“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~ Sylvia Plath
One of the great things about being an improviser is that I get to be in contact with the muse frequently. I improvise music at least once a week and, almost every week, it’s with other people in the room. This is an awesome and vulnerable moment. There is that moment — whether conscious or not — when the inspiration either arrives or it does not.
I’ve written about this before (as have so many wonderful writers!), but it bears repeating: creativity is something to go after. In other words, though it flows easily from the tongue or pen, I don’t believe what I wrote at the end of that first paragraph. Inspiration or the muse does not come to me. I go after it. It’s always present: in my body, in my thought, in the expression on someone’s face, in the sounds of a room full of people, in the rustle caused by a breeze. It is mine to choose.
The difficulty for me — and for many creatives that I’ve chatted with about this — is not finding the muse, but the vulnerability of that moment of putting my artistic interpretation of that inspiration “out there”. It is shame — that sense that I am not OK, not enough — that stands in the way of being vulnerable. There is no certainty that my musical exformation of the moment will connect in a positive way with every listener. And it is this sense of being judged that instills the fear that fuels the shame.
I’m so grateful for the work of Brené Brown (notably her TED talks) on vulnerability. She notes that when we numb out to the hard feelings (shame, fear, etc.), we also numb out to the desirable ones (mostly joy). And that being vulnerable opens the way to creativity. Be sure to read and listen to more of Dr. Brown’s insights if you’re interested in these subjects. And I hope you are interested.
Making vulnerability desirable is my pursuit. It shouldn’t be difficult. Based on Dr. Brown’s research and my own experience, without it, I will not improvise or compose or make music. Without it, even playing my guitar in complete seclusion might be too much for the inner critic who lives in me, too. Yes, it’s my intention to thrive on vulnerability since it will allow for the intimacy — with myself, my audience, my friends, my loved-ones — that leads to joy and creativity. (Even typing this now, I feel the chill of expectation around this!) This kind of movement from reticence to passion seems far better than being stuck in the procrastination of fear and shame. By being the most open-hearted self I can be in the moment, I can maximize all the inspiration that’s available right now. Since this “now” will never happen again, might as well drink up all it has to offer.
You are a creative person. (Yes, you!) What is your experience of shame and vulnerability? And how does it relate to your creativity?
8 thoughts on “muse schmooze”
This is an excellent picture of the relationship between shame, and the all important critic. That’s a big piece of the necessary duality that can hobble us.
It’s all about pain, and love ultimately. For me. Let’s use those words for now. Shame is there. I want to add another piece: It’s also knowledge and the accompanying judgement–knowledge of the work and suffering that goes hand in hand with the responsibility of bringing an inspiration to life. There is a process of selection, a back and forth between choosing and being chosen. This is particularly true when thinking of “larger inspirations”, not just the momentary movement of the brush on the canvas.
I think I hear you. I get that we make judgements or interpretations when we bring inspirations to light. I’m sure that’s part of the reason that one appreciates one piece of art and not another. But, is the responsibility you speed of to oneself or to the world or …???
Yes. This is so what I’m interested in. Thanks Stan for caring about this stuff. I’ve done some work on this, about intentions. The effect of intentions on one’s work. I do an exercise using drawing, but it works with writing or any art form. I like using an exercise that is available to everyone, not overly dependent on technical skill.
First, with a group of people or by yourself, pick a subject and draw it in whatsoever manner pleases you. Afterwards, and we only give a half an hour to make the choice and do the picture–it’s not about results it’s about process–we discuss what it was that effected our choices. How did we act when we only wanted to please our self? How did it effect our choice of subject, our attitude about framing, about control, line, space, color, texture etc.
Second, we say, now, we’re going to draw a picture for a friend. As a gift of love. What effect does it have on subject matter? Line, Framing, space, etc. Discuss.
Third, we say, alright, now we’re going to draw a “good” picture. (Everyone always groans at this.) We don’t try to describe what “good” means. We do the same thing. And then come back. How did our understanding of “good” effect our choices, our feelings, our attitudes about framing, subject matter, line, space?
Fourth, we say alright, now we’re going to draw a picture for “God” as a gift of love. How does that effect subject matter, line, space, etc. Interesting how our understandings effect our choices here, slightly differently than the “good” which is more a social determination of values.
Fifth, we say, now we’re going to assume that God is unknowable, and we wish to draw from a place of absolute poverty and nothingness. What happens to subject matter, line, process, etc. Discuss.
It’s an all day exercise; people need time to digest. The discussions are where the collective finds common assumptions and common patterns of understanding that lead us to believe there are shared truths under all this subjective, psychological/spiritual positioning. One way is not necessarily superior to another, just different, that they are all useful depending on objectives. Shame/Pride is particularly associated with the “good” or social determination of value mode of creation. Though also with the “for God” mode. It’s not so much a part of doing thing’s for one’s self, out of love for a friend, out of love for the art form itself, or from the place of nothingness.
Cool huh! At least I thought it was.
Yes, very cool! I’ll give it a try.
I’m behind on reading your wonderful blog, and I’m behind on everything else in my life…but reading this particular entry was especially beautiful and moving for me, Stan, and I had to comment.
I could write a book about my experience of shame and vulnerability, and these are so inextricably connected to creativity that I would say that working with one’s shame and embracing vulnerability are prerequisites to creativity.
Yet it’s so easy to resist the work of dealing with our shame & so easy to experience resistance to becoming vulnerable. Diving into these places can be downright terrifying and can paralyze the “bravest” person. I love the quote from Brené Brown, “Vulnerability is not weakness…vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” That is the truth, as it takes courage to allow ourselves to be real, to open ourselves to others in the totality of our human experience. There is a very real risk of getting hurt. But I believe that the degree to which we protect ourselves from getting hurt…to that same degree, we limit our ability to let love in, to feel joy, and to have the (amazing and delightful) experience of being fully alive.
Your words “the chill of expectation” really express what I am feeling at this point in my journey regarding my renewed commitment to allow myself to become vulnerable. It is truly a leap of faith, but I know what’s on the other side, and I want it!!! I want to rip down any and all facades and be my fullest self — exposing the messiness & brokenness & all that I have tried so desperately to cover up…because of being ashamed of my self-perceived inadequacies and failures. I know that in doing that…I will also reveal my true essence and a beauty that has to this point remained a mystery to me. I know that I will be free to explore the world through sound and movement and love. I know that my creativity will flourish, free from self-imposed restrictions and judgments. It is simultaneously terrifying and exciting…and that is where I want to live and breathe.
I consider it a privilege and an honor to be able to witness your improvised music-making weekly in the studio. There is a tender trust that is freely given by you to each of the participants in the room who are there with you as you create. Going after this inspiration is a choice that you make, and I celebrate you for being willing to make this choice again and again. That is the epitome of vulnerability, as you are willing to take that chance in the presence of each of us, and I don’t take that lightly. I thank you for sharing of yourself with us through your notes, played and sung and birthed in your heart.
For me also, that terrible fear of not being enough…of even being a “mistake”…freezes me from fully embodying and expressing the inspiration that flows through me. And then I get frustrated with myself…which freezes me even more! I worry so much about what others think of me, how others are perceiving my creative offerings, and in the process, I stray from being in the moment, being inspired, and offering myself with love to those with whom I am connecting through my music-making.
I just read an article that discusses the important differences between self-esteem and self-compassion, and the article says that self-compassion is what allows us to function best and to be most at peace in the world. I am working on this approach…realizing that I don’t have to convince myself that every sound that I make is great & that I am talented…but instead working to have compassion for myself…no matter what I have created and how I or others have judged that.
I have, at many times in my life, tasted vulnerability, and I can still feel in my whole body the strength and tenderness of those experiences…and how resultingly powerful and alive my music-making was in the face of vulnerability. As I am reminded of the value of this, the necessity of this, and my call towards vulnerability, I am inspired to embrace vulnerability – no matter how uncomfortable it might make me feel at the outset. I feel blessed to be walking and dancing and singing alongside so many others from our InterPlay class who are likewise moving to become more vulnerable and who offer a beautiful support system as we all practice and grow together in the safe container of the InterPlay Healing & Movement Laboratory and as we continue our work and art in all of the different directions we move throughout our days. Thank you for your deep play with vulnerability, Stan, and for your encouragement and support of other artists who desire the same.
What an amazing reflection on your own experience and learning about vulnerability, Susan. I’m in awe of the vulnerability you’ve shown just by writing it here!
Powerful, playful blessings, my friend!
I so enjoyed this piece! It’s rewarding when we read someone else’s thoughts and find they mirror our own :o)
Busy schedule today but I will return to peruse your thoughts more deeply.
Wonderful, Marie. It is great when we learn that other people share similar experiences.
I look forward to reading insights or responses that you have and to checking out your blog!
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