it’s a breeze

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Hold on. Just relax. Because it’s about to get real crystal in the window, dreamcatcher, Shirley MacLaine, spirituality hippy dippy up in here. I’m going to say stuff like “The Universe” and “God” and I might even talk about magic. But I promise it’ll be okay and that you won’t want to vomit. I mean you won’t want to vomit due to what I’ve written but you might vomit because you ate some bad Indian food. I don’t know your life. Anyway, I’m thinking about these things, these topics of beings greater than myself a lot right now and especially how it relates to writing and creativity.

As I was walking this morning at an ungodly hour to go hear alcoholics yammer about their lives, I felt it: a breeze. Breezes are significant to me, believe it or not. (I know, I know. Insert eyeroll.) When I first got sober in Santa Monica, there were these incredible ocean breezes. Breezes so cool and gentle but powerful that you couldn’t help noticing them. Like everything else in the greater Los Angeles area, the breezes were like “Helloooo!!!” As I got to the part of the program-thing I do to stop drinking and hopefully stop being an asshole when I had to pick out a Higher Power, I thought the ocean was a good place to start. After all, it seemed responsible for these punch you in the face breezes and was also enormously vast. The ocean looked a lot like god to me in that moment. Plus on that side of town, it was easy to access and find which was important to me in that particularly fucked up phase in my life. From there on out, the breezes became my higher power’s way of saying, “Hey, boo. What’s up? Stop being ridiculous. Love you. Byeee.” My higher power and this relationship with G-to the-O-to the-D has since expanded. But breezes are still a nice way for us to keep in touch.

This morning’s breeze was no different. It was a little reminder that I was fine. That everything was cool and that I didn’t have to worry about running the show. The breeze and the magical force behind them had this. All of this. Which was fucking fantastic news to receive via the wind as I’ve been up in my own shit as of late. Now, not any more than normal for any alcoholic. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still try to micromanage the outcome of my own life or the lives of people around me. I’ve got a lot of pots currently on the stove right now. I don’t know where all of my finances are coming from or what’s going on in a few relationships or even what my career as a writer holds for me on a daily basis. It’s all an ongoing mystery and as intriguing as that may sound, it’s kind of frustrating for a control freak in remission like myself. Yet this little breeze shows up and reminds me that things are already great and that I’ll always be taken care of.

This all paramount when it comes to being creative. I need all of the outside forces to work in tandem with me to help me finish projects, to help me meet deadlines and to give me the momentum I may not be able to muster on my own. The nature of freelance writing is of the one-man-band variety without the snare drum or snazzy hat that my mind somehow associates with that title. Writing alone is exactly that-alone. There’s no Barbara in accounting to chitchat with over coffee breaks. There’s no snarky inner office email threads to snicker at. It’s just me, the cats and the computer. Whilst I am never afraid of the well drying up and me not having anything to talk about, I do need pushes, pats on the back and gentle nudges. The cats do what they can but they’re on a tight sleep 14 hours a day schedule that cannot be interrupted by my fragile writer bullshit. Therefore, the magic of the Universe comes in handy. By having faith in something bigger than myself, I can keep going. I can take risks that on my own I would never do. I can put myself out there and know I’ll be okay, no matter the outcome. This force, this mystical power, this whatever helps me feel less alone and pushes me to keep going. And for creative people that is half the battle.

They say, and by “they” I mean other hippy dippy spiritual types, that you can’t be in fear and in faith at the same time. To which I often reply to them, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m a multi-tasker! So we’ll see about that.” But they’re right. I know that at the end of the day all of it is a decision. Am I going to decide to feel isolated and solely powered by Sean’s insane ideas or am I going to rely on something else? By now, I know the answer. By now, I know that I have a choice. It all can be miserable, even writing, if I choose to make it so. But it can also be a breeze.

 

never let me down

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I’m still not convinced that David Bowie is actually dead. He was such a never-ending force of artistry and bold creativity for so long, that it makes accepting the fact that he’s no longer on this planet a hard pill to swallow. Nevertheless, he is actually gone from this realm. But he hasn’t stopped inspiring me.

With a mere 8 days left of my daily blogging fest, I’m slogging towards the end and feeling creatively zapped. I sat down this morning with coffee in hand and knew I had to start reading and listening to things that inspired me. I can’t summon these witty, wise wonderful posts on my own, people. So I had to act fast. If I let a feeling of “Oh, screw it!” takeover, I will be paralyzed and ain’t nothing coming out of this keyboard, honeychild. After falling down, the Google/YouTube rabbit hole, I landed, as I have before, on Bowie. I’m toying with idea of writing posts about different records from 1987 (like I did with True Blue and Tidal last year) so after perusing the Wikipedia page from that year, there he was: David Bowie. How could I forget that Bowie had released Never Let Me Down in 1987?

The record, considered a flop by many, was one I owned and in my 15-year-old brain didn’t think was that bad. Sure, it wasn’t the Changes One, greatest hits cassette that I burned a hole in. Nor was it Let’s Dance. But it was still Bowie for crying out loud. Bowie to me is like that saying about bad pizza- it’s still pizza. Besides, there are some great tracks on the record. Like the title song, for example. It’s Bowie does Motown or Motown does Bowie does 1987. Whatever it is, it’s decent track that holds up today. Also, you can do a lot worse in an 80’s song than “Day-In Day-Out”,the lead single from the record.

And even Bowie himself considered “Time Will Crawl” to be one of his all time favorite songs. The homoerotic dance moments in the video alone prohibit it from being a throwaway track.

Yet the album is far from perfect. Many of the songs are way over produced, a quality Bowie blamed himself for as he handed off the project to other people and didn’t stay involved. Some of the songs songs should probably not exist at all. I mean nobody, least of all our dear David Bowie, needs a song featuring a rap by Mickey Rourke. I swear I’m not making that up.  Plus, the timing of the record is notoriously crappy. After the mega success of Let’s Dance in 1983, Bowie struggled to find his footing. The followup, Tonight, was a commercial failure which breaks my heart to no end considering it features Bowie and Tina Turner singing the title track. That alone should shield it from any negativity.

Couple that with the tanking at the box office of Labyrinth, a fate unimaginable to kids who grew up loving that film and its music, and Bowie couldn’t catch a break. Things didn’t get better in 1987 as Never Let Me Down, despite decent sales, was seen as a flop, critically. Listening to it this morning, and I know this is a mega-fan speaking so my opinion isn’t exactly untainted, I found it to be really good. Charming, experimental, observational about societal issues yet tinged with Bowie’s cosmic optimism, Never Let Me Down, is far from a bad listen. Yet the real reason, I believe, I stumbled on it this morning, is this quote from Bowie in 1995 about the record:

“I felt dissatisfied with everything I was doing, and eventually it started showing in my work. Let’s Dance was an excellent album in a certain genre, but the next two albums after that [Tonight and Never Let Me Down] showed that my lack of interest in my own work was really becoming transparent. My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I’ve gotten to a place now where I’m not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it’s in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it’s a failure artistically, it doesn’t bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn’t have even bothered going into the studio to record it.”

I got chills reading that. Why? Because it felt so relatable and shocking at the same time. There is something incredibly human and reassuring about David Bowie struggling to find his footing in his work. This man, this god, this inspiration to millions, had bad times where he felt like his work sucked. What a relief. If David Bowie can feel disheartened by the creative process and hate what he’s doing but somehow still carry on, than goddamnit, I can keep writing for the rest of the month. I can let myself off the hook. I can breathe and laugh about things that weren’t that great. And most importantly, I can keep going.

So thank you, David Bowie. As always, you never let me down.

here’s to the ones who dream

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“The Dream” by Henri Matisse

Creativity takes courage or at least that’s what Henri Matisse said. But does it though? I mean really? Are we sure? Because courage? That’s a heavy ass word. Just typing it I shake my head and go, “Uh uh. No way.” The thing is if creativity does take courage then that means I’ll actually have to make the stuff I dream about! Also? I’ll actually have to let people look at it. So then it will take even more courage to deal with people hating it or worse than that- totally ignoring it’s existence. Oh fuck no.

Thankfully, it all has to start with a dream. Preferably not the dream I had the other night where I was high on drugs and trapped at a Christian themed amusement park run by sadists but a dream nonetheless. When I’m in dream territory, there’s no holds barred. It’s all “maybe I should” or “hey wouldn’t it be cool if” or “I’ve always kind of wanted to” type of ideas. They don’t need to stick. They don’t need to find budgets or time or audiences. They can just be dreams but I should be nice to them and take care of them like tiny, fuzzy baby birds. And the more of them I have at any given time, the better. I feel like my little old brain that’s perhaps been bitch slapped by chemicals one too many times needs a high concentration of dreams and crazy ideas. This is maybe why I consume films, television shows, books, magazines, music, visual art etcetera like I’m trapped in a never-ending game of Ms. Pac-Man(the superior Pac-Man and I will hear no other opinion on the matter!). I need a stream of ideas and inspirations running all day long so my brain and the dreams it produces doesn’t dry out. Creativity, or at least mine, has always been collaborative in the sense that it needs to be fed constantly and from dozens of sources.

Right now my brain is particularly well-fed thanks in part to the high density of terrific movies out right now. Saturday night, for example, I watched Hell or High Water, a modern western which is not my genre by a longshot. The film is so jam-packed with thought-provoking ideas and crackling dialogue that it didn’t even matter. We also watched Bright Lights on HBO, the new documentary about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds which given my love for Fisher was immediately heartbreaking and inspiring. Earlier in the week, we watched Manchester by the Sea. It simultaneously tore my heart out and made me laugh while reminding me how powerful great acting can be. Add to the pile recent viewings of Moonlight, Arrival, Sing Street and a few oldies thrown in more good measure and my head is overflowing with film dreams and inspirations.

Yet no current movie tackles the idea of dreams and the power to pursue them like La La Land. The film, which has become my litmus test for haters and negative people, is pure cinematic magic. It conjures up the beauty of classics like Singing in the Rain while somehow managing to feel totally fresh and original. It’s the sort of film that kids will watch in 5 years and fall in love with acting and the movies because of it. But to me it’s deeper than that. The central message of the movie is that pursuing your dreams is hard and heartbreaking but worth it. Emma Stone’s character sings an audition which feels more like a monologue (songologue anyone? I clearly can’t stay away from that pun) that utterly took the air out of the room in the packed theatre we watching it in on Christmas Day. In it, she tells the story of her aunt whom she loved and looked up to because she was a free spirit who followed her dreams. The story–spoiler alert– doesn’t wind up that great for her dear old aunt but she at least lived courageously. Which brings us back to what our buddy Henri said at the top of the post.

So terrific. I have a dream– cue the ABBA song. Now what? Well, some are just hanging out in the bus station of my mind, smoking cigarettes and drinking lattes for a short period of time. They’re funny. They’re charming. But they’re not built to last. They’ll leave but some of them might come back in the shape of something else later. It’s the dreams that won’t leave me alone that I have to take care of. These dreams are like pesky houseplants or whiny puppies. They need to be coddled, nurtured and looked after. But mainly they take large, daily amounts of courage. It takes some pretty big balls to pursue these nagging little dreams because it’s scary and there’s a really good chance that I’ll make something and nobody will read it or give a shit about it. But if the dream is persistent enough, it doesn’t really matter. This courage that felt impossible to muster up suddenly shows up simply out of necessity. It’s not a struggle. It’s not a should I or shouldn’t I moment. It’s a “I have to.” I need to remember that when this whole courage thing feels too hard or too heavy, that all the good changes in my life have happened because of courage. Fucking duh. I mean “the courage to change the things I can” is kinda the whole reason I’m no longer a tequila swilling, coke snorting vacuum from hell.  So I freak out and feel uncertain but find the courage anyway and take care of those little dreams and give them a fighting chance.  That’s where I am right now. I’m pursuing dreams and trying not to think too hard about how terrifying it all is or what a badass I’m going to have to become to make said dreams happen.

It’s also an incredible relief when I let myself off the hook for not always having courage. Courage, much like that tricky little devil honesty, isn’t something that comes second nature to me. It takes me a minute to get there and with some dreams, I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. But the point is to keep dreaming and keep praying for courage. And here’s to you if everyday you try to do the same.

beauty’s where you find it: the search for inspiration in uninspired times

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Here’s a puzzle for a cold and gray Friday: where the hell does inspiration come from? I call it a puzzle because at first glance, 2016 isn’t exactly a hotbed of inspiring moments and benchmark artistic achievements. When a reality star is our new president-elect and the most talked about musical performance of the year came from Corey Feldman, you wouldn’t be totally wrong for calling modern culture a trash heap of uninspired garbage. Still, as a creative person and a writer, inspiration is vital and my mission of seeking it out is never-ending.

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Modigliani. That’s always a good place for me to start. In specific, this particular Modigliani shown here which currently lives at the Norton Simon in Pasadena(my favorite Los Angeles museum and highly underrated in my expert museum trolling opinion.) This forlorn pregnant woman was Modigliani’s wife whom he painted a zillion times.  I remember staring at this photo back in 2010 with this guy I was dating (who later became my husband) and reading the little description printed next to it. It told the story of this woman, Jeanne Hébuterne, and how she jumped out a window killing herself and her unborn child the day after Modigliani died. I remember tearing up looking at this stunning woman and her pregnant belly. A painting nearly 100 years old absolutely devastated me with its profound beauty and tragic tale behind it. This moment in Pasadena with the guy I would marry has become my touchstone for inspiration. That creative people wield this type of power and potential to utterly rock the emotional core of those who come in contact with their work, suddenly hit me on that day. Sure, I’d been writing and making stuff my whole life, but my Modigliani moment cemented that the fight to stay inspired and keep pushing myself as a creative person was indeed a noble one.

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Next, the journey takes me to the present. Sure, finding inspiration among classic art is one thing but can it be found in current culture? My endless Twitter pop culture griping aside, I’m going to say yes. I am what you would call a mass consumer when it comes to pop culture. It’s a buffet and I load my plate up with whatever I can grab. Some of it is delicious. A lot of it isn’t great. But my theory is at least I’ve tried it. I’ve always been obsessed with “the new” which I’m sure at one point was born out of a desire to look cool in front of kids who I wanted to like me. Today, however, this obsession to see what’s next and what’s happening in the moment I think serves me pretty well as a creative person.

Honestly? I’ll watch, read or listen to anything that looks interesting. Like the other day, we took in a double feature in honor of my birthday. My perfect birthday at age 10 was going to the movies and eating cake. Funny how little has changed. We saw Moonlight (which I,like the rest of the world, loved) and we saw Arrival. The latter, a seemingly standard aliens and humans film was the one that really surprised me, however. The emotional content, the questions it asks about regret and the idea of being given the gift of language totally blew my brain open.  I found myself sobbing and feeling exhilarated when we left the theater. Another Modigliani moment but this time starring Amy Adams and a small popcorn. It caught me off guard and shattered my expectations, which is what most good art should do. Not to discount Moonlight at all, mind you. It’s a beautiful film which spurned a series of conversations over the next couple of days between me and Michael, another sign of good art. With a ton of writing to get done over the following days, this temporary escape to CinemaLand gave me much-needed fuel.

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Usually this quest takes me back to the here and now. The things around me: plants, animals, murals, art, weird neighbors, eavesdropped conversations, moments of tenderness amongst strangers –all of it gets shoved in the inspiration file. I can’t exactly get tickets in advance for this kind of stuff so the trick is to keep my eyes open and be alert. It does help that I’m an avid walker  and more often than not just stroll into these kinds of situations. Locations like the aforementioned museums or bookstores and libraries are more prone to be gateways to inspiration too.

Social media and the internet at large can be a never-ending fountain of inspiration too.  But it’s a double-edged sword as I’ve found just as much stuff online to depress the shit out of me as I have to inspire me. Thankfully, my online tribe is filled with some badass creative types. I recently turned over the question, “What’s currently inspiring you?” to these folks and the answers I got were, well inspiring. Everything from Little Women and Riot Girl LPs to animals and children to links to videos to discussions on how feelings like anger or depression might be the best sources of creativity of all. In crowdsourcing this question, I tapped into another source of inspiration: other artists and writers trudging through the work just like I am. These people I know and the million I don’t know are on the same quest as me and there’s something comforting about that.

This means I’m not alone and that I should keep going. I should keep watching, keep reading and keep saying yes.  Because in the words of Working Girl,“I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.”

But now it’s your turn: Are you one of those creative types who bubbles over all day long with inspiration always at your fingertips? Does inspiration soak in slowly through a steady stream of exposure to films, art, music and books? Or do you look back into the past or maybe even stay there until you’ve found what you’re looking for? Tell me about in the comments section and feel free to include videos, links and photos.