(nablopomo day 3) what sings to you?

graffiti of a bass clef on a window

Good morning! It’s the day after Oakland’s general strike — do you feel the transformation in the air? The people are singing. That, yesterday, was real change. Real hope. Real democracy.

We were there for part of the march/action at the ports — I’m so deeply grateful to have been able to participate, to put my body in the place of the work.

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Here’s the blogherblogging prompt for nablopomo day 3: can you listen to music and write? what song did you hear today?

My first response to this prompt: without music (and maybe without portable music players), I wouldn’t be writing at all.

This morning, I got up with my second alarm (4.30, after snoozing the 4.10 alarm for 20 mins), untangled myself from my sleepy sweetheart, and got dressed in the dark. I leave all the lights off, as I move from sleep to morning writing. Stopped in the kitchen to start the tea water, went and did my basic ablutions, then came into the office to light the tall candle for a little natural illumination, and started up the computer. Headed back into the kitchen to turn off the singing teapot, poured tea (jasmine green & mint), took tea into office. Always plenty of light outside the kitchen window to pour boiling water by, plus the light of the stove, since I’ve got some yogurt cooking in there. Sophie woke up right as I brought the tea into the office, as I was settling in for the morning write; we’re making a new routine. I opened a new notepad window (first morning write into notebook or blank, non-internet-connected word processing document, so as to avoid any googling or other internetting, which will bring me further out of the morning/dream state) and then I click play on itunes. how do I want to say this — in the morning, I listen to internet radio, something soft but rhythm-y, downtempo music that doesn’t distract me from my own stream of consciousness (no words in these songs) but that helps me stay out of too easily-triggered a place. When it’s too quiet for too long, although at this point in my life I am able to write in the quiet, my startle response can be way more easily invoked. There’s a better way to say that. When it’s too quiet for too long, although, at this point in my life, I’m able to write, I get drawn into a sense of protection and separateness that’s pretty violently shaken when Sophie barks at the downstairs neighbors or there’s some other unexpected sound. My startle response is trigger-happy, and I prefer to avoid that adrenaline-heart-pounding moment of shock whenever possible — music helps.

Since the mid-80s, when I got my first Walkman, I have been one of those with a personal soundtrack. I listened to top-40 radio on the school bus that took us to and home from jr high, in spite of the teasing it got me (who would tease a kid for wearing headphones now?); maybe it was in high school or not until college that I got a portable tape player, and could start having more control over what I was listening to. When I began writing again in earnest, midway through college, when my life began to disintegrate and I broke contact with my family in order to get away from my stepfather, I’d take notebook and portable tape player to the nearby cafe and set up shop for hours, with endless cups of french roast coffee. I needed the music to write; without it, I got lost in the noise and conversation around me and the terror and panic in my own body — I couldn’t get quiet and down deep enough to write.

I’d listen to music I knew well, songs that had gotten into my system, that didn’t pull me out with a need to attend to their lyrics or structure. The music was almost always driving, full of energy, and I used that to push me further into whatever it was I needed to get down onto the page. These were years of urgent journaling, a frantic, almost desperate desire to record what had happened to me, all that my stepfather had done, and the music helped me clear enough space in the panic to be able to get it all down.

These are some of the artists that have made it possible for me to write: Moby, ani difranco, bt, crystal method, erasure, the prodigy (this would be a fun list to keep going with). I’ve gotten rid of most of the tapes that I used during my early writing times in my 20s; I kept them for years, not because I was listening to them anymore (no more portable tape player after my sister gave me an ipod one year for xmas) but because they were a part of this history, this restructuring of a life, a necessary part of this pulling away from the bleakness that had felt inevitable in my 20s to the place I got to, where I could imagine a future, where I could take a walk without the need for music drumming in my ears, where I could be with my thoughts and not feel a certain sense of doom and overwhelm.

Now, the morning music feels like a gentle part of the ritual that I set up for myself: candle, quiet music, blue screen blaring in my sleepy eyes (ok, not every part has to be gentle) — the music connects me to other artists, to the dj that is putting together the playlist, to all the other listeners, and reminds me that I am not alone in this project to create something new and beautiful to share with others.

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What about you? Do you write to music? Do you have different music for different times, or different sorts of writing? One of the women in my workshop at Tomales Bay said that when she has different writing projects going, she will have a song or a piece of music that is associated with each project, and she listens to that music to get herself into the frame of mind for that work.

Want to give your writing-music relationship 10 minutes today? Or if there’s no relationship, if your writing and music are separate, let yourself get into a favorite song, a favorite record (yes, I said record) — notice what images or sounds arise as you read those ideas, and let yourself begin with one of those responses. Let yourself follow your own history down onto the page. What time in your life does that song or record take you (or your character) into?

Thanks for all the ways you have let yourself be sung to, and thanks for the ever-present dance that you are. Thank you for your words.

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