Summer 2003? I was driving around Portland when I got the call. On of the wonderful people who worked at my coffeehouse there called and I answered, thinking they probably needed me to pick something up while I was out.
"Nicolas, you won't believe who is here in the coffeehouse right now!" a very excited voice said in an, I'm-trying-to-whisper-but-I-am-too-excited-to really-whisper, voice.
"Umm, don't know" I said, "who?"
"HEDWIG!", came the reply.
You may recall back in the late 1990's there was an off broadway show called, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which then became a feature film and which then continued to run, off Broadway and on, with various performers in the lead roll over the years, from Neal Patrick Harris to Ally Sheedy.
There was also a local theater production of it in our city at this time and I assumed, as anyone likely would, that the "Hedwig" the not-so-whispery voice referred to was the guy playing the role in that production, whom I already knew.
I said as much.
"NO Nicolas!" the voice barely able to contain the excitement now, "THE Hedwig!"
The Hedwig. . . John Cameron Mitchell
Now, truth be told, at that time I had only recently seen the movie because of a good friend's unrelenting persistence. When it first came out, I do recall hearing about it and seeing the box at the video store (remember those?) but I was in a very bad place in life then and I think my initial reaction to the synopsis on the box was something along the lines of "Oh great, another bad rock opera."
It was easily forgotten.
Then a year later, my friend brought it over to the house, the first place I lived in Portland, where I was trying to figure out, well, everything.
I'm not sure a movie, in any single place and time, could be more perfect than that one was at that moment for me. The story, the silliness, and ohhhh the music. . . Maybe the most original of movie soundtracks, with songs in styles that were all over the place though almost all are sung by a very understated, but emotive lead, Mr. Mitchell.
To this day, "Origin of Love", "Wicked Little Town" and "Midnight Radio" are still among my favorite songs. I just listened to them all as I sat down to write this and got the same time warp, sentimental feeling I always do. They define a time and place.
A turning point..
The movie/show is, above all else, about finding peace and comfort with who you are, after all the choices you've made and all the roads you've travelled. The things that happen to us, especially the ill-fated but also the dreams that did not work out as we might have wished. Circumstances too. Where we are, how we are raised, what falls where and how. . . out lot in life, so to speak.
So, it turned out it WAS John Cameron Mitchell sitting in the coffee shop. He had made an apartment swap with a friend who lived right up the road from the coffeehouse. We had the pleasure of his patronage for a few weeks that summer.
I won't go into the whole course of that time, but several of us got to know him over the weeks that he spent there with us (he was finishing his next screenplay at the time) and we also kept his identity as safe as we could so he could work.
How this relates to my Makings of a Maker series is this:
One night during his stay a bunch of us went out for a drink and I had to excuse myself early since I was scheduled to open the coffeehouse at 6 am. As I was saying my goodbyes, John tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could give him a lift home. I was, of course, more than happy to.
Now, I had avoided, as much as I could, talking about Hedwig or anything relating to it but in that time, I had one burning question that I really wanted to ask him
See, when we come across something creative that has affected so many people, it's natural, I think, to believe the people who created it, whatever the skill set required, are somehow that much more gifted or talented than we are. That they knew, straight away, that they were going to make something that would affect people on that scale or, at least, had set out to.
So when we pulled up to the curb that night and we sat and chatted about random things for another 20 minutes, I decided to ask.
"When you were making Hedwig, did you know as it was coming together that it was going be such a great success? "
He thought about it for a little bit, then said:
"No, not really, when you're in the middle of making anything, you're just in it, sometimes at the exclusion of everything around you, you tune out all the outside influences and distractions and just sink into the work that's in front of you. There's no time or even the desire to think about what comes after because until you finish it, there's no after. And you're not even sure there will ever be an after because maybe it will never be done or ever see the light of day. You do it because you believe in it."
His response, though it should have been obvious, was a key component to helping me find my way, creatively, by showing me how to NOT get in my way before I even begin. I was always thinking I had to do BIG things. Create some masterpiece that would say something important or change the world.
Now, some 15 years later, it all seems so strange to think back to those times.
I won't say that conversation changed my life immediately because I had heard various similar decrees several times before. But not from someone I truly admired creatively. and not in person, and not when everything in my own world was spinning out of control. Not when giving up on ever finding out who I was or where I fit into this world creatively, was right at a crucial point.
Of course, it took time. Years in reality. But those words stayed with me.
I kept at it.
Through the progression of poetry, music, music production, digital photography and finally into the mediums that I now call home.
And it's funny because deep down inside I ALWAYS knew that the "impact" our work has is not measured in awards or ticket sales, or name recognition by any stretch.
It's measured in the hearts it touches, the minds it eases and the like-souls that it resonates with.
I couldn't ask for more within my creative world. It's just the absolute best, right now, right this moment. And I'm still not looking ahead. Not thinking about what happens when my work is "done" because, I know now, my work will never be done.
THAT is how I know I am on the right path.
I'm a maker of things. There is no end to that path. . .
Here's a link to The Origin of Love an absolutely flawless mix of ideas and imagery taken straight from Platos' Symposium and a wonderful arrangement and performance. (and remember, it IS a rock opera!)
"It was the sad story how we became lonely, two legged creatures, the story of the Origin of Love."
And finally, Wicked Little Town because, haven't we ALL, at some time in our lives, been there?
"The fates are vicious and their cruel. You learn too late you've used two wishes like a fool."
Thank you, as always, for dropping by!