My mom and I were recently in Italy for eight days, visiting my little sister who’s working and living on a pig farm in Tuscany. We ate gelato, checked out thousand-year-old churches, wandered around Florence, Siena, and cozy, hill towns, and attempted to speak Italian. Linguine! Fettuccine! De Niro! DiGiorno! (We also saw locals wearing t-shirts with delightfully bad English translations: NIKE. TRY FASTER. RUN BETTER. JUST DONE IT.)
It was the first time I’d been to Europe since middle school and the longest plane ride I’d been on in a decade. I’m a homebody who doesn’t travel much. Or well. I take frequent bathroom breaks. I’m constantly snacking. Big crowds make me anxious. I struggle to sit still in one place. I don’t like being rushed through TSA. I have a hard time being appropriate and holding in That’s What She Said jargon when my luggage is inspected—or when my crotch is patted down. I respond to jet lag by dropping everything and snoozing wherever I am.
Basically, when I’m traveling (and when I’m not traveling), I’m a dog:
Anyway, our return trip went through Munich and took 16 hours door-to-door. By around hour 13, I was beyond restless. There was turbulence in the sky, a crying baby at my feet, and bubbles in my “still” water. I’d had enough—of Europe, of traveling. I needed calm.
I searched through the in-flight entertainment. There was a 45-minute conversation about songwriting with Norah Jones—or Snorah Jones, as I used to call her. She was always the soundtrack to late-night family drives and easy music to fall asleep to.
I watched and was blown away—by her sense of calm, her intentionality, her self-trust, her insane talent.
Watching Norah Jones talk songwriting was a master class on the grounded, patient, thoughtful artist. She doesn’t overthink it. She often just plays on an old piano in her kitchen. She doesn’t do social media. She sometimes goes days without writing because she’s just going about her life. She carries a voice-recorder in her pocket for when she’s out and has an idea or a lyric or a melody that she wants to bring to the studio. Then she goes to the studio and unpacks it. But there’s never an urgency to turn experience into song. She’s not passively waiting for the muse to hit her as much as she’s being a real human being who does her job in a healthy, self-sustaining way.
She operates from this calm, steady place, knowing that the incubation of life experiences, emotion, and thought takes time to alchemize into song—and that the actual songwriting takes no time.
The best songs to me—my best songs—are songs that were written very quickly. Yeah, very, very quickly. Just about as much time as it takes to write it down. —Bob Dylan
I watched Norah Jones and felt super calm and empowered and was reminded of this great line from Wayne White:
I really don’t think the artist is an intellectual. I believe that the artist is a set of nerves.
I sat back in my seat, feeling a little lighter, a little less anxious about flying. I looked over at my mom who was Snorah-ing away. It’d been a long week.