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I used to be Gollum

I used to be Gollum and songwriting was my precious. The deformed hobbit body that carried my soul was a fiercely possessive shell that jealously coveted my songs until they were ready to be released out into the world (my previous blog Let it be Imperfect really outlines how jarring that can be). I found inspiration which lead me to a cure for this insanity without having to obliterate all hope in the molten lava of Mordor.

Equipped with the glasses of hindsight, an elf’s bow and a dwarf’s axe, I can understand what created my little Gollum. The fear of criticism and lack of understanding what made criticism and cruelty two very different things created a Balrog that would whip its flaming form at my pathetic little shell. It takes a strong group of people, the kind that make you feel secure in your vulnerability that help distinguish the difference between the two, extinguishing the Balrog. With this, I could grasp that criticism was a stranger offering to help you in a public place; a little unexpected and extremely helpful.

Having moved on from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist (which I talked about in my blog of the same name) I moved on to his next instalment: Show Your Work. Where the songwriting course and the wonderful group of people I met there had moved me to accept the imperfections of my work, this book told me to show it and share it, including sharing who helped inspire it. In his third chapter, titled Share something small every day, Kleon inspired me to just get out there and do it. Before reading the book, I didn’t realise how tired I was of the exclusivity of songwriting and the pressure of performing under that burden.

I’ve come to realise how much I enjoy participating in the construction of songs, even as a bystander reading autobiographies or watching documentaries and interviews. Witnessing the construction is an enormous part of how I appreciate the resulting song. There is so much to learn from that process and we are only privy to the experience when people choose to share it with us.

This book inspired me to share what I was doing on a public platform. When I finished that book, I started working on an obscure screenplay, wrote a new song and two blogs on songwriting. At this point, I had no platform just the inspiration to create with a goal to share.

It wasn’t until I woke up a week or so later with the phrase “a quarter short of a dollar” stuck in my head that I changed gear and aimed for the highway. I was initially struck by the realisation that we are all and forever will be a quarter short of a dollar. Even the wisest, most well informed scholars, seers, lamas and genius’s dead or alive will admit their ignorance in areas outside their expertise. Secondly, I was brought back to a lesson of Pat’s* where he encouraged us to take our best song and remove 25%. The name will always serve as a great reminder to Keep It Simple Stupid. Lastly, and most humourously, after I had launched Quarter Short my Mum messaged, reminding me that I am one of four and the smallest. This suits my humour perfectly and just solidified my choice to call my project Quarter Short.

Now I work with the challenge of forever being a student which is fortunate considering I seem to have become a pretty decent one, if decent is purely based on the criteria of devotedly interested. I’m sure one day, in my old age, when some young whipper-snapper hands me a new fandangled-iTechnological-thingamajig I’ll be pretty ticked off about learning something new again, but for now knowledge is a challenge I want to face.

As I separated myself from the vitamin D deficient and helplessly tortured Gollum, I felt much more comfortable in my work. I suppose you could say I did end up throwing him into the flaming pits of Mordor. I prefer a less destructive resolution of shedding a skin I had grown too big for. Ever since I shed this skin I have jumped into songwriting and co-writing days, and uploaded my newest songs which are all in their early stages. It’s an awfully vulnerable place to be, with skin so fresh and mother nature so powerful but skin learns its lesson and so shall I.

*Pat Pattison of Berklee College of Music

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