This morning I happened to be walking towards a street that was cordoned off with yellow tape. A good half dozen patrol cars were already at the scene, their lights flashing as a crowd of rubberneckers gathered. The source of the commotion was a shirtless man with wild grey hair pacing back and forth high atop a roof. It was unclear what his intentions were. Was he there to jump, to get a suntan, to get better cell reception? Two things however, were abundantly clear: The guy wouldn’t come down —and he had a pizza up there with him, “…looked to me like a large Domino’s” was what one observant policeman told me. It was unsettling to see the guy pacing up there, just a slip and a fall away from tragedy. But in some sense aren’t we all trying to get to some higher place, get close to the edge, make a bold statement? I’m not the type to mill about on a steep rooftop, but still, as a poetical metaphor I think I could understand something of what he might have been doing up there.
Today is officially the first day of the summer of 2017 and as the hands of time sweep around once again, I can’t help but think about my own mortality. But not in some maudlin or morbid way. It’s more about knowing that there is a limit and a definition to the amount of time we’re allotted here on Earth. It’s that limit that makes me more focused on bringing the fruits of my imagination to life. I’m 57 years old. When I was 22, (the age I actually feel most of the time) someone 57 would have seemed ancient. But like I said, I feel 22 and I’m even more hopeful now then I was back then, more sure of my ability to put my creative ideas into the real world.
As a songwriter I’ve been trained in the act of moving forward against my fear of rejection, a fear we all share. If I were to listen to my fears, the ones that have always whispered, ‘Who the hell are you to think that anyone cares,’ no song of mine would have ever been written. That is to say that I’ve rarely waited for fearless moments to write my songs. I’ve been afraid very often and acted — equally as often — in spite of those fears. The thing I’ve discovered after many years of trial and error is that to write, to create anything really, you need to do this one specific thing, and excuse me for its seeming inane simplicity: You need to sit down. You need only sit down with the intention to create. Please understand, I’m not talking about sitting down with a great idea or even with confidence, I really mean, quite literally — just sitting down. That’s it. A chair and a will to act are your principal tools.
In my case, that means getting my guitar, a pen and paper, and putting my ass in a chair. I know it sounds artless, even a bit absurd to reduce a creative process to something so basic, but nonetheless, it’s how things get done. In your case it might be driving to the gym, emailing your boss, dialing your mother, or doing a web search for the nearest art supply store. But the fact is that to defy the negative voice inside us, the one that would have us believe that we have no right to create, the one that turns to us and quietly says that what we are likely to come up with will be so devastatingly boring to others (and worse, shaming to ourselves), we need to reduce the process of beginning to create to a primal, physical act: one of sitting down to commence a small action.
Once we do that, it’s like a floodgate starts to open. Once we take tiny, specific actions towards our goals our internal critic says, “You know, (insert your name here) is really into this. She’s proved it to me by getting to work instead of succumbing to her fear. I’m gonna move over, pick up a latte and a People Magazine and let her do her thing!” On the other hand, if we do nothing but fearfully mull over whether or not we should begin; this inner critic will be all over us, filling our minds with every sort of anxiety. The other thing that happens when we take the first steps toward accomplishing any creative goal is that whether or not we previously had something to say becomes completely irrelevant. Relevant ideas will come while we are in motion. Ironically, sometimes “having something to say” actually becomes an impediment to our getting closer to a work of truth and value.
And here’s one last thing to consider. There are two ways to sit in a chair. One is productive —and by that I mean, they are productive in the sense that they bring joy to oneself and to others; that could include rest and contemplation as well. The other is just plain sad. It’s a mode of letting the world pass us by as we wait to die.
As for that guy on the roof… I have no idea what the hell he was doing up there. But for me at least, the whole strange experience of seeing him with his pizza box tucked under his arm has become a symbol; one that speaks of aspiring towards things of higher value. Sure, the guy was nuts, but seeing him pacing back and forth high above the sidewalk, made me think about using my time to get aloft; to take myself higher, and perhaps most importantly, to elevate everyone else around me as well.