Dark Inspiration

Inspiration is always productive, but sometimes dark

Let Them Eat Cake
Marie Antoinette, when told the people of France had insufficient bread to eat.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve looked at my computer and told myself: I’m not in a good enough mood to be creative. But then I remind myself that the only reason I ever wrote any stories with horror and dread in them was because I was in a bad mood. I guess we need to validate those emotions for our readership too.

So a couple of rejections from artistic development programs and a romantic life that feels like a hurricane at times were all it took to set me on a brand new, big project:

A requiem.

Requiems are sung prayer masses to the dead in the Catholic Church, and they are right up there with operas for ambitious undertakings, because there is a lot of dramatic text in a requiem mass. Many by previous composers have slogged on through 60-90 minutes of alternating sturm, drang, and desperate hope. (Mozart’s is one of my favorites.) I can’t imagine getting through all that text in less than an hour. Mozart died without finishing his; it was that stressful.

Dies irae

I have tweaked this particular version a tad. The third movement is called the “Dies Irae” (DEE-ess EE-ray, Day of Wrath), and it was a later addition to the mass (13th century or so). It dwells on a coming judgment day, and it yanks the requiem away from praying to God for the good treatment of our beloved dead and focuses on the living: It is a prayer instead to petition God not to send us to Hell.

It seems a pretty clear promotional call to action by the Church: Join us, so we can teach you how to avoid eternal damnation. Since the “Dies Irae” movement, one of the longest in the Requiem, was always a departure from the main themes of the Requiem, I decided to push it a bit further. Now instead of scaring people into the pews, singers of my Requiem will briefly remind Satan to make sure he’s doing his job and request that he go ahead and claim all the evil people still living a bit early to leave us in a loving world filled with equanimity.

No compassion

For context: I had to care for and bury my lover, Carl, during his fight with AIDS in 1993. You may remember that the Reagan administration chose to ignore the epidemic for years, until the Reagans’ friend, Rock Hudson, announced in the summer of 1985 he had contracted the disease and died a few months later. But they continued to underfund medical research to cure it despite that, and the White House was making jokes in 1986 that there was no reason to panic, because they believed AIDS only killed gay men and drug addicts at that time.

It was the people like that for whom I rewrote the “Dies Irae.” Those who let people die because they’re different.

Here we go again

And the current scenario is approaching that again with the Trump administration willfully caging and torturing men, women, and children from other countries who just came here to escape violence where they’d come from. Despite petitions from other countries to the U.N. to step in and stop this inhumane treatment, asylum seekers continue to be put into concentration camps where they are packed in so tightly not everyone can lie down at once. They are not given medical care, toothbrushes, clean clothes, showers, beds, and sometimes not even drinking water. Infants as young as a few months are ripped out of their mothers’ arms and put with other separated children, with only children a few years older to care for them, and then they are sent to foster homes with no record their parents may track to find them again.

I’m sure some of that cruelty has affected my mood too. One of my friends listened to the MIDI recording of the first movement and dubbed it, “very, very dark.”

I am concerned we are not yet angry enough as a country to respond to another attack on decency and the rule of law, so if I can stoke that a bit with my creativity, that too is a productive use of of my composing effort.


If you enjoyed this departure into the more political in this blog, you may also want to check out Subtle Oppression, Cultivating Empathy, Subversive Fiction, The Value of Shock, Calmly Freaking Out?, The Roots of InspirationSipping Reality, and Why do straight parents keep having gay kids?

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