The Music…Oh, The Music…

Well, shit.

How many times do I have to write about music?  About how important it is to me?  About how it inspires and drives my creative side?

How many times?

At least once more, it seems.

So, if you haven’t guessed by now, I decided to take a break from the blog.

A long break.

I haven’t written since Thanksgiving, and — quite honestly — I wasn’t sure when I stopped if I was going to take up again my keyboard and the commitment to share my thoughts and myself three times a week.  I was burning out, I was tired, and I wasn’t sure I gave much of a damn anymore.  Oh, the words were still there, but they were harder to find.  The urge to share was still there, but the energy…the energy was not.

And the worst part was that I didn’t know why.  I couldn’t put it together.

“What changed?  Why is it so hard now?”

What changed?

What changed, indeed.

I had stopped listening to music.

Oh, it wasn’t anything conscious or driven or intentional.  No, it was the stupidest of things: I got into a few podcasts, and they took up all of my “listening time”.

Now, look, I’ve talked many times before — many, many times — about music, and about how it matters to me.  Well, none of that was exaggeration.  Take away the music, and I find it hard…no, strike that.  I find it all-but impossible to really write.*

*The shitty pseudo-temp job didn’t help, either, by the way.

So tonight…

Tonight I was sitting there, starting to cook, and I decided to fire up some music.  I had no stinking idea what I wanted to listen to, so I went with a favorite artist…an artist who has inspired a number of writing sessions and flash fiction pieces in the past.

Umm, not to repeat myself or anything, but…well, shit.

It wasn’t a chorus of angels — that is reserved for when I have my first coffee after a long time without — but it was stinking close.  Almost as soon as the music started, the urge came back.  The words came back, and the energy came back.  I had to take that bit of advice that I’ve given to others so many times: when a thought/idea comes, you don’t wait, you don’t try to “capture” it, you write it. 

So I did.  Write it, I mean.

The particular song?  Well, I’ve talked before about my current favorite band (Gaslight Anthem).  The creative force behind that band has a solo career as well, and he is far and away one of my favorite songwriters.*  As for the song that…err…well…got me going (again)…well, it speaks to me.  It’s a symbolic song, a song with a lot to say.  It is, in the end, a song that speaks to me about a number of things, but especially it speaks to me about me (and, no, you don’t get any more explanation than that):

*The artist’s name is Brian Fallon, by the way.  He wrote, for vastly different songs on vastly different albums, two of my all-time favorite lines:

“I get up in the morning / Like a ghost chained to a haunting” from Proof of Life

And

“With everything discovered just waiting to be known / What’s left for God to teach from his throne / And who will forgive us when he’s gone?” from National Anthem

Oh, I burned my dinner, by the way…

I Have My Words

I’ve had that time and energy thing biting at my ankles over the last couple of weeks.  Now, in most ways, I just don’t care all that much when times like this hit.  I can work around my lack of motivation and focus pretty damned easily…but not with this blog.  The sad truth is that when time and energy fail, so does blog-writing.  Or, at least, blog-writing in a timely enough manner to get posts up when I should.

But that’s not what I sat down to write about today.  Nope, today I sat down to write about Thanksgiving…and about what goes with it.

I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but most of the time my life ain’t exactly an unending series of blessings and goodness.  It is, in fact, fairly hard to get all excited and thankful when you know the down side of up better than you know any lover…

Shit, just to give an example — most of you probably remember that I took some temporary work a few months back.  Well, that job quite kindly gave us all the day off for Thanksgiving.  How nice!  If we wanted to get paid for the “holiday,” however, we had to use our own fucking vacation time!  I’d love to say that was one of the worst and most stupid things I’ve seen over the last few months…but…well…not even close.  All that little gem of a policy was worth was a shrug and a mutter about typical managerial asshats and corporate greed.

And for this I should be thankful?image

Yeah, my lead-up to the holiday wasn’t great.  As much as I love the winter, and the holiday season, I just couldn’t get excited this year.

So I did something to myself that I do to my characters all the time: I changed the situation.  I changed the rules.

Screw the regular Thanksgiving rituals, I decided.  Screw the turkey, and the football, and the food-coma.  Screw, more importantly, the self pity and frustration.  Screw the expected.  It was time to do something different.

I spent my Thanksgiving serving at a homeless shelter.

It wasn’t happy.  It wasn’t warm & fuzzy.  It didn’t lead to some “road to Damascus” moment.  The scales didn’t fall from my eyes, and a chorus of angels didn’t suddenly start singing in my ears.

No, it wasn’t any of that.  

It was a reminder.  A reminder of where I could be…but am not.  A reminder of all that I could lose, and haven’t.  A reminder, in the end, of that trite and overused — but still powerful — phrase: “but for the grace of God, there go I.”

There go I.

I’ve talked before — in this post — about the fact that, but one or two changes in my life, I could very well be one of the “clients” of that shelter.  I could very well be that dirty, crazy guy on the corner, that guy holding a sign and begging for enough money to get a meal and a roof for the night.

But I’m not.

No, instead I have my life.  I have my toys, and my hobbies, and my little nerdy obsessions.  I have my stories and all those little ghosts in my head.  I have, when it really matters, my writing.

And for that I truly am thankful.

PS — And, yes, of course there’s a song for that!  By the way, I actually was at the concert this particular video is from…thank you, Red Rocks!

Creativity, Expanded

IMG_0163“How has your creative life changed,” the IWSG question o’ the month asks, “since you began writing?”

Wait…since I started writing?

Well, I hit puberty, graduated high school and college, started (and ended) a couple of careers…

Okay, let’s limit that, then.  How about this: since I started writing seriously…since I started writing intentionally.   Yeah, that’ll work a hell of a lot better as a starting point than my years of random, impulsive, and inconsistent dives into it as a hobby.

Err…

That’s still a harder one to answer than you might think.  The “expansion” of my creative life into photography and music predates my “serious” writing.*  I still owe those creative outlets to writing, mind you — or, at least, to the creative urges that underlie my writing — but the timing is, umm, complicated.

*Hell, I never could have afforded photography as a writer!  Just to start up, I needed everything I was paid as a (miserably unhappy) sales & marketing monkey…

No, the biggest change to my creative life that I can attribute to serious writing is, well, getting outside of my authorial comfort zone.  Crap, this blog itself is a great example of that.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a very private person.  Very private.  I never would have even considered an effort like Seat at the Bar without the lessons I learned, and the benefits I gained, from creative writing. And I certainly would never have come anywhere close to opening myself up with admissions about depression and talk about suicide…

But not even that is the biggest change. Nope, not even close.

No, the biggest change is something I (now) do on a semi-regular basis: microfiction.

Look, you all know — you know because I’ve told you often enough! — that I’m a long-form writer.  Short fiction and I just don’t get along. Oh, we tried to date and get together, but we just couldn’t make it work, so we went our separate ways in the end.  Oh, we would occasionally see each other at parties, but all we’d do is smile awkwardly and move to opposite corners of the room.

Well, since I started writing intentionally and consistently, I…err…well…  Okay, there’s no way around it, no way to sugar-coat it: I started drunk-dialing short fiction from time to time.  Nowadays, when we get together, things are still awkward and uncomfortable, but…ahem…the sex is actually pretty good…

I mean, really, c’mon — I spend three to six months just preparing to write a 125,000-word story, and now I’m posting — publicly, mind you! — 200-500 word pieces I write in under an hour?!

That’s just crazy-talk!

Crazy-talk it might be, but it’s a craziness that actually feels good.  It’s an outlet I never, ever thought I would use…and now I can’t see not spending a couple of hours a week on flash-fiction.  That is so far outside of any comfort-zone I’ve ever had, that I’m still not sure it’s entirely sane…

Shit, even when I was pretending* to be an extrovert during my sales career, I wasn’t this far outside of what is normal and natural for me!sticker,375x360-bg,ffffff.u5

*Fake it ‘til you make it!

And I owe it to the confidence and comfort I gained from writing.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Musical Addendum: The Writer

Umm…

So…

I wanted to do an addendum to my original post today…

An addendum about music and ME

Look…I write.  That makes me weird…even without considering all the, err, weird things I do in my life…

I don’t know about you, but for me, the key to writing is that I pour myself into my works and my words.  But I do so only in ways I can control.  There is an awful lot of ME in my works and words, but only so much.

I am — I seem to recall mentioning before — a very private person.  Hell, as much as I love them, even my own family knows far, far less about me than they think they do…

Okay, fine…I accept it…folks don’t know me because I don’t let them know me — and that ain’t likely ever to change.  I did, once, giving myself to a partner.  I tried going for marriage, two-and-a-half-kids, and a suburban home…

Err…

It didn’t work.

I tried because I thought I had to…

Then I sobered up.  Or I drunked up…take your pick, really.

Anyway, I gave up on the “American ideal” and struck out solo.  Now, various movies and books and essays will tell you that “striking out on your own” is a good thing.  They’ll tell you that’s how great things are built, and that genius lies in, err, eccentricity.

By they way, they kick you out of the bar for eccentricity…trust me, I know this.  But, as often as I try to escape the bonds of sobriety and sanity, music always brings me back.

Maybe it’s because it’s because I listen to such a wide variety…

Maybe it’s because I can always find artists who have gone past the lines I never would cross..

Maybe it’s because I’m (finally) growing up…

When I was young, music helped to define a world I couldn’t understand.  I was too young to deal with booze and drugs and the suicides of friends, so I let the music give me the answers.

Later, I feared those answers.

No, that’s not right…

I was terrified of those answers, because they threatened far too much to close circle of my youth.

I won’t say that I’ve changed all that much since I was 18 — umm, I’m not sure I’ve changed at all — but if there is a change, it is because I now appreciate and listen to such a wide variety of music.  Look, I grew up and matured on Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the rest of the 80’s and 90’s music scene, but I have learned to appreciate so much more

I’m a middle-class white guy, but Billie Holliday well-and-truly speaks to me…

As much as I like energy and dissonance, Chopin is a fucking genius…

Mozart and Muddy Waters both changed the world…

There is a show on British radio that asks, “If you were stranded on a desert isle, what one album would you want with you?”

Oh, shit…

That answer ain’t easy.

Clapton…Pink Floyd…Genesis…Hendricks…

How do you choose?

How do you choose?!?!?

Right now, with where I am today, with where I am right now…

Deep breath…

Sink or Swim by Gaslight Anthem.