I’ll be giving a presentation entitled “You Are an Artist: How and Why to Get Started Making Public Visualizations” at Tableau Conference this October. As is always the case, I found myself with lots more to say on the topic than will fit into the time allotted.
So, in a move that’s half “director’s cut” and half “bonus materials,” I’ve decided to blog about a few of the topics that I really wanted to include as part of the presentation—some of my favorite parts, actually—but that just don’t fit with the overall flow and tone.
I hope this will give you an idea of what I will be talking about in October—I would very much like to see everyone who reads this in the audience in New Orleans—and also serves as an object lesson for one of my earlier posts, “Kill Your Darlings.”
Hope to see you at TC18!
When I was younger I was in a summer theater group for young people, teenagers through college age. Plays but mostly musical theater. Lots of people do community theater, or high school musicals. What are you used to seeing?
Guys and Dolls?
Wizard of Oz? Into the Woods? Beauty and the Beast?
Well, here’s the kind of shows MY theater group did.
70, Girls, 70. It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. Merrily We Roll Along. The Apple Tree. Even Bring Back Birdie. Yeah, that’s right: BRING BACK Birdie. The little known sequel, and I am not kidding about that show. It really did run on Broadway, for something like four nights.
Why did we do shows like this? I bet you can guess. Can anyone guess?
That’s right, they were cheap! We were kids! Self-funding these shows. We didn’t have money for royalties!
Anyway, there’s a show from the 2000s that I like to think my little theater company would have taken a stab at performing, had it still been around. This show had very little set design (cheap), ran on Broadway for only 108 shows (cheap), and won zero Tony Awards.
The title of this show is [title of show].
It’s a meta show about writing a show.
You see, the two writers of the show decided that they wanted to enter a show into the New York Music Theater Festival in 2004, but they didn’t have one written yet. You only needed a script and a few songs written to enter, so they scrambled to put something together...and soon realized that the most interesting thing they could think of to write about was “trying to write a musical.” So the tagline to the show is actually “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.”
This oddball little show seems like it would be exactly up the alley for my old theater group. But you are almost certainly wondering: what does this have to do with creating public visualizations?
Two songs in particular from the show resonate very strongly with me, as someone who creates public work. One of them, I’m going to talk about in my actual presentation, so I’ll skip that one for today.
But the second one, I’ll talk about now.
That song is called “Die, Vampire, Die,” and has nothing to do with actual vampires.
A vampire, in the context of the show, is any person, or thought, or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression, usually something that creates insecurity and self-doubt.
The song goes on to name a few vampires specifically.
The first type of vampires are people who put you down, telling you that you are not qualified, or that other people do what you do better and did it earlier, or that you’re not talented.
The second kind of vampires are the people who are uncomfortable with the content of your work—maybe they think it’s too opinionated, or provocative, and push you away from anything potentially controversial.
But the last vampire mentioned is Despair.
That’s the one, as the song says, that wakes you up in the middle of the night to say things like,
Who do you think you’re kidding?
You look like a fool!
No matter how hard you try you’ll never be good enough.
Here’s where the music drops out, and the singer simply speaks the next lines, which is what I want you to remember.
Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I’d think he was a mentally ill asshole, but if the vampire in my head says it, it’s the voice of reason?
Everyone has doubts. Me, you, everybody. We're our own harshest critics, and we internalize the things that play off of our worst fears: the fears that we don't belong, that we're mere seconds away from being exposed as a fraud.
Impostor syndrome! It's a real thing. And it's how our own minds betray us.
Everybody lives with the vampires, within and without, telling them they’re not good enough, telling them to knock it off, to calm down, to clean it up, to let it go.
And these vampires are just that—vampires. Monsters sucking the life out of you.
They are NOT the voice of reason. And they are not the final word on you. They're the voices of insecurity, fear, and doubt, and they are WRONG about you.
Die, vampire, die!