‘Everyone is haunted by something’
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is UCLA tutor, Harold Ribelow Award nominee and professional psychic Rochelle Jewel Shapiro @RJShapiro
Soundtrack by Tanya Davis
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, everyone is haunted by something. When my Viennese mother-in-law slid into senescence, she began to hear strains of her favorite operetta, Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. It played in her mind, non-stop, at full volume. She’d press her palms over her ears, and still she’d hear it. She would ask her neighbors in her assisted living complex if they were perhaps playing it on the radio. When they said no, she invited them in.
‘Do you hear it?’ she’d ask, hopefully. ‘Do you hear Die Fledermaus?‘
They just blinked at her.
According to Dr Victor Aziz of St Cadoc’s Hospital in Wales, musical hallucinations tend to happen to women over 73 who are living alone and have hearing impairment. In their mostly silent worlds, the brain stimulates itself to in order to hear sounds stored in the memory.
If this should ever happen to me (ptui, ptui, ptui, as my Russian grandmother would say to ward off bad fortune) the song that would probably come to me is Art by award-winning Canadian folk, pop, rock singer-songwriter, storyteller, and poet, Tanya Davis. It has become my anthem for creativity. I watch the video each morning before I begin writing. When I get stuck, I play it again. Art is a deceptively simple manifesto, a fetching love song to art, to what it means to be an artist and dedicate your life to it. In her quirky, endearing voice, Davis exposes the writer’s vulnerable heart, all the doubts, the worry if it’s worth it, if you’re worth it, whether people will appreciate your work, the whole caboodle that happens no matter how many times you’ve published.
Art, its childlike delivery, the girl painting as it’s sung, brings me back to my childhood bedroom, its floor printed with nursery rhymes, where I sat at the small desk my mother had painted red, drawing and writing stories, the tip of my tongue sticking out of the corner of my mouth in concentration. Every now and then, I’d call out to my mother, ‘How do you write flower? Princess?’ When she holler-spelled the word from the kitchen, I would write most of the letters backwards. No one required me to draw or to write. And I didn’t expect anything further to come out of it. I just had a drive to create and I worked at my illustrated stories every day without thinking of it as work or even as play. It was instinct.
The child’s voice is the truth
As Davis’s lyrics tell us, this innocence, this grace, doesn’t last long. But Art can help you pick up the child’s voice, which is where you have to dig to in order to get to the truth of any character.
In my newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost, a domestic drama spanning five generations about life here on earth and after we’ve passed on, is written in four voices. One is the voice of five-year-old Violet, a beautiful and sensitive child who seems to be psychic like her grandmother, Miriam. Miriam wants the chance to mentor Violet to help develop the gift as her own grandmother, her Russian bubbie, had done when she was a child. But Cara, Violet’s mother, a modern businesswoman who knows all too well the pitfalls of growing up with a psychic mother, digs in her heels. As things become more fractious, Miriam’s gift backfires, bringing terrible danger to those she loves and anxiety to the reader who has to worry about whether or not Miriam can make things right in time or whether it is already too late.
A young child speaks with urgency, without guile, amped feeling in every word. The feelings are real, naked, and make absolute sense according to the child’s logic and experience. In order to know an adult character, you have to not just know the events of his childhood, you have to imagine what he was like as a child. As Wordsworth said, ‘The child is the father of the man’.
Art, Art, Art, you haunt me when I don’t write and you worry me when I do. You are the best part of my childhood. Please be with me until the end. Whether or not the world can live without my writing, I can’t live without you.
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is a phone psychic and an award-winning writer who teaches at UCLA Extension. Her first novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) was nominated for the Harold Ribelow Award. Her newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook, 2012) was an Indie Finalist. Articles have been written about her psychic gift in such places as Redbook, The Jerusalem Post, the Dutch Magazine, TV GID, and the Long Island section of the New York Times. She’s chronicled her own psychic experiences in Newsweek (My Turn), and The New York Times (Lives) which can be read on her website. Find her on Twitter @RJShapiro