Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Obsessive Compulsive Mood Music Disorder

My kids are so sick of George and Ira Gershwin. And they don't even know it.

With every bit of fiction I write some sort of music speaks to me and fuels my creative process. For The Ryn it was a combo of Etta James, Celtic new age, Chris Tomlin, and movie soundtracks. For Suspended in Disbelief it was Barlow Girl, specifically the acoustic version of "On My Own", and SuperChick. Now as I write a flashback-heavy saga coming-of-age heartbreak I'm listening to the 1993 Sheena Easton album of classics (several by one or both of the Gershwin boys) entitled No Strings.

The album chronicles the birth, life, and, ultimately, the death of a romantic relationship. Particularly, the poignant lyric and haunting arrangement of the French ballad, If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas) written by Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen rips at my heartstrings. I play the song over and over as I write certain scenes. The song has taken on the life of a Muse; its practically writing its own scenes, just within my more contemporary-ish setting and with my characters. Former pop-princess Easton croons like a 1930s chanteuse, emoting the grief, pleading, and acceptance of the lyric so perfectly. I only wish I spoke French to be able to translate the remaining portion of the lyric.

My Amazon cart also includes a compilation album or two I plan to draw from--songs from the 80s which were such a huge part of my own heartbreaks. And Daughtry--oh, Daughtry. Loss, fear, and hope wrapped up in a song.

I know a lot of other authors depend upon music to fuel their writing. Stephenie Meyer loves the band Muse, James Scott Bell writes to instrumental movie soundtracks. I don't know if other authors are as obsessive about particular songs as I am... but I also don't know if other people are generally as obsessive about ANYTHING as I, in my warped state of mind, am.

Did I mention that Sheena is crooning "How Deep is The Ocean" through my laptop speakers right now????? It is a sickness, I know.

But the sun is shining, my girls just got home from school... 45 minutes ago... so I'm going to go outside and enjoy this new turn in Iowa's bipolar weather.

But I'll probably take my MP3 player out with me. You never can tell what new scenes the Muse will sing to mind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dreams from Atop a Dry Waterfall

I love to travel--so much so that a part of me is always planning my next escape... or the escapes that are so far in the future that I can put no date upon them. I dream about that cruise through the Mediterranean, stopping at several Greek Isles, the two-week sojourn through Ireland, the learn-to-sail vacation in the Florida Keys. I want to swim in the phosphorescently glowing sea at night just off the coast of that little island (Viejes?) near Puerto Rico. I love to dream of travel... new places, new people, new beaches, new seas.

But I also dream of traveling to places I've visited before.

I took a trip on Easter Sunday. It was a short trip. I got there by foot... and by memory. I went to THE WATERFALL just up the road from my parents' farm.

I was first taken to The Waterfall by my Grandma Vi. My Grandma was an adventurer--oh, I wish I had coaxed more stories of her youth from her when I had the chance. The youthful escapades which embarrassed her in her dotage would likely have spawned many a 1930s coming-of-age novel. But I digress... allowable in a blog; not so much in a novel...

Grandma took me to The Waterfall when I was a preschooler and she lived in the big white farm house just down the road from the creek. Later she and Grandpa John retired to Texas, though she often took me back to The Waterfall in the summer to catch tadpoles in the creek.

I was almost fifteen when my family moved into the old house on the farm. Without a driver's license, and eight miles from town, my social life was a random hit-or-miss at the whim of my older (and quite generous) brother. When he and his Camaro were unavailable, I was often found walking through the woods or sitting on the ledge of The Waterfall (somewhat of a misnomer for the ledge--the creek rarely ran with enough force water to push the water beyond the deep pool several yards behind the cliff.)

On that regularly dry ledge I discovered a stage; my personal, private amphitheatre. The trees were my audience as I acted out scenes from musicals and sang the myriad ballads composed within my own imagination. I had no real desire to be an actress, though I loved performing--but had nursed high hopes of a career as a singer/songwriter since I'd been given my first Olivia Newton-John 8-track at the age of 3.--so any vocal performance on stage captured my imagination.

Though some might think it juvenile of a girl in her mid teens to make-believe, my drive to create--to perform-- was not necessarily sanctioned by my family. My dreams of a career in the entertainment business was thought of as child's play and nonsense. And so I sought the relative privacy of The Waterfall to be the person I thought I was--or should be--and to talk to God about my dreams. At The Waterfall I would sing to Him... and let down the implied pretenses of my honor-student existence and pretend I could achieve the spotlight I yearned to capture.

Poetry and song lyrics poured from my heart to the page much more reliably than water from that oft-dry cascade. I often had pen and paper with me upon that ledge. I wrote stories for fun--songs were my future... or so I thought.

Things got a little crazy midway through my freshman year. Half a year later my heart was broken for the first time--and The Waterfall carried many of my tears to God. At a time when speculation and untruth tore my heart and changed the course of my life I found solace and sanctuary at The Waterfall. It become my Cathedral.

It still seems a sacred place to me.

As I grew older I was accompanied to The Waterfall by my dog, Babe--aka: The Best Dog Who Ever Lived. A champion-blood-line German Shepherd, Babe was my confidante, friend, companion, and protector on those walks. Babe chased snakes from their rocky perches and warning me of GIANT wolf spiders before my phobic self could be surprised by The Waterfall's creepier creatures. She listened to me rave against the injustices of life and panted that tongue-lolling smile when I belted Amy Grant's "Thy Word" to the sky. When I cried on the ledge, she leaned into my side as if she could absorb some of my grief. Oh, I miss that dog. For anyone who has never had a furry soul mate, the thought of sharing your hopes and dreams with a dog might seem silly, but for those of you who have been blessed with such a friend, you can understand the subtle reticence and certain bittersweetness I have at the thought of returning to The Waterfall without her now.

Due to a random line of inspiration which came to me recently while reading my Bible one morning (I tend to take those random moments a bit more seriously than others) I began fictionalizing My Waterfall. The story is taking shape as a young adult romance novel; though experience tells me it may evolve to something else before its done. I guess you could say I'm a "method writer" to borrow a term from The Actor's Studio. To write this novel I'm pulling out old scrapbooks, listening to old music, opening old wounds, and examining old heartbreaks--but all the while I am reveling in the hindsight which reveals the loving, sovereign hand of my God upon my life.

But with all my methodology, something was missing. Something only a 25 minute drive away.

I wanted... no needed to go to My Waterfall--to climb down the slippery clay creek bank and dangle my legs over that sacred ledge.

The memories pulled at my desire like the full moon grabs the tide.

So I returned there on Easter Sunday--with my camera and my daughter. I needed to see, feel, smell, & hear again that place so that I can better express it--almost as its own character--within this novel-in-progress. Although the sentimental side of me wished for no other companion but a long-gone dog, another part of me longed to share this special place with my almost-12-year-old Delaney.

Like me, Delaney loves to sing, loves to write, loves to create. Over the past several months she has become enamored with the story and music of the Broadway musical Wicked, spending hours upon hours blocking scenes to go along with the soundtrack she listens to incessantly. Along with her long-held dream of becoming a small animal vet, Delaney has become suddenly enraptured with the idea of being in a Broadway Musical someday.

I don't care what path she chooses--but I fully intend to support her dreams regardless--which is something my teen years lacked. My close friends will tell you that I didn't NEED any more daring--that when I headed off to Nashville on my own at eighteen that it showed my inner drive outweighed my family's opposition to my chosen field... but they also know how I struggled once I arrived. But that is neither here nor there... and we were at The Waterfall., now... weren't we?

Showing Delaney my amphitheater, singing with her there, I was taken back in time. The ledge was dry--as it so often was when I danced upon it. Delaney, in her adolescent self-consciousness, seemed a bit embarrassed by my performance, but she helped me sing "Defying Gravity" from Wicked--correcting me when I got the words wrong. Before the song was over, however, she'd slung her arm around a tree and pulled herself up the bank... away from the crazy Elphaba-ish woman on top of the Waterfall. Honestly, I think she was afraid for a minute that I was going to try to fly off the ledge, even without a proper broom!

So my little trip took me a bit farther than I originally planned--in two directions. All at once I visited both the past--and a possible future.

Who knows what dreams Delaney will dream before she strikes out on her own. Doctor? Baker? Candlestick Maker? It matters not. Even though it thrills me to see little pieces of the girl I was appear in this amazing, unique child, I refuse to be one of those mothers who lives vicariously through her daughters. Why should I? God gave me my own dreams and then, like the creative potter he is, reshaped them beyond my limited view. And I'm LIVING THEM now.

But, unlike my own background--my own well-meaning family-- I refuse to compromise my child's self-confidence by telling her she needs to have "something to fall back on" in case she's not good enough to make it on the path of her dreams.

I learned something in Music City and I intend to share it with my daughters as I encourage them to take risks, to go for it--whatever "it" turns out to be:

If you have something to fall back on... you will fall.

And it hurts to fall. It hurts so much... regardless of the cushion you've set below your backside.

But I will also admit to them that, regardless of confidence or success or failure-- God is still in the business of painting fresh dreams; of sculpting old dreams into shapes that fit more snugly around your ever-evolving heart.

I'll go back soon... maybe with Delaney... maybe on my own. Because God is sculpting a new dream upon the pages of my imagination... a dream he laid the foundations for twenty-one years ago...

Atop a dry waterfall.