Reflections on the October Writing Challenge and on going forward

I really enjoyed the writing every day in October challenge. It was hard; it felt like work. It was work. I’d be just about to climb into bed with some Netflix, and then remember that I hadn’t written for the day. So I’d climb out and sit in front of the computer and … either bang something out rotely or, think and breathe and write something more organically. There’s nothing wrong with either approach. Some times you can start writing rotely and it will end up organic. That happened a couple of times. Sometimes I’d have something specific I wanted to write about. Once I looked out the window and described what I saw. The senses are access points for the emotions and the “deeper sense.” You start writing about what you see, and it triggers memories, feelings, and associations. What you see becomes a metaphor for something else.

Every now and then the turn-to-organic didn’t happen and I ended up with just the roteness. Once I wrote something that was tinged with mean-spiritedness and felt wrong. It wasn’t me. But I left it anyway. Just do it, just ship it. Good advice for me.

Another good exercise that I learned from Pat Pattinson, who teaches lyric writing at Berklee College of music and online, is to imagine a particular place from your past. Say, a front porch, middle school soccer field, church basement, or your grandmother’s living room. Then access every sense. Close your eyes. What do you see, feel, hear, touch, taste? What’s your emotional state? How does the pavement feel under your thighs? Does it leave a pattern if you sit too long? Is there a breeze? Does that church basement smell musty? How do the fluorescent lights sound when you turn them on? They flicker and, inevitably, one or two stay dark, don’t they? Does your grandmother have a candy dish? If so is the candy old and glommed together? How does your gut feel when you think about the impending soccer game? Are you nervous, full of excitement? Full of dread? Me, I was always full of dread before sports events. Terrified.

When the October challenge was over a few weeks ago, I was relieved. Proud. I had gained some followers on my blog and some praise from friends and family about my writing. Good. However, in some ways, it might have been some productive procrastination from what I really want to be doing: writing and/or finishing some songs. Specifically, hymns. I’m working on a hymns record and would love to have one or two more originals to complete the package.

I have a vague sense of a song I want to write. A “hallelujah” song. Just an upbeat song of joy. Ah, but it’s got to be good. There’s the rub. It can’t be a tossed-off thing.

Oh and not a Leonard Cohen Hallelujah song. Incidentally, I find it annoying how we Christians decided we loved that song, without, in my opinion, giving much thought to what it’s about. It’s such a beautiful, tender, bleak, bitter song of surrender. Oh My God. Oh God and I mean it, how beautiful is that song, are those words. I love Leonard Cohen, and I love his approach to God, religion, and spirituality. I think many decided they like the song simply because they liked hearing a “secular” artist sing that word that we usually hear only in church. There is a certain desperation Christians have to win approval from the culture and to see someone waving our flag. “He’s one of us!” Now, there’s my own bitterness coming through and maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. But I think many who love this song have not paid attention to the pain and bleakness in it:

“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

Ok I take it back, if I could write a Leonard Cohen “Hallelujah” song of course I would. But that’s kind of my wheelhouse, the mournful stuff.

I’d like to write a song of pure joy. Well, another song of pure joy, for I do have some.

The Sun is Up” comes to mind. That’s a song of praise. Or is it?

“The sun is up. I can’t believe it,
The night flew by. My little head is burning
From the summer dust scratching at my eyes.

Lean out the window, I’m hoping for rain,
That’s my posture these days.
Cool my burdens down, I can’t believe how hot it stays.

Some kind of solar conflagration
Shot down from the sky,
Slid under my skin,
And now the sun is burning me from the inside.”

Hmm what’s that song about? *Is* it a song of praise? Is the Sun God, or God’s love, or the actual sun?

Yes to all three. It is. Each is a metaphor for the other in a way.

And it’s a song about myself. And about heat and temperature, and, i think, manic-ness. Jitteriness, but wanting to be calm.

Here are the full lyrics:

“The sun is up. I can’t believe it,
The night flew by. My little head is burning
From the summer dust scratching at my eyes.

Lean out the window, I’m hoping for rain,
That’s my posture these days.
Cool my burdens down, I can’t believe how hot it stays.

Some kind of solar conflagration
Shot down from the sky,
Slid under my skin,
And now the sun is burning me from the inside.

“Get on up!” James Brown said.
I guess I will, it couldn’t hurt much.
Ooh, jump back—my skin’s too hot to touch.

If the world were ice cream,
We wouldn’t last long, would we?
We’d slip away—a spacey, sticky stream.

Some kind of solar conflagration
Shot down from the sky,
Slid under my skin,
And now the sun is burning me from the inside.

Jalapeño and Tabasco,
Have another habanero.
Taste the pain of fire in a fruit.

Outside it’s burning white and red
But hushed and grey-green in my head.
The breeze I dream, it blows me wet and cool.

Some kind of solar conflagration
Shot down from the sky,
Slid under my skin,
And now the sun is burning me,
And it’s the best thing I have felt in my whole life.
The sun is up and so am I.”

Those are some good lyrics I think. I’d like some other good ones to come my way. Maybe today.

One thought on “Reflections on the October Writing Challenge and on going forward

  1. I like that song! And the other song. I agree with what you said about Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I waited to decide if I loved it until I heard the words and then I really did.

    Also I want to hear the hymns. Because I REALLY love hymns.

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