“I sketch the best when the conditions are just a little uncomfortable.” Salvador Dali
I saw this picture and quote a few days ago and liked it but noticed that it really stuck with me. We strive for comfort and security - it's natural, but regardless, life is constantly throwing us curveballs and making things challenging. Perhaps the best approach is not to fight it but to use it. Mr D reckons so. In fact, it appears, he seeks out the uncomfortable. Myself, I am not going to do that - cause I get plenty for free all the time (discomfort - physical and mental), so I will continue to savour any down time (sleeping, napping, escaping in a book, with a song or walking on the beach) but seeing this picture and quote have changed my mind about the uncomfortable times. Rather than curse them, I am going to use them. Let's see if it works!
I am not one to give advice
Cause what do I know?
By many measures of success
I’ve got little to show
On top of that I am not that happy
With how elusive happiness is
Every day is some kind of struggle
Convoluted ordeal or quiz
I would have it together by now
Life would fall into place
Proceed steady pace
With substance and grace
But it hasn’t
And it doesn’t
I’ve been betrayed
Too many times to mention
By colleagues and friends
There’s no prevention
Life throws shit at you
It stinks how dirty you have to get
So much so that it becomes familiar
You kind of get used to it
Maybe I am happy, really
Beyond my realistic and harsh assessment
Maybe I just don’t realise
The nature of the game to it’s full extent
And that actually I am winning
Just through the depth of my immersion
Full integration (often against my will)
Discontent (seems all downhill)
Maybe this is how it is supposed to feel
Life at it’s a best
Strife and affray
A crisis a day
Vice and discomfort
Plans in disarray
If that’s the case
Then I’m a champion
So heed what I have to say:
Just take it as it comes
Stumble from one mistake to the next
It’s a fucking weird game
But few options remain
So just take your next breath
And continue to play
Used to be a time when, if I was waiting for a plane to depart, I’d grab a coffee, pull out my iPad and immediately start writing a poem. I am at an airport now, Gold Coast, heading to Sydney and I am writing - but I am writing about how when I used to do be in this situation I would immediately, habitually start expressing myself lyrically. I am writing, in a self observational way, about how I have observed in myself a different energy and behaviour to usual.
How? What’s different? (A chorus of other in the Departure Lounge spontaneously chimes.)
To be honest, I think that for the moment at least, it appears my romanticism, my idealism, have waned slightly. I used to feel compelled to express my emotions through creative prose. That was kind of a barometer for me. Right now, I don’t feel that. It’s not that I feel bad or lacking, it’s just that the thoughts and feelings are not making their way to the front of my consciousness, requesting (or demanding) to be released, expressed.
(The chorus is silent now, uninterested in the bard’s introspective monologue. They return to their personal devices - tune back in to interior diatribes of their own.)
What I do feel is more of a calm. Less immediately compelled to visit the muse. It’s not that I don’t feel like being creative - it’s just that, I guess, I am not in the mood to do it with rhyme. Instead, I am writing this confessional (what a weird, loaded word!) - so still writing but in a more perfunctory manner. So, what am I confessing? Do I feel guilty for not sprucing poetry? Not really. But it is unusual. Although, if I consider where I am at in my life, it does make sense.
To explain: six days a week for over a year now, I have been spending four to six hours in the studios at SAE where I am studying electronic music production. So I have been awash in audio magic. Actually, not all magic. Quite a lot of process. Trial and error. Exploration. But what I am saying is that my focus - a new language has been found - and my new language has been sound, noise, melody, beats.
And, quite frankly, it has been surprisingly engrossing and rewarding. It began three years ago, when I discovered a new joy playing with Garageband on my iPad. I soon became addicted and committed to creating all kinds of crazy songs using loops and vocals recorded directly into my iPad in cafes, in my car, wherever. I made something like 140 songs over a year. They were pretty raw. Sometimes I would have beginners luck and smash out something kind of OK - I wasn’t even doing proper mixing, not even volume levels! - I relied more on concepts, lyric content and enthusiastic inventiveness to push things through. Naively, some might say delusionally, I went through the steps and brought out an album - releasing a proper CD with fancy cover, illustrated lyric sheet and even had a launch night at a local cafe (Rock & Roll Coffee Company, Mullumbimby). Sold like five copies! Actually, not like five: five. The thing is here: I did it. Completed the cycle.
Fate took care of the next step by calling to my attention an open day at SAE. Why not?, I thought. I always drive by, curious about the inside. Having traditionally been more of a film, images guy, I never really considered pursuing audio but when I turned up, I was curiously enthralled by the studios and got some good vibes. Tentatively, I signed up for a twice a week course in Ableton - electronic music production. Fortuitously, I was eligible for a scholarship that would cover 90% of the cost. Nothing to lose. Even then, when it came time to fully commit to commencing, I got the jitters. Did I really need to do this? As a big lover of routine and a commitment-phobe, I got very close to not going ahead. But something kept me in there.
A couple of times, after the first two classes, I felt out of my depth. I had no idea how to even make the most basic of drum beats, for heaven’s sake. All the others were experienced performers, most with active and dynamic SoundCloud pages, song releases, band experience.
So what kept me in?
One was the software itself. Ableton, despite seeming somewhat overwhelming at first is like a magic playground. Each new toy is like a puzzle to be worked out but once you have cracked the code and can use the new element it adds an exciting new layer to your production capabilities. And the best part? The possibilities are endless! The kid in me (never far from the surface) is continually delighted by the fun factor. Playing with sounds - making stuff up. It’s like sonic Lego. Phonic papier mache. Audio art class. Love, love, love. After getting over the first mountain of challenging newness and confusing complexity - which for me took about 3 or 4 months of solid application. (So worth it!)
The other thing factor in my sticking with and becoming an Ableton advocate was my teacher/mentor. For me, someone who never took easily to the teacher/student relationship, he was the ideal leader. He led by example. Chilled. No pressure. But always patient with us newbies, attentive to individual rhythms (figuratively and literally) and generous with his time and in sharing his amazing skills. I am certain his easy style and low key, natural encouragement helped me hang in there during the make or break early stages. And beyond. Like a flight instructor he got me to the stage where I could fly solo. And I am up in the sky as often as I can be. I salute the squad leader, ever grateful.
After I finished the Music Cert III, I signed up for the Diploma in Music Production. While there was still some Ableton in that one, it was more expansive - with some excellent music theory and studio technique stuff. Another teacher appeared who would adeptly educate and inspire me. A highly motivated, passionate Scotsman, also with a vast knowledge and lots of talent. I am still there and still learning. It’s awesome to be in an instructive and productive environment. Starting on ground level and making the slow ascent. Back to school at fifty seven. Who would have thought!
So, what am I really saying here?
(As much as I enjoy and advocate just going with the flow with writing - like I am doing here - I like, whenever possible, to consider what I am going on about and to share something that may be of value; a whisper of insight, a summation of substance of potentially applicable relevance to those in the chorus who may still be sticking around. In this case: thee.)
What I am saying is: taking on a whole new strain of creativity and starting right from the beginning has had it’s challenging moments but, at the same time, there is a wonderful freedom in coming in cold, being totally green, a beginner again. If I review my own path from the start, three years ago, to now - I have gone from being a curious novice with an interest and passion to now being someone with a pocketful of skills and some sauce sachets of knowledge who can - on his own - a build a decent tune from the ground up - from beats, to bass, to chords and melody to effects, levels, mix and mastering. I’ve gotten pretty good at something new. On a leap of faith, a bit of luck, providence, professional guidance and self belief. I recommend it. When life presents you with the opportunity to expand - take it. Or not. Sometimes it’s a waste of time. Luckily for me, this one was a good one.
Where it may lead, I cannot predict but for now, I am enjoying the ride. Less poem writing at airports but, hey, not a big price to pay.
You can listen to my recent audio creations here: www.soundcloud.com/lewiejpd
Will you find yourself in this place?
It still has all the potential that it always had
But have you the will to use it wisely?
Living on fumes
Humming new tunes
Not always immune
To reality’s brutality
Diverging in and out of illusion
With every new day a new mood at play
And a fresh set of circumstantial challenges
It’s the way the game is set up
Just the way life unfolds
Leaves you kind of crumpled
Like just now
You may have momentarily locked eyes
With the bearer of your dreams
But you looked down
Averted your gaze
Unlike the you of yore
No more chancing encounters
No more urgency at play
Too many bouts with breaking hearts
Unfulfilled hopes, left to die
But at the time it felt that way
And the face in the mirror
Less absorbing that’s for sure
Though you still don’t act your age
Most likely never will
Seems like a long time
Like a life
Seemed like forever
But now we’re nearing the crunch time
Rearing up on the reckoning
The dark abyss discreetly murmurs, beckoning
And, again, it begs the question
Will you find yourself in this place?
Before your course is curtailed
Or will you just quietly fade away?
Find yourself or fade away?
Could they be one and the same?
It’s funny, this place
You just never quite know
Where you stand
I'll be honest.
I thought it would get easier.
I thought my life would lead somewhere, I don't know - grander, more bountiful, more integrated, more rewarding.
I haven't given up. I still may get there. Things still may turn out how I envisaged.
I do have doubts, though.
But doubts are nothing new. Doubts are like flies, mosquitoes. Everyone gets bugged by them. And everyone hates them.
You try and flick them off, squash them if you can but still, you carry on with what you are doing.
My doubts I can deal with.
What I am attempting to come to terms with is the balance between being grateful for what I have and acknowledging my yearning for better things.
I accept myself as a person. I am comfortable in my skin. By no means has it been an easy entity to inhabit but I have endured and learnt to make the best of things.
Beneath my outwardly chilled demeanour there is a churning intensity. Much of my time and energy is spent attempting to channel it in positive ways, subdue it, make friends with it.
Over the decades I have struggled with anxiety and depression, addictions, weight fluctuations, close to the edge life-threatening experiences.
I share this because it is the truth and I feel no need to hide anything. I know that many, if not all, experience some, most, all or even more of these things. We usually just shut up about them and endure.
I feel lucky that I have found my way through to this point and can be open about it.
My storyline, in most respects, is not particularly unusual.
I can say that as someone who has always been sensitive, perhaps overly so, and hyper sentient (I can't turn it off), that were it not for the release and understanding, integration that has come from my various forms of creative expression - I would not have been able to endure.
So, I ask myself, still, and often: What is the point?
Is it just about surviving?
What is 'making it'?
When will satisfaction, peace finally come?
It's a rigged game.
The challenges, demands, the things that get you - they never stop coming.
Work out one thing and two more pop up.
There is no retirement from life. It's work, work, work until the last breath.
And we kind of fear death, at least prefer to stay alive - even if and when it feels like shit - because of the finality and incomprehensibility of death.
It lurks, taunts us sometimes. Even beckons on occasion.
But our instincts are strong. We must continue. We must carry on.
Looking back, it makes sense how I got here. If I look at the steps, factor in the choices, the circumstance, the paths taken, the random, the coincidental - it all makes sense in retrospect.
But when we are younger - when we are formulating our dreams, envisioning our futures - we cannot know what lies ahead. We construct our ideals from the concepts at our desposal at the time.
And then, over the years, things happen - maybe from our own doing, but also from pure chance, due to others, or just because they do.
We adapt, we carry on.
We thought we knew where we were going but there are so many unexpected twists and turns, dead ends and surprise peaks that must be scaled that we become a little flabbergasted, weary.
And all along, time slowly ticks away. Suddenly, years have passed, then decades. We are shocked to see in the mirror a reflection not of our hopeful, idealistic spirits but of weathered and battle scarred veterans. Any of us who are not suffering from or who have suffered some form of psyche PTSD is lucky and amongst the very few.
The world being in the state it is at the moment with the good people, the average population being hoodwinked and bullied by unscrupulous, selfish politicians and their greedy, morally vapid money and power accumulating cronies in big business doesn't help. We are oppressed, make no mistake about it. We are being twisted into submission through rules and laws and agendas set by the gang at the top calling all the shots, serving only themselves. There is still goodness and kindness but it is only to be found at ground level. The current set of people in power have little care for the well being of others. We're forced to struggle to survive on little or noting in a game rigged in favour of the elite.
So, the system is doing us no favours. We're becoming fragmented, frazzled, distracted. No easy paths to leading a simple, uncomplicated, pure lifestyle. And it's only going to get faster and thicker.
I have no answers. I just take each day as it comes, wade through the swirling, pungent swamp of uncomfortable demands and try to find a tree branch to hold onto or a tiny patch of shore to crawl on and lay down for a minute, to snatch a brief day dream of how I thought it might have turned out or how I wish it would, knowing that any minute a storm will hit, the marsh men will shake me from my slumber and move me along, a gator will appear... something, something not to my liking will poke or prod me, bite or scratch me and force me to unwillingly get back in to the pit and carry on with the struggle.
A little. But not far off how it feels more often that not these days. Is it just me? Or does it feel unduly tough being a human these days?
Like I said, and I'm being honest - not what I expected.
ART GETS ME HIGH
Author & Artist