TITLE: Movin' Out, Twyla Tharp, and Inspiration AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 11, 2008 7:37 AM DESC: ----- BODY: a scene from the Broadway musical Movin' Out Last month my wife and I had the good fortune to see a Broadway touring company perform the Tony Award-winning Movin' Out, a musical created by Twyla Tharp from the music of Billy Joel. I've already mentioned that I am a big fan of Billy Joel, so the chance to listen to his songs for two hours was an easy sell. Some of you may recall that I also wrote an entry way back called Start with a Box that was inspired by a wonderful chapter from Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. So even if I knew nothing else about Tharp, Movin' Out would have piqued my interest. This post isn't about the show, but my quick review is: Wow. The musicians were very good -- not imitating Joel, but performing his music in a way that felt authentic and alive. (Yes, I sang along, silently to myself. My wife said she saw my lips moving!) Tharp managed somehow to tell a compelling story by stitching together a set of unrelated songs written over the long course of Joel's career. I know all of these songs quite well, and occasionally found myself thinking, "But that's not what this song means...". Yet I didn't mind; I was hearing from within the story. And I loved the dance itself -- it was classical even when modern, not abstract like Merce Cunningham's Patterns in Space and Sound. My wife knows dance well, and she was impressed that the male dancers in this show were actually doing classical ballet. (In many performances, the men are more props than dancers, doing lifts and otherwise giving the female leads a foil for their moves.) Now I see that Merlin Mann is gushing over Tharp and The Creative Habit. Whatever else I can say, Mann is a great source of links... He points us to a YouTube video of Tharp talking about "failing well", as well as the first chapter of her book available on line. Now you can read a bit to see if you want to bother with the whole book. I echo Mann's caveat: we both liked the first chapter, but we liked the rest of the book more. Since my post three years ago on The Creative Habit, I've been meaning to return to some of the other cool ideas that Tharp writes about in this book. Seeing Movin' Out caused me to dig out my notes from that summer, and seeing Mann's posts has awakened my desire to write some of the posts I have in mind. The ideas I learned in this book relate well to how I write software, teach, and learn. Here is a teaser that may connect with agile software developers and comfort students preparing for final exams:
The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone.
Oddly, this quote brings to mind an analogy to sports. Basketball coaches often tell players not to rely on having a great shooting night in order to contribute to the team. Shooting is like inspiration; it comes and it goes, a gift of capricious gods. Defense, on the other hand, is always within the control of the player. It is grunt work, made up of effort, attention, and hustle. Every player can contribute on defense every night of the week. For me, that's one of the key points in this message from Tharp: control what you can control. Build habits within which you work. Regular routine -- weekly, daily, even hourly -- are the scaffolding that keep you focused on making something. What's better, everyone can create and follow a routine. While I sit and wait for the lightning bolt of inspiration to strike, I am not producing code, inspired or otherwise. Works of inspiration happen while I am working. Working as a matter of routine increases the chances that I will be producing something when the gods smile on me with inspiration. And if they don't... I will still be producing something. -----