Sense of Time

kbsitepicscene088Ah friend, the change of season is truly on us, and there hasn’t been as much of a chance to get together as we would’ve liked.  Hoping you were able to get out in some of the fall colours before November blew them away.  The golden light on the meadow was more beautiful for being some of the last we could enjoy before spring.  And the deep copper sun of late October evenings made every line of trees something to stop and admire.  Sensible people add a bit to their travel time in this season.  You never know what you’re going to see.  Or how long it’s going to take your breathe away.  Whatcha lookin’ at?  Oh nothing.

Around here I think fall gives us a sense of time having passed.  Yes winter is on its way.  But there is now some distance between where we are and the promise of last spring.  And without getting overly entranced by the view it’s maybe useful to get a sense in us of that distance.  If it’s good it’ll help keep you and me warm in the hard freeze.  And if not at least we know where the work needs doing, and have an actual measure of how much.  Turns out objects in the mirror are much smaller than they appear.

Hope you’ve been well and your challenges have been do-able.  I must admit it’s nice having not quite so many things in the ‘dear me’ pile.  There must be people who glide serenely throughout life unruffled by the random acts of loopy that just happen around the rest of us.  I am apparently not one of those people.  No, I get my serenity from a different place.  I suspect it’s a place where there is so much surprise weirdness going on you just have to sit yourself down and get serene.  Forced to be zen.  Yes I suppose that could be an epitaph.  More likely an aphorism.  Yes which I’m more likely to have.  Fair enough.

It’s been nice to put my hand to a few projects over the last little while.  Just finishing a bit of editing for an interesting location recording I did this summer.  I’d also done some bass tracks for my friend Nabi and when it came time for a cd celebration concert she put together a great band.  Was huge fun to play, great audience, wonderful music.  Just starting into transcribing the interviews for the Eilleen McGann book.  What interesting conversations those were.  Kind of nice to know that my interviewing chops are still reasonably intact.  At least acceptable.  Now I guess I get to see how my transcribing chops are.  Meanwhile the Thursday night sessions continue to be rewarding, if nothing else giving me a chance to play some more of those odd Beatles arrangements that continue to plague me.  Although I think people need to stop encouraging me.  One of these days I’m going to forget and play one in public.  I’ll either get laughed off the stage or get my sorry white bum sued.  This is not a career move.

kbsitepicscene089Writing’s going well.  Although don’t ask.  I’m at a point where I’m doing more staring into space than I am getting down words.  I’ve grown used to the idea that this too is part of writing.  Just like finally figuring out a scene when I’m in the grocery store is also part of writing.  Yes I show up at the page, but it seems that writing comes when it comes.  Where it comes.  And if you refuse to listen you’ve only yourself to blame.  So although I may be sitting and working on that long story I’ve been sharing with you, when I suddenly realise that song in my head isn’t something from the radio and it fits perfectly into that point in the story arc of the new musical that I wasn’t so sure about, I put down the story and pick up the musical.  As it turns out I’ve noticed that when I’m involved in sustained creative work it really is good to put it down and walk away from it for a while.  Problem is it follows me around.  So I take it for a walk.  We’re both happier.

Speaking of walking, it would be good for me to move into the next part of my day.  Thanks for giving me a reason to sit down for a bit, friend.  It’s good for me, and as you know I don’t do enough of it naturally.  Apparently you’re good for me.  Thanks for that.  As always I hope you’re busy enough to feel useful and still enough to know peace.  Write when you get a chance.

Be well.

Starting Point

Hey, friend, how’s your day?  I hope you’re well and enjoying some of the spring we’re still having.  Because it was delivered so early this year there was talk of it being taken back after a few days, but apparently it fits well enough we’ll keep it and wear it in a little bit.  I know it’s really spring now because I finally noticed buds on the tree out front.  Couldn’t miss them actually.  I guess I’d been walking around with my head down, hadn’t looked up.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere, eh?

Had another lesson yesterday, I’m just not sure quite what it is yet.  As you know, friend, I’m not a pack rat, I don’t care for collecting odd piles of things I just might use someday.  I’ve walked with people who live like that and it makes me uncomfortable.  It speaks of a sadness to me.  Maybe that’s just me.

No, I’m not a collector, but I am a bit of an archivist.  Sometimes I surprise myself at what I’ve managed to hang on to.  So I shouldn’t be too surprised that I ran across a pile of papers last night that looked odd at first, but turned out to be stacks of old tunes that I’d collected or people had asked me to learn over the decades, as well as instrumental arrangements from late in the last century, and even a few pieces I’d written something over thirty years ago.  I was surprised I still had any of it.  Even more that some of it actually wasn’t bad.  There were also several songs from a few years ago, things I’d forgotten about completely, one or two of which I might actually re-learn just for amusement’s sake.  Mind you I don’t know what to do with the arrangements for violin, oboe, flute and cello.  I think I got the chance to hear them on real instruments exactly twice.

Oh, and lyrics for the first two songs I ever wrote.  How very strange yet typical that I could immediately hear the melody and the guitar part clearly and completely.  Interesting to notice, too, that while the classic putdown of all young writing that it’s all about ‘me’, the first one was about Amos, a guy in South Africa who had climbed six floors up on a construction site to end his life while crowd gathered below chanting ‘jump, jump, jump’, and the second was about the end of the world from nuclear destruction.

Of course, typical me, they’re barely recognizable in those terms.  The first owes more to ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge‘ than any normal narrative structure, and the second is a whole ton of weird imagery flinging itself in all directions then returning to one person asking another what they saw when the world ended this morning.

Y’know, I guess when you start there pretty much anything is possible.

Maybe even inevitable.



And so the words

roll around and

the sounds form in

rhythm and

melody and

eventually it’s


Fresh Eyes

I remember when I was a kid I read somewhere about writers putting away something they’d written for a while so they could look at it later with fresh eyes.  The term they used was ‘putting it in the icebox’.  Although it was the seventies I had actually seen an icebox not that long before, so it was a very real image for me.  Somehow the idea stuck.

I’ve been writing on and off since then, mostly on, with a bit of off when life demanded.  For years I wrote mostly for use in performances.  I never bothered to tell people I’d written those bits, and I think most of the time folks assumed I was riffing off the cuff.  I suppose that’s a compliment to my delivery being fresh and spontaneous.  Although could also mean that I never sounded like I knew what I was talking about.  I’ll have to think about that.

Having been at this for a few years now, I’ve got this odd little collection of pieces, some finished, some started, some scraps, some huge chunks.  I don’t look at them often, I’ve noticed that once you’ve got a body of work it’s far too easy to start thinking that your best stuff is behind you.  And if that’s so in my case I’m in big trouble.  So mostly I leave things be.  But I’m working on this odd little tone poem and thought I remembered something from years ago.  I worked my way through a bunch of stuff and found it.  And that was good.

But something else happened.  You see, years ago I’d started writing a long story, it was probably going to end up being novel length, although I didn’t start it out with that in mind.  Somewhere along the line I started to get intimidated by the sheer volume of the thing, and more than a little doubtful about whether I was wasting my time.  So I printed off what I had and showed it to a few people.  And got no response.  I mean none.  You could hear the crickets.  Ah, I figured, there’s my answer.  So I dropped it.  Didn’t burn it, just stopped.

Well while I was looking for the other bit for the tone poem I noticed a paper copy of the long story.  So I brought it along.  And later I sat down and started to read it just for the heck of it.  I guess I’d been away from it long enough, it’d spent enough time in the icebox, that I had some kind of perspective on it.  I was fully expecting it to be awful.  Sure, I can tell it’s a first draft, but I read a few pages and started howling with laughter.  Finally I said to no one there, ‘Y’know, this is actually pretty good.’

So I guess I learned two things.  First, it was foolish to depend on others for support during the creative process.  And also, apparently I think I’m pretty funny

And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

So How’s It Coming?

Okay, since you asked, the new thing is going not too badly, a bit lumpy in places but it’s looking like it might shape into something useful.  Although I do wonder if I should maybe make it clear when people ask how it’s coming and I tell them at this stage that I’m something more than forty pages into it that doesn’t mean I’m telling them that any of those forty are going to make it even out of the first draft.  Maybe other people write page after page of deathless prose from the moment they begin until they lift up to dry their fevered brow hours later.  Not around here they don’t.  No, around here they scribble for a bit then they stumble around banging into things for a while not quite totally failing to do anything normal like make food or have a conversation, said failing activity is punctuated by more scribbling, vaguely understood mumbling or silent staring for unnatural periods, all accomplished while something most likely almost burns.  Around here they are pleased that the electric kettle has developed an automatic shut off, and they wonder what writers who live in places which don’t believe in electric kettles do.  And they are sad.  Then they remember they did actually put toast on a while ago, but have now figured out what was wrong with that scene, and so they scribble more, because after all at this point the toast isn’t going to get any colder.  Around here they are sensible in that way.

So no, other people in other places may do their creative work in a far more efficient, dignified and professional manner.  Not around here they don’t.  Contrary to what some friends maintain, no one around here is anything resembling a writing machine.  Unless maybe it was one invented by that nice Mister Goldberg.

Oh, is that the stove?  Hang on…

Sinking In

I have noticed that some days everything I write feels just dreadful.  What I’ve learned is that my job is to keep writing the best I can until it doesn’t feel that way any more.  And to judge nothing until later.  I think any artist regularly engaged in the process has had to figure that out one way or another.  Me, I got told.  No really.  Of course that is so for any creative activity, only makes sense.  I guess what surprised me was how much that same thought applied itself to life in general, that when I go through a patch where I just don’t seem to be able to do anything right, my job is to keep doing the best I can until it doesn’t feel that way anymore, and to judge nothing until later.  Okay, sometimes you have to tell me a few times, but eventually it sinks in.  In both ways.  And so ten pages today.  Some of which maybe don’t hardly suck at all.  But I’ll figure that out later.

So What Are You?

kbsitegraphicques01Are you a writer?  I often stumble over my answer to that question.  I write, I think to myself, but would people call what I do writing?  Then there’s the thought that writing isn’t all I do.  So if I say yes I’m a writer does that mean I’m not a bass player.  Of course there is significant evidence that I’m not a real bass player regardless, so maybe that’s not a great example.  For that matter how can I really call what I do writing?  I spend most of my time looping lines, I roll words and phrases around in my head, yes even muttering to myself sometimes, making connections of meaning and sound, phrases become lines and lines spin out into verses, after sometimes minutes sometimes days something has come together enough for me to try playing it.  Not just music though.  Entire scenes of dialogue, essays, monologues, goofy thoughts, little performance bits.  In the early stages of a piece I only sketch things out on paper as an aid to memory, mostly it stays in my head and I walk the world to the pace of the words I hear.  Of course that means that by the time the thing is actually written down I’ve walked through some parts of it dozens and dozens of times.  Mind you I’ll continue writing the piece well after its first performances, using live responses to inform a more finished shaping.

But there’s remarkably little staring at the page involved in all of that.  It seems that when I’m writing there tends to be more chopping wood and carrying water going on than sitting and scribbling.  Whether that’s a good thing is maybe a personal decision.  Of course we’ve talked before about the various kinds of avoidance we can practice while we’re supposed to be writing, sure the house is never cleaner than when the writer’s on a deadline.  So I try not to encourage ensconcing myself in chores that I be better able to stew on the fact that I’m not writing.  Rather I do a few chores while I try to stay present in the words I’m working on.  And by the time I’m done my chores I’m usually well on my way to shaping the piece.  Showing up at the woodpile maybe, rather than the page.  Although you’re right of course, they’re really the same thing.

But a writer?  I dunno.

Okay, maybe if we accept that there’s only one song, there’s only one gig, and only one instrument it just takes different shapes, then I could probably wrap my brain around there being only one art.  But if that’s so I’m just weird enough to point out that whether it’s expressed in dancing or singing or writing the one art is in fact love.  At which point people’s brains start to melt, so I try not to go there without signalling the turn.  You and I know I’m fairly serious, but there’s no sense causing distress.

Maybe I just need a new verb.