Category Archives: Creative Dream Journals

Influences

Originally published October 1, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.

I have a thing for singer-songwriters, and lately I’ve rediscovered my love of crayons (which as a kid, I used to call “crowns”). The other day, these two loves came together when Dan Wilson, who’s an artist as well as a songwriter, posted a drawing he made of the names of artists who have influenced him.

Inspired, I got out my crayons and made this list of my creative influences.

Here they are in categories:

Musicians and Artists: Storyhill, The Beatles, The Monkees, David Bowie, Johnny Depp, Claude Monet, Wolf Kahn, and Stuart Davis

Novelists: Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, J.K. Rowling, Ursula LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, Ellen Raskin, Lloyd Alexander

Memoirists: Liz Gilbert, Frances Mayes, Dave Barry

Coaches who write: Tama Kieves, Martha Beck, Jamie Ridler

Scholars: Wade Clark Roof, Joseph Campbell, Stephen Prothero, Huston Smith, Paul Ricoeur, Emile Durkheim, Victor Turner, Robert Bellah

I could go on with friends, family, teachers, and organizations that influenced me, but this is the list of people I was drawn to specifically because of their creative work or their creative way of being in the world. But I couldn’t resist also including some places that have been important to my creative life:

Places: Nepal, Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake Park, and Austin, Texas

Who are the influences that you’ve chosen?

Cool

Originally published August 12, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.

I have a thing for “cool people,” and I have a specific image of what “cool people” are like. They’re bohemian and iconoclastic. They challenge our ideas of what’s normal and beautiful and good. They read Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg and D. H. Lawrence, Dostoevsky and Eastern-bloc writers I’ve never heard of, and if they’re exceptionally cool, Zora Neale Hurston and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They like Picasso and surrealism and dark things. They’re edgy. They’re avante garde, artistic, brilliant, and discerning. They like Lennon more than McCartney, but they like early, little-known blues musicians even more than that. Their humor is filled with unexpected observations, unique word choices, and original twists of phrase.

I’m drawn to these people, but they also intimidate me—because, of course, I’m not that cool. An adolescent at heart, I periodically think, “I should be more like them. I should read edgy literature and see art films and try to make my mark and be an explorer of the outside and a pusher of boundaries.” Instead, I read Jane Austen and Harry Potter. I seek out stories of good triumphing over evil and love conquering all. And I gravitate to the bright, happy, sparkling play of colors that Claude Monet saw in hay bales and bowls of grapes. Once, I was given a literal pair of rose-colored glasses: I loved them.

Cool people sing with honest understanding of the tragedy and physicality of the human condition; I write with hopeful idealism of the interconnections between people and the unity of the universe. They explore the aesthetics of decay and the things you can see in the dark; I seek out the sun and the spring green of new leaves. Cool people are edgy and challenging; I am reassuring and hopeful.

But here’s the truth: What the cool people I’m thinking of really have in common—what’s at root, beneath their arcane tastes—is a commitment to authenticity, truth, and honesty. They are themselves rather than some societal version of normal and good. They see people honestly rather than idealistically or cynically. At their best, they identify with and embrace the real—even the real that is dark, negative, and decaying; even human imperfection; even the tragic.

What really makes cool people cool is not their taste in art, literature, film, or music, or even their attraction to themes of darkness, weakness, and tragedy. What really makes them cool is deeper than that: their commitment to truth and authenticity in themselves and to empathetic and raw honesty in their perceptions of others.

And that’s what I take in. That’s what I try to imitate. What’s cool is being who you really are, even if part of who you are borders on someone else’s idea of schmaltzy, naive, or pedestrian. None of those one-sided judgments matter. What matters is expressing your truth, your reality, your unique mind, self, perceptions, and feelings, and bringing that out into the great mix of ingredients that makes up the shifting soup of creative expression.

Grazing for Introverts

Originally published July 8, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.

Have I mentioned that I have a book coming out this fall? Oh, I have? (Insert winking smiley face here.)

Many years ago, when that book was just beginning to come to life, I went through a long period in which I didn’t really know what it was about. I couldn’t put it into words—and yet, it had me. I knew it was a thing, a nonverbal something—I just didn’t have the words for it yet.

I think a lot of ideas start out nonverbal like that—as a sense of something or a feeling or an intuition that hasn’t quite made its way into the verbal realm of thought. But for a writer, that can be kind of a drag, because this thing is going to have to find words somehow, and you’re not sure how to help them come along.

I began by immersing myself in others’ words—I read and read and then thought and thought and tried to make this thing articulate. Friends said “Is it this?” And I’d say “It’s like that, but it’s not exactly that.”

I wrote notes and notes and two- and three- and five-page summaries of my idea. None of them actually communicated much.

But I knew that the thing was there, that there was a book on this thing waiting to be written, and that somehow I was going to have to find a way of pulling it out of me.

After about a year of this searching for words, I was pretty frustrated. I was in grad school, and my adviser, Paul—bless him and his faith in me—did not act equally frustrated. Instead, he said, “Go out and graze.” Go out and look around. Get out of your own head, get out of books. Go out into the world, and see what you find that resonates with this idea of yours.

And that’s what got me unstuck. I looked around, made scrapbooks of what I found, and went and looked and listened some more to the creative things that other people were up to that seemed to speak to this thing that I had going on.

And then the words came.

Now that I think about it, this is probably good advice for an introvert. Maybe introverts and extraverts can weigh in: I wonder whether introverts like me are more likely to get stuck in our own heads, our own inner processing, and can get unstuck by remembering to get out there and engage with the outside world. And maybe extraverts can get stuck in what’s already happening out there and get unstuck by remembering to “go in” and see what their own unique minds make of all that they’ve seen and done.

Calendars, Lists, and Office Supplies (oh my!)

Originally published April 18, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.

Last month, I wrote about how with a creative life, you lack the provided structure and schedule that are a part of most jobs; instead, you make up your life as you go along. At the same time, you do have priorities, and you want to make sure to really prioritize them and not just drift, letting circumstances and others’ wishes take the place of bosses and job descriptions.

In my effort to give method to this madness, I find myself in a creative relationship with calendars and to-do lists. (Do they love me as much as I love them? I wonder.) I find that every few months, I feel an urge to take a step back and reflect on what my priorities have been, and more than that, what I want them to be as I move forward into the next phase. I journal about what I want or need to give time and attention to. I’m one of those people whose inner life is as organized as my outer life is disorganized, so I end up sorting through all the values and priorities that I journal about and putting them into categories. Which I color-code. And then transfer to two different calendars and multiple to-do lists, using cute bullet points and fonts that don’t make me feel trapped. (You have to do this kind of thing with time-management devices; otherwise, they think they’re in charge.)

For example, a couple of years ago, I was really struggling with the balance between my creative work—my first book—and my freelancing work, which is the work that brings in money. If I drifted too far to one side, I was all happy, except for every time I swiped my credit card to pay for basic needs that I couldn’t afford. Over too far on the other side, I was bringing in money but feeling alienated from myself and like I was watching my life recede. And like most people, I also had other priorities—family; groceries, laundry, car maintenance, paperwork, and all the ordinary chores of keeping a household going; time that I wanted to spend with friends or just at leisure, having fun; my long-postponed quest for a good man (I hear they’re hard to find); things I needed to do for my health, such as exercise and spending time in the sun (I get seasonal depression, and the sun is my very best friend in the whole world and my favorite antidepressant. Does it love me as much as I love it? I think I will judge this by whether or not I eventually get skin cancer).

It seems obvious in retrospect, but it was a big deal to figure out how to use the calendar to balance these things. I marked designated days to work on my book, and I stuck to them no matter how worried I was about money. I started with one day a week, and then that didn’t feel like enough, so I settled on two. And I had designated days for clients, and scheduled time for chores and leisure. I marked them off on my calendar in their different colors, but I also moved them around when I wanted to. Just having them there helped me make sure that I was attending in a regular way to my two big priorities of writing a book and earning a living, as well the other things that mattered.

Recently, I finished the book. (I finished the book!) Well, for the most part. The manuscript is now with my publisher’s production team, and I will have work to do—writing the index, reviewing copyedits and page proofs, and a variety of marketing-and-promotion tasks—but it feels like a whole new phase of things, Whole and New, and I found myself with that familiar urge to step back and reflect on What Next. More and more, I felt that this division that I had constructed in my work life between money work and creative work, as much as it had helped for the past two years, wasn’t the way to move forward. The categories are blending. My creative work now includes marketing and promotion, and I want my paid work to gradually move in a more creative direction. Meanwhile, the long-postponed Quest for Love needs to finally get prioritized, and so does a certain kind of self-nourishment that I’ve sidelined while I’ve been working two jobs.

So I have a new calendar, and a new to-do list, with new colors and fonts and fun bullet points. (Okay, really I have two calendars and two lists, one broader and one more detailed version of each. Have I mentioned that I also enjoy pretty office supplies?) Despite its multitude, this new organizational system is simpler, because it has only four categories: Work, Man, Self, Chores. And the simplicity helps me organize in my mind the myriad of activities included in each category, especially work: the production of my book, promoting it and myself as a writer, looking for more creative paid-work opportunities, working with current and prospective clients, updating my freelancing website, and gestating book #2, which will be about exactly this kind of thing: How do writers, artists, musicians, and other creative types balance their creative work with earning a living? I know from my own life and from listening to others, especially musicians, that it’s not something that you just figure out once and stick with forever. Circumstances change, other life priorities emerge and fall away, and the musician who’s writing songs and touring full-time this year might have been working in a factory, teaching guitar, and performing on weekends last year; might be recording and producing next year; and might be writing commercial music for hire and touring occasionally the year after that.

And so it is with creative living. Organizing a creative life is creative exercise in itself.

(And aren’t these cute?)

Nine Ways of Thinking about Love and Creativity

Originally published February 19, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.

1. Falling in love with a creative project. I fall in love with all my creative projects. I’m not one of these people who looks at my work and never thinks it’s good enough. That’s not because I think my work is so great—it’s because I don’t have an evaluative relationship to my own work. To me, creating anything—a book, a painting, a song—is like having a child. When people have children, they don’t look at them and think, “Is this baby good enough? How well does she match my idea of a perfect child?” At least, I hope they don’t. I think people just love their children because they’re theirs, and because babies are good. Falling in love with a creative project is like that—you’re infatuated with this idea because it’s just so cool, or delighted by this painting because it used to be a blank canvas and now it’s got your colors on it, and you love it because creative projects are just good in and of themselves.

2. Loving support. Books’ acknowledgments sections are filled with gratitude for “the one who always believed in me” and “the ones who supported me in down times and celebrated my triumphs.” Some of your greatest supporters might not care about your project at all if it weren’t yours. But in an extension of number 1, they care about your project because they care about you.

3. Supportive love. Some people don’t love you—don’t even know you—but love your project. They really want to see a book about that or a novel that tells this kind of story or a song whose harmonies carry them to their own soul. These people are your audience, but they’re also your early supporters. They will do what they can to forward your project, to help it along, to help it reach other interested people. They’ll recommend it to others, they’ll tell you they can’t wait to read it, and they’ll tell you what it means to them.

4. Miracle people. People who are both 2 and 3—people who love both you and the work that you’re creating—these people are miracles. A true adviser who cares about you and believes in the work you’re creating; a best friend who’s fascinated by the things you’re writing about; a lover who can’t believe how beautiful your music is.

5. Love as a creative project. When we think of creativity, we often think of the arts. More and more people are also approaching careers as creative projects, and life in general as a creative project. Loving relationships, too, are an act of creativity—an ongoing creative project for both people or everyone involved. That’s the trick about relationships, too. I can sit down and say, “Today, I will write a blog post or begin a painting or take some photographs.” But I can’t sit down and say “Today I will create a loving relationship.” Relationships are cooperative creativity, collaborative creativity, maybe more like making a movie or a play. You have to find someone who wants to create the relationship with you, and you have to want to create it with them.

6. Creative projects as a form of love. Any creation is a gift from you to the world. The book I’ve written, the blog posts I write, the book I’m planning—I start them for me, because I’m driven to, but in the end, they’re always wanting to help people—wanting to share what I’ve found with people who might wonder about the same kinds of things that I wonder about. The song that you write because it’s yours, because it came to you, and that you then hone because you want to hear out loud what you hear in your head—that song brings me life. Your artwork that you make to enrich your days fills my days with beauty.

7. Creative loving. As our loved ones change and go through life, we find new ways of loving them. Sometimes, we might love by listening; other times, by giving practical help. We love by playing, engaging, paying attention, teaching, learning, giving and asking for advice, explaining, offering and asking for help, thinking of fun things to do, sympathizing, touching, smiling, reassuring, challenging, keeping company, leaving alone, asking questions, sharing our worlds, and remaining silent. The creativity comes in learning new ways to love, in figuring out what loved ones want and need, and in discovering your own ways of responding.

8. Self-love. To be your best creative self, you have to respect your own nature and treat yourself with love. What do you need? What do you want? Down time, fun, beauty, adventure, softness, healthy food, unhealthy food, exercise, solitude, companionship, sunshine—whatever it is, give yourself that. And sometimes, creating itself is an act of self-love: I’m looking for a book about this topic, but I can’t find it—I’ll write it myself. I have a song in my head; by bringing it into the world, I feel like myself. I have a poem inside me; by writing it, I heal.

9. Falling in love sparks creativity; creativity makes you fall in love. I fell in love with the way light played on the water, so I painted it. I loved the texture of her skin, so I drew it. And—in drawing you, writing about him, photographing that flower, I saw your beauty and complexity, and his, and the flower’s—I fell in love with what I was looking at. And in seeing that beauty, I saw more beauty everywhere, and I fell in love with life.

Now Let’s Begin…

Originally published January 11, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.

I love beginnings—the clean slate of a new year, falling in love with a new creative project, the openness of babies and puppies, the pale green of spring.

I love that these days, new years really feel new. I spent most of my life in academia, where the new year really begins in August, so now I love being on the same calendar as the calendar, and I love the down time that I now have in the space between Christmas and the new year.

In recent years, I’ve taken this down time to reflect on the ending year and to set intentions for the new one. A couple of yearly rituals nurture this time of recentering.

Every December, Jamie Ridler sends her newsletter subscribers a set of questions for celebration and casting forward—questions like “What were you loving this year?” “What will you be glad to leave behind?” and “What do you want to invite into your life next year?” I copy these questions into my journal and write my answers to them as I fly to visit my family for Christmas, or on the flight home.

After Christmas, for the past couple of years, I’ve also had a little ceremony with my friends. It’s different every year. The first year, it focused on me and the challenge of combining creative work with income-generating work. I gathered music, quotations from books, and objects that spoke to this theme. My friends brought over their own supportive things—the funniest may have been the candle that says “Pagame Pronto” (“Pay Me Fast!”). We listened to the music, read the quotes aloud, and incorporated the objects. Then we made cookies.

The following year, I invited them to bring their own theme ideas—their intentions and wishes for themselves. One of them thought of a project for us: we cut images and words out of magazines and glued them to votive candle holders, so that all year, we could light a candle for each of our themes. Then we made rice-krispie treats.

I don’t know what we’ll do this year. I think we might create something low-key. It feels like that kind of year. And that’s the beauty of do-it-yourself rituals—they give us a structure and purpose that’s the same every time, and we also get to make them new every time. So every year, these rituals carry the same meaning: they reaffirm personal reflection, intention, community—and sweet desserts! And at the same time, they offer fresh meaning every year, depending on what emerges from the creative process of reflecting, intending, and living. And baking.

As your 2013 begins, I wish you a fresh start, a supportive community, creative joy, centeredness, true intention—and many yummy desserts.

Choosing Safety

Originally published October 24, 2012, at Creative Dream Journals.

This week, I went for safety.

I’ve been a freelance editor and writer for three years. I like it, and it’s going well, and it suits me in so many ways, including that I get to use some of my best strengths, work from home, and set my own schedule. But financially, freelancing feels unsafe. You never know, from month to month, where the money will come from, what the work will be, and how much you’ll earn. Some months, your income may be zero. I feel more confident the longer it goes well—the more months and years I can look back and say, “OK, I did all right. I brought in enough.” But then I look forward on my calendar into next month or next week or next year, and I don’t see where the money will come from—of course. It’s the nature of the job.

So last month, when a client called and asked me to apply for a part-time, salaried position that would allow me to work form home on my own hours, I thought, “Safety!” I could do this job—I knew I had the skills. What’s more, I believed in the mission of the organization and had occasionally contributed to it informally. It seemed like the closest I could get to freelancing in a salaried position. I imagined how my life would change if I could predict this month’s income, and next month’s, and the month after that. My shoulders relaxed just thinking about it. My mind became easy. I knew that this was kismet—after all, I had gotten the phone call telling me about the job only two days after completing a book manuscript I’d been working on forever, and one day after sitting in a coffee shop and making a long list of my “post-manuscript life priorities.” It was a big deal. The timing was amazing.

So I wrote up a resume and cover letter, ran them by my friends, applied for the job, and did some preparatory work. And then, on the appointed day, I picked up the phone to interview for the position.

An hour and a half later, I hung up the phone and said aloud, “Holy cow.” I texted my friend Colleen: “Holy cow. Interview over. Not sure I want the job any more.” I e-mailed my other friend Colleen: “Holy cow, I’d love to process that job interview with you. Long and short of it: Not sure I want the job any more.” (As an aside, if you ever want to know anything about me, apparently all you have to do is Google “holy cow” and “my friend Colleen.”)

This post is getting long, so I’ll cut to the chase. The interview gave me the sense that the job would be unsafe for me. Not physically unsafe, of course. And not financially unsafe, either—no, that lure was still there. The job felt unsafe creatively. A part-time job, it felt like it would require my full-time focus. It felt like the kind of job that never leaves your mind—the kind that’s always with you, that demands all your resources of energy and attention to execute someone else’s predetermined agenda.

And that kind of job doesn’t support a creative life.

I’ve made a commitment to my creative life—to writing, and to living in a way that nourishes my writing. My freelancing business supports this commitment, not only financially, but also energetically. It suits me. It dovetails.

So I withdrew my application for the job. With all its financial risk, I chose freelancing. I chose creativity. I chose safety.

Celebrating Completion!

Originally published September 30, 2012, at Creative Dream Journals.

Ahh, completion! Praise and sunshine and confetti and glory!

This month, Jamie Ridler suggested that the Creative Dream Journalers write about completion. The timing is perfect for me because just a week and a half ago, I finished writing my first book manuscript and sent it to my publisher. The book itself is far from complete—among other things, I will need to revise it based on feedback from my editor and three expert reviewers—but still, this is completion.

I began researching the material for this book fifteen years ago, in 1997. Five years later, I had a complete PhD dissertation, but my plans for a book got waylaid by other life demands, including a serious health crisis, a career change, three cross-country moves, and the launch of my own editing business. When I began to emerge from this hullaballoo, I spent two years writing a variety of book proposals targeted to different kinds of literary agents and publishers. A year ago, in August 2011, after receiving a bunch of rejections, I heard that my current publisher was interested, and this past January, I signed a contract. Since then, I’ve split my time between earning a living and writing the book.

And now, I get to take a break.

The day after I sent my manuscript to my editor, I went to a coffee shop and wrote a list of priorities for my post-manuscript life. Then I did a five-day fruit-and-vegetable detox diet. Then I immediately began retoxing by going out to brunch with a friend and then landing at a bookstore, where I’m eating a chocolate croissant while I write this post.

I worked for my editing clients this past week, but I also went river tubing, swam at a spring-fed pool, spent an hour bouncing on a huge trampoline, and went to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house.

To my surprise, I also rediscovered my interest in my book’s subject matter—spirituality and progressive religion—and attended the first of a six-part sermon series on the world religions at a local progressive church.

I’m playing. My favorite thing to do.

There are projects ahead—remaining work on this book, beginning the next one, and a variety of projects related to my non-writing life. But for now, my project is to play. To relax. To explore. To wander. To rest in that creative space of security—off task mode, no goals, no requirements, just being in the moment. That’s how I want to spend what have, for past several years, been my writing days. Refilling the well—an ongoing artist’s date—a return to center—a return to me—a temporary reprieve from productivity, for the sake of receptivity.

Since the career change/serious illness extravaganza, I’ve become a paranoid person. So it occurs to me: by stating my intention to partially abdicate responsibility to task-completion, am I inviting disaster? Will some crisis or set of crises arise to punish me for committing to being carefree for a while? Are true vacations—the kind where you really relax mentally and emotionally—allowed? Will my grand plan to be plan-free for a while get averted by Things That Need To Get Done?

Maybe. But today, I’m happy, and I’m going for it. That’s the joy of completion.

Following Your Own Inner Wisdom is Freakin’ Crucial

Originally published May 22, 2012, at Creative Dream Journals.

I can point to so many people I’ve learned life lessons from. I’ve talked about some of them in other posts on this blog, and some are other contributors. But for me, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to follow my inner wisdom. It’s a cliché, but it’s truth, and that’s the way to say it.

The best teachers I’ve had are people who have helped me do this. They modeled integrity themselves; or they actively listened to me and asked questions to help me figure out what I want, think, and feel; or they reacted positively when I followed my own path, spoke my mind, wrote what I wanted to write, and was true to myself.

Following my inner knower is a muscle I have to keep exercising, because it’s rarely convenient. She likes to go against the grain, and that makes her both endearing and frustrating, like a toddler, only one with years of experience, insight, conviction, and perspective. So, maybe not so much like a toddler. Maybe more like some other stereotype—a hippie, a bohemian, a ne’er-do-well, a self-absorbed artiste, a layabout. Because my inner knower almost always comes across as lazy, self-indulgent, and irresponsible, on the surface. But she’s not. She’s just serving a deeper purpose, one that has to do with developing the soul, growing as a human being, becoming more myself, and experiencing life richly.

Just in the past couple of weeks, my inner knower has had to deal with conversations like these:

  • My habits of mind say, “It’s Sunday. You should be productive today.” My inner knower says “No. You need to go to the park and cut pictures out of magazines.”
  • My tax bill says, “You should sacrifice some of your writing time so you can do more income-generating work.” My inner knower says, “You need to stay on the path you’re on. You can be creative about this.”
  • Some insidious voice says, “You need to sacrifice your own best interests to accommodate other people’s convenience.” My inner badass says “Are you kidding me?! Step aside while I pull out my Tommy gun.” (Wow, I didn’t know my inner spirit had a Tommy gun till I wrote that just now. I’m pretty pacifist, so I’m both horrified and impressed.)

The thing is, she’s right. I can tell because when I don’t do what she says, I get depressed, and life feels like a burden. When I do do what she says, the world seems open to me. I’m alive again.

In her great book Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about the debilitating pain she gets when she doesn’t do what her inner knower tells her to do. She says “I certainly hope that you don’t have as antagonistic a relationship with your body as I used to have with mine. I hope you don’t develop shooting pains and embarrassing rashes every time you step off your true path. Most people don’t. For the majority of my clients, their physical reactions to life choices are much more subtle—sometimes barely noticeable. But they are most decidedly there.” I quote this for you because I’m in Martha’s fun club: when I don’t do what my inner knower tells me to do, my brain chemistry freaks out and does what it can to incapacitate me and generally make me miserable. Stick, carrot—whatever works, I suppose.

But they used canaries to test coal mines for a reason. Sensitive freaks like me and Martha Beck are just extreme versions of normal people. Jamie Ridler once called it “having a super-powerful inner compass.” But everyone has an inner compass, right? It’s just that for some people, their inner compass points them toward things like “become an investment banker” or “marry a millionaire,” and so their struggles are different. But all of us are better off when we can find a way to go in the directions that our inner compass points. When we do, we’re more alive. We’re more ourselves. We’re absolutely more creative. We make possibilities that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

So your teachers rock. Mine do, anyway. But the best thing for you about your teachers is that they point you toward your own inner wisdom. They resonate with something amazing in you. They help you hear, they help you follow. You say “yes.” You don’t know what will happen. But you know you’re living your real life.

Play

Originally published April 18, 2012 at Creative Dream Journals.

Creative people need to play with their medium. Writers play with settings and characters and words, painters play with color and line and texture, dancers play with movement and rhythm and shape. It’s from this time of play that more focused projects emerge. And creative play keeps the creative person happy and creative—you get new connections in the brain, you get the experience of flow, and you get to feel like your brain is skipping and your spirit is frolicking.

But right now I have another kind of play in mind. I’m writing this on the last day of South By Southwest, Austin’s annual festival of film, interactive technology, and music, music, music. I’m not a musician—or a filmmaker or technology person—but SXSW is some of the greatest playing I do all year. I spend the weekend wandering around the city watching my favorite musicians play and sing. I run into other fans who share my tastes, I meet friends, I chat, I eat, and I sit in the sun. I lose myself in other people’s playing—musicians, playing for themselves, one another, and me.

The kind of music I listen to and the town I live in have somehow come together to make a family, a network of musical friends. These musicians all know one another, are in and out of each other’s lives, and sleep on each other’s couches when they’re in town for the festival. They’re all fans of each other’s music, and when they converge in one place, they join in on each other’s songs, making a festival of personality and sound. It’s like Pepperland.

It reinvigorates me. It inspirits me. Happifies me. Leads me to make up words. Inspires me to write.

An interviewer once asked one of my favorite musicians to tell him what music inspired his songwriting. This songwriter is a music fan with a long list of musicians he admires. But he told that interviewer that his songs more often come from movies he watches than from music he listens to. And his songs inspire my writing. And so on.

Martha Beck encourages a creativity technique she calls The Kitchen Sink, which boils down to this: when you’re stuck or frustrated, do a whole bunch of unrelated things and see where they take you. I do this even when I’m not stuck or frustrated, just because it feels so good and is so good for me. I sink down into right-brain floaty space, where I follow my impulses. It looks like this: I read books about personality type, peruse Johnny Depp fan sites, look out the window and watch the treetops and clouds dancing with the wind, look at a picture-book of 1960s advertisements, get in the car and go buy food I don’t usually eat, and spend some time people-watching. In other words, I play.

It’s good to play on my own projects. But this kind of playing, the SXSW/Kitchen Sink kind of playing, is about getting outside my own main gig and into an even more right-brainy place of wandering, meandering, floating, making connections, seeing different kinds of things from new perspectives. It’s like clouds drifting, changing shape, doing slow somersaults, coming together, sticking together, coming apart and sticking again to make new and bigger clouds. Moving, moving, moving, drifting, and things come together.

Play is all there is, I want to write, as yet another brilliant singer-songwriter closes her set and the audience gets up for beer and food and CDs. It’s one of those statements that isn’t true, but is, in the moment—the kind of moment when everything that really matters comes together, the kind when you know that this—this—is what it’s all about.

So I thank my musicians, because their playing helps me play. My favorite musicians, Storyhill and Carrie Elkin, have introduced me to so many others who make for me (and for them) a musical community. Here are a few of them:Danny Schmidt, Sam Baker, Raina Rose, Justin Roth, A. J. Roach, John Fulbright,Dustin Welch, Chuck E. Costa, Robby Hecht, Devon Sproule, Paul Curreri, andAnthony DaCosta. To all of them, and to you: long may you play.