Go Ahead, Be a User: Making the Most of What You Have

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Welcome to For a Song. I’m your host, Cari Ray coming to you from the majestic hills of Brown County. Just when we thought we saw buds at the end of the tunnel, Winter has settled decidedly here in Southern Indiana. Temperatures of the negative sort and a blanket of white have visited for many days now, and the little Intrepid wood stove ticks happily along with its belly full of fire. You see, around here this time of year, everything slows down a bit…moves a little slower, like molasses in J…well, we all know that one,don’t we? Anyhow, to a great degree, seeing the transformation back to a sleepy little town is refreshing, if just for a few months.

Another important thing slows down too…the local economy. For many of us, belts tighten right along with budgets during the harshest winter months. Living simply and within your means is worn like a badge of honor is this little corner of the world, you understand, but it is no more broadly ascribed to than during the freeze. The line between need and want becomes much sharper, and the wise words of our friend, Mr. Packer, become a near mantra. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Since I’ve been practicing this way of being in earnest myself lately, I started wondering how that approach might apply to the art of songwriting. I first boiled it down to it’s essence (another great songwriting tool, BTW, but we’ll get to that in a future installment…remind me, won’t you?). Yes, as I was saying, it’s essence. Which, to me, is about making or getting the most out of what you have. That’s pretty broad, so let’s focus in on things like relationships, occurrences, circumstances, things you’ve seen, stories you’ve been told or witnessed yourself…especially ones that have moved you in some way…to tears, to laughter, to anger, to joy. Something as fleeting as a sunset or as enduring as mother’s love.

Everything in and around you is fodder for songwriting. And the great new is, we all have an ample supply of material. We are all experiencing life…it’s one of the main things we’re here to do. Great songwriters don’t necessarily lead more interesting lives than anyone else, they just have the ability to observe and describe the experience of living at a heightened level…through a combination of gift and grind. And some of the best songs are squeezed from the lemons of life. Joni Mitchell wasn’t able to attend Woodstock, yet she wrote a song of the same title that likely captures its spirit best because of her unique perspective from outside in. Her story, told by average folk would be, “There was this awesome music festival but I didn’t get to go and I’m bummed.” But it came out of her as “We are stardust/We are golden/And we’ve got to get ourselves/Back to the garden.

Many of you commented on how clever you thought it was that I worked my broken leg into a recent episode of For A Song. I’ll let you in on a little secret…I didn’t work it in, I USED it…like I use all of my experiences…to feed into my creative process. Sometimes I find nothing I feel like using at that time, sometimes there’s just nothing I feel like using. Ever. But at this point, I’d say I’m always unconsciously scanning the script of my life for little jewels to lift.

If this isn’t something you’ve practiced, you’ll likely have to do so with impetus at first, but once you focus in this way for a while, I think you’ll find your existence to offer more fertile ground than you once imagined. When that moment comes, do the world a favor and go write about it.

I’m Cari Ray. join me next time on for a song…