birthday, inspiration, life

Birthdays Are Meaningless

Yes, another one of my eye-catching titles! That might seem like I am some mope with a gun pressed to his temple, but have no fear: nothing could be further from the truth. There is a reason why I say this, and I am going to explain myself.

This thought occurred to me a long time ago, to be honest. Probably my 25th birthday. I remember it entering my head as if it were yesterday. I was watching TV, and I asked myself, “After you turn 21, what do birthdays mean anymore?” 21 is the last age where there is a new development: you can legally drink and enter bars and hit on women unsuccessfully. Well, maybe that last part is what happened to me (oh, how many nights and dollars were wasted in the pursuit of trying to be someone I wasn’t!), but the other two items are true for anyone…unless of course you live in a country where you could do those things BEFORE the age of 21.

But seriously, beyond 21, what is the significance in birthdays anymore? I guess they can be used as channel markers, a day you can pick to look back at the last year and see what you accomplished. If you accomplished nothing, that is okay, depending on your goals. (No goals? No accomplishments? No problem!) It also depends on the adversity you faced.

To be honest, that is a thought I just had: using birthdays as a starting AND ending point for goals. Pick this day to say, “Okay, by the time I am 44, I want to have done A, B, and C.”

Up until this moment, I always thought that, after 21, the only birthdays worth celebrating were the ones that marked your entrance into a new decade (30 years old, 40, 50, etc.) I’m glad I had this idea because I’m the type of person who always needs a method of tracking progress and success. I need a timeline that helps me aim for achieving a goal.

You see? Writing this blog is just as much for me as it is for sharing my occasional nuggets of wisdom with you folks.

Happy birthday to me!

~~~Steve

everyone, inspiration, lesson, life, universal

The Lesson of Job

I’m not a very religious person. I’m not sure I believe in God or an afterlife. I’ve always been drawn more to Eastern philosophies like Taoism, which stems from my martial arts fanaticism. However, the other day I had an epiphany that could be tied to Job from the Bible. For those who don’t know the story, I’ll tell you how it goes, and keep in mind I might be messing up some details or oversimplifying.

God and Lucifer were talking one time, and the Dark One focused on this fellow named Job. He said that the only reason Job sang praises of God was because the man felt his life was blessed. If he suddenly ran across a string of tragedies, his praise would stop. To prove Satan wrong, the Lord heaped a pile of bad times on Job’s life, and yet Job’s praise of the Lord continued, thus proving Satan wrong. Once that happened, God brought good fortune back to Job.

Now we can talk all day about why God would care what Satan thought, but that could be another blog entirely. No, instead I want to focus on how this related to my day.

I went to work on Tuesday, and at first it felt like any other day. My start time is 8AM. I looked at the clock and saw it was only a little after 9AM, and for some reason my heart just sank. I felt anxious, stifled, bored, worried, depressed, etc. I can’t explain the feeling exactly, but I can sum it up by saying I just didn’t want to be there. Normally I don’t mind going to work, but yesterday I couldn’t STAND it.

I am in training for my current title, although I still have to do some tasks related to my OLD title. The daily procedure for me is: get all the “old title” stuff done first, then go see my supervisor and ask what she wants me to do. When I went down to her yesterday, she handed me a report and said, “Here, go over these transactions and make notes on what you think should be done with them.”

I went back to my desk and got to work, and wouldn’t you know it? I felt like I knew what I was doing. Suddenly, my mood lifted, and the day started flying.

Then, when I got up from my desk for break, the thought hit me: “I can’t rely on feeling like I am good at my job. There will be days where I don’t have a clue, but I can’t let that get me down. I can’t let that make time slow to a crawl. I mean, I’m in training right now. It’s to be expected that I won’t always know what I am doing…for now, but a day will come where I am completing the transactions like a champ.”

And then somehow my brain tied this to the story of Job. He faced dark times, but he was patient, hence why you might hear someone say about one of their acquaintances, “That guy has the patience of Job.” He kept the faith that the dark times would pass, and the good grace of God would shine on him again someday.

That is what I need to do. Hell, that is what we ALL need to do.

(Oh and by the way…God? We have to talk about this whole need to prove Satan wrong thing. Why would you care what he thinks???)

everyone, inspiration, life, procrastination, projects

The Path of Least Resistance

Okay, I woke up later than I meant to, so this is going to be short and sweet.

Sometimes in life you might find yourself in a situation where you have countless projects to complete, and a limited window of time in which to do them. For example, every morning I like to:

  • Write a new blog
  • Submit one of my stories to 10 websites for reviews
  • Format at least 5 pages of a poetry collection for Amazon

However, today I don’t have enough time to do all these, so how do I decide which one to do?

That’s easy: whichever comes naturally.

If a project feels like a grind, then I stop doing it. Why? Because if I don’t, then I know I will keep thinking to myself, “Man, this is a drag. I really don’t want to do this right now. There are so many other things I need to get done.” These thoughts will slow me down, not just because of the time I waste thinking them, but they will actually make me take longer to complete the task that I don’t feel like doing.

This isn’t just a writer’s problem. You might have several DIY projects you want to do around the house: put up new shelves, rearrange the living room, organize a closet better, and so on.

My advice still applies. Pick the the project that feels like fun (or the closest thing to it) and do that first.

everyone, inspiration, life, procrastination, scheduling

How Do I Cram It All In?

A lot of people praise me for how much I get done in a day. To me it’s no big feat because, after all, I just do it. However, I feel like maybe I should describe it to give some insight. Let’s say I want to do the following in a day:

  • Format a 30-page poetry collection so it appears to my liking on Amazon
  • Do 30 minutes of martial arts practice
  • Do a 50-minute cardio workout
  • Submit a novel to some book reviewer bloggers
  • Write a new blog on my author site *wink*

Let’s take this one item at a time.

FORMATTING POETRY: 30 pages. The work week is five days. (I base my approach on the work week because my kids come over on weekends, so I don’t even TOUCH this stuff.) Therefore, if I format 6 pages per day, I’d complete that collection by Friday.

MARTIAL ART PRACTICE: Nothing says I HAVE to do it all at once. I fit it into my day whenever I can, making sure to keep track of it in a log so I know I get 30 minutes.

CARDIO WORKOUT: Again, you don’t have to have a solid 50-minute block. I do it on my breaks and lunch at work. Fortunately, I have the kind of job where I can get away with that. I know not everyone has that luxury, but I can’t speak for what kind of job others have; I’m just trying to show how I personally get things done.

SUBMIT A NOVEL FOR REVIEW: I have a list of 630 websites that accept book review submissions. 630 is just too much to think about at once, so you know what I do? I submit to just 10 per day! MUCH easier to handle.

NEW BLOG ON AUTHOR SITE: Okay, I have to be honest that I screwed up on this item today. My usual approach is to write the blog BEFORE engaging in anything else. Today, I did the formatting and submitting first. Oops! Well, no one is perfect.

Now I have exposed my secret: breaking tasks down into manageable chunks.

I hope this serves as inspiration to anyone who struggles with procrastination.

 

~~~Steve

everyone, inspiration, intelligence, life, universal

No Patience for Dumbidity

What’s that, you say? “Dumbidity” isn’t a word. Well, I know this, but I had to give that title to this blog because that is the way I feel about the levels of intelligence I encounter sometimes: it’s so low that you have to make up a new word to describe it. Seriously. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to Archie Bunker all day, and I expect to hear them end the conversation by saying, “Well, I gotta go. My wife is late for an appointment with the groinocologist.”

At my day job, one of my duties is to answer questions people have about civil service tests and jobs. Believe me: I understand that these exams and jobs and civil service rules can be confusing. I’m not saying these people are idiots for not understanding all of that, because NO ONE would grasp it all unless they worked behind the scenes like I do. However, there are certain aspects that you should grasp even if you are just a “layperson,” and yet I am still astounded by the things I hear.

Here is one example.

CALLER #1: I’m calling because I took the test.

ME: Which test?

CALLER #1: The civil service test.

ME: (taking a deep breath to calm down) Well, ALL state tests are civil service tests. I need to know the title of the exam.

CALLER #1: Oh…I don’t know that.

This blows my mind because in order to take a state exam, you have to:

  • Go to the website.
  • Find the exam.
  • Go through a lengthy application process.
  • PAY for the exam, and then…
  • Go sit in a high school classroom for several hours on a Saturday to take it.

And yet despite all that, they can’t remember what test they took?

Another example.

CALLER #2: I interviewed for a job two weeks ago, and I was just wondering if they made any decisions yet.

ME: Unless you interviewed for a job with our agency, we wouldn’t have records of that, but I can still help you out because I can get you the phone number for the appropriate human resources office. Where did you interview?

CALLER #2: Oh, uh…I don’t remember.

ME: (rubs eyes in disbelief) You don’t remember where you interviewed for a job?

At this point, I’m thinking, “My God, I HOPE this person showed the same amount of intelligence at the interview that they are showing on this phone call, because that would tip off the agency to rule him out.” I mean, can you imagine someone like that in a position of any major responsibility, like a Correction Officer or something? That’s the kind of person who would neglect to lock some gate, and the next thing you know, all the prisoners would be out running rampant in the street!

Let me restate what I said earlier: I don’t expect everyone to know the rules like I do, but I think these two examples illustrate what I mean. The average IQ of the world is either (1) dropping sharply, or (2) lower than I ever thought it was.

Now it might seem like I am an intellectual snob, and I’ll be honest: for a long time, I was. However, lately I’ve been rethinking this. I don’t know what it was, but something just clicked in my mind recently, and I realized that my snobbery makes me no better than skinny people who mock fat people, or pretty people who mock ugly people, or tall people who mock short people.

What I’m saying here is: no one asks to be fat, ugly, short…or less intelligent. Therefore, I have no damn right to look down my nose at them for it. I mean, it’s the equivalent of all those bastards that I hear mocking people for being “retards.” It sickens me, and I’m sad that a part of me was like that.

But now, that part is gone. I used to get very irritated when faced with these things, but I’m learning to be patient. If people can’t understand something, and someone else does, then I think it is a moral obligation to HELP them understand instead of mock. Like the guy who played Dr. Octopus in SPIDER-MAN 2 said, “Intelligence isn’t a privilege, it’s a gift, and you use it for the betterment of mankind.”

Well, going forward, that is what I’m going to do. If you don’t understand something that I do, I’m not going to be looking down my nose at you. I’m going to be looking right at you, eye to eye, and I’m going to say, “Well, this is how that works…”

Intelligence can be used not just for the betterment of mankind, but for the betterment of yourself as well.

Billy Corgan, inspiration, memories, Smashing Pumpkins, Uncategorized

My Life as a Smashing Pumpkins Fanatic

This journey starts out in a way that no one who meets me today would believe.

When I first heard of them, I did not like the Smashing Pumpkins.

I remember tuning in to 120 Minutes and catching the end of the video for the Smashing Pumpkins song “Rhinoceros.” The camera cut to Billy Corgan and their bassist D’arcy sitting on a couch while talking to host Dave Kendall. Billy said something about how his lyrics were hard to explain because they were based on memories, so it’s not like he could say, “Well, I was walking down the street one day, and I thought this.” Then D’arcy cut in and said, “We don’t want to tell you what to think the songs mean anyway. We’re here to say, ‘Think for yourself.’” And the way she said it was in this tone that annoyed me for some reason. It was snotty. I thought, “Oh Lord, these people are obnoxious.”

That was in 1991 or 1992. I didn’t hear about them for a long time. Then in the summer of 1993, I was watching 120 Minutes once again, although this time the host was Lewis Largent. He said they had a new video from the Smashing Pumpkins, the lead single off their second album SIAMESE DREAM. I thought, “Oh no, these jerks again!” But it was midnight on a Sunday, and there was nothing else on to watch, so I kept it on MTV. The video was for the song “Cherub Rock.”

I’m glad I left it there, because it changed my life.

Not too long before this video aired, I had given up on trying to learn guitar. I was confused about what I wanted to do with the instrument. One day I would be listening to Cat Stevens, and the next I would play Nine Inch Nails. This conflict made me give up. Then I heard that main riff for “Cherub Rock,” and I said, “You know what? I want to pick up guitar again, at least to learn how to play that!”

SIAMESE DREAM came out shortly after that, but I didn’t get it right away. In fact, I didn’t get it until that Christmas. But when I did, I listened to it non-stop. I got their first album, GISH, after already owning DREAM. While that album is also good, it really was a step backward. The only way I could get into GISH was by leaving SIAMESE DREAM home and bringing only GISH to school, so I listened to only that on the bus ride to and from school, as well as when I was walking between classes.

Fast forward to 1994. I was at SUNY Albany. The Pumpkins released an album that was a collection of B-sides and rarities called PISCES ISCARIOT. This was a stop-gap to satisfy the fans while we waited for the Pumpkins to release their next album, which they said would be a double album. At some point, I bought a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt that had a list of about 52 song titles on the back. What astonished me was that there were maybe 10 titles or more that I’d never heard of. I did some digging around, and I found out many of these songs were demos that had been recorded in 1998, three years before GISH came out. Damn, I thought, I want to have ALL their music, but how can I if it was never officially released? What am I going to do? How am I going to get them? GODDAMMIT, I NEED THOSE SONGS!

While I pondered this question, I was also reading as much as I could about the band, and specifically their amazing songwriter Billy Corgan. There were certain parts of his life that eerily seemed to echo mine. I wouldn’t say they were like looking in a mirror, but they were close in their own way. For example, his dad was a musician, and a drug addict. My dad was neither, but he has also exhibited a similar sense of emotional distance throughout my life. I believe Billy’s biological mom was sent to a mental hospital for a while. Mine was not, nor was she ever officially diagnosed with anything, but we all know the stories about her. If she doesn’t have at least one or more mental disorders, I would be shocked. Then Billy’s dad remarried, and Billy did not get along with his stepmother. It’s easy to see how THAT aspect of his life paralleled mine.

Billy also talked about his relationships with his peers. He said, “My hair was either too long or not long enough. My clothes were either too weird or not weird enough. It’s been that way all my life.” I also felt this way in high school. I mean, I seemed to be too “weird” to get along with what I call the “mainstream” kids (also known as the “in-crowd”), but then I didn’t seem to be weird or edgy enough for the kids that were more accepting of me; by that I mean the smoker/skater kids who hung outside smoking between classes. They were more open to the kind of person I was, the kind of music and movies I liked, and so on. They didn’t consider me weird or a future psychopath simply because I liked horror movies. However, they were open to many things that I was not, like running the streets all hours of the night, doing drugs, and so on. I did give those things a try, but I didn’t like them.

When Billy said this, a lot of people mocked him for it. You see, even that early in their career, Billy was developing a reputation as an asshole. When he made these comments about not fitting in and having a hard childhood, people said things like, “THAT is his excuse for being a jerk? I had it hard too, but you don’t hear me using it to justify treating people bad!” The thing is, I knew Billy wasn’t using it for that purpose…because I UNDERSTOOD the man. He was simply saying that, even though he was this great big rock star now, he had been where we were. He could understand feeling alienated from others, but no one else gives him that.

Time passed. I met my first girlfriend Adalena in 1995. During Spring Break, I stayed with her in New York City. We went to some record stores downtown, and I found a TON of Pumpkins bootlegs that included all those songs that were missing on my shirt, and more! At this time, the Internet was starting to really become “a thing,” so I went online looking for Smashing Pumpkins websites, and I found out there were even MORE songs that I didn’t know about or possess. For a year or so, this became my obsession. I hunted down rare singles, even if they were imports.

It wasn’t just their music. It was Billy’s experiences and attitude and personality that spoke to me, WAY more than the other musician who was labelled our “generation spokesperson.” Naturally, I am speaking of Kurt Cobain. Kurt and Billy were alike in many ways, which meant I noticed similarities between Kurt and myself as well. For one thing, he was a very kind, sweet, sensitive soul. For another, he was not just a lyricist; he was a poet. And of course, he also had a poor self-image. Billy did too, but he chose a different path. As we all know, Kurt took himself out. When Billy got close to taking the same course of action, he decided to step back from the edge and, in his own words, “deal with it, get over it, work, and be happy.”

The fact that he came back from that edge at all is admirable, but what he accomplished was astounding. When the Pumpkins were getting ready to record SIAMESE DREAM, Billy suffered a crippling bout of writer’s block. But then when he bounced back, the man became prolific. Ever since beating that block, he has always written enough material where EVERY album could have been a double album.

After MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS, the Pumpkins took three years to put out a new album. This one was called ADORE, and it features none of the bombast of the previous records. It was a mix of acoustic and electronic music, and it fell flat on its face. Billy thought the fans that bought MELLON COLLIE would stick with them no matter what. He thought, “The fans finally get us. They will stay by our side.” Unfortunately, he was wrong. The fans he got from MELLON COLLIE were what I call the “casual” or “MTV fans.” They liked MELLON COLLIE simply because that is what the radio and MTV told them to like. They didn’t have the same deep affection for the band that people like I did. What I have come to find out in my life is that people prefer to be sheep. Why? Because it’s safe. If you are into what everyone else is, there is a sense of security. Unfortunately, being sheep makes it easier for things like…I don’t know…a guy like Hitler rising to power.

A lot of people mocked Billy’s decision to change the sound. At the time he said things like, “Rock is dead. I mean, how long can you beat people over the head with the metal?” Some of my friends would say things like, “If that’s true, then why aren’t ALL those rock bands turning toward that kind of music?” I said, “Because those bands are not Billy, and Billy is not those bands.” No one else understood that it was a personal choice. They just wanted the Pumpkins to keep rocking.

A couple years later, the Pumpkins released MACHINA. Even though they were rocking again, they did not regain the commercial success of MELLON COLLIE. They had another album ready for release (MACHINA II), but Virgin Records was not interested in putting it out after the dismal sales of MACHINA I. So Billy gave vinyl copies of MACINA II to people who ran the most popular Pumpkins fan sites and told them to distribute it. In other words, they gave us a whole album for free in the year 2000, which was several years before Napster and file sharing became a thing. Talk about a visionary! Then again, that should come as no surprise. I mean, in an article Billy wrote for his high school newspaper, he said the three biggest bands of the future would be R.E.M., U2, and Metallica.

Billy resurfaced with a new band called Zwan, which had Jimmy Chamberlin from the Pumpkins still on drums. That band didn’t last long, which sucked because I thought some of the tunes were brilliant. It was a while before Billy came out with his debut solo album The Future Embrace, which showed a heavy Depeche Mode influence. The album quickly disappeared from everyone’s minds. Yes, even mine.

On the day that his album was released, Billy took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, saying he was going to reunite the Pumpkins. I waited eagerly for more news. I was not surprised when Jimmy Chamberlin agreed to come back, and I was even less when James Iha and D’arcy did NOT. It was a while before the new lineup debuted. Jeff Schroeder was the second guitarist, and Ginger Poole was the bassist. This lineup played together for a few years, although Jeff and Ginger were NOT present on the album Zeitgeist. That is the one album I couldn’t get into. I loved it at first because I was excited that my band was back together. However, after the shock wore off, I realized that only half the album really hit me like the old material.

There were quite a few ups and downs during this period. The band stumbled as they tried to regain their footing. At some point, Ginger Poole left the band because she was pregnant, and Jimmy quit because he said his heart wasn’t really in it anymore. Nicole Fioerntino was recruited as bassist, and I think by far she was the best one the band ever had. Then they got 19-year-old Mike Byrne on drums, a move that was heavily criticized by many. How could this kid summon up the chops to match Billy’s riffs? Well, somehow he did.

For a while, the Pumpkins dismissed the idea of making full albums again because of the shift in the music scene ever since Napster. They focused on crafting one song at a time. Billy said they would release one song per month in this fashion, but here’s the thing: most months are four weeks long, and four weeks is a LONG time to ask people to maintain interest in one song while they wait for another. Also, it didn’t help that the four-week wait often stretched into six weeks or more. Eventually, Billy released a statement that the band would go back to making albums.

The next one was called Oceania, and holy shit…what an album it was. While it may not have recaptured the band’s old glory, it kicked ass, and it earned Billy some of the best reviews he’d gotten since Mellon Collie. He’d been stumbling in the dark for a few years, but Billy finally found his path again.

And then he veered off it. How? Well, Nicole and Mike left the band. There was no real explanation. I’d never had a problem with Billy replacing D’arcy or James because, in my opinion, the entire Pumpkins’ sound was Billy’s songwriting, guitar, and voice, and Jimmy’s drumming. When Jimmy left, I was nervous, but then Mike proved a worthy replacement. Many fans and I vested our hearts into this incarnation of the Pumpkins because they sounded pretty damn good. We also bought into Billy’s line that this was the most excited he’d been about the lineup since the band started, and then BOOM, 50% of them are gone. I was pissed. Just when I thought we were on solid ground, Billy yanked the rug again. There was no clue who the replacements would be this time.        

News started bubbling up that the Pumpkins were working on a new album. This was to be called Monument to an Elegy. It turned out that Billy was bringing Tommy Lee from Motley Crue to drum in the studio. Many people were like, “What the hell?” After all, Motley Crue was part of the “hair metal” scene that Billy and the Seattle bands had kicked off the charts. They were thought to be a joke by our generation, but if you listen to the man’s drumming, he DOES have chops. Plus, it wasn’t as out of the blue as many people thought because Billy and Tommy had known each other ever since the Pumpkins toured on their first album Gish in 1991 and 1992.

For live performances, the bass player from the band the Killers joined Billy and Jeff, as well as the drummer from Rage Against the Machine. The bassist was all right, but that dude from Rage SUCKS. His drumming is boring as hell; they might as well have a metronome on stage because the guy does nothing but keep the beat. He has no inventiveness at all. I was glad this lineup was short-lived.

Then, exciting news came. At a couple shows on an acoustic tour that the Pumpkins did, not only did Jimmy Chamberlin return…but JAMES IHA joined them on stage at two shows. Within no time, rumors were brewing of a reunion. Billy said he was talking to D’arcy again. It seemed like the original four would be back together. And then reality had to ruin it all. D’arcy said that Billy withdrew his offer, and there were some harsh words in interviews. Billy said this was false, and James Iha got his back.

I don’t care about the petty band mate squabbling. I just wanted to get that part out of the way so I could backtrack to something else., something much more profound and interesting about Billy that I used to notice about myself, but I have gotten over.

As I said before, Billy had a dysfunctional family. His dad was physically abusive and emotionally absent, and his mom and stepmom were both nightmares too. Despite all that, Billy still wanted to get their approval…if from no one else, then at least from his dad, who was also a musician. In fact, there was an interview where Billy said, “My dad said when he listened to Siamese Dream, he heard a part of me that made him understand why so many kids connected with me.” He said it was one of his proudest moments; he said that, even when you are an abused kid, you always want that pat on your head and to hear them say you did a good job.

I was this way with my parents too. Whenever mom said something where she expressed disappointment in me, I would get upset. She always chose to focus on my failures instead of my accomplishments. Many times I said to her, “I could run a Fortune 500 company, and you would still find a way to paint me as a failure.” With dad, he was emotionally not there. I remember when I told him for the first time ever that I had a girlfriend. All he said was, “Oh, that’s nice,” and that was it. Didn’t ask her name, where I met her, etc.

The thing is, I am past expecting these sorts of things from my parents. Billy kind of isn’t. He still needs external validation and approval. How do I know this? There was an interview where Billy was complaining about the reviews that Monuments received. He said something like, “All these magazines are rating the album three stars. No one believes I could release a three-star album.” I remember thinking, “Billy, who gives a fuck? Write the music that’s in your heart and don’t worry about reviews. The people who get it…will get it.”

That was when I realized: this guy still needs external validation. It was amazing to me to be able to spot that. I was the same way. I still am sometimes, but I’m getting over it. It’s just crazy that, despite all his success, Billy can still get hung up on that. It’s kind of like the music magazines are his parents now, and he is mad that he can’t get their approval. The funny thing is, his success is what has given him such a big ego that he would never be able to admit he still has some work to do on the inside.

In that moment, Billy was no longer a rock god. He was human. I realized that was why I had identified with him all along: the guy was real. I identify with and admire him for the reasons that everyone else mocks him: his mood swings, his so-called “crazy” ideas, his off-the-cuff/borderline temper tantrum kind of remarks. He has never believed in posturing as some perfect, flawless idol for us all to worship. THAT is why he strikes a chord with me.

This revelation made me feel closer to him, that if the man and I had a chance to talk, it would become immediately obvious that we are a lot alike…well, other than his riches, fame, and number of records sold.