Ideas on Grading and Assessment

The past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at assessment. In the wake of last night’s election, I’m a little distracted and frustrated, but I’ll do my best to discuss here without getting too negative. We’ve talked a lot about contract grading, a method in which students help to negotiate the standards to which they are held for the semester. How specifically this is implemented varies. There are a few standard models, and as always, teachers are free to decide whether to use another model, combine models, or use some combination of contract grading and standard grading. I’m still trying to wrap my head around each of the example models we’ve discussed, but I have noticed that many of the models take a lot of work up front for the teacher and the students. They also offload a lot of the responsibility from the teacher to the student, and I think this is my favorite part about contract grading. While standard methods allow a student to calculate what s/he needs to do to get by, contract grading gives the student the opportunity to design (to a limited extent) reasonable self-expectations. This encourages a sort of intrinsic motivation that is very hard to foster.

The problem that I have with contract grading–and I’m going to sound pretty old-school here–is that much of the proposed system seems to enable students to do work that is less than satisfactory while still doing well in the class. Some have argued that this doesn’t matter because assessment and grading only exist within the academic setting. I find this argument completely false. Though careers don’t all have common standards and units of measure, most jobs involve performance evaluation. Even for independent contractors, there are now sites like Angie’s list. Now more than ever before the quality of our work is quantified and uploaded to the cloud for all to see. Students can rate their professors online. Everyone is assessed and turned into a data point. Although I believe this permeation of capitalism is detrimental to the education system and fails to quantify the student as a whole person, this is the world in which we live, and I cannot with a clear conscience send students into a world with a false sense of hope and confidence.

For this reason and many others, I would be willing to consider using a moderate adaptation of a contract grading method in which the expectations for A, B, and C grades are clearly outlined. This isn’t too far from the standard system in which a student is handed a syllabus and given the work for the entire semester. Not only does this allow students to receive grades that they deserve, it also allows them to focus on more important classes if necessary. I once read in Einstein’s Autobiographical Notes that he would often skip class to spend time in the physics lab and later review notes from classmates. He would show up only for tests. Though not many students have the intrinsic motivation to be as autodidactic as the greatest mind of the 20th century, I do think that there is value in allowing those with the appropriate amount of self-discipline the freedom to choose when and how to do their work while also providing a more scaffolded structure for those who feel they need the external motivation.

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Students and Teachers from Diverse Populations

It’s much easier to go into the classroom with a set plan, have common standards for everybody, and expect students to sink or swim. While this is efficient for the teacher, this approach is likely to leave students feeling like they are drones in a classroom. This approach is especially problematic when it comes to students in diverse populations. Though a common goal and standard is valuable, students with disabilities and students who know English as a second language may need to take a different approach to reaching that goal. We may even need to adjust goals so that they are easier for the students to reach. Herein lies another catch-22. When we adjust goals for students who have trouble reaching them, does that make things unfair for our “normal” students? We are bound to encounter students who try to manipulate us into thinking so. How should we address these manipulations, and when do we start asking for evidence of extenuating circumstance? What do we qualify as an extenuating circumstance?

Lockhart and Roberge do a good job of helping us to anticipate the types of outliers we can expect in the classroom. But they fail to directly address the issue of potential manipulation. Though we are bound to have one or two students over the years who succeed in pulling the wool over our eyes, I think that much of this manipulation can be avoided by maintaining confidentiality between teacher and student. This eliminates a part of the problem, but there’s still the issue of student-to-student relationship. We want students to help one another because conversation with peers is a huge part of the learning process, but peer-to-peer learning puts the confidentiality of adaptations at risk. Lockhart and Roberge suggest community building, and I think this solves the most of the problem. While working in communities may cause adaptations to surface, it also promotes bonds between students and hopefully creates a better understanding of the necessity of certain adaptations.

Gibson brings up another important point, that it may not be the students who are “strange,” but the teacher may also be strange. As instructors, we must always consider the ways in which our identities interact with the demographic of the school in which we are working. I must admit that the demographic of the University of Idaho makes me a little nervous about working as an aide next year. I anticipate that there will be a large number of students from small, rural, conservative farming communities. At this point, I’m mostly comfortable interacting with this population in a diplomatic manner, I’ve had these interactions go awry a few times, and I want to avoid that as much as possible in the classroom.

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!

No, the Girl on the Album Cover Is Not My Girlfriend (Even Though I’d Be Lucky If She Was)

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It’s been about a year since the release of my second record, which is a little depressing because it means that I should probably start thinking about putting out something new sometime soon, and though I’ve got some things in the works, it may be a little longer than I had hoped until my next release. But that’s not the issue I want to address this evening.

In the past couple of years there have been a lot of changes in my personal life, and I’ve written a little bit about them. I don’t plan on telling you all of them because, well, they’re personal. However, I do want to address some of the questions and comments concerning my album cover, and for better or worse, personal is bound to come up at least a little bit. Don’t worry. I’m not going to drag you through any lady drama.

When I first released my record, I was happy to find that many of my close friends, mentors, and family members were so anxious to support me, and it gave me an excuse to get in touch with some people with whom I hadn’t spoken in quite some time. As I handed out albums, people became interested in the music, and more importantly the album cover, and some of them wanted to meet up with me again after they’d had time to “digest.” One of the most important conversations was with my friend M.

M has been a mentor to me for at least six years now. He is just old enough that he could have fathered me at a young but reasonable age, and a he is a respected member of the Moscow community. Those of you who live in Moscow have probably seen him walking to and from the downtown area via Third Street in his suit and tie on the weekdays, or maybe biking around in the evenings and on the weekends in an oversized yellow or neon t-shirt with one of his two dogs in tow. Anyone who knows M would tell you that he has an overwhelmingly positive disposition, which in most cases would make a person seem superficial, but he somehow manages to put off an air of authenticity, and it makes his positivity…well…positively contagious. As cynical as I can be, this man has somehow managed to become one of my closest friends. There are some mysteries that will never be solved.

So, to return to the story, I met with M at some point, possibly to discuss the album, or maybe we just ran into each other, I can’t remember which, but the subject of the music came up, and M told me that when he first saw the cover he thought, “Man, Jeremiah wants a girlfriend so bad.” Now, I love M quite a bit, and I do enjoy having females around because, well, that’s how I’m wired, but when M told me his interpretation of the picture I have to say that beyond feeling pretty embarrassed, I was a little bit disappointed. And he’s not the only one. Coworkers, family members, even the people I’ve worked with at venues have asked me if this girl was my girlfriend, and until now, I’ve just said no and tried to shrug off my disappointment.

Now I could tell you all about Courtney and who she is, but it’s really not that important to the meaning of the picture. All that matters is that she’s a good friend who happens to be a beautiful girl and a wonderful singer. She agreed to pose with me in the picture and do vocals on a couple of tracks. And if you really really really must know, she has a fiance and she lives in California. End of story. I’m not going to tell you what specifically the picture means, but I will tell you that I planned nearly every aspect of that picture from the apple to the location to the framing. I planned it because I thought that it visually communicated the issues that I was trying to address in the record. My decision to leave–might I even go so far as to say divorce?—the church, but to try and do so peaceably after about 15 years of being a Christian was very difficult, and in part, I wrote the album to explain my choice to the people that I care about, and to hopefully give a voice to people who are struggling with similar issues. I also wanted to comment on sexuality because, and here’s where it gets personal, after 15 years of being a “good” celibate Christian boy, it’s really hard to leave the church and figure out sex and relationships all over again. I’m not trying to throw a pity party here, but try being raised as a hippie kid with several female friends only to enter puberty, be transplanted from one end of the country to the other, and be told that suddenly you can’t even touch a girl until you’re married, and then having to reprogram yourself in your mid-twenties. I’ll leave you with those points and let you figure out the rest of the picture’s meaning on your own.

Otherwise, I had one friend accuse me of using my confession of not being a Christian as a “publicity stunt,” which was hurtful, but I get it. In my own defense, I put up the post in April of 2013 and my album came out in November. If it was a publicity stunt, it was poorly timed. After seven months, people tend to forget things like that. Really all I was trying to do with the record was explain myself a little more, and I hope that my music has done that to some extent. Later releases will probably do a better job, although I’m in a very different place now and much more comfortable with myself, so the point of tension or even resolve from which the writing flows will be different. In any case, I’m sorry if I seem to be exploiting my unbelief, but my unbelief is important to me. It’s been a part of me that’s grown over time in spite of two years in Bible college and over a decade of denial.

The final personal critique I’d like to address came up a few years ago before I went public with my beliefs. I was talking with a Christian friend of mine over beers at the Alehouse, our local brewpub. I think it was the spring before the big tour, so that would have been 2012. He was the second or third person I decided to tell about my choice, and when I told him, one of the first things he asked me was if, now that I wasn’t a Christian, I was going to go on tour and have sex with a bunch of girls, and whether or not he meant it, I couldn’t help feeling that by asking he was implying that my reason for leaving the church was so that I could have sex. I can’t deny that sexual desire had an impact on my decision, and if we’re being really honest, sexual desire has an impact on a lot of decisions for most if not all people. Sex is a primal urge. It’s a reflex. Of course it has something to do with decision making. But really my reason for leaving was just that church, religion, spirituality, or whatever you want to call it didn’t make sense to me anymore. I felt like I was a gear in a machine I wasn’t made to be a part of, and the experience was wearing me down. I couldn’t take it anymore, and since I’ve left, it’s been lonely at times, but I’m happier. I’m not going to try and proselytize anyone. All I can do is tell my story as it comes, and that’s what’s important to me.

So thank you all for reading, and thank you all for listening. For those of you who I’ve alienated in the midst of my confusion, I apologize. That was never my intention. As a wise man once said, this shit is hard to figure out. I’m just doing my best. I wish you all love.

What Jesus Couldn’t Save Me From

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Theorem 7:

Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment, which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly.

Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice 

Ever since my admittedly haphazard Facebook post 15 months ago in which I revealed that I wasn’t a Christian, my friends and family have been asking me what I think and feel about…well…anything that’s not superficial, and for the most part I haven’t told them because I didn’t know if they could handle it. For a long time I didn’t even know how to put these thoughts into words. But there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to speak openly about his personal philosophy, so here’s a little bit of a look into the mind of Jeremiah.

It’s Monday night. I’m lying restless in bed next to a girl who will never be “mine,” and though I admire and truly care about her, I will never be “hers.” And I’m fine with this because ownership is for inanimate objects and not individuals, but there is something else that’s keeping me awake, and I don’t want to bother my friend with my tossing and turning, so I get up and go to the couch and finish the movie we left playing in the living room. Fifteen minutes later with my head still buzzing, I step outside for some air and think about going home, but I’m too tired to try and navigate my way through Pullman road construction, and I should be sleeping anyway. Just go back to bed. Be still and try to sleep. Don’t wake her.

Maybe it’s guilt. I should be touring. I should be out there booking more shows, but at the end of the day, I’m a songwriter who writes for a band. And though I greatly enjoy performing and entertaining, I am used to working alone. I get frustrated trying to sync up my own schedule with the schedules of other artists as well as venues. And between rehearsals and booking full band shows, I practice this self-defeating statement. And then I just read a book or write a song or practice because ultimately, the songwriting and the skill are the important parts, and as long as I’m stressing myself out about booking and social media, I accomplish nothing. I am fortunate enough these days to have a very generous friend who often allows me access to his studio equipment, so I’ve been learning to use ProTools myself and recording new songs instead of sending e-mail after e-mail to unresponsive venues. The studio is where I thrive, and the more time I spend there, the more I love it. Aside from my single adult responsibilities, this has been my life the past six months: working, coming home, reading, thinking too much, practicing, thinking more, writing, critiquing, and a bit of recording. It’s given me the space I need to reevaluate life. On my own terms.

And it’s a combination of events that have led to me reevaluating my life. Sure, I turned 27 and after four years of studying poetry and music, I’m still not a legendary songwriter, but I always knew that dream was crazy. I’m a relatively sane musician. I have visions of grandeur, I know they are ridiculous, but I can’t rid myself of them, so I keep working at my craft. No, turning 27 is not the sole catalyst. There’s something that happened in me back in March when, for the first time in years, I saw the girl I dated for the first two years of college. Her mother, a close family friend, was in the final stages of moving to Montana. There was a going-away party and a moving party, and I didn’t want to miss my chance to say goodbye. Needless to say, the ex and I ran into each other a couple of times, which was fine, but seeing her reminded me of who I was seven years ago and how much I’d inadvertently hurt her just by being a headstrong and self-righteous person. Now she’s married with two kids. And I looked at those kids and thought, if things had gone just a little differently, this girl and I could have had kids the same age by now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am too irresponsible and selfish to be a father, let alone a husband. But I’m old enough that I could be both. And I really don’t want that, but should I?

At times like these I start wondering if I’ve even accomplished anything, so I start going through the mental checklist of my accomplishments over the last twelve months. This year I’ve released a second solo album, assembled a band, written the better half of a third album, been embarrassingly love-crazed, been irreconcilable, been heartbroken, and committed innumerable “transgressions.” Transgressions that I didn’t think I was capable of committing seven years ago. Transgressions that I didn’t have the self-esteem to commit seven years ago. And though I have accomplished things I never thought I could, I still suffer from the same insecurities that prevented me from accomplishing my goals at a younger age. And I still feel unsatisfied. But that comes as no surprise to me. I’ve heard every imaginable version of the story of the man built an entire empire for himself and died just as discontent as he was when he started. I may or may not end up with an empire at the end of my life, but I know that however much I accomplish, it will never be enough.

Some of you may say that my discontentment comes from storing treasures here on earth rather than the afterlife. To you I reply that the afterlife is a great unknown. Neither heaven nor hell nor any other future is guaranteed for that which some call the soul. I’ve wrestled with the question of eternity my whole life, and at some point, I just learned to be content with the idea that this life is probably all we get. The only afterlife we have is the hope of leaving behind our legacy and our work. Honestly, this life is all I want. Eternity is too long. I get bored enough as it is. And to get even more honest, spending eternity praising and worshiping some abstract spirit in the sky sounds just as bad as spending eternity with weeping and gnashing of teeth where the worm never dies.

But I can’t hear a worship song without feeling regretful. Regretful that following a difficult, but happy childhood being raised by hippies, single moms, and Montessori school teachers on the Florida beach, I was uprooted at the age of 10 and placed in Smalltown, Idaho. Regretful that my family subsequently converted to hardcore conservatism. Regretful that I spent the better half of my adolescence singing songs in church and watching holy-rollers on the floor laughing and speaking in tongues for at least 15 hours a week–no exaggeration–instead of making friends and learning how to manage affairs with the fairer sex. And then I spent the first three years out of high school trying to figure out the rationale behind maintaining a conservative and morally strict lifestyle without becoming a hypocrite only to come to the conclusion that said lifestyle was making me more and more miserable and lonely. That the so-called God-shaped-hole was an invention of my religion, that my involvement in the church had created the hole, and that my continued involvement was just making the hole bigger. And sure I had my social interactions and I had plenty of my delinquent moments, but not enough to save me from curiosity in adulthood. Not enough to give me the wisdom that I feel I should have at this age.

Yes. I do put pressure on myself. I know I do. I wish I didn’t, but I do, and I’m not sure where it comes from or why. I’m working on it. Every day I tell myself that circumstances were often beyond my control, but I still have my regrets. I can’t help wishing that things would have gone differently. I don’t want to be regretful. I don’t want to live in discontentment. I don’t want to hold on to these things anymore, but I think about them daily, and it hurts my head. My chest and gut cramp up. Wasted time. As hard as I try, I can’t think of any other way to understand it. All that time I spent trying to live righteously for God by immersing myself deeper and deeper into a culture that I never felt was truly accepting of me. Finally coming to a place of self-acceptance, but being so deeply immersed in the culture that I didn’t know how to display the self I had accepted.

Out of Touch

Hello, friends. It’s been years since my last blog post, at least 6 months since I’ve more than touched my personal Facebook, and (insert sarcastic tone) 2 years since my last confession. All jokes aside, I apologize for being out of touch. In the last year since I graduated from college, there have been a lot of changes and challenges in my personal life, and without going into detail, I’ll just tell you that I haven’t had the emotional or mental energy to keep up with the caucus race that is social media.

But alack and alas, the summer has freed me from my day job at the elementary school, and the DIY musician podcasts I’ve been listening to have been guilting me into updating my social media, so here I go.

First of all, I don’t mean to be a downer, I’m just a little sick of listening to people say over and over again that I need to update my Twitter and make music videos and take Instagram photos of my studio sessions and play a million shows in a million different places when I can barely afford the gas to travel after spending all the money that I don’t have on putting out a record that I can’t afford to properly promote in order to turn a profit. Speaking of profit, apparently the key to music sales is to stop selling and start telling a story and engaging people in your process so that by the time the product is ready, the people are ready to put money into it. In other words: “update your social media and tell everyone everything really cool that’s going on in your life all the time! It will make you really cool and popular!”

You know what? I was never popular in high school, and I was really glad when all that bullshit was over nearly ten years ago. I’ve never been great at the whole “win friends and influence people” thing. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because I’m too vocal about my opinions and too quiet when it comes to meaningless chit chat. In any case, I don’t give a shit because I think I’m pretty awesome, and I have no problem sharing that with the world, but quite honestly I get tired of running into someone on the street, trying to chat with them, and then hearing them say, “Oh yeah! I think I read that on your Facebook.” And I’m glad they care enough to follow and remember what I do, but then I get a little paranoid and start wondering what else people can tell about my personal life just by coming across my updates on the news feed or scrolling through my timeline. Not that I have anything to hide, I just like a little bit of privacy sometimes.

And then venues–bless them for giving us a place to play and to listen, and bless the bookers who have to suffer through the task of sorting through and figuring out who is and isn’t legit and who will get a draw–but I just get so lost on my end figuring out where I want to play and how I can get a good draw in an area I’ve never played before. And then they ask where else you’ve played in the area and say that you can’t play there until you’ve played a two hour set at another place down the road that won’t let you in because they’ve never heard of you. And all the while I’ve got to juggle that with two day jobs. By the end of the day, I’ve had no time for myself to process and appreciate or learn from each of the significant little events that have happened over the course of my day. Oh, and songwriting? Jesus! Who’s got a spare second to sit in front of a computer screen or notebook and agonize over message, story, line breaks, word choice, rhyme scheme, melody, harmony, and rhythm?

Anyway, I’ve said all this not to complain. I chose this life, and I still love the music. The problem that I have is that I never chose this because I wanted to be cool and popular and have everybody like me. I chose this because I heard more than a few songs that expressed lyrically and musically emotions, ideas, and conflicts that I didn’t know anyone else felt or thought about. It made me feel less lonely. I just want to create that for someone else. Unfortunately, finding the people who connect to my music in such a way is a difficult task that requires a lot of promotion via social media, so I guess for now I’ll bite the bullet and do it.

So raise a glass, and toast to electric vanity!

More Dreams, Nightmares, and a Little Bit of Hope

Recently I’ve been thinking quite a bit about dreams. I had a dream the other night that I was a senile Kermit with a drinking problem, and then I went to a haunted sleeping porch with beds infested by worms. Church people were coming out of the walls and trying to scare me, but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was too busy wondering why the hell a sleeping porch was supposed to be scary.

Well, it’s been a few weeks since my last post, and I’ve mainly been focusing on work. I was in the studio last week. Dropped some bass and keys on Wednesday and Thursday. We still need drums on a few tracks, but most of the songs are coming along nicely. Since my last record, I feel that I have grown a great deal both as a lyricist and as a musician. As a result, I have been able to more accurately capture my ideas in audio form.

You may also be interested to know that I have been working on a new side project just for fun. Our debut show is scheduled for October 12 in Moscow, ID, and I would love to see you all there. In the mean time, we’ll be putting together a mean set list.

Not a lot more to say at this point. Most of my creative energy has been exhausted this evening on a brief assignment for senior seminar. Almost finished with college, after which I hope to be able to focus my creative energy on more melodic endeavors. Until next post, love to you all. Read a book. I hear that’s good for your brain. There’s a possible side-effect of cynicism, but if you’re already cynical, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Not in Kansas, Peter Parker

Yesterday was my third day in South Dakota. I-90 is littered with billboards for tourist traps. They’re starving for people in the Black Hills. After New Orleans, all activity suddenly slowed down. Towns are growing farther apart now, and they are looking more and more similar because they have less and less history and so many are made up of chain food restaurants: a Dairy Queen here, a McDonald’s there, a Subway attached to the gas station.

I can tell my mind is ready for home, and it’s not just because of the strange dreams and daydreams I’ve been having. My friend’s father was decapitated in a car accident with a semi when I was about 16. Now I rub my neck every time I am stuck on the highway behind a trucker driving 55 in a 65, impatient but afraid to pass…

No, it’s not just the fantastic flashes of car crashes. Those are normal, and I couldn’t help but have them last month after visiting James Dean in the graveyard. He told me all about how he died, and the story kind of freaked me out. I think the visions have gotten a little less frequent. They mostly occur when I’m on the highway or boxed in on the freeway, and I’ve avoided sleeping in my car to help keep the frequency down.

I keep thinking about that sign I saw as I drove within range of Tulsa: JESUS IS COMING. The style was outdated. The color was faded. The paint was chipped, and I could see the wood peeking through the holes in the lettering.

No, it’s not the crazy car crash thing that makes me think I’m losing my mind. It’s the fact that after I watched Spider-Man in Tulsa at 10:00 AM, I had a hard time remembering who I was: Peter Parker? Jeremiah Akin? Stan Lee?

It’s the fact that I identified so deeply with the characters in the new movie.

It’s the fact that I allowed myself to be so manipulated that I walked out saying, “Wow! That’s exactly what my life was like when I was sixteen, except for the superpowers and having a girlfriend like Emma Stone’s character.”

It’s the fact that I fell in love with Gwen Stacy for a whole two hours, and then I had to remind myself that she wasn’t a real person.

It’s the fact that it now seems normal for a belligerently drunk man to come on stage with me, steal the mic, and sing all the lyrics to “Dammit” as I am playing the song. I could taste his breathe from three feet away. It tasted like burnt cigarettes, marijuana smoke, and cheap beer.

It’s the fact that it now feels weird when I play a show and no one tells me that I’m pretty. In Arkansas a man mistook me for a “friend of Dorothy.” In Kansas a girl wrote “I’m not wearing panties ;)” on my mailing list and told me I was very handsome. I’m not trying to brag, but more so trying to acknowledge how vain I’ve become. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to simultaneously cling on to my self-deprecating sense of humor. I’m not sure how that works, but I think it has something to do with the fact that self-hatred and self-love are two opposite manifestations of narcissism.

I played a gig on Thursday in a town that consisted of two bars, a library, school houses, and a post office. “Main Street” ran through the neighborhood. Train tracks crisscrossed the street with the bars, library, and post office. About two blocks from the door of the bar were infinite acres of cornfields.

Well, as boring as the Midwest can be, the Black Hills are beautiful, and Rapid City has been an adventure. Last night after my show I was invited to a strange basement apartment to play music in exchange for $40.

“How much do you charge per hour?” asked the older-looking woman in the onesie and fedora.

“Umm…what?” The context of some of the experiences I have had on tour paired with my narcissism led me to believe this woman was making a less than admirable proposition.

My soundman interrupted: “He only plays music.”

Good. At least I’m not the only one sketched out by this situation.

“Yeah. That’s what I mean. How much would it cost for you to come over and bring your guitar and play us a couple of songs? We’re having a party.”

I finished up the show at Hall Inn and walked over the this woman’s house. I made my soundman and the venue booker come with me. I played a few songs to a tightly-packed smokey room of about fifteen people sitting around on couches and talking loudly. We left at about 2:15 AM.

I stayed on the property of the venue booker, a sweet girl who works at the winery I had played the night before. She owns land that she leases to her parents. I slept in the spare bedroom of her parents’ house, and she slept outside with her pet raccoon. From what I gathered, sleeping outside is the norm for her. When I walked in the house, there was an overweight naked man on the couch watching television. I waved. He stared. I kept walking.

Raccoons are fascinating up close. This girl’s raccoon was only a pup (or was it a kitten?). His name was Max (I know. Rocky would have been perfect in the Black Hills). The fascinating thing about Max was that he moved with such fluidity. Cats and dogs are very mechanical creatures in comparison. Raccoons seem to have a far less square type of structure, and when they walk it looks like they are using every muscle in their arched little bodies.

I’m pretty excited for Colorado today. The first time I went through I had two pretty fun shows. Tonight will probably be pretty low key since it’s a Sunday. No worries. Gwen Stacy just called and told me she was going to be there.

Week Two

I put up a new post, but then I decided that the things I wanted to write weren’t ready to be written yet. It’s been so many days since my last post that I should just catch you all up to now. I apologize for the lack of creative description here.

Most of the shows so far have been pretty small. In Utah I played in the corner of a small Texas style barbecue restaurant. An older woman requested that I play some Willie Nelson. I told her I didn’t know and Willie Nelson and that I focus mainly on original work, but I offered to play Johny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” instead. As the woman was leaving she handed me a five, gave me a pat on the shoulder, and said, “You’re pretty good, but think about Willie.”

I told her I would think about Willie. I promised nothing more than that.

Colorado venues seemed to like me. In Pueblo I talked for a while with a bar tender who had Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson tattooed on his right arm and Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski tattooed on the other. One of the patrons tipped me in Pall Malls.

After my set, I fell in love with a very witty and intelligent black-haired girl who drank only water and told me she used to model lingerie. For better or worse, she was too smart for both of us. Throughout the talk, she seemed to be mistaking me for a pick-up artist, so even though our conversation went well, it ended at the bar.

Meh. It only takes me a couple of minutes to fall in love anyway.

In Colorado Springs I got to see my great aunt and she bought me lunch at a French sandwich shop. It’s been about two years since the death of my grandfather, and I was fascinated to see so many of his facial expressions and mannerisms in my aunt. There were no dangerous brunettes to speak of at this venue; only a friendly male barista who loved the skull on my merch table and gave me a hug after the set. (Just to clarify, by friendly, I mean friendly and nothing more. It’s hard to be clear sometimes when you’re writing in a hurry.) I drove after and slept at a rest stop between Colorado and Omaha.

There is too much to talk about in Omaha, and in Winona there is basically nothing to talk about, so I’ll save the good stuff for later and fast forward past the boring stuff, leaving you with a mediocre story.

After spending the night swatting mosquitoes in my back seat at a rest stop, Chicago driving was a pain in the ass. Upon arriving, I had plenty of unjustified road rage. After getting some rest, I quickly adapted. I stayed at a hostel, and there were tons of twenty-somethings from all over Europe staying there. I had roommates from Sweden, France, Spain, and I think Australia.

At Monday’s gig, I was pleasantly surprised when my old songwriting teacher showed up and sat through my whole show. He lives in Chicago over the summer and gives bike tours, so after the gig we went for a drive and he showed me around. We had a good time drinking Belgian beer on tap at Hopleaf, and then met up with some of his friends at a diner.

Monday was my first real day off, so it was pretty boring because I was taking care of all the stuff I hadn’t had time to do. On Monday night I spent about an hour drinking beer and talking with a group of Germans who were making a movie about their friend. They were going at the pace of about 120 miles per day, and their friend was biking at the same pace. The film crew of about 4 or 5 were sleeping in parking lots in a van, and the biker was sleeping outside at every stop. The biker was the only non-smoking, non-drinking vegan. The other guys seemed to be having a good time.

Left Chicago yesterday. Besides getting bedbugs and leaving with what looked like chicken pox, my stay was awesome.

Last night’s show was small, but I sold a couple t-shirts, and the venue owner, was really cool. I enjoyed hearing his stories about having hung out with various musical personalities. He told me Alanis Morissette once squeezed his ass, and I immediately knew he was a man worthy of my respect. He also told me that James Dean was buried nearby, so this morning I smoked the Colorado Pall Malls next to Dean’s headstone before making my way to the venue.

Right now I’m in Ohio and finally starting to lose geographical track of myself. I think we’re going to have a good show. There are multiple acts playing, so that will bring more people in, and one of the locals outside told me that the people who hang out here are mostly hipsters who drink PBR. That seems to be my target demographic at this point. Who’s to say what will happen when the hipster phase goes out of style? I’ll probably just start sounding old and outdated. As long as I’m not playing casinos at age fifty, I think I’ll be okay. Did I just jinx myself by saying that?