An Artist's Story
by Erica Miner
The strains of An American in Paris played through my mind as I drove home from the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center and crossed the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan into New Jersey. It had stopped raining, but I still took note of the slick roads, paying careful attention to the wet patches. I had been rehearsing Gershwin’s masterpiece with the Met Orchestra, and had every intention of practicing my violin part when I got home.
I never made it.
As I was waiting at a traffic signal a mere block away from my house to make the left turn I made each day, a driver speeding along the wet road from the opposite direction raced through the yellow light, crashed into me head on, and sent my car into a frenzied spin. My hands gripped the wheel tightly as I struggled to maintain control, until finally I smashed violently into a curb, wrenching my entire upper body into a whiplashed pain zone.
But what struck fear into my mind most of all? Damage to my hands. They were throbbing painfully, even more than the other parts of my body that screamed at me. Something was terribly wrong.
From the time the violin was placed into my hands at the age of nine, becoming a violinist had seemed to be my destiny. I took to this artistic pursuit as if I had been playing since the womb. But I never lost sight of the fact that I already held another deep love in my creative soul: writing.
Two years before starting the violin, I had been placed in a special afterschool creative writing program. Under the tutelage of a benevolent and caring teacher, I discovered that I absolutely loved to write. A passion for crafting characters, plots, and themes bubbled up from the depths of my child’s soul and consumed me. Then the violin came along, and my two creative loves competed with each other for dominance.
The violin won out, and after years of intense training I ended up in the first violin section of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I kept writing and taking courses on the side, but there was never any doubt in my mind that for the rest of my life, my artistic heart would beat through those ancient, carved pieces of wood that I tucked under my chin.
All of that was taken away in an instant: The hand injuries I suffered in that car accident ultimately spelled the end of my musical career.
After a lengthy period of relentless physical and occupational therapy, during which I tried to satisfy the requirements of my job in the Met Orchestra, I had to admit defeat. My injured hands could no longer keep up with the brutally difficult schedule that my position demanded.
I couldn’t see my way out of my overwhelming feelings of shock, disbelief, anger and despair. I tormented myself with cycles of confused thoughts. What had happened to me? And more importantly, why was this happening to me?
“I just want my life back,” I told my husband.
That was not to be. Gradually I realized I needed to build a new life, with a different artistic raison d’être. How in the world was I going to find one?
Then I remembered the other creative love that was still submerged deep in my psyche, waiting to be reborn.
Once I acknowledged this revelation, my soul began to heal. Writing became my balm, my comfort, even my savior. I started by resurrecting my journals and adding to them, expressing the emotions I had experienced in my worst days after the accident, the ones that had torn me apart. I determined to revive the threads of stories that for years had lain comfortably stored in the recesses of my brain, and turn them into short stories, novels and screenplays. I devoured books on writing and took a course in screenwriting.
I allowed my imagination to run wild. After 21 years of playing and loving opera, I chose one that had absolutely shredded my soul, Massenet’s operatic adaptation of Goethe’s devastating Sorrows of Young Werther, and crafted it into a screenplay. I turned my journals into an award-winning novel. I recreated the unique atmosphere of the Metropolitan Opera in my thriller novel, Murder In The Pit. Music was still my life; only now, instead of performing it, I was writing about it.
The writing life led to that of a lecturer. After publishing my first novel I discovered that no one would read it unless I got out there and talked about it. At my book signings and writers’ group meetings, I discussed my journey from musician to writer and how it came about. I analyzed the processes of journaling and of mystery novel writing and spoke about those. I rediscovered the pleasures of being in front of an audience. My inner performer, which had been silenced but ached to be on stage, came to the surface and smiled once more.
During one talk for a local writers’ group, in which I recounted the steps I had taken in my transition from the life of a musician to that of a writer, I was surprised to find myself overcome with emotion. I suddenly realized that, notwithstanding the new creative life I had developed, I still grieved at about having lost the former love of my life: playing the violin.
One of my fellow writers, who sensed what I was feeling, found me afterward and listened as I expressed how dejected I was.
“You’re on a different path now,” she said.
Her words have stayed with me ever since. That pivotal moment on a slick road, when my life seemed to spin out of control as wildly as the wheel of my car had done, had thrust my creativity into a whole new direction and forced me to acknowledge and embrace the love of writing that had been sleeping for many years.
I am indeed on a different path: one that I am more than happy to follow.