On ReWriting

Every once in a while, Inspiration hands me an engraved invitation.

Several months ago, while James was playing at a farmers’ market, a woman and her young daughter approached us. When James finished the song he was playing, the woman tried to explain to us why she was so happy to hear his music, even though tears were streaming down her face. Although we don’t speak Spanish, and she had a hard time finding the right words in English, we quickly understood that her father – who had recently passed away – used to play acoustic guitar, and that James had reminded her of him. As James began playing again (Cyndi Lauper, Time After Time), she spoke quietly with her daughter, thanked James for his music, and headed off, wiping the tears from her face.

She haunted me for the rest of the day.

Determined to do justice to this woman and her father, I set about writing what had happened. My first attempt was to speak about it from our point of view: a transcendent moment of music breaking barriers. Then I tried to recount the event from her perspective, to show how we can still communicate when there are no words.

Missing Papi - First Draft

The real story is in her heartache. I dove into that. I wanted the weight of the story to be her remembrance and feeling of loss, so I began with a memory of my grandfather.

Missing Papi - Third Draft

This is the first time in a long while that I’ve gone through numerous drafts for one piece. I tend to write and edit as I go, but with this story, I wanted to make sure I hit all the right notes.

Fortunately, I have some wonderful writer friends who were able to help me workshop some of the details I still wasn’t happy with on the third draft. They also helped check my Spanish to make sure it felt authentic.

One of the things I wanted to do was show how sadness and loss – like music – cross the boundaries of language and cultures. I hope that, were I to change the Spanish to French, Russian, Greek, or even Tagalog, it would still feel authentic to native speakers of those languages.

For the final version, read Missing Papi.


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