I stock up on dopamine* in the mornings by dancing, sometimes singing to my favorite songs.  These range from So Whatcha Want by The Beastie Boys to the opening of the 2013 Tony Awards as sung by Neil Patrick Harris (thanks, internet, for all your flaws, for bringing me this ode to excess.)

Being a stage performer, particularly in musical theatre where you might have to be singing, dancing, and acting all at the same time, is tremendously hard work.  It is physically demanding, often debilitating.  Lots of musicians bring the same energy to the concert stage, not just in rock but across the board (it’s Britney, bitch.) 

It’s not just the dopamine I’m chasing but the calorie burn.  So I’m not ashamed to say I had to bail out about two minutes into the Talking Heads’ performance of the song Life During Wartime in the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense. 

IDK what David Byrne was eating those days (looks like nothing) but he never stops moving and neither do the rest of the band.  If you don’t regularly exercise, you’d never keep up, because they are beasts.  MF, they are playing their instruments while running in place and has Gen Z seen this shit yet?  This is a TikTok challenge waiting to happen, amirite?

So I thought, what a great candidate for a stupid goal. To be able to do David Byrne’s bit in Life During Wartime.

Get delusional, isn’t that what the kids say?  This is a theme for me right now, after a post I made about impossible goals to a lively group of professional writers blew up, getting a few hundred comments from writers at every stage of their career.   Why not carry this energy into everything I do?

I need delusional goals.  Ordinary ones don’t seem to motivate me.  So why not try something ridiculous?  Absurd and not wholly useful except that it spurs me to be more active.  A chance to score a symbolic victory over my human tendencies—taking the easy way out, hoarding calories in case of famine, anxiety about my appearance and social rank.

We have so little time on earth, and there’s so much that we might do that we’ll never have the time to even read about in someone else’s words.  We’re dying the minute we’re born and I think if more people understood that we might as individuals and as a civilization use our time better.

I’m old enough to feel this in my bones.  They say youth is wasted on the young because it’s only the accumulation of years that make you understand time at the cellular level.  There is no solution to death.  I don’t know that I’d choose eternal life even if it was offered.  All we have is today, this hour, this second, this heartbeat, this blink of the cosmic eye, our every breath one more pearl strung on a thread that grows shorter and shorter.

Do it now.  The thing you always wanted.  Do it now because there is only now.  Only this moment, this breath.  This.

Photo by Alex Turcu on Unsplash

Slay all day? In this economy??

You’re not going to believe this, but I learned a lot about writing from reading this article about, er, recording and mixing pop songs. But what does an interview with one of Beyoncé’s sound engineers have to do with writing a book about kissing?

I write genre fiction, the pop music of the literary world.  And before you sneer at that, consider that romance novels make up 40% of the entire global book market.  Your literary stream of consciousness debut novel is a free-rider on our sales (you’re welcome.)

Pop music has to get its point across in three minutes.  Less, ideally, because if the first fifteen, twenty seconds don’t slap, no one is going to want to hear the rest.  And by slap I don’t mean bombast.  I mean that the opening has to suggest a big payoff is coming.  A fat beat, a mad drop, some crazy vocal run that make your hair raise.  The money shot, if you will.  The Big Fight at the end of the action film or the last kiss at the end of the romance (where we always promise a happy ending.)

But again, what does that have to do with writing books?  It’s all about Stuart White’s commitment to the first take as being the truest. Understand that this first take he’s talking about isn’t a demo.  When Queen Bey walks into that sound booth, it’s already planned what’s going to happen when she starts to sing. Hours of thought and setup, years of training and experience, all come into play in creating a perfect moment, where singer and song unite at an instinctive level, the way they ideally do onstage.  Everything after this first take is fine-tuning.

Similarly, by the time I write my ‘first draft’ of a book, I’m ready to deliver a great performance.  Even though I call it a ‘zero’ draft (gives me permission to let it be bad) I go into writing a book with a full synopsis, and all the scenes I’ve collected since thinking of it all nicely laid out in order. With chapter headings. Ready to write.  What’s missing at that stage is the feelings.  And those can be planned for but not plotted.  That’s what I deliver when writing a chapter from my notes, the emotions of the scene, which register in my body* while I’m writing. I don’t want to stop and figure out which character is sitting on which side of the bed in the middle of getting them into the bed.  If all those bothersome details are plotted, everything else just flows.

Your results may vary, but this is my system and it’s what my high-diffusion scatter ADHD seems to like: wild ideas, usefully structured, with a flowchart of operations and a minimum of attractive nuisances i.e. side-quests my characters don’t need to go on.

What my dang brain hates is editing. The rewrite, the do-over, the second take.  A rerun of the same creative form that strives, and often fails, to improve on the first instinctive attempt. And for my busy little enterprise, a massive time and/or money sinkhole.  

I despise writing words that I’ll have to delete, and that’s what happens when I write without a plan.  Being very (problematically) imaginative, I can take a story in any of a dozen directions if left unsupervised.  My plan is therefore my supervisor, and they’re a hard-nosed bitch who I hate to disappoint. Speaking of, they’re looking meaningfully at me over the imaginary cubicle wall.  Time to clock in.

*This is why I hardly ever watch tv or movies and am very selective in my reading.  By the end of the day I’ve had So Many Feels that I don’t want to have any more, and certainly not most of the feelings that ‘broadcast entertainment’ wants you to feel: jealousy, confusion, revulsion, futile anger at the establishment (I have that to spare, you want some?)  When my day is done, I want real people.  Or sleep.   

WHAT RUINED ME Episode 8: The 1990s

a view from the back of a cheering concert crowd in a darkly lit nightclub. The exposed metal beams of the ceiling gleam in the brilliant golden lighting from the stage

Lots of new readers have started following The Fixer since I last posted one of these.  It seems sensible to preface this episode, which happens to be my 100th post, with explaining again why I say “ruined.”

Because I’m not wrecked. There is as much “wrong” with me as there is with you. We are none of us normal, because the norm isn’t a thing, it’s a statistic.  We can talk as long as you like about the ghost of Aristotle in the shell of modern thought, but suffice to say there is no Normal Person we can all strive to emulate, and there never will be.

So why say ‘ruined’?

First, because it plays to my obsessional idiom, which has most of my written correspondence (from this blog to my text messages) employing the intellectual, somewhat stilted but still wholly lucid prose of an British college don circa 1948, for which I only slightly apologize.

Second, because in a sense it’s true.  Any instinct in me to get along, accept good old school-marriage-breeding-working-death as my inevitable path, was further and further eroded by each of these encounters with The Other.

And boy, was there ever a lot of Other in the mid-1990s.

If you knew where to look.  We used to call it counter-culture, because it offered a wholly alternate universe that felt wildly contrary both to what I’d grown up with and with what was being shown on TV.  A realm in which the earth was held as sacred, my body was mine to both worship and gleefully deface, sexuality of all kinds was not just tolerated but encouraged, drug use was by informed consent and sensible practice while alcohol use was almost nil, and the music was both relentlessly joyful and wildly seditious in a time of increasing state surveillance and corporate control.

I’m not saying it was a golden age because I don’t believe in golden ages.  Much of my experience was a function of my privilege (white, middle class, expensively educated, etc) because looking back I understand how hard other people were struggling for basic rights of safety and freedom that are only now in place.   It’s deeply concerning, even embarrassing, to think how far we’ve backslid in the last few years into unfettered corporate control, restriction of reproductive and sexual rights, and infantilized violence perpetrated against people who are already oppressed.  The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that yeah, Boomers and Gen X are all suffering from lead poisoning from their toxic childhood homes, because otherwise why are they acting like such fucking idiots?

Yeah, yeah, not all Boomers…don’t even start.

On the other hand, I’m firmly in the camp of the historical dialectic (see above re college don) and the notion that the pendulum each time swings further towards justice and freedom for all and away from authoritarianism.  I fully expect that this present day ultra-conservative movement is not a new beginning but their last gasp, the Hail Mary, the desperate acts of desperate individuals who see their old way of life eroding and can’t deal with the fact that change exists, and that it spares no one.

Existential Pop Music

but make it sweet…

I’ve been listening to this for weeks. The other day I read the lyrics (because I can’t speak Portuguese). And trust me, we are both crying. I love little songs like this that catch your ear then take possession of your heart.