Heath

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Homepage: http://www.heathallyn.com/


Posts by Heath

The Dilemmas Of The Creative Process

My brain wheels have been CRANKING ever since I wrote a new 10 page short last night and had a long analysis and discussion about it with one of my dearest friends, Brian Villalobos.

This was an idea that I’d had many, many years ago and never actually wrote. Recently when I switched to FadeIn as my new writing software, I was importing old scripts and saw this title among them (even though I never actually wrote anything). I was like “Oh yeah! That idea!” I then heard a podcast which actually related to certain elements of this idea, and with my shiny new software (Ooh! New toy!), I was off and running.

I knew there would be three related scenes, all set at the exact same location over three different periods of time. I knew roughly what the “story” of each scene was. I actually wrote them in reverse order because the last scene was practically complete in my head, the second scene I had a pretty good idea about and the first scene I only had a very loose concept of the basic theme. Scenes 3 and 2 flowed out of me like water from a firehose. I tried not to think too much and just let it get out of my head and into existence so I’d have something there that I could always go back and tweak. Then I had to figure out the first scene. I took a long walk. I had a few basic ideas and possibilities, but then on this walk, one of them locked in and it started writing itself. I got home and started pouring it out, and simultaneously messaging with Brian. I finished it and immediately sent it over, as one of the parts was written for him and I trust and respect his intelligence, instinct and feedback immensely. I told him to pull no punches, I’m not delicate, and I’m good at filtering what is useful to me and what is just “not in line with my vision” or such. I’m open to critique.

He gave me lots of great feedback, all of which I agreed with and as often happens, confirmed some of my own instincts as to what could be viewed as weaknesses. It was revealing. It got me thinking. Mentally exploring other paths and possibilities. It was late so I went to sleep on it. Today my brain still ruminated on it all. What does it want to be? What do I want it to be? What is my intention here? I still have not answered that question but it’s all terribly interesting to me.

The biggest (subjective) weaknesses (my word, not his, and I totally agree with this) is that there isn’t enough conflict and not really any stakes. It’s light, quippy, and (as most of my writing is) extremely dialogue heavy. Walls of bantering dialogue. Here was my biggest revelation of the day though: I’m not sure it wants to be anything different. Again, I completely agree with the feedback and even things that I just personally see as deficiencies that didn’t even come from him, but every time I thought of good ways to introduce more conflict or higher stakes, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I realized that what I had written was just three moments in time about love in different forms between three characters. By all conventional wisdom and “rules,” this likely is not a good screenplay. And yet, it might just be what it wants to be and what I wanted it to be. There’s so much conflict and darkness going on all around that maybe I just want three scenes about three good people and the love they share between them all. Or maybe not. Maybe there’s so much deeper it could go.

So it’s a strange dilemma. I’m trying to just get some distance and come back to it a little fresher later. I don’t want to “force” any changes on it but at the same time is there any chance of it turning out well under these circumstances? Could the story, acting, cinematography, atmosphere, etc. still engage people and make them feel? Or will it just be a boring 10 minute character study that doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything and keeps people from really connecting with the characters? I really don’t know. I have no idea where this journey will go but I find it utterly fascinating, and I always say that the journey is more important than the destination.

Intent

What should this thing be?
So many possible paths
But what does it want?

Do The Thing

For any given thing you may want to do, your brain will likely come up with a million reasons not to do that thing.

For example, I’ve had just over 30 original and cover songs recorded for quite some time now, starting as far back as 2000. Over the years my skills as a musician, engineer and producer have grown, as have the tools available to me. Consequently, over the years I have occasionally, tweaked, remixed or otherwise “improved” some of my previous recordings. This, obviously can get dangerous and you may end up like George Lucas, constantly “improving” and tweaking your old work. The thing is, as Admiral Ackbar would say, “IT’S A TRAP!” Perfection will remain ever elusive, just ducking around that next corner. It’s so easy to fall into a purgatory of never being “finished.” There is a saying (attributed to various people throughout history) that art is never finished, only abandoned.

In all these years, I had never taken the steps to get my music on the most popular streaming services and stores such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc., for various reasons. Some of those reasons related to what I’ve said above were that I needed to really, finally, finalize the mix and make sure I had exported them in the highest quality possible, as in my earlier years before I knew what I was doing as well, I had not done either of those things as best they could be done. So my music was only available on my Reverb Nation page where I could easily replace the file with a new one if I made changes and wanted to do so.

This week, I finally made the jump and using Distrokid, I uploaded all my originals and covers. Theoretically I could still make changes if I wanted to, it would just involve pulling my old song from all stores and then re-releasing a new one. Now there was a new angle: I had to add “album art” to each release and also decide if I was releasing a batch as an “album” or just singles. I’ve never recorded an “album” per se, every song was just recorded as it came to me. I joking have all my songs tagged as being part of the album “Best Of” because that amused me to have my debut (and only) album be “Best Of.” That’s right! No filler here! Every song I put out is my best! It’s also an ever growing album since every new original gets tagged that way as well. All my covers are part of my also, ever ongoing “Duck And Cover” album. So I decided I’d release every song as a single and just have the “album art” be either my “Best Of” or “Duck And Cover” art as appropriate. However, apparently stores don’t allow multiple singles to use the same art, so I quickly mocked up art for each “single” which was just the album art with the title of each single on it. In addition, I started worrying about all the old worries again “Is the mix good enough? Is the mp3 maximum quality?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know when searching for perfection is holding you back or whether you are allowing yourself to be lazy or mediocre and justifying it by saying that striving for perfection is a game you can’t win. In the end, I think it’s better for my imperfect music to be out in the world as widely as possible, than forever in purgatory waiting for me to “finish” it.

Reasons

Why not do a thing?
Always a million reasons
So just do the thing

Intellectual Elitism

Books are not superior to film, TV, or video games. And on the other end, video games are not mindless wastes of time for immature people with Peter Pan syndrome.

Aw crap, Heath has something stuck in his mental craw and has to spout off about it.

This should not be a controversial or inflammatory statement, but likely it will be for some. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that intellectual elitism and snobbery is a huge hot button for me. People who think their opinions are facts, or are somehow more valid. “You like that thing? You have no taste then. That thing sucks.” It’s something I encounter quite often in various ways with regards to books and their superiority, and conversely about video games being the other end of the spectrum. A meme I’ve seen posted many times including a list of what “Successful” people do versus “Unsuccessful People.” “Successful People read books. Unsuccessful people watch TV.”

I saw a question online that asked “Could you date someone who plays video games for 2 hours a day?” To which a LOT of people answered “No.” And one of the key things that bothers me about these kinds of snobbery is that they tend to be one direction. I’ve definitely heard many folk laud the superiority of books, while I’ve never heard anyone who prefers film/TV/video games say “You READ for 2 hours a day? Pathetic. What a waste of time. I could never date someone who reads so much.”

I personally believe that they are all different but equal and equally valid. Books leave more to the imagination and allow you to revel in prose and (hopefully) well-crafted sentences. TV and film can have great writing, breathtaking cinematography, and incredible acting. Video games can have immersive original stories, exercise your problem solving skills and hand-eye coordination. They can all be some wonderful escapism and entertainment. They can all have soul moving gravitas. They all educate. They all have masterpieces as well as pieces of crap. In this day and age especially, TV and video games have really outgrown their stigmatic roots and come into their own with regards to creativity and originality to match the greatest books and movies.

But in the end, it’s a preference. An opinion. None are “superior” or “inferior” to the others. I like to get my share of all of them, personally. A (not quite) balanced diet. So, maybe try not to be so judgmental. You might be cutting yourself off from some seriously amazing people, and cutting those people off from the amazing person that is you. Let go of the tribalism. There’s enough room for us all to like what we like and still find plenty of common ground.

Elitism

Books are not better
Video games are not worse
Equally valid

The Tale Of A Heart

Once I had a heart.
A wonderful heart full of magic, whimsy, love, and dreams.
An exceptional heart. An amazing heart. A wise and romantic heart.

She had had a heart that harmonized and synchronized with mine.
A perfect balance of similarity and complementary.
We opened ourselves and shared our hearts, unequivocally and in totality.

She cared for my heart like no one ever had.
Made it do backflips in the vibrant sun.
Discovered new rooms, dimensions and qualities that no words can describe.

Until the day it ended.
Suddenly and unexpectedly.
With no room for conversation or compromise.

A painful hole where my heart once was.
Ragged, black, scarred edges.
A place where nothing can grow.

This is the reality of my heartless existence now.

If I let it be.
If I choose that perspective.
If I let that be my identity.

And I do have a choice.
We have far more choice than we think or feel.
But we do.

So I let that voice have its say.
And I let my heart hide away.
But I feel its beat.

I am a Love Warrior.
Scarred and scared, but alive and strong.
My heart forever the beat of my song.

Heart

Constant companion
Take as long as you need, friend
I know you’re still there

Farewell And Fair Sailing, Carnival Liberty

1 month of rehearsals in Florida.
52 cruises over 26 weeks.
107 band shows.
5 shows as the only vocalist (co-singer was out sick).
1 show as solo vocalist and guitar player (guitar parts learned in the hours leading up to the show), while the normal guitar player covered the bass parts on his guitar, pitch shifted down an octave because both the bass player and female vocalist were out sick).
1 show as bass player and co-vocalist (bass parts learned in the hours leading up to the show).
2 shows missed due to being sick (I was hoping for none).
A handful of shows with a very sub-par voice due to illnesses.
100 America Rocks Shows (Theater production) .
Approximately 31000 nautical miles traveled.
Approximately 177,000 total guests (No way to know how many actually saw us perform, of course).
We leave as the #1 band in the Entire Carnival fleet of 26 ships.

Personal Accolades (braggy, I know):
Volunteered as the Entertainment Department Safety Representative.
Chosen as “Star of the Month” (Entertainment Department only).
Nominated for “Team Member of the Month” (This one is shipwide).
Multiple trainings such as “Crowd Management and Control” and how to pilot and command a survival craft as well as it’s layout and vital information and such.

I got to turn my brain off for seven months and make a good paycheck doing what I love 6 nights a week. No hustling or wondering about my next job or how much money I would make next month. I got to sing and play great tunes with an amazing band for enthusiastic, appreciative, and hyperbolically complimentary crowds. I performed with an amazing cast and crew in a great theater. I worked alongside an international crew of amazing people all over the ship.

For the first time in my life I performed as (mostly) just a singer and front man, something I had been a little worried about as it’s not normally what I do and I feel a little naked without an instrument, but I settled into it fairly painlessly and rose to the occasion (according to my own self-assessment as well as my evaluations by management). I educated myself on how to treat myself as a “vocal athlete” and trained to do my best at meeting the incredible demands of singing 6 nights a week. I honed my instrument to be the best and sharpest it has probably ever been (when not hobbled by cough, colds, phlegm, etc., but more on that in a moment).

I had my ego and confidence boosted and reinforced and can confidently say that I am good at what I do. I had my ego and confidence bruised and humbled by the fact that I have limits and can’t always do anything just because I put my mind to it or because I want to. I learned how use my voice in new ways. How to best use it when it’s not fully functional. Different techniques and approaches. How to feel out where it was on any particular day and gauge how well it was operating so I could adjust accordingly. I developed alternate strategies and plans for when it was not operating at peak efficiency. I learned how much I could really “go for it” in a given night while still being able to do it again the next night and when to pull it back and take it easy to preserve it.

I learned the huge variety of ways my voice can be adversely affected by cold, cough, illness, phlegm, etc. You open your mouth and only have maybe 40% of your normal voice. While you are normally a belter, that doesn’t work tonight so you have to sing in a completely different way to just eke out as much sound as you can. Sometimes your high range is just gone so you have to do a lot more falsetto than normal (strangely, through all of it, my falsetto was always there). Some nights you just have no stamina, vocally. You start out feeling like your voice has finally recovered, but then as the night goes on, it deteriorates. Some nights your mouth and throat just seem determined to be a barren desert no matter how much water, tea, lozenges,and throat spray (multiple types) you use, and again, your voice quickly deteriorates. One night, the only way I could get a decent performance was to constantly keep Grether’s Pastilles in my mouth while singing, and all night long I was super paranoid and careful about making sure I didn’t suck it down my windpipe. There were just so many different ways in which my voice could be hobbled by illness and each had to be dealt with in its own way. Some nights my voice was just unpredictable and erratic. With singing six nights a week, I could really tell the difference after our one night off. The next night everything would be so much more effortless. So much so that I would sometimes overshoot or overpower a note. I got to know my voice more completely than ever.

I’ve been playing music for 36 years and singing for around 32 years. Vocally, I’ve always been kind of wild, chaotic, untrained and quite frankly, lucky that my voice has performed so well all these years under those conditions. I come out of this journey with so much valuable experience, knowledge and wisdom. I come out of this a better singer, performer, and just overall a better person. It didn’t solve any life problems or banish any ghosts or demons (you can’t run away from those, no matter how hard you try or how far you run), but I think it gave me (mostly) what I was looking for from it and more.

I will miss every single person who I have crossed paths with in this adventure and I emerge from this a richer person than I entered it. Time for new adventures, of which I already have many waiting when I get home.

To quote Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books (a quote I’ve used before and will again as I find it so powerful in its simplicity and context), “Well, I’m back.”

Or, you know, I will be after a week at Disney World and Universal Studios.

Liberty

The adventure ends
New adventures now await
I emerge improved