Day Twenty One: Skill

Just over two years ago, I lost everything, or so it seemed. I had already long since given up on one of my passions- writing. Writer’s block. My role as a new parent. Lack of a quiet space to do the work maybe. Experiencing no reward for writing, perhaps. I’m not sure why but I just stopped writing. Maybe those were just excuses. Back then, I had my identity and self worth tied up in my role as a bass guitarist.

Live with The Earps at Cruisin’ Route 66 Bar in St. Louis, Missouri. 2007

Besides writing, performing in bands was the other thing I did pretty well, or at least I did it my way, and the feedback about my skill at live performance with the instrument was generally positive. I could get just about any gig I wanted, without an audition, for many years. There was pride and self-esteem in that. The band, Moonshine Millionaires, broke up in the late summer of 2014, taking $12,000 a year away from me. But it wasn’t about the money either. It was about losing doing one of the few things I did well. Without it, I was just an unskilled warehouse worker. (Until I lost that job too a month later.) Depression kicked hard as I scrounged to replace Moonshine Millionaires with something of equal or higher value, but the gigs just got worse and worse.

Interesting parable today in 365 Tao about the “Five Things”.

Zither, chess, book, painting, sword.
These symbolize classical skill.

There was once a wanderer who cared nothing for fame. Although he had many chances for position, he continued to search for teachers who could help him master five things: zither, chess, book, painting, and sword.

The zither gave him music, which expressed the soul. Chess cultivated strategy and a response to the actions of another. Books gave him academic education. Painting was the exercise of beauty and sensitivity. Sword was a means for health and defense.

One day a little boy asked the wanderer what he would do if he lost his five things. At first the wanderer was frightened, but he soon realized that his zither could not play itself, the chess board was nothing without players, a book needed a reader, brush and ink could not move on their own accord, and a sword could not be unsheathed without a hand. He realized that his cultivation was not merely for the acquisition of kills. It was a path to the innermost part of his being.

What Deng Ming-Dao seems to be saying is the objects, like pen & paper, or the bass guitar, are not important. Rather we use those objects to cultivate ourselves internally and they are just tools. I had considered the bass guitar and the pen to be tools, but perhaps I was using them with wrong aims in mind. I think I mostly played my instrument for attention and adoration, for the accomplishment of goals to be proud of, and for the love and respect I did not receive while playing other roles in my life.

Rather, what if these instruments were used as vehicles for inner cultivation?

  • Expression of the soul
  • Strategy & response to the actions of others
  • Academic education
  • Exercise of beauty and sensitivity
  • Health & defense

What are my “five things”? I’m not sure yet. I can name at least three, the pen, the guitar and books. What about health and defense? What about strategy?

So even though my bass guitar is now stashed in my closet after 20 years of playing in bands and I have no gigs on the calendar anymore, it doesn’t matter. I have already cultivated the skills of expression, which I do not lose if I lose the tool, because it is internalized. The innermost part of my being.

Writing a Book:

One of my goals for 2017 is to write a book. I decided to use Published: The Proven Path From Blank Page To Published Author by Chandler Bolt for no reason other than I received a subscriber email from him announcing this book had come out, it was free with Kindle Unlimited, and it seemed like it might work out for me. After all, it’s a “proven path”.

Step One- “Look for the Why”, says Chandler Bolt.

End Goal: The level of success I’m aiming to achieve with my first book is to have a book available for download on Amazon and at least 200 people buy it, and have another item on the merch table that is kind of a novelty if I play in a band again in the future (and I probably will).

Purpose: My purpose for writing my first book is to share my story of rebounding from total collapse of my personal life as a sort of ‘self experimentation’ story.

Per his instructions, I downloaded and signed his Self Publishing School “Contract with Myself”, making a commitment of 1 hour/day of focused work to write and publish a book in the next three months.

I also did the “Free-Write Idea Dump” per his instructions.

We will see how this goes.

See ya tomorrow.

Day Seventeen: Cooperation

Full disclosure: This blog is backdated. I was wrapped up with work for 10 hours on January 17th, followed by hiking 6 miles with my Meetup hiking group, coming home in time for dinner, call to my girlfriend, and heading off to bed, turning in a bit later than I wanted to.

Today, I did something I hadn’t tried in a few years. I sat down and created a budget. Over the years, I’ve mostly kept track of my finances in my head, which sometimes has worked out okay, but mostly hasn’t. My big problems have been impulse purchases and falling behind while in crisis, or after a disaster, and all those years I spent way too much money drinking, both at bars and at home.

Cooperation: Moonshine Millionaires, probably the best-managed and ost productive act in my music career. All members influenced each other, and were placed in roles that suited them best. We had an excellent, experienced, and well-connected outside manager, a career first for me.

I’ve been reading some Dave Ramsey material. Of course, he’s the wildly popular radio host of The Dave Ramsey Show, about getting out of debt and managing money. Seemed like a good place to start. I used the Dave Ramsey Quick Start Budget printout.

My key discovery- no real surprise here!- I spend almost as much as I earn, even after cutting many things out of my budget long ago, such as daily beer drinking, and dining at restaurants. In the past, at times, I was able to eat, drink, and be merry a few nights per week. I had multiple sources of income back then.

Here is a really good blog post by Brian Eisenberg called What Makes People Buy? 20 Reasons Why. This list is worth a look, if you wonder why you buy things.

While I’ve had some problems with emotional spending (“retail therapy”), I’m not really a fear buyer or one who must have all the latest fads. My #1 problem is buying due to addiction.

I am presently still a one pack per day cigarette smoker. I quit a few years ago, last over a year until my new band Moonshine Millionaires had a smoke break at the El Camino Restaurant & Bar in Bardstown. I caved. I quit another time for six months. Both times I used nicotine replacement therapy, having the most success with the patch. The best way to buy cigarettes is the get the lowest price on a full carton, which I have almost never done. Denial is very powerful, so of course, feeling that “you might quit any day now”, you just buy one pack at a time. You might quit tomorrow. Why buy 10 packs? Of course, years go by and you are still a daily smoker. The problem with buying one pack at a time is that means you stop at a gas station every day to get a fresh pack, and what usually happens? You buy other times, like a soda, candy, snacks, or decide you also want a six pack of beer. That pack of smokes can become a $20 sale for the gas station.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve also become addicted to energy drinks. My main brand has been Rock Star since Handy Food Mart in Bardstown has them for $.99 instead of $2.50. I also drink Venom Black Mamba, which is only $.99, when I can find it. I don’t like Monster. Red Bull is probably my favorite, but I can’t afford to spend $4-$5 for a drink. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend $2.50 on energy drinks. I had gotten up to 2-3 energy drinks per day. Empty cans were littering the floorboard of my car. I’ll bet the average amount us energy drink users spend is around $1500 – $2000 per year. Having an energy drink once in a while wouldn’t be so bad. After stopping my habit of 6-12 beers every day, I can now go several months without a beer and never abuse it anymore. Hopefully, I will be able to do the same with energy drinks. Right now, I don’t want to pay through the nose for this newer addiction. I drank my last Rock Star on January 7th, purchased at a Circle K near the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.

Another discovery I made is that my job requires a lot of my time and yet, I still remain a working poor person who is unable to save or pay off debts (and also maintain his addictions, of course), or deal with any kind of emergency. I thought about it, and this has lead to my having a poor attitude and resentment about work, but I can also see a LOT of money problems have been my own damn fault too. Right away, I can see that I will need to cut all unnecessary expenses to put what little money that is toward debt and savings.

I will need to work overtime on a regular basis or find a better paying job. In the past, I supplemented my income with cover bands, but I am no longer able to do that and still be present in my kids’ lives since live music is weekend work (my time with the little ones) and usually a much bigger commitment than you think it will be, with many demands on your time.

Starting February 1st, I will start a 66-day mini-project of spending 15-30 minutes each day making some effort to look for more income. This can be anything. Setting up a LinkedIn profile, browsing Craigslist looking for a random one-time gig, looking through Want Ads for a better paying job, anything toward earning more money.

I will be using the Dave Ramsey Plan, trying to get as far through the first three Baby Steps as I can during 2017.

  1. Save $1000 Emergency Fund.
  2. Pay off Debts using “Debt Snowball”.
  3. Saving $4800 (approximately 3 months of my living expenses)

Deng Ming-Dao on Cooperation:

Today was a good entry in Tao 365. I’ve really similar passages in the Tao Te Ching. Deng Ming-Dao says “true leadership is a combination of initiative and humility.

Key points:

  • When we join some kind of group, we gradually become a part of the group. There will be mutual influence.
  • We influence the collective, and we are shaped by our company.
  • To influence others: We need to know when to act, when to be passive, when others are receptive to us, and when they will not listen.
  • There will be both frustration and success.
  • Maintain our position or change it, if there is a better position.
  • Credit is never taken. The best leader should be obscure, not drawing personal attention.
  • Credit is awarded when people realize it was the subtle influence of the leader that brought success.

The Daily Stoic: Reboot the Real Work

To quickly summarize today’s chapter, Holiday is saying that making an effort improves the quality of your life and the world. Just do the work. Let go of the past and begin now.

Tomorrow, I will discuss some personal goals I’m laying out for different areas in my life.