Monday, January 13, 2020

Voices of Experience: These Words

These Words (Shelly Album)
For a songwriter, you don’t really go to songwriting school; you learn by listening to tunes. And you try to understand them and take them apart and see what they’re made of, and wonder if you can make one, too. ~ Tom Waits

Greg Walker is a musician and a writer who met his friend Shelly on Twitter: a poet who happens to have muscular dystrophy. They became fast friends and together were able to make an album of songs. By sharing below the story behind the songs, along with a link to the album, Greg hopes to encourage creativity, honesty, friendship, and the power of story telling in those who might read and listen. It also gives Greg and his friend Shelly the opportunity to touch hearts and souls of readers and listeners with their work.

I met Shelly on Twitter. I loved the wit, the wisdom, the hope, the honesty of her words. I have been doing what I call “mini songs” for about a year, one-minute songs based on daily Twitter prompts. It’s therapeutic. I told my therapist recently that it turns my placid, stagnating pond of a mind into a clear, running river that is going somewhere. It gives meaning, as I make meaning. It gets all of the things I feel out and into the world of my feeling and understanding.
I think I sensed that same catharsis, that same healing property, in Shelly’s words. So I reached out to her to see if she wanted me to turn her words into “mini songs” -- just a few while a friend took over my Instagram account, where I repost my Twitter songs. She responded positively. She actually said it had been a dream of hers to turn her poetry into song. A dream? Wow. I knew the feeling. So I said, “Let’s do an album together!”
She shared a few poems and they were much darker than her Twitter writing. It wasn’t long before she shared with me that she was in the last days of her life, that she is bedridden and dying of muscular dystrophy, and that she has had some hard relationship realities in her life. Most of her story you can get from the words on the album: the isolation, because of her desire not to burden others with her sickness on the first song, “Insistent Rain.” The constant restlessness of living with an illness, and the desire to let others “cut themselves free” to avoid going down with her sinking ship -- but still the desire to be remembered.
That’s why after finishing the album, I wanted to share this with others, beyond our inner circle. Like she says in another song,“What I really fear is fading into a silent obscurity.” Isn’t that all of our story? The desire to be known and loved? The desire to use our gifts to impact others? To let them know they’re not alone?
There are dark moments of heartbreak on the album, like her desire to burn the bridge with a loved one in “one final act of love” in “Broken Bridge.” And completely loving and selfless moments, like “I Will Always Sail My Ship Close To Yours,” a song to her daughter, letting her know that even after Shelly is gone, she will be close by, loving her even beyond the grave.
The album ends with “Wisdom in the End” where she says, “Cause there is no turning around, and truth be told, would we anyhow?” She has lived a hard life, a life of suffering with disease, what-ifs, heartache and emotional turmoil. But she’s also known the love of being a mother, a lover, a childhood sweetheart, a writer, a courageous woman. A spiritual creature, processing and learning and growing from her experiences, as much as she didn’t get to pick the way her journey would go, because of her illness.
I told her a number of times, “I’m sorry I’m no Freddy Mercury.” The songs are my humble creation. But hopefully you enjoy this collaboration of two creative souls, wanting to make an impact on the world and “get it out.” Maybe we don’t have to live alone in the world of our suffering (or joy), illness-related or otherwise. Maybe, no matter our circumstance, we can meet the world with our best words, our best songs. Cry and laugh, dance and then die, in good company.
Thanks for reading and listening to “These Words.”

About Greg: Since a pretty young age, I took to music. Depeche Mode gave me all the feels. And in high school, when I was entered into the Mentor Program, I worked with a local Baltimore poet, Rosemary Klein. That began a long journey of poetry and song writing. I studied English at St. Mary’s College and wrote an album of seven songs for my senior project, which I got to perform with a full band to a jury of my peers. I’ve written hundreds of poems, been in a number of bands, the current one called Featherburn, with an accordion as the lead instrument! I love many classic and contemporary poets, including Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver as some of my favorites. Poetry and songwriting is my spiritual exercise and relief in a sometimes dark and crazy world. My advice to any creative would be to use that muscle ~ the muscle of the heart and mind and soul, on a regular basis. It is so rewarding. Find Greg on Twitter @gregwalkerpoet and on Instagram @minigregwalker

About Shelly: I’ve been writing stories since I was five. My grandma gave us an old typewriter and I thought it was the best thing ever invented. As a child, I struggled with any kind of physical activity, and when I was 15 I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. I couldn’t talk about my illness, but I could write about it. And so, when the Wishing Star foundation offered me a wish, I asked for a computer. I started writing my first book when I was 16. Life got in the way for a long time, though. I wrote here and there, but I shoved my dream of writing aside while I went to college and worked a job I thought would be my career. But, in 2009, my body would no longer allow me to work outside of the home. I worked from home for the next eight years, but had to quit even that in 2016. For the last 3 years I have been bedbound and homebound. But I’ve learned so much in my life, and now I just get to write. I get to write every day, and it has been the most fulfilling few years. I was able to complete one novel, thousands of poems, and even an album full of song lyrics! I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love every day, and I think the struggles I’ve endured have given me a unique perspective and voice. Find Shelly on Twitter @cagedheartfly

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