Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lights. Camera. Action! An Essay On Buskology And Action Research

Brrr! Pie-a-cap, I’m standing in my brown work boots, wearing lined blue-jeans, a knee-length, split-leather black coat, and red cotton gloves with the fingers cut out (for frailing on my banjitar). I’m strumming in the only area that is lamp-lit during the dark supper hour at the Extra Foods parking lot on Broadway Avenue in Regina, Saskatchewan. My fingers are frozen.

The weather is brisk but so is my business. The consumer parade of shoppers, for whatever reasons, are very generous this evening. My first two consumers each toss a fin into my banjitar case – this is a first, having the first money into my buskpot being two five dollar bills! It’s the usual crowd of shoppers that is contributing to my cause. Always there are people who stop and compliment me on my banjo playing. Always there are those who are curious of what exactly is a buskologist. And always, there are the excited and laughing little ones delivering coins from their parents to toss into my case.

Conceding to the cold, I phone my ever reliable buskmate, Baron, to drive over and rescue me from this hyperboreal buskapade. When he arrives we decide to go over to the Mercury Café to count my coin and order some food. I must mention that I’ve munched lots of time at the Mercury Café and the food there is delicious. The Mercury Cafe is an old-style diner, serving burgers and fries and nachos and milkshakes in the 50’s and 60’s food fashion. The décor shows off old signs from those bygone days of Coca-Cola ads, and a picture of the original Safeway store across the avenue, complete with 50’s style model cars and trucks parked in the shopping lot – which is coincidentally one of my favorite buskingdoms.

As we munch I am discussing with Baron on the reasons I made so much money tonight! It could be because I was strumming there in the chilly weather and people wanted to warm me with their generosity. It could be that it was payday for lots of folk, being the last Friday of the month. It could be that I was brightly illuminated beneath the main lamp post of the parking lot. And it could be all of the above, which brings me to my title, Lights. Camera. Action!

Lights. Shine a light on anything and that thing becomes noticeable. One of the simplest ways to draw attention to something is to shine a light on it. Me, standing alone and iridescent, strumming in a dark parking lot, is a literal interpretation. Metaphorically shining a light is most always a ploy for a product or purpose, more/less funding, the value/waste of a particular convention, the intent/discrepancy of the practice.

Metaphorically shining a light is always politically based, therefore, personally biased. Some people are forever lobbying for something, and the practical tactic is to shine a light wherever there is the concern. Shining a light forces people with power to become accountable, encourages debate on policy, makes things that are thick, thin enough for at least a translucent public view.

Whatever one does in this life, with intents selfless or selfish, altruistically or greedily, benevolent or malicious, having a light shine on it is good. The pursuit of truth is a worthy endeavor, to actually see truth can be life-changing.

Camera. We are all of us in someone else's lens, in either a public or private eye. What we do or say is always being scrutinized by somebody, be that person a stranger or a confident. We are ever being monitored while at home, while at work, while at play. In anyone’s rolling film of life, first impressions are continuously conveyed or redeemed.

It is difficult to keep private. Not many of us want to work in the backrooms of libraries, nor keep the watch from the garret at island lighthouses. We are featherless, gregarious creatures who just want to get along in a community of sorts. Most of us congregate into cities (this is not an epiphany); few us want to get rustic. In the city all of us are on public display for significant periods of our day. In country life, too, we are public, though our viewing public is in fewer numbers than it is in the burbs.

In the camera, we ought to watch our step. If we step out of line we are crucified; if we stay in line we are fine. Marching to the beats of most of the other drummers produces the ordinary; marching to a different beat can produce the extraordinary. And then again, the more extraordinary one becomes, the more visible, the more illuminated one becomes.

Action. Without action there would be no lights and no camera. Lights and cameras have little importance and little meaning without action. Action is more than a snapshot of intent. Action is more than a puzzling smile. Action is putting things into motion. To act accordingly is to do accordingly. Things are only done when action has taken place. Doing nothing never works. Creative procrastination is a strategy by which most issues/problems/concerns will eventually go away, but doing nothing never will work when it comes to the act of fixing things. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Any change, slight or significant, is usually better than no change.

Action takes stamina. Action is adventurous. Action means moving from here to there; here being real; there being imaginary. Action is pragmatic. Theory is abstract. Action is sensory. Theory is insensate. As opposite as these seem, these two, action and theory can act in harmony, symbiotically and synergistically.

When theory heightens action, and action deepens theory, this is known as Action Research.

Action Research is both pragmatic and abstract, both sensory and theory. Action Research is an idea which one can apply to improve a particular practice, usually somewhere in Academia. However, from my banausic buskologist perspective, all buskers ought to apply Action Research to their artifice of busking.

Action Research always starts with a conundrum or a concern. Faced with a conundrum or concern, the action researcher will go through a series of phases (reflecting, planning, acting, observing) called the Action Research Cycle. In the Action Research Cycle, reflecting, planning, acting, and observing go around and around and around.

To illustrate this cycle, I shall offer some busking examples. One of the concerns which all buskers face is that of monetary gain. How can buskers maximize their monetary intake?

A busker, reflecting on this concern, would have to consider his/her inventory of both technical and tactical skills. How well do I have to play this particular instrument (guitar, banjitar, pennywhistle, whatever)? And once this is accomplished to the degree of the busker’s personal satisfaction, the next question to consider would be, Just where is it that should I be busking?

Remember, fellow buskers, the action research cycle I am presenting is mainly for a mercenary purpose, all other benefits will be abstract and therefore, ancillary. (I could easily argue that these other ancillary benefits, i.e., joy and freedom, are really not ancillary, but are integral to our buskingdoms, but that is for another ship to sail.)

Following these questions a busker must do some real planning. This plan could suggest practice, practice, practice for instrument proficiency. And this plan could also mean checking out various venues at varied times. When is the downtown mall the busiest with people out shopping? Do I want to busk indoors or outdoors? Do I prefer the sidewalk, the park, or the parking lot. Am I a summer, fair weather, or seasonal busker? Do I prefer the security of my established buskingdoms or the excitement of buskations? Do I prefer the cockcrow or owlhoot? Do I prefer the dawn sun or gloaming moonlight? You must also plan your busking persona. Do I go as myself? Or do I don my duck costume?

Next, the busker must act. A busker has to get out there and busk. The best practice for a busker is to practice while busking. Whenever I practice I always just go busking, or whenever I go busking I always practice. No matter if I make a lot or very little money, it is more than what I’ll make at home, practicing on the couch in my apartment. Practice ear candies, practice concertos. Practice riffs, practice songs, practice sets.

Observing is easy. How many people are passing by? How many people are stopping to chat? Am I getting flak? Am I getting praise? What is their demeanor? And what is my demeanor? When I count my coins, how much have I made? Know this, fellow buskers. The more people you meet, the more money you make. Our sales are solely determined by volume and numbers. It’s all in the baseball stats. The more swings you take, the more doors you knock, the times you play, the more money you’ll make.

Near the end of the day, over an Americano Decaf, reflecting whether or not you accomplished what you needed to on that day is essential. Did you do your best? Did you experience joy? Did you experience a few laughs? And the most important, for this particular Action Research, Did you make a dollar?

And then you begin again. Reflecting (what worked or what didn't work?), planning (same ol' or new strategy?), acting (new look or new places?), observing (noted this or that?). These phases of Action Research are never démodé and ever go round and round and round on the research carousel. I’m not suggesting that buskers abdicate whatever they’re doing that works for them; I am only suggesting that if something isn’t working, if things are not so copacetic as they could be, that employing action research can be helpful.

For a busker, Action Research could be life-defining and even life-altering, though we know that most busks rarely fit neatly into whatever strategem we've decided (and that is precisely why they are referred to as buskapades).

But so what. Fellow buskers, with a little imagination and a big resolve, even when confined within disjointed circumstances … we can uprise from pauperism to plummy!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

'Lo and Behold: An Essay on Curb Appeal

Any buskologist worth his salt ‘n pepper hair will tell you that Curb Appeal equals Sex Appeal, and that, as Sophia Loren said, is 50% what you’ve got and 50% what people think you’ve got. If indeed, this is the case, then one ought to be cognizant of showing potential consumers what we’ve got. And then of course having those potential consumers imagine what else we’ve got.

Think about this. On each of our buskingdoms, generally, the first thing people notice is audible, the strums of our instrument, be it a banjitar, a guitar, mandolin or whatever. The second thing, people notice is our physical frock, be it formal, informal, a suit, a jacket, a t-shirt. Based upon these two things, sound and attire, potential buyers passing by will make a split decision whether or not to contribute to our wares. Practice, practice, practice makes for perfect instrumentation, but one needs no practice for perfect dress.

Our apparel must be appealing to attract customers. To determine what we wear means simply to decide what image we want to project. If we want to attract children, we ought to be campy, sing children’s songs and dress in outlandish fashion, donning our clown and duck costumes. If we want to attract an older customer, we need to button-down, sing covers, dress crisply, and behave conservatively.

Of course, the best image a busker can project is the one with which the busker is most comfortable. For me, my alter ego busking persona is not too distant from my regular other self. In the non-busking segments of my life I tend to wear black long-sleeved collared gothic western shirts (purchased from Madame Yes), blue jeans, and shiny polished work boots, while my busking self is frocked with white long-sleeved collared designer shirts (purchased from Colin O'Brian Man's Shoppe), blue jeans, and shiny polished work boots.

Lately I’ve just decided to change my busking costume to accommodate the cold. (After all, there is no bad weather; there is only bad dress.) I’ve been wearing a thick grey tam, a knee length black split leather coat, lined blue jeans, and warm boots. Attempting to keep my fingers warm for frailing, I’ve cut out with scissors, the fingers and thumbs of some ordinary red cotton gloves. I can only describe this Autumn attired look as a 60’s British invader who is forever asking with outstretched strums, Please, sir, I want some more. I’ve been on a half dozen outings dressed in this garb and so far it has proved buskworthy.

I am told that my summer busking attire projects the image of a seasoned folk singer, one who is breezy but articulate, someone who enjoys freedom rather than a fancy office, someone who has decided upon a life of simplicity instead of one that is corporate and complicated. I suppose that I could be considered to those passersby as the main protagonist in the literary Bildungstroman tradition. (None of this is necessarily true, but nonetheless such projected charisma has proved prosperous for me.)

I am thinking what Sophia Loren was describing in her famous 50% what you’ve got and 50% what people think you’ve got is being labeled lately as Erotic Capital (see Sociologist, Catherine Hakim). Others would refer to this projected adventure as being honey money. We buskers, rather than stroll down that projected that sexy lane of seduction and solicitation, ought to assay our alter egos as projections of our Psychological Capital. To me, capital that is psychological sounds not as tawdry, and connotes not as much sleaze as that referred to as erotic.

Those marching in my Chaucerian Parade for this week:

  • And yet again … another person parks her shopping cart beside me and smokingly insists that if I really want the money, I ought to return her cart for the coin deposit.
  • A very wasted pan-handler with slurred speech insists that I give him and his pan-handling staggering partner a couple bucks for a coffee. Feeling somewhat generous, I had him a toonie. Within minutes he’s back and in my face demanding five or six dollars. Attempting to ignore him, I keep strumming my banjitar. Eventually he leaves giving me a farewell scowl and the finger.
  • And they’re back! Just when I am packing it in, the friendly father of last week’s dancing daughter, tosses four dollars into my buskpot. Last week when he did this, I decided to play until his taxi came. Today is different. My hands are really cold.
  • My competition is fifty feet across the way, right in front of the liquor store, playing sweet tunes on his guitar. Approximately thirty minutes into my busk, he closes his case, hops on his bicycle, and rides over to visit me. He throws five dollars into my banjitar case. I’m stunned. It is Dillon, a former student of mine, who became a busker because I was a busker!

'Lo and behold, fellow buskers, because we are synchronously the masters and servants of our buskingdoms, we need to be cognizant in projecting both our wordrobes ... and our wardrobes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

All The Leaves Are Brown And Golden And Crimson: An Essay On Summertime Moments To Remember

Psychologist, Daniel Kahneman describes our lives as a string of moments. He stated that each of these moments lasting up to three seconds, and each of us experiencing 20,000 or so moments in every waking day.

I suppose if one were to analyze any of these particular days from the cockcrow until sundown, one could determine in mundane detail 19,999 insignificant and uneventful moments. Waking up and looking at the clock, for example, becomes rather perfunctory 365 mornings a year. And so do the habits of waddling to the washroom, running cold water for the coffee, and reading the morning news become rather unremarkable. Most of us routinely move through such necessary actions without having to occupy much of our minds. This is called automaticity. Automaticity occurs with practice, practice, practice.

For example, there finally does come a time when you can drive home without having to think about it. Your vehicle seems to know its way home without any effort on your part, especially after you’ve so directed it there hundred times. When busking and playing my banjitar, I can strum through my set list in a daydream. In fact, when consumers stop to chat, I can visit without missing a beat. Automaticity is the magic of the mundane. We can get through most of our days without having to concentrate, without having to measure, without having to determine the input and output of every tedious and mandatory task.

Saying this, one need not have to be a Zen master to appreciate that all days do bring about moments that are stirring, moments of bliss and misery, moments of fervor and frost, moments of imagination and contemplation. But, being a busker in October, having to wear those mini cotton gloves in order to warm my fingers enough to strum my banjitar, I can certainly reflect on certain dog day moments that have warmed my soul. Learning to linger on certain moments is never easy – at least not while busking. However, appreciating these moments after the events is often requisite for introspection and amelioration.

From the string of yesterday summer moments: the sizzling scents of the foot-longs and farmer sausage wafting off the sidewalk grills; little children laughing as they bounce up and down to the beats of my banjitar; the jostle and the bumping through the throng while searching for that perfect busk spot; that quiet and shady thrumming place in the corner of the park; phatic and philosophic chit-chats and how-do-you-do nods of the people passing by; sitting curbside sipping Americano decafs; and of course, the clinks of coins being tossed into my instrument case.

Alas, all the leaves are brown and golden and crimson and the sky is getting greyer by the day. A busker’s Autumn ought to be a final explosion of buskapades, the last sidewalk strums whilst the sun still shines on the dry walks. Autumn is a time to find an eternity in every busking moment. Tom Stoppard said that every exit is an entry to somewhere else. Especially for buskers, Summer exits, Autumn enters, Autumn exits, Winter arrives.

With Winter comes the opportunity to tackle new finger actions on my banjitar, thrum new riffs on my twelve-string, practice on my pennywhistle, write new lines. To every season turn, turn, turn. A busker’s songs of Winter shall be tried in Spring and sold in Summer.

My cast of characters from the Chaucerian Parade this week:

  • A thirty-something man and his five year old daughter keep dancing after we’ve stopped playing. Baron and I are packing it up because my fingers are frozen. He walks over and tosses a fin into our buskpot. Because of this gesture we decide to play until their taxi arrives. Giving us thumbs up when his cab arrives, the driver jumps out, and tosses us a toonie.
  • A reptilian skinned guy wearing a black leather cowboy hat sits beside Baron on the curb. He asks Baron if he can pound the bongos, to which Baron obliges. Within one minute the leather guy yells that these are the very bongos he had given his brother and then were stolen and then were bought by Baron for a couple dollars. He continues to yell and threaten us by stating he is going to follow us and kill us. I took out my cell and gave him ten seconds to exit or I’d be dialing 911. Surprisingly, he got up and left.
  • Three little boys drop several cents into my banjitar case. Thrice more, they do the same thing.
  • A fellow stops and asks me where I bought my black snap button shirt. He states that he’s going directly to Madame Yes to look at the clothing line.

Buskers, no matter the season, of the 20,000 offered each day …

Whenever your fancy, this is your moment.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It: An Essay On The Seven Delicious Sins Of Busking

Today I shall present a buskologist's argy-bargy on the delights of busking by unwrapping the seven delicious lifestyle sins that successful buskers learn to love on a daily basis.
  1. Exercise.

    Busking demands daily physical activity. Every two hours or so one has to roll up the mat and move down the street. The art of busking means to be on sidewalk patrol all day long. Whether you run a mile or walk a mile you burn the same amount of calories. If you're a busker who is continually on the move, walking three to five miles a day, you're likely physically fit.

  2. Laughter.

    If you cannot laugh at your consumers, then what fun are they? On thickly traveled sidewalks, busking provides a laugh a minute. And whether you're laughing with them or at them, the therapeutic effects are the same.

  3. Intellectual Curiosity.

    Busking cannot ever be described as a vanilla vocation. All busks are adventures in new surroundings, all of which being sensory carpe diem grist for a song writer's mill. Though most of our sidewalk ditties are simply ear candy, the art and science of busking still provides a very copacetic and intellectually creative lifestyle.

  4. Interpersonal Relationships.

    Wherever you busk there is always a random array of Chaucerian characters, most of whom wanting to chat. According to Sam Keen, we are all of us, featherless storytelling, gregarious creatures. To be a great busker means to develop your charisma, then enjoy holding the daily court conversations in your buskingdoms.

  5. Balance.

    Busking offers the perfect opportunity to balance your work day. Rise with the cockcrow and make your day! You can play instrumentals. You can strum and sing. You can even just play around if you want. Your busking day can an asunder of any fashion desired. I must caution, however, that I am not so struthious to think that playing devil-may-care each day could eventually result in becoming one of those tin-pot busking profanations who dutifully performs in drunken fashion in the fronts of liquor outlets.

  6. Simplicity.

    Buskers are not representative of the button-down American corporate culture. Being a busker means living a life of voluntary simplicity. As for me, I could be content living in a broom closet, as long it had a shower and a cupboard big enough to boil my Adam's Ale for tea.

  7. Love.

    We buskers are all accursed, for we shall of our livelong days be on that road less traveled by, having polygamous flirtations with random participants in a variety of settings. In order to survive, we buskers, especially, must learn to love all the consumer imperfections that humanity has offer.

And on this very note, my favorite character for this week marching in the Chaucerian Parade is that juicy and flaxen jeune fille who directly addressed to me,

I think I'm in love with you!

    Busking really ought to be a sin!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Hide It: Methinks 'Tis Time For An Essay On Groupthink

It was the perfect Autumn evening for a busk. The temperature was 85 degrees and my buskingdom was windless. A thin crowd of shoppers sauntered in and out of the Safeway grocery store on 13th Avenue in Regina, Saskatchewan. Among them was Kevin McKenzie, an extraordinary keynote speaker and storyteller. Evan was one of those strangers kind enough to toss a couple toonies into my open banjitar case. He was sporting a red Superman t-shirt.

You really are Superman! I remarked at his coin toss.

Ya, I used to wear the horn-rimmed glasses and plain gray sports jacket but now I say, 'Why hide it?' he replied.

After his grocery purchase, Kevin proceeded to eat his freshly bought supper right beside me on the parking lot curb. And we chatted. Kevin had, just an hour previous, returned from the Yukon, where he was the keynote at a teachers' conference. He used to be an elementary school teacher in Vancouver, British Columbia, but decided to follow his dream, and has been a story-telling adventurist across Canada for the past decade. Evan is obviously not a participating member of Groupthink.

Groupthink, coined by Irving Janis, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when peoples' desire for group harmony exceeds and overrides any realistic decision making. Roundtable Groupthink participants, when striving for consensus, often minimize the real conflicts, and operate without critical evaluation. Typically, being an active or passive member of any groupthink leads to the loss of independent thinking and individual creativity.

Methinks, the notions of groupthink go beyond the general accepted round-table [non]discussions. Groupthink dances into our dress codes. Check out the clothing choices of high school and university students. Check out the fashions and styles of business people. Such checking will verify cloning-to-go in practically any people industry.

Groupthink is what keeps our fingers snapping the beat to most of our music tastes. From shop owners to pop artists, The American Top 40 With Ryan Seacrest literally keeps millions of people in the music industry employed. And country music has been galloping across the nations of North America for the past 75 years.

Groupthink definitely has built suburbia. Go for a Sunday drive in any suburb in any Western city and all those little boxes in all those little new neighborhoods look exactly the same.

even works itself into our occupational choices. How many adolescents and emerging adults aspire to be doctors and lawyers and teachers and counselors compare to those aspiring to be road workers and trench diggers and cleaners and service industry personnel.

Admittedly I, writing rosey-colored with embarrassment, am an active member of Groupthink. I have repeatedly stated and written that I am but a faux busker. And not ashamedly, I am one who employs a certain artifice, both in thrumming skill and in cap-a-pie dress to present an adventuresome persona in my neverending quest to attract coins.

However, most other practictioners who reside in
Buskerville are not members of anything, never mind Groupthink.

The following people who marched in my Chaucerian Parade this week, too, are most certainly not Groupthink members.

  • I've already introduced Kevin McKenzie, the inspiration for this blog topic. Kevin is the first person, ever, to sit, sup, and chat with me whilst I busk.

  • Meet Mark Jones. I was busking in front of the Copper Kettle Gourmet Pizza restaurant, managed and operated by my best pizza making friend, Terry Miller, who always welcomes me, providing light and and pizza whenever I busk there. A couple nights ago, while strumming my twelve string in front of Terry's, a busker from Kamloops, British Columbia happened by. He pulled out an Irish Tin Whistle (a pennywhistle) and played harmony to my tunes for a half hour. On his exit, he tossed me a fin.

  • And I must mention and say a special thank-you to the elderly lady who provided my Oral Roberts moment, when she pushed her walker aside and began to dance to my banjitar songs.

Give him all our money! I love this guy and his banjo! she yelled to her younger assistant.

To close:

Groupthink is the safe and sorry stay in the status quo.

Groupthink is the vanilla choice of flavors on the ice cream menu.

Methinks, membership in Groupthink shall forever be reserved for the sycophants and claque, and shall never be high-octane enough for real thinktank performers.