Friday, October 24, 2008

Am I A Late Bloomer?

I know it's been a while since I've blogged. I just didn't have any great ideas to write about, and I don't want to subject you to reading something boring like "I had a great show, I drove a hundred miles, I got up early and went running." (Oops, I just did. But with irony!) So then I thought I could come up with something interesting to say about my constant procrastination. But I think I just might have covered that topic before. I know I think about it almost every day.

Then yesterday I read Malcolm Gladwell's recent article in the New Yorker. Hear him talk about it here. It's all about "Late Bloomers," or artists who come into their genius later in life, and it raises some pretty interesting issues for the way we structure our creative lives, and how artists interact with the marketplace. Drawing heavily from the book "Old Masters and Young Geniuses" by David Galenson (which is now on my reading list), he describes an alternative to the artistic archetype of the Prodigy or inherently talented youngster which many of us have come to believe is the true genius. The Late Bloomer is more of an experimental artist, taking years to practice, research, try different techniques, hone her skills and ultimately find her voice. Late Bloomers produce works of art every bit as intriguing and important as Prodigies, but much later in life. Cezanne and Ben Fountain are the examples he chooses to illustrate this point.

Inspiring, right? Maybe we all have potential to be great artists when we retire! Maybe we shouldn't write off arts education for our kids just because they don't seem to be talented by 5th grade.

The problem is that these days, we expect that good art will be supported by the marketplace. Lots of people who dream of being a singer or painter give themselves 5 or 10 years to "make it," then move on to a 8-5 job. And who can blame them? It's hard to be poor for years and years, especially if you have no guarantee that your art will ever be well received. Especially if you are a perfectionist who is rarely satisfied with your creative output. And is it really an option to have a full time job and practice art on the side? Will there be enough time to follow every thread of inspiration, repeat every exercise enough times to make it just right? Gladwell suggests that many Late Bloomers are blessed with Patrons, be they parents or spouses who pay the bills so that the artist can work. But those are very special circumstances indeed, and certainly open to abuse. The common call lately seems to be "Cut those free-loading 20-somethings off!"

I you haven't guessed yet, I feel like a Late Bloomer. My self-critical side wonders if I'm just glomming on to the idea to justify my minimal success, and make myself feel better about getting older. How do I know that I will actually ever "bloom" someday? But I relate to the characterization on more fundamental points, too. I can be quite a perfectionist, feeling very unsatisfied with my songs and editing or re-writing them over and over. But I also really enjoy the creative process, the research part, winding down different alleyways of ideas, gathering resources and inspiration around me. Some days the observing and noticing and learning is more satisfying than having a finished song to sing. Take Galenson's quiz to see which you are.

Having realized this, what do I do? Look for a patron? Re-adjust my expectations? Push myself harder or back off? Am I OK with waiting for my success? Is my family? Is the youth-obsessed music industry? I hope this article sparks more discussion about different types and timelines for creative expression, we sure need some kind of a change.

So maybe I'm not really procrastinating. I'm just researching....

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Caught up in the crisis

I just ate cold pizza from the fridge. So, it was homemade, whole wheat crust, and covered with fresh veggies. It was still leftover and cold, and that's not a good sign. Then I ate stale, florescent, sour gummy worms. It's that bad. I've been running around on the verge of puking, checking my bank balance and my mailbox several times a day. When are those checks coming? When are my bills due? Did my bank collapse? I need to turn off Marketplace and do some yoga. I think we all should.

And then I saw a bumper sticker that read, "Business is good. People are terrific. Life is wonderful." OK. Right. Stress isn't really helping anything. I'm gonna put on my Deepak Chopra tape and try to appreciate all the things that aren't going wrong right now. And book a few more babysitting jobs. Then drink a margarita and go dancing like crazy at my friend's birthday party tonight.

Anybody else have a good idea about how to chill out?