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 Tag: Milestone

It's February, do you know where your posts are?

Some personal updates - the biggest event in the past few months was a brief cancer scare (I know that's so overused but it's actually kind of fitting) for Aeyoung over the past few months. She had been having some intermittent swelling and pain in her neck and a CT scan had showed some concerning calcifications. After much hoop jumping between the imaging center and our insurance (which saw her finally request the study get performed at a different clinic), she underwent a PET scan a little over a week ago.

It took us nearly a week to get the results, but we were thrilled there was no sign of any hypermetabolic activity anywhere in her body. Not only did that clear her of cancer in the area of concern, but it basically gives her entire body a clean bill of health from a cancer standpoint. This was a big weight off our shoulders. The past several weeks have been like 1997 all over again. There's nothing quite as demoralizing as a cancer diagnosis. You no longer know how much time you have and what the quality of that time will be. We were facing the possibility that we might only have months together, and they might be progressively more miserable for her. 

In the days before we received the results, all I could think about was if I could have one wish it would be for her to remain cancer free. That wish came true and we can return to a sense of normalcy for what lies ahead. My hope is that with a change to fee basis we can accelerate our mortgage payoff and give serious consideration to getting a 1-2 acre parcel of land and having a home and a free standing music studio built. Lots of miles to cover before then, but the horizon is wide open and the future looks bright. 

Work related updates

Another infrequent update. I've been staying busy at work and school. I can't recall if I ever mentioned it before, but in the wake of a lot of upheaval in the VA system, not to mention crossing over the five year mark last August, I decided to request a change from a full time permanent position to fee basis (contract). This would see me forfeiting any additional deposits to my 401K as well as earning any more rate increase on my federal pension. I'm also technically forfeiting the other federal benefits (healthcare, dental, vision, paid leave) but those losses are negligible. I'm already eligible (and using) my retiree benefits for these and the loss of paid leave becomes irrelevant under the fee basis paradigm.  

What I gain from fee basis is getting paid for the amount of work I do, dictating what schedule I want to work (meaning I can work 5 days, 3 days, take a month off, etc.), and the ability to leave work as soon as I'm finished on any given day. The rate at which they pay (and considering how fast I work), means that if I maintain my current production levels I can realistically take home more money while working fewer days. Although I'll be forfeiting additional increase in my federal pension, it was never going to be a significant portion of my retirement and I will still be able to draw some money when I reach 62.  The 401k (TSP) may be eligible for transfer to another similar IRA type account. I will look into this in the future. Regardless, the cons are minor and the pros are great for this change. 

The decision to change was made in the wake of perceived sweeping changes in the VA (including an increased use of contractors) and the concerns about a new administration coming into power. I made the request in December and received fast and positive feedback from my direct supervisor. In this process, he has actually been the only real support and has moved things along at every step. It's still pending because of sitting in the Dallas VA mailroom for a month (literally) and then sitting on someone's desk in HR until my supervisor personally visited and got them to do their jobs. The complete lack of inertia among many employees in the VA is what gives us a bad name. There are people content to draw a paycheck and all the benefits and perform as little actual work as they can get away with. They act like they're doing you a personal favor just to listen to your request. 

All that being said, hopefully things are in the home stretch now and I can adopt a condensed schedule. My plan is to work Tue-Thu, but I'm requesting that they give me a dense schedule every day in the hopes I can maintain similar numbers. I'm hopeful I can nearly double my current take home pay, but that will be predicated by how much they offer in compensation and how high demand remains. 

Busy Busy Busyerington...

It's almost surprising I have found a few minutes to quickly update the blog.  It's been a very busy couple of months since I posted last. Between work, school and trying to practice I've been essentially moving non stop from wake until sleep every day. Ironically, the days I thought I would still get some good practice time (weekend) are often the days I don't find any time to practice. I've been saving my weekly assignments that are project based until the weekend, and these end up eating up big chunks of the day. My best practice days have ended up being Mon-Thu. I haven't been able to maintain my previous 3 hours a day by any stretch. 2.5 hours is a great day because it generally means I got 30 minutes on everything. 

I've had a few weeks where the scope of the work just overwhelmed my practice schedule in general. That combined with a few fix up projects in my studio (mainly installing acoustic treatment) wiped out a few weekends and several weekdays as well. Aeyong has been gone to Korea the last five weeks, so taking care of all the household stuff has really kept me moving at full speed. She comes home tomorrow, and it will be great to have her back. I essentially have 2 weeks left this semester and then the next day we start the spring semester. 

A big development has been the creation of the Music Composition for Film, Television, and Games degree track and I'm orienting towards pursuit of a dual degree with that and production. I will be busier than the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest for the next four years. All that being said, the past two months have been fantastic for my development as a musician. I finally shared my original work with friends and classmates, as well as a brief cover of a Coldplay tune "Amsterdam" that featured me singing and playing all the instruments. 

I couldn't foresee a time when I was going to be ready to do that before, and now I've done it and it was no big deal at all. I've only had a few friends take the time to listen to it, but I've gotten positive feedback from all of them including one who I've respected for years as a musician. It's a small validation, but a really big deal for me. I've known I had something, but I always wondered if it would be enough for others to consider it worthy of the effort. Now I know that it is. Enough laurel resting, I've got work to do. 

The Ides of March

and Guitardom anniversary number 9. I've made note of this date a few times in the past as it marks the actual day I resumed the mantle of guitar player again. As I've said previously, it was a decision reached after having several months of unencumbered reflection while I was pursuing my MPH at OUHSC. At the time I realized that I still thought like a guitar player, I still consumed guitar oriented music, and I really missed that part of my life although I had essentially put the guitar down for the better part of 15 years. I would say it was one of the biggest mistakes in my life, but my life wasn't exactly empty in those years and alls well that ends well.

It's hard to quantify exactly what has transpired in the last year. This year marks 9 years of steady playing and incremental improvement. I know I'm getting closer to some targets (you never reach "the target" as it's always moving away), and I may actually get to a point in the next year or two that I can say (with a straight face) that I've satisfied myself with the amount of work in a certain direction or on a certain song. My song milestones are the same as they have been for the most part (Eruption, Endless Road, etc.), although I did start working on a project that has lain fallow for the past few months, and I intend to resume.

I began a "Guitar Hero Retrospective" project in the spirit of a project initially done and posted by a guitarist named Ketil Strand. It's essentially a medley of key tunes by the influential guitarists of the modern era (dating back to Django, Charlie Christian, etc.) While I don't know that I'll put together something quite as comprehensive as him, the project was a good way to not only put together a demo I could post for future opportunities, but it would also be a good way to either learn or enhance certain styles that are usually somewhat neglected in my playing.

The biggest determinants for my playing in the past year have been buying a Jazz Bass last winter, putting together a few acoustic numbers to play at my Grandmother Nonie's wake, and then gradually resuming electric, bass, and piano. Once the decision was made to play those songs for Nonie, I only practiced those tunes for the next 6 weeks or so. This fall saw me resume my regularly scheduled programming, with a bit more emphasis on the neglected electrics. In the past I had been trying to play piano in the morning, and then about 30 minutes of bass, followed by 45 minutes of electric, and closing with 45 minutes of acoustic at night.

I'm trying a different approach (as of this week) in which I will probably alternate electric on one night, followed by bass & acoustic the other nights. I feel like I need to get back to focusing more intensely on trying to improve technique, phrasing, etc. and the brief little 45 minute sessions were too superficial. I have also started to learn more parts by ear, moreso by happenstance as opposed to formal planning.

Learning bass lines by ear is quite a bit less challenging than guitar since they're typically monophonic (not counting Geddy and Chris Squire, among others) and the tone is usually cleanish enough that you can discern the notes easier. But I've also spent some time learning a few guitar tunes by ear, and I had started trying to learn some piano pieces by ear, although I set the bar pretty high for my current level of skill. I've really got to make that a regular part of my playing, because I honestly think the key to expressing yourself well on any instrument requires a great ear. I've also got to commit to actually working a bit harder to take all these riffs and bits of songs and forge them into actual tunes I record. I'm guilty of coming up with riffs fairly spontaneously, but stopping short of working them into full songs.

That's what I love about being a musician. There's always going to be something you don't know, and there's always going to be something that will challenge you on multiple levels. Cliche warning: It's the journey, not the destination. It's truly the process of learning, improving, practicing and the like that keeps the truly dedicated coming back. If you don't love the day to day work, you'll never keep it up.

I've got no problem with that...