I dreamed about my father last night, something I have not done since he passed almost four years back. In the dream he was talking to me, telling me that some obscure thing I had invested in would pay off really well. Later in the dream this proved to be true. Since I don’t do much in the way of investing in the real world I assume the dream, the investment, and the succeess are all metaphor.

For all that he grew up a cowboy, my father was ever the banker, and worried about money and its intendant security more than anything else. He never really grasped why I am self-employed. The idea was almost abhorrent to him. For years whenever we would talk he would ask if I had gotten a job yet. Never mind that I was making more money freelancing than he ever did, it was the insecurity of my position which worried him. The irony is of course that his “secure” job never proved to be any more secure than mine, but that is the nature of people and parents. At least I can say is that he spoke out of the concern of a parents, and I cannot honestly say that  this concern was always misplaced. Freelancing is not for the faint of heart.

It wasn’t until after he passed, at his funeral in fact, that his wife (my step mother) appreoached me to say, “You’re father wanted you to know he was very proud of you.”  Kind words. I would like to say it would have meant more coming from his lips, but that was not his way. Perhaps I am biased, but I seemed to recall hearing more of my father’s concerns than I did his praise. My sisters had this experience as well so if I am biased, at least it is a shared one.

So when my father spoke to me last night in my dream, his words were pretty much like always. He was telling me, not really talking with me. He used the same tone he used when asking, “Are you sure your client’s are going to pay you?” Anything I might say in response didn’t really matter, and would likely be ignored. He would simply bring up the subject in our next conversation exactly as if we had never spoken of it before. In short, he was stating something completely obvious, and with his voice of authority. Mind you, I do this myself sometimes, the manners of the father are often passed to the son. So much so that a friend of mine often jokes, “Eric Tolladay, Master of the Obvious, Curator of the Plainly Seen.” I can only hope that my pronouncements from on high of “the obvious” are not as painful as his were to me. Doubtless this is not always the case. Lucky for me most people are willing to overlook this annoying habit of mine. Those that cannot, well I can’t say that I blame them.

But I find it odd that my father would be speaking as he was in my dream. He was so very concrete, speaking in metaphor was not his way. I can only hope it is a sign I am doing well. I suspect this investment metaphor refers to my writing. I certainly hope so as it is an investment. Especially as a time when I really should be more mindful of filling my spare time with paid work. The vagrancies of freelance work means I often stumble into stretches of no work. I try to fill that time with writing, when I can afford to do so, but it is costly in terms of money not earned. Lucky for me, Teri does not mind this investment, or is kind enough to bite her tongue when I do. Since I’m not heavily invested (be it time or money) in anything else, other than my family and our home, I can only assume this obscure hobby of mine will eventually come with a paycheck.

The funny thing is Teri is forever dreaming about friends and family who have passed. It one of the things I truly respect about her. For her such dreams are a way of letting go, saying goodbye. They don’t always start well, but they end with a sense of balance and closure. I’ve not had dreams like this, at least until last night. Do you supposed some of her is rubbing off on me? God I hope so.

Rite of Change

Something struck me this morning as I was listening to a story on Igor Stravinsky on NPR. This year, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of his ballet Rite of Spring; a piece of music so muscular, so intense, that the first time it was played it caused a riot.

Nowadays this kind of idea is difficult to fathom. Its had to imagine a musician today, be they popular or off in their own little corner, who could cause such a reaction. Can you imagine a riot caused by a Justin Beiber concert? I can’t. The only thing that comes close to my mind is either the Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan show or when Bob Dylan went electric and pissed off all his fans.

You might recall “Rite of Spring” from the Disney movie Fantasia. Its the famous piece with the T.Rex killing the Stegosaurus.  The music, however, is more memorable than that scene. Much more. If you listen to it with a musician’s ear you’ll find it full of mixed meter, rather bizarre and almost frightful chording, and is just plain intense. A big orchestra playing a very big sound. In person, the darn thing can blow your ears off. No wonder people rioted.

Now the thing that struck me this morning was not the intensity of the music — I’ve known that for a while, ever since I won tickets to a Hollywood Bowl concert of the Rite, and went with my buddy Clark Souter. Listening to the piece in that context, shorn of the animation, and shorn of any other mean sing, allowed me to really listen to it. All I could think was “Fuck me! This is big!” What really struck me was the time in which it came out. 1913 sounds like a long time ago, but in terms of orchestral music, it is really near the end of a very long era. 1913 is well over 100 years after Beethoven’s famous da-da-da-dumm of the Symphony #5 was written in 1804, and just short of 90 years after his 9th Symphony was written in 1824. Its 190 years after Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” hit the scene, 54 years after Liszt suggested his New German School, and about 100 years after Schubert. In short, it came out well into the end of what we generally consider “Classical Music” and even the end of the Romantic Era of classical music. And yet, this very, very, late, late-comer to the classical music scene, this 30 year-old punk kid wrote a piece of music so intense, so awesome, that it freaked people out.  It caused riots in the streets of Paris. It started a whole new movement in classical music called Modernism. It changed things.

As a writer, working along the long thin edges of the form of art we call the Novel, I am heartened by this. Stravinsky teaches us there is still room for radical change within a medium that appears to be lethargic. Not that I’m interesting in tinkering with the modern forms of the novel, I find the post-modern stuff to be a lot of crap if done for the sole purpose of shock. I don’t think Stravinsky intended to shock as much as I think he intended to stretch his limits, to push his own internal boundaries. Something he was want to do his whole long life. Hell, the man was writing interesting pieces well into the 1960s.

What the “Rite” teaches me is that somewhere out there is a novel yet to be written that is so intense it will cause a riot. Just the idea that this novel might be out there, somewhere, is enough for me. It doesn’t have to be mine, it just has to have  the possibility of existence. Like holding a lottery ticket that will not be drawn for a few days, it gives one room to dream. Dream great big muscular dreams. And I like that feeling.

Now its time to lift some word weights, and get my scrawny writing muscles into shape.

Independent vs collaborative creative processes.

I know a song-writer who divides his creative process in two parts. 1) Creating, which he does alone, and 2) Editing, which he does with others, and in a separate room from the one he creates in. I used to think this a bit weird, but more and more I think its a great idea.

I bring this up because all to often I see writers talk about their craft as if they are doing it all alone. Yet every other art form I’ve done (both professionally and as a hobby) has used both an independent creative process and a collaborative creative process. Usually, like my song-writer acquaintance above, the initial creative process is done independently, while the editing is done collaboratively. But even the independent part of the creative process, (Bog, is there a better word than “independent” to describe working alone?) is not really working alone, at least for me. When I write my ideas come from all around me. Something said to me earlier that day might make its way into the story, or a joke I overheard, or something I witnessed on the bus. And that’s not counting the hundreds of novels and stories I’ve read over the years. Surely some of that works its way into everything I write.

And once you get to editing a novel (and I’m not just talking copy-editing here) then the story goes from independent to collaborative. An author writes, but where would their novel be if there weren’t promoters, and printers, book-jacket designers and art directors, publishers and even readers? All of these people make up a successful novel, not just the author. I think its time we authors start admitting this. Our stories are more than just the sum of their parts.


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