Sunday, July 26, 2015

Random Notes on a Writer's Life

Productivity: as usual, I am sporadic. As always those critics who think all composers, writers, and songwriters are (or should be!) daily-disciplined craftsmen who write every day, and who dismiss inspiration and the Muses as beyond the pale, are wrong. I've had that argument too many times for it to be interesting anymore: the "you're not a disciplined writer!" accusation against me, because I'm not a daily-disciplined writer, but one who waits and listens for those inner voices to bring something forward—and yet the critics and writers who would chastise me for being "undisciplined" by their standards still can find nothing wrong with what I write, it's not inferior to their own work, I produce enough work to satisfy demand, and despite grumbling they often accept it for publication. My discipline is to always be ready to write it down, whenever it comes forward to be written down. I find nothing kills freshness like stale rote "discipline." It's true that daily writing practice can help you polish your art, and improve your craft—but if you have nothing to say, so what? It's just hollow words.

So, as usual, I'm sporadic. Yet, in the past week or so, I've gotten down three poems, two of which are probably more in the song lyric column, all of which will be worked on more, later. I've also had some musical ideas floating around. In the next few months, I need to write another larger choral commissioned work, and I'm putting out tendrils to gather in ideas, inspirations, and texts.

Last night I rolled into the computer a cassette of a Barbaric Yawps live show, recorded in July 1996 at the Madison Art Fair on the Square. I was listening in particular to my own solos on Chapman Stick for those world-music-inspired progressive/free jazz band pieces that we worlked hard to perfect; the Yawps always played on the fractal edge where form and chaos touch, always intentional but near the edge of flying off in any direction. There was a power and life-force aspect to playing with the Yawps that was one of my favorite things about the band. We opened this Art Fair set with one of my own pieces written for the Yawps, "Nomads," which is written in a post-Ellington complex (world music inspired) scale, with polychords; I can readily admit that "Nomads" was my response to "Caravan," just pushed further and a bit more off-kilter and polytonal. (I wrote a few tunes for the Yawps, but most of the music was created by reeds player Tom Lachmund.)

Last weekend I was at Interlochen, in Michigan, for the biannual Interlochen Stick Workshop, my second time attending. I want to do more Stick workshops. I need to reconnect with the music and musicians, and begin doing regular gigs again. This is way of both improving my own playing skills, and networking; both are beneficial. The social aspect of the Stick seminar was actually as powerful for me as the actual classroom work.

Hearing the Yawps recording from 1996, I hear myself playing chordally-complex jazz solos that I can still hear in my head, but haven't played lately. I can hear my conceptual zone in play there, and I had finger dexterity I lack, now. I know I lost ground when I was really sick, a few years ago, and didn't have the strength to do much playing. Now, I want to turn that around. I'm getting my strength back, slowly, and want to get my playing skills back. I like what I heard during this 19 year old performance: recorded before I was really sick, and before I moved out West, and things got chaotic and my (as yet undiagnosed) illness worsened, and robbed me of life-force. I no longer had the strength to practice regularly, and even though I was gigging when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, it wasn't regular, and it was more on the avant-garde and free-jazz range of music-making, which doesn't require me to deepen my performance technique, in some ways. Being at a seminar that forced me at times to back up and re-learn some basic techniques and ideas was refreshing, stimulating, inspiring, and enlivening. Give me more!

Downside of being a lifelong science fiction, mystery, and fiction reader: I often spot the plot twists well in advance. It's partly because linear narrative has s logic to it, and it's partly because, as a storyteller oneself you know how stories are constructed. Even more than that, as a student of myth and folklore, and of the archetypes, you look for and find patterns in how stories are constructed. It's no secret that Joseph Campbell, the mythologist and anthropologist, was a student of Carl Jung, the depth psychologist who proposed the idea of archetypes of the collective unconscious; and it's no secret that I am a student of both these teachers.

Still, when I encounter a storyteller who can really surprise me, or whose work is a fresh take on the oldest myths, I treasure being surprised. That itself is one big reason I still read SF.

(And for the record, nobody uses "sci fi" to describe the genre except outsiders and popular media junkies.)

Meanwhile, I had a real, genuine, short story published this year, in JONATHAN magazine. An actual short story! An actual, for that matter, science fiction short story! It was titled "Shimmer," and is in the May 2015 issue. So I guess I can legitimately call myself a fiction writer now, a storyteller.

And I have had a scattering of short-short stories accepted for next year, as well.

I have also had a number of poems accepted for publication later this year.

I don't submit a lot, and I admit I'm sporadic about writing. Sometimes I do my best work under deadline pressure, and when I am asked to write something. It gives me a kick in the pants to get it done.

And my art installation at Silverwood County Park, The Temple of Deep Time, has been extended for a year. And I am being asked to submit proposals for new installations, for other settings and occasions. So I am being asked, and I am working to meet those deadlines.

This also reflects my increasing ability to actually Do The Work. The return of life-force and strength makes me able to meet these requests and goals. For now, it's very helpful for me to have an external push; at some point, the external push will be less necessary, but always welcome. I am still getting used to the idea that, for most of my adult life, I was not actually lazy and unmotivated, I was sick. I was sick! Sick with an illness that robbed me of strength, of life-force, of motivation, of mental health, and much more. I am too old now to probably ever fully recover; and yet here I am, able to do more now than I could imagine a few short years ago, and with the desire to do it all. I will never have "normal health" for someone my age—but I can do more than I have been able to in a decade. I am aware, today, that when I am not feeling PTSD or crushed down by life, I feel so energized I can barely keep myself in my body. And I am aware of how much I want to get done in whatever remaining years I have left.

It needs to be said, again, though: I don't make art for purposes of "self-expression," that hoary Romantic myth. Sometimes I do, but mostly when I make art I feel egoless rather than ego-empowered. There are things I have to say, and want to say, but a significant percentage of what I Make just has to be made, and I don't feel like I'm in charge, or "controlling" that, or the master of it. It just happens. Often I don't know what's going on anymore than you do—until afterwards. Craft is great for analysis, and theory is great for figuring out what you just did. It's not a very good prescriptive master, though, but more of a tyrant when applied beforehand rather than afterwards.

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