As a child of the Sixties, I love the idea of “Soul Food”. It opens up the whole metaphor of music as nourishment, musicians “cooking”, and connects performer to audience as closely as a mother breastfeeding her babe. I’ve done both–perform and breastfed. I hope that any of my students reading this understand that female breasts were originally created, or originally evolved, for purposes other than sexual pleasure. Again, this is a metaphor, my metaphor, and if you don’t like it, you can stop reading here.
We don’t use the soul metaphor much when we talk about creative writing. No doubt, we have been schooled to avoid emotion in talking about writing. But great writers nourish our souls. There are “junk food” books that we eat; the worst of these make us want to puke. Do great writers write to nourish others? I’m not sure all of them do, when I think of some of the huge egos I’ve worked with. Intention may be irrelevant. Just like breastfeeding babe, a reader latches onto the author’s breast and wants nourishment. If there’s no milk there, the babe must find another source of nourishment–or die. As a young editor, I was told to read only the first page of the second chapter of any manuscript. If the author hadn’t figured out how to connect with me by then, he went into the reject pile. (Natural selection applied to culture, I guess.)
Budding writers and musicians should remember that every audience member brings a different palate to the performance or reading. If you try and shove something down my throat, I’ll leave or stop reading. Someone else might enjoy the forcefed approach. (Rap lyrics, or violent writings filled with bitch and other painful words come to mind.) I’m the kind of audience who likes to be gently led into your writing or music, like a babe. Some great writers, for example, Margaret Atwood, can do this in remarkably few words. They are my favourites (I don’t have a long attention span). Songs have to taste good from the start. I’m a lyrical audience, so the words have to grab me. I even have to be nourished in emails. If the first word is “Hey”, I stop reading. It feels like a slap in the face. (I suspect I am a highly sensitive person).
So what tastes good to me?
- Salty (I grew up on the Atlantic coast–am still adjusting to fresh water)
- Hot and spicy (I do hate bland)
- Bittersweet chocolate (voices too)
- Onions and garlic (strong flavours, again)
- Pistachio and other nuts (hard texture followed by soft surprise?)
- Olive oil and vinegar
- Crisp apples and pears
- Sour pickles and sauerkraut
- Melted butter on anything
Et cetera. Obviously a German palate with some Latin American influence. Not Austrian (note the absence of whipped cream and pastry–though I do love a good Crepes Suzette).
I hope this blog has nourished you. It’s left me ravenous–which is probably a good guideline for musicians, writers and breastfeeding mothers. It means we’ve done our job.