I like to write songs – both music and lyrics; as a matter of fact, it is very difficult for me to write a melody for someone else’s lyrics; and although the reverse is not as difficult for me, it still is not something that I enjoy as much as marrying my own lyrics with an original melody. I have had varying degrees of success in my endeavors. What I have found of late is that the songs I wrote 20 or 30 years ago are really quite dated in sound and style; although with a tweak or two of the arrangements, they could be updated somewhat. What interests me about this is how some music or lyrics, some novels or poetry…really: how any artistic form can be called timeless. I am not disputing the idea that some art is timeless. God knows I have sung, heard, read, seen, or witnessed it, and never fail to marvel at it. But what is the quality that makes a piece of art timeless…how does something earn that moniker? It is a true conundrum for me. I have a real revulsion on hearing things labeled as “instant classics,” or a “new novel (or whatever) for the ages.” It’s not that the particular work might not turn out to be just that, but isn’t there some sort of unbiased standard by which something can be called ageless or timeless? I mean, really, shouldn’t something hang around in the universal artistic consciousness for more than a couple of “ages” before it can be called ageless, or certainly be known for its unique or exquisite qualities for more than a micro-second or two (in history’s eyes anyway) to be called “timeless?” (Let’s face it: “standing the test of time” beats “instant classic” any day!)
Rest assured, I have never written anything that could ever be called timeless, and regardless of how true that is in my case, I’m pretty certain that most artists feel the same way. Upon completion of any project, I’ve never known any creator or artist who has looked at his or her finished work and said, “Now that’s perfect!” or “That’s timeless!” or “This is one for the ages.” or “I can die happy now, knowing that my legacy to the art world is secure for perpetuity.” Something, I believe, is in the heart and soul of great artists that resists satisfaction. It’s something that says, “No, that isn’t enough…I can do better, I can do more, this just isn’t it.” I wonder: is that attitude a requirement for greatness? Well let me tell you right here and now – if that’s the only requirement, then I am the greatest artist who has ever lived! It’s not that I don’t appreciate any of my work, or do not see in it the seeds of competence, or even fail to be somewhat proud of what I have accomplished. It is, however, a complete lack of any sense of that ageless or timeless quality, and that is something I long to produce. Now, some may argue that the artist is not in a position to make that judgment regarding his or her own work. I disagree somewhat. I believe that the maker, the creator is sometimes the ONLY one who knows whether that quality exists or not, because the artist knows what concept was in her or his mind, heart and soul – what was the intention of the creator. I also (paradoxically) believe that true objectivity, if that is possible, can be an artist’s best friend, but objectivity is often not within one’s own power insofar as rating one’s own work. The artist can know and feel what is good even if not judged by others to be so, and is often found by succeeding generations that s/he was right. Making the “timeless” or “ageless” judgment throughout time, however, is out of the artist’s hands, and sometimes those judgments change back and forth over the course of history. (Now THAT was a convoluted argument…wonder if anyone understands what I am trying to say? Do I?)
It’s probably a good time to capitalize that “c” on creator, and move on to a discussion of the “Creator,” the only true Artist, because God created something, rather all things, out of nothing, and could then gaze upon it and call it “Good.” (My smart-aleck response to that is “yeah, sure but what did God have to compare it to?”) That includes humanity. As created, we are good…not that we don’t often go out of our way to negate that, but nevertheless, being a creation of The Creator, God was moved to call us “good.” So: while I am certainly not in a position to contradict God, (although I have always considered myself sort of an advisor to the Almighty), it is very difficult for me to call myself, or any of my “product” good. I don’t believe that my ability or inability to assess my work as good is a matter of conceit or something missing in my nature. Oh, no! It’s all my parents’ fault! OK, here’s the “reasoning” that brought me to this conclusion about my own sense of inferiority. When I was a child, my parents thought I was wonderful, and that anything I did or produced (with a few minor exceptions) was perfect! They would tell me, before a test or competition, or some similar circumstance, that all I had to do was the best I could, and that would be perfect. Here’s the kicker: as I grew into my teen years and beyond, it gradually occurred to me that so much of what I did was obviously not perfect (by my own or anyone’s standards; so it must be because I did not do my best. So from that point on, nothing I do is good enough. Isn’t it interesting how I lay the responsibility of this conclusion on my parents (may they rest in peace!)? They did nothing but encourage me in the best way they knew how; always tried to steer me in the right direction while at the same time allowing me some time at the wheel of my life. Basically, they did as well as could ever be expected of any parents, and certainly better than most. It dawned on me, fairly recently, that the feelings of inadequacy as an artist are entirely my own creation (probably one of the only things I feel I’m really good at!), and serve as a rather sad excuse for mediocrity. Becoming a parent started me thinking in the personal responsibility direction; dealing with my own children and their own feelings of self-worth. While I can encourage, praise, set a good example, and gently correct or guide, it is not in my power to completely form their self-esteem. While the ground can be tilled by others, self-esteem can only be reaped by the self. So, in terms of my own sense of self-worth, it’s time to let my parents off the hook, where I have frequently left them dangling. It is time to say it as unselfconsciously as it is in my power to do, that some of the songs I write are OK. Some of them are actually good. So you’re wondering why I have spent the last million words talking about self-worth and auto-judgment when the title of this piece is “Haven’t We Always Been in Love?”
Today is Valentine’s Day, not a particularly favorite day of mine, but it is a nice opportunity to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you (although every day is an opportunity for that). Shortly, or within two or three years after my husband and I married, I was inspired to write a song dedicated to him, but sung as a duet – we first became friends by singing together; we’ve done it ever since. The song bears this article’s title, and while it begins by speaking of our mutual life and love together, it transforms to a statement that includes our Creator – “Haven’t we always been in love with You… lived our lives for You… haven’t You always had a dream for us to share; haven’t we always lifted our hearts as one to You in prayer?” We were supposed to sing that together today at a Marriage Covenant Renewal Service at our church. We still love singing together, and we both looked forward to the opportunity to sing of our love for one another and for God in the company of some of our church family – 80 couples in all, plus some members of their families. It would make for a wonderful, joyful and reflective time. The flu had different ideas for my husband, and he was out for the count. We made the decision for me to sing, and renew our vows (!) as a solo act. I had written another wedding/marriage song called “Wedding Doxology” (not a duet) for friends some years ago (actually, I’ve written three wedding songs). So I sang that. I was complimented, and I graciously gave my thanks for the comments. No, I can’t say it was perfect, but I did my best at the moment, under the circumstances, and that is good enough.
Oh, and through the marvels of modern technology, during the repetition of vows, I called Ashley on my cell phone. He repeated them to me, and I to him, the words we first said over 34 years ago. As our pastor spoke an individual blessing over each couple at the altar, he took the phone from me and spoke into it, while laying his other hand on me: “What God has created in your marriage, let no one tear apart.” Certainly the flu can’t. So I close this epic blog with these words: “It’s good; well, good enough, and I am still in love. Haven’t I always been in love?