December with George

I’ve been working on a report at work that requires a high level of fiction writing. And just so we’re clear, yes, I said “report” and, yes, I also said “fiction.” Nonprofits, amIright? Anyway, with this kind of report, I require a soundtrack to get the creative-but-realistic juices flowing and since my credit card statement says I’m paying for a premium Spotify membership (okay, glad someone was aware of that) I figured I’d take that puppy out for a spin…see what Spotify could do for my fictionalized reporting writer’s block.

And since it’s now fully dark here before 4:30pm–also called the holidays–I needed just the right kind of inspiration, the kind that would nullify the fact that I haven’t seen sunlight in person since last Thursday. I needed a little Christmas right this very minute but with parameters: instrumental, not orchestral because that gets busy, not traditional so that my brain wouldn’t be tempted to spitball song lyrics throughout my writing. This request was specific…and lo, George Winston appeared as if sent from angels above. His album December was exactly the right answer.

Within two seconds of playing the first track, I was immediately transported back to Marquette University, freshman year, writing a ridiculously hard literature final exam at home on a word processor because personal laptops weren’t really a thing then. (I mean, I might as well have been raised in the Middle Ages). Oddly, I even remembered what I was writing the final exam about (George Eliot’s Adam Bede) and how I felt about it (I wasn’t a huge fan of that book but my thesis in the paper was good) and that my professor’s name was George (symmetry, I love that…although we all know George Eliot was a woman) and he was exactly the tweed-with-elbow-patches, round-gold-wire-rimmed-glasses English professor you’d want to have to make your college experience real. He used to say things like, “Yes but can we know with certainty that the intention of the symbolism vis-a-vis the protagonist indicated a preference for some such beliefs?,” whilst (yeah I said it…both Georges would’ve) gently chewing the end of the arm of the wire-rims with his one leg up on the seat of a desk. I mean, c’mon. I felt so important discussing this. The clarity of this memory was bizarrely distinct, as though I was standing over my younger self, reading over her shoulder, and hearing this music on a loop for an intense afternoon of symbolism and character development discussion written with formal voice and MLA-approved formatting and citations (a real fuckin’ bummer on a word processor).

Even though I haven’t heard that album for years, I’ve internalized that music almost at a cellular level. I know exactly what’s coming next–notes, phrases, feelings, thoughts. I can sit down at a piano and play his version of Canon in D exactly as heard here. It’s like we grew up together. God forbid I ever shuffle; it’d feel like my hair is parted on the wrong side or I’m wearing my pants backward; I’d have to re-adjust immediately. There’s an inherent order to this album that now must, forever, be maintained.

I marvel that cultural artifacts have this power over us. What the artifact is depends on what speaks to us individually, what our required language of resonance is but the effect is largely the same: transport to another time and place. Songs, smells, a piece of art, a poem, a piece of clothing–whatever–it’s a sum experience of time and meaning attaching itself to something of the senses so that it can (or maybe should) never be forgotten. My first year at Marquette was magical in its very own way and my own incredible mind knows that I cherish it and has left me breadcrumbs to follow to recapture that feeling, if only for a moment here and there. I remember that this final exam day in this memory was the day before going home for Christmas that first year. The feeling was almost completely of relief and joy, just behind the wall of this last exam to be finished and handed in. And maybe subconsciously, that’s the exact feeling I’m looking for right at this moment, as I’m writing fiction about reality and needing the same kind of inspiration I needed that day…before I could realize the joy and relief that was so, so close at hand. George Winston’s December will always be that soundtrack playing in the background. I’ll always love it for that. And seek it when I need to return there for whatever reason.

Now, Adam Bede on the other hand…

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