Monday, October 27, 2008

The Eight Year Folly

I made a particularly foolish decision when I started to write seriously, but it was probably the best decision I could have made.

I always had a facility for rhyme and meter as a kid, and wrote verse – doggerel mostly – for peoples’ birthdays and whatnot. My Junior Year English teacher despaired of my ever doing anything worthwhile with my talent. By the middle of college, I abandoned writing as a hobby from my childhood.

Many years later, in 1995, after years of thinking that “I can certainly write something at least as good as *that*” I bludgeoned myself to sitting down and proving it to myself. See if I actually had the talent to pull something “worthwhile” off.

I started to write a song from a bride’s POV, in which, as she walked down the aisle, her whole relationship flashed in front of her eyes. I started to experiment with the five stages of death (anger, denial, bargaining, etc.). It got long, and I let it. I decided to let it be whatever it was going to be, rather than squeeze it into a box. Each section got longer, with its own verse structure, changing rhythms, changing tones, going for laughs but by the end speaking some truths from my heart through this “character.” I figure if the song were ever composed and performed it would run 10-15 minutes – a real monologue.

While I was writing that one, I thought I should try to write something “serious” and simple, with fewer rhymes, and wrote about a woman attending her mother’s funeral, while recalling a dream the night before of attending the funeral. I started with a non-rhyming verse pattern almost lifted from Sondheim’s “Pretty Woman” – this, too, grew larger and longer, creating another monologue in song.

I started to write a third, and a fourth, and the birth of my first son interrupted me for a good eight months. When I got my bearings back, I finished those two – probably the two best things I will ever write, and began to envision an entire theatrical evening of pieces like this.

The birth of my second son set me back four or five years. But I was determined to finish what I had started. And I refused to let myself write anything else until I was entirely finished with this extended piece. With the lengthy interruptions, it took more than eight years to get to a point where I could put it down and move on.

Eight years is a long time to obsess about something that will never been seen. I wrote long pieces in several styles, experimenting with forms and structures and rhyme schemes, spending months on each piece. The whole thing is terribly impractical, probably unworkable, and it will sit on my shelf gathering dust. I sometimes think of cannibalizing it, breaking off pieces for shorter works, but I can’t bring myself to take it apart.

But boy, when I had finished that project my muscles were limber as hell. I felt like I could write anything I wanted. It was a grueling period, but doing it taught me so much about expressing thoughts in song form. A foolish decision to take eight years to complete it, but it was the best exercise I could have had.

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