I Rock - How to Become a Good Writer

Today I cranked out two articles for the company newsletter and I was quite amazed by how awesomely I rocked them, in both speed and quality.

Most of the content was provided by other people, all of whom are more or less literate in the English language, from what I can tell. Yet, I took what they gave me and "word smithed" it into pure genius. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. But I did crank out some good articles, expediently, and made them interesting to read.

I basically write stuff as if I am the reader. If it makes me want to keep reading, then it's good, in my book, pun intended. This is more of a challenge when I am the writer of the screed. It has to be extra good so that I will want to keep reading and re-reading my own work, as I am editing it into the final draft. In one of the articles I wrote today, I also had to think about word count, which forced me to be parsimonious and think about optimal use of words and phrases. I actually think I could have applied Occam's Razor a bit more liberally, but we'll see if they take it as is. I get a lot of satisfaction when I find a way to word something creatively to say as much as possible with as few words as possible.

Actually, I am far from great at that, but I think all my creative writing on blog posts has really paid off in terms of writing better articles. I was kind of dreading writing the articles, because a few years ago, before I became so prolific with the blog writing, I used to struggle with news article assignments. I think most of the struggle was just poor mechanics. Efficiencies. It seemed like a slow slog because I didn't have the processes honed. Now I do, and it goes fast.

One of my backburner goals for 2014 is to start a newsletter with my friend Sherry. The working title is "the 2 Minute Reader." It's going to basically just be a 2-sided 8.5 x 11 page, with short blurbs and articles designed to be read in two minutes or less.

You know when you eat cereal and your mind wanders to the text on the cereal box, and you read it, even though it is pretty boring and you have already read it like 50 times on previous mornings? Well, the 2 Minute Reader is supposed to be a substitute for that. It will actually be short and easily readable tidbits, more interesting than the list of ingredients in Cheerios.

The demographic we will be going for is the morning coffee shoppe scene. Yes, the coffee SHOPPE scene. It's more sophisticated than the average coffee shop patronage. I am just kidding. It will be for everyone. The plan is to take it to a local coffee shoppe, plant a few of them on tables or in a bin near the door, where the other free journals are located, and then observe people to see if they consume it.

The long term plan is to have it explode into an awesome and widely consumed thing. I want it to always be free and without ads, but maybe it can have a web site associated, which people visit to leave comments and there can be affiliate advertising on the web site that pays the costs of printing. Maybe it can be an e-zine too.

All a pipe dream right now, but writing these articles at work has rekindled (sort of a pun...) the idea, and illustrated that it would not be as hard to generate the content as I once previously thought. Indeed, the content can be largely nonsense. It just has to be better than the back of a cereal box. Who knows, maybe General Mills will start printing them on the backs of cereal boxes. Why they would, I have no idea.

In other news, Jessica Alba wrote a book.


A Paradigm Shift

I have begun "shifting some paradigm," which started when I began my new job in earnest after the new year. It basically involves moving some priorities around slightly. I wanted to make my weeknights more stress free, particularly Tuesday nights.

I've found some good car pool options with my new job and it pushes me to start the day earlier and get home from work with more time in the evenings to relax.

I have backed off from Tuesday Jazz Night because it was starting to take away my freedom. Monday nights were becoming stressful because I had to learn the new material for the Tuesday gig and Wednesdays were more stressful because I was tired from being up so late on Tuesday night.

It's Monday night right now. I am not stressing. At least not about my freedom. I am stressed at work because of a million things coming due in the next week. One of them is a huge document, with tons of time consuming images I have to edit and insert. It's supposed to be done by Friday, but there is no conceivable way, even if it was all I worked on this week. But I also have to write several articles for the company newsletter.

I'm not stressing about it though, I am working as hard as I can, and the 4 Agreements say to always do your best. It's all you can do.

So I am really not stressing too much about that.

I feel great. I hate the cold weather, but it's not really stressful, just annoying. I don't go out in it, but my poor car doesn't like it, so when my car is parked outside, I have to inconveniently go start it every couple of hours to make sure it doesn't die on me. Tomorrow will be the worst, at -25 degrees F without wind chills, in the morning. It's not supposed to get above 0 the whole day. Poo on that!

Well, I am going to write this post, then turn my attention to some jazz piano practice, before working out and going to bed.


Best Chili Recipe (Easy to Make)

I made chili today. It's a good chili recipe I modified from the best chili recipe I know of, my dad's.

How to make chili is below.

1/4 cup olive oil (less of you prefer a less oily chili)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup of celery, chopped
1 cup of shredded carrot
1 pound of ground bison
1 TBSP cumin
1 TBSP black pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp cajun seasoning
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
dash of cinnamon (optional)
red pepper flakes, (optional, to desired heat level)
8-oz of mushrooms, cut up
1 medium yellow squash, chopped into big pieces
1 poblano pepper, chopped fine
One 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 large green peppers, chopped
2 large red peppers, chopped
Four 15-oz cans of beans (choose your favorite varieties)*
One 15-oz can of garbanzo beans (optional)

In a very large pot, sautee the onion, celery, and carrot  in olive oil on high heat until soft.

Add the bison meat and brown it on high, covered.

Add the spices, more or less to taste, and mix them in well.

Cover and simmer for a few minutes.

Add the mushrooms, yellow squash, and poblano pepper.

Stir and cover for a few more minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften slightly.

Pour in the entire can of crushed tomatoes and stir well.

Add the chopped green and red peppers and stir them in.

Turn the heat down to low.

Open the canned beans and pour the contents of the cans into a colander. Don't rinse them, but let the bulk of the juice drain out.

When the crushed tomatoes begin to liquify and bubble in the pot, add the beans with their residual juice. If there is too much juice, the chili will become too soupy. That's why they are drained first.

Stir well and cover.

Simmer on low for 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let the pot sit on the stove, covered, for about an hour, so the flavors blend.


* Note: You can also cook up a 16 oz bag of dried beans.

Search Engines Hate This Blog?

Why do search engines hate this blog, you ask?

Because this blog has quite a bit of relevant content, but it is invisible to most search engines. That would infuriate them, if they were human. But they are not.

You see, search engines base search keyword relevance on a lot of factors my blog lacks.

Search engines like URLs that have the keyword in them. Unless someone is searching for Joe's Coffee (which they do, sometimes...it's a brand...but not one I ever blog about so the search engines ignore my blog for coffee keyword searches generally, because I have little relevant content or back links on the subject).

My blog also lacks strong back links. If you don't know what a back link is, don't worry about it. Just know that search engines like them and my blog doesn't have many of them. Sometimes I spend some time making relevant back links, but never enough to compete with sites that have hundreds or thousands of back links on any given subject. Lately, I have been trying to build back links within this blog on the topic of Lemmy Kilmister and Motorhead. That was a back link.

Search engines like to see the keyword in the blog title as well. I sometimes put good keywords in the actual title of my blog post, but I don't think this translates to actual title meta tags in the HTML of the blog, which is what the search engine really wants to see. The keyword appears in the later part of the URL, but again, not in a way that is strong.

Let's Talk About Lemmy Kilmister and Motorhead Some More

I love "Aftershock," the new record by Motorhead. I've been talking about it for days. Today, I decided to expand my knowledge of this great rock-n-roll band and it's legendary front man, song writer, and rock god, Lemmy Kilmister. Because I had the time...

I have loved Motorhead's rock-n-roll - simple, brutal, and pure - for a long time, even though it took a while to grow on me (I was more of a Black Sabbath fan growing up). I actually became a fan of one of Lemmy's earlier bands, Hawkwind, before immersing myself in the Motorhead repertoire. The music is quite simply perfect. That is, it is genuine. What you hear, in eardrum splitting volume, is what you get (incidentally, Motorhead made the Guiness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band). Nothing deep, just amazingly heavy.

What impresses me most about this new record is that it rocks just as hard as any record before it, if not harder. Lemmy is 67 years old and has been partying hard since the sixties, only recently slowing down due to health concerns. Considering the hard partying lifestyle he is legendary for, that is amazing.

Lemmy is one of the most creative rock-n-roll songwriters I have heard when it comes to doing a lot with a little. He does amazing things with simple pentatonic riffs. There are some great sounds created on his recordings, perhaps in part due to his time with Hawkwind, a band that worked a lot with electronics and recording technology. But a lot of it also has to do with the harmonic movement of the guitar lines over the driving bass riffs. He plays his bass with the mid-range cranked up and the lows and highs cut back, which makes the bass cut through like a guitar, and the amplifiers distort as a result of the high mid-range volumes. I might try that on my bass rig some time.

Lemmy wrote an autobiography called, "White Line Fever," published in 2002.

No one is sure how Lemmy got his name, not even Lemmy. He was born Ian Fraser Kilmister. Legend has it he got the name Lemmy as a derivative of the phrase "lend me," while in school, because he used to ask his class mates, "Lend me a quid till Friday." Sounds plausible. He is also a notorious gambler and lives in a simple 2-bedroom apartment in L.A.

I found out there is a movie about Lemmy, called "Lemmy," and I want to see it. I read this blog post about the film by a fiction writer, Jon Konrath, who did see it: http://rumored.com/2011/06/10/10-things-i-learned-from-the-lemmy-documentary/

The post made me realize that although Lemmy is a legend, he is also a man. Off stage he is actually a pretty average man. I can relate to that. I am a pretty average man myself, who adopts a rock star persona for live music performances. It is kind of like two different lives, completely partitioned from one another. My stage persona is a theatrical extrovert, while my real life persona, in which I actually spend 99% of my time, is a quiet introvert.

There is something else I admire about Lemmy. He is a remarkably singular man, traveling this world very much alone, and that is something I can relate to both literally and figuratively as a devoted rock-n-roller myself, who often puts my art above my friendships and relationships. I don't have many strong friendships and many romantic relationships have failed because I pursue my art too selfishly, causing me to seem insensitive sometimes. On the other hand, I have never been happy in a relationship that did not foster my art and creativity. I can't go more than a weak with some sort of musical indulgence.

On the other hand, I have far fewer indulgences than Lemmy himself. I am not going to go into that topic too much for two reasons. One, I prefer to view Lemmy as more than a mortal man, as something of an unimpeachable demi-god. But also because I don't judge people for their behavior in life. If he can handle that hard partying lifestyle and not hurt people, who am I to make a big deal out of it? Best leave that alone. He's succeeded.

Lemmy has at least one son, Paul Inder, that he is close with, and possibly another son, named Sean, who he has no contact with.

Here are a couple of videos you may find interesting if you are exploring the rock-n-roll and legend that is Lemmy and Motorhead.




Weekend Indulgences

Dear Readers,

How are you? Drop me a line...I would like to know what's going on in your life.

I am working from 2 to 10 PM today...on my art. Weekends are far too short, it seems like. I decided I want to put in at least a solid eight hour day on my creative endeavors, both today and tomorrow. Writing blog posts is one of those endeavors, because doing so hones the skill of writing, which I can then apply to my book writing. I am also going to apply some zen discipline to this creative work by not wasting my time on the social media. My only Web activity will be research for my writing topics.

Speaking of which, just a quick run down of recent posts you might be interested in.

Motorhead's new album, "Aftershock," rocks incredibly hard, not withstanding Lemmy's recent minor health problems. It's actually kind of impressive that he hasn't had serious health problems before now, given the hard partying life he has led. He must have long telomeres.

I also mentioned that my country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, plays a few songs off the Big Lebowski musical soundtrack, which pleases me. I hope you get a chance to see us play live sometime soon.

I also reflected on Zen Buddhism a little bit, when I wrote a post called, "How to Meditate Properly." The title of that post was shamelessly SEO driven. I had entered the keyword phrase ZEN BUDDHISM into my SEO app called Market Samurai, to see what happened, and "how to meditate properly" was a keyword phrase the software threw back at me as being a pretty decent search term. "How to become a buddhist" was also a decent term, so I wrote a post with that title too.

Search engines weight keywords in titles and URLs a bit heavier than in the body text of a blog or web page. I am not sure to what extent Blogger tags a blog title keyword as an actual title metatag for the search engines. The URL for a given post usually contains the title word(s), though not in the domain name, obviously, only in the later part of the URL after the slashes. I am not sure if that matters to search engines as long as the keyword is in some part of the URL. If you have any SEO knowledge or skills, give me the skinny on that.

The other thing that search engines look for is strong backlinks to keyword containing web pages. The hyperlinks above are called keyword anchored backlinks, because they not only contain the keyword, but also link back to the posts that have the keyword somewhere in the title and/or body of the post. I don't know how well my backlinks will work, but they are definitely customized to the keyword, which search engines kind of dig. On the other hand, a lot of factors go into the algorithm that search engines use for determining if a web page or blog post is keyword relevant.

Boring stuff, eh?

After I finish here in a few seconds, I am going to go play some jazz piano, which I have not done in weeks. I hope that I retain some muscle memory for it. I am picking my lessons back up this Wednesday, so I need to basically cram. I think I might want to focus for a while on actually technique and reading music, rather than jazz improvisation, which seems way beyond my grasp right now. Now that I have backed off from Tuesday night jazz, I have more weeknight time for jazz piano and other things. The problem with the late Tuesday night is that it killed my Tuesday night for other things. But it also usually killed my Monday night, because I had to practice the jazz songs to get ready for the gig. It also killed my Wednesday night, because I would be tired all day on Wednesday and just want to rest up on Wednesday nights.

Well, stay tuned good people of Earth. I will probably post again tomorrow, if not before.


Unstoppable Lemmy/Motorhead

Motorhead has another album out.

It is called "Aftershock" (2013) and it is incredible. It rocks harder than anything on the Motorhead discography, in my opinion. Every song is just a locomotive of rock-n-roll excellence. Great production. Great compositions. Classic Lemmy sound and vocals.

I love that Lemmy and Motorhead just keep on cranking out songs and albums, not slowing down at all, maybe even speeding up, with no decrease in ferocity.

I am in awe. I am definitely going to see Motorhead the next time they come around.

Read Rolling Stone's piece on Lemmy Kilmister here.

"Aftershock" in on SPOTIFY. So have a listen to some of the tunes, for free, and tell me if it does not rock harder than anything has rocked before.

I don't think Lemmy is a Buddhist.

The Big Lebowski Soundtrack

My country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, plays a few songs off the Big Lebowski movie soundtrack.

We don't do a huge number of songs from it, but enough that at the last show, we did a Lebowski mini set.

I like The Dude's zen-like approach to life in the film.

A Good Day to You

Happy Sunday. I don't know about you, but my weekend has been too short. There is so much I want to get done.

I wanted to crank out this morning blog post before the day gets away from me. At noon, I am going to spend an hour or so practicing GUPPY EFFECT songs, ahead of practice tonight at 4 or 5 PM. Then I am going to work on some writing for a while. I need to transcribe some of the recordings I took interviewing my folks about their lives before I came into the world. That's time consuming. I also need to transcribe more of my travelogue about the country band road trip up to Minocqua last weekend. Not much happened on that trip, other than some excellent rocking, but I am honing my travelogue writing skills, so even though that will never see the light of day (except maybe as a fiction, with names changed, at some later date), it's a good exercise.

I am listening to a recording of an interview I did with my dad about his growing up in Melbourne, Australia and all his relatives. My Australian grandfather's middle name was Edgerton, the namesake of a town in the area of Ballarat and Bendigo.

My dad's ancestors were most likely Welsh coal miners who emigrated to Ballarat and Bendigo, Australia, which were gold mining towns, in the mid-19th century. It's not clear if they came for gold mining, but their descendants ended up becoming entrepreneurs in the Melbourne area in the early and mid-20th century.

My father's dad and uncle owned a fairly large automotive repair shop in Melbourne and his grandmother owned the St. Kilda baths, basically a cove of sea water partitioned off off into a swimming hole. It has since been converted into a modern day sports club, with a swimming pool and gym and such, but it still has a club downstairs called "Leonard's Cabaret," a vestige of my family's prior involvement. His aunt Maude was a restauranteur in Melbourne, owning two large restaurants in Melbourne, called Elizabeth Collins and Russell Collins, that existed from the 1940s to the 1970s, according to some web research I did on the subject.

Anyway, time to go practice. But before I do, I have to take care of some SEO business.

The past couple of days, I wrote blog posts about Zen Buddhism and Zen meditation. That's probably enough on that subject, but I wanted to mention it so I could throw in the back links.


How to Meditate Properly

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on the topic of Zen Buddhism and Meditation. The jist of it was that I am pretty ignorant about Buddhism and I do not know how to meditate properly.

Here is a book on the subject. I tried to do some meditation earlier today, and I failed utterly. I could not keep my mind focused on my breathing for more than a few seconds before it wandered off in pursuit of random thoughts. I clearly have some work to do, if I am going to succeed with my New Year's Resolution to be a little more zen minded about life.

Today, I practiced some music. Most of my focus was on bass guitar and vocals for band practice with GUPPY EFFECT v3.0 tomorrow. We have some good songs picked out. This is what we are working on so far.

I like that SPOTIFY allows you to embed a song player in a blog post. There are some original songs on our playlist that are not, strictly speaking, available on SPOTIFY. So they won't appear or play for you. All you will see there are some covers we are working on.

I try to be a good band leader. I want my musicians to be happy. As I was listening to the songs today and practicing them, I realized that a couple of them might require key changes. I alerted the band to this, but I felt bad because I threw the key changes at them at the last minute. I just didn't have the time this past week to review the songs. I usually give myself ample time to learn songs before a practice, but I was really pushing it this week. I learned them, but I wasn't able to communicate my findings to the band until today. If they had been working on the songs way in advance and learning them a certain way, then I threw a spanner in their works.

I have some inspirado for creative writing tonight, so I am going to go do that. See ya.

P.S. The reference to my Zen Buddhism blog post above was blatant backlinking. I have been using Market Samurai a little bit. I had not used it in a while. I dig that program.


How to Become a Buddhist

I am not a Buddhist, but I play one in peoples' minds.

I haven't even read enough about Buddhism to say I know the first thing about it. But I feel like I have Buddhistic tendencies, based on what little I have picked up about it here and there. A lot of my friends and coworkers say I am very "zen." I think they are defining this to mean very even keeled, mellow, and laid back, which I am...at least on the outside. On the inside I am a volatile frothing cocktail of angst. But it rarely sees the outside world.

My knowledge of the subject of Zen Buddhism comes from basically two books and a brief trial run of Zen meditation gleamed from a third book I never finished, because it was mostly boring.

The first book I read that touched on Zen Buddhism was "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." The book had some good parts and some long dull parts, but once I trekked through the dull parts, I took away the decent message that you should try to live in the now, without expectations. I am not sure that is the message I was supposed to take away from it, but there you go. I don't remember the book being very explicit about Zen Buddhism per se. It was more about BEING ZEN. And there I am defining Zen to mean being very present and in the moment, which I think is closer to the definition than what my friends are thinking when they call me "zen."

I must have taken something about that book to heart, though, because I tend to prefer living in the present moment. I am not very good at planning ahead. On the other hand, I am pretty good about worrying about things, and that is not very zen-like. I am working on reducing that trait by practicing a zen approach to life. When I find myself worrying or stressing out, I just try to push it out of my head and mellow out. It's not easy. I suppose that is why actual Buddhists practice so hard at Zen meditation. They are trying to master the art of zen living.

The other book I read, more directly related to Zen Buddhism, was "Hardcore Zen." The author, one Brad Warner, was at one time a punk rock bass player in Akron Ohio, before he moved on to other things, which included working on Japanese monster movies and writing books about Zen Buddhism. I did not know that when I bought the book, but it turns out I too am a bass player, with roots in Akron OH, and a penchant for punk rock. I never had the good fortune to play punk rock music in a band, although I have been in a number of bands, but I could totally relate to this guy on some level, and that is probably why I dug his book.

However, having dug that book, I then decided to get his book, "Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death & Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye." Not so good. I mean, maybe I was just expecting it to be too much like "Hardcore Zen," and so my mindset was all wrong going into it (no expectations...Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind!). But this one just wasn't as fun. It was a more serious exploration of Zen Buddhism. I really should read it again and try to have an open mind, without expectations. It is probably really good if it is what you are looking for. I was looking for it to be like the other book, and it disappointed on that score. But it has been a while since I started reading it, and never finished it. So perhaps, if I revisit it now, I will have a different reaction.

Have you ever noticed sometimes you will be in a conversation with someone and your mind wanders off to other thoughts and daydreams? You totally lose track of what the person is saying and hope they don't ask you any questions... Well, that is not Zen. That is very un-Zen, because you are no longer in the present moment. Your mind has wandered off to other places, ignoring the present moment. The very few times I tried to do Zen meditation, it was a bit like this.

In Zen meditation, you are supposed to sit in a certain position and focus on your breathing. Whenever you catch your mind wandering off on random thoughts, you are supposed to cast those thoughts out and refocus on your breathing. The idea behind this "Practice of Zen" is that you train your mind to remain in the present moment as much as possible. Then this mental discipline can be applied to every day life, like when your boss is droning on about something stupid and you start daydreaming. Focusing on your boss at that moment probably seems pretty pointless, but no more so than focusing on your own inhalation and exhalation. It's not that your boss is enjoyable in any way. He or she just IS, and sometimes it is a good idea to pay attention to your boss. Most bosses don't like being ignored, because they think they are very self important. Consider though if you are on a trip and there is a cool sunset or some other cool thing. You want to be able to experience that thing very fully in the moment, and that is where some zen discipline might come in handy. If you are worrying about the bills you have to pay or your busy week at work or car troubles or relationship troubles, you aren't putting your whole mind into experiencing the present.

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to live more in the moment and not let worry and stress ruin my enjoyment of life. I will worry and stress when the present moment calls for it, like when I am being mauled by a bear or my boss is piling extra work on my head or I have to do my taxes. But the rest of the time, I am going to enjoy the present moment, like I am right now.

So, I am going to start trying to do Zen meditation again, as a disciplinary thing. In the past when I have tried this, the meditation quite often segued right into a considerable power nap. Part of the reason for that is because the sitting position recommended for Zen meditation is painfully uncomfortable for me. It may be uncomfortable for a lot of people, and that might be by design, to remind people constantly that they need to focus on their breathing. But I am not going to try to sit in the right position, because all I end up thinking about is how it makes my back hurt. I am going to lie down when I do it, and if that means more power naps, so be it. If that totally doesn't work, I might try sitting in a chair. I am going to start small, maybe 15 minutes at a time, then graduate to 30 minutes. I have things to do, I can't be sitting around all the time like a damn hippie.


A Break Even Gig

Since about June of 2013, I have been playing bass every week at a Tuesday Jazz Night at the Mason Lounge in Madison WI. It is a pretty late night for a school night. Thanks to carpooling with the drummer, the gig only put about 30 round trip miles on my car, which made it almost a break even gig against the $15 base pay we would get each Tuesday night (using the IRS mileage conversion as a basis). It’s actually a slight loss because the mileage conversion rate was $0.56 cents per mile in 2013. But when you factor in the meager tips, it probably about compensates for the extra few cents per mile. Plus, I drive a Prius that is low maintenance and high MPG. But the IRS doesn’t really care about that. They base it only on miles (or a percent of total cost if you want to go through the trouble of keeping all your receipts, which I totally do not).

I decided to back off from jazz night a bit in 2014, since I started my new job. Wednesday mornings are more difficult for me now, and I think I would be better served using my Tuesday evenings for other things. In addition, the drummer I was carpooling with is no longer doing jazz and now my round trip commute in 2014 is 50 miles. I would have to make at least $25 per jazz night to make it a wash.

I should also note that jazz night goes from 9 PM to midnight on Tuesdays, with a brief break around 10:30. I have to leave my house about 8 PM to get there at 8:30 PM to set up. We rock for three hours, and then I have to tear down and I am lucky if I get home by 1 AM. Even if I don’t include the hour round trip commute in my calculations, I am still on the job for 4 hours minimum. Getting paid $15 for the entire gig is not even a legal wage in Wisconsin.

On the other hand, I get better at jazz and there is some non-monetary value in that. I am not sure how much. I need to think about that. But the point is I do not want to be on the hook for jazz every week. I want to do it maybe once a month and have someone else do the regular performing, who does not have as far to drive or any Wednesday morning responsibilities.

In general, I am trying to be more diligent about running my professional music writing and performing business as a music business, even if it is just a small moonlighting operation. I am an LLC, and with that comes a responsibility to be professional, manage my budget, and turn down gigs that don't meet a minimum standard. I like the jazz group and performing the music, but the costs kind of outweigh the benefits. If it paid double what it pays now, I would continue to do it. But the current cost/benefit analysis does not favor it.

What are your thoughts?


A Handful of Shorter Posts

Today I carpooled to work with a coworker who likes to come in butt early. It is a little too early to ethically do any meaningful work. So I thought I would kick out a brief post.

I thought about maybe doing some shorter posts and returning to the days when I would write for no longer than 10 minutes and see what came out of my mind.

I am not going to force that limitation. But if I can crank out a few of these shorties, maybe you, my dear reader, will find it better jibes with your busy schedule. You can pick and choose what topics and themes pique your interest and have less to get through on any given post.

This post is about the weekend. My country band put on two great shows up in Minocqua WI on Saturday, January 11, 2014, two days after they hosted my birthday show at Mr. Roberts Pub in Madison WI. The Madison show was sort of a low stress dress rehearsal for the more prestigious shows up north.

The first show on Saturday was supposed to be just background music for ICE COLD BEER FEST, a craft brew beer tasting event, but we rocked so hard that we totally got people paying attention and dancing.

Furthermore, a lot of these people came to the second show that night, when we played the Minocqua Brewing Company.

There is a lot more of a tale to tell about the weekend, but my 10 minutes has expired, so stay tuned.


My Time is Short

I don't have a lot of time for this post. In a short while, I am going to be leaving Minocqua WI, where my country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, played two back to back shows yesterday. I am likely to be the one driving the car, because I am the only one who is not hungover. So I won't be able to write in my travel journal or post on my blog for the 3.5 hour trip. On the bright side, we are leaving Minocqua so goddam early on Sunday morning that we might even be back to my house by noon. I can totally chill out this afternoon and maybe even squeeze in a power nap, although the wise money is on burling through the day and getting an early night, so I can get some sound sleep before I have to be up butt early for carpool to work on Monday.

Although I did not drink irresponsibly yesterday during the shows, I did not sleep very well. I was sharing a room with some people and I could not get comfortable. I kept waking up with country songs in my head and my brain would not shut up. It is as if my mind did not want to stop rocking. OK, well it is time to load gear and boogie on out of here. See ya.


Marathon of Rock

I just finished off a massive cup of coffee ahead of a 30 hour marathon of rock that starts soon.

In about an hour, the drummer and pedal steel player for the DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS will arrive at my house. We will load music gear into the drummer's SUV and then navigate the questionable highways between here and Minocqua WI, where we will perform two full length shows.

One of the shows is at the ICE COLD BEER FEST, a craft beer tasting event, that begins about 3 PM. Then at 8 PM we will play for the nighttime crowd at the Minocqua Brewing Company. We'll return quite early in the morning on Sunday.

Mission Fast and Furious begins...

Excitement vs. Tranquility

There used to be a thought exercise I would run on people sometimes. I don't fully remember how it went, but one of the parts was to ask people what they truly value in life and what they seek.

A lot of people say things like inner peace, tranquility, calm. Only a few people say thrills, excitement, energy, and the like. I am one of the latter. But my small and unscientific sample of people who entertained my thought exercise seemed to indicate that most people seek the peace and tranquility.

There may be a selection bias there. I may attract people into my social circles who are more introverted by nature. Truth be told, I am an introvert a lot of the time. But when asked what I most seek out of life, it is usually novelty, thrills, and excitement. I don't crave crazy thrills like sky diving, but just interesting new and exciting things. I get bored with the same old same old.

It may just be that my life does not offer enough thrills. When I think about what I would really like to do for a living, it is basically this: take road trips to places and write about them as travelogues and journalistic research pieces. My current job as a writer is decent, don't get me wrong. There is actually a lot of variety in the work. For example, in the next couple of weeks many of the marketing and technical writers on my team will be assigned stories to write for the company's trade journal. That will exercise some journalism neurons in my brain that I haven't really exercised in about four years. There are plenty of other projects to keep me satisfied and not bored at work too.

I had to fire my last employer because the work had become boring and middle management was really harshing my gig and throwing my team under the bus a lot. That made for an exciting workplace, but it was the wrong kind of exciting, the bad kind. It wasn't the work that was exciting, just the drama. I hate drama. So what I am saying here is that I do seek excitement, but it has to be fulfilling and entertaining excitement, not stressful.

Just a couple of days ago one of my good friends told me I looked younger since starting my new job. This is probably the manifestation of being happier, and thus giving off more energetic and positive vibes.

Anyway, that is all neither here nor there. What made me think of this? I will tell you.

Last night, my country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, played a show at Mr. Roberts. Because I promoted it as my birthday party with a live band, which it was, we got a fairly decent turnout of people at Mr. Roberts, the Madison WI venue that hosted our show. However, the turnout was noticeably less than expected. There is this phenomenon that happens fairly consistently with my live band performances, I have noticed. A few weeks before the show, when I first begin to promote it, people get really excited and commit to coming to the show. But then, about 2 days before the show, a proportion of the putative attendees start dropping out like flies. Their excuses are probably legitimate...illness, forgetfulness, made other plans at the last minute...but the bottom line is that something is causing them to change their mind about coming.

I have a theory that a decent fraction of these dropouts are in the peace and tranquility category mentioned above. Here's why.

When I promote my shows, I market them as very lively, energetic, fun events. These shows would not appeal to a chronic introvert. People with a mix of intro- and extrovert qualities can handle a show by any one of my bands. They are lively, but not in your face. An introvert though would have a hard time, especially if they are not part of a larger group into which they can "disappear" at the show. If you take a band like COWBOY MOUTH, there is a band that requires a pretty hefty extroversion streak in its audience members.

That's enough for now. I have to get an early night because the country band is road tripping up to Minocqua WI in the morning ahead of two shows later in the day that we are playing there. One is the ICE COLD BEER craft brew festival in the afternoon. The other one is our quarterly performance at the Minocqua Brewing Company, in the evening. I want to say we played our last two shows there in early August and early November, respectively, which would constitute the SUMMER and FALL quarterly performances. This one tomorrow is obviously the WINTER quarter performance. I am hoping the roads are OK for travel tomorrow. They were unacceptably bad today, and I am glad we didn't go up this afternoon. Ice is coating everything. It is supposed to peter out by midnight, but the roadways are still at subzero temperatures because of the arctic cyclone that plunged us into bitter cold for a few days earlier in the week. Now the temperatures are up to right around that nasty yucky area close to the boundary where water transitions from solid to liquid and vice versa. There's freezing rain and fog. This is not cool for January. The arctic cyclone was a lot more January-esque, and notwithstanding that my car does not function well under those super cold conditions, I think it would be preferred to this wet chilly crap.


Friday January 10 - Somewhere in the Cosmos

Last night, the country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS (DWTD), hosted my birthday party show at Mr. Roberts in Madison WI.

It seems a bit self-aggrandizing to have my own band host my own party, but who else is going to do it? That's my logic.

Having a band makes it pretty easy to book a venue for a party too. You just find a date the venue has open and tell them you want to book your band. You can be really flexible and negotiable on terms, because you are not trying to make a buck, just have a free venue for a party. In the past, I have played pro bono. But last night, we got $150. Thus, we actually got paid to have a party. That's cool.

The band has two shows tomorrow (Saturday, January 11) in Minocqua WI. We were going to cruise up there today so we would have a night to chillax before the long day of rocking tomorrow, but laziness and weather got the better of us. It makes better use of our time to kick around here today, since most of us took the day off, and get stuff done without having to drive 4 hours in questionable weather. Plus, I can get a solid night of sleep before the early morning road trip up to Minocqua.

We are playing ICE COLD BEER FEST in Minocqua at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon. Then we are playing at the Minocqua Brewing Company on Saturday night, around 8 PM. It's going to be a very intense day of music. That would be the case if we drove up today or tomorrow. So my logic is that we should just make a marathon day of it tomorrow and relax today. That could change. A couple of the band mates are already heading up there today. The lead singer/rhythm guitarist had to work in Wausau today. The lead guitarist has family up in the Minocqua area, so he headed up early to hang out with them, I guess. I am carpooling with the drummer no matter when we decide to leave. So I am at his whimsy, but I think he is on the same page as me, about chilling out at home today and road tripping madhouse marathon tomorrow.

I took the day off from work today. I am going to do some writing and practice the country songs a couple of more times. That will only make the shows tomorrow a million times better. Well, I don't know about a million times, but better. I am going to go write a separate post now about something I thought of. Stay tuned.


Things Fall Into Place Fairly Easily

It’s still cold and I still hate it. But my house is warm and my car is running, so what else could a guy really ask for?

I did not sleep well last night. Well, to be clear, I slept great up until about 3 AM. Then I could not get to sleep. My mind was wandering all over the place and I couldn’t get comfortable. I went to bed at a decent hour and maybe that is part of it. My brain is not used to going to bed by 9 PM. I read a while, and that always makes me drowsy, so I assumed I would sleep soundly all night.

I hope I am not developing insomnia. There’s not a lot of stuff on my mind right now, but maybe that is part of the problem. My New Year’s Resolution was to take a zen approach to worry and irrational fear, blocking out such thoughts whenever I found myself worrying unnecessarily. Perhaps by doing that, I am just kicking the can down the road like American politicians, and thus forcing my brain to sort things out during sleep time, and so my brain is getting noisy at night as a result.

Supporting that hypothesis, I have been remembering my dreams more lately. They aren’t bad dreams, but that is neither here nor there. Dreams are the brain’s way of working stuff out. When I am sleeping, I don’t have the sort of zen mind control I have when awake, to block out thoughts. That’s not to say I have very good zen mind control when I am awake. I still have poor discipline about abolishing worry and fear when it creeps into my thoughts. But I am better about it now because I am consciously trying to do something about it and be aware of it.

Worry creates anxiety about things that either don’t exist (worst case scenarios) or that you can’t do anything about anyway (circumstances beyond your control). A person only needs to focus on the now and on things they can control and act upon. Easier said than done. I have been having an irrational fear of my power going out during this arctic cold blast we are having in Wisconsin right now, and my pipes freezing as a result. I don’t know why. It’s a totally dumb fear. My power has been known to go out for as long as 24 hours in a blizzard, but there was no precipitation associated with this cold spell and usually in a blizzard, the temperatures are above zero degrees F. My house is pretty well insulated and I think the coldest it has ever gotten during a long term power outage in winter weather is about 50 degrees. However, this arctic thing has temperatures as low as -20 F and as you know I really hate cold and I really love sleep and I really can’t sleep if it is too cold. So my irrational worry was that I would lose sleep (no pun) over my power going out and maybe have to deal with freezing pipes. But that is so stupid. If I know the power is out, I can open some downstairs faucets and drain most of the pipes that would be affected. Even if a pipe did freeze, I could just turn off the pump and call a plumber. I even have a buddy who is a plumber and will do it on the pretty cheap.

I don’t have too many money worries, although the holidays took a toll on my bank accounts because I started a new job and I am not getting my first paycheck until this Thursday, January 9, which also happens to be my birthday. That will be a great day. I get a fat check (I hope it is fat) and that night my country band, DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS, is hosting my birthday party at Mr. Roberts Pub in Madison (9 PM to 1 AM…you should come!). I also have a vacation day on Friday, so I can sleep in, then get up and get rid of most or all of my fat paycheck on outstanding bills. But financially, I am in good shape. Revenue in is still slightly higher than accounts payable.

One thing that has been on my mind is finding a bike route to my new job so that, come spring, I can bike commute all or part of the way to work. My house is about eight miles closer to my new job than it was to my old job. According to Google Maps, I could bike the whole distance in about 2 hours at a medium pace. I asked an outgoing coworker at my new job about bike routes and he verified the route I found on Google is a good one. He also told me there is a locker room with a shower facility in the building. That was something I was concerned about. No one likes to spend a whole day at work feeling grimy from a bike commute. So now I know I can get clean, and my only worry is how much competition there will be for the ONE shower that is in the locker room. Maybe there is more than one shower here though, so I should look into that. Anyway, the biking option is fully on the table and I have a route plotted. Of course, biking weather won’t be here for at least two months and maybe more. But I like to plan ahead.

I also went into the Wisconsin Rideshare website and found a few possible people to carpool with to work. I should have done that ages ago. There were three people listed for Cambridge whose schedule and route might correlate with mine. I have sent e-mails to them all. There is even one person who might be interested in bike commuting. The Rideshare program has something now called “bike buddies,” to find a companion for bike commuting. Nice.

My former boss (the good one, not the bullying douche) works at the Oscar Meier meat factory close to my new workplace. I am probably going to have lunch with him next week. We both decided to leave my former employer (him before me) because middle management was incompetent. My new employer is competent to a fault. So many rules and regulations to follow, it is kind of overwhelming. But that is much preferred to the scattershot, shooting from the hip, trial and error approach of my last boss (the bullying douchy one). I am going to learn a proverbial shite ton here.

Anyway, I eventually fell back asleep last night, by focusing on my breathing and trying to block out random thoughts that were flying around in my mind. It took a while, but it worked and I think I got enough sleep overall, thanks to my early night. Coffee also got me going when I got up.

Tonight is Tuesday Jazz Night at the Mason Lounge in Madison. That means a pretty late night and tomorrow I fully expect to be tired at work. I am going to head home as soon as jazz is done and go right to sleep. There is some kind of weird political thing going on with the jazz group. With no group discussion whatsoever, the band leader suspended the drummer for some reason to do with his skills and it left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s supposed to be a fun outlet for people to jam and get better at jazz, but the whole incident makes it feel more like a job with a boss who acts unilaterally without consulting the group. I know he is the leader of the group and makes the decisions, but by not including the group in the dialogue about the drummer, it kind of makes everyone feel like they are not in the loop, and maybe they could be the next one to go, if the band leader decides it to be so.

I honestly would not miss jazz that much. It’s just a fun pastime for me and I am not in it for money. The players are all pretty good and I like them. But I like them all the time, not just on Tuesdays. I am an amateur not a pro, and if I was let go, I would just go to bed earlier on Tuesday nights. I actually want to see about finding another bass player who can share the jazz night duties so I do not have to do it all the time. Maybe they could even be better than me and take over the gig as the main bass player, and I will just show up as a sub. I should probably set a time boundary on that. If it was a real job, I could give two week’s notice. I will probably establish that need with the group tomorrow, after tonight’s performance, which would make my last official jazz night on Tuesday January 21 (2 more jazz nights, not including tonight). That actually gives them almost 3 weeks to find a sub.

A Day in the Life...A Cold Arsed F-ing Day in the Life!

I hate cold. I have never liked it. You will find no evidence I ever liked it. It is the reason I am lukewarm to the otherwise fun looking activity of snowboarding. I have been snowboarding three times. I think I got fairly decent at it. I mean, I wasn’t doing black diamonds or anything, but I could get down a beginner hill without falling and an intermediate hill without serious injury. I still wore a helmet, because my brain is very important to me. I hate the ski lift and when I am on it, I long for the ski lodge and a fireplace.

Anyway, it’s f-ing cold today. The outside thermometer in my car said it was -15 degrees F when I was driving into work. That’s without wind chill. My old 2001 Prius hates the cold even more than I do, and when it is this cold, it does not have any intention of starting. I have to trick it into going. If I start my car in this kind of cold, it will turn on for about 10 seconds, then the computer will recognize that it is f-ing cold and shut down the motor, throwing all kinds of alarms on my dashboard. I had my mechanic run the computer codes once, and it is a common issue with my make and model of car. It just can’t get enough juice to stay running when it is that cold.

Unless I trick it.

Since it takes the computer a few seconds to diagnose the engine’s cryogenic state, if I start the car, put it in drive, and gun it into a jack rabbit start, by the time the computer is done running its algorithm, the engine is already moving and I guess sufficiently warmed from friction to not throw an error.

However, even this trick does not work when it is uber insanely cold like this. Anything below zero and the car doesn’t even wait for the computer’s OK to go back to sleep.

This morning, the car was in my garage, which due to its proximity to the house (attached) is somewhat warmer than the ambient air outside. Knowing we were in for a cold patch, I parked my car in the garage facing out last night, so I could perform my little jump start trick. It worked. I made it to work, although the car was making an awful pained noise the whole way. I should note at this point that I just got new tires for the thing and had the antifreeze checked last Saturday, as well as getting an oil change. I had done all I could for maximum performance, but the car has over 195K miles on it, and nothing can change that fact.

At work, we have to park in a big open parking lot, exposed to the elements with no remorse. Knowing my car as I do, I had to go out about every hour or so and start it, gun it, then drive around the block and let it idle a bit to stay awake. This seems to have been successful, as I have been able to get it going each time. It is still making a strained noise that sounds like a muffler issue. I might have to get that looked at if it does not improve later in the week as the temperatures rise.

It could just be that the cold is shrinking the metal and making the joints around the exhaust system a bit less tight. But maybe it is something else.

I am dressed for cold, so wish me luck driving home.


Day One (of 2014)

It's the end of the first day of 2014.

There's about an hour left, in the Central Standard time zone, which is where I am. It's been day two of 2014 for a long time now in places like New Zealand and Australia.

I just finished a workout, 60 minutes at a medium pace on the bike trainer downstairs (a 3 on my How I Met Your Mother scale of measurement). I am on my way to bed, actually, but I couldn't let the first day of the new year pass without a quick blog post, even though the "new year" is kind of an arbitrary construction, derived from the human need to partition and label things.

I always thought the new year should start the day after the winter solstice, around December 21 or 22. To me, this makes a lot of sense. The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. After it, the days start getting longer again until the summer solstice, around June 21. The latter could also make for a decent new year's eve. So could the equinoxes for that matter. At least those dates represent something actual, that can be measured - shortest day, longest day, and day equal to night. December 31 is just the end of a month, a time designation that was constructed by people, but doesn't really correspond to any kind of astrological event.

Anyway, I don't think they are going to change it based on my logical argument.

Working backwards, I practiced a buttload of country songs today. I was working my way down the setlist that DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS will perform on January 9 (for my birthday party at Mr. Roberts in Madison WI), and again on January 11 (a couple of shows up in Minocqua WI).

I drove back to Cambridge from Oshkosh around noon today, with my two dogs. My buddy in Oshkosh was dog sitting for me while I was in Colorado last week. I drove up there last night for the erroneously dated New Year's Eve celebration there. It was also Todd's birthday. It must be nice to have a birthday on NYE and imagine that everyone is celebrating the date of your birth. Christmas is kind of like that for the baby Jesus.

I did not drink any alcohol last night, since I have been abstaining for fitness reasons since Thanksgiving. I am here to tell you that a hangover has NOTHING to do with alcohol consumption. It has to do with staying up way too late, cooking and eating frozen pizzas before you retire, and getting up way too early. Granted, alcohol might exacerbate these effects, but when I got up this morning, my body kept saying, "go back to sleep." Some strong coffee solved that impulse and I was able to burl on through the rest of the day without incident, even motivating myself to workout for an hour. Had I had an actual alcohol hangover, that option would not have been on the table.

Todd and I went to the New Moon Cafe in Oshkosh, before I headed home. I had a veggie burrito, with just a touch of "warmth." I took Highway G home today, to mix it up a little bit. That was a mistake. Apparently, that road does not get the snow plow TOC of less rustic roads. Slow going. But I had all the time in the world.

I wished I had more time to practice country songs this afternoon, but the ones I did practice got some serious woodshedding and will be solid for next week's show. I have a lot of time this weekend to hit the remaining tunes. Getting a workout in was critical to my well being.

I return to my new job tomorrow, and I still have a lot to learn. On the up side, I found a car pool that is going to save me some miles on my car. Also, since today is the beginning of a new tax year, I took note of the mileage on my car so that I can deduct my business travel for music gigs. There are perks to having an LLC and this year I think I actually made more money at gigs than I spent to get there, even using the IRS conversion rate, something like $0.56 cents per mile. I didn't exceed that by much, but there was a decent margin. Most of that is thanks to the more professional and lucrative gigs the country band gets.

Anyway, I gotta hit the hay. The down side of a nighttime workout is that it ramps me up and makes it harder for me to fall asleep. The up side is that I took a shower tonight, so I don't have to do it in the morning, and I can sleep in a little bit longer.