Episode 11: Creativity To Get You On Stage In Front Of 10k w/Andrew Lustig
Andrew Lustig is a ‘Jewish Spoken Word Artist’ whose poetry has reached millions, in viral videos and in hundreds of live performances. Andrew has delivered keynote addresses for Hillel, URJ, USCJ, UJIA and BBYO and written Annual Campaign films for JFNA, UJIA, Pardes and JFGD. A 2013-14 Dorot Fellow in Israel, Andrew is a Pardes alumnus, a Limmudnik, and a frequent attendee on Or HaLev retreats. From 2013-2017 Andrew has worked as an artist-in-residence at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute in Los Angeles. Andrew is the co-founder of the Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition and a 2019 facilitation trainee with Resetting the Table.
A deep and serious thinker Andrew is constantly analyzing all sides of an argument. He knows that no one side holds an exclusive claim on Truth, and to get closer to that Truth one needs to listen carefully to all points being presented.
When you’re on cloud nine, you know that the compliment you received is something that really means a lot to you. And maybe it sounds crazy, but like one of the compliments that like I really love getting is when people say they’re unsure of what my opinion is on an issue.
Because for me, even if I do have an opinion or I feel inclined in a specific direction, for me it makes me feel like I’m really going about the issue or about the exercise in an intellectual and an honest way. And that for me is important and the people who I admire and I considered teachers.. are people who are always complicating issues. Who are always, answering with: “well, you know, it’s complicated” or you know, “on one hand, but on the other hand.”
A lot of the issues I care about, I roll over constantly in my head like: “what am I not considering”? Or “what am I not valuing high enough”? Or “is it possible that I’m coming to this conclusion based on some kind of flawed assumption, either overvaluing or undervaluing something”? And for me, I think that’s gotten me whatever Truth is. I think that practice has gotten me closer to it. It has certainly complicated a lot of ideas that I might otherwise have a really firm opinion on.
We also discussed nervousness before performances. I asked Andrew if that emotion is grist for the mill or if it is over-rated and we shouldn’t take the fear of receiving criticism so seriously. Andrew replied that it’s complicated (see above) but that when he is not nervous, that is when he becomes most nervous.
When you’re nervous it means that something is real for you and there’s raw energy there. And for me the trick is not to be nervous and it’s not to not be nervous. It’s to take those nerves that are there, acknowledge them as just being real raw emotion and boil them down and allow them to inform the performance
For me, that’s what I really try to do … to harness that raw energy and to use it to the benefit of the performance. And when that energy is not there, ie when I’m not nervous that’s when I kind of get really nervous. I think in the few instances where I have had like the worst case scenario where I just blank onstage, it’s kind of been when I haven’t been nervous for some reason. So I guess it’s lose, lose, like I’m super nervous and also like if I’m not nervous then I’m really nervous.
At the conclusion of our interview I played Andrew’s most well known poem entitled “I am Jewish.”
Full Transcript – Scroll below to read along:
Misha Clebaner: 00:02 Today on the show we have with us, Andrew Lustig, if you haven’t subscribed to the show already, please do so because we have a lot more great and thought provoking content coming your way. Whether it’s performing in front of 10,000 or 10, spoken word artist, Andrew Lustig always likes to challenge the audience to get them to see things in a different way.
Andrew Lustig: 00:24 See, you know, if I perform something that for me is edgy.. somebody who’s like super conservative…. I’ve had the compliment from people who are like, “you know when you got up there and I heard you were a spoken word artist, I was like, oh, this is going to suck. But, that was pretty good” and like, that felt amazing to me because like you’d challenged somebody’s expectations, like they’d overcome something.
MC: 00:46 Andrew Lustig is a Jewish spoken word artist whose poetry has reached millions in viral videos and in hundreds of live performances. Andrew has delivered keynote addresses for many major Jewish organizations and has written annual campaign films for the Jewish federations of North America, Pardes and many others. He was a 2013 Dorot fellow in Israel. Andrew is a Pardes Alum, a Limmudnick, and a frequent attendee on Or HaLev retreats. Andrew is the cofounder of the Muslim Jewish interfaith coalition and a 2019 facilitation trainee with “resetting the table”. Also, as a brief warning, there will be one or two curse words during this episode. Hello and welcome to raising holy sparks with Misha Clebaner a show where we celebrate the beauty in the seemingly mundane discover the extraordinary in the world around us. So much wonder out there. Let’s get started.
MC: 01:55 Hello Andrew Lustig. Welcome to raising holy sparks. How are you doing?
AL: 02:00 Doing well Misha. Thank you for having me on your show. First time caller, long time listener.
MC: 02:10 Yeah, well there you go. Not only are you calling in, you’re the main voice in the conversation. So, one way that I like to start these conversations is just by asking is there a question that you get asked frequently when it comes to the various stuff that you’re involved with, whether it’s spoken-word poetry or you know, meditation or rock climbing or just any of the various things are involved with kind of like, what’s a question that keeps coming back to you over and over?
AL: 02:43 It’s interesting because I have some in that comes to mind immediately. People, often.. they don’t phrase it as a question but like it does feel like question, it prompts a response. People, in regards to my work as a writer and a spoken word artist, a performer, people often remark something along the lines of “wow, how cool that you get to live your passion, or that you get to do for work, what you love”. And I find that interesting because, you know, it often comes at a place in the conversation or in the relationship where I’ve never explicitly said or even hinted at the fact that this is a passion. I just think that there is, for whatever reason, for a lot of people, rightly or wrongly, this assumption that it’s something I’m passionate about and, you know, it’s not good or bad, but it definitely does, you know, make it harder in those conversations to then start, you know, talking about the uncertainty that I have. Or the, you know, the questions I have about what I really want to be doing or what I’m interested in. You know, it’s certainly in conversations makes it harder to talk about, you know, the other areas of interest that I have that are like very separate from art, because why would you want to do, you know, something that’s very separate from art, when art is your passion and you’re doing your passion and you’re getting paid to do your passion?!
MC: 04:12 Yeah, definitely. I feel like I’ve heard from folks, also in the arts, but I feel like it just applies to anyone doing something they are, quote unquote passionate about is at the end of the day, work is still work, you know? And, as a result of that, there’s all these various complications that may arise. And so people think that you’re just having fun constantly and there’s a certain connotation that, “oh, you have it good”, but it’s more nuanced than that.
AL: 04:44 And even, you know, another element of it is that I think, you know, people don’t consider the fact that just as easily as you can fall into, I don’t know, any job, you can also fall into something that is artistic. I think it takes somebody with artistic sensibility, but once you’re interested in something, once you’re doing something, whether it’s a passion or a hobby or something that you just recognize early on that you’re good at, it’s actually really possible to fall into it. And so, you know, never ask in a sense the question is this what I want to be doing? Why am I doing this? Is this something that I enjoy? Is it something I love? Is it something I do because I have opportunity to do it and I have to take those opportunities? Or maybe it’s something that I’m doing because, you know, at an early age I got really good feedback and I liked the feedback and it’s, you know, you fall into patterns. Everybody wants to feel good about the work that they do. But I think there’s like, you know, the sense that like, it has to be a very active choice. And for me at least, that hasn’t so much been the case. It’s something that I’ve certainly pursued. But it wasn’t, you know, I didn’t start off with this dream to go into performance work and you know, then, you know, through a series of struggles, you know, get to pursue it is actually something that no, quite the opposite. I started getting invited to do, things that excited me but also scared me. And I said yes to them cause I was at a place in my life where I didn’t have.. I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do. And so I just, you know, it was this series of “just saying yes”. And then you get into this place where you say, yes so much. That’s, you know, you start to be something and you identify something and you’re doing something in a sense full time and it’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s just, you know, it just is. But it’s, it’s not what I would, I don’t think about it in terms of passion.
MC: 06:42 And so I think they say that nowadays folks have about six or eight different jobs or careers during their lifetime. So do you think that you’re kind of just part of this larger trend of MMM, that’s happening nowadays where after a certain amount of time it’s just, there’s a curiosity to go explore your ability to, to grow in other sectors and other kind of areas? Or do you think it’s actually not about kind of hopping from place to place, but it’s specifically about, the poetry and.. kind of just in comparison to poetry? That’s where your, your curiosity is going elsewhere?
AL: 07:28 It’s a, it’s a good question. You know, I don’t, I don’t know exactly what the fine print of that idea is. I’ve also heard it. You know, I can’t imagine that, you know, at 30 I’m going to be an engineer. At 40, I’m going to be a doctor, at 50 I’m gonna be a lawyer. But what I can see is that even within, like if you just take one skill, if you just take writing, like I’ve worked in a sense as a performer, I’ve worked in, I love working and I’d love to continue working as a teacher. I could see myself over time pursuing another interest that allows me to use work.. or writing or, you know, the creative process and more of a therapeutic capacity. I could see myself writing.. And not necessarily a book, but like, I feel like for a lot of professions these days, they are skill focused, they really are skilled focused and they’re not necessarily super specialized like some people have broad skills. Like you, you know, you’re a rabbi and there’s so many different ways that you could, you know, act on.. many different jobs that you could have as a rabbi. I hope I, I mean, I know you would excel at different jobs and I hope you’ll have the opportunity to like use different aspects of that skillset in you know, at least like, you know, four or five different jobs over your lifetime.
MC: 08:47 So I’d love to ask you about creativity. So, I feel like when I was growing up and even up until recently whenever I thought about creativity, it felt very artistic. You know, are you creative.. can you draw? So, I’m curious about kind of how you understand this concept. Is it, is it about art? Is it about imagination and the way that you look at things? Kind of, so what are some, just some thoughts that you have about creativity in general or about creativity in modern America? You know what is this thing that is creativity?
AL: 09:30 It’s not necessarily something I’ve thought explicitly about, but the first thing that comes to mind is, is actually like often comes to mind for me is cats. You know, one of the reasons that I like cats, I love cats. I think they see the world creatively. you know, they just like, they do things, they’re constantly doing things that are different than what you’d expect. Like they’ll walk around in a circle just to get to like a point exactly where they were. Like, there’s all these things, we just look at them. You’re like, oh, I didn’t think of that possibility. I do think of that possibility. And for me that’s what like broadly, creativity means. It’s like really seeing possibilities that, you know, the average person doesn’t see. And that’s, you know, a sense why no, when we say everybody is unique in a sense, “everybody’s special… everybody’s important… everybody’s different”. But like, I think in a sense creativity rests in response to a majority. Like not everybody can go against the grain because then the grain is, you know, changing. Not everybody can be, you know, different than most people are. Everybody can be different. But like, for me, creativity can be artistic. But it can also really be just like, I mean, I see creativity come up like in any and every aspect of my life. Learning for me is one of the places where I’ve had to get the most creative just because I feel that throughout my life, the way that most people effectively learn really just doesn’t work for me or it doesn’t maximize my ability to learn. And so, you know, the ability to find ways that do maximize it for me is like a creative process.
MC: 11:26 Is it frustrating for you that you kind of had to get creative when it comes to learning by yourself versus having that be the atmosphere that we kind of inculcate in our society where we want to have kids learn in the way that works best for them. But instead, I’m not sure if you ever saw that TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about, it’s called schools kill creativity. So do you think that’s kind of a sad thing, but you know, those that learn… Yeah, go for it.
AL: 11:55 I was just gonna say, I never thought of it as a, I guess, you know, when you’re young you don’t have that Lens. You don’t have this idea of what should be, you just know what it is. And you don’t know why things are, like, you question authority for sure, but you question it in a different way. You know, you rebel against that. You don’t actively like question the structure that exists. You fight the structure. But in fighting the structure, like you’re really in a sense acknowledging it and acknowledging his power. And so in that sense, like I never, I don’t think I ever questioned why we learn in the way we learn. I never necessarily felt angry about it. I never resented it for sure. It was frustrating growing up. But you know, it’s so easy for those things to feel either like your fault or nobody’s fault. I don’t think I ever put the blame on a system and to be honest, you know, as I think about it now, like I don’t feel inclined to. I think, you know, it’s, it’s not malicious. I mean, especially in a system where people are trying to teach people. Like nobody throughout the process. Like, it’s hard to know how to educate millions and millions of people and like, there’s a lot of values, often competing values that go into it. And like over time it’s awesome that we get to this place where we can question, some of those values and we can rebalance the values and we can ask about what the role in educational systems is towards students. You know, to what degree do they value creativity. But, you know, I just feel in a sense, lucky to have grown up at a time where, you know, people were even able to… help.. me.. to be there for me. You know, it wasn’t like a school where if you wrote with your left hand, you know, they would like force you to write with your right hand. Like my grandma went to. You know, it was a school that like they had their ways and you know, they recognized that I was different and like people, people worked with me and it wasn’t always perfect, but it didn’t kill my creativity. People were always willing to work with me. I remember in second grade, one of the, like, probably the more formative experiences of my childhood, I got kicked out of class just, you know, talking back and like whatever. Just in a sense being, being the……[MC: Eccentric]. Yeah. Like, you know, who knows what the issue is, but I was in the hallway and I guess the janitor saw me there and you know, in this story I guess my second grade teacher is kind of like the bad guy even though she’s not like that. And the janitor is like the “messenger” and the janitor for whatever reason, decided to take me to the nurse who was going to be the good guy. And you know, he’s like, I don’t know, “just kids shouldn’t be in the hall” and the nurse like really I think if I remember correctly, took me under her wing. And you know, came up with like this program for me, like really sat with me one on one, you know, helped me. I think I got like incentives. Like if I was like really good, if I didn’t get in trouble for x amount of time, she gave me gifts. Like in retrospect, like, part of me, you know, thinking about this decades later, wonders if like my parents actually paid for the toys or whatever. But like at the end of the day, it was just like being paid attention to in a way that was compassionate. It was gentle. It was so helpful for me. You know, somebody like saw me and they were there for me and they heard me and like, it really made a difference. It’s not to say that like, my, you know, getting into trouble stopped. Like it totally didn’t, but no, it was always just this back and forth. Like I always, you know, broke rules in middle school and a little bit in high school, but I had teachers and administrators who were there for me and who saw me. And you know, who were helpful. And who saw me as like a complete person and you know, saw me as somebody who was capable of doing good things even despite the fact that maybe I wasn’t hitting the mark and I was certainly capable of hitting the mark. No, the fact that I saw things differently, like wasn’t it great excuse for half the things I did for some of the things that like, it was a great excuse. It’s like, okay, classrooms not the best place for Andrew. But at the same time like I could have made a lot of different choices. You know, it wasn’t only on the system.
MC: 16:25 So for, for folks that are interested in becoming more creative, aside from becoming a cat, what can, what can kind of do to, you know, build that creative muscle?
AL: 16:41 Well, I’ll start off by saying that I wouldn’t just dismiss for coming a cat. [MC: right] It’s a reasonable, viable and potentially the best option. [MC: see there’s proof that you’re thinking creatively]. I think for me, like the first thing that comes to mind, just a practice of asking questions, you know, it would be kind of a thing that I think hits that medium of being easy to do and anybody can do it. But it also like is really meaningful. Like ask questions about everything! Not just like why, why, why, why, why? But in a sense like, yes, like as a practice, just sometimes think like, could this be differently? Could it look differently? Could we do this differently? Like why is it this way? And for me, like I live in a sense a lot of my life doing that. it’s just my nature. It’s like a very kind of OCD way of interacting with the world around me. But it also forces me to sometimes ask, you know, really good questions and questions sometimes really don’t make sense. And I think one of the big things about that is feeling free. You know, the only way to ask good questions, the questions that need to be asked, you know, even revolutionary questions is to feel comfortable asking stupid questions. And it’s kind of like, cliche advice, but it’s like for every amazing question that somebody asks, they need to be able to ask, you know, 50, you know, questions that don’t make sense. And if somebody like learns through their interactions with other people, that dumb questions aren’t acceptable or they’re going to get ridiculed for them. It’s like why ask questions? Like the benefit of asking a really great question.. you know, and that’s, you know, whether you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re an artist, like, you know, another way of just saying like rejection is part of the process. So I would say ask questions. And I think, I think for me this is like, some of the most meaningful advice I’ve ever learned in my life is the value of being wrong. You know, it’s, it’s kind of a double edged sword. Like this idea that, you know so little. And like you go into the world and you go into experiences, especially new experiences and new interactions with so little information, but not only do you have so little information, like you don’t even sometimes know what questions to ask. And, I’m very often in this… I have this experience where I will be nervous about something and I won’t even necessarily articulate why I’m nervous. I won’t even like consciously think, I’ll just understand that I’m nervous. And then the situation or the indirection will happen and it will be fine. Like it’ll be great and I’ll reflect back on like, why, you know, I was not expecting it to be great. Why was it? And I’ll realize that I was making an assumption without even thinking about it, about some small aspect of it. And it’s just like, not only was I wrong, like I had no idea. Like all the time we make these assumptions for better and for worse, like anytime you’ve, you know, planned something and it hasn’t gone according to plan because something happened that you didn’t even think about it. That’s like the opposite.. is like something was worse than it could have been because you didn’t think to ask a question. And so for me, you know, especially when, you know, it’s a different use of the word creative. But when creating spaces I think a lot about what might I not be thinking to ask. And like just training myself to really consider “every” possible question and questions about questions, if that makes sense.
MC: 20:34 So what’s the best first question to ask. Is it just why? Or what can I do? Or why are you doing that? Or what’s kind of like a good on ramp to this mindset of increasing to ask questions.
AL: 20:49 I always ask, like anytime I’m creating something or working, I always ask either myself or somebody else, what am I not thinking of? You know, whether it’s again, like I do, I think I do it like a lot of things where I’m like creating spaces or programming. And I always, always think “what am I not thinking of”? If you’re creating like a meditation space. I remember once at a meditation retreat. There was like another, there was a birthday party nearby and they were playing loud music and like who in their right mind would have ever thought to ask “is there anything else going on your buy and this is very secluded place. Is it possible that there’s music?” But like that just goes down in the notebook of like next time you do something this is like a great question to ask. You know, asking… conversations about life, like ideas. A lot of the issues I care about, I roll over constantly in my head like, what am I not considering? Or what, am I not valuing high enough? Or is it possible that, you know, I’m coming to this conclusion based on some kind of flawed assumption, either overvaluing or undervaluing something? And you know, for me, I think that’s gotten me whatever truth is. I think that’s gotten me, that practice has gotten me, closer to it. It has certainly complicated, like a lot of ideas that I might otherwise have a really firm opinion on.
MC: 22:11 Would you say that that’s kind of like a posture of humility?
AL: 22:15 “A posture of humility?” Say more..?
MC: 22:19 Well, the fact that you’re willing to acknowledge your own limitations, your understanding, your capacity to, kind of create a new situation and then you understand those limitations and you say, you know, I’m not the end all and be all when it comes to this or when it comes to anything.. I really need to be in relationship or in community. I need to, I need to hear other voices. That sounds like a very humble perspective to take.
AL: 22:55 I appreciate it. I never, I never thought of it as humble. I don’t necessarily think of myself as humble or not humble. I think, yeah, I think I’m somewhere in between, like I don’t think I’m an asshole and I also like don’t think I’m like a monk. Like I, you know, I don’t think anybody would leave a meeting with me and say “humility or lack thereof”, like it wouldn’t be, you know, one way or the other. I don’t know. I guess, you know, over the years I’ve, I think I’ve realized that I’ve tried to be invested in.. I’ve had to think carefully about what I’m invested in and to do that, you know, the ideas and the labels and the identities and to do that, you know, one of the tricks or one of the tools that I’ve developed is trying to come to most issues with more of a sociologist’s minds to really just emphasize understanding the issue. Instead of, you know, letting it, you know, feeling like it’s charged for me feeling like I’m invested in the issue. And I guess in doing that it shifts my focus from developing an opinion and you know, affirming and reaffirming that opinion. To one of like, I don’t really have an opinion. It’s complicated and I’m benefiting just by getting more information about the issue and that that’s, you know, it’s become, I remember when I really first started doing it when I first kind of developed that as a value and I think it’s become my primary way of thinking about things. And it’s, you know, I think you know a lot about who you are and what you value if you pay attention to when people compliment you. And you know, there’s times for me when people compliment me and it’s like, “oh thank you. that’s nice of you to say,” And then there’s times when people compliment me and you’re just like on cloud nine for the rest of the day. And it’s like it could be a small thing but like when you’re on cloud nine, like you know that the compliment you received is something that like really means a lot to you. And maybe it sounds crazy, but like one of the compliments that like I really love getting is when people say like they’re unsure of what my opinion is on an issue. Because for me, you know, especially when I’m in a situation when, you know, when we’ve actually been discuss… because for me, like even if I do have an opinion or I feel inclined in a specific direction, for me it makes me feel like I’m really going about the issue or about the exercise in an intellectual and an honest way. And that for me is important and the people who I admire and I considered teachers like are people who I really, I think the same about, who are always complicating issues, who are always, you know, answering with, “well, you know, it’s complicated” or you know, “on one hand, but on the other hand.”
MC: 25:59 I love that idea about the compliments. As someone that performs, maybe you can give us non-performers, a little bit of advice. What do we say after somebody just does a show, do we say great job or what’s the deal with compliments for performers?
AL: 26:15 Yeah, I think everybody’s different. you know, in a sense because everybody probably comes to performance work in a different way. It’s a good question. I guess for me it’s hard because anytime I’ll create something, you know, it’s not just everything is not riding on opening night. Like it’s a huge moment. It’s a really big moment. But you’ve had so many moments and so many checkpoints throughout a process to know if something is good. To know, you know, you will, you have like the obligation, you know, in this broad sense to yourself in creating something that’s honest. You have an obligation to the people who are spending time watching you and just like your taking up their time. And it’s hopefully to their benefit. You also have the obligation to the people who have commissioned you or who invited you to perform. You know, you have the obligation to the people you care about and who, you know, see you as either a student or a teacher or somebody in their community that like the things you’ve created, like they benefit that community. So I think, you know, in a sense it really depends who you are, what your relationship to the person is. you know, the compliment that would make me feel best that I received from my mother is not the same as it would be from the person who invited me to speak at the events. You know, a compliment that I would receive, you know, if I perform something that for me is edgy… somebody who’s like super conservative. I’ve had the compliment for people who are like, you know, when you got up there and I heard you were a spoken word artist, I was like, oh, this is gonna suck. But that was pretty good. And I have felt amazing to me because like you’d challenge somebody expectations, like they’d overcome something.. like they had an opinion. But like if somebody said, you know, somebody who likes spoken words said to me that didn’t suck, like that would not feel like a good compliment. You know, I feel like when I always want to push people and challenge people, I guess in this exact same way, like full circle here, I always want people to ask questions or people to reconsider things. I always want people to see things from a different vantage point. And so the way that, you know, you could best compliment me, I think it would be, not that it’s necessarily a compliment. I mean if you don’t like something common than a different way. But, and that I’m always most interested in is if people have, if it’s helped complicate things for people, if something that I write or perform has, you know, changed somebody’s view and like a way that like shows more nuance and helps somebody see another side of something.
MC: 29:06 So Jerry Seinfeld has a joke and he says that the second most fearful thing that people hold that, that they’re scared of his death. Have you heard this joke? [AL: I think so. What’s the punchline?] And, and the number one thing that they’re most afraid of is speaking in front of others. And so he says that “that means all of you here tonight listening to me would rather be dead than up here doing what I’m doing”. So I want to ask about kind of emotions and anxiety and kind of like that jumpy butterfly feeling that we have. So, is it good to have that anxiety and fear before public speaking or is it a waste of time and we just have to throw that fear and anxiety out the window and just talk? We’re just talking, it’s not the end of the world. Why have this whole fear and mystery around what it means to kind of just talk in front of other people?
AL: 30:11 I’ll tell you what feels kind of like a truism to me in my experience.. is.. before I go, I’m always nervous before I go on stage. I’m always nervous. The times that I’m really nervous or when I’m not nervous. [sinisterly:] so I’ll just let you sit with that for a second. Like I’m always terrified before going on stage. Always terrified. Like my palms are sweaty. It really like knees, weak arms are heavy, you know there’s vomit on the sweater already like seriously. So much so that like I’ve been at events like especially the bigger events I’ve performed at like no joke. There’s always somebody following me as I’m pacing back and forth just so that like I don’t disappear. Not that I would disappear, but they can tell how nervous. Like I always asking like, can I get a hug before I go onstage? But like it’s terrifying. It’s really, really, and you know also like I prefer not to use teleprompters or confidence monitors. So like really, really there’s something there for me. Like I just want to get it and I want to get it from memorization and I want it to be.. perfect. And I’ve noticed a few times in my life that I wasn’t nervous and for me when I’m not nervous, something is “off” like something is off. Because no matter how many times I’ve been nervous, it almost always works. Like, and when you’re nervous it means that something is like real for you and there’s like raw energy there. And for me the trick is not to be nervous, it’s not to not be nervous, it’s to like take those nerves that are there, acknowledge them as just being like real raw emotion and boil them down and allow them to just like in form the performance. Like for me, that’s what I really try to do is to harness that raw energy and to use it to the benefit of the performance. And when that energy is not there, ie when I’m not nervous, that’s when I kind of get really nervous. And I think in the few instances where I have had like the worst case scenario where I just blank onstage, it’s kind of been when I haven’t been nervous for some reason. So I guess it’s lose, lose, like I’m super nervous and also like if I’m not nervous then I’m really nervous. It also, it also depends, you know, there’s speaking in front of a group of people about something that I’m confident in doesn’t really, you know, if you have space in between to like talk, and to introduce x piece it’s one kind of nervous. But you know, when the voice of God comes on “and now introducing Andrew Lustig” and you come on stage and you have to hit the light cue and like, you know, there’s a thousand people in the audience and like the waiters and waitresses are like moving dinner plates and there’s forks clanking against each other. And like, you know, you have to have a thousand words memorized and if you screw up, like you’re kinda just standing in front of a thousand people that for me it’s like where the terror kinda comes in.
MC: 33:11 I’d love to hear about your creative process. Is there kind of a location you go to kind of decompress and find inspiration? Is a kind of sporadic, you wait for the Muse to, to come to you or is it more rigid? You sit down and you pump out content and then eventually it’ll become better later? Kind of just tell us the rough, uh, parameters of how you go about creating a poem or, or what have you, whatever else you’re creating.
AL: 33:46 most of the things that I’ve been really proud of have I think been like an 80, 20. There is this first step before I get to the 80, 20. There’s this first step of just noticing. Like, really just getting into this “noticing practice”, writing things down and you know, journaling, whether it’s feelings, whether it’s observations. You know, having something that you also feel compelled to write about is really important. You know, you’re not going to create a piece of art or a piece of, you know, performance piece out of nothing. Having that, you know, that issue that’s important to you. And then just getting in this practice of raw noticing, like really, you know, going back to the process of asking questions, like getting to know things as intimately as possible. Knowing, noticing the moments, you know, the nuances. Conversations.. And you’ll have in these moments, you know, this is like where the 80 comes in. You’ll have like a lot of just this writing, his writing is writing for nothing, for nothing, for nothing, but like trusting that process. And then at some point you’ll write something. Sometimes for me it’s a moment, sometimes it’s two words together. That just sound beautiful. You just like, you hear these two words together and they just, it sounds like poetry. And in that moment, like that’s where the 20 comes in. Then you know, you have all this energy and in that moment, wherever you are, you have to write. You have to sit down and you have to take that raw material and they have to turn it into something. And you know, that will last for however long. And then, you know, you have to then go back to the 80 20 and even take what you have, which hopefully somewhat looks like more art now instead of a journal entry. And turn, then start really working at in the 80 again, like really methodically, you know, feeling it out, feeling it out, feeling it out, editing, changing, adding words, you know, thinking about what you want. And then you’ll have another moment where something really clicks. Maybe you’ll find like a repetition and maybe, you know, it’ll link multiple pieces of a poem together, or you’ll find a structure to a piece and then all of a sudden you’ll like, you know, what’s all of this is fitting into, maybe you’ll, you know, be listening to some instrumental music and it’ll just compel you to you to go to the piece in a new way. And that for me is always how it’s been. You know, it’s just kind of trusting, like taking, and so when, you know, when I do do a project, especially if I’m asked to write something, I almost always start off by interviewing people, by asking, you know, especially if I’m writing something about, you know, Jewish identity or Jewish community or something that happened. You know, it’s always starting off with interviews or just talking to people about their experiences and then, you know, spending sometimes the hours and hours and hours talking and talking and talking, and then you get a few lines. Like you really get to the core of what people are are saying and you pick up on something. I’m going to see if I can, see if I can find, uh, an example of that. Uh, so I, there’s ones upon that I wrote that I really love called “Tell me a story”. And you know, I just, it was about Israel, about, you know, the diaspora relationship with Israel. And I really just spend a lot of time asking a lot of people about their relationship. And in every conversation there would be.. and just like small things that I would highlight, you know, put a star next to it my notebook. And I remember in a conversation with somebody, they once.. they talked about this, remembering their parents, you know, sending clothes and canned goods to Israel, in like the fifties. And just that line clothes and canned goods. It just like there was something about it. And like that got me off on this, you know, hour, hour and a half long writing process where I got like 20% of the poem done. And then there was another point where somebody was talking about, you know, the people they look up to in, you know, history and they mentioned, you know, the rabbis who, you know, in the face of death, they codified the mishnah, you know, they put it into writing. And the way they said it just made me think about, oh my God, like everybody has different pioneers. And then I had this entire like concept for, oh my God, a repetition of pioneers and you know, we have in the.. and then as like, okay..
AL: 38:23 “If you’re pioneers are the rabbis who codified the mishnah in the face of death, so that we could live a life of Torah, see them”. And then it was almost like just methodical. I was like, okay, who else could people’s pioneers be? And then you’re just ask people like, who are your pioneers? Like what does that mean to you? And then you get a list of like 15 different things and it’s like, okay, great. Now I, and it’s like, it’s almost, I don’t want to say it’s easy at that point, but then it’s really just like a very right-brain process. Like the creativity is in like that small moment in between like interviewing people and then interviewing lots of other people. It’s like this moment where you pick up on something and you’re able to see.. that is like a beautiful concept. And so you know, then you end, I ended up with this paragraph that’s like:
AL: 39:11 “If your pioneers are the rabbis who codified the mishnah in the face of death, so that we could live a life of Torah, see them. If your pioneers are those who came with nothing. See them. If they’re kibbutzniks, if they’re refusniks, see them. If they’re sleeping in tents on Rothschild’s boulevard, or women praying at the wall. If they’re Ethiopian immigrants stepping out onto a tarmac, carrying rugsacks filled with stories of faith and freedom. See them. If your pioneers are the activists who insist on peace and who aren’t afraid to both love Israel and to be angry at it, see them. If your pioneers are the parents who choose to come to Israel with young children and who really believe it when they promise their children that there will no longer be a need for a military when they turn 18, see them. If your pioneers are those who answer the question: “what kind of Jew are you?” With “the Jewish kind!” See them.
AL: 40:06 And then you know, it goes on, but it’s, for me, like all of that has to come from the moment of just like asking people questions and they’re like really, really thinking like what am I looking for? What are, and when you find it, like you kind of know.
MC: 40:21 So in the way that a welder, you know, hones her craft and as a result of honing the craft sees the power of metal. Right. That it can pierce. I’m curious to what extent have you kind of had your, have had your imagination wrapped around the power of words?
AL: 40:42 I think it’s not even just words also as the tool. It’s tone. Like it’s body language. I mean, it really, all of it is communication. And I do think a lot about communication. I think a lot about pauses. I think a lot about repetition. I think a lot about annunciation. I do think a lot about the words and I think, you know, I noticed a lot in conversation that’s really, really important to be very specific. Which is, you know, like communicating in another language is hard. I also, you know, think like “style” is also really important. Like some people speak quick, use a lot of words. Like each word isn’t so valuable, but they with an energy and that energy, you know, is more impactful than any individual word for example might be. So I do think a lot about energy and what energy I bring the energy other people bring to, to groups.. to interactions. You know, especially with comedy, like so much of it is about the energy and the emphasis. The words are important, but it’s like, you know, the same words verbatim said by different people. Is the difference between like being funny or not.
MC: 42:04 You do a lot of work with meditation. And you’re also involved in Jewish spaces as well. I was curious if you could just say a little bit bit about kind of what each of those worlds, what they do to make the different parts of your soul sing.
AL: 42:32 Sure. I love and I really like and care about Jewish community. I feel, you know, Jewish learning, Jewish community, Jewish Spirituality. Discussing ideas in Jewish community is and has always been important for me. You know, community at it’s core is important for me and you know, meditation, it’s an amazing practice. It’s… mindfulness is something that I just feel works. It’s not that everybody needs it, but I think everybody would benefit from it. And so both of those things are a big part of my life and it always feels good being able to situate a spiritual practice, mindfulness tradition within, you know, a community that you feel really comfortable.
MC: 43:15 All right. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Andrew Lustig. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe to raising holy sparks. If you really enjoyed it, please give it a five star review as this really helps to support the show. I’d like to now play Andrew’s poem of “I am Jewish”. Before doing so, just a friendly reminder to tune in next week for our next episode. And as always be well and be the awesome you that you are. Enjoy Andrew Lustig’s “I am Jewish”.
AL: 43:53 “I am the collective pride and excitement that is felt when we find out that that new actor, that great athlete, his chief of staff.. is Jewish. And I am the collective guilt and shame that is felt when we find out that that serial killer, that Ponzi schemer, that wife-beater is Jewish. I am the Jewish star tattooed on the chest of the teenager who chooses to rebel against his parent’s and grandparent’s warnings of a lonely goyim cemetery by embracing that same Judaism and making permanent his Jewish identity. I am all the words in Yiddish I’ve been called all my life that I still don’t understand… I am going to all three phish shows this weekend! I am my melody of Adon Olam. I am.. MY melody of Adon Olam. The words may be the same, but I am my melody of Adon Olam. I am not getting bar mitzvahed. I am a bar Mitzvah. I’m a concept foreign to the rest of the world. I am not Judaism. I am sleepaway camp. I am your grandmother, who has seen Chortkov and Auschwitz. Who has seen 49 67 and 73 and who’s tired of trying to make peace with those people who just want to blow up buses and destroy her people. I am the 19 year old who has seen Budrus, Don’t mess with the Zohan, and waltz with Bashir and who thinks.. who knows peace is possible! I am the complicated reason you take the cheese off the burger you eat at the Saturday morning tailgate. I am constantly struggling to understand my Jewish identity outside of religion. I am the Torah and not the Old Testament. I am a Kippah, not a skull cap. I am a Jew and not in Israeli. 5,000 years old, not 60. A religion. Not a country. I’m never asked if I have horns or a pot of gold, if I rule the world, or why I killed Jesus. I am asked where my black hat is. If I really get eight presents on “my Christmas”, why my sideburns aren’t super long and if I’ve “really” never tried bacon. I am asked what a gefilte fish is. I say, I don’t know. I don’t like it. Nobody does, but we eat it because it’s what we do. I am asked if my dad’s a lawyer. I say no.. my mom is. My dad’s an accountant. I am asked if my grandparents were in the Holocaust as if it was a movie. Yeah, they were. But luckily they were also on Schindler’s list. I am on Jdate and not match.com Because, well, it’s just easier that way. I am that feeling of obligation to buy the Dead Sea salt at the mall kiosk because you know the woman’s Israeli. I am an IDF sweatshirt and the chai around your neck. I am a hundred dollar challah cover that you will never use, and a five shekel piece of red string that you will wear until it withers away. I am your Hebrew name. I am your Israeli cousins. I am your torah portion and your 13 candles. I am your bat Mitzvah dress, and the cute Israeli soldier on your birthright trip. I am 18 when I discovered that Israel is not actually a garden of Eden, of milk and honey, where Jews of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and styles of worship come together. Eternally happy and appreciative to do a constant horah in the streets of the Holy Land. I am still confident that it will be. I am the way your stomach forgets to be hungry and your lungs forget to breathe when the rabbi commands the final Tikyah Gdolah at an entire congregation. A congregation that is not any one synagogue but an entire people listens to what is on January 1st is a ball dropping in times square. But today, any day in late September or early October for the 5770th time is a Ram’s horn being blown into for what seems like 10 minutes, like the eight days the oil burned, and how David defeated Goliath, and how Moses parted the seas. It would have been enough, dayenu! How we won the war and how your grandparents survived. Ness gadol haya sham, shannah tovah, time for bagels and lox. Because I am Jewish.”
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