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


Tim McMullen said...

For you, writing this blog, though fun and interesting, is obviously an interruption in your song writing regimen; nevertheless, I would argue that the creative process is stimulated by various creative endeavors, including pointed prose. Reading and responding to your blog (and a few others), is just one example of what computer users have come to know as "the black hole of time." But in the case of your blog, it's worth it for you and for us.

The personal epiphany in the process of writing is, I would argue, a rare occurrence even for an extremely talented song writer. A sense of satisfaction, of deep pleasure, of joy is relatively attainable after an exerted effort, but that moment —despite the fact that you have created the story and worked with it for hours, days, or weeks—when you are actually moved by your own creation is very rare indeed.

I have been writing songs, poems, and stories since 1965. My first experience of achieving that level occurred in 1971 on my song, "Michael." I started creating the song at about 9:00 p.m.. At about 1:00 a.m. I changed the character's name from Daniel (a random name) to Michael (a former neighbor), and much of the rest of the song fell into place. At about 4:30, as I was writing the final lines of the song, I realized that a large drop of water had fallen to the page. I had not known that I had teared up until that tear fell, and I realized that I had a lump in my throat. Although I had written many songs of which I was proud and which audiences had appreciated, that one was different. Out of two hundred or so songs, scores of poems, and fifteen or so short stories I have written, only one story and maybe three songs that I have written have had the power to personally move me during the writing. I instantly acknowledge that it may simply be a lack of talent, but I am guessing that such moments are rare for all writers.

Nevertheless, as you point out, giving oneself the opportunity to aspire to this level has become very difficult. I spend many more hours with the computer in my lap than I do with my guitar. You, however, just finished a new CD of originals. Way to go! It is nice to see that despite your hectic performing schedule, you are still finding the time to make new music. Thanks for the perpetual inspiration.

chromehead said...

Thanks Tim, much appreciated.

I agree that the creative process is stimulated by some of these "distractions". I've done some of my best writing in emails to close friends and sometimes it has led directly to new songs as Charlotte Ryerson can attest.

It's the quality of the time spent writing as much as it is the "product" or result of the writing. I may not always end up with a song that makes the hair on my neck stand up, but being immersed in the process is liberating. I mean it sets me free in a way that other activities can't. It is a form of meditation.

I had the luxury of spending years doing this full time, and perhaps my experience is too abstract to convey to others, but it was remarkable to have entire days in my week given over to deep creativity. I almost can't imagine it now.

Anonymous said...

As a creative person who is demanding of himself, you owe it to yourself to take the time to unplug and find the peace you need. Yes, deep creativity can be inspired by turmoil, distraction, and elation but I think the resulting products (any form of artwork) require that the artist be at peace with himself when creating the piece. I hope that you can find the time you need to do this now and in the future, even if it's not as much as you had in the past. It's important.

Thanks for the insights into Carrying a Dream, and I'll never tire of hearing the backstories and descriptions of the process.

Anonymous said...

As always, your words are true and worthy of thought. Thanks for sharing Craig..

Anonymous said...

Are we feeling less because we are absorbed in e-living or are we e-living because we want to feel less? Which is the chicken and which is the egg?

In a world coming out of greed and materialism and entering economic hardship, I'm not sure that I know.

But I do know how hard it is to feel - as a non-professional songwriter I have to force myself to write. On the way to work, I'll hear a song in my head. I have to stay in my car and write - force myself to go to work late. But I can't always do that.

And there are kids. And there are gigs. And there are CDs to mail and dinner to cook. When do I feel? When do I listen to what is inside of myself?

And then you get used to not feeling - and you numb out at a sports bar or in front of the TV or anywhere else but inside your head and your heart. Why feel? It's too hard. It's too much work. It's too much time.

As a society, I think we find ourselves surrounded by THINGS. We try to connect. People get enthused about Facebook and MySpace and start to feel something - but it's all still coming in soundbytes. Relationships are all summarized in a profile online. There's no depth.

I am the last person to wish for this Dark Age, but I feel that it MUST come. We must wrap ourselves in a cocoon to try to emerge into some kind of creative rebirth.

We have lost touch with our souls and the only way to reconnect is to feel, and as history has proven over and over, the darkness is the only way to get to those true emotions.

chromehead said...

Those are tough questions Leslie, but you're asking wisely. For some people undoubtedly life has never been more exciting and full of thrill sensations (whether we equate "thrill sensations" with the same feelings produced by creating or experiencing a work of art, or really connecting with friendships is a different question, and I say they are not the same).

For those of us who can't find enough meaning and feeling in gadget and widget driven socializing, things don't seem to be improving. It's difficult to avoid e-life unless you go where no one even expects you to HAVE the Internet, but that also cuts you off from the GOOD stuff (research, Google maps, fast shopping, distance learning, cheap global communication, etc).

Not only are those Facebook-MySpace profiles two-dimensional, but so is much of our entertainment. It seems designed to make us forget about those disturbing things called feelings or the lack thereof. The culture is increasingly objectifying everything-- sex, happiness, love, self-respect, even so-called-credibility, these are things you "win" on reality contest shows.

But it's empty, vacuous stuff, just more manipulative tools for Madison Ave and Wall Street. I don't think this is age talking. My 21 year old daughter complained about it recently. I hope the dark age isn't necessary, but those who dismiss all of this as sentimental rubbish and archaic mindset probably outnumber those of us who feel displaced and numbed by it.

Tim Wheeler said...

I think you're onto something, Craig. I'd write more, but I just got a text...


Anonymous said...

In order to dig deeply you have to feel. Go into the shallow and dive deep. What I have observed is that my peers seem to put a toe in and get out. They TRULY believe that they are connecting with others and in a way with themselves through Facebook. As incredible as it sounds, it is true.

And I believe that we can be engulfed in what we are surrounded by. How does the artist pull away and dive into the deep end when they are surrounded by a population that is waiting outside the shallow water? And looks at you like you're insane for going in?

I believe that we choose our circumstances - many times subconsciously. Our subsconscious wants us to find the deeper water and attempts to force us to go there. I believe that we choose the darkness because we are looking for the light.

As an artist, I don't think that I dive into the depths as much as I can. Maybe because of my surroundings. Maybe because I am afraid. More because I do not consciously seek it.

Do you believe that there are times in your life that are more of a breeding ground for deep creativity? Aren't there times where your soul cannot go as deep because you are not able to get to that place inside of yourself?

What scares me is that I have had to get to a place in my life where I cannot get inside of myself - because there are too many distractions. What if I could access the part of my soul I miss, but I'm physically not able to just stop and go there? And, if so, how do I stop and go there?

chromehead said...

I don't have answers for these questions but I think the questions are the beginning of discovery. We all experience times when we are either too distracted or too unwilling to go soul searching. If an honest look in the mirror tells you that you are avoiding the creative process because you're afraid of any aspect of it (i.e., failure, kicking up too much dust, the amount of work that must be done, confrontation) then I think you must walk into the fire to find out that it really isn't as hot as your mind tells you it will be.

I find reasons not to write all the time, and then there are those wonderful times when a beautiful compulsion, inspiration + a great idea are all there simultaneously and it's THOSE times when I must avoid distractions and go deep.

It isn't easy isolating myself from the business of communication. Every CD transaction brings an expectation of personal communication, every gig is a whirlwind of personal communication, MySpace is all about staying in touch with people-- good people you hardly know. If you turn it off, you're anti-social. But sometimes I just need the space and I don't want to tell everyone individually "how I'm doing today".

If finding time is essential, we must begin to engineer this into our lives. It might begin as a painful rebellion and end with some peaceful resolution, I don't know. I only know that many of us long to be free to explore creativity and feeling, to dive deep and not be disturbed in the process.

As for what others think, all I can say is that I've never felt myself in sync with the rhythms of society. I've spoken to many writers who feel somewhat alienated by what is expected of them. It sounds selfish, yet the results of this "selfish" act of isolating ourselves (so we can write) often produces the song that MOVES people. So there's a paradox.

Writing is a lonely profession, ask any successful writer and you will probably hear this. If a day job is necessary, think of T.S. Eliot or Albert Einstein, both of whom achieved great things while working at other jobs. It can't be easy or everyone would be doing it.

Anonymous said...


A friend turned me on to your blog a few weeks ago. Since then, I've read so many things you've written that inspired me or just got me to thinking.

I wasn't looking for it - or maybe I was. The friend posted a link to your blog at the same time that I wrote a blog on a similar topic.

Anyway - thanks. Truly.

Barry Alfonso said...

The obsession with email, cellphones, blueteeth,twittering, etc. points out a growing fear of being alone. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world - but not necessarily the best artists. An unfortunate situaiton.

Anonymous said...

Or is that the driving motivation in us all? The need for each other - for closeness and connection. As a society, have we just traded closeness and genuine connection for shallow, short interactions that, ironically, only keep closeness at arm's length?

Anonymous said...

I was playing though one of my unfinished songs this morning, feeling just as you say, Craig, like there's a diamond in this chunk of coal. Couldn't agree more on that I've succumb to the leash of the internet, though I've yet to setup a Facebook, or Twitter account =)

One theory I have is that while we all long for relationships, as stated throughout the thread, we don't necessarily want to work at them. Social networking, IMO, is a slow drip of morphine for these longings, some with which we may not yet have to come to terms.

FWIW, I just decided last week to isolate my studio and writing space from Internet connectivity and other media in hopes of going deeper than I've ever been with my writing and creativity.

Looking fwd to finally meeting you next weekend, safe travels, don't hesitate to give a shout if I can be of service to you.


Anonymous said...

I think your blog might actually be an anti-blog. This is amusing to me. Your new CD is stunning in both its poetry and simplicity. Too damn bad I had to listen to Don's copy you cheap fucking bastard!

Much love,

"The Metaphor"