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Wisdom

Mrs. Smith

Philanthropist, Tone Poet, Guitar Hero

Mrs. Smith is a philanthropist, tone poet, and the world’s most unlikely guitar hero. Her musical performance comedy has been featured on America’s Got Talent, PBS Television, and by GUCCI. She has performed sold out shows at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, Le Poisson Rouge, and The Cutting Room. She can be found on Instagram and Facebook, where her music videos, gear reviews, and memes have garnered views in the millions.

What do you do when you feel creatively blocked or frustrated?

I have to talk it out. When I’m creating something, there are moments when you have to go inward, when you must look within. I have to find the story inside me. Maybe I hear a piece of music and it triggers a memory or it triggers a fantasy. It doesn’t have to be your own story, it could be a version of you. So often I will be triggered by something outside of me, and I’ll say, “I want to do that. I want that flavor that speaks to me. How can I fit it into my show?” So then you explore and you sing out the song. You play the solo. You write. You dictate into a voice memo. But then you reach a point where it’s like “I don’t know what’s next” or “Is this stupid? Is this terrible? Is this funny? Is this good? Will people hate me?” Eventually you run face-first into that terrible internal judge, the internal critic. Many times, you feel stuck.

What do you do when you feel creatively blocked or frustrated?

So what to do? I say call a confidante. Go out for coffee. Meet with some friends. If you’re part of a 12-step fellowship, you should probably be going to meetings every day, so do that. Go to your therapist. If you have no money, talk to a stranger. Start up a conversation. But get out of yourself. That’s it. You’re stuck in yourself and you’re stuck inside your head. Get outside yourself.

What do you do when you feel creatively blocked or frustrated?

Just even one conversation. Sometimes it’s about, “Can I just say this?” Sometimes we can be a little precious. I like to refer to fellow creative people as “expressors” and as expressors we can be a little self-absorbed. How about calling up a friend and asking them, “How are you today? How is your project? What are your stumbling blocks? What are your challenges?” Maybe getting out of your own way means giving a darn about another person, about another human being’s challenges. So I put that idea out there, as a tool.

How do you define success?

Thing-ness. Someone can take a picture of an apple and you think, “That’s a picture of an apple. I can see that’s an apple.” Someone had a camera and they took a picture of it, and this is an artifact of that moment. Then someone can look at that photograph of an apple see something else—something about the light, the angle—now we can look at it and say, this isn’t just an apple, this is “The Forbidden Fruit.” Now we are in a symbolic space. You see what I mean? The apple that was photographed becomes something larger.

How do you define success?

In my realm—in the world of Mrs. Smith—you take sounds, you take stories, you get some people together, and you do something. You’ve got a certain amount of time and you’ve got these people staring at you, and you’re going to sequence these things in order and try to have the right flow and the right resonance and the right velocities of things. If you’re lucky, something happens. People walk away from your show and they say, “Well, that was a thing.” Do you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, as long as it’s at least a thing.

How do you define success?

I don’t know how you define success. That “thing” you’ve created—it could make you a million, it could make nothing. Maybe it’s only four people watching and it’s pay what you can and they’re each paying five bucks—thank you, I’ve done that—it doesn’t matter. This thingness is still there. Maybe they all walk in going, “I’m here because of a friend. I’ve been dragged here. This will be torture.” And you’re on the bill with all these other performers, and yes, maybe some of them are dreadful, bless them, but you get up there and do something and you walk off stage and you go, “I think that was a thing.” You’ve done your job.

What advice do you have for other “expressors”?

It’s such a confusing time. This is a one of the most horrific times to be a human being in quite a while, but you know what? There have always been dark times. People need to remember the ’70s, back when people like Patty Hearst completely stole my thunder. An heiress was kidnapped by revolutionaries and robbed a bank. Nixon was ousted. There were riots in the streets. There was incredible amounts of crime, so that’s nothing new. It just feels like now we have all these other forces pressing down on us, the old avenues for commercial success have been utterly smashed to smithereens. A YouTuber with a webcam can have more power than a broadcaster. Facebook is reaching more people than the New York Times. Fact-checking is a distant memory.

What advice do you have for other “expressors”?

Please be aware of the chaos. There are so many expressors to contend with, and so many expressors with dark, chaotic intentions. Plus, everyone thinks they’re an expressor now. They all seem to have something to say. And I’m quite sorry, but I think most of it is just the stuff of nincompoops. So please be aware of this dynamic and the effect it can have on you, especially if you’ve been expressing for all these years and building your work and your artistry and your skill and your intelligence. Take care of your “thing.” Take care of your art as well as your heart. Shelter yourself from the noise of the world when you can. Avoid too much exposure. Social media is a powerful tool, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. You must alternately participate in the world, act responsibly when you must, and know when to tune out, take shelter, and just focus on your thing.”

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