August awakens the senses 👁👄

Winter is coming to a close. Get a jump start on the awakening of Spring with some sensory outing to stimulate the creative muscle.

QVB After Dark 

455 George Street, Sydney
Throughout August

https://www.qvb.com.au/#after-dark

After Dark Tour Series – just a little spooky
After Dark Live Event – Thu 22
Heart of the QVB – an immersive installation

Cherry Blossom Festival

Auburn Botanic Gardens
Sat 17 – Sun 25
https://www.cumberland.nsw.gov.au/sydney-cherry-blossom-festival
A feast for all your senses – cherry blossom, Japanese snacks (Adam Liaw), an izakaya serving  cherry blossom flower sake.

Luminous

A multi-sensory concert experience
Sat 17 – Fri 23
https://www.aco.com.au/whats-on/2019/luminous
Singer-songwriter Lior,  photographer Bill Henson and the Australian Chamber Orchestra join for a visual and aural feast.

Genius

Post workshop palettes

I recently rewatched the TED talk “Your elusive creative genius” by Elizabeth Gilbert from 2009.  

It reminded me again of the possibilities that await if I am continually opening myself to their arrival.

Some historical background 

Ancient Greece and ancient Rome did not believe that creativity came from human beings but believed it was a divine spirit that visited human beings from somewhere.

The Greeks called these spirits “daemons” and Socrates believed his wisdom came to him from a daemon.

The Romans also believed in this creative spirit but called it a “genius”. However, they did not think that a genius was particularly clever – just a magical divine entity, who would come out and invisibly assist the artist with their work.

Jump to the Renaissance. People started to believe that creativity came completely from the individual. So, for the first time in history,  people started referring to an artist as being a genius, rather than having a genius. This puts an incredible demand on the artist!

Back to now

I would guess that almost anyone involved in creative pursuits, whether they be of the “agreed” “artistic” kind – painting, writing, design, dance, … – or the rest – business, parenting,  relationships, life! … has had that moment of inspiration, that spark of an idea, that gift. Being aware of its arrival can be a joy and a scramble to jot it down, capture it in that moment before it’s gone and perhaps forgotten.

The saying “First thought, best thought” also captures this fly-in spark. As a designer, I would often be gifted with this during the initial briefing for a new job. I would be scratching it down on paper as the conversation continued. Invariably, as was convention, three designs were submitted, post briefing.

Once I’d completed the gifted piece, then was the slog began to deliver up the two others to meet the brief’s requirements. But, for me, it was always that first gifted one that was the winner.

I recall rightly or wrongly, (see box below for the facts!)  a famous New York adman from the sixties saying to a client, when they requested three designs, “No. You’ll get one design – the right design.” I haven’t been able to track this down as fact – maybe it was a scene from the hit show Mad Men! ,

Paul Rand – one design only

Paul Rand on trusting that first design idea

an Interesting example – Steve Jobs approached Paul Rand and asked him to design the NeXT identity. Paul stipulated that $100,000 would be paid upfront, he would design one identity/logo and Steve would have to like it or lump it.

It takes a confident designer to take this approach, but it also takes a very confident client to accept!

Day to day reality

But most of us don’t have that kind of confidence. 

Few of us can we call upon the genius – at will and on-demand. But some of us practice to make this visit more possible.

What we can do is to be open to the moment – because you never know when the spark will come. We can be curious and keep playing with what comes our way – then we are honing our skills to welcome the genius.

Keep playing!

An antidote for earworms

Self-talk

Most of us would be embarrassed if others could hear the contents of our internal soundtrack. Our self-talk that usually focuses on self-criticism, comparison and commentary on what we see in the avalanche of images coming at us via Instagram.

Internet cat videos, TV and even reading a good book give us a holiday from ourselves and huge growth of “mindfulness” practices, youtube meditation sessions, podcasts are proof that “the west” is seeking refuge from our default mode.

Earworms

One refuge we love is listening to a favourite sound in our head. Even if that song has lots of redemptive elements (“Don’t worry, be happy” – Joe Dolce, “Happy” –  Pharrel Williams) it can get annoying when it’s clamped onto your brain like a crab claw and just…won’t….let….go.

THIS my friends is the well-known “earworm” (or “stuck song syndrome” – SSS or Involuntary Musical Imagery -IMI). People literally exclaim to their friends “I can’t get it out of my head” which also triggers people to hear Kylie Minogue singing a perfect earworm “Can’t get you out of my head” and so the infection spreads when they sing a piece of the song, the friends fill in the pieces and then it gets stuck in their head.’

I’ve asked people if they have earworms and usually say “no”. But if I check in with them a few days or a week later, they’ve suddenly become aware that songs are a backing track to their day.

Repetition exacerbates the problem – in the past “high rotation” on radio meant that songs got stuck in people’s brains. More recently playing Beat Saber on Oculus is based around very catchy music and now those songs are in my brain as soon as I wake up. As soon as I finish a task that I’ve been focussing on and head to the toilet or the kitchen – the Beat Saber song is riding along inside my brain.

So what is the antidote?

I discovered by accident that “choiceless listening” is the most natural go-to solution. This is a form of mindfulness and part of “Choiceless Awareness” (I was surprised to learn that the term was made common by J. K. Krishnamurti).

Choiceless listening is simply allowing your attention to “let in” the sounds around you – this is not a problem while you are making the bed, brushing your teeth, walking to work. I was surprised that whilst I might often be practicing “mindfulness” while doing these tasks, my focus might be more visual or tactile.

Our society is so visually overstimulated that sound is relegated to a minor part of our daily experience – we take hearing for granted – we latch onto words that people say and extract the symbolic meaning, agendas from them – we treat listening as very transactional.

So being super-simple and letting sound come into my presence is a beautiful experience – and I discovered (obvious in hindsight) that my earworm just stopped dead – temporarily.

Try it! I’d be interested to hear if it works for you – or not!

Isn’t this harmless?

Is there something wrong about songs tootling along? When you start Googling “are earworms…..”, the first suggestion while you type is “are earworms a sign of mental illness”.

This is pretty heavy stuff: the British Journal of General Practice reporting that “up to 98% of the Western population has experienced earworms” and can be “more pronounced or debilitating in patience with OCD”.

I don’t line up my socks, straighten cutlery or obsess over the jaunty angle of a painting but I carry some traits that help earworms hitchhike into my day. At the very minimum, they are consuming mental bandwidth and energy that could be conserved or spent profitably.

Do earworms stifle Creativity?

Abso-bloody-lutely. Simply put this mental bandwidth* is a precious resource. The more we are present – in the moment is our most creative and responsive state. Earworms steal from this and setup a loop that cramps out “presence”.

Two Oscar Wilde quotes make the case well:

“A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.”

You might think that an earworm is “misbehaving” but it’s really just behaving entirely predictably. I love that Wilde states that “taught” is a very important part of creating. It takes discipline, presence and space. 

“The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.”

An earworm aims for perfect imitation – we don’t need another copy of that song!

Other antidotes

Some other antidotes can be found here and borrow from the BJGP** article above. But I don’t think they have the same self-awareness as what I suggest earlier.

      1. Chew some gum. Chewing gum could be a good way to get rid of earworms.
      2. Listen to the song. Listening to the song stuck in your head may bring closure and may help extract it.
      3. Listen to another song, chat or listen to talk radio.
      4. Do a puzzle.
      5. Let it go — but don’t try.

* Its quite possibly earworms are an artifact of the Default mode network and that’s another very big story in the discovery of how our western brain functions (or doesn’t).

** The BJGP article references a study that comes close to my proposed antidote. Personally I think that CBT is demanding a less natural and more ritualized way of dealing with earworms, in a sense they are pathologizing it: 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is evidence-based and effective for OCD. Patients learn to replace dysfunctional thoughts like ‘These uncontrollable songs indicate I’m going crazy!’ with new, more accepting thoughts.

AND

“Non-judgemental focus and acceptance form the basis for gradually shifting attention to other voluntary thoughts or emotions…..Yet, distraction is the most common self-help method for SSS and is often effective.”