The benefits of comparison

This is Part II of a blogversation on the Artist Soapbox site about comparing ourselves to other artists. Read Part I, by Mara Thomas too.
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Over churros at Cocoa Cinnamon, Mara and I spent some time talking about what she termed “low-frequency comparison.”  Low-frequency comparison is the kind of comparison you use to make yourself feel bad – a self-flagellating tool. “High-frequency comparison” on the other hand is the kind of comparison you use to encourage yourself – an inspirational tool. Low-frequency’s easy to slide into. It’s familiar, simple and doesn’t require us to make any changes in behavior or thought patterns. Low-frequency comparison allows more of the same…and more of the same is easier, the path of least resistance.
So, if comparison sling-shots you directly into low-frequency territory, then I totally agree with Mara, just don’t go there. Don’t do that to yourself. Stop comparing immediately. If you consistently race towards low-frequency, that’s a signal to investigate your own awesomeness for awhile and learn to embrace your self-worth. That’s a signal that you need to fill up your self-love bucket. Do that, please. Focus on reframing your vision of yourself because that internal re-tooling will pay you dividends over and over. You have worth. You deserve to believe that.
If however, you’re feeling pretty solid about your value as a human and artist, and if you’d like to make positive changes, then open yourself to some high-frequency comparison. Look around at people you admire (you don’t need to start with the superstars, there are likely fabulous peeps right in your local orbit) and see what those you admire are doing. Is anyone living a life closer to the one you want to live? Is anyone making art that’s closer to the art you want to make? Is there anyone you can use as an example or model for whatever changes you want to make?
Re-orientating to high-frequency comparison has helped me enormously and in significant ways. It’s my go-to fixit. I think, “What would this person do right now? How would that person solve this problem/approach this mess/respond/decide/etc? What would the person-I-admire say right now?” And the ideas start flowing because people are doing MANY THINGS better than I am — good for them! —  and their examples teach me, inspire me, encourage me to try.
Ultimately, I’m still me being me, and I’ll do it my way, but I feel like I have more fuel in the tank. Because to be honest, in several areas of my life, I’ve run out of ideas. Over the last few decades, I solved problems ‘my own way’ and that didn’t work or the outcome was subpar. I have blindspots and tangles that I can’t work out. I’m ready for new ways of doing and being and I’m surrounded by inspirational people who are doing and being those things. It’s thrilling to see others thriving, living with integrity and purpose, aligning their inner compass and their outward actions, eating vegetables, and quitting nasty habits like biting their nails. I want to do that too.
Although low-frequency comparison flickers on the edge of my perception more frequently than I’d like, I have many wonderful high-frequency days when I compare myself to the Patti Smiths of the world and think, “Wow, I’m gonna infuse my life with a little of her creative bad-assery…..so…WWPD (what would Patti do)?”
WWYD (What would you do?)

Five for wheels-turning

So, just fyi, I’ll be off next week for good behavior, and return again on Monday, Oct. 15.

In the meantime, if you’d like to do some reading related to theatre, art-making, feminism, vulnerability or empathy, see the list of five below. I’d love to know if you have reactions to any of these. They are definitely some of my favorites for wheels turning and inspiration sparking.

Send me your thoughts and your inspirations too. I’d love your recommendations.

#1. The other four on this list are links to online posts, but the first one is a book (you might have heard about) titled How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Read this book. You will laugh, you will be stopped in your tracks, and your eyebrows will be singed with fierce feminist commentary. (Beware, however, you’ll need a high tolerance for vulgarity, sex talk, and British slang.) Moran, hailed as the ‘the British version of Tina Fey’ made me giggle and gasp with her straight-talking, as well as inspiring a surge of righteous anger about the world we live in today. A great read. Apparently, she has a new book coming out too, and I am excited.

Here’s the blurb:

There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain…

Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?

Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, TopShop, motherhood and beyond.

#2. A very long, but amazing keynote speech by Polly Carl at the online journal, Howl Round: Finding the Gift and Making Theater for Everyone. If you are a theatre-maker, you should read it, and let’s talk.

During my fifteen years of making new plays, I’ve watched our field become more obsessed with the transactional and less obsessed with making good art. If I’m here for no other reason today, it’s to push you as artists and people who love the theater to rethink this momentum.

#3. From 2010, but still relevant and fabulous, Lauren Gunderson’s A Openly Optimistic Letter to Performing Artists Freaking Out About Relevance During Hard Times. It’s a call to arms and a reminder of the necessity of storytelling for illustrating and shaping the world we strive to create.

Don’t let people say “art is escapism” and think that our feelings are hurt. Let us say, “We’re not escaping life, we’re stepping out to remember what life we want.” We imagine a new world so that we may see it first, then we set it right.

This is how we, the artists and producers and patrons of a rich and powerful country, are essential. And we are. This is how we, the masons of storytelling, engineers of myth and meaning hold up a nation to itself.

#4. A lovely piece about vulnerability from the Washington Post: A love note to the workaholic by Brené Brown. I have the quote below on my desk, and I read it everyday. Brené Brown is AWESOME.

It is not weakness, and the uncertainty we face every day is not optional, whether with our families or with our careers. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage, the clarity of our purpose and the fullness of our life. As Madeleine L’Engle writes, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability . . . To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

#5. An old favorite of mine about the power of babies: Fighting Bullying with Babies, a NY Times post by David Bornstein.

The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet. No one fully understands why. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, has evaluated Roots of Empathy in four studies. “Do kids become more empathic and understanding? Do they become less aggressive and kinder to each other? The answer is yes and yes,” she explained. “The question is why.”

Wishing you all the best. Happy Autumn!