Our guest on Friday Arts Day is Jay McNeill. Jay speaks openly about what its like to live as a creative and with a creative.
Jay McNeill – who am I? I have had numerous occupations. A factory worker, helicopter pilot, a creative at Willow Creek Church Chicago, manager at World Vision, a professional but desperate musician and now a broke author! I have this childlike expectation that if people write honest, vulnerable and transparent stories, the world may possibly step back from the brink of insanity – naive I know. My hope is that anything I write, whether literature or music, will give the reader or listener the sense that there is someone on the planet who has the same crazy thoughts as themselves and that somehow this might offer a sense of hope. I am a father of twin girls and a husband of a wife who keeps my life together. We currently live in Melbourne after a 5 year season in the USA. My life has been a ‘mixed box of chocolates’, but the most recent soul searching journey has been navigating the treacherous path of severe Cerebral Palsy which my daughter lives with. With its delivery of grief it has also brought the gift of a sobered mind and therefore the willingness to meet the challenge of reconciling the contradiction of life. You can keep in touch with Jay on his blog Growing Sideways. http://jaymcneill.com I know many creative people, there is no doubt that the less predictable disposition can be a little funky to figure out for the ‘normal’ people. I think everyone has some creativity it just shows in different ways. For some it is obvious as they sing or play guitar effortlessly, for others it is the silent ponder on a book idea that may bounce endlessly against the walls of their grey matter. In any case, living with a creative person whether it is a verbose external expression or an introverted internal one can be a challenge for those close to them – or so I am told by my wife… Sometimes when I get hit on the head with an idea I glaze over like someone deleted everything in my brain and all that is left is the one thought, the focus becomes so intense if I was dribbling I probably wouldn’t notice. There is an intoxicating allure following the rabbit trail of a new idea, the addiction of producing stuff becomes a little magic mushroom all of its own. Apparently I say random words out loud that make no sense to my wife or my kids but it makes complete sense to me. I can stare at something and not see anything. Sometimes after working in the studio for endless hours my wife will turn the lights on and it is only then I realise I have been in the dark. I forget where my keys are all the time and I can get obsessed with detail. I can’t remember anyones name but I will remember their story. I can get depressed about the state of the world and suffer from anxiety. I write with my left hand, play cricket with my right, kick with my left foot and use a mouse with my right – Honestly, even I find it hard to live with myself. The question I often get asked is,
“can creative people be less, you know…’creative’ and more…normal?”
For me personally (I wouldn’t dare to speak on behalf of my creative friends), the answer is yes, but it is nowhere as much fun and it takes practise. If I could do what my heart would want to do I would be the weirdest guy on the planet and impossible to live with. I would probably produce some music and writing that I really like, but it would be less palatable for those around me. Because I am forced to engage with my community and travel the treadmill with everyone else, I think I am more useful, more believable and less on my high horse. My most frustrating thing as a creative is getting interrupted but to my distain I have discovered life is one big interruption after another. I never thought I would be able to do this, but now when I am fully immersed in a creative space, my girls can come and interrupt me and I can change my focus quickly giving my full attention. It took years to exercise that muscle. At first it was bloody irritating, it felt like I was a passenger in a car with a driver who kept slamming on the brakes for no reason. Now after some practise I can click in and out – the benefit has been I can now access my creative thinking pretty much on call. Having less time available helps exercise that muscle too – being time poor isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the creative process, it actually invites discipline. Creatives can find feedback really difficult too. I used to be protective of my ideas as though they were direct downloads from God. To mess with the original idea was to mess with the cosmic unknown! Most mature creatives know that feedback is crucial and often the best feedback comes from the unexpected. But…having someone comment on your stuff can feel like a personal criticism because often the ideas come from deep reflection of the soul.
It is VERY difficult for a creative to separate themselves from their art but the more they invite feedback, the easier it gets. Try and imagine how it would feel to share a deeply private story and for the listener to suggest that you didn’t tell it very well – it takes some getting used to.
The truth is professional creatives have to write on demand, people often forget that there is an enormous amount of discipline for the professional creative. Every creative person in the modern world has to figure out how to listen, adapt and deliver if they want any chance of making a living. Even without the pressure of being a professional, feedback can often make for a better outcome – that is why some of the best musicians still co-write. Is it possible for a creative to engage with the rest of the planet? Yes, most days I work in a corporate environment at an aid and development organisation. There isn’t much tolerance for space cadets like me so I have had to figure out how to channel my creativity through a different lens – I try to look at it as a positive thing. Most of my life I have worked as a professional musician, interestingly I don’t think working in a corporate world over the past few years has done too much damage, if anything it makes my creative time more enjoyable. Has my creative side taken a hit overall? Maybe, but I actually think I am more connected to my surroundings and because of that more relevant to the ‘everyday’. So what advice would I give to someone living with a creative? Firstly, sorry about that! Secondly, take your time, don’t be brutal and keep in mind that as much as it is a blessing to create, sometimes the burden is just as big. I wouldn’t treat a creative as special, that can make the ego even worse, but I would encourage you to work together on how to manage the ups and downs.
Creatives are better people when they engage in the real world but it takes time to figure out and requires patience from those who are close. Like anything, discipline and struggle make for great art and you don’t have to be an arrogant, distant and self obsessed person to be a successful creative – but it sure would be fun to trash a motel room every now and then!
The photo of the camera in Rabbit Ears is curtesy of Attila Siha: You can see more of Attila’s work on https://www.flickr.com/photos/77967821@N00/
Living With a Creative Mind by Jeff and Julie Crabtree http://livingwithacreativemind.com/store/ The stories of creative people living wild, uncontrollable lives of madness, genius and selfishness are now a staple of the gossip and celebrity magazines. These abound with tales of outrageous behaviour and its inevitable consequences: broken relationships and damaged lives. The ‘artistic temperament’ has now entered the cultural mainstream. While their work may be admired, artists are dismissed as self-indulgent or undisciplined. In some circles the term creative is tinged with contempt. There’s even a website on the 10 reasons why creative people drive the rest of us crazy. As a consequence of extensive research (and the experience of a composer/performer and psychologist living and working together) – Jeff and Julie have worked out what is going on inside the minds of creative people. Living With A Creative Mind describes a new simpler model of the creative process, and shows how creative people have different ways of interacting with the world as a result. – See more at: http://livingwithacreativemind.com/about-the-book/#sthash.KNYxhDOV.dpuf