Tonight I gave birth to something special. As I finished out my shift, the final lines fell into place and a song was born. Now I won’t lie to myself, it’s not a pretty baby. In fact, it’s pretty ugly. But I’m proud of it. It’s got a lot of character, and I have the feeling it’s going to grow up into something amazing!
This past month has been an experience in discovering my process. First and foremost, I’ve seen the value of consistency. Every day, guitar in hand, and recorder, pen and journal in reach, I sit with whatever lyric, hook or idea I have and play until inspiration strikes. And step by baby step the music takes shape. I have come to love those baby steps. They have kept me going! And last night, my baby took a sudden leap forward as the story fell into place. The realization caught me mid verse and tears hit me, choked me up for at least one line of the third verse before I got control and continued. The struggles of a month were nearly over!
And here I sit with my ugly baby! Proud even as I know it needs a little (or a lot of) work.
So, what now?
Well, I intend to use a little trick I learned from writing stories. I’m going to set my song aside for a week and try to forget it. I’m expecting a battle. My fingers kind of like playing it, but I need fresh eyes. I need to step away so I can better see the flaws I’ve grown accustomed to and help my baby grow up. I can’t wait to see what it becomes!
In the meantime, I’ll see just how ugly the next kid’s going to be.
“Real courage is moving forward when the outcome is uncertain.”
fortune (wisdom) cookie
Yesterday’s wisdom is the crystallization of weeks of thoughts, ideas and actions. To dare great things is to court risk, and to court risk is to walk alongside the unknown. Monsters still hide in the darkness. Great workings of the imagination still turn cast off clothes into scaly hides, or a dull reflection into menacing eyes. We still fear a moment’s inattention will bring us to ruin. Our monsters have merely changed form.
Failure, Loss, Hurt… these are some of the monsters we face when we dare big dreams. They hide in the unknown waiting for us to let down our guard. And just as they did before, our monsters paralyze us with fear. And fear turns our imaginations against us.
The answer is courage. But what is courage? I believe courage is what we choose to do even when we are terrified. It is a step forward into the unknown future when we aren’t sure what awaits us there.
Here’s a few ways I’m learning to be courageous.
- Turn your imagination against your fears instead of using it to serve them. I was reminded that I conquered my nightmares as a child by turning myself into the hero and destroying them. It’s the same idea. Imagine the future that strengthens you to carry out your goals in the present.
- Set goals and lay out a path to get there. This helps in imagining a future that spurs you on. It also gives you day to day tasks to carry out that bring you closer to your goal. Every night I sit down with my guitar in the silence before bed. It’s one of my little steps into the unknown. Every night I’m rewarded with something new in the song I’m working on right now.
- Trust little steps. When we were kids, that first great act of courage may have simple been to free our voice so that we could cry out for help. The same is true now.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or join hands with like minded dreamers. We’re stronger together.
- Make time to recount all the things you have to be thankful for each and every day. Gratitude is an extremely powerful tool! It makes it hard to give in to despair when you see what God is doing in your life as you chase your dreams.
- And sometimes… just take a step.
Take courage! The future is unwritten, and that is in your favor!
It was a little over a year ago that I first heard of Never Angels. I don’t recall the details clearly, but the man who told me about them gave clear advice.
Be careful what you say you’ll never do!
He recalled his own past and the fate changing words, “I’ll never live in (insert state name here).” It was then, he said, that God sent out his Never Angels, and he soon found himself pastor of a church is that very state.
While I don’t necessarily believe in the existence of a covert branch of the angelic realm bending fate against our will, I have come to appreciate a healthy challenge to my own “Never”s. Looking back I’ve started many sentences with “I never”. I don’t have to look far. Take last weeks declaration as an example.
“I’ll never again own an Apple product!”
But today I ate my never pie as I read reviews of the new iPhone 11. Put bluntly, for the path I intend to take in the near future it may be the best tool for the job. And it may not be, but if it is… Well, I’ll own another Apple product. Worse yet, I’ll be the better for it.
You see, Never is a dangerous word. Never is a biased word. Never is a closed word. Never refuses to look any deeper than its expectations, and I am learning to be wary of Never. I think Never might be one of my greatest enemies. He draws close and pretends to protect me while holding me back. He provides the well intentioned platitude that gets in the way of the new, of growth and of adventure. He blinds and distracts me from the tools I most need. Worst of all, he feels safe.
But I think maybe I don’t need him. I need a whole cadre of Never Angels helping me go places I never thought I would!
Tuesday’s show marked an important first step. The whole experience has left me encouraged and hopeful for the future. That I expected. The whole experience also left me completely exhausted. I had nothing to give yesterday and no amount of coffee could get me over the hump. That I should have expected. The whole experience left me feeling empty. That, I didn’t expect.
The past three weeks I lived laser focused. My purpose to make the night something special. I prayed every night for the artists, the inspiration, the message and those who would hear it. I kept in contact with everyone involved. Worked out details for the coffee shop and people to run it. Talked it up at every opportunity to friends, family and fellow coffee drinkers. For a glorious three weeks, I pretty much knew exactly what I needed to do each day and I did it.
And it’s gone. It’s complete. It’s over.
I suppose I’m going to have to get used to this. Nothing lasts forever. I don’t like the vacuum, but that feeling led me to an important question.
Playing for the condo’s Christmas party provides an immediate answer, but an unsatisfying one. I’ve resolved to lean in so that I can grow from that commitment, but I find it lacking. Until a moment ago, I couldn’t articulate why. I feel it’s a desire for more of what Tuesday’s show gave me – collaboration and a greater purpose.
Thankfully, my goals for 2020 seem pointed in that direction. One, I am accepting a challenge to live this journey publicly. It will require me to engage with social media, something I’ve avoided in the past, but it continues in the spirit of Tuesday night’s show. I will share the process as I chase my dream in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. I’ll share more as it takes shape. Two, I will be writing songs. This is the one thing that by doing it, everything else I want to do will either become easier or unnecessary. While it’s not quite the laser focused sense of purpose that has guided me over the past few weeks, I feel confident I have a good start and today I feel a little less empty.
Here’s to new beginnings!
I’m about to begin work… and play.
Because yesterday I invested in new tools… and toys.
I’ve spent the morning studying the basics for my new DAW (Digital Recording Workstation). At one moment, the whole experience reminded me of college. I’m studying. Only this time I’m not struggling to drag myself out of bed. It’s not a curriculum of unnecessary classes or restricted access. No one is telling me what I can or can’t do. I get to play.
Sometimes it doesn’t go as smoothly as I expect.
As any child with a new toy, I broke out the software and MIDI controller as soon as I got them. I thought it would be fun to craft a simple arrangement of a Christmas song with my niece and nephew. My actions were the very definition of wishful thinking. An hour later I set everything aside and cracked open the manual. The adult in me, if nothing else, knew the shortcut to play lay a few short lessons away. Now, armed just enough to be dangerous, I’m diving in again.
I’m positive it won’t go anywhere near as smoothly as I hope. It won’t be anywhere near as good as I want. But I can’t wait to get into it. I can’t wait to play, even if I have to work at it to get where I want to go.
And where do I want to go?
To the place where I get paid to play… I mean, work.
“The melody and the chord structure comes pretty quickly, lyrics are the bitch.”
Over the past few days I’ve been writing. Most of the time I don’t have trouble finding words. Ask anyone who talks to me. I rarely have trouble expressing myself whether it be my journal, the occasional poem, or a story. Words come easily.
Most of the time…
Music is the same way. As with Mr. Wainwright, melody and chord structure come pretty quickly.
But “lyrics are the bitch”.
Lyrics wear me out. For me, it’s a grueling hunt. Not just for the deeper story. Not just for the right words. It’s a hunt for words. Period. Just words. It’s a slog through the back country looking for anything to put on the table (though I’m always hoping for a trophy buck).
Someone might think I’m crazy to keep it up. They might wonder why I’m doing it. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. In the end, it’s because I want to. Despite the frustration, I like it enough to keep coming back day after day. I like it enough to sit in front of a blank page. I like it enough to take myself on walks because I know inspiration meets me there. And I like the results. There is a song in all that mess, and I’m going to see it when it’s done. And I hope it will inspire someone the way it inspires me. In the end, I’m an artist and this is my pen. I write with words, and I write with melody.
So I wonder, what is it that you’d come back to time and time again even if it’s a bitch? I hope you’re crazy enough to keep at it.
Over the past few days I’ve been busy binge watching Songland. From where I stand, it feels like a master class on songwriting. Not only do I get to hear constructive criticism from some of the top writer/producers in the music industry, I also get to see how they transform good songs into great songs.
One particular concept hits close to home. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder summed it up in a word – duality. I think of it in terms of Yin Yang philosophy where Yang is present in Yin and Yin is present in Yang. Each has an element of the other within it. In life the brightest light often casts the deepest shadow, and without the contrast we might never recognize it for what it is. This has always been a struggle for me. Not only with music, but in any form of creation. As an Enneagram seven, I prefer to live in bright places and, pun intended, make light of the shadows.
I’m learning. In order to make the beautiful ideas more than pure idealism, I have to expose the pain and hurt that makes it real. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Not only with my readers or listeners, but first with myself. It isn’t easy, but I believe it is necessary. That kind of honesty is where shared experience sets the stage so that great ideals have a chance to become real in the lives of others. It brings the divine into the realm of mortals so that maybe, just maybe, we allow it change our lives.
I am tired and fighting off the beginnings of a sinus infection. So I am going to keep this very short, but I don’t think it will take more than that.
Imagine yourself standing next to a person who inspires you. Now, imagine the two of you are dominoes. They tip and fall into you setting you in motion to fall against another nearby domino. We all know what follows. It’s a beautiful thing to contemplate the power of inspiration.
Who inspires you?
Take a moment to thank them.
Who are you inspiring?
Be excited for them and cheer them on if it’s in your power to do so. And even if you haven’t seen them, know that inspired lives will always inspire others.
Be inspired that you might inspire others, and let the dominoes fall!
A couple days ago as I sat playing guitar in the shop, a young man asked me where he could see me play. The answer was nowhere. He pressed. So I shared my story. All of it. From the naive young man traipsing off to college with dreams of being a singer/songwriter to the bitter young man who was sure he had no place in that world. And then on to the present, where I’m doing it anyway.
It was in the midst of this conversation that he challenged me. He shared his own belief in the power of stories, and he encouraged me to share mine. Video the journey, he said. Anytime you play here at the shop, record it. Then post it. Now, I won’t say I’m going to follow his recommendations. I don’t know. But I’m considering it, and those are words I never believed I would utter.
It’s not for the audience and it’s not for the platform. It is the power of a story to inspire, challenge, and transform. I remember growing up surrounded by the finished product. I read published books. I listened to albums from my favorite artists. I stood in awe before works of art in every field. I saw the end product. I saw the destination, but I never made the connection that each of these pieces had a journey. I never knew the journey took their creator through pain, hardship, struggle and disappointment. I never knew the journey shaped their creator into someone capable of creating a masterpiece. I never knew of rough drafts, endless edits and sheets of lyrics with scribbled lines and cramped script crowding the margins. While not knowing made their work magical, it also made me look on my own work with disdain.
Obviously, I learned the truth in time. I simply wish I would have seen and understood it sooner. Even more so, that someone would have shown it to me. So I have something to think about. This is an opportunity to show someone else the journey, and maybe give them the courage to start their own.
I recently “grabbed my club and went hunting“. To follow up, I thought it might be nice to offer some of my favorite hunting spots. So here are a few places inspiration might be found.
- Not quite ripe ideas – they weren’t good enough a few days or weeks ago, but maybe they’ve ripened in the meantime. Taste and see.
- My journal – Writing in a journal makes me go deeper and helps me process. New ideas come all the time. Rereading past entries also reminds me of great ideas I never got around to using.
- Go Somewhere! – Regular haunts provide the stimulation of people I know and conversation. New places show me new things. This one is about engaging the world. Be open. It reminds me of a scene in Music & Lyrics. Stuck, Sopie says, “Let’s go for a walk.” When asked why she answers. “Out on the streets you see things and, you know, hear things and eat things. It all sort of unlocks your mind.”
- Solitude – Sometimes instead of going out, I need to go in. My journal is one way I do this, but letting the quiet wash over me and sitting with an idea can lead me in unexpected places.
- Rest – Sometimes you hunt something by NOT looking for it. Don’t worry, the brain is aware and working under the surface. I usually go back to my work refreshed and surprised to find what my subconscious has been up to while I was out.
- Cross pollinate – Creativity is an additive process. I’m consistently amazed how interconnected it all becomes. Drawing, painting, writing, music, crafts – one informs our experience of the other. You never know what will come out of a random mashup of art. I find that even in chaos there is order.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s what I have at the moment. I hope these ideas can help you hunt the elusive beast Inspiration where she hides. Best of luck and happy creating!