Composing is Hard

I'm excited to announce that I’ve been composing a lot recently! That might sound a bit odd to you, I suppose. “Isn’t that your job, to compose?” you would ask me. And I would respond, “Yes, but it’s funny how little time I actually spend composing.” If I was honest, I would add, "And I'm super excited because it's hard to spend that much time composing."

But I don't say that because it tends to end the conversation. What I want to say is that one reason it's hard to find time to compose is that there is always a lot of work on the business end of being a composer. But, the truth is, I also tend to avoid composing. And yet I know from past conversations that if I do say this, the attention of the person I am talking with begins to wander off.

I have a theory for this wandering attention, for why people don’t really want to hear what I am going to say next. We all, whether you think of your job as creative or not, resist direct connection with our muse. You might call your muse your Intuition, or Source, or Spirit. Whatever you call it, I think we resist being in close communication with it. So when someone I’m talking to believes I’m getting close to talking about connecting with my muse, they are thinking, “Nope. This is uncomfortable. I am outta here.”

We all have a creative impulse that we can tap into. It’s just that some of us have a job which requires us to figure out how to navigate that connection more often. Recently, I have needed to tap into my muse more often and for long periods of time. I have needed to stay in conversation without it exhausting me. I had to finish six songs for Bluets so that the creative team can work on storyboarding, choreography, and film. Let's just agree that it's not easy. So, how does one accomplish it?

At its core, I have found that tuning into my muse requires self-love and that self-love requires self-care, a skill I am not particularly good at. I tend to think that the way to get things done, including conversing with my muse, is to forge headlong into the work and just make it happen. And while this method can be successful in the short run, it is exhausting in the long run. It's like deciding to swim upstream.

That's when I have to remind myself to care enough about myself to float instead! All of this is not new to any of us, but recently, for my own well being and to accomplish my goals, I’ve had to pay increased attention. The old methods, such as bribing my muse with chocolate and other backdoor techniques, were not sustainable in the long term. I was exhausting myself by pushing myself. This pushing was also showing up in my sleep as panic attacks that woke me up in the middle of the night in despair. I thought it was because I was worried about getting Bluets written and produced with all that goes along with that. And that is a part of it, but it turns out that wasn’t the main reason.

Eventually, I became tired of being tired. I was tired of the panic attacks. It took a while for me to figure out, and to come to terms with it, but the answer was self-love. What that looks like for me, as a composer, is doing the things I resist taking the time to do. It looks like three full pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every morning. It looks like stretching and yoga in the evening. It looks like face-masks, and walks, and naps. (I know it’s crazy!) It looks like all these things that take time. Time that I thought was time away from the work I really needed to do. But in the end, I was unable to do that work, do it as well, or do it without feeling exhausted.

Back to the original conversation, that’s what we don’t want to hear. We don’t want to hear that connecting with our muse is hard because we resist self-love and honoring the creative force within us. By the way, it’s a daily struggle. I don’t have this figured out. But I have been able to compose and to stay in the creative space for longer. It’s gotten a bit easier and the panic attacks have subsided. I have to repeat daily that I deserve self-love. Every Day. Self. Love. I can do this.

Bluets, based on MacArthur-winning author, Maggie Nelson’s, book of the same name will have a Staging Workshop January 31 - February 3, 2019 at the Phoenix Theater in Minneapolis. This multi-disciplinary production of music, dance, and film takes advantage of Nelson’s at once, intimate, edgy, and profound text, grappling with the universal experiences of loss, love, and friendship – all expressed through various imaginings on the color blue. I hope you can join us! We will hold a Q&A following each performance.

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