Charlie Brown Christmas and My Creative Process / by Melanie Ida Chopko

I went back to tinkering with a new song I started a few months ago, an English translation of a beautiful Brasilian love song by the Tribalistas I fell for on my last day in Brasil (you can hear it in Portuguese, here). I'm fascinated by translating poetry, all the passageways of meaning and thrilling rhyme that can be lost in the translation, but also sometimes wonderfully rebirthed in the second language. 

The whole process this past week brought me back to the dual experience of humility and faith that consumes me at the start of something new (so wonderfully explained by writer Cheryl Strayed - (2) . I often feel like I'm pawing away at the dirt, wondering how it is ever possible to have good vivid language match syllable count for my melodies AND meet my overall intended meaning. Good lord. When I brought my first two drafts to my songwriting group a few days ago, they looked back at me, smiling nicely and confused. "If I had time to do a crossword puzzle," one woman said kindly, "I could understand that line. But I'm listening to a song." It's amazing how much a bold melody like this one can effect a listener's attention span for abstract lyrics!

Hence the faith part. One of my favorite songwriting teachers, Kristina Olsen, talks about all the half done, half unclear songs she has "up on blocks" in the backyard like old cars, still needing tinkering, clarification, additions that were requested from her group.

I realized that my experience of this process is more like Charlie Brown Christmas - I have a premise that has been stalking me for a couple weeks, and I've finally sat down to give it some breathing room in the real world. But my first drafts, without the padding of narrative that is in my mind, are I think like seeing Charlie's Christmas tree - they are spindly, wonky, floppy, pretty far from all my grown-up completed songs. When I play it for my group the first time, I see this draft starkly, and want to pitch the thing entirely. I'm grateful for my creative friends who, like Linus in the story, wrap their blankie of faith around it, encourage me to water the soft, vulnerable truth-y roots of the song. Keep tending it, they say, and I lean on their faith for a while as I'm looking at all the places it needs to grow.

So this week, happily nourished by some trees and ecosystems of the Yuba River, I'm chugging away on the rewrites, carving again and again until the song resembles the feeling I'm trying to describe.

(1) Carnalismo, The Tribalistas
(2) Cheryl Strayed and the Art of MotherFuckitude