Every Single Night ~ Fiona Apple
Every single night
I endure the flight
Of little wings of white-flamed
Butterflies in my brain
These ideas of mine
Percolate the mind
Trickle down the spine
Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze
That's when the pain comes in
Like a second skeleton
Trying to fit beneath the skin
I can't fit the feelings in
Every single night's alight with my brain ...
I just wanna feel everything
I guess it's no coincidence I'm inspired to tackle the concept of my "creative process" two days after the newest Fiona Apple album has been released, which I've been pining after for the better half of 7 years now.
Those closest to me — actually, most people who know me at all, know she is my all-time favorite female solo artist and lyricist. I won't get into why. Frankly, all you'd have to do is look up her music, know who I am and you'd get it.
But I will say this, while I love, appreciate and respect many other solo artists and lyricists, I've never encountered another female artist so hauntingly deep, complex, layered and talented as Fiona Apple is ... and one who speaks to me in a way no other has, to date.
I will also touch on the poetic title of her album — which is insanely long (also her style) — and the genius behind it.
"The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do"
For those who don't know, an idler wheel is the part of an engine that's connected to all the other parts, but doesn't actually propel anything.
Fiona explained it's a metaphor for people like her — and me, incidentally — who look as if they're doing nothing ... when they are actually feeling everything at once.
I'm clearly biased, but I've never had someone put it in such beautifully apropos terms. So much so, it's inspired me to try and actually put my own creative process into words that make sense.
Perhaps I won't succeed. Perhaps I'll lose most of you, but it's worth a shot.
A lot of people over the years have asked me how I come up with some of the things I write or express in other mediums (i.e. sketching/guitar/piano). I think it's slightly different for everyone. But for me, it comes back to those intro lyrics and the above metaphor ... feeling everything at once.
Ever since I can remember, I've always been the girl "in the back corner of the room in her own little world." I mean, as a child, I was very active, a tom boy, outgoing and talkative. But I also had a fiercely potent imagination and would often drift off into my thoughts, kind of space out. My friends used to tease me that I often had a delayed reaction to things going on in front of me when this happened.
It wasn't necessarily that what was happening or what someone was talking about at that moment wasn't interesting, but once something else caught my attention, my mind took off like a spooked horse, virtually impossible to catch.
I remember as a teenager, feeling as though I would burst at any moment with the things I was feeling or yearning to feel. Sometimes I'd walk the halls of school and feel completely invisible, while other times, I would feel like everything inside of me in that moment was so apparent, I must have looked completely unhinged.
Having struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my teen and adult years, most of the things I felt were a mix of melancholy, passion, yearning, anger, elation, frustration, beauty, darkness, love and isolation.
Even now, those feelings will simultaneously run through me at any given moment. Usually it happens when I'm in a crowded room or a group. I become an arid sponge, soaking up everything and everyone around me. Then I kind of "check out" for a minute, detach, etc. To most people, it probably looks like I'm either daydreaming or just lost in thought, or perhaps paying complete attention, when, in fact, every part of me is somewhere else.
It's different from the times I've disassociated when something too overwhelming, painful or hard was happening around me or to me. This is kind of like, a part of me suddenly taps into the pulse of everyone and every thing in that room — it's energy, a brief exchange between two people or a brief, intense look I share with someone, perhaps the scent of the room, or the feel of the wooden table beneath my hands, the history behind it, the music in the background, a fleeting touch, the sound of the wind or water, or the fire pit with its flames licking the air in front of me.
Whatever the scene — it could be as mundane as a work office or enriching as a walk in the park, an art museum or a theatrical performance — when I'm in that zone, I feel as though I'm everywhere at once and feeling it all. It's both terrifying, elating, painful, beautiful and exhilarating.
I feel alive, completely lost, utterly found, totally alone ... and yet fully tapped into it all. When this happens, I try to make sense of some of it. I try to siphon out the noise a bit and dig toward the roots of whatever I'm feeling or taking in. I basically "remove" myself in a way ... or stand aside and just allow my veins to become a vessel, letting those feelings speak to me.
Sometimes, they simply catch my breath before passing through, never to touch me again. Other times, they manifest into a story idea, a quote, a poem, a lyric ... or maybe a song or sketch. In those cases, one particular thing or things will often have caught my eye and attention and all I usually have to do is come home, open up my laptop or notebook to a blank page, let my fingers rest on the keys or my pen tip to paper and just ... unravel.
I've been asked if I always know the ending to the stories I write. The answer is, no. Usually I don't. Usually I have a starting point, maybe an idea of a few points to hit throughout the story, but once I start writing, it takes whatever direction and form it chooses. It creates itself.
If I hit a rut, I usually have to pull back for a bit, let it marinate, before feeling that flame catch again. And once it does, I have to stay with it until it burns out.
Sometimes that leads to long, wakeful nights that bleed into 3, 4 a.m. or Saturday mornings that draw out into the late afternoon or early evening. It's why I'm here, at my computer at 1 a.m. right now, when I've been void of decent sleep the last two nights and every bone in my body is screaming for the warmth of my bed.
Each sentence, word, syllable has to meticulously be just right before I can move onto the next.
Same with interviews. When I sit down with someone, I take everything about them in that I can and soak it up. Their energy, stance, their eyes, the story behind those eyes, their gestures, demeanor. I've had to interview so many kinds of people over the years, it never ceases to be an adventure. Some people are natural at it, others, I've had to work for.
Those are my favorite.
This may be something only other journalists or interviewers understand, but every person has a "switch." Every single person. And sometimes, I've never found that switch. But most times, if I'm with a person long enough, I do. And once that switch is flipped, this whole other amazing gear is hit that I can physically feel. The entire interview accelerates and the story feverishly manifests.
That's how it is when I write, too. Sometimes it's a little turbulent at first and feels like I'm poking and prodding at the edges of my being, feeling my way around, pressing in against myself. It's akin to a pressure feeling, uncomfortable and painful ... like being reborn or transformed.
And then, when I hit that switch in me, everything gives way ... every emotion, burning desire, every tear or sliver of anguish, every scar and every smile. Whether it's spurred from something that inspired me throughout the day, a moment I shared with someone or with myself, it lives and breathes every fiber of me when I sit down with it.
Sometimes it rips me apart ... sometimes it ignites me in ways I'll never quite be able to express. But unfailingly, it always makes me feel one thing.
The very thing I need to feel — and will fight to feel — every day of my life.