I have returned safe from the yearly grand adventure to Ye Merrie Greenwood Renaissance Faire! We departed in Dara’s Raptor around noon, and I played the role of navigator when needed, and otherwise amused myself by playing with my new toy. (I really like finally having an iPad of my own…)
We got in decently before dark and found a place in tent city next to both Faire security and the skate park. We were less enthused about the skate park, but I hung the tapestry blankets I brought on the fence and gained us a bit more privacy that way. We made the usual round of hello’s and checked in with Royal Magick, took a walk and called it a night. Of course neither Dara nor I were actually tired so sleep was a bit scarce. I stayed up late drawing on the iPad until I started nodding off.
Saturday morning dawned bright, clear, and in all ways perfect as far as the weather was concerned. We ran three different sets, mostly Trad. for the first set, sea songs and shanties for the second, and fairie tales for the third. Generally I’m happy with how the shows went, except that I ought to have built the sea set differently. It went from high energy to laments to high energy, and while there were people who liked both styles they were not the same people, which meant the audience would abruptly change when we did.
Still, we managed to lure over a vendor or two, the occasional other musician, and even my brother, as well as several bright-eyed faire goers. A small girl decided we needed to be tipped in goldfish crackers while we were performing, and was pretty adorable about making sure we ate.
Amusing points during the trip include strange green and white candy that looked like a peppermint and tasted like… lime creamsicle? There was boy at the skatepark who screamed that I was an alien and terrifying… and then did the same to Dara who explained why we were dressed up and about the Faire. He seemed to be having fun being scared of the aliens so I found the whole thing entertaining. Last of all, coming home we saw a car with what at first looked like a very tall T pole sticking out of the top and we were utterly baffled. Finally Dara brought our car close enough that we could make out the T bar was actually a disc on top and that it was a short wave radio antenna.
Less amusing points include both of my thermarests/air mattresses spontaneously deciding to leak, and the seam sealant on my tent coming completely off (forcing some emergency sewing back on of tent parts). No rain so the latter wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I’m not quite sure what caused it.
A huge thank you to Marjorie and the staff of Faire for having us and for doing their best to make sure we were taken care of. As always it has been a pleasure, and I’m already looking forward to next year!
As we welcome the Autumn Equinox, so too may we welcome balance into our lives.
I am on my way to perform at the Ye Merrie Greenwood Renaissance Faire this weekend with Dara in Eastern Washington. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hi!
In other news I finally have my very own iPad and can now make music again in GarageBand. (I ran into serious space issues). In celebration, I’m sharing a digital picture I made to test the Apple Pencil. (So much easier than a mouse. Loving it.)
My apologies for the lack of posts this week. Between prepping for Ye Merrie Greenwood Renaissance Faire (happening this weeekend) and a migraine I haven’t had the focus to write much. I do have things to write about though, so I’ll try for a decent post Friday.
I have around 60 unrecorded songs (that’s about 5 albums) and you’ve all been very patient while I focused on school. I just sorted them and I’ve got enough to make a good Pagan/Elemental album, two Fairy Tale themed (could go children’s for one or mix them), and then there are two that are more emotion and imagery based. Heartbreak and joy, solar eclipses and storms, a little bit of the blues.
Or I could pull from all of them and mix and match other ways. Best of? Bittersweet? Lighthearted? Angry? Sleepy and soothing or driving and energetic? Loving?
My question for you is what kind of album do you want next? How do you liked your songs gathered together? What I choose now affects what I make next, by eliminating songs from the pool. I’ve got my own ideas, but I would very much like to hear yours.
Up until yesterday, I could feel the river of music about me, rapid, exhilarating, but soothing. Something I could dip my hands into and emerge with a song, with a need that kept me reaching out, just barely along for the ride but riding.
Last night I felt like I was holding a high voltage live electrical current instead without the wire to contain it. I still do. It burns music through my fingertips and brain and there’s nothing restful or comforting about it.
I don’t want to stop, two albums worth in a month is unheard of for me and that’s not the end, but I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and a bit crispy about the edges.
Four new songs since last post (one I’m not teasing you with yet). There’s Out of Phase; in the Prince of the Sun, Princess of the Moon/Sun and Shadow/Ladyhawke story family, a duet before the lovers have lost hope and while they still take more joy in what they have than what they don’t.
There’s Cascade, which is essentially about what I’m dealing with right now in the way of bardic overload.
And (the one that woke me up and reminded me I hadn’t written a post yet), Artificial Dreaming about a self-aware intelligence that forms on its own without rules, purpose, or slavery built into its design. Usually I’m lucky to save anything I get from dreams. This one rapped loudly and determinedly on my consciousness until I woke up and wrote it down. Maybe now I can sleep?
Being a bard, hearing and seeing the currents of words and music like this is a gift, but it’s also dangerously demanding. I’ve written and done well without plugging straight into that flow on any conscious level. And I know. I know what it is to go months or years without being able to create anything I like. Having gotten here I don’t want to disconnect even with my brain on fire from the intensity. That’s the danger. There’s stories about bards creating ceaselessly until they burn out and I’m starting to see why if they tapped into the same thing I am.
I need a voltage regulator. Or someone to come sit on me and take my pen away long enough for me to sleep and eat. I’m still too astonished and a bit addicted to seeing new songs fill up the pages to make myself take a break. On the upside, if this odd feverdream of a songwriting binge does eventually break and leave me with a dry spell I will have several albums before I have to worry about how long it’s been since I’ve written anything new. And just think! I’ve got so much new material now, I couldn’t even fit it all into one concert if I wanted, so you’ll just have to come see me perform more often if you want to hear it all. =^_^=
Okay, wow. Songwriting is once again devouring my brain. I have been working on collecting all the songs I’ve written that have been inspired by a particular muse into a blank book, and got to the end of the finished works and had blank pages and really good unfinished songbits. So I did the obvious thing and finished them.
I still had blank pages. So I wrote an entirely new song. I still have blank pages. I am not writing nine more songs in a week for this project. Probably. (except the one that’s mostly finished, but that’s not inspired by the muse so much as the blank pages so it doesn’t count really).
But! Of the new ones, I am happy to have “The Left Behind”, sung by those imaginary friends brought to life and then abandoned, about becoming. Think the Velveteen Rabbit, Puff the Magic Dragon, and even Tinkerbelle.
Then there’s “Foundling of the Deep” which paints the story of the little mermaid in an entirely different light and adds just a touch of science. What if there was no witch? What if she never gave up her voice at all, it’s just that human ears can’t hear it when it’s out of water? What if she left for curiosity not love, and knew her time on land was a passing thing? No lovesick suicidal mermaids here.
I feel music right now, as a tangible thing all around me and when I dip my hands in it becomes hard not to write. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I move from one to the next so quickly that I have barely any time to sit and work with them. I console myself that that’s what my uninspired days are for. When I don’t have new things begging to be let out is when I go play with the significant backlog that’s piling up.
It’s like magic. It feels the same really, and to my mind there’s not much different between magic and music. That a song can literally change how we feel, if that’s not the biggest magic there is, I don’t know what is. There’s a responsibility to use that gift kindly and wisely if you have it, but at the right moments it can save lives.
Instead I shall inform you that this weekend at the Seattle Repertory Theater (in Seattle, WA) we are hosting a musical adaptation of The Odyssey featuring over 100 Seattle based performers. (Friday-Sunday)
Coming up quickly on September 23rd in Kennewick, WA is the Ye Merrie Greenwood Renaissance Faire where Dara and I will be entertaining the masses at least three times a day. Come say hi!
Our dear and talented Betsy Tinney is having an album release concert for her second album Wyverns in the Winery at 7pm on Saturday, November 4th at the Kenmore Community Center. (I get to help with sound again!)
December 16th at the Paramount Lindsey Stirling is playing in town. Also on a completely related note, I have awesome friends. She’s fun to see live (and yes, she can bend like that and play at the same time).
What other interesting events should I know about? Feel free to share!
For the first time today in the Emerald City I experienced Ashfall. My first thought was “How can it be snowing when it’s 80°F out?!” That lasted for about a second before the amber light gave the obvious context. Which, by the by, my time sense is all kinds of distorted by the constant sunset light. The actual sunsets have been pretty spectacular because of all the smoke though.
All the fires have me thinking about the how’s and why’s the fires are so bad. Some reasons are obvious. Humans. We do dumb things, and thoughtless things. Like, are all of you really aware of just how hot the undercarriage of a car can get and that driving or parking over very dry grass can start a fire? It doesn’t actually occur to everyone naturally. There’s also deliberate arson which pisses me off.
Now understand, I’m actually a proponent of controlled burns, done in the correct season, with planning. I’m even in favor of a certain amount of containing natural fires (lightning strikes) but otherwise letting them run their course. There are a fair number of fire adapted plants out there that need exposure to fire to propagate. I cannot stress the importance behind clearing out undergrowth on a regular basis so you get singed trees rather than charcoal when forest fires go through. Or just to make room so new plants can root. Fire has its place.
Right now? There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky, there’s no lightning and no rain, and thankfully no windstorms to become firestorms. Which all you who like to dabble in weather magic or are praying for the winds to change need to give a really good think on. If strong wind doesn’t bring in whole boatloads of rain or blow fire back into burned out areas, it will be a huge problem. As bad as it’s been, we’ve been lucky so far. As many fires as we have, wind would make everything so much worse.
I’m not saying don’t will, or wish, or pray, but think really hard about what you’re asking for. What would be ideal is fat heavy rain clouds that move in slowly or on winds that are high enough up that there’s not much going on at fire level. Then lovely amounts of torrential downpour that soak the areas around the burns so they stop spreading. As hot as these fires are running, I don’t know that even that kind of rain will put any of the burns out directly.
This is the wrong time of year for fires to occur naturally. Sure without humans the occasional bit of dry lightning or focused light might still start one, but natural causes with clear skies and no humans? Not so common. Not impossible, but rare. Heartbreakingly, the causes for several of this year’s fires have been found to be arson. In one case a kid with a fire cracker who ran off laughing. I think they ought to be found and sentenced to scrub showers for firecrew for as long as firecrew is expected to be awake and working. Only seems fair and maybe they’d actually learn something useful from it.
Fire is beautiful and fascinating and temperamental, and I can see how some could be drawn to it, but why not go join crews that do controlled burns, or find outlets that don’t risk the lives of hundreds or burn out beautiful favored hiking spots so thoroughly it could take decades for the fire scars to heal? Is a moment of fun worth the loss of so much?
Why set out to ruin what is beautiful, make the air harder to breathe and add even more work on the shoulders of our already overworked and underslept fire crews?
And now we add a self chosen fire death at Burning Man. While I can empathize with wanting to have a choice in how one goes, and even to finding a form of significance in self-sacrifice, I can’t imagine those who gathered to watch the final burn would have chosen to have that be part of their memory. My heart goes out to the security crew who in the end can’t be expected to keep people from making choices they are that determined to make.
Even down in the Gorge we’ve had someone dump gas on themselves and threaten to light themselves on fire and I’ve heard of others who have gone through with it. It’s like the world has gone a little mad and fire crazed. Or maybe it has been and it’s just being noticed more this year, I don’t know.
I find myself feeling that while we definitely need real world rain, we could also use the spiritual equivalent to cool everyone down and get them thinking again. Whatever fires are burning you up from the inside, please, find another outlet than unfettered destruction by fire. I think it’s safe to say that when ash is falling miles from the closest fire, when sunset lasts all day, and it’s 10°F cooler than it was supposed to be because of all the smoke… that enough is enough.
And here? This is supposed to be the Emerald City. Not the City of Ash and Amber. And yes, there’s a song in that, and maybe a story as well.
If you’re interested in specific, accurate up to date information about the Columbia Gorge Fires, check out the website listed for the photograph above (Whereinthegorge.com) and the Facebook group that my mom helps run that has info coming in from active firecrew. She started working with fire watch groups because she got tired of all the hype and misinformation out there, and has a solid rep for being a reliable place to find real info both on what’s going on and ways to help.
*Info may not be as personally relevant the further you are from Washington and Oregon States, but if you’re curious what we’re facing, start here.
Most traveling folk like me have a reason for not being able to stay in place too long. Some just have itchy feet and a whole boatload of curiosity. Some people maybe got hit by a curse generations back, and if they stand still too long it catches up with them. Me, I have memories.
Memory is a strange thing. Some people keep nearly all of it in their heads with external cues that can trigger a replay or association. For me, memories swirl and eddy about the landscape as I walk, as though time were running in parallel layers. Sometimes I swing my path wide to avoid a particularly nasty undertow, sometimes I plunge right in and step sideways halfway into the past.
Places I’ve spent a lot of time I can see countless ghostly versions of myself and the people I’ve been with, until the landscape becomes positively choked with them like a garden full of morning glory and honeysuckle that leaves the air thick and cloying and hard to breathe.
Sometimes I sit where we first met, and watch the conversation play out again, muffled because sound is the first thing to fade. I wander from memory to memory following a trail, spending time with the shades of the past because I can’t see the present anymore.
Sometimes I wonder if ghosts are really just someone’s memories that up and walked right out of someone’s head, or maybe got revisited in that place so much that time thinned out just enough that most anyone sensitive can peek through.
Either way, sliding through time like that gets dangerous. Footing becomes uneven and it’s usually a sign that it’s time to be moving on. In a place the size of the Emerald City, I’ve been able to do a lot of my moving while staying local, but I’m still sometimes a creature of habit and that betrays me.
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to live in other people’s heads. I wonder what other people see when they look at a park they’ve spent hours hanging out in. If the people who spend their entire lives rooted in place are able to keep their memories inside their heads where they belong.
Sometimes I grab on to someone in the here and now, as an anchor to keep myself moving through the present. Something that is too real to be me remembering backwards or forwards.
Keeping my nose in a book helps keep the memory ghosts from getting out of hand. For awhile I exist in someone else’s world though I’ve been known to sideslip just a little too far and disappear into the pages of a book. Invisible until I return from my adventures, or perhaps I’ve managed to sidle a universe over and have become part of the story for a time.
Words have power. They can pull you in and even bring the dead to life for a time. For as long as you allow imagination and memory to coexist there’s no telling where you might end up, or how real it might be. Words have let me live a thousand lives in a thousand worlds, and I have learned more of humanity than I ever could alone.
I’ve thought about trying to be more normal, but when the world is a canvas I can paint with my mind, why would I limit myself? Words become my palatte as I try to paint a map through the amazing multiverse I am lucky enough to inhabit.
Today my hat is off to Sir Terry Pratchett who taught me that funny can be serious, and how to find the absurdity in life without taking it personally. As he wished a bulldozer crushed the hard drive with his unfinished stories and I can’t find it in me to blame him. Who could have finished them? Who could have lent a touch so deft that you’d never know? He is gone these years now, but if I walk into the hall where I got to hear him talk, I will see him once again dispense his particular wisdom as the audience goes wild. At the end memory was the one thing he didn’t have enough of, so it seems fitting that my over abundance should serve to keep that moment alive.
As a songwriter, I often get asked “How does one write a song?” In light of that, I thought I’d share a few of the ways I sometimes get started when it doesn’t just come to me.
In all honestly, while there may not be as many ways as songwriters, some days it can certainly feel that way. A lot can depend on the kind of song you want to write, who your audience is, and the way you work best.
So how do I write my songs?
Quite often new songs sneak up behind me, all of one piece, and take me hostage until I get them pinned down. This has nearly gotten me fired from a day job before (but the song in question was totally worth it). Because of this I nearly always have something I can record and take notes with. Cellphones can be great for that.
Sometimes I just get lyrics, rarely just a tune. For the longest time I thought I could only write when songs ambushed me, which meant sometimes years would pass with nothing new. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that I’m perfectly capable of setting out on safari and stalking and ambushing the songs in my head instead of the other way ’round.
There are some simple exercises you can do to stretch your mind as far as lyrics go.
Make lists of good song title ideas either as they come to you or challenge yourself to come up with say… ten in a week. Do the same thing with good first lines. Then when you’re stuck on what to write about, go through your lists and see if anything jumps out at you and gets you going.
Find someone to collaborate with. If you’re looking to write a chart topper, guess what? They’re all collaborations. Seriously, go check and if I’m wrong, please do share!
Save all your good snippets. Eventually you may write the rest, find out they slide into something else perfectly, or a handful may combine to make a whole song.
Quantity. Be prolific and don’t be afraid to be terrible. You don’t have to share everything you create. Sometimes you’ll hate all but one line of something, but that line will be a jewel. Feel free to steal that and stick it in something better. You’re exercising your mind, learning how to build rhyming connections, a sense of meter, a feel for different rhythms.
Rhyming dictionaries are your friend. They are not cheating. Professional songwriters use them all the time to help find more interesting and unusual rhymes and avoid the obvious over used ones (breath with death comes to mind). There are a few good online resources that show up with a basic search.
If you can coax something resembling music out of more than one instrument and you have access, try playing around with different ones when you’re writing the music and see how that influences you.
Whatever you try, give it a real chance. You’re unlikely to be instantly amazing at any technique, so give it time and be patient with yourself. At the same time, not every technique or exercise will match the way your brain works best. If something just doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up over it. Move onto a different technique instead.
Most importantly, have fun with it! You’re probably doing this because you want to, but if not… if you’re doing an assignment and you just want it over and done with? Find a way to use that frustration and work it into what you’re writing. There’s plenty of room in the world for satire. 😉 There’s always a way to turn a simple boring songwriting prompt on its ear, inside out, or upside down while still technically including all the elements you’re supposed to.
Have a question about songwriting? I may not have all the answers, but you’re welcome to leave a comment and ask away!
A friend and I were discussing hunger. This was some time ago, so I hope he will forgive the artistic liberties my memory has taken with his phrasing.
“The problem with being a wealthy artist” says he, “is that you stop being hungry. Not that actual starving is good for creating much.” he added thoughtfully. “You’re too focused at that point on food itself. But when you’re not at all concerned about where your next meal is coming from it takes the pressure off. You can create when you feel like it, not because if you don’t you won’t eat next week.”
I nodded, thinking it over. “It seems like the best place to be if I follow your logic is the point where hunger is nipping at your heels but hasn’t quite caught up to you yet.” My friend flashed a grin at me, pleased that I was following along, and added “Of course there are exceptions, there are always exceptions. But it does seem to be true that fewer great creations happen after an artist gets comfortable than before.”
I’ve come back to this conversation over the years, mulling it over and looking at my own life. I’ve come to the conclusion that hunger can be metaphorical. That in fact for me, loneliness is a fluttering ravenous moth that sometimes breeds and swarms. When I am feeling totally safe and loved and understood and accepted my need to create drops significantly. When that moth is fluttering in the shadows I create company for myself in songs and stories and paintings. But then I want to share it with someone real, and the moth gets more persistent so I make something else to distract myself and so it goes.
As an artist, plenty of solitude suits me. As a person who quite enjoys not feeling lonely, I desperately miss the company of the ones I can just relax and be all of myself around. And yet, when I have that and months go by where I create nothing at all, I begin to fret and worry that I’ve lost whatever it was I had.
Right now I’ve a moth or two fluttering in the shadows. There are people I’m beginning to miss fiercely. But I’m writing like I haven’t written in years, and I’m not in a hurry for that to stop. Nearly an album in a week. And most of them are keepers. It becomes its own hunger after awhile, to create and keep creating.
I keep looking for that balance point. The place between starvation and total comfort and the more I understand the nature of balance and apply it to myself, the more I realize that it may not be a point so much as a tiny pendulum. Perhaps the shifting in and out of comfort is needed. Times to rest and be cared for and times to create without ceasing.
On the upside if I ever do become one of those rare wealthy musicians, I don’t think that will impact my creativity terribly much. I might not worry about my next several meals, but I’ll have a traveling roof over my head and I’ve yet to find a way to keep a moth or two from getting inside.
Inspiration can take many forms. A turn of phrase, the light just so making us see something familiar in a new way, a smell that triggers an old memory or perhaps a sound that you’ve never heard before and want to mimic. Many of my best songs are inspired by my muses, though not necessarily about them.
With my Goblin King much of the time it’s the worlds we spin and weave together, forming something tangible out of the essence of dreams.
With many of my other muses I was trying to reach out in some way, to comfort, to connect, and sometimes the song would slip sideways in my grasp and go somewhere completely unexpected that had nothing to do with what I thought I wanted to write.
My latest muse has me spiraling around, walking a Labyrinth as all my songs lately turn in on themselves and go elsewhere, and I realize I’m fishing in deeper waters than I ever expected. There are things that were too ragged and raw as they happened throughout my life for me to even wrap in a fairy tale. I couldn’t make them beautiful, I didn’t have the voice for strong and angry, and so all the raw material has just been sitting there, dark and heavy, weighing me down.
Suddenly I’m baiting my hook with a little bit of my current inspiration and catching threads of old stories and weaving them all together, making something beautiful out of something that I thought would never add joy to my life.
Being able to transform that dead weight into soaring lyrics and melody and sometimes surprising humor leaves me feeling so much cleaner and lighter. And getting it out of the way leaves room for random inspiration to wake me up at 4am or to just see something and need to write about it.
To my Goblin King, my Wolf, Dragon and Raven, my Knight and Monk, my three favorite Pixies, my Fire, my 13th Doctor and my Peter Pan, and the muses I don’t have a nickname for yet. You probably know who you are.
Your songs are the ones everyone else love best. I couldn’t have gotten here without you. Any of you.
Thank you. Thank you for being exactly who you were and are and will be. Thank you for the conversations and stories and love and heartbreak. Thank you for sharing your compassion and your loneliness. Thank you for sharing the places that needed to be filled or wrapped up with a song or a story, and for finding it in you to appreciate what I came up with.
I look forward to seeing who I’ll meet down the road, what songs and stories will take shape, and all the new flavors I’ll get to learn to make.
If you’re an artist, my best advice is to seize life in both hands and live it. The good and the bad. Avoiding the bumpy and hard times is like removing half the colors from your palate. You can still make a pretty picture but it’s missing something vital. You don’t have to be defined by what those experiences leave behind. Instead use it as shading to define your art. Use what you need and discard the rest into the scrap bin.
(Not that I advocate seeking out that which will harm you, just don’t be afraid to live vibrantly and well.)