Distraction/opportunity

I spent the weekend mostly making and updating some older prototype pedals to make sure they were ready to take to Invisible Sound’s tone geek thing. I’ve also been asked to record madolin with Matt Pless for his upcoming record AND with Dave from Whale Show (who I’ve been playing shows with recently), so my February is now stuffed to the gills with music.

The pedal thing was partly to get feedback from other players about my designs, and actually building *my* Hamlet, since I didn’t have one made for me yet. I also finished a harmonic tremolo for my buddy Keith, since it’s something he’s wanted to try for a long time. I hadn’t been building much except to verify the PCB designs I recently sent off to get fabbed.

Obviously this is a pretty significant distraction when I’m supposed to be writing like a madman. I did get one song written and recorded over the weekend (#7), but given the time crunch to complete this challenge, wouldn’t it have been better to spend the weekend writing and skip tone geek this once?

Maybe. But I had dinner with my parents on Saturday night, and my mom reminded me that taking a break from anything is important. I have a day off coming tomorrow if I want it, still deciding, because it’s not like work disappears if I don’t show up. I think, though, that the only way good writing comes up is by expanding your experiences, even everyday experiences. Spend all your time alone and it’s all introspective, and while some writers can pull that off with incredible results, Van Morrison I ain’t. This means that if you’re in the proper state of mind, things that would normally be a distraction from your work can become opportunity.

The big thing is that I’ve had to force myself to pay attention. I mean, really pay attention. Not the pay attention most of us go through life with, which is mostly autopilot and a moment of shock when a driver cuts you off. It’s things like noticing that the mode on the Strymon Mobius pedal that someone brought in has a tremolo preset called “Shaven” and on the way home noticing the street sign for South Haven Street written as “S. Haven.” Yes, this is nigh-useless for a song, but the point is I’m not sure I would notice that if I weren’t in a desperate hyperactive state of readiness for something, anything, that can be jumped on to write about. And just noticing that South Haven street sign meant I was noticing other things: The dilapidated warehouse with furniture out front, the look on a guy’s face at the pump when the wind cuts through his jacket, the particular blue gray of this afternoon’s sky. Forcing myself to paying attention means that this becomes habit in some way and it’s far more likely I’ll notice the moment something musical (or at least interesting) comes out of someone’s mouth or when something on the radio really captures my attention. And this isn’t a feeling I can ever remember having before, since most of my writing is a deliberate, short-term burst, and I then work on honing the rough draft into something better.

For the moment, there’s not enough time to reflect if this produces better work, but it does occur to me that when folks like Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton (yes, her) spend an entire year doing nothing but writing, that they must be in a manic state like this, where everything is a song. There are clearly some FAWMers who are somewhat on this level of being keyed in to thinking in song. I’m not sure I’ll get to that state, but at the moment, it’s working, and they say it only takes 21 days to make or break a habit.

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