Archive for August, 2011

August 1, 2011

#22) The 27 Curse Lives

The unluckiest number in pop music history just got a little bit unluckier last week when Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27.  She joined an unfortunate club that includes Jimi Hednrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain: other rock stars who died at that same age.

What is it about the number 27?  Perhaps it’s because many 27-year olds, particularly those who experience sudden fame, are getting old enough to realize that they have paid a price for it, but are also still to young to really do anything about it.  It’s easy to think you know it all, especially when fans are bowing down to you.  But as Jim Morrison’s former bandmate John Densmore points out in his autobiography, when you rise to the top at  young age, “the steep downside needs to be respected.”  Unlike her fellow club members, Winehouse lived in an age when one mistake or poorly chosen word can travel the world in a second, thanks to Twitter, Yahoo and other things that Morrison, Joplin and even Cobain didn’t have to deal with.

My relationship with the number 27 has evolved.  In the late 80s and early 90s, as a high school student with very little real world experience, I bought into the mythology of Morrison, Hendrix et. al as martyrs and saints.  Twenty-seven seemed like a long way off; I didn’t plan on sticking around past 23 myself.  Later, having become a jazz snob, I was dismissive over Cobain’s death.  His grunge music, after all, was taking away the attention from us real musicians.

Four years ago, my marriage was falling apart right in front of me, and Amy Winehouse’s song “Rehab” seemed to be mocking me.  You couldn’t get away from that song if you tried.  Even my ex, a fan of top 40 radio, hated it.  Had I learned then of Winehouse’s demise, I might have taken a sort of nasty pleasure in it.  I did appreciate the irony when reports of her substance abuse problems started multiplying, but after a while, contempt became pity, which soon became indifference.   Eventually, celebrity misbehavior just becomes old news.  But now, hearing  of her death gave me pause in a way that I didn’t think it would.

No, I’m not going to jump on any kind of posthumous bandwagon here.  Her music didn’t move me when she was alive (her talent notwithstanding), and it won’t now.  But it just serves as a reminder not only of the temporariness of life, but that celebrities are humans who feel emotions just like the rest of us.  Did Amy Winehouse make all of the right decisions?  No.  But one could certainly argue that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

Still, on a personal level, there’s a silver lining: hearing Winehouse’s name in the news reminds me of the personal progress I’ve made since she ruled the air-waves.  I’ve built a new life since then with a lot of good people, places and things.  When I find myself fuming while stuck in traffic or otherwise getting upset at life’s little annoyances, I think back to when my life really did suck, and am grateful that since then, it’s headed in the polar opposite direction from that of the woman whose music I couldn’t escape.

August 1, 2011

#21) Portability

Quick: quote one line from the movie “Avatar.”

You probably can’t, at least if you’re like most of my friends who saw the movie.  Our reaction was usually pretty much the same: visually stunning, entertaining – but not memorable.  (One of my friends commented that he liked the film better when it was called “Dances With Wolves”, but I digress.)  It was also not quotable.

By contrast, James Cameron’s previous effort, “Titanic,” was very quotable.  Like it or hate it, it’s become part of our culture.  The phrase “I’m the king of the world!” may be laughable to some, but it’s recognizable to everyone.   Even though movies are a concrete thing, they are passed down much as an oral tradition.  People who were born in the 90s recognize lines such as “Say hello to my little friend!” and “No….I am your father,” just as I grew up with, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” and “Go ahead, make my day.”

Being quotable is an example of another concept that I call “portability”, or being able to access something any time, any place.  Recently the mother of two of my students described the process they used to hire a teacher.  She said that they had found one who had great credentials, was very knowledgeable and good with the kids.  He basically had the gig, but just to be sure, she asked him to play a song—not from sheet music, but just from memory.  Anything he wanted.

He couldn’t do it.

While I’m sure that he could have probably played circles around me with his sheet music, not being able to be spontaneous and instantly accessible cost him a gig.  This musician, for all of his studies and accomplishments, wasn’t able to convert his art into a portable form.  Being able to “whip it out” whenever, wherever, is portability.  Whether it’s a movie quote, a spontaneous performance, a concept from a book or blog, a company slogan or a 30-second “elevator pitch”, portability is important.

The idea may sound somewhat superficial, and in some ways it is, but portability is more than just instant gratification.  Portability means that something has become a part of you; something you take with you.  Being able to access your art, ideas or skills spontaneously is the ultimate sign of having mastered it – meaning that it will probably be more valuable to others.

I know I’m not the best piano player in the world or the best music teacher in the world.  I might not even be the best piano player or music teacher in my building.  But when the challenge of pitching myself to new prospects arose, I said, “Go ahead, make my day.”

August 1, 2011

#20) I like Kakuro

Kakuro is a Japanese number puzzle that’s sometimes referred to as a bigger brother of the similar game Soduko.  It might be described as a sort of numeric crossword puzzle, where the “letters” are digits and “words” are sums.  For example, a line may require four numbers that add to 23.   As with crossword puzzles, numbers will often have to work in two different directions, and in Kakuro, no line can have the same digit twice.

At first, even an easy Kakuro puzzle may look like a jumble.  However, the rules that might seem intimidating at first actually help.  For example, if a line consists of two numbers that have to add up to 3, the only two that work are 1 and 2.  Three numbers that add up to 7 must be 1, 2 and 4.  There are quite a few other combinations that become obvious as one does more of these puzzles.

Given that with me, wasting a certain amount of time on the Internet is more or less inevitable, I’ve found that Kakuro is a relatively enjoyable way to do so, and it actually gives my brain something constructive to do.  I like solving problems, and Kakuro requires that kind of thinking.  You might get stuck, but then you’ll see something you missed–and immediately, a positive sort of domino effect happens.  One number figured out causes you to figure out another, and then another, and so forth.

Sudoku turned out to be somewhat of a passing fancy with me, and I think Kakuro ultimately will be too–but as far as Internet diversions go, this was one of the more enjoyable.

To try some free online Kakuro puzzles, visit

August 1, 2011

#19) Selling It Old School

A New York Times commercial shows people relaxing, enjoying the Sunday crossword puzzle; listening to the crinkle of the pages as they spread them out.  A telephone land line commercial shows a family, all talking on their own extensions, listening to their soldier son calling from the Middle East, allowing them to share the conversation in a way that a cellular phone wouldn’t allow.

I normally ignore or fast forward (thanks, Tivo!) over commercials, but I liked these two: they’re taking print media and land line telephones, two things that many people think are doomed, and finding new meaning in them.  They’re not necessarily saying that the traditional products are better than their modern counterparts.  They’re just reminding us that while modern inventions can make our life easier, sometimes the older way can have its place too.

Of course, singing the praises of the “good old days” isn’t exactly a new concept, but these ads place a new twist on it.  Often, the subject of a “good old days” take is something very obsolete, but here, we see them in their decline, not in their extinction.  I’m sure the makers of these ads know that, despite their best efforts, in this day, far fewer people will ever read the Times in its print form than online, and that mobile phones will be more popular than land lines.  But still, these ads aren’t letting their products go down without a fight, and I like that.

August 1, 2011

#18) Back From Vacation!

I’m back.  To be sure, I actually cut my “vacation” short by about 9 hours; I felt as if my purpose had been served.

Being on hiatus from Trail Head Enterprises did feel weird, but after a while, resisting the temptation to see how my online presence was progressing felt more like having to remind myself to write the new date at the beginning of a year, rather than being unable to scratch an itch.  Without worrying about what to post on my blog or which photos to submit, I focused on other things: music, my relationship, friends and hiking just for the fun of it.  I revisited a few of my old favorites without the camera, just as I did the first few times I visited them, long before T.H.E. or Nobody Hikes in L.A. were born.

I learned a few things on my vacation.  First and foremost, I learned that don’t need to sweat the small details.  While I was gone, NHLA received a lot of site traffic; although I only posted 9 new hikes in July, it was still my busiest month ever.  My photos did well too in my absence, as did my Examiner articles (July ended up being my best month for the latter).   I also learned that what I miss the most is focusing on and sharing the message of my hiking; not the actual day to day operations over which I tend to fuss.  And I learned that while I enjoyed seeing how much site traffic I got and how many pictures were downloaded in my absence, I can go for over a week without having any idea and still enjoy my life.

I had also hoped that by spending less energy worrying about the small picture, the big picture might become clearer, as far as where I ultimately want T.H.E. to go.  I’m not sure if that happened, but as I return, I may find that new ideas and visions work their way into how I handle things.  I have no doubt that taking this time off will help me put more enthusiasm into my work, and that doing so will convert into results.

The vacation, overall, was a definite success, and the best part of it is that I know should I decide to take another one, I can do so any time.