Why Stories About Creativity Don’t Tell The Whole Truth
Apple TV's Dickinson does a lot right. Not facts. Other things.
It shines most in the themes of its writing. The lessons from the 19th century are clearly tied to our modern struggles.
In Season 1, the fictional version of Emily accepts how odd she is. She comes into herself as an individual. This matters hugely today. Season 2's discussions of fame and its folly also feels terribly relevant.
There is a scene in Season 2 where Emily finds herself blocked. She cannot write a poem. Her hope and mind run dry. When panics and flees outdoors, she finds another creative soul (Frederick Olmsted, designer of Central Park). After lamenting to Olmsted, he gives her some advice on how to break free:
"Refuse to be the daisy, and start being the sun."
The Atlantic pulled a similar quote when it interviewed Bong Joon Ho's interview about his breakout movie Parasite. At the top of the article, you'll find this:
"It all came to me, and I wrote like it was a hurricane."
It’s good, incomplete advice. The kind of rally cries that draws in the amateur creative like a siren luring an unsuspecting sailor to certain doom.
Once Emily “is the sun,” she still has to figure out the meter of a poem. And as for Parasite - that quote is only referring to the second half of the movie’s plot. Not the concept. Not the characters. Not the climax.
Notice the nature imagery in both quotes. It's no coincidence. Nature is a wild, untamed force. Think of the phrase "catching lightning in a bottle." Creativity feels the same way.
Well, part of it does.
The rest feels like you're trying to take the hurricane, the sun, the lighting, the daisy, and stuff them into a different box than they were delivered in. Emily and Bong Joon both knew this. They are both famous not for having revelations, but for communicating them well.
That part is hard. That part is work. It also isn’t sexy to show on screen.