Sorcery and Alchemy

I happened upon an intriguing little article, the other day, which asked whether or not you’re meant for something bigger, on this planet.  Well, we all are, but I thought it was an interesting series of questions, nevertheless.  People are capable of all sorts of amazing things, but there is often a huge difference between what they are capable of and what they actually accomplish.  That’s an interesting disparity, don’t you think?

It’s my view that sorcerers and alchemists are people that are primarily interested in using their powers, whatever they are (art, science, engineering, ideas, philosophy, values, morals), to create change – to cause a difference.  In the modern sense, those that fulfil on their potential are those that accomplish the most and can be thought of as present day sorcerers or alchemists.  They envisage the world as it could be and set about turning it into that better place.  What is a vision, other than the articulation of an idea you have fallen in love with, after all?

I’ve written before that art has magical, transformative powers and that wielding art well is one of the most effective means of improving the world we live in, either by increments or by dramatic revolutions of thought and attitude.  At the heart of most human ills is an idea that no longer serves humanity well (if it ever did), which requires revision or replacement.  This is always true.  All that holds us back, as a species, is the crappy things we think.  Make better art; think better thoughts and suddenly, the world transforms into something better.  How many are willing to revise what they think, though?

It surprises me that people hold so tenaciously to beliefs they formed based on dubious sources, many of which had conflicted interests with their disciples.  Yet, although we are too apt to take on falsehoods as unshakeable truths, we are also willing to defend a falsehood to the very death, rather than hear the truth, or even entertain an alternative view.  Entrenched ideas – bad ideas – are what make the world a rotten place to live in.  Take those away, or change them and suddenly everything is better.

Of course, anybody that presents an imaginative, alternative possibility to the orthodoxy, defended as it is as “the only possible choice”, encounters people that call themselves realists.  Realists posit that change is not possible, that all alternatives have already been considered and rejected as unworkable and as admittedly imperfect and flawed as the orthodoxy is, it is the least worst of all choices.  This position is, of course, fanciful nonsense.  There is nothing realistic about it at all.  In failing to believe in the impossible, all the so-called realist ensures is that they never achieve the improbable.

We’ve seen a bit of this quite recently, with the rise to prominence of Jeremy Corbyn, in the UK.  All of the establishment figures adopt precisely the line of defence, for their ideals, that I outlined above.  Their accusation is that the alternatives being presented are unworkable and impossible, whereas the reality of the situation is that imaginative possibilities are being presented before their very eyes, but they would rather defend their discredited, rotten ideas to the death, than even admit that the alternatives might be better for all.

Are you one of those people that are destined to be a modern day alchemist or sorcerer?  See if these observations apply to you.  They did to me and I suspect they do to most people.

  1. You’re not a natural follower – you don’t find great fulfilment or purpose in working for others. Rather, it stifles, inhibits, constrains, and frustrates you.  You’d rather be leading than following and you know it.  You often feel stuck and like you’re not accomplishing anything big or worthwhile, in your job.  All the while, you hunger for freedom, autonomy, flexibility, creativity and expansion, which seems impossible (or tediously slow), while working under orders.  You want to stand out, more than you’re interested in fitting in.  You know you have a vision of something bigger and that the vision has real value.  Getting to apply all your gifts is the only way you feel you will be fully satisfied.  Polymaths often feel this way.  I often experience this claustrophobic feeling, too.  Do you?
  2. You do your best work when you feel inspired – for some people, this amounts to self-sabotaging procrastination. You won’t move forward, until you really feel you can.  For other, more disciplined artists, inspiration comes from the doing.  If you apply yourself to your task with sincerity and dedication, then you gradually build the inspiration to do your most outstanding work.  While you might be obliged to produce something, you can do so by almost phoning it in, but if you are truly gifted and meant for bigger things, you will almost certainly build the momentum of your creative work to a point where the obligation is no longer the most important thing.  What matters most, to you, is getting to a point where your most accomplished work simply flows out from you, because you have reached a point of inspiration that makes it inevitable.  You use your inspiration, built from just showing up and getting on with it, to reach your potential.  It becomes something about personal integrity, more than it is about fulfilling on an order.
  3. As a child, you thought those conformists that put on their work costumes and went in to a job, every day, were crazy – you could sense that they were not going there to play, or to follow their curiosity or to spend their time in personal improvement and development. You knew they had checked out of their daydreams and imaginations and instead, were in full-on zombie mode, doing what was expected of them, semi-robotically, so that they could sustain their life on Earth.  You knew they were caught in a trap and that its machinery was crushing the life and soul out of them.  While they justified their behaviour on the grounds that it was a safe and secure existence, you knew in your heart that it was nothing of the sort, that they had been hoodwinked into it and given that money was no longer an object, they’d all be doing something more outstanding and more fulfilling, of greater value to humanity.  You also probably intuitively sensed that if you were to make a difference to the world, you would need more freedom and flexibility than all those nine to five slaves had.  One other thing that you were certain of was that the work costumes (suits, uniforms, insignia of rank, etc.) were mere facades and that behind each costume lurked an actual human being, stifled in their creative powers and willing to act in ways divorced from and at odds with their most cherished morals and values.  They were owned.  They were just doing their jobs.
  4. You love what you do so much, you wouldn’t care if you had to do it for free – nobody pays you to play, or to research and read, or to have imaginative ideas, or to daydream, plot, plan, design, when you’re a kid. You do what you do for the sheer existential pleasure of doing it.  As an adult, if you gravitate to work and occupations where the time you spend seems to melt away into something you don’t even notice and where you feel like getting paid for it is like receiving free money, then you know what you do is what you love to do.  Money isn’t even on your mind.  What you care about is the work.  Time spent on it is never wasted.  Ironically, this leaves you open to exploitation.  Others will try to undervalue your very valuable work, because you love it so much, you’d happily do it whether or not you were paid.  If they can get it for nothing, they think, then they’re winning.  In truth, though, if you were able to value your work at what it was really worth, to others, and charge accordingly, then those who receive your work actually get more value.  Stealing your work from you simply degrades it for everyone.
  5. As an idealist, you see the world at its best, as it could be and you devote yourself to getting it there – “idealist” has become a pejorative term, in the same category as “dreamer” and “conspiracy theorist”. Idealists are thought to have something wrong with them.  What people mean, when they accuse you of being an idealist, is that you’ll never get it done.  You won’t be able to effect the big changes you seek.  Your quest is quixotic and hopeless.  In their world view, the world was never meant to be as pleasant, amazing and fun as it is in your imagination of it.  As if such things were pre-ordained.  Your response, as an idealist, is to organise your own personal world to be worthy of your vision and creations.  You lead by example, in the hope that one day the whole world can be changed to follow your pattern of better.  Idealist is, in fact, just another word for creator.
  6. Sometimes, you know things intuitively, but you can’t explain to others how you know them – yet you know. With certainty.  Visionaries get their visions from an internal sense of what feels right.  They don’t get them because somebody ordered them to think up a vision.  It’s not about what they’re supposed to create, according to other people’s idea of which creations are acceptable; it’s about an inner drive to follow your intuition about what’s going to be better.  I’ve spent a lot of time learning to trust my senses, intuition and gut feelings more than I used to.  I have found them to be, on the whole, quite reliable guides.  Before, when I rejected intuition and relied on rationality alone, I found I missed a lot.  In hindsight, my intuition had been right all along.  If you are meant for bigger things, in this world, then your intuition will keep speaking up and asking for what it wants.  Creating big things is not optional, when it’s your manifest destiny, as described by your intuition.  Following your intuition has a lot to do with unlocking and heeding your unconscious intelligence, I think.  There is a part of your brain that thinks about things, without a constant narrative, spoken internally to your consciousness, but which nevertheless produces results that are well observed, well reasoned and valuable, even if you aren’t cognisant of the processes by which those conclusions were reached.
  7. You feel things with intensity – you feel things pretty deeply and that usually means you care about some things with more than the usual level of commitment. Throughout your childhood, especially at school, you will have been taught to ignore and suppress your feelings.  The orthodox view is that feelings and emotions will sabotage any attempts you will make to be awesome.  The ugly truth, though, is that the suppression of feelings is just a technique to get people, that otherwise wouldn’t, to do the unconscionable, on behalf of those that want it done, by others, so that they can keep their own hands clean.  It’s more than ok to feel.  It’s human.  Feelings are our truth.  Your ability to be big, to contribute to the world in a huge way and to create large, lasting changes depends ultimately on your truth and integrity.  What you feel and care about is what creates that personal truth.  Everything you ever make or create depends crucially on what you feel and how you feel.  Feel intensely with pride.
  8. You are more frustrated by having too many ideas, than by not having any at all – this is me to a tee. I have so many big, wonderful ideas that I scarcely ever get to articulate them all, let alone accomplish them.  One life isn’t long enough.  You tend to get inspired easily.  Great ideas occur to you frequently.  The problem is you can feel so overwhelmed by the enormity and number of your big ideas, that you feel helpless to progress any of them.  The hard part is remaining true to your vision, making progress with your ideas, prioritising those that are most important to you, so that your vision becomes reality.  There is never the perfect time and it’s never too late.  You also might have to enlist help to realise those big ideas.  What you shouldn’t do is let them wither and die, if you can help it.

If you’ve read this far, you might be saying, “That’s all well and good.  It’s me and I recognise myself in the descriptions, but how do I move forward?  How do I make those big changes I am destined to make?”

What next?  How do you progress toward the goal of doing something great, worthwhile and valuable to humanity?  What if the big idea is going to take changing a lot of minds, before it becomes reality?  You can be the change you seek, but what if the change you seek is much bigger than you alone?

Sadly, there are no guarantees.  All you can do is to keep trying.  Trust in your vision and intuition and take steps, daily, to move forward with it.  They might be tiny steps, but take them anyway.  They mount up.  If you can’t tell the whole story, write the next chapter, or at least outline the plot.  Increments matter.  Whatever you do, do it with love.  It’s the best you can do.

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I Leapt and Fell

The common wisdom is that if you follow your bliss and can afford to give up everything else, to do only what you love to do most, you will succeed.  The idea behind the advice is that, if you calm your fear, summon your courage, take a chance and back yourself, then you simply cannot fail.  They say that you should take the huge leap of faith, quit your job (once you have some money saved up to survive the transition) and start devoting yourself to your passion and the doing the things that make your eyes sparkle.  If you can’t succeed at what you love to do most, which you are most passionate about doing, then what can you succeed at, right?

The encouragement is well-meaning.  The theory is, in the main, sound.  You shouldn’t be doing things that go against your grain, that rub your fur the wrong way and which alienate you from an essential part of yourself.  It is vitally important to reconnect with your authentic self and live a life worth living, filled with integrity and pursuing the art you have spent a lifetime pursuing.  You are bound to have more energy and enthusiasm for refining and eventually perfecting  your art, as opposed to just holding down a job.  All of that is correct, in theory.

The problem with the theory is that the universe is a confounded place.  You might do everything right, to set about achieving your dearest wishes and fondest dreams, with dedication, focus and determination.  You might even have the money to give it a go and see what happens.  After all, when people see your brilliant talents and outstanding art, they are bound shower you with unimagined riches.  Your uniqueness will protect you against being unwanted.  Sadly, the universe is indifferent to your dreams, desires and even your very existence.

Dear reader, I am here to tell you that I leapt and fell.  Flat.  On my face.

Last year, I tried to pursue my music, writing and painting with serious intent, as a full time occupation and I found that I ran out of money before I could gain any commercial traction with my work.  I couldn’t get arrested, let alone interest anybody in my outpourings.  In fact, I couldn’t sell a thing and I wound up having to go back to my former profession, to earn a crust.  Thankfully, I have a high level of skill as a product designer and engineer, so when I finally did find a job, again, it allowed me to get back on my feet.  I’m very grateful for that.

Yes, folks, my attempt to build an artistic life ended in failure.  It didn’t work out.  Despite finishing a lot of paintings, recording the best part of an album of original music and writing a book, I just couldn’t turn any of it into an adequate income fast enough.  I’m pretty sure my output was of reasonable quality, though obviously the more you do, the better you get.  I got much better at music production, writing and painting, over the period of time I devoted myself to my art exclusively.  I also didn’t complete many promising projects, though and I would still like to go back to them.  The time and money simply ran out.  It wasn’t self-sustaining.  There was no income stream to speak of.

So, was it all an expensive and humiliating mistake?  I don’t think it was.  I spent some time doing what I love.  I got better at it.  If I had the chance to do it again, I would.  I regret that I couldn’t turn my passion into an income, but it hasn’t stopped me from being enthusiastic about working on my art.  I have less time and energy to do it, now and less peace and quiet, but I still love my art.  I still want to improve and make better art.  In short, the utter failure to make a living and a life around my art has not dampened my enthusiasm for my work one little bit.  Well, perhaps one little bit, but not much more.

They say that failure issues a challenge and a dare, to you.  “Do you want to do it again?”  The answer to that question has to be an emphatic, “hell yes!”

So, you can leap into the void, hoping you’ll fly, but if you come crashing down hard, onto the cold, hard, unforgiving earth, you can survive.  You can even learn something in the process.  It might make you a better person, with greater humility and empathy.  Nothing teaches as quickly as a personal failure, especially one that occurs to you when you are doing something very close to your heart.

Take away whatever you will, from my experience.  All I can tell you is that there are no guarantees, but that having a go can still have a lot of value to you, even if it doesn’t work out the way you hope it will.  There is great honour and dignity in having tried.  I wish it would have worked out for me, but it didn’t and that’s an unchangeable historical event.  Failure is an event, not a person, as the wise sages say.  I might dust myself off and have another try, some day, or I might be happy I tried once, at all.  I don’t know.  I can’t tell.  All I know is that my plan didn’t pan out and now I have to make another plan.

That’s life.

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Hiding Your Light

It’s an often asked question: if you could go back in time and tell your younger self what you know now, what would you say?  For me, that’s a question I can answer immediately.  The problem is that I am so weary of repeatedly encountering the same conditions, I am so very tired of experiencing the emotions that go along with it, and so I find this post very difficult to write.  To some extent, it’s an exercise in reliving the pain anew.  It’s a bit like extracting teeth.

The thing I would tell my younger self would be that it was ok to be the person I am.  The pressure to fit in, to do what was expected, to bend in order to show the world a more acceptable, palatable, unchallenging, uncontroversial, likeable version of me, was a poison that does its destructive work slowly, but inexorably.  Suppressing your inner self, so that other people can deal with you, employ you, form relationships with you, feel unthreatened by your ideas, accomplishments and abilities, not have to rethink their prejudices, assumptions and articles of faith, remain comfortable in their own skins and not feel bad about themselves whenever they are around you, is, quite simply, living a lie.

Being a chameleon, to please others, at the expense of your authentic self, is a price not worth paying, for the flimsy veneer of “fitting in”.  You know, in your heart, that you don’t, even when it appears that you do.  Nobody should ever feel shamed into suppressing what they are, what they value and what makes them happy, for the convenience of judgemental bystanders, no matter how key they seem to be to your future and prospects.

The fear of being “found out”, forcibly “outed” as who you really are, exposing what you really think and having their acceptance and assistance withdrawn as a result is not a sword of Damocles that you should have to live under, either.  But live under it I often have.

There are people that study shame as an academic line of enquiry, these days.  One of the leading researchers into shame is Brené Brown.  She found that a staggering 85% of people she researched had incidences in their childhood where someone shamed them, for their creativity or being the person they were and it stopped them in their pursuits.  A full 50% of the 85% abandoned some creative pursuit because their work or their dream to be good at a creative skill was scorned and shamed.  Worse still, she found that people who had been shamed and so stopped, didn’t reconnect with important parts of themselves, represented by the thing that was shamed, until they were well into their fifties.

I’ll just let that sink in, for a moment.  The vast majority of people gave up a precious expression of their inner self in childhood; almost 43% of people researched gave up an artistic or creative pursuit, because they were made to feel shame for not conforming.  Furthermore, they did not recover from the shame for around five decades – for many, the very best years of their lives, when they might have been most productive, in their pursuit.  If your jaw is not on the floor, at this point, then you haven’t been paying attention.  This statistic represents a staggering loss of human potential and a massive wellspring of unhappiness, lack of fulfilment, frustration and regret.  What do you suppose the net effect and toll on a person of that level of discouragement accumulates into?  What does it do to a human organism?

My own story is probably typical of many people’s experience, if the statistics are to be believed.  There is nothing special about my experience and it has probably been repeated, in different guises, countless times, by millions of people.  The only aspect of my experience that makes it personal, of course, is that it happened to me, in my life and I had to live with it.  I have to live with it still.

As I write this, I am aware that I feel that even talking about my experience is somewhat insufferable and self-indulgent.  Bearing witness to my own diversion away from authenticity, as a younger person, feels like a “poor me” tale, so something I need to self-censor and, once again, something I have to suppress in order to remain acceptable and un-rejectable, thereby avoiding the imagined backlash.  Funny, isn’t it?  No, not really.

When my younger brother, whom I love dearly, was barely two and I was scarcely older, he was gravely ill.  We almost lost him.  Understandably, my parents, the most attentive and loving parents you could wish for, had to focus on their ailing child.  Consequently, I had to stand aside at a time of my life when I needed a lot of love, reassurance and protection too.  I was a small boy confused by the fact that my little brother was most evidently mortal and in all probability, I realised, so was I.  Instead of expressing that insecurity and worry, though, I felt I had to be brave, selfless and grown up, instead of just a little boy.

It was hard to do, as such an immature human being, yet I have a vivid memory of having to hold all of that fear in and having to act in ways that meant I would be no trouble for my parents, not encroach on their worry about my brother and not express my own fear that I might lose my lovely sibling or, indeed, that I might die too.  It was the first time I can remember having to be somebody other than who I really was, to keep the peace and to keep others from having to be concerned about me too.  There’s no blame or reproach to be apportioned, of course.  What else could anybody have done, under the circumstances, after all?  Even still, it was the beginning of that feeling that I had to be somebody else, for normality to be maintained.

Part of that feeling translated into a strong desire to be a well-behaved child, at school.  I didn’t want to cause any trouble.  I just wanted to do what was expected of me, as best I could.  It turned out that I was a quick learner, but half of that was only because I tried very hard to pay attention to my teachers and do what they asked of me, without being told twice.  There was no secret to it.  Pretty soon, I was seen as the bright kid and as such, somewhat isolated from my peers, who sometimes resented the apparent ease with which I earned good grades and the fact that I seemed to grasp things I was taught the first time, without the repetitive rote learning that typified schooling of that era.  They didn’t know the half of it.  I worked very hard, as a child, just to meet everybody’s expectations of me, or more correctly, the expectations that I perceived were placed upon me.  I just wanted to be thought of as a good kid.

Deep down, though, I really wanted to be playing.  It’s what I daydreamed about, in the periods of time I eked out, between my intense efforts to finish the work set for me as quickly as I could, in order to make more time for daydreaming.  Maybe lots of kids feel that way, at school.

What is rewarded is reinforced.  The more I behaved as I thought others wanted me to, the more the praise and acceptance flowed in.  Nobody forced me to behave in ways that were acceptable to others, or even told me to, but when I did, they made sure I got the message that this was “good”.

An additional obstacle for a young boy, not too confident about being who he was and being shaped by the expectations of others, to bend to their image of him, was the fact of my heritage.  I am descended from Russian stock, which during the height of the Cold War, opened one up to all sorts of unfounded, largely bigoted and hyperbolic, hysterical charges of being a secret Communist.  My parents, having seen at firsthand what can happen when you are too open about your allegiances or heritage, encouraged us to never speak about our ancestors and their former life, before they settled as immigrants.  It was seldom discussed and we spoke English only, at home.  They were blameless, being children when they emigrated, as were their parents and not Communists at all (in fact, they had suffered substantially at the hands of the Communists), but saying one was Russian, in Cold War Australia, was an open invitation to be tarred with that odious brush.

Although I was born in the country of my childhood, I could never openly acknowledge where my parents were from.  It had to remain a dark secret.  We were ashamed.  It wasn’t that we had anything to be ashamed of, but it was clear that, when I was a child, I was an outsider and a second class citizen in my own country of birth.  The feeling was unshakeable.  There was tremendous pressure to be more Australian than the Australians (themselves actually immigrants, in one way or another).  Whereas other kids openly spoke about their British heritage and British history was taught in the schools, my heritage and the rich and varied history of my parents’ countries was never even mentioned.  We were a family of ordinary people, displaced by war, set down in reactionary, conservative, thoroughly brainwashed and propagandised Australia.  They all feared reds under the bed, but we always slept on top of our beds and we weren’t red.

Expectations mounted.  The more you shape yourself to please others; the more they want you to go a little further and be that little bit more like what they expect you to be.  I was a bit of an over achiever, at high school and that became what was expected of me.  I wasn’t permitted to struggle with or fail at anything.  I had to be good at everything.  Nobody, then or since, acknowledged how hard and pressured maintaining that standard is.  I made it look easy, but it wasn’t.

What I wanted to be was a musician.  I wanted to make music, play my guitar and record, using a studio like a musical instrument, like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons and Ultravox had.  This was the life I wanted to live.  I wanted to be a full time music producer.  However, being a reliable, steady, serious, academically able student and a rising young professional was the path I was guided toward.  It’s not a bad path and it has had its enjoyable episodes.  I don’t contest that.  However, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.  Whenever I broached my choice, I was dissuaded from becoming an out of control, young rock star that played lairy guitars too loud.  That, I was told in no uncertain terms, was the road to ruin, but it was the road I wanted to travel.  That didn’t seem to matter.

When you start on your career path, you gradually, almost imperceptibly, accumulate obligations of one sort or another, as the years go by and pretty soon, you find yourself having to work too hard, in a so called real job, which was supposed to have real prospects, just to meet your commitments, instead of spending any time at all, playing music.  That would be fine, if the prospects were delivered, but all too frequently, my steady jobs ended in company failures, takeovers, buyouts, bankruptcies and redundancy.  These “steady jobs” proved to be as shaky, unreliable and unstable as being a musician was.  There I was, being somebody else, in order to receive the rewards I was assured would come, for playing the part, yet I was constantly short changed and let down.  I traded my soul for a handful of “magic beans”.  It felt like a lottery.

As a young man, I had many arguments with girlfriends, potential and other.  Some wanted to change me from being a musician into something else (heaven knows what – I didn’t stick around to find out).  Another, who was a musician and writer, wanted to be a professional instead (perhaps for the same pressured reasons I was being steered down that path).  Rather than seeing me as a comrade in arms, or as an inspiring and encouraging collaborator in an artistic life together, she saw me as a rival, worthy only of jealousy and bitter envy.

Being on the receiving end of the coldness and unkindness that accompanies such a comprehensive rejection as this, when what you had put forward, as a prospectus for a life together was your dearest wish to follow your artistic leanings and hers, in co-conspiratorial tandem, comes as a dreadful, crushing blow, which knocks all the self confidence out of you.  When somebody you really fancy throws your dreams back in your face and punishes you for sharing them, that is just another way of reinforcing the idea that being who you really are is wholly unacceptable and that being somebody else is the only viable course of action open to you.  It had long lasting effects.  Only in my mid to late twenties did I finally get lucky and find a wife that has been the most wonderful and supportive partner in our sometimes out-there endeavours together.

In my working life, I tried as hard as I could to be the model employee, as was expected of me.  Time and again, though, I encountered things in business that were less than good.  Saying so is never welcome, but conscience does not permit acquiescence.  As the messenger, I was shot as often as believed.  You weren’t supposed to be a boat shaker and for the most part, I had to avoid shaking boats, while keeping my own integrity intact.  It was not a happy balancing act.

I’ve written previously about professional jealousy and I have encountered more than my fair share of that, as others, instead of seeing my talents as adding to the collective good, instead saw me as a problem to be eliminated.  In everything I do, I consciously try to do it to the best of my ability.  People don’t like it when your efforts at self improvement pay off, eventually and your abilities risk outshining their own.  Instead of turning around and making better art, themselves, they get all Machiavellian about it and start plotting your ignominious downfall.  All this behaviour serves only to reinforce the notion that it is far too dangerous to be who you are and to do what you do, as well as you can.  You have to be somebody altogether more ordinary, average, orthodox and not quite so outstanding.  They call this “fitting in”.

The way I am wired, I have an ability to extrapolate from early trends and predict future opportunities with uncanny accuracy.  It’s no big deal to me and I have been proven right, after the fact, so many times, that I am confident the method works.  All you have to do is be sensitive and aware enough of movements in the populace toward one idea or another and you can be months or years ahead of your more conservative competitors.  Unfortunately, most of the companies one can work for are populated by these same conservative people.  People like me comprise only about six percent of the population, I am told.

Conservative thinkers, who deliberately blind themselves to and steadfastly ignore change, rather than sensitively noticing significant changes as they’re beginning, don’t even think it’s possible to reliably predict future technology or other trends, let alone accept the whole business as being methodical, reliable and easy.  They can’t do it and so conclude that nobody else can.  The reason they can’t do it because of their attitude to change.  They hate it and wish it wouldn’t happen.  That’s why they can never see it, until it’s too late.  They’re doing anything they possibly can to avoid having to notice change.  Yet again, a natural proclivity I have to just be one of the first to be aware of change puts me in conflict with often powerful people, in hierarchies I work within, who do their level best to pretend change never happens.

Again, I have to be somebody else to have an easier life.  If I am who I am, I pay for it in grief.  I can’t draw attention to disruptive changes early enough to take appropriate action, when I work with people whose basic assumption is that all change is incremental in nature.  They’re wrong, but I have to accommodate them, because they wish change to be incremental, even though most responses to change do not fail from being attempted too early, but rather they fail because the response to change is too late.

The world of painting is just as funny.  I paint in my own distinctive way.  It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I am constantly amazed by the reactions I get.  What does it matter to anybody else how I paint, yet I am constantly getting barbed comments and unfavourable comparisons to “proper” painters?  The message is loud and clear.  Paint in a more orthodox style, with ordinary colours and forms, or your art won’t be acceptable and neither will you be, as a painter.  The pressure to fit in, even as an artist, is immense.  Be the artist you’re not.  That’s the message.

I’ve even encountered this pressure to be somebody else in music.  My guitar playing has its own style and earlier in my guitar playing career, I was constantly encouraged to be more like Tony Mottola.  Hardly anybody remembers him as a guitar player and while he was an undoubtedly fine player, why did I have to sound like him?  I couldn’t, I didn’t want to and I have spent a lifetime trying to figure out how to play so that I sound like me.  It made no sense to me to half-heartedly ape somebody that could do that particular style of playing better than anybody else alive (sadly, he’s dead now).  This, however, is the artistic advice that young musicians are so often given.  Be somebody else.  Don’t be you.  People might not like you and they already like somebody else, so be somebody else.  It’s crazy!

(For those interested, here is some Tony Mottola guitar playing:   I don’t play like this at all.)

Another thing that comes from simply noticing (“You can observe a lot by just watching” – Yogi Berra) is that I have a talent for seeing the connections most people miss (whether they miss them accidentally, deliberately or ignorantly).  If you can entertain pure possibilities, then it’s amazing how often your intuition connects seemingly unrelated things and you suddenly have a lucid picture of what’s really going on, which has the satisfying ring of truth, instead of an inexplicable, mystifying, seemingly chaotic one.  However, when you report those connections to those that cannot (or will not) see them, be prepared for accusations, slander, character assassination and all manner of abuse.  In every case, your peers will tell you that you are wrong to see such connections, that you ought not see them, that your observations and intuitions are suspect and that showing the connections you perceive, to people that haven’t seen them, is reprehensible in the extreme.

People are trained to accept fear, uncertainty and doubt as representing normality, but it’s a mistake to be that person.  You are, presumably, supposed to not notice or to keep quiet about it, if you do see things more clearly, according to their mental model of the universe.  The pressure to be a different person, who doesn’t see obvious connections, hiding in plain sight, is immeasurable.  Because other people can’t do it (because they choose not to notice), they assert that nobody can do it, and hence, by induction, you must be a liar, if you claim you can.  Society tells you that it’s not ok to be the person you are.

These days, talking about the places I have worked, the people I have worked with, the things I have accomplished and the amazing luck I have had in my career has become almost risible.  Nobody believes that I could have done all that.  It’s almost embarrassing to bring it up.  Far easier to pretend it never happened or to downplay it all.  In one more significant way, I am invited to modify my own personal history for the comfort of others, who otherwise find it all very difficult to believe.  I have to be somebody else.

I’ve also been told, point blank, that polymaths don’t exist or cannot be placed in gainful employment.  The view is that it is impossible for any single human being to be professionally competent at more than one thing and still be any good.  I’ve heard that.  As my defence to the contrary, I submit an example of a thorough-going polymath in Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, airline pilot, doctor of music, writer, broadcaster, internationally competitive fencer, entrepreneur, father and cancer survivor.   He’s not the only one, as the article will attest, yet the general population denies the existence of the modern polymath, by and large.  All polymaths experience excessive pressure to be somebody else, their whole lives.  As accomplished as they are, they’re told that they’re frauds and that it is not ok to be the person they are.  They must be somebody else.

A note came home from school about our young son, one day, strongly suggesting that we should, as responsible parents, address his persistent lying.  Apparently, they claimed, he had been making up tall tales and telling the other children fanciful stories about his family and background.  When we went to the school to see what the problem was, we were told that he had told his peers that his grandmother had grown up in a castle, that his mother had worked in a formula one team, that his father had spent time working in Hollywood and had met many rock stars, that he was half Australian, that his grandfather spoke five languages, that his great grandfather was a bishop, who had advised the queen on the naming of her children, that an ancestor, in Russia, had been an opera singer and that his aunty lived in America and interviewed movie stars for a living.  They were most concerned that our son was so convincing in his lying, that he almost believed it himself.  Naturally, they had chastised him for his tall tales and even punished him for not desisting in telling his wildly improbable stories.  The problem was that every word was true.  Our son had not been lying, he had been telling his truth, as it was told to him, in our family circle.  His teachers had concluded that such a history had to be fictitious, even when it was wholly factual.  Here was a whole organisation, authority figures, telling my son that it was not ok to be the person he really was.  In fact, they punished him for it.

The insidious danger that goes along with being rejected for being who you are is that it lets you off the hook.  You don’t have to try very hard to improve yourself, as the person you really are, when everybody else tells you that your vision of yourself either doesn’t exist or shouldn’t exist.  When they tell you to be somebody else, it stops you trying to improve upon who you actually are.  Falling into that trap is very unfortunate, but so easy to do.  In fact, what you should be doing, is trying to find a place to be where people accept you for what you are, as you are.  The more outstanding, unusual or unorthodox you are, though, the harder it is to find a tribe similar to yourself.  The numbers thin out.  It is exceedingly difficult to only work with other polymaths or live in a place where your son’s “tall tales” are accepted as truth, because that’s what they are.

I once worked for a man who is quoted as saying you have to be willing to be misunderstood, if you’re going to innovate.  While there is some truth to that, I’ve found that the misunderstanding goes way beyond a joke, spilling over into malicious, wilful ignorance.  People refuse to understand you.  They’d rather you made yourself more understandable to them, by being less of what you are and more of what they are.  The man I worked for, or his organisation, didn’t understand me.  I was willing to innovate, on his behalf, willing to be misunderstood, but not willing to be singled out and given ridiculously odious management tasks, which would hurt direct reports, by people that saw me as a professional rival and threat.

I find that the pressure to keep my mouth shut and pretend that certain achievements never existed is still intense, for me, even today.  Admittedly, I live in a county with a higher than average proportion of conservative thinkers than average, which doesn’t help at all.  However, I’ve never yet located a place where I could guarantee acceptance of who I am, what I think and what I can do.  I’ve almost abandoned the idea.

An ironic side effect of suppressing who you really are, to please others, is that it spurs you on to want to overachieve at what they expect you to be, so that people will, at last, be pleased with you, for a change.    Overachieving often extracts a terrible price.  It’s hard to do and the self-imposed pressure can break you physically and emotionally.  At the end of the day, if you excel at being precisely who they all want you to be, they hate you for it anyway, because you are outshining them again, but this time at what you were told to be.  Meanwhile, you hate yourself more for betraying your own true nature so spectacularly.  It’s not a winning strategy.

After decades of struggle against the pressure to be somebody else, I’ve finally come to realise that you have no choice but to be who you really are and to do what makes you happiest.  The world will just have to adjust to accommodate you.  Often, it does not.  There are legions of high achievers, doing exactly what they wanted to do, who were commercially inconvenient and who, therefore, met tragic ends.  Nicola Tesla, Edwin Armstrong and Rudolph Diesel spring to mind (you should research and read their life stories).  Even so, what other course of action is actually open to you?  If you try to be who you’re not, you can’t.  You can only be who you are.  Otherwise, your life is like being in a cover band, playing other people’s songs and never playing your own material.  You might get good at it, but you’ll never feel good about it.

Despite the slings and arrows, you should not hide your light under a bushel, as the saying goes.  Instead, you should shine as brightly as you are able.  Shine on.

A brilliant life coach I worked with, to untangle the mess of my own artistic identity, is the incomparable Janet Whitehead.   Her view is that reconnecting with our authentic selves is critically important.  In fact, she tells her granddaughters and others that she does what she does, so that it doesn’t take until a person is 50 to reconnect with a huge part of themselves.  She’s right.  It’s important not to lose that connection with who you really are, no matter what others want you to be.  The assault starts at a very young age, as I hope my testament will demonstrate, but you have to stand your ground, as soon as you realise what is being done to you.  You don’t have to be the person other people want you to be.  Being the person you are is ok.

Your passions are a pretty reliable guide to your place and purpose in the world.  Trust in those feelings and intuitions.  They are telling you about yourself and what you care about most.  They’re signposts to what you stand for.  As such, they’re an important part of you.

As Seth Godin said, it’s time we got out of this thing of fitting in and got into being the one that stands out.  Outstanding!

Never hide your light.

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Musical Motifs

My musical focus, lately, has been on trying to compose melodic motifs or fragments, in an improvisational setting, that have some beauty to them.  It’s very easy to simply roll out all the licks you’ve learned, or to doggedly stick to scales and fretboard “boxes”, on guitar.  I’m trying to avoid doing that, because it’s repetitive and boring.  Instead, I am trying to drop surprising notes into my melodic motifs, to create mood and interest.

The reason I am concentrating on musical motifs is to strengthen my melody writing and part writing skills, as a composer.  The basis for the kind of music I want to make is to take a decent motif and manipulate it in different ways, so that the overall effect is one of musical cohesiveness and structure.  However, in order to start, you need interesting motifs and that’s the reason I am focusing on creating them.  This is also a great way for song writers to find a way to reliably create interesting hooks or riffs.

I’ve developed an approach that seems to be working for me.  The first thing to note is that I tend to anchor any phrase I play to chord tones.  I try hard to start and end the motif on a note that corresponds to the chord being played, whatever it happens to be.  In a progression, that means connecting up a starting note from one chord to a finishing note on another.  You have to think, while you play.

In between the anchor notes, the motif or phrase can incorporate scalar fragments, arpeggios, chromatic runs and any combination and subset of these, going in either direction (up or down or both).  Mixing these three fundamental “shapes” between the anchor notes gives lots of scope for building a melody that fits the progression.

Sometimes, you need to link one motif to another, in order to make a complete musical statement.  The way to approach that is to end your first phrase or motif on one of the suspension notes of the scale corresponding to the chord being played, or the key of the song.  That means ending your first phrase on the 2nd, 4th or 6th note of the scale.  This creates intrigue and a longing for resolution, which gets resolved by the second phrase.  Making two motifs, like this, lets you create a musical question and then to use the second phrase to give the answer.  It’s also known as “call and response”.  In composition, using one timbre to state the call and another instrument to play the response gives your music greater interest.

If you are creating motifs on guitar, there is a terrible tendency to want to start and end your phrases on the root note, or the octave above or below it.  It’s the centre of gravity of the musical key, after all.  Unfortunately, this, too, gets boring and predictable.  To add some surprise and to break up the monotony, it pays to start your motif on the 5th or the 3rd interval (or the 4th, if you are feeling more adventurous).

When it comes to ending a phrase, gravitating to the root note again is very psychologically satisfying, unless you do it all the damn time.  Instead, punctuate your motif by ending it on a major 7th, or 9th.  This is what the jazz players do and again, it produces an expectation of resolving to the root, without actually doing so.  In the mind of the listener, there is a strong suggestion of the root note, but because it is not actually played, the listener has to complete the phrase in their own imagination.  Rhythmically, you can do a lot to enhance this expectation.

The next way to create more interesting musical motifs is to vary the rhythms of the notes in the motif.  Instead of using straight eighth notes, use dotted notes, triplets, syncopation, the odd quarter or half note and grace notes, trills and other decorations.  On guitar, adding hammer-ons or pull-offs, or bends, greatly increases your phrase vocabulary, though from a compositional point of view, reproducing these effects on other instruments can be challenging.

I’m a strong believer that musical phrases and motifs are like sentences and so, benefit from concision, because that adds to their clarity and comprehension (hence, “whistleability”).  However, like short sentences, short musical phrases are also like sound bites, in that they can become hollow and vacuous, if that’s all you use.  Once listeners begin to suspect your musical integrity, because you play only short, sound-bitey, melodic phrases, you’ve lost their interest.  To maintain it, you have to intersperse your short motifs with longer, more complex phrases, which contain the musical equivalent of sub clauses.

On balance, though, short motifs are better than long ones and can be manipulated more flexibly in a composition.  Too many long phrases alienate and lose the listener, just as too many short ones do.  Jazz improvisation is notorious for its use of long, intricate, dense, flashy, showy and ultimately suspect musical phrases.  Don’t be that composer.

When it comes to extended musical statements, two logically connected short motifs, or a single motif transposed to start from a different note in the scale, are far preferable to a single long phrase, however ornate it might be.  Also, use musical decoration sparingly, because like tomato sauce, if you put it on everything, the piquancy is lost.

Like most musical composition, the creation of pleasing musical motifs relies on a delicate balance of repetition and surprise.  Too much is just too much and too little is just as bad.  More importantly, head for a mood or feeling.  You’ll sense when your motif and melody is creating that.

So, that’s my process.  It’s a work in progress, but it has begun to yield some interesting things and it has definitely improved my approach to improvisation, on guitar.  I’m also finding that I have had to become more dextrous, breaking out of entrenched muscle memory habits.  This, of course, means that I make mistakes, but that’s all part and parcel of the melodic experimentation.  When I learn to do this well, I think I will be proud of the artistic result.

I encourage you to develop your own approach to creating musical, melodic fragments.  It’s the key to making good compositions, I feel.

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Painting With X-Rays

Imagine that you have to do a painting of a model, from life, but the only light sources available to you, in the studio, are some radio isotopes (strontium 90 and caesium 137, for example) and a left over black light that a hippy left behind, which only produces ultraviolet light.  What would your painting look like?

This is a pure thought experiment, of course.  It’s not really possible to light a human being in that way and paint them.  However, it is an interesting notion to contemplate.  As a painter, how would you represent a human being lit only by X-rays, or ultraviolet light, or any other light not normally visible?

In my imagination, I began to think about X-ray films.  In those photographs, the bones, which are normally pure white in colour, seem to have dark shadows and flesh appears as invisible.  The glows and shadows have a very unnatural look about them.  I took this as my inspiration and starting point.


Earlier in the day, I had been discussing, with a colleague, the idea that drawing the human form relied on being able to perceive the skeleton (particularly the skull) beneath the flesh of the model and having drawn where the skeleton was, dressing your picture with added flesh.  That way, you could form the flesh over a framework and (theoretically) achieve a more delicate and accurate rendering of your subject – particularly their face.  It’s an intriguing idea, but it relies on being able to perceive or imagine the bones inside the person you’re looking at.  It’s actually very hard to do, in my experience.  That’s why I began to think about x-rays.

The solution I arrived at was to paint the lightest areas with dark paint and the darkest shadows with the brightest colours or tones.  In effect, it was tone reversal.  Paint the shadows as highlights and the highlights as shadows.  Reversing the mid tones was less important, but could add to the effect, I thought.

To create the suggestion of x-rays, I painted my canvas a dark, dark blue.  That was meant to represent the x-ray film.  Then, I chose a ghostly colour palette, creating my lightest tones from a pure cyan blue colour, mixed with varying amounts of pure titanium white, mixed with a little iridescent paint, for extra sparkle.

The paint I used to achieve that effect was actually a Daniel Smith acrylic, called “Duochrome Lapis Sunlight”, which gives an intriguing luminescent effect, but I don’t know if this paint is even available, any more.  It comes out of the tube looking white and goes on the canvas fairly innocuously, but it definitely catches the light!  I mix it with other paints and pigments to hide he gimmick and subdue the duochrome effect a little.

This is a very cold colour palette, so when the painting was almost finished, I added a few touches of a very light orange (a colour called “Jaune Brilliant”, which I adore) to give the painting some warmth and humanity.  It was important to me to suggest that blood still flowed through veins and arteries of the person, in my painting.

Here is how my painting, which I made on Wednesday night, turned out:

X-Ray Painting

Portrait in X-Ray – Michael Topic – September, 2015.

The hardest part, in the end, was resisting the temptation to paint shadows dark and highlights with the white paint.  I found myself constantly having to consciously think about doing the reverse of that.  As I would with any other painting, the last step in my process was to go and add the sparkly highlights, only this time; I was doing it with dark indigo blue black on the brush, not pure white.  Painting reverse eyeballs was particularly challenging, as was keeping the bright colours pure, when there was so much (almost) black on the canvas and I was working wet into wet, alla prima.

Technically, the painting was challenging to execute, because of the danger or making mud and because every line had to be precisely placed, not reworked and left alone once committed.

In theory, I should be able to take a tonal negative of the picture, in my computer and the painting should look like the shadows are in the right place, as are the highlights, but I am not brave enough to do so, for fear of disliking the result and hence spoiling my satisfaction with my painting.  I’m eschewing that exercise, for the moment.

I suppose another experiment I could try is to substitute highlights and shadows with deliberately chosen colours which would not occur naturally.  For example, maybe I could try yellow and purple, for the highlights and shadows, or reverse the two.  We’ll see.

Anyway, you know what they say.  “Don’t shoot, until you can see the blacks of their eyes!”

Or something like that…

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Resentful Admiration

I read something that surprised me, recently.  It was this: that people who are jealous of another person (which, let’s face it, is something we regrettably see quite a lot, among the artist community) are actually expressing their insecurities, because they are angry at themselves for admiring the other person so much.   This is the dark side of admiration – resentful admiration.

This might have happened to you.  You’ve spent a veritable lifetime getting better at what you do and you find yourself among people that, while they may have tried very hard, have not quite reached the point in the journey that you have.  You’re innocently going about doing what you do, putting out your best work, with integrity and trying to learn and improve, every day.  Suddenly, out of the blue and without forewarning, you encounter professional jealousy.  Some other artists, who previously fancied themselves as pretty darn good (and maybe with full justification), suddenly feel that whatever you’re doing is somehow “better” than what they can do, or else that you are luckier, less-deserving, facile or whatever fabricated criticism they can concoct, by way of self-justification.  Overnight, you find yourself bearing the brunt of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – again.

I say again, because it’s usually the very few extraordinarily different artists that cop the most flack, repeatedly.  They’re the tall poppies that everyone wants to cut back down to size.  Because they are outstanding, they’re the obvious targets.  All of this would be of little consequence if it were no more than a childish, playground spat, but it’s more harmful and insidious than that.  All the target of the jealousy can do is bear it and keep doing the work that they do, as well as they can, but you know they’re hurting.  It’s heartbreaking to be ostracised and isolated, rejected and reviled by your peers.  To be disrespected and abused in this way and made to feel a pariah, for doing nothing more than practising your art as well as you are able, stings.

This kind of jealousy damages promising careers.  It can cause actual material loss and leave the victim feeling traumatised, stressed and burnt out.  Health can be impacted, in unrecoverable ways.  Opportunities evaporate.  Confidence takes a nose dive.  All that snarky back-biting and sabotage undermines the victim in every way imaginable, poisoning the atmosphere for them and destroying any joy they might have derived from working among colleagues.  It’s miserable.  It’s lonely.  You just want to escape to somewhere that the people are nice.  Instead, you have to withstand vengeful acts of self-importance and self-aggrandisement, as if you had done something wrong.  But you haven’t done anything wrong.  You’re being punished not because your work is bad, but because your work is good.

If the jealous person is in a position of power in a hierarchy, micromanagement can often be the manifestation.  Small details are suddenly crucially important to them and they take any opportunity they can to demonstrate, mostly to themselves, that you, the victim, are somehow lacking or missing the quality bar.  The harder you try, the more they try to trip you up on tiny, insignificant details.  It’s a nasty tactic and a pure power play.

Here’s the ugly truth, though:  Whether you admire somebody and derive inspiration from them, or alternatively envy them, becoming bitter and resentful at their accomplishments and talents, is completely up to you.  It’s a choice that you make.  Which choice you make comes down to respect.  Do you respect people that work hard to be who they are and do the work that they do, with authenticity?  Do you respect yourself enough to rise above your insecurities and find some gratitude and appreciation for being in the presence of a colleague like that?

Anybody reputed to be competent knows that competence can be a curse.  The fact that you can do what others feel they cannot, disturbs their equilibrium and self-image.  It shakes their self-belief and the foundations of their identity.  This grotesque distortion of admiration, when it rolls over into professional jealousy, is the origin of the vicious rat-race we all like to imagine we are observing, at a distance, rather than caught up in inexorably.

All those hard-won lessons, which you learnt in the depths of despair, having failed at something you tried, seem like a stone around your neck.  Far from making others see you as a better person (which those tough lessons actually made you); you are despised for having survived the scars and wreckage and emerged as a better artist.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair to the attacker.  They see the shining abilities, but they never notice the pain, sacrifice and suffering that was paid, to obtain them.  They don’t perceive that the difference between the outstanding and them is simply that they haven’t done as much learning, yet.

Being on the receiving end of professional jealousy, especially if this happens to you repeatedly, can leave you feeling that the problem must be with you, but very often it is not.  It really is them, not you.  Being in any way outstanding, especially in your art, singles you out as a target for resentful admiration, which is delivered in the most begrudging, nasty and conniving way, as pure, unalloyed envy.

This kind of pathological rivalry can be thought of as being fuelled by a defensive tendency to self-protect.  It’s a social strategy, but not a very positive one.  Its antagonistic nature leads to social conflict, accompanied with ego threats.   I’ve seen it written that:

Jealousy = Admiration + (Insecurity + Contempt)/2. 

I don’t know how true that is, or how mathematically rigorous, but there is an element of wry wisdom to it.

Jealousy is a negative emotion, consisting or thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety over an anticipated (and largely imaginary) loss of something of great personal value (esteem, position, privilege, respect, admiration, for example).  Jealousy is expressed as a combination of emotions like anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust.  In the main, jealousy (professional or other) is a disempowering emotional state and quite distracting.  You can’t do your best work, while you are jealous of somebody else doing theirs, to a high degree of competence.

Admiration, on the other hand, is a social emotion elicited by people of competence, accomplishment, talent or skill, exceeding the usual norms.  The thing about admiration is that it facilitates learning in groups and motivates self-improvement, through learning from role models and mentors.  In contrast to jealousy, it is empowering and engaging.  Why would you choose jealousy over admiration?

Those that feel jealous imagine that the very presence of the person they despise for their qualities causes a painful assault on their self-esteem.  But who is assaulting whom in reality?  Being in the presence of an excellent artist can be particularly painful to those with narcissistic tendencies.  There can be few things more painful to a narcissist than to discover somebody they admire more than they admire themselves.  People with low self esteem are also prone to feeling jealous, when they encounter somebody that, innocently and inadvertently, threatens their own self image.

The art world tends to exacerbate and amplify professional jealousies.  There are relatively few opportunities for major success, in the arts, as it tends to be a winner-takes-all business.   You’re either a star, or one of the starving.  There is very little in between.  When somebody in the arts perceives themselves to be the “top dog” in their field, then they encounter somebody they feel to be, somehow, self-evidently and obviously better, that can be the catalyst that starts the jealousy.  Unhappiness ensues.

If you are one of those artists seemingly constantly on the receiving end of unwanted, unwarranted, unprovoked and unjustified professional jealousy, just for being who you are and doing what you do, why should you have to put up with other people’s bullshit?  Why should their insecurities be your problem?  Of course, the outstanding artists tend to be the most understanding, empathic and supportive of colleagues that feel inadequate, but it’s dangerous.  They can get injured, at least psychologically.  In truth, you don’t have to subject yourself to such disrespectful, bad behaviour.  You can and should excise it from your life and the sooner the better.

If you can arrange circumstances to allow, you really shouldn’t stay too long anywhere you’re not appreciated.  That’s a rule that applies universally, whether or not you are in any way special, gifted or practised.

For those that might be jealous of another artist, why not take the opportunity to watch and learn from your colleague?  It takes less energy and it feels much better.  Be grateful for being privileged to bear witness to somebody extraordinary, doing their extraordinary things.  Their powers are ephemeral and nobody lives forever.  Admire and appreciate, instead of envying, disadvantaging, damaging and destroying those you secretly love the most.

You’re not bleedin’ Salieri!

“The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.” – William Penn.

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Missing the Magic

People tend to focus too much on the things they don’t have.  Artists, especially, worry about the latest paint they haven’t tried, that new sound set they don’t yet have, the special type of musical instrument not (so far) in their possession, which new piece of software they really need to do what they imagine and so on.  In fact, there is a whole industry that feeds off this feeling that, with just one more purchase, or just the right artistic ingredient, then the magic will be unleashed.  The magic is unleashed anyway, whether or not you have everything you think you need.  Art is like that.

If you were honest, as an artist, you would have to acknowledge that just being an artist fills your life with accidental, unexpected, magical moments.  Things happen to you that don’t happen to other people.  You enjoy successes and endure failures that make you a better artist.  Those highs and lows are unique to you.  Your life consists almost entirely of discoveries, mysteries, camaraderie, gentle competition, fellowship, good natured rivalry, triumphs, defeats, courage, doubts, explorations, bafflements, experiments, reliable methods of your own devising, techniques you can never quite master, notions, innovations, imagination, concepts, abstractions, fulfilling surprises, agonising expectations, adulation, appreciation, gratitude and humility.  That’s quite a magical life.

It also has to be said that the life of an artist is seldom anything other than interesting.  You find yourself in situations and places, presented with opportunities and enjoying special privileges that non-artists will never know.  You gain access to places that others rarely go and see things and hear things with heightened, finely-tuned senses that, in others, have become dulled with lack of use and inexperience.  You have had the opportunity to feel more, with vivid lucidity, than most other people do.

If you were truthful, when you looked back at all you have experienced and achieved, as an artist, you would acknowledge the rich, fascinating, astounding, astonishing, purely magical moments that have come to you, simply because you chose to pursue your art.  It wasn’t a waste of time.

Granted, that might have meant you spent all your time and money on self-development, tools, education, materials and so on, instead of investing in real estate.  With the way the world economy has been, for the past four decades, you will definitely have become materially poorer than somebody that bet everything on their house and property, but your soul would have to be vastly enriched, compared to somebody that bought their box and sat in it, waiting for it to appreciate.  You have had a fuller, more adventurous, freer, more experimental life than somebody that merely speculated and did little else.

There may have been people in your life that shunned you, for your peculiar, artistic mania.  They may have rejected you, as a person, or because you looked like you would be a hopeless provider and taken a different path in life.  At first, that might have hurt.  You may have felt the abandonment acutely.  You might even have regretted missing out on spending more of your time with them.  But here is the thing.  For all that you felt you lost, imagine how much those people missed, by not spending more time with you.

You have been an artist.  You have intrepidly explored the furthest reaches of aesthetic sensibility.  Your emotional life has been filled with colours and timbres and harmony and thoughts and ideas.  You were free to make whatever you wanted to make, however you wanted to make it.  You were able to say what you felt and state what you meant, using your artistic skills to articulate it, with clarity and emotional power.  Meanwhile, there were the occasional moments when people “got” you completely and in those moments, you felt as though somebody was closer to understanding the authentic essence of yourself than ever before.  How can you not feel satisfaction at the magic of that?

People that shunned you, in earlier life, missed all of that.  Your potent magic did not touch them at all.  Their distance and remoteness from you made it impossible.  Refusing to connect with you meant they lost everything that a connection with you would have brought them.  They existed without the amazement and wonder that just witnessing your artistic journey could have given them.  And they also lost their chance to participate in it all.

They missed the magic completely and it’s their loss.  It’s a huge loss.

Be careful not to miss appreciating the magic in your own life.

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