A newly single friend has gone on a bit of a tinder-bender lately. I’m talking a globe-trotting sex tour connecting with openly available people on an intimacy bullet-train – swipe right, doors open, go rapidly and directly to your destination.
I’ve thought a few times about asking him the secrets of a successful and satisfying hook-up with a pseudo stranger, because I think the rules would probably make good guidelines for any creative collaborators who are suddenly thrown into a room together and asked to make some magic.
Creative collaboration, in my experience (which is completely limited to the communications, marketing and events industries) is really hard. I have sat in hundreds of brainstorms, workshops, idea jams, trying to group-squeeze idea-gold out of people’s brains, and the truth is, it’s often awkward, stop-start, fraught, and disappointing. Like anything that demands instant intimacy, and ninja-level communication skills.
The most important thing I learned about creative collaboration is that you need to take your armour off. All of it. No matter who is in the room. You have to get down to skin, as quickly as possible. And not feel defensive or shy or protective. (You see why I think the free-loving ones could probably help me with a thing or two?) You can’t be turned off by someone’s foreignness, because the best creative teams are made up of really different people with different skill sets and divergent ways of thinking. Opposites, not clones. That yields a creative tension that contains massive potential – provided you don’t blow up.
The risk of explosion is what makes it an easier default, as we see in the corporate world every day (and the Republican administration) unless diversity is mandated, to work with people who are just like you, who think just like you, look like you, who went to your University, listen to the same music, golf with you every Friday, nod in knowing agreement whenever you speak. But, nothing truly inventive can come of that.
I remind myself of this, on days when I think, I should have married someone more like me. And less like my husband – who is kind of the opposite of me. That would be easier. Messier around the house, granted, and with a lot more things not fixed. But so much less fraught with tension. Because of course I would agree with everything I say, and that would, quite frankly, be nice. For once.
You see, three people were born the day my kid came along – the boy, a mother and a father. All brand new to the world. All stripped down to skin, entering into an entirely new collaboration. The old rules of our relationship no longer applied. Needed adapting. A lot of uninvited shadows joined us in that room, too, waltzing in, only to introduce themselves later – history, baggage, unresolved expectations, inherited stuff.
Way back in the beginning of our combined time, when it was just the two of us, and there was so much to say and discover, we were conversationalists. Entire car trips down the pre-Olympic Sea to Sky highway conversations. Stay up all night and never complain about sleep deprivation conversations. We built a lot of things together. And could always workshop our way towards synchronicity with an hour long chat.
Then a kid! The ultimate co-creation. And after the kid, everything. Happens. So. Fast. There weren’t any catchwords handed to us, by wise elders, when we drove that bundled boy home. All I could think was “keep him alive” – there wasn’t much brainspace beyond that. I don’t know what the heck my husband was thinking. We didn’t have time to talk to each other for the next 36 months.
Then, last week, I discovered Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s three Rules to Live By.
After Reed died from liver cancer in 2013, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his partner of 21 years and frequent collaborator, Laurie Anderson gave the speech, in which she shared their Rules to Live By, which I have decided to steal. At least until I come up with better ones. But their rules pretty much cover it:
Don’t be afraid of anyone. Have a really good bullshit detector. And be really really tender.
“They come in really handy,” said Anderson, “because things happen so fast, it’s good to have a few catchwords to fall back on when there’s not enough time to think.”
Right? Good advice for partners of any kind of enterprise – love, art, sex magic, child-rearing, adventure. Just a couple of handy watch words to steer you true: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be a sucker. But always, always, make space for love.
The Velocity Project: how to slow the f*&k down and still achieve optimum productivity and life happiness.