I wonder where it comes from. I wonder where we gather up the strength and energy to sound like ourselves. The air and the vibrations and the originality and the message. We are forever sending out our voice to be heard and I wonder where it all comes from.
The crowd grew tonight as the warm spring evening turned dark. I stood behind my table lined with cds and t-shirts, watching them all and dancing along to the rhythm of it, even letting some of the movement find its way out. This band of five men poured from themselves this sound that drew people together. It rolled and swayed and sped along and they spoke in their own way, through their own hands and mouths and feet, and grabbed everyone that was near.
And they danced. All of the people danced to this sound. Beer in plastic cups rippled at the ends of arms with bent elbows attached to playful shoulders. Grey hair rocked back and forth along to subtle changes in time signature. Legs in lawn chairs bounced. Mothers and daughters held hands and twirled. Children were compelled to jump and run. And the faces smiled. I watched their eyes as they all searched for where this sound was coming from. This thing that these guys were creating spoke and moved people and affected them.
The walls of our house hear sounds, too, the rattle of a thousand voices. These voices come just from the four of us, painting scenes and washing them away as quickly as they seem to form. A little girl cues her big sister with a look or a nudge, egging her on. The younger girl demands the spotlight now. The big sister then colors the walls with the sound of exasperation and reaction. The scene turns to a chorus of two, operatic in its volume and conflict. I tear out page after page of my script and perform my lines with limited talent but with enthusiasm, sometimes probably a little too much. I play the roles that seem necessary for that act and receive mixed reviews. Often I wonder if the audience is even paying attention. The mom sings beautifully, always measured and with great passion. She, too, has her critics among the crowd, though.
And voices also call from our kitchen. Little voices, mostly those of plants, sing together as I conduct. The smell of their songs flow through the house. They are love songs and, while not masterpieces, they sound sweet and whole. Layers are assembled and minor changes become major keys to the effectiveness of the piece. It doesn’t always go right, but that is what rehearsal is for. If a composition is particularly bad, the dog isn’t as artistically discerning and is always willing to help out. When it does come out as I heard it in my head, there are few greater feelings than to play it for my family and watch them devour my creation.
I write for a lot of reasons, I guess. It is a way for me to flesh out thoughts onto a page, to process them and to give them more than the fleeting life they might otherwise have. I write to communicate those ideas in ways a spoken word can’t. Perhaps those ideas could gain permanence and inspire reflection, or even thoughtful contradiction. I do it because I love to play with words. I love to watch them dance with each other and trip and find their way back together. I write because there is something somewhere in me that has to. I write because it is my art.
And I write for me. But I also write for you.
I have always looked at art as having two different faces – one seen by the artist and one seen by the audience. The artist creates from personal inspiration and may or may not intend a specific meaning. The audience, then, interprets the piece from their own perspective. In the end, there may be no connection between the two in how the piece looks, sounds, feels, smells or tastes. This is the nature of art.
Life is art. Everything we do everyday can be our sculpture, living our lives as art. The band can play a song; the child can paint their moment and everything around them with their energy and action; the parent can mold their children with their words; the cook can compose a symphony of flavors. And the writer can write about it all.
Then, once that art is lived it is, at least partially, handed off, forever relinquished to the rest of the world to be judged. But part of it does stay behind. The part that gave the art substance and made it mean something in the first place. The part that made it authentic. The part that made it matter. That is the part with a voice. And that voice must clearly be the artist’s.
And I wonder where it comes from. Where do we look to find our voice, whether it be the voice of a musician or parent or cook or writer? And when do we know when we have found it?
I will continue listening for my voice. I hear it sometimes. I hear it when it hopes my words will be soft or silent and exchanged for a hug. I hear it when it tells me that repetition works and run-on sentences and sentence fragments are equally valuable. Or when it talks about the smell of cumin and cooking onions. I hear it when it sounds funny or somber or poetic. And I hear it when it tells me that it will all be ok, that I shouldn’t take it all so seriously and that semi-colons aren’t the devil’s plaything.
And I hear it whispering “Art is life. Life as art.” And I think I know what it means.