The Headiness of Mania

A few weeks ago, I found myself starting to wake up earlier than usual, unable to get back to sleep. And whilst normally I would lie in bed – sleeping or not – I found I wanted to get up, I wanted to go downstairs, or on the computer … I wanted to do something. At first I wasn’t sure what – I might just go lie with the cat, or make a breakfast I wouldn’t normally be bothered to make – but over the last couple of weeks, it’s gotten stronger.

You see, I have bipolar type II, which normally means I’m extremely depressed, with periods of ‘normality’, so to speak. I don’t usually get manic, and even when I’m in a period of hypomania I don’t usually find myself with increased energy or motivation- I’m just not depressed.

About a month ago, my doctor started me on a new medication (I can’t remember the name just now), and I think this has been a big trigger for me. It was meant to help with my seasonal depression (I usually get deeply depressed during the winter), but it seems to have worked a little too well. All of a sudden, I want to do things, write and play music: things I used to enjoy but fell out of fashion for me due to depression.

In the past two weeks, I’ve written almost 20,000 words of the fourth book in the Redemption of Erâth series, and began re-recording some very old songs I wrote almost twenty years ago, all whilst continuing to do well at work, and I feel … almost happy, for lack of a better term.

I’m not used to it.

It’s an odd feeling for me to have so much energy, motivation and desire to be productive. I suppose there are people who feel like this all the time, but it’s hard for me to imagine it. I feel like I’m riding an enormous wave, just starting to reach the crest before it all comes crashing down again. And I’m not usually able to ride the wave out – it buries me, drowns me, and crushes me to the bottom of the sea.

And it’s intoxicating – invigorating, even, and scary all at the same time. Intoxicating because it’s almost an addiction, something that drives me forward to keep doing more of the same, a drug I can’t get enough of. Invigorating, because it’s refreshing to have such energy for a change. And frightening, because I don’t know how long it’s going to last, and the higher the rise, the steeper the fall.

The good news is that so far it’s only resulted in positive productivity, and I’m (for the moment) not tempted into self-destructive or dangerous behavior. I’m not spending extravagantly, I’m not looking for wild sexcapades, and I’m not going out and getting drunk every night (in fact, I’ve actually almost completely stopped drinking). Instead, I can’t wait to get home to work on my music more; I can’t wait for lunch breaks at work to continue my novel. I feel exhilarated, happy, and free.

Unfortunately, there’s still a danger – a danger that I might get too high and start to be damaging to myself and others. And of course the danger presented by the inevitable fall into despair and darkness, which will come eventually, whether I like it or not.

My doctor’s already taken me off the new medication, but slightly increased another one, in the hopes of balancing me a little bit more. We’ll see how that works, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that had secretly hoped to stay on it, to ride out this mania for as long as I can; but in the end, I know it’s not healthy, and I have to do what’s best for my long-term mental health.

But while it lasts, boy am I getting a lot done!

A Change of Pace

I’ve been struggling to write for nearly a year now. When I released my young adult novel in the autumn of 2017 (under my real name), I had a plan that I would spend 2018 writing the fourth Redemption of Erâth novel, and 2019 could focus on my second attempt at YA.

Sadly, this isn’t how things have turned out. I spent most of 2018 trying to start writing (with very little success), whilst also attempting to market and sell my YA novel. This did not work. I’ve spent most of 2019 trying to get going on the second YA novel … which also didn’t work.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve become increasingly negligent of my blog, and The Redemption of Erâth has dropped off the face of the earth. There have been a lot of ups and downs (mostly downs) over the past two years, but nothing I haven’t been able to weather before. No – this time, I think I’ve really just become complacent, and found it easier to do the things that keep me going day by day, without finding room for the things that make those days worth living.

That thing is writing. The feeling of accomplishment, of success, when writing the final lines of a novel … there is nothing comparable. It’s a deluge of heady satisfaction, and it doesn’t matter if another soul in the world ever reads it. Just knowing that something exists in the world that did not before is a reward worth a thousand kingdoms.

So what can I do? The first thing I know I can’t do is make a promise. Promises lead to broken hearts, and I’d not have that for anything. But I can try. I can continue to try, day by day, and if I write a word or not, I know that the next day will come, and with it new energies and new ideas that might be able to revive me.

So for now, I will put a pause on my YA work, and see what the world of Erâth has to hold for me, for Brandyé, Elven, and all the others. I am going to try diving back in to the fourth book in the Redemption of Erâth series, and see if my mind can fathom the next steps there better than it can in the real world.

I will do my best to post regular updates and thoughts, but as before – no promises. I do look forward, though, to the idea of regaining this community, discovering new people, and writing new worlds.

Here’s to the next 12 months!

The Perils and Potentials of Pastiche

When I was a young composer in high school, I thought the pinnacle of musical genius to aspire to, the composer to emulate and copy and write like, was Beethoven. I had a deep love also for Sibelius, and Liszt, and Dvorák, and sought to write music along their styles, too. Little did I realize as I was cutting my compositional teeth that I understood their music’s beauty, without understanding its importance.

It wasn’t until I got to college and had my first compositional tutoring session that my world collapsed. I proudly placed in front of my professor the culmination of my childhood work – a full-length orchestral symphony that could’ve been written by Schubert – and watched in mounting horror and deepening shame as he methodically tore it apart. It was, in a word, a pastiche.

I had never heard the term before, and had never been presented with its concept as a negative thing; I had never been exposed to the idea that imitating art is not in fact worthwhile, but instead misguided flattery and a twisting of influence into something derivative and necessarily ‘less-than’.

It crushed my spirit.

But from the ashes of my early compositions rose something far, far better, and I am to this day indebted to my early composition professor for what he taught me about originality. You see, I had been laboring for years under the impression that the best works of art I could create would be in the same style as my influences. It never occurred to me to think otherwise; after all, shouldn’t I be writing the music I wanted to hear? And if what I wanted to hear was Dvorák’s ‘New World’ symphony, then shouldn’t I rewrite it with my own notes?

What I learned instead was the ability to see a work of art for its context, and not just its enjoyability. The dissonances and unsettling cross-rhythms of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony are beautiful, uplifting and inspiring, yes – but they are far more important than that, because they represented a moment in musical history when people heard something they had never heard before. But Beethoven didn’t simply create a symphony that was entirely atonal or arhythmic; he wrapped these special moments in a musical tapestry that in other ways harkens back to Mozart, and Haydn, and Bach before them. It was new, but it wasn’t unfathomable.

And this is where I learned the difference between pastiche and originality. You see, I could write a symphony that would sound like Beethoven’s tenth … but why should I? Where’s the value in recreating something that won’t have sounded ‘new’ for 250 years?

Instead, I started working on a style all my own, borrowing from what I enjoyed in others’ music and molding it into a shape that was recognizable, yet (almost) entirely new. I wrote clarinet solos; I wrote elegies for voice and string quartet. I wrote a 14-minute musical essay on the canon form for full orchestra. (To this day this remains one of my favorite compositions.)

And this is something I’ve learned to translate from music into writing, as well. When I started writing The Redemption of Erâth, I more or less wanted to write a story that would read like Tolkien. I realize now that this was misguided (I have nowhere near the mastery of the English language to even place in the same league as Tolkien), and as the series has progressed, I feel I’ve begun to develop my own linguistic style.

When I wrote my young adult novel, 22 Scars, however, I refused to read anything in a similar genre. This story was important to me, and it was important that I write it in a way that really could only have come from me. With short, often incomplete sentences, multiple points of view, and little to no emotion in third-person scenes, I was able to create a literary world that (hopefully) embodies the spirit of numb depression, draws the reader in and puts them squarely in the shoes of a suicidally depressed teen with a tragic upbringing.

The tonal difference between The Redemption of Erâth and 22 Scars is distinct, to say the least; I suspect most people would not assume they were the work of the same author. But there’s a reason for that; the entire world of Erâth is derivative of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and so it makes sense that the tone of those stories would match. The world of 22 Scars, however, is bleak, numb, and highly personal – it is my world.

Now, this isn’t to say necessarily that all pastiche is worthless; I believe there is a value in being able to recreate the style of your favorite artists whilst recognizing that what you’re creating isn’t necessarily meant to stand on its own without context. For my second YA novel, The Broken, I needed to write a few songs to get in the heads of the band members described in the book. However, these songs would be from the early- to mid-nineties, and to write songs that I would write today wouldn’t have fit. Instead, I listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine, Korn, and even through to System of a Down and Slipknot, and wrote five songs that, to my ear, could have been the bastard children of these bands.

If I were to write a soundtrack to a period film, I would want that soundtrack to sound like it came from that era. The same rules apply. I wouldn’t bill that soundtrack as art in its own regard, but rather to be considered against similar works of the era.

Ultimately, I think that there is a fine line between influence and pastiche. It’s fine to be influenced by other artists, but the moment what you create could have been made by that same artist, you’ve lost the most important thing in art: your own soul.