Thursday, February 23, 2006

The two-edged sword of creativity

My son called while I was in FL. He had read the post about my tendency to sabotage myself by procrastinating. He remarked that it was exactly like him and wondered how to combat this sometimes self-destructive tendency.

I reminded him that the things that make he and I different from everyone else can have a two-edged sword effect. We both have this ability to call upon a tremendous source of creativity and to come up with brilliant solutions to problems that no one else can conceive. But at the same time, this ability to abstract from the current "nuts & bolts" situation to a radically new solution also has its downside.

We are working on a deadline for a mundane but important project, and we find ourselves distracted by the completely unrelated thoughts. My wife calls this, "Look, there's a chicken!"

The name of this blog actually draws from an early childhood experience of mine that points up this trait. When I was about three years old I rode my tricycle around the block. My mother drove around frantically looking for me. When she caught up with me and asked why I had ridden so far from home, I replied, "My imagination ran away with me." And so the trait of a runaway imagination is what this post is about.

I draw upon this same well of creativity in my music. Listeners marvel at my ability to come up with novel melodic lines for original music. I can't explain exactly where this comes from, but I think it's from the same place.

People think I have musical "talent," and they believe that people are just born with it. They must think I came out of the womb playing the piano. But it wasn't like that at all. I took lessons for ten years (age 6 to 16), just plodding along from Leila Fletcher Lesson Book 1 to Book 2, etc. I never thought of myself as having any particular talent, and I wasn't a brilliant pianist, but I always loved music.

Even when I joined my first band, it was hard, hard work. I had to invent ways of remembering chord progressions, because I have a terrible memory. I had to make lots and lots of mistakes but kept on with it because I loved it so much. I had to have a guitar player show me how to play rhythm guitar parts on the piano, because most popular songs had no piano parts to emulate. Even today when presented with a new song to learn, I have to work on every part to get it right. So I don't see the results of inborn talent as much as the results of years of hard work.

However, I do HEAR things in my head. No, not voices - but music. I can hear stuff that I want to play. The inspiration is buried somewhere deep inside my psyche, and it finds its way to my fingertips through the hard work that it took to train the right synapses to open and close at the right time.

I believe the majority of people in a society are followers, and that a tiny minority is blessed/cursed with the inspiration to try new things. It's a good thing that everyone isn't this way, or we'd never find a consistent direction.

I also find myself being a follower sometimes. Sometimes I'd just rather put my head down and do the mindless work of spreadsheet entry or summarizing hundreds of pages of boring testimony. So in many ways I'm often at opposite extremes. Sometimes I want to be leading the pack, and sometimes I want to blend in with everyone else.

I'm my own worst enigma.

However, it's comforting to know that my son shares these same traits. I see his brilliance, and I see his Achilles Heel, because they are one and the same. I is gratifying to know that I have the chance to be a true mentor to my son, because I never got to enjoy that kind of relationship with my own father. I also know that my father never got to have it with his own father. If my son can understand and accept his true nature at this age (33), he has the potential to realize a completely fulfilling life.

My son and I may be starting a new trend.

My son's daughter is the brightest star in my own personal family galaxy. I saw a unique light in her eyes the day she was born. The influences of her mother and her mother's family trouble me deeply, but I hope she is strong enough to resist them and become her own woman some day. If she's cut from anything like the same cloth as me and my son, she won't be able to be anyone else but her own woman.

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