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.

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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.