Day Three Hundred and Sixty Five: Insert Sinatra Related My Way Pun Here

As I write this I’ve no idea what I’m going to post for the second last day of 2011, all I know is what I want to say on the final day of 2011.

I decided to take part in this one a day posting challenge in order to increase my creative output and I think it’s worked quite well. Despite all the ruminations on how to play the blogging game and the occasional whine about readers, I knew what I was writing was never going to set the world alight. Really, how could it? I’m 26 years old and as far as I’m concerned I’m still learning a lot about the creative process. My writing improves on a daily basis and the only reason I can say that is because of this blog. Perhaps one day I’ll write something truly great, something worthy of critical appreciation or perhaps I won’t, either way it doesn’t matter. I’ve obtained a greater sense of enjoyment through writing for this blog and that’s been invaluable.

Let’s get personal. Before I started the project a lot of what I was writing was driven almost exclusively by existential angst. I was in a dark place, and the only way I felt I could make sense of this meaningless existence was to leave my mark on the world. Not just on my close friends and family but wider than that; to be remembered for something. By writing every day, I thought, it meant I could finally craft the speck of talent I had for writing into something powerful, useful and remarkable.

That’s changed.

Writing has always come naturally to me. When I cleaned out my Mum’s loft earlier on this year the report cards that we found which were from my primary school years spoke highly of my writing ability. It seemed that those teachers thought that my skills were beyond that of my classmates and that my mathematics skills were stunningly average. The latter hasn’t changed, but has the former? I’m loath to say that I’m a good writer, or even a better writer than the average person but I do get immense enjoyment from both writing.

Having spent Christmas with my family, my Gran and my Mum were eager to tell Jennifer of how I used to be able to name the make and model of every single car I could see in the street. They said this was because I used to read Auto-Mart constantly as a child. Apparently there are even a few photos floating around of me sitting reading the newspaper when I was two years old.

So perhaps the ease I feel I have at expressing myself through writing comes directly from that. Who knows.

I suppose I’m getting away from the point a little here. I’ve struggled to feel as though I’m a competent musician from the moment I picked up a guitar on my 17th birthday. Writing lyrics was easy, writing music was hard. I neglected writing for a while, dallying with nonsense poetry and rubbish prose. Perhaps somewhat fortuitously, starting university, studying literature and my band breaking up all happened around about the same time in 2010. When I heard a friend was going to do a one a day blogging project (he didn’t see it through) I thought I’d do something similar to not only enhance my writing but to perhaps also apply the knowledge of literature I had begun to learn in university in a practical way.

The stars seemed to align, as it were.

Over at the Daily Post, they’ve asked us to look back at our blogs and to reflect on our blogging in 2011. The first question is why did you started the post a day/week challenge? so I think I’ve just answered that pretty comprehensively above.

The second is Describe the state of your blog the time your started the challenge? well, when I started the challenge I had two blogs, one for creative writing and one for more critical, journalistic writing. I binned the latter and dumped everything into the this one. Before that, Brain Echo was simply a creative echo, a collection of rubbish creative writing (bar the odd decent flash fiction/fragment). That actually ties quite nicely into question three, “how did your blog evolve over the course of the year?” Well it had a bit everything, really. I started with a schedule in mind but I never really followed through. It just became a mash of fiction, poetry, articles, mixtapes and the odd video or two. It seems this blogging strategy worked well for me, although it may not have necessarily have done so for the readers of this blog…

Did I post as often as I’d hoped? Well, given that I’m on the final day I’d say yes. Well, that’s a lie. I didn’t post as often as I’d hoped because recently I’ve had no internet connection, thus making it difficult to actually post something. I missed two or three days but it couldn’t be helped.

I probably wouldn’t do anything differently if I started again, purely because this blog has been a voyage of discovery, a way for me to push my own creative boundaries. In that sense it’s taken me places that I’d never thought I’d go.

The thing I’m most proud of accomplishing this year is almost certainly having some poetry published in From Glasgow to Saturn. Without the drive this blog has given me, it wouldn’t have happened.

Now here’s the question I really wanted to answer: what surprised you about the challenge? The difficulty of it. Challenge is definitely the correct term. Although I’ve already said that writing seems to come naturally to me, there’s still an immense amount of work involved in creative writing. Rarely does an idea hit the page fully formed. Editing and redrafting are definitely the aim of the game.

On a similar note, the study of literature is very much about the dissection of books, their themes and their impact on society. When I was in school I used to think that we were looking too much into books, and that all the imagery, metaphors and deep textual analysis was essentially just trying to find something that wasn’t really intended to be there by the author. However, when I started studying literature it dawned on me that many authors and poets actually do intend to layer their work with meaning. Yet, this opinion changed again when I started studying creative writing. Most authors take care of plot and characters first before adding in that extra layer. In fact, it appears that a lot of that extra layer stuff is added subconsciously by many authors.

It seems that a little of both is involved; on one hand the author sometimes intends to imbue their work with many layers and sometimes they just do it subconsciously. That’s really what makes textual analysis of novels and poems so exciting.

The hardest part of writing for me was doing that. Many people can write pretty words, but it’s very hard to write pretty words with multiple meanings or with fantastic imagery and that works on different levels. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet, nevertheless when I’m writing I tend to keep these things in mind.

Creative writing is not an easy thing to do and you have to work very hard to be any good at it. No one just spits out genius on the page, not even the absolute greats. So perhaps, above all, that’s what this blog has taught me the most – even if it is hard work, as long as you enjoy it, the effort is worth it in the end.

What advice would I give to bloggers who want to blog regularly? Have a theme in mind or a goal, but don’t beat yourself up if you go off topic or stray from the path towards that goal. I’d also so say just do it. When you make the commitment make sure you’re entirely aware of what it entails because a lot of the time you might be too exhausted to post. If that ever happens, post about it. Just write every day. It helps, trust me.

Truth be told, I never really did play the blogging game in the end. Between uni, work and creativity the only blogs I came across are the ones who came across me first. If you’re following me and you’re reading this, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to read whatever I had to say. I didn’t start this in order to have a legion of regular readers however the fact I have just a few really is tremendous and I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed it. My gratitude to you guys is eternal.

For 2012 I’m going to blog less, maybe only once or twice a week. Instead what I hope to do is focus on writing a whole lot more. You place a great deal of pressure on  yourself when you’ve agreed to blog every day for a year, often meaning that you’ll end up posting things which could use a little more work just so that you have content for that day. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most; the pressure of having to post something but without the daily timeframe. More editing, more redrafting and more writing for 2012 with the goal of creating work which surpasses anything I’ve done so far.

Oh dear, I seemed to have rambled now for nearly 1600 words. I’ll wrap this up then, shall I?

Personally 2011 has been a pretty poor year. For my closest friends, family and I this year has been pretty grim. Creatively it’s been great (with very little of the creative output focussing on the events going on around me) so hopefully it’ll get even better next year.

With every ounce of my being I thank you for reading this. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Tonight, a chapter ends but the book is still being written. I hope you stick around in 2012.

Day Three Hundred and Sixty Four: Why Bother?

(This will eventually be published on Daily Dischord, so if it vanishes in a few days you know why!)

As 2011 draws to a close we find that many of our favourite music websites or magazines publish their end of year lists, vaguely detailing in less than 100 words per record why these albums deserve to be called the best of the year. It’s an interesting procedure, to distil the reasons one feels the way they do about a record into an orderly list. There’s something very clinical and calculating about it which is the contradicts everything music is about. We don’t experience music in a top 10 or top 20 lists. Even us reviewers find it hard to say anything of any real merit in less than a hundred words, so I’m asking why bother? I’m not sure we experience music in this way and here’s why.

At the start of November I was fortunate enough to persuade some person in some PR company to let me go see Rise Against, Polar Bear Club and Tom Morello for free. All I had to do in return was do a little write up about it and since that’s primarily what I do on this Daily Dischord, as well as being something I happen to enjoy, I was more than happy to oblige.

In many ways that concert summed up the reasons why I enjoy writing about music whilst paradoxically highlighting a few of the things which make writing about music difficult. The creation of rock music comes from a primal, emotional place, providing an experience which is difficult to convey in words. Similarly, the performance of music, even those which are highly choreographed, comes from that same place and by attending gigs we are expected to identify with what’s being felt on stage, usually because the band we’re saying create music which speaks to us in some way.

The best rock music is vitriolic and passionate, soaked in a miasma of emotions that resonates with the listener in a variety of ways. That’s what makes writing about rock music so difficult; be it a good album or a bad one, a great live performance or a shambles, we’re attempting to distil the cataclysm of feeling and intent into one space, trying our very best to articulate why we do or do not identify with what we’re hearing. As I’m sure you’re aware, the best write ups on records or concerts are ones which convey a nuanced sense of excitement about what the artist has tried to achieve with their performance, subsequently judging whether or not they were successful in getting that message across. Even a highly polished rock record has an energy about it which is unquantifiable and really quite unexplainable. Almost as if you can feel the electricity on the disc or music file leap off at you before you hit play. A good write up gives you just a hint at what kind of experience you’re missing out on. That’s why we music writers enjoy doing what we do. It’s a challenging thing but my god is it one we relish.

Rock n roll music and all of its exponents, from black metal to math rock and everything in between, is an all about an emotional connection. Some reviews articulate the importance of that connection pretty well and some of them don’t but all of them try.

This is what made the aforementioned Rise Against show an interesting experience for me. Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is responsible for not only one of my favourite records of all time, but one of the most important records of all time and that rarest of things: a perfect debut album. Rise Against on the other hand, up until recently, were probably one of my favourite bands of all time, having released four records which really got me into punk music. Polar Bear Club have also just released one of my favourite records of 2011, a record which is filled with such pure melodic goodness that it demonstrates that one need not emulate Jimmy Eat World in order to craft brilliant earnest punk rock.

Three generations of music were represented that night, demonstrating just how important that emotional connection was to their legions of fans. After the show had finished, I realised that I’d lost that connection with Rise Against and truth be told, that was pretty sad thing no matter how inevitable it was going to be.

These days my tastes are squarely of the punk rock persuasion; very much a genre of music which is raggedy, shambolic, cathartic and often messy and directionless. It spits at you, it bleeds, it’s chaotic – it’s brilliant. Of course, mere words are not enough to express exactly what it is, but that’s about as close as I can get. You’d need to listen to the records to get an understanding about what it is.

So as the end of the year rolls around music publications of all shapes and forms start to compile and publish their end of year lists (or if you’re Q magazines you’ve probably just spent the past 12 months compiling magazines of lists about any number of things) and yet there is definitely is something undeniably scientific about this. Compiling a top 5, 10 or even a top 50 list is cold, analytical, and almost surgical. It demands a ranking of artistic quality in an empirical way. It is a process which is so restrained that it is the antithesis of everything rock music (in all forms) means.

Perhaps more fundamentally though, it is not the way we experience music. We do not experience music with a cold precision; it is an art form which kicks and screams at us. We experience music in an uncompromising way yet an end of year list tries to boil down a year’s worth of records into a couple of lines, giving us no sense of the passion or feelings of the individual who’s written it. No matter how well written the list is it tells us nothing about the way the writer has experienced the music they’ve categorised. The majority of us find music and experience it in a way which is important, impassioned and energetic. To attempt to quantify that any more than we have in reviews throughout the year is unnatural. We shouldn’t do it. So why do we feel we have to?


Day Three Hundred and Sixty Three: Our Dust

Our Dust

Every day a piece of ourselves is lost
when we move a little, shed a little, dust a little.

Dead cells tell a story;
our whole lives could be replayed in the dust that fell

to the floor when I was down cleaning on hands and knees,
and memories of the past came floating back.

From the fight in ’07, when the wind was howling outside,
I thought we’d never see the end of it until you held me close and sighed,

To the day you graduated in ’09, when we drank until we couldn’t see,
and fell home drunk, glad that the silly black flat hat signalled the end of your degree.

Or that time when you dropped the ashtray
and it shattered on the floor, causing the neighbour below

to bang on the ceiling, disturbing the dust some more.
The events of our lives are distributed amongst our possessions

with a fine layer of grey which chronicles the passage of time,
little bits of dust, fragments from a life before.

Dust is where we came from
Dust is what we become

Dust is perhaps where we belong.