Creative soiree4

This is about the fourth ‘Creative soiree’ that I have hosted this year. The Creative Soiree gets all kinds of creative people together- designers, photographers, artists, writers, etc. in a ‘safe’ place to discuss what means to be creative, learn from each other and most importantly, how to make a living as a creative person.

At this soiree, we had the advantage of sounding out someone who started a music media company during the last recession. The international business also manages live-streams and concerts, websites and social media for bands and links them with brand names. This man has two small children too. I was just impressed that he had made the time to come for this discussion! Naturally the discussion turned to how creative people can be creative, commercial and contributive in their work.  These are some of the highlights of that discussion with him and others, along with my own musings.

  • Constraints are creative. Both ‘top end’ and ‘bottom end’ commissions have their constraints. Constraints and creativity go together to solve problems.
    Business is non-judgmental. Listen to the voice of the ordinary person, read stuff that you normally won’t, and do things that you have not done before. All these activities increase not only personal creativity and knowledge but also your client base. Look at yourself and your work from outside in, not inside out in order to get the right perspective.
  • Become your own agent or get one. All creative people need agents. If you can’t get one, become your own agent. Salvador Dali painted, acted, designed, wrote and danced until he became the one man PR agent for himself. Watch this hilarious clip from ‘What’s my line?’ featuring Dali. His provocations were seen as gimmicks by his critics and as ‘performance art’ by his fans. Not all of Dali’s creative ventures succeeded but what succeeded was enough to give him a place in history.
  • Base your fees on your work value. Can you quantify the value you bring to your project? As a creative person, you are a participant in the ‘creation of value’ and therefore, your fee should be a percentage of that value.
  • Success depends upon luck and so increase your chances. Certainly, many people work hard and are clever. If merit was the only way people could succeed, then anyone who worked hard and was clever, would succeed in life. But life is not meritocratic. Instead create what are called ‘weak links’ or casual, non –work related contacts, and your chances of a lucky break have increased.

what is success?

happiness1

A Facebook acquaintance inserted this photo with the title, ‘The 380 upper deck is, well…um, a kind of different, I’d say’ and then he inserted another one which offered views of the scenery he could see from his hotel window, saying, ‘Not so bad view from a window you have to spend four days in.’ And so came more gloating- we had photos of him drinking wine, trying different kinds of foods, etc. He got 28 ‘likes’ for that first post and 37 for the second one. The thing for me was that this was the same guy who worked for an organisation that helps the poor.  Not many of his ‘customers’ would have experienced this luxury and again, the organisation that sponsored his visit, would perhaps be uncomfortable with his boasting.  I thought that his aspirations and his work were so opposite that perhaps he does not find comfort and happiness in what he does.

For many of us, one’s career can different from one’s calling, leading to a dissatisfaction with our everyday lives. A calling is something we do from our hearts, it is part of our whole lives so that is it not an incongruous part of it but something that is natural. Thomas Carlyle said, ’Blessed be he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness’.  But success is a bit more difficult to understand. Alain de Botton recently posted a blog about learning from the 80’s pop group, Wham!. One of the lead singers, Andrew Ridgeley, is living a comparatively unknown life with his wife, who is also a former pop star from ‘Bananarama’. de Botton contends that Ridgeley is the ‘winner’ and more successful than his former partner, George Michael, who is in the news all the time (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and wealthier. Success is about more than accumulation of money, travel, homes and carsl- ‘The life of Andrew Ridgeley belongs in the public realm. It’s one of the great moral fables of our time. It’s the story of one man’s redemption – from manic, narcissistic pleasure seeking to maturity.’

I have been thinking of success and what it means to me. For me success is a quiet confidence that we have lived the life we wanted, regardless of what society thinks of it and to have contributed to the world a similar amount of time and resources that it has given us. Success does not shout its status from the roof, it is solid and deep, grounding us with our calling- inside out.

calling and career

happiness1

A Facebook acquaintance inserted this photo with the title, ‘The 380 upper deck is, well…um, a kind of different, I’d say’ and then he inserted another one which offered views of the scenery he could see from his hotel window, saying,’Not so bad view from a window you have to spend four days in.’  And so on- then we had photos of him drinking wine, trying different kinds of foods, etc.  He got 28 ‘likes’ for that first post and 37 for the second one. This person works for an organisation which helps the poor.  I wondered what his colleagues and ‘customers’ would have made of his posts? I realised that his aspirations and job were so opposite to each other that perhaps he does not find comfort and happiness in what he does. He is someone who cannot reconcile his behaviour with the values he is supposedly espousing.

For many of us, one’s career can different from one’s calling, leading to a dissatisfaction with our everyday lives.  A calling is something we do from our hearts, it is part of our whole lives so that something that is naturally a part of us.  Thomas Carlyle said, ’Blessed be he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness’.  But what is success?  Alain de Botton recently posted a blog about learning from the 80’s pop group, Wham!.  One of the lead singers, Andrew Ridgeley, is living a comparatively unknown life with his wife, who is also a former pop star from ‘Bananarama’. de Botton contends that Ridgeley is the ‘winner’ and more successful than his former partner, George Michael, who is in the news all the time (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and wealthier.  Success is about more than accumulation of money, travel, homes and cars!- ‘The life of Andrew Ridgeley belongs in the public realm. It’s one of the great moral fables of our time. It’s the story of one man’s redemption – from manic, narcissistic pleasure seeking to maturity. But it’s not just his story. He shows us what we need to do collectively, as a nation.’

I have been thinking of success and what it means to me.  For me success is a quiet confidence that we have lived the life we wanted, regardless of what society thinks of it and to have contributed to the world a similar amount of time and resources that it has given us.  Success does not shout its status from the roof, it is solid and deep, grounding us with our calling- inside out.

Baby steps

I have been quite ill recently- seems like I have spent most of my days and weeks in hospital and it seems like there is more to come.  I felt quite despondent about this and following my heart seemed to be about having enough rest to get some strength to get back to more hospitals.  Is this what a creative life is about, I wondered- Just trying to have just enough energy to do my daily chores?  I looked at some of my colleagues and thought how wonderful it would if I had their good health, then only I could so much more.  Then it came to me.  I did not have to compare myself to others.  If my day could be even one bit better than the previous day, I had succeeded.  Life was about baby steps. The creative life is about taking baby steps towards your goals every day.  Yes, every day has been a struggle but if in the morning, I could determine that one that day i could feel even one bit better and do one creative thing (whether that was in the kitchen or anywhere else), then I had won!  As Daisaku Ikeda says,”It is not how you compare to others that is important, but rather how you compare to who you were yesterday. If you’ve advanced even one step, then you’ve achieved something great.”

I came across an inspirational video about Jadav Payeng. Singlehandedly, he has created a forest out of barren land with no money or help.  He has been working since 1979, with no social media or press congratulating him on his achievements until recently when he was ‘found’ by chance.  By planting one seed or sapling daily, he has created a forest bigger than Central Park in New York- a park which will prevent erosion and save wildlife.  Learning to take baby steps towards our goals without external validation is the most important thing we can do each day.

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/short-film-showcase/india-man-plants-forest-bigger-than-central-park-to-save-his-island?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20141018video-indiaforestvod&utm_campaign=Content&sf5288740=1

The wrong choice for creativity

La Bombilla

Life happens, stuff happens- sometimes good, sometimes bad.  How does one keep being creative all the time?  When I am happy, I actually don’t feel like doing anything creative.  Surprisingly it is when I have been sad or ill, that is when I have been most creative.  I had a stroke about four years ago, just after receiving a contract to write a 320 page-book.  I had 71 blood tests, 5 scans and one operation.  I also had to deal with a terrible situation at work during that time.  The photo above shows the painting I did when I could not write and then after being able to sit up, I finished the book in nine months.  That painting became the book cover.

Henri Matisse’s works are testament to the incredible vitality of the artist at a time when his body was increasingly frail after life-saving surgery for duodenal cancer in 1941. Overcoming the physical limitations being wheelchair bound, Matisse reinvented himself as an artist,  from working with paint to collage.  Calling this period “ma seconde vie”, he used scissors and water-based gouache painted paper to create vivid cut out collages.  He called it ‘painting with scissors’.  He said of that time, “Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit”.

The author of ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ is a memoir by French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby. Pre-stroke, Bauby had a great life being the editor of the Elle fashion magazine. However, his greatest creative act came after suffering a massive stroke in 1995 that left him with locked-in syndrome in which the only movement he could do was blinking his eyes.  The memoir was written by him blinking his left eyelid, which took ten months (four hours a day). Using partner assisted scanning, a transcriber repeatedly recited a frequency-ordered alphabet, until Bauby blinked to choose a letter. The book took about 200,000 blinks to write and an average word took approximately two minutes.

In an interview with the BBC, Judith Palmer, the director of the Poetry Society said that ‘There is no reason why rich poets can’t feel the hope, love, loss and wonderment they need to create their work. Money solves a lot of problems but it doesn’t stop you going through emotional trauma or suffering bereavement.’ But many artists and creative people have actually chosen ‘voluntary poverty’ in order to be more creative.  In the mid-19th Century, visitors flocked to the cottage of John Clare, the ‘peasant poet’ who lived and worked in grinding poverty. Charles Baudelaire who squandered his inheritance and sank into debt, said: “Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry.” Even today, we imagine that life has to be hard in order to be creative and unconsciously set about making our lives hard or give ourselves a hard time, even!

However, I feel that choosing this kind of life of ‘bohemian or voluntary’ poverty or to subject one’s body extreme conditions, in order to be creative, is not really true creativity.  It is the opposite. True creativity is when one can use any life circumstance to be creative as Bauby, Matisse and others have done.  Polly Stenham, who wrote her first play aged 19, and went on to have it performed at the Royal Court theatre in London, talks about illness in her family, ‘..I think having an ill parent..can be a gift.  And you have to look at it like that. I wouldn’t have been a playwright had I not had to deal with it”.  Friesian poet Tsead Bruinja says that he no longer has such a narrow conception of the art-form, and thinks poems can come out of all kinds of life experiences. “There’s poetry everywhere,” he says. Yes, indeed- life is our true master; life is the one place where we can find all creativity.

 

 

three secrets of a successful micro-business

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As a self employed creative, I have been reading business books on creativity and business for many years.  Through these years I became aware that I did not wish to create a business empire but do what I do efficiently and productively; that I did not mean to mass produce but only produce something that was well designed and beautifully made; and not be a mad bad crazy person that creatives are thought to be but live a balanced, joyful and creative life.  I am sure that many of you also wish to live like that- we are not all Warren Buffet, Richard Branson or Bill Gates or even Steve Jobs (notice all are men which I am not!)

Most of the advice I read or listened to was not about small or micro- businesses- but about how to mass produce, how to make huge profits and how to influence widely.  There was not much advice if you just want to live a simple, creative, healthy and joyful life- following your heart- and making enough money to achieve all this.  I wanted to distill all the stuff I had read and listened to, in to some essential aspects which could apply equally to any scale of business.  What could I distill out of all that I had read and give back to you?  I found that essentially it boils down to three lives we lead- the contributive life,  the balanced life and the joyful life.

1. The contributive life:  This term was coined by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator and philosopher.  He said that our life should be about contributing to the whole of which we are en essential and creative part.  So if you are doing work that contributes to society, that work will be naturally meaningful and productive.  As part of cause and effect, you will find that your needs are satisfied in the most amazing ways- I have had people helping me out on things without asking for money because I helped them before.

The contributive life is an anti-dote to the monetary life.

2. The balanced life:  Contrary to what many people think, Yoga is not a series of stretching exercises or a type of mediation.  Yoga is about the balanced life- where you r health matters as much as anybody else’s, where you eat and sleep in moderation and where your work and personal lives balance.  This is the middle way- not extremes and our task is to find a middle way every day.  Sometimes, it may mean we do more work, sometimes it means we take more rest- everyday is a day of finding a balance for our physical needs and creativity.

The balanced life is our everyday practice of living.

3. The joyful life: Finally, if your work or business does not give joy to you, is not contributive or balanced, then let go of it.  Find something that tugs at your heart strings, pulls you towards it and asks you play the music of life.  If you are not smiling and forgetting the time, than it is not a work that you love.  For seven years, I was doing teaching that I thought was a contributive work but it was not a balanced life I was leading nor was it making me happy.  I finally left it and now I find myself doing similar work but on my own terms.  I have set up a charity for this and use my lectures, teaching and work to improve the lives of others.  The joy I feel out of this, is immeasurable and priceless.

Find your joy, follow your heart!

cultivating innocence

“Research is formalised curiousity. It poking and prying with a purpose”– Zora Neale Hurston, Anthropologist

In my book I had written about ‘cultivated innocence’ or even ignorance.  When we get used to things, people or our environment, we stop looking with our creative selves.  We stop seeing with new eyes and instead of following our hearts, we follow our deep-seated prejudices and pre-judgements.  This morning I looked at my garden with new eyes and found so many things I had not seen before.  For example, I did not realise that bees came to my lavender plant at a certain time in the morning everyday.  I learnt to listen out for them and did try to photograph them but did not succeed- perhaps I did not how fast bees fly or how quickly they drink the nectar from flowers!  I discovered some tulips, some geraniums and some moss I had not seen before.  All this gave me great pleasure- all through seeing the same thing with the ‘eyes of innocence’.  Using the words of the poet, Wallace Stevens, we must “resist intelligence almost successfully” to follow our hearts.

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Making a living

One of the biggest fears about following our hearts is that one may not make enough money to live on.  Ask yourself three questions- “Do people appreciate my creativity?”  “Have I got awards or recognition for my work?”  “Can I make money following my heart?” Yes is probably the answer to first of those two questions but as for the third one, it is comes back to fear- so the answer maybe or even no, but not a resound ‘yes’.

Tao Te Ching says-

“If you have prestige and favour,

all you worry about is that it will get taken away.

And if you have a lowly place,

you are still basically afraid.

So both, at the root, make for fear.”

So regardless of whether we are successful or not, fear rules us.  I looked at various inspirations and words of wisdom about how we can survive in this highly competitive world, living and giving with our gifts.  These are three ingredients that I have come up with that are essential to making a living while following our heart-

1. Be soft– “Learn to yield and be soft, if you want to survive” (Lao Tzu)- this means being flexible and not rigid with in our goals or expectations.  It is about having gratitude for what is right now rather than looking for happiness in the future when your goals may/ may not materialise. Jack Canfield talks about our inner GPS that takes us where we want.  So we can have our goals firmly in our hearts but let go of the ways and means of how we achieve this in the same way that the river flows to the sea, taking the route of least resistance.

2. DiversifyTE Lawrence’s view was that men always seek the best means of survival the ecological and political conditions can provide.  This means not being just flexible but also being a ‘generalist’ and not a specialist as is commonly said.  ”..in changing environment it was those who were the least specialised who had the greatest chance of success” said Michael Asher, writer and adventurer, about the Arabs of the desert.  This principle applies even if we don’t live in the desert- it is about diversifying our portfolio as Charles Handy has often described in the times of scarcity.  I have heard actors moan about lack of work, artists complain about lack of success- and all their time goes in complaining.  But if we look at many great and famous people, we learn that they did what they could when times were hard, but never letting go of their dreams.  Did you know that Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter, Bryan Ferry was a teacher and George Clooney did odd jobs such as selling men’s suits and cutting tobacco before they become famous?

3. Have ‘good friends’- Nichiren says that one must treat one’s work as it were our spiritual practice.  By having this attitude, our place of work can become a place for spiritual development and our colleagues can become our ‘good friends’ who help us reach our potential.  These friends can do either negative or positive things but we need to view them as good friends- no matter what they do, our gratitude does not change.  I have had times when I have been let down by others and treated badly by colleagues.  I could spend my time complaining or slandering them.  Instead I ask, ‘What can I learn from this situation?”  And all the times, it has driven me to greater perfection and greater benefits.

 So let go of your fears and follow your heart!