Another Spring Break down. Though I wrote, quite a lot actually, I did no character or manuscript development. Most of what I wrote had to do with my other passion: bagpiping. I wrote about bagpiping and the “Ceol Mor” or big music, hammering my piping blog trying to get into a shape fit for public consumption. I have had a dramatic love affair with the Great Highland Bagpipe, as apposed to the wide variety of other pipes, for nearly thirty years now and in the “about” profile for the site, what started off as a paragraph or two soon became a page or two…or three…or four…or more. It was odd to realize that even though I felt my history was ragged and full of holes—years when I set my pipes aside for lesser things or when disenchanted with the band scene, I didn’t play for months—I nonetheless had lived my life with the pipes as a constant presence and as a result I surprisingly had quite a bit to relate.
Writing is the exact same way. My writing past is nothing to speak of: no published manuscripts, no articles in the press, no poems read to coffee house denizens or auditoriums full of half angry half adults. That being said, my desk is surrounded by papers covered in scribbles, note books stuffed with ideas and essays on those ideas, no less than three active journals, books on writing and music, novels and research marked by pencil, highlighter and pen, decorated with note covered book marks, sticky-notes and corner folded pages. What an amazing mess. My life has been writing, more so than I ever considered.
I am prepping for two piping competitions: one at the end of the week and another at the end of the month. All the flotsam and jetsam of playing pipes, the ephemeral experiences: memories, advice and lessons, as well as material resources: chanter types, reeds and notes from my piping journal, are being funneled down to shape a set of tunes for “publication”…in this case before a judge and the public at hand. Though comparisons exist with my writing ambitions, I know it is different, but at present I see the parallels clearly. In fact I feel the piping is informing my writing. Though it may not seem to me on the outside that I’m making progress, in truth all those bits and pieces are coming together and converging for an eventual public performance. There is movement, there is creation, as all those elements work, congeal, separate and boil themselves down to their essences. There is more history there…more going on than meets the cursory eye.
Each day I seriously indulge my musical practice: chanter-work and then the great instrument herself, I come that much closer to the goal of playing well. Though small it is one more performance of a tune than I had before, one more chance to change, fix and learn and all these chances add up. I film myself as I march about my library and then review it pretending I am the judge, just as I read my manuscript draft out loud to myself, record it, then review and critique it. I hammer a difficult succession of notes to get the phrasing just so even as I write and rewrite a passage to get it just right. I read the history of my instrument and the stories behind the great players and the great tunes so as to better understand how best to play, just as I do the same with the great writers and literary movements of the past…they inform my present even though it may seem they aren’t adding a single period to a line of my manuscript. In the end however, it is truly a matter of winding the instrument and practicing, the act of setting ink to paper that truly matters. No judge is going to offer me the prize for knowing John Ban MacKenzie’s biography. No publisher is going to offer me a deal because I am expert in Tolkien. It is the playing and practice, the writing and rewriting that will lead me there.
Aye…and then there are the judges, I.E. the critics and Joe-public may or may not like what comes out, few indeed may even read what I write or even deign to tap their foot while I play. Like my piping, my performance may lack in this, that or the other thing. So too may my writing, but I’ll learn and go on to the next performance or competition…plot or revision.
At the bottom of it all is the common truth that I will always play…I will always write. It is something that I will always do regardless of competition or contest; performance or publication. I must do it. It is who I am. I will always search for and relish that moment when the reeds vibrate in sympathy and the warm sound of the drones cords with the chanter and it surrounds the heart like a comforting blanket and my whole being seems uplifted and light…when the ideas are flowing, the characters seem to speak to me and I am not “here” anymore. I am there with them in my writing, in a world of exotic sights, sounds and smells.
I must play…I must write.