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 new 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 rooftop scene scene in Peaceful Warrior:
What can we learn?
Crucified thy ego, arise thy higher self. Danny stares down his treasured collection of trophies, awards and medals. They’re everything he’s ever worked for. And yet, despite his lifelong success as a scholar and an athlete, they’re just props. Superficial validations of immature ego needs. Plastic crutches symbolizing the attainment of a goal, rather than the enjoyment of the journey. That’s why he smashes them to the ground. Because it’s not who he wants to be anymore. And so, as he destroys the shelf, he destroys the self. Danny begins to let go of a persona he has come to identify with and call his own. It’s the initiation of existential severance, which is a process most artists undergo at one time or another. I remember my own experience with it, during which my mentor asked an interesting question. What if you started a new career today, he asked, letting go of everything you’ve tried and built and accomplished in the last ten years, except the person you’ve become? Danny is asking himself the same question. And he’s starting to realize, maybe he finally achieved enough to be okay with himself. Maybe he actually feels complete about this part of his journey. Maybe if lets go of who he was––quite literally––he’ll be able to become who he needs to be. Are you afraid of the only place that gives you real answers?
Get rid of all your best weapons first. Taoists scripture states that when we let go of what we have, we receive what we need. It’s the paradox of letting go. And that’s what makes this scene on the rooftop so powerful. Because in most cases, the thing we need to let go of, is a part of the self. Something that’s been good to us. Prolific comedians, for example, write a new act every year. They scrap all of their old material and start from scratch. Louie once said during an interview that he likes to open with last year’s closer, just to fuck himself. That’s letting go. And every artist has their own version of it. I’ve composed dozens of songs over the years––good ones, too––that I simply no longer play. And I miss them. They’re like creative brainchildren who don’t come to visit anymore. But the reality is, we can’t grow as artists by looking in the rear view mirror. We have to stay in motion. We have to create new work. And we have to accept that anything we made in the past only matters insofar as it brought us here. Have you confronted your built in reluctance to let go of what’s working?
Fear doesn’t go away, it just changes shape. Danny’s first love was gymnastics. It was the first thing he gave everything to, and the first thing that gave everything to him. But now that he’s watching it slip away, precariously balanced on his sanity ledge, the panic is starting to settle in. Have you ever found yourself standing out on that ledge? It’s a grim existential crisis. A death of sorts, rife with its own form of grieving. Because you have make peace with the psychological fallout that results from your new position in the world. When I worked a full time gig with a marketing agency, there were a host of new feelings that accompanied my transition. The constipation of not having an outlet to express my impulse to originate. The frustration of putting somebody else’s brand before my own. The distress of working significantly below my pay grade. And the inadequacy of telling people I wasn’t succeeding solely on my own steam. A different family of fears, no doubt; but fears nonetheless. Are you ready to give yourself a pep talk down off your ledge of anxiety?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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