Sunday, February 23, 2014

Productivity V.S. Creativity (An Excuse)

I'm always dreaming up new creative projects to try. (I'm sure you guys are too, based on the emails and feedback I get.) While experimenting with the latest new idea of mine, I find myself reading through dozens of blogs and books trying to discover "the secret" to success or the "best tips and tools for productivity". How did these professional writers, musicians, artists make it all the way to the top? 

As I've been digging and digging I came across similar recommendations such as:
  • Send out good vibes to the universe.
  • Use such and such software. (There is even a productivity writing software called "Write Or Die". Look it up. It's terrifying!)
  • Use such and such app.
  • Figure out how your body and energy correlates with the moon cycles/seasons/menstrual cycles 
  • Eat certain foods
  • Wake up early
  • Meditate
  • Have accountability partners
  • Read these books
  • Listen to these audio cds
  • Go on daily, spiritual nature walks
  • Escape for a weekend to recharge.
  • Use egg timers

I stopped one day, after reading through a rather dense blog filled to the brim with productivity tips, to remember the things I did to facilitate moderate success as a musician. What was my secret sauce? I've climbed the creative Mount Everest before. I started from day one with nothing. What tips and tricks did I use?

Did I use an egg timer to time my creative spurts?
Did I use spreadsheets, apps, and detailed calendars?


I sat down every day to work out songs because I wanted to. I wrote down my melodies and lyrics not caring or worrying about critics or pleasing audiences or being concerned if anyone would listen to them. I wrote song after song, played guitar non-stop. When I had enough material I found other musicians who would play with me, an audience that wanted to listen. I showed them what I had. I did these things over and over again, day after day, for years. I just knew in my innocent, little heart of hearts, that someday, some people, somewhere, would absolutely go batty for what I created. I simply had to find them.

I focused on the art itself, and didn't get caught up in the details of how to create it.

Please understand that I'm not saying all of the productivity advice floating around the internet flat out sucks. What I am saying is this:

I now realize that every time I was looking for "productivity" and "creativity" tips, I was actually biding time and pretending to work on the planning of creating my art, so I wouldn't have to actually create it. I thought it was more important to look up the best methods to be productive instead of grabbing my guitar and coming up with good lyrics. I focused on building a detailed to-do list, even planning when I would stop to meditate before writing a chapter to invite my muse, instead of going forth and writing something down. Hell, my muse is either going to be there or she isn't! 

I was evading the actual sitting down to make my art because I was (and still am):
  • Afraid that it won't be good enough
  • Afraid that my new art won't measure up to what I've created in the past
  • Afraid that I'll never finish
  • Afraid that I'll never start
  • Afraid that I will be misunderstood.
  • Afraid that people will think I'm an idiot 
You'd think that after a decade of being a musician and performing in arenas that fears like this wouldn't deter me, but they still do. I'm right there with you. Doubts are dumb. Life shouldn't be so serious. People are counting on you and me to be entertained, to feel an emotion, to make the mundane, boring, painful parts of their lives easier to bear, like you and I are counting on all the artists that we look up to. We've got an assignment to do.

Gonna go do it now,


P.S. In the first part of this blog, the question to my search was, "How did these professional writers, musicians, artists make it all the way to the top?" That's the wrong question to ask. The right question is, "how can I find a way to face my fears so I can focus on what's important and finish the art that I start?" Well, how can you? ...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tour Diaries: It's Cool

Our hotel in Kuta, Bali, stood just a few 100 meters away from the beach. (Yes, I now think in meters instead of miles, kilometers instead of pounds, and am accustomed to military time.) Tiny shacks sold kites shaped like pirate ships along the sandy shores. We watched the charcoal-colored ships sail through the sky, like brave shadow warriors, as the sunset morphed from a tangy orange to hot pink. 

The next day, Dia and I decided to take our chances leaving paradise to travel to Ubud, another town in Bali about an hour inland, for a mini, spiritual retreat. Mike and Carlo decided to stay behind, preferring to spend their two days relaxing by the pool with a cocktail and eating Pizza Hut in bed. (Which sounds awesome, but it wasn't as awesome as Ubud turned out to be!) 

This photo was taken at Sari Organic. To come here, we walked up a mountain on yet another dirt road, past rice paddies everywhere we looked. (You can see them in the background.)

This food looks (and tasted) amazing. This was not an exception. All the food in Ubud is fantastic and there are always health conscious options. I chose not to drink alcohol, but I didn't feel like I missed out, because they always had delicious non-alcoholic beverages. This was a homemade lemon grass, ginger ale.

There wasn't a name for the road that our hotel was on. It's not even a road actually. It's a narrow, windy, dirt path tucked away in between a 24-hour coffee shop and a souvenir store. Why did I choose this hotel if I knew it would be hard to find? Because it's right next to The Yoga Barn. Plus, reviews on Trip Advisor said that this place was quite a find once you actually, you know… find it. 

I don't care for "touristy" activities when traveling. Our manager, Mike, and Dia loved The Gardens By The Bay in Singapore and The Butterfly Farm in Penang, but I was bored out of my mind in both places. The Gardens By The Bay was a bunch of bushes and The Butterfly Farm was a bunch of bugs. (I'm visualizing Dia rolling her eyes right now as I type this.) 

Dia took a shot of me searching for the damned map that I lost that had the directions to our hotel. Ha!

When Dia mentioned going to The Sacred Monkey Forest, I grudgingly agreed. I knew The Sacred Monkey Forest would be just a bunch of monkeys, but I reasoned we could ask some people who worked there if they knew where our hotel was. Well, nobody had any idea where the hotel was, but this happened!
We did eventually find our hotel. Dia wanted a bubble tea. We stopped at a friendly looking coffee shop. The man serving us told us our hotel was just behind his shop. Our asses were saved so many times by hunches like this. We would be riding our bicycles (rented for $3.00 a day!), and all of a sudden one of us would have a slight inkling, a funny feeling in our bones. So we'd stop and say, "I think we need to turn here," or "I think it's just beyond that stone wall." Most of the time we'd be right. 

People come from all over the world to go on yoga retreats in Ubud. The most famous yoga studio is called The Yoga Barn. It consists of several studios, thoughtfully constructed with wood and glass, spread out over acres of jungle. Windy staircases, hidden by tangled jungle vines, lead from one studio to the next. 

Our teacher opened our vinyasa class with a speech about "humanizing" everyone we meet. I did implement her advice, imagining how our hotel clerk's family might interact during a holiday or what leisurely activities our waitress enjoys in her free time. 

Our instructor, a hippie transplanted from Tempe, Arizona, had wild, sandy hair and an enlightened, whispy smile. She wore colorful, beaded jewelry around her wrists that jingled when she raised her hands to the sky as she demonstrated poses. 

Halfway through the class, she told us to step down from our handstands and sit cross-legged on our mats. I seated myself and prepared to hear a spiritual lecture about "heart centers" and "chakras". She said:

"We're going to try these handstands again, just the way we did before, and if you lose your balance and fall out of the pose … that's cool."

Our spiritual leader of the afternoon told us it was "cool" to screw up. It was o.k. to make a mistake. Once she took the pressure off us, you should have seen how graceful we all whirled ourselves upside down. We rooted our fingertips firmly into our mats, and our legs to flew up against the wall like a giant, peaceful wave.

After class, our teacher told us how important community is. She asked us to introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us. The people who come to Ubud are from all over the world. They come to escape, to search, to discover. I sat next to a man named Michelle from Switzerland. He used to work in a corporate job and made lots of money. When he turned 65, he asked himself, "What am I doing here? What's all this about?" He immediately went on a holiday to Ubud. He said he planned on staying for 5 days. He ended up staying for 13 years! 

Dia sat next to a travel blogger from Europe. She came to visit Ubud for a week and stayed for a month! 

As the day went on, we made several friends who we kept running into throughout the town. Many conversations were had, and I realized, all of us, coming from all different parts of the world, may have different political views, different religions, different ideas of culture and traditions, but we can still come together and share a moment, be it a yoga class or whatever. And even though we don't all agree on everything, we can agree on one thing: 

We are all human. 

I'm pretty sure that we all feel the same way about wanting to find love, hating wars, and wishing for happiness and peace.

And as for all those other things that we can't and won't ever agree on… It's cool.

Honestly, Meg