Sunday, March 17, 2013

The stuff of Beethoven: Composing a story


I read a quote this week on a *blog, comparing the artistic methods of two brilliant composers, Mozart and Beethoven.  Beethoven, it read, wore his emotions, so to speak, in his music.  When he was angry, the music betrayed this.  Mozart, on the other hand, though enduring a life full of pain, escaped into music and created beauty that transcended his circumstances.  In other words, no one could have known, judging by his music, that he was in pain.  

I've got to be honest, this quote touched upon a nerve.  More so, the implication.  It's highly likely I'm being overly sensitive, maybe even defensive, because it's not that I don't love and admire art (and lives) that rise above suffering in expression of beauty.  On the contrary, I find this inspiring.  It's that I know I'm more like a Beethoven.  I escape into my writing, not to escape pain, but to work through it and embrace the messiness of the unfolding story.  Sensitive or not, the quote made me feel that my way of artistic expression is less than beautiful or transcendent.  

I don't know why I care.

Oh, but I do.  I care, because I write raw.  When my life is full of grief, I either work it out in my writing or remain silent.  I hunger as a writer of redemptive stories to thread hope in the raw, to piece together a trail of truth and beauty in the unfinished middle of messiness.  And I don't know how well I live up to that.  Some days, the writing is too dark to see the thread.  Other days, the thread glows golden.  I am still figuring this out, and that, I fear, is the dilemma as a writer: I always risk being a little off.  

And I care, because having walked through the grief of losing one of the closest people in my life, I heard this message all too often, in subtle ways.  The ways our culture praises people who are "strong" in tragedy and loss, who don't seem to skip a beat in life because they keep pressing on, scarcely slowing down to let the grief sink in.  The ways our churches can gloss over pain with sermons and smiles and hands lifted high in worship, elevating the stories of those who "overcome" and testify the happy ending without ever sharing the dark shadow of suffering.  The message shot through to my heart then and it continues to touch a nerve now: Don't let people know what's really going on inside.  

The problem is, I lived like that for twenty-seven years and I'm still picking up the pieces of the dam that finally exploded when I couldn't hold it in any longer.  Folks, we're not dams. That's sure as hell not the kind of writer I want to be.  But that doesn't make me any less appreciative of Mozart.

It's not really about one or the other, though, right?  Transcending or channeling pain.  Each is a different stroke of the brush, and in a world this large, we have room for both.  We need both Mozarts and Beethovens, in all manners of art, in all manners of living out these stories that we inhabit.  And perhaps we will even be both, in different seasons of life. 

There's a balance here, somewhere, I know.  Except I doubt it plays out on a scale capable of ever holding a perfect balance.  Why would I even want to?  I can't recall a single word from Christ that implies, "Blessed are the balanced..."  I tilt to the side, one or the other, forward or back, and need the gentle adjustments of the Spirit.  It is accountability, and it is grace; for surely, I do not walk the upright path always in my writing.  I lean.

And I lean into this itching underneath my skin, the real issue at hand: Am I ok?  Is this level of raw really ok, or even helpful, to any other soul on this journey through the messy middle?  Or is it, as another **writer described recently, a case of "oozing unhealed rawness."  Because, Lord knows, these wounds do ooze from time to time, here in this space where I strip naked my soul.  But sometimes, the healing comes in the act of creation that writing is.  This choice of cleaning out the wound before writing or writing the still-being-healed places so that others may know the full picture as it's unfolding, and not just the story looking back from a safe distance - I'm miles from figuring it out.  

So, in this place, if you hear in my voice the rise and fall of grief and joy, hope and despair, doubt and faith, smooth and jagged edge, and it speaks to your soul, you're in good company.  If all is carried on the notes of grace, turns out there can be beauty here, too.

. . . . . . . . . . . . 

* My intent is not to argue this quote, but use it as a way of exploring another way of understanding art.  I appreciate the point the author of this post made through the example in the quote.
** This is not to assume this writer intended her words as I took them; only, that they caused me to reflect on the level of rawness present in my writing and what is actually beneficial. 


  1. hear me? clapping and cheering at the screen? yes! yes! yes!
    i've spent too long being a dam, too. and i almost drowned in it. *this* is what i love about you, Amber. i actually feel like i KNOW you here. not just the put-together you, but the real stuff of real life and real pain. kinda reminds me of some other messy stories we all know well -- Bible stories, right? so thankful God "let it all hang out" when He told the stories of the people He continued to love all through the imperfect generations. great post!

    1. Oh girl, me too - so very thankful God "let it all hang out", as you so aptly reminded me! And thank you for your graciousness, friend. I know I was initially (and continue to be) drawn to, inspired and deeply grateful for your very real self in your writing - it seems what attracted us to each other :-) It is such a gift to be known here, in this place, and to know you in yours. Amazing, really, how these friendships from a distance can themselves be so real and life-giving in their own, unique way.

  2. Dear Amber, I am cheering with Kelli. I love how you live out the pain and the honesty and the gut-level truth of your days on these pages. There is a dark middle and there is a golden hope, and they are both real, and you are proclaiming this and the God who is big enough to hold us in the midst of the muck and continue cheering us on to the glory shimmering gold. Thank you for sharing these reflections. They help me as a creator of art, too.

    1. I don't want to "need" these words of affirmation... but it is a comfort, sometimes, to know that what may look like just muck to me, in my words, is helpful to someone else - and more so, proclaiming "the God who is big enough to hold us in the muck and continue cheering us on to the glory of shimmering gold." Wow, what a beautiful, hopeful, encouraging description of this truth, of this God that all this writing is really all for. Thank you, thank you, friend.

  3. I find I want the tidy package of my life. I want to write it down and be through the hard and to show the happy ending, but the more I read, the more I write, the more I realize that we just live in the midst...everyday in the midst. It is not tidy or neatly packaged. We are not all or nothing of whatever we are feeling, it ebbs and flows: the happy, the sad, all of it. I often fear that my messy is all that will be seen of me, or that if I show the happy then I will be hiding the messy, but the truth is that I am both. The one does not negate the other.

    1. Yes, it's just that. "We just live in the midst." You're realizing some things that aren't very comfortable, but they are profound, and I think maybe they are even liberating. The truth is, we are both - and the one does not negate the other. Wow, you get it, friend. I'm learning from you today.

    2. Thanks Amber. I appreciate that.