Writers Awake

Bad enough that the national news this week startled us and that people are taking to the streets in protest. That we have had another presidential election that thwarts the popular vote, the direct voice of the people. That my dear dog is fading slowly into infinity. That my daughter is dealing with her father’s serious illness. That my marketing of the new novel has been upended by someone else’s faulty scheduling. It’s been a tough week. My phone died, had to be shocked back to life by a new battery. Leonard Cohen died.

 So pour another cuppa joe and settle in. We need to talk.This week I heard Richard Russo (one of my favorite writers) comment on NPR that good writing is increasingly important in troubling times. I had had the same thought. More than ever we desperately need honest, accurate, thoughtful journalism, fiction, poetry, and essays. I am not interested in celebrity opinions or sensationalism, never have been. I want clear reporting and reflection about the people, their actions, and their plans that affect our local, state and national governments, our collective life. I want people to pay attention, not homage. We need good writing more now than we did even a week ago, whether it’s 140-characters on social media or an in-depth editorial in a balanced print source. We must read from Left to Right, and not rely on a single source.

I want, need, a diet of more than verbal popcorn. I want the hearty protein of research, investigation, and clarity, not a fast-food reading list, but an organic garden plot that I tend daily, weeding, harvesting, feeding my need for facts and careful reportage. I plan to be thoughtful and thorough. I’ll be skeptical but not cynical. I’ll be a good citizen, alert to false accusations and political shenanigans. Please join me, no matter what you write or what you habitually read. Or how you voted. You did vote, didn’t you? Please write from your heart, read with your head. Stay awake.


LaRose, a novel by Native American writer Louise Erdrich.

Music to Write By

Last week I mentioned that because of my tinnitus I keep instrumental music playing while I do my morning pages and often while I’m working on a writing project. I formed this habit partly as a defense against noise and partly because I had experimented with a technique called Proprioceptive Writing, a method meant to deepen the act of personal writing using music, candles, and an exploration of what was not said. I liked it, but as with so many things I like, I let it go in favor of an individualized method. Yet the music plays on.

This week I have turned away from the classical radio station I loved for a long time because we just weren’t happy together. They wanted more money and I wanted less talking. So I now depend on two sources of music: my iPhone and a short stack of CDs and a used CD player. The phone is easy, always there and, thanks to Apple Music, offers a huge selection of free music. The CDs are slowly becoming less useful, but I do pull them out when I crave some of my old favorites.

Here’s a partial list of writing music that works for me: Gregorian chant (especially Hildegard Von Bingen’s music), The Best of Yo Yo Ma, Sphere Ensemble’s Divergence, Kitaro, The Sounds of Acadia (music and nature sounds from Acadia National Park where I used to ride my horse), Keith Jarrett (classical), Kalin Yong, Brother Hawk.

Music is miraculous to me. I cannot carry a tune or play an instrument and had I lived in a time or place where the music was what you could make, I’d have been lonely.

Bach’s Bad Boys?

The inter-net is a rabbit hole. I jump in and hours later poke my head up into the sunshine, startled that the day is bright blue. This morning, listening to The Baroque Show on Colorado Public Radio, I heard that Bach’s eldest son was his favorite. That, I thought, must have created ill will, chaos, jealousy among his huge brood of talented offspring. Well, this tempting diversion from morning pages drew me into roads not only less traveled but also some never taken. Picking up my tablet to search was all too easy.

Fact: Bach fathered twenty but ten of his children died early, some shortly after birth, including a set of twins, and some lived about three years. One boy who lived into adulthood was not as smart as his sibs. Then I wondered about the girls—many talented brothers and scarcely a mention of the sisters. Of the four daughters who survived into adulthood, one married, one was a talented singer, the other two barely mentioned, except that one of them died “in poverty.” As did Bach’s widow.

Now I’m fussed. Four sons were successful composers and their mother died a poor widow? Their sister died in poverty? How dare they? What does this say about their life of privilege? What does it say about their father that he could not inject them with a dose of generosity along with their musical instruction? And how about the brother who died at 24 “of mysterious circumstances”? Would he have lived longer if his family had cared for him? Maybe my initial thought is correct, ill will plagued that family, along with death and grief and poverty.

My search this morning warns me not to believe all of what I hear. In his glorious music I do not hear the pain. I hear success and glory, but oh, not those dead children. I finished my morning pages in a different mood than when I began. I’ve put a library hold on a Bach biography and will read it  instead of  chasing mere facts that leave me fuming and distracted. This is why I still need books and libraries.