On Not Going It Alone

August 7, 2011

Recently I had brunch with a wonderful pianist, Benita Meshulam, and we were discussing the joys of collaborating.  She has recently begun a piano duo with Allison Brewster Franzetti, also an amazing pianist. “After all these years of being lonely on stage, I have a real partner to share the experience with,” she said.  “It’s so much better not to have to always perform alone. The loneliest walk is from my dressing room to the stage, and now I don’t have to do it alone.”

Part of our cultural mythology is this vision of the artist alone, writing or sculpting or drawing  in solitude. The solitude seems to validate the experience , verify the genuineness of the self-communion.   We imagine J.D. Salinger in cranky hermit mode up inNew Hampshire, or Van Gogh in tortured self-mutilating mode in a garret.  Virginia Woolf told us that every writer needs a room of her own, and it seems so obvious that we all immediately nod in agreement.

But although Virginia Woolf had a room of her own, she also lived in a constant social whirl of friends, writers and other artists who argued with her, supported her, designed her books and  furniture, and brought her their work for publication and critique.  As anyone who reads her diaries knows, she was very seldom actually alone.  Many artists do feel the loneliness of creating in solitude, or taking the stage by themselves, and get quite self-reproachful about their dislike of creating by themselves.

But there is actually no rule that you have to lock yourself in an empty room  to create, or even create or perform or present work with others.  Starbucks sometimes seems to exist largely to serve the needs of people who can’t stand to write in a room alone.  Of course, actors and musicians and other performers have always known the joys of performing together—but writers? Photographers?  Composers? Painters?

Well, maybe you can’t write music at Starbucks with all those world instruments jingling in your ears, but you can almost always find a less lonely situation that eases that anxiety about solitude and being in the creative process by yourself.  Whether this means having a trusted other who sits and reads while you are working, or actively collaborating with other artists on a film or musical or book or mural—or duo piano performance—sometimes the presence of another human being (or non-human being—there is a reason some writers are always photographed with their dogs at their sides) is the exact missing ingredient to spur your creative process.

Sometimes all we want is an empty, quiet space to do our work, or to walk out on to a stage and face the crowd or critics by ourselves—but we don’t have to be alone with either our ideas or our audiences if it doesn’t work for us.  Collaboration can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling modes for any artist to work in—although you still might want that room of your own to go home and decompress in at the end of the day!

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When You Can’t Create

December 20, 2009

Sometimes in life it isn’t blocks or procrastination or fear of success that keeps you from your creative work. Sometimes the world intervenes and because you are physically unable, or charged with the care of someone else, or trapped in an office with a terrifying deadline, you just can’t do it.

That’s where I am right now – I’ve fractured my right shoulder and until a couple of days ago was in too much pain and too out of it to do even what I am doing now, which is typing this slowly with just my left hand. And not being able to write is almost harder for me than not being able to pull a shirt over my head or have to ask someone else to cut up my Thanksgiving turkey. Not being able to write is like not being able to breathe.

Perhaps the hardest thing in these situations is being kind to yourself about your inability to perform. I find myself giving myself these little lectures about people in far worse situations who, for instance, scratch philosophical tomes into the stone walls of their prison cells with a sharpened spoon. It’s hard to listen to the doctors who say – rest, medication, and in time, physical therapy. I know that in two months I’ll be mostly back to normal, able to work again, write again, think clearly.

And in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for being a reader more than a writer, to try and think some projects through, and just do a little left-handed typing when I have the energy and patience. I get to spend some time talking to my esteemed collaborators – all of whom have wonderful ideas. I get to watch daytime TV and understand America a little better. And I get a chance to practice being a little kinder to myself when I simply can’t write.


Going It Alone

August 29, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Artist Alone

Artist Alone

One of the biggest mistakes we make as creative people is trying to go it alone, without external support or input.  The view of the artist alone in his or her garret or basement, writing, painting, playing a few chords on the guitar, is a very compelling one for most of us, with deep roots in our culture’s vision of the arts.  We feel that is how real artists operate, and that the loneliness of the artist with a vision is what makes the artist authentic.

But it is really hard to do accomplish anything all alone, which is what those lengthy and tedious Oscar award speeches are all about.  It is true that much art is best created in solitude – novel writing or oil painting are not generally  group efforts – but once the work is completed, or often, quite a bit earlier, when the idea is just being formed or the first version is being attempted – most artists want some input and support.

And then, once it is done and ready for public exposure, we want and need quite a bit of support.  There are a lot of people needed to get a picture hung in a gallery, a song recorded, a book published.  This includes not just the obvious people – agents, managers, booking agents, publishers, editors, gallery owners – but the people who help you stay in touch with your dream and accountable for putting it forward.  The person in your life who says – Have you sent out those emails yet? Have you submitted your slides or your manuscript? Did you sign up for that conference?

The person who does this in your life might be a teacher, a mentor, a significant other, a colleague, someone in your workshop, or your coach – but most of us human beings need someone to check in with and keep us headed toward our goal.  When our client Gail, the writer who we’ve been following in this blog,  received a little support and found informed people to check in with about her work, she was able to begin her second book and enroll in a writing workshop in her area of specialization.

Going it alone is a difficult path, and often not a fruitful one.  Almost all of us can benefit from getting a little help along the way.  Finding someone who can ask you (kindly) if you’ve taken the next step will help you a long way on your creative journey.


The Big Bang Approach

July 30, 2009

Our colleague, writing teacher and coach Jill Dearman, is publishing “Bang the Keys,” her book on writing, in August. Recently, she published an excellent article in Writer’s Digest, “The Big Bang,” outlining four steps to completing your writing projects. She quoted Deborah on the necessity of getting all the support you can as a writer. You might want to check the article out on Jill’s Web site –  www.jilldearman.com – and while you are at it, you might want to check out her book as well!

And we hope to be interviewing Jill after  her book comes up, so keep an eye here for the most up to date word on Banging the Keys!