Maria Popova on the creative process

mariapopovaI’ve been feeling down and out — on the creative front — following an exhausting (but enjoyable) vacation back east to visit family. I just can’t seem to get back on the horse and move forward on any of my projects (writing, podcast, music, etc.), and my bad habits and poor choices are leading me back into an amotivational abyss. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal yesterday to listen to Maria Popova (of the Brain Pickings blog) respond to listener questions on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. Here are a few gems Maria offered that lifted my spirits:

Write for yourself… Creating something that is rewarding and sustainable over the long run requires, most of all, keeping yourself excited about it… The key to being interesting is being interested, and being enthusiastic about those interests. That’s contagious.

Don’t think about your writing as “content.” There’s nothing more toxic to the creation of meaningful cultural material, whatever its medium, than the term “content.” “Content” is something you produce and purvey to other people that becomes currency for advertising and whatnot, and not something that you do for yourself. Nobody does “content” for the joy of their soul. And the second you start thinking of your writing as “content,” you’ve altered the motive. You’re no longer writing for yourself.

Consistency is the key to becoming a great artist in any given field. Showing up, day in and day out, rain or shine. Whether an artist is experiencing agonizing self-doubt or the intoxicating elation of being in love, whatever it is they’re feeling, they still show up. They still face the blank page, the empty canvas, the fresh roll of film, every day. And they do their thing. This doggedness is a deep love of the work, a deep need to do the work in order to feel alive. If you’re looking for a formula for greatness, the closest we’ll ever get, I think, is this: consistency driven by a deep love of the work.

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HTG Podcast #5: Struggle

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I do what I do best — struggle to express myself authentically.

Here’s a blast from the past that strikes a similar chord: Hi, My name is Bob, and I’m a struggler

It’s a two-handed stranglehold I’ve got going on: On the one hand, I struggle to get in touch with my deepest and most authentic intentions. And on the other hand, once I do get plugged in and grounded, I have a devil of a time staying on track once the initial wave of inspiration passes and I’m confronted by the fears and distractions that inevitably crop up.

So, what if I give up the struggle? Who drives the bus then—the devil or the angel? Or does it just veer off the road and land in a ditch somewhere? Does it really matter? Do all roads lead to the same place in the end?

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To catch a leaf

[A snippet from a writing project in gestation that will probably make more sense if you read the preceding snippets.]

I’ve been walking around the neighborhood every afternoon as part of my pre-hab regimen. My route takes me past a hilly patch of maple trees that, if followed through, leads back to the dead end of Pleasant Street, where my parents live now, and which will forever be “Grandma’s Street” in my mind. I remember vividly when, as a kid, I fully explored these woods for the first time, starting from the dead end of Grandma’s street and clambering my way through to this other end where I’m standing now. It was like discovering another planet. “Who are these people living in these strange houses?” I had thought to myself. This little patch of woods was like a whole world unto itself back in those days. It looks so small now, so insignificant.

Across the main thoroughfare and several blocks away is the house I grew up in. At the end of that street is a much bigger patch of trees, but still, nothing compared to my memory of it. These were the woods where David Woodburn and I discovered a pile of porno magazines, just lying there conspicuously beside a well-worn path, like a hastily laid trap. I can still remember the name of one the centerfold models. Cathy St. George. I smuggled the key pages of that issue back home, folded up in my back pocket, and kept the stash buried under the front porch in a zip-lock sandwich bag. I can still recall the musty smell under that porch, how I would have to pull back a piece of broken wood to crawl under, how I would brave the spiders for a look at Cathy, but for no other cause. Those woods were also where Jason Gillam and I saw a “walking stick” crawling up a tree one day. There was also the mysterious “underground fort” we found in a hidden clearing. Actually, it was a dug out pit covered by a big piece of plywood, and it was full of empty beer cans. David and I smuggled my Daisy Red Ryder B-B Gun into these woods once. I remember the thrill of lining up my first bird, then the shame when it dropped dead to the ground. And, of course, who could forget the “sand banks”— that ledge from which we would leap down onto the soft, sandy slope below, sometimes tumbling all the way down to the apartment complex at the bottom, the one where all the poor people lived.

There was also a teeny tiny patch of trees – long since cleared away—directly behind my house, which provided just enough cover for the neighborhood boys to convince Cindy Wilson to pull her pants down and show us all what was going on down there. Afterwards there was talk of how Frankie Dalton stuck a stick up her crack, but I don’t think that really happened. But we did build several forts back there over the years, most of which were eventually torn down by rival groups of kids living down by the “brick road.” Of course, we would search for, find, and destroy their forts as well, for good measure, although who knew who started the whole mess. We built some really cool tree forts and one huge fort on the ground that was like a little house. Our parents even let some of us sleep there one night. Carry Woodburn was there, and the rest of us conspired to try the old “warm water” trick on her after she fell asleep. And did it ever work! She pissed herself right through the sleeping bag.

All this from passing a little patch of maples.

The other day the wind was blowing briskly, and I noticed a few leaves drifting down from these maples onto the road in front of me. Suddenly it occurred to me – I hadn’t caught a leaf yet this year! It’s my own little fall tradition, to catch at least one leaf as it falls from a tree. In years past I’ve been known to run down a promising leaf to the to ends of the earth if need be, often diving onto the grass or even out into traffic in an attempt to make the grab. I even got Molly into it last year, although she was less willing to go the necessary lengths to make a legitimate catch. It has to be fresh from the branch and caught before it hits the ground. Nothing off a roof or blown up from the ground will do. Anyway, being crippled in Mexico this fall, I had forgotten all about this annual event. Having remembered it presently, there was nothing to do but catch a friggin’ leaf, come hell or high water. To fail to do so would be a disgrace of the worst variety. I have said it many times before, that the year I go an entire fall without catching at least one leaf, that’s the beginning of the end, a sure sign I have given up the ghost and lost all connection to reality.

Well, let me tell you, it’s not as easy as you think, especially with a torn ACL. In fact, I only had two realistic opportunities to make a grab over the course of my walk, and both times the leaf suddenly changed direction just as I was about to gain possession. This, of course, is the whole challenge, the whole fun of it, but the bottom line is I returned home without having made a grab. Now, it’s always preferable to catch a leaf in the natural course of things, as one is walking along and notices a leaf drifting somewhere within reach. Being overly intentional goes against the spirit of the whole thing. But it being late fall and there being no guarantee of another suitably breezy day, I resorted to standing under the big maple tree in my parents’ backyard. I stood there staring up at the leaves for about forty-five minutes until my neck started getting sore, but the time invested did not yield a catch. Five or six times maybe I had a legitimate shot at one, but whether it was the knee or just wanting it too badly, I just couldn’t get it done. I went back inside to get my bearings and to let my mother know what I was doing, in case one of the neighbors called her to report the strange goings on in her yard. To my surprise my mother admonished me a bit for giving up so easily, and with that I went back out for round two. Within a minute or so, I made the grab. A leaf hit me square in the face, so all I had to do was reach up and pin it to my nose before it had a chance to slip away. But there was more work to be done. I had to catch one for Molly, as she probably had a better chance of seeing a tarantula fall from the sky than a maple leaf. Again, within a minute or so, I had corralled leaf number two. After releasing it back into the breeze from whence it came, I strutted back into the house victorious, rewarding myself with a salami and cheese sandwich and rich cup of coffee.

It seems there’s still a bit of magic left in these old Trojan maples. The veins in the leaves, the roots in the earth—somehow these things are connected to the neurons encased in my skull. Somehow these magic maples can lead me back into the deep woods where long forgotten things can suddenly spring back to life, where boobs, bee-bee guns, and walking sticks float back into view out of an empty September sky, winding their way through the blue before making a soft landing on the tip of my nose.

fallingleaf

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Simeon Beardsley

I’m getting increasingly stoked about the music scene here in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The latest artist I’ve “discovered” via the magic of the internet is Simeon Beardsley. He’s got that mellow, acoustic, soulful vibe that I’m a sucker for, and which is on full display in the video below:

LNG Sessions | Simeon Beardsley | This, I Promise from The LNG Company on Vimeo.

I dug this song so much that I was compelled to click my way over to his Bandcamp site, on which I found (and promptly purchased) his brand-spanking-new album called June, which is also super-cool. Check it out.

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HTG Podcast #4: Dust and Bones

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I dig in to my creative process a bit, sharing/discussing my latest demo recording.

Summary:

    Spent all day giving birth to this… this… What to call it? Sad, weird music mixed in with a French toddler telling a story about Winnie the Pooh and a magic hippopotamus who didn’t want to go to heaven (I think), all set to 102-year-old silent film footage of Jamaica as seen from a moving train. Now I can move on to the next thing on the to-do list (mowing the lawn).

Below are some of the media referenced in this episode:

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HTG Podcast #3: Waking up in Potter’s Field

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, things get weird. Just… weird.

The music featured in this episode is the song “Waking up in Potter’s Field” by My Dear Ella, a band I used to play in with my friends Eric, Jeff, and Doug. Check it out, along with other stellar tracks, in the player below:


MDE@506

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HTG Podcast #2: Waiting for the Miracle

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I ramble on about the concept of “Waiting for the miracle” and how it has inspired my creative process for years. Topics include:

  • My discovery of Henry Miller
  • Miller’s classic novel, Tropic of Cancer
  • Neutral Milk Hotel’s, Two Headed Boy Part 2
  • My song, “Waiting for the miracle”

Below are some of the media referenced in this episode:

Waiting for the miracle… (Blog post)

tropic-of-cancer

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HTG Podcast #1: Welcome/Las Cruces Music Scene

In this –the inaugural episode the Head The Gong Podcast– I flounder about trying to figure out what on earth I’m doing. Topics include:

  • What in the hell am I doing?
  • The Las Cruces music scene
  • Alabama Deathwalk (Local musician)
  • KT Neely (Local musician)
  • Daniel Johnston

Below are some of the media referenced in this episode:

Kruxfest 2015 (Show at Art Obscura): Alabama Deathwalk, Back of a Car, Asa Martin

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Kruxfest 2015 (Show at Art Obscura): Alabama Deathwalk, Back of a Car, Asa Martin

kruxfestSo I finally ventured out to a live music show here in Las Cruces, New Mexico. There was a long build-up to last night’s five minute drive to the Art Obscura gallery to see a handful of local singer-songwriters (Asa Martin, Back of a Car, Alabama Deathwalk) ply their respective trades as part of Kruxfest 2015. The seed was planted a few months ago when a friend turned me on to a local art blog called The Truant, which features a detailed music calendar. A quick scan and some random googling then turned up the music of Alabama Deathwalk, a.k.a. Eric Reed. I had been half-heartedly searching for (and not finding) a soulful music scene here in my new town that might partially fill the void left after relocating from Carrboro/Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After three years here I had pretty much given up hope that Las Cruces could satisfy my particular musical sensibilities. These two Alabama Deathwalk songs restored that hope:

There’s such a sincerity in this dude’s voice, and when his music hit me I was like, “Yes. This is something I can get into. I wonder if there is anything else along these lines here in town?” Then a trip to Alabama Deathwalk’s Facebook page yielded a web of connections which formed a local indie-folk-singer-songwriter scene that had been invisible to me until that point. I bought a couple of Eric’s CDs from his Bandcamp site, then started cyber-stalking his musician Facebook friends, starting with KT Neely. When I heard her recordings, I liked them so much that I immediately bought everything she had on her Bandcamp site. I soon discovered that KT works at my favorite local coffee shop, and that she and Eric are a couple who sometimes record songs together:

Clicking around some more on the Alabama Deathwalk Facebook page I soon discovered the likes of Asa Martin and Back of a Car, the other two dudes on the bill last night along with Eric. Asa’s opening set last night was wonderful–at turns charming, disarming, and powerful. Here’s a recent video that gives a good sense of Asa’s vibe:

Back of a Car (a.k.a. Kelley Williams) followed Asa with his own captivating and awesome set. All I knew about Kelley going in was that he works at a local coffee shop/eatery (he made me a great sandwich a couple of weeks ago), he plays a ton of shows around town, and he had the opportunity to open for the legendary John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats) a few months back at a local benefit show. Here’s a video of Kelley doing his thing, which includes some interesting guitar arrangements on a badass pink electric:

Eric Reed closed the show with a soulful set of tunes that had his friends in the crowd singing along, and had me pumped full of inspiration to run home and work on my own music with renewed energy.

To make a long blog post short, last night’s show was fantastic. I found myself in the middle of a local music scene that seems pretty special. Along with KT Neely, other local musicians were in the crowd showing their support, including members of Decade of the Dead Arcade, a local band I haven’t had the chance to check out yet, aside from this video, which is pretty sweet:

So there you have it. I finally got out of the house and discovered that there is a thriving indie music scene right in my own back yard. Thanks to all of the above for the music and inspiration, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

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Red House: Jimi Hendrix, New York Pop, Randall’s Island, 1970

Every several years I rediscover this version of Red House, which features some of the best guitar soloing I’ve ever heard in my friggin’ life. It starts with Hendrix saying, “Fuck off man, let me talk…”, and then he and his guitar have a serious conversation about the birth and death of the universe. Eric, Jeff, Doug and I sat together many-a-time in our living room on that fifteen-seater couch spinning vinyl, getting ready to hit the town, or coming back from a night on the town looking to take the party to a new level, and we’d drop this Hendrix compilation on the turntable:

jimi hendrix concerts

Then came the “Fuck off man, let me talk…”, then the respectful, reverential shifting of attention into full focus, then this:

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