[The following is reposted from the Rabbit Room, where you can read a much longer excerpt.]
You mumble a phrase. It’s gibberish, but it suggests a melody. You’ve gotten melodies in your head before, but this one feels different, like it’s made of something stronger and older. You notice this because you’re able to repeat it, and you like it, and you sing it again and again, enough times that you pull out your phone and record it. As soon as you get it down, you forget about it and move on.
Skip ahead a few days. Now you have your guitar in your lap. Fear and self-doubt are taunting ghosts at either shoulder. You try to find some combination of chords that doesn’t sound like everything else you’ve ever played, or everything everyone else has ever played. But after twenty minutes you’re sick of yourself and your guitar and the weather and your lack of talent. Then with a thrill of hope you remember that voicemail message you left yourself in the moment of mumbled inspiration. You listen to the voicemail, and you’re disappointed. It’s not terrible, but it’s missing whatever magic it had before. With nothing else to do, you try and find the chords that the mumbling melody wants. You play it through on the guitar a few times in standard tuning, key of G—the same four chords you learned when you were in eighth grade. Then you capo it up and try it with a different voicing. You happen upon a little pull-off with your index finger, a slightly different way of playing the same old chord. That sparks a melody that suits the gibberish a little better, and like a dying man in the desert who discovers a cactus, you get just enough juice to keep crawling. “O God,” you pray, “I’m so small and the universe is so big. What can I possibly say? What can I add to this explosion of glory? My mind is slow and unsteady, my heart is twisted and tired, my hands are smudged with sin. I have nothing—nothing—to offer.”
Write about that.
“What do you mean?”
Write about your smallness. Write about your sin, your heart, your inability to say anything worth saying. Watch what happens.
And so, with a deep breath, you strum the chords again…
Andrew’s first foray into nonfiction, Adorning the Dark, a book about the interweaving of faith, community, and creative work, releases October 15. We’ll be hosting book discussions here at the Great Library starting October 28. If you’d like to participate, you can preorder your copy right here. For a free download of a new song featured in the book, click here once you’ve preordered.