Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pride: The Good Kind

I don't know if I've written on this subject before. It feels familiar, but that could be for any number of reasons. If it is a duplicate, just smile politely and tuck me in with a blanket when it's nap time at the Old Folks Home.

I hope it's not condescending to say that I'm proud of people I know. I can never quite work up the courage or panache to say it out loud. It sounds very 1950's TV-corny:

"Well, Jimmy, you may have burned down the fire station, but you apologized. I'm proud of you."

The last thing I'd want to do is "ruin the moment" by saying something artificial. As a friend said, "You're a bit of a smart-ass, aren't you?" I'm worried that I wouldn't have enough serious credibility to pull of something like that with actual feeling.

It doesn't stop me from feeling it. There are times when I've been so proud of people I just want to hug them. That's not terribly 'manly' about "it makes me want to crush their bones in a man-vice". That sounds beer-and-fishing friendly.

As I said, it's a strange thing to say. It always makes me second guess when I say I'm proud of a contemporary, someone who's about the same age bracket as I am. I guess because it carries with it an implicit ranking. As though I didn't expect them to make the correct choice, but they did it anyway. "Thank you for proving my friendship with you isn't a total one-way street, serf."

I'm proud of so many of my friends. Whether it's laboring away at something you love, trying to defy the world's low expectations of yourself, making the hard choice to embark on a different life in a different place, struggling to grow up and become who you need to be, or being at war with the forces of hope and failure inside yourself, I'm proud of all of you. I draw strength from seeing other people handle misfortune, bad choices, tough choices, and personal sacrifice with serious concentration and hope for the future.

It's easy for me to become disillusioned with people. I watch too much of the news, finding bad people doing bad things left and right. What's worse is I feel it all. When the home is destroyed, I feel the emptiness. When the soldier dies, I feel the sorrow. When ignorance threatens, I feel the frustration. And when life goes wrong, I feel the helplessness.

So I appreciate getting picked up by witnessing someone denouncing a stereotype. I feel emboldened when someone reasons their way out of a quarrel. I am in awe of people who know their road is hard and press on. And I am indebted to those who show that even though change is frightening and unpredictable, my friends will do it anyway.

I am proud of you.

And then we knocked a hole in their ecosystem...

There was an intersesting article this morning about finding an intact, self-contained ecosystem that has existed without outside forces for millions of years.

From Yahoo News/Reuters

They think the "bubble" has been closed off for 5 million years, and eight new species have been discovered, mostly insects and crustaceons. Can you imagine how many days went by, how many generations of creatures existed inside of that little universe? Sealed off from even mineral flows and water, with probably geothermal heat as the only outside influence.

It reminds me of those eco-spheres every elementary science teacher had. Little glass balls that were sealed and only allowed light to enter. Eventually plants and algae grow inside.

It's the stuff of science fiction to consider what would have happened if that area had proceeded on a different course of evolution, and we'd found a colony of sentient life in it. The first of genus "homo" appeared between 2.2 and 1.8 million years ago, so they'd be a whole lot different than us.

What would that have meant for humanity to crack it open and find a group of somethings playing cards?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Say what now?

Honestly, I feel less than comfortable giving my money to an educational system that accepts this sort of copy editing.

Maybe I can argue for a discount...

"Oh yes, I paid the mininum. That's ancient Aramaic for...uh...three cents!"

or possibly

"Mininum? Isn't that just an abbreviation of miniscule number?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Maybe it's lucky....

This afternoon, while driving on the highway to lessons, a shadow passed over me. A literal shadow, skitting across the highway. Turned out to be an airplane, on its way to or from one of the local airports. The shadow was so large, it covered most of the width of the highway.

It happens all over the world, I'm sure. How many planes are there in the air at one time? At least half of them casting shadows, it's bound to happen to everyone eventually. Perhaps it's the modern equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover. Something rare that occurs based on chance.

Of course, if you live close to an airport, it's bound to be pretty common. And I'm willing to bet that even though a four-leaf clover is lucky, a mess of planes flying over peoples houses continuously doesn't make them feel lucky.

And in the "so strange, it's true" category, did you know that a plane's shadow is the same size whether it's on the ground or ten thousand feet in the air? So the only way to guess how far that plane was above me was to see whether or not the shadow was clear or fuzzy.

Or look out my window, I guess...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Where Nobody Knows Your Name...

I've had friends making hard choices lately. They're confronted with situations that demand possibly life-changing decisions. As you might expect, the choices were not made without a significant amount of re-thinking. I certainly don't think them weak for taking a while to come to a decision. Or trying out several decisions.

We are social animals. I used to think differently, but after a interlude of soul-searching, I changed my tune. I didn't want to end up the the guy who thought other people had little to offer. It's our friendships and interpersonal relationships that form the framework for who you are. It's one thing to behave a certain way alone, but if a tree falls in the forest....

Some people try really hard to be social. They amp their personalities and become so caricatured, they hardly even feel like real people. Only by isolating these people from the "show" do I begin to feel similarities and kinships with them. It's important to be able to indentify the part of yourself that lives in your friends.

On the other side, I know someone who has few friends. They don't retain friends. Just can't seem to keep them around! I thought it was nonsense. But with the passage of time, I've seen that it's true (or they make it true). The trick is, it's not quite how they described it. They don't lose friends; this person simply doesn't try to keep them.

Good friendships do require a bit of maintenance. Regardless of what the magazines may tell you, no relationship can coast on zero contact. Some friendships are more resistant to decay than others, true, but if you don't at least put a little effort in, people not in contact with each other will drift apart.

So it can be hard to decide to move someplace, whether new or familiar. We have to leave behind friends that we may not ever see again. I've done it four times in the last ten years, each time knowing only a couple of people in my new destination. And I've made friends, good friends, in each location. For an introvert like me, that's saying something.

The trick is, you've got to be open to meeting people. I'll contradict the self-helpists again and say, "You don't even have to try." Trying to meet people is a more advanced course: at least 300 level (cross-listed under "Singles Bars and What to Do There"). The fundamental step is wanting it. In my experience, wanting it makes you open to possibilities that you might otherwise diss, dismiss, or miss.

In an age where a good portion of communication can be done instantly and almost without cost, the list of good excuses for not keeping in touch with friends gets a lot shorter. However, it doesn't make the difficult choices any easier.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Bad Taste

On my way to teach lessons this afternoon, I stopped at a local "A&W/Long John Silvers". Even though this is part of my typical Wednesday routine, today was notable.

1. Long John Silver's new advertising slogan for one of their products (or perhaps the whole store is "Yarrr, genius!" I am reminded of the "Brilliant!" Guiness commercials, except with a pirate instead of an Irishman. "Genius" doesn't seem like a word a pirate would use. I guess "Yarrr, by Triton's beard!" is too weird for selling parmesan-battered fish pieces. Oh well.

2. I am extremely disillusioned because the root beer (pride of A&W) did not taste good today. The mix was definitely off. I poured it out and try something else. Drinking Dr. Pepper feels bizarre and vaguely adulterous. And when I drank it today at A&W...even worse!

3. This has nothing to do with lunch, but lists feel underutilized if there are less than three items. While shopping at the grocery, I noticed that they had an unintentionally humorous sign. It read:

"Fresh" Marscapone Cheese -- $4.99

Now, I don't know about you, but if fresh is in quotes, I'm thinking it's not really fresh. It just hasn't been thrown away yet. Looking at the sign next to it, for "Barnabus" Smoked Cheddar, it dawned on me that the name of the corporation was in quotes. Sure enough, "Fresh" is the name of a cheese company. Still looks pretty suspicious on a sign.

I mean, I sure wouldn't want to pay a bunch of money for something labeled a "New" Car.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ahh, finally the spring weather...

I'm a big fan of cold temperatures. Maybe it's as a result from being born in July, but I can't stand the summer. Hot and humid weather sucks out the will to stand up straight. I can remember twenty or thirty boxes filled with bank paperwork into a hot van, then moving them all out again just down the street. Not my idea of a fun time.

So imagine my suprise when I complain about the recent (ending today) batch of cold weather. Lows in the 40's, highs in the 50's. Should be perfect weather for me. Except that I didn't think it was going to be cold, so when I packed for my trip to my family, I packed for "May". That month we're in, thought I.

So, I end up freezing because I've only got one long-sleeved shirt, no jacket, and one set of pants. The philosophers among us would say that by failing to plan, I have planned to fail. Yet I defy them all to predict the weather!

I doubt that Socrates would have thought to bring his winter toga.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl...

and discovering that she looks like a haddock."
-- John Barrymore (1882-1942)

So, it's love you want to hear about, is it?

Funny thing about that. The people who are scrambling to hear about love are often the people who don't have it. I'm talking about romantic love now, not the other kinds. It's always seemed to me that twice-burned and unlucky people are always clammoring to hear more about love. They work it over in their minds; they're haunted by thoughts. I vacationed at that pond, so I'm familiar with the idea.

Though I don't think any of them will admit it (and I'm sure I wouldn't), there is a certain comfort in being unhappy in love. It provides a stable compass to move by. Like a magnet, it promotes action just by "being". We love to hear stories of relationships gone right, ones gone wrong, ones indifferent. Because to people who don't receive romantic love, it's the most important thing in the world.

It's a natural impulse. We're wired to want that which we don't posess. That's the strange thing about love. Once we have it, we barely even think about it. It simply "is". It is the same reliable constant. Only this time, instead of causing people to pursue it to the horizon like a will o' the wisp, it is more like the timbers that form the frame of a house. Hidden behind the walls, they exist to prop up the roof and give the home shape. And, barring a disaster, you don't need to give them any thought for them to support your lovely dwelling place.

I think people try to hard to find and make love. Knowing a little about this (as I do most many things), I believe that it's wasted energy. When it comes, you'll know, because you won't know. True love is trust and reliability. It takes you by suprise when someone calls you on it, because you've already accepted it.

So I'll go against the conventional wisdom and say the best way to know you're in love is when someone else tells you so. And not tells in the "forces you" sense, but more like "pointing out." Someone makes it available for you to put two and two together.

Or anyway, that's how it works for me.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Serious Zzz's

Coming up soon, it will be ten years since I graduated from high school.

It will also be ten years since one of the longest periods I can remember staying awake. Awake on one day for the evening commencement exercises, followed by the all-night party, followed by a jazz band trip to Six Flags! Easy to stay awake when there are rollercoasters involved. After all day at Six Flags, home just in time to head out to see "Mission: Impossible" in theatres.

About 40 hours, give or take. No human record, for sure, but it is a personal record. Now, even 24 hours can be done without too much effort. It happens sometimes almost by accident, writing a paper over night. Luckily, it doesn't happen often. I think my body would rebel.

Another long stretch of time awake popped into my head. Staying up all night so that I wouldn't miss a cab taking me to Midway airport to catch my 4am flight to Colorado for the Trombone Festival. Then being awake all that next day. Perhaps sleep deprivation and altitude sickness explains some of my behavior during that trip...

Strangely enough, the two events occured almost two years apart, to the day. Odd.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"Can't I Eat It Now?"

I'm hoping that sometime this summer, I get to make ice cream. It's a process I remember from summers gone by. Freezing and chipping ice, picking flavors, keeping the mixer going. I remember it being a long and involved process. No one person ever had sole claim on the "making." The chair got occupied by basically everyone nearby, for at least a few minutes.

It turns out it's the perfect summer social activity while the family is in town. You're stuck sitting down, no one person can churn for very long, and it leaves your mouth free to chat.

And my grandparents were right: when you do it for yourself, it does taste better than the stuff from the store.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Brian: "You are all individuals!"

Throng: "Yes, we are all individuals."

D.A.R.E. has failed me. I have succumbed to pier pressure.

Things I like:

-Warm laundry on a cold day
-The cold side of the pillow on a warm day
-Chocolate in the shape of things
-Polishing tarnished silver or copper
-Old textbooks (whether or not I've actually taken the class)
-Modern Campouts (i.e. spending nights away from home with friends and room service)
-Old-Fashioned Campouts (i.e. you can shower in ten days, now drink your Kling-ons and check your hydration.)
-Horrifically ugly ties that put into doubt the existence of a loving God
-Winding my pocketwatch
-My extended family, with whom I am on good speaking terms
-Writing personal correspondance out longhand
-Film scripts
-Music that makes me forget thoughts of analyzing
-A joke that makes everyone laugh
-A joke that makes no one laugh but me
-A joke that makes only me and one other person laugh
-Seeing someone make a hard choice that's the correct one
-When I say something that makes me laugh because I didn't know it was coming
-People with enough self-confidence to disagree with the prevailing opinion
-Fictional settings that have tremendous amounts of "fluff" and backstory
-Well-applied technology
-Being suprised by people (not the "Boo!" kind of suprise)

I've been collecting these for a month. Expect another installment in a while.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Home again, home again, jiggity-jigg.

I've returned home. I've been trying to get back here since before my recital, but it's just never worked out. So, a month later, I'm back. Of course, it's nice to be back. Everyone's glad to see me, and it's nice to relax after all the hard work.

Only it's not really about relaxing. As much as I want to talk about it, I don't want to talk about it. Enough to say that one of my brothers is in a long struggle with himself, and I and my family have to content ourselves with cheering from the sidelines.

My friends have guessed that I've been up and down about something. Now you see why finishing my recital didn't help aleviate my discomfort. Why finishing the research papers didn't help. I wanted to cancel my recital. I wanted to leave town the next day. I wanted to do anything, so long as it wasn't nothing. But nothing turned out to be the best idea. So, I sat on my hands for a while.

Now, as graduating people talk about changes and moving on towards different directions in life, it's a bit of a shock to find myself thinking about someone's life that doesn't change, that doesn't move on, that seems to hold no future promises. And there's nothing left for anyone to do but be patient and have a hold on hope.

Note: No comments on this entry.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Not Great Art, But Making It Great!

I stumbled across this interesting video. It's someone coloring a drawing, using a fancy (to me) computer monitor/drawing screen and Adobe Photoshop. It's done in fast motion and it is fascinating to me. I love drawing, but it's a skill I don't have. People who are actually talented seem like wizards.

The trance music also helps lull me into a hypnotised state. Drivers beware.

I'm tremendously impressed by certain technology. Last week, a teacher finally used a device that had been in the corner of the classroom for two years. I'd never really looked at it, but it had the basic design shape of an overhead projector. That's exactly what it was, but it was a digital overhead, projected on the screen through a separate LCD projector. I've never seen this technology before, but I'm sure it gets used all the time with big classes. I was totally entranced and spent the rest of the period only half-listening to what she was saying.

I'm not sure if I find it so fascinating because of a lack of exposure to this technology, or if it's because I actually find the tech interesting itself, meaning I would be entranced even if I owned it and used it every week.

May, It Be

It's that time of year again. The end of the academic year is here, and everyone's off to do their sundry summer activities.

It means change. And sometimes we hate change. I know I tend to get extremely comfortable in my routine. No doubt it's because I like what I'm doing. But even so, some aspects of change are melancholy.

*** *** ***

To my suprise, I'm going to be playing host to a bachelor party tomorrow. Not very many people and not for long (just a stopover on the way to something else), but enough to whip me into a cleaning frenzy.

That makes three friends getting married this summer. Our relationships take such interesting and twisted pathways. Not one of these couples has taken the "express lane" to a marriage. Not to imply that I know anyone who's had a "typical" relationship. Far from it.

Recent conversations about relationships made me ponder some things. For one, placing the burden of "deserving" me on someone else just isn't right. It's easy for me to say, "Try to be worthy," but it sure seems like it's just a hands-off way of shifting the blame. If she can't pass the muster, then I can just say, "I gave you a chance. Too bad you wasted it," allowing me to feel good about myself, and also placing the problem on her. "If she'd been more [whatever], then the relationship would have been right. As it was, I tried to do something, but she let me down."

Yuck. Even writing that makes me feel uncomfortable. I can't imagine actually saying it to someone. On a much brighter note, a room full of intelligent, emotionally stable people sure makes for good conversation, even about uncomfortable topics.

It's really something to see parts of myself in someone who I initially think isn't like me at all. It's a little like looking in a mirror, only with 3-D action! It tends to keep me quiet, upon observing a quality I critique in someone else and realizing I have it, too.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Detached from wrong-doing

I watched someone cheating today.

It's not anything new. It's always easier for someone from the class to see cheating than it is for the teacher. This particular instance was in the campus computing lab. I saw someone with a Spanish placement exam on the computer, and a Babelfish in his ear (with apologies to Douglas Adams).

Well, he didn't really have it in his ear, just on his desktop. He was flipping back and forth between the computer test and the translator, plugging things in and getting translated answers in return.

It's not like he was doing it from the dark corner of the lab. Right in the middle of a row, the room filled with Finals Week paper-writers. Hiding in plain sight? Or just not caring.

And what was suprising to me was I wasn't suprised. I certainly didn't get "overturn the apple cart" furious. Not even "You call this Medium-Well" angry. It was more like me thinking a woman is attractive, then watching her pick her nose: just a feeling of detached scorn. Here's a person (whom I don't know) that I might otherwise have felt completely neutral about, but now I have to go to the effort of moving them to the "dislike" list in my mind. Or if that's too much thought to put into it, it's merely a tic on the "bad" side of humanity.

It's just tiring.

Monday, May 01, 2006

True to form...

If there's a lack of posting, it must be because I've got a paper to write.

I'm currently working on a paper on the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who is the only mulatto composer in the Classical Era to rise from being the son of a slave to being music instructor for Marie Antoinette and the finest fencer in Europe.

Fascinating stuff. Back in a couple of days.