“In times of strife, we have our imagination, we have our creative impulse, which are things that are more important than material things. They are the things we should magnify.”
—Patti Smith, More Songwriters on Songwriting
When I can’t sleep—which is often in pandemic life—I reach for the comfort and inspiration offered by fellow musicians. Since we cannot perform much in person these days, the Songwriters on Songwriting interview series has become a personal sacred text—mostly because it motivates me to do what I love: sing.
After reading just a few words from Meshell Ndegeocello or the late John Prine, I find myself grabbing my daughter’s red glitter guitar and whispering song ideas into my phone’s memo app—hokey but heartfelt lyrics like: “God, give me strength,” “we will be together again,” and “as long as it takes.”
I’ve lost count of the songs I’ve written (or half-written) while sheltering in place. Most are terrible and you’ll never hear them, and that’s fine. They’re here to process grief with me and tap into hope and determination as I fight to keep my creative process—normally collective—alive in isolation.
One favorite new song is called “First One to Fall Asleep Wins.” I wrote it (of course) when I couldn’t sleep. It’s a lullaby, but I always growl these lines:
Yeah, you swear to yourself / “Whatever this is, it won’t ruin me”
Alone in the dark, I sing myself the messages I need to hear.
The creative impulse Patti Smith describes has long been considered holy (“divine inspiration”). I experience it as living just under the surface of the daily grind: tugging; imploring, When do we all get to sing together again?
I suspect I will remember this pandemic as a time I often felt close to ruin—when I lost my job to COVID-19 layoffs, my bands couldn’t play, my kids struggled, and our churches were confined to computers. When nearly two million people, worldwide, died from COVID-19 and the rest of us grappled with grief at a distance. When we sang hymns on mute.
But I pray we also remember—and magnify, as Smith says—the moments of creativity and wonder. The dance classes over Zoom. The books cherished in quiet moments. Our practices of resilience and mutual aid, of grace and forgiveness. And of course, I take heart that even on mute, or alone in the dark, we kept singing.
Spirit of life and love, keep us connected to divine inspiration and to each other. May we be mindful of what we magnify. Spark our imaginations to create the world we dream about.