First Week: Addressing Freshman Stage Fright

This week for pedagogy, we were assigned four articles. Though they cumulatively seemed to give a basic overview of what should be expected of an English 101 class, I found a few points that grabbed my attention in each article.

“Closing My Eyes as I Speak” by Peter Elbow was my favorite piece. In the article, Elbow discusses the possible stumbling blocks of considering an audience. This was a refreshing perspective. During my own 101 and 102 courses, I remember teachers constantly talking about knowing the audience, and when this became my first priority, I would often become overwhelmed and unable to write. What Elbow proposes is not that we encourage students to completely ignore the audience, but that we encourage them to first write for themselves and then modify the piece to speak to a larger group. This relieves so much of the pressure for freshmen who often feel intimidated by the prospect of speaking as experts when they are only beginning to learn about their field. This process of freewriting and revising is one that I had to discover on my own, and I would strongly encourage others to teach. It would have saved me a lot of time and work when I was an undergraduate if I had known that I could first write something that made sense to me and then change it so that it made sense to the rest of the world.

“The Novice as Expert” and “Inventing the University” also seem to speak to this feeling anxieties prevalent in many freshman English classes. I would guess that one of the hardest things about teaching an introductory course is that so many students are only there for a grade. For most students, English 101 and 102 are boxes on a checklist of prerequisites, so engagement can be difficult. What the students fail to realize is that engagement in introductory English courses will further help them to engage with their peers in their given fields. All disciplines require conversation in order to advance, and intro English courses give people the skills they need to converse successfully. It was encouraging for me to read in “The Novice as Expert” that many students seem to learn this lesson over the course of their freshman year, but I’m still not convinced that the majority of freshmen understand the importance of their introductory work.

Rocking Special Education with a New Lineup

If I was to title the last year of my work in music, I would probably have to call it something to the effect of “new beginnings.” In keeping with this theme, I played my first high school dance this weekend with my new band, Wiley Humbug and the Spiderbeats. Once a year students from Moscow High School’s Buddy Club put on a semi-formal dance in honor of students with special needs. The club decorates the venue and provides rides for students who need help with transportation. They also set up classrooms as dressing rooms with hair accessories and make up. The dance is free and all high schoolers are welcome to come. This year, I was honored to be asked to play.

Also in the theme of new beginnings, I’ve been playing with a new group. I met Tim and Ron a few years ago during the release of my second solo album, From Mercury to Cupid. At that time they were both playing with a group called The BB Gun Incident, and we had both recorded our albums with songwriter and sound engineer Bart Budwig. During a recording session, Bart played some of my material for BB Gun, they liked what they heard, and because the timing was right we decided that it would be a good idea to have a joint album-release party. After the CD release party, we kept in touch on and off, mostly via Facebook. Ron and I would exchange messages here and there about books and songwriting.

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The principal walked past as we were posing in front of the lockers. I tried to get him in the photo with us, but no luck. I think we looked too scandalous. Left to right: Tim Gregory, Jeremiah “Wiley Humbug” Akin, and Ron Rasco

Eventually, fate kind of brought us back together. A few months after the album release, I got a job with Moscow School District as a paraprofessional. Our classroom was a little shorthanded and Ron’s wife was looking for a job, so I recommended her to my boss and soon after she was hired. The next year, Tim was hired to teach drawing in the classroom across the hall.

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Pre-show soundcheck and rehearsal

As far as the first jam session, I don’t totally remember how that happened. I just remember that I ended up at Tim’s one Saturday afternoon, we chatted a bit, played some music, and he invited me to jam with his band Genius in Remission. I showed up for the second session before the singer arrived, so the group (including Ron on bass) asked to play some of my songs and covers. A few days later, I got a message from Tim saying that his wife liked our sound and wanted us to play her birthday party.

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Posing in the floodlights

After a few practices, we realized we had a pretty cool thing going and started booking a shows. Right now we’re booked through April with a gig pending in May, and so far we’ve gotten to play with a few really great bands. I’m not sure what will happen in the summer and the fall, but we had a wonderful time on Saturday, and the students of Moscow High School made up one of the best crowds I’ve ever seen. Thanks so much for all of the love and the dancing! For a little clip of what you missed, check out the video on YouTube.

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My girlfriend captured a beautiful shot of my other favorite girl, Jasmine, my customized Fender strat

 

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Showtime! Floodlights in my eyes!

 

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Great show! Had an excellent time. Glad you invited us, but can we go home now?

Photos by Olga Kozhar

13 Essentials from My Everyday Carry

 

GADGETS AND ACCESSORIES

Timex Weekender with Antique Watchband

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the Timex Weekender is the Chuck Taylor of watches: it’s cheap and looks good with just about everything. And if that’s not enough to make you want to go out and buy one right now,  how about the fact that it looks remarkably similar to the dime store watch from Pulp Fiction that Bruce Willis’s dad hid up his ass during the war. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you were probably homeschooled and you need to get off my blog and go take a crash course in pop culture or you’re going to have to suffer through me basically writing in an entirely different language.

I bought my first Weekender about 5 years ago at Walmart for right around $20 and lost it a year or so later during a bachelor party while doing backflips jumping off a trampoline into a giant pit of foam cubes with a hot girl in little more than yoga pants and a tank top. (Totally worth it.) Weekender II (above) was given to me as a gift the following Christmas, and last summer I finally found the perfect band for it at an antique shop close to where I live. There was a bucket full of silver watch bands selling for a dollar each. I couldn’t turn this one down. I’d give you the name of the shop, but it recently went out of business. Now just how hip is that?

Dunlop Trigger Capo and Tortex Picks

After years of ending up in impromptu jam sessions completely unprepared, I decided to add these to my everyday carry. Do I gig every day? No. Do I play music outside of my house every day? No. But when I reach for them a pick and it’s not there, I feel like the guy who showed up to the date without a condom. I don’t always need a capo and pick, but I’m not about to miss an opportunity if the occasion arises. And it always arises when you’re least prepared.

Stolen Writing Utensils

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From Flickr. Photo by Stephen Lilley.

I don’t steal many things. For years my pen of choice was a 0.5mm Pilot G-2 for writing and a 0.5mm mechanical pencil for music theory and aural skills homework, but recently I’ve been prioritizing things a little differently. I’d rather buy a few more groceries and swipe a pen than be hungry with the exact pen I want. Priorities change, and people complain less when you steal pens than when you steal food. Sounds backward to me, but that’s the world in which we live.

Zennioptical Tortoiseshell Plastic Glasses
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In case I lose a contact lens, I can still look somewhat sophisticated, and at just under $30, it’s no big loss if something happens to these glasses.

NOTEBOOKS AND BOOKS

I write. A lot. And one of these days someone is going to find all of my writing, and if this person somehow finds the patience and perseverance to sort through all of it, they’re going to find out how crazy and weird I am and it will probably ruin whatever legacy I have managed to leave behind. But hell, I have thoughts, ideas, and plans, and if I don’t write them down, they start to loop around in my head like a Maroon 5 song, and I can only stand that for so long.

Premier Legacy Lesson Planner

I’ve been using Google Calendar for years and I love it, but it’s just not the same as an analog planner, so I usually have to use both. This one’s not the prettiest I’ve ever had, but it’s formatted better for my life than any other. The front section has a monthly calendar where I can write my most important to-dos and appointments, and at the end of each week there’s an empty box where I can write my weekly goals and semi-long-term projects. There are only about 8 lines per day, but I’ve found that this keeps me from planning too many things and feeling overwhelmed. The rest of the planner features various teaching aids including an hour-by-hour lesson planner where I can write wonderful notes about my students as the day progresses.

Pentallic Illustrator’s Sketchbook 8″ x 5″

71ozejotgel-_sl1500_Pentallic journals are half the price of Moleskine, and for my purposes, just as good. Maybe it’s just me, but when I buy a cheaper journal, I feel less picky about what I write in it because I can afford to fill more of them up. By buying something that’s inexpensive, but still high quality and pretty, I encourage myself to writer more often. Pentallic helps me do both and encourages me past two of my worst blocks in writing. I like to use my journal for random thoughts, song ideas, and problem solving. I like to write my thoughts in order to solve my problems. I sometimes think of a journal as an ear that opens and closes on demand and never tires of hearing my words no matter how strange they are. It just runs out of space, and then I get a new one.

Songwriter’s Journal

The newest addition to my everyday carry. This one features lined paper on the left side for lyrics and staff paper on the right for simple lead sheets. I like that it also gives me a songwriting template by dividing the lines and staff into verse, chorus, and bridge sections. Song forms are easy to memorize, but visually filling out a template makes the writing process feel exponentially easier. As soon as I started compiling my ideas in this book, I realized that many of the lines I had written were already part of well-developed songs. This book is perfect for giving my songs just enough shape to play them, but helps me keep the ideas loose by only allowing me to write so much information. I love it!

Practice Journal

Found this specific journal at Palouse Books in Moscow, ID. It’s pocket-sized and it’s the best way I’ve found to keep track of my practice and progress. Lately I’ve been dedicating at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week to learning and practicing new skills. I break my practice into 10-20 minute chunks. I set a timer, start the metronome when applicable, go until the timer stops, and record observations about my performance before moving on to the next thing.

That Book I’ve Been Meaning to Read

My girlfriend recommended this book to me about 6 months ago, and as much as I’m 1200enjoying it, I can’t seem to find the time to sit down and finish it. During my lunch hour I’d rather blog or read articles that I can quickly pick up and put down. In the evenings I like to cook, socialize, practice, record, and write songs. I do much better with audiobooks, and I had a lot more time for them last year when I was working at the greenhouse 10-20 hours a week (see “The 47 Books I Read in 2015”). That being said, the chapters in Perfume are mostly short, so if I’m sitting in a waiting room and tired of looking at my phone or I’ve gone through all the articles I’ve saved on Facebook, it’s nice to have a backup, and I can usually knock out a chapter before an appointment–as long as no one interrupts to ask what I’m reading.

IPHONE APPS

To keep a regimented practice routine, stay performance-ready, and keep a record of my songs, I like to keep the following apps in the songwriting folder on my home screen.

Cleartune Chromatic Tuner

iPhone Screenshot 1Best guitar tuner I’ve found in the app store, and next to my Boss pedal, it’s my very favorite. Visually mimics an analog chromatic tuner with two wheels. One wheel shows the general pitch while the smaller wheel on top shows how close you are to the actual pitch. Very accurate and simple. Saves me the trouble of digging around in my guitar case.

Pro Metronome

Because it’s important to be on time. Especially when playing music. I honestly struggle with playing to a metronome to this day. I’d much rather play to a drum beat. Even electronic drum beats are preferable when it comes to keeping time, but if you want to improve your timing, there’s nothing more true than the constant click. This specific app makes it super east to change tempo either with the wheel or by tapping the beat. You can also change time signatures, subdivision, and which beat is accented. You can even set it so that none of the beats are accented. This app is better than any real analog or digital metronome I’ve ever used.

Clock

For timing practice sessions as mentioned above. 10 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but once you start the click, the clock slows way down. A timer helps me to stay on task the entire time and keeps me from checking the clock every 30 seconds. With

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Music Theory Pro app, Notes app, Voice Recorder app, Bose headphones from Costco, red Hydro Flask travel mug from HyperSpud Sports, Schrade pocket knife, Neff backpack from TJ Maxx

From Noodles to New Songs

Homecoming week at Moscow High School. Thursday's theme: future career day. Can you guess mine? Moscow High School. Mosocow, ID. October 8 2015.

Homecoming week at Moscow High School (my place of work). Thursday’s theme: future career day. Can you guess mine? Moscow High School. Mosocow, ID. October 8 2015.

These last few weeks I’ve been busier than ever, had more fun than ever, and been more productive than ever. Been on a few trips with my awesome girlfriend, and I’m learning to squeeze inspiration out of every moment I have the privilege of being alive on this planet. We’ve been hiking and going to concerts, movies, and art exhibits. One of the most interesting places we visited was the Pentalum which was temporarily set up on Washington State University campus in Pullman, WA. What appeared from the outside to be an over-sized bouncy-castle turned out to be quite a feat of architecture. From inside, the structure comes alive. Ethereal sounds come from every direction, and the lighting reminds me of something that only Mallarme could have described. It feels like a sort of hybrid of a cathedral and a cave.

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We come in peace! Had fun taking crazy pictures at the luminarium. Architects of Air: Pentalum. Pullman, Wa. September 26, 2015.

The following weekend we headed north to Spokane to play a show, and since I finally figured out how to use my antique credenza record player properly, I decided that I needed to buy some vinyl albums. Spent $30 at a store called 4000 Holes and picked up Briefcase Full of Blues by the Blues Brothers, Miles Davis Volume 1 by Miles Davis, and Hot Rocks 1964-1971 by the Rolling Stones. Almost picked up Nashville Skyline, but that would have meant sacrificing the Stones, and I’m too little country and too much rock and roll. After the record store we went thrifting for a bit before stopping at Nudo for some deliciously spicy ramen and then headed over to the venue. The crowd was feisty, but if there’s one thing that makes me feel at home, it’s playing to a rowdy pool hall in a good old-fashioned dive bar.

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NOM NOM! Lichtenstein and Ramen at Nudo in Spokane with my sexy date right before a show at Checkerboard Bar. For more on our recent adventures, check out her blog at olga.kozhar.com Nudo. Spokane, WA. October 2, 2015.

On Tuesday I had my first real free write in quite some time, and Wednesday morning I wrote three chorus sections to a new song. Now it’s Thursday night, I’m blogging, and I feel alive. Maybe this weekend I can finally take a few hours to start going through all the little puzzle pieces I’ve been recording in my Notes and Voice Memos apps for the past 3 or so years. Try to make sense of them. Or maybe this weekend I’ll finally sleep…😄

Posing outside the venue on Friday after check-in.

Posing outside the venue on Friday after check-in.

Bantering with the crowd.

Bantering with the crowd.

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Spinning my fresh finds on an old table.

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One of the more memorable and less buyable records I found while hunting for vinyl gold.

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Bartok for children? I love Bela, but someone please tell me how he makes sense for children? What’s next? John Cage for infants?

Next Week’s Gigs, New Releases, and Other Things…

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Hello! It’s been two weeks! I’m already falling behind on these things! My goal when I started was to blog once a week, and here I am falling behind before I’ve even spent six months straight blogging. I hear that six months is the deadline. Like, that’s usually the time when people stop blogging.

So, updates, I’m still putting together this album, but I had a really good paying gig come up recently that I couldn’t turn down, and that led to another radio gig where I’m being interviewed and I’ll be cohosting Nice Show with my friend Scott Jackson on Sunday night from 8:00PM-10:00PM on KRFP Radio Free Moscow 90.5 FM. You can also tune in online or use your radio apps. I’m really excited to host with Scott. I think we’re going to have a good time talking and spinning records–or MP3s–for a couple of hours. The other gig is a show from 12:00PM-1:00PM in the Idaho Commons on University of Idaho campus. Free for you, and it pays me! Best of both worlds! Other than that, I had a roommate move out in the spring, so I’ve opened up my home as an Airbnb with a private room so that I can afford rent. I figure that this way I can decide when I want the apartment to myself and for how long. On top of all that, after coming back from vacation I needed to make some real money for a little bit, so I’ve been working more at my part time job while gearing up for my full time day job at the high school. Summer is almost over already! All’s to say that practically speaking, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to get in the studio.

In other news, I want to let you all know that my good friend Bart Budwig has been doing well and has begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund his new album The Moon and Other Things. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m sure that like all of his other work, it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve had the privilege of recording my last two albums in Bart’s studio in its various locations, and I distinctively remember the conversation surrounding the titles of a few of his releases. I remember sitting there with Forrest VanTuyl when he brought up the John F. Kennedy quote after which Bart named this current project. “We choose to go to the moon and to do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I like to keep that quote in mind when I think of this album because I think that Bart is a person who has certainly gone through hard times, and I admire his ability to talk about them in his music. Please check out his Kickstarter!

Finally, although I have been busy running around and doing the non-creative things that most of us have to do to get by with life, I wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying listening to tons of podcasts including Marc Maron’s WTF!? I just finished listening to a really great episode with Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! There are several other interesting episodes with all sorts of people including President Obama, Mick Jagger, Jason Segel, Haley Joel Osmont, Conor Oberst, David Byrne, and several others. Maron spends about an hour with his guests usually, and it’s really cool how he can get to the human side of some of these people who we tend to think of as superhuman. I love hearing how other artists work and getting inside of their heads. If that’s your bag too, I highly recommend that you check it out.

That’s my speedy update. I’m going to review really quick and send it out. Next week is going to be a little hectic, so it may be another two weeks until my next update, but thanks for reading! Take care!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Been on vacation the past week and a half. I almost feel guilty saying “vacation” as most of this summer has been spent recording music, and I still don’t know whether that’s work or play. It’s hard to come back to Idaho after spending a week on the beach swimming in the warm yet refreshing Atlantic. But I digress. As much as I’d love to reminisce about my trip, I feel that this would somehow be the wrong time and place to do that. This may come as a surprise to some of my long time followers, but there are one or two things that I prefer to keep personal. I consider this blog more of a professional journal and a log of my progress as a songwriter. Or maybe I just need to wait to write about everything that happened last week.

Easing back into the rhythm of things this week. Left the place where I was staying in Florida at 9:00 AM Eastern on Monday and arrived at Girlfriend’s house in Washington (state) at 9:00 PM Pacific which adds up to 15 hours total travel time. Drove 5.5 hours to get back home on Tuesday evening. Unpacked and cleaned house a little bit, but struggled with a little bit of post-vacation and travel disorientation. It’s been too long since I’ve been on the road. I’m not used to this kind of thing anymore.

Spent Wednesday catching up on work, catching up on finances, and getting things ready for a small show at the University of Idaho on August 26th. I ran into a girl at a party a few weeks ago who books events on campus, yada yada yada, she emailed me while I was on vacation asking me to play a show with a price tag that I couldn’t turn down. Had to fill out some paperwork and start preparing a set for the show. I’ve been considering some changes to the way I play solo sets, but for now I may stay in my comfort zone. We’ll see what happens these next few weeks. Went to work in Pullman in the evening so I could save on parking fees. Had to get reoriented as the contractors have just finished adding on to my building.

This morning I decided to head to Pullman early instead of saving it for later so that I could work a few extra hours while I still had stamina. Helps to make up for income lost while out of town. Came home, ate lunch, and practiced for about an hour on acoustic guitar. Got through about 12 of the 18 or so songs on my set list for the 26th. Bringing back some older material. WAY older material, which I never thought that I would play again, but somehow, it just seemed to work.

Still want to practice more today, but my fingers are a little sore. My left thumb hates me when I play too many bar chords on acoustic. Electric is easy, but I’ll be damned if the thing doesn’t start sending me some signals that I need to stop playing when I treat an acoustic the same way. And I know better anyway. May have to switch guitars and practice electric for a little while, just to get fingerings and rhythm down. Acoustic works strength, speed, and precision. It’s like comparing endurance training to heavy lifting. One maintains and builds proper habits while the other builds muscle. But enough comparisons. I suppose I could get back to recording, but I feel like taking the last couple of weeks off got me out of the creative flow, and I need to play to start feeling like a musician again. Besides, I haven’t been playing many shows recently, and building this set list and making it strong are going to be hard work. And I need to get back into playing shows…