Making Virtual Music, but Really

I massively enjoyed tonight’s Last Night of the Proms. Some have accused it of jingoism  in the past with all that flag-waving, but, let’s be honest, it’s all about the music, of course it is. With fine tunes from Borodin, Donizetti and Rossini, to name but three, and tenor, Juan Diego Flores, dressed as Manco Capac, founder of the Inca civilisation, it’s hardly a rousing celebration of Britishness. Even Padington Bear, who made a surprise appearance, is from Peru.

Yet I do feel that this kind of life-affirming, ‘let’s-all-join-in-the-songs-even-if-we-don’t-know-the-words’ kind of event is something we Brits do so well. We’ve always loved a good party and a good sing song, and the Last Night is just one of the most public.  Even the the daily concerts that lead up to this grand finale have a warmth and informality about them that I can’t imagine being replicated elsewhere. Heavens, when a symphony is played, people applaud BETWEEN the movements! Simply not done under normal circumstances, dear boy.

The Proms are sponsored by the BBC which has done a brilliant job of drawing in the viewing and listening public. This year’s ‘Virtual Orchestra’ is a great initiative to encourage people, who may well have hidden the instruments they once loved at the back of the attic, to dust them off and play a tune. Any instrument will do, almost. Have a look a  the list.

Bravo to all of you who take part.It’s so easy to bundle our creative talents away at the back of the attic of our mind, and sometimes all we need is a little encouragement to rip back the dustsheets and get cracking again. We all mean to, when we have the time. One day, we say, we’ll get our metaphorical ladder out and have a good rummage and maybe take up playing, painting, writing again. When we have the time. Come on, if we wait for ‘enough’ time, it will never come. We need to make time and not be scared of that. Maybe just ten minutes to start with. And, this is the important bit -it doesn’t need to be great, or even good, what you do then create. We’ll have no truck with ‘I’m no good at this any more.’. Who said you weren’t, apart from you? Who made you Ruler of the Kingdom of Good?

But, seriously, I say this because I go through it too. I have to tell myself, ‘Just a little bit of writing, every day’. No judgements, no critiques. Just doing. I want to and because, to be my best self, I need to. Can’t say fairer than that.

Now, hand me my air banjo.

Happy creating to you all.

Mel

 

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Bless me someone…

  1.  I don’t have the right notebook.
  2. I don’t have the right pen.
  3. What am I doing, using paper and pen?
  4. I’m not in the right mood.
  5. The sun is not in alignment with Sagittarius.
  6. My desk needs dusting.
  7. Great film on BBC2.
  8. I have run out of lipgloss.
  9. My kitchen needs painting.
  10. I hate painting.
  11. Olympics.
  12. I am way too busy sharing my annoying first world problems with the blogosphere.
  13. It’s raining.
  14. It’s windy.
  15. The phone’s ringing.
  16. The phone hasn’t rung for days, I must check it’s working.
  17. It’s time to write my Christmas cards.
  18. I have to unfriend some people on Facebook.
  19. Just joking about that last one, I love you all!
  20. Is it on my To Do list?
  21. My postillion has been struck by lightning.

And these, oh gods of creativity, are but 21 of the reasons I was unable to create much of value this weekend. Tomorrow is Monday. Let the juices flow again.

And no excuses!

Hope you all ‘got stuff done’.

Mel X

Social Loafing and A Team of One

Teamwork is a wonderful thing, but technology allows us all to be teams of one these days. Over dinner and a glass of something (I believe it was water) the other night, a friend told me about her husband’s new album. Not for him expensive studios and mixing desks and wee CDs for sale, not that we have any record shops left (sigh!). No, he made it totally alone, playing the guitar in his living room, adding the other instruments on his computer and producing the whole thing to a point where he was able to market it online. Brilliant!

Would it have been a different album if he had made it with a team? You bet! Would it have been better? No, it would have been different. He hasn’t had to alter his vision and if we don’t like it, well, that’s up to us. He likes it, is proud of it, and that’s enough. Having listened to it, I can tell you I think it’s brilliant. No, I’m not biased. I’d like to tell you more, but I’m hoping to interview him for the podcast, when all will be revealed. (I know, another shameless teaser advert.)

I also follow a number of self-published authors on social media and I am always amazed at their commitment, not just to their writing, but to the time they put in to engaging with readers. Not to mention the hours spent on marketing and publicity.

Like my musician friend, I like to create alone, but I also like a good natter. In fact, you’d be hard-pushed to find somebody who loves a good natter more than I do. Plenty of my best ideas come to me in ‘lightbulb’ moments during conversations, moments I wouldn’t have had alone. But these aren’t forced moments, where each of us is compelled to come up with brilliant ideas as the clock ticks down, like an episode of ‘Countdown’. I fear the yawning chasm of an empty diary awaits, should I introduce brainstorming sessions into a girls’ night out.

For brainstorming is what that would be, and although it might seem like the new rock and roll, given the importance so many organisations give to it, it has serious limitations. In any group of people, organisational dynamics will tend to trump the generating of ideas. A shy person with a brilliant idea is likely to take a back seat to a more dominant person in the group, even if their idea isn’t as good or as innovative. There’s also less pressure on us if we work in a group. We don’t need to give 100% of ourselves, we can just be a constituent percentage of the whole. All that wasted percentage left over! I learnt a new term for this today, it’s called Social Loafing. I like to learn new things.

So, better then to work alone? And how does this affect us creatively?

Well, getting the best ideas doesn’t necessarily mean working in a freezing, friendless garret. Why not get your ideas down on paper, work on them and then test them out on the world? For our creative endeavours,it helps to have clarity of vision, before you get your feedback. I read recently that the great Philip Roth always tests out later drafts of new novels on a group of readers. Not his first draft, mind, maybe his third or fourth.

Of course, many brilliant things are created by teams of people, but I bet you’ll find, if you strip the thing right back, that the basic idea came from one person.

FACT: All the brainstorming in the world won’t give you an idea. It can help to develop one, or plant the seed of one but the idea comes from inside you, either as a result of something someone said, or a thought you had, or….well, who knows where ideas come from? You can’t buy them on eBay, that’s for sure.

In life, in work, in creative endeavours, our new ideas, whatever they are, move us forward. Be a team of one, and keep the ideas coming. Write them down, because, if you can’t use them today, there’s always tomorrow. Not all of them will work, but that’s ok. And when you have a pile of ideas, you can take your Team of One (yes, capitalising now) out for an awayday, or a posh lunch, or even a Christmas party. Because more than a good natter, we all like a party.

Keep the ideas coming, and happy creating until next time.

Mel X

 

 

Useful Work!

I was talking with a biographer recently and asked what method she followed when researching a subject. She didn’t have a set method, as it turned out, but said that, most often, one source pointed her to another and that to yet another, and so on. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t missing out on some rarefied methodology, as that’s pretty much what I have been doing of late. It’s exciting stuff, as you never know where it might lead. I’m writing a piece about the world of work, which, I hope, will be entertaining.

Just last week, my reading led me, of all places, to an essay of 1884 by socialist and designer, William Morris (yes, he of the lovely wallpaper). Entitled ‘Useful Work versus Useless Toil‘, it might lack the entertainment value I’m going for, but it’s a fascinating, if demanding read.

I like to think we have moved on some way since late Victorian times in improving some of the injustices he rails against, though clearly not all. In fact, more than we would want to admit. I can also forgive his constant use of the word ‘men’ without a single mention of ‘women’, because a) it was 1884 and b) he bequeathed us the afore-mentioned lovely wallpaper. So, I read it as one might pluck the petals of a daisy; ‘I love this bit’, ‘I love this bit not’.

There’s a link to the whole piece at the end, but one sentence, in particular, struck a chord with me.

But a man (or woman, William!) at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body.’

So, here he is, talking about creativity, our favourite topic, and the thing, as I’ve said before, I believe separates us from the beasts and makes us who we are. Of course, he was a man of great creative genius himself. I worry, though, that he would find my Morris-branded hand cream (see photo) a shade too decadent and exactly the kind of frivolous product made to pander to the demands of the non-producing classes. But I’m giving away the ending there. You should read the essay for yourselves.

He talks of ‘the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill’. Daily? Heck, the only way we’re going to achieve daily creativity is if we find it in our work.

Bingo!

Here we are at Squatting Toad, devoting podcast time to delving into people’s extra-curricular creative activities, when our 9-5 needs to satisfy that part of us too. If it doesn’t, then we find ourselves, among other things, stressed, as mentioned in the last post. And, if we’re stressed, how can we create and feel that ‘hope of pleasure’? I don’t have the answer to that, by the way. It’s a huge topic and one that takes me down a different path.

Fulfilment in post-work creative activities? Box ticked.

Fulfilment in daily work context? Pen still hovering.

As I say, I am doing lots of research on this, and what I hope to achieve is some ‘Useful Work’ on this very topic. And don’t worry, it won’t be too serious. Heaven knows, I’ve laughed a lot already, because sometimes if you don’t, you’d cry. Or maybe it’s the pleasure.

Work? What is it good for? Damned if I know, but ‘hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill‘ will do for a start. Now we’ve just got to get there. There’ll be bumps on the way, to be sure. Join me, as I try to un-pick it all.

In the meantime, have a read of William Morris’s essay. Next time, I’ll maybe reveal one of my more up-to-date sources.

Happy creativity in the meantime.

Mel

 

 

 

Perfection is the Enemy

Or to be more accurate, perfectionism is our foe. If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you’ll know that I have some misgivings about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, but when it comes to creative perfectionism she is bang on the button. She described it as just a fancy name for  a fear of failure. How right she is. As long we have a work that’s ‘in progress’ , something that we are getting into a state of just right-ness, we can never say we’ve failed. How can we fail, if we don’t get something out there into the world at large? And so we carry on, honing and perfecting until the moment has gone, until sometimes we just don’t love what we’re working on any more. Then we kill off the project, give it a half-decent burial, courtesy of the shredder, and declare it as having been unworthy of us all the time. Who are we kidding?

Am I reading your thoughts right now? Well, it’s not any kind of mystical jiggery-pokery on my part, it’s just that I’ve been through exactly that process many times myself. In fact if there’s anything I’m an expert in, it’s in giving up, because I just can’t get a writing project finished to the high standard I expect of myself. Who am I kidding?

I haven’t posted a blog for over a week, because I was worrying that any chosen topic might not be quite the right one,and I wouldn’t have enough to say, or at least enough that was devastatingly insightful and witty. So I just didn’t write – at all. And in not writing, I think I have actually misunderstood this whole blogging thing. Some people post every day and I am flipping sure they’re not tearing themselves to pieces over wit and insight. They just say what they want to say and I applaud them. And, yes, some of them are very witty and insightful indeed.

So, my notes to self for this week are as follows:

  1. Don’t get it perfect, get it done.
  2. Find time to post more often. There’s always something to say, even if it won’t get me a Nobel Prize.
  3. Stop kidding yourself…about everything.
  4. Well, that’s enough for one week.

Who knows, you may even hear from me before the week is out. Let’s all keep writing.

Happy creating.

Your non-prize winning friend, Mel

 

 

Latest podcast – and a poem to enjoy

Hello friends

It’s another lovely weekend, if a bit cold, so you might want to spend a bit of time indoors and you might be looking for some entertainment. I know of few people more entertaining than Performance Poet, Cynthia Hamilton. (Yes, Capital P’s.)

So here’s my latest podcast, with her and me chewing the fat. And at the end of this post, a lovely poem from Cynthia to cheer your day, or make you feel a bit queasy!

Enjoy the programme…and tell your friends.

http://imasquattingtoad.podomatic.com/swf/joe_multiplayer_v112.swf

Or here on Soundcloud.

https://soundcloud.com/user-301095364/squatting-toad-episode-12-cynthia-hamilton-performance-poet-and-good-egg

Let me know if you have trouble getting it to work and here goes with Cynthia’s poem. (Non-British people – spotted dick is a British dessert!)

Cannabalism: A Five Course Poem

Cannibals from far and wide
have tried to hide their fleshy wants
of spleen and kidneys on the side
and eyeballs for their vol-au-vents.

Here come the guests 
so nicely dressed
they help themselves to soup and rolls
with happiness they will digest the fingers 
in the finger bowl.

I see the maid has been and laid
the table for our carnivores
if only she were well-behaved
she made a lovely plat du jour.

“It’s nice to see variety 
I can’t decide what I like most!
the stir-fried Aborigine
or then again the jam on host.”

Another feast it seems has ceased
they’re quite replete and almost sick
dessert was shunned to say the least
a funny-looking spotted dick…

 

Better than the day job?

If you’re new to Squatting Toad, we have a lot in common. So am I. I’m on a serious learning curve. But, don’t worry, you don’t have to be. I just hope you enjoy this.

You know when you have a Great Idea, but don’t feel you have the skill to execute it, so you just don’t bother. Well, I have nearly given up a few times and I am nowhere near my goal, but I’ve started. Here I am, writing my first ever blog. What’s my Great Idea? A podcast. Simple enough, right, you just talk. Anyone who knows me would think I’d find that a breeze. So, I talk, but to whom, and how do I record it, and how do I cut out the ‘hmms’ and the silly giggles? When I’ve made a progamme, how do people find it?  And how do I promote it? I knew I needed help, so I turned to a younger friend. I’m nearer to 50 than I want to admit (I can see you navigating away now… but stick with me), so youth trumped experience here. But what a can of worms I opened. Turns out I need a blog and a Twitter Feed and a Facebook Page. When younger, tech-savvy, talented friend mentioned YouTube videos, I thought it was time to walk just a little  before I could run.

So now I have a blog.

As you’ll see from the homepage, I have a logo and everything. So, I’ve got to do it now, haven’t I?

And, yes,it has got to be at least a welcome distraction from the day job, which is what Squatting Toad is all about. Actually, I don’t want to tell you what it’s ALL about right now, but if I had to choose one word to describe my theme it’s ‘creativity’.  What do you do in your down time? Do you write? Do you paint? Or sing? If so, this will be of interest to you.

Keeping my powder a little dry at this stage, but I hope to have the first podcasts ready for you by the end of May. And if, like me, you have an urge to create something, I think you’ll enjoy them and the inspiring people I’ve been talking to.

Hang on in there and happy creating.

Now, anyone know anything about editing?

Mel

X