Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas is about faith

More often than I might expect, friends ask if I have faith in anything. I've done an excellent job in convincing people that I'm a die-hard secular advocate. That the scientific method rules my life. That I can't believe in anything I can't measure with a scale and ruler.

This may or may not be true. But what about faith? What about just "knowing" something to be true, in contrast (or in spite of) evidence? Do I believe anything like that? I do; many things, in fact! The reason why no one hears about them is because I believe faith is a quiet thing. There is no way for me to convince anyone else on matters of faith by using words. Trying to talk about faith is to miss the point entirely. In that spirit, let me tell you about something I have faith in, rather than trying to explain it.

I have faith in Christmas.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved Christmas. If I were better at analyzing myself, I'd pin it on the fact that Christmas is a wholly optimistic holiday. From the religious background, it is a beginning. For the naturalistic, it's the equality of day and night, showing the process of the sun towards summer.

When I was growing up, I got fed lots of platitudes about Christmas being about good will to everyone, peace on earth, the community of all. And I believed them. I still do. I heard sappy songs talking about keeping the Christmas cheer throughout the year. And I do. Why? It's what I want. I want to be able to connect with people the way I do at Christmas.

I have no great plan to effect this in people. I have no figures to back it up. I'm almost positive it's not possible. Yet I believe it, nonetheless. I feel it in my heart. I accept it, even given evidence to the contrary.

I have no logic to the ability to accept this season while denying the religious foundation. Yet this year, while at the church for the choir concert a few weeks ago, I was caught up listening to the music. The choir was singing "The First Noel," and I was enraptured. It was gorgeous music, swirling around me like I was crashing through waves. As the music built to its climax, I had to reach out to the railing to steady myself. I was almost overcome. Overcome by Christmas music!

The music touches me. Even going to the candlelight service at my local church (which I do every year) touches me. But it's not about the church, or the sermon, or the orthodoxy. It's about the people and the community all oriented towards peace on earth.

I have managed to disconnect the holiday from Christ altogether. I write that as if it's some sort of grand philosphy, when I've never even thought about it. I wouldn't have been able to speak about it, unless I was trying to write it into a blog (like now). The words of the Christmas carols may as well be in Latin, for I do not connect them with the church event.

In the past (and probably in the present and future, too) this declaration has opened me to ridicule. I'm subverting it. One cannot separate the two. Even if I'm not thinking about Christ on Christmas, he's thinking about me. After all, he went to all the trouble of dying on the cross for my sins.

All of this is completely irrelevant. If tomorrow, it were somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity was a hoax and that it had been started by greedy fiction writers in Palestine all those years ago, it wouldn't effect my Christmas celebration in the slightest. My spirit would be undimmed, my carols still sung as loud.

My faith is in Christmas. It's in the spirit it brings to people. I have faith that every once and a while, we all feel the need to help each other out (even if we need to disguise it as "gifts"). My faith is steady and deep. I have no desire to press my faith on anyone; if I tried, the teachings would be worthless. Everyone must come to the Christmas spirit of their own free will, or it has ceased to resemble the beauty of what I feel. Everyone must want to learn. There are no threats. No guilt. This is one of the things I have faith in.

I believe in Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gives me a Galactic Inferiority Complex

Here's a fun film on Google Video showing the relative size of many celestial bodies, starting with Mercury and ending with a couple of red giant stars.




Awe-some. Heavy on the awe.

Our Pick of Jobs

I was offered a chance to play a gig on Christmas Eve. Two services, one rehearsal, $250. I thought about whether or not I could take it, but in the end I decided that if I did it, I would either have to drive back four hours after a midnight service on Christmas Eve (not appealing), or drive back Christmas Day (also not appealing).

I always complain that there aren't enough paying gigs, so it's unfortunate that I had to turn down even one. But since I'd already gone to my parents house, it would have meant 8 hours of driving either way. Perhaps it might be a good time to ride Amtrak, but then I'd have to resort to the kindness of friends to drive me around. No good.

I've been connecting this in my mind with my middle brother's situation. He's just been hired for a job working software support for a university in St. Louis. They hired him to a contract, with salary and benefits, etc. He's now making more than $30,000 a year, plus any classes he wants to take with the university are completely free.

I don't begrudge him the job; I believe I heard him say that it's his dream job. Besides, I don't really know much about the inner operating of computers, so I couldn't have it anyway. I am slightly jealous of having a job that you like that pays well. I have a job I like, but when you're freelancing, it doesn't pay *well*. Ahh, so it goes. Perhaps when my brother starts throwing parties at the fancy hotels, I can play trombone out front for nickels.

I may be excited for my brother and his new job, but not all of his friends are. One in particular was decidedly unimpressed about the whole thing. Maybe it's that he's smoked a vast amount of marijuana, so is relatively laid back about EVERYTHING. Or maybe it's that my brother called to tell him while this guy was at his job, delivering pizzas. Perhaps he's jealous of my brother. I always thought this guy liked his job, because he got to use his cell phone camera to take pictures of all the hot girls that he delivers pizzas to. Does this mean that happiness in life isn't just about fuzzy, voyeuristic pictures of unsuspecting women holding pizza coupons?

Unpossible!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Five Unique Items

I stumbled across this meme and liked it. It was originally intended for an instant messenger friends list (I think), but I'm expanding it to all my friends, because that makes it more difficult. I enjoyed making this list, because I didn't want to just chose things that I owned that no one else did. Since I own a lot of eclectic stuff, that's not too hard. I could just mention things like my recital CD (which no one else owns) and be done. Hopefully my choices inform you about me.

Name a CD you own that no other friend does.

I originally selected the score to "Dead Again" by Patrick Doyle. Though this is probably unique, I decided I would rather chose the score to "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Elmer Bernstein. This score haunted me for months, because it was part of the mix tape that played while I swept floors at St. Louis Bread Co. I was overjoyed when I accidentally discovered which movie the melody of the main title belonged to while renting it from the library.

Name a book you own that no one else on your friends list does.

This one is ridiculously easy, when considering my talent (?) for never throwing old books away. Since it was recently pointed out to me, I'll use "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets" by Helen Vendler. The inscription inside the front cover (which is not from the author) reads, "5/17/02 To Andy: On Your Second Graduation. Congratulations."

Name a movie you own on DVD/VHS/whatever that no one else on your friends list does.

This is much harder than the book question, considering my library of movies is small. I'm going to choose "Clue" from 1985, starring Tim Curry. Consistently a movie that makes me laugh uproariously every time I see it. I adore this film and may actually be able to quote it line for line. If I find a woman who appreciates it as much (and as foolishly) as I, I will marry her before the dust settles.

Name a place that you have visited that no one else on your friends list has.

I had to think about this one. Many of the places I've been have been either WITH friends, or to SEE friends, which excludes those locations. I have to be fairly specific. When my college wind band was touring Ireland, our bus stopped in the middle of the windswept ground of the Burren, a region in western Ireland almost devoid of trees and famous for the ancient stone tombs and markers. While the rest of the group was looking at these stones, I went to a small cemetery behind a small church, the only building as far as the eye could see. Standing in that disused place, under the only tree around, I felt a particular kind of peace. The ancient stones were getting the tourist attention, while the "merely old" gravestones from the 1800's were gradually decaying and crumbling. The size of the cemetery alone gave me a sense for how slowly things changed there; since ancient times, few had lived here, and even fewer would continue living there.

Name a piece of technology or any sort of tool you own that you think no one else on your friends list has.

Hmm....I'm looking around, thinking about tools and technology. My first thought was an ink fountain pen, but I'm sure someone else has one of those. I'm going to go with a mechanical movement pocketwatch. It's one of my prized possessions, given to me by my uncle when I graduated from high school. I can not explain how much this watch means to me, what it feels to wind it, what I feel when I hear it ticking.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Still Worked Up About Opera

STORY

Since I'm an instrumental musician, I always had a "that's nice" view of the opera. The music is fun to play sometimes, but can also be boring. Plus, the orchestra is paid to make their individual personalities subservient to the master plan (the director). We're down in the dark, wearing black, names in the program somewhere.

The vocalists are paid to have attitudes. They're performing characters, and if they aren't engaging to the audience, the audience won't connect to the opera. Not only that, but opera has faded as a popular entertainment from when Caruso had a much-listened to radio hour. So it warms my heart a little bit to hear about audiences who still get passionate about opera.

The news story is slightly thin on details, and there's no indication of why the lead tenor was booed offstage. The theatre manager released a statement which spreads the blame around.

But there's something funny to me about a performance of Aida, which is the "spectacle opera" to end all spectacle operas, being performed by a guy in jeans.

I also think it's funny that nowhere in the article is Verdi, the original composer, mentioned. I guess anyone who reads a story about Italian opera KNOWS it's not the Disney/Elton John version.

A Spectrum of Craziness: "E tu, Cruise?"

A couple of entries ago, I wrote a bizarre, schizophrenic entry about relationships. In the first half, I wrote about the sort of typical craziness a guy goes through when he's attracted towards a girl and doesn't know how to handle it. As a result of that entry and subsequent discussions with friends, I'm writing a follow-up to talk about the wide range of craziness that we (both sexes) go through.

Imagine a ladder in front of you which stretches both up and down. This is the continuum we're working on. It represents introversion and extroversion, with external reactions being "up" and self-conscious behavior being "down". The middle point on this ladder does not represent normality, but a balance between two kinds of crazy.

Let me set the boundaries of the scale, just so we have a common frame of reference. I'll use Hollywood stars, because it's more fun that way and it because it trivializes the more serious second half of this article. I'm all about undermining my own pronouncements.

At the top of the ladder (the extrovert) is Ashton Kutcher. For anyone over 30, he made his claim to fame as the big, dumb guy in "That 70's Show." He's been trying to both embrace that identity (with his practical joke TV show "Punk'd") and run from it (his "thinking hard" movie, Butterfly Effect, which is what happens when a director reads the book jacket of a Philip K. Dick story and gets $70 million to make a film about what he can remember the next day). I have no idea what his actual personality is, but since he seems to "play" his character on late shows, I'm going to assume he's the sort of fellow who'd gladly do some crazy action to prove his love for someone. Something like standing on a table in a fancy restaurant and singing a song about his girl, or streaking by her apartment naked with "Marry" written on one leg and "Me" on the other.

At the bottom end of the ladder is the introverted crazy. I picked Jude Law. Again, I have no idea what's he's like personally. I'm sure he's fine. It's his "movie character" I'm concerned about. I picked him because even when I see him in the upcoming holiday romantic comedy "Holiday" where he suavely woos Cameron Diaz, I still think that deep in his mind, he's crazy. I won't be able to watch that movie without thinking that when he's laughing at Ms. Diaz' culture shock from living in England ("Spotted Dick? Tee hee hee."), in his mind he's trying to decide how best to frame her for a murder, then mummify her so she can be with him FOREVER. But that's probably just me.

In the middle of the ladder, at the join between extrovert and introvert, is Tom Cruise. He's got it all. He's willing to jump up and down professing his love for his third wife, who's probably MUCH better (and younger) than the other two. He's also willing to go toe to toe with Matt Lauer and Brooke Shields to defend his Church. Extrovert, check.

His church is also a strange organization which doesn't believe in psychiatry, but does believe in aliens being the root of all our bad thoughts. Also, check out his eyes during the Lauer interview; he's seriously threatened. Introverted (because of personal demons that may actually be demons), check. Ok, we've established our scale.

*** *** ***

All silliness aside, my thoughts about this scale are simple. Guys seem to tend more towards the extrovert crazy, while women tend towards the introvert. Again, this is "seems". In reality, we're all a nice blend of crazy.

For the guys (which I'm most familiar with), things go pretty much as I mentioned them in that previous entry. Guys may have some feelings of inadequate self-worth and wondering if such a goddess (as they all are) would ever stoop to say hello. But most guys have a floor they rebound off of before the self-esteem falls too far. At some point, they'll say, "Yes, she's hot and I've got no chance. And she's got a boyfriend. But what do I have to lose?"

Even if they won't actually DO anything (like talk to the girl), they don't lose hope of her falling in love. To effect this, they'll just hang around all the time! When guys aren't well adapted to social behavior, they act out. One of my favorite quotes in from a Steve Martin screenplay, L.A. Story. His character is talking to a woman he's interested in.

Man -- "Ordinarily, I don't like to be around interesting people because that means I have to be interesting, too."

Woman -- "Are you saying I'm interesting?"

Man -- "I'm saying when I'm around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting." [paraphrased from memory]

Men like to show off, and if they can't, they try to be annoying. They do this because, if you're annoying, the girl IS still thinking about you, and "any publicity is good publicity". I can recall doing the following things to girls I liked: pulling their hair, bringing them Pop-Tarts, giving backrubs, presenting "free" tickets to something, talking down about other guys, buying presents which were "really inexpensive, actually", buying the favorite type of gum to have ready, attending the events of their sport, trying to be more sensitive than their boyfriends, using any excuse to touch them (even stepping on their feet)...

I could go on, but I'm starting to get ashamed of my own behavior. My point is that the length that guys go to is all demonstrative. "Positive," if you will. Guys may have doubts about their own worth, but they usually say that if the girl "knew the real me," then there would be happiness. There's a floor of self-esteem that props them up and prevents them from falling too far.

Now it's time to enter the realm of observation and conjecture. I don't know what it's like to be female. I only know what it's like to be a man with an immature kid calling the shots. Many women have been open and frank about what goes through their minds, however. I feel like an author dedicating a book, but their experiences help inform what I have to say. Remember, I'm talking in general, and may even be familiar only with a minority portion of some women's thoughts. [translation: It may only be six or twelve women out of 3.5 billion]

The main difference seems to be that women don't have the floor of self-esteem. Or it's not in the same place, anyway. They also have a "ceiling" on how demonstrably crazy they get. Exceptions abound, but in general, women are more reserved in how extroverted they behave.

For instance, it would never occur to me to wonder if, when an attractive girl started showing interest in me, she was actually sincere. I might be mystified, but not openly skeptical. Some women I've spoken to have so little faith in their own worth that they can't quite accept that anyone would be attracted to them. This is what I term introverted craziness, or "negative", because it pulls the person back into themselves.

Or perhaps it's just me that's the oddity. A friend recently expressed surprise that I was so friendly. We hadn't been in contact for a couple of years (as is often the case with my friends now), but after we established contact again, we've been embroiled in lots of conversations about issues that are important to me (and some that are just fun, like "heaven as a Ponzi scheme"). I value any friend who makes good conversation and can put together intelligent points. I have questions that I don't understand! I appreciate any friend who can teach me something, and I value any friend who can say "You're wrong."

Anyway, she told me I was in the minority (rather than normal) in terms of someone of my age and gender being interested in talking. I don't necessarily believe this (because it makes me in the minority if true, and that's sad), but I told her a dirty secret about me: I talk so I can understand people.

I know I've done crazy things. They seemed like smart and crafty actions at the time, but at least I understand now why I did them. And I've found that I don't need them. We attract people of the opposite sex based on what we show to others. And all the hair-pulling in the world isn't going to net me the kind of girl I actually want. I'm lucky, though; for the most part in my life, I've relaxed into the man I actually am. And because I'm relaxed, it's a lot easier to appeal to the people whom I have an interest in.

It hurts when friends are down on themselves. Unfortunately, the only proof I can offer is that I am not friends with people whom I feel have no value. This is terrifically blunt, but it's the most straightforward thing I can say. At the very least, I think my friends have merit. Those with really low self-esteem will say I am mistaken, with regards to whatever I value about them.

Because when it comes to trust, who ranks higher? Doctor Andy, or personal experience and reinforced negativity?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Actual Thoughts Are Delayed

I'm in the midst of writing a paper. Updates will continue after I've managed to scrape together enough information about the "rise of Finnish musical product into independence and beyond."

Approximately 10% finished, give or take a paragraph

Catch you tomorrow.

EDIT: OK, it's tomorrow. 2:51 AM by my watch. I have completed 90% of the paper, so I just need a little less than a page tomorrow.

Late to bed, early to rise.
Makes a tired body and two bloodshot eyes.

EDIT, the second: 8:11 AM. Moving forward. Had a difficult time waking up this morning. Eyes determined not to open. Very groggy and out of it. Managed to eat leftover spaghetti without forking myself in the eye; considered it a victory. Spaghetti was tough, dry, and flavorless, however. Overall dining experience lacking.

EDIT, the third: 9:51 AM. Paper completed. Much more awake now. Success assured.

I have a terrible stomach ache.

On a completely unrelated note, someone seems to have raided my shoelace and rubber band drawer. Further investigation necessary.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In Our Own Self-Image

I can't help staring. It would take a man much more in control of himself than I am. Being told there are beautiful people somewhere out there is no preparation for when they're here. I even know they're here, so I have no excuse.

But every once and a while, I'm actually rendered stupid by it. It causes me to do things which in other circumstances ARE stupid. But first things first.

As soon as I know she's in the room, I turn away. My eyes are slightly wider, because I've made the realization. My brain places a marker which burns so brightly that I feel it inside my skull like a phosphorous compass needle, even when I look away. The extraneous noise in the room falls to whispers, filtered by my brain to make space for her voice, should she speak. Though I never realize it at the time, my mouth is drying out. I become extremely aware of where my hands are. While looking at my hands, I see all the lines I never notice. I see old scars I haven't thought about lately. Eventually, my eyes unfocus entirely, so that I'm looking through my hands or the computer monitor; past them, because my brain is desperately processing other inputs.

Then comes the stupidity. How many times can I walk past to the drinking fountain before it's obvious? How many times can I be in the right place at the right time? How many times can I see her in one day before it becomes obvious? How long before I actually DO need to walk past her to go to the bathroom, because of all the water? How many times can we lock eyes for longer than the maximum length allowed for "room scanning" before we both admit that something is happening?

This leads to self-consciousness. I'm trying so hard to not look that I'm positive everyone else can see the heat radiating from my head. How many looks can I have in one sitting before I start to feel an Unperceived Observer's guilt and shame? Shouldn't I really be thinking about other things, more important things?

*** *** ***

And what does it mean that if I were to speak to her, she'd probably just express that she doesn't consider herself beautiful? She'd say that today's not a good day. She'd say I'm not seeing the "real" her, because I'm not seeing what's actually there. She'd say she needs to lose a few pounds. She'd say the clothes don't fit right. She'd say "it's obvious." She'd sob. She'd say she's hideous. She'd shy away from my touch because "nobody wants to see that." She'd "just know" she looks disgusting. She'd be certain she'd never deserve anyone like me. She'd take two steps back even as I hold her hand. She'd tell me through tears how good I am to take pity on her. She'd tell me how much she hates being comforted.

She'd lie to my face.

She'd cause my heart to break because she can't accept what's real. She'd hurt me because she doesn't understand my honesty. She'd lash out at me because of the pain that came before I was even here. She'd make me scream; scream into a thunderstorm so no one can hear. She'd hide behind her armor, because that's what intelligent girls do when they're threatened. That's what she'd do when people like me come too close. That's what she'd do when people like me grab on to her suffering; grab on and don't let go, because letting go means it will vanish beneath the surface again.

She'd wall herself off, because when she realizes that I understand...

... that's too close.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm Dreaming of a White (Suburban, Middle-Class) Agnostic

Tonight I'll be participating in a large concert to benefit a local food bank. It's mostly a choral concert, but it also includes some of my brass colleagues from the university. It's for a good cause, it's in a beautiful Spanish-revival Catholic church, and it sounds beautiful. Good stuff.

Christmas music forms one of three legs that anchor my Christmas spirit. The other two are Family and Decorations (lights, specifically). As long as there is some combination of these three, it feels like Christmas.

Maybe that's part of the reason I'm fond of snow. It's a herald for a certain time of year.

*** *** ***

"But wait!" I hear you cry. Aren't I some sort of raving atheist? Don't I worship Charles Darwin? Don't I marry gay couples for the fun of it?

Sorry, no. I, like just about every other person, cannot fit neatly under a label. Some would say that I'm just diluting my beliefs, since I'm spread to thin and therefore more susceptible to assailing of my position. For example, aren't I a hypocrite (or at least a bad Christian) if I both celebrate Christmas and excoriate those who fervently advocate Christ? Probably. I am the sort of person who lives a just and moral life as I understand it, and will not allow myself to force any other horses to the water and make them drink.

In the past few years, I've learned that I'm not doing it correctly. To be a Christian is to be out, pounding the streets! If I'm not out bringing everyone the Message, then I'm no kind of Christian. If I'm not telling everyone how great God has been in my life, then I'm falling behind all the others who meet their quotas.


Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 6:1

When I made the transition to "high school" Sunday school, they started public prayer. People who talked about all the great things that God and Jesus had done for them got rewarded with applause and praise from the youth ministers. People who didn't mention them were prompted to include them, or that all glory is His. It was at this point that I first doubted that I was a true Christian. I never felt like God was involved in me taking tests, getting a job, or doing good works. Doesn't He have bigger things He should be doing? Because I'd rather God be working on getting people to stop hunger and war; I can (and should!) study on my own.

But when I tried to explain this to people, they simply said that since God was everywhere, he could do it all at the same time. And that even if I didn't want or need his help, he was still helping. If I didn't think I wanted it, God still helped because he loved me, and if I didn't think I needed it, then God was still helping, but He was also making me feel like I was doing it by myself. "Wow," I thought. "God's kind of a prick." He gives me the feeling that I want to work myself, freeing up his attentions for more deserving areas, but then he goes ahead and helps anyway, since I can't do it without God's help?

No thanks.

And over the years I came to understand what being a Christian is, in today's age. It is acknowledging His glory. It's believing that God's son was somehow God himself. It's trying to round up everyone under the banner, because only the Bible is correct and divinely inspired (I accidentally wrote "sinspired" here. Paging Dr. Freud!). It's going out and making apostles of all nations. It's hearing about loving even the sinners, but hating the sins.

And I realized that even though I had always considered myself a Christian, I was wrong. I am not, and I never was. This would be a good time to use the old Ronald Reagan cliche about "I didn't leave the Democratic party; it left me!" I thought about using it, but then I realized that's a cop out. Christianity didn't leave me; it was just never explained in detail earlier. Ceremonies that I thought I understood were actually about something different. And it turned out that no matter how much I felt independent; no matter how much I learned the value of humility and passing help to others who needed it; no matter how much internal progress I went through to allow myself to do things I couldn't before, I couldn't escape the fact that God had his hand in everything. I wasn't doing anything praiseworthy or groundbreaking other than following God's trail of invisible breadcrumbs. All glory is His.

So I made the decision. And to this day, people still tell me that God's inspiring everything I do. That God is testing me. That God never lets go. That God gave me stubbornness to eventually bring me back to him. Well, God also made me intelligent enough to know self-righteous desperation and vindictive sniping when I hear it.

When I die, I'll no doubt be consigned to Hell. But if everyone who makes up the public face of evangelical Christianity is in Heaven, then I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. I'll burn in eternal torment, and if even the smallest part of me is still conscious of myself, I'll know it's for the better. I'd rather be tortured next to Socrates, Mohandas Ghandi, and Oscar Wilde, than play my harp next to James Dobson, Jerry Johnston, and Fred Phelps.

So, I like Christmas. I like it because it is a fading reminder of what I thought Christianity was about. I like it because it reminds me who I am, and it reminds me what's important. And it tells me that even though good things don't last long, they'll come around again, soon enough.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Silent Night

It's snowing where I am. It's been snowing since 1:00 this afternoon. Since our evening concert was cancelled (along with class) in the middle of the dress rehearsal, I had a bit of free time. So I went with a couple of friends to a restaurant and ate "lunch" at 3:00 or so. The food joint isn't far from campus. We all drove, and the half-mile drive through the falling snow and panicking drivers took about 30 minutes.

The restaurant has big glass windows (almost floor to ceiling), so I was able to sit and watch the flakes fall. I'm at a loss to explain why snow effects me so profoundly. I know that when snow is falling, it quiets my mind. Since I've been home this afternoon, I've opened all my blinds. When I walk into various rooms for food, drinks, papers, or whatever, I run the very real risk of being captivated by what's going on outside my window. I spent ten minutes looking out the window earlier without even realizing what I was doing.

And since you read this entry at your own speed (not the speed at which I write it), you can't tell that I just did it again. I padded out to the kitchen in search of something to drink and got stuck at the window on my way back.

There are no people out. No cars on the roads. No animals wandering. Just streetlights, one after another around the curve until they become indistinct in the snow haze. When I look out, I feel myself relaxing in a way that almost nothing else allows me to do. There is a timeless feeling, watching the snow fall, as though it could go on forever.

I love the sound. Regular sounds get absorbed and curtailed almost as they are created. Shouts fall to the ground exhausted before making it across the street. A new sound eclipses everything. The sizzle of snow falling on snow, like sand poured from an hourglass. It's never loud. Just constant. Omnipresent. Supporting. And my body feels different. Eventually I realize it is because for the length of that moment, I have no worries. There is no stress. There are no expectations. My mind is tranquil.

To me, it is an experience most profound. It resonates in me; I feel it in my soul, as I would the wind on my face. Perhaps this is what happens to others when they have a religious moment, or get to the beautiful beach on a fantastic summer day, or fall in love with someone who makes the knees weak: it's an experience that brings acknowledgement of the enormity of the moment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Healthy Relationships

I had great news this evening. Out of the blue, I talked with my roommate for three of four undergrad years. I haven't talked to him for months, and it's always nice to catch up with good friends. Even if they've fallen by the wayside. It really is incredible how easy it is to pick up good relations with people if your general demeanor was positive before the interruption.

He let me know that he's engaged to a woman he's been with for at least a couple of years. I can remember sitting in the dark in our dorm room, talking about relationships and women while lying in our do-it-yourself bunk beds (liberal use of duct tape). Now he teaches high school, gets called "Mr." by his students, and is getting married.

This is awesome. I love good news for my friends. Even better when it's a good man whom I lived with for years. I'm sure some of you are wondering what sort of person this guy could be, for me to like him as a roomie. He's basically just like me, except instead of trombone, he listens to a lot of heavy metal. [insert trombone/metal joke here] In a way, perhaps I'm glad he's engaged because it buoys my own relationship perceptions. After all, if a crazy weirdo like HIM can scam.... I mean, woo a girl, there's GOT to be hope for everyone.

Before I get to the real point of this entry, I must make a confession. It's nothing I should feel guilt for, but I feel it just the same. In fact, it's the sort of gleeful "I'm doing something wrong" guilt we used to get when we placed thumbtacks on the teachers chair, or "Vasalined" the science classroom doorknob. I've been listening to a small amount of Christian talk radio. I started when my mp3 player batteries had run out while crossing the state, and now every once and a while, I tune it in to see what's happening.

Usually, it's a pastor speaking about a subject in a recorded sermon. Occasionally, there's some sort of studio show where a pastor gets a bunch of set-up questions lobbed at them by the straight man.

"That's fascinating, Pastor Bob. And speaking of fascinating, are there any good ways to bring the spirit of Christ into my household chores?"

"Steve, I'm glad you asked that. Most people, even most Christians, don't allow the Lord into their laundry rooms! But the Bible clearly tells us that Jesus washed people's feet at the Last Supper. Obviously, Jesus wants us all to follow his example with our white and warm-dark loads. It's all in my new series, 'What Does Jesus Do With My Missing Socks?"


But the last time I listened, it was a call-in relationship advice show. It would have been completely uninteresting except that the caller was a man who was conflicted about when to tell his girlfriend about some homosexual feelings in his past. I figured this was all cut and dried; true to my expectations, the advice-giver praised him for leaving behind his sinful choice and embracing the word of the Lord (and embracing women). Then it came out that he and his girlfriend hadn't really gone out in months. And they only really went out a couple of times, and there were always other people there. And she had said then that she didn't really want consider them "dating."

By this point, the advisor has correctly determined this guy doesn't really have a girlfriend. At least, not the sort of relationship modern science could measure. She switched tactics to tell him that maybe he needed to accept God's sign that they weren't meant to be together. And that God only really blesses a union if there is a true and holy understanding between the man and woman.

Basically, she's trying to tell him to go out and get a real woman; your girlfriend isn't just the woman who brushed your arm at a party on the way to the punch bowl. She started asking him about his younger life and suggesting that he broaden his social horizons and meet new people. Then it came up that he'd been home-schooled from the age of four, had been strictly kept away from women, and had only met this girl at the library when he was trying to register to vote. The advisor switched tactics, began praising home schooling as a godly course, and that he was probably better off in the long run because of the incorporation of the Bible into everyday academics. She also thought gender isolation was a good way to promote "respect" between girls and boys.

I have no doubts that home-schooling probably produces a superior academic student. Most parents I know who are inclined to homeschool would no doubt be slavish taskmasters with regards to their children's education. Having said that, I think that raising a child without giving them the opportunity to socialize with the opposite sex is a form of child abuse. In listening to this young man talk on the radio, it was clear that he was completely flummoxed when it came to dealing with women his own age. I felt great pity as he explained his frustration in trying to get the girl to like him and marry him (that was his ultimate goal).

I'm no social whirlwind, but I know the power that a woman can have over if she actually pays attention to me. It's a wonderful feeling to receive attention from someone, but it can be overwhelming if you're not used to it. Socializing has lots of subtle workings that differentiate between a person who's really interested in you vs. one who is only paying attention to be polite. If this poor guy doesn't have a good background in dating and dealing with rejection, he's going to start blaming some external source for his problems, instead of examining himself for what he needs to change.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Only a good-for-nothing is not interested in his past."

--Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)


I felt certain I had written something on this subject before, but since I've done a couple of searches and didn't find anything, you're stuck with old material. Ha!

As I mentioned before, this year is the tenth anniversary of my high school graduating class. I suppose it is most correctly celebrated in May, but we're so special we've decided to spread it out a little. Since this week has been so "past focused," there is little surprise that I'm also in a reflective mood (although going by my previous entries, I probably didn't need the excuse).

I went to visit friends of mine last week, and he had unearthed a couple of videos from the archives in his parents house. Doesn't it sound much more grand to say "archives," rather than "a slightly mildewed box in the basement"? Anyway, this was video taken by our band director in March of 1996 when the group went to England, and a video of the musical from the same year, "Camelot".

When the first frames came up from the travel video, it showed a guy I used to be friends with. One of those "every day, hang out" friends. I laughed when I saw him packing stuff onto buses, because I haven't seen him since the day we graduated. In my mind's eye, he still looks the same as he does in the video. I laughed because I know he's changed, but when I think about where he is now, I know he's ten years older, but I still SEE the high school senior working phones or training seals or whatever he does now.

And lo, into frame enters me. I remember that jacket! And what's with the hair? Sort of a Count Rugen from "Princess Bride" look, only flatter at the top and puffier around the ears. Like a pageboy if I were wearing around-the-back earmuffs under my hair. Weird.

And as the camera panned through the crowd on the high school steps, I was amazed at how many people I didn't know. Who was that guy? Was she even IN our class? My friend pointed out that we were seniors by this point; we didn't need to know everyone. I'd never thought of it like that, but it was immediately confirmed in my mind. When I was a freshman, I knew everyone who was older than I was, and I'm not sure why. But as I became the elder, I just knew some of the people younger than I. I guess that's what happens when you become more important.

As an aside, I had a similar experience two weeks ago when I sat in with a band in place of a friend. One of the trumpet players I sat next to (a young kid, first or second year undergrad), greeted me and said, "Nice to play next to you again, Doctor Andy." This took me by surprise, and I looked again at this guy (surreptitiously). No, he still doesn't look familiar. I'm searching through my brain.... did I know his older siblings? Have I played with him in a group before? Is he the kid who used to steal oranges from the supermarket in Columbia? I even looked at the name on his band folder, but it meant nothing to me. Turns out he was just in the same band I was last year. Not even the same section, but apparently, I was a much more memorable persona in the room than the average (trumpet) student. Who knew?

Anyway... just amazing to see people in these videos. Some people have changed remarkably. Some people HAVEN'T CHANGED at all. Freakishly, they still look like they do in these videos from high school. No wonder I have a hard time thinking of people as their proper age!

As Bill Cosby would say, I told you that story to tell you this one....

*** *** ***

Every time I drive through the state of Missouri, I pass through Columbia. It's a town of approximately 100,000 residents which rests on the main interstate more or less halfway across. I spent two years there doing my master's degree, in 2000-02. I spent less time there than I spent anywhere else I've lived, including Kansas City. But I can't drive through it without being stampeded with memories.

I experienced this acutely when I stopped for dinner during my last crossing. It was a restraunt I'd be in before, with a wide variety of people who no longer live in that city. This isn't a big deal at all; people tend to move around quite a bit. In Columbia, however, the awareness is tremendous. So, as I'm sitting there eating, I'm being visited by memories of many people, places, and things. It felt sort of like what happens to people in horror movies: they get possesed by demons only they can see and hear.

The reality is that it's not a horror film. These memories I'm experiencing aren't bad. Most of them aren't good, either! They're just memories, of things that used to happen in places I used to be. I don't want to create the impression that I'm dreading driving through a town, or that I've got some scar on my psyche that causes me to stutter when I say anything remotely related, like "Col...Col....COLumbus Day sale!" Far from it.

But Columbia does feel like a ghost town. Strange to say for a town with a ton of people living there, but it feels that way. It probably has mostly to do with the fact that I no longer know anyone who has a home there. The town, which once had many open doors and expectant faces in it, is now populated exclusively by "other people." Maybe it's because I now drive through it, rather than it being my destination.

Or maybe it's just the thought that a town I once knew as "home" is now just a place to eat and buy gas.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Unneccesary Reunion

My high school graduating class had their ten-year reunion this week. Since my high school has a long and storied history regarding a certain Thanksgiving football game and their arch rivals, the next high school over, the organizers felt this was a better time to hook lots of people who may be in town for Thanksgiving at the parents or reliving old high school football games.

I had every intention of going to at least one of the events, but the more I thought about it, the more I hesitated. If I had attended, I would not be guaranteed to see the few people I am really curious about. The odds are good I would instead see the multitudes who I have no strong feelings about one way or the other. I'm not angry enough to hold a grudge against people who didn't like me back then. The flip side, though, is that I'm not particularly eager to make conversation with a bunch of people I used to see in the halls (and even then, I didn't know them).

It might have been another story if I had gone with someone else. With a companion, if the joint is lame, you can laugh about it. Bringing a friend along covers a LARGE set of evils. However, there's only so many times you can bring a good male friend someplace without people wondering. And there's only so many times you can bring a girlfriend (who doesn't know anyone) as a trophy / companion. I've done it once for a wedding (my poor girlfriend!) and we both agreed it wasn't fair or entertaining.

The biggest reason I didn't feel compelled is because I've done a good job keeping track of people I might want to know. A few exchanged letters over the years is enough to keep me "in the loop" of what they're up to. There are some people I wish I knew more about, true, but I know how to go about contacting them if I want to (i.e., through their parents, last known cities, etc.) So I don't feel the great push to press hands with people whose names have not had a single minutes thought from me in ten years.

If there had been a way to ensure that everyone I'd want to talk to could be there, I would have spent the money gladly. As it is, I'm not going to call the girl I had a crush on in 11th grade just to find out if she's coming.

I hear she's married, anyhow.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Out-of-measure happy

Today, someone commented on my cheerful demeanor. They believed it was excessive, in the sense that they had never recalled seeing me so happy. It made me pause! If anyone had asked, yes, I would have commented that I was having a good day. But at least one person thought it was notable; notably different, anyways.

So now the question is: what sort of attitude have I been projecting to this person? No one else said anything about it (so far; the day isn't over yet). If there is an objective change in my outlook today, I blame getting up early.

I woke up early (for me) to get to a dress rehearsal. Alarm set for 6:30 AM. Here in KC, that means it's still dark out. Stumbling through my place, I turned on all the lights in the reverse order from turning them out going to bed. Bedside, bathroom, hall, kitchen. Needless to say, I was NOT cheerful at this time. Grumpy, even.

I can't find the trail that leads from early rising to "surprising good mood," but it's the only portion of my routine that has changed this week. So, if you ever see me in an atypically good mood, you can feel free to ask if my alarm clock went off early.

Now my fear is that my day will be so long, I'll crash during the rehearsal I have tonight. Since the first show is tomorrow, perhaps people can just leave me down there if I happen to fall asleep. I'll know it's bad if even the gunshot that murders the preacher fails to break the thick fog.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reductio ad Absurdum

-- 1) a form of logical argument where a point is carried to an extreme and unlikely (but logically sequential) conclusion in order to dispute that point.

-- 2) if you are author J.K. Rowling, reductio absurdum is most likely a spell Harry Potter uses to make Lord Voldemort small and silly.


The federal government offers money to schools and other organizations that will teach "abstinence-only" sexual education. These programs "teach that abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. They give no instruction on birth control or safe sex." Recently, the government expanded the scope of this education beyond teenagers, and the program now includes people up to 29 years of age. ARTICLE

According to the article, this expansion came about because unmarried women in the 19-29 age group have more children than unmarried women in any other age group. A spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services says, "The message is 'It's better to wait until you're married to bear or father children.' [...] The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence."

If I can digress to a COMPLETELY UNRELATED TOPIC, I'm really worried about being shot one night. Kansas City is a rough town, and I may end up getting shot while minding my own business. In fact, people in my age group are more likely to be shot than anyone! It would be nice if the city would increase police presence, tell me where the bad neighborhoods are, or cut down on the factors that encourage violence, but there's really only one fool-proof way to be 100% sure I won't be shot.

We need to destroy all guns. We can't just get all the guns in Kansas City, either. Someone might get crafty and import one from somewhere far away like Topeka. So we have to destroy all guns in the world. Otherwise, there would still be a chance I would get shot.

That's why I support abstinence-only sex ed. If you tell people in nasty, clinical details about sexually-transmitted diseases, that will probably just encourage them to have sex and collect them all, like some sort of pus-filled Pokemon. Can't have that. If we tell them how and why birth control works, then we may have to explain uncomfortable things. And if you tell them about birth control methods, they may use them. That might lead to less young unmarried people having babies! Who wants that?

Because the federal program is expanding to try to cut down on the number of unmarried mothers, I suppose that means it's relatively OK for all those gay people to have sex. After all, no danger of children there! But I'd really prefer they'd be abstinent and just stick to oral sex. In 1999, 30% of a survey group of health care teachers believed that performing oral sex fell within the bounds of abstinence. And since abstinence is 100% preventative of disease (as mentioned above), I'm sure there's many other good explanations for the many reported cases of pharygeal (throat) gonorrhea among some groups "not typically thought to be sexually active." No doubt some infected pudding cups.

Most importantly, I think it's the responsibility of the government to teach people about abstinence until they turn 30. Mostly because people who have waited 29 years to have sex and who are considered "responsible adults" in the eyes of the law are the MOST likely to suddenly abandon their pledge and have impulse sex, leading to excess unmarried childbirth.

Of course, all bets are off if you're married. Then go wild with kids. That's what government assistance is for. But be careful here in Kansas. We consider ourselves guardians of the sacred adult bond that is marriage. We want only rational, mature individuals getting married. That's why in May, our legislature passed a statute that prohibits marriage of anyone under 18.

Well, unless you have a note from your parents. Then you can marry at 16 and 17. That's the limit though!

Oh, unless a judge thinks it's in your best interest. Then you can marry at 15. But 15, that's the real limit. Seriously! Marriage is for rational, mature adults of 15 or older!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hold on...

Ever get that feeling that you just want to grab someone and not let go? Maybe it's because things are rough. Maybe it's because someone finally treats you the way you want to be treated. Maybe it's because someone sees the "you" that even you didn't see. Maybe there's a big step that needs to be taken, and it's frightening.

And whoever that person is, you just want to grab on. Because holding onto someone means that someone else is real. Because they're not moving in the swirling tides. Because they know what it is to be adrift. Because they can never know, but they understand. Because they can't understand, but they feel that you need them. Because they don't even know why they're so helpful and wonderful. Because we know that as human beings, a touch is powerful.

Touching someone else is a consequential action. Some people do it casually. I know many people who do it practically without thinking about it. Some of those people act like it's no big deal, but I know that they thought about it. They analyzed the situation in advance. They calculated how casual to make the touch so it would still feel like no big deal. But those people know different. They know why they want the contact, but they're afraid of the reasons. They're afraid of being spurned, even as they reach out to someone (which they probably seldom do). They want a form of intimacy, and are willing to disguise it under a friendly "Listen to this!" tap. Or a "watch out, that person needs to get behind you" pull. Or a "help me off the floor" touch.

Other people know exactly what their touch means. It's a comfort. It's a tease. It's sympathy. It's relief. It's camaraderie. It's an apology. It's a commiseration on why it has to be so hard. It's a possessive feeling. It's a sign you aren't dreaming. It's a sign of the beginning. It's a sign it's over. It's a "this touch gives me some of your worries." It's a plea for understanding.

And everyone once and a while, don't you wish your embrace had the power to block out the world? To hold someone and keep on holding until all the troubles fade, all the problems are fixed, all the fear evaporates. To hold them because that's all that can be done; there is no other possible choice. To hold them until things work out like they should. To hold them to show that there is no "alone." To hold them because there are too many words to express the joy. To hold them because there are no words to express the sorrow. To hold them because you wish you could protect them, even though you can't. To hold them because you can't let go.

Do you ever get that feeling?

...me neither...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Motivated to be Anti-Hetero Marriage

Apparently, while most of the civilized America was watching the polls and contemplating the ethics of stem cell research, Brittany Spears and her husband...umm...Mr. Spears, filed for divorce. While this is not the sort of thing I usually comment on (unless it's to mention that these are the people we need to defend marriage FROM), I found a video which cried out, nay.... COMPELLED me to post it. It contains the lyrics to one of Kevin Federline's songs, from his aborted rap career.

Lest I say too much, let me end with two words: James Lipton. Bask in the hilarity.

P.S. It helps if you've ever watched Bravo for any period of time.
P.P.S. Moderate language warning.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pacing in circles

I've spent all evening (since I got home from rehearsal) doing the same things. Going through the same pattern of websites. Waiting for something to change.

Isn't it funny how we can expect certain things to happen? I have no reason to believe that anything out of the ordinary is going to happen tonight (election night notwithstanding), but I still feel this need to keep checking my email accounts. I haven't sent anything terribly important lately that I'm expecting an answer to, yet still I hover.

Is it weird to be anticipating something but not know what it is? How can I look forward to something if I'm not expecting anything? I'm seriously confused.

Or maybe I do know, deep in my heart of hearts. In James Clavell's novel "Shogun," one of the characters refers to the medieval Japanese as having three hearts. One they wear on the outside to show to everyone, one in the mouth that only your close friends and family see, and a third that is hidden from everyone but yourself.

Am I waiting for something that I can't admit? The idea confuses me. And what happens when what I'm waiting for doesn't happen? Does it change me?

Or do I go back to walking in circles and waiting...

Is it paranoia if you think people are out to mess up things that don't really matter?

I ask this question because I have a stereotypical understanding of paranoia. I picture the guy holed up in his basement with jars of peanut butter and firearms because he's worried the IRS (who front for the alien overlord) is coming to take his brain. The dictionary defines paranoia as excessive fear or anxiety about one's own well-being taken to irrational levels.

Is it still paranoia if you're not really afraid? Or if the thing you're afraid of isn't important, and you know it isn't? I ask these questions because of a press release I found on the G.O.P. website. It's about exit polls, which is what television stations conduct by surveying people who left the ballot place. They're not scientific. They're not binding. The only reason they exist is for the television stations (who program 6 or eight hours of election "coverage") to begin to have some numbers to report. They do this because it takes time to count all the ballots, and results usually don't come until late in the day. What are they going to talk about if they don't have some numbers? So they latch onto anything, like exit polls, statistical probabilities, and even counting bumper stickers on cars.

As someone who's read "Statistics for Dummies," you can tell I don't think much of these exit polls. Here's the strange thing: apparently, the GOP does. Here's the link. That release, which starts with the attention-getting "BEWARE the exit polls," lets everyone know that traditionally, the Republicans aren't favored in exit polls. If this were just a statement saying "The exits may not favor us, but hold on: we win in the end!" I wouldn't be surprised. After all, that's basically what's happened lately.

But when I read this statement, I get the feeling like there's something else going on here. There are sections about exit polls influencing voter turn out in later time zones. They talk about how things skewed Democratic, but they turned around when the "real vote" came in. Doesn't everyone know that just asking the people who they voted for on the way to their cars isn't a great and reliable system? Why spend all this fact-finding research to put together an offical GOP statement?

In the past year, I've started to notice that everyone, even (or especially) the people in power, like to portray themselves as underdogs. They feel that everyone is out to get them. When immigration was hot news, people were running studies about how immigrants would take over the US with their higher birth rates and good work ethics. When the Supreme Court allowed Michael Schiavo to have his wife's feeding tube removed, people yelled that our rights were being trampled by the "activists". When the evolution vs. creationism (or "intelligent design") battle heated up, people were horrified that the giant scientific edifice was going to trample that plucky underdog Christianity.

After all, everyone knows that Christians are just a ragtag group of underfunded, persecuted, and harried people here in America. After all, they only make up ... 80% of the population! How can Christians in America do anything politically or socially when they have to face being in the supermajority? It's that godless and amoral 10% that's holding them back, curse this representative democracy!

Guess what? If you're in the majority and you find yourself unable to do some of the things you really want to do that effect everyone, the founding fathers are smiling. A lot of care and thought went into our political system to try to prevent the democratic (small "d") situation of the "tyranny of the majority." And even though a group may poll in the majority, in reality that group is made up of individuals who have their own ideas. I know scientists who are opposed to stem cell research, and I know devout Catholics who would support it.

No matter what creative polling and fancy spin might suggest, not everyone is in the minority. Not everyone is "under fire" or "threatened." Not everyone is having their values trampled by the gigantic opposition. When states that are traditionally pigeonholed into one party or another have candidate races that are statistically too close to call, that means that democracy is working. And if you think exit polls are anything other than an interesting number, you may need a reality check.

In addition to a course in political statistics.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Who's a Blog for, anyway?


I had an apostrophe in the shower, as I often do. It was relating to this blog, and how I was mistaken about it's true effect when I first started out. Travel through the wayback machine and look at my first entry in February here. In it, I basically equate this blog to a public journal. Now that I've been working on it for a few months, I know that's not correct.

This came about because of the entry I removed. In talking with someone else, I decided that the main problem was one of focus. Is the blog for me, or is it for other people? Initially, I thought it was for me. I wouldn't have referred to it as a journal otherwise. I have quite a few entries that are "journal-like," in that an event is mentioned and I spend the rest of my "paper" hashing through it. What does it mean, etc.

But gradually, and especially when I had to decide why to pull an entry, I have taken a different view. It's not that the blog is any LESS about me. I'm still the only content provider, my opinion is all that gets heard (outside of the occasional comment), I'm deciding what I'm going to write about... but I don't think I'm writing for me. That realization came when I noticed that I can't write whatever I feel like.

I take it back; I CAN write anything, but I don't want to. Because everything I write can effect someone else. Let's say I was madly in love with a girl. I wouldn't want to write about it on here, no matter how excited I was or how great the girl was. It wouldn't be fair to expose any relationship to such one-sided scrutiny in public. I made a decision not to write specifically about my students, too. Since my blog is attached to my name, it is possible (though unlikely) that anything poor I said could come back to me.

So it's not a journal. I can write anything in my journal, because almost no one has the opportunity to see it. On this blog, who knows who reads it? People I've never met could read it, or (even worse!) people I used to know. So I'm not free to talk about who used to wet their pants, or who kissed me because of a bet.

If it's not a journal, what is it? It's a social outlet. At the risk of sounding pathetic, I live by myself. My neighbor alternates between mistakenly reporting me for noise violations and bringing me pie to make up for said reports. When I turn off the TV, it gets quiet. However, I'm not looking for sympathy; I like living alone. That quiet is very relaxing, and when I put stuff someplace, it stays there! But there's a part of me that wants to connect to other people.

Sure, there's going out and drinking, but the chances for serious conversation aren't good (and I don't mean things that *seem* serious when you're drunk). So by updating my blog, I'm touching base (in a way) with everyone who reads it. People know what I'm thinking about that I might not get a chance to talk about while I'm rehearsing or taking a test. The reader and I get to share an experience.

One thing that my last serious girlfriend and I agreed upon was that a good relationship is maintained in strength by shared experiences. If I know what you are going through, that allows me empathy. It allows people to feel connected, even when the distance between them is great. By distance, I'm referring to mileage, temperament, or philosphy, to name a few.

So, much as I have stumbled across pictures of actor friends in productions, taped audio lectures from friends who work in art galleries, and papers of friends who are in scholarship (and felt close to them because of it), I create this blog to leave a signpost. I'm writing this for you as much as for me. And when I say "for you," it's not a situation of obligation, as if I gave you a scooter for your birthday and now you have to write a thank-you. My blog is not designed specifically to help you, hinder you, or illuminate you. My blog is not a gift or present any more than a business card is a gift for the guy you interview with. That's an impersonal metaphor, but my point is:

You are the intended audience.

PS. I still think it's tremendously funny that Blogger's spell check doesn't accept "blog" as a word.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Doctor is Out

Ahh mellow-ness. How I've missed you.

On this chilly night I have a fire, a cup of hot chai, and an inclination towards thinking things I have not yet thought. It's time for me to puzzle over my own issues, other people's issues, and where they intersect.

Life is good. If anyone needs me, I'll be on my futon.

Holy Bullshit!

I finished a post last night. I even published it to the blog. It was up for probably five minutes before I decided to take it down. That is the first post I've put up that I subsequently erased since beginning this blog. Here's why:

1) It felt repetitive. It was partially about religion and the abuse of power using modern media, specifically over children. While the specific subject is not something I've talked about before, it felt like another post where I shine a spotlight on religious flaws. I don't want this blog to be about awful people, but they really need to keep a lower profile! That would help me out...

2) It concerned children. I have a hard time maintaining even the illusion of self-control when it comes to misdirection and (what I consider) mental abuse of children. If you want to see me furious in anger, do something hurtful to a child who doesn't know any better. The post was written after contemplating three separate opinions on how to co-opt children to advance particular religious or societal causes. It made me angry.

3) It wasn't well structured. I like to maintain a balance in my entries. Balance light with serious, balance pro- with anti-, balance stupidity with wisdom. The phantom post contained little of this balance; instead, it was the sort of entry I don't particularly like to read. It was filled with one-sided pronouncements and preaching. Not only is this monotonous, it also damages an author's credibility.

I wasn't planning on mentioning it at all. I was just going to keep it in my drafts folder along with other entries that aren't quite ready yet, like "The Relationship Paradox: Being Alone Together," "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies," and "I am all three sides of the triangle." But then someone who figured into the entry, the Reverend Ted Haggard, made an appearance in the news today. Man, I told you not to make it easy for me!

STORY

Ted Haggard is the pastor in a large mega-church in Colorado. I believe they boast 14,000 members. He also recently appeared in the documentary "Jesus Camp," which is the connection to my removed entry. The documentary is about the indoctrination of children into the evangelical church for the purpose of fighting the holy war and reclaiming America from secularism. He was the only participant in the documentary to disown his portrayal. If you want to know what makes me furious, search the Internet for the trailer. He was also interviewed by renowned atheist Richard Dawkins regarding the instruction of "Intelligent Design" in schools. He also has a conference each week with President Bush or one of his advisors.

Anyway, the news released today is that a man is anouncing he has had sex with "Pastor Ted" approximately once a month for three years, for money. I have no idea if this is true or not. My inclination is that it's probably a spurious claim. If it turns out to be true, I'm not even sure I could wrap my brain around the depth and breadth of the hypocrisy for the head of the National Association of Evangelical ministries paying for gay sex. I know I wouldn't be able to laud it over him, because I'd be too sad for him and his existence.

The reason why I bring this up isn't really related to Pastor Ted at all. I found a humorous statement (to me) in the news article. He has stepped down as head minister and the church will form a four member committee to investigate the claims. The church spokeswoman said, "This is really routine when any sort of situation like this arises, so we're prepared."

So, do they have a lot of people in authority being accused of secretly being gay? So much so that there is a "routine" they go through? I'm assuming they don't convene a hearing when just any old parishioner might be gay. I suppose they must first decide if the claim has merit. If it does, then according to their beliefs, the suspect must have chosen to become gay.

I guess that would be the end of membership in the church, unless the person decides to "un-gay" himself.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Time Of Change

(or "I was in school before you were born!")


I remember "falling back" for the time change as being great. It signals the approach of winter, gives an extra hour of sleep, and I get to run around changing clocks. But now, it just means I feel like going to be at 9:00. Moving time back has made me feel older. Merlin would be proud.

I've spent a fair amount of time lately in conversation with a variety of people. Frankly, it's my drug of choice. Understanding another person is a heady and intoxicating experience. But for all the overblown metaphors I could bring up about this, the conversation itself is easy. The topics may be weighty, but we are almost never at a loss for words. I'm not trying to toot my own horn; I'm just saying that, apparently, when conversation is easy, it's VERY easy.

It's not all wine and roses. What do I say to the person who is trying desperately to make sure she's got enough self-esteem to get engaged? What do I say to the guy who isn't sure if he wants to pop the question? What do I say to the woman who doesn't feel comfortable relaxing and being friendly? What do I say to the high school kid who's flirting with me, besides suggesting "The Graduate" for viewing?

Time marches on. More babies, more divorces, more loves, more life changes.
Then there's me. I feel calm and collected. I feel I am in a state of self-improvement. I feel that I'm in a quiet and pleasant place in life. Perhaps that's why so many people end up talking to me. Maybe it has something to do with my positively sponge-like absorption of personal stories combined with my recent penchant for honesty in discourse.

One thing is certain: time isn't moving as fast for me as it is for many people. Since time is NOT flying and I'm still having fun, I may be in the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I remember those hands

WARNING: Despite my best intentions, I am unable to maintain neutrality on this particular issue. Please know that I am not presenting you a completely bias-free look at a political issue.

My grandfather had Parkinson's disease. I can remember my mom sitting up and doing research on therapies, treatments, research, side-effects, and other worries. I can remember hiding in the guest room at my grandparents townhome because I couldn't stand to see my grandfather pouting and whining about it being bedtime. I can remember watching his mouth and seeing the drawn and pained expression. It's not painful (I don't think), so part of that expression is a human perception. But it is frustrating. That's what I know about Parkinson's. It's a frustrating disease. And it has always seemed that you can see the frustration in their hands.

I found this political advertisement on YouTube. By coincidence, it's talking about Missouri. It's a supportive ad for Claire McCaskill, the democratic candidate.




If you're interested in a slightly more spontaneous interview, please look here for an interview done by the CBS affiliate in St. Louis. It's broken into two parts.

It's sobering to see the effects of this disease on someone else. Someone who (counting the number of times I rewatched "Teen Wolf" and "Back to the Future") I may have seen more often than my grandfather.

*** *** ***

For the most part, I have no idea of the political orientation of my friends. In one sense, it's not really good conversation. Since issues are designed to be polarizing (or "wedge" issues), often times good rational conversation is hard to come by.

Until I visited St. Louis a few weeks ago, I had no idea what Amendment 2 was about. There, helpfully crafted billboards pointed me to the soundbites and kneejerk reactions. So, when I came home, I went to the Internet to do research.

If you're going to vote in November, I encourage you to do the same. Even if you only focus on one thing, an educated voter is a powerful force. There are lots of places where you can't vote or your vote doesn't mean anything. Maybe I'm just an optimist, but this isn't one of those places.


For Missouri Amendment 2, which is about stem cell research, the issue is all about your perception of life. I encourage everyone who can vote in Missouri to examine this issue. Please do your own research. I also encourage you to not immediately accept anyone's opinion on how you should vote. Not your parents, not your friends, not Michael J. Fox, and not me. None of us really know what you believe or how you feel. All of us want you to vote our way.

No doubt you see the disconnect.

To learn more about the opposition, please read http://www.nocloning.org/

To learn more about the supporters, please read http://www.missouricures.com/

Notice the websites even have spin in their addresses.

For the real deal, please read this. It's the text of the proposed amendment direct from the Missouri government. It does a fairly good job of spelling out the powers and restrictions of the proposed stem cell initiative. Be aware that some groups feel that the language of the ballot is misleading.

Above all, vote. Don't let your opinions be "less important" than people like me, who vote. But vote because you understand. Don't vote because you've heard people talking. Don't vote because you only see two parties. Don't vote because you prefer one color to another.

Uninformed voters are the pawns of those who can craft scarier ads.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Do I want to be your friend? Who are you, anyway?

I'm part of the vast social networking site that is facebook.com. Within the past couple of days, I received a request to become "friends" with someone. This person is someone I'm pretty sure I've never seen in my life. His name is not familiar. He goes to the same university I do, so I guess we have that in common. He is not, by any stretch, my friend. If he punched me in the face, I wouldn't say "Why did you do that, friend?" I'd say, "Ouch! Some clown just punched me."

Perhaps the point of this site is to make new friends. And I might consider making this guy a new friend, but he doesn't mention anything about himself. Just a sterile "Mr. X has added you as a friend. Confirm?"

Some people add anyone they can lay their hands on. I blame the site, since it numbers how many friends you have, and how many other people you connect to through friends. Six degrees of separation on steroids! But I have no interest in adding people simply because they also happen to be named Andrew Schwartz. I've received about four requests from various Andrew Schwartz's to be their friends. They're from other universities and I've never met them before. I will never meet them. If I look at their pages and see that they have no interests that interest me, I have no desire to be their "friend".

It reminds me of the old Beatles fan clubs. If you join, you get a newsletter. Plus, you get to feel closer to people you would never meet otherwise. The modern equivalent is being friends with a band, comic, or television star on MySpace. Actors and musicians have profiles run by their People, and if you just shoot them a request, you can be one of Eric Clapton's friends! Wow, I'm friends with Eric Clapton.

Except that Mr. Clapton doesn't know my name, doesn't know what I look like, and likely wouldn't buy lemonade from my stand even if he was thirsty and FOUND fifty cents in the grass.

Ahh, modern friendship! Good thing I have numerically more friends than YOU.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I'm a sucker for time lapse photography

I found an interesting video put out by Dove. Not the chocolate maker, but the soap and moisturizer people. They have an unconventional ad campaign going that focuses on image problems. This video is part of that series.

Dove: Evolution

On a side note, I'm fascinated with Photoshop and the methods for creating a new reality through pictures. A couple of years ago, my family met in Indiana, but due to work or school I couldn't join them. When they came back, they had taken pictures with everyone. Two pictures to be exact. One with my father taking the picture, and the second with my cousin's boyfriend. So, of the seven people, one person was missing from each picture. Using photo manipulation software, I was able to clip my father out of one picture and place him into the picture he took.

This was complicated by the fact that my father is taller and stood farther away than the boyfriend, so I had to slightly shrink him so he wouldn't tower over everyone. I did a little shadow filling, and managed to slip him beside someone to disguise the fact that his image only had one arm (he was standing next to someone else in the original photo).

When I finished, we printed it out and the photo is on my parent's fridge. Every time I see it, I laugh. Because I know that nobody took that picture. That moment in time, forever frozen in a picture, never actually happened. It's cool, but it gives me a strange feeling to look at a scene that I created in a computer.

Monday, October 16, 2006

They Got Me Good!

I was involved in the filming of some new kind of "Candid Camera" / "Punk'd" / reality show this afternoon. For a second, I was really worried about some of the participants, but I figured out they must be actors, so that made me feel better.

I was in the grocery checking out, when a group of Observant Jews came in the front doors. I call them "observant" not to knock those who are "unobservant" but simply because I don't know what else to call Jews who have their head covered, conservative colors, and wear prayer shawls under their clothes. I would call it Orthodox, but one of the younger guys had his shoes untied and his shirtsleeves rolled up, so....

Anyway, in they walked. It's not particularly groundshaking to me. I've never seen them at the store before, but with the amount of Kosher products, signs, and information around, I'm betting there are plenty of Jews in the neighborhood. Anyway, the only reason I paid them attention was their black clothing and head coverings (possibly as a result of my own adventure with one).
In the checkout lane next to me was a typical suburban shopping couple: a woman and her 7 year old daughter. The daughter sees these noticibly-attired people enter and says, "Mom, who are they?"

The mother shushes her. "Don't stare. They're not saved."

Her daughter continues staring. The kid thinks in that way kids do, where you can watch the thoughts form on their faces. Complete with brow furrowing and thoughtful lip downturn. After a bit: "Doesn't Jesus love everyone?"

"No, honey. Not everyone."

"What!?" This part was me. Have you ever been punched in the stomach? When you are, your body reflexively tightens your abdominal muscles to protect yourself. This tends to expell some of the air you naturally keep in your lungs. That sound was the sound I made. I wrote "what" because that was what my brain was screaming at that point. In fact, my brain may have screamed SO loud that a bit of the sound leaked out my ears.

The mother gave me the nastiest look I've seen in a long time. The sort of "how dare you judge me for teaching my daughter to judge others" look. I was, frankly, shocked. It's not often I see naked loathing in public. Most people learn to hide it.

But the more I thought about it, I realized it just couldn't be real. They were actors, and I was being filmed. I should have known. No one is that closeminded. No one is that rude in public. No one teaches their daughter how to condem people at sight for being a different religion. No one feels that much hate against people who haven't done anything...

Right?

The guy on the other side of this mirror looks nothing like me!

I found a polarizing political opinion chart. Think of it like an eye test; if you can see some of the things clearly, but others don't seem to fit to you, then you have typical vision.

How well do you toe the party line?

I know that the page paints both sides with a BROAD brush, but I think it's in our nature to reject the stuff that doesn't fit with our viewpoint, while accepting the things we've been told to believe. If you understand WHY every point on both sides is there, you're probably an indecisive and overly-examinizing middle-of-the-roadist.

And I want to get to know you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I felt mean, and not a good mien...

I got up early today, and I spent four hours in the car. Then I went to rehearsal. Then off to a midterm exam. I was beaten down. While walking in the halls, I could actually feel myself compacting. I'm sure I ended up being about 5 inches shorter, just because I felt heavy. I couldn't be bothered to stretch my back and walk in my ordinary mien.

But the day turned around. I had a tasty meal, watching the rain pour down. Very relaxing. I played around on a new trombone (new to me) for a bit. Also relaxing, but only because I was practicing without a specific goal.

Then, even though the sun had set and the clouds were thick, I got encircled by a ray of sunshine. Never underestimate the positive effects of a little contact when you're down and out.

*** *** ***

I can tell that I'm one of the elder statesmen in these musical ensembles. By the way, "elder statesman" is a nice way of saying I've been doing this for a while. The reason I know that I'm getting experienced is that I don't feel intimidated into not making jokes during rehearsal. I'm not talking all the time, and I'm certainly not talking about being totally obnoxious. But every now and then, something the director says will suggest.....nay, DEMAND a joke.

But I feel hesitation from the ensemble. I felt it today; a brief pause while people decided if the director would laugh, too. Then they nervously laugh, as though thinking it's funny, but also not sure if they SHOULD laugh. I had the impression that they were waiting for the baton to cue the laughing, so that they could feel strength in numbers.

Or maybe it's that the room is already tense, and people aren't sure if humor is appropriate. Or maybe it's just that it wasn't that funny, but I refuse to accept that answer. I try to stay away from jokes that might be on the edge of funny / not funny.

But rest asured, if something funny feels like it needs to be said.......I'm probably going to say it.

Unless I'm already asleep from counting rests.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"My Mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"

--Sonnet CXXX, William Shakespeare

If you're looking for my analysis on Sonnet 130, please look HERE.

I had a conversation with a lady the other day. She was distressed because she'd just left a relationship with a bad guy. She came to me and asked me to defend my gender. Perhaps she was thinking of becoming a nun and "abjure for ever the society of men." I doubt it, but I couldn't help using that quote. More likely she's disappointed because of trust. She trusted this guy not to be a jerk, but he was anyway. Often, it's the broken trust that makes breakups so hard and makes them hurt so much.

She asked me what men want from women and in a woman. This isn't the sort of question I can answer easily. All people are different, and everyone wants different things. The best I could do for her was offer her an answer which sounds trite, but also might be true. At least, it's true for me. DISCLAIMER: This article follows my point of view. If this is true for other relationship types, I'm a genius. If it's not true, then the problem is my narrow experience.

Ready?

Men want an attractive girl who will smile at them.


Like I said, it's trite. Surely people want something deeper than that, right? Who does Doctor Andy think he's fooling? Doesn't he rail on and on about not judging on appearances? Women smiled at me all day long, but that was only because my zipper was down! I don't want them just smiling at me. That's tantamount to laughing at me.

You've got me there. It turns out it's not just any smile. What I'm talking about it a specific kind of smile; a certain way of smiling. I'm lucky, because I know what to look for. I can see it and recognize it when it happens. I might be misleading you a little: it's not just one particular smile. There's a whole range of smiles that fit in this category and each conveys a subtle meaning. They do have some things in common, however.

1) They are never intentional. This particular smile is impossible to get right if you're thinking about it. I don't mean that you have to "accidently" smile (if such a thing is possible). The "smile-er" must smile as a genuine response to something.

2) They are never sarcastic. These smiles have a true meaning. Any smile with even slightly disguised intent is not part of this set.

3) They contain at least some percentage of "wonder." Wonder is a sort of positive surprise, but it contains no shock. It has no hard edges or stress. When in a state of wonder, most of the facial muscles are relaxed.

4) They contain a certain percentage of "attraction." This relates to my earlier statement about having an attractive girl smile at you. I make a distinction between someone who is "pretty" and one who is "attractive." For me, "pretty" is a transferable description. Someone who is pretty is generally acknowledged to be physically appealing. For example, there's a girl I know at school. She is almost universally labeled as "pretty." If I were to convene a panel of experts (men and women), they would acknowledge that her appearance exhibits much of what society labels beautiful.

But "attractive" is something else. I can try to explain why I find someone attractive, but part of me will never be able to describe it. This is the distinction that marks certain people, and brings them out of the "pretty" crowd. In fact, they may not even belong to the crowd. They may not be considered appealing by the masses, but something about them attracts me.

I can try to explain the attraction ("...look at that skin...beautiful eyes...did you see how fast she drank that milkshake?"), but there will always be something else that I cannot explain. Something that will not come into words. I will forever be trying to speak it, but be unable. "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare // as any she belied with false compare."

So that's what a man wants. He wants a girl to smile at him. If he's lucky, he'll see it every once in a while from a girl, and it will be the best thing that happened that day. If he's deserving, he'll see it everyday from the girl he loves.