It’s only a partial coincidence that Let Me Out, the new book by Grammy Award musician-turned-communications lecturer Peter Himmelman, was released amid the flurry of Jewish holidays over the last month.
The themes of discovery, soul-searching and reuniting with a person’s internal creative spark all dovetail sweetly with the High Holy Day motifs.
“In terms of significance, there’s no question that for me the themes in the book have everything to do with renewal, personal reinvention being a core idea of Let Me Out,” explained the Shabbat-observant 56-year-old Himmelman in a phone interview from his Santa Monica, California, home last month.
“Having the ability to see oneself, as if from a great height, so that one might make adjustments in the manner one is living and relating to others, is another central idea that relates well to the Tishrei holiday season. All of it is auspicious as far as I’m concerned.”
So is his debut as an author. The book, subtitled “Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life,” builds upon the lessons that Himmelman – who is married to Bob Dylan’s daughter Maria – learned as his successful recording and touring career morphed into an equally prosperous stint as a songwriter and composer for dozens of network television shows including Bones, Judging Amy and Men In Trees.
The “secrets” of releasing his inner creativity became the basis for a new career as a founder of Big Muse, a company that teaches creative thinking, leadership skills and deeper levels of communication to Fortune 500 corporations and leading business schools where he has presented his Big Muse “Release your inner rock star” sessions. They form the basis for the reader-participatory journey that unfolds in Let Me Out.
The “me” in Let Me Out is a person’s creative spirit that has too often been harnessed by fear and imprisoned by adulthood – and controlled by our internal voice that strikes down our hopes and dreams with a succinct ‘don’t be stupid, that’s an awful idea.’ Himmelman has a name for that voice – Marv – a metaphor for Majorly Afraid of Revealing Vulnerability. Marv can be necessary, like when you’re about to be attacked by a wild boar and he tells you to ‘RUN!’ On the other hand, when Marv speaks up just as you decide to open up that antique store you always wanted to or ask out the cute cashier at the corner market on a date, he can be paralyzing.
Putting Marv in his place and opening up what Himmelman calls the ‘big muse’ of inner creativity allows readers to get out of their mental rut, stop procrastinating and fulfill their goals – whether they are switching careers, learning to make great pie dough or becoming an ace sailor.
PART DOWN-TO-EARTH self-help tome, part folksy wisdom based on wry and poignant anecdotes by the author and part personal manifesto, Let Me Out guides readers in how to regain their “kid thinking.”
As Himmelman writes, “Very young children don’t think about the consequences or how they’ll be perceived; they just play. Studies have shown that when we fully immerse ourselves in joyous doing – as opposed to anxious mulling – we can become more creative.”
Joy plays a big part in Let Me Out, those moments in which we lose track of time and self while doing something we’re so immersed in. Himmelman calls them Milky Way moments – those moments of “exquisite gratification you get as soon as you become engrossed in the small actions that make the manifestation of a dream possible.”
According to Himmelman, the Milky Way moment for a child violinist who one day dreamed about playing Carnegie Hall isn’t only the actual performance 20 years later.
“You get the moment you become engaged in the experience,” whether it’s practicing by yourself, listening to Jascha Heifetz or performing at an eighth-grade assembly.
Himmelman boils down the essence of achieving those moments into three succinct components – Specific, Present and True, and uses his own long-standing desire to take flying lessons to exemplify how they work together.
“I’ve wanted to fly airplanes all my life, but I was terrified because I didn’t want to crash. I literally went to my book and thought, ‘OK, it’s coming out, I better try this out and see if it works,’” he said.
Breaking down his goals into the tiniest, specific parts, he did the simplest thing possible – he walked to his computer with the intention of sitting down and doing a Google search on flying lessons in the Santa Monica area.
“I then wrote down the phone number and the flight times, all tiny incremental steps, but they were a universe apart from the way I acted before of constantly mulling an idea over fearfully.”
That’s where Present comes in – being able to take those small steps now and not put them off. Himmelman’s tip: “If you want to get started, you need to be able to do a step within five minutes. If you can’t, then it’s too big a step.”
Perhaps most importantly is the True element, which is where much of the book’s depth derives. If your goal is to become a lawyer because it will make your parents happy, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, he says.
“Is this an idea that’s self-generated or are you doing it under great pressure from someone else? If it’s the latter, then you’ll find that during the painful process, you’ll lack the resilience, and certainly lack the joy,” he says. The book delves into the obstacles that keep people in a stuck mode and uncovers the psychological shackles that bind people from achieving their goals, a state that Himmelman metaphorically calls elephant ropes.
“Elephant trainers in India would tie baby elephants to posts with a very heavy chain, and as much as the elephant would try to get away, it would hold them in place,” he says. “But as they matured, they got so accustomed to the chain that the trainers would only need a thin piece of rope to keep them in place – a rope that they could easily tear apart.
“Our human elephant ropes don’t have to be huge, traumatic things like a horrible divorce or sexual abuse, but smaller things that stay under the radar that prevent us from breaking free.”
IT MAY sound like it borders on spiritual hokum, but Himmelman’s down-home voice of reason and personable, breezy prose reins in the powerful tendency in these kinds of books to veer off toward California New-Age sentiments. If Will Rogers wrote a personal growth book, it would read a lot like Let Me Out.
Himmelman does old Will one better by providing on-hand reader exercises throughout the book that he calls Brain Bottle Openers (BBO), designed to put the theories into practice and help jumpstart the creative process. The fixed-time exercises range from writing Marv a furlough notice to unlearning functional fixedness – the process of thinking out of the box and instead of perceiving an object like a mug to be a device to hold liquid, seeing it as other whimsical tasks it could be used for such as a hat for a doll or a basket for a baseball. You might want to skip some of the BBOs, but they’re an integral part of the fun and discovery that the book offers.
Himmelman is subtle about bringing his Judaism into the inclusive mainstream scope of the book. But he devotes a section to Shabbat observance and how the 25-hour disconnect from the material world is another valuable tool to unlock the creativity that is shackled by being slaves to technology.
In another passage, he sources Pirkei Avot in describing the four types of human temperament: easy/hard to anger and to forgive. He then demonstrates what type he is (hard to anger, hard to forgive) by hilariously recounting an attempt to return some bad cheese to his local market – an anecdote that is worth the price of the book by itself.
Ultimately, Let Me Out is a hopeful and inspirational book that lets you feel good about yourself, or at least gives you the tools to move in that direction.
“At the base of it is something revolutionary, I think,” says Himmelman. “It subverts this pervasive idea out there in the world that’s probably always been there that we are not pretty enough, not famous enough, that we need to buy things and imitate people and be something other than we are.
“My hope for the book is that people will be able to start to have their own ideas that they become engaged in. The joy of engagement in your own creativity is enormous, nothing comes close to it. By making people be emboldened enough to feel a sense of power and volition of acting out their own ideal will bring a lot of light into the world.”