I used to have everything planned out. And everything I did — music, writing — sounded like it was in a vacuum, because it was. There was no room for spontaneity, or air, for that matter, because I was too scared to let it in. And you could smell it. What’s changed? In Do the Work Steven Pressfield writes about trusting there will always be “something in the box” — and when you write or create a lot there usually is something to write about. There is certainly more room for the Muse to weave her way in, because there is air. The Muse has a chance of bringing the magic into our sweet little grey brains since the ego has stepped aside for two seconds.
I think what broke me of over-planning (besides never feeling quite great about the music or work I was making) was showing up to the page and seeing what happened. A lot. Blogging every day starting in the late nineties and early aughts.
More powerfully, however, my perspective shifted by co-directing an improv show with my friend Kiley and her husband at the time. The show was “First Kiss,” where this couple of improv actors created — in the moment — sketches based on people’s first kiss stories. I would wrangle non-actors who would tell me about their first smooches. I would coach them on doing a monologue — most people time-managed themselves, but not everyone did. Ugh, one gal with a cold rambled on for a half hour and then revealed the story wasn’t her actual first kiss after all, which would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so goddamned boring. But that only happened once.
What taught me so much here was that Kiley and her then-husband didn’t want to know anything about the stories they were about to hear. They wanted the information to be so fresh that they wouldn’t have time to manicure or whittle or manipulate or create a scene (and then talk themselves out of it). They wanted to create that scene in that moment — and it was absolute gold. Some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever seen and healing. So when you leave room for magic you might help people, too.
When I told my own first kiss story something magic happened — I felt healed watching these amazing fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants actors mime putting my retainer in the pocket of my army jacket and getting into a hot tub with my combat boots (oh, the 90s and its military fashion flourishes). I felt like they totally reframed my experience and turned it into something real and hilarious and my inner 15-year-old felt empowered.
One guy I reaped from our karaoke night talked in his monologue about going to Catholic school and having “sensitive nips” and Kiley turned that into stigmata created from his razor sharp nipples. Someone who knew the story before might have talked herself in and out of the nipple-stigmata before the show began. I mean, it’s bold! It’s irreverent! The crowd went wild for it.
After “First Kiss” I think I started to organically let art develop. I’m still a little bit of an over-planner, in that my anxiety will kick up when I don’t give the ego what it wants. Also I’m a recovering perfectionist and sometimes believe if I am hyper-vigilant I can control the world with my mind, namely preventing bad stuff from happening. (I can’t. But I can prevent good stuff from happening by not letting there be room for it. Dig?)
The real magic happens when you let those nipple-stigmata moments occur. And then they give everyone hard nipples, and then you have hard nipples, too. Oh, right, and fantastic art has the potential to take shape because you’re letting the Muse touch her magic wand to your heart, your nipples, your instrument and your page. So lovely, so oxygenated, so fresh. Healing.
Have you ever stifled yourself by planning? How did you get out of it? I’ll have what she’s having! Nipple stigmata for everyone!
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.