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An explanation and an excerpt...

So what's been going on?
Um...work. Lots and lots of work. I've read some good books lately, too. C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy (I'm on the third one now, "That Hideous Strength"). "Downsiders," by Neal Shusterman. "An Abundance of Katherines," by John Green. And some others.

I have been trying to write more, but I'm working on about half a dozen different things, so progress is slow. However, I thought it was time I put something new up on my blog so as not to completely abandon it.
So: here is an excerpt from something I've been working on.
It's called "Blind Like Love" and it's about a broken-hearted girl named Brianne (after my bff) who is finishing college with a pottery class and guitar lessons from a blind adjunct professor, Evan Anderson. I'd love to know what you think.

Chapter Six

“I believe in music the way
some people believe in fairy tales....
The music is all around you.
All you have to do is listen.”
—Evan, “August Rush”

“Okay, first things first,” Mr. Anderson said as he settled across from me in the empty pottery studio. “This,” he patted the guitar as he cradled it, “is Grace. As in, 'Amazing Grace.' She was my grandfather's, and the first thing he learned to play was...”
“Amazing Grace.”
“Right. So that's what he named her. And, that was the first thing he taught me, when he gave her to me.” He gave her a quick, arpeggiated strum, and grinned. “She says 'hi.'”
“Right. Um, hi, back, I guess.” I picked up the guitar he'd brought for me. “Does this one have a name?”
“I brought the black Martin, right?”
I checked the name at the top, by all the tuning pegs. “Yep.”
“Right. That's Roxy.”
I was glad he couldn't see the somewhat skeptical look on my face. It seemed silly to be naming inanimate objects.
“Now, I know this feels a little weird, for me to be teaching you guitar. I mean, I have worksheets and textbooks for you, and obviously I don't go by them. But that stuff—that's just mechanics. I learned how to play both guitar and piano before I lost my sight, so I know how to read music and chords, and I understand chord theory. Honestly, you can learn that stuff from anyone. I think you can even teach it to yourself online. But I'm of the school of thought that music is not taught.”
“It's not?” Then what was I paying him for?
“Well, not exactly. Now, some would disagree with me—after all, music has a very mathematical quality to it. It has set rules and forms. It follows patterns and structures. Right?”
“Sure.” I strained to remember the one chord theory class I'd taken. “That sounds right.”
“Well, I think that while music—like other forms of art—contains structural properties and guidelines, it is inevitably something that either flows out of you, or not. That's why I don't charge for the first lesson. This is basically to see if it's in you, or not.”
“If what is in me?”
“Music. Art. Some people think they have it, but they're really just regurgitating formulas. Others don't know they have it, and never try. But think of the great artists: they weren't people who just studied colors and lines and concepts. They painted what they saw, what they felt. Same for musicians. You can study all you want, but it won't make you a musician if you're not one. To really be good, you have to feel it, in your soul. You have to mean it. It's not science. It's...philosophy.”
He was losing me, rapidly. “Huh?”
“I mean, it's something you let soak into you, and flow back out. It's like a religion, or a relationship. When you devote yourself to God, or to a person, you make a commitment. You spend time with them. You study them. Music, really, is like love.”
That sounded interesting. “How so?”
“Well, like I said, you can't just base it around formulas. A plus B equals C. I mean, yes, if you put this finger here, and this finger there, and strum, you get E minor. But making music is about so much more than that. Like a good relationship, you have to put in time and work. But just being with a person and talking to him, even taking care of his needs, doesn't make it a romance. Just like just playing chords doesn't make someone a musician.
“You have to feel it. Like love, music fills you up, heart and soul. You think about it. You obsess. You hear it, you notice. Even when no one else does. You get lost in it, sometimes. That's what makes someone a musician. Even over talent. Just like...a relationship can look perfect from the outside, but be dying. People can play and sing without meaning it, but the great ones...like relationships that last...they mean it. They know it, they feel it.”
“Wow,” I whispered. A little chill went down my spine. “I've never heard anyone talk about music that way. Except in the movie 'August Rush,'” I amended. “You start off all your classes like this?”
He shrugged. “More or less.”
I drew a deep breath. “Well, I'm not sure if I really fit that description.”
“Well, let's find out.”
“What's your favorite song?”
I gawked at him. “Seriously?”
“I...I don't have one favorite,” I told him. “I couldn't possibly.”
“Why not?”
“You should see my iPod,” I said, forgetting that he couldn't actually see it. “Seriously. I have so many different genres and artists and songs I love. I tried to make a playlist of my favorites? Yeah, it's over two hundred songs. Songs I love. I have a hard time even picking a top five.”
He smiled. “And they are?”
I sighed. “Um, 'Cannonball,' by Damien Rice. 'On Fire,' by Switchfoot. 'The Breaking of the Fellowship,' from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. 'Clocks,' by Coldplay, even though I know it's overplayed. And...oh, I don't know. There are too many others. Isn't a top four good enough?”
“Yes,” he replied. “In fact, you just told me exactly what I needed to know.”
“I did?”
“Yes. You love music. In various styles and formats. You seem to cut across genres and labels and trends. That means something.”
“Well, I think it means you're more of a musician than you know.”
I shrugged a little. “Yeah, but, everybody likes music.”
“Not exactly,” he returned. “Some people just like a certain kind of music. And some people just use it as background noise. Some people play music to remind themselves of another time in their life. Some people just listen to the radio and like certain artists because they think they're supposed to—for them, it's just another trend to follow.”
“I guess when you put it that way....”
“Yes, Brianne, you're more unique than you realize.”
He overlooked my sarcasm. “Now, before we get into learning chords, I assume you're most interested in learning worship songs, correct?”
“Um, yeah. I guess. Though I suppose it would be cool to learn a Coldplay song or two.”
He nodded. “I think we can manage that. What kinds of songs are you guys into at IV?”
“Mm, mostly Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and David Crowder stuff. Some oldies. Some hymns.”
“Okay. I'll try to pull some music for you. I've found that most people are more motivated to learn chords if they are learning to play a song they like. For now,” he rifled through a folder, feeling the corners of each sheet, “let's start with this one. It's what I teach all of my students on the first lesson.” He handed me a piece of music.
“Amazing Grace,” I read.
“Yeah. A classic. It's my grandpa's favorite. Grandpa Ray taught me to play the guitar, and since the first thing he learned was 'Amazing Grace,” he figured it should be the first thing I learned, too.”
“And now you carry on the tradition.”
“Exactly. You know the song, right?”
I snorted. “Who doesn't?”
“Right. So you can see the letters at the top of the music—those are chords. G, C, D, and E minor—all very simple, basic chords. Once you learn those, you'll be able to play practically any song in the world. Just maybe not in your key. But that is what this is for.” He felt around in his guitar case and pulled out a funny looking metal contraption. “This is called a capo. You squeeze it here,” he demonstrated, “and you fit it on the fretboard,” it clamped onto the neck of his guitar, “and it puts your song in a different key. I have a circle of fifths for you that helps with transposing, too. And a map of the fret board to help with chord theory.”
“Okay, slow down, Mr. Anderson. I learned a little tiny bit about chord theory, but that was a few semesters ago, so. I barely remember the stuff I'm learning this semester.”
“Okay,” he laughed. “Sorry, sometimes I get ahead of myself. Let's try a C chord first.” He positioned his fingers on on what he called the fretboard and pressed down on the strings. Then, with his right hand, he strummed. “That's a C. Think you can give it a try? Put your fingers where mine are.”
I looked at his fingers carefully and tried to mirror him.
“Okay, now give her a strum.”
I did. It sounded like crap. I let out a grunt of irritation.
“That's okay. Everyone sounds like that at first. Try adjusting your pointer finger down one string. And make sure you press down hard, with just the tips of your fingers.”
I tried again, and it sounded slightly better.
“There you go! You got it!” My teacher was effusive with praise. I was glad he couldn't see my skeptical expression. “Yeah, strum some more. That's a C. Good job. Now let's try a G.” He repositioned his fingers, and once more I copied him. “Okay, good. Now a D.” He taught me an E minor also, and after reviewing, he suggested we try the song.
My fingertips were already sore from pressing down on the thin metal wires that passed for strings. But I gave it a shot, haltingly getting out each chord. It sounded awful, and I knew it.
“Let's try it together,” Mr. Anderson said. He began strumming, and then singing. It was too low for me to sing, so I concentrated on trying to match him and play the same chord at the same time. My strumming was horrible. I stopped after the first verse, but he kept going.
I tried to make my fingers remember where they should go to correspond with each letter. I still didn't sound as good as he did. He had the easy, relaxed strum of someone who's been playing for years and loves it. And he could sing, too. It wasn't a classically good voice, like someone who would do well in show choirs; he had a unique, kind of soulful, yearning voice.
He sang Amazing Grace like he meant it. And though it didn't matter whether his eyes were open or closed, he closed them anyway, as if by default, to shut out the world a little. Like he forgot I was there. So I just listened as he sang the last verse, about singing praises for eternity. Then he circled back and sang the first verse again, and suddenly I felt awkward.
The last line of it—“was blind, but now I see”—stuck out to me, and I wondered how he felt, singing that. He chose to sing it a second time, and chose to teach the song to me in the first place, so it clearly didn't offend him. His strumming stopped and he fell silent. “You stopped playing,” he said.
“My fingers hurt,” I told him.
“Ah. Well, you'll develop callouses. Start by practicing a few minutes every day. Work on the chords we learned, and I expect you to play the whole song with me next time. And sing,too.”
“Um, okay. But how will I practice? I told you I don't have a guitar.”
“Well, you can hang on to Roxy for now. I told you I'd help you find one, and I will. You just worry about practicing. Okay?”
I ran my hand over Roxy's smooth, varnished surface. “Okay. So...I was kind of crap.”
He smiled patiently. “You did fine, Brianne. Trust me, everyone sounds like that when they start out. You'll get better with practice.”
“Yeah, but you gave that whole speech about trying to see if the music was in me, remember?”
“So is it?”
He didn't answer right away. “I didn't hear you sing,” he said. “When I played 'Amazing Grace.'”
“It was too low for me,” I told him.
“You a soprano?”
“Yeah. I can sing some alto parts, but that was just too low.”
He thought for a moment. “Then let's put it in your key. What do you think, C? Or D?”
“Um...” I tried to remember what Clarke would transpose songs into if I was singing lead. “D?”
Evan strummed a few bars. “That sound right?”
“I guess.”
“Then let's hear it.”
I cleared my throat nervously. I was relatively used to singing in front of people, but in the sudden solo performance for an audience of one, I found myself feeling awkward and unsure. I was beginning to think I didn't really have the music in me after all.
Mr. Anderson graciously, quietly started me off, though it was clearly not an ideal key for him. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound....”
“That saved a wretch like me,” I joined in. “I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind,” I tried not to falter, “but now I see.”
Mr. Anderson's gentle chords soothed my jitters; the key was good for me, and I found myself singing the very familiar song with my own eyes closed. And we were in our own little world, the two of us making music that colored the darkness behind my eyelids. I felt as in that moment that the music had a weight and substance to it, like it meant something.
On the final verse, he joined in again, adding a little harmony—I was impressed. He was really very talented. But somehow, he made me feel like I was talented, too. And it was more than that: I felt like our song had lodged somewhere in my soul. It had soothed some rough corner of my heart and I wondered if he felt that way every time he sang.
“That was really beautiful, Brianne,” he said, in the silence that followed our duet. “You have an amazing voice.”
I shrugged modestly, as I always did, then caught myself. “I enjoy it,” I said.
He nodded. “I can tell.” He felt for his case and began putting Grace away, as well as the rest of his materials. “If you keep at the guitar, I have a feeling you'll find you enjoy that, too,” he said, as he gathered up his things and headed for the door. “Don't give up too quickly. It'll be a challenge at first, but you'll get it.” He turned and flashed me a smile. “You do, by the way.”
“Do what?”
“Have the music in you.”
“Oh. Thanks.” My words were simple, and completely inadequate to express the joy I felt knowing he thought so.
“See you Tuesday.”

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