bob dylan’s brain

every now and then i read something that really strikes a chord. it’s when i’m at the right place at the right time for those particular notes to really resonate; and then i feel the need to share it here in this space….

i’ve talked about the dichotomy before (many years ago actually, it’s funny to read that post now. now that the table has turned, and i find myself more a writer and less a photographer. there is trust in that, right? in this process of letting things be, to become what they are meant to become…) but at the time that i wrote that post, back in 2009, i found comfort in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert who spoke to me of photography and writing and the concept of writer’s block.

the other day i was reading “Imagine. How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer (it’s a bit on the dry scientific side for my taste, but i’m working my way through it regardless) and suddenly, there it was. the chapter i was meant to read.

now, if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that bob dylan is my favorite storyteller. i call him that because that’s how i know him. my first real experiences with bob dylan were with enormous books of lyrics, written in type, each a story of its own. i am smitten with his prose, with his use of imagination to conjure up the most perfect visual orgy of words. what mesmerizes me about bob dylan’s creativity is that he can tap into it anywhere (seemingly) in a room full of gawkers, he’d pound away at his typewriter. it was baffling to me because that’s simply not how i work. now, after reading a bit about his creative process, i am able to see how we each adapt to our surroundings to keep pounding away at the words or images or paints. i find it really helpful (as a creative artist) to hear of other people’s creative processes. and i think it helps us all feel a bit less alone on this path we walk; in whatever direction we go. and so, i wanted to share these lines from Chapter 1, aptly titled: Bob Dylan’s Brain

“It was here (1965) that Dylan told his manager he was quitting the music business. He was finished with singing and songwriting and was going to move to a tiny cabin in Woodstock, NY. (The problem was that he didn’t know what to do next: he felt trapped by his past but had no plan for the future. The only thing he was sure of was that this life couldn’t last. Whenever Dylan read about himself in the newspaper, he made the same observation: “God, I’m glad I’m not me,” he said. “I’m glad I’m not that.”

Every creative journey begins with a problem.  It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer.  We have worked hard, but we’ve hit the wall.  We have no idea what to do next.

When we tell one another stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase of the creative process. We neglect to mention those days when we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problems were impossible to solve. Because such failures contradict the romantic version of events – there is nothing triumphant about a false start – we forget all about them.  (The failures also remind us how close we came to having no stories to tell.) Instead, we skip straight to the breakthroughs. We tell the happy endings first.

The danger of telling this narrative is that the feeling of frustration – the act of being stumped – is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer – before we probably even know the question – we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. And so we give up and move to Woodstock because we will never create what we want to create.

It’s often at this point, after we’ve stopped searching for the answer, that the answer arrives. (The imagination has a wicked sense of irony.) And when a solution does appear, it doesn’t come in dribs and drabs; the puzzle isn’t solved one piece at a time. Rather, the solution is shocking in its completeness. All of a sudden, the answer to the problem that seemed so daunting becomes incredibly obvious. We curse ourselves for not seeing it sooner.

This is the cliched moment of insight… its’ the kind of mental process described by Coleridge and Einstein, Picasso and Mozart. When people think about creative breakthroughs, they tend to imagine them as incandescent flashes, like a light bulb going on inside the brain.

These tales of insight all share a few essential features that scientists use to define the “insight experience.” The first stage is the impasse: Before there can be a breakthrough, there has to be a block. Before Bob Dylan could reinvent himself, writing the best music of his career, he needed to believe that he had nothing left to say.”

this spoke directly to me about demystifying the muse, embracing the process, and the basic facts that creative journeys are often scattered with problems. and boy did it help me feel less alone in the (often extreme) ebbs and flows that come with pursuing and living a creative life.

this is the shit no one ever talks about.