Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

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What I Did on Summer Vacation

September 3, 2012

I’ve been on a hiatus, obviously.

I’m still crossing my Rubicon.  I’ve just been writing other things lately.

I was informally commissioned last year to compose a Mass for my parish.  If you’re not Catholic (i.e. headed for hell) “composing a Mass” means that I set some of the weekly Mass prayers to music.  Theoretically, that music coordinates together as a suite.

I enjoy composing music—creating new melodies and playing them with ad libbed accompaniment for myself.  I’ll play in a stream of consciousness, or toy around with melodies or harmonies I’ve already written.  Adding constraints to the process—existing lyrics that must be incorporated or limits on singable ranges—somehow paradoxically makes the process easier for me.  An English writing analogy might be limiting a post to one hundred words, or writing a short story without using the letter “T.”  I’m more engaged when solving a complex problem than I am writing with no constraints at all.

Notating music, on the other hand, is a royal pain in the patooty.  I’m glad I was writing Rubicon before I started notating my Mass.  Blog posting has made me practice editing, adjusting layouts and polishing my output for public consumption.  In writing, the author strives to lead the reader to an idea through words, punctuation and paragraphs.  In music notation, the composer attempts to recreate his performance through another performer by handing him or her a sheet of paper.  Music notation, for me, has a lot more room for error than just writing words.  As an amateur hack musician, I don’t know exactly what I’ve written until I play it.  And I often don’t play what I’ve written, I play what’s in my head.

So I’ve been writing, rewriting, printing drafts and red-lining all summer long.  The project is almost complete.  My blog photographer Michelle Codarmaz-Booth created a fantastic cover for me.  When the Mass is finished, I plan to offer it for free online.  I’ve tried sending music to publishers before.  My submissions had no result, other than pummeling my frail ego. Like most industries—writing, art, engineering, etc.—music publishing is not about talent or ability. It’s about who you know and nearly limitless perseverance.

When the Mass is finished, I’m still going to be busy in musician mode. I’m playing for a cousin’s wedding in October.  I generally play weddings for our family.  I’m very opinionated about it.  But that’s another blog post.  After that I have yet another mixed media project that will limit my blogging output.

So, although I’m not producing many blog posts, I should have some nearly tangible alternatives to show you soon.

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More Hope Than We Can Handle

April 7, 2012

Monsignor Francis Tuohy was the Pastor of Christ the King Church in Indianapolis from 1995 to 2004.  Father Tuohy was an inspired writer and continues to be an inspiration to me.

At the Easter Vigil Mass in 2003, Father Tuohy’s homily made me want to stand up and cheer.  But he moved quickly into the sacrament of baptism for new members of the church and I lost the moment.  I requested a copy of the homily.  I reread it every once in a while and think of it almost every Easter.  When I started writing Rubicon, this was one of the first things I wanted to share.  I’ve finally posted it below.

The monsignor’s homilies were intended to be spoken.  He had a commanding voice, strangely nasal when he spoke loudly, but soothing like a double bass when he softened it to make his most important points.  I’ve made a few adjustments in the text for readability on the page.  I hope you enjoy it.  Happy Easter.

Easter – 2003

by Monsignor Francis Tuohy

Easter and the gospel account of Jesus rising from the dead always begins in darkness.  This is always how our discovery of the risen Christ begins—in darkness.

While it is still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of the Jesus who healed her, who taught her, who accorded her respect and love when no one else did and which she never thought she was worthy of.  With his death, her hope died.  Our discovery of the risen Christ begins in darkness.

Just imagine, earlier this week, a single mom looses her job because of the brutal economy.  She cleans out her desk and packs away her hope and walks into darkness wondering what she will tell her kids.

Just imagine, earlier this week, a spouse receives devastating news from the physician about a life-threatening cancer forming in his beloved; darkness surrounds them.

Just imagine, earlier this week, someone heard the words, “I want a divorce; I no longer love you, maybe I have never loved you.”  That one’s life is plunged into darkness.

Earlier this week, someone’s hope was crucified and that person’s darkness overwhelmed them.  And they cried out with Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

No one is ready to greet Easter until he or she has spent time in the early morning darkness where hope cannot be seen.  In such darkness, Easter is the last thing we are expecting.  That is why Easter terrifies us.

We dread the darkness but we fear even more what is beyond it.  Sometimes the darkness we know is preferable to the darkness we do not know—we may have learned at least to function and exist in the darkness; we find a distorted solace in the fact that darkness means nothing more can disappoint or hurt us.

In our darkness, we are not ready for Easter’s dawn, Easter’s first light.  It illuminates those dark places we have become used to; it focuses our vision and attention on what we have never seen before; it dares us to imagine possibilities beyond our limited understanding of what is possible.

Easter is not about bunnies, eggs and candy, springtime and little girls’ pretty dresses.  Easter is about more hope than we can handle.

Easter calls us out of the darkness that shrouds our lives.  Easter calls us out of the darkness into the light of possibility, of healing, of re-creation.  In his rising from the dead, Christ enables us to bring into our own lives all that he taught and lived throughout his life—the love, compassion, generosity, humility, selflessness that ultimately triumphs over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.

The empty tomb is the sign of perfect hope—that in Christ all things are possible, that we can make of our lives what we want them to be, that we can become the people God created us to become.  May we live not in fear of Easter morning’s first light but embrace that light and the hope it promises in the Risen One who is forever in our midst, dispelling the darkness.

In raising His Son from the dead, God raises us up as well, above and beyond the fears, the cynicism, the dark hopelessness that prevent us from living the life that God created us to live.  We must believe in the depths of our hearts that we are always forgiven our sins and mistakes and be willing to start over again and again.  We must embrace the hope of Easter’s empty tomb, and live our lives in the joy and faith that the Easter miracle will one day be realized in our lives as well.

Hope is stronger than memory.  Salvation is stronger than sin.  Forgiveness is stronger than bitterness.  Light is stronger than darkness.  Resurrection is stronger than crucifixion.  Life is stronger than death.  Those are the contrasts that capture the message of Easter.  Hope, salvation, forgiveness, light and life burst from the tomb as Christ is raised.  The resurrection is for us.  The good news is that Christ is raised.

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Christmas Eve Traditions

December 24, 2011

It’s 6:00 PM Christmas Eve and I’m writing.  This is a strange combination for me.

When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was always with my mom’s family.  My grandmother hosted.  We didn’t have elaborate or formal meals.  We had barbecue or ham sandwiches, potato chips and cookies.  But most importantly, we had peanut butter fudge.  Every Christmas Eve, I can eat or drink any number of wonderful things; I still have a craving for peanut butter fudge.

After my mom’s parents passed away, only five of us were left to get together.  For a few years, I directed an ad hoc Christmas Eve choir at our church for the 7:30 Mass.  My mom’s family joined the choir, so we were all still together.  We had dinner after Mass and a couple of us went back to church to sing with the regular choir at midnight.

Organizing a choir in four rehearsals during December, if you haven’t tried it, is a highly stressful activity to add to the holidays.  So I handed the reigns to someone else.  It was suggested that, since I “didn’t have anything to do,” I could host Christmas Eve dinner between Masses.  That’s what I did the last two years.  I liked hosting dinner.  It created crazy chaos in my life, but if things fell completely apart in the kitchen, I always had frozen pizza to fall back on.

This year, someone else in both the 7:30 and midnight choirs asked to host dinner tonight; she recently remodeled her kitchen.  I’ve found myself with most of the evening free.

So it’s a little strange.  But fortuitous.  I’ve had a cold the last couple of days.  My house is only half decorated because the clients at work have gone completely mental.  I have one tree up in the family room and a bare artificial evergreen standing in my living room.  (Another hint to mothers out there: if your unmarried son puts up two Christmas trees, he’s probably gay.)

I’ve kept up some traditions.  I did get all my presents purchased and wrapped.  I practiced music to play at church and at gatherings tomorrow.  I sent cards.  (Christmas cards are about the only personal correspondence that ever comes through the mail any more.  I love them.)  I even put up my front door garland in the midst of editing this.

And today I dragged my tired, sick self into the kitchen.  After a thorough disinfection, I read off the instructions from a jar of marshmallow fluff, boiled sugar and butter, threw in peanut butter chips and poured the molten goodness over chocolate chips in a pan.

I may not have a voice to sing my Christmas carols.  My house may be half-decked with evergreen and holly until New Year’s.  I may not be able to stay awake all through midnight Mass.  But come hell or high reindeer, I’m going to have peanut butter fudge on Christmas Eve.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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Blogging Out

October 4, 2011

A week ago I was ready to take a hiatus from blogging.  I’m being pulled in other creative directions lately.  I felt I wouldn’t be able to devote the time needed to polish up blog posts.

As soon as I made this resolution to myself, a dam broke in my mind.  Four ideas for blog posts came rushing in.  (Posts of the real kind, not the ones where I’m making knuckle-headed comments about popular culture in hopes of drawing web traffic.)

So you’re stuck with me a while longer.

While I’m stopped though, here are a few random tidbits:

  • I’ve preferred not to talk about my writing process on Rubicon.  As a result, I very rarely tag my posts with the word “writing,” since they’re not really about writing; they just are writing.  Here’s the funny part: when I want to find something new to read on WordPress, one of the few tags I regularly click on is “writing.”  That’s bizarre.
  • Rubicon doesn’t get a lot of web traffic, which is my own fault.  I’ve not handed out my blog address to everyone I know.  I don’t post links on my Facebook wall.  Instead, I’m practicing marketing by osmosis.  I approach most things in life similarly.  I presume that if I do good work, people will recognize that.  For anyone else trying to expand your blog traffic, I want to let you know: my approach does not work particularly well.
  • I have been plugging away at my novel.  I’ve not finished Chapter 7 because I stopped to write an outline, which was more difficult than I imagined.
  • The search terms that land visitors on this site can be amusing.  My favorite search string so far has been “They bring smooth comforts false – rubicon.”  I have no idea what this means.  But I suppose that which brings web traffic shouldn’t be questioned, true?
  • My most popular search terms?  Variations of “Box 5 at the Opéra Palais Garnier in Paris.”  I only made a passing comment about it last year.  Perhaps I should elaborate.
  • A few weeks ago, Michelle, her camera and I made another romp through Indianapolis in search of bridges.  I forgot my sunglasses and hat this time.  Nonetheless, we came back with 933 new pictures that I can play around with for the next year.  I’ve revamped my “About” page and posted a new avatar image there.
  • I still hate the word “blog.”  Yuck.
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Another Run at Happiness

June 21, 2011

I started writing because I liked to do it.  I started writing because I had a lot on my mind and needed an outlet.  I started writing because I had a story I was passionate about telling.

But I got sidetracked.  I wouldn’t let writing just be a hobby.  This is a typical pattern in my life.

Step 1:  I find some hobby or craft that I like to do.

Step 2:  I show my handiwork to others.  They say something mildly encouraging, such as, “Your punctuation is interesting!”

Step 3:  I decide that I should make my new hobby into my new career.  (I have an inordinate loathing for my job even though it is only moderately demanding and reasonably compensated.)

Step 4:  I outline a large-scale master plan to get published.  I start a blog, attend writing workshops, try to get a short story published, and start another novel that seems more marketable than the one I wanted to write.

Step 5:  I set what I believe is a reasonable schedule for all of this work.  But subconsciously, I think that if I work continuously, I will be an overnight success.

Step 6:  I begin to ignore my regular chores.  Oil changes, gutter cleaning, flower-bed weeding, and recyclables recycling all get put on hold.  This is not because I’m so obsessed about accomplishing my goal.  It is because I believe that I will become instantly successful and I will be able to hire an assistant to change the oil, clean the gutters, weed the flower-beds and recycle the recyclables.

Step 7:  I become frustrated because I fail to achieve Rowling-esque fame and fortune.  Meanwhile my car engine is banging, my gutters are overflowing, my lawn looks like Jurassic Park, and my recyclables are putrid.  Clearly, this is all because I am incompetent to function as a normal adult.

Step 8:  I slide into self-justifying depression.  I sit in the dark, watching the DVD player flash an unexplained light at me.  I wonder what wrong turn landed me in such utter ruin. (Certainly an overdue oil change and overflowing gutters mark the low-point of human existence, I reason to myself.)

Step 9:  I calculate the height of various overpasses and estimate the likelihood of death if one were to take a swan dive from the top.

Step 10:  Recognizing the situation as quite dire, I consider seeing a shrink.  But we would likely clash over the applicability of Descartes or Hume to my present situation, so I pass on that idea.

Around this time, I realize that I’ve created this situation myself through unrealistic expectations.  It dawns on me that I can’t wait to be happy until after I’ve achieved all my goals; I should enjoy the process.  One can’t put off being happy until after one has read the book; it’s the reading that’s supposed to be enjoyable.

So, notwithstanding the tantrums that Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins would throw at me, I’m making another run at happiness.  I promise to remember all the things I habitually forget: that I need to be around people, that I need to do some things just for fun, that I should not attach my self-worth to ill-defined success.

Maybe I should write a self-help book for overachievers.  I could call it Sedating the Wunderkind.  I’m sure I could write it in about three weeks.  There’s a motivational speakers conference in August I should attend.  I’ll schedule the radio interviews for September.  I’ll be in the New York Times before Thanksgiving.

And then I’ll be happy.

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Thrice Upon a Time

June 5, 2011

MAYBE—in some parallel lifetime—Craig Stevenson went to school to be a musician.  He thought he would be the next John Williams, composing film scores.  He wrote music for lots of classmates’ projects at the Conservatory—classmates who became advertisers and TV directors.

His friends supported him in coming out during college.  He had a string of singer/musician boyfriends.  Craig felt inferior to them.  They sometimes followed his lead and jokingly berated his talent.  Inside he thought they meant it.

He agonized over every note of music he wrote.  But he never defended his work when anyone had different ideas.  He thought he was being collaborative; he was just being weak.

He was no good at marketing himself.  After failing to get several musicals produced, he ended up a studio musician in LA.  Music became just a job.  He tried to get back in contact with old Conservatory friends.  He was frustrated that none of them returned his phone calls.

Ten years later, he looked at the scores of his musicals again.  He threw them away.

Now he’s started taking night courses in accounting.  He’s seeing a banker.  They jog along the Venice Beach boardwalk together in the morning.

OR MAYBE Craig became an advertiser.  He dated several sweet-talking boys in college who always seemed to want his help on projects.  Along the way he developed a taste for alcohol and drugs.

He graduated with a killer portfolio and went to work in Chicago.  He was soon a star employee and was secretly dating his boss.

But he was an introvert constantly pushing himself into an extroverted work life.  He tried to ditch the drugs after college, but he thought he would go insane without them.  He was miserably alone at all the parties unless he was hopped up enough to talk to whoever was beside him.  His boss referred to him as “the man behind the curtain” to clients—Craig thought is was a backhanded way of saying he was unattractive.  Eventually, the addictions started affecting his work.  His boss dumped him both personally and professionally.

He had nothing in the bank and credit card companies hounded him.  After some friends made him go to rehab, he couldn’t sleep at night.  He thought the police would break into his apartment southeast of Chicago and arrest him—just for being a failure.  He wondered what financial security would feel like.

Now he works two retail jobs and is barely getting by.  He wants to ask out his therapist, but he hasn’t even said he’s gay yet.

OR MAYBE Craig went to interior design school.  He traveled to Paris to study, living in a cheap one room flat for a year with three other students.

After graduating, nobody was hiring in New York.  He started his own design firm, first in Princeton, then Fort Lauderdale, finally landing in Toronto.  He became personal and professional partners with a guy who obsessively sewed every night until 2:00 AM.  They weren’t well to do, but did well enough.  They were happy.

Craig visited a friend and stopped to envy her studio piano.  He sat down for a moment and brushed his fingers over the keys.  He was surprised to sniff back a tear.  He didn’t remember how to play.

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Overruled

May 27, 2011

I’ve written lots of first drafts for blog entries this year.  First drafts don’t really count, I suppose.

Subconsciously, I’ve developed a cumbersome set of rules for what I should and shouldn’t be saying on the blog.  The list is getting lengthy.  I’ve been telling myself that posts:

  • shouldn’t be too short.
  • shouldn’t be too long.
  • must be written well.
  • must have a point.
  • must be funny.
  • shouldn’t be frivolous.
  • should be profound.
  • cannot be depressing.
  • must appeal to any random web surfer.
  • should be personal.
  • shouldn’t be all about me.
  • et cetera

Needless to say, I’ve ruled myself out of blogging a lot lately.

So, throwing caution to the wind, this is my post for today:  It was another overcast day in Indy.  Half the world will be dropping by this weekend to watch cars drive fast and turn left.  The 500 in Indy is something akin to Christmas.  The town shuts down, your whole family descends on you and everybody eats fried chicken.  (I suppose the last part isn’t Christmasy.)  But by next Tuesday, only the people who have won their office pool will be able to remember the winner of the race.

Have a great holiday.