This is a painting for the seven year old in me. It’s the kind of richly detailed happy vision that would have made my little heart shout, “yes!”
Here are some thoughts about it, for the older kids among us:
Miles Davis once said, “you have to play a long time to be able to play like your self.” It’s as true as it is absurd! How could it be that finding our selves is so elusive? Even when we are self-conscious, self-deprecating, self-censoring, selfish, or self-less, we are are still inescapably our selves. Perhaps Mr. Davis meant that there’s a difference between rearranging other people’s ideas, and having something of our own to say, or having the courage to say it? I think that’s the gist of it. After all, we don’t learn to play by making it up from nothing, we learn to play by copying what’s already around us. By its very nature, copying makes us less unique and more like others; we see something that is successful and try to duplicate it. The cover band becomes great by losing themselves in the identity of the band they are covering. The more perfect the copy, the better. All the same, we do find some important parts of our selves in the effort to emulate others. The things we love “out there” reflect something that we hold dear inside. We copy because we have been inspired, and we are inspired because the muse spoke to something that we identify with. This means that love is a great clue to the mystery of our selves. The desire to copy is a longing to become the source of a love we’ve found outside, but that is also rooted within.
We follow that clue for a while and it takes us places. If you’re an artist, there comes a time when you can make a decent copy. You can play the song and it sounds like the original. It’s an exquisite feeling, an extraordinary achievement! You are actually able to produce the very thing that once inspired and seemed so far out of reach. You have become the source of your love! Maybe you are even partaking in the fruits that flow from the success of the original. You saw someone fish, you copied their technique, and now you can catch some fish of your own.
Then what? Do you stop there? Are you satisfied making other people’s music? What about your sound, the sound of your self? Do you have something unique to add? Here, the journey opens to a new set of challenges because you are about to lose your map. Up until now, you could steer your ship by the stars that you copied. Up until now, you knew that your work would be appreciated because it was beloved before you even set out to make it. From here on out, those certainties are gone. You are adrift in the ocean of possibility. You have prepared with real skills and experience, but you will no longer be able to follow the currents of fortune and fashion. Those safe routes are made of, “industry best practices,” the “collective wisdom,” the copies, of copies, of copies, all converging on a cherished average. The great choruses of culture are the standards and expectations of comfort, the familiar ways of being and creating that make heads nod in approval, and feet dance to a familiar beat. It's all the stuff the people want, and every artist is encourage to give the people what they want. Sailing outside of those waters is an entirely different adventure. It’s easier to understand from this side of the divide, why you might need to, “play a long time,” before arriving at your self. It’s hardly a surprise that most of us don’t really get beyond sounding like an accented version of someone else. We get a little twist in there, but that’s about it.
Still, we are each a unique symphony of qualities, experiences, harmonies, and contradictions. We are worlds within worlds. The mountains and valleys of the heart, the buildings and bridges of the mind, the shifting sands of the body, the great rivers of memory, are the birth places of a singular sound. Being our selves is the one thing that we can indisputably do better than anyone else. We are caught then, between the safety of the known and the possibility of our full potential. We ride a carefully balanced unicycle of discovery, weaving our musical way between self exploration and pleasing other people. It seems to me, paradox and all, that we find our selves in our relationships with others. As we learn to adjust to their feedback, we come to know our own sound. Sometimes we must love it alone, whistling a tune that no one hears quite the way we do. Sometimes there are moments of perfect harmony, and we turn that wheel of positive regard over and over in a cycle of loving and being loved, of inspiring and being inspired, of discovering our selves whole and complete, yet inseparable from the others that we play with. There is no resolution to the muse cycle life, just the process, the revelations of the moment, and the courage to keep going.
It may look, dear one, like it's a big battle out there, a race, with each out to get theirs and get away with it, but it doesn't have to be that way. It's the fog of war, the fear in the heart of the world and the mess that comes of it. Rather than try to climb on one another in a scramble to the top, we can rise together in a spiral of care and inspiration. May you, my little Mr. E., find the balance and live a muse cycle life. Be a muse, and you shall be amused. Inspire that you may be inspired. Care that you may be cared for. We are 7 billion sparks just waiting to stoke a great fire of love and wonder across the surface of the Earth. Shine forth, shine first, shine in the dark, shine alone and shine in company, shine in your own particular way, with all that you are, and set the wheel turning.