When my son died ten years ago, I dedicated myself to The Writing Life. When my dad died seven years ago, I began the manuscript that became Eating the Heart First. I am directed now to express music, because it has been my longest love; and one from which I was parted, on the deep level I consciously and unconsciously sought.
My path of healing in this grief journey, after my mother’s passing, is to follow the music.
My mother and father sang to my brother and me all of our lives. Singing was a happy time with us as a family. I believe I was singing before I knew words.
My mother worked for many years at Lafayette Drug Company which was also a record store. She had quite the collection. I spent all of my allowance on records. I played them constantly. I would set the phonograph to continually play one side of a record while I slept, by swinging that arm out, or would stack as many records as could be held on the turntable, depending on the stereo I had at the time. I went through quite a few.
Once, my dad found a small electric organ in the trash and brought it home. It still worked. I tried to teach myself songs from a songbook my mother had kept from her childhood. Any time I was near a piano, I asked to play it, even though I had no knowledge of it other than to strike the keys and discover a melody that was summoned from my heart into my mouth. I would la la la or make up lyrics and sing out, likely annoying everyone in the house. My nanny, our Aunt Dee Dee, gave me a harmonica one year for Christmas. She put it in a toothpaste box inside a large cardboard box. I was ecstatic when I figured out it wasn’t toothpaste! I spent many hours of my childhood here at my grandparents’ home swinging and singing my own made-up songs under the oak tree. These are some of my most cherished memories of early life.
I was given 3 guitars as presents growing up. One got broken, one I still have, and another I traded for an acoustic I still own, too. I played devotedly for about four years, from age seventeen to twenty one and then let it go—
Music is an integral part of my daily life, whether it is for enjoyment, inspiration, or if it helps to facilitate mediation and sleep. In my book of poetry, there are poems written after dreams of playing instruments (in the dreams only), and the music that was produced in those dreams was unlike anything I have ever heard. Astonishingly beautiful and complex music. The palpable longing in the poems “Her Body Desires the Instrument” and “What I Long for In Dreams,” collected in Eating the Heart First, is the ache of necessity to be able to create the music in me. I can barely do this at this point, after not playing for nearly 25 years. I have forgiven myself and let go of the guilt and heartache produced from staring at my guitars for decades, as though playing them would never be a part of my life again.
I made a choice just a month or so ago to buy a new guitar and it was one of the best decisions of my life. If I had not bought it, I would either be in a mental hospital or dead, and that is not an exaggeration. It has been a salve to my soul and I am caring for it as an extension of myself, a necessity to my living being.
I identify as a creative. No other labels will suffice. A plus of being a poet, calling myself that for ten years, is that I have an edge with lyrics and an ease of process in creating them. Now to explore the instrument of my choosing, which for now is the guitar. Who knows where it will lead, but all I care about is this healthy, healing outlet, creative satisfaction and joyful pleasure. My family seems to be enjoying it and I have their support and respect.
My own excitement is almost excruciating. I am having a blast! When I see friends or meet new people, I ask them to give me the inside of their wrist, so I can gently rub my callused fingertips on that spot. Call me crazy, but watch out—I might be a one-hit wonder. I might get paid royalties for a song I write. I actually was in communications tonight with a person who has a connection to Nashville recording businesses. Not ready for that but everything worthy starts with a holy dream and that is how I see this new direction, this new exploration. This guitar costs me nothing but the intial price (not very much) and the time, care and attention I give to playing. I have found that playing cycles healing energy and recycles negative energy into a positive.
Maybe I will only share my music with with my closest family and friends, but I am doing it and loving it at a time when I could have completely fallen apart. It is also leaving a positive impression on our daughter–the lesson that you can dream and you can commit to learn something new every day of your life.
And thank God for that.