I played two songs:
Here's some video:
I just played two songs at Milkboy Coffee in Ardmore, PA. Feeling pretty good. It was a pretty spontaneous decision, and I was slightly nervous. This was my first time playing out since December of last year. It was only my 3rd time ever playing/singing solo. All in all, voice is still a challenge for me, but I'm a little more confident. For my first public performance in seven months, I was pleased. I'm looking forward to doing it again next week.
I played two songs:
Here's some video:
Me and Zac reading books circa spring 2009.
Photo by Dana Marie Donofrio.
Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, talks about luck, coincidence, and faith. I like the idea that there is physics involved in this--not merely some metaphysical, spiritual "hope" or "wish" that magically makes things happen, but some real, tangible, natural force...our desire, energy, and intention...our choice. I like the idea that this type of "magic" can be explained.
Derek Sivers' blog post from today: http://sivers.org/meaning
"Nothing has inherent meaning. It is what it is and that's it. We just choose to project meaning onto things. It feels good."
(I've yet to read The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, but I suspect it might have something to offer in this conversation.)
I agree with Sivers, for the most part. The conscious lens through which we view the world is the result of events that are as seemingly random as those that give rise to stars, trees, bacteria, or monkeys. If all we are as human beings is just the result of natural processes of evolution--if we're simply animals, somewhat more evolved in our level of consciousness and brain capacity than other forms of life we're aware of--then how meaningful is our existence?
In the grand scheme of the Universe, perhaps not very meaningful at all. After all, we occupy only "a quarter of a second in the month of June," as Martin Rees put it. But, in a humanist context, there can be plenty of meaning. Not only does it feel good to "project" meaning, as Sivers says, but there is perhaps more truth to this perceived meaning than we would otherwise be led to believe by the seeming randomness of everything else in the Universe.
Think of it this way: It's not so much that things "randomly" happen--they happen because they are caused by something else; and this "something else" was caused by something else before that...which was in turn caused by something else before that...and so on, all the way back to the initial moment of the Big Bang (or whatever else may have set this all in motion).
What I'm getting at is the idea of timing, the idea of everything being in its right place...the fact that by the logic of causality and determinism, there is nowhere else you could be right now; so, your particular vessel of consciousness is where it is in time and space at each specific moment such that it intersects with other "things" or "events" happening in the Universe in a way that seems very much inevitable and predetermined; all of these individual, intersecting components, it would seem, have been set in motion by some initial cause. Therefore, as you are wherever you may be to witness and be a part of these events--this moment in time--are you there merely to "project" meaning, or are you perhaps there to discern truth? Of course, ultimately, we're always projecting, I suppose...that seems inevitable...but it also seems true that your perceived notion of "truth" or "meaning" would be a derivative of choice--if you happen to notice certain connections, you have the freedom to choose what you believe and whether or not these events have any larger meaning, if only as large as the existence of your individual life itself. But, in order to make a choice, in the truest sense, it would seem that you must be aware of that choice in the first place. So, if you don't perceive any connections or coincidences in your life (for whatever reason), are you capable of choosing whether or not they hold any meaning? Obviously not. Or, perhaps, irrespective of whether or not you've been aware of such "coincidences" in the past, you've already decided what to believe, and you've negated the possibility that any coincidence or connection might hold any larger meaning in your life; in this case, it would seem you've made a choice to believe something--that any such coincidence or connection in your life holds no "higher" meaning--with absolutely certainty. (I prefer Richard Feynman's espousal of uncertainty.) I guess, ultimately, we believe what we believe, and there are consequences to our choices as to what we believe. But if you "project" meaning--whether this meaning is "true" in any absolute sense or not--is the effect any less actual in our humanist context? Maybe it is all random...maybe all meaning is merely a projection of our "evolved" consciousnesses; logically, this makes sense. Personally, though, there have been enough incredible coincidences in my life over the past several years to make me at least doubt the apparent randomness of the Universe; and, at the very least, my perception of meaning has brought me immense joy in recent years. I can assure you that this effect is very real. It's the seeming connection of all things that can be known viscerally rather than logically...the way thought can anticipate events in a manner that seems almost too strange for mere coincidence...but, of course, you must be listening or looking in the first place...and, of course, this is just me projecting...
When someone asks me, "Do you believe in God?" I feel like what they're really asking me is, "Do you think there's really any point to this? Do you think there's any higher meaning? Is there a purpose to our lives here on Earth? Why are we here?"
As human beings, we project meaning onto our lives and onto our entire existence as a species, perhaps out of necessity. Believing in "God" may have even been evolutionarily advantageous. We search for meaning, we desire purpose, because otherwise, what's the point?
I guess what I'm ultimately saying isn't very profound and maybe not even any different from what Sivers was saying: yeah, it's random, but there is still tremendous meaning in our existence. The relatively new revelation for me is that meaning is a choice...similarly, peace, love, joy and happiness are choices, as well. (The level of choice is of course altered by other factors...choice itself could open up a whole other conversation.)
I'm reminded of a quote from the intro to Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, which I read in high school: "In and of itself, nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever in and of itself."
This--Earth, life, us--is all part of a much larger whole, and we can't be certain of much else other than what we know here on this planet. That's the context in which we find ourselves, from which we derive a sense of purpose and meaning and answer the question, "Why?"
To this end, the conclusion I've come to after 25 years of life on this planet is that the purpose of humanity is to:
1) Increase joy
2) Move it forward.
In essence, that's it. Make our temporal, finite, time-bound individual existences more filled with joy, and expand the bounds of what we know ("move it forward"). In doing so, we leave the Earth perhaps a little better than how we found it--we pass on the torch, humanity continues to push on, and we become good ancestors (I'm stealing this idea from somewhere, I'm sure).
Sivers concludes his essay by saying that, "Even if presented with proof that it's totally random or neutral, we decide it has meaning anyway. It makes life more poetic and beautiful."
I guess that's really how you have to look at it....find meaning, find joy, find purpose, and have fun with it...it's your choice...this is incredibly liberating to me...you get to choose whatever meaning life holds for you. My only question is still whether or not any of this is truly "random." But I suppose that question is truly not answerable.
Big Conan fan. This is the commencement speech he gave to Dartmouth's Class of 2011 back in May. Hilarious, and with some valuable wisdom in the final seven minutes or so. Coincidentally, appropriate connection to the previous entry.
It's about halfway through the year, and I'm about to experience a big change in my life as I become a full-time teacher in the School District of Philadelphia. I just finished substitute teaching last week, and I'm now down the shore relaxing for a few days before beginning "Training Institute" with Philadelphia Teaching Fellows. I'll then pretty much go right into my full-time position with Mastery Charter Schools, where I'll be teaching math at Simon Gratz High School.
This path that I'm currently on was not planned--not even in the slightest. When I quit my job in New York right before Christmas, I was doing so in order to finish In Double Rainbows by the self-imposed deadline of December 25. Though a complete production of I.D.R. never materialized, I had gone all-in and had no back-up plan as to how I would make money in order to continue living in New York. So, I weighed my options and decided that maybe it was time to leave. Several trips down to D.C. during the fall made it clear that both Zac and I wanted to re-start Juno Day in earnest, but the challenge was finding a way given the restraints of jobs, geography, and time. Ultimately, I decided I would move home to the suburbs of Philadelphia for the month of February, regroup, and then move to D.C. to facilitate making music again with Zac.
At the same time, I knew I wanted to find work (a source of income) that was more consistent, sustainable, and rewarding. In New York, I had had five jobs in 14 months--none particularly exciting, rewarding, or with any intention of any sort of "career." I also moved six times. I was tired. By contrast, home was a haven, and for the first time in a long time, I actually desired this comfort and stability. Most of my friends--other than Zac--were in Philly, and I began to start thinking seriously about what I "wanted to do" with my life. Tapping into my network in Philadelphia seemed more tangible and inviting than another "experiment" in another city, so I began to have second thoughts about my move to D.C. Teaching had always been in the back of my mind as something I would like to do at some point, so I began to explore potential opportunities in that direction. I was still not committed to staying in Philly, necessarily, but I was increasingly moving in that direction. (I was completely ignorant as to the imminent budget crisis, but that's a whole other story.) One opportunity led to the next, and before I knew it, my schedule was filled with various education-based activities.
Here's a chronological summary of the past six months of my life, highlighting everything I would not have been able to anticipate beforehand:
- Quit my job at a marketing agency in New York City (almost completely spontaneous)
- Wrote the songs for In Double Rainbows
- Left NYC en route to Washington, D.C.; ended up staying at home in the suburbs of Philadelphia instead
- Started volunteering at Mighty Writers, Students Run Philly Style (Team SLA), and YouthBuild Philadelphia
- Sponsored a high school student's Senior Project, teaching him guitar lessons
- Was accepted into Philadelphia Teaching Fellows
- Held a job as a substitute teacher at charter schools in the School District of Philadelphia
- Ran the Broad St. Run for the second year in a row, with the kids from SLA
- Played in my first ice hockey game since high school (7 years)
- Was offered a position as a math teacher with Mastery Charter Schools at Simon Gratz High School
The only thing on the list I would have been able to have predicted is In Double Rainbows, and only because it was already in progress. Everything else is new--although, not entirely surprising, given my interests and the fact that I took action in that direction.
I honestly couldn't be happier with the way things have evolved over the past several months for me. But, the reality is, in taking on these additional responsibilities, I've made the mission of tangible accomplishment for Juno Day seemingly much more difficult to realize, due to having less time and energy to devote to its cause. And so, by default, the cause--or at least the scope and the way in which it might be realized--evolves.
I'm reminded of a quote from The Great Bridge by David McCullough, which I read over the fall/winter:
"The movable saddles, like big expansion joints that were to be built into the actual roadway, were essential to the stability of the bridge. Its capacity to move, the fact that it would not be perfectly rigid like a stone bridge, was the thing that would keep it alive..." (316)
Today (June 21) was supposed to have marked the release of Up, a 12-song album that I had worked on last summer while living in New York; or, it could also have marked the release of Acomodador, an 11-song album of songs from 2009 and earlier. Neither one of them are anywhere close to being complete. I had set the goal of releasing an album on the first day of summer, 2011--the longest day of the year--as early as last spring (2010). How did it not happen? Mainly by my finding other distractions, by allowing new ideas to compete with the existing plan, and by simply not doing it.
I've had enough ideas not come to fruition over the years to know that "Just do it" is the ultimate truth. In undertaking these new responsibilities, I still hope to find a way to produce an actual catalog of songs with Juno Day. Further, this new path is now inextricably linked to the path of Juno Day. The way I approach my job as a teacher will invariably reflect my experience and what I've learned from Juno Day over the past few years; and the direction of Juno Day will undoubtedly be influenced by my job as a teacher. Both Zac and I are aware that our priorities rest with our "real" jobs, and so it will be a major challenge to try and "move it forward" with Juno Day, especially since we are still not living in the same city. But, we'll see what happens.
Here's what I anticipate in the next six months:
- PTF Training Institute
- Teach math at Gratz
- Run the Philadelphia Marathon
That's about all I'm fairly certain of...I have ideas for how I'd like to fill in the gaps, but I'm not sure how things will play out, and I kind of like the idea of not planning too much. "With the flow."
I started trying to improve my singing ability a little over a year ago. Prior to that, I was too scared to ever really try--I sucked, I knew I sucked, and I wasn't exactly receiving any encouragement from those around me. This perception/opinion of myself was enough to keep me from being foolish and embarrassing myself. So, for a long time, I did not sing. But, I love writing, I love playing guitar, and I was growing increasingly frustrated by not being able to sing my own songs, so eventually I decided to start trying--timidly and sporadically at first, and then gradually more emboldened and consistent.
There is a simple quote I came across at some point in the last two years that put things into perspective for me: "Practice is the cause of achievement." I firmly believe this. There is no magical switch that turns you into a superstar, and no one else is going to do it for you. Since March 2010--when I started recording myself singing in order to track my progress--I've practiced singing 156 times. The sessions range from 12 minutes to 1 hour 37 minutes, with an average time of about 37 minutes. So, basically, in the 450 days since I started making a concerted effort to improve my singing, I've practiced an average of once every three days for a little over half an hour each time. This hardly seems like much of a commitment. And yet, I can honestly say that my singing is much improved from a year ago. It's still not very good, but the biggest difference is this: I don't care. I don't care what other people (might) think. I'm a little more comfortable, a little less insecure, a little less frightened. I see no other cause for this than the gradual comfort that comes with doing something repeatedly over time. Whereas I used to shut up and immediately stop singing as soon as I heard a neighbor's apartment door open or close, I now scream like an idiot in my parents' house with my entire family easily within ear-shot, something I never would have done before, because it wasn't "me" and I didn't want my family to think I'm weird. It's now at a point where I simply enjoy this activity...I love singing, and I'm okay with expressing myself and not being afraid of what someone else might think. It feels great.
My routine is this: Whenever I have time to sit down and play, I grab my acoustic guitar, open my laptop and bring up GarageBand, record for however long I feel like playing/singing, and then export it to iTunes.
The following recording is from yesterday. The songs are listed below, along with the corresponding dates/time periods of when they were written.
1. Tuesday................................. October 2006 (form/lyrics); August 2008 (lyrics)
2. Clouds.....................................................................August 2008 (form/lyrics)
3. Two Halves..................................................................May 2006 (form/lyrics)
4. Foxhole in Winter.................December 2010 (form/lyrics); January 2011 (lyrics)
5. Up..............................................June 2010 (form/lyrics); October 2010 (lyrics)
6. Flannel Wind (Delphi).................October 2008 (form); August 2009 (form/lyrics)
7. Montana..................................................................August 2010 (form/lyrics)
8. I Used to Play Guitar..........Oct 2006 (form); Nov 2010 (form); Dec 2010 (lyrics)
9. Penance...................................................June 2010 (form); July 2010 (lyrics)
10. Demigod...................................................................June 2010 (form/lyrics)
11. Monorail (Infinity Beers)...09/2010 (form); 12/2010 (form); 01/2011 (form/lyrics)
12. Dogwalker (The Winds of Solitude Roaring at the Edge of Infinity).......08/2010 (form); 12/2010 (lyrics)
13. Change the World/Rule the World...............November 2010 (form/lyrics); January 2011 (lyrics)
14. Legos................May 2009 (form); July 2009 (form/lyrics); August 2009 (lyrics)
15. Concussed.................................November 2009 (form); October 2010 (lyrics)
Today is Flag Day. To commemorate the stars and stripes, here's a song that used to be called "Flag, No Wind" (pre-lyrics) and then, finally, "Flannel Wind (Delphi)." The first recording is from a practice session in early August 2009. The second recording is from our final gig, at Johnny Brenda's on 8/14/09. We wrote the lyrics two days before the gig:
Can't remember what we came here for
The summer still precedes us like folklore
We knew the only way to fly was to let go and try
But then we stumbled upon Tuesday and only wondered why
And all the "what if" conversation was quickly running dry
So now ours is a flag with no wind
Can't remember what we stayed here for
Options are decreasing, that's for sure
We flew to California thinking that we'd set sail
And all the prophecy foretold that we could not fail
But then we came ashore in Delphi and chased our tail
And we found no Aeolian wind
All these things
Recollect my dreams
Every passing day
Takes them farther away
Going through the archives...this is one of my favorite recordings from Juno Day 1.0...a practice session in our basement in Lemont of the as-yet-lyric-less "Slab Cabin Run!" August, 2009.
Had a day off and decided to write/make some music. "Done is better than perfect" is the new adage. I'll work on improving the "done" part.
Song for Gregoire
The Lizard Brain