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.