Monday, June 15

...I give to you and you give to me...

 One of my least favorite parts of myself is that my tin ear is so completely...er...tin. I am surprised that earrings don’t adhere to my skin with rust when I wear them. Although I like music and the emotion I get from it, I don’t actually hear the notes or feel the emotion of the performer. My husband was changing strings on his Alvarez guitar a few weeks ago and was aghast at hearing a dead spot—there were two or three notes that weren’t there. I hope I was properly sympathetic, but in truth, the notes that weren’t there sounded to me exactly like the ones that were.

       
          This past weekend was the annual Cole Porter Festival where I live. Saturday night, we went to the cabaret of mostly Porter songs at the Depot where the local theatre performs. As always, I was completely awed by the talent all around me, but on one song, I noticed that Duane’s applause was even more enthusiastic than usual. He was spellbound.


          Well, I could understand that—they all amazed me, but then he turned to me and said, “Did you see it? When the emotion got her and took over the song? Did you hear it? Wasn’t it great?”

          It got me to thinking about emotion in writing, for the writer and for the reader. I love writing emotion, because I feel it as I write it. These are the scenes that write themselves, that have me laughing or crying aloud here by myself in the office. These are the ones that are my favorites. Always.

          As a reader, the parts of books I go back and reread are the ones that make me feel. Pamela Morsi wrote a scene in Letting Go that I read 12 years ago and it hasn’t “let go” of me yet. Emotional scenes are the basis for my personal stack of comfort reads. My heart has been rewriting Beth March’s death in Little Women for over 50 years, but I read and love the way it is. Over and over and over.


          As a reader, I probably have a tin ear to the sounds of other writers’ emotions when they write. I think their words were from their hearts, but maybe not—maybe they’re just that good at making the sounds my emotions want to hear.

          And that’s so cool! The song last night, the one that Duane saw and felt explode with emotion, was just another beautiful song to me. But the one a little before that, when Duane and three others performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, had tears pushing at the back of my eyes and my nails cutting half-moons of joy into my palms. To him, “Hallelujah” is merely a good song; to me, it is an anthem.

          As a writer, I want to write those scenes that stay with me forever and ever. If you’ve read One More Summer, you know what I’m talking about. However, not everyone will feel that—their ears will be deaf to my angst, sorrow, and joy.

          On the other side of that much-flipped coin, I have had lovely emails from people about scenes that affected them deeply, made them laugh hard or sniffle or read a passage aloud to someone else. I am so pleased when that happens and more proud than I have a right to be. Because often those scenes are not the ones that exploded from me in an emotional spate; rather, they are the ones I chewed my thumb and stared into space while I dug for, word by slow word.

          Duane restrung the Alvarez again the other day. “Listen!” he urged, and strummed a few times. “Hear it? The notes are back. The dead spot is gone.”

          Hear it? No, I couldn’t. But I felt his happiness—he loves the Alvarez. When he plays songs like “Hallelujah,” even though he’s not emotionally invested in them, he still feels how powerfully listeners are touched. It makes him try harder, I think, to chew his mental thumb and stare into space until, note by slow note, he’s able to give listeners a gift he doesn’t have. When he is emotionally involved, there’s no chewing or staring necessary, but we with our tin ears don’t know one from the other—we just enjoy the music and the sensations it gives us.


          I’ve read back over this post and I have to admit it’s kind of confusing. I think what I’m trying to do is remind us that when it comes to emotions, sometimes we are the givers and sometimes we are the receivers. Either way, the gift is absolute.

24 comments:

  1. Great post, Liz. I always hope readers find the emotions that I feel when I'm writing, but I cry at television commercials so...who knows?

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    1. LOL. I'm right there with you, Kristi. Hallmark needs to market tissues!

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  2. It seems like the older I get, the more emotional I get. Has anyone else noticed this? I think it must be hormones.

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    1. I've always been emotional, to the amusement of my older siblings. Unlike the tin ear, I've always been kind of glad for it.

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  3. You know this is a great post, but I disagree with you about you,as a reader, having a tin ear to other writer's emotions. You don't at all--you feel other writer's more than anyone I know. It's part of what drew me to you as a dear friend and a kindred spirit--that indefinable ability to relate on almost any level with me. The tin ear thing, though, I totally get! Me too! I love to sing along with the car radio and in church with a couple of hundred other people, but I'm just along for the ride, so to speak. My sister, who sings in the choir, is always right there with the music and my husband is like Duane with his own Alvarez. He hears the subtleties, but I only hear good music. Thanks, as always, you make me think!

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    1. Thank you, my friend--we do tend to hear alike, don't we?

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  4. I just love making myself cry when I write, and those are the scenes I leave alone during revisions and edits. I'm deathly afraid of stripping away the emotion by changing a word or two. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah as sung by k.d. lang gives me goosebumps and makes my throat get all tight and sore, every time.

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    1. Hers is my favorite version, too, Luanna. I hate changing thoses scenes, too!

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  5. I love music and it definitely moves me. I wish I could compose and play it. But like you I have to "settle" for writing and trying to express emotion that way. I think that's the point of most art. Not just to make us think, but to make us feel.

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    1. I've never considered that before, Mary. I guess I want both. Thanks for coming by!

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  6. You got me with music. I am quite passionate about it, but I can't sing a note. I think I can hear it, but who knows? Emotions in writing? It's my weak spot. I know what I'm trying to get across, but find it hard to get on paper. Your stories are always emotional.
    D~

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    1. Thanks for coming by, D. I am often surprised when readers don't get what I'm trying to get across--after all, it's perfectly clear to me! :-)

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  7. I love music, too, and one of my biggest regrets was I chose to take dancing as a child rather than learn to play a musical instrument. The rest of my family knew how to play an instrument, but I decided to be different and wished later that I'd learned when I was younger.

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    1. I don't know, Hebby--I think dancing IS music. (In addition to my tin ear, I also have two left feet.)

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  8. Hi, Liz, I don't know that I could identify dead spots. Once, Handsome and I went to a Sarah Brightman concert. Because of the seating layout, our spots were changed...for the better! We were within a heartbeat of the stage and could see all fantastically. She sang several songs which I literally felt in my chest and in my body. Absolutely awesome experience.

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    1. I've done that, too. It is amazing, isn't it? But I know my husband hears--and feels--it differently from what I do.

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  9. I believe your final paragraph has it so right, Liz. As artists, we are both givers and receivers. Wonderful post.

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  10. I'm always surprised when a reader 'gets' what I was feeling when I write a certain scene. I hope readers feel what I want them to feel but I'm still surprised when they do. :)

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  11. Liz, you are one of the writers who can just reach inside me and pull out the emotions. One More Summer is one of my favorite books. I know it will touch my emotions but also there is happiness through all the heartbreak. I also love music but cannot make or write it. I am in awe of songwriters who can take words and make them sing to us.

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    1. I am, too, Carolyn. How can they tell a story so beautifully and heartrendingly in three minutes when it takes me 75K words?! I"m so glad you like One More Summer--it is such a special book to me. Thanks for coming by.

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  12. Promise, Promise : ) I have such a tin ear--it's heartening to hear I'm not the only one. I love Carolyn's last line above me..ditto that. I am so in awe of that skill. But I am also in awe of writers--like yourself--who make me feel, make me cry, or make me laugh. Writer's who have lyrical voices that make the page sing...

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  13. Aw, Margie... What a pretty way of putting it. I'm reading two right now, by Anne Gracie and Laura Drake, that are doing that with pages.

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