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Follow Your Art

One of my favorite authors , Robert Pirsig, said, “For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses.” He was making the point, I think, that Science is ultimately creative. Human inspiration and creative thought are the jumping-off points for Science. Dentists hear the term “Art and Science of Dentistry” frequently as it relates to our day-to-day disciplines. The phrase graced textbook covers when I was in dental school to describe something as (seemingly) dry and esoteric as operative dentistry. Recreating body parts using various concoctions and instruments is, without argument, a creative artistic process.

Today however, I want to talk about “art” and “creativity” in the classic sense. You know: paint to pallet, sculpting with clay, playing a cello, writing Romance novels, making quilts, etc. and so on. Art for art’s sake. This is because the creative process has been essential to my recovery from addiction. The time and focus I spend playing guitar, writing, singing and producing songs is medicine for me. If someone out there enjoys my music and is inspired by it, then that makes it even better. Music is my art and it has helped me by giving me the opportunity to spend healthy time with myself. I can also tap into my creative and passionate by side which keeps my brain sharp. Most importantly, creating songs has allowed me to connect with individuals throughout the world on the deepest levels.

Music has been a form of ongoing rehab for me. My hope is that you would consider engaging your own creative side as a holistic part of being human. Engaging our art can merge and enhance the mental, physical and spiritual balance we are all striving for.

Music is in my soul and my genes. My Granny sang in the choir at Prospect Baptist Church for over 70 years. My Mom, a career musician, sang the National Anthem at the Atlanta Braves Stadium back in the 70’s while I listened in awe hearing her angelic voice float throughout Fulton County Stadium. The Brave’s game was the first time hearing music gave me chills up the back of my neck. That happened again when I picked up an acoustic guitar about 20 years later and played an E chord. That soul-stirring reaction was all it took. I was off to the races playing my first guitar. Me with my guitar books sitting in a room plinking along while time whirred by…for years. I just LOVE playing guitar. It is mesmerizing to me. As I strummed I began to sing. As I sang I realized I could write melodies. As I began to write melodies I realized that if I put lyrics to them they would be actual songs! My first song was one I wrote for the kids at the elementary school when I would talk to them about their first dental experience. It was a cautionary tale called “Green Tooth Timmy.” As the world became more PC (and because it brought one poor first-grader to tears) I had to retire it forever. I think there may be a bootleg copy floating around.

The best way to describe the therapeutic benefit of engaging my creative side is SOOTHING. It allows me to sit and focus on something besides my day-to-day issues. Music stimulates all of our cortical centers simultaneously. It has been excellent for maintaining my neuromotor skills, focus, memory and, especially, ideaphoria. The notion that I can allow myself to free-float multiple ideas spontaneously. I get into a FLOW. All of these improvements have carried over into my “regular” life and, especially, work. Listening to music calms me at work. I listen to “Yacht Rock” while I work because it is unobtrusive and calming which supports minimizing the stress of dentistry and the patient. The process of playing guitar, songwriting, recording, music production, promotion, and having multiple folks working together has made me a much better problem-solver. In the simplest sense, making music gave me somewhere to go in my head instead of going to drugs. 

I told a friend one day, “I love that guy!” And he said, “Oh you love EVERYBODY!!” I think it was some kind of odd insult but there is some truth to that. I am looking for and craving connection like most folks. Music has allowed me that privilege beyond my wildest expectations. I have made music with artists from everywhere. Paris, London, New York, L.A., Atlanta, Chicago. I have worked with members of so many big Rock bands throughout the world I can barely remember them all. I became friends with some of my Rock and Roll heroes in the bands Foo Fighters, Blind Melon, The Wallflowers and Collective Soul, among others. My music was featured in a permanent exhibit at Grammy Museum in L.A. when it first opened back in 2009 (Incidentally, this trip from Charlotte to LAX was the first flight in helping me overcome a paralyzing fear of flying after which I was able to travel the world with little to no anxiety) I have played live music all over the place. The friendships I have made and the fun and passion we have shared have outweighed all of the other positive outcomes put together. My songs are largely recovery-oriented. Getting past stuff. Moving on. My first album was an EP called Leave the Darkness which was spawned by my recovery experience. A fellow A.A. member came up to me and told me the title track literally kept him from committing suicide. He listened to it 80 times in a row to calm himself. My song had that effect on someone?! I have endless gratitude that my song had a positive impact on his life. My songs are an expression of my love.

My patients have been some of my biggest fans and supporters. The common ground of music could break the ice and ease anxiety of the dentist/patient relationship. For 22 years I have written and recorded well over 50 songs, 3 LP’s, multiple side projects with other artists and I am still doing it today. I always give my CD’s as gifts to my patients and I always received an ear-to-ear smile in return. 

The thrust of this writing is to make sure when someone asks you, “What are your hobbies?” or “What is your art?” that you have an enthusiastic and passionate answer and are ready to get into a long discussion about why it has made your life better. Get into your brain and out of your head. You are already in an artistic field. Now use those skills to put pen to paper, bow to string, knife to wood, brush to canvas and so on. Help yourself. Get better. Share it with others and create positive and healthy connections. Follow your art and enjoy the adventures, healing and gifts it will bring.

from a Grateful Recovering Dentist