Saturday, January 26, 2008

Joni Mitchell: "You could write a song about some kind of emotional problem you are having, but it would not be a good song, in my eyes, until it went through a period of sensitivity to a moment of clarity. Without that moment of clarity to contribute to the song, it's just complaining."

And that is every bit as true for a poem or, for that matter, any artistic work. I sometimes see discussions about the role of expression versus craft but I truly think that misses the point. Ms Mitchell gets it though; its about understanding. It's about having something worth saying. It is, indeed, about clarity.

Writing a poem is a search for clarity. Working with the structure of language allows one to find the connections and ideas that lie within words, to build a road of metaphor that leads to...well, somewhere we weren't before. To discovery. To understanding. And perhaps to new questions! After all, what good is a work of art that doesn't make one think at least a little bit? ;)

Friday, January 25, 2008

CREATIVITY has taken the back seat lately. I've been busy revamping my online presence -- moving the Cafe Press merchandise to new (free) stores, redoing the main website (i.e the Insolent Lad and the various domains that point to it) with a different software. I got tired of struggling with Yahoo's online editor (I'm hosted at Y! and happy with it otherwise), PageBuilder. I'm still using their proprietary offerings but have moved up to SiteBuilder, with more features and offline capabilities.

Anyway, the site may show the signs of construction for a while, with links that go nowhere and such. I have deleted most of the add-on stuff there, the php-based pages, the WordPress blog.

Computer: I have a new one on order. Figured I might as well get something good (regardless of whether I can actually afford it!) that will serve in the recording studio for a long time to come, so the old recording PC is now in the office. It was a good and trouble-free machine (from Gateway) but it lacked the power to work with many of the newer recording peripherals, not to mention mixing down a lot of tracks with real-time digital effects. I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that most of my software and hardware will play nicely with Vista. I suspect that I will be downloading drivers for a while.

Monday, January 21, 2008

ALL COMPUTERS die eventually and it would seem that my cheapo HP has gone that way at a little under 6 years of age. I'd been expecting this for some time -- that's part of the reason I switched to using the Mini Mac as my main online computer a little while back. Fortunately, everything essential was backed up recently; I may lose a few graphics I was working on, some correspondence from the past month or so. And, who knows, I might be able to get those off the hard drive too.

However, this leaves me without my main graphics machine. I don't use the Mac for that because the programs I want to use (such as Corel Draw) simply aren't available for Apple machines and the alternatives are either clunky (like the Open Office stuff) or too darn expensive! I may be moving my recording PC into the office and replacing it with something more powerful (and quieter too, perhaps). The Mini remains the web surfing board of choice and I do much of my writing on it now, as well.

It was a cold and rainy weekend and I stayed holed up for the most part. Made use of my time by trying to organize my songs a bit. I hadn't counted how many I had written in some time -- years, really -- and found that I had 165 of them in various states of completion (they're never completely complete until they're on a commercial recording, I reckon, and even then they might change). That's not including a few parodies and the instrumental stuff. I'm hoping to get a couple worked up and recorded for the Kerrville festival song contest.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

GOLLY GOSH, is there anything more frustrating than putting a new set of strings on the guitar and having one break while you tune it up?

Well, okay, I guess there are a few things worse. But none of them happened today!

On the subject of guitars, I've been using my old-n-cheap Ovation Celebrity as a semi-baritone for a few years, i.e. I put on a heavy set of regular strings and tune it down a tone or tone and a half. It's a good choice for that sort of thing, being rugged and not having much of a twangy voice anyway. A couple weeks back, however, I decided to try it out in true baritone tuning.

Now an actual baritone guitar would have a longer scale, like 27 or 28 inches, rather than the 25.5 on the Ovation. Not to be confused with a short-scale bass, which would be more like 30 or so -- I sometimes see them referred to as baritones but it isn't the same thing. But that's another diatribe for some other time. Anyway, I slapped a set of baritone strings on the guitar and it sounds decent. It would have been nice if could tune all the way down to A but that was just too 'floppy' with the shorter scale. B works fine; if I wanted to go lower I'd have to invest in a true baritone guitar someday.

Which might be nice but is hardly a priority (I've more use for an acoustic bass). I'm going to play around with the tuning for a while. Might even leave it that way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The purpose and goal of the arts is, first, to discover and understand ourselves and our world and, second, to communicate that discovery. In this, the arts -- whether literary, musical, visual or even culinary -- are not much different from science and religion. They're all different roads to the same destination (and therefore always intertwined).

If one had asked me twenty, thirty years ago what I 'did' I would have answered 'art.' I saw myself as a painter before all else. Right here I should admit that, although I took some art courses in college, I actually took my major in history with specialization in art history. I could have gone on in that and was accepted into grad school in the art history program but I decided I'd rather make art than teach or curate.

No doubt, the fact that I have that art history background is one of the reasons I'm interested in theory. Or perhaps it's the other way around -- I just naturally like to put things in order so I was attracted to the historical and theoretical side of the arts!

Anyway, on the subject of different roads to one destination, I found that I'd rather lost my way in painting. I didn't know what I wanted to say, much less how to say it. Oh, I could draw pretty pictures of birds and animals the rest of my life -- it's something I do fairly well -- but it would not exactly be fulfilling.

Yet I have found myself more and more able, as my craft improved, to express myself through writing and music. I suspect that, in time, this will allow me to better clarify my thoughts and apply new insights to art. At least, I hope so! I'm not about to abandon the painter's life entirely.

I'm a pretty harsh critic and editor of my own work. As such, I'm not very accepting of compromise nor of work I consider unworthy. Especially now, as I grow older, I feel the need to dedicate myself to creating the best art I can. If it can come from my brush, that would be great; if it comes, rather, from my pen, so be it.

(This is a tangent from an essay about the 'purpose' of art on which I have been working, probably for the PV magazine.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008


The road can be deceptive.
A straight line runs
through most curves,
a shortest way between
here and there.

Keep your eye focused
on that perfect line,
not following the curve,
not allowing yourself
to forget the road beneath you

for races are won and lost
in the corners.

Stephen Brooke ©2008

Racing being, of course, a metaphor.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A song about the Steinhatchee River (where I used to live) -- I originally wrote this about two years ago and probably posted it here, but was unsatisfied with the lyric. Tune was okay. Anyway, I rewrote the words but not soon enough to enter it in the Florida Song competition this time around. Maybe next year!


From the shadowed shallow waters of San Pedro Bay,
Through the swamps, the dark Steinhatchee makes its winding way.
Under ground and over falls, the pools where children play,
The river finds its way down to the Gulf at Deadman Bay.

Now hatchee is the word for river, you probably all know,
While steen means man in the tongue of the Creeks, and they named it so.
Men must have their maps and names, but men will come and go;
I’m sure the river doesn’t care – it’s just gonna flow.

Steinhatchee, Steinhatchee, eagles in the air;
Hear the crested woodpecker play distant drums somewhere.
Steinhatchee, Steinhatchee, where the cormorants dive;
Carry me down to the Gulf – it’s good to be alive.

An island in the river is my kind of neighborhood;
In the shade of a live oak tree, I’d be there if I could.
Pull a catfish from the water, find some firewood;
Fry it up with hush-puppies: is anything that good?

Drift lazily down through the flats, past palmetto and pine,
Between high rocky banks grown thick with tangled muscadine.
Down at the Bay, we’ll dive for scallops; they’re fat and taste so fine.
Yes, I could spend a life right here on this river of mine.

Stephen Brooke ©2008

Btw, 'San Pedro Bay' is a swamp, not a bay in the usual sense -- the usage is related to bayou.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I found
the chocolate
chips you hid and forgot.
If you never remember them,
I'm safe.

Stephen Brooke ©2008
winter rain ~
seed catalogs and naps
fill the day

Stephen Brooke ©2008

Monday, January 07, 2008

IT TENDS to bother me when (supposedly intelligent) people rant about the evils of organized religion yet have no problem with organized business, organized labor, organized government. Be consistent! If organization is bad (and having anarchist tendencies myself, I can buy that to at least some degree) then it is bad everywhere.

I do consider independent organized religion to be a powerful counterweight to the tyranny of state or economic power. It's no wonder that oppressive governments always want to control religion as well -- they want no rivals to their power. In a way, our current freedom of religion owes a debt to the Roman Church, which remained politically independent during the formative years of our modern European culture -- unlike the Eastern church which came under the control of the Byzantine emperor and his various successors in Russia, etc. Of course, the Reformation years changed much of that and, being only slightly cynical, it must be admitted that Protestantism was given a big boost by temporal powers that saw a chance to control the religions within their borders. (I would argue strongly that 'religious wars' are about economics and power, like pretty much every other conflict, even if the average soldier may think he fights for something else.)

The big problem with organized religion -- or organized anything else -- is that it is run by human beings. They will bring all their weaknesses and strengths to the institutions they create. Any institutions.

Enough of that; I could probably write a book on it but I gave up on being a historian long ago when I realized I much prefer to paint! Best decision I ever made...

I've been writing and polishing songs again. I have hundreds of them in various levels of completion and must get them organized. Not to mention all the poems. Oh my, Steve is going to be busy this year. But right now, the laundry is ready to hang out on this sunny morning!

Friday, January 04, 2008


There were days I knew I loved you
and long nights I feared I didn't.
There were burdens I chose to carry,
jealous lovers who spared no room

in my heart. Distance is distance;
it can not, could not, be made less
by all the aches of our longing.
What is love without the promise

of forever? Who am I
to demand such permanence?
There were days I should have loved you
and not cared for tomorrow.

Stephen Brooke ©2008
AS OF today, I'm making the switch to using my Mac as my main online computer. I've just gotten fed up with all the problems with viruses and such that come with Windows. I bought this Mini originally for a secondary machine to use in my bedroom and to fool around with for writing and music composition but it's front-and-center in the office now.

Unfortunately, there are a few places out there on the web where I must use Windows and/or Explorer. Especially for my own websites! I'll have to crank up one of the PCs occasionally for that. The one I've been using is going to be primarily a dedicated graphics and writing tool from here out -- which may not be long, since it's nearly 6 years old.

On a different subject: following yesterday's Iowa results I would like to make the following prediction. Bill Richardson will be the Democratic nominee...for vice president. The perfect running mate for whichever of the 'big three' (and I, as some of you know, am hoping it's John Edwards) comes out on top.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I HATE cold weather; in fact, I hereby pledge to support any candidate who favors outlawing it! Tonight may prove to be the coldest of the winter. I hope so, anyway. It's time to start thinking about my spring garden!

So, it's a shiny New Year. I should be making some shiny new resolutions, eh? Not personal ones, being darn near perfect already (and far too old and set in my ways to change anyway), but perhaps some goals. Like getting more recordings finished.

And getting more stuff 'out there.' Writing, songs, art. Maybe I could enter something at Kerrville this year...

Anyway, the immediate chore is to update my online presence, streamline my website and stores. As I mentioned a while back, I intend to close my 'premium' Cafe Press shop in favor of several of the free ones -- one design per store instead of all in one. It should work just as well, if not better, and save me a bit. I've noticed that Lulu is now offering prints and posters so I may offer some artwork there too.

I've had some items installed at my site(s) that are receiving little or no use, such as a php discussion board, an embedded blog (intended for announcements, mainly), a calendar. I'm becoming convinced that they're just clutter at this point and think I will remove them. External blogs work just fine and it's easy enough to simply have a regular html page for news. Btw, Yahoo will soon be closing down 360, where I have my 'literary' blog, so I've removed the link (and made it 'friends only') until the new format is in place.