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Photo: Austin Green Belt, responsible for most of my songs

For me its like this: I’ll have a little nugget of an idea, and hopefully as soon as possible after that happens, I’ll sit with it until I’ve chased it as far as i can, til my heart and brain don’t have any more.  Then usually starting the next day the romance wears off and there’s the awkward in between phase when reality sets in: I need real lyrics and a form, not just vague emotional ideas.  Its a lot like moving from the honeymoon stage of a relationship to a real day to day intimacy & commitment.  So then i do the actual “work”, the “95% perspiration” – tinker with words for days/weeks/months waiting for it to really feel complete.  Then all in a rush of emotion the right phrase comes out.  The irony of it is without the hard, sometimes boring/frustrating/uninspired work I wouldn’t get the payoff of a finished song worth performing and going back to over and over.  That’s like a relationship too.

I need to be in a quiet space to write.  Being in nature almost automatically opens up my mind.  I walk in the Green Belt here in Austin.  Any chance to be surrounded by trees & dirt is like a signal to my mind & my emotions – “Ok!  Open up now!”  At the very least, I need to be looking at something a new way, even if it’s the same four walls.  It blows my mind how some people can write while the tv is on, or even other music.  Mike June can do this to great effect.  I can’t.  I’m a focus on one thing at a time kind of gal.  Unless it’s driving alone; that’s another time I can let my ideas run free with no one and nothing interjecting.

If I don’t write for a while, I get anxious that I will have forgotten how or that I have nothing useful left to say.  But maybe I should know by now that just living life can lead to creativity.  If you are alive and aware of being alive you probably have something to say.  That’s what I’ve noticed from talking to other people about their lives.  No one is living some kind of perfect existence.  Everyone has highs and lows, struggles, dreams.  No matter how they look on the outside.

Writing is probably the time I feel most alive and real.  I often have a lot of brain noise but when I write it all quiets down because it has a purpose.  That’s probably why I started writing in the first place, to quiet my mind and give the noise some kind of focus.

Recently I started working on a song where at the end I’m dead and just have this feeling of total peace, no struggle, no demons, just total quiet.  Actually I guess that’s how the song ‘Learning Faith’ ends too “I will simply be asleep with nowhere left to go”.  This one ends with “Only one soul rising from me”. I think that’s really my dream in life, to be totally calm.  I feel like I’m getting there slowly, but there’s a part of me that still loves the drama of writing a story.   I feel “heard” by people around me and I am generally happy.  But my friend Havilah says that she believes artists need to suffer.  In a way I think she’s right.  I’m not really sure yet how to resolve the feeling of suffering with the feeling of happiness.  Maybe it’s just that life is suffering but that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy to be here, even if the happiness comes from writing about the suffering!

-jk