Going Inward or Reaching Outward?

I read one and a half books this past weekend. The first was Lynda Barry’s What It Is; the other, the one I haven’t finished yet, is David Brooks’s The Road to Character.

            My sister introduced me to Lynda. Amazing that I hadn’t heard of her before. She’s a cartoonist/illustrator/writer who does what I like to do: everything. She’s learned a lot about creativity by living, by creating, and, by teaching, observing, and caring about her students. She knows that if a person learns how to write (or draw, or grow a garden) they can use what they’ve learned to create in other forms. What It Is is one big collage of thoughts and instructions to get you to write, or more specifically, to tell your stories.

            Then there’s David Brooks. You may know David from his Op-Eds in The New York Times, or, if you’re like me, you enjoy the conversation he, Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff have on the PBS News Hour every Friday night. David is the Republican, Mark the Democrat, and Judy the neutral interviewer. Whenever I watch them I wish all political conversations were as smart and respectful as theirs. What a difference it would make! David’s book is about building a life based on how your resume will read VS how people would describe you at your funeral. Here’s how he puts it:

            “The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.

            Reading the two books simultaneously has been provocative for me. On the one hand, Lynda is advocating for a person to go inward, find her art, tell her story; while Brooks is writing about how looking outward and doing service for others builds character. How do we find the balance?

            I’ve always felt that my job as a musician has been to create the most honest, beautiful, and moving work that I can. Making music or writing words, or even drawing a funny picture will hopefully serve others by lifting their spirits or giving that moment meaning.

            Writers like me are constantly asking our selves who cares what I think? It’s one of the great hurdles we have to cross to get our writing done. For me, stories and songs bring people together either one-to-one, or in groups. They  place in humanity and assure us we’re not alone. That’s the job of artists.

            Service to others gives us place and meaning too. My tendency is to go inward and bring gifts back from that journey. For others, it’s more about reaching out and doing something directly for someone else. At first I worried there was a conflict until I realized there isn’t. 

Two things that happened this week. The first: nature; the second in response to Lynda Barry's wonderful book:




Maybe the caption should be "Bar's Mind is Busy"?