I am in the backseat of a car driving across the expanse of Iceland. Allan is driving, and Hera is riding shotgun, occasionally tossing strange licorice gum drops at me and her bandmate Jed in the back.
The scenery is stupid in it’s beauty, a sort of unending ridiculousness: mountains, and waterfalls, and snowcapped peaks, frozen lakes, rainbows, geysers, mossy rivers of rocks, and slanted light bathing it all in postcard-ready splendor.
Once or twice an hour, Allan pulls the car over in a sort of last minute panic attack, the beauty too much for his photographer brain. “Sorry-not-sorry,” he’ll grin, grabbing his camera with one hand and hopping out of the driver’s seat. Sometimes I chase after him, iPhone in hand, as he runs across the highway to snap a couple dozen photos.
Mostly I let him do his thing, knowing his record of our journey will put my tiny phone photos to shame.
I keep trying though.
I’m dumbstruck by the beauty of this place. I keep learning bits of Icelandic, and pestering people to tell me stories about the elves that are believed to live inside the rocks here. It’s such a strange fairy place, and I’ve fallen half in love with it.
I’m already trying to figure out how to come back.
Hera has been gracious enough to let myself and Allan sleep in spare rooms and spare beds of various family and extended family members as we stowaway in the back of her tour van across Iceland. We meet people everywhere we go, each of them self-possessed and brimming with slow, patient stories.
We were told before we came here that one in every ten people in Iceland is a published author. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’d believe it.
My favorite thing to do here (after staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the unfolding topography) is just sitting, quietly, attentively, while someone tells me a story.
And everyone here tells them beautifully.
* * *
I’ve been traveling for a month? A month and a half? I lose track. Days feel like weeks, memories densely Tetris-packed into every available minute of time.
We interview people. We unpack and re-pack bags, moving them off a plane and into a car and out of a car and into a train and off the train and back onto a plane.
We talk about art.
In Scotland, Allan shows me a video subtitled in German of an old John Cleese talk on creativity. In the video Cleese talks about being in Monty Python, and how he noticed that even though he thought another Python member was funnier out of the gate than he was— John Cleese always seemed to write better skits.
The reasoning? John Cleese said it was because he didn’t let go. When he had a skit idea, he was like a dog with a bone: he would worry it, and worry it, until he was exactly the shape that he wanted.
The other member in the troupe— he would come up with an idea, and leave it at that. Add to cart. Print. Done.
I keep saying to myself: be John Cleese. Don’t be the other guy.
Making the movie with Allan, I’ve been traveling around collecting a mental list of bon mots on.. creativity, I suppose, for lack of a better term. Sitting with Dave McKean, or Greg Ruth, or Jason Shawn Alexander or any one of dozens of artists and hearing their processes, I feel like I’m getting a master class in how to live a creative life. Listening to story after story feels like that bit in the Matrix where Neo learns kung fu, only in this case I’m downloading special ninja art moves directly into my brain from some of the best artists I know.
On the day we left on this trip, I wrote a song.
For the first time in four months, sitting at Allan’s kitchen counter in Los Angeles, typing out lyrics, and then walking in circles in the parking lot humming out melodies.
As we travel, I sing it to people.
* * *
My head is buzzing.
Back in LA, after zipping through Oslo, and London, and cars and planes and buses, I’m sitting back at Allan’s kitchen table, slowly letting the jet-lag peel away.
I play piano.