Plays well with others.

December 22, 2013 § 6 Comments

Mom_and_Dad_in_ItalyI am working on a song.

It began with a short stretch of melody, and a memory of my father:

The old man cried, because he dreamed of her, and she dreams of him, on the other shore.

 Missing my mother, who he outlived by more than eleven years, was a daily burden my dad picked up and carried.

Together they had perfected a dance that required both to have any grace.

Although he went on, the collaboration that had been his life was over.

We are defined by the things we create together. In the case of a long marriage we create a life.

Like my parents, my husband and I have collaborated to build something unique and enduring, flexible and accomodating—and joyous.

Joy is one of the characteristics of collaboration, which is lucky since we humans are born collaborators.

I remember the Nature Club that Linda, Claudia and I created. It met in a dusty bald spot under the forsythia hedge and was governed by mutually agreed upon rules such as: Don’t Step On Nature.

That one was quickly amended with this addition: If You Can Help It.

I remember the garage bands of high school that formed and flamed, but in between made some music that stunned us wide-eyed.

Painting at the Front Porch LibraryI now have a library for my neighborhood kids, an idea that is created weekly by the volunteers and the kids who show up.

Chaotic, spontaneous and sometimes almost scary, creativity erupts, the result of the random chemistry of the group-of-the-moment.

Compare the spontaneous collaborations in your life with more rigid and hierarchical supposed-collaborations such as government, religion, or (most dreaded of all) the office committee meeting.

Here are two sample excerpts from meeting minutes, jotted down from my last real job:

Meeting one: Brenda will take care of filling out the work order to get the clock rehung.

Meeting two: The clock was not installed yesterday, in part because the work order was sent to the wrong shop. It was redirected with a priority status.

What is missing here is common sense and the obvious solution which is for a committee member to pick up a tool and hang the danged clock.

These forced, hierarchical, and rigid collaborations are numbing.

Who can be innovative while following the protocols of sitting at a table (who will sit at the head?), obeying Robert’s Rules, and sipping cold coffee?

Having served on several committees (the Morale Committee being my favorite—our recommendations were copious, carefully considered and completely ignored ) I remember the two essential elements of all meetings.

1. Review what went on at the previous meeting.

2. Schedule the next meeting.

Scheduling the next meeting is a chance for everyone to display their importance by being unavailable, except for twenty-seven minutes six months hence.

The best collaborations don’t sit in office chairs.

They involve luck, risk, serendipity, the excitement of tackling the unknown and unpredictable, and the unnamable something that creates that impossible math, one plus one equals three.

Hot Tamale performs.Back to that song, which is now a week old.

I am a modestly skilled guitar player. I know a limited number of chords so every song I write is attached to the lyric line with that same handful of clothespins.

I took the song to practice with my song writing partner, Craig, a trained musician.

He grasped the essence of this sad song about my father, and decided it was too relentlessly sad. Some of the minor chords have now become major. He added a redeeming final verse. As we work on it together the song will grow until it becomes its final self.

No one assigned us to each other. We met at the Saturday Market, him busking, me with a decent ear for harmony and nerve enough to walk over and sing along—and our collaboration began.

And that’s the way it works.

Collaboration doesn’t happen because I pencil you in for two o’clock next Tuesday.

It happens because, one of us is spark and the other tinder.

The flame generated is spontaneous, but inevitable. The necessary elements were always there. They just needed to come together.

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§ 6 Responses to Plays well with others.

  • craig reeder says:

    writing songs collaboratively is so effective, because each person brings different musical ideas, and you get a ping-pong effect, eventually blending two different sensibilities and hopefully achieving synergy. it is much more fun than committee meetings, by the way!


  • …so is poking your eyeballs out with a sharp needle.

    But you could compare collaborative song writing to some actually fun stuff like eating chocolate or making the Guinness Book of World Records for standing on one foot and it would still win.


  • carolyn says:

    When first assigned to HQ, it drove me crazy re: # of mtgs to discuss doing things, vs just going out & doing them!! But…. you get used to having the meetings, & who has travel $ to get out to the field anyway these days….
    Agree, someone should have just picked up the hammer & hung the dang clock!


  • The ending of this is pure poetry Adrian.

    Those of us in attendance reap the beauty of your & Craig meeting up off the cuff downtown for your HT harmony.

    And you are spot-on about serendipity, sensitivity & passion being the guides that bind best, rather than arranged/assigned organization.

    I didn’t know how you would get back to the song when you pulled out the meeting notes, but like when we can listen to Garrison Keilor in his monologue, I never doubted that your circle would be unbroken.

    Another, Brava!


  • Sue Cronkite says:

    Warm-hearted and wonderful.


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