"Does it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?"
This quote is from the song ‘In The Blood’ from the album ‘The Search For Everything’ by John Mayer. On this record, Mayer speaks about his journey through psychotherapy and his examination of what makes him who he is. It’s fascinating to consider to what extent we can break free of the stories of our lives and the meanings that we have attached to them. When I began my coaching with Mo, I discovered the empowerment and freedom that I had always craved, to become the best version of myself. This in turn enabled me to begin doing my best work as a creative and as a coach and songwriting teacher.
The name ‘In the Blood’ speaks of our joint passion for art, songwriting and coaching that transforms lives and the interconnection between these things.
"With art, we surrender to being more truly ourselves"
About 10 years ago I asked my friend Julie, who is the manager of the local bookshop, which was the best book in the shop about self transformation. Without hesitation she gave me Julia Cameron‘s book ‘The Artists Way’. Since then I’ve been through three copies, two I have given away to other people, and one fell apart from overuse.
Cameron takes us through our own art and creativity on the heroes journey, from heartbreak to healing, from resistance to acceptance, from shame to surrender and from troubles to transformation.
Back in the 1980s I had the opportunity to ask the spiritual teacher Ram Dass “what is power?”. He closed his eyes and thought for a long moment, and when he open them again he said “power is the ability to surrender”. To surrender, means simply developing the ability to ‘be-with’, to be with it all, to be with everything exactly the way it is and exactly the way it’s not. This includes events and circumstances and other people and, most importantly, ourselves. The more able we are to fully accept ourselves, the more free we are to express, invent, and create.
"The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink"
Blood into ink. This has multiple meanings for me. Songwriters do need to work hard. I’m not a fan of the idea that as artists we have to beat ourselves up all the time, and I am anti the concept of a songwriter as a ‘tortured soul’. However, you have to work hard to realise your best work. Songs need redrafting and crafting and crafting and re-drafting. By researching process and craft, and studying the form and content of other songwriters and by auditioning song shapes and individual lines over and over again, until we find the exact right form or rhyme or melody or word…we learn to do our best work.
This quote also has meaning for me in terms of our desire to create and to share stories and human experiences through song. If ‘blood’ is about being human, ‘into ink’ is about a piece of arts ability to express what it means to be human. That’s how I personally think of my own songwriting these days and my interest in the purpose of song. Songs can tell stories of what it means to be human, and create moments of shared experience between us all.
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us"
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love Emerson, his passion for nature and his commitment to individual freedom. All the coaching I do with people, individually, in groups and on programmes, is directed towards our freedom, the freedom to be and to become. Over the past 35 years I’ve probably coached close to 10,000 people and the thing they most shared in common is their longing to free of their perceived limitations.
So how do we access what lies within us? Self reflection, reflexive practices, a great support network and a coach who can point out our blind-spots and be a companion on our journey.
This is the true joy of coaching: the privilege of accompanying another as they achieve their goals and fulfil their potential.
"What would you do, if you knew that you could not fail?"
I read the Gilbert book (Big Magic: Creative Living), as soon as it came out in 2016 and it changed my life. It coincided with the launch of my (then) new Masters Programme in Songwriting at ICMP (where I am Head of Songwriting) and I immediately made it a set text on the Creative Process Module.
Gilbert’s constant cheer leading for ‘making things’ purely for pleasure and simply because we are human and we want to, helped me to separate my creativity away from the potential success that my songs may or may not achieve. This line of reasoning was SO refreshing for a professional songwriter to read.
I believe songwriters have been bogged down for decades with an over attachment to money. It is not the case that we should not be paid for our work. However, in my opinion, our sense of worth as creatives working in contemporary music, has become too critically attached to how much money each song makes and/or how big the possible audience is perceived to be. Freeing our songwriting from these expectations, often allows the songs to become what they want to be and in turn allows them to achieve their ultimate best form and then to be successful as a result. No one writes more meaningfully and helpfully about creativity than Gilbert in my view.
"You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours"
Like Annie, I began my professional career as a clinical psychologist, and just like Annie I found that psychology and psychotherapy only seemed to strangle people’s innate ability to fulfil their potential by labelling them, classifying them and defining them as this thing or another.
Since I left psychology I have developed a way of being-there for the people who come to talk to me that I call narrative transformation. Coaching is a transformational journey we take together as co-creators, each of us sharing our discoveries along the way. I’ve coached singer songwriters, artists, chief executives, doctors and nurses. I have learned about myself from each of them.
So what does it mean to claim the events of your life?
The Spanish thinker Otega Y Gassett said;
“All we are given is possibilities to make of ourselves one thing or another”.
To claim the events of our lives means, at least to me, to own every event, to be responsible for them, not to experience myself as a victim of circumstances, and to see every event as a possibility rather than an obstacle or a barrier. Applying this approach to our creativity is truly life changing, and allows our ‘best work’ to come through the space that we have cleared.
"If it's too loud, turn it up"
This is one of my favourite quotes and it’s from an online seminar I was lucky to attend, given by Tori Amos in the summer of 2020. I can relate this quote to how we operate in our lives and think it’s important to tune in to our most difficult experiences, desires and fears. Rather than running away from the things that challenge us – let’s look at them and lean into them and work out why. If we shine a big light on our fears and speak loud that truth of ours that may upset or challenge others, I think we dispel it’s power over us and we become stronger.
I have learnt this lesson time and time again in the yoga room where the postures that we least want to do, (where the fear lies in our body), are the ones that we need the most. And I have learnt this lesson facing the grief of losing my baby daughter Liberty, when I finally recorded and performed a song for her as ‘Liberty’s Mother’ during 2019. www.libertysmother.com Maybe it’s because I am a songwriter that the only way to finally overcome my grief was to announce it to the world through song.
Artistically, if we turn up the interesting, exciting and perhaps innovative aspects of our work that make us who we are, we generally distil our creative identity into something more rich and unique.
"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong"
Joseph Chilton Pearce
Chilton Pearce’s book ‘Crack in the Cosmic Egg’ blew my mind! He grapples with the relationship between our experience, the reality our mind creates and the actual reality ‘out there. This idea, that our thinking immediately becomes part of the thing we are thinking about, is fundamental to my approach to coaching and to loosening the grip of our stories. The notion that something is wrong and something else is right, is a story and a trap that has us in it’s grip from day 1. When we truly get that there’s nothing wrong with being wrong, it doesn’t mean anything about us, that things are the way they are and therefore nothing is wrong, then we are free to fully express ourselves and our possibilities. Creating and making are two of the most important aspects of my life. I’m 71 years old and in my last year of a PhD in the transformational potential of Solo Autobiographical Theatre. It’s taken this doctoral programme for me to finally discover myself as an artist.
So, who is an artist? In my view, it’s someone who brings fresh eyes to each situation and creates everything anew. In art, there is no right or wrong, only the ability to see what’s so, right in front of us. I believe an artist is someone who does not bow to meet other people’s expectations, someone who beats their own drum and walks their own path, someone who knows that pressure only arises from other people’s perceptions and expectations of what they think it means to create value.
"The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark"
Agnes de Miller
I have been teaching songwriting for over 15 years and am one of the most experienced songwriting teachers in the UK with strong international connections in the field. I work with colleagues from Berklee, The Songwriting Studies Network, Belmont University in Nashville, the Nashville Songwriting Association and Sodajerker, and the late and very great Ralph Murphy, was a dear friend of mine.
Having taught songwriting, and discussed songwriting education in detail with colleagues for 15 years, alongside designing and leading professional diplomas, BAs, MAs and countless one off seminars, evening courses and summer schools, I have finally come to conclusion, that I have no business telling anyone how to do anything within creativity.
I don’t know how other people should write their songs. I can however, confidently and expertly, coach songwriters to do their best work. I am very experienced at holding hands with artists who prepare to leap off into the dark.
"Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame"
Jong was one of the early second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s. Can a man be a feminist? The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau thinks so. He said:
“It’s simply saying that I believe in the equality of men and women and that we still have an awful lot of work to do to get there. That’s like saying the sky is blue and the grass is green.”
I think I’m a feminist too. In coaching I stand for the absolute equality between men and women. This quote of Jong’s speaks to me of personal responsibility, of taking ownership of your life rather than being a victim of circumstance.
I had a kind of awakening experience when I was in my mid thirties. I realised totally and completely that I was responsible for my life and not anyone else, how it was so far, and how it was going to turn out, and in that moment I saw that I was whole and complete – nothing wrong, nothing to fix, nothing broken, no one and nothing to blame. I was free to be myself. That moment informs every coaching conversation I have with people.
"All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life"
Mary Caroline Richards was an American poet, potter, and writer who wrote that, “poets are not the only poets” and that artists don’t leave their art at the studio. She believed that we all have the possibility to lead lives that are “the poetry of personhood”. I believe that too.
I have been writing poetry since I was 14. My book: ‘Tao, The Narrative Way’, is a collection of 81 poems about coaching based on the ancient Chinese text the Tao de Ching. In the 1970s, I founded a folk club and a folk festival, in the early 2000s I was in a playback theatre company and in 2012 I started to perform solo on stage. Slowly but surely my life and I have become the poetry of personhood. My art is my life and this is what ‘In The Blood’ is about – supporting others in creating the big art of their life.