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Just becoming busy

I haven’t been taking in enough inspiration. I’ve said for years that if I’m not reading I’m not writing. I don’t know how I’ve been able to write 117 blog posts with as little reading as I’ve been doing since I started in April.

I’ll be honest. I’m off balance. I started doing this to gain forward momentum and get in the habit of being productive. I’m afraid I’m just becoming busy.

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This video is terrible

Seriously. I tried to find a version that didn’t look like something from Minecraft. 

I’m sharing it anyway because what’s important is what Elliott Smith says, or tries to say, about songwriting. The bit at 1:19 was pivotal years ago in teaching me the importance of chord changes. 

Music videos taught us that the guitar solo or the drum break, moments of technical virtuosity, is the pivotal feature of a song. Even as a kid Elliott Smith had the insight to recognize that none of that matters without a strong foundation. 

Also, check out his thoughts at 2:10 about writing by not paying attention.
 

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Doing more with less

A few years ago some friends caught me loitering near a downtown movie theater and talked me into seeing Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. But I’ve never been able to forget this phrase.

“Dolce far Niente” –the sweetness of doing nothing.

When I’ve been sitting with my guitar, strumming mindlessly. When I drive around by myself with the radio off. In those moments of sweet nothing, little gifts begin to arrive. 

Quiet thoughts otherwise overwhelmed by the drive to be productive and stay busy find footing in a resting brain. The key to creating more might be doing less.

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How do you build a house?

One piece at a time. In the end it looks very complicated but start breaking down the steps and it doesn’t seem that mysterious anymore. Just about anyone can learn the steps. 

That’s not the hard part.

The hard part is having the vision for what you want to build and the grit to see it through.

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Whisper thin

Thoreau wrote that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. 

Elliott Smith wrote their soundtrack.

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Over the noise

My cell phone calls sound amazing. In the last couple weeks my carrier upgraded and now it sounds like the person on the end of the line is right beside me. 

So tonight I did something I never do. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or Facebook for an hour, I made two phone calls and connected with two friends more intimately than I have with anything they’ve posted online ever.

Poor call quality and social media have the same result. Instead of getting what I want –connection with someone I care about– I get a lot of noise. 

If you’re not connecting the way you want to –with music or with your friends– find a way to turn down the noise and turn up the quality.

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All In One

You can’t get it all in one song. I’ve been writing songs since I was 13. Before I finished high school I had learned that every song was going to come up short of everything I was feeling.

It doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer.

It means you have more songs to write.

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One More Night - Part Two

If you stopped at "Rhino Skin," you might take it as advice. You might think Tom is saying hardening up is the way through life’s problems. But in the next song, Tom sings,

“Someone better hurry, I’m all alone [...]
No one ever taught me to be on my own, 
and I keep breaking down,
breaking down, you know?”

The fault in being hard is becoming brittle. 

This is the beauty in the sequence. “Rhino Skin” and “One More Night,” are two sides of the heart in conflict with itself. The protective reflex of the heart is to grow hard and not let anyone in. The walls meant to keep the hurt out ultimately hold your hurt in. Either way the pain does its damage. 

You push people away, but you need them closer. You try to avoid pain and end up hurting yourself.

“One more night,
God I’ve had to fight
to keep my line of sight
on what’s real.”
 

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One More Night - Part One

Today I was listening to Echo again. As the album ended I got to thinking about the order of the last two tracks.

“Rhino Skin” was a controversial song within The Heartbreakers. It’s not easy to sell a song that turns on the phrase “elephant balls,” but you can’t set up “One More Night, One More Day” without it. Tom must have known it, and he fought for it. 

“If you listen long enough you can hear my skin grow tough.” Skin that takes a beating gets tough. You can’t play guitar or swing a hammer long without calluses. Hearts and feelings get beat up. Instinctively we harden. Close up. Show no weakness. Grow “Rhino Skin.”

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Be generous

There are a lot of well-meaning people out there with bad advice. There are things that come easy to you that come to others with difficulty or not at all. Don’t take that for granted. 

If you have a vision for yourself, don’t be surprised when people around you can’t see it. The vision was only given to you. It’s not their vision, it’s yours. 

Remember that your vision is not a gift that you have been given, but a gift for you to give. Following your vision and bringing it out of your head and into the world is an act of generosity.

Be generous.

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