“The most valuable commodity I know of is information.” -Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street by Oliver Stone
“Knowledge is shit, okay? ‘Knowledge for Knowledge’s Sake’ is pure bullshit. All learning ever does is remind you of what you haven’t got. Teaches you about new stuff you’ll never be or have. Because unless you can apply that knowledge and do something with it…it’s useless. It’s crap. Worthless shit. An M.B.A. is one thing, but Jeopardy! is for assholes.” -Ben in the play The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute
Synthesis (as defined by Merriam Webster):
1a : the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole b : the production of a substance by the union of chemical elements, groups, or simpler compounds or by the degradation of a complex compound c : the combining of often diverse conceptions into a coherent whole
Francis Bacon is credited with coining the phrase “knowledge is power” in 1597. And for centuries that was true. One’s ability to retain and recall information was a superpower.
But now with just about everyone having a smartphone in their pocket, information is ubiquitous and therefore largely a commodity.
What matters and is so desperately needed today is what we do with this information. How we apply it to lead and solve interesting problems. Synthesis is the new superpower.
You know what’s a great way for you to hone this superpower? Look again at the definition above. Yep, you guessed it…
Decide and be courageous enough to go make your art.
Just like most people don’t know what they want in life, is why it’s often hard to figure out what your character wants. But you must. What does the character want? So much so that they will die (metaphorically and sometimes literally) if they don’t get it?
Even Hamlet, the king of indecision, wanted something deeply at first. But then when he was presented with new information, he wanted something else. And then something else. And then something else. And so on and so forth. The sum total of all these different wants was indecision. But make no mistake, he had giant, all out, desperate wants.
Work your ass off to figure out what your character wants. I recall an acting teacher saying you should get a headache from all the thinking about wants and desires. But here’s the thing…once you get those wants down and lean into those bold choices, you cannot go wrong. You’ll have fun every night trying to achieve them and in doing so, you’ll be riveting and on fire to watch.
Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want So tell me what you want, what you really, really want I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want So tell me what you want, what you really, really want I wanna (Hey!), I wanna (Hey!), I wanna (Hey!), I wanna (Hey!) I wanna really, really, really wanna “zig-a-zig”, ah -“Wannabee” by Spice Girls
You can’t always get what you want You can’t always get what you want You can’t always get what you want But if you try sometimes, well, you might find You get what you need -“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones
What do you want?
Not what you think you should want.
Not what society tells you to want.
Not what your friends and family want for you.
But what do YOU deep down, really, really, really WANT? And get super specific.
Keep asking. Keep searching. Keep after it.
Because until you come up with an answer, you can’t even try. And if you aren’t trying for something. then what exactly are you doing?
I do not love you except because I love you; I go from loving to not loving you, From waiting to not waiting for you My heart moves from cold to fire.
I love you only because it’s you the one I love; I hate you deeply, and hating you Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.
Maybe January light will consume My heart with its cruel Ray, stealing my key to true calm.
In this part of the story I am the one who Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you, Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood. -“I Do Not Love You” by Pablo Neruda
Theatre, Poetry, Classical Music…Each of these at one time or another were dominant cultural mediums. Take Pablo Neruda for example, the great Nobel Prize-Winning Chilean poet. He regularly filled soccer stadiums with his recitations. Imagine the scene…thousands of people standing and cheering and belting out lines of poetry at the top of their lungs. Yes, that did happen.
Now all these mediums are more niche.
You can’t control what you love, what inspires you, what lights you up–for me it was seeing tiny storefront theatre in Chicago–nor should you care if that medium is popular.
All you can and should do is listen to your heart. Dare to dream. Be courageous.
Your favorite food item or household product gets discontinued.
Your favorite restaurant or store is about to go out of business.
Tension is created. You might suddenly be spurred to buy a whole bunch of the product or visit that restaurant one last time.
It’s here today, gone tomorrow.
That’s the magic of live theatre. And when producing a show and trying to get people to come, you’d be wise to lean into this tension, this magic, this ephemerality. Your messaging must include a spirit of “There’ll never be another night like this. Tonight’s your only chance. Don’t miss it!”
“There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts.” -Helen Fagin
“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” -Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”
“And, please, as you visualize your future, don’t be afraid to be blue sky. People these days are measured by the size of their dreams. No one accomplishes more than he sets out to accomplish. So visualize a big future.” -David J. Schwartz, “The Magic Of Thinking Big”
I talk a lot about process on this blog. I believe it’s the key to artistic happiness and meaningful work. Find something you enjoy doing, even if it’s really freakin’ hard at times, and do it, day in day out, for a long ass period of time. Do it for nothing else than the love of doing the thing and you’ll find lasting purpose and joy.
That being said, we have our dreams. Our goals. Our visions. Those dreams are what lead us to passion which in turn leads us to process. And sometimes, we can get into a process rut. Doing the same thing over and over. Being comfortable with our routine. If you find yourself there, feeling a little bit blah, reconnect with your original dream and vision.
It might also be time to set a new vision for your life and art. Just make sure it’s a big one!
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment You own it, you better never let it go -Eminem, song “Lose Yourself”
Oh! Move over, Rover And let Jimi take over -Jimi Hendrix, song “Fire”
For whatever art you’re trying to create, you must bring all of yourself to it. Whether that be writing, acting, painting, etc…the more personal you can make it, the better. The old adage “Find your voice” is really about finding and trusting yourself.
However, at some point in the creative process, it’s no longer about you. It’s about the thing itself. Like the Tom Petty song, the creation now has a “mind with a heart of it’s own.”
Best to get out of the way. Lose yourself. And let the subconscious take over.
You’ve gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign Cruel to be kind, means that I love you, baby (You’ve gotta be cruel) You gotta be cruel to be kind -Nick Lowe, song “Cruel To Be Kind”
Being nice is about you.
Being kind is about the other person. And sometimes that means giving honest yet tough feedback to someone. Because you care about them and the work they’re trying to do.
Another thing that’s very important to me is kindness, and kindness over niceness. The easiest example I can give is that a kind person will tell you, you have spinach in your teeth and a nice person won’t because it’s uncomfortable, right? But the kind person is going to set you up for a much better rest of your day because you’re not running around with spinach in your teeth.
Choose to be kind over being nice.
P.S. – My wife and I had a good laugh about this idea as I brought up one of our very first dates…She told me I had food in my teeth in the middle of me telling her a story. I got kinda irritated about it at the time (I was embarrassed) thinking she could’ve just ignored it and let me finish. “That would’ve been the nice thing to do.” Now I know, like most things, she was absolutely right. She was being kind. I was being nice.
“Your thoughts are just tiny secretions.” -Jeff Bridges
“To realize you are not your thoughts is when you become spiritually awake.” -Eckhart Tolle
Thoughts are just thoughts. You’ll have thousands upon thousands of them every day. Like an endless stream of running water or breathing, you can’t turn them off. Nor should you. Just be aware that you have them and don’t overweight ’em.
The twelfth century Tibetan yoga Milarepa, composed and sang tons of songs about presence and meditation. In one he says that the “mind has more projections than there are dust motes in a sunbeam” and that “even hundreds of spears couldn’t put an end to that.”
If you find yourself going down the thought rabbit hole or what Allen Ginsberg called the “surprise mind”–where you try to concentrate on something or meditate and then wham! a nasty surprise thought appears–do what Pema Chodron advises in her wonderful book, “When Things Fall Apart”…Pause. Notice what you’re doing. And then label it. Without judgment. Say to yourself or out loud, “I’m Thinking, Thinking, Thinking.” And then return. You might have to do this a lot, especially at first, but realize that every time you do, you’re practicing presence.