My Musical Family - Joy Riggs

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A blog about my family's adventures in making and appreciating music.
Updated: 36 min 3 sec ago

Tunnel Vision: A Shawshank/Musical Family Mash-up

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 2:32pm
Early in June, my son Elias made a list of movies he wanted to watch during summer vacation, and we've slowly been making our way through it. Included on the list have been classics like The Godfather and Citizen Kane, and more recent Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated films like Moonlight and La La Land.

Exactly four weeks ago, on the night that I was close to finishing the draft of the last chapter of my book-in-progress, Finding My Musical Family, Elias decided he wanted to watch The Shawshank Redemption. He invited Steve and me to watch it with him, and even though I felt motivated to keep writing and finish the chapter, I didn't think I should turn down an invitation from my 16-year-old son, who actually wanted to watch a movie with his parents.

I sat down in the living room with my laptop in my lap, foolishly thinking I could multitask. But minutes into the movie, I put my laptop away and focused my full attention on the TV screen. I was sucked into the story.

I thought I had seen the movie before, and as it turned out, I hadn't (I know, I know—I've already been berated by several people for this travesty, plus, as my friend Laurie pointed out, it isn't like I haven't had the opportunity to see it, since the movie seems to play constantly on cable). I quickly learned why it has remained at or toward the top of many people's favorite lists: it's a wonderfully written and acted movie with a timeless message about hope and human decency.

It also occurred to me, toward the end of the movie, how appropriate it was for me to watch it as I was completing my book. And here I will pause for a moment, before I reveal a spoiler — if for some reason you haven't seen the movie yet, go watch it now and come back to my blog later.

Chapters of my book-in-progress. Finding My Musical FamilyOK. The reason it felt appropriate was because we learn in the movie that the main character, played by Tim Robbins, had been slowly digging a tunnel out of his prison cell for 20 years. Each day, he had used a small hand tool to carve away some of the rock, which he then put into his pants pockets and deposited outside in the prison yard; the tunnel entrance was hidden behind a poster on his wall. He kept at it every day, not knowing if it was ever going to pay off and get him anywhere. He kept at it despite all the challenges he faced. He overcame his fears and held out hope.

Fortunately, writing a book is nothing like being in prison, although it can be solitary work. But this practice of digging a tunnel, working a little day by day, hoping to see daylight at the end —well, you can see why the movie spoke to me.

The day after we watched The Shawshank Redemption, I took out my laptop and finished writing the last chapter, and last week, I finished writing a draft of my book proposal.

Me with G on the day I finished my last chapterIt has been quite a journey. The book project started in October 2006, when I first became curious about the life and career of my great-grandfather G. Oliver Riggs, a pioneering Minnesota band director. By October of 2014 I had settled on an outline of the book in its current memoir and history form (with a few chapter additions since then), and I had begun the slow and steady work of writing 27 chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue.

I am not yet on a beach in Mexico, but I have taken a few days off before I launch into the next stages of this adventure: revising my proposal and finding a publisher. These next steps seem daunting, if I think too hard about them. So I will try not to think too hard. Instead I will take it one day at a time, one tunnel at a time.
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