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.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Stop trying to expose my child to reality!

About two or three entries ago, I talked about Banned Books Week and the American Library Association. Since that time, I've been made aware of another story that is related:

STORY

I feel for this Texas school district. They've tried to make the course for everyone. If someone doesn't want their child to read "Fahrenheit 451," they get to leave the classroom while it's being discussed. Those students are also reading an alternate book which addresses similar issues.

For those of you playing the home game, those addressed issues are book-burning, censorship, and trying to curtail what society reads. The horrible but simultaneously delicious irony of trying to ban this book apparently goes unnoticed by the aggreived parties.

I can't be the only one who feels that the parents' argument is basically that it goes against their religious beliefs, so they don't want it to be taught to anyone. His daughter is 15. Perhaps she should try to obtain a copy of the unauthorized version released by the publisher in 1967, which censored words such as "damn" and "hell". If she reads this version, perhaps her parents would be satisfied. Referring to their children, the parents say, "we went [sic] them to go after God. ... We encourage them that what you put in your mind and heart is what comes out." I'm sure they would totally approve of this book that's all about questioning oppressive authority, as long as no one smokes a cigarette in it.

I conclude this entry with another quote from the father. I cannot comment on this quote; I have tried four times and failed.

"If they can't find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn't have a book at all."

Acting Important

Once a year, I get to pretend I have a different career. Instead of the academic life, where I lounge around campus and watch the pretty girls walk by, I drive across the state and put my business face on. I head to a tall office building, ride the stainless steel elevator to the 13th floor and tell the person at the front desk that I am expected. I wait in comfy chairs until my financial manager walks in. We shake hands and exchange pleasantries, then wind our way through the cubicles to a small conference room, where we spend the next two hours talking about finance and going through various graphs, charts, and feasibility assessments.

It's a fun game. And it really does feel like a game, because we talk about how the money is working. What has the money been doing? What are the areas of concern, with regards to the money? I like my advisor, because he's a guy who will spend a ton of time trying to explain options to me, even though the total value of my portfolio is basically enough to buy a tasty second-class cheese wheel (the first-rate cheese being ENTIRELY too expensive, and quite frankly, more than a little dry).

I enjoy that day because it gives me the opportunity to escape from the life of a performance musician, for a bit. It allows me to enter the corporate world, where success can be measured out to five decimal places. One doesn't worry about the subtle dynamic shading of the fourth quarter stock prices. They simply are. And no one is too terribly concerned with morals. That may sound like a bad thing, but it makes the situation quite balanced. Some Good companies suffer, some bad ones profit, but it can quickly turn around so that the Good companies are on the rise while evil ones get over-bought and fall.

As much as I enjoy this posturing and make-believe, I find myself criticizing others who have the same secret desire. I mentally lashed out at a young woman I saw driving one of those giant black Cadillac Escalades. When she was getting in, she literally had to climb the side to get into her seat. Her head was slightly higher than the steering wheel. And she drove with such reckless abandon that I actually saw some of the wheels lifting as she cornered. She was one of many such women who live where I live. They're rich. How do I know? They wouldn't buy such gigantic cars or wear such ridiculous outfits if they weren't. Stuff that tacky always comes at a price premium from a fashion store. Notice: not a clothing store. One does not buy clothing. One buys fashions.

I know a woman whose husband gave her a fancy diamond ring. The diamond is large, I'll give her that. It's large enough that I believe she has to be always on her guard against supervillans who would steal it to power the laser they're trying to vaporize the moon with. But what does a diamond say? It is nothing more than a nugget of gold, which is to say that it represents money. Nothing else. Diamonds take money to acquire. Bigger diamonds take more.

This woman loves showing off the ring. She loves making jokes about how heavy it is. She makes sure to often make a show of trying to shake hands with her left hand (palm down), so that no one can miss it. She has denied my curiosity by voicing disgust when I asked if I could try cutting a mirror with it. I don't think it's fake; her husband makes enough money where I have no doubt it's real. I just like the physics applications of diamonds. But she believes it would cheapen the stone.

Cheapen the stone. I don't need to bring out physical diagrams to show you that almost nothing I could do to that stone would effect even a molecule of it. It's a big, expensive thing, though; it deserves to be respected because it costs a lot.

I don't want to come off as against diamonds exchanged between married couples. If you want diamonds, feel free. They're pretty, and they symbolically represent the strength of a marriage, just as the ring represents the unending circle of love formed by two people. But if you get a big ring, don't assume it's going to make me respect you more. Don't assume that I'll be appreciative of or awestruck by something I can't afford. I respect the story of the ring. I respect the history. I respect the meaning.

Not the "four C's."