My daughter and I were lucky enough to catch “Hamilton” on Broadway during our recent trip (with the original cast save the first king and one fantastic understudy!), and I will talk about that more in another post. This is a nice HDR picture of the set (stage left) from my Note 4. Amazed that they let you take pictures, even if it is before the show starts.
But what I want to talk about is creation: writing and editing. Obviously in a play, unlike a movie, there is no editing of the performance; it’s all done in a rush, without a net. But it doesn’t arrive fully formed. It comes in starts and fits, and requires consistent if not constant pressure to move it forward.
Now I’ve written a lot, including hundreds of songs over the years, and some of them rush out fairly complete, and occasionally that shape feels complete and final and fantastic at once. But there are others, many still unfinished, that are a line or rhyme, or sometimes a few chords or notes, awaiting the next step. That step can come from more random inspiration, or the hard work of thinking and trying, and both methods work. Funny enough, each can take the same period of time to work. I’m talking about music today, but all art can be like this.
One feels harder and the other looks like wasted time.
Being patient and letting your mind and activities go elsewhere takes time and can mean you lose the thread at times, and risk the possibility of losing it completely. But in your head, it’s sometimes a stressful, persistent juggling. Oh, there are breaks, and then it returns. Juggle me!
The other method, which is not my favorite but I embrace it once it starts (like falling down a hill!), is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle made of glass. It’s intimidating before you begin and often painful to do.
It’s invisible, and you can’t see it or tell how big it is. Sometimes you get cut picking up the pieces and trying to find where they fit. You can shatter the whole thing just trying to put it together. Even when you feel that it’s done, it’s only a reflection to you, therefore you are never sure.
So you edit and tidy and clean up the edges and hope others can see it the way you want them to, or not see through it, or just understand it. Maybe any one person grasping even a piece of it would be enough, a sliver of appreciation cast over your shadow of doubt. Damn the layers, does anybody at least care that I made it?
“Hamilton” took Lin-Manuel Miranda seven years to write. Seven hard years of looking at shapes and threads and materials, mixing them together and throwing them away, and throwing them together, and carving out a form from a giant mass that looked nothing like the finished product. Sometimes creation is pleasant; one of the earliest songs was written on his honeymoon, a simple joyous discovery from inspiration and sudden understanding. Sometimes it’s a migraine-inducing search for a needle in a haystack that’s all needles except only one is the right one. Mixed media, indeed.
Why do it? Once you start you want to quit and you can’t. Or, you don’t want to quit and can’t get started.
Once you think you’re finished, you have to go back and go through it again in case you missed something, or are driven to fine-tune it because it deserves to be better; if not perfect, almost perfect. If not almost-perfect, tolerable. Why do it at all?
Why? For me, the joy of discovery. The soft ego of being the conduit. The collector’s thrill of being the first one to find something that may be valuable and no one else knows it yet.
This journey of creation, art or otherwise*, it’s what I’ve written about before: persistence and patience, a dance of contrasting approaches that meet in the middle of art, and commerce, and love, and family…. Oh, it’s life.
Enjoy the now, whichever one you are in, or change it as needed, whether they be big or small changes in the end.
* Many things can be art, be artistic, or be done with artistic finesse. It counts if it’s important to you, even just in the moment of action. Don’t be condescending about it, or conversely, put yourself down for working within your skills or situation. Parenthood, cooking dinner, having a conversation, cleaning house … Do you know why the fancy and mundane are explored in art? Because whether being honored or vilified, the trappings of life are the raw material from whence all things spring. Spring forth!
P.S. WE ARE ALL STAR STUFF (Carl Sagan).