Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Words and Feelings, in Writ and Melody

After the Grammys the other week, all the news was of singer and songwriter, Adele.  Adele had vocal chord hemorrhage last fall, had laser surgery for her condition in November, and gave her comeback performance the night of the Grammys singing "Rolling in the Deep."  Not only that, Adele won awards in all of the six categories for which her work was nominated.

Wow!  What a voice.   I've heard a number of her songs on my Jar of Hearts station on Pandora, and am always captivated.

After the Grammys, during all the Adele publicity, my friend, Tom R. posted  on facebook a Wall Street Journal article called "Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker."   The author of the article attempted to explain, in a scientific way, why some songs are more likely than others to pull at our heartstrings.

I was reminded of this this morning on my way home from my morning exercise excursion at a neighbor's house.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.   I had to exercise alone today, because of a transportation mix-up getting the kids to school this morning.  I was approaching Lana's from the west just as Connie's vehicle was leaving, pulling out of her driveway to the east.  The other ladies were done and I was just arriving, so I knew I would not have any company this morning.

As I was spending time on the treadmill, I began to be plagued by the boredom that generally sets in for me during solitary indoor exercise.  "Time to use that imagination, Mary.  Find something with which to occupy your brain."  Hmmm.  Various ideas flitted through my head.  I wished I had my mp3 player.  Or a radio.  Or my laptop with a wi-fi connection so I could finish listening to that lecture in the free Hillsdale College class I signed up for.

Since the treadmill I was using faces the window, which looks out upon a little bit of snow-covered yard between the house and the woods, I decided to engage in a writing exercise, while the treadmill demanded exertion of a different sort from my body.  I've occasionally bemoaned the fact that I am not a good photographer.  I often see things that are visually rich or emotionally compelling.  But when I try to capture such an image, or the feeling it draws forth, with a photo, it always falls short.  I usually find I have better success painting pictures with words and phrases.  But it takes practice and work.  So it's not unusual for me to see something during my daily life, and spend some time thinking about how best to capture such an image with words.

With this challenge of capturing images with words in the front of my mind, I looked out the window at the snowy and blustery landscape.  I made myself notice the details.  I concentrated on all those little things that we don't generally have time to think about consciously, but which get into the periphery of our minds.  I made myself think of ways to describe what I saw, using engaging turns of phrase and descriptive language to paint a picture with words.

Most of what I pondered today as I treaded and watched, is not worthy of remembering.  Just images and ideas.  But there was one scene that challenged me.  I couldn't find just the right words while I was there, but I'm going to try to work it out here.  
As I gazed upon the snowy woods, I caught a stir of movement out of the corner of my eye.  A patch of deep golden color skittered into the whiteness of the scene.  A dry leaf caught up in the winter wind.  The wind had not yet captured the leaf completely.  It traveled across my view in a hesitant manner, sliding forward a few inches at a time, only to get hung up on something that forced its stop. The snowfield that looked smooth and glossy apparently held obstacles that remained undetected to my eye.

I continued to watch as the leaf made its way across the snow.

Slide and stop.  Slide a little.  And then stop again.  Hesitant.  Fluttering slightly in the wind.  Tipping upward in a teasing sort of manner, only to settle back down against the snow.  Then slowly sliding forward again.

Until suddenly, with a jolt and a tumble, as quickly as it had entered my line of sight, the leaf was gone in a rush of wind.  Up into the air, end over end.  It floated into the trees, and was lost to sight among the gray trunks of the poplars.
As I drove home, I was still lost in my world of words.  Vocabulary and phrases.  Word pictures.  How to breathe life into mere words, to portray a scene as visually rich and constantly changing as life itself?
The black line of the winter road led me forward into the vast whiteness that is winter here in Northern Minnesota.  The view seemed to stretch forever.  The blackness of the highway was broken here and there.  Unsettled.  A blur of whiteness above the black.  When the lay of the adjacent land allowed, the whipping winds lifted the loose snow from the fields.  It hovered along the ground, in a swiftly moving cloud.

As I passed the woods which surround Glen V's farm, I approached a ford.  A snow ford.  One of those spots where the writhing cloud of snow had found a suitable place to cross the highway.  Just as travelers in the old days sought out the best place to cross a river, so too the blowing snow finds its favorite places to ford the impasse which we call a roadway.

The drifting snow seemed to rise up to threaten me as I passed.  It billowed across the road in a thick whirl.  A drift was growing at the side of the road, building a ridge along the highway that would soon stretch across the road, first in little fingers, and then finally, in a thickened mound.
I was plucked suddenly from my world of words.  A haunting strain of music trickled from the car radio.  I heard the opening cadences of the song and instantly felt a beautiful sort of melancholy pull at my heart.  I don't know that I've ever heard Alan Jackson's "Remember When," before.  But as the combination of music and lyrics toyed with my emotions, I recalled that article about music and emotions, Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker.  I don't have the musical skills to easily analyze "Remember When," according to the tear-jerker rubric described in the article.  But I do know that whatever combination of musical techniques that song employs, it works for me.  It got me...right...right...right there.

I may play around with words.  I may try to be interesting and compelling and vivid.  I may even imagine I succeed a little bit.  But I will probably never be able to make my words work like the poetry in this song spins its magic in combination with the musical strains.

My favorite line, by the way, "Remember when the sound of little feet was the music we danced to week to week."

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