For the last thirty-seven point twenty-six minutes, you’ve been staring at a flashing cursor on your barren page. You’ve been mixing paint because the gesso on your canvas won’t “speak.” You’ve decided that today is a good day to just do scales on the piano. In about ten more minutes, you’ll bang your head on the desktop/easel/bench and question how you could call yourself an ‘artist.’ Ten more, and you’ll debate the wondrous attributes of a 9-5 job. There’s a supernova-sized hole where your inspiration used to live, and even an apropos band (Muse) won’t bring it back.
Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, I say to you: stop lying to yourself.
We creatives have our moments of impotency, and then we scramble for the Viagra of inspiration. Sometimes, it amounts to an intricate dance before the gods of passion. Sometimes, we seek out companionship. Sometimes, we try every trick and still go back to bang our head some more.
Last night, I was smacked in the face with a burning desire to create. If you haven’t heard or seen it yet, check out the underrated flick, Begin Again with Mark Ruffalo, Kiera Knightley, and Adam Levine. You’ll thank me later. In it, Ruffalo plays a worn and wrung out music producer about two drinks shy of the gutter. He stumbles upon Knightley playing, to her chagrin and her friend’s begging, her song at an open mic night. The rest is their journey to make an album in the great outdoors of the city. But the theme that wowed me was the beautiful dialogue of the difference between those that do music for creation’s sake and those who do music for glory. Those who create for creation’s sake can make nothing yet live fulfilled. Those who seek out glory will never be satisfied, no matter the wealth.
It also showed how, when you are focused on the creating, you can find beauty in the mundane. Granted, Ruffalo’s character related it to music. Dan (Ruffalo) and Greta (Knightley) had just walked around NYC with a playlist, a splitter, and two sets of headphones. As they are taking the world in by soundtrack, he says, “One of the most banal scenes is suddenly invested with so much meaning! All these banalities - They're suddenly turned into these... these beautiful, effervescent pearls. From Music.” Gah! I love that. I love it even more when I consider the truth he’s sharing really applies to creating, as a whole.
As artists, that is what we do. We take two people sitting quietly at a table and turn it into art. He’s on his phone, his body turned sideways like he’s already left. She’s leaning forward, arms wrapped protectively around herself, head bowed. One drop hits the table, and she quickly covers it with her arms, the shame of discovery too great.
That’s creativity. We creep into humanity, ask questions, and make the “banalities” of life interesting…because we come to realize there is nothing banal about it at all.
Still not inspired? Why not take a cue from the movie characters? Grab a pair of headphones and a phone loaded with a playlist. Instead of letting the music be your background noise, or (as I often do) instead of singing loudly, explore the world around you to the soundtrack that is your moment. You film creatives, notice how the wind swirls the leaves in front of you, landing at last on the feet of someone homeless. You painters, what movement do you see for the first time? Can you count the shades of green in the tree-lined streets? You fellow writers, what human interaction do you uncover and what does the body language say (sometimes hearing the actual words gets in the way of noticing that)?
There is inspiration all around us because there is humanity and the not-so-banal everywhere. I’ve got one foot out the door already, eager to find my “effervescent pearl.”
Comment to this post and share your pearl!
Begin Again. Directed by John Carney, performances by Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, and Adam Levine, Sycamore Pictures, 2014.