The day after Prince died, I met with three friends over lunch, mostly just to process Prince. Along the way, we talked about how prolific he was, and someone wondered how we square the notion of genius and with people who have “one book in them.” In other words, does volume equal genius?
Back up. I don’t believe people have only one book in them. I don’t even believe the genius Harper Lee had one book in her.* I know this: the act of writing, painting, singing, sculpting and being Prince is hard.
All craft requires one thing: showing up. We need to show up often at our laptop, amp, easel, loom, piano or stage and find what’s in us at that moment. Many times, what’s in us is nothing. Or, worse, it’s crappy. Or, worse worse, we read what we wrote last month and realize we have to start over. Picture those insane athletes, 10,000 feet up, wearing human-flying-squirrel suits, about to step off a cliff—that’s how showing up can feel and why, as artists, we avoid it.
And even before we step off, there are things that happily get in the way of being creative flying-squirrels. Legitimate things like making dinner and soothing a crying child. Futile-feeling things like cleaning under the bed or picking weeds. But grit is also what makes Prince so good. Years ago, you know he had to change the oil in his motorbike, and he still found time to practice. To try new things. To don the flying-squirrel suit. All in the simple-impossible act of showing up.
It’s especially brave to show up as Prince after dinner is cleaned up and the kids are asleep, and you recall that time when people called your work not very good—or you saw it on their face. It’s brave when you’ve been rejected by industry gatekeepers, randomly, again and again. It’s brave when well-meaning people imply you’re wasting your time. These silent cuts are not unique to Prince; as a writer, I carry shrapnel, too.
You—we—just need to keep showing up. Show up daily so it’s not a struggle against the time-sucking things in our lives. Despite people messing with our mojo, our weird love of our art needs to become habit, not just an act of bravery. If you want to define Prince in one boring word, it’s this: routine.
And, yes, sometimes we need to give ourselves the permission not to show up, and for very long spans of time. The mortgage is due. A friend needs a friend. A parent is dying. We are in crisis. Grace is the best word in the universe. Give it to yourself.
But also remember: the music doesn’t stop within us when we are not present to hear it. It wants us back. It wants us to carry a notebook. To put the IFTTT Do app on our phones to capture an idea for later. Use the margin of a church bulletin to outline a chapter.
The music wants us to be Prince and create. That doesn’t make us a genius. But it does fill us and fulfill us, and when we land and unzip our squirrel suits, that joy alone is worth the ride.