Composerly Thoughts

Imagine something. Learn something. Make something.

Imagine something. Learn something. Make something.

Sometimes you just need a new life motto.

Twenty years ago, I renovated a kitchen for about $1500. A quirky do-it-yourself job, it involved stripping 1970s wallpaper adorned with no fewer than ten varieties of fruits and vegetables, painting the cabinets Sherwin Williams Bunglehouse Blue, and commissioning my artist friend Annemarie Zwack to paint a whimsical mural illustrating my favorite life motto:

“Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.

Yes, this is the mantra of Ms. Frizzle, the animated star of The Magic School Bus. I wanted it to be my mantra, too. And what better way to remind myself than to have it painted on my kitchen walls?

I have not always embraced that motto, but there have been years when I’ve come close. Regrettably, that was not the case for much of 2017. Instead, I spent far too much time following the following dour mandate, which somehow wrote itself while I was asleep:

“Try to do everything perfectly. Read the news at least three times a day. Despair because your music cannot solve all the world’s problems.”

Yikes, what a creativity killer. It sapped my energy and sank my heart. Plus it wasn’t even catchy.

While under the influence of these weighty commandments, I wrote a rather serious newsletter last month. I poured days into it, and I’m sure it was timely and thought-provoking and important, but I couldn’t bring myself to send it. (I hope, dear reader, that you do not feel shortchanged. If you feel in need of such a piece of writing, I’m sure you can easily locate one.)

Instead, I dialed it back and listened to my inner kindergarten teacher:

“Imagine something. Learn something. Make something.”

I turned off the news for a week, and I didn’t work on my current music commission. I dug into some video editing software. I surrounded myself with breathtaking photographs and illustrated one of my favorite compositions. I made a whole bunch of mistakes, which I fixed with the help of my amazing son Simon. In the end, what I made was not monetizable (what kind of word is that, anyway?), but its timeless message was a touchstone for the world-weariness that was eating me for lunch. And it was really, really fun.

My video won’t solve all the world’s problems. But I’m not actually sure the world is worse for it. And if it helps you have ever-so-slightly helpful mantras that’s a good thing.

Take care, and keep believing impossible things —