Tyler James is a writer, musician, yoga instructor, and soon-to-be-English-teacher. He also dabbles in screen writing and video. The man has no lack of creative energy, and he expresses it through a myriad of media.
With the amount and quality of material he produces, you might expect his back story to be some epic-tragedy-romance spectacular. It’s not. His story actually looks a lot like my own–and maybe yours, too.
“I never thought of myself as a creative person.”
Tyler’s most vivid early writing experiences were messaging on AIM. Not made-up stories scrawled out in crayon. Not a pretentious creative writing assignment. No, Tyler got his start messaging a girl online.
Looking back, he describes these messages as expressive, genuine, and spontaneous. An inspired take on AIM for sure, but isn’t it true? The feeling of butterflies swelling up in your stomach, fighting off droopy eyelids at 2:00 AM, panicking after sending a vulnerable reply.
I remember my fair share of nights like that, but I never considered them to be narrative experiences. It was just life. It wasn’t art. In our conversation though, Tyler said something that made me think otherwise:
“You don’t have to have some overwhelming narrative experience to have your life be worthy of art.”
What goes on between your ears
A lot of Tyler’s struggles have been internal. Dealing with depression and doubts as a creator isn’t something most people physically see. They aren’t “overwhelming narrative experiences”. They live inside your mind. It can be a struggle to believe that type of stuff is worthy of art or interesting enough to even come out of our mouths.
When Tyler was about eighteen he first began experiencing those internal challenges. He felt depressed and lost in the world. There was so much going on in his head that he couldn’t express, and with that came a sense of loneliness.
In this time it was art that resonated. Creating and experiencing music and stories and lyrics is what felt right. It’s what eased the loneliness and became an outlet to express the conflict inside. Through that process he discovered that the circumstances you can’t see–“what goes on between your ears”–is truly interesting.
“What you see and what you feel as a human being is always interesting. Even when you’re working the most boring job, there’s this primal interesting energy to being a human. The best feeling I’ve ever gotten from art is taking something inside of you that wasn’t material and making it tangible, giving form to the formless.”
Art that Serves
Tyler also has little interest in the cliché life of the tortured, starving artist. He would rather work. Everything he does, from teaching to performing, requires him to be creative and authentic but in different ways. His creativity serves his personal needs, but in his teaching jobs he has to use that same part of him to serve others.
“In art, it’s like, this is me, this is my lived experience. In teaching, you bring yourself to it, but it’s not about you. It’s about your energy, your presence, your voice, but you’re serving as a medium between a body of knowledge and your students.”
Tyler told me that having his creativity serve others almost feels more artistic that just experimenting on personal projects. Teaching is more than just a way to pay the bills. It adds a lot to his life and his art.
“Having enthusiasm, humility, a sense of humor, and having a job that makes you bring that in a performative sort of capacity every day is exciting. Kids are funny and kids keep you honest, and I don’t want to become calcified as a grown person, I want to stay creative.”
“I want students to not overlook the depth and magic in their own experience.”
Listening to Tyler unlocked a new understanding in me. I’m not one of his students, but this piece of wisdom was all too relevant for me. Growing up I always felt like my life was too normal to ever be interesting to anyone else. I never pictured myself as a true artist. My soul was far from tortured and my life didn’t seem worth getting excited about. I always felt a little bit like a poser for trying to write poems about my fight with a friend while other people were writing about their schizophrenic fathers.
Tyler views the world through a different lens though. He exudes a positive energy in his art, his teaching, and his conversations that invites everyone around him to see the value in their own experiences. Even in the seemingly mundane, there’s always something there to cherish, to feel, to create.
It’s all the things I never considered creative. The things we all do. The intangible thoughts we have when we see our loved ones succeed, or we experience loss, or even when we’re just waiting in line at the bank. It’s just life. But if you can express that, even in a text box on AIM, you can transform your experiences into art that moves people.
Photo and Video by Faraz Shah