Why I Have A Stache

“Excuse me. I’m sorry, but your moustache is awesome, dude,” said a man next to me in line to board a flight. “I can’t grow one, wish I could. But yours is killer, man.”

“Dude! Your moustache is great!” a guy exclaimed as he passed my date and me as we walked to her car after a drink. He excused himself as he went by. “Pardon me,” he looked at my lady friend. “I’d love to grow one, but I just know I’d look weird,” he said to me.

Backstage, pre-show. I was just about to take the stage and the security guard stepped in front of me. He was about 6’ 6”, 300, a pretty hefty fella.

“Hey!” he barked loudly over the house music. I froze for a moment. Had I done something wrong to warrant his shadow looming over me? I rifled through my memory of the evening trying to think of some reason this large keeper of the peace might be after me, but nothing came to mind. So I kept calm and carried on, as they say.

“What’s up, man?” I responded in a friendly tone, if not a pubescent cracked voice. His shadow quickly receded as his face changed from ominously serious to inquisitively childlike. He came closer and his eyebrows perked up.

“I gotta know…How long’d it take you to grow your stache, man? It’s dope! I’ve been thinking about growing one, but I’m just nervous that I’d look weird, ya know?”

So I said to Big Vince the same thing I said to Colby at Logan Airport and James on the street in Downtown Culver City: “If you really want to grow a stache, let it grow! You’ll definitely think you look weird because you look at yourself every single day, but that’s natural. No one else will think you look weird. People (barring your lady friend, perhaps) see you as you are, not as a comparison of what you looked like yesterday or three days ago or three weeks ago. There is a middle point where it’ll start growing into your mouth and it’ll feel funky and you’ll be wicked conscious of it, and you’ll be playing with it all day. But you have to just muscle through it. Let it roll because once that stage is over, you’ll be golden!”

“Thanks, dude!” said Colby.
“Thanks, sir!” James responded.
“Thanks, man!” Big Vince from The Troubadour replied.

My stache didn’t grow out alone. It had some chinly company in the beginning.  For years I kept my facial hair at a constant stubble. The first time I decided to let it grow past my standard two-week growth/trim cycle (basically constant stubble to actual beard), it got to about an eighth of an inch before I looked at myself in the mirror one day and was like, “OMG, I have an honest-to-god actual beard!” I posted a picture to Facebook. The caption actually read: “My beard is HUGE.” Such a novice.

When I finally decided to completely forgo the trim portion of my cycle, I let my beard grow strong and powerful for six months. One night at dinner with my cousin, she looked across the table at my five inch face forest and said, “You know…you have a really nice jaw line under there.”

There was a long pause as I raised an eyebrow. She braced for my response.

“Yeah, all right, I get it!”

About a week after she not-so-subtly inferred that I should trim the muzzle-lashings upon my face, I was driving home from work, combing my beard (yes, I had a beard comb in the car), and then it hit me: “Today’s the day,” I thought as I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. “This baby’s coming off.”

I started trimming when I got home. My bathroom sink was drowning in five-inch, brown, black, and occasional white hairs from my cheeks and chin. The scene was brutal for any hirsute. Fallen soldiers everywhere. The hairs fell from my face in slow motion to the cold porcelain curves of the basin. I should have strung crime scene tape around it. It was like when Ben Kenobi felt Alderaan’s demise in Star Wars: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

But there were leftovers. A victorious few in what has come to be known as The Great Beard Trimmer Incident of 2011. As I stared at my skinny, mostly naked face, my moustache looked finer and more glorious than it ever had when surrounded by my beastly beard. It was proud in its solitude, excited to face the world without the weight of the suburbs of the chin.

I was on the ice rink in Santa Monica season recently. It was filled with parents and their children swishing around in circles. As I leaned against the rink’s wall resting my shins and ankles, a small, giggling girl about eight years old, skated past and shouted through the crowd, “Excuse me sir! I really like your moustache!” And that’s why I keep it around. It starts conversations, it creates bonds between men. But most importantly, it encourages people to smile.

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Why I Sold My Stuff to Travel the World and the Questions I Ask(ed) Myself

Which is the greater risk? Leaving your job, your friends, your stuff, your routine, your life, to go on an adventure into the unknown because you feel it in your gut? Or staying put at your job, with your friends, surrounded by your stuff, ingrained in your routine, in your life, with no change in sight because it’s the “safe” and “acceptable” thing to do? It’s a thought that has crept up for me on many occasions in the past few years. And the more I opened myself to the understanding that change is good, all the time, every time, even/especially when I don’t want it, I realized that my staying stagnant, when in my heart I know I must seek change, made the decision to leave all the things listed above and embark on a round-the-world journey simple. Not easy, though. I just knew I had to do it and began to ask myself a truck load of difficult questions.

I went to Italy in 2014 with my cousins, aunt, and uncle after they suggested I tag along. I bought the plane ticket and met them in Cinque Terre a month later. On the front and back ends of the trip, I stopped into Rome for a pair of weeks to visit a couple of friends whom I had met in 2012 after a tour with my band and ended up having the time of my life. They introduced me to their friends, and they introduced me to their friends. We shared conversations, drinks, food, laughter, the whole nine. It was absolutely lovely. After that three-week trip I came back to LA and fell into a funk. But it wasn’t the standard “I wish I was still on vacation” funk that generally accompanies heading home after a beautiful experience abroad. It was deeper. And it lasted longer than any funk I’d been in in a while. As the months passed and I was unable to determine why I was down for so long, I started digging deep within myself. I busted out the magnifying glass and head lamp, cracked open the darkest parts of my soul, asked myself a zillion difficult questions, and forced myself to look in the proverbial mirror. I started assessing my life (What am I actually doing here?), my goals (What do I want to accomplish before I die?), and my purpose (Whom do I want to affect before the end?). So yeah, the easy stuff. Peeling off my skin and scratching my most vulnerable wounds was not a pleasant experience. But I did it. And I continue to do it. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that isn’t a one-time event. You have to constantly uncover the truth beneath the surface and face yourself and your demons on a regular basis. Sweet.

I read the Four-Hour Workweek among other books as part of that deep, uncomfortable dive. At the end of each chapter, the author poses a few action items, some in the form of questions. One of the questions that stuck out to me went something like this: How hard would it be for you to come back to where you are today – your job, your routine, your life – in 3 months, 6 months, 3 years? Not emotionally, per se, but practically. I knew the answer immediately: Easy. Wicked easy. I haven’t yet built an empire, eased my way into upper management, or gotten too committed to a lifestyle that would prevent me from pulling ties from a career which would bring my comfort crashing down. But executing this task of unplugging myself from my life is far from easy, it’s a chore. Physically and emotionally. How do I go from routine 9-5p, eat, sleep, band rehearsals, drinks with friends, all the way to the other side of the spectrum: sell it all, pack a bag, no obligations, nowhere to be, no one relies on you, and roam the earth? Is this even something I want to do?

I started by asking myself a series of questions similar to the one Tim Ferriss posed in his book. His was the one that pushed me to the edge and allowed me to move forward with my desire to see what was next despite not knowing what it was that I wanted or what the future would look like.

  • How hard would it be for me to come back to where I am today?
  • Do I have a support system in place? Friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  • Do I feel comfortable selling, donating, and/or storing all my stuff?
  • Do I really need all the stuff that I have?
  • What is the most important thing in my life?
  • Why do I work hard to obtain all sorts of stuff only to die with none of it?
  • What can I give back to the world?
  • What do I have to say with my life?
  • Do I love where I am in my life?
  • Will my friends support me? If not, are they really my friends?
  • Is my heart open and free?
  • How can I make this world a better place?
  • What is my purpose?
  • Am I special?

I continually asked myself these and myriad other questions and ruminated on them over the course of about a year and a half. I made adjustments in my life when some were answered, I pivoted when opportunity presented itself, and I changed my vision when change was necessary. I did not know where I was going, but I knew that the path being laid before me – by my own work and by the universe – was the right one.

I was on my way.

Each question I pondered yielded multiple iterations of answers. There was no point that I said to myself, “This is exactly what I will do!” It was more like, “I think this is a good idea for now, but who knows?” and I just stepped forward. Like in 2015, when I made the choice to use all my time off from work to live with my friends in Rome for a month instead of quitting my job and moving there. I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish outside of just enjoying time with friends and seeing if I could make a few professional connections. I didn’t set up meetings with anyone, but did question and probe the folks I met about their lives and what they do and why they do it. During that process, I didn’t find a tangible purpose for me to stay in Rome (i.e., a job/career, artistic opportunities, love), but I did further my knowledge of myself and my thoughts of this world based on my experiences, the experiences of others, and our shared connections. So I came back to Los Angeles to reassess. I knew I wanted a change – Rome was the first leaping pad – but I didn’t know what that change would look like. When I got on the plane in Rome to come home, I wasn’t sad to leave and come back to my “boring” life, I was invigorated and excited to see what I’d do next.

In reality though, Rome wasn’t the first leaping pad at all. As I continued to ask myself questions, I also pulled back my perspective from being deep in the weeds of my life and took a 30,000 foot view of what I was doing. I saw that my month in Rome was indeed way further from the beginning of my journey than I thought it was. I don’t know how long my journey will be, so I can’t say it was in the middle or near the end, but it certainly wasn’t in the beginning. This process started much further back than that year-and-a-half than I thought. Every choice, conscious or not, my own or forced by circumstance, has led me to this point. It’s easy for me to get lost in the “story” of my own personal journey, trying to pinpoint each plot change, and how exactly I got to this point, but that is a waste of my time. The “why” doesn’t matter yet. The “what do I do now?” does.

“So, like, what do I do now?”

Here’s my suggestion based on what I did: Think of every reason you shouldn’t do this thing and determine whether that reason is based in fear. DO NOT make decisions based in fear. That is not living. That is a prison. (And I’m not talking about survival fear – we all know to run away from a rabid dog, and not to hurl rocks into a swarming bees nest, that’s just common sense. I’m talking about ego-based fear: If I do this thing and it doesn’t work out like I want it to, what will people think? What will I do for money? How can I look at myself in the mirror? Etc, etc. That’s the fear we’re looking to avoid here.) I started asking myself even more questions about the things I fear the most as I started to consider this journey of relatively epic proportions.

  • What will people think?
    True friends will support you, or maybe even come with you. Forget the others.
  • What will I do for money?
    There are lots of online resources about saving money over short periods of time and making money on the road. Also, when you have no bills to pay or very few (which will happen when you forsake the routine of daily life in one place for travel), you don’t need a ton of money to maintain a life back home, which means you don’t have to work as much, which means you can travel more. Travel isn’t as expensive as people think and you really only need enough money to get to your next destination, eat healthy, and have a bit of fun. I understand this isn’t exactly an easy thought to get on board with. Lots of us want that sizable safety net “just in case.” But this is about relying on what skills and talents you already have, what support you have in place, and what is being laid out for you, too.
  • What about my stuff?
    You really don’t need all the stuff you have. It doesn’t bring you happiness. This is a fact.
  • What about my job?
    Again, how hard is it to get back to where you are? Do you love what you do? Can you live without it for a while? Is it a placeholder to maintain some sort of normalcy that the society in which you live has put on you?

During my trial-run month in Rome in August ‘15, I recognized that I didn’t want to live there. Not because I didn’t love Rome, but because the thought of living there had the same weight as the thought of living in L.A. where I’d resided for the past twelve years. It just felt like a meh thing to do. Being in one place felt stagnant and stagnancy isn’t for me. I love both cities. And others, too. But L.A. lately hadn’t been working for me. It wasn’t the city, it was me. There’s something else out there that I needed to find, that I needed to give myself over to. That something is not in L.A. at the moment. It’s not in Rome either. Perhaps it’s in places I’ve never been or places I’d like to go back to. Long story short, I just don’t want to live anywhere right now. I want to experience everywhere. Or at least as much as I can before I run out of money/energy, find an awesome career, fall in love, or die. And those things won’t even necessarily prevent me from continuing on my travel experiences. Hell, I could find a career in travel. Or meet a woman who wants to work and live on the road with me for a while. Or I could change my mind and focus on something else entirely. Or I could die. But that could be the best journey of my life. Who really knows? (That’s definitely a topic for another time.)

The key to all of this is that having a very specific, clearly defined, OCD goal in mind is not the way I roll. I change my mind a lot. I’m human. Sometimes I see shiny things, go “Oooooooh!!!” and when I get close to them, they lose their luster. Sometimes the blemished things turn out to be the best, most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. It’s tough to tell what result you’ll see when you’re in the heat of it. The emotional roller coaster of decision making can be wicked confusing and complicated.

It all comes down to this: You must do what you feel is right for you. Listen to that tiny voice that winces and sighs when you have to deal with an angry phone call from a client at work. Take note of the general emotional state during your days. Keep track of when you feel “down” or “uninspired”. Spend at least 10 minutes a day sitting quietly without interruptions (thoughts about what it all means count as interruptions). Do your best to recognize what you can control and what you can’t. (Hint: You can control wayyy less than you think you can, but you can absolutely control how you respond to situations.)

There are many different ways to succeed in life. New paths are laid out before us on a daily basis. To know which path is right before you choose it is impossible. But as long as you approach each path with eagerness and an open heart, you will make the right choice no matter which path you choose. Trust yourself. Trust those around you. Trust a higher power if you believe in one. None will let you down.

Living Life Without Meaning (…Kinda Sorta)

There’s a deep regret I feel for not having truly lived life. For having jettisoned, ignored, lost touch with an ideal process of thought that I spent years cultivating based on reading inspiring texts (The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, Zen Guitar,  and Siddhartha, for example), attending spiritual masses (at the Agape International Spiritual Center), and simply being free from fear. Instead of maintaining this process of thought, I’ve unconsciously (and other times, very well aware) opted for an easier and wasteful feeling of sadness and debilitation. I’ve spent hours pondering what I should be doing instead of focusing on what I am doing. I’ve spent days considering my options only to rationalize my way into choosing none. It’s a theme that doesn’t exist every day, but it certainly never disappears.

Over the past year and a half, I have been stuck in one of these phases of fear and debilitation. Unable to see the truth or to make decisions based on positive progression or genuine fulfillment, I have wasted opportunities, relationships, and experiences because my mind has been more focused on what each moment meant than simply living it. Meaning doesn’t reveal itself in the moment though. It comes only from deep reflection and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. In these moments, I’m stuck. Often thinking, “If I am unable to understand what this means for me, for my story, then what exactly am I supposed to do with it? How do I process its place in my soul’s journey?” While I’m spending my moments pondering that thought, I am missing what’s right in front of me: Life.

When those moments have passed, I find myself reflecting on inconsistent feelings of love and emptiness, depth and waste; I descend into a state of shear ambivalence. I’m unable to sift through and find the truth – which was there all along, but I didn’t pay attention to in the moment. I find myself longing for feelings that never actually existed, romanticizing relationships that were all but romantic. Do I miss her? Or do I miss the feeling of missing her? Of just having someone to miss?

My therapist once asked me if there is anyone I’ve dated that I look back on and think, “That could have worked.” At the time he asked me this Pandora’s Box of a question, I felt firm that, no, there was not. I know he wasn’t looking for an answer then. He was looking to plant a seed. And that seed has grown into a veritable apple tree of past girlfriends and lovers and crushes and admirers. I pluck one and take a few bites, chewing voraciously on each sinew and morsel of the relationship, and by the time the core and stem are the only pieces left, I come to a different conclusion than I had in that therapy session, but the same for every single woman: Maybe. Again with the ambivalence. Does that mean I wasn’t trying hard enough with each of them? Was it simply a compatibility issue? Is there something wrong with me? Am I undateable? Unlovable? Incapable of loving? Or is it just that I haven’t met the right woman yet? I hope it’s the latter, but the older I get, the more I feel it’s a combination of all of it. And that frightens me. Perhaps I am deficient in some way. Scarred by an overthinking brain, a quenchless soul that always seeks more, a constant fear of doubt, and irrational insecurity that exhausts the mind and body. This would be a sad reality.

Since I began writing this post in August 2015, I’m happy to say I’ve made some hefty adjustments in my process. I began laying out ideas for change. Change based in love, not fear, change that I truly wanted, change that I felt would benefit my life long-term and open me up to unforeseen opportunities. The hard part was figuring out exactly what I wanted to do next. While I pondered that overwhelming thought, I asked myself many questions and dove deeply into my life desires. I’ll share this process along with specific questions I asked myself in a later post, but the gist is, I stopped asking myself why I was doing what I was doing and what it all means, and instead asked myself why I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live.

Now that I’ve sold, donated, and stored all my stuff, moved out of my apartment, left my city, left my routine, and begun a four-month trip around the world, I find myself (finally) stepping out of the boat of doubt. I am combating that deep regret head on. But, sweet merciful crap, it ain’t easy.

Leaving Los Angeles

I don’t remember my last few days in Massachusetts before I embarked on a cross country journey to set up shop in Los Angeles. The details are fuzzy. But eventually, I got in my car, which was packed with all my earthly possessions, and hit the Mass Pike with my best friend Kay in his own car, also packed to the gills, just behind mine. We drove 2,961 miles through 12 states over the course of four days. It was just over twelve years ago…

Before the Sox won their first World Series since 1918, and added two more for good measure. Before the Pats took three Super Bowls from too-hot-to-beat NFC teams. Before I stepped foot into a financial company in Santa Monica whose associates would become family to me. Before I became a working musician who produced over fifteen records and was fortunate enough to tour the US and Europe. Before I fell in love for the first time with a beautiful and kind woman who changed my approach to love by introducing me to the ever fickle self-love. Before we split up, too. Before I forged deep and unbreakable ties with kind-hearted men and women who would become dear and meaningful friends. Before I dug deep emotionally and spiritually by reaching out for help from friends, family, professionals, and spiritual places through vulnerability and trust. Before I embarked on the often times lonely process of seeking a partner with whom to reciprocate love. Before I became a “cool” uncle to my brother’s two dynamic and adorably bonkers little kids. Before I went on my lunch break at work on September 11, 2012, and didn’t return to my desk until November 1st. Before my life and vision changed permanently by the two strokes that caused that 50-day absence. Before I realized that I needed a change, and for the first time in twelve years Los Angeles didn’t feel like the right fit for me. Before I sold all my stuff, bought a one-way round-the-world ticket, and said good-bye to my city, my cradle of growth, my home.

I don’t remember my last days in Massachusetts, but I am certainly going to enjoy and relish in the experience of my last days in Los Angeles.

To Be Everywhere at Once

Some people would choose the ability to fly – maybe to avoid the cost of travel. Some would go with super strength – to never worry about a stuck lid on a peanut butter jar. Others would take x-ray vision – for obvious and uh, practical reasons…yeah, practical. But if I could have just one super power, it would be the ability to be in multiple places at once.

I’d be having a couple of Sams with my brother and sis-in-law in their house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts while we all horse around with my two-year old niece and five-year old nephew. Simultaneously I’d be at the Culver Hotel in Culver City, California with my Angeleno friends and their adorable little babies, drinking a few cocktails, talking about the changes of our adult lives, and sharing our most hilarious that’s-what-she-said jokes. In Melbourne, Australia, I’d be on the back patio of Troika Bar talking about music, travel, and sport while taste-testing whiskeys with my Aussie friends. At the same time, with my newfound pervasiveness, I’d be drinking local red wine and trying to pick up on the Italian language beside the fountain in Rome’s Piazza della Madonna dei Monti with mio amici Italiani. In Singapore, I’d be with my ex-pat pals at Maxwell Food Center where an array of diverse and unique street vendors serve food, accompanied by a few cold Tiger beers, of course.

It doesn’t take much to keep me satisfied: Unique location, stimulating conversation, openhearted friends, dependable alcoholic beverage. Oh, and super human ubiquity.

Kehidupan yang baik. La vita è buona. Bonza, mate. Life is good.

And the Deal Was Struck: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Like seemingly 90% of the residents in Los Angeles, I live here as a transplant. And in the eleven years since I descended upon LA from the frozen tundra of Massachusetts, I’ve been home for Thanksgiving only once. I flew in secretly to surprise my family in 2006. It all started simply enough, I was on the phone with my brother, Brian (I call him Bri), in August and off-handedly said that it’d be funny if I showed up unannounced; our parents would love it. We spoke a few more times over the next few weeks and decided it’d absolutely be worth the cross-country flight on the busiest travel holiday of the year.

Only my brother knew I was coming, so he devised a plan in which he stealthily left the house to “run some errands,” but actually came to pick me up at Logan. His 120-minute round trip ended when we arrived at my mom’s house where she and my father were prepping family dinner for my brother, my father’s brother and parents, and themselves. Bri and I parked in the garage attached to our white house on Breen Road, and I quietly entered the adjoining family room. I poked my head in and my grandparents and uncle, who were watching the Broncos/Chiefs game, turned to greet who they thought was my brother. I pressed my index finger to my lips to encourage their silence and include them in the surprise for my parents. They contained their amusement and obliged, though my uncle did have to cover his own mouth with his hands while he joyously, but lightly, stamped his feet on the floor. Classic Uncle Ron.

My mother and father were together in the kitchen putting the final touches on Thanksgiving dinner, so I had some breathing room to maximize the surprise. Their backs were facing me as I entered the kitchen, so I nonchalantly stood in the doorway waiting for them to turn and lay eyes on their previously absent son. My dad turned first, to call everyone in to eat, and the look on his face was priceless. His forehead scrunched up; his mouth went agape, and he stood frozen in disbelief. I’m pretty sure I broke his brain. My mother was less boggled, instead overjoyed to see her west coast son.

After the initial hubbub of the surprise wore off, the family fell back into the routine of normalcy: My grandfather cracked jokes about his inability to taste the food – he had lost his ability to taste many years prior. My uncle complained about the teenage cashier at the grocery store who needed to use a calculator to figure the change for my uncle’s purchase as opposed to using his brain to figure it out – my uncle was always perplexed by the advancement of technology and his perceived directly proportional decline in the education of today’s youth. And my dad was inevitably the first to spill food on the tablecloth and immediately proceed to get on his own case about it, which, of course, upset my mother who then began to revert to their married days – they were divorced in the early 90s, but together parented my brother and me like champs – and joined in by getting on his case about being on his own case.

“Oh, dammit!” he said as he blotted the spill with a watery napkin.

“It’s fine, Gene,” my mother pleaded quietly.

“I always do this!”

“Don’t worry about it, Gene. It’ll come out,” my mother responded, slowly losing her patience.

The interruption culminated in a din of raised voices – most notably my mother’s and father’s, but joined peripherally by my grandfather’s, uncle’s, and mine – and ended when my dad finally gave up on the battle over whether a stain on the tablecloth truly mattered in the scheme of this otherwise joyous family gathering. My father stewed internally over the incident. He couldn’t let it go despite the spill not being a big deal. I knew what he was thinking: “I can’t do anything right. I can’t even get food from my plate to my mouth without fucking it up. I’m worthless.” He twisted his fork into the turkey on his plate and stared at it malevolently. He was overwhelmed by the pain of letting everyone down. He gave up on the battle with us about the spill stain, but he lost the battle with his mind.

The rest of the meal contained periodic small talk between long swathes of silence dotted with the clinking of glasses and dinnerware. The tension had arrived unannounced, made everyone painfully uncomfortable, and utterly consumed us as we consumed our Thanksgiving meal.

Since then, I haven’t been home for Turkey Day. And I’m totally OK with that. I dig my alone time on the holiday. I dig the fact that everyone leaves LA. I dig that I can do whatever I want. And I’ve discovered what I want to do when I have the day off work and nowhere to be: Make music. Thanksgiving has become my own personal musical holiday.

In 2007, I spent the day writing my band’s second record. In 2010, I was fleshing out parts for a live show. In 2012, I was improvising on my guitar and pedal board in my rehearsal space to exorcise some emotional weight from an illness I survived. The other Turkey Days included any number of musical endeavors from solo jamming or technical exercise to recording sessions for proper album releases.

But there was one piece of music that needed to be completed; a piece that had been brewing since 1996. I was in high school when I wrote the main guitar theme. I was seventeen. I wrote it while lying in bed on some angsty teenage afternoon. It was a simple riff that I could never forget, but I also never felt right about turning it into a proper piece of music for any of my “public” musical projects over the years; it was somehow too personal and not yet complete. But what was missing, I couldn’t determine.

I woke up at 7:00am on Thanksgiving last year and decided to start the day off right by playing some music. I pulled my guitar into bed with me and began strumming this piece. I had one of those stereotypical musician moments when I didn’t think about what I was doing, I just played what I could remember and what felt right. When I finished the piece with its improvised structure, I banged out the final notes and knew I had the arrangement that perfectly complemented the music. I quickly tossed back the bed sheets, traversed the apartment, and hopped into my chair at my computer to fire up Logic and start recording.

For six and a half hours I sat at my workstation rotating between my miked up acoustic guitar and Logic’s software synthesizers and editing windows trying to find the perfect musical balance of mood, emotion, subtlety, and poignancy. I forgot to make breakfast. I didn’t shower. I didn’t take my vitamins. I didn’t even brush my teeth. I forgot to pee until I was about to burst. Then I forgot to eat lunch. I was ensconced. I was lost and found at the same time. The clock on the wall was meaningless to me; time only existed in musical measures. I had recorded the main guitar theme multiple times, but ended up settling on the first pass I did. It was one take, no punch-ins. It had a few flubs, but it captured that proper human feeling missing on so many overproduced records. I added some harmonies on an orchestral plug-in setting I call “Sad Bassoons.” I coupled my guitar with volume sensitive plug-in to give a smooth eeriness that sings along with my acoustic strumming. I introduced a vocal patch that bridged a few key bars. But still something was missing.

I took my first break at about 2:00pm. I stretched like a cat, and my muscles thanked me for moving more than my arms and fingers. I stood in between my guitar, which was laid out on the floor taking a break, and my computer, which was humming with anticipation of what was to come. The piece needed something else. Something important. Something to give it purpose and movement.

I stood there with my hands by my sides, gazing at the ceiling. The cool November air pressed on the closed windows. The hunger pangs were quelled by this burning desire for emotional completion. I thought about what my family’s Thanksgiving looked like back home. But I wasn’t sure exactly how it looked anymore. My family had gained some members since my last visit – my brother was married and had two amazing little children, and we lost a few – my father’s parents who were present at my last visit had both passed away. Did the kids bring much needed life to the festivities? Was my uncle still stamping his feet when someone cracked a joke? Was my father still the first to spill? Was he able to soften his criticism of himself? Did my mom relax her response when he did? I wondered if the spill on the tablecloth would matter to him on his deathbed. I thought about my lone surviving grandparent who had celebrated his 100th birthday earlier that year. How much longer would he be with us? And that was it. That was the connection. My grandfather, William Burr Mason also known as Pop, or Garbage Can Willie for his penchant for eating everyone’s leftovers at family meals. I remembered a CD on which my mom’s sister recorded a 45-minute interview with Pop for Story Corps in 2007. Where was it? I rifled through my shoe box of old 4-track tapes and other miscellaneous musical trinkets and found my grandfather’s voice burnt to disc. I knew this interview was the missing piece.

Over the next five hours I snipped up the interview and worked the best bits into the music. The cuts were perfect; Pop’s story was so succinct, no detail was left out. I took the story about how Pop came to play the cornet for the first two verses and grabbed a bit when he talked about treating people fairly, especially during a time when the country was segregated. I added a personal touch of Pop introducing himself to the beginning, and added an interchange between him and my aunt talking about his family members to the end. After a few moments of silence when the music decays, Pop says something concise about each of his grandchildren and ends with a reference to my mother’s youngest son. “And her son Steven lives in Los Angeles.” Awesome. Each section fit like the proverbial glove and as I took the piece for one final spin, I was sold. It was perfect.


Listen to “And the Deal Was Struck” by ::thinkstandard:: from the new EP
The Age of Execution here.

Engaging Hopeless Mode

I met a beautiful woman Friday night. She wore an off-the-shoulder crop top covered with a pattern of pink flowers, and faded blue jeans that fit snuggly around her legs. Her bright red toenails peaked out of her summery shoes. Her auburn hair fell in tight curls around her blushed cheeks. I didn’t speak to her when she arrived. I was struck frozen by her radiance – so much so that I pretended not to see her. Like when you think you see a ghostly apparition in the corner of the room and stare straight ahead while trying to convince yourself, “It’s not there, that’s totally not real, there’s nothing there,” instead of actually looking directly at the misty figure a few feet away. She couldn’t have been real. She was a ghost. She had to be. So I ignored her.

I’ve all but given up on finding a woman to share my life with. After years of imagining my future with a woman I love, I’ve been contemplating what it will look like living the rest of my days alone. I see my future as a half-empty bed, pillow undisturbed, and its corresponding nightstand collecting dust while the light bulb in its lamp never needs replacing.

Giving up hope that I’ll eventually meet someone is quite liberating though. I don’t really look at women any more. I see them, of course – their infinite beauty, their captivating grace – but I don’t look for the potential compatibility or the depth of their souls when they pass me during my daily routine, or even after a date, no matter how compelling the encounter. I don’t look to make that special kind of eye contact that movies are built on. What’s the point? Who actually meets someone while sitting in their car at a stoplight anyway? It’s impossible. Shit, it doesn’t even happen when you kiss goodnight after one of those 8-hour dates that leaves you speechless from the deep this-has-never-happened-before connection you both felt. The occasions are impermanent; nothing lasts. Instead I’ve learned to just be kind and gracious in those small moments: When I hold the door for her, or catch her eye, or pick up the bill, or clean up the mess of pleasure from her stomach after sex. But I understand that her kindness towards me due to any of those simple gestures is based solely on human appreciation. It isn’t a magical moment in which we share an otherworldly reciprocity. It’s just a dude holding a door open for a person who got there three seconds after he did. Plain and simple. So I say you’re welcome and go on my way without a second thought, knowing she’s doing exactly the same thing.

But of course giving up hope can’t be that easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. Somehow hope keeps poking me in the ribs like, “Hey! Hey you! Maybe this is actually someone who’ll love you! Ya never know! What if??” I shoo it off like a horsefly in summer, but it’s all for naught. Hope creeps into my heart and leaks into my brain and keeps me from my goal of being happily devoid of it forever.

She entered the party and said her hellos to the attendees – I knew only a few folks from this group of people; she wasn’t the only person I hadn’t seen before. I watched her give hugs and handshakes to those she knew and those she was meeting for the first time. I continued my conversation about sports or art or whatever with the boyfriend of my friend Betty – Betty being the reason I was at the party – and convinced myself that I wasn’t enamored with this ghost woman’s radiance and ethereal glow as she floated gently between the small bevies of people. When she stopped to greet Betty a few feet away, I swear to God, Etta James’s “At Last” came on the stereo. I shook my head, abruptly ended my sports/art/whatever conversation with Thomas, and headed for the kitchen to grab another drink.

After reappearing from the kitchen where I may or may not have taken a few sips from an open whiskey bottle, I ended up in between one group of couples talking about wedding plans and another group of couples talking about pregnancy. As a single man whose friends are all in long-term relationships or married with kids, this couple talk gets old fast. So I busted out my phone to see what the internet was up to. I got as far as hitting the first three digits of my iPhone’s passcode.

“Hi. I’m Elsie. I don’t know you.” There she was, all smiles and doe eyes, holding out her right hand. Despite my initial assessment, she wasn’t a misty, glowing figure from whom I could run away. She was a real life human being. I quickly turned off my internal dialogue, slipped my phone into my pocket, and shook the hand of the lovely woman standing in front of me.

It was easy to talk with Elsie even though hope was poking me in the ribs pretty hard at this point. Here’s how our conversation went: She’s friends with Betty; they met on a spiritual retreat. I don’t really know anyone at the party. She’s an actor. I play music and have a show coming up. Her face is radiant. And she went to Vietnam recently. And I went to Italy. And she loves the process of creating. And I get lost in my process – sometimes so much so that I forget to eat or shower. And she thinks that’s hilarious. And she wants to hear my music. And I had to stop myself from climbing into her penetrating eyes. And she thinks I’m funny. And she’s totally coming to my show with Betty. And she can’t wait. And her sense of humor is on par with mine. And I’m laughing..a lot. And she is, too. And Betty comes over to let us know she’s leaving. And Elsie’s leaving, too. And Betty’s my ride. And I walk Elsie to her car. And we hug goodnight. And she looks in my eyes and says it was really nice talking to me. And as I get into Betty’s car I say, “I know she has a boyfriend, I don’t even have to ask.” And Betty says, “She does.” And there it is. And she’ll never be the one for me. And nobody will. At least there will be no more pokes in the ribs. Hope is gone again. Like the misty glow in the corner of a room after you realize it’s just your mind playing tricks on you.