Writing can feel limiting for me.
I often compare my ideas for writing to other people’s. Then I toss my idea because they’ve already done it. You see, my struggle with writing is that of comparison to others. My observing mind overpowers my analytical mind. “I see that someone else has written about that subject in their blog so I should write about something else.” “This melody sounds like that song’s melody, I better change it.” Expression.
Why is that we as people are so critical of our own work and more accepting of someone else’s? Why is it that I scrap the melody of a song I’ve written because it is too similar to another song I’ve heard? Why do I scratch out a blog idea because someone else has already written about it? Why? Well…the same reason why our clients sometimes refuse to express their ideas in their own way. It is a vulnerable place. Expression makes us vulnerable. Expression is a window through the persona to the Self. When you express yourself, you express your Self. Why wouldn’t you feel indifferent about expressing yourself to a therapist whom you have just met? I am reminded, in my own struggle for creative expression, of how hard it must be for a non-musician receiving music therapy to open up in treatment. It’s hard and we need reminders in times of frustration. Maybe you’ve tried everything you know to do and a client still doesn’t reciprocate. Maybe a client is abrasive when cued verbally to engage. Maybe its time to take a step back and remember that for us music therapists and musicians, creative expression is second-nature (sometimes first!). For clients, it may be a difficult path with many bends and forks. Be patient and let the music fill the space and guide that person to trust. Trust the process.
I just recently was listening to an excellent podcast episode about the self. The podcast’s focus for this episode was on finding your true self, persona aside. The hosts discussed acknowledgement and how important it is to acknowledge who you are while you be who you are. There was an interview with a writer from New York. She discussed her struggles with writing. (So did Oliver Sacks in the same episode, and of course his segment was awesome!) This young woman was having severe writer’s block, as most writer’s do. She would barely make her deadlines, catch heavy criticism from her coworkers and supervisor, and felt that she was totally disconnected from her creative self. Until one day she began treating her creative self as a separate entity…as if creativity itself were alive and would find someone who was going to use it.
She began telling her creative self that she just needed some time and to please not find someone else to work through. I found all of this incredibly interesting. I started thinking back to memorable moments where I was at a wall and could not take a creative idea any further. Did I have conversations with my creativity? I did not. I think now I will. I can recall talking to myself about the work trying to brainstorm ideas, but never have I had a conversation with creativity. Never have I told creativity to wait just a little longer.
This writer, she continued talking about other artists who describe similar habits of talking to their creative side. Tom Waits is someone she talked about at length. It was very interesting to hear his perspective on songwriting. He is one of my favorite songwriters of all time.
So I present this idea to you. When you’re stuck, don’t blame yourself…but also don’t blame creativity. Invite the creativity to come back when it is ready to be presented to the world, whether its form take that of a song or a sculpture. Treat your creative side as though it were separate, because it just may be and you definitely want it to stick around.
Through some great conversation, journalling, and a dream, I realized that I over-analyze, for the most part, every part of my life. It had reached a point where I could not enjoy listening to music in the car because I was trying to determine what music best fit how I was feeling, my thought process and how it related to the music I was considering for my listening, and how I was going to feel after the music. Now, as a music therapist, these are all important and necessary decisions we make everyday when selecting music…for a client, and sometimes for yourself. I would spend most of my drive deciding what to listen to and by the time that I actually found music that made the most sense to me (after over-analysis) I was so anxious about if I was choosing the right music that I wouldn’t enjoy the music. I have been listening to podcasts for my commute for the past several months. Nowhere else did I exhibit this behavior and nowhere else was it and issue to choose music congruent with my state of being. It only occurred in my vehicle, to and from work. When I listened to music at home, I felt free, per usual. This is when I realized that there was an issue I wasn’t acknowledging. If I wanted to listen to music for my enjoyment on my drive, I should have just put my iPod on shuffle and drove. The reason: I only put music on my personal iPod that I enjoy listening to. Why analyze it to begin with? Why not just plug in, listen, and enjoy?
My problem: I was unknowingly treating myself like a client. I was trying so hard to choose music congruent with my mood that I got lost in the process. I should have trusted the process and trusted myself. The peculiar point I should note is that when I am with a client and choosing appropriate music or a music intervention or improvisation technique to apply, I trust the process and allow the therapeutic structure of our relationship to make things work. It is almost as thought I were trusting myself more as a professional and less as Dean to make music selections for myself. I understand why this was happening: over-analysis.
That is one of the reasons I am restructuring the music therapy program I began at The Pines a year ago. I over-analyzed the needs of the residents, and I over-analyzed their abilities and disabilities. During my internship, I realized just how important silence is and this moment of realization reminds me of that experience. Sometimes you need to take a step back and take your eyes off of every brush stroke in your painting…you have to give your brain a different perspective. If you can see every brush stroke it doesn’t mean that you have to analyze every one, only appreciate them as their part of the whole.
So for the past few days, I have been really enjoying music on my drive to and from work. I have taken a step back and realized that by over-analyzing myself, over-analyzing my clients and their progress, by over-analyzing everything that I have taken the beauty away from the joy I get from those experiences. I pushed myself into a bit of an existential crisis. When over-analysis becomes the focus, you lose sight of what the focus should actually be: the process.