The kind of elixir I enjoy

I see only one requirement you have to have to be a director or any kind of artist: rhythm. Rhythm, for me, is everything. Without rhythm, there’s no music. Without rhythm, there’s no cinema. Without rhythm, there’s no architecture — Alejandro González Iñarritu

Considering there is a lot on my plate around this time of year, discovering the music of Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi is the last thing I should be indulging in.

But here I am, listening to him on Spotify when I can, wherever I can. The man has a profile there and he compiled a ‘Best of’ of his work. I cannot tell you how his compositions have added fuel to the creative fire that burns relentlessly in my soul. Not that the fire will ever be in danger of burning out.

I am forever humbled and blown away when my senses, combined with an already overactive imagination, are stimulated to the point that new scenes, ideas and concepts for my writing start throwing themselves into an already volatile mix of storytelling elements ready to transform into a novel. Christ, that was a long sentence. Maybe too long. Well, fuck it, I’m leaving it. That’s what Einaudi’s work has done to me.

He’s managed to seduce my imagination and, in turn, seduced me. That’s one way to burrow into my heart. Music. Talent. Mad skillz. Passion. The images his music evokes are cinematic in scope and nature. Just the kind of elixir I enjoy with unbridled want.

Einaudi’s work has been described as meditative and cinematic. I discovered that description somewhere online after a couple of days of listening the music. It had me at cinematic. That would explain the images freely swimming in my head — the chaotic kaleidoscope of shapes and colours swirling in my mind, waiting for me to dip my hand in to pull them out and arrange them into something beautiful and hypnotic.

What is so enticing and engaging about Einaudi’s work? For starters, he has simple leitmotifs that he uses to build complicatedly beautiful layers of sound between the piano and strings. His solo piano work is stunning, too. But the sound of strings and piano together is tantalizing to my ears. I’m not sure what it is about that combination of instruments, but whatever it is, Einaudi uses it to full effect. His musical sensibility is so alarmingly in tune with the way the creative part of my brain wants to function. Kinda a scary, to be honest. But so thrilling at the same time.

I think discovering Einaudi’s work is another sign that the storytelling ambitions I aspire to, are the right ones for the tools and skill set I’ve been trying to hone and sharpen in the last several months.

While I tend to my book design commitments, the creative fire will continue to burn. At low intensity, for now. But there are things I can do, such as re-examine the trajectory of the characters and make adjustments where necessary. Let those thoughts and ideas grow.

Once the commitments are done for another year, I will go back to stoke the creative fire so it can burn as brilliantly as Einaudi’s compositions.

Losing another one

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life — Annie Roiphe

2016 has not been kind to the music world. David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen and now George Michael. What the fuck.

Their deaths serves as a reminder to those who grew up listening to their music of our own mortality. We are getting older and there is no stopping that process. We grew up listening to their music never thinking that one day, they’ll die. Sometimes, we forget our music heroes are only human — people who were blessed with immense gifts that they shared with the world. And we just assumed that they would live into their 80s before they would take their last breath. Okay, Cohen was 82 when he died but we tend to forget the finer points because he was still creatively vital to the end.

2016 is six days from ending before 2017 takes over. But I suggest you still hold your breath, folks, because 2016 might not be finished plucking our heroes away from us just yet. And I’m gonna put it out there that I do not want to lose anybody from the Star Wars universe. Carrie Fisher’s very recent heart attack was bad enough for fans. Enough, I say. Enough. I really hope 2017 is kinder to everyone because 2016 has proven to be a rotten little fucker. Sure, take our heroes, but leave the legions of amoral bastards we would have no problem saying goodbye to, to turn this world to rot.

I grew up in the ’80s listening to Wham!, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and whoever else was part of the second musical British invasion. I was more interested in British music than Canadian music. Although Bryan Adams and Corey Hart did have their spots in my small and modest music collection back then. I can’t forget Blondie or Pat Benatar either.

Now, I listen to a wide range of music — movie scores, latinx, folk, blues, classical, trip hop, to name a few. But I’m terrible with keeping up with the newest music. It’s not something that comes naturally to me. I tend to discover ‘new’ music a year or two or four after it has been released.

But when someone like Bowie, Prince or Michael passes away, nostalgia comes to visit. Rediscovering the music and listening to it for the next little while is the most natural reaction. And some of that music makes their way back into your iPod or iPhone. Nostalgia visited me when Bowie and Prince died. Now, nostalgia will visit me again.

Those responsible for the songbook that represented my teen years and a portion of my twenties are starting to die. It’s sobering to acknowledge that. George Michael was far too young to die. 53 years old. Heart failure. What the fuck. He should have been around for another 20 years. But when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.

And we are left to remember our heroes and keep them in our hearts. The next six days may be the longest six days ever. What does 2016 have left to throw at us? Who knows. We can only wait and see.

Space and shape

In many a piece of music, it’s the pause or the rest that gives the piece its beauty and its shape. And I know I, as a writer, will often try to include a lot of empty space on the page so that the reader can complete my thoughts and sentences and so that her imagination has room to breathe — Pico Iyer

I’m not sure whether any of my writing has included a lot of empty space on the page so a reader can complete my thoughts and sentences. Do I want them to complete my thoughts and sentences? I don’t know. I’d prefer they come to their own conclusions about what I’ve presented them. I don’t see the point in telling the reader to finish my thoughts. I don’t think that’s part of how I define my job description. I could be wrong, though.

But I do whole-heartedly believe in giving a reader’s imagination room to breathe, or at least let them catch their breath (if you know what you’re doing, of course). I believe that is part and parcel of letting a reader come to their own conclusions.

While empty space isn’t exactly on my mind when I’m staring at a blank page, I do think about pacing and intensity — when to find the quiet moments, when to ramp things up, when to hold your breath and when to breathe. Dynamics, not monotony. I think I have natural ebbs and flows in my storytelling abilities. It’s not something I overthink. I’m not sure how successful I am at it, though. Haven’t heard any mutterings on that front. Not yet.

When I think of empty space, I tend to think visually and aurally. I understand it when I see and hear it in a film. It is also something that can be felt and tugs at your emotions. Moonlight does that for me.

Words can’t describe how that movie has affected me. Everything about that movie is perfection. I say that because of how it pulled me in from the first scene, right to the last words spoken in the film. I gotta tell you, those last words were so powerful, honest, vulnerable and heartfelt enough that it made me cry sitting in the theatre.

There are very few films that have the evocative power to move me this way. In fact, I can’t think of another film that has done what Moonlight did to me. I tend to go for the wild ride, the hold-your-breath type of films. Moonlight is it for me. It is one of those gems that you find once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Writer/director Barry Jenkins knows how to use empty space. You see it in the cinematography. You see it in the actors’ eyes and their physicality. You hear it in Nicholas Britell’s music score. You feel it in the dialogue. It’s inspiring. It has stirred something in my soul and it demands to be expressed or manifested in some way in my own life. It’s a process. I’m going to let it play out. I look at it with curiosity and embrace the possibilities to come.

If I can convert a small fraction the empty space I see in my imagination and shape it into something beautiful and, maybe, transcendent, into words the way Jenkins converted words into visuals for Moonlight, I will be one very happy camper.