Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fear of flying

Don't you think their hands were shaking as that rocket ship touched down?
I'm sure they shivered when they finally touched the ground
And the 'giant leap' so fragile that it hardly made a sound
But it must have been amazing, what a world they got to see
So I don't care, my foolish fear won't get the best of me now
--"Walk On The Moon," Great Big Sea

There are a number of reasons why I like to watch, as well as listen to, Jon Schmidt playing the piano. For one thing, this man GITS DOWN during a performance. He never lets you forget the piano is a percussion instrument; he can hardly stay seated, so keen is his desire to just play the hell out of it.

I mean, this guy is so into "All of Me" he plays several chords with his FOREARMS. How awesome is that?

Another reason I like watching him is that, although he's known primarily for his adaptations and mashups, he often performs his own original compositions (of which "All of Me" is one). As mentioned in the video, many other pianists have covered "All of Me," but there's something very special about a composer performing his own music. You can see the look of joy on Schmidt's face when all the notes come together just the way he hoped they would. There's the odd but distinct impression that the notes aren't actually issuing from the strings and hammers of the piano, but pour freely from the ends of his fingers as he plays.

But perhaps the greatest reason why I like watching Jon Schmidt play piano is his courage, which I admire tremendously. He is publicly displaying a talent which took significant time and practice to hone to its current level. Anything you take that much time and work to accomplish is something in which you have also invested much of your spirit. It's going to be important to you, and when you care that much about something, the idea of sharing it with the public can be terrifying. When you share what you love with others, you run the very real risk of having it mocked or denigrated by people who, even if they have not spent even five minutes' effort attempting to do what you do, can still cut you to the quick with a cruel word and set back your ability to create even more amazing things.

The sad thing is that for every Jon Schmidt who puts his music on YouTube, there are probably five or six other talented musicians frozen with fear at the thought of freeing the songs of their hearts. They continue to play surreptitiously in a locked practice room or a family basement somewhere, composing fantastic pieces that only a few people will ever hear, their lights kept firmly under bushels.

Fear stops us from doing so many wonderful things. It keeps us from finishing the things we start. I speak from personal experience, since I have a hard drive and several shabby manila folders full of half-finished or aborted story ideas. One of the reasons why I started posting "Unseen" on this blog, rather than letting it languish on the hard drive where it started, was because I thought showing this story to readers would make me accountable to finish it; I knew if anyone at all were to read it and like it, that person (or persons) would provide the needed impetus to keep writing. It may sound stupid, but it's worked like a charm; although I've occasionally stalled out as I let personal fears get the better of me, I am continuing to write the story a chunk at a time.

A friend of mine linked to Steven Pressfield's blog the other day, which references the "all is lost" moment -- a phenomenon that occurs as often in real life (though not always as punctually) as it does in fiction. It's that moment when you hit the wall, creatively speaking -- when all your fears about what you're trying to do rise up in a concerted effort to overwhelm you, crush your spirit, shut you up and shut you down. But it's also the moment just before you break through to the next level of creativity, which is something worth thinking about. If you can push through that feeling of "this is total crap/I'm worthless/what was I thinking", it's Level Up time!

In the process of writing this story, I've begun to experience what many other people far more creative than I have pointed out -- that much of creativity feels more like discovering something than making it. As you press on, you begin to learn things about plot points and characters that you never anticipated. Carl Binder, who worked on the Disney film Pocahontas, commented on just this quality: "...we were all saying that it was as if we were merely 'discovering' a character who is already alive, someone who knew her own mind, and we were just following her." The point is, you have to follow -- you can't just hold still and wait for the next part of the story to come to you, because it usually won't. Like all voyages of discovery, you have to work beyond fear, walking past the known and safe boundaries to find out what comes next. Or in the words of Boyd K. Packer, "It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two."

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