Wednesday, December 31, 2014

the obligatory end of the year summation

With less than five hours left in the year, the time seems right to come to terms with the year that was. I normally am not one for too much sentimentality, but as someone who has committed to catalog his life in a public forum, I feel I owe it to my readers...both of them.

There has been a lot of bummer events this year. Gout is not fun. Surgery one was not fun. Surgery two was measurably worse. Neither was cheap. I'm still working under my 2010 contract, so I haven't had a raise in the last few years. My car already has had major repair work and has more major reconstruction in its future. All these add up to enough expense to kill push my dream of home ownership back another year.

In spite of all of these, I am actually in a fine mood. Yes, I've had occasional flare-ups, but my depression is at its most managed state ever. I released a solo album (available online). My daughter keeps getting more and more fun, and my wife seems to still like me for some reason.

There are (of course) things which need changing. I need to figure out how to expand my musical fanbase; I'm fiercely proud of my music, and I really want to share it more effectively. I would love to get back into photography and actually use that DSLR camera gathering dust in my closet. And I need to find some more friends...I go too long between hanging out with people.

Overall, though, I'm not too shabby...and that is a nice feeling.

emergency TheMikeDuBose show this Friday!

Once again, I get an emergency show at Howard's Club H in Bowling Green! I play this Friday (1/2/15) with Good Personalities and Chris MtCastle. I haven't seen Good Personalities yet, but Chris played with me the other week, and he's fun. We got a Merle Haggard cover! I'll have a bunch of originals for you, including many off my album Skeleton Coast. I'll have copies for sale, or you can get it online as a pay-what-you-want (even free) download at Bandcamp! If you're in Northwest Ohio, I would love to see you there!

Monday, December 29, 2014

testing zen

New Years Eve is the day after tomorrow, and I have no plans. None. This hasn't happened since junior high. I was invited to a party a few weeks ago, but all traces of the event have disappeared from social media...for me, at least.

Two days after that, I will be playing a show at Howard's Club H (my favorite bar in the world). This will be the first of three January shows.

These two have to balance out, right?


my 2014 best of music and media

  1. The Both, s/t
I've been a big Aimee Mann fan for a long time, but her last two albums have been...well, let's say “dull.” This one crackles from minute one.
  1. Counting Crows, Somewhere Under Wonderland
The best thing this band has done in ages. This is fun and loose...and I suspect that if it was any other band in the world, this would be ranked a lot higher in the general population. Plus let's face it: the song “Elvis Went to Hollywood” alone should earn them props.
  1. Centromatic, Take Pride in Your Long Odds
Damnit, why do so many bands break up right after I start to really get them?
  1. TheMikeDuBose, Skeleton Coast
Is it self-serving to put my own album on my top ten list? Sure. Selfish? Undoubtedly. But this has had the largest impact on my understanding of music of any album. It would be ranked higher, but I heard it so much in the recording process... Available on Bandcamp.
  1. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else
Lydia is something else, and she's firing on all cylinders. Also, I met Todd May this year, and he was just too cool.
  1. Against Me!, Transgender Dysmorphia Blues
Politically, this would be one of the most important albums released in recent history. But forget all that. Against Me! just really rocks on this one.
  1. Band of Skulls, Himalayan
I've got a soft spot for these guys. Much more solid than their last album.
  1. Mastodon, Once More 'Round the Sun
I like the variety of The Hunter a bit more than this one, but this is still really cool.
  1. Kitty Glitter, Meow Hear This
Personal choice, but these guys just bring a really nice mix of pop sensibility and heaviness. Available via Bandcamp.
  1. Flaming Hot Marbles, We Play For Keeps
Prog rock meets good rock and roll. These guys are one of my favorite area bands and one of my favorite overall. Available via Bandcamp.

Also: Black Swamp Casket Company, Fish Fisher, TroubleGiant demos.

Disappointments: Ryan Adams (I generally like him, but snoozeville this time), Tweedy (gotta love the guy, but honestly, I haven't cared for much after Sky Blue Sky), The Hold Steady (horrible production).

Film of the year: Grand Budapest Hotel

TV of the year: Agents of SHIELD (man, did season one pick up)

Book of the year: Information Doesn't Want to be Free by Cory Doctorow (essential reading for anyone in the arts)

an exercise in theory

Today was the kind of day where nothing seemed all that interesting. This usually means television time, but in spite of having three streaming services, I struggled to find anything to pique my interest.

Eventually, I settled on home improvement television...and, as I write, I am on the eighth episode of Home Again. This is the series Bob Villa did after leaving This Old House. I wanted to watch the original TOH, but it doesn't seem to be available beyond the current season (which I finished last week). I've seen these all before, but it has been a while...and I do have an obsessive streak.

I actually know an awful lot about home improvement. This knowledge does not come, however, from personal experience. I rent rather than own (having my own place is a dream which recedes with every car repair and surgical bill), and although I worked briefly in construction, my job as an asphalt pigmentation application specialist (painting lines on parking lots) doesn't really translate. I have, however, watched an awful lot of home improvement television...and that's gotta count for something, right?

There was a time when I expected my second or third scholarly book to be about the phenomenon of home improvement television. The scholarly life, however, is long gone. I still kinda remember what I was gonna argue, but I can't really bring myself to dwell on it while I watch the in this sense, these shows are as inapplicable to my current situation as is the repair hints angle.

So here I am, continually watching my (now ninth episode of ) Home Again for no apparent reason. Even I cannot figure out exactly what is keeping me sucked in. Is there really a point to watching this? There has to be more exciting programming available...and I have no real need of even more completely irrelevant, impractical theoretical knowledge.

Maybe, when you cannot actually try, there's some value to suspecting that, if given a shot, you might stand a chance of succeeding. Maybe that's enough.

I've told myself this on numerous occasions, for many different reasons, on many different subjects, though...and it's never really satisfying.

Friday, December 26, 2014

holiday recap

We spent yesterday at my sister's place. Some observations:
  • On the car ride, we discovered my 3.5 year old likes Band of Gypsies. I knew she was cool, but this just rockets her to another level. She was jammin'.
  • A scary sorta in-law did make an appearance...but he was quite fine. The only thing he did that really bugged me was him taking about 23 minutes every time he had to take a turn in euchre. This came close to pushing me into a blind fit of rage.
  • My Michigan nephew was brow-beaten into playing Christmas carols on his tuba. This, while weird enough on its own, was nothing compared to when my 3.5 year old daughter decided to accompany him on piano and vocals. Wondrous and hilarious.
  • I got the coolest of all possible gifts: a quilted Space Invader!This, of course, means that I win case you were wondering.
  • I got to sit next to my Florida dinner became a long attempt to make him laugh/look at me weird. He's really a great guy. I just wish I got to see him more often.
  • When one has been mostly vegetarian since August, prime rib (no matter how tasty) might not be the best option. I've felt sluggish ever since.
  • There was only one offensive part of the whole day: when one of the extended family said that fascism and socialism were both always evil. This didn't offend my morality so much as make my head hurt.
  • When the nephews don't really want their Atari Flashback 5, it's good to be in the right place at the right time.


The parents are coming to stay with us for a few days, so it's time to do all the cleaning and organization our 3.5 year old usually doesn't allow us to pursue. For me, the major labor of such tasks is mainly mental triage...I do this, then this, then this.

The major difficulty I've found cropping up in this household when I apply such an approach is that my triage expression is, according to my wife, indistinguishable from my "I'm about to have a mental breakdown" face. This of course means my carefully planned labor is generally delayed by my need to repeatedly say, "No, I'm okay," "No, I don't need to lie down," or "While a therapist might indeed be a wise idea, I don't actually need an emergency appointment... but thanks anyway."

Friday, December 19, 2014

the last 2014 TheMikeDuBose

Tonight, I play what's probably my last show of the year. It's been an interesting year. I've played a decent number of shows. I played my first music festival. I finally assembled my own backing band for the occasion...which broke up a few days later. I finished recording an album, Skeleton Coast, which was released to great acclaim (hey, it could've happened) and sold twos of copies.

I play at Howard's at 10. I'll be doing a bunch of stuff off the album, which I will have for sale. I'll be doing my Christmas song "Xmas in the Drunk Tank," and I've also learned a version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" with the original, highly depressing lyrics. I have a trombonist joining me.

Come join me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

sometimes you eat the bear

Life is always full of pluses and minuses. Last night, I was in a bad mood...a "slay walruses" kind of mood. Then I went to do some writing.While there, the bartender told me she thought my flyer for this weekend's show was (and I quote) "freakin' sweet." Then I came home, and my daughter (who really should've been in bed) came running to the door, arms spread open, to give me a "welcome home" hug.

Today, I had to drop by my daughter's day care on the way to work to give them a check. My daughter's home sick, and when the kids heard that, I heard a few "aww"s...even though she's only been going there a few weeks. I get to work, and I get a call from the hospital. I found out two things:
  1. the last few bills haven't been reaching me, and I have an outstanding balance; and
  2. my insurance helped my surgery bills, but I still have a sizable amount of money due.
This last one is pretty depressing, because we were hoping to get into a house this summer. Then I find out that, for this weekend's show, I might have musical accompaniment...which is cool. I have two students scheduled for the "I have questions about my final grade" talk. However, neither of them are whiners or criers (I usually get some of each).

Right now, I'm trying to figure out to which side I currently reside on the ole ledger sheet. What impact all this might have on the rest of the day? Should I let this affect what I have for lunch?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TheMikeDuBose plays at Howards this weekend!

Want to come see the TheMikeDuBose acoustic act but haven't had the opportunity? Well, wait no more! I play this Friday at Howard's Club H in Bowling Green. I go on at 10 (with possible allowances for bar time). I'll be playing a nice selection of original songs, including many from my album Skeleton Coast.

As it's the season, I'll probably also be playing my original Christmas song for the first time since last January! It's called "Christmas in the Drunk Tank." It's only sorta inspired by real life events, promise! I'm also going to work up a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" but with the original lyrics. Before Judy Garland did it, it was a real upper; the original opening line is "Have yourself a merry little may be your last."

A fun time will be had. The other players are great, and I'm not too shabby either!

what becomes of a formerly social institution

I'm at Howards. When I was a grad student, we made a point of trying to get out and socialize on at least one, instead of standard drunken weekend activities, we could have one night to discuss our new academic life outside the confines of schoolwork...when we weren't actively trying to avoid school talk. Eventually, this started happening here, at this bar. Then we settled on Tuesdays. It became one of my institutions. More than anything or anywhere else, it became my place and time to make and be with friends.

This tradition continued on for years, with people joining in and leaving when they finally moved on with their lives. But more always came to take their places. The drinks flowed, the conversations rambled, and release was certainly had by many. We kept it going on so long, I was sure it would never end.

But then it did end.  I kept finding myself by myself but not sure why.

And yet I'm still here. My focus changed from exploratory critical thinking to group socializing to now solitary writing. I now have a beard with gray hairs. I have my own mug at this bar even though I now don't drink. The bartenders all know and seem to like me...we talk as they pour my cran juice and water. I still go to my same seat at the same table, but instead of being surrounded by friends and colleagues, the only patrons I now see are the girls who come in to practice their hula hoop dance moves.

I still am having problems figuring out how all this happened. I went from being the weird kid who no one wanted to hang out with, to carving out a circle of friends in spite of my introversion, to moving across the country and carving out another group of friends, to doing that time and time again as people filtered in and out of this town, to discovering I was really an extrovert held back by my clinical depression, to getting as mentally healthy as I've ever been, to now finding myself with hardly anyone who wants to hang out.

I also still don't understand the hula hoop dancers. I doubt I ever will.

At least the bar's still hope's still also here.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

ten years of bloggage

Ten years ago today, I was one year out of getting my Ph.D. I was on the job market with a vengeance. Someone told me the average Ph.D. took 5-7 years after earning the degree to get a tenure-track job, and although I had very little luck up until that point, I was determined to beat that average. To that end, I was working to finish my grading so I could start on the several papers which would keep me an active scholar, which would help land that job for which I'd been training for years. Most days, though, my brave "I'm going to make it" facade hid cracks, and, instead of working, I would mostly focus on trying to hold myself together. The idea of never making it was one I tried constantly to tamp down, but it would explode at irregular intervals and knock me on my ass...sort of like Old Faithful...but random...and full of poison.

Nowadays, I tend not to think about the job market all that much. The last time I did scholarship, it was for a book for a conference I did not even attend. It was a revision of an article which failed to find a publisher years before, when it would've been somewhat notable. A friend wanted it, though, so I went to work. I was struck by two things. First, it was a surprisingly good paper. I was shocked to see the level at which I used to think. Simply put, I had serious game. Second, nothing about the process was fun. It was slow, it was nitpicky, it was laborious. I'd long past the time when I could deal with the delayed (if at all) gratification of the job market. If revising that paper did nothing else for me, it let me know the scholarship part of my life was long gone.

Ten years ago today, I was finishing up one semester of part-time teaching and planning the next. I had almost finished the grading, which required my mind to jump back and forth from discipline to discipline...none of which were ones in which I was trained. Every class seemed like a barrier between me and what I planned to be doing. Worse still, I felt completely disconnected from each of the places I worked. On my last day at any campus on any semester, I realized (and sometimes hoped) I would never step foot in those buildings again. This was juxtaposed in a frightening way by me only having two classes the next semester, and that was not enough. I was sliding further and further into debt, but having my income cut in half would've been catastrophic. And this just further pushed me down.

Now, I am settled. I've been in my non-tenure job long enough that my label is Senior Lecturer. The "lecturer" part surprises no one who knows me, but the "senior" part is a little different. Although I still moan about the grading load from time to time, I've generally gotten the job down pat. I can do any class they want, and I've made them all work well for me. I get along with my colleagues. Generally, I know what I'm doing, and I feel I'm making a difference in the that's good. I don't make a ton of money, but I've got good benefits and a nice secure retirement. The idea that I'll do this job for 20-25 more years and then retire to, I dunno, continue to play music and maybe take another stab at writing a's something with which I'm comfortable.

Ten years ago today, I was still feeling transient. I'd always assumed I'd live in Bowling Green until I'd finished my degree, and then I would be onto another place. I'd already hit that planned time limit and was feeling antsy. So many of my friends had moved on...why hadn't I? That my life had been on hold was one of the things contributing to my fragile state.

Now, I never lay awake at night and wonder where I'm going to end up; rather, I love being in this town. I love the idea that my child will grow up here. I've already introduced her to so much stuff I love, and I look forward to helping her discover more about this great area. Her eyes light up when I tell her we're going to the diner, to the park, to so many other places.

Ten years ago today, I felt creatively disconnected. I would run from class to class. I was almost done with the semester, and when the school year ended, I would work like hell on scholarship. When I would see my guitar in passing, I would think back to what it felt to just lose myself in the instrument. I would remember my teenage dreams of playing with others...and they felt as distant as my dreams of becoming a professor seemed on my worse days.

Now, I have started planning the set for my next solo show at an area music festival, for which I have assembled a backing band. I'm excited, because I get to break out my electric guitar again, pair it with my new amp, and let loose. Later this week, I get back to my acoustic, which is cool, because I've had riffs and lyrics floating in my head for the last few weeks, and I gotta get them out. On Wednesday, my band continues recording our album. And, as I write this, there's a photo of one of my past bands hanging over my computer desk. I've started back on this blog. The upshot of this is that, most of the time, my head is buzzing with ideas that I just have to get out.

Ten years ago today, I was working such a wacky schedule, that me and my wife frequently saw each other in passing. When I wasn't teaching, I was grading or doing frantic class prep. When I took breaks from this work, I was frequently too tired to do anything other than fall onto the couch and look at her.

Now, I'm trying like hell to finish this grading so I can be with her. I also have a wonderful 3.5 year old daughter who I can hear running up and down the hallway. Every so often, she will come in the study to give me a sticker, an imaginary cup of tea, or a hug.

Ten years ago today, I lived in constant expectations of feeling awful. I would feel like I was being smothered. Any optimism I had would implode, and I'd fixate on all the ways I was doomed. This blackness was tidal yet random, and it always threatened to drown any interactions. I had briefly been on antidepressants before, but I had no health insurance, so I couldn't even afford the doctor's visit to get a new prescription. However, I could fix this myself by working a little harder, getting a job, and ending the poverty-stricken transience which was my life.

Now, I'm quite comfortable admitting that I have a mental disease. I'm on medication, and I will be for the rest of my life...and thank the sky chicken for that, because I am much closer to the person I want to be now than at any time in my life.. And while I still have turns, they are much shorter and less frequent. I can honestly say that I love my life, that it is better than it's ever been in most ways.

Ten years ago today, at 4:15pm, I started writing this blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the state of the world in which we live

Today, I have seem at least two articles on how to defeat the DRM in the new Keureg machines. Think about it: is a world where people have to circumvent copy protection in their $125+ single serving coffee maker really one in which you want to live? Sometimes, I have my doubts.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

On jealousy and turtles

Sometime over the last couple of months, my daughter became a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While I as a teen wore a Leonardo shirt a friend made in high school graphics class, I was never really a huge fan growing up. I wasn't into comics at the time, and the first incarnation of the show was just way too little kid for my taste.

My daughter became exposed to the new Turtles show when she saw them whilst I was flipping around Hulu. I thought it might be a bit old for her (she's only 3 1/2, after all), but my girl disagreed and soon became an addict. One day, I decided to pay attention to it, and I soon became hooked as well. It's just a clever, fun show.

My daughter has a plush Raphael. It is, she's informed me, her 23 year old brother. She likes to regale me with their adventures. On the way home from day care yesterday, I learned how he likes to climb pine trees to harvest pine cones. He painted one rainbow and planted it, and it grew into a rainbow-colored tree. They also keep his toy box on the top of one such tree. Then they took a bath in the pond outside the tree, which wasn't cold because it had a hot water tap. Then the adventure got unusual.

Today, we were playing nap. My daughter insisted on napping with Raphael instead of me, and for the briefest of moments, I become sadly jealous...of a stuffed turtle.

Fatherhood is weird.

Monday, December 08, 2014

if I were king...

If I were king, Black Friday sales would still be allowed. Any vendor caught selling any object in a color other than black, however, would be publicly flogged.

(first in an ongoing series)

on belief

In my recent post if I were a filmmaker, one of the things the narrator mentions is how Edgar Wright will not miss an opportunity to use every tool at his disposal to both advance the story and to make the audience laugh. The narrator compares this to other filmmakers, who he calls "lazy" in comparison. Now, I can't speak for the filmmakers in question, but I suspect that any laziness is probably tied to a lack of real confidence.

Quite often, I tell my students that it is hard work rather than brains or natural talent which will cause them to succeed. This is true, but I suspect confidence is equally key. Whenever I've approached anything with timidity, that lack of ooomph tends to lead to me making every silly mistake at my disposal. Acting as if I'm confident helps me not make mistakes...or, if I do screw up, tends to make others either ignore or gloss over them.

Before I started teaching, I was talking to one of my MA professors. He told me that before his first class, one of his professors sat him down and said, "Just remember, Bill, you're smarter than them." Personally, I would amend that to say "for all they know, you're smarter than them"...and if they think you're smarter, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. It's good advice, and I found it particularly valuable before I finally got this teaching thing down. Hell, whenever I do a new day, I still live by that mantra.

But it's not just teaching. Music? If I act like I'm in command of the stage, then I am.When I'm taking photos, I just act as if I'm self-assured. When I write, I hit the keyboard with zeal. Sure, I quite often don't actually feel that confidence, but faking it seems to make all the difference in the world...although I sometimes wonder if this puts off some of the people with whom I've played. If I'm faking confidence effectively, I could possibly look like a raging egomaniac. On the other hand, if I admit to myself I don't know what I'm doing, then I just sit in the corner, mope, and try to lull myself out of a state of panic...and this probably looks to outside observers as if I'm stuck up. Sometimes, you just can't win.

Yeah, I know that this boils down to "believe in yourself, and others will believe in you." Yes, I realize how new age/hippie-ish this sounds. But it actually has worked for me, and I normally hate any hippie-ish approach. Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age. Or maybe this is a side-effect of me becoming a vegetarian.

on learning opportunities

If there really is some superior force out there in the universe, who has a hand in our actions, I can only assume that this semester, he/she/it has been occupying his/her/its time by seeing how much he can test me. Really, with the pseudo-gout, kidney stone, and now intestinal virus (which I got from my wife, who must've caught it from one of her advisees), I have felt the toll of the year. Luckily, though, for each strike against me, there is a learning opportunity.

Today's lesson: before work, I had to stop by the grocery store to pick up some medication to control Here, I learned several things:
  1. While I thought the store greeters were monotone before, the ones who work the morning shift are positively comatose. I do my best to talk to them as if they're people, and the greeters usually respond. This one? I strongly suspect he was a fairly bored robot. The lesson? There's always a more boring job out there.

  2. While walking back to the medicine aisle, I saw that they are now selling McDonald's K-cup coffee pods. The idea of the pod coffee system (one that removes user control of all the key elements) is bad enough. That people buy a $125 machine which takes specialty coffee pods which average $25-50 a pound is worse. That people then use that to replicate the coffee they get at McDonald's? Bleedin' frightening. The lesson? Sometimes, the William Randolph Hearst dictum "It is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the public" seems increasingly true.
Of course, take all this with a grain of salt. In addition to getting five classes-worth of portfolios in to grade by the end of the week, I am also sick in a relatively gross way. But hey, that's another lesson there, huh? That having chronic diarrhea tends to make one negative?

Some lessons are admittedly better than others.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

if I were a filmmaker

I like to dabble in a variety of arts. Guitar playing, cooking, singing, songwriting, photos, writing...these are all things which I take frightfully at least some degree. However, I do not do film. I'd like to, but I am nowhere near having the time to do so.

This does not mean, however, that I don't like to arm myself with the knowledge to do film...if, at some later date, I magically find myself with an excess of time and money. And if I ever do, you can bet I'm going to apply these lessons:

on the temporary reemergence of a rock band

Currently, I have no regular means of playing electric guitar. I love playing solo shows...but being a troubador is a completely different skill set. I play in an awesome band, but I play banjo. No distortion there.

Distorted guitar is important. It calms me. It makes me open up, creatively speaking. It's energy, it's catharsis, it's antidepressant, it's so much more I cannot come close to vocalizing.

I have a solo show coming in January, and for the set, I've assembled a rhythm section. I will break out my Reverend Jet Stream and my new tube amp. I will be able to bring distortion. I will be able to solo again. Just the very thought of it is...well, it's glorious.

I will be only able to have this version of my backing band The Antidepressants for this one 30 minute set, though...then it's back to the world of acoustic instruments. I'm trying not to think too much of this, however.

So, friends in rock bands, I have this one message: don't take your musical situation for granted. Ever.

on interesting times

We live in what can charitably described as interesting times. I just read a story about how protests of the Eric Garner death have turned violent. If you don't see why this is strange, reevaluate your morals.

Let this roll around in your head a minute. An unarmed man was choked to death by police. It was all caught on camera. The cop was not indicted. People are protesting. There was violence. And somewhere, this is considered news.

Is it really outside of the realm of expectations that someone protesting cops violently strangling some guy on video and getting off without an indictment might say, "hey, maybe chanting and holding a candle might not do it?"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

on lyrics and past feelings

I don't normally share lyrics here, but I think this is a good exception. Last night, I had a song pretty much fall out of me. I was using the restroom, and a chord progression popped into my head. A vague mumbly idea of lyrics quickly followed, and within about a minute, I had the full chorus assembled. I rushed out to the living room and wrote down the chorus. I had a verse about two minutes later...then another...then a bridge...then a second bridge..all in about twenty minutes total. And they were actually pretty solid lyrics, too; when I typed them up today, I hardly had to change anything.

It was lighting quick, yes--something I wish happened more often--but that's not why I'm telling you this.

If you've read anything at all on this blog, you know that my personal failures on the job market have been a recurring issue. It's one of the reasons why I started this blog: to remind myself that, after so many failures, I still was at least a good writer. Over the years, I have reached a place where I am completely at peace with my career. Honestly, I hardly ever think about it.  The other day, though, as I was walking through the building to my car, I saw one of the 80 year old professors in his office...from back in the day when newly minted Ph.D.s were pretty much guaranteed a tenure track position by the time they graduated. Could I, I wondered, ever hope to convince him of what it's like nowadays, where the job market is a crap shoot at best?

I wasn't consciously thinking of this when I wrote the song, but nevertheless, it was obviously bouncing around in my grey matter...because the song is entirely about my failures on the job market. My favorite lines:
now the battle's long gone
and we're the bodies on the ground
ours was but to do or die
victims never make a sound
but I see no poetry
from the fodder's point of view
if I could have the romance beaten out of my head
they can sure as hell do it to you
This is, I wanna make clear, coming from a pretty good place. As I said, I rarely think about it anymore...but I think I needed this distance from those feelings to really capture them. Now hopefully they're out of me.

Let's hope this is one depressing topic I'm done writing about.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

on stupid, stupid rat creatures

When I first encountered Jeff Smith's Bone series, I found it to be revolutionary. Not for the wondrous artwork, surprisingly funny dialog, or the unexpected depth of emotion, narrative, and complexity which continued to reveal itself to the reader. It was for one reason: the inclusion of the stupid, stupid rat creatures.

For those unfamiliar with Bone, I do pity you, but a bit of orientation is required. It is the story of (to employ the brief movie pitch description) three creatures who get lost in a strange valley and find themselves in the midst of a war between several magical species. One of these species is the rat creature. Bone introduces us to them with two deserter soldiers, who are fierce, a little scared, very hungry, and quiche-obsessed all at the same time. From that point on, though, most of the rat creatures are soldiers, dedicated to wiping out the opponents. While the first two are cute in a way, the main body of the rat creature army is downright frightening. None is more scary, though, than their leader: Kingdok.

When I first ran across the drawing of Kingdok, I stopped in my tracks. It was not just because of the excellent character design.  What truly struck me was Kingdok was the closest thing I've ever seen to capturing how I feel my depression monster must appear.

As soon as I realized I suffered from depression, I started to look for metaphors to help explain how the disease makes me feel. It's not easy, because depression is much, much more than feeling sad.  I feel like my body is being smothered with a heavy bag pressing down on me.  I feel the weight on my head and shoulders.  I feel the doom and sadness flowing down on me.  It doesn't matter how I feel about the particular depression triggers, whether they make sense or not.  It's coming to get me, and there's little I can do to avoid it.

With all respect to Toby Allen's wonderful concept, Kingdoc is the perfect embodiment of my depression monster. He inspires the right amount of fear to set me on edge, but he's also imposing enough to know there is no escape from whatever he has planned for me.

I've been battling the depression monster this week. This time, there are many triggers at work, some I'm open about (the failure of my last surgery, another impending surgery, the financial hit of this all, falling behind at work under a pile of never-ending grading, not being able to get solo music shows, not one person I know taking an hour out of their Friday night to come see my band), some I don't want to discuss. And there would be value in discussing many of these.  However, when the depression monster comes, all that goes out the window. Instead, I just feel doomed.

Stupid, stupid depression monster.

Monday, October 20, 2014

on questions better left unasked

In one of the Hitchhiker books, Douglas Adams introduced the idea of "questions where, if you think about them too much, the answers will only drive you insane." One of the major advances I made after my 2011-2012 mental break was to adopt this concept and make it my own.

You see, I've always been a moper. I've been the kind of guy who will dwell on the negative and the difficult, often in a possibly fruitless search for a way to conquer a difficult or nigh-impossible obstacle. This is almost certainly rooted in my depression, yes. But it was not without its benefits. It made me tenacious and bull-headed in my quest to get in and through grad school, for instance.

Part of the problem, though, is that there are walls which one cannot push through, obstacles that, for whatever reason, cannot be overcome. My magnificent failure at the academic job market is a sterling example. I did everything I could do...yet I was crushed by the market regardless. My tenacity could not overcome the dwindling opportunities for scholars in general. And, as I was a dweller, I could not quit analyzing my lack of success...and consequently blaming myself. Being able to shove the whole thing into the "if you think about it, it will only drive you crazy" folder took a very long time, but I eventually learned to let some things go...and became a much happier and healthier person as a result.

But every so often, I have days. Today, on my way from the university to the hospital, I started to think those thoughts even though I knew they would drive me mad. I couldn't stop myself. I don't know if it was the last 4 days grading until 10pm, my current social isolation, or that I was listening on the drive to an album which was on regular rotation during the adjunct hell years. Maybe it was just one of depressive turns. I dunno.

Sometimes, I wish I could just cut certain things out of my brain. Maybe I should just listen to more pop music.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

on being a pseudo-rock star

It occurs to me that, while I play in a cool band and am a solo musician with album, I additionally have a surprisingly extensive pseudo-career.  If you want to get technical about it, I am officially in two other bands: a screamo/experimental heavy band and a folk/metal comedy duo. Neither of them have done anything at all to this point, up to and including playing together. I think in each case we still actively plan to do something, though, so these exist more in the realm of quantum possibility. 

Others are more nebulous. I have also agreed to be in a backing band for a singer/songwriter colleague, but as the singer joined another band, I'm beginning to suspect this won't ever happen. The other singer in my last band had asked me on at least ten other occasions to play with him in side projects. He has now (according to his own claims) "quit music forever."  I'm not sure why anyone would make such a proclamation.  Personally, I don't trust anyone's judgement when they say they will never play with people at any point in time until the day they shuffle off this mortal coil. However, I have to accept such a statement as probably spelling the death of all these side projects. Nevertheless, I still really feel the need to count them as elements in my pseudo-career...for whatever little that is worth.

It is strange, though, that the catalog of probably-never-gonna-come-to-fruition acts is so sizable.  I wonder what this says about me.  Is playing with me the kind of thing that sounds like a good idea right up until the point one sobers up?  But this sounds like a candidate for the ever-growing list of "if you ever thought about it, the answers would only keep you up at night" questions. So I'm better off just moving to other things in my mind.

Still, though, I can't help but wonder what it would be like if I could move any of these possibilities from the quantum realm into the actual world.  Shame my math skills were never good enough to allow me to become that kind of mad scientist.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

on lazing on a Saturday afternoon

Every single time I have ever been in an emergency room, there has been at least one person making weird noises. One time, it was an old woman's constant whining ("I just want a glass of water" for 30 minutes, then "I just want someone to take away this glass of water," then "I just want to get out of her," then "I just want to go up to my room"). Today, it was someone making random moaning and whirring sounds.

The nurse was nice. The first doctor was nice. The attending physician in charge came in and told me (pardon the language), " You look like shit." He also kept calling me "boss"... but was nice in spite of these quirks

There were procedural issues. They started testing me for the worst-case scenarios first. The primary contender for the "what is ailing Mike, 9/27" award was scary enough: the frightening (yet still a great possible band name) Testicular Torsion. They told me if they caught this early enough, they could probably save the testicle. This was...encouraging. It was even more interesting (?) when they told me if we were lucky (?), then it would be a kidney issue.

These words...I don't think they mean what you think they mean.

The pain was...painful. It rated a pretty high interger on the 1 to 10 qualitative least until the hospital drugs kicked in. Then, after various random  prodding exercises, getting wheeled through the hospital whilst lying on my back, a surprisingly dignified genital ultrasound, and a torso CT scan, the doc came in and told me I didn't have a kidney stone...I had been growing a boulder.

So here I am...dosed up on legal oxycodone, watching Futurama. Thank goodness for my wonderful wife for hauling me around and not getting sick of my whining, and for my wonderful daughter for kissing my hand when not chasing imaginary balloons around the waiting room.

Just think that all I planned on doing was eating a bagel while heading to the farmer's market.

In some ways, that would've been better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

on musical integrity

Someone I know on the evil social network posted an article about how to turn a good song into a hit song. One of the suggestions was to pick an intriguing name; it suggested that one word names were particularly hip right now. The rest of the suggestions were equally numbing.

Now I am fully aware that art is always a negotiation with the audience. The article, though, moved beyond suggesting negotiation and into the realm of pandering. It was disturbing, and it made me glad I am a "never will be famous" musician. How does one take something loved and turn it into a selection of PR decisions? Particularly when there is such a miniscule chance of a payoff? Could anything get more disheartening?

There are benefits of being an underground musician, even one so far underground I sometimes feel like a mole man.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

on being an adult (sob)

My daughter goes to day care three days a week, and I have her the other two weekdays.  We generally have a lot of fun.  We play with her Hot Wheels, we paint, we break out the Lego.  I try to get her out of the house at least once, and she particularly loves the Simpson Garden Park (she will tell me "after we look at flowers, we get a milkshake. Yep, she's got me trained). Unfortunately, most of our day trips tend to be going to the grocery store, as it seems we never have enough stuff.  That's okay, though, because she seems to really like going there as well.  I just like spending time with her, and I'm pretty sure she likes spending time with me.

Fridays, she's in day care, and I'm home.  It's a work day for me, the only day I can use to keep up with my online classes.  I go to campus the other two days this semester.  Every so often, though, my classes do all their work via the internet, and I have a day where I don't have to go in.  Today's one such day.  My kid is at day care, and I'm here.

Here, however, is the conundrum.  I've got two classes of grading to do.  However, I grade in my study...which is the same room where I keep all my musical stuff. I've got this grading to do, but I keep looking over at my guitar leaning on the futon...and I'm having to fight the desire to play guitar and write songs all day.

Growing up and being responsible sucks...particularly when one still has the heart of a kid.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

on black blood of the earth

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than coffee
--Azrael (paraphrased)

I love coffee.  I love the way it smells.  I love the way you can sense the terroir in each batch. I love the way it tastes.  I love the way it feels when the coffee buzz is just at that perfect point.

I am serious about my coffee.  I buy my beans from a local coffeehouse which roasts its own.  I buy them whole bean, of course.  I grind them myself in a Hario burr hand-crank grinder. I brew in a French Press.  I have a wonderful thermos to keep it perfect for ages.

I love the process.  Preheating the thermos, grinding the beans, stirring the mixture before they steep, slowly pressing down on the plunger...all of this relaxes me.  I'm not normally one for sentimental thoughts and acts, but I do enjoy the ritual of coffee at a level only matched by the ritual of a good cigar or a good martini.

I love my coffee black.  I understand intellectually that some people prefer with cream, sugar, or both...or even whiskey or Irish cream...but I just can't bring myself to accept such things.  If their coffee isn't good enough on its own, they should just get a different variety.  That they don't is confounding.

Let's not even talk of instants or those one cup brewers.

If there's one thing I don't love, it's that my body doesn't do as well with caffeine as I would like.  I cannot drink coffee every day.  If I have one micron more than the French Press can provide, I am destined for the shakes and a crash.  I know this, so I force myself to exercise control...but still, I don't really wanna.

This semester, I don't teach until 10, so I can enjoy the coffee rather than relying on it as I would for an 8am class.  However, this does mean that my coffee runs out about 45 minutes into the class.  When my coffee runs out, it always makes me a little sad.  Knowing that I physically shouldn't have more coffee anyway doesn't help.  And now I have to hide that minor depression so that it doesn't affect my teaching. I cannot, in other words, take it out on the students.

Coffee.  She's a harsh mistress.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

on probable omens

This morning, I had a dream that was somehow about family vacations, monorails, food samples, and nuclear accidents. Then I woke up with the Counting Crows song  "Recovering the Satellites" playing in my head. Now, I gotta wonder what kind of day I'm going to have.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

on pointless innovation

In light of my conversion to mostly vegetarianism, I have, out of necessity, been revamping my cooking. This has involved getting new cookbooks, updating my crappy saucepan, procuring a better food processor, and so forth. The latest step was to get a new omelette pan, as the non-stickiness of my old one had degraded to the point of annoyingness.

When I took the cardboard sleeve off the new pan, I noticed a sticker on the pan itself. Stores and manufacturers seemingly have an addiction to putting stickers on pretty much everything. Moreover, making said stickers nigh-impossible to remove seems to satisfy some deep, deviant fetish of said sticker's designers. When I got my ricer, for instance, removing the clearance sticker required 16 minutes of scrubbing with rubbing alcohol, vegetable oil, and a scouring pad. Much cursing also occurred.

The sticker on the omelette pan obviously could not handle the scouring pad, but it did require 15 to 20 minutes of scraping and scrubbing. Normally, this would've pushed me into a fit of spasmodic rage. However, this time, I had instead developed a grudging admiration for whomever designed and manufactured a glue which could stick so ferociously to a non-stick surface. Sure, it was utterly pointless and counterproductive innovation. Still, you had to admire the sheer effectiveness of the pointlessness.

Someone make that designer an administrator or bureaucrat, stat!

Monday, August 11, 2014

On lifestyle changes involving meat and beer

I honestly thought this would never happen, but it has, so I might as well admit it to the world. Be advised, though: it is shocking news, and I don't want to scare anyone. So here goes:

I am giving up both beer and meat.

I know this is kind of shocking news, so some explanation is in order. Three weeks ago, I woke up with my big toe on my left foot in some serious pain. Yeah, i know what you're thinking: Ooh, a toe! Agony! Well actually it was. It felt like in the middle of the night, somebody had come and smashed it with a sledgehammer. Honestly, it felt like it was broken. And that, quite frankly, sucked.

Three days later, it had not improved. I want to see the doctor, and he told me it was most likely an attack of either gout or pseudo-gout. I'm not really sure what the differences are between the two, because he said that they have the same symptoms and are treated more or less the same. Secretly, I'm hoping it was the pseudo variety, because that seems like it would be a lot more sci-fi.

The drugs he gave me work very well. In fact, by the end of the day, I felt pretty much better. The doctor, though, told me that he was not sure how frequently I would experience flare ups. He said it could be only in every so many years, it might not reoccur until I was much older, or I might have outbursts relatively frequently. I was cautiously optimistic but preparing for the worst.

The next weekend went quite well. Then I lasted about another week before my foot started hurting again. Honestly, it wasn't as bad as the first time. However, it eventually became really, really horrible. Try walking around on a foot that feels like it's broken. I know I am getting older, but I'm just not ready to feel like I'm in that much pain all the time.

Due to my desire not to feel crippling pain on a normal basis (how weird of me!), I decided I needed to make some real changes in my life to make sure this didn't keep happening. So I looked for a list of triggers for gout (because I could find surprisingly little on pseudo-gout...only pseudo-information), and two of the biggest were red meat and alcohol, particularly beer.

Of course, I had the same thought that most of you are probably having right now. Is life without beer and steak really worth living? Now don't get me wrong, because I love these 2 things as well. However, I hate the pain that much more. And I also realize being healthy can be a good thing.

So here is the bottom line. I will be going primarily vegetarian in my food intake. I am NOT going to be one of these people who gets high and mighty about it. At least, I don't intend to be that guy. And I'm not going to say I will never eat meat, because an occasional animal might slip through. But I will be mostly vegetable and fruit eating guy. As a result, I am more than open to any suggestions anyone might have for how to cook this way. Recipes are also welcome.

I am also not going to be drinking. They say that alcohol is a severe trigger of this, and that beer is particularly bad at it. Because of my intolerance to pain, I'm going to give this up for a little while too. I'm not going to say I will never have a beer or a scotch or whatever, but it's not going to be a major part of my life.

This is the one which is a little trickier for people. Please do not think you need to tiptoe around me. This is just going to be for my own benefit. I will not preach. Also, I'm not doing this because I have a problem, need to rehab, or can't handle temptation. I'm perfectly fine. This is just something I need to do to not be in abject pain and horror all of the time. So I am more than happy to go out with you, hang out with you, or join you in any alcohol-based environment. If you play your cards right, this can even be a benefit, because I am more than happy now to be a designated driver if you wish to include me.

So where does this all end? Well, I can really use some advice about the whole vegetarian thing. Other than that, I just hope to get healthier. Maybe in a year or so of this, I'll even become trim and gain movie star good looks! I promise not to let my hopefully upcoming stud-muffin looks  come between us.

I know a non-drinking, healthy me is not what you've come to expect from me...but bear with me, and we'll get through this together.

Monday, June 30, 2014

on today's view of humanity

Even in my most optimistic days, I do not dream of a perfect world. I have never set my sights on a perfect world. Its always been obvious to the perfect world is way beyond anything we could actually achieve.

What I do wish for, though, is a world which is at least somewhat moral, ethical, whatever you want to call it....a world were we care for others. A world where we consider others. A world where we don't look up on other people as impediments to we can become. In short, a world where responsibility is something to which we strive.

Such a world, though, does not matter how wonderful the possibility might be. It seems too many people or more interested in their own freedom, and what that means is not personal freedom but freedom from any responsibility, freedom from caring, freedom from considering other people.

What this forces you to do, if you're smart, is to become self reliant. And there have been many, many things which have pushed me toward self-reliance. I'd like to think I've gotten a lot better at it. And this is a good thing, because it means that I'm better able to weather the storm.

Self reliance is a wonderful thing to have. It's a shame, though, that it's necessary.

on technology and decency

I love technology. I am more than 1 computer in the house. I have a kindle and a tablet. My mp3 player is pretty much invaluable this point. I stream my entertainment. So, when I say this, this is not coming from a Luddite.

And I also want to make this clear: while what I am talking about used to be referred to as manliness ("Act like a real man!"), this should, by any reasonable measure, be universal.

There is still great value in face to face. There are still many things you should not do via electronic communication. It comes down to common decency. There is real value to looking someone in the eye and speaking directly to them. This is what adults should do.

As I said, I love this technology as much as anyone else. However, there are times when you just have to put down the damn keyboard, meet somebody in person, look him/her/it in the eye, and talk to him/her/it. It's called being a good, real, honest person. Rants solve nothing. Talking to people, allowing them to hear your words directly, and trying to come to some mutual level of understanding are the only real things that separates us from the animals.

Except maybe Wombats...they got this down already.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

my weekend

This weekend, I got to play music 4 days out of 5, debut my solo band at a music festival, hang out with a friend, go swimming with my family, eat pizza, and watch my daughter do her elephant dance.

My life can beat up your life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

out of the mouth of babes comes context

Yesterday, my loving daughter said to me, "I want to bop you on the head. Can I?" So I leaned over her, she pushed my head away, I fell backward dramatically, and she cackled. We did this a few times, and then she grabbed my arm. She then told me rather sweetly, "I'm just gonna eat you."

And this, friends, is why context matters...because in other circumstances, "I want to hit then eat you" wouldn't be this sweet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

what i'm writing, Nashville be damned

I'm at my favorite bar for what started as midweek social night but has kind of morphed (evolved? devolved?) into sitting, drinking, thinking, and lyric writing night. I can't help but miss the fun and interaction the old Tuesday night group of comrades used to bring, but they are all gone now...either across the country, across the globe, or, most unusually, to my enemies list. I was actually shocked to find out I have an enemies list, but there you go. I don't really like the way having one makes me more like Nixon, but at this point, I don't really know what to do about it. At least I don't have his jowls.

Writing night, however, has become frightfully productive. I have a solo album coming out (more about this later), sing about five songs for my rawk band, and have about ten other originals...and they, for the most part, come from my Tuesday nights. When I'm on, I can get two songs a night.

I'm writing so fast, though, that I'm in danger of overload. This morning, I realized I had a writing night coming up but didn't actually have anything on deck. Then that tiny part of my mind which always tries to get me in trouble remembered the country song I started to write 20+ years ago as a mental exercise.

So that's what I'm up to tonight...writing country music. I doubt it will sound like country when I'm done, though. I have no idea how to describe my style to anyone. I know I have a style. Labeling it? That's harder. But I do know two things. First, I know that eventually, they all come out sounding like me...whatever that means. Secondly, whatever I do isn't country music.

Anyway, I am quite comfortable admitting I'm not exactly Nashville material. For one thing, I'm too fat. Also, as my daughter has made clear, I have a big head, and I'm too broke to order a custom cowboy hat.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

kid's shows and academic performance

Out of the shows my nearly three year old watches, Sesame Street is one of my favorites. There are some truly horrible ones, but you have to be made of stone not to like Sesame Street.

However, there is one thing about it that really puzzles me. One of the normal segments is called Elmo's World. One of the things that happens in Elmo's World is that Elmo keeps asking questions of various people. In addition to talking to kids and adults, Elmo insists on asking questions of Mr. Noodle (a particularly dense mime) and of actual babies. Neither ever has any usable information. Yet Elmo keeps asking away.

Hey, maybe this explains the average incoming college student's sloppy research methodology!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

On teeth and music

My daughter has really gotten into brushing her teeth. When I say "really into," I mean 10-20 times a day. As the person who will be eventually paying dentist bills, I can handle this. It does, however, raise some issues. When I mentioned the possible ocd implications to my lovely wife, she just said "wonder where she gets that from." Huh.

Later that night, I was practicing for my upcoming show this Wednesday, my daughter burst into the room, yelling, "Daddy! Daddy! STOP PLAYING!" When I did and asked her what was up, she informed me "I brushed my teeth" and then left the room. Whether this was a comment on my playing or a reflection of her ruthless attention to oral hygiene, though, I'm afraid to say.

The moral? Either this is one weird household, or everyone is not just a comedian but an insult comic. I suspect the latter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

on dreams and quantum mechanics

I was having a conversation with a friend about our jobs, and I admitted that I'm not where I expected to be, life or career-wise. I told him that this was particularly surprising, considering how well my graduate school experience started. And with that, I was hit by a flood of super-vivid memories plowing through my soul.

I remembered the dorms in which me and my fellow graduate students were housed during the first week. I remembered the instant camaraderie we felt, a deep, visceral bonding. I remembered the stacks and shelves in the warehouse the university gave me with everything I would need to read for my research. I remembered the transcendent joy of the first day of teaching. And then, I told my friend about the Thursday of the second week, which was the greatest day I had ever experienced. I nailed the teaching. I finally got a handle on the organization and content of the warehouse full of research. I connected with this super-cool colleague, and we began dating. All of the grad students met up for this wild, raging party, where we were introduced to the university movers-and-shakers, with whom we instantly bonded. It was a magical night...yet the magic didn't stop there. I went on to describe the first television commercial (for some soft drink) in which I had a speaking part. I went on to describe my other six girlfriends, each more awesome than the last. I went on to describe my debut as a professional musician, on stage, playing with Brittany Spears as she introduced her epic "Baby, One More Time" to the world. I remembered...

Then I was shaken by a buzzing. I flailed, silenced the alarm, swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and tried to come to grips with the world and consciousness. I tried to remember the name of that first college girlfriend, but I could not. Nor could I remember the names of any of the other relationship partners. Nor could I remember on which topic that warehouse of research focused. Nor could I remember many other specifics on which, mere moments before, I had a firm grasp. Much of the vividness of these memories remained, but the details were hazy. And that's when it occurred to me I had been dreaming.

That I had vivid dreams was not surprising...nor was it unusual to have such weird nighttime ramblings. Whenever I feel I'm becoming normal or settled, my subconscious will, that night, throw one my way just to remind me what I am a weirdo. No, what was unusual about this dream, I realized while showering, was that many of its "memories" were things which had appeared in other I was, in essence, having a "greatest hits" dream. Of course, me being me, what struck me most about this was the quantum implications. What if, I wondered, dreams are less a random assortment of memories and desires, weaved together by random neurons and chemicals? What if they are indeed glimpses through the multiverse, into other versions of ourselves, each leading a life in many aspects similar to yet different in some significant aspect from our own? What if dreams are our opportunity to be a tourist into what might've been? I would like that.

No, I didn't have the seven girlfriends. No, my research did not fill a warehouse (no matter how it felt at the time). No, I never have starred in a television commercial...and I certainly have never performed with a former Mousketeer. And it took me many more than two class sessions to nail the teaching thing.

There were, however, similarities. The original dream conversation I was having with a friend (someone who's really a friend in my non-dreaming existence) was about how life started with a certain amount of expectations, but it's okay if they were never fulfilled. And although my graduate school career was nowhere near as glamorous as that of my dreamworld/quantum counterpart, I still came at that phase of life with certain expectations for the future...ones which the future, as it turns out, had no intentions of fulfilling.

I'm okay with that. There was way too long of a time where the distances between my dreams and my reality haunted me. Yet over the last two years, I've mostly gotten over that angst and disappointment. Yeah, I wish I was better off financially (particularly so I could afford another child, a nicer car, a house, and maybe some more guitars, and a better quality of care products for my beard), but my life is incredibly rewarding. I'm just thrilled I'm finally at the place where I can realize how awesome it is to have my family, my calling as a musician, my job, my colleagues, my friends.

And to think: it didn't even take quantum mechanics or visits to alternate dimensions to get there.