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The Calm

September 5th, 2013
I’m waiting for the calm
I’m stepping in the weeds
I’m ready for the clouds to rain down on me
seeping in the ground
and running to the sea
making my peace and evaporating

we’re all touching a different world
at arms length but still so far away
shrouded in the dark of night
and washed out by the bright of the light of day

I’m waiting for the calm
I’m high up in the trees
I’m happy for the sun to bear down on me
the sky becomes a haze
the ground becomes a blaze
and I’m lost on my way back down again

we’re caught up in a different world
we’re not really who we think we are
shrouded in the dark of time
and washed out by the bright of the light in our eyes


The Walks

September 2nd, 2013

It might not sound like it, but this song is an experiment. I wanted to do two things. The first was write a song where the lyrics could function on a page as prose, with punctuation instead of line breaks, etc. The other thing was using a minimalist live drum kit consisting of a snare drum, hi-hat and ride cymbals (played with brushes) alongside a drum machine for just the kick sound. I taped pennies to the cymbals for some extra sizzle.

I wrote the lyrics quickly, thinking of the times I would take long walks around my neighborhood to escape my dysfunctional home life.

The rest of the night hangs in between the leaves that catch the streetlights, in between the darkened streets I take in my hand and let go, as I pass beneath a failure of stars, lit so fuzzed out by everything. I stay far apart from the feelings that sit beside me, calm and alert to the stress building under my feet. Over the lines that divide up the days I sift through one at a time, I can’t hide. Songs in the wind whisper uselessly, in one ear and out the other side with my stride, and get sucked behind me. Pass off my fear as a phase that will fade with these nights. Time turns to time turns to time.

Getting away with the way I’m feeling, so undefined, wrong or right, and no one else’s business. All of these years turn to just another story. Time turns to time turns to time.


It’s done — and documented

August 12th, 2013

Between the Walls and the Sea is now live on Bandcamp. Tapes ship out by September 25th, and you can pre-order them now.

One of the different things about this album — besides that it took four years to complete — is that I put a lot of effort into documenting the songs and recordings as they developed. I wasn’t in a hurry to get a record done and I sat on the songs for a long time. Back in 2009 I was recording a video demo of every new new song I wrote. More recently I’ve been posting sketches on Soundcloud. I’ve been posting lyrics as soon as a song is written here on Quelquechose, and as they get edited, I’ve been updating the same post with all the edits intact. Further, my Soundcloud has multiple versions of the songs as the recording progressed, so (if you want to — not saying you do) you could hear “Background” without the synths or “Cellar Door” back when it had a much simpler drum track. All of the songs on this new record have a post on this blog that archives the changes that occurred. I was also, for a while, keeping a live to-do list that I published on Twitter, but that fizzled out at some point

So, this album ended up being a songwriting documentary experiment, which you can check out by visiting the lyric archive, where I’ve compiled all of my songwriting posts grouped together by album. You can also view the song lyrics category to view the posts in reverse chronological order.


Between the Walls and the Sea

July 28th, 2013

cassette layout

There’s actually news on the solo project front. My next record is complete. I have preliminary masters for it and I’ll be releasing it on cassette and MP3 in the fall. No physical CDs to start out, but I’m offering the MP3s on my Bandcamp page on a pay-what-you-want basis.

Between 1997 and 2009, I released at least one recording every year. There’s been nothing since then. I wrote a bunch of new songs in 2009 and then tabled them. In late 2011 I started recording some of them. I’ve been working on those tracks slowly since then, and recorded a few new songs along with them. That means I’ve been working on this release for four years. I think it shows. Every step was a very deliberate process, and I’ve gotten to know the tracks very well. This is a very different record from Open or Exits — I’ve gotten pretty enthusiastic about analog synth sounds and keyboards in general, so this record is way less guitar-dominated. There’s also a shit-ton of reverb and drum machine. Warning: the rest of this paragraph is geek-talk. I recorded it all in my room using Cubase LE (which I’m done with — I recently switched to Reaper,) an Alesis SR-18 drum machine, an M-Audio midi controller and a handful of free VST synth plugins. Guitar and vocals were mic’d but everything else was done in the box. A big part of the sound is a result of using the same very wet reverb settings on the vocals and the software synths in addition to a lot of spacey delay guitar. To master for the cassette, I ran everything through a PSP Vintage Warmer plugin and a very conservative limiter. For the MP3s I might add a multiband compressor and a little more limiting to get louder tracks if they don’t sound hot enough. They might be good enough already, I’m not sure.

Maybe this goes against what you’re “supposed” to do, but this record is mixed for headphone listening. I’ve been trying to get it to sound OK in a room with speakers, but when it comes down to me having to choose where it sounds great, I chose headphones. In other words, I’m not sacrificing the headphone sound as much as I’ve done before trying to cater to different listening environments. I’m not that great of an engineer anyways and I think I’m talking about pretty subtle differences, so maybe it’s not worth mentioning. I tried to make the kind of record that I would want to listen to privately, from beginning to end, either in a dark room or going out for a walk.

The in-progress tracks are all currently up on Soundcloud, where I’ve been posting them as they come into being. I won’t be putting the finished tracks up on there. Instead, they’ll go right up on Bandcamp as soon as I finish the “hot” masters (for digital distribution) and the cassette will probably be released at a record-release show.

My last record, Open, is currently available on Bandcamp — also pay-what-you-want. You can download it for free or throw some cash at me to help get the cassette produced. Here’s the link again to go get it:

geraldprokop.bandcamp.com/album/open

Here’s the final track listing for the record:
Between the Walls and the Sea
Side One

  1. On a Road
  2. Dwell
  3. Groundless/Flightless
  4. Background
  5. Tornado

Side Two

  1. Cellar Door
  2. Follow Apart
  3. Can of Worms
  4. Let Go

DIY Education – Second Year Capstone

July 21st, 2013

Two years ago I posted on here a declaration of self-education and a strategy to get me started with an autodidactic education program. The strategy didn’t last long, but I’ve been experimenting with different things to accomplish my goals. It took on a life of its own. Then, this spring, a lot of plans hit their climax all at once. I finished my Minnesota Master Naturalist class, got on payment plans to pay off back rent and a debt to the IRS, and I officially started my residential-contracting-via-utility-bicycle business. My brain was, at this point, crammed with unsorted information and experiences. I figured the next step in my personal education should be a sort of capstone project – to unpack and synthesize everything I’ve encountered in the spirit of this project since beginning it. That includes, but is not limited to:

  • Volunteer seed collection and native plant identification
  • Taking a MetroBlooms Raingarden workshop
  • Minnesota Master Naturalist training
  • Taking part in Occupy MN
  • YouTube videos or free online documentaries with Timothy Morton, Slavoy Zizek, Alice Roberts, etc.
  • Filling notebooks with half-baked essays on anthropology and human history
  • Visiting state parks by bicycle
  • Hiking
  • Conversations with naturalists, park rangers, landscape architects and environmental science students
  • Reading (but not always finishing) Small is Beautiful, The Ecology of Commerce, The Expanding Circle, Collapse, Sex at Dawn, Thoughts Without a Thinker, A Primer in Environmental Literacy and the Ecology of Freedom

My second year capstone is a two part writing project.

Part one is a sort of self-assessment where I attempt to unpack the last two years and pick out some key ideas and synthesize multiple lines of thought. This is for myself — as writing practice and as a way of taking stock. I’m going to use it sort of as a cheat sheet for the last two years, or as an external hard drive for my brain.

The second part is a paper putting Timothy Morton’s concept of “The Ecological Thought” into context in terms of ecological stewardship and political economy. I want to focus on some of the conceptual traps we fall into when we consider the intersection between human societies and the natural world, and how the Mortonian “Ecological Thought” turns those traps into new questions. The goal is twofold: to complete a finished philosophical essay and to combine my three focus areas of philosophical anthropology, landscape ecology and nonfiction writing in such a way that all three things feed off of each other.

This essay will be posted here when I’m done, maybe as a new version of my zine, “It’s a good day to face the hard things.” I’m exited to write it, but I first need to read Morton’s book entitled The Ecological Thought, and possibly also Ecology Without Nature. I’m familiar with his thinking through a series of videos and podcasts I’ve taken in. That kind of learning is adequate for forming thoughts and getting a sense of his ideas, but in order to write, I need to read the book.

As soon as this capstone is complete, I will return to the self-assessment and figure out what to do next.


Impromptu Three Day Bike Trip: A Packing List

July 9th, 2013

I’m a big fan of bicycle touring pack lists.  In the morning I leave for just three days, to volunteer for a DNR project planting native plugs by Lake Volney in Le Center, MN.  So on a whim, I threw together this pack list.  Everything is listed as it’s unpacked.

This winter I got my Trek 850 all fixed up for proper touring.  I made panniers, got a front rack and switched over to butterfly handlebars.  It’s a big leap from last year’s setup where everything was piled on top of the rear rack.  The bike was hard to mount and dismount and I couldn’t stand up to pedal uphill.  Now I can even ride no-handed and it feels like a normal bike even with 40 pounds of gear hanging on it.

Here’s a photo of my winter test pack. The configuration I’m using is pretty similar:
Image0743

This trip came together just in the last 24 hours, since I found out they were looking for volunteers for this project.  It’s only 3 days, so my list is not quite typical.

So, here’s a list of what I’m taking with me:

On the bike:

  • Two water bottles
  • Fuel canister for cooking
  • Tire pump

(I use HEET automotive gas line something-or-other as my cooking fuel, and I think it’s hilarious to go to the gas station and fill up a little tank that’s strapped to my bike — actually just an aluminum water bottle — with HEET.)

Strapped on top of the rear rack:

  • Tent poles
  • Tarp
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Gym bag containing extra water, plastic bags, all my food and some gardening tools.

Rear Pannier #1:

  • Toiletry kit with bug balm, sunscreen, Dr. Bronner’s soap, deoderant, toilet paper, first aid kit, hand lotion, pills, vaseline, a marker, alcohol wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, nail clippers, razor handle and blades, and a comb.
  • Swim kit with sandals, swimsuit and a camp towel in a cloth drawstring backpack (which is useful for hikes as well).
  • Waterproof bag containing a blank notebook, a book on Environmental Literacy I’m reading, a bird fieldguide and a wildflower fieldguide.
  • Self-inflating Therm-a-rest mattress.
  • Flask of “nightcap.”

Rear Pannier #2:

  • Ziploc of several bandanas, socks and underwear, as well as a hat.
  • 2 spare bike tubes (one for each valve type)
  • My tent.

Front Pannier #1:

  • Rain Pants
  • Long khaki hiking pants
  • My DIY nested cook kit with an enameled steel mug, pot support, windscreen made out of duct pipe, stove made out of a beer can and a travel size french press.  There’s also a small scotchbrite pad for cleaning.
  • In one small pocket I have a ziploc containing 6 firestarters made out of cotton balls and petroleum jelly.  In the other small pocket I have a travel can opener.

Front pannier #2:

  • rain jacket
  • Fleece vest
  • Chain oil and a rag together in one ziploc
  • And one large ziploc I call the “coffee can:” miscellaneous tools and hardware–spare bolts, tire levers, a presta valve converter, batteries, matches, patch kit, caribiners, etc.
  • In the small pocket, i keep a bicycle multi-tool.

Handelbar bag:

  • Sunglasses (or glasses — whichever I’m not wearing) in a case.
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Chargers
  • Pens
  • Lighters
  • Headlamp
  • My Minnesota Master Naturalist pin
  • Spare bike key and a small folding knife on a lanyard
  • Then I have something I got from Target on clearance called a “travel wallet.”  It’s a 5×7″ zippered pouch that fits my bank card, cash, YWCA card, ID, etc.  as well as my 7″ tablet computer, which I’m using to view PDF’s of my route maps, check the weather, and read an essay by Timothy Morton called “Ecologocentrism: Unworking Animals.”

In my food collection I have the following things:

  • Coffee
  • Dehydrated pea soup with bacos and red pepper flakes. (the bacos soften up when cooked and have a ham-like flavor and texture — and they’re vegan.)
  • Apple Fritter bread for breakfast.
  • Baguettes (bought fresh when I can)
  • Baby bel cheese
  • Wheat thins
  • Nutella
  • Olives
  • Instant potatoes
  • Fruit
  • I also have my silverware in here rather than with the cookset since most of the time I won’t be cooking.

Bike Upgrades for Touring

January 26th, 2013

Trek 850 Touring Bike

I went on my first bike tour in august with a minimal amount of upgrades to my 1983 Trek 850. It was awkward, but I did pretty well with what I had. Now, I’m taking the winter as an opportunity to get ready, piece by piece, for the next trip. I chose the fun part first: new handlebars.

Trek 850 Touring Bike

I got a set of trekking handlebars from Nashbar.com for $15 and wrapped them myself. I was able to reuse the gear shifters and brake levels without changing the cables or anything, so it was a really easy upgrade. And they feel much better than the flat bars. I don’t know why trekking bars aren’t more popular in the U.S.

The rest of my setup includes a new Axiom Journey rear rack, a new Banjo Brothers quick release handlebar bag (with built-in map holder), a frame-mounted Blackburn pump, and a handmedown kickstand I found lying around.

I’m also using Wald fold-out baskets attached to the rear rack. They’re supposed to be permanently installed, but I’m experimenting with using them as removable panniers. I taped and zip-tied pegboard hooks to the top and attached a bungee along the bottom to secure it to the rack but still allow it to be easily removed. For touring, I’ll be getting regular panniers. You may also notice the knobby tires. Those are my studded winter tires. For now, I’m using this bike as my winter commuter. Next year I’ll have a utility bike and I’ll be able to save the Trek from all this disrespect.

Technically, this is a mountain bike, but only technically (in my opinion.) It was the first mountain bike Trek built. In those days, that pretty much meant a tough road bike with low gears and wide tires. Since then, mountain bikes have gotten smaller frames, suspension forks and other features which make them poor touring-conversion candidates. This bike has way more in common with modern touring bikes than it does with modern mountain bikes. It has a long wheelbase, steel frame, rack braze-ons, room for any tire width, triple chain rings, 26″ wheels (more of a world standard than 700c) and mounts for two bottle cages.

Trek 850 Touring Bike

The other planned upgrades for the winter:

  • Front rack
  • Fenders
  • 26×1.75 touring tires
  • Front and rear panniers
  • Bike computer
  • Compass
  • Rearview mirror

And where am I going? I’m hoping to volunteer for the State Parks working on prairie restoration for a short trip in the spring, and then in the late summer, pick a route according to one of Adventure Cycling’s maps.


Bad Goodbye

December 23rd, 2012

following the dark that I left behind
took apart the world, got lost inside
I saw you in a dream so many times
and ended up in some other life
now I try to let go of the day
try as I might, it doesn’t change the way
I open up my eyes and adjust to everything
nothing’s set right because there’s no such thing

you had me in a bind and I racked my brain
could’ve swallowed my pride but I was so afraid
I held on tight as everything just slipped away
and in the end it seems like all of it was just a dream

we never really said goodbye
held onto the pain and found a back door out of the fight
I think of you and I don’t know what to say
and I’m not sure I’d have it any other way


Tuned to the Background

November 12th, 2012
it’s like it’s all there
floating somewhere
between the walls and the sea
waiting for me
you can’t look too far
there’s space between stars
no matter where you are
you can’t take it apart

patiently waiting
for more of the same
the effort it’s taking
fills up this space

the light hits my eyes
dark in between
the life I’m not seeing
means too much to me
so where can you go
I wish I could sit still
cut the distraction
from the space that I fill

gently pulsating
on a lost frequency
tuned to the background
is everything
we’re all complicating
what’s already there
there’s something I’m seeing
somewhere

Original Demo:

In Progress Recording:


On a Road

October 30th, 2012
gone to set my sights
on a sliver of darkness and lines
of fading light
it’s gonna take all night
to make it anywhere that lets
the time pass by

the song still in our throats
of holding on so tight
time to let it go

the ground falls from my feet
one at a time to come crashing
back toward me
and I can’t see
I know what’s left of me
the same that was there before
without the fantasy

I let go of this road
reach out for never know
I come back and I go

Original Demo:

Recording Draft: