Happy Birthday Mom ... and Thanks!
I’m grateful this morning. I’m up and writing before 5am. I’ve been woken up the last couple of nights in the wee hours of the morning, without really knowing why. But it is reminiscent of another time in my life. And the memory is bitter-sweet.
Ten years ago, shortly after my mom passed away, I began to suffer from insomnia. It was grief, no doubt, but I hadn’t named it yet. Like clock-work, I would wake – most often at 3:33 am. Without fail, I would seek out my music studio. Filled with angst, I hummed with the injustice of my mother’s premature death. I was left with millions of things to say to her. Words she would never get to hear.
That same sensation - of bubbling over with a desire to say something - is what has always driven my songwriting process. But there were two rather important reasons why I couldn’t write music. The first, you’ve probably guessed. Three o’clock in the morning is not the right time to play piano or lament at the top of your lungs. And I had so much to say, it physically hurt to silence myself. I knew there would be no such thing as quiet musical expression.
But the second reason I couldn’t write songs, is because it reminded me of my mom. Music was far, far too close to her. Mom was an amazing musician. She was my first piano teacher, and she and I performed many times together. She played for every wedding and every funeral for hundreds of miles. She was sought after: a hidden gem in the vast prairie. And every time I brought myself to the keyboard, I cried. Every time I opened my mouth to sing the words I should have said, I howled.
I couldn’t write music.
I was lost.
Every night I went to sleep, hoping for peaceful, uninterrupted slumber. And each morning, against my wishes, I would rise while the rest of the world slept around me. Like a zombie, I would amble the short distance to my studio in the basement. And, not knowing what else to do with the bubbling lava of emotion that had nowhere to go … I started to type.
It was a beautiful release! A perfect stream of consciousness and exactly the escape I needed. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no map, no pre-conceived notion. All I had was the satisfaction of relief.
My story began with a woman who suffered from insomnia (go figure). And as the floorboards creaked and the furnace groaned around me, my heroine feared that which went bump in the night. And she was grieving too … although it took me a long time to figure out why. Her story had yet to reveal itself to me.
It’s quite funny now – as I look back on it all. I was a 30 year old woman, writing a story about a female lead with more experience. I told her story with as much conviction as I could, imagining what a 35 year old woman would feel like in her circumstances. I admired her. I thought she lived an extraordinary life. And after about 100,000 words, I had a complete novel.
Oh, but it needed work! It’s much easier to write a book when you know at the onset that’s the goal. In particular, the beginning chapters were all aimless meanderings, taking forever to get to their destination. So I had to do what most first time writers do: put the book on the butcher’s block and chop, chop, chop!
I had help. I had a friend with a lot of writing and teaching experience. She was firm, but kind in her feedback. I enlisted beta readers, and I was really proud of the story. I had created something out of nothing. And that in and of itself was pretty cool. And honestly, I thought the story was good. I knew it was good. But I also knew it wasn’t good enough.
I put the book down. I moved on. I wrote dozens of short stories and two more novels. And just recently, I returned to my first book. I’ve tried a few times over the years to get back to it. I’ve started and stopped the revision process more times than I can count. Sometimes I was too bored to continue. Sometimes it was too painful. Sometimes life got in the way.
But this time, I started and just kept going. As it turns out, it is a pretty great story. But I also understand why it needed so much time to gestate. When I began writing, I was only imagining the life my heroine would lead. I used my love of reading, music and movies to propel my main character’s actions and to understand her reactions. But now, as I approach 40, I’ve actually lived many of these life events and their consequences. In a surprising display of life imitating art, I’ve experienced similar emotions to that of my main character. Not verbatim of course, but comparable, nonetheless.
So this time, when I sat down to edit, revise and rewrite … it just flowed. The right words came and the wrong ones were cut without attachment. I know my heroine now. She’s come to life and she is a fully formed person with a lot of depth behind her.
And how fitting is it, that I should have finished this revision on my mother’s birthday? How beautiful and serendipitous that the tenth birthday since her passing should see the fulfillment of what started all those years ago?
I’ve thought many times since she passed in 2008, that my insomnia was the effort of my mom, calling me to action. It’s probably silly or superstitious, but it brought me comfort. My mom isn’t here to watch me fulfill my destiny or achieve my best life. But it’s beautiful to imagine her pushing me ever forward in the right direction. She always was my biggest cheerleader.
Thanks Mom! Thanks for giving me a gift on your birthday. Thanks for the love. Thanks for the push.
When it comes right down to it … thanks for everything.