Inspired

Chita Rivera jump

Inspiration stems from the Latin word inspirare, which means to breathe in spirit.  It alludes to a mysterious process, one we don’t always understand.  How does inspiration occur?

This is an excerpt from a collection of short essays that explores that question through the experiences of thirty writers, musicians, visual artists, actors, chefs, designers, architects and directors.  Each artist shares a personal narrative about the ways in which inspiration comes to them.  I have then followed with a brief commentary, in attempt to discover common themes, as well as unique differences, in their experiences. Each artist was chosen in order to best represent a particular lens from which to view the subject of inspiration.  For example, Paul McCartney was inspired to write songs that came to him in dreams.  “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night,” wrote Carl Jung.  Many artists are familiar with that little door.  Emotions are the primary inspiration for Alicia Keys.  Emotions move the artist to create, and may arise from the most primitive instincts or lofty aspirations.  Keith Haring was inspired by a form of alchemy, that transmutation that takes place when ideas and images take on new forms. Some artists are inspired by a state of flow, or as Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes, a “special state of  mind” that he must gain access to in order to receive inspiration.  Still others, such as Chita Rivera, are inspired by destiny, by what they believe was written in the stars before they were born; a kind of blueprint within them. Nature is often a source of inspiration, as it is for Sting as he walks through the woods. Study and observation, more traditional and even scientific methods, are utilized by Ferran Adria, who sees the necessity of acquiring knowledge across disciplines.  Each artist reveals a particular portal to, or form of, inspiration that contributes to the fullness of our understanding.

Yet, however well we come to know inspiration through its various incarnations, ultimately, it defies reductionistic definitions. By it’s very nature, it will always remain mysterious.  Most artists will tell you they are only a vessel through which inspiration flows; they are a medium, or an instrument for some higher force, whether that force comes from the unconscious mind or some manifestation of spirit.  They have the sense that something is happening beyond their control, out of their awareness.  And therein lies the beauty of inspiration – how it graces us with its gifts.

Cultures throughout history have sought to understand the mystery of inspiration.  The ancient Greeks worshipped muses such as Euterpe, the muse of  music and poetry, or Terpsichore, the muse of dance.  Greek poets and writers requested the aid of the muses before they began to write.  “A poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired and is beside himself and reason is no longer in him,” wrote Plato.  The poet is passive, he writes without reason, and depends upon the inspiration of a force outside himself.  “This gift of Homer is not art; it is a power divine impelling you,” he says, again proclaiming that art is not created by the artist, but by a power divine.

While science does not necessarily affirm the power divine, it does have it’s own interpretation of inspiration and how it occurs.  According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, we must first set our intention or frame a question, gather any necessary information, and then let it go. Be aware in the present moment. When our brain is in a meditative, relaxed state, called an alpha state, it is preparing an opening for something new to appear.  After some time in an alpha rhythm, the brain initiates a gamma spike, which results in new connections being made across distant parts of the brain.  It’s during this convergence of new connections that we think of something we’ve never thought of before – we have a stroke of inspiration.

Perhaps one of inspiration’s most marked characteristics is how it makes us feel.  Regardless of how we come upon it, it makes us feel alive.  When we are inspired, we are truly engaged in life. A surge of energy flows through us, and we are filled with a sense of purpose and meaning.  We are awake and invigorated. We are living in the moment, and fear seems to subside.  We become brave and determined, and move with conviction.

Therefore, inspiration isn’t exclusively the territory of the artist.  We all seek inspiration, often in the form of new ideas or solutions to problems.  We search for inspiration when we feel lost and without direction, or trapped. When we embark upon a journey to discover our purpose, we call upon inspiration as a guide.  It offers us clues, encourages us to carry on.  Inspiration can also serve as a potent healing balm, bringing us hope when we feel defeated or despairing.

It is my hope that these essays will be a source of inspiration for you.  That scrolling through these pages of artists and their muses will spur you on toward your own dreams, replenish and renew you, and ignite your flourishing.

……………………….

Paul McCartney

I woke up with a lovely tune in my head. I thought, ‘That’s great, I wonder what that is?’ There was an upright piano next to me, to the right of the bed by the window. I got out of bed, sat at the piano, found G, found F sharp minor 7th — and that leads you through then to B to E minor, and finally back to E. It all leads forward logically. I liked the melody a lot, but because I’d dreamed it, I couldn’t believe I’d written it. I thought, ‘No, I’ve never written anything like this before.’ But I had the tune, which was the most magic thing!

The music for Yesterday came to Paul McCartney one morning in a dream.  He was staying at his family’s house in London while filming Help! with the Beatles, when he awoke with the tune.  Dreams often bring unexpected inspiration and present themselves in a variety of forms.  They may be prophetic, such as when Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his death, reveal a scientific theory, as when Albert Einstein dreamed of the Theory of Relativity, or deliver an entrepreneurial idea, as when Larry Page dreamed of Google.  Solutions to problems may also come to us in dreams, as happened when Paul McCartney dreamed of another hit song.  He had been worried that the Beatles may break up. They were starting to have problems, and he was feeling somewhat adrift. His mother, who was named Mary, and had died twelve years earlier when he was fourteen, then came to him in a dream and gently said, “Let it be.”  McCartney remembers, “It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.”  Whether we believe dreams are a product of our unconscious thoughts and emotions, or messages from the spirit world, they undeniably have the power to grace us with their wisdom and inspiration.

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Keith Haring

There are things that Jung said about the collective unconscious. I don’t know if I can talk about “dream work” because I don’t really get things specifically from my dreams… It’s more an awareness of universal images which I “digest” and put in my own series of explanations and definitions. I reorder things with my own imagination. I try as much as possible to let the drawings happen by themselves. I become a vessel for this information, for this kind of magic, the spirit that flows through me and creates this thing.

Keith Haring describes the creation of his art as a form of alchemy.  He digests images and then allows them to work their magic, to undergo a transmutation.  His interest in ancient mythic symbols led him to study the cultures of pre-Columbia, Egypt, Australian Aborigines, and Native American tribes.  His work often integrated these ancient symbols of the past with modern symbols in the form of cartoon-like drawings, resulting in a combination of archetypes that transcended time.  Carl Jung defined archetypes as “definite forms in the psyche that seem to be present always and everywhere.”  Some archetypes that appear in Haring’s work include the child, the lover and the warrior.  His style was similar to that of a Zen calligrapher, in that his imagery flowed through his paintbrush spontaneously, in a stream of consciousness fashion. He didn’t prepare his surfaces with outlines or sketches, but allowed his compositions to evolve brushstroke by brushstroke. Keith Haring’s inspiration was felt in the moment, outside his conscious awareness, as he became a vessel for his art to flow through.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I can only work in surroundings that are familiar and have already been warmed up with my work. I cannot write in hotels or borrowed rooms or on borrowed typewriters. This creates problems because when I travel I can’t work. Of course, you’re always trying to find a pretext to work less. That’s why the conditions you impose on yourself are more difficult all the time. You hope for inspiration whatever the circumstances. That’s a word the romantics exploited a lot. My Marxist comrades have a lot of difficulty accepting the word, but whatever you call it, I’m convinced that there is a special state of mind in which you can write with great ease and things just flow. All the pretexts—such as the one where you can only write at home—disappear. That moment and that state of mind seem to come when you have found the right theme and the right ways of treating it. And it has to be something you really like, too, because there is no worse job than doing something you don’t like. One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again.

Perhaps no one writes with more imagination and poetry than Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who  weaves together fantastic images from the world of spirit with rich cultural myths and symbolism.  Given the expanse of his mind and the remarkably elaborate worlds he creates in his novels, we might be surprised to learn that he begins writing by engaging in a structured writing process. Once he homes in on a theme, he is able to access that “special state of mind”, which is often described as feeling as though time has stopped, as if nothing else exists beyond the work at hand; all one’s senses are heightened, and the writing simply pours forth.  That state is then the launching pad for his lift off into the realms of his imagination, where he will soar between worlds and dream of exotic and magical people and civilizations.  He sites the formation of the first paragraph as the template for the rest of the short story or novel.  He may sit with that first paragraph for months, shaping and reshaping it, crossing out line after line, revising every word, until it takes on a cohesive theme, style and tone. It is often said that starting is the hardest part, whether it’s laying down the outline on a blank canvas or writing the first paragraph of a book.  After that preliminary foundation has been set, at least in Marquez’s experience, the rest just comes out very easily.

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Alicia Keys

For everyone it’s different. That’s one of the greatest things,” Keys said. “Finding out how it works for you and what brings the most out of you. Often it doesn’t stay the same, so you’re constantly realizing what puts you in the best zone. For me, writing comes directly form a specific source. Like something that just happened to me, a conversation, a STRONG emotion, a line in a book, a word… anything, usually I seize that exact moment to write down what a felt, even if it makes no sense or it doesn’t rhyme, or its sooo messy. Or I will call my V.M. and leave my self a message if I have no pen, or only a melody than later when I have time alone, I like to sit quietly, most times at my piano, many times not and I revisit what I felt, I allow myself to say everything that my heart feels about it with no judgement, till I get all I need out… and I feel the Spirit in the song. Then I begin to arrange it, or share it, or get feedback. The most important thing for me when I write is that I properly express that emotion that struck me so deeply. Even if it has a strange structure, or none at all, no rhyming words or a crazy time signature. The reason I love music so much is cuz it has no rules; anything goes! I try my best to be true to my spirit, not rules or regulations, or doing it how someone else does it (although that’s a great way to start if you are just beginning to write). I think the most important thing is, every song is not gonna necessarily be the GREATEST one in the universe, but it always holds great powers if it’s spoken with the truth of your soul.

This passage in Alicia Keys’ diary was written when she was twenty-two-years-old. With youthful enthusiasm, she writes what inspires her creative process – how it begins with an emotion, a strong response to something internal or in her environment. Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”  Music enters our hearts and souls through our senses, moving and transporting us to a spectrum of emotional states, bypassing any need for explanation or interpretation.  Its communication and message are immediate and intuitive.  But in order for that pure form of transmission to occur, the musician has to first experience what he or she wishes to transmit.  Keys does this by allowing herself to feel and express everything within her without censoring what arises.  Rumi articulates how to navigate this territory when he writes,  “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.  A joy, a depression, a meanness, a momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!” Rumi encourages us to be grateful for whatever emotion or experience visits us, because he believes they have all been sent “as a guide from beyond.”  Each emotion sent to Keys is a guide, a messenger of some truth, and it is these truths that radiate in her songs and are transmitted through her music.

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Ferran Adria

One shouldn’t speak only to other chefs; inbreeding is no good. You get ideas from life, from reading, from travel. For example, the sensibility, the philosophy, the fragility of Japan had a big impact on my career. To create, it’s very important to keep learning about things that are truly new, and for me, Japan has those things. It’s also very important to be connected to other disciplines: the world of art, of design, of science, of history. When an architect designs a building, he has to work with engineers and people in new technologies. It’s the same in cooking. We need experts in other fields. We turn to science, for example, to explain the “why” of things. Exploring and getting to know things is fundamental to ensuring that you don’t shut yourself off in your own little world.

A fearless explorer of the culinary arts, Ferran Adria is considered one of the most innovative chefs in the world.  His imagination and creativity are fueled by his boundless curiosity, and his drive to learn and expand his knowledge across disciplines; to continually evolve.  His brilliance stems from his constant movement, his refusal to get stuck in any tradition or technique.  Historian, Oswald Spengler describes in his theory of classicism the process of decline, whether of a civilization or period of art, which occurs when an idea hardens, and is frozen into a formula.  While there is great beauty and meaning in preserving cultural traditions, if we are to create new art forms, we must at some point break away from the old.  Adria, like all great artists, doesn’t imitate those who came before, but studies the lessons of the old masters, learns from his contemporaries, and develops a style all his own.

Saffron Risotto

From The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrian

Serves 6

Ingredients
7¾ cups chicken stock (see below*)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp finely chopped onion
¼ cup white wine
3 cups risotto rice
6 medium white mushrooms
1 tbsp butter
1 1/3 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese 2 tsp lemon juice

Pour the stock into a saucepan. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Wrap the saffron threads in aluminum foil. Toast in a frying pan for 1 minute over a medium heat, being careful not to let it burn. Cool. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for about 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Pour in the white wine and scrape up any sediment from the bottom of the pan. When most of the white wine has boiled away, add the rice and stir for 3 minutes. Add a ladle of hot stock. Stir the rice frequently for 2-3 minutes to prevent it from sticking. Pour in the remaining stock. Shop the toasted saffron and sprinkle into the pan. Cook the rice for another 16 minutes, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, quickly wipe clean the mushrooms with a paper towel, then finely slice using a mandolin or a sharp knife. When the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is just firm to the bite, add the butter. Add the Parmesan cheese. Stir well until the rice becomes creamy. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice Spoon the risotto onto serving plates. Scatter the mushroom slices over the risotto. The heat from the rice will lightly “cook” the mushrooms.

*Chicken stock
For 8½ cups
Ingredients
1 small onion
1 carrot
1 celery
2 ¾ lb (4 carcasses) whole, cleaned, raw chicken carcasses
1 1/3 gallons water

Cut the onions in half. Put the carrot, onion, celery, and chicken carcasses, into a very largo pot. Pour in the water, then bring to a boil. Skim the foam from the surface. Simmer for 2½ hours. Remove the chicken and vegetables and strain through a fine-mesh sieve.

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Chita Rivera

I have this notion in my head of a big book up in the sky with everyone’s path already written – like storyboard images.  I feel that our decisions are made for us long before we face them.  Did I expect a West Side Story, and after that a Bye Bye Birdie?  I look back at my forty-plus years on stage and say, ‘Damn! That was good – a great run.‘  Could I have preplanned such a life? I don’t think so.  All I did was play it out as written.

Chita Rivera believes in destiny – that our life paths were already written before we born.  When a friend from school asked seventeen-year-old Rivera to accompany her to an audition in New York for Call Me Madam, and Rivera got the part, despite the fact that she wanted to be a ballet dancer and had no desire to audition for a broadway show,  destiny was at play.  Destiny is sometimes referred to as a calling, or to what Plato termed paradigma, which is a unique image within the soul that contains our purpose in the world – a sort of blue print.  Destiny calls to us by way of our passions, our inspirations, our gifts, or our adversities, which may challenge us to become who we were meant to be.  Or it may find us through circumstance or serendipity, as it did with Rivera.  As it turns out, her greatest role has not been Velma Kelly in Chicago, or Anita in West Side Story, or even Chita Rivera in The Dancer’s Life, a retrospective of her career in theater – but Chita Rivera as herself, playing out her life as it was written.

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Sting

I started last summer, but I pretended I wasn’t working on a record [Ten Sumner’s Tales]. I pretended I was just gonna get some musicians together and have fun in the house and jam a little, and then pick the bones out of the jams in the mornings, and then adapt them a little bit. This was in Italy, in Tuscany. I converted a granaio, a big barn, into a playing space with a little desk in it. So I just jammed around for a month or two, and picked bits out and started to loosely structure songs without any lyrics. I finished and sequenced an hour of music without any idea of what it was about lyrically! This is not the normal way I work, which is to write lyrics first or second but always in the same period of time as the music. This was different. So I would take an hour of music away with me on my walks around the woods in Tuscany, and try and allow characters or stories to emerge, rather like the way I imagine sculptors work – they find a piece of rock and see a bit of a nose here, and a bit of an arm or leg there and end up with a body. Some days nothing would emerge out of the mist, and other days whole characters would emerge. So the music was telling me the stories. I had no plan that the songs would be connected in any way, because the music was quite disparate, but I ended up with 12 songs that were really love stories in the very traditional sense – but with “lover” always as a metaphor for something larger, some larger philosophical thought or religious view of the world. They’re all connected in that sense, and I think it’s quite a romantic record.

Here I imagine Sting walking through the woods in Tuscany, a kind of hunter, patient and alert, watchful of his surroundings, looking for any signs of movement.  He walks quietly, cultivating a stillness within. The lyrics, characters and stories he seeks may reveal themselves at any moment – in the curve of an Oak branch, the rustling sounds of birds in the leaves, – and his awareness must be sharp enough to notice them.  Once he captures something of interest, he allows it to enter him, inform him, and take shape in the nascent forms of a song.

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Maya Angelou

Like a pianist runs her fingers over the keys, I’ll search my mind for what to say. Now, the poem may want you to write it. And then sometimes you see a situation and think, “I’d like to write about that.” Those are two different ways of being approached by a poem, or approaching a poem. Years ago I saw some children jumping hopscotch in Harlem. And then later, I was in Stockholm taking a course in cinematography, and I saw some Swedish children skipping hopscotch—I think it’s called “hoppa hage” there. And I thought, “Hmmm, those kids at home, they have a little more rhythm and they think different thoughts.” So I went back to watch the children in Harlem to get their rhythm, and then I began to write this poem:

Harlem Hopscotch

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
Good things for the ones that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left.
Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.
Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, the rent is due,
Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the people out of work,
Hold for three, then twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
That’s what hopping’s all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost. I think I won.

Maya Angelou wrote Harlem Hopscotch in 1969 after observing children at play in Stockholm.  She was inspired to write about the social differences and economic inequalities between the children in Stockholm and the children in Harlem.  The poem becomes a form of social commentary, and uses playful metaphors to reference more serious issues, such as poverty and racial tensions.  While the children in Stockholm seem to be carefree and playing hopscotch purely for fun, the children in Harlem are hopping as a way of survival; they have to keep moving. Their feet don’t touch the pavement for long because they have no real stability, no grounding – yet their struggles don’t dampen their resiliency or spirit. Through her poem, Angelou strives to initiate a dialogue, to stimulate reflection, and to raise awareness.  Her poem, as a form of social commentary, moves beyond the private realm of reader and page, to the greater social arena – a political force.

 

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Thomas Keller

People also talk about inspiration, and where they find inspiration or creativity on a daily basis, or week to week, or month to month, and my point of view is that there really is no true creation. Everything is here for us to be inspired, so how do you become inspired? Certainly there’s no definition for that. There’s no formula for becoming inspired, and it really amounts to how aware you are of what’s going on around you, so that you can open yourself up to catch those moments, or think about them – and then it really just becomes awareness and inspiration. What happens after that is interpretation, because two people can be inspired by the same thing but interpret it differently. That certainly is very important – how you interpret something and how it relates to what you do. A painter and a chef can see something, and that one thing inspires them, but they interpret it differently because of what they do. Then interpretation takes the next step, which is evolution: how something evolves once you’ve identified it. The evolutionary part of it continues throughout your life, because interpretation and evolution go hand in hand.

For Thomas Keller,  interpretation is paramount to inspiration, as it relates to the actual act of creation.  Interpretation gives a creation its unique stamp.  We interpret something based upon our own meaning-making, our own experiences, beliefs, genetics, interests, and history. Interpretation is in part an act of projection, similar to Rorschach inkblot tests.  It’s the variety of interpretations that makes for innovation. Keller says, “I can tell you where the oysters and pearls dish came from, what inspired me: that purple box of tapioca sitting on the grocery store shelf that said “Pearls.” And I thought, “Wow, where do pearls come from? Oysters.” There, that was a moment of inspiration. It wasn’t a moment of creativity. I always knew about tapioca pudding. I just turned it into something savory. I also knew that tapioca has a pretty neutral flavor, so it can become the vehicle for any flavor that you want to enhance it with. In this case, it happened to be oysters and caviar.” Evolution, Keller believes, works in tandem with interpretation.  What is interpreted through one’s individual filter, then metamorphizes into a new form. And for Keller, this evolution never ends.

Oysters and Pearls
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

Yield: Makes 8 servings
Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Malpeque Oysters and Osetra Caviar

Ingredients

Tapioca
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
1 3/4 cups milk
16 meaty oysters, such as Malpeque, scrubbed with a brush
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crème fraîche
Kosher salt

Sabayon
1     4 large egg yolks

Sauce
3 tablespoons dry vermouth
1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 tablespoon minced chives

1 to 2 ounces osetra caviar

Preparation
For the tapioca:
Soak the tapioca in 1 cup of the milk for 1 hour. (Setting it in a warm place will speed up the rehydration of the pearls.)

For the oysters:
Shuck the oysters. Trim away the muscle and the outer ruffled edge of each oyster and place the trimmings in a saucepan. Reserve the whole trimmed oysters and strain the oyster juice into a separate bowl. You should have about 1/2 cup of juice.
To cook the tapioca:
In a bowl, whip 1/2 cup of the cream just until it holds its shape; reserve in the refrigerator.

Drain the softened tapioca in a strainer and discard the milk. Rinse the tapioca under cold running water, then place it in a small heavy pot.

Pour the remaining 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup cream over the oyster trimmings. Bring to a simmer, then strain the infused liquid onto the tapioca. Discard the trimmings.

Cook the tapioca over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it has thickened and the spoon leaves a trail when it is pulled through, 7 to 8 minutes. Continue to cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the tapioca has no resistance in the center and is translucent. The mixture will be sticky and if you lift some on the spoon and let it fall, some should still cling to the spoon. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside in a warm place.

For the sabayon:
Place the egg yolks and the 1/4 cup oyster juice in a metal bowl set over a pan of hot water. Whisk vigorously over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate as much air as possible. The finished sabayon will have thickened and lightened, the foam will have subsided, and the sabayon will hold a ribbon when it falls from the whisk. If the mixture begins to break, remove it from the heat and whisk quickly off the heat for a moment to recombine, then return to the heat.

Stir the hot sabayon into the tapioca, along with a generous amount of black pepper. Mix in the crème fraîche and the whipped cream. The tapioca will be a creamy pale yellow with the tapioca pearls suspended in the mixture. Season lightly with salt, remembering that the oysters and the caviar garnish will both be salty. Immediately spoon 1/4 cup tapioca into each of eight 4- by 5- inch gratin dishes (with a 3- to 4- ounce capacity). Tap the gratin dishes on the counter so that the tapioca forms an even layer. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, or for up to a day.

To complete:
Preheat the oven to 350º F.

For the sauce:
Combine the vermouth, the remaining reserved oyster juice, the shallots, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated but the shallots are glazed, not dry. Whisk in the butter piece by piece, adding a new piece only when the previous one is almost incorporated.

Meanwhile, place the dishes of tapioca on a baking sheet and heat in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they just begin to puff up.
Add the oysters and the chives to the sauce to warm through.

Spoon 2 oysters and some of the sauce over each gratin and garnish the top with a quenelle, or small oval scoop, of caviar. Serve immediately.

……………………………..

Meryl Streep

 That’s my way in, the very beginning, how to enter it. Very quickly in the process, I don’t think of voice as being separate from the way you hold your head or the way you sit or the way you put on lipstick. It’s all a piece of a person, and it’s all driven by conviction. All the physical manifestations — you need your way in. When I was a kid — 16, 17 — I’d come home from high school, and my dad collected all of Barbra Streisand’s records. She probably had three records out and she was 21. And I knew every single song, every breath, every elision, every swell. And I sang along to it. But for me, it was a way for me to get out the feeling in the song, and the feelings in high school that … I had no other way of expressing.

Meryl Steep appears to become the roles she plays. Here she talks about finding her way into a character.  For Streep, every trait is part of the greater gestalt, a reflection of the essence of the character.  Once she finds her way in, she is able  to connect the dots, to comprehend how all the traits within the gestalt work together, how they are expressed, and what they convey.  Whether singing along to a Barbara Streisand record as a teenager, or studying Polish for two months in preparation for Sophie’s Choice, she embodies the voice of the character and then enters their world.  She perceives every gesture, the gait of the character’s walk, the pace at which they move and talk.  She seems to intuit the psyche of the character – what makes them vulnerable, what they most desire and love, or believe in.  She empties the contents of her own self to make space for another, and invites them to reside there, where they will continue to instruct her. Streep begins the acting process by finding a way in, and then finds inspiration along the way, as each discovery further renders the fullness and authenticity of the character.

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Francis Ford Coppola

I think it really is a matter of remaining like a little kid”, Francis Ford Coppola says. “I’ve never seen a painting from a two-year-old that wasn’t beautiful. You can get ten or twenty two or three-year-olds and give them paper, and they all have these beautiful pictures. And then somehow, in the process of growing up and becoming educated, so much seems to be, I don’t know, not beaten out of them, but removed. And I think I remain, pretty much, a five or six-year-old all my life because of the strange circumstances of my upbringing and the nature of what my family was like. And that five- or six-year-old is the font of all my thoughts and. And that intuition that I’ve learned to trust, even as now a 72-year-old man, I always seem to go back to how I feel. What’s my hunch? What’s my so-called gut reaction? Which I think is very much that of a six-year-old boy.

Two images come to mind as I read this description of creativity by Francis Ford Coppola: one is of a six-year-old boy, and the other of a Zen monk.  And in many respects, they are one in the same. The six-year-old boy is innocent, he is still open to the world, not yet jaded.  He holds no preconceived notions about the way things should be.  He has few expectations.  His energy is abundant, and he  embraces whatever excites him.  He perceives the world through fresh eyes, and therefore, sees new possibilities everywhere.  Likewise, the Zen monk is also practiced at being present in the moment.  He cultivates beginner’s mind. He attempts to experience each moment anew, as if he is seeing it for the first time.  Zen master Shunryu Suzuki tells us, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.  Coppola has never relinquished the wisdom of the six-year-old-boy. He has the ability to create with the enthusiasm and intuition of a child, tempered by the disciplined presence of the Zen monk.

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Diane Von Furstenberg

 I wanted very much to be independent and to work. I was working in Italy as an intern for a man who had all these factories. And I had a boyfriend in New York City; we got engaged and I got pregnant and before I knew it, I needed to move to America and get married. I said, “No, I need to be an independent woman.” And I asked the man I was working for in Italy if I could make a few samples shirt dresses and a ballerina wrap top that I would try to sell in America. And then I turned the wrap top into a dress. The wrap dress is the most traditional form of dressing: It’s like a robe, it’s like a kimono, it’s like a toga. It doesn’t have buttons or zippers. What made it different was that it was jersey; therefore, it was close to the body and it was a print. And the first one was animal print so it made every woman look like a feline. And that’s how it happened. It’s not like I was thinking “Oh, I’m creating the IT dress.” I just made it and it took off and was a huge success.

While the bold patterns and colors in nature provide many of the ideas for Diane Von Furstenberg’s fabrics and designs, the underlying guiding principle for her work truly lies in her strong desire for independence, and in her drive to support, through her designs, that independence and empowerment in other women.  If we were to distill what inspires her down to two words, they would be independent woman.   Von Furstenberg has created a mythos for modern women that springs from those two words.  Her designs convey a sense of freedom, confidence, playfulness and sensuality.  She wants women who wear her clothing to be uninhibited, worldly and adventurous, to feel they can do anything.  When she creates a design she reflects upon the independent woman – what does she want? Where is she going? What is she doing?  The answers to these questions become essential elements of her creations; they are woven into the fabrics just as her chosen colors and textures are.  For Diane Von Furstenberg, the act of inspiration is paying homage to a long held ideal, one that champions women, and from that, her life’s work has ensued.

About the Author

Lisa Nave

Lisa Nave is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Mill Valley, California.

1 Comment

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