Music for Programming

1 February 2023 • PersonalMusic

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I found a post on Reddit a couple of weeks ago about a great playlist to listen to while programming or coding. So far, I can say that it’s been doing a great job - lots of ambient, chill, yet still energetic music that’s helped me be less distracted throughout the day. The original URL from the Reddit post is dead, but I’ve managed to rescue & recreate the playlists in both Apple Music and Spotify using a slick service called TuneMyMusic.

Additionally, I also discovered, a very cool looking site that has a bunch of shorter playlists of music for this same purpose. I haven’t dug into this one much, but I will, and thought y’all might be interested in this as well.

Death of the Third Space + Quiet Quitting

27 January 2023 • Personal

A very tired person with their head on their desk holding a sign that says "help".

I think by now, most people have heard the phrase “quiet quitting” floating around, though some may not know what it means. The way I see it, “quiet quitting” is when you aren’t feeling invested in your job, so you do juuuuuust enough to get by. Got something that’ll take 5 minutes to do? Maybe I’ll get to it after a 15 minute walk to the coffee machine and a 10 minute bathroom break. Someone needs help? Eh, that’s not really my problem, is it? They’ll figure it out. People get their core responsibilities done, but nothing more. They don’t show up early, they don’t stay late, they don’t attend any meetings that aren’t mandatory, and they don’t do any work outside of what’s expected of them.

There’s been a lot of talk as to why this is a thing. Mostly, it stems from burnout at work, especially during the pandemic & return to “normal”. We’re becoming more aware of toxic behaviors, and less forgiving of them. When the job doesn’t care about us, why should we care back?

I think I inadvertently stumbled on to another possible reason as to why this burnout might be happening: the death of the third space.

What is the Third Space (or third place)? Per Wikipedia:

In sociology, the third place/space refers to the social surroundings that are separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). Examples of third places include churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, gyms, bookstores, stoops and parks. In his book The Great Good Place (1989), Ray Oldenburg argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

If I think back on my own life, I’ve had a lot of third spaces. I spent countless hours in church from age 10 to age 29. I’ve been Chronically Online for most of my adult life. I spent a lot of time playing video games with my friends. I moonlighted as a bartender at a brewery in my city, both to make some extra money, but also to be around people I enjoyed.

None of these third spaces exist for me right now. I left the church for a myriad of personal reasons. Twitter is dying a loud & obnoxious death, Facebook is already a toxic cesspool, and Mastodon is still new enough that it still feels like everyone is just making noise for the time being. Now that V is here, I don’t play games with people online anymore, and I don’t bartend anymore. I’m sure I’m not alone in this; while not everyone had kids, we all had to deal with the pandemic throwing a wrench in our personal lives, basically eliminating this Third Space for a lot of us.

Additionally, lots of people (myself included) stopped going in to the office, leading to a growing number of people merging their First and Second Spaces into one weird mishmash. Many people have tried to put physical limits on their time at work in various ways (dressing in work clothes during the work day, having a dedicated office for doing everything, going to a co-working space, etc.), to a wide range of success.

But think about it - people no longer have their Third Space, so they don’t have any sort of outlet to relax, vent, and unwind after a long day. And now their First and Second Spaces are overlapping more and more, so any sort of toxicity from their job is having a more direct impact on their home life. All of the individual spaces have become compressed down into one space.

I’m suffering a lot from this right now. My org was one of the many tech firms that announced layoffs earlier this month, and while I survived, my morale and mental state has definitely taken a hit. I can’t help but bring that home with me any time I use the restroom, or get water, or check in on the family. My separate spaces no longer exist, and it’s very frustrating.

I don’t have an answer for this. I wish I did. It’s just something that’s forefront of my mind, and something I need to make sure I’m thinking about & being proactive at trying to rectify. Perhaps you’re going through something similar and didn’t realize it; if so, I hope this helps you.

GitHub Repository Helper - an Alfred Workflow

20 January 2023 • ProjectAlfredGithub

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Yesterday, I posted about how I consolidated some of my Mac helper apps. I was talking to members of the Relay.FM member’s Discord when going through this exercise, and I happened to mention an Alfred workflow that I had helped create for work. Enough people seemed interested in it that I went through the whole process of getting it set up for other people to download.

Introducing: the GitHub Repository Helper workflow for

This workflow is pretty straight-forward. You first scan all of your repos tied to your GitHub account, and then you can pull them up using Alfred with the command gh {repo_name}. At that point, you can press enter to go straight to the repo in your browser, or hold various keys to copy the repo’s URL, or jump straight to the repo’s pull requests, issues, or projects page.

You can download the latest version of the workflow on GitHub, or view the latest release.

Mac Helper Apps, or Where The FUDGE Is This Triggered From?

19 January 2023 • Personal

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Over at the Relay.FM member’s Discord, a lot of different conversations take place about a variety of topics. I spend a lot of time in our #apple channel, talking about everything Apple news related, along with discussions about hardware & software. One of the conversations that Rosemary Orchard started in prepping for a future episode of the Automators podcast actually gave me a great idea for 2 blog posts - this is the first one of those.

One of the best parts about using a Mac is the sheer abundence of apps and utilities to help you be productive. Clipboard managers, app launchers, ways to dump snippets of text on demand, controlling audio… that’s just scratching the surface.

However, one of the issues arises from having a multitude of apps and utilities that have started to aggressively expand their feature set. I remember when BetterTouchTool first added app window management - it was a huge deal for me, as I’d not experienced that before. But then I went “oh, there’s other apps that do this in a better, more powerful way. I should use that instead.” Same thing with clipboard managers - I used the one built in to Keyboard Maestro for years, before switching over to Alfred’s, now that I have the Powerpack, it seems like a no brainer to utilize it.

And therein lies the main point of this post - do you know what all of your Mac Helper Apps are doing? How much legacy content do you have just hanging around, not doing anything vital, and/or requiring you to spend money on it for a subscription?

Ok, time to audit. Let’s check a combo of my menubar and my apps folder to see what apps I am using, and what they’re being used for:

A shot of my menu bar

I’m just going to get ahead of this now: my menu bar is split thanks to Bartender. Top row left to right: iStat Menus (from weather thru the calendar icon), Bartender, & Control Center. Bottom row: Maestrel, Zoom, DisplayLink, 1Password,, Adobe CreativeCloud, Alfred, TextExpander, Rocket, Keyboard Maestro, MacMediaKeyForwarder, Spotlight, Karabiner-Elements, native Keyboard switcher, BetterTouchTool, Users, spacer, Magnet, Nightfall, Moom, Bluetooth, Wifi, spacer, Superpowered, Docker, Zscaler.

  • Alfred (app launcher, various workflows, clipboard manager)
  • BetterTouchTool (mouse & trackpad gestures)
  • Karabiner-Elements (custom key commands on my MacBook to match my mechanical keyboards)
  • Keyboard Maestro (a very small set of keyboard commands to trigger actions)
  • Magnet (window snapping via drag/drop or key commands)
  • Moom (auto-set window placement when my laptop is hooked up to my external monitors)
  • Nightfall (toggle light/dark mode)
  • TextExpander (expand snippets of text)

I’ll start with the easy one. Keyboard Maestro is really only doing a very limited subset of things for me; controlling Apple Music (play/pause, prev/next song, vol up/down) or quitting all of my running apps.

A shot of my existing Keyboard Maestro actions

It turns out that both of these are absurdly easy to reconfigure in Alfred. All of those features were available as Workflow presets, so I just combined them all into one workflow and called it a day.

A shot of my new Alfred workflow

Additionally, I (re)discovered that just typing quit into Alfred prompts me with the ability to quit all running apps. Boom, one app removed!

A shot of my Alfred's quit action

Edit: it turns out that Alfred also supports via play, pause, and similar commands. Their volume controls are a bit more limited, however, only offering max, half, or mute. This may be more your speed, but I’ll stick with the new workflow for now.

What about Nightfall? A neat app, sure, but do I need an app dedicated to just doing one thing maybe once a week?

It turns out, no, I do not. Another simple Alfred workflow, and now I can either type in darkmode or press ⌘⌥⌃ + \, and boom, it switches!

A shot of my Alfred workflow to toggle Dark Mode

Behind the scenes, this is just running an AppleScript:

tell application "System Events"
    tell appearance preferences
        set dark mode to not dark mode
    end tell
end tell

Also, unlike Nightfall, this implementation has the added bonus of not mucking with my appearence preferences - I have it set to Auto, so it switches to dark mode at sundown and light mode at sunrise, but Nightfall would override it and set it to whatever mode I put it in. This script method changes the appearence, but leaves it on Auto, so it will continue to flip like normal the next day. Win/win!

Text/snippet expansion? I’ve been a TextExpander user for a long time, but admittedly have never utilized it to its full potential. The extent of most of my snippets are quick pasting my phone number or email, or dropping in a 5 paragraph lorem ipsum. The biggest lift was a reply I’d send out to recruiters when they’d send me a job posting, where it would prompt me to put in their name before pasting the message.

A shot of my old TextExpander snippet

Surprise surprise, Alfred comes to the rescue again with its Snippet feature. They don’t work exactly the same - TextExpander would pop up a very legacy-looking window prompting me to fill in any dynamic content before pasting, whereas Alfred will paste the content in and then let you move the cursor to where you have to type. For my needs, though, this is perfect. (What the heck, Alfred’s pretty powerful…)

A shot of my Job Search snippet in Alfred

I still want to play around with some of these apps and see if I can replace Karabiner-Elements, along with one of Magnet or Moom, but at this point, I feel like this was a very productive exercise. I’ll be able to save some money not paying for a TextExpander subscription, clear a couple of apps off my computer, and I feel like this gives me cause to dive even further into Alfred’s feature set to see what all is there. I encourage you to do an audit as well - who knows, maybe you’ll unlock some pretty powerful features as well!

Year of Sustenance

20 December 2022 • Personal

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As 2022 wraps up, it’s time for me to iron out my yearly theme for 2023. I did Year of the Garden, and it went… ok, I guess? Could’ve been better, could’ve been a lot worse.

But! I learned a lot. I learned more about what makes me tick, what I see as being valueable or worth my time & attention when I’m looking down from a 5,000 ft. view. I learned the kinds of things I need to do to keep my theme at the center of what I’m doing. And most importantly, I (think I) learned how to make this year a rousing success.

General Thoughts

As I went through the exercise of thinking about what this year would look like, I started taking a bunch of notes. Things that I looked at and went “yes, focus on this” or “this sucked” or “here’s what I want to be important next year”. I also examined how I spent my time throughout my days. When was I feeling fulfilled, when was I struggling, and what could I do to get more of the former and less of the latter?

As I started to sketch things out, I noticed something - no matter how crafty I got with rewording my thoughts, it looked nearly identical to Year of the Garden.

I zoomed waaaaaaaay in on Discord just for this shot. You're welcome.

Initially, I was very upset about this. Why the heck would I want to just repeat my theme again? That’s so boring! I’m a creative, dangit!!!

But the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to people about it, the more I realized - maybe my theme is so similar because that’s what’s really important to me right now. Instead of trying to upset the apple cart, perhaps I just need to stay focused on the garden I was trying to tend to last year, in order to make it grow.


So I went back and forth on a lot of different things. I almost stole Myke Hurley’s theme from last year, Year of Structure, as a way for me to build the building blocks. But, I’m not constructing something new, I’m continuing what I started last year. Other ideas that were floating around were Year of Foundation, Bedrock, Groundwork, Pillars, or 2022 2: Electric Boogaloo (thanks, Izzy, this one gave me a real good laugh). But ultimately, I ended up with…

2023 - Year of Sustenance

Sustenance. “Food and drink regarded as a source of strength; nourishment; the maintaining of someone or something in life or existence.”

As I type that above sentence, I realize how perfect Year of Sustenance is for me for this year. I’m continuing the theme centered around the garden, but now I’m less focused on getting stuff to grow, and I’m more directly tied to growing things that are going to sustain me, my family, and those around me. Yes. All the yes.

My goal with the Year of Sustenance: Renew my focus on the habits, hobbies, and behaviors I formed last year, and take action on them in order to establish a baseline to build my future upon in the years to come. The garden, so to speak, has been appropriately razed of weeds, pruned of thinkgs choking out the rest of the garden, and sowed with nourishment for the year to come. Now it’s time to put that all to good use. I have 3 main areas that I want to focus my energy on this year:


I’m truly blessed to have a job that allows me to be remote so I can be with my family, and to have the time flexibility within my workday to help out with my daughter or with things around the house when they need to be done. That said, I need to make sure I’m not just coasting, but actively ensuring that I have a future that I can rely upon. My goals this year:

  • Continue to advance on the career track, and get a promotion + raise this year (ideally March)
  • Learn new languages to expand my toolkit & help provide opportunities or a safety net (currently working on a SwiftUI/iOS app, and then learning Python)
  • Revamp my daily schedule to block out opportune times to maximize my productivity (i.e. no meetings when my daughter is napping, if at all possible)


We’ve had a bit of a family health scare in the family at the end of this year. I’m fine, but it’s really making me evaluate and reflect on what truly matters to me. At the forefront of that is my daughter, my wife, and the family we have built. And I can’t enjoy that if I’m not taking care of myself.

  • I’ve done pretty ok with cutting out soda + sugary drinks, and making healthy meals. I want to keep going on this train, as well as ensure that I’m drinking enough water to stay hydrates (especially as winter rolls in)
  • I need to exercise. Something, somehow. Whether that’s just some light cardio in the home, or whether I end up going to a gym, I need to get my heart rate up and move my body. Ideally, I still am carrying around 35 lbs that I would love to dispose of somewhere. But ultimately, I just want to be able to keep up with my daughter as she zooms around the house, not feel like a loaf every time I go to pick her up, and be able to get on the floor to play with her without fearing that I can’t get back up.
  • Continue to meal plan every week. My wife and I started doing this towards the end of the year as a way to keep us focused, make as few trips to the store as possible, and have fewer converstaions that start with me asking “so what do you want to eat tonight?”


This is really just a catch-all bucket. Things here relate to both work and health, while also being about my free time, my life, and other things.

  • Start using time blocking in order to be as productive as I can. This goes for work (i.e. focus time during V’s naps), but also for my free time. I struggle a lot when it comes to actually picking something I want to do, much less getting the thing done. If I can put a little prep time in each week to make sure my time is going where I want it, I think this could be a huge success. My goal is to pick 2-3 things that I have the option of doing each evening, and choosing from those specifically (with the caveat of, if I’m feeling compelled to do something else, I can! The structure is just to help me start).
  • Get back to using my Theme Journal’s daily & weekly checklists. The dopamine hit I get from checking off a task is so much better for me than just hitting a checkbox in Reminders. Plus, I always say that I forget things if I don’t write it down, so this is gonna be the way I combine all of that.
  • Do monthly “garden pruning”. Look at the things I’m doing, the information I’m ingesting, and Marie Kondo the shit out of it. Things like podcasts, newsletters, RSS feeds, social media follows, my time blocks, etc. will all be up for an audit every month. And I’m going to be harsh. My time is valuable, and I need to make the best use of it that I can.
  • Put my gosh dang phone down more. Utilize screen time, focus modes, and uninstalling problem apps in order to stay more present and less distracted. When I’m on my phone, it needs to be on less “distractiony” things (lookings straight at you, Marvel SNAP).

As far as my personal time blocking goes, I’ve sorted things into 3 buckets:

  • The Very Yes List list (things I definitely want to be doing more of): reading, writing (blog posts, a D&D campaign, short stories, or whatever), and programming (whether that’s Ruby/Rails continuing ed, or learning a new language)
  • The I’m Cool With This list (things that are important to me in healthy doses): video games (my actual backlog of games, not just Marvel SNAP), watching sports, and watching shows/movies (I barely watch anything that isn’t live sports anymore, and I wouldn’t mind catching up on a few shows that I’v missed)
  • The Maybe? list (things that I’d love to pursue, but I’m unsure if I want to dedicate the time to them): learning how to draw, learning to crochet, playing music (guitar, piano, writing/recording new songs), and (re-)learning a language (probably Spanish, maybe ASL?)

And an example schedule might look like this:

  • Monday: Exercise, then read or program
  • Tuesday: Program or video games
  • Wednesday: Exercise, then video games or write
  • Thursday: Write or Spanish
  • Friday: Exercise, then Spanish or read
  • Weekend: Free for all - what’s made me feel the best this week?

I have NO CLUE how this will actually play out, but I’m excited to give it a shot. I do think that this theme is going to be a great continuation of the foundation I laid for myslef last year, and I look forward to having the scheduled audits to help me refresh what’s important to me.

Review - Year of the Garden

19 December 2022 • Personal

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Once again, it’s time for a new yearly theme. Last year’s theme was Year of the Garden, and I honestly thought this was a terrific success.

Before I talk about my 2023 theme, let’s do a real quick recap on what my 2022 theme was, and how I think it went.

Last Year

Year of the Garden was built around 4 core tenants:

  • Harvest from existing activities that I wanted to continue.
  • Prune some habits that were taking up too much time.
  • Sow new habits into my life, so that I could benefit from them going forward.
  • Raze habits that were not actively serving me, or would hinder me as I went through the year.

Overall, I’m really happy with how the theme helped me look at my life and determine what was important, vs. what was just taking up space or time that could’ve been used elsewhere.


I had 2 general ideas, both of which were a rousing success. I wanted to read at least one book a month, and while I didn’t complete one in either September or October, I will have completed (at least) 29 books by the end of the year. I also wanted to make coffee at home every day, as opposed to going out and buying sugary mochas; this went pretty well for most of the year, and I still have 2-3 cups of pour over per day, but my wife and I do splurge at least once a week on a latte from the shop down the street.


I actively trimmed down the people I followed on social media, I knocked out any video game that I couldn’t pause (and inadvertently knocked out playing video games almost entirely), and I definitely managed to focus on more healthy recipes. With our daughter here, I do feel that I fell into the trap of just scrolling endlessly on my phone while she was asleep, or making the same recipes over and over because they were convenient. I’ll give this goal a solid “good try”.


I set up a big list of 9 things that I wanted to try and add to my life. Here on December 20th, I can say that I was successful at exactly 0 of these. I’m not exactly surprised; I knew that having a child would be tiring, but I was optimistic that I could try and fit some of these in. Drinking water, I thought, would be no problem, especially with a bottle & app that tracked my usage. I’ll give myself partial credit for healthy movement (my wife got me out of the house a lot this summer for 30-60 minute walks with our daughter) and learning a new programming language (I’m actively working towards develpoing a new iOS app using SwiftUI), but I utterly failed at this part of my theme.


… well, it’s about the same as sowing. I had aspirations of staying off of Facebook, but when everyone wants to see photos of your kid, you kinda have to be there. I did use Screen Time for Instagram and Facebook, and that was a huge help - I never ran into the time limit I set for myself, and having it ping me was a nice reminder of “hey maybe I shouldn’t”. My nails are still uber-short, and I’m staring at the tube of bitter tasting stuff I was supposed to apply to help me not bite them. Ah well. (Also, Marvel SNAP showed up out of nowhere at the end of the year and just swarmed my garden.)


So I’m what, 50%? For my first year actively doing a theme, I’m pretty ok with that. I learned a lot, too.

  • While I may have struggled in some parts, I did find myself actively thinking about my theme throughout the year when it came to prioritizing the things that I did. It didn’t always pan out for the best possible outcome, but it did live in the forefront of my mind, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
  • I set these broad goals for myself because I could see the time crunch coming. I was 100% correct about how much it would limit my time, and I’m really proud of myself for being able to recognize that early on.
  • Having these kinds of goals are great, but I do a lot better with specifics. Rather than staring at these half-full buckets of ideas throughout the year, I need to be intentional about filling them with new goals.
  • In addition, I need to be better about revisiting the goals I’ve set myself more than just (checks notes) one time, in December. A quarterly, or even monthly, check-in with myself would benefit me a lot.

So with that… it’s on to planning for 2023.

What's In My Bags?

4 December 2022 • Personal

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I’ve always been a huge fan of the “what’s in my bag” posts. Any time anyone I follow posts one of theirs, I pore over them, looking to see what kinds of cool bags are out there, what they’re stuffed with, and how I could improve my own bag setup.

Since I’ve been working remotely for nearly 3 years, my bags have gotten a bit neglected. However, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road in recent weeks, so I’ve gotten the bag re-packed and set up just how I like. I figured it’d be fun to share them with you.

The Backpack

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The backpack is a discontinued, older model North Face Big Shot. I’d been talking for years about how I wanted a different backpack with some extra compartments to carry my various devices, and my wife saw this one day on a clearance rack during Christmas vacation. It ended up being exactly what I was hoping for at the time, and while I’m always on the hunt for The Perfect Bag™, this one has done the trick for over 8 years now.

And as for what we have packed inside:

Top row

  • Composition notebook, for various notes (this one is filled with notes for a D&D campaign I want to write)
  • Laptop: 2021 16” M1 MacBook Pro (M1 Max, 32GB RAM, 512GB storage - easily the best computer I’ve ever used) for writing code & blog posts
  • MagSafe charger + extension cord
  • Warby Parker Ames glasses (I’m trying out these new glasses with blue light filtering lenses to see if they make extended computing or gaming sessions a bit easier on my eyes. So far I’m very happy with these.)
  • iPad (8th gen, 32GB, mostly used as a portable TV)

Left of the bag

Under the bag

  • Gum
  • Tissues
  • USB-C to Lightning + USB-A Apple Watch charger
  • A travel grooming kit with nail clippers and tweezers (literally the only conference swag I’ve ever gotten that I actually use, and somehow never impounded by TSA)
  • Tylenol & allergy meds
  • Chap stick (I’m partial to Burt’s Bees)
  • Batteries, both AA and AAA
  • Quarters, in case I need to feed a parking meter

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There are a handful of changes that I’d like to make to this setup.

Additionally, I’m always looking into different bags just to see what’s out there. While the Big Shot is fine, I’d love to get something that feels a bit less “repurposed hiking bag”. I’ve always been a fan of sling bags, but most of them either a) can’t carry a water bottle without spill potential, b) doesn’t have enough compartments to keep things from sliding around, c) doesn’t stand up on its own when placed on the floor, or d) all of the above.

The Sling Bag

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I’ve been carrying a sling bag since my daughter was born. Having extra space to haul things, even when I’m just going on a short trip to the store, had been invaluable to making sure I remember everything when walking out the door. I’d been using a generic fanny pack as my sling for months, but I just got a Aer Day Sling last week, and I’m loving it so far. Here’s what’s loaded inside:

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There’s a handful of changes I want to make to this setup as well.

  • This is a brand new bag, so I’m still working on figuring out the best organization for everything. Right now, the front pocket is only for my keys, and that seems wasteful.
  • I need to pack some Tylenol and allergy meds in this bag as well.
  • A multi-cable charger + brick for emergencies wouldn’t hurt.
  • Other small items, like a notebook + pencil, gum or mints, & snacks would all probably be great if they fit.
  • While the headphone case I have is the official one from Bose, it’s a tad bulky, so something smaller would be ideal.

So that’s it! That’s my bag setup as of today. What do you think?

  1. I use this key organizer out of spite - when I purchased it, someone told me “oh you’ll only use that for like 2 months”. I put a reminder in my calendar to rub it in their face 2 months later, and then brought it up any time I remembered. That was… like, 5 years ago. 

  2. I was FURIOUS that it took me 32 years to discover how amazing being able to actually see properly while wearing sunglasses was. I’ve never been a contacts guy, so I’d just take off my glasses and put on sunnies, or get huge oversized sunnies to put on over the top of my glasses and look like a huge dweeb. 


4 September 2022 • Personal

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I just spent 16 hours in a car over the last 2 days as my wife, my daughter, and I all zipped off to a vacation. I spent a lot of that time listening to podcasts, and so many of them happened to talk about being creative, calling yourself “a creative” vs. “an artist”, and similar conversations. I listened to a lot of people talk about their creative endeavors, and getting inspired to pursue mine.

But, since I was stuck in a car, my mind instead wandered to “why do I have such a hard time actually being creative?”

I have so many random creative projects in flight. An incomplete list:

  • A new EP (which may be on hold - see my last post if you’re curious0
  • A D&D campaign I’d like to get back to running, which is a prelude to…
  • A D&D campaign I’d like to actually get written so I can run it at some point
  • Learning Swift, so I can make a couple iOS apps
  • Learning how to draw
  • Learning how to crochet

I have absurd admiration for people who create things from scratch, and every once in a while I’ll get the itch to try, or get back to trying, my own hand at it. But I’ve got a problem.

I talked last time about my endeavors with learning to play piano. I always saw my music as a creative outlet, but what I did was more about precision and exactness. About perfection. If it wasn’t perfect, I had to drill it over and over again until it was. If I had any sort of creative flourish to add to something, too bad, that’s not how the piece was written, can’t do that.

After more than a dozen years of that, I’m unable to just create, or even just try something - it must be perfect, or it’s no good.

Take NaNoWriMo, for example. (For the uninitiated, NNWM is an event during the month of November where people attempt to write a 50,000 word story, which would be the length of a typical novel.) I’ve attempted NNWM 3 times previously. I make it maaaaaybe 3 days before my brain goes “no, you ding dong, you need to go back and edit what you’ve already written,” which goes against the spirit of the event. You’re supposed to just write, and write, and write some more.

There’s a saying about race cars that the most important element is the brakes. It doesn’t matter how fast your car can go, or how easily you can turn, if you can’t stop. I have the inverse problem - my brakes are TOO good. When it comes time to hit the gas and accelerate, my car is held back like the parking brake is permanently on, because well what if I need to change directions suddenly?

And don’t get me started on learning new things. I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw, but I remember in 5th and 6th grade that my “drawing” skills were actually me just tracing the final examples in a “learn to draw” book. I started trying to teach myself again last fall, and I did about 2 or 3 things before I went “wow this is kinda tough!” and not touching it again. When it’s not perfect right away, I go “ugh this sucks” and give up. Which is a horrible mentality to have… and yet.

I wish I could turn off the part of my brain that equates perfection with success. I wish I could be ok with learning something new, or making something with imperfections, instead of being annoyed and frustrated with it not sparkling like a gem.

Doers vs. Those Who Do

28 August 2022 • Personal

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I wrote a note to myself at midnight a couple of nights ago: “Blog idea for myself: A Doer vs. A Person Who Does (Related: hello, existential crisis and depression)”. I don’t remember exactly what caused this thought to enter my mind, but I do know what it meant and where my mind was going.

Here’s the general gist of what I was thinking: a doer is someone who really embodies the thing that they are doing, whereas those who do are people who aren’t fully entrenched in the thing that they’re doing; more like a casual hobbyist, or a passerby, or something like that.

Confused? Sure, I get it. Let me give you an example.

I started playing piano at age 4. Picked up drums at 10, bass at 12, and guitar at 14. Went to college for music education, before an injury forced me into a career change. Gigged regularly from age 11 until I was 29 - a solid 18 years of my life. Recorded an EP, with aspirations of doing more.

If you had asked me last week if I would’ve called myself a musician? I would’ve said yes. Yes, I was a musician. I lived it. I considered myself defined by music. I was a doer. I’m not anymore… probably wouldn’t even lump myself in as a “those who do” these days. But back then? Absolutely.

I talked about how I started playing piano at age 4. My mom was a piano teacher with a Masters in piano performance, and the story goes that I sat down at the piano one day when I was 4 and said that I wanted to learn how to play. So, Mom taught me. I played til I was 17. I was really fucking good at it. It fueled all of my ancillary musical endeavors, led to me being an All-State percussionist (twice), and why I decided I wanted to be a music ed major in the first place.

But a lot of people don’t know how much I ended up hating the piano. How much my mom and I fought about practicing (2 hours a day by the end, always before school every day). How she ended up basically owning everything that I did - I never was able to play organized sports because she was afraid I’d hurt my hands. My mom had early onset arthritis, among other things, and looking back, I feel like she was living vicariously through me.

In fact, I think a lot of my first 19 years of life were truly not my own. Piano. Even the pivots into the other instruments. The initial college major. If I push beyond that, my desire to keep playing and pursuing music for the following 10 years after that. In hindsight, I may have been a musician, but I wasn’t a doer, because it was never about me. I was just an extension of what my mom wanted for my life.

And then, she died. She got cancer, and she passed away 2 days before my birthday. On a Monday. And on that Thursday, I went to a practice section for my gig, buried her on Friday, and gigged on Saturday and Sunday. Because that’s what Mom would’ve wanted.

Fast forward 9 years. I have so many things that I felt defined me over the years, things that I would’ve considered myself a “doer” of, that don’t exist to me, or don’t matter anymore - they were just fleeting things that don’t matter to me anymore. Including music. The only things that matter to me are my wife and daughter. The only things I’m a “doer” of are being a husband and a father.

I came to this realization over the span of about 5 seconds on Thursday night/Friday morning. It was so sudden and so all encompassing. It was both a clarifying purpose, and something I can only describe as feeling like I’ve made 300 successful parachute jumps, but realizing that somehow I never had the chute on. That every lifeline that I’d anchored to my being, every foundational layer of who I believed I am as a person, the things I would say that I was a “doer” of, was nothing more than a thin verner on top of a pile of hobbies. Every part of my life, I’m just a “those who do”. Except for my family. And it’s really weird to witness my brain process all of these facts in real time and try to cope with it in a healthy way.

This post might get deleted tomorrow. It might be something that only sits up long enough for me to get some sleep, wake up, and go “oh god, what did I do???” But I think it’s important to really examine one’s life and truly understand what are our bedrock, foundational, “doer” things in life, and where we are just “those who do”.

Music of my Life (part 3)

13 August 2022 • Personal

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Welcome back to the final installment of Music of my Life, a series of blog posts that started as an exercise of “what songs do I love” and quickly spiraled out of control into something that has occupied a ton of my time and sent me down a ton of nostalgia rabbit holes. If you missed any of the previous posts, check out Part 1 and Part 2!

For this final installment, we’re talking about the 10 year stretch that has happened since I graduated from college, ages 25 to 35.

The last 10 years have been… a lot. New jobs. Living in 4 cities, and working in 7. A relationship that turned in to a wonderful marriage. Our first child. There’s so much that has happened, and my musical tastes have definitely reflected that.

Pink Floyd - Time and Coming Back To Life - I’d always been a casual fan of Pink Floyd over the years, but it took until my graduation for me to actually latch on to the band as one of my favorites. Time is definitely a classic, and I feel like I’m cheating a bit tossing it in here, so I’ll actually link one of my favorite tracks that isn’t as well known. Coming Back To Life is a song from the 1994 album The Division Bell, one of the least well known Pink Floyd releases, and this track just hooked me in with the guitar tone.

Of Mice & Men - Second & Sebring - Ok, time for some sad. 2 days before my 26th birthday, my mother passed away due to cancer. The lyrics of this song had been hooking me since I found out around 3 months prior, and I remember listening to this song the night she passed and really getting pummeled by them. I still can’t listen to this song without feeling sadness and loss. (On a lighter note, if you are not familiar with crabcore, read this article and then watch the video.)

Porcupine Tree - Time Flies - Porcupine Tree was the band that finally tipped me into the prog rock/metal world. I saw a video of their drummer doing a clinic on one of their other songs, Bonnie the Cat (here’s the video), and fell down the rabbit hole of listening to their entire catalog, both as a band and as Steven Wilson’s solo content.

DispersE - Dancing With Endless Love - Back in the day, I used to listen to my entire library on shuffle; thousands of songs just randomly chosen by the app. I’d had this album in my collection, but had never listened to it, and this song came on one day. It’s an instrumental intro track with a beautiful melody, transitioning to a heavier feel. It was much later that I finally listened to the whole album, and realized that the melody was a motif that returned for the final track of the album (skip to 2:49 if you want to hear where it comes back).

Snarky Puppy - Lingus - Out of all the tracks on today’s post, this is the one where I encourage you to carve out 10 minutes, get in whatever situation is best for your musical enjoyment, and watch. This is musicianship at its finest, and one of my favorite videos on the internet.

Tycho - Awake - A song for anything and everything. A car trip. A workout. A meditation. One of the best instrumental songs ever written, in my humble opinion.

Hidden Hospitals - Trilogy and Rose Hips - Steve’s band is back, this time with their full length album. The whole album is worth a listen, but these two are some of my favorites. Trilogy is a calm, atmospheric track that suddenly punches you with a heavy riff, while Rose Hips tries to rip you to shreds with dissonance. I’m sad the band is no longer together as a group, but they left behind some wonderful tracks for us to enjoy forever.

TesseracT - Phoenix - I love TesseracT. Such a wonderful band with a truly unique sound. This track is my favorite because it showcases Dan’s incredible vocal range (starting around 1:30).

Devin Townsend - Deadhead - A few points:

  • The Spotify playlist song is the album version. You want to watch the live YouTube link.
  • Devin is incredibly sick when they did this show
  • The best part happens at 6:28, so at least watch that (you’ll know when it happens)
  • I wish I could’ve been at this show
  • I wish I could be Devin’s friend; he genuinely seems like such a swell individual
  • If you need a YouTube rabbit hole to go down, look up “vocal coach react Devin Townsend” and enjoy.

Intervals - Epiphany - I started getting into instrumental prog metal around this time, and this was the song that tipped me over the edge. The little riff at 1:18 that leads into the first heavy section is just so beautiful, and the rhythmic riffs hook me straight to my core. (Also, the drummer for this band, Anup Sastry, did the drums for the end of Devin Townsend’s most recent album, and his video playthrough is absolutely stellar. Great drum videos are probably my favorite. You can watch Anup “shift gears” at 2:36, and again at 3:22, and it’s just cool how infectious that energy is.)

Plini - Handmade Cities - This whole album is a masterpiece. This track somehow manages to stand out above the rest. The solo starting around 3:28 is just perfection (so much so that apparently Doja Cat “borrowed” it for her EMA performance? The things I learn looking up videos for this blog.)

Sleeping At Last - I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) - Making their return to today’s list, Sleeping At Last managed to mellow out a wonderful love song into something powerful and soulful. This was the song Becca and I danced to at our wedding. Such a beautiful song.

Thrice - Hurricane - Thrice was a band that I knew of in high school, but never got into for whatever reason. I remember hearing an acoustic version of this song and thinking “huh, I should check this band out”. Such an incredible voice, an edgy 90s rock sound that still carries weight 30 years later. So good.

Vulfpeck - Dean Town - Yes, I put a bass solo up here. Vulfpeck are so much fun, and this song makes you want to groove with no lyrics. Bonus: here’s the track performed at their show at Madison Square Garden (and the audience sings along, which is my favorite), and here is probably one of my favorite mashups of all time - Vulfpeck + Beyoncé.

Bear’s Den - Stubborn Beast - The version on the record rules, but seeing this band live with my wife in Minneapolis the year before the pandemic hit is still one of my favorite memories.

Periphery - The Way The News Goes… - I thought about writing a blog post just for Periphery. Easily my favorite band out there working today. Energy and emotion and rhythm and riffs for days on end. They continue to blaze a trail for progressive metal, as musicians but also producers, software creators, and more. News is a chill song compared to most of their catalog, but the riff is divine and the drop into the heavy section at the end makes me want to run through a brick wall. Honorable mentions: Reptile and Satellites (just carve out 25 minutes to listen to both of these).

Leprous - Nighttime Disguise - The first entry to all 3 blog posts. This was the song that had been stuck in my head for a few weeks when the prompt was first presented. A great representation of the musicality that is prevalent within the metal community right now, and worth your time to listen to.

So that’s it! That’s the end of my list of inspiring music. There are so many more tracks that have impacted me throughout the years, but these are the ones that have stood the test of time over many, many years. Let me know what you think - did you have a favorite song? Anything new I introduced you to that you now can’t get enough of?