I did not come pre-package with musical aptitude. In fifth grade, I joined my elementary school’s orchestra. I played violin. I practiced more than most classmates and was understanding things enough that I wanted to learn how to tune my violin.
The orchestra teacher said, “No!”
Not just a soft “no,” but a stern “No!” that made the entire thing seem like he loathed his job, children, and maybe even music. (I’m sure that’s not the case…I have to at least believe he liked music.)
Feeling like a bother (and not liking the man at all), I handed in my violin and never played another instrument for decades.
Enter the Ukulele
One day while listening to Still Untitled: the Adam Savage Project (podcast), Mythbusters’ Adam Savage talked about how he keeps a ukulele in his office because, when he needs to think (but not actively think), he likes strumming on a ukulele.
He said something to the effect of simply playing a few chords relaxes him and helps him clear his mind. Solutions to things are often revealed in those moments…much like how ideas come to people while doing the dishes. That act of doing something else and letting the subconscious do its thing can often be all one needs.
So I bought a ukulele for my birthday a few years ago…all so I could play a few chords.
A few chords were not enough. I learned to play some songs on the ukulele. And I knew if I practiced regularly that I could play much more. Hell, I might even learn how to read music and other things that always seemed foreign to me. Why…I might even buy another instrument and learn to play it!
To that point, I bought a mandolin a few weeks ago. I can now play a handful of chords and totally pluck away at “Dirty Old Town” and “Crested Hens.” Not very well, mind you, but well enough that I have played along with my wife (who plays harp and fiddle…among other instruments).
This is a thing I will “get” … like writing, juggling, and other things I do.
James Kochalka On Creativity
Kochalka is a cartoonist, and what he has to say about being creative is interesting.
If you’re not wanting to watch (or unable to), the gist is that creative people seems to be good at other creative things…that once creative people let go of the fear around what they do, they can leap to other creative things with relative ease.
I agree with that, but not simply because I believe creativity begets creativity. In fact, I’m not in love with creativity. Even though I do creative things, I don’t believe I’m particularly creative. There are no colorful explosions in my head, and it’s not like I crave being part of a creative community. (When it comes to truly creative people who are on all the time, I want to run away.)
The Fear of It All
I think Kolchalka is right about fear: when people carry it, they don’t create.
At work, I see people who are very uncomfortable “being wrong” … so they hold fifty meetings to get “buy in” and kill genuinely good things because they are afraid to release something different than the usual bland PowerPoint presentation. Wonderful things are often destroyed by committee.
I see that fear around me in many people I know…and I tend to hang out with people who pursue the things they want to do.
Fear can be crippling. But I think there’s a way to drop that fear…
Doing the Work
I don’t think creative people have some magical Muse whispering to them, making them different than others. I think those we deem creative are simply more willing to do the work…especially the tedious work.
Most people I see who want to paint…give up because they don’t produce a great painting in their first 1 – 10 times out. If you’re afraid of making a mistake or looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s unlikely you’re going to spend the time producing the uglier work early on that’s necessary to create something beautiful down the line.
I think the transfer of one creative field to another Kolchalka talks about is a familiarity with the tedious parts of things. You know creating even the things you love most come with moments that make you think, “Not this part of the process…I don’t like this part…” so you are willing to push through that when learning a new thing.
You do the thing that stops many people from creating because you’ve done it so many times before.
Back to the Mandolin
Writing a novel takes me a while, so…learning an instrument isn’t bad because I’m willing to put in the work to get there. I don’t get frustrated when it’s tedious — I revel in knowing I will soon do a thing I’ve always wanted to do.
It’s all about stomaching the drudgery.
When people who can do that leap to another thing, it’s like, “Oh…I have a long way to go, but I’ve been here before. The sooner I put in the work, the sooner I get decent enough…and maybe even good.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s lunch break and I have a couple tunes to play through before doing a little more writing…