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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.