Before we get to this month’s theme, thank you for all the Rookie on Love love! I am so happy to see this book become a real part of people’s lives, and it’ll be even REALER when we go on tour this month! Join us for readings, signings, Galentine-making, and other books, as well, because we’ll be at bookstores, and that’s what they have there. Here are the details for each city:
Some of the events are ticketed, so look out for more info in the coming days, but please save the date! Can’t wait to see you and talk all matters of the heart!
And on that note, February’s theme is SHOW AND TELL, which is a less dry term for the very snoozy communication. We’ll explore why it can feel so ridiculously hard to express yourself, and how to make it…less…hard? SEE?
I loved Show and Tell in elementary school because it was just sharing something from your real life so it couldn’t ever really be wrong. Once I got to high school, though, and the thing you were sharing was always your work, I started to resent the activity. Because then it’s less about, “Here’s an artifact from my life, and it’s valid just because I chose it,” and more like, “Here’s what I can do. Am I any good at it?”
When we had to write and perform poems freshman year, all of mine were ironic and witty and about cats, because even though I had no problem coming on Rookie and writing really openly about everything I felt, no matter how intimate, I did NOT want to stand in front of a bunch of classmates who only knew me as the smartass loud-mouth I fronted as and read a poem about my disgusting emotions. Show and Tell is also about how selectively we show/tell with different people or under different circumstances, and when concealing (or performing!) is a worthy protective measure, and when we’re just getting in our own ways.
To that end, clearly communicating your feelings, sans apologies/disclaimers/downplays, can feel robotic, but that doesn’t mean it’s cold. It’s actually more considerate than beating around the bush or expecting someone to read your mind. There’s something here to be borrowed from Stephen Shore‘s photography philosophy: that you’re not constructing an image, but capturing what is already there as straightforwardly as possible. When we express ourselves emotionally, we feel like we’re making a fuss or causing a stink or creating drama. Actually, we’re just putting words to an event—a feeling—already taking place.
This theme also makes me think of showing and telling stuff you love and why it can be embarrassing but great to be enthusiastic. I get so upset when I really want to talk about something I loved and other people didn’t like it or they didn’t see/read it and don’t care (I guess this is why I am a writer on the internet). I can also be precious and possessive and get competitive about how I LOVE THAT MOVIE MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE IS EVEN CAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING AND MUST RESENT ITS GROWING SUCCESS, and then I remember something the filmmaker and film archive founder Jonas Mekas once said: “When I see a film and I like it, I want to share my enthusiasm for it with others. There is so little in this modern commercial world that is really and truly exciting—I mean something that reaches deep into your soul—that it’s very important for me that those little fragments of beauty, of Paradise, are brought to the attention of friends and strangers equally.”
On that note, a moment of appreciation for Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and the incredible and relevant story behind its making. It was time for a new album, but he kept going into the studio with his band and realizing he didn’t have enough material for them to get anything done. He needed to do more writing. And it was particularly writing-dependent and not yet collaboration-ready because he had a new direction in mind, being newly inspired by the band Suicide—the sound, the darker subject matter. You have to really catch the lyrics to understand how sad some of Springsteen’s more popular songs are: He sings about dancing and the open road, but because the working class narrator is looking for an escape. Nebraska, on the other hand, is like 100% straight-up pain. The title track is written from the point-of-view of a mass murderer getting the electric chair. “Mansion on the Hill” is about a guy whose bonding experience with his dad was looking in through the windows of a fancy house at rich people throwing parties, an activity he now performs alone. “Johnny 99” is about a guy who loses his job and then his mind and then shoots a night clerk. “My Father’s House” is too sad and kind of epic, story-wise, to describe. My favorite song on the album, and of all his albums, is “Atlantic City,” with the line “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” Anyways, he had to very clearly envision all this before he could get his collaborators to see it, too.
So he holed up in his bedroom and recorded 10 demos on a 4-track cassette tape: a track for his voice, a track for guitar, and then two tracks for background vocals or other instruments he could use to represent electric backing, like a glockenspiel and a synth. He brought the demos to his producer and band and they recorded the “real” versions of all 10 songs. But they all agreed that the demos—particularly how ghostly his voice sounded, how he’s audibly alone in a room—should be the album. So that became the album. And when you listen to it, you are listening to something intended to be heard by only a few people, as a means to an end of something much grander, which was ultimately way less compelling than this blueprint.
This is not a story of someone writing something “just for themselves” (does anyone in THIS DAY AND AGE actually do that?) and their nuggets of truth being discovered posthumously. It’s not even a story of him making something “just for friends,” to entertain people who share his taste. His intended audience was his collaborators. His goal was to communicate, to get his vision across, to work towards the creation of something new with people he had entrusted. Through that, the album became wholly itself.
The more I think about this story and listen to the album, the more I believe that works of art have to be themselves, and that each is born with a self assigned—just not always by you. Your job is then to listen to what it wants to be and not get in its way. Of course, it is tremendously difficult to see what’s valuable about your own ideas, particularly when you’re so used to yourself, which we all are. That is why friends and collaborators are well worth the painstaking vulnerability, the inevitable trial and error, and the basic terror of trust.
There is a way to apply that story not just to creative partnerships, but to all kinds of friends, family, romantic partners, teachers, employers, peers. This months we’ll talk more about using your words, dealing with conflict, standing up, speaking out, apologizing, asking questions, protesting, petitioning—communication of all kinds, and how to make it as effective as possible. And we want to know what this brings up for you, so head on over to our Submit page to learn how to share your work with Rookie.
Thank you for being here,
Love love love,