Ramblings of an Ex-Writer Turned Writer…Again.

I Am Not a Writer

During the past couple months, I’ve found myself writing whenever I can. Whether I’m scribbling random sentences or phrases in the margins of my notebooks in class or just a bit on loose-leaf before I go to bed, I’ve found myself writing more often than I have over the past few years. Sure, I’ve written some stuff here and there, but I haven’t written consistently since my early days at Marquette. The difference now is that I am writing for a conclusion. I am writing with the intention to finish, to find an end, and to accept that end.

I could always say, “I’m going to finish,” but the notion of ACTUALLY finishing a story, an essay, a novel, or a play, stepping away, and declaring it ‘finished’ has always been terrifying for me. It may be the fear of an inadequate outcome or it may just be pure unadulterated laziness. Either way, I think this fear of letting something go, letting it act independently from the persistent onslaught of self-criticism, is probably a common fear for a lot of people. And yet, we all struggle to acknowledge that it’s an issue. We fail to acknowledge that we, as writers (as people really), are our own worst enemies.

I don’t care how cliché it may be. It’s a fact. We sit there with the ability to manipulate words how we want, wondering if there are thirty better ways to say something than the one way we’re saying it. And in this unending quest for perfection, you can easily ruin something, taking all the personality and quality away from your beautiful masterpiece by revision. And yet, you need to revise. You need to revise that fantastical stream of consciousness that just spit two thousand words onto a page in one dramatic stroke of the pen. You need to re-read from the initial thought to the very end, which you just stamped with an emphatic and HARD period. You need to go in and butcher the beauty that is your thought process only to pick up the pieces and stitch them back together into something more beautiful. So, you do it. It may never seem good enough and it may never seem finished (truthfully, there will always be room for revision). But, there it is. It’s done. The pages have been written, you’ve given revision your best shot, and you’re supposed to be ready to move on and repeat the process again from beginning to end. You write. You revise. You write. You revise…you finish.

I’ve been in the process of writing something I consider to be the most significant thing I’ve written (for myself) and this prospect of finishing keeps creeping into my mind. I say to myself, “You’re going to finish. There will be a conclusion. This is going to have an end.” And I repeat it. Over and over and over again. I don’t care if it’s good. It probably won’t be. But knowing that my main goal is to finish and step away, I’m comfortable with that. I’m comfortable knowing that there is a distinct possibility that whatever I write might be absolute garbage. And I’ll still have a smile on my face when I finish reading through the pages for the last time having made no further corrections.

This comes at a strange time for me. I’m in no position for which I’m required to write and I’m probably busier now than I ever have been. Maybe it’s my improving ability to thrive with less than six hours of sleep or maybe it’s me shirking my other responsibilities. But I doubt it’s either. I hope that in my isolation, the pilot light has been relit and my passion renewed with the flame.

Something I heard around six years ago from one of my high school English teachers resonates now more than ever. She said to me, and I paraphrase, “You will always be a writer. No matter what you do, you will always be a writer.” I don’t know if I ever fully understood that statement until now. It’s always been a simple sentiment, but I’ve never been so far removed from calling myself a “writer” as I am now. Now, that I have no obligation to write, I find myself writing. Now, that I’ve removed myself from the debilitating self-criticism that left me with pages of unfinished nonsense, I find myself finishing. Now that I’ve dispatched the demons that hindered me in the past, now that I’ve acknowledged my fears and ignored them, I find myself untethered and unafraid. Now that I call myself anything but a writer, I am a writer.

Road Rage

I’ve been debating posting this for quite awhile now. For some reason, I felt it lacked a universal appeal, but I’ve decided it’s probably more universal than I initially believed. I also thought the subject matter was too simple, maybe even overplayed. But, as much as I like to focus on complexity, originality and the avoidance of cliché…I really don’t care. I’ve spent far too long delaying and revising, so I figured what the hell, I just want to stop obsessively looking at it.

For those that know me or have had the pleasure of sitting in the passenger seat of my car, it’s no shock to you that I have little patience for poor driving. If I encounter it from behind the wheel, I typically erupt with some odd strain of curse words and white knuckled grip on the steering wheel. It’s mostly directed at the moron that decided it was a good idea to cut me off, or slam on his brakes, or not get in the right lane when he’s going 15 under the freeway speed limit. It’s a fruitless burst of energy, and yet still incredibly satisfying. If I could remind the driver of his idiocy with more than just a single finger, there is no doubt I would. But, it never actually crosses my mind to stop, get out and lecture the other drivers. The option exists only in my imagination as a fantastical reaction to a real world situation and as such it will remain.

Regardless of my action or lack thereof against this driver, anger has been born from my acute impatience for ignorance. It brings sweat to my forehead and slurs from my mouth. It engulfs me. It gathers every ounce of energy I have for the sole purpose of driving its red-faced demon to the surface and keeping it there. It consumes me like a parasite leeching the life source from its host. Whether it’s due to carelessness on the road or any other aggravating action, it is a reaction that consumes me. Even if the moment that infects me with anger is fleeting, it spreads and festers as if it has a remarkable impact on my life. Most times, the situations are meaningless. Nothing negative occurs. Nothing positive occurs. It is a momentary glitch in an otherwise unaffected system and yet, it festers. Certainly, there are times when anger is merited. When anger emerges because something horrible has happened to me or to a loved one, it is explicable. If I was to learn my brother had been shot in cold blood and I became angry, it would be explicable. If my sister ate all my goldfish and there were no more goldfish on the entire planet and I became angry, it would be explicable. But still, what does the feeling of anger accomplish? Where does this feeling lead me? Does it lead me to some sort of inner peace? Does it lead me to a more positive outlook on life? It’s denial to think it does. In truth, it leads me to hopes of retribution and pain. It leads me to negative thoughts and poor health. So why do I let it bother me? Clearly, I shouldn’t and yet here I am, affected enough by it to take the time to write something very few people will actually read.

In case you’ve never experienced a car ride with me, I’ll explain, in average detail, a recent occurrence that had me questioning my quick temper and its not so subtle impact on my life. As I was driving my buddy to the airport the other day (like a month ago), we came to a stop sign at a two-way intersection. As I pulled up to the stop line, a crazy son of a bitch came flying around the corner and nearly took my front bumper off. I was still several feet behind the stop line and not at a complete stop. I smashed down on my emasculating car horn and proceeded with my typical obscenity filled outburst. Turning square is probably one of the first things we are taught when we learn how to drive (to be fair, it’s also one of the first things we forget). The instructor beats it into your brain like your first grade teacher did with simple arithmetic. As he drove by on my left hand side, I couldn’t resist but to throw up the classic bird and mean mug the guy like I just dunked on his face (i.e. T-Mac after he destroys Shawn Bradley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OHUAjxPo4I). No surprise, he returned fire. Then, he stopped his car and threw it in reverse. At this point, I was pretty shocked. In all my years of driving, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone with the audacity to stop his car in the middle of the street. It was ferocious. We looked at each other for a few seconds before I decided it was a good idea to lock my door and roll down the window (I have old crank windows so this was a pretty humiliating experience for me). I started the conversation by asking him a fairly simple and straightforward question. “Did you see the stop line?”

“Yeah, that’s why I apologized,” He said.

I will spare you the rest simply because I don’t want this outlet to become riddled with words inappropriate for use in a professional atmosphere. However, I will tell you there were several words beginning with the letter F and ending with the letter K followed by others beginning with the letter Y and ending with the letter U.

My first response to his statement, “Yeah, that’s why I apologized,” was one of disbelief. Of course, I should have known he apologized as he drove by with a middle finger pointed in my direction, but my telepathy had been pretty shoddy as of late and the night before was a bit rough. I hadn’t seen an apology. I hadn’t heard an apology. I certainly didn’t feel as if this driver had hoped for my forgiveness. Yet, deep down I felt guilty. Having heard of his intention, I felt as though I had wronged him. The feeling was not strong enough to outweigh my desire to drop breakable objects from a twenty story building, but it rooted itself firmly enough in my mind that I would retain it. Had I robbed this man of his sincerity simply because I could not forgive an honest mistake? No one was hurt and there was no damage done yet there I drove, my composure burning like a forest in a wildfire.

So, I sat for awhile, minding the road, and listening to whatever song was playing on my stereo. I was still angry. I still had the crease in my brow and the tension in my hands. I became aware it was useless, though I couldn’t control it. I offered this revelation to my passenger, wondering how he felt about the idea that this lingering anger had no purpose. As expected, he replied with a simple and elegant response, “Yeah, it’s true.” But, why was it true? Why did I hold this anger so long after such an insignificant confrontation? Surely not because I wanted to hold it. Maybe somehow it comforts me to know that I can experience an emotion so strong and persistent. Maybe I have a hard time letting things go. I don’t think either is true. No matter the reason for holding onto that feeling, it only caused more negativity and wasted time. I got angry over a non-issue and clung to it as a drowning man clings to his rescuer. Finally, just maybe, I had an epiphany. Why be angry?

Generally speaking, I am not an angry person. But, I have been known to have a quick temper. If someone perceives me as an angry person, that is likely why. The difficulty I face is in letting the anger go when it arrives. It lingers like the moisture in the air on a humid day, clinging to the back of your neck when you walk to work, sticking to your skin when you lay in bed at night. It is an uncomfortable feeling one cannot easily forget, but one that no one really wants to remember. But maybe we should remember the feeling. Maybe we should keep the feeling so close as not to forget the crushing burden it places on us. After all, in order to avoid the feeling, you must be aware of what it feels like, what triggers it, what keeps it at bay. I am not concluding or suggesting that we bury our anger, a tactic that would have much more adverse effects, all I am suggesting is that when it arrives, we let it go. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t let it control you. Don’t let it steal the energy from your mind or from your body. Just let it go.

Even when anger seems warranted, let it go. Feel it, become aware of it, accept it, and move on. Watch what you accomplish. Notice the effect it has on your overall perception of life and the lives of those around you. It’s worth a shot. What could go wrong? Your anger suddenly leaves you and your left with the rest of your day to worry about actual issues rather than dwelling on the useless ones? You don’t need me to tell you that. You don’t need me to tell you my stories. You have your own. But if I can remind you through my words that there are certain things we could do without, I should tell you. And in an effort to maintain my ego and justify the arrogant extension of myself that thinks writing helps more than me alone, I’ll keep telling you.

Do a Bunch of Stuff

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I think as human beings, it is in our nature to have grand ideas. It is in our nature to have an impact on something, whether big or small. It is in our nature to live our lives doing things. I have not met a person who wanted to do absolutely nothing and I don’t ever want to meet that person. Though not everyone has an urge to have a massive impact on the world, there are many that hope to, and there are a special few who hope to and actually attempt to. I have the pleasure of knowing someone matching that description.  She and a few of her friends in NYC, have developed a project with a simple goal, to inspire. The project is called D0_S0 or DO SOMETHING. Here’s the mission statement:

“Our mission is to simply inspire people. From everyday tasks to life-long dreams, we want people everywhere to live better, dream bigger, and reach higher in order to fulfill their true potential. D0_S0 strives to provide inspiration, direction, and helpful hints so that those who don’t know where to start or those who just need a small push, can finally Do Something. Whether big or small, anything is better than nothing. Don’t be a zero.”

Aside from motivating those with lack of direction, those with lack of passion, and those that just need an extra nudge out the front door, the project aims to aid established non-profits and recognize unknown people or groups making a positive impact in their community. It seems like a no-brainer to me. It is brilliant and unbelievably simple. Will it work? The people involved in its development are clearly motivated, so I have no doubts that it will succeed. But, the project could use some funding. They’re NOT asking for donations, just votes. The project is in a contest called “Start Something that Matters”, and if you can spare 2 more minutes of your time, visit the links below and VOTE for this project. Vote because it’s awesome and it’s a brilliant idea.  There’s only 2 days left for voting, so do it!

VOTE HERE: http://startsomethingthatmatters.maker.good.is/projects/D0S0

D0_S0 WEBSITE: http://www.d0s0.com

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/D0_S0

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/D0S0DoSomething

Great Minds

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(photo credit: Jon Meiers)

My friend said to me the other day that ‘great minds think alike.’ Of course, I’ve heard this before. But for some reason, I felt I needed to give it some attention. The fact that I was drowning in boredom at a Laundromat certainly influenced that feeling and undoubtedly gave me some fresh ideas (see what I did there?). I realized the absolute ridiculousness of such a statement. In no way is it true. I could replace the words, ‘Great minds think alike’ with ‘oh my god, like totally’ and no one would know the difference. It’s all just a matter of semantics but I refuse to strip the English language of its integrity by defiling the words in its lexicon. That, however, is beside the point. And if I didn’t at least venture a bit away from my intended topic, then ‘ramblings’ would be an inappropriate description for these posts.

Great minds. Often times, we associate this quality with famous physicists, artists, authors, politicians (maybe not), engineers, architects, composers, generals. Sure, Albert Einstein was a smart guy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wasn’t an idiot, and Charles Dickens could probably write a better paragraph long sentence than anyone else. But what, outside of their intelligence, do these people share? What makes them so different from everyone else? Is it simply that they are absolute geniuses? A lot of people probably think yeah, that would about do it. It’s hard to argue with that. But, I’m going to.

The one thing all these ‘great minds’ shared is that they saw things differently than the rest of the population around them (so sure, great minds think alike in that their thought process wholly differs from the masses). If everyone else was looking at the world through a blindfold, these guys were looking at the world through a microscope. If their peers were hearing the world through earmuffs, these guys were hearing it in high definition Dolby Digital. The genesis of great minds does not come from a huge brain or a massive intelligence. It comes from perspective. It comes from the thought process of an individual being so radically different than that of the people around him, that he discovers something no one else would have. He writes a novel no one else could have written about something no one else ever thought was an issue. He proposes a theory that the earth travels around the sun and gets put in jail for heresy. All because he thought differently than was expected. It all comes down to perspective. If we limited our vision with borders and boundaries, nothing would ever get done. Yet, we do exactly this everyday of our lives. We put blinders on and go about with our narrow minds thinking in the exact fashion we have been told. There are certainly values and beliefs passed on that merit our attention and respect, but do we have to stay so stuck in the idea that nothing should change?

There are obvious social implications to this argument and I certainly think there should be, but I think what is most important is the individual. As human beings, we all have different experiences, we see things in dramatically different ways, and we react differently. But, there is no reason why we can’t change the way we view things or the way we react to things. Yeah, it’s a difficult task to put aside your fully developed prejudices and personal beliefs, but it can be done. To not even attempt to do it is pure obstinance. It’s not as if once you think differently, you can’t return to your roots. But, if you spend some sort of time consciously wondering how else you could think about a given situation, person, political issue, or a simple task, you’ll be better off for it. Even if you think nothing has changed, something has. You’ve given yourself the ability to view things as you never would have viewed them before, a skill we all have and are often taught, but one we put on the wayside far more often.

So, when your friend tells you ‘great minds think alike,’ call bull shit. If everyone was stuck thinking like everyone else, progress would be a thing of fantasy and humanity wouldn’t have anywhere to go but down. Great minds are far more than just a heightened intelligence. Great minds think outside themselves. They are products of perspective. If you have the time, think about things differently than you normally would. Argue with yourself. Argue with your friends. Argue with me. Do what you want. Think how you want. Just don’t go through the motions of life without entertaining the idea that you could be wrong.

#artistsforpiracy

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Earlier this week, I got a message from my friend asking me for help. Of course, being the gentleman that I am, I prepared myself to accept any request. Little did I know, it would require me to think long and hard about something so relevant to my life and profession. She told me about a project she has been working on that asks artists how they feel about piracy and the illegal downloading of music http://www.artistsvsartists.com. As a musician, this hits home for me. It’s a question I often wonder about, but never to a meaningfully deep level. If I am to finally take a stance on something socially significant, this seems a good place to start.

The positives and negatives of both arguments are blatant. If someone steals my music, I don’t get any money. And yet, I would still feel some sort of satisfaction knowing that more people are listening and hearing something I expended so much energy to create. The obvious choice for me to want financial support seems much less apparent now than it did a few days ago when I actually started to think. I thought about the need for financial stability, the need to support my habits and my profession, and the undesirable yet ineffable want for material things. I realized upon thinking that if those things were of utmost importance to me, I would have gone to work in khakis, with a tucked in shirt, and a clean-shaven face. Instead, I won’t have a white collar job, or maybe even a blue collar job. I will go to work with some sort of tie-dye collar, a scraggly beard and shorts and I will love every second of it.

Because I love what I do, I do it. I do not live my life in order to satisfy some external expectation of what I should do and how I should live (a hipster sentiment, but true nonetheless). It would be a lie to say that I do not worry about the expectations others may have for me, but my individual expectations far outweigh those imposed upon me by friends or family. There are moments when I wonder why I chose to make music my life, partially because I worry about money, but mostly because I fantasize about all the things I could have done by now if I had chosen something different. It takes a bit to reassure myself of my decisions. There are often hours spent in isolation playing my instrument or listening to post-rock albums on repeat. I usually come to the same conclusion after every reflection. I think about the times I have performed for people, whether my family, friends, or complete strangers, and I remind myself of the feeling I get when I see them smile or frown. A feeling composed of gratitude and joy, a feeling of love and of hope, a feeling I don’t want to be without. If, through music, I can help people forget their anxiety and their stresses for just a moment, I fully intend to do so. I can use the talents I have been given to help people forget the pressures of daily life, so I find it my responsibility to do just that.

It’s difficult to remain focused on the reasons I do anything, generally speaking I act on impulse. So, my judgment may often be clouded by delusions of grandeur and unfounded desires. But, if my mind is clear, I’m okay with piracy. The idea that music can be stolen is a fairly new concept in relation to its long lifespan. It is meant to be shared, to tell stories, and to evoke some sort of emotion. It isn’t meant to be a channel for the transfer of money or an industry driven by profit minded companies. I realize in today’s world, the recording industry doesn’t work like a wheel from some sort of utopian machine. People need to get paid. Is there something wrong with that? I don’t think so. I also see nothing wrong with allowing music to be shared freely as a means to inspire creativity and to impart hope upon those who have none. Like most things, selling or not selling one’s own music should be a personal choice. However, in an age dominated by the Internet, it is impossible to ensure that that choice would be respected. Anti-piracy laws help minimally and nothing substantial is ever really accomplished. If one founder of a torrent search engine is incarcerated, another will pop up in no time at all. I urge people to respect the wishes of other musicians, and to support them by buying their music and going to their shows. I am merely giving my perspective as a means to help myself and possibly other musicians think.

I have made the choice to be a musician knowing that I am not in it for the money. So, if anyone wants to support me as a musician, come to my shows, listen to what I have to say, or let me crash on your couch. Tell me how you feel, tell me about what you listen to, and tell me about your life. Music would be nothing without people to share it with, so why should I limit the ability for someone to hear it? If you can’t pay me, fine. Just share it with your friends and hopefully it can stay with you long enough that it affects you in some positive way. For me, there are greater things to worry about than getting paid, and that is a decision I made long ago.

Check it: http://www.artistsvsartists.com