The best kind of innovation happens when a new device fulfills a need that you didn’t even know you had, or at least fulfills a need you had in a way that you didn’t anticipate. That is certainly the case for my Nike+ FuelBand.
Several years ago, I read a book called The Step Diet. I still use many of the principles from that book to simplify my approach to dieting. That being said, a key component of that program was tracking how many steps you take per day. I wore a clunky pedometer for a few weeks, until I forgot to bring it with me on a long run of Third Day shows. That was that.
Fast forward to this Christmas, when my sweet wife Stephanie gave me a Nike GPS watch to track my running. While I’m sure the watch is great, it doesn’t really fit my needs. Because many of my runs take place on trails, I always take my iPhone for safety. Since I already have a phone on my run, I can just use a GPS running app (like the NIke one). A watch would just be one more thing to tote around and keep charged. So, with my wife’s blessing, I decided to exchange the watch.
While perusing the Nike website, I discovered the Nike+ FuelBand. My first reaction was probably the same as everyone else: what in the world is that? I was intrigued, and being the early adopter that I am, I wanted one. Also Stephanie reminded me that Toby recently got one. Hey, if it’s good enough for Toby, it’s good enough for me, right?
I have been using the FuelBand for about a week, and absolutely love it. I only take it off to sleep and to shower. I’ve had a lot of people ask about it, so in reviewing it I’ll try to answer any questions you might have.
What is it?
The FuelBand is a wristband with a similar vibe to the ubiquitous Livestrong style bands. It is equipped with a triple accelerometer that measures your activity. Unlike a traditional pedometer that merely counts steps, the FuelBand records steps as well as most all other kinds of activity and converts it all into a unit called Nike Fuel. With Nike Fuel, the playing field is leveled. You can now measure your level of activity and compare with others who are active in other ways. I haven’t done it yet, but you could theoretically issue a challenge to Facebook friends and see who gains the most Nike Fuel, whether it be through running, hiking, basketball, dancing, or some combination of activity.
How does it work?
Basically, you put the FuelBand on and forget about it. As you live your day, it tracks your activity level. You can monitor your activity through the FuelBand’s innovative display. The press of a button illuminates a series of multicolored LED’s. Continued pressing of the single button will cycle through several different parameters: Fuel, Calories, Steps, and Time. This last feature surprised me a bit. I haven’t worn a watch in years, as I’ve simply relied on my iPhone for the time. I have used the FuelBand as a watch as much as anything else!
When you’re ready, you can upload your data in two ways. You can plug your FuelBand into a computer via a built-in USB connector (this is also how you charge it). Or you can sync your FuelBand with an iPhone app using Bluetooth technology. I’ll be honest – the second route is nothing short of amazing.
Nike encourages you to set a goal. They recommend 2k (normal activity), 3k (more active), or 5k (extremely active). I try to walk or run at least a mile a day, so I started with 3,000. I found myself hitting that consistently, so I upped the goal to 3500 fuel points. I have found myself checking stats, especially towards the end of the day, to make sure I hit my goal. I am now more inclined to take the faraway parking spot at the grocery store and to take the stairs instead of the elevator. It definitely motivates.
How accurate is it?
It depends. If you are a serious runner wanting to accurately measure pace and distance, you will need another device. I use the Nike Running app on my iPhone and it seems pretty accurate. As a general gauge of activity, it’s great. It seems to undervalue running and overvalue other activities such as washing dishes and playing the guitar. For example, my best day so far did include some running, but most of the points came from a busy evening around the house: washing dishes, maintaining a fire in our fireplace, and tromping up and down stairs to check on children. Even though it’s not entirely accurate at this point, one thing is certain. You are rewarded for moving around, not for sitting still. And in my book, anything that gets you up and moving is a good thing.
What’s your verdict?
I love it. I foresee myself using this thing all the time. While the accuracy leaves a little bit to be desired, I’m OK with that. Activity is rewarded, and that’s the point. I look forward to challenging my friends online and making a game out of getting in shape. Bottom line: if you’re looking for a 100% accurate device to track runs and workouts, you might want to get something else. But in addition to that something else, I’d still get a FuelBand. It gets you moving, and it’s fun. Isn’t that the point?
Emily at Chatting at the Sky is releasing a book. To commemorate the occasion, she and several of her friends are writing letters to their teenage selves. I couldn’t pass up on the fun. What you see below is a letter to myself when I was 16, right after my Dad died.
Dear 16 year old me,
If you are receiving this at the right time, then it is May 16, 1990. Your Dad died three days ago. The last couple of days have been crazy. The house has been full of company and you filled your time being busy and running errands and helping with things. Now everybody’s gone. If I’m remembering this particular day right, you’re sitting on the back patio right now, supposedly reading a book for school, but really just zoning out. You are numb. This is the loneliest you’ve ever felt in your life.
It will get better. This is definitely a low point for you, maybe the lowest. This moment will shape you for sure, and it will want to define you. But you won’t let it.
A bit of advice. Drop what you’re doing and write down everything you remember about your Dad. You will never get over losing him. I suppose you will get used to it over time. But the thing that will frustrate you the most is that try as you might, you won’t be able to remember him as much as you want to. So write it down. Write all the funny stories. Write down his quirks. All the things you think you’ll carry with you always. Because you won’t.
In the last couple days you’ve had a lot of people say things like “If you ever need anything, let me know.” You kind of rolled your eyes about it. Take them up on it. You are surrounded with a lot of people who love you and would love to help you, would love to be your friend, but don’t know how to go about it. Make it easy for them. You will get through this, but it would be a lot easier if you lean on your friends. And while you’re at it, spend more time with your family.
Right now you are worried about a lot of things. College. Career. The future. Don’t worry – all of that stuff will work itself out. Surprisingly, your tendency to shut things out, sit in your room, and play your guitar will work in your favor. Next year you are going to play in a couple of bands. One of them will end up being your career. So keep playing that guitar. Practice as much as you can. Ironically, you will later find that even though you play guitar for a living, you never have enough time to practice.
Oh, and the song you wrote that you think kind of sucks? It does. But keep writing. You will get better.
Don’t give up playing violin. Next year you are going to volunteer to play trombone in the orchestra since you play it in band. You won’t think anything about it. In doing so, however, you will never pick the violin back up again. It is your first musical love, and trust me, you will regret it if you quit. I know I do.
Speaking of love, all of the things you love, I still love. The books, the music, the movies. Drink it all in. You won’t have another chance in your life to enjoy simple things like that for the first time. As I am typing this letter, I am wearing a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure t-shirt. Seriously.
Stand up straight. Your uncle who told you the other day that you slouch too much? He was right. But it’s not just your posture. It’s the whole way you carry yourself. The way you look at yourself. You think that everybody else has it all figured out and you don’t, and you have zero self-confidence as a result. Somewhere along the way you forgot to speak up and now you’re that skinny shy kid who’s missing out on life. It’s taken me decades to realize this, but nobody has it all figured out. We’re all just kind of playing jazz here. Stand tall and speak up.
It is OK to be smart. For the last couple of years you haven’t applied yourself in school, because you hate being singled out. Give it your all, not because grades matter, but because the habits you are forming now will stay with you. You put things off, ergo I put things off. You talk but don’t do. I talk but don’t do. Let’s fix that one, shall we?
It’s OK to be smart, but it’s not OK to be a know-it-all. The sooner you figure that one out the better.
You have a lot of questions about God. You have a lot of doubts that are based on what you see other people who call themselves Christians are doing. Take all those doubts and questions and give them to God. He can handle it, and you will be better for it. Remember when you were younger and you loved reading the Bible and going to church because it meant spending more time with God? That’s what it’s all about. You will try to make it more complicated than that, and it doesn’t need to be. Just let go,trust God, and build a relationship with him. You will thank yourself for it.
Next year will be a lot of fun. Come to think of it, the next twenty years are going to be fun.
Things will get better.
P.S. This summer you are going to save up all of your money to buy a Fender Telecaster. Some slick salesman is going to try to talk you into buying a cheap knockoff. Don’t do it!
P.P.S. Go to an R.E.M. show. In a few years when you start touring, you will never get another chance to see them live. Then they will break up. See them now.
P.P.P.S. Right now, people are pegging their pants, and it’s cool. In about a year, it won’t be cool. But you’re going to keep pegging your pants for another two years after that. Consider yourself warned.
Moved. Again. But it’s a good thing, I promise.
Went to Florida with family and friends.
Took the family to Carowinds.
Got a speeding ticket. Thankfully I’ve gotten it all cleared up and I can drive in North Carolina now.
Went to the lake.
Wrote several songs for the upcoming David Richt project.
Taught a few guitar lessons.
Went on an Alaskan cruise.
Began promoting our new single at radio.
Ran a 5K.
Resumed one of my favorite activities: hiking/trail running.
Performed several festivals and amusement parks.
Played at a Houston Astros game.
Played at a Colorado Rockies game.
Performed two events as part of the Harvest Crusade in Anaheim.
Cultivated a literary life. (More on that in a future post!)
Took the family to Disney World.
Performed at Night of Joy.
Wrote this blog post.
(What follows is a short essay I recently did for school. The assignment was to observe something and write about it. I decided to write about Kitty’s birthday. Unlike some of my previous posts, there is not as much of a lesson to be learned from this essay. I just thought it captured a couple of cool moments, and might be worth reposting here…)
It is 9:15 A.M. My wife and I have been scrambling to get everything just right for Kitty’s big moment. A huge banner that reads “Happy Birthday” hangs from the kitchen ceiling. Big sister Abbie is taping four ribbons on the back of Kitty’s chair. Breakfast plans are being made and presents are being wrapped. Kitty has been talking about her birthday since, well, her last birthday. We are doing everything in our power to make it special. Kitty walks down the stairs, not noticing anything out of the ordinary.
I try to spur things on a bit by asking her directly: “Kitty, how old are you?”
“Three,” she replies, crinkling her nose at me.
“I thought you turned four today,” I replied.
“It’s not my party yet.”
I ask her if she wants pancakes or waffles. Waffles happen to be my specialty, while Mommy is better at making pancakes. Kitty’s response will dictate how “hands-on” my involvement will be in the enjoyment of her birthday morning. She opts for waffles, so I’m all in. I get out the mixing bowl and ingredients, then double check the directions on the side of the waffle mix. I mix the batter, then let it stand while the waffle iron heats up.
While I’m cooking the waffles, Kitty has other plans. She wants to play. She grabs a bucket of “green men,” apparently from some Pixar movie or another that I missed, and starts pulling them out one at a time.
“I want somebody to play with me. Oh hey boy!” Our dog Ozzy has run up and snuggled up to her. She is completely oblivious to the balloons on the table and the unopened presents. Kitty takes her birthday in stride.
I think we could all learn a thing or two from Kitty.
After breakfast, Kitty opens her presents. She says she wants a music box. Miraculously, that’s what big sister Abbie gave her. Mommy and myself, on the other hand, broke our necks getting Kitty a Dream Light. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that we got three Dream Lights. We tried to order one online – it is on backorder and won’t come in for a couple of weeks. We then tried another online outlet and got the same response. We then happened upon one at a local department store. So Kitty will be getting a Dream Light, as will big sister. And it will be used the next time we need a birthday present in a pinch.
(On a side note, if you haven’t heard of a Dream Light, you will by Christmas. It’s basically a Pillow Pet with a light built in that shines stars up on the ceiling. They are very difficult to find. And once you hear the Dream Light song, you won’t get it out of your head for weeks…)
The music box proves to be a big hit, as does the Dream Light. Kitty announces that she will be using both to help her go to sleep tonight.
It is now 5:45 and we are at a place called Monkey Joe’s. It is a warehouse space converted into a little kid’s dream: trampolines and inflatables as far as the eye can see. The air is filled with laughter and screams of delight. Kitty is dressed up as Spiderman. In addition to being into dolls and princesses and other typical girl things, Spiderman is the most important thing in Kitty’s life. She is currently jumping on a big trampoline with several friends from church and school, many who are also dressed up as superheroes. There are two other Spidermen in the trampoline, but this is not a problem when you are four.
Leave it to the adults to manufacture problems. We are worried because Kitty’s best friend Carter, the one who got her into Spiderman, is not going to be at the party. We don’t know if we should tell her or not. We fear that telling her will ruin the enjoyment of her birthday party.
The time arrives for the cake and the presents. We heard all the kids into the party room at Monkey Joe’s, a small room featuring a long table. Candles are lit. “Happy Birthday” is sung. When she blows out the candles, the smell hits me and I am reminded of the 39 candles that would be on my cake if it were my birthday today. How I want to reflect and compartmentalize and place my experiences into a box. Kitty wants to unwrap hers, excitedly taking it all as it comes in.
Kitty opens her presents. Not surprisingly, she gets a lot of Spiderman paraphernalia. Soon it is time to wind things down. As the party comes to a close, Kitty looks at me and says, “Carter had football practice today. That’s okay.”
I have learned a lot from watching Kitty celebrate her birthday today. Rather than trying to savor or avoid or otherwise manipulate the occasion, she lets her birthday unfold naturally, enjoying every moment. Even when she finds out that her best friend wasn’t coming to the party, she rolls with the punches and enjoys her party. She can always show Carter her cool Spiderman toys later. That gives her something else to look forward to.
First of all, let me apologize for how long it’s been since I’ve posted here. I always forget what a challenge it is to find a good internet connection while I am on tour. The times I have been able to get online have mostly been dedicated to keeping up with my schoolwork. Unfortunately my blogging life has taken a toll as a result. And the times I’ve been home have been spent in large part in the studio. Well, my touring and studio schedule is starting to slow down, so I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity and try to ramp the blog back up. I’m making no promises this time, but I am definitely going to try to update my blog more frequently this summer. Beyond that, who knows?
As a way to relaunch my blog, I’m asking you to help me in a little exercise. One of my favorite podcasts is called Writing Excuses, in which four science fiction and fantasy authors talk shop. (For me it’s a perfect blend of creativity and science fiction geekery. Give it a shot – you might dig it too.) In their latest installment, they interview one of the hosts, web comic Howard Tayler, about the process of making one of his books. At the end, they challenge their listeners to do the same. I am going to accept the challenge.
This is the point where you enter the picture. For the next 24 hours or so, I am hosting an interview of sorts. Ask me a question in the comments below, or on Twitter. My only request is that the topic be related to “my creative process”. Ask me about songs, about blogging, about guitar stuff, anything you think pertains to “my creative process”. I will try to answer the questions as I get them, and then tomorrow (or the next day) I will compile a few of them on the blog and answer them more in-depth. The hopes is that I will learn some things about how I create, so that I can apply it to other areas. And, of course, hopefully you will get to learn something as well.
So fire away, and I’ll check back in within the next 24-48 hours…
My three year old daughter is all about Spiderman as of late. She watches the cartoons all the time, and has memorized the theme song. Her conversations revolve around spinning webs (any size!) and catching thieves (just like flies!) But most importantly, it’s about saving the day.
Sometimes I wish the real world was more like the superhero world.
In the superhero world, the stakes are very clear. The entire fate of mankind stands on the precipice of its certain demise, and the superhero must intervene.
In the superhero world, the enemy is easy to find. The “good guys” and “bad guys” all wear costumes and are very easy to spot in a crowd. Apparently the rest of us just panic.
In the superhero world, the most important job is to SAVE THE DAY. The superhero and his good guy pals overturn the evil plot of the bad guys, and only then can we go back to enjoying peace, justice, and the American way. Whatever that is…
The real world? Not so much. The entire fate of mankind is not obviously determined in a single day. There are no clearly defined enemies. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever had an “enemy” before. There are just a bunch of people with their own agendas, and sometimes they conflict with each other I guess.
All that being said, I do feel like every day of our lives we are faced with an opportunity to save the day. Maybe not exactly in Spiderman fashion, but we can save the day nonetheless.
I usually go for the modern Bible translations, but in this case I like the old school KJV version of Ephesians 5:15-16: “See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
See? We can save the day. It’s in the Bible.
When Paul talks about “redeeming the time,” he is referring to avoiding destructive behaviors that waste our time. Instead we can spend our time on more noble and worthwhile pursuits.
Redeeming the time = saving the day.
You see, I think God has given each one of us a dream that is uniquely ours, and has gifted us all with the same amount of time in the day to do what we wish. The challenge for us is to spend each day moving us a little closer to God’s will for our lives. And doing this is a lot more complicated than the superhero world, because the stakes aren’t spelled out so clearly. If I don’t work on my goals on a given day, the sun will go down and American Idol will come on just like usual. And I don’t literally have hooded villains literally standing in our way. I just have a bunch of options on how to spend my time. It is up to me to “redeem the time” and spend it in the way I am called.
For those of you who have been bit by a radioactive spider, good luck and God speed – you probably don’t need to read any further. For the rest of us, here are a few plays you can borrow from Spiderman’s playbook:
- Figure out your mission - I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what we’ve been put on earth to do. If not, there is a wealth of information out there about finding your purpose. Max Lucado’s Cure for the Common Life might be a good place to start. I think all of us could use some clarification on our “mission” in life. Spend an hour brainstorming on paper. At the top of the paper, write something like “Here’s what you need to do.” Make a list. Do it.
- Figure out the stakes - Nine times out of ten, the stakes in superhero stories involve the fate of the planet, or even the entire universe. While your stakes are not that high, they are probably far more interesting. Look at your dream and how it fits into your life. Ask yourself some questions. What would your life look like if you succeed? What would it look like if you failed? What would happen if you did nothing? I have found to my surprise that this third question can be the most motivating of all.
- Figure out your time enemies - Unless you are a costumed superhero yourself, it is doubtful that your enemies wear colorful costumes and sport equally colorful names. It is quite likely that your real enemies aren’t people at all. I would bet that your enemies are the ways you choose to spend your time. Am I going to work on a new song idea today, or am I going to “punt the day” and watch some more reruns of What’s Happening!! This is tough because your time enemies will often come in the guise of your friends inviting you to go to a movie, or somebody from your church asking you to join another committee. Only you can discern your time enemies. Practice this skill and you will get better at it.
Good luck with your time management, and watch out for those radioactive spiders. I hear they pack a mean bite…
Do you have any real world experience with time management, pursuing goals, and avoiding time enemies? Yes, that probably means all of us. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Use the comments below to tell us about it.
A couple of weeks ago, I used the analogy of people waiting to get into a party. I was hoping to drive home the simple fact that many of the obstacles between the creator and the consumer are imaginary. It is truly an amazing time to be a creator. If you’ve got an idea, by all means, run with it.
All that being said, If you follow this line of thinking to its natural conclusion, you will quickly find a problem. Let’s go back to that party for a minute. If there hadn’t been anybody guarding the door, what would have happened? Too many people would have gone inside. The food would quickly be gone, and the fire marshall would probably show up. End of party.
So how does this translate into real life? If nobody’s guarding the door, and anybody can write a book or make a record, how in the world do we as consumers find the great products we’re looking for in a sea of mediocrity?
Here’s the answer: We’re all gatekeepers now.
Like I said in that last post, the role of radio and retailers and other traditional gatekeepers hasn’t gone anywhere. And I would still contend that this is probably the best way to get your stuff in front of a large group of consumers. But it’s not the only way.
Nowadays, in addition to the traditional gatekeepers telling us what is good and what isn’t, we have, well, everybody. And yes, everybody includes YOU. Yes, we all now have a say in what is “good” and what is “not.” Anybody who has a blog or a Facebook profile or Twitter account now has a platform and a voice in the conversation. And we need to recognize this fact, along with the responsibility that comes with it. We need to speak up, let our voice be heard, and have a say in helping the great art get in front of people.
Here are a few ways you can do just that:
- Write reviews on sites like iTunes and Amazon
- Tell your Twitter or Facebook followers about books and music that you love.
- Join Goodreads and post book reviews there.
- Do reviews on your blog.
I would add the caveat that you only talk about things that are truly great. In this day and age, reviews mean everything to an artist. You don’t want to slam a piece of art. Especially if it’s a new artist. If you don’t like it, I would recommend keeping it to yourself! A book or album that only has a few reviews sends a similar message to a book or album that has negative reviews. And besides – you’re trying to help other people out, not hurt them. The last thing you want to do is start some kind of online flame war.
Finally, if you are consistently posting reviews to your own site, over time you can build up a solid reputation as a reviewer. And you can use this reputation to your advantage: you can actually use product reviews as a way to get more cool stuff. Sci-fi author Michael Stackpole talked about this very thing in a recent podcast. He’s got some great ideas – go HERE to listen if you’re interested (the whole podcast is great, but he offers this gem about 24 minutes in) Michael gives some practical tips for leveraging the power of reviews to get free books.
So use your platform. Be a part of the conversation. And most importantly, point out authors and musicians who are making great art, so you can help them continue to make great art!
(On a side note, I am going to practice what I preach here. In addition to my regular posts, I am going to start posting weekly reviews on this blog. Check back for details!)
So I’d love to hear your thoughts on “gatekeepers” and our role in pointing out all the awesomeness in the world. Use the comments below to join in the conversation!
Last week, I invited you to join me on a mission. To set a big, ridiculous goal that will take four years to achieve, and then to check in with me next leap year to see what we’ve been up to. At the time I said you didn’t have to tell me your goal. I honestly wasn’t sure what my goal was, and I’m still not really sure. But then Jeff Goins challenged his readers to “write something dangerous,” and I figured what the hey I might as well come clean and throw my goal out there (even if I’m not 100% sure what it is!).
One of the sneaky ways I accomplish things is to let everybody in on my plans. The reasoning behind it is that if I tell enough people about a goal, I will surely have people ask me questions when the goal’s deadline rolls around. This leads to one of three things, all of which are beneficial:
- I meet my goal – This is the best place I could be in. I said I would do something, and I followed through on it. High fives all around (remember those?)
- I make the effort, but fall short – Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. We try to take the world by storm, and then it doesn’t happen. But that’s OK – these are the kinds of experiences you can learn from.
- I have no meaningful followthrough whatsoever - This is when I feel like an idiot. You could probably ask my spouse or my bandmates about some of the wild plans I’ve had at one time or another. Knowing the feeling of foolishness that comes from not following through is enough motivation for me to try to make one of the first two possibilities happen.
With all that said, I am going to use this blog post to tell a bunch of people my four year goal. That way, one of the above three things will happen. My plan for the next four years is to make a vague goal of mine into a reality. If you read my “About” page on this blog, you will find this sentence:
“I am trying to cultivate a literary life (whatever that means!) with the hopes of putting out some kind of book/print product in the near future…”
Do you know what that means? That’s OK – neither do I. But over the next four years I plan to explore that and figure out how to make it a reality.
You might have read that and thought “Cool, Mark. You’re going to write a book.” Maybe four years ago that would have been the case. But so much has changed over the past four years. The publishing industry for one. The goal for authors used to be “to get your name on the spine of a book.” With electronic media taking off so much, I’m not even sure if that will be a valid goal in four years.
The other fact of the matter, and probably the most important point to be made here, is that I’ve changed in the last four years. At this point in my life, I don’t really care if I get published or not. I just really like words a lot, and want to pursue that and see where it leads. If it’s a book, cool. If it’s some kind of “e” thing, that’s great too. Or it very well could simply mean that I just keep writing on this blog and make a “thing” out of that.
And let’s don’t forget the other side of a “literary” life. Reading books. Engaging with other writers. As much as I enjoy writing, I look forward to reading a lot over the next four years.
Whatever it ends up being, it will be fun. So check back with me on February 29th, 2016 and let’s share our stories!
Today is Leap Year. Wait no, that’s not it. It can’t be a year – it’s a day. So what is it? Leap Year Day? OK I’m calling it Leap Year Day…
Do you remember what you were doing four years ago today, the last time Leap Year Day rolled around? I remember what I was doing vividly. I was practicing my guitar. My band was going through what they call a “rough transitional period.” We had just gone from a five piece to a four piece. We were no longer a “two guitar band.” We were now a “one guitar band.” And guess who was holding the one guitar? Me.
As cool as I tried to play it on the outside, I was terrified. But I faced the fear head on by doing the only thing I could think of at the time: I practiced. I listened to the entire Third Day catalog and made notes on how to approach the songs. I listened to live versions of our songs. I listened to unpolished rough versions of our newer, unreleased songs. But most of all, I just practiced.
I wasn’t alone. My bandmates rallied around me. I honestly had assumed we’d keep the two guitar format and get somebody else in there. But it just didn’t feel right at the time. The other guys in the band gave me a vote of confidence. I think they knew I could do it, even if at times I didn’t think I could do it myself. My wife was with me. She and her family came down to cheer me on at our very first show with the streamlined lineup.
The first show wasn’t the greatest, but there was a spark there. We knew we could make it work. The second show was better, and the third show even better. We kept taking notes and talking through the parts and the songs. And after a few weeks we felt pretty great about being a one guitar band.
A lot has changed in the last four years. About two years ago we did finally decide to take another guitarist out with us. But by this point it wasn’t because we had to – it’s because we wanted to.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it’s leap year again. I’m thinking of taking a leap and doing something crazy. I’m thinking of setting some goals for myself that are so big that it will take four years to complete them.
And I’m inviting you to join me. Here’s what I’m proposing. In four years, I am going to do another blog post like this one. I am going to tell you what I did since the last Leap Year Day. And I want you to do the same. I bet we end up sharing some cool stories, where we took some chances. Some of them will succeed. Many will not. But we’ll all be better off for it.
Who’s with me?
If you’re in, let me know in the comments below! We’re in this together! We’re a Leap Year team! You don’t have to get specific – just respond and say you’re in. We’ll check in four years from now and share our stories! YOU CAN DO EET!
Well, I started working on a blog post this morning. And I didn’t like it. So instead, I’m going to throw out an excerpt from this longer piece I’ve been working on about influences. It’s a little rough around the edges, but pretty fun nonetheless. Here goes nothing:
Maybe home is the biggest influence of all. We recently moved from one Atlanta suburb to another, maybe 20 minutes up the road. Our children still attend the same school – we just have to drive farther to get them there. We still shop at the same mall (Well, nobody really goes to the mall anymore. Do they?), and we go to the same movie theater. We live the same distance from these things, just a different direction. For Stephanie and myself, the move has been nothing more than acquiring a new set of habits: getting up a little earlier to get the kids to school, shopping at a different grocery store, things like that.
But for our kids, it’s been a different matter entirely. We didn’t just move to a new house. Their entire concept of home has been shaken to the core. I think about our oldest daughter Abbie. She’s at about the same age I was when my family did a similar move. And Kitty, our youngest. We have been in our new house for over a month, but still, about once a day, Kitty will be tired or hungry and start doing that whiny thing that little kids do. And what she says just breaks my heart: “Daddy, I want to go home.”
I know what Kitty means. She’s tired and over it, and she wants to go back to the place that brings her peace. Where we live now will eventually become that place, but for now, she thinks of our old house. We all have a place like that. For me, it is a place that doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s still there, don’t get me wrong. But the neighborhood has changed so much since I lived there as to be totally unrecognizable. One time, when I was about six years old, I was riding in the car with my dad, and he said something that stuck with me. We were driving by a long stretch of Georgia pine trees near our house. My dad pointed out the window at the rows and rows of pines zooming past the window and said, “Son, pretty soon none of these trees will be here.”
At the time I thought my dad was crazy. But in my lifetime I’ve watched it happen. Atlanta, the fastest sprawling city in the history of the world (it’s true – look it up!) grew out to our little lazy country suburb and swallowed it up without batting an eye. That grove of trees became a trendy shopping plaza. Then as that area fell out of favor, it became home to pawn shops and import car repair places. I think a lot of those buildings are pretty well abandoned now. So much for home.
But for me it still exists. I can conjure it up on a moment’s notice. And my choice of the word “conjure” is an intentional one. From my little kid perspective, the little house I grew up in was magic. We lived there during my wide-eyed early childhood years when anything could happen and sometimes really did. “Magic” was just a regular part of life. Santa Claus was real. My brother once stuck a Matchbox car in his ear and made it come out of his mouth. I saw it with my own eyes.
Thrown into that mix of all of these crazy things that were going on then were all these magical things thrown at me. My brother and I had a Winnie the Pooh record player in our room. One of my very earliest memories was listening to a recording of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on that record player. One day a couple of our neighbors came over and we dressed up in cowboy outfits and sang along to Glenn Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”. And on one fateful day in 1978, my dad came home from work and presented my brother and I with copies of Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” and Gene Simmons’ “Radioactive”, both on 45. We put this music in. The scales fell from my eyes. My mind was officially blown. I wanted to play guitar. While I didn’t actually take up guitar until much later, my mental wheels were turning, and things were set in motion for me to do music for a living.
Part of the mindblow was definitely the music itself. I was taken by the raw energy of this rock music. And I can’t deny being drawn in by the aura of KISS: the elaborate makeup, the costumes, the carefully crafted personas, the fire. And let’s not forget about the boots. But a big part of it was the fact that I was five years old and this was the music my dad presented me with. If he had come home with a polka album, maybe I would have wanted to play accordion.
I think the fact that it was music was very important: I’m sure there were other things that could have been important. I remember my dad came home from a trip with the National Guard and presented my brother and myself with pocket knives. My brother used his like you’re supposed to. He probably still has it to this day for all I know. I took mine out and instantly cut my hand. My parents took the knife from me and told me I could have it back when I was “old enough.” Apparently I’m still not “old enough”, because I haven’t gotten that knife or any other. A couple of years ago at a family Christmas function, we did one of those gift swap deals and I wound up with a pocket knife. I was genuinely excited about it. But everybody was concerned about it to the point that taking the knife back from me at any available opportunity seemed to be really important. So I guess it’s a known thing that me and knives aren’t a good combination.
It’s also a known thing that I don’t mix well with mechanical things with engines. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my dad brought home a mini bike. If you don’t remember those, they were these little motorcycles that were about the size of a tricycle. Kind of like a motorcycle version of a go kart. On my first chance I got to ride it, my dad and brother told me what to do to get the mini bike to go. So I went. Before they told me how to stop it. Next thing I knew, I had rode the minibike across the street and into a mud bank. I was lucky I didn’t get hurt.
Another time I did get hurt. When I was a freshman in high school, I was selling donuts for my church youth group, and got hit by a truck. You heard that correctly – I got hit by a truck. And I lived to tell the story. And a story it was. But that’s for another day.
So it’s not the fact that my dad brought something home for me. It was something that I was predisposed to like, I suppose. God wired me in a way that I would like music, and that I would like that particular kind of music.
What about you? Do you have a concept of what “home” is for you? Or do you have any other “influences” in your life you’d like to discuss? Do tell…