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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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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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

Potluck

Creativity is a bit like a potluck.

As long as a person shows up and brings something to the table they’ll walk away fed.

It doesn’t matter what a person brings to the potluck, they get fed all the same.

It won’t always be exactly what I wanted, but if I show up with my efforts at the table of creativity, I won’t be left wanting.

[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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Have you ever watched in wonder
the wildness just outside
The broken shards of sidewalk
The cracks that we can’t hide
Cries called from Cairo to Castro
Halos hidden under lids
Bushels bulge with business
Angels dancing on a pin

Have you ever slept all weekend
Have you lived the life supine?
Drank to Dionysius
Found mission in the moonshine
Read the braille of lovers
Touched on every hill and dale
But still found your candle covered
An empty holy Grail

Have you heard love on the grapevine
In the glow of reddened cheeks
The fairest maid the stars aligned
All is fair in war and peace
Have you seen the boisterous shoreline
That the watch the tide erode
Sipped a bible from the bottle
Forget the ocean for the words

Thx Thx Thx

For a long while there was a blog I enjoyed at http://thxthxthx.com/ Leah Dieterich, the author would post three little gratitudes a day. She wrote mini thank you notes to whatever she felt gratitude for, (just like her mom had taught her). Something like this:

• Thanks open window, you invite birdsong into my kitchen which is calming and beautiful
• Thanks past Timmy, you made me all this cold brew that I can enjoy this morning as I sit down and start my day.
• Thanks glasses, you are so helpful when it’s time for me to drive to the store and buy groceries.

Gratitude in direct address has stuck with me ever since. It’s quirky and charming. I like actually thanking the things I enjoy, and letting them know why I enjoy them, what they are adding to my life. It’s just so . . . cool! (And goofy). Both of which appeal to me. 

Thank you blog reader. Writing a few times a week helps me develop thoughts and gives me an excuse to draw fun pictures. I’m happy we’ve gotten to share a bit of time together.  

[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 moon floats up
The day counts down 
The bartender antes up the opening round
The Jukebox plays 
The needle drops 
The curtain closes at the coffee shop 

It’s ferry through the river Floor 
It’s a fecund field raising just one more 

The TV cheers 
The taps top off 
The quicker brown liquor opens up it’s shop 
The night grows up 
The chairs fall down 
The art bender nothers up one more round

It’s a brick that floats just like a stone
It’s beerly lease paid on second home 

Dinners served in take out bag 
Sponge baths taken with a used bar rag 
A coronation in a paper sac 
A fight where the ground is fighting back 

The night counts down 
The sun attacks 
The grass needs mowing but it’s on it’s back 
The Headache pounds 
The jukebox stopped 
The curtains opened at the coffee shop