12.29.2013

A 2 Mile Power Walk

I did a 2 mile power walk around my sister's Manitou Springs CO subdivision today. It's a fairly hilly route, and with the thin air, 2 miles feels like 3 miles, compared with lower altitude.

There is a chance that I will get some further exercise today if my niece Millie wants to go hike up the Barr Trail near the incline, which we climbed half way up a couple of days ago. That will be cool. There is another trail that supposedly goes from my sister's neighborhood all the way over to the cog railway near the incline. I don't think I am going to have time to do that on this trip, but I should set it as a goal for my next visit out here.

Today, I am going to try to finish the book I am reading right now, called "Then We Came to the End," by Joshue Ferris. I only have a few pages left. Very doable.

12.28.2013

Frozen and Disney Movies in General

Today I went to see the Disney children's movie, "Frozen," with my 8 year old niece and my mom and pops. I really didn't have anything better to do and a little animated brain candy sounded just right.

Disney really hasn't changed their plot formula much at all, for true love romance themed story lines, since the last time I went to one.

Not that it's a bad formula. It works, even though it is a bit far fetched. But anything can happen in fantasy realms, so you kind of have to put your adulthood on hold and see it from a child's perspective.

I generally agree with the message that true love and value trumps greed and power. The cognitive dissonance arises from the fact that Disney is basically making huge corporate profits on formulaic animated movies for kids. This is best illustrated by the Disney-sponsored ads that preambled the film we saw today.

Who knew that there was a Disney themed tropical resort paradise in Hawaii with "100,000 things to do?" I didn't. I also would never go to it. Hawaii is a perfectly fine tropical resort paradise without Disney's involvement in it.

The messaging seems generally good, but what I dislike about it is the penchant for conformity to an ideal and a standardized conventional wisdom. It does not leave a lot of room for free thinking.

I asked my niece, Millie, if the formulaic nature of Disney movies sometimes bothers her and she said it did. She said she likes some Disney movies and not others. She likes Shrek the best. She dislikes Cinderella the most.

"It's just really boring," she told me. "I would like something with more adventure than those kinds of movies. I don't like Sleeping Beauty either, because I have watched it a lot and now it is kind of boring."

So even though she no longer finds Sleeping Beauty interesting, it is clear that at one time she watched it many times, suggesting that she has perhaps grown out of its particular Disney formula.

I should note that Disney has a few different kinds of formulas. There is the true love formula, the adventure formula, and the underdog vs. corporate greed formula, to name a few. But each one kind of follows its own set script and doesn't deviate much, other than the characters and settings are different.

There is always some kind of silly goofy tagalong character and more often than not a speechless but quasi-intelligent pet or beast of burden than reminds the main characters of their values and ethics.

12.27.2013

Mountain Climbing

There is some talk of heading over to "The Incline" in Manitous Springs CO for some exercise.

It's a former fenicular train line and all that is left are railroad ties up a steep hillside for like 2 miles. The first phase of it is not too steep but then it gets really vertical for the second phase.

I actually did the whole thing two Aprils ago and it was quite challenging, because of my low altitude accustomed lungs. Today I might just hike up the switchback trail that parallels the incline. I came down that trail when I did the incline the last time. It is actually a longer distance because of the switchbacks so I can just climb up at my own pace and come back down when I run out of time.

Tonight we are going to see a local production of the Wizard of Oz, in which my nephew Ty is a munchkin (and a paid cast member...his first real job!). He's part of the lollipop guild and has to do a short song and dance to that effect. I got a behind the scenes rendition the other day when we were up at the mountain cabin of my sister's partner Carl.

Only a couple more full days of vacation here.

Inspirado

I find that I have the clearest head after decent exercise. This morning I took a power walk around my sister's hilly neighborhood in Manitou Springs, CO. The thinner air seems to make the workout feel more intensive, since I have to breathe harder.

I am taking a free online class at COURSERA on the History of Rock-n-Roll. It's interesting. One of my new year's resolutions is to become a bit more educated about history. History is a pretty broad subject area, so I plan to focus on certain subsets of history and how historical events factored into the development of things like rock-n-roll. Contextualizing history will compel my learning, because it will relate to things I am interested in. I am very interested in rock-n-roll, since that is my passion in life and how I identify myself as a human being.

KNOW YOUR HISTORY. In any field you need to know your history.

12.26.2013

Garden of the Gods

We are loading into my sister's minivan to go over to Garden of the Gods nature park to hike. I need a good hike to burn off some Christmas calories.

I want to go to the Jerusalem Cafe mediterranean restaurant some time during this holiday trip to my sister's place. It is not far from GotG, so it could happen, but the likelihood is diminished due to the fact that we just had a light lunch at home before we loaded into the minivan.

There is talk of a movie tonight. I am intrigued by the Walter Mitty movie, but it is a remake and I would kind of like to see the original so I have a point of reference. Then again, I could judge the new one on its own merits, unbiased by the original.

Do you see value in that?

The Day After Christmas

I am a firm believer that Christmas songs must cease on December 26 and not resume again until after Thanksgiving of the following year. Some people think it is OK to continue playing Christmas songs until the singing of Olde Lange Syne has finished, just after midnight on January 1. But this is gauche. Spend the time between December 26 and December 31 exploring your New Year's Resolutions and listening to other kinds of music. You need to get the melody of "Silver Bells" and "Christmas is Here (Ring Ding-a-Ling)" out of your head expediently, by listening to the likes of Elvis Costello and They Might Be Giants.

12.25.2013

Mountain Cabin

I did the Swedish sauna again tonight and it was still rejuvenating, even though the wood fired hot rock stove was back gassing a bit, so the small wooden room felt a bit more like a sweat lodge with the aroma of campfire. The smokiness burned my eyes and throat a bit, but it was tolerable and there was still plenty of outside air coming in the vents that there was no risk of carbon monoxide buildup. It wasn't quite as satisfying as the previous night, but I had a stronger compulsion to shower with soap afterwards, to rinse off the sooty aroma along with the released toxins from my sauna opened pores.

A large portion of today was characterized by unconsciousness in the form of a rather lengthy power nap I took in the afternoon. It could also be described as a food coma because the past two days, Christmas Eve and Day, have seen me consuming vaster than usual quantities of food. Most of it is healthy stuff and nutrient dense, but also quite rich sometimes, like pickled herring and smoked salmon, along with a variety of specialty cheeses. The overindulgence ends tomorrow.

I have been getting a fair amount of exercise this fall, doing the bike trainer for 40 minutes or so, three times per week at least. That has kept the winter belly at bay so far, but in the past two days, I may have undone all of that due diligence.

I have not engaged in any exercise to speak of since winter officially began about 4 days ago, on 12/21/13. I am now going to round out this Christmas Day with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries, and then call this food binge closed.

The Quietude

I think about the time before human technology when I am up in the mountains of Colorado, several miles from mechanized civilization. You can almost hear nature, especially on Christmas Day, when few humans are out and about, and thus they are not making noise with automobiles and lawnmowers and mindless banter.

I am at a mountain cabin that belongs to Carl Reed, a sculpting teacher at Colorado College and also my sister's "partner," though I am not entirely sure if that's the term she uses. It is about 7 miles away from the small mountain villa of Woodland Park CO. On any other day, it's hard to detect the sounds of human beings coming from "down the hill." But on Christmas Day, it is especially quiet.

As I was walking up the road from Carl's cabin in the woods, I had to stop and just listen the the wind in the pine trees. It was quite an epiphanic moment. So I decided to pay tribute by writing about it here, which I just did.

When we arrived at Carl's cabin yesterday afternoon, I took a purifying Christmas Eve Swedish sauna, which Carl has in his back yard, a wooden box about the size of an outhouse that is heated with hot rocks on a wood fired stove.

Regifting

My Christmas shopping strategy this year was to buy people books that I want to read.

Although all my gifts are marked "from Santa," so no one will know who they are from, on Christmas morning, I will tell the book recipients that I have been interested in this or that book for a while, and if they wouldn't mind, could they please lend it to me when they are done. Failing that, could they just re-gift it to me the following Christmas, since if they haven't had the time or interest to open and read the thing for a year, why not?

I don't think this is too diabolical an approach. I did consider the tastes and interests of my family members when selecting the reading material and did purchase them with their reading enjoyment in mind. Most of my family has similar tastes in literature and particularly humor. If it makes me laugh, it invariably also makes my mom laugh. Since David Sedaris makes me laugh, I got her one of his books that I have yet to read. Satire is fairly universal anyway. I never know what to get my sister, so I went with David Sedaris for her as well, fully expecting she will re-gift it in a year, if she remembers. I am not sure my sister actually has a sense of humor, but Sedaris' cynicism is entertaining as well. I also share scientific interests with my pops, so I scored him a Richard Dawkins book that I'd like to check out when he finishes it, which he will, because he is a huge atheist and eats that stuff about evolution right on up.

My sister and her boyfriend Carl are putting presents under the tree right now. They were waiting for my 8 year old fraternal twin niece and nephew to go to sleep, but the way they are banging around and crinkling bags and paper right now, I would not be surprised to see the twins' rosy cheeked heads peaking out of the back bedroom at any moment.

12.24.2013

Transformed

My atoms are largely the same, albeit perhaps a bit more thermally variable. I retain all my past memories.

Yet somehow the Swedish sauna at my sister's boyfriend's mountain cabin in Colorado always makes me feel like a brand new person. It is as if the small wooden standalone room, with its hot rocks heated by a wood stove, just gave birth to me, a clone of my former self, complete with memories and thoughts.

The steam heat generated as water is ladled over the hot rocks unlocks my pores, which in turn evict all the built up dirt and toxins they have accumulated since the last time their microscopic floodgates were so brutally rent asunder by the elements. When my eyeballs begin to sweat, I step out of the hot box into the cold thin mountain air and watch the steam billow off my nude torso under the clear and starry skies. I repeat this cleansing process three times, and then, too timid to roll myself in snow or to jump in a frigid lake (which, incidentally, is quite absent on Carl's property), as is traditional in Scandinavia*, I return to the cabin and jump in a cool shower to rinse the released poisons off my body, before my pores once again slam shut to begin the process of refilling their tiny voided vacuoles with metabolites once again.

Perhaps this is why I feel like a new man after sauna. Since my last purgatory, I have grown accustomed to the nature of my skin, perhaps even become comfortable in it. When it is so swiftly transformed and purged and revitalized in the sauna, I suddenly have a sense of being in a new skin, no longer my old familiar one. Perhaps it is only a factory refurbished skin, but none the less it feels new, and because the skin is the largest organ in the body and the part that interacts so directly with the external world, conveying sensory information inward, it holds a great deal of self identity within it. Some of that self is expunged during sauna and thus its identity is at once remarkably different, even though the other organs and biological processes within my body, including thoughts and memories, are largely unchanged. The messages coming into my body and mind from the skin are different now, even if only subconsciously perceptible. My more primitive brain can sense it clearly and becomes excited. The excitation registers in my cerebral cortex as a rustling in the leaves of the primordial forest encoded in my limbic system, as my reptilian self slithers off in search of new adventures.

The Pause Switch

I'll be walking behind someone on a sidewalk or in a grocery store or by way of some other public thoroughfare, when suddenly the person will come to a complete stop for no apparent reason.

I am always completely perplexed by this. Forced to stop myself, due to the unexpected pause, I will usually look around for some clue as to what caused the person to stop. Most of the time, there isn't any observable cause, no person they recognized and stopped to say hello to, no product display they are contemplating for holiday gift ideas. For all intents and purposes, it is as if someone had just thrown a pause switch, perhaps on the person's lower back, concealed by their loose baggie clothing.

Were they suddenly struck with an epiphany so mind blowing that they temporarily lost all function of their limbs? I usually give them the benefit of the doubt and assume so, smiling that there are so many people in this world having consciousness-altering thought processes.

Disenfranchising Charlatanry

Although it is not exactly a New Year's Resolution (NYR), I think I am going to direct some mental energy in 2014 to disenfranchising charlatanry and corruption from my life. I want to encourage others to do so as well, so we can make a better society and planet. But of course, I have no dominion over the decisions and behaviors of others, so I am just going to focus on my small piece of cosmic real estate.

Charlatans achieve their diabolical goals through manipulation and bullying. They find out what people desire, and then leverage that to their own ends, regardless of whether it benefits the people they are exploiting. This is especially prevalent in the music industry. Record labels and publishers exploit musicians' passion and love of their art for profit. They hypnotize artists with ideas of artistic and creative freedom, and then take that freedom away when the artists sign exploitative record contracts. They know that most musicians are compelled to do their art, almost as an addiction, and that they are also not usually business savvy. Easy marks. Emotional passion for music easily overwhelms what little music business knowledge the artist has. In rare cases, the artists are savvy and don't fall for the dreams of fame and fortune. They are realistic and sometimes they are able to make a decent living at their art. But usually, the music business wants nothing to do with these educated artists, and disenfranchises them. But the charlatan music industry types are the ones that need to be disenfranchised. Their business model results in a lot of ruined artists and a handful of bland puppet pop stars who make 99% of the money for the industry.

This also happens in sports, when charlatans exploit athletes' love of their sport for profit. The athletes have a strong emotional compulsion to play the sport and this desire often overrides reason and intellect, especially when the athletes come from less than optimal educational backgrounds. But not always. Consider the case of Bo Jackson. He disenfranchised the charlatan exploitative sports departments at the major universities, even though it was at considerable personal cost. He refused to be exploited.

This is basically how charlatans work in general. They know that emotion trumps reason most of the time, when it comes to behavior, and they use peoples' strong emotional responses to compel destructive behaviors, or at least less than optimal behaviors.

The advertising industry has this manipulation down to a science. They go straight for the emotional jugular vein in their advertising and people turn off their thinking brains and buy products they don't really need. They just "feel" like they need them to have a better life or beat out the Jones's. Political advertising is the same way, appealing to peoples' strong emotional feelings about issues or politicians in general, feelings which are usually unburdened by actual knowledge and have no real basis in fact. And it works. People vote against their own best interests most of the time, clearly illustrated by the entrenched two party system in America, even though there are many more legitimate political parties in America with fewer charlatans in their ranks.

Religion is another arena where emotional devotion to imaginary or legendary deities trumps reason. This is one area where it is particularly striking. One can clearly disprove almost every myth of religion using science, but even when all the evidence is presented to a religious devotee, they still fully believe the myth. There is no reaching them through the glorious emotional response they feel toward their religion, its deities, and its devotional books. Note that the Bible is demonstrably not the inerrant word of God. The gospels don't even tell the same story.

So what I am really saying here is that I am going to be more focused on using my reason and intellect to disenfranchise charlatans. If you do not want to be disenfranchised, do not be a charlatan Just be a good person who uses logic and reason to achieve a goal.

This past year, I disenfranchised a charlatan because I had to, a self indulgent, misguided, and bullying middle manager at my former employer. Sadly, I also had to disenfranchise my employer, by leaving for a new job, because they were unwilling to take heed of my input and disenfranchise the middle manager and his faulty ideas themselves. I suppose their logic was that since I was lower on the totem pole than this manager, my subject matter expertise was of lower value, even though the manager lacked expertise in my subject area entirely. He was essentially incompetent in my field of work.

As I am sure you know by now, no one person is better than anyone else. Everyone is the best at being who they are, myself included. But corporate management hierarchies do not subscribe to this philosophy. The more money you make, the better corporate America thinks you are. You can be a totally incompetent douchebag and still trump others in the organization if you have seniority over them. It's a bad system. This is why I like corporate management structures that are flatter, because people have more sway and value in the organization. It's a shame that people are forced to work for corporations to begin with, just to make ends meet. A higher level goal of mine is to disenfranchise corporate America entirely one day, via my writing and/or music. That's a vision I keep in mind and strive for, even though I know it is a long shot.

12.23.2013

Egocentrism

Everyone's an egocentrist, quite convinced that the external world owes them an entitlement to happiness. But happiness comes from within, not from without.

In the 8th grade, my assigned seat was in the front of the classroom. I don't know why they put me there, maybe it was to keep an eye on me, but in any case I was a tall kid. The shorter kids sitting behind me would complain non-stop that my height was obstructing their view of the teacher and the blackboard, although I am quite certain their sudden penchant for learning was fueled more by a desire to cause me grief than to stimulate their newly enlightened consciousnesses.

Our teacher was named Mr. Hanley. He was a tough Irish guy and took no nonsense. When a short kid in back would yell at me to move my desk and the fat head it contained to one side or the other, bemoaning his or her future failure to get into high school because he or she could not see the subject matter on the board, Mr. Hanley would shut them down.

"If he moves, he will just be blocking another student's view," Mr. Hanley would say. "Why don't YOU move to where you can see the board and take your destiny into your OWN hands." I don't think he actually said anything noble and philosophical like that, but that was the jist and how I prefer to remember it today.

I have no recollection of what subject Mr. Hanley even taught. It was probably some kind of general studies class. But the lesson I took home from it is that no one is entitled to anything. You can't rely on anyone else to improve your lot in life. You are the only person you have any control over. You have to take control of the situation as best you can by yourself. That is probably the coolest thing I learned in the 8th grade. I also learned that being a class clown can get you put on probation. But that part of the 8th grade was very uncool, and I prefer not to dwell on that.

Eves of Eves

I received a great gift from a friend. It is the new David Sedaris screed, "Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls."

Sedaris is one of the few authors who can make me bust out in belly laughs while reading.

While I do not model my own writing on his, I consider his prose style to be an influence on my writing, the way that old school Ozzy era Black Sabbath is an influence on my rock-n-roll bass playing.

It's easy, entertaining reading, but with depth and humor.

Zen Airport

My New Year's Resolution (NYR) is pretty simple. It is to live in the now and take a more zen approach to life. When I catch myself worrying about the past or future, I will quell it.

Zen meditation, a subject on which I admit basically complete ignorance in a relative sense, is all about focus on the present and exclusion of extraneous thoughts. Keep in mind that could be completely untrue, due to my lack of knowledge on the subject. But if that is, by random chance, more or less true, it is applicable to my NYR.

The little I have read on the subject of the practice of zen meditation indicated that it constitutes sitting or lying comfortably (or in some cases uncomfortably) with eyes closed while focusing all thought on breathing. When extraneous thoughts creep in, push them out. This is a very simplistic description, by the logic that were it that simple, buddhists would not spend years mastering the practice and writing volumes on the subject. My knowledge of it comes from a very short and entertaining volume on the subject, called HARDCORE ZEN, written by a punk rock bass playing buddhist, whose name escapes me now (Author's Note: I went and looked it up. It is by Brad Warner). As a punk rock lover and a bass player (of many genres), I could certainly relate to the author at a personal level and this may be why I enjoyed the book so, even though his second book, a more in depth examination of zen buddhism was nowhere near as entertaining.

I am not suggesting anything silly like becoming a buddhist as my NYR. However, I have always kind of naturally leaned toward the zen. Friends and coworkers call me zen all the time, so why not embrace that? I also enjoyed the book, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE, even though parts of it were as monotonous as the punk rock bass player dude's second published screed. The motorcycle book had some good concepts I related to, like being unconventional when conventional was inappropriate to the situation.

Anyway, I wander.

Zen meditation is applicable to life in this way (at least this is how I intend to apply it as a NYR): Live in the present moment, without regret about the past or irrational fear of the future. When regret or irrational fear(s) creep in, just as thoughts creep in during zen meditation, will them away by refocusing on the now or redirecting brain power to other things. Note that I qualified fear as irrational fear. I think rational fear is legit to focus on in the present moment. If you have rational fear, there is usually a good reason for it. Perhaps you are being approached by a tiger, recently escaped from the zoo. Rational fear usually exists only in the present moment. Irrational fear usually relates to expectation of future worst case scenarios that often do not come to pass. Worrying about future angst is by definition irrational because you do not have all the facts. When you have all the facts, it is usually because the fearful thing is now manifest in the present, and that is the time to deal with it.

That is not to say one should not act in the present to prevent or avoid future angst. That is sensible. But that is not the same as irrational fear of future angst. There is predictable angst and unpredictable angst. Only the former is worthy of mental energy. For example, if you do not pay your utility bill, there is predictable future angst that your heat and electricity will be turned off in fairly short order. You rationally act in the now by paying your bill.

On the other hand, if you have a job that pays your bills, you don't want to lose it. However, there is no guarantee, no matter how hard you work or how good you are at your job, that you won't be laid off due to a douchy boss or poor fiscal decision making by the company's imbecile middle managers. Although it is tragic that employees are the ones harmed by cock knuckle middle managers who screw things up, there is not a lot you can do about it. The probability of getting laid off may be calculable, but is largely unchangeable. It does not make a lot of sense wasting brain power on useless worry when it could be more effectively applied to positive action in the present. You are happy NOW, so enjoy it.

If you calculate that your job has a higher than acceptable probability of being eliminated at some future time, worrying about it at the expense of present action is wasteful. Instead, focus your energy on finding new and more stable employment opportunities. I did that with my last job. I wasn't going to be laid off any time soon, based on the facts available to me. I just wasn't happy and I was sick of dealing with incompetent middle managers. I knew this was not going to change, so my job satisfaction prospects looked gloomy. Rather than obsess on that horrible future, I simply updated my resume and sought more fulfilling job options. I thought about jobs I would like to do and the geographic places I would like to do them (Madison WI, Ames IA, and Colorado Springs CO, were my top three places to work, in that order of preference, for a variety of reasons that related more to my creative pursuits and family stuff). Then I searched the job boards on the Internet and applied to everything that met my criteria. There were quite a lot of opportunities, though not as many with compensation commensurate to my awesomeness. Anyone who gives up on job hunting because they drank the mass media cool aid about the job market and unemployment is missing the boat. If you are awesome, you can beat the odds.

Probabilities are based on averages. Some people are weak sauce and pull the average down, but someone has got to be awesome to balance out the weak sauce and pull the average up to where it is. If you are awesome and there are available jobs, you can get them. The problem is the employed weak sauce. These people know they are weak sauce and below average, so they cling to their jobs for dear life, having enough intelligence, it seems, to know that they are unlikely to be hired by anyone else. So the terrified weak sauce people are gobbling up job bandwidth, making their positions unavailable to the strong sauce folks until after the next round of layoffs.

Layoffs are not unlike stock market crashes. When the economy tanks and companies start laying off people in droves, that is not the time to cling to your shitty job and sequester your financial assets. That is the time to take advantage of available niches for prosperity. Presumably, companies are taking advantage of layoffs to trim away some weak sauce. Eventually, things will improve and those companies will rehire. They will be looking for strong sauce and you will be ready. Economic downturns are like a reckoning, a reset switch on a bubble of weak sauce that has grown and then burst. The stock market is the same way. Artificial bubbles of economic growth eventually burst and reset to a new normal. When the stock market crashes, don't sell. Buy like gangbusters. Have faith in the reset switch and know that eventually there will be more growth.

After the recession in 2009, it took the stock market a long time to recover. For reasons I will explain in a minute, I did not get around to taking advantage of that until mid-2011. At that time, I got an e-Trade account through work and looked for stocks that were hitting a 3 to 5 year low. I bought them, and sure enough, the law of averages prevailed. Most of the stocks went up. Being at all time lows after the economic meltdown, where else were they going to go? They could only stay about the same or go up. Considering trends and regression to the mean, it made mathematical common sense to invest heavily in the stock market while it was at rock bottom. The results speak for themselves. I am currently reaping 60% yields on the modest amount of stocks purchased, equating to about $2,000 in net profits after trading fees. I have these stocks in dividend reinvestment programs (DRIPs), which I think provides a degree of tax protection as long as I leave the stocks alone and don't sell any off.

My original premise for buying stock via e-Trade was pragmatic in a somewhat different way. I got it in my head that investing in beer companies would be a stable investment. My logic was that beer was an inelastic commodity, due to high rates of alcoholism, an observation of ubiquitous beer brand advertising all over the place, and the logical assessment that people drink beer in good times and bad, either to celebrate success or obliterate failure. It just so happened that the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams beer, was experiencing some kind of 5 year economic lull. I bought their stock en masse and it has proven to be my most favorable growth investment. I like the idea that I may have beer to thank for a flush retirement coffer someday, if all goes well and people keep on boozing it up. Once I saw the beer stock doing well, I simply applied my "buy low" strategy to several more S and P 500 stocks, companies that are stable and long term. Walgreens and McDonalds are American institutions that will never go away, short of an apocalypse of some sort. I may have some ethical concerns about profiting from the consumption by others of unhealthy fast food, in the case of Mickey D's, but I am just being an opportunist. I can't influence the eating habits of anyone else, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't act in my own best interest.

In 2009, I quit my job at the vitamin company for no other reason than that my boss was a douche. His douchery, of course, was harming my happiness and job satisfaction. I didn't have another job lined up, but I did most everything else right as far as exploring my options for getting out of that job. I decided it was a self imposed sabbatical and that I would try my hand at self employment, for as long as my considerable savings treasury would allow. That turned out to be about a year and a half thanks to food stamps and a state energy assistance program in Wisconsin (which also landed me a new furnace and hot water heater, unbelievable as that sounds). It was a great decision.

At the time, I wasn't so sure quitting my steady job in the thick of an economipocalypse was smart, and my Depression era parents were totally freaked out. My dad even stumbled and fell into a fountain, so distracted was he by the news. But it had to be done because my health was suffering due to stress induced by a lack of destiny control and a douchebag boss. In retrospect, it was the best thing I ever did, putting me on a new positive trajectory in life and teaching me a ton of stuff about entrepreneurship and responsibility. That is a story for another day, but suffice it to say that I essentially "bought low" on job opportunities rapidly being vacated by the minions of weak sauce at that time. I landed a freelance position that I parlayed into subsequent full time employment once I proved my strong sauce worthiness to my contract employers.

I have been disenfranchising weak sauce ever since whenever I find it, with no regrets whatsoever. If this philosophy on life changes any time soon, I will surely inform you, dear reader. But for now, just know that my NYR is to live a more zen-like lifestyle, doing the best I can in the now and not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.

12.21.2013

Some Vacation

I am officially on vacation from my new job. Honestly, I feel like I am always on vacation, now that my life is shaping up beautifully. Almost too beautifully.

You see, when I got my new job, I negotiated for some vacation time because they wanted me to start a week before the holidays and, well, you know, family comes first. So they were cool about that. I also learned during my first week on the job that I am working with professionals now, very unlike my last job (note that I am not referring to my awesome writing team at my last job, who were awesome, but rather middle management, who were completely inept, almost dangerously so...).

There is supposed to be a blizzard heading toward Wisconsin tonight. I might wake up on Sunday morning and look out the window to see a bunch of snow on the ground.

I am supposed to get on a plane butt early in the morning on Monday, so I hope all the bad weather has passed through by Sunday night. It is supposed to. A neighbor who drives a snow plow said he will clear out my driveway on Sunday night so that I can get out to go to the airport.

I am getting a ride to the airport from my friend Sherry who is also house sitting for me this week, while I am out in Colorado with the family.

When I got home from work on Friday night, I chilled and mellowed and relaxed. I read a new book that I bought, entitled "Then We Came to the End." It's about corporate America and kind of like research for my own book on the subject. My book will be non-fiction though, if everything goes to plan. The book I bought is a fiction, but it is about the same subject matter and very well written.

I also contemplated zen meditation before I fell asleep and today I wrote a blog about it elsewhere (see JUICE YOUR LIFE). It has to do with using a zen approach to not worrying about the past or future. That stuff expends brain power better used on the present moment.

This morning, I took my dog Foster to the vet for a checkup on his healing rear paw. He had surgery a couple weeks ago and the wound did not fully heal. Earlier this week, the vet gave me some magical juice to squirt on the raw spot on the paw. It is a growth stimulator and works like a charm. The vet just wanted to make sure everything looked good and it did.

In the early afternoon, I drove up to Oshkosh with Foster and my other dog Buddy to drop the canines off at my buddy Todd's house. Todd is dog sitting them for the time that I am gone out to Colorado. I took Todd out to a fancy dinner and paid him some cash for dog care. I gave him all the instructions for taking care of Foster's paw. After dinner, I cruised back home to Cambridge. I had planned to stay over in Oshkosh and go see some bands with Todd, but with the threat of blizzardy weather, I thought it best to not risk it.

When I got back to my house in Cambridge, I watched one of my favorite classic Christmas movies, "A Cadaver Christmas," with Sherry, who came down to hang out with her dogs this weekend. I am sitting her dogs while she is looking for new lodging. It's a long story. Anyway, my good buddy's cousin, Joe Zerull, wrote and directed "A Cadaver Christmas." It's campy and fun.

Shortly, I am going to go read before bed, then doze off. Tomorrow I will just read, write, relax, and maybe play some music. If it is snowing hard, I will be indoors all day. Don't really care. My brain is checked out in a very zen-like manner and I am all about the relaxation.

I was supposed to have a GUPPY EFFECT v3.0 jam on Sunday evening, but with the weather threat, I feel pretty confident that is not happening. SO then I don't have another band practice until January 2, with the country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS. I am pretty solid on most of the material for that band, and since I get back from Colorado on December 30, I should have a decent amount of time to re-solidify my musical brain before the January 2 practice. I might spend NYE in Oshkosh, but NY Day I will be practicing hard. I go back to my new job on January 2, but that won't harsh my gig too much. This new workplace is very strict about working your eight hour day and then getting the hell out of there and not taking any work home with you. That rocks.

12.17.2013

Illegit Excuses

I am always amused when people who have never had any inclination to attend one of my band's shows and have never once come to one give a weak sauce excuse for why they can't come. They would not come even if they didn't have the flu. But the flu gives them a seemingly legit excuse they can use. However, it is illegit.

Jazz

I am at Tuesday jazz night on 12/17/13. It is my last jazz night of the year. We are on set break but it has been dragging on. By the time we get back on stage, we will barely have any time to play. I think we should get up there soon. Falbo's pizzeria, next door to the Mason Lounge, where jazz night is held, agreed to make a veggie pizza around midnight, when we will be wrapping up the jams. That is awesome.

12.14.2013

Bison Dogs Cooked in Good Beer

Right now I am simmering some bison dogs in a bottle of New Glarus Uff-Da beer. My house smells like a microbrewery on a heavy production day, but I have a strong feeling that these bison dogs are going to be delicious.

Let me tell you about the past two weeks, because I haven't been writing very much on this blog, and I probably should have been.

But first, you should know, I am starting a new job on Monday, December 16, 2013. It kind of sucks to start a new job right before Christmas, but when they offered me the job, I negotiated for some paid time off (PTO) as part of the closing deal. I have five days of PTO, in fact. Four of those days will be used for my Christmas vacation in Colorado from December 23 to December 30. Since my new employer is cool, they give employees Christmas Eve and Day off, as well as New Year's Eve and Day. Those holidays fall on business weekdays this year, so four of my eight travel days are covered without the need to expend PTO. I will apply four of the five remaining days to the holiday trip, and the remaining day of PTO will be spent on Friday, January 10, 2014.

That day is the day after my birthday. I am having a rocking birthday party, as I try to do every year, on Thursday, January 9th. My country band, the Driveway Thriftdwellers, is going to host it at Mr. Roberts tavern in Madison WI. It is going to be a late night, but that it not the main reason I am taking the Friday after it off. I am a veteran of late night rocking and fully capable of going to my day job on a minimum amount of sleep, even if it is not optimal, as long as it doesn't happen for more than one day in a row. I will definitely benefit from being able to sleep in on that Friday, but the main reason I am taking it off is because the country band is heading up to Minocqua WI that weekend to play at a microbrew beer fest on Saturday, January 11. The fest starts around noon on Saturday, so the band wanted to road trip up there on Friday instead of butt early on Saturday morning. It's a good 3.5 hour drive. We are actually doing two shows on Saturday. The beer fest is in the afternoon and then we are going to play at the Minocqua Brewing Company (MBC) that same night. A lot of people will be in town for the beer fest and the MBC is the place to hang out afterwards, I am told. I think the MBC will also be presenting their craft brews at the fest. It is going to be unleashed.

11.16.2013

The Fortnight Challenge Model

In his book, "The 4 Hour Body," Tim Ferriss proposes a dietary guideline that involves eating really healthy and restricting calories for 6 out of 7 days of the week, then on the 7th day, basically doing whatever you want...gorge on sweets, eat a stake, drink beer. The plan isn't bad, but when I tried it, it was hard to stick to having just one day of freedom. Actually, it was hard to make it the same day every week, which is sort of part of the discipline of it.

I am going to try a variation on this that I think will be more conducive to my nature. I call it the Fortnight Model.

Basically, I establish a fitness or wellness challenge and do it for 2 weeks, adhering to it strictly. If I successfully complete the challenge, I reward myself at the conclusion of the 2 weeks with something. The something doesn't have to be

The reason I pick two weeks is because it is a manageable amount of time and I have also heard that if you want to develop or kick a habit, you need about two weeks to really ingrain it. I think that anyone can do something for two weeks, even if it kind of sucks, because you know at the end of the two weeks, you can quit doing it, if you want to. The reward period following the fortnight is up to the person doing it, but if they plan to make the behavior a lasting habit, the reward phase should not be more than a couple of days, otherwise the habit will not solidify. If the person is not trying to make the behavior a lasting habit, but just wants to see if they can do it, then it doesn't matter. Let the challenge end and never go back to it. But I want to say that 2 weeks is enough time to start to see some results from a fitness or wellness challenge, whereas one week might not be enough time. And when people get results, it is encouraging. They may get a confidence boost and want to continue getting good results.

So, I am going to try a Fortnightly Challenge. Here is my goal for the next 2 weeks, starting today, Saturday 11/16, and ending on Saturday 11/30:

1. No alcohol
2. Eat only healthy food
3. Exercise for 30 minutes+ at least five times per week

Wish me luck.

It's Going to Get Crazy

This post and several more to follow will probably all appear in your inbox, if you are a subscriber, at once, because I have changed the privacy settings of the blog to only allow a select few to read it. This is for reasons that also can't be disclosed until such time as I am able to make this blog public again. It might be a couple of weeks.

Unrelated to that, I am also going to engage in 2 weeks of purification, starting today. Healthier eating and exercise, as well as lower calorie intake. I might also have to appear antisocial in order to avoid certain temptations that come with association with my inner circle of friends. I don't think they will mind, because they are such good friends.

Last night, after work, I did Gomeroke at the High Noon Saloon in Madison WI. It's live band karaoke, hosted by the Gomers, a local cover band that knows a ton if songs. I did a fairly awesome rendition of "Crazy Train," by Ozzy Osbourne. At least, people seemed to dig it. All the performers were quite good, including a couple of my coworkers, who paired up on "Stuck in the Middle With You," by Stealers Wheel.

Stay tuned. More to come.

11.12.2013

Jazz

I am at Tuesday jazz night at the Mason Lounge in Madison WI. This would not be unusual since I am the regular house bass player for this event, but it is unusual because this week, due to a technicality, I am not playing bass. I am spectating. You see, I was potentially supposed to have a country band gig tonight, a few weeks ago when I cleared the night of jazz because of that potentiality. But that gig fell through, and since band leader Charlie had already found a bass sub, I told him to let the other guy play. No longer needed in Milwaukee for the country band opener for some up and coming country star, I decided to come to Mason as a spectator. It is nice to be an audience member for a change and hear what they hear. When I am playing bass, it is a different kind of listening, and I also have to think harder because I am playing and trying to keep my bass part on the rails. Now I can listen holistically and drink finer craft beers and not think at all, just enjoy. It is kind of like going on a road trip where I am not the driver. I can zone out and look out the window or read a book (or write a blog post). So there you go.

Workplace Harassment

I just watched a coworker invade the personal space of another coworker by tickling his ear. I have nothing against man on man physical contact, except when it is unwanted and at the workplace. When said assailant did something similar to me a couple years ago, I went straight to HR. But he is still working here. That is more a consequence of the unprofessional environment I work in.

11.10.2013

A Sunday Night Post

I had band practice tonight. It went OK I guess. But it wasn't awesome. I wanted it to be awesome. I am just a perfectionist that way. The main issue I have with this startup band is that the guitar player's favorite songs are the ones I like the least. I should probably admit that is a fundamental philosophical difference and can the project. But I want to give it a fair amount of time. I have decided to try to give it until the end of the year. Then I will assess how things look. But this band really needs some better songs. I understand these songs are good crowd pleasers, because most people who go to see live bands are musically illiterate. I am not though, and so I am not sure how long I can stomach this generic pop drivel. In addition, the band overall is not very tight or awesome. I think it could be, but my constructive critiques on how to fix and improve things always seem to fall on deaf ears. I want relatively biff free performances of the songs and we seem to be far from that right now. I guess beggars can't be choosers. Besides the country band, which is pretty awesome, I don't really have any rocknroll cover band projects. Still, I have this gnawing feeling that I could do better, and generally when I go with my gut, it ends up being the right choice. So I will keep you apprised, dear readers.

As for everything else, I got some decent piano practice in this weekend. Not looking forward to sticking it to The Man this week. But I totally will. I have to stand up to the school yard bully and disenfranchise the weak sauce.

Morning Brain

I feel like I do my most creative work in the morning, especially writing. This pertains to my theory of the "stress cup."

After a decent night of restful sleep, the brain is rejuvenated. In the course of a day, even when you are not working for THE MAN, your brain is gradually stressed, little by little, by all the stimuli (including distressing mainstream media) and all the things you have to do, good or bad. It is like a cup, and it slowly fills up. And when it is full, you can't add anything more to it, good stress or bad stress.

Even though writing is fun for me, it is still effort and causes eustress (good stress). A full stress cup cannot take on any more good or bad stress. That is why you might get grumpier about bad stress at the end of the day and why it is harder to motivate to do eustressful things (like exercise) then.

There are two things that help empty the stress cup. Rest and exercise.

A good night's sleep basically just empties the stress cup so that you can start filling it again the next day. Regular exercise actually increases the size of the stress cup so it is capable of handling more stress. I like to do my exercise in the morning as well, because it is much easier to motivate then and gives me a bigger stress cup for the rest of the day.

That's the theory anyway.

In the morning, my stress cup is pretty empty and that's why I am able to do better creative work, like writing. In the morning, I don't have an overflowing stress cup that is spilling all over the floor and distracting me from my creative endeavors.

11.09.2013

Good Morning, Saturday

Last night I went to a friend's house for a social, which some of my other friends were referring to as an "absinthe party," because there was going to be some of that elusive liqueur there. There was a lot of mystique surrounding the absinthe, much of which could have been done away with via some web surfing. But it is probably the mystique that makes the whole idea of an absinthe party cooler than just a regular party. So it is probably better to willfully suspend the truth and enjoy the mystique.

The mystique comes from an ingredient in absinthe called wormwood, although it is questionable whether the absinthe at this party had any of this. The urban myth, totally unsubstantiated, is that absinthe with wormwood is banned in the United States.

I don't think wormwood is banned in the United States. If it is, then the vitamin company I used to work for was violating some laws, because they sell an ethanolic extract of wormwood. There are several supplements containing wormwood that can be purchased easily online.

In any case, if wormwood is one of the defining traits of absinthe, then it seems like wormwood-free absinthe is a bit like sugar free soda or decaffeinated coffee.


If the production of absinthe is anything like the production of herbal supplements in the United States, whatever wormwood content it has is probably highly suspect as well. Even with FDA regulation of the supplement industry, there is a huge variability in the content and quality of product ingredients. The companies rationalize this by saying that their more natural ingredients have more natural variability, which is good, because, you know...it's coming from nature, and anything that comes from nature must be good, right? I can tell you that is totally a marketing ploy, having worked in the industry myself. It's a way of spinning quality control laziness and poorly sourced ingredients into profit. And vitamin companies are diabolically good at spinning their products. For example, a manufacturer is not allowed to say a product lowers cholesterol, but they can say it supports healthy cholesterol. Most consumers don't see through it, which is why the supplement industry is so profitable.

Anyway, the party was fun. The preparation of the absinthe beverage involved lighting liqueur soaked sugar cubes on fire, even though that is not the traditional method of preparation, because the fire burns off alcohol content and reduces flavor. The burning sugar cube is considered a modern day gimmick, mostly for show. Anyhow, someone tried to prepare absinthe in a plastic cup, and sure enough, a flaming melting plastic cup of absinthe soon resulted. It's not a good party until there's an absinthe fire. Always make sure there is plenty of glassware at an absinthe party.

There was talk of some late night jams at the party, but everyone bailed before that happened. I guess rocking is not a compulsion for some people to stay at a party. If I were a guest at a party with live music jams, I would stick around to hear them. But whatever.

I got some decent jams in on Thursday night, when I went to Clifford James' open mic night in Whitewater WI. I often have conflicts on Thursdays, usually band practice, but this was a free week. I had planned to just swoop in and play my songs, then leave, but I have a new friend who lives in Whitey and she stopped down to the open mic. So afterwards, I took her to the Brass Rail tavern down the street so I could reminisce with her on the handful of years I spent living in Whitey (actually while I was working at the vitamin company, which is not far from there). The Brass Rail was my favorite place to hang out, a very chillaxed bar with a great jukebox (still great, and the place has not changed much at all). Some of my bands even played there, although it is a small place. Good memories.

So now it is Saturday morning and I am taking it pretty easy. I did not indulge in any absinthe last night, I just had a very small taste to see what it was like. It was pretty much like ouzo, with a strong licorice (anise) flavor. It may very well have been ouzo, bottled and labeled as absinthe, based on what I said above about the quality of product ingredients.

I have a very free weekend for once, and I am going to take great creative advantage of it. I am going to play lots of music and also work on my book writing. The only band practice I have this weekend is Sunday evening with the floundering band with Jon and Phil. We have six pretty easy songs on the practice agenda, so I should be able to knock those out pretty quickly. This band practice is kind of an acid test for the band though. This project hasn't really been going anywhere and we are going to spend the next two months analyzing progress. Everyone should arrive at practice fully prepared, knowing the songs solidly. I think one of the reasons this band is lacking momentum is because the songs aren't solid and we don't practice enough to make them solid. Those two things have to change, and that is what we will be analyzing over the next two months. If it's not there by the new year, we shut it down and walk away, no hard feelings.

11.05.2013

Mockery

I sometimes get mocked for my strange and odd ways. For example, when I rode my bike across Iowa on RAGBRAI in 2012, I carried my money, credit cards, and cell phone in a small plastic ziploc baggie. Everyone would look at me weird and sometimes even make a comment like, "Nice wallet."

So, one night a group of us bikers were at a beer garden doing hard boiled egg tequila shots, and doing selfies of it on our smart phones. It was in this wide open parking lot with very little shelter. There wasn't a lot of warning between the light patter of rain drops and the torrential downpour of an unexpected cloudburst. Our minds clouded with albumin and cactus juice, we had not taken much heed of the distant heat lightning that preambled the cold front barreling across the dark prairie toward us like a silent midnight freight train.

As the windblown sheets of water raced across the asphalt of the parking lot, my comrades began to shove their smart phones into pockets and backpacks in a futile attempt to protect them from the aggressing rain.

"Put them in here," I said, holding aloft my plastic ziploc baggie, into which I had already placed my phone. I took out my money and cards to accommodate their electronics. As each of them placed their devices into the water resistant safety of the baggie I saw looks of both relief and understanding. I did not care if my money got wet. The baggie was mainly for protecting the phone from freak aquatic phenomena I knew I might encounter while riding my bike across the plains. I just threw my money in there to keep it all in one place.

It was, effectively, my wallet. But functionally it was also a raincoat for my phone.

Those people never enquired or commented on my baggie wallet again, except perhaps to praise my good thinking.

It just takes one geek with a baggie for a wallet to save the day. That is the moral of this story.

Hybridding It

I am on a hybrid electric bus on my way to work. I drove my hybrid electric car to the bus stop. Mother Nature is feeling pretty good about me today. Maybe I can go the whole day without using any eco unfriendly transportation.

Actually, that happens most days, since I drive a Prius.

It's Tuesday, the day I usually commute via alternative means. From mid spring to mid fall, I bike commute part of the way to work. It is too far to bike to work all the way from Cambridge, unless I want to get up butt early, though I did it once. The partial commute is fine though, because I pick up the bus on the east side of Madison, completely avoiding the lemmings congesting the so-called "beltline highway," which is effectively a wall of imbecilic buffoonery between home and work. I am only on country roads for the car leg of the trip.

The bus takes about the same amount of time as bike commuting my "long route," and follows roughly the same path through town, convenient if something happens to my bike or I cannot bike back to my car for any reason. That has only happened once, due to a flat tire on my bike, and only because I was too lazy to change the tube on the bike after a long day at work. I was equipped to do so, I just didn't. Every other time I had a flat, I just changed it. But that doesn't happen often. Anyway, I am getting off topic.

It is a longer commute when I bike or bus, and even though I save some money on gas when I bike, I actually pay slightly more taking the bus than I save on gas. At full fare, the round trip bus journey is $4 (Note to self: Order 10 ride Metro pass online). Even when gas is close to $4/gallon, my Prius still gets 50 mpg. Since bus commuting only shortens my driving distance by 36 miles, I am actually paying more for the bus than I would for gas for those miles.

But those are just the "hard costs" in dollars. It is hard to put a pricetag on the value of bike commuting or bussing. Biking simultaneously kills my daily workout as well as my commute. Bussing gives me peace of mind and the freedom to do creative things on the bus, like writing this post, while someone else drives.

For me, bussing is kind of a zen discipline thing. I am working on a book. I don't know when it will be done, all I know is that finding time to work on it is hard, what with work and music and life in general. Taking the bus forces me to carve out creative time, even if it is only 30 minutes or so when all is said and done (because I usually spend to much time on this pre-writing exercise of writing a blog post to loosen up my creative neurons).

I am going to have to wrap up now, to go do real writing. Don't forget that Tuesday also means jazz night at the Mason Lounge, 9 PM to midnight and totally free admish. I will be flaunting my bass skills the whole night. It looks like drummer MG is back this week as well, after a brief hiatus to go have a kid with his wife. The latter situation appears to be under control.

Sorry about any typos, spelling issues, or grammar mistakes. I cranked this out on the proverbial fly. See ya.

11.04.2013

Monday

I am sitting in the lunch room at work with two of my favorite peeps, who also happen to be the two other members on my team at work.
 
Neptune is doing a dietary detox this week, so she is struggling with chopping up carrots and celery using one of the dull stainless steel lunch room butter knives.
 
St. Louis just ate a ham and cheese with bacon sandwich that was leftover from our lunch at Free House in Middleton WI last Friday. She says it was still pretty good after three days.
 
I also had leftovers, re-heating half a spanikopita from my early dinner at Sammy's place in Fort Atkinson WI yesterday, with my buddy Branden. They have the best Greek food there, though it is a little greasy. But it is healthy Mediterranean olive oil grease, I assume, so I do not feel too bad about it.
 
Tonight, I have my piano lesson and I am gloriously ill prepared. I am going to have my teacher help me work on fingering for the new song, "Blues for Alice," that is on my list to learn. Even though I am behind, because I have been focused on learning new repertoire on bass for the country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, I want to keep adding new jazz standards to my piano repertoire and force myself to forge ahead.
 
Now that DWTD's awesome gig up north in Minocqua is behind me, I have a lot more time for piano. We had an aggressive song learning agenda for our Halloween tribute to the Traveling Wilburys, and I was in Europe for a couple of weeks, which briefly put me behind the learning curve on those songs, so I had to struggle to catch up. We don't have any shows on the books for a while, so the country music practice pace should throttle way down for the time being.
 
I think the focus of that band now should be on tightening up our backstrokin' and focusing on tasteful nuances and vocal harmonies on the songs. That will set us apart from the mainstream.

11.03.2013

That Rocked

I am so tired right now, I can barely find the energy to write this post. It is a good kind of tired. It is the fully satisfied kind of tired when you have rocked with all your might and got the job done and now it is time to sleep.

The band I play bass for, the DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, always seems to pull itself into perfect rocking form at the last minute whenever we rock the Minocqua Brewing Company up north. And we did rock it. Everything just flowed. Even the biffs were minor and we shrugged them off and had fun. It was touch and go there for a while getting ready for this big shindig. I was a fortnight in central Europe and even though the band practiced in my absence, I wasn't able to do any bass work while I was riding my bike around over there.

When I got back from overseas, I immediately started cramming the new material and practiced it hard whenever I had an hour or so to spare. Our special presentation at this show was a simulated Traveling Wilbury's tribute. We learned a good 80% or more of their available repertoire. It was very challenging, more so than you would think just listening to their songs. There are lots of nuances and things. Anyway, I got caught up in time for our dress rehearsal show at Mason Lounge on Halloween night last Thursday 10/31. We still had a few rough spots that night but the dress rehearsal helped us see where those were so we could tighten up our backstrokin' before the road gig up north.

It worked.

Also, the core group of the band, sans a couple of soloists, played a wedding on Friday night, where we got to hone the songs a little more, even though we only did a couple of the new Wilburys tunes. This was good, because we had actually been spending so much time on the new material that we had never really refreshed on our existing repertoire of songs, so the wedding was kind of like a "live practice" in that sense and we played some originals and other covers. The wedding also illustrated to me how addictive bland commercial hip hop and pop music can be. At our set break, they started playing pop dance music through the PA and the dance floor was packed with people. When we played, some people danced, but since our music was a bit more esoteric and unfamiliar, the robots didn't know what to do. They fear change and that frightens me. But we still had a blast.

I road tripped up to Minocqua WI with drummer Jon in the afternoon on Saturday. It's a long, boring drive, but well worth it. We have a great time and a great show every time we play there (which is only twice in the case of me and Jon, but the DWTDs have been up there a few times before we joined). This show was no different. I had only been in the bar about 20 minutes when things started getting interesting, so I knew it was going to unfold awesomely, and it did. However, I cannot discuss much about it, because what happens in Minocqua stays in Minocqua.

Suffice to say, though, that our Traveling Wilburys tribute set went remarkably well. We called ourselves the Driveling Thriftberries in order to fuse the band names together and confuse the audience. I am not sure how many people in the audience are even familiar with the Traveling Wilburys full repertoire. They mostly probably only know the few songs played on the radio. But no matter, we still had lots of peeps out dancing and made a lot of new friends. We saw a lot of old friends too, people who heard the band play there before and wanted to come back for more.

Well, I am a big fat sleepy head, so talk to you later, my dear readers.

11.02.2013

Road Gig

I am on the road again. This time I am heading up to Minocqua WI to rock a Halloween shindig at the Minocqua Brewing Company, a classy little brewpub that DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS has played before, although only once with me at the helm of bass guitar. It is going to be an unleashed party, even though I wish the band had had more time to rehearse. That is partly my fault because I was in Europe for a goodly chunk of the available time window for rehearsals. But still and all, when I got back from my fortnight in Bavaria, I kicked up the rock engine to full throttle and got caught up in record time. I then proceeded to exceed the rest of the band in song learning awesomeness, such that by the time of our dress rehearsal for this Minocqua show (at Mason Lounge in Madison WI on Halloween night), I was wanting for the band to be a bit more polished. But I am just being picky now, because honestly the DWTDs are about the best and most professional live band I have ever had the pleasure to rock with. They play alt country and americana. I am normally not a huge country fan, but these guys play it so well and do enough country rock and americana stuff that I enjoy it a lot. The bass parts aren't too challenging, for the most part, but there is a lot of room for improvisation and the vocal harmonies are sometimes very challenging, so I become musically better in a holistic way, not just a bass playing way. I also have to use my ears and listen a lot for changes. The songs are dynamically and rhythmically variable, so I have to pay attention and can't zone out. I like this, but it seems to challenge my bandmates, especially if they have been "pulling tubes in the van." Just kidding. They don't have a van (that I know of).

I am carpooling up to Minocqua with my drummer buddy Jon, who also is working with me to put together some other music projects. He is amazingly talented and I am glad we met. I want to create as many opportunities to rock with him as possible. We have a pop cover band we are trying to throw together with this guy Phil, but that band is slow going and seems to lack momentum and direction. If it doesn't pick up the pace pretty soon, we may have to can it to devote our full mental faculties to more awesome projects.

Like Derek Sivers said, whenever you have a choice to do something, there is no YES. There is only HELL YES or NO. If something doesn't make you say HELL YES, say NO.

Anyway, whatever happens in Minocqua stays in Minocqua, I suppose, unless it super cool and I need to write about it here on my blog. Stay tuned. I think it is going to be a groovelicious show and kickin' party.

10.31.2013

Jeff Lynne and Electric Light

Happy Halloween. Today is kind of a blow off day at work, because wearing costumes is as good an excuse as any for the company to effectively shut down. I mean, who is going to take you seriously on a day like this? I don’t take most of my crackerjack coworkers seriously any day, but this day especially.

Tonight, my country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, is performing a rock band themed Halloween show at the Mason Lounge in Madison WI. We are covering almost the entire Traveling Wilburys repertoire, in addition to some other stuff. I need to go home at some point this afternoon, probably about 2 PM (picking up my CSA box en route), to let my dogs out so I can stay late in Madison tonight for the rocking. When I go home, I will probably run the songs one more time for a couple hours, for two reasons. One is that I want to be super solid on the material so the performance will be maximally awesome. I really like to feel like the material is second nature to me, so I can focus on stage presence and having fun. The second reason is to set an example for my band mates, who hopefully are also feeling solid on the material, and if they are not, then to shame them with my excellence. I tell you there is no substitute for being solid on the musical material. It just makes life so much easier. The long hours of practice and muscle memory make for hard work, but the payoff is ridiculously awesome. The songs are forever stored in my brain and body, and I can pull them out at any later date. The exercise also improves my overall music skill and my mental faculties, hopefully preventing or delaying any mental declines in old age. Or at least if I do go senile, I will still be able to communicate by laying down bass grooves like nobody’s business. I will be the life of the old folks home party.

In a few minutes, there is a Halloween banquet at work, with a costume contest. I do not think I will enter the contest, but my costume is clever. It is basically a suit covered with “frivolous laws,” written on strips of paper. It’s a Frivolous Law Suit.

My costume for tonight is the Traveling Wilburys character Jeff “Clayton” Lynne. He was formerly of ELO. This is the most esoteric costume ever, in my opinion. I get to wear an Afro wig, which is superb, because the hair will not go in my eyes, nose, or mouth. One thing I always hated about wearing wigs on stage during shows is that the fake hair gets in my mouth when I am trying to sing. But not anymore, baby. Afro wig floats far above the treeline.

See ya.

10.30.2013

Group Effort and Collective Value

When I play music in bands, it is all about the music and the performance for me. It is most definitely not about me. Although I usually have to like the people I am playing with and be happy with the musical repertoire, this is not the priority. The priority is producing the best possible whole band performance - the music and energy. The show is the end product. Not the band itself. This is why good cover bands are popular. They are playing other people's songs, but packaging and presenting them in a pleasing way. Most amateur musicians I have played with don't grasp this, I am not sure why. All the musicians have to contribute to the end product, rocking live or recorded music. But the musician is not the focus. The band is, and musicians have to relinquish their individuality to the collective whole when they play in a band. It is very Zen. This is why musicians have to practice their individual parts and be solid so it is second nature. Then they can focus on the performance and presentation. Wheat from chaff.
 
When you work for a company or are self employed producing a product or service for people, you as an individual are rather inconsequential, even though you might be very good at what you do. What matters to the customer is the quality of the end product or service. Your skills contribute to the quality product or service, but the customer is not purchasing you...they are purchasing the VALUE you provide or contribute to.
 
Music is no different. When a band plays a show, the audience does not care how much time and effort the musicians put in at their own personal cost to get ready for the gig. They often don't even care about the musicianship of the individuals in the band. They are appreciating the whole band, holistically. They might occasionally focus in on a guitar or drum solo or appreciate the groove laid down by the bass player, but none of those musicians is worth much outside the context of the whole band performance. That is where the value lies.

10.29.2013

Gigs This Week

I have to make this kind of quick, because I need to go and practice some songs for reasons that will become clear very shortly.

I have a lot of music gigs this week.

Tonight (Tuesday 10/29) is the usual weekly jazz night at Mason Lounge from 9 PM to midnight. There is some new material they want to play tonight and I am going to practice on it for an hour or so.

On Thursday night (Halloween night), the Driveway Thriftdwellers country band is performing a dress rehearsal at the Mason Lounge, in anticipation of our Saturday 11/2 show up north at the Minocqua Brewing Company. The dress rehearsal serves to satisfy the musical cravings of the band's Madison fans who will not be able to go up north on the weekend. We are doing a Traveling Wilburys band Halloween theme. I need to tighten up those tunes as well, now and tomorrow night. They are not as easy as they sound and have lots of vocal harmonies too. I thought I would be behind on song learning because of my two weeks in Europe, but it looks like I am ahead of the curve, based on last night's practice. Everyone is struggling with them. But, hey, it's a Halloween costume with music. It just has to be passable and recognizable, like a faux leather Batman tunic and cape.

On Friday evening, the Driveway Thriftdwellers are also performing a Milwaukee wedding. This should be a no brainer, because we will have the dress rehearsal behind us. We can pick and choose whatever songs we want to do. Some of the band members are in the wedding, so I have a feeling this is lower stress and less formal than the other gigs.

DWTD also has a show in Milwaukee on Tuesday 11/12, opening for some up and coming country star. That would be cool, except that I need to find a sub for jazz night on fairly short notice.

Well, that's enough for now. I should go practice.

10.28.2013

Mellow Weekend

I picked up a bit of a cold over the weekend. However, it is fairly mild and I was still able to practice songs for the Driveway Thriftdwellers (country band) shows coming up this week. I would have liked to practice more, but I needed to rest up and partook of a couple of power naps that killed some valuable time. I think I am pretty solid on the tunes though. There is only so much practice you can do before the return on investment becomes too small.

I went up to Oshkosh on Friday night and took Todd and Sherry out for some fine dining, in exchange for them dog sitting Foster for me while I was in Europe. Afterwards, we went out to the Reptile Palace and heard some bands that were quite good. They were hard rocking, but a little less punk/metal than the bands usually performing at “The Rep.”

I cruised home Saturday early afternoon and took one of said power naps, before spending the rest of the evening honing songs for the gigs. I mostly focused my Saturday night practice on the new Traveling Wilburys material. The country band is doing a Halloween themed tribute to the Wilburys. I am apparently playing the role of musician and producer Jeff Lynne, which is probably about the most understated Halloween costume ever. I may substitute “The Dude” for the Jeff Lynne costume at the Thursday night dress rehearsal show to mix it up a little. I think I may have lost my Dude wig, but I can still sport a goatee and bathrobe.

I went over to a buddy’s house on Sunday morning for an impromptu brunch. His gal pal had made a tasty egg casserole dish. After I got home from that, another power nap was incorporated. When I woke up, I refreshed and reviewed all the existing DWTD material from prior shows that we might perform on Saturday 11/2 at the Minocqua Brewing Company.

I should be passable for all gigs. There is one last rehearsal tonight (Monday 10/28) to run down the tentative final set list. I have Wednesday night free for any last minute song practice prior to the dress rehearsal show at Mason Lounge in Madison WI on Thursday 10/31 (8 PM and free). On Friday, we are performing at a Milwaukee wedding, and I don’t think we are doing any of the new Wilburys stuff at that. On Saturday, we road trip up to Minocqua for a Halloween party show there, and that is when we pull out the Wilburys stuff a second time. I will be coming home from Milwaukee after the wedding gig, so I should have some time on Saturday to put the finishing touches on the songs before we road trip up north. But I feel pretty confident that I could wing that gig if it were happening today, so any additional practice I get will be frosting on the cake.

10.24.2013

Zombie Biker

This morning, the 10 of us rode our bikes into some tiny town to gather some supplies. #10 had noisemaker duty and scared up (pun intended?) the horde for us. As the zombies spilled into the road from the shops and houses, we descended on them atop our bikes and smashed heads. The slow zombies are no match for a fast bike, as long as you know what you are doing and pick them off one by one. You have to avoid groups.

We cleared out most of the free undead expediently and then took to our feet to dispatch the few that remained trapped in cars and buildings.

Then #9 made a grievous and dumb mistake. A zombie we must have missed was ambling up the main street toward us. #9 got back on his bike to go take it out. I don't know if he was showing off or what, but as he drew close to the zombie, he popped a wheelie to knock the zombie down with the fat front wheel of his mountain bike.

The wheel went right through the rotting sternum of the zombie and got stuck firmly in the ribcage, so the zombie pulled the bike down with it as it fell, and #9 did a pretty bad faceplant. He scrambled to his feet pretty quick, but not before the zombie bit his leg. The fall hadn't destroyed the zombie's head. I think #9's plan had been to knock the zombie down then crush its skull with the weight of the bike. He killed the zombie right away, but the damage is done. He is for sure infected. He might have 2 or 3 days before the infection kills him and he turns.

It is really hard on everyone. #2 wanted to kill #9 right away and save us time and grief. #1 over ruled him and the rest of us were relieved. He is still a person until he dies, although he will be contagious before that, which I think was #2's pragmatic take on things.

#8 is #9's woman and she is a wreck. She wants to spend as much time as possible with #9 before he is gone. #1 proposed that #8 and #9 leave the group and go spend #9's last hours together somewhere else. Then #8 could do the dirty job of dispatching with #9 when he finally died, but before he turned. I am not sure she will have the guts.

But there is no other good option and #8 knows this. #9 can't stay here. He already seems to be dead, accepting of his fate. He just sits and stares blankly, the light that once shone in those eyes replaced with darkness and doom. It's a darkness we can all relate to. It could have been any of us, life cut short because of one dumb stunt.

For all I know, #9 was probably trying to impress #8, and bring a little entertainment to her and the group. Tragic.

Let's Revisit THE ROCKING

I had a really good band practice with the DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS last night. They are such a good band, with talented musicians who actually like to rehearse. A lot. Almost MORE than I like to rehearse (but not quite). That is rare, indeed. Most bands I have played in find every excuse to not practice, so there is no momentum and growth in terms of talent, stage presence, and new song repertoire. A band that puts in the time like that will definitely have a greater chance of success than a band that coasts passively along.

After band practice, I felt energized and wanted to keep learning songs after the musicians left. I did a little bit, but it was getting pretty late, and I didn’t want to lose too much sleep. I have a pretty tight and action packed schedule the next couple of weeks, and solid rest is important for keeping the rock-n-roll locomotive on the tracks.

We added the Big Lebowski soundtrack song "The Man in Me," by Bob Dylan. Great tune.

THE MAN is still underwriting my musical endeavors for the time being and pretty much keeps to HIMSELF as far as my true callings in life, music and writing. I think the country band can go places, but will never probably provide an avenue to profitability. Then again, I am optimistic. Country music is ridiculously popular and we could probably get a lot of sweet gigs around here if we just had someone with the marketing and promotion skills to get us out there.

The only down side of the country band is there are too many musicians in it, with a lot of redundancy. This is OK, as long as the soloists practice judicious use of space. But when everyone is jamming along at full intensity, the nuance is lost and it becomes, to my ear, a cacophonous jamble that is sometimes unfun to listen to. I much prefer playing in a smaller group, but when the group on stage is larger, everyone needs to pull it back and do less. Less is more in that case. It takes a tasteful and creative musician to understand that space is just as important as notes in music. It’s not about how good you are and how much you play. It’s about the music and the presentation. That is all it is about. It is very ZEN because the individual musician is not the focus. They are just a small contributor to the overall creation, which is the musical performance. The performance needs to have a good mix of good musicianship and also energy, aka “the rocking.”

A lot of bands overlook the importance of “the rocking,” focusing only on the musical aspects and not the energy and chemistry of the presentation and audience interaction. So you will see a good band, all staring at their shoes, and it is uninteresting. But you can see a musically mediocre band, and if they are “bringing the thunder” as far as energy level and good vibes and stage presence, then that is way more fun. You can be the most talented musicians in the world, but if you fail to rock, you actually suck.

10.23.2013

The Rocking

Last night, I played jazz at the Mason Lounge in Madison WI, after coming back from a fortnight in central Europe. Tonight, I have band practice with the Driveway Thriftdwellers country band. We have an important gig coming up on November 2 in Minocqua WI and I have a ton of material to catch up on. The dress rehearsal is actually on Thursday October 31 at the Mason Lounge in Madison WI, so I need to be largely ready by then. That means this weekend is going to be a marathon of practice.

Life is all about rocking. Working for THE MAN is just underwriting, and provided HE is not a douche about it, we will have a loose and tentative working relationship.