Know Thyself

Some days, it’s hard to look at yourself for the person you are. We as people are pushed and pulled to our limits, until the person we see in the mirror almost feels like a distortion of who we are. There were times where even I almost lost sight of who I am inside. It took a friend to remind me of my value in this world, and who I am inside.

The more we get caught up in things beyond our control, the harder it can be for us to center ourselves and remember what is good within us. Each one of us has a value to the people whose lives we enrich. It can be hard to remind ourselves of that, but somewhere, whether it’s from a friendly face or from deep in our soul, there’s someone who knows deep down who each of us are inside.

Whenever you feel as if you’re losing touch on what makes you a unique person, take a moment and think of what makes you unique, what makes you a good person. It may sound generic, but it’s truth. The truth tends to be simple when it counts.

Know thyself.

7 Signs That You Might Need A New Job

Jobs are an essential part of our day to day for many of us. While many people have various sources of employment or income, the bulk of us work a standard job under a standard employer for the most part. However, health professionals have voiced their concern that certain factors of our jobs may very well be shortening our lifespan. Whether it’s constant stress, lack of fulfillment, or even financial woes, there are telltale signs that you might need a new job.

1. Frustrating Commutes

The commute is the unofficial beginning of the workday. Way before we clock in, we have to travel to our job. Unfortunately, getting from point A to point B is never as easy as it sounds. On our daily commutes, we deal with traffic, construction delays, bad weather, and so many other variables that can ruin our day before we even get to the job site. And if you rely on public transportation, your commute can be even more frustrating. If your commute is stressing you out every single work day, you might need a job closer to home.

2. Constant On-The-Job Stress

This one should be a given, but so many of us ignore how a stressful job can affect us in the long run. Dealing with anything from horrible bosses and aggravating superiors to unruly consumers on a daily basis can take a huge mental and physical toll on you. I’ve mentioned in the past how stress can affect us physically, but as a quick reminder, stress can manifest itself in us physically in everything from stiff and aching joints to hypertension, which is directly linked to heart disease. As for the mental impact of constant stress, nervous breakdowns and severe burnout are commonly caused by workplace stress. If you have the option or the means, changing your employer or source of employment may be what you need to reverse the damage that stress is doing to you.

 

3. Financial Difficulties

If you’re working long hours for little pay, you may want to reconsider your situation. The reason that so many people have no choice but to work into their older years is because of financial hardship, which usually stems from being caught in a cycle of working long hours for minimal pay. Again, this is stating the obvious, but sometimes, the truth is sitting there in plain sight. The fear of being unemployed leads to millions of people being underemployed; even though they know deep down that their knowledge or experience is worth more, they are made to believe that they have no choice but to settle for less.

The path to better employment starts with knowing your worth. If you have a creative talent, tend to it and nurture it, and create a business from it.  If you have years of experience in a field that makes you qualified for something better, advertise it to a better employer. Don’t box yourself into a job that doesn’t pay you what you’re worth.

4. Less Quality Time

If you barely have time to yourself outside of work, it may be time to switch to a new job. Jobs shouldn’t take us away from our families, friends, or hobbies.  If our world solely revolves around work, it becomes redundant; working to live, living to work.  We as people were built for more than just clocking in and clocking out. We shouldn’t have to solely rely on our vacation time to pursue our own interests, and our days off shouldn’t only be sick days. So if you’re finding that your job is leaving you less and less time for self-care, it’s time to move on.

5. Poor Benefits

Speaking of sick days and vacation time, if you’re not getting benefits such as sick time or vacation days, it’s time to go. In fact, even if you’ do receive such benefits, if you’re discouraged from using them, then it’s time to get a new job. Rest is essential to productivity, and if you’re not getting the proper rest, then it’s time to get a new employer.

Also, if your employer doesn’t offer quality health benefits that don’t eat up half your paycheck, then it’s time to go. A quality health plan, including vision and dental, shouldn’t cost more than you can afford, and a quality employer will know this.

As for retirement plans, a good employer will have good retirement options, but you should always consider meeting a trustworthy financial adviser.

6. Unethical Behavior

If your job is rife with business practices that are unlawful and unethical, yet you feel as if your back is against the wall, then it is time to move forward. While whistleblowing is usually advised, you should do so when you’re at a safe distance from the employer who is in question.  Merely having your name attached to the organization can have negative effects, so give yourself a fresh start, whether you take action or not.

7. Unfulfillment 

Most importantly, if your job doesn’t leave you with a sense of fulfillment, then it’s time to move on.  No job should feel mundane or pointless, and no job should make you feel as if you’re wasting your talents. Find something that you love and do it for a living. It won’t be easy at first, but the people I tend to see enjoying their jobs are either self-employed or doing what they love for an employer who appreciates them.  So take a chance and turn  your passion into a career, no matter how long it takes.

Meditating On The Go

For the past two months, I have been working on my first book, a guide to stress management. While I began and continued working on this book, I put several of the methods within it to use, the most prominent method being breathing and meditation. Why meditation? Because if you can close your eyes and breathe, you can meditate.

Many of us who face daily commutes and deadlines can use meditation to calm ourselves down and relax ourselves, easing the built-up tension that the day has heaped upon us. Sadly, not many of us have taken the initiative to learn about basic deep breathing exercises, let alone meditation. It has been said that the most successful people practice meditation, from famous actors to industry moguls. So there is a proven crowd on the benefits of meditating.

One particular challenge that I face during the day is finding time to meditate. While I do make time either after I wake up or before going to sleep, there are times throughout the day where I need to meditate to de-stress and re-focus myself. Being that a positive meditation can take only 5-10 minutes, it’s all a matter of strategy and opportunity. Here are a few key points I’ve adopted for on-the-go meditation that you can practice.

1. Download A Meditation App

This one may be the most convenient way to meditate on the go. Back when CDs were popular, meditation CDs were a go-to. However, the guided meditations on these CDs ranged from 20 to 30 minutes in duration, which leaves a large chance for a meditation to be interrupted. Now and days, meditation apps are a solid go-to for meditating on the go. The most popular meditation apps are Stop, Breathe, & Think, Headspace, and Calm. Each of these apps have a wide variety of meditations with durations from 3 to 10 minutes, allowing you to enjoy a quick meditation or guided breathing on the go, whether you’re riding in a cab or taking your 15-minute break.

2. Add Soft Music To Your Playlist

Before I went the app route for my express meditations, my method was simply to play some soft music from my phone’s playlist in order to get my deep breathing or meditation done. If you’re experienced in meditation, this may be the better route compared to using an app, which is mostly for beginners or people who are experienced but prefer to be guided. Soft music, such as jazz or classical piano, can take the mind to a calmer place, which makes the deep breathing required for meditating even easier. Try to use music without lyrics, so your focus can be on the calming sounds. Meditating to a soft music track can take as little as 4 minutes.

3. Just Do It!

While apps and music are excellent aids to meditating on the go, when all else fails, just close your eyes and breathe. That in itself is the primary key to meditation. As long as you’re able to breathe, you can meditate. Focus on your breaths, the rising and falling of your chest and abdomen as you take each slow, deep breath, and you will be in that deep calming state in no time.

In the end, the motivation for meditation should be the feeling of a calm body and a calm mind. No matter where or how you meditate, when it’s done right, you will feel it.

Greener Pastures

I was born and raised in The Bronx.  I’ve lived here for over 3 decades of my life.  Everything in my life is practically synonymous with this borough, from the early days of hip-hop to the Yankees.  I had met Peter Gunz and DJ Kool Herc in the same summer just walking around my neighborhood.  I loved the fact that I was walking distance from Yankee Stadium, both the “House That Ruth Built” and the “House That Jeter Built”.  Every movie and tv show that was ever filmed in my borough, I’d be able to tell you exactly where that filming location was. Sadly, I’m getting a feeling that it’s time to leave the place I’ve called home.

One major drawback of The Bronx is that it’s ripe territory for greedy real estate agents to plunder. More people have lost their apartments here in the past 5 to 7 years than in the past 2 decades. Apartments that used to be $900 a month are now $2,500 a month, unless you qualify for section 8. Homeless shelters are popping up left and right, and people just can’t afford to live here anymore, unless they work 3 jobs and only get 3 hours of sleep a night. Currently, I’m living with my parents, and it’s a frustrating feeling to be in your mid-30s and having to answer to them. The job I’ve managed to hold onto for 5 years is driving me up the wall, and even with the city increasing minimum wage, the cost of living doesn’t get any easier, as the price for anything from groceries to entertainment just keeps rising.  I finally understand why so many of my friends who grew up here and raised their kids here have moved away.

A friend of mine had been trying to get me to move to Philadelphia for some time.  While living in the city of brotherly love has always been tempting, it wasn’t until now that it has become a necessary option. Living in The Bronx would mean that I’m stuck living with my dad and stepmother, and moving out to Long Island’s Suffolk County would mean living with my mother, as expensive as things have become out there. And as much as I love my mother, I can’t afford to have her doting over my life like Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s a frustrating feeling when your folks keep asking when you’ll get a new girlfriend, yet quote Bible scripture about premarital sex and start fear mongering with images of hellfire and eternal damnation if you don’t do what they say.

To be honest, living with a friend rather than a parent or relative may just what I need right now, and living outside of New York may just be what my bank account needs.  As much as I love New York, I can’t keep up with things. And make no mistake, I love New York.  I love being about to take a bus into Harlem and walk 125th Street, whether it’s for DVD shopping or going to the Magic Johnson Theater. I love being able to take a train down into midtown or lower Manhattan, visiting comic stores, book stores, and pizzerias. I love being able to go down to Chinatown and visit every restaurant on Mott Street, even the back alley 4-for-$1 dumpling spot that no tourist has ever been to. I love being able to go arcade hopping, from Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade by NYU to the Barcade on St. Mark’s Place.  There’s so much to love about New York.

Yet, at the same time, every other thing I love about this city is vanishing, because of greedy real estate practices.  My favorite comic book store, St. Mark’s Comics, was forced to close after 35 years of business. My favorite retail store in Harlem, Kiss Electronics, was forced to close after decades of business. So many music stores, including my favorite record store, Second Hand Rose’s, had gone out of business. Even the landmark Katz’s Deli had been forced to shut down. Legacies that had shaped New York into the stuff movies and sitcoms were made of, forced to go out of business because, “The rent is too damn high.”  And politicians like Mayor Bill de Blasio, and his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could care less. It was under Bloomberg that the city became so unaffordable, and when New Yorkers expected de Blasio to turn things around for the people, all we were left with was higher costs of living, and our only options being to stay in the city and become homeless, or leave the city for a more affordable quality of life.

Of all the places I’ve considered moving to, Philadelphia might be the most feasible. Of the times I’ve visited Philly, I’ve never really gotten to do what most people do down there. I’ve never gotten to see the Rocky statue from Rocky III, or run up the “Rocky Steps”.  I’ve never had a Philly cheesesteak made in Philly.  I’ve never even been to a Wawa’s! Even my late Uncle Lenny would tell me about the times he’d visit Philly just to see the Penn State Relays. My friend’s sister-in-law ran the Relays, and I never even got to see her win.  But most importantly, my best friend lives there, and has invited me down there with open arms. He had mapped out in his mind ever scenario to get me to move down there, and now, I’m doing the same.  While he’s offered me a place to stay, I’m still eyeing apartments down there as a plan B, so I have a contingency just in case. I’m researching what kinds of jobs I’d qualify for, in case my writing endeavors take longer to come to fruition. And if worse comes to worse, I’d be only 2 hours away from NYC, and 3 hours away from my mom’s home in Suffolk.

Change is hard, especially when you’re leaving the place you’ve called home all your life.  But if you’re to truly grow, change is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in the same self-destructive cycle you’ve been in. So, I’m making a change.  I’m going to miss The Bronx when I’m finally gone, and I’m going to miss NYC, but I’ll have a friend waiting on the other end for me.

The Iron Fist Dilemma

On March 17, 2017, Netflix will premiere its latest Marvel show, Iron Fist.  Much like its predecessors, Daredevil , Jessica Jones , and Luke Cage , the show will follow closely to its comic book source material, including its protagonist, orphaned billionaire martial artist Danny Rand, who became a martial arts prodigy after a plane crash landed him in the mythical land of K’un L’un. During his training, he obtains the ability to concentrate his chi (spiritual energy) into his fists, rendering them like iron, hence his moniker. The supposed controversy is that the show’s lead is white, rather than casting an Asian lead for this martial arts show. However, anyone who has read any iteration of Iron Fist’s comics in the past 4 decades knows that Danny Rand is white in the comics as well.

The dilemma is that white lead characters have been the leads in movies focusing on Asian cultures, from Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, to Matt Damon in The Great Wall. Even Scarlet Johansson was cast as the lead in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, sparking a debate on whether her lead character was “white-washed” or not even before it debuted in theaters. Where Iron Fist differs is that it’s actually following it’s source material, potentially nullifying any claim of white-washing.

The issue that should be in focus is not the ethnicity of an established character that follows the source material, but why an established character that can fit the criteria for inclusion hasn’t been utilized yet. A prime example is another martial arts hero from Marvel, Shang-Chi. Not only does he have a similar cult following to Iron Fist, but he gives Marvel a chance to put an Asian superhero at the forefront. In fact, Shang-Chi is part of the same Heroes For Hire circle that Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight inhabit, making him an easy chatacter to bring into the fold.

As casting trends have shown, inclusion and representation are beginning to matter more than ever. However, reassigning ethnicity may not always be the best solution. Sometimes, it’s about bringing an overlooked hero into the forefront.

Thanksgiving Reflections

As I’m at the tail end of my work shift as a direct care counselor, having stemmed the tide of residents cursing staff out at random and a slew of dirty grown-man diapers and clean wipes, I do wish I were with my family this day. On the other hand, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. In spite of working a job that pushes the limits of my patience and sanity, and in spite of a socio-political climate that’s pushed most of us in the states at wit’s end, I’m finding myself taking moments to reflect on the small things that can actually say I’m blessed to have.

I’m thankful that even though my job as a direct care counselor is difficult, and the employer that I work for is frustrating, it allows me to have something to pay the bills, keep me fed, and able to be self-sufficient to a fault.

I’m thankful that even though I still live at home with my parents, I still have a roof over my head, and I can contribute to their well-being financially. 

I’m thankful that I don’t have a gym membership yet. I’ve trained harder in the comfort of my own bedroom than I ever could in a Planet Fitness or some other gym chain.

I’m thankful for being in a city with options. Even with the dividing line between the haves and have-nots widening in New York, I’m finding more opportunities to take advantage of now than I did 10 years ago.

I’m thankful for being single. Although the loneliness can get to me at times, it’s allowed me a lot more time to understand myself and what I need, and it’s given me more time to pursue my interests than being in a relationship would.

I’m thankful that at 34, even though I’m seen as “too old” for some things, I’m young enough for a fresh start.

And I’m thankful to be alive, most of all.

Starting From Scratch

The past few months have been almost like a breaking of a creative plateau for me with music. I had been dabbling with producing EDM/house music for some time, but now I’ve gone from dabbling to actually making legit compositions. What’s funny is that I’m doing it with the bare minimum of equipment: a refurbished laptop I purchased for $200, a budget tablet I purchased for $40, and software that didn’t even put a dent in my wallet.

image

A shot of part of a composition I’m working on using Caustic.

For over a decade, I’ve been doing hip-hop instrumentals on my laptop. For copyright reasons, I never released them for commercial purposes. My beats were sample-based, and I’ve heard about the high price tags of sample clearance in recent years. However, along with the hip-hop instrumentals, I had started dabbling in dance music, most notably trance and house. I was able to use the same production program on my laptop that I used for producing hip-hop beats, Linux MultiMedia Studio, or LMMS for short. Using the program’s stock instrument sounds, and even importing drum and instrument wav files of my own, I was able to churn out a few rough drafts to upload to my SoundCloud profile. It got some positive feedback. Yet I felt I could do much better. Also, I could only spend so much time on my laptop at time.

image

Using the PCMSynth plugin on Caustic.

My luck turned around when I purchased my first tablet a year ago, an iRulu X7 tablet, for $45. (I also purchased a compatible case with built-in keyboard for $7.99.)  Being that the tablet was an Android tablet, running on the KitKat OS, I had access to Google Play and all of it’s apps. Finding the right production app was a trial-by-error process. I went through drum machine apps that were garbage that I ended up deleting. I tried G-Stomper, but the interface was too hard to learn. In the end, I settled on a popular production app that would not only help me make music, but challenge me as a composer and musician:
Caustic.

image

Using the soundboard.

What first caught my eye was the keyboard interface. I was teaching myself piano, so I gravitated towards playing different chords on Caustic rather than just programming them. It was like playing a portable piano on my tablet. Once I started importing different sounds through Google Play, that’s when I truly began to experiment, using different sounds and filters, playing harmonies before I programmed them, and combining them with drums. I was finally making the music I was aching to create.

The past three months was a prime time for me. Being that my 7 inch tablet and case are as portable as can be, I’m able to work on my music anywhere. And I mean ANYWHERE. I’m able to touch up drum patterns coming home from work. I’m able to play melodies on my lunch break at work. I even took my tablet with me on Thanksgiving weekend to show my cousins what I’d been working on. On top of that, I went from having four rough drafts on my SoundCloud account to having an album’s worth of material that I’m ready to master and copyright.

image

Putting the final touches on a project in Magix Music Studio.

I’m sharing this not to brag, but to let people know that you don’t need to bleed your pocket to make good music, and even if your options are limited, you can do some damn good work. Along with my laptop and tablet being on the cheap side, the programs I’ve used cost a fraction of what most expensive music programs cost. My mastering program, Magix Music Studio, only cost me $60 on sale at a Best Buy before tax. Caustic on my tablet only cost me $10 on Google Play, if I remember correctly. And the first program I used, LMMS? That program was FREE. And no, it’s not pirated. It was made as a free Linux-based alternative to FL Studio (aka Fruity Loops). So whenever a peer told me that I needed a more expensive program that cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up, I’d look them dead in the eye and tell them, “What for? I’m making magic with the stuff I’m using now!”

So, if you’re aching to make music, but you’re on a tight budget, take heart, and remember my story. If I can do it, you can do it. As for my album, after I finish mastering all of my tracks, I’ll be ready to distribute my first album. If you’re curious about my work thus far, come check out my SoundCloud profile.

https://m.soundcloud.com/5g-the-elemental