September 12, 2009

The Hippy and the Businessman

This is from an email to my brother Greg. Greg is an English Professor at the University of Dallas.

Last fall and winter I felt that I advanced to a new level with my songwriting. I think I've started to figure things out. There's two stages that require different sides of the brain. The first stage, which should be probably at least 80% of your time, is the imaginitive, non-structured, creative stage, where you just go with whatever comes into your head. Then there's the editing stage where you use your craft to put some structure to it. My problem in the past was going to the second stage too early. The poor editor just didn't have enough material to work with. I had the percentages reversed. I only spent maybe 10-20% in the creative stage, then 80% in the editor stage.

I'm developing a metaphor for this. There's the hippy and the businessman. The hippy dances around barefoot with a gauze shirt and flowers in his hair, coming up with melodies, chords, rhythms and lyrics, which are all interesting but have no structure. The businessman looks at him with a combination of disgust but also jealousy, because he could never come up with such cool ideas. Then the hippy hands the businessman the stuff he comes up with and he sorts it out and gives it the structure that the hippy can't be bothered with.

The other thing I started doing last fall is, whenever "The Muse" sends me a line, and it sounds stupid and makes no sense, instead of throwing it out, now I say that line MUST stay in the song. I'll write around those lines. I may not know what they mean, but I now know those are the ones to keep. Whether they come from the deep subconscious, or God, or a god, or some spiritual blob in another universe, that can be argued interminably, but wherever the fuck they come from, they're staying. I may or may not figure out what they mean later. Or other people may figure out what they mean.

So last winter The Muse sent me these lines, and they became the titles to
songs:

"Falling into Heaven"
"Waiting on the Other Side of Nowhere"

For both, I've had people say, "that song really speaks to me". I chuckled to myself and wanted to say, "thanks but can you explain what it means, cuz I have no idea". Actually I did give them some meaning, the editor/businessman insisted and I couldn't shut him up. :)

-Rob

3 comments:

Greg Roper said...

Man, what a cool post; with your permission, I really, really want to print it out and use it in my classes some day soon. You definitely have it right. I love the percentages, and I love the idea that if a line comes to you, you keep it *and write the rest around that*.

And this is exactly what I had to learn, and am still learning. I don't think I learned a blessed thing about writing until I learned this. I mean, I could write competent papers, but they were always a little too tidy, and never really took any chances. And then as I was getting ready to write my dissertation and terrified about it, I picked up a book I think I've recommended to you--Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She was WAY into what you call "the Hippy", so much so that I wasn't ready for it... but something told me she was right, that I was far too left-brained and tight-assed and Superego'd to the hilt, and that I had this other side and I was never letting it loose.

And I was also teaching Comp at the time, and slowly started to realize that what my students needed the most was to loosen up a good bit, be more goofy and funny and ironic, the way I knew them to be as people...

And I was wondering how writers achieve their own, real, personal voice, and how to teach students to do that, rather than writing to me in that god-awful standard Essay Voice that drains the life out of everything I was grading....
And then I had to face it in myself, and really try to just let loose a little more... and that's when it got personal: did I really believe this crap I was teaching? Was I willing to do it myself?
And it actually worked... I mean, the problem I thought before was, "okay, that will be fun, but kind of self-indulgent, and only crap will come out of it" and so I'd go back into my businessman mode. But slowly, like you, I started to realize that the things I liked, that other people liked, were when I trusted the Hippy and gave him a lot of free reign. I gave a speech at the end of the last semester where three days before I had no idea what I was going to say... so I just started by stringing together a bunch of loose incidents of the semester and the broad theme of "rainbows" (they called themselves "the rainbow group" for reasons you don't need to bother with). Anyway, it ended up being one of the best speeches I'd ever given, and I'm not kidding but I had them laughing, falling out of their chairs, and then in tears five minutes later.


--greg

UD Rome Spring 2009 Students said...

To go on...

I don't know what it is in us that won't let the hippy have his fun. Left-brained-ness, in that it's just built into so many of us (I think there probably *is* a difference in the brains of "artsy types", in that their right brain really is stronger than mine). An upbringing that teaches us to be good people. Somehow not trusting that who we are, in the inner self, really is a good person. Honestly, I've developed a kind of theology (or learned it from others, primarily John Paul II) about this--it comes from a Lutheran, Puritanical idea that we are crap, that God really doesn't like the person we are (which by the way is how He created us), and all our deepest desires, motives, intuitions, are really "dirty" in some way or another. Or at least crazy. Or at least a bunch of b.s. But how self-defeating, eh? I mean that literally: we defeat our very selves, our very individuality, when we think that way.

Now, I hate writing that only has the hippy--that's Jack Kerouac b.s. But if you let the rational, the businessman, work on that wild stuff, then you have something. And I think that's what it's like for us as humans, too: you have to let the wild you out, learn about him, discover what is deepest in ourselves.. but then we have to use our rationality... not to step on it, crush it, or worse, hate it, but to shape it like a carpenter shapes wood or a potter (now I'm getting Biblical) shapes the clay into something useful and beautiful.

Okay, I didn't know that was going all the way there, but thanks for helping me towards writing it. I'm a long way from trusting my hippy enough--I still have way too much of the Puritan in me--, but you've given me the kick in the ass to start trusting him a lot more.

Also: I just had a former student (one of the best writers I've ever had) write to me and said I was the best writing teacher she'd ever had... strange, because she surely had had good teachers before (and I know after) me, since she was so good… and you know what she said was the reason? Because I encouraged her to take chances. She said no one had ever done that before. I think I was more proud of that than any compliment I've ever received.

You know, one more thought--strangely, I trust the hippy a lot more in teaching, which is funny because you'd think that is a "businessman" sort of activity. I do crazy crap in class, and am willing to try crazy crap all the time... and really be myself; I'm known as a pretty strange, funky teacher who says odd stuff all the time. Sometimes I might cross a line or two, but I'm terrifically comfortable with that, and I think it makes me a better teacher. I'll stand in the shower and a way to get a concept across will come to me, and no matter how goofy or odd it is, I'll tend to trust it... and then try it in class (but I let the businessman think about how to make it work all the way on the drive to my office). Weird that I'll trust him more in teaching than in writing--maybe because I have an audience right there, and I get immediate feedback, and I see it's working.

--greg

Anonymous said...

I found that one of the ways I dealt with the Hippy and Businessman issue was to take on a pseudonym.

Pretty early in my return to songwriting, after my extended hiatus, I found I wanted to explore areas that weren't too comfortable to my self-critic/censor (my businessman.) I wanted to use the music and creative process as a form of exploration of the dark little bits of the psyche in the search for something...not exactly sure what...something divine? God? Final self-proof of absolute emptiness? Hope? ...a bit of a mystical foray, I guess you could call it...and yeah, I know, it sounds pretty pretentious and silly...to a businessman.

I keep hoping to unlock something I missed about this life in my explorations....so far no luck...but I think I wrote at least one good song, "Angel" (at least it is good to my taste.) I guess the businessman would say he told me so.

The pseudonym may be a gimmicky, but It allowed my "businessman" to have the aura of plausible deniability when it came to the stuff the "hippy" was putting out...in my case my hippy is a actually a burned-out hippy turned nihilist...but I digress.

Enough of this chatter...time to go blow out a candle in the dark...or was it light a candle in the dark...I always get that one wrong...which one is better.

Kurt (aka Dee Sub Wun)