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Under the Influence

Music has always been a very influential part of my life. It is hard for me to remember a day without the presence of some song or other. I’ve talked before about how music (and books) are sacred to me. Musicians are storytellers, and as a storyteller I feel a connection with them that goes beyond just enjoying their talents. Certain music has the ability to reconnect me with my past, transport me places, allow me the opportunity to experience old emotions, people. I’ve been moved to tears by music more times than I can count, and each time I’ve been grateful for the experience.

Music also fuels my writing.

There was a time when I needed silence to work, and any outside distraction was a detriment. I don’t know what changed, but now I cannot compose anything without some music playing. It influences the direction of my writing, the tone, the development. I know certain scenes in my first novel were created in direct response to what was on the stereo at the time I was writing them.

And I have so much  of it.

discs

 

Hundreds of vinyl records. Thousands of compact discs. A few lonely cassette tapes.

I’m always acquiring more as well. The more new stuff that I add to the collection, the more some albums get forgotten. Some albums have not been played in years, maybe decades.

In order to try and remember the lost ones, I determined to listen to each of my CD’s (in reverse alphabetical, reverse chronological order) over a two year period. I call it “The Great CD Listening Adventure. I started in the fall of 2016 and just moved through L and into the letter K this morning (L7 to Kylesa, in case you were wondering).

Because some albums have not aged well, I give myself some outs- I play everything, but if after three songs, I’m not feeling it, the disc gets yanked (set on the pile to take to my local record store where I can get store credit). I can skip live albums and greatest hits collections. Singles are also optional. Otherwise, it’s every album by every artist. It’s been so much fun. I’ve rediscovered some forgotten gems, and realized that I’ve lost interest in some bands completely.

My tastes have always been all over the place, ranging from bubblegum pop to Black Metal and most everything in between. I firmly believe that there is a gem in every genre, and that some of the best music ever made is being created right now. If you’re wondering, disagreeing, curious, I can give you a nice list of artists to consider.

What about you? What sort of role does music play in your life, your writing? When authors use music, does it have any affect on the way you perceive a scene?

Who are some of your favorite artists? Who are you listening to right now? Tell me all about your love of music, please.

 

Back From

Our family trip to Cancun was, as usual, wonderful. I can never get enough time near the stunning waters of the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean. I have not stood and stared out at every sea, but I would still argue the water near Cancun is among the most beautiful in the world.IMG_8723

Even before I had ever actually seen one, I was compelled, intoxicated by the thought of the ocean. Incomprehensibly large, powerful, beautiful, my first experiences on the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean have stayed with me throughout my adult life. I was 19, living in Maine, serving a mission for the LDS church. I stood on the sand of Old Orchard Beach, near dusk, staring out at the retreating tide, the evening sky darkening the water. I was humbled. Nothing has frightened or thrilled me as much as staring out at that vastness.

Most likely because of my affinity for the ocean, our Cancun trips usually consist of a week of sitting on the beach, gazing out at the water. The hum of it is endless. The ocean looks and sounds different as each day progresses. I tried to capture some of it.

At sunrise the sky dominates, and the ocean is a muted turquoise. IMG_8719

By mid morning, the sky pales and the blue green water is nearly impossible for me to look away from.IMG_8722

In the evening, the colors and textures are stunning.

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Under a bright yellow moon, words fail me.

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Last. A slightly edited image (shadows and light to bring out the textures of the clouds, the water) of an approaching storm. IMG_8718

I am glad to be home, back to the usual routines, but I miss the constant sound of the waves, the insistent wind. I’ll have to go back soon.

 

Illegibly

I have some of the worst handwriting in the history of handwriting. It is a family curse. All my siblings (and my father. My mother writes beautifully) create equally atrocious letters. If word processing had never been invented, if I were forced to write everything by hand, it is highly likely I would not be a writer.

Elementary schools used to (maybe they still do) include handwriting in their grading system. My first D’s were earned in handwriting. I remember the teacher’s comment- “Sloppy work. If Ryan were to practice, take his time, his handwriting would improve.” Sorry, Mrs Lindsay, some of us are deficient in our fine motor skills (I’m not allowed near scissors), and all the slowness and patience in the world isn’t going to make things any better.

Still, there is something very appealing to me about handwritten texts (letters, poems, stories). I enjoy going through the stacks of letters sent to me by family and friends over the years, not only to relive old memories, re-discover forgotten moments, but to revel in the intimate connection something handwritten provides. Each smudged letter, crossed out word, is a connection to the moment of composition, a closeness to the expression of thought.

At various points in my life, I’ve kept handwritten journals. Some of these are day to day, what did I do, sorts of writings, while others are sketches- of emotions I’m dealing with, people I’ve encountered or characters I’ve created. I like the difficulty of handwriting, the struggle I have to write legibly. It focuses my efforts, narrows my scope. Sometimes, I don’t bother and just fly through a page, laughing at myself as the ends of words blur into unintelligible squiggles; sentences and paragraphs that barely qualify.

I’ve just spend the last two days reading a journal I wrote when I was between the ages of 19 and 21. Terrible spelling. Every event described was either the most important or most mundane of my existence. Certain phrases repeated themselves on almost every page. As I read, each entry made me guffaw at my strangeness, cringe at my hyperbole. Today, I plan to read a journal from my early years at the community college. I expect to have a similar response.

Every time I go through one of these readings, I am ready to commit myself to writing more often. I’ve managed a page a month for the last two years, but I want more. So much of life gets lost over time, altered or forgotten, and while a handwritten (or typed) account of an event is not free of bias or distortion, it is an honest attempt at telling.

Do any of you keep journals? If so, are they something typed, stored in a file, or are they written out longhand? Is your handwriting like mine?

 

 

IWSG-March

Happy March 1st. While technically still winter, my mind is already planning for warmer weather, walks in the sunshine, iced coffee. I’m ready to start cycling again as well. Hooray for spring.

It is also Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog time. You know the drill- Every writer is insecure from time to time and in need of some good support. The first Wednesday of each month (and all the time in our Facebook group, really) we gather to share our experiences, fears, doubts, achievements and successes. You can’t ask for a better group. Check us out here– Once you realize how amazing we are, you’ll want to participate.

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This months question-Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Yes. Yes.

The end.

Okay, not really the end.

My first completed novel was written from a reworked story. I had the idea five years before I began writing it, and when I finally made the attempt, things did not go well at all. I wrote myself into a corner after ten pages. Frustrated, I left it alone for three more years.

When I decided I was tired of being the writer who had not yet written anything of substance, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, and my first inclination was to return to that old story. The same issues remained and time had not offered me a clear way out of them. I agonized over how to proceed. I didn’t want to scrap what I had written as I really liked it, and this story was my best hope for reaching the 50,000 word goal. The tone was right, and the voice as close to what was in my head as possible. I finally decided that this one moment was not worth any more agony, wrote three pages that felt satisfactory moved forward. After that, most of the story unfolded cleanly (but not painlessly, as a mountain of insecurity was still waiting for me). I’m still not sure my solution worked, and that particular chapter is one of my least favorite, but revisiting the old story paid off in the end. I am very proud of that book.

I’m trying it again with a flash piece which I felt would work well as a longer story. So far so good. I’m looking for another beta reader for that particular story, if anyone is interested.

Now, tell me what’s good with all of you…

 

Clutter

Over the weekend, my wife and I spent several hours de-cluttering. Because our home has ample storage space, it is easy to put things in a closet, a bin, and forget they exist. I am amazed at the amount of stuff we’ve acquired over the last few years since moving to South Jordan. Add that number to the things we’ve hung onto for 20+ years of being married  and we have an embarrassing amount of possessions.

Going through the linen closet, we discovered washcloths, hand and bath towels that were wedding presents. Faded and worn out, they had not been used in more than a decade. There were medicines which had expired years ago, first aid kits with dried out antiseptic wipes. We made quite a pile of things that must go from these items.

But it wasn’t only old and worn out things that were taking up space. Our storage areas and closets were full of nearly new items we weren’t using which could benefit others in our extended family (and beyond). We collected shirts, pants, and shoes, jackets, books, and put them into sacks with the intention of offering them to someone else.

Changes.

Somewhere along the road. I’ve lost interest in the concept of more. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, it felt like I could never have enough stuff, and when I had the opportunity, I lobbied my wife to purchase these things. Often, I got the things I wanted.

I finally understand that there is only a fleeting pleasure in pursuing the bigger and better, and even less happiness in in the acquisition of things. And while I type, I see the arrogance of even writing about this, the privileged position of having a choice at all.

Even after going through and removing objects from my environment, I still have more than enough, more than I need, and certainly more than I deserve.

Luckily, none of us ever get what we really deserve.

Altered

Yesterday, I fell into an old trap- Reading the comments following a *political post* on social media. As usual, I disagreed with more than half of those who felt they needed to vent their opinion about the topic at hand. I’ve learned to leave these comments alone, not respond, and allow my anger and frustration to gradually dissipate. The next step is learning not to read these comments at all. Baby steps…

The post in question was about artists, and whether or not they should be allowed to share their personal opinions about the issues of the day. The idea was these artists existed to entertain, period. And somehow, that entertainment precluded them from talking about anything at all. “Just sing and act,” many said. “You are here to be a distraction from reality, an escape.”

One comment in particular stood out, and actually caused me to lose sleep last night. This person claimed he had never, not once had a song or film impact his life or teach him anything. I kept hoping that his statements were hyperbole, meant to drive home the uselessness of the artist more than art itself, but he continued to press about the triviality, banality of music and films. Mindless entertainment, pure and simple. He could live without it.

I felt a wave of sadness. How unfortunate for this person, how tragic. Imagine, never having your heart stirred by a song, never having that moment when you knew  the singer, the musicians understood you on a level no one else ever had, when you felt that connection to something, someone outside of your small circle. Imagine no film ever impacting you, making you want to do more with your life, be better. Or no work of art ever inspiring you to see the world differently, or bringing you to tears.

I could list moment after moment where art has made my life infinitely better, where someones words or music helped me understand the world better. So many films and stories have exposed me to ideas, ways of living and thinking that otherwise would remain beyond my ability to comprehend.

I was up last night trying to construct how different my life would be without a passion for art. I didn’t like how that world felt. It was an empty place, one with less love, compassion, understanding.

I don’t want to think about that sort of world anymore. I think I’ll go listen to some music, and later, read a book. music

 

On the Mend

I’m getting over a particularly nasty cold. Last Wednesday, I felt the first scratch in my throat and instantly loaded up on all the vitamins, juice, etc I could handle. Weak and tired, I managed to plug through until Sunday morning, when it seemed the worst was over and I might be feeling more like myself by the end of the day.

Um, no.

I started sneezing around noon. In rhythm, it seemed like every 14 minutes the sneezes came. Heavy, powerful, back wrenching sneezes. At one juncture, I let loose 8 in a row, followed by a set of six. The runny nose accompanied the sneezing, followed by watery eyes, a massive headache, pain in my back.

Sleep was almost impossible, as the sneezing continued into the night and next morning. Finally, Monday evening I was able to settle down and get some rest. Tuesday, the headache and dizziness returned. Luckily, this morning is much better, and I think I may finally be on the mend.

Things I am tired of-

Ibuprofen

Cold medicines

Airborne tablets

Sore nostrils

Sore eyes

Tissues

That flat, metallic taste in the back of my throat

Things I am grateful for-

A wonderful spouse who takes care of me

Warm blankets and a warm place to sleep

sleep itself

Old war movies

Hot beverages

Good books to read

 

Happy Wednesday.