Tag Archives: creativity

What Will You Make Your Life About?

artist-lifeabout

Always be arcing back towards what you want to be known for, for your heart’s desire, for what gives you the most joy.

LETTER EIGHTEEN

Finding your purpose sounds like a really daunting task, and I have run away from that phrase for my entire life. But figuring out what my life is going to be about is easier to do.

Let’s do some simple math around some of the big things my life COULD be about.

  1. Marriage and Kids (or divorce and kids, as in my case)
  2. Career in… (today it’s marketing, tomorrow it’s writing)
  3. Passion doing (today it’s playing tennis and playing music)
  4. Great at doing (marketing, writing, relationship navigation)

Today I would not say that my life is About writing, but it’s going that way. Even this post is another step in that direction. I am leaving behind a trail of words, songs, phrases that I hope, in the long run, define my full and happy life. My life today IS full and happy, but I’m still “working” at a number of things I’m good at, and a little bit passionate about, but they are not my life’s work. Oh, those heavy phrases again. I’m not so much into “life’s work” as finding my passion and letting that define my purpose.

I believe that my creative life is a celebration of the spiritual life I lead. I believe in God. And in that belief comes my understanding that my celebration of the human spirit (song, poem, drawing, anagram) is a celebration of God, or my God-given talents. And, of course, it’s a lot more than talent, we’ve all got talent. My life well-lived is about commitment and tenacity. I will continue writing no matter what. And in my early 50’s I’m quite confident that I’m writing better than I ever have. Stories I wanted to tell in my 20’s and 30’s are now within my narrative powers. Reading over my first novel, I’m excited to retell the entire tale from a more mature, more convoluted perspective.

If you are the narrator of your life, what’s the first line of your movie?

Here’s a run at mine: “In 105 years, John McElhenney never quit writing songs and poems. He finished a new song hours before he fell asleep for the last time. Here’s the last recording of Mr. McElhenney, a joyous love song to his wife.”

Not bad.

What’s your narrator going to say about your life in 20 years? Can you begin working towards a few of those ideals now? Can you arc your career closer to your passion? In my case, I am a writer. And while I’ve shied away from being a copywriter, I have made a fairly good living writing words and building strategies for companies. I’d rather put my words to use for more enlightening subjects, but hey… we all gotta eat.

So how does my life stack up so far in my four categories?

  1. Marriage and Kids (35% of my time)
  2. Career in… (50% of my time, working)
  3. Passion doing (5% of my time playing or writing)
  4. Great at doing (10% of my time writing and building my empire)

It is my hope that I can continue to angle my life and work towards the 4th quadrant in my system. As I am gearing up for book proposals and screenplay submissions, it is a big harry goal to write as my job. One breakaway title and I could do it. But I must keep my momentum up even without the fame and fortune. What I have in my court is that tenacity. I’m never going to stop writing. And as long as I keep getting better, my writing in 10 years is going to be amazing.

Do what you have to do to make a living and support the lifestyle you want to live. But always be arcing back towards what you want to be known for, for your heart’s desire, for what gives you the most joy. That’s the goal in life worth pursuing.

3-09-16

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2016/03/going-make-life-about/

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Artistic Depression: There’s Nothing Romantic About It

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LETTER SIXTEEN

What if artistic depression was a response to the existential experience of being an artist and not being paid for what you do? What if depression was unnecessary for the creation of art?

We like to think of our depressed artists as going through some romantic struggle to produce their art. Turns out, depression is not part of the creative process. There are plenty of creative geniuses that have never suffered from clinical depression. And there are plenty of our clinically depressed geniuses that might have lived A LOT LONGER had they not been struggling with the black beast of a dog.

I’m going to try to illuminate a few things about art and depression that might help further this discussion.

In his seminal book Against Depression, Dr. Kramer does a great job of bring to light two different ideas.

ONE: While he was traveling around presenting his first book, Talking to Prozac, Dr. Kramer started trying on this question. “If you could eliminate depression with a single pill, a new magic treatment, would you use it.”

He was surprised by the number of doctors who said they would not use the magic cure for depression. Fearing the loss of the creative, or romantic output of the struggling artist. Would we have Starry Starry Night if not for depression? The premise is false. Depression did not create those master pieces. It was depression that cut them off, that cut these artists down before their prime. Eliminating depression would not have prevented Starry Starry Night from happening, it might have allowed for version 2 and version 3. But we’ll never get to see those creations.

TWO: Depression, like an illness, actually makes physical changes in the human brain. This fact was important as the discussion about behavior vs. illness still runs rampant. The argument goes, if like an illness, we can see the changes in the physical body of the suffering patient, we can … Well, the point is to be able to claim depression as a traditional illness requiring treatment and perhaps insurance payments. But the point is this: as a person experiences massive depressions as a result of some traumatic event, the physical pathways in their brains, begin to lean towards depression. It’s as if the “depression neural pathways” get strengthened in the course of several depressions.

In my case this strengthening was a propensity towards giving up. Simply feeling like I could not go on, I could not be successful at my chosen endeavor, and therefore I should just give up. As I suffered, in my early teens, some major traumas, my brain learned to light up the helpless pathway. The give up pathway. I’m still unlearning this response. I am actively trying to strengthen the alternative responses. The good news is the brain can change. Plasticity means the brain can unlearn these greased depression tendencies.

Just like I go for a tangerine rather than a piece of pie, my brain can be trained to look at setbacks and stresses as a trigger for action rather than a slip into hopelessness and inaction. I have to be aware of what’s happening, I have to be very conscious and vigilant, but I can short-circuit the tendency towards folding. Instead, I’m learning to use my creativity (journaling) to write about the depressed feelings as they are occurring. Thus, I’m attempting to illuminate the old thinking and focus on the new options.

Now, part of being an artist is dealing with the fact that we also have to find a way (outside our art) to make a living. We could choose to be starving artist’s I suppose, but no one really sets out to be poor. More likely, if you commit the time required to become a great musician, for example, the opportunities to become famous, and thus rewarded for your musical talents and practice, you will still need a day job. And the future of creative economics is getting worse not better.

But this is not a reason to fall into habits of despair and hopelessness. Nope. To be an artist you first have to desire your art over everything else, occasionally even companionship and exercise.

The artistic challenge in life is not just to master your art and your self discipline, it’s to find a way to earn a living that does not crush the life out of you and your creative passion. A lot of this is in your mind. I go to a job everyday. The job is one of the paths towards securing the time in my life that I need to create my music or my writing. I can complain about the job, and the man getting me down, or the sorry state of selling recorded music online, or I could just stay focused on the act of creation.

If you believe in what you are creating, there is nothing that can stand between you and your work. The money will come. And until it does, the job is what you must have, that allows you to live a lifestyle of leisure, the time off you actually require to do your work. The first thing that goes when I’m under stress about money, or depressed, is my ability to create works of art.

I have to solve the survival needs first. Once I have begun to master food, clothing, and shelter, can I begin to actually write songs and poems to put in my house.

Depression is NOT a key or romantic partner of creativity. And money is not the root of all evil. But we have to come to terms with both our highs and lows. We have to find a way to make a living while we create our masterpiece.

Don’t give up just because you are not making money. Don’t give up because you might not be discovered in your lifetime. Don’t give up because you MUST create. If you have the burning desire to write, paint, sing, play, keep going. Put the poems in a folder. Put the songs in a collection and release them. Have an art opening, regardless if many people come or if you sell a single piece.

We’ve got romantic ideas about sadness or depression and it’s connection to the creative/artistic spirit. It’s a bullshit notion. And we’ve got the exact opposite impression when it comes to money. Working for a corporation is “always” working for the man. But what if working for the company gives you the house to live in, the insurance for the kids you want, and the ability to NOT work on the weekends, when you drink your cup of coffee and stay up late creating, even when no one is listening, watching, or buying your art.

2-1-16

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2014/08/vocation-and-passion-letters/

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The Creative Impulse: Easy to Contain, Easier to Kill

ARTIST-creativeimpulse

LETTER FIFTEEN

It is much easier to ignore our creative impulses than to indulge in the craft of trying to bring them to life. That’s a real problem for a writer, painter, or musician. The little spark of an idea must be captured and fanned until it catches fire and becomes a story, painting, or song. It is the turning away from our creative impulses that can become an issue.

There are a lot of demands on our time. There is the demand to make money if we want to eat and have a place to live. There is the demand to be a parent and a partner if we have families.There is a demand for sleep, and food, and exercise. And if you can attend to all that, and carve out some time that you are not exhausted, well… usually it is in this “after time” that we can indulge our craft.

Even under the best circumstances, when you’ve harnessed the creative impulse and are well on your way to your next masterpiece, it is easy to get derailed.

When I was married with children I used to work on my music and writing between 10pm and 2am. It was the only window of time, after we had put the kids down for bed, that allowed me the long stretch of quiet time to engage with my creative muse. It wasn’t easy. My then-wife would complain if I didn’t help enough around the house. My job demanded I be sharp and not burned out. And some nights I would play video games rather than “create” because I was just too exhausted.

But the commitment to the craft was important to me. And the commitment today is even stronger. That is because I am nurturing the creative voice in my life. I am listening for the creative impulses and trying to go with the flow. I’m not always successful, but I’m always trying.

The other morning, before work, I was struck by a song idea that wouldn’t be tamed. And I thought I had my music capture method down. I recorded some guitar parts into garageband. Or did I put them on video on my phone? Hmmm. Anyway, during the course of the morning I was uber-inspired, so I also wrote down the lyrics about an hour later. Everything was flowing. But… I was running out of time. I had a meeting I had to attend in person.

Here is where the problem is.

I tried to capture all the parts of the song, but just as I should’ve recorded a single, guitar-voice version, I didn’t. I imagined that my multiple capture points had gotten enough of the creative impulse for me to recreate the feeling several days later when I came back to the idea. I was wrong.

The “several days later” became more than a week. And when I finally carved out a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, there was no amount of coffee or enthusiasm that could breathe life into my “parts.” I was sad but not broken. Even in the recovery of ideas, it can still be a “moment” thing. I need to come back to that song idea when I’m fresh.

So even under the best circumstances, when you’ve harnessed the creative impulse and are well on your way to your next masterpiece, it is easy to get derailed. Even when you think you have all the pieces and parts and processes down. It really is “the moment” some times that requires the full attention. Delay and deflection of that creative drive will usually result in a less vibrant expression.

Keep your impulses high. When you have the gift of an idea run with it until you capture as much of it as time will allow. And, in my experience, come back to the idea as soon as possible to reignite the threads of energy that began to weave into the creative work.

Write. Sing. Paint. Draw.

And to it as often as time will allow.

8-6-15

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

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How Streaming Music Sucks the Life Out of Music

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Caveat: Let me be clear. It’s not the streaming that’s the issue. It’s the royalties paid primarily to the BIG artists and almost zero to the small artists. Stream OK, but BUY THE MUSIC YOU LOVE. Support the musicians themselves and not just the mega-corp labels, lawyers, and streaming companies.

+++

I know it’s an old broken record and you’re tired of hearing about it. But your streaming habits are killing musician’s livelihood. What’s to be done?

Oh we musicians, we shouldn’t be trying to make a living making music anyway. That’s for the U2s and Rolling Stones of the world. Right? Fk that. The new “streaming” paradigm for music enjoyment is killing those of us engaged in making it. Well, unless we’re just doing it for a hobby.

Today, kids don’t have to buy any albums. They don’t have to give a single dime to any musical artist. With streaming services they never have to buy a song.

Some of my favorite local artists are starving musicians. If they were dependent on the revenue from their recorded music, they would starve to death. Most of them have “jobs” or have found a way to make an additional business out of their musical talents. But the change in the music business has hurt them. And no, Apple Music and Taylor Swift are not going to help any of us.

Here’s the way things used to work.

Like a band. Hear a band on the radio, in a club, on someone else’s stereo. Seek out that band and buy their music for your devices. When it was albums and cassettes everyone was reasonably happy. The record companies made music. They got royalties from the blank cassette manufacturers. And the artists, if they had a reasonable deal, got some money for their efforts. Even in the good old days, record deals were not paying the musicians living wages, they were giving them an opportunity to go out on the road and sell some tickets and in the process sell some records. The machine was happy when both happened. And if you were successful you could make another record.

How Apple changed everything with iTunes and iPods.

Digital music has not been around all that long. And yes, it does sound different. But when I first realised I could take my entire record collection (a sizable wall at the time) around with me in a device the size of a deck of cards, I was thrilled beyond belief. Some of us really love music. And we’re always looking for the perfect song for the perfect moment. And having those epiphanies were like spiritual-aural magic tricks. DJs at parties were judged by the tracks they played, the order, and the flow of the moment.

As we began to buy music from iTunes, the royalties for records began to dry up. Big record companies folded or were bought by other big record companies. Now there are exactly THREE big record companies. Everyone else is an indie. And as the industry consolidated, partially forced by jobs level pricing (.99 per track) but also because of the “singles” phenomenon. Kids began buying just the song they wanted off iTunes rather than the entire album. And if the album isn’t dead today, it’s dead for all but the most intense fans and fans with pocket change to spare.

So the royalties dried up, the big labels consolidated to protect their empires. And sites like Napster popped up and flooded the web with FREE COPIES of any song you ever wanted to hear. And just as it appeared the industry and consumer were at least making a pact, in came streaming services.

Today, kids don’t have to buy any albums. They don’t have to give a single dime to any musical artist. With streaming services they never have to buy a song. They only have to worry if they don’t have good cell connection or if they’ve maxed out their parents digital data plan. Sure, Spotify pays artists. And Apple Music will pay artists. BUT… And this is a big one.

BUT, the artists making money on Spotify are the same ones managed by the BIG THREE music companies. Under the Digital Copyright law, via the same “fair use” clause that radio stations use, streaming services can stream any album, unless explicitly requested not to do so, without paying any specific artist any money. The money collected by Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music goes into the big royalty payment systems ASCAP and SESCAC. And those agencies distribute the real money based on catalog and historical business.

The Artist Royalty companies are in on the deal too. And they pay out the money, but 90% of it goes to the big back catalogs of The Stones, The Eagles, Led Zep, U2, and any other supergroup who would lawyer up if any of the money stopped flowing. The Record Companies are still getting their piece of the action and so is Pink Floyd. But local artists and favorites like Sara Hickman and Darden Smith and getting monthly royalty checks in the single digits. And they have substantial catalogs of fantastic songs.

What’s the Plan?

So for the consumer today, a decision has to be made in favor of your artists and away from you cellphone companies and streaming music companies. By paying Spotify or Apple Music their $10 a month fee, you are dutifully paying the Stones for their hard work while starving most of the artists you care about. And your data plan is now your music tax.

A better plan:

  1. Buy music.
  2. Put that music on your phone. (why give the money to your cell provider?)
  3. Don’t stream it, listen to it in 320bps MP3 fidelity.

Well, if you really want to go crazy, go buy an album or cd and play it through real speakers rather than earbuds. Wow, you’re going to be amazed how much more music there is to music when you take out the earbuds.

Don’t Stream Music / Buy Music.

Love Your Musicians Like You Love Your Music.

Here’s where my music lives. Buzzie on CD Baby it’s also on iTunes and Play, but not on Spotify.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
image: record player, martin fisch, creative commons usage

Pointing Your Arrow: The Artist’s Way to Happiness

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LETTER FOURTEEN

It’s not the success that I’ve had that gives me joy. It’s not fame or fortune that pleases my soul. For me, it’s the perfectly struck chord, the phrase that captures exactly what I’m feeling, the letters scattered across a handwritten notebook that please ME. That’s the important part to remember. It is your heart that is listening. It is your heart that is the most important audience. If you love your craft, your fame and acceptance will be less important to your happiness.

So what is the goal, of this creative life? What do I get from being bombarded daily with poetic ideas, song fragments, and aspirations towards becoming an artist? If I am continuing to “point” my arrow, as in, sharpen my craft, to what end am I laboring? And if I continue to strive, write, sing, create, what is my goal? What am I aiming my pointed arrow at? Where am I pointing this creative life of mine?

I’m 52 years old. I’ve already lived 12 years longer than John Lennon. And if you watch any of the documentaries of his life, can you imagine a more successful creative life? And yet even at the height of his fame he was still searching, still stretching to express himself artistically. With all of the wealth of the world what he wanted the most was time with his family. He missed Julian, but when Sean was born, John basically took to becoming a stay at home dad. His joy was his family. And even as his life was cut very short, remember that point. One of the most successful creative spirits on the planet was still seeking more time with his family. Time and experience that could never be regained. Ask Julian Lennon about the loss of a famous father.

So even in achieving the greatest fame and appreciation possible, John Lennon was struggling to find more time to be with his family.

What is the goal of trying to express ourselves creatively? If fame seems elusive, are there other reasons to listen so intently, to strive daily to write, paint, craft? For me, the experience of living my life through the lens of art is part of my personal life mission. It sounds woo woo, I know, but here’s what I’m saying.

  • I listen a bit more deeply to myself in trying to understand and express my feelings.
  • I listen to others, and record experiences in my mind with a fine attention to detail, in order to absorb as much of the essence as possible. Sometimes level of detail makes recalling experiences a bit more vivid.
  • I am tuned in rather than tuned out. I don’t watch much television or read much mass media. I am actively trying to create my own story. I am weaving my own tapestry experience into a tale of song, poetry, image, and story.
  • I get great joy from my own work. A poem well turned is a thing that can make my whole day. It gives *me* great pleasure. If I’m happy, well, that’s a pretty good result.
  • After capturing a story or an idea I can let it go more fully. Once I’ve written about an experience (good or bad) I begin to understand it more fully. In the case of hard experiences (Losing my father or my older sister, for example.) my artistic expression helps me process the grief. By telling the story I get a chance to re-experience any event in my life and thus reprocess the feelings associated with it.

The art in itself is a joy and a comfort. The act of creation is a form of prayer. (See Matthew Fox) When I am deep in my creative process I am also in the flow. The flow is like meditation. My troubles and personal frustrations are forgotten while I am in flow.

What’s the goal of my art? 

My goal is to live life as fully as I can. To enjoy the time I have with my kids and to make a living. So I have not been able to make the two aspects of my life combine into a famous artist path, that’s okay. It’s not the idea of becoming famous that drives me, it’s the joy that the act of creation brings me today. And if I can write a new song while my kids are busily going about their day in and around me, what could be more joyful?

Aim at your own heart.

Then, regardless of your fame or fortune you are at least making one person happy. And often, if that happiness is genuine, the art will also touch others with a happy resonance. You can hear the joy in John Lennon’s songs about Sean. He was hitting stride again as a solo artist just as he was cut down by a mad man. And in many ways, he was a victim of his own fame. And yet his legacy and music lives on.

12-22-14

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2014/08/vocation-and-passion-letters/

Now Available in Print and eBook Format!
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image: be my valentine, martin fisch, creative commons usage

Solitude and the Artistic Temperament

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Pass through the darkness. Embrace the dark nights of your soul as they have arrived to tell you something.

LETTER THIRTEEN

We’ve got to talk about the dark side for a moment. If you’ve got a handful of guiding artists that you look to for inspiration, you’re likely to have a few that succumbed to the flip-side of massive inspiration: massive depression. The literary and artistic cannon is filled with tragic artists. Let’s recognize the pattern and align ourselves with the survivors.

Even as we lose lovers, parents, siblings, we have the ability to translate our suffering into expressions of love and beauty.

Understanding the highs and lows of my creative life has been an interesting journey. I have traveled both high and low roads. I’ve sat on mountaintops and done vision quests. I’ve spent countless hours in talk therapy and counseling of many types. If read deeply of the artists who spoke to the blackness of my own journey and tried to learn from their ultimate loss. My list is long, but the top-of-mind artists who continue to inspire me, in spite of their demise (via alcohol, suicide, or mental illness) are Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, Elliot Smith, David Foster Wallace, Anne Sexton. And in my own personal life, my older sister, who was creating at the top of her game, took her life when some of the details of reality became too hard to bear.

But bear it we must. That’s the ticket, that’s the key.

  • Perseverance in the face of great odds. (You will probably not achieve the recognition or fame you desire with your art.)
  • Mental stability in the heat of creative passion. (I still have to dial my own flights of fantasy back when I’m in the throes of a passionate project.)
  • Emotional fortitude even while dipping into the darkness that often illuminates or transforms our work. (Embrace the darkness, don’t be embraced by it.)
  • Financial plans and career maps. (If you’re not making money, you’re going to starve. That’s a path heading in the wrong direction.)
  • Joyful rebalancing. (The joy in your life is your energy. Find ways to rebalance, or self-regulate, your attitude, CONSTANTLY.)

We can learn a lot from the deep passion of these creative souls. Even if a few of them dipped too far into the dark night of the soul, you will eventually have to deal with your own inner demons. We’ve all got them.

Life throws us all types of curveballs. And life is messy. You know some of the tragedies that are ahead: the death of a parent, a beloved pet, the loss of a primary relationship. And there are many of the dark curves that you cannot see, but that will affect you and throw you off your joyous course for a time. It is my artistic temperament that allows me to absorb and be burnished by these events, and in the polishing and blasting of the sadness and fear, I believe, I am transformed.

Life is that way: messy, painful, unexplainable. The artist merely tries to deal with these uncertainties and losses by telling their own version of Dante’s Inferno.

The death of my father when I was 21, is an event that I will never fully get over. But the transformation of that event into stories, songs, and perhaps even a novel at some point, is one of the ways I have found my own strength in not following his will “why aren’t you going to medical school” or his demise as he used more alcohol to distract him from the wreckage of his alcoholic life. I tumbled in the rock-polishing machine for most of my twenties, I railed and ranted in my thirties, and here in my 50’s I’m happy to report that I’m drug and disease free and of relatively sound mind and body.

I say relatively, only to be dramatic. No one is actually 100% healthy. We’ve all got hurt places, little secrets, jealousies, resentments, and vendettas we’d like to see paid in-full. And each of us had a choice to walk the higher road above our own petty grievances, or to fall victim to the angry path through our perceived injustices. The injustices are all around us. Our personal stories are not that unique until we tell them through our art. And in that exposure we might find relief, or at least camaraderie.

Some of the work of these previous sojourners can provide some comfort. Some of them may be too close for comfort. Either way, you will also go through dark times and it is your artistic translation of these horrific events into art that provides 1. comfort for you; 2. comfort for others; 3 something of lasting beauty and value. Dwelling in the darkness for a time might serve you well. We can certainly agree that running from your emotional messiness is not an option, the anger, fear, sadness WILL catch up with you.

It’s okay to be dark. It’s okay to require professional help. It’s okay to struggle for a time with your own personal demons. The world outside our souls is often troublesome, even in the best of times. In my past, when things got really hard, however, it was my art that kept me pointed upward and onward, even when I lacked any inspiration or motivation to do much more than noodle on a poem or pluck a few strings on my guitar.

Pass through the darkness. Embrace the dark nights of your soul as they have arrived to tell you something, to transform your life into something more beautiful. Please don’t lose yourself in the darkness. Too many wonderful and talented artists have chosen the most unromantic ways to take their last curtain calls. Suicide is never romantic or epic. The loss of so many beautiful artists illuminates our lack of understanding and support for the highs and lows of our creative people. Be creative. Be dark. But stay alive and tell us about your journey.

Even as we lose lovers, parents, siblings, we have the ability to translate our suffering into expressions of love and beauty. Listen to your dark whisperings, ignoring them will shut down an entire cathedral of creativity and aspiration that can speak to all of us at some point in our lives. Life is that way: messy, painful, unexplainable. The artist merely tries to deal with these uncertainties and losses by telling their own version of Dante’s Inferno.

12-14-14

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

Now Available in Print and eBook Format!
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image: dante’s inferno, kyle boganwright, creative commons usage (artist’s work is for sale)

Survive & Thrive: First Find Your Congregation Within

LETTERS-thrive

When the money runs out, my inspiration get’s pretty desperate. Entire creative cannons in motion and lit up begin to crumble as I doubt myself. And trying to push into the creative as an income stream, for me, has never worked. I’m not interested in being a starving artist. So one of the first struggles, for me, is making sure I have my bills covered.

There are a million paths to creative success, but money may not be one of them for many of us. Once you get that concept fully swallowed you can get on with the work of making your art, whatever that is. Sure, you’ll have to find the “day job,” but you can do that. That’s one of the base-levels of survival as an artist.

I’ve disconnected my art from my income needs. This was a major win for me.

Of course there are paths to use your creative craft as a job, but I’ve seen too many copywriters, too many cover band musicians who are doing just that: the job has become the creative outlet. Let me take a couple examples from my home town. Charlie Sexton is an amazing performer, singer, songwriter, guitar player. And how can you blame him for going out of the road with Bob Dylan? See the work, be semi-famous under the hot spotlights along side the legend himself. Sure, no problem. But where’s the next Charlie Sexton disc?

And it chatting one evening after a show by one of my favorite cover band leaders, I asked him, “So when’s your next record coming out?”

He looked at me with a smile, but he seemed to be hiding something a bit deeper. “When I feel a bit less content, I guess.”

That is also a hard one. Contentment vs Creative Drive. Can the two forces exist together. Can you be supremely content and still have the drive to create new works of art? Or is the creative production tied up in the discontent, the angst and struggle of life? I’ve had problems with this in the past. Where I needed some goal to get me out of my current situation as a catalyst. Like the situation I was in was NOT ENOUGH, so I needed to produce my art to affirm my ever-burning quest to be someone else, someone huge and successful.

But I was/am successful in my mind. I have two great kids. I’m growing creatively and as a parent. And while I’m somewhat content, I’m also driven to express my art. At this point in my life I’m not looking for any money from the effort. I’ve disconnected my art from my income needs. This was a major win for me.

I say somewhat content, because there are plenty of things in my life that are way out of balance. I’m working on those. And this week I signed a contract, not for a record deal, but for a work deal that’s going to fill up my work card for November in a big way. And this WIN is actually giving me some energetic leeway to drive forward with  my musical projects at the same time. See, having some financial success in my “career” is actually generating some creative energy in my other career.

And then there are the writers, artists, and creatives who have lost faith in their craft. This is the more common story. Somewhere along life, the act of growing up, begins to dampen our dreams for rock stardom. And unfortunately, that’s so rare, that most of my friends who are creative have left their instruments and paintbrushes behind. The focus on work, life, money, kids, housing… It’s not easy. But the formula is easy.

Survival + Passion + Longevity = A Creative Life

I’m not looking to be a rock star. I might have had those illusions back in my teens. But I was more interested in capturing the perfect song or short story. I learned to work to support my art and not the other way around.

If you can get your survival needs met, and keep your passion for the voice that is inside of you trying to express some kind of beauty you will either persevere or you won’t. And that’s okay. It is fine when people leave music, poetry, painting, writing, behind. It’s not for everyone. And if it was a hobby, then perhaps there are other things in life that give you more satisfaction. Parenting can have a profound effect on your life and your creative output.

Find a place for your art in the daily cadence of your life. And never give it up.

My kids however only inspired me more. I wanted to include them in my musical life. I wanted to surround them with songs, mine and others. I wanted to show them my songs, I wanted to serenade them all the time. (I even imagined a kid’s record, but there were so many that I loved already…) And in learning to work, parent, and continue to give time to my music, I started down a lifestyle formula that worked for me. Today my son is an accomplished violinist and my daughter sings in the choir. (She won’t join me on stage, however, because she claims to have performance anxiety. Oh well, maybe later.)

The part I got right is the survival. I do have a career. And when I structure things right I can work with a bit of flexibility that allows me occasional inspirational afternoons and nights, even in the middle of the week. (grin) When I get out of balance, I begin aspiring towards rock stardom again and I stop making my “work” the priority. That has been an issue for me in the past, but I’m pretty good at managing it these days.

The humorous rejoinder, “Don’t quit your day job,” has never been more appropriate. But the corollary, however, is more important, “Don’t stop believing in your art.”

Figure out how to make a living. Find a place for your art in the daily cadence of your life. And never give it up. You’ll be fine then, regardless of any outside, perceived, success or fame.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2014/11/survive-thrive/

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supportive references:

image: Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album cover, creative commons usage