I am sitting here not writing. Well, I was not writing until I started tap-tapping on the computer.
Most mornings, my routine goes like this: Following breakfast, I write in my journal. This I do every day without fail. Most entries are a page at least, but I also have the rare entry that consists of: “More later” or “Nothing to say.” These still count. Following the journal entry, I write one haiku. Every day. Here is an example of a haiku I wrote this summer:
days of steamy heat
I begged for you to visit
After writing the haiku, I head for my office space downstairs, take my beloved guitar from its case and start noodling around, usually playing a surprisingly upbeat bunch of chords. I stop because I realize I have not checked my email. I log in to my account and see that no one has written to me. I wonder why. I start to feel that perhaps I have no friends. I don’t understand this. I log out. Now I am friendless and lonely. I pick up my guitar and play only minor chords. Wait a second! Maybe everyone is communicating via Facebook. I set the guitar down and log on to Facebook.
Forty minutes later, I pick up my guitar again. I have shut the computer off and decided that I do have friends but they are all very busy posting things on Facebook. I now give my best effort to create a song.
The chord structure is first. I never know what will be appealing. The rhythm? The patterns? Who knows? When I connect with whatever chords I am playing, I am relieved because I know that the person inside my head lounging around my brain wearing an old stained T-shirt who casually remarks “maybe you won’t ever write another song …” is wrong.
Might be wrong.
There is a limited amount of time a person can focus on creating a song, a script, a painting or what we lovingly call “works of art.” I don’t have the data in front of me but I need this to be true. My limit is about two hours of truly focused time.
The afternoon is given over to the business of the art — tending to bookkeeping, emails and whatever else has accumulated on my desk. But I do try to force myself to sit for another 30 minutes to an hour to work on what I call “other writing.” This blog falls into that category. Short stories and plays also are known as “other writing.” I have seven short stories and five plays all in various stages of not being finished.
Back to the song. If I keep bonding with it, if it resonates, the next day will find me tinkering with the chord structure, defining the melody and maybe, just maybe some lyrics will form. One of the most important components of a song for me is that the words need to be the perfect fit for the music. Peas in a pod. Corn in the husk. Now I am hungry and must have lunch.
Oh, the hours I spend on lyrics. There is nothing so rewarding as having words join together in poetry and perfect expression. They are alphabet letters who decided to organize. Every word, every phrase we utter has rhythm and pitch. Their sound can be funny, harsh or gentle. I do not believe I have met anyone who speaks in monotone. We have natural inflections; our voices go up and down. Unfortunately, this does not mean that everyone can sing beautifully.
Words can also not get along and make me so frustrated I wonder out loud why I did not get a degree or learn a trade instead of sitting at my desk believing that Mr. Roget, that mischievous scamp, did NOT put all of the words in the thesaurus. There are words missing and I need help!
I do have days — okay, weeks — when I think that meaningful work is overrated, and I envy the person who goes to work, comes home and isn’t thinking about things like “oh, maybe I need to use ‘the’ instead of ‘a’ there in the second line … did I mean ‘and’ or is it ‘but’ …?” I mean, really? Does anyone even notice stuff like that?
At my last stint as a juror for Hennepin County, during the voir dire, the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney asked the jury things like where do you live, what do you do for a living, what does your spouse/partner do for a living. One can learn a great deal about people this way. The defendant can also learn about everyone on the jury, and this bothered me a little because it was a criminal drug case — but that’s a whole different story.
Most of my fellow possible-jurors seemed to enjoy what they were doing in their lives. I listened to them and tried to picture myself doing what they do and came to the conclusion that I have a great job. I like what I do and I’m a very fortunate human being. Of course, when the prosecutor heard I was a musician, he asked if I knew a lot of people who took drugs. I told him that maybe 25 or 30 years ago that may have been true but it’s folk music after all and right now we’re all busy trying to stay healthy and get used to our new knees.
Songwriting is both art and craft. I do believe there is some kind of divine intervention/inspiration that is a part of the creative process. One writer friend of mine said it was like you become temporarily insane. You lose touch with time and there’s all this stuff coming out and suddenly you’re jerked back to real time and you look down at the page and think, how did THAT happen?
And that’s where the craft starts.
I sit with melody, words and phrases that come from I don’t know where, start to move them around, get to know them and get a sense of where they belong, rearrange the furniture and give that T-shirted critic a place to sit down.
And change the “the” to “a” because it does make a difference.