All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the breakdown scene from Punch Drunk Love:
What can we learn?
There are many secrets left to be unlocked. Sandler’s box office films have grossed over two billion dollars worldwide. And most of them were low budget, goofball comedies. Anderson, however, wrote this role for him specifically. One that liberated him from the constraints of a mainstream formula. And that permission revealed the actor’s unexpected depth, darkness and power, enabling him to turn in one of the best performance of his career. Critics and audiences even admitted, wow, this goofball is actually a great actor. Who knew? And so, it’s a testament to what’s possible when we stop chasing the same seductive nightmare and start living larger than our labels. Waits famously said that about his evolution as a songwriter. He found new instruments to play, using the bagpipes, the marimba, and strange percussion devices, saying that your hands are like dogs, going to the same places they’ve been. That you have to be careful when art is no longer in the mind but in the fingers, going to happy places. Sandler broke his fingers of his their habits. He played an instrument he’d never played before, exploring something completely perpendicular to his ordinary way of working. And the result was spellbinding. Are you continuing to expand your sense of aesthetic possibility?
The invitation to a much wider horizon. Whyte wrote that work must be a marriage. That we must have a relationship with our work that is larger than any individual job description we are given. And that a real work, like a real person, grows and changes and surprises us, asking us constantly for recommitment. And so, it’s no surprise that the seven year itch, a psychological term that suggests that happiness in a relationship declines after around year seven of a marriage, applies to the world of work. It’s the natural cycle of dissatisfaction. The inevitable decrease in happiness over long periods of time. About seven years into my own career, that itch came on full force. Because I had reached a point of diminishing returns. I was living a full life that didn’t feed me anymore. And I was operating in an ecosystem that had limited resources offer to someone of my creative caliber. My mentor even told me over coffee one morning, this life has served its purpose, but now it’s time to create voids in it. And so, I accepted the invitation to a much wider horizon, and decided to move to a city that was big enough for me. Big enough in size, big enough in opportunity, big enough in potential, big enough in belonging, and big enough in access. And that changed everything. And I know it was the right decision because I feel like a completely different person, and yet, more like myself than ever. What unbalancing must take place in order to push you into a new and larger set of circumstances?
Living in a strangled state. Maisel’s research was transformative in helping me understand the difference between authentic calm and forced calm. Because for many years, despite the relaxed image I projected to the world, I didn’t really feel calm. Not unlike the character in the movie, I was just really good at doing everything in my power to act and be calm. From meditation to massage to medication to mindfulness, that’s a lot of work just to relax. In fact, it was actually exhausting work defending myself against letting my mind roar away. And although it was an honorable effort to keep my racing brain under control, I could only hold onto the reins of that wild stallion for so long. Forced calm may have stopped the bleeding, but it was starting to strangle me. Because it’s really just an artificial way of dealing with incipient mania. And so, I wrote a letter of resignation to myself. Literally. I opened up a blank document and began writing out every single way of being from which I needed to retire. All the stressing and achieving and proving and fearing, it purged from my system. The anxious part of me was finally resting. And I realized that I had done enough to be okay with myself. Ten pages and four hours later, I experienced a euphoric lightness of being that I’ll never forget. Like my personal status with myself had gone up a hundred percent. Ever since then, I’ve never felt calmer. Are you truly relaxed, or just living in a strangled calm state?
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