For a while in my 30’s, I lived in Midtown Memphis. It was a magical place, and still the best “scene” I have ever belonged to.
I had friends who were authors, musicians, lawyers, doctors, shopkeepers, poets, and gallery owners. I routinely went to art gallery openings, CD release parties, and book signings. For part of that time I owned a small coffee shop, and on Saturday nights we would have live music, so I came to know jazz piano players, bass guitarists, and plain old rockabilly vocalists.
And one of the people I knew was an Elvis impersonator.
Now, I don’t know what your mental framework for an Elvis Impersonator is, but he probably wasn’t that. For one thing, he didn’t look terribly much like Elvis, and he preferred the title “tribute artist”, anyway.
But man could he sing. He had the whole range, so he could do Hound Dog, or Jailhouse Rock, or Blue Christmas, or even In the Ghetto. He was pretty popular, and stayed busy enough that he made a living from his performing, which few folks do.
He never performed at my shop – we were too small for him – but he often came by if we had a band in, and one night he hung till we closed the doors. He and I closed the place down that night, sitting in the corner table, drinking red wine from plastic cups and soaking the night in, neither of us willing to break the spell and have it end.
He told me about his career – how he had tried to make a living as a singer-songwriter, and had almost had a record deal, when the guy he was dealing with committed suicide and it all went away.
“And so now you make a living singing someone else’s songs.” I said, sounding more judgmental than I meant to. “Does that ever bother you?”
“Most people sing other people’s songs,” he said. “The difference is, I make a living doing it, and most of them don’t. And I get to make a living making people happy, and using my voice, and it’s lovely. It isn’t what I had planned, but it’s good. And besides – it never works out how you think it will, anyway. And that’s OK.”
There is a long list of things I cannot do. That isn’t negative self-talk – it’s just the truth. My attempts at drawing have always fallen prey to my hand-to-eye coordination, and my mental box of colors is the 9 color box of crayons, not the 64 crayon box. Grey literally is my favorite color. I cannot sing or, heck, carry a tune. I’m tone deaf.
In short, visual and musical arts are both closed worlds to me. I don’t understand them, and I mean that literally. When my wife listens to music, she actually hears things I do not. When I was about 8 years old, my mom’s friend offered to teach me the piano, and that lasted 3 lessons, until my tone deafness became obvious.
And so, I came to believe that I was not “creative”.
Which is, objectively, silly. I mean, just today, on my day off, I have drafted a synopsis and first draft of an outline for a book I want to write. Then I spent time building out a new website to sell the items which I hand carve, and then went to the church to sketch out plans for part of the renovation there I am spear-heading. I came home and planted a rose bush, which will be the cornerstone of a memory garden I am planning, and I’m now writing a blog post, which will contain a story and which will finish out around 700 words, and what’s more, I’ve done more words than that daily for months now. And after I eat, I will go out to my workshop and carve some spoons and spatulas of my own design, which people will pay me money for.
I’m creative as hell. I’m just not a musician.
I guess what I’m saying is, it doesn’t always work out how you want it to. And that’s OK.