Helping Soldiers with PTSD through Music


As you know, a few days ago I set up a new Facebook page called Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies. It is about people helping other people. Today I came across a group that help soldiers with PTSD by using songwriting to express themselves and tell their stories in a trust environment, which is helping a lot of people, even those who are not musical themselves, or don’t realise they are.

Several years ago I wrote a song called Another Stretch in Iraq. You can hear a demo on my Reverbnation page. It was motivated by a newspaper story of a service woman who came home looking for some love and normality only to find that her man had left her for another woman. A common story sadly.

I joined a military blogging (milblogging) site and spent a good year or so talking to military personnel, mostly serving overseas at the time to get a feel (as much as that is possible, given that family members who served almost never spoke about their experiences when a civilian was present).

They trusted me and I learned a lot about their lives, their hopes, their agonies in losing brothers and sisters, general life and the isolation from their families where their fellow soldiers in fact became their families such that many could not and still can not adjust to civilian life without their brothers and sisters from he service.

When I was in Orlando some years ago, I played a couple of sets at a biker-friendly bar in Longwood and my song Another Stretch in Iraq was one of the songs I played with some great backing from the house band. I wish I had taken some photos because it was the classic bar with 30 Harley’s in a neat row out front, sawdust on the floor, the sort of place that Kiwis only see on movies and TV shows and that the cab driver thought I had no place being until he saw the friendly bear hug greeting I got from the woman who ran it.

After finishing the song a group of 6-foot something burly men came up to the stage. The biggest of them all came up to me with tears in his eyes and I thought I was about to become roadkill. He and his friends looked me in the eye and then he shook my hand and said I took him right back to the theatre at Desert Storm. He re enlisted twice and his son had just left for Iraq a week ago.

It was so rewarding to me that I had captured the emotions and environment with integrity and that the song gave them some comfort. I haven’t worked harder on a song and would love to record it professionally. It is on Reverbnation as a free download and is also on a couple of sites of free MP3 downloads that is made available to all serving US military.

Back to the Facebook page. There are thousands of returned servicemen in dozens of countries who suffer from PTSD. They come from all walks of life and many of them play musical instruments, or used to. Many of them can no longer motivate themselves and need a hand. Some of them join groups like the one in the video above. Many will not join groups, either because they can’t or won’t ask for help, because they don’t want to appear weak, or because they are still in service and don’t want to jeopardise their careers by showing weakness.

The concepts in this Facebook page mean that all they have to do is talk to a few friends and family that they are close to and trust. Then all they need to do is ask for a little encouragement, it’s as simple as that. For those who wish to or are able to contribute stories, I am hoping they will join the Facebook Group because it can only grow and flourish if they know about it.

I’m hoping that if you know people like that, you will share this post or the link with them so that they can be made aware that help is available and whilst it is not easy as it sounds, with a little help from their friends it can happen.

As John Lee Hooker and my idol Carlos Santana sang, Blues is a Healer. It heals those who play it as much as those who listen to it. If you can help someone pick up their instrument, or raise their voice and break the silence, you can have a profound influence on people’s lives and it can be as simple as my mate Rob sending me a TXT message saying “pick that gat up and play for 10 minutes man.”

If you know of anyone that could benefit, please share the Facebook group with them and perhaps join us yourself. My thanks on their behalf.

I need a little help from my friends


Mercy ScannerSince I was told those words “YOU HAVE CANCER” I have been wondering how I could turn it into a positive. I’ve seen so many people on TV on shows like The Voice and they all have a story of troubles that they turned into amazing success stories.

It’s taken me two years to come up with a HAG. It’s not fully fleshed out yet and it is full of challenges and I’m hoping for my friends to help me out.

I’ve always considered myself a survivor, but I’ve struggled at times and often feel embarrassed when people suffering 100 times more than I am, try to make me feel better.

I’ve been reading an awesome (but huge as friends and fellow sufferers I have bought copies for) book called SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal which is all about using gamification to help yourself deal with chronic illness and trauma. Between that and two sensory deprivation floats over the last 2 days at FloatCulture in Auckland, I’ve come up with 4 ideas. I will flesh them out later, but I’m looking for a little help now and a lot in the future and I’m hoping you will find a way to join me.

Another Stretch in Iraq

  1. I am a singer songwriter, or at least I was before I got sick and I want to be again. Over the last 2 years I have struggled to play my guitars. I typically pick one up, play for a few minutes and put it down again. I struggle with chronic fatigue. In recent times I have often had to go back to bed during the day and even if I have slept most of the afternoon, I’m likely to be asleep again around 7:30-8PM. Here are some things I want to do:
    1. In about 9 months I want to do a gig somewhere with great acoustics, playing my originals (including new songs about dealing with cancer) with some backing from other musos.
    2. As per the SuperBetter program, I need 2 or 3 people (close friends) to check up on me and help me stay on track. That might be texting me or giving me a call each day and asking how my music is going to make sure that I stick with it, even if it’s only for five minutes.
  2. I’d like to help other musicians with cancer who feel the same way and would love to get back into their music but are struggling like I have. It might be that I can put together some sort of guidelines (everyone is different and it isn’t paint by numbers) based on my own experience, such that they can come up with their own model and get help from their friends to achieve the same results.
  3. If  we can achieve that, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could put together a gig/s of songwriters and musicians who have cancer or are in remission around New Zealand? Wouldn’t that be something amazing to aim for!
  4. I need a lot of help. At the end of this year I had most of the last 2 weeks off sick because of fatigue. I spent most of that time sleeping day and night. I need my job (both because I love it and because I need the income) but I’ve been struggling to front up. I need help putting together and maintaining a website or Facebook page to tell people about this initiative. Bottom line is it is going to be a struggle just for me to play every day (and keep my job), let alone grow this thing into something that will give energy and bring a spark back into people’s lives who are suffering and struggling just to get from one day to the next.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? Do you know anyone who is a musician with cancer (or in remission) who has struggled like I have to motivate themselves and get back into it? When I have been able to play and write, like the song I wrote, which I blogged about here in a Cancer Meltdown,  it was extremely cathartic. Music is a healer.

I will be approaching a few close friends directly to assist me in my immediate journey to play every day. But for the other things I can do with a lot of help. Do you know songwriters and musicians with cancer? Do you know people who want to help them? Can you help in some way?

Can you please share this post with people who you think might be interested?

I’m going to try with a little help from my friends, actually a lot of friends if possible and friends of friends, because it’s 10 in the morning and I’m already tired. But I am going to play today.

Thanks for sticking with me. There is a lot of work to do and I can’t do most of it. We all know music is good medicine and can help drive a positive attitude. A lot of beating cancer is about attitude.

For now you can contact me through my blog. I don’t want to put my email address on here and attract phishers. Since I wrote this blog, I now have a Facebook group called Musicians with Cancer and Other Maladies. Please check it out and share the word.

Again, please share this so that we can help other people in a similar situation to me. Thanks a million.

 

3,000 Teen Deaths from Texting and Driving


A study done by the Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New York, revealed that drinking and driving resulted in the death’s of 2,700 teens in the US, compared to 3,000 from texting and driving.

How about a quick, honest but anonymous poll:

I was listening to the Peggy Smedley Show this morning while cleaning the bathroom and enjoyed some great interviews in her Distracted Driving Month series. The topics were great, everything from the value of reversing cameras through to why car manufacturers are putting social media technology into their cars.

Anyway, a subject that peaked my interest was comparisons of factors impacting on or causing accidents.Talking or texting on the phone is one that that police and others who examine the results of motor accidents look for by default these days.

Peggy quoted a study (can’t remember which university) where they found that people with a blood alcohol level of .08 performed better behind the wheel than people who were using their mobile phone. If you want more detail, listen to Peggy’s back shows on her website or on iTunes, the latest ones being about Debunking Myths about Cellphones and Driving.

Just putting that into context, most people think that dialing a number (I only dial on my hands-free via voice commands with  Siri, or not at all these days) or sending a txt isn’t a big deal. I see ‘professional drivers’ holding their mobile up to their ear pretty much daily. One would assume they are sober, and mentally alert. I was also going to say relaxed, but if they were relaxed, they probably wouldn’t feel the need to take a personal risk, let alone knowing they are breaking the law; so you could surmise that they are already distracted and their minds are not on the road. Yet the study showed that drivers using their mobile were more distracted and less able to perform than those who were at a blood alcohol level where, according to a Blood Alcohol Chart on Wikipedia, they were at the upper range and would be experiencing:

  • Impaired reasoning
  • Reduced depth perception
  • Reduced peripheral vision
  • Reduced glare recovery; and behaviors including
  • Blunted feelings
  • Dis-inhibition; and
  • Extroversion

SheepI really enjoy listening to music when I drive and I have a full subscription to Spotify. I love it. My iPhone FM Transmitter sends it to my car stereo, while charging my phone. I like that. I have been guilty of occasionally looking down at my iPhone for the name of an artist or to skip a track. Our maximum legal driving speed on motorways and highways in New Zealand is 100kmph. Often that is on highways where kids play or cycle on the side of the road. All it takes is for a ball to bounce onto the road, or wandering stock to change things in an instant.

So I thought I’d have a look at the numbers and went to the Unitarium online speed calculator. I worked out that if my eyes were on my phone for 3 seconds (doesn’t sound like much) whilst driving at a legal 100km per hour, my eyes would have left the road  and I would have been oblivious to what was happening on it for 30 meters!

Have you ever done that?

Comparison Shopping


Comparison shopping on mobile devices has been around for a long time. I first saw apps pop up for Palm many years ago even before I had Bluetooth connectivity. Today things are even easier because of devices like iPhone and Android.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast with John Donahoe , which was refreshing  in itself because John had a refreshingly clear vision and understanding of what eBay is as a business, which is not about selling stuff on eBay. Have a listen for yourself. Any business should understand what it really does in order to be able to do it well. For example if you think a grocery store is there to sell groceries, or a car lot is there to sell cars, then you need to listen to this interview.

Anyway, he was explaining why eBay bought the company Red Laser, which reads bar codes through the camera on your iPhone or Android and lets you see information about the product and compare pricing at both other retailers and websites, such as Amazon and of course their new owner eBay.

This is really exciting, especially in countries like New Zealand where items such as books, which I buy a lot of, are really expensive, so shopping around makes a lot of sense. In that area, I have to say that locally I buy on impulse, when I see something I really want or when its on special. They are just too expensive otherwise. Of course if I had an iPhone or an Android, I could check in real time and see if it is worth buying now or paying the postage from the US.

It was really sad to hear that Borders is likely to file for Bankruptcy this month. They really are my favorite bookstore by far, even though I have complained that in NZ since Whitcoulls bought the local franchise, they are slowly turning them into bigger versions of Whitcoulls which pretty much defeats the purpose, although this situation may vindicate them.

One of the arguments sited for Borders’ woes is their failure to prepare for the growth of the eBook market. This may be true to some degree and it is inevitable that print media will follow the music industry. I’ve blogged about this before, which you can find if you dig into my tags. Print is expensive but there are lots of things that you can do. eBook readers is one, but for Borders I would have thought a great opportunity would be Print On Demand, because this can still  be done via the store and allow access to massive stocks without worrying about the costs of shelf space and aged stock.

Whoops, off on a tangent again. I was talking about comparison shopping. Yes there are loads of applications available, I’ve only picked on one. Mashable has a huge number of blogs on this topic if you want to find more.

So have a look at the Red Laser site, to see what what they are all about and watch the short video below from DizzyDougTV to see how cool this is. You don’t need a bar code reader, just the camera on your SmartPhone. Damn I do have to get an iPhone or an Android soon! Maybe I should set up a website with a PayPal (another eBay subsidiary) link called by Luigi a Smartphone:) Would you donate?

Footnote, a lot of people think of Smartphone apps as being the domain of men, but for women who love sales and special deals, this is one for you. I’ll leave the last word to CHIP Chick.

The Future of TV


I was watching a TED Video recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember who was talking, but a couple of statistics resonated. The speaker said that by the time an American student (in most western countries probably the same) gets to university they will have spent 20,000 hours watching TV and another 10,000 hours playing video games.

What’s really amazing about that is generally (especially this time of year) how crappy TV coverage is. I have written in blogs previously that I believe IP TV is going to change things massively, but of course that will spell the demise of TV as we know it unless broadcasters get on the bandwagon. If they don’t, they will be singing the same song and laying off loads of staff in the same way as the music and newspaper industries are.

One thing that will make a difference is interactivity and in NZ we are way behind on that score, although I did note during the T20 Cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand on Boxing Day on Sky TV, you could vote for your man of the match via your remote control. Normally you have to text and pay a premium, so that’s a start, but NZ is way behind the 8-ball when it comes to TV interaction.

In the December issue of The Futurist John M Smart of Acceleration Future Studies came up with some insightful comments on where TV will go, which should be compulsory reading to broadcasters.

Interactivity was one of those concepts. Two areas he covered were collaborative rating social viewing. Both of these happen independent of TV already, but are not embraced by the broadcasters. For example, kids send each other SMS messages via their mobiles all the time when they watch TV. This has been happening for years. The only way the media has taken advantage of that is for competitions and voting on programs like American Idol, which recorded 178 million votes this year. It’s hard to find out what revenue they got from that because it depended on how you voted and who your carrier was, but you can be certain that signifiucant revenue was made, but I digress.

I was talking about social interactivity. So kids text message each other all the time while they watch TV and with new media such as Twitter, the same thing crosses the age barriers. For example whenever there is a major sporting event on anywhere in the world, people are tweeting in real time and sharing their opinions and passion. I believe this will be huge during the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. It will be happening concurrently around the world via mobile and internet. That would be a great opportunity for Sky TV in New Zealand, NBC, and others to get involved, but I doubt they have the foresight.

Another topic that John Smart covered was ratings. I don’t know how accurate the current TV ratings systems are, but if TV really wants to compete with the Internet, why not give all viewers the ability to rate what they are watching on TV and at the same time  what they are viewing by way of IP broadcast media.

A great thing about the Internet is that it can cater for every taste. I have around 60 channels on my TV, but I have access to so much more media online. Family overseas have access to hundreds of channels, but most of it is reruns of old TV series.

I regularly watch TED videos on my TV via my iPod connected to my home theater, but the interface is ugly and its a pain to connect my notebook to my TV. I don’t have an iPad as yet, but I can certainly see myself getting some sort of IP TV connectivity, whether it is a home media hub (so I can get internet radio as well as YouTube and other products around the house).

Today, according to Smart there are 20,000+ streaming Internet TV Channels including YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe and Viddler. Boxee is an example of a Set Top Box that started off with an open source media software package. Unfortunately many of their services such as Pandora are not available in New Zealand. I’m going to give it a try and see if I can make it work downunder.

I’ll stop here and will come back to this topic as I am just grazing the surface. Leave your comments and bookmark this page if this is of interest to you. This is a very exciting and rapidly changing environment and it will be interesting to see who the winners and losers are in the next 5 years.

Boxee review suggests it has potential, but isn’t quite ready?

Barter, the New Old Economy


I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?