WITH A MOUTHFUL OF TOOTHPASTE…

by Karis Walsh

After a short break to celebrate the publication of my second book, Worth the Risk, I’m back to work on Something New. I’m glad to be moving on to a fresh project, but I am still struggling to adapt to the writing process. My control freak side believes I’ll be successful if I sit at my computer for a specific amount of time and aim for a specific word count every day. And that side of me is partially right – writing requires self-discipline, persistence, consistency. But I’m discovering that my real flashes of inspiration choose to completely disregard my attempts to schedule them. Those bits of dialogue that ring true, the personality traits that suddenly give life to a character, the strings that connect scenes so they form a coherent story – these ideas usually strike at inconvenient and unexpected moments. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to turn off the shower or treadmill or Sonicare so I could scramble around (soapy or sweaty or trying not to swallow toothpaste) for a piece of paper and pen. Often, my regular writing time is devoted more to deciphering and transcribing what I’ve scribbled on the back of receipts or junk-mail envelopes than to coming up with anything new.

I’ve found this same dichotomy to be true in other areas as well. I’ve recently returned to music lessons after a year-long hiatus, and the transition back to regular playing has been painful. Partly in a physical sense because my muscles are out of shape and I’ve lost the tiny calluses on the tips of my fingers that protect them from the viola strings. But I also mean painful in an aesthetic sense. What skills I once had are rusty, so my flaws come shining through. (While not exactly tone-deaf, I certainly qualify as tone-hard-of-hearing. And – something you might witness if you ever have the dubious opportunity to watch me dance – I am rhythmically challenged.) I’ve been trying to tackle these problems by spending an allotted time each day on etudes and scales and shifting exercises; but, while the routine of practice will help, I know it won’t make me a musician. Real musicality – beyond mere technical proficiency – will only come if I am open to the moments outside of my practice time when I have some little epiphany about the meaning of the music. The connections to a piece that are only allowed in when I’m relaxed and simply listening – not frantically trying to get my posture and fingering correct. The unplanned realizations that hit while I’m walking outside or lost in thoughts of love and suddenly some nuance behind the composer’s notes becomes clear.

Writing, music, life. We try and try to plan them. To schedule and organize and control every detail so we can make progress or meet goals or simply get through the day. But the real magic happens in the between times, when a jolt of meaning slips through the cracks and refuses to be ignored. And then we find ourselves turning off the shower and leaving a trail of soapy, soggy footprints as we go in search of a pen or a paintbrush or an instrument or a lover so we can express the inspiration that has grabbed hold of us. Because if we ignore it in the moment, its power fades away.

29 Responses to “WITH A MOUTHFUL OF TOOTHPASTE…”


  1. 1 bookgeek February 7, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Hi Karis, loved you books – please infuse music into your writings I so enjoy it.

    Like

  2. 3 connie ward February 7, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    Wonderfully said!!

    Like

  3. 5 Justine February 7, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Brava to you for playing viola. Did you ever play in a chamber ensemble? Yes. you definitely should write about music. Too few people do, and it is one of life’s joys.

    Like

    • 6 Karis Walsh February 7, 2012 at 9:38 AM

      Hi Justine,
      My teacher has several beginner/intermediate adult students, so we get together regularly for wine and food and chamber music. Music is definitely meant to be shared, isn’t it?

      Like

  4. 7 Nancy Nunes February 7, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Love your writing and adding music to your next project will be an extra treat.

    Like

  5. 9 Beth February 7, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    I’m currently reading Worth the Risk and enjoying it very much. It would be great to see music play a major part in one of your books.

    Like

  6. 11 Jo Brower February 7, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Love your books..Thanks

    Like

  7. 13 D. Jackson Leigh February 7, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    I’d love to hear you play sometime and, don’t worry, I’m musically challenged enough that I wouldn’t notice any mistakes. In some ways, music is like riding. The flow of the movements and relaxing into it is very much the same.

    Keep up the good work. Love your books.

    Like

    • 14 Karis Walsh February 7, 2012 at 2:02 PM

      Thanks, Deb — you know I’m a big fan of your books, too! We need to start a BSB orchestra🙂 I agree that music is like riding — you need to learn the basics and technique, but in order to really make progress you have to develop feel and flow.

      Like

  8. 15 Lilaine February 7, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Bravo for this most inspired blog.
    I feel for you, about playing music! My left hand’s fingertips and left forearm suffered the same pain when I started playing guitar again after several years of interruption. They’re still tender after more than one month of various exercises and playing(and singing) my favorite tunes. (Poor neighbors! ;))
    Hope your various muses let you get some undisturbed time, or don’t interfere with each other, some activities suffering more than others from any kind of interruption…😉
    The techie corner: If you have one, your MP3 player might have a built-in micro/recording feature you could even use under the shower😉 I’m not sure it will do any good if your mouth is full of toothpaste, though. And it’s much less fun than leaving a trail of soapy, soggy footprints all over the place… :p

    Like

    • 16 Karis Walsh February 7, 2012 at 2:10 PM

      I like the MP3 player idea, Lilaine — it makes more sense than my idea of trying to turn the shower wall into a waterproof white board that I can write on.
      I love acoustic guitar music! I say play with gusto, neighbors or no neighbors. Those little wire strings are wicked on tender fingertips, aren’t they?

      Like

  9. 17 lynchly February 7, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    Thanks for sharing this with our world!

    Like

  10. 19 Barbara Ann Wright February 7, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    After not writing for a while, I’m tempted by just putting mundane things on paper, like what I had for breakfast. If I try to transition back to fiction too quickly, I’ll write about what my characters had for breakfast instead. I find I have to plug away at crap for a while before I’ve cleared the cobwebs enough for fiction.

    Like

  11. 21 Sheri Campbell February 7, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    Karis, I think you just completed a self analysis of yourself. You just described a beautiful person. You a writer, musician, teacher, woman, more than most of us can claim. You are special. I do love your books. I have heard a writer has to write as a musician has to play. This is you.

    Like

  12. 23 Devlyn Sixtyseven February 7, 2012 at 9:00 PM

    Karis, I have enjoyed reading your latest book, so thank you for giving it to us. I too have my best ideas in the shower. I remember when I was in the Army I used to dream up all sorts of grand plans. Glad yours come easy at times. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  13. 25 Fubu (@RamenGrrl) February 8, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    i’m curious–how do you know you’re playing the correct pitch if you’re “tone-hard-of-hearing”? as a singer i have to rely on my ear to tell me if i have the right note but i’m struggling these days because i’m singing in a space where I can’t exactly hear myself. Is it muscle memory? some other sensory method?

    btw, i’m a bit jealous of your drive to create! ;-p

    ~allie

    Like

    • 26 Karis Walsh February 8, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      Hi Allie,
      Most of it is muscle memory. Plus, I have some sense of relative pitch, so I can usually tell if a progression of notes are correctly spaced. As a result, unfortunately, if I start a song flat or sharp I’ll stay that way and not realize I’m wrong🙂 I practice a lot of double stops — where I’m playing two strings at once — to train my ear to hear fifths or thirds or whatever. My violin playing also improved a lot when I started the viola. Probably because the viola is so physical and I had to give up the tentative, not-wanting-to-make-a-mistake type of playing I was used to with the violin.

      The drive to create takes many different forms — I think that you being part of the creative process as a singer is very cool!

      Like

  14. 27 jeanne February 8, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    Guitar. I wish I played it much more.

    Like


  1. 1 Link Round Up « The Lesbrary Trackback on February 8, 2012 at 11:12 AM

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