Thursday, April 23, 2015

Words and Music and Why You Matter

A couple days ago on Twitter, I posted this:

Before you think I’ve started writing for hanging cat posters or Hallmark cards, I’m actually speaking, or Tweeting, from experience.

Two years ago, in April 2013, I felt like my life was coming to an end.  My soon-to-be finished relationship was being kept alive by artificial support. The one thing that had kept me going to the next day was writing, the art that I had stopped for almost 5 years after my son was born. But when my world was falling down around me, I found myself back at the page. I could express myself in written words without having to explain myself or worse, explain to anyone else. I didn’t just feel alone. I was alone.

Then I stumbled across this article by James Rhodes. His words grabbed me by my artist's throat and shook the fear out of me. There was also a link to a piece on his Soundcloud, Orfeo & Eurydice by Gluck. It had been years since a piece of music had moved me to tears. Having been turned inside out by this combination of words and music, I knew what I had to do.

I had seen an ad for the Ontario Writers Conference which was taking place that May at a location about 10 minutes from my house. I emailed to find out if they were still accepting registrations, and they were.  I signed up immediately, and met several writers who had a great camaraderie and seemed larger than life. Because (to me) they were authors. I was just someone who had written a few 200-300 page stories over the course of my life, which, even though I had let other people read them, had ended up in boxes and drawers and floppy diskettes and CDs.

While I was there, I noticed that the OWC had been sponsored by a group called the Writers Community of Durham Region – the WCDR - an organization which meets monthly 10 minutes from my house in the opposite direction. So I joined the WCDR, and found out that some of the authors from the OWC were just regular, crazy writers like me. More importantly, they were welcoming and encouraging, so much so that in June 2013, I did my very first ever public reading of a piece I had written, and I chose a piece I had just finished in April. If I was going to do this writing thing, then I was going to tear through all of the fears and insecurities I had had about it, and go out there and fail spectacularly.

Only I didn’t. Instead, I was asked to compete with that piece in the WCDR Slam that took place in July, and ended up as a finalist in the competition.

I continued to do spoken-word readings (and still do). Just because I didn’t win a competition, I wasn’t discouraged from getting up there again. That was another first for me, who was used to retreating and hiding at the first sign of not being good enough. At the winter reading I did that year, I was complimented by a fellow writer named Dale Long, who had read from his powerful Christmas story, The Good King, a fictionalized account of the adventures of King Wenceslas’s brother, on the same night. At that same Words of the Season, Dale and I had had a good chat about Warren Zevon and lyrics and music. Good talks like that always remain bookmarked in my mind.

Also that winter, Toronto’s favourite EDM son, Deadmau5, had just started his new paid and free subscription fan site. We were told that if we paid, we’d become VIP members and have access to all kinds of cool and free stuff. So of course I signed up, and had access to a chat room with other VIP members. It's always interesting to be a part of a fanbase, because people believe that the common thing that brings you together, in this case music, should automatically bind you together. And I did meet some cool people who could hold a conversation and do so quite well. But most of the people who had joined the site and the chat fancied themselves as sophisticated music producers. From the 14-year-old kids who had just figured out how to work a Launchpad app to the nearly-50-year-old men who are grasping at their one last dream to be Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson, to the spoiled twenty-somethings who cry to their parents to buy them every piece of expensive music technology and software, almost everyone in that chat was a “producer” and believed their music sounds just as good as Deadmau5’s, or maybe even slightly better. They posted links to their music in the chat room and on the message boards, and it was like wading through the garbage disposal in Episode IV to try to find something decent to listen to.

So I was rather hesitant when one of the more intelligent and entertaining people in the chat room, Moblyn , sent a link to a new track he’d created and produced. In spite of my hesitation, I gave his track a courtesy listen.

I practically jumped out of my chair. I couldn’t believe that someone in that room was making music of that quality and sound. It was different, unique, and had that something that was similar to what I had felt in Orfeo & Eurydice even though it was EDM.

What really ties all of this together was my participation in the Muskoka Novel Marathon in July 2014. I was locked away for 72 hours with 39 other fellow writers, and each of us had to write a novel in that time to raise funds for YMCA literacy programs. I was a first-time participant, as was Dale. Writers put themselves under enough pressure to finish a piece, but when you find yourself in a a situation like that, the stress is magnified about a thousand percent more. There is an actual deadline, and you're racing against other people as well as yourself to finish on time. In the middle of the marathon, I got a message from Moblyn saying his new album was ready and would I take a listen.

I downloaded it and did nothing but listen to it for the remaining 36 hours after while I finished my Marathon novella. Any writer worth their mettle who needs to dig deep will be hard-pressed to describe what they find in the middle of an inspirational and driving piece of music. But we can show you the end result. The right music allows us writers to listen to the words behind the sounds our ears hear, and put them down on the page. I got through, finished my piece, which was in a genre and style I had never written in before - satire. In September, when we had our reunion, Dale won an award for his novel. I did not. But I did get high praise from the only Brit on the judging panel. If you can impress a Brit with satire, you know you've done something rather special.

At the end of the year, I was invited to my first in-home Christmas party in decades, hosted by Dale and his lovely wife Sue, whom I had met at the Muskoka Novel Marathon reunion, and attended by the same group of writers whom I had spent most of the last year with at both the WCDR and the shared Muskoka experience. I was the last to arrive, and Dale and Sue and their daughters Emily and Rebecca were kind enough to let me usurp their time and company long after everyone else had left, the way that friends do. We had a grand old time just chatting about, what else, music.

So here we are in April 2015 - two years from the first paragraph above. Two years from when my life was coming apart. I guess I can now look back and see that I was emerging as something. In the middle of it, it didn't really seem like it. But the people I met along the way of this journey - people who did more than just say hello, people who became friends - inspired me to do the one thing that I'd always had difficulty doing  – just be who I am. It’s easy to put on a fa├žade and a smile and deflect shyness with humour or sarcasm. It’s difficult to relax and just be your unconfident self in a room, whether it's a real room or a virtual one, of artists whose creative souls are as open and vulnerable as yours. I wanted and had to thank them for all they had done for me, who I've become as a writer, as an artist, and as the person I am right now sitting here telling you this (even if it meant I was part of a collective group of jerks). 

We all have days where we feel awful, alone, at our wits end. But if you ever have a day where you feel like you're losing yourself, or you don't think you matter, you do. You matter to someone now (even if you don't think anyone's around) and you will matter to someone you may not have even met yet (even if that person is waiting to emerge from inside of your current shell). And while you're waiting, listen to the music around you, let it turn you inside out, and let it give you the courage and the words to say something for yourself.   

1 comment:

  1. Lovely piece, Naomi. It is always a shock, when you go about your days, being who you are, and have that moment when you realize people noticed. That something you didn't feel was important but just came natural, was important to someone else.
    Two for the records. 1) I didn't win an award for my book at MNM, just one for being, wel... me. ;) A rookie award.
    2) I still don't feel like I fit in with all the writers at WCDR. I still feel like the green newbie, and I've been a member since 2009 +/-. I actually think that is a good thing, because it keeps me striving to be better.
    Never turn on your own writing, only see where it can be improved. It is never "bad" or "garbage" it is simply a work in progress, a baby deer, per se, taking it's first wobbly steps.
    I am honoured to be considered your friend.