..Nina Simone. and yes…take time to pause.
It does not matter what Art you practice, how you express your internal life, what “floats your boat” – there is simply No One like Nina Simone. Check out her autobiography in 1991 called “I Put a Spell on You“ – Hell yes, she definitely puts a spell on me! And isn’t that what we strive for in our writing, in our stories – to put a “spell” on our readers? To make them feel. To make them think. To make them question, and engage, and dig deeper than they might perhaps, on their own? I don’t think this even qualifies as a question – of course that is what we strive for as writers!
What makes Nina Simone so powerful, so phenomenal? I think there are many facets to her engaging powers, but mostly, I think it boils down to these three things: Her Chops. Her Truth. Her Honesty. She bares herself through her music – she risks everything. She exposes everything: feeling, honesty, and deep engagement. Simply put – She is “Real.” Are you “real” in your work? Are you digging deeply into your characters so that you understand what exactly their story is? What they need to convey? Who they are? What drives them? How they arrived at the place they now stand? And Why? Ask yourself… does their story need to be told? This is a powerful question…and truly, if the answer is not an indefinite Yes! than it’s time to let it go, and move onto something else. Time is precious – a book can take years, sometimes a decade or more before it has finished with you…so ask yourself: Is it worth it to you? Make sure this is a resounding Yes before you commit.
The closer aligned we are with the “truth” of our characters, of their story, their world – the better we will understand the inner workings of their inner life and their conflict…which translates to this: the better we are be able to “tell” their story, with nuance, insight, truth, humanity….and the greater we are able to engage our readers. It is always about keeping it Real.
When we sit down with a book, we want to lose ourselves in the page…we want to “see” what we could not once see…we want to grow as we read about the lives/conflicts/struggles/joys/grapplings that the characters engage/battle/overcome/or lose to. We willingly step into the alter reality of the characters – but ONLY when the author has done due diligence: formed a fully alive world, with fully alive/conflicted/engaged/REAL characters that Leap off the page. They enter our being, they grab hold of our reality and stretch our conception of what it means to live and to experience what life has to give.
In the immortal words of Nina Simone: “my function as an artist is …to make people feel on a deep level.” Yes! I believe this to be profoundly true. This is what drives me in my writing – to “touch” people, to elevate the stakes and heighten “feeling.” To impact the reader in some way that broadens their understanding and awareness; has them asking questions about the way things “are.” But mostly, to make the reader Feel.
Nina Simone went on to say this about this slippery thing we call Feeling: …And of course, this can be difficult to describe. It’s difficult to describe because it’s not something you can analyze; to get near what it’s about you have to play it. And when you’ve caught it, when you’ve got the audience hooked, you always know because it’s like electricity hanging in the air.”
As writers, we don’t often get that immediate response from our audience – most reading is done in private, away from the author’s reach or ear…but I do believe that when we “tap into” the pulse of our characters, we can get close, often very close, to that “electricity” by hooking into the truth of who our characters are – and when we do, they begin to sing off the page. We can feel it…and when when we can, our readers can. Chops. Truth. Honesty. The guardians of Art. Practice each one. Cultivate daily. Strive ever more, to reach this pinnacle of grace. And let your Art sore!
Critics started to talk about what sort of music I was playing,” writes Nina in her 1991 autobiography I Put A Spell On You, “and tried to find a neat slot to file it away in. It was difficult for them because I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a classical piano technique influenced by cocktail jazz. On top of that I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs were automatically identified with the folk movement. So, saying what sort of music I played gave the critics problems because there was something from everything in there, but it also meant I was appreciated across the board – by jazz, folk, pop and blues fans as well as admirers of classical music.” Clearly Nina Simone was not an artist who could be easily classified.
This is the kind of Artist I wish to be…if only strive for. Nuanced, broad, dedicated, well practiced, and hooked into the inner workings of the pulse of my Art and Form with honesty, chops and truth. Blessings Nina, and Ubuntu
Click here for a treat – How it Feels to be Free