The founder of Cowbird and Number27 discusses the ups and downs of his personal and artistic life as he finds himself in a creative rut.
A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with my mom in Manhattan. She was telling me her plans for this year’s Christmas card. “This year,” she said, “instead of writing my usual newsy card, I think I’ll just say, ‘Amanda’s about to have a baby, and Jonathan moved from California back to New York.’”
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “it seems like you used to do so much in a year, and I always wanted to include all your news. But this year, it just seems like you haven’t been doing very much, so I figured a shorter note was in order.”
I squirmed in my chair and readjusted my napkin. My mom — maybe like all moms — has a special way of saying just the thing that’ll hit your most vulnerable spot. She’s right — this year, I haven’t been doing very much. I’ve spent a lot of time wandering into churches, reading old journals, watching YouTube videos, and staring out of windows, but very little time making any work. I’ve been feeling really stuck, unsure about what to do next, and struggling with a lot of self-doubt and confusion.
After dinner, I walked across the street to the Lincoln Center fountain, and I sat on the granite slab next to the water. The night was dark and cold. Operagoers in tuxedos rushed to get taxis. I could feel the black stone below my body. I looked at the city sky but I couldn’t see stars. I turned my head to look at the water. The columns of water were moving up and down in some kind of pattern, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Sometimes the columns of water were tall, and moving up and down within their tallness. Other times, the columns of water were low, and moving up and down within their lowness. The columns of water were never not moving.
I thought about stuckness, and about where I lost the flow. I remembered other times in my life I’d been stuck, and how the stuckness always eventually passed. I thought how life is a lot like that fountain, with its columns of water moving up and down, and how the low points are actually thrilling because the high points are about to come back, and how the high points are actually terrifying, because the low points always come next.
I thought of my life as a series of chapters, and I realized that each time I’d been majorly stuck, it meant that a life chapter was ending, and that a new one needed to start — like the stuckness was always a signal indicating imminent change. My life has had a bunch of different chapters, each one beginning with the fresh-faced idealism of a new approach to living, and each one ending with a period of stuckness and a moment of crisis. I’d like to tell you about those chapters, in case they contain something useful for you.
Images: Jonathan Harris