Creativity and Territory

Photo by Kai Oberhäuser

I love a good book.  I’m usually drawn to non-fiction these days, and few weeks ago I picked up this book just in the nick of time.  The librarian had to go looking for it and told me as she scanned the barcode that they were just about to get rid of it!  Here’s to hoping that means that since it’s overdue, I can go in and tell them I want to keep it.

The book is entitled “The War of Art” and is written by Steven Pressfield.  I found the book really interesting, but one particular idea seems worth sharing here (perhaps your library still has a copy if you want to read more!).  At the end of the book he tells the reader that there are two ways to orient ourselves as artists:  one is hierarchically, which refers to finding support and encouragement through the pecking order, or how we rank in comparison with others.  The other is teritorially, where the creative individual retrieves support and renewal through the creative territory or medium that they invest in.  Here is a little more detail about this idea:

The act of creation is by definition territorial.  As the mother-to-be bears her child within her, so the artist or innovator contains her new life.  No one can help her give it birth.  But neither does she need any help…When the artist works territorially, she reveres heaven.  She aligns herself with the mysterious forces that power the universe and that seek, through her, to bring forth new life.  By doing her work for its own sake, she sets herself at the service of these forces.

How can we tell if our orientation (as an artist) is territorial or hierarchical?  One way is to ask ourselves, If I were feeling really anxious, what would I do?  If we could pick up the phone and call six friends, one after the other, with the aim of hearing their voices and reassuring ourselves that they still love us, we’re operating hierarchically.  We’re seeking the good opinion of others.

What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day?  He wouldn’t phone his buddies; he’d head for the gym.  He wouldn’t care if the place was empty, if we didn’t say a word to a soul.  He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center.  His orientation is territorial.

Here’s another test.  Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?  If you’re alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense.  There’s no one to impress.  So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations.  You’re doing it territorially.

Isn’t that interesting?  I like the way he describes this concept.  Earlier in the book he mentions that as humans our default setting seems to be set on hierarchy; who taught you that so-and-so was “cool” in junior high, or that you couldn’t talk to that kid because he was with the “in-crowd”?  It’s something we naturally develop.  For me, it was so refreshing to take a look at what the territorial orientation would feel like.  How liberating would it be if the act of creating itself was all we needed to feel secure in our creations?  It’s our choice, as we have the power to frame our perceptions in the way we choose.

He ends with this paragraph to finish up the book:

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor.  It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.  Don’t cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you’ve got.

So there you go.  Something to think about for the weekend.  Happy Friday!



Cause it makes me happy...

Hans Zimmer at his Finest

Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Hello friends!  I hope you’re soaking up the sunshine like we are.  What beautiful days we’ve been enjoying in Washington State!

Today I wanted to share a little clip with you that made me laugh out-loud today.  It’s actually an advertisement for an online masterclass from Hans Zimmer- an incredible film composer (think The Lion King, The Dark Knight, and Pirates of the Caribbean).   I don’t think I’ll sign up (though I’ve considered the 7-day free trial version…) but I really enjoyed the clips that preview his instruction.   He is one of many composers that I admire, and find his comments about composing inspiring!

My favorite part was his 4th segment entitled “Themes as Questions and Answers.”  It’s about two minutes long and and it allows you to get an inside look at how a master composer perceives music- what is the theme communicating to the listener?  Check it out!


(Click on the play button on Hans Zimmer’s photograph in order to see the preview clips.  Then click on the one at the far right that says “Themes as Questions and Answers.”)


Emerge: The Story


(Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash)

Mmm- I just love this photo.  It visually describes everything about my newly posted piece, Emerge.

Right now my life seems pretty easy.  Rewind a few years and my life was much different:  it was a time when I had 3 adorable little people that needed a lot of me (physically and otherwise), I was dealing with major health issues, I was tired all the time, and I was also dealing with pretty intense anxiety on a daily basis (partially because I had a child who was struggling).  It wasn’t that my life was horrible- I love being a mom, my husband is an amazing support, and I still say that we soaked up as much joy from that stage as possible; but compared to everything else I’d experienced in life, this was by far the hardest and lasted the longest.

I joked during that time that I felt like I was 30 going on 50 (maybe I’ll change my tune when I experience 50!) and I wondered if I would ever feel back to “normal”- whatever that meant.  The anxiety was particularly troubling to me- it felt as though my thoughts and emotions were often so much heavier and darker than I wanted them to be, but at the time I really didn’t know how to do change that.  I longed for more peace which had seemed much more accessible before.

I prayed to be rescued from the dense fog I found myself stuck in.  Though Heavenly Father didn’t send immediate all-in-one solutions like I wanted Him to, He did send help- gradually.  He sent bite-sized pieces so not only could I be cured, but I could grow through the process of healing.  I look back and see how he placed people, books, and other things in my path so that a step at a time, I learned how to deal with the anxiety in constructive ways.  I also had moments of feeling overwhelming love, peace or contentment; a sense that Heavenly Father was aware of my needs, and would continue to guide and help me.  The kids grew and became a little more independent and my health improved over several months (partly because the baby started sleeping through the night-hallelujah!)- I held on to faith and hope before, but now I could actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It was during this time that I began to experiment with writing music-not as a creative outlet, but as an emotional outlet.  I started playing around on the piano, attempting to express the way I felt through the music.  What could I “say”?  This was the result of that exploration.  Hind-sight is a funny thing: though I’d never sign up for a repeat course through the fog, I also wouldn’t trade what I learned from it for anything.  So without any more words, here is “Emerge”!


Tell Me a Story...



What do you think of daylilies?  If you were to rank your top 5 favorite flowers, would the daylily make the cut?  It didn’t used to be all that spectacular for me- but it has recently become my favorite flower.

Last week I had a conversation with a friend who was patiently hearing me out about my most recent crisis.  After rehearsing a vocal musical number with a group of wonderful ladies, my voice was almost completely gone.  I went to tell my three boys (who were in an adjoining room) that it was time to go and my voice sounded croaky and weak.  I went in excited and thought it was a great opportunity to work on technique and figure out how to get that illusive vibrato to “work” that I hadn’t yet mastered.  I went home sure that something was completely and beyond-repair wrong with my voice.  Did I not use my diaphragm correctly?  Was I forcing the vibrato?  More likely I just never was any good at singing in the first place.  You guessed it- I was in the middle of an anxiety spiral.

After a gush of tears and a good night’s rest, I was able to see it for what it was.  My friend listened patiently later that week as I told her my story.  She replied that she could relate, and then asked this question:  “What is it that you love about singing?”  Perhaps it was the simplicity that startled me.  Asking myself that question over the next week surfaced some unanticipated thoughts- deep-seated fears and beliefs that I hadn’t even known were there.  The strongest (obviously distorted) thought that surfaced had to do with the fact that my voice would never be worth sharing until I figured out the vibrato.

It became apparent to me that in order to get back to what I loved about singing, I had to let go of these distorted thoughts and accept what my voice sounds like right now;  not what it will sound like with vibrato, or what it should sound like with the right support.  And suddenly I knew that I had discovered something important.

As I processed these thoughts in a quiet moment, I unexpectedly came across a painting.  Across a rich forest green background of trees and foliage was painted a field of daylilies in brilliant orange.  It took me back to my childhood home- the farm house.  You see, when my Grandma- a master gardener- moved out of the farmhouse, she left her beautiful flowers in our care.  As a busy family of seven we found it difficult to find the time (and priority?) that she did to care for the flowers.  I remember one particular instance (there may have been several) where my dad joked, “The only flower we can keep alive is daylilies.  So….we’re going to do daylilies!”  And we did.  I’m hoping to dig out a photo of the daylilies that my parents planted all along our front deck at some future point to show you.  They were beautiful.

In the moment I saw the painting, the thought that came to my mind was clear: “So…do daylilies.”  Who cares if you can’t make roses grow right now.  Don’t throw away the dream of what you want in the future.  You’ll get there.  But for this moment, right now, whatever you CAN do, do that!  And do a lot of it.  Do it your best, and do it in the way that only you can.  So there you are.  Acceptance.  And do you know what?  I really LOVE singing again.

Woah!  Condense the message, add a melody, fill in the accompaniment, and this could be a song!  Hmmm…

Stay tuned…