The Beautiful Mind of a Composer

I went back through my history of posts on here to see whether or not I’d covered this thought before, and couldn’t find it leaping out at me; but even if I had, it’s worth another visit.

I don’t often get jealous. Or mad, really. There’s a whole range of emotions, and while, like, duh, I’ve experienced both, they just come up very rarely. Don’t get me wrong, I consider it a good thing, but it means that when it happens, it’s usually a bit more serious.

The jealousy I’m about to speak on runs kind of deep, and I only found out I had it a few months ago. If I may, I’d like to start at the beginning, about a year ago (and no, don’t let that frighten you, I’ll keep it brief).

I was helping a friend move, and while her boyfriend at the time and I took a truck load of furniture to the new house, he asked me what I do. I mentioned at the time that I’d just left my job and was trying to find my way as a freelance writer and fiction author. He gave a polite gasp of awe, said how cool that was, and how tough it can be to be a writer (preach, my brother); and remarked how he could never write stories.

What I’m about to tell you – you, right there – I know to be truth. It’s an undeniable part of the fabric of being that I feel in my bones that anyone and everyone has the capacity to be a storyteller, without exception. We are ourselves, each a living, breathing tale in the making; so how could it be anything but natural when the art form is a part of our being?
Do I appreciate his reverence for the craft? Absolutely. Does it take patience, perseverance, will, and a vulnerable, heartbreaking openness and respect to do properly? I believe so, yeah. And is it a practice that’s ever finished? No, I don’t think so.
But no matter the case, his reaction – while flattering – stuck with me beyond the compliment.

Skip ahead a number of months to my friend Micah’s graduation party. He’s graduated with a degree in (sorry Micah, I’m about to butcher the facts by guessing here) music theory with the intent to teach (which is confidently true, because he teaches now). The point being, he was a music student. Consider it as owing to my own conical viewpoint, but I asked him if he’d had any interest in composing his own music, and his answer surprised the crap out of me: he said “no.”

Let’s put a pin in that really quick.

If you’re nice to yourself and enjoy the good things in life, you’ve probably seen Ratatouille, the movie about a talking rat that wants to be a chef; if not, well…that’s…that’s what it’s about. It’s great. And in it, there’s a scene where the main character Remy is trying to teach his brother, another rat that scarfs garbage, an appreciation for flavors and the art of cooking.
He has him try a bit of strawberry, and a bit of cheese, then a bit of each together, all with his eyes closed and coaching him on how to savor it and ruminate on the experience. It’s visually represented with a black background and ribbons of color drawing themselves in the air as the different flavors are experienced. It’s well done.
(It’s also a good time to note here that, since seeing the movie, any time in the past twelve years I’ve eaten an exceptionally good meal, I do the same thing.)

By every fiber of the word, I’m an amateur writer. I’ve been blessed with a few paid successes here and there that I appreciate deeply, but it’s rooted in a love for story crafting. There are few pleasures above being brought a fantasy from the ether, honing the ability to capture that experience in words, and give it to someone else. A confession: that’s not really what gets done on here. This is fun, a routine-keeping tool (that I sometimes fail miserably at), and a place to vent, speculate, experiment with thoughts, and do exercises.
Most of the time, the root of a story comes from a thought, a real-world parallel, an ideal, a what-if, or…
…a piece of music.

A musical number will start, and like those ribbons of light in Remy’s brother’s head, a scene can start. It’s murky, like it’s being seen and heard, absent of context, through a window thick with frost. Then as you think on it, let it grow, allow the theater of mind to work, the ice thaws and it gets clearer and clearer, more and more refined, until you have a tale to share.

<removes earlier pin>

I have no idea at all, but I have tried so hard so many times to imagine the mind of a composer when an idea takes root. To put myself in that black space, floating in the void as the sounds come into being, layering on top of one another, an orchestra working in harmony. Imagining how they grow and morph, becoming the pieces of clockwork that produce flavor and emotion and memory and resonance, then to have the sense of responsibility settle on you that charges you with capturing it so it can be shared is all a process so beautiful tears well up thinking on it.

But I can’t.

My imagination in that regard begins and ends with that silent, empty blackness. No sounds bleed into being, no ribbons draw themselves in the air to inspire and awe.

And that shit is…just…heartbreaking, I find.

When Micah answered “no,” my immediate reaction (besides bewilderment) took it almost as a slap in the face of an art that I didn’t even share in; which might be weird, I admit now. Later, I asked my buddy Peter (a bassist and songwriter) what he thought of Micah’s answer, and he was nonplussed. Paraphrasing:

“Yeah, no surprise. Just because he has a masters in music doesn’t mean he knows how to compose, or likes doing it. Like, having a degree in philosophy doesn’t make you a philosopher. Knowing old philosophy doesn’t mean you’ll produce new ones, or that you’d want to.”

I took his word for it, and over time it’s come to make sense. Just because we watch movies, doesn’t mean we all want to be filmmakers, or if we enjoy murals downtown, doesn’t mean we necessarily want to take up painting.

So, I don’t know why this feels so different to me, but damn it does. You know that old, “If you could pick one superpower, what would it be and why?” Like, obviously telekinesis or teleportation is high on the list, but being tuned into whatever frequency lets you hear and craft orchestral pieces is a contender.

For now, I content myself with a vicarious imagination. Letting the ribbons draw themselves and dance while listening to the music that came to someone else. And really, it’s not too different from other arts. There isn’t anything to separate it from the eye of a photographer that sees the beauty in a captured moment, or the bones of a dancer that know the feel of a performance.

We’re all antennae for the arts, and that’s pretty cool.

Confessions of a Criminal, pt. 1

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

The other week, I went to a local event in my area called “Coffee with a Cop” as part of an attempt at character research for a novel I’ve got cooking (I actually sort of chickened out then had to come back after being light-heartedly berated by a department clerk, but that’s a story for another time). Point is, it’s a really cool shin-dig wherein members of the local police department convene at a designated coffee shop and are available to the public for questions, conversation, and general hang-out.

Reflecting on it and my notes, it got me thinking about the, precisely, two times I’ve been at odds with The Law – both simple traffic violations.

The first was a simple speeding ticket, and not worth mentioning besides this note telling you it isn’t worth mentioning.

The second was a bit more fun.

For a bit of context, let’s rewind. You all remember Pierre, the roommate who ignited the apartment-wide Cold War? Well, maybe six years ago, he had a girlfriend who’s father had the following belief: “Eh, I just use the carpool lane year-round and whenever. Whenever I get caught, I just treat the ticket like my membership fee.”

As a 19-year-old, I thought this philosophy was goddamn brilliant.

So that’s what I did. For years, I was “that guy,” the one who blazed passed you losers caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. I did this as a renegade road warrior for years; and you know what? I was always on time (sort of kind of not really not the point).

Well one day, I hopped on the freeway, scooted over to the fast lane like usual, and was on my way. Except this time was different. This time, I got a little funny feeling in the back of my brain. A little tingle like ESP that told me, for some inexplicable reason, today was the wrong day to do this. Some would call it paranoia, some would call it guilt, others might call it an impending sense of divine CHP justice (I’d probably side with the latter). But whatever you want to call it, in that moment I was certain I’d made a bad move. So I started trying to merge back in line. Thing was, my plan worked TOO WELL.

I was flying passed columns of barely-moving vehicles, making really good time to my next job (yeah, by the way, it was during a summer where I was working a second job to help teach an English class – well, tutor, but you get me), but all the while thinking that today it was a bad idea, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a spot to merge back into line.

Well, about five minutes into this master class of seeing the future, that’s when I saw him: Officer Powers.

And no shit, I’m not making his name up either to make him sound cool or ‘protect his identity’ or anything. His name was legitimately Officer Powers (like, I’m sure he had a first name, but you know what I’m saying).

Anyway, the freeway passes under an overpass and time…just…

Well, you ever have one of those experiences where you experience a single second of time, but it feels slowed down and stretched into fifteen? That happened here. As I drove under the overpass, I turned my head (slow-motion eyes blinking included) and saw a motorcycle cop that had been hidden on the other side of the barrier. I watch his eyes (behind his badass sunglasses) slowly rise from his radar gun and – y’all – I could feel the eye contact. With our eyes alone and all in an instant, we had the following conversation:

Me: “You see me, right?”
Him: “Oh, yeah.”
Me: “And you see me seeing you, right?”
Him: “Mmhm, most definitely.
Me: “And you can tell I’m seeing you seeing me, right?”
Him: “Totally.”
Me: “Shit.”
Him: “Yup.”

Then, just as quickly as it had slowed, time resumed its usual pace, and as it did, my heart started thumping. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!” it kept saying.

Then OF COURSE a spot opens up in a regular lane, I scoot into it and start hoping, “Well, maybe that whole thing was imagined. Maybe that badass hawk-eyed cop lost track of me.”

Nope.

A few seconds later I heard the ‘Whoop-Whoop’, saw the lights, and he pulled up behind lil’ old me.

Now, here’s the problem. Like I mentioned up top, I’ve been pulled over precisely once before on the freeway. That time, it had been a complete piece of cake. Freeway, nighttime with no other cars, just before an off-ramp that pulled directly into a gas station. Super safe, super easy, no mess, no fuss.

This time, it was on a hot, bright, busy day, with the Great Migration of Southern Traffic happening, and I didn’t know to/how to pull over onto the shoulder.

So…I…just kept driving.

Like, I was in the right-hand lane and trying to choose and exit to take, but couldn’t find a similar, utterly perfect one; so I panicked and stayed on the freeway.

I took so long to pull off that the car driving in front of me must have had a guilty conscience over something and pulled off to the shoulder themselves (or they were demonstrating for me, I don’t know). Point is, I take so long to pull over, the guy rides up to my window.

Him: “Hey, are you gonna pull over or what?”
Me: “Um, erm, I, uh, um…downtown exit?”

I can’t see his eyes roll behind his shiny-ass aviator glasses, but I felt it.

I finally pull off the freeway at the designated exit, but then I encounter another problem: where to park?

I come up to a stop light, and take a right because I know it goes into a neighborhood with, normally, plenty of street parking where I can proudly receive my traffic citation. Except today, the curbs are all super busy. So I come up to a 4-way stop intersection thinking this: “Well, I mean, there’s a little bit of space over there, but it looks like it’s a bit of red curb and, ho-ho, I don’t wanna double down. That spot looks open, but- oof, looks like a yellow curb…”

Meanwhile, Officer Powers has again approached my driver’s side window as three other cars have approached the intersection, but are all awkwardly sitting there since it’s my turn to go and nobody wants to go out of order while a cop is present. I roll my window down.

Me: “Hi again.”
Him: “Yeah, hi. You see that patch of curb over there?” -he points-
Me: “Yessir.”
Him: “There.”

He holds his hands up to hold the three other cars back as a way to direct traffic for me as he waves me forward to my parking spot.

The [French accent] piece de resistance?

I smirk and nod at one of the cars I pass. Y’all, I felt like such a pimp getting my very own police escort that I chest-pumped at a stranger.

Anyway, once I park, it was nothing but a (further) pleasant experience. He told me I come off like I’m new to this sort of thing, to which I confess I am, to which he responds that he guesses that’s probably a good thing.

In the end, I was late to work, got my ticket and a story, and I haven’t violated the rules of the carpool/HOV lane since. #thesystemworks

Also, I told my mom about the whole thing, and she laughed with me. I told my girlfriend and got my ass chewed plum off for it. Learned a lot that day.

Catch you guys Thursday!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

ALSO I HAVE MORE NEWS!!

My episode with the NIGHTLIGHT podcast dropped last Friday!! It features a horror story of mine: “The Scars of Eliza Gray“. Go, it’s free, give it a listen, and if you wanna, stick around after the 25-minute mark to listen to my interview with the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson. It was a TON of fun to do and I’m sure we’ll have more news like this in the future.

Let’s Get Real #1: I Was a Real-World Infiltrator (That One Time)

Happy Thursday everybody!

This whole thing was pitched as “fiction and comedic true tales”, right? So, let’s get to some real stories. And I figured I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with one that might still get me in trouble.

So let’s set the scene: Northern California, Fall of 2016, three early twenty-somethings in a two-bedroom apartment – my best friend (who, for the sake of the story, we’re calling Pierre), my girlfriend, and I. (Also, I’d like to note here just how heavily I was advised against a living situation like that by pessimistic-ass members of my family, but even now after that chapter’s closed, I look back on it fondly.) Anyway, we’d all recently moved out together and used our newfound freedom pretty predictably: drank too much, went on a lot of trips, and started an apartment-wide, Nerf Gun arms race.

The main driver or impetus behind that last one – and a lot of other innovative trends in that house – was my buddy, Pierre.

The story, as I remember it, was that that summer, I knocked on his door to ask him about something I’m sure was important and when I stepped in I saw he was working with a set of lockpicks. I asked him where in the hell he’d gotten those. He shrugged and dismissively said, “Amazon, dude.”

I was floored. To my mind, lockpicks were called “Thieves’ Tools” on account of my D&D experience and one did not simply acquire Thieves’ Tools out in the open. Or legally. But I’ve been wrong before.

As the story goes, Pierre’s sister had called him up with a problem, having misplaced the key to their family trunk. That trunk reportedly held a number of important family documents, papers, n’ things they kind of wanted back. Pierre’s solution? No key, no problem.

This was right on the heels of the Nerf Gun zeitgeist that had taken ahold of the house and that same energy carried us right into lockpicking soon after. Next week, Mandy and I both had our own sets of picks as well as a couple of locks to practice on and the new hobby was born.

A few months later, Christmas rolls around (as it does) and I straight up told Pierre: “I’m at a loss as for what to get you, dude. What do you want this year?” He sat at his desk for a quiet moment, holding his chin, then said, “You wanna just get me a fuck ton of locks?” “Deal!” right? It was a super easy list, just turns out that locks are pretty goddamn expensive when you buy in bulk.

However, not only do I NOT regret it, I treasure him making that request because of what came of it.

I wound up devising what has probably been the most intricate and thoughtful gift I’ve ever given anybody for Pierre that Christmas. For those that didn’t know, locks apparently come in varying degrees of security (or “difficulty” for our purposes). Pierre and I both were and are avid gamers and I thought of no better way to package his gift of locks than as a video game-themed challenge. I arranged the locks in ascending order of difficulty (1 to 10) and named them after bosses in Dark Souls. At the end of the ladder of locks, there was an envelope labeled “FINAL BOSS”.

Pretty ominous, right?

Inside the envelope was a handwritten note containing the address of a particular Peet’s Coffee, that week’s code to the men’s restroom (I’d visited the day before to make sure it was current), and specific instructions. The instructions stated to go to said restroom, pick the lock on the supply cabinet inside, retrieve a small item – piece of toilet paper, hand towel, anything – take a photo for proof, and return it to me. For the effort and fulfillment of the contract, there would be a sweet $50 and a crisp high-five waiting for him.

Is it technically burglary? Not a lawyer, but probably, yeah.

Pierre finished the locks, read my note, laughed, and politely preferred not to break the law (the coward!). We laughed, I said I understood, kept my fifty dollars, and quietly resolved to do it myself.

So a couple of days later, I donned my coat, smuggled my picks into the inside pocket, and went to that Peet’s Coffee for my real-world test, the test that would make me a real-life infiltrator. I parked in the public garage down the road and rolled into that cafe like I was Frank Ocean and it was the Bellagio. I ordered a coffee to secure my cover as a patron (and, let’s be honest, not be rude) while I cased the joint – as they say in The Business.

As soon as the lovely young woman behind the counter looked me in the eyes, a little voice in my head screamed, “SHE KNOWS!!” But I ignored the cold sweat running down my back and played it cool. While my drink was made, I stole on over to the bathrooms, entered the code I’d committed to memory, and slipped inside the men’s restroom. To my utter dismay, between the time I’d last seen the bathroom and this moment of glory, the cabinet had been vandalized. Some asshole had broken the doors off their hinges, emptied the shelves, and spray painted the rest.

I retrieved my coffee and left that place feeling an awful sense of loss. My dream of becoming the pettiest burglar of all petty burglars would die unrealized.

It would be about a year later I was in another coffee house somewhere else in town and when I went to the restroom there, I realized something that made my heart race, my eyes go wide, and my chest swell: this place, as well it seems, had a locked supply cabinet. I was back the next day, with my picks tucked in my coat pocket as they had been the year before, and I entered The Vault.

Problem was- Or rather, problems were that, for one, of the two bathrooms, one was down for maintenance, making potty-Demand suddenly outweigh potty-Supply. Secondly, I hadn’t hardly practiced since giving up on The Dream, and all that; and in my haste to make it back here, hadn’t thought to practice.

You ever had one of those moments where you’re in a public restroom and someone just tries the handle without knocking first? Of course, it’s probably locked, but the thought still suddenly strikes your mind, “OH GOD, did I remember to lock it?” This was like that, except instead of a psuedo-embarrassing, “You caught me on the pot” moment between adults, I still can’t rightly think of a good “This isn’t what it looks like” explanation for getting caught doing what I was doing.

So, after a number of heart-attacks at the jiggled handle and minutes listening to the whispers in the hallway, I flushed (as a cover) and left, The Dream still unrealized.

A couple days later, I asked Pierre if I could borrow that stash of locks I’d gotten him and that night spent probably four hours in a Rocky-style training montage, tearing my way through lock after lock until it became second nature.

I was The Key.

I wrote a new letter and was back the next day. Waltzed into that bathroom, had the lock popped and the cabinet opened quieter than a church mouse in maybe two minutes. One of the most undeservedly proud moments of my life, hands down.

The new note I’d written…well, I’ll be honest, I don’t fully remember what was in it. I know I put some “Play it Forward” cards in it but not specifically which ones, and the rest was basically just a list of compliments to whoever read it. And I’ll be real, ever since pulling that reverse-caper, I’ve wanted to go back and pick it again just to KNOW that my note’s been found, evidence that someone out there knows of my skills as an as-of-yet-not-quite-renowned infiltrator.

That, and I think part of me is just scared that they’ve installed a camera system or something, however unlikely or super illegal (I think?) that would be.

FIN

And that’s all for now, everybody. This one was fun. Catch y’all Tuesday!