Who Does Your Heart Break For?

I'm applying for a grant to fund a musical I'm composing about the Virgin Mary. I'm currently in the second round of applicants, and we've been asked for a detailed business plan. Sure. An overview of my background and credentials. Fine. The answer to the question: who does your heart break for. I'm sorry, what?

No one told me in any of my business classes that I should prepare to cash in the answer to such a personal question for money. Particularly when the benefactor is a religious institution. Heartbreak doesn't have any place in the bank or the church. That's what girls' nights at the bar and snuggly beagles are for.

(But we can help with your more conventional grantwriting needs, too.)

Hurry down the chimney tonight.

In an early version of The Hustling Creative's cornerstone workshop, "Everything I Wish I Knew About Making a Living Making Art," part of the script reads:

Stop wasting time and energy second-guessing yourself, cursing your circumstances, and letting the thing you love doing break your heart.

I usually get approving nods, sometimes snaps. My audience leans in. The line works. (Psst. I can prove it! Book the workshop!)

And it's not just a line. The Hustling Creative truly started on a quest to end the worldwide epidemic of heartbreak, plaguing artists everywhere. Because by equipping people with the tools to take control of their own careers, we can outsmart our hearts and we don't have to feel anything at all! Right? The Hustling Creative: healer of hearts. Alexandra Palting: defender of mankind (yup, that's actually the translation). Huzzah for us all.

So you can see why this question posed such a conundrum. The gamemakers of this grant competition seemed to suggest that heartbreak begets creativity. That allowing our souls to hurt is actually a catalyst for making art that is good and telling stories that serve. Which is in total contradiction to the bedrock of my company. But, playing devil's advocate, I patronized the question. Okay, so what if heartbreak does beget creativity?

Christmas, the most magical day of the year for some, is also a story of heartbreak. Christians believe that God, the OG creator's, heart broke for us. For our loneliness, our unrest, our vanity. So he made something new. And 2000+ years later, that new creation is the star we follow when the night is coldest and darkest.

I reflected more deeply on why it is that we as artists naturally try to avoid heartbreak. Besides the obvious pain=bad, I think it's systemic. Let me explain. As I look forward to the holidays, I'm also shining my armor with chagrin against well-meaning friends and relatives who will say awkward things over turkey like, "you aren't on Broadway yet? There's always grad school!" or "that pays how much? Yiiikes." They know art is a tough business; a heartbreaking business. And so they treat heartbreak with pity. And there's nothing I hate more than pity. When in fact, a broken heart isn't something to be pitied-- it's something to be harvested and used. As Hannah Gadsby says in the ultimate testament of creation midwifed through heartbreak, Nannette, "there is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself."

Don't pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living. And most of all, pity those who live without love. -Albus Dumbledore

So after this existential odyssey, I asked myself again: "who does your heart break for?"

My heart breaks for loneliness. For the homeless man waving through my driver's side window, when I pretend to text because I have nothing to give him after I spent all my money on the voice lesson I'm driving home from. For the mother who brings her child with autism to the theatre and is treated to side-eye by judgmental audience members who call him unruly. My heart breaks for the little brown-skinned girl who goes on a field trip to the opera with her white classmates, and doesn't know that she can seek out a just-as-beautiful-self that won't look or sound like everyone else. That girl was me. If I make something for you, will you forgive me all I didn't do?

My heart breaks when I go to auditions and I judge the other girls and they judge me. Because if they win, that must mean that I'll lose. But if I book the job, that's one less chance for someone else who might need it more than me. If I make something for you, will you forgive me all I didn't do?

And once I really think about heartbreak, The Hustling Creative starts to make sense. Maybe I created a company that serves artists so that they'll be able to right the wrongs I don't know how to, and they'll know how to make people listen in a way that I can't. Because the story of creation is ultimately a story of hope. It has to be. Broken hearts must also break down our walls, giving us the raw material to create something beautiful. Something useful. Something heartbreaking.

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