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Image from Pixabay“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”

Ray Bradbury

I have in anterior posts (of which this is but the most recent instance) attempted to shed some light on that most mysterious and wonderful process by which creative acts such as writing and composing are effected.

I say ‘attempted’ – of course – because beyond simply reporting anecdotally my own experiences I am no more able to explain the phenomenon than is anyone else. Should you doubt that any such examination is more than likely to fall short you might care to Google the phrase “How does the creative process work?“. You will discover – as did I – that the first page of results alone contains the following ‘definitive’ responses:

  • The four stages of creativity” – preparation, incubation, illumination, verification – (apparently!)
  • The five stages of the creative process” – preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration – (some crossover at least)
  • The creative process – six working phasesinspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation – (hmmm!)
  • The ten stages of the creative process” – the hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, just step away, the love sandwich(!), the premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, know when you’re done – (blimey! That’s…er… different!)

I stopped at this point for what are probably pretty obvious reasons.

And yet… and yet… None of these earnest theses comes close to elucidating an experience that I seem to encounter with increasing frequency – one in which I start out with a firm idea in my mind only to find that the act of creation takes on a life of its own and I end up with something almost entirely antithetical to that which I had originally intended. At the risk of boring the gentle reader I should like to share the latest such instance.

I am currently working on a couple of songs that are intended to complete a brief collection whose inspiration – or motivation, should you prefer – has been my recent exodus from the country of my birth. I had been making good progress on one such of these with the notion in the back of my head that it might turn out to be a gently whimsical look at the love of the island life – the which is of course shared both by many Brits and by those who live on Vancouver Island or in the Gulf Islands.

When it came time to concentrate on the lyric I turned – as is my habit – to the InterWebNet to pursue some lines of research of relevance to the subject. A busy day of chasing leads suggested that the following (amongst others) might be significant:

  • Shakespeare – ‘Richard II’,’The Tempest’
  • Tennyson – ‘Ulysses’
  • Rabbie Burns – ‘To a Louse’
  • Churchill – ‘The Island Race’

An article by Open University senior lecturer, Nigel Clark, entitled ‘An Island Race?‘ – chimed with my initial intention of focusing on the creative tension implicit in living on an island surrounded by the seas – the which afford both a powerful means of defence from attack but simultaneously the path by which such a nation might venture forth to explore (and mayhap  to ‘conquer’) the rest of the world.

It was another article, however – “Is England too Good for the English?“, by Oxford University’s Austen Saunders – that changed the tenor of my song. Saunders exploration of the illustrious ‘John of Gaunt’ speech from ‘Richard II’ majors on John’s view that the English – as a result of Richard’s politicking and fiscal mismanagement – are no longer worthy of the “other Eden” that is ‘England’ itself. It is impossible not to recognise an immense resonance between this somewhat melancholy conclusion and the state in which the United Kingdom finds itself today. The song that eventually emerged from my subconscious thus turned out to be a lament for this sorry state of affairs rather than the amiable whimsy that I had intended.

Should the gentle reader be one of those who does not view the current situation in which Great Britain – and in particular, England – finds itself to be as dire as I have described – then I wish you well.

I hope that you still feel the same way in five year’s time…

 

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Image by Alana Elliott on Wikimedia CommonsBefore I came to Canada in 2015 I was entirely unaware of Stuart McLean, or indeed of the much loved weekly CBC Radio show – The Vinyl Café – that he hosted for more than twenty years.

I am absolutely certain that the Kickass Canada Girl – who has long been numbered amongst the humourist and storyteller’s many fans – had for my benefit at some point extolled his virtues long before we crossed the pond for keeps, but I am a bear of advancing years (as well as very little brain) and there has been such a lot to learn (this is called “getting your excuses in early”!).

Once in Canada, of course, and having had the opportunity to experience the show ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak) I rapidly became a convert too. It was therefore deeply saddening to hear the news this week that Stuart had succumbed to the melanoma that he had been battling for more than a year.

I am way too much of a Vinyl Café neophyte to be able to indite anything remotely apposite at this point. I urge the gentle reader instead simply to ‘Google’ “Stuart McLean” and to peruse some of the many tributes to the man. This page of twitter reactions gives a good idea as to just how deeply loved he was.

For myself all I would say is that there was something about his writing and on-air manner that reminded me of how radio used to be when I was growing up in the UK, where my earliest exposure to the outside world came exclusively from the BBC’s ‘Home Service’ (later Radio 4). That’s pretty much as good as it gets in my book.

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Well, well – who knew! Though this particular anniversary has crept up on me entirely unawares, it turns out that I have been posting to this blog now for five years.

Golly! That calls for a small celebration…

Since the first entry on January 26th 2012 I have submitted five hundred and twenty eight posts (including this one) and uploaded one thousand, four hundred and thirty six images – the great majority of them my own.

A great deal has happened throughout this apparently fleeting five year period, and not just in our lives alone. Much has changed in the world and I feel particularly blessed that life has been generous and kind to me and to those that I love. I can only wish that all else in this sadly troubled world could be likewise blessed. Any little that I can do to help I will, and I feel sure that for so many others the same applies.

It is a slightly odd fact that I probably wouldn’t have noticed that this humble journal had passed such a significant milestone had I not been looking at a completely different statistic. Every now and then I cast an eye over the logs for the site to see who is looking at what, from where and how often. I know! It is a bad habit – not unlike ‘Googling’ oneself (don’t do it!)… but it is none the less fascinating. Apart from those brave souls who are regular readers the logs reveal that the greatest number of hits on the blog by far are the result of a Google search for the string:

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

This is – of course – the title of the seventh chapter of Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind in the Willows“, concerning the strange history of which I composed this post in May 2012.

It is also – also ‘of course’ – the title of Pink Floyd’s debut album, which was itself named after the aforementioned chapter from “The Wind in the Willows“.

Now – if one were to take the time to ‘Google’ “The Piper… etc” one would observe that the massive majority of references returned are to the Floyd album, leading one to the conclusion that that must be the true object of any such search. Further investigation (of the sort that only the zealot would pursue) reveals that to uncover any reference to this blog one must plough through seven pages of search results before so doing. This would suggest that the considerable number of souls who make this search are indeed themselves fairly zealous in their endeavours (or they would not bother!) but also clearly that when they finally land on the reference concerned – which is quite clearly not about the Pink Floyd album – they are still prepared to give it at least a cursory look.

I have no idea what to make of this, but I am of course most grateful for even the most casual of visitors.

Good fortune and blessings to all!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhen Bob Dylan set out in the latter part of 1965 on the American, Australia and European tour that would wind its way long into 1966 – having already that year shaken the American folk scene to its core with his first public amplified appearance at the Newport Folk Festival – he took on the road with him an electric band… the Hawks.

The Hawks – based in Arkansas – had been the backing outfit for rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins before striking out on their own in 1964. Following a recommendation from a friend they were hired by Dylan in 1965 to back him for the electric component of his upcoming world tour. The format of the shows comprised two parts – a solo acoustic set by Dylan followed by the more controversial amplified section.

For an outfit based in the deep south the Hawks had a strong Canadian component – at one point featuring four Canadians and one American. One of those Canadians – who had headed south on his own as a sixteen year old in 1959 to join the band – was Jaime Royal Robertson… better known now as Robbie Robertson.

The Hawks famously morphed into The Band. Robertson emerged as a major songwriter whose later history need hardly be catalogued here. Suffice it to say that the man who wrote “The night they drove old Dixie down” is a legend in his own right and I have recommended him before in these jottings with reference to his wonderful recording – Music for the Native Americans.

Robertson – now seventy three – has recently published a first volume of his autobiography – “Testimony” – and Victoria’s excellent Bolen Books invited him, somewhat speculatively, to come to the city for a reasonably rare public appearance. Roberston – never having visited Victoria – agreed and the ensuing event – at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium – drew a crowd in excess of a thousand souls, each of whom received a signed hardback copy of the book as part of the package.

Needless to say I would have crawled over broken glass to attend the event. Our coming to Canada – and coincident attainment of a certain venerable stage of life – seems to be offering us opportunities to reconnect with those who have become our heroes and exemplars over the years. Given the tragic number of such who have passed beyond these shores during this strangest of years this is clearly an important and necessary experience.

Robertson described the effect on a fresh-faced twenty three year old of having to endure – night after night over a period of some nine months across three continents – the fury of Dylan’s acolytes at their hero’s adoption of the electric guitar and the accompanying band. The start of the second set was routinely met with boos, heckles, the throwing of objects onto the stage and – infamously at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – the denunciation as ‘Judas‘ of the recent Nobel laureate.

If one can endure this sort of experience as a young man I guess one can endure just about anything.

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Image by David Bellot - Berkeley, CA, USAWell – who would have thought it?

It is to be hoped that the gentle reader might indulge me just a little if – with not the slightest intention of sounding my own shophar –  I express my astonishment at the relative longevity of this enterprise…

…by which I refer, of course, to this attractively eccentric almanac!

Yes – since I took my first faltering footsteps into the anarchic world of blogging on January 26th 2012 I have contrived to make additions to this agglomeration of arbitrary articles at roughly bi-weekly intervals. The end result of all of that tapping and scratching is (and I know that you have been keeping score!) that this is the five hundredth post since the imperceptibility of the immigrant was first imparted.

Very many humble thanks to all of those die-hards who have stuck with it.

I think a small celebration might be in order – and as that is something that is decidedly better done in the ‘real’ world rather than in the ‘virtual’, the Kickass Canada Girl and I will just have to do something appropriate here in BC! The reader may choose to take the opportunity to raise a glass for this (or indeed any other) reason at his or her own whim or fancy!

Cheers to all!

 

PS – Serious kudos to anyone who can glean the relevance to this post of the image thereto attached!

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imageIn the early days of these scribblings I ‘penned’ a piece on the mysteries of creativity. That I feel moved now to add something to that disquisition can only be seen as an indication of the continuing surprise and delight that the whole business affords me – as certainly must also be the case for anyone else who ventures into the realms of self-expression.

Thomas Edison famously declared that genius was “One percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration” (though other accounts give the figures as ‘ten’ and ‘ninety’ percent respectively. I don’t suppose that it really matters much either way – the point is made!). The same could certainly be said of practically all forms of creativity.

A prominent playwright – sadly I forget which – opined that the art of writing might more properly be called ‘re-writing’. His point being, of course, that writing a play (or anything else for that matter) not only comprises the two basic elements (the inspirational phase in which ideas and musings are recorded as quickly as possible as they occur to the author/composer, and – following a suitable period of reflection – an extensive process of editing) but also – in order that the the piece might be rendered ready for ‘public’ appraisal – it will inevitably have gone through a considerable number of re-writes before anyone else is allowed to see it.

Much of this process is – of course – ‘craft’, and relatively few are sufficiently competent at it to be able to make a living therefrom. Inspiration is something else and the mysteries thereof are still not readily understood – especially by me!

The story of Paul McCartney waking one morning with the score for ‘Yesterday’ fully formed in his head might be thought apocryphal, were it not that it is attested to by the great man himself. Anyone who has experienced anything remotely similar will identify with McCartney as he – believing at first that he must have heard the song elsewhere – quizzed friends and colleagues as to what it might be.

My own recent experience was considerably more prosaic.

A few posts back I referred to a brief wave of melancholy that passed over me during the first few days of March, brought on by recollections of my Mother whose birthday would have been around that time. I felt moved to compose a song in an appropriately thoughtful vein. My Mother had slipped into dementia in the last year of her life and I felt the need to try to capture something of that elegiac mood. Sitting at the keyboard I rapidly found an interesting harmonic progression around which I started to experiment. An image came to mind – of a bonfire on a dark night. The dying embers swirling up into the night sky before fading into the blackness seemed to offer a possible metaphor for a mind slowly floating apart and a personality fading away.

It was at this point – however – that the subconscious part of the imagination took over. The more I worked the theme the more it seemed determined to evolve into something else entirely. I ended up with something that sounded more celebratory than melancholy. There is only one thing to do in such circumstances – and that is to give the imagination its head. Within a couple of days I had recorded all of the components of what had turned out to be a rather uplifting piece. Further – the image of the fire in the darkness had remained but had itself evolved and become a beacon fire lit on a hilltop to celebrate the end of winter. The song had changed from a lament over something lost to a celebration of something gained – in this case my recent recognition of my significance here.

That such a creative act is possible – and in such a brief period of time (a song can take me months to complete!) – is to me a thing of wonder and amazement and I am massively grateful that such occurrences still take place. Those of a spiritual or metaphysical bent might muse that perhaps this was a gift to me from my Mother. Maybe so.

I am content simply to enjoy the mystery.

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Free image from PexelsThose familiar with my oeuvre may perhaps be accustomed to my occasion panegyrics in praise of one or other of the BBC’s splendid drama productions – ‘Parade’s End‘ back in 2012 for example – or the more recent ‘River‘ of last year. Should you be one such you may be wondering (if you have nothing considerably better to do with your time) why I have not likewise registered my approval of the wondrous adaptation of John Le Carré’s ‘The Night Manager‘ which approaches its culmination this Easter weekend on BBC1.

I has indeed been remiss of me not so to do.

It would be fair to say that the show is in need of no such puffery from me or – apparently – from anyone else. Viewing figures started high and went up from there. This is one of those occasions on which both the BBC and the viewing public get it splendidly right. This is one classy production – based on a typically strong Le Carré novel but given an update and polish that not only takes nothing away (something of a rarity in itself) but in fact adds quite considerably.

Money has clearly been spent on this Anglo/American co-production – and spent in a way that makes this viewer at any rate purr with pleasure. The writing is precise and spare, the direction and camerawork would not be out of place on the big screen and the acting is sublime.

There is no getting away from the fact that the English public school thespist ‘mafia’ – out here yet again in force in the shape of not one but two Old Etonians – currently appears to pretty much have the monopoly on the cream of the TV and film roles going. Many commentators see Tom Hiddleston’s expertly judged performance as the brooding hero Jonathan Pine as nothing less than a Bond audition. He is – however – given a serious run for his money by Hugh Laurie’s ‘worst man in the world’ – Richard Onslow Roper – from whom it is difficult to drag one’s gaze. Add the wonderful Tom Hollander and Olivia Coleman to the mix and one is blessed with a heady brew of a cast.

It can only be a sad indictment of the failure to invest adequately in the state secondary education sector in the UK – not to mention the ideological interference in the running thereof – that so many of the new breed of actors have as their backgrounds the rarefied atmosphere of the public (UK sense here) schools. Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Harry Lloyd, Rory Kinnear, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosamund Pike, Rebecca Hall, Emily Blunt… the list goes on. Of course these schools have wonderful facilities and can recruit teaching staff from the top drawer, but there is more to it than that. Whatever the reason, the top independent schools in the UK (as most likely in Canada and elsewhere also) ascribe an importance to the arts that is no longer the case in other parts of the ‘system’.

Flame off!

Anyway – though it may seem a little late to be recommending ‘The Night Manager‘ at this juncture do remember that it is an Anglo/American production that has to date been only seen in the UK. It will doubtless be appearing on a streaming service near you ere long.

Don’t miss it!

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As promised in my last post – herewith some images of how my studio/study has turned out. Needless to say – I am pretty dashed pleased with it.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe black things in the corners and on the side walls are bass traps, which I made from six inches of acoustic insulation covered with felt following one of many guides available on the InterWebNet. For those unfamiliar with such matters the idea is to try to produce a room that is as acoustically neutral as possible. No parts of the frequency spectrum should be exaggerated or diminished, reflections should be kept to a minimum and the layout of loudspeakers and listening position should be carefully calculated to avoid standing waves.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe little desk was already built in. I added the shelves.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidHaving lived for nearly two decades in apartments – however splendid they may have been – and thus having been restricted both in the amount of space available and the level of sound that could be produced without complaint, this is pretty much heaven! I have never before been in possession of a space large enough that I could dedicate it specifically to this end, and my gratitude that I finally am so knows no bounds.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe icing on the cake? This is what I see through the window from my desk!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt was, you may recall, my intention that I would convert the capacious outbuilding behind the house (used most recently by my predecessor here as a woodworking/carving shop) into what the Girl delights in describing as a ‘Man Cave’.

Should you happen to be unfamiliar with this particular sobriquet the InterWebNet is – as ever – most helpful. The Urban Dictionary defines the ‘Man Cave’ thus:

A room, space, corner or area of a dwelling that is specifically reserved for a male person to be in a solitary condition, away from the rest of the household in order to work, play, involve himself in certain hobbies, activities without interruption. This area is usually decorated by the male that uses it without interference from any female influence.

Well – that sounds good – though I’m not too sure about the ‘female influence’ part!

Should one care to investigate further one can find on the InterWebNet what is described as ‘The Official Man Cave Site‘ – under the tagline “Taking back the world one Man Cave at a time” – whatever that might mean! Yes – well… that’s quite enough of that!

Now – I have always prided myself on being something of a ‘reconstructed man’. I certainly fervently believe that the sexes are equal (and should be treated as such in every respect) – except when the (not so) occasional bonehead behaviours of some of my gender cause me to sigh deeply and to wonder if the female of the species is not – after all – perhaps more equal than the male. I therefore have to distance myself somewhat from all of this testosterone and to declare fervently that both sexes have equal need of spaces in which to practice their own essential rituals and creative acts.

Mine – as it turns out – will not after all be in that rather delicious looking outbuilding.

Once winter set in it became all too apparent that a space that large and disconnected from the house would rapidly run up a fairly hefty heating bill were it to be kept warm throughout the season. Further, the building’s origins as a glorified shed were betrayed by its not being as free from damp as both I and my musical instruments were prepared to tolerate. Reluctantly I decided I had to look elsewhere.

This downstairs room image(of which this picture came from the Realtor’s details) was listed as a bedroom. The Girl called it ‘the Sauna’ for obvious reasons. With a tiled floor, pine clad walls and a rather odd layout which included an exterior door, it was difficult to know quite what use might be made of it. A little head-scratching and contemplative stroking of the jaw – all the while gazing at the space through half-closed eyes – lead to a ‘light-bulb’ moment.

This might after all make the perfect studio/writing room…

In my next post I will show you how that turned out.

 

 

 

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Image from PixabayThis is the final epistle in a trilogy of posts concerning homesickness – particularly as it affected this recently retired immigrant (albeit an imperceptible one!) from the UK to the Pacific Northwest. The first two parts – should you wish to consult them – are easy to locate, but for those who prefer to follow links rather than navigation can be found here and here.

Though the end result may be pretty much the same, feelings of homesickness can come in many different guises. The ever helpful InterWebNet offers much useful guidance to aid the identification of the causes and thus assist reasonably rapid recovery. I found these discovered items – presented in no particular order – to be useful:

This article on gritandglamour.com – entitled ‘Getting over Homesickness‘ – draws attention to the parallels between homesickness and the grieving process.

“The brain on homesickness is much like the brain on grief—the stages and emotions are remarkably similar, and that makes sense. You are, after all, mourning the death of your former existence to a large degree.”

The article also contains a useful set of links to other related resources.

The importance of allowing oneself to grieve those things that have been lost is also the theme of an article entitled ‘One thing no HR Manager will ever tell you when re-locating‘ on a website called medibroker.com. Of course, the need to grieve that which has been lost is not by any means exclusive to expats – it is an essential skill that we must all needs acquire – but emigration can bring a number of such losses into focus at the same time.

I also found this article – ‘Homesickness isn’t really about Home‘ by Derrick Ho on the CNN website – to be most helpful.

“It (homesickness) stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security — feelings and qualities usually associated with home, said Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Public Health. When these qualities aren’t present in a new environment, we begin to long for them — and hence home. “You’re not literally just missing your house. You’re missing what’s normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive,” Klapow said.”

This was particularly apt in my case since I wasn’t just missing the sights snd sounds of home. Though I do – of course – miss friends and family, at this point in our lives our get-togethers and gatherings have in any case become rather few and far between. Also, although I do love my mother country fiercely the end of November does not present it at its best and such ‘delights’ as are to be found at that time are not the stuff on which I dream when I fantasise about its bosky beauties. My brief bout of homesickness clearly had other causes.

It did not take much soul-searching to identify what these causes might be. As the gentle reader is doubtless aware I am not just a recent immigrant – I am also a recently retired immigrant. To the other losses with which I have had to come to terms on moving to a new country must be added those associated with reaching the end of my working life. Such include the loss of the status that paid employ provides – the loss of a sense of structure to my life – the loss of a regular routine… in fact one might go so far as to suggest the loss of a sense of purpose.

I have spent much of the past few years telling anyone who would listen that I had no fears concerning retirement. I was eagerly anticipating being able to devote most of my time to artistic and creative endeavours once I no longer had to endure the daily trudge to and from London.

It is still very much my intention that this will be the case, but it seems that I underestimated the extent to which the opportunities that my previous working existence provided enabled me to exercise my creative muscle. Teaching drama at the School – directing plays there and at my previous school – availing myself of an outlet for my play-writing and composition… all of these will take some replacing and I duly mourn their passing.

The key element in this particular round of homesickness was thus mostly to do with the feeling of a loss of ‘significance‘. That is in itself a big topic which will require further examination – and which will in turn lead to further discourse on this forum.

That is – however – quite enough for now…

 

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