Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Bigger the System, the Bigger the Trust: An Essay on the Convenience of Complacency

When our kids were little and we were on holidays we always ate at Smitty’s restaurants. We ate at Smitty’s restaurants because the food was great, the prices were reasonable, and there was always a big parking lot. Very rarely did we eat elsewhere when driving down some summer holiday highway.

We, the hoi polloi, tend to trust big systems, and I’m referring to the macedoine of big systems of anything. We trust the school systems, the police systems, the sports and leisure systems, the service systems; we trust in our churches and we trust in our governments. Generally, all these big systems are predictable, easy to orbulate and therefore easy tolerate.

When our little ones march off to kindergarten we trust they will be safe. And when these same offspring strut across the graduation stage, we trust that they are prepared for more school, work, or whatever. Generally, when we take our children to hockey rinks and soccer pitches and baseball diamonds, we trust they’ll be safe there, too. When we have our children participate in church activities, we trust they’ll be safe. When we eat in restaurants we trust the food will be nourishing. When we go to a medical facility we trust in method and technology. We trust our municipalities to maintain our sidewalks and roads and water systems. We trust our provincial governments to maintain and produce jobs. And we trust our federal governments to do the right thing with regard to the globalization of the economy and international countryships. And especially, we trust the world governors to keep our planet safe.

Bigger systems have a gloze of being better, but certainly are not better.
Specifically, when anything goes awry, and anyone familiar to us is affected in a negative manner, we lose our faith and prescience patience and realize all of our big systemic beliefs really are just a rash of lies.

This is our archetypal epiphany. We eventually become cognizant that our tolerance for big systems is simply due to our complacency. We know what absolute power can do. We know teachers who are incompetent. We know coaches and clergy who are predators. We wait in line at medical facilities. We tip for food poisonings. We hit bumps in the roads. We go to war. Our planet is at risk.

Still, in spite of being aware of these counterpatterns, the more familiar the system, the safer we feel; the more unfamiliar the system, the more we are skeptic. If we choose to follow such agreed upon big thinking, then big symphonies and big choirs are certainly trustworthy; whereas we ne’er-do-wells, we sidewalk string playing pan-handlers of the infra dig simply cannot be trusted.

From my fellowship of the untrusted ruck, here is my Chaucerian Parade of characters for this week:

• Two male adolescents, fifteen or so years of age want me to pull some beer for them at the nearby liquor store.
We’ll pay you ten dollars, one of them says.
Take a hike and have a nice day, I reply. (Had I not been a busker and just some guy climbing out of a car to shop, I doubt I’d been asked.)

Johnny, a real liquor store 70's looking denim busker, comes by to listen to my playing the banjitar.
I wish I could play like you, he says. (Though I’m but a strummer and thrummer, Johnny thinks I’m a virtuoso. I’m thinking he’s a novice.)

• And surprise! Devon, an unofficial member of a buskship from three years ago on the mean streets of Victoria, British Columbia stopped for a chat. On that particular Victoria buskation, each day I’d chat with Christian, who played a sitar, Christina, the bag lady, and Devon, who played guitar and harmonica. There were others in the busking community, but it was these three specifically who I focused on when writing my song, The Minstrel Street.
Devon is now employed at Street Culture (a safety net for wayward youth) in Regina, Saskatchewan.

I’ve just read that a NASA rogue satellite shall be soon hurled upon this side of our planet, the odds of the debris striking one of us being one in 21 trillion. Heads up, fellow street buskers, and keep your fingers crossed ... Kerplunk!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Sweet Spot: An Essay on the Perfect, Perfect Busk

First off, the BUSKOLOGIST stop sign presented on the left is the latest addition for my banjitar case when I'm on a busk. Just this week it was created by my colleague, Chris, an avid reader of this blog, who unwittingly delivered it in the nick of time! (And it shall be placed right alongside my usual two signs on display, one being the stickman logo of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the other, a replication of my blog header --both of which created by one of my very favorite people, Lynn Hill.)

It was to be a perfect busking day. The air was windless and a plus 25 (80 degrees), and, the sun was shining brightly. Trent (from Trent’s Guitar Studio in Regina, Sk), Daussen (the adolescent fiddle phenom), and myself (an ordinary strummer & buskologist) were to form a busking trio at the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

Trent drove up to my apartment at exactly twelve o’clock as planned. He had packed his guitarlele and I tossed my banjitar and twelve-string next to it in the trunk of his car. The guitarlele and guitar strings in combo with Daussen’s fiddle, we’d decided, would make for some very sweet sounds.

Trent and I scouted the boardwalk and promenade along the north shore of Wascana Lake in search of the best busking spot. Back and forth we walked from west to east, from east to west along the mercantile line, to no avail.

On the grassy swards just above the boardwalk a constellation of merchants were selling their wares. Include in that line was an outdoor beer gardens complete with live music. Right next to the beer gardens was a bandshell. It, too, was producing live music. Half a dozen electronic speakers hung all along the walkways, piping out the live music and also the megaphone results of the dragon boat races.

Within ten minutes we exited. We sought greener busking pastures in downtown Victoria Park. There, we played a bit, made a bit, then ventured over to the Fred Hill Centre, just a three minute walk from the park. Dustin Ritter (a guitar student of Trent’s and a university student of mine) was playing the live stage. Good for him and bad for us. Dustin dedicated a song to us whilst we vamoosed to our next busk spot.

We drove to the South Albert Liquor Store. Neither Trent nor I had ever busked in front of a liquor store. Alas, it, too, was occupied with what appeared to be a high school girls’ group soliciting funds (via panhandling) for their European band trip.

Our last destination was the Extra Foods shopping mall on Broadway Avenue. (By this time, Daussen had been long delayed due to a broken fiddle string and by the time he found another to replace it, he decided to jettison his busking for the day.) In the middle of the mall lot, we set up, Trent with his guitarlele, and I with my twelve-string.

This is our sweet spot, said Trent after we'd performed for approximately five minutes.

This plummy parking lot was, indeed, our sweet spot for that day, as we enjoyed lots of smiles and coins from our customers, and lots of laughs between ourselves.

In the sports world the sweet spot connotes some aspect of a player’s technique, the perfect swing for example. Golfers and batters and tennis players are always striving for that perfect straight elbow, eye on the ball perfect swing, a sweet spot so to speak.

In the busker world, the sweet spot refers to much more than a technical sports swing, which could be likened to performance. The sweet spot for buskers refers more to a lifestyle, including the tactical aspect of being in a certain place, and the serious theoretical aspect of having a purpose.

In a line, a busker’s sweet spot is dependent upon all three: performance, place, and purpose.

Performance is based on mastery of your musical skills. When you have practiced, practiced, practiced enough to be comfortable and confident to play some tunes that are recognizable, you are ready for busking. I’ve settled on about a dozen songs for banjitar busking. My not-so-secret formula is to play mostly original tunes and a few familiar tunes, at a very fast cadence, seemingly more suited for banjo-like presentation. This works for me. When I’ve a buskmate, I thrum on my twelve-string.

Place is based on experience. After you’ve been busking a hundred or so times you’ll know the times and places of your preferred crowds. On buskations in Victoria, British Columbia, I simply follow the cruise ships schedules. Approximately an hour after the ship’s arrival and its passengers pass through customs is the time to hit the streets strumming. Also, I've varied buskingdoms right in Regina, Saskatchewan: the new downtown Plaza, the Extra Foods parking lot, and the 13th Avenue Safeway store.

The main purpose for busking is income; cause and enjoyment are but ancillary components. Generally, busking can bring in a few bucks, fifty or so dollars a day, on a three to four hour work schedule. If more money is needed, then more busking hours are necessary. In the right crowd upwards of sixty dollars an hour is within strum reach. In sparse crowds, the same amounts of monies can be made, but it just takes longer.

My sweetness for busking comes from income, cause, and enjoyment. By my design, in Summer I’ve rarely any counseling or teaching contracts. I love busking enough, it seems, to do without a regular paycheque July through September. The more money tossed into my banjitar case allows me more luxurious days of Americano Decaf. I gig a few select times, but busking is my main source of sustenance in Summer.

Also I busk for cause. These past couple months I’ve done some busking for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Amnesty International, and SEARCH (Student Energy in Action for Regina Community Health).

And of course, I busk for enjoyment. Before strumming my banjitar for the SEARCH barbeque this afternoon, I was, in fact, this morning busking on the street corner.

And this week a couple of characters marching in my Chaucerian Parade:

  • the grumpy old man who insisted that I ought to park his shopping cart for the quarter return
  • the smiling lady who handed me a fin just for encouraging her to keep up with her piano lessons

Busking seems to satisfy my wanderlust nature -- even if I stay in the neighborhood!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Are We There Yet: An Essay On Great Expectations and the Everending Paradigm

It seems at all social developmental points in our lives we are oxymoronically optimistic and accursed; we are forever looking forward, wishing for our imaginary archetypal futures to arrive, most of us living a lifetime of yearnings.

Here are some of our lifetime asterisks, so to speak:

*When we are small tykes, wading and playing in puddles, we look forward to being bigger tykes. Bigger tykes get to go to school and learn stuff.

*When we are bigger tykes we look forward to recess and being teenagers. Teenagers are cool and can drive.

*When we are teenagers we look forward to being kidults. Kidults can live away from home and party and drink.

*When we are kidults we look forward to being career adults. After all, career adults become important and get rich.

*When we are career adults we look forward to better pension and health benefits so we can retire by age sixty. Having the life of a retiree means having the life of Riley and doing whatever we want and in style.

*And when we acquiesce into our old age and become sexagenarians we look forward to becoming octogenarians. We've still things to do and desire to live yet another day.

Generally, while living such asterisks we imagine that the fates shall be kind and not deal us too many unexpected hardships in our destinies. Generally in our optimistic yearnings, we tend not to include any shattering specifics such as breakdowns in families, finances, and friendships.

In our youth we are auspicious, our lives ever so promising. As emerging adults we are full of endeavor and emprise. In middle-age we can be both banausic and fructuous; banausic in the sense of realistic, fructuous in the sense of rationalizing our individual accomplishments as being positive to date. Come old-age we must be somewhat austere, oftentimes necessary for the giving to others. This, too, is the time for reflection and the realization that for the most part, our lives have been a middle-class membership in the working class peloton.

I am thinking we aspire to expire. We imagine our lives to be exciting, yet stick with safety and comfort. The riskiest behavior for most of us will be driving our cars. (In fact, just check facts and stats on our human road kill.)

As we age we are forced into change. Accepting change becomes necessary because of our psychological and physical limitations. The longer we live the more positives (and negatives) we experience. Accepting change, especially negative change demands a certain courage. And courage, by the way, exists only because we are finite. If we could live forever, there would be no need for such a concept as courage.

No matter. Whether we are puppets or paupers, pirates or poets, pawns or kings, bankers or buskers, our lives are transitory, mere fillips.

Our yens end when we end.


Enough of this! Outside it is sunny and I am going busking!