Monthly Archives: January 2012

Why? Why are you doing this?

What do you want?

I know what I want, and I’ve written extensively about it on this site. But when I give myself the time to zoom out, I realize that the things I want for myself don’t benefit the situation much. I practice violin every day in the hope that I will become good enough to perform for a living. But how does this add to the betterment of humankind? Should I be at all concerned about it? If anything, creating such a public life surely serves up another dish of distraction. Is it what we really need? I question the morality of doing what I’m doing, and the argument goes back and forth in my mind. The ultimate decision is reached by feeling, not thought.

Slowly getting better at doing something you enjoy is a rare life privilege. Having a life goal spread out above all the fragmented avenues of your everyday being like an umbrella shields you from some of the disappointments and painful times in life. Having something to hold onto, the faith that comes with focused direction, energizes you in a way nothing else can. It’s unique. Other elements of your life can be in pieces, and many artists have let their life fall apart for the sake of the pursuit of perfection. I call it taking aim.

Taking aim reminds you that the bow is in your hands. You are able to quit your addictions in order to fulfill your direction. You have the strength to overcome your weaknesses, to repair your damages, to extract gold from the mine of your life. Every day you have a growing willingness to go deeper, to challenge your fear, to step forward in courage and proclaim that you are here, and this is what you do. How good you do it is secondary to how enthusiastically you do it.

But I’m tethered to doubt, and even this insightful spark sometimes makes me wonder why. After all, who really benefits from my efforts? Isn’t there enough stuff in the world? How is my making another music album and performing everywhere going to call into being the greater picture, the one required to at least in part change the way things are for the good? Under what circumstances will I be able to look back on my life one day and say I did it right?

I think at the heart of this is the almost academic need to do it the right way, to get it right rather than doing what I want the best I can.

I feel that creativity is a large part of my future, even though my occupations have almost always said otherwise. The music I am privileged to handle, like a precious antique vase that doesn’t belong to me, this is the weapon which I must use in order to change the way individuals think. I have a unique way to be invited into people’s homes, to embed song with thought-provoking lyric and to change the hearts of those who need it. All of these gifts have belong to musicians. It’s a powerful tool for change. I want to use it to be the agent of change, to alter things that seem old-fashioned, immoral or otherwise unwelcome in the present day. Particularly, I want to use this sacred item to create more opportunities to connect with strangers, even if only for a minute. To remind the passers-by that there are roses on the roadsides. That only fools rush forward the hands of the clock. I want the art I make to emphatically draw your attention to the master cogs in the clockwork of your life.

There is no longer any excuse for purely self-serving behavior. Everyone feels the coming changes, even the isolated Amazonian tribes who only recently have begun to witness large birds of steel, they feel the coming change. Every person alive today has to be more aware of the ongoing liquidation of our stable political and social norms. Revolution by Twitter? Man-machine hybrids? Climate change? The neural network of the planet is rapidly tightening, the apocalypse (“lifting of the veil”) is near, however you want to say it. Something big is happening, and me and my little violin have ¬†wrench this awareness from the background of my mind through self-examination, and to place it in central view, to scrutinize it thoroughly and to ask myself and others, why is the awareness of an huge¬†impending change not going away? This awareness needs to translate into motivation, and I feel that at present, my motivations are changing from purely self-serving (get a show, make money, be well known, achieve my dreams) to accommodate the impact that this anonymous new visitor will bring. I feel that living life in anticipation of this change has multiple benefits. I will not be caught unawares as to the fluidity of my circumstances. I will not become complacent, and lose my passion, my ambition to ride this wave of change. I will be more interested in the proliferation of my art, how it travels into the hearts and minds of others. Not in a vain way, but as a way of remaining inspired, to understand that there’s a difference between showing people a good time and really challenging them to make more eye contact in life, to open their spirits and to maximize their time.

Quit searching for distraction. There’s a host of passions awaiting you, everything from creating fruit salads to researching the rules of forgotten Polynesian stick games. Surprise yourself with action. Change a habit. Start small. Imagine a situation where you aren’t just tired after work, and addicted to a TV series. Imagine you closed your eyes for a whole hour, and just sensed your surroundings like that for a change. Imagine you called a few friends up and suggested you all do something you’ve never done. There are too many ideas out there, but our focus has narrowed, we’ve been desensitized to our potential, and it sometimes seems that the world around you is entropic, encouraging you to wind down as you get older. There are other forces to be called upon! Not all of them are as easy to follow, but when you make effort to surround yourself in the fantastic, the magical, the visceral, your spirit begins to generate this energy for itself. This means reprogramming yourself. If you find yourself saying, “that’s difficult,” or “that’s for someone else, someone younger, someone freer, someone more XYZ,” then this is the first line of defense against your rejuvenation which needs to fall. Take a chance. Be wrong. Empower yourself to be more than just the stories you keep retelling.

I have my own doubts, but I write “murder doubt” on the walls, and every time I see it I see the desire to become even more light-footed. My constant criticism of writing like this is based in my self-doubt. They’re only words. Other people won’t respond. They’ll criticize, or worse, they’ll ignore them, leaving me wondering if I’m the village idiot nobody wants to be seen talking to. These fears have repressed so much valuable creative energy over time that I now feel like I’m going to spend the rest of my life playing catch-up! The philosophy which I iterate here has nothing to do with your talents, your looks, your abilities, your wealth, your popularity. It’s the great democratic decree of fulfillment, which means that nobody really has an legitimate excuse for not wrenching themselves from the floor of complacency and trying something new. I really believe that – young, old – quit reminding yourself why you can’t be what you want, and take that first step, the riskiest one. Step out and challenge life to deal with you, instead of waiting for the next life test to come along. Write the tests! Control your future by creating the demons you will have to face.

For example, I fear failure. I fear doing my best, and it’s just not good enough. The pain is the same, but at some point I will have to face it. So the way to own it is to fail, willingly, always. Aim to fail. Pitch your fighter jet at the ground and do a nosedive. You’ll die, more than once, and you’ll get good at it. You’ll fail so well that you’ll get over it. And now nothing can stop you. It ends up being almost a waiting game: if I continue doing this the way I do it, to the best of my ability, without fear of hitting the ground, then someday the world will respond in the form of a person or action that begins offering support for your task and continues it for as long as you continue doing. But more important than even reaching that point is the life you’ve created by taking to task all the demons in the dark, unchallenged corners of your life. Now your hand is on the wheel.

I feel I could write all night, but unfortunately I have a plane to catch because I’m going back to South Africa. If I am as inspired to continue, I will place a link to a follow-up post here. If I die on the plane, I have lived as fully as I wanted to with no regrets and am very thankful for that. If I get out the other side, I hope Cape Town is ready for Hurricane Fun.

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Energy revelation

The energy you’ve borrowed to create your art comes from a limitless source. Your challenge is to increase the amount you’re able to carry at a time.

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Actualization

I dream daily. In my dream, I can play the violin well. I can play the guitar well, and the piano too. I can pinpoint an interval between two, three, four notes and play it effortlessly. I can sight-read sheet music. I know the all the major and minor scale positions on the guitar. I weave through them like a sewing machine, mechanically obedient, leaving the door to stylistic interpretation wide open. I can feel the music, not just play it.

In my dream, if someone were to say to me, “How does the Moonlight Sonata go?” I could instantly play it on one of these three instruments without error or hesitation. There is no mediation of the sound, it just appears without being conceived, bypassing the rational mind and making its way straight to the fingers. I have practiced for thousands and thousands of hours to get here.

I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve this dream. Perhaps just part of it.

I want to know modes, and feel the emotion of Dorian minors. I want to understand Pythagorean tuning. I want to have an acute awareness of harmonics, to use them delicately.

I want to play in a string quartet, sing my heart out to people who know the words, play guitar in an dance band, experiment with field recording, binaural recording. I want to have production freehold, to know the sounds before they happen. I want my music mixed and mastered by professionals. I want a soundproof chamber with a lock on the door and six months to find myself.

I want to meet strange people in foreign places and let the music do the talking. I want to play the Egyptian Oud. I want to play in the streets for joy and speak the pentatonic scale fluently. I want to awaken the repressed, intimate, primal soul of the human through the art of making music.

It seems that I have an unquenchable thirst for maximising this life while I have it.

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Honest, Logical Confessions

I have a hard work ethic that goes something like this: The harder you work, the better the result. This is not always true, and I still have to learn to put aside things that are wasting my time (often favors for friends) and focus on getting the job done, rather than just doing it because I believe I’m living out my chosen lifestyle. What are you actually trying to make?

I want to be exceptional because my family always paid more attention (love) to me when I was being funny and performing. I often feel I have to earn people’s affection. As a result, I expect other people to earn mine. I have turned emotion into a currency in which I trade.

I find mediocrity unacceptable and I feel cut out for something greater. This ambition can both inspire and enslave me because I don’t know what else I would be doing if I wasn’t working on being a musician / performer.

I don’t consider myself exceptional deep inside, but I feel the need to play this part in order to keep up with the expectations I’ve placed on myself. I am constantly worried that I am not good enough, and I am very sensitive to the reactions I get from other people. I am under their control when I gauge the quality of my work / performance alongside the reaction (or lack thereof) of the small public circle I can call my friends and fans.

I am preoccupied with growing the number of people who pay attention to my work. This habit often takes over the work itself. I am envious of people who have achieved greater numbers of fans than I have, even if their work is less inspiring, artistic or meaningful. I particularly look down on the overabundance of DJs who release mixes of music which they didn’t write, and of producers who use samples of popular music alongside their own meagre efforts in order to make their releases glow. I often enviously regard both of these practices as a failure to live up to the title of art.

I am, of course, both of these people, too. But I can’t admit that to myself very easily.

When I witness these thoughts within myself, I am overcome with bitterness and I hate the fact that other people’s work is even something I am forced to compare myself to in order to get noticed, and thereby achieve my sense of satisfaction. I would like to be free of these feelings of jealousy and realize what I need to so that I can love my own work more than I hate others’. I act like a purist, an elitist, exclusive. As if my work is better because it took longer to make, or because I play the violin and you only copy other people’s music. Or because I practice guitar every day and you just throw together a DJ mix once a month and many more people notice and love you more for doing something easier.

I want to realize that many of these same people have the power to disarm my negativity, simply because they do respect me as an artist. They haven’t said it because they haven’t met me yet, but as I continue to perform and spread my story, the same people I share the circle with will step back and admit to themselves that they can’t do what I do, and that I am truly inspiring. Many of them already have said similar things, in their own words, and it always leaves me feeling humbled. My ego, my demand for recognition sometimes consumes the actual work itself, and I want to be free of it.

I am ready to release the negative feelings I have for the individuals who I falsely perceive as threatening my artistic security. I want to find my tribe, and hear them daily. I have chosen a path with no guarantees. I am fully aware that the odds are against me, that the world has no obligation to reward me for everything I’ve done. I accept that I may be teaching and hit 45 some day and say, well, I’ve been giving it my best shot and I am still not able to make a living as a musician. That’s a possibility. The other possibility is that it does happen, and perhaps then I will see the value of these days, having a secure job instead of the unreliable musician’s life. There are ways that my thinking will change.

In summary, I have to change the source of my satisfaction. It still comes from the outside. I want my reward to be inward, something that can not be given or taken away. I want to be free of the desire for affection and attention. I want to leave behind a record of songs and artwork which doesn’t have to exist once I no longer do.