What I’m Writing & Reading

Writing

Songs

Last month I found a book called “The Idiot’s Guide to Songwriting” in my mother’s little library. I plundered it. Up until now, I had reasoned that since I had a degree in Music, I had little to learn from other sources on Songwriting. I was wrong, of course. Reading this book has given me some basic insights on repetition, versatile rhymes, and hooks that I was lacking. I wrote a song called “Way Down Here” last month, and it is already more appealing on a basic level than many of my previous songs.

Over the next few months, I intend to write a few more songs to practice my new knowledge.

Dancing Master Pieces

I had always conceived of “The Bohemian’s Progress” as part of a trilogy. Now, FreeFlow Dance has asked me to provide two more pieces for their dancers, played by Mac Talla Quartet. This pleases me greatly!

Flat

Above is my working title for my latest short horror story set in Saskatchewan.  It will capitalize on one of the criticisms leveled against my beloved province: that it is flat and boring.  This flatness and boringness will be used, to great effect, I hope, to dispatch a couple of unhappy protagonists!

A song for Dorion

Recently, a friend of mine was attacked as she walked down the street.  She turned the tables on her attacker with her mad judo skillz, knocked him over, and captured him until the cops arrived.  She says she’s okay.

I have heard the phrase “toxic manhood” a lot recently, and I think it’s a very apt term.  I hate that women have to constantly assess their safety when they are alone with a man.

What can I, a lone troubadour, do to help this situation?  I’ve chosen to glorify Dorion’s deed with a song.  It’s not much, but it will be worth it if just one woman hears it and remembers that she can fight back if she’s attacked.  Or it would be worth it if just one asshole decides not to force himself on a woman.  But most of all, it will be worth it if Dorion hears it and knows that she is powerful, and what she did was heroic.

That’s the idea, anyway.  I hope this song turns out well, because it’s important to me.

Rory Dall’s Port

I just downloaded some freeware music notation software.  It’s called MuseScore 2, and it’s fantastic.  I once used music notation software regularly, back in the 90s when it was my modest ambition to be the next Beethoven.  In those days, I used a program called MusicProse.  By contrast, this freeware is insane.  I love it.

To learn how to use it, I’ve started transcribing an old Scottish tune for Mac Talla called, “Rory Dall’s Port”.  It feels great to be writing music again, even if it’s just a transcription.

My Icky River Story

Yesterday, I started work on a new short, one which has been burning in my head for a long time. It’s about undertow in the Saskatchewan River. We’ll see how it turns out.

Also, I got to try out my IBM typewriter. It’s a buggy old thing, but there’s something really satisfying about producing a page of actual hard copy that I can look at and feel. It feels more productive than using a computer, somehow.

Novel!

A few years ago, I wrote a supernatural novel set in World War I for national novel-writing month. Despite the great haste in which it was written, it’s actually pretty good! For the last few years, I’ve been honing it. I’ll let you know when I have a title.

Reading

On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates

Okay, I’m lying a just a little bit. I’m not currently reading this book, because it is so short and I devoured it last week. What a beautiful and thoughtful ode to the sport of boxing! Or, as Joyce Carol Oates observes, boxing is not a sport. Other sports, like baseball and football, are played. Nobody plays at boxing. Each match is a mutual, brutal attempt to hurt one’s opponent and cause enough brain damage that they drop.
On Boxing
This sounds terrible, and Oates does not lie: boxing is terrible. Yet she also shows how it can be elusive and wistful, moving and heartbreaking, and exultant. This is among the best books I have ever read. It takes only a few hours to read, but I will think about it forever.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

It has been about 30 years since ABC released their miniseries of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. In my youth, I remember renting it from the video store (remember those?) to watch it during summer vacation. Those big VHS tapes made it seem like a big deal, like it was special. Nowadays, big-budget TV series are very common, but in the late 80s, these three expensive, historical episodes reignited the concept of a miniseries.

Lonesome DoveLast summer I rewatched my old DVD copy of it. It was interesting to see it after all these years, and interesting to see how different I interpreted its meaning. That viewing, it struck me as old-man-torture. I realized I had a paperback edition of it, and started to read. Then I got caught up in all my self-improvement reading and Lonesome Dove got lost.

However, I miss reading for fun. Lonesome Dove gives me that. So far, it takes its time, and seems to revel in its joyfully irritating characters. If the book takes its time, so will I! Lonesome Dove will be read whenever I need a break from life, and need a break from reading for my own betterment. Thanks, Larry!

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

As I learn more and more about The Enneagram of Personality, I’ve come to understand a few important terms in the human condition. One of those terms is “shame”. Shame is feeling bad about yourself, not because you’ve done something bad, but because you believe there is something wrong with you. I am Enneatype 4, and Type 4 feels shame far more acutely than any other.

I now understand how much more difficult my life has been because I was unable to heal my shame, my feeling that there is something deeply wrong with me. I am now resolved to change that. My path is to achieve Santosha: a sanscrit word meaning wholehearted, satisfied, and not wanting. I want to banish shame, but maybe that’s not realistic, since it is a part of me. Instead, let me make peace with shame, coax it out of hiding, and show it to the world.

Daring greatlyShame researcher Brené Brown will be my starting point. She has inspired millions with her TED talks about vulnerability and shame. In her talk she says that the way to diminish the power of shame is to be vulnerable and “enter the arena”, be grateful, and “be enough”. I have already done my best to enter the arena with my various artistic efforts. An article on The Art of Manliness has given me a starting point for practicing gratefulness, and I have now begun a gratefulness journal, thanking people all the time, and sending thank-you notes.

But what does it mean to “be enough”? I mean to answer that question. I am now reading Daring Greatly, by the good Dr. Brown. I will discover what wholehearted people do to feel like they are enough, that no matter what gets done during the course of a day, they did their best, or not, and it’s still good enough. Thanks in advance to Brené Brown for writing this book, and all the people she studied that helped her formulate the concepts that went into this book!

Burr by Gore Vidal

I watched a documentary recently called Best of Enemies.  It was about the rivalry between Gore Vidal and William Buckley, and their famous television debates.  It reminded me how much I love Vidal’s writing, so I decided it was time for another of his novels.  After hearing that a character in his novel, Burr, was based on William Buckley, I knew this was the one.

So far, it doesn’t have the immediate interest that his novel, Julian, sparked in me, but I am still enjoying it.  Gore Vidal’s gift was inventing striking phrases that appear suddenly: striking both in their beauty and the brief kernels of truth they contain.

Burr

The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser

the-pyrates

This book was recommended to me by my friend Max, and I purchased it a few years ago.   I have enjoyed the George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series immensely, and I was interested to see what Fraser writes like when he writes pure comedy.

So far, it’s fantastic.  The writing is still impeccable, and the turns of phrase are funnier-than-hell.  I knew I would be hooked after reading his description of Captain Avery, the hero of the book, in which the narrator gets lost in praising his cliche virtues, then ends with an “etc, etc.”  He gets lost in praise again in the next paragraph, and apologizes.

Knowing the broad strokes of history helps the enjoyment of this book, as well as a healthy sense of humour.  Love it so far.

Baptism of Fire by Nathan M. Greenfield

Baptism of FireI only got to skim this one a year ago when I was doing research for my novel, so it’s good to actually read the whole damn thing. Nathan M. Greenfield’s account of the Canadians at the 2nd Battle of Ypres is gripping and easy to understand.

Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

julian comstockMy friend Kevin gifted me this book, and it appears the title-character is based on Julian the Apostate. (note: I hate the phrase “the titular”, so I didn’t use it in that last sentence. For the longest time I thought it meant “the sexy, but sassy”, so now, whenever I read “the titular”, I feel dumb). Julian the Apostate was the star of one of my favourite novels of all time, Julian, by Gore Vidal. Also, it’s set in a future after oil, and humanity isn’t doing so awesome. I think the future State of Athabaska, where the action starts, might be in Saskatchewan or Alberta. Neat.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

the big sleepThe mystery genre has never been one of my favourites. All the more reason to investigate it further. And If I’m going to do it, it should be by one of the masters. Chandler practically invented the hard-boiled detective, so I know I’m in good hands. My sister Kristan gave me this one.

The verdict: Great novel. It has the sparseness of a Hemingway novel, but unlike Hemingway, the narrative takes you someplace exciting.

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