Last week Pyragraph reached a pretty cool milestone: our 1,000th post (this post by Thom Wall, whoo!). I was supposed to write a blog post about it but was running behind as usual, failing yet again to get actual writing done because of the frustrating elusiveness of uninterrupted time to work. I’m great at doing a million things, but terrible (these days especially) at getting anything done that requires sustained, quiet focus. So I decided I’d finish my post late Sunday night when the kids were sleeping, which is typically one of my best work times.
I was happily writing sometime around midnight on Sunday and in striking range of finishing it off. I took a little break and got on Facebook. Big mistake (as usual).
I saw David Bowie had died.
I gasped and clicked. It seemed to be true. Besides losing the rest of my night to a flurry of reading and clicking and posting and hoping it was a hoax (it was not, obvs), my train of thought with my almost-done post was gone. Shock quickly gave way to grief, and now my post is no longer about Pyragraph’s 1,000th post, but about how I and so many other folks who simply considered ourselves fans of David Bowie have found ourselves shaken and mourning and turned into a bunch of raw, red-eyed hot messes.
And here’s the thing: For two days now I’ve been reading social media posts like, “I can’t believe I’m crying over a rock star,” and, “Tears all day and I never cry,” and, “My bank teller and I wept about Bowie today, so weird,” and the like. Those of us who are in mourning mode are consciously aware of how surprising and strange this reaction is. We’re awash in unexpected tears and palpable grief. WTF? My cousin Parisha put it best:
My feelings exactly. I think there’s some truth to the “end of an era” explanation many are suggesting. I’m 47 and spent much of my high school and college days listening to Bowie (and thankfully getting into his pre-1980s stuff, especially the older I got), and those formative experiences have an undeniable emotional pull.
But for me the more powerful punch comes from my grown-up appreciation of David Bowie as an accomplished artist of the highest order—the kind that inspires awe in the way that the word “awe” is truly meant to convey, but usually doesn’t.
I’ve never studied Bowie’s career in any detail (at least not until the last couple days), but little by little over the years I began to understand how much hard work Bowie put into realizing his vision, through music, videos, theater performances, movies, sculpture and more. In the early days of his career he actively sought out mentors and teachers; trained himself in theater and music; kept recording music and refining his image; adapted his work based on what he learned from previous projects; tried it again; lathered, rinsed and repeated until he became a breakthrough star with Ziggy Stardust.
But he wasn’t done!
He kept doing the above, even when he could have stuck with a money-making formula for at least a few years—I know I know, he indulged in a bit of that too. But not for long. Over many, many years he kept creating and evolving his vision and pushing his creativity into new territory, all the way up to his diagnosis of terminal cancer. But he wasn’t done! After his diagnosis he dove into creating a new album (Blackstar), two epic music videos (“Blackstar” and “Lazarus”) and an off-Broadway musical (Lazarus) in his last months on earth. While he was, you know, dying. That, my fellow creative peeps, is commitment. And it’s astonishing.
Absorbing the story of Bowie’s creative process during the last months of his life is something I’m still processing, as is the world. I find it awe-inspiring and it takes my breath away at times. I’ve cried and freaked my kids out with being so weirdly weepy. But we’ve put on a steady stream of videos and I’ve noticed they’re starting to get it.
I’ve long felt that artists are somehow channeling messages from another dimension, from a non-earthly place—and great artists are the ones who do it well, by listening and honing their craft and working their asses off to convey those messages as fully and accurately as they can. I know it sounds woo-woo and if you know me you know I’m not very woo-woo, but this is something I pretty much believe.
In other words, I think artists are delivering something to us that comes both from them, and from a place beyond us all.
I have felt this so many times when watching musicians perform: When they are in that zone, they become a conduit. And if they have developed their craft well and can be mindful enough to not put up resistance, the music (or art, or drama, or whatever craft) flows through them. How lucky for us to have these people around us.
To me, David Bowie was perhaps one of the very best examples of this: an artist who listened to and lived by his vision, who worked tirelessly and relentlessly to actualize it in this world, and whose enormous body of work is like a gift for us mortals, gorgeous souvenirs from another time and place we’ll never get to visit. His story is breathtaking and I’m awestruck by it. My tears of the last few days are sad tears, yes, but they are also tears of simply being overfilled with the profound beauty of what he has created.
In the same way I’m not woo-woo, I hardly ever use the word “profound.” But I find the story of David Bowie, artist until the end, quite profound indeed.
For us humans, stories are essential to our evolution and consciousness—and this brings me back to the topic that I started writing about last Friday. As of mid-last week, Pyragraph has published 1,000 stories from working artists all around the world, and I’m super proud and happy we’ve managed to do this. Much in the same way that I’m moved by David Bowie’s incredible story of realizing his vision, I am moved by every artist’s story of attempting this amazing task.
For much of my career I didn’t quite realize how much I love helping artists tell their stories, but from the moment I was hit with the idea for Pyragraph I have been realizing it hard-core. Helping bring these stories out is something I truly love to do. So my thoughts on this 1,000-post milestone are dominated by a sort of reverence for the impact of sharing our stories, and a feeling of awe of the power of 1,000 stories collected at our little-engine-that-could publication. Through these stories I have learned an incredible—like, life-changing—amount of insight and knowledge into what makes a creative life tick, and what makes it successful, sustainable, challenging, lucrative, rewarding, terrifying and triumphant.
As I look ahead towards a future with Bowie not of this earth, but with his work as a soundtrack, I look forward to helping keep those stories flowing.