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The World Inside Your Head

Wayne Shorter, Jazz Artist, Sharing the Creative Process

Composing music — Geralt on Pixabay

The Wayne Shorter documentary currently streaming (Zero Gravity) blew me away. It’s not often I see a piece on screen, or read an essay, that allows me to enter into and understand the creative process.

As a writer, I find that music, or visual art, provides more insight for me than discussion about creativity in writing.

Maybe it’s that in a different medium, I understand the process of creativity better. Or the metaphors mean more when I apply them to writing.

Wayne Shorter composed in 1960 for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He played in Miles Davis’s band, his own jazz fusion group Weather Report, and sixty years later was still composing. He wrote jazz operas and for his quartet.

I realized I was stuck in time.

I try to read the new literature, learn new structures, and be amazed by the innovation of some writers. I can do the same with other arts, to learn the interplay among the forms.

Like music, it helps if we learn how rhythm, beat, theme, deconstuction, segue, and tone work– and other elements of writing. We have to know the notes before we can forget the notes and get to the ethereal.

It helps to have diverse areas of knowledge, so we can link those unrelated ideas. I think of the simplicity and genius of Velcro. That clothing fastener came from looking closely at how thistles grab hold of the cloth and applying that simple example from nature to create a product.

Georgia O’Keefe chased uninvited visitors away because they intruded on the solitude she needed in New Mexico to create her artwork. But one young man, Juan Hamilton, she invited to stay, and they learned from each other. As her vision was fading, she learned to create pottery, to learn tactile art. His sculptural pieces took a three-dimensional form from her painted forms.

In the documentary on Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell said she could give him non-musical cues — “I want you to sound like a bird flying away” or “have a conversation” — and his music created the sound she wanted.

Wayne also describes the world in his head, from when he was a child with his brother and they would invent fantasy worlds. He talks about coming out of his head to participate in the real world. A member of his band recounts the disconnection from his body while in the throes of improvisation on stage in a live performance. After days of long writing, I relate. Still, listening to musicians in collaboration makes me jealous.

The written word is collaborative when we ask for feedback from a trusted critique group. We can hear the audience’s response, and read the room when we are at an open mike reading. It reminds me of how comedians work out their bits, their routines, in front of live audiences. Good editors can ask questions, and point out weak areas.

But writing is often solitary. As is most practice.

I have also envied friends who describe synesthesia, when two senses get scrambled. A friend who excelled in math describes seeing numbers in colors and knowing which colors go together.

I do think we can cultivate these links between diverse senses and skills through practice. It’s like discovering the rhythm of your poem inspired by a piece of music. Or completely losing the sense of time passing when engaged in creativity – writing, playing music, painting.

Creativity is a blend of the logical and analytical, in party mode with emotions and inexplicable mystery. It helps to understand how other people engage with the universe. Oh, yes, there is more than a little woo-woo involved.

As Wayne Shorter said, “I am comfortable with mystery.”

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  1. SingingFrogPress
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    I love this one Sharon. The penultimate paragraph–is so perfect! “Creativity is a blend of the logical and analytical, in party mode with emotions and inexplicable mystery.” And I love the inclusion of the history of velcro, and the nod to Georgia O’Keefe’s life and need to transition from painting to sculpture. Jay and I just saw a good 2019 movie starring Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfus “The Last Laugh” about the comeback of a standup comedian who left the business 50 years earlier. For some reason it’s connected to what you’re writing about in this post. I’m definitely going to view Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity soon.

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