Monthly Archives: September 2012

Knowing is Half the Battle

A few weeks ago, I had a delightful time reconnecting with my friend Anna.  We went to school together, and she has since gone on to have a successful music career as a songwriter, performer, and teacher (among other things).  She was down for the weekend for a show, and we had ample opportunity to catch up on each others’ projects, as well as trade stories of success and disappointment in the music industry.  She has been writing and performing her material for about eleven years, and it was great to get her perspective on what has worked and what has not.

Simo Ratt

Battle, Battle! I said it was half the BATTLE!

While here, she helped me out with a podcast project I’m working on.  It’s an intensive analysis of a single song by an artist, in which we dissect the lyrical and musical composition.  Anna has recently released a disc titled Satellite, and we examined her title track, “Satellite” for the podcast.  Without getting too much into detail, her song is an exploration of the influence of the sacred and secular sides of her family and how they shaped her own perspective towards religion.  I might add that it’s quite worth listening to.  While recording the podcast, I kept finding a repeating pattern in the things we were discussing.  We were discussing the theme of the song, tempering the mysterious with reason, during a podcast about breaking down and analyzing a piece of art in order to get greater enjoyment out of it.  We even discussed some of the music theory behind her harmonic and melodic choices.  All these things embody a common concept: as we increase our knowledge, it can only serve to enhance our experience.

Every time someone tells me they don’t want to know how something is created because it might ruin the magic of it, I die a little inside.  Increasing my understanding of how a system works tends to allow me to enjoy it that much more.

I find this is a point I return to when I discuss why I am an atheist.  I love the way science continues to elucidate new facts about the world we live in.  At no point does the mystery of life seem spoiled as we dissect it further.  In fact, as we understand our world, our bodies, and our societies in ever greater detail, the more delightful and rapturous they become.  Even as we find new paths to explore and ruminate upon, the knowledge of how our world works remains thrilling and awe-inspiring.  No higher power necessary (though to be fair, I think there are only a small subset of religious people whose faith is inspired by the mysteries inherent in a lack of science/knowledge).

In the course of relationships, as we learn more about our partner and how we relate to them, we grow to appreciate ourselves and the person that he or she is more.  Learning the intricate nuances of communication gives us great insight into our own potential and the potential of everyone in our lives.

The next time you’re discussing a subject and you’re given the hand and asked to stop out of fear of knowing too much, take a moment to shift the discussion to all the wonderful things we get from analysis.  Innovative approaches, eye-opening experiences, and the joy of chasing a fantasy down the rabbit-hole all get their starts by pushing past the mundane knowledge into uncharted territories.  As the saying goes, knowing is half the battle, but it’s the part makes everything else worthwhile.


Music, Math, and NOTCON

Lou's Console

Doesn’t everyone have one of these in their Hall of Mirrors?

I missed another blog post on Friday, probably because I was overstimulated by the most amazing gaming experience I’ve ever had.  I was invited to NOTCON by my good friend Chris, who has been hosting this private gaming convention for the past six years.  Essentially, it’s four days of nonstop tabletop games, RPGs, video games, croquet, logic puzzles, great food, and fantastic beer.  It was held this year up in the Poconos at a massive house with a pool, amazing grounds, and plenty of space for the forty or so people who came.

It’s always interesting when you get a large population of people who like similar things together, because you start to notice not only the obvious trends, but more importantly the subtle differences.  For example, we had some computer experts there; actually, quite a few.  During a trivia event, when someone mistakenly thought that city in which “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” was the “bar on Degobah,” cries of outrage rang forth from the crowd that could mostly cite Star Wars by heart.  And I was not at all surprised to pass the TV and see first Goonies playing, then Princess Bride.

As always, the differences were much more interesting.  There were some excellent chefs who made breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts.  There was a sommelier who brought his homemade wines (one made with Earl Grey tea called Captain’s Quarters), and some beer homebrewers as well.  There was a military man (or if he wasn’t he sure looked and acted like it).  There were women gamers.  One freak even brought an accordion and played The Final Countdown and Eye of the Tiger repeatedly.  In short, there was a wide spectrum of humanity that could not be pigeonholed and marginalized into one stereotype.

I encounter this sort of bias most frequently in the classes I teach.  When my students in Microsoft Excel class learn that I have a degree in music, I often get knowing nods followed by,”well no wonder you’re so good with computers.”  I remember back to my days at Eastman.  We all loved music, and we all knew quite a lot about it.  From there the paths diverged widely.  Some of us were valedictorians, some struggled with academics.  Some of us were technology whizzes, others had difficulty turning computers on.  There were kind people and bullies.  Sports fans and athletics avoiders.  The straight-laced and the degenerate.  Which is why it’s absurd to me when someone makes that link between music and computers (or music and math, or music and sexual proclivities, etc.).

Warren Robinett

Many Adventures were had.

I was reaffirmed this weekend in the knowledge that in all walks of life, we are individuals with different backgrounds, approaches, and quirks.  We can still come together and participate in mutual experiences, even if you prefer to play in the pool and I spend my time in front of the Atari 2600.  Our diversity is something to celebrate, as it enhances the diversity of our days on earth and makes life more than one endless, plodding march to the finish.  Sometimes we get to kill the red, yellow, and green dragons, use the bridge to find the transmolecular dot, and get a better idea of what’s going on before we finally take the chalice to the gold castle and take our boots off for good.

The Dead Dilemma

Danzi and Magzi

The Danzi and Magzi of Yesteryearzi.

Back in the early aughts, I was touring with some of my favorite people in the world, Maggi, Pierce, and E.J.  Someday I’ll chronicle the adventures we had together, such as the benefit we crashed, holding hands with the fundamentalist record distributor, and my seedy past as the stripper Psycho Ginger; but today I want to focus on a phenomenon I encountered frequently on tour.  Our days were loosely structured: wake up around noon, grab a bite to eat, drive to the next venue, soundcheck, play until around 1am, get in around 3, sleep until noon, repeat.  While there was downtime, it wasn’t easy to predict when it would be, so it was hard to plan for downtime activities.  Most of the time it would be a few moments here and there that would just pop up.

On one hand, I was constantly having new adventures and playing music I loved every night.  However, I found myself missing the ability to plan my own time and the structure that comes with it.  I would plan projects for when I got done the tour, such as specific practice schedules, opportunities to put myself out there and make some money, and other creative endeavors.  When the tour would end though, I wouldn’t have the same influx of creative input, and I would quickly settle back into established patterns in which I would accomplish very little.

It all reminds me of the They Might Be Giants song “Dead,” in which grocery shopping is an oblique metaphor for life.  It has the wonderful line:

Now it’s over, I’m dead, and I haven’t done anything that I want
Or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.

This pervasive mindset is not just frustrating or depressing.  I find it outright terrifying.  It’s the idea that you can’t trust yourself to work for your own best interests, as at some point you will let yourself down.  And it’s far from a solely tour mentality.

While I’m working my full-time job, I’m fantasizing of everything I can do when I get home.  I can get home, make a good dinner, practice some tuba, maybe work on writing songs, then go to an open mic.  When I get home, though, I’m exhausted, and I have just enough energy to make a quick dinner, talk to some friends, and browse the web.  If I have an event coming up, I might set aside some time to practice, but otherwise I often can’t bring myself to do it.

Granted, a full-time job does sap a fair amount of my energy, so I feel justified in taking some time to unwind.  Downtime, I’m learning, is vital to allow me to rejuvenate and approach my projects with new perspectives.  However, then I start to tread some dangerous ground.  If I believe my job is the thing that’s keeping me from have the energy to focus on the areas in which I want to improve, would I still feel that way if I left that job?  Or will I fall right back into the patterns and find something else to “exhaust” me?

I found a corollary to this concept recently involving practice.  I have difficulty making the time to practice on any given day.  Over the past weekend, I began to get excited about practice and improving after listening to some particularly inspiring players and getting involved with some new ensembles.  Last night I had a great time playing around on the sousaphone trying to play some of those thick, flowy NOLA brass band grooves , and I was making some great progress!  On Wednesday, though, I’m heading to a gaming conference, and I’m not bringing my sousaphone (you’re all welcome!).  I have to ask myself the question, did I get excited about playing because I knew there would be no way for me to maintain steady practice?  Would I have gotten excited to play if I weren’t going to be in a position where I couldn’t play?  Or bluntly, am I just fucking with myself?

I’m trying to balance this lack of predictability with order.  I’ve been trying to plan out my days a little bit better to make sure I have time set aside to accomplish what I want to.  I’m also marking my downtime into my scheduling.  One potential issue is that my tendency is to set a basic outline for a weekly schedule and just follow it.  I think this might be the kind of thing that needs weekly reevaluation to account for the particular tasks I have on a given week.  The idea seems like an all-encompassing vortex, slowly eating away my free time until my weeks are spent planning when I’m going to schedule the scheduling of my my week.  I don’t know that I can trust myself to do any less than that.

At least, though, I’m in the process of breaking some of the patterns I have.  There are plenty of methods for accomplishing our goals; I just have to find the one that works for me.  And to be fair, I’ve accomplished quite a bit so far this year alone, what with my CD, podcast, website, this here blog here, etc.  That spectre of the “Dead Dilemma” always feels like it’s right around the corner, though.  I’m hoping that this time around, order can conquer entropy and I can feel like I’m actually in control of what I’m doing.

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