Lost & Found (a song I wrote)

I wrote this song over 2 years ago, shortly after I first became connected with the Center for Applied Rationality. It was an eye-opening experience, and I found myself wondering how I fit into everything… the Bay Area rationality communities, my intentional community in Waterloo (which I was also fairly new to at the time). I was also in the process of re-understanding my own identity and how to communicate Malcolmness to people. For reasons, it took me awhile to get around to recording it. But it still resonates with me a lot.


Lost & Found Lyrics

I got lost, and found
that I could no longer hear my favorite sounds
and so I wandered around… singing aloud

trying to capture all these thoughts
trying to master all these abilities
learning to connect all the dots
and cultivating possibilities

I got lost, and found
that all my bright colors had turned to greys and browns
as I wandered around, downtown

» read the rest of this entry »

My Songwriting is On Fire

An image of a hot air balloon, its flame glowing in the dark scene.

The song isn’t actually about hot air balloons… right?

A month ago, a friend and I decided that we’d write a song each month with a preset title. This is kind of like Songfight, but I find that a month actually gives me time to flesh out a full idea rather than just scraping something together in a couple hours. This is my song for month one, “On Fire”.

My reflection above about hours versus months is interesting, because it reflects a recent (past year) shift in the way I write songs.

  • I get a snippet of a song… typically a single phrase with a melody or a couple phrases that rhyme. Note that at this point I rarely know what I actually want to sing about.
  • I frantically search for a piece of paper and a pencil.
  • I literally write the song, line by line, singing the lines aloud as I go.
  • I reword a few phrases and rearrange a few lines.
  • Within an hour or two, the song is basically finished, aside from instrumentation which I almost always do later.

I’ve since… changed. Now it’s more like this:

  • I get an inkling or idea for a song… often a snippet like above but in this case just the title “on fire”.
  • I sing it. I sing it again, a bit differently.
  • I try out another line to follow the first.
  • I iterate over the verse or chorus or whatever, ironing out kinks and adding flairs like alliteration and internal rhyme.
  • I do something else. Unlike before, where almost all of my songs were written completely the day they were first conceived, I now write songs intermittently, often while walking around.
  • I return to the song, ultimately finalizing it. At this point, I still may not have written anything down yet.

The first song I wrote this way was General Disregard

, which is on my album. If you’re familiar with the rest of the album you might notice that General Disregard feels more casual and less structured than the other tunes.

I’m a poet and I know it

I’ve been a poet for at least as long as I’ve been a songwriter, and I’ve long considered myself a poet first and musician second (this is related to the fact that I invariably do the words before the instrumentation). The poems I used to write were very structured: limericks, sonnets, or even just rhyming couplets with a strict meter. I haven’t totally ditched these but I’ve gotten more involved with slam poetry, which uses a lot more internal rhyme and stretching of beats, and I’ve also started casually freestyle rapping. Both of these have contributed to my new strategy for songwriting.

In fact, when I first started doing slam, I would create my poems like I used to write my songs. This is just simply the wrong medium. It’s like designing a painting using your sense of smell. Murmuring and writing are a really poor way of creating something that’s ultimately going to be performed. Similarly, I find I can work a lot faster and with way more nuance when I’m creating songs aloud and in my head versus on paper. It takes energy and intent to erase something from paper, while it takes effort to keep something in my head. This means that if a part is cumbersome or boring, it gets forgotten, and I have to replace it with something catchier.

The mental process of composition

I’ve learned a bit about the memory recently from reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (read my summary at actionablebooks.com) and one key point that emerged was that the memory regularly drops details and adds others every time the memory is accessed. For my songwriting, this means that every time I want to work on a song in-progress, I get to massage it on the way out, rather than just turning text into sound.

I’ve also realized that writing the songs in my head is a real mental exercise! In another song I’ve been working on I found I had to stop because my brain was getting worn out. This saturation is a good sign, because it means both that my unconscious brain will continue working on it even once I move on, and that my mental capacity for this will expand. Neuroplasticity!

After my album launch last fall, I unintentionally took an almost complete hiatus from songwriting for nearly 3 months. Then I decided in February I wanted to write more songs. Now I have 1¾ songs since then, and I’m really excited to start sharing them again. Much of this will probably be posted here, but if you want my really musical news you can also subscribe to the Maleidoscope newsletter at maleidoscope.com.

My first album: The Mind I’m Lost Inside

Nine months after I originally committed to record and release an album this year, I’m excited and proud to say that I have!

Album art for The Mind I'm Lost Inside by Maleidoscope. The artwork is line-art of Mal, with thick strands of hair waving out in all directions

The album art, by me with help from my friend Tess.

It’s been a long journey, and honestly if I had known in advance how much work it would be, I might not have done it. Naivety can be so useful! That said, having now done it, I am definitely going to do it again. I enjoyed the recording process immensely, and found it really rewarding to practice intently: guitar, piano, and even some saxophone for the first time.

Without further ado, the album:

I’ll be writing a post later this month about my experiences in creating this album, but until then I hope you enjoy the music. Thanks for taking the time to listen.

The Mind I’m Lost Inside: I’m releasing an album in 3 weeks.

Back in February of this year, I set four goals for myself. The first goal was to record and release an album of original music by the end of the year. (Let’s… not talk about the other three for now…)

Anyway, 8 months later that album, titled The Mind I’m Lost Inside, is almost finished! It’s been a huge journey and I’m going to post more reflections on what I learned while working on this project all year, but for now I just want to share some demos with you.

My stage name (after more deliberation than you want to hear about) is Maleidoscope, so I’ve set myself up a pre-release page at maleidoscope.com

Sample music below. If you like it, you can sign up at my launch site to be notified when the album’s ready..

Update 18/11/2012: The album is finished now! Listen and download at maleidoscope.bandcamp.com

Multitrack song!

I bought the AVS Video Editor for $50 this summer, in order to edit the 480p videos taken by my phone (Android; HTC Incredible S).

I recently discovered with some delight that I can actually use this program to edit a bunch of videos together.

Harmony ensued.

Peace Remains

when we open our hands
to share a loaf of bread
and the last crumb is gone
peace remains

    when we open our hands
    our hands, our hands
    in our empty hands
    peace remains

when we reach out our hands
to help someone in need
and when it’s time, we let go
peace remains


when we hold tight our hands
to comfort or to pray
in the stillness of our hearts
peace remains


when we raise up our hands
to praise or to dance
and all tension goes away
peace remains

    Chorus 2x

A Productive Day

I had been on a hiatus from a bunch of things, one of them being this blog and another being my Summer of Song series of YouTube videos. Today officially breaks that, as I just posted a brand-new song for all to hear, and I’m typing a blog post right now, obviously. What a truism. It’d be basically impossible for me to suggest on this blog that I am, in fact, not blogging.

Anyway, today was a super-productive day. I went over to my friends’ house and silkscreened some shirts, which is awesome. As soon as I get the shirt back I’ll post a picture up here. Then, I talked to my dad on the phone, while walking back, achieving both my daily walk (I’ll get to this in a future post) and catching up with him, which I’d planned to do. Back at my place, I recorded a video for this song, which I’ll include at the end. Then, I redesigned my business cards, which was another thing on my todo list, and now I’m blogging, which I’ve also been meaning to do for a long time.

Five things in one day? I’m on fire. I’m not sure why today was so productive, but I think it’s related to me waking up with a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my time. Sometime this week I’m also going to share some new personal development habits I’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

That Phrase

I quit, but I got no withdrawal
The bank said that I had “Insufficient funs”
So that’s it, I’m on my own from now on
Nothing to give – just trying to live with sufficient fun

It’s not that hard
But hey, it’s not that easy
Just gotta start

I awake, but sometimes, hey, I sleep in
so mid-afternoon, I feel kinda doomed, ’cause the day’s half gone
I wonder – will it take, immense determination
to get to a state, where I’m never late, and I always know what’s going on

Well it’s not that hard
but hey it’s not that easy
just gotta start…

’Cause you know that phrase “easier said than done”
Doesn’t have to apply to everyone
If I decide that I like action
Cho instead of just conversation
rus And spend my days getting fun things done
and proudly say to everyone
”I get satisfaction from my life
and I’ve only just begun.”


I try, but still sometimes I mess up
But I know success, comes right after mess, if I can learn from it all
I fly, but only in the most figurative sense
so why be all scared, if I’m unprepared, and I start to fall…

’cause the ground is not that hard
But hey it’s not that easy
Just gotta start…


Two Original Songs on a Piano

I love playing the piano, but since they are rather large I don’t usually have one around. I own a tiny keyboard, but it’s just not the same. Here are two of my favourite songs of the ones I’ve written, both recorded on a piano because they really don’t work any other way. Okay, I suppose No More could work with a huge gospel choir, but those are even harder to procure than pianos.

No More

You… you… you…

You will walk no more
You will speak no more
You will wash no more
You will eat no more

You will cough no more
You will smile no more
You will laugh no more
You will breathe…

No more!
You are no more!

You will dream no more
You will play no more
You will think no more
You will pray no more

You will sing! no more
You will dance no more
You will tire no more
will you… sleep?

You are no more!

You will read no more
You will question no more
You will teach no more
You will garden no more
You will grow, not, old…
as they that are left grow old
fear no more – worry no more
tears no more – hurt no more
shake no more – change no more

still! You will be still
Will you be still?
you are no more


Take a sphere and paint it rainbow hues
Don’t separate the colours – let them swirl
Mix them up: make greens from yellows and blues
Set it spinning in the sky and watch it twirl

Imagine a kaleidoscope
Spinning shapes and shades and making art
The beauty in the simplicity is more than you could hope
So you cherish it deep down in your heart
… and you want to take part

Nothing that is beautiful is made up of only one
For what makes the beauty really full is the juxtaposition
The beauty of a brand new earth we will behold
As in the ancient legends was foretold
… spinning tales that are made of threads of gold

Take a sphere and paint it rainbow hues
Don’t separate the colours – let them swirl
Mix them up: make greens from yellows and blues
Set it spinning in the sky and watch it twirl

Hello… beautiful world.

Priorities: It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do. (Music and Thoughts)

I mentioned that one song was missing from my 30-Day Poem/Song Challenge. Well, here it is:

While you watch & listen, here are some of my thoughts from the past few days. I’ve had some interesting conversations and listened to more of Steve Pavlina’s podcasts (such as this one on achieving goals) and I’ve started thinking about my goals. I’m notorious for not setting any, so this list is not very long, but if you’ve been following my blog you’ll have seen that I have at least one:

I will develop awesome time-management skills and habits. -Me, several weeks ago.

Well, I started thinking about ways in which I could try to accomplish that goal. One of Steve’s strategies is to become the person who has already achieved it. As I thought more about what sort of person has amazing time-management skills, I realized that the person I was imagining was not very spontaneous or adventuresome, two traits I hold in high esteem. With that realization came questions: Then who do I want to be? What skills and habits do I want to have?

I began to redefine the problem, from “not managing my time well enough” to “not managing my activities well enough”. What I realized is that my main problem isn’t with missing deadlines but with wasting time. It’s not that I feel like I need to procrastinate less. On the contrary, Parkinson’s Law (Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.) makes a fairly strong argument for procrastination. If I do things earlier than they need to be done, I’ll likely spend more time doing them then they really need.

A New Approach

Today I decided I would try a different tactic: I made a list of all of the things that I wanted to potentially spend my time doing today, and tried to do only things on that list. I added some things as the day progressed, but the point of the exercise was to be doing only things that I consciously wanted to do. I have a strong tendency to get sidetracked by activities that in retrospect I judge to be wasteful. These include reading shallow blog articles, wandering around on Facebook, and having long circular arguments with my friends. These activities are entrancing but not engaging — tempting but not really worthwhile. Instead, I want to do more reading, writing, exercising, and having deep and meaningful conversations with people.

The today-plan worked out alright. I had two items on my list that I had marked as high priority (see below) and I got both of them done. The flexible schedule I gave myself worked particularly well today because the two high-priority tasks were ones I wanted to do anyway and knew I would enjoy (recording the video above was one). I’m not sure how well this would work in a circumstance where I have a large unpleasant task with a faraway deadline. We’ll see, though. I’ve managed to get those things done before though.

This is how I've been making my todo lists for several years. The bottom item type · is new, but necessary for my new paradigm as it allows for items I'm allowed to do that are infinite, eg. read.

In working through this new strategy, I’ve come to realize:

It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do.

That is, as long as I’m not doing anything wasteful, then I’m either doing something valuable or doing nothing. If I define the latter to be meditation, then it’s still worthwhile. Exactly what I do isn’t really that important – as deadlines approach, enough pressure will build that the things that need to get done will get done.

I’ve yet to determine exactly how this will affect my spontaneity, but for now my rules will be as follows:


  1. I will keep a daily list of activities I may engage in.
  2. I may modify the list at any time during the day.
  3. There is no limit to how long the list can be.
  4. I will not spend a significant amount of time engaging in other activities.

Rule 2 lets me be spontaneous, because if I discover an interesting activity I feel is worthwhile, I can take part in it… as soon as I add it to the list. This forces me to make a conscious decision “Yes, this activity/event will add value to my life” before I undertake it. Otherwise, it’s all to easy to just do it without truly considering if I really want to.

For rule 4, I haven’t decided exactly what the threshold for significance is, but I think probably about 10 minutes on any one activity per 3 hours, and 30 minutes total on any extra activities within the 3 hours. I should probably use some sort of timer that I set every time I start one of these activities, that will sound after 5-10 minutes to force me to either decide that what I’m doing is meaningful or stop. The former case would apply to finding a really captivating article or something on the internet.

I’ve created a new page titled “My Life“, that will keep a current record of exactly what rules I’m following as I live my life. The link ought to stay at the top, so if you find myself on my blog in the future you can see what challenges and so on I’m currently engaged in.

One final remark: I’m observing with some interest that while I seemed to be taking a blacklist approach, what I’ll actually be creating daily is a whitelist. I suppose because otherwise, if I wanted to permit myself to have half an hour of Facebooking, I’d have to take it off a list, which seems strange. Would I then put it back on the list when I decided I’d had enough? I’m going to try it like this for now, and see how it goes!

Song and Poems Galore!

July 28

If I were dreaming…
there would be nothing to fear.
Could I be dreaming?

July 27

So I missed the bus
Accompany me, podcast!
It’s a long walk home…

The haikus from today and yesterday are both related to Steve Pavlina’s podcast on Fear. It is one of the most inspiring pieces I’ve ever listened to. I strongly encourage you to check it out.

July 26

I just recorded this video today (the 28th) but the song was actually written on the 26th, so it goes here for the Challenge.

July 25

I have a sunburn.
Two hours shirtless conversing?
A fair price to pay.

A Little Music and Reflections on Achieving Goals

July 24th song

Well, I didn’t really write this song (in the sense that there was nothing to write down) but I did create it today, so I figure that counts.

If you’d been wondering about my silence for two weeks or so (which probably nobody has, since (to the best of my knowledge) my fledgling blog has only 2-3 followers at the moment) then you’d probably be thinking “Has Malcolm been writing amazing poems and songs every day and just not sharing them with the world?” as my 30 Day Poem/Song challenge is still running until the end of the month.

The answer to that question, sadly, is “No.”

What happened?

When I discovered the idea of the 30 Day Challenge, I decided immediately that I wanted to do something. I considered doing something super-easy like “Take a photo every day” (technically I already do this as I photograph all of my food before eating it as a mindfulness exercise). I figured, however, that I could go further, and set my first challenge to be something that has often been, well, a challenge for me: forced creativity.

I consider myself a fairly creative person, but the majority of my creations arise out of spontaneous notions rather than methodical processes or even daily habits. My hope with the 30 Day Poem/Song was to help change that, but apparently it’s a bit more difficult than I thought. I have essentially failed my first 30 Day Challenge.


I have a tendency to succeed at most endeavours I pursue, but I’ve noticed that I also have a tendency to put them off until the last minute. I’ve also noticed that I don’t get many things done unless I plan when I’m going to do them, and my schedule tends to be pretty erratic. I was listening to an interview of Tim Ferriss earlier today (by Leo Babauta — they are two of my favourite personal development leaders) and he brought up the idea of controlling your behaviour by controlling your environment. That is, becoming productive by making your world a place in which productivity is natural. I’ve been listening to a bunch of Steve Pavlina’s (he’s another huge inspiration to me in personal development)  podcasts lately, and one of them mentioned this idea as well.

So, in the pursuit of awesomeness, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to organize my life, both in terms of time and space, so that I’m a more productive person. I’ve decided to start simply by believing that I will achieve this. That’s another idea I got from Steve Pavlina (from this podcast on Beliefs). Hence here is my proclamation:

I will develop awesome time-management skills and habits.
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