Banjo Heads

I play a Deering Maple Blossom tenor banjo. I love it, but it has a well-deserved reputation of being overly bright and powerful, owing to its bluegrass roots.

I’ve struggled with this for years, with various articles of clothing stuck inside, mechanical muting gizmos attached, and playing techniques where I vary the head resonance by altering the way I rest the side of my palm.

Recently, though, I installed a clear, plastic head. My goodness, has it made a wonderful difference. In the past I used a variety of natural, or faux-natural heads to try to get a more mellow sound. None of them compare to the thick, clear plastic head.

I’m getting a much richer, mellow, but still loud, thumping. I’ve said before that an Irish banjo should sound like the farting of metal frogs.

It’s getting there.

Memoir and Story

One of the common problems I see in writing workshops is the memoir writer who is struggling to tell his story. I don’t have a solution to this problem, but I recognize it, and I think that’s important.

Fiction writers in particular can often have some distance from their story. For example, the princess that is using her magical amulet to force her step-brother from the throne is a great story, but is not an issue most of us have to deal with on a daily basis.

By contrast, the memoir writer will often be confronted by other members of the workshop about his writing, and throw up his hands, saying, “but that’s what happened!”

The point is this: writing is a craft, and you’ve got to be able to use all of your characters to great effect. You’ve got to allow them to make terrible choices, step into peril, fail to see important details. All of the people in the memoir, including the narrator, are characters. And if you don’t treat them that way, it is going to be a much less satisfying experience for the reader.

Put another way, and bluntly, nobody really cares about you. I mean, unless you are president of a large country, why should I read about you? You’ve had struggles? I’ve had struggles. So what?

What people want is a story. They want to be taken on a journey. So the memoir writer sometimes has a bigger challenge than other writers. For starters, this may be one of their first serious attempts at writing. They haven’t yet perfected their craft. But now they have to try to develop their craft not with a princess, but with themselves, their mothers, their broken childhoods. It’s a lot harder to be objective about that.

I welcome advice from others who have successfully navigated this labyrinth. I don’t know the answer, but I think that recognizing the challenge is an important first step.

One Armed Dancing

OK. I need some advice. I love to waltz. But I have an injury to my right shoulder.

How do I lead?

For you non-dancers (and you are really missing out on one of life’s most exquisite activities here), it goes like this. The man takes his partner’s hand in his left, extending them out from the body. These hands are beautiful and graceful, like an elegant masthead. But the truth is, they don’t do much.

On the other hand (ahem) the man’s right arm is the rudder. It goes around his partner. Her arm lays across his. These arms form a semi-rigid structure. This is called frame. He uses this to steer them across the dance floor. Subtle shifts in the right arm queue your partner whether to turn, or step back, or pull in close. It’s the critical arm.

Except I don’t have one.

At least, not right now.

I keep it in a sling while dancing so some yahoo showing off (which more than once has been yours truly) doesn’t yank it into some unnatural angle.

So, the question is, how do I lead with only one arm? Surely someone out there has solved this problem.

Help me! I’m adrift.