I have always admired those people I think of as real artists–the visual artists who paint and sculpt and draw, the performance artists who sing and dance and play an instrument, the filmmakers who are a little bit of both. You could argue that writing is an art, and because I write, I am therefore, an artist. I have argued that stance before, and have had it argued at me, after I’ve made a self-deprecating remark about scribbling things down, sticking words together, saying stuff on the page. I am willing to agree that writing is considered an art, and I will admit, further, that it is something I sometimes feel I am good at. But while I’ll call myself a writer, sometimes voluntarily, I’ll never call myself an artist.
I have always wanted to be an artist. I have always wanted to complete a piece and be able to turn it around and show it to someone who can take it in with just a glance, to have something real and palpable and hefty to point at and share with someone else. You can play a short film you made for someone and that is 7 minutes out of their life and usually they are happy to watch, or you can hand someone a short story and they will smile and swear they’ll totally read it but it is 15 to 30 pages of dense text, words after words running after words, and they have to read it and then think about it to parse it, to understand what you’ve done.
To me, it has always felt like an imposition, asking someone to
undertake all that effort in order to see what I’ve done. It is much
more complicated, takes more commitment, you are asking so much more of
your audience. A story I’ve written, my whole book, is very real to me,
but when there is nothing I can really point to except a stack of pages
and say there, that’s what I’ve done–it almost seems insignificant,
that stack. If that stack was in the forest and there was no one around
to spend six hours looking at it, would it be blank?
I have always wanted to be a rock star. I have a passable voice, but a
tin ear–it’s why I fail at karaoke, my voice going flat and monotone,
because I can’t hear myself and I can’t hear the song and I lose my
nerve, and when I lose my nerve, it goes all the way downhill and
then rolls down a ditch and into a sewer and out into the sea where it
will never be seen again. Or shouldn’t be seen again. But I keep
knocking back the drinks and knocking back the chair when they call my
name and bounding onstage and taking that mic in my hand and watching
the lyrics scroll inevitably, terribly, ahead of me, because I have
always wanted to be a rockstar.
All this to explain why tonight, when E’s roommate Jayrad was giving me
a lift to the grocery store, I burst out with “Oh my god, we should
start a band.” He looked skeptical; he knows I have hands made of
thumbs and do not play an instrument. “What would you do?” he asked. “I
would sing, of course!” I said. “And bring the charisma. I can grow
charisma, just wait.” Jayrad continued to look skeptical. “I’ve never
heard you sing, Anne,” he said. “How do I know you can sing?” I waved
my hand airily at him, told him it didn’t matter, that my voice was
passable but I could totally write songs and with his guitar and my
songs, we would be an unstoppable juggernaut of awesome. Which would be
such a great name for our band! Am I right? I’m so right.
He let me badger him all the way to the store and all the way through
the store and the checkout line and back to the car and back to their
house, where I am babysitting the dogs. “I’m totally serious!” I
declared, and he said, Oh yeah? He sat on the couch, and picked up his
guitar. Okay, he said. Get paper and a pen. We’ll write a song. He
started to play.
Maybe you think it is easy to write a song and sing along to a guitar
and be a rockstar. I thought it would be easy. But I was paralyzed with
not knowing what to do. Do I sing along with his melody off the top of
my head? Do I write things down? Do I wait for him to tell me what the
song is about and then make the words go? There’s no wrong way, as it
turns out, but every way felt wrong, because I had no idea what I was
doing. Sing! Jayrad said. Oh god, I can’t, I said.
As it turns out, you can’t be a rock star if you don’t actually try to
be a rock star. This is a valuable lesson, which is also a metaphorical
one that I will fold up and keep in my wallet. I sat on the couch while
he played on the other couch and the dogs climbed in and out of my lap,
and I hummed along and nodded my head and my throat opened up and my
chest unconstricted and I sang a few lines, and he nodded along with
me and I jotted words down, which became sentences, which became
lyrics, of a sort, and we worked through them, together, and after
awhile, I had written a song, sort of.
A really bad song. But I am on my way to being a rock star, maybe,
someday, and it was one of the coolest things I have done, making a
song. Doing something that felt very immediate and palpable and
performable and artistic and fancy. I am probably way better at
writing, though I don’t think I’m going to let that stop me, even if I should.