[Note: The following is offered particularly for artists: writers, musicians, preachers, painters, dancers. You are really,really important. If you don’t have time to read this, please watch the video below for a breath of fresh air. Thanks.]
I heard it as I was grooving to Van’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 one morning: the chord progression I had so carefully crafted in my own original song months ago.
Van doesn’t mind. Do you know how many songs in history use the same chord changes? (Honestly, Van seems to be ticked off at just about everyone, but me more no more than anyone else.)
Paul Simon knows he borrows from Bo Diddley and the Moonglows. Pete Seeger once said in an interview for songwriters, “Don’t be so all-fired concerned about being original.”
So is my life derivative or original?
As the Buddhist koan goes: What’s the shape of your original face?
Liz Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” says the way our culture thinks about creativity is not so helpful. There’s pressure to perform. So many artists in despair, crushed by expectations. Fear of the sophomore slump, the drive for the buzz and money. This mindset is what’s been killing off our artists for the last 500 years, she says.
Can we thrive as artists without cutting off an ear?
If you have time, watch Elizabeth’s whole brilliant talk via TED, below. For a smaller dose, I want you to see 6:15-15:35 and 17:40-19:06. Don’t miss the Tom Waits story.
You are an original. Yes, fingerprints like snowflakes and all that. You have a special way of looking at life and we need your ideas, your songs, your words, your shapes and colors. You’re saving the world by both making it beautiful and challenging it to wake up.
At the same time, there is no need to put the pressure of one-of-a-kind genius on ourselves. Humans are designed to borrow and share among creation and not even know we are doing so. Kind of like my neighbor Ev and I have lost track of repaying each other’s favors over time. Plus, you probably have a sense of being plugged into a Source, that your work is co-created. Dylan said if he didn’t write down the songs that came to him, someone else would. Whether you name this Creative Energy (aka genius, God, Muse, daemon) or not, trust that it’s not all on your shoulders to produce.
We are not alone as we show up to do our work.
Now that I think about it, maybe Van was stealing from me.