Memory, Movies, Music, Musings, Writing

Here be heaven

Last night I watched a movie that made me cry. The movie was Songcatcher, about a musicologist who visits her schoolteacher sister “up the mountain” in Appalachia and falls in love with the people and their music.

I am a descendant of Scots-Irish immigrants who, long before the American Revolution, settled in the Appalachian Mountains in what would become West Virginia. As the frontier moved west, so did my ancestors, but no farther than Eastern Kentucky.  Some of my best childhood memories are of visiting my grandparents’ tobacco farm.

My grandparents.
My grandparents.

The film starts with a woman sitting at a piano singing an old English folksong, “Barbara Allen.” She’s the music professor who soon finds out she’s been passed over for a full chair in the school again, presumably because of her sex. And in anger, she leaves the school to get “as far away as possible.” Next, we see her climbing up into the back country.

I tear up at the first shot of a cabin in the woods at dawn. Olfactory memory snatchs me away to my childhood. The morning scents of dew and earth and greenery waft over me as I sit on the stepstone outside the door to the summer kitchen. My feet are bare and I slide them over the cool, smoothness of the stone worn down by the feet of all who have entered this door for over a century. From behind me comes the sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked. Smoked jowl bacon, cream gravy, and biscuits, made from a heart kept “recipe” passed from mother to daughter for generations, will be served with butter I helped churn and blackberry jam like none you’ve ever tasted.

I am in heaven.

The house that grew from the cabin.
The house that grew from the cabin.

And now, I’m walking through the woods. I look down and see mayapple pushing through the thick carpet of leaves slowly decaying into rich, black loam. I hear the bob-white calls and the rat-tat-tat of the woodpecker. My feet slip on the shale as I step into the crick and then the mud squishes up between my toes. There’s a movement on the other side and I freeze. A doe steps out of the tree line and gazes at me, then inches forward to drink before she turns and disappears back into the cool green.

I am in heaven.

The best is yet to come. I sit on the porch in a cane rocker, sweetly creaking. The heat of the day seeps away, the cricket chorus rises, and then someone starts to sing and Oh! It’s “Barbry Allen” in the way it was surely always meant to be sung. But this is just the beginning. We’re going to a barn dance. Listen to the music … banjo, guitar, fiddle and dulcimer. Look at us, we’re dancing … clogging. And there’s more singing. We’re a pure distillation of our Ulster roots.

From somewhere deep inside, genetic memory, past life recall … something … feels the pain and grief and joy. I weep, with great gulping sobs.

I am in heaven.


Inspiration, Music, Musings, Writing

Musing through music

The car we drove to and from the coast recently had no satellite radio, and I forgot to bring cd’s orBose Media Sysytem my mp3 player. So, we were stuck with plain old radio. The strongest signal came from our local classic rock station. It came in clearly most of the way, though at one point, we heard a fade in/fade out duo, which made it seem Pat Benatar had joined a mariachi band. You’re a heartbreaker ai yi yi yi ya!

Listening to these oldies revealed that, for me, certain songs evoke clear-cut memories. These may or may not be associated with the first time I heard the song, or even when it was in the Top 40, but the songs have become permanently attached to specific moments in my life.

madmanWhen I hear Elton John sing “Tiny Dancer” I am lying, exhausted, on my sofa during the first few quiet minutes of the afternoon. My two little ones, plus the three I babysit, have just been put down for their naps, and I’m praying, “Let me make it through this one song before one or more of them pops back up again … and please don’t let them wake the baby.”

When I hear The Doobie Brothers’ slide into “Black Water” it’s a steamy Indiana summer afternoon and I’m driving our dark blue Chevy Impala with the glasspack muffler. With the radio cranked high, my foot heavy on the gas, loose tendrils of hair dancing in the wind, I pretend not to notice the cool guys in the next lane trying to get my attention.

cougarWhen I hear John Mellencamp—who will always be John Cougar Mellencamp to me—break into “Hurts So Good” I stand thrilled, frightened, awed, and deafened by the roar in the Indianapolis arena as the “hometown” crowd celebrates the success of one of their own.

I could share with you dozens of these evocations, but these suffice to illustrate how opening these crystal-clear sensory time capsules is a way I can enhance my writing. They are inspiration, and research, in its most intuitive form.

Let the music play … let the writing begin.

Characters, Dream, Fiction, Inspiration, Music, Novel, Writing

Inspiration any way

Early last summer, I had a dream with a situation that gave me the idea for my current work. I had my characters, but I didn’t enough about them to start writing. At that same time, I was addicted to playing Bejeweled 2. It was during these sessions I first heard my character Jalal speak to me. I don’t understand the connection, though I do know there is one particular sequence in the background music that evokes him instantly.

In any case, the story started to come together, and when I needed more dialogue, I just played the game and it started flowing. So, I had this lovely little happy-ending story, and then I rediscovered Joan Osborne’s Relish and her song “Crazy Baby” became my theme song for Jalal because, suddenly, I knew at some point he would be in the depths of depression.

There’s something about running water that inspires me so often, I’ve thought about figuring out some waterproof writing device for the shower. (I wrote in another post about using an eyeliner pencil on the mirror.) And someday I’ll remember how to use the memo function on my cell phone so I can record the thoughts that come to me when driving … like when Meredith informed me I had misunderstood her reason for withdrawing from life!

I’ll take inspiration any way I can get it. Anyone care to share, other than reading great writing, what inspires you?