For Christmas some nice folks had given me a $100 gift card to Amazon and I knew right away what I wanted to use it for: A pair of studio monitors. If you aren’t familiar with what studio monitors are, they are essentially just speakers that are intended to produce a flat “untainted” sound. This is especially useful for music production when trying to mix all the elements of a recording together into something that hopefully sounds good to the listener.
I’ve never had studio monitors before and it has definitely been a struggle mixing my songs over the years. I would mix it on my computer and think it sounded good then make a cd and listen to it in my car and for some reason it sounded terrible. So I would go back to the computer and tweak the mix and then make another cd and repeat the whole process. It amounted to a lot of frustration and wasted cds.
Mixing music is an art form unto itself and I can’t hope to match what a professional could do. However, I should be able to have a fighting chance at creating something that doesn’t sound like I recorded it in my bedroom, even though I did. I’ve learned from past experience not to discuss what musical projects I am working on because I have a pretty bad track record of actually completing them. These new Numark NPM5 studio monitors should make the process just a bit easier though and hopefully lead to some more music actually making it out my house and out into the wild.
Sometime in late Spring last year I made this blog completely private and shut it down due to some challenging circumstances taking place in my life in the real world. I figured today on my birthday would be a good time to finally relaunch it. I will cover some of my plans going forward for this blog and creative projects more in another blog post. Today’s post is about challenging myself to approach life differently this year.
I turned thirty three years old today and as I was driving to work this morning I began wondering to myself what significance there was in that. After all 33 isn’t one of those popular birthdays that people make a big deal about. And then it hit me that Jesus was 33 when he was crucified.
I began to think about how by 33 years old, Jesus had already impacted the lives of thousands of his contemporaries and of course billions of lives in the two millennia since then. Which caused me to question, in my 33 years on this Earth, whose lives have I impacted? Whose suffering have I eased? I don’t presume to think that I will be used in a way that will be remembered for millennia, because fame and personal legacy isn’t the point of Christianity. And I’m sure the people whose lives Jesus personally touched during his lifetime had no concept of the passage of time that would stretch out beyond that Earthly life.
Their focus and their hearts were touched then and there. Jesus showed compassion to the suffering people in his life in a way that I think for me personally gets lost sometimes. And I don’t think I am alone in that. I grew up with a mindset that many of the suffering people in this country are there by their own choosing. That poverty, substance abuse, and abusive relationships were something that could be risen above if only these unfortunate people would make different choices. A mindset that says that someone on government assistance must be lazy and chooses to stay on government assistance because it is the easy path. Sometimes I wonder if the rise of government assistance was fueled by a decline of charity from the Church or if the rise of government assistance fueled the decline of charity from the Church.
While there are certainly elements of truth in the above paragraph and for some people it is more true than others, what strikes me about this way of thinking is that nowhere in the scriptures do I see Jesus utilizing this same kind of cynical logic to excuse not easing the pain and suffering of the people around him. I was pondering today, what if the woman accused of adultery hadn’t listened when Jesus told her to “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Would He have said the same thing to her if their paths had crossed a second time under the same circumstances? Would He have then condoned the stoning that the accusers had wanted in the first place? Any answer to these questions is pure speculation of course and I don’t pretend to know the mind of God.
My point here is that, Jesus lived a life of compassion towards humanity during His time here on Earth. Most of the miracles He performed were driven by being moved to compassion by the suffering of people around Him. If we are Christians, people who embrace the teachings of Christ, should we not live the same way?
Every year I choose some kind of theme for the year for my life. I’ve been doing this for many years now and I don’t even remember how it started. This year I want to make my theme Compassion. It is probably one of the more challenging themes I have ever given myself because it requires effort beyond my house, beyond my family and out into the world to help heal the hurting and the lost with compassion.
Last year’s theme was Accomplishment and I failed at it completely. It was a theme built around the idea of finally accomplishing some of my long-term creative goals. And I didn’t accomplish any of them. I should probably more upset about that but 2014 is over and living in the past won’t fix it.
So I am moving forward into 2015 with the compassionate actions of Christ as my guide and knowing that successfully embracing that theme will be a bigger accomplishment than anything I had hoped to do for myself in 2014.
I often hear people talking about wanting to travel far and wide to experience new things in far away places. While the world certainly does have innumerable things to offer a soul prone to wander, I sometimes wonder if it is easy to miss things that are close to home. There is even a subtle or not-so-subtle feeling among these types that wherever they are at is somehow not good enough for them. That a place is not worth visiting unless it is far away. Similar to how some high-school graduates feel that they have to attend college in some far away place.
When my wife and I first moved to a small mountain town in rural Pennsylvania almost two years ago we very quickly discovered that there were many things to like and some to dislike about the area. Picking up and moving to an area where we knew no one certainly came with its own set of challenges but nothing we couldn’t handle. In the back of our minds was always the thought that this was our first house and one that we would not stay in forever. Eventually we reasoned that we would move “back to civilization” and closer to family and friends again. I realized early on though that we couldn’t let our desire to move again limit how we lived now.
I remember one day telling my wife that we needed to embrace the place we are in. That we wouldn’t always live where we are now and should explore it and enjoy it to the fullest extent possible while we have the opportunity. What came out of that was experiencing things that we didn’t know Pennsylvania had to offer. Unfortunately when most states spend money advertising for things that tourists might find appealing, that money is often spent in other states to bring in tourists that aren’t already paying them taxes in some form. This can result in a situation where their own citizens are unaware of what the state has to offer.
I’ve found that adventures don’t always have to be a world away, they can sometimes be in your own backyard. While there is nothing wrong with wanderlust, don’t forget to explore what is close to home either. You may be surprised what you find.
During the past several years I have rediscovered my love for writing fiction that first surfaced when I was a young fellow in grade school and wrote a story about throwing a teacher out of the window. A story that inspired a banner that the teacher made and hung over the blackboard for years that read “Creative but Positive.” I’m sure for many parents that visited that room for parent-teacher conferences, that banner seemed a bit odd for a 5th grade classroom. That was when it all began and it continued in spurts throughout my school years until one day I graduated and abruptly stopped writing.
Stopped until one day while attending Visible Music College I wrote a short story for a class and the professor took me to lunch later and told me that I should go to college for writing. This, as you can imagine was greatly encouraging, but I had no love of higher education and my writing went dormant for a long time again. However, in the ensuing years as I was writing songs for bands I was in or for my solo work, the need to write stories began to well up in me again. After several more years of neglecting to actually start writing the science fiction story that my brain had been crafting while I toiled away in a meaningless job that did not otherwise engage my brain, I finally forced myself to put pen to paper. Or 1’s and 0’s to the computer as the case was.
What flowed out of that and is still flowing out of that is a science fiction story that has become far grander and more satisfying than I could have imagined before I started. It isn’t finished yet, not by a long shot. Starting a family, having a full-time job, occasionally still writing songs, publishing a non-fiction book and getting into board game design can definitely cut down on writing time. I am certain that the previous sentence may appear to many as someone making excuses for not finishing what I set out to do. If you have that perception, then you are absolutely correct. Because along with those perfectly legitimate and equally satisfying uses of my time there were plenty of lazy days full of watching television, playing video games, wasted time trying to be an internet marketer and whatever else the brain can come up with to do anything except be productive. If there is one thing I can hold onto as a shred of dignity as a writer it is that I have kept writing, kept developing that story that has been building in me for many years now. I may write sporadically, but I keep writing.
Sometimes writers get stuck however. Sometimes the story you are telling reaches a point where you are in the middle between Point A and Point B and you are not sure how to complete that journey. At least not in any compelling sort of way that makes the reader actually want to come along for the ride. I have discovered a rather useful writing device to help me through those times however: Add explosions. Do something so remarkably dramatic and unexpected that your story and your characters can’t help but be pulled along by it and get to Point B whether they wanted to or not. Your characters might be bleeding and full of scars by the end but get them there!
Some of the more seasoned writers, perhaps those who enjoyed that higher education path to writing, who may be reading this will likely dismiss the previous paragraph as the advice of a novice to other novices to rely on cheap literary devices to advance a plot point. They might be right, but it makes for fun story telling and certainly more engaging to read. When chapter 1 of my sci-fi book started out rather slowly and with nothing to grab the reader’s attention I realized that I needed to start the book with a chapter that takes place earlier in time than what was presently chapter 1. The result was a new chapter that is easily one of my favorites in the book and is full of action, explosions, and space pirates. While working on a chapter far later in the book I realized with a sudden certainty that one of my favorite characters needed to die. It was unexpected, even to me, and it made the story better. Literal explosions may not fit every fiction theme, say a love story for example, but adding something unexpected that does fit your theme can be a great way of getting you through a rough spot in your story.
So my advice to my fellow aspiring writers that are stuck in the middle of their story: Add explosions. Blow some stuff up.
Whenever I am fortunate enough to take a vacation from work I often make time to work on some of my musical pursuits. This is of course fit in around family activities. That wasn’t the case this time around however. On my first day of vacation I got an idea for a simple strategy board game for my son and I to play. It only took about 15 minutes to make but I enjoyed it so much that ideas were quickly filling my head for a more complete game based on the concept that I had introduced with my son.
Over the last couple weeks I’ve added things, removed things, tweaked and reworked elements of the game until what has emerged is a pretty complete strategy game.
While ideas for board games have crossed my mind in the past, this is the first time I have had such a complete idea and actually turned it into reality. Below is a picture of the first paper prototype of the game that I played with my son. It’s not much to look at and the board design has come a long way. And of course the game won’t actually use plastic army men.
I’ve playtested the game a handful of times and that’s what has led to most of the changes that were implemented so far. To give you an idea of the gameplay: It’s a two person game wherein each player is given 12 soldiers and some of those soldiers are given random special abilities. On each players turn they are able to move or shoot based on a limited number of allowed actions per turn. There are also several different types of terrain in the game that change each time it is played and this also affects what strategies each player may try to use. Similarly there are random events that are activated by specific squares on the board. These Events can either be a positive or negative thing and so players must choose wisely whether they want to chance putting a soldier on one.
Ultimately, I hope to find an avenue to release the game publicly. I’m still a long way off from that however. The next steps are to continue to test and tweak the gameplay, continue to work on the graphic design of the final board and of the Event and Ability cards, and to design the play pieces themselves.
Once all of that is done I will need to have a professionally made prototype to allow me to promote the game for public release when the time comes.
It feels a little early in the development process to be discussing all of this in a blog post but I need an outlet for my thoughts on the game other than people who are close to me, because I’m sure a couple of them are tired of hearing about every little update I make by now. 🙂
Just wanted to give everyone a quick heads up that I am currently offering a coupon for 50% off of my book The Society of Virtue over at Smashwords.com. The coupon code is SSW50 and it’s valid until July 31st, 2012. So if you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, now is the time to do it! I appreciate everyone’s support.
I’ve also been considering writing a follow up to the book since before I even published The Society of Virtue. I don’t want to do it just for the sake of putting out another book though and I want to make sure I have a really solid concept and vision of what the book will be before embarking on the journey of writing it. There are other books I’m working on however and as time and diligence permits, I will have those finished and published soon enough.
But all of that is beside the point. Go grab a copy of The Society of Virtue today for half off!
There’s a very sad story coming from Perryton Independent School District in Perryton, TX in which students in a 10th grade history class each year were given red ribbons to wear and wearing the ribbon signified that those students were Jews. The purpose of this activity was to learn about the holocaust and this was to be achieved by allowing all the non-Jew students and faculty to do what they pleased with the ‘Jewish’ students. Things like picking up trash, being taken outside and sprayed with a hose, crawling across a hot running surface, and carrying other students.
That last one is where this innocent game of school sanctioned bullying gets ugly. One former student, Andrew Yara, allegedly suffered some pretty serious injuries including a dislocated hip after being forced to carry students much larger than himself. That student is now suing the school district for unspecified damages.
There’s something bigger here though that is just waiting to be recognized. That something is this: Given the opportunity, people will gladly act like Nazis. In spite off all the history lessons, stories from our grandparents and WWII documentaries the simple truth is that if a governing body (in this case the public school district) makes it legal to mistreat and harm another group of citizens (the ‘Jewish’ students) then there will always be a segment of society that will gladly due so. I think we sometimes tend to look back through history’s various atrocities and think that the people involved must have been so completely evil. But here in this little town in Texas we have a glowing example that the potential for evil resides in all of us, it’s our choices in the face of that potential that determine who we become.
Yes, some of the students may have learned that life as a Jew under Nazi rule was pretty terrible, but how many more students learned how gratifying it was to be a Nazi? How many learned that being a bully is fun when the people you are bullying don’t dare fight back? In Germany the Jews faced death, these students faced a failing grade if they didn’t comply with everything the ‘Nazis’ wanted them to do.
This is of course just a very small example of government sanctioned mistreatment of one group in favor of another. There have been real world examples in our country in the past and there are still some today as well as some even worse around the world. I don’t really know what this public school had hoped to accomplish by giving students the ‘Red Ribbon’ assignment. But I do know that it illustrated just how depraved humans can be, all anyone has to do is give us permission. The choice of right and wrong is always available though and I’m sure that many students at Perryton high-school didn’t participate in the bullying. Then again, the Nazis highest level of votes in German elections never even managed to get above 44% and even with less than a majority, their power was mighty indeed.
The little town of Perryton, TX has given us some insight into the human condition that modern society doesn’t like to acknowledge: Deep down inside, without the arresting influence of divine grace, we are very likely to choose evil over good. One good thing that has come from Andrew Yara suing the school district: The Red Ribbon assignment has been killed. Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, at least more students won’t have to take part in this ridiculous be bullied or fail project.
As I alluded to in my previous post, I have some exciting news that I would like to share. A few weeks ago I finished up work on my first book! Its entitled The Society of Virtue: Thirteen Character Virtues That Can Change Your Life. I worked on it over the past couple of years in between other projects but when 2012 began I knew that it was time to make The Society of Virtue a priority and finally get it finished.
The book is inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s list of thirteen character virtues that he had devised and had intended to create a secret society based on. Franklin never did get the chance to create his secret society but his ideas live on. The Society of Virtue is an original work that pays tribute to Franklin’s ideas and carries on the spirit of them with improved personal character through adherence to thirteen virtues.
The Society of Virtue is currently available from all of the major online book retailers and will soon be available in some of the smaller ones as well. Here are links to purchase the book:
Buy it on Smashwords
(in a variety of eBook formats)
As a special bonus for people who buy The Society of Virtue I’ve included in the book a special password that will grant access to a members only area of The Society of Virtue website. Once there, readers can enjoy downloading a variety of special bonus content.
I hope that you will consider buying a copy of The Society of Virtue. Not simply because I want it to be successful from a sales point of view, but also because I believe there can be real benefit to in the lives of those who choose to follow through with the pursuit of the virtues.
I’m just a few weeks late with my New Year post but I’m sure you’ll forgive that compared to the six months that have gone by since I posted anything new on here.
My last post way back in July mentioned that I was going to be moving and that move finally happened in late September. It’s amazing how long it can take to find a house and then you’ve essentially got another month’s worth of waiting while all of the other paperwork is taken care of. But we finally did move in September and the ensuing months have been kind of crazy with getting settled in and then leading into the holidays after that.
Life is getting back to normal though and that’s where today’s post finds me. I generally come up with some kind of theme for my life for every new year. Sometimes I post that theme publicly and sometimes not. Most times I don’t know what that theme means until something happens through the course of the year that makes it plain to see. 2012 is a little different though. I knew what my theme for the year was going to be back in November some time.
Unlike previous years, it’s not some vague nebulous concept that could be fulfilled in any number of ways. No, this year’s theme is direct and challenging to myself. This year’s theme is The Year of Accomplishment. What that means to me is finishing up writing projects that have been hanging around for awhile. It means recording a new music album for the first time in over five years.
I debated for awhile whether or not to publicly share this year’s theme for myself because it’s very goal oriented and relies on my working very hard to achieve those goals. But in the end I decided that not sharing it would make it easier on myself to not follow through. Of course, random life events or God’s intervention might completely derail these plans but I’ve found that most often in life if I don’t accomplish something it’s because I didn’t really put the effort into it that it needed.
As 2012 unfolds I hope to be able to share many completed creative projects with you. There’s at least one that I will be sharing on here in the next couple weeks. I was working hard to start the year off right by finishing up a writing project and that’s part of why this post didn’t happen sooner. Stay tuned.
Things are about to change drastically in my life. It’s a good change I believe, though I’m sure that there will be something of an adjustment period. The change I speak of is that my family and I are moving about 60 miles away due to a job promotion.
The promotion is a good thing of course. We are leaving behind the farm house that we’ve called home for more than six years. I have mixed feelings about that. Up until a few months ago we hadn’t really given serious thought to leaving here but the situation has changed and we’re excited about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead. Though life will certainly be different.
Though we are still searching for a new house at this time, we assumed early on that wherever we end up that it would be unlikely we’d be able to take the chickens with us. So we’ve already sold them. It was bittersweet seeing them go. I enjoyed having chickens these past couple years but I’m not gonna lie, the idea of not having animals at home to take care of is an attractive one, at least for now. I could see raising chickens again some day, but for the time being this is a serious blow to my not too seriously pursued pursuit of self-reliance.
It’s also an opportunity to find new avenues to pursue some measure of self- reliance however. What exactly those may be I won’t know until we’ve found a house and I know what is possible there.
Then of course there is the consideration of my music. It seems like I spend more time dealing with roadblocks to recording my songs than I do actually recording them. I really don’t know what to expect yet on this front since we haven’t found a house yet. Long term I think without animals at home that I will actually have more time to accomplish music. On a brighter note, I recently won an iPod Touch in a lyric contest and it seems that I may be able to use it as a little mobile studio which should be fun.
That’s pretty much the summary of what is going on right now. In other news, my first book is getting published soon. I’ll have more details on that as the date draws nearer.