The Obligatory NaNo Post

In retrospect, maybe I should’ve taken a break from writing this year.

I really don’t want to have to admit this, but there’s simply not enough time in the world to make everything happen the way you want to. I’m swamped with my photography work; I have not yet unburied myself from the cruise photos – still have to go through the 70s Night and comedy show shots, and that’s the second half of the cruise…so maybe, progress? – and I have two more post-cruise shows’ photos to get through as well. Next week I have two shoots. The week after I have another shoot. It’s also concert-planning season, so if I’m going to have gigs, now is the time for me to think about where they will be and send off portfolios and samplers to make it happen.

Where does writing fit?

Oh, and I’m still toying on that translation I’ve started last year. Yes, it takes a year to translate three books by hand from one language in another, and it’s something I love doing.

It’s not something I like admitting, when I can’t do something, but this year’s NaNo may well prove to be a bad idea in the regard of my overall creative workload. I won’t say that I don’t like it – I love every minute of it – but I simply do not have as much time to contribute to it as I have before, and that’s something I’m loath to admit. I love my series. I love my storyline. I don’t love not being able to give it the time and devotion that I want to allocate to developing it and making it grow.

The reason I love NaNo so much is because it motivates me to be industrious when it comes to the series. I do the bulk of my storyline exclusively during NaNo, and the wordcount requirement makes it imperative to get as much of the storyline down as possible. It’s absolutely fantastic for when I’m trying to get a big story out, such as what was with Books 3 and 4 of the series. Most of the plot was put down during NaNo, and it made for an easy edit job and an easier publishing down the line. I chose the two most complex characters to do a background on – Rhyssius and Morrhia – and this is going to take me a lot of time. I have set up the bulk of the story, but I need to put two and two together, and bridge them from two individuals to what they had ended up. The problem is, there is a lot of back story there, and there’s also a side-story to weave in about how the quaint semi-medieval world had ended up becoming connected with the rest of the universe. A lot of continuity that I had hinted at before needs to be brought to fruition.

It’s just…time! All of this takes time! And time is something I have precious little of. Taking on an incredibly complex storyline – hell, continuing it, all considered – is not an easy endeavor when you have a job, a business, and a backlog affiliated with the business.

How I’ve ended up with a word count that’s a full day ahead of schedule, I don’t know, but it’s good insurance because I would need to be ahead. One of my shoot gigs is actually an all-day endeavor, as opposed to me just being a weekend warrior for it and writing on the go with my laptop. So if I’m not writing for an entire day, I’d at least have a good cushion that will keep me on track.

After all, in the eight years I’ve done NaNo so far, I won all eight times. I want to continue the win streak, else I’d think myself extremely remiss. My entire life as I know it had changed ever since I wrote the first book – how much will it change if I keep at it?

K.G.

Trials and Tribulations of Traveling, The Series

You know what, you guys may as well have a laugh or two at my expense. Seeing as I’ve been on a plane a lot more frequently this year than most others, the likelihood of Murphy’s Law coming into play is that much higher.

That and, because I’m on a plane a lot, you may as well learn a couple things from me as you go.

Mind Your Connecting Flight

Believe me, it’s not as much of a pain as you may think to get a flight with a layover. If you’re a little Joint Challenged, like me – nice way of saying your knees hate you if you sit for too long – then a layover is a welcome, if not a wholly necessary thing. I’ve had a couple of experiences flying directly from NY to CA, and frankly, I’d not care to repeat the experience. JetBlue legroom was good, Delta inflight Internet also, but to be frankly honest, I would have liked to have been on the ground midway through. So I was pretty glad when Delta switched me to a layover flight for the second cross-country go.

But more than that, you have to mind your gates if you’re booking a layover.

I learned this lesson the hard way – ironically, on the last CA trip. What happened was that I had a transfer in either MSP or SLC – can’t remember which – but the fact is, the terminal layout was in a C-shape. Likely it was SLC, then. But anyhow, I got a text as I turned my phone on, of the gate of my next flight. I look out my window and…there’s the plane I’m supposed to board right there at the gate.

Except, well…I’m in the back of the plane right now, and I need to hotfoot it to the other one.

It takes about a half-hour for the plane to empty.

I have to board the next flight in no more than…say…twenty minutes?

…Problem.

I did what any reasonable traveler would do: I tapped my neighbors on the shoulder, and told them, “Look guys, I’m very sorry to do this, but my connecting flight is about to start boarding, and it looks like I have to run across the airport to get it.” They were very gracious about it, and let me pass through – all the better that I had next to nothing for carry-on. I then proceeded to set a land speed record for sprinting across an airport. Seriously; I made it across the terminal from one arm of the C to the other in no more than 10 minutes.

I got to learn the same lesson very recently coming back from Phoenix. MSP-NY leg of the flight. I come off my first plane, come over to chill out and have a meal, and I’m thinking, I’m in the right terminal, yes? And all’s well, yes?

Uh….not really. You see, when you’re tired and flying all day, it’s pretty easy to confuse Terminal G with Terminal C, and if you’re in one and need to be at the other, the last! thing you may want to get is a phone call from Delta Airlines, telling you your flight is going to leave twenty minutes early.

Whoever invented those electric carts needs an award, because if not for a gentleman who drove that thing across the airport, I would not have made it home in time.

This, of course, leads me to…

If it’s worth it, pay extra for it.

Look. I’m not just saying that. Let the above scenario be a lesson to you: if you want to make a connecting flight, or if you think you need to get off the plane earlier than usual, then the first thing you do is plan ahead for it.

I’m not saying fly first-class. We ain’t got that kind of money, honey.

I am, however, saying that if Delta or A.A. or any airline lets you have a pick of the Economy Comfort seating, or Business Class and the price is in double digits only…take those. They’re usually situated in the front of the plane, and they are exactly what you need if you are, say, getting into a long-haul trip and you’re expecting to be off the plane fast. For instance, the next cross-country I’m set to take, I’m supposed to transfer in Atlanta. Wouldn’t be a problem, it’s a quick little flight…you know, except the fact that Hartsfield Airport is enormous and I’ll be lucky if I’ll make it to my gate and have the time to grab a pre-flight drink.

And while my seatmate flying home this past trip told me that he can’t possibly imagine planning things out to this sort of a detail, might I remind you fine readers of mine, Murphy’s Law is indiscriminate.

K.G.

Six years ago.

I can’t think of a better title for this post, because it’s one of those kinda-personal and kinda-not-really things, where you just write it out and let the chips fall where they may.

If you read my childfree post before, then you know my desire not to reproduce is no secret. I make no bones of it and speak frankly about it. It’s fair game – no one ever asks people why they have kids or why they want kids, but a decision to not have any seems to give other people the license to try and “convert” us the childfree to their way of thinking. And sorry, folks, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and if you put my decisions under a magnifying glass, make sure yours stand up to the same muster.

I am also very frank about the fact that I’m sterile, and Sept. 12th marked the six-year anniversary of my surgery. I turn 30 in May of next year.

And I think it’s pretty fair to say that the past six years, even with their pitfalls, have been pretty damn good to me, and if they are any indication of the future, then I will say that this has been a pretty fantastic investment.

There have been many “studies” – and I use the quotations, for reasons I shall explain shortly – about regret for tubal ligations. The reason I use the quotations is because regret is a very arbitrary feeling, and there’s no universal category for one person feeling regret for the same thing as thirty or forty others. Considering that the “tubal regret” statistics are nearly all trotted out only for the reason to assure women seeking sterilization that they’ll “change their minds”, I really wonder how many of those studies were actually conducted by any means but an Internet poll.

As I said before, and I said time and time again, there’s a lot more thought that goes into the decision to not have a child than some people put into their decision to reproduce. A pretty sizable chunk of my peers either have kids, or are thinking about what to name them. All I could think of is, “Before you start of thinking of the positive pregnancy test, how about you first think of the world you want to birth your kid into!”

But they never question themselves. I, however, get questioned left and right, on the only account of going against the grain and actually asking myself, “Am I cut out for the job?” I look at my peers, and I’m thinking, “Did you think this through?” “Can you really handle this?” “How are you going to pull it off if [mitigating circumstance]?” And I also think, they should be asking themselves all of these things. Most of them do not, but those who do, and who come to the conclusion that hey, risking becoming a parent is not the right thing to do, are suddenly made the pariahs because they put to question what so very few others do.

I often say my tubal has been my best investment. I paid only my deductible at the time. A thousand bucks to ensure I’ll never reproduce.

What did I gain?

Financial security: it takes over $200,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18 without college costs as of today; that alone is cost of a house – and it’s money I will not lose over my lifetime. I may not be in my ideal living situation, but I have started putting away for retirement, and while my peers and I jointly suffer under the yoke of student loans, I have the potential to break free of mine so much sooner.

New horizons and experiences: because I am CF, I can pick up a suitcase and jet off to anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice if I’m called to a gig. I can carve out the time to read a book, or take additional classes to pursue interests. I’m free to move to a different part of the country, if I so desire. I’m free to travel – which is a passion of mine that I indulge often. I can go out to dinner to an exotic cuisine.

Professional advancement: because I don’t have kids, I can put in more hours at my work or business, which results in more income for me and my future. Yes, this means that I have to pick up the slack for my childed counterparts, and I make it work for me – neither my bosses nor my clients overlook my hard work. I can keep learning and expanding my skills and business, and invest both time and money into new technology to further it.

My health and peace of mind: never minding the enduring hell of pregnancy and childbirth, I am one of those people who don’t deal with stress very well, and the one thing I treasure is my quiet time. I am a worrying person by nature, and while I worry over my friends a bit, I trust them to take care of themselves. As a result, I can take much better care of me.

And most importantly: time. I will always find the time to nurture my friendships and connections. I invite my friends to dinner, to shows, to explore with me. I always have the time to set aside to get some more sleep – something I don’t do because of the workload, but the fact is, that time is there. And most of all, I have the time to put towards my creative pursuits.

If you want to call me selfish – please, go ahead, but ask yourself at the same time: how is taking care of my life and business selfish? And while you’re at it, please give me the reasons that you had children, that do not start with “I want” or “The bible” or “because that’s what you do”.

I’ll wait.

I will say this, though, that there is a lot of resentment towards the childfree people from their childed counterparts. Particularly over the aforementioned financial security and the free time. The free time most of all, and the resentment is most palpable from parents of young children, usually under 5. And to this I have to ask, did you not consider that before having kids? Did you not think of all that you’d have to sacrifice when you bring a baby into your life?

Turns out, a lot of my peers didn’t think of all of that.

While I will always be for giving parents some sort of a support system, having seen friends with children struggle through their early days – and being there for them – I will also be an even bigger advocate of planning in advance. The old saying, “Failure to plan on your part is not an emergency on anyone else’s part” is callous, unfeeling, and 100% true.

And six years ago, I made the rest of my future happen.

K.G.

 

 

A John Mayer song comes to mind…

I’m not exactly what you call a John Mayer fan, but if someone were to ask me to photograph a concert of his, I’d do so gladly. But the one thing I like about Mayer, apart from his voice, is the fact that his lyrics are relatable in a way that very few people’s lyrics are.

I will talk to you, dear readers, of Gravity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about depression in light of Robin Williams, and some thoughts about my own history with that coat came to mind. Mainly how I used to delve into music headfirst in my teens to escape everything, a habit I maintained into adulthood, just with different music. Of course, back then I was routinely yelled at for “having my headphones on all the time”, but the fact is, what was in my headphones was a huge contributor to me coming out of the coat.

Gravity didn’t come out until I was past my teens, and I didn’t hear it until maybe 2007-2008. The lyrics of that song elicited a response in me that was akin to me hearing Down to the Bone for the first time: I stopped and paid attention.

What made me pay attention is pretty much the John Mayer signature: his lyrics are very earthy. He talks about just how people feel, and he doesn’t dress it up. In the world of manufactured performance masquerading as pop music, John Mayer’s reality is refreshing.

What I didn’t think about before, which I think about right now, is likely that John Mayer spoke of depression in the lyrics for Gravity. Either depression, or the overwhelming need to find oneself in a world that cares little for authenticity.

Oh, I’ll never know what makes this man
With all the love that his heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away…

It’s this bit of lyrics in particular that I thought about today.

How many times does depression make actors of the best people in the quest to hide that something is not right? And how many times people get so fed up with how they feel on a daily basis that there is no limit to what they will do to escape? How many of us have felt that we could just up and pack everything in a case and go out on the road, and let the chips fall where they may, if it means that what’s going on inside our heads will finally shut up?

It’s not that we are not loved…we are. All of us. Whether we realize it or not. But it’s the fact that we, when we are at our worst, cease to see that, that is one of the hallmarks of the coat. As I said before, one of the more insipid features of the coat is that it confines. It confines your physical movements, it confines your thoughts, and it confines your perception. You don’t see things as you used to, and you don’t see things that may be the way to unbutton the coat. Or, worse, you will see them, but have no strength to move to get to them.

There’s a semi-truthful joke that says, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it’s better to cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle”. Honestly, I see a lot more people crying in their Mercedes, to follow along with the joke.

No, really. Depression among the affluent is a lot more easily noticeable. Whatever my personal feelings on wealth aside, the one most common thing I see if someone makes over a certain amount per year is that their earnings are pretty much in direct correlation with their misery levels.

I see it all the time. I go to work through Penn Station, and every day at 9am, it’s chock-full of people rushing to get to work from their outlying suburban homes. My old job took me through Grand Central, where the populace was largely the same. It’s basically a sea of transient regulars, all rushing from one train to another, from the light rail to the subway, and if you stand still and focus on faces, you are hard-pressed to find many smiles above the smart suits. Most of the times, they wear the same look, the one that says they would rather be anywhere but here, that they would rather do everything and anything to not go to Penn Station every day, to not go to work, to not make their living… $300 suit, impeccable accessories, all the trimmings of wealth, and none of that is enough to keep the coat at bay. The coat doesn’t discriminate.

Twice as much, ain’t twice as good
And can’t sustain, like one-half could…

Well, come to think about that, I can also bring forward the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s, “A Satisfied Mind”. Money is not an answer. Money can buy you the trimmings, but what good are the trimmings, if they have nothing to adorn? What good is gilt cover on the outside when the inside is spent charcoal?

Is it any wonder, then, when someone goes on a bender that is seemingly completely unexplained and unexplainable from the outside?

Truth is, it’s perfectly explainable. And very easy to understand…if you’ve been in that position.

Only those who were on the inside of the coat know that when someone snaps, they have basically Had Enough. That bender, that binge of behavior that sometimes ends in police activity, court appearances, or sometimes worse, usually roots from the simple point of that the person just got plain old sick and tired of feeling the way they feel. It’s the point where no amount of antidepressants, money, self-medicating, what-have-you works anymore.

Though on another thought, it does strike me as a song about unfulfillment. Both ways, the lyrics are relatable and apply both ways, in both situations. But in truth, how many of us go through life without at least one of those moments where you want to just up and get away from it all?

This is why self-care is important, folks. If it’s an annual trip to a tropical island, sitting on a bench in a park and watching the clouds float by, drinking a coffee…whatever your method for getting in touch with your peace, do it.

Just keep me where the light is…

K.G.

The Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising

I was sitting down with one of my best friends at dinner last night, and she told me that she’s heading to her first jazz cruise, and after our talk, it occurred to me that considering that I’m embarking on my sixth jazz cruise this year – fifth with the same production, Capital Jazz – that it may be a good idea to do a post on what to expect on a music charter.

Mind you, while I’m a jazz cruiser, there are other music charters, and this can apply to any such a charter cruise – at least, that’s what I’m hoping to write out in here.

Before I get into the tips and tricks, though, keep this in mind:

A Charter Cruise Is NOT a Regular Cruise. It’s anything but.

I should perhaps say that a jazz cruise is not like any regular cruise. But nor is any other music charter. For those of y’all who don’t know, a charter cruise is basically a boat that’s rented out to do a theme cruise. 7-8 days of nothing but X theme, with activities and various other things to do.

Charter cruises are priced much higher than ordinary cruises, and for a reason: apart from just your cabin, you’re also paying admission for all those events and shows. They’re all included in your price.

And it’s worth it.

Your cabin is going to be little more than a crash pad to sleep, shower, make quick plans with friends (and you’ll make them if you haven’t brought them), and jet right back out the door. You will be doing things aboard the ship and off the ship pretty much every waking minute. The highlight of a charter music cruise is, naturally, the music. On board the ship, you can also expect workshops, Q&As, classes, parties, theme parties, and jam sessions.

A typical day on a cruise looks like this:

9am: dock in port, people come off ship to explore/do excursions

12pm: party somewhere on the island, or on the boat, or a choice of both

3-4pm: back on board! And a Q&A on the ship.

5-8pm: prep for dinner if you have early dining,* or the concert** of that night.

8-11pm: concert**/dinner for late dining.*

* The dining is split into sets: if you have dinner at 6pm, then you see the 8pm show, give/take an hour for prep/drink. Likewise, if your dinner is at 8pm, you attend the 6pm show, then go to dinner.

** There are always two shows: one in the main theater, one in the aft lounge, and I hope you can powerwalk if you want to make both!

11pm: drinks/get seats for jam session

12am – last man standing: jam session. Last man standing usually translates to anywhere between 2-4am.

And the next day, you get to do it all over again! On sea days, you can sub in the land excursions for more Q&As, parties, concerts, events, etc. but you get the gist. You do not stay idle.

FOR SEVEN OR EIGHT DAYS.

You do not take a jazz cruise, or a music cruise, period, if you want to get some rest. This is a party cruise. You take it to listen to awesome music, meet and mingle with the artists, and have a great time. You will sleep when you’re on your flight home.

And I’ve been doing this annually, so I offer to thee, my dear readers and future cruisers alike, my guide to Jazz Cruising 101.

1. Pack a sweater and/or flannel pajamas.

If you’re going to the Caribbean, as most jazz cruises often go, you may be asking, why a sweater? And I answer you: the air conditioning on the ships will turn your cabin into an igloo. This I speak from hard-won experience: last year, I got sick due to my hotel a/c being too strong, and the cruise-ship a/c was no weaker. I turned the knob to heat, and it was still a cool 60-odd degrees in my room. Trust me: the flannel pajamas I packed were a godsend. Know what else was? My running jacket, which I often wore to shows. The theaters get c-o-l-d. That air conditioner is no joke. Trust me: pack it now and you will have no cause to regret it later.

Speaking of unexpected illness…

2. Every ship has a med bay comparable to a small hospital. 

And it’s a lot cheaper than you’d expect, and the service is impeccable. That said? Pack a sampler of basic medicines just in case. My personal favorites: Advil, Benadryl, Dramamine, and cough drops. Bring any and all of your prescription meds as well.

If you are unwell on the ship, don’t be afraid to drop down to Deck 0 and ask for help. There’s a fully stocked pharmacy and a small but functional ER. Be healthy, that is first.

3. You need not worry about motion sickness too much…and don’t worry about the storms either.

These ships are bleeding enormous. Most of the time, you don’t feel the motion. The one time it got bad was in 2012, when my ship was behind that little storm known as Hurricane Sandy. That wasn’t pretty. That was the only time I ever hugged the walls to try and walk down the stairs. That is also a massive exception. Most of the time, the ships are very steady, and should a hurricane crop up on your route, the ship is often rerouted to avoid it. Bring the Dramamine anyway, because if you won’t need it, someone you will meet just might.

4. PACE YOURSELF.

This is the Rule #1 of the Capital Jazz Supercruise, and it’s with good reason. There has been more than one instance where I’ve seen people fall dead-to-hell-asleep in the casino lounge, in the aft lounge, in the atrium lounge, anywhere there’s a soft and cushiony seat, and why? Because they tried to do too much in one day. And I’ve been one of these people; I’ve had folks shake me awake in a lounge after a late-night jam sesh before. I’ve had someone scoop me out of a chair because I was too dang tired to move. You need to allocate some nap time between your activities, or forgo this or that show, because you can, and will, exhaust yourself.

Which brings me to…

5. Coffee is your friend.

Needs no explanation. There’s a reason I get a cappuccino at 11pm between aft lounge show and jam session, without fail. It’s a tip that people told me they picked up from me. Glad to be an influence :) but if you love jam sessions, you will, without fail, need a doppio espresso.

6. Yes, the ship has laundromats.

And I suggest you use them. There is, guaranteed, at least one self-serve laundromat on board every major cruise ship. And few things suck like going home after eight days with a suitcaseful of laundry. Valet service is available with your stateroom steward, but it will be about $20-40 bucks per bag, depending on your item list. Self is cheaper. Either way, it’s necessary. If something like Hurricane Sandy happens again, and you’re in a city other than your hometown, clean unmentionables will be essential.

7. Budget 1K for your onboard spending – and believe me, the amount is with good reason.

This is actually pretty important. As I told my friend, you will be very surprised at how quickly it all adds up.

This is what’s NOT included on a charter cruise:

- Any and all alcohol (and no, don’t bring your own, it can and will be confiscated)

- Steakhouse reservations (which are worth their $30 a pop, but…) – reservations only, not the food itself

- Gift shop stuff

- Shore excursions

- Artist CDs and merchandise

- Exercise classes (sometimes, this varies ship to ship)

- Spa treatments (and their cancellations!)

- Internet access

- In-cabin telephone usage for calls home

- Valet laundry service

Spa treatments are my personal Achilles’s Heel. I love massages on cruise ships; they are exorbitantly expensive, but the way they are set up, it is worth every. last. little. penny. However, I have to obey Rule #4 and indulge myself in a very limited fashion. I learned the hard way as to what happens when I don’t. My budget for the year ahead generally does NOT thank me if I go overboard, pun intended.

The reason why I say plan for a thousand bucks is because that is, realistically, an average amount that I had of onboard spending at all my cruises. If it’s not the spa, it will be other things. Drinks onboard a cruise are an average of $10 a pop. If you have two with every dinner, it’s $20 a day, or $80-100 for your entire cruise. Double that if you also have two drinks at each show. Triple that if you also partake at the bar. Quadruple that if you’re buying other people’s drinks, and add some more for that delicious bottle of wine. Before you know it, that’s $500 on just alcohol.

You may or may not use the Internet plans on the ship, but if you have a laptop on board (I generally take mine, because writing + photo work = need!!!), then it may actually be a good idea to invest in a bargain plan. The cheapest per-minute option is usually about $130, which is like 20c per minute. And again, before you know it, you just might use it all up. So there you go, now you’re up to $630.

Add your merch/CDs/gift shop stuff, and maybe toss in a shore excursion if you don’t buy one in advance…and you’re at $800!

So plan for 1K of onboard spending. Whether or not you end up actually spending it is another question.

And of course: if there’s anything that you can book and reserve in advance, when you’re doing the online check-in for your cruise, do so. It will drastically improve your onboard budget. Some cruise ships actually will offer you a discount for advanced booking. DO THAT.

8. Know your cabins.

This is something that I am passing along to you as an experienced cruiser, moreover as an experienced solo cruiser.

I travel alone for many reasons, and as I learned, I’m at a disadvantage in doing so. Why? Price. Most cruises price their cabins at double occupancy, anticipating two people per cabin. Myself, I travel alone, and this is why I love Capital Jazz: Capital Jazz actually offers singles pricing, and marketwise, theirs is easily the most reasonable price tag for a single. The trouble with that is, you may be limited in your cabin choices, and that is okay. It’s not as though you will be in your cabin all that much anyway – with all that’s on the ship to do, you will only use your cabin to shower and sleep, most likely.

However: there are some cabins to take and to avoid, as I learned.

To Take: If you’re OK with an inside cabin, and you like a little extra room, take something at the very nose of the ship.

2202 was my cabin last year, and I’ve stayed in 1202 on a previous sister ship. Both times, the cabins were nearly twice the size of any other cabin (had 1251 on yet another cruise; also an inside, and it was a good comparison point). They both fall under singles pricing – and if you like your cabins roomy, they are an absolute steal for the cost. The thing is, if you’re traveling as a single, pretty much any cabin will suit you fine, but the nose cabins will be much roomier.  

Drawback? …where do you think the anchor chain is? Expect rattly wakeup calls on port days. Still, holy hell, the room. The room! It’s like one and a half of any other cabin.

To Avoid: Unless you are good at sleeping through noise, avoid cabins by the stairs, or above and below the casino, theater, and lounge.

Been there and done that. My very first cruise, not with CapJazz, I was under the theater. Even if I didn’t attend the jam sessions, I attended the jam sessions. This year, I took a porthole cabin and ended up near a staircase…and it’s right under the theater. But, you know what? I picked it, and I’ll stay in it.

One thing I strongly recommend avoiding: anything near a utility room. Oh lord, the 6:40am rattling of service carts. Gah.

Which brings me to…

9. ALWAYS! pack an eye mask and earplugs.

Eye mask will have you sleeping soundly if your cabin has a porthole and you’re crawling in just as the sun is coming up. Earplugs will protect your hearing if you’re sitting near the speakers and/or when the late-night party folks walk and roister past your cabin door on the way to theirs. Trust me, both are your best friend.

And while I’m talking about packing, let’s revisit the essentials.

10. Toiletries – don’t skimp.

Shove them in your checked luggage and take all that you may need, plus extra. Reason: it gets pricey if you buy your essentials in the ship’s gift shop. I will say that their sunscreen is pretty excellent, and that’s the one thing worth splurging on aboard, (and my skin gets persnickety quite a fair bit…as my Cali friends can attest, having seen me lobster-red a few times!) but really: prep ahead. That and you’re on a ship for a week; not every port will have a CVS. St. Thomas had a RadioShack and a CVS, and both came in handy one year. But that also taught me to never, ever hesitate before packing something extra.

Oh, and ladies, take your own hair dryer. The one in the cabin is crap. I have a hot brush (dryer with a round brush attachment) and I rarely go on a long-haul trip without it.

A tip from my friend too: take a straightening iron in lieu of a clothing iron. They don’t allow clothing irons on board, but hey: if you gotta press something… :)

Another tip: portable humidifier. I gotta invest in one of those that can work from a simple water bottle. That plus a little peppermint oil will mean your respiratory system will be healthy.

11. Comfy clothes

You will need to dress up only for theme parties, dinnertime, and shows. All other times, comfort is king. Sweats, bathing suits, yoga pants, tees, etc. Trust me, comfort is a lovely thing.

12. Travel surge protector/outlet splitter. No, not a big power strip, those are not allowed.

Think this one from Belkin. It’s the best $20 you’ll spend, and let me explain why: nearly all staterooms have only one electric outlet.

It’s something no one tells you and something I learned the hard way. If you’re sharing a room, this little surge protector I linked will actually go a long way. Plus, it comes with two USB ports, which is handy for charging your mobile devices. Trust me: worthwhile investment.

13. The artists are people too. Socialize and mingle, but please respect them and their space too.

This I write as a friend to many artists, and as someone who had to step in and do the job of a handler to a couple of them as well: they are people too.

Yes, this is their job: play music, sell their music, socialize with the fans. But if they’re on board with their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, children – please respect that. I’ve seen some questionable behavior in my six years of cruising, and believe me, they need to have some rest as well.

14. DO NOT MISS THE BOAT.

They tell you, at each port you dock into: set your watch to the ship’s time. EVERY year, without fail, there were people who were left stranded on the pier because they couldn’t make it back to the ship in time, even though they tell you, at every port, what time the ship is set to leave.

DO NOT MISS THE BOAT. You do not want to be That Person, who will later end up as comedian fodder. Trust me.

But just in case…

15. Spend the extra hundred bucks getting trip insurance.

I never travel anywhere without it, and definitely don’t go on any cruises without it. A recommended website is InsureMyTrip.com, which will give you quotes across several insurers. You can pick the coverage you need and want (trip cancellation, trip interruption, etc.) and it will give you a price.

And if you are the person who ends up stranded on an island because you missed the boat, this insurance can, and will, without fail, save your skin.

16. The final night of the cruise – be ready.

Cruise debarkation is every bit as tedious as the embarkation, but seeing as the party doesn’t end on the last night, here’s a couple of tips:

- Have your Travel Outfit laid out.

- Have the barest toiletry essentials still unpacked, and no more

- Have a small tote/beach bag at the ready.

This is how debarkation works: usually, you have two options to get yourself and your bags off the ship. Assisted debarkation, wherein your bags are collected the night before and you claim them on a carousel a la airport style, or self-debarkation, wherein you wheel off your own. Sometimes, the ship will forward your bags along to your hometown as well, so by the time you land, you claim your bags at the airport.

My favorite is the assisted debarkation, because that’s when I don’t have to worry about the big suitcase, and I am prepped in advance well enough that by the time I’m off the ship, all I do is zip to the airport and go home.

Which is why I say: make sure you have the Very Barest Essentials and your Travel Outfit ready, and a small tote bag.

Suppose I’m in a dress for the final show of the night. I put out my suitcase at around 10pm-midnight. That’s when they’re collected. I’m not going to the airport in my dress, so I keep my sweats, contact lens solution, and sneakers out of my suitcase. By the time the porters haul away my suitcase, what do I have to carry off the ship? My camera bag, my little tote that contains my dress and shoes from the night before…and I’m dressed in my comfy sweats. When I reunite with my suitcase, I stuff the tote into the suitcase and to the airport!

The best thing about all these cruises is that you will make a million new friends. I mean it. I met a lot of my current clients and friends on board the cruises. Even if you come alone, you’re never alone. You become A Family on the ship, and it’s a family that, if CapJazz is any example, is several thousand people strong.

At least once in your lifetime, do a music cruise. It’s so well worth it.

K.G.

ETA, w/THANKS TO MONICA: 

COMFORTABLE SHOES.

Ladies, this one is for you. If you’re like me, then chances are, you have some Nice Shoes. I have a stellar pair of stilettos that make me look awesome…but they’re staying home.

Why?

Because, and I came very close to learning this the hard way…you don’t want a sprained ankle. The ships lurch. Your balance shifts. And heels that may look good may not always turn out so good when it comes to walking around a ship that’s about a mile from nose to stern. Moreover, a lot of the thresholds on the boat are just slightly raised. Yeah, problem.

Fold-a-flats are a saving grace. So are flip-flops.

ETA #2, with thanks to LaVonna, whom I chatted with about those…

This may be a little ridiculous, but trust me, when you’re going on a cruise, a little handheld scale for your luggage will be an excellent accessory.

I touch on packing in my follow-up post. The thing about that is this: if you’re taking a second bag to avoid overage charges, it would really pay off well to make sure that the bags fit the weight restriction.

Check this little scale out, by ConAir, available at your local Walgreen’s.

Also…check out this video, maybe or maybe not linked above: how to pack like an engineer.

On Dating and Music

So my friend Ace Livingston brought up an interesting topic on Facebook: dating a musician. Pros and cons.

For one, I don’t date. Just getting that out of the way. However, over the years, I’ve become a part-sounding board part-shrink to my friends in the industry, so I got to see everything without being an active participant. Considering I have been in the music industry for about 7 years now, give or take, in the respective positions of observer, graphic designer, and photographer,  I’m leery of dating people who are, one way or another, my clients, or friends of my clients. Regardless of whether or not there’s anyone whom I wouldn’t mind going out with, I lack the time, the patience, and the opportunity for such a thing. Should I decide to go forward with it, though, it is a strictly an at-your-own-risk endeavor.

That’s effectively the best way to put it: when you are dating a musician, you are doing so completely at your own risk.

I’ve always been a fan of the saying look before you leap, and a better variant of the saying is know the person you’re getting involved with. Personalities don’t change. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it one more time, with feeling: no one will change for anyone just because they’re in a relationship or in bed with that person. Tigers don’t change their stripes, and this is doubly true of relationships. Get to know the musician in your life as a person first. This will give you a solid idea of who they are, and based on that, will give you a solid idea of what to expect should you date them. Get to know them independent of your feelings: love will, without fail, make fools of people well before ever giving them their due.

So now, the pros and cons of dating someone in the music industry. This applies across the board, but for the purposes of the narrative, I will use the scenario of girl dating a male musician.

The Pros

- The music. If you love and thrive on music, you will never be left wanting for it if you’re dating someone who makes it for a living.

- The travel. Your guy will be touring. A lot. If you’re in the position to go with him, I encourage this strongly. You will see the world and it will be pretty spectacular. If you love to travel, you’re all the better for it.

- Perspective. Generally, if someone is in the business of making people feel something through music, trust me, they will make you feel something as well, and open your eyes to a very different way of looking at/thinking about/feeling things. Most of the musicians I met are some of the most insightful and intelligent people I’ve ever seen, and I am only glad for it. You will be a different person and you will take what you learn through the remainder of your life.

- Business. Musicians rely on their wits to make their living. This is a very people-oriented industry and you are only as successful as your networking. Dating a musician is a crash course in Networking 101, and if you are trying to step out on your own in the working world, and you will learn, thanks to your significant other, exactly how to talk to people successfully. You will build a network unlike anything in the world. And if you aren’t comfortable around people, this is one of the best teaching environments for it.

I say this a hundred times on a day: I’m a hermit. I don’t like crowds. I love my alone time, and I love my privacy. But working in the music business, I have to talk to people regardless of whether or not I like it, and believe me, I would’ve never been so comfortable holding court in a crowd if I didn’t work in this industry. This is something I’m glad for a hundred times on a day as well: I would not know how to network if not for the music world.

- Adventure. Spontaneity is something key to any relationship, but if you’re with a musician, the travel and the adventuring only adds to it. You won’t look at, “Hey, let’s go somewhere” the same way again.

Well, it sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But this, like any other dating environment requires work, and it requires a lot more work than people may bargain for. Dating a musician has some serious pitfalls, and most of these root from the fact that the musician is, very much, a public figure.

The Cons

- Never enough time. This is something that I find to be a boon of even being friends with my musician clients. There is never enough time. Have a conversation? Take them out for a drink? Take them somewhere fun? Oh good grief, don’t make me laugh. I’ve been trying to take one of my best friends to the NY Transit Museum for years. I can tell you exactly how many times that happened: zip. It’s something that will likely never happen due to his schedule and mine, and that is something that I had to learn to accept. If you have a musician boyfriend, trust me when I say that you will encounter this sooner than later. The early-am wakeup calls to catch a flight right after a gig going past midnight are par for the course. Broken plans because a gig comes up are too. Can’t have a conversation because the guy you want to talk to is about to load in for a gig? Yep. Been there, done that. This is something that you have absolutely no choice but to accept. I can’t say this enough. You either roll with the punches or get out of the ring.

- Business. Like all people businesses, there will be a lot of situations that aren’t pleasant to deal with. Get used to dealing with them. You’ll be the mediator, the peacemaker, the sounding board, etc. as the situation demands it. And know that the business will likely always come first. Again, this is something you’d have to get used to.

- Other people. This is a YMMV (your mileage may vary) situation, but I have yet to encounter anyone who didn’t have an encounter with a wannabe groupie at least, or didn’t have groupies flock to them – and this is male and female musicians. There will be other people. There will be groupies. And this is a standard with nearly anyone who is a public person and a byproduct of our celebrity-worship culture.

There are three real ways to deal with the situation if you’re dating a musician: 1. Trust that he will say no and be secure enough in your relationship to trust in that, 2. Accept that he will do someone else while on the road, make sure he uses protection, and be secure enough in your relationship to allow that, or 3. don’t date him altogether. There’s zero room for insecurity. If you’re even the slightest bit not okay with the guy in your life being surrounded by strange women after each gig, don’t date him. If, however, you are secure in your relationship and you know your guy well, whether it’s option 1 or option 2 that arises when he’s touring, make sure to actually work on the relationship. No relationship is without effort, and this is no exception.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my musician friends (95% male) besieged by women, and equally how many female musicians I’ve seen who had been eyed as though they’re steaks. Hell, I’ve been eyed like that and I’m just the photog. And I’ve been equally accused of being a groupie (by other women, never by the musicians themselves). And mind you this: if you’re female, under a certain age, and look good, the assumption that you’re dating someone on stage or sleeping with someone on stage is par for the course. Unfortunate, but I have no illusions about how I’m perceived.

That, frankly, pisses me off, because of the four or so years I’ve been working as a graphic designer/photographer, most of that time has been spent in a quest to be taken seriously, and some days, it seems that I still fight that uphill battle. It still pisses me off, but it’s par for the course.

- Scrutiny by association. See above about insecurity. If you’re dating a musician and you’re touring with him, expect to become as much of a public figure as he is. You will be judged. You will have people pass their opinions on you and your relationship. You and your relationship will be under a microscope. If you value privacy, a VERY good way to start is to make sure that you and the guy you’re with both acknowledge that Time Alone will be a necessity.

No, dating musicians is no walk in the park. Hell, being friends with musicians is something that takes an inordinate amount of work. I will say this, though: to me, it is worth it. However, I know why: I am absolutely ass over teakettle in love with what I do as a photographer and I wouldn’t trade the life that I built for the world. I love my friends like my own family and refer to them as such. The music is beyond words. To me, it is worth it for that reason.

But if you think that it’s easy – good grief, no. Never was, and never will be. But I soldier on – again, because I love what I do and love my friends.

Would I date a musician?

First, let’s be practical. If I knew that I could navigate the relationship without it impacting my business too much, and if I could strike an appropriate balance between my life and the relationship, I may be convinced into giving it a shot. Even then, though, my life – and my life’s responsibilities: work, apartment, health, business – will forever and a day come first, and I cannot abide by any man who is so insecure that he would need to be first in my life above my work, my health, and my friendships. The sort of security of self that a musician requires in his girlfriends, I require of all people in my life as a matter of course and that is non-negotiable.

Secondly…if I really had to consider that that the music business is rife with conflict, insecurity, politics, and straight-out BS, then truly, there’s no amount of money I’d be paid to actually date within it voluntarily. It will take someone very extraordinary to make me take that chance.

K.G.

State of the Jazz Union

You may have read this in multiple parts in rant form, but a much more cohesive version of why I gnashed teeth over Yoshi’s and Jazz Fest West, and any festival apart from my beloved Capital Jazz that went more than 25% R&B, is live up at Detroit Jazz Magazine, where I’m an occasional journalist.

Link: http://detroitjazzmagazine.com/Articles/stateofjazz.html

You may be wondering why I’m rehashing this. And I will tell you in no uncertain terms: because someone has to say it. Someone has to say it and someone has to keep saying it. Until and unless we all come together – promoters, bookers, artists, photographers, fans, and journalists – then we will really not have very much in the realm of what the jazz scene has to offer.

And a genre that has been alive, evolving, and robust in every iteration for a hundred years deserves better than to be pushed by the wayside.

K.G.