A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Great day in the Newton house today, the mizzus and I are celebrating a decade under the influence. TEN years of matrimony. I think that Nietzsche quote is probably the most applicable, “For anything great to happen, there needs to be a long obedience in the same direction”. It’s the long con, I’m playing. I landed the brightest fish in the school, and I’m daily fooling her into thinking I’m worth sticking around for.
Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 10.29.55 AM
Art and writing also come to mind when I think about the “long obedience”. Information is instantaneous in the Information Age—how has that affected our craft? Enlightenment balloons neural pathways and pixels fire our synapses but skill—true craftsmanship is built over time. Craftsmanship is a waiting game, a daily putting our hands to the plow and developing the scar tissue of experience. This is a difficult concept to grasp. There may be an inverse line relating the height of expectation to achieve with the younger one is. If somebody has grown up with instant information at their fingertips, patience is difficult.
I want to encourage you today to continually develop your body of work. Let your stream flow the world’s collective ocean of work. I again bring up that Jean Rhys quote:
 “Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake’.” ― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
This is the key for us. For me. I have these bi-weekly dips of insecurity. Did I choose the wrong career path? The music industry is collapsing under it’s own bloat, like Baron Harkonnen, and graphic design was where I originally started from. I see my peers excelling in that field and wonder why if it’s too late to restart.
Either way, I seek an obedience to the craft. To submit myself to those that have gone before, and the endless stream of constant work. Putting in the time separates the raw talent from the seasoned. There is a bushel-basket of difference between being a great songwriter and writing great songs. I’m confident that is true for any discipline. The former puts the crushing weight of identity and collapses itself under the entropy of every latest work. This one is as only good as her last song/poem/script/choreography/lecture. The other sees herself as one who loves and is beloved, and expresses out of that place, feeding the stream. We feed the stream. One fits himself into the mold of those who have (excellently) gone before, but that mold is an iron maiden, closing in over time. I see it every year with my songwriting students. I saw it with myself. We feed the stream.

No, not really what I meant.

There is a superb scene (below) in David O. Russell’s I Huckabees where Brad Stand submits himself to an epiphany. He had also been feeling a cognitive and soulish dissonance I’m speaking of. One stands on the outside of himself and looks objectively–a Descartes-esque fever-dream of mind-soul sundering. He began to see himself as one thing, devoid of a toxic shame stemming from over-externalized self-awareness, the 6th grader who, in the middle of her class, realizes she has b.o.

How can i not be myself?

Reading: Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung
Watching: The Hunt with John Walsh – his face/voice is a familiar comfort to me. Saturday nights as a kid watching  COPS with a chaser of America’s Most Wanted.
Listening: Automusic – Brian Reitzell
Playing: Alien: Isolation, Xbox 360
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Wonder-Working Power

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation. – Graham Greene
“MAGNETS! How do they work?!”, or so goes the notorious Insane Clown Posse track, Miracles. Insane Clown Posse was required listening among the cool kids in ’95, when I was in seventh grade (“Sevvies Suck!). It was Michigan, and The I.P.C. was still a budding regional act, with all of the punk rock accouterments found attractive to middle schoolers. Confrontational and striking visual image, antagonistic to parents, anti-establishment (other than a Faygo pop endorsement, so not anti-corporation, I guess?) chased with edgy, albeit–dumb, lyrics. I was certainly not cool, and I was not into IPC. But these same kids got me into The Wu-Tang Clan in high school, and for that, I am definitely grateful.
So I.P.C. released a song a couple years back lauding the wonder of this cosmos we find ourselves in, but not understanding that the scientific method has let us understand a little bit of the world around us. Hence, magnetism. Genetics. Rainbows. SNL parodied IPC’s video, but do we even need a parody?
So seventh grade science class. Biology, methinks? Formaldehyde, Drakkar Noir and bad decisions. My teacher was Mr. Sommers, in retrospect a marvelous, caring, and patient teacher. It was also light years before bald men hadn’t yet realized they should buzz all that mess still left over their ears. We were hellions hopped up on pop tarts and sex hormones, pounding our chests like silverbacks. And and the girls were no better, paper wasps, applying bricked layers of lip gloss on their bottom lip. It was Monday: dissection day. (Sorry PETA! Stop reading here! It gets worse! Rated “R” for “Reprehensible”!) We had been given frogs in teams of four, and were given scalpels, tweezers and these scissors that had vicious looking pointy ends. That day ended with me decapitating the frog and putting the severed head on my scissors so I could manually open and close it’s mouth by maneuvering the scissors. I used the sad animal as rude totem of my nascent sexuality, attempting to flirt(?) with the girl behind me, cackling and forcing her to look at the sad amphibian in its dead, dead, eyes.

“Hey ladies.”

I was watching a vid on music compositional techniques on The YouTube and made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments. Sigh. I just really can’t seem to help myself. Someone wrote “You cannot analyze creativity”. The “Magical Mysteries” song popped into my head. The writer’s tone was simultaneously insolent and wizened, doting sage words as some sort of svengali troller, it surprised me that it was one of the most upvoted comments. I resisted the urge to comment back, but the thought has plagued me for weeks. You can analyze and didactically communicate creativity. It’s what I do for a full-time job. Indeed, there has been hundreds of years of musicology, and we do know how and why music works. From the interaction between psychoacoustics and brain chemistry. One of my favorite artists and arrangers, Owen Pallett has written some enjoyable deconstructions of recent pop hits over at Slate.
Learning music theory, or art history, or neurobiology doesn’t suck out the magic out. but you do tend to have to kill the frog in order to dissect it.
Watching: The Americans, S2

FOMO and MACCA

Been awhile. Took some time off for Christmastide. Didn’t really “produce” anything but lethargy and indigestion. Was marvelous. I needed a break. I need a break from production. From “creativity”. We all have an overhead and it’s good to let your levels eek down when you find yourself in the red. At the end of the year all the magazines and blogs and news outlets are taking vacay time and compile big year-end lists and I feel like I need to get to them all or I’ll miss “making the best me”. I use Pocket as a read-it-later assist and it was bursting with 1’s and 0’s. I feel overwhelmed with all of the articles I’ve saved to read later, the “Best of 2014” record list I need to listen to. It reached critical mass. I got to Sharon Van Ettan’s record, (’s ok, but probably grow on me later) and D’Angelo’s (a revelation) and then I kind of move on to consume the next thing, a musical Pac-Man. Or cultural vampire. I like Pac-Man better. This year I’m starting a playlist for each month to kind of compile and document the stuff I’m into month-to-month. So many new tunes come across my “desk” that it feels furtively pulling records from the In-Box putting it on and bobbing my head for seconds and throwing it in the Out-Box in order to make time for the next thing. I’ll get to what I get to. Screw the Cult of In-The-Know, screw FOMO. Still haven’t heard the whole War On Drugs record all the way through, but shoot, what am I gonna do, my hands smell like diapers and I fall asleep 23 minutes into an episode of anything. And I’m still digging through the Old bin, classic records that were great before I was born, the Lennon deep cuts, The Band, Warren Zevon, Big Star. The holiday break found me making my way through McCartney’s cringey productions of the 80’s, albeit with a couple 24-carat nuggets like his collaborations with Elvis Costello. I flipped my freaking wig when I heard My Brave Face, and just kept the beast on repeat.
I’d been nuts for a while about Costello’s Veronica cut, but learned it was only one of the four co-writes that came of 198???’s co-writing sessions with McCartney (didn’t know it was a co-write, either).
Paul’s 80’s stuff suffered from trying to maybe distance himself from the experimental efforts he had put out. I mean, he was the guy that was into noise-rock and experimental tape manipulation.
He was trying to escape the shadow of The Beatles, but the 20 Year Cycle of tidal fashion was coming around again and folks were again geeking out about Beatles-esque harmonies and chord changes.
Makes me want to collaborate. Break new ground, and ground myself. My brother sent me some stuff to listen to, maybe something will become of that? In any case, hopefully you took time to reflect, get inward, and fill your gas tank. Getting back on the horse last week, I jumped back on the horse, (wait, no, I don’t mean heroin) and wrote 4 songs. Didn’t say they were any good, just became recharged again to get back to creative work.

Jesus, Etc.

Advent Calendar?

Unreliable Narrator, the new record, is on the iTunes store, Spotify, Rdio and all streaming services, so pick your poison, but make sure it’ll kill you! I mean make sure you enjoy and get bummed out by the new record! Also, you may have noticed the site’s new look! Hope ya dig. Next in the hopper, I’m re-doing the SOUNDS page to include lyrics and maybe some other assorted goodies, but seriously, if there is something you’d like to see, drop me a line.
Xmas is coming up soon, right? Keeping crazy grading term papers and songs, filling out shopping lists, Advent is already here in full swing, and I’ve been going through my Spotify Xmas playlist. If you want a serene vibe (as I much of the time do), you could do a lot worse than Mark Kozelek’s (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters, etc.) new one, Sings Christmas Carols. The Band has a great standalone song off ’77’s Islands. (ht DZ) Firstly, it’s an interesting choice to include a Christmas song on a “regular” album, however sublime it may be. Especially in the middle of the record? I guess it would close the first side of the record, but jeez. However it has synth quirkiness, and I’m crazy about dead, dead, drums like Helm’s sound on this track. Hungry to try something similar on upcoming projects. Even though I just put out music last week, my mind is only forward thinking, I’m a cerebral shark; if I stop moving, I die.
Almost done reading S. King’s On Writing, I’ll have some assorted thoughts on that next time, but for today I’ll leave a quote that has been burrowing in my mind:
“Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” — S. King, “On Writing”.
Art is the reflection, the mirror of the world. It let’s us see ourselves, and our world, but it is no substitute for the world, relationships. C.S. Lewis expands on this in The Great DivorceA painter goes to the afterlife and exclaims his excitement about getting Heaven down on canvas. He is told that he’s got it backwards—he’s looking at what the painting is supposed to represent, the hidden paradise, the light peeking through the tear in the lampshade. He goes away, sorrowful. We hear a guide say:
“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him”
For the love of God, the Cosmic King had himself born in a dog bowl.
Merry Xmas.
Listening: Serial Podcast. For real, amirite?
Watching: The One I Love, Netflix
Reading: Stephen King, On Writing
Playing: DragonAge II for Xbox 360

That’s Right! UNRELIABLE NARRATOR Available Now! FRESH FROM THE COW!

What’s up bearcats and gentlefolk. Took a bit of a break from blogging the past month. Lotsa stuff flying down the stress sewer. The most important one is that I put out a new record on Tuesday, UNRELIABLE NARRATOR!

Unreliable Narrator Artwork

Sublime design by Aaron Stearns

And it feels real good. It’s been a year since I’ve have started recording it, and I can now breathe a big sigh of relief that the album baby is slick with placenta and out floundering about the planet!

Big THANKS to everybody(!) especially if you’ve been a purchaser! Right now you can check the record out by clicking on SOUNDS in the above header menu, or just clicking HERE. And for all you Spotify and Rdio heads, full digital distro is coming next week!

In the next number of weeks I’ll probably take some time to flesh out the stories behind some of the songs on the record; I love to geek at other writers when they do that dishing. but for today, I wanted to wrap up some thoughts I talked about in my last post. So I also just finished my first NaNoWriMo, where one attempts to write a draft of a 50,000 word novel (think about the length of The Great Gatsby) in 30 days. There were a handful of times I almost gave up, but I broke the 50,000 words on time, and “won”. Absolutely was a blast. There’s no way I’ll do it again for a couple of years—I have enough editing to do for probably that long—but I learned a number of cool things along the way.

FRIENDS ARE COOL

I wouldn’t have made it without my pals to talk to about the process, especially Daniel and Corey. Feedback, brain dumping, and complaining to them and competing with them helped spur me on. That’s it.

CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE

“The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth.” – J. C. Kromsigt

My wife and I have been rabid about the Serial Podcast, and have spent many nights in our bed in the dark, languishing while my iPhone 5s spins the sordid tale of Adnan Sayed. An absolute must-listen. Produced by the This American Life crowd. Earlier this year, Ira Glass wrote a superb statement regarding the chasm between your taste and the actual work that many of us make in reality. The whole thing is worth the read, especially when it comes to letting yourself off the hook to just work and not immediately assess.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

MINIMIZING SELF-DOUBT

Along with this idea is the continual reoccurring plague. No, not Ebola, but second guessing myself every few days about whether I was wasting my time. I became lost in the whole enormous project, and no longer could see the forest for the trees. I understood why Hunter S. Thompson typed out pages and passages from The Great Gatsby (you just knew this was coming back around–too clunky and Chekov’s gun-ny), to just “feel what it would be like to write the great American Novel.” There is something to this idea. Becoming another’s work for a while. It might be learning a cover song, re-reading the same chapter five times to get the mechanics, or literally re-typing someone else’s work. To inhabit another’s work is to taste the excellency of mechanics. I have a Beatles’ fakebook, and I regularly go thru and learn the songs, and I’ve already seen the impact on my own songwriting.

“For anything great to happen, there needs to be a long obedience in the same direction.” – Nietzsche


Maybe after I edit the novel I’ll throw it up on this site for anyone that likes supernatural thrillers featuring ex-priest “fixers” and evil Nephilim. But until then, you can enjoy UNRELIABLE NARRATOR!

Alt cover design

                      Alt cover design

And again, UNRELIABLE NARRATOR is available for:

  • The #1 spot on your Best of 2k14 music list
  • Working off those T-Giving L.B.’s
  • Final Exam study soundtracking
  • Digital stocking stuffers
  • Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs

NaNoWriMo Wk 1 and Everyday Tip To Creative Flow

I’m now over 10,000 words deep into the National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo). I have no idea why I did this to myself. That’s not true—the first three days were torturous; slaving away at the lard mines to get my word count, but now, I’ve really settled into a good flow. I now break it up into bursts of 500 words in 15 minutes, roughly using the Pomodoro Technique. I even have remaining faculties left to do a blog post! It feels like any time I’ve started something new and immediately laborious: P90X, PaleoDiet, etc., all things that mandate a superior level of strenuousness. It’s not for forever. I’m already one-fifth of the way through. It doesn’t have to be good, and I don’t have to like it when I’m done. Just the word count. Very similar to the practice of MORNING PAGES.
As I’ve pointed out by now I’m an avid supporter of Morning Pages. There’re a few direct and slump-busting correlations with improving your songwriting (and your creativity in general). I can’t remember if someone mentioned it to me, or I came across it on some site, but Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way became a creative lifesaver. Maybe not the whole book (I think I lent it to a friend before I finished it [BTW—if you have my copy, bring it by!]) but the promoting of the practice of daily morning pages, among other things.

1) Hamstring The Internal Censor.

Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself. —Henry Miller

It’s not a mystical thing, but the rewarding practice has proven to break me out of a long slumber of creativity. Going to school for a creative discipline, I think I may have let my internal Censor have his way with me. Further, taking a faculty position over the Songwriting Division, I think I subconsciously felt like I needed to be the bastion of songwriting perfection, that I needed to be the shining example of luminous songwriting with every piece I wrote. That pressure became crippling. Sure, I wrote. Even released records of material. More records sat collecting dust in the 1’s and 0’s of my hard drive. It was difficult to let ideas bloom without killing them in the crib, too afraid to see them grow into “bad” songs. What would that make me, if I wrote a bunch of “bad” songs?

*Without doing Morning Pages

2) There Will Always Be Another Song. (Or another short story, novel, novella, flash fiction piece, grocery list, you get it)

Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake’. ― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

We realize your life is about committing to work, putting our hands to the plow and feeding the stream to the great lake of Civilization’s body of work. We begin to slowly, through the faithful everyday practice of writing, SEEING our writing accumulate. We see that there is always another day. Another 3 pages of thoughts, feelings, expression that no one has used as firepower to criticize us. We begin to apply that practice to the rest of our writing and Art-Work. I emphasize Art-Work, because we free ourselves to add to the lake, as Rhys says, of creative growth. Push the limits of the art form, stretch genres, movements, convention. We disappear, and with the fading of Ego, true work presents itself.

3) Practice Your Voice.

Good ideas present themselves while writing, rather than not. — Pat Pattison

Ideas don’t have to be that “good” in order to justify fleshing them out. We don’t have to wait for the perfect one to spend our energy on. Everybody knows, that when you read any advice from established writers in their fields and their first piece of advice is to write something. Everyday write. Be it a grocery list, notes from a class, a letter or email to a friend, or … the important thing is to exercize that muscle. As a singer learns a body of work to perform, their repertoire, and thusly learns their style and performance practices, we no longer second guess every creative voice (as much). You’re supposed to write the morning pages longhand, but I do it on the computer. 750 words. In fact, others feel the same, and somebody even came up with a cloud version.

and –

Reading: No time. Just writing.

Listening: New Jessie Ware, Tough Love

Watching: No time. Just writing.

The Longest Journey Begins With Just One Word

So Halloween. Big day. I was raised Episcopalian in a small Michigan town orbiting the most northern USAF base, so today was always celebrated as All Saint’s Eve. We’d dress up as Bible saints (re: sundry characters) and go to church at night, broomstick slamming crayoned-on devils on brown paper grocery bags (re: ad-hoc pinatas).  I was the oldest of 5, so I always got shotgun on first draft pick on the “cool” (re: violent) characters. You have your pre-teen King David (with sling-shot shooting action), long-haired, black-wigged Samson, and then the littlest one was always wrapped in TP as a hasty “Lazarus” mummy. Episcopalians, amiright?
Now, Oct 31 marks Reformation Day. Change. Growth. Struggle. Passion. Papua to Chrysalis to Imago. Shed my skin and become more human. Part of pushing through to my next stage as a person is growing as a writer this year. Some friends and I are attempting the National Novel Writing Month. Have you heard of this? You have one more day to sign up, as tomorrow is Nov 1 (I know, I know, AND Sunday is already Daylight Savings Time! [If you’re living in one of the antiquated US states that practice such malfeasance]) So you write about 1600 words per day with the goal of bridling a wet, sloppy first draft of a 50,000 word novella. (I believe novels are closer to 75,000 words).

Some paths for our mutual success:
“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” Picasso
1) The More the Merrier: After doing Morning Pages on the reg for the better part of the year, I will be a little more comfortable with the habit of brain-dumping every idea on the page and letting God sort ‘em out. Start with a wide net and narrow down; currently have an X-Files/Twin Peaks-y/Lovecraftian/Kabbalistic vibe and we’ll recduce from there.

“Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” – Benjamin Franklin

2) Keep It Like A Secret: I don’t plan on showing anyone my novella when I’m finished, not even my wife (against her demands). At least, that’s what I have to tell myself. I’ve found for my personal creative process, that when I think about someone hearing the song/reading the story and judging it, it seems to cripple my creative flow and the sense of “safety” I feel as a maker. When I write in my own head, letting my feelings, ideas, and preferences flow, I am able to build a unique workflow that doesn’t let my internal Censor in a bit.


“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
3) Use It Or Lose It. Also—creativity “works” when you need it. Necessity is the mother of invention. All that good stuff. In other words, I’m burning through every stored up idea that I’ve been saving and sitting on the past handful of years. There’s a peculiar story in the biblical books of the Pentateuch about YAWEH giving the Israelites bread from heaven everyday, and the only stipulation was that they could not hoard it up. Eat it and next day there will be more. If it was saved in earthen vessels it would rot and grow maggots. Yum. I have gobs of unused song titles and phrases I’m going to cannibalize and employ as chapter headings and “working titles” of my novel draft.
AND because I’m hyper self-aware of how inane it sounds to be *screws in monocle and sucks a generous drag of cigarillo* “working on my novel” to not take myself so seriously in this process:
     –The Worst Muse
     -Father John Misty, “Writing A Novel”. Selected lyric: “I’m writing a novel, cuz it’s never been done before.”

“The most daring thing to do with your life is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” — Kurt Vonnegut
4) All Hands On Deck: Geographic regions of Nanowrimo have little get-togethers and writing groups planned. I’ll try to make the one at the donut shop. So some fellow faculty, staff members, and students are writing together here at Visible and I think we’re taking a “no child left behind” stance. It’s all of our first times, so if we stick together, we just might make it.

Watching: Still hate-watching Gotham.The Tick creator Ben Edlund wrote the latest epi and it was the best one so far.
                 Also—this.
Listening: Dawn of MIDI, Dysnomia 
Reading: Assorted John Berryman poetry (here and here)
Playing: Batman: Arkham City Xbox 360 (replay)