Another Special Little (Crazy) Snowflake

I thought I was a special little snowflake – the only one of my kind.  But there are more.

My first audience was my mom, dad and sister.  I was 18.  My family gathered in my bedroom doorway and listened to me play and sing my first song.  My sister laughed.  My mom snickered.  To be fair, I did sound like an impersonation of Michael W. Smith doing an impersonation of Elton John.  But still, I took their reaction as less than supportive.

When I decided to study composition in college a friend’s sister who’d dropped out of the same music school told me I’d never make it.  My mom told me to get a teacher’s certificate.  I graduated, moved to Nashville and worked as an intern in the music publishing business. My boss told me a music degree is worthless in the music industry – and also that I should have gotten a teacher’s certificate.

I signed a record deal in 2000 because I wrote one great song in the bathroom one magical day – a song about God making my heart his home.  On the day its first draft came spilling out of me I felt possessed, like I was taking dictation, just writing down what was playing in my head.  As soon as the dictation ended I wondered if it would ever happen again.  No, I was certain it would never happen again and considered getting a teacher’s certificate.

I was nominated for a bunch of awards for that song.  It was on the radio charts for weeks.  Interviewer after interviewer asked me if I was afraid of never writing another song like that again.  Program directors and fans and folks at my former record label have asked me to please write something like that again.  And I haven’t.

You see, I don’t write alone.  I have a cantankerous partner.  Some call it inspiration, muse or genius but I know it’s God.  The writing process makes me angry at him sometimes.  It feels sometimes – especially over the last three years – like he’s messing with me.  A fragment of melody will soar through my brain when I’m in the shower and as I run to pen and paper, God moves one of my kids to sing the theme from Dora the Explorer and – bam – the new idea is blurred beyond recollection.  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me??

But then there are other moments – they happen less and less frequently for me – when an entire song shows up in my brain, takes a seat, and patiently waits for me to sketch it out onto paper.  Sometimes, in other words, God decides to cooperate.  It’s not uncommon for me to cry when this happens or laugh or both.  I even took off my shoes once.  It feels like God is right there on the bench with me, moving my hands over the black and white keys and lisping the words to me slowly like a dad teaching his child the ABCs.

And I think – I can only guess – this inconsistency is the result of one of two things or both: 1) I’m a horrible listener.  God is singing all the time and it’s I who don’t take notice, close my “eyes” tightly enough and listen deeply. 2) God is teaching me something, reminding me of something: Namely, that I’m not the genius.  He is.

Creating has been extremely rewarding for me, in every way, but arduous and agonizing at the same time.  With the wings of creativity come the millstones of self-doubt and the doubts of others, expectations and fears and the frequent feeling that I fool people for a living – into thinking I’m talented when I know I’m not.  I’m just the guy God decided to sing to one day in the bathroom.

I’m not a special little snowflake.  There are other basket cases like me.  And Elizabeth Gilbert is trying to help us.

Thanks to my good friends Anne and Ben for BOTH recommending I watch this video.  I hope it helps the rest of you creative people feel a little less weird, a little more healthy.