Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes, Documentaries

A shift in focus for this blog

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From David Dault, President and CEO:

When we redesigned the CSEC website recently, we added this blog - but weren't quite sure what to do with it. For a while, I thought it would be a place to write up various musings, while walking around the city, or a way to react to things encountered while surfing the web.

Well, now that has shifted a bit. There is a new blog, which I (David) am writing for the Tribune Corporations ChicagoNow blogspace, is called #FaithLoop. You can connect to it here.

So whence this space? We've decided that we'll use it for letting you know about projects we're working on. We'll post updates and behind-the-scenes glimpses of how we develop and craft the stories we tell.

We hope you'll enjoy a peek behind the curtain. Thanks for reading, and please let us know what you think!

Behind the Scenes

Above all, Compassion.

In the 1950s, Kurt Hahn, the man who would eventually become the spiritual founder of the Outward Bound movement, had a profound insight about young people:

The experience of helping a fellow man in danger, or even of training in a realistic manner to be ready to give this help, tends to change the balance of power in a youth's inner life with the result that compassion can become the master motive.

In my own experience, as a colleague and a manager, I have discovered that people become trustworthy when they are invested with trust. They become responsible as they are given more authority to do things as they see fit to do them right. People grow in spirit when that spirit is watered with care and compassion.

The Outward Bound movement creates events that model situations of rescue - even when they do not call them by that name. It invites young people - and older people - into those situations. Not to create macho individuals, hardened and tough. But to invite those qualities inherent in our common humanity - "an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion" - to come to the fore.

I'm not saying that Johann Hari's views are the perfect answer, nor that I agree with everything he says. But there is a core in what he says that rings true to my experience, and to the wisdom I have seen work in the world - the wisdom I heard first, years ago, in the writings of Kurt Hahn.

Behind the Scenes, Video

Touching the Snake

I am lucky. I get paid to "be creative." At least, a good part of my job is centered on this kind of behavior. But that does not mean it is easy. Or fun. Or always successful.

I have been open with a good number of my friends about the creative blocks I have, so I am comfortable speaking a little about them here. First and foremost, since 2009, I have suffered from graphophobia - an intermittent but absolutely crippling fear of writing. When it has a grip on me, it is more than just a "writers block." It is a complete and total inability to write: handwriting, emails, anything.

As a result, I have had to totally reconstruct and restructure my creative life. It was in part my graphophobia that took me out of academia - if you can't write, it's hard to be a scholar. At the time, it was my dark secret. Nobody but my wife knew. But i would sit in my office, staring at a computer screen, day after day, in raw and growing terror. Why isn't this working?

A dark secret will gnaw at you, and it gnawed at me. One of the best steps I ever took was finally starting to admit the problem, to talk about it, to out myself. Being honest about the struggle and the times of sheer impossibility have helped me realize that I have a group of supporters and champions around me - and that has been fantastic for my creative life.

Working and struggling with the graphophobia has also opened new avenues of creativity for me. I came to realize that my inability to write did not cause the world to stop turning. If I could not complete a project on time, or at all, there were other doors that opened. That does not mean that folks were always cool about my blowing a deadline - but even when they were not, something good often came of the exchange.

The other piece of this was that giving myself the option of other outlets led to radio. At the time, the desperate rationale was "I can't write, but I can still talk." So I began interviewing colleagues, friends, and fellow scholars. This desperate gambit was a risk, and did not necessarily create a line of scholarship that would lead to tenure. But in its own way it led me to Chicago, and the work I am doing now.

So there are good days and there are bad days. Obviously, any day that I can sit and write a blog post like this is a very good day. They are happening with more regularity, I am happy to say. After five years in the woods, I am seeing more light through the trees. 

But there are still days - a lot of them - where there is an absolute wall. On those days, I am thankful that I am able to talk to my friends and my staff about what is going on, in addition to my family. The understanding and support of these incredible people sustain me.

Two thoughts, as I conclude:

First, a little insight from my friend Peter Ochs. He and I were catching up last fall in San Diego, and I told him some of the details about the graphophobia. Instead of acting like this was a problem, he praised the block, and (looking at the big picture - the move to Chicago, move into radio, etc) he remarked that the block seemed to be taking care of me so far.

So that's the first insight - a creative block is not necessarily a "problem" to be "solved." Instead, it might be an avenue to a different, but equally valid and worthwhile, way of being creative.

Second, is a quotation from Peter Gabriel that I read some years back. I don't have the exact wording, but the gist of it was, if someone put a gun to your head and said, "By a year from now you will create a great work of art, or I will kill you," his bet was that almost everyone could do it. They would find in themselves a way to create a great work of art.

What I love about this is not just the notion of everyone having the chops to do great work. I also love it because - if you know about Gabriel's track record - you know that he takes an insanely long time to create new work, often going four years or more between new releases.  

So, even though he's got this optimism about the creative process, he also is willing to give himself the space and the time for the brilliance to work itself out. 

Because it's not always easy for me to write like this, I hope you know how much I appreciate your taking the time to read my work. As always, thank you.