Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Personal storytelling, songs and DIY

I hope my readers haven’t been put off by the recent case of Baumer navel-gazing. One of the complaints that some people have about blogging is its tendency towards overly personal and narcissistic excesses. That wasn’t my intention with The Baumer Family Writing Project (TBFWP). I thought Mark’s original idea worthwhile, very much in tune with tenets of DIY culture, which originated with the punk subculture of the late 1970s. If nothing else, it has created a bit of a “buzz” in our household, as meals have taken on a new importance, with less focus on the menu for the evening and instead, in anticipation of the entertainment for dessert.

While I remain forever a creature of politics and cultural criticism, there is only so much analysis and deconstruction that one person can take. For every poignant and cutting-edge piece of journalism that comes down the pike, there are hundreds of other attempts at commentary, analysis and political spin that are woeful at best and nauseating at their worst.

Back to DIY culture and TBFWP. With Mark and Mary stepping up and sharing their writing, it was now my own turn to put up, or shut up. While the past three years of freelancing has forced me up against the wall on numerous occasions, to meet an editor’s deadlines, the demands of our family-focused writing group caused me no small measure of anxiety. With Mark wanting regular contributions, every third night, I knew that work, responsibilities and life would make this unrealistic. My new job and recent reintroduction to my guitars found me without a piece of writing to share, as I started my day. Unlike previous gigs I’ve had connected with collecting a paycheck, my current gig requires eight hours of concentration and creativity. In addition, a late afternoon appointment in Augusta made throwing together a writing sample before dinner unlikely, if not impossible. Not to worry. Last night’s 90 minute guitar exercise gave me 20 minutes of lo-fi cassette chord changes and song structures to listen to in my car. One of these was actually quite good. A simple G, D, A chord pattern, capoed at the second fret, was the foundation for lyrics I scribbled on a notepad during my 45 minute trip home from our state capital.

I walked into the house, greeted by the welcoming smells of grilled pork chops, courtesy of Dave Gutter’s, in North Windham and some tender potatoes cooked in tinfoil on the grill.

When asked if I had something I’d written, I feigned busyness as an excuse, not sure if I could pull off my recent attempt at songwriting. After clearing the table, it was off to the basement, where I was greeted by my Fender tube amp apparently sporting a fried speaker at worst, or at least a loose connection, causing any electric axe work to be rendered fuzzed out and incoherent. Fortunately for me, I still have my trusty Yamaha, so I worked my way through the chords, while fitting my lyrics to the syncopation of my strumming.

“Crooked World,” written on my way home, is one of the better songs I’ve ever writte (not that my writing credits would ever rival Lennon/McCartney). Capturing some of the feelings I’ve been having about the world I live in, with a final verse placing the solution to the world’s problems squarely on the shoulders of individuals, not government, charismatic leaders or members of the entertainment industry, this four minute ditty has some possibilities, maybe even showing up at an open mic night some snowy night in November or December.

I’m sheepish to admit that I know so very little about podcasting. I’d be more than happy to put my lo-fi attempt at songsmithing up for others to listen to, but I know nothing about how to do it. I’d be very pleased if someone could send me a helpful link that gives me the basics of posting music files on the internet—a veritable podcasting 101.

I’m entertaining migrating our continuing attempts at being a DIY family to Write in Maine, as we continue the TBFWP into the near future. Since that site is more centered on writing and the craft of writing, that would probably be a good place for it.

As I end, my thoughts wander to an old article I wrote back in the good ole’ days of “direct action journalism” and The Portland Pigeon. Back in those days, long before I ever thought about a book, or starting a publishing company, it was just our little writing collective and the local stories we cared about, creating a simple 8 page free paper that mattered for this short, but formative period of time. My first contribution was "Democracy is Us," which even though it was written almost three years ago, still makes me feel good about the sentiments I attempted to get across.

While I’m not disavowing partaking of popular culture and books, music and movies produced for the masses, there is something special about writing one’s own story, article, or song and sharing it with others. The politics and cultural ruminations are certain to reappear, but writing personal stuff is where it all started, so it feels good to return to my roots.

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