We recently had an assignment to write about our muse. I didn’t think I had one. But listening to and being moved by the music of the Community College’s Christmas program, I realized that music plays a big part in my understanding of the world. When I hear music, I don’t just hear a beat; I hear the tribal (modern or ancient) rhythms that influenced that particular song. I don’t just hear the lyrics, I envision the story behind it, whether it’s the “I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights” of a country song or the personal connection of “Hallelujah.” As a mother, I can relate to “Mary, Did You Know?”
But it goes deeper than that. When I hear the school’s rendition of “The Lord is With You,” I know why they are doing that song, because of the theatre director’s connection to Dollywood. I remember vividly the number of times I watched Scott Self perform as the Angel Gabriel, and my son-in-law Chaz as Joseph, with the live 7-piece band, and the rest of the play that went before this piece. I remember (and have on video) my daughter performing as Mary, herself pregnant as she sang Mary’s fears of rejection by her parents and her fiancé for the holy child she carried. After all these years (20?) of listening to my daughter sing, I still forget to breathe when she does.
I remembered attending a Mexican dance with friends, not understanding most of the words to the music, but enthralled by the First Nations rhythms of a dance that mimicked an eagle’s flight and another that brought visions of a bullfighter’s dance. And thinking about my connection to that dance reminds me of the friend that brought me and a tense drive home in white-out conditions. Yin and yang.
There is also music and rhythm, primal and eternal, in nature. The graceful soar of a hawk, until he spots lunch hundreds of feet below, and dives in perfect precision to catch it. Life and death, both necessary for all. The trill of sandhill cranes in migration, too high to see, marks the change of the seasons. Often, the coo of doves wakes me on weekend mornings, while the pip-pip of the cardinal makes me search for the flash of red. The interaction of the animals in my yard, from the worms to the occasional possum, tells me the health of the heart of my individual ecosystem.
There is art in the structure of trees. Cottonwoods that have been beaten by wind for decades mimic the uplifted arms of the “Keeper of the Plains” statue. I think I know where Blackbear Bosin found his model. Golden fall cottonwoods twinkle like grounded sunlight, while wind sighs through pines. In April rains, lavender redbud blossoms contrast starkly the charcoal of their trunks.
Our history runs deep through our veins. I remember standing in Bandolier National Monument and feeling the spirits of the old ones watching, wondering if we were deserving guardians of their past. I heard the spirits whisper at an abandoned fort on the New Mexico plains. I’ve stood in the Lincoln Memorial, read the immortal words of the Gettysburg address aloud, then stepped partway down the stairs and gazed at the other memorials before me: Vietnam Wall on the left, surreal Korean War memorial on the right, reflective pool before me. Beyond the pool, the World War II memorial, the Washington Monument, and the halls of Congress. Then I looked down, and below my feet was inscribed, “Here on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
Having lived through the Cold War, Vietnam, Woodstock, Kennedy’s assassination, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, and my son’s mission in Vietnam to bring back our MIA’s, I have a deep appreciation of how events shape people and people shape events. The “there but for the grace of God go I” attitude guides my writing, as I can empathize with most people in most circumstances. It drives my “what if.”
I believe many writers strive through their writing to change the world, to bring about peace. Often, we write things and then check the facts only to find that what we wrote was true, coming from an unknown well inside us. I think this well is a connection to the collective unconscious, that place where all of us yearn for peace and harmony. That is the source of our muse.
We all live as neighbors on this big blue ball, and our fate depends on each other. To quote John Donne, “Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”