About All That Music, And The Process Of Writing

I apologize for all the music postings the past few days.  I have had several things on my mind, and, while I’m trying to make sense of them, while I search for connections and meanings, while I wait for them to coalesce into something I can coherently write about, I listen to music.  The music soothes me, relaxes me, and frees up part of my mind, a part that lives in the back corner of my brain, that brings meaning to all my thoughts, finds patterns and connections, and presents them to me as writing ideas.

For example, the piece I wrote last week about my mom began with a commercial:

I laughed when I first saw the commercial, but, then I began to think about how this commercial, like so many others, was very stereotypical: the woman was obsessed with weight and fitting into jeans, while the man was a clueless idiot who had no idea how to respond.  Yes, ok, there’s truth to be found in stereotypes, but, commercials like this reinforce those stereotypes rather than try to change them.  Any man who’s lived with a woman for any length of time should know that if a woman calls you to tell you that something fits, the proper response needs to be enthusiastic.  I’m gay, and, other than my mother, I’ve never lived with a woman; even I would know how to respond.

Once dissed, the commercial vanished from my mind, or so I thought.  In reality, the commercial went to that back corner of my mind and took up residence.  Some time later, mom and I were sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, and on the other side of the waiting room were, I presumed, a mother and daughter.  I watched the mother, who seemed to be of the same generation as my mother, and her daughter, who, seemed to be of my generation, sitting there, talking animatedly.  They were enjoying each other’s company.  When we were called into the office, the vision of the mother and daughter vanished from my mind.  I thought.  Instead, it snuck off to that back corner, and there it met the commercial, and the two ideas began to circle each other.

I’m being vague about the time frame, as there’s not always a definite date associated with certain things, like watching a commercial, for example.  I’m not even going to swear that I saw the commercial first, then the mother and daughter.  It could have happened the other way around, but, my sense is that the commercial came first.  So we’ll go with that.  As for how much time lapsed between each thing, I cannot say for certain.  It may have been days.  Perhaps a week or so .  It may have been longer, but, I don’t think so.  My sense is that these two things happened in a reasonably close timeframe.

At some point, many days after seeing the mother and daughter, an idea from the back corner made it’s way to the front part of my mind:  write about how the communication between my mom and I was less like the mother and daughter, and more like the commercial.  It seemed like a good idea, so I returned the idea to the back corner for further aging.

The next time the idea came into the front room of my mind, there was some more substance to it: start with the commercial, talk about how it made me think of my mom and I, and give some examples of how our communication seemed to echo the tone of the commercial, and, maybe end with some thoughts about how I wondered if she’d rather have a daughter to be with her in the remaining years of her life.  Ok.  Sounded doable.

When I sat down and started to write, a couldn’t find the thread of the story.  Something usually is there, some thought, or image, or feeling that I want to create in my writing, and this something pulls my writing along.  When I can’t find the thread, I can’t write, and, that tells me that the idea isn’t quite ready, that there’s something missing. In needs to go into the back corner and ferment some more.

I’m always listening to music, but, when I’ve got something to write about, and am not finding the thread of the story, I listen to lots of music, really listen.  It goes from being something that’s always playing when I’m at my computer do other things, to being something I just sit and listen to, listen and feel.  It clears my mind, it gives me something to focus on, the words and music, and allows any thoughts I am having about my writing to float around in the back room, undisturbed.

When I finally sat down to write the latest post about my mother, I knew how I needed to present the story.  I didn’t want the communication to be the focus of the story, because in doing so, it gave a false impression of my mom.  Yes, my mom is a woman, but, she’s not the kind of woman who’d call her best friend just to say her jeans fit!  She’d be excited (as would we all, when we lose a few pounds), but she’d mention it in passing, rather than making it the main topic of the conversation.  So, I needed to present a portrait of my mom as she is, with the communication between us being more of a side note.  Then I needed to be sure that I didn’t make the communications she and I have be the focus — that can be a dangerous route to go, because a long-littany of pure emotion can easily go from being introspective to being perceived as whining and complaining.  Once all of that became clear, the thread of the story was visible, and the words flowed onto the page.  Talking about the shoes was not visible in the story thread until I got to that point, meaning the story of the shoes was nowhere in my mind until the moment I finished the previous paragraph; the idea of writing about the shoes just popped into my mind as a natural continuation of the story.  Including myself in the story of the shoes also seemed natural.  I think that it’s important to share things about myself as well.  It seems unfair to reveal all about my mom, but keep myself secret.  Writing about yourself can be daunting, because it’s tempting to only talk about yourself in a flattering way, and presenting others as flawed.  I try to include my faults and flaws, though it’s always tempting to cut those parts out.

All this to say I’m sorry for all the music, and less of the writing this week.  I’m circling around some ideas that seem to have connections, and I’ve another story to tell, yet, in both cases, the threads aren’t quite visible yet.  So, I thought I’d share the music that inspires me while I search for the threads.  The music one listens to, just like the books one reads, or the movies one loves to watch over and over, can reveal many things about the person — so, consider these music posts not just posts about random music.  Think of them as songs that inspire me.  Think of them as glimpses into my soul.

Of course, this was not the post I set out to write.  I’d thought about a short paragraph of apology and begging for your patience.  This was the result.  I’m not usually one to sit and write off the top of my head, though it’s something I feel I need to practice more.  And, what better place than a blog?  Blogs are perfect arenas for Off-The-Cuff writing.

I think the writing process is fascinating, because it’s something that varies from person to person, which, I think, is what makes it so tough to teach.  There are hundreds of books on How To Write, some are repetitions of each other, others offer new ideas to inspire your creativity.  I spent a good portion of my twenties reading lots of these books, and, feeling frustrated because most of the ideas never worked: outlines, notecards, diagrams — all to anal compulsive for my flighty right-brainedness. It took me a long time to realize that I needed to listen to these thoughts that came from that back corner, that I needed to trust myself.  That being said, I’m still fascinated by how others create their writing.  For those readers who are also writers, I’d love to hear How You Write!  Feel free to share any of your thoughts and processes in the comment section.

What’s It All About, Alfie…er, Johnny?

Beginnings. Middles. Endings.  All good stories have them.

Heck, all stories have them, good or otherwise.

My story is no different, though most of my story is taking place in The Middle.  There have been many beginnings in my life, besides the most obvious one: The Very Beginning.  And, there have been many endings in my life as well, though, as far as I can tell, I have not reached The Ultimate Ending.

This blog is both a beginning and an ending:  the beginning of a new blog, and the ending of an old blog.  I’ve written, haphazardly, for a number of years at Phases of The Noon.  It’s been a home for me on the net, a place that began as a journal of ramblings, and morphed over the years into a place to share whatever caught my fancy, as well as a personal tale or two along the way.  It’s been a place where I have collected all the flotsam and jetsam of my internet wanderings, but, “Phases” never had much of a purpose (although I did try a time or two to give it one.)  I just couldn’t find the right tone for the blog.  So, it’s time to bring “Phases” to a gentle end, though there may still be a thing or two posted there, as not everything will fit into this blog.

There is a beginning also, a new home with a purpose: Johnbalaya.  (Yes, yes, ok, for the 3 of you who paid attention, Johnbalaya was intended to be a food blog, but, I don’t think a food blog is what I need this space to be, so, the dozen-ish posts have migrated into the big unknown world called: The Garbage Bin.  They will be missed.)  I have recommissioned this blog to be the space I have always wanted, yet have held back from writing.  This is a place about me.

“Well, why the fuck would I want to read a blog about you?” (Yes, that was said in your out-loud voice)

“I’ll tell you”, I reply.  (And, gosh darn and dammit all — does that comma go on the inside or the outside of the quotation marks.  Should there be a period after “you”?)

I’ll tell you why you might want to give a fuck and give this blog a try.

Because I have stories (all true) to share: stories about caring for an 88-year old mother; stories about living with HIV for almost 23 years; stories about being a gay man; stories about losing a father when I was 14, and losing a brother not long after.  I’ve got stories about the depth and despair of depression, and stories about the simple beauty of life.  I’ve got stories about the important things, along with stories about the most mundane of things.

This is not a “poor me” blog, because I don’t believe in being “poor me.”  Life has happened, as life usually does.  It’s happened, and I’ve made choices — not all of them good, but, in the end, they were my choices, and I’ve had to live with whatever happened after: good, bad, otherwise.  Johnbalaya is not just about the stories though, it’s about the thoughts that go along with the stories, the thoughts as they happened.  There are past thoughts, thoughts about what’s happening now, and even thoughts about what’s to come.  There will even be thoughts about trying to make sense of it all, because isn’t that what most of us try to do?

I’d like to be clear that I make no claims, I have no pretensions, nor do I wish it to be thought that I think that my life has been extraordinary.  It hasn’t.  I’m no child of wealth or fame.  I’ve not survived million-to-one odds.  I’m simply a man, who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, and was raised by parents who aren’t all that different from yours.  I’m one story among a million others (though, I suppose I must have a bit of pretension since I am putting my story out there in hopes of it being read.)

I would also like to make it known that I will try my best to not sound like I believe that life has fucked me over.  I don’t believe that.  What I believe is that life can, and usually does, fuck with you.  In my case, any fucking over that has been done to me has been done by me.  I don’t believe I am a victim.  I am simply me.  I’ve stood up, and I’ve fallen down.  I’ve soared to the sun, and I’ve come plummeting to the ground.  I’ve been supported by people, and I’ve been hurt by them as well.  Yet, I’m not a victim of anything other than my own short-comings and impulsiveness, and my own strange, neurotic need to continually self-destruct.

The stories told herein are not in any sort of order.  They’re whatever happens to be on my mind when I sit down to write.  As I am in the hypothetical middle of my journey, I suspect that there will be more stories of the Here and Now, and, unless I suddenly develop some kind of psychic ability, there will be a shortage of stories of my future.

Finally, I would mention that there will be off-topic postings also: food (I suspect you’ll encounter more than a bit about food), music videos, the Viral Video of The Moment, a quotation, or some other oddity.  But, mostly, I’ll try not to stray too far off the beaten path.

Welcome to Johnbalaya.  Welcome to the Mind Of John.