Today is my last day in Asheville, and for as much as I love this place, I can't wait to go home. Even if that means leaving beautiful springtime North Carolina for still-frozen Upstate New York tundra, I will take it happily. I need to get the hell out of here before I totally lose it. The other day I wrote a blog about this visit--how I thought I was just visiting my sick grandmother, but when I arrived I discovered she'd been moved permanently into a nursing home, and my aunt and I would be spending my visit packing up her house. This wasn't a huge surprise, but it's still painful nonetheless.
I am handling this just like I do everything else--stoically--and alone (the joys of being the only child/grandchild) but I have no doubt that as soon as I get home, I'm going to have myself a mini nervous breakdown. So consider yourselves warned.
The upside to this swirling eddy of existential depression is it's the perfect emotional climate for good writing. I have every intention of pulling a Hemingway, shutting myself in a dark room, getting roaring drunk, and massacring something with my laptop. I'm not in the right frame of mind to continue John and Ivy's love story at the moment, but I *am* in the right frame of mind to scorch the earth with a good cataclysmic natural disaster. (And an amputation without anesthesia. That sounds appropriate too.)
I have a playlist on my ipod that is the soundtrack of my novel. From the moment I could see the Blue Ridge from Virginia, I began psyching myself up for this visit. I knew it wasn't going to be a good one. I haven't had a "good" visit to Asheville since about 2001--right around the time I got married and moved away permanently (my grandmother's health began to decline and that set the tone for every visit thereafter. When my great-grandmother died in December 2004, and my grandfather followed her a few weeks later in January 2005, any joy I ever had coming home died right along with them.)The playlist is a musical love song to Asheville, and not nearly as dark as my mood right now, so I will stop my sad soliloquy here, and instead, give you a voyeuristic peek inside my inner writing world.
1. Home - Michael Buble - I always want to be in Asheville, but that ship has sailed. Even if I moved back, I would constantly be chasing the Asheville of my childhood, and without my mom, grandparents,and great-grandmother here, it just wouldn't be the same. I love wailing miserably along with Michael. This song perfectly captures how I feel about not living here anymore.
2. The Wind and the Rain - Altan - My family was exiled to NC after the Battle of Culloden and we settled in the mountains with a bunch of other Scottish exiles. My DNA really likes a good Scottish ballad (and kilts... It REALLY likes kilts!).
3. Fireflies - Owl City (Adam Young Remix) - Much like Stephanie Meyer conceived of Twilight because she dreamed of a sparkly vampire laying with a human in a beautiful meadow, this song was playing on the radio one afternoon in 2008 as I drove Sam and John home from Sam's pre-school, and as I drove through the deeply overgrown tunnel of trees on Scuffletown Rd, I started imagining a girl bringing a boy deep in the woods to watch a magical explosion of fireflies. It was the perfect moment to fall in love. I began wondering who these people were, and eventually my novel was born. The fireflies started the whole thing.
4. Blackbird - Sarah McLachlan - Ivy, my protagonist, has lived a rough life, and is pretty much trapped where she is until she meets John. This song is kind of her anthem.
5. Landslide - Dixie Chicks - The backdrop of my novel is a horrendous natural disaster that no one seems to remember. In 1916, two hurricanes collided over the NC mountains and caused unimaginable damage. There were literal landslides, and figurative emotional landslides.An event like this changes people and causes them to re-evaluate their lives. I listen to this song when I need to get in that particular frame of mind.
6. Soar Away - Word of Mouth Chorus - My family used to talk about going to singing schools and shape note singing. I didn't know what it was, but I'm trying to be authentic, so I learned more about it. There's a scene from the movie Cold Mountain where they are shape note singing, if you're curious. I actually found shape note singers in NY and joined them one night. It's a very unusual way of singing, and difficult to learn if you're used to reading notes the traditional way, but it's hauntingly beautiful and raw.
7. Fair and Tender Ladies - June Carter Cash - Another old ballad. I love this one because it fits Ivy to a T. I've already incorporated it into a scene in the novel, where my characters sit on a porch and sing together.
8. 900 Miles - Red Smiley and The Bluegrass Cut-Ups - This is the song that inspired the novel's title. Boston and Asheville are approximately 900 miles apart. It's a metaphor for the emotional and cultural distance John and Ivy have to traverse to be together.
9. Gathering Flowers For the Master's Bouquet - The Stanley Brothers - What playlist about WNC wouldn't be complete without some mournful gospel songs about dying? We're a morbid lot, generally speaking.
10. Rock of Ages - My grandmother used to sing this to me as a lullaby (horribly off-key I might add) and when I hear it, I think of being rocked in a rocking chair.
11. Wings of Angels - The Stanley Brothers - Another gospel song about religion and death. I'm nothing if not thorough as I try to get into my characters' mindsets.
12. Make You Feel My Love - Glee Cast - This is how John feels about Ivy when she hates his guts and he doesn't know how to change her mind.
13. Love Me Harder - Ariana Grande - Ivy's reponse. She's a tough cookie. :-)
14. Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran - A song for when John starts making some progress.
15. Losing My Religion - R.E.M. - I love this angsty song. It's a great background for any emotionally wrought writing.
16. Near Wild Heaven - R.E. M. - When the angst is over, this is the song I listen to when I need the sun to come back out.
17. Elvira - Oak Ridge Boys - I used to drive the back roads of Henderson County with my grandfather in his big red pick-up truck, bouncing on the leather seats to the oompah-pah maw maws. I hear this song and think about apple picking, petting random cows, and the simplicity of country living. This song is fun and helps balance out the rest of the angst on my playlist.
18. Somewhere Only We Know - Keane - This song is a companion piece to Fireflies. It's a great song about endings, escape, and new beginnings.
19. We Might As Well Be Strangers - Keane - But sometimes love doesn't come easily...
20. Bye Bye Love - The Gibson Brothers - First of all Leigh Gibson is my friend (yay!) and I love listening to his music. My mom used to play this song all the time, so it's comfortable, and also it sets a certain tone.
21. The Darker the Night, The Better I See - The Gibson Brothers - In the interest of authenticity, my playlist needed some Bluegrass and I love this song.
22. Safe Passage - The Gibson Brothers - Leigh wrote this song, which is brilliant. But I also love it because it mirrors my own family history, with the exception that Leigh's family went north and mine went south. This is Ivy and John's history as well.