Every once in a long while, I’ll write a song where the whole arc — from conception to gestation to delivery — will feel gloriously pointed and true. I will be struck sideways with joy and awe over how exactly this gift of a song has communicated my truest, subtlest heart. But if you’re going to make a practice of songwriting — and if you’re anything like me (and ehhhvery artist I’ve ever encountered) — you will eventually run up against some pretty not-so-fun internal discomfort.
A teacher of mine once described the constipating presence of what many call their “inner critic” (that condemning, mocking voice most of us have spent our lives swallowing down hard) thusly:
“It’s like a maniac comes flailing into your room and, inches from your face, proceeds to spittle-scream an eerily compelling litany of all the ways in which you are inadequate and loathsome.”
What a great image, I thought. In those moments, it’s no wonder we can’t get anything done.
One clever way around all the distressing noise, my teacher taught, is to first place oneself psychically and emotionally inside this scene involving the spittle-screaming aggressor.
You had just begun to settle into writing when ABRUPTLY! VIOLENTLY! They are so suddenly HERE! In your room! Their veins are popping, their spit is flying, they are crazy-eyed with disgust and vitriol (this aggressor, of course, can take on any number of different forms). In order to conjure an image, just ask yourself: what exactly does that paralyzing voice says when it speaks? How does it say what it says? With indifference? Condescension? Does it have an air of contempt? Mockery? Give the attitude-plus-content some kind of animate form so he or she or they can come barging into your room, and presto pesto.
In this scenario of creative interruption and destruction, your gaze will probably fall first upon the powerful unpleasantness at the center of your vision.
Once that’s been acknowledged and felt — which shouldn’t take too long — begin to consciously shift your attention.
Take a few steps backward. Notice all the unaffected space around the noise. Acknowledge the soft glow of a lamp, the still indifference of a chair, the shifting amoeba of a sunlit floor. Notice your body as the input changes. If we’re on the same page, perhaps you’ll feel the knots of anxiety start to loosen and unravel.
For me, this act of imagination behaves as subtly and elegantly as a trick of the light: decentralizing our sandpaper-on-the-soul critic in the landscape of our own rooms can be a passage out of overwhelm and back into that billowing, blooming, benevolent space where we can move.
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