Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well" in her book The Artist's Way. The idea is that if you're going to have creative output, you need creative input to replenish you so you don't just get totally depleted.
I forget how important it is for me to continually be inspired and "fill the well." Because it's pretty easy to get burnt out, frustrated, angry and resentful that I'm constantly broke, not more successful than I am, and work very hard for very low pay, and forget the bigger picture of why I want to create in the first place. But when I come across something that inspires me I get really fired up for my own writing, and sometimes even, for how I want to live my life—honestly, with vulnerability, creatively, and passionately.
Occasionally I will find this inspiration in writing, and will stumble upon a book that I tear through in a few days at most; the kind of book that makes me can't wait to get on the subway (even during rush hour) so I can snag some time with it. This happens maybe a couple of times a year.
More often than not though, this kind of vitality-inducing, energy-producing inspiration comes from, not a book, but another art form—a song or movie or TV show. From when any kind of artist is creating something real and true. And when I come into contact with whatever this thing is, I will feel even more committed to my writing. I will be reminded that I can't ever give up, despite all the rejection and frustration and struggles. I will feel energized to keep moving forward with my vision for my writing and how I want to be in the world.
2016 may have been rocky, but the entire year was not a wash. There were glimmers of inspiration sprinkled throughout, and here are six of my favorites:
1) Tori Kelly & James Bay's Duet at the Grammys (February)
I didn't watch the entire Grammys this year. Tori Kelly and James Bay's duet of her song "Hollow" and his song "Let It Go" is one of the only things I caught, and the only thing I remember. I love it because it's so simple—no lights, set, elaborate costumes, or dancers. Just the two of them facing each other playing their guitars. They display technical skill and effortlessly ooze emotion. They're not showing off. They're not posturing. They don't seem to be aware of projecting a deliberately contrived image. They're just singing. They're just telling a story. They're not hitting me over the head with it; they're pulling me in with their simplicity and ease. Plus I can relate to all of the heartbreak-laden lyrics (example: "I'm paper thin/And you make me whole again"). And there's one moment (guess which one if you'd like!) where I get choked up.
You can watch it HERE.
2) The Color Purple's Purple Rain Tribute to Prince (April)
The cast of the play The Color Purple did this tribute to Prince after the show the day he died. And I will say that I spent *some* time that weekend watching this video over and over again in my apartment in the dark, crying. It is beyond a gorgeous and heartfelt tribute—watching it is a spiritual experience. And I highly recommend it if you want to sit in your apartment in the dark and cry.
3) Cynthia Erivo's Performance of "I'm Here" on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (May)
I did not know who Cynthia Erivo was until I watched the above Color Purple tribute to Prince. But seeing her performance of this song on Colbert the following month solidified my awe of her.
Watching this performance is like mainlining self-esteem. If someone is treating you like shit, WATCH THIS. If you feel like you are holding back in your life and not living up to your potential, WATCH THIS. If you don't believe in yourself, WATCH THIS. Watch this and let Cynthia Erivo speak to your soul and tell you how to live in the world.*
*This song will also make you cry alone in the dark.
4) Amos Lee (September)
I've been a longtime Amos Lee fan for over 10 years. It continually surprises me that he is not more famous than he is. But it works out for me that he's not a household name because I get to see him play in small venues on the cheap. In 2010 I saw him play in a bar in my neighborhood. Granted, it was a big bar (The Bell House), but still I was standing just a few feet from the stage.
This year for my birthday instead of having a party, I went to see Amos Lee play at Radio City with a friend. Like Tori Kelly, James Bay, and Cynthia Erivo, he performs without posturing, without deliberately projecting an image, without ego. When I'm anxious and want to be soothed, I put on my Amos Lee station on Pandora. In interviews he's talked about the power of music to connect people. His music viscerally conveys the highs and lows of the human condition. He just seems to be an artist who's not only super-talented, but also humble, authentic, and true to himself.
Here are a few my favorite performances of his:
And an oldie but goodie: "Won't Let Me Go/Thinkin' About You Frank Ocean Cover"
5) This Is Us (September)
There was a lot of hype for this show, so I watched the premiere expecting to be disappointed. But THAT TWIST. Surprisingly, the show actually lived up to the hype. I loved how it dropped little clues that you wouldn't even notice throughout the whole episode, and then when the twist is revealed at the end, it makes you look at the entire thing differently. And you go back over everything in your mind (or, in my case, by watching it a second time on NBC.com), piecing all the clues together.
The characters are really well-developed and also really real. The way it speaks to how the past informs who we are in the present and how in the present we carry around the past says something about the nature of life, and is food for thought in any therapy session. I read that a lot of writers on this show have a background as playwrights and that makes sense because the way it's crafted feels very intentional, without being heavy-handed, and theatrical. The way it chooses moments to reveal to you a little bit at a time and then later shows you why they're important, how they fit together, and why they all make sense engages the viewer, and gives us a rewarding payoff for being engaged.
6) The Town (December)
This movie is really old and, had I written a "6 Things That Inspired Me In 2010" blog post, it could have been on it, except I only first saw it last weekend on Bravo when I was at my Mom's. Two days later I was at a friend's for dinner. We were going to watch a quick episode of the Bachelor spinoff Ben and Lauren Happily Ever After?. I was telling her how great The Town was and said that another time, when it wasn't a weeknight, we should watch it. Then I was like, "Let's just see if it's available On Demand." It was. Then I was like, "Let's just watch the trailer." We did. After a gripping two minutes and twenty-nine seconds, my friend turned to me and said, "Well, we can't watch Ben and Lauren after that." Which is how I came to watch The Town again for the second time in 48 hours at 9:30pm on a Monday night.
I surprisingly LOVE this movie even though thrillers and crime dramas are far from my preferred genres. What it does so well, and something that I believe is a very important function of art, is to take someone who is perceived as "bad" in our society—a bank robber outlaw criminal—and give him heart and show his struggles and make you root for him. To challenge your beliefs and judgements and black-and-white thinking that makes others somehow less human. Whenever I watch police dramas on TV, I'm always rooting for the cops to win. But by the end of this movie, and actually long before then, I found myself rooting for the "bad guys" to win, to pull off their heists and get away safely. This is not an easy thing to accomplish—to make you root for the very flawed character, to pull off this moral ambiguity when someone can be both good and bad, cruel and kind. When the right answer or the best outcome isn't so clearcut.
Plus, there's an amazing moment towards the end in a scene between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall that's textbook brilliant acting. During their phone conversation, you see such a range of emotion pass through Ben's character in a matter of seconds, and just watching it, you feel so much of what he's going through in a flicker.
Watching this movie and TV show, and listening to these songs, make me feel more alive. If I'm feeling depleted and want to be reminded of the kind of artist—and the kind of person (just to clarify, that's bold and courageous, not a bank robber with heart)—I want to be, any of these six things will do.
What inspired you this year? Share your favorites in the comments!