My sister is a huge Howard Stern fan. It doesn’t fit; she doesn’t typically respond to raunchy humor, especially if it has even a hint of misogyny. For some reason, Howard Stern is the exception; she says she gets him. It’s to the point where she is personally insulted if I say anything negative about “Howard.”
So, because I have a long commute — and, if I’m honest, I really sort of like that my sister is a Howard Stern super fan, because how fun is it to discover something surprising about someone you thought you knew everything about — I’ve been listening to “Howard” on the way to work.
Yesterday they played Howard’s interview of Lady Gaga (it was a replay).
Here’s another fun fact about my sister: she is a Lady Gaga super fan, too. “Bad Romance” got her through a very bad romance.
So this was perfect; a morning of connecting to my sister’s interests, both of which were surprises to me when I first found out about them.
And as it turned out, I had a lot of fun listening to the Lady Gaga interview. The thing that really gave me pause — aside from her amazing talent as a singer, which I knew already, but maybe not the extent — was that both she and Howard are driven to create because they want to contribute to others. She talked about how, when she writes her songs, she doesn’t write for herself — she imagines a flustered mother of three who doesn’t have much money and she writes for her. Howard too said he imagines a guy driving home from work who’s had a long, bad day and needs a laugh.
That may not sound particularly fascinating or surprising, but it got me thinking: I have two creative passions. Writing and singing. Why do I do it?
Most of the reasons I’d give you would probably have to do with the benefits that I personally get out of those things. It isn’t even because of being self-absorbed, either; it’s more because it’s hard for me to imagine that others would get any significant value out of me expressing myself creatively.
I mean, if I were to imagine a person I were writing or singing to — someone who I wanted to contribute to with my creative expression — who would they be? My mind can’t even get there, it immediately starts objecting, saying things like: “You really think your self-expression could be a contribution to someone else? Ha, ha! Like, seriously — who do you think you are? I’ll tell you: not Lady Gaga.”
That negative voice is so strong that I can’t even answer the question.
Lady Gaga, in contrast, approaches her gifts without doubt that her expression of them is a contribution to the world. That came though very, very strong in her interview. And I’m not even sure it’s because, in hindsight, she has the evidence to prove it (millions in record sales, millions loving her music). From what she said, it seemed like it was something she just knew all along, from the beginning — an ingrained belief about who she is, before she had even fully cultivated her talents (in fact, this belief gave her the drive to do so).
I wish I were there. I wish that empowering belief that she has about herself and her gifts had been instilled in me as a child. I wish I didn’t have to waste so much time being defeated by feelings of doubt. The hard part is sometimes (but only sometimes) I get that that is the main thing that separates me from wildly successful people — not drive, or connections, or even talent, but, doubt.
But it isn’t just that; ever since I left college (undergrad), I can’t bother myself with any larger purpose at all. The very idea is too much for me; I’m just trying to improve my world, my relationships, my life and my family’s life (Jimmy, the boys, my immediate family–and it doesn’t go much further than that). In my head, that’s more than enough to keep me occupied.
M mentioned “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is showing on Hulu. I started watching it and thought it was good; now I’ve continued watching it and think it may be really groundbreaking and perhaps fucking great.
I don’t want to spoil the story, but the main character, June, finds herself in a modern dystopia where women have no rights, no identity and no value beyond being subservient partners to men, breeding stock, and sexual objects.
In other words, pretty close to the world we currently live in (lol). I’m joking, but only kind of.
One of the recurring themes in the show is June’s inner tension between trying to ensure her own survival and that of her family, on the one hand — and connecting to the larger purpose of trying to change the society she finds herself stuck in (because she realizes what a horrible impact it’s having on everyone), on the other.
Through flashbacks, they show you that this world happened slowly over time, in large part because everyone failed to stop it — they weren’t brave and outspoken enough when they needed to be, letting things just get worse and worse and worse until suddenly this extreme new regime took over. It’s frightening in a way, because when they show these “flashbacks” of what led to this horrible society, at times it really does look and feel like our current world — or at least my view of our/my current world.
And I’m not talking about Trump. There are things about the world that bother me much more than Trump, things that predate him (and that will postdate him, too).
But do these things bother me enough to want to change the world, not just for myself and my family, but everyone?
I’m just not sure I can get there, and my inability to do so troubles me. But should it?
I remember when I was staffing the Basic, Liz kept going on about “we may have the next Martin Luther King in here, so make sure those chairs are lined up straight!”, etc.
I had a reaction when she said that. I wanted to say: what if we don’t have the next MLK in here, Liz? What if we just have a bunch of ordinary people who are looking to make their lives more meaningful in ways that matter to them? Is that not enough for you? Are the students not worth it to you unless one of them wants to change the whole damn world?
That’s a strange reaction, right? I mean I’m not knocking Liz, I get that my reaction to her saying what she said was more than a little bizarre. And, now that I think about it, maybe somewhere in my reaction to her statement is my “larger purpose” for my creative expression.
I mean, I’m too tired to write about politics, though I could. But for what? No one listens. People just righteously talk at each other, then act surprised when their message gets through only to those that already agree with them. That’s why Trump got elected, in my view; not because of widespread bigotry, but, a fundamental failure to listen.
But I don’t think politics would be authentic for me anyhow, even if I had the stomach for it. Convincing people is something I do as an attorney, and while it is a pretty creative exercise (especially in the way I approach it) — my job consists of telling the most compelling version of the truth possible for money, basically — it isn’t something I am seeking to do outside of my profession (at least not right now).
To get back to my reaction to Liz wanting to train the next MLK, when I think of it sitting here now, I feel closer to why I sing and why I write.
It isn’t to change the world, or to reach the next MLK (though still I have the nagging thought – should it be?). It’s closer to what “Howard” and Lady Gaga said. I just want ordinary people to find more meaning in their lives, and I hope the things I write can lead them there. That’s not really a vision for the world, though it could be. I imagine if everyone could find a little more meaning in their otherwise ordinary lives, the world as a whole would necessarily improve.
Music for me is slightly different; I’ve cultivated my voice to be soothing and infused with emotion, to be used as a vehicle for healing (that’s the goal anyhow). I want it to be like saying: I get your pain and I’m here to tell you that there’s hope and that it will be okay. That is what singing did for me, when I started doing it about 6 years ago in the wake of my first marriage falling apart. I used it to cope with my deep loneliness and seemingly irrevocably damaging pain, somehow ultimately finding my way to the other side.
So maybe I do know what my purpose is, though I’m afraid to claim it; I still have to phrase it as a hypothetical. In other words, I feel like I’m saying: “This is what my purpose would be if it were the case that my creative self-expression could contribute to others.”
Weak, right? But it’s a start.