Pentatonic Minor Thoughts

It’s snowing as I write this. I almost wrote “snowing outside,” but then realized what a silly thing that was to say. Of course it’s snowing outside. If it was snowing inside, that would be either remarkable or a serious problem, possibly both. What is somewhat notable is that it wasn’t supposed to snow today. Or at least that was the prediction yesterday. But then friends and relations from down south have been posting snow pictures for the last few days, snow from Texas to Georgia. It was snowing in MS back when it wasn’t snowing here, only about eighty miles from the Canadian border. I was starting to feel left out, which is another silly notion. When they have enough snow that the local hardware stores start stocking snow shovels, then we’ll talk.

In addition to the guitar (no segue for you), I’ve added a couple more instruments to my “can’t play this worth a flip” category: pennywhistle and native style flute. By most accounts, the pennywhistle has only been around since the late 18th century. The native flute, by contrast, can be traced back for a few thousand years, and if you throw in the Neolithic bone flutes, a lot longer. Modern examples, whether of the five or six-hole variety, are tuned primarily to the pentatonic minor scale in different keys, though an advanced player can play other scales on the same flute; the older flutes (a few intact examples survive) were apparently tuned to the ear of whoever made it. Rather like how guitars can be relative tuned so that the notes and chords sound fine together until you try to jam with another guitar in standard tuning, where the differences suddenly become relevant. One gets the impression that the original native flute was a solitary instrument unless everyone in the group was playing an example made by or tuned to the same maker.

Yes, I know. But I’m just learning this stuff and now so will you. I’m mostly trying to be clear about my own understanding of a given subject, and I tend to do that by writing it down. As I’m doing here.

One interesting facet of learning the native flute is the order of learning. Once you have a handle on how to sound the notes and play the scale cleanly, the next order of business isn’t learning songs. No, the next order of business is: improvise. As long as you’re in the scale there’s no such thing as a wrong note. Try playing them in different orders, learn trills and (note) slurs and even bending notes. Odds are you’ll have made up your own songs even before you learn anyone else’s. And you’ll be ready to do that, if you want.

I do. I’ve even heard “Stairway to Heaven” on native flute, though it’ll probably be a while before I tackle that. Maybe “Silent Night.” After all, ‘tis the season.



I Don’t Know Why You Say Hello, I say Goodbye

One of the nice things about the internet is that it lets you reconnect with old friends long separated from you by time and distance. One of the horrible things about the internet is that it lets you reconnect….well, you get the idea.

Some time ago I heard from a very old friend indeed, someone I’d met in community college and spent two happy years with as a close friend before I went off to USM and we lost contact, as those things tend to happen. Cool, I think, and it’s great to be able to catch up. As it turned out, not so great. Reading her profile I found that she’d become “Born Again” and to a particularly virulent strain of evangelical pseudo-Christian. Next thing I’m checking out her blog and reading a very bigoted and hateful rant about immigrants and welfare recipients and a host of other imagined enemies of the lunatic right. Not so unusual, especially these sorry days, but you have to realize that this person, when I knew her, was just about the kindest, gentlest, sweetest, go-out-of her-way- to-help-anybody person that I’d ever met. I looked at this and could not find a trace of that person left.

Not sure what the moral is here, if there is one. It’s no newsflash that people do change, and not always for the better. It had been a long time and it was unrealistic of me to think that she’d be the same person I used to know. She’s not, but then again, neither am I. Even so, that was the end of that re-connection. It’s probably selfish of me, but I’d rather remember who she was, not what she became. At least that way the person I once knew still survives, after a fashion. The person I once knew was the sort of person the world needs more of now.

We have more than enough of the latter.

Story Time: Brillig

This week’s Story Time, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, is “Brillig.”

I’ve always loved the poem “Jabberwocky,” partly because it never made a lot of sense, mostly for the wordplay. Reciting it aloud, which at one time I could do, always struck me as asking for trouble, however. Why? Darned if I know. But I thought it worth thinking about, which is one way a story will manifest–just thinking about something and writing it down. About the same time, Sean Wallace at Prime Books (later publisher of the Yamada series) was putting together a short run of weird fiction chapbooks called, wait for it, Jabberwocky. This one appeared in Jabberwocky #2.

Story Time: Take a Long Step

Have you ever noticed, lying along the road, one sad, discarded shoe? Or maybe a boot? Now and then a cap, or work glove, but most often shoes. Rather, one shoe. I think I have seen an actual pair of shoes, once in my life. Mostly, just the one. There are a lot of theories about why this tends to happen, though we probably don’t need any other than simple human carelessness. We lose things. It’s our nature. For instance, First Reader asked me about this story just a few days ago (Didn’t you write a story about the missing shoe?) and I thought it would make a good Wednesday story. Then I couldn’t find it, and thought I had lost the file, until I remembered that I wasn’t working in MS Weird at the time, and expanded my search to include the extension of the word processor I used back then. Still miss that one, but I digress.

Story Time for this week is “Take a Long Step,” and it first appeared in Realms of Fantasy for April, 1999. This was my attempt to give at least one alternative explanation for the case of the missing shoe. Or the found shoe. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“Take a Long Step” will be available until next Wednesday, November 22nd. Then it’s something else. You know the drill.

It’s Always the First Time

It’s windy and blustery, raining off and on and looks a lot like November came just a tad early. Probably perfect for the horror movie crew doing location shots downtown for the next couple of days. It’s good writing weather, even if there are outside tasks waiting. In these conditions? They can keep waiting. Possibly until spring.

So what has a weather report to do with anything? Well, as I said, it’s good writing weather, so when I get done with this blog I get back on the third story in the adventures of Jing, Pan Bao, and Mei Li. Sometimes writing is easy, like pulling the bung on a full barrel and the words just gush out. Other times it’s more like trying to squeeze the last few drops from a sponge. Usually you can’t tell which is which when it comes time for the end result to be examined. Unless we haven’t done our job well, and then you can. Our bad, not yours.

Writing, it seems, can be “like” one thing or another, but what it cannot be is any particular thing more than once. Or, to fall back on the old Zen adage, “It’s always the first time.”

One wouldn’t think so. After all, I’ve written two other stories about these characters. Surely I have a handle on their world and these specific characters by now? Doesn’t feel that way, and that’s a fact. I’m still discovering facets of Mei Li’s doubts and insecurities even as they do not turn her from her ultimate goal of becoming human just so she can die as one and move on to the next karmic step. I’m only beginning to understand how the loss of her mother forced Jing into adulthood before she was ready. Even Pan Bao, that grumpy, mercenary yet pious Daoist priest, has facets to his character only now starting to be revealed. In short, I know how to write the last two stories because I’ve already done them. That doesn’t tell me how to write this one, only getting it done, working it out, will do that. And leave me totally unprepared for the next one, whatever that turns out to be.

I’ve heard variations on the novelist’s complaint before: “I don’t know how to write the next novel. I only know how to write the last one.” As someone who does both novels and shorter fiction, I can personally attest that this applies equally to both. Or as a predecessor once phrased it: “Writing is one of the few avocations which, if diligently practiced, becomes harder the more you do it.”

Doesn’t matter how many books/stories you’ve written. It’s always the first time.