Last night, my dad and my sister presented me with a new guitar they had made as a belated birthday present. My dad did the assembly and staining, and my sister did the woodburned artwork. The photos don’t do it justice, but she took kind of a “collage” approach, including images of many things that are important to my life — my pets, unicorns, books, and on the back, Rapunzel. Even my guitar is telling me there’s no excuse not to get back to writing that thing! (Well, except taking time to write about my guitar. That seems like a good excuse.)
After my family went home, I pulled out my old journal where I’d written songs back in 2003 – 2006. Paging through it, I liked seeing some of the songs I’d forgotten about. The notebook is sort of a time capsule of some of my most defining experiences while I lived in Duluth, and I was so glad I had written them down. Just seeing the lyrics in my messy handwriting brought me back to that huge apartment with the shiny linoleum floors, and all that sunlight coming in through the windows.
But I was somewhat dismayed to find that, except in the earliest songs (incidentally, the ones that I don’t think are as good), I didn’t write down the chord progressions — just the lyrics. I remember that back when I used to play regularly, I had all the songs I’d written memorized, as well as a handful of songs I hadn’t written. So I “assumed” I’d just always know my own music. I wish I hadn’t made that assumption! If only I had foreseen that, in the future, I’d go three years without even touching my guitar — but that one day I’d want to play those songs again, and share them with my husband. Now, I have to do my best to relearn the chords based on my memory of how the songs were supposed to sound, and I’m cursing my laziness in the midst of the initial creative bursts!
All of this drives home to me the importance of writing things down if we really want to hold onto them. Heck, it’s thanks to the written word that we’re able to know as much as we do know about the past, and historians often find themselves wishing our ancestors had bothered to write more. Another mistake I made was in not dating the songs. Although I have a rough idea about when they were written based on content, I wish I had the exact dates there, since, especially without the chords written down, they’re almost just glorified journal entries. Someday when I’m famous, my biographers are going to be frustrated by this lack of foresight on my part as they comb through my various written ephemera. 😉 (I just finished reading Lyndall Gordan’s absolutely amazing biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, which includes the difficulty of dating some of Emily’s undated poetry and letters, which is why that detail stuck out — not because I’m so conceited that I think that’s actually going to be an issue, I swear.)
As a writer, the most important thing I can do is write. One of my pet peeves is people who think of themselves as writers because “they have their whole story all planned out in their heads.” That’s the easy part; you’re not a writer until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Before that, all you’ve got is thoughts — and we’ve all got plenty of those.
I can at least be grateful that I wrote down as much as I did, and made tapes of the songs (somewhere) that I should be able to dig up and listen to for reference. So, now I have one more endeavor to add to my endless list of creative goals. When can I retire, again?