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6527212 October 26, 2011

Art, Fire, and a Hurricane: John K. Lawson

"The creative cave is the looniest, loneliest place in the world. Ultimately it’s the scariest and safest place as well."

I grew up in a special type of loony, lonely cave. A place where contradiction was king. Creativity enabled me to envision another world, a future where all the confusing fragments of my life might perfectly align. Was I a hungry kid on the streets, in the gutter, or scraping by in a refugee camp?  No, I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the 1970's under the emotional thumb of a mentally ill mother.

It certainly could have been worse.  

Today artist and writer, John K. Lawson, tells us that the creative cave is the looniest, loneliest place in the world. So why the heck am I hanging out in it when I'm still trying to divorce myself from all the lunacy and loneliness of my childhood?  

John also says it can be the safest place. 

I'm not a expert on psychology but hasn't it been said that we often feel the urge to go home again?  I've been simultaneously running away and toward home for years, and it's caused me a great deal of inner turmoil. I don't know what it means or which way I'm supposed to go. My writing and art have given me an outlet for that turmoil, and that's why I'm painfully sensitive about it.  Why I want it to ultimately be meaningful and have inherent value.

I'm one of those borderline philosophical sad sacks who spend pathetic amounts of time thinking about "what it's all for," and "what it all means."  I look at the thousands of words I've written and the art I've created, and ask myself, "Am I pouring years of my life into something that means nothing?"  When I die, will it all turn to dust and blow away?  Am I just a misguided idiot wasting precious time?  Is John?

With regard to creating art, John says,  "It takes guts and sometimes stupidity. You  have to have an ego strong enough to accept that the creative force is not always a pretty smiling greeting card, and what you are making might not fit over the proverbial couch or match the newest art fad."

So if it doesn't fit over my neighbor's couch or become an art fad, is it wasted? The answer is supposed to be no. But why? Is the answer no because it's healing my soul, because it gives me something to do, and provides meaning in a meaningless world?  Is that enough? 

Lately, I'm confused about what I should be painting, what I want to paint, why I want to paint, etc.  Trying to resolve those questions is slowly driving me nuts.  What I do know is that I need to paint.  I don't want to stop.  And if I had to stop for some reason, I'd write.  They are avenues to funnel out a tiny spec of all that rages in my head. If I didn't have a way to relieve the pressure, I'd explode.

John also paints and writes, and he believes that "the continual fire to create, in whatever shape or form, draws from the same source regardless of medium."

Yes, that's it.

I'm burning; there's a fire pit in my soul that just won't die. It's sad to think that it may never actually cook up anything phenomenal.  But I realize now that it doesn't matter; the fire is all that matters. It rages on. 

I think John gets it ... has it ... needs it like I do. 

What's your story (in a nutshell)?

Inside the nutshell, a curious child wonders alone in the busy cracked sidewalks streets always wanting to know what's around the next corner, or why he doesn’t feel cool inside and out because he questions everything, hoping his parents won't notice his rusty safety pin ear rings, his hands covered in spray paint and the poetry books he is reading.

Whispers of lovers, foreign lands filled with new cities and the genuine smile of strangers, beckoned me onward with the chance to experience new thoughts and experience new ideas regardless of the outcome.

Was the journey on a straight or twisted path?

Upon reflection there were many times when the puddle I jumped head first into was really a bottomless pit with slimy cracked walls, armed uniformed thugs, the stench of raw sewage and no toilet paper.

Crawling my way out, I lost many a battle watching the skin on my face and knuckles reveal bare bloody flesh, a locked and bolted door, or worse, a condescending pat on the back making me feel like a snail crawling along the edge of a razor blade.

Unable to look away or behind me keeps the journey constant even though there were many times when one step forward and two steps backwards was the only way to go.

I always knew from a very early age I had to create something. In Working Class England the word artist was never really in the vocabulary. Folks started calling me that long before I considered myself one. These days I accept the label and dig my heels in deeper.

How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist?

Twenty five years ago the concept of working part time and creating art was new to me. Europe was under the rule of Thatcherism and the main reason I stayed in the USA was the abundance of part time work. I didn’t have any formal art training, knew nothing of the gallery scene but was given plenty of opportunity to work with my hands. I made a point of living as frugally as possible, often in ghetto situations, a friend’s van, or abandoned buildings where I could use the money I made to create art.

Quite quickly all I was doing was making art and to my surprise folks started buying it. The day job disappeared and these days it would be impossible for my mind to conceive of doing anything else.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC5a-4r4hQI]

Are you surprised by your success?

I tend to use the word gratitude rather than surprise. Every morning I look out of my studio window at all the folks working really hard, thankless jobs and inwardly thank the Universe for my lot in life.

Success for me is being able to do my job without any consideration for what others might think, not caring if it sells or not, and enjoying a good bottle of Chianti for breakfast.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

The adventure is stepping off the crumbling cliff top ledge and plummeting towards the abyss, into the unknown, realizing you have no wings to fly as the inevitable rushes closer. I try to observe the descent, feeling the air fill my lungs, feeling the knots explode in my stomach as I taste the goods. If I’m lucky something comes out of this fall, something new is translated, and some kind of expression manifests. I guess I am an optimist in the sense that as I enter the creative cave I think the end result might be worthy of daylight.

It takes a lot of guts to create something new and refreshing; the “ah- ha” moment is waking up every day and slogging onward.

You have also written a novel, Hurricane Hotel. Please tell us about the book?

Hurricane Hotel is a rollicking street car ride into the underbelly of New Orleans and was started many moons ago while living in a small dive hotel on St Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

The attraction to the hotel aside from the cheap rent was the 24/7 bar and dance hall conveniently located downstairs. An assortment of outsiders, lost souls, artists, sailors, oil rig workers, poets, dancers, ravers, DJ’s and circus performers haunted both at the bar and in the rooms.

During an exceptional hot summer, a mandatory evacuation was given due to an incoming Hurricane. Several of us decided to stay at the hotel simply because we had no place else to go. The flood water came in very quickly forcing us to go upstairs, basically trapping us from the outside world for several days. Without power the intense humid heat and lack of emergency provisions started taking it’s toil on us.

Everything became really wacky when all the booze and drugs ran out. Back then there weren’t cell phones and the hotel was far from Internet savvy. We were trapped like rats on a sinking ship. It was during this intense time that I started writing the novel.

For personal reasons I had to abandon this project for almost 10 years.

Then in the summer of 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit and we all know that story.

I was on a family vacation in the NE at that destructive time and for some strange reason, I had grabbed a box containing all my poetry and the Hurricane Hotel manuscript before leaving the city. My New Orleans home and studio sat in nine feet of floodwater for six weeks and during that time, living in a friend’s apartment in NYC, I started reworking the novel. By Thanksgiving of the same year I felt it was finished and showed a tattered manuscript to my cousin, author Andre Dubus III. He read the novel, told me it was brilliant, and proceeded to write the foreword. During this time, I made 12 hand made copies of the book and gave them to friends as gifts. Their critical response convinced me I had something worth publishing.

The rest is history and for some a good read.

What do you see as the similarities and differences between writing and painting?

Expression means translating a feeling, a fleeting moment, a response to something personal and accepting the end result is simply a snow flake landing in a puddle of tepid lake water.

I believe the continual fire to create, in whatever shape or form, draws from the same source regardless of medium.

What does each bring to you as a creative individual?

Continual room for improvement.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations (issues), or both?

The creative cave is the looniest, loneliest place in the world. Ultimately it’s the scariest and safest place as well. For the few who can let go of society’s demands and dogmas, and really dig deep enough into the self, eventually a primal place is found. This place can be described as a fountain if you like of unlimited resources where everything is possible and nothing else really matters.

For many years I wrestled with some formidable demons, being a passenger in a strange land and the jaws of poverty kept the monkey on the back, so to speak. I am lucky.  Somehow my art, a small group of loyal friends, and the kind folks at Charity Hospital in New Orleans kept me alive, kept me coming back for more. It would be fair to say I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for my art and a few folks believing in it.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

From the very beginning no one understood why I had to make art, why I had to scribble on bathroom walls, deface posted signs, or kick down the barbed wire fence. It’s a very selfish pursuit. It takes guts and sometimes stupidity, you have to have an ego strong enough to accept the creative force is not always a pretty smiling greetings card, and what you are making might not fit over the proverbial couch or match the newest art fad . My friend Bob Hogge, says it best, “If you’re not excited or driven by what you make, why expect anybody else to be interested.”

I think these are very exciting times to be a visual artist. The electronic world has numbed the raw sense of immediacy. Film and television has opened the doors for artists to express their ideas to hundreds of thousands of people, but neither of these mediums can replace the visceral place a painting or sculpture holds.

Alone you have to go into the studio and do battle and in that struggle there is no room for caring what other people think, if you pause you lose. Period. Sure it feels good if some folks dig the end result, but I avoid trying to make art that competes against other art. If my work has any truth to it at all, if what I am saying actually can stand on its own two legs something positive will manifest.

It took me a long time to master the trick of not taking negativity personally. It comes with the ride so get used to it. Everybody is driving their own car and has a right to their own opinion whether I agree with them or not.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your creative goals? If so, can you tell us about it.

Discipline can be achieved through daily routine.

Every day I work on something.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWKj7REtPSY]

Where do most of your ideas come from?

Good question.

Perhaps in the way an opened can of half eaten sardines, imported from Thailand, drowned in red wine, resembles the nape of a lost lover’s neck.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers?

The inability to sit still and do nothing.

So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

Luck, continually working it and helping folks less fortunate than ourselves.

Do you plan to write more or will your main focus continue to be art?

The 1000 or so coffee stained poems, sitting in a cardboard box, beside me now, salvaged from natural and unnatural disasters, ex’s ex-husbands, and sometimes their wives, mice, and the neighbor’s cat, continue to grow legs and constantly scurry across the floor, walls and ceiling of my rented womb resembling sniveling pesky cockroaches.

No matter how many times I’ve doused them in tequila and lighter fluid, plucked their wings, singed their tails with hot cigarettes, trapped them into remote dusty corners or flushed them down the sink, Providence demands that they fly.

Hurricane Hotel, for all its flaws, can be described as a deranged epic poem.

The fact that Hurricane Hotel continues to be read and is rapidly becoming a best seller is beginning to fuel the notion the contents of my cardboard box is worthy of publishing.

It has been suggested on many an occasion I should incorporate my poetry into my paintings and this may be the next logical step.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life?


Why is this important to you?

It combats greed and beats stealing from the poor.

"Without poets, without artists, men would soon weary of nature's monotony.  The sublime idea men have of the universe would collapse with dizzying speed.  The order which we find in nature, and which is only an effect of art, would at once vanish. Everything would break up in chaos. There would be no seasons, no civilization, no thought, no humanity; even life would give way, and the impotent void would reign everywhere."  - Guillame Apolinaire

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6527212 September 15, 2011

Penn Jillette: Magic Hole Puncher

"I don't have any powers others don't have; I just have a different job."

Yesterday afternoon, I rode the train into Manhattan to spend a few hours at Monkdogz Urban Art, the gallery that represents my art.  In my arms I carried a roll of my recent paintings, all on unstretched canvas secured by two large rubber bands.  The plan was to share some of my new work with gallery owners, Bob Hogge and Marina Hadley.

The good news is: they liked it; they handed me a drink, gave me a cookie, and didn't fire me.

The bad news is: I left New York with a profound empty twist in my gut. It was wrapped around the gnawing truth that, in the end, no one can provide validation.  Sprinkled on top was the disgusting realization that I've known this for years, yet I can't shake my addictive pursuit.  External approval of all the creative things I work so hard to achieve will never fill the holes punched in my psyche.  I realized that if the overwhelming need to paint has become my main source of therapy, then I must paint a deeper truth. My friend, artist, Jean Marc Calvet wrote to me about this today.  He said, "Go inside the hole (don't be afraid) and you will find what you lost," and I know he's right. Otherwise it all becomes a meaningless, time filling duty, a job no one wants.

In looking at the work with Bob and Marina, I was jittery and uncomfortable.  I'd brought a few pieces that hold less meaning for me, and as we gazed at them, they wilted and grew lifeless.  On the other hand, the ones that have profound significance left me feeling exposed, as if we were all staring at my naked body in the worst sort of light. Those were the monstrous ones, and as I looked at them, I saw myself, a living, breathing freak, simultaneously full and empty.  But I knew there was much more where that came from; it wasn't enough.

If I can't put myself fully on the canvas than there's no point for me in art. Finding a way into the hole is why I'm driven to paint.  I need to take a deep breath and get on with it. I'm not sure why yet or who gave it to me, but that's my real job, my life's work.

With that in mind, I went home, spread my fingers through the paint, and literally felt my way into the start of a new painting.  It's messy, juvenile, and ugly but it looks like what I am, and I'm determined to push forward in that direction.

My guest today, Penn Jillette, of the famed Penn & Teller, says he has no creative powers that others lack; he just has a different job. Speaking of powers, Penn has written a book that seems to effortlessly punch holes in religion. He escorts us into that space many refuse to acknowledge or explore. My mother would likely burn this book based on the title alone: God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.   In the book, Penn takes readers on a roller coaster of exploration and flips conventional religious wisdom on its ear to reveal that doubt, skepticism, and wonder -- all signs of a general feeling of disbelief -- are to be celebrated and cherished, rather than suppressed.

I have no magic either nor do I fully understand where creative ability or drive comes from, who gives it to us, or how we can be rid of it once blossomed.  I'd love to believe that God gifted me with the same special packet Picasso, Pollock, and Kandinsky received on their way to Earth. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. 

The point is: we're all made of the same basic biological building blocks. Those complex blocks usually get dragged through some level and form of crap as we make our way.  As the dark, stinking mess we're struck with races up our noses, splashes into our eyes, and seeps between our teeth, we reach into our packet and yank out whatever seems as if it can save us. Even if I did get Picasso's packet, a million other people may also be toting around the same bag of tricks. 

Who's fully utilizing it and what does it all mean?  Whose job is it to find out?  I'd love to sit down to dinner with Penn and discuss this at some point. 

Maybe someday it will happen.  After all, I do believe in magic.  I'm a freak.

What's your story? How did you end up in the comedy / entertainment field, and are you surprised by your success?

I'm from Greenfield, a small factory town in Western Massachusetts. I learned to juggle when I was 12 and got good. I met Teller while I was still in high school and "got out" (not really graduated) of high school on a plea bargain. I wanted to be a great existential writer and live in Paris, but I went to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College instead. I hitchhiked around the country and hopped trains, did a lot of street performing, and put a show together with Teller. I gave up on Paris but not on being an existential writer. I'm more successful than I ever dreamed I could be. The first person I met in showbiz was me. I didn't know this was possible for anyone, never mind me.

You've have an interesting, successful career that seems to be going well. What made you decide to write a God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales?

Glenn Beck challenged me to write about atheist morality. I got carried away.

With regard to the book, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yeah, when I realized that proselytizing really was very good thing - the backbone of the marketplace of ideas.

Each novel I write seems to change my life or create a shift in my thinking or perception in some way. Did writing the book change or impact your life in any way that perhaps goes beyond other creative work that you do?

Yes, I've talked to a lot of religious people because of this book and the more I talk with them, the more I like them. I respect and love people, even when I don't like their ideas.

In general, how does creativity factor into comedy writing? Where do you get most of your ideas?

I rarely write jokes. I never wanted to be in comedy. It just seems when I tell the truth, I like to tell it funny. But, I don't ever like to do any joke that isn't true to me.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being creative have caused you aberrations (issues) in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

I don't think "creativity" is anything "magic" or even special. I think we're all just doing our best. I don't have any powers others don't have; I just have a different job.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand some of the personality traits, interests, or drive that go along with being creative? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

It's kind of the same answer. The people who don't understand when I get jacked up and rant and pull focus . . . are right -- that's just a lack of self control on my part. It's sometimes hard for my family to understand that I need to sit and think to do my job. But, that's hard for me to understand, too. It might be a lazy lie.

Have you developed a specific process that enables you to meet your professional goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role of discipline and organization?

I do the opposite of procrastination, to a fault. I leave my "in box" empty. I do everything when I'm asked to do it. As soon as I can. This request came in and I wrote it. I didn't wait until I had time to do it. I try to be early on everything. I fail now and again, but I try to just do it.

"You've got to do it, till your through it, so you better get to it" - Elvis Costello.

Were there specific challenges to writing the book that you can share with us?

See above, all of my challenges are time. I have so much more that I want to do than I can do. I don't ever get to sit down and write a book. All of my books have been written in stolen moments. When I have 15 minutes -- I write. I can't warm up and put it off. It's all done in the spaces, and I love it that way, but I sometimes think of what it would be like to have a 10 hour writing day. It seems great, but maybe I couldn't work that way.

Will there be more Penn Jillette books?

Yes, whether published or not, I'm always writing. I love it. My sister always said that she saw me first as a writer, and she knew me better than I know myself.

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6527212 March 31, 2010

Guts and Art: Sebastien Aurillon

"... at the end of the day you just have to listen to your guts ..."

Literary critic and writer, Cyril Connolly said, "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." Although I agree with his statement 100%, I often struggle with the concept. I don't want to write or paint strictly for the public but I want the public to care about what I write and paint.

Okay, I admit that I want it all to be awesome. I want my work to be some of the best around! I want to wake up in that city that doesn't sleep to find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap ... lalalala

The issue is that while everyone's so different and interesting, there exists an average. It's statistics; I'm not knocking anyone. There is an average Joe, an average reader, an average art lover, etc. It often seems like to get to the top of the heap, creative folks must emerge as the best at pleasing the mighty average.


Does that mean the creative gal who places in the average zone of the bell curve, just short of the spectacular tail, has the best possible chance of rising above the crowd, and therefore bouncing over to the highly successful group? Are you following?

And is that the way it should be?

Creative folks can determine what's hot and attempt to do that, or we can do something that gives hot a whole new meaning. I create what I want and need to because that's all I know how to do. I can only be myself; I'm not good enough to be all the other people too. Honestly, it gets lonely sometimes feeling that the things I'm pouring my time and heart into could ultimately be meaningless crap, or that it just may be too different for the average to embrace ... not commercial enough for some reason. On those days I tell myself "it's definitely not crap" because after all, I created it for myself and that's all that counts, right?

But wait!

If I truly did it all for myself wouldn't I simply file my finished manuscripts in a drawer instead of sending them to my agent? Maybe I'd display them in nice glass boxes that sit on pedestals in my formal living room.

(Hey, there's an idea for a kooky, thought-provoking piece of art--a lonely manuscript representing years of work encased in glass. Out of reach, is it still art?)

Wouldn't I lovingly hang my paintings around the house and forget about New York? Wouldn't I stop feeling like I want to hurl when I read the bestseller list each week, especially when a novel I just struggled to read (due to its ordinary, meaningless content) is at the top of the list?

My guest today, artist and art consultant Sebastien Aurillon, brings up the the important notion of how we each define success. It's not always as simple at 'ole Cyril makes it sound. I've adjusted my definition of success over the last twenty years but a few visions have remained ... bordering on fantasy, of course.
  • My novels are at the front of Borders and Barnes & Noble.
  • There are sparkling New York Times book reviews, and my novels are absolutely on that bestseller list.
  • My art hangs in galleries in New York, Paris, Basel, etc. People find it extremely interesting, filled with story and emotion. The write up in Gallery & Studio is spectacular.
  • One lonely teenage girl reads my novel, Boundaries, and realizes that her life is worth much more than she previously thought.
  • A movie wins the Oscar for best adaptation from an original source (my novel). The producer holds his gold in the air and says, "And last but not least, I want to thank Penelope Przekop for writing such a honest and moving story." Tears, forged through years of dedication, roll down my face.
  • There exists a Wiki page, a legacy, a body of creative work that ultimately relays something meaningful to the world.
All this simply because those who know believe it's just that good. Have I ever once imagined millions of dollars in my bank account (fortune), or people begging for my autograph (fame)? No.

My overarching dream has been to create something brutally honest, something people recognize themselves in and, in doing so, they see me. I become real. Perhaps this need to yank out what's inside me and make it tangible stems from my childhood. I grew up being overlooked in an odd way, groping through the shadows of a larger than life mother. There were no mirrors in that darkness. And besides that, I absolutely LOVE books, stories, pictures, paintings, color, interesting lines, etc.

Using those tools, I want to create a reflection for others so that they can become mine. My favorite books are The Scarlett Letter and The Dying Animal, and I love art that probably wouldn't look right over the sofa. I'm not here to entertain the largest chunk of the bell curve. I never was. Besides, we've got James Patterson for that.

Based on his nagging definition of success, Sebastien stepped away from the corporate gravy train to pursue his creative interests. He knew it was a gamble in terms of potential achievement. But ultimately, we're each alone with those definitions swimming in our heads, knowing we only have so much time. Perhaps in the end, feeling fulfilled in a more authentic way, and knowing you had the nerve to follow your guts makes the gamble worthwhile. That seems to be the case for Sebastien these days.

Interesting that Cyril Connolly's most well-known book, Enemies of Promise, combined literary criticism with an autobiographical exploration of why he failed to become the successful author of fiction that he had aspired to be in his youth.

Needless to say, he still got a Wiki page.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? How did you end up where you are today? Are you surprised by where you are, or did you always see it coming?

I suddenly left the corporate world in 2002 after working for years as an export manager for high-end Parisian companies--to just paint. Three years later, I was having my first solo show in Paris. Two weeks after that, I was meeting Bob Hogge and Marina Hadley at the Monkdogz Urban Art Gallery in Chelsea. They gave me my first show in New York and hired me as an art consultant a few months later.

This being said, I really don't feel I've gotten anywhere yet. There's still a long way to go, but I've always had a deep feeling that my adventure was going to be unusual.

With regard to your current focus in life, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Probably right before I left the corporate life. One night during dinner my best friend asked me, "Are you going to wait to be 50 before you make that jump?”

I quit my job the week after.

What are your thoughts on the stereotypes that creative people sometimes fall into?

Some of the most common fantasies are chasing up anything that's not directly linked to the creative process like fame or immediate gratification ... or when artists think it's enough to keep your work in your studio, whereas you really have to put it out there in the world.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

It definitely helped me to deal with some of life's craziness because being creative forces you to put things into different perspectives--a bit like a distorted vision of reality's insanity. On the other hand, I can't see how being creative would cause aberrations in life. On the contrary, it just makes you look at it through different glasses.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I found very little support when I transitioned from the corporate life to a creative one; most people thought I was going nuts. My father told me I was going to become a bum ... how much confidence did he have in me?

We act like mirrors to others, and I soon realized that my choice of a completely different lifestyle was awaking people's worse fears and insecurities.

How are you going to live?
What about your retirement plan?

But at the end of the day you just have to listen to your guts and surround yourself with positive people. I stopped listening a long time ago to nonconstructive critics, whether coming from those close by or from art dealers.

So far, the majority of those I've interviewed about creativity say that the internal question of, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" has never crossed their mind. Is this true for you? Am I the only one who has, at times, wondered if I'm just kidding myself?

Well, I don’t know if you're the only one, but that question has definitely never ever crossed my mind. For me it would be like asking myself, “Am I alive or do I just think I am?”

I can question the quality, the pertinence, the technique of a creative work I have completed but not if it is, in its essence, a creative work.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

First of all success has a different meaning to us all. It is fame? Is it financial? Being recognized by your peers? Because I have a rich spiritual life, my own beliefs are that success will come if it’s meant to be, and also most likely if you let go of the idea itself.

Be tenacious but be aware of the intentions you put behind it. I don’t believe you can be successful if you’re not doing it for reasons that are right for you.

I am personally ready to see all my dreams come true.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. Is there one method or way that you get most of your ideas, and if so, can you describe that? If not, can you tell us a little bit about how your mind works?

I guess all artists get asked that question.

My first impulse has always been to say that I have no idea, that it is such a subconscious process that I have no control over it. However, I've revised that answer since trying to put more conscious meaning into my art, give it more depth, and communicate with subjects that are more intimate to me.

What are the top three characteristics highly creative people need to be successful, in your opinion?

Talent, a fair amount of neurosis, and tenacity.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life?

Create art that will make people feel good and believe that anything is possible.

Learn more about Sebastien and his unique work on his site.

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6527212 February 19, 2010

A Crazy Heart: Why was Bad Bad?

" ... who is real country?"

I haven't been to see a movie by myself in many years, but today I slipped into the 12:25 all alone. I wanted to see Crazy Heart with the person I am when I'm by myself. I suspected the movie would pull that person out, and when she fully emerges, I usually feel very alone anyway.

It's not a bad thing. It just is.

So me and myself bought our ticket, got the popcorn, and found a seat. You must have heard by now that Jeff Bridges is on the short list to win best actor for this gig. After seeing Crazy Heart, my bet is that he'll win. It's not the kind of movie that everyone will fall in love with, but it was the kind of performance that held up a mirror ... at least for me.

As I watched, I wondered (in a deep way) why Bad Blake was bad and what this was meant to tell the folks looking into the Jeff Bridges mirror. How did he get that way? Why did he have to be that way? The truth is, he wasn't bad. He was human, and he just happened to be highly creative--a deeply sensitive soul with strong convictions that were most likely mismatched with many of the particulars that make up the typical life.

Many of us put a lot of effort into numbing ourselves. Bad's elixir was alcohol. It's tough to feel so much, to have so much to express. And in times when there's no outlet, it can become unbearable. Sometimes when feeling desperate or overwhelmed, there's an intense urge to take an action, regardless of circumstances. The numbing helps with that. Sure, lots of folks choose alcohol or other drugs. But there are many more surprising devices that also work: jobs, religion, family. Just about anything you can completely bury your self under can do the trick.

At the start of the movie, Bad Blake was busy wallowing in some creative disappointments he'd had. Sure, he was still out there doing his thing but he wasn't all there. Rather than creating new work, he was replaying the old.

Then he met someone.

Isn't that how it always happens? Certainly in movies it is. I thought hard about how this gritty lonely, disappointed musician and a soft, sensitive single-mom-writer could fall in love so quickly. Well ... it was a movie, after all. Duh!

But wait, that happens in real life, too. At least it does to people like me. There are all kinds of real love, and they're all good. They're all right. But sometimes we stumble upon someone who steps out of the blue and gives us a profound SNAP! Often these snap-out-of-it-connections are extremely intense, and the people involved must eventually part ways for some reason or another. Perhaps these connections are good for us in the moment, orchestrated by unknown forces we've yet to understand. Maybe the intensity needed to make that snap is simply too overwhelming for the long haul.

As the movie continued, I wondered if creative people ("the real deal") must always toss their cookies into toilets and numb away their demons to inevitably create? And how is that fair? I've tossed enough cookies for a lifetime. I don't want to do that anymore. In the end, Bad Blake wasn't tossing anything but a fantastic song. The music came back to him due to his ability to finally let himself feel something again. After that snap, he couldn't go back. It gave him new courage to take a chance that peeking out of that numbass state might just have some positive outcomes if he was willing to accept the bad.

Even in Bad's badness, he held true to a certain mantra. Early in the movie, his new woman friend, a reporter, asked, "In today's world, who is real country?" And I thought to myself, "Who is real art? Who is real writing?" To quote my mentor Bob Hogge, "There is true talent, and there is commercialized talent." So where are the Bad Blakes of our time? Are they lying drunk on dirty couches in small hotel rooms; strolling multiple children around the mall too busy to feel; or sticking their heads so far into Bibles that they don't have to accept responsibility for what they've been gifted, get off their asses, and contribute?

Meanwhile, the machine charges forward, taking those who are willing to pitch tents in dens full of thieves and do whatever is necessary to make a buck or two. (Trust me, I know it's not always an either/or situation, and that many of us walk the line as much as we can to see a tiny slit of success. After all, Bad Blake had an agent, too.)

In the end, each of us, whether creative or not, chooses who we will be to the world whether or not that matches with who we really are. I was happy to see Bad turn better. And the truth is that all cleaned up and shiny, he was still the same gifted person. You don't always have to be bad to be good.

I also went to the hair salon this morning. As my beautician was changing the colors in my hair, I came across a magazine quote by Ellen Degeneres. She said, "Be true to yourself and the rest will follow." Everywhere Bad went, folks deeply respected him. However, he was often too numb to recognize their awe. This made me wonder if I give enough credit to those in my life who support me, who believe in my talents and abilities.

Am I too quick to belittle the respect that's close and all around because I'm too busy believing that the real respect has yet to arrive? Crazy Heart made me consider which is more important.

With all this in mind, I've decided to add Bad Blake (even though he's actually a fictional character) to my list of Aberration Nation honorary members. Jeff Bridges may not be as excited about his Aberration Nation award as he is with the golden ones but something tells me Bad Blake would accept with pride.


Visit Jeff Bridges' web site.

See the sidebar for a full list of honorary members.

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