Pipe Dreams

There was this Christmas when I knew I was getting an organ. I’d opened the hall closet one day and there was a box that was clearly an organ. This was back in the 1970s before electronic keyboards or digital instruments.

Did I know how to play an organ? Nope. Did I want one that fit in a small cardboard box tucked under coats in a closet? Nope. I dreamed of a giant pipe organ along one wall of the bedroom I shared with my sister.

I’ve never been one who wanted to peek at presents or know ahead of time. I’ve never liked having to give people ideas, or make lists. Being surprised is part of the magic. But husbands, and parents, seem to want a list.

When we were young, that meant the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog. It was big and heavy and came in the mail with glorious color photos of every toy imaginable. Us kids would pore over the dreams, marking up pages and folding corners.

So there I was, accidentally knowing about the organ ahead of time. I had guilt the weeks leading up to Christmas. I worried that my knowing would ruin the joy for my parents, being able to give me something I’d marked. It’s not like they could often afford the things all us kids dreamed about.

When it came time to open gifts, I ripped into that cardboard box, squealing, jumping up and down, everything I could think of to prove how much I loved it and how little I knew I was getting it. That became a family story for years after. ‘Yes, so and so sure loved their gift, but nothing like how excited Lisa was with that organ!’ No one ever suspected.

Really, it was an awful organ. A little thing that sat on the desk and sounded wheezy and tinny. I found an old book of American folk songs and picked the few easy tunes out. I attempted The Minstrel Boy, Clementine, and Shenandoah over and over. No matter how bad the music sounded, I owed it to my parents to prove to them how much I loved their gift. Mom used to come down the hallway, apologize, and shut my bedroom door.

I remember being relieved when the thing finally wheezed its last note and died.

It took years.

What gift stands out in your memory?

A Man Who Wanted To Die

On a hot summer day, he tried three times. All alone in his little car, he swallowed a bottle of pills. Later, when the pills didn’t work, he tried stabbing himself in the stomach. Later still, he rolled up all the windows and waited for heat exhaustion, until he had silver-dollar-sized blisters on the side of his body that rested against the metal of the car door.

He survived.

You might ask why he wanted so badly to die. We never knew the full reasons. He had awful health issues though. They weren’t terminal, but made his life difficult to the point where he may have seen no way out other than death.

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I wonder if he learned how to love life again.

More and more states are passing ‘right to die’ legislation, which I am highly in favor of. It’s for those who are terminal, and allows them to pass with dignity. You know, that same dignity we allow our dogs and cats and beloved pets when it’s their time.

But for those who aren’t terminal, such legislation doesn’t exist. Of course it doesn’t. Because when you are in that deep, dark, isolated hole of depression, when that unimaginable weight is on top of you and you can’t rise up, you are incapable of making decisions. Such a person, like that man who so wanted to die, sees no hope. And yet, the right help, the hand held out, the words from someone who tries to understand, or just listens, can sometimes begin to lift that weight off another’s soul.

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Why such an intense topic today? Because I was recently reminded that we are coming up on a season that is difficult for many. Suicide rates climb high during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

So take care of each other. Be aware of your stress. Be kind to strangers. Ask for help. Ask for help for others. Don’t stay silent out of despair or fear. Don’t stay silent because of a sense of politeness or worry about offending someone. If you see changes in behavior, a withdrawing, anything that constitutes a flag, be blunt. Ask if they have thoughts of hurting themselves. Ask if they have a plan. Don’t leave them alone. Get help.

And if someone holds out a hand, take it.

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Words In Music

I just finished the first book in Rachel Caine’s Stillhouse Lake series. I gobbled that book right up even though I knew who the villain was as soon as he was introduced. The protagonist was so wonderfully drawn that I wanted her to fight, to win, to be strong. I’ve pre-ordered the second book. This one had a satisfying ending but left open something I didn’t expect.

At the end the author listed the music she wrote the book to. Isn’t that a cool idea? I knew a few of the musicians because she listens to the same kind of music my husband does, like Birthday Massacre. But it was an eclectic list.

I’ve mentioned before here that I like to write to soundtrack music. It gives me lots of background drama. I also like Celtic music.

I’ve recently discovered the soundtrack to the new King Arthur, Legend of the Sword movie, thanks to my son. The music is perfect for the current work in progress.

Briefly, here is the music I wrote Sunshine on My Shoulders to.

Caravansary, Into the Forest, and The Bell Tower, by Kitaro

I Don’t Believe and The Start of Something New by Chrom

Everything by Two Steps From Hell (basically the people who make movie soundtracks)

Aran Boat Song by Darol Anger

Bring Me To Life by Evanescence

Demelza’s Song from the new Poldark series

Cows On The Hill by Jay Unger

The Expanse‘s opening music by Clinton Shorter

Jewels in Indra’s Web by Jami Sieber

Katuman Kaiku by Turisas

The Robin Hood soundtrack – the version with Russell Crowe

Song For Odessa by Spare Rib and the Bluegrass Sauce

Beyond the Night, from the Stargate Atlantis series

Hey Little Girl by Icehouse

And any music from the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies.

Obviously that’s a short list but I don’t want to bore you with more. You get the idea. It used to be, with previous manuscripts, that the music had to be instrumental. Lyrics distracted me as I paid too much attention to the stories within the songs.

But this time the lyrics actually faded somewhat into the background, and in some instances, like Song for Odessa, which is a ballad written for a woman we knew who died in an avalanche, the poignancy and loss in the lyrics added to the story, especially when writing about a character’s loss.

I imagine there are lots of writers out there who need silence to give their story space to be born. Not me though. With the exception of a couple scary scenes where I needed no music in order to hear if anything was creeping through the house, I like that background of music. It pulls up the emotions I need near the surface.

I also imagine this is true for all walks of life, not just for writers. What music do you consider your personal soundtrack?