Reflections on 2015

My girlfriend Deborah says I have a bad short term memory, mostly for the things that she tells me. I disagree. I would argue that I have a mild case of Selective Hearing Disorder (SLD). It might not be a condition recognized officially by the “American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” But then again…it might. Go check! It definitely should be.

Anyway, I open this post talking about memories, because 2016 is almost here and this “lost week” (as one of my co-workers called it) between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a time to reflect on the past year’s memories and look forward to bigger and better things in 2016.

2015 didn’t start the greatest for me. My 15 year old dog Buddy started to enter canine senescence and deteriorated fairly rapidly in the first few months of the year. I had to put him to sleep in the spring. On the one hand it is sad to lose a loyal pet. On the other, he had a pretty kickass life with me after I got him from the pound at one year old. Dogs can’t live forever and we probably wouldn’t want them to, honestly. 15 years is a long full life for a dog and he enjoyed all of his. In human years, he would have been a little over 105 years old when he met the BIG SLEEP. So I have no problem with that, and I am all about minimal suffering for geriatric pets. But it was still hard.

I was also “let go” as bass player of the pretty good country band DRIVEWAY THRIFTDWELLERS in early 2015 and replaced (me!?). That’s only the second time I have ever been told by a band that my services were no longer needed. I have actually been fired by bands more often (twice) than by day jobs (zero, I am proud to say). There are no hard feelings whatsoever about this, obviously. It’s just always a little discouraging to not feel like you are an awesome and indispensable musical asset to a band you are in. The perfectionist in me sometimes looks at it like a personal failure on my part, but it is merely a circumstance beyond my control, and failure is really a form of “learning” as one of those touchy feely self help gurus once said (*eye roll*). Rationally, I know I did the best I could and that's all a guy can do. Not everyone is going to like it and that's how it is. In retrospect, my GF Deborah hates country music, so it is probably good that I am not with them anymore. More on her later…

Conversely, I started rocking with punk rock outfit EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE more ferociously at the start of 2015 (I joined them in Rocktober 2014). It’s one of the funnest bands I have ever played in, even if I am not on my primary instrument (bass), but rather on rhythm guitar (and backing vocals). The original punk rock songs written by band leader Tim (aka Eddie) are great old school style punk compositions with clever lyrics and they are super fun to play live, with 3 part harmonies and all. The band also has a “classy” stage presentation that I admire (we wear suits and ties) and the fans are awesome. Playing guitar gets me a little more out of my comfort zone and makes me a better guitarist, so I am enjoying pushing myself as a performing musician. It was a bit of a downer when this band had to go on a fairly lengthy hiatus in Rocktober 2015 because the drummer got an offer he could not refuse to tour Europe as the road manager of another musical act. I totally don’t blame him for doing that (I would have done the same), and I have been following his travel blog, which is highly entertaining, religiously. But the drummer's travel opportunity arose just as the band was starting to gain some momentum locally and now I feel like we have to rebuild from scratch once he returns in February 2016, when we have a CD release planned for an as yet incomplete CD. That's probably overblown though. I practiced the songs just the other day and they came back to me just like riding a bike. Plus, after such a long waiting period, the fans will be eager to come see us again. It's just that the perfectionist in me likes to keep things rocking and suspended animation is a challenge. But that’s all very trivial relative to the enjoyment of playing in this group, so I will do my part to further the band goals once we are back up and rocking again in 2016. The next order of business will be finishing the CD.

On Memorial Day weekend I met my dream woman and current GF, Deborah. We had stumbled across each other on one of the free so-called "dating sites" and messaged back and forth a little before making plans to meet for coffee or a drink or something (there’s the SLD again!) about a week or so before Memorial Day 2015. She bailed at the last minute, citing a migraine headache. I didn’t think too much of it. People get migraines and I have a three strikes policy, especially when it comes to online dating, where a certain degree of flighty behavior is par for the course. On Memorial Day, I had plans with some friends to go see a buddy’s hard rock band play outdoors at a local bar. On a whimsy, I invited her to join us (keep in mind, we’d never met and I just invited her to come meet a bunch of other people she also never met)…and she said yes, amazingly, earning brownie points. It was definitely not an optimal ice breaker setting, with loud music making it hard to talk and my attention spread between her and my friends (who were thankfully well behaved and inviting). But after the band got done I asked her if she wanted to grab dinner and we went to the Great Dane and had a nice long talk. I liked her right away, but she actually took a while to warm up to me. I don’t blame her, since she met me on a dating site and these often have a lot of creepy characters (keep that thought to yourself!). I invited her to a rock-n-roll house concert at my house the following week, hosted by my band HIATVS (always on perpetual hiatus, except when we’re not), and I still joke with her that it was my frenetic rocking at said party that seduced her. She begs to differ. Whatevs. Anyway, we’ve been inseparable since. Like minded perfect soul mates. I moved in with her later in the summer, since I was pretty much at her house non-stop anyway. We hardly ever argue and we know each other too well to hold any grudges when we do. Blah blah blah and [insert sickly sweet romantic cliches here].

Moving on…

I went to Ireland with my bike team for a week in August, my first time there and the first significant amount of time I was away from Deborah since we had met. It was a fun experience, although I realized that I no longer drink alcohol like a 25 year old and most of my bike team still does. We saw some great parts of Ireland by bike (my travelog is here, if you want to see some pictures) and sampled many local beers, ending our trip at the Doolin Craft Beer Fest in Doolin Ireland, after a 10 mile power hike along the Cliffs of Moher (those beers were definitely deserved and appreciated). I also learned from this trip that the Irish roads are breathtaking, in the sense that you take deep breaths of terror at every brush with death on the narrow roads and hairpin turns, not too mention huffing and puffing up and down some of the more mountainous terrain. Overall weather cooperated with us and I am glad I went. The Irish people are super nice and fun. Great country. Visit some time.

After I got back from Ireland, I settled into enjoying life and finishing moving in with Deborah. We did some kayaking and I introduced her to some longer bike rides. We went up to the cottage a few times and did some weekend excursions here and there in Wisconsin (Door County, New Glarus, other places…). I put my house on the market soon after the Ireland trip and it actually just sold yesterday, generating some significant cash winnings that I banked and will be investing in 2016 (more on that later). Now that I have merged households with Deborah, living expenses are a lot less for both of us. Although she is independently wealthy to some extent (I am leaving out important details for brevity), Deborah decided to take a part time job as a triage nurse at the same company (UW Health) where I have been contracting as a technical writer all year. She is a nurse by training and has a passion for helping people, and she’s really good at it (I’ve heard…see I remember sh!t). Deborah lives only 1.5 miles from where we work, and thanks to El Nino, I was able to walk to work as much as four times a week until just recently. When I couldn’t walk, I biked, and when I couldn’t bike, the drive was easy enough. I love not having to deal with commuter traffic. The increased physical activity along with healthier lifestyle choices in 2015 (principally less beer, with the notable exception of the Ireland bike trip) helped me lose about 10 pounds or so and I want to lose about 10 more before Deborah and I go on a cruise in February 2016, so I can wear tight Speedos (just kidding...).

My other dog, Foster, a Boston terrier, made the transition to Deborah’s about as easily as I did. I incurred some significant veterinary expenses in the summer and fall due to Foster’s genetic defect that caused a lens to fall out of his left eye. This led to glaucoma and ultimately eye removal surgery that cost a pretty penny (financial losses now recouped…thanks to everyone who donated to his fundraiser!). He recovered fully and still has his other eye (though his eyesight is terrible). The monocular vision causes him to occasionally run into walls and doors and things (amusing), and to be more underfoot when he doesn’t see us coming (not amusing to Deborah, as she steps on his toes all the time). But he still loves to chase his tennis ball and noisily farts all over the place as usual (Boston terriers are notorious for their flatulence).

I have continued to attend and live stream the weekly Sunday open jam at Funks Pub in Fitchburg WI, not far from my former house. It's a fun way to end the weekend and allows me to rock weekly and let loose a bit, even whilst my bands are in various stages of hiatus. A few of the attendees have thrown together some impromptu little combo groups thanks to the jam and we've lately made some effort to actually plan ahead and learn songs ahead of time to try to rock them at the jams. I stream the performances live on the Intarwebz and upload them to Youtube for all eternity. They aren't anything awesome, but it's nice to have a visual record of the history of the jams. Until recently, I hadn't live streamed any other music shows around here, but in mid December I was asked to live stream and record some punk rock and metal band performances at the Frequency rock club in Madison, as part of the annual MAXMAS holiday celebration of local music. This event is usually organized and run by the currently AWOL drummer from EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE, aforementioned. Since he was traveling in Europe and Sri Lanka, the lucky devil, we wanted him to be able to taste a bit of MAXMAS 2015 via 21st century technology (thanks SkyNet!). He watched it and was happy and that made me happy. It was a bit of a marathon sitting through all those bands and manning the helm of the live stream on my ancient Mac laptop
I was tired out afterwards and I have a greater respect for sound guys who have to sit through long shows and twiddle knobs night after night. Of course, they are getting paid cold hard cash to do it. I am only paid in enjoyment and (I'm told) karmic return. To be honest with you, there is something to this karmic return thing. I try to be the best person I can be and my life has turned out pretty freakin' kickass to date, I have to say, rounding out the year. I know there are a lot of douchebags in the world and it seems pretty unfair sometimes when they succeed by stepping on others, but there is nothing to be gained from stooping to their level. Always be the nicest person you can be and I guarantee you, you will win in the end.

GUPPY EFFECT was on hiatus for a goodly bit of 2015, due to a lack of drummer availability (what is it with drummers?). However, one of the drummers at the Funks jam, Verge by name, stepped up and took over drum duties for GUPPY EFFECT just in the last few weeks. He's the best drummer I have played with to date, I think. He's also really into GUPPY EFFECT's original rock-n-roll and a fast learner. Most importantly, he has motivation and availability, two traits that are essential for successful rocking, me thinks, regardless of innate talent. Stefan and I have had about four practices with him and we already have a full set of material we could start playing live shows with, mostly my songs, plus a couple of covers. I am trying to get us a show at the Reptile Palace in Oshkosh for mid-March 2016, the time of year I usually start to ramp up my live show performances, as weather begins to improve slightly. I take live music hiatuses usually from November to February - winter in Wisconsin - a time when I don't want to go out in the cold and travel anywhere for shows and neither do my music fans. This is why EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE's winter hiatus has not been too tragic for me, in reality.

As a result of the less than optimal full band activity, I have revamped my CACTUS JOE solo acoustic singer/songwriter incarnation, playing a show here and there about once a month. My next one is my birthday party. On Friday, January 8, 2016, from 6-9 PM, I will be hosting my own birthday party and performing some fun songs at the Bos Meadery in Madison WI, a venue that both hosts live music and makes a beverage called mead, which is a little bit like beer and wine combined. I like to rock on my birthday and this will be a good time, complete with free venue and booze.

I have big plans for 2016, but I am not quite ready to launch them, so I am not going to disclose them to you at this time. But soon! Suffice it to say, some dreams will be made manifest in 2016 and all my resolutions are pretty much fully in place. I’ll elaborate in another post soon after the new year.

Stay tuned and have a fun, safe, and happy new year!

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