I was born to write. That was clear to me by the time I was six. But I spent a good many years challenging that verdict. I trained to be an actor, worked as a linguist, and became a spy to support my family. But the command to write was clear through it all.
One major alternative I worked toward was to be a musician, specifically, a composer. Music has always awed me. So as a child, I taught myself to read music and to play the piano (my family was too poor to pay for lessons). The internal logic of music enthralled me. No other logic applied to it, and its internal rules applied to nothing else. I even went so far as to earn a BA in music at the university of California in Berkeley. I earned enough money from part-time jobs (including as a barista in an Italian coffee house where I had to speak Italian, which I had taught myself as a child) to buy a cheap used upright piano. I composed reams music, ran church folk groups and choirs, and arranged hymns with parts for piano, organ, guitars, and wind instruments.
Over time, after I married and fathered children, I became a linguist and spy and spent thirteen years trundling between the U.S. and Vietnam before escaping under fire when Saigon fell in 1975. There was little time for music. I still listened and played the piano when I could, but it was no longer the focus of my life.
Through it all, I kept returning to writing. My work in intelligence required that I write well to report the results of information gathering. And I had to translate foreign documents and messages into English. I learned to think in the languages I was working in and to find ways to express nuances into English.
But music never left me. I still listen and play the piano every chance I get. Some piece of music is always playing inside my head, sometimes at a level of consciousness buried so deep that I’m hardly aware of it.
The biggest and most beautiful room in my new house is the piano room, dominated by my Steinway grand, a gift from my oldest daughter. When I am finally settled in my new house, I’ll return to a practice of many years, playing the piano every day.
In ways I couldn’t have foreseen, music has contributed to my writing. The sense of rhythm, melody, harmony, and phrasing shapes the way I use words. It enlightens me on subtle differences in constructing sentences and paragraphs so that beauty emerges.
Yes, my occupation is (and has been for many years) writing. But music enhances my writing in a way nothing else could.