January 15th, 2013

You can’t teach originality, because that’s copying it.  You can’t memorize inspiration, because it’s a feeling.  You can’t plan insights, because they are discoveries.  But you can set the atmosphere, strip away obstacles, and begin meaningful exchanges where creativity can take place.  That’s what your questions do for me.  Whether they are narrowly focused on the act of writing or as broad as the content of writing itself, you help me free associate this thing called life.  And that’s really how anyone should practice art.  Not by chasing creativity as if it were a set of rules, but by throwing out rules that stifle how one observes, analyzes, imagines and communicates.  Thanks for kicking the door open for me.  Here are some of your latest Q’s…

Q. [Palm Springs, CA and Ventura, CA]: Do you listen to music while you write?   

A.: I’ve tried it.  Works unevenly for me.  Yes, it fires emotions, but sometimes – especially at night – I write too emotionally as it is, not to mention that the emotional tones can get wildly mismatched.  I mean, would you want to describe Christ bearing the cross to Golgotha while listening to the “Hokey Pokey” or Joan of Arc burning at the stake while Peggy Lee sings “Fever”?  Comes the dawn and you’re leaning on the delete key, wondering how the world’s most pathetic imbecile hacked into your computer and messed up all the sterling prose you thought you wrote the night before.  Of course, music can add a dimension of feeling that might be missing in the cold dispassionate light of that dawn, but it tends to dampen down penetrating insights – that is, it would if I had any penetrating insights.  So, language-wise, my metaphors may be enhanced by music; but rational flow not so much.  Grant Soosalu, the brilliant Australian behind the book and concept mBRAINING, would probably see in this the various possible alignments of gut-heart-head brains (there is neural tissue in all three places).  Managing the creative flow between one’s instincts-emotions-logic might be affected by music.  And for me in writing, gut-heart-head translates most easily into feelings of courage-compassion-honesty.

Q [Zhejiang, China]: What wisdom did 2012 bring you?

A: Hmmm.  How about a two-way tie for first place?  Wisdom #1, it is not cool to dance “gangnam style”on cc skis.  Works OK going uphill (to a verrrry sloooow rrrhythm), on account of you’re skating bowlegged anyway, but downhill will earn you a face plant if you fail to bail on the beat.  Wisdom #2, never buy software from Nuance (Dragon et al), because once they get you on their list they will track you down and never, ever stop making nuisance sales calls, despite disclaimers.

Q [Multiple sources for this next frequent question.  Given the nature of some of the issues that have blossomed here, I’m not always sure whether it refers to writing or personal relationships, so I’ll try to answer both.]: How do you handle rejection?

A: A slap in the face, rejection is pretty close to Hurt #1 for the home team.  And rejection tends to linger.  So the first task is to get past being overwhelmed and blindsided by it.  Usually when you pare it down, it loses some of its sting.  Instead of being an assault on your core identity, it may simply reflect practical realities that have nothing much to do with you personally, or it may reflect ulterior motives/needs/deficiencies in whoever is judging you.  But go easy on that last.  If your knee-jerk reaction is to reject the rejecter, it may only reveal your own insecurity.  Ask yourself, does devaluing them simply unmask your own immaturity, subjectivity or perhaps narcissism?  Taking your bat and ball and going home serves only to keep you out of the game.

So, staying above your emotions gives you a shot at learning and growing from an honest rejection.  And I have to say, that in matters of business – even in something as subjective as editor/writer reaction – the people who judge have little incentive to be dishonest.  They may be very wrong, or more often too rushed to grasp potential and possibilities, but they would probably very much like to be accurate and honest.

Doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong in the larger picture; they are absolutely right in so far as their own particular tastes/needs/opinion are concerned.  If they are purporting to represent the judgment of third parties (reader reaction to your latest novel, for instance), you may be able to argue them down, but remember this: between two people, that which requires persuasion can never be freely or voluntarily given.  One might almost add honestly given.  That may not make a difference in matters of logic, but it pretty much always does in matters of emotion.

So, OK then, what if the thing you want isn’t straightforward, as in practical business?  What if the thing you want is emotional or hard-wired or governed irrationally, as with rejection in a relationship?  Highly individualized answer here, based solely on my atypical way of thinking.

When it comes to rejection in relationships, maybe it isn’t how you handle it but how you use it.  I’ve never feared rejection.  I’ve feared not knowing I was rejected.  Moreover, the few times I’ve felt truly drawn to a woman, I’m quite sure that her attitude toward me had no effect on my attitude toward her.  Which I guess is good and means I’m not in junior high.  But it’s always puzzled me that most people seem to stand on pride or play a game of quid pro quo.  When you hear Bonnie Raitt sing “Love has no pride,” or Sarah McLachlan surrender with “…into the sea of waking dreams I follow without pride,” there’s a reason for that acknowledgment.  Pride is a non-starter because you already know that the potential for romantic idealism isn’t there.  Which is why rejections that try to recoup lost pride are really only about self-love.

Most people can get beyond that kind of Rejection 101 given a little time, but a slightly more complex reflex has also always puzzled me.  The way I look at it, in a relationship gone south, no one is ever wrong for rejecting you!  It’s a feeling, not a contract.  You can’t guarantee a feeling through a contract.  And if the physical rejection is based on an actual feeling, then it’s a postscript to something already lost.  Pretending the erosion isn’t real means living a delusion.  Seems to me that’s like hanging onto a castle of sand by converting it to a castle in the air.  If someone you love finds the courage to tell you they don’t love you, some part of you should appreciate their honesty and be grateful for their desire not to waste both your lives.  And if you are just as honest, your feelings for them won’t change based on being rejected.  That’s the key to accepting reality.  Because if you’re not capable of loving them independently, what was valuable to you about their love in the first place?  Slavery?  I understand I’m defining a romantically ideal standard.  But that strikes me as no more unrealistic than trying to survive over and over again in a fractious relationship.  You may win the moments that way, but eventually you lose the years.

Speaking for just myself then, I don’t want to win, persuade, or hold captive anything having to do with another human being’s will.  If there’s nothing wrong with being rejected, there’s nothing wrong either with wanting only that which comes full-strength and voluntarily.  I don’t want to live as an object lesson of one-size-fits-all social values or a role model for someone else’s expectations.  I’d rather be a role model of my own courage and honesty.  Maybe giving rejection every chance to win on its own without resistance is really the only way to let love be self-proving.  Sometimes the best defense is having none.  Or as the love of my life and I used to say, “If you have to ask for love, it’s too late to receive it, and if you have to compete for it, you’ll never have it.”

Q [Bretagne, France]: In all your travels, your favorite country, please?

A: Really don’t travel that much.  Don’t need to.  But I love Norway.  Just as Minnesota has always felt like my inevitable home even before I came here, Norway and things Norwegian excite me.  Stunningly beautiful vistas (see photo above and check out cruise footage up the west coast of Norway if you want a preview of what heaven looks like).

Q [Springfield, VA]: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

A: Dozens, hundreds…well, one.  Posted this on FB:  RESOLUTION 2013! To recognize the good I can do. To enter wherever there is courage and honesty. To live, love, laugh NOW and not let a single sun set on the unfulfilled promise of a dawn.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan



For Kindle and pc users: http://www.amazon.com/Dust-of-Eden-ebook/dp/B008MQW9Z8/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_i

For Nook and pc users: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dust-of-eden-thomas-sullivan/1006198562?ean=2940014953320&format=nook-book

  1. January 16th, 2013 at 07:45 | #1

    Awesome Q & A this month. Some great words of wisdom on rejection. When it comes to the writing variety – I can’t say I’m never disappointed by them, but its my opinion that, just as it takes time to write a piece of work, it takes time to find it a good home. I like to look at it like I’m eliminating the ones that aren’t the right fit, rather than think of it as a rejection of the quality of work. There are a lot beautiful people in the world but I only married one of them. You have to date before you find the right person for you, right? Which brings us back to the other form of rejection you talked about. Many interesting insights on relationships there. :)

    Always a pleasure to sit down with a cup of coffee and a brand-spanking new Sullygram!

  2. January 16th, 2013 at 09:20 | #2

    What a unique tweak on perspective, Carole. Reminds me of Edison when asked – after he had tried 1000 filament materials for a light bulb, none of which were satisfactory – how he handled the failure. And he said famously, “Failure? I haven’t failed. I’ve discovered 1000 things that don’t work!” Yeah. You’ve got to find the good home, the right fit, the right person.

    On the relationship side of the equation, I guess you could say I’m advocating the same kind of failure testing with my statement: “Maybe giving rejection every chance to win on its own without resistance is really the only way to let love be self-proving. Sometimes the best defense is having none.” I was going to write more on that, because that’s really how I react in a relationship, but that has more to do with acceptance then rejection.

  3. January 16th, 2013 at 09:26 | #3

    Apologies to my friends and fans about this month’s Sullygram. I sent it. Twice. But it seems to be hung up in cyberspace. Not sure whether it’s been reprioritized for later delivery because it’s a mass mailing, or whether some new filter has decided it’s spam, but I’m trying to track down the problem. It appears to have been sent by my Windows Live Mail program, and from there it goes to Earthlink. Don’t know if it’s hung up there or out on the Web…

  4. Robert Jones
    January 16th, 2013 at 09:43 | #4

    Your response to the question about listening to music while you write was dot on. Recent studies of multitasking have revealed that it diminishes more than enhances. Brain activity is not as concentrated as it is in monotasking. It is shared between tasking sites. The “metabolizing” of music is a cerebral task. It might set a helpful mood when writing, but it does so at a cost.

    Psychology books should contain your sentence, “And if the physical rejection is based on an actual feeling, then it’s a postscript to something already lost.” The value of the acceptance of this message cannot be overestimated. If rejectees would accept this chunk of wisdom, there would likely be much less time uselessly spent stalking a lost cause and probably fewer murders and suicides. Your excellent response might well have saved a few lives.

  5. January 16th, 2013 at 11:19 | #5

    Used to think that I could push myself harder in workouts if I just heard T-sax licks from Little Richard rock ‘n’ roll in transit, but I once read some research that purported to debunk that also. I’m not entirely sure that all the factors that enter into creativity can neatly fall in a single category or two, but I opted for the obvious emotions vs intellect. Was hoping you would supply some relevant research in the mix, Amalgam. You are ever cutting-edge info, definitive and objective! Most grateful. … Dunno about saving lives, but if rejectees could discriminate between their feelings for others and others feelings for them, it might save their souls. Is there ever a right or wrong about rejection? Whatever is…just is. Why would you want to believe anything else? Or change your own pure feelings?

  6. Dorie Furman
    January 16th, 2013 at 11:53 | #6

    Sully, your words are always magical and they touch one’s emotions that may be lingering somewhere and bring them to the surface where they can not only be understood, but deeply felt.
    There are two thoughts you expressed this time that moved me to greater heights within myself:
    1. ” Stay above your emotions.” (You have no idea how that resonated with me. I think it helped me grow because I was secretly sulking about awful things that happened with guns and also the Broncos losing their quest for the SuperBowl). Your magical words made me realize I can’t do anything to change what is past, but I can rise above it all).
    2. “…to recognize the good I can do.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all people looked at that premise? It certainly opened me up to do that! I intend to go on out and do some of that good! You awaken sleeping molecules or maybe atoms in people’s souls and bring them together into the light!

  7. January 16th, 2013 at 12:12 | #7

    Most appreciative, Dorie. You always strike me as having good balance between compassion and pragmatic thinking – well, if we leave out the Broncos :-) You emphasize a good point about living going forward without lacking compassion for unspeakable tragedy. It is good to grieve, to glean whatever one can from negatives, but not to the point where it paralyzes the act of living. Just read a study about the killing effect of negative stress and attitude. This wasn’t just the obvious psychological data. It related the length of telomeres – those shoe-lace like ends on chromosomes that protect one’s vitality and seemed indexed to longevity. (I don’t want to reveal the name of who sent me the study, but his initials are Robert Jones.) Anyway, the point is that life is fleeting, and if we wish to be optimum and to maximize our purpose, we need to be inspired and inspiring within ourselves!

  8. Dorie Furman
    January 16th, 2013 at 12:29 | #8

    Right on! Sorry about mentioning the Broncos thing, but if one lives in Denver, the Orange and Blue becomes part of one’s blood! They lost the play off by3 points in a double overtime because their kicker must have been looking somewhere other than the goal post and he missed the kick. You’ll have to forgive me, but after all, we need to have some vices and the Broncos are one of mine! Dorie

  9. January 16th, 2013 at 13:44 | #9

    Ah, Broncos. Aren’t those horseys? Oh…oh, that must be one of them there – watchacallits – football teams. Kidding, kidding. If I had time, I’d watch a lot of stuff, including sports; but something had to go in my overclocked life. I do keep tabs though. Maybe your kicker needs to be replaced by the Norwegian who posted his amazing kicking abilities on YouTube recently. Check him out, if you want to see the future of field goals in the NFL. His name is Rugland, and he can put a football through (a moving) basketball hoop, as well as kick 10 in a row from 50 yards, one right after another.

  10. January 16th, 2013 at 17:25 | #10

    Hey Sully, totally concur on the music and writing thing. Yes, music certainly stirs the heart- brain and can move us viscerally (with the right musical structure and beat). And my good friend and Emmy award winning composer Gary Malkin ( http://www.wisdomoftheworld.com/ ) certainly agrees with this, and uses his skills in this to create music that indeed speaks to heart and gut-brains.

    So music has its place in getting the juices flowing (to use a gut-brain metaphor) and evoke emotional states. But if you try and write, while random selections from the mp3 shuffle mode impinge upon your neurology, then I suspect, and my experience certainly matches this, that it will distract from the deeply creative writing flow. When writing, I become one with the idea space that I’m attempting to engender in words. The emotions and raw guts that I’m expressing are those that are context appropriate to the story (fiction or non-fiction). To have my heart, gut and right-hemisphere head brains entrained to the story that the writer and performer of the music designed, is more likely to distract, tarnish or wash through. For me, silence is the serentiy in which my writing flows best.

    And thanks again for your kind words about Marvin and my work on mBraining. Truly value your connection and appreciation.

  11. January 16th, 2013 at 19:34 | #11

    Thanks, Grant. Was hoping the Wizard of Oz would weigh in on this. The creative process may not lend itself to a single method/schematic/blueprint – whatever you want to call it. I’m thinking that in my own experience it may be more fluid than that. It is after all “creative.” I’ll stand by my original answer above, and welcome your endorsement and expiation, but I can also picture writing sessions when the words were effortless, the metaphors flowing almost automatically, but what I needed was passion or motivation or inspiration. In such an atmosphere, music might indeed have stirred me to all three of those states. And because of the particular balance (or imbalance) in myself at those moments, you could say that music was a plus to the creative process. Other times, simply because I was already at a higher emotional pitch, that silence you mention was an absolute necessity for concentration. So, as I said, I think the creative process comes up differently even within the individual, according to the state they are in and perhaps the nature of what they are trying to create. Maybe this is all just a very complicated way of saying “moods vary.”

  12. Dorie Furman
    January 16th, 2013 at 20:56 | #12

    You are right about that boy who can kick up a storm. However, the Broncos paid Peyton Manning so many millions to join the team that I fear they can’t buy anyone else right now! I didn’t mean to “lump” the disappointment about the team with the heartbreak of all the terrible shootings. With the Broncos’ loss, it’s more like: “Good grief, Charlie Brown.” I’m praying that something drastic is finally done about the wrong guns in the wrong hands, as well as mental health help. There have been shootings every day here for it seems like months, and even more since the Aurora nightmare. My nephew wanted to go to that movie, and thankfully, his mom did not let him because it was just too late at night. I just listened to the evening news, and another policeman was shot here in Denver today. It’s mind-boggling. The one thing I could do was to write my great Congresswoman, and I did do that. She is one of the few who really possesses integrity. Dorie

  13. January 16th, 2013 at 23:10 | #13

    No mixed tones there, Dorie. Not to worry. Of course, the Sandy Hook tragedy has focused a national dialogue where it should’ve been at Aurora and long before that.

  14. January 17th, 2013 at 09:45 | #14

    Unlike Grant, I don’t have any “facts” to back it up or much knowledge about all the pertinent processes in my mind-body; but I do agree with him that music might be used to get the creative juices flowing before, but not during, the actual writing. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who listens to music while writing and is satisfied with their work. Enjoyed your thoughts on rejection and may comment on them later (just now I’m dealing with a friend in the hospital).

  15. January 17th, 2013 at 10:17 | #15

    Sorry about your friend’s hospitalization, Jeani.

    You’ve refined the lens here, methinks. When it comes to using music for writing, the order is first music for inspiration (juices flowing), then silence or perhaps taking the volume down for the cerebral process to kick in.

  16. Dorie Furman
    January 17th, 2013 at 23:45 | #16

    I remember when President Kennedy was murdered, that someone, I think one of the newscasters, said “The death of a president steps down and becomes a death in the family” and it was so true. I think everyone feels that way now about all the children and adults gone. Not a lot of publicity about this, but the tragedy never ends because there are some Columbine survivors as well as the Aurora survivors who are paralyzed and others severely permanently injured in other ways, physically and emotionally. And I feel like all those 20 children in Newtown were mine.

  17. January 18th, 2013 at 01:04 | #17

    A tragedy that never ends can still achieve context and perspective – bridges that allow life to go forward. Thanks for helping build same, Dorie.

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