I don't really watch television, (well OK, except for LOST which I only watch on my laptop so somehow that doesn't seem to count), but I know that there is a show out there called Britain's Got Talent.
I THINK it's one of those shows kind of like American Idol (which I have also never seen) where normal everyday people get a chance to go on nationwide and even worldwide TV and perform on stage in front of a live audience...complete with JUDGES... and be told whether or not their creative gifts are worthwhile.
The reason I know it's out there is because I periodically get emails from people who are interested in creative self expression with links to particular episodes of that show. I have gotten three links so far and they have all been performances of middle aged, working class people who have gotten the courage to get on that stage and sing. Solo. Which is one of the scariest things I can imagine doing.
I just love these performances. I watch them over and over again and they always make me cry. One of the things that is so moving about them is that these people are so very ordinary. They are not at all Hollywood which means they are often a little pudgy, with imperfect teeth and a minimal wardrobe budget.
In other words, they are like just about everybody that I know. And then they get up on that stage and open their mouths and it's breathtaking. It's like an angel has inhabited their bodies for a little while and pure beauty pours out of them for three or four minutes. It's something I can never get enough of.
Jamie Pugh Sings His Heart Out
I just saw a new one today and it was a guy named Jamie Pugh (you can check him out here on YouTube). He works in a warehouse by day and delivers pizzas at night and it was amazing that he was able to get up on that stage at all cause this poor guy had close to paralyzing stagefright and was practically scared to death. But he went ahead and did it anyway. And of course, he was fantastic. And of course, the judges gave him a thumbs up across the board.
And after the judges finished giving him one YES after another, one of them said to him "You have to start believing in yourself a bit Jamie. When you're good, you're good. It's all about self belief."
And that's when Jamie put his face in his hands and started to cry.
Now as I was sitting there crying right along with Jamie it occurred to me that yeah, the judge was right. Up to a point. Yes, we DO need to believe in ourselves and our creative gifts. But what touched Jamie so deeply was when he got that external validation from a valued source.
He obviously DID believe in himself enough to get up on that stage. But he wasn't neutral about the response from the judges and the audience. He wanted to know that someone ELSE thought he was good.
My Obsessive Relationship To Creativity
I am obsessive, passionate and deeply devoted to helping other people believe in their own creative gifts. It's something that I do day in and day out. I do it with my students and clients but also with my family and friends and have been known, on embarrassingly not so rare occasions, to do it with total strangers in grocery stores or on airplanes.
I think about it and I write about it and I read about it. And I never, ever get tired of it. It is endlessly fascinating and compelling to me. In some ways you could say I am a professional believer-in-the-gifts-of-others. If I were ever to have a Native American name bestowed upon me I think that would be it.
And that made me think about WHY I do this. Why is it so incredibly important to me to make sure that as many people as possible get the support and encouragement they need to bring their creative gifts to full flowering?
A Sad Story About My Mother
I grew up in a family where both of my parents were artistically endowed. My mother had a gorgeous professional level singing voice and my father was a natural visual artist. I spent my childhood with my mother playing piano and singing around the house. (My father is another story for another time.)
I was surrounded by music as a child. I swam in it, drank it in, took it for granted and loved it wholeheartedly. But I was also immersed in something else which was my mother's sadness and frustration, her low self esteem and low opinion about herself and her deep anxiety about sharing the wonder of her beautiful voice with the world.
Her not so secret dream for her life was to be a professional singer. It was something that she wanted more than just about anything. But she could never really bring herself to actually do it. Like Jamie Pugh she was very afraid. And she knew that she was afraid. She knew that it was something that was killing her dream. But she felt helpless in the face of that fear.
I learned a very powerful lesson about creativity from her. Which was that having the gift does not mean you will exercise it. Now she did sing around the house and it gave her immense pleasure. And of course her amazing talent and her love of music was a wonderful blessing to me and the rest of our family.
But she wanted more than that, and she never, ever in her entire life gave herself the thing she wanted most.
When I got married for the first time at the ripe old age of 44, my husband and I invited our friends and family to express themselves creatively as part of our wedding ceremony.
My mother stood up and sang a song from the old musical West Side Story. And it moved me to tears to see that ancient hunger to perform, to be witnessed, to be acknowledged and applauded for her artistry, still as alive and well in her frail, 68 year old body as it was in her when she was singing around the house more than 45 years earlier.
That's a long time for someone to be frustrated and denied around a deep desire. But the other sad part of this story is that she denied the rest of the world the pleasure of her talent. And she also denied herself (and her young, impressionable and highly creative daughter) the energy and joy she would have experienced by fully expressing herself creatively.
Now there were lots of reasons why she let the fear have more power than the desire. She grew up with a highly critical mother. Her parents were working class and viewed creative expression as something frivolous and non essential. Her father, who she adored, came from a culture and social strata that viewed women as second class citizens. And of course,her parents had their own issues with low self worth.
But the bottom line is that she was suffering from one of the most powerful creative blocks there is. She was tormented by a chronic lack of belief in herself and her gift. Which was fueled by a paralyzing and crippling fear that manifested as an inability to ever fully express that gift.
Moving through this particular block requires courage. In my mother's case the courage to face the painful shame engendered in her by her mother's criticism and the even deeper pain of facing her beloved father's unquestioned devaluing of who she was because she was a woman.
She had a difficult time accessing the courage needed to overcome the huge emotional stuck place that she encountered any time she considered pursuing her creative vision because yes, she lacked the internal support necessary to deal with the fear.
But even more importantly, she had no EXTERNAL support. There was no one outside of her who could believe in her more than she was able to believe in herself. My father couldn't do it because he had his OWN issues around art and creativity. And there was no one else in her life that was capable of encouraging her.
And before she could even BEGIN to know what it felt like to have that inner sense of confidence, she needed to have an experience of her creativity being valued from someone outside of her.
One of the things that I noticed in the Jamie Pugh video was that they kept cutting to his wife as she was watching him from the audience. And she was absolutely BESIDE herself with excitement and love. It was clear that she was totally thrilled by him taking this step towards finally manifesting his long time creative longing. And I'm sure that her being in the audience and beaming on him had a lot to do - if not EVERYTHING - with him being able to be on that stage at all.
So this is why I do what I do. There are so many people in the world who have a creative gift. Actually, I think that it is everyone. But I also know that many of them are like my mother. They WANT to believe in themselves and their own particular brand of brilliance. But they can't get to that belief on their own. They need some outside help.
We are all influenced by scads of screwy and unhelpful ideas about creativity like "Creativity is a rare commodity" or "Creativity is only valid if it comes easily to you."
But I think that one of the most damaging messages we get is the "lone wolf" theory of creativity. The idea that true creative flourishing will develop happily in a vacuum. And the notion that a solid sense of belief in ourselves can be conjured up out of thin air. And of course, nothing is further from the truth.
It takes a village for creativity to thrive. We suffer under the illusion that our creativity is ours and ours alone. But our creativity is on loan from a higher source. We need what each other has to offer. We depend upon each others creativity for celebration, inspiration, courage and solace.
And we also depend upon and need each other, in more ways than we can sometimes even imagine, to keep those creative fires burning bright.