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The following is the text of a speech prepared for the 65th Annual Barbara Geslock Woman’s Forum in Fredericksburg, VA – presented 19 March 2016

You can see from my resume that I’m an artist.    A singer.    A creator.  By choice I live a life of creativity.      I am many other things – a grandmother, a wife, a nurturer, a goofball, a mentor, a lover, etc.     So are you all.     But I’m fundamentally a creator.   I find creative solutions.   I create partnerships.  I believe I always have been creative. And often I get questions like “How do you come up with that stuff?”    or “How do you do that?” or folks who say “I’m not like you I can’t do that” or “I don’t have any creativity”.

Poppycock.    We are all inspired.    Every single day you make creative choices.    You artfully created your look today.    You might have spent time creating the perfect brow or the right accessory to match your vision of how it all appears.     You have likely been creative in the kitchen.   I mean who hasn’t substituted something for a missing ingredient?

I’m guessing a fair number of you have creatively presented a gift to a loved one or agonized over exactly which shade of blue was “right” for the new couch cushions.

So let’s get rid of the idea that you aren’t creative right here and now.  It’s simply a matter of degree.  And consciousness.

To prepare for this speech I started thinking “How DO I do that?   Where DOES it come from?”   It’s as much about finding the answers for my own journey as to translate it for you.

Now, I know in MY life some of it comes from being a military brat.   A transient.   One who moves often and regularly.   There are strengths that are born of that sort of youth and I embrace many of them.   I’m resilient.   I make friends easily.   I adapt to multiple cultures and situations.   That makes it easier for me to understand challenges and assess them fairly quickly.   It also makes it easy to connect people to people based on their interests and needs.

Patterns have been identified that brats lean toward careers in service to others and self-employment in avoidance of direct subservience to authority figures and also favoring creative and artistic professions that offer more independence.   While I laugh at how accurate those studies are – it certainly rings true for me.

(And incidentally, I’m the most efficient packer I know.)

And my time in the military has given me tools to help me be creative.   I can never diminish the communication, leadership and technical skills I learned while in the Air Force.  That education was well learned and has been applied over and over in my creative life.

Another way I’ve been able to appear more creative than most is I’ve lived in four other countries over 13 years of my life.   It has definitely broadened my knowledge and understanding of different cultures and points of view.   I continue to nurture that exposure and source by travelling extensively and have now visited more than 130 countries.   And counting.   I find the sights, foods, and sounds of other cultures both humbling and inspiring on many levels.   And I mean humbling as an individual and as an American.  It’s a challenge to capture those travels in photography and art, in written journals and recipes to mimic.

But neither of those is going to help YOU find your creativity is it?    No.   I needed to dig a little deeper into my process and guess what I found?   Music.

We ALL have music in common don’t we.    So, let’s do a little exercise.   On the back of my shameless self-promotion card (hold one up), I want you to jot down a couple important songs in your life.   How about the song playing during your first kiss….first dance…the song playing at your wedding…your first heartbreak.    The one your Mother sang to you or you have sung to your children.    Go ahead.    Jot a couple down.

Music is an undercurrent in all our lives isn’t it?   And it’s cross cultural as well.  Irish pub songs are mournful and so is Portuguese fado. Brazilian salsa has a life of its own.  Bluegrass makes us want to tap our toes and sometimes country makes me wanna find a truck!

But for me, as a singer I’m almost always lost in a lyric.    Folks who’ve worked closely with me know I can’t help but quote a lyric applicable to any given situation.    Some are uplifting.   Some are sarcastic.    Some are funny.  Some sad.    It’s called the soundtrack to our lives.

So you know what I mean about the soundtrack right?   Our creative/right side brain – which some of you are convinced you don’t have – actively engages in linking memories to the sound of those tracks.    So let’s see what we can engage here for a moment….

The Best of Bread.  Now if you’re in a range of say…50-56…..you might have put this album on (Side A please) and let it repeat and repeat and repeat while slow dancing in the basements of our youth.     Anyone?

But one of them from that album pops into my brain more than others.  Everything I Own –

Is there someone you know you’re loving them so
But taking them all for granted. You may lose them one day,

someone takes Them away and they don’t hear the words you want to say.

Thank you David Gates for that classic that has been used all too many times as I’ve gotten older and experienced more loss.

How about this one:

Last night I said goodbye, now it seems years

I’m back in the City where nothing seems clear

But thoughts of me holding you bringing us near

Barry Manilow (Weekend in New England) sure brings back memories of teenage heartbreak for me.   Maybe you’re of a different era……but you should be getting the idea now right?

I am not only a child of the 70’s but also a child of one particularly musical-focused parent and one country fan.  So my quotes run all over the place.

So what’s my point?     I’m still regularly discovering the lyrics and quotes that inspire me.    Are you conscious of yours?  We are being just as creative as the originators of these lyrics when we apply them to current situations.     I do it instinctively now.    It’s an automatic attempt to translate the situation at hand into a specific memory which helps guide me as to how to move forward.

Here’s an example:  Sammy Cahn’s High Hopes.    That phrase

So any time you’re feelin low, stead of letting go,

just remember that ant

Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.

is absolutely perfect when you’re challenged by a project or problem at work.   It’s the ultimate understanding that if you press on you CAN accomplish this big goal – even if you’re a little old ant!

And Kenny Loggins Leap of Faith came up time and time again when I was in my 40’s and feeling like I had taken too much of a risk leaving fulltime employment and setting out on my own.

Once in a life, you can find a time to see,

and you get to turn it down, turn around,

temporary sanity.  And then the mountain disappears without a trace,

all it took, was a sudden leap of faith

For a time it became my mantra.

As I’ve gotten a little older and, hopefully, wiser, this Paul Simon phrase seems almost prescient:

Paranoia runs deep in the heartland.

I think it’s all overdone.

Exaggerating this – exaggerating that – we don’t     have no fun.

I can’t tell you how often I think of this lyric when watching people get worked up in meetings or when trying to understand a problem in order to fix it. …  Or even sometimes when watching the news.

The wonderful Stephen Sondheim has written lyrics that have stuck with me for a long time but the haunting “Losing My Mind” from Follies pops in all the time.

The sun comes up…..I think about you.

The coffee cup….I think about you.

And do you know?   That’s why I’m losing my mind?

Even though it was intended as a song about lost love, it reminds me of those I’ve lost that have been important in my life.  And that brings me peace – to know they are with me.

Do you think Karen Carpenter, at 20, was old enough to truly understand Rainy Days and Mondays?

Talkin to myself and feelin old.

Sometimes I’d like to quit.

Nothin ever seems to fit.

I know I THOUGHT I understood it at 20 but it sure has more resonance now.   Right?   In any case, it’s not just rainy days that make that song pop into my head and remind me I have a choice to feel old or quit – or not.

In my personal search for sanity and peace, I often think of the classic Richard Rodgers line

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.

You’ve got to be taught from year to year.

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

It brings two different situations to mind and can be used in both in my life.  First, as I watch grandchildren grow, I can’t help but notice the ways they learn both good and bad in the world.    This song reminds me to bring them more positive than negative at all times.

And sometimes that song is the only way I make it through the news.   It helps me understand the struggles and pain that’s reported and can sometimes seem overwhelming.

Then there’s Nancy Griffith – do you know her?   She wrote many classic songs including the very well known From a Distance.    She’s an amazing singer/songwriter.  I can’t see a homeless person without hearing the lyric from her Down n Outer:

Can you spare the time?  Can you spare a dime?
Can you look me in the eye?   I’m down’n’out
And I am lonely  Do you ever think of me on Sunday?
No, I don’t live across the water
Hey, I live right here on this corner
Just a bank account away from America

It reminds me to be more compassionate and empathetic in everything I do.   Even in my hardest times music can inspire me to be grateful.

Now SOMETIMES I contort those lyrics in my brain and just use the tune.   If you’re worked directly with me you’ve no doubt heard me manipulate a classic Patsy Cline into

Shoot me now, get it over.   Kill me now, get it over.  If this doesn’t e-end soon.

Humor is a powerful tool of inspiration!

And another Nancy Griffith lyric which often pops in my head – if not my lips – is…

But you think you’ve got it made, think you’ve got it made,

think you’ve got it made.

Well you’re one blade shy of a sharp edge.

That’s an example of the sarcastic inspiration I’ve gotten from some music!   (Laugh)  This is a rare song that actually gets used in my brain as it was originally written and intended.   It’s observational.   And not a little judgmental.  But it DOES help me cut through some challenging moments with a sense of humor.

And lyrics have helped me through some tough times.    I am a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother of military men who have deployed to dangerous conditions.    The inimitable Johnny Mercer wrote the definitive song which has helped me through those times:
Nothing else to tell you, dear.  Except, each day feels like a year.

Every night I’m dreamin’ of you.  P.S. I love you.

And bless Nat King Cole and his Straighten Up and Flight Right.

Ain’t no use in divin’
What’s the use in jivin’
Straighten up and fly right
Cool down papa don’t you blow your top.

I’ve used that phrase to both calm myself down and kick myself in the ass more than a few times.

And again Kenny Loggins brings me back home over and over and over again with

It’s time I found myself, totally surrounded in your circles.

Oh, my friends.   Please Celebrate me home –

Tell me one more song that I’ll always remember,

I can recall whenever I find myself to all along.

I can make believe I’ve never gone. I can sing me home.

Do you know the book & musical Wicked?    You know the one where Gregory McGuire has updated the Wizard of Oz story with the prologue to explain the childhood of the three sister witches?    It’s the ultimate story of how we can be misunderstood and then contort our persona to become what they SAY we are instead of what is truly in our nature and hearts.

And at a key point in the story, the good, kind, unsecure green witch (from a birth deformity) says “Just look at me.   I’m limited.”     And her beautiful, vapid, catty sister tries to teach her how to be “Popular”.      But they ultimately come to the realization they are who they are because of their differences.

Wow.   Wouldn’t that be a novel idea?    To celebrate our differences and lift one another up like a rising tide?

Part of the lyrics from the show are “I’ve heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason.   Bringing something we must learn.”

How often have we heard that in our lives?    I know my grandmothers said it.    Probably a preacher along the way.    Surely a parent in teaching us a lesson have said similar.   But I’ve learned as an adult the real value is in knowing this to be true and looking for it.    It’s not the first thing I think when meeting someone but the thought is there in my subconscious.   I’ve trained myself to see that.

Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun.

Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood.

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you … because I knew you..

I have been changed for good

I try to remind myself on a regular basis how true that is.    I HAVE been changed for good because I knew you.   And many others.

So how have all these inspirations manifested in my creative life?   I truly believe using these lyrics have given me the ability to gain perspective.    Now I don’t mean the artistic/literal definition of perspective.    I mean the global, far-reaching, vision sort of perspective.  And perspective has been essential to finding the nut of the problem.

Perspective has helped me interpret lyrics as a singer.    I’ll give you an example, I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar was super popular during my teen years.    And I’ve now publicly sung that song for 4 decades.     And my perspective on life has greatly changed those lyrics and my delivery over time.

Perspective has made my fine art and photography more creative.    It challenges me to look at things from different directions and try something new and branch out.    My current show (note the front of your cards) is a good example.    I started wanting to see the local area in a more abstract and loose way.    And I’d not worked with acrylics before having been solely a watercolor artist.    But I did have photographs I really loved that I’d taken of the area and an interest in finding a way to interpret them.    And a number of fine teachers and other artists willing to share their knowledge and techniques.   It took a leap of faith to try something new and then show it.

And perspective – that illusive ability to step outside ourselves for a moment or two – has certainly helped in my creative work with multiple organizations.   Finding a creative way to help others solve problems and find ways forward.  Finding new sources and ways to bring them to the table has been a method to use my creativity in a business setting.   I live outside the box.

Let’s go back to your notes.   How have those songs of your soundtrack stuck with you?   How have they inspired you?  Do you use them and don’t realize it?    I’ll bet if you look closely you will find small kernels of inspiration in those pieces of music we have engrained in our brains and lives.

Now we know you’ve come here today to be inspired.  I challenge you to recognize and become conscious of two things…

  1. How you are ALREADY creative.   How are you already inspired by music and quotes and the things around you?
  2. How you can find inspiration in what you learn here today and apply it to whatever is happening in your life right now.

Thank you to the Woman’s Club for inviting me to speak.   Thank you for the creative journey to examine my process because I AM still learning.    And thank you to you, the audience, for playing along.   I hope you move forward with inspired creativity.

I’d like to leave you with just one more lyric to begin your day..

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone.