chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

It’s been a while…

Posted by Jason on April 15, 2010

Yes, it’s been over a year since I last posted. Not that anyone reads this anymore, but here’s some updates just in case.

  • Bonsai trees have come and gone.
  • I’m still working at the same school teaching music, but I might become a cop pretty soon.
  • I’ve been enjoying playing second fiddle (guitar, actually) for a flamenco dance class on Monday nights.
  • I decided to not be so fat anymore and joined an MMA gym.
  • I’ve lost about 25 pounds at said gym, doing mostly Brazilian jiu-jitsu and I love it.
  • Wifey and I went to Spain for a week and a half.
  • Wifey’s sister and brother-in-law had their first baby boy and he’s amazing.
  • I’m most likely receiving a teaching grant from the local bonsai club to learn from the masters in the club so that eventually I can teach newbies to mutilate trees in the name of art ūüėČ

That might be about it, I think. Maybe I’ll start posting again, but maybe not. Give me some love if you have any questions/comments on my life’s work this past year.



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Lent is Almost Upon Us

Posted by Jason on February 23, 2009

Ash Wednesday is coming up in a couple of days, so I thought I’d share this little blurb I was asked to write for our church’s Lenten devotional that they put out every year. I was assigned a little reflection on Psalm 135. Wifey says I should be a pastor. I say sure, another few years of school to move to a different career where wages are low and workload is high… sounds awesome! Anywho, maybe this will help someone get in the mood for Lent. Enjoy…
“Psalm 135 calls us to praise the Lord for all He has done. The Psalmist recounts a series of acts through which the Almighty has shown favor and faithfulness to the people of Israel. Lent is a time of anticipation and of praise. Even in difficult times, we know God will be faithful just as He has been time and time again. Lent provides for this because of the palpable anticipation of Easter, God‚Äôs most perfect act of love and faithfulness toward all humankind.
In our lives, Lent is an excellent time of year to evaluate ourselves and our walk with Christ. It is a time for thankfulness and reflection. Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going? Perhaps through this reflection we will find that the culling of unfruitful things is not necessarily what will get us to the place with Christ where we want to be. Perhaps we need to add things to our lives that are righteous and that further our growth in the Spirit.
This year during Lent, let us heed the message we find in Psalm 135. Let us praise the Lord and give thanks for all He has done in our lives and the life of our church. Let us also not forget that our faithfulness in trying times is as important as the Lord‚Äôs.”


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Creating Original, Timeless Blog Content

Posted by Jason on February 18, 2009

Before I started writing this blog, I read several posts about how to create a successful blog, etc. One thing that hit me then was the need to create original, relevant content. If you merely comment on stuff that happened in the news yesterday, your blog is bound to be forgotten and the only way to keep up your number of hits which, if your blog is anything like mine, isn’t a very large number.

I used to post every day or maybe even multiple times per day, but since the beginning of the year I haven’t really been feeling it too much. Granted my big blogging frenzy only lasted about 2 and a half months, but I think there’s been a change in my ideas about blogging philosophy. It’s hasn’t really been nagging me: I’m not distraught over my lack of bloggage lately. But I did realize that my past blogging has really not been too much of the original, timeless type of writing. I have some things that are meant to be educational and truly not just current events, but not nearly enough of them.

I’ve been in a vicious cycle of reactionary writing. I tended to read many blogs throughout the wordpress world in which the authors write about stuff that they’ve read on someone else’s blog, which was written in response to something else, and so on and so on.¬†

It’s very difficult to come up with things that you think someone might want to read on a regular basis. It’s far easier to read a bunch of blogs and comment and write your blog in response to what other people are writing. That’s why there’s billions of blogs out there that are really quite lame and uninteresting to read. People find it very difficult to come up with original ideas, but find it very easy to regurgitate or repudiate what they find in elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Now, does that mean I have the answer to writing great blog content that is relevant, yet timeless? Obviously not because I’m still working a full-time job and not getting a penny for my thoughts. So how about this? I challenge all two of you that faithfully read this blog to hold me accountable to not write crap that no one will care about tomorrow or next week. Let’s all try to write good stuff that someone might actually want to read at least two weeks past the date of publishing!

Posted in Musings, writing | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Intro to Flamenco

Posted by Jason on February 6, 2009

Most people have heard of flamenco music at some point in their lives, but many truly do not understand what this wonderful music is all about. As many people know, flamenco music comes from Spain and includes guitar, singing and dance. However, one thing that is not well known is that all Spanish music is not flamenco. Furthermore, all Spanish music played on the guitar is not necessarily flamenco. In fact, most Spanish guitar music that we hear in the United States is NOT flamenco, but rather classical music.

So what do most of us know about flamenco music over here in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Gypsy Kings, Ottmar Liebert, and Jesse Cook are probably a few of the names that come to mind when we start talking about flamenco. All guitar players, none of them quite play flamenco music. The Gypsy Kings are probably the closest thing to flamenco, but they take only one tiny sliver of flamenco styles (the rumba flamenca) and use that winning formula like crazy to make some big bucks. Ottmar Liebert is basically a smooth jazz guitarist that has taken some scales to make his “jazz” sound a little Spanish and PRESTO! We have “flamenco nuevo,” which is pretty much crap. Jesse Cook makes me want to puke. If Gypsy Kings and Ottmar Liebert had a bastard musical love child, it would be this guy. He’s a watered down version of already watered down versions of flamenco. It’s pop jacuzzi jazz rumba fusion-lite, and above all it’s NOT flamenco. Don’t be fooled, people.

So what is flamenco, then? At the very core of flamenco is singing, or cante. Flamenco singing is not largely known about in the states because it’s not very marketable. It is gutteral, loud, and uses a lot of notes between notes that sound like they’re off-key to most western ears. It is a singing born out of suffering and oppression; it is raw and harsh. Flamenco started out as marginalized gypsies bore inhumane working conditions in a foreign land. They had to work in mines or fields for little pay and no say in how they were treated. The first songs were work songs or fiesta songs, similar to those of the African-American tradition here in the U.S.

Eventually guitars were added to accompany the singing and they had to cut through the din of tavern patrons and noisy friends. In order to do this, flamenco players mostly strummed and tapped on the tops of their guitars in order for the compound, driving rhythms of flamenco to be heard. From the mid-1800’s to about the 1950’s or 60’s, the guitar was never thought of as a solo instrument, except for little sections and fills called falsetas in between verses of the cante. Sabicas was the first guitarist to really make waves as a solo flamenco player, and others like Manolo Sanlucar and the now-famous Paco de Lucia soon followed. Tomatito and Pepe Habichuela are also in the same vein as the earlier guitarists, and Vicente Amigo is a more modern and less traditional continuation of true flamenco guitarists.

Dance came out as a natural response to the rhythmic complexities and depth in flamenco music, and it is one of the more marketable aspects of the art. Americans would much rather go see a dance and guitar show than singing and guitar. Both the baile (dance) and the toque (guitar) are flashy and exotic sounding. Flamenco singing appeals only to a small group of people that are interested in the emotions and the pain that are at the foundation of the deep song or cante jondo. I don’t think American ears will ever enjoy flamenco singing on a large scale. It’s too raw, too honest. Guitar and dance are much more easily commercialized and watered down with our preferred varieties of easy listening. Even pure flamenco (which is really not quite pure without the song) can be appreciated in the U.S. if it’s guitar and dance.

So, at its core, flamenco is a tradition of folk song born out of a suffering of a marginalized people. Guitars and dance are very important to the art form, but they are not the heart of it. Over here in America, we have embraced the guitar and the dance, as well as corrupted, watered-down versions of each, but we have yet to welcome a strident and raw style of singing. I don’t know that any culture really appreciates the cante very much; even mainstream Spain can’t seem to stomach it in large quantities. Maybe that’s the beauty of it. Nobody has really tried to adopt it and morph it into something sellable, thereby leaving at least some of the flamenco tradition intact.

Posted in flamenco, music, Musings, Spain | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

I have faith, now what?

Posted by Jason on February 4, 2009

Wifey and I have been taking a Methodism 101 class at church, and I must confess that I really didn’t know how Methodist I truly was at my core until Wifey came along and started going to church with me. We had a good conversation on the way to the farmer’s market after our class this Sunday, and I started reading Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” this week.¬†Throughout our conversations and my reading, I finally have something to write about on this blog. It’s been a while.

One of the things we always hear Christians say is that so-and-so is having a crisis of faith, or that somebody has a faith that can move mountains, etc. For me, my faith in the grace of God is a non-question. I know in my heart of hearts, without any doubt whatsoever, that His grace is given freely to me and ALL humans without any precondition, without any worthiness on our part, without any action on our part. Our confession of faith is our personal belief, acceptance, and realization of this grace, and that’s what makes us Christian instead of Buddhist or Muslim or whatever. Knowing that grace is given freely, not because of anything we do, really liberates us as Christians to stop worrying about whether or not we will be saved or if we’ll end up in heaven or hell. It also frees us from worrying whether other people are going to heaven or hell. We don’t have to hound people to get their acts together in order that we may end up in heaven together.

Now, having received that grace and having accepted this wonderful gift into our lives, our response should be to live out our lives in gratitude for that which has been given to us. Most of all, we must be instruments of that freely given love and grace in the world. We do good things not to get ourselves into heaven or to gain the Lord’s favor, but rather BECAUSE these things are already ours.

That being said, I came to the realization last night that my daily life has not included as much thankful living (meaning being a living example of God’s grace) as it could. I think the major reason is that I have not internalized the practice of living thankfully as an adult. I’ve internalized the faith, and it’s a part of me forever. It is welded to my being. However, I need to consciously practice the “living it out” part. Now, I think the feeling will always be that I’m not doing as much as I could. The tendency is to reciprocate the gift that has been given to us. How many people have thought around the holidays, “Shoot, this person’s gift to me was super expensive: I better get them something about as good as what they gave to me?” The problem is that it is impossible to give God or humankind a gift as amazing as that which was given to us.¬†

As with anything that we want to learn or incorporate into our box of skills or behaviors, we have to practice a lot. this practice must be focused and it must be repeated over and over. Eventually it will become a habit and then it will be internalized as something that we just do. Now, some people will make excuses for me, saying, “Oh, well your act of kindness, Jason, is that you teach music to poor,¬†underprivileged¬†waifs every day,” or “You’ve done such a nice thing by giving ¬†two shelter dogs a good home and a happy life.” Those are great, but they’re not really daily, radical, and intentional manifestations of God’s grace within me. There needs to be more. I need to find some way to consciously and systematically do good in this world each day, perhaps multiple times per day, so that it will eventually become a basic internal function of my existence.

I might try to incorporate one of Wesley’s Means of Grace (Works of Piety; Works of Mercy) each day and see if I can do that. Or I’ll just try to do at least one nice thing each day that I normally wouldn’t do. I’m still formulating a plan of action but the goal is to take action in the world to bring God’s kingdom here, rather than merely look forward to the next life.

Onward, Christian soldier…

Posted in Musings, religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Great Quote

Posted by Jason on January 24, 2009

“An elementary school music teacher is kind of like an animal lover working in a slaughterhouse…”

-Some dude on NPR

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Update: Saga of a Love Affair

Posted by Jason on January 21, 2009

When I decided to play guitar again, I thought it would probably last a day or two and then fizzle out. It’s happened before. I get all excited about playing again, just enough to dig a guitar out of the closet and make a giant mess. I play for a day or two, and then I forget about it, or we have to clean house for friends to come over and the guitar and music stand go bye-bye.

This is what I expected of myself. To my surprise, I played guitar every day except Friday of last week (even though I really wanted to). I took the long weekend off, but I still really felt like playing the guitar even if my hands were beat up from yard work or changing a toilet or whatever. Those four days without playing could have been the nail in the coffin, but I decided to play a bit on my lunch break yesterday. This morning I looked at my little music nook and decided I’m actually going to clean up the living room in order to be able to play guitar after school today. Crazy, isn’t it?

What has really been interesting to me is the power of memory, specifically the kinesthetic or tactile memory. I’m playing things that I learned 5 years ago in Spain and haven’t really played since. I have some books that are helping me remember and develop the basic musical structures of the different flamenco songs, but some of the solos I learned by imitation from my teacher in Spain are all coming back to me. A couple I’ve played since then, but many I’ve not. Very interesting.

There is a lot of truth in the old adage of “it’s just like riding a bike: you never forget.” It is widely known that, of all the different types of memory we have, kinesthetic is the second strongest. Smell/taste is the first. Because your brain and muscles work so hard with so many repetitions in order to learn a physical skill or a fine motor movement, this link is seemingly unbreakable once formed. Obviously, memories will fade without use, but physical memories and smell/taste memories will be the last to go.

It’s also important to exercise your brain and force yourself to remember things sometimes. For instance, I’ve been working out of these flamenco guitar books at home the past week. Even though I didn’t bring them to work with me, I still made the decision to practice a little bit on my lunch break. Now, did I just twiddle around and play all the songs I’ve know for years and years? No. I wanted to play the flamenco stuff that I’d been working on in my books. While I exercised my memory by trying to remember stuff from my books, it also jogged my memory of the stuff I learned years ago that wasn’t in my books.

It’s pretty fascinating to see what our brains can come up with when we turn them on and actually use them…

Posted in music, Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

What Will the Future Really Know About Us?

Posted by Jason on January 13, 2009

I read this post and it provoked a lot of thought in me. The author pondered what archeologists would conclude about her when they dug her house up hundreds of years in the future. What are we leaving behind? What will people thousands of years in the future think about us?

After briefly grazing upon the future and realizing that the only things that will be left from my existence are books, guitars and bonsai trees (most of all these things will probably decompose over time, leaving nothing of note from my life), my attention brought me to different pastures of the past. 

How much do we truly know about civilizations that are basically extinct? We have some writings and maybe pictures here and there. Some descriptions from conquering civilizations survive, but many of those are clouded by insurmountable greed or religious fervor. In most of the world before the printing press, writing was purely for the wealthy and privileged. In some settings writing was reserved for royalty only. What do we know about the poor slobs like us? Maybe their lives are completely irrelevant. Perhaps our lives, our average middle class lives will prove completely irrelevant over time. 

This blog is a very public record of my existence, but it could easily be wiped from the slate of history with a click of the mouse. In fact, it most likely will some day. There is very little permanent record of my existence. I think I need to go carve my name on a rock somewhere. Paper will decay, electronic media will be erased, all of our stuff will decompose (eventually).

Will I do anything that will be relevant to history? 

Most likely not…

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