Tuesday, March 24, 2015

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction: Thoughts on Creativity, Interaction, Euphoria, and Depression

I typed something to a friend the other day and it's been lurking in my subconscious ever since.  I said "I live in a vacuum and feedback is important to me".  That just kind of slipped off the keyboard but when I was awake at 4 am this morning pondering my role in The Universe, I realized just how true that statement is. I crave feedback. I find that when I make a comment or an allusion or play my guitar or write something or whatever, that I do so because I want a response. If there's a response, I get a little rush. I'm sure this response is due to bodily chemical reaction that results in an addiction of sorts. At the same time, if I'm expecting a response and I don't get one, then the rush doesn't happen and a mild depression follows instead.

By "feedback", I really mean "interaction". For instance, I love questions. Whether we're in Sunday school or shooting bows or doing falconry or playing guitar, if someone says "Hey, what do you think about ______?" or "Hey, how do you do _______?" (it's a little known fact that my first name is really "Hey"), well, that's a rush. At the same time, I equally love it when someone feeds me, especially in an interactive way.  In other words, I don't really like going to conferences and listening to speakers and not interacting with them.  I want to sit down across a table with a cup of coffee and interact. I want them to ask questions of me and me to ask questions of them. There are fewer things I'd rather do, really, than give and take.

Good music is like this and that's why I like playing good music. I've been in jams with two or three good players who listen to each other and we've traded breaks back and forth for hours, sometimes playing the same tune for 10-15-20 minutes. I remember one jam in particular with two young hotshots from South Plains College where we did exactly this. I played something, one of them built upon that, the next kid took it somewhere else, it came back to me and I modified it, and around and around and around we went. The incredible Anne Luna (I call her "The World's Best Bass Player" for good reason) was playing bass for us and had to leave momentarily to go pop a blister on her finger; that's how intense that jam was. And that, folks, is an extremely satisfying thing. It's also fairly rare but once you've experienced it, you'll seek it out for the rush.

Then there's musical situations where no one listens and there's no feedback. I can remember several gigs like that but one in particular stands out- we were playing at an arts fair in Boise ID.  There was a large lawn space in front of the stage and people would go out of their way to walk around that space. No one stopped to listen to our little band (and I don't think we were THAT bad!). Worse, no one in the band was listening to each other. It came time for me to take a solo and I stepped up to the mike and continued to play rhythm. No one raised their eyebrows or winked or did anything other than continue to stare at their own instruments. Now, I suppose one could say "Well, you should be playing for yourself!" and you'd have a point, but I don't have to lug my guitar to the car, drive an hour, unload, and stand in the hot summer sun to play for myself. I go out so that I can reap what I sow. And when I expect to reap and it doesn't happen, it's extremely unsatisfying. I can't play "background music" for this reason. If one, just one, person listens and I can have a "conversation" with that one person, I'm happy, but to sit and play without that interaction... ugh. Unsatisfying. Downright depressing, really- no one cares!  Well, not really, but that's what it feels like.

I enter guitar and mandolin contests largely for the feedback. There you are in front of a panel of "blind" judges. They can't see you, don't know who you are, and you're there just to play and see how you stack up. This feedback either encourages me to continue- if I do well- or it spurs me to work harder- if I do well, but not quite well enough to win. It rarely totally discourages me because I hate to quit, especially when I've set a goal for myself.  I do music videos and put them on my YouTube channel for this same reason- I want feedback.  I got this comment the other day and it just made my day:

Bryan, your demos remind me of the great Jimmy Connors,who back in the mid 1970's demonstrated that he could crush the daylights out of a tennis ball,just using a cut off broom!You could basically make any guitar sound fabulous and I doubt anyone will disagree.

As a guy with hearing aids in each ear who's been deaf since age 6, this is very satisfying feedback. It says "you're doing something right".

You might consider this "ego building" but I disagree because it's equally satisfying if someone feeds me. Like I said earlier, I love it when someone say "Have you considered _____?" and then proceeds to feed an already existing interest.  New interests are harder for me to accommodate because my Interest Jar is already pretty full and bringing in something new means something old's gotta go, but when someone brings something to the table that expands an existing interest, that is very satisfying. In fact, if I don't get fed, I'm going to go seek A Feeder. This is really why I take lessons, and it's why one on one lessons are better than a book- interaction. I need both Feeders and I need to Feed. When one's missing, I'm not satisfied.

Now, the creativity part.  I create things- whether they be musical or written (like, um...this blog) because I want interaction. I want to enrich someone's life with something that I've created but I also want to know that I've enriched their life- feedback! To know that I've enriched someone is a very satisfying thing. To be unable to do this is unsatisfying.

The first year after David's death, I had zero creativity. I played almost no guitar- my primary instrument, where I expect myself to create- but focused on mandolin. There, I played Celtic tunes by rote with no variation, no improvisation, and no creativity. No creativity meant that I had nothing to offer.  Nothing to offer means no feedback. No feedback means no satisfaction.  No satisfaction means depression. Depression means no desire for creativity.  It's a vicious cycle. The one thing that would draw me out of that cycle was someone asking a question. When someone asks for something, it means that they want help and helping people is satisfying. Satisfaction drives depression away. Temporarily, at least.  I noticed that, for the first time in my life, the euphoria of satisfaction would be followed by a depression, the only way out of which was to wait for another question. That first year was tough.  There were times when I'd be in the shop, the darkness would hit, and I would have to crawl under my workbench, curl up, and suck my thumb for awhile before I got a grip on it and starting looking at the sunny side again.

Two years after David, I wasn't crawling under the workbench as much and I started playing guitar again, but there was nothing there.  No creativity, just kind of making my fingers move again over stuff that I knew. I went to Kaufman Kamp as a mandolin Kamper, but I placed myself in "Intermediate" instead of  "Advanced" because I couldn't think yet and I didn't want to be challenged.  I just wanted to get moving again. I did very little jamming- mostly listening- but it was that year that I found "The David Mandolin" and that was satisfying.  At Winfield that year, I also did very little jamming, but I started getting my ears back and more importantly, my desire to create via music.

Now, three years after David's death, I feel like I'm gaining my creativity back but only in the past few months. The friend I mentioned at the start of this long post visited us, provided a lot of stimulating discussion about mutual interests, which, in turn, stimulated me to play a lot of guitar and mandolin during which I announced to whoever was listening "I feel like I can play again" by which I really meant "I feel creative again!". After the friend left, I told Georgia "I got fed this week."  That was a satisfying week, followed, of course, by a depressive crash, but not as bad as previous depressions, (helped quite a bit by us leaving to attend a family reunion which was also pretty "satisfying", all in all).  I held on to the good, focused ahead, and kept the creative rush going.  Furthermore, this "feeding" helped me realize how important it is that I, too, get "fed". Between pastoring (Sunday morning, Sunday sermon, Weds eve), Internet guitar forums, guitar customers, and etc, I do so much feeding that it drains me. Normally, I can recharge, but when a bad event happens- in the past 4 years, I've dealt with a lawsuit, severe drought, David's death, and Georgia's cancer- I don't recharge and it just wipes me out.  I need to find people to feed me.

Well, this has been a long post with not very many pictures. It's been said to me that I tend to write posts about stuff that happens and not touchy-feely stuff, so here's a touchy-feely post for you. I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately- thinking about the creative urge, wondering how to fight the post-euphoric crash and maintain a more even keel, and well, here we are.  Your comments and questions are welcomed!  :)

Here's an obligatory picture.

Martin D-28 1937 Authentic
Proulx OM/D
Krishot F5 mandolin
Proulx OM/D
Martin D-18 Golden Era

And here's a couple of applicable Bible verses which it would do me well to remember:
Php 4:8 NKJV  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
1Th 5:21 NKJV  Test all things; hold fast what is good.

Monday, March 16, 2015


The Family Reunion finished up this morning and after the usual packing and loading, we set out for a side trip to White Sands National Monument.  The original plan was to spend the night in Alamogordo, but I was itching to get home because I have a bunch of incoming guitars to work on and so at 3 pm, we struck out across New Mexico, heading north on a 375 mile trip.  If all went well, we'd be home by 10 pm, which is late and tiring, but it's worth it to be home.  All went well and we got home right on time.

Mandolin picking at White Sands

This time, I shot 15 seconds of video every 50 miles.  Darkness caught us about 120 miles out so I couldn't get the best part of the trip- close to home!- but I did manage to catch the Union County sign in the dark.

Gonna post this up real quick and hit the sack!  This might be my shortest blog post yet.

Friday, March 13, 2015


We drove south to El Paso today (a 460 mile trip) and as we went through Alamogordo, I told Georgia (who grew up there)- "There's Harris' hawks here now".  This is interesting because Harris' hawks didn't used to be there and have moved into the area in recent years. Derek perked up and started pointing out raptors on the telephone poles. I said, "No... they won't be up there. They're more likely down in the lower trees like... um... those mesquite" and then I point to 2 Harris' hawks sitting in a mesquite tree.  Ha!

Decades ago, we were at the Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson. I had yet to see a wild HH so I asked the lady there "are there any Harris' hawks here?" She says "not very many- they're pretty rare." We get in the car and drive about a mile and there at the top of a saguaro is a large adult HH.

Another time, I was driving down a remote NM road with a friend talking about redtails and describing the brown tail of the immature. I look out the passenger side window and surfing along in the truck's wake is... an immature RT hawk. It stayed with us for 1/4 mile and my passenger got a great look at the brown tail of an immature RT hawk.

It's almost like magic sometimes.

On the way down, I decided to video the scenery to sort of document the changing terrain- and boy, does it change from our house to El Paso!  We went from high plains grasslands, down through the pinon/juniper country, then through yucca country, and finally into the rocky Mexican desert of El Paso.  The yuccas went from ground level to 10 feet tall or more, the rocks went from sharp round volcanic to sharp flat granite.  The hills go from smooth and rolling to mostly straight up and down. And the moisture went from snow to non-existent. If' we'd gone through Taos to pick up the alpine stuff, I think we could have crossed most of the major life-zones in the U.S. on this trip. Here we go....

First, we stopped in Las Vegas for a brunch at the excellent Charlie's Spic 'n Span.  We started off with fun stuff:

Followed by a most excellent green chili breakfast burrito. This was one of the green chili things that you could smell a good 12" from your nose. I had no trouble eating the whole thing and drinking 2-3 cups of the coffee.

This is New Mexico Food

Properly stuffed, we hit the road again and promptly missed our exit.  No worries- we just proceeded on down the road and took NM 3, a small and lonely road also heading south.  That's where the video record starts.

Following are some comments I jotted down:

Duran is leaving the high country and starting out through the central grasslands. There's less moisture here and more yuccas.

The Corona area is full of pinyon/juniper and used to be full of deer- might still be. Once when Georgia and I were still dating, we were driving up to the ranch and going through Corona about 2 am.  I was asleep, G was driving, and I suddenly woke up, grabbed the steering wheel, yelled "watch out for the deer!!!", and then fell asleep again.  I can't believe she stuck with me after that.

Approaching Carrizozo, the country is definitely moving into the tall yuccas. It's getting drier and the grass is getting much sparser.  I did raptor surveys for 2 years in the country to your right (west), all the way to the AZ border.

Running alongside the Jornada del Muerto or Journey of the Dead Man. This is a flat, dry basin running most of the length of central New Mexico. It's home to White Sands Missile Range now.

Just outside Alamogordo is where we saw the Harris' hawks.  Note the tall yuccas and tall mesquite trees. The soil is sandy and this is some seriously dry country.

At the end of this journey, these are some seriously steep mountains.  Hueco Tanks State Park- a famous bouldering area is just around the ridge to the right.

Coming.... "Northbound"!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dig a hole, dig a hole in the meadow

Or in the pasture at least.

We're getting ready for another cattle season- my 20th- and this involves turning all the mills and pumps and making sure they all work.  Last year, a leak developed in the pipeline that feeds 7 tubs in 3 pastures and we needed to fix it.  I wrote:

This is our Ranch Job for the day. This well takes water to 5 tanks scattered thru 3 different pastures and the pipeline has a leak. Our Mission- whether or not we accept it- is to find the leak and stop it. After some manipulation of valves and water pressure, we verified the leak, did some digging and found the culprit. Later today, after things have dried off, we'll issue the appropriate correction which we will accomplish by means of blowtorch and clamp pressure, followed by dirt and shovels. If all goes well (<= see what I did there?), this draining leak will be stopped.

Finding the leak was the problem, but I solved it by turning the pump and getting some pressure in the line.  Within minutes, water was bubbling to the surface and we then dug.

Derek at the hole

Mission accomplished (I hope). I unscrewed the screw-in attachments a little, which gave me almost 1/2" more length, heated the pipe, jiggled everything together a bit, added 2 hose clamps while pipe was still warm, and so far, so good! And I see why I had to add these connectors in the first place... one side is 1 1/4" black pipe and the other is 1 1/2" so I had to use a step-down connector.

Leak stopped

Climbing mill towers (note Ranger!)
Raccoon tracks at mill

I was making my morning cup of fresh-ground, pour-over coffee one morning when I noticed:

Moonset to the West and....

...sunrise to the East

Always a nice sight here on the plains:

Storm on the horizon...

...gave us 1/4" of rain.

And now we just wait for cattle, more rain, green gas, and Lord willing, a good season.  There will be some new challenge this year, I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Springing Forward...

...after "Fall-ing" back.

As is the routine, it's been a long time between posts.  My last post was elk hunting in the fall. Winter has now come and gone and spring's on the near horizon. It's time to spring back and catch up. Here's what happened over the winter:

First, here's how we ended the fall- LOTS of old grass.  This might be the best end-of-season I've seen in a decade.  All of this grass is still here come spring and it held the winter snow in place.

Sitting in a sea of grass

We got a wood stove installed last fall and it was GREAT!  It's a Lopi Endeavor re-burning wood stove.  This is not your grandad's wood stove where most of the heat goes up the chimney.  This one recirculates gasses and reburns them, for a near 90% efficiency rate.  It cut our propane bill by 2/3 and, while it didn't keep the entire house toasty, it did give us a "hot spot" in the living room where we could sit and be warm.



Falconry-wise, I started the season with a fresh-taken female prairie falcon.  We didn't get along well- to be fair to her, I was trying a different training technique- and ended up parting ways.  After some effort, I trapped a passage redtailed hawk- only my 4th RT in 30+ years of falconry- in December and flew her for the rest of the season.  She's an interesting bird in that she follows and flies beautifully, but doesn't seem to know what bunnies are.  Because she tries to swallow all of her food whole, I think she'd mostly been a mouse hawk until I trapped her. I'm going to molt her and fly her another season and then probably let her go. I have a Cooper's hawk in mind and possibly another prairie falcon.

2 weeks out of the trap.  She loves me (not).
5 weeks out of the trap

Falconry was mostly a disappointment this year, but that's also mostly my fault since I was fooling around with the prairie falcon and didn't get the RT until December and trained until mid-January. By then, the surviving bunnies are smart and hard to catch and we don't have that many anyway. We had some good flights but ended the season score-less.  We did make it to the North American Falconer's Association Meet in Lubbock TX and I was hoping for a good week of hawking there, but Derek took ill the first day and spent the whole week sick in bed.  Because of this, we bailed mid-week and came on home where he continued to run a 100 deg fever for a full week.  So that was a bummer. At the meet, though, I did win the pole perch I'm using in the above picture, talk to a lot of people about the upcoming revision to "Falconry Equipment", visit with friends, eat some good food, and more or less relax a bit.

January and February rolled by with the main excitement being the birth of our first grandchild via Quenten and Brianna in February. In January, the ranch got a new 2014 Polaris Ranger XP 900. I've been looking at these for years, and the time seemed right to get one, so we did.  It arrived Jan 2 and between then today (March 12), I have started the ranch Ford F250 a grand total of 3 times.  If the Ranger stays reliable, it should prove to be a very useful vehicle.

Cutting firewood from the new Ranger

In March, our friend Heather, falconer/horse/dog trainer stopped for a visit on her gypsy way from Texas back to Montana.  It ended up snowing nearly the entire week, trapping her here, and we played games, talked training and music, watched movies, and had just a generally good time.  Derek made a new friend and learned a lot about training animals. We really enjoyed having her visit and were sad to see her go.

Derek and Heather compare falcons

Also in March (the 7th and 9th, to be exact), Georgia and I observed our 29th wedding anniversary and I passed 53 years old.  Here's what I said about that on Facebook:

As of today, Georgia and I have been married for 29 years. That's, like, almost 3 decades. There are countries that haven't lasted as long (I don't know which ones, but it sounds good on paper). We've been thru celebrated births (3 kids), tragic deaths (buried one of them), cross-country moves, dramatic career changes, a lawsuit, poverty, (relative) prosperity, cancer, conversions, college, drought, near-disasters, a few easy years, and more (that I can't remember), and are still kicking along. 
Also on the radar, on Monday, I will be 53 years old. I long ago ran out of the good years for Martin D's ('34-38) and am now fixing to run out of good years for Telecasters ('50-54). After this, I'll be living in Stratocaster Years ('54-64). If I make past those, I suppose I'll have a few years of Fender Blackface amps ('64-67), the volume of which I'll undoubtedly need at that point, providing I can even hear at all by then. I don't know what I'll latch on to if I make it past the Blackface stage. Guess I'll cross that bridge then, if. None of this will make the least bit of sense to non-guitar-weenies, of course, but it's how I put history in perspective.

This past week, Derek's cows started giving birth, bringing more excitement.  We lost the first one- whether due to a still birth or the snow storm, I don't know.  The 2nd was one born the next day and is doing well, as of this writing.

Derek is now a cattleman

The cow that lost her calf tries to claim this one.  We separated her out.

And now, having caught up, let's take a look at Ranch Life in the next post!