I finally saw Florence Foster Jenkins this weekend. If you’ve seen the movie, or even the trailer, you know that Florence Foster Jenkins was a woman who lived in New York in the 30s and had, some would say, more money than sense. She was a spectacularly bad singer who performed anyway—and a lot more than many singers who were better than she was.
I think she might just be the patron saint of creative courage.
Some would say she was downright delusional (and I will confess that I have been wrestling with that possibility, too). And there’s no question that she was in a financial position to afford music coaches and other folks who would humor her in her quest to sing coloratura.
But here’s the thing about Florence Foster Jenkins: From the time she was a child, she wanted to pursue music. When she lost the ability to play piano, she switched to singing, and she insisted on pursuing her love of music despite the fact that her father refused to support her financially as a result. She let nothing stop her, because she loved it.
When was the last time you did the big, scary, brave thing just because you love it? When you didn’t care about what other people would think?
It’s true that those around her did their best to keep criticism from her, though on some level, she must always have known that not everyone would love her, because no one enjoys universal approval. But her love for music was more important than anything else, and she refused to brook any argument against it.
Imagine how freeing it would be never to hear—or just to ignore completely—that voice that says, “What do you think you’re doing? Why are you writing this book? It’s crap. That sentence you just wrote—that’s the worst sentence ever put to paper. Stop now, before it’s too late!” Is there anything you couldn’t, wouldn’t do?
Despite her terrible singing—or perhaps even because of it—people loved Florence. Not everyone, but more than you might expect. Of her audiences, accompanist Cosmé McMoon said, “[They] nearly always tried not to hurt her feelings by outright laughing. So they developed a convention that whenever she came to a particularly excruciating discord or something like that where they had to laugh, they burst into these salvos of applause and whistles. The noise was so great that they could laugh at liberty.”
Despite the laughter, her fans must have recognized that she was up on that stage doing something nobody else in that room had the guts to do. Sing. Sing badly. Sing as only she could.
As Florence herself said, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
Seth Godin talks this about making art and delivering it to others, saying, “Here. I made this. I hope it speaks to you.” If it doesn’t speak to that person, it’s not for them. They’re not the right audience. Florence Foster Jenkins isn’t for everyone—but she did find her audience. So can you.
If you’d like company on your journey, join me for Face to Face: Working with Your Inner Writer, starting in June. We’ll spend four weeks writing as only we can. You can find all the details at the link above—and please don’t hesitate to email me if you have questions.
(McMoon quote, and more on what is and isn’t true from the movie, can be found here.)