By now I know the answer’s always in the question

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I’ve just sent the invoice for three chapters that I wrote for inclusion in a biochemistry textbook. It isn’t a heap of money, but it is the most I’ve ever been paid for writing. It always feels good making money for doing something that I love. Not that it is that common, mind, but nonetheless. Feels good. I think, in fact, that it was the exercise of structured, paid writing that allowed me to catch the blog bug again. When I stopped putting it off and made the time to sit down and write, I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to keep writing after my task for the day was done. Hence, the recent burst of blogging.

A part of my was a little sad when I mailed off that invoice today. I want to keep going, keep writing. The problem is that blogging isn’t satisfying me this time around. It all seems a little trivial, a bit of vanity writing. Sound and fury. I need something ‘real’ to write. That was what made the textbook writing so satisfying – the fact that it is going to be published in old school book form, that undergraduate students are going to be forced to buy it and that maybe, just maybe, it will help someone learn something useful. Unlikely, I know, but a guy can dream.

I want to write something real. But what? I love reading fiction but can’t fathom writing it and, as a friend in publishing told me – ‘nobody wants fiction from new authors, fiction doesn’t sell.’ Nonfiction it is then. But what to write and, more importantly, when? I knocked out 20,000 words in a week by taking some days away from work, but I knew that there was a payday at the end. I’m not sure I could convince Dr. O’C to get the kids out of the house on a Sunday afternoon on a whim. A fantasy.

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On a tangentially related note, today is the first official day of summer.  I’m going back to four days a week at work over the next few months to get some time with the boys and so Dr. O’C can go back to work full time. I’ve stored up enough leave time to take every Wednesday from today through the end of February home with the boys. For the first year or so we were in Oz, I did that and generally enjoyed the time I had with Boy Z. Then Not Max came along and Dr. O’C was on maternity leave and my work got a bit out of control. And, to be honest, I was a bit scared to deal with the two of them on my own. But we’re doing OK today. We’ve spent the morning messing with marsupials and the boys have been charitable enough to take good long naps simultaneously. I reckon they realise I’m out of my league, here.

Behind you, mate!

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And you feel so right, but how come you can’t sleep at night?

In the suburbs
I learned to drive
And you told me we’d never survive
Grab your mother’s keys we’re leavin’…

In my younger days, when the stress tide was rising, I used to pop on my favourite record at the time, crank the volume up to maximum and bathe in an anodyne sonic sea. Cheaper than Valium and a bit better for someone of my addictive nature.

I’ve been a bit tightly wound these last few weeks and the release of The Arcade Fire’s new record, couldn’t have been better timed. All the way home from work today, I was looking forward to a little music therapy. I can usually get some music blaring in the boys’ witching hour between dinner and bedtime.

Boy Z doesn’t get it, he’s got too much of his mother in him and is as likely to order me to turn the music down as he is to dance around the lounge. Not Max, however, he gets it. He’s a rocker. All it takes to turn him out of a bad mood is “Paradise City” at maximum volume. So when Dr. O’C and Boy Z took a trip to the supermarket this evening, we pulled out the new record. Delighted in the anticipation as the cellophane was pulled away from the jacket and those expectant moments of quiet as the disk slid into place and the CD player chirped to life and the speakers roared to life.

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It has been three years since the last offering from The Arcade Fire – a long three years. The Montreal band’s two previous offerings are easily among my top ten favourite albums of the last decade. They were, quite simply, masterpieces. I’ve actually been a little bit nervous since the announcement that their third full-length record was due this week. Could they do it again. Could they make another album that becomes an inherent part of the soundtrack of my life. One of the things that The Arcade Fire does well is to make a concept album that isn’t a novelty album. Their 2004 debut, “Funeral”, was about loss – a theme that struck close to home for me at the time as well. Their sophomore effort in 2007, “Neon Bible”, was all about spirituality and salvation – as was my 2007.

And this one, as you may have guessed from the title, is about suburbia. And an album about suburbia in all its banality, uniformity and, yes, even its hidden darkness is perfect for me in 2010. I grew up in the virulent Florida suburbs in the 1980’s and spent much of the last twenty years trying to escape their  of the 1990’s trying to escape their clutches. The irony of landing two decades later in the bosom of suburbia on the other side of the world is not lost on me.

While the record is as cynical as I am about the suburbs, it is also nostalgic. It’s not a condemnation of the endless 21st century sprawl as much as a resignation to its inevitability. This is the way we live. This is the reality of the 21st century. Win Butler and his merry men see a world slowly crumbling away. And who doesn’t? Maybe not your idea of the way to quiet the grinding gears of your mind on a suburban Friday evening.

But then there’s the music.

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It’s bigger, but not as bombastic as the previous two. The band has made good use of the last three years, delivering an album that is more lush, more mature than their previous efforts. They’ve also embraced a wider range of musical styles veering from straight-ahead punk rock to intricate, even challenging, orchestration. Despite hinging thematically on the banality of the day to day, it’s musically epic. But above all, beautiful and compelling.

Not Max probably missed the thematic overtones and the intricate instrumentation, but he seemed happy enough with the music – and he certainly liked the flavour of the cover. He’s not afraid to let me know when he thinks something sucks. If I’m playing the indie folk for which I’ve got a penchant these days, he’ll fuss and grizzle until I turn on something with a barrage of electric guitar. And as we bathed in a musical barrage, I found the musical narcotic that I needed. As for suburbia?

It is what you make of it, I suppose. And I’ve spent Friday evenings in worse ways.

Hey
Put the cellphone down for a while
In the night there is something wild
Can you hear it breathing?

And hey
Put the laptop down for a while
In the night there is something wild
I feel it, it’s leaving me