Unaccompanied by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo

Below the melody, I can hear the pressure of his fingers, blunt force pushing the string down to meet the fingerboard. Pale flesh meeting ebony wood with wire sandwiched between.

Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock PhotoThe actual piece doesn’t matter. It’s something by Bach, of course, baroque and brooding, an elegy at times, a discourse at others. I know that it’s Bach in the same way most people know the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but the name of the specific piece eludes me.

Between the notes, I hear him draw a breath. If I were watching him, I’d probably see him reposition his bow in that same moment. As it is, I hear the air being released from his lungs, from his lips, just before the bow attacks the strings.

I can’t watch him.

I look at my phone, observe the deep claret colour of the wine in my glass, devote close study to the remains of the dark chocolate mousse cake on my plate.

Anything to avoid his eyes.

Behind the music I catch the rasp of his sleeve where it brushes against the bridge on an up-bow. I lift my eyes – just for a second, I tell myself – and drink in the crisp white of his shirt, the jet black of his tie.

Finally, I am caught, trapped in the warm brown of his eyes.

He notices me staring at him, but his playing never falters, though there’s a slight quirk of his brow that just matches the note he flourishes.

Beneath the chords, I hear the faint buzz, not quite a wolf-tone, from the titanium strings, and discern – barely – the soft contact of his thumb resettling itself in the saddle of his cello.

As he lifts his bow from the strings, the faint tang of sweat and rosin assaults my senses. I lick my lips, anticipating the moment when he leaves the stage and joins me at my table.

People warned me about dating a musician. “You’ll be alone at all his gigs,” they said. “You’ll feel like a groupie; you’ll lose your identity.”

They were wrong.

I’m never alone, merely… unaccompanied.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

First Letter: March 8 , 2016

Dear Friend,

I am excited about our project of letter writing, of sharing our thoughts about this creative process that is so much a part of our lives. With our letters, we join a long history of other writers and artists who have used personal correspondence as a way to inspire and support one another.

I’m writing this letter early in the morning, in that fresh and open space right after Letterwaking up before the demands of daily living hijack my thoughts. This is what I want to tell you today.

Recently I had coffee with a friend – not a writing friend, but one who has always had kind things to say about my work. We talked of our lives, our families, our past experiences, some plans for the future. As we were finishing the last sips of coffee and wrapping winter scarves around our necks, she asked me this:

“What are you writing about now?”

I sighed heavily before I answered. “I’m not really writing at all,” I admitted. “I can’t seem to get anything on paper these days.”

She looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, before saying: “Well then, what do you think you might write about if you were writing?”

Such a good question.

If I were writing, I told her, I would write about how suddenly my world has become consumed with caring, of thinking about ways to physically and emotionally support the people in my life who are struggling with their health and well being. If I were writing, I might describe the ways my life has narrowed in the past 10 years, how much less I have and how much less I do, and how I am so very fine with all that. If I were writing, I would write about the ways technology has become a pervasive and disruptive presence in the world, how the noise from it hurts my ears, steals my attention, and fractures my time. If I were writing, I would relate my fears for this nation of ours, this America with its bold dreams and promises, and how this election year has revealed a dark underbelly to the place I’ve always been proud to call home.

But I am not writing. I am wondering – what do YOU do when suddenly the words don’t come? Do you feel as I do now – washed up, useless, spent?

Here’s the truth I know about myself: When the world is too much with me, it’s hard to find a way into the words, even if the words are the very thing that can save me.

I read something today, and found it helpful and insightful. It’s from a small book called Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Maybe this idea will speak to you as well.

The hardest part of art-making is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over – and that means finding a host of practices that are just plain useful. The details of art-making we recognize tend to be hard-won practical working habits and recurrent bits of form we can repeatedly hang work on.”

Like Frederic Chopin and J.S. Bach, composers who wrote piece after piece in certain formulaic patterns – Chopin with his Mazurka’s and Waltzes, Bach with his Preludes and Fugues in each of the 24 keys – there are artists who know the value of having a familiar and successful place to start.

So maybe this is what I need. Instead of looking for a new thing to inspire or motivate me, instead I should be looking back at those “recurrent bits of form” that provided reliable gateways in the past.

Maybe “what’s next?” is really “what used to be” – the writing I made part of my daily routine in the past, but have abandoned lately in the midst of many upheavals in regular life: writing morning pages, religiously every day; writing blog posts, once or twice a week at least; putting good sentences in my ears with inspirational books. These are my Mazurka’s, my Preludes and Fugues. They bring me to the page, prime the creative pump, and start the well of words flowing.

And who knows? It may turn out that these very letters I’m writing to you will be something new to “hang work on” in the future.

“Over time, the life of a productive artist becomes filled with useful conventions and practical methods so that a string of finished pieces continues to appear at the surface. And in truly happy moments those artistic gestures move beyond simple procedure, and acquire an inherent aesthetic all their own. They are your artistic hearth and home…”

I like the idea of an “artistic hearth and home,” work I can return to time and again and where I feel comfortable and safe. I think we need those kinds of havens for work and for life, in order to muster the courage to go forward and try those things that feel risky and dangerous.

The discovery of useful forms is precious,” write Bayles and Orland, “and once found they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons.” So here’s what I want to ask you, dear friend. What are your practical habits, your Mazurka’s and Preludes, your artistic hearth and home? Are you returning to them regularly, and letting them nourish you on your creative journey? I hope so.

Until next time,

About the Author: Becca Rowan

beccarowan_bio2Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife.  She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her out walking with the dogs or curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

New Moon Creative: Moon in Pisces

What would happen if you were to commit to your own creative life each month? How would you feel if you nourished your own need to create? How excited would you be if you didn’t just create something, but also shared your creation with other people who were also stepping into their creative lives?

While all of us at Modern Creative Life hope that each of our readers is indulging their creativity (even if it’s in small ways) frequently, we are also dedicated to the idea that we get to choose our own paths to creative living each and every day of the year, by writing, painting, cooking, or even making and artful arrangement of the books on our shelves.

As well, we believe it’s important to honor the cycles of life that form currents through all our lives. As part of our ongoing celebration of those cycles and currents, we will be releasing a collection of prompts to inspire you on your creative journey.

Since the New Moon is traditionally been a time of new beginnings, we’ll be sharing those prompts on the date of each month’s New Moon. This month (March) that date is the 8th.

Here is our first round of prompts:

New Moon Creative: Moon in Pisces

Write a poem, essay, or short story. Take a photograph and leave us with the image alone. Create a photo essay.

Post your creation in your blog and/or share your work on Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or all of those spaces. Use the tag #NewMoonCreative so we can find you. Leave a comment here (with a link) so we can read your words and lovingly witness what and how you are creating.

On the Full Moon (March 23rd), we’ll post a collection of the work that was inspired by these prompts and post them here, with links back to the full work (and you).


Welcome to Issue #1: What’s Next?

As we steadily make our way from Winter to Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, I count the ways in which I IMG_20150202_074036am blessed – especially the opportunity to help birth a new Literary / Arts Magazine into the world.

I have loved words (and pictures) from the time I understood that, combined, words created my beloved stories. It brings me great pleasure to share my stories, yet I must admit that the ability to share the works of other makers fills me with an equally intense joy.

Modern Creative Life has been many months in the making.

When we chose to put All Things Girl on hiatus in 2015, it opened a huge space for each of us entrenched within that Classic ‘zine. Many of us made good use of that time and published books while on hiatus – including myself, Melissa Bartell and Becca Rowan.

It’s critical for an artist to share her work… yet, the loss of regular opportunity to celebrate the work of others left many of us feeling as though we had a hole in our hearts.

In many conversations and multiple emails (and letters) we talked about the kind of space we’d like in the future to celebrate other Makers. To pay homage to the choice to pursue our own creativity and forge a path forward for living a creative life.

Moreover, we asked the questions: How do we nurture our creative spark and stay afloat? How do we continue to make our art while still getting dinner on the table and keeping a roof over our heads? How do we go back to the page (or canvas) when we are feeling parched? We are all naturally curious about how people DO it. What is life is like behind closed doors those of us who must create?

We began to labor in earnest back in December and today, you’ll see the fruits of those labors ripen.

For the first issue of Modern Creative Life, we chose the theme: “What’s Next?”. It’s a question I asked myself (and cherished advisers) after my book was published. It was a question I asked both out of excitement and fear. That question lies at the heart of every creative person: what IS next for my creative life? What deserves my time and attention?

Rather than flood you with more content than you can consume, we’ll be sharing today:

  • New Moon Creative Prompts – a way for us to join together in creation. On the first seven days of a new moon cycle, we’ll release prompts to inspire you creativity and hope you’ll share with us in your Social Media spaces whether you write a poem, take a photo, craft a quick blog post, or find your way into a new story.  Note that when the full moon arrives, we’ll round up a collection of YOUR inspired works to share here.
  • The lovely Becca Rowan will share with you a letter. One that she could have written to me… or you.
  • The fabulous Melissa Bartell will tantalize you with a snippet of a story. Just a taste of her ability to turn a phrase in one of my favorite short stories.

Then, between now and when we launch our 2nd Issue on June 4th, you’ll be presented with tastes of what it is to Honoring the Creative in YOU and MElive a creative life, how we keep the flame burning, and how we determine “What’s Next?” in our lives.

We’ll see a variety of ways to express how we live creatively and how we explore “What’s Next?”.  From essays to poetry to stories…to letters and diary entries. We’ll also explore what’s behind closed doors through our series Typical Tuesday , Through the Lens, and Studio Tours. We’ll also dig into the how – through our Instrumental Series….and more.

Our mission:

Modern Creative Living honors the pursuit and practice of joyful creativity. We believe that the creative arts enrich our everyday living, enhance our environment, create lasting connections, and sustain our souls.

When it comes to fresh voices, we are always open to single contributions as well as regular contributors. (Email Me at Debra@ModernCreativeLife.com if you’re interested).

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and anxiously await your submissions as you share with us: What’s NEXT?

Here’s to honoring the pursuit of joyful creation. Together.

With Love,






Debra Smouse, Editor in Chief