Write clear and hard about what hurts – Ernest Hemingway
San Francisco pianist/songwriter/all around great guy Tom showed me some of his writing exercises prompted by my fellow instructor at the Writer’s Retreat of San Buenas, author Ezekiel Tyrus, who was kind enough to invite me to the party as an honored guest. He had jotted down this famous quote at the top of the page, to further help guide him through his inner safari, surrounded by the lush tropics of Costa Rica.
Zeke’s approach with our pupils was much more structured than mine, since his workshops focused more on the daily creative process, which is essential if a writer actually wants to write, not just think or talk about it.
Rumination can lead to illumination, but it can also lead to ruination. You want to be a writer? Write.
And even amid all that tropical flora and fauna, interspersed with field trips to the beach and jungle, the writers of San Buenas wrote, and wrote, and wrote. We had fun too, lots of laughs. But a few tears as well. The whole emotional package. Otherwise our resulting work – any writer’s work - would be very dull and monochromatic, wouldn’t it?
Remembrance of Things Past…
Tom read some of his work aloud during the workshops, and beyond the elegance of his prose – which was obviously influenced by his natural ear for music – what struck me most was the sheer honesty of his voice.
Here’s a sample, a mini-memoir, published here with his permission. It evokes a particular time and place in his life, inspired by a song, and while it was an assignment in Zeke’s workshop, it also incorporates my own more esoteric but essential themes of “Dreams, Memories, and Imagination”…
1971, Suburban Detroit.
I was 15 and in 11th grade. McCartney = a year or less post-Beatles – was singing “Another Day.” It was definitely a Spring Fever kind of day. Although not really warm enough, it was the type of day where I’d go out in a T-shirt and shorts because the unseasonal temperature was such a welcome respite from the brutality of winter. These unusual types of days would literally make me high. I borrowed my mother’s car – a Chevrolet Monte Carlo – and headed for the metropolitan outskirts, where the roads were still unpaved. The radio was on and as always the windows all rolled down. I smoked a joint and got stoned on top of my natural high. The music was on full blast as I hurtled down the dusty, gravelly roads. Gusts of fresh air cleansed and caressed me, while leaving clouds in my wake. The very thought of Paul McCartney and Wings “doo doo doo doo doo doo-ing” always takes me to this precise snapshot in time. Fro whatever reason, in that instant I felt exquisitely, ecstatically carefree. Perhaps it was because my personal winter – my junior high school years, the absolute worst period of my life - was permeated with oppressive loneliness and self-loathing – was officially behind me. It was one of the happiest, most joyous, most present moments of my life. It was not just another day.
Basically, this is a poetic piece triggered by a buried sense-memory, a la Marcel Proust. The simplicity as well as the candor displayed here are both matched by Tom’s personal bravery in sharing it with the general public. These are key attributes we must all strive for as authors, boasting the courage of our own creativity, providing total strangers access to our innermost desires, hopes and fears. This is what makes readers want to pay to read our work: because it elevates their spirits as well, perhaps inspiring them to mine their own minds for inspiration. Otherwise we’d just be singing in our own showers.
After reading this to the group, Tom claimed he hadn’t written any prose in 25 years. Now, after decades successfully devoted to his music, he felt reinvigorated as a literary craftsman.
The moral? You’re never too old, or accomplished, to expand your artistic horizons.
Tom’s many upcoming appearances include gigs at Martuni’s, Society Cabaret, and Feinstein’s. If you live in the Bay Area, check out Tom’s busy schedule here.
Tell him Will the Thrill sent you.
PHOTO: NICK HALVERSON