Art, Honesty, Etc. Etc.


The short answer is that I wanted to be inspired, but sometimes the short answers are wanting. And sometimes, they’re something like lies.

I went out by myself. We got some dinner and put Scout to bed and then Trent crashed with a book. And I went out by myself, because I liked the idea of going to the Virginia Film Festival and I liked the idea of seeing something with some edge to it and once I realized that my screening was an hour later than I’d thought, I liked the idea of browsing in the used bookstore across the street to kill time. That’s the long answer—that I like the ideas of things. I like the idea of having some edge to me. I like idea of romanticized nights of inspiration. I like the idea of looking like I wanted to be inspired.

I wandered through that bookstore tonight, killing time, soaking in the scene, not the scene around me, but the scene of myself, as if I were starring in my own documentary or collecting memories to reference in an NPR interview about my creative process. I scanned through the cheap paperbacks, but decided they were too predictable so I picked up a book of poetry and sank down in the corner of a big leather couch. I read a few poems. I checked Instagram. There were moments of absorption, moments of genuine intrigue by the words on the page, but whatever they were, they were polluted moments.

I checked the time and headed for the counter and handed the book to the clerk. He asked me if I’d come looking for that particular book or just picked it up. The short answer was that I’d never heard of the poet, that he was over my head, but that I liked that his wisdom took work. But then I went on to the long answer. It involved reading one of the reviews on the back, calling it an “apt description” and stumbling through a handful of additional canned phrases, all pompous and annoying. I tripped on the door jam and escaped to the cold and hated myself.

I saw “20,000 Days on Earth,” a documentary about rock musician Nick Cave and his creative process. And despite myself, I was inspired, but it was the kind of inspiration that left me heavy. Cave described himself as a cannibal, waking up every morning thirsty to consume the intimate moments of his life and his relationships. He amplified them and distorted them. He let them cook and change and become his songs, his art.

And as I watched and watched, I knew and knew that I cannibalize my own life and my family’s lives all the time. I amplify. I distort. I cook. I change. And what comes out, I call my art. I watched and I knew and I hurt in knowing. At another point in the film, Cave said that in order to make good music, you have to know your weaknesses. And with that I was looking in a mirror again—I want authenticity too badly. I need it so much it becomes unreal. Instead, I become something I’ve invented. It’s a paradox and all that, and I ached in seeing it clearly.

I wanted a night of inspiration, or the look of one, or something in between, but I ended up with a used book of elusive poetry I’ll probably never read again—that and an intervention.


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