I have a confession to make:  I’m so excited to travel to New Jersey for a vacation next week. Before you start with the Jersey jokes, let me tell you why.

I’m going to see my family and friends. I’m going to sit in my pajamas and have coffee with my dad. My mom and I will, inevitably, watch Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version, of course.) I’ll see my friend Tam and hear about her growing, sustainability-focused business. My brother Willie and I will do puzzles and go for walks. He’ll probably have some behavioral challenges while I’m there. I’ll probably be afraid of him at least once.

But I’ll also get to hear him play the piano. And this, my friends, is a way for me to celebrate what is (rather than focusing on what isn’t.) Whenever I listen to him—really listen—tears come to my eyes. I’m so proud of him:  he stays on beat, moves the pedals and everything. (By contrast, I am rhythmically challenged. Keeping a separate rhythm with my hands and feet is next to impossible.)

Yet it’s more than that. Why does listening to Willie play affect me so deeply? And how can it help you move forward in your creative life?

Important clarification:  the phrase, “your creative life” will mean different things to different people, but it absolutely includes you. Creating a relationship is an art. Creating a home is an art. Creating a tradition of repeated Pride and Prejudice viewings is….well, maybe not quite an art…not yet…

That said, the word creative absolutely includes you and what you do each day! As such, here’s what I’ve learned about the creative life from watching Willie play:

1. When my brother plays the piano, he puts his all into it. There’s a vulnerability, a new side of him that comes out when he plays. He takes deep breaths, and focuses his attention. He chooses his songs with care, and he’s not afraid to show that the song matters to him. He’ll sing along, add accompanying beats and work until he likes the sound. He has autism, and he’s got talent. Making music is ‘his thing’ and he does it with all he’s got.

To ponder: Have you been holding back on your art? How can you get out of your own way and give it your best?

2. When my brother plays the piano, he plays until he gets it right. He’s tenacious, willing to play the same song over and over. (This is always admirable, and sometimes annoying.) True, I’ve seen him throw a tantrum when he’s not getting a piece right. More often, however, I’ve seen him simply begin again. Playing the piano is teaching him perseverance.

To ponder: Where in your creative life are you tempted to give up and give in? Does your art matter enough for you to stand firm and carry on?

3. When my brother plays the piano, he doesn’t wait for applause. While he does like to have people listen to him and say, “Good job!” afterward, he usually runs away as soon as he’s finished a song set. Call it modesty, or call it moving on…I think it’s just that he’s gained momentum. He’s ‘picked himself’ to play, and he’s gained a burst of energy from that choice.

To ponder: Are you waiting for external affirmation in order to move forward? What if you ‘picked yourself’ and utilized that galvanizing energy instead?

4. When my brother plays the piano, it reminds me that my parents never gave up believing he could do it. They have found him good teachers, taken him to lessons, purchased the necessary equipment, enforced consequences when he breaks said equipment during behavioral episodes, and ensured that he has all he needs to begin again. They have affirmed his gift for music with their words and their actions, and he could never have come so far without their love and support.

To ponder: Who in your life has encouraged and supported you no matter what? Who sings at the threshold for you? How can you express your gratitude to them?

I’m so glad that my brother expresses his creativity through music, as I express mine through words. It makes me feel connected to him, because we are both artists.

It’s a funny thing:  “William” means “vehement protector” and “Caroline” means “song of joy.” Yet whenever Willie plays the piano and I listen, I feel those linguistic definitions shift, transforming us both.

To me, it’s worth living for: to protect and celebrate the song I hear him play.

Namaste,
Caroline

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  1. […] You are not a mistake. You are a miracle. You are my children. Just as you are so proud of Willie when he plays piano, he is so proud of you when you shine. He may not ever find the words to say it in this life, but […]

  2. […] McGraw presents Kick-Start Your Creativity: 4 Steps to My Brother’s Beat posted at A wish come clear: how to see disability as opportunity. “I’m so glad that my […]

  3. Sue aka D. S. Walker August 15, 2011 at 7:42 PM - Reply

    Caroline,
    This is a beautiful post. I am glad you and your brother both have a connection to the arts. My children have a similar shared connection. Music is important in our house too.

    • Caroline McGraw August 15, 2011 at 9:40 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Sue! I appreciate the affirmation + the work you do. 🙂

  4. Martianne August 16, 2011 at 12:11 AM - Reply

    A beautiful, personal post with thoughts for all to ponder. Thank you.

  5. […] written before about my brother’s gift for music, how his piano lessons have inspired me in my own creative work. But last month he did something that inspired my courage, […]

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