I don’t know about anyone else, but my short stories always start with a sense. A glimpse, a scent, a phrase overheard, a taste. I used to imagine an eventual book of short stories, grouped by each of the senses. Usually while I’m walking, something will trigger the writing portion of my brain and burrow in. Often I try to ignore it, and over the coming days, weeks, months, I’ll know it’s growing, creating tunnels that connect into a story by the time I sit down to write. This is not my “process” (could I sound any more pretentious?) for full length manuscripts. I am not a careful plotter who creates extensive notes, charts, and detailed outlines, but a full novel needs more than a whiff.
One of these bristle-worms-of-the-brain began creating a space for itself the other day as I walked down the wet subway stairs to wait for the dreaded 6 train. I’m letting it lie, don’t have an actual story for this story yet, but for whatever reason it’s brought up all kinds of old memories.
For me, old memories are pretty much synonymous with old music, the songs and albums I associate with different people and experiences, from jazz to blues to classic rock, from punk to show tunes to folk rock. Anyway, I thought of an old friend I haven’t thought of in years. I can’t remember his full name, but I remember hours of poring over used albums in Academy Records and Bleecker Bobs. He taught me about reggae beyond Bob Marley, and after work I would drag him to the (now mostly gone) hole in the wall folk rock bars of the west Village. We worked with autistic children and teens when autism was still considered a rare disorder, before the definition and diagnosis expanded to a spectrum, and drowning myself in music was the best way to not leave my heart smashed in a million pieces behind the head of a child trying to use his skull like a hammer.
Naturally this led me to youtube, listening to music I haven’t listened to in a long time, including the album below, which I’ve been listening to for the past three days. I know I wore through at least two copies on vinyl and one on cassette, and while I can’t tell you how many years since I last listened, I still remember every word of every lyric. The entire album is beautiful, and some of it is quite dark, but when I was younger it left me hopeful and looking forward. Now it’s got me looking back, time and opportunities lost. This was Joni Mitchell’s debut album (ancient as I am, it was already long released by the time I “discovered” it). For all of her albums that I have owned and enjoyed, and despite the fact that when my birthday comes I associate it with her collaboration with Charles Mingus–their rap/scat of Happy Birthday, this is still my favorite. Song to a Seagull.