Some of us are built with more powerful combustion engines than others. I’m packing a V8. She’s got some years on her but still runs strong and clean, even on a steady diet of camper-cooked egg sandwiches and spaghetti with Prego sauce bought at the 7-11. I get it from my grandmother Carmen, who just passed at 90 and who up until a year ago was doing her own landscaping, including chopping down a small tree where it shouldn’t have sprung up. I got it from my mother, a powerhouse of laserlike nervous energy that she put to use by remembering the words to everything, worrying about everything, loving everyone, and also kicking ass at Scrabble and trivia. I got it from my dad, who continues to chug through daily manual labor, mechanical problem solving, and gourmet cooking at virtually the same relentless tempo he has since as long as I can remember.
There’s no way I could do what I’m now doing with my life without this kind of power under the hood. I write music CONSTANTLY, obsessively listening to unfinished tracks over and over in the truck while driving, using my anxiety (thanks, Mom) as motivation for crafting the best possible sound. I also use the voice memo function on my phone for writing songs– virtually every song I’ve ever written has its roots in an inspiration received and/or fleshed out while driving. Today, while driving from Shenandoah to Asheville (a six hour drive) I listened to Surf Washed Rock, a track in progress waiting for vocals and mixing, about sixty times, trying to tease coherent, meaningful, dimensional, but not TOO on-the-nose lyrics from my abstract rough crooning in the recording. I was attempting to incorporate elements of the mermaid/siren archetype, my actual original experience sitting on a rock washed by seafoam (where I sang the idea into my voice memo), and some personification of Hurricane Maria. While doing that, I was imagining a complete floor show with costumes, backup dancers, and video. It took a lot of intellectual and creative energy and is still not done.
Then I got to the campsite here in Asheville, an RV park full of the slick latest models (and here I am in my 80s unheard of thing on the bed of my truck.) I hooked up my water and electric, got myself organized, and proceeded to write my to do list for tomorrow, which includes visiting every consignment shop in town to see if they want to sell the Medusa shirts I silkscreened, every music venue that might book me, every queer or femme friendly tattoo shop that might hire me as a traveling artist in the future, and every metaphysical shop where I might find something about southern hoodoo. I wrote down the address and hours of every single one of these places and planned a route based on their proximity to each other.
I’m a little intense, I think.
Then I heard from a dear friend who’s just as passionate, motivated, and powerful as I am. And that friend reported to me that someone had told them to “chill.” A piece of advice I have received before.
Here’s what I have to say about that.
My powerful engine takes me all kinds of places. It informs not only my creative life, but my relationships and my emotional life as well. People comment on my “energy,” which I can’t do anything about (I didn’t build the engine), but which plenty of people seem to appreciate. Right now, my life is bursting with people who appreciate what my engine brings to the table. And I am so, so grateful for that.
During some times in my life, however, my intensity has seemed inconvenient to others. Maybe I was too loud. Maybe my emotions made them uncomfortable. Maybe the places my engine wanted to drive me to were scary to them. Sometimes people tried to use my powerful engine to drive them where they wanted to go. And whenever I took the wheel, they would warn me that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I was driving too fast, or going somewhere that was somehow not good. And they would tell me to “chill.” Chill usually meant, hand me the keys. Get in the back seat. You’re giving it too much gas.
For a long long time I believed that something was wrong with me. Too much passion. Too much imagination. Too much intellectual energy. Too much emotion. I thought this because my pace didn’t look like the pace of the people around me. So… long story short. I didn’t make my own art. I didn’t make my own music. I didn’t form relationships. I shut myself into the garage. But the engine was still running, and as you know, that is a sure way to kill oneself.
I got here– to this incredibly rich moment of being in a camper I drove hundreds and hundreds of miles all by myself to perform all by myself music I wrote all by myself in venues I found all by myself– by not chilling and by ceasing to listen to any voice of “reason” outside of myself that wanted to hold me back, slow me down, shut me in the garage, or use me to pull their cargo. I know I have a powerful engine and also a powerful capacity to envision where I want to go next. At this point in my life, I feel unstoppable, and that even if something comes to stop me tomorrow, I will have used all that power well.
I’m not gonna chill. Please join me in not chilling.