(note: I'm trying to write more and judge myself less (when you read this you'll understand what I mean) but as a heads up, because I can't totally let go, I just want you to know that this is a stream-of-consciousness piece...it has not been edited or even read through. I just wrote it and hit publish. So please forgive any errors, like, iPhone style ya know? Thank you!!!)
Ever wonder what would happen if you listened to two Broadway musicals written by Lin-Manuel Miranda one after another on a five hour roadtrip by yourself?
The truth is, I didn't think anything would happen. I thought I would get to Tallahassee and most that the trip would have felt faster than before because I was so thoroughly entertained. But no, what happened when I checked in to my hotel genuinely shocked me.
I wrote 1400 words of rap. Or maybe spoken word. I really don't know what to call it, but all I know is it confirmed something I'd been doubting lately.
I'm re-reading Don Hahns book on creativity Brain Storm (have you read it yet? GO READ IT NOW!! ;)) and in it he says that impression without expression is depression. I don't know about you, but when I read that I went WHOA. And YEP. And WOW.
I've read enough about creativity to know impressions are important, and that in many ways you don't know which ones are going to lead to your next idea. I got the idea for my first book walking from a print shop at my average higher ed job. I got the second walking to the bathroom at a Panera.
As I've been working on...actually, let's be honest here...as I've been wrestling with my second book, I have felt very unproductive. I haven't been writing as much as wrestling, forming, redefining, reinventing. All the while knowing all I "should" be doing is writing and yet I didn't know how to write while depressed, numb. I just didn't. I wrote in my journal every morning - pages and pages. But the book. Nothing.
I didn't give up. I just decide to use this time to get impressions. I plant a garden. I raise a puppy. I walk. I read a biography about Jim Henson. I start reading the biography of Alexander Hamilton. I notice things. I listen to music, really listened to it, for the first time. I stop reading and start singing, Hamilton mostly, loudly and in my car. I find reasons to drive just so I could sing and act out this play over and over again. I remember my first dream - to be Belle on Broadway. A dream I know I don't have the skills for, but it's still the first one that always sprung to mind. There are dandelion decorations all over my house - they make me think about the adventure in the great wide somewhere that I'm after.
Then it came time for me to drive the five hours to Tallahassee, FL to host a TV show I drive up to host twice a year. I was excited especially because it would be the first time I would be able to listen to, sing, and act Hamilton all the way through without any interruptions. The drive is today.
I decide to start the trip with Lin Manuel Miranda's (the star and writer of Hamilton) first musical, In The Heights. I listen to that all the way through, then Hamilton.
It's as awesome as I hoped.
"Who lives who dies who tells your story" fades out and I realize I'm still 10 minutes away from my hotel. I decide to sit in silence, letting all that art just wash over me.
And then - truly to my utter surprise, I start rapping. Is it rapping? Is it spoken word? I'm still to embarrassed to say. I don't know enough about either. All I know is that something started happening. I started speaking (riffing?) really fast and expressing all these things I haven't been expressing and it feels like magic. It's fast and it rhymes and I never rhyme I'm terrible at thinking on my feet and yet all of a sudden this is happening. Is it good probably not but all I know is that it helped a lot and all I know is that I was doing it on the spot and all I know is that something began to change something began to rearrange and I saw that even though I feel so small that all this time I thought was wasted hasn't been wasted but these impressions have been pasted into this tiny part into my brain that turns into refrain on Thomasville lane and I don't know where any of this is goin but all I know is that I can't stop and all I know is, this studying I been doin of Lin and Alex and the whole Hamilton crew is because somewhere deep down I knew that learning from the only thing that made me feel alive when I couldn't feel anything was the way to sew up this cut that I thought was forever but it makes me wonder if first you have to sever before you get clever and I don't know maybe I'm just spitting the ignorance of the amateur but whatever it's done and ya know the truth is it's just fun.
Ok, see what just happened there? Please don't laugh. But that's what happened in the car. And then I walked up the steps to my room and it kept happening and I wrote stuff on my phone. And then I sat down at the computer, because I'd been talking with my husband about writing out of my genre just as a way to loosen myself up and just PLAY and have fun with writing again. DEFINITELY nothing for anyone else's eyes (I'm NOT a fiction writer) but just for fun. As this was happening I figured 'ok let's go!'
Minutes later I had 1400 words.
Now, I'm not saying I'm going to write the next Hamilton. Ha. And those 1400 words will most likely never be seen by anyone else's eyes.
But what was really important about this was what I felt when I was doing it - this sense that Lin was rubbing off on me. And that may sound silly but here's the thing, all I've been able to do during this down time is soak up the things and the people that inspire me - and my biggest fear was that it would all be a waste, that perhaps I was really just a fan, that perhaps what I thought was "studying" and "learning" from other people was really just lethargy, sloth, procrastination.
But as the words started flowing in a way they'd never ever ever ever flowed before I knew in my gut that the studying of the artists and the art that moves me does indeed impress upon me. That art, if you let it, can actually help you be a better artist yourself.
That's the thing here. I'm TRYING to be an artist. It doesn't come naturally to me. I was a straight-A student. I got two B's in high school and one of them was pottery. I always thought being an artist was something you were or you weren't. I think we're all creative, but I've come to think being an artist is a choice. A hard choice. One you don't make once, but more like moment to moment. I've found it takes more courage than I ever thought possible. I've found that yes, some people seem to just have that courage, that defiance.
I am not inherently a rebel. I'm not inherently courageous. I am not inherently confident in myself or my art or in my ideas. I am wholeheartedly the opposite of all of those things.
But I'm trying to be an artist anyway. I started by creating stuff, but I've also found it vital, for me anyway, to learn from other people who create stuff. To see how they keep being brave. To see what they think about ambition, trying, failure, rejection. To peek in their art to see what they say, to find clues to how they're brave. To see how they do it and keep doing it. And how they edit themselves. How they deal with the criticism. How they deal with the times when their art doesn't match their ambitions, or when they feel flat out ignored.
That is one of the reason's I started this blog. To have an outlet to go beyond my magnifying glass and ask them directly. And their answers, have astounded me - have helped me just in the ways Hamilton has helped me.
And, by the way, someone who dances on the Hamilton stage will be featured on this blog soon (insert that emoji with the squinty eyes and big smile here).
It has haunted me that it's already April and I've only published one interview here so far. I've actually conducted many and have more scheduled. The transcribing, writing, editing, approving, and editing part has taken longer than I honestly could have imagined. It's funny, I started this blog to give myself an outlet to just produce with more immediacy since the book is such a long project, but I've chosen a genre that is anything but quick, interviewing and turning those interviews into a full length feature.
But I'm doing it anyway. Because even though it takes forever and makes me feel so bad about myself - there is almost nothing else I'd rather be doing.
So that's why a piece like this one exists, so that I produce, that I create, that I SPIT it out there without judgement, and in this case, without editing. I'm just throwing this out there to the wind because frankly I just NEED to. I NEED this. I need to stop worrying, editing, caring, just a little bit. Because it's killing me, the self doubt. It's stopping me.
So I'm just letting Lin inspire me and I'm speaking and writing fast, while remembering it took him six years to write Hamilton. Fast and slow. Patience and faith.
Thanks for being a part of this project with me. The next interview will come before the end of April, and as an apology I offer a picture of one of the reasons these interviews are taking so long to write. You can blame Stanley. ;)