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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: Life Insurance

My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer.  He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel.  I’m making a rain barrel out of mine.  To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters.  That’s what I did this past weekend.  Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel.  It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.

So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company.  We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system.  The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder.  I said, “Suck it, man.”

No, of course I didn’t.

We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities.  It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have).  Cutting wastewater will help the cost.  It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill.  They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it.  No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.

Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs.  We’re working on improvements.  On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden.  My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life.  After the inner city lollypop adventure.

I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker.  It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:

“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”

In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.”  It was very fresh on my mind.  Maybe I’ve sold 100.  It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money.  I was very disappointed with that.

There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling.  Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.

If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground.  In the evenings, I’d sing to it.  In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel.  Ashley could paint what she wants.  Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.

To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico.  Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.

I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not.  My trouble with sales needs working out.

Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market.  Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category.  I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract.  The bank wants to start a “relationship.”  They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.

At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly.  I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment.  Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way.  He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales.  I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling.  Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling).  I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up.  I have tomatoes now, too.

I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them.  People have to insist, and insist at least twice.  Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan?  No.  Those CDs carry lifeblood.  To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue.  I’ve given away well over 1000.  They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale.  Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it.  It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs.  Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.

That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.”  My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.”   It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.

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I waited until I heard the birds to get up.  This is the part where I write out everything wrestling in my mind and then either hit publish or delete.  On the file cabinet across the room is a completed packet to give DHS and sign up for Tenn Care.  We’ve already met and are finely qualified.  I wish we weren’t.

So before taking the family’s next step on welfare, I’m asking a good question:  “If I turn this in, what am I doing?”

It’s a complicated argument and a morning’s blog entry won’t get everything right.  The DHS packet is already completed for a few reasons.  For one, my child has never decided that struggling for an ideal is something they’re interested in.  Secondly, health care is messed up and anyone trying to pay on their own can’t do it.  Society’s problem, and mine too.

Two weeks ago we sold our car for principled reasons.  If we didn’t do that “pre parent,” we never would try.  Now there is some cash in the asset column and we could use it.

The DHS question becomes one of ethics and strategy.  Options:

a. Take the welfare, invest the car money in business and work hard to get off the welfare.  One day pay it back.

b. Pay some medical expenses in cash and borrow the rest.  Remain independent from assistance.  Cover future health care with our continued artist incomes as they are.

c. Seek an employer that provides benefits.  Probably buy another car.

The options have complications, but lets not blog too far.  Instead, I give you possible responses to my  future child:

a. Honey, when we started out we needed some help.  But one day Daddy made a hit record and Mommy sold a painting to MoMA.  We started a trust fund for other starving artists who wanted families.

b. Well son, just as you came into this world, your mother and I decided to reduce our dependance on foreign oil with its dire toll on the environment, while at the same moment we proved that expensive social programs are unnecessary if everyone would take responsibility for themselves.    And health care, don’t get me started on health care.

c.

We pause here because it started to rain. I looked up to see the umbrella and Ashley’s rain jacket lying by the door.  Hopping on my bike and sprinting for Belle Morris Elementary on this foggy, rainy morning, I was reminded that some choices, like being intentionally car-less, require a fresh assertion of values.

And suddenly I was hit by a Honda Civic.  It pulled out and didn’t see me.  My handlebars wadded up and the chain was knocked loose.  Otherwise, the front side panel is a bruise of a landing and not a bloody one.  The umbrella was in the right lane of N. Broadway and I was sure it would be my only casualty.  But I saved it.  The guy felt awful.  I told him I was trying to take my wife her umbrella where she was a crossing guard.  He was near tears.  I offered that he could drive me to the school and he’d be doing me a favor, we’d call it even.

“Are you sure?  What about your bike?”

I inspected my bike and chained it to the stop sign (just before the antique shop by Fellini Kroger).  I could fix it.  My knee was sore but not bleeding.  There was no need to play any cards this morning, I just needed the ride.

He had a car seat in the back and a Bible in the passenger seat.  We sat there until he could dart the car back onto Broadway.

He said, “You know I always try to be careful and considerate.  That’s what I get for being late… I just dropped off my kid and was rushing to work.  I didn’t even see you.”

The irony of everything I’ve just been thinking about: children, work, not having a car, Ashley’s part time job, people needing to catch a break.  An unfinished blog at home which I was supposed to finish so that I’d discover what to do.

I don’t know.

Another story about how dangerous it is for me that Ashley is a crossing guard…

Last Thursday I was walking with her to school in the afternoon when an elderly man was sitting on a porch and murmured to us about something. There are crazies around here and we didn’t understand a word he said. After walking on I asked myself, what was the hurry; he’d seemingly been on his own porch.  I told Ashley I’d meet her later, we both thought I should go back and check on him.  He mumbled that he couldn’t walk and that he needed his dog to be brought in.

A chihuahua was leashed to a chair in the lawn beside the house and I guessed it looked harmless.  As I reached for the leash, it bit me twice on the wrist.  Still, I brought the dog to the man and realized that my initial instinct had been correct.  He was probably 80, but he was pissed drunk.  Urine all over his jeans.  He said he’d broken a rib and had been lying on the porch all morning.  I breathed sadly, but knew I had to lift him, no matter how disgusting.  By the time I’d helped him into his dark, vomitous house and moved enough greasy paper plates with stale chicken so that he could fall on the couch, I headed for the door.  The chihuahua was still on the leash and I hung it from a pile of unmemorable junk sitting in my guess of what was a chair.

“He’s a mean little sucker.”

“Have a nice day.”

I’d forgotten about the biting until I walked out into the bright sun and it had already began to swell.  Instead of walking to the school, I went to the CVS Pharmacy on the provincial nearby corner.  I asked the pharmacist,

“What do you recommend for a dog bite?”

“Did you know the dog?”

“No, it was just over there.”

“Go to the doctor.  Now.”

“I don’t have health insurance.”

“I’m sorry, but dog mouths are filthy and he could have rabies.  Seriously, go to the doctor.”

I looked at the swelling and remembered the soiled house.  I thought about our upcoming medical bills.  Then I walked over to the antiseptic cream and she yelled after me that it wouldn’t do it any good.  It would make me feel better, like I’d done something.  Like give a guy a freakin’ break.

I was furious for the rest of the day.  I kept the bite clean and maybe it’s fine, that was last week.  Everybody gets a little jittery when they’re going to be parents.  Right now, I feel like I must have got hit by a car this morning.

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A couple days ago I turned 29 and I’m taking it very seriously, not because it’s any closer to 30 or some kind of reaction to age, but because I had a hard time with 28.  28 was a struggle, a constant rewording of failure in order to see around it.

I was rolling tubes of toothpaste from the bottom.

It looked like skipping wishes across firm mud that needed water instead of smoothed words.

29, I’m going to pick a point far off and walk.  28 was the last self-inventory, that episode in which I betray myself by reevaluating: to spread and fold, bend and run, like the smoke of an indoor cigarette.  With new zeal, I do my best harm by abandoning yesterday.

 

For better than a decade I’ve eliminated alternatives.  Testing every college within my university, I finished sensibly.  And having attempted every field in my resulting industry, I returned again undeclared.  Perhaps now another education for a second lap, or to log my resume and send it off to providence.  I think about these things while swinging a pickaxe into the hard, Tennessee red clay.  A day of paperwork was better for piano fingers, but overly black and white.

Aside from a faith journey, and a nine year story with Ashley, I haven’t known what the hell I was doing, and even then I never knew, but at least never stepped off (except in the case of faith when I was “yee of little” in several occurrences, but concerning Ashley I have retained my commitment with faithfulness to wreck her nerves by exhilarating our circumstances in my daily renewed vision).

I began writing this morning hoping to think of something, something that builds on yesterday, and nothing new, please.

The planets have realigned, another February, even a cycle of 7 completed, since I first began my questioning into the way things are: extremely cold with someone spanking me.  And like I told everyone then, “I am here, I am messy, and I need a hug.”

 

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One day, when I am a famous musician, whose trade presumes a marriage to the endless and ageless passage of road and country, my map pages will have long been feathered, my jeans wrinkled behind the knees, and my nose sighted between the rim of my knuckles.

I was swerving through Baton Rouge when a Sheriff K9 unit pulled me over.  This deputy of the Bayou, Acadian and courteous, invited me to please step outside of the vehicle and have a stroll in the grass.

“How long have you been driving today, sir?”  Good, I wasn’t speeding.  Must have got a little squirrely in my lane trying to see the skyline.

“Since this morning.”  It was then 10:30PM

“Where’ you coming from?”

“McAllen, TX”

“That’s a long way from Tennessee, how long were you there?”

“One day, sir.”

“One day, wow.  You went from Tennessee to the U.S. border and back for one day? Why would you do that?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I think we’d better hear it.  Do you mind if my dog walks around your car and would it be possible to search your trunk and belongings?  I believe it’s reasonable, given the situation.”

I knew I didn’t have to say yes, because I listen to Jay Z  (I ain’t passed the bar but I know a lil’ bit, enough you gonna legally search my sh!#…)  But I also knew that cooperation would be the fastest way out of Baton Rouge.

“No sir, I don’t mind.  We were on our way to a wedding in Mexico but had to come back because someone had a heart attack.”  I couldn’t tell if he was buying it.  Surely weddings and heart attacks are such cliche reasons that they have to be true, especially if uttered unstuttered.

I’d been drinking apple juice, to swallow my multi vitamin, and we were just discussing the State of the Union Address given by our President.  That was nothing to hide.

“And you didn’t cross the border?  Are you responsible for everything in the vehicle?  Did you meet anyone in McAllen?”

“No, we never crossed.  My cousin lives there and was taking us to the bus station when we got a phone call and had to come back.”    He was scrupulously checking my speech, pupils, and body posture.  I acted so proper and sensible that we could have been discussing features of a variable annuity.

“Who’s in the car?”

“My wife.”

“Can I ask her some questions?”

“Please.”

Ashley had the identical, although incredulous, story.  She had it memorized.  She must have given it to him all sweet and innocent because he returned to me, so buttered up that he patted me on the shoulder twice, gave me his best advice, shook my hand, and said he knew we could make it.  We stood there man to man, my Acadian friend and I, in the gravel along the howling Interstate 10 and the shimmer of Baton Rouge.  I almost wanted to say, “I’m sorry you and your dogs didn’t get your drug bust tonight.”

We continued on to Tickfaw, Louisiana, because we needed more hot water for tea and instant coffee, and because the sign said “Tickfaw, Louisiana.”

Mississippi was very dark and I fell asleep in there somewhere.  I woke up in a rest stop and Ashley had gotten us to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

We are in Bristol, TN now.  We got here last night around 7:30 after a pause in Knoxville, crossing the 112 miles of rolling East Tennessee that I will never leave.  The trip odometer says 2818.4 and the car is doing good. Not a bad leg since Saturday, and on Saturday we’re going to do it again.

Some people are born rockstars, and some get a silver spoon to help, that’s true.  I got an iron ass.  That helps, and it gets me far enough.

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07 Life Experience mp3

This one dates back to about 2006 and was written during an insurance sales/ waiting tables/ banking transition that rattled me up.  It was for a musical I was writing that needs some work and rehearsals, but could otherwise be pulled off if I had to.  For anyone who frets over a difficult to explain resume, this song is for you.  It almost made the EP “No Room for Hipsters,” and was recorded at Nightsong Studios in Knoxville during the same sessions.  I did eleven songs there but decided that would be a long CD of solo piano and vocals.  I picked the six that felt like they could come across best without further instrumentation.  As for the others… come back for them this week, plus some really raw Mexico stuff and some break up tunes I wrote just for the exercise (because I never got the chance).

available on Itunes and at the "hear Levon" link above

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My brother and I went to visit our grandparents last week in Dukedom, TN and Salem, KY.  It was just like getting dropped off as kids, except my not so little brother drove, we left our Ashleys at home, and Ryan went to work everyday at his new appointed State Farm agency in Murray, KY.

Murray State Farm Agent Ryan Walker

down the lane on Grandad's farm in TN

Grandad's barn

I have to tell you one of my Grandad’s favorite stories of when Ryan and I were little.  He would dare us to touch the electric fence that keeps animals out of his barn.  A career electrician and welder,  I believe he had built an immunity to the phenomenon of subatomic charges particles.  I remember him holding the wire full fisted as it hissed and popped, just to light up our little eyes.  Then he would reach out and touch our shoulder and I swear I could jump high enough to grab the rafters.  Once Ryan grabbed a two foot screwdriver and tapped it, which sent him and his sword flying.  My grandfather encouraged this innovation.  People say he was an expert at such things, and I’m sure he knew how to safely get his grandsons going. To be fair, my grandmother was furious when we told her and he was only allowed to grab it himself after that.  We always asked.

Memaw and Papaw

Papaw's Core Drilling Rigs

Papaw's water truck

My Papaw came home from World War II and started hauling ice to farm homes for their ice boxes.  When people updated to refrigeration, he worked in core drilling until he could buy his own rigs.  He could tell you more, but core drilling is exploratory work to see what is underground before any sort of mining is done.  Papaw looked for spar and other minerals until I was a kid, and gradually slowed down to delivering drinking water to people’s cisterns around the county.  Only in the last year or so have most the water lines been completed to slow down his business.  In his mid 80’s, he still hauls about a load a day.

Mamaw hearts grandkids

Ashley, Levon, Ashley, Ryan

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Inside each of our heads is an idea.  In thoughts, we have the ability to see our intentions fully glorified.  The idea is established here already or we wouldn’t be chasing the details and learning the actions to support it.  But on the outside we appear to scramble.  Establishing generally means hoop jumping, chasing loose ends, disciplining ourselves and modifying everything.  We remodify so much sometimes that organization and preparation feel like what we do instead of whatever is our aspiration.

The final word is manage.

All of us are managers.  We manage the likes of health and finance, relationships and time, consumption and impact. Whatever we are aspiring to comes down to our effectiveness in its management.  As a singer/songwriter I know what areas I’ve got to be concerned about.  If its practicing scales, singing tongue twisters or making siren noises; there is an assignment and there has got to be intentionality regardless of if there is inspiration or not.

Some of the best management I have learned came from my days in the financial world doing things like selling insurance or working at a bank.  When you make seven career changes in three years, you spend most of the time in training programs.  I call it the graduate school of career orientation.  From this wealth of information, I’m going to briefly pull out some nuggets for the artists reading today who hopefully may put their guard down for a second and let some corporate American thought momentarily infiltrate the mind.

1. First is activity management.  A result that you want comes from a series of steps that it takes to get there.   Identify your steps and make a method.  Example: 25 face to face encounters with prospects should lead to five appointments set in the future.  Of those five appointments, expect three to show up or be truly qualified prospects.  Of the three, make one sale.  So to make a sale, don’t think about selling.  Think about talking to 25 people.  Make your own method and be intentional about your activities.

2. Write a vision statement.  (Yes, write it.)  If that’s too uncool, hang a collage of images that inspire you or make a playlist of songs that ground you.  Then write one anyway.  I renamed mine because I couldn’t get the lame posters of cursive writing and eagles out of my head.  Its called my “resonance”, referring to sound as well as the vibration I begin as a being on earth (and all matter has dynamic and impactible vibration, which is a blog for another day).  The idea is to find something repeatable to yourself that reminds you of the person in there who sees all your intentions fully manifested.  This person is not always the one talking and you desperately need them to be.  Promote them.

3. Income statements and balance sheets.  Organizing as artists should not stop at straightening out our email folders.  Your time and resources are limited and when stretched, out the window goes the best energy to create.  You will be scrambling instead.  A scrambled egg is a cooked egg, as they say, or at least they should.

4. The business side of business dealings.  We artsies don’t like getting businessy.  Tough.  Decide on your prices and don’t apologize for them.  We’d rather cradle our creations and imagine the futures for them, hoping somebody will make the effort to figure out how to buy it.  Then we bashfully say hardly a word because in our minds we are screaming volumes of the processes we have followed to have this bundle of joy that now is coming down to a matter of dollars and cents as it is coldy thrown into a marketplace.

Consider your art valuable of course, but don’t forget that you must make it an accessible good or service to someone else.  Some of the artists we know had less talent but understood this, and longevity in the game gave them eventually what talent didn’t initially.

5. Make measurable progress.  Don’t be vague to yourself about your intentions or in your interpretations of your results.  Ask yourself things specifically like “is that an ongoing task or something I can finish?” and “how am I positioned better now than I was?”  If you don’t have a boss checking up on you, or want to one day be in the place where there isn’t, it will only last if you become the best boss of yourself you can be.  You’ve heard that there’s no such thing as a free lunch?  There’s also no such thing as an all-the-time cool boss.  A boss has to be the boss.  And everybody has a boss except Bruce Springsteen.

I’m done.  Thats probably all I can hold your attention for, and its definitely enough said for a Saturday night.  I’m a working musician so Saturday nights are like Wednesday afternoons except that I don’t have a gig tonight, but that is room for measurable progress.

We’ll soon be announcing some big changes for this blog.  Hugely big.  You should come back.

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