Saturday, August 23, 2014

Confronting Fear of Performance Anxiety

In 2012 I wrote a piece about what I had been doing after I quit working.  It was all about my interests in music and what songs I had been learning.  I continued these endeavors and finally reached the point where I started thinking about performing.  My previous experiences with playing guitar in front of people hadn't gone well.  In earlier times, I played strictly finger-style guitar and when I became nervous, my right hand turned to stone.  I began experimenting with a new style of playing guitar and I had tried a few things to face my fears.  But before I discuss the new style of playing, I want to talk about the baby steps I took to begin confronting the fear of playing in front of people.  

Sometime during the spring of 2012 I had a dental appointment in DeKalb and I began thinking about the park which is near the dentist's office as a place to play while outdoors and exposed to people.  I had been giving thought to where I might pull out the guitar and play to people passing by.  I thought about going into Geneva and playing on the bench in front of the music store.  I even walked over there once and sat on the bench in front of the music store and realized that the passing traffic was really loud and it discouraged me.  I had some crazy thoughts about driving to the airport and playing in the hallways connecting the parking lot to the terminal - naaa, too far away.  The idea of playing in the park, where I knew there was an outdoor amphitheatre popped out when I knew I was going to the dentist.  So, after my dental appointment, I drove to the park.  It was a nice warm day.  I parked right behind the amphitheatre and with my heart beating wildly and feeling crazy and stupid, I grabbed my guitar case, walked over to the amphitheatre, layed down the case and fished out my ax along with my slide and finger picks.  I know I played "I'm Going Home," which is one of the first slide-guitar songs I had learned.  I don't recall what else.  There weren't many people around but it was very strange just playing outdoors in front of God and everyone else.  After a few songs, I packed up my guitar and headed home feeling really proud of myself.  I had done it.  I had taken the first baby step towards confronting my fears. 

I continued thinking about where I could do similar exposures and went to a mall in St. Charles where my daughter Lisa was employed.  I remember walking through the store where she was working and we talked a bit before I went out onto the mall, found a bench and started playing.  That was more intense as there were people walking by and I had to learn to not pay any attention to their presence - just ignore them and just keep playing dude.  This was another big step forward and I returned to do this again in the same mall. 

Then came the UUSG picnic.  I went over to the park in Geneva, sat on a park bench and played before I went to the picnic where I played backup with Tracey McFadden and Brian Joose.  But it wasn't until 2013 that I finally took the jump into an open microphone (open-mic) performance.

At the beginning of 2013, I began playing with a style where I used the right thumb to thump the guitar while my fingers picked.  It created a rhythm I liked and was comfortable with.  It was a macro-movement with my right hand and I felt much looser with it.  I wasn't trying to pick the guitar with the thumb - I was beating on it rhythmically.  In the spring I noticed they were having open microphone (open-mic) nights on Mondays at a nearby bar called the Blackberry Inn.  Beth was in Europe and I stopped by to have a hamburger and check out the scene.  I thought, what the heck, this is my chance.  The MC's name was Dave Hanson and he was a very nice fellow.   I played "When The Levee Breaks," "Baby Please Don't Go," and "Pamela Brown" on my Taylor 12-string.  I had planned on sitting on a stool that was there and had not taken my strap which was a big mistake.  I was not comfortable and had difficulties keeping the guitar in proper position.  But I guess my biggest problem was my microphone technique.  One needed to be right on top of this mic and I wasn't able to continue singing without changing the position of my head to look at my guitar neck.  Wow!  But I had done it!  I came out of this experience exhilarated and knowing that there were many more things to learn about performing.  I wasn't thinking how awful it was and that I'd never do it again.  I was feeling eager to learn how I can be better.  I was also thinking about the very beginning and how difficult it had been to drive to a park, pull out my guitar and play with hardly anyone around.  Now that seemed like nothing at all - I was learning how to do it and the only way to learn that was to do it.

For my first open-mic performance, I played my Taylor 12-string which did not have a pickup at the time.  I went to Rick Cremer and had him install a pickup in my Taylor Leo Kottke-signature 12-string but it took several weeks before he was finished, so I did several more open-mic's with my Gibson J-50 and my CooderCaster.  These performances were all at the Blackberry Inn.

For the second performance, I played "O'l Red,"
"Ghost of Tom Joad," "Man in the Long Black Coat," and "Folsom Prison Blues" on my Gibson J-50.  The good things about this performance were that I was able to play breaks on guitar without any paralyzed fingers and I was surprised by how good the guitar sounded.  The bad things were that I need to learn how to focus while still staying loose.  I was distracted and forgot some lyrics and missed some chords.  I still had problems with the sound system, my voice dynamics and use of microphone. It was fun having the Frost family there and I felt like I was still making progress.

For the third performance, I played "Dear Doctor," "Dim Lights Thick Smoke,"  Intro: "Dust in the Wind," "White Rabbit,"  and "The Ghost of Tom Joad." I played the Gibson J-50 and was still confused by the sound system.  I had just started finger picking the beginning of "Dust In The Wind" between songs and wasn't having any problems at all.  This experiment led me to thinking that I was getting used to the exposure.

For the fourth performance I played my CooderCaster in open-D tuning.  I played "Walking On A Thin Line", and "Spade Cooley."  Then I retuned the guitar to DADDAD tuning and played Steve Still's "4 + 20."  Kathy and Tracey McFadden were there along with Beth.

For the fifth performance, I now had the Taylor 12-string with a pickup installed and was excited to play it.  I played "Act Naturally," "What Was I Thinking," "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," and "Tennessee Stud."  I also used my foot stomper and that worked out great.  I played a little Leo Kottke's "Vaseline Machine Gun" and felt like I was doing OK.

But after five performances at the Blackberry Inn, they changed the schedule and they were now going to have the open-mic night later in the evening on Friday nights.  This didn't sound good and I was tired of being fooled by the sound system there, so I decided to look for another place to work on my performance skills.

In the fall of 2013, I did my sixth open-mic at Gabby's Kitchen in St. Charles Illinois.  I played my Taylor 12-string and sang “My Brother's A Sailor Too,” “When The Levee Breaks,” and “I Will Wait.”  I had intended to remove my hearing aids to experiment with mic difficulties in the absence of extrinsic amplified tones rendered by the hearing aids.  Although I was much more comfortable with the sound system, I was still having difficulties zeroing in – depending on which registers my voice was in.  I decided I wanted to do a gig where I'm not using the hearing aids.  It was a bad idea to use the jacked-in tuner to change from the minor chords (My Brother's A Sailor Too) to major.  I should have just used my ears to adjust the tuning.  I stupidly pulled the amp jack from the guitar and popped a huge cracking sound … very dumb … and boy did I feel bad after that one.  I played this gig standing up and definitely was into the performance much more so than ever before. This made the guitar playing much easier as I felt so much more connected to it.  I played without finger-thumb picks and this helped minimize my nervous concerns.  I had practiced singing with a mic and playing while standing up which definitely helped me stay on top of the mic.  Tracey was there that night and we did a couple numbers where I played the CooderCaster ("Hot Rod Lincoln," maybe "Hey Good Lookin").

The seventh open-mic was at Gabby's Kitchen near the end of 2013.  I played “When The Levee Breaks,” “Baby Please Don't Go,” and “Pamela Brown.”  There weren't many people there that night and so, when I finished my three songs, Sam (the MC) said I could go on but I didn't because I hadn't prepared more songs.  I should always be ready to perform extra songs.  I used the foot stomper that night and it worked very well.  I forgot to turn my hearing aids off.

The eighth open-mic performance was on April 3, 2014 at Gabby's Kitchen.  I played “When The Levee Breaks,” “Baby Please Don't Go,” and “Pamela Brown” on Taylor 12-string with foot-stomper.  There were many performers there that night and Sam was quick to pull the chain on me after these three songs.  Overall, I felt my performance was lacking mostly in how I played the guitar.  I had been playing a lot of bass and guitar and just hadn't kept up my 12-string slide skills – particularly from the right-hand finger-picking aspect.  I realized that if I'm going to do these gigs every now and then, I must keep my finger-picking skills up.  I felt like the mic was too close to my mouth and it was standing me up too much.  I should pay more attention to the position of the mic and the foot stomper at the very beginning so I'm not uncomfortable with it during the performance.

A week later, April 10, I did my ninth open-mic at Gabby's Kitchen.  I played the Gibson J-50 and, in preparation for Father's Day Service at UUSG, sang 4'D's: 2 dads, 1 dust, 1 death  which were:
"Desperadoes Waiting for a Train," "Dust in the Wind," "Old Man" and  "Gravedigger."  I sang the first three with hearing aids off and turned them back on for Gravedigger.  I was finding that because the speakers were so loud, I was overwhelmed by external sounds and not sensing internal sounds.  The external sounds were lacking in the higher frequencies and so I felt like I needed to turn the hearing aids back on for Gravedigger.  This was when I began wishing I had a personal monitoring system and wonder how much they cost.  I did better than expected finger-picking dust but would get a little nervous after making slight error.  I need to get past that.  I must stay loose even when I make slight mistakes.  At least the fingers didn't turn to concrete.

The tenth open-mic was on June 6, 2014 at Gabby's Kitchen.   I played my Taylor 12-string and sang: "Dear Doctor," "What was I Thinking," "Tennessee Stud" and "Cover of the Rolling Stone."  Sam Wyatt wasn't there and the MC was a guy I'd never seen before.  He plays guitar in the band Toast and may be Dale Lewis but am uncertain about that.  He stayed up there to play with me so I thought I'd  give it a try.  It worked OK for "Dear Doctor" and was fun playing with him but it screwed me up when we did "What Was I Thinking" and I lost track of the lyrics.  The rest of the songs went OK - probably as good as could be expected.  Overall my impression of my singing was that I sounded so low - like I was singing everything an octave lower - pretty weird.  I played the 12-string and it felt OK - I had been playing it consistently and it worked as opposed to the 8th open mic when I felt I wasn't playing well.  I used the foot stomper too.

In August of 2014 Beth and I sang "You've Got A Friend" at Kady McFadden's wedding.  I remember thinking just before we started the song as I was standing up there in front of the microphone that if I hadn't gained the experience doing the open-mic performances, I would have been freaking out right at that moment.  I'm still having great difficulty singing while hearing my voice over an amplified system.  It's fooling me during the performance and it affects how I sing.  I know this because I recently listened to the recording of the Father's Day Service performance where I sang  "Desperados Waiting for a Train" and "Old Man."  I had sung and recorded both these songs many many times and knew them cold.  Still when I listened to the recording I heard me singing these songs differently than what I had practiced.  I need to find a way to solve this problem.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Iraq Iran and U.S. Ignorance

Not only did our invasion (liberation? ...pshaw!) of Iraq demonstrably enable Al Qaeda activities in Iraq, an incredibly stupid act, we are now seeing the balance of power shift. While the Sunni administration of Saddam Hussein was enemies with Iran, now we have the Shi'a administration of al-Malaki in bed with the Iranians. This is shamefully stupid.


Combine this with the fact that our military is arrogant enough to conduct counter-insurgency tactics when they haven't a friggin clue is unconscionable.

When will we move beyond the "let's go kick some *-ass mentality" (*substitute Vietnamese, Iraqi. Afghani, or if we let the neo-cons run the show, Iranian)?

Combine this with the mindless rhetoric of Romney, I'm completely baffled how anyone could consider this country anything but moronic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bullying and The American Way

A recent bill introduced in the Michigan state legislature suggested a path to legalizing bullying. I engaged a dear friend and have reproduced the exchange here to save space. My friend's contributions have been italicized.

"I like the ontogeny reference because it reminds me of my freshman botany professor, but maybe what we have to do IS become sensitive to bullying on a personal level first. When we see ourselves in others then maybe we can see others as ourselves. At any rate, as human beings, pretending to be civilized or really being so, we have to do what we can. We can't do much about the past, and the present is what it is. We can only try to prepare for the future. I know that you are not arguing in favor of allowing bullying in classrooms to continue; I can't quite figure out what you are saying. Are you expressing surprise that I should be surprised about it? I think we are more sensitive than the originators of the manifest destiny idea who saw the people already occupying land they wanted as no more than the animals that made the lands dangerous or the trees that stood in the way of wheat fields. Those people our forbears destroyed sometimes annihilated their enemies and definitely displaced them from their lands as well. We are surely beyond that. I pray so."

I had an anthropology teacher who used to say that man was a bad cat and if you didn't believe it, pick up the newspaper. We're not born angels, we're animals born with an innate drive for social dominance hierarchy which has been shown to reveal itself as early as two years old (Frankel et al, Int. J. Behav. Devel.3, 287,1980). A recent paper in Science has related dominance hierarchy in mice to synaptic connections in the medial prefrontal cortex (Wang et al., Science, 334, 693, 2011). We're hard-wired for bullying.

I know that you are not arguing in favor of allowing bullying in classrooms to continue; I can't quite figure out what you are saying.

As a professor I am wired for provocative statements, designed to make students say, "Hey, wait a minute, that can't be true, can it?" I enjoy the privilege of assuming a devil's advocate position on any topic anytime I choose. I was renowned in my days as a computer science professor for making outrageous statements about the criminal corporation, Microsoft. Why? I felt it was my responsibility to make students think about how one corporation has affected (ruined?) the software industry.

Are you expressing surprise that I should be surprised about it?

Yes, knowing we are animals with severe dominance hierarchy tendencies and recognizing that we (U.S.A.) have been bullies for most of our existence (even long before we became a country). Combine these features with the fact that what we learned in our history classes when growing up glossed over facts, such as: (1) Columbus was nothing more than a cruel purveyor of genocide; (2) MANIFEST DESTINY was an unquestioned reason (justification?) for genocidal actions against Native Americans; (3) We do just about anything we please with God on our side. The arrogance is pitiful and now we're surprised our children are bullies? huh?

I think we are more sensitive than the originators of the manifest destiny idea who saw the people already occupying land they wanted as no more than the animals that made the lands dangerous or the trees that stood in the way of wheat fields. Those people our forbears destroyed sometimes annihilated their enemies and definitely displaced them from their lands as well. We are surely beyond that. I pray so."

We are beyond that? Wasn't Osama Bin Laden's main bugaboo our air force bases in Saudi Arabia? Actually, nobody really knows how many military bases we have around the world. It's over 500 and some say it's over a 1,000. Why are we in Iraq and Afghanistan killing people? Why were we in Vietnam? the Phillipines? What was the Spanish-American war all about? Why isn't Texas part of Mexico? How was Guantanamo established? What was the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine? It seems I could just go on and on with examples of our "sensitivity."

As a Unitarian Universalist, my first principle is to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. It is natural for children to bully and they must be taught otherwise. It's the parent's and teacher's responsibility to take this on. These parents and teachers have been desensitized to the proclivities of our barbarism in the name of "greatness." No, I'm not surprised by anyone wanting to legislate the "AMERICAN WAY."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Secondary Education and United States Citizens

Is it not ironical that in a planned society of controlled workers given compulsory assignments, where religious expression is suppressed, the press controlled, and all media communication censored, where a puppet government is encouraged but denied any real authority, where great attention is given to efficiency and character reports, and attendance at cultural assemblies is compulsory, where it is avowed that all will be administered to each according to his abilities, and where those who flee are tracked down, returned, and punished for trying to escape - in short in the milieu of the typical large American secondary school - we attempt to teach "the democratic system?"

Van Norman, Royce (February,1968) "School Administration: Thought on Organization and Purpose" Phi Delta Kappan 47, 315-316.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

WE THE PEOPLE doesn't include corporations

I stand ineffably baffled by the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. I already knew of the bogus interpretation of the fourteenth amendment which is a mistake that has established legal precedence - but this recent Supreme Court decision is contrary to what America is all about for me. I just raced through Thom Hartmann's book Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" and How You Can Fight Back (Hartmann, 2010) and will be blogging on it here soon.

BACKGROUND: The legal terminology used in the U.S. system was adopted from our old English roots. In this tradition a distinction exists between a natural and artificial person. A natural person is a human being. An artificial person is a legal entity created by a human being. When defining the rights / actions of a person in legal contexts, it is important to distinguish between a natural person and an artificial person.

FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT: The fourteenth amendment was inserted to protect the rights of the African Americans following emancipation. Strangely, the wording in the fourteenth amendment uses the word person without qualifying whether it meant a natural or artificial person. This was enough leeway to allow the smell to permeate the halls of justice. What a farce.

Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad: An informal statement associated with this Supreme Court case set the precedent for the legal recognition of the corporation as a natural person. The court never formally deliberated nor issued any opinions on this issue but because of a note made by a court reviewer, the legal landscape of our country was grossly distorted in favor of the corporation. This shameful mechanism that established legal precedent is difficult to believe. Arguments have been made suggesting Supreme Court Justice Waite's involvement in the shenanigans were related to the free passes he was given by the railroad companies. It's moments like these that find me bursting with pride to be an American.

Ted Nace's discussion yields further insight into the misinformation provided by then former senator Roscoe Conkling who argued a case similar to Santa Clara three years previous. It is suggested that Conkling's arguments are what prompted Chief Justice Waite's informal comment that all the justices agreed that corporations have Fourteenth Amendment rights. Conkling claimed to have a journal documenting the intent of the committee that wrote the Fourteenth Amendment. Many years later a Stanford University law librarian, Howard Graham, carefully examined the Journal of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and in a paper, published in the Yale Law Journal, debunked Conkling's testimony. A collection of further papers written by Graham was published in 1968 (Graham, 1968).


Graham, Howard Jay; Everyman's Constitution - Historical Essays on The Fourteenth Amendment, The "Conspiracy Theory", and American Constitutionalism, 1968, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Hartmann, Thom; Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" and How You Can Fight Back, 2010, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.

Nace, Ted; Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy, 2003, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Democrat v. Republican Public Spending

During a recent discussion about Illinois state spending, I encountered the statement that Illinois was in financial distress because of its excessive public spending. The spreadsheet here contains data from combined with data showing which states were Red (Republican) or Blue (Democrat) in the presidential elections from 1992 to 2008 which is shown here. There are two columns on the graph containing numbers. The column with the heading S&L Spending shows the % of state and local spending relative to the state's GSP (gross state product). The second column shows how strongly the state has been voting Democrat or Republican with numbers and a color code. I tried to match the color code used on the Wikipedia site; the higher the number the stronger the state was for either Red or Blue. The first column has been sorted so that one sees at the top of the list those states spending the most on public services relative to that state's GSP. So, one could state that out of the top five biggest spenders, four were strongly Republican (Red) states. However, one quickly sees that the next two in the list are strong Democratic states. A quick look at this data would have me pronouncing that strongly Republican states do not spend less on public services than Democratic states. This negates any claims Republicans have to being the party of low public services spending.

The state of Illinois, where I reside, ranks 39th which is not a strong argument for overspending on public services in Illinois. From these data and others where the Illinois tax structure is compared with other states, I would suggest that the financial problems of Illinois are due to an inadequate tax structure that favors the rich. In my opinion a progressive tax system should be incorporated before one considers the evisceration of the public services sector.

During these deliberations the right should be continually reminded that their party is not the party of fiscal responsibility and they are the ones responsible for the current financial crisis. In this link, please note the periods of increasing outlays relative to revenue in the Reagan (1981-1989) and Bush (2001-2009) eras versus the opposite during the Clinton era (1993-2001). Any Republican claiming their party as the party of fiscal restraint must be reminded of this evidence to the contrary. Ronald Reagan was the biggest tax and spend president in history. Ronald Reagan is being turned into a God in this country only because the very rich are driving it - this is a travesty. We should not forget that Reagan started the union busting solely because the unions were the biggest contributors to the Democratic Party.

Many states are facing budget problems not because of changes in public spending, but because the very rich have run us into a ditch and now they want to carve up the little guy to pay for it. It appears to me that the right wants a free market (invisible hand) when they are making profits but then rely on the government to bail them out when they fail. This isn't capitalism my friends, this complicity between government and the corporation is called fascism.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Union Busting and Campaign Finance Reform

IMHO the fundamentals of this debate are rooted in broken political campaign financing. Big money from the rich are buying their way into government with huge campaign contributions (corporations shouldn't be legally recognized as persons). And once they are there, they want to kill campaign contributions from unions (not persons either). President Reagan went union busting, because unions were the biggest contributors to the democratic party. If neither corporations or unions could contribute to political campaigns, wouldn't this help solve the problem?

The degree to which things are askew is witnessed by the recent Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) recognizing first amendment rights for corporations. Jefferson is rolling over in his grave while the Federalists are chuckling.

Subsequent to the original post, I found the following written by Dr. Constance Nielsen on the Net.

"Again, the Pope primarily has the private sector in mind. Unions are actually meant to resolve economic issues in order to avoid undue intervention of the State, not to increase it (see RN 45 and CA 48). But his comments are even more pertinent for public sector unions where fiscal power, in the form of campaign contributions, could be wielded by the Unions in order to effectively choose their own bargaining partner. This has the potential for creating a relationship of mutual self-interest, leaving those outside of the arrangement marginalized and voiceless, but still paying for it. Such a condition actually poses a greater threat of excessive State involvement, which it is the very purpose of Unions to help avoid." Here is the full article.

Also subsequent to the original post was the appearance of Michael Moore in Madison who, in my opinion, showed us how NOT to reframe this debate ala George Lakoff. Lakoff's book "Dont Think Of An Elephant" argued for a more effective way to communicate with conservatives. Many of his writings were kept at his site associated with the now defunct Rockridge Institute. These writings are now archived here including Lakoff's "Talking Points."

Progressives need training in how to communicate with conservatives. Emotional venting by the likes of Michael Moore serves only to soothe the already convinced but does nothing to help sway a middle of the roader- so necessary to win political contests. Lakoff's book "Don't Think Of An Elephant" is highly recommended to achieve this end.