Tag Archives: Writing

I Finally Get Radiohead


The new Lego movie has a funny moment (I should say, it has dozens if not hundreds of laugh-out-loud funny moments — seriously, if your kids want to go see it, do yourself a favor and take them — but this one in particular has lodged in my grey matter) at the end of the second act. It’s your classic all-is-lost moment, with the heroes (no spoilers) THROWN into a situation that seems ultimately beyond recovery. BOXed in. No way out.

Because it’s the Lego franchise, and the Lego franchise is nothing if not ridiculous and snarky and meta at every possible turn, with fourth-wall breaks and winks-and-nods to the audience on every page, the characters break into song at their plight. They negate the ubiquitous “Everything is Awesome” theme and lament that “Everything’s Not Awesome.” Of course, this is the turning point — “not awesome” is okay, they realize, everything can’t be awesome all the time, etc, etc. But during the song, before that turn, one of the characters claims that “I finally get Radiohead.” My wife, hearing that, turned to me with a chortle: I was, once upon a time, quite a big fan of Radiohead. (Back in the days of mixtapes and mix CDs, I made one for my wife on which half of the tracks were by Radiohead. I don’t remember her exact response — it was over a decade [help!] ago — but it was something along the lines of “I like it, it’s great, but … are you okay??”)

Flash back to my college days, when my good friend who introduced me to the band was doing so by explaining, “yeah, Radiohead is that weird kind of band that’s great to listen to when you’re feeling down. Somehow it can really make you feel better, but sometimes it makes you want to slit your wrists.” I mean, just look at this album art.

Yeah, I screenshotted the display on my phone rather than pull the real album art.

I haven’t actually listened to Radiohead in some time, but, of all things, The Lego Movie 2 has me wondering why. I’m cranking it right now as I reminisce a bit, and, damn. The emotions are high, and it ain’t just nostalgia. They’re a weird sound — more so the more recent the recording, it seems — but no matter the era, there’s a sort of delightful melancholy about their music and lyrics. Somehow, it is both uplifting and depressing at the same time. It’s the odd track from them that doesn’t juxtapose mood and tone — either the words are happy and hopeful against a somber melody, or the words are a march to the noose while the tune is jaunty. This is a band, after all, that stopped playing their biggest commercial hit, Creep, precisely because it was too poppy. And it’s a great song! Listen to the melody, and it belongs right there with the mindlessest upbeat pop songs of the 90s, but the lyrics tell another story:

I wish I were special 

but I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo

what the hell am I doing here

I don’t belong here.

Then there’s the flipside, one of my favorites, Pyramid Song, (pictured above!) which sounds as dire and dreadful as anything you could imagine, but centers on the delightful mantra:

There was nothing to fear, nothing dark.

And I used to listen to Radiohead all the time, just constantly. Walking to class, driving to work, while working, falling asleep … Radiohead was the soundtrack of that time in my life. All the same, I never (at the time) thought of the music as particularly depressing. I guess it just reflected what I was feeling at the time, which was the more or less typical disillusionment and disdain for all things of an introverted college kid. Now, of course, I view it differently. Sure, we go through phases in our lives, and our tastes change as we get older — I can’t tell you the last time I listened to Iron Maiden for example, which I’m sure brings my parents no shortage of joy, because that’s ALL I listened to from ages 15-18 — but I think it’s more than tastes. I’m listening to it now and digging it hard. Rather, I think it’s that Radiohead no longer feels like a reflection of me.

I think about the music I listen to these days and … well, basically all of it is devoid of much emotional content. It’s either airy and ethereal (for writing or reading) or intense and repetitive (for exercising) or poppy and vacuous (when I just want to turn my brain off). And I listen to music differently now, too, than I did in my Radiohead days — I focused on the music more, I internalized it, I identified with it. Now, mostly, I want to ignore it; just allowing it to set a mood. It’s a means to an end, setting the mood for something else I’m doing, rather than an end in itself. I usually steer away from lyrics because lyrics demand concentration. I don’t want to focus on my music, I want it in the background. Setting a mood. Not taking up mental real estate.

So, what? I don’t listen to emotionally charged music. What’s the issue?

I can’t help but wonder. It was while listening to that particular soundtrack during that particular part of my life that I had the first creative ideas that really caught fire for me. Radiohead — and other artists less, what, ignorable, like my current fare? — were the background music as I wrote the play that would later become a novel, and dozens of sketches that, okay, are currently collecting dust, but were arguably part of my current trajectory (minus the last couple fallow months, that is).

It seems, then, not unreasonable to think that an infusion of the same kind of soundtrack might turn the creative screws again, in much the same way as it did once upon a time.

The question, though, is one of time. Hours in the day are fixed, and listening to music like Radiohead isn’t quite as mindless as what I like lately. Do I have the time to engage in active listening like that at the expense of other things I could be doing? And/or, by indulging in such music, do I encourage myself to sink into a depression (because that’s what I now recognize that part of my life as, even if I didn’t know it at the time)?

Well, there I go spinning myself in circles again. I’ll end this with another lyric that seems fitting given the spiral Radiohead has put me into:

Hey man, slow down. Idiot, slow down.

I dunno. I think I owe it to myself to give Radiohead and bands like them a chance again, as an experiment in creativity if nothing else.

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Best of 2018


A disclaimer: Glen over at the Scenic Writer’s Shack wrote this up for AI a solid month ago, and due to some truly epic foolery and lameness on my part, well, it sat in the posting queue for all the intervening time. So while it’s a little bit late for a year-in-review post and we should be on to the bigger, better things 2019 is sure to bring, the fault here is entirely mine. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t do to have a voice singing my praises go unheard, so — here’s Glen!

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It’s time again to unfurl the star-spangled fan-flag and heap praise where it’s due.

I’ve always believed every five-star, Michelin rated blogger deserves their own personal cheerleader. From 14 000 km’s away I just happen to be Pav’s. The U.S / Australian alliance has been going strong since at least as far back as World War II and there’s every reason to think that a list such as this one can only further bolster those relations.

Matt, the Atlanta-based chief notions officer and gifted scribe behind ACCIDENTALLY INSPIRED, and I have never met. It’s also unlikely we ever will meet. But that hasn’t stopped me two years running now (read last year’s honour roll list HERE) from honouring him and his Halydron Collider of Ideas superblog with a pick of what I consider his twenty finest posts during the year.

Ready?

Time to enter Matt’s hallowed sandpit.

Let the countdown begin… 

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1.  (Sorta) Safe landings, or Hell Week in the Theatre (April)

In the kind of truly majestic extended metaphor only Pav himself could conceive, we are treated to a white-knuckle cockpit view of the staging of a High School theatre production – complete with all manner of organised chaos including actor’s laryngitis, sprained ankles and ill-fitting costumes. Trying to land a rickity Cessna light aircraft during a violent thunderstorm seems a walk in the park by comparison.

REMEMBER IT HERE

2.  Bend One Over For Me (August)

The pro’s and cons of library book enrichment – the practice of marking pages by folding over the top corners or even inscribing words in the margins – are uproariously unpacked in this classic post. Matt admits his librarian wife may not share his enthusiasm for what he terms “marking the trail for others.”

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3.  Canine Curling (April)

Because Pav’s dog follows him from room to room in their house she gets labelled an Attention Whore Dog. When the neighbours have a yard sale complete with all the accompanying noises of cars coming and going, doors slamming and muffled voices from the driveway – noises his dog associates with Matt and his wife coming home from work – the results are high-grade comedy.

REMEMBER IT HERE

4.  Word of Mouth (July)

Vampire flash fiction you can really sink your teeth into. Any story that includes a character named ‘Thierry’ is welcome by me.

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5.  A Buffet on Cheat Day (August)

Our Matt finally sees the light does a glorious tango with the joys of non-fiction reading. In the process he rolls out perhaps his best analogy of the year – something about a salad bar, leafy greens and piles of mashed potatoes.

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6.  A Foolproof Method for Decluttering Your Home (July)

Self-confessed clutter expert Pav details a nine-point plan to home-treat your inner hoarder. This post came with a picture of our budding pro-author’s bedside table playing host to nine books, a pack of highlighters, his keys, a tape measure, a pair of socks, two notebooks, a pair of socks and several headphones. Expert indeed.

REMEMBER IT HERE

 7.  Hammer Time (A Scientific Study in How Dumb You Can Be) (March)

While trying to drive in a nail he bangs his hand with a hammer. Accidentally. In front of a student. We shouldn’t laugh. But we do. A lot.

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8.  I am Not The Target Audience (June)

Our Acccidentally Inspired ‘host with the most’ applys his considerable film critiquing abilities to that classic of children’s cinema The Little Mermaid (1989) but concludes he probably shouldn’t examine kid’s movies so forensically. He freely admits to messing with his son’s head when called upon to answer questions from him relating to the movie.

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 9.   Honk if You… (August)

Pav gets honked at while he’s out jogging by an early morning motorist intent on delivering an unprovoked ‘thrill beep’ designed to unsettle and unnerve.

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10.  Lots of Time, Not Enough Time (June)

Different surroundings and routines while on vacation play havoc with Matt’s writing process. Top shelf analogies come flying thick and fast including the restaurant reservation one, the swanky gym on the opposite side of town one and the behind bulletproof plexiglass one.

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Channeling his very finest Star Wars ‘Jawa’ chic, dress-up Matt posted this photo of himself early in the year. It’s mysterious, quirky and ‘awkward-author-ish’ enough to easily earn my Pic of the Year Award.

11.   It’s Still There (August)

Matt liken’s the feeling of getting back to work on writing the novel he hasn’t touched in a while to turning on a cobweb-covered tap around back of an old abandoned farmhouse and finding, to one’s relief, twisting the faucet still produces cool, fresh water.

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12.   It’s Begins (Again) (August)

Eight years in the job allows Matt to reflect that teaching is an occupation with a built-in automatic renewal system called ‘Summer Break’ that allows employees to annually ‘degunk’ themselves.

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13.   Just One More Page (August)

Our doyen of the priceless quip acknowledges some books are more sleep-inducing than others before going on to concede Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME (1988), though intellectually stimulating in the extreme, is, excitement-wise,  definitely no edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckle thriller.

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14.   Kids with Guns (March)

Eight year old with a toy gun on the loose in a public playground. “BANG BANG YOU’RE DEAD.” Scarey. Not Funny. Real.

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15. Things not to Say to an Atheist (January)

Continuing to mine the more serious vein of ACCIDENTALLY INSPIRED, this post impressed for its sheer degree of restraint in the face of one-eyed religious zealousy. Matt receives an intelligence-accosting comment on his post from a god-fearing church-goer who claims to pity him for his lack of bible-centred faith. Logic and a cool head win over flapdoodle every time. Praise be the Pav!

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16. The Spell is Broken (March)

Pav slaps his own wrist for overusing the phrase – ‘The Spell is Broken’ in his novel. Bad Pav will need twelve umbrella drinks and a good lie down to get over his own chastisement.

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17. Caveat Pre-Emptor (Or, Why it’s Okay to Brag a Little) (February)

Never one to toot his own horn, Pavman does the hard stuff, invents a way to claim significance for just about anything and cites one of his literary heroes Douglas Adams in the process. And as a finale worth reading to the end for, unceremoniously boos off stage so they never want to come back disclaimers, self-sabotage, false modesty and the pimple-faced rat that is the wholly wretched practice of knocking yourself down before you’ve properly gotten up. Empowerment came gift wrapped and placed neatly outside our doors in this grand post.

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18.  It’s Like This (November)

A spot on a favourite jacket. A conspicuous spot on a favourite jacket. Into the corner it goes. Fhthump!

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19. An American’s Guide to Canadian Food (May)

Fresh back from a vacation in Canada, self-confessed non-foodie Pav concludes the stuff to eat there is weird. Beware: this post comes with a harrowing account of what ‘Dulce’ is.

REMEMBER IT HERE

20. The Trooth Fairy (September)

Reading this post was like pulling teeth. A LOT like pulling teeth. Includes the completely glamorous use of the word ‘unmoored’. Because he can.

REMEMBER IT HERE

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The Pill Problem


So.

It’s been a little while, no?

And I see that, in my sabbatical, WordPress has gone and added some fancy new features to its editor. But I’m not here to mess with that, yet. And I’m also not here to kvetch about my time away. I’m just going to point out the current quandary, which is this:

Pills are a problem.

I want to disclaim, first of all, that I can’t officially speak as a member of a “community” or anything like that. I wouldn’t feel right doing so. I don’t have a diagnosis, I’m not in treatment. What I have is a touch of something like depression or anxiety or ennui or just a particular flavor of something like a mid-life crisis. But I don’t think I have capital-D Depression. That being said, I did go and see a doctor. And that doctor gave me pills.

And, I have mixed feelings about pills, because I’m a skeptic about a lot of things, and a cynic about even more things. On the one hand, here in America at least, I know we over-hype the focus on pills. There’s a pill for everything, and then there are pills for the side effects of the first pills, and then there are pills to level you out from the side effects of those pills. Something like 50% of the population is on some sort of medication all the time, which seems bonkers to me. We can’t possibly be that broken. So when the doctor reached for her prescription pad, I felt a certain resignation. I don’t want to be broken.

On the other hand, I also know that full-on, capital-D Depression is a real thing caused by real chemical imbalances and the way to correct chemical imbalances, in many cases, is simply to medicate. So: cynical about our society’s obsession with pills, and not happy to become part of that subset, but also willing to trust the doctor and attempt a chemical solution to what could be a chemical problem.

TL;DR, I started taking Lexapro, and have been on it for basically the length of my unintended hiatus, which is at — what — something like a month now? Maybe a little longer.

And here’s the headline. I feel better! Since I’ve been on the meds, I’ve had not a single “can barely force myself out of bed in the morning” morning,  zero “inexplicably breaking into tears when asked what’s wrong” moments, and a significant decrease in the sense of general existential dread (though I imagine I’ll never get rid of all of that because a) I’m still a self-doubting writer and b) just look at the world). Life, in short, looks brighter than it did, for whatever reason, a few months ago. In fact, things seem to have turned on a dime once I owned up and admitted that something was wrong, opened up about it a little bit, and sought out some treatment. I daresay that, today, and for the past week or two, I’ve felt darn near normal.

But here’s the thing: the medication is supposed to take time before it takes effect. Again, I’m hardly expert in such things, but I was told to expect as much as 4-6 weeks before I should expect to see results. But I was feeling quantifiably better the very next day after taking my first pill. Of course, I’m a good skeptic. The simple act of taking action may have been enough to create a placebo effect; moving towards a solution may itself have been the first part of a needed solution. But now I’m a month in, and wondering whether it’s the pills that have me feeling better, or just the fact that I got it off my chest and have managed to relax a little somehow. Or some combination of the two.

Or, who knows? Maybe my funk was just a passing funk that was never going to affect me for longer than a month or so in the first place.

The end result is, now I’m on medication and feeling mostly fine again, which has me thinking maybe I don’t need the medication anymore. Of course, going off the medication could screw up my biology regardless of any underlying issues I might be having. So I both desperately want to not be on medication any more at all because I think I may not actually need it, and desperately want to keep taking it lest I relapse.

This is the pill problem.

And it’s unfortunately a problem without a visible solution in the short term. Because as much as I want to not be on the meds, I’m not enough of an egomaniac to think that I’ll be the exception, and be just fine if I go off the stuff.

I’ll keep popping my little pill at 9 pm, even though I feel a little silly for doing so. Because I’m supposed to. And because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t.


Normality Will Resume


Things I didn’t write about in the past several weeks:

Our vacation. Which was lovely, really, just what the doctor ordered, and not a moment too soon. Lots of ocean, lots of beaches, lots of pools, and hardly any sunburn. What more could you ask?

My daughter’s horrible Mondays. She can be a delight, she really can, but of late, every Monday is a nightmare. It’s like the weekend causes her to forget entirely the concept of school and that it’s a thing she has to do, so when we’re getting her ready to go on a Monday morning it’s like explaining death to her again and again and again. (We haven’t yet had to explain death to either of our children, but I’m sure it will not be fun.) Inconsolable.

Book Reviews. I’ve read some doozies. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins — practically an atheist bible. Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss — a treatise on negotiation from the boardroom to your child’s bedroom. Fascinating stuff that I’ve already used in my work life. How I Killed Pluto (and why it had it coming) by Mike Brown — a surprisingly whimsical look at planetary astronomy and the practical realities of language. Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk — one of my top five movies, but a book I had not, until recently, read. I had heard that the movie was vastly different from the book, but that wasn’t my experience; in fact, I’ll go as far as to say this is one of those rare cases where the movie may in fact be better than the book. And the last chapter was just bizarre. And most recently, Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig — more on this later, as I actually do plan to write about that one.

My car, and how it’s slowly turning back into a pumpkin.

My novel, which — was I even working on a novel? I’d forgotten.

The weather, which is finally turning. My favorite season is upon me, and it seems I can hardly enjoy it.

Running, which is as good (and as good to me) as ever, but I can’t seem to make myself want to do it.

Podcasts, and how I can’t stop listening to them. (The new season of Serial is in progress, and it’s gold. The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is always required listening and remains a source of inspiration and curiosity. Revisionist History always surprises me by forcing me to take a fierce interest in the strangest topics for the duration of the episode. And, ’bout freakin’ time, a new season of Limetown is coming down the pike.)

Our cat, and how he stalks me through the house every morning like he thinks I’m about to drop a bucket of treats on his head, even though I hate him the most at these times and would never present him with a single treat, let alone a bucket.

Work, and how it’s simultaneously very fulfilling and more stressful than ever.

And, I dunno, dozens of other topics, at least.

These are all things which it occurred to me to write about, which I thought I ought to write about, which I even wanted to write about. But which I did not write about.

At all. Not here, not on paper, not in my head. I didn’t write the first word about any of these things. What I did instead was stew, and hide, and think about other things, and, in some less dignified moments, panic. Because for all the bootstrapping and “just do it”ing I tend to advocate, I just haven’t been able to make myself do it. Like there’s a missed connection in my head, faulty wiring that — when the switch is thrown — fails to respond. And it’s not a catastrophic, movie-style failure with smoke and explosions and collapsing infrastructure; no, it’s just a quiet, dead click. Static on the airwaves. Snow on the screen.

Most frustrating is that I don’t know what to make of it, because — while this sensation has struck me before — usually I get this for a day or so at a time. But I’m going on several weeks, now, of this wrongness, this ennui, this feeling of inadequacy and dread. My wife keeps asking me what’s wrong, which troubles me as much as the feeling itself. I’m the tough one, the resilient one, the one who never needs help. But here I am, dragging myself through my days, plagued with a silent refrain of “not good enough” in my head.

I always end these posts with a chipper “normality will resume.” And I’m hoping that’s the case.

This can’t be the new normal.


A Buffet on Cheat Day


I used to steer away from nonfiction books the way you steer away from cliffs or angry moose. What, read something that isn’t about story? Something from which I can’t learn about character and plot and structure and all things writerly? Nonsense. I only have so many hours in the day; that’s time wasted.

And, well, I used to be a lot dumber than I am these days, too. (Which is not, by the way, to say that I am not currently dumb. I am currently very dumb about a great many things. But not, I think, as dumb as I used to be.)

Because if fiction books are good (we hope!) for learning about all those things in that top paragraph — awesome, deep characters, twistedly perfect plots, etc — nonfiction books are infinitely better for learning what your stories are really about. The world we live in. The private worlds that exist inside our heads. The nuts and bolts of reality. The often harrowing stranger-than-fiction stories that have really happened to real people.

I can’t believe I used to turn my nose up. Thanks to my re-discovery of the stunning awesomeness of libraries, I’m diving into nonfiction with a passion.

But the time! I hear my former (and current) self crying. Reading a book is such a significant investment of time and mental energy — how do you pick?

Well, here’s another secret I’ve learned about nonfiction: you don’t have to read the entire book. (This goes for fiction, too, but the sense of commitment to characters is a lot harder to overcome.) In fact, it’s a rare nonfiction book that I’ll read cover-to-cover, unless the writing is just dynamite (in which case there are things to learn there outside the subject matter of the book itself).

I treat my nonfiction books like a buffet on cheat day. Sure, the salad bar is there. And I’m welcome to fill up a plate with the leafy greens of statistics and deep technical jargon of astronomy or sociology or the mechanics of religious faiths. But what I really want are the slabs of steak and greasy chicken with piles of mashed potatoes and everything that’s fried: the raw, personal anecdotes and shocking first-person accounts and fascinating glimpses into the invisible.

So when I pick up nonfiction, the first thing I do is scan the chapters like I’m scoping out the buffet on the way to a table. Ooh, I definitely have to have some of that. Maybe a nibble from over there. Not going anywhere near those. And I’ve got to save room for dessert.

Not only does this make reading nonfiction — which has a bad rap for being a bit dry and tasteless — more fun and mentally engaging, but it paradoxically encourages me to read even more widely on things I might not have bothered with. I know I’m not making a week-long commitment before I even crack the cover; I know I can put the book down and move on to something else if it isn’t moving me.

All of which leads me back to one of my personal axioms not just as a writer, but as a teacher and a human as well:

All reading is good reading.

At best, you’re learning new things and improving yourself in the process. At worst, you’re learning what not to do and what to avoid. Win-win, baby.

Pass the mashed potatoes.

(Actually, don’t. Tomorrow is cheat day — I’ll just take them in a doggy bag.)


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