by Christine Kane
Several years ago, I went to Nashville to do some writing appointments with other songwriters. At this point in my career, I had only done a little bit of co-writing, and I was tentative and scared. I didn’t know what to expect from a co-writing situation. I had been “set-up” on a series of co-writes in a series of offices over a series of days.
Just to give you a background — as a performing songwriter, I typically write all my own songs, record them, and then perform them. In Nashville, or Los Angeles, or New York, most of the writers I know have publishing deals — which means that they don’t write songs for themselves. They write songs for publishing companies to pitch to major label artists to record. This is an over-simplified picture, but you get the idea.
The songwriters who perform their own stuff can’t imagine being put in an office from 10 until 7 each day with a random co-writer trying to “crank out” a hit song. And the songwriters who have publishing deals think that the performing songwriters may be a little too self-absorbed and “artsy.” Though this, again, is oversimplified, I’ve heard pretty much those exact words from each type about the other. (I think each has a bit of envy and awe for the other as well.)
So, this trip, my beginning attempt to enter into the co-writing world of Nashville, was horrible. One writer was really into this schmaltzy love song that he had begun as he walked in the door. I didn’t like it at all, but was too scared to say anything, and I kept thinking, “Lord, I hope this doesn’t become a hit because then my name will be attached to it forever!” Another writer told me after an hour that she couldn’t write with me because I was too much of an artist, and that I’d have to “dumb -up” my songs if I wanted to co-write. Other writers shared other opinions of me, and by my last night in Nashville I was laying in bed at a friend’s house feeling like a complete loser and so totally out of place and stupid for even thinking I could co-write.
I called my friend Lisa Zimmerman who had been in the music business in New York City for years. (Lisa is now a minister and a great counselor.) She listened to me yammer on about all of my trials and hardships. When I was done she simply said, “It’s okay, honey. They’re not your tribe. That’s all.” She was compassionate and soft. But she didn’t buy into my drama. It ended there. “You’re not in the right place for you right now.” That’s all.
The biggest gift in that moment was that she didn’t do what so many of us would do, which is make them wrong. A natural response (especially from another performing songwriter) might be, “All those writers with their publishing deals — they don’t know art! Listen to the crap that’s on the radio. Do you want to be writing that? These people are only in it for the money. They’re probably Republicans!” And then after making them wrong, continue the diatribe and make you right. “You see? You’re an artist. You don’t do it for the money. Those losers can’t understand your subtle and sublime writing style. You’re brilliant!” etc, etc.
What Lisa did that night was create space. Since that time, I’ve learned that when you find yourself in a less-than-perfect situation in your life and you can walk away from it without drama or judgment, a huge amount of space opens up. This is not about how “It’s not nice to criticize people.” It’s about how it’s possible to change your mind, make a mistake, leave an uncomfortable situation without weighing it down with the added density of criticism, judgment, and your own very bad translations of the situation.
So why would you want space? Because drama and criticism and judgment muck up the works. They distract you from the truth. Because when there’s space, you can actually hear your heart and your intuition, and you can be more creative, and ultimately make better choices. If you consistently get all puffy with self-righteousness, you never allow for the lessons to unfold and any deeper insights about the situation to arrive. (In this case, I simply wasn’t ready to co-write. I didn’t know enough about the process, or about myself as a writer. What a huge blow to my ego. It would’ve been so much easier to make them wrong. )
Now, I know the phrase “Not Your Tribe” might bring up some existential debate about how we are “ALL ONE TRIBE” and that “EVERYONE IS CONNECTED” and other such bumper sticker wisdom. Yes, I believe we are. I believe this with all my heart and soul on the highest level. However, most of the people who really LIVE in this truth moment to moment are considered enlightened, and since I don’t claim to be enlightened yet, I am relegated to learning these truths in a world where people still look separate to me. And many of the other people who tout this truth with “ALL ONE” stickers on their vans, also seem to conveniently have an ounce of pot in the back of the van, which I believe, might help them live in that reality with a lot more ease. If you took away the pot, and put them in a room with, say Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura, then maybe the ‘Not Your Tribe’ idea would work better for them than “ALL ONE!” (Just a thought.)
I hear Lisa’s voice say, “It’s okay, honey. They’re not your tribe,” whenever I realize I’ve made a choice that isn’t quite in alignment with my values. Or if I find myself at a party that doesn’t feel right to me. Or if I choose to walk out of a movie that’s too violent or disparaging. It’s not my tribe. It’s not where I want to be. It’s not for my highest and best. And it won’t serve anyone if I toxify (spell-check doesn’t like this word, but you know what I mean) the space with my opinions and criticisms.