Can I be a songwriter please?

I listened to Gillian Welch a lot this week, including her song One Little Song. It’s about song writing. I saw Declan Sinnott live and heard him sing a song about songwriting. And I heard a friend of mine playing some songs he’d written himself that were really, really good.

So why the fuck do I struggle so much with it?

When I listen to the likes of The The and Nick Cave, I’m moved to try. They make it sound so easy. And I feel like it could be.

There’s a big ball of pain and fear locked inside me. I used to talk it out when I was drinking, but that’s no longer an option. Probably just as well. Sometimes it went okay, but usually not.

Playing music helps to get the fear out, simply because it puts me in the present. That’s a place I’m seldom in.

My head was buzzing all over the map at the concert last night and not always to good places. I was left wondering at times what have I contributed to the universe lately? There’s so much music I want to learn, songs I want to sing and it just felt over fucking whelming, you know? I find myself thinking that if I could just master this, figure out that, I’d finally have arrived and my self expression would suddenly have a valid artistic outlet. But all that happens is that I get angry at life’s getting in the way and preventing me from following my path, and that’s just wrong. I know that.

By contrast, this morning, I found the tired-with-too-little-sleep me sitting on the bus thinking about how joyful I am that there’s so much out there for me to learn musically and that each half-hour of playing live or twenty minutes of watching a video about thirds and fifths is adding to the whole me. I’m hungry for it, but I still get down that there’s no creativity and that it’s all just copying. And do people really care?

The Tweet I posted earlier was what I was thinking as I stood at the bus stop.

I have to play music for my own enjoyment first and foremost. If others enjoy it too, so much the better.

Watching these fantastic musicians last night had me feeling down that I can’t play those licks or sound that good or write my own stuff and it’s really not like me to think that way. I often hear musicians’, after seeing an amazing player, saying things like ‘I might as well just quit’, but it usually inspires me to go and pick up my guitar and learn the fuck out of it. Maybe I was just tired and low last night.

So how does the sober me get the pain and, yes, sometimes the joy, OUT into words without being explicit about what’s really on my mind? I tried poetry a few months ago and it actually went well, much to my surprise. I started with some of the loose random words and sounds that are constantly in my head and lines just appeared fully formed. I’d heard that that can happen but never really understood. In fact it felt bloody great.

So maybe I’ve just got to sit down and fucking do it; take the headphones off for a bit and see what silence can bring; be alone with the cacophony in my little head and see if I can get some of the noise out into words. Maybe that will make the noise a wee bit quieter and I’ll stop hating the world so much.

Day One

On Monday I grabbed one of my old handwritten diaries off the bookshelf to look back on ‘this day in history’. As I began reading, I had the brainwave of inputting all that data into Day One. Then I thought I could add in scanned concert tickets. Then I thought I could go through my old hand-written calendars. And how about photos? And could I finally get round to getting Slogger to work with my tweets, app.net and a bunch of other social services?

Of course, the danger is that I’ll get caught up in this project and lost myself in the past to the exclusion of the present.

Well, I’ve addressed that. I’m going to ensure that I write at least one long-form entry for each day that I put in historical data.

While I was waiting for my flu jab yesterday, I added a picture to Day One from my iPhone and it asked whether I wanted to make the entry for the day on which the picture was taken AND add the location data! That’s a KILLER feature!

I shared about my new project at last night’s AA meeting and, as I did, it dawned on me that this could be part of some Step 4 work, possibly even sharing some of it in Step 5. Imagine doing a Step 5 all with Day One on an iPhone!? Cool!

I’m extremely excited about this project. It’s the kind of thing that I would have loved back in the day. One of the historical entries I copied last night was from a typed entry done on my old Smith Corona electric typewriter. At the time I was excited about being able to store diary entries on a data card for that machine! That was 1996.

So Excited!

Do you want to get better? →

And so Jesus asks him a question. The most important question in fact that anyone in any kind of trouble can be asked, and the first question that they should be asked:

‘Do you want to get better? Do you really want to be changed?’

Modern treatments for addictions of any sort ask that question of all those who present for treatment. Do you REALLY want to get better, because if you can’t answer YES to that question immediately, no amount of counselling or treatment will work.

I had to leave church before the sermon this week because of my blinding headache, and that’s a shame as the sermon sounds right up my street!

I know from personal experience that, where addiction is concerned, if you don’t really want to get better, you won’t, no matter what rehab you go through or counselling you take. My wife ‘suggested’ that I go to AA years ago, and it didn’t work. It wasn’t until I wanted to get better that it worked.

And every day I thank God that I’m one of the lucky ones.

Great AA meeting last night!

Last night’s AA meeting was superb. This was my first in two weeks, so I was getting antsy, although, true to form, I would have argued that I was fine and didn’t really need to go to a meeting.

I was feeling stressed before I went. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time. I had to go to the supermarket on the way home from work, then get home and make the dinner, then get out to the hall for half-past 7. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to skip it, arguing that I was fine anyway, just as I did with church on Sunday for the very same reason.

But, thankfully God works in mysterious ways and I had already agreed to give someone a lift home so I pretty much had to go.

As I sat in the room, I felt resentments, a sure sign that things aren’t well. I had no desire to share anything at all—I was fine. But, as people started to open up, I found my tortoise mind starting to explore. Then came the identification, followed by a whole range of thoughts about what I would like to share. As usual, I was worrying about how awesome I was going to be in my share. ‘Would people like it? Would they get identification? What if they didn’t? Can’t I just pull the covers over my head?’ You know, all that self-esteem and grandiosity bullshit.

But, when it got to my turn (second to last, following seven great shares!) I had a good idea of what I was going to say. And, d’you know what? It was really helpful to me!

My share

D’you know what I shared about? Tortoise brains and John Cleese! It was inspired by my recent post about OmniFocus and John Cleese. I’ve been thinking more and more about that, you know, the notion that I can’t seem to just be. I can’t go without some form of content input. I’ll invariably have my headphones in, or I’ll be reading my RSS feeds or Twitter at the dining-room table as I eat. I’ve been that way for years now. I think it will have been around 2005 that I discovered podcasts, but I was listening to audio books waaaaay before that.

Podcasts (again)

But this constant input isn’t giving my brain time to be. I took the dogs down onto the beach this morning and it was gorgeous. I paused In Beta and stood listening to the waves lapping the shore. It was lovely. I did that for all of about three minutes, then shouted the dogs and hit play again before heading home.

I shared at last night’s meeting that I was curious about whether I would actually cut down on the weekly podcast queue. I was thinking about it a few weeks ago and, since then, I’ve probably added a couple without unsubscribing from any others. The thing for me to grasp is that I don’t actually need to listen to every episode of every show. But then how will I know which ones I can ignore if I don’t hear them first? Hmmmmm.

I had a good chat in the car taking the other AA attendee home, and on the way home after dropping them off, I listened to episode 3 of Systematic, which I really, really enjoyed and which may just have given me some more knowledge to make my computer life easier.

And today I listened to the [latest episode](http://www.merlinmann.com/roderick/ep-40-status-butter.html) of [Roderick on the Line](http://www.merlinmann.com/roderick/) and it was so incredibly good that I actually stopped what I was doing and listened to the last half-hour sitting in the sun out the back. It was fantastic. So podcasts are NOT a waste of time. I guess I just need to be more discerning. Maybe if I cut out the shows that I don’t’ feel I’m getting much from, it would take the pressure off my audio book queue, which is, of course, not the point at all!

It’s all food for thought right now.

Creative Breathing Space

John Cleese and OmniFocus

I just watched a 10-minute video of John Cleese talking about creativity. Here’s a link:

[John Cleese WCF]

I got the link from Kourosh Dini’s book, Creating Flow with OmniFocus, in which he referred to JC’s concept of a tortoise mind and an oasis. In other words, one needs to clear from one’s mind the clutter in order that the tortoise mind of creativity thinks it’s safe to come out.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, not in terms of creativity but in terms of spirituality. I think the two mean the same thing really—the mind can be creative when it’s cleared of clutter in the same way that one can feel a connection to the universe.

This came about in reference to OmniFocus because that particular app is designed to be a repository of clutter from one’s mind, freeing it up to do some actual work or find peace.

My Clutter

In the digital age there is so much information that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If I’m not listening to a podcast or an audiobook when I’m doing a mundane chore or walking the dogs, I feel like I’m wasting time. If I don’t get to read my RSS feeds during lunch, I’ve wasted more time.

I like to read novels and non-fiction. I have tutorials to go through on Lightroom, Photoshop and Pixelmator. I have albums to catch up on. I have so many guitar books it’s ridiculous, not to mention the practice for forthcoming gigs.

I’ve got work six days a week. I’ve got to walk the dogs before work and prepare dinner at night for the family. I’ve got church on Sundays. I’ve got to clean at work.

I’ve got the entire Twilight Zone to watch, as well as Six Feet Under.

And then there’s family. How much time do I spend with the kids? Well, almost none, because if I do that I’m going to fall behind in all the other stuff.

Does this sound familiar?

Podcasts

My weekly podcast list is at 32. That means that if I’ve not go headphones on at every conceivable moment, I’m going to fall behind, and that’s before I even consider my Audible queue. The one-in, one-out policy clearly has not worked, because I seem unable to unsubscribe but continually subscribe to new ones. Something’s got to give. All it takes is one weekend away from my routine and the queue starts to build up and up and up.

So, this afternoon I took Poppy out for a walk to the shops without my headphones and I felt my mind beginning to breathe. This must be why I always have ideas in the shower—I’ve got no device in there! And to think I was putting it in terms of: ‘how can I capture ideas in the shower?’ Hah!

This must also be partly why I feel good after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or church, where I feel my mind beginning to wander.

I guess that the mind does its processing when I’m asleep. It puts me in mind of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation [Night Terrors], where the crew are prevented from dreaming and begin to go insane. In other words, the mind is doing its information processing in dreams. But dreams are fleeting. I need some space to let my mind breathe when I’m awake. Mindfulness and meditation would be ways to get there.

I often feel incredibly overwhelmed, like I have no time for anything, let alone an AA meeting, but that’s usually when I get the most out of going to the meeting.

Will I give up the podcasts though? It has become a habit over the years and it’ll be a hard habit to break.

Systematically responding

I just finished listening to episode one of Bett Terpstra’s new podcast over on 5by5, Systematic. Brett and Mike Schramm talk about how to accept a complement and ask whether mechanical responses can affect the other person.

I work in a local Post Office where I have staff to run the shop and I spend as much of my time as I can avoiding interaction with customers and fixing computers as a sideline. I dislike talking to customers and find a lot of the interaction I overhear to be completely fake and pointless. But first I should explain a little of myself to my readers, lest they go jumping to conclusions about my surliness. I’m a recovering alcoholic and am mildly autistic. I think that that goes some way to explaining my personality.

So here’s my anecdote. I had one member of staff who was amazing with the customers. She would ask how they were, talk about the weather, ask about their dog, the whole thing. If someone typed the wrong pin into the keypad when making a withdrawal, she would laugh and come out with some quip like ‘oh, a wee slip of the finger. It’s easy done!’. I, on the other hand, generally sigh and offer an apologetic look to the people behind them in the queue.

As an experiment, I’ve tried being like that employee. Talking about the weather comes hard to me, but I put on a smile and say something about how the rain keeps falling and the wind doth blow and, here’s the kicker: not only does it make the customer respond, it makes ME feel better. I know. Crazy, right?

In AA, they have the phrase ‘fake it to make it’. In other words, pretend that everything is all right, and you might just end up being all right.

Although I know that faking it can make my day better, I still tend not to bother trying. But I’ve had customers make me feel better by being like my former employee.

So there you go. Faking it works, but for computer nerds, bookworms alkies, that can be very, very difficult. Go ahead and try it though. Go on. I dare you!

Lonesome

Lorraine and the kids left for Cornwall this morning on the 8:20. It was a lot more difficult saying goodbye than I was expecting. It makes me really appreciate how lucky I am to have what I have and I thank God for my sobriety. Without that, I almost certainly wouldn’t have what I have.

Have a good time folks. Hurry back!

Grumpy Bear

Man, what is happening to me? I got a call to go out and play with Nick the Gardener yesterday at his house. Now Nick is a fantastic player. I’ve played with him a couple of times and really enjoy his playing. He doesn’t play conventional straight up-and-down cowboy chords and I love his style.

But, I was all humphy because I was having to go out on a Sunday night. However, when I got there and I’d got over my initial lack of self esteem, I had a terrific night. I could get a lot out of playing with Nick. In fact, I’ve just finished playing my mandolin on the back of my enthusiasm and had a great time working on Steve Kaufman’s Celtic workout.

But back to the grumpy bear. As you don’t know, Monday night is practise night with Mike. Mike is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, as well as being a very good player and a great singer. But I got home tonight and was thinking ‘I hope he doesn’t’ call, I hope he doesn’t call’, but he did call, and nobody was home but me, so I just let the answer phone pick up. And he very graciously supposed that I was busy because of Halloween and said we’d get together another time. And then I was like: ‘I know I should call him back’, but I didn’t.

And yes, it’s Halloween. Lorraine said there might be guisers coming round, so I made myself a plate of food and sat in my cave with the lights off watching the Wire, just in case anyone came round and they would think there was nobody home. You see? That’s what I’ve become. Although in my defence, I did actually answer the door when kids came round while I was cooking, and it wasn’t so scary.

Moving

I blogged about the whole process of moving to Arran and actually enjoy having that as a record. But for some reason I haven’t been keeping track of the house move. It’s a similar feeling in terms of the scale of the thing, and again I’m leaning on spiritual means for solace. However I didn’t cope well last week at all.

Firstly, Lorraine’s been at the end of her rope with a deadline. So I’ve been doing the school run and a whole lot else besides. Monday was a bank holiday and that threw things a bit too, but that was compounded by my having to take my mum back to Prestwick on Tuesday. Then there was the gigs on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and the feeling of letting people down during show week and the strange feeling of not being in the show and wishing that I was. So I was left on Saturday with a feeling of guilt at having not followed through on my commitment to help with front-of-house and having done a stupid thing at work when someone called and I killed the call and then left it off the hook. It turned out to have been a friend on the phone. but did I promptly admit that I was wrong? I sort of did with the phone call, but didn’t follow through in person. Hopefully no harm was done. But apologise to the show people for FOH? I just couldn’t do it. So much for working the programme. 🙁

Oh yeah, and I got put on cholesterol pills for the rest of my natural. Perhaps not such a good time to try and come off the anti-depressants, but that’s what I’ve decided to try and do anyway.

But wasn’t this supposed to be about moving? Well, the long and short of it is that, after a very stressful week, we found out at half four on Friday afternoon that our mortgage application had been approved! So tomorrow morning it’s phone the solicitor and sell the shares. Imagine if the stock Market were to open really high tomorrow!

We’re planning to move on 1 August. Fingers crossed it’ll all go smoothly, but experience tells me otherwise. We shall see…

Fear

I’m scared. I don’t know if writing will help, but I’ll do it anyway. I’m not sure if I’ll even publish this, but hey, it might help just to write.

So we’re at another cliff-hangery milestone in our lives and I have a horrible butterfly feeling that our mortgage application is going to be turned down. In fact, it already has been, but we’re appealing, at least the mortgage adviser is appealing on our behalf.