When you grow up in the south, there are many things you are taught - either through indoctrination (quite literally) or just through being in the culture over a long period of time. One of those main ideas you are taught is: "That's not right because everyone else is not doing that"...southernness is built on morals and values, and they are homogenous throughout our existence down south. You learn not to be too loud, not to step out of line, not to make anyone feel uncomfortable because this is not the southern way. We are polite, well-mannered, and respectable folks. Even when other people are not subscribing to the ideology we've doused ourselves in, we hold our head up with a smug understanding that, frankly, we are better than whoever might be offending us because we have our morals and values.
Even with my father and mother being from Los Angeles, and Chicago, I somehow succumbed to these trains of thought of the great "southern way." Most days, I'm quite proud of being from South Carolina, I love the culture there, especially black southern culture, but I also see where the downfalls in my thinking stem from being from this state. Yet, I see it more than ever when I am trying to create.
I thought, maybe only CERTAIN people are allowed to create whatever they want...no one else can do that unless they were Kanye West....maybe you have to be "crazy" to create...
For years I've been the kid that was "doing too much," as my peers would say. (it wouldn't be till much later when I was in L.A., and I saw a woman wearing a fabulous sheer see-through bathing suit at the beach that I'd realize they didn't know what they were talking about, lol). I would be embarrassed for being the way I am. Starting the chess club at my high school, being interested in reading manga, trying to get my "friends" to sing songs I'd created in my head, or learn choreography that I saw in my mind. I started to resent my "weird" mother for putting thoughts like - "it's ok to be a ballerina" or "you could be the most amazing classical pianist ever" in my head. These were the things that southerners around me did NOT find acceptable. "You can be in the arts, but you have to make sure you find a REAL job that can support you while you create," I remember a guidance counselor telling me in college. I remember having a conversation with another artist about this idea to create multiple albums with different characters for each, they all tie together in a mockumentary at the end, "that's a cool idea, Manny, but you'd never be able to sell that, focus on making one album and pushing it as much as possible." I remember them responding. Fast forward to Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino), releasing Because The Internet, a rap album attached with a screenplay, and then following it up with Awaken, My Love, a funk masterpiece out of nowhere, while his show ATLANTA was thriving. I thought, maybe only CERTAIN people are allowed to create whatever they want. Donald Glover and Issa Rae are anomalies, and no one else can do that unless they were Kanye West. With that being said, maybe you have to be "crazy" to create in that way, where no one judges you.
I finally thought that I could take my ideas to the next level...
Could you blame me? I was 23 and making about 60K a year being just a musician. For all intent and purpose, I was succesful at my career path. So my decisions were being rewarded quite well. But, god I did not feel fulliled by any means (and I'll never know where that money went either 😐).
I thought I was a good creative by always being logical and focusing on the monetary value of a project I was starting. "We work so we can support our family," a thought that had been engrained in my head since childhood. Why else work? It wasn't until I moved out of the south and to New York in 2019 that my ideas shifted completely. I finally started to see so many people who were thinking like me. People who were not afraid to take a chance on ideas because someone might think they were "weird" or "not profitable" (this is not entirely true, because NYC is a capitalistic ass city if there ever was one, but it's definitely easier to navigate here then in the South). I finally thought that I could take my ideas to the next level...
There is so much more to speak about in this regard, but I'm typing this while on my lunch break during a tech rehearsal for KINKY BOOTS at the moment, and so I want to have some closing thoughts.
Creativity, I believe, is not giving a fuck, and just letting it happen. When making art, in some form or another, I believe you need to understand the rules and history of your medium to produce WELL INFORMED ART (good and bad is relative, but the quality and skill are based on being informed, I would say). I don't think you need to understand the rules to be CREATIVE, however. I believe you also have to create consistently, but not everything is meant to be consumed. Every creative piece of content that is made is not going to be your personal best work, but becoming "well informed", allows you to make those judgement calls as we continue working and learning. I've heard it referred to as having a low skill level, but a high-class taste level. This is a great metaphor because you recognize where you truly are artistically, but the practice of continuously creating without fear allows you the opportunity to close the gap between your skill and taste level.
I admittedly have not learned how to create without fear. My heritage (read: Mericuh), still has a tight traumatic hold on my conscience. However, welcome to my journey as I continue to traverse this dope-ass world we live in and figure out different ways to present it to folx in new lights. As I figure out ways to help other young black southern kids not be afraid to speak their mind and create whatever the fuck they want.
Sooner rather than later...I'll probably open a school once I figure this all out, and get all of this out of me...soon.