The Beardly Writer

Some write from the heart. I write from the beard.

Month: January, 2014

Music Corner: Silver Timothy

The official music video for “Silver Timothy,” from Damien Jurado’s new album Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son.

I’d pre-ordered this album, and was pretty excited when it arrived last week. Damien Jurado has been my favorite artist for more than a decade, so naturally I look forward to all his releases. But this one was going to be special. This mark’s Damien’s third collaboration with producer Richard Swift, after 2010’s Saint Bartlett and 2012’s Maraqopa. Maraqopa was a quasi-concept album. Not all of the songs played directly into the concept, but a theme was apparent throughout. And that theme was based on a dream Jurado had one night. After reading several interviews online I’m still ignorant of the details of that dream, except that it was about a man who left everything behind to go on a journey of self-discovery. By the end of the album, the protagonist is dead. And then Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son picks up right where the previous album left off with the protagonist waking up from a car crash not knowing whether he’s alive or dead. This time, there is no quasi about it. This is a full-fledged concept album, and I’m loving it. The majority of Damien’s work has been folk songs, slice-of-life stories of unlucky people in bad or hopeless situations. Since Maraqopa, his work has seen a drastic departure, which is sometimes the death of a career. But not here. Not even close. Jurado and Swift know what they are doing. Damien is not out of his mind as Father John Misty recently wrote, he’s just plumbing the depths of his mind and abilities more than most give themselves license to dare. And we are all reaping the benefits.

It’s hard to say how this album will rank among Damien’s others given the perspective of time. If he continues on his current path, and he says he has no reason to stop, it won’t be comparable to his previous work. But that’s as it should be. Why bother comparing albums when each should be taken on it’s own merits? What this album does is showcase just how vibrant and diverse an artist he is. After more than a decade of solid Americana/folk records, many of which show signs of experimentation with music and sound, Jurado throws a series of curve balls that stun the crowd and critics. This is a man who just last summer collaborated with Moby. He went from writing songs about jealous lovers, medicated brothers, and small town life to writing songs about spaceships, silver people, and make-believe small towns. So I’m not going to judge or critique the new album. I’m going to enjoy it, because he’s obviously enjoying himself.

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A New Adventure

I got some unexpected news last Tuesday.

Although to be honest I should have expected it. I asked for it, after all. Quite literally asked for it. But then forgot.

I have one week left at my day job. One week until I’m unemployed. Which is kind of sad because I rather like being employed. Or is it I like receiving a steady paycheck? Yes, that’s it. Paychecks. I like those. I’ve got one more on the way and then… ?

On the plus side I’ve done a ton of writing this past week. Unfortunately it’s all been filling out job applications and rewriting cover letters. So the very next day after deciding to focus more on my passion, I get completely sidetracked by one of life’s little complications. Isolation’s protagonist, Richard, would be even less pleased than I. I don’t mind life’s twists and turns so much. I’m adaptable. Bend with the wind or break. Go with the flow or fight till you drown. Life’s hurdles can be either obstacles, or opportunities. So I swallow my pride, choose opportunity, and make the best of it.

I was asked Saturday night what my goals are for the next year, three years, and five years. I said I don’t plan that far ahead. But, people perish for lack of vision, so I gave it some thought. I decided the one year goal was easy: get a job. That’s more immediate than a year, but it was the first and biggest goal on my mind. But the others, I discovered, were all writing related. Passion related. Three years out, I want Isolation to be published and at least one more script written. In five years I want to have sold a screenplay. These goals, while not arbitrarily chosen, hadn’t been actual goals five minutes before being asked the question. But five minutes after answering, I realized I didn’t want to take them back. I don’t want them to be an answer for answer’s sake. I want to work toward these goals. I want to accomplish these goals.

So I’m on a new adventure. Two, I guess. The search for and subsequent (I hope) finding of a new job, and the application of vision to my writing.

Passion can only carry you so far. Skill can only carry you so far. Vision can only carry you so far. What happens when you combine all three? I can’t wait to find out.

Passion vs. Distraction

From the very beginning I’ve felt under-qualified to write this blog. The life of a writer. What do I know about the life of a writer? What do I know about life, really? I’ve done a few things, been to a few places, seen a few things… And that makes me an expert? Someone with authority on the subject who expects others to learn from my wisdom? There’s only one kind of life I know anything about: my own. My life. And the useful things I know about it could fill the space between the liquid and the bottle cap in an unopened bottle of beer. The most useful thing I could tell you is to drink the beer before it gets warm. 

So what? I’ve griped and moaned about blogging and writing and life since staking claim to my own tiny corner of the internet last year. What have I learned? Has anybody learned anything? I hate false humility and I’d hate to think I’m guilty of that now. I also hate whiners. I don’t want to fill this post with complaining. And I’d like to think I’m not. What I am, as I’ve mentioned before, is introspective. To a fault. The size of San Andreas. I’ve swallowed whole cities in my effort to self-analyze. And to the relief of all the families lost, I’ve come away with some good data. But that’s often where it ends. Remember in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, when Alice gets lost in the forest? She sings a song: “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” Ditto.

I want this blog to be useful. I want to write useful things. Because it means I’m learning, too. When I use this space to complain, I’m wasting my time and yours. I wasted this whole last week. I thought about my book a lot, but didn’t add a single word to it. WASTE. One week wasted. There’s only 52 of those in a year, you know. 2014 just began and I start it by wasting 1/52 of it. Gone. If I could offer one piece of advice this week, it’s don’t waste time! You want to be a writer, then write dammit! If you aren’t writing, if you don’t look forward to it, if you habitually find reasons to avoid it or put it off, there might be a problem. You might not be a writer. I’m realizing something about passion. There are many things to be passionate about in this life. Some people are lucky: their passions are directly beneficial. It earns them income, for example. Other passions must be steered toward it. Molded, hammered, bent, twisted, refashioned into something that benefits. Maybe your passion is playing video games and eating Cheetos on the couch. Find a way to make that passion work to your advantage. But maybe, just maybe, that isn’t your passion, but your distraction.

There is a fine line between passion and distraction. Many people spend much more time on their favorite distractions than their passions. Are you trading one for the other? There’s nothing wrong with distraction. In fact it can be a useful tool in the writer’s toolbox. But are you sacrificing your passion in favor of your distraction? Distractions come easy and give immediate gratification. Passion takes hard work and dedication, and may take years, even decades to pay off. But when it does, you’ll wonder why you ever settled for the distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t settle for good when great is still out there. If you continually give into distraction, you might not have found your passion. Or you might be afraid of it. Either way, don’t waste another day. Face it. Deal with it. Own it. Find your passion. And if you’ve already found it, revel in it. Spread it on your face like war paint and don’t back down. Dress yourself up in it and hit the town. Be your passion, not your distraction. Be your passion.

Grumpy Reflections on the Evolution of Language

Monday snuck up on me this week.

Yes, I know it happens every week. And at the same time each week. Call me negligent. Call me forgetful. Call me Suzan. No, wait. Don’t call me Suzan. That’s a girl’s name. Call me… Call me Wollstonecraft.

I just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus again. I love the language of that time. I want to write books in that style and period of English, but I don’t think I’d attract many readers. That depresses me. I look at the language used by those damn kids who won’t get off my lawn and my body seizures. I hate it. I hate the degradation of language. I was about to go into a tirade about words I hate that were added to the dictionary this year, but I decided against it. My hatred, while strong, burns not as bright as my reason. At least on good days. Everyone loves a good tirade, and I’m tempted to go into it anyway for the sake of at least one more reader, giving this blog a grand total of one. But I won’t because although I do hate that the word twerk was added to the dictionary (I couldn’t help myself), I can’t confuse the degradation of language with its evolution – even though they may be to me one in the same.

Language evolves over time. Maybe evolves isn’t the best word. Or maybe it is. I haven’t decided. Evolution is the process in which mutations occur: mutations that grant the organism a better chance at survival are passed on, while mutations that put the organism at a disadvantage die off, along with the organism. Survival of the fittest. But it’s not just the mutation itself, but how it integrates into the organism’s environment. Mutations that camouflage the tiger into the jungle are good, but that same camouflage sucks on the snow. Unless you’re a white bengal tiger. Language is the same. I may hate some of these new words, but what I should focus my anger and venom on instead is the culture that gives room to the words. A culture that venerates ignorance and stupidity. I feel like a fuddy-duddy talking like this. Every generation feels the same about the one that comes after. Anyway, language changes over time to fit the times. The language makes no value judgement, it is just the mirror. And there is the tendency to look back on what was as better than what is. Nostalgia. Why can’t it be like the good ol’ days? Because in those days most men died of tuberculosis and most women died in childbirth. Or you could get lucky and die of dysentery. Imagine; croaking from a serious case of the hershey squirts. No thanks. No gracias. Nein danke.

Instead, I’ll keep to my century but set myself apart from its culture. Not all of it, just the icky, sticky bits. As a writer, one of the duties I feel impressed on me is to lift my readers up. I don’t know how seriously I take the duty yet, but I feel it hovering in the back of my skull somewhere. I have no desire to hold onto useless traditions or to hold culture back from genuine and useful change. But there is a need to safeguard that which is good and noble and valuable about our culture from being swept away in the glitz and glamour rush of the new. It’s not just the job of the writer, though as scribe to what has been, what is, and what may be, writers are particularly apt to the task. So how much do I just want to complain about it, and how much do I want to do about it?

Forced Perspective

Isolation Consideration

I’ve come to it. The first major edit of Isolation. In college, my writing instructors continually warned me against editing while writing. Just push through and finish the story, then edit. It will save you time. This used to be a great struggle for me. I wanted the words behind and above the words I was typing to be perfect before my fingers continued. It took me years to break that habit. But I don’t hold to it without question. When I’m 25,000 words into a story and I see an edit that must be made in order for the story to make sense or reach the right ending or hit a major plot point on time, I can’t see the advantage of forging ahead, writing more words that I  know I’ll have to change later. When I write, even though I know I’ll edit and rewrite all of it, there is always the slightest glimmer of hope that at least a few phrases will make it all the way through unscathed. The chance that something might be done only once instead of twice or more is a serious incentive for me to edit now.

I hate repeating myself. I hate doing things over again. At my office, I use two computers everyday, only they aren’t both in my office. One is several rooms away, but I have them networked so I can use them both simultaneously. Today (which by the time you read this will have been several days in the past), someone else from the office turned off the second computer while I was using it, not realizing of course that anyone was on it. I lost an hour’s worth of graphic design work. I stormed out of my office demanding to know who the perpetrator was. Of course it was an old lady. Of course. Even though she turned it off via hard shutdown (almost losing one of my drive partitions), what I was most angry about was having to repeat my work. It’s time wasted. And I waste enough of that on my own, I don’t need any help. At this stage, to keep writing and finish the novel, would only create more work for me later if I don’t stop and edit just this one event. I feel like I’m fighting the ghosts of my teachers, and they aren’t even dead yet.

So, I need to edit. I realized I got way off my outline, mostly because I didn’t have one. So I’m writing one. This story started life as a movie treatment, then developed into a script. That script sits at twenty-nine pages long because over the summer it started to morph into a short story, which eventually became the novel I am currently writing. The only outline I followed was the treatment, and loosely at that. Beginning in chapter six, and very apparently in chapter seven, the story lost focus, meandered too far off point. The writing is sloppy and needs tightening. I’ll work on most of that later. But right now, I need to finish the outline and make one crucial edit to bring the spine of the story back into alignment. So I don’t know when I’ll post another chapter here, and when I do, it won’t pick up where chapter seven left off. Deal with it. Deal with it by buying the book when it’s done, won’t you? Thanks, you’re a peach.