One is never certain if an idea is truly good or not.
Goodness knows in my life I’ve made numerous artistic and professional choices that I thought at the time quite brilliant, and that went utterly nowhere. And conversely, things I never much thought about at all have garnered me praise and reward I never expected over what, artistically, I considered at the time to be inconsequential at best. In sum, I’ve completely given up trying to make a determination for myself as to what constitutes the ‘Good Idea’ and what is just junk.
I’m certain, that said, that some gems lie in the junk heap of my discarded creativity. My own personal cutting-room-floor. But moving forward from the strips of unseen tape upon which lie my brilliant death in Dark Angel and my gawking bewilderment on Supernatural, and from my scrawled brilliance on so many crumpled napkins is an inevitability. We can only move forward. Dwelling on the past – even on the successes of nominations and notoriety – is a pathway to self-loathing in the end. No one wants to be the chump who can only point to things from long ago when the spotlight hits and the audience is asking for what’s new.
I have boxes and boxes of writing. Much of it will never be of any use ever again. And much will never be of use at all, having never been shared, performed, or produced in any way. This writing is no longer an asset, and has become a mere souvenir of who I used to be. I have wasted years delaying my grief over this, instead convincing myself at routine intervals that someday I’ll hire someone to digitize it, or that someday someone will beg to see it all for some memoir that no one is likely to ever want to write about me. I need to mourn for these lost ideas, else they become anchors lodged in history, too heavy for my fragile ship as it struggles ever forwards.
If unshackle myself totally from the ideas that have shaped me – Comedian, Movie Star, Wealth Deyond Dreams, Writer of Reknown – then what is left of me?
The argument has always been it’s in my blood or it’s just who I am. But these arguments no longer carry me forwards. They are the arguments one needs to get started, and to overcome the barriers one sets up for oneself between ordinary teenager and artist. I am an artist now. I have been for some time. But I’ve been a slave to a notion of myself that’s based on exterior perception. What kind of artist do I want to be? Well that’s still the right question, though the answers I have given (a famous one, a rich one, an eternal and undeniable one) are all designed to inoculate me from work. The answers are more like: a dedicated one; one who forges new material; a fallible, vulnerable, mortal one. A creative one. One who works.
Do I want to continue to be an actor? Yes, of course. But I’d like to stop waiting around for the right producer to notice me and decide I’m perfect. Rather I would like to take each part as it comes and live in it completely, even if the only moment I get to be alive is at some crummy audition.
And a writer? Yes that too. But in this case I think it’s time I stop punishing myself for not always writing jokes as I used to, and instead engage with humble discovery.
These are the only two questions worth asking, as a creator: What’s next? and So what?
I ask the first question on a first pass, and the second question on a last pass. What’s next is expansive, a brainstorm, a playground. So what is contractive, a criticism, a butcher. Both these aspects are elemental to creativity, in order to find the new, and then render it clinically, with resonance. If you ask in the wrong order you get nowhere. I want to write about something. So what? No point I guess. What’s next? I guess nothing. But ask in the right order and you get DaVinci. You get Bowie. Rickman.
You get Art.
The realization I’m having now is that these questions are what drive us not just in creation, but throughout our lives, too. Our very existence is a kind of art. I’ve asked the questions of myself in the wrong order quite a lot in the last while. So what? No point. And so I shut down and try nothing before I get to question one. And so: What kind of artist do I want to be? The What’s Next kind. I want to be a creator from which people will not know what to expect, because I will not know it myself until faced with the very moment of creation. And what kind of person is that kind of artist? Wild guess. And that’s the hammer. Am I like that? Could I be? Only one way to know and that’s to try and bang in the very next nail.
So what’s on my mind lately?
Well, podcasts. I want to write a story and read it on a podcast, only I want you, the audience, to tell me what’s going to happen next. It might be hilarious, it could be sublime. And I won’t know, and that’s exciting. I began this process this week, and with some initial success. There’s a few introductory minutes of writing done, and I’ve collected a number of excellent suggestions from my fine followers on Twitter (I’ll call out whose ideas get used, of course). I’m not sure yet when this will come to fruition, but stay tuned. It’s what’s next. And it feels like a Good Idea.