Saturday, July 25, 2015

Three Year Update

The following text is a collection of random thoughts.  It's just a quick update that I've been meaning to do since May, but just couldn't form it up into something clever.  Consider it a rough draft.  Consider it a peek into my brain in it's disorganized state.  I just wanted to share.

tl;dr version: Despite the difficulties, I'd do it all again.


In May of 2012 I walked away from my day job.  I had a litany of reasons for doing it, but it was spurred by a desire to do nothing other than to play and teach music.  It wound up saving my marriage, building a relationship with my son and salvaging what was left of my own mental health.  You can read about it here: A Change for the Better

I knew it was going to be tough.  I knew our financial situation would be difficult.  It has.  We've given up a few conveniences and we've had to demonstrate some creativity in paying the bills.  Sometimes we get them paid, other times we get them paid later.  I do sometimes feel guilty about some of the things we've needed to sacrifice.  There's just not much money to go around, but that was the case when I had - what seems like - all the money anyone could ever need.  If I've learned anything, it's that I'm inclined to live just beyond the edge of my means.  I figure a lot of folks do that. 

Since leaving the day job I've learned many things.  I've learned to fix the washer and dryer; I've actually fixed bits that normally get replaced.  I've learned how to do some simple plumbing and home repairs.  I've also learned just how far I can go on a tank of gas.  I've learned to cook some of my favorite meals that I'd have normally eaten out.  I've learned to like the thermostat set to 76 in the summer and 66 in the winter.  I've also learned to ask for help when I need it.  I've learned about the kindness of strangers.  I've learned just how generous my dad is.

Here's a big thing I've learned.  You've heard the old saying, "Time is money."  It's a trap, a trick, and maybe even a lie.  Sure, you can sell your time for money, but you can never use that money to buy back time. 

I'm also learning to value myself.

I finally got to know my son.  He's a real gem.  I never knew.  See, that's a regret.  I regret giving so much of my time to an employer that I missed being involved with him.  Oh, I was home in the evenings, but the stress of the day job made me irritable.  I didn't want to associate with anyone, so I glued myself to the banjo and the internet.  How are things now?  I couldn't ask for a better relationship with my son.  Heck, I've even taken a position with the local Boy Scout District - I never had time for that before.

The relationship I have with my wife is improving, but there's a lot of mending to do.  It's comforting to know she still supports my decision.  We're just always struggling to pay the bills.  She's not been able to find full time work, and my work, such as it is, adds to the difficulty in making regularly scheduled payments.  Fortunately we don't have a lot of debt and the other folks that expect money from us have been understanding - so far.  We're both hopeful that things are bound to improve.  Keep her in your prayers that she'll find a full time job.  We don't have much hope in her current employer ever offering her a full time position.

Would I do it again?  Yes!  I'd do it again, and I'd do it sooner; I've learned that it's important to follow your dreams and do those things you really want to do, even if there's not much money involved. 

Spend more time with the people you love.  It's worth more than any amount of money.  It's important. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

You Can't Kill the Old Red Rooster

You can't kill the old red rooster anymore.  Don't do it.  You can have chicken and dumplings, but there will be no killing of roosters.  That's a lesson I learned this week.

A friend asked me to speak at her elementary school's career day.  I was more than happy to do it.  I may not be the model independent music professional, but I guess I'm pretty enthusiastic about it.  I like showing children (and adults) that you can be whatever you want.  Doing something that makes you happy is worth more than a big salary for something you dread daily.

My day started early - much earlier than most musicians, but duty called.  I arrived in time to carry in a couple of banjos and stands, meet some folks, and get set up.  I had a full slate.  My day would be filled twenty minutes at a time with children from different grades (kindergarten through fifth grade).  I braced myself for the first group.

They were bright-eyed, inquisitive, and seemed to really like the banjo.  I talked some about how I work and earn money.  They asked questions, and I played them a few songs.  Before I knew it I was out of time, and those children marched out and more marched in.  After a few classes I was getting the hang of it.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

By the afternoon things couldn't be running smoother, until I had a class that was more interested in me playing than me talking.  That's fine, and they were younger kids (maybe kindergarten or first grade).  I asked them, "Do you know She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain?"  They screamed, "YES!!!"  I started the song.

She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes... Everyone sings

She'll be driving six white horses when she comes... Everyone sings

We will kill the old red rooster when she comes... Jaws hit the floor, eyes well up, and lips start to pout.

Wait just a minute!  Here I am, singing a song from my childhood where we killed that dad-gummed rooster every time - and with a big CHOP CHOP with hand motions!  These kids though?  They'll have none of it.  You just can't kill that rooster - not in 2015.  I immediately saw the error of my horrible rooster killing lyric.  How could I not, with the cute little pony-tailed blonde with the cute glasses and the big eyes welling up and her bottom lip stuck out?  With the help of the teacher in the room we segued to a happier song - "The ABCs" - as best as I could recall there are no roosters killed in that one.

Lesson learned: don't kill the rooster.  My childhood was horrible and I never knew it.

That's not all I learned.  No, the next lesson came with the next group of kids.  These were fifth graders - smart, with good questions.

"When you first started playing for money, how much did you get paid?" A boy asked.

"The first time I ever earned anything for playing was with the FFA Stringband in high school.  We would play for different civic clubs (like the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, etc) and in return they would give us a pig for our pig chain." I told them.

"You got paid a pig?!?!" They all laughed.

Once they were convinced I wasn't just being silly, they had another question.

They inquired, "What did you do with the pigs?"

For whatever reason, there's this bone in my head that often just makes me blurt out the truth.  "We raised them and eventually ate them."

No sooner than I had said it the lesson of the rooster popped into my brain.  Not to mention the exclamation from the kids, "You ate them?!?!  You ate your piggies?"

Yes - yes we did.  Being older kids I figured I would just go ahead and let them go on that remark as time was up.  I started my last tune as they exited.  As the kids were leaving one lagged behind to tell me that his dad raised pigs to eat, and even killed them. He didn't seem to mind.  I was relieved.

Time have changed.  I'm not sure it's for the better.  I saw kids eating meat at lunch, but I'm not sure they have any idea where it comes from.  Except maybe for some of the more rural kids, they seemed to get it.  As I reflected on my rooster horror I tried to see the kids faces again and I recalled that almost none of the Hispanic children had a problem with killing the old red rooster.  We have a large Hispanic population here and a lot of these kids' parents immigrated here in the past decade, so maybe they're still pretty close to their cultures - whatever that might be. Maybe it's cultural?  I'm not sure, and I'm not qualified to even guess.

I just know that the old red rooster and pigs can roam free on the farm, and...

We'll all have kale and tofu when she comes...

Hopefully no one will need therapy.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wind 'em up. Watch 'em go!

I've been teaching a long time - longer than I should have, most likely.  I've had all sorts of students; some good, some bad, some horrible, and some exceptional.  The latter ones are pretty rare.  Those exceptional ones are those that take what you show them, and assimilate it.  They don't just memorize an idea for a certain tune; they figure out exactly what that concept is and how to apply it.  They're the ones that modify the techniques to fit their own idea of how it works.  They're the ones that soon figure out how to play within the boundaries of their own limitations.  Sounds simple enough, but in reality that assimilation of knowledge is what separates the casual player from the ones that go on to be successful.  If I knew how to bottle that, I'd sell it.

Trevor is one of those exceptional students.  He's driven - motivated even.  I showed him some very basic clawhammer a few months back.  Last lesson he's already playing some fairly advanced stuff, and he did it on his own!  Also, not too long ago he expressed some interest in a couple of Reno tunes.  Admittedly, my Reno vocabulary is small.  I pointed him in a direction, the rest he did on his own.  I figure I need to get him to show me the Reno stuff he's learned.  ...and the student becomes the teacher.

He's my current favorite windup toy -- wind him up, watch him go!

Anyway... here are a couple of videos of Trevor (one with his brother).