July 20, 2018
The first professional writer I ever met was Ray Bradbury, when he was a guest professor at Cal State Fullerton and my 8th grade English class got to visit him after a lecture. (I’d corresponded with him once before that – when I was 11, I learned that the author of my beloved Nancy Drew series, ‘Carolyn Keene’, wasn’t really a person but a pseudonym used by a different writers assigned by the publisher to follow strict outlines. I was devastated, so I wrote to Bradbury, my other favorite author, hoping that the same thing wasn’t true of him. I got back a lovely handwritten notecard, saying “Don’t worry, I’m real!” At that point I became a fan of him as a person as well as for his books.)
When Bradbury was asked the inevitable question about what he’d advise aspiring writers, he didn’t give the expected cliches (‘Write what you know’, ‘follow your passion’, or what I imagine Hemmingway et al. would’ve said, ‘drink heavily and shack up with someone who can type’). Instead, he said to write every day, for a set amount of time, and know that most of it would be garbage, but at least you’d have something you could edit. (I want to distill this into a viral catch phrase, like Michael Pollan’s sensible dietary advice, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” – something like “Write daily, mostly crap, then edit”. Yeah, that needs editing itself . . .)
Bradbury’s advice has been essential in doing weekly songs, but sometimes I need a little extra boost, especially when it comes to covering difficult subjects, and that’s where being an itinerant musician gives me odd but wonderful inspiration, like this week. I fill in occasionally as a pianist at the church where my husband is the cantor. (When we got married, my family found that extremely confusing – “Wait, he’s a cantor, but he’s Catholic?”) I’ll be covering for the music director’s sabbatical all summer, which chops up my weekends and is a lot of churchiness for this nice Jewish girl, but I’m grateful for the work, I get to do music with my husband, and it’s a lovely, welcoming community with lots of liberal parishioners, some of whom are fans of my music.
This past weekend, one of them asked me whether I’d come up with a song about the migrant children at the border, and I said I was too angry to find any humor in the situation. But as I played through the mass parts and thought about being Jewish, the line “I’m a Jew but I know that ain’t Christian” popped into my head, and suddenly I knew how to make it funny by satirizing the hypocrisy of citing the Bible in defense of the horrible policy. So my version of Michael Pollan’s line might be something like ‘Write regularly, Mostly Crap, and Trust Inspiration Comes In Weird Places’ (not quite as pithy, but it’s working for me!)