The Jack Black Guide to Fighting The Man, Giving Up and Getting On With Your Life
Lessons learned from “School of Rock”
All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
Based on my books in The Prolific Series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the give up scene in School of Rock:
The futility of everything is fertile ground. The most devious culprit of creative demoralization is futility. That hopeless feeling that you’re just winking in the dark, throwing petal after petal down the canyon, waiting to hear the echo. Good god, it just makes you not even want to try. Because there’s too much noise, too many channels, too much competition and too little bandwidth for the rest of the world to consume yet another work of art. Why even waste your time? Ughh. Fortunately, these feelings are perfectly normal. In fact, it’s our responsibility as artists to identify emotions like these. To observe them without being overwhelmed by them. And to figure out how to domesticate them, as opposed to pretending they don’t exist. I read a great article written by an addiction psychotherapist, who said that emotions come and go like guests who come to visit. Some are welcome and we’re delighted to see them, others, not so much. Sometimes they leave sooner than we would like, other times they stay way past the point when we want them to leave. But eventually they all leave. Love that. And so, anytime you notice these feelings of futility starting to course through your artistic veins, empty yourself of expectation. Zero out your emotional board. Choose to make art for yourself, knowing that you can’t guarantee that anybody else will give a shit. Choose to make art to make yourself proud, knowing the everybody else is too busy getting ahead to care about you. Choose to make to make meaning, since most people probably aren’t even thinking about you enough to judge you anyway. And remember to keep passion in play. Because when you’re sitting alone in a room throwing frisbees out the window all day, passion might be the only fuel you have to keep going. Do you complain about the wind, hope the wind will stop or adjust your sails?
You have ruined my sense of reality. I just finished reading a novel about a husband who kidnaps his wife for ransom. In the final chapter, there’s a powerful passage, in which the woman comes to terms with her new reality. “It’s a big blow, finding out a person isn’t who you thought they were, that the world isn’t the way you thought it was. You’re living your life under certain assumptions, and then you find out they’re all wrong. You thought you were walking on firm ground, but you’re really walking through a swamp of shit.” I know that moment. It’s sad and jarring you feel betrayed and you start to think you don’t understand the world anymore. I’m reminded of when I quit my first job. I spent an hour writing an earnest, thoughtful letter of resignation to my bosses, thanking them for believing in me, even requesting a face to face meeting so I could share my appreciation in person. Pretty professional, don’t you think? The bosses ignored me for two weeks. Literally, not a word. No acknowledgement. No exit interview. Just silence. Unbelievable. It really bothered me. I felt empty and invisible. Not because I was expecting balloons and cake, but a simple goodbye would have been enough. Jesus. Grant me that much. The point is, life is full of disappointment. As much as we’d like to remove the teeth from the cruel bite of reality, we can’t pretend that the world is different than it is. But that shouldn’t keep us from doing our best to make sense of it all. Because odds are, in the end, the majority of the tally marks will be in the win column. Are you shielding yourself from the sharp edges of reality?
Buffer yourself against disillusionment. There’s a clear relationship between creativity and addiction. In fact, there are many ways to approach recovery much like art. I was reading the memoir of a recovering junkie who explained that addicts often struggle to cope with an external world that will not submit to their imagined demands. As the old saying goes, an addict is a piece of shit around which the whole world revolves. Interesting. Sounds like the creative process to me. That’s why this movie is a perfect illustration of the gap between our beloved expectations and life’s actual intentions. Dewey was a natural born rock start who got kicked out of his band because his onstage antics unnerve his band mates and the crowd. And now he’s been reduced to a washed up, bitter, angry substitute teacher. But what he didn’t realize is that in the same way that the solar system is not obligated to provide us with the sun, the marketplace is under no such obligation to embrace our next creation. And so, if we are to buffer ourselves against disillusionment, we have to empty ourselves of expectation. We literally have to expect nothing except the satisfaction of doing something awesome. It takes a lot of time and practice and patience get to a point where that’s enough for us. But once we do, it’s a lot less likely that our dreams will be shattered on the rocks of disappointment. Are your expectations serving or frustrating you?
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