Is It Good To Notice What You’re Doing?
Image source: www.starburstmagazine.com
Neil Gaiman, author of Sandman, the innovative 90’s graphic novel, said something on Fresh Air that struck me. He recounted that, as a writer, no matter what he was going through he had to deal with a little voice in his head that was always telling him, “Isn’t that interesting? You can use this in a book.”
I have the joy of being both a musician and a writer. Sometimes it’s helpful to have my writer voice going while I’m making music: ”Play this…you could use that here…” Other times, though, I am unable to truly be in the moment and do what I need to do because I am thinking too much about how and what I am doing.
When I notice what I notice, when I can step outside myself and describe my interior world from a different angle, I am empowered to make choices. I have an advantage the same way that a chess player is more capable than a chess piece. The problem is that such awareness interferes with my ability to be that chess piece when it’s time for action.
How can I cry at a funeral when I’m thinking about the idea of death ceremonies, noticing how contrived everyone’s responses are, and contemplating how we’ll all be dead in 100 years so who cares? How can I eat when I think about the processes that my body is going through, from chewing to waste? And how can I play piano when I’m thinking about how I look, how I sound, and what people expect of me?
Usually, if I’m thinking about what the voice says then I’m probably not focused where I need to be. I end up making mistakes or being unable to execute certain difficult passages that require me to act faster than I can think. So these days most of my work is based on quieting the writer so the musician can get the job done.
How? One funny truth is that the little voice itself does not like to be noticed. It prefers to be the one observing. When I start observing the voice, it shuts down pretty quickly!
If that “trick” stops working, there are others. I can increase my non-language awareness by paying attention to my breathing, to the feel of the keys under my fingers, comparing distances traveled by my hands. This kind of somatic awareness quiets my mind and brings me back to the moment.
However, the descriptive voice isn’t bad, it’s just not always welcome. So I’m glad it’s there and I happily let it babble sometimes. After all, when I write about making music, it’s very helpful to have had a voice saying, “You can use this.”
Do you have the writer’s voice in your head? Does it help you, hinder you, or both? Do you ever have to quiet the voice down?