Time For FAWM

Every year since 2013, I’ve signed up, and completed, the February Album Writing Month (FAWM) challenge. FAWM is a global songwriting challenge to write 14 songs in 28 days during the month of February. Nothing is written before February 1st.

In 2008 I did the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a novel of 50,000 words during November. I previously wrote about the early bird yoga challenge. I love creative challenges. They give me accountability, a deadline, and a real impetus to follow through.

Through FAWM I’ve learned so much about mixing, recording, production, and editing on the fly. However, the biggest lessons I’ve learned are in songwriting. The challenge forces me to move fast and make quick decisions. There’s no time to debate and question. I have to turn off the inner editor and critic, or else I’ll lose valuable time. I have to go with what I’ve written and figure out some way to make it work.

Sure, I end up writing some real stinkers, but I always get a few gems too. It’s all about the process, and ultimately, it’s about finishing. When it’s over I can go back and polish the good songs and make them better.

FAWM also gives me insight into how I live my life. Each year I see how much time I waste on social media, watching movies and shows, and thinking about myself. It shows me how much I accomplish when I’m focused and determined.

Even with all those worthwhile benefits I’ve mentioned, my favorite thing about FAWM is the global community. Everyone is positive and encouraging. Folks take the time to listen to your songs and give constructive feedback. I’ve had several great collaborations with a lyricist (Hey Kim!) and a rapper (Whassup GSlade?!), which I’ve never met in person. I’ve connected with songwriters all over the world. I’ve made a friend in North Carolina, the UK, and one in South Africa. It’s inspiring to hear all the songs being written during this time and it’s fulfilling to encourage all the creative energy. FAWM is a wonderful celebration of creativity and music.

Next Monday it begins. I’m eager to get started and I’m excited to see what happens.

You can follow my progress on my FAWM profile:
http://fawm.org/fawmers/jamesstaubes/

11 Dating Best Practices For Men

I’m not a dating coach but I probably could be. I wish I’d kept track of all the dates I’ve had. This is not a brag, it feels more humiliating and sad, but I’ve probably dated over 250 women.

I can feel your judgmental questions. What is every woman not good enough for you? Are you being too picky? Are you only looking at flaws and focusing on those? Did you give it enough time? Are you looking in the right places? Are you waiting for the perfect woman? And my personal favorite, what’s wrong with you? Shut up and save your judgements. I’m not being defensive. I’m confident I’ve done my best and the truth is, I haven’t met the right woman yet.

With all this experience, I’ve developed some dating best practices. These have made dating easier and more tolerable for me.

1. Rip off the band-aid

Both sides know quickly if it’s a match. Yes, it takes time to get to know someone, but usually you know right away if there’s any chemistry. Go with your gut and don’t waste her time, or yours. If your gut tells you it’s not a match then trust it and follow through like a gentleman. Within a few hours after the date is over, send her text letting her know how you feel and…

2. Be honest but not hurtful

Practice truth with grace. There’s no reason to be blunt, rude, or mean to a woman you’re dating. By going on a date with you she’s made herself vulnerable to you. She may have been rude, uninterested, or using you for a Tinder dinner. Let all that go. It’s not your place to reveal her ostensible flaws. Keep your communication honest, direct, and kind. If you’re not sure about your message, run it by a trusted female friend before sending.

3. Don’t put all your cards on the table at once

We all have a past, but you’re not obligated to share it on a first date. Do you have a kid? Multiple divorces? Your innermost desires in a relationship? They don’t have to be revealed right from the start. This information is important, but sharing it early on could derail things and it’s not appropriate. It’s not that a woman can’t handle your past, of course she can. Trust me, if you like each other and there’s real chemistry, the right time will emerge for this. Wait for it.

4. Be yourself

Everyone says to be yourself on dates. What does that even mean? Don’t create a character based on what you think she wants. Don’t be something you’re not in order to gain her approval. Share your real opinions, ideas, and thoughts. If you’re into working on your Raspberry Pi talk about it. If your thing is Giallo films, talk about it. If you love obstacle racing on the weekends tell her.

When you talk about the things you care about and are passionate about your real personality is revealed. This is attractive. These are things that make you unique and interesting. Some of these may turn her off. She may have zero interest in what you love, but when she sees you come alive when you talk about your passions, it’s good. Which leads to one of my favorite things…

5. You can’t say the wrong thing to the right woman

This philosophy was liberating for me. I think this is one of the most important ideas in dating. A lot of guys worry about what to say and how to act. If I’m being my authentic self (as described above) then she’s going to recoil, or be attracted. This is all out of my control. This approach removes the expectations, worries, questions, doubts, and fears in dating communication.

I’ve said some truly dumb things to a woman before. Guess what? She shrugged it off because she liked me. If she’s into you she’ll look past your stupid remark. Hopefully she’ll even give you a hard time about it. That’s when you know it’s on!

6. Always pick up the tab

Guys should always pick up the tab. When the date is winding down and you’ve asked for the check, have your card or cash ready. As soon as the bill lands on the table do not hesitate. Pick it up immediately and pay for it. This removes an awkward conversation of who is paying and how to pay, and honestly, it’s a slick move. I guarantee, if you continue seeing the same woman, she will eventually beat you to the check and pay. I once had a woman say, “Do not argue with me, I’m paying for this one.” If that happens thank her and let her pay. Until then, it’s all on you.

7. Learn some chivalry basics

They say chivalry is dead but I disagree. Start with a few simple things.

Walk on the outside on the street. This means you should always be closest to the curb. If she is on the outside then gracefully position yourself so you are on the outside. For women that know this rule, they love it.

Open doors. Open her car door. Open entrance doors. A bonus move is making sure her seat belt is securely fastened.

Assuming you picked her up at her house, at the end of the date, get out of your car and walk her to her door. If she met you out somewhere, walk her to her car and make sure she leaves safely.

If you want to go super old school pull out her chair as she sits down, and stand if she gets up from the table. Watch Mad Men to see what I mean.

I know a lot of feminists will scoff at these ideas and maybe even argue with me, but here’s my attitude. When I’m dating a woman, it’s my job to make her feel safe and secure in my presence. This is someone’s daughter or sister, or maybe someone’s mother. I’d want her parents to appreciate how I treat her. For me these actions are signs of respect to a woman, not that she’s weak and can’t take care of herself.

8. Communicate when you want to communicate

If you want to call, call. If you want to text, then text. Do not fall into the trap of communication rules. She’s an adult and can decide for herself what to do. However, once you’ve sent the message, that’s it! Do not follow up. No matter how much you want to hear from her, no matter how much you like her, do not send a second message. If she wants to talk to you, she’ll respond. If she doesn’t then move on. Which leads me to…

9. Express interest but don’t be needy

So many times when I was interested in a woman I’d obsess over a reply. This is senseless. You’ve got to let it go. Remember you cannot say the wrong thing if she’s right for you. Women are intuitive and usually know if you like them. This is where your confidence is key. Know that you are a good guy with a lot to offer the right woman. (If you don’t feel that way work on figuring out why.) If she wants you in her life she will let you know and will make room for you.

This is a broader topic but remember a relationship will not make you happy. Your happiness comes from within, not from her approval of you. Always in life remember, anything outside of yourself does not determine your happiness or worth. This is especially true in dating.

10. Make the first move

If things have progressed well and there’s mutual attraction, congrats! It’s a rare thing to find. You’re a guy so if you like her, she probably already knows.

Again, I’m sure my feminist friends might argue, but I believe the man should make the first move in escalating to a physical level. It’s like picking up the check. Remove the guesswork. Take the lead and kiss her. As soon as you start the move you’ll know where you stand. She’ll leave zero room for doubt here.

My personal thought is don’t go for the kiss on the first date. That is way too soon. There are exceptions to this rule but they’re extremely rare. On a first date, I suggest going for the hug and leave it at that.

11. Always make the plans

I believe it’s my job to make the plans for a date. I also apply the 1o date rule here. Plan those first 10 dates. If she’s comfortable with you picking her up at her place, then do that and do not be late. Tell her where you’re going so that she can tell someone where she’ll be. She has no reason whatsoever to trust you early on.

If you make it to 10 dates with a woman, somewhere along the way she’ll ask you to join her in something she wants to do. Odds are you won’t have to plan all 10.

Guys what are some of your dating best practices? Women, what do you wish guys would do better when dating?

Bowie

I read the news today and exclaimed, “No!”

Scanning through the Facebook posts and seeing Bowie trending I thought, “No, no Bowie can’t be dead. His birthday was just last week. No.” Turns out Bowie was mortal, he was human. He just didn’t seem like it.

Odd how losing someone I never met, or even came close to meeting, could make me feel so sad. Yet, I’m feeling it. His music meant so much to me and so many.

Growing up on AOR radio Bowie ruled those airwaves, as a kid I knew his songs: Jean Genie, Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Space Oddity, Rebel Rebel, Suffragette City. He dominated the music video artform in the 80’s. MTV was the perfect medium for his unique blend of visuals and his unique voice.

He never stopped creating or being interesting. He found a way to stay relevant, even up to his brand new record last week.

“China Girl,” has always been one of my favorites. Co-wrote with his friend Iggy Pop and produced by Nile Rodgers, it featured guitars from then unknown Stevie Ray Vaughn. Bowie helped break Vaughn. For me this track is quintessential Bowie.

Bowie was a true artist. He did what he wanted. He bended genres and sexuality. He made the art he wanted to make, on his own terms.

So goodbye Jareth. Goodbye Thin White Duke. Goodbye Ziggy Stardust. Thank you for all that you gave us.

10 Things I’ve Learned Studying With Buzz Amato

I studied classical piano from ages 6 to 13 and I got pretty good at piano during that time. I’m grateful my parents pushed me to take lessons because much of what I learned then still serves me today. Being a teenager at that time I wanted to play Van Halen and Rush, as well as jazz like Dave Brubeck and Ellis Marsalis. This culminated in a battle of wills between me, my teacher, and my mom, resulting in me essentially giving up piano and taking up rock guitar. So while I gained expertise at another instrument, my piano playing and sight reading skills went by the wayside.

As an adult I’ve taken drum lessons and voice lessons, but I’d always wanted to get back to my first instrument, the piano. Finally in June of 2012 I set out on that goal and began studying with the exceptional Buzz Amato. I’ve been fortunate to study with a musician and teacher who has a vast knowledge of theory, live performance, composition, arrangement, as well as insights into pop and jazz music. My playing and songwriting has grown immensely as a result of my studies.

When I told Buzz I was writing 10 things I learned from him he joked, “Oh, you could come up with 10?” That’s Buzz’s humor, a joke with multiple levels, self-deprecating while indirectly challenging me as well.

Let’s get to it, here are 10 lessons, among many, that I’ve learned from Buzz:

1. Be Gentle With Yourself

Perfectionism, excellence, and being exceptional at whatever I’ve set out to do, has plagued me my whole life. I say plague because perfectionism allows excuses, self-doubt, and procrastination to insidiously work its way into eventual inaction and frustration. Buzz saw this in me right from the beginning and would often repeat, “Be gentle with yourself.” All of this ridicule and pressure I put on myself was unnecessary. After all, I wasn’t preparing for a command performance at Lincoln Center in front of the president. Maybe that’ll happen someday but that’s not the current reality. I’ve learned that grace, patience, and love opens a better path to real learning and growth. No one is perfect, because…

2. Every Musician Makes Mistakes

I revere players like Chilly Gonzales, Herbie Hancock, Glenn Gould, and Prince. They’re virtuosos and while they seem to never make a mistake, they’re human and they do. The difference is, they’re able to disguise their mistakes, even using the mistake to find something new.

Miles Davis famously said, “Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” It took me a while to get over my fear of making mistakes, especially playing live. When I had gigs where I fell on my face, I left the stage crestfallen and embarrassed. Buzz got me past all that. Buzz says everyone makes mistakes and really the difference between me and Chilly, or Herbie, is how they use the mistake. Buzz says, “If you play it twice, it’s not a mistake.” So mistakes are okay, after all…

3. It’s Just Music

Buzz reminds me that we “play” music. There aren’t many other aspects of life where we are playing, other than sports, recreation, or acting. Music is powerful. It heals and brings unity to humanity. It offers joy and catharsis. It gives us deeper understanding of ourselves and others through artistic expression. However music is not brain surgery, aeronautical engineering, or law enforcement. I’m not saying music isn’t important, but playing music doesn’t have the same stakes as surgery.

4. Set A Goal or Intention When Practicing

I’ve noticed when I set a goal or intention for my practice time, I practice with more focus and tend to accomplish more. These are simple and specific goals such as, learn the next measure of this piece, or work out fingering for this passage, or….

5. Record Yourself

We’re fortunate to have easy access to recording with computers, phones, and cameras. When I record myself and play it back, I’m able to analyze my playing from a different perspective. I can objectively critique and notice what needs to be practiced, what’s working and what’s not, if my tempo wavers, or if the piece is ready for performance. Recording also applies what is known as the “red light syndrome” to my practicing. This pressure helps relax me when I am finally playing in front of an audience, since I’ve worked out those jitters by recording.

6. Play Relaxed

I know I should play relaxed, but it takes a lot of control, practice, and skill to get there. When I am learning certain passages in a piece they can torment me! Buzz teaches that it’s best to slow the tempo down until I can play the music relaxed. Playing with too much tension in the forearms, hands and fingers leads to more mistakes and fumbles but ultimately, it just sounds bad.

7. Know Your Limitations

While I don’t see a lot of limitations in Buzz’s playing, he references them a lot. He’ll say, “I will substitute in a passage so I’m not using my 4th and 5th fingers, because they are weak.” He then proceeds to run and up and down the keyboard with ease. For me, I know that singing in the key of Eb is not good a key for me.

8. Know Your Strengths

Buzz knows he’s great with arrangement and harmony. He’s got lots of stories where folks complimented him on his use of harmony. I know I can write music quickly when there’s a deadline. For the past 3  years, I’ve completed the February Album Writing Month challenge, writing 14 songs in 28 days. I also know I’m good with Logic and making interesting guitar tones with effects.

9. Unlearn What You Have Learned

We talked about this one yesterday. Buzz tells the story of talking to guitarist Pat Martino who remarked the point of learning music is to learn all the rules, then forget them. The idea is to free the mind from the mechanics, theory, technique, and thinking, and simply play the music. When I allow music to flow from me without filters, rules, or thought, I’m able to truly express the purest form of the music.

10. Mix At Lower Volumes

For many years, I loved listening to music and mixing music at loud volumes. Fortunately a recent hearing test revealed my hearing is normal and I haven’t suffered any noticeable loss. Buzz showed me mixing at lower volumes allows me to hear more details and nuances. Sure, it’s fine to crank up a mix for a minute to gauge where it sits. However, every mixing engineer will tell you, mixing at lower volumes causes less ear fatigue and ultimately gives you a better mix.

If you’re interested in contacting Buzz about piano or music production lessons you can hit him up through his site at buzzamato.com.

11 Things I Learned In 2015

2015 was a great year for me! Don’t worry, this post is not one long humblebrag. After about 3 years of being stagnant, I kept on going and finally had breakthrough year.

Here are 11 lessons I wanted to share:

1. If you can do it, do it now

My uncle has lived in France for 10 years. 5 years ago I told him I was going to visit. I’d never been to Europe and going was on my bucket list. However, another year would pass, growing my procrastination and excuse making skills, but not growing my life experience.

“Hey I’m going to visit this year. Just getting it all together. I’ll keep you posted.”

Then, another year would go by.

During a conversation with my dad, he encouraged me to skip the beach vacation I was considering, and to go see my uncle. I listened.

My trip to Paris in August of last year was life-changing. All these years I could have gone but I always had an excuse: it wasn’t the right time, it’s too expensive, I’m too busy, it’s too late now,  I missed the window of opportunity. All of these statements were fear based and ultimately preventing me from having amazing experiences.

If you have the means to do something you’ve always wanted to do, do it and do it now! If you have the vacation time, take it! Buy the ticket and pull the trigger. It doesn’t have to be a vacation, it can be anything you’ve always wanted to do: take piano lessons, study acting, or driving cross-country. Do it now while you have the chance!

2. Travel by yourself

Don’t let the excuse of traveling alone dissuade you from taking a trip. I’ve taken many excursions by myself and there are many benefits. You can do whatever you want and change in the moment. You can move at your own pace. Traveling alone also makes you accountable for your trip. With no one else to lean on you’re responsible for the plan and making your trip a success. I covered so much ground in Paris by myself.

3. Experiences count more than things

Paris is one of the most amazing cities in the world. The things you can buy will not replace the unforgettable meals at places like La Relais de Venise or Chez Gladines. The perfumes and miniature Eiffel Towers could never replace the thrill of walking through the world’s finest museums. This applies to life in general. The live shows we see, the historical landmarks we visit, and the friends we make always hold more value than cars, clothes, computers, or tchotchkes. Speaking of friends…

4. Making new friends is thrilling

In 2015 I became friends with 2 women who greatly enriched my life. One woman I dated briefly, but we both agreed we were better as friends. Another woman I met through some mutual friends. She invited me to see Brandi Carlile and we’ve been having fun ever since. I love the excitement and newness of an emerging friendship. When there’s an instant, kindred connection of shared interests with someone new, it brings a spark into your life.

5. Biking is the best way to commute

In September I began biking to work. Our office ran out of parking spaces and offered some compensation to those who’d either walk or bike to work. Fortunately, I live close to the office and have a short commute, so it was an easy decision. I love biking into the office, most of the time. On cold or rainy days, I often question (and curse) what I’m doing, but I use the opportunity to practice mind control and stay in the present moment. I also saved a lot of money on gas. Through September until the end of the year, I only filled up my car 3 times.

6. Review your life

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In 2015 I began using the Passion Planner. This outstanding planner got me into the habit of reviewing each day, week, and month, making sure I stayed on point. Last week I did a year-end review. I can clearly see where I succeeded and where I needed to improve. Consistently reviewing your life is like referring to a map. It helps you stay on track.

7. Take personality tests

Our company uses the Birkman Method extensively. The information this test yields is revelatory and indispensable in relating to my co-workers. It gives helpful insights into why they act the way they do, and how I can best approach them. Birkman also shares insights into my strengths and helps me understand my tendencies. I’m a big fan of any personality test that gives valuable info about myself and others, and helps us all better interact with and serve each other.

8. Yoga is amazing

You can read my post about yoga here.

9. One measure at a time

At the beginning of the year my piano teacher gave me the challenge of learning a Bach two-part invention. It is the hardest piece of music I’ve ever played or learned as an adult thus far. Going measure by measure is the only way I could accomplish this goal. Every day during practice I worked and persevered until finally, I was able to put the entire piece under my fingers. It’s been so rewarding. I still have a lot of work on this piece but the knowledge, skill, and ear-training I’ve achieved going measure by measure were musical and personal highlights of this year.

10. Establish a solid morning routine

I’m a goober so morning routines fascinate me. Setting up my day correctly and methodically is important. There are creative, physical, and spiritual tasks that, if I complete before getting out the door, allow me to move through life with greater ease, and grace. Without a good morning routine, I can become “Hulkish.”

11. Keep going

Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” While I wasn’t necessarily in a bad place,  I’d been stuck for a while. I’d fallen into a rut of doing the same things, going to the same places, and thinking the same thoughts. In April I moved near Cabbagetown. That move helped me change up my routine significantly. In January of last year I was promoted to a Senior position on my team.

Even though it didn’t feel like anything was happening all those years, I kept on working and improving. Eventually something happened. My situation, outlook, and routines changed for the better. I just had to keep moving to get there.

What did you learn in 2015? Share the wisdom please!

20 Songs I Loved In 2015

I started with 10 songs but I had to share more. There was so much great music in 2015.

There’s a lot of Top 40 mainstream pop music here. I unabashedly love pop music and don’t believe in “music shaming” or having to qualify the music I enjoy as a “guilty pleasure.” I wholeheartedly agree with Dave Grohl on this matter.

This list also features a lot of songs Max Martin worked on, five to be exact. I’m a huge Max Martin fan.

I prefer sharing songs rather than whole albums. The days of records with numerous hits  and substantial overall quality are over, and yes, there are exceptions. Recommending an entire album feels heavy and burdensome. That said, I must recommend The Bird and The Bee’s Recreational Love and Susanne Sundfør’s Ten Love Songs.

Now let’s get to it! Here are 20 songs I had on repeat in 2015:

1. The Bird and the Bee – Will You Dance?

My favorite record of 2015. Greg Kurstin and Inara George are immensely talented musical geniuses.

2. Susanne Sundør – Fade Away

If I was ranking records, Ten Love Songs would be in the number two spot. Amazing record from this brilliant Norwegian artist.

3. Major Lazer & DJ Snake – Lean On (feat. MØ)

This song will soon have 1 billion plays on YouTube for good reason, it’s amazing! This tune forged a magical amalgamation of EDM and trap, while using modern production and unique sounds. The solo section using vocal samples makes this song so special.

4. The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face

The one standout track from an otherwise lackluster record. Oh yeh, Max Martin strikes again.

5. Death Cab For Cutie – The Ghosts Of Beverly Drive

The first half of Kintsugi starts strong but loses steam and focus at the halfway mark. This song though, so good.

6. Jason Derulo – Want To Want Me

This was the song of the summer, for me.

7. Demi Lovato – Cool For The Summer

Another Max Martin hit.

8. Father John Misty – Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

I Love You, Honeybear was not as strong as Fear Fun. While still a good record, the slow spots made Honeybear a duller and less remarkable experience.

9. Disclosure – Jaded

The vocals and keys on this tune from the British brothers kept me coming back.

10. Craig Wedren – Higher and Higher from Wet Hot American Summer

Craig Wedren flexes his musical genius on this soundtrack.

11. Lana Del Rey – Terrence Loves You

She’s brilliant. Honeymoon, while strong, didn’t pack the same punch that Ultraviolence did. Honeymoon was a more relaxed excursion into experimentation, depth, and space. The production on LDR’s records continues getting wider and deeper, with a remarkable and tasteful use of reverb and delay on her vocals.

12. Ariana Grande – Focus

Feels like Max Martin doing Prince.

13. Dawes – Things Happen

Dawes is truly a live band. Their studio recordings don’t always convey the excitement and energy they generate playing live.

14. Ryan Adams – Bad Blood

I liked this version more than the original. Another gem from Max Martin.

15. Ellie Goulding – On My Mind

One of my favorite songs of the year. Another Max Martin hit nodding to The Police.

16. Chilly Gonzales & The Kaiser Quartett – Advantage Points

This year Chilly dropped “the musical genius” moniker and told us why. He also dropped two full-length records, one with the Kaiser Quartett and one with Boys Noize. This song was my favorite from Chambers.

17. Vulfpeck – 1612

I’ve been following this inspiring band since their Sleepify debacle. This song, and particularly this performance, got many repeats in 2015.

18. White Reaper – Sheila

Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist can help break a band nowadays. That’s how I found this fun band from Kentucky.

19. Brandi Carlile – The Eye

The harmonies. Brilliant.

20. Peaches – Close Up

Peaches is not for the faint of heart. After watching this informative and inspiring interview with Dave Pensado and Peaches, I had a lot of anticipation for this record. I was not disappointed.

Have you heard all of these? What were some of your favorite songs from 2015?

6 Lessons I Learned From Star Wars

Note: This post does not contain any spoilers for The Force Awakens

I know you’re sick of hearing about Star Wars. However I’m gonna ride that momentum for this one. I remembered writing this Toastmasters speech from the Competent Communicator series and decided to repurpose it. This speech focused on using different voices to make your points. It’s hard to beat Star Wars when it comes unforgettable voices.

Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned from Star Wars:

1. Believe in something greater than yourself

Luke says, “I don’t believe it,” after Yoda brings his ship out of the swamp. Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.” The characters in Star Wars who had faith in the force were very strong, whether on the dark side or not.

My personal experience shows that believing in a power greater than myself, a spiritual power, offers a way to get through difficult times and everyday life. This belief opens up a fellowship of humanity which offers support, knowledge through shared experience, and friendship.

2. No one likes a know it all

C3PO loved to let everyone know that it was fluent in over 6 million forms of communication. C3PO was constantly calculating the odds in scenarios which Han Solo didn’t appreciate.

If you know something, you don’t always have to share it. If the odds are against someone, you don’t need to tell them. They are probably quite aware the deck’s stacked against them. No one likes to be told they cannot do something and that taking risks are dangerous.

3. Do or Do Not. There is no Try.

This is my favorite! Remove the word “try” from your vocabulary. Try is an excuse to fail. When someone says they’ll try to do something I take that as a no. Saying, “I’ll try to come to your party,” means they won’t show up. Either you do it or you don’t, there is no in between. 

4. Listen to your teachers

Luke provides great examples of what happens when you don’t listen to your teacher. Luke leaves his training with Yoda at Dagobah to rescue his friends, but it’s a trapWhen Luke goes into the cave he takes his weapons. He fails the test. When Luke does listen to Yoda he succeeds. When Luke begins his training with Obi Wan lowering the visor on the helmet, Luke gets his first glimpse into using the force, following Obi Wan’s lead. Almost every time Luke ignored his teachers and acted out of his own self-will, he ended up in a bad situation

5. You must unlearn what you have learned

This is another favorite. Information changes constantly. I can become stagnant and irrelevant if I hold on to old ideas. We believe stories about ourselves that are completely false and hold us back.

I saw this amazing photo which says, “In a society that profits from your self-doubt liking yourself is a rebellious act.” We’re sold a lot of BS in this culture. These false narratives repeat over and over, seeping into our subconscious, beating us down. We are all worthy of love. We all have the ability to bring joy and love into this world. We all need to do the work to heal ourselves from the lies we tell ourselves, and the lies others have told us. We’ve got to let go of beliefs which do not serve us

6. There is always a chance at redemption

The story of Darth Vader’s redemption is one of the most inspiring, and important, plotlines of Star Wars. Luke never stopped believing there was good in Vader. Never. Luke believed he could redeem Vader and turn him to the light. The pivotal moment comes when Luke removes Vader’s mask. Vader says, “Let me look on you with my own eyes,” and the redemption is complete. It’s late in the game sure, but it happened. Luke was right.

What are some life lessons you’ve learned from Star Wars?

10 90’s Bands You Forgot About (Or Probably Never Knew)

The 90’s were a truly great time for music. I consider myself lucky to have gone to college in the early 90’s, and DJ at the University of Georgia’s college radio station, WUOG. I was exposed to so much music there. In high school I religiously watched a show on MTV called 120 Minutes, which turned me on to so much great music too. Here are some great bands I love from that era, that you may have missed.

Blake Babies

Before Juliana Hatfield made it big time as a solo artist, she was in Blake Babies. The guitar hook on this song is stunning.

Walt Mink

A band I discovered from 120 Minutes. What a great show that was. I loved how Walt Mink fused progressive rock and virtuosity into tight 3 minute songs. Drummer Joey Waronker went on to be a mainstay in Beck’s band.

Big Chief

A band I discovered from rotation at WUOG. Mack Avenue Skullgame was a theme record from Ann Arbor’s Big Chief, made as a soundtrack to a movie which didn’t exist. This record covered everything from funk, blues to rock.

Hoodoo Gurus

This band may not be as obscure as some of these other bands listed. Also a find from 120 Minutes, my first garage band covered the Guru’s songs often. Hoodoo Gurus wrote tight pop/rock songs with great hooks and a lot of tongue in cheek humor.

The Ocean Blue

The Ocean Blue dominated the alternative rock scene in the 90’s with several solid records. The bridge on this song, it’s resplendent. The guitar solo on this tune is excellent. What I love is that it’s a song about how art can provoke awe inspiring feelings and contemplative questions.

Screaming Trees

Another 120 Minutes find. Chris Cornell produced this record for fellow Seattleites. I remember hearing this song and loving it immediately for the reverb on Mark Lanegan’s vocals.

Dag

It’s ridiculous how good these guys were. Did you watch the video? I implore you! I beseech you! Watch that video! That is live! Amazing. I remember people were surprised these guys were white because they were so funky. Got to see them at the Cotton Club back when it was on Peachtree. These guys should’ve been huge.

Versus

I think my brother introduced me to Versus. He and I got to see them several times during the 90’s. Two Cents Plus Tax was my favorite record from this NYC rock band.

Mary’s Danish

Another discovery from WUOG rotation. It took me an hour to remember this band’s name the other day. This song rocks so much.

TPOH or The Pursuit of Happiness

This Canadian band had a hit with the song, “I’m An Adult Now,” which played on my hometown radio station. I’ll never forget seeing them down on River Street on St. Patrick’s Day in 1989. They blew me away. Their stellar 1993 release, The Downward Road, was a favorite of mine and many of my friends. It rocks from top to bottom. Then Beavis & Butthead featured this song in a show and TPOH got big for a minute. Unfortunately that small moment was the biggest they’d get.

Do you remember any of these bands? What are some other obscure 90’s bands you liked?

10 Things I’ve Learned From Yoga

Tony Horton, putting all of his lame jokes aside, is a great teacher. Horton introduced me to yoga when I completed P90X back in 2010. Since then I’ve done yoga off and on, finding a YouTube video, and sometimes revisiting Yoga X. After an amazing vacation in Paris in August, I felt a strong urge to get serious about yoga, and to get to some classes. I got a really good mat and found a studio. I’m so glad I did. Since October I’ve practiced anywhere from three to five times a week at Mystic Lotus in Cabbagetown. I’ve fallen in love with this ancient, beneficial and beautiful practice.

Here are 10 things (among many) I’ve learned so far:

1. Yoga benefits all aspects of life

My friend Drew, who teaches at Mystic Lotus, reminds me that, “yoga is a tool that uses the body to train the mind.” Yoga is challenging and requires a lot of mental focus. Balance postures force my mind to hone in on a specific point and to let go of control. Learning to activate specific muscles makes me aware of how I sit and walk. This focus and awareness is useful in all aspects of life. I’m constantly finding way to apply the skills I develop in my practice.

2.Yoga reduces stress, depression and anxiety

The release of tension, anxiety, and worry, which result from yoga, is like nothing else. During practice I can feel my body and mind releasing negative energy that does not serve me. Yoga allows me to move through life with more ease and relaxation. Studies even show that yoga helps with depression and can increase overall feelings of well-being.

3. Yoga is especially helpful for musicians

All that mind training I mentioned? I’ve found I can apply it specifically when playing music. Tension, anxiety, and incorrect breathing such as holding one’s breath, are enemies to a musician. Playing music in a relaxed and aware state, allow the music to flow. The awareness and activation of specific parts of my body, cultivated through yoga, show me where I’m tense, and where I need to relax. I also get more awareness of where my mind is, while playing. Am I hearing the music or merely going through the motions? Yoga has made me a better player.

4. Yoga first thing in the morning is an outstanding way to start the day

I recently completed a 5 week early bird challenge with the extraordinary teacher, Maggie Benoit, at Mystic Lotus. For 5 straight weeks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I woke up at 6 am for the 630 am class. I paid in advance for the series which gave me a lot of accountability to not miss a single class. There are numerous benefits to starting the day with yoga. Your stomach is empty. Your mind is clear. The world is quiet. The day begins with a good intention. The benefit of this challenge was starting my day open, fully awake, and energized.

5. There are so many ways to breathe

Recently I watched Awake and one statement stuck with me. Yogananda remarks, “I don’t see how you Americans are living, you’re all breathing so improperly.” Breathing, and moving with breath, is one of the most important aspects of yoga. From Nadi Shodhana, Lion’s Breath, to Ujayii breathing, all of these exercises release tension and help me relax. That’s just scratching the surface of breathing exercises!

6. Yoga gives an unequaled natural high

Running, biking, and lifting weights, sure they all release endorphins, but nothing equals the natural high from yoga.

7. Good teachers make a big difference

I began my practice at Mystic Lotus because my friend Drew teaches there, and because it’s right in my neighborhood. This isn’t a paid advertisement for the studio! However, I’ve been consistently impressed with each teacher there. Essentially I am a beginner at yoga, so finding a place where I could practice without judgment and fear was crucial. I’ve learned so much from all the teachers there. They earnestly care about my practice and well-being. They make small, but very necessary, adjustments to my poses, and help me find my best expression of the pose. They show me how to press into the earth, grounding myself, and are helping me get more open with each class.

8. Comparison is futile

I love to compete and win but that doesn’t work in yoga. I’m glad I learned early on that comparing myself to the teachers and more advanced yogis doesn’t serve me. It’s ok to want to progress and achieve my fullest expression of a pose, but berating myself because I can’t do Trikonasana without a block, is dumb. My practice is about me and my growth, no one else’s.

9. There are lots of books on yoga

I’ve already got 3 books stacked up and ready to read on yoga. Autobiography of a Yogi, Light on Yoga, and Asana Pranayama Mudra BandhaThat is only a smidgen of what’s out there.

10. It’s about the journey

Right now my practice is focused on getting open. It will take time to get there and I need to practice patience with myself. I’m early in my practice but I’m so excited to continue this journey. I’m eager to learn poses, to gradually increase my flexibility, and to train my mind to be quiet, and relax.

Have you done yoga? What’s been your experience? Have you thought about doing yoga? What’s stopped you from getting started?