Learning To Fall

This is where Laurie Anderson learned to crawl

Walking and falling

The muses are calling,

“This is your captain

speaking with his voice

We all have a choice:

Sink or swim?

Walk or fall?”

Voices in a frame

spell my name

smell the same

speak the flame into being

The pictures I’m seeing

Are talking and calling

rising and falling

Learning to crawl

Crawling to the starting line

Crawling to the finish line

 

This is the date

This is the debt

This is the gate where Jesus wept

Take me to Pilate

Take me to Macbeth

I won’t wait for fate to flog me to death

 

I put all my eggs in one basket,

set my basket on a wall

where it was sure to fall

All the king’s horse

and all the king’s men

with sword and with pen

Struck down the basket

scattered the nest

burned down the rest

 

Walking and falling

The Tweeling is bawling

I speak and swell

but cannot spell

the broken frame

that knows my name

Things crawl apart

The centre cannot mould

Waiting for the crash

Slouching to The Clash

 

The distance between us is certain to fall

like time in a bottle, an egg on a wall

But no one comes close to learning it all

 

My blood is congealing

My brain is concealing

the past from the present

(It’s not very pleasant)

Yet on to The Tweeling

We march

We march

 

Be still, my soldier

Lie still

Lie still

 

The Tweeling is coming

I can tell

And nothing could suit this time so well

With infinite feeling

this forthcoming Tweeling

is dragging us all to hell

 

At least we’re talking

talking and telling

speaking and spelling

bit by bit

putting it all back together

all

And all will be well

All manner of things will be well

Fear not

Fear not

Caring for the Muse in a Troubling Time

As a result of COVID-19, I lost my job back in March. I had a small cushion, but have now reached the point where money is going to get very tight very soon. This is, unfortunately, not a unique position to be in these days, but in this case having lots of company doesn’t make the situation any less miserable.

Ideally, I would be doing a lot of writing, making art, and composing music. After all, these are all things I love, and I have often found myself wishing I had more time in which to do them. Well, now I have the time, so why am I not doing them? Truth is, I’m having a hard time concentrating on any creative pursuits while my mind is preoccupied with worrying about trivia like rent and food.

Here are a few things I’ve been doing to try to keep the muse alive, even if it isn’t currently being very productive:

  • Reading. I have to be careful of this one, but I am a real book nerd, and I can easily find myself reading to the exclusion of all else.
  • Walking. Serves the dual purpose of providing some much-needed exercise as well as giving me a break from sitting in my apartment. Also: I sometimes get good song/story/art ideas while walking. Sometimes.
  • Trying to write a page of lyrics a day, even if they are really terrible lyrics, which most of them are. Collaborating long-distance with a friend in Canada on some new songs.
  • Free improvising on an instrument (mine happen to be piano and trombone). If anything sounds worth keeping, write it down or record it.
  • Listen to music and/or podcasts that inspire me, or at least things that I enjoy.

None of these are terribly original suggestions, and none of them has solved the bigger problem of income and lack thereof. But by tending even minimally to my inner artistis spirit, I am keeping myself back from the brink of despair.

Quantify and Publicize

On August 29, 2006, I created by first blog post (http://aladdinfoot.blogspot.com/2006/08/). It was a Tuesday. The US president was George W. Bush, the UK Prime Minister was Tony Blair, and Pope Benedict XVI was leading the Catholic Church. The entire post consisted of a picture of me from 1994-5 (thank you, Suzanne Plunkett!), and the line, “Just a pic to show you who’s responsible for this blog.” Exciting stuff.

Why do we blog? Or vlog? Why do I meticulously record every run or walk that I take on MapMyRun? Must my every move be quantified and publicized? How on earth did I ever enjoy my photos before Facebook was there to Like them? Are my own actions like the proverbial tree falling in the woods—silent and inconsequential unless witnessed?

I used to think people living monastic lives were retreating from the responsibilities of the world. Maybe, however, there is value in doing a thing for the sole purpose of doing that thing. Maybe learning and contemplation are not productive in the same way that a factory is, but I find it hard to believe that a life lived well is meaningless just because it isn’t lived in the glare of a spotlight.

Why do I blog? And vlog? And post things on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? To say that’s just the way things are now feels like a cop-out. One of my wife’s least favorite sayings is one that I hear a lot: “It is what it is.” That’s another cop-out. No sound and no fury and certainly signifying nothing.

Why does man create? Men have struggled against time, against decay, against destruction, against death. Some have cried out in torment and agony. Some have fought with arrogance and fierce pride. Some challenged the gods, matching power with power. Some have celebrated life. Some have burned with faith. Some have spoken in voices we no longer understand. Some have spoken eloquently. Some have spoken inarticulately, some haltingly; some have been almost mute.

Yet among all the variety of human expression, a thread of connection—a common mark—can be seen: that urge to look into oneself and out at the world and say, “This is what I am. I am unique. I am here. I am!”

– From the 1968 short film, Why Man Creates by Saul Bass and Mayo Simon

Prolific versus Non-Prolific

Some writers are very prolific, and some writers are very good, and these two groups are not the same. Oh sure, there is some overlap—those writers who are both very good and very prolific: Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Stephen King, for example—but in writing, as in most things, quantity does not necessarily equal quality. There are other writers who are/were very good but not very prolific. John Kennedy Toole, whose A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books, is a good example. His only other known book was The Neon Bible, written when he was just 16. It’s a remarkable book for a 16-year old author, but that is its only claim to fame. The other famous example of a good-but-hardly-prolific author is Harper Lee. Like Toole, she won a Pulitzer, and like Toole, she is known for just one book: the brilliant To Kill a Mockingbird. Her only other book, Go Set a Watchman is basically a first draft of Mockingbird. As such, it is interesting to read, but only as an historical oddity. It’s not very good.

As a songwriter, I have not written anything of note (See what I did there? Songwriter – “note?” Clever, huh?) in years, but during my prolific period, I was…well…prolific. I wrote a TON of songs, and most of them have one thing in common: They are very, very bad. There are a few that I’m proud of, and a few that I enjoy on a personal level for various reasons, but you won’t be hearing any of them on the radio any time soon. (Actually, does anyone hear anything other than angry right-wing chatter on the radio these days?)

As a blogger, I have been very un-prolific lately. I’ve been in a rather weird head-space, but then that describes nearly everyone in this time of COVID-Climate-Protest-Political crises, so I can’t very well use that as an excuse. I can, however, use it as the topic of a blog post on Prolific versus Non-Prolific.

This has been that post.

Critiquing Myself

It’s very easy to criticize, to point the finger, to be the armchair quarterback. When I read an essay or article, there’s a little part of my brain that always wants to be an editor, finding fault with the author’s phrasing or choice of words, spotting typos, and suggesting improvements. Today I thought I’d do a bit of that with my own writing. One of my recent blog posts had a simple message: Don’t blindly follow whatever religion you are hand by your parents, society, or anybody else. I fleshed that out with 300+ words, and in the end, I wasn’t very happy with it. So let’s put on our editor hats!

These people say God, the Bible, and their Faith are the most important things in the world for them—that their religion is, to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich (although most of them wouldn’t know Paul Tillich from Kim Kardashian), the “ground of their being.”

The first problem is that in an essay in which clarity of meaning is a theme, I don’t do a good job of distinguishing what I mean by “faith” and “religion.” Then I somewhat inappropriately drag Paul Tillich into it. To compound my error, I make a crack about Kim Kardashian that sounds clever but makes no sense.

Did you choose your religion, or was it chosen for you? … What do you really know about your own religion? About other religions? Why is it important to you? How is it informing your actions?

Too many rhetorical questions!

I don’t mean we should ignore everyone and stick entirely to our own counsel; we have a president now who tends to do exactly that, and it’s not pretty.

I probably should have left politics out of the discussion. That’s just opening a can of worms that needn’t  be opened in this context.

We owe it to ourselves and to posterity to be broadly informed. BROADLY informed.

The repetition might work in a speech, but it flops in print.

Choose wisely, because how we decide matters.

At the conclusion of my post, I wanted to add, “Make sure the ground of your being isn’t shifting sand.” I thought that line tied in neatly with the Tillich quote at the top. Wisely, I opted against doing so; it was a cute line, but only confused what I was trying to say. As Stephen King says in his excellent book, On Writing, “You must kill your babies.” If a sentence doesn’t fit, throw it out, even if it’s your favorite.

 

 

The Pressure’s On…Or Off

One of the hardest things for me when it comes to writing is just getting myself to sit down and do it. No. Wrong. It’s not “one of the hardest things”; it is far and away the hardest thing. But here’s the funny part (funny strange or funny ha-ha?): I love sitting down to write in my journal. In that situation there is no pressure; it’s just me writing for myself and my own enjoyment. As soon as I put an audience into the equation, it becomes a chore. I feel the pressure of performing.

There is an additional demotivating aspect to writing these blog posts. Ironically, it is the fear that no one will read them. Wait…WHAT?? I just said I enjoy writing in my journal because that writing is for me and no one else, but it’s demotivating to write blog posts because I fear no one will read them? Yes.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Journals are supposed to be private. (As an aside: What’s the difference between a journal and a diary?) If no one reads my journal, then all is as expected. But a blog is for public consumption. If no one reads my blog posts, it feels like I have failed. The journal has met expectations; the blog has not.

YouTube boasts that over 400 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. There are over 600 million blogs on the web. According to Forbes, “There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace, but that pace is only accelerating…” (Bernard Marr, May 21, 2018). It’s unreasonable for me to expect anyone to find and read my little blog posts, and yet a few people do. And some people are able to make a good living by vlogging and/or blogging.

So maybe that’s the problem—the ol’ comparing myself to other people mistake (and it’s almost always a mistake). I would love to reach a wider audience with my blog, but that won’t happen unless I write and post consistently, constantly improving my writing and posting skills. It’s okay to have a desire to be heard, and it’s okay to be aware of what others online are saying. It might also be healthy to bring some of the joy of journalling to the table, though.

Vlogging and Blogging

I’ve been doing VEDA (Video Every Day in April) this year. I was going to do it last year, but didn’t get around to it. I almost didn’t do it again this year, and in fact got a late start, so I changed my personal challenge from VEDA to 30VI30D: “30 Videos In 30 Days.” I know very little about VEDA’s origins (and frankly, I haven’t spent too much time researching it) other than a wee bit of info here. A Reddit from 5 years ago implies that even back then, VEDA might already have been passé. C’est la vie. I’m doing it anyway.

I’m mainly using it as a chance to practice recording myself talking into a camera, the camera in my case being an Android. Pretty low-tech, I admit, but it’s still an interesting learning experience. One thing I’m learning is that I say “um” and “uh” and “yeah” too much. I think my speech habits have declined in recent years and I’m not happy about it. I can do better. Seeing myself in in the short video clips I’ve been making is a humbling experience. In my head, I look fabulous and speak smoothly and mellifluously. Every word is a pearl of wisdom. In reality, I look old and overweight, I puff when I record myself while walking, I tend to babble (although not as incoherently as our so-called president); and then there are all those “ums” and “uhs” and “yeahs.”

Similarly, these blog posts are largely a chance for me to practice churning out small pieces of writing on a semi-regular basis. Reading back over them is another humbling experience, but every writer gives the same advice to would-be writers: “Write!” so I’m writing. I’m also practicing my typing, which is another skill where I feel I fall short. I prefer to write with a pencil and paper, but then there’s the problem of transferring what’s on paper to the computer. I suppose I could simply scan my notebook pages, but my handwriting, while perfectly legible to me, might be difficult for other people to decipher.

So there you have it—a brief note on why I vlog and blog. If anyone wants some helpful hints from a highly successful vlogger, check out these videos from Hank Green:

On Typing

“You either live life—bruises, skinned knees and all—or you turn your back on it and start dying.” – Captain Christopher Pike

This line, from the pilot episode of Star Trek, pops up again in Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The line has some resonance for me, especially as I get older. It is tempting to tell myself I’m too old to learn new skills, but that’s not true. One skill I plan on honing: typing. A recent text chat with a longtime friend brought up the topic of typing, and since we were using text as a way of communicating, the message that came through loud and clear was that I suck at typing.

I never took typing in high school because there was never time for it in my schedule. Half of my school day was taken up with music classes (concert choir, jazz band, wind ensemble, etc.); I had to take both summer school and night school just to squeeze in my required history courses. Typing seemed like a class for students with no higher aspirations than secretarial work. How wrong I was!

These days, we spend a lot of time typing on computers and smartphones, and I wish I were better at it. The need for solid typing skills has never been made more apparent than in these past few weeks, when most communication cannot be done face-to-face, and we must rely on the written word more than ever.

Some time ago, I gave some advice on how to succeed in college. I would like to add to that list: Learn to type! It is a skill that will serve you well! I am taking this advice myself. There are plenty of online sites that will teach you to type, many of them free. I am currently using typing.com. I’m sure your local library also has books and tools to help you learn to type, so once they are open again you can take advantage of that resource.

Yes, even an old dog like me can learn new tricks!

“Get busy living or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne and “Red” Redding

Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut books

Since I’ve been talking about science fiction, perhaps this would be a good time to mention one of my favorite authors: Kurt Vonnegut. One of the things that most appeals to me about his writing is the meta-ness of it. His novels sometimes contain generous helpings of autobiography, as in Slaughterhouse Five, and many of them are aware that they are novels, as with Breakfast of Champions. Then there is Kilgore Trout, the failed science fiction writer who pops up in many of Vonnegut’s books. We are given many samples of Trout’s writing, and Trout himself frequently appears within the story. His reality is multi-leveled; sometimes he is the author, and sometimes he is the innocent creation.

Time travel is also a frequent Vonnegut theme, and provides the central conceit for his last novel, Timequake. It’s no wonder time travel appeals to science fiction writers; it offers possibilities and paradoxes by the score! (Incidentally, that’s the second time in this blog post that I’ve use a semi-colon, which Vonnegut would have strongly opposed.) And here I can use time travel to tie Kurt Vonnegut to another writer whose work I admire: Harlan Ellison. Trekkies regard Ellison’s time travel episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” one of the best in all the Star Trek canon.

 

Book Glutton

bookshelf 7-23-2019

I am a glutton. Not with food—well, not usually—but with books. I look at the books on my shelves, many of which I still have not read, and I want to dive into all of them at once. When I pick up a hefty book like Kristen Lavransdatter, War and Peace, or Bleak House, I want to devour it in huge chunks. I want to fill myself to the brim with all the delicious words I just know are waiting for me between the covers. I recently made the plunge into George R. R. Martin’s massive Song of Ice and Fire (five volumes and counting). Proust’s complete In Search of Lost Time (4,211 pages according to Amazon), has been sitting by my bedside, waiting patiently for at least two years now. There are literally hundreds of classic books I have not read in the world, not to mention those old favorites that I want to re-read. Every year a new batch of great books is published, both fiction and non-fiction. I don’t want to read some of them; I want to read all of them! Right now I have four books going at once, which even by my standards is a bit much. Happily, they are all dissimilar enough that I am unlikely to confuse them.

In an effort to consume as many books as possible, I am tempted to read too quickly. Though I have never been and never intend to be a speed reader, I often gobble down more than I can comfortably digest. Just as I can be overwhelmed at a large buffet (remember, I said I’m not usually a glutton with food), the sheer quantity of great books tempts me to overfill my plate. I have to remind myself that I am not in a contest of quantity. I must remind myself to slow down. As author John Green says, “Being a slow reader can in some ways make you a better reader.” His brother Hank follows this advice up with, “An important part of reading is not reading.” Put the book down and contemplate what has just been read. Spend some time thinking, musing, and engaging the text through questions, thought experiments, and creative writing.

“Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.” – Lindsay Waters

So tonight after supper, when I pick up a book (I’m not sure which one it will be yet), I will endeavor to savor the experience. Instead of counting pages, I will swim in them. If I drown, I can’t think of a better way to go.