[Little lamppost on the corner...evening sighing, “All's in order,”]
It was December in Minnesota: cold, harsh, and incredibly white. I thought I had finished my album line-up, having recently written "Ruby Red Lipstick" and "Eloise, Eloise." Many of the mock-ups were done, and the concept was swirling around, present, but hidden; I could make out its shape, much like the fluttering snow twirling in the streets, but the edges and lines were still quite undefined. There was so much I still wanted to say - or rather, much I wanted to evoke.
A sense of warmth. Familiarity. Something idyllic.
[On this quiet city street, where you told me we would meet...(I'm waiting)...]
Do you remember that feeling - that soft, silky feeling of an October evening and its just the tiniest bit brisk outside, enough so that Old Man Winter can grab your arm and you feel his nails like the impending snowfall through the soft yarn of your sweater? When the lights are dim and you stand by the window in your house, watching the world grow dark at 5:30 pm? Weaving stories in the castle in your mind, so entirely barricaded in your own world that nothing feels more real than your imagination?
In 2012, I was more miserable than I'd ever thought humanly possible. There were about a dozen reasons why; it was a misery linked to external circumstances which I could not, for all the spit and fire inside me, change. I remember everything just being so hard. Eating was hard. Sleeping was hard. Remembering to brush my teeth or do my laundry was almost impossible.
Sometimes, when I would walk to class, or when I was sitting still for a moment, the must curious thing would happen. Whenever I allowed my mind to let go for a moment of the razor-sharp focus required to maintain my exhausting schedule (working 3 part-time jobs while completing my undergraduate degree, which at this time was still Piano Performance - a degree which, in and of itself, is wholly and utterly draining), I would suddenly and impulsively and without any intention find myself singing.
And it was the same song every single time: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor..."
[Ambling past the evergreens and palaces of kings and queens, the images pass...]
"Imagery is key." This is what my creative writing professor told me. We don't want to be told how to feel; we want to be led on a path that causes us to feel it all ourselves. Imagery places a reader in the same spot as the protagonist. It forces us to relate.
I wondered, if I can add little clues and visual hints, will they understand where we are? Will they make those same connections? Will they feel the way I feel?
Before I knew how to read, I loved books. I didn't want someone to read them to me, necessarily. I wanted to open the book and look at the pages and narrate my own story and version of what was happening. And so it proved to be a fascinating experience - the same book could hold a dozen different stories every time I opened the covers!
And then…I started to learn my letters; I started to understand how C-A-T meant the soft, furry pet we called a "cat"; and then one day, I opened up my favorite go-to book and felt devastation rip through my six-year-old heart.
This was not the story I knew. I could understand what those letters were conveying, and it was nothing like the magnificent tales I had woven myself. It had stolen that sweet, blissful ignorance from me, and being the oddball idealist I was (even at that tender age), I remember slamming the picture book shut and pouting for days.
After the initial shock wore off, I tried once again to will myself back into illiteracy - to recreate my castle and all the magic once held therein. But I had lost something integral to that functioning, and it was something I could and would never get back.
[Once upon a Riverside,
princes, paupers, kings and I stood side by side,
side by side.
Now cutout cardboard masquerades
line the streets and alleyways
from the other side, from the other side.]
There is always, always another side.
The other side of childhood;
The other side of broken;
The other side of good.
Just like Mr. Roger's neighborhood, full of magic and wonder and make-believe, there was a point at which you could step behind the set and see:
King Friday's castle was hollow
The Trolley tracks did not traverse a great expanse
Daniel Tiger wasn't even a tiger
But did that change the neighborhood? Did that change the magic? Could both exist, in the same span and the same place and could both be true?
2012 would pass, and I would remain. Eventually, my knee-jerk reaction to moments of mental ambiguity was no longer to sing the opening theme song to Mr. Roger's neighborhood. Eventually, the misery would fade away, too.
Ignorance was gone; I now knew my lowest lows. But I knew the highest of highs as well. And somewhere, in between the clashing of their ideologies and the mind-shattering dissonance of reason, there was truth.