Unexpected Inspiration

I’ve added this hastily taken pic of my
guitar to break up the acres of text

I have a folder in my Documents entitled “Creative Writing.”  If you’re ever on my computer (you creeper), don’t go there.  It is a gunky mire of nearly 10 years of creative angst, inflated belief in my own abilities, maudlin drama, and trite ideas.  Every once in a while I go there to remind myself of the creatively productive life I used to have, and how much of that creative product should be flushed down a toilet.  It’s seriously scary in there.  It helps make me humble (although the effect usually doesn’t last for long).  New files are rarely added these days; most of my productivity that hasn’t been sapped into the black hole of scholarly essays goes into songs, which are almost always written in pencil in a small notebook.

I haven’t quite gotten a grasp on a good method of songwriting yet.  If I come up with a motif on guitar or ukulele (or piano, when I have one), it will live in limbo for weeks, maybe months, if I don’t attach it to something, some words or ideas of varying degrees of permanence.  And when I really get the itch to write a song, well, there goes my whole day, because I will be frustratedly attached to notebook and instrument, playing over and over again and talking to myself and occasionally yelling at a chord for sounding horrible or trite and often throwing down (more like gently setting down, I don’t throw my babies even when I’m mad at them) my instrument and saying “I give up!  No more of this today!” until about 5 minutes later, when I realize that I can’t just leave it unfinished like that, and I take up the nerve-wracking repetitive process again.  And then I wonder if songwriting is this frustrating for everyone.  I’m fairly certain it’s not.

Sometimes words can be the hardest part.  Sometimes the song can’t go anywhere without words; words seem to shape the melody.  (I could quote you a few academic sources supporting that claim, and a few more refuting it.  Thank goodness for such a useful degree!)  Words are my most frequent stumbling block, my most obstinate obstacle.

Some madness seized me yesterday, and I ventured into the murky depths of the “Creative Writing” folder to retrieve what is probably one of my least contrived poems, which I wrote in 12th grade.  I know it was 12th grade, because I remember reading in my AP European history book about the Duke of Orleans having issued a poetry contest, where the poems submitted had to start with the line “I die of thirst beside the fountain.”  I remember thinking, this is an absolutely amazing prompt, and I wrote a poem accordingly.
Yesterday I pulled up this poem, read it, and thought, that’s not terrible.  It’s in a pretty regular meter.  It feels like a minor key. And thus began an afternoon of the tortuous process outlined above, and in the evening I had a new song.

I have a love-hate relationship with the songs I write.  I don’t know if that will ever go away – maybe it’s best that way, if I loved them all the time I might not work very hard to make them better.  And as difficult as the process is, I know the more I write the better, because practice makes better (not perfect, never perfect, just better) in pretty much everything.  Maybe in 6 or 7 years the songs I’ve written at this time in my life will rest in the future equivalent of my “Creative Writing” folder, to be reevaluated for education, humility, and maybe even inspiration.

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