Friday, April 3, 2015

Tales From My Writing Workshop

I'm currently taking a writing workshop with Dr Erna Brodber, renowned Jamaican author, historian and social scientist. We had our second session this past Wednesday and the exercise was to listen to a piece of music and write something based on how it moved us. She played us two different instrumental pieces - one was a jazz number and the other a version of I Surrender All. We had about 15 minutes to write for each piece.

I must say my colleagues in the course are some seriously talented people. There were some lovely, poignant short stories or descriptive scenes coming from both parts of the exercise. 

In the interest of learning to share my work, I'm going to reveal what I wrote for each piece. I decided to do this because it's Good Friday and one of the pieces immediately took me to church. Not the one Hozier wants to be taken to, thankfully. That song disturbs me a little, to be honest. Anyway, bear in mind that these are spur-of-the-moment pieces and I've not made any changes to them.

Music - Jazz

This is not my particular cup of tea. Generally, I prefer the sound of silence. 'Sound of silence?' Surely, that's an oxymoron. 

No, it isn't. There's a certain point you get to after a protracted period of silence that you can almost hear a hum. Or more of a thrum. Maybe it's just the sound of the blood pumping through the veins in my ears. Whatever it is, it's the only sound I like to hear when I'm trying to write. It's kind of there, but not there. Vital, but unobtrusive.

Music in the background makes it hard for me to fully immerse myself into the moment. It's already a bit of a struggle, this business of writing. The music is like an external conversation begging for my attention, calling for me to join in.

Anyway, this jazz. I don't really 'get' it. I certainly can't write with it around, causing utter confusion. I can't even think! All these instruments just trying to shout over each other: the drums bop-bop-bopping away; the piano tinkling along listen-to-me-me-me-me-me-me-me. There goes a horn screeching now: my TUUUUUUUURRRNNN! The bass is the only part of it I can really take. It's just there, keeping itself in the background. Kind of vital, but unobtrusive. Like my blood.

Look, that's the same cacophony going on in my head when I sit down to write. All these ideas rushing about trying to make their cases to me. And my head really doesn't need the competition.

Music - I Surrender All

She didn't know what force compelled her, but she found her feet taking her out of her seat at the back of the crowded church and leading her to the altar at the front of the building. She wasn't even fully conscious of what she was doing, just gave herself up to the leading of the Lord. It had to be Jesus Himself, because only He could understand all she had been through these past few months.

Reaching their destination, her feet stopped. She had her head bowed and she opened her mouth to start begging for the Lord's forgiveness, the way the other sinners around her were doing. Amidst the weeping, wailing and teeth-gnashing, she opened her mouth and was vaguely surprised when no sound came out. She squeezed her eyes tight and tried again. Again, her throat didn't respond.

Instead, it was her feet that began to move. She swayed from side to side in a slow two-step. Her hands joined the movement as they too began to wave from side to side. Her body was into it now, rocking and swaying softly. There were tears streaming down her face, too. Copious amounts of eye water, washing away the years of pain.

She didn't know how long she was up there, dancing with the Lord. But when her feet took her back to her seat, she just knew that she felt light. Free. Washed clean. Tears are a language God understands.

Some observations

I was completely unable to think of any kind of story idea with the jazz music clattering away, so I decided to write about how it made me feel instead. Turns out there were a couple other colleagues who felt the same way (even though they were able to come up with story ideas related to confusion. Kudos to them!)

The second piece made me think not only of the act of going to the altar to give it all to the Lord, but profound loss. I think I'll explore this piece some more, to get at what my unnamed character was feeling as she danced and wept at the altar. Additionally, when Dr Brodber stopped the music, I immediately switched to another song in my head - Cece Winans' Alabaster Box. I kept 'singing' it to myself as I finished up the piece. I found this rather interesting, since I had just ranted about how I couldn't write with music in the background. Maybe it was just the jazz? Lol!

Dr Brodber asked me if I liked jazz any at all and I started waxing poetic about my boo Esperanza Spalding. I said maybe the reason I dig her is because she plays the bass. I thought about it for a while as the class moved on and I suppose that really is the reason I'm into her music, because I'm really not here for jazz, generally speaking. I do find it confusing, but with Espe (that's her nickname because we're BFFs in my head), I think I do hone in on her bass and also her lyrics. When she sings in Spanish or Portuguese, I don't even pretend to know what the heck is going on, but I like it anyway. Interesting, no?

Anyway, tell me what you think about either or both of these pieces. But don't be mean!


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