Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bill Watterson, "Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in."
... Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you're really buying into someone else's system of values, rules and rewards.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential -- as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them.

Bill Watterson in his address to Kenyon graduates of 1990

Found it difficult to add anything to these that seemed worth publishing. 

JS Bangs--A writer's lent--patience and love

These two reflections JS Bangs has written, taken together, touch on the edges of a theme I've been meaning to write about for a while.

Even in my teens I was skeptical about ruminations on "inspiration".  This idea that you'd wait for inspiration to strike and only write something or create something once inspiration struck you seemed suspicious to me.  In college I met songwriters who would say all the words and music came together, all at the same time and that's how it was supposed to be or it didn't have heart.

Bah, what stupidity that is.  That's the path of least resistance.  People who are too lazy to keep working at something and too impatient to recognize that the spark of inspiration does not necessarily signal a completed work aren't going to get within spitting distance of Beethoven's discarded ideas.  It's okay to take a while to get something done. 

What I have done over the course of a couple of decades is come to the observation that inspiration as a feeling is something to view with caution.  An idea that may inspire me in the moment of inspiration may turn out, with further work, to not be a particularly compelling idea.  Or the idea may need no further development.  On the other hand ideas that merely seemed okay at first or even somewhat slight would, over months or years, reveal seemingly endless possibilities.

What being a writer or composer often requires is for you to suspend judgment of the actual quality of your ideas in any connection to how inspired you felt they were, or feel they are, in the moment of "inspiration".

I have at different times blitzed through composing something as quickly as possible to make sure I realized a set of ideas as fully as possible.  I wrote a fugue in C minor in just a week, for instance, but what I did after I finished that was basically set it aside for a while.  Then I came back to it later and simlified a few things.  In another case I spent an entire decade working on a version of a fugue that I transformed into a fugue for guitar rather than piano and found I liked what I did with the guitar fugue better than the piano fugue. 

It's possible to come up with a single idea that can then be developed in significantly different ways.  The opening of Haydn's Op. 76 #3 string quartet is the same four-note motto that is the first theme of the sonata form from Symphony 104 but beyond that you'll find that how Haydn builds on that motto is substantially different.  Haydn had a gift for taking the same seed of a musical idea and growing it into different kinds of plants, at the risk of coming up with a sloppy botanical metaphor.

The inspiration for an idea is often more a mustard seed than a larger seed.  Attempts to create entirely within the process of feeling the moment of inspiration, that nebulous state of euphoria in which you feel consciously that your brain is doing work on prolem-solving in the arts,, will come and go.  I have come to consider "inspiration" to be a work ethic more than some magical state of wonder. 

You have to be willing to consider that some of the ideas you love as a writer or composer are basically not that cool.  There are a lot of ideas I've scrapped and can't remember now and don't want to remember.  A process I've come to is that if I have an idea I think I like and want to work with I write it down to make sure I don't forget it.  Then I forget it by doing nothing with the idea, maybe for weeks, maybe for months, maybe I never do anything with the idea at all.  That a couple of ideas I worked through almost immediately were ideas heavily and obviously indebted to Bach might give you fellow composers an idea of what kind of idea is worthy enough for me to decide to develop it immediately and as quickly as possible.  When I've played works more directly inspired by Bach than others, trust me, musicians heard that immediately.  Originality is not the be-all and end-all and in the annals of Western music it'd be impossible to improve upon ideas by Bach.

It takes patience and a love of your ideas to set them aside for a while and then build them into a completed work.  Now that's probably now the application of "true love waits" you're likely to find on a Christian blog, eh?  ;)  If you have an idea for a song or essay you like, if you're like me, the best thing to do is sit on it and sketch out notes and ideas before attempting to come up with the real thing.  The amount of "free-writing" I've done for prose before even getting to a first draft vastly outstrips the length of finished essays that have gone up at Mockingbird or Mere Orthodoxy.  To be cheesy about it I could suggest that possibly inaccurate idea that the published essay is the "tithe" or "tenth" of the actual work that goes into an essay. They say that 90% of anything and everything is crap.  That isn't necessarily just true of finished works in the arts but arguably the case of the process of getting those works to the point of publication, at least for me.

In some sense an idea has to haunt me long enough for me to decide to get it out of my system and then when I've done that I may decide it was basically not worth the trouble.  That's part of the learning process.  As I wrote earlier, I think of inspiration as a work ethic or approach to the creative process more than as the proverbial lightning bolt that illuminates something, the eureka moment where everything comes together.  The more deliberately you can think through how you think the rarer those moments tend to become and it's not a sign that your work is less "inspired" that you don't have some eye-watering moment of self-realized and self-labeled inspiration. 

One thing that may be worth noting is that patience and love applies to the reality that you may be pursuing a solitary love.  You may be interested in some things that basically nobody else is interested in.  Patience and love in the arts will mean recognizing the possibility that only you really love these things.  You may or may not have a market for the stuff you make.  It isn't inimical to working in the arts to recognize these things.  WIth the advent of the internet it's possible for the people who even know who Ferdinand Rebay is to get in touch with each other quickly but this is still a rarified, niche interest.  Here's hoping that will change but patience and love are not merely disciplines practiced by individuals but also by communities.

Anyone can decide he or she is an artist or a writer or a composer in the isolation of their workspace.  The world is full of people who convince themselves they are writers who do not invite feedback or criticism or do more than occasionally venture out to present their work.  In a peculiar outworking of my earlier thoughts on inspiration as a work ethic there are people who are convinced they are writers or artists because of big ideas that weren't big enough for them to make any finished work from them; there are people whose work is just for them.  There's a place for that and if you live a life with dead end jobs and modest pay and not many friends you get to see creative activity can help ensure you're doing something with your life but an artistic life that is only for the self is a fraud and a travesty, a narcissistic venture in which love of neighbor has no role and, that far, art has not really occurred.  Not everyone needs to be Gene Kelly and most of the human populace can't be even close, but Kelly once said that love and joy were the two themes he liked to explore in his art.  A humanist and a Christian can actually agree that love of neighbor really ought to be the wellspring from which art can emerge.  Obviously they will significantly differ on likely countless practical points but within the arts it would seem that this is at least a potential first principle that could be shared.  After all, in the period of the Enlightenment it was not actually contradictory for a Haydn or a Beethoven to fuse humanistic and religious concerns.  Some of us were never really all that post-modern ... . But enough of that.  :)

So, uh, in addition to what JS wrote about patience and love, those are a few supplemental thoughts. 

once again, the scroll-over in an XKCD completes the already funny joke

a web-comic that musicians and composers can enjoy, if not always understand at every point. ;)

This one's worth consideration, too.

here's a delightfully nasty joke about the Home Alone franchise.

Friday, April 26, 2013

semi-linkathon/sausage time again

Yeah, yeah, original/new content is in short supply here.  If you want to know the reasons for that they're kinda boring, nerdy reasons like working on a couple of musical projects and having some semblance of a social life.  There's always stuff on the back burner to get written about but there's times to write and times to play and practice music.  There's also times to attend events and maybe even eventually review books and recordings. 

But that, as you've probably seen, is kinda for later, maybe, we hope.  Meanwhile, in the spirit of esteemed associates who've contributed at City of God and Phoenix Preacher over the years, Wenatchee The Hatchet's attempt at a Linkathon-Sausage index of light reading for the week.

What is altruistic punishment? It is when a person punishes someone who has done nothing against them personally but has violated what they perceive to be the norms of society. Why “altruistic”? Because the punisher is doing something that benefits society at large, with no immediate personal gain. Altruistic punishment is normally a good thing. Our entire criminal justice system is based on it. In our evolutionary past, small groups of hunter-gatherers needed enforcers, individuals who took it upon themselves to punish slackers and transgressors to maintain group cohesion. We evolved this way. As a result, some people are born to be punishers. They are hard-wired for it.

These sorts of people can be labeled "morality police" by people who inveigh against morality police.  :)  It's the same basic behavior in the end, though. 

Another bit from Slate on the Alien Tort Statute, for those who may find that interesting.

For those people who think everything should be digital and so on, remember, the hard copy never goes out of style and over-reliance on, say, Google for your stuff can sometimes get you trouble.  Slate is hit or miss but there's a few interesting pieces over there lately.

For decades, Hollywood has had two unwritten rules regarding films about baseball. The first: Baseball movies don't make money. The second: Keep making baseball movies. "If baseball movies don't sell tickets," Ron Shelton, writer and director of Bull Durham, the greatest of all sports films, once told me, "then why do they keep making them?"

This particular quote struck Wenatchee The Hatchet as kinda awesome.

In the film version of The Natural, Redford's Roy hits a home run so monumental it smashes the lights on the stadium roof. It's as if a film on Custer's Last Stand was made with Custer winning at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Speaking of Indians, the East Cherokee are planning to set up their own DSS.

Religion provides the only story that is fundamentally consoling in the face of the worst possible experiences--the death of a parent, for instance. In fact, many religions take away the problem entirely, because their adherents ostensibly believe that they're going to be reunited with everyone they love, and death is an illusion. There is no rational substitute for that consolation, and I think we atheists need to admit this.

But we can leave that aside, along with everything else we abandon in childhood, and be no poorer for it. There is a shadow to false comfort, because it prevents people from dealing honestly with grief and loss.
Jim West links to this piece by Frank Viola. Three types of critics and how to respond to them.  The first, interestingly enough, is the supporter.  Then there are objectors who genuinely disagree with you and, finally, trolls.  The temptation to consign all critics and criticism into the troll category seems to be strong in some circles and, paradoxically, there are lots of people who treat measured or cautious praise or even the acknowledgment that something or someone can be a mixed bag to be a troll (see the references to altruistic punishment above).

Ethan Richardson at Mockingbird mulls over ambition, a thing that went from being considered a vice to a virtue. The springboard's a piece in The Atlantic. There's more to life than leaving home is the tagline.  A person can attain a legacy as a great leader and along the way end up being a bully and a jerk.  Steve Jobs, after all. The legacy of a jerk is something we've considered before at Wenatchee The Hatchet in connection to Jobs.  Not that there might be any subtext to that or anything. ;)

Something pending is to finally get into some stuff about Alastair Roberts mammoth podcast series with Rebecca Wagner on Evans' book.  But the way I plan to blog about it may be roundabout and will absolutely digress into the salaries of baseball players and a quip from Linda Evangelista.

Alastair, I hope, shall be interested, if no one else. :) 

And there's still that essay about sonata form in Matiegka's grand sonatas for guitar I keep meaning to write.  Too much to do! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

something i'm thankful for

I'm thankful that back when Bill Watterson was making Calvin & Hobbes the dominant view of dinosaurs had not yet shifted to the idea that they were warm-blooded feathery herding creatures. 

Then again, the punchline for tyrannosaurs in F-14s might have been more funny. 

Still ... the sentiment of gratitude remains unchanged!