Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mastering the Myndsye

I turned on PBS this morning and was pleased to see something I haven't seen in years.  Bob Ross was doing his amazing work and it got me thinking about art in general.  I don't mean specifically painting.  I mean any creative form.  If I could see what went on in Bob's head I would probably have a much better understanding of what creation really is.  For now, I will just speculate based on my observations of his craft.

There are so many things that Mr. Ross was a master of and utilized in his work.  He had a basic vision.  He was also able to improvise on that vision.  He understood his craft and the tools he used.  He also understood the subject of his creation.  There are specific ingredients required for any creation.  Knowing these ingredients also allows us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.  Let me explain how this plays into any form of creative art.

Basic Vision
Having a mental picture to start off with is the basis of any creation.  This mental vision is actually the First Creation.  In song writing, the creator has some sort of subject in mind.  There are emotions involved, a basic story about a person or event, and usually there is a target audience.  Audience isn't always required but the creator will usually not be satisfied with just creating for their own pleasure.  The creator will often want to eventually share their creation with others.  Having the basic vision in raw form means that the creation has the potential of being so much more than what the creator could have ever imagined.  This basic vision has the ability of taking on life outside of the creator.  In a sense, the creator is really just a tool for birth.  There is something much more mysterious taking place than just a person with tools and blank media.

Bob started with a blank canvas, but he knew he was going to paint a scene of an overcast beach.  He knew there would be water, sand and clouds.  Short of that, I imagine he didn't have much of a set plan in mind.  His First Creation was always very minimal, allowing an opportunity for surprise, even for him.

The creator takes this raw First Creation and starts "going with the flow".  Whatever happens, happens, and the creator adjusts their mental picture through the entire process of creation.  An artist that is working with wood carving may find a knot that he didn't expect and then decides to utilize that knot to add more character to his work.  A musician may accidentally play a chord they didn't mean to but then realize that it brings forth new thoughts about the song being written and decides to implement that "accident".

The episode of The Joy of Painting that I watched, Bob Ross was painting an ocean-front scene with waves pouring onto a beach.  Toward the end of the show, he decided rather flippantly to add some rocks.  It was clear he didn't initially intend for rocks to be there, but the way a particular wave was created, he felt there was a perfect opportunity to place some large boulders in the water.

When you are creating, start with a plan of sorts, but be prepared to deviate ever so slightly.  You may find that what you create is light years beyond what you could have ever imagined.

Understand the Tools
To be fully effective, a creator must understand not only how to use the tools of a particular craft, but also understand that those tools can be used in new ways.  Watching Bob Ross, he displayed such mastery in his tools.  He knew how to take a dark background and lay color on it just right so that a specific effect was induced.  He knew how to drag colors across the canvas with specific brushes and knives.  Wetting and drying his brushes, just so, would allow certain textures to be created.

As a guitarist, I have an understanding of musical notes, tempo, hammer-ons, pull-offs, strumming and picking patterns, and various other tools.  Combining these tools requires understanding and practice.  A person doesn't simply pick up an instrument without some sort of understanding of music and technique.  A writer must know the language they are writing in, and understand how words fit together.  A chef understands the chemistry as well as the artistry of food preparation.

Whatever the media is that you use to create with, know the tools of the craft.  Continually learn how to use them.  Realize that there is always something new to learn and implement. The more you understand your tools, the more alive your creation will be.

Understand the Subject
This is the one thing that really amazed me while watching Bob's creation come to life.  He understood the form of nature.  He knew how wind interacted with trees, water, and birds.  He was a student of light play upon objects, and how material objects affect each other.  He saw much deeper than just the surface of a wave, or the way a cloud billowed.  He understood what made them look the way they did.  Armed with this knowledge, he was able to give full emotion to his art.

Even an abstract artist must have an understanding of the subject they are emulating.  There might be the use of numbers in an artist's painting, such as any art that is based on a Fibonacci sequence.  Sculpting the human form requires understanding the human anatomy and movement.  To write a love song, a lyricist must have experienced love.

Knowing the subject of your creation not only allows you to connect with it, but it allows the people who experience your creation to connect with the subject too.

I love being an artist, a creator.  There is something magical that I take part in every time I give birth to a creation.  The act of creating is more than just putting things together.  It is a craft that requires a certain amount of education and development.  It is a thing of beauty that is more than just accidental, although "accidents" can play a valuable role in creating.

The next time you listen to a song, or view a piece of art, I invite you to imagine what was going through the mind of the creator.  It may teach you something more about yourself.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Missing Pieces

It's late and this is the time of day when my mind usually seems to spin in overdrive so forgive me for the seemingly randomness of parts of this post.  Somehow they connect in my own mind.

My mind seems to be more so in overdrive tonight with the recent news that one of histories most notorious terrorists has come to the end of his life.  Is this the end of a chapter for America?  Is it the beginning of another?  What is in store for us tomorrow?

I don't really know if this news is cause for us to breathe a collective sigh of relief, or to be all the more watchful.

With reflection on the past ten years, I not only think about what our country has gone through, but I also think about the things I have gone through.  There have been several different chapters in my life that seem to conflict with each other.  Decisions that I have made run opposite to who I really am.  I am a good person, but have made some horrible choices.  At this moment, I feel like a man who is incomplete.  It is as if I am a puzzle with missing pieces.  Maybe I am a collection of puzzles and I have been going through the futile act of trying to put them all together at once.

I know this probably doesn't make sense to anyone reading this.  It hardly makes sense to me.  It just feels like at some point everything should make sense, and try as hard as I might, things just get crazier.

Have you ever had moments where you walk down the street or through the grocery store and you just look at faces?  Has it ever felt that the faces are extremely surreal...like you realize they have a perception of the world that is completely different of your own perception?  I think this is part of empathy, putting yourself in someone else's shoes.  It's an exercise I perform pretty often lately.  I hear their conversations and I try to imagine what is really going on in their minds.  If they looked at me, how would they perceive who I am?

This past week I have felt on a couple of occasions that I might be living someone's screen play.  On one hand, most screen plays follow a pretty standard format.  The protagonist starts at "Point A", and in the process of getting to "Point B" they experience different struggles.  There is growth in that journey.  We as the audience can see that journey, that growth, but the protagonist has no awareness of their progression.  At the end of the story all the pieces have come together and everything makes perfect sense, why we have seen all the elements of the story.  On the other hand, a good screen play is not so transparent.  Why can't I put together all the elements of my own story?  The faces I see in the grocery store are connected to my own life, yet they are so strange.  (Cue a famous Doors song)

I live in a world that I don't feel is really my own.  I feel out of synch.  None of my friends are the same ones I had three years ago.  My family is so nebulous that they begin to seem like strangers.  I am unemployed, yet I have all these skills and talents and by all rights I should be extremely employable.  But my life took a major turn, the economy turned south, I have experienced things that have forever changed me, and I simply feel like a stranger in my own flesh.

Like I said, it's late at night and my mind is in overdrive.  So many thoughts and like the pieces of my life, I can't put them together.  There is a picture there somewhere, but for now it evades me.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just Breathe

First off, I would like to say "Five Days???".  OMG, I can't believe it's been five days since my last post.  I just started this blog and I am already slacking.  Maybe I just needed something really important to write about...like what I am about to discuss in this post.

I am by nature a pretty angry and stressed person.  I won't go into the reasons why, I just wanted to preface this with that simple explanation and insight of who I am.  It takes a lot to get me boiled over, but in the meantime I am one of those people that lets things fester for a long time without saying a thing about how I really feel.

With that said, I can then tell you that I have spent years working on my anger and stress management skills.  Today, almost all of my skills have been put to the test.  I would like to explain to you how I use said skills because I know that I am not the only one who deals with both anger and stress on a day-to-day basis.  Maybe you do too.  If you don't, chances are you know somebody who does and maybe, just maybe you would be so kind as to pass on some of these thoughts to them.

Method #1: Writing.  I love to write.  Writing is a great method of self-therapy for me.  I can put my feelings down on paper or on print.  I can then choose to send those thoughts to a particular person if they happen to be the source of my frustration, or I can choose to just take what I have written as a release in itself and let my emotions find conclusion there.  Most often, I choose the latter since I have this habit of pissing people off when I am honest about whether or not they have pissed me off.

My writing isn't always manifested in the form of a letter.  I sometimes put my talent of "paper gab" to use in my songwriting ability.  Emotions are most often the best source of inspiration for a lot of great songs.  Some of them I have kept over the years.  Most have been simply in-the-moment genius and when the anxiety has passed I realize that the song I came up with was actually utter crap.

Today, I spent a couple of hours writing lyrics.  I can't wait to read them tomorrow and decide how horrendous they actually are.  None of what I have written today has really given me closure to what is ailing me, and may in fact actually fed my frustrations more.

Therapeutic stand-by #2.  As a songwriter, I am also a musician.  My instrument of choice is my good-old beat-up acoustic guitar.  Since my primary means of self-therapy didn't seem to work, I turned to giving my guitar plenty of attention.  I have spent close to four hours thumping around on my six strings.  If it weren't for callouses that are a mile deep, my fingers would surely have fallen off, or at the least be cut to the bone.  In retrospect, the majority of the songs I played today have been pretty depressing.  Let's see...Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Eleanor Rigby", Radio Head's "Creep", and Gin Blossoms' "Until I Fall Away" were just a few of the tunes that flooded the empty air of my little apartment.  Obviously, playing music today didn't do much to help my state of mind.

I realize not everyone has the skill or talent to play a musical instrument, but if you do possess the ability I highly recommend playing something that ISN'T depressing to overcome mental irritation.

Methods #1 and #2 both failed me.  It was then time for me to move onto something a little less introspective.

Mental Re-adjuster #3: Exercise.  Some people like to get to a gym and pump iron to relieve stress and anxiety.  Sex is also a great reliever.  It's been a while since I've experienced any physical intimacy and it wasn't really an option today, either...which is one of the bigger points of my frustrations, honestly.  I know, I know...T.M.I.  Well, you dear reader can get over it.  I have.

My exercise of choice is simply to go for a long walk.  There is nothing like a breath of fresh air pumping through your lungs.  It helps get the blood flowing a little easier.  It sure beats the hell out of sitting around in a stuffy apartment.  I love watching the wind blow through trees and listening to the birds singing.  I also love talking to the occasional dog as it barks its head off at me as I pass its territory.  Nature.  Even in a city like Denver, nature is all around.  None of it helped.  My mind still wandered back to my problems, my points of contention.  Screw walking.

Mind Game #4: Bitching.  Okay, so this one really isn't such a great idea in any situation, but I did it any way.  I got a hold of my brother.  The one person in the world who knows me best.  Surely I could let a few things off my chest with him.  He's cool.  He's understanding...

...He was completely unprepared for anything I had to say.  At one point he even started to bitch back at me.  Like I said, this technique is not a great idea.  I quickly ended the conversation, sorry that I had said anything at all, and felt ever more angry and depressed than I had at the beginning of the talk.

Anxiety Ammunition #5: The Ultimate Weapon.  I have been a long-time fan of just relaxing.  I am a pro...when I remember to do it.  In most circles it is called meditation.  This was amazing.  It worked so much faster than anything else could have.  Within about two minutes I felt my stress dissolving.  If you have never done meditative relaxation, I will walk you through it.  It's very simple.  If you have done this type of meditation before, go ahead and read the technique I use.  It might be a little different from what you do.

Create a calm and quiet atmosphere.  Turn off the television.  Shut the door.  Turn down the lights.  If you have to, tell everyone in your vicinity that you need ten minutes for yourself and that the first person to disturb you during that ten minutes will most likely suffer loss of life.  If you have kids, pawn them off on someone you trust for those ten minutes.  Explain to that person that you really need that amount of time to get your mind back to a healthy state.  It is important that you do that, especially if you are a parent who is currently over-stressed.  If there is no way that you can get those ten short minutes right now, then commit to yourself to find the time in the next few hours.

Once you have created your calm and quiet atmosphere, you should get into a comfortable position.  Lying down is the best, but if you are prone to falling asleep and you have obligations to get back to at the end of this ten minutes then I suggest sitting upright in a comfortable chair.

If you are sitting, place your hands on your lap.  Keep a strong posture, but make sure your back is fully supported.  Loosen your neck muscles by rolling your head slowly in a clockwise direction a few times, then reverse direction.  Relax your shoulders.

If you are lying down, most of the physical relaxation comes much more naturally.

Once you are in a comfortable position, notice your breathing.  This is the most important thing to watch through the rest of this process.  Breathe slowly in, then let it out slowly.  If your mind begins to wander to things outside of yourself, or you begin thinking about your issues, bring your focus gently back to your breathing.  Don't get upset with yourself for losing focus, simply bring it back to your body.

The next step is to focus on each part of your body, moving slowly from one end to the other.  Starting at the soles of your feet, imagine an orange fluid slowly filling your body.  It is thick and syrupy.  It adds weight to anything it fills.  And it is warm.  Feel its warmth radiating through the bones and tissue of your feet.  Let it relax your ankles.  As your feet are filled, let it flow up into your calves.  Imagine your blood pumping through the veins of your legs as the orange fluid slowly coats them.  Let all tension in your calves disappear.  Then let the fluid  flow into your knees, dissolving any joint tension or discomfort, then slowly into your thighs.  Eventually, imagine this fluid flowing from both of your legs and pouring into your pelvis, then your abdomen.  All your organs get filled and covered by the liquid.

When it reaches your chest, notice your breathing again.  Imagine the liquid gently ebbing and flowing along with your inhales and exhales, but realize that it in no way constricts your breathing.  Imagine it doing the same in your heart as it pulses.

Once the liquid reaches your shoulders, it first starts flowing gently down through your arms, loosening all the muscles and joints as it works towards your hands.  Let your upper arms, then your elbows, then forearms relax.  It coats and fills the inside of your wrists, palms, then spreads into your fingers.

Once your arms and hands have been filled, let the fluid begin flowing up through your neck, relaxing each muscle it fills.  Imagine it filling your ear canals, your jaw muscles, tongue, sinuses, eye sockets, forehead and brain.  Imagine it reaching your scalp and soothing it.

When it has filled your entire body, from your feet to your scalp, imagine it radiating out, pulsing, and creating an aura.  If you have a few minutes more, just bask in the comfort of your relaxed body.  When you are ready to return to what life has in store for you, slowly ease yourself back up.  Gently roll your head upon your neck.  Rotate your shoulders and shake out your arms and hands.  Let all your extremities loosely flop around...

...And then the next time you experience any anxiety or turmoil, just take a second and breathe.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Groom Your Style

Writing not only communicates ideas, but for the budding or full-fledged writer should display an art.  The expressed thoughts of a writer should be something that catches the eye and imagination of the reader.  Often, I fall prey to bad habits and end up with sentences that are cumbersome, dry, or just flat-out meaningless.

There are tools that I subscribe to which help spice up my prose and poetry.  These tools include reading the material of other writers, such as blogs, articles and tweets.  Signing up for various sites that discuss the art of the wordsmith gives me inspiration and ideas to change things up a bit.

As I compose my prose, the first thoughts that enter my mind tend to be pretty basic so my focus becomes grooming and dressing up these mental images.  Even with a topic such as "writing styles" can be flared up a bit.  Here are a couple of articles that are sure to help you turn your phrases into masterpieces.

"To Be" or Not "To Be"?
When to use forms of "to be" and how to give more power to your phrasing.

8 Tips to Improve Your Writing Style
General style tips.

Happy Writing!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Song: Face In The Crowd

I've been a musician for ummm...20 years?  Something like that anyway.  I've been in a couple bands that had close calls with "making it big".  This past year I've decided that I can't give up on my dreams, and though I'm getting up there in years (now 37), I feel that I might be past my prime to really get noticed.  At 37 years of age, I still feel pretty young but as musicians go, most make it (if they are lucky enough) by their late 20's.  Still, I'll keep pushing on.

"Face In The Crowd" is about this journey of mine.  I'll never stop dreaming.  It's in my blood.

The recording isn't perfect and some of the lyrics get drowned out by some of my over-editing as well as the fact that it's not EQ'd properly, but I'll get around to fixing it sooner or later.  Also, I'm still working on the drum track.  I'm not a drummer so that aspect takes me a bit longer than everything else.  I just didn't want to wait any longer to get it posted for your listening pleasure.  I'll note (in case you miss them) direct influences of Robert Plant and Queen.  I just couldn't help myself when I started recording this song!

Face In The Crowd

Who am I but just one small speck
Another face that hasn't been found yet
Who am I
Who am I but just one small speck

On these streets that I tread upon
I sing my songs to myself all day long
Strumming on strings
Screech like a cat in heat
Am I, am I, am I, am I, am I who I'm supposed to be
Yeah, yeah

I'm just another voice in the muddled sound
Another soul seeking treasured ground
Still I keep my shouting just under too loud

Can't get no rest
'Til I get where I'm going
I gotta keep moving on
'Til I find my way
It's been a long lonely road
But that's alright by me
I don't know what's coming on
Still I'll follow my feet

I'm just another face in the crowd

Copyright © 2011 Myndsye Music

Friday, April 22, 2011

President of Block Head Society

It's frustrating finding myself in front of my laptop and staring at a blank word document.  I start to type words, doing my best to formulate a complete sentence that sounds interesting and worthwhile.  I often wind up highlighting what I just wrote and with an exasperated sigh, hitting <delete>.  After having done this a few more times, I am usually about ready to pull what is left of my hair out.  Writer's block sucks.  There's no other way to put it.

I had a very interesting Tweet session yesterday with Matt Pocock about writer's block.  It was extremely revealing to me and forced me to be a bit more honest with myself.  Matt's view of writer's block is that there is really no such thing as writer's block (there is no spoon), and after speaking with him I am convinced he is correct.

(You can view Matt's blog here.)

"Writer's block" can be attributed to many different things but there really is no such thing as running out of material.  Many people call it writer's block when they are actually being lazy about their writing, not being open enough in their writing, or simply not looking hard enough.  Writing is a skill of discipline and an activity of thought.  Without these two items, any writer is bound to find themselves in a rut.

I am a musician.  I also do freelance writing, but primarily my writing skills are put in play by writing songs.  As I learned yesterday (not for the first time), I often cut myself short by not allowing myself to write about what is really on my heart.  As any artist will tell you, I am my own worst critic, and rather than put myself in the place of having to critique myself too harshly, I usually shy away from a subject I have hashed and rehashed seemingly continuously.

The thing is that if it is still on my heart, there must be a reason.  I haven't said everything I need to say about whatever topic, but for some reason I keep pleading with myself "do we have to talk about this AGAIN?"  For me, these topics are typically about love and hurt.  Both of these are usually directly connected.  They are also the two most talked about subjects in the history of music.  I wonder why.  It couldn't possibly be because they are the two deepest emotions that make us human?!  (Hear the sarcasm?)

My point is that if you have something on your mind, speak it.  Be brutally honest.  Don't hold back in your writings.  There is most likely some one out there that needs to hear what you have to say and you are doing that person a great injustice by not getting it out there.  Don't second guess yourself.  A person's first instinct is usually correct.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to fully realize in words what is on my mind.  This is when I become a frenzied list maker.  Get something to write on and something to write with.  I don't care if it's crayon and the back of the person closest to you...although they might.  In all honesty, I like to stray from typical mediums.  Pen and paper is so boring, but if it has to be paper, try to find something a little less typical.  I once had stacks of rejected card stock that a friend in the printing business handed down to me...all sorts of colors and weights!  I had so much fun!

Start scribbling down anything and everything that comes to mind, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.  I've never really been into drugs, but boy-howdy have I come up with some lists that would have easily landed me in rehab or the mental hospital.  Eventually, you will start to see a link between most of what you have written in your list.  Once you've gotten your "crazed" writing out in the open, you should be better prepared to get back to the serious stuff...the legitimate work.

Simple brainstorming is an excellent way to get back on track with your writing.

Distraction and laziness (perhaps one in the same thing) are my second biggest foes.  For me, writing with the television on is one the worst traps I can fall into.  Lately, it has been attempting to write with Twitter running in the background.  I love <alt> <tab>-ing between my screens to see what everyone else in the world is up to.  Unfortunately, it is so easy for me to get engaged in a conversation when I had a perfectly good piece of work flowing for me.

Distraction usually leads to laziness.  "Oh, I can come back to my song any time I please."  "Maybe playing this game will give me inspiration!"  Before I know it, five hours have flown by and I haven't gotten a new sentence into my document, or come up with a new lyric, or whatever the case may be.  Does any of this sound familiar?  As I said, writing is a skill of discipline.  Stay on task and the writer's block will usually disappear just as quickly as you can tweet "I gotta get back to work". 

Hi. My name is Jason and I am the president of the Block Head Society.

Are you a block head?

For Now

Sometimes we need a shoulder to lean on and the chance to pour out our hearts.

Yes the drums are fake, and yes, I know they're cheesy.

For Now

I think it's my turn to speak now
It feels like it should be so
You've had my shoulder for so long
Pouring out your hurts and woes

The tear stains are simple
The cuts so plain to see
You let me through your callous wall
And witness the tender heart beneath

Midnight came creeping slyly down the way
You're only comfortable in the things that never change
Darkness keeps crawling into your room
The only comfort you find in your empty tomb

For now, only for now
Keep on releasing
For now, only for now
Until you've drained every drop of pain
For now, only for now
Keep on releasing
For now, only for now
Keep on releasing

Fearsome words, the brutalist weapon
Cut down every ounce of self-esteem
When rubble and ruins are all that's left standing
I want you to know it's not too much, too much to mend

For now, only for now
Keep on releasing
For now, only for now
Until you've drained every drop of pain
For now, only for now
Keep on releasing
For now, only for now
Keep on releasing

Copyright © 2011 Myndsye Music