Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Even his griefs are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured."

--Homer (800 BC - 700 BC)

Denial: There must be some mistake. It's just not possible. I can't believe it. You're mistaken! It's not right. It doesn't work this way. Obviously the whole situation is wrong.

Anger: Wrong? Of course it would be wrong. I can't believe that anything is ever RIGHT! There's no way this is fair. This is so frustrating. I'm not usually like this; doesn't anyone understand? Or even give a damn? Why does this stuff happen to me? Isn't it time to visit despair on someone else? I'm tired of it always being me! There's nothing that can be done, so don't bother.

Bargaining: But if something could be done... There's always a way back. I wouldn't just be abandoned here. I bet I could change. If I really tried, that would make everything the way it was. Well, maybe not everything, but I might be able to hold on to what I have for a while longer.

Depression: But what would be the point? It's bound to happen again. Sooner or later...there isn't any way to escape it. I don't think things are going to improve. There's no reason to even try. Should you bother to fight a losing battle? Once you're in the rapids, there's no use trying to swim. You might as well go limp and hope you survive to the other side.

Acceptance: Because there is always peaceful water downriver. It may not be fair, it may not be right. It may just plain suck. But life continues on, and surrendering to the current and expecting it to bring you ashore isn't going to work. There are things that need doing. It's not just about me anymore. Miring in self-pity doesn't help anyone, including me. When the sun rises, the next round starts. Get ready.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The New Colossus [1883]

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

--Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

I present to you the sonnet that, for me, represents that which is Good about the American ideal. I'm glad I never studied it at school, because I'm sure I wouldn't have understood it. I would instead know it by rote, as I do so many other declarations that hold no meaning for me.

Like so many things that I reverence, I cannot hope to explain what it means to me; I cannot hope to make you feel as I do. I can only hope that everyone has the sense of wonder and the knowledge of humilty required to stand slack-jawed before an ideal. Without ideals and the courage to strive for them, we are nothing beyond collections of water held in place by dust.

"It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument."

--William G. McAdoo (1863 - 1941)

A good friend asked my opinions on dealing with frustrating obstinance. At least, I think that was the topic; I confess I wasn't really listening. But I'll proceed as if it was. In the preparation of my response, I took quite a bit of time. It would be a shame to waste that time, so I'm recycling the bulk of the text while adding some comic counterpoint to temper the treacle.

What follows are a few of the ways I've been known to deal with vexation. Specifically, the kind of vexation that occurs when dealing with someone who persists (either by design or accident) in being "troubling".

1. If you've got a piece of paper handy, try drawing ordered geometric shapes. I try to think back to my geometry (I almost wrote "geography") lessons. I draw all kinds of triangles and also on drawing those two dimensional representations of three dimensional cubes. Perhaps this works for me since I try to put a lot of effort into straight lines and proper perspectives. This ordered thinking helps me collect my thoughts, while matching straight lines and connecting intersecting sides.

Downside: People may think you're more knowledgeable in math than you are. Be prepared to be asked to help with homework.

2. Find a calming, repetitive mental image. For me, it's watching the tide recede or advance up the seaweed-covered dock piers in Puget Sound. Thinking about the calming ebb and flow of the waves as the water level moves past the green, floaty seaweed and communities of anchored mussels is extremely ordered. Another that works for me is remembering staring into a fire or a waterfall, and trying to wrap my brain around something that is contained within a specific, ordered frame, but shows complete randomness within it. For bonus points, try tracking the life of water in a waterfall: the solid waterfall eventually breaks into a billion small water droplets. So it starts at the top like pouring out of a pitcher and ends at the bottom like rain.

Downside: Watch out for being consumed in Zen meditation and ignoring the outside world. Do not attempt this while driving, operating heavy machinery, or arguing with one's spouse. Death may result. In all cases.

3. Focus on your own correctness. Obviously, this one is a last resort. The reason it works, and the reason it is dangerous, are the same: it establishes a wall between you and your target. If you are truly confident in your own position, then the most drastic method to "win" (in the space of your own mind) is to invalidate and denigrate the opposing position, while buffing and elevating the friendly case. If you convince yourself that you are right, then opposition becomes fruitless.

Downside: Surely one can appreciate the power of option three. Used in small doses with clearly proclaimed boundaries ("it's just Bob's unpreparedness that's infuriating, not Bob himself."), it works. The danger lies in using it too broadly, or too often ("Bob just isn't right! Ever!"). If one does, it tends to remove any responsibility to actually listen to the person, or try to understand them. It prevents empathy, which is seriously unhealthy, both internally and in relation to others.

Use wisely this power, for it leads to the Dark Side.

Conclusion: Please understand this is not a complete list. Everyone has ways of coping with frustrating adversity. Even for myself, there are many steps in between 2. and 3. There are, I confess, even some methods more egregious than 3., but thankfully they see little or no use.

It is a slippery slope once you convince yourself that you are right and that all opposition to you is false. It is only a short slide to arrive at segregating all people into "with you, or against you". There is a long, hard road back from that position.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Everything is Relative

Just as I relax into an night of unbroken rest, I am shamed.

All my complaining for putting off and writing papers has been placed into perspective. There are others more burdened than I. Much more work to complete. Even now, mostly likely "eyes forward." I salute you, ensconced scholars. We shall all share the booze, 'ere our time run out.

Also relative....

I spent most of the last couple of days shuttered in my home. Never even pulled the car out of the garage, or set foot out to get the mail. It was such a relief to be around people again today. I used to be far more independant, but now I find it drags me down if I am stuck with too much of my own society. Who could endure that? Feh.

I heartily recommend eating in the company of friends. It has brought me great enjoyment lately.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Professional Procrastination

I needed to finish a paper before tomorrow. Historically, Mondays are slow for me, so I knew I'd probably do most of the work today. I did plan ahead by picking up my source books from the library on Sunday.

So, full of last minute deadline-ness, I woke this morning and began to clean my home. When I could no longer avoid it, I sat down at my computer and....finalized my recital program. Something ELSE I'd been putting off. Such a deadbeat with this stuff... When it finally came down to the two things I'd been putting off, I picked the easier one first. That's some fine procrastination.

I've finally finished. Well, mostly. I still need to go to the library tomorrow and verify one last source, then print it out. But then I'll be done, just in time for the deadline. It's no great piece of scholarship, I assure you. This is a prime example that if I'm not interested in the topic, it becomes a serious chore.

I did to play around with some old books. 1902 and 1893. Making my eyes water to think of all the dust I was able to get out of its pages as the paper disintegrates. It'll be a while before we replace all these old books with microfiche, or internet depositories, or electronic paper.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Astronomical Numbers

Talk about making you feel insignificant. Nothing quite does it like big numbers related to astronomy.

New observations by a NASA space probe have produced some data that talks about what happens immediately after the Big Bang. It's theorized that an event called "inflation" took the universe from the size of a gumball to approximately the current dimensions. How long did this inflationary period take? Millions of years? Hardly.

One trillionth of a trillionth of a second. Talk about a short time. Talk about a unfathomable increase in size!

The study also reconfirmed the approximate age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, give or take several hundred million. Which I suppose means that the universe is approximately 28 billion light years across... if the light travels from the explosion at 186,000 miles per second...for 14 billion years in each direction....

What do you suppose is beyond the leading edge of energy?

EDIT: I just heard that the odds for correctly completing a NCAA bracket with all 64 teams is 1 in 9,000,000,000,000,000,000. If my zeros are correct, that's nine million trillion. Good luck on your office pools!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tears for Fears

Last week I was talking to a woman who was complaining about P.M.S. She always feels confused and out of control, bursting into tears for small reasons. I remember thinking at the time that I couldn't really comment on that, not being familiar with having unmotivated emotional rollercoasters.

I had forgotten that I do have motivated emotional rollercoasters.

Friends getting married, divorced, babies, deaths, illnesses, triumphs, longings, disappointments, losses, injustices, good news, attractions, loves, and worries. Every once and a while (like today), it crests and drives me under.

Good thing it's cathartic, and when it passes I feel, if not better, then at least sober. Suppressed emotions have a way of multiplying, and I know firsthand it's better to get things out of the way as they come. It becomes difficult, though, when there is no time for it; when circumstances or inclinations prevent a proper release.

It occurs to me that if I spend the majority of my time worrying about the problems of others, I must have a good life. I'm not so altrusitic that I'd be able to ignore myself if I had pressing difficulties.

*** *** ***
On a related thought, I've left a part of my soul in my past.

Now that I think about it, I'm sure that I've left little pieces here and there along the way. But I'm specifically speaking of a single moment, frozen in time. It was in a place of great contentment. As other memories fade, that one remains. I don't remember the day, what had happened, what happened after. It's not even really a memory. There isn't any action, save for snowflakes falling. It's more like a place, formed from the chemicals and electrical impulses in my brain.

Yet ever since that day, I can't shake the feeling that I left a part of myself there, in that moment. I don't say that to indicate that I feel incomplete now. It's simply that a part of my self was anchored there. I can summon that time, but it's not really a memory and not an emotion. It is a sad happiness, a serious joy. It is having empty hands and feeling them overflow. It is having hours pass without a single second elapsing. And all the while, snow is falling.

It is also, without a doubt, inviting ridicule to try to explain to anyone. As I reread it, it smacks of pretension of the worst kind. What's with all this poetic nonsense? I can only explain that this moment gives me comfort and helps me understand emotions in other people. Hopefully, that lends it gravity.

Friday, March 24, 2006

"The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer...

because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt. "
--Thomas Merton, (1915-1968)

Avoiding pain is one of our most basic instincts. We share it with all humans, animals, and even single-celled organisms. When we pick up something hot, our reflexes make us flex our hand to drop the item. If the sun is burning our skin, we move to the shade. If the company of someone is unbearable, we'll rearrange our schedules and travel routes to avoid that person. We have a great capacity to direct our lives around painful ideas.

The same is true in romantic relationships. We fear the pain. We are expecting pain, because trying to connect with someone involves revealing one's vulnerabilities. It can be crippling to be vulnerable and then attacked. In some people, the ego bruises easily. In others, the heart or the mind. Showing vulnerability is proposing a mutual trust between friends.

So, we try to limit our exposure to personal suffering. Sarcasm colors every conversation. Sarcasm is safety. It allows the expression of direct feelings, but should the moment be uncomfortable, it gives the fall-back of explaining everything as a joke and ostensibly without truth. Many people only contribute in public with sarcastic words. In some ways, it is a cultural bias. I've know several families who spoke extensively in sarcasm at home, and it produced children who don't speak their feelings without a smokescreen of "plausible deniability". "Do I care if you go to the movies? No, that's great. Take anybody you want!"

Sarcasm is also a tool of people who think that they are smarter than others. Often they use this tone because it obscures their true meanings and allows a feeling of superiority. Then they may feel that they were able to "pull one over" on someone that can't understand what they really mean.

Nothing is quite so manipulative as telling someone a lie and swearing by it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"This Just In: Religious Tolerance Considered MIA"

"Major Religions Fail to Appreciate What's Good for Goose Being Good for Gander."

Perhaps you've heard about Abdur Rahman. He's the guy in Afghanistan who converted to Christianity from Islam. He's now at trial and facing execution. In strict Sharia law, renouncing Islam is grounds for being put to death.

To sum up, the "West" is outraged. Excuse me a gross simplification by allowing me to conflate the West with Christianity. Christians are upset that religious freedoms are not being observed. Condi Rice said, in effect, that all people have a universal right to religious freedom.

The Islamic stance seems to be that apostasy is a form of treason. And as the U.S. can execute people for treason (a crime that effects the many), so to Islam claims the right to execute apostates (which also effects the many).

This seems to be the trainwreck between two powerful philosophies. On one hand, the Christian emphasis on Life, which is sacred. Thou Shalt Not Kill. Or Thou Shalt Not Murder. (It depends on how touchy-feely one's particular version of the Bible is.)

On the other hand, Islam is the religion of obedience. There is no God but God. The cardinal sin in Islam is Pride. The main repentence is submission to the will of God.

Here's our impasse: the West believes that it is an injustice to execute someone simply for changing their religion. And they should know, having worked this all out in the past (see "Holy Inquisition" and "Salem Witch Trials"). And Afghanistan believes that failing to submit to the will of God and the Islamic faith is tantamount to joining the enemy.

So, everyone's reacting according to their fundamental tenents. How can it be resolved? Damned if I know. Fanatacism in all degrees is frightening. Can we morally allow aid groups with a proselytizing message to go abroad, knowing that if successful, they may contribute to deaths? Do we have a right to go abroad and tell them that they're wrong?

How far do we need to respect the beliefs of others? If we expect them to allow people whose only purpose is conversion, should we not be sensetive enough to accept that it is blasphemy to depict Mohammad? If we believe in the freedom of choice and democracy, can we object to the popular acceptance by the majority of a theocratically-influenced system of laws?

Can we decry the influence of religion on government "over there", when in our own backyard the Missouri House of Representatives has issued a "concurrent resolution" (HCR 13) that recognizes a Greater Power and allows the Christian majority (of representatives and their constituents) to give credit to God for all the assistance in forming this great country of ours?

I know, I know. It's only a resolution. It just means that that's what the majority in the House believe. It's honestly no reason for me to overreact. It's not making Missouri into a theocracy or banning beer. But I can't help wondering if the mirror-image twin House had made a different "non-binding" resolution praising Satan for all his contributions, and thanking the US Constitution for our ability to supplicate ourselves in awe before the Dark Master, if there may have been a more pronounced reaction. Maybe not. Surely all the non-Satanists in the state would just calmly accept that the resolution wasn't really an endorsement. It was just something the House felt needed to be said.

In either case, I don't think they should be worrying about wasting House stationary thanking anyone about it, when there's teacher strikes and motorized baseball stadium roofs to think about!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"This vice brings in one hundred million francs in taxes every year.

I will certainly forbid it at once - as soon as you can name a virtue that brings in as much revenue."
--Napoleon III (1808-1873), when asked to ban smoking in the French empire.

Smoking is a disgusting habit. It causes terrible health problems, costs a small fortune, and isn't even subtle: stale smoke can usually be detected for some time around a partaker. I can only say one thing in praise of it, but that one thing is quite significant: smoking does look cool. I don't think there's any way around it. There's something primal in me that really digs the concept of "taming fire".

It's certainly not a pastime I encourage in others, or even tolerate in my home or auto. But the issue comes when hanging around people who smoke. As a musician, I know a great many smokers, even among those whom I would consider foolish for smoking. Wind players and vocalists; it's amazing how many. And let's not even mention the dancers! Feh.

I recently faced the choice of prolonged close proximity to the residual residue in a smoker's clothing, and I ultimately decided it was better to have company than principles. At least in this circumstance. It would certainly have been a much greater internal struggle if I had needed to kiss them, for example. Or perform on their instruments, if such a case arose. {Paging Dr. Freud!}

It so happens in this case that there was a strong attraction. So I was faced with the unenviable choice of whether or not to abandon ship. Luckily, I've grown out of my irrational intolerance of smokers, much as I did with excessive alcohol consumers.

After all, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

"Was ich tut, das ist wohl getan."

--shamelessly and sacrilegiously cribbed from J.S. Bach, BWV 100.

It was a good day. Far too late now to get into anything about it. I spent most of it how I wish to spend most of my days: up to my elbows in interesting conversation and surrounded by smart people. Lord knows if I can find this a few different places in one day, I just might already be in heaven. The only thing that would be better would be if women would sing to me...wait a minute, that happened too!

I'd best lie down.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Representing Deutschland!"

Advertising has finally worked for me. I wish to buy a Volkswagon.


And again.

"It's definitely zucking."

Diese hab' ich gern.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Again, with the laughing?

Let me put aside humbleness for a moment: I know I'm funny. Not all the time, and often my material falls flat or victim of bad timing. But, I do have my moments of inspired wit.

With that said, I can't stand someone who laughs out loud at me all the time. I'm not an idiot. Not everything I say is worthy of good old-fashioned laughing out loud. There's a very discrete sliding scale! It's my opinion that some portion of what I say can be responded to with (in no particular order):
  • a smirk ("Oh yes, ha.")
  • a slap to my head ("You shouldn't even have said that!")
  • a withering look of disgust ("You shouldn't even have thought that.")
  • a smile of bewildered amusment ("Only someone as naive as you...")
  • a smile of dumbstruck amusment ("Why would you think that's funny?")
  • a smile of cautious amusement ("If I laugh, will you keep talking? 'Cause I hate that.")
  • a smile of polite amusement ("Yes, you're very funny. Here's a smile. Please, move on.")
  • a smile without eyes ("It's too bad you just don't understand why you're pathetic.")
  • a scrunched nose, lip curled, eyebrow raised look of derision ("Not only is that NOT funny, it's lame.")
  • a hint of a smile in mouth and laughter in the eyes ("I can play the game just as well.") NOTE: Can be used by both sexes, but has much different interpretations.
  • a good, old fashioned laugh ("Ha!")
  • a good, new fashioned laugh ("LOL!")
  • an acknowledgement of being ensorcelled by hilarity ("Zounds! I am much afeard my pee is vacating my body, such beith the strength of your drollery.")
The vast majority of people appreciate the subtle interaction that is laughing after a joke, good or bad. Some, though, in their desire to be well recieved, seem to think that laughter in excess is acceptible. It's not true; specifically, some pieces of humor are thrown out as sacrifical scraps to make sure the audience is discerning! Give no undeserving jest your attention.
Good rules to live by.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

"We desire nothing so much as what we ought not to have."

--Publilius Syrus (~100 BC)

"There are some people I simply can't force myself to be friends with. It is because I so desperately want to." --a friend

Knowing things about people is usually a good thing. It helps to further cement bonds of commonality between friends: the more you have in common, the easier it is to form strong friendships. But amazing things occur when analyzing people's interests.

For one, it brings out the insecurities in yourself. Anything that you're interested in but even slightly ashamed of will be reflected in one's reluctance to make it public that you're a fan. For example, I like Disney animated films (though I've missed many of the newer ones). The best experience I've had watching it lately is in the company of a child. The situation might have occured where I was insecure about this and (as many have done) would speak down about them in public. All this would be a dramatic smokescreen in order to cover the fact that I owned them all, watched them with regularity, and owned many of the stuffed animals. Were I involved in competitive pissing contests with other "real men", I might have such constipation. In total disclosure, I own only two stuffed animals: a blue roo and Hedwig, Harry Potter's owl. See attached crappy digital photo.

But the real cirumstance I wanted to address is much sappier than my plush owl. "Really?" I hear you say. "How could that be possible?" The answer being that it has to do with attraction and sentimentality.

A good friend of mine has had a little contact with a very nice lady (hello, lady!). They're "tentatively acquainted", which is to say that they know the same people and have, by happy accident, been invited to the same places. He's learned enough about her from her online personal reflections (read: blog, webpages) to know that she is something wonderful. He ended a conversation I had with him by trying to figure out if this new sort of "knowledge" was creepy to apply to trying become a friend, with further closeness perhaps available later.

I understand his point. It's a bit strange to know more about someone than they've actually told you. It feels like gossip, except that it's straight from the "horse's mouth" (sorry, lady!). Anyway, there is a great struggle on whether or not leave himself open to developing this friendship. Does he want to hang out with this lady who has similar compatible interests, knowing that he's attracted to her and desiring, from the start, to be more than friends? That seems slightly predatorial. Or does he queitly excuse himself from all the places they might run into each other, to remove himself from temptation? That seems overkill. I certainly don't envy my friend his choice.

Oh, and did I mention that one of them has a significant other? That's probably important, too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Boy, that guy looks familiar...

Walking through the halls today, the fellow standing at the end of the hallway turned to look at me and said my name. It turns out to have been a fellow I went to high school with! He was in town to audition/interview for a composition degree. What an odd co-incidence.

As a result, I've been washed over with assorted memories from that time period. This fellow was my original section leader in my first year of marching band. Playing the baritone part on my trombone, for projection and because I hadn't been to band camp and the trombone part was hard (it had ledger lines, for crying out loud!).

My goodness. That was almost fourteen years ago...

After I wrote that last line, I sat staring at the screen for 15 minutes.

And after I wrote that comment, I still sat for another 5 minutes.

It makes a person think introspective thoughts, after dipping into the past. My study is "soggy with nostalgia", as Tom Lehrer would say. So many memories at my fingertips. Every possible way of thinking about things leads to new memories: individual faces, musicals, architechture, clothing, classes, teachers, books, places, trips, projects, vocabulary, languages, a bag of chocolate Kisses, a purchased carnation, locker color and location, movies, weather, band music, New Orleans, a shattered glass, A Brief History of Time, a "good man".

Too many thoughts. I feel like I need to hide under my blanket to escape them. I obviously haven't had enough to drink. Or too much. I'm not quite sure how it works. Anyway, it wasn't the right amount.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary."

--Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)

I did some executive arm waving this evening. Conducting the trombone choir at a composer's recital. Very nice things were said about us in the printed program, and very nice things were said about me on the stage by the composer. Plus there was free food. This food, combined with the fact that the dress was only black (not tuxedo) contributed to this being the most enjoyable performance I've been in all year.

Conducting is a odd experience. In a chamber group with six or seven people and relatively uncomplicated music, I can do a lot of interaction with the performers. Interaction and eye contact. What I thought was funny was that while conducting, people are looking back at me. Yes, that sounds really stupid: of course, people are going to be looking back at the conductor so they can find the beat! Yet, I was still surprised to see the players looking back at me while I'm working.

Something else that I noticed: I often like to listen to music with my eyes closed. I didn't just notice that tonight, but it's true. People often do distracting things while playing, and I found that in certain situations, it was easier to close my eyes to block their....antics. Eventually, I realized that I like being "in the dark" while listening to music. It forces me as a listener to evaluate every single sound I hear, not neccesarily the ones I can see happening.

The end result is that for certain moments, I conduct with my eyes closed, caught by the music. Then I have to quickly come back, figure out how many beat patterns I fouled, and get back on track. Very distracting to me as a conductor; I can only imagine how it looks to everyone watching me.

I did have the good sense to remove my wallet, cell phone, pens, and keys before going out on stange. Since people have to stare at my back, I'd rather have them focused on the silly motions I do, not trying to figure out if that's a particularly unattractive bulge of cellulite or a billfold.

*** *** ***

I'm cursed/blessed with the strange ability to know when certain people are nearby. It has nothing to do with hearing people's voices around corners, or expecting certain people at certain times. It's more like the feeling one gets when one realizes that you're being stared at. Certain people set off my personal space awareness.

It's not a bad thing, though it can be distracting. What's even more strange (and I suspect it happens to many people) is those same people are people I can't get out of my head once I've seen them someplace. Once I've seen them, I know they're there. Even if I'm not looking at them, I'm aware of the space they occupy in the room. I almost feel that there's a big blue dot (like they used to use for court witnesses on TV) on top of the person in the panaramic view of my mind's eye.

It's rather like when someone famous comes into a restraunt where I'm eating. I notice them, then spend much of the rest of the meal conspicuously not noticing them.

It's just certain people. It might just be people I'm attracted to, but it seems to be a larger list than just those individuals. Very weird. At any rate, it's rather distracting. It tends to make me focus all my attention on whatever else I'm doing, but in the background, my brain is working overtime to make sure I don't spend to much time re-affirming their locations.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"I love talking about nothing, father. It's the only thing I know anything about."

--An Ideal Husband, Act I, Oscar Wilde

There is something liberating in talking about nothing. Of course, the only times I feel that is when there's a definite "something" that I ought to be talking about. Often to save ourselves from embarrassment, we resort to talking about nothing. When topics drift too close to our privacy zone, we reflexively divert the conversation.

Uncomfortable topics. There are many reactions, and often it depends on the nature of what is being discussed. Obviously a financial concern has a different sort of passion associated with it than would a romantic longing. Some would react very differently to those two subjects; that's certainly no surprise. What is notable is when people react the same to both of those circumstances.

Lately, I've been rather pointed with asking questions that might be considered "too personal". I am well aware of where the line is in such matters. I'm not pressing for information out of some peevish desire to unsettled the person; far from it. I ask only those private questions to which I believe the person already has some idea of an answer, and that said answer will not cause any great distress.

I'm specifically probing the situation of wanting to talk about some things, but feeling the societal pressure that one shouldn't bring up such things. It is one thing to speak on a subject that you are asked about, and quite another matter to volunteer personal information unasked. I think it happens far more often that people wish to be asked about emotional subjects; perhaps they would be affronted, but subconsciously they long to be allowed to speak things out loud. We are only seeking permission to engage in this form of vanity, so as not to appear completely self-centered.

"Isn't the weather beautiful today? What sunshine..."
"Yes, yes. Terrible. But listen to the ghastly thing that just happened to me!"

Some people don't like talking about themselves. I can hear you all now. "Kettle? This is Pot! You're black!" It is true that I'm certainly not known for self-disclosure. But, as is the case with this blog, I am fond of self-control. It is not often that I answer questions that I don't wish to answer.

In years past, I was more likely to simply lie. Not to lie because I had anything to hide, no. I lied because my own lies always seemed (to me) more interesting than the truth. Now, I'm just as likely to actually state the truth as tell a lie. I found it's just as entertaining to tell the truth when everyone thinks it is a lie. A private joke.

As a mark of increasing awareness of the importance of others, there is one person who is assured of my total honesty; at least, as much as I am capable of. I cannot guarantee against lies I tell myself, those are notoriously hard to identify.

If you all are getting uppity, relax. I seldom go to the trouble of lying now. It's much easier to either say what I feel, or simply not to answer anything I find "too personal". This straightforward behavior helps to develop respect from one's peers, and I recommend it to everyone.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness,

though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."
--Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

I find that lately, I've been giving a lot more of myself. Thank heavens people find my babbling useful, or at least entertaining! Maybe it has to do with the number of activities I've been engaged in. Maybe it is the amount of thinking and preparation that goes into all of these activities. How can I describe it other than a happy feeling of being wanted in several places at once?

And yet... somehow there is always a "however", isn't there?

There are many close to me dealing with heavy burdens. I watch people dissatisfied with themselves, unsure who they want to be, running away from problems, trying desperately hard not to be unhappy, trying to be appreciated, trying to be liked, trying to be loved, trying to be desired, trying to be wanted, trying to be needed, trying to be decieved, trying to be noticed, trying not to feel, trying to forget being happy.

Trying to get to "normal", wherever that may be.

Who among us can say that they are content? Who is happy with their bodies, or their feelings, or their situations, or their affections, or their friends, or their behavior towards others?

It's a common thing to be confronted by people wishing to explain themselves. We seek approval for what we do. We desire confirmation that we're on the right path. The acknowledgement of someone we respect goes a long way to quieting the voices of doubt.

Empathy: I am humbled by what I feel when I pay attention.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"Let's Get the Hail Out of Here!"

I drove through a spring storm last night. Driving through the wilds of south-eastern Missouri, there was quite a lightning show. Then the hail started, then the blinding rains. Good stuff.

So good, that the storms came back for an encore tonight!

I went back to the symphony on Friday night. The best part of the performance was "Pictures at an Exhibition". The so-so part was Debussy's Printemps. The "boy, I wish they would hurry up" part included a violin concerto by Knussen, and an orchestral exploration of Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night".

Symphonic music must be an acquired taste. It's a good thing the SLSO is thoughtful enough to provide good quality program notes. That way you can try to hear what the composer thought he was doing.

Just goes to show you: not every piece of "classical music" is a classic.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Paid for Inactivity

Before heading out to teach lessons, I got a call from one of the store managers letting me know that my first lesson had cancelled, so I didn't have to come in at my regular time. I was quite appriciative, since sometimes they don't get around to calling.

I teach my first lesson, then find out that the other students have all called within the past couple of hours to cancel their sessions for today. So, for one half-hour of work, I get paid for five. It's a beautiful thing. It's nice to have a $100/hr wage, if even for a VERY short time. I wonder if it's too late to get into law...

Maturity is funny. If you had asked me four years ago, during my Master's Degree, if I thought I was mature, I would have said yes. If you asked me six years ago, in my undergrad, I would have said yes. If you had asked me 10 years ago, in high school, I would have said yes.

But what I say now is that I'm not. And never have been. Being mature and handling situations well, that's something I've not yet mastered. What I (and others) have mistaken for maturity is just a lack of willingness to involve myself with other people. My friends (and others) mistake being aloof for "being above it all." Many people persue deeper acquaintence with me because they feel that if I try so hard to be unsociable and use big words, that must be masking something worth knowing. I'm not so sure that was ever a smart gamble.

I can't say that I'm not worth knowing. This isn't a blog "cry for help" to try and solicit compliments. I can be vain just like everyone else. But don't believe that my personality makes it so; it's somewhat in spite of it. Luckily, improving myself can be a lifelong pursuit.

So, despite what I may have thought and said four years ago, I wasn't as mature then as I am now; and I still don't consider myself very far along that ladder. And to the me of 'now', the me of then just seems naive, inexperienced, stuck-up, and unneccesarily obtuse.

It's rather like concepts I've noticed in music. The more knowledge you have about how music works, the more critically you evaluate performances. I told someone that by learning how to accoustically tune in a duet setting, I was cursing them. No longer would they be able to listen to their own performances the same way. I had added a new level of how to listen to music, and that genie was now out of its bottle, never to return.

Unfortunately, this sort of personal knowledge comes with difficult costs. I become a little more mature by accepting that. Consequences for actions, and all that.

And that's the real paradox of experience. With all that I've learned, I could go back and do things better, but then I wouldn't have learned (and earned) that knowledge. That's fine: I don't regret that. I'm not fond of the idea of trading things that have already happened for something fantastially uncertain. The optomist in me is glad that I figure out things like this now, so I'm more prepared for the next time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied,

and most men live only for the gratification of it."
--Aristotle (384 B.C. - 322 B.C.)

It's suprising how powerful desire can be. It's easy to wish for something, but when that wish begins to make your vision swim, your mouth dry, you heart ache, and your emotions rise, that's the full effect of desire.

When you desire something (or someone) that belongs to someone else, that's where the trouble comes. You begin to tell little lies to yourself. "With me, that's where it belongs," or "I'm the only one who'll appriciate the true value." "No one else understands."

"No one else understands." That's the kicker. Everyone understands desire. Everyone has felt it at one time or another. Everyone knows what it's like to have desire turn to obsession. Feeling the desire so active in your brain, that if your eyes unfocus for even a second, there it is. Sit in silence for a bit, and your own voice fills your head. Walking faster to leave the whispers behind. Shaking your head, not only in denial, but to try to shake out the feelings.

It is the nature of desire and regret to go hand in hand. If desires go unfulfilled, there can be regret. Even if the desires are satiated, it's not proof against regret. It's unfortunate that there's no way to win.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"When anger rises, think of the consequences."

--Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)

I had to settle with a quote about anger, even though I'm not angry. Unfortunately, there aren't very many quotes for frustration at someone's misguided idea of decency. I'm not even really sure if "frustration" is correct either. I might say "disappointed", but that implies a level of personal emotional connection that I don't have in this case. Can I fleer and scoff at someone for indulging in sanctimonious behavior, when in order to do so, I also must be self-righteous?

Two wrongs may not make a right, but three rights make a left. And left with no other choice, I struggle to right my sense of what's...right. One of my personal pet peeves is holier-than-thou attitudes. Nothing brings out the fire in me like sweeping declaraitions of one's own piety and righteousness.

It's certainly not religion in general. Despite what some (apparently many) people may ascribe to me, I'm not an athiest. Those individuals who have a powerful faith I can respect, even admire, in some cases. I do not always agree with what was said by Pope John Paul II, Leopold Zunz, or Gordon Bitner Hinckley, but I can be humbled by their devotion. It can only come from a profound understanding of one's self, and acceptance of who they are inside.

It is my greatest hope that people could convert potential congregants by the force of their own examples. To be such paragons of virtue that everyone will say, "what makes that person so admirable. I wish to find out more." After all, the best friendships are those made without effort or design. And shouldn't the aim of religion be towards expanding and elaborating the friendship between an individual and the divine?

It grieves me to witness acquaintences finding others wanting because they do not believe or accept the same things. It causes me moral anguish to feel their conciliatory attitudes towards those who are not of their branch of the faith.

In spite of this entry, I have no problems in my life currently involving religion. My issue is, as usual, with but a few of the faithful and it has not shown effect in my life yet. But deprived of my daily routine, I have been given time to ruminate. And look what happens! Getting preachy. This is why I must be given something to do.

But I already worked for 6 hours today on arrangements for my recital! Maybe I need to take up jogging. Well, tomorrow is Chinese food and instrumental coaching. Sounds good to me!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

"It is a fine thing to establish one's own religion in one's heart, not to be dependent on tradition and second-hand ideals.

Life will seem to you, later, not a lesser, but a greater thing."
--D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

Roll up your sleeves, and let's talk religion!

While coming home from a rehearsal this evening, I tuned my radio to the local Christian station. I heard two things which were thought-provoking. I offer them to my blog in the spirit of interest and self-reflection.

1. The owner of the station came on and gave an "editorial" over some confusion of some advertisments they'd been running, regarding a collection of ministers who have spoken out against "global warming", and wish to bring about change.

The owner went on clairify the station's position. He said that there was no proof that climate change was occuring, and that even if there were, it would probably be akin to Noah and the Flood (ie, God is responsible). It was vain to consider that the machines of humans could possibly do anything to alter the divine plan of long scale weather.

Furthermore, he stated that this entire point (if it exists at all) is secondary when we live in a world where the lives of "innocents" are being taken, or where the sanctity of marriage is under siege from "egalitarians". It was a greater concern that there was so much killing of "innocent life", by which I understand that he's not as concerned about non-innocent life. He then chastised the ministers in the ads, saying that their focus on this issue (climate change) at the expense of others was not in the spirit of Christ.

2. The show which followed this editorial began with a simple statement, that if a person wished to be accepted by Christ, they had only to say a simple prayer for acceptance and true belief. It was followed by an interview with a minister who holds that we cannot truely accept Jesus voluntarily, because any such decision would be always subject to doubt and situational pressure (conversion because of momentary belief, because of a girlfriend, etc.). He went on to state that any acceptence of Christ is merely illusiory, because all of that was decided before birth.

The argument on the place of free will in religion is always fascinating. This minister believes that all is ordained before life begins, because belief in Christ is perfect. People cannot truly chose perfect things. Perfect things (indeed, all things) only come from God, ergo God's will is our reality.

I think predestination is an extremely treacherous path to walk on. We have no say in the matter. Everything we do, everything we think, everything we feel is part of the Divine Script. Even evil comes from God. Not only comes from, but is designed to occur in certain people in specific ways.

I deplore this notion of God. For one thing, it takes the wonder out of human existence. Why bother to do anything? Everything you're doing is God's will; you can't avoid it. "What a piece of work is a man." Well, not really. Even worse, it means that certain "immoral" behaviors are unavoidable. Suddenly, nothing is a matter of choice. God makes certain people serial killers, wife beaters, drunk drivers, etc.

I much prefer the "parental" belief in God. God gives each person the tools and the right to choose how to live and what to make of it. People are then given the chance to oppose evil, to make their own decisions to abstain from behaviour they consider immoral. People are even free to believe in God, or in nothing, if they choose.

If not, then finding "good" people is nothing more than searching the shelves for the correct department. Saints who sacrifice themselves as martyrs are not special; they make no special choices or sacrifices, they are simply existing on their own assembly line.

Extremely depressing, if you ask me. Sorry, St. Vincent.

Good thing I don't believe in predestination.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Spring Break

Ahh, relaxation. Spring Break has arrived. Time to get busy on that list of things I was putting off until now. Oh, and I'm terribly afraid I'm going to forget about teaching lessons on Wednesday. No use worrying about that yet!

I'm currently listening to Act I of "Das Phantom der Oper", which is the German language translation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "The Phantom of the Opera". This particular recording was made in Austria, and contains some interesting choices, not the least of which is the addition of a second trombone. Coupled with the bass trombonist's tendency to tear through the texture, and you have the makings of a fascinating recording.

It also serves as an excellent segue to the main purpose of this entry: friendship. Let me connect the dots. This recording was purchased while I lived in Chicago (in 1997, if memory serves). My friends, who had come up to visit me for a short time, eventually sat up half the night listening to it. Did we play it on a stereo, like a normal person? Psh! We sat in his car, underneath the EL tracks, of course. I'm sure his girlfriend thought he and I were nuts, and I'm afraid I can't argue the point; it's pretty crazy. What can I say, it was a common interest at the time. And I was thrilled to do any kind of hanging out, having few acquaintences up there.

So, that leads me to friendship. It's not something I've given a whole lot of thought to. Maybe that's because I've got good, low-maintenence friends. Or perhaps it just runs itself if there aren't any major problems. Even friends I haven't spoken to in a while fall right back into line as soon as I send or receive a letter. I certainly don't chalk this up to any skill that I possess.

The last thoughts I had about this were a few years ago, when I spoke to a friend about "friends", and she commented that she had few. She had fallen out of touch with most of her friends from previous phases in her life, and her friends were basically from "the moment", i.e. the last year or two at her current location. I remember thinking how different that was from my own experience. I, who had left friends sprinkled around the States, all from various years of school.

Two years ago, I ran across (by accident) a friend whom I hadn't seen since high school. Had I not actually needed to get back to work, I'm sure we could have stood there for hours. Maybe that's only possible because I've known her since 3rd grade; I'm not sure. Wow. Upon further reflection, that's a long time.

So, what makes a good friend? Previously, I thought it was shared experiences. Does packing a large amount of shared experiences early help carry one through years of no contact? Seems likely, at least in my case.

But as is often the case, every time I think about this, I focus on the friends I've lost. They aren't many in number, fortunately. It's definitly something I regret. I've been advised to write off old friends who resist attempts to reconnect. I find that I can't. Unlike people who (despite my best efforts) fail my Music Fundamentals class, I can't let this go. Nor do I think I should.

After all, if I think I can't fix things that are broken, is there reason to try?

Do people harden so much? Are there some wounds that cannot be healed?

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

--Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

A very long day yesterday. I spent 12 hours on or around the subject of music. The good news is I had a much better time than actually working 12 hours. It is one of the great wonders of people that we never conceive of the passage of time in the same way. A class may drag and cause much "watch looking" in the course of only 50 minutes. And yet, I myself have spent many "short" hours interacting with beautiful people.

If we, as a species, ever figure out how to lengthen the good times and shorten the bad, I predict the cessation of all productivity. Oh, and a superfluity of wretched romantic poetry.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"If you hate a person,

you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us."
--Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

I mentioned last night I might talk about friends. I'm going to put that off just a while longer, and talk about enemies instead. Perhaps "enemy" is too strong of a word. I remember being astounded that a friend of mine freely admitted to having not one, but several enemies. How on earth could someone in their 20's have accumulated enemies? Aren't enemies something you pick up later in life, after you discover that the millionaire-playboy lifestyle isn't fulfilling and you wish to try out a new career as a bat-influenced vigilante?

I don't have enemies. To be an enemy involves active opposition; a desire to thwart well-made plans. As far as I know, no one is working against me. At least, if there is someone, they're not doing very well.

But I'll be darned if it didn't occur to me while attending a concert, I do have someone whom I dislike intensely. This individual is someone who rubs me the wrong way, in every way. Someone who serves no purpose in my life and whom I would not miss if I never saw again. I despise this individual's work ethic, attitude, communication skills, interpersonal relations, and general demeanor. While I listen to the speaker, I never fail to be unimpressed and shocked at the amount of scorn that gets non-verbally communicated.

It's quite amazing that I can have such invidious opinions, when I seldom have any interaction with this person at all. On one hand, I can count the number of sentences exchanged. What may have been said about me (but not to me) is open to speculation. Luckily, this person seems to be almost unfathomably unreliable; if I show up when I need to, where I need to, I have a good chance of missing them altogether.

And yet... the quote from Hesse arrested my attention. I have always believed that meeting someone who is like you can result in two ends: either you love the person, because in them you see the good qualities of yourself, or... you hate them, because you see all of your faults reflected in them. Is that the case in this situation? I hope not. However, I cannot find a satisfactory explaination for why I feel such irrational dislike. It's a deep fear that I am what I hate. Now that makes me uncomfortable. Is it "me" I see in them?

If so, then I must not be aware of it. Guess I need to rely on my friends to call me on it.
If not, then they must have beaten my mother in a previous life, or something equally heinous.

"The whole problem with the world...

is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

First of the month. Time to do a flurry of economical matters. On the first of every month, I try to go through and schedule all the bills that I can. Some I pay that day, others I merely schedule. For example, I organized the payments for my credit cards, even though they don't occur until the 10th and 22nd. When I input those into my financial software, it shows it as gone from my account already. That's another nice check that keeps my spending in check, insuring that I have the money reserved for important things.

My financial situation is helped by the fact that I overbudget expenses. Consciously, I budget more for food, gas, power, and phones than I know I'm going to spend. That way, when the month turns over, what I didn't spend on those categories turns into "extra money". It doesn't work all the time. If there's a month where I dine out with people often, then it looks like I still budgeted really well. I can handle that.

Much of my investment outlook involves tricking myself, somehow. Money contributed to an IRA, for example, stays put. You pay a heafty fine if you withdraw early (i.e., before I'm 65). That one's easy.

Then there's an investment account. When I mention that I have investments, people get grand ideas of me trading stocks left and right while eating caviar. Nothing so glamorous (or profitable), I'm afraid. Really, it's a savings account. Money goes in, gets invested in "long term" things, and stays put. Instead of Bank of America giving me .25% interest, it pays 15% or so. But the risk is that it doesn't always pay 15%. It could pay 1%. Or -15% (knock on wood!). No guarantees, unlike BoA; They guarantee that it will always pay .25%.

Important for me is that I can't simply remove money from that, either. I don't have an easy method, for one thing. It's not set up to work over the internet, so I'd have to find the nearest office and trek over there. That alone is enough to make me think twice, where instant balance shuffling on-line makes it REALLY easy, in other cases.

Speaking of money, it's time to teach lessons and earn some.