The beginning of my sheltering in place back in March seems like so long ago. As we now reach the end of June, I harbor as much anxiety and consternation as I have before. Throughout the US as of this posting, the number of positive test results for Covid-19 keeps increasing, as well as the number of deaths. We have initiated what I believe to be a premature re-opening of the country. Where I live in a rural area of the southern state of Tennessee, most people behave as if all is normal again and do not wear masks in public. This mindset is one that I do not share.
I have been sheltering at home as much as possible. As such, I have barely seen any friends and have only visited my family briefly on a couple of occasions using masks and distancing measures. Thankfully, I love my home, and there has been no shortage of activities to fill up my time.
The lion’s share of my days have been taken up by filming. As I noted in my previous post, I have set a goal of creating 100 short films and releasing them consecutively each week every Friday. This has been an exhausting and daunting task, but its benefits have far outweighed its pitfalls. For starters, I have learned so much more about the workflow between the production and editing processes—including effective filming techniques and valuable shortcuts. From a creative standpoint, I have also become more willing to take risks and put myself out there in ways I never would have imagined for myself even a couple of years ago.
One case in point is the song (and its music video) that I released last Friday called “Cat Daddy”. On display is a goofy and fun-loving side of myself that I have largely hidden from the world. Thankfully, the sky did not fall, and the world did not end (present global circumstances notwithstanding). The creativity demanded by this filmmaking has encouraged me to be less risk-averse. This broadened template will inform all of my other projects moving forward.
Incidentally, if you have not seen “Cat Daddy” yet, here it is in all of its feline magnificence:
Outside of filming, I have, predictably, been reading a lot of books. This year, in fact, I have already far outpaced my usual quota of books by the midyear. As of this morning, I have read 22 books. In a typical year, I would have read close to six by the same point in time. This amounts to almost four times the quantity that I have read in the past. Obviously, 2020 has not been a normal year by any stretch of a reasonable imagination. Sheltering at home has certainly been conducive, but to be honest, I set a goal to read least 40 books by the end of the year back in January. This has all occurred by design.
Additionally, it is important to share what it is that I am not doing. I have resisted all temptations to watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime despite having easy access and subscriptions to all three. Even though this is antithetical to my vocation as a filmmaker, I would rather be a creator than a consumer at this point. The latter is far too passive an existence for me. Of course, I will watch something occasionally, but I do so after thoroughly vetting the choice I have made and imposing limits on the time I devote to it.
Both of my dominant pursuits—filming and reading books—allow me to engage and inspire my imagination in ways that are active, thoughtful, and meaningful. The problem-solving that is inherent in filmmaking and the deliberate reflection that accompanies reading a good book enrich every aspect of my creative life.
Lastly, I play music and sing every. day. These days, I switch between playing the ukulele and the piano. In both disciplines, I sing a lot. This gives me immense satisfaction and feeds my creativity in ways that I cannot even begin to explain.
With this pandemic encroaching upon every facet of modern society, I shelter in my home and take life one day at a time. I stay fearful of contracting the virus myself and spreading it. I am also angered by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, and I wish this virus did not exist to temper the protests in their honor.
I live each moment deliberately and hopefully. I care for myself and create my art. That is all I know to do at the moment. Despite my looming apprehensions about the world at large, this will have to be enough.
It’s been a while since I have posted on this blog, and I have a valid reason. On Easter weekend last April, I was asked by some friends to film a mask giveaway in the square of a neighboring town from where I live. I spent an entire afternoon filming someone dressed as a hybrid of Uncle Sam and the Easter Bunny giving out free masks. Within 24 hours, I had the film completely edited with music and ready to launch on Youtube.
This got me thinking long term about what I wanted to start making from a creative standpoint. I graduated from film school back in December of last year (2019) only to end up, much like the rest of the world, in a quagmire of uncertainty in the wake of the Corona virus pandemic. I had freelance film projects either delayed or canceled as a result and an entire film and entertainment industry indefinitely put on hold.
I also understand fully that a college degree in my field does not automatically make me an expert. So, with the mask giveaway project as a template, I decided to start creating and releasing a film every week as a way to keep developing my skills and nurture my own creativity. This involves developing project ideas, gathering materials, film production and editing, audio recording and editing, music, and promotion.
Phew! Did you catch all of that? Well, for the last 10 weeks since Easter, this is what I’ve been doing. I have released 10 short films in ten weeks. By now, I’ve gotten to a place in which I have somewhat of a routine and process in place, but it has been far from smooth and easy.
Some days, it’s been difficult to get motivated, and in a lot of other ways, being quarantined at home has been largely prohibitive in terms of collaborating with other folks and filming at public locations.
So, I’ve been improvising as much as I can using my magical home in the woods, along with my musical and visual art skills.
Here is a quick recap of the 10 film releases I have carried out thus far:
Got Mask? Easter Giveaway
Filmed on the Friday of Easter weekend, Uncle Sam gave away hundreds of masks that he handmade at home. This is a colorful adventure on a warm and sunny afternoon. I was proud to document this act of kindness and generosity.
2. Ami and the Ivy
This film was a project that I filmed and directed in August of 2019. Because of my insanely hectic final semester of college, I did not finish editing it until February of this year. The pStyle company contacted me about filming some sort of promotional film for its product. We talked for a while about different possibilities, and after a truly enjoyable collaborative process, we ended up with a sweet little film.
3. Love Ever After
This 30-second short film was actually an assignment for a class back in college a year ago. It was buried deep in my portable hard drive I used for school and left totally ignored all this time. I had always loved this piece and decided it needed a proper place in the world. So, I gave it a thorough dusting and recorded new music for it on my vibraphone. Love springs eternal here . . .
4. A Little Red Bracelet
In August of last year (2019), I decided to fulfill a bucket list item by visiting the US National Holocaust Memorial Museum while I was in Washington, DC, on some business. What had intended to be a two or three hour visit stretched out for an entire day until the museum closed. I have read books and watched movies about the holocaust, but this museum gave me even more insight into the countless untold stories and horrors that Hollywood and popular culture have not shared fully. It was sobering and so immensely sad. Just before I left the place, I bought a little red bracelet that I wear to this day. It’s a small reminder of the sheer devastation and brutality that humans are capable of and the delicate nature of the privileges we all have, by varying degrees, throughout our lives. I composed the piano piece for this, and the recording I used was the first take. I love how this one turned out:
5. The Gardener: A Mother’s Day Tribute
Within my repertoire of original songs, I have one that I wrote specifically for my mom. She is a lifelong gardener, and I’ve always felt that it was the perfect metaphor for how she has cared for my family and I all of my life. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and there is no time like the present. I enjoyed secretly filming her garden. She thought I was just taking pictures and had no idea what I was up to. I guess this film is as much about my mom as it is about a momma’s boy.
6. She Cares for Her
This is another project I made for a production class a year ago. It originally had more to do with creating a sense of place through the use of sound. One of my best friends happened to have a wonderful horse on the new farm she and her husband just purchased, and they graciously let me film Isabella on an unseasonably warm winter day. Horses are, without a doubt, magnificent creatures. (Every time I see one in my rural neighborhood, I have to stop and stare.) I originally intended for this to be a meditation on the ways by which humans and animals interact and how they actually care for each other in subtle and tender ways. I wanted to stay true to that intention. This final version includes spoken word poetry and my a capella singing. Animals, by my estimation, are far more aware and generous than we will ever understand.
7. The Other Foot
When it comes to self-expression, I have always believed that I should be wary of censoring myself, particularly if shame is the deeper culprit. When I first mulled over the idea for The Other Foot, I felt a bit embarrassed by it all. I took that as a reason to proceed. I look at this project as my first major pivot in this weekly film series—going from thoughtful and poetic to comedic and crass in one fell swoop, with one or two sexual overtones for good measure. I thought of simply using sock puppets, but that didn’t interest me so much. Using my own feet solved some practical issues since I was doing all of this myself. I could operate the camera and film my feet simultaneously for most of it. I wasn’t sure how the toe socks would translate, but from the minute I filmed the first take (which was the multi-colored “Ranch” character), I loved it. It was much more adorable than I could have imagined, and I don’t even actually have a foot fetish! For better or worse, here is what I consider the pilot episode. There will be more to come.
8. The Other Foot: Behind the Scenes Featurette
The insanity of The Other Foot did not end with the pilot. I decided that I wanted to develop the idea even further and create a sort of imagined “behind the scenes” look at the truth behind the show. I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be exploited, regardless of the intention or the result. A little bit of a back story is always a good thing.
At my core, I am a musician—a singer and pianist to be specific. “Carriage” marks another pivot in my creative output. To be honest, I am not particularly fond of seeing myself onscreen. I generally cringe and look away. I took this as a sign that I should do it, and with all of the protests and pain surrounding the thoughtless death of George Floyd (among many others), I wanted to infuse the world with a meditation on healing. This song and video offers no grand solutions. It simply paints a picture of what it means to deal with and live with pain and trauma. This song grows from experiences and truths in my own life. I decided to forego my piano playing for this song and chose to use a delicate and lilting mandolin for accompaniment. It served up the dosage of gentleness that I wanted.
10. Art in Creation: Sunshine Flower
Here it is—my most recent release as of this posting! I am always curious about how artists create their work and what that looks like. I decided to make an art piece of my own and document the creation for this film. It starts from a blank page and evolves fromthere. The inclusion of the song “You Are My Sunshine” was always part of the plan. I was originally going to record a version of it myself, but my friend Billy Kemp, a touring musician who lives in my neighborhood, was coming by to hang out outside on our deck. I had the idea to ask if he would be willing to play and sing along with me if I recorded it on my porch. Thankfully, he loved the idea. MaxZine had his mandolin, and you can hear the result in this film. At the moment, I don’t know what to do with the “Sunshine Flower” art piece I created, but I’m open to ideas . . .
There it is folks. 10 films released consecutively in 10 weeks. I feel proud and a bit exhausted just thinking about it. What I haven’t shared with the world is that I have a long-term goal of making 100 of them.
Yes, as in ONE HUNDRED of them in total.
That means I have ninety more to go.
If you have a minute to throw me some encouragement during this daunting challenge, I will gladly take it.
Thank you for watching my films and for following along on my creative journey.
Lately as I shelter in my home, I often feel a push and pull between two forces in my head. One force wants me to be productive and take action on the house projects and creative pursuits that are all waiting for my undivided attention. Another, softer tug wants me to take meandering forays into the deep recesses of my reflections, to be present in stillness and sit with the trauma that is implicit in the act of fearfully hiding from a phantom pandemic.
Honestly, the best I can do at the moment is a little of both. I make small but measurable gains toward my goals and have moments when I simply stop everything, eventually falling asleep or getting lost in a moody reverie.
It’s fair to say that there are no right or wrong actions to take. Some decisions may be better or more appropriate than others, but nonetheless, it’s more important to move with intention and awareness.
If you feel tired, then rest. If you don’t feel like doing anything at the moment, then don’t. If you feel like working on a project just to feel some sense of normalcy, then do that. I’ve been learning to cut myself some slack if something doesn’t get finished or if my day is derailed by some kind of nuisance.
Lucky for me, I love to take naps. This happens at least once a day. I have a beautiful deck that overlooks the wild wilderness that surrounds my rural country home. I’ve been enjoying the deck more now that the weather has warmed up. I take naps on a lounge chair out there as much as I can. I’ve also been playing my ukulele lately, and it’s been a quirky little salve to my stressed spirit. I’m continually amazed at how versatile an instrument it is because it feels more like a toy. I am working on some original songs and a few covers, as well as some finger-picked melodies.
Photography is another charming pursuit of mine. It forces me to find perspective and beauty among the seemingly mundane of everyday life. The blooms in our garden are impossibly and delightfully photogenic. Taking photos of them makes me happy.
On the other end of this spectrum are my various projects. I mentioned previously that I am pressure washing our massive wraparound deck. This is ongoing. I am also working on a couple of screenplays and editing a big film project. I enjoy this work, but the learning curve to achieve the results I want is steep. So, I’ve been progressing slowly in hopes that in time I will get it right. I am also reorganizing and redecorating my office and creative workspace. This includes rummaging through an interior storage space to make more room. Again, I am taking my time with this.
Lastly, there are two activities that keep me grounded in my life. One of those is playing the piano, and the other is reading books. I play my piano and two electric keyboards as often as I can. The sounds they make and the way the notes coalesce as I sing feed and nourish me. Reading a book is a quiet, noiseless, but altogether engrossing activity. I can visit other countries and universes and leap into fantastic adventures in the warm coziness of my reading nook. Both the simplicity and the enormity of it keep me engaged and enthralled.
I say all this knowing that the specter of the coronavirus pandemic lingers heavily in my mind. Its devastation saddens me. The irony that I do my part by practically doing nothing feels disempowering, but that is the paradox in these times that we face. I have made a donation to an organization that provides support and equipment for nurses, but it does not feel like enough.
What are you engaging in at the moment? How are you spending these sheltering days?
I feel the need more than ever to be intentional with how I spend my time, even when this means doing nothing. The reality of a pandemic is the gravity of our delicate mortality. I don’t want to waste another day should this virus find its way to me.
My life and all of our lives are far too precious.
Here are a couple of previous posts! Stay a while and enjoy!
Most people know me as a pianist. I have been playing piano for most of my life, and it will always be my primary instrument. However, a few years ago, I started to have a hankering for something new. Back in 2012, I added two new instruments to my repertoire. I purchased both a cello and a ukulele within the same year. Not long after, I started to take formal lessons with a cello teacher, but my journey to learn how to play ukulele would take a more circuitous route.
First of all, I was drawn to the uke because I grew up on a tropical island. Its sound harkens back to my joyous days as a young island boy. From there, I decided early on that I would teach myself to play the instrument. I figured between countless tutorials on Youtube and various instructional books, I could handle this on my own. I was also not a total novice at playing music. The years I had already logged in as a performing pianist had developed my ear enough to be attuned to various pitches and other auditory layers.
Well, all of that was well and good, but the biggest hurdle I faced was actually a simple one. I could not consistently make the time to learn how to play. Because of my initially limited knowledge base and the two other instruments that were taking up a substantial amount of my practice sessions, my lovely little ukulele took a backseat for a long time.
It became more of a once-in-a-while venture until just a couple of years ago. One day, I was playing a song of mine on my piano that I intended to transition to my cello, but then I had the idea to try it on my ukulele. The chords for it were fairly simple and standard, and I thought what the heck? I might sound ok.
After clumsily working it out, the song actually sounded quite beautiful on the uke. I’ve played it at several social gatherings ever since, and it has been the catalyst for me to fully take my uke playing more seriously. That song was the anchor I needed to give me the confidence and inspiration to plow forward. I hope to film a little video of myself performing that song, and I plan to have it in the next installment of this uke series of my blog.
Until then, here is a list of essential needs that I have compiled for anyone who is thinking of learning how to play this quirky little instrument. Non-violent bullet points please . . .
Get a ukulelefor you to play
This sounds straightforward enough, but the process is actually more complicated than it seems because there are actually four kinds of ukuleles to choose from. The options are the soprano, the concert, the tenor, and the baritone. They all are different sizes and vary in the ways that they produce higher and lower (bass) sounding notes. It’s important to consider the sizes of your hands/fingers as well as the types of sounds you prefer.
Another important consideration is the shape of your ukulele. The vast majority of ukes have the traditional shape of all stringed instruments like guitars and violins with inward curves on both sides fanning out into a bell shape.
Being the contrarian that I often am, I opted for the unusual pineapple-shaped ukulele made by a company called Luna. It is a soprano size and looks exactly like that description suggests. I have to admit that the shape makes it harder to hold when playing, but the addition of a strap removed that challenge. With the strap, I can easily play it when I am standing up or sitting down.
Find some means of instruction
Personally, I like to read books, and I decided to purchase this book to help me along, Ukulele for Dummies by Alistair Wood:
The writing actually has less of a stuffy academic vibe and more of a geeky/nerdy and easygoing flow to it, which I prefer. The author has a gentle but affable personality that shines through. It’s given me enough of a foundation of the basics that I need. If a book is not for you, then Youtube is a treasure trove of uke-playing knowledge. I haven’t taken the time to find a teacher on this service yet, but I’ll share what I’ve found in a later post on this series. Don’t let me stop you though, go ahead and dig around by all means.
Find a song that you will LOVE playing.
As I mentioned earlier, the song I wrote and adapted to my uke made all of the difference for me. It gave me that little burst of confidence I needed telling me that “Hey, I can do this!! (and also not sound terrible) .” Whether its an original piece or a sweet cover like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, it’s worth the time and effort to find a song (or several songs) that you LOVE. This makes all the difference toward staying motivated to keep learning. It makes this whole process so much more fun.
Make the time to play EVERY DAY
Seriously, the more you play, the better you get, and making a plan that gets you to play consistently every day will get you very far. You don’t even have to play that much when you do. Whether it’s ten minutes or an hour, the more important component is to consistently make the time to practice and learn. The pace of the learning is not as important as the time and effort put into it. Make the time every day and just do it.
I am a long way from being the seasoned uke player I hope to be someday, but this is a new goal for me. The biggest reason I chose to play it was that I can play it anywhere I go without needing electricity or amplification. My piano simply cannot be moved. My keyboard needs a power source and a stand, and my cello is far too delicate to bring along to most places.
But my ukelele can tag along for any ride to anywhere.
My journey as a ukulele player and enthusiast continues, and I’ll be sharing more about this along my way.
The days lumber on as I shelter in place. Most of the time, I fight the urge to check the news. This involves a swift and anxious perusal of several news websites including CNN, NPR, The Guardian, USA Today, and a Nashvile TV news station. I am getting a better handle on this obsession. Nonetheless, I harbor a deep concern for the wellbeing of the world. The coronavirus pandemic is on its way to being a catastrophic world event with aftershocks that we will experience for an unforeseeable future. I fear for the vulnerable populations all over the world and for the poor countries (such as those in Africa) that do not have the resources and infrastructure that the developed world has. If wealthy countries like Italy, Spain, and the US cannot even contain the spread of the virus and its devastating mortality rate, then how much harder will it be for the poverty-stricken of the world? I can’t even.
This is all overwhelming, and I am simply trying to stay calm.
To that end, there are some daily practices I have cobbled together and try to do as consistently as I can. I maintain a list of friends and family members with whom I check in whenever I can without becoming a nuisance about it. This involves messaging on social media, texting, email, Zoom chats, and phone calls. At a time in which we need to be physically distant from one another, I see this moment in history as an opportunity to support and comfort each other as much as possible.
Another daily activity I have is walking. Being out in the country, I am fortunate to have a private driveway that is half of a mile long from our doorstep to our mailbox. It runs right along our creek and makes for a truly idyllic and calming stroll surrounded by thousands of trees and abundant nature. Our wifi does not extend beyond the house, and I do not get a cell phone signal on our property at all. This means that I am completely cut off from the world when I take these walks., and this is quite refreshing. There are no news websites to obsess over and no people to avoid. I get to be alone with my thoughts and with the natural world, as well as get the easy and low-impact kind of exercise that I generally prefer.
Here are some photos I took a couple of days ago along my way.
For about an hour or two if it is not raining (and it rains A LOT in my neck of the woods), I have been working on what has been a lengthy home-maintenance project. I am pressure washing our deck . This has been time-consuming for a couple of reasons. Our house is over 20 years old, and I do not know if the deck has ever been pressure washed before. The layers of mold and normal wear have taken their toll. I have to go over many sections several times just to get a lot of it off. The other reason why this is taking a while is that the deck wraps around the house. It’s A LOT of deck. So, I do a little at a time on most days, and I should be done in about month at my current glacial pace. The before and after photos are quite shocking. Our deck post-wash looks almost brand new! I love it!! This process has been surprisingly rewarding.
In this photo, the darker section is the “before.” Seriously, what a difference huh?
Like I mentioned last time, I am also doing a lot of reading, knitting, and music playing on my piano and ukulele (less so on cello lately, but that will change soon).
I do all of this in the interest of trying to live calmly as we all weather the growing storm of this virus.
I hope you find meaningful or at least enjoyable activities to fill your days as we try to stay healthy and less stressed out.
Be safe and be kind to yourselves. (Also, wash your hands when you get a chance.)