Real Housewives of Silicon Valley

I’m excited to announce I’ll be producing Real Housewives of Silicon Valley the Musical, in concert in March at Angelica’s Bistro in Redwood City, CA.

In an effort to get my work out into the atmosphere and help branch out to other theater companies and producers I plan to record a cast album in the Spring!

I hope you’ll join us for a wonderful evening and an absolutely AH MA ZING cast!

Concert Dates: March 22nd & 23rd, show at 8:30, dinner reservations booking now.

Cast: Molly Bell* as Joanne, Riette Burdick* as Beezus, Lizzie O’hara* as Penny, Brittany Danielle* as Lulu, Danelle Medeiros as Babette, and Marc Baron Ginsburg* as the man.

*Member of Actors Equity Association

*This is an Equity Approved Production

For tickets and more information please click here.

Squeezed and in a pickle

Whoah. Gone since April.

What have I been doing?

Saving the youth of America. No, not really. But I have been teaching them how to sing, dance and act a little better. 

Hustling.

I've been hustling in the real world (as opposed to blogger world) in order to pay for my kids to go to summer camp, afford to go on vacation, and oh...eat.

We also have to buy a car. Ugh.

Not complaining. Or trying not to complain because I know in the vast expansiveness of the world I am rich. Definitely rich. But due to so many life choices, health, location, and every excuse known to man, we are feeling SQUEEZED. 

In fact if you have a second, take a listen to this Fresh Air interview about Alissa Quart's new book "Squeezed" about why America is getting too expensive for the middle class. In a nutshell the cost of housing, food, childcare, healthcare and daily living has far outpaced salaries. Better yet, maybe read her book.

Combine that reality with my lack of discipline and incredible ability to put my head in the sand mentality and I find myself and family in a pickle.

The good news: I'm really good at making money when in a pickle. 

I didn't say I know how to keep the money.  I said I know how to make it. 

Some people know how to budget. I have friends that count every penny in their savings, that know how to spend this not that.

Not me. 

I know how to spend $157 dollars at Whole Foods within ten minutes. It's a skill. Actually it's not a skill. Pretty easy to do actually. 

I also know how to put together an idea, throw together a website, create a short marketing campaign, charge what I believe I'm worth and sell 50+ spots at a summer camp that I put on this past June and one coming up in July.  

Boom. Done.

Trust me, it was and continues to b a lot of work. After I sold the 50 spots, I have to teach those 50 spots. 

My body pays for it. 

But now I have 50 more customers for future pickles. 

I've now multiplied that idea into a small school, with a focus and am doing it again this fall. I sold 12 spots in one day last week. Exciting. There's a need and I'm fulfilling that need. That makes me happy.

I'm working hard and I'm saving up for pickles.

There is something so uniquely satisfying about coming up with an idea, executing on it, and delivering above and beyond what I'm capable of and FINISHING it. Not always easy for someone like me. I created it and I (as Seth Godin, one of my gurus says), shipped it. 

Which leads me to my next thought. Am I an entrepreneur or a freelancer?

More on that soon. 

I gotta go eat some pickles.

Live in the problem: "Frame Storming" to come up with creative solutions

I am quick to come up with a solution for every problem. Are you?

I'm so quick that I often regret not thinking it through. Usually that's when I send an email too fast or fire off a text that I regret. 

I do this because I don't like to be uncomfortable and it's a defense mechanism to keep control.

But as I get older and have learned, (well okay been forced) to slow down I have started to enjoy living in the problem. 

Okay, let me restate that- I don't enjoy it. I don't love the feeling of not knowing an outcome right away. But I do see how giving a problem some space and time will make for a more creative solution in the end.

Although you may give up some control over the immediate outcome of the problem, if you can practice being in the "murkiness" your mind will begin to work out a way out of the problem. At least that is what's supposed to happen.

How can we apply this to creative life?

I'm currently trying to write the opening scene of a new show and it has not come to me yet. I have a loosey goosey image in my head of what I am heading towards. I would refer to it as a word cloud. Maybe a better image is a feelings cloud?

Regardless, I have lots of ideas floating about with no format.

My first instinct is to outline it, forcing myself to write out the beats moment to moment and just force the outcome.

This time, however, I think I'll try something else.

Have you heard of "FRAME STORMING"?

It's a version of brainstorming. Rather than generating new ideas, however, the focus is on generating new questions. Professor Tina Seelig of Stanford's D. School popularized this idea. 

Asking questions will force your brain to focus on what you don't know, rather than what you already know. Reframing a question helps you to see the opportunity in the problem.

In order to live in the problem longer and start asking question you need to have confidence that your subconscious mind will eventually work out a solution.

I'm gonna give it a try. Tonight I will write down 20 questions that I want to answer within my opening scene. This will most likely generate other questions and lead me to places I hadn't thought about.

Tomorrow, I'll let you know what questions I start asking my problem. I'll also let you know what my problems say in return.

They may just come up with a solution.

 

Empathy

When I was in eighth grade I participated in a mock trial.

I had to defend a man who was on trial for murder and up against the death penalty.

Pretty heavy for eighth grade I think to myself now, but looking back on it I remember being fully engaged in a lively discussion with my parents about my argument. I love a good argument. My parents taught me that, as did my extended family. 

I don't remember many details of the actual mock trial but I do remember this fact. This young man I was defending (a 20 year old who had murdered another human being on the streets) had been forcefully kicked out of his mother's womb by his father. His father literally kicked his mother so hard in the stomach that she went into labor and he was born premature.

My argument was that he never stood a chance in this world. 

He grew up in a circle of violence and repeated the exact world that he knew. It seemed pretty obvious to me even then that the world is not black and white. Privilege comes in many forms. Disadvantage is built layer by layer, as is shame, often resulting in catastrophe.

I can't remember if I won the mock trial. I hope I did.

Since eighth grade I've had a similar conversations with those who see the world as black and white.

But the world is not black and white. Decisions in life are often made in various shades of grey. 

I recently read Jon Ronson's "So You've Been Publicly Shamed."

This incredible book dives into the re-emergence of public shaming, mostly on the internet and is jaw droppingly motivating if you're considering cutting social media out of your world. 

Although the book references people who have gotten caught in sex rings, plagiarizing scandals, tweets gone horribly wrong, and exposes the scary "Mr. Robot" world that people in my kind of bubble don't even really know exists, it did more than that for me.

It reminded me of those shades of grey. It reminded me that it's important not to jump on the shaming bandwagon. It's very easy to see one side of the story. The story that fits into our narrative at the time. 

This book taught me the vital importance of empathy. It seems we have lost a sense of empathy as a collective. It seems to me that empathy is lost when we make things black and white. More and more things in life are becoming black and white. Our social media posts are filled with only the best of moments. Our pictures are filtered or at the very least we take 3, 10, sometime 100 shots to get the perfect one.

We do not show the in between. 

But it's the "in between" that I am interested in. I live in the "in between." You live in the "in between." The worst mistakes of my life do not define my character. The best choices of my life do not determine my success.

Life is made up of tiny increments of motivation, loss, and moments of push and pull. Now that those tiny moments can often be frozen in time for all of us to see and respond to, it seems to me that we all need to live, breathe, and teach one thing.
 

Empathy.

 
 
 

The Man Who Thought He Was Going To Die and the startling reality of placebo

A man was in a double blind drug trial and thought he was being treated with anti-depressants.

One night, depressed, he decided to take the bottle of medication in order to kill himself. His body started to shut down, he was rushed to the hospital where they started the IV and tried to get his body to stabilize. 

It took three doctors to convince the man that he had actually taken an entire bottle of sugar pills. It was only after he was finally convinced that his body started to restore.

The power of placebo is strong. I had no idea how strong. In fact there is a specific hierarchy to types of placebo.

From an article in psychologytoday.com:

  • Placebo surgery works better than placebo injections
  • Placebo injections work better over placebo pills
  • Sham acupuncture works better than a placebo pill
  • Capsules work better than tablets
  • Big pills work better than small
  • The more doses a day, the better
  • The more expensive, the better
  • The color of the pill makes a difference
  • If your doctor says "This WILL alleviate your pain" or "This WILL make you run faster" it works better than something more casual like "This could help you."

Here is the most exciting part that researchers have discovered

Even if you KNOW you are told you are receiving a placebo, your brain doesn't really know. That is because most of your brain doesn't speak English (or whatever language you speak). The parts of your brain that feels fear, guilt, or joy, thinks in pictures and associations as well as ritual.

If you're interested in learning more about how the brain "thinks" you can listen to an awesome podcast with Steven Pinker, who is the author of many books but he talks specifically about this concept in his book, "The Language Instinct." You can listen to that interview here.

Athletes have been injected with saline and told it was steroids and guess what? It made them run faster. Why? Their body believed.

So how can we apply this to creative life? 

Well one way is to literally buy a placebo pill and take it as a ritual. Does that sound ridiculous? It feels ridiculous to write it, but it seems to work. And guess what? They sell them. I know because I just bought some. I figure the $12.95 is worth the experiment. Here they are.

It also has a name. Open label placebo. The field of open label placebo is currently being explored as a way to treat opiate addictions, chronic pain and other diseases that are difficult to treat.

Placebo is about ritual and symbols. The brain connects the taking of a pill, (or acupuncture/pressure/massage) with a specific goal. It can help treat pain but it can also help treat writers block, mental agility, or perhaps you could apply it to learning piano. 

I believe if I gave a placebo to a singing student experiencing stage fright in auditions it would work.

Losing your breath on stage or in audition is such a mental game, I don't see how it couldn't help. 

Read about this man's experience with extreme writers block and using open label placebo to help him. You can find that article here.

I find that just fascinating enough to see if I can apply it to my life. My morning meditation feels partly placebo in that if I haven't done it that morning I feel off. I've also started to have a cup of vegetable soup with each meal, morning, noon and night with the goal of instructing my body to heal itself from the inside out. 

Granted, that's not all placebo. Drinking dense vegetable soup three times daily is obviously going to have physiological effects on my body. But what if I connected the ritual of drinking soup to a mental image of it moving through my body and "patching" up all the rough spots. Would I get less sick?

What if I bought a specific type of tea that I drank daily 30 minutes before working on my play? Would I be more productive and focused? 

I'm not sure but it's worth the experiment. I'll report back!

 

Just Think of This Day- song two of the week

I am starting a new project today.

I'm aiming to write three songs a week. Here's my second this week. 

I started with the mantra I say each day as I meditate "I am light" and "I am healthy and focused and sure" and went from there. 

SAY I'M LIGHT

SAY I’M HEALTHY AND FOCUSED AND SURE

THOUGH I MIGHT

GO OFF THE COURSE SOMETIMES

KEEP MY SIGHTS ON SOMETHING TO CURE

SAY I’M STRONG

I’LL KEEP STEADY I’M READY THIS TIME

THOUGH IT’S HARD TO HANDLE THE WAVES

AS THEY KEEP ROLLING THROUGH

KEEP MY EYE ON THE PRIZE IT’S MINE


I SLIP OFF THE TRACK

IT’S A SLICK TRICK I KNOW

BUT THERE’S NO GOING BACK

GOTTA STAY IN THE FLOW

THOUGH IT’S EASY TO RACE

IT’S MY MIND THAT’LL PAY

DON’T KNOW WHAT’S NEXT I’LL CHASE

SO JUST THINK OF THIS DAY

SO IT WON’T START TO RACE

The state of flow and the S-town song

I had a pretty sucky day yesterday.

In the evening though I got it together enough to continue work on a song that I wrote one month ago on a rainy Sunday.

I didn't write the song for any other reason than I was inspired by the podcast S-Town about a man named John who desperately hates the town he lives in but can't seem to find his way out. Until he does. I'll leave it at that in case you haven't heard it. 

To listen click here. You won't be sorry.

Looking for some inspiration to practice my writing skills I gave myself a 1/2 hour to write the lyrics. I wanted to practice writing the same way I choreograph, quickly and with little hesitation. That was the only reason for the time limit. In the end I probably spent about an hour on the lyrics. I wasn't able to do it in a half hour but that's probably better.

I ran out of time that day so after writing the lyrics I only had time to jot down a few chords and get the basic sound I wanted. Last night as it was pouring down rain and I was feeling rather maudlin (the feel of S-town) so I sat down at the piano and attempted part two of the song. 

An hour flew by.

I felt cleansed.

I didn't think of anything else but singing and playing and enjoying myself in that moment. There is no attachment to the song. I am not writing for some end result. It is just practice. Creative practice for the sake of practice. Something I rarely allow myself to do when meeting deadlines or other peoples ideas of creativity.

I've studied flow in the past and I can achieve a state of flow relatively easy when I'm singing, dancing, or playing the piano. Since I know flow is a relatively easy state for me to achieve I guess I have to ask why I don't do it more often?

Especially when you consider the research.

Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile and author of "The Progress Principle", concludes people who reach a flow state can feel the effects of productivity, creativity and happiness for up to three days later. Three days?! Well that sounds worth it!

The guy who literally wrote the book on flow not so ironically called "Finding Flow" is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (Easy for you to say LOL.) Here's what he say about how we find flow.

“Flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

When I write music I feel as if I am doing something very natural. At the same time, I am not that great at the piano. I hang on for dear life as I play trying to will myself to find new and interesting chords. Layering in the chords, the lyrics and finally the melody I feel like I'm doing one giant crossword puzzle and the result is a state of flow.

The end result is creative contentment. 

There are ten factors that are involved in a state of flow.

1. Having clear goals about what you want to achieve
2. Concentration and focus
3. Participating in an intrinsically rewarding activity
4. Losing feelings of self-consciousness
5. Timelessness; losing track of time passing
6. Being able to immediately judge your own progress; instant feedback on your performance
7. Knowing that your skills align with the goals of the task
8. Feeling control over the situation and the outcome
9. Lack of awareness of physical needs
10. Complete focus on the activity itself

Csikszentmihalyi's book is quite dense, fyi. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read it but full disclosure I only got through about 1/2 and then supplemented with a few podcasts, some blog posts and his TED talk which you can listen here.

Here is the song I worked on today. For now I'll call it "Take what you want". 

The below books are affiliate links which means I get a kickback from Amazon at no charge to you! Thanks for your support!

Wires crossed and the panic sets in

As of Friday night I am off any "brain" medication. 

I've weaned off of it over a month.

I'll just say eek, it's not starting off great. This is a test to see how my brain does. Does it go back to manic thinking, crossing wires, with little to zero focus? 

Yes I think it does.

Let me tell you a little about what it feels like.

Imagine having a conversation with someone and then having a third person change the subject about every 30 seconds.

Now imagine a fourth person coming into the conversation and every minute or so saying "this is totally normal, you're just making it up, keep working."

It's like that.

I spend a lot of my time thinking that the various doctors are wrong. That psychiatry is wrong. That because you can't measure a persons brain waves, I'm making this all up. 

I'm in a conundrum because a fairly large part of me feels like this past year was a complete fluke. That it was all hormonal and sort of one bad dream. That's what some people in my life think. 

I'll be honest, to be quite frank I'm a little worried I'm never going to be able to work on my own again. Hopefully I'm just being dramatic.

I thought long and hard about this blog post. What should I write about? What should I research? Then a little light went on in my head. Hmm...I'm not on any medication. 

Have I really lost my focus that quickly? Is it psychosomatic?

Followed by...

Shit.

So, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take the pressure off myself. I'm going to do a midday meditation, have some tea and take some frickin' pressure off. 

That is all. 

 

 

 

Perfect posture for an aligned life

Alignment: To arrange in a straight line, or in the correct and appropriate relative positions.

I'm working hard to dedicate myself to core principles that help me align my mind, body, and soul.

We do yoga, pilates, core strength, Feldenkrais, Bosu Ball, wobble board and so many other techniques to get our body into alignment. Why?

From Chiro.org

"Improper body alignment limits function, and thus it is a concern of everyone regardless of occupation, activities, environment, body type, sex, or age."

Body alignment refers to how we stand, sit, and walk, but what if we apply this concept to our lives?

Just like an out of alignment body will limit your function, so too will an out of balanced life. 

Being out of alignment will

  • skew your outcome.
  • slow you down your growth.
  • result in mistakes and often injury.

We can properly align our spines by engaging different muscles in order to find the best posture for our bodies.

Does it come overnight? Is it the same for everyone? Do we use each muscle the same amount?

No. No. And no.

Learning how to properly stand or sit takes time and effort.

In order to sit correctly over a period of time you need to use a balance of lower back muscles combined with engagement of your lower abdominals. If you're used to slouching over at your desk this may feel difficult and uncomfortable at first but over a period of time it begins to feel right.  Aligned.

We have to find our "best life posture" in our daily lives in order to work towards a perfectly aligned life.

From Physopedia.com

"Posture is attained as a result of coordinated action of various muscles working to maintain stability."

I find my best "life posture" is attained when I engage each of my "life core muscles" during my day. Each one of us has a different set of life core muscles. They will change over time depending on life circumstances, health, and age. I've had difficulty learning when to adjust my core muscles. Trust me, it becomes more obvious in your 40's and as you get older. The good news though is that you get better at the practice with age.

Currently these are my seven life core muscles:

  • Focus
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Learning
  • Thinking
  • Creation
  • Rest

Keeping these seven life core muscles working together isn't easy for me because I've made a habit of busy days, procrastination, skipping step, taking shortcuts and working one life core muscle too hard over another. If I do this I get sick, depressed, manic, testy, pudgy, or too thin, and also don't sleep. The stakes for me are pretty high.

If I pay attention to each life core muscle I achieve a balanced day.

The more I learn to engage these life core muscles I am able develop a practice which results in personal and professional growth.

On my most focused days I try to work my life core muscles in a certain order.  That "almost" perfectly aligned day looks like this.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 1: FOCUS 

6 am: 20 minute morning meditation followed by a reward of a mug of tea curled up in bed with the morning news while I wait for the kids to get up. Linking my meditation to a cozy reward has really worked for me.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 2: EXERCISE

9 or 10 am: One hour of exercise, usually a group dance class so I can engage with others and feel part of a community.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 3: NUTRITION 

11 am: I think about food for the day. I am learning that in my 40's my body feels best when I eat small meals, about 150-200 calories at a time. I try to nourish my body before it enters the out of control hunger phase. If I don't I quickly drop out of alignment which literally shows up immediately as my stomach bloats and then will remain for the rest of the day. Nutrition is one of the most difficult muscles for me to keep under control, so I am working on minuscule alignment adjustments to help myself stay engaged.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 4: LEARNING

Mid morning: While I do my daily chores of walking the dog, kitchen clean up, cooking and tidying the house, I am usually listening to a book or a podcast. This is my daily "learning" and it helps my brain mull over what I will create that day or later on in the week, or maybe in the upcoming year. I enjoy learning, which I never really did as a child. The difference as an adult is that I focus on what interests me.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 5: THINKING

Midday: This is a new muscle for me. I am working the practice of being an original thinker. I try to take ten minutes in the middle of the day while I sit and think with a pad and a paper and idea generate. You could call it an idea brainstorm or in my case a brain dump. I have so many ideas in my head. If I write them down while not putting much pressure on what the ideas or thoughts are but instead just flex that muscle I feel more whole.

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 6: CREATION

After lunch I take time to create. Currently my daily blog post plus one more creation that I'm "allowed" to work on. I've allowed myself only one other project at a tim(30 days at a time) in order to keep my mind in alignment. If I allow myself to do more it will immediately throw something else out of alignment. My second creation that day has to be kept small and succinct. If I want it to be a large project overall, it will have to become that over the month or the year, not in that day! That would be working too many muscles!

LIFE CORE MUSCLE 7: REST 

This doesn't mean literal rest although it could mean that. This is a difficult muscle for me. I tend to want to multitask and continue working other muscles while I'm supposed to be giving my mind and body a rest. If I have stayed mostly in alignment in the beginning of the day I have an easier time letting myself rest. Regardless, I have to pick up kids at 3 so trying to use any of my other life core muscles at that point is fairly useless. I need to focus on helping my kids work their core muscles. While they play, or practice guitar, or draw, eat, complain, or whatever it is kids do, I try to either do it with them or I read a book, lie down for a bit, relieve my mind of thinking about the other core muscles. If I don't give myself a break I start to obsess and get out of alignment.

Of course the days vary. I gave you my best day. Sometimes I have to go to the doctor, a hair appointment, or a dance class that's at 5 pm not 10 am. In that case I restructure my day to allow myself to address each life core muscle.

Do I fail? Yes! All the time. But as I practice more and more each day I start to feel those uncomfortable muscles becoming stronger. As a result I start to click.

Your life core muscles may be way different than mine. You may find that you can start with mine and then build upon that. Some of your muscles might be underdeveloped and some may be overdeveloped. Some may be just right.

Remember the goal! Find your own best life posture through engaging your life core muscles daily in order to work towards your perfect life alignment.

Now I have a question for ya. Are you sitting up straight?

It's a hit! Oh wait...nevermind.

Most of my professional creative life I've been thinking about my big "hit".

It's a little embarrassing to admit that but because this blog is about creative self reflection with the intent of helping others at my expense, I'll go ahead admit that.

My quest for "the hit" has been in several different arenas, resulting in a wide body of work but lacking consistency. 

My closest hit thus far has probably been the publishing and Los Angeles premier of Real Housewives The Musical. I wrote it to be a hit. 

It was not a hit.

It's good and I'm proud of it. Admittedly it was not going to change the world and that was never the intention. The aim was to make a light hearted musical comedy based on a brand that is a...what?

A hit.

There is a common trend among hit books, movies (barring franchises), indie films, viral videos, blog posts, or breakout music. Most of them are surprise hits. The author is often surprised that they became popular.

Still the quest for writing a hit seems to be a trend among most creatives wanting to break in.

I ask these two questions of myself.

  • Do I want to write a hit to be noticed?
  • Do I want to write a hit for the money?

Answer: I want to write a hit in order to be noticed, in order to make money, in order to be able to do the work again.

Let me ask another question.

  • Would I rather write a wildly popular hit that paid me, oh I don't know, three million dollars and never work again OR produce a somewhat popular mid-sized bump of something that gives me 1000 true fans that would allow me to create a body of work over time?

Answer: I'll take the 1000 fans.

  • Would I want both?

Answer: Yes, obviously, but that's just not very realistic.

If my ego wasn't involved would my creative mind would be satisfied with the daily process of creation?

No. I'm not interested in being part of the longest tail in the equation. I aim to be in the middle of the tail so I can actually make a living. Don't know about the long tail? Read about it here. 

I don't need to make a ton of money. I do need to make money. I also need to make the money I believe I am talented enough to make. It is after all what makes me a professional creative by definition. 

Here's what I know.

If you spend all your time thinking about writing a hit then you may miss the nuance, the quirk, the individualism you bring to your creative project.

A majority of people buy one or two books a year. Did you know that? That seems low doesn't it? 

The point is, if most people buy ONE book during the course of the year, what are the chances that they're going to buy YOUR book? 

Perhaps you're better off creating a body of work that 1000 people will buy? It's the theory of 1000 true fans by Kevin Kelly. Read about that here.

Those 1000 people will tell their friends and it becomes 3000, and then 10,000.

Then you got yourself a career. 

You may even become an international best selling author like my friend Lyndsay.

Lyndsay Faye is a great example of this. In 2004 Lindsay and I did the world premier of Andrew Lippa's "A Little Princess" at Theatreworks Silicon Valley. She is a ridiculously talented pop and opera singer but along the course of her career found out that she is a kick ass novelist who has made her amazingly steady career within the niche world of mystery novels. 

This is not the story of a hit.

This is the story of a young actress who moved to New York and found herself with free days because her day job restaurant was knocked down by bulldozers. She started to write and launched herself into an almost seventeen year career as a novelist.

How did she do that? 

I'm guessing she didn't set off to write a hit. She set off on a creative pursuit. She loved Sherlock Holmes as a child and turned that passion into a full fledged career. Five books later and nine short stories later her career is on fire. Her latest book, Jane Steele reimagines the victorian character Jane Eyre as a killer who strikes out at men who have abused her. Amazing right?!  The movie rights to Jane Steele have been purchased by movie producer Chris Columbus. Exciting!

Lyndsay is a reminder to keep your eye on the work rather than the outcome. Sure, it takes an extreme amount of focus, solitude and discipline but it makes for a much more dynamic body of work.

If it produces a hit in the process? Well all the better!

Now let's get back to work.


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I'm not that smart: this weeks lesson from therapy

I vividly remember my third grade year in elementary. 

I stared at the page of multiplication facts, three rows wide and five facts long. My teacher, a pretty brunette who I once saw at a grocery store and was fascinated that she had an actual life says "Alright, two minutes on the clock and...begin."

I guessed every single fact on that sheet. 8x6? 43 sounds good. 7x5? How about 29. I didn't even try to use any sort of logic. I just filled in the slots.

I always wonder what nugget will emerge from my weekly therapy.

Unless something is really pressing I often go in thinking I'll have nothing to talk about. As if my life is so completely figured out. Uh yeah, right.

There is always some little piece of wisdom that comes from her and sometimes, if I dare say it, me.

Today I found out that I don't think I'm smart.

My Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Clang, wanted to hold me back but my mom wasn't having it. So I moved schools, learned to read by feeling felt letters and then tested into the GATE program where we did cool things like plan a city, dissect a frog and solve world problems. I thrived.

That program ended and back to the memorization, reading and stuff I wasn't generally that interested in. 

I struggled. I didn't fail, I was just sort of mediocre. Summer into Sophomore year I was supposed to read "King Arthur." So I rented "Camelot" the musical at Blockbuster Video, fell asleep and failed the test the first day of school.  I managed to graduate with a 2.9. Not that bad. Not that good. I now watch my nieces and nephews in all these A.P. classes with amazement. 

What can I say? I don't know if I was just uninterested or not all that smart. A little of both maybe.

When I got into performing arts school I became immediately motivated. It was through the lens of what I love to do that I learned how to learn. I learned how to do math, read Shakespeare, to reason, to debate, to strive, and in the end, excel.

Still something still nags at me.

For the most part when I create or idea generate I'm building upon other peoples ideas. I emulate and sometimes reorganize in order to create my own piece of content. I think this is a completely valid way of learning. It's how I taught myself how to sing, dance, and write. 

But now as I begin to put together the ideas that are uniquely mine I start to seize up. I am afraid. I hear the authority figures in my mind saying "that's not the way it's done." 

As an adult I carry with me the mantra in my head that I'm not smart and today I made the connection that I have carried that into my creative life. 

I know I'm not alone.

I know this as a common problem among those who create. I've known for a long time that fear was holding me back from my potential. It's not been a secret to me that as a child I didn't feel smart. 

I guess it was today that I was able to put the two together. 

It seems so simple. Simple yet profound.

Of course I asked my therapist how I go about getting rid of that thought.

Obviously she told me that's not possible.

She said it's built into me like firmware is built into a computer.

"So what do I do?" I asked.

"You just notice it." She responded.

"That's it?" I said annoyed.

"You just notice it. You want to fight it, but the more you fight it, it fights back. You just need to acknowledge it and see what happens. You need to love that part of yourself."

I said "I'm a lover not a fighter," and laughed at the Michael Jackson reference. I don't think she got it.

She's right. My go to is to fight. When I'm off balance I fight for injustice, I argue to extreme, I insist on someone thinking I'm right. My body fights when it gets sick and I panic often making myself sicker. I struggle to think that I can't change people, or make them my friend, or help them before the hurt themselves more. 

So what happens if I stop fighting myself? What sort of pressure will that relieve? Can I circumvent the firmware inside me?

I don't know. That would be thinking about it too much. Today I will only do what she says.

I will simply notice.

Do you have to be an a$$hole to be a creative genius?

Today I am talking about assholes.

Everyone's got em' but you don't have to be one. (Sorry...not dainty enough?)

I've just listened to an uncomfortable interview with the original TED founder Richard Saul Wurman on Design Matters with Debbie Millman. He sold TED (Technology Education Design) to Chris Anderson in 2002. Thank god.

My first opinion, he's an asshole. 

My second opinion, he is a creative genius.

My third opinion, being an asshole is the lazy mans way of achieving greatness. 

I know it seems contrary to call people like Ernest Hemingway, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, perhaps Kanye West and maybe Jeff Bezos, lazy.  (I don't really know that Jeff is an asshole to be honest, but there is an Entrepreneur.com article on him entitled "Why it pays to be a jerk like Jeff Bezos" so sounds like I'm on the right track.

In my mind being a creative genius does not give you a pass to be a jerk.

Call me idealistic but I'm of the belief that a true creative genius can find a way to make huge leaps, take decisive action, have the confidence to break out of the mold and in turn share that confidence out into the world in order to encourage others to innovate and share. Art is built upon art. There is plenty of innovation to go around and it seems like you would get more done if you had people on your side during the process. That doesn't mean you have to be small, overbearingly gracious, or quiet. You just don't need to ruin everyone else's life in the process of solving the worlds problems. 

Back to Richard Saul who recounted that neither the principal of his high-school nor any of the teachers shook his hand at graduation. He said it was because they knew he was smarter than all of them.

If we asked his teachers why they wouldn't shake his hand I'm guessing they'd respond "Because he was an asshole."

This directly ties into my post yesterday about having a happy versus meaningful life. If I were to ask Richard Saul whether or not he lived a happy or meaningful life he would most likely respond by saying that was a stupid question. (That's how he responded to many of Debbie Millman's questions.)

This jerkish response has something behind it that seems obvious to me.

People who are confronted with their own accountability turn those types of questions around on the other person when they feel fear. I've had this experience with people in my life and naturally I've had my own moments of assholery. When I have acted this way it is always out of fear. 

Here is something interesting.

Although narcissist types tend to identify themselves as highly creative, a 2010 Cornell and Stanford study suggests that narcissists are no more creative than the rest of us BUT they tend to fake it better than the majority. That make sense. Fake it till ya make it.

It has also been shown that being a jerk within a group does hinder creativity in the long run.

Assholes tend to rise to the top because their confidence overwhelms the room. They use dominance, authority, and their lack of empathy to fool people into thinking they are good leaders.

Admittedly, I've done that before.

Would the TED conferences be as successful today if Richard Saul Wurman were still in charge? No way. TED is all about the free exchange of ideas. 

Still, as I write this I'm not convinced that the world doesn't need these asshole types of people to push us forward in the world. 

But to feel better about humanity it's good to note that Charles Darwin was considered a really nice guy. I don't know, that just makes me feel better.

I think we will see a downward trend of assholes in creative leadership because you can't get away with anything on the internet anymore. It's accountability on a massive stage. Just as we've seen with the #metoo and #timesup movements, I think the creative leaders of the world will suddenly find themselves held accountable. 

Let's hope so.