I’m in BC visiting my parents at the moment. Consequently, alas, I haven’t had time to write a Rant. Let us simply take a bit of a break until next week. The clock says “11:20 p.m.” at the moment, but my brain says “2:20 a.m.,” and it isn’t at all happy.
August 27, 2012
August 20, 2012
I should really be marking, of course. Instead, I’ll offer a few thoughts on my struggle with the one musical instrument everyone and his dog can play: the guitar.
Technically, I can play the guitar too. I took lessons when I was eighteen or nineteen, and I learned enough to strum my way through most three- or four-chord songs. I should clarify that I’ve taken lessons for relatively few of the instruments I play. I took piano lessons when I was a little kid, but I got bored with the inane repetition. Eventually, I taught myself how to play the piano on my own. I had the guitar class and another class on the harmonica, and we learned the recorder in elementary school. The only instrument I really studied classically was the flute. The ukulele, accordion, mandolin, melodica, and tin whistle I picked up on my own.
The guitar has always been the one that has given me the most trouble. Partly, it’s that my first love is the piano, meaning that I am more comfortable with keyboards than I am with fretboards. However, that’s not entirely it; I can manage the mandolin, and I can do some crazy stuff on the ukulele. The guitar is just too big for my hands. My mum’s classical guitar has too wide a neck; my own acoustic guitar has a narrower one, but I still struggle to make bar chords. My hands are pretty big for a woman’s, so I’m wondering if my fingers are just not thick or strong enough. It seems pretty clear that guitars are made with guys in mind. Ukuleles, mandolins, and even banjos have narrower necks than guitars, and I can play them more or less all right. I do have problems with bar chords on any instrument, but never to the extent I do with the guitar. I don’t understand how some players make bar chords look so effortless. I really think there’s something wrong with my fingers.
At any rate, until recently, I’d just sort of accepted that guitars and I didn’t get along. It’s always been a bit embarrassing. People will express incredulity when I explain that I play everything but the guitar. Some accuse me of joking or lying. I’m not sure why this is. Guitarists who play nothing but the guitar never seem to get met by accusations of lying when they confess they can’t play anything else. I play the piano, accordion, ukulele, mandolin, flute (two different styles), piccolo, recorder, harmonica, melodica, and pennywhistle (numerous sizes), but there’s something wrong with me because I stay away from the guitar.
Summer is the time I am most prone to spend money on musical instruments. This summer, I became a bit more aware than I had been before of the existence of the tenor guitar. This instrument looks like a slightly smaller guitar but has only four strings; it is tuned CGDA, like a cello, tenor banjo, or mandola. It isn’t a very common instrument, and it hasn’t been around for even a century; it was invented as a transitional instrument at about the time the tenor banjo began to go out of style and the six-string guitar gained in popularity. Lately, it has been enjoying a small renaissance in the US, possibly related to the Rise of the Ukulele; this renaissance has not made it to Canada, and it is virtually impossible to find a tenor guitar here. I therefore ordered one online. It just struck me as the perfect instrument for me. I’m already familiar with circle-of-fifths tuning from the mandolin, and though I am comfortable with my ukulele, I sometimes, when playing with a group, miss having access to notes that are not, well, really high. The tenor doesn’t go as low as the six-string, but it’s strung with steel and works well as both a rhythm and a solo instrument.
My tenor arrived last Monday. It has not disappointed me. My girly fingers still find some of the chords a bit of a stretch, but at long last, I can play the guitar, or something resembling the guitar. I do find I’m more comfortable with four strings (or eight strings in four courses, as on the mandolin) than I am with six. I’m still loyal to all my other instruments, but it will be fun to play a stringed instrument that is more or less audible in a band and doesn’t sound as if it is being played by one of the Chipmunks. I would highly recommend it if it were, in fact, possible to find tenors in Canada. Oh well…perhaps someday.
August 13, 2012
For some reason, I cannot think of any subject worthy of a Rant tonight. I think I may have used up all my Rants this afternoon, when some of us gathered at Massey College to watch Donna Vakalis compete in the Modern Pentathlon. I ranted to Davin about the frustrations attendant on the desire to write a young-adult fantasy that was not, in fact, a romance. I ranted to Barry about this same subject, plus also marking, Twilight, and the fact that I couldn’t stop ranting. I ranted to Heather about Twilight as well, then to Heather and Alexandra about fairy tales. All in all, a lot of ranting happened today. I skipped the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and went home because the ranting had made me tired. Therefore, I’ll need to end today’s Rant here. I suppose it was really only a matter of time before I wrote a Rant about my own ranting.
August 6, 2012
The write-a-thon is over, which means I can get back to my marking! Ah ha ha ha ha ha.
Be sure to check under the comic for all the prizes.
We’re taking a bit of a break from the Olympics at the moment, but rest assured that there will be some kind of comic-y comment on whatever happens to Donna (or Dana) on August 12th.
I’ve written over 55,000 words in the past six weeks, bringing my current novel up to about 70,000 words in length. Because I’ve been doing this writing for a write-a-thon, there’s been a certain pressure (mostly just from me) to bull on ahead and not backtrack. I’ve discovered that I’m not entirely comfortable with this kind of writing. Sure, it’s invigorating to see the word count build up. Yet the first thing I did once the write-a-thon was over was go back and delete about 3,000 words. In fact, I nixed a whole scene involving a terrifying climb over a pile of loose rocks at the edge of a cliff because it was entirely unnecessary, added nothing to the development of the plot or the characters, and brought the actual story to a juddering halt for several pages while the characters spent about an hour of their time engaged in a purely physical activity that allowed them to accomplish something that five minutes of walking could have done just as well. It can be heartbreaking to delete that much work, but some scenes really just have to go.
A lot of my students skip the editing stage when they’re working on their essays, and I know perfectly well why. Editing is tedious. It draws your attention to the glaring flaws in the work you thought you just spent hours or days perfecting; it demonstrates that what you believed were clever turns of phrase are, in actual fact, clunky and embarrassing. It takes up time that could be better spent sleeping, eating, or surfing the Internet. If you wrote it that way the first time, didn’t you do it for a reason? Isn’t editing like second-guessing yourself on a multiple-choice test?
Above all, editing hurts. Your writing is your baby. This may be less true for essays than it is for works of fiction, but I’ve still seen students behave defensively when called out on confusing writing or problematic logic. Your writing is perfect in your head; it may be less perfect on the page, but surely some of the staggering genius of that brilliant story that has lately been seething through your brain has emerged onto the page. It seems wrong to regard your baby with a critical eye, then hack it to pieces in the interests of “improving” it. You may also, of course, believe that you are Wordsworth and feel quite strongly that writing is meant to spring full-grown from the head of Zeus.
In my experience, however, editing isn’t just the boring, uncreative process of cutting bits out of what should apparently have been a breathtakingly spontaneous piece of Art. There’s a certain creativity to editing too. It allows you to go back over your story and make the connections you missed the first time, adding in the details, the subtext, the references that will cause your readers to weep at the beauty of your words or, at the very least, not throw the book against the wall in disgust. It allows you to make your story leaner. It gives you a chance to regret your love affair with the common adverb. It shows you at least some of your typos, and then it shakes its head at you.
Towards the end of my 55,000-word marathon, I was feeling wretched about those 3,000 words. I knew they were there; I knew there was no reason for them to be there. Because of all the obsessive counting I was doing, I didn’t feel free to get rid of them until after the need for the counting had stopped. They bothered me, though. They were still there. I kept having to remind myself that the scene would be gone soon enough. When I finally got around to editing the offending chapter, it was the easiest cut I had ever made; I didn’t even miss the words when they were gone.
It’s a good idea to remember that progressing towards a writing goal is about more than churning out words. (This goes for you too, students.) Getting the words down is a necessary step, but so is laying into them with the pruning shears. Writing feels like inspiration; editing has its Eureka moments too.