There was this feeling that I would get often – well, I remember it as being a frequent sort of instance – that would get my mind moving and propel me, emotionally toward creation of … something. During college, in particular, it came more in the form of what I recognized as melancholy. I found that place to be warm, actually, and full of promise; pregnant with words and melodies and good intentions.
In those days I would actually do something about it, much the same as I am doing something now.
I’ve found that over the years other forms of art have awakened this desire to create within me. First there was Almost Famous. The combination of one of the greatest musical soundtracks ever and stunning visual cinematography, deep characters that grabbed at uncertainty and held on with the tightest grip possible and expressed a sincere and visceral sort of love… there are moments in that film that are perfect. They are moments that transcend the reels and film and machinery and manage to touch on profound emotional energy. They approach life.
Then there was How it Feels to be Something On… by Sunny Day Real Estate. I found it in a fragmented chronology. Its release was much earlier and I had been devouring the followup record. But the first time I heard the counter melodies and changing time signatures in the track “Roses in Water” that stirring feeling bubbled to the surface again.
In those days lyrics flowed from my pen. I carried a small notebook around. Word formed stanzas on my monitor when sitting in the dorms. And from time to time those musings would meet a melody and become a song. Sometimes I’d even play that song for someone. Twice I even recorded them. So many faces and melodies and moments blurred together.
Today I don’t even remember the chords and they were never written down.
Maybe that feeling is nostalgia. I’ve always viewed nostalgia as a conceptual framework more than an emotional response, but it’s the closest term I arrive at to describe what I mean. But more accurately, it’s this deep thirst – a craving or yearning or aching – to just make something beautiful.
Tonight we finally watched the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I remember early in my freshman year of college being told by my friend Ian that I should read the book. I always wanted to, but never got around to it. Actually, now that I think of it, the novel may have been recommended to me in high school by another friend as well. Either way, the book remains unread by me. But the film.
The film has that life quality to it that so few other films achieve in my book. Only a handful touch on the same spirit for me; Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Perks… I think there are a couple of others I am missing tonight, and honestly, I’m half ashamed of the Elizabethtown nod because it’s kind of trite overall. But in the end these each affect me in a way that makes me want to create.
Truthfully, it puts me in a melancholic mood. I look at my life and the work I need to do to pay rent and buy food and feel a bit of contempt. I envy those that I know who have taken to the wind and followed the black pavement and their creative drive. Would I live in a cabin in the woods and make stuff? Yes. Yes, please. Give me a guitar and sounds of nature and lots of time that isn’t filled with emails and screens and persistent access to everything.
Give me quiet.
Give me stillness.
Give me some sort of release.
Lately I’ve been thinking about society. And I fear that we are bringing up a generation that cannot create outside of a given system. I was talking to my friend Steven and he mentioned the ways that many people can only work and create in a given context. And that makes me scared, in a way. When I was growing up, it was right on the cusp of video game popularity. But I never had a console and had very few computer games. I was given Lego sets and clay and Play-Dough. And I would make stuff from nothing.
Today, even in education, kids are not creating but regurgitating. Whatever they ‘make’ is done within a pre-prescribed structure of rules. Even higher education is heading toward job training in primacy. But if everyone is trained for a job, who is going to think up new job sectors and create new businesses? I fear entrepreneurship and artistry and novel thinking is quietly being assaulted and suppressed. It might be paranoia, but it feels that way.
This yearning to create – is that a natural impulse that everyone has? Is it built into the human fabric by its creator? Or is that one of those things that some of us “artistic people” have going on in our messed up heads? I do often have the impulse to drop everything and run before the rational and responsible side of my brain reminds me of my current reality. Everyone once in awhile that impulse gets the better of me and I make a great decision and a massive change.
That’s what moving the Austin was about: a massive change and an impulsive need to start over someplace. But it wasn’t really starting over. There was more building on prior skill and reputation than normal.
For example, when I left for college, I really started over. I left California for corn fields and Southern Illinois. I had never visited campus, knew no one at the school, had no family in the area. But a simple, “Hey, I’m Joel. I’m from So-Cal” and I was new. I discovered that the music and style I had started to develop in high school was right on for the group I wanted to fit in with. Friendships were formed left and right. There was no baggage.
I remember thinking about this phenomenon of starting over in context of relationships. In high school, most of my friend-group was made up of people from church and people from school. I had crushes, sure, but never dated anyone. I’m still friends with a lot of the people I grew up with, including some of the girls I was fond of during that time. Heading to college I was excited to start new relationships with people.
Hopefully this is a common thought, but it’s nice to get away from people you’ve known for years, sometimes, and start over. History doesn’t matter in new relationships. And that’s what it boiled down to for me. I never could’ve dated those girls I grew up with precisely because we had grown up together. We knew each other in our awkward stages and had lived parts of life together in our friend groups anyway. They already knew the good and the bad and strange. But new relationships are a way out of that avenue of baggage and hurt.
Until you create new baggage.
No, today I can’t start over. Or it’s much harder at least. For me especially. I feel so much responsibility to my wife, to my sisters, to my parents. To my clients even. Do I want to be a designer? If I dig deep, I’m not so sure. I like it better than most other things, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t satiate the desires I have to create beauty. Design as a profession is too reliant on commercial prowess. It’s a business and not an art. And always has been. Just ask Steven Heller.
So I keep telling myself that I’m working hard now so that I can do that later. But I only half believe it. I’d have to build some kind of self-sustaining empire to be able to chill in a few years and I just don’t see that happening.
This year I want to find time to create things. I want to stop working every once in awhile and write. Tonight it starts.