Friday, August 12, 2011

I Ain't Changed, But I Know I Ain't the Same

Music comes and goes from my life-- sometimes little more than background noise, other times providing much needed creative inspiration. I go through musical phases-- times when I will pop in a favorite CD and listen to it again and again... for months. Or times when I discover a new (or old) favorite singer and have to listen to every song they ever recorded. Or times when a friend will turn me on to a new song outside my usual musical tastes and I will find myself being immersed in a whole new world.

Post-baby #1, I spent a lot of time listening to music. I needed a break from the usual household noises, which were either total silence or heartbreaking infant wails. It was winter, my husband was deployed and it was just the babe and me. There were days when the lyrics to the songs I played were the only adult voices I heard.

When I finally recovered from delivery, sleep deprivation and postpartum depression and started writing again-- writing more than emails and blog posts, I mean-- I turned to music for inspiration. The first story I wrote after I had Patrick was based on the song "One Headlight" by The Wallflowers.

I listened to "One Headlight" again and again, finding inspiration in the lyrics and Jakob Dylan's haunting voice. The story that song inspired took forever to write-- it felt like I was learning the language all over again. But after a couple of weeks, I finally had a finished piece of fiction-- my first in several months. "Here in Between" wasn't an easy story to write, but it is (I think) one of my best. That story, written in the snippets between Patrick's feedings and naps in early 2010 appears in Rachel Kramer Bussel's new anthology Obsessed: Erotic Romance for Women.

The time frame when I was writing "Here in Between" seems so long ago-- another lifetime, when I was shell shocked and lost in my new life as a mother. I read it now and feel like I'm reading it for the first time:

He stares at the blank television while I stare at his profile. He has a nice face, a kind face. I wonder what his name is, but I don’t ask. I contemplate him and puzzle over it. He’s from New York, so it’s not some country name. They might call him Buddy down here in Tennessee, but his given name is something different, I decide. Something serious. Henry, maybe. Or Luke. Maxwell or Nathan, possibly.

I realize suddenly that he’s watching me watch him. He smiles again, softly. Tiredly. There is a scar at the corner of his lip, only about half an inch long, but wide enough that it looks taut and silvery against his tan. It must have hurt, whatever cut deep enough to leave a scar like that. I want to lean over and kiss that flaw on an otherwise perfect mouth.

There’s nothing stopping me. Nothing but a few inches of bed and a glass of whiskey that’s almost gone already.

He sees me coming and meets me halfway. Then he stops.

“This is one of those moments,” he says, staring at my mouth. “Those in between moments.”

I think he must be drunk already. “What are you talking about?”

“You know, the time after one thing, but before another.”

I consider what he means. “Like, for me, after I left San Diego, but before I arrive in New York.”

He smiles big, nodding. His hair flops down over his forehead, making him look rakish. “Yeah. You get it. We’re here in between two things.”

“I guess.” I might have understood what he meant, but that didn’t mean I understood where he was going with it.

“This is a powerful moment,” he says. “It’s like the moment before your tire went flat. One minute you thought you knew your path, the next minute—“ He waved his hand in the air as if clearing smoke. “Your whole path was changed.”
“And if I kiss you?” I ask, because I really want to understand. “Does that put me on a new path?”'

He contemplates my question, then nods. “Yeah, though you may not think so here in between before the kiss and after.”

I laugh. “You act like it’s a given I’m going to kiss you.”
His smile fades and he looks at me, his dark eyes heavy-lidded. It could be sleep or lust. Lust, I think. Or maybe that’s my own conceit talking.

“It is,” he says. “It was a given the minute your tire when flat. That in between moment led to this one. This one will lead to the next one.

"Et cetera," I say. Or try to say. All I manage is "Et" before his lips are on mine.

Seeing those words in this shiny new anthology is a bit surreal-- did I really write that? The phrase "here in between" comes from the lyrics of the song:

I'm so alone, and I feel just like somebody else
Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same
But somewhere here in between the city walls of dyin' dreams
I think her death it must be killin' me

The idea of being between things-- caught in the middle of something-- hit home for me. I'd put aside writing to come to terms with the responsibilities of motherhood and I was feeling lost in that foreign place. I turned to music to comfort me and these lyrics, played over and over again, inspired me to find my way back to writing.

Hey, come on try a little
Nothing is forever
There's got to be something better than
In the middle
But me & Cinderella
We put it all together
We can drive it home
With one headlight

Nothing is forever. This wasn't the first song to inspire a story, nor will it be the last. But in some ways it was the most important, because it brought me back from depression and exhaustion and reminded me that no matter what else was going on in my life-- no matter how little sleep I was getting or how overwhelmed I felt caring for a newborn alone-- I was still a writer.