Monday, February 09, 2009

Weilding Weaponry

I am given to an appreciation for words. If you follow this blog long enough, my overarching delight in delicious diction will likely become annoyingly obvious. I love to arrange them and watch them dance into a revelation or a recollection in someone's mind - even in my own. I also love to do the same with music. These are the tools given me, but wielding them in the work of the Kingdom is something else. I have said before, and I continue to find it true, that inspiration comes at the oddest times. Ask a thousand artists where they get their inspiration, and you'll get a thousand different answers. Rarely, if ever, will you get the answer, "When it's convenient." Inspiration for me comes when I'm riding in the car, driving, listening to new music, and oddly enough, showering. Most of the time, it's not convenient, but it cascades like a vernal mountain stream when it comes. Then, an even stranger thing happens. I sit down with a pen and paper, or I go to the piano or pick up a guitar, and, sometimes instantly, the wellspring dries up. Where did it go? Here I am, ready for the muse to sing. But she has become a shy ghost, a thinning apparition in the air. While I would like to blame it all on this, it's not true. What did happen? Two things, I think.

First, it is proven that I had expectations of ease. When I picked up the guitar or the pen, I wrongly supposed that the music or prose would flow from it like magic from a wand (though, as Neville Longbottom proved to us, wand-waving is not as easy as it looks). Truthfully, it might be easier than usual at that point, depending on my inspiration, but the creative mechanism is a sort of Chinese finger trap. If you pull on it too hard, you'll only get stuck. It can't be forced. Second, I don't practice enough. There's a scene in The Last Samurai (yes, the Tom Cruise movie) where Nathan Algren is learning to fight with a katana. After badly losing several practice bouts, one of the other warriors comes and tells him he has "too many mind."

Nobutada: Please forgive, too many mind.
Cpt. Algren: Too many mind?
Nobutada: Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy. Too many mind.

I'm going to bend this a little bit, but I think it still fits. The point is, the more I practice the foundational things, the less I have to think about how to accomplish what I'm trying to accomplish musically or prosaically. Not to sound too acid-trippy about it, but when I've practiced to where the guitar is simply an extension of myself, I don't have to fight against it. I simply play, in the most common sense of the word. No mind. I don't worry about how to play, I just do. In music, this quite obviously comes in the irritatingly banal form of scales, arpeggios, and chords. I also try to play back what I hear others play. In literature, it's not so black and white. Most good writers who give us advice (and I would recommend Anne Lamott and Madeleine L'Engle) tell us to write something every single day. Write anything. Start by describing an apple and let it take you somewhere. Let your mind wander - let it out to play. Or, if you're like me and you're trying to figure out who characters are, put two arch enemies at a coffeeshop table together and see what they say to each other. It's like your own little highbrow version of Jerry Springer, if there is such a thing. It's quite entertaining, and, more importantly, quite revealing.


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