On the Creative Quest

Long story short: I bought a book

I bought Questlove’s new book, Creative Quest, in an attempt to salvage my Tuesday. At my day job, the first thing we do on Tuesday morning is have our creative meeting. But as many of us in marketing know, creativity in the context of generating revenue for a giant corporation isn’t exactly a transcendent experience. Basically, me and the other two members of the creative team sat through more than an hour of having our work picked apart (with an almost impressive level of condescension). Fortunately, we are all good at keeping our mouths shut and picking our battles.

By midday, I was still irked. So I crammed a Clif Bar in my face and used my lunch hour to go to the book store. I didn’t know if I was going to get anything. Sometimes it’s enough to just wander through the aisles and absorb the sheer magnitude of thought, experience, and anguish contained in the modest objects around me. The book store is a magical place. Every object you pick up is the sum of so many hours, if not years, of effort. Everything you touch means so much to the person or people who made it. You can hold a universe in your hand.

So I wandered Barnes and Noble, criss-crossing from sci-fi to biographies to self-help, picking things up, putting them down, wishing I could ingest them all. As I perused young adult fantasy and adventure, I perked an ear and smiled when I heard Tina Turner asking what love had to do with it from the store’s hidden speakers.

After my first lap of the store, I intended to buy a copy of Questlove’s first book, Mo’ Meta Blues. I had borrowed it from a friend and loved it. Along with the story of how Questlove and The Roots rose to hip hop influence, the book is full of sweet moments from the author’s life. The one that always sticks out in my mind is when he sheepishly went to Jacob’s, not to buy the chains that were the fashion then, but to get his girlfriend a simple tennis bracelet. But all the while, I was keeping an eye out for his new book, and finally I found it.

The cover features Questlove’s face in an LP halo, with his signature afro pick. His body is a Rube Goldberg machine of tinker toys and odds and ends, poised to drum on tin cans. It looks modern yet classic, colorful but understated. I paused for a moment to justify the price of a brand new hardcover book.

It didn’t take long. I remember my mother telling me when I was a child that there’s always money for books. That being said, my parents had to short sell their house in the recession and spent a decade clawing their way out of credit card debt, so that’s basically the only financial advice I take from them.

In the end, I paid the $27.99 plus tax and walked outside to hear “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston playing in the shopping center’s courtyard. It was as if this enclave of stores and chain restaurants was conspiring to make me feel better.

The next day, my meeting’s were fine. The problem was that I looked at Twitter. No good can come of this.

Many an acceptable day at the office has been ruined by the latest dumpster fire raging in America. That day it was the NFL’s decision to fine teams whose players kneeled during the national anthem. I was furious, but not shocked — which has come to be one of my default moods in the past couple of years.

I took a walk around the building but couldn’t shake it. I kept asking myself why this headline of all things could send me spiraling. Not because it wasn’t a big deal, it is entirely justified to be outraged at a white supremacist forced patriotism intended to silence criticism of state-sanctioned violence. But I wondered why this event was hitting me harder than yesterday’s step toward democratic destruction. It wasn’t that I’m terribly invested in the NFL. I watch maybe one game in a given season (not including the Super Bowl, but I usually only care about the halftime show and watching my friends belligerently yell at Justin Timberlake, “PLAY THE TROLLS SONG.”)

Back at my desk, I alternated between asking myself why I couldn’t calm down and trying to be thankful that I could still be appalled — that I could still see the world as a place where this shouldn’t happen.

Then I did what I often do when I need respite from ruminating in my cubicle: I went home to play guitar. My apartment is only about six minutes away, so I can get there, eat something, strum a few chords, and get back to the office in less than an hour. So I did that. And it helped. Whether it’s a blog, music, or cooking, I find it harder to ruminate when I’m creating something. Because then I am powerful.

And that’s what it comes down to — feeling powerless to change anything about the world. When the hits keep on coming and we keep getting angry and sad and confused, we feel so small. It feels unfair that the world can affect us so much but we often feel that we can’t seem to affect it.

But when you are creating — whatever the medium — you are changing something. It’s shows that you are real.

Checking the clock, I saw I only had a few minutes before I had to go back to work. I grabbed Creative Quest and sat down to look at the introduction.

It begins,

Decades into my career, with many albums and songs under my belt, I still don’t know if I am truly creative. Most days I spend more time absorbing creative work around me than actually creating myself. At times I feel like a way better student than I am a teacher or a maker.

That’s how I feel much of the time (minus the decades and many albums and songs). It’s a bit perverse how the doubts of those we admire can make us feel so good. But if they have these doubts too, if they also feel like they are stumbling and making it all up and just trying to keep the dream alive, then they are not so different from us.

I set aside Creative Quest to scribble the beginnings of this post in my notebook.

Writer, musician, improvisor, recovering pessimist.

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