On the importance of being able to dance.

This pandemic and its resulting quarantine and lockdown measures have stolen a lot of precious moments from people of all walks of life. Yesterday, I was watching a news report about a woman whose father died in a nursing home from COVID-19, and they’ve been waiting three months to have a funeral. This makes sense to me when I recall a friend relating her experience of attending a funeral during these unprecedented times, and they weren’t allowed to hug or hold each other in a time of deep despair. There was no real comforting allowed, just people sitting six feet apart and crying. Granted, this happened early in the quarantine, but the awful way human beings have been isolated and separated continues. In April, the CDC confirmed suicide rates increased by 35% (from this article) and that opioid overdoses were on the rise after declining (from this article). In short, people are not okay.

So any semblance of returning to normalcy is a wonderful thing. On Monday night, I attended my first drive-in concert, seeing Andrew McMahon at Monmouth Park. I went with three other friends as only four people were allowed to a car, but we had friends – and friends of friends – in two other cars. I definitely agreed with my self-proclaimed introverted friend that not dealing with long lines and suffocating masses of people was a plus, as was being able to sit and have access to a cooler. It was like the concert came to us in the parking lot, like we never had to stop tailgating. I remember standing for about eight hours when I saw Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium. My friend and I had general admission tickets, so we had to stand and wait in line to make sure we got as close to the stage as possible, and we had to stand and wait for the concert to start once inside the stadium. There were more lines for drinks and food and merchandise, and it was a struggle to squirm and plead to get back to where you were standing. I agree that this drive-in setup has perks.

But it’s still not the same. There were eight of us gathered around the trunk, getting what we wanted for the cooler, and the security guards made us separate. We understood and complied with little to no grumbling. But for the majority of the night, they were insistent we be in our car. Monday was a hot one, and when the concert started, it was an absolutely gorgeous evening with a remarkable sunset. We didn’t want to sit in the car. They seemed satisfied as long as we were touching the car, but naturally those with convertibles and flat-bed trucks had an advantage.

It was better than nothing to be sure, and the return of live music is one I celebrate and embrace. But I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t miss traditional concerts. Some of my favorite memories are with people I met at concerts. People in line for Bruce Springsteen are hands down the nicest people I’ve ever met in any kind of line. One time, my sister and her friend befriended an older couple who danced with us and brought us food and beer and for a couple of hours, we were a little family or the oldest of friends. And I mean we danced – limbs flying every which way, totally uninhibited and completely joyful. In one of my new favorite films, Jojo Rabbit, the mother of the title character (played perfectly by Scarlett Johansson) explains that “We have to dance to show God we are grateful to be alive” and that “Dancing is for people who are free.” Not being able to dance was disappointing.

And even singing along seemed pointless when the only people who could hear me (and suffer, as I am a terrible singer) were the three people I came with. There’s something transcendent about singing as loud as you can with a crowd of thousands to your favorite song. My friend once filmed me singing along with Bruce Springsteen and captioned the video, “Mandi worshiping at the altar of Bruce,” which is exactly what I was doing. I remember being filled with a passionate angst when I saw My Chemical Romance, raising my first to the air and proclaiming that I was not afraid to keep on living. Instead, we sang under our breath and honked our horns to show we were having a good time.

Walt Whitman once wrote, “O to have my life henceforth a poem of new joys!/ To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on….” That is what we need to get back to; to be joyful to be alive and to be grateful and to celebrate. I look forward to being able to attend concerts and weddings, and to congregate with friends. I am ready to smile and laugh, to hug and hold, and to just be together. I could complain about the drive-in (and I have), but it’s important I end with hope. It’s all we have. And as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you/ Beauty and terror/ Just keep going/ No feeling is final.”

On being inspired.

I am very proud of myself for writing my novel, but I am also very eager to start working on a second novel. However, I am feeling particularly uninspired. When I was working on Her Beautiful Monster, I wrote every single day. I thought about it constantly, dreamed about it and dreaded when the project would eventually end. I was truly passionate and as of yet, I have not been as passionate about any possible plots or characters that have come to mind. In short, I NEED to be inspired.

Typically, I listen to music to stimulate both the brain cells and my creativity. The artists that double as my personal muses are Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, My Chemical Romance, and Elvis Presley. Truth be told, however, Her Beautiful Monster was inspired by another artist entirely; the novel was inspired by the music of Amanda Palmer. I don’t enjoy her music as often as the musicians I listed earlier (but I should, and you should too – she’s phenomenal), but I do listen to the Boss quite a bit; probably the most out of any other artist out there. I listen to him for at least an hour every day.

I love Bruce for a multitude of reasons. For starters, he is from New Jersey. I am also from New Jersey, and there is an inherent motivational feeling associated with observing someone from similar surroundings and background make it big. Springsteen was able to make it out of the Great Garden State and return a conquering hero. I would love to be able to do the same.

I love Bruce because he’s handsome, which hardly hurts and usually helps.

Most importantly, I love Bruce because his lyrics are prophetic and impossibly beautiful. His authenticity and genuine sentiments make him accessible to every American – he is able to creatively and concisely divulge the anxieties, the triumphs, the dreams, and the desperations of the American experience. He is a true poet, and he has his finger on the pulse of contemporary American society like no one else. I would argue that Springsteen is not only a poet, but a prophet. His words set to melodies can be anthems and a call to arms, can entertain and tell a story with rich characters and timeless themes, and can inspire. I am living proof of the latter, as the first thing that I ever consciously wrote for an audience that I was proud of was a short story titled Cover Me, inspired by the Springsteen song of the same name. The short story was published on-line in the Cynic On-line Magazine, and is still available to read if you are interested (HINT HINT).

Bono, the lead singer of U2, once said that Springsteen was both private and accessible, which in my humble opinion, is true and an incredibly romantic contradiction. Through not only his words and music, but through his very being, Springsteen represents the common man, but is able to do so in a personal way that invites individual listeners to sympathize and empathize on a very personal level, as if every song is for everyone and simultaneously tailored to suit anyone; that is a truly remarkable feat that I strive to emulate.

Springsteen’s song “I’m On Fire” played a HUGE role in creating Her Beautiful Monster, and I still find myself returning to its imagery of loneliness and longing as physical and emotional ailments. The lyrics are beautifully simply and blunt. I highly recommend that everyone reading this also listen to that song, especially if you plan on reading my novel.

In my search for inspiration, I have lately been listening to Springsteen’s “Jack Of All Trades,” from his newest album, “Wrecking Ball.” The song has definitely enchanted me, and I believe there is inspiration within but to be honest, I am having a hell of a time finding it.

I need help.

What inspires you? Is it music? Is it a person? When you want to be creative, how do you get in the zone? Please share. I hope I’ve been able to return the favor.

Also – I’ve included a link to the short story mentioned in this blog … if you’re interested. 🙂