Yesterday, my friend Antonio Lyons called to tell me he had returned from South Africa, to attend graduate school in New York City. A successful actor, poet and musician, Antonio moved to SA several years ago and established himself as an artist with a unique vision. I asked if he would be returning to Africa any time soon. He chuckled and said, “Oh definitely in December. I have to hold on to my space.” The space he was speaking of was his creative space… the artistic “niche” he had carved out, which now connected him to a continent thousands of miles away. But, what about individuals for whom claiming their creative space means finding the time and place, right at home, to focus on their craft?
Claiming this kind of Creative Space is essential for any individual who wishes to grow artistically. However, how many times have I heard, “I don’t have time” or, “Something came up.” Those of us who make our living on deadlines, assignments and commissions, have learned to claim the time and space needed to be creative, for there is no productivity if we don’t. For individuals pursuing creative outlets for personal enlightenment and pleasure, claiming your creative space may be more complicated and require more effort.
Life can be a distraction (even for professional artists). The telephone rings – the baby cries – someone is at the door … these are forces outside of ourselves, and the kind of distractions that divert artistic energy. The good news is that they are also forces that can be put in check by uncompromisingly taking control of your space.
It is not selfish to ask your husband/wife to watch the kids for an extra hour while you write, paint, sculpt or just think. In the end, you (and they) will be happier and more productive in all areas as a result and everyone benefits. For professionals, setting such boundaries is our norm – for without them we would get nothing accomplished.
Being creative is not a passive enterprise; it is an inspired action that requires effort and focus, without which there is no end-result. Boundaries are key to setting aside the time and (emotional and physical) space that are conducive to being your best creative self. So, claim your creative space and you will have more time to listen to your muse, have that breakthrough idea, and produce something concrete from what was once, only a dream.
Today I completed the last step toward my long awaited BA in Communications – a degree I abandoned many years ago, when I started my career as a filmmaker. I can now breath a sigh of relief, and celebrate with a good glass of wine as I relish the completion of a dream. To be clear, I have not yet taken my diploma in hand, but I have taken my last final exam and surely passed. It’s just one of those things you know in your gut. I will be graduating with a 3.4 GPA and I’m not ashamed to say that I am infinitely smarter now than I was as a cocky 20 year old who left college to begin a twenty plus year career as a filmmaker.
I did not dive into the re-education of Kim Watson on a whim or a dare. It was after looking at the changing landscape of my industry (film) that I concluded that it was time to add new bows to my quiver. I had wanted to expand my knowledge of communication theory and lecture more on cinema and creativity; areas where I had made my living. So, for the past two years I juggled home and work while focusing on school. I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment I got from getting A’s, making the Dean’s List and being inducted into the National Communications Honor Society. I can’t say it was easy, but I can say it was the best decision I could have made and worth every lost hour of sleep and nerve shattering tests.
Along the way, I confirmed – over-and-over – my belief that challenging oneself is a wonderful thing, even when it hurts. Meeting new challenges invariably leads to new opportunities and change… I’m not advocating change, merely for change sake, mind you. No. I mean the kind of change that comes from hanging on to our dreams and making the decision to “go for it” – “try something new” – “push yourself.”
Don’t get me wrong. I relish the easy flow that comes with routine. Remaining in one place, professional or otherwise, for long periods can be wonderfully familiar and comforting. However, I have found that the occasional change of direction is both stimulating and necessary for my professional and personal growth. What better way to keep things fresh and interesting than to discover that old dreams are still attainable?
With job markets, careers and the economy in flux, many who are questioning their present career situations, now may be the perfect time to start moving toward the future. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times, they are a changing” and changing with them can be an exciting adventure.
Admittedly, I have drawn inspiration from today’s young innovators and creative thinkers whose intellectual agility enables them to create fresh professional opportunities. They gather knowledge and expertise, all the while keeping an eye out for new areas to apply their skills to. They look for trends and innovation with the understanding that change is a good thing, and that they too can ride a new wave if they just climb aboard and let it rip. I admire their fearless pursuit of the next big thing and personal fulfillment.
So here I am – a soon to be college grad with graying temples, informed by what came before and energized by what lies ahead. My lecturing schedule at Universities in Los Angles has already increased and I will soon find a graduate program that suits my needs. Most of all, I welcome the new experiences and opportunities that come with change.
Isn’t that what this journey is all about?
Our own creativity is best served when we know who we are and why we are here. Clarity on these issues allows us to understand our own ground rules. Creativity, while freeing and freewheeling at times, requires focus if it is to become a usable force in our lives.
Sitting under a tree contemplating the universe is a wonderful thing BUT when I stand up and stride toward home, will I have uncovered an idea or concept that actually benefits my spirit, my work and my interaction with others?
Creative thinking should lead us to concrete actions and benefits. Creative thinking should help us imagine different outcomes as we look for new solutions to old problems. Fresh ideas often come with new environments so change things up and break the routine. Find a tree to sit under, or a sidewalk café where you can watch the world pass and let your mind wonder, try something new and see what happens. But first… think about who you are and why you’re here. The rest will come to you.
I sat with 40 ex-felons and convicts who were determined to change their lives. Some will – some won’t, but it’s wonderful to watch their attempts to start anew. They struggle to picture their lives in new ways. To change old habits and create new and improved experiences. I watch them literally shake at the challenge of stretching themselves in new directions. I am fortunate to be allowed to be an observer of their transformation. It’s a lesson in humility and they confirm my belief that imagination is a requirement for change for if one cannot imagine it, then one cannot be it.
One week ago Nigeria’s favorite son, Seun Kuti, took flight amidst L.A. skyscrapers whose construction costs could feed his nations poor for a lifetime. The high-hat danced on top of a rock steady groove as horns blasted harmonic phrases like a boxer delivering a knockout combination. The guitars, percussionists and rhythm section laid an Afro beat foundation for Seun’s two, hip winding dancers and we craned our necks, awaiting his appearance. Then, just as the crowd could take not more, Seun leapt onstage and everyone present dance for the next 3 hours.… Let me say right now, I love Seun Kuti almost as much as I loved his father, the renowned Nigerian provocateur and political activist, Fela Kuti, who died of AIDS in 1997.
I had the honor of interviewing Seun Kuti in Nigeria when he performed at the 2006 Independence Day concert. Beyonce, Busta Rhymes and Jay Z shared the bill but it was Seun I most wanted to see. Of course, the performance was spectacular what I remember most is walking into Seun’s tent a few hours before he hit the stage. Several dozen people lounged comfortably about, like family. A baby or two was passed among them and it was clear that these were not the groupies of MTV and VH1 bios. Although Nigeria’s powerful elites hate to admit it, Seun is Nigerian royalty and these were his people, united by a cause.
In the tent we talked of Nigerian politics and the music of Fela. We talked of Seun’s music and its unrelenting cry for change. I lamented American music’s lack of purpose and he mentioned commitment. Like his father before him, Seun is committed to both his music and his Nigeria.
I stand watching five years later and Seun, shirtless like his father before him, is surrounded by his band Egypt 80 and its stage full of musicians. He’s in perpetual motion. Lean and agile, he is a scarecrow with hinged arms and legs, sweeping across the stage with every part of his body stretched in a different direction. He’s reaching with fingers and toes, with voice and facial expressions. He reaches to touch us and make us pay attention. Seun is a living, breathing call to action as leans one way and dashes another, grabbing his saxophone for a few staccato riffs before prowling again. Seun fully embodies the characters in his songs with gleeful abandon. Seun is the consummate storyteller in the African tradition with stories of love, war, political hypocrisy and unity. And like the African folktales about Anansi The Spider, he mixes humor with African values; moral indignation and ethical aspiration.
So last Friday I watched Seun Kuti hold his California fans captive and I was transported to that tent and my time with a young African man of music, words and politics. A true creative force. Long live the storyteller.
I am baffled, befuddled and confused by today’s politicians, who remind me of the farmer who’s tired of a pesky old field mouse and decides to blow up his own house to get rid of it. So intent are they on making a point, a ridiculous point mind you, that they will turn their backs on anything that remotely resembles working with the “other side of the isle” rather than doing the countries business.
Now don’t be fooled. There are some very smart people who think that this is the way to do business. But I’d like to know what is truly motivating the extremely self-centered conservative politicians of today? Is it really taxes? Maybe it’s their desire to thwart gay marriage come hell or high water. Or is it their longing to shut down unions while shoring up corporations? Are these the issues that cause their hate filled rhetoric to rise to the brink of baboonery? I don’t know the answer but I’m thinking about bringing Ron Artest, ooops – I mean “Metta World Peace”, to Washington to talk a little sense to those fools on the hill.
2 days ago I walked into a meeting filled with men and women who are attempting to trade in prison, violence, drugs and gangs, for lives with a purpose. I exchanged greetings with those I knew and shook hands with one gentleman I had never seen before. His bright smile and alert eyes were set against smooth, coal dark skin… and yes; he too had “done time”. Over the course of the meeting he mentioned his Harlem roots and, of course, I perked up.
As the meeting broke up, I was anxious to let him know of our Harlem connection. We laughed as he told me, “I’m from Foster Projects, 114th street.” I had many good friends who lived in those projects back in the day, but more importantly, my father was a cop there in the 70’s. My dad, an artist forced to find a steady gig because African American cartoonists were in short demand, was an unforgettably funny and caring policeman. I had been proud to have a “cool cop” for a father. So cool was he that when riots broke out in New York, over a police shooting of a 10 year old boy, they sent for my father to chill things out and get people talking. I could barely contain myself as I blurted out, “My father worked Foster. They called him Sherriff. His name was Watson. James Watson.”
The face of my new acquaintance lit up. He put his hands to his mouth like a bullhorn and then, reviving the project kid of his youth he yelled, “Hey officer Watson! Yo, Sherriff!” Thirty years after he had retired and more than twenty years after his death, a stranger remembered my father fondly. We hugged and chuckled as he recanted a few childhood tales of my old man. It felt good to share a memory with someone who knew him, three thousand miles and a lifetime ago. I was pleased that others knew what I knew all too well… my dad was a pretty cool guy.
“Flow” is when we are where we belong, doing what we should be doing. Confirmation comes in moments like these.
At a friends birthday party last weekend a well-dressed magician entertained us with his slight of hand and card tricks. We all laughed at his jokes and were awed by his ability to make cards change or disappear, right before our eyes. As he took a final bow, he invited us to come to the world famous Magic Castle, where he performs regularly. What a talented magician, I thought… but there was something strange about this particular magic man. I had never seen a magician in such a well cut, and obviously expensive suit. They were usually a bit wrinkled and rumpled, adding a bit of a rogue’s flare to their stage persona.
A short time later, while engaged in conversation with him, I learned that his passion was magic but he made his living in the world of fashion. Between trips to New York and Paris, and time spent with wife and kids in Los Angeles, he pursues his childhood love of magic. Now he spends as much time as he can, perfecting the art of illusion. This slight of hand artist has managed to cling tight to his gift and has found a way to incorporate it into his daily life and share it with others. Now, that’s magic.
I am not a child of the new millennium, nor am I a member of Generation X, Y or Z… if there is such a thing. I am a Jazz-Funk-House Music-Soul-R&B, some Rock some Rap loving fool and casualty of the technology age. I am a minnow swimming in the deep waters of the information highway and I’m always amazed that, in a media world where news is sculpted by hosts, pundits and political agendasists (I think I just coined a phrase) you can count on one thing to consistently dominate the political airwaves. Trivia, misinformation and hyperbolic-rhetoric! How the hell did it come to this?
The “news” offered by todays media outlets reflect the cosmic shift of the last 20 years. No longer interested in the mere facts of a story, broadcast news now utilizes attractive, young anchor people, screaming personalities, and as I like to call them -“agendasists” (I had to say it twice to make it official) of all political persuasions. How the hell did it come to this? Did I ask that before? Oh well.
And one more thing. Facebook. I like it! That’s right, I said it out loud. Not that anyone is denying their own appreciation for the social media phenoms’ We Are The World factor. The other day I reconnected with an old neighborhood buddy. You gotta love that – even if Facebook does take our information and sell it to the highest bidder. Hey, I’m not complaining. Just don’t cut me off. OK?