More than a month ago, when I was setting up the automatic writing prompt emails for August, I wanted to try something a little more interdisciplinary and experimental than usual. But I didn’t want to turn anyone off who was looking for a more standard prompt, so I compromised by offering a normal prompt and then an “extra credit” option. The prompt, which went out two Wednesdays ago, was starlight and this was the extra credit:
It’s humpday so let’s get experimental.
(1) Choose an artist or genre that you are familiar with, in music OR visual arts.*
(2) Think about what characterizes that artist/genre for you.
(3) Take a chunk of your starlight writing and morph it so it embodies #2.
Yes, this will feel weird. That’s the point.
*Can’t think of anything? Try one or all of the following: Mozart, dubstep, Hokusai, cubism, reggae, Nina Simone, Calvin & Hobbes, Lady Gaga.
The original prompt, starlight, made me think of the Smashing Pumpkins’s song, “By Starlight,” and from there my thoughts ran to that album and what it meant to me.
“By starlight I’ll kiss you / And promise to be your one and only.”
I remember being fifteen years old and in love for the first time, in love with A— L— after I’d pictured every boy in our class and realized as a tall stocky Asian he was the only one who would look good with me.* I’d never even thought about A— before that moment, but afterward I couldn’t get him out of my head. During class I watched him for signs that he could be the one for me. I never saw any adverse signs (or ignored any that I did), and so I made for him whenever I could, in my good-girl way, and readied myself for the love of my life.
Shortly before my birthday I’d read in Time (my parents had a subscription) that the Smashing Pumpkins’s two-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the most innovative rock album to be released in some time. I must have told Jennifer this, because when my birthday came, she presented me with a compact metallic gold paper gift bag in which Mellon Collie nestled in a lavish burst of tissue paper. At the time I owned very few CDs and this was an exciting addition to my small collection, an album that a reviewer had said was important, and one that was different from any other music I’d gotten to know before this time. And it really was an amazing album, even I could tell that though I knew nothing. I loved the controlled roar of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” though once it started getting too much airplay I took refuge in the lesser-known tracks off the first disc. I never did tire of “1979” no matter how often I heard it.
But once A— became the object of my obsessions, it was “Love” I played on repeat on my portable CD player, hours into the night, as I colored and cut and taped my paper model of Independence Hall** in the guest bedroom at my grandpa’s house. Never mind that the lyrics didn’t seem all that ecstatic, nor that it wasn’t even a song I particularly liked. I just needed to hear Billy Corgan wail over and over again, as did my heart to A—, “it’s love, you’re love, it’s love.”
For the “extra credit” exercise, I listened to “Love” and transformed the first paragraph of the above freewrite into this:
year I turned fifteen
love for the first time
A— L— I pictured him
top of his head above mine
deep skin and the sweat under his t-shirt collar
could I see my face in his eyes
could he see his face in my heart
could he be the one
*I’ve left the boy’s name out of this because we haven’t talked in years, but we’re Facebook friends, and that strikes me as a weird mix for disclosing his name. Everyone we went to school with will know, and his name is not unusual, but still.
**Here’s the Independence Hall model. I designed, drew, and constructed it entirely on my own. It’s an absurd use of time and I can’t believe I did it when I could have just painted a shoebox (as most of my classmates did)… but I think it’s kind of genius, all the same.