Portland's been in a global warming heatwave the last week or so. It's been really uncomfortable.
My house doesn't have air conditioning, so my housemates and I have been trying to figure out how to turn our brains into cotton candy so we won't melt with rage in addition to heat. I started out by binge watching most of Steven Universe, which I love because it harkens the artistic heyday of Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCrackren.
After my brain was sufficiently cotton candied, my housemates and I started watching the Sopranos.
I didn't know if I was going to be able to handle it at first. Nurse Jackie, Edie Falco's latest project and a show I was ENAMORED with, had just ended; and I'd been fortunate to hear James Gandolfini do a talk at my college about his acting process. He was extremely kind, although very drunk that day I later learned.
Facts aside, I wasn't sure I was emotionally ready to try and connect with these characters.
The first time I tried watching the Sopranos, I found myself head over heels in love with the overall dramatic structure of the show—but I couldn't get past the sound. I didn't even get through the third episode because I had classmates who could record better sound than whoever did in the pilot. I was devastated, but it didn't hold me back too much from enjoying the rest of my life. Soon after I got balls deep into Cagney & Lacey which is another story for another post...
Anyway, when I sat down to watch with my housemates, I was worried I would be getting myself into a Wire-like situation. (Where, having missed a few episodes, I'd be extremely confused.) I was also worried that the sound again would bother me.
Neither of those things happened.
I got hit with a Mack truck of sadness anyway, but I couldn't quite figure out why. Watching the intro bummed me out, watching Tony be a whiny little manchild in Dr. Melfi's office bummed me out, Edie Falco being amazing bummed me out—the only thing that brought me any semblance of happiness was Paulie Walnuts' mild speech impediment.
Finally it occurred to me: I was upset because this show was so. Fucking. GREAT.
I was watching an effortlessly multifaceted show with three dimensional characters that all had organic reasons for every breath they took. The labyrinthine plot structure made perfect sense, and never felt trite.
I was sad because I knew I'd never create media that good.
I couldn't think about all of the lovely things people have said about my episodes of the webseries I'm working on, because it didn't include Big Pussy Bonpensiero crying on a toilet about his sealed fate.
I'd gotten myself stuck in a comparison cycle. Those nasty things!
I went to bed nursing a hurt ego, and tried not to be too down on myself.
The next day I had a realization that I hope helps you if you ever get stuck in a comparison cycle. (As we all do sometimes.)
I am a big fan of most kinds of music. It's fun to see where music go that you wouldn't think.
One of the first classical pieces I learned on the piano was Satie's Gymnopedie n˙1. It was simple, waltz tempo made sense to me, and I didn't have to hurt my fingers trying to stretch them out.
Janet Jackson's 7th studio album All For You came out when I was in 6th grade. I kept it in my see through blue plastic CD player for ages. I choreographed dances to every song, and listened to the album on repeat.
I was thinking about Someone To Call My Lover the other day, and played it.
Ventura Highway was the guitar sample, this much I knew. I'd originally thought that the chord structuring from VH was taken directly from GN˙1 and left it at that. When I was listening to it the other day, I'd found that her producer had actually played some bars of Gymnopedie IN her song. Mind = BLOWN.
Janet and her team didn't reinvent the wheel, they just took the wheel and made it work for them in the most efficient way possible.
David Chase, the Sopranos E.P. and showrunner didn't reinvent the wheel either. He just combined two things (serialized television and dramatic film) then put those wheels to work in the same machine.
I don't have to reinvent the wheel and neither do you. Apply bits and pieces of things you like into things you want to create. It's ok to get lost in the rabbit hole of an Ira Glass Crisis every once in awhile, just don't drown in it.
Maybe you need to fall in love with Gymnopedie n˙1, or maybe you need to realize that trying to make the next great American gangster TV show isn't your thing.
Michelangelo's first (or second or third) gig wasn't painting gay dudes on the back wall of the Sistine Chapel. Satie was so bummed about his supposed "lack of talent" playing piano that he enlisted in the Army, then got discharged because he gave himself bronchitis.
I understand the struggle of having *any* chill when it feels like everyone's doing better than you. I get into that space a lot.
Instead of worrying about being the next whoever, think about being the first you.
The first you probably isn't going to write another Sopranos, but you may have the vision to use it as a box to think out of for things in your future. Who knows, you may pull out a Someone To Call My Lover?