3 min read

The World Only Spins Forward

When I was 18 years old I saw Angels in America for the first time. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an epic 7 hour, 2 part play about…um…it’s hard to nail down exactly, but basically it’s about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the Mormon church, Reaganism…and a lot more. It’s messy and complicated and brilliant and perfect in so many ways. It is a spectacle, and it won pretty much every award it could win - the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award (for both parts), when HBO turned it into a miniseries it swept the Emmys. If you assembled the canon of American drama, if you assembled the canon of LGBTQ art in general and you didn’t include Angels in America, you’d better have a damn persuasive reason why. It has proven to be one of the enduring works of art in my lifetime - every time I come back to it, I find myself pulled right back into its powerful orbit.


Some of you may know that I am a total nerd for learning about other people’s creative process, because I am a creature of routine who needs his routines in order to find his way into the chaos of creation. Hearing about how others create is often the kick in the ass that I need to create myself.

Well, I just finished reading about the creative process that led to Angels in America, and it’s probably the most honest, brutal, and ultimately the most liberating work I’ve encountered about the process of creation.


•  Actors who perform in the show discuss how there are days when they can’t find the energy in themselves to give their best performance, and they just need to do enough to get through it.

•  The original production of the show put the theater that mounted it out of business.

•  One of the original directors talks about how the show defined his career and how he got fired from it.

•  Best of all, my favorite part of all of it, is the fact that Tony Kushner, the playwright who is responsible for this brilliance - who was the recipient of that Pulitzer Prize - he’s still rewriting and revising the play almost three decades later. There’s a good chance he’ll continue to up until the day he dies. Because the work is so complicated, so sprawling, so demanding that he sees all the ways that it still isn’t quite perfect.

I mean…damn. Damn. But what I love about it that stands apart to me from nearly every other work and that I see as being so relevant for the work we do is that it acts as a visceral demonstration of how creation happens as a group endeavor. Not all creation of course, but a lot of the big, complicated work. It needs a team to bring it to life because it’s more than any single person can hold together on their own. In fact, if I think of all of the work I’ve ever done that I’m deeply proud of, all of it is the product of big, complicated collaboration.

I think it’s important that we see ourselves as collaborators - not always everyone with everyone else all the time, but we’re always doing things that can’t fully come to life unless a bunch of different people give something of themself to it. It’s important that we are intentional in how we choose to collaborate. And it’s important that we remember that good collaboration, well-intentioned collaboration, creative collaboration is not a smooth process; it has friction and difficulty. Sometimes it has conflict. And so a necessary part of collaboration is care - care for the work we’re doing, as well as care for the people we are doing it with. That’s probably true in all kinds of work, but it’s definitely true in the vulnerability of creative work.

If you’ve read this far…I’ve been sitting on this essay for a while. I finished the book shortly after the move in June (remember those heady days?), but I just couldn’t quite figure out where to put it. I think I had originally written it for a team of people I was working with, but it didn’t feel like it suited our purpose at the time. But the book did leave me deeply, deeply moved. So I figure, why not drop it here? It’s not like I’ve said much here (or, really, anywhere) for the past couple months. If you were feeling concerned, let me allay your fears: I’ve been recharging my creative energy by jumping on trains and going around to explore the wonders of my new home country (and for the last six weeks of the school holiday, doing it with three kids in tow which has been pure, exhausting bliss). I have been resisting the urge to turn this into a Dutch lifestyle newsletter, but it’s difficult because so far the lifestyle has been wonderful. If you’re in the area, do let me know.