Listen for the drums

Before I learned how to drum, all I heard was guitar and voices. I wasn’t listening for the drums as an instrument in any music I heard.

Once you start listening for new things in music, it opens up a whole world. This is something I love. I have recently tried to listen out for any horns sections in songs – there’s a surprising amount of horns out there!

Back to drums – as a backing instrument it rarely gets the credit it deserves. Consider this an effort at shining the light on two examples.

Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” has impeccable blues drumming. It kicks off the track and keeps it rock solid so that he can moan and growl on top. It’s so hard to drum slow and strong like this.

An easier one to hear: Ringo in the Beatles’ “Ticket to ride” adds syncopation and a lurching thump. This beat keeps an otherwise very average song up in the clouds.

Listen for the drums :).

They don’t teach you calendars at school

Or maybe it was just that I wasn’t listening – either way, I think this should change.

Who doesn’t know how to keep a calendar? This sounds ridiculous, but it has taken me about 10 years to understand how to use and trust my computer’s calendar. At school, timetables were dished out at the beginning of term, pinned up on walls and referred to by everyone else around me. I could always ask my parents, teachers, friends what was coming up and what was due. I could remember a lot (well, enough) of what was important without needing a reference. The net result is that I never developed the skills to keep my own time. I have never trusted my computer calendars until very recently.

When you start using a calendar though, they build upon themselves. The more you use them, the more dependent you are on them, and then the more you will trust and use them again. You are invested, and that makes the whole system work. In this way calendars are a great example for projects in general. If you want to get a project started, then just start. The mental buy-in is what matters. The same thing seems to apply to relationships, exercise, blogging, working a job, keeping healthy.

That is what no school ever taught me – the importance of mentally buying into a concept, and that you can train yourself to do it in order to get something done.

Seems to me, this mental trick in and of itself is one of the most useful things in the world.

Smugglers Edits no. 2

Following on from my editing of Sci-Fi cerative posts – this is number two in the series so far:

Marlon kept whooping and shouting and cheering as he turned his head straight up towards the sky. He was so excited each time he threw a card, all he could do was shout like a chimp. Up above, the clouds dissolved before his eyes. The storm of the century had been neutralised by the card, as if someone threw a bucket of water on a camp fire. Looking up Marlon saw clear skies and the sight of the heavens took the scream from his mouth. Completely silent, he fell. The smuggler saw a perfect night sky. Like thick, creamy velvet he felt he could almost scoop up the blackness in between the stars. Dark galactic ice cream, Marlon felt it would probably taste like liquorice.

The Milky Way stretched out and twinkled forever. There were shooting stars blazing all around, and far to the east the rainbow colours of a nebula cloud glistened against the black space. To the North, on the horizon a faint aurora pulsated.

Marlon kept his eyes on the skies for as long as he dared, a big smile stretched on his face. He knew that if he looked for too long after throwing a card, he risked going crazy, bewitched by the beauty. He had heard stories of men wasting away to skeletons, their skulls looking up to the sky, smiling even as they starved to death just to stare at the beauty above. With effort, he pulled his head down, wiped away the water from his face and turned his eyes back to where he had been searching during the storm, at the bottom of the Tor on the plains.

With the help of the starlight, Marlon could now see close to the horizon the place he was looking for. It was a slight rise in the plains, and at the base of the rise a small fire was burning. From the top of the Tor this was nothing more than a dot of light. It looked like another tiny star on the ground, except it was noticeably green in colour and flickering on the plains. Eyes straight ahead, Marlon blew a kiss to the velvet sky above and started his descent of Nea Tor. Shooting stars rained all around him but the night remained silent. Silent that is, except for the old rain water which squelched in his boots with every step.

Affirmations

This week I have had two very conflicting experiences on the net. One was a Twitter exchange which devolved rapidly into aggressive one-upmanship. That wasn’t fun and so I am off Twitter (again!) – I just don’t have the time to get good at Twitter.

Another was an invitation by a reader of my blog to answer some questions on music and audio. It was really enjoyable and I see it as a privilege to be asked to write about something I love so much. Rafael’s blog can be found here. I presume my questions and answers will show up soon enough.

On a more personal level, it is really satisfying to get an ad hoc request for writing about audio. That is exactly the sort of thing I want to do more of. So, two affirmations – one with regards to my poor Twitter skills. One encouraging my writing and my love of audio.

On reflection, this has been an excellent and productive week so far 🙂

Editing old work

I have been editing some old creative work. The Smugglers of Earth pieces I started a while back have some promise, but I rushed them and lost momentum. So here’s a bit of a restart, with more editing: 

The start of a beautiful thing is often something bleak.

Dominating the otherwise flat land of Colm Naiir was a tall hill called Nea Tor. It rose steeply from the plains like a whale breaching the surface of the sea. Nea Tor was so big some called it a mountain, but instead of snow it was capped by a massive slab of rock. In the sunshine the rock looked like a large limpet on the snout of the breaching whale. Now on the plains at night, in the storm of the century, the rock was invisible. Everywhere was howling wind, pouring water, driving rain, black and cold. It had been like this for the last four hours. Every few seconds a lightening bolt would light up the sky, revealing long sheets of rain pelting the Tor. If you had sharp eyes and you looked in just the right place on the rock when lightening struck, you might also have seen a tiny silhouette. A small dark figure standing at the very peak. A smuggler. 

Marlon’s jacket collar was folded up around his neck and face. The collar was so high that it was impossible to see his nose. A smuggler’s trench coat made of thick leather, the jacket was over five feet long hanging down his legs, with never ending pockets on the inside and tribal patterns punctured into the leather on the outside. In the dry it was incredibly warm but it was not waterproof without a spell, and Marlon had run out of spells before he started climbing the hill. All he had left in his pockets was a small pack of cards, which were soaked. 

Marlon’s dark brown eyes were trying to scan the landscape below him. The rain and wind pressed into his bones and plastered his hair across his face. From the limpet rock he would have had a view for many miles on a clear day, but with the storm of the century throwing buckets of water in his face, the task of finding what he was looking for was hopeless. He sighed and bowed his head. So. Much. Rain. His neck and his spine and his legs had a torrent of water flowing over them. Water ran from his head to his feet. Lightening cracked above his head making him dip down onto his knees. The wind was picking up strength and it now hurt his face to look up from his collar. 

Hunched on his knees he made up his mind and reached into his coat’s never ending smuggler’s pockets. He pulled a playing card out. Immediately, the card began to shine bright blue in his hands in the night. Marlon searched his memory for the correct words. He had learned them in the same place he had gotten his jacket. That was a while ago, but after some thought he found that he still remembered. “Stars, show your fire. Let light see my black and deep desires.” A single voice in a storm on top of a mountain. 

Immediately the card leapt from Marlon’s hands and flew like a bullet down the Tor. Marlon jumped to his feet and peered out into the rain to watch the card fly through the stormy night. Seeing the arc of its flight, the hairs on Marlon’s neck stood on end. He loved the cards most of all. 

As it neared the bottom of the hill the card turned smoothly and climbed straight upwards through the rain, leaving a trail of light in its wake. On a direct collision course with the clouds above, the storm roared and thundered anew. The card was completely unaffected by the tempest and held its course. It sped up, flying higher and higher aiming straight at the lightening and the thunder and the angry clouds. From the top of the hill it looked like a tiny missile heading towards an enormous alien mothership. This made Marlon scream as loud as he could, “Go you good thing! Go! Go! Go! Yeeehhaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” The card issued a deafening crack as it broke the sound barrier right before it hit the clouds. 

After that, all was silence. No more lightening, no more wind, no more rain. Only a single voice on top of the Tor. Marlon was still yelling with excitement.

Behavior vs. logic

Behavior trumps logic. If you want to pay off debt quickly, the maths says that it is best to attack the highest interest amount first, then work your way down to the next highest.

However, it turns out that debt payments are not a maths problem, they are a behavior problem. Therefore the opposite (attacking the smallest interest amount first, and then using the payments from that amount to pay off the next smallest etc) is the best way to change behavior and cancel debt.

Small manageable victories are always more sustainable than large sacrifices, even if they are not scientifically going to get you to your goal most efficiently.

You should blog or podcast

Why do you need to write a blog or to create a podcast? First off, it’s really easy to do. You just need a laptop and a mic. Second, because it lets you refine your ideas and thinking on whatever subject is at hand. And what better way to spend time than to clarify life?

Podcasting in many ways is easier than blogging, because talking is easier than writing. Conversations happen without the need to plan each word or sentence structure.

Neither of these activities will likely make you rich, so don’t do it for that reason.

Both of these activities will show you something about yourself and your ability to create and to stick with a discipline. Do it for that.