Why do I write? What sin to me unknown/ Dipped me in ink—my parents’ or my own?
As Alexander Pope lamented in those famous lines, writing—or any other creative activity, for that matter, be it painting, composing, or strategizing corporate takeovers—can be hard, lonely and infinitely frustrating work. And that’s especially true when creative people, as most sooner or later do, enter a period of burnout, when the ideas quit flowing and they’re cut off from the almost addictive pleasure of creation.
“The megalomaniac pleasure of creation produces a type of elation which cannot be compared with that experienced by other mortals,” wrote Edmund Bergler, a psychoanalyst in the 1950s. And as Joan Acocella pointed out in an essay in the New Yorker a few years ago, falling from that god-like state has plunged many a genius into lifelong despair, from Samuel Coleridge, who felt—and was—washed up at 32, to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who became one of America’s most celebrated novelists in his 20s and died an alcoholic Hollywood hack at 44.
Sarasota ’s cultural season kicks off this month, we asked some local creative spirits how they fight back when burnout strikes.
Richard Storm, our magazine’s architecture critic and a music reviewer for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, has a simple strategy: “I go to a trashy movie—something like
Mission: Impossible—at Parkway Cinemas [a $1 movie theater]. I don’t see a soul I know, and instead of thinking about my creative problems, I think, ‘What a stupid movie! How could that cost $125 million?’” Storm is not sure why it works, but he almost always walks out refreshed and ready to summon his muse again.
Dwight Currie has been known to seek more drastic solutions. His “checkered career” includes stints as a performing arts manager, the owner of an independent bookstore in Vermont, and now curator of programming for the Historic Asolo Theater. He’s made most of his career switches, he says, when he’s lost his zest because a job no longer challenged him creatively.
When he’s just feeling temporarily burned out, he says, “I take a walk in the woods. I live in Nokomis and I’ll go to OscarSchererState Park. I don’t know a scrub jay from a turkey vulture, but that’s not the point. I’ll walk along and think, ‘Oh, that’s a pretty bird,’ or ‘I wonder how that tree fell over.’” I’m just out there in la-la land, and that takes me out of the turmoil.”
It’s hard to imagine a more frenetic schedule than Leif Bjaland’s. The artistic director of the Florida West Coast Symphony holds a similar position with the Waterbury Symphony in Connecticut and has a house in San Francisco
as well. As a professional, even when he’s exhausted, “I can put my head down and soldier on,” he says, but he tries to make time to retreat and regroup, whether it’s a swim in the Gulf in the midst of a busy March season or a few weeks at home every summer in San Francisco, where he reads, relaxes and “gets dirty in the garden.”
“Creation is giving a part of yourself,” he says, “and you can give just so much without replenishment.” When does he know he’s getting replenished? “When I look in my head and there’s no music there,” he says. That rare inner quiet means he’s restoring his creative forces.
Usually, says TV videographer Bill Wagy, “The camera is a buffer between me and events,” but two years ago, after a grueling week recording the devastation of Hurricane Charley, he found himself “emotionally and physically drained.” Known for his unquenchable enthusiasm, he could “barely drag myself out of bed to face my next project.” That told him, “I have to get on a plane and go somewhere.”
So he flew alone to New York, where he alternated between watching Broadway shows and the tennis at the U.S. Open. Not only did it remind him “There’s a wider world out there,” but “it inspired me to see the actors and the players—they were giving it everything they’ve got, and that re-energized me.”
Rob Brady’s Robrady Designs develops and designs products for companies from start-ups to Fortune 500s, in fields from medical and marine to transportation. He never runs out of creative ideas for products, he says, but sometimes he has trouble coming up with creative business strategies. “I didn’t want to keep learning from my mistakes,” says Brady. He decided he could benefit from someone else’s ideas and viewpoint, so he asked a “trusted confidant” with a “tremendous amount of business experience” to be his professional coach. “He provides me with a different perspective,” Brady explains. The two meet periodically and also talk by phone and e-mail; sometimes Brady will ask his coach to put his thoughts into a memo. “He’s not a consultant that I’m delegating to,” Brady emphasizes. “He’s someone who’s making me smarter.”
After leaving her long-time position as executive director of the Sarasota County Arts Council, Patricia Caswell went to a retreat in Barre, Mass., this summer where she—and 100 other people—spent a week in total silence, rising at 5:30 a.m. to meditate together all day long. At night, she could not read, call her family, or even make eye contact with her roommate. The silence was broken only by a nightly lecture on meditation.
At first, Caswell kept thinking, “I don’t belong here!’” But one day she glanced in a mirror and was startled to see how unlined and tranquil her face was—“like I’d had Botox.” Caswell says she’s read that people “have 97,000 thoughts a day,” and meditation “gets rid of the unnecessary thoughts so you can have important thoughts—or insights.” It also allows you to separate yourself from your thoughts and emotions, so you can observe them dispassionately and gain new perspective. Now, whatever her next career step may be, she’s confident that meditation will “be the thing that will continue to creatively recharge me.”
And what do we journalists do when our creative engine sputters? That’s easy—we just call up some of the smartest creative types in town and ask them what they would do. Eureka!
Out of the Office “I’ve just discovered Chris Browne’s new blog (www.chrisbrowne2.blogspot.com). It’s crammed with good stuff—stories of his life, terrific paintings of commonplace objects and new cartoons. It shows other sides of Chris than his Hagar the Horrible work.”—senior editor (and “Mr. Chatterbox”) Robert Plunket “The Market just opened at the north end of Longboat Key, and it’s wonderful when you’re starving for a good sandwich or a cup of coffee at the espresso bar. It’s got a great butcher, a bakery, organic produce, wines and more.” (6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive, 941-383-7180)—Susan Burns, editor, Sarasota-Manatee Business
Out of the Office
“I’ve just discovered Chris Browne’s new blog (www.chrisbrowne2.blogspot.com). It’s crammed with good stuff—stories of his life, terrific paintings of commonplace objects and new cartoons. It shows other sides of Chris than his Hagar the Horrible work.”—senior editor (and “Mr. Chatterbox”) Robert Plunket
“The Market just opened at the north end of Longboat Key, and it’s wonderful when you’re starving for a good sandwich or a cup of coffee at the espresso bar. It’s got a great butcher, a bakery, organic produce, wines and more.” (6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive, 941-383-7180)—Susan Burns, editor, Sarasota-Manatee Business
“My nightlife has gained a much-needed edge, thanks to the renaissance of the Tavern on Main, once an intimidating dive, now an indie-rocking hot spot for the not-so-clean-cut under-30 crowd. It’s just what I need to let off steam: live local music, a full bar and playing billiards with the cool clientele.” (1400 Main St., (941) 952-1170.) –Hannah Wallace, editorial assistant