Sunday, September 18, 2011

Process of Writing 22: Everything Ties Together

I finished and then redid the short folk/country song "Fearless Heart." It felt really good to write it, something completely unlike anything I've ever attempted before. It also felt like actually writing the kind of song that songwriters write in songwriting centers like Nashville. Not that I like Nashville, I don't. I do like Memphis, a little. But I'd never want to move there and join the hordes of career-seeking songwriters. Most of whom are writing songs that I don't like anyway, in genres of music that don't touch my heart very much. Modern country music has become little more than rock 'n roll with a twang and steel guitars; it's more honky-tonk than ever, and mostly not very interesting. Not like the roots music. Not like the oldest country music, or bluegrass, or folk music.

Tonight, restless, I sat down and went through everything I've completed for the commission so far. I needed to sit down and reassess. I needed to take an overview, and pull things together, and see what I still have yet to do. I sat on the porch for awhile and looked things over. I also copied a few lyric sets into the master lyric notebook, gathering them together in one place so I can pull various scraps together into finished poems.

I've now completed ten individual songs, or pieces, for this commission. Words and music both, since that's what I've been commissioned to do. I see that I have six of the "pillar" pieces done, including the beginning and ending movements. I also have four "Stories" songs done. There is a pile of lyrics already done, and still needing to be set. Most of these are "Stories" songs, rather than "pillar" pieces. I still have to write the lyrics for at least three remaining pillar pieces.

By "pillar" I mean those songs that carry and support the main overall structure of the commission. These are pieces that together make up an overarching narrative. They include the "Illuminations" pieces, which are context-evoking, place-setting pieces, that evoke the Midwest Heartlands through description and memory and tone. This sequence of pillar pieces is architectural. Not that the "Stories" are decorative; but they are individual, and can really be presented in any order, as individual modules within the larger narrative.

So I really have two narratives going on in the commission at this point, which overlap and complement each other. The architectural narrative is about living and growing up and dying in the Heartlands. It's a collective story of home, departure, and return. Almost a mythic pattern of being at home, leaving home, and returning home. Like the hero's journey. The other narrative is the individual stories, some of them directly by the individual stories told me by the members of the Chorus. These are individual, with no overarching narrative connecting them together. What connects them is the theme of the commission itself: the stories of the members of the Chorus, about living as gay men in the Heartlands.



Odd sources pull things together. Sometimes you set out to do something, and something else happens. I've written about four poems in two other series, other than the commission itself, over the past few days: a surprise outpouring of other poems. Most of these were written because I'm having difficulty with the emotions and physical sensations of my post-surgery recovery. I'm still dealing with grief, and depression, and just finding it hard to cope some days. What's hardest is breaking away from expectations, and just being present with whatever I'm feeling. So it pours out in a poem.

I realize I've also written three or four poems, written as lyrics for the commission, that perhaps won't get used in the commission. For two reasons: first, some are not central to either of the interlocking narratives, and therefore simply may not get done because I have to finish other pieces first, and then I might run out of time. Some of these I might still write as songs, but as stand-alones, written after the major work is done, and not intended to be part of it. The other reason is that they actually be poems, not song lyrics; one or two seem to move in that direction. The test will be to see if they call to be set to music, eventually, or if they will remain as poems on the page.

I had some arts programs on the TV running the background tonight. Suddenly I wanted to make a drawing, anything, even just random scratches on paper. I pulled out one of my sketchbook pads, and a couple of colored markers, and a new brush calligraphy pen, that's a brush with silver ink in it. I found myself making a long silver multi-stranded S-curve on the page. Then I found myself writing words on the page in four different colors, repeated in each color. Two phrases. "River cross my heart." And "River carry me home." I realized that the silver curve was a calligraphed river, and the words were my soul talking.

Those two lines, I also realized, are part of one of the next pieces I need to write for the commission. Part of the pillar piece about home, and leaving home. River, cross my heart. River, carry me home. And sometimes that's how the words and music come at you: completely sideways, unexpectedly, and out of nowhere.



This is why I say that my main artistic discipline, as a writer, is not to do as many writers claim to do, write something every day. Even when I do that, it's not always a poem I write. My discipline as a writer, as I have said before, is not to practice writing every day, or write a poem a day (the results of that particular exercise are usually crap), but to always be ready to write, when the inspiration strikes. I don't write things down until they're ready to be written down. My discipline is simply to always be ready, tools at hand, notebook and pencil and pen at hand, always ready to drop everything and write it down, whenever it comes forward. It's about listening to the voices inside you, not about going hunting for them. Listening, not seeking out. And that's my creative discipline in a nutshell: Just always be ready for the moment to strike, and the writing to flow.

Now, back to work. I have more words to discover.

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