Tag Archives: music

Once upon a time in a car

I used to love to drive. I didn’t get my license until I was eighteen (in Massachusetts I could have had a license at sixteen), partly because I could walk or take a bus most of the places I wanted to go, and partly because the only car I could learn on was a bear to drive.

That car was mine once I learned to drive it. It had belonged to my parents, and I kept it through college, right up until the floor rusted out and the hole could no longer be hidden by a cookie sheet stashed under the floor mat. My next car was little and silver and had the appealing quality of almost stalling out if I needed to accelerate quickly. That one lasted until my son was born–the actual day he was born–when we discovered the clicking noise I kept hearing was a bad bad thing. These days, I drive a classy thirteen-year-old silver car with 222,000 miles on it, and most days I thank it for continuing to run.

Cars don’t actually interest me very much, other than as a means to an end. I envy people who live in places where they don’t need to drive. The highway that we travel on to get most anywhere is not very bike friendly, particularly if you have kids in tow. There are no bus routes near us. Definitely no trains. Hiking takes me lots of cool places, but none are where I buy groceries, or go to homeschool classes, or any of the other locations I must travel to each week.

I no longer love to drive, but once upon a time I did. I loved being able to go anywhere, by myself. I loved listening to music in the car. All my music came from the radio, for those first cars I drove had functional radios and broken tape decks, and I spent a lot of time switching channels. I’d drive, and sing, and think, and wander, and I didn’t worry about things like gas, and environmental destruction, and the miles I was adding.

I just drove.

It was the most private place I had. Sometimes I drove and cried. Occasionally I drove and yelled, though I restricted that to late nights far away from houses. I told myself stories too, carried them forward from one trip to the next, like leaving a book open on my bedside table. I traveled through space on my own little asteroid.

I still listen to music much too loudly while I drive, and I sing along more often then my children would like. The pleasure is more or less gone though. When it’s warm, I watch for turtles to ferry across the road. When it’s cold, I worry about ice. The romance of cars has vanished completely for me.

Still, there are moments, when I hear the right song at the right volume, that I can feel myself on those roads in the dark again, wandering, thinking, dreaming. My own private bit of time travel, in my clunky old time machine.


Play me a song

I have a very low threshold for stimulation when I’m working, which includes music, particularly with lyrics. It’s amazing to me that other people can listen to words (yes, words being sung, but words nonetheless) while they write. It feels too potent to me, too easy to start weaving someone else’s story into whatever I’m writing.

But I find music incredibly helpful in other ways. There’s an Ani Difranco song, for example, that I use as a reminder of the value of a few carefully chosen details. I love to think about lyrics, about why a good song works. Detail, suggestion, just enough of a framework to make me want to fill in the rest on my own.

Over the holidays I watched a few rockumentaries for fun. There was another lesson there, in watching archival footage of fledgling musicians. One word, easy to remember. Confidence

I’m not talking about arrogance, or pretension, or perfection. I’m talking about someone picking up a guitar, someone who’s too shy to even look up at an audience, and playing what’s in them–strong, loud, clear. Saying, hey, listen to me, I have something to say, even if I haven’t totally figured out how to say it. A certain internal confidence, very different from the ability to be the life of the party.

It’s the same in writing. You have to own the page. Beyond all the rest, all the details of craft, there exists that individual spark that is voice. Finding it is not about learning to sound like anyone else, even those writers you love, the ones who will always leave a faint impression in your voice because they are part of the world of words for you.

It’s about stepping onto the stage and saying, listen up, my knees may be shaking, my hands may be sweaty, I may be rethinking doing this, but you’re here and I am and I have this piece inside of me that needs to be heard, and I’m going to share it in the truest way I know how. Listen.