What’s your gift?

Time for a trivia challenge.

Think “1970s.” Down select to “music groups.”

Who comes to mind?

Chicago, the Jackson Five, Earth Wind and Fire?

Excellent choices.

For many, the brother/sister duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter will be on the list. The Carpenters hold the distinction of being one of the best-selling music acts in history with a distinctively soft music style that was a sharp contrast to the loud and wild rock of the decade.

Karen died in 1983 of an eating disorder. She was just 33.

Even the most ardent music critics characterize her voice and the Carpenter style as among the country’s finest. And so would her fans. But, despite wide-spread acclaim for her obvious gift and natural talent, it may be something that, on various levels, she never accepted.

In a recent interview*, brother Richard was asked if Karen understood what a good voice she had. His answer was that both he and Karen realized they could do just about anything musically and that, at some level, she knew about her gift. Yet he said, “I don’t really know.”

And then he added, “You know, being human, we do tend to take things for granted. So, I honestly can’t answer that one. I’ve tried.”

It’s always interesting to me how others see talents in us that we overlook or diminish. Wow, what a wonderful gift they’re giving us.

It’s safe to say that taking our talents for granted and not using them isn’t the best place to be. Neither is being haughtily arrogant. But, if you placed these two approaches on a continuum, being in the middle isn’t necessarily the place to be either.

Perhaps this is another call to be a contribution in the world, being less concerned what that is or how credit is bestowed. Not waiting for all the circumstances to be right and for all the stars to align, but just to be a contribution.

To become carpenters ourselves, building others up and encouraging them.

To sing our song and to help others sing theirs.

*     *     *

[Another post about being a contribution can be found here.]

*Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 25, 2009
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Ideas that just “drop in”

Like many people, I’m fascinated by how creative types find their ideas. (Or maybe that should be how creative ideas find people to express them, but that takes us down a totally a different rabbit trail.)

A recent broadcast of Diane Rehm’s popular radio show on NPR shed a little light on the topic. Her guest was Carole King, probably best known as a singer from the 1960s whose distinctive sound and style created the 1971 chart-topping Tapestry album, a record (and now a CD) that remains popular even today.

Despite her acclaim as a performer, in her heart, King is a songwriter, pure and simple. It’s a fact borne out in dozens of her tunes that have been sung by such divergent artists as Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, the Monkeys, and Celine Dion.

King’s lyrics tell stories, and her music—a pop and folk infused mix—brings them to life. One of her best known songs, “You’ve Got A Friend,” is particularly soulful and was popularized by James Taylor in 1971. Listening to the words makes one wonder how the song came about—a question that didn’t escape Rehm who posed it to King during the interview.

“It just ‘dropped in,’ ” King said.

“When I sat down at the piano,” King recalled, “that song just ‘came,’ and I’ve always considered it a gift. And I’m glad it came through me… It has touched a lot of people.”

Others have explained their creative sources using images. Merle Shain, Canadian author and journalist, wrote about it this way in her book, When Lovers Are Friends:

 

Poets talk of “having lines land on them” and claim that what they write is hanging in the air for anyone to reach. When someone asked William Blake where he got his ideas, he said that he stuck his finger through the floor of heaven and pulled them down.

King went on to use the “dropped in” phrase at least twice more. When asked to explain, she likened it to writing a letter, but not knowing exactly what to say. Then, suddenly, you find the words effortlessly coming out of the pen and onto the paper. For her, it happens at the piano—suddenly music just comes out.

Franz Kafka, noted German fiction writer, explained his own down-to-earth approach to writing:

There is no need to leave the house. Stay at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be perfectly still and alone. The world will unmask itself to you, it can’t do otherwise.

Creativity can be thought of as an intuitive process, nurtured through prayer, contemplation, walks in nature, etc. Sometimes the ideas come as hunches or inklings of something to do. At other times, in the case of Carole King, they come as complete songs or ideas. We do know that the more we act on our intuitive hunches, the stronger and more readily available they become.

For me, it’s a sort of “let go of Jake and just let things be, without judgment or conditions.”

Perhaps it is the rabbit trail we didn’t go down: maybe there are all these ideas just swirling around in the universe—just waiting for someone who is ready to hear them.

Don’t know for sure, but it just might be!