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.

A Moment of Rambling Reflection…and then some Nonsense (feat. Ron Perlman)

Happy Thursday, everyone! What’s good? What’s new?

I’ve managed to make it a little more than a year since leaving my full-time job. Would likely have been longer, but life never goes as planned and that’s alright. But over the past twelve months, I was able to sell two whole stories, start this lovable pet project, treat my better half to a memorable anniversary, and handle (mostly) the maelstrom that was my mother’s sickness – got her house sold and she moves in a few weeks.

So, while certainly different from the Hakuna Matata, coffee house Bohemia I’d imagined, it’s been several times more rewarding; especially when I think of where things might be if they happened after my year was up. It is funny to think, though, that after 163 submissions to date, two have landed (of course not counting those which are still pending; full of my hopes, dreams, and sweet kisses). But from what I’ve been told, that’s a more common story than one might think. One might think, as I have, rightly so, I’d imagine, that if you attempted something 163 times and only succeeded twice – swung at bat, shot a basketball, threw a pass, baked a pie – you pretty objectively suck at baseball, basketball, football, baking, whatever. But that’s just…not quite the case with writing. In fact, two hits inside those first hundred attempts is a deceptively fast start; especially when done independently, outside of any organizations, clubs, or associations.
It…can be hard to keep that in view, however.
In the same way, in the day and age of Instagram or Twitter followers only ever mattering when counting by the million, every time I punch a key (like right now), I imagine the sizable crowd of 40 brave souls that clicked the Follow button on this humble blog out in my front yard.
I’ll bring the sappiness to an end by saying that you guys make me feel like a king.

So thank you for listening to a poor sap ramble and spin stories about made up things.

So…the other night, I had a dream that Ron Perlman beat up my problems for me.

It was great. Not like I just went around town pointing at things I didn’t like and The Ron would strafe over and hit it with a straight right. We were in a Coliseum like the Roman times, dressed in modern day attired and without weapons. The gates lifted and out walked these monsters, all shadowy and black, but with labels in white lettering on their chests.

One, a hulking minotaur-looking thing with wriggly squid arms, runs up and tries to th’wack me. It’s labeled ‘Credit-Card-Debt,’ and Ron Perlman dives out of nowhere and plants his boots on its cheek, putting it in the dirt. Next up comes ‘Phone-Calls-from-the-Hospital,’ and it resembles a sumo wrestler with a jackal’s head. It charges, but doesn’t get very far before The Ron gives it a step-in elbow followed by an uppercut that puts it in the stands. “Ron! Help!” I shout, as ‘Check-Engine-Light-that’s-been-on-Forever’ grabs me around the neck. In a flash, Ron Perlman is by my side and he flying-armbar’s the sonuvabitch.

Soon, after dozens more heel hooks, tornado kicks, and left crosses, the army of shadowy demons lie defeated, squirming, and for some reason steaming in the dust of the arena. Then The Ron and I do a freeze-frame high five sweet custom handshake and I rouse to consciousness.

The point is, life will get tough if you live it, and that’s the point. If there’s something you want to do or need to do (sometimes they’re the same thing), then do it. You’ll have to persevere, stick with it, and endure, even if it doesn’t always seem promising. But stick with it long enough, there’s a success story in it somewhere.

Find your Subconscious Ron Perlman.

Today’s Hors-d’oeuvres (#foodforthought)

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

First off, if you’re having trouble (like I did) with the title today, that’s apparently how you spell the little munchies you have before dinner or in between courses (plain speak: “orderves”).

Second, I’m out there husslin’, so for today, you’re at a fancy dinner party. It’s a big ol’ Great Gatsby mansion with a courtyard, a fountain, waiters n’ shit. I’m the guy who walks up holding a tray and a towel over my arm (I assume for some reason) and offers you little worldly food items. Let’s say I have a curly string mustache, too.

I’ve always been a bit of a quote collector and I think we should all be. A few years ago, my girlfriend’s mom gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received when I said, “I like to consider wisdom where I find it, no matter the source,” and she replied, “That should be on a pillow or something.”

But that’s what today’s about, a few morsels here and there that resonated, and I’m gonna cross my fingers they do the same with you. Cheers.

#1

“If objects for gratitude and admiration are our desire, do they not present themselves every hour to our eyes? Do we not see a fair creation prepared to receive us the instant we are born – a world furnished to our hands, that cost us nothing? Is it we that light up the sun? Or pour down the rain? Or fill the earth with abundance? Whether we sleep or wake, the vast machinery of the universe goes on.”
-Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

The Take: I would actually recommend reading all of ‘The Age of Reason’ by Paine- well, actually not. Part 1 is terrific. In (very) short, with Part 1 he basically outlines his views on religion at large, the idea of a Creator, existence, and his own personal form of deism (which I personally find beautiful). The above is a good foot in the door for what the rest of Part 1 is about. It doesn’t capture all of the wonderful ways he illustrates it and further fleshes it out, but it’s a pill if that’s all you want. An even more concise if less flavorful way to express what I think Paine tries to get across here is this: “The world is so much bigger than you and majestic beyond reasonable understanding. That alone is reason enough to appreciate life.”
(The second half, called “Part 2”, is basically a constructed essay-form breakdown on how the stories in the Bible don’t, in his view, conform to logical processes or, as the title goes, reason; and personally, I didn’t find I needed that, but if it’s your bag, go for it.)

#2

“Death by violence, death by cold, death by starvation – these are the normal ends of the stately and beautiful creatures of the wilderness. The sentimentalists who prattle about the peaceful life of nature do not understand its utter mercilessness; although all they would have to do would be to look at the birds in the winter woods, or even at the insects on a cold morning or cold evening. Life is hard and cruel for all lower creatures, and for man also, in what the sentimentalists call a ‘state of nature.'”
-Theodore Roosevelt

The Take: I think I feel good including this one here because I’ve noticed it comes up a lot in my fiction (nothing that’s made its way here yet). I hold that it’s a reasonably good theme to include or just understanding to utilize whether it be in fact, fiction, or real life, because it’s true. Life isn’t easy within civilization sometimes, much less without it. It can be a terrific reminder the next time you think you live in a shithole or boo-hoo about how nothing ever happens in your town. Just watch one episode of “Naked and Afraid” and you’ll realize even that’s wilderness survival set to Easy Mode.
[WOOP WOOP! WARNING! POLITICAL MOMENT AHEAD! 3…2…1…]
And whether you have a stance on hunting, you yourself are a hunter (I’m not), a vegan, vegetarian, or anything else, before you forsake friendships in arguments over these things: hunting isn’t the problem. Is trophy hunting pretty dicky? Yeah, absolutely. But an ethical hunter killing for food that isn’t wasted, while it isn’t utterly natural, it isn’t outside the norm; as it’s an unfortunate fact that that deer or elk wasn’t going to live happily ever after. So the next time you come across a headline that aims to criticize some aspect of hunting, do a liiiittle bit of homework before biting the hook.
[-jets powering down…cooling…cooling…cool-]
If I haven’t lost you yet, on a literary note, taking an understanding that nature in its raw form is exactly what Teddy calls it – “merciless” – and is still beautiful into writing can help bridge some schisms over seemingly conflicting themes. I hope I’ll be able to share some of my own works that attempt the same here one day.

#3

“You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen in your life so you just learn that now, okay?
Listen. The only time you should look into your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

-Louis C.K.

The Take: I think I first encountered this one while scrolling through Facebook yeeeeaaaars back. Originally, in the set he expressed this on, it was while he was discussing being a parent and some of the lessons one dishes out when they find themselves in that position (I also did a super fast google check to make sure he’d been quoted elsewhere too), but it came across as a good bit of personal advice.
It sort of pairs flows from the same perennial, ages-old proverb “Comparison breeds contempt,” and I think it puts a good cap on what we’ve covered. It’s good to expect nothing, yet appreciate everything (saw that on a bumper sticker once, holds up).

Anyway, I think that’s about it. Hope some of this rings with some of y’all.

See ya Thursday (or before, who knows anymore).

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!

A Place to Be

A bit outside the usual posting schedule, but that makes sense for this one. A warning up top, this is going to be pretty unplanned, unstructured, and probably unedited – we’re gonna barf a rant here, so bear with me.

Do you have a “happy place” that you go to?

Actually, different question (but hold onto that one).

Have you ever seen Ratatouille? It’s the movie with a little rat named Remy in Paris (I’m pretty sure), voiced by Patton Oswald, who discovers there more to food than eating trash. There’s a scene somewhere near the mid-beginning wherein he tries introducing his brother to flavors besides trash. He has him close his eyes, eat a piece of cheese, then a piece of grape, then try the two together. The entire time his brother is chewing, the background behind him goes to black and these ribbons of color trace themselves and dance around to reflect the sensations brought on by the flavors.

Since seeing that movie, I’ve done the same thing with a really good meal probably a thousand times (my friends can attest, as they make fun of me for it). But it’s an excellent way to just…savor.

Somewhere else I’ve found a similar experience is with music, and God just writing it out it feels a little woo-woo. I feel like it comes off like a Grateful Dead hippie who talks about “feeling the music, maaaaan,” but it’s real.

I want to be – and I mean this – a pretentious douche who can honestly say that I’m way classier than you because I appreciate the orchestra and classical music, but I can’t; I hate it; I’m just not that person even though I want to be (I have similar feelings about coconut water).

However, somewhere I’ve found I can appreciate the body that is orchestra and the wonderful phenomenon that is several dozen instruments coming together harmoniously in a symphony…

…are soundtracks. Soundtracks to movies and video games. Those things that give the subconscious, subliminal flavor to a storytelling experience.

Even as I tippy-type this on out, I’m listening to the soundtrack to ‘Detroit: Become Human’ and if you don’t know what it is or haven’t experienced it yet, you owe it to yourself to try it. Don’t think of it as a video game, even. It’s a piece of interactive fiction. It’s an exploration of narrative and a masterfully done composition of character, experience, empathy, choice, and music. Don’t look up a play-through, don’t listen to a friend tell you about it, do it yourself. Trust me. And when you do, go into the Extras and pore through the “Making of” and “Behind the Scenes” style videos.

I say all that because it brings me to this: remember that question about happy places?

Maybe not a happy one, exactly, but one of my favorite places to be is a place where I appreciate and wonder. I enjoy writing and feel a compulsion to do it whether people read and listen or not because of the process that goes into it. Loosely quoting Chuck Palahniuk, the man who wrote Fight Club, he said “real writing shouldn’t be easy, it should tear you apart.” And by and large I agree with that wholeheartedly.

The process of storytelling in a fictional capacity is creating a conflict in your mind and others by describing people, events, decisions, consequences, feelings, and mistakes that by right don’t physically exist, then resolving it in a very real way that reflect aspects of what it means to experience the life of a living being. It’s…it’s a privilege we have.

An art form I’ve never understood but have long wanted to: music composition, which brings me back to soundtracks. Nowadays, they’re cinematic enough to have grabbed my attention, but they employ the means of orchestra, so my interest has a foot in the door of that hoity-toity interest I said earlier I can’t be classist about.

And that note about happy places? One of my favorite places to exist, and I hope you can either relate or give it a try sometime, is putting myself in the mind of a composer. I love listening to the soundtracks and scores of movies and games (Detroit is obviously one, but really pick any that you enjoy) and picking out the instruments I can hear and identify, then picturing them being played alongside the others.

But it makes me so envious. It’s one thing to observe and appreciate something an artist does, but it’s something else entirely to think of the place in the mind that made it. Like Remy’s brother in Ratatouille, I imagine it’s like that: an empty black background, and then sounds bleed out of the ether like ribbons of light and dance, singing just to you; but then it’s up to you to capture it. And it’s that first step that has me so jealous. To be in the quiet and slowly begin to hear the timpani, the horn, the cellos in concert, and violins above it all come out of the silence and begin to fit together.

Or maybe it isn’t like that at all. Maybe you walk down the street and start to just feel a rhythm that exists in that moment like we’ve seen in commercials: the construction crew down the road and its jackhammer lay a background that car horns and doors opening and closing fit into to create a symphony only you see.

I got to speak recently with a friend who graduated with his Master’s studying music and is going onto teach. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to ask him about all of this stuff about a composer’s mind and was floored to hear him say he doesn’t have an interest in it, that he enjoys playing clarinet and that process, but not creating music for symphony. To each their own, but all that did was reinforce my want to exist in the mind of someone who hears what I imagine they do.

So, Philip Sheppard, Nima Fakhrara, John Paesano, if you’re reading this, just know: I’m a fan and I’d love to talk to you.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. I’ll catch you guys tomorrow.