Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Equivalent of Scales

As I mentioned last week, I recently started making music. I've been playing the piano for 15 minutes every day.

Yep, I have the usual history with piano for a mid-20th-century kid in North America. Piano lessons as a kid, forced to practice, allowed to drop it in favor of other music and sports in Grade 6 or 7.

In years past, I've tried "just playing" at the piano, but it wasn't particularly fun--in part because I wasn't playing very well. I'm a much better musician than I am a pianist, and that was frustrating.

So this time, I started with scales. Not JUST scales, but scales to start with. A scale, repeated, repeatedly. My fingers need more coordination and more strength. Starting with scales, and then practicing--really practicing--the studies I'm noodling around with has made this time at the piano a WHOLE lot more fun.

I'm sure it sounds deadly dull. The most "un-fun" part of music is the stuff you wouldn't expect anyone to listen to. Like scales, like the left hand playing on its own, like a phrase repeated (repeatedly) until the fingering is second nature, like the keys pounded until you have a pretty good sense of how loud piano has to be so you can also have a pianissimo.

The kind of thing that's crazy-making to listen to. But the kind of work that lays a foundation.

What's the writing equivalent? Prompts, maybe--writing for five or ten minutes on a random topic. Or maybe doing client work--working with someone else's words, preserving their meaning while standardizing their expression.

Both of those are ways to develop skills that make future "play" with words more productive. Maybe. Maybe not. It's supposed to be play, after all--which is by definition doesn't have to be productive. right?
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Words Fail

Sometimes, words are insufficient. I've sure spent more than my share of time, and words, looking for a perfect metaphor for those intense events that I want to capture somehow.

And sometimes, I just can't.

For several weeks, I've been creating music every day. Just for a few minutes. Mostly to clear my head, exercise my fingers and brain, and let my heart relax. I've also returned to "making lines on paper," as I once described drawing to my sister.

I'm not particularly skilled at either music or drawing. But sometimes, words fail. Sometimes, my fingers need to do something else for a while.

Especially when a dear friend dies. Many dear people have died this week--not all of them dear to me, but every one dear to someone. Every person who dies is dear to someone, surely.

I stole the title of this post from the title of a meditation posted by a church that unexpectedly lost one of its stalwart members, a woman with a heart as big as the Tucson sky, a woman who never met a stranger she didn't turn into a friend. The full meditation is here.

If sometimes you're frustrated by your own efforts to say what it is you really mean, noodle on the piano or guitar for a few minutes. Pick up a camera and take a picture of what's at your feet. Make some marks on paper with a pencil. Bury your nose in a flower.

Let it be okay that words fail.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Sometimes you feel like one. A fraud, that is.

Sometimes you don't but have to deal with fraud anyway.

Ironic, I guess--on a day when I'm not feeling particularly "legitimate" as a writer, whatever I even mean by that, I am forced to confront the fact that even so, I'm "legitimate" enough that someone somewhere wants access to my credit.

So I'm off to look at Ryan Nickerson's artwork, here.

Ryan's cousin is a Thunder Bay writer, and she's been sharing his new works that feature our most famous landform, the Sleeping Giant. But I love the energy and cheer of all his work.

Why not check it out? It's an excellent place to see pretty things on a day that might otherwise feel less pretty.

And after that, heigh ho, heigh ho, all I can control is doing the work. Time to do some more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


While tidying up items in a notebook I ran across a couple of questions that I've had fun investigating.

* Yes, "ignorance" and "ignore" are related.
* Yes, "routine" and "rut" are also related.

Recently I met writer-friends at a new-to-me coffee shop. I hadn't been ignoring it; I'd just never made it there. And it was great! Fun art on the walls, interesting selections of coffee, some tables. A nice place to go when I want a change of pace.

I also FINALLY got to an exhibit at the local historical museum. Again, not a place I'd been ignoring, exactly, but a place that isn't part of my routine. And it, too, was an awesome choice. I happened to go see an exhibit in which my cousin had a hooked rug, but I don't need to wait for a personal connection to go back. The permanent exhibits are interesting, and who knows what visiting exhibition they'll host next.

And both destinations and activities were inexpensive. A huge bonus.

Routines are my go-to method of managing life's vicissitudes. They work for me. Routines let me ignore some things ("I'm not working on that today; it's scheduled for next Tuesday") to focus on the things I've identified as priorities.

But yes, routines are sometimes ruts. That helpful side of focused ignoring can lead to ignorance. As in my complete lack of understanding of the skill and creativity involved in creating a hooked rug. The subject matter and techniques were so varied! I'd seen pictures in publications, but seeing works in person was mind-blowing. I had no idea. But now I do.

I've also found this place that I'll have to work hard to avoid in the future: The Online Etymology Dictionary. I could lose sight of so many priorities here!