I write because I love music. To me they are the same thing. I'm not exactly sure when I had my "words = music" epiphany; nor can I remember the book. What I do remember was becoming conscious of the fact that I was "hearing" what I was reading.
The words were so beautifully strung together that I could count out the beat. I knew when to take a deep breath before diving into the next sentence, the next paragraph; when to let my shoulders roll languorously on the perfect phrase. And now, I know I'm onto something if I can "hear the music" when I begin to read. I'm not sure how to explain it in a way that will do it justice, but here goes.
If you've read Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon" you must have heard it. That low hum, the deep and barely perceptible throb of the music spilling into the street from the speakeasy on Saturday night. The wiggly and discordant jazz that swoops and swells when the more than slightly unbalanced young woman begins to speak her mind. The tympanic power of the fathers rage. Surely you heard the hushed gospel choir whose chant is the background music of the entire book. Their sound reminds me that I am witnessing something so huge and so powerful that it will take me days to get it out of my mind.
In "We Need To Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, I struggled to find the tune. I nearly put the book down until I realized that I was listening/reading for music; but was hearing quietly whispered white noise, sotto voce hyperventilation, the muttering of unbridled fear. I tucked myself in and was swept away by the rhythm of her solitary terror. And when the music stopped abruptly and the cymbals crashed (just once) revealing all...I kid you not, I was so shaken that I had to take a walk around the block.
Now, I can carry a tune in something a little larger than a bucket, but I cannot read music, can't play an instrument. With words, I don't need to. I sometimes sway as I write. I conduct as the the words float around in my head, trying to find the moment at which they will land on the page just so.
If I'm lucky, and if I really do my job - you might sway as you read them too.
Originally published on OpenSalon 3/12/10. Revised 11/19/10