Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts on Writing

Have you heard "Hey, there Delilah?" If the answer is no, it's possible that you lived under a rock a couple of years ago when it was everywhere. I'm at work, listening to Pandora and trying to work up the energy to do something (anything!) productive while I catch up on blog reading. I've been at the doctor all day, so my work-mojo is all off.

Anyway, back to The Plain White Tees (band singing above song). It's a beautiful song. Even though it saw more play than the YMCA. It's just so calming and quiet and it's a love song, but when I listen to it, it doesn't make me happy. It makes me feel like I've walked into something private and overheard something that I shouldn't. It feels so real, so personal, so private.

I've heard that the songwriter wrote it about a girl he'd only met once and never had a relationship with. I don't know if that's true, and I'd rather not. I don't want to hear the story behind it. The story behind it will ruin it and take away it's magic, I just know it will. So many songs in my life have been ruined by the "real" story. I have often said that Story is eternal. It's something bigger than any of us. Nothing important has ever happened that wasn't surrounded and bathed in story. Sometimes the event came first, sometimes the story came first. It doesn't matter. When the dust settles and time passes, the story is all that is left.

I've never liked classical music, because it doesn't have words. I'm all about the words. I know this makes me seem juvenile, but I think it's just because I've always been obsessed with words. I care much more about the words than the melody or the rhythm. I don't know music, but I know words.

I can find beauty and amazement in the typical three chord punk song, because I barely hear the music. But I have to struggle, really struggle to find beauty in Bach because, well, it's just music to me. I love musical people (maybe because I am so un-musical) and they have always been astounded and a little offended (?) by my inappreciation of a medium they find rife with beauty and depth. And I can't explain it. I can't put my finger on it, but I always wonder if when they read they stop sometimes and turn a word or a phrase over and over in their head just appreciating the rhythm of it, the imagery, the perfectness. How that word is the only word that would have worked there, the only thing that made that phrase, which made that sentence, which made that paragraph, which made that chapter, which made that book.

My love of words, of character, of story is deep, it is ingrained on my soul. I don't remember being read to much as a child, but I remember my mother reading all the time. "Historical romances." I remember my grandma picking up Guidepost or one of the myriad health magazines which landed on our doorstep every week. I remember there being books - so many books in the house that I wondered if it would be possible to read them all. I think this meant more to me than reading myself. Seeing a quiet, unpretentious appreciation of it.

I wonder if my love of words and story came from that, from the books around, from my mother curled up in her reading chair tuning out the evening news. Or if it's genetic. Something no one had to work to inspire. Something that was just always there.

I wonder if I'm doing right by the girls. I read to Brynna, any time she asks. And I'll start reading to Maren soon, I'm sure. I read her books that the librarians think are too old for her. Books where the main character is at least twice her age, books with chapters and very few pictures. But, she doesn't see me read often. I don't curl up on the couch and tune out Pinky Dinky Doo. I hide in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, or I work in the living room on one of my million projects. I am never there just reading. Just showing her how much I love the thing I love the very most.

The blog I was reading, listening to The Plain White Tees tell Delilah that distance would not separate them was Sweet Juniper. Today, he wrote,
"Sometimes I go back and read cringe-inducing things I wrote over a decade ago, occasionally encountering a particularly delicate line and wondering where it came from. Did that come from me? I wonder. The same dope who wore his pants at his knees and listened only to the Wu Tang Clan? Have you forgotten how powerful it feels to stand in awe of what hasn't yet been written, that limitless universe of language in front of you. Have you forgotten how fun it was to be bold and reckless with words?"

Other than past fashion choices and musical tastes, I could have written that.

I have forgotten. I have forgotten. I want to remember. I want to write. Every day that goes by without me writing is another nail in the coffin. I'm not sure what I'm burying: my creativity, my soul, my ability, my love. But whatever it is, I'm not ready to let it go. Yet, every night I go to bed exhausted, without writing a single word. Without making even a tiny bit of progress on the Great American Novel. Or the Other Novel. Without doing anything.

I wake up thinking about all the things I have to do and I never think about what I want to do. I want to read, I want to write, I want to craft. But those things are inevitably the things that fall by the wayside. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of hoping that one day, I'll retire and have a wicker chair on a sun porch and get all of this stuff done, while sipping homemade lemonade. But I don't know how to change. There isn't enough time to do the things I need to do, let alone make more room for the things I want to do. I wonder if it'll be better when the kids are both in school, or when I get through with VBS. But I don't think it'll ever "get" better. I think I have to make it better. And I don't know how.

Writing is always what I have wanted to do.


Anonymous said...

"I always wonder if when they read they stop sometimes and turn a word or a phrase over and over in their head just appreciating the rhythm of it, the imagery, the perfectness."

I do that, too. And, I'm with you on the classical music thing. Even after playing the violin for 8 years, it'll never move me the way hendrix can.

Orlandel said...

Oh, Jessi! Your grandmother would die if she read this!! She spent countless hours reading to you. She read the little golden books, Guide Posts, Ideals, Children's Highlights, and no telling what else. But you were read to for hours and hours. She feels that she cheated your brother wouldn't sit still long enough for her to read to him like she read to you. Don't ever tell her you don't remember - it really would break her heart.

Suze said...

1. It's practically impossible to accomplish what you want to when your kids are this little. Give it some time and don't worry about it now (this I tell myself all the time, and I usually dont' listen to myself, except when I hand over the same advice to someone else.)

2. If you don't like classical music because it lacks words you are missing out on a huge chunk of the genre that is all about words: art song. If I could spend the rest of my life studying and performing only art song, I would be happy...not to get all esoteric here, but try this: find Graham Johnson's recording of Schumann's Fraueliebe und Leben (he's the pianist, and I think maybe Felicity Lott is the singer) and before you listen to it, read his CD liner notes on the origins of the text and cycle. If German lieder don't do it for ya, give American or British songs a try. Ned Rorem's war songs, for example, or anything by Lee Hoiby...he set some Emily Dickinson stuff recently that is really great.

Okay, I'm just going to post about this on my own blog....soon.

Jessi said...

In defense of my wonderful grandmother, I should add here that my earliest memory is of me at 4 and then there's a pretty big gap and my next earliest memory is of me at 7. I learned to read pretty young, so me not remembering being read to doesn't mean I wasn't. It means that I have a really screwed up memory and can't remember half as much as normal people.

Suze - I'll look into that. The Emily Dickinson sounds particulary interesting. I'll look for your post too. I know you were one of the ones I disappointed the most. For the record though, you played a song at your senior piano recital that sounded like water and that was the closest I ever came to getting it.

Suze said...

Oh, and as for the writing thing, have you read "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott? It's so great. I've read it twice and it always inspires me.

Steph said...

I was just going to leave the exact same comment as Suze--Bird by Bird is the best writing book ever. She encourages people to set word goals, like 300 words per day, for example. She also gives good advice for tuning out Radio K-Fucked, which is the steady steam of self-hate that most of us who work with words spew into our own brains on a regular basis. I think my own approach to writing has been considerably healthier since I read that book.

I know it's incredibly hard to find time for things like this when you have little ones at home. The nice thing about that book is it doesn't diminish the importance of very modest production goals. Writing for five minutes a day is better than nothing, and even that will add up, eventually. :)

Jessi said...

Suze and Steph - I'm convinced. I put it on hold at the library and hopefully I'll be posting a glowing review next week or so. There's only one copy so you never know how long you'll have to wait.