Sometimes creation is spurred by a plan, a predetermined action. I’ve found it’s also triggered often by something random. A sound, smell… a picture or image… sometimes a place or setting. All of them have an effect. Music is intense for me. It, sometimes a specific song, transports me into a vivid memory. Songs figure in my writing. What they evoke. How they make me (or my characters) feel. And occasionally it strikes harder than others.
It happened one morning. A song came on my Pandora channel shuffle. The Commodore’s, Sail On. I hadn’t heard it in a while and thought, I’d like to mention it in a story. So, I went to YouTube to find a good quality clip to bookmark. There in the sidebar was listed another Commodore’s song; one I hadn’t heard in two decades, possibly three. The opening chords played, and I felt a rush of feelings. I’d forgotten how much I loved it.
It brought a bittersweet—hard—memory of something from long ago that taught me a valuable lesson about myself and life. I listened to the YouTube clip and wrote a little blog piece for my website. After replaying the clip twice, I went to Amazon, bought the song, and added to my music library. I then looked up the lyrics (I’ll paste a link to them below), if you get a chance, read them and you’ll see how they sparked what I’m writing now. As I sang along to the lyrics, I realized what I felt (about what I was writing) was much more profound than just recalling teenage love.
This was driven home by what I’ve learned over several years of social media observation and what I see there every day. It has shown me how much people (across all nationalities) yearn for certain things. One of them is paramount. It’s occasionally mentioned in jest or sarcastic humor. Sometimes in a too-revealing lament. Often quietly… the kind of statement where you get a sense of the undercurrent in their mind and heart. It’s those non-shouting, simple, words that make me think of what Thoreau said: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.” I have to modernize his thinking to include women. And change to say I’m not sure most humans live that way. I know many of us have felt that in our lives, and thankfully it passed. But I also know some feel this way every day. They want… and worry they’ll never receive or get… they search and hope… and despair and think they’ll never find. And their song is dying.
That’s what leads me to the little memory, the following vignette that came to mind as I heard, Sweet Love… for the first time in a long time:
My senior year of high school a friend and I double-dated to a concert. I got the driving duties but not with my ‘65 Impala. I drove one of the girl’s cars—a red ’72 Pontiac LeMans with a white top (if memory serves)—much nicer than my car. The venue was about an hour’s drive: Highway 70 East out of Hot Springs to I-30 North into Little Rock. On the way, we stopped around Benton to buy beer. This too fell to me as I was the oldest looking and had a proven ability to not get carded in the past. I went in smoking a Swisher Sweets cigarillo (you know it made you look older, right?) and came out with two six-packs of beer. About twenty minutes later we entered Little Rock and pulled into Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant, for dinner.
There I was with one of my best friends, and we’re with two pretty girls. I had scored beer for us, and we all had a buzz on. I was about to eat good Mexican food (I’d have to complement it afterward with a beer left in the car). We were headed to hear some awesome music. [That we were likely to be entirely out of place at the venue—four students from an all-white high school going to see The Emotions, Con Funk Shun, and The Commodores—hadn’t occurred to us. We just wanted to hear and feel the music live.]
What a perfect evening for an 18-year-old boy. I should have been happy.
And at first, I was but as the beer buzz had come on me… I wasn’t.
I liked the girl I was with; she was a sweet and lovely girl. But you see, I wasn’t with whom I wanted. My friend was.
We finished dinner and headed to Barton Coliseum. It was sold out… all the seats filled and a seething mass of people on the floor of the arena. At ground-level, midway to the stage, we were in the thick of it. The lights lowered and the music rose. Everyone was moving. You could see the ripple of rhythm spread over the crowd. No worries—the aroma of weed around us perfumed the air—everyone was grooving to the sounds.
My friend and I held our dates in front of us; arms around, holding them close, swaying on some songs and bump-moving on others.
I should have been in heaven. If I’d have let myself, I would have just enjoyed the moment and the feel of blue-jeaned female flesh pressed against me. Instead, I was in my own, self-inflicted, private torment. I watched my friend holding her—the other girl—the way I wished I was.
By the time it ended, I was cold-angry and when like that, I’m my quietest. My friends probably sensed it as we returned to Hot Springs. I picked up my car and drove my friend home as the girls continued on in hers. That night, because of how I let myself feel, was spoiled, and it was all my fault. The next school day I found the girl I’d taken and apologized; I owed her that for my stony silence after the concert.
Life moved on. That moment became long gone but not entirely forgotten. I had years more of living and learning about love. And about how we can control in life much of what we think is beyond our control.
That living and learning is why I write these vignettes; how I’ve learned from past events… from those memories. They are letters to my daughters. A way to show them I know what it feels like to love… to lose… to hurt. I want them to understand despite the pain, the times of despair… that life takes the perspective learned from those experiences to see things clearly. When you’re new to the hurt and lost feeling of being alone or have no one or nothing to shake you from the aching numbness… this can be hard to grasp.
I see so many people that seem to suffer in solitude. They need to know if something’s not working or they lack something or someone… to push through and beyond that circumstance… to find what they want. To believe they will find what they need. That’s what keeps you going. There’s a moment in my short story Wings that captures perfectly what I’ve learned about that from life. I will share it here because it’s apt and relevant:
Not wanting to give her pity that would hurt more than her cuts and abrasions, he said. “In my life,” stretching his legs he stood with a groan and a crackling of joints. “I thought I was trapped between what had happened and what could never be.”
He looked at her across the fire, the flames dance of light and shadow on the stone wall, as she sat with her head down. He turned his back to the fire and looked out into the night. “The road seems so much longer when we have no dreams to believe. And we have no destination… life has no purpose.” He heard the steady sound of water running down the mountain and knew it would wear away more rock. “It stayed that way until I decided one day to walk and not stop until I found what I sought.”
Turning around he stepped back to the fire and could see she was now watching him.
“Have you found it?”
“Not yet.” He could hear the yearning in his own voice.
“Why do you go on then?”
“Because.” He smiled at her knowing what only comes from experience. “Because I deserve to find what I’m looking for.”
That thing—that subject I mentioned earlier that’s paramount to most of us—is love: someone to love that loves us back… and maybe to learn how to love ourselves. People look for love. Most deserve to find it.
I want whoever reads this to know everyone—at times—goes through hard shit and the feeling they’ll never find love or be loved. But if you close off that part of you—the belief that the love you want does not exist—you’ll never find it. Be willing to live, knowing love is out there, and you can find what you want. Only a little over four years after that night… at that concert… when I felt so angry and alone… I met the girl I’ve been with for over three and half decades (as of this writing).
I’ll close with this from the song… (link to the lyrics):
‘Cause I want you, and you, you, you, you, you, you, you you and you
To stand on up, yes sir
Put a little love in your heart
And little heart in your love
Together we can make a way…
Epilogue (to the vignette above):
Ten years after my high school graduation I wasn’t able to attend our class reunion late summer of 1988. I sent a letter about it to one of my friends. Feeling nostalgic, in the message I shared things I’d never said to anyone. I told him about back then how much I was in love with one girl. The girl I had enrolled in French and Physics (not required to graduate, but I labored through them) just because she was in those classes. The girl I’d never asked out. I told him of how special the few moments of being close to her were. I recounted how I felt at a French Club event at the University of Arkansas (Little Rock campus) where she and I performed a skit, Reynard the Fox, in French. Again, something I would never have done but for an opportunity to be near her. After the skit, we watched Cocteau’s 1946 film Beauty and the Beast. There weren’t enough seats available, so I sat at a desk with her on the desktop leaning against me, my arms on either side of her thighs. The fragrance and the feel of her almost drove me wild. It was sublime; an exquisite, aching, eternity that ended too soon. I was so confused by it I left my father’s cane—a prop used in the skit—there and got my ass chewed out when I got home.
And so, my friend, as all good friends will do… read that letter to my classmates the night of the reunion. That evening I got a call. It was my friends, half-drunk. “Man, who knew you could write like that,” they said. Then, “Someone wants to talk to you…” I heard the pay phone drop to swing and bang against the wall. The next voice was hers.
“I heard what you wrote. Why didn’t you ever ask me out?”
I told her the truth. I was scared she wouldn’t go with me… and instead of risking that pain, I loved her silently. Then it got old-phone-line quiet… the kind with just a hint of background hiss and noise.
“I wish you had,” she said.
You know screwing up hurts. We pay for our mistakes and move beyond them. But there’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older… and it’s like a snowball growing and rolling downhill as you hit your 50s. Regrets, God how they hurt most of all. Thankfully I have very, very few. But on the phone, so long ago, I felt it pierce me and decades later—still remembering it’s sting—used that as the reason behind my short story, Ask for the Dance. So, I’ve learned that pain too, can inspire creativity.
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Dennis Lowery is a writer, ghostwriter, author and founder and president of Adducent, Inc. (established in 2000). Adducent is a creative company that provides writing, story and book development and publishing services. It assists individuals and organizations with their writing needs and finds, develops, writes, ghostwrites and publishes stories and books with compelling and positive messages that are entertaining, enlightening, informative and enjoyable to read. Adducent and its founder believe in Cause-Based™ stories and not just nonfiction, fiction stories work equally well—sometimes even better—to present a compelling message. Adducent works with clients internationally, and several have appeared on PBS NewsHour, 60 Minutes and MSNBC (not to mention other TV and radio shows nationally and in their local markets).