Thursday, March 21, 2013

I just read this fantastic book by Twyla Tharp

In it she candidly shares her personal methodology for starting projects, coaxing ideas out of hiding and sustaining creative momentum over the 
long haul. The techniques she's developed throughout her career build habit muscles and help stare down the demons lurking in the white canvas, blank page and empty rehearsal studio. Delivered in a direct, no-nonsense voice, these tactics include eccentric, smart and effective exercises that anyone can adopt for themselves.
Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov in rehearsal; Twyla dancing now and then.

The Bad Editor - At some point, everyone involved in the creative process, must stare down their Bad Editor who hides behind the mirror and points out all of the reasons why you are wasting your time on an idea no one cares about. The chattering voice encourages your fear that you might make a fool of yourself or embarrass others and scolds that time spent engrossed in the "monomaniacal bubble" of private pursuits is time stolen from loved ones who are counting on you to pay attention to them. 

During the development of what Twyla calls our "Creative DNA" these repetitive, negative thought strands become entwined with the good strands of our artistic purpose and intrude on our focus, confidence and delight in our work, chipping away at our resolve. It takes diligence and cunning to separate these strands enough to persevere and I find it reassuring to learn that artists of Twyla Tharp's level of accomplishment still struggle with their demon voices but have learned to dance with them and distract them enough to continue on their creative path.

Some of the Bad Editor's favorite tools
Did you know that the dunce cap was named after John Duns Scotus, an esoteric 13th Century Scottish philosopher whose musings were extremely difficult to understand? His loyal followers, called Dunsmen, wore pointed conical hats that Duns believed would enhance the flow of  knowledge. Originally the "Duns" hats were a source of pride and respect but after philosophical fashions moved on the term “dunce” came to be synonymous with idiot and the hats became a source of public humiliation. You can read more about this fascinating subject here.

Mining Memory - As I've been sorting through my memory/object experiment, one exercise in particular, "Mining for Memory in a Photograph" spoke to me loud and clear - "Take a family picture, any picture and study it" finding similarities and differences to the person you've become and exploring the people and places the image dredges up. "The goal is to connect with something old so it becomes new. Look and imagine". 

An editing moment. Frozen in time.

I chose this photo to look at - There is my mother. Isn't she gorgeous? Kabuki faced, with her proper suit and smart handbag, cigarette nearly burning her fingers while she waits, at the limit of her endurance for the photo to be taken. There I am, impatient, leaning out of the frame. With attitude. (You can't see it but I am wearing my skates over my shoes and my jeans are lined in red plaid flannel and have really big cuffs). My father is there too behind the camera, the director of our little band of actors. He has clearly asked for one to many takes. We are on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. It is 1960-ish. There is a dynamic here that personifies our later relationship and I am astonished to find it already firmly in place at such an early date. 

I love the girl in this picture. I recognize certain qualities in her that have eluded me of late. I am unfazed by the controlling impulses coming my way. See my mothers hand? Restraining fingers reaching towards my arm to keep me in place as I gaze heavenward. She and I already have an argument going over our plans for me - Don't pull away too far. Stand up straight. Look at the camera. Smile, say cheese. The editing process is well underway. 

Clearly this photo is an out take. For some reason, my father kept it (along with hundreds of other out takes that I now have to sort through) and I am so glad he did because it shows me my devilish little self, unexpurgated, going my own way. It reminds me of the way it felt to disappear in plain sight into 
a waking dream while the real world busied itself around me and even at that tender age I possessed the skill to dance with and away from a Bad Editor. 

I think you should read this book and try Mining for Memory too.


  1. I love that photo, love, love, love, and understand why you chose it.

  2. I've come from mim's. hello :-)

    I love what you show and tell here. And yes to that little confident imp.


    1. Hi kj - nice to meet you and thanks for the comment. More posts soon as I get the hang of this thing.

  3. How have I not come here? How? First of all...I have to tell you that you are and always have been a writer. A really really good writer. This is wonderful stuff to read, I am so enjoying it.

    And that pic. Again - oh my

    I will see you soon. Keep writing.

    Love mir