Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deep Creativity

We multi-task our days away in a whirlwind of keyboard activity, and we’re even programmed to enjoy our interruptions-- that’s what the researchers have discovered. Interruptions increase adrenaline and the kick is addicting says author Maggie Jackson in her new book “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age”. We’d rather get an email or a Tweet than focus deeply on anything because the short-term rewards are greater.

This got me thinking about my own distracted life, and about the music I often hear. Most of the time I get the impression that the writer of a song I’m listening to has not experienced deep creativity at all, but has rather effortlessly jotted down his/her first thoughts about a subject in rhyme/stanza form. Sometimes it isn’t bad, but rarely does it move me. Yet, there is a level of creative concentration at which truth and emotion get tapped. This depth can be reached as a result of a sudden plunge (an event or an emotionally over-wrought time in a writer’s life), or it may require some digging and focus to arrive at the artery that leads to the heart.

My own experiences with deep creativity were numerous in the days when I was not part of Internet culture. They have diminished proportionally with my immersion in e-promotion, e-commerce, email, e-distraction. There were long beautiful days in the 1990s when time was all but meaningless. I would dive into a song idea early in the morning and come up for air in the early afternoon just long enough for 30 minutes of laps in the pool at the local recreation center. Then I couldn’t wait to get back to it. It was heaven for me and I wonder why I have so thoughtlessly subscribed to this invasive never-out-of-touch culture at the expense of my deeper creative life. Could it be I’m afraid I’ll miss something? The problem is, I am missing something—my deep creative experience.

This doesn’t just apply to lyrics. Sometimes I’m working on the music and it’s as if I’m trying to crack a walnut with my teeth. There’s something inside the song that I just can’t get to. I can assemble chords and sing melodies that sound pretty good to my ear, but there’s a level of feeling missing.

I remember distinctly the experience of trying to write the music for Carrying A Dream (see my new CD). I was in mourning for a dear friend, and his words were burning in my brain. But the music… ah, the music… I tried it every which way I could, but all in vain. I was searching for the melody that set loose a flood of emotion, I wanted to feel my loss and make those lyrics bleed like I was bleeding in my soul.

It took three days to find the magic key that unlocked the door to that pure cistern room inside. When I found it, the melody to Carrying A Dream poured out in about ten minutes. But those ten minutes were the result of a fixation and a struggle to feel something in the music for days. In the process I probably wrote several versions of the song that would have passed muster if I’d never had the experience of being moved by my own creative Muse. But once you know what a great creative moment feels like, you can never go back to being satisfied with less.

This is why distraction and e-living have damaged the music. There’s so little music out there that moves us because we’re all moving too fast to create it. It turns out that being moved requires a thrill greater than the adrenaline rush of a Tweet or an email. In a sense, we are being moved in the opposite direction by the song. The Internet and multi-tasking pulls us outwards (or at least sideways), but the song pushes us inwards, ever deeper inwards.

If we want to have the experience of deep creativity we must make the time for it. We all must make time for it. The quality of the time spent searching your heart and soul for a song is not as exciting as a new iphone app or the thrill of a gossipy email, but then again how shallow is a thrill anyway?

copyright 2009 by craig bickhardt