Try to Lose Some Sleep

1986 Changed my life. I remember being exposed to the Beastie Boys’ album “Licensed to Ill.” I didn’t know what half of the lyrics meant. I didn’t understand to what degree the vulgarity extended. There was something in the beat and feeling of the music that spoke to me. I could ignore the lyrics, but I couldn’t ignore the genre.  I could scarcely listen to anything else.

My world of make believe included hours and hours of rapping in my mind. I wasn’t really “rapping” – I had no command of the English language. I would pretend I was on stage in front of thousands of fans. My verses had a ton of repetition using only the handful of words I could get to rhyme…but my “fans” didn’t seem to mind so I kept my songs on repeat (therein lies a great lesson – maybe for another day).

I grew up on East Coast “Boom Bap” Hip Hop (so VERY different from today’s mainstream sound). I loved the “underground” scene where rappers (properly referred to as emcees) did it strictly for the love. Money and fame didn’t matter, but authenticity and originality did.  I wanted nothing more than to be “that guy.”

Unfortunately, it was out of my reach. I was too poor and wouldn’t even know where to begin even if I did have a few bucks. I made my first track with a kid down the street from me in 1997. He had a pretty decent home studio that he set up in his bedroom. He made a quick beat and we both sang over it. I’m embarrassed by it now, but it was so cool back then. More than ever I knew that someday I would have my own home studio.

I started in 2014 with a few iPad apps. I was amazed at how far technology had come! In 2015 I got a midi keyboard (MPK49) and FL Studio software (it had come a long way since 97′) but I didn’t fall in love with it. A month or two passed and I purchased a “Maschine Mikro” by Native Instruments. This was MUCH closer to what I was looking for. The studio continued to grow, turntable, audio interface, microphone, mixer, crates of records and studio monitors (speakers). Many days consisted of a short 10-30 minute session of sampling a record, chopping it into a beat and laying over some drums, some days I scored, other days I failed miserably, but I rarely took my foot off the gas. I learned a TON, but I knew I was just scratching the surface.

My Maschine Mikro served me well. But as of last month, it is in “nursing home status” – ready to die. After many, many hours of playing, the buttons now stick (as expected for an entry level product). Which brings me to today. Meet Ableton Live w/Push 2.

Bose

When I make a large purchase I study it out carefully. I sleep on it. I debate. I consider every option from every angle. I downloaded every major DAW (digital audio workstation) and took them for a test drive in an effort to find the next adjacent step for my musical growth.

Ableton Live came last. I had ZERO hope that I would want this DAW.  But, none of the others really impressed me, so I had to try it. Boy, was I wrong! I knew within the first five minutes that this would be my present and future platform for music production.

THE APPLICATION: We have a sign hanging in our home that reads, “DO WHAT YOU LOVE.” I strive diligently to apply this. I have learned a better way to explain it. “DO WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT.” Music production gets me excited, to the point that I can hardly sleep. It makes my heart beat faster. It makes me happy to know I am making my own dream a reality. I want to give back to the underground scene everything I took from it and more. I want to keep it alive because it is so much a part of who I am.

THE CHALLENGE: What gets you so excited that you can’t sleep at night? What activity do you do that causes you to skip eating because of deep satisfaction? Find it, do it, commit to it! Doing the thing that keeps you awake at night will add a new and unbelievable dimension to your life. Stop procrastinating!

Three Lessons From Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong earned the distinction of being the first man to walk on the moon. What can we learn from him?  Here are my three takeaways.

Armstrong joined the U.S. Navy in 1949 as an aviator and flew combat missions up until 1952. In the last two years of that service, he flew 78 combat missions over Korea. He transitioned to the U.S. Naval Reserve and remained there for eight years until resigning from his commission in 1960. During his time in the Navy, Armstrong logged a total of 2,600 hours in flight, including 1,100 in jet aircraft. He later became an astronaut and the rest is history.

(1)  Find passion in what you do. Would Neil Armstrong have landed on the moon if he did not find a passion for being airborne? Would he have had the confidence to go into unknown territory if he had not risked his life in 78 combat missions? He not only went into outer space but did so with the intent of walking on the moon. I wonder if the thought of “moon walking” ever occurred to him during his first combat flight over Korea. Try not to think about just “getting through the day” but how everything we do can lead to something much bigger than initially supposed.

(2) Contemplate boundaries. Armstrong’s accomplishments reveal so much about boundaries, both literal and perceived. The early colonists in 1775 (at the time of the Navy’s birth) were virtually landlocked.  To the west, they were smothered by thriving forests. To the east, they had the ocean (a mighty long swim before finding a substantial land mass). They may have viewed either direction as their “outer space”, an unknown distance of unexplored territory on one hand and uncharted fathoms of a deadly ocean on the other, not to mention any number of unsympathetic enemies found in both human and animal form. We ought to take inventory of our boundaries, again both literal and perceived. Strive to gain and maintain a firm grasp on the territory in which you may legally operate while keeping in the back of your mind the possibility of breaking out and doing the impossible. America’s early settlers weren’t thinking about exploring the far side of the moon any more than Niel Armstrong was thinking about the world wide web. What possibilities do we presently overlook?

(3) Take a trip for yourself. I personally will never travel to the moon, at least not in a physical sense.  That does not mean I can’t let my mind wander (preferably not at a red light).  For me, it is important to take creative mental expeditions. Refuse to let your mind grow stale. Feed your brain with daily “combat missions.”  Don’t just “veg out” in front of the TV and let others do the thinking for you, don’t be a couch potato.  Find ways to do some mental moonwalking such as book exploration, blogging, journaling, meditation, yoga or some type of art or music. Do whatever it is that sets your mind free and allow yourself time to think outside the box.  Yes, there are infinite prospects to your left and right – just be sure to “look up” from time to time in order to find those overlooked possibilities.

 

Photo by possan

Say Cheese

The fear of public speaking is common knowledge. But I have been pondering a not so common apprehension, that of having a picture taken.

It is fascinating that we live in an age where cameras are as commonplace as people, yet some folks manage to go years at a time without having a photograph taken (at least consciously).

For whatever it’s worth, fame is associated with photos. Watching a press conference these days is unbearable. Each reporter sprays a camera as if it were a machine gun. I wonder, is it possible to make a massive global impact in the modern era without being subject to some mug shots?

On the flip side of this coin are the BILLIONS of selfies taken each year. To me, this is an alarming statistic. Selfies are a counterfeit attempt to turn inward. The camera may be facing the user, but only for a brief moment, and ultimately in exchange for the selfish currency of “likes, shares, comments, and downloads.”

“Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths.”

– David Foster Wallace

As a portrait photographer myself, I naturally find portraits to be the happy medium. I love to look at photos of my grandfather where he painstakingly set up a tripod and timer to capture a memory on film for the sake of influencing future posterity. A couple of these images are worth more than 1,000 selfies.

THE CHALLENGE:

(1) When a camera is pointed your way, “say cheese”.

(2) If you point your camera towards yourself more than at other people, consider evaluating your life and motives.

(3) If you are out for a payload of fame, remember that as fame increases so do the flashes in your eyes. Eventually, you’ll need a few kazillion photos – taken by other people. Google your name, if you find a bunch of pics that you took yourself…I have some bad news. Try redirecting your efforts to add value to society FIRST and THEN see what happens.

(4) Find something to say “no” to. Determine where you draw your line in the sand. If people can go a lifetime saying, “get that camera out of my face” you can too. Maybe your “camera” is debt, an unfavorable habit, or egocentric behavior. Whatever it is, act immediately, and tell it to get out of your face!

Photo by John Lucia

Google’s Frenemies

This line, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is so worn out it hurts.  But there is wisdom here. This quote has stood the test of time (not that I know its origination or anything – so don’t believe the hype).

My personality type lends itself to getting along with anyone. I look for the best in people. I give lots of second chances. My good friend Travon described this tendency as finding the “bird with the broken wing.” I nurture the bird until it is ready to fly again. It helps that I know how to apply a little saliva and that I understand concepts like popcorn payoff and quadrilateral leadership. The last time I considered someone an enemy was in Jr. High School (Don’t worry Helga, I forgive you…wherever you are). I keep a handful of close friends and the rest are neutral. It is very liberating to live life like this.

THE CHALLENGE: Think of yourself like the Google search engine. Type “search” into Google and what is the first result? Yahoo Search! Crazy right? I can type “Bing” in a Google search bar and with the click of a mouse, mosey on over to Google’s competition.

I can type in “Google conspiracy”, “Google lies” and even go way out on a limb with “Google is the devil.” Guess what? There are results for all of these. Why would a company allow the risk of slandering it’s own reputation?

Google doesn’t care and neither should you, I know I don’t! For as much as we rely on Google, we sure haven’t learned much from it. She is the perfect example of holding both friends and enemies close by.

“When you don’t care about your reputation you tend to have a good one.”
– Nassim Taleb

Paper Text

Do you remember when business cards were in vogue?  Okay, maybe you still use them (but not for long). How about Trapper Keepers or My Pet Monster?

Who doesn’t periodically reminisce on trends from the past? So many things have come and gone. I wonder why they have to go. Why were my favorite cartoons not good enough to catch on? Why don’t my kids know what a G.I. Joe is? Why did music change so radically? Is this because of contract obligations, licensing agreements or the rising generation’s need to be original? I guess I will never know.

Long before the digital age we used to “email” by putting pen to paper. We had pen-pals! Life was so slow that we would actually write strangers (sometimes across the globe)  as part of our school work. It would take many days or even weeks before getting a response.

Our “text message” used to be a physical note passed during class when the teacher wasn’t looking. Sometimes the note was exchanged in the hallway or slipped into someone’s locker. I’m not sure if the youth still do this, but I imagine the great majority of communication is via smart phone.

Today (during a meeting) I received a text message.  It was a photo of a study guide and an emoji – thumbs up.  My response was also an emoji – baby bottle. Except to the senders, both messages were vague, cloudy and superficial…ESPECIALLY mine!

I later wondered what this communication would have looked like in an “old school” format. If we put pencil to paper and passed it along, I believe the message would have been much different. The “smart” phones that we rely so heavily upon do a really good job at keeping us “not-so-smart”. We get so used to taking shortcuts that we often slice off the horn of our entire message! On the flip side, sometimes we replace “chat” with “text“. Though, these should never be confused. Our time evaporates typing a lengthy message that would otherwise only take a few seconds to speak.

Class notes were somewhat ideal, given their era. In general terms, they required two way communication. The receiver was usually happy to receive the memo. The message was sufficiently succinct. Dialogue was often very open – just consider all the blushing faces when the teacher would snatch a note off of someone’s desk!

THE CHALLENGE: If applicable, think back to your school days. If notes were as easy as text messaging is now, who would you ping? What would you write? Do you wish there was someone you had sent a note/message to but didn’t?

Next time you are in a meeting, think about who you might want to message. If the gathering happens to be with a group of strangers you can skip the whole business card thing and just ask for their number. Tell them you might reach out for their opinion during the lecture or conference.

Forget the “status updates.” Forget the spam! Nobody cares about “the weather.” What clear message can you send? How can you add value? If this were a handwritten note, would it be different? How so? What meaningful dialogue can you start? Consider that our present text messaging age will eventually be a thing of the past, something future bloggers will reminisce over. Will you wish you had established a friendship with someone while you still had frenzied fingers?

Maybe the opposite is true. For you social butterflies, maybe you need to cut back. Almost every note passed now is “caught by the teacher.” The teacher is social media.  The teacher is your profile. The chalkboard is now digital and our names are on it. Are your kids wondering why you pass notes all day instead of paying attention in class? Where is your middle ground? I challenge you to find it and exploit it!

Photo by hundrednorth

Law of the Beak

A bill of sale is a document that records a transaction between two parties. But let’s explore a different kind of bill, the type found on a bird. 

Birds differ in shape, size, color and song. But there is always one constant between the various species. Birds lay eggs, the eggs hatch and the chicks get fed.

Hatchlings don’t get to choose what they eat. I’ve never seen a bird turn up its beak over a slimy worm the way a young child might do over a piece of broccoli.  Instinctively, the hatchlings know they need vast amounts of nourishment in order to survive. They will take anything they can get.

As humans, we may be unlike the birds when it comes to food. But we are no less dependent upon the bill of sale. This transaction takes place when a parent opens its beak to feed us the traditions of the past – sometimes correct, and sometimes completely off base.

We are hungry birds waiting to be fed. We often don’t know what we want until someone shows us. It’s not until the new phone, or the new movie, or the new car, or the new fashion comes out that we believe we need it.  So, we sit in the nest and squawk. More, more, more!  Another beak comes along and vomits out a new diet, a new drug , a new scientific study, a new religion, a new political party, a new gadget or new learned behavior…we settle down in the nest, feeling full, but only for a short moment.  We soon yearn for the next delivery. 

Every commercial and every ad, includes a bird beak waiting to feed you…waiting to make that bill of sale.  There are plenty of beaks and there is no shortage of food.  

Perhaps every child has said “I wish I could fly.”  But fly we will never do, so long as we are squawking for more! 

Horse Power Vs. Horsepower

Recently I took my daughter treasure hunting at the swap meet. While commuting on the highway we got stuck behind a horse trailer towed by a shiny red pickup truck. The horse stood as if in prison. We couldn’t help but wonder what the horse would say if it could speak to us.

At the swap meet we encountered dozens of artifacts and books depicting man’s relationship to this beautiful animal.

How interesting it is to live in a time where we now pull the horse. If past generations could enjoy what we now take for granted, what would they do with it? How is it that we can ever complain?

We can now trade four legs for four wheels and with mechanical horse power sit in a climate controlled box rich in safety features, and while listening to music, be directed turn by turn, to roll our (lazy) selves to another box filled with isles and isles of groceries. We can lock our modern ‘horses’ up with the click of a button, yet we still fight for the closest spot at the shopping center – and, ironically…even the gym.