Saturday, June 20, 2009

songwriting journal - impetus & inquiry

I love to hear people’s comments about my writing. Granted, it’s not always a fun or easy moment, depending on the feedback. But when you do creative work, and share it with others, then the energy that comes back from the audience needs to be honored, just as much as the energy that brought about the work in the first place. My favorite moment is always hearing from people about their favorite moment. It lets me see how the work grows and continues to develop, even after its been performed, recorded, packaged. It makes me wonder about the listener, and how this one piece resonates with them in a meaningful way. It spurs me on to create more. Some people have a great curiosity about the creative process behind whatever moment has caught their attention. They ask where an idea came from, how it developed, and if they know me, they might ask does it have to do with this person, or that situation. I understand their curiosity, but I also want my audience to experience the work from wherever they are in the moment taking it in, rather than coloring their experience with an inkling of where I was when the work came about. So, sometimes I want to share, and sometimes not so much.

In some cases, I think my answer to curious questions would really spoil all the fun. There is one song I have recorded that has been called a favorite by some listeners. It’s a song about loss, and seems to connect with people on a variety of levels. I hope no one ever asks me about that one. My process with that song was to entertain myself by playing with one particular word in as many ways as I could. Then, I took an old melody that I wrote about 28 years ago, wrote a bridge to create some variety, and slapped it all together. Now, I’m not saying that I have no personal attachment to the song. I do. In fact, a few of the lines offer a glimpse into a particularly deep break in my heart. But overall, the songwriting process on that particular song was very clinical, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the meaning for a curious listener by getting too specific.

In other cases, I am just beginning to explore a particular theme, and have plenty more to say. I may choose to continue the thread in any number of ways. And finally, sometimes the subject matter of my work is very personal. This is, of course, one of the primary conundrums of doing creative work. On the one hand, the impetus for the work comes from deeply personal experiences; moments of meaning the artist may not yet begin to understand themselves. Then, if the work is meant to be shared, come the moments of others shining light into the dark corners, turning it this way and that, and asking how and why. Now, I do not think of myself as a deeply private person. There are not carefully constructed walls around my heart, secret pathways, or smoke and mirrors. It’s pretty much there, on my sleeve, and comes out in my writing, as I work through different levels of meaning and understanding in my life. So, I’m ok with the personal questions for the most part. And if a question does come too close, I can usually find a way to skirt around it for the moment.

What does concern me sometimes is how people I know and love will receive my work. There are times when an isolated event or particular theme is taken out, examined, spun out in a new direction, expanded, explored, prodded, twisted just to see what will happen, and what can be learned in the process. The resulting words no longer resemble what actually happened, the resulting feelings are amplified and enhanced. The words have taken their own path, and I have just followed along taking notes. So, it’s those kinds of things that can cause me to bite my lip and wonder how it all will go over. What will my husband or kids think? How about extended family, an estranged friend, or, as is often the case, an old boyfriend? In my weaker moments, these worries, combined with the wonder of modern social networking, can leave me circling around like a self-conscious tween at a middle school dance. When I’m feeling more at home in my own skin, I know that my task is to listen to intuition, allow impetus the space to unfurl, and allow inquiry to take care of itself.

For all this, I am thankful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Richmond Ride for Kids 2009

If it’s June, then it’s Ride for Kids time again in Richmond. For those new to this phenomenon, let me fill you in a bit - Ride for Kids is an amazing fundraising program in which hundreds of bikers come together, take some kids with brain tumors and their siblings on a great motorcycle ride, and raise thousands and thousands of dollars for pediatric brain tumor research. In short, it’s fun, it’s inspirational, and every ride is another step closer to finding the cure for childhood brain cancer. This year, the Richmond Ride for Kids event raised more than $117,700.00, a record for the Richmond ride, and proof that there are no economic downturns for caring and compassion.

The heroes in this story are many. I’ve already mentioned the bikers. These are folks from all walks of life, with an enthusiasm for motorcycles, who, out of the goodness of their hearts, use their personal passion to make a difference for others. Some of them contribute with a basic registration donation of $35, and others spend all year raising money for kids with brain tumors, rolling into the ride with tens of thousands in donations tucked into their leather saddle bags. Their connections to the issue are varied, but let me tell you, the difference they are making is truly significant.

Ride for Kids events take place throughout the year, in locations all over these United States, and support the efforts of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF). What started as a single event in 1984, organized by one North Carolina couple and their biker friends, has grown and grown, and has enabled the PBTF to become the largest non-government source of funding for pediatric brain tumor research. No kidding. All those bikers, bringing in all those donations from generous friends, neighbors, co-workers, and corporate matching gifts – every one of them is changing the face of this disease. The totals are staggering. In 2008 alone, Ride for Kids helped the PBTF raise it medical research funding commitments by more than $8 million. And while we’re on the subject, let me just note that the PBTF has earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating of 4 stars for five years running. So, if you decide you’d like to contribute, you can trust that your donation will go where it counts.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the army of volunteers and the local sponsors. The Richmond ride has been going now for seven years, and I never fail to be impressed by the number of volunteers lining the registration tables from the wee hours of the morning. And I’m sure I only see a small fragment of the work. Each ride has a local Task Force coordinating details with the national organization, and it all appears to come together seamlessly, with lots of dedication and elbow grease. Ride for Kids events are thoughtful and well organized, a fine opportunity for the volunteer looking to make a difference and have a good experience. A lot of what makes these events run so well comes from the support of local sponsors. I don’t know the details of these arrangements, but I can see that the logistics involved require coordination with groups ranging from the Richmond Times Dispatch (host facility) and the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (ride escorts), to the providers of tents, staging, sound system, and food before and after the ride. Did I mention that Ride for Kids provides food for the participants? My kids and I have now had our monthly allowance of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and a tasty lunch, all compliments of Ride for Kids.

And finally, I must acknowledge the families. That’s my connection, and how my role is defined. My job at Ride for Kids is to provide kids. Two, in particular - one who has experienced a brain tumor, and one who has traveled the compassionate road at her side, both of whom look forward to Ride for Kids with the unbridled passion that only youth can embody. They may be afraid of roller coasters or bees or snakes, but when it comes to donning a helmet and cruising off on the backseat of a huge motorcycle, my kids have no fear! Ride for Kids is a great reward for all of us families, who spend so much time in hospitals and doctor offices, on the phone with insurance and medication providers, and begin each day with a deep breath as we evaluate the challenges, and celebrate the accomplishments in the process of the brain tumor experience. For us, Ride for Kids is just as they call the closing ceremony of the event - a “Celebration of Life” - joyous, fun, and empowering! We are so grateful for everyone who makes these events possible. So, hats off to Ride for Kids and PBTF, to the motorcyclists of the Richmond ride, and I must not forget to offer a special shout-out to the bikers who escorted my kids this year - Butch and Frankie, you’re the best!

Want to get involved? For more information about Ride for Kids and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation go to