October 19

Mesmerizing Music

Maybe it’s just me, but there are certain songs that, when I hear the start to play, make me stop whatever I’m doing so I can listen. It’s like they have power over me, pulling me away from the present moment and whisking me away to another place for a few minutes.

There aren’t many that can do that to me. And one of the interesting things is that they aren’t necessary similar. Sure, there’s may be a little bit of crossover – genre, style, instrumentation – but for the most part they are unique.

So with that said, I thought it might be interesting to share a few of them with you and, maybe, broaden your horizons a bit. You may have heard of some of these artists and these songs, and if so, fantastic! And for what it’s worth, I was inspired by another blog I follow, View from the Back, where Sheree posts Song Lyric Sundays.

Today I’m sharing a song that never fails to give me chills, especially this version of it. The artist is Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey native who came to prominence in the 1970s, hit an amazing peak in the late 70s/early 80s, and continues to release well-crafted and thought-provoking music.

Springsteen is now in his 70s and shows no signs of stopping, which is fine by me. His music, especially his lyrics, have been an inspiration to me since I was a kid listening with headphones as his vinyl albums spun on the turntable. He’s an amazing lyricist, capturing a unique perspective on the lives of blue-collar and downtrodden people. Not all his songs are bleak, though. He can slip between melancholy and upbeat with a snap of his fingers. Or a strum of his guitar.

The song in question is titled Thunder Road, and while it sounds like a rocker, it’s actually a thoughtful look at a young woman about to transition from child to adult from the perspective of a man who’s trying to convince her to join him as he tries to escape his current life. The album version is wonderful, but my favorite version is from a concert he did at the Odeon in London in 1975. It’s a slower, sparser arrangement that’s just about perfect.

Here’s the video, lyrics are posted below. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Oh oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
Tonight we’ll be free, all the promises will be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind, so Mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win…

Music and Lyrics: Bruce Springsteen

____

RB

October 14

Old-School Scares

I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a kid. Growing up in South Florida, every Saturday morning one of the local television channels showed Creature Features starting at 10:30. And every weekend I’d tune in to watch the old black and white Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy movies. They’d also show the Godzilla flicks, along with some of the other giant monster movies that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Oh, and the occasional Hitchcock film.

I’d lay on the living room floor, wrapped in a blanket and holding one of my stuffed animals, and would peek through my fingers as whenever the creature of the week appeared on screen. Despite my fear, I always came back for more.

Later, in my teen years, the movies evolved. The slow-burning horror and scares became more graphic. There was Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and one of my favorites, Dawn of the Dead. The blood and guts didn’t really bother me, it just added a gross-out factor the the films. Besides, they were sort of fun, mostly because many of them were predictable. Couple having sex? Dead. Young woman in the shower? Dead. Wandering in the woods after dark? Dead. I probably should have watched them with a horror movie bingo card in hand.

At some point another evolution occurred and the genre moved into territory that I just can’t get into: the torture movies. Also often referred to as torture porn. Instead of the victims being killed off quickly – albeit sometimes messily – it was over and done with and the film moved on. Now, however, the victims are slowly tortured, and some of the scenes go on for what seems like forever. To me, that’s not scary, it’s just perverse.

I’m not saying the movies shouldn’t be made. There’s obviously a market for them and it’s still giving these movie-makers the opportunity to be creative. I’m all for that. I mean, I can appreciate the artistry that goes into creating a graphic, bloody death scene. I’m a fan of practical special effects and – when I was a kid – dreamed of working as a special effects artist.

It’s really personal taste. The torture movies just aren’t my thing. I’d rather watch an old Hitchcock movie than Human Centipede. I feel like the best scares are the ones that are partially left to my imagination. Hearing the screams coming from off-camera, the vague sound effects, shadows on the wall hinting at something sinister, is all fuel for my mind. To me, that’s the best kind of scare. What I can come up with in my head is going to be much darker than what I see on screen.

So this October I’ll be doing what I usually do, and that’s revisiting some of those classic horror films from past decades, enjoying the building tension, the ambiance, the mystery. And then I’ll use all that to feed my imagination when I sit down to write.

Boo!

RB

 

September 25

Possibilities

When it comes to art, I feel that the possibilities are endless. There are so many plots, characters, situations, and scenarios that I can’t imagine a time where artists don’t have something to work with.

However, there is a caveat. At least, in some areas of art. Consider the guitar, for example. There are six strings and twenty frets on a standard guitar. I’m not a math person, but that basically breaks down to something like 10,000 or so ways to play a note. Considering how many guitarists there are and have been, coupled with the number of songs that have been written, it would seem that every combination of notes has been played. Yet we still get new songs written on guitar.

Same with writing. The saying goes that every story that can be told has been told. This means that modern writers have to find new ways to tell their stories. Much like a guitarist has to find a new way to combine notes in order to come up with something unique.

Other art forms, painting for instance, don’t quite have the same limitations. There are so many colors and color variances that I can’t imagine how painters could ever run out of color schemes. Plus, paintings can run the gamut from landscapes and portraits to surrealistic and post-modern experimentations.

Regardless, even areas of art that might seem limited still offer possibilities. I think that’s one of the things that makes art and creativity so endearing to me. No matter what, there’s always another option, another angle, another way to approach your project.

For example, I may feel like I don’t have anything to write about (I do) and feel stuck. Looking out through the window on my back door I can see – right now as I write this – two hummingbirds jockeying for the feeder on my patio. There’s a story, right there. I could anthropomorphize them, give them names and personalities, and make them a pair of angry ex-lovers who happened to run into each other at the neighborhood feeder.

Or maybe I consider the fact one of my dogs is laying on the patio while this oddly cute battle wages overhead. Maybe I could get into her head and write about her surveying her domain and wondering if she needs to break up this lover’s quarrel.

And just now I heard a car horn blaring angrily on the street out front. That could be a guy who’s running late for work and got stuck behind someone who wants to drive the speed limit. And he always gets caught behind the same car every morning regardless of what time he leaves for work. Is it a conspiracy? Bad timing? A prank by a mischievous god or goddess?

Maybe it’s just me, but I love to consider the possibilities all around me everywhere I go. I can find stories in the smallest of events or the most mundane of settings. The secret is to not overthink. Don’t try to concoct some intricate scenario or multi-layered plot. Just take it all in, let you mind relax, and soon you’ll begin to see stories everywhere.

The possibilities are endless.

RB

September 21

My First Book

Do you remember the first book you read that really spoke to you, got into your head, made you want to be a writer? Or at the very least, made you a lifelong reader? I do. It was Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I read it when I was nine years old. I know, sort of a heavier read for someone that age, but I made it through (using a dictionary when needed) and it lit a spark that forever changed my life.

Obviously, this isn’t a book a nine year old would pick up off the shelf at the local bookstore. No, I had an older family member who was in college and would bring me the books they were reading in class. Some were way beyond my ability to comprehend at that age, but others, like Siddhartha, resonated with me on levels I didn’t quite understand.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, it was written in the early 1920s by German author Herman Hesse, who also wrote several other fantastic novels. It tells the story of the title character, a young man who comes from a wealthy family in India. He feels empty, restless, like there is something missing inside, so he goes on a spiritual journey. He fasts, renounces all possessions, and eventually meets Gautama, the Buddha.

His path is not an easy one. There is love, loss, and reawakening. As a young man, Siddhartha’s restlessness and longing were something that appealed to me. I was getting to that age when the body and mind begin to morph into something new, so this story was relatable. And from a spiritual standpoint, I could appreciate the philosophy of Buddhism. It was distinctly different from the Catholicism I grew up in.

It’s interesting to note that while this novel is considered an “adult” book, it’s written in a very simple narrative voice, and it’s only 152 pages. Hesse did an amazing job of telling this deep, thoughtful story in a simple, unassuming manner. He didn’t need a thousand pages to get to the heart of the story. From a writer’s perspective, that’s impressive.

And this book has stuck with me over the years. The original copy went with me through middle school and high school, and I think I eventually lost it in one of my moves. I picked up another copy in my mid-twenties and it’s on the bookshelf next to my bed. I still go back and read it every few years. Partly because I love the story so much, but also as a reminder of the philosophy behind it and how it affected me all those years ago.

Is Siddhartha the best book I’ve read? No, but it is one of the most meaningful. I hope you have a book in your past that still resonates with you and I hope you still pick it up and re-read it every so often. There are millions of books out there for us to read, but only a few are special. Those are the ones we cherish.

Do you have a book that had this affect on you? If so, let me know about it.

RB

September 2

Left in Stitches

So, I had a minor procedure on my shoulder recently that left me with eight stitches and a really cool scar. Nothing major. I was in and out of the doctor’s office in less than an hour. But it got me thinking about injuries I’ve had over the years, the bangs and bruises, the breaks and the blood. I’m amazed at how well the body can bounce back and heal from these things. It also makes me wonder about how injuries can change us and how the experiences can be reused.

In most cases, at least for me, the injuries were a result of doing something stupid or not paying attention. For example, I have a scar on my knee from when I was a kid. I was riding my bike on the sidewalk and looking back over my shoulder – instead of stopping to look at whatever it was – and I rode straight into a telephone pole. My knee located a protruding nail on the pole and taught me a valuable lesson: Look where you’re going, dumbass!

As a writer, I tend to use these experiences to help me in my stories, specifically when describing pain, or how it sounds when a bone snaps, or the sensation of being stitched up. I’m not entirely sure how much realism this allows me to add to the stories. Is accuracy here that important to the reader? Is it something they notice?

It reminds me of a story about the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was shooting a scene with Christopher Lee where a character gets stabbed. Jackson wanted the victim to cry out and thrash about, but Lee pulled him aside and said that wasn’t realistic. You see, Lee had worked as a spy during World War II and had personal experience with this situation. Although he didn’t come right out and say how he learned it, but he knew how someone would react when stabbed a certain way. Jackson was impressed and went with Lee’s recommendation for the scene.

Which then brings me back to the old adage of “write what you know”. I know what it feels like to be cut by glass and by knives (both sharp and dull); I’ve stepped on nails and fallen off of roofs; I’ve wiped out on motorcycles far too many times; and I’ve had a few broken bones. And yeah, I’ve learned a few tough lessons. Like, taking my time when carrying heavy items on my shoulder when climbing a ladder. And while bushes will break ones fall, the branches will still puncture skin.

Of course, your life experiences may not be quite as adventurous as mine. Probably because you have more common sense than I do. But I do tend to look back on my past injuries with a sort of fondness. Lessons were learned, experience gained, and now I have a small library of real-life experience to pull from when I write.

When I was laying on the examination table in the doctor’s office while the nurse coaxed the stitches out of my shoulder, I thought about a story I’m working on where my protagonist gets drunk and ends up in a fight. I wondered about what injuries he was going to end up with (I haven’t written the full scene yet) and I tried to concentrate on my experience so I could use it. The soft snipping sound, the slight tugging at the skin as the nurse pulled the fibers out, the way it itched later in the day.

Yeah, that’s definitely going to be used.

But don’t take this as encouragement to hurt yourself just so you can write about it later. My point is that we can use life experience, our personal experience, in our writing.

And be careful on ladders.

RB

August 19

Being Different

Growing up, I heard a lot of “why can’t you be more like your brothers”, “why can’t you just act normal”, and “what’s wrong with you.” I was the creative one in a family of athletes. Obviously, I was the odd one out.

For the longest time that bothered me. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be accepted, to be part of the crowd, to be included. The only sport I was good at was soccer, but unfortunately, when my father was transferred to Texas I discovered they really didn’t have an established program where we were going to live, so that pursuit died with a whimper.

So I continued to be pulled between two opposing forces. On one hand were the people I looked up to who told me that being different was wrong, that I needed to focus on pursuits that would land me a good job, allow me to make money. Writing and drawing were fine hobbies, but they were best kept to myself. I needed to a man. And apparently, men weren’t supposed to be creative.

I tried to kick creativity to the curb. Well, I didn’t try THAT hard, but I made an attempt to be who everyone thought I was supposed to be. There were a few people in my life who privately supported my endeavors. That kept me going. But still, I mostly kept my writing to myself, along with my sketches. A combination of embarrassment and fear, I suppose. So instead of writing in the light of day, I stayed up late at night writing by the light of a desk lamp next to my bed and kept my notebooks safely tucked between the mattress and boxspring.

It took a long time for me to finally shrug off those expectations that were put on me when I was young. It took a lot of work, introspection, and pages and pages of journal writing to sort it out, to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be. In fact, I’m still working on that. I feel I’m closer to who I want to be – a good person, empathetic, compassionate, fearless, unashamed – but there’s still a lot of work to do, quite a few rough edges that still need polishing.

However, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m not the same person I was five, ten, twenty years ago. We should never step into the same river twice…the water should always be flowing, the shoreline constantly adjusting in response to the current. In other words, we should always be adapting and evolving. We should be changing the things we don’t like about ourselves (it can be done) and building up the good qualities we want to embrace.

I like to say that the past is the reason we are who we are, but it’s not an excuse for us to be the way we are. We are in control of our lives, of our personalities, of our strengths and weaknesses.

At the moment, I’m as closer to contentment than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it.

RB

August 7

The Appeal of Silence

One of the interesting parts of my upbringing is that I spent an almost equal amount of time in both urban and rural settings. Because of this, I feel like I’ve always been torn between the two worlds. With an urban setting I have access to so much, like a wide variety of restaurants, movie theaters, plays, concerts, and nothing is very far away. However, with a rural setting I have the ability to commune with nature, to enjoy birdsong uninterrupted by car stereos and loud exhaust pipes. There’s also  less light pollution, so in the countryside I can see the stars in all their glory. I find it both inspiring and calming.

As I’ve gotten older (and arguably wiser), I feel like my preference is leaning more towards rural living, mostly because I find I enjoy the silence. Not necessarily absolute quiet. I don’t want to live in a sensory-deprivation tank. But the lack of noise pollution – the aforementioned car stereos, neighborhood parties, fireworks, lawnmowers, and airplanes – makes me feel more at ease. It’s also good for my creativity.

For example, when my partner goes out – running errands or visiting her parents – I like to enjoy the silence of the house. Not that she’s loud or makes a lot of noise (wink), but when she’s gone I turn off the television, no music, just the soft hum of the aquarium filters and the panting of my dogs. It’s sort of serene.

Unfortunately, opening the windows breaks the atmosphere. Too many cars, lawnmowers, low-flying aircraft (I’m apparently on a flight path).

But in the (mostly) silent house I can sit on the couch and watch the fish swimming in my tanks, read without distraction, or work on a short story in a completely immersive state of mind.

I’ve been tempted to take a retreat to a Buddhist monastery. I had a professor back in college who did that once a year. Spent a week or two in a monastery in Georgia (the state, not the country). He’d live on their schedule and help with chores, but then have a lot of free time to read and write. He said he’d get more accomplished in that week or two than he’d would throughout the rest of the year. I think it’d be an interesting experience. And productive.

One of the main things I miss from childhood is the long walks I’d take by myself in the woods on my uncle’s dairy farm. Four-hundred or so acres of corn fields, hay fields, and virgin forest. I’d wander the rolling hills, climb trees, and let my imagination lead me. The silence was amazing. Mostly birdsong, but occasionally I’d encounter something larger, like those massive Wisconsin deer.

Those days of wandering in silence were where my creativity was molding, tested, experimented with. I’d search for pirate treasure (in Wisconsin?), hide from enemy soldiers, seek ancient ruins, and look for alien landing sites. At night, I’d lay in the back bedroom and listen to the whippoorwills in the apple orchid outside my window, or maybe hear something large (possible a bear) stomping on the leaves and dried twigs on the ground. Plus, we were far enough to the north that I’d occasionally get a glimpse of the northern lights.

I miss those days, but I try to recreate the environment when I can. It’s not quite the same, but I’ll take what I can get.

If you get the opportunity, try to provide yourself with a silent environment for a few hours, a day if you can swing it. No television, no music, no phone. Just you and your thoughts. It’s a unique experience.

RB

 

July 15

Having Fun

Art can be serious business. People who create take their projects seriously. We agonize over them, we cuss at them, we deal with frustration, aggravation, annoyance. We want to produce the best objet d’art we can. It doesn’t matter if it’s the written word, paint on canvas, or audio file. We live and breathe art. It’s our life.

But this doesn’t mean art can’t also be fun. I think that we forget that when we get so caught up in getting the story just right, or when we’re feeling uninspired and blocked, or overwhelmed by having too many project going at once. It’s understandable.

But oftentimes art can be a way to relieve stress, to unburden our minds. Sure, reading a book is a great way to escape reality for a while, but I believe that writing and creating can be just as beneficial.

What I mean is, if we don’t take ourselves or our writing too seriously, we can end up having just as much fun as our readers.

When was the last time you wrote something for fun? I’m not talking about your current work-in-progress, I mean something that you don’t expect to publish or show off. When was the last time you wrote something silly, crazy, something that made you laugh?

Have you ever written a limerick? A silly poem? What about writing down something funny that happened to you or someone you know? We’ve all had funny experiences in our lives and we’ve heard stories from others, so why not write them down and turn it into a piece of creative non-fiction?

For example, a guy at a party once told me about a time years ago when he went to a “gentleman’s club” with his wife (her suggestion), but the place she chose wasn’t exactly top of the line, and the dancer they ended up watching had a wooden leg. That’s one I desperately want to turn into a piece of fiction. So many possibilities…why did the wife want to do this? To prove a point? Why did the dancer have a wooden leg? Did anyone end up with splinters? And yes, you’re welcome to steal it and write your own version.

I think it’s healthy for us to take a break every so often from the seriousness of writing and simply have fun. We can’t allow ourselves to get bogged down in the trenches. We need to stand up, stretch, take a break, do something else for a change. Not only will it help you to relax, but I think fun exercises like this help to keep our minds fresh, help to stimulate new ideas.

There’s no harm in having fun. You deserve it.

RB