August 2010


Last week I heard a funny joke: What is the shortest sentence in the English language? “I am.” What is the longest sentence? “I do. ” The obvious reference is, of course, to marriage vows. After I chuckled at the clever play on words, I started to think about the two phrases and how much they relate to creative people.

We define ourselves with the words “I am.” For example, I am a filmmaker. That’s my creative self and that’s who I really am. (Insert the words that apply to you: actor, writer, poet, singer, songwriter, painter, etc.) Too often we let ourselves be defined by what we “do,” specifically what we do for a living. When I moved to Los Angeles many years ago I was an actor. However, to earn a living in order to get my start, I took a job working security at Universal Studios on the graveyard shift. It was that occupation that paid my bills, not acting. To the outside world I was a security guard with a clip-on tie and shiny plastic badge. But it never was who I was, it was only what I did.
The world judges us based on what we do for a living, right? So do our neighbors, right? Do they really? I don’t know… maybe… but I don’t care. A long time ago I saw the difference between who “I am” versus what “I do.” I am an artist; I do what I have to to pay my bills and enjoy my life.
The conflict for a creative person is that, after a while, the “I do…” part of our lives overshadows the true “I am…” part. That’s not only sad, but downright tragic for the creative soul. Our dreams are so much a part of what keeps us going, what keeps us “doing” the jobs we have to in order to one day merge “I am” with “I do.” But for many, the twain will never fully meet and “I am…” will remain far from what “I do…”
Remain vigilant for the creeping melancholy that saps your creative dreams and weakens the “I am” part of you. Never give that up and never demean it! If you have an artistic soul, it is for a reason! Embrace it and learn well the difference between “I am…” and “I do…”
And if this little pep talk stirs your soul and reinvigorates you

complete the next Great American Novel and you feel compelled to dedicate it to me… that would be fine.

I’m just saying…


Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

I love this exchange at the opening of the film “Shakespeare in Love.” Anyone who has worked in the theatre can absolutely relate. From rehearsals on a bare stage, where ordinary masking tape on the floor indicates where the walls of the set will eventually go, to the final dress rehearsal counting down the hours until opening night with a critic or two in attendance, all involved feel the rush towards disaster. Props may break, sound cues fail to sound, lighting cues fail to light and, on occasion, actors may fail to make their entrance on time. However, there is nothing as thrilling as live theatre. And yet, strangely enough, it all turns out well! And it seems to be a mystery.
Now what happens if you replace “the theatre business” with “my creative life”? Every artist, be they actor, writer, musician, painter or poet, set about to take our dreams (which are only outlines on our mind’s stage floor), from blueprint to concrete reality. We practice tirelessly as we work towards our goal, our opening night. We feel plagued by “insurmountable obstacles” and frequently feel we are close to “imminent disaster.” Yet, we continue on, all the while fearful of broken props, technical miscues and even of missing our own entrance! A kind of stage fright can take hold and shake your insides, trying to get you to cancel “the show.”
What do you do then? Nothing. It all works out in the end–IF you stay true to yourself and trust your talents. The show must go on! Sometimes we think too much about the “critics in the audience” and give them too much power over us. Can they really make or break us? No, they cannot. Only we can do that.
Perhaps there is no real “mystery” involved. It’s about hard work, dedication and a touch of fearlessness.
So, trust that your props will not break and believe that all of your cues will be delivered exactly as planned and, for goodness sake, don’t miss your entrance!
I’m just saying…