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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Music

So, I bought a faux antique record player……

…….which can also play CDs and cassette tapes. There’s an FM tuner (I somehow found the oldies station) and I can connect it to the Blue tooth on my cellphone and play music from the app feature. All of which I’m learning and it’s fun.

I’ve been playing some of my old records, a collection that I’ve both inherited from friends and purchased on my own. I’m particularly enjoying Scott Joplin’s ragtime music. Hopefully, I can find some old vinyls of Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong, because music like that needs to be heard analog-style, if not live.

It’s relaxing and soothing and I find that I feel more alert and productive. Music can soothe, arouse, inspire, and invigorate.

Music, if you’ll forgive me, rocks.

record

So, I think my passion went on hiatus……

…….because I am feeling less and less sure of what I want to do. Or where I want to go. It’s an overwhelming weight on my chest, trying to sort out what to do, let alone even coming close to knowing what to do.

I’m pretty sure this is a rut. Why? Because I still want to write. Writing is what I do best. I love sinking into that world I’ve created, taking on multiple characters and locations and basically playing god (or goddess) to make the story come to life.

I also love painting and drawing and acting and theater. I love being around creative people – they are the most exciting, challenging and invigorating people I know. It’s like being on some kind of drug, except instead of destroying your life and the lives around you, the creative energy enriches you, fulfills you, makes life brighter. You are lifted up, not dragged down. Your brain sizzles with ideas that inspires you.

That rut I mentioned? That’s the low – it’s all those doubts and negative thoughts that tell you to not keep going, to just quit while you’re ahead and go do something practical. To hell with the practical – do the art. The practical is only good for one thing – paying bills, building a nest egg for emergencies or that maybe-someday trip.

The art is what makes life magical. It pushes through that dull, gray rut and into to the sparkle and energizes your heart chakra.

Whether it’s art or photography or acting or writing or any creative style I haven’t mentioned, it’s like being around an electrical surge that won’t stop.

Keep doing that art that makes you happy. Even when it feels like the passion packed up and left.

Which reminds me.

I have a violin that I need to learn to play. I have to learn it, even if I suck at it. I’ve had this dream since I was twelve years old. Or maybe I was six, when I discovered Sherlock Holmes. Just the idea of learning the violin makes me happy.

My violin, waiting patiently.
My violin, waiting patiently.

So, Maya Angelou once said……

……“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.” If you go hiking in the woods, or sit at the beach (or wherever your favorite outdoor spot is), and you sit and be still, you can hear nature’s music. By music, I’m referring to the calls of animals and birds, the wind as it whispers through trees and the gurgling of rivers. That is the music of nature and it is that rhythm that grounds us once we stop thinking so much and just allow ourselves to be present in that moment.

I’m thinking about music as I write this. While driving along the freeway home from my favorite getaway spot, I had a CD of the Eagles’ greatest hits on. The last track on that CD is Hotel California, which was the inspiration for my writing a two-act comedy sending up the gods and goddesses of ancient mythologies. I hit Replay on that song several times, because in my imagination, I could ‘see’ the opening scene play out. Due to bits of dialogue and action later on in the script, I knew that these new details established immediately at the beginning would foreshadow what was to come.

Music has been a major source of inspiration for me – I would create soundtracks for my novels and screenplays. This helped me focus on what kind of story I was telling. Is it romantic? Scary? Funny? Dramatic? From groups like The Temptations and the Stray Cats to individual singers like Natalie Cole and Cyndi Lauper, I found my story’s voice. I would jump from rock and roll to jazz to blues to Big Band, searching for that right piece of music that fit the rhythm of my current writing project.

My most productive times as a writer is when I have music playing in the background. This is true for any creative endeavor, whether it’s cooking or sculpture or painting. Even musicians, I suspect, listen to music, to experiment on what they are hearing and give it their own interpretation.

Music is the muse that inspires. How do I know? The word Mus-e builds the word Mus-ic.

Find your muse-ical inspiration and go forth with art in your heart.

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Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

 

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So, sometimes when I write……

……I get songs stuck in my head. I’m not kidding – I have created soundtracks to several screenplays, mostly for my own amusement. There has been at least one occasion where the song inspired the story and I wrote the bulk of it in one sitting.

I love crooners, like Tony Bennett, and groups like the Temptations or the Flamingos. I love singers like Natalie Cole and Cyndi Lauper. Their energy, their voices, their artistry, often connect with my imagination in such a way that scenes will write themselves. Sometimes the style of music will surprise me, but the mood it conveys will always suit the scene I’m in the middle of.

Right now, I’m revising my two-act comedy, cutting out unnecessary words (boy, I can tell I’m a novelist – I’m wordy!). Lines still make sense, even when cut in half, which is good. Since I’ve not written a stage play before, this is a good exercise for me.

I haven’t been listened to music for a long time, outside of my car. I’m discovering that I need to start listening again. Especially when you’re writing a play about the ancient gods and goddesses of mythology. There is a Chorus, after all, who sing about what they witness or summarize what came before. And music is the voice of civilization – just as the written word allows us to connect with the minds of Herodotus or Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Mary Shelley, so does music give voice to that past.

When a particular style or genre of music starts nudging at you, trying to get your attention, or you have a song stuck in your head, listen to that. That’s your creative instinct telling you to pay attention, that there’s something there for you to hear, that it may add more color into your work, whether it’s writing a play or painting a portrait.

So, on that note, I need to go listen to variations of Your Cheatin’ Heart. Apparently, country music has become part of my Ancient Greek Comedy’s soundtrack.

I did not see that one coming.

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So, I stumbled upon the following quote…….

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

This quote came from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and is spoken by Frodo Baggins as he, Sam, Merry and Pippen embark on their quest to take the One Ring back to Mordor. The imagery, as I read it, struck me as being similar to the creative process, whether you’re in the beginning stages or are somewhere in the middle and struggling to get un-stuck. Or, other times, you can get lost in the rhythm of the process as you watch the ink flow from the pen onto the paper, forming shapes that become words. Similar things can happen while working on music or sanding down a piece of wood that will become a toy or piece of furniture or even sketching.
It’s a Zen-like state, where instead of you leading the creative process, you’re letting the creative process lead you. In that sense, you’ve allowed yourself to ignore the inner critic, your ego, and to begin trusting yourself enough to follow your instincts. It may not make any sense, at first – indeed, it may not make any sense at all. Don’t let that stop you – if nothing else, this process is clearing the way for you to resolve a conflict in your story, find a different note for a song, or finding a fresh color in a painting. Oftentimes, when I’m sitting in a coffee shop, trying to write and words are refusing to show up, I doodle on the page. What shows up are horses, either smirking at the viewer or prancing up a hill. Most of the time, however, it’s just random lines and circles connected in one long stroke of the pen that make no sense at all.
I love these moments and come out of them feeling refreshed and happy, though they come at the expense of my current project. They give me time to step away from my project and relax my mind a little so that I can proceed with a more defined objective. For me it’s similar to the theater game of improvisation, where the first rule is to say “Yes, and….”.
The road that leads ever on comes from the spark of an idea. Outlined or flying by the seat of one’s pants or a little of both is how the journey progresses to its destination.
Recommended Reading:
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Improv Encyclopedia

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Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, Stephen King has said, on many occasions……

……….“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
What does he mean by this? Read the top 100 lists, read pulp, read history, memoirs, fiction, science and more. Read what you love, what you’re indifferent to, what you dislike. Ask friends for their favorite books and read them.
What you gain from all of that reading is what works, what doesn’t, style, voice and structure. Try writing in the same style of your favorite author or break it down into specific acts (for example, Act One – Inciting Event; Act Two – Discovery; Act Three – Betrayal; Act Four – Revelation; Act Five – Resolution). Another way is to take a notebook and, while reading, keep track of what the author does to make seemingly unrelated events tie together by the last few pages.
Although King is clearly talking about writing, the idea behind his quote can be applied to any other creative endeavor. A creative artist doesn’t study just one master or medium in their chosen field – he or she studies as many as possible to learn and discover their own styles. It’s mixing and matching particular elements to find what works for you, then using it to push yourself further.
Whether you’re writing or singing or playing the guitar or acting, the more you learn about your creative passion, you’ll find that your own experiences with it has become richer. You’ll be better able to express yourself in whatever creative endeavor you pursue. It may be that you’ve discovered a passion for more than one creative art and that they feed off of and influence each other in delightful ways.
It worked out that way for me – in addition to writing, I spent many years performing onstage in local theater. It helped a great deal in developing stronger characters, understanding what motivated them, and finding the story’s beats (important moments). This may occur with you – if you enjoy poetry and music, for example, you may unconsciously find yourself writing poems in time with a specific musical beat.
There are infinite combinations to mix and match with. To discover them is to read, to play with your creative passion and be open to new opportunities as they present themselves to you. The worst that can happen is that it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped it would.
Say, “Yes,” to your creative self. Amazing things will happen. Trust yourself.

 

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Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal.

And now, a word from John Lennon………

“If someone thinks that Love and Peace is a cliche left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and Peace are eternal.”

John Lennon, musician
October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980

Ladybugs.
Ladybugs.

So, awhile back, I was talking to a friend about life……

……..the universe and everything. She mentioned the need to vent, but not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. I suggested a journal, but she felt it was too personal and could be easily read by unwanted eyes. Privacy was important. This led to a discussion of writing things down to purge them from the mind and heart, then tossing them into a fire place or barbecue pit and lighting a match, to maintain privacy.

The other idea I had was to take all those feelings and thoughts and create art with it, so that the only one who knows what it truly means is the creator. To anyone else, it would be art and what they got out of it would be what they brought to it (personal feelings, experiences, etc.).

My friend demurred, saying she was not creative like that. I encouraged her to think about it, because it would be only for her, not for anyone else, and that not even the great artists of all times started out brilliant.

But it got me thinking, about being creative, about needing to express feelings that are hurtful or loving, about being vulnerable to the process.

Because that’s what it takes, to be creative. It is a leap of faith, in opening yourself up to the blank page or the empty mixing bowl. And what if you’re not sure you are creative, but find a variety of things (like painting or ceramics or singing or knitting or writing or cooking) interesting? What if you find all of them interesting? What if you just don’t know where to start?

My suggestion? Try them all. Maybe not at the same time, of course, but try one type of creative art for one month. If it’s a chore or it just doesn’t sustain your interest early on, give yourself permission to stop and try something else. The point is to have fun expressing yourself in an artistic form.

Whether it’s mindless doodling, a few words in structured form or tiered cake, the point is, you’re creating. It’s for you alone. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to. The point is that you create with your heart and translate it to canvas, clay or paper.

 

Edited: This article is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

And now, a word from B.B. King…..

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