Lifetime Achievement

As it turned out, I simply spoke from the heart, appreciated the moment, and felt proud and privileged to get to share such a profound moment with my daughter, Bella and a few good friends.

So here's what I didn't say:

Photo by Steve Prue

When I was only 19, it was my good fortune to know a wise fellow musician-friend named Jeremy Stuart, who said a number of things that stuck with me all these years.

First: "Don't follow. Lead."  If you can create your own market, you set the trend and own the market, thus raising the potential for longevity in your chosen field. Seems simple, but it's not. Some of that goal is luck, I admit, but I think the secret to how to actually DO that is summed up in another popular phrase, "Follow your heart." What a deceptively simple-sounding concept that is actually incredibly difficult to learn and practice.    photo by Steve Prue

For one thing, you first have to learn how to actually be in touch with your heart, how to hear it. Then you have to be willing to trust those subtle messages, even though they may seem, almost always seem, a bit crazy. Then you have to be courageous enough to actually take action on those messages.

Over the years I have come to believe that taking action on an intuitive, creative inner message is like making a deal with Creativity itself. The more I am willing to trust my heart, my creative inner voice, the more It's willing to trust me and communicate with me. Sounds kind'a crazy, I suppose, but it seems to work for me. For some reason, Creativity is like a muscle that needs to be constantly flexed. I think of it as "a spiritual practice." A deal I make with my higher-self. Why not?

Stephen King once said he has to write every day, or he starts to dry up, to go crazy with the self repression and the self-defeating inner dialogues. (He would say that, I expect.)

A word of warning: the first thing the mind will want to do is get itself back in charge of your world, so in the throws of a creative flash, you may find yourself thinking, "Oh, I'm sure someone already thought of that," well ... I'd consider that a clue that I'm onto something. So, take a beat…and take a good look at what just came thru, and simply humor yourself for a minute. Look to see what about that idea is fresh, different, maybe even possible. Don't dismiss it till you've given it a moment to hatch. Don't "kill it in the cradle," as a songwriter friend of mine used to say.

For some reason, the mind and the heart have been waging a centuries old battle that continues to this day within each of us, and when ever I start to get close to a fresh spark, my mind will often attempt to extinguish that spark, almost as a knee-jerk reaction. I think the nature of "the mind" is to protect us from harm, and I think it was trained centuries ago to "protect us" from being different. Even though it's not really needed in that capacity any more, at least in most of the United States, the mind is still busy doing it's designated job of "keeping us safe." "Don't break from the herd. Don't stand out or someone will try to knock you down," is it's primary directive. I suspect this is natural selection at work, "survival of the fittest" in a bit of a worn-out wrapper. (Truth be told, some cultures are still run by that axiom, and ingenuity can be almost eliminated by it.)

But I believe the artists and inventors of the world are celebrated primarily for their ability, their willingness to reinvent the wheel. The more you are not constrained inside that box, the more creative you can be. But it takes vision and courage to escape, and maybe a little craziness too.

In my case, I confess, it has always been my biggest challenge. Yet I learned how to hear my heart from a teacher I met in my 30's, and following it has been getting progressively easier ever since then. In that way, I have slowly, inadvertently, found ways to reinvent myself. Just by following what feels good, and letting my voice, the one who sings, express that feeling.

Looking back, I was lucky that I always had a very powerful inner spirit that took charge of my destiny, even when I might have wished I could be someone else. Most writers will tell you that when they did do their best work, it felt as if someone else was doing the writing. We often hear about a songwriter sitting back after creating something really good, and saying, "Did I do that?" That's what I'm talking about. Ancients called that ephemeral spark their "Muse." I believe it to be the inner voice that, when we are at our best, sidesteps the mind and takes over the task. I call it 'the heart" or "spirit." You may call it whatever you like, but I'm willing to bet money, if you've got the gift, you've felt the feeling.

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