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29

Aug

I Drove A Dodge Stratus!

I found my car in a very sad corner of Pohanka Collision Center’s lot- the place where cars are forgotten. I brushed off the vines hanging on the roof like tired limbs as I made my way to the back to remove it’s identity- “RZN2025”. As I circled the car in a melancholy daze I relived the memories that were all but written in the golden paint. The time I flooded the engine trying to drive through a hurricane to pick Larry up from class. The time I drove 14 hours to see a girl just one… more… time. The joy rides to Wrightsville Beach with some hooligans in the back seat and life in front of me. Ahh the good old days. I was instantly frightened back into the moment when a cat jumped out from behind the back tire. He took a few long strides before turning back to examine me. What business did I have in the shadows? This was his property now.

You realize how relative time is when you try to recap eight years. If I asked you “how were the last eight years?” I guarantee that you wouldn’t respond by saying “they were 2920 days.” Time only exist as the clock defines it in the present or immediate future. You know it’s 12 am, you know you have to get up in 6 hours, but you don’t think much past that. The past is built of memories, the future of goals and hopes, and the present of choices. Being aware of that can help you grasp perspective on many of the things that you worry about on a day-to-day basis.

Eight years was 5 towns, 7 albums, 9 jobs but only 1 car.

A couple weeks ago I lost my go-to never have I ever statement— “never have I ever been in a car accident”— when I hydroplaned across traffic, barely missing a tree and sliding down a hill heading right towards a river. The bushes stopped my car a few yards before I got to swim for the first time this summer. Ev and I pushed the doors open, our worlds still spinning, and crawled back up to the main road. The cops had already arrived. What just happened?

I traced my tire marks up the hill, next to the tree, over the streetlight that hadn’t been fully constructed yet (thank God) and across the road. It looked like the trail from a figure skater.  So many things could have gone wrong. How did we not flip? One second we were on our way to a party talking about how good life is and the next we were at the mercy of that pencil in the sky that puts the period on your sentence. Don’t worry momma it was just a comma.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2uUDkMYtrQ]

A lot happened to me in the last eight years and the Stratus was there through it all. If you know me you know it and most likely have some kind of story to go along with your memory. I invite you to share your story as a comment to this blog.

I finished cleaning out my belongings and walked away. I paused at the gate of that lot and considered going back for a few more pictures. Naa, don’t do it. One more flashback to 18 year old Mike using every dime he saved working at Panera for 3 years to buy his first car and I was gone, ready for my next test drive.

23

Jul

It Comes In Waves

A few weeks ago I walked out of my apartment and thought to myself, something has to change. I think the wind heard me.

You have to recognize and react to a feeling like that. It’s there to remind you that whatever rut you are stuck in is escapable. Stress comes into our lives like waves crashing onto a beach and escapes the same way, hitting us with enough force to take us off our feet but retreating without enough pull to take us with it. My life’s a beach but my castle isn’t built out of sand. The tide only reminds me I’m human.

Spend time with your family and friends. If you ever really fall they’ll be the ones around for you. But this feeling that hit me as I watched the sky catch on fire wasn’t like that. I just knew there was more to the experience.

Happiness is a cup that has many straws.

A happy man doesn’t rely on any one thing to make him that way.  You should never have to try to smile but you should always be looking for excuses to do so. Don’t waste time blaming time. Strengthen your body and mind, the sharper you get the easier it becomes to carve out the life you want.

I’d like to think that the storm that came barreling through DC on my birthday was sent to push my sail. We walked out of the restaurant once the rain and wind had died down to find trees bent across streets and half the city without power. The tide had risen and turned my city back into the swamp it started as. Health and happiness came with the morning sun.

[slideshow]

I woke up on the morning of my 26th birthday in the basement of my grandfather’s house and released the album I had been working on for 2 years, Smoothie. I walked upstairs with a big, stupid smile on my face to have breakfast with my grandparents from both sides of the family. We went out and met up with my aunt and little cousin to have lunch. Later in the afternoon we went into the city and had dinner with some friends. The parents left after the crazy storm died down and we went out… with Ev in the trunk. The next day I had a show on U St. and I’ve been coasting ever since. 

25

Jun

Producing E*L*A* (Englis*h for Lati*n Americ*a)

I spent last month working with a team of 4 people coming up with a curriculum for teaching English to spanish speakers, developing characters for a radio drama, working with music producers to come up with songs and transitions and recording actors bringing the scripts we wrote to life. That all got me ready for this week.

Tonight should be my last all-nighter for a while.  Gracias a Dios. We have been working around the clock trying to get the first five lessons of English for Latin America (ELA) completed. Last Friday they began piloting our programs in Colombia to get feedback for revisions. Words can’t express the joy I felt when I got online today and found two videos in my dropbox of kids in a classroom on the coast of Colombia laughing, dancing and most importantly, learning from our programs. It put a special type of fuel in my tank to push forward as files go missing and my mind gets lost in the 40 minute long audio program. The path to knowledge is fraught with conflict. Keep going.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwatjppcJy8&feature=youtu.be]

These programs have 12 segments. There are over 50 tracks in each session! They are made up of a game show, american idol show, soap opera and much more. It’s a very interesting tool we are creating. It’s a beautiful mix between sparking a child’s imagination, using music to place an idea in their head (inception is possible) and helping a teacher teach a subject they don’t understand. With all that said- I can’t wait for this fifth program to be done.

Then we’ll just have 95 more to do… in 3 months.

14

May

Hanz- Hear The Mighty Tree Fall

Hanz is an old dog. He has reached the age where sleep begins to eat into your day like moths into a wool sweater forgotten in a lost closet. When you begin to realize how much energy it takes to simply get up, let alone say anything. He lays on his musty blue blanket, watching his brothers run around arguing about trivial issues with disappointed, cloudy eyes. Such wasted energy. We take him to the doctor because he’s starting to look skinny. A white coat smirks and tells us there is no cure for old. I can’t imagine wagging my tail after hearing such a thing but he always does.

Hanz is a German Shorthaired Pointer. A hunting dog who has traveled the world. At one time he was young and strong, strutting through the woods with his head high and his tail straight looking for his next victim. Time is now his prey and he kills it as well as the hares he chases in his dreams as his feet twitch and scratch the hardwood floor.

Take a look at the world old man. You can’t run out into it like you once could but I bet you see it clearer than ever. Each bark you reach down into your stomach to pull out carries a handful of wisdom that is thrown into the air and misinterpreted as simple requests to primitive ears. No wonder you stopped trying. Stupid humans.

Hanz’s body is constantly shaking. If you put both hands on his stomach and apply pressure you can feel the anxiety evaporate out of his body. What are you nervous about old man? Do you sense the rollercoaster of life beginning to slow down and return to a place that resembles where it took off from? Is there something you dreamed of doing that you never got the chance to follow through on? Or is the life of a dog not so complicated? Lucky you.

I saw a commercial the other day for a company called “A Place To Put Mom”. Good lord! How did we become to feel so entitled as a people? Just imagine… what if you could count the number of steps you were able to take every day? I bet you’d learn the world around you much better. You’d probably realize that most squirrels aren’t worth chasing but a family member leaving is always worth seeing to the door. What if you had enough time to write a book but only enough energy to say a sentence?  You’d probably speak timeless wisdom and, like the mighty tree that falls after centuries of living, expect an audience with eager ears.

Kane Smego tells this story better than I ever could:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXyQYPzOsqs]

17

Apr

Selling Myself In 1000 Words

I recently submitted my application to GMU for graduate school. I thought I would breeze through my personal statement. I do write a good amount and I know the topic pretty well. It ended up taking me about two months to get this (this is pretty heavy so brace yo self fool!): 

The World Conference on Education for All (EFA), held over two decades ago, was a monumental step towards equalizing educational opportunities for all children of the world. While tangible advances have proven that this concept is attainable, decades of concerted efforts have demonstrated that we must accomplish better results, quicker and more efficiently if we are to reach the ambitious education targets reinforced into the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, most countries cannot wait for the luxury of the technological advances afforded to the best education systems. Therefore, a response that is appropriate, inclusive of key stakeholders, and meets the needs of the system in a sustainable way is more critical now than ever.

As a musician, writer and educator, I have studied and experimented with different forms of distance education. However, as technology continues to evolve, I realize that the skill set I have developed is only the foundation for a successful career in designing ways to effectively disseminate information. Particularly, I am interested in learning how appropriate technologies and innovations in instructional design, such as multichannel learning, can be used to enhance education systems among learners in the most marginalized communities. I am delighted to submit my application for consideration to the Curriculum and Instruction program with a concentration/specialization in Instructional Design and Development through the College of Education and Human Development.

While at George Mason, I intend to focus my studies on refining my skills for designing and developing effective instructional delivery systems. I look forward to studying with distinguished faculty including Prof. Kevin Clark and Prof. Brenda Bannan, whose respective research in computer game design and e-learning software directly relates to my career goals.

I was brought up in a family of musicians who embraced alternative forms of learning through the study of musical instruments and vocal training. However, it was not until high school that I began producing my own music. My music career includes the production of seven full-length albums, performing live at prestigious venues such as the Apollo Theatre in New York, as well as numerous music festivals, television and radio programs both in the United States and internationally.

After completing my Bachelors in English from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) in 2008, I moved to Washington, DC to follow my interest in journalism and video/audio production. I worked for five months as an intern in the Public Relations department of the Voice of America (VOA) in 2009, where I authored press releases, promoted programming through social networking and assisted in various studio productions. Since August 2009, I have been working as a Technology Specialist at Education Development Center (EDC), a global non-profit research and management firm, where I helped build and run a multipurpose studio, assisted with webpage development, audio and video production, and the creation of an interactive exhibit that told the story of EDC.

After a year of working at EDC’s home office, I was given the opportunity to utilize my creative passion and musical inclination to provide field-based support for an Interactive Audio Instruction (IAI) program funded by the Colombian Ministry of Education and implemented by La Universidad del Norte (Uninorte) in Barranquilla, Colombia. In 2010, I began working in Barranquilla helping create the pilot radio program, English for Colombia (ECO), for national dissemination through the use of classroom radios. Additionally, I supported Uninorte by teaching advanced university ESL courses. I also continued to write my own music and perform with a Colombian band. As the lead songwriter and co-producer of ECO, I wrote and produced songs, played the voice of two of the main protagonists in the radio program, assisted as one of three studio engineers, and edited scripts to make sure proper English was used and lesson plans were engaging and cogent. To create these programs, I helped analyze the target audience to pick rhythms and instruments that were indigenous to Colombia, designed and developed the music with other local musicians, and formatively evaluated the programs in comparable schools before submitting them to the appropriate ministry officials for approval.

I returned from Colombia in November of 2011 and, since February of 2012, have been working with EDC on a new IAI curriculum design initiative that is intended to provide quality instruction for marginalized English Language Learners (ELLs) throughout Latin America. I am currently involved in all aspects of the technical design of these programs, which are ultimately being developed for dissemination on a national scale. As apparent through the ECO program, the advantage of IAI for developing countries is that it trains the teacher at the same time as it teaches the students, by providing instructions for good teaching practices throughout a thirty-minute audio lesson made up of dramas, songs and various activities at very low cost. With this experience, I will develop a more complete knowledge of the technical aspects involved in such multichannel learning technologies.

Completing a degree in Instructional Design and Development will provide me with the tools to further refine my pedagogical and technical expertise for curriculum design. I believe my academic and professional experiences, as well as my personal interests, have prepared me for success in my advanced studies at George Mason University. The proximity of the university will allow me to seamlessly apply what I am learning to real world contexts through ongoing support to EDC. I am excited to begin this next stage of my professional development that will combine the use of my creativity with proven pedagogical theories and models for improving education systems around the world.

I question my decision to go back to school sometimes. I question the decision of picking this path all the time. After I completed this letter though, I realized how much this degree relates to what I have done in the last four years and what (I think) I want to do in the future. I know the next couple years will determine a lot about my future and knowing that puts a lot of pressure on every decision. I want to continue doing things I’m passionate about but I also want to put myself in the best finical situation possible. Should I pay a lot of money and spend two years studying something if it doesn’t promise a job with a good salary after? Should I switch the entire game and be a lawyer or doctor?

I think about these things a good amount but the truth is I worry about them very little. I’ve been happy for the majority of my life and I’ve never been rich. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from people who have much less than I do and are still much happier than most people I know. A smart guy once told me, “happiness is a choice.” Choose wisely people. 

26

Mar

Singing The Carolina Blues

The voicemail from my grandfather: “I saw that Carolina lost. Keep your head up, there’s always next year.”

A lot of people will never understand how we feel right now. How a game could have such control over you. They’ll never understand why you switch chairs throughout the game trying to find the one that will help your team drop a shot as if it will make any difference. You do what you can to help, to get through those taxing forty minutes.

It’s not just a jersey. It’s not just a color. It’s a flag. It’s a reminder of everything good about the town you were raised in. It’s your family, your friends, the party you got your first kiss and the fires in the streets you jumped over as smoke disappeared into a night sky freckled with stars. It’s a chance to return, if only mentally, to a place you don’t get to visit nearly enough.

How would you describe the feeling? For me it is a gloomy, cheerless anger. It’s heartbreaking coming to terms with the idea that the season is over, that we missed our chance to capitalize on a squad that comes every five years. I despise the idea that if it hurts this bad for me it must be ten times worse for the players that fight for me. The anger I feel isn’t directed towards our opponent, but instead distributed between the refs and our own team. I feel like Barnes plays to not get hurt, like Roy doesn’t control the game in the last five minutes like he should, like a referee should know a travel when sees one and various other thoughts I know I’m in no place to even consider. I coached a middle school team of 9 players who could barely tie their shoes for two years. What do I know?

I wish you luck getting to sleep tonight Tar Heel nation. Tomorrow when this hurts a little less I’ll pick up the phone and give my grandpa a call back. His voice will do the same thing watching my Heels lace up and step on the floor does- remind me of where I come from. I urge you to wear something carolina blue tomorrow. We have to represent the great north state until our colors are streaking down the hardwood again next season.

12

Mar

A Great Week

Monday- Family Time

After recording two new songs with a DC producer, Unknown, I went up to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Maryland to spend the night. We talked life, split a few beers and I got a chance to play with my little cousins (not in that order). The boys are starting to get really good at lacrosse… but they still can’t get past Leighton.

Tuesday- Connecting the Dots

I spent most of the day relaxing in a cloud of a bed. A few hours before I left Maryland to volunteer as an ESL teacher in NW DC I got a call from work with good news. We won a project that will give me 8 months of full-time coverage being a designer and producer of an audio program that will teach English as a foreign language to all of Latin America. As I walked around the classroom later that night helping fifteen adults properly pronounce numbers I began to see the bigger picture. Following your interests and being confident enough to wait for the right opportunities has been my recipe for the real world so far.

Wednesday- When In Texas

After my first day on the job I went out to a bar in Georgetown with about 15 people from work to take advantage of some happy hour specials. Once the food and beer went back to normal prices we headed to a salsa club downtown. On the walk to the bar we ran into a girl who one of my friends knew. She told us the tale of a hotel party down the road with an open bar, free food and live music. The stumbling woman outside the metro station guided us to a formal event for the people of Laredo, Texas. Luckily, I come equip with a southern accent and good manners so I put on my imaginary cowboy hat and started getting down with the mariachi band. Yehaw, never miss an opportunity to see a handle-bar mustache.

Thursday- Sweat It Out

Once a week I play basketball with the homeboy Ron at a gym behind the pentagon. In between listening to high school and college kids argue about fouls we actually get about five or six games in. I’ll be that old guy at the YMCA in 20 years with knee-high socks… ball so hard!

The Weekend- Got Game?


I spent the weekend grilling out with some friends from high school…

playing frisbee golf…

and kicking the soccer ball around on the national mall.

I also spent a considerate amount of money on celebratory activities at different bars around town,watched a lot of the ACC tournament, went to a house party called Canadian Tuxedo Ball (a denim themed event) and wrote four new verses. I’m loving DC and can’t wait for the summer to come.

07

Mar

A Good Day

Today I played basketball with my little cousins, did a few hours of work from a very comfortable bed, got an email with two new songs I did with my best friends in Colombia, took a nap after a free lunch, volunteered at Sacred Heart as an ESL teacher to basic level students and won a proposal that will give me 8 months of full-time work doing something I love.

It was so nice to get back into a classroom and work with people who are enthusiastic about learning. It made me really miss my old students. I love teaching but don’t see myself doing it until much later in life. The contract we won today is for producing another audio program that teaches English as a second language. We will get to create a curriculum, produce songs and chants, develop a story that is entertaining and educational and travel to Latin America to train teachers and implement the program. Imagine if your favorite show could teach you another language… that’s what I’m hoping to create.

I got a lot to figure out but even more to look forward to. Times are hard but life is great.

22

Feb

La Luna- A Tribute To The Rumba

Yesterday was the last day of carnivals in Barranquilla. This week of parades and parties is actually just the grand finale of music and colors to an entire month of festivities. Being in Quilla for these celebrations was a memory I will never forget. The following is a song that these carnivals birthed and some pictures to go a long with it.

La Luna is a song about a party in Colombia that I went to on top of a mountain right outside of the city. Everyone was 100 percent in the moment, enjoying each other and the setting the world provided. Abandoning all self-consciousness and surrendering to the now is a natural high that has no parallel. When you feel like this the moon is your dancing partner and the clouds are the floor you slide on. We danced on those clouds to Cumbia, a traditional Colombian music, the entire night. This was the first chorus I wrote in spanish and translates roughly to:

The moon, the moon, it’s only the moon and I

The clouds are my cradle, dancing to this beautiful cumbia

[bandcamp track=1312350961  bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]

[slideshow]

10

Feb

Going, Going, Back, Back, to College, College

Remember when you could roll out of bed, throw a hat and a hoodie on, and stumble yourself to class in 10 minutes; when every year the school gave you a bunch of “free” money you spent on absurdly overpriced books and Chick-fil-a; when the people you passed on campus were the same people you saw at house parties every weekend?

Hard to believe that was six years ago.

I’m applying to the graduate school at George Mason right now so I spent the last two days meeting the faculty of my program and touring the campus. I’m not the smartest guy by any means but one thing I can do well is get a person in my corner if given the opportunity to talk one on one. There’s an appropriate way to communicate with someone who you are relying on and being conscious of this is as important as anything. The idea is to show strength and vulnerability at the same time. You have to let them know that you both need and are worthy of help. 90 percent of this comes through body language.

It’s strange to be walking around a campus again. I don’t remember college kids being so awkward. Look, I’m sure when I was 18 I looked funny too, and I’m sure 18 Mike would have made fun of me for wearing these around UNCW campus

He can go somewhere though… these joints are fresh

I liked the campus. At least half the population seemed to be foreign. I even walked by a few girls that said, “It’s cold out here, no estoy en Colombia.” Early in the day I saw a group of kids doing taekwondo in a courtyard and a little later a group playing the drums and guitar. One guy was standing on a bench with his shirt off freestyling about Bob Marley and things the legend loved. There seems to be some life buried in the middle of suburban Fairfax. Who would have thunk it?

what is that girl smuggling in her sweatpants? good lawd!

Getting to class isn’t just a stumble anymore either. One option is to drive 15 miles in DC rush hour traffic, which takes an hour and involves paying for parking. The other option is to take this

and then this

which ends up being a 12 dollar round trip and taking over an hour. Halo kept me from class freshman year; imagine if I had to do that to get to PE!

I will be going for my masters in Instructional Design and Development and a certification in e-learning systems. My intention as of now is to go straight through to get my PhD. This would cut out a considerate amount of time if I pick a path and stick to it. I’m not sure exactly what it is I want to do yet but I like the idea of owning my own company that does contract audio/video/web production. I love coming up with an idea and working with others to bring it to life; hopefully I can do that with this whole get my life together idea. Wish me luck … and then tell me I don’t need it.

p.s. If you went to GMU or know someone who did/does drop a comment on this post. I’m applying to some other schools as well and want to be as informed as possible.