Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Gift of Connection


Yesterday I drove up to Laramie for a music party honoring the life of Mark Booth. I only met Mark a few times, all memorable, but this story is more about his son, Michael. I can't easily forget the day I met Michael Booth; mostly because it's a fairly typical experience for people who grew up in Wyoming.

Wyoming is more like a huge small town than it is a state. Sports teams travel as much as four or five hours to play rival teams. With a population of around 500,000, depending on the boom/bust cycles of the oil and mineral industries, there aren't many people per square foot, so everyone knows everyone, or at least they know the name.

When I lived in the DC area I worked at the world famous House of Musical Traditions. They were kind enough to give me a job to get started with my life in a new area having just arrived from Nashville. One fall day I happened to randomly choose to wear my University of Wyoming sweatshirt to work. That same day happened to be the day that Michael Booth visited the store, saw my shirt, and with a fine level of enthusiasm asked me if I'd been a student there. I hadn't been, but everyone from Wyoming sports the Brown and Gold just because it's the only University in the whole place and most everyone has at least one family member who attended.

Michael went on to tell me that he was from Laramie, and that his dad was a professor at UW. Unsurprisingly, we knew some people in common, and as I found was Michael's habit, he invited me to join he and some friends for a music party that night. For the uninitiated, a music party is a gathering of people who get together and sing songs and visit well into the wee hours. That night I was to meet several people who have become close friends; people who have added to my life's fabric of richness more than any other group. And it was all because I randomly wore my UW sweatshirt to work on the day that Michael came into the store.

Michael, me, and Birgit Burke having a small music party in Cheyenne
If you've heard of the six degrees of separation, I want you to know that if you know Michael the number of degrees is reduced to one. He's never met an enemy. His presence is inviting and open, and immediately disarming. He's genuinely interested in knowing everyone he meets, and he rejoices in bringing people together. I'm pretty sure that the largest number of people I met while I lived in DC were a direct result of meeting Michael. Not surprisingly I've met a few even since I moved back to Colorado. He is a gifted connector.

After meeting his dad those few times I suspect Michael comes by his connecting habit pretty honestly. Mark loved getting a group of people together to sing and visit, visit and sing. They both remind me a lot, in both spirit and stature, of Pete Seeger, who loved nothing more than connecting people through music. I'm lucky to have met all three, and especially lucky to count Michael among my friends.

A Michael inspired music party at our old house in Maryland.
Michael moved from DC a couple of years after we met, and I've only seen him a handful of times since, but like Johnny Appleseed, he's left an abundant source of spiritual nourishment in his wake through the communities that he helped to form. These circles have been the sources of support and encouragement to write and sing my own songs. They've been the people who drop me a line when I haven't been seen for awhile. They're the ones who showed up on the front porch with bags of groceries when death or illness crossed our path. And they're the ones who I mutually share with, celebrate with, laugh with and cry with; just because I met Michael. What a gift.

Me, Michael, and his son 2016
Community is the foundation and context for all human life. Creatives especially have a tendency to work in isolation. Part of this is necessary, but the necessity can be left behind for a pattern of avoidance that keeps people in severe isolation for long periods of time. This is ultimately detrimental in a number of ways. Our mental and physical health is negatively affected, making us prone to depression, anxiety, deprivation and illness. Community is also our primary resource for all that we need. It is the place where our contributions can make a necessary impact on people. It's the source of every opportunity we are looking for. We can create amazing things alone in isolation, but it's in community that we flourish.

My friend and former consulting partner, George Callendine picked up a wonderful definition of community somewhere in his travels that I particularly love. Community is knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated. Michael Booth is a spectacular embodiment of this ideal.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

We Never Really Know


The teachers who have their 7 Steps to Assured Success only know what worked for them. There is no guarantee that what worked for them will work for you. My friend, you will only find your success when you discover your own seven steps, more or less. Your success will be based solely upon the difference that your work makes in the lives of others. It can never be based upon the experience of another practitioner. It will only be derived from your own imagination, courage, action and impact. Any other recipe just won't do. You are here to write your own book, follow your own star, and shape this life according to your own unique mold. There is absolutely no other person who can tell you what to do, how to do it, or who to do it for. Take courage, and make the difference you alone can make.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Unstuck in the Middle With You


Some friends I know who are recovering from addiction talk a lot about the bottom, the depth of depravity and desperation that they had to reach before they were willing to admit the problem at hand and seek help. I wonder sometimes if for many creators that an equally terrifying place is The Middle.

When I first get an idea that I'm excited about, I can't wait to make it happen. The hyper energized state is fun, and the initial productivity that comes through keeps my focus and consumes time in gluttonous bites. Momentum is effortless, and I'm driven to distraction in any activity that isn't related. It's all I can think about.

This beginning lasts until the inevitable Middle shows up. The Middle is usually heralded by a complication, an interruption, on an unanticipated obstacle. If you've ever encountered barre chords in a guitar lesson, you've met The Middle. Playing a barre chord requires greater hand strength than the open chords that were learned in early lessons. Barre chords are formed by holding down more than one string with one finger, sometimes holding all six strings with one finger. When I taught guitar lessons barre chords were often the stopping place for many students whose frustration overcame their initial interest.

Every endeavor has a Middle. It might show up in the form of a necessary license, or an unexpected sales tax, or just some difficulty that could never have been predicted. It may even just show up as a plot twist in your novel that becomes impossible to resolve. You can tell The Middle has arrived when certain feelings start popping up. Frustration, ambivalence, apathy, maybe even the creative person's most common friends, depression, self doubt, and anxiety appear when The Middle is on the scene.

Here are some possible ways through The Middle:
  1. Revisit Your Original Idea. Have you stayed with it, or are you straying? If you're straying,is there another possibility that you need to see that's trying to get through? As a songwriter there have been many times that I would start out with one idea that I thought was pretty strong or exciting, only to find that another song emerged from the original idea which was then scrapped or became another song altogether. There have also been a few hundred song ideas that met an end when The Middle arrived and I couldn't get them finished. As I checked out the original idea on these, I found that it wasn't as strong as initially perceived.
  2. Take a Break. Let it rest for a while and see what happens. Sometimes if you just give an idea or project a little bit of time and space, it will come pushing back in to be completed. Sometimes after you've been focused on something with a great amount of intensity your senses and perceptions start to narrow to a point where you can't see what you're doing objectively. Give it a rest and come back to it. If you're worried that you won't ever finish, then give yourself a re-entry date. Choose a date on the calendar and commit to coming back to the project then. 
  3. Finish One Task. If you've started a business and you suddenly find that someone else has also started a business with the exact same name as yours, maybe it's time to get that trademark paperwork finished. This step is especially appropriate in those times when you keep putting off taking action. You probably already know that putting off taking action often results in a greater problem. Balance the checkbook, finish your taxes, get them done early. If you're stalled on a creative project just choose one part of it to finish. Any progress you make will initiate a greater flow.
  4. Clean Your Space. I'm the worst about this. My studio has been a mess for years. I create clutter more quickly than anyone else I know. Clutter makes my space unbearable to work in. I've learned more about this in the past few years than ever before. Make your space easy to work in. Keep the tools out that you need for your project. Everything else needs a place to be put away. Pay your bills as they come in. Don't let paper pile beyond the point of usefulness. I know, I'm a piler. I find things more easily in piles than files, but my piles are out of control and it's affecting my ability to get things done. If you can't bear to do it yourself, hire a feng shui guide to help you out. 
  5. Just Get It Done. Finish your first draft. Go ahead and write out the whole song. Make a prototype and figure out what works and what doesn't. Sometimes The Middle is just a honing time where you actually get to see what needs more work and what doesn't. Like my guitar students learning barre chords, the ones who succeeded were the ones who didn't give up.  They practiced until they could play them. Resistance is created completely by thought. It's actually easier to create flow. Flow doesn't require thinking as much as it requires doing. Just go ahead and finish.
  6. Quiet Your Thinking. Thinking is great. It's the first step in creating anything, but sometimes we can think too much. Getting your mind into a more calm and clear state makes it possible to focus and perform more effortlessly. People who meditate often are able to bring a strong sense of grounding and confidence to their creating which makes their processes easier and more effective than people who just try to think their way through. Give your thoughts a rest and get your mind clear.
  7. Take Smaller Steps. When I was a music major in college, I practiced between five and six hours every day. One of the practice techniques that served me well was to choose the most difficult passages of a piece and break those passages up into smaller phrases. Then I'd practice each phrase repeatedly, first at a slow speed and gradually building until I was playing at the performance pace. Focus on the quality of a small segment of work and make it shine. You will start to see that this kind of attention to smaller sections creates more ease in the entire creative process.
  8. Maybe It's Not a Good Idea, Or Maybe It's Not the Right Idea. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" is a hallmark statement that I hear from every creative person that I know, as well as some family members who have registration numbers with the Department of Corrections. Sometimes in the moment an idea seems really great and exciting, but after working to bring the idea to life, you realize it's just not all that interesting, or it doesn't really line up with your values. Maybe the idea is a good one, but it's not the right time. Sometimes that idea is just a stinker and can't be helped with any intervention. With experience we learn to discern which possibilities our imagination generates are the ones that we need to pursue. Other times we just learn by trial and error, or trial and success. Either way we learn when to let go of a project that we're no longer able to energize and complete.
The Middle is going to show up in every corner of our creative lives. It can be uncomfortable. I think it's intolerable for a good reason; the discomfort moves us either toward commitment, or toward the door. If you're an author with a partially finished book, a painter with a studio full of canvasses that still don't satisfy, or a guitar student struggling to play the perfect F chord, this stage won't last forever. Take small steps and keep moving. You will gather momentum again and reach a finishing point, or you may decide to just focus on something else altogether. 

If you're feeling like you've reached The Middle in one of your creative projects, I may be able to help you get through it more quickly and effectively. Request a free initial session here to find out...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Blank Sheet of Graph Paper


A friend asked the other day about my affinity for graph paper. I hadn't thought too much about it before, but the question gave me some inspiration to explore. Sometime back in my school days a teacher handed out sheets of graph paper in a class. I don't recall much about that day except for that it was the first time I'd ever seen graph paper. The only kind of paper I'd ever seen before was the kind that was either a blank page, or with horizontal lines. This grid of squares was fascinating at first sight.

I'm sure the context was some kind of graphing for a science experiment or math assignment; it doesn't really matter now except to say that since then, a blank sheet of graph paper has been a preferred starting place for me to get my creativity motor started. The grid makes it easy to draw diagrams, maps, flow charts, sketches, even graphs, not to mention regular writing structures like sentences and paragraphs. Those little squares give more dimension to my thinking than a blank page or horizontal lines. They help me to see more about the relationships between the objects I throw onto the page. This multidimensional view makes it easy to find direction where there isn't any past experience to project forward.

I've been doing a lot of observing of the connection between word and will. It seems to me that speaking, writing, and sketching are all powerful ways to engage and express our will. Will is the aspect of our mind that manages the direction and flow of our energy. It's interesting to me that when I draw or write or speak from the world of my imagination, that my will begins to direct my focus and energy into the action of creating what I've imagined.

The will is the link between idea and action. At any given time our energy is in various states of flow. Like a spigot and a garden hose allows water to flow and be directed where it's needed, our will directs our energy through its ability to focus, and it controls the flow of energy through opening, which allows energy to move, or closing into a state of resistance.

Bringing your imagination to a page through writing is a great way to open the tap on your energy. My blank sheet of graph paper is the bridge between my mind and the world. It's the first place that my imagination can move from my internal space to an external space.

If you are feeling stuck it's most likely that your will is in a high resistance state. Your will gets its walking orders from your imagination. When you're stuck, any momentum you can build is helpful. Filling up a notebook, a sketchpad, or a blank sheet of graph paper is an easy way to gain momentum and move from a state of resistance to a high flow state of allowing. Try it and see...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Moving Furniture


Monica loves it when we move furniture around in the house. It makes us feel like we are living in a new space. Still the same walls and the same furniture, but the shift from one place to another, and the sliding tile puzzle that results, make for a welcome change.

I've been changing the look, feel and basic content of the website. With the shift in my professional life to more coaching and not as much music, I wanted to move things around to reflect the changes. It's like living a new life.

I love music. It's been my companion since I was small. The music profession hasn't often been an easy journey. Last summer I played more gigs in a few months than I had in quite a long time. The last time I had performed that much in a short time was back in college. At the end of the summer I began to know that my interest in the music profession was waning.

I've been a professional coach for many years in one form or another. I started in this business in the mid 90s, and have mostly treated it as a day job that allowed me the flexibility to have an almost full time music career. There have been periods where I've been highly involved in coaching, and other times where I've let it take a back seat to music.

I've always been a touch uncomfortable with the term 'coaching'. There's an implication that goes along with it that I know something about being successful that I can somehow teach others. That's not exactly been my experience. Anyone who knows me well knows that my life hasn't been a consistent example of raging success. I've had an ongoing wrestling match with life that reflects a few more bouts in the 'L' column than the 'W', but my experience with coaching is about something more than winning and losing.

I know what it is like to struggle. I've had more years of struggle than ease. What I've learned about struggle is that it's not a necessary part of creative work. It doesn't enhance my output. Songs about struggle are a dime a dozen. And the struggle that I've experienced has been 100 percent generated by my own beliefs and habits. As I've adopted new beliefs and habits over the past few years, my experience has begun to become something more easy and enjoyable. I feel better, I feel more engaged in my life, and my interests and productivity have expanded in all directions with very little effort. My coaching is all about helping people with the same transition.

Do you want to know a secret? It takes less energy to thrive than it does to struggle. Struggle by definition means that our core state of mind is one that generates stress. It's a constant reckoning with whatever challenger shows up in the ring. My thinking about things like making enough money, paying off debts, considering bankruptcy, worrying about where I'll find my next gig, and all of the myriad ways that I focus on hardship create what? Hardship.

In a clear and centered state of mind, I'm present to what is happening in this moment, I'm open to the insight and direction of the deep wisdom that I'm beginning to discover within my own being, and I'm free to respond to circumstances in new ways that defy old habits, and create new pathways that are easier and more fulfilling. This core state requires no effort. It is our natural way of being when our thoughts are still and our consciousness is open.

While I still have the same body, and the same history, and some of the same reactions that I've always had, this shift in my core state has changed my life. The house is the same house, but the new arrangement makes it feel like a brand new place. This is what my coaching is all about. People want more wisdom, freedom and creativity. I know that they've always had it, they just didn't know that it was so close by.

See the tab up top that says Schedule Now? It's an opportunity to have a free consultation to see if the coaching that I offer is the right thing at the right time for where you are. You have nothing to lose. Let's see where it takes us...

Start


My friend George's grandfather was fond of saying that the hardest part of exercising was putting on your sneakers. I'm still working on the exercise bit, but I'm also aware that the same principle goes for any kind of work.

If I just sit down and start something it amazes me how easy it is to get into a flow state within a matter of minutes. Then minutes become hours, and those hours become satisfying in ways that otherwise don't happen. I don't care if you ever read what I wrote. I just had the best time writing it. The process was it's own reward.

I'd like to cultivate a habit of starting. I know that sometimes it's good to finish things, but you can't finish what you don't start, and if you keep at it, some of the things that you start get finished. I remember when my first CD came out. It had taken 18 months from start to finish, and most of the songs had been written years before production even started. But I had put off beginning the production for a variety of reasons and for a long time. Once it was begun it took on a life and momentum of its own. While it took a long time to finish, those hours, days and months didn't pass slowly.

Just start. Anything. See where it takes you...