Fearless Challenge, Imperfection, Songwriting, Writing

Something Will Surprise You

One of the best things about writing a song, about sitting down and writing one whether I really want to or not, is learning; “I can write a song, and I can write a song at any time.” 

Lots of people wish they could write songs. Many of those people think they can’t. But they’re wrong. They usually defining “a song” as something epochal and out of reach, unpossible. Of course, a song can be epochal, but they can also be dead simple. Some are both.  

The point is what songwriting writing has taught me: I can do nearly anything given that I set the states low and give myself space to learn the skills required. Some people call this “giving ourselves permission.” To me that’s a little too mommy or daddy looking over my shoulder and saying what I can and can’t do. 

If giving yourself permission works, that’s fine. I find I need most is to remember to set the stakes (and my slights), very, very low. For me, that creates the space for my work to surprise me. And when I give it space the Work often will surprise me, especially if I’m doing the work often enough.  

If songwriting is something you’ve always wanted to do, set your sights low and start writing. Eventually, your work will surprise you. Sit down everyday for a week and simply write for ten minutes. Maybe don’t ever look at it. Stick it in an envelope until the end of the week. When you do look at it. Something will surprise you, and it will be thrilling. 

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Fearless Challenge, Somatics

Abandoned Tunnel

A few years ago I found out about an abandoned train tunnel in Clinton, Massachusetts. I read it’s filled with graffiti, and reputably haunted. Obviously, I wanted to go. I forgot and remembered it at least three times, but today I made the road trip out there. 

My wife came with me.  It was an hour drive out listening to Sarah Jarosz and Chris Thile. When she got out of the car and hiked to the tunnel entrance balked.  

I walked in the first twenty or thirty feet. It was a bit like entering a damp, dark cathedral. The temperature dropped 15 degrees as I walked out of the reach of the sun. I called out to her. My voice rippled and buzzed strangely along the walls. I walked back out.  “You go can, I’m going to wait in the car;” she told me.  

I was on my own. Just me, and gaping abyss of about 1000 feet. I could see the light on the other side.

My footsteps crunched. Water dripped. My body was not happy. The tunnel wasn’t that long. There wasn’t anyone else there I could see. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and walk. I constantly wanted to turn to see what had crept up behind me in the dark.   

Obviously, I started to relate my uncertainty walking through the cave to the uncertainty of the creative process, if only to give myself something familiar to focus on. 

At the far end of the tunnel I met two frogs and the long since grown over hollow that had once been blasted out to make was for a trains also long since passed. It was beautiful. I snapped a picture with my phone.

As I made my way back I found myself thinking of Orpheus’s return to the surface from Hades. How would anyone not look back to see what was following them, or to see if their lover was still behind them in darkness like that? Looking behind me was the only thing my body wanted to do.  

Yet it had always seemed like a reasonable challenge to set man to before I walked through that darkness.  

My wife was sitting in the car when we got back.  “How was it;” she asked.  “Really cool!”  Late over a coffee stout, I showed her the picture I took from the other side. The sun was starting to set on behind us. It was the first meal we hadn’t eaten in our kitchen since March. A different darkness and a different uncertain tunnel that we’d made it through together.    

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Fearless Challenge, Imperfection, The Song Well, Tunesday

Tunesday: War Inside of Me

Every Tunesday I post a boldly imperfect, one-take song draft of a song, (which gets written from the prompt posted the previous Saturday):

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Like a coconut climbing a ladder 
This cookie gets fatter and fatter 
And I’m here begging for crumbs

Like a statue plans with Rand McNally 
I’m stuck like a book in an ally 
And blind like the blare of a drum

Riding my Hobby Horse forward 
Tucked into hospital corners
Hand on the hilt of a war 
inside of me 

Like a glove that can’t touch it’s own leather 
I’ve traded my comfort for bad weather 
Dark clouds on the sites of a gun 

Like a picasso scrawling on a chalkboard
The stern looks are listing toward starboard 
Closing the clasp on the coffin 

And this applause is the kiss of a dream
Supposed to eat shit like it’s peaches and cream 

Fearless Challenge, Songwriting, The Song Well

Tunesday: Hard to Forgive

Last week was the Fearless Songwriting Challenge (to write seven songs in seven days). This was the final song of the week:

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Bitter like a burnt caramel
Funny like a broke down carousel
Grinding round and round
With no ups or down
Like the gears in a jail cell

The dark river of our time
Runs course like a clothes line
Winding round a wheel
An electric eel
Swimming ‘neath our smile line

It’s so hard to forgive
We don’t want to relive
All pain we’ve caused
So we speak in cursive

There’s no rhyme for caffeine
Like why were you so mean . . . to me?
The conversation is closed
like a punch to the nose
Friendship curdled like cream

Blistered burned on our tongues
Looks that burn like a rug
The space between hooks and bait
Say I’m willing to wait
For a hellfrost to come

It’s so hard to forgive
It’s so hard to forgive
All pain we’ve caused
So we speak in cursive

Words that loop into lines
Turn ink dark like a crime
Burn a candle at night
That you’ll give up your fight

It’s so hard to forgive
It’s so hard to forgive
All pain we’ve caused
It’s so hard to forgive

Fearless Challenge, Imperfection, Songwriting, The Song Well

Ship More or Hone More?

There’s a balance between shipping consistently, and aiming to create great work. One school says work your craft daily, and it will improve. That the process is the purpose. 

Another school says the work in honing the skill, making the craft as good as a person can.   

School one says the process of creation and completion hones the craft—do that as often as possible. The other says completion for its own sake, can lead to a shoddy product. There’s truth in both approaches.  

Is it only one or the other or could there be a mix of the two? What’s the best path forward? These voices duke it out in my mind a lot. 

[I end most blog posts with a fun drawing. This week I’ll posting a little musical sketch from “The Fearless Songwriting Challenge,” I host. To find out more join the email list below!]

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The Breeze in the window
And the cat is there too
It’s six in the morning
There’s songwriting to do

And the birds are all calling
As they flit tree to tree
The sun just arising
Just beginning to see

And it’s fleet as a fox is
It’s swift as a bird
The light on the house is
Music unheard

The Breeze in the window
And the cat was there too