inspiration

The Legend of Victor Bailey

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-8-02-46-amJazz bass guitarist Victor Randall Bailey of Boston, MA passed away peacefully in Stafford at the age of 56 of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Victor was a professor of music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.

 

 

 

 

Last night I received a text from my mother, linking to the above obituary. “The legend is dead,” she wrote.

The name Victor Bailey really was the stuff of legends in my childhood home. My parents were musicians. My mother was a song writer and piano teacher, my stepfather played guitar, and on the weekends their wedding band practiced in our basement. When the house wasn’t filled with the sound of live top 40 hits or my mother’s students plunking away at Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, my family’s impressive stereo system played everything from Bill Evans to early-90s grunge. There was never silence.

If you picked up a Jazz, or heck, a stereo magazine in those years, you might have spotted Victor Bailey on the cover. But his renown as a bassist wasn’t why he was famous in our house. Or at least, that wasn’t all of it.

My mother tells the story like this. In the early 80s she was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She was a jazz composition major, but played out regularly (and missed commencement because she had a gig– a fact of which I am inordinately proud. Mom had her priorities straight). She was a pretty good pianist, and though she wrote a little, her speciality was performing. But like all artists she was self-conscious. In an attempt to improve she was overly aware of her flaws, and worried too much what other players thought of her technique.

One day, so the story goes, a truly renowned and genius Jazz bassist came to speak at Berklee. He sat on stage with his instrument in his lap, answering a moderator’s questions while occasionally playing for the crowd. My mother was in awe. It was like having a Q&A with Jesus, she said, and seeing this master play in person, just a few feet away, was awesome.

Seated next to her was her friend, Victor. Throughout the performance Victor sat with crossed arms and sour but intent expression. Like my mother and the other audience members he was rapt, but less enchanted. When the Famous Bassist finished a particularly impressive riff that left the rest of the hall in appreciative silence, Victor got to his feet and shouted at the stage.

“I can play that shit.”

Now here’s the thing. Victor could not play that shit. Victor was a sub-par bassist at best. But Victor never let that stop him. As my mother tells it, he would boast his way into sessions with musicians of much greater experience and talent, ignoring their stares as, a few songs in, his lack of skill became all too apparent. But it didn’t matter to Victor. He showed up. He played that shit, even if it sounded like shit.

So cut to my mother in the auditorium, slipping lower and lower in her seat, trying to cover her face, as Victor stands beside her, claiming to be on par with the guest speaker. Not just claiming, certain. “I don’t know him,” Mom whispered to the horrified girl beside her.

So how did Victor go from the hacky loudmouth to a famous bassist in his own right, and a professor to boot? Well, while my mother, by her own admission, sought out musicians whose skill was equal to or less developed than hers, Victor was never afraid to embarrass himself. As such, he was always surrounded by the best players. In those sessions, there was nowhere to go but up, and he learned from the better players around him. He watched them play, grew by observing, mimicking, and drawing from their experience. In the end his infectious attitude endeared him to his bandmates, but more importantly, his skills improved. And improved and improved.

“You always want to be the dumbest person in the room, Kate,” he told my mother.

And this piece of advice is precisely what my mother told me.

The Legend of Victor Bailey, as told by Mom, probably grew and stretched over the years like most legends do, but decades after Victor Bailey and my mother had fallen out of touch, the phrase, “I can play that shit,” was bandied around my house. To my stepfather it was more of a joke, but to my mother and me it’s a kind of battle cry. A reminder to throw yourself in, of the power in ignoring self-doubt, the wisdom of being the dumbest person in the room.

Failure is not only inevitable but necessary for progress. I am a chronic over-thinker, but I’ve thrown myself into a few deep ends, and never regretted it for long. Seeing that Mr. Bailey passed recently, at such a young age, is sad, but he accomplished so much in his all-too-short life. He didn’t wait, he stood up. He jumped in. That’s a life well-lived.

Keep playing that shit, man.

 

Images Inspiring Fiction

I’ve heard various artists say they’re often inspired by images. Most famously Ron Howard claims he draws inspiration for his movies from single still images and photographs.

On Tumblr today I stumbled across this painting by Edward Hopper, which was the initial inspiration for my book CHERRY MONEY BABY. Something about this woman (an usher?) alone, apart from whatever’s transpiring on stage / screen, lost in her own thoughts…it got me thinking about a young woman who feels tangential to someone else’s larger drama, a girl on the outside looking in, and I wanted to tell her story.

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Fellow writers, are there pictures and images that inspire your stories? I’d be curious to hear about them (and see them).

11/19 Webinar: How to Be a Writer Without Losing Your Mind


Hi all! If you’ve enjoyed some of the craft-focused and inspirational posts I’ve done on this blog, you should check out my November 19th webinar with Writers Digest, HOW TO BE A WRITER WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND: Balancing Work, Life, and CraftThere will be a Q and A as well as query critiques for all attendees. You should check it out!

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Being a writer can make you crazy. The writer’s life is at once invigorating and exhausting, it can be isolating and wonderfully social, inspiring as well as demeaning. As writers we bring our deepest, most sensitive selves to the page, and often the world can feel like a hyper-critical and uncaring receiver, where competition, criticism, and even the success of others can make writing feel like a chore, or worse-utterly terrifying. And yet, we’re driven to return to the page and express ourselves despite the uncertainty and the demands of day-to-day life.crazy writers block

How do we deal with all these contradictions, the isolation, the rejection, the irrational joys and sorrows of being a writer? In this live webinar you’ll learn many ways to kill the fear, or, as Robert Leckie said, shoot that old bear under your desk between the eyes.

With practical tips and tricks, examples from dozens of famous writers, and inspiration culled from years of experience as both an author and agent, instructor John Cusick provides the tools for tackling the writing life with gusto, enthusiasm, and balance. Learn healthy, productive techniques for combating the inner critic, utilize envy envy, and summon motivation. With humor and insight, this webinar will give attendees the skills to conquer the maddening uncertainties of writing and publishing, and to create a space for one’s writer self in the world.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:writing-center-wordlie

  • Techniques for balancing writing time and your day-to-day life
  • Tips for staying focused when distractions demand your attention
  • How to set up a mental and physical space for your writing
  • Tricks for staying motivated and inspired
  • Techniques for coping with insecurity, uncertainty, and rejection
  • How to deal with your internal critic
  • Daily practices and meditations specifically designed for the writing life
  • How to take the measure of yourself as a writer, and keep writing!

Sit Down and StartWHO SHOULD ATTEND?

  • Anyone looking or inspiration and motivation to KEEP GOING
  • Writers feeling hounded by their inner critic
  • Sufferers of “writer’s block”
  • Long time authors in a rut
  • New writers looking to form strong writing habits
  • Writers with day jobs and families, in school
  • Writers who feel distracted
  • Anyone who feels they “don’t have time to write”
  • Writers who feel they’re on the verge of “giving up”
  • Writers who find it difficult to get started
  • Book lovers who want to pursue writing seriously
  • Any writer seeking an agent, a publisher, a first book deal, that break out novel, or feel they are ready for their craft and career to take the next big step

ABOUT THE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit a query letter to be critiqued. All submitted queries are guaranteed a written critique by Literary Agent John Cusick.

If you’re busy November 19th, no worries– the webinar will be recorded, and you can re-watch it for up to a year. So sign up today!

Courtesy of Alex Thayer Stewart, who took these notes during a live version of this talk 🙂

Three Muppet Songs For When You’re Feeling the Query Blues

Sometimes you need to go to your happy place. Mine is pretty much any Muppets movie ever. Here are a few Muppet songs for when you’re feeling the query blues…

Movin’ Right Along, “The Muppet Movie”

Highlight: I’m ready for the Big Time; is it ready for me?

You Can’t Take No For An Answer, “The Muppets Take Manhattan”

Highlight: You gotta hang on to your optimistic outlook
And keep possession of your positive state-of-mind.

Rainbow Connection, “The Muppet Movie”

Highlight: I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that I’m supposed to be

Videogames are for Sissies (And So Am I)

Y’all may know I am a devotee of that wonderful, enlightening, ever-developing art form: videogames. Well, Sarah Elmaleh (voice over artist, gamer, life partner) turned me on to the truly epic Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure (Play it. Play it now. Behold the splendor.) Sarah’s got a fab article on Gamer Melodico on just why Sissy and her Sissy Ways are important.

A sample:

When I was 5 I drew picture books, as kids do. Mine featured a lot of princesses, many of them pregnant for some reason, (a fascination that has not stayed with me, though my biological clock is supposed to be vomiting cuckoos right about now.) I also poured mostly tortured hours into my cousins’ NES, murdering wildfowl and enduring cruel sniggers from a snarky-ass hound. It would be several years before I discovered the contemplative and sublimely goofy joys of graphic adventure games.

Read the whole thing here.

Follow Sarah on twitter.

It wasn’t all the pastoral delights that were…

It wasn’t all the pastoral delights that were making Arthur feel so cheery, though. He had just had a wonderful idea about how to cope with the terrible lonely isolation, the nightmares, the failure of all his attempts at horticulture, and the sheer futurelessness and futility of his life here on prehistoric Earth, which was that he would go mad.

Douglas Adams

Find What the Sailor Has Hidden

This morning I took a break from writing to stand on my roof and admire the New York skyline. I can see all the way from the Bayonne Bridge and the Statue of Liberty up to Central Park. Today, amid a flock of pigeons and an airplane taking off from Newark, there was a cruise ship approaching Manhattan from the south, its smokestack like a red tower constructed overnight between the brownstones to the left and One Hanson Place to the right. It reminded me of this passage from Speak, Memory:

There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbor, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture- Find What the Sailor Has Hidden- that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.