Monday, July 9, 2018

Heights By Claire

Back in the '90s, I had a friend Claire in San Antonio going through a rough time.  I was trying to write a new song for my band Sphere of Influence and asked her what I should write about.  She looked at me and huffed out, "Heights".

We both went to Alamo Heights High School.  At the time, it was one of the more affluent schools in San Antonio with upper middle class families owning upscale homes providing the generous tax-base to properly fund their children's schools.  It, like any high school, had it's cliques - band nerds, the smokers, the goths, the jocks, etc.  There was also a socio-economic class ranking as well - the preppies, the poor kids, the outsiders, etc.  Fitting in with any group was difficult to navigate because many of us felt that you can never quite have EVERYTHING in your Cool Kids utility belt to just be accepted.  So, it caused a lot of pain and confusion growing up by never really getting answer to the life-long teenage question, "Who Am I?".  So, I wrote this song called "Heights (By Claire)" to express those feelings.  I was 17 at the time - not nearly the "wordsmith" I am today 😂.

I lost contact with Claire after she moved during the summer of my junior year.  We all grew up, got jobs, started families, found ourselves in some form or manner.  Then, through a mutual friend, it turned out that both Claire and I were both doing improv.  Small world!  So, we reconnected via social media and have been catching up for lost time.  I reminded her about the song I wrote for her a few days and asked if she remembered it.  She did and I informed her that I had gone back a while ago and remixed the original track by keeping some key components of the original four track tape (vocals, guitar overdubs, solos, etc) and recreating all of the other instruments with modern recording techniques.  I shared the track with her and to my surprised, she liked it.  I don't remember if I showed her the original version so to have the song come back 20 years later and still make someone smile is an accomplishment.  She asked me for the lyrics and so I present them here.

Thanks Claire for making me appreciate this song even more now.  I'm glad we've reconnected and happy you enjoy the song.

Heights By Claire

Preppy youth sing along without a clue
Cheese is abundant with methane as a toxic goo
3 chords to a song and riff to match
Flannel to be burned and a rift to catch
I have no talent or brains and more
Take me out for what I'm looking for

With a burning tempest of hate and pain
Spittin' out gibberish and my screams for fame
They all find your song they say they really like
But you know they're not even the song-liking type
Rich ideas flow out but not from them
They will take you for all they can

And I don't need to lie
For something I don't deserve
My friendships mean more to me
Than what you can reserve

I'm the object of everyone's hate
But who's the scapegoat?  Now, tell me, baby
They're using my identity as the bait!
I don't need all of this but I know you do still
Your ignorance is strong - too strong to kill
I am not violent. Just the eye of the storm
Leaving this place so I don't conform...

And I don't need to lie
For something I don't deserve
My friendships mean more to me
Than what you can reserve
And if I can keep on staring
At the sea that is blaring
Of thoughts of not caring
My nails start scratching at you!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Whataboutism" Is A Weak Person's Weapon

KellyAnne Conway: the poster child for Whataboutism.
There's this disturbing trend that has been amplified since the 2016 election cycle - Whataboutism.  Instead of discussing the true issue at hand, people have begun bringing in outside, kind-of related issues into the argument, muddying the water so that no real definitive points can be made.

It especially happens when speaking to ardent Trump supporters.  If someone says, "President Trump said XYZ", then the supporter won't necessarily disavow Trump said it; however they will respond with "Well, what about when Hillary Clinton did ABC!" Then the discussion devolves into people defending their own side instead of talking about the central issue.  I've seen it on TV time and time again and it's exhausting because you're not getting any real insight into what's supposed to be discussed.

Can We Agree To Disagree?
I recently learned about the difference between having a "debate" and a "dialectic".  A "debate" is an argument in which two parties are trying to "win" by having the other person conceded they are "right".  A "dialectic" is a discussion to parties are having where they mutually agree to find a unifying truth between them.  It feels like in America we're more concerned about winning than finding the truth.

What About A Debate?
Whataboutism is a tactic deployed when you are going to lose an argument in debate.  For example:
Person 1: "You killed your dog with your car. I saw you do it."

Person 2:"What about the millions of pets left in hot vehicles with the windows rolled up.?  I don't see you caring about those.  So, why do you care about this?"

Person 1:"Because you left the carcass on my lawn and sped off."

Person 2:"Millions of carcass-i are left on the road.   You're spending tax dollars on their removal and it ain't happening.  You should take it up with the city!"

Person 1:"What are you going to do about the one you left on my lawn?"

Person 2:"What about the time you left your rake on my lawn???  You never came by to pick it up and I had to remove it.  I still have it on my garage. I suggest you do the same."

Person 1:"That wasn't my rake..."

Person 2:"You don't know that!"

I could go on and on with this but I'm getting angry at Person 2 already even though I'm writing the dialog!  This debate will never get anywhere because Person 2 refuses to accept responsibility for their side of the argument.  Until they do, they are basically just taking potshots on the assertion Person 1 has made and wasting time.  Hence, this is why a person who's weak in supporting their position uses it - they can "win" the argument by not really arguing about the original subject at all; it'll allow them to keep their argument intact while allowing them to attack their opponent's viewpoint.

Delectable Dialectics
I much more prefer a dialectic.  Let's revisit the scenario above:

Person 1: "You killed your dog with your car. I saw you do it."

Person 2: "I disagree.  I released my dog's soul from its body."

Person 1:"Well, your dog's body's on my front lawn. Can you remove it?"

Person 2:"Yes.  After the proper period of mourning has been observed."

Person 1:"How about...right now?"

Person 2:"OK. Sure."

The central truth that Person 2 killed their dog was achieved.  The manner in which the dog died is up for debate a bit.  They can keep their viewpoints, still have a disagreement but achieve a truth between them.

What Do Now?
If someone engages you in whataboutism, point it out to them.  Instead frame the ground rules for which you'd be willing to discuss the matter with them further (mainly "You can't bring in unrelated facts/opinions into the argument").  If they refuse the ground rules, walk away. You won't get anywhere with anyone who engages in whataboutism.  They don't respect you enough to listen to your viewpoints and care much more about winning an argument than having a healthy discussion.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Taming an Overachiever

Today started out well. I was humming along at work, began promoting two shows, and was looking forward to a season of teaching and touring.   Then I my "overachiever gene" got activated.  The following thoughts popped into my head:
  • You're not good enough.
  • Why aren't you the go-to guy for expanding improv programming at such-and-such theatre?
  • No one really recognizes nor cares about what you do.
  • Do you really make a difference in people's lives?  Why are you even trying?
  • You better do something AMAZING in the next two weeks or you'll never be taken seriously as a performer, producer, husband, or human being.
It was a bizarre artistic panic-attack that overwhelmed me to no end in the matter of seconds.  I began feeling the urge to do something about it.  I was going to share my workshops, come up with new marketing ideas for existing shows, reach out and connect online with more people to tell them about what I'm working on, follow up with emails to theatre owners trying to get involved in their teaching curricula, etc.

I then stopped.

Told myself to breathe.

"It's ok.  You're enough, Nelson.  You truly are.  Accept the way you are and all that you do is good."

I had to tell myself that 10 times as that feeling of inadequacy washed over me and left.  The burning need to gain acceptance from others subsided after a few minutes and was almost non-existent for the rest of my day.

I realize I need to take stock in what I do and truly cherish it.  No one else will be able to give me that sense of completion except myself.  I wont find it others. Hopefully, the next attack will be less traumatic.

Friday, January 12, 2018


A post shared by Nelson Velazquez (@nelson_velazquez_) on

Last night the first show of 2018 where I was the musical director happened at Crown Point High School where I played piano for the Stray Dogs Improv team.  I've had this illustrious position for almost 4 years now.  Originally, I was playing guitar for them because I was not a piano player; however, the need for piano was gradually added as a result of choices the kids would make for their senior showcases.  So, I started plinking around on the keys (white keys only and everything in the key of C) trying to fake as if I knew what I was doing during rehearsal and shows. Eventually, I was forced to take the idea of MDing on piano more seriously when I was teaching/directing more musical improv elsewhere.  I never really thought of myself as a piano playing MD seriously until now.

I've learned a few more pleasant-sounding chord progressions, got my hand position more comfortable on the piano, and have practiced a lot more since last year so I walked into last night's show a little more confident than in the past.  High school parents are quite a bit less discerning about the piano player being there playing for their kids than having a room full of my peers at an improv theare having heard and seen more accomplished players do a lot more on the keys.  So, the pressure to perform something incredible wasn't there for me.  I did want to show off what I had learned so I kept things rolling as the show went on.   The kids did really well with many having performed for the first or second time ever.  We pimped a few kids into singing actual songs and I was able to give them super simple foundations to sing over.

But there was this one moment last night that happened that changed things for me.  I was supporting a game the kids were playing and noticed that I had to play something somewhat majestic sounding in nature.  So, I went for a standard chord progression and as I played it, my fingers slipped into a cool sounding chors that made "sense" in the progression.  Now, I can suspect what I thought that chord was but at the moment, I couldn't tell you what it was other than it sounded "pretty good"  In the chord progression I knew instantly what had to happen - this has to build and end on a major chord, but I didn't know what the hell the next chords should be so.  So, I said "Eff it." - and let go of my analytical brain and trusted the musical improv gawds to make it sound good.  I used my instincts to find the next two chords and IT WORKED!  I had a huge grin on my face.  Not only did the scene go super well and the music supported it so the kids looked like rawkstars, but I also made a personal musical triumph in the journey getting there - I felt like a "real" MD for a few seconds.

I'm going to hold onto this feeling for as long as possible.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Getting What You Wanted

Last night I performed a show with Los Improviachis.  We opened up for our friends in Pimprov and we did a very good, fun show.  Afterwards we took pictures with different people and I had someone come up to me say, "Did you host a show opening for such-and-such about a year ago at Second City?"

I thought for a minute.  "Yes," I responded. "Yes I did."

"I saw you that night and you were amazing," she replied immediately with a twinkle in her eye and genuine enthusiasm.  "You did such an amazing job hosting that I've wanted to tell you that ever since!"

I was dumbfounded.

I've spent a better part of the last 10 years trying to get some respect and some light-weight fame from doing improv/sketch comedy.  I dream of the day when I walk outside my cozy home and local people recognize me for the things I've done on stage, film, TV, and in the community.  Companies would try to reach out to offer me all kinds of incredible opportunities to raise their profile and mine because I've earned the privilege to do so.  People would start wanting to pay beaucoup bucks for the chance to see me in a show let alone try to get an opportunity to talk to me.  All of these things are big goals for me.

So, when I finally got a little recognition from this lovely lady for something I did artistically a year ago, I all of a suddenly got really warm, started blushing, put on a silly grin, and profusely thanked her all the while holding onto a feeling of hubris mixed with a bit of embarrassment and insecurity.  "This is what you wanted," I kept telling myself.  So, WHY DO I FEEL SO WEIRD?!!

How To Be Humble
In a segment on NPR's All Things Considered, Keegan Michael Key, an actor that I look up to and admire, made an interesting comment while promoting his new Netflix show "Friends From College" that really resonated with me:
On never believing he deserved success, and how that reflects a broader American tendency
I'm from the Midwest, so I always assumed: Well, I have to think badly of myself, because that's being humble. And where I'm from, you get points for being humble and you get an extra special big house in heaven. That's the rule, right? Now, you have these dirty dreams in the back of your mind: ... What if there was the first black James Bond, and it was me? You're going to hell. You're never allowed to dream that big.
Cot damn.  He's right.  I find myself trying to ruining these type of moment with my insecurities because I feel that if I fully enjoy them, I'd become a big-headed, arrogant jerk and start doing stupid things.  I was trying to be humble but I really just wanted to lose my head right there and start babbling like an idiot.  That strange governor that I enacted on my reactions was in full effect.

I'm gonna work on staying humble by being humble versus hating on myself.