by someone you love and who loves you, to see a smile, to hear laugher somewhere in the house, to be kissed: that is life at its fullest.

 

Sacrifice and Service.

Painting of sunset

Transitioning to Night by Nadia Parsons

Leading a life without concern for others becomes increasingly unsatisfying. We are capable of pettiness, jealousy, and selfishness, but we are also capable of unselfishness, compassion, helpfulness, kindness, and sympathy. “Man achieves fullness of being in…care for others. He expands his existence by bearing his fellow man’s burden….The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve” (Abraham Joshua Heschel). Some people find great happiness devoting themselves to the wellbeing of others, and ask nothing in return. There are countless examples of such quiet self-sacrifice in everyday life. Someone set out this morning to help the needy, and someone else to comfort the sick, or to visit the home-bound, or to raise money for a charity. They make the other person’s problems their own. Helping to solve them, they are making the most of their lives.

 

There are many paths to the top of a mountain, and there are many paths to a meaningful life. What are you doing here on this earth with this life you’ve been granted gratis?  Does it have meaning? How will you be remembered? What paths are you following?

 

The beautiful and powerful paintings featured in this post are by artist Nadia Parsons, the Sky Painter, whose path is to capture fleeting moments of change in the sky. “As we observe the sky,” the artist says,  “we can become acutely aware of how small we are in contrast to the vast scale of the universe. We also have an opportunity to appreciate our importance as it coexists with fears of our own insignificance.” (Nadia Parsons, https://www.skypainterstudios.com/about/ )

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

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The Authentic Voice of Creative People

Creatives’ On-Going Quest for an Authentic Presence

Painting of a tree with birds

Inspiration by Regina Valluzzi

We homo sapiens are marvels, aren’t we? Since the dawn of our species, through every era, among us have been extraordinarily artistically gifted people. They are blessed or burdened with an unquenchable need to express, to grow, to explore, to create, and to embellish their existence by communicating in their own voice–which is not precisely like any other voice–a presence they wish, rather urgently, to share.

The first subject our artistic forebears chose to leave behind for us to see are impressions of their hands on the walls of caves. There at that site thirty thousand years ago, a man or woman–much shorter than us, with faces different than ours, working alone as artists do–put aside chores, squatted down in darkness, and blew colored pigment through a rod onto their hand, leaving no other trace of their days and nights but that hand. Yet through that hand–that painter’s medium, that subject–we feel their presence, and with it a bond, a caring for them, a love. We hear their voice.

Blue waves with pink and blue sky

Rose Dusk Beach by Regina Valluzzi

The late composer Marvin Hamlisch–a three-time Academy Award winner, and Pulitzer Prize winner for the composition for the play A Chorus Line–was a friend. Once I told him I’d been watching a movie and a few bars into the music, I knew he had written it.  He said, “Is that true?” I said yes, every distinctive piece of music, writing, art, acting, and composing is marked by the recognizable voice of the person who created it.

Pink and white thread-like flowers on a branch

Alive by Regina Valluzzi

It is often because of that clear voice that we go on reading the poem, or viewing the painting, or listening to the actor or to the music, and are attentive and respectful. It’s only inferior work that doesn’t take us back to an interesting, stimulating, flexible, and complex mind of the person behind the work.  Who a creative is intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually radiates from the creative’s presence in the work and cannot be hidden. Many creatives have recognizable voices because they return again and again to painting or writing about a particular subject matter.  Some creatives, such as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, discovered their authentic voice when they were young; others, such as self-taught American poet Walt Whitman, not until later in life.

So if we’re looking for prescriptions to the creative for finding or authentic voice and presence, the first would be: “Reveal yourself. Let your true identity permeate the work—your sincerity, your honesty, your mind in action, your originality, abilities, and uniqueness, the ‘I’ who you are–for it’s that, above and beyond the other content that your audience will be attracted  to. Be interesting, be clever, be skilled, be alive, be true, and be authentic.

 

Learning to Write In a More Satisfying Voice

Painting of plue water with brown sand

Rhapsody on the Sea by Regina Valluzzi

American novelist John Hersey said, “The voice is the element over which you have no control.”

Contrary to Hersey’s belief that writers have no control over their voice, they definitely do. Yet many writers have searched their texts for their authentic voice and can’t find it. So they sometimes conclude that while there may be such a thing as a voice, they do not have one, or they might have one but they don’t know what it is, and couldn’t describe it if they were asked to. But their voice is right there in the text, or the right voice can be added to the text. Always be thinking of the voice you want your work to project.

Misty pastel hills

Hills and Fog by Regina Valluzzi

A writer was dissatisfied with the voices she found in her writing. They didn’t seem to be “her.” They were different from what she felt should be the voice of a mature, thirty-five year old mother of two, an assertive, experienced writer of essays and short stories. A few of her stories had been published in a local literary magazine. She hoped to continue writing and seeing her work appear in better magazines. She didn’t like the syntax in her writing. She thought the writing was too formal and stilted, too cold, humorless, bland, business-like, academic, dull, lifeless, and not inviting for readers.

If you have a similar problem, here is an approach you might find helpful: ask experienced writer friends to look through a piece you’ve written. Ask them to identify sentences or passages that sound most like you. Then analyze what they think sounds most like you and identify the salient elements that gave them that impression-when they say, “Right there you were doing something very good. You should get more of that into your writing, you may be onto something.”

Then write a piece in that voice. Then show a draft of the piece to a supportive writer. Ask them what they think. Does it work? If it doesn’t work, write the piece again. If it does sound like you, you’ll be encouraged.

Twisted brown trees with aqua sky

Undulating Wood by Regina Valluzzi

If in your craft you are trying to communicate a particular voice or to avoid communicating another one, you might tell your friends what you would like them to look for as they look at your work. Once when I was working on a book, I left some pages on my desk and went to bed. The next day I noticed my teenage daughter had circled a couple of sentences and written, “Write more like this, Dad. Sounds like you,” and it was my voice loud and clear.

Avoid steering their perceptions in a particular direction, as saying to them, for example, “Is my writing dull?” “Is it too complicated and unclear?” Leave them alone to make their own observations. Be sure to tell them that you want their opinions and that you are giving them your permission to be honest and open.

A competent writer should be able to write in more than one voice, as required by the work at hand, a competent painter to paint in more than one. Who could paint in as many voices as Picasso? But in the creatives’ way of producing works there is one voice that is the most powerful, natural, and suitable to what creatives are trying to accomplish, what author Peter Elbow calls the “juice.” When the quest for an authentic voice is successful, creatives come into their own and do their art better than ever before.

I can’t think of better teachers of voice than writers who have the kind of voice that appeals to you and you would like to learn from.  I find the voices of James Agee’s A Death in the Family, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, some passages of Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady With a Dog,”  full of instruction for me as I look for the voice I want, thinking, “I’d like my writing to sound that way consistently.” To better understand how Hemingway created the effects he did, I analyzed his work and read what critics and teachers had to say about it, then wrote an essay on techniques he employed to create his voice. It is a voice that in the 1920s marked the start of the “Hemingway Voice” that revolutionized how, ever since, Americans have written and spoken. Whose voices do you admire most?

Branches with blossoms and birds leaning toward each other

The Sentries by Regina Valluzzi

The lovely art featured in this post is by Regina Valluzzi, a trained scientist and researcher in the Chemical , Physical, and Biological Sciences. The influence of her scientific experience permeates her approach to painting as both an art and a science, and gives her a unique voice. The pieces she has kindly allowed me to display here, she has informed me, “feature mixed media and a combination of “classic” painting techniques, controlled fluid pouring techniques and acrylic extrusion using cake decorating tools to control the three dimensional line shape and forms.  In most cases [she has] developed [her] own techniques or versions of techniques through a variety of controlled experiments.”

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Inspiration, Information, and Learnings For People In The Arts

Part 6 of a series.  See also Part 1, Part 2 & 3 Part 4, and Part 5

Pink and orange zinnias in impressionist style

Late Season Zinnias by Steven V. Ward

THE NATURE OF ARTISTS

  • “Artists shape the structure of their creative lives not by means of their gifts, but by means of their work. Production–to produce good works– is the artist’s overriding goal. Delicate creatures, when unable to produce works, they almost immediately fall into some form of self-doubt and then despair” (David J. Rogers).
  • “To possess and capture beauty (the artist) will do anything, use anything…be ruthless, murderous and destructive, cold and cruel and merciless…to get the thing he wants, achieve the thing he values” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • Berry branch with shadowy colored background

    Berry Shadows by Steven V. Ward

    “There is nothing we will not give to the person who can show us the undiscovered world within ourselves, for most of us are unaware of the possibilities we hold” (Seymour Krim).

  • “It is all in the art. You get no credit for living” (V.S. Pritchett)
  • “The hunger to succeed in spite of every impediment and the confidence that you can, along with skill, energy, focus, and the knack of overcoming obstacles have proven to be the key indicators of success in art” (David J. Rogers).

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

  • “The uninitiated imagine that one must await inspiration in order to create. That is a mistake. I am far from saying that there is no such thing as inspiration; quite the opposite. It is found as a driving force in every kind of human activity, and is in no wise peculiar to artists. But that force is only brought into action by effort, and that effort is work” (Igor
    Pink flowers on impressionist background

    Spring Colors by Steven by Ward

    Stravinsky).

  • “It has not been possible to demonstrate that creativity tests are valid” (Howard Gardner).
  • “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing works” (Marc Chagall).
  • “If he thought, he would go wrong; it is only the clumsy and uninventive artist who thinks) (John Ruskin).
  • “If a man has talent and can’t use it, he’s failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “Everything you can imagine is real” (Pablo Picasso).
  • “It is important to forget about the opinions of others and to write after your own fashion with careless, proud indifference” (Llewelyn Powys).
  • ”There are no rules. It’s amazing how willing people are to tell you that you aren’t a real writer unless you conform to their clichés and their rules. My advice? Reject rules and critics out of hand. Define yourself. Do it your way. Make yourself the writer of your dreams (Anne Rice).
  • “Most creators know intuitively from the beginning of their serious work on a project what the final product will “feel” like. It may take weeks, months, or years to complete the work. But they’ve had from the beginning some sense of it. And that sense will guide them through the entire creative process” (David J. Rogers).
  • “Great artists feel as opportunity what others feel as a menace” (Kenneth Burke).
  • “A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted” (Samuel Butler).
Three white and pink lotus blossoms on blue background

Lotus Trio by Steven V. Ward

CREATORS’ WORK LIFE 

  • “Wake about seven thirty, have breakfast and am working by nine and usually work straight through until two p.m. After that it’s like living in a vacuum until working time next day” (Ernest Hemingway).
  • “Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have and advertising seems to do very little to the good” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “We should write our own thoughts in as nearly as possible the language we thought them in, as though in a letter to an intimate friend. We should not disguise them in any way” (Leo Tolstoy).
  • “When I write I feel like an artist. When I’m not writing I don’t feel like anything at all) (Saul Bellow).
  • “I work on whatever medium likes me at the moment” (Marc Chagall).
  • “They come and ask me what idea I meant to embody in Faust as if I knew myself and could inform them” (Goethe).
  • “Great artists have no consideration for anyone’s sleep. Left alone and working all night, they phone you at three or four in the morning to announce they’ve thought of something” (David J. Rogers).
  • “We all do better in the future” (Raymond Carver).
  • Yellow Wildflowers on an impressionis style background

    Yellow Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    “You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, and publicity” (Thomas Wolfe).

  • “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working” (Pablo Picasso)

I am pleased to again feature in this post artwork by the talented artist Steven V. Ward whose work can be found on FineArtAmerica.  Some of his work also appears in my post More Inspiration and Information For Creators #5

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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The Writer’s Block You’ve Never Heard Of

When Writers Hate Words and Painters Hate Paint

I

I adore words. Words have been my dearest medium since my childhood in a Welsh home where the English language Pink clouds behind single bird in a treewas king and queen. I can hear words as if they are being spoken in my ear as I read them on the page or computer screen.  I swear I can taste them. If I don’t read a minimum of a few thousand of them in books every day I am fidgety and dissatisfied.

I study words assiduously and they float in my mind because they are the building blocks from which a writer fashions images, ideas, and narratives. I want to know all of them and use them in my work when I need them. The more of them I can use intelligently the more ideas and emotions I will be able to communicate. Writers cannot pour the whole of their talent into their work without a storehouse of expressive language at their ready disposal.

Wooden typesetting blocksThe vocabulary in the piece may be as simple as Ernest Hemingway’s or as complex as William Faulkner’s. Either way, each word, doing its part, must have zest. If you lack the one and only “just right” word you cannot adequately convey the emotion and its shadings, or the expression on a face as it differs in daylight or at midnight, or a beach at dawn.

What can be more painfully frustrating and galling for writers who take their work seriously than sensing there is a word that will express precisely what they want to express, but not being able to think of it and having to settle for a second, third, or fourth best word?

I maintain on shelves massive loose-leaf notebooks with bright red, orange, and yellow covers. In them I enter words I come across that I think I might wish to use at some time that I don’t currently know or do know but don’t use. The 2 spiral notebooks, one lime green and one blacknotebooks are filled with many thousands of good, useful words and brief definitions and ideas for using them.

I consult these notebooks regularly. When I begin writing something substantial I jot down many interesting and lively–“good”–words that I will work into the text. I might write down in the notebook the word “irascible” with the note–“a nice, strong, dramatic word to use,” or other nice words, “pallid,” “stipulated,” and “rapture.”

II

But never knowing why and never knowing when, I experience a mystifying writer’s block you’ve never heard of that overwhelms me. I’ve never heard anyone else say a word about it, nor have I read about anything like it. I’d like to tell you about it now.

It is a periodic aversion  to the basis of the creators’ medium–words to writers, color and paint to painters, and music to composers. Such an intermittent malady may seem odd, but for me, odd though it may be, it is a fact. Sometimes writers hate words, painters hate paint, and composers hate notes.

water collor paints next to a blank notebookPainters feel the same way about paint as I do about words–that the goal of doing this thing called art in these media is to never be caught unable to express what you want or need to express.  A writer must be able to write everything down, a painter to paint everything she can see or imagine, and composers to be able to use all the means available to them to express all emotions.

When you are a magician with language as American novelist Thomas Wolfe and American poet Walt Whitman, and French novelist Marcel Proust were–more so than any other writers who walked this earth (including Shakespeare)–you have available to you all the words you will ever need to express with the exceptional skills of the trained writer, which you take for granted, anything and everything–any emotion, any idea, any situation, any image–you can hold in your mind.  Nothing is out of your range, everything is within your grasp.

But at times I become so filled up and overly sated with words–thinking of them, writing them, reading them from morning to night year after year, decade after decade–that I reach a kind of maximum limit and it is futile to go on. I must be away from them.

random letters in the shape of a brainFor a while I have to be free from the tyranny of having to go through the process of translating, as though from a foreign language, every palpable thing I can see or touch or hear or imagine, or remember, and each and every mood I can feel, into abstract, impossible-to-touch symbols–words and syllables.

There is no word or combination of words ever written in poetry or prose that is as tangible and pleasurable as a kiss or a caress.

I find that it is hopeless to try to fight this mood. Nothing but frustration is gained by being heroic and hacking away at the keyboard in hopes that something more or less intelligible that can be worked into something more meaningful will mercifully appear on the screen. No, it’s best when words become abhorrent to me–to you, fellow writer–to just shut down, be patient, and wait.

I think this bottling-up happens to many writers, but they don’t realize what’s happening to them. They come to that impasse I know so well and they have no idea why or what to do next. And painters may be unable to even look at their palette and grow sick for a while of their beloved medium and need a break.

My periodic aversion to words, when the bases of my craft are repugnant to me, reminds me of  the great cellist Pablo Casals whose first thought when he fell and injured his hand was a happy one–that maybe now he wouldn’t have to play the cello anymore.

III

Having been through this troublesome block many times, I stop writing and I stop reading and try to clear my mind of words, just as painters who have been exposed to too much color stop painting for a while.

Then, without the written word, I have lost my bearings. I am aimless. I watch TV, paying no attention, or look for someone to talk to or go upstairs and lift weights or go for a walk or thumb through a baseball magazine.

A listless evening or a day or two of seeming to have no purpose in life pass, and my passion for words returns and I am hungry to sit at the computer and watch nouns and verbs, and then their friends the adjectives and adverbs appear in a perfect order on the screen as I hoped they would.

beautivul sunrise on blue skyAt that moment the creator’s existence–lived in a little world of contented seclusion, devoid of glamour–seems to me in an astonishing way to be as splendid and wonderful as any life on earth could be.

I am again confident, blissful, my temporary word-aversion now gone from me. I am happy. Everything I love and can think of I then love more tenderly. I am creating again, performing the sole work I believe I was so carefully allotted X number of years in this world to see what I could do with–which may be the same feeling you have about your work.

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Using Samurai Techniques in Writing

I wrote Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life with the understanding that people in many different fields would be able to apply the ancient wisdom in it to their work and personal lives. Since many of you reading my blog are writers, I thought you might be interested in how an American writer and blogger who writes a really interesting, well-written blog,  Janet’s Writing Bloghas done just that. Here is her post on her experience with Fighting to Win.

Based on the title alone, I doubt that I would have considered reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers. After all, what could I possibly learn from Samurai Techniques that I could apply to my life at my age? I follow David J. Rogers’s blog and he […]

(Click on the link below to see the rest of the post)

via Using Samurai Techniques in Writing — Janet’s Writing Blog

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A Strategy for Defeating Writer’s Block and Painter’s Block

Hand of artist dipping brush into colored cups of paintWhen they are free of blocks creators are the most productive human beings on earth, capable of generating tremendous volumes of writing, painting, music, etc., the likes of which no one has ever seen. When I was in the business world lecturing on human motivation, my approach was unusual. I held up my beloved writers, artists, actors, composers, and particularly ballerinas as models of commitment, sacrifice, and inexhaustible drive and courage.

I’d say, “Study people in the arts. They will teach you more than anyone else what motivation and the quest for excellence really is, the demands it makes on you, and the heights of achievement it can take you to.”

Yet, it’s quite possible that at any given time the majority of creators–wonderfully talented though they are, with so much potential to contribute beauty to this oh-so-needy world, longing for one thing only: to create–are experiencing a block that is tying them in knots, and are at a standstill. The ability to overcome blocks is a major survival skill for creators

Some blocks last hours, and some for years. Minor blocks come and go and are nothing to worry about. For example, just not being in a mood to work for a short period. But some creators even now are being controlled by a chronic inability to create that is driving them to despair and anguish.

What could be more of a torture to a creator than to long to work, to be ready to work, and to have something urgent to say, but be unable to work?

There are many causes of creator’s blocks. Some of them are hard to diagnose and hard to cure. Exceptionally rare is the creator who is not blocked some of the time, though many puff out their chests and boast that they have never been and claim to be unable to imagine how anyone could be. That infuriates the person who is deeply mired in a block who prays night and day to know where to turn to remedy it.

A writer whose head is composed of crumpled paper uses a typewriter.

By Drew Coffman

The causes of blocks may be much more complicated than many people realize. It has been found that blocked creators are more anxious and less confident people than creators who aren’t burdened by blocks. Blocked creators tend to worry excessively, and are self-doubting, and more prone to depression. They have also been found to be less ambitious and more easily discouraged than creators who are not blocked.

So to cure a severe block, the creator’s whole unique psychology–who they are as human beings and how they differ from other people–may have to be factored in if the block is to be overcome. A creator’s mind, more than other people’s minds, is the birthplace of rich images.

No one on earth can generate mental images as skillfully and profusely as creators. That’s the role they commit themselves to–makers of vivid images in words, paints, physical gestures and movements, and sounds. I believe that a path to freedom from creator’s blocks is through those images. I’ve written extensively about that in another post.

BUT THE PERSISTENCE OF BLOCKS IS STRONGLY ASSOCIATED WITH A POOR CAPACITY FOR DAYDREAMING.

Here is a strategy involving your creator’s abilities to make images and daydream that may begin to loosen the grip of a protracted creative block. I have designed it for writers, but it can be adapted successfully by creators of any kind:

  1. When you are caught or snagged and having difficulty writing, I want you to slow your breathing down, inhaling and exhaling smoothly, using an ancient breathing technique I’ve written about. There is no need to hurry. Just breathe comfortably for a while until there is a rhythm.
  2. Now I’d like you to project your consciousness above you into a corner of the room and see yourself in images in your mind’s eye writing smoothly and effortlessly as though you are someone else who has never had any trouble writing. There’s no strain and the words appear almost magically on the page under the direction of your creator’s mind.
  3. Think about the state of being you would be in at maximum productivity. Can you identify it? What would it entail?
  4. Think about the state you’d like to avoid—anxious, compulsive, self-doubting, and depressed. Let all your ridiculous worries and all obsessions and doubts drift away.
  5. Think of your mental state. It should be alert. It should be sharp. You should be thinking of writing words and not thinking of yourself doing this exercise.
  6. Now, daydream to your heart’s content.

Vivid mental images that can be made into creative daydreams and “mind wanderings” that writers I’ve talked to have found helpful in breaking through blocks include:

Traveling through space to get to a place of creative freedom (I often in my fantasies do the backstroke through space high above the earth. Below me are ancient cities with palaces with magnificent gold steeples and minarets.)

Going down deeper, inside and under the block

A faucet opening and the words you’ve been waiting for pouring out in a deluge

Flipping on a light switch

Going around a wall

Crossing a bridge

Enjoy the images. Go with them. Revel in them.

 

Use this strategy, doing the exercise once or twice a day for seven consecutive days or whenever you are blocked, and you should see results.

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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How does the creative process work?

Beautiful paintings accompany this thougtful post on the creative process by the talented artist and blogger Janet Weight Reed.

My Life as an Artist (2)

Like a flying jewel, the hummingbird darts lightly through the world, teaching us to appreciate the wonder and magic of every day existence……….

watercolour/gouache

20-11-15 - 1 (1082)How does the creative process work?

Initially the seed of an idea is sewn.

The seed then enters into an incubation period which can be short lived, or take years to come to fruition.

The seed of an idea 20-11-15 - 1 (1076)As we go about our daily lives, just like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle being revealed, the seed sprouts ideas that give us more information…..This can happen at any time.

It’s vital to record these ideas, because even when we think we couldn’t possibly forget a moment of inspiration……we can, and do, which is why it’s important to always have a sketch/notebook at hand.

20-11-15 - 1 (1079)

Like a ghostly apparition sometimes the answer seems almost within reach – but then it disappears and returns to incubation….it was just a…

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Acquiring Creator’s Survival Skills

Whether they are five or seventy-five, beginning creators don’t know the first thing about their craft, but don’t know they don’t know. They’re playing, experimenting, discovering, having fun, and are thrilled to be creating, and that’s Young boy painting at an easelenough. Then in time, if they are to become more skilled writers, artists, actors, dancers, and so forth, they will realize they don’t know enough about the craft they’ve now become attracted to more seriously.

They want to get better and be more accomplished and have success. So they strive to learn as much as they can about their craft. That drive to get better and better still, to find their one true voice that activates even their deepest creative potentials, to learn, to reach consistent excellence over a long period of time dominates true creators as long as they live.

The more skillfully advanced creators know a tremendous amount about their craft and at times are capable of unique and extraordinary creative feats that make you gasp. Yet, they are incomplete. They realize there are many other things of a non-technical nature to know, having to do with surviving a creator’s sometimes intense, demanding, troubled, uneasy, or tragic existence. Preparation is the key to creative success, whatever the field. Without survival skills the creator is not fully prepared for a creator’s life.

Horizon and sunset seen through branchesThey acquire survival skills or they do not survive: their career ends prematurely, or they crack up, or their talent abandons them, or the production of work grows increasingly difficult, the ease and effortlessness of the master disappears, leaving in its wake frustration and regret. Horace said that painters and poets alike have always had license to dare anything, but when they lose confidence they become afraid.

Three Stages

Stage I: At the start of their careers, would-be serious creators work Number 1as though technique and mechanics aren’t especially important. They have a story to tell, a message to communicate, a vision, and that’s all that counts.  They start out full of naïve optimism. Unless they are creative geniuses who have powerful creative intuition that more than compensates for technical shortcomings the result is that the work they produce suffers from creative ailments.

The execution of the work may be dull, awkward, muddled, and show almost no regard for the audience—a failure of craftsmanship. Successes are few. Possibly there are no successes at all. Creators get depressed and doubt their talent: are they good enough or are they fooling themselves that they can produce work that will please them and please an audience? The root difficulty is being blind and deaf to the need for technical abilities. In time that becomes very clear to creators who may come to realize their technique stinks and needs many improvements.

Stage II: Intelligent creators now turn their attention to acquiring techniques so that their work becomes more Number 2coherent, less obscure, and less naïve. Technical abilities take over from inspiration.  Creators become preoccupied with acquiring technical knowledge about their craft and the mechanics of producing quality work. They study to ferret out the secrets of the best in the field, read articles, books, and blogs. They take classes, educate themselves (the principal source of a creator’s expertise), find a mentor, locate good teachers, get involved in a writer’s, artist’s, or actor’s milieu, and may go to workshops, conferences, and retreats. They work hard. Their technical skills do improve. They are better creator this year than they were last year.

Stage III: Then creators realize that technique and mechanics are insufficient–that there are many creator’s survival Number 3needs they didn’t anticipate, and are unprepared for, and a whole set of little-discussed survival skills directly related to success and fulfillment that technique can’t help them with.  Serious creators’ lives are full of pressures, strains, dilemmas, quandaries, and problems. Bonnie Feldman was of the same mind when she said in Writing Past Dark: “The bookstores shelves sagged with volumes on technique. A hundred authors explained how to show don’t tell, and why a story needs a conflict. Why hadn’t anyone written a book that would help me?”

What Technique Can’t Help You With

Creator-survivors must be natural, less controlled, less inhibited, less blocked with punishing self-criticism, more expressive and spontaneous. They must be balanced, flexibly-minded, less strained, less anxious–carefree, focused on their work, not themselves –manifestations of good mental health. How otherwise will they ever be able to “snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic?” Technique will not teach creators those things, yet they are crucial to the writer’s, artist’s, actor’s, and performers’s well-being and productivity.

cog wheels of goldTechnique will not teach you the single greatest survival quality of any successful creative enterprise: a desire to excel that dominates the creator, a need so strong that not much else matters as much. That is an empowering survival skill major creators possess without exception.  Do you possess it?

Technique won’t help you overcome the miseries of self-doubt and discouragement—the creator’s main inner obstacles to success–that dreariness that has ruined tens of thousands of creator’s careers. Technique is terribly important, but it will not teach you the survival quality of simple, unadulterated courage in the face of hurtful setbacks, cruel criticism, and heart-breaking adversity.

Nor will it teach you the necessity of creator’s taking calculated risks, normally the only path to success. It will not teach you the survivor’s drive, high focus, and persistence which may be a more important success factors than brilliant intelligence. These are qualities creators must possess to survive.

Technique will not teach you the daily-needed psychological skills of optimism, powerful motivation, and stamina. Technique will not teach you a single one of psychological and spiritual survival skills that you need to supplement the creative techniques you’ve acquired.

Preparing For Survival

Creators should learn to dialogue among themselves freely, unabashedly, happily in their everyday creative lives about such needed Stage III creator’s inner survival qualities as strength, persistence, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good creative moods. And ideal creative moods, resilience, enthusiasm, guts, energy and sweat, passion, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, and boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, patience, maintaining at all times a confidence of succeeding, and other dimensions of you, the creator. These inputs will make you a better-prepared.

If you lack those internal skills of the heart and mind you must acquire them just as you acquired creative technique. You can do that. You can acquire survival skills of mindfulness, meditation, and non-attachment.  You can learn to endure rejection and manage stress. You can learn to listen to your body and enjoy your work more. You can become more optimistic and resilient. You can learn tranquility and peace of mind from reading people like the master Vivekananda.  You can read biographies of great creators to see how they overcame adversity. You may wish to read my Fighting To Win which has specific strategies to help you on your path.

Be aware of where you are deficient and what your survival needs are, as “I am not a confident person now; I must work on that.” Then you can set out on a program of self-development designed to better equip you for your chosen creator’s role, your creator’s life path that you may wish to follow till the last breath of your life.

Begin the day by asking, “Am I strong today?” “Will I persist?” “Will I be confident?” “Will I stop doubting my talent?” “Will I adapt and be patient?” “Will I be enthusiastic today?” “Will I be courageous?”

© 2018 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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More Inspiration and Information For Creators #5

Part 5 of a series.  See also Part 1, Part 2 & 3, and Part 4

 

Leaves floating on water with reflections

On the Surface and Beneath by Steven V. Ward

 

 CREATORS’ FEELINGS, EMOTIONS

  • “(Creators) who lose their youthful rebelliousness are in grave danger of losing their talent as well” (Robert Jourdain).
  • “Art depends heavily on feelings, intuition, taste. It is feeling, not some rules, that tells the abstract painter to put his yellow here and there, not there, and may later tell him that it should have been brown or purple or pea-
    Lost Pink Hydrangea by Steven V. Ward

    Lost Pink Hydrangea by Steven V. Ward

    green. It is feeling that makes the composer break surprisingly from his key, feeling that gives the writer the rhythms of his sentences, the pattern of rise and fall in his episodes, the proportion of alternating elements, so that dialogue goes on only so long before a shift to description or narrative summary or some physical action. The great writer has an instinct for these things” (John Gardner).

  • “Every day the rejected manuscripts would come through the slot in the door…I’d sit at that old wooden table and read one of those cold slips that had been attached to a story I had loved and worked on very hard and believed in, and I couldn’t help crying” (Ernest Hemingway).
  • “One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it” (Katherine Anne Porter).
  • “The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity” (William Faulkner).
  • “Research has found that uncontrollable anger is common among creative geniuses of all stripes. Always reaching for the impossible, life can be a long series of obstacles and frustrations” (Robert Jourdain).
  • “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings” (Gilbert Murray).

WRITERS

  • “Writing is harder than anything else. It’s much easier to wash dishes” (Kristin Hunter).
  • “It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything” (Virginia Woolf).

    Watercolor Iris by Steven V. Ward

    Watercolor Iris by Steven V. Ward

  • “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon one can never resist or understand” (George Orwell).
  • “History shows that the less people read, the more books they buy” (Albert Camus).
  • “The only writers left who have anything to say are those who write about practically nothing and monkey around with odd ways of doing it” (Raymond Chandler).
  • “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous” (Robert Benchley).
  • “The only drama which really interests me and that I should always be willing to depict anew is the debate of the individual with whatever keeps him from being authentic, with whatever is opposed to his integrity” (Andre Gide).
  • “When men ask me how I know so much about men, they get a simple answer: everything I know about men I learned from me” (Anton Chekhov).
  • “If you are silent for a long time, people just arrive” (Alice Walker).
  • “For the writer there is only endless memory” (Anita Bruckner).
  • “The classical authors you still read today are not those who said the truest things. But those whose language has preserved a trace of them” (Jean Guitton).
  • “It would be as hard to predict the dancing flight of a flock of finches, or the subterranean movements of a single mole, as to explain a great writer’s peculiar gift” (Llewelyn Powys).
  • “A writer is interesting because of his peculiar perspective. Can this perspective be taught? I think not…A
    Blue Hydrangea Sunset Impressiion by Steven W. Ward

    Blue Hydrangea Sunset Impressiion by Steven W. Ward

    beginning writer hesitates to anoint himself, to make a declaration of his very special character. And so he seeks institutional support. He goes to the universities and gets a Ph.D. in creative writing and feels himself armed for the struggle. Like any other licensed professional. But this is social assistance rather than creativity.” (Saul Bellow).

 ARTISTS

The art featured in this post is by the talented artist Steven V. Ward whose work can be found on FineArtAmerica. His beautiful images attracted my attention on social media, and he kindly gave me permission to display some of them in this post.

  • “I alone here, on my inch of earth, paint this thing for my own sole joy, and according to my own sole mind. So I should paint it, if no other human being existed but myself…Thus I must do it, for thus I see it, and thus I like it” (John Ruskin).
  • “One man in particular has the faculty of inflaming your imagination till you feel ready to declare him one of the bringers of heavenly fire. And yet his art is mad. Your first impulse is to laugh at these staggering cottages with flaming red roofs, or the blaze of rockets and Catherine-wheels supposed to represent night. But your laugh dies on your lips; you go on gazing, stupefied yet interested; and when you leave the exhibition, you do not know whether you have been looking at the pictures of a madman or not, but you have forgotten all the other pictures in the room” ( (From a review by Cecelia Waern of a painting by Vincent van Gogh in 1892).
  • “Like other creators, artists exhibited androgynous personalities, meaning that they were not concerned with
    Digital Watercolor Field of Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    Digital Watercolor Field of Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    their actions being viewed as masculine or feminine” (Jane Piirto).

BALLET DANCERS

  • Other performing artists try to give the definitive performance of a work, a role, a score, but ballet dancers have even higher standards that apply only to dancers. The standard against which dancers measure their performance is not simply that of the highest excellence. “Every serious dancer is driven by notions of perfection–perfect expression, perfect technique…In no other art can one find a comparable gap between what the world thinks of a star and what the star thinks about himself or herself, between the adulation that pours from the outside and the relentless dissatisfaction that goads one from within…Part of being a dancer is this cruelly self-punishing objectivity about one’s shortcomings, as viewed from the perspective of an ideal observer, one more exacting than any real spectator could ever be”(Susan Sontag).

ACTORS

  • “The great moments (in theatre) are almost always connected with the personality of an actor or actors” (Tyrone Guthrie). 

COMPOSERS

  • “The most perfect (musical) instrument in the world is the composer’s mind. Every conceivable tone-quality and
    Winters Approach by Steven W. Ward

    Winters Approach by Steven W. Ward

    beauty of nuance, every harmony and disharmony, or any number of simultaneous melodies can be heard at will by the trained composer; he can hear not only the sound of any instrument or combination of instruments, but also an almost infinite number of sounds which cannot yet be produced on any instrument” (Henry Cowell).

 

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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The Self-Concept: Freeing Up Your Creator’s Mind and Personality

In those happy days when I was starting out and writing books during the night while my wife and children slept, I was a business consultant during the day. One client was an anal-type organization–lots of rules, very little freedom, business workers in office cubiclesdictatorial–and many disgruntled employees. You might have worked in an organization like that. You may be working in one now.

One rule was that no one from one unit was to visit another unit during working hours. They were serious. Wherever you went you heard people saying, “Don’t get caught out of your unit.”

Your creator’s self-concept–self-image, self-estimate–is your internal, private opinion of the kind of creator you are and of the actions you are or are not capable of performing as a creator. It directly controls how successful you are in your creative endeavors and how full and satisfying your creative life will be. Like that nutty rule, your creator’s self-concept says, “Whatever you do, don’t get caught out of your self-concept.”

Your behavior has absolute trust in your creator’s self-concept and believes it and obeys it. You may have decided after five years writing that you’re a pretty average poet, so you work only hard enough to write average poems, never expecting to do any better. Your self-concept is perfectly content with mediocrity although you may have the potential for greatness. It is continually telling you to stay inside its definition of the kind of person you are: “You’re a decent painter but let’s face it, you’ll will never be much more than that.”

Many people I’ve met and you’ve met tell themselves they’re not creative. They realize that creativity could make them happier, but they claim they just don’t have it. Many people think, “Oh, a painter is creative, or a novelist or an architect. But I’m not a bit creative.” Yet researchers have demonstrated that the self-concept is so powerful and yet so malleable and so easy to change that the moment–the moment–people start thinking “I am creative” instead of “I’m not creative,” creativity increases. They can write and paint and perform dramatic roles passably well.  Now they have a creator’s self-concept.

Disappointments lead some creators to think, “I can’t produce really superb art work. . .sell my stories to magazines…make a lot of money…place my paintings in the best galleries…get in a good show… compete with young creators…” and so on.

Many creators have such narrow self-concepts they’re living in a unit that’s only a fraction of the size of their true creative ability. They possess the capacity to accomplish high creative goals but they don’t realize they do. Other creators have wide and expansive self-concepts. Their actions are bolder. They are self-confident. They expect to excel and often do.

What’s holding narrow self-concept creators back? Don’t look at me. I’m not holding them back. You’re not holding them back. They are holding themselves back. Some creators—maybe you know a few of them—have self-concepts so narrow and confining that they have made themselves incapable of doing anything significant. Often they don’t even try.

Many of you reading this are fiction writers. But we are all fiction writers. ALL SELF-CONCEPTS ARE FICTIONS; THEY ARE ALL MADE UP.  They are not real in the way a flower pot is real or a desk is. They are merely ways you have chosen to view yourself. From this insight it’s a short, leaping step to the next: “Hey, since I made up this damned self-concept and I’m not happy with it, and it’s holding me back, all I have to do to increase my possibilities and free up my creator’s mind and personality is to create another one and act accordingly,” or “Do I need a self-concept at all?” If your self-concept is right for you—if you’re happy with it—by all means keep it. But if it’s bringing you creative disappointment after disappointment and discouragement and you’re dissatisfied with it, you’d better, I think: (1) change it, or (2) operate without it.

I want to tell you two stories:

Story One: “The Storekeeper and the Thief”

In Japan in the nineteenth century, storekeepers were considered lily-livered weaklings. One storekeeper became sick and tired of this reputation. To prove that it was totally false he took lessons at a martial arts dojo. He devoted himself religiously and after some years he became an expert. After closing his shop late one night, the storekeeper and his wife started home down the dark streets carrying the day’s receipts. They had just turned the corner when a man holding a knife stepped out of the shadows and ordered the storekeeper to hand over his money.

At first he refused, but when the thief charged him, growling, “You miserable merchant, I’ll cut you to pieces,” the storekeeper lost his courage, fell to his knees, and began to tremble with fear. Suddenly his wife cried out, “You’re not a storekeeper, you’re a master of the martial arts.”

The storekeeper turned his head and looked at his wife. “Yes,” he said, “I am.” He stood, a warrior now, totally fearless, completely calm. He let out a powerful katzu, “battle shout,” and leaped at the thief. He defeated him easily.

Story Two: “The Teaman and the Ronin

In feudal Japan, a servant, a poor practitioner of chado, the Way of tea, unwittingly insulted a ronin, a masterless samurai. Outraged, the ronin challenged the servant to a duel. “I’m not a warrior,” the teaman said, “and I’m very sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. Please accept my apology. ”But the ronin would have none of it. “We meet at dawn tomorrow,” he said, and as was customary, he handed the terrified teaman a sword. “Go practice,” said the ronin.

The servant ran to the home of a famous sword master and told him the terrible thing that had happened. “A unique situation,” the sword master said. “For you will surely die. The thing I might be able to help you with is isagi-yoku, the art of dying well.”

While they talked, the teaman prepared and poured tea. The masterful way he did it caught the eye of the sword master. He slapped his knee and said, “Forget what I just told you. Put yourself into the state of mind you were in as you prepared the tea and you can win this fight.” The teaman was shocked. The sword the ronin had given him was the first he had ever held. “What state of mind?”

“Were you thinking ‘I’m a teaman?’ ” asked the master.

“No. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“That’s it!” The sword master laughed. “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head, ready to cut your opponent down. Don’t think you’re a teaman or that you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

Image of kendo {{PD-1923}} The next morning the ronin appeared on the field and the teaman immediately raised his sword overhead, his eyes on the ronin, his ears waiting for the battle cry. For long moments the ronin stared at the raised sword, and the determination in his opponent’s eyes. Finally the ronin said, “I cannot beat you.” He bowed and left the field.

The problem of these two men should seem familiar. Their predicament is one we all encounter every day. Our opponents aren’t usually thieves and they certainly aren’t wandering samurai ronin, but that’s not important. Those weren’t the main opponents anyway. The primary battle, the main event, was going on inside the storekeeper and the teaman. To win on the outside, each had to deal with a faulty, inadequate, self-defeating self-concept.

Option One: “I’m a Warrior, Not a Storekeeper.” Changing Your Self-Concept

Many creators are overlooking their creative abilities. They persist in thinking they’re storekeepers when if they just thought differently about themselves they would see what warriors they have the potential to be. Listen to the things you say about yourself and think about yourself that begin with “I am,” “I’m not,” and “I can’t.” They are your self-concept in action. And they directly control what is possible for you.

 

Robin tells herself, “I’ve been working on the thing I call ‘My Novel’ for years and can’t seem to finish it. It’s embarrassing. I have no will power.”  And because of it she has real problems getting the damn thing off to a publisher. Ariel tells herself she’s not intelligent enough to write a Hollywood screen play. She doesn’t realize that intelligence is not fixed and final in a person, but can increase with use and with it her concept of herself as an intelligent woman.

Creators are what they are because they keep telling themselves they are. If they stop telling themselves they are, they change. If creators say to you, “I just can’t talk in front of large groups,” or “I’m not the sales type,” or “I’m not a really clever person,” and then ask you if there is anything they can do about it, you might suggest that they never, never say that again. Then suggest they counter every “I’m not” or “I just can’t” with a firm “I am” or “I can.”

Saying it isn’t enough.  What is in your head doesn’t count for anything unless you translate it into action, “body knowledge.” It’s not enough to think, “Hey, I’m not just a storekeeper, I’m really a warrior after all.” To defeat the thief you have to fight, and you can because:

 All behavior is nothing more than an act, a performance.  Acting is easy. Everyone can act. We are all performers.  As soon as a public speaker realizes that she is not a lecturer but an actor, her presentations get good. To BE confident, ACT confidently.

Find a model, someone who does well what you would like to do. Watch how she does it, then do it the same way yourself. Or borrow from a number of models.

Option Two: Operating Without a Self-Concept

The sword master advised the teaman, “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head. Don’t think that you’re a teaman or you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

In sales training sessions I gave I often used a simple role-playing exercise that’s designed to demonstrate the teaman alternative. The teaman alternative is not replacing your old, limiting self-concept with a new and improved one. It’s not thinking you’re a cowardly storekeeper or a poor teaman, but it’s not thinking you’re a warrior either. It’s not holding any self-concept in mind, but just taking action, doing something.

After everyone in the training group had played the part of a sales person making a presentation to a potential customer, I asked them to list the things that they did well during the role-play and the things they would like to improve upon. Then we discussed the “like-to-improve-upons.” Sam said he was no good at thinking on his feet. He went blank. A real salesman, Sam said, is able to handle himself smoothly.

Gerri said her problem was talking too fast. Her words came shooting out so fast she often said the wrong thing. She got flustered. She blew sales.

One by one, they all had to tell me about their “improve-upons.” Midway through every description of a problem I stopped the speaker and said something like “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I’ll tell you what: show me how you would like to be able to do it.” Then I just sat back and watched the amazing thing that almost always happened. Virtually every time, they were all able to do what they said they had trouble doing or could not do at all. Now they were acting.

Sam, for example, actually did think on his feet, and responded smoothly and quickly to the prospect’s objections. Gerri actually became a more composed, together, non-flustered and relaxed saleswoman. Shy people who wished to act more boldly and self- confidently actually did. Those who wished to improve their body language did so. And tough, defensive people who “always” argued and who wanted to be more friendly and warm succeed in acting that way.

I had prompted each of the role-players to act directly without letting their self-concept affect their performance at all. They were doing before their self-concepts had time to inform them, “You just got through saying you couldn’t do that, so it doesn’t make any sense for this guy to ask you to.”

What the role-players learned is precisely what the sword master taught the teaman: You can do what even you believed you couldn’t if you forget about your self-concept totally.

Seeing how easy and effortless it was to forget about a previous self-concept and just act, just be, just perform was exciting for everyone. It was an unforgettable life learning experience.

Man painting a pictureDo whatever you’re doing  creatively without any thought about your “I ams,” “I can’ts” and “I’m nots,” or any concern about “what bad thing will happen if I fail” or “what great thing will happen if I succeed.” You’ll be unhappy whenever your internal opinion of yourself makes you concerned with yourself instead of the creative action at hand.

The creative action at hand–the story or the painting to be crafted, the role to be played, the dance to be danced–they are all that matters, they are the main thing.  Forget about everything else. Watch what happens. Watch your creative life change.

 

Parts of this post appeared in different form in my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work And Life

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

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