Topic, Topic, Who’s Got the Topic?

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When I’m asked where I find my blog topics, I’m often at a loss for what to say. I rarely find the topics, they find me. Not only do the find me, they sneak up and whack me upside the head, they steamroll me, they ambush me, they climb in my brain and throw a party. Yes, sometimes they leave me alone, and when they do, I have to go hunting.

The uninitiated will call topics finding me “inspiration”. I call it “mostly annoying”. Usually when a topic jumps out at me, I can’t afford the distraction or I’m not in a place to do so much as write it down. By the time I am, it’s already left.

Once I have a topic, what then? I often have only a vague notion of where I think it’s going to go. Too bad it rarely works out how I think it will. In fact, most of my blog writing relies on momentum, not “inspiration”.

One of my techniques for topic-finding, when they appear to have abandoned me, is to ask friends on Facebook to give me a topic. As with improv, never say no. Take the first topic someone responds with and run with it. This is one of the advantages of an unthemed blog. The downside is it will never be an “authority” blog. I write for entertainment: mostly mine, though the growing number of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ says other people are being entertained as well. If one day’s entry is boring or otherwise unsatisfying, the next is almost guaranteed to be a different topic, or even a different style.

I hope readers continue to enjoy and leave comments or discuss topics.

CDs, Baby!

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Here I am, selling CDs again. Don’t get me wrong, selling CDs can be fun. Very fun, in some cases. A lot depends on the venue. The venue determines selling style, customer types and attitudes, competing distractions, available equipment, customer flow, advertising/eye catchers, and a whole slew of additional factors.

I think my favorite is selling at conventions. The prospective customers are crazy fun, the parade of costumes is (usually) great to watch, the atmosphere is energetic. When selling at a convention, you’re usually part of a larger team. I think the smallest team I’ve worked with was a team of four, plus the musicians we worked for. That allowed us to have at least one person at the merc table during performances, plus two people selling at the performance venue. Outside the performance times, plus about an hour either side, we organized shifts so that each of us could attend panels and events during the day. On the downside, the hours are much longer (a 12 hour day is a short day), there’s much more equipment to carry, much more inventory, and in the crush, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. At times, you reach a point where time not only ceases to matter, it ceases to have any meaning.

After conventions, I like selling at faires. There’s a similar energy as at conventions, but much less concentrated. Assuming allergies are under control, I enjoy the outside. Even when it rains, we usually have at least some fun–not to mention stories to tell later. Since performances happen at stages across the faire grounds, we don’t carry much inventory at any one time. We restock backstage after each performance. Teams are smaller, usually two or three for the weekend, with at least two at each performance. Occasionally, if there’s an act someone desperately wants to see, one person can usually handle a single performance alone. The backstage camping is also fun…more fun, even, than the patron’s camp ground. Other than possible allergies, the main downsides to selling CDs at faires are the weather, and the physical toll being that active all day can take: lots of walking, lots of standing, lots of dancing, very little sitting.

Next on my list are what I call “venue sales”. These are single event, swim or drown jobs. There’s usually a lot of energy, and watching people dance and react to the performance is fun. There’s usually only one or two people selling at these events. There are a couple of major downsides to these events: 1) space is usually cramped, and 2) customers are usually buzzed, if not outright drunk. Drunk people are fun to watch, and sometimes mess with, but they can also be a pain as customers. Selling at venues is where most musicians make their money, though, so it’s a necessary type. It’s often an intense experience.

The last type of CD sales I do, or have done, is the pre-order sales at a live performance. The majority of these are either scholastic in nature (end of year concerts, etc.) or classical music a the pro, or semi-pro level. Inventory is non-existant, and equipment is pretty much limited to order forms, pens, iPad & Square for credit cards, and a cash box. This type of CD sales is my least favorite, though recently the type I do the most. I usually set up in the lobby, so I don’t actually get to hear the music. Of all the types of CD selling, this is both the easiest and most boring. There’s a lot of down time in which to write (this whole blog post, for instance). Salesmanship is limited because you’re selling to family and friends who attend. Except for truly spectacular performances, the energy tends to be low among audience members. At the scholastic performances, at least, most of what energy there is is aimed at collecting the performing kid and leaving.

I wish I had more opportunity to sell CDs at conventions. Unfortunately, most of the musicians I know either don’t perform at conventions, or already have a sales team and don’t have space for me. Ah, well. I’ll make do with having lots of time to write.

Playing “Catch-up”

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I’m afraid I’ve fallen off on reporting my candle meditations. I don’t have the dates for each one, and I’m not even sure of the order, any more. Suffice it to say, each one is a reflection of where I was at the time, emotionally speaking. Some of them feel forced, so its a good thing they’re translations of wordless meditations rather than actual attempts at poetry.

This flame is fragile,
Yet bright enough to light the path.
This flame is small,
Yet strong enough to accomplish its purpose.
This flame is temporary,
And provides relief at its reliability.
This flame pales beside the sun,
And it takes deliberate effort to extinguish.
Let me be as fragile, as small, as temporary, as pale
As this flame.

A flame everburning,
A flare of light.
A fire to show,
Which way is right.

To guide, to shine,
To glow and warm,
I light this beacon
From which hope is born.

And this prayer I make,
With this burning I call
A blessing on friends new made
And of hope rekindled.

A beacon, a star, a guide;
A life, a hope, a light.
These a flame provides,
These within abide.

A symbol, a sign, a portal;
A focus, a warmth, a path.
These a flame is,
These within abide.

Cat Wars: Interlude

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The mighty huntress padded across her domain. She paused now and again to lick her one damp paw. Annoying. And uncomfortable. A noise jerked her head up to scan the area. There. It came from Soft Plateau. Could it be?

She crept to the base of Soft Plateau. No sound. She stood on her hind legs and put her front paws on top of the plateau. Yes! Her human was there. She jumped to the top of Soft Plateau with a sound that was half purr, half meow.

“Hello? Hello?” She patted her human’s face. “Wake up!” Pat. Pat. “My elastic mouse hid at the bottom of my water bowl. Again.”

Stream of Consciousness: On Creating

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*Warning: stream of consciousness post. It may or may not be organized…or even understandable.*

The act of creation is an amazing thing. Any kind of creation: woodworking, sculpting, writing, music, whatever. It takes a special kind of crazy to pour heart and soul into a creation knowing there will be people who not only reject it, but tear it down, and in doing so tear you down. Yet for any craftsman or artist, the draw is powerful. Successful or not, expressing your ideas in whatever form is addicting. Many people find that in creating a new piece, they discover more about themselves, more about the world around them. I suspect it is this discovery that draws creators to their work.

Creating something out of ideas and components at hand is hard work. Translating the ephemeral into something other people can grasp takes time and effort and lots of failure before success. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers taking the time. Facing failure after failure before finding success is daunting. It’s that barrier of failures that prevents people from trying. I’ve followed the try-and-fail cycle several times, yet the desire to create is still there.

I’ve never been interested in the physical crafts. My interest is in the aesthetic arenas, specifically writing, though I dabble in improv violin. Finding ways to evoke emotion in other people is rewarding. Making someone laugh or cry through markings on paper is an amazing feeling. I just wish I could actually make a living doing it.

More and more in the aesthetic crafts, it is not enough to be “good” or “very good”, one must be at least “excellent” before attention is paid to what you have to say. Hours and hours of effort can get even marginally talented people to “good” or “very good”. Yet it seems that one must put in not only effort, but must also possess a minimum level of talent. And that minimum seems to be increasing.

Oh well. Time to slay yet another Doubt Beast.

4 Differences Between Martial Arts and Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

Lots of people associate martial arts with self-defense, and for good reason. Many schools advertise as teaching “self-defense” whether they actually teach self-defense or martial arts. There is a societal link between the two that has become so strong, that the two are often used interchangeably. Unfortunately this can cause, and has caused, problems. There are many differences, of which I’ll discuss four.

1. Realism in Techniques. No matter how “realistic” a particular school teaches its techniques, there are boundaries which are not crossed. I have yet to see a martial arts school that actually allows, much less encourages, techniques to be practiced as they would actually be used. If they did, they would have to allow at least six weeks between classes so that broken bones had time to heal, at the very least. What about eye gouges or strikes to the throat? Needless to say, in order for a student to learn, the techniques have to be pulled and carefully controlled. There is nothing wrong with this. What is often missing, though, is the realization that the techniques are *purposefully* made less effective in order for students to practice them. Too often what happens when a technique is needed is the student performs as they did in class…and stops short of actually harming their attacker.

2. Pain. Many techniques are based on pain, or–even worse–the assumption of pain. A broken nose will not stop an attacker. When an attack happens, a cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline hits the system. Many techniques that are based on causing pain won’t even be felt. This is not something that comes out in class because, even if a student has some adrenaline in the system, the amount is not even close to how much will be in the system during an attack. As such, pain-based techniques performed consistently and effectively in class rarely, if ever, work when you actually need them.

3. Purpose. Many schools try to sell martial arts as self-defense. This is far from the truth. If you break down the phrase “martial arts”, you come up with “the arts of war.” So how is this different from self-defense? As the name implies, the purpose of martial arts is eliminating the enemy. As much as a student may learn and change internally, mentally or emotionally, the expression of a martial art is always expressed on an outside target. Self-defense, on the other hand, is about keeping yourself safe. Rather than eliminating an enemy, the purpose of self-defense is to make sure that you continue living. The common protest to this viewpoint is that eliminating an enemy and keeping yourself safe are two sides of the same coin. In some cases, this may be true. However, if you’re at the point where the only way to keep yourself safe is by eliminating the enemy, you’ve already missed several opportunities to avoid such a risky situation. This is why I say that self-defense is an attitude.

4. Location. Most likely you will not need to ever use your physical self-defense techniques, but if you do, the chances of it happening in a martial arts school are exceedingly small. As such you probably will not have the amount of space you’re used to moving in, nor will the space you do have be conducive to the techniques you learned. Barring mental instability, most attackers are going to make sure they hold as many advantages as possible, and that you hold as many disadvantages as possible. One of the unmentioned assumptions in most martial arts schools is that the training area is a realistic representation of the places you’re likely to need to use what you learn. I say this assumption is “unmentioned” because most people don’t even realize they’re making it. When said outright, the fallacy is obvious. I can count the number of times it’s actually been said to me on one hand.

It may sound like I’m bashing martial arts. I’m not. What I’m trying to do is draw a line between martial arts and self-defense. Martial arts can be useful in many types of situations, including self-defense. Saying martial arts and self-defense are the same thing shortchanges the potentials of martial arts and limits the concept of self-defense.

Guy Time Again: A Farewell

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It was a short stay, but one of the women I mentioned in a previous blog is leaving. This is one of the few women who alternately made my mouth dry and left me salivating. In all honesty, I can’t say I blame her for leaving, jobs in the ______ industry are hard to find. She’s going to where she found a job. *shakes a fist at the ______ industry in Austin*

The irony about this situation is that we finally got a chance to sit down and just talk about stuff. It happened by accident. Wednesdays are my endurance nights: a dance class, a TurboKick class, and choir, all back to back. I’d picked up my intensity in dance, unfortunately, so did the instructor. By the end of class, I was feeling light headed. I went through the warm-up and stretching for the TurboKick class and decided leaving would be preferable to fainting in a few minutes.

I showered and went to Central Market to grab a couple of oranges and some of their juice blends. Then I went early to choir. I expected no one to be there, so I grabbed the spiral I always keep around for writing blog drafts, poems, and stories in. I turned around to go inside, and there she was, walking toward the building with a bag containing her dinner. This was about half an hour before the doors opened. So we found a table, ate our respective dinners and talked.

Actually dating her would have been a long shot, but she’s a comfortable person to be around. I will, personally, miss her. Her presence will also be missed by our choir. She will be around for the finish of our season, but then she’s off. It will probably be the subject of one of my candle-lighting thoughts.

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