Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What Light?

When I was a kid - hell, even when I was a teenager - I used to set my bedroom up as such:

*Poorly tuned acoustic six-string strapped around my shoulder.
*Stereo volume turned to "11".
*Music stand at maximum height with top portion folded closed to replicate a microphone stand.
*Plastic flashlight (my wireless mic) resting inside said makeshift mic stand.

I'd drop the needle and suddenly, I was Brian Wilson.  I was Bruce Springsteen.  I was Barry Gibb.  Never mind that I can't hold a pitch.  Never mind that I couldn't muster up more than a few chord progressions on the guitar without getting tripped up.  I was a rock god.  Every girl loved me, every dude envied me.

Then, the album cut would end, silence would permeate the room, and I would return to my meager mortal self.

Now that I'm fifty, that little exercise seems more precious than pathetic.  Mostly because I know I was not alone in those adolescent dreams of tearing down an arena with three chords and the truth.  We all wanna be Beyonce or Bono, after all.  And while it was my way of getting out of my overweight body and anxious mind for awhile, the fact was, what I really was fantasizing about wasn't groupies or a screaming fans.  I was imagining what it would be like to make a connection, to move someone with an artistic expression, to show someone else their own humanity by sharing my own.

Fast forward through the following decades and it's evident that it took me some serious stumbling around  (radio, stand-up comedy, theatre, acting) to finally figure out what I had to offer in the way of making those connections.  For better or worse, that way seems to be writing.  And yet, I haven't written a word that wasn't "for profit" since I published my last book in 2013.

Yes, there certainly have been the occasional pithy Facebook posts and a few false starts for this blog since then.  But I always came back to the same piteous predicament:  not enough people are reading/responding.  I'm not burning down the house.  So, what's the point?

When I write my excuse out like that, I realize how I sound a lot more like Eeyore than Elmore Leonard.

This past week, I wrote a short blurb about Mother's Day on Facebook, sharing what it feels like to navigate helping my aging parents as they struggle through their decline, their December.  A few people commented that it really resonated with them, that the words and experience struck a chord.  For that moment, I felt alive.  Better yet, for just a moment, I made someone else feel alive.  That's why I started writing in the first place.

For reasons both understandable and unnecessary, my priorities have been severely derailed these past couple of years.  I choose not to write because I "don't have time".  I choose not to write because not enough people click on the blog link, buy the book, or "Like" the post.

 I've forgotten about how writing can make me feel.  I've forgotten that Thelonious Monk spent years playing alone in his apartment, that Cecil Taylor went home from a day job each night to play "private symphonies" to an imaginary audience.  I've ignored that Robert Johnson was alone at the Crossroads, playing with such studied intensity, he didn't even notice The Devil when he walked up to strike that legendary bargain.

Picasso, Pollock, O'Keefe, Mary Karr, Kerouac...none of these people created for anyone other than themselves and their demanding, whip-cracking muses.

So, I'm stepping back into that childhood bedroom to sing off-key again.  Just for me.  And I'm humming Wilco's "What Light" to remind myself that the only audience that matters is myself, and should I make a simple, single connection along the way, well, that's worth a museum full of Pulitzers.

                                                                     "What Light" by Wilco

If you feel like singing a song
And you want other people to sing along
Just sing what you feel
Don't let anyone say it's wrong

And if you're trying to paint a picture
But you're not sure which colors belong
Just paint what you see
Don't let anyone say it's wrong

And if you're strung out like a kite
Or stung awake in the night
It's alright to be frightened

When there's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)
There's a light (white light)
Inside of you

If you think you might need somebody
To pick you up when you drag
Don't loose sight of yourself
Don't let anyone change your bag

And if the whole world's singing your songs
And all of your paintings have been hung
Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on

And that's not wrong or right
But you can struggle with it all you like
You'll only get uptight

Because there's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)


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