Creativity

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Writing as light

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The darkness of this world has been weighing me down and sucking me under, cinderblocks tied to my ankles. You know what I’m talking about; all the news is bad. Every day is full of incessant sound bites, ISIS and Syria and Ebola and child abuse and gunmen hiding in the woods. It’s enough to give even the most stalwart a panic attack.

My heart has been beating more rapidly these days, and my fingers have been twitching. It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid for myself (although perhaps I should be). But at a very physical level, this world is not a safe place – and yet here we are, living complicated lives that slap against others’ complicated lives like BBs in a pinball machine. Life should come with a warning: Brace yourself – this is gonna hurt.

Which is why this weekend meant so much to me.

I was invited to attend a workshop called the Art of Songwriting hosted by the Nashville Treehouse. It was fairly last minute, and I had to rearrange some pre-existing travel (to Seattle – which is a trip I’ll need to make up soon). But the writer in me has been in need of some TLC (not this) (or this), and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Fifteen women gathered for two days, and we had a chance to share songs, share stories, co-write, and learn from each other. It could so easily have turned into a competitive game of comparison – because shoot, these ladies could WRITE – but somehow, everyone seemed to bring their most authentic self and check any ego at the door. I was shocked. It was beautiful.

As I drove to the Treehouse, I made a conscious decision to shut the door on all of the darkness and stress and jam it with a folding chair.

And sometime during those two days, full of freedom and light and encouragement, it occurred to me that jamming the door is nothing new for me. I’ve been a professional door slammer since I was 14 (just ask my parents) – but in the last couple of years, I’ve been jamming it in the wrong direction. I’ve been doing it to my writing. I’ve blocked it out, said no, curled up in the dark closet where it’s “safe,” hoping that the boogeyman doesn’t find me.

But the only way to scare off the monsters is to bathe them in LIGHT. And that’s what writing is for me: pure luminosity.

I had forgotten. But this weekend reminded me, and I’m grateful. Kim and Paulette, thank you for hosting us – and Abby for this beautiful video!

The Art of Songwriting Sneak Peek from Nashville Treehouse on Vimeo.

All That I Want

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

It’s been awhile, but I’ve written a new song.

I love this description of the creative process, especially because it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who experiences #3 and #4. Actually, I tend to get stuck there – which is probably why I finish so few creative endeavors these days.

But I pushed myself to finish this one, and even though I want to apologize for its imperfections, I’m making myself share it. Even if it’s just a work tape and even if my guitar skills are bad and even if I’m not sure about certain parts SEE I NEED TO STOP APOLOGIZING AND JUST PUT IT OUT THERE.

Because you guys are safe, right? Thanks for listening.

:::::

[I’ve taken the track down for now. Maybe you’ll hear it again someday.]

Caine’s Arcade

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

You’ve probably seen this, since apparently it’s been viral for a while.  I don’t know how I missed it, since the internet is my most frequent stomping ground (ugh, depressing).  Anyhow, it was new to me.

Take 10 minutes to watch this short film called “Caine’s Arcade” about a 9-year old boy who built an elaborate DIY arcade out of cardboard.  The ingenuity and cleverness are astounding.

Just when I think that technology is ruining all of our brains, a kid like this comes along and renews my faith in creativity.  Caine’s sweet heart won me over.  His square root security system blew my mind.  And his reaction to the crowd made me cry.

Visit Caine’s website, throw a few bucks at his college fund, and if you’re in L.A., make my day and go buy a Fun Pass.

Ira Glass knows what’s up

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Just call me angel of the morning

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Morning is my least-creative time.  I am not –  how do you say it? – PERKY.  I don’t wake up before the sun, just bursting with inspiration to get the day started.  And because I don’t work in a traditional office environment, the most “ready” I get these days is a tank top and workout pants.

My best thinking is done when I’m not trying to think.  My best writing is done when I’m not trying to write.  Inspiration often strikes in the middle of the afternoon, when I’m troubleshooting HTML code or talking to a co-worker about email delivery (don’t be jealous).  My desktop is littered with text files, snippets of sentences and scraps of songs, which I usually return to late at night as I’m going to bed.

That’s when I write.

And yet, it’s before 8am, and I’m just typing as I think.

We’ll see how this goes.

Are you ever struck with just how lucky you are?  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my fair share of pity parties (duh, you know this).  But sometimes, when I can take a step back and look at the good things, it’s a little bit overwhelming.

Today, my brother and sister-in-law have been married for 10 years.  They were 20 and 21 on their wedding day, and at 18, it was my first time being a bridesmaid  – little did I know how well-experienced I would be 10 years later.

When I think about Ashley, and all that she adds to our family, I just feel really thankful.  She is creative and irreverent and passionate, funny, self-deprecating, soulful.  When she really laughs, it’s this explosive, joyful sound that probably makes the angels dance.  And my dear brother loves her so well.

I look at their relationship, and at my sweet nephews (all three!), and I feel hopeful.

Unbeknownst to me, while we were celebrating their wedding 10 years ago, someone who would later become one of my closest friends was ringing in the big 2-1.  Today is Annie Downs‘s 31st birthday, ladies and gentlemen.  If you know her, you love her – that’s just the way it is.  Few people in this world have such a wide circle of influence and friendship, but Annie Downs is something special.  She is hilarious and selfless and ballsy and loyal.  If you live in Nashville and see her today, give her a hug from me.

And because it’s my unimaginative morning time and I don’t really know how to work this in, I’ll just say it: thank you, readers of this blog, for your words of encouragement and love in the past week or so.  I can’t pretend to know why people keep checking in on my little life (especially when I’m always in a tank top and workout pants – honestly, I need an intervention), but I am grateful for your companionship along the way.

Time’s up.  And in the words of Bon Jovi… have a nice day.

“Don’t you think it’s time?”

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Last night, I was working it at the gym with my iPod on shuffle, when this song came on.

Lazy Summer Love by annieparsons

Honest to goodness, I had all but forgotten that I ever wrote it.

This old demo made me remember what it felt like to write songs before anyone ever told me I was doing it wrong.  When I had an idea, I just wrote.  Unreserved.  I didn’t “know” enough to “know” what was wrong with my writing – which is what made it ME.

I miss that me.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything, music-wise.  I don’t even want to say how long, for fear of no longer being able to call myself a songwriter.

But I’ve been getting inspired again (why does it take senseless, underwhelming man-drama to stir it up?  And yes, that is all I’m saying).  I have ideas. I even think they’re good ideas.

And I want to write them.

These ideas have been bothering me for awhile now – like a stray hair that gets stuck to your shirt somewhere between the armpit and the elbow, brushing against the back of your arm, out of sight and out of reach.  Phantom pains.  Rogue apparitions.

It’s time for them to materialize.

So I’m telling you.  I’m going to write them.  I’m going to finish them.

Hold me to it.

Just don’t tell me how to do it.  This is going to happen my way.

Good for the soul

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

There is only one thing that would be enticing enough to make me skip “Lost” and pay $36 to go on a date with myself, by myself.

I mean, barring an NSYNC reunion tour.  Obviously.

Last night, I came home from work and changed my clothes.  I reapplied makeup.  I fluffed my hair, and wore my cute shoes, and took myself down to the Belcourt Theater.  I ordered a glass of wine, found a seat toward the middle, and proceeded to wait for the show to start.

If I’m going to take myself on a date, I am definitely going to be punctual.  Excessively punctual.  BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT!  (I might have been an hour early.)

But the show was worth the wait.  Matraca Berg (wrote a little ditty called “Strawberry Wine”), Gretchen Peters (wrote a little something called “Independence Day”), and Suzy Bogguss (looks as good today as she did in 1995) played a round.  Matraca is coming out with her first album in 10 years, and she played some of her new material; it was heart-stopping.  Suzy’s voice was effortless, strong, and true.  And Gretchen… well, in recent days, Gretchen has been my favorite writer (a position continually jockeyed for between Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna and Matraca and Gretchen).  When she sang “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” I couldn’t breathe – and didn’t realize it until the end when I finally exhaled.

Songs like these are my heart and soul – moments of definition in my often nebulous life.  Per Heather’s recommendation, I watched this fascinating piece, and loved hearing that “the mind of God is music resonating” (“…through 10-dimensional hyperspace,” but let’s not pretend that I know what that means).

It reminded me of this, which I had totally forgotten that I ever wrote.

I hope that you can do something that you love today.

Sending out an SOS

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Confession: I haven’t written a song since November.

GAH.  I don’t want anyone to know that!  I am such a fraud.

I feel like a snail – one that has been left out in the brutal sunshine, shriveled up inside its flimsy shell.  I feel no inspiration.  I have no ideas.

Oh, sure.  One might argue that I’ve had a few other things going on in recent months, taking a lot of my time and energy.  But still.  When I’m not writing – not outputting in some way – something important inside of me feels dead.

All I feel is tired.  Craving time alone, or maybe just an old dog, or a little toddler to snuggle.  I don’t want to have to explain myself to anyone.  I don’t want to have to find words to voice anything – because how can I possibly express what I’m feeling?

Huh.  This is an inconvenient stance for a so-called songwriter to take.

But I’ve been here before.  Remember?  And so I’m taking the same approach as last time, and giving myself the grace of filling up my mind with other stories, other songs, other ideas.  It worked last time – I wound up writing some new songs that I’m quite fond of, a few of which you HAVEN’T EVEN HEARD YET.

(Annie Parsons’ EP, coming soon someday to a website near you.)

So I need your help again.  What should I fill my mind with?  It can be a song, a book, an essay, a website, an article, a movie… what do you feel inspired by, or just plain enjoy?

I just finished season 1 of “Heroes,” and in spite of a ridiculous plotline and an often painful script, that was some good entertainment.  Destiny!  Purpose!  Exploding humans!  I’ve been listening to some great songs – Julie Miller’s “Give Me an Ocean,” and Kasey Chambers’ “Nothing At All,” and Vienna Teng’s “City Hall.”  And it is difficult to make me much happier than to turn on “This American Life” or “The Moth.”

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been reading “The Catcher in the Rye” for TWO WHOLE MONTHS, and have recently decided not to finish it – because it is depressing as hell and let’s be honest: if I haven’t finished it by now, then I really don’t care at all about Holden Caulfield (case in point – I had to Google the book just now to remember his name).

Let’s all kick-start our hearts, shall we?  What do you love?

Kristy girl

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Sometimes, someone you’ve never met can give you the biggest gift.

Kristy Behrs of Wreckless Photography has been a second soul to me. She lives far, far away in California, and although we’ve never met face to face, I feel that we have a bond – an understanding – a trippy connection that bridges the distance. I am continually in awe of her eye, her sensitivity, and her genuine spirit. She recently solicited the ideas of friends and strangers and admirers to spark her creativity; she got some fabulous suggestions and challenges (definitely read through them!) and, with eyes wide open, has been on a hunt.

I’m honored to be first.

challenge_courage

Julie made a great joke

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Me: How can they tell how old an eagle is?

Her: They measure its crow’s feet!