The Music of “The Martian”

Yesterday while I was driving home for lunch I caught a short seven-minute music interview on NPR. “The Music of ‘The Martian’ Deconstructed” completely captured my attention and imagination. Later in the day I found the interview on the NPR website and have since listened to it six or seven times. (Take a little time and listen to it for  yourself.)

Against all odds I loved the movie (The Martian). I went because a friend asked me to go, but the truth is I’m not big on thrillers, I really don’t care for sci-fi, and movie sound effects are usually so loud that I leave feeling battered. But this one, this one I enjoyed. I loved the music from the start, fascinated by how perfect it seemed.

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams first received a copy of the script with a “terse note” from the film’s director that said, “Read it. Like it. Do it.” He read it, he said it seemed like a no-brainer, and so he did it.  There is some kind of magic in this story for me because in listening to Gregson-Williams you can hear in his voice and also in his music how much he liked the story and the acting, and how much he enjoyed writing the score.

So often we hear and read about the tortured process of art, whether it be visual art, music, or writing. It is solitary, there can be such a dark component when a person spends too much time inside their own mind, and it’s usually very hard work. But listen to this interview and hear some of the composer’s words: color, tone, optimism, love of life, deciding to live, brightened, mounting excitement, development, sparkle.  And in the end he says that the process was, “Pleasurable and very much a joy to write.”

What would it be like if writers, this one in particular, could more often find such joy in the work of writing?  It is true that the movie score composer’s work is responsive and collaborative, which can be somewhat different than pulling work from the corners of your own imagination.  However, his contribution is meant to enhance, augment, and support the work and vision of the whole while still having the strength to stand on its own. And I believe that this is, in a sense, what all artists are hoping to do.  The component of joy can be felt, tasted, heard, seen, and experienced.  It does make a difference.

I have ordered the soundtrack and look forward to listening to it while I write.

Gift of Mercy

Fall walk 002edit

This week my planned post was derailed by a tragic event. By my intuitive nature, by my spiritual gifts of mercy and helps, by my faith training as a Christ-follower I tend to be an early observer and early responder to people in trouble and distress.  Sometimes the signs of distress are quiet and barely perceptible and other times they’re loud and horrifying. There are occasions when it seems that God himself has orchestrated the situation for me to be in the right place at the right time–whatever the case I am compelled to run toward the trouble to offer anything I can to bring comfort and to in some way alleviate suffering.  Mercy is not an easy gift. There is a cost for expending the energy and care required in the moment and in the time that follows. I know that everyone who is made this way experiences the physical and emotional fatigue that follows a helping experience; that’s what I’m recovering from today.

One afternoon earlier this week I was at my office with two coworkers—we were the only ones there. The phone rang, Joyce answered it and said, “Oh hi, you don’t call me very often….” And then the shrieking and wailing began.  Shock and grief produce sounds we don’t usually hear, the body often moves involuntarily as a physical response to the shock, the person you know can seem unrecognizable in this wildness.  It is a powerful and awful thing to witness, made worse because there is so little to do to help.

I will tell you less than what the newspaper accounts and the published coroner’s quotes said and will simply say that Joyce’s 15-year old granddaughter took her own life. We heard all the details as they went from the phone through Joyce’s mind and then came straight out of her mouth. She put the phone down and as soon as I could get close enough I wrapped my arms around her and held on tight, simply whispering the name of Jesus in her ear.  I didn’t know what else to do.  I held on until her breathing started to slow to a more normal level, gave her some cold water to drink, and then let her have some space.  Then it was time to listen.

When it was clear that Joyce was calming our other co-worker left and there we were. What a completely vulnerable moment.  I already knew her as trusted co-worker and friend, but I had just seen her completely exposed and raw and it was not the time to turn away so I could go on with my life.

A couple of hours later we had worked through several decisions that needed to be made and we worked out a way for her to get home safely. We turned off the office lights, locked the door and left.

In the days since there have been emails and calls that are still part of the shared experience. I saw the shock and grief unleashed and now I’m hearing the peaceful and calm recounting of how lovingly she tended the beautiful body of her grandchild.  It is so important for her to tell these precious details.

There many more vulnerable moments ahead and we will face them when they come. For today I’m glad I can offer comfort, and I’m very grateful for the time and space to rest.

(If you’d like to know more, here is good information about the gift of mercy.)

Speaking Your Story

Until two or three years ago most of my speaking opportunities were at memorial services in churches, telling people about someone they already knew and loved, or at least cared about, and then offering some further insight by sharing stories of life experiences and interactions with the person being remembered. I absolutely love these opportunities because the people come to the event emotionally alive, ready to engage in story, in faith, in music.

There is hardly anything more deeply satisfying to a writer than to have a whole room full of people (from a handful to hundreds) come alive and move with your words. To see faces pained with grief listening carefully to every word, then moved to laughter and tears, and then to hear swirls of mmm’s and ohhh’s, and the catching of breath, like the spirit moving over and through them. And then coming to moments of resolve and inspiration as they accept the challenge offered and decide that they must in some way follow the example of the person who has gone before us.

What I’ve just described is a thrill. To see and hear the response validates a writer/speaker on every level when the writing was honest, authentic, revealing, kind, and hope filled. But it takes hard work to make it that way. When I work on pieces like this I often stay up most of the night before the event, finishing my writing, editing, practicing, working through the wildness of my own emotion and practicing, over and over. By the time it’s my turn on the program I’m ready, and if my emotions break the surface and force me to stop for a moment, then that’s what happens. In addition to being validated personally a writer walks away knowing that they offered their best—a gift, something honoring to the person being remembered, a joy and maybe even a challenge to their family and friends.

As my professional life has moved forward I’ve also been asked to speak at many events addressing the needs of elders and how families can best prepare themselves for some of the challenges ahead. Admittedly this is not the same crowd and opportunity as described above, but it still works because there are many points that connect us emotionally when we talk about preparing for end of life care. There are stories, examples, and plenty of humorous incidents to relate on the road to old age. And there is joy. In the end, the thrill is the same when the audience is engaged in a way that can be seen on every face and with the sounds that let you know they’re with you. The honest and sometimes fear-filled questions that follow give great opportunity to point people to resources, and ideas for drawing up a family plan.

This last week I was asked to speak as a panel member at DHS conference related to aging and disability services. This was not so fun, the attendees were tired as they came to the last session of a long conference day. Our topic and discussion were hugely informative, but they didn’t come with emotional connection points built in. I was the last speaker to present and when it was my turn I put my papers away and simply talked with them. I used a little self-deprecating humor and a lot of solid information. But mostly I tried to reach them using emotion related to the human condition, and for the most part it worked. It was challenging; I didn’t know anyone in the room and they didn’t know me or what to expect. I was careful to keep the eye contact going with people across the audience and on the panel, and did my best to join myself to them by remembering why we’re in this business and what the goals really are. There were smiles and some nods of assent, but this time the emails following the event are the tip-off that I reached them and they heard me.

My advice to all writers is to take every opportunity to speak to groups small and large. It will teach you a lot about how people receive and respond to what you have to say. Keep your eyes moving and make eye contact with individuals, smile, let them see and hear who you really are. Then smile some more.

Searching for a Word

Happy Birthday Lori K 003 editI’m looking for a new word, invented or repurposed, that describes what it means to be hospitable at home, in the community, amongst people we know as well as those who are strangers.

This concept involves offering, or even being safety, kindness, and comfort to someone. It has tones of companionship and community as taken from term fellowship.

There is intuition, imagination, and love. There is the sharing of resources.

It allows a person to help someone else succeed and take no credit for it themselves.

It requires our best (at the time) with no consideration of return.

Any thoughts?

The biblical take on hospitality required people to offer shelter to strangers in distress and to feed the hungry who came to the door. The big H word now belongs mostly to an industry that provides rooms and meals in exchange for money. There is no shame in that transition, we need them and they provide good service.

Some, in thinking back to the biblical term talk about hospitality now sadly being reduced to dinner with a centerpiece and a nicely laid table. I’m here to say that a beautifully provided dinner can be the gift and balm that sad, overwhelmed, tired, or disconnected people need. Sometimes that beautiful dinner will be impromptu and cooked straight from the grocery bags that have not yet been unpacked, and other times it might come straight from a drive-through fast food place.

When it’s done with love and kindness, it’s the real deal.

What do we call it, in just a word or two?