Sunday, June 12, 2011

Process of Writing 14: Deadlines

I intend to take a quiet day today, and rest a bit, write a bit, not push too hard. I've pushed hard to meet deadlines for several days, and now I need to rest.

The previous few days I had been working continuously to notate as many pages of score as possible, to fulfill the mid-commission deadline point of having 15 minutes of music written and turned in. I've been pushing hard at that deadline, as this month I also am getting ready for surgery at the end of the month; after which, I don't expect to be able to do much for a little while.

A few days ago a major storm swept through with heavy winds, heavy rains, even some large hail, and knocked out the power to my small town for three hours beginning around sunset. The weather had been gloriously warm and summery for several preceding the storm; then with the cold front sweeping through with the storm, it was 40 degrees colder for days afterwards. The trauma to my flesh was severe: I relish the tropical heat, as it's the only time my body feels completely comfortable and at rest. The cold brings out the aches in bones and joints, and reminds me of old injuries, which always ache in the cold damp. When the power went out that night, fortunately I always keep a lot of candles around. So I read for awhile, by flashlight, then I got back to writing music. I sat in the total dark on the porch, surrounded by candles, and wrote music for a couple of hours, till the power was restored.

During the outage I reflected on how dependent we are on electronic technologies and the power grid. Not only for our necessities, but for many of our distractions and entertainments. I look around at people texting all the time on their cellphones and wonder if they remember how it was before such tools were ubiquitous. It was refreshing to spend an evening "off the grid," which is something I always enjoy when I go camping out in the wilderness, far from power and its conveniences. It's surreal when this happens at home. The entire neighborhood was dark, black as perdition except when a flash of lightning seared the sky like a hot flashbulb, casting a flat hard light across the land. I thought about my elderly neighbors huddled under blankets in their beds against the encroaching dark and storm. I realized I was probably the only person on my block who wasn't feeling apocalyptic fears about the end of everything. A power outage brings that specter close, for a few hours. What would you do if the power went away, and everything we take for granted came to an end? Would you be able to survive? Could you find food, and cook it? Fortunately, since I go camping a lot, I have a lot of gear in the garage; so had it come to it, I could have taken out the propane-powered stove and made dinner in the dark. It's strange to discover that I have even minimal survival skills, from time spent in the wilderness, that many people no longer have. I could have made it for at least a few days. Of highest concern would have been cooking up the food in the fridge before it spoiled.

Then the power came back on; you could almost feel the sigh of collective relief spreading from all the surrounding houses.

The following two days were a big push to write even more. I developed some momentum, and picked up speed on writing and finishing the finale movement for the commission. I still don't have a final title for it, although on the pencil score I temporarily called it "When We Sing." We goal was to turn in pencil score, and engrave the music in notation software later. I might do a little revision when I engrave the score, the way I sometimes revise a poem originally written in my handwritten journal (often when out camping) when typing it into the computer. Life has been scattered and dramatic enough lately that I realized recently I had fallen behind on that task, and there are still poems and other writings in my journal that I haven't typed into the laptop as yet. I'll catch up someday, I suppose. I'm please with the music I wrote over the past few days. The finale movement lacks only its last few pages, then I'm done with that movement, except for possible revisions later. This is first finished draft, not final draft, that I am working on now. There are no doubt going to be revisions and improvements. The writing has been rushed, but sometimes I write at my best when under deadline pressure.

Yesterday was a Chorus concert at a retreat center in the countryside by a lake, an hour or so northeast of Madison. I drove up to Madison, and carpooled with other members of the Chorus the rest of the way. The concert went well, but by the time I got home I was completely exhausted. There is a smaller, informal concert the Chorus is giving this afternoon up in Madison, but I've already begged off. I don't want to push myself past exhaustion, and loose the whole week to it. I need to build up my strength for the upcoming surgery, not wear myself down. So I had to choose which was the more important concert to participate in this weekend, and while I chose the one harder to get to, it was also the more important one. Today I need to take it easy, after all this pushing and stress of the past few days.

Yesterday, as much fun as it was, and even though the concert was very well-received, was an overstimulating day. Driving back down from Madison, I didn't even listen to music in the truck, my ears were so tired. I get overstimulated when surrounded by so many chattering extraverts and loud ambient situations, that go on for too long. The quietest background noise, the music playing on a restaurant stereo that would normally seem soothing, a quiet conversation overhead across a room—all of these become overwhelming, painfully too loud. When I got home, I didn't even rest for awhile, I was so wiped out I went right to bed. I'm still feeling tired and overstimulated this morning, but at least it's sunny and warmer again. Maybe warm enough to open up the windows again. So maybe later I'll be able to go for a walk in nature, alongside the river, under the whispering trees. And that will be a refreshment.

Why do I often seem to do my best writing under deadline pressure? It's not that I enjoy the stress of the pressure. It's more that my conscious mind seems to be forced out of the way of the creative mind, which is given freer rein. Things come bubbling out that later I sometimes marvel at, wondering where they came from. The conscious mind is sometimes most clueless, dumbest part of the mind, of the whole system of mind. (Which is why privileging it over the other parts of the mind, as philosophers and academics often do, is often problematic. It's not a reliable witness even for its own narrative.)

Who knows, maybe in the fog of painkillers and anaesthesia, I might actually come up with some creative ideas? Maybe the conscious mind will be so fogged that the other will happen. So I intend to keep a notebook at hand, just in case. The largest obstacles to creativity will no doubt be physical: pain, and exhaustion. After the relatively minor surgery a month or so ago, I came home and slept for days. That's a good thing, as in sleep you recover, heal, and recharge. The trauma to your flesh and spirit is lessened by going into the Dreamtime.

Labels: , , ,


Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Me, I don’t like deadlines. My solution is normally to have everything ready as soon as I can and to hell with the deadline. I never leave things to the last minute. I’m the kind of guy who buys Christmas presents in Summer. I can work under pressure when I have to but I prefer not to. The main reason is that I rarely get things right the first time and I like time to distance myself from the work and be able to go back and make tweaks. I’ll be changing my website in a few weeks time but the bulk of the work was done at the start of the year after I finished my novel. Every now and then I open it up, see how it looks, click on a few links at random and maybe tweak this or that. No pressure. Just because I work months in advance doesn’t mean I take my time. I still use my time wisely but I always leave plenty of time for things to go wrong.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Maybe "like" is too strong a word. What I mean is that I function well under deadline pressure. It isn't always pleasant, and it's often stressful—but it's also exciting and exhilirating, with a real sense of accomplishment.

I rarely plan that far ahead. At least not creatively or artistically. It's true that for this music commission I have things mostly planned out, but the outline isn't the finished piece, and things have already changed since I built my outline for the overall piece. I expect there will be a revision process, at least in spots, and changes will be made during engraving the final score. I can already think of a few.

But planning ahead on a commission is almost required, so you can talk about it to the client, and relieve their anxieties, if any, about progress and process.

That's for commissioned work, though, and graphic design. In other words, commercial work. For personal projects, I don't plan like that, I just let it unfold. Not to say that there isn't overlap in these styles and means of working; there is, but it's not always obvious.

12:50 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home