Wednesday, July 12, 2017 / 1:38 AM

When I'm in a creative rut, I like to surround myself with music and stories and writing that can feel like a warm hug: art that is comforting and familiar and reminds me of times when I've felt inspired to just make things.

But the flip side of that is that it can also feel a little sad. Sometimes I'll listen to something or watch something and just think to myself: "I could never create something that beautiful."

Sometimes, I go through these phases where I'll pick an artist whose work I like and just dive headfirst into consuming everything – I'll listen to everything available on Spotify. I'll fall down a YouTube rabbit hole. I'll read every interview they've ever said anything new in. The past two weeks, the subject of this obsessive behavior has been Mika, whose debut album "Life in Cartoon Motion" came out 10 years ago. (It wasn't an album that was received incredibly well in the U.S., and Mika himself isn't as commercially successful here in the U.S. as he is abroad.)

But I remember listening to "Life in Cartoon Motion" the first time and feeling like it was special. As his later music emerged, I didn't follow his career as closely, which is why when "Grace Kelly" came up on my Spotify recently, I was reminded of a time when the world felt like a blank canvas before me, and I immediately went and downloaded his entire body of work.

There's something lovely about his journey as an artist. His music doesn't fit comfortably into one genre, and it's evident he's constantly exploring the world and his perspective through his music. Each song, each album was part of his own journey as a person, and it's so clear from his writing on "The Origin of Love" and "No Place In Heaven" that something has changed in how he views himself and the world.

From "Life in Cartoon Motion" to "No Place In Heaven," each album goes through a journey on its own, and when strung together, it feels like a story that's not yet completed: it's about creating art for the moment you're in, and not to fit some sweeping narrative arc that always has to make sense to others.

I was watching the music video for "Good Guys" the other night, and even though I'd heard the song dozens of time, I was repeatedly struck by that Oscar Wilde-inspired line ("If we are all in the gutter, it doesn’t change who we are / ‘Cause some of us in the gutter are looking up at the stars.") and I came to the place I always do when looking for inspiration: I will never write something that beautiful. I will never make something that feels like exhaling after a long winter indoors – which is what "No Place In Heaven" feels like. I will never be able to dig through layers of identity the way like he can.

And then I listened to "Promiseland," which is a bonus track on "No Place In Heaven" and it felt like a direct message, a challenge. The thing is – everything that I love about Mika's work and all of the things I envied was exactly the inspiration I was looking for: not inspiration to influence my own work, but inspiration to get me to just start trying again, no matter the reception or the labels or the non-labels or the exploration of who I am and what I'm doing. Because I want to own something that is beautiful and reflective of "me" and makes me feel like spinning under the sun the way listening to "Last Party" makes me want to dance under the moon.

It isn't that I want to mimic his journey; I want to forge my own. (I hadn't felt that way before about art since the first time I listened to Hamilton and listened to Lin-Manuel Miranda talk to Jeffrey Brown about the desire to unleash creativity.) And when art reminds you to do that, it's a challenge that can't be ignored.

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