Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Truth and negativity

This has been sitting in my drafts folder awhile— some thoughts on an older piece from George Colligan's Jazz Truth blog, a collection of thoughts about negativity, positivity, realism, “telling it like it is”, and all that:

I remember one tour where one of my band mates chastised me for being too negative. “Man, you are always talking s*$t about something.” OK. I decided then that my friend would only see the “positive” side of me.... 
Hey, good morning! I slept so well, did you? You look rested. Have you been outside? It's such a beautiful day. We are so blessed to have the sun shining today. I'm so glad we are on the road together. You are one of my favorite drummers, did you know that? Do you realize how lucky we are to get to play music together? I'm so glad we are friends. Here, come here, I want to give you a hug..... 
After a few hours of that, the consensus all around was that I should “go back to being normal.”

Now, I was thinking, “I'd much rather be on the road with that guy.” Assuming he was sincere, and not trying to be a jerk about it. It's actually not that fun to be around people who are prone to complaining, especially when they're lucky enough to be traveling playing music for a living. I want to enjoy every minute of it as much as possible, and that kind of stuff doesn't help me do that. It took me a long time to learn this, but I think you'll get further in life being sincerely positive with other people basically 100% of the time. That doesn't mean being vapidly sunshiny, or pretending problems aren't happening when they are. Usually it just means keeping your sense of humor when you have to do something stupid or hard, or are a little bit uncomfortable, or when things are not going well.

Continued after the break:

I admit I've retained some of my old snarky self here on the blog, mainly because I have some small talent for being entertaining writing that way, and that's part of my job here: to be fun to read. But I also do it because taking a legitimately funny angle on something, even if apparently negative, is a way to short circuit habitual thinking about it. The problem is that often other people will just latch onto the snark, and think that that's the whole message— to be a negative, critical, sarcastic person all the time. It's sort of like the difference between Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is actually very good-natured, vs. the crummy Golden Turkey Awards book, written by a young, future moralizing right-wing JO Michael Medved, which was basically about exaggerating how much the people who made the movies all suck. A few years after that, Medved moved on to just openly loathing Hollywood professionally, minus the attempted humor.

Colligan goes on to talk about positive talking and thinking with regard to education:

Fantasizing about happy outcomes — about smoothly attaining your wishes — didn’t help. Indeed, it hindered people from realizing their dreams.

Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it. 

There's a larger, side point here, too: I've always had a problem with goal-orientation as a way of life. It seems like a very crass way to live. Maybe it's useful when you're in a time in your life when you're having a hard time completing projects. It's definitely the way for mediocre talents to succeed— I've seen it work many times. But in general, I want to be process- and participation-oriented. That means I'm making music my life, and doing the things musicians do to be legit, and letting the chips fall where they may. Of course, though I'm surviving, and doing good work (I think), and still improving dramatically as a player in my later 40s, my career has not seen a lot of dizzying highs.

The article doesn't recommend a Debbie Downer approach; actually, the hybrid approach is better. Think about your goals, clearly see what stands in the way, and figure out what you can do to remove the obstacles. I think of this as "honesty" or "realism." The truth shall set you free. Some people can't handle the truth. I think it's better to get to the truth sooner rather than later. To solve problems and improve, we must be honest with ourselves. 

This is a sticky area. Over the years I've observed that a lot of people who are compelled to “tell it like it is” are not actually coming from an honest place. A lot of people are messed up, and for all sorts of bad reasons they derive satisfaction from portraying themselves as being all-knowing, forming and voicing sweeping opinions, passing judgment, and cutting people down.

I think as a rule, the broader the conclusion someone draws in re: “the truth” about a young musician, the more he should probably STFU about it. I can say “You screwed that part up.”, or “You didn't learn your lesson this week.” or “The way you're going about being a musician right now is not going to make you into a real player.” I should not say “You know, you're never going to amount to anything as a musician, why don't you do something else?” Even if I thought that, I don't actually know. Maybe he's not going to be the next Dave Weckl, but down the road he may make get serious, and become a perfectly capable professional player. Or he'll learn something from me he'll use elsewhere in life.

So I just try to be businesslike in attacking problems. There's no question of positivity/negativity/truth/whatever, there's just an issue to be corrected. Drawing larger conclusions about what a student is capable of in the future, and what he should do with his life, is way above my pay grade.


R Valentine said...

"Get out of results and get into process."

A hallmark of sports psychology, it is one of the most important sentences ever to enter my head and has been reinforced by you many times/many ways in your blog. Embracing the highs and lows of the journey is the true path to not being an asshole.

Craig Coggle said...

Great post Todd. Definitely to get the truth out sooner than later, and as an educator that is your responsibility.

Don't wait until you've achieved this or that goal... be the drummer you want to be right now.