Viva La Musica!

I’m writing a TV ad for my latest podcast. The episode will be ready on Wednesday, so I’d better get to it pretty damned quick. The ad will feature me in  a starched, white apron, flashing my starched, white teeth and holding a packet of NEW Squatting Toad, ‘The podcast that adds a pinch of creativity and removes the stain of hate.Try it now. Guaranteed or your money back.’

Well, you’ll all be getting your money back. And I’ll be giving it back because I lied to you. A proper bare-faced lie, like the ones we’ve heard here in the UK this week, the ones that tell you that foreigners are dragging our country down, taking everything and giving nothing in return.

Can you tell I’m angry? Too right, I’m angry. What were we thinking, voting to leave the EU, and on so-called evidence that foreign migrants are diminishing the nation? AND on the very day I interview one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, who lives here in London and just happens to be Italian.

OK, so now this is an ad for my upcoming episode and you’ll want to hear it, because you will agree that Barbara de Biasi’s contribution to our cultural life is immense. She’s a composer and a music teacher and a passionate believer in the power of music. Here’s an article on just one of her recent projects.

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/this-is-how-to-get-free-piano-lessons-at-st-pancras-station-a3250766.html

Yes, the lessons were free!

We know creativity is crucial and, as I mentioned last time, what sets us apart from the animals. Barbara has travelled many miles from her home to find a place that has offered her the opportunity both to learn and to give back. She deserves better than the threat of having to leave or having to jump through administrative hoops to be able to stay.

Advert, rant, information – what a lot just one post can give you. Stay tuned for my interview with Barbara, and share it far and wide, if you agree that we need to keep our world, our hearts and our minds open. Then we can really show we are above hate and destruction.

Viva La Musica (as Barbara might say)!

Mel

 

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Creativity is Crucial. Promise Me You Will Not Stop.

We live in serious times. The last few weeks have proven just how serious, just how tragic. So, isn’t it just frivolous of me to spend my time encouraging music and poetry, painting and crafts, not to mention indulging in them myself? Categorically, I say no.

They say that it is our ability to love that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. I believe that to that we must add our creativity, and our ability to live creatively. For only by giving vent to that creative impulse and creating something of beauty can we really understand love and loving. I’m not talking about romantic love, or even love for our friends, but a kind of loving compassion, what is called by some religions agape.

Here in the UK, the EU referendum campaign has been characterised by hateful and divisive rhetoric, not to mention ignorance and misunderstanding. In the midst of all of this, a young politician is murdered. I am not trying to make a direct connection between Jo Cox’s death and the EU campaign, but it came at a time when already so much hatred and rancour were swirling around the country, swept along by misinformation and, frankly, racism.

I know it’s too simple to say that those who are filled with hate for others and anger at their own lot in life would find their epiphany in drawing a still life, or writing, or even reading, a poem. This is not a reason to give up on the Creative Life or think it a mere frippery, a middle class indulgence. Music, more than anything else, has the power to unite people and give a sense of purpose. We may have moved on from families having an evening sing song around the piano, but a love of music can still bond people together into tribes, mostly for good. Think about the last time you heard live music in a packed venue and how powerful that shared experience was.

So, let’s create, and create some more, and never stop. Our creativity is powerful, and that’s why it’s often frightening. Our creative output is something to be shared and, if only one person sees something beautiful in the finished article, then that tiny bright light might extinguish a little hatred. That’s something worth pursuing.

Until next time, I wish you happy and meaningful creating.

Much love.

Mel

 

New Podcast (hurrah). Top Books for Creative People

Hello Friends

We all need some inspiration from time to time, either somebody to give us a motivating kick in the proverbial, or just  time out to read some wise words in a good book.

Well, embarrassment of riches time, because in today’s podcast, I bring you wise words from three good books. I’ve chosen these books because I found them inspiring, not because I was looking for some books to review. I hope you’ll invest in at least one of them (or find them in your library), and I hope you’ll agree.

Don’t worry if you don’t agree, just tell me which books have moved you and I can maybe feature them in a later episode.

Here goes on Soundcloud:

I will post iTunes and Podomatic links soonest.

Have a great, creative weekend.

Mel

The Power of Persistence, or ‘Stay on the F***ing Bus’

The picture you see above is of Helsinki Railway Station, a Jugendstil masterpiece built by Eliel Saarinen in 1919. I present it to you for three reasons, the first two being that it is a stunning building, one of the world’s finest stations, and that I took the photograph. That’s not showing off, it just means I don’t have to pay anyone for the rights. The third reason is that it’s the closest thing I have to an image of Helsinki Bus Station, which is where I want to take you today. We only need to cross the road  and we are there, in a somewhat more prosaic setting than the one available to rail travellers, but that’s life, and that’s bus travel.

In 2004, Finnish photographer, Arno Minkkinen, himself clearly no stranger to a bus ride out of the capital, put forward his theory on what makes for a fulfilling creative life and career. It’s called Helsinki Bus Station Theory and illustrates the importance of persistence in pursuit of one’s own voice and of creative success. It goes like this:

There are around twenty four platforms at Helsinki Bus Station and all buses leave the city by the same route for at least the first kilometre. There are intermediate bus stops on the main road out and each bus stops at these too. Taking his own profession as his example, Minkkinen thinks of each of these stops as the first years in the career of a photographer. After,say, three stops,when you have built up three years’ worth of work, you hop off the bus and present that work to a gallerist (insert publisher/ producer etc. as appropriate). That gatekeeper knocks you right back by telling you your work is just the same as that of someone else who’s come along the same bus route before. Gutted, you jump a cab straight back to the bus station, because life is short, and you get on another bus. Three years/stops later, you hop off again, with a new body of work to show and the same thing happens. It turns out it’s just too similar to somebody else’s work and they don’t want it. Another tearful cab ride back to town to start the whole process again. And it keeps happening, always being compared to someone else and being rejected.

What’s the solution, how do we break the cycle?  Minkkinen is very clear here. ‘Stay on the bus. Stay on the f***ing bus.’ After a kilometre, the buses diverge, taking different routes out of the city. So, stick with the journey you’re on and you’ll find your own unique way, your own path.

Persist and thrive.

As I’ve talked about before, we all start out imitating or inspired by someone else. That’s OK. We need to do that. ‘Derivative’ is a much-derided concept, but, to me, it means we started with an idea used by someone else and then changed it a bit. Maybe not much, but that little bit is what makes it ours, and we can keep changing and refining, and at some point put forward our own ideas.

Remember the ‘What If?’ question I mentioned before? (See blogpost from May 3rd) If you stay on the bus, you give yourself time to ask that, as the road winds on before you. The twists and turns as the bus moves deeper into the suburbs or the Finnish countryside, well, they can shape our ‘What If?’ questions.

Arno Minkkinen also went through this process himself, finding his work compared to other contemporary photographers who had gone before, so he knows whereof he speaks. Personally, I think his work is beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen. You can visit his website here  to see some of his astonishing photos of the human body integrated with nature.

So, dear friends, if you are nervous about getting on the bus, it is understandable. To decide to create a single work or a body of work is to risk rejection and accusations of non-originality. But, get on the bus, then stay on the bus. Remember, just because one person finds a reason that the work is wrong for them, doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong, or that it couldn’t be made better.

Go on, take the ride. But do stop to admire the lovely railway station first.

Happy creating.

Mel

PS: You can read Arno Mikkinen’s speech in which he first put forward the theory here.

What is ‘bad’ creative work? New podcast episode tries to answer.

Hello friends

My latest podcast is available now. (Links below.)

Painter, Alex Vassiliadis talks about the joy she gets from the process of creating, even if the outcome isn’t so great. Personally, I love this painting, it exudes such light and spirit. What do you think?

20160508_131543

Listen to Alex talk about her creative life in the latest Squatting Toad podcast, available now on Soundcloud and Podomatic. Up on iTunes very soon.

Podomatic link is here:

Happy listening and thanks.

Mel

 

Making Creativity Happen (Part 3)

What a deceptive, cheating person I am. I reel you in with a promise of more inspiration and all you get is my latest podcast. Shame on me.

Well, fret not, it is inspirational. It’s a bit of a summary of things I’ve written here before, and things I’ve discovered on my journey. Good stuff and, I truly believe, worth some repetition. There’s new stuff here too, and a plug for previous podcasts. I know, no shame. Enjoy on Soundcloud and do tell your friends. And tell me how you are getting on.

Happy Creating.

Mel

Thwarted?

Hello again

You know I am working hard at being about ‘making it happen’, balancing time spent at work and domestic life with time spent on creativity.  My principal contribution in this last sphere has been my wee podcasts. Yes, the technical side has been a challenge and my last effort has dodgy sound to boot, but I keep on going, and |I keep on learning.

But then, my upload to the platform that feeds to iTunes fails, several times. I email the Helpdesk and a very nice Young Person in San Francisco uploads for me, and we are back in business. Buoyed by success, I attempt a next upload myself last night. Nothing. Try again. Still nothing.

I reflect that in earlier times I might have taken this as a sign and given up on the whole endeavour. As I write this now, I have a slightly heavy heart and worry that it will never be fixed. But, you know what, if you find something, creatively or otherwise, that makes you feel like you’re achieving, and that the end result is somehow meaningful, you’ve just got to press on. That’s no great revelation, right?  But for many of us, it’s a learnt behaviour. Not achieving, not creating, not doing something we feel is meaningful makes us dissatisfied, but that dissatisfaction is almost comforting. ‘See, I failed at that, too. It’s just not for me.’ That’s destructive and a waste of time. There’s something else I have learnt, it wasn’t innate knowledge.

What’s the lesson?

  1. Please don’t give up. I will promise not to.
  2. People can help. Sometimes what’s blocking you is not your fault, so find someone to help you out. In my case, I await more news from the Young Person in San Francisco.
  3. Being defeatist is a waste of energy.

Well, that’s three lessons. All basic stuff, but sometimes it just needs to be said, or heard, or read in someone’s short Monday morning blog. After all, that’s what Mondays are for, surely, starting a new week with optimism and cheer.

I’ll let you know how I get on. The podcasts are coming, people, make no mistake.

Happy Creative Week to all.

Mel

 

Subvert and Find Your Voice – Making Creativity Happen (part 2)

Hello again Creative Friends

Last time we got very brainy with our old Greek friend, Heraclitus. A week has passed now, so let’s come back to earth a little and talk about you.

Sometimes, when you call a good friend, you just say ‘Hi, it’s me!’. You don’t even need to say your name, because you are recognised by your voice, your unique voice. (Or by Caller ID, but let’s just pretend we’re back in the 1980s for today’s purpose. Ah the ’80s.)

When you speak you have a recognisable and unique voice. When you create you also have a unique voice. For most of us, that creative voice doesn’t come immediately, you have to work at it. For some of us, the light bulb moment takes longer than for others. For some of us, it can feel like all we produce is derivative or sub-standard. But we know we are our own harshest critics, so let’s examine that bit objectively.

Who decides what is sub-standard? Life isn’t school, where you can be given a ‘D’ because your teacher says your work isn’t good enough. Lord knows, nobody has greater admiration for teachers than I have, but they have a job to do, which is all too often focused on getting the kids exam-ready. That’s the System for you. Take away those strictures, now that you have passed your exams, and you can also subvert the System. Do you think that Marcel Duchamp would have passed his A-level art with a signed urinal? I mean, where’s the skill in that? And yes, that picture above, it’s art, not just random sanitary ware.

As for derivative, well, everybody copies. Only by taking inspiration from others, can we find our own voice. The trick is to keep at it and ask the Killer Question.

What’s the Killer Question?

‘What if?’

Yes, it’s that simple.

TODAY’S EXERCISE

  • Get a copy of your favourite painting or poem. ( This exercise also works well with jokes. Seriously. I am always serious about jokes.)
  • Now get your pencil(s) out and  copy it, but not completely. Change a colour, an object, a phrase, a word, all the time aiming for it to still make sense to you.
  • Keep asking yourself The Killer Question – ‘What If?’
  • What if I replaced green with blue? What if I used fewer words? Or more words?
  • Keep another blank sheet of paper to hand to note down your own, independent ideas as they come, so you can work on them later.

Derivative? No way! Just inspired.

Never stop asking ‘What If?’.

Out of the old, springs the new. It’s all about curiosity.

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.- Dorothy Parker

And out of that curiosity springs your own take on the world. Your Unique Creative Voice.

If your curiosity is aroused about Marcel Duchamp, you can read more about him here.

And watch out for my newest podcast, which will be available here very soon.

Until next time, Happy Creating.

Mel

X

 

Everything Flows – Making creativity happen (Part 1)

There’s a beautiful little bookshop in Madrid called Panta Rhei. It’s run by a lovely lady called Ingrid and I recommend a visit next time you’re that way.

I have a scant knowledge of Spanish, but even I can spot some imported words when I see them,as you may have done. The phrase panta rhei means ‘everything flows’ in ancient Greek. I’ve also seen it translated as ‘everything changes’ and it was coined by philospher Heraclitus, who lived in Ephesus in the 6th century BC. Now, I know once I stray into the area of Greek philosophy, I’m going to get a headache, especially with Heraclitus, who seems to contradict himself all over the place. Underpinning his philosophy, though, is this idea of nothing being as constant as change. That’s quite unsettling, isn’t it?

Constancy is comforting, even when what is constant isn’t very pleasant. If you hate your job, it’s easy to convince yourself to stick it out anyway, on the basis of ‘better the devil you know’. Some people even argue themselves into staying in unhappy relationships for the same reason.

What has all this to do with creativity? Maybe nothing, if you and I interpret Heraclitus differently. Surely, though, if change is happening anyway, we should all be part of that change,taking control, innovating and improving. Otherwise, won’t we be left standing whilst change pushed forward by others swirls around, and past, us?  Once again, that leads us to our old friends, fear and self-doubt.

If these two beasts are ever-present, we are going to have to make our changes in spite of them. We are going to have to start something, be it a novel, poem, painting or song, in spite of our doubts. If you think I say this, because I have the magic formula to overcome all doubt, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. I’ve been banging on for ages about how I’m going to do a sewing course. Have I done one yet? No, I haven’t. Why? Because it’s maybe a bit scary. Even going to the craft fair was scary (see previous post) and all I did was buy things! Those things are still in a carrier bag in a corner, by the way. I can see them looking at me, mocking.

TIME FOR AN EXERCISE:

I’ve talked before about making a ‘To Do’ list of things you want to achieve, but now it’s time to make another list, a sort of ‘Why I can’t’ list. What are the reasons that hold you back? Here are some of mine, and if you think some look ridiculous, well, they do. That’s the point. When you actually look at your fears and self-doubts in the cold light of day, it’s easier to apply a bit of logic as to why and how you can overcome them. I truly believe that they won’t ever fully go away, but we can learn to live with them. We can even, if we want, shout at them and tell them to politely take a hike because we’re busy creating.

Here goes:

  • I might be deluded about my own ability.
  • Everyone will laugh at me. (Rich coming from someone who once harboured comedic ambitions!)
  • I won’t have time until the weekend.
  • I’m having a busy weekend.
  • I bet someone’s already thought of this.
  • I bet someone’s already done this better than I can.

Well, that’s enough about me.

Now, you have a go. Make the list as long or as short as you want, just make it honest. Read it, then put it away. Next time you feel doubt or fear about your creativity, look at the list again. Recognise what’s in it and carry on creating.

Don’t forget, if you put something you’ve created out there, somebody won’t like it. It’s not personal, it’s just statistics. We can’t all like everything. I find Mozart a bore. (Don’t write in, I know he’s a genius.)

And get yourself to Madrid some time, soak up the culture and go and see Ingrid in her shop.

Happy creating.

Mel

 

Those Crafty Pixies

So, I’ve just opened my wallet and bought some random items I liked, among them coloured paper, ribbon, a wee frame and my favourite item of all, Cosmic Shimmer Pixie Powder. No, I have no idea what it does, either, but it sounds brilliant! I am hoping it can actually conjure up pixies. Oh, I’ve just noticed something about seeking medical advice on the back of the bottle. Oops.

This report comes to you from a first-time visitor to the Ally Pally Crafting Fair.

The splendid Alexandra Palace was built in 1873 as a place of entertainment for the masses – that would be you and me, friends. Handily, this member of that happy band lives but a fifteen minute walk to the palace door and, so this Sunday found me there, eager to get to grips with crafting.

I had no idea what to expect, and was there more in the capacity of Squatting Toad’s chief researcher, than as an active participant, but I am keen to try out something crafty, and to learn whether I really am as devoid of skill or talent as was assumed at school. I was really quite bad at art and sewing and the like, but I suspect that I hammed it up a bit. Better to be really terrible and joke about it, than merely a bit less than mediocre. Just a theory, from more than thirty years’ distance, anyway.

In the Great Hall of Ally Pally, I felt as out of my depth as I have done at the Vintage Car Show that used to be an annual pilgrimage (don’t ask). Since I couldn’t identify many of the items on sale, I didn’t really come away with a sense of what I’d like to do. I mean, I could just draw on some paper with glue and scatter some glitter on it, especially with pick and mix glitter going for £1 a bag.

How I wished my chum, Emma of emmalucymakes, had been with me. I’m hoping she can advise soon on what to do with my random haul and I may even post up the results at some stage. Watch out for the pixies.

Yes, I was out of my comfort zone and no, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but the whole thing made me smile (especially the battle at the ‘everything for one pound’ stall), and, yes, I am going to get creative and crafty. If the result is pretty rubbish, I guess I’ll just laugh about like I did when I was thirteen.

I hope you’re all having a creative weekend. More on this crafting lark in a future podcast.

Mel