Argentine-American storyteller based in Appalachia

When Beautiful Work Inspires

On writing as an art form inspired by great works such as Mexican folk singer Silvana Estrada's performance of "Si Me Matan."

Silvina Estrada
Silvana Estrada

I've realized that the greatest threat to my pursuit of literary independence is not that I am a mediocre writer. It's rather, as my good friend recently put it, that I refuse to write what I don’t want to. I won’t write ad copy or social media content or commissioned articles about topics I care little about.

I miss out on easy money and instead choose to write these essays about soccer and family and an ordinary life for no money at all.

Writing is art and it is craft. It is the building of worlds out of words. It is imagination and inventiveness and expression. But writing is also tremendously hard, occasionally torturous work. I don’t know a writer who sits down and writes the perfect story in one draft. Every writer must practice, as must every violin player and athlete. You get good enough and one day people may come looking to pay you for your craft. To write their books or play their fancy private ceremonies or sell their fitness equipment on cable TV.

Perhaps I could look to sell more of myself too. Perhaps I should. But I am, in this very moment, more interested in art.

Searching for inspiration or distraction yesterday, I stumbled onto the song "Si Me Matan" (If They Kill Me) by Mexican folk singer Silvana Estrada. It is about the epidemic of gender violence in Mexico, where 10 girls or women are murdered every day. "Si Me Matan" is a beautiful and tragic song, shared online to raise awareness for the work of an organization that provides protection for victims of gender violence. In the video, several women sit across from Estrada in the courtyard of a ruined building. It isn’t long before tears fall from their eyes, as they fell from my own when I played the song then rewound it to listen again and again.

I think beautiful things can inspire us as we create. In an essay, the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) said:

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in. As I walked, my mind was busy fitting what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat by the roadside, I would either read or a pencil and a penny version-book would be in my hand to note the features of the scene or commemorate some halting stanzas. Thus I lived with words."

Many others have said that a good writer must first be a good reader. I think we can expand that idea to include consumption of every kind of good work. We must fill our lives with art, film, words, sculpture, song and use it to move the levers inside of us, to spark our work like a flint creates the fire that warms us.

I've translated the lyrics to Estrada's song to English, so you may enjoy it as I did. Perhaps it will spark something in you too.

Si Me Matan (translated to English)

If they kill me,
when they find me,
may they always say
(may they always say):
that I was a singer
living dreams.
That, like the others,
I grew up afraid.

And, still, I went out alone
to see the stars
and wander.
And still I went out alone
to see the stars
and love life.

If they kill me,
if they find me,
cover me with flowers;
cover me in dirt.
I will be a seed for the ones
who come after me:
when no one will silence us,
and nothing will contain us.

May the songs ring out
like a warm mantle
healing the wound
of what we've lost.
And may a scream like thunder
rip us from the pain.

They've taken so much from us.
They've taken our fear too.

May hope remain
as the blue does in the sky.
Look each other in the eye:
Sister, I love you.

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Jamie Larson