Letter to a young artist (from mom)

Dear Young Artist,

I was listening to the Sara Bareilles album based on her music for the Broadway show, “Waitress”, and remembering the movie by Adrienne Shelly, and the wonderful performance by Keri Russell, and suddenly I remembered a lot of shows and movies.

A weird thing happens when you reach my age and watch shows and listen to music. This weird thing will happen to you.

Like a tidal wave, a bunch of shows and music will make sense. The cultural references will be your references, and the philosophical questions will be your questions. It’s because at my age, people who are artists have been working long enough and building their reach far enough that their work comes to me. That feeling of generational recognition happens to me when I watch Pixar movies, or listen to Radiohead, or see The Good Wife, or many other things.

It’s not that I and the writers are locked in the 80s. On the contrary. In the reading nook at your elementary school there is an inscription that says you really can lead more than one life – through books. (Which I generalize here to art). And that is my point. Through this connection, I’ve been touched by more people, and more different people, than I thought would ever happen. We’re not locked. We’re unlocked.

The feeling that came over me when I thought about Keri Russell was overwhelming gratitude. I had seen her in Waitress and in The Americans, two very different vehicles. The Americans is a difficult show to watch; it is incredibly sad. What makes me grateful is I lived a bit of that life, while watching that show. The writers and crew did an amazing job. The show takes place in a time that you didn’t live in but I did. The time of the cold war. Because I could relate to that time, I think I related more to the characters than I otherwise might have.

I think I’ve seen several of these generational waves unfold. When I was young people made shows that reflected their childhoods in the forties and fifties. Then sixties and seventies. Of course when I saw it I got a lot out of it, but I don’t think it’s that same as when your own generational stuff comes in. Maybe it’s not a tidal wave, it’s more like a lot of different ships crossed their own oceans to come to your harbor.

Of course these art forms – music, movies, TV – involve people of different ages, and the connection part is way more than just generation. Generation, for me, turned out to be more powerful than I expected.

I can’t say enough how these ships help me, bolster me, nourish me. I’m proud of you for pushing off on your own boat. The work of giving extra lives to people is terribly necessary and terribly undervalued. Even as a mathematician, I’m convinced that it is only through imagining other lives that any important problem gets solved.



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