This blog has been fantastic. I have been posting here since 2008. I’ve owned the website since 1999. Originally, it was twistedpop.com. I developed a message board encouraging discussions about art, music, writing, and philosophy. At one point in 2001, I had over one thousand members and hundreds of posts a day. I had the server in my apartment sitting underneath my desk.
I learned a lot of things while running that website. The number one thing I learned is that you should listen to users but perhaps the user doesn’t really know what they want. I had a discussion going for a while in one of the message threads about where to take the website. I compiled the most popular items and rebuilt the whole site around those things. I migrated all of the discussions over to the new site. I got feedback about the new site. Everybody loved it. Then they all left.
Over the next seven years, I tried many different things: art gallery, storefront, community packages whose names I can’t remember, etc. The users never came back. Myspace rose and fell. Facebook and Instagram took over.
In 2008, I was looking for new music. I thought this would be an easy endeavor. Independent music was taking off. I had released an album in 2003. I was still writing music and was considering releasing another album. I thought it would be cool to support other musicians rather than just waiting to be heard. Surely, there would be blogs that would make it easy to navigate this new world. The only blogs I found about new music were hipster rants full of snark and forced irony. I would get to the end of an entry about some new album, and I couldn’t tell whether the author hated the music or loved it.
“With Zagnut’s new release, they take their $500 haircuts and outrageous grooves to new levels of brilliant awkwardness. There isn’t a coherent lyric anywhere in any song, but they sing like angels that have scoured their vocal cords with steel wool until their incoherence has you on the edge of self-harm. You can’t tell if their genius is in the songwriting or the fact that their inability to hold your attention hides some deeper meaning. When I was done listening to this album, I wanted to scream its virtues to the world and then take a bath to get it off of me.”
You get the idea.
I can’t imagine listening to something and deciding that I hated it so much that I had to write about it. I also can’t imagine not knowing whether I loved it or hated it. I felt like something needed to be done. I had never written music criticism, but I felt like it couldn’t be too hard. I thought about it for a long time and then decided a few things. I wouldn’t write about anything I didn’t like. There is no risk in talking about the things you hate, but there is risk in talking about the things you like. Compared to now, the internet was tame, but even then, as soon as someone described something they liked, the masses would jump at the chance to ridicule the preference. I also decided that I would focus on what the story dredged up in me. I had led a colorful life around a lot of interesting people. I would tell stories from my life, memoir. Sort of a blog about music but really, derived art, using music as a backdrop for narrative. I had a song that I would post at the top of the blog that could be played as you read.
People loved it. Sometimes I heard from the musicians that wrote the songs. I loved that. That was really fulfilling. One was from a guy from Little Hands of Asphalt about their song Oslo. Another contact was from a guy that was in The Pretty Things, a contemporary of the 60’s and 70’s British rock scene. He commented on a story I did with a Led Zeppelin song. As the blog progressed, I also received comments that said, “Why bother with the song? We’re all here for the stories.”
After reflecting on that for a while, I realized it was true. I tried to reinvent the blog, but I ran out of steam. Or at least that’s what I told myself. I now know that what I was thinking about was everything else I do: my own music, fiction, video… I wasn’t ready to put all that out there.
“Come on. Get up.”
“Get up. We’re going to march while we do this rhythm sight reading.”
“Noooo… I hate you.” Lucy was smiling, but she didn’t want to get up. She leaned over the side of the chair like all of the bones had been taken from her body.
“We need to do this. I see you struggling with it in the group class.”
“I know I need to do it, but I don’t want to do it right now.”
“No. No. No. We’ve been putting this off for too long. We’re going to step to keep time.”
“No. Not right now.”
“Look. I can see what’s going on. A year ago, you would try anything. Didn’t matter if you knew how to do it. You knew you would learn. Now, you hide that you don’t know how to do things. You have terrible rhythm. You can’t keep time. You hide it by knowing the phrasing and just joining in, but it’s time to learn this. Middle school kids will latch onto anything that makes you look awkward and ridicule you, so you don’t try anything new. I say go ahead and look like an idiot on purpose. You’re going to have to do it anyway. You could spend your whole life avoiding looking like an idiot, but you will have to go to interviews and auditions and meet new people. You will always have opportunities to look like an idiot. Embrace it while your young and get over it. Encourage the ridicule. Look at me. I’m a complete moron.”
I was stomping around the room while clapping the rhythms in the sight reading books. Then I switched to the quarter note triplet exercises I learned from someone at Berklee when I was struggling with the concept. I had Lucy’s attention. She got up and struggled with the exercise, but she eventually got it. Every new venture comes with looking like an idiot.
One of the things that always surprises me is that I can play the guitar. I have been playing my whole life but sometimes I forget. This comes when I have been too busy to play for a while or sometimes just when I haven’t been listening to myself. I see the guitar, pick it up, and start playing. “Whoa… I play the guitar. I’m pretty good. Oh yeah. I’ve been playing a long time. I have played in bands. Oh yeah. I went to school for this.”
Music is deeply meaningful to us. We seem to find the music that speaks to us when we are young and we don’t move beyond that. Everything is so intense for us when we are young and the whole world is new. That music imprints on us and nothing ever speaks to us the same way. Finding new music that speaks to us later in life is difficult. This can happen with books and art. Nothing will speak to me like Led Zeppelin, Joan Didion, Shostakovich, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, or Ursula Le Guinn. I will find stuff that moves me, but those are the things that moved the world for me.
Another thing that surprises me is that I can write. I have heard about writer’s block, but I have never experienced it. I have experienced it with music. A teacher at Berklee put an end to that when I told him I was having a hard time coming up with ideas for the final project. He replied without inviting further conversation, “Writer’s block is the luxury of amateurs.”
It made me laugh then. It makes me laugh now.
I introduced my music in the last blog entry. Now, I will introduce the fiction. I have a lot of it. I am still submitting to literary journals, but I don’t want to wait to get it out that way. I am going to self-publish a lot of it right here.
Literary journals like to have the right to first publication, which means that it cannot have been published somewhere else. That leads to writers like me with a backlog of short fiction that hasn’t been published. I need to be more responsible about where I am sending these things. A little more research would help.
So, I was trying to decide which story I would publish here first when Yolanda suggested that I post the thing that I have already had published in an online journal called The Closed Eye Open. It’s flash fiction, so extremely short.
No Way Alex was seated, the movie started, when Ian appeared in the empty chair by his side. “Hey. I’m a little short,” Ian said too loudly. Alex heard the girl behind him groan. “How much do you need?” Alex asked. Ian made some motions in the dark, then the theater was filled with the sound of tiny bells as an avalanche of change fell from his pockets. “No way,” the girl behind them said. Alex stopped Ian from trying to pick up the change and gave him a twenty. Ian retreated to pay for his ticket. Upon his return, Ian said too loudly, “What did I miss?” “No way.”
My latest iteration of this blog has been memoir about cancer. I have connected with a whole new audience and reconnected with friends and family that were, and still are, concerned for me. The story above is still memoir. I just changed the names and shortened it to fit into the definition of flash fiction. I will continue to write about cancer. In fact, I have a story right now.
A friend that I used to work with at Noah Consulting is really into puns and posted in his Facebook feed a link to a scientific article with the headline: “Sending a probe to Uranus labeled a top priority by space science community.”
I commented, “In my case, I wish they had sent it much sooner.”
There isn’t much news around this right now. In late May, I find out whether the drugs I am on are working. We’ll see.
I guess I just thought that feeling like an idiot when you put yourself out there would go away. It just doesn’t. I see that in my friends that have been putting their work out there for years. It gets easier when you know everyone has to go through it.
I think what’s even worse is that often my first reaction to an emergency is often that same feeling, even with the terror. Some of my initial composed demeanor to the EMT’s and in the emergency room was feeling like an idiot. And I’m sad to admit that I understand the envy of seeing someone step beyond their fear of looking like an idiot to put their work out there. There is so much of the fear of looking like a fool when it really means something to you. Much like that middle school fear of standing out and being ridiculed. We’re just dumping change all over the movie theater and hoping no one notices.