Every January since I started running about a decade ago (has it really been that long?! Jeez, no wonder my hip hurts) I’ve celebrated New Year’s Day with a long run. Traditionally, the first song I cue on my playlist is U2’s “New Year’s Day”. (Yes, I’m that dorky. No, it doesn’t bother me anymore.) But yesterday as I launched myself into the subfreezing January morning, a different tune whistled through my earbuds: “Home We’ll Go,” by Steve Aoki and Walk Off The Earth.
“You’ve seen the darkest skies, I know / Let your heart run child like horses in the wild… / The sun it glows like gold / Feeling warm as a burning coal / Let your soul shine bright like diamonds in the sky / so take my hand and home we’ll go…”
Why the track change? “Home We’ll Go” is my private theme song for the Syzygy series, and I finished revising the last installment, Right Ascension, on the last day of 2017. As I start a new page on the calendar, I’m closing the pages of the project that has consumed my creative energies for almost three years. My tracks scribble on snow as white and blank as the pages that await me. I do a lot of my mental writing on the trail, and in the countless miles I’ve cogitated about Syzygy, almost every one of the up-tempo dance and rock tunes on my running playlist has become mentally coded for that story, creating an accidental soundtrack for the series:
“I was stumbling right on the edge and you pulled me back for one last dance / I was lost on the darkest road, now I need your light to lead me home / I can feel your pulse kickstarting this lifeless soul / like a lightning bolt to the heart, you woke me up….” Cash Cash’s “Lightning”, which could be one of introverted Ash’s mental monologues.
Reaching the sidewalk intersection and turning onto the trail, a tunnel of bare trees that evokes stark lunar lava tubes….
“You set the sun, I feel your waves / I look at the ocean, so big and brave / Am I only a ghost? Cause what I fear the most is me… / don’t you give up on me / are you swimming in the stars, breathing in eternity?” Morgan Page’s “Don’t Give Up”, capturing Skye’s stubborn resilience and her longing for connection.
Over the frosty bridge, river bright with a shell of ice like the bottom of Shackleton Crater….
“S.O.S., so obsessed, oh you make me such a mess…” Ryan Star’s “Start a Fire”, the inspiration for Lily and Rowan’s tragic backstory.
Up the long hill that slowly gnaws at my leg muscles the way a long writing project slowly gnaws at my sanity….
“Out here in the field / I fight for my meals… / teenaged wasteland….” The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, a classic anthem for young soldiers sacrificed, like Syzygy’s terranauts.
A dozen other songs activate mental music videos every half-mile. Sure, I could load an entirely new playlist, but my brain’s memory card won’t delete content so easily. How do I evict characters who have inhabited my cranium for three years? I’ve spent more time with them than with some of my own family members. I’ve watched them grow, witnessing their failures and triumphs. And strangely, they’ve done the same for me.
Syzygy began as a somewhat mercenary effort to build my author platform with a series, but developed an intensely personal resonance as threads of my reality wove into the fiction: mentoring junior team members at my Day Job made me reflect on the passage of responsibilities between generations; my Laddie and I decided not to have children, so my reflections on family and legacy leaked into the books (along with three of my favorite hypothetical baby names, bestowed on creative progeny rather than biological ones); and the emergence of genetically-linked health issues forced me to consider how much I should let DNA control my destiny. My experiences slipped in and subtly altered the plotline like transgenes from the story’s engineered fungal spores. Daily work on the series for years made it feel like an inextricable part of my existance.
Now, more than 150,000 words later, the Syzygy saga ends, but mine as a writer continues. So where next? The winding trail offered little direction. Strides felt weightless as if I were running on the moon, combining the exhilaration of a quest completed with the terror of being unmoored from a familiar anchor. Even my divergent responses remind me of the little symbionts in my skull. Methodical Ash is discomfited by the sudden loss of structure, while cunning Skye thrills at the opportunities amid the chaos. She snickers a bit of dialogue in my ear: “what will you choose, hero?”
I choose to keep moving forward. Indie authorship is a marathon, and I’ve hardly left the start corral. Syzygy can be another favorite track on my narrative playlist, the familiar rhythms I can return to when I need a boost. “Let your soul shine bright like diamonds in the sky….” I let the crystalline winter air wipe my mental whiteboard clean for a new story in this new year.