Friday, 29 July 2011

Writing Green & Red Lights

Here's a veritable ah-ha list of random writerly wisdom. Things to avoid and embrace, tried-and-tested tips, from my experience anyway. Voilá:

10 Things/States/Situations Conducive to Writing:

1. Sleep - Like the tooth-fairy, Santa Claus and all things mythic, inspiration usually comes during zzzz time. Can't get an idea? Sleep on it and pay attention to dreamtime doodles and waking-woozy intuitions.
2. Muses - Crush on someone. Obsess. Adore. Worship. Whatever. And write it all down. A writer without a muse is like a journalist without a story, a teacher without a textbook, an architect without a get the gist.
3. Coffee - An essential prop in trying to write. A strong cup of coffee oils the mechanics of the mind. The majority of the great writers are caffeine-addicts. Also helps to counter-act those late-nights.
4. Rainy Days - The ideal climate for writers. Housebound can lead to picking up a pen and creating an exotic setting. There's something about rainy grey days that irrigate the dry plains of a writing drought.
5. Re-writing/Editing - To beat a block, edit an old piece of work or set yourself the task of re-writing a favourite poem or story. Being a secretary to the written word will inevitably spark new words.
6. 4am - The ideal time for creativity. Late night-writing is preferred by many writers. Daytime can equal ennui, but nighttime equals dreams. Ever wake up circa 4 am and find a brilliant idea circulating in the synaspes?? Write into the wee hours for bigger and better ideas, stamped with the seal of starry imagination.
7. Contemplation - i.e. thinking about things deeply while being relaxed. Existentialism especially. Much contemplation is required before writing; the theory before the practice so to speak.
8. Emotion - Writing is sparked by passion, be it anger, love, excitement. But wait until the feeling has cooled before you write - never strike while the iron is hot! As Wordsworth remarked 'poetry is strong emotion recalled in tranquility'.
9.Writers Groups - Can provide the motivation, provided you have the mettle to air your writing in public. Can also provide some competition, which is good for the morale.
10. Nail-Biting - The practice of nail-biting is such a nerve-reducing one, it takes the edge off writing, and not near as distracting as food. While shipwrecked at the computer, a writer could survive on nail-biting for at least a few days...

10 Things/States/Situations Inhibitive to Writing:

1. On-the-spot writing exercises - Á la writing groups specifically. Writing cannot be called forth when required, it is a progressive and patient art, which must be enticed, not enforced. Three-minute express sessions can seriously wound a writer's mojo.
2. Reading - Reading great literature can reduce you to a terrified and stage-frightened  pathethic amateur looking in the face of all the big and powerful pros. Avoid excessive book consumption while in the throes of inking.
3. Boredom - Mind-numbing staring-out-the-window-into-space-sort-of-thing won't conjure up creations, rather it will zombify and zap all intimations of creations...much different to contemplation, which is active inaction. Boredom is passive and involuntary.  If left untreated can lead to imagination gangrene. Beware.
4. Indifference - Oh there it is again, the nasty stun-gun/turned-back syndrome. Not hearing feedback on your writing can seriously stunt a writer's growth. My advice, don't show your writing to fickle friends, only professionals who are in the business of wanting to read and criticise it.
5. Avoidance - Doing the housework to avoid writing will only lead to more housework believe me. Inevitably one chore will lead to another. Get verbal instead of domestic. Clean abode satisfaction will never equal the feeling of filling up pages!
6. Sunny Days - These offer many distractions to the writer, who instead of being huddled up in a dark corner of an attic is enticed to go outside and absorb some light. Never a masterpiece was written while the sun was shining (on a computer anyway).
7. Hourly Slumps  -The 3pm slump is nothing to a writer who has to deal with many a.m. and p.m. slumps. Writing is a lonely  and completely self-dependant business. Keep motivation up by having multiple random breaks I say!
8. Blank Page - Never stare at a blank page for too long. It will fry your optic nerve (in the words of Margaret Atwood...). Start right away to beat the blank, a half-typed or even scribbled page isn't near as scary as a ferocious glaring white one baring fangs.
9. Audience Anxiety - The best writers aren't concerned too much about their audience. Write for yourself first and foremost. Write with an audience in mind, but not grovelling at their feet in fear of being heckled. Being self-conscious will cripple a writer; shout it out loud and proud, regardless!
10. The Block - Uh-oh, the dreaded B-word. Mostly a psychosomatic affliction. Don't give it much time. Beat it by writing over it, under it, through it. And most important of all,  by not believing in it.

Have a lot of experience of the prior unfortunately...

Any WRITERS reading, would love to hear your thoughts on your green and red lights to writing! Anyone run into the same obstacles/encouragements as me?? Would love to know more! Comments/emails most welcome!

~ Siobhán.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Ode to July

'July fizz-bombs in my mouth...' 'July' - Mundy

Lucky no. 7 July. The summer golden giant, big wheel highpoint, all fireworks and flowers and fun. Independence Day, Bastille day, Marseillaise sounding month. Or as Irish singer Mundy's melancholy/manic lyrics go "oh my my my, oh my my, oh my my my my Julyy...." Much suited to the melancholy misery of a monsoon climate, drowning in rain instead of soaking up sun. (Here in Ireland anyway - help -  sending out a sun SOS!)

I used to be in love with July. Saw it first as a muse and then worthy suitor. Probably due to all that sun and holidays and fireworks and carnivalesque caper. July was the point in the year at the top of the Big Wheel. It was a lucky doubloon found, some golden treasure in the year. Now it's nearly always rain, rain and more rain and hectic with holiday-makers.

July memories, sea-shells lining the shore of the mind that whistle and sing. Like chimes made of silver and bone, soothing and haunting. Days that stick to the memory like sand to bare feet, toe-ensconced. Coconut-scented and carefree. Sun as yellow as hay-bales, as honey, as buttered as popcorn. Mind in a hammock, swinging through scenes. Daisy-calm of dilly-dallying, daydreaming, doing nothing. Diet of ice-cream and outdoor tea-times.
July in full bloom and beautiful. Raspberry-pink, fuchsia pink, and hot-pinks everywhere.  Hanging baskets mapping the horizon. Summer's mascot month.
July and all its turquoise deep-sea dreams. Beach-scavenging, star-fish and sea-shells and mermaid musing. Sea a vista of beckoning blue, nights an echo of blue-sky days. Late nights cool midnight-blue, invitations not endings. Silver and star-filled.
July carnivals. Expectation sticky-sweet like candy-floss on the air. The gold and red of the Big Wheel, wheel of Fortune, spinning out our Fates, wild heights of summer dreaming. Where we step outside who we are in the ringside of the day and leap into the helter-skelter of minds wild with what could be. Imagination invincible.
Swinging to-and-fro glory and grass-rolling and all kinds of little-kid carry-on. Picnics and barefoot beach walks,  Time flip-flopping carelessly along.  Fireworks a fitting homage to the crackling atmosphere, fused and lit in the sparking pink and blue and amber of neon fire. Lucky no.7 July days. Melt-in-your-mouth July days. Bittersweet July, before the spiral slide into September, the looming iron vice of winter. 

At least there's still fireworks though! I love fireworks. How they're metaphorical for so many things. How fleeting and fantastic they are... And how much of a challenge they offer for the writer! Can fireworks be described in words? Sparking, flaring, crackling, fountains of fire, phantasmogoric..... I stutter to try. Last night under an aquamarine-dappled July navy night sky, fuchsia and gold and emerald and violet sparks of fire flared in a fanfare of ...hmm. Not even photographs can capture their fleeting glory. 

But here's a poem which comes close...and I don't think it's talking about hate somehow...more like love. Or maybe how fervent hate is just the flip-side of passionate love.  Heady, heart-fuelled fiery love.  Notice how the language leaps and flames mimicking a  fireworks display brilliantly and how the whole thing just crackles with feeling. Love the colours and images. Enjoy.


*all images used from
'Fireworks' - Amy Lowell  

You hate me and I hate you
And we are so polite, we two!

But whenever I see you, I burst apart
And scatter the sky with my blazing heart.
It spits and sparkles in the stars and balls,
Buds into roses and flares, and falls.    

Scarlet buttons, and pale green disks,
Silver spirals and asterisks,
Shoot and tremble in a mist
Peppered with mauve and amethyst.

I shine in the windows and light up the trees,
And all because I hate you, if you please.

And when you meet me, you rend asunder
And go up in a flaming wonder
Of saffron cubes, and crimson moons,
And wheels all amaranths and maroons.

Golden lozenges and spades
Arrows of malachites and jades,
Patens of copper, azure sheaves.
As you mount, you flash in the glossy leaves.

Such fireworks as we make, we two!
Because you hate me and I hate you.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Superhero Shenanigans: Is it a bird? Is it a Plane? Is it Real....or just Pretend?


Who doesn't love a superhero? Caped crusaders flying in to rescue the world from hideous villains/threats/disasters in a midst of special effects and cataclysmic consequences and 'do-doo-do-doo-do' rousing score?  I'm quite addicted to the superhero genre. I enjoy all superhero films. And before I lose you - nooo, I am not a sci-fi geek or comic fan, or anything that implies hysteria and obsession, and am not about to engage in gobbeldy-gook geekisms. I just enjoy superheroes. Have done from an early age. (And yes, I am a girl, despite my unusual preference for boys Superman and He-Man printed pyjamas when a toddler....)

My favourite film when I was a kid was the Superman films with real-life hero Christopher Reeve. I enjoyed the fantastical premises. The action. The flying. The baddies. The super feats of saving. That's superhero movies on the surface - all escapism and special effects. But to an older me, there was something about that blue and red clad hero flying in to the save the day that welled something up in me - daring, courage, justice, pride, strength, sacrifice... huge concepts. Conjured up by the allegorical content of the films. Scratch the surface of superheroes and you'll find more than just lycra and spandex.

Ever since studying a course on fantasy literature at college (no, not a geek  I swear - it had the lesser reading list!), I've come to view all things escapist as super-real, instead of surreal. All escapist literature is not merely so; rather it is a more heightened way of talking about reality. Hence, every escapist/fantasy/superhero tale you come across, is always something more. Look closely and you'll find an astute allegory lurking behind the effects and extravagance. 

This superhero musing comes as a result of seeing the summer's mandatory superhero flick 'The Green Lantern', which explores the very human struggle between fear and will both being personified respectively as a monstrous entity and protective green guardians. A bit lacklustre if watched purely for the surface formulaic plot, but much more interesting if taken on the metaphorical level; how fear is a formidable enemy, almost inconquerable, and how our will, our courage, is the only means of defeating it. And so, it got me to thinking about the whole superhero genre and how metaphorical and allegorical it is, and has become. 

I read an article once analysing the Americanism of the superhero genre. For a start, all superheroes are American, the setting usually an iconic American city. And have you noticed that most superheroes' costumes consist of red and blue? The colours of the American flag. Therefore, Superman is supposed to be the quintessential American hero, saving the free nation from all kinds of unsavoury unfree states. Notice how many times Superman is pictured in the films beside the American flag, raising it, protecting it, restoring it to its high-flying glory? Superman is a symbol of American freedom and the American urge to protect this freedom at all costs. Superman first appeared in comic form in 1938 when the threat of Fascism was rearing its ugly head, and soared in popularity during and after the war years, when America faced uncertainty and an identity crisis in the face of Communism and Cold War competition. What better way to revive a sense of patriotic identity and self-belief than a superhero national ego? The superhero brand also consolidated America's status as super-power, not a mere comic creation indeed, but more of a symbol that was submerged into the national subconscious.

The allegories in superhero films are mainly to do with good vs evil, morals vs scruples, and courage vs fear. Remember the baddies in Superman? The three menacing black-clad dictator-like figures - one of them even termed 'General Zod' - who terrorised earth seemingly unconquerable until the power of good, i.e. democracy, in the shape of Superman defeats them? Good will always win out over evil in superhero films. Lex Luther, the wealthy villainous crook, could be seen as an example of corporate crime and mean materialism eating away at the innate moral heart of America. But Superman defeats him too. Not to mention the Christian influence present in a god-like Jorel sending his only son to redeem the earth.  And in Spiderman, there's the moralistic doctrine of responsibility "with great power comes great responsibility" says Peter Parker's uncle in the first film, a maxim which is carried through in the rest of the franchise providing its moral fibre and substance. 

The superhero genre more than any other, celebrates the power of the individual to change the fate of the world, a concept that is uniquely and exclusively American. The cult of individualism is given no greater arena than superhero flicks. Spiderman, the second most popular super-hero after Superman, sees an ordinary kid - geek to be precise - suddenly turned to great as a result of a fortunate accident and with the power to save lives and  achieve everything he wants. The American dream dressed up in more red and blue lycra. Superman accomplishes everything o solo mio too, no sidekicks necessary, relying solely on his strength of will and strong sense of self. And on a more - vampire - note, in a memorable finale episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', just when we think the end is nigh for the superhero/slayer Buffy, being held at sword-point by a demonic Angel with seemingly no way out, who taunts her by saying something to the effect of 'no family, no friends, no weapons, now what do you have?', Buffy rebounds from defeat defiantly with a sudden epiphany: 'I have me',  before grabbing the sword and sticking him with it in a priceless you go girl moment.  Superheroes can never die see. Their strength of will and moralistic nature makes them invincible. Self-belief and self-actualisation is at the heart of all superhero tales, which is probably what makes them less pretend and more real, and consequently more popular. (And which maybe explains my penchant for them; as a strong-willed Aries, I believe in the power of self-empowerment and self-sufficiency above all else!)

And superheroes are still as relevant today as they were years ago. They have adapted to match the requirements of today's societal problems. X-Men looks at the very modern problem of racism, and an advancing technology prowess. Avatar is more an  elaborate environmental parable than a 3D entertaining romp. Iron-Man tackles the contentious issue of the arms industry, while the revamped Batman franchise delves into the darker psychology of crime, violence and corruption in what was a coup for comic-book films with the hugely successful 'The Dark Knight.'
So there you have it. Think superhero flicks are all fun and fantasy? Think again. Don't tut off the next superhero release, shunning it as superficial. There's more to it than that. Look closely. Is our hero decked out in red and blue? Does he (oh and they're nearly always 'hes' - hmm that's a theory for another day...) engage in patriotic behaviour, such as returning the stars and stripes to its high-flying glory? Is he prepared to sacrifice anything including his life for the world's safety in an Utopian idealistic political style? What other metaphors can you uncover beneath the blockbuster front?

If all else, this view of the genre may help keep you awake if you ever have the unfortunate experience of viewing 'Transformers: The Dark of the Moon', second sequel or prequel or whatever it is, or any of the Transformers for that matter - if you ask me the most boring comicbook films ever made... Machines taking over the earth? Must be a metaphor for death by monotony -  yawn... Can anyone find any others amidst all the machine robot rubble?? I'd be interested to know!

Over and out,


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Passion, Pulse and Stadium Rock

                                                       Bon Jovi @ RDS Dublin June 2011 (pict-

Passion. Where would we be exactly without passion? Well, without Art for one. Without music.  Without la joie de vivre. Without a pulse, metaphorically at least. If passion were a colour what would it be? Red. Red, red and more red.  If it were an image what would it be? A kaleidoscope of red roses? A red flag waving?  And if it were a sound? Well, that's easy: music of course. Loud, proud and pounding rock'n'roll to be exact.

Music is the most obvious and all-encompassing place where passion lives. 'In music the passions enjoy themselves' Nietzsche remarked. Its foundations are built in passion; its creation; its performance; its intentions and its effects. Every song a musician records is a piece of their passion moulded and melted into music to transfer to us, so that we too may recognise this quintessential ingredient of living. Music provides the pulse to our lives, its rhythmic discourse. It gives life a tune and in turn, tunes us in to life. Music is the one thing in this world most people go crazy over. The devotional term 'fans' relates primarily to music fans, die-hard groupies who crave music like hardcore junkies.  

You see, I've just had my first taste of some summer music and I'm still on a soaring chorus-high!  Now, I won't attempt to review them, (I'm not a snotty music critic flaunting the language of haughty-taughtyism) but I will try to describe the atmosphere (as I am most certainly a fan).

First of all, watching U2 at Glastonbury last week (on tv merely) but the atmosphere was  so contagious it crossed the border of tv screen to the ears and heart easily. (Despite what the critics had to say about it.  It is their job to criticise after all, not praise. Pah. Besides, music should be reviewed by the heart and not the head, but sadly criticism demands only the latter. ) All of U2's songs have a core of passion, beginning in quiet and contemplative lyrics  before rising to chorus crescendoes of longing and surrender and full-pour-your-heart-out rock. Anway, this was a raw, real and stripped down performance by U2. Highlights for me included 'With or Without You,' their enduring cut-to-the-bone love song that is as sharply true as a knife-edge; the wonderful blue-sky enthusiasm and green vivacity of 'A Beautiful Day'; the high hope and invincible resolve of new beginnings in 'Where the Streets Have no Name'; and lastly a quiet zen-like reflection and acceptance in 'A Moment of Surrender.' 'Nothing moves us like music', it's been said, and it's hard not be moved while listening to U2 (even if Bono's swagger does get on your nerves...) If music can channel passion like this, then it must exist. Within and without. This set by U2 was a truly glorious goosebump-inducing one that would inject lust-for-life into any lacklustre soul. Check out a clip here: 

Second, a stadium concert I was at in the RDS Thursday last by Bon Jovi, the legendary US rockers who haven't faded into obscurity with the decades change in music styles, but steadily survived with their strong brand of radio-friendly rock. Standing in a stadium of thousands of people clapping and stomping in sync to their loud airborne rock'n'roll - the beat so much fleshier live - ricocheting through every body there like an en masse heartbeat, I have to say was a truly passionate and memorable experience. Is there anything better really than listening to rock'n'roll on a sunny blue-sky evening, feeling the pounding beats course through every pore, and nothing, nothing to do, only enjoy the music, submerge your self into it until you're a part of it, and the crowd a part of you, and join in rejoicing at the altar of sing-along anthems and kick-ass guitar riffs, pumping choruses, chanting lyrics that are suddenly the testament and truth of living? Ahh, no I think not...

Mass sing-alongs are a hallmark of any good gig (and a by-product of a charismatic frontman; the energy and enthusiasm of Jon Bon Jovi spread to the crowd from the minute he walked on stage, decked out all in black with complimentary rock-star shades and a 'let's rock' attitude, the gruelling tour schedulue clearly not an obstacle to much high-powered arm-raising and running-around.) And this gig had many.  From the loud and independence proclamative 'It's My Life' with the infamous line 'like Frankie said, I did it my way...'; to the feisty '90s foot-stomping riposte in the face of society's woes 'Keep the Faith' where the screen temporarily lights up with digital pyrotechnics (my personal highlight with the irrestible beat channeled by the signature maracas); to the glorious country-twanged 'Blaze of Glory', title self-explanatory when it comes to killer guitar riffs; to the overwhelming collective crowd singing of the 'together-forevers' in a surprise acoustic rendition of 'Never Say Goodbye';  right through to the encore of the band's classic anthem 'Living on a Prayer', the incomparable 'Always'  and the electro-backed dreamy new tune 'Love's the Only Rule' with black and white and red visuals a backdrop to the heartfelt sentiments, this band of veteran rockers had the whole stadium on their feet singing every word, as ingrained as any religion, clapping and waving their hands fervently as a show of support the entire night. (Phew...! Major long sentence, please excuse!) 

 While Irish audiences are known to sing the most and the loudest, the band still seemed stunned at the participation, with Jon Bon Jovi frequently looking awed (and humbled) on several occasions, most especially when the crowd carried on the fade-out 'whoa-oh-ohs' of 'I'll Be There For You' long after the song had finished, and when the last chords of the final song reverberated around the stadium delaying the band's departure from the stage and forcing a clearly endeared JBJ to join in on the insistent humming. Oh, and in what had to be one of the highlights of the night, we took over the singing in  'Wanted Dead or Alive' - the rebel/cowboy/free-spirit themed-song, regarded as the band's best, all plucked guitar strings and triumphant hand-in-the-air choruses - so much so that Jon Bon Jovi took a backseat on the vocals, too surprised and delighted at the reaction to interrupt (pictured, official photo from Yep, we Irish can sing. Is there anyone in the country who doesn't know the lyrics to a Bon Jovi song tell me??  Everyone was singing - old, middle-aged and teenager, men and women, hardcore and casual fan alike, from the old '80s tunes right through to the new ones. Maybe that's why Bon Jovi are the 2nd-highest grossing band in the world when it comes to concerts (behind only U2 incidentally).

 I remember listening to Bon Jovi circa 12 years of age on a brick-like Sony walkman, remember their dodgy hair and leather and a faded-jean wearing Jon, complete with bandana, Superman tattoo and earnest lyrics, but mostly, I remember the passion in the music, namely  -Always, Bed of Roses, Blaze of Glory, Keep the Faith. (Anyone remember that TOTP performance of Always against a Niagara Falls background? I defy you to find a more intense performance - setting-wise at least!) Over 20 years in the music industry, and how they still have it. Amazing watching  49-year-old frontman Jon Bon Jovi - still as dashing as ever - dance and frolick around the stage for 3 full hours, interacting with the crowd not as  some glorified rockstar with his fans, but more as old buddies meeting up, kicking back and listening to some tunes, any tiredness a mere tedious triviality to the astounding basking glory of the music he's making and sharing (with an injured strapped-up knee too no less). I'm ashamed to admit I'd never been to a Bon Jovi concert before (they slipped off my radar in school...kicking myself now though - they were never completely gone - Blaze of Glory chords are tattooed in my heart!) and it kept occuring to me throughout that 'I'm at a Bon Jovi concert', I should be But I couldn't seem to I was instead... song-struck. First and foremost, this concert was about real music performed with real feeling.  No fancy stage-show special-effects, no theatrics, no bullshit. Just straight-up music-making and all the better for it. 

From sky-blue to midnight blue (and black-clad band members and beats in between), the crowd at the RDS last Thursday enjoyed several hours of rockin' music before going home and making their way back to 'the real world,' as JBJ called it, but also advised us to '"try and loosen things up for a couple of nights", like we all, band included, had done tonight. And maybe it was the euphoria of the encore - Living on a Prayer, Always, Love's the Only Rule - or the band's genuine thanks and appreciation, the deep blue summer night sky, or the still-lingering sweat and enthusiasm, but I think everyone did go off carrying something of the night with them: the escapism and hyper-realism that music simultaneously is, and the drumbeats of passion it can kick off in our routine-quieted souls. 

So thanks to Bon Jovi for some classic rocking out! They definitely still have it, much to critics chagrin, who have thrown abuse at them for years. But they carry on, regardless. They're resilient, genuine, appreciative of their fame and fans, and proud of their music. And  they left us with a tasting of true raise-your-hands rock'n'roll lust-for-life, in other words - the passion that is the experience of a live gig by a great artist with great songs (painting some more red onto a black-and-white background wahey!) 

Oh, and  a 10/10 on my personal gig-o-meter - came home sweating and hoarse, and the songs are still playing in a blaze of glory in my head a week later! I'll leave you with a word from the man himself - 'Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.' - Jon Bon Jovi.  Said with the appropriate rockstar cool and gusto. Yeahhh!

Rock on,