strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Category: Personal

Assessing Deficits

I find it important to occasionally take stock in my life. I do this by asking myself the question, "What's most important to me? What are the things I value the most and get the most long term satisfaction and fulfillment from?"

I feel very fortunate that the overall most important things in my life are well established, stable, loyal and unlikely to change. Those would be my wife Aeyoung and our dogs, Bridget, April and Arya. They are there every day for me and we'll always be there for each other. Hence, I don't have to really sweat the small stuff when it comes to them. I do make it a point to regularly remind them how important they are to me, but that's not the context of this post.

Once you get to the personal fulfillment level of Maslow's hierarchy, you probably need to attempt a look at yourself with a little wider lens and with consideration to the long term. Often we are so caught up in the little details of life that we lose focus on the future. Missing the forest for the trees to coin a phrase. I feel very lucky that I had two years during my Army career to pursue additional education in my field. While the knowledge was a bonus and has reaped rewards, the most important and longest lasting benefit was the amount of free time I suddenly had on my hands.

My only responsibility was to attend school for two years, so I found myself with considerable more free time that I initially filled up with just my typical recreational activities of golf, movies, reading, computer games and the equivalent. After a few months of this I had mentally reached a point where most of the static noise that tends to build up with day to day frustrations and issues that we all experience had essentially melted away.

I started to think more reflectively and internally and the one great epiphany I experienced was that I had given up one of the great loves of my life when I stopped playing guitar regularly nearly fifteen years before. It wasn't a conscious decision. I just gradually quit playing regularly, mostly because my time was more occupied and because I wasn't really making progress.

Truthfully, I had never really learned the importance and value of dedicated practice and study on an instrument. When I was a kid I think I just dreamed of being a rock star (always a guitarist) and didn't really appreciate how much work it would take to become a good if not great musician. I had friends who were very accomplished in their own rights, were members of bands, but I didn't make the connection of how much time they had dedicated to their instruments & art to reach the level of mastery they had achieved.

I took a few lessons here and there as well as buying some song books and once they became popular, tablature magazines. I learned enough guitar to be able to play three chord punk songs and albeit poorly, some basic scale patterns like the blues. I also learned very basic and sloppy versions of a few fingerstyle parts like Blackbird or the opening to Stairway. In one part of my mind I thought I was doing pretty well, and I would even have people tell me I was good. In retrospect, I think these people were just nice, positive people who wanted to say something uplifting.

I did benefit from developing a modicum of muscle memory for chords and basic scales, but I otherwise never really learned to play the guitar. I knew (and people had repeatedly told me) that I would only get better with practice, but I was either not mature enough or just had too many other areas of concern in my life that my rational mind and will never got together and agreed that work needed to be done. So, I put my guitar down.

I had owned an Ibanez strat style electric, an Ovation acoustic and a Peavey Bandit 65 solid state amp. I also had two pedals (Boss Super Overdrive and Stereo Chorus). When Aeyoung and I moved to Kentucky, we were tight on funds and I ended up pawning the Ibanez and the Amp/pedals for a little extra cash. I don't remember what we got for it, but it wasn't much. For some reason, I held on to the Ovation. I think somewhere inside I knew that letting that guitar go would be completely cutting off ties with the musician I had dreamed of becoming. So the Ovation sat in the closet. It followed us around the globe, occasionally (every few years) getting brought out of its case for a few nostalgic attempts at "Tangerine" or "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You". These attempts would add up to probably less than one hour of playing time over a 15 year period.

The ironic thing, is that I never stopped thinking like a guitar player. I would hear a song playing and immediately focus on the guitar part. I would mentally air guitar solos in my head while listening. While I was always a music fan and listened whenever I got the chance, the amount really increased with the advent of digital music players in the 2001 timeframe. It was probably partially a result of getting my first Ipod in 2003 and the subsequent increase in music listening that influenced my renewed desire to play music.

As 2003 drew to a close, I increasingly thought about guitars and music. I started to get back into buying guitar magazines and listening more to guitar oriented music and with the increase in the number and depth of websites, I was able to do more research and reading into the subject as well. I didn't realize what I was going to do overnight. Gradually as I read more (and had so much more information readily available compared to my teenage years) I started to feel the old spark of joy that I remembered from certain sentinel musical events from my childhood.

I still remember the first time I heard live music. They were the opening act for Donny & Marie at the Ohio State Fair and I was probably around 7 or 8 years old. We weren't there to see the band, my parents had just taken us to the fair that day. They were otherwise forgettable, but it was live amplified guitar, and it froze me in my tracks. I had always loved music from a young age. When I was 3 or 4, I used to insist that my parents play "Bye Bye, American Pie" anytime we got in the car. This was back in the days of analog AM/FM radios. I remember loving that song because it told a long story to music, and I just remember wanting it to go own forever. I would have killed to have my own ipod back then.

I remember the first time I heard a neighborhood kid playing an electric guitar (It was the Reidlingers a couple streets over. There were playing a really crappy version of I think, "Rock & Roll All Nite"). I remember the first time I saw Pat Metheny, and Rush, and standing against the stage while Jimmy Page played the solo to Stairway at the British Invasion show in Dallas. I remember the first time I heard/saw Eric Johnson on his 1989 Austin City Limits appearance. These were touchstones in my life. Music has always had a special power in my life in that it reaches me on a deeper and much more direct level than almost anything else I can describe. Music can communicate on many levels, often on higher intellectual, spiritual, political, and other more esoteric contexts. But Music has always had a unique quality in its ability to reach me emotionally.

I'm not an overtly emotional person. I didn't cry at my Father's funeral. I didn't feel like I was holding anything back, I just didn't feel the urge. I didn't feel any strong emotions about his death at all for several months. But one morning I woke up with a song in my head. It was very simple, just a few chord changes and some vague ideas of lyrics, but I knew it was a song about my father, and about his passing. I spent a few hours trying to work out the chord changes and jotted down some lyrics, but I couldn't continue. I was just finding myself overcome with emotion as I would hear the song and attempt to attach lyrics. I'll get back to it someday. As powerful and cathartic as this experience was, it wasn't a unique experience with music for me.

I've heard someone describe how they don't automatically get emotional when watching movies. It doesn't matter if the movie is supposed to be moving or not, they just don't have that empathetic experience while watching the drama unfold. Until the music starts playing. It doesn't matter how cheesy or nostalgic the show is, when they cue the music at the right time, it's like flipping a switch.

I don't know how else to describe it. For me, music has an immediate and powerful pathway for me. In internet parlance, it has an ultra high speed broadband connection to my emotional side. In my life I don't show or express a great deal of emotion, especially to outsiders. Even within my immediate family unit, I don't regularly show or express sadness and anger. I'm a generally stable, happy and fun loving person. I love to laugh and enjoy the simple pleasures in life, but I don't really experience a great deal of sadness. That's partly because I live a very fortunate life, but it's also because I'm just not inclined to feel sadness. It's generally not a healthy emotion in my opinion. If there's something in your life that makes you sad and you can change it, you have no business being sad. If it's something you can't change, then you should focus on something that doesn't make you sad.

But with music it's a different thing. It's truly like a switch. I can be listening to a song and feel an overwhelming wave of sadness or melancholy wash over me as I listen. And when my Iphone shuffles to the next tune which is usually something that's polar opposite to the last song, my mood can immediately reset itself to the current tune. And it doesn't feel unnatural to go from sad melancholy to high energy, angry heavy metal. It feels perfectly normal.

Music is as fundamental to my life as eating and drinking. I'm fortunate in that I'm able to listen to music all day, even at work. Wow, this is really a rambling, circular way to get to my original point.

To whit, taking stock. Music, while being a persistent and powerful force in my entire life, returned to its rightful center when I decided to resume my life as a musician. It feels weird calling myself a musician because I don't perform for others (unless you count Aeyoung and our four legged children), and I don't earn income or otherwise engage in any activity that would identify me as such that others would know. Nevertheless, getting a new electric guitar, amp, and starting to practice again felt like coming home after being gone a long, long time. My love for music had never changed, I still had that same spark of excitement when learning a new passage, finding a new sound, feeling the calluses starting to return to my fingertips. But I had changed.

Although I still had that young teenager with Rush and Zeppelin posters on his walls and dreams of knocking audiences out with my playing prowess inside me, I was a very different person by then. I had spent 17 years in the Army. I had served overseas on long tours and deployments. I had experienced Combat firsthand, done my job well, and come out relatively unscathed. I understood the value of life. I understood the value of work. I knew that the truly valuable things in life are hard won. I knew that becoming a great musician wasn't about the endpoint. These sorts of endeavors are not about the destination, to coin another old phrase. I had faced many challenges that seemed insurmountable in the past and overcome them. I knew that almost nothing is impossible (I would say nothing, but I don't care how hard I work at it, I'm not going to get a roster spot on the Cowboys) if you want it bad enough.

Oh yes, taking stock. I learned a really valuable lesson about my life in general when I got back into playing music. You have to identify what's really important to you. Take away all the superfluous bullshit that clutters up your life and leave only the things you truly can't live without. I don't mean what you would take in case of fire, we can be a little more generous than that. First and foremost it was always be my wife and dogs. After that, the most important things in my life that I can't and/or don't want to live without are essentially the same as they were when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Music, books, movies, and later video games. There's a lot more to my life and experience than that, but those are the things that truly make me happy.

I don't discount the importance or value of medicine. It's my career and it's been very rewarding to me and my family on multiple levels. But if I'm being completely honest, I could leave medicine today and never look back. I actually like my job. I like the work. It's usually interesting, low stress, and it's good compensation. But I don't have to practice medicine. If I found a similarly lucrative and low stress predictable occupation in an area I was better suited to work, I would probably consider a career change.

Not so with music, movies, books and video games. These are what makes me truly happy and will always be a part of my life. Sad to say, if I'm still alive to see my 80s and beyond, I'll still probably be looking forward to the latest version of a fantasy RPG like Warcraft when it comes out. I'll probably still be listening to my hard rock and metal, and I'll probably still be trying to attend concerts if Aeyoung and I are physically capable and have enough hearing remaining to enjoy the show.

So, what has taking stock go to do with this? I try to make a point of taking stock at least once a year or so. I ask myself where I'm at in my life, and where do I want to go? What are my weak areas and will improving them enrich my life? If so, why aren't I working on them right now?

That's the simplest way I can describe taking stock. Where are you at in your life? Where do you want to be? What do you need to do to get there? Why aren't you walking that way right now?

My current "take stock" list has been pretty stable since I got back into music. I've passed a few milestones like retiring from the Army, moving back to my hometown, getting a good stable federal job. My short/long term goals are fairly simple. We need to sell our house in Killeen and then focus on the next house we will buy which will hopefully be our last. We want to get it right this time so that we're completely content with our decision and can happily stay in that home for the rest of our lives. That's the goal anyways.

After that, my list of priorities is fairly predictable. Continue improving in music: (acoustic/electric guitar, piano, theory, ear, songwriting, production, performing) and possibly add drums and bass to my instruments, learn to read/write/speak Korean (finally after nearly 22 years of marriage), train/complete a marathon and continue running as a way of life.

The satisfying thing for me is that none of my great passions are about reaching an endpoint. As my technical ability in music improves, I'll eventually get to the point where I feel less compelled to work on technique and more on songwriting, improvising, performing. Regardless, I'll never run out of things to learn or practice. And I'll never lose my love for the process. I would have lost it by now if it was going to happen.

Also, I'll never run short of new music to listen to, new movies to watch, new books to read, or new video games to play. Life is truly wonderful. By taking stock I can see where I want my life to go and I'm thrilled to be making the journey. And if I die tomorrow, I know I've lived my life to the fullest that I could with the time given to me.

Zee job, she has been offered...

I said that in my best impersonation of John Cleese impersonating a frenchman. Oh, and since you'll ask, we already got one.  You know, a grail. Of the holy variety. Annnnnyyyywhhhoooooo, I got the job offer and now my resume goes before the committee and they decide what I'm worth. I'll get the salary offer by the end of next week hopefully. If it's adequate, the lumbering beast that is our worldly possessions and associated accoutrements will begin the journey northward. 

Tropes...

I'm not talking about the overused TV themes kind of tropes. No, this is merely a salutation using my best commanding officer pronunciation of "Troops".  I think they send field grade officers to a special class on how to speak majestically when addressing your Tropes. Words like Godspeed and Fourscore are also highly encouraged.

Anywho,  it's been awhile.  Life has been tumultous, but overall predictable since last I posted. Back in August I was preparing for retirement and was going to start working as a contractor at a Ft Hood clinic. Since that time I declined that job and ended up taking a federal job for a new off post clinic that the Army was building in Killeen.  Now it's going on mid-November and things are probably going to come full circle. I'm currently in the process of taking a different contracting job on Ft Hood, maily because it's about a 35% pay hike. Without going into detail, I'm thinking about going back to school in a few years and short term earning potential is paramount since I won't be able to work much after starting school.

On the fitness front I have been training to run the Austin 2011 Marathon next February.  This will be my first marathon so I started training several months in advance. I just completed a half marathon last weekend, which was actually a few weeks ahead of my training schedule but it was a memorial run for the November 5th shooting victims and it seemed like a good coincidence and a worthy reason to run.  I ran in 1:44 which I was pretty happy with since my marathon goal is to break 4 hours. I had a short term goal of running 100 miles in 30 days (at the insistence of the Nike+app, actually) and I need to run 8.5 miles today to meet that goal. I have been keeping a pretty steady running schedule, but the occasional Saturday over-indulgence in sudsy beverages has caused me to skip an occasional long run which is usually scheduled for Sunday.

On the musical front not much is different. I had been in an acoustic phase for the last several months but began playing electric a few weeks back.  I'm getting gradually closer to "Endless Road" which has lived up to its name.  I started playing electric again out of natural jonesin and also looking forward to getting my Suhr Modern a la Frankenstrat here in the near future.  On the piano front, I had actually signed up for piano lessons at a little studio here in Harker Heights and took four lessons over the course of a month. The teacher was nice enough but it was very regimented and strictly by this beginner's lesson book.  It would have been good for me to learn sight reading, but I'm more interested in learning songs and don't really see that it's worth the effort to get fast at sight reading.  So, I quit taking lessons and I'm back to just playing my selection of songs. I've added "Linus & Lucy" which is challenging but alot of fun.

Lazy days of summer...

Time seems to be alternating between languid and rapid if that's possible. The days are drifting by with no regiment but the number of them is dwindling. I signed out of the Army going on two weeks ago and I still have 5 weeks before I go back to work. No concerts this month but September will be a busy one. Besides exercising and some practice, productivity has been non existent.

Polishing things up...

The site is almost back to where it was before the change to squarespace/godaddy although I need to re-upload some media that got lost in the shuffle. Then I can get back to actually using this thing on a regular basis. Comments about broken/missing links or anything else are welcome and encouraged.

Site Transfer

I am moving to a new web hosting service, and the domain transfer/site update process is not exactly going smoothly. I have to copy/paste all my old entries and update the date stamps for each. This means that the site is completely skullduggerized in its chronology at this point. Hopefully I'll have it fixed within a few weeks given time.

Still Breathing

What can I say, it’s been a busy 8 months or so. The site definitely needs maintenance and updates to make it a valid blog. Lots to come if and when I have time. I’m on the cusp of retirement (what comes after the cusp by the way?) and will be busy at work and other assorted events in the near future. I have lots of updates on the home life and a metric crap ton of gear updates. On the gear front, I can only say that I am much closer to gearvana than ever before (if such a thing is possible) For those wanting a hint I can only say: Fractal Audio, Roland, JBL, Presonus, Charvel, Maton, Mesa.

A really bad 24 hours…

We lost our civilian doctor, Dr. Rahullah who had been an integral part of our clinic here. He is on my left, explaining the patient’s prognosis to her father. He apparently was killed because of an inter-family rivalry although that isn’t confirmed. He was a man who had risen so far above his upbringing and spent seven years of his life in medical school and had been working in our clinic for less than a year. As unique as doctors are in the states, they are even more special here in Afghanistan. This is a typical outcome for those who put their lives on the line to help the people of Afghanistan.

 

R.I.P, Pak Song Yul

I found out from Aeyoung that her younger brother Song Yul had passed away after an accident. He was still very young and was taking care of her mother and the family farm since her father's death over ten years ago. He served his country, and was a very hard worker, a good father, son, and brother. I had known him for nearly twenty years and he was always a kind and supportive man.  He will be greatly missed by his family in Korea and the United States.

54 Song Yul on duty at the DMZ, South Korea, around 1989 64 Ae Young, Song Yul and Patricia - Korea circa 1990

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Who needs milestones?

Not me, no sireee. I (ahem), passed a certain chronological milestone a few days ago and realized I should probably put my thoughts down about it. Trouble is, I'm not really thinking about it that much. It will sink in later when I have to fill out a form where the age range is something like 20-29, 30-39, Ancient and decrepit, etc. Age is clearly a state of mind, but it's something that the younger take great pains in reminding you of. Apparently they're going to be young forever. 

I'm fairly happy where I'm at in this part of my life. I have some regrets and some accomplishments I have yet to achieve, but my age isn't going to preclude me from reaching them. It's safe to say that I still wouldn't make it in professional sports even if I could be eighteen again. I hope I'm only at the midpoint of my life now, I'd like another 40+ if I can have them.

 

Are You Special?

We have all heard that phrase from a parent or other guiding figure in our childhood, that we are special.  As a kid, I think most of us take this to heart and really believe that we are somehow different than everyone else and are approaching a singular destiny of some sort.  As we get older we start to realize that we weren't the only ones hearing this phrase from our parents and the conspiracy is revealed. Not that it's a malevolent conspiracy or there isn't a positive benefit from these encouragements.

Having been to many different countries, most of which are economically far poorer than the US and other wealthy western nations, I have seen that being special all depends on your frame of reference.  As a child my daily concerns were getting through school so I could come home and play, read a book, or watch tv. In some countries "hide and seek" is not a game, but a means of staying alive for one more day. If the situation is calm enough, they are given the privilege of scrapping and scraping for fresh water and a small morsel of food to get them through to the next day so they can do it again. For these children, special means you made it into adulthood with your physical body intact and your spirit still alive enough to carry on.

Anyone reading this is far more wealthy than most of the world. Having a computer and internet access is something fewer than 1% of the world's population enjoys. That is based on stats I pulled off the web, so it may be a percentage point or two wrong, but it still shows how unique the experience of surfing the web, reading email, or reading anything for that matter is. Not to mention running water, electricity, safe neighborhoods, access to healthcare, education, etc. For most of the world, these things are dreams and not something they would ever take for granted. Most of us reading this probably do. 

Considering this, my cards are looking pretty good if I'm sitting at a table with people from places like Haiti, Chad, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Kosovo, or Iraq.  Does this make me special?  Have I taken the opportunities I could have in life and done something with them?  I like to think I have tried to make the most of my situation and put in a good effort in most things I do.  Still, have I really lived up to my potential?  Have I taken all the wealth and power afforded to me in western society and really made something of it?  It's a question I really can't answer right now. I have to wonder what the playing field would look like if everyone was on an equal footing. 

So, are you special?  

A New Addition to the Family

we chose our newest family member a few days ago, a black & white cocker spaniel puppy that is 9 weeks old. We will pick her up after we get back from vacation, and we can't wait. She's adorable (aren't they all?) and she'll be a welcome addition to our family. We're thinking of calling her Eclipse. Aeyong thought of the name and since it's both appropriate for her coloring and the name of a cool Pink Floyd song, I thought it would work well. 

April Showers

actually the weather is quite nice today, but we did have some serious rain this weekend, so the official mowing season has arrived. And that's just FAN-FRICKIN-TASTIC, MAN!  Seriously. The annual milestone inspection has essentially passed at work and we did pretty well without any serious deficiencies. Everybody has probably breathed a big sigh of relief and returned to their functional levels of ambivalence. I know I have. (anyone from work reading this should disregard that last statement as me just trying to sound cool and get back to something more productive than reading my blog).  :)  Aeyoung and I are looking forward to two weeks of leave starting next week with 5 days in Vegas. We haven't traveled much since we've been married (not counting the work sponsored relocations) and since I'm going to be going on an extended leave of absence next year, we want to take advantage of the time we have. The sad part is that we probably won't be doing any gambling other than throwing a couple of coins in a hotel lobby slot machine. We're not so big on giving money away with nothing to show for it. We plan on checking out the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and whatever looks interesting in Vegas that week. We'll probably watch a few shows and just relax.

A Milestone on the Horizon

Ae Young, my wife of 16 years, is going to be the first of the two of us to reach the 5th decade of life on this bountiful round orb that is God’s Green Earth (not sure where that came from, but there it is. So you have it). We are typically pretty low key about our birthday and anniversary celebrations. I have never forgotten any or not marked the occasion with some sort of gift and the requisite ancillary celebratory maneuverings (cake, flowers, etc.) because I do find value in acknowledging how important she is to me (lay off you romantics, I let her know every day, sheesh), but we don’t ever make a big production out of anything. That being said, I felt it was important to “emphasize” this birthday in my own subdued manner.

To serve the materialistic needs I had already bought her a new watch via the rural American’s mercantile messiah, oh glorious Amazon. Not sure what I ever did without online shopping. I get really tired of having to go to stores and talk to people who are either incompetent, apathetic or a frustrating conglomeration of both. Anywho, the package came ahead of schedule and I gave her the option for the early reveal. For which she opted. And I will say she was quite happy with the choice (she had been dropping hints).

Crass materialist needs having been served, I also needed to arrange the ancillary (ok, that’s from a man’s point of view, I’m sure a woman would never consider flowers as ancillary) tokens of love. So I ventured to the corner baker and florist to arrange the baking and the, um floristing (40 roses, red) Speaking of which, the baker (or would you call a woman a bakess? bakestress? mistress of the oven?) was left speechless for at least 30 seconds of which was occupied with focused staring at my forehead while she tried to process the request for “Happy 22nd Anniversary of your 18th Birthday” on a cake. (btw, that’s what we’re calling the “you know what” so leave it alone)

While I don’t fancy that she has had the specific request before, certainly it’s not the most outrageous request she ever received and it’s not like I asked her to write the message in sanskrit. I didn’t think about the size constraints considering it’s an eight inch cake (for the two of us and the dogs) until I was driving home. I guess I’ll find out how good she is at small fonts on Thursday. There might be some quick scrambling to the WalMart bakery if my request doesn’t turn out as hoped for.

As I had discussed with a friend at work, turning 40 is a strange thing (I’m still 9 months away) From a numerical standpoint it seems significant, but I’m certain that neither Ae Young nor I feels as if we’re getting much older. The only time I really notice my age is when someone younger makes a joke or points it out otherwise. Or when I’m doing a physical exam on a patient who wasn’t born when I joined the Army. That was a bit of a blow to the ol’ solar plexus when it happened earlier this year.

Another element of confusion is that I still enjoy music, movies, books, video games and other forms of entertainment that might be focused on people in their twenties or even younger. I have long since given up trying to act a certain age or to filter my hobbies or pasttimes based on my social standing, age, position in life, etc. Ae Young and I still like watching movies like Shrek or the Incredibles along with all the independent films and less family friendly (not porn, you perv, I mean mature themes) material we also watch. We don’t draw a distinction based on what the intended audience of the material is. We either like it or we don’t. The result being that we can have fun going to a classical recital, a football game, a theme park, an art museum (I threw the last one in, really we’re more natural science & history museum types), you name it. Age seems more important to how others are interpreting us as opposed to how we perceive ourselves. That being said, I do think it’s important to take a moment to make a reckoning of where we stand in our lives and what this moment in time means.

Ae Young has been a breast cancer survivor for over 9 years now. The initial estimates of her survival (based on the type of cancer she had) were at 80% for 5 years and 50% for 10 years. She had just had an essentially complete body MRI through the Women’s Breast Imaging Center in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2005 and the results were completely negative for any sort of recurrence or new growth. I know she thinks about it more often than I do, but I don’t know exactly how often that is. I don’t ever forget about it, but I have to admit that I’m pretty optimistic since she has made it this far without any apparent recurrence. I think the very aggressive surgery and chemotheraphy might have done its job as intended.

From an external standpoint there’s really nothing to indicate it ever happened. Most people never realize or expect that she could have not only gone through the ordeal, but that it happened almost 10 years ago when she was barely into her 30s. I know it has led to us to appreciate every day that we have, and we both realize how important it is to do something today that will mean something tomorrow (or in the future).

While we both have different belief systems, I know we both appreciate that our lives are a gift that should be used to its utmost potential.