Dec 29, 2010

Resolutions and personal revolutions.

Dear AAP-
Is there any non-lame way to make a new year's resolution? or maybe make a bunch of them. I know I have to change some things around in my life and it seems like the right time to do it. I just don't want to make a big deal out of things and then not follow through. So what do I do? - Changer.

Dear Changer-
Your answer is right in your question - Don't make a big deal out of it, at least not to other people.

Seriously. It is never a bad or lame idea to want to make positive changes in your life. The lameness happens when people make big, public pronouncements about the biiiig changes that are going to occur and then, when they have setbacks (which are always bound to happen) shame and fear set in and they give up, not just on the changes they were trying to make at that time but also on the very IDEA that change is possible... It then becomes just that much harder the next time to even imagine that you can change or improve yourself or your life... and then you become stuck right where you've always been with the added benefit of also being shamed and disappointed in yourself.

...and then eventually you die. So why not make the most of the days & years between now (right now) and that fateful, eventual day? Know what I mean?

And as I said first off - If you're really into making positive changes, then just make them for yourself. Why does anyone necessarily have to know? I'm not saying you need to keep secrets, of course you can and should reach out to anyone who you think might be able to help you along your road of improvement. I'm talking about all the 'other people' who don't have to know your business and who, quite honestly, probably don't much care if you change or not. Better to say less and let your actions and improvements speak for themselves.

There is an old saying: "Well done is better than well said." Keep that in mind as you figure out what do do with yourself and for yourself in the new year.

Good luck.

Dec 22, 2010

Season's Gratings

Dear As A Punk-
Like seemingly everyone else, I'm not looking forward to going home for the holidays. My family isn't a complete horror story like some of the people who write in, but at best it is a tense and not enjoyable experience for everyone, not just for me. It is like we all feel oddly obligated to show up and sit around being miserable together even though we truly do not understand each other. No one has the same views on anything from politics to lifestyles to what we want to watch on TV. After a couple days we all go to our separate corners of the state and just deal with each other for the rest of the year with awkward weekly phone calls and hastily scrawled birthday cards. If that is good enough for the rest of the year why do we have to go zombie march through this yearly yuletide ritual? Why do families do this to each other? Why can't we admit that if we weren't related by blood none of us would probably be friends with each other? Should I just bail out and maybe the rest of the family will be relieved and follow my example? - Blue Christmas Blows.

Dear BCB-
The bad news is, "everyone else" isn't dreading the Holidays. In fact most people DO have the sort of (enjoyable) Christmas you probably can't even imagine. It might suck to hear that, but it is the truth.

As you said in your letter though, your family situation isn't hellishly horrible, it just sounds like everyone is hellishly disappointed, your mom especially, I'm guessing. No one sets out to create an awkward and disconnected family. I'm sure your folks had the best of intentions, maybe they just didn't have the skills/ability to pull it off. Maybe there were disadvantages that were beyond your parents' control. See if you can figure that out, and then, find a way to forgive them. As much as we like to think familial love is something that is just supposed to 'happen' the truth is that those bonds are built slowly and over time in a million small and not-so-small ways. Sure, some families make it SEEM easy and automatic... They're the lucky few who managed to somehow find the same wavelength for each other and ride that wave together.

...but that isn't you. Or your family.

So what do you do? Sure you could bail out, but I've got news for you - Chances are the reaction you'll get isn't going to be "whew, what a relief, now we can all stop wasting time with this yearly masquerade.", it is more likely that everyone else will rally 'round your defection, since obviously you're all a bunch of people looking for something to bond over, and nothing does that quicker than a "family villain" ...and that would likely be you. If you can live with that then save the gas money, buy yourself a tree and stay home. If you can't shoulder the burden of family scapegoat for a family you would rather not have to deal with... well then it sounds to me like you DO want to deal with them, you're just as disappointed as everyone else.

But how do you fix any of this? It is unlikely that you're going to create a Christmas miracle for yourselves that "changes everything from now on" that only happens in (bad) movies. IF you still care, you have to figure out ways to make it just slightly slightly better, even if that tiny improvement takes a lot of effort... and then you have to find a way to be happy with the results of your efforts, even if they're barely measurable... Otherwise you'll just be adding a new layer of disappointment and resentment to what is already a very very large pile.

I guess I'm saying you have to find a way to acceptance. Acceptance of yourself and acceptance of your family... no matter what their limitations or failings might be. You said yourself, you didn't come from a nightmarish childhood and let me tell you - that alone can, and should be counted as a blessing. Know what I mean?

...and when you start your own family, remember this stuff.

Dec 15, 2010

Another victim of the Recession

Dear aap-
Best way to fire a band member who isn't working out? -Dirty Work.

Dear DW
Simple answer: Privately and Face-to-Face.

...of course there is (always) more to say, but the above answer should be part of everyone's basic human code of dignity. I know you kids all like to do everything by text these days but, trust me on this one.

There will be times when a private sit-down isn't possible or safe. Maybe there are drugs or, worse yet, lawyers involved? In that case do whatever the highest possible high road might be. Do it 'by-the-book' and be done with it.

Don't get me wrong "face-to-face" doesn't have to mean 'one-on-one' ... Stack the odds in your favor, Meet 'in private' but make sure the rest of the band is there too, and if a show of strength is required, maybe have a few roadies in the room too. Lay out your reasons for kicking him out; be specific, try to make it sound like helpful criticism and not like a bone-stabbing. Give him/her the chance to respond, but don't get into an argument. Make it clear that the topic is not debatable. Help load out their equipment and try to shake hands at parting.

No, I don't expect it to go that way, but it is something to shoot for.


Dec 8, 2010

A new zip code can be good for the soul.

Dear AAP-
I know 2010 has been a tough year for a lot of people. It was for me too. I lost a job. Quit another job. Broke up with my boyfriend. Quit my band and moved... twice.. The second time to a different city. So now I'm in my new city broke and lonely, 600 miles away from my old one and 1000+ miles away from my family, just in time for the holidays. I'm not sure if I did it on purpose and if so I don't know if I did it on purpose to them or to myself. This isn't the first time I've uprooted my life and I'm only 28. So how do I know if I'm being adventurous or just self-destructive? - Big Changes Only.

Dear BCO-
It is a fair question and a tricky one to figure out. It would have been helpful (to you) if you had started asking that question while you were in the middle of those changes... Quitting your band, breaking up with the boyfriend, quitting jobs etc... What order did these things happen? How close together were they? Did you burn every bridge in your life in a frenzied afternoon? or was each action done separately after sufficient thought etc? Basically I'm asking if you're a generally stable person or if you're prone to rash, ill-advised and unexamined actions...

The fact that you are still young makes me think that you're probably ok... You're still at a point in your life where there is room and time for further exploration and experimentation. You're obviously looking for something more or at least 'else' that you couldn't find in your old city and with your old band & boyfriend... so I say good for you. Push on, ever forward... but keep in mind that these choices you're making are your own and in the end, five or fifty years from now, you have to be able to look back and own them... No placing the blame for how your life did/didn't turn out on anyone but yourself.

Timing is always tricky. I too uprooted my life and moved far away (3000+ miles) about a decade ago and arrived in Los Angeles on November 1st... Not completely realizing what that meant: That I would be alone, clueless, friendless and absolutely broke when all the holidays started rolling around just a month later. We get through these things and let's face it, given how far technology has advanced in just these past 10 years, it is almost impossible to really be alone ANY time... unless you're really willing to work at it. Everything from email, to video chat to even online gaming keeps us in contact with people 24/7. If you're missing your former city, your family or even your ex-boyfriend it is ridiculously easy to link up with them, see their faces and hear their voices. In fact, when you think about it that way, you might enjoy a little peace & quiet and alone-time.

This isn't answering your question about whether or not you made the 'right' decisions when you decided to reboot every aspect of your life... but as I mentioned earlier - unless you're somehow "unbalanced" or at a disadvantage due to some form of mental illness (whether it be manic/depressive, depression etc) ... you're probably ok and you probably did the right thing. You're young(ish) and you want to see, experience and be in a new part of the world... That, in itself, is perfectly normal and healthy. It isn't easy... but then again the 'right' thing rarely is.

So go and explore your new city, create your new band (and tribe) and carve out a new life for yourself.

Good luck

Dec 1, 2010

The Show must Groan On.

Dear AAP-
My band has been playing together for eight or nine years. I could find the exact date of the 1st gig, but it is very late and I'm too tired to go digging around for it. The point is I feel like I'm getting fed up and want to quit this band, but I just can't. The reasons I can't quit are complicated I guess, but the reasons I want to are simple enough: I'm sick of some of the members of the band, I'm sick of some (most) of the songs we play gig after gig. I'm sick of being just about the same as we were six years ago. I feel like nothing is happening for us, and I'm not talking about getting rich or anything that simple - although getting paid more often would be nice. I'm talking about just the boredom of the same thing. It feels like instead of climbing some punk rock and roll ladder, which would be fine as long as we were still climbing, I feel like we're on a treadmill. Going nowhere. It seems like everyone else in the band is fine with this, and are still having a good time, but I'm not. But I know that if I were to quit I would feel like a traitor - promises were made, sacrifices have been made by everybody. I can't just quit, but I'm very unhappy, have been for a while and am getting more and more unhappy with the situation. What should I do? - I Feel Trapped.

Dear IFT-
The easy and short answer is this: Quit the band. Do it now and I can almost guarantee you that in six months you'll wonder why you hadn't done it years ago... but easy and short answers aren't the way we tend to do things here at AAP, so if you're still reading, let's go a little further/deeper.

You said the reasons you can't quit are 'complicated,' well, human relationships in general and band relationships in particular, are always pretty complicated - What makes your situation so special? Do they have your soul trapped in a jar somewhere and won't give it back? Are the other band members your brothers and sisters? Sometimes the biggest thing keeping us from making radical changes in our lives are our own fears about the change... and we hide these behind a veneer of other "issues" that really have nothing to do with that basic underlying fear.

I hate to use my oft-used complaint about 'Not Enough Information' but man, I would really like to know two things especially: 1) How old you are and 2) what do you play/do in the band?

Very often that feeling like you're "not getting anywhere" is more due to your own advancing years than it is to the band. If you find yourself thinking "I thought by now we would be ________ " that is a fairly sure sign that the timeline is what's really bothering you. Are you worried that, if you quit this band you won't have the time to 'start from scratch' with another group of people?

I asked what you play/do in your band because, if you're a bass player or a drummer, I'm sure you KNOW that you could find a new band for yourself in a matter of days... If fact you would probably have several to pick from... but if you're a lead singer or a rhythm guitarist, well, your choices will be much more limited.

At this point though, it sounds like you're pretty burnt out on playing in any band. These things happen too. Maybe you just need the chance to miss it... or maybe you really are done with it. The only way to find out is to take the risk and walk away.

I don't care what "promises were made" to your bandmates, you don't owe them your life. If you're deeply and continually unhappy in the situation, being a martyr for the group ultimately won't do anyone all that much good. If you're not into it, it will show in your playing, and your baseline feelings of misery and indignation will eventually rub off of the rest of the band, making everyone miserable. What fun is that?

What you DO owe your group is this: advance warning.

After nine-ish years of playing together, it would be a pretty low-ball move to just walk away tomorrow. I don't know how your group tends to discuss things - over beers in your favorite bar or via email etc... but you need to find an appropriate moment, when everyone is present and ...just ...tell ...them. You don't have to go into reasons, which to them will sound like blame. You just have to tell them you're sincerely done and that you want to quit... and then you have to give them a concrete future date (say 3 to 6 months in the future) that will be your "last gig" with them. ...and stick to that date. Do not postpone it. This tactic should give them enough time to find a replacement for you. It will give them all time to get used to the idea of you leaving and to go from anger etc to acceptance. It will also give YOU a chance to get used to the idea of leaving and, more importantly, give you some time to enjoy playing with your band again, knowing that it will all be ending soon (for you anyway) ....and just maybe that last gig together will be a celebration of all that you DID accomplish together as group.

After that, your life will be your own again. Maybe you'll start a new band, maybe you won't... but hopefully you won't have lost your friends.

Good luck.

Nov 24, 2010

Gobble Gobble Hey !

Dear ask a punk-
Next week is Thanksgiving. Unlike seemingly everyone else I know, I'm looking forward to it. Given all the dysfunction I see in my friend's families and all, it feels almost weird to admit that I like my family. I moved 4 hours away from them not because I don't like them, but because I wanted to be here, in this particular city. We're all in our mid-20's and when my friends start complaining about their home lives and how glad they were to escape them, I nod understandingly, but when they invite me to their non-family 'cool' Thanksgiving, they're not nearly as understanding when I say I want to go home instead. It is like they think I'm faking liking my family or something. Is it possible to be punk/goth AND be relatively well-adjusted? I think it is, but apparently my friends don't. - No-Drama Turkey Day.

Dear N-DTD
Good for you. Go home. Be proud of your non-messed-up family while you're chowing down. You have a lot to be thankful for, and you obviously are. I'm not being sarcastic here. I'm glad for you, but just try to understand what an alien concept a 'Happy Family' might be for your friends. People who grow-up with a lot of family drama can take years (or decades) to see and really understand that everyone else's childhoods weren't as screwed up as theirs... To them dysfunction is the 'normal' default mode and Holiday Dysfunction was a special kind of crazy... I'm sure you remember vividly all your great family memories... just understand that their memories are just as vivid, and waaaaaay more F-ed up. You're all young... some of your friends are still years/decades away from really dealing with their childhoods... so in the meantime, they seek (and find) mostly like-minded escapees and try to create a new form of sanity... even more so during the holidays.

I know you said that you ARE understanding and that what you're experiencing feels like a lack of understanding from them... You're right... It is... but they're still young and still trying to figure out a new 'normal' ... and here is something you can absolutely count on: No matter how close you are (or think you are) with your friends, no matter how much or how often they've 'opened up' to you about all the F-ed up things that happened in their childhoods, know this: I'm willing to bet that they've told you just 10% of it, barely the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg. You have only the slightest understanding of what they went through and how it scarred them... and because you WERE the lucky one who had a non-chaotic, peaceful and safe childhood, I'm afraid you've gotta meet your friends a bit more than halfway on this one... for at least another decade or so.

You've got one thing going for you - Your healthy upbringing has helped you establish clear boundaries and a relatively upbeat outlook on life... So you have the confidence and the life-mastery to know when you're right and your friends are wrong... These are life-skills they probably don't have to anywhere near the same degree. So love your friends but suffer not their anti-family BS... just bring them back some leftover pie and they'll be fine with it.

Nov 17, 2010

Art isn't Pretty.

Dear ask a punk-
I disagreed with your advice a few weeks ago to the woman musician & writer who felt like giving up. I would have told her that, if she feels that way, she should give up, and I'm not saying that to be a jerk. I love seeing good bands and reading good books, but I know that even though I'm still fairly young I will NEVER hear all the good bands that are out there nor will I read all of the good books that have already been written. Sometimes I wish everyone would just STOP creating new stuff for ten years so we could all get caught up. I'm kidding of course, but not completely. But certainly anyone who is feeling ambivilent about contributing to the endless avalanche of new stuff (books, songs, blogs, videos etc) shouldn't be encouraged to just keep shoveling her halfhearted or halfassed contributions to the ever deepening pile. Why didn't you just tell her to take a breather? - Too Much.

Dear TM-
In a way you're right. I was thinking about this same topic this week because a friend of mine told me she wanted an ebook reader for Christmas (not from me of course, but just that she wanted one.) ... Since some of those things can hold thousands of books, I asked her how many books she had read so far this year, her answer? "one or two" I was trying to figure out how a gadget that would hold, for her, 500 years worth of reading material would possibly make sense... and that got me thinking about the fact that few, if any of us, will read another 1000+ books before we shuffle off this mortal coil... and yet, there are over a million titles on amazon and there are new books published every year... and then you start thinking "my ipod can hold 40,000 songs" many can I listen too? and there are more new songs every day, not to mention millions of recordings in thousands of genres that I'll never, ever get around to hearing... What do you do with this overwhelming multitude of options? ... you make choices, and they aren't easy ones.

But I know, I know, I've started this answer off on my own tangent and not addressed the question...

OK, a part of me agrees with you. The hardest part of making art is often convincing yourself that you have the will/desire/talent to do it. You have to realize and accept that you're making the choice to sit down and spend days/months/decades pursuing something that you might not even be able to define and which might or might not make any difference in anyone's life (including your own) when/if you ever manage to finish it. There is a certain warrior spirit that has to be a part of any creative person's make-up, otherwise who would have the audacity to bother trying to paint from the heart or write a new novel or song?

I agree with this on some levels... If you need a lot of encouragement to do your art, then chances are what you're craving is the encouragement, not the creation. I think the real artist is going to find a way to make his/her art IN SPITE OF a lack of encouragement from the outside world. I've known teachers in various artistic disciplines who approach their jobs with this in mind... If a few harsh critiques from them is enough to stop you, then chances are you don't want to do it that badly. I've had teachers like that too - It seems that the sole purpose of some art programs is to put obstacles in the students' way in an attempt to weed out the less-dedicated. This might indeed be a useful service to art and civilization but, on the occasions when I've been the teacher, I've never used this technique... because how does one tell the difference between a rigorous thinning of the herd and just flat-out bullying by a douchbag teacher? On the other hand, I've tried never to blow smoke up people's asses either. I'm honest, sometimes to the point of bluntness sure, but the underlying thing is always an attempt to point them toward improvement, not browbeating them into giving up.

Hmmmmm. This sounds like I'm getting off the topic again, doesn't it? I think it is because I spent some time this past year wrestling with these concepts. I don't think people should be discouraged from pursuing their dreams, but I also think that anyone who would be easily discouraged or talked out of their dreams is probably pursuing the wrong path for the wrong reasons.

In these weird times DOES 'The World' even 'need' Art? ...I think it does, especially because 'The World' doesn't think it does... but no one is going to beg you for your art, no one is going to beg you to create something new. You have to tune into the frequencies of your soul and create something that 'they' didn't even know they needed, until you showed it to them... and if you think you can do that, then it doesn't matter what I, or anyone else, might say to discourage you... You'll find a way to create it.

Nov 10, 2010

Won't you be my annoying neighbor?

Dear Ask A Punk-
My neighbor is a problem. I live in an apartment building in a fairly big city. Even though I'm obviously very punk rock, I'm actually surprisingly polite and quiet and try to be a good neighbor. My band does practice at my place sometimes because we can't afford rehearsal space, but even then, we're not playing at performance or even practice levels, we're sounding practically acoustic and on top of that we schedule playing for afternoons or at some decent hour. I know I'm making myself sound like a saint, but the truth is I know I'm less of a problem than some of my other neighbors who get drunk every weekend throw parties and blast their stereos, but for some reason the woman upstairs thinks we're a "problem" for the building and she complains, bangs on walls like you would think we were the biggest problem in the world. How do you shut up a neighbor like that? - apartment dweller.

Dear AD:
You really can't appease someone like that, especially if she has completely made up her mind that you're a 'big problem' because then you become the source of focus for alllll the anger and frustrations in that woman's life. No matter what else she is dealing with she can say "and now that goddamned band is playing too." Since she probably can't control or fix the things that are really causing her to hate her life, she has decided to focus her rage/frustration/anger on you and your band.

Even though I've been in bands I understand how it can be weirdly (and exponentially) way more annoying to have to listen to guitars and drums being played and stopped and played again irks people more than a loud stereo does. It is sort of like having to sit in a room while someone else plays a video game... as much as I like a good game of Halo or Modern Warfare, if I'M not playing and someone else is, all those exploding grenades and bursts of gunfire get on my nerves almost immediately.

So it sounds like I'm completely taking your neighbor's side, but trust me, I'm not. One of the deals we make, being city dwellers and living in warrens of apartments IS that we're going to be impacted and sometimes inconvenienced by our neighbors in ways we wouldn't be if we lived in a house in the middle of a corn field. Obviously she has to figure out how to live with you, especially if you're doing your best to minimize the noise and inconvenience to her. I'm sure you've pointed that out to her in terse little conversations by the mailboxes etc. As I said earlier, you're probably just the latest scapegoats for a life she isn't enjoying, and a part of her just likes to hear herself complain... otherwise you would have told me that she had also complained to the landlord and/or the cops... If she hasn't then she probably KNOWS that they would tell her she's a crackpot... so take that as some consolation.

I know the younger and more hardcore punk rock folks would say "Screw her" and just turn the amps up and reallllly give her something to complain about. I certainly understand that temptation... but that only works if your goal really is to make her life (and subsequently yours) more miserable. I suggest you keep the moral high ground... keep the volume low and your exchanges with her as polite, brief and infrequent as possible. It would also help your case to make sure you know and are friendly with as many of your OTHER neighbors as possible... because sooner or later, she IS likely to go to the landlord or the cops and the first thing they'll do is survey the other neighbors to see if this woman's problem with you is valid or not... so it would be best to have as many allies as possible.

...and the next time you put out a new song, dedicate it to her.

Nov 3, 2010

Time is the Bastard.

Dear AAP-
I seem to have hit a wall. My creative life which consists mostly of songwriting and singing, but also a little writing is starting to feel like a waste of time. I guess my work is good enough - I don't get heckled, people buy my CDs once in a while and my blog gets plenty of comments (more than yours in fact) but I know none of it is going to make me rich and or famous. But even that is ok and something I've known all along I guess, but the problem is that none of what I have created seems like it'll last or amount to anything. Plus it seems that now, thanks to the internet, EVERYONE on the planet sees themselves as a musician or artist or writer of some kind. There are literally millions of us all generating new "stuff" so much so that it seems like no one is left to be a listening or reading audience. I feel sometimes like I'm just adding something to the noise and not really contributing something that'll make a difference or stand any sort of test of time. I'm wondering if I should just stop? - Songbird.

Dear S-
The truth of the matter is this: Unless you're building pyramids, most of what you do isn't going to stand any real 'test of time.' ...and even the pyramids are likely to last just a few thousand years, which is just the tiniest dot in the vast timeline of the cosmos. I know this sort of information/perspective won't exactly lighten your mood, but it is the truth. Nothing lasts and ultimately none of 'this' is important to anyone but yourself. The GOOD side of that seemingly negative outlook is this: IF what you're doing does seem worthwhile to you, then that is all the excuse/reason you need to keep doing it. You don't need a stamp of approval from anyone else. Sure applause is nice, and getting the occasional check would be even nicer, but at the end of the day, and by that I mean the end of the FINAL day, you'll look back and feel either satisfaction or dissatisfaction with how you spent your blink-and-you'll-miss-it time on this earth.

As members (enthusiastic or not) of this particular time and society, sure, most of us have to spend a good deal of time doing things we don't necessarily love to do... but we do it for the money, or the prestige or the security. These are the deals we make with ourselves as civilized members of our particular civilizations. It is a compromise sure, but it is a necessary one. Does that sound 'un punk rock'? What about 'Anarchy'? Maybe, but you wanted the truth.

So what IS this all to you? You said you always knew you wouldn't get rich/famous from your artistic endeavors, but is that really true? Is that 'wall' you're hitting just artistic burnout? Believe me, I understand how the artistic desire can ebb and flow... and how tempting it is to wish that you didn't WANT or possibly even feel compelled to 'create' things... How much easier life would be to just conform and establish some easy, brain-numbing and (ultimately) soul-crushing existence... but how would you feel looking back on THAT kind of life on your last day? I'm guessing pretty shitty.

Oct 27, 2010

One Man Bland.

Dear AAP:
I don't think anyone is ever going to understand what I'm trying to do musically. I gave up on playing in bands because it was impossible to get everyone on actually show up for rehearsals and stuff, never mind getting them all on the same page musically. I'm glad I can create all the music I need on my own laptop and send it all across the world potentially, I think if I was born even 10 years earlier I would have given up on music because of all the idiots you have to deal with if you want to make music in a group. So my question is - Does all this technology mean that actual bands of 2 or 3 or 11 people will become obsolete? - SoloBand

Dear SB:
I agree that we are lucky to live in an age where the technology allows anyone, whether a singular visionary or a raging ego-maniac, to create music without the hindrance, input or help of other musicians. This has allowed many people who couldn't integrate their sonic vision with the visions of other people to create the sounds in their head. Hooray for technology! also means that people who LIKE performing with others, who like seeing their vision evolve and go in directions they otherwise wouldn't have dreamed of, who know that a good band is somehow, magically, MORE than the sum of its parts... won't have to cope with as many insufferable blowhards and self-proclaimed geniuses.

Maybe you've just had some bad luck, or maybe you live in a smallish town where there are only a few bands/musicians your age, or maybe you're an insufferable prick who thinks he's the only one in town who knows how to play an A chord... but I have to tell you that all musicians are not "idiots" ..sure they can be a pain-in-the-ass to deal with...but I'm telling you that in ANY collection of 2 to 11 individuals there is going to be friction. Sometimes that friction is worthwhile. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it IS the friction that makes discovery possible... and I think that is what you risk losing when you decide that you're ONLY going to create music on your own. Don't get me wrong - a lot of great music is made by loners in their basement... and if you have a lot to say that is a great way to get things out of yourself.. but eventually you're hopefully going to be hungry for new ideas about your instrument, or your message or your overall sound and the best way to discover new things is to find them while playing with other people, listening to other people... opening up your mind to someone else's ideas and opening up your heart to what other people are expressing through their music can only enrich your own.

Enjoy your drum machine, sequencers, synths and MIDI interfaces... Create a vast body of work based on all those thoughts and sounds you have swirling in your head... Work it all out and piece it together exactly how you hear it in your head with no compromises and no outside influences... Maybe it'll be genius. Maybe.

Oct 20, 2010

Shameless Self-Promotion made easy, and less shameful.

dear aap:
I want to take advantage of all the online things I can to promote my bands. I have two problems though. Which ones to pick and choose from and also I don't like having to give so much personal information to all of these sites. I'm not overly paranoid, but I just wonder why they need so much information. So how do they say it? What is the best way to leverage my bands online presence, and how do I accomplish that without letting the world know all my personal stuff. - savvy but.

Dear SB:
A couple of years ago I walked into a Costco, looking to sign up for a 'membership' and start raking in all those free weekend food samples and great deals on bulk toilet paper, but as I was filling out the form, I noticed one of the first things they asked for was my social security number. What? I asked the woman behind the counter why I had to give this information and what they needed it for. Of course she just shrugged. It isn't like she had anything to do with Costco's corporate decision-making - so I left it blank... Pretty much the only time you're required to give anyone your SS# is if they're planning on hiring you to work for them, or if they're some sort of government agency... that said, there are plenty of places who SAY they "require" it... One of my previous dentists for example... He said it was the 'only' way to keep track of his patients and that my records were 'confidential' ..but I also noticed that those confidential records were kept on a shelf in an unsecured alcove with no door... accessible to anyone who might want a quick stack of names/birthdates/social security numbers... all you need to create false identities for credit cards etc...

So what am I saying? I'm saying that just because some business, online or otherwise, SAYS that they 'require' certain information... That doesn't mean you have to give it to them. Every website or "online community" starts their ball rolling by telling you all the wonderful services they provide for you, for "free"... but in order to use the services you run a gauntlet of personal questions. Name, address, zip code, date of birth etc... In some cases, sure, the date-of-birth is required to prove you're an adult... but do they need your exact birthday? No... get the month and year right then pick a different date. Same goes for your zip code... with your name and zip code they can sell that info to junk mailers etc... so pick a zip code somewhere in your general vicinity, this is especially easy if you live in a big city... as far as 'names' go... why use your whole name? Maybe just some initials instead or use the name of your band instead.

I'm not talking about committing fraud here... and granted some of this manipulation might qualify as a terms of service violation (IF they ever bother to check)...but it isn't like you're committing perjury or anything. YOU decide what information you want to give out...not them. So always keep that in mind.

Now as to what online tools to use... THAT is a big question... and one I think I've answered before, but I'm too lazy to search the AAP Archives tonight... so here goes.

Obviously your band needs a website of its own. It should have links to your upcoming gig schedule, photos and audio clips from previous gigs and a way to contact you. You don't need to pay some stranger a big pile of money to create a website either... look into various free (or nearly free) CMS ("content management systems") solutions... like blogger or wordpress or posterious or any of a dozen other companies... You can slap up a basic website in a few hours... then, as you learn more about it, you can build a more engaging website, with more of the bells/whistles.

In addition to a band website, yes, create a Facebook page, or group, for the band... They haven't quite figured out what they are doing on this stuff yet, but obviously FB reaches the most people. Maybe get a MySpace band page, maybe not... the online world seems to have left Myspace on the side of the road.

Twitter? I don't know. Is your band already popular enough that it would be easy to get 'followers'? ...and do you have anything worthwhile to tweet about? - upcoming gigs new recordings for sale etc? ...if not, you probably don't have to worry about this much, although you might want to sign up w/your band's name...just to make sure it is yours when the time comes.

It is sweet that you think I would know what I'm talking about with any of this. Obviously I'm not a genius at self-promotion here on the web, if I was my 'visitor stats' for this website would have a lot more digits... but I do want to tell you one key point about self promotion, and it is this:

Once you've got your website and facebook group and all that, you can't use these sites just as billboards for the latest thing you're trying to 'sell.' ... You've got to reach out to your community (whatever it is) and be interested in what they're putting out too. Think about it. How much do you hate getting 'come to my gig' emails from people who ONLY send you 'come to my gig' emails? ...don't be one of those people. Sign up for any LOCALLY run website that covers your town's music scene... be an active member: post comments on the things you like (ignore the things you hate, unless you're trying to score points by being a D-bag.) ...and hey! If there isn't a central kind of website that pays attention to your local scene: the bands, the clubs, the shows the people etc ...then MAKE ONE YOURSELF... build a website or a 'Ning' network or something... Create something that people will enjoy and FIND USEFUL to THEM. Build that kind of crowd, do something for them and THEN those people will want to come to your gigs, forward your links and download your songs. Remember: Networking, on-line or in real-time, has to work both ways. It is that simple and going 'digital' or 'online' hasn't changed that. The rule has always been: If you want people to come to your gigs, you have to go to theirs. It is the same thing online.

Oct 13, 2010

Addicted to our Habits.

Dear Ask A Punk-
I'm in an ongoing debate with some friends and family members over the difference between a 'habit' and an 'addiction.' I think the word addiction gets thrown around way to much. The truth is my whole family was a big ball of dysfunction when I was growing up and now they're no better, but now they talk about it, always defensively like someone will accuse the other of being an addict to something but their own problem is just a habit. Can you really use these words interchangeably like that? I think it was better when everyone was just f-ed up but didn't talk about it, not that they're really talking about it in any constructive way, but it is like now that they watch Dr. Phil or something they have this new vocabulary that they can mis-use on each other. I go to my boyfriend's house and it is like visiting another planet. I didn't know families could not just co-exist but actually like each other and talk about something other than the fact that so-and-so is way more screwed up than they are because of A, B and C. So what is the deal? Habit Addict.

Dear HA-
First of all, I hope you've moved out of that house by now, assuming you're old enough. I also hope that you don't bring this mode of argument into your relationship with your boyfriend, but I'm guessing by the tone of your letter that you're smart enough not to do that.

Habit vs. Addiction... hmmm.

Well, as you know there are physical addictions to things like drugs. Heroin, cocaine, alcohol etc... and those things are very clearly defined: The person addicted to these things gets physically sick when the drug of choice is taken away... of course at that point it really isn't a drug of 'choice' anymore but a drug of necessity. Addiction itself of course goes deeper than that psychologically. Every pothead will tell you that that weed isn't physically addictive... but it is undeniable that a certain percentage of marijuana users experience a profound psychological addiction to it... and 'psychological addiction' is a whole can of worms in itself.

Very often, whether they realize it or not, people are trying to self-medicate themselves out of one state and into another. That initial state is usually some sort of state of fear, anxiety, depression or, in rare cases mania etc... People figure out what works to get them out of that state and then tend to continue to rely on that mechanism even after it stops working or starts accumulating negative consequences ... like driving into trees or losing your house/family or getting fired from jobs etc. Then addiction becomes like a closed loop... It isn't 'working' anymore (if it ever really did) but the person can't stop themselves from hoping it'll work this time.

I too think the word 'addiction' is used to often and too liberally, but clearly, addictions do go beyond substance abuse. People can get truly addicted to many things: video games, porn, gambling, washing their hands, NOT washing their hands... I'm sure there are people who would argue against this model, but maybe they're just splitting hairs. People get addicted to things because they're seeking escape from some kind of pain, either physical or psychological pain. The biiiiiiig question of course is usually: What are the root causes of these pains?

...and then that gets into the realms of psychology, genetics, brain chemistry, family dynamics and personality. I'm sure my readers don't want to plow through a couple thousand words of me peeling back the layers on all those onions... but trust me, those realms are where many of these issues start.

Besides, what you don't need is ammunition to bring into your next family squabble. What you do need is to figure out how to be the least screwed up member of your family... and to do that you need some distance, some time, maybe some therapy and definitely some personal introspection. Take some time for yourself and figure out what, if anything, you might be addicted to... you might even be addicted to your family dysfunctions... sounds crazy I know, but it is possible.

Take care of yourself first. Give yourself a chance to evolve and improve on your own. It is always better for everyone involved to work on yourself instead of telling other people (family members, boyfriends, strangers on the subway) what THEY should be working on.

Oct 6, 2010

Mongrel and Child Reunion.

Dear AAP = I've started dating a woman, and things are going fairly well. We're in our late 30's and have a lot in common: our disturbing to some record collections, a few battle scars and a taste for leather jackets. She also has a kid, a boy age 4, who I'm getting to know and that seems cool. The problem is the kid has always been terrified of dogs and I currently have two of them. I have always had dogs and I have had these two a long time. I'm not going to get rid of them or go without having dogs in my life, but the relationship with the woman isn't going to progress unless we can fix this. Of course she thinks it is a no-brainer - get rid of the dogs, but I'm just not going to do that. I'm afraid she will see that as me using the dogs as an excuse to 'not get more serious' or even break up. I'll admit it does probably sound weird that my dogs might be more important than a human relationship, I just don't think of it in those terms though. Who is right here? Any insight? - Woof

Dear W =
I'll keep this simple: Keep your dogs.

Kids grow up eventually and if this mom thinks she'll be able to shield her son from dogs for the rest of his life, she's a bit deluded. Doesn't it make more sense for you, her and him to sort of, I don't know, tackle this fear early and nip it in the bud? ...I'm of course talking about approaching this in a thoughtful and sensitive manner, not locking the kid in a room with four pit bulls... maybe even seeking professional help to help the kid get over his fear. I'm no expert on kids, but I don't think they simply 'outgrow' these sorts of issues completely on their own. In fact, I think this sort of fear might be likely be beget other fears. Once the kid realizes (consciously or not) that if he says he's afraid of something him mom will bend and twist the world to make him more at ease... well, that could set in motion one big ball of unintended consequences.

But you've got to approach the mom with sensitivity too. You can't puff out your chest and say "screw your kid, I'm keeping my dogs." ...but you have to let her know that your dogs are, in their doggish way, members of your family... Getting rid of them will lessen your quality of life and definitely cause the dogs a lot of trauma (some studies suggest that dogs, once bonded with their original owners, never fully get over being separated from them.) So when you talk to her about this, preferably without the dogs at your feet and her son in her lap... Let her know you're willing to explore any options that would keep you together as a couple AND let you keep your dogs. If she is completely unwilling to hear that and move forward then you might want to re-evaluate your relationship. IS she using the dog issue as an excuse to break up with you? ...and conversely, are you sticking to your guns because you love your dogs? ...or because this might just be an honorable way out of the relationship?

You have to be honest with her, and honest with yourself. Dogs and kids have a few things in common, they can sense fear, and bullshit. Don't be a disappointment to any of them.

Sep 29, 2010

Mythbusters Unplugged

Dear ask a punk-
I have wanted a guitar for a long time. My parents said the usual stuff about keeping my grades up which I did, but they say if I want a guitar I have to get an acoustic guitar first to learn on. Why is that? I want to play rock and punk music anyway. Do people have have an acoustic guitar first? - GuitarBoy

Dear GB
I think I might have answered this question before, but it is worth repeating:

The answer is NO. There is no reason, repeat NO reason, why a person who wants to play rock guitar "needs" to start on an acoustic guitar first... In fact I think there are a few reasons why starting with an acoustic is actually a BAD idea for any wannabe guitar beginner.

Are your parents lying to you on purpose? A fair question, but they're probably not... but frankly I'm a little surprised they're perpetuating the 'get an acoustic first' myth because I'm guessing your folks are probably my age - or likely even younger than me, so they should know better.

Like all myths, this one is based on some facts, or former facts... It used to be true that electric guitars (and the amps you need to play them through) were expensive investments that parents were hesitant to make on what might be their kid's quickly passing interest... so the idea was to buy a cheap guitar and if the kid "stuck with it long enough" then maybe they would shell out for a Strat. This is no longer true... in fact the $150 spent on a 'cheap' electric guitar will likely get you a better instrument than the same amount spent on an acoustic... and a tiny battery-powered starter amp will probably set you back less than $20. It is also important to keep this point in mind: Buying something reeeeeally cheap (either acoustic or electric) is going to defeat the whole purpose of sustaining your interest in making music. There has to be some sort of minimum quality to the gear you start off with. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to learn on an instrument that won't stay in tune of that breaks apart in your hands.

And speaking of young hands and delicate fingers, here is another reason why "start with an acoustic" is wrongheaded dogma; The strings on an electric guitar and thinner, looser and bend easier. This makes them easier to play. The body of an electric guitar is almost certainly going to be thinner and less bulky than an acoustic, making it easier for smaller arms to hold onto and reach around the instrument.

Another reason parents might push the acoustic agenda is that they think an electric guitar will necessarily be louder (and more annoying for them and the neighbors.) This isn't true either. You can either play through headphones - at non-ear-damaging volumes of course - or yes, you can play/practice on your electric guitar without even plugging it in... in a quiet room you can hear what you're playing perfectly well. These strategies work for grown-ups too. We city dwellers can't be blasting our guitar amps in our quiet apartment buildings now can we? we use headphones or practice unplugged.

If you had said you wanted to play bluegrass or country or easy-listening it would make some sense to just learn on an acoustic, since that is what you would end up playing anyway... but you want to rock, so why pretend otherwise? and if you do eventually get deeper into it, and the guitar becomes part of your life, at some point down the road you might find yourself wanting to add an acoustic to your guitar arsenal. ...and when you do, your first thoughts wil be "Man, are these strings tight and a pain in the neck/fingers to play."

So there it is. No one has to start on an acoustic, and anyone that says otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about.

Sep 22, 2010

The Eternal New vs. The Eternal Night.

DEAR ask a punk -
I'm pretty sure I'm older than you. I hung it up years and years ago. The last time I played in a band it was I think 1988. I know it was at least 20 years ago. I don't miss it and my wife and kids - three of them - really don't know much about it. There weren't as many pictures taken in those days. Why am I writing? I guess because I feel like I'm in a no-win situation now. I know I'll never like any new music I hear as much as I once liked my favorite bands, but at the same time, all those dozens, probably 100s of "favorite albums" are so deeply burned into my brain, that I don't feel like I have to listen to any of them ever again... and if any of those songs were to come up on the radio - which never happens of course - I'm not so sure I wouldn't flip the channel anyway. I know listening to new music would be a mistake too. I would complain that it wasn't as good or if I DID happen to like it I would mortify my daughters. I guess I'm asking, what can an old ex-rocker - I think I pre-date even punk, really - do with this unfocused yearning for - SOMEthing worthwhile? - Rock-a-papa.

Dear Rpapa -
The first time I was reading along through you email I thought you were going to ask me what you should listen to now... but when I got to the end the question was a lot more open-ended and vague than I expected. Maybe you MEANT to be more specific or maybe your question was more existential in nature... I can only guess... but since bits/bytes are more-or-less free, and god knows I've got the time, I'll take a stab at answering the question both ways.

If you're tired of your favorite old albums but don't want to suffer through whatever your kids THINK is quality music (a wise choice by the way) there are, I'm sure you, know a million other sounds and bands you could explore here on the internet. You could go the 'tracing the roots' route - Where you dig into the history of your favorite bands and determine who THEIR favorite bands were... and then you investigate THAT music. Or you could just let the computer spin the musical roulette wheel by going to pandora, creating a few 'personal stations' and then waiting to see what similar bands you've never heard of get added to 'your' station. ...or you could just surf myspace band pages or you could randomly pick a country and google for 'bands' in that country... or if you want to keep it in the US, pick a state or a city and search around to see what bands are currently hailing from that zip code. I'm betting that I'm not telling you anything you don't already know here... which makes me think your question WAS more vague and existential.

The only guitar I ever bought "new" is just a few years away from being officially considered "vintage." I was listening to a 'TEDtalk' podcast yesterday that told me a 62 year old person ages 125 times faster than a 12 year old does... what does this all mean? It means Time (with a capital "T") is like a great white shark - a remorseless eating machine and what it is eating is us and everything else. That sense of 'yearning' you're feeling, which is a more positive term than 'anxiety' is the feeling of that accelerating decline and of wanting to cram more new things into your life while you still have the energy to seek out new things, experiences & sounds, appreciate them and somehow tie them into the long (but much too short) running narrative of your life.

Does that about sum it up? ...or am I being a blowhard here? THAT is another good reason to keep seeking out new things and experiences... if you're always learning about something new, that delays the moment when you'll start acting and sounding like an expert (or more accurately: THE expert) on only the things you already know... and that leads to rigidity in the thinking and in the body and in the soul.

So you've got the right idea... keep pushing outward in all directions to see, hear and learn new things. This keeps you moving forward. Just make sure that you're not doing all this INSTEAD of connecting with your daughters and with the people who are important in your life. Sometimes the 'Quest for knowledge' or other grand obsessions (or even all-consuming hobbies) can be distancing mechanisms people use to protect themselves from connection and intimacy ... and that can be really sad because human connection is really what keeps us alive, subtle and timeless.

Sep 15, 2010

Battle of the Band(s)

DEAR ask a punk-
My band is divided over an issue. A club is sponsoring a 'Battle of the Bands' this Fall. There are a couple of 'rounds' and if you win one night you get to go to the next until the end. Half the band thinks it is a lame idea and the other half wants to do it. We haven't been together for long, so it isn't like I think we could WIN it, but I think it would be a good way to be seen. So you know how I'm voting. So I guess I have two questions - Should we enter the BotB and, with an even number of band members what is the best way to solve these voting ties? - Battler.

Dear Battler-
I usually tell people that "a gig's a gig" and, if nothing else, any live show will help a new band in ways that 20 practices wouldn't... but these "Battle of the Bands" things can be tricky...

First of all, don't expect to win. I don't care how good you are (or aren't.) These things are usually (if you're lucky) decided by the audience, so the most popular/well-known band, the one that brings the most fans & friends through the door are most likely going to win. If you're not lucky then a panel of 'judges' will be determining the winners based on all sorts of shady criteria that you couldn't begin to guess at.

The other tricky thing about BotB's is that some of them are flat-out scams... Is there a heavy "entrance fee" or some other cash outlay (like having to pre-sell your own tickets or make up the $$ difference) that each band is expected to shoulder? If so... then DON'T enter the contest. You would be better off spending the couple hundred bucks renting out a space and throwing a gig/party of your own.

But if the costs of entry are low and you keep your expectations low, it can be a good experience. As I said first off: As a new band ANY gig is going to be good practice, and something like a BotB, especially in a small-ish scene like the one you've described is a good way to possibly meet, all in one place, many of the people involved in your town's music scene: other bands, other promoters, new fans etc... You'll learn (quickly) that some of these people are D-bags that you'll want to avoid in the future, but you're also likely to make some new friends and comrades in the scene and if you don't suck and don't act like complete tools, you might find some of your new friends & acquaintances offering you gigs and introductions to other worthwhile people. ...yes, it is called 'networking.' ...but if you want to be part of the music scene in your town, a little elbow rubbing couldn't hurt.

I can hear some people complaining already... I said elbow-rubbing, not brown-nosing. As I said, you're likely to meet as many people you'll want to avoid forever as you are allies... but hey, that is still useful information to have isn't it? ...that is IF you want to learn about the mainstream venues in your town... There is certainly something to be said for going your own way and DIYing your gigs, publicity and future. I'm all for that as well... but you didn't tell me ANYthing about your band's style of music or basic principles, so I'm left to guess.

As far as figuring out how to break a tie in a band with an even number of people... I guess it depends on how agreeable you all are and how important the decision at hand might be. Something relatively unimportant like "Should we enter a Battle of the Bands?" might be decided if one faction or the other decides to just relent OR you could just flip a freakin' coin. I mean it doesn't really matter THAT much either way, does it? ...Bigger decisions, if you ever have to make them, well, hopefully people will be able to civilly debate, compromise and persuade each other to come to a group decision that everyone can be (relatively) happy with.

Sep 8, 2010

(Don't) Look Homeward Angel.

Dear AAP,
I'm 20 years old a girl and I moved to New York about a year ago from Georgia. I moved away to get away from my dysfunctional family (drugs/bad issues). My problem is that I have now found myself stuck over here, cannot get a job, cannot afford my rent, had to stop going to school(money stuff) and have lost about everything I own. I really don't want to go back to them but I feel like I have no other choice. I'm just sort of lost. I've made great friends and I really love it here. What do you think I should I do? - Lost

Dear Lost -
The good, really good, news is that you managed to achieve escape velocity from your dysfunctional family situation at a much younger age than most people. Congrats on that. The bad news is that, when you escape so young, you don't have quite as many resources (money, education, experience or even credit) to fall back on when things get dicey, which can tend to suck... but there is still more good news, and it is this: You're young, and that counts for a lot: 1) You've still got a subtle spine that can handle some extended time sleeping on assorted couches and floors if necessary. 2) Assuming you can avoid getting hit by a bus, you probably don't require heavy-duty health insurance or the sort of perpetual prescription medications that you'll probably be needing in about 20 years.

What I'm saying is - you've got the luxury of time. Oceans of time. There is a certain nobility in struggle when you're so young. People will cut you tons of slack and admire your "moxie" for striking out on your own without much of a safety net... and believe me when I tell ya, it is a lot tougher to pull off that nobility-of-struggle angle when you're, oh, say, MY age. I know saying "you're lucky" is useless, but ask any, and I mean ANY rich 50+ year old if he/she would trade places with a temporarily down-at-the-heels-but-potential-filled 20 year old, and he/she would say YES in a heartbeat.

I'll get back to the first thing I said. If nothing else remember what you've escaped from. I'm sure any day eating ramen in a dicey neighborhood beats the heck out of whatever hellish bullshit you would be going through if you were still back home and under the thumb 'those people' right now, right? Damn right. Think of all the people who don't escape at all. ...and I understand that this is part of your fear too - the thought of maybe having to go back... I get shivers on your behalf just thinking about it. I don't think it'll come to that (moving back, I mean) I doubt your options will dwindle down to that absolute zero, but even if they do, you'll have the strength of knowing that you CAN escape... since you've already done it once, you could certainly do it again with a little time, patience (and savings) ... but as I said, I doubt it'll come to that.

I'm probably repeating what you've heard already but it is true: These are tough times for (nearly) everybody. What start as tough economic times turn into tough psychological times in an alarmingly rapid way. Plans and hopes for a bright future become dim to the point of darkness when every trip to the mailbox brings new bills you can't pay... including the rent for the mailbox itself. ...believe me when I say that a lot of people, myself included, have drastically adjusted their lifestyles (downward) more than once in the past 2-ish years, with more adjustments to come. It is tough to remain vaguely hopeful, never mind actually optimistic.

...but you've gotta.

I didn't mean for this to be such a rambling, vague and platitude-filled "rah-rah" answer... who knows? Maybe I'm trying to convince myself as much as I'm trying to convince you. So let's refocus.... ok...

You've already had to drop school and have lost (I'm guessing: sold) "nearly everything you own," so I'm going to spare you the "cut expenses and start clipping coupons" speech... I'm sure you're cutting your budget pretty much close to the bone already. You have to focus what little cash you have ONLY on things that'll increase your chances of getting work (granted, school would help, but it can be prohibitively expensive.) You need a cellphone, but you probably don't need to pay the extra $40 a month for 'full web' etc... like I said, I'm sure you already know this.

The key thing you're trying to hold onto isn't your premium cable package or your daily Starbucks fix, what you're really trying to hold on to is geography... namely: all those beautiful miles between you and your nightmarish former (home) existence. So let's just concentrate on that. We have already decided that moving home is the option of VERY last resort, so let's look at what we've got. You're living in New York... I don't know if that means NYC or some other place in that big, sprawling state, but either way, winter is coming and you're going to need shelter. The one resource it sounds like you DO have is perhaps the most important one: Friends.

Chances are these friends of yours, at least some of them, are in the same cash-strapped boat you are. They're also probably young and flexible (physically and emotionally) and would be willing/able to group together to afford cheap group housing. So have any of them floated any 'roommate' offers your way? If not, start floating some their way.

Another possible plan to consider: If one of your friends has to "move back to the folks' place" themselves... you might be able to ride things out with one of them. Surely they probably live close to NY and probably come from a waaaay less dysfunctional family than yours. Is asking (perhaps even begging for) that favor tough, awkward and humbling? bet it is, but it beats the alternative, right? I'm also willing to bet you know how to be a good, quiet-to-the-point-they-forget-you're-even-there house guest. Those of us who grow up in houses that were often difficult to return to become quite adept at making ourselves unobtrusive in other people's homes... We learn how to extend a 'dinner with friends' into an 'evening with friends' into a 'weekend at the friend's house' ... I know this, and I'm sure you do too. Just think of extending that skill into the realm of weeks or months. It can be done.

Difficult times call for drastic measures, and those measures often include swallowed pride and deferring plans. That is the plain truth. You absolutely don't want to move back to the chaos of your F-ed up family? (and I don't blame you) ...then you've gotta figure out how much NY-style upheaval & uncertainty you can endure. As tough as it is to think positively or even clearly, you've gotta try to think creatively. If you are seriously facing homelessness, is there ANY place else you could live? Could you barter room and board? I don't know what career path(s) you were trying to pursue in NY but is there any way to do them elsewhere? or do something else that you've always wanted to do? ... I'm talking about anything from the Peace Corps to teaching English in Japan or India or China, or becoming a Nanny somewhere on the planet etc. I know it sounds like I'm just clutching at straws here, but don't rule anything out... It gets back to the age thing... It might feel like you can't do anything, but that also means that there isn't anything you can't do... Heck, I thought by the time I was this age my "years of experience" would count for something, perhaps give me some cache' in the world I've chosen to inhabit, but the truth is; for every opportunity 'age & experience' might give me. a baker's dozen of other pursuits are no longer possible or open to people over a 'certain age' (whatever that may be.)

I'm tellin' ya: As you sit there on your last dufflebag of clean clothes, everything you think is a weakness is a strength. You don't have any money, but you also aren't responsible to anyone but yourself. I'm assuming you don't have a mortgage, or kids or a spouse... sure you've probably got student loans, but those can be deferred. I'm not going to insult you and say that 20 or 30 years from now you'll look back on this period as 'the best years of your life.' ... they hopefully won't be... but I can promise you, you'll never again feel so light on your feet (literally and figuratively) as you do right now.

New York will always be th
ere. You've proved you're ready for it, maybe it just isn't ready for you...yet.

Jan 4, 2010

Hard Numbers (and some thanks) after 2 years of blogging.

Greetings All. I am putting up this week's post a day early because Jan 5th marks the two year anniversary of this blog. Instead of answering a question today I thought I should do two things instead:
1) Say a lot of thank-yous
2) do some public number-crunching.

So here goes....


Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read AAP every week.
Thanks to everyone who has written in with a question.
Thanks to everyone for their comments & follow-up emails.
Thanks to everyone who has included AAP in their link lists (nearly 400 of you.)
Thanks to everyone who has added AAP to their RSS feeds & Google Readers.

Thanks to everyone who has spread the word in any way, shape or form.

So, who has been reading and sharing Ask A Punk for the past 2 years? That brings us to the second thing I wanted to do. What do you say we look at some numbers?

I'll confess right now that I am a biiiig map geek. I love looking at maps while either recalling the places I've been or imagining the many places I still want to visit. It is an amazing thing then, to look at my "Google Analytics" maps and discover that "Ask A Punk" is being read regularly in 59 countries (so far.) People are digging AAP in some of the world's best known cities, such as; Paris, London, Helsinki, Istanbul and Moscow (to name just a few) and in some of the most far-flung and exotic ones as well (Casablanca, Concepcion, Saskatoon, etc.) The maps also tell me that there is a growing readership in countless smaller, but equally fascinating, locations all over the world. As I said: Amazing.

Closer to home, I can tell you that AAP is read in 49 of the 50 states... If any of you know anyone in Alaska, please drop 'em an email and ask them to help me get the clean sweep. While I'm not surprised to find so many readers in California (where I'm currently located) and back East in the New England area (where I'm originally from,) it is exciting to know that I have a surprisingly robust readership in Minnesota (Minneapolis & St. Paul especially) as well as in such diverse states as Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Michigan, Oregon and Virgina.

This might sound like a lot of bragging, but trust me, these numbers can also be humbling... and a bit enlightening. For example; It is interesting to note that I have more regular readers in Bekasi, Indonesia than I do in my old hometown, where most of my family & old friends still live. The numbers also tell me that after meeting 2 years of weekly deadlines, my hard-won readership is a couple hundred people per week... That might not sound like much in an arena where websites measure "success" by the millions of visits, but I'll take each and every one of you and say "thank-you" to you all again.

And so, after 93 posts (well, 94 if you count this one) and well over 100,000 written words (which I don't have the energy to count tonight, but that is certainly a conservative estimate) someone will always ask the question: "Well, what do you have to show for all that work?" my calculations I've got four things.

1) I like to think I have helped a few people and at least entertained a few more.
2) I have proven that there are people who want to participate in this endeavor, either with questions or as regular readers.
3) ...yes, my writing here HAS created a few opportunities for paying & freelance writing gigs.
4) According to my adsense account page, I have earned a whopping $1.93.

...Not too shabby, if you ask me.

Looking ahead to year three of AAP what am I hoping for? Really just 3 things:
1) More more more readers (come on Alaska!)
2) More questions.
3) More comments/interactivity.

Of course I'll also be looking into ways to expand the reach of AAP...

I realize that I need to add a blog roll etc to pay back some of the link-love I have been getting and not returning - So if you've linked to my site, please email me so that I can return the favor when I get that blog roll up and running.

For the past year I have also been re-posting the weekly AAP question in the "Open Salon" section of I'll be looking for other similar re-posting opportunities.

I'm always looking for other good & ethical ways to get the word out and increase awareness for AAP... keeping in mind that my budget for such endeavors would be $1.93 or less. I remain convinced that the best way to expand is through good word-of-mouth... which means I have to just keep at it and keep trying to produce the kind of writing that you good people will feel a burning desire to share with all your friends.

Thank you again, to EVERYone from New Zealand and Australia, to Canada, and from Chile to India to Japan... and everyone in between.

Stay Strong !