A Blaze of Light In Every Word

There are some points in our lives where our usual language is lost to us. These times aren't necessarily sad--it's also possible to be so happy, so in love, or so grateful that we can't find the words to express ourselves. When words fail, I've always turned to music. Some songs capture a moment or a feeling better than a thousand novels ever could. One of these songs is Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

You've probably heard this song before, though it may not have been sung by Cohen. Hallelujah has been covered by many different artists. Probably most famously by Jeff Buckley, but also by Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, and American Idol's Jason Castro--just to name a few. My favorite version will always be the one performed by Cohen himself. If you haven't heard it yet, take a minute to listen:

I love the way he delivers each line. Some of the lines are so haunting and some are so casual they feel like a little personal aside. ("You don't really care for music, do you?") This is my favorite verse:

"there's a blaze of light in every word/ it doesn't matter which you heard/ the holy, or the broken Hallelujah!" Leonard Cohen | tribute to Leonard Cohen on

For me, Hallelujah represents pure, raw humanity. It's about David and Samson and it's just as much about us--the "real" people who feel lost and divine and broken and holy all at once. It takes these heroes from the Bible off of their pedestals and puts them here with us in the everyday.

I've listened to this song many times since last Thursday, when I heard the news that Leonard Cohen had passed away at the age of 82. As a composer, musician, novelist, and poet, Cohen often explored themes that you hear in Hallelujah--spirituality, love, loss, brokenness, and healing. His music has offered me a place to reflect, rest, and rejoice, even at times when I wasn't able to put words to those feelings myself.

For all of us creatives, this is why we do what we do. This is why, when we finally finish writing or composing or painting, we're not going to keep our work to ourselves. We're going to share it. Maybe we'll get the big publishing contract or the record deal, maybe we'll go for the smaller label, maybe we'll go indie or even share it for free. But it's so important that we do share what we create, because someone, somewhere, needs to hear it. It might not be someone we know now, it might not be someone we ever meet, but there is someone out there who needs our work. 

When words fail, there is always music. I'm so grateful to Leonard Cohen for being the artist that he was, for sharing his gifts with us, and for giving a voice to all of us who are working to find ours. Thank you, Mr. Cohen. Rest in peace.

Creative Inspiration: Music

Even with the help of my outlines and plot boards, every so often I find myself staring down at a blank page:

If that sight isn't terrifying, I don't know what is.

The most intimidating thing about a blank page is that the longer I stare at it, the harder it is to start writing. It starts to feel like writing the wrong word is even worse than writing nothing at all.

If I'm just a little stuck, pushing through and freewriting can help get the words flowing again. If I'm really in a rut, though, I need to switch gears completely. My favorite way to recharge is to put down my pen and head for the piano.

What I love about music is that it's a zero-pressure creative escape for me. At this point in my life, there's no piece to learn for music class, no recital to prepare for, and (thankfully) no audience for the inevitable wrong notes. I'm playing just because it's fun.

The most freeing thing about playing piano is that there is no finished product. If I don't get a musical phrase exactly right, there's nothing to go back and edit later. I just play it again until I'm happy. That's especially satisfying since so much of my creative work is about results. Whether I'm working on a freelance project or a novel, my ultimate goal is to have a finished piece that's ready to send off into the world. With music, my only goal is to relax and enjoy the process, wrong notes and all.

After a little time on the piano, it's easier to go back to writing and stare down that blank page. I might start off with the wrong word. I might even write whole chapters that don't work or a story that goes nowhere. That's okay. If I just keep writing, I know I'll eventually get to a place where everything sounds exactly right. As Dilbert-creator Scott Adams said, "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."