Get Outta My Way!

The title is a song by Kylie Minogue.  I play it often when cycling because of the beat.  The lyrics are interesting, too.  On first listen it seems to be a break-up song, a declaration of independence from one person to another.  But many more listens later it becomes clear – at least to me – that she is singing to herself.  She’s telling the person she’s learned to be through a lifetime of step-one, step-two, ‘Get Outta My Way, you silly, routinized, habit-chasing thing, you.’  Oh, heck.  Here’s the song:

 

jd2Getting out of our own way is an essential part of being a successful human, I think, in many areas.  I remember 30 years ago, when I first started speaking to groups, I scripted myself very carefully and practiced, practiced, practiced. My talks were pretty good and my words were great.  I was so obsessed with getting them right that I forgot these talks were conversations.  My people didn’t remember the words, they remembered how they felt hearing them – and how they felt was disengaged because I was focused not on them, but on getting the words right!

Then came the day when something came up or rather, came down.  I was speaking to a group at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, a soaring 44 story, open atrium, John Portman building.  While the group was in the meeting room doing something else, I was pacing around the lobby trying to make sure I had all of the words.  Suddenly there was a terrible crash just to my right.  I turned to see the man who’d thrown himself off the highest balcony flopping around on the floor as he died.  I remember, he’d hit a railing or something on the way down and his arm had come off.  It hit the floor a Atriumsecond after he did.

I stood there in shock until there was a tug at my sleeve.  ‘We’re ready for you now,’ the meeting organizer said.

All the preparation I’d done for that talk was gone.  Oh, I still knew what I wanted to say – what I wanted to communicate – but this was now personal.  It was a human thing.  There was no way in the world that I’d be able to focus on words or anything else.  And for the first time I Got Outta My Way and just talked with the people.  My words weren’t so immaculate, but my message was heard as it never had been before.  From that moment on I quit scripting myself and prepared (lightly) by organizing my thoughts.  My presentations were so much better.

A little more than a year ago, I faced the same situation with my art.  I had grooved myself into a style and technique that overrode my desire to communicate through painting.  It was schtick; beautiful schtick, but schtick just the same.  That’s when I started working with Theresa Vandenberg Donche specifically to learn a new dance.

Painting ClassThe photo is of me, painting blindfolded with my non-dominant hand in one of my early classes.  It was just one of the many things Theresa did to shake me up, get me out of my schtick and into something more genuine.  In a way, that’s me, throwing myself off the 44th floor of the schtick I’d been grooved to do.  (That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion) Of course, the scribbles you see on that canvas didn’t survive the rest of the process.  Most were painted over. But some peeked through on the final canvas.  And erratic and random as they were, they formed a scaffold from which the rest of the painting hung.

I think getting out of your own way is a function of a couple of things.

First, you have to know your stuff and trust that knowledge.  You have to know a bit about color, light, shape, form, depth, perspective and balance.  That knowledge is both intellectual and intuitive:  you can think about it but you can also turn the thinking off and simply express it.da

And that’s the second thing:  turn off your thinking brain, the one you’ve been training to perform in a very specific way your entire life.  Turn it off and just let the brush and the paint flow.

Shortly before he died, Duane Allman did an interview where he said he could almost feel the distance between the notes imagined in his head and the ones he made on the guitar, shrinking.  Soon, he speculated, the distance would disappear altogether and his hands would play effortlessly in direct connection to his unconscious brain.

THAT’s getting out of your own way!  And that’s what I try to do everyday in the studio.

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2 Comments

  1. Therese October 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    James you are an inspiration for all of us lucky enough to know you!
    Thank you for this eloquently written post!
    Therese

  2. Maria Volborth October 9, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    James, I finally got a chance to read this blog you urged me to read. I was impressed and will try to follow the advise. I am getting in my own way all the time! Hopefully we will get a chance to talk again soon, I enjoyed talking to you on preview Thurs.. Pleasure to have met you!

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