Banjo Song

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Last year, on Ash Wednesday, I started a new writing project “Writing for Lent,” in which I intended to write every day for 40 days. I made it for a week.

This year, I thought, I’ll try it again. I don’t have to write 1000 words a day after all, I can write 100 words. Or five.

And because fate has a wicked sense of humor, the morning started out with an email about a fundraising letter I’d written.  The email included an edited version of the letter with every bit of music stomped right out of it. Obliterated as surely as if the editor had used a hammer on a piece of Limoges.

Not that I’d asked for the letter to be edited, mind you.

So, in the spirit of plaint, I posted rhetorically to Facebook, pondering the mystery of why no one takes professional writers seriously. Because they don’t. Everyone truly believes they can write a book. They can write an article. They can write a sonnet.

And I suppose they can. We are all taught to make one word follow another after all. Surely years of discipline and experience and millions of words arranged on a page count for nothing, right? Because we all can write.

The general consensus of that thread was that I was mean and nasty and horrible to think that professional writers should write unmolested by those who think they have the mandate to fix what the writer wrote.

So I took it down. I almost wrote that I took it down because I love my friends and there is a tiny little granite marble of truth in that statement. But mostly I took it down because it made me feel worse.

No matter how I tried to explain, I couldn’t make myself understood. It didn’t make me feel like much of a writer, I tell you.

And tonight, I wanted to write about how much my life, this series, writing in general and the very business of getting up and lying down again makes me think of banjo music; an endless frenetic loop of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

And it’s not that I hate banjo music. I like banjos. I’m one of those people– banjos, bagpipes, the Mongolian horse fiddle– I like them. They make me feel cheerful. (Ruth, I know you’re gritting your teeth.)

And anyway, it was just a metaphor, but I couldn’t find the structure to make it fit, and it’s late, and there’s still so much to do and pluckpluckpluck twang forward roll. Sometimes that’s just the way it is, on and on and on.

But tomorrow, another piece, perhaps one that will settle into place, orderly and melodic, a way to get in touch, a message more deftly conveyed,  a better song.

And if I’m lucky, one the day after that.





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