Many of the authors I interview compare writing to listening. A regular reader of this page may have noticed me making the comparison myself from time to time. I was reminded of this while watching Aretha Franklin sing Amazing Grace to Oprah Winfrey at the climax of her farewell bonanza. Think of the first lines of that song: Amazing grace/how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me. The sound? Not the action, not even the word—but the sound. But it makes perfect sense to me. We are never guided by anything more directional than a sound. The pleasure of life, of writing, of all creation, is giving that sound form, turning that sound into stories, into businesses, into meals and kisses and conversations. If everything we wanted already had its form, where would be the pleasure in life? The next thing will always be more compelling than the last thing.
Sometimes I find myself in a room full of conversation and I feel as if all I can hear is the sound of disappointment. The needle of conversation becomes stuck on what can’t be made and the failure of what has been made. In my desperation to hear something different, I imagine I am a great singer, and I pull a guitar out of my pocket and I fill the room with a song too beautiful, too joyous, too poignant to resist. I sing the misery away and remind us all why we want to be alive.
Such is the dream of every artist, I suppose. Tune your instrument to me and we shall all be happy. Except it is no business of mine what anyone else is hearing. It is no business of mine how grumpy anyone else might get on their way along the road. My only business is to hear what I am listening for and tune my instrument accordingly. I have never been unhappy while in tune, and it was only while deafened by the sound of my own complaint that I thought I needed to hear something other than what was already playing.
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