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Using Rejection Productively With Arnold Bloch, LCSW Part 3

Interviewed live during TAXI’s Road Rally, 2021

By Michael Laskow

Editor’s note: This is the final part of this powerful interview. We’ve had incredibly positive feedback about it, so we’d like to suggest that if you haven’t read the previous two parts, go back and read them in the last two issues.

This is incredibly good stuff, Arnold. You’re really speaking to the heart of what [all musicians feel at one point or another—dealing with rejection].

That’s so great. Thank you.

I want to share a little quote I downloaded from Pema Chodron. Those of you who are interested at all in Buddhist thinking might know her. She’s one of the great contemporary teachers of Buddhism, and she said something very challenging, which I think will help all of you. She says, “To be fully alive, fully human and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” That’s interesting, to want to be “thrown out of the nest.” Then she goes on to say, “To love fully is to always be in no man’s land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To love is to be willing to die over and over again.” It’s kind of far out. “To love is to be willing to die over and over again.”

Now, of course, she’s not talking about actually committing suicide or anything like that, so what does it mean? And I think it might be useful for all of you who have this precious creative flame inside of you. Here, we learn from this that we have to be willing to be thrown out of the nest. So, when you get what feels like a rejection, it might not really be what it seems, it might just be like a little push from TAXI saying, “Hey, get out of that nest. What you are doing is a little too familiar, or maybe you are not paying close enough attention to what we’re asking you for.” You know, it could be that.

What is the nest that you are being pushed out of, and what does it mean to die over and over again? That’s a huge challenge, but I think it means that if you’re rigid and you stick to your idea that “What I do has to be done this way, and this is what is going to make me great,” it’s rigid; you might not get to where you really want to go. To die over and over again means to say, “Okay, I thought it was gonna be this way. You know, maybe I need to be doing it a different way. Maybe I need to be paying attention to the feedback TAXI’s A&R team is giving me. What can I learn from them? Or maybe I need to study with a song coach, or maybe I need to develop my voice.” That’s being flexible and adaptive, right? That’s really being pushed out of the nest and landing in a new place. And that makes it fun, so that even if you’re not being forwarded, at least you’re enjoying a growth process.

You’re asking for really mature grownup stuff. Again, it all takes work, it all takes patience, none of it is a light switch. Boy, the person who figures out how to make that “light switch” is gonna make Bill Gates look like a pauper.

Well, it is. Rough personal growth is hard!

I feel like we should set you up with a TAXI group rate or something so musicians can call in to tell us, “Do you do tele-sessions out-of-state, or are you only licensed in-state?”

I’m actually licensed to do both.

You know what, I’ll include a link to your website underneath this video when it goes up on YouTube. You’ve got a special understanding of [how musicians deal with rejection] because you’ve been a TAXI member and you’re a musician. You’re not just a typical therapist speaking about these issues in general, you’re speaking very specifically about how musicians can deal with this. It’s so much better than I thought it would be. I didn’t think it would be bad by any stretch, but this is like, wow! People are commenting, by the way. “This is amazing.” One guy said, “I’m on my couch; this is great.”

That’s great. Look, I’ve had to think a lot about this, right? To me, writing music, making music is a beautiful thing, and it’s good for the world.

One of the people—a guy named Edmond—wants to know how your recovery from the stroke is going so far.

Aw, that’s very kind. Well, look, it’s been about four years. I’m actually fully recovered, and I’m a better guitar player now than I was then.

So, you’re recommending strokes for all guitar players? [Laughter]

No, don’t go that way. But you know, in having lost that ability to play for a good six months, when it came back, I just wanted to really use the time well, and I’ve gotten to play better. That’s a good example of how adversity can move you forward. But thank you for asking. I’m actually doing pretty well. I’m walking like I always did, playing better, and cherishing life a lot.

Thank God for your recovery. That had to be so scary, and going back to my own personal issues of not having patience for things to turn around, I don’t know however long it took you to go, “Okay, I’m gonna be okay.” Just that every day thinking about, “Will I ever be okay? Will I ever be the person I was before?” All that stuff on a daily basis had to be horrifying to you.

I couldn’t brush my own teeth with my usual hand. I had to brush with this… But thank goodness that’s behind me. But thanks for the question. I am very grateful; things are fine.

Any more questions? We’ve still got 12 minutes left, and I think you guys are really enjoying this.

“TAXI needs to charge by the hour.” That’s a comment. [Laughter]

“When you get feedback from TAXI screeners, instead of being defensive about it, you can say, ‘Hey, look, these folks have a lot of experience; they’re there for a reason. What can I learn from them?’”

I’m so glad we are doing this, you guys, in the chat room. This is something that I have wanted to do for a really long time. And when you guys suggested it during one of the Quarantini Happy Hour episodes, I could see Arnold’s face in my mind’s eye.

Well, while we’re waiting for another question, I’ll just share with you something else that I think is helpful. It’s a parable, and it’s something I hope you will keep in mind to remain inspired. It’s a parable that says that every person should have a piece of paper in each pocket. In one pocket the paper says, “I am nothing but dust and ash,” and in the other pocket it says, “The whole world was made for me.” Think about that. It’s a paradox, and I’ll explain how. So, I’m nothing but dust and ash on the one hand, and on the other hand the whole world was made for me.

Why I wanted to offer it to all of you is that, as Michael pointed out before, musicians and artists in general can tend to be somewhat narcissistic. They can seem to think that just because I created something, therefore, the whole world has to see it as great. So how do we both own what is great about ourselves, our gifts, while remaining humble at the same time? And that for those of you who want both things, you might want to keep this parable in mind. That the irony of life is that you do have gifts, you do have unique gifts, and if you are willing to cultivate them you actually can create something with great beauty and relevance, whether it’s making a TV commercial really work better, or making a beautiful track. Whatever it is that you’re doing, you can create something really wonderful. But to maintain humility, remember that you are also nothing but dust and ash. It’s a strange mix, but I find that it enables one to own one’s gifts but to remain humble at the same time. So, when you get feedback from TAXI screeners, instead of being defensive about it, you can say, “Hey, look, these folks have a lot of experience; they’re there for a reason. What can I learn from them?”

And they do want to see you succeed, believe me. If nothing else, it’s a lot easier to forward something and say, “Great job, Arnold; I’m forwarding this,” than to sit down and give a thoughtful critique on it. And [the screeners] are all musicians anyway, so they’ve been exactly where all of our members are, and they know how much it hurts [to feel rejected]. They really hate to return stuff [rather than forward it].

“Music can be the way you cope with depression; it can be the way you express yourself and connect yourself to the world.”

So, we’ve got three questions that popped up. This is from Greg: “When I’m feeling down and unmotivated, how do I push through this and get motivated and productive again?”

It’s a great question. Moving is very helpful. So many doctors or therapists will tell you that if you are feeling down, try to get moving. Take a walk, start moving, even if you don’t feel like it. Just start one step at a time, take a walk around the block, start breathing, moving, and you’ll feel a little bit better.

Reaching out to people works as well. You know, we human beings are social beings. Have communities of people that you can connect with. And then, of course, then there’s the creative process itself. I don’t know about you, but when my parents were having a fight a couple of doors away, I was writing a song. That’s how I got started. It was a silly song, but I was only 10 years old. Music can be the way you cope with depression; it can be the way you express yourself and connect yourself to the world.

So, if you truly are in such a depression that you just can’t do any of these things, then you probably need to be looking at some professional help. You know, some people’s biochemistry is just not their friend, and they need medication or some kind of actual intervention, and there should be no shame in that. You know, some people need glasses to see, and some people need help in order to feel better. There should be no shame in that. Get the help you need if you are just feeling low for too long. If it’s temporary, reach out to friends, walk, get activated somehow, listen to beautiful music—whatever works for you. It’s a long answer.

“If you want to sell some music through TAXI and get it into an ad or a movie, or whatever it is, that’s one thing, then learn the craft on how to do that. That might be different for you than the things that you write that are a deeper expression of your soul or of your essence. You can have both of those things going at the same time, and that’s a healthy balance.”

Here's another question: “How to balance wanting to keep elevating your career and still do it just for the love of the art?” So, it’s the old art-versus-commerce thing. Do I do it for art or do I do it for commerce? I don’t know if that falls under a psychological umbrella or not, but I’m just looking for balance.

My understanding of that is that if you want to sell some music through TAXI and get it into an ad or a movie, or whatever it is, that’s one thing, then learn the craft on how to do that. That might be different for you than the things that you write that are a deeper expression of your soul or of your essence. You can have both of those things going at the same time, and that’s a healthy balance. But I don’t think… People often say, “Well, I’m not going to sell out and write for some TV commercial.” I mean, to me that’s a kind of narcissism, really. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. But because you write something that really works for a particular commercial purpose, that doesn’t mean you’ve sold out, it just means that you know how to answer that need, which is great. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the other stuff—the stuff you want to sing to an intimate audience at a coffee bar down the street.

You are so on the money with that. First of all, anybody that says I don’t want to sell out means they don’t feel… That’s the Imposter Syndrome. They don’t think they are capable of creating something good enough that people will pay money for it, so by saying, “I don’t want to sell out,” you put a little wall around yourself to protect yourself.

Here’s another question from a viewer: “How do you deal with limiting beliefs, or how should people deal with limiting beliefs?”

Umm. Well, thank you so much for that; you reminded me of something. One of the ways we deal with limiting beliefs has to do with facing cognitive distortions. And I’m going to share something very quickly with you guys because we only have a few minutes. Think of it as a triangle, and at each point of the triangle is a little bit of wisdom. Something we know about human beings is that we have a tendency to think that things are more permanent, bigger and more personal than they actually are as a general rule.

“Human beings have a tendency to think that things are more permanent, bigger and more personal than they actually are.”

Now, write that down; this is so helpful in life. When you get a TAXI submission returned to you, it’s not as big as it seems, because it’s just one step in the adventure. It’s not as permanent as it seems, because there will be future opportunities. And it’s actually not as personal as it seems either, because the screeners are not trying to hurt you or trying to reject you. It's not really about you; they don’t actually know you. And as Michael has said numerous times, they want you to succeed. It’s good for TAXI and it’s good for you! And if you remember—and I’ll put it differently—that human beings have a tendency to think that things are bigger, more permanent and more personal than they actually are, you can apply that in many situations in your life when you’re in a crisis, when you are hurting about something. It’s actually, for most people—there are people, unfortunately, who get stuck in a situation that they just never get out of—but most situations in life actually turn out to be temporary, they turn out to be smaller than we thought and they turn out to not be as personal as we thought. So just keep that in mind. This is a fact of human processing. Keep that in mind; it’ll help you a lot. Just keep moving forward without getting stuck in any particular place.

The thing you said before… By the way, that’s brilliant. That was worth the price of admission, right there. You’ve dropped so many buckets of gold on us today, I can’t believe how well this has turned out. Thank you, Arnold.

Before you were talking about the battle between art and commerce. And I’ve always used the analogy—which for some reason Jazz musicians always give me a hard time for saying it—but I’ll say again, “Making music for TV, let’s say, you’re filling orders, you are filling a prescription. Somebody wants this, you’re making exactly that and hoping that it works in the context of the TV show or movie. And they go, “But I’m an artist, and I don’t want to spend eight hours a day creating crap for somebody else’s thing.” To which I say, you know what? You’ll learn how to write faster, you’ll learn how to write on demand, you’ll become a better engineer, and you’ll become a better producer. You can paint houses by day and paint portraits by night. Let the commercial side of this make you better at what you do, put food on your table, which gives you the freedom to pursue the artistic side.

Yeah, I love that. And there really is a craft to knowing what is needed in each situation and responding to that properly. So that’s a fantastic thing.

Well, I’ve always wanted to say this to a therapist, “Our time is up.” [Laughter] You’ve been fantastic, Arnold! I just can’t thank you enough. I know you as a friend and a human being, so I had pretty high expectations, but you exceeded them by so much today. And from seeing what I saw [from our viewers] in the chat, I’m sure that a lot of other people agree with me. Maybe six months from now I’d love to have you back on one of my weekly episodes at TAXI, because people really enjoyed this.

That would be nice. I’d love it.

And I can tell you guys that I can’t recommend Arnold as a therapist, because I’ve never gone to him as such. I don’t know if I could because we are friends, but I think you get a pretty good sense that this is a gentleman who understands the heart, mind and soul of musicians. So, if you ever need a therapist, you might as well get one who lives in your “neighborhood,” right? Arnold, thank you so much for doing this. Give my love to your family, and I will see you soon.

You’re welcome. Thanks!

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Arnold Bloch!