One percent inspiration and ninety-nine perspiration, that’s how my creativity works but a few days ago something happened that’s making me rethink how I approach my work. And it is work. I never sit down to write anything with the idea that this is going to be fun. Not in the sense that drinking a beer, or listening to Yo-Yo Ma play The Swan is fun. Work is usually satisfying; it’s the pleasure of accomplishment.
In work, there is no failure. You have an idea and you think about it (is think the right word?) and it takes shape in your mind. You write it down and the work begins. Then you work until you’re satisfied that it’s what you intended it to be; that every word is the right word; meaning, tone, colour, context, references, all must communicate exactly what you want to deliver. You power the project with your own energy. That’s how it usually goes for me except for my last project, which was itself a departure from my usual creative medium. I write stories for publication, poetry for practicing my writing chops, and songs for my own amusement.
I own a classical guitar and I have taken some lessons in playing it; I’m not a guitarist but I’m drawn to the sound of the instrument. A note, a single note played on a single string is for me a source of intense pleasure. It evokes an emotion that is guided in its development by the music in which that note is embedded. It can be a burst of rhythmic joy (Tico-Tico as played by Berta Rojas and Carlos Barbosa-Lima) or a sublime meditation (Julian Bream playing Bach’s Violin Sonata Fugue; Berta Rojas here) or anything in-between. Playing like that is beyond my poor ability but I can produce sounds that I enjoy. I indulge myself with occasionally writing songs in the pop genre, and have loads of fun playing and singing them.
These songs are not intended for a public audience; I do play them for my family and am satisfied with their praise and adulation. At home, I’m a rock star and that’s enough for me. Nevertheless, I take pains with their composition and it takes a while to get one of them done. So far I think that I have three or four that I’ve more or less completed.
A few days ago I found out that a friend’s mother had died. This friend has known about my song writing efforts for a long time and has been very encouraging even asking me once to write a song about our mothers. I never forgot that. My mother died many years ago and though I tried several times to write a song about motherhood, nothing came to me until I heard that his mother had died.
I had not been particularly close with her though we’d been neighbours for a time, long ago, and I’d come to know her well. We were friends but we moved in different circles. Her passing moved me to a surprising extent. I thought about her, remembering what I could of her manner, her way of smiling, of carrying an atmosphere of happiness that you could feel whenever you moved in her ambit. Now that she was dead, I wanted to write a song for my friend, and for her, and for my own mother. And then it happened.
Suddenly, my creative process was short circuited and a song, fully formed, appeared in my mind, my heart and soul. I thought of her late husband and I felt connected with him and his music (he had been a musician, a composer of genius) and a song just poured out of me. A dirge that expressed what I was feeling; sadness that was tinged with a kind of pleasure that resembled the pleasure of work. I felt that she had done it right, that she had lived a life that was well lived. I wanted to mourn and simultaneously, to celebrate her victory over whatever evil there is in the world that pulls us into the living death that imprisons so many of us. It was a tribute to her, and to the family that had been her life.
What a woman she was.
In her death she has grown to magnificence.
I’m sorry. This was supposed to be a post about my creative process and it is, right there in that last paragraph but I can’t go into that right now. I’m going to play the song one more time and get back to my daily routine of sweating for the bread. Happy times remembered in tranquility energize and sustain me. I’m fortunate to know and to have known much love from people like the Blackman family. Thank you all, my friends.