Monday, April 30, 2007

When she stares back into my eyes, what is it I see?

It's really easy to fall into a trap of expectation with our friends. We think that by spending time with them and knowing how they've reacted to things in their past, that we know their minds. We were there when they behaved a certain way, and now our human brains try to fit previous situations into new circumstances. It's bound to be one of our animal survival instincts; if something moves like a tiger, it doesn't necessarily need to have stripes for us to recognize it as danger.

So we come to expect certain reactions from certain friends. It may be proven repeatedly. We can expect them to react in certain ways, right? For example, take being startled in public. One friend will be extremely startled, with sharp breath intake and rigid posture. Another friend will come up swinging. Another will always turn and smile, because they expect only friendly acquaintances. They can be relied upon (in a sense) to react this way, according to their own natures. For the most part...

But we humans are stuffed with complex social behaviors. We seldom have simple responses to anything; at least, not if we can have a complicated and easy to misunderstand response instead. Some of us are more adept (and/or straightforward) in how we present ourselves. And we are, variously, skilled or unskilled at reading our fellow humans.

To a large extent, this governs how we interact with the world every day. If we bump into someone at the supermarket line, we need to be able to read their expression to determine if they're mollified with a simple "Sorry!" or if a more profuse apology is necessary. To a computer, a simple apology is sufficient. The computer sees the need for an apology and issues one. Only a person can tell if that apology was not completely satisfying, just by looking at the expression.

I bring this up because I've had a lot of opportunity to watch people standing up and giving recitals in the last two weeks. I've also had the chance to watch the audience who watches the performer. People watching is one of my favorite "time killing" activities, and sometimes an intermission can be fascinating.

And at one of these recitals, I watched a boyfriend eagerly start a standing ovation for his performer-girlfriend at the intermission, followed by the rest of the family and some of the other audience members. When it was only him standing, his girlfriend finished her bow and noticed only him standing. She immediately bowed again (not smiling), and began shuffling music and accessories to leave the stage.

And it occurred to me that I didn't know what I was seeing. Was it me catching the awkwardness of perceiving an overly-excited significant other? Or (since she and I have talked a bit), was it me seeing her uncomfortable with a person she's not sure she wants to be involved with? My wonder was how much of my sketching of the situation was from pure observation, and how much came from (or was perceived by ME to be from) the information she had spoken to me about.

Is there any way for me to even separate these two "sides" of an observation? If she hadn't told me directly, would I have assumed trouble because I've seen similar situations before? Or is this one of those situations where everything is fine, and there was no disapproving intent? Merely a case of relief and detachment after part of a recital finished?

I suppose there's no way to stop such analytical gear-turning. What I can do....what everyone can do... is make sure that we don't go too far out on a limb with our assumptions. Making a "first generation" assumption is fine, but following those assumptions with other assumptions, all layered on the back of the same initial observation... well, that makes for a precarious guess. A house of cards, built on the back of one card which may turn out to be unsound!

And after several iterations of assumptions (the latter generations of which are entirely based on speculation), we commit a terrible error if we draw (and act on) a conclusion that we assume is based on fact, but which in reality is nothing more than the product of our active imaginations and too much "Oprah".

Friday, April 27, 2007

I *knew* I should have shook hands using protection!

This is a long day. I got up early, and I'm going to bed late. I finally had my "dress" rehearsal in my performance space. It consisted of me going inside, moving 50 pounds worth of fake easter grass and birds on wires (I have no idea what's occurring in there between now and Sunday) to get to the piano, unlocking and opening it, playing a few chords, pronouncing it fine, then re-burying it in grass.

Then it's off to another "dress rehearsal" for a friend whose recital is ALSO Sunday evening. Her story is a lot like the travails of my previous attempt at a dress rehearsal, except that instead of me already having seven or eight recitals under my belt (and so not terribly stressed), she's got none. I must have passed this particular disease to her at some point over the last couple of weeks. I really should carry a handkerchief to prevent such things.

After her piece (the one she was playing when I showed up), the assembled family and friends piled into cars and headed to a breakfast place nearby, lead by one of the custodian guys from the church, who wasn't needed at that time, and would be happy to join us, thanks for asking! A good time was had by all, with much laughing and merriment around the table. I even got to make a joke about Miss Haversham from Dickens' "Great Expectations", which satisfies my "one awkward, bookish thing to say that only one person laughs about" quota for today.

Now I'm stuck between writing blog entries and taking a nap. I think I'll do both.

Oh, splendid.

That Cold War from 30 years ago we got rid of?

Looks like it's back on.

Russia will counter U.S. missile shield: Putin

I'm not going to complain next time my foot falls asleep...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

" no other."

Dennis Richardson is a delegate in the Oregon State Legislature. This is from his most recent voter newsletter, which can be found HERE.

A Tragic Week in Review

This past week has been like no other. On Monday the world witnessed the tragedy at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. On Tuesday Oregon witnessed the passage of Domestic Benefits for same-sex couples (HB 2007) and Civil Rights based on sexual orientation.

Offered without comment. except for the cynical tag.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Exhausted! Pity the Fool!

Somehow, I got exhausted working and running around at a recital that wasn't even mine! I certainly hope I have less to do at my recital, but it's not looking good.

The location (off-campus) for my recital is turning out to be a bit of a nightmare. My dress rehearsal on Sunday didn't happen because I was forced to call my accompanist and tell him to turn around and go back home, since the piano was locked. There was no one around to talk to about it, even though the rehearsal had been planned and in the books for a month. Even I had to practically break in, just to get inside. Really puts you in the mood to perform.

And last night, my studio teacher mentioned that one of the piano professors doesn't let her studios perform in this new space. Perhaps I should think of going somewhere else, she says. Well, one good thing about all this: I used to worry about under-practiced parts and really tough musical lines. Now, I'm worried about having to climb a drainpipe and snip a padlock in order to give a musical performance. It's totally taken my mind off my performance jitters!

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From the new Snickers ad campaign. I have a Snicker's hankering. And an "A-Team" hankering. Weird.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A New Personal Best!

I got asked last minute to sit in for some of the jazz rehearsal this afternoon. One guy was coming late, and another was going to step out for a bit, so could I come and play? I had a brief moment of indecision, when I realized that would drive back my "lunch" even further past 4:00, but if I've waited this long..... Sure, why not?

During the course of the rehearsal, I was called upon to play lead, second, and bass trombone parts. This is a first for me: never before have I had the opportunity to sit in three different chairs in a rehearsal, let alone play three out of four possible parts. Also, I had to improvise. And play two different horns. After an hour of orchestra rehearsal. A well-rounded day!

The composition director said afterwards that he really wanted to see me pull off some lead trumpet. He was joking, as he was when he said I should put this on my resume. It did give me lots of valuable playing experience.

Plus, it reminded me that it's a LOT easier to play high on a small horn with small mouthpiece. Wow. Also, I might get roped into more groups next year, since I've demonstrated my "versatility".

EDIT: This is why I keep under my hat that I play euphonium. Well, that, and I'm not very good....

Sunday, April 22, 2007

[sigh] I just can't do anything normal

I'll leave my previous entry of purple prose up, mostly as a reminder to myself. Apparently, when I get tired and emotional, I write monologues (un)worthy of an overblown romance novel.

By the light of this (admittedly overcast) day, everything seems like much less of a "big deal". \

Let this be a lesson to you all: put child-proof caps on your internet impulses, lest you rise with writer's remorse.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Trying to be a better person" tastes a lot like aspirin

Ever just have one of those days where, even though everything is fine (or better than fine!), you're still unhappy?

I'm on one of those days right now. Those kind of days when the noise of the world is just TOO LOUD, even though it's quiet now. Only crickets outside.

I heard a fantastic recital today.

I had a tasty dinner.

And I still can't escape the agony of my own mind.

It's no one's fault, really. Not even my own. But through a series of accidents and misdirected cues, I'm having painful things from my past forced into my face again. Not things I suppressed, but things I purposefully left behind. I hoped they would stay in the background, forever remembered and reminding me of the lessons I learned.

But now they're back. White hot against my head. Can't turn away, can't ignore them. Can't let the past rest, when it's forever coming back. I can't look at anything without being reminded what I lack, and the decisions I made.

And that's how I knew it was going to be a long night. I looked at someone I barely know... and I felt envy. I envied their peace of mind. I envied their effortless efforts. And I knew I had to get away, had to leave before it all came apart. I envied what they have...

And here I am. Throwing words out of my fingers, hoping to distract myself. But the automatic type reflex can only occupy my brain for precious seconds. After all the periods and even some of the commas, the brainfire starts again.

I can't stop thinking. I can't stop projecting. I can't stop evaluating.

I can't stop remembering.

This must be what some people use alcohol to temper. My solution is rudimentary tai chi.

This is teetotaling Kansas, after all.

Neo-Victorian Prudism

You may be familiar with the Victorian Period and it's hyper-sensitivity to sexual topics. This was the same period that put tablecloths on those elaborately carved tables, because it was understood that gentlemen, upon seeing the shapely legs of tables would immediately think of women's legs. Thinking of women's legs, leads to thinking of sex, and thinking of sex leads to moral decay and the collapse of society. Simple! Too bad this important morality-watchfulness was left behind in the past.

But wait, ultra-conservative al-Qaida is bringing back the Victorian period to modern-day Iraq. Bringing it back with a bloody vengeance!


American commanders cite al-Qaida's severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders, Col. David Sutherland said.

First vegetables lying together in sin, then women will want to go to school and exercise their right to vote! Clearly this is fevered madness, driven by the corrupting influence of the West!

Pst! I've got a secret. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, which means they don't have gender. It's worse than al-Qaida feared! Tomatoes aren't hetero, tomatoes aren't even gay. They're asexual!

We should definitely stone the heathen tomatoes to death, for their completely natural "unnatural" lifestyle.

"So, you're rich?"

This question was put to me during a dinner conversation this week. I was explaining that I live south of the university campus, so had little knowledge of things north of it. It's just not on my drive home. When I mentioned the suburb I live in, one of the ladies there paused and said, "So, you're rich?"

I don't remember if this was before or after the conversation about me owning stock. That was met with praise and "wow". I'm pretty sure they were all thinking I own hundreds of shares, for thousands of dollars worth of value! Hardly. I own 20 shares. I bought them for about $30 per share. They're worth about $55 per share now. That's a grand total of $500 gained, over 3 years. More than I'd get if I put the money in a sock drawer, but not enough to retire to the Argentine. What's more, this stock was purchased with money out of my paychecks, so I didn't really have to decide when to buy or anything.

How do I do when I actually pick and research a stock? Recently, I had been following a different stock. I'd been watching it for months, watching it move up and down. So I took the plunge and bought a few shares. Never purchased a stock from the open market before! Whee! Within two months, the company lost 80% of the stock value. What was $30 is now $5. Ouch. I'm not some sort of Wall Street tycoon, that's for sure.

But really, the perception comes from the area I live in. I live slightly more than a mile from another student. She lives far enough that the name of her suburb is different, and that effects how people perceive where she (and I) live. Her place is probably much fancier than mine, because she's just a fancier person, overall. She has cherry cabinets and matching appliances. I also have... cabinets. And all my appliances are in the same general "white" color family. Except for my toaster oven, which is sort of yellow. But it's been through a pop-tart fire (not my fault!), so it can be forgiven.

I'm like a lot of people I know. I eat instant oatmeal, eat lots of dried pasta, and drink lots of (free) water. I live on a combination of weekly job income, occasional musical money, and loans. I don't have lots of people over, but mostly because 1) I'm a slob, and 2) I feel bad saying "Hey, let's hang out at my place. We just have to drive half an hour, through complicated streets to get there! It'll be totally spur of the moment."

That second point leads to awkward moments, such as last week when I invited my dinner companion (and myself) back to HER place so we could keep talking. Sure, nothing weird or bizarre about that! (The fact that she's someone else's girlfriend doesn't make it any less weird, just so you know.)

So, no. I'm not rich. I budget myself $150 in groceries every month. Some months it's easy to stay inside. Some months, not. But it's fun to realize that some people see me as rich. A momentary ego inflate. Then, the realization that people who care about that aren't really people I want to know. Hmm.

I thought about this more when I was having dinner with another friend at a nice Italian place. It's lots better than whatever pasta you might find at McDonald's, but it's still the sort of place you can get dinner, salad, and desert for $12, if you take advantage of the "value times". While we were eating, she commented that she'd never been to this restaurant before. "I don't really have any friends who'd eat at this place." Except me, right? "Well, you're different." Hmm.

It's interesting how much you can give people the wrong idea by just mentioning where you live, where you eat, the fact you have investments, and that you take vacations on a private yacht in Aruba. Oops!

I mean... vacation in Branson.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Majority is Not Always Right

From the Guardian, a U.K. paper.

The above article reports that Oklahoma, in an effort to change (or establish?) their state fruit and vegetable, has passed a rather interesting bill. It declares the official fruit to be the strawberry, and the official vegetable to be the watermelon.

This bill has attracted some attention from the "minutiae police", who wander around the internet searching for stories where people decide to call fruits "vegetables" and vice versa. They're arguing that watermelons have seeds, therefore fruit, or that all fruits are vegetables, so no problem.

Then there are the governmental watchdogs, who complain that tax dollars shouldn't be spent over this, or that there are more important things to worry about, or that this makes the terrorists win, or whatever.

But the real story here (and the most worrying aspect for me) is that the legislature decided something that was ALREADY decided. Already decided the other way, even. As the Guardian article points out, the rest of the world acknowledges the watermelon as a fruit. A good definition of a fruit is an edible casing a plant produces for its seeds, which draws a fairly clear line between fruits and vegetables.

So the esteemed legislative apparatus of Oklahoma made an unfounded decision to benefit itself. Specifically, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill lives in a large melon-producing area. And this is what I worry about. I worry about the spreading idea that just because we "say" something, it somehow makes it true.

Granted, this vegetable/fruit thing is a harmless decision. But lets look at Terri Schiavo. She's been dead over two years now, but I bet you still remember the name. I know someone at my local library does: they have a bumper sticker saying "Terri was Murdered!". Mrs. Schiavo was mentally incapacitated; her husband wanted her feeding tube removed; her family objected. The federal government eventually got involved, believing that she was not in a vegetative state, despite most medical evidence to the contrary, including the opinion of Florida's own independent medical council (who was appointed to the case when Florida thought she wasn't in a vegetative state, either).

This all came to a climax with the "Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo" (also called the "Palm Sunday Compromise"), a law passed by the United States Congress. Because it is worded towards her parents, not Terri herself, it allowed the Federal court to consider possible constitutional right infringements without considering any of the preceding 10 years of established precedence in state proceedings (which relate to court decisions concerning Terri herself. Isn't that a nice shortcut?). Effectively, the U.S. Government is saying "We think she's got hope of recovery, and that we know better than her legal guardian, in spite of all this bothersome medical and legal evidence to the contrary." The law passed at 12:41 am, and the president returned from vacation early to sign the bill at 1:11 am.

Don't get me wrong. Michael Schiavo was right to press his presentation of his wife's wishes. Her family was right to oppose him with as much strength as they can muster. After all, we are talking about the planned death of someone who was (at the time) alive. That is such a weighty matter that it must be considered exhaustively. But it's between them: the husband and the family. The Federal government has no need to get involved, certainly not to the extent of making a law that applies to only one person, for one brief moment. The government essentially decided "we don't believe your accumulated reasons and "drawn-over-years" conclusions, so we say you can't do this."

Similarly, saying "we don't care that everyone thinks the watermelon is a fruit; it's now a vegetable, by law," is an unsettling decision and process. I'm just not comfortable with the logic.

God is in the details

I had lunch with two friends earlier this week. However it happens, the conversation turns to religion. Between the three of us, we covered a wide range of religious perspectives. And we weren't merely confined to different denominations or distinctions of the same faith, either!

First, there's me. My belief in a god is pretty small, so that when asked, I replied, "If there is a god, he is so far distant and removed from everyday life as to be irrelevant." I don't know if there is a god. I'm not sure it's possible determine whether there is or is not a god. But I don't believe that the God described in the Bible exists. That God was always intervening in the lives of ordinary people: turning wives to pillars of salt, causing floods to destroy the world, sending an envoy who gets raised from the dead, and causing plagues like you wouldn't believe.

The Biblical God is not subtle. He always claims credit for things, in one way or another, which makes sense: how can you convert people with the awesomeness of your power without leaving a calling card behind? But nowadays, obvious miracles like this just don't happen. And nobody claims credit for them, at least not someone with divine handwriting. When was the last time God unequivocally destroyed a city, and let everyone know why? (I'm not talking about New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and Pat Robertson) When was the last time God visited successively worse plagues on someone who didn't obey him, while God's prophet did supernatural things and acted as the envoy? When was the last time someone was brought back to life simply by having a holy man instruct them to get up?

Why does the Bible end? If God is awake and doing good, why aren't there a thousand MORE books in the Bible? Shouldn't there be a continually updated and expanded record of the grace of God? Why is it Jesus comes along, then Paul gets converted on the road to Damascus, and then... well, not much. Why isn't there some chapter about a priest in the Middle Ages, who has divine things happen to him? Why doesn't the story continue? Sure, there are records of all kinds of holy deeds, but none important enough to be cataloged into the Bible? The Bible may be the divinely-inspired word of God, but he just stopped giving dictation at some point?

I got on a large tangent. My point was that I consider God to be irrelevant and inactive in our lives (if a god even exists). If God exists, then he is beyond the edge of the universe, in the vast unknowable beyond. So far beyond, that he no longer deals with the issues in our lives directly.

The second lunch guest believed in "energy". She explained this in the context of a "spirituality" that doesn't involve "God" so much as a connection of ephemeral forces that move and shift through our lives. When two people meet and fall in love, it's a result of those energies. When bad things happen to good people, it's because of a balance.

I'm not quite as clear on this outlook, and to be fair, she didn't get much time to elaborate. It seems to be a lot of the "God" stuff, but without the physical manifestation of a particular entity. If I can extrapolate, it's a sort of "diffuse god", who exists in all of us and between all of us. It's neither positive or negative, but simply *is*. I'm intrigued by this idea, and hopefully she'll get a better chance to explain this to me in the future.

The third lunch attendee believes in God. No question. His stated reason (one of many) was that he really likes having a "guy in his corner, no matter what." It gives him comfort and stability. It calms him to know that there is someone (God) who loves him no matter what he could possibly do or NOT do.

This, I find interesting. He values the stable and unchanging nature of God. God loves you no matter what. God is an absolute. When everything else in life is suspect, God is not. God is the person (?) who will never leave. God will be with you even unto your dying breath. God does not change. The third guy at the lunch table views all these as positive traits.

I don't.

I find no solace in an eternal and unaltering God. I feel that the static and unchanging nature of religion, which so many extol as a virtue, to be the most grievous problem with religions. In order to deal with new aspects of life, the ancient words must be "reinterpreted" by modern humans to suit the changing world. Religious texts like the Bible are the ultimate in "things were better in the old days" stories. Way back when, we got a list of laws, and Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers". And everything they said or did is still completely relevant to people of today. Good things most of us don't have to worry about coveting our neighbor's ox. Whew! Because somehow all those prophets living thousands of years ago, who never heard of penicillin, or stem cells, or ozone, or Hummers, or the Internet, or Playboy, or internal plumbing, or appendicitis, or nuclear weapons.... somehow, they know best how to deal with all of this.

Listening to the radio on the way to school this morning, I heard the preacher detailing the evils of the "relativistic" society. The preacher was on a tirade against those who feel there are many ways to approach life, many ways to achieve happiness and success, many ways to feel fulfilled. His point was there was only one way: God's way. All else was, in essence, "of the Devil and deceitful."

And the thing is, I don't think anyone wants an absolute, non-relative God. Let's take Commandment VI: Thou shalt not murder (or kill, depending on your translation). Since the definition of murder is "unlawful killing", this commandment is about killing. Specifically, killing is prohibited. Period. No exceptions, no qualifiers, no corollaries. You can't kill. Killing is ending the life of something. End of debate.

But we kill all the time! Never mind all the human violence, what about animals? Cows and chickens? Killed! What about fish? What about spiders and flies? What about mosquitoes? What about bacteria? They're alive, in much the same way a newly conceived human zygote is. Sanctity of life, and all that. But we gladly use anti-bacterial soaps, and bacteria-catching tissue.

We are, all of us, mass-murderers. And worse, we continue to flout the Commandment. I mean, God specifically told us not to, but we keep on killing plants and animals. We are all guilty. Seriously guilty.

Unless there's some wiggle-room. The commandment probably doesn't apply to bacteria, plants, or even animals. People in the Bible do sacrifice animals sometimes, and it usually pleases Him. And if we don't kill *anything*, how are we going to survive? So we'd all better hope God doesn't really mean what he says, at least in some cases. We hope that he follows the spirit of his words, not the actual letters (which are likely to have been mistranslated somewhere along the way).

Note to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church: I'm reminded of the persistent rumor that a terrible prejudice against homosexuals is all thanks to a typo; God actually hates "figs".

Please correct your signs, and spread the word.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Tell-Tale Toe Tap

Last weekend, our opera department staged a production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare", which is Julius Caesar to you and me. But since practically every word in Italian (the language of the opera) ends in a vowel, the conquering hero gets a name change. It takes a bit to adjust yourself to saying "JOO-lee-oh CHEHZ-eh-ray", but it does make it easier to sing.

"Cesare" technically an opera seria, a type of opera from the Baroque period. The characteristics of opera seria are very noticible;

1) the plot is usually historical, and often Classical (in the literary sense). Lots of Romans and Greeks running around, stabbing each other in the back.

2) Unlike later operas, the music is not continuous. There are definite beginnings and ends to each individual "song" or section.

3) There are basically two types of musical unit. Recitative ("reh-chee-tah-TEEV") is usually quasi-improvised, and consists of "talking" on various pitches. There are hints of a melodic line, but the clarity of the text and the rhythm of the line are most important. Recitative propels the plot forward. If people are changing allegiances, hurting others, or finding out what just happened to their parrot, it's recitative.

If it's not recitative, it's probably an aria. Whereas recitative pushes the plot forward (stuff happens), aria halts the plot all together. An aria is a chance for a character to pause and reflect on what they are feeling at the moment. As such, arias tend to get described in terms of particular affects (vengeance, longing, frustration, etc.) This is where people sing about how horrible fate is because they have been separated from their beloved parrot.

In the course of the opera, lots of bad things happen to good people. Because of the minimalist nature of this particular production (staged in a church, where you can't just roll the pulpit and sacristy out of the way), the massive choir of soldiers/harem women was just a few opera undergrads. They were dressed all in black, donning different robes or armor types to indicate who they were supposed to "be" at that moment. Everyone not a principal was barefoot.

The funny thing about being barefoot is that we don't tend to spend as much time thinking about what our feet are doing, compared to, say, our hands. The extras would sometimes come fluttering into a scene, and have to hold a particular position while someone else sings. As they stand there with very controlled faces and hands, sometimes their toes would be flexing. Not in time to the music, but more like an outward sign of anxiety or concentration. This would occur even in moments of extreme shock, where everyone on the stage was frozen. Perhaps they're just used to having some kind of shoe to disguise those movements.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Business as usual. (Emphasis on Business)

I'm sure you all remember the ex-revered Ted Haggard. He was the fellow who headed the New Life evangelical super-size church in Colorado, headed the National Association of Evangelicals, talked to President Bush every week, and still found time to appear in the "Jesus Camp" documentary.

Then, Old Scratch (the Christian devil) played him a merry tune, and turned him gay, or rather made him vulnerable to temporarily choosing to be gay and doing gay things. And he did turn his back on God and went off and did gay things, like buying a pastel-colored car, or watching those guys on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and criticizing THEIR outfits.

Or something. I'm not really clear on what gay people do that makes them all that different from straight people, but it's okay; the New Life church doesn't seem that clear on the matter, either. That's why after paying for a gay prostitute to perform "massages" and sell him drugs, Mr. Haggard admitted to an unmentioned "sexual immorality". So after months of grueling therapy committee meetings, the church leadership announced that their former pastor is 100% not gay. They're not letting him have his job back, or anything, because they're trying to run a business! But now he's got the "100% not gay" stamp somewhere under his left ear, just in case anyone needs him for some job where you just can't be gay. Like the military. Or president of Focus on the Family.

Anyway, Mr. Haggard isn't back in the news, but the church he helped found is. The New Life church says that, while there was a bit of a drop in attendance coincidently around the time of the unpleasantness, they're fine, they're all fine here now. How are you?

From Reuters via Yahoo:

"Weekly attendance has dipped a bit since the dismissal of pastor Haggard but the bottom has not fallen out and we have had a comparatively smaller drop in revenue," said associate pastor Rob Brendle, a view echoed by other church leaders.

Oh, good. Good thing revenue hasn't dropped very far. After all, a church is responsible to its shareholders to turn a profit. Oh, wait....

Don't worry about the church and the money, though. I'm sure that they can afford to buy an extra big needle to squeeze their "100% not gay" camel through.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Can you make someone less manipulatable by manipulating them?

I'm wrestling with this question. The long and short of it is that my friend (who has some self-confidence and is already somewhat resistant to being manipulated) confided in me that she's rather open to being manipulated into situations she doesn't care for, specifically when she cares about the people involved. This alteration usually comes because she's willing to do what other people say they need to do, she says.

Since she expressed disfavor and disgust with this reaction of hers, part of our dinner conversation was me trying to explain to her to be less prone to suggestion. Therein lies my mental pause. I'm basically changing her personality, with the intent of making it less changeable in the future. It's with her blessing and complete encouragement, but it was still a bit strange. It's one of those situations (which I find myself in quite a bit) where I'm not sure if the metaphorical ice I'm walking onto is solid.

These thoughts usually end up with a self-rejection of my own sense of purpose. I mean, who am I to tell people anything? In the dark of the night, I'm not always happy. My life isn't that organized, my methods aren't that great. Me giving life advice is almost as bad as me giving relationship advice. How have my relationships been? Hmm, that's right. Ending in tears.

So what great wisdom do I offer? It's mostly stuff people already know in their heart-of-hearts. Make good choices, trust what is right for "you", take the difficult road sometimes, be ready to not have fun for a while. People just like to have someone who will listen. Occasionally, I get to offer some really good advice, and in such cases, I'm usually really concerned that I'm not going to mess anything up.

You know what else people are big on? Not judging them. I sure am. I like to know that when I talk to someone, they're not going to react until I've explained my position. I also like it when the people I talk to at least TRY to see it from my way. I try to bring that to the table as well, when the tables are turned and I'm the one listening. It was a flattering compliment to be told, "I like that you listen and don't judge me."

Maybe the next step is being able to give criticism in a way that doesn't hurt people's feelings.

"Constructive", I think the cliche is.

*** *** ***

The management would like me to say that there's a new album with nine more pictures in my photo collection.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Why Is Schwarzenegger an excellent politician?

Because he's not afraid to compare politicians to penguins, and issue a truly strange and mysterious proclamation about them. While making a very good point about how to market environmentally-friendly cars to U.S. citizens.

"Your political base will melt away as surely as the polar ice caps -- I can guarantee you of that," Schwarzenegger said. "You will become a political penguin on a smaller and smaller ice floe, drifting out to sea. Goodbye, my little friend."

CNN Story

It's probably too bad for the GOP that Schwarzenegger doesn't embrace more of the "moral" conservative party platform that's big at the moment. They'd be in a much bigger hurry to support him and have pictures taken with him to support their own campaigns.

Ever been relieved to have a friend tell you your breath stinks?

One of the fundamental trombone pedagogical tools I've learned in the last few years is that no matter what wonderful things you think you're putting INTO your horn, it only matters if they come out the other end. Usually, this is said in the context of trying to get students to emote more.

The horn tends to "swallow" little creative touches you add to your performance, so much so that they don't actually make it out of the other end. Professors usually counter this by instructing the performer to exaggerate what you "think" you're doing, so that it will be obvious when it reaches the back of the room.

Tonight, I realized a similar thing can happen in my social life.

An aspect of my personality, which I had (in recent years) adopted as a wholly helpful and "good" trait, was called into question. It wasn't a direct attack, and it wasn't intended to have me second-guess my life, but it did show me that I wasn't fully aware of all the consequences.

In the past, I've been a pretty good manipulator of people. But in the last few years, I've been trying to exorcise that part of my personality. It's just no longer acceptable to me. So when a situation comes along where there's even a whiff of it, it immediately causes me to back off and examine my internal motives and my external presentation.

And that's what friends are good for. They're not trying to hurt you; they give you the chance to fix harmful things without the normal heavy consequences. Usually. In this case, I want to make sure that even though I'm trying to be there for friends, I need to make sure I'm not giving the appearance of too much detachment or clinical curiosity.

And yes, it is rather ironic that I chose to make a big clinical self-examination over whether or not I'm too analytical, but that's just how it works around here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

First, put hand on kettle...

I went to a bizarre metaphysical place this evening. While preparing myself a cup of tea, I felt I was in slow motion. Remember how science classes always tell you that you aren't aware of conscious direction of your individual muscle actions? The example is always that you don't bother telling your hand to extend and your fingers to flex: you just try to pick up the pencil.

Well, tonight I felt them all. I was unable to escape the connective and purposeful actions of each and every movement I made while making the tea. I felt the contact of my feet to the floor, the contact of my shirt on my shoulders, the intent of holding the kettle under the faucet. It was fascinating, but it was also something mechanical. I felt the minute actions that ordinarily make up simple gestures. It was... strange.

And just like it began, it was over. I lost the perception. I was back to normal.

*** *** ***

While I was writing this, news broke that Kurt Vonnegut has died. To honor him, here are his somewhat tongue-in-cheek rules for writing fiction. In spite of the fact they're somewhat wry and simple, they're profoundly important. I've tried to incorporate as many as I can in my writing, and how I *think* about writing.

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), 9-10.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Camera Obscura

I purchased a camera over Spring Break, and I've been having a good time learning the ropes. I'm still not even confident on how to use the settings to capture what I want from a particular scene, but I'm getting better.

Coincidently, Google unveiled their web-photo-album site within the last few weeks. I'm taking advantage to put up some shots I've taken. I'll try and at least give them all descriptive or silly captions, along with notes on what I was trying to accomplish with a particular shot.

I stuck the link over on the bottom of my other friend's blog list, since I couldn't find a better place. Feel free to comment, but I'm basically doing this for my own knowledge. Even with all negative comments, stuff's still going to appear there! So, don't feel obligated to pay it any attention.

Effected Season Disorder

My internal clock is going nuts. It's cold and blustery every day. Today, a cold rain fell from gray skies practically all day. Even now, I hear the rain hitting the windows.

But I can't get through my head that it's April. The light stays longer and longer. It's still visible even past eight in the evening now. But it's cold, and feels like fall. I'm not used to it being 6:00 and windy, and still have two more hours of daylight.

The good thing about all this is I've been able to be comfortable for a while longer. I've set a few more fires in my fireplace, which is just about my favorite thing to do. Ever. Last week, I sat for hours watching the fire, and accomplishing nothing. Not that I wasn't busy, mind! Staring at a fire in a quiet room allows my mind to go into overdrive and I get to think about all the things I put to the side, ordinarily.

So I thought all the things I've been putting off, for one reason or another. Funny how it can all pile up on you, just like if you put the daily newspaper in a pile on the floor. Eventually, the pile will tip over and remind you how long it's been since you took out the recycling.

It's a strange thing to be all by yourself and thinking a lot. While I was staring at the fire, the rest of the world dropped away. The sound of the refrigerator vanished, the sound of the heater stopped, the traffic outside faded away. Soon, even the fire I was looking at disappeared. I'm not sure what I was looking at, but it was something far away. In the same way my brain shut off the recognition of audio, it also disconnected the visual. My eyes were open, but I couldn't have told you what was in front of them.

Every while, I'd surface again. Time to move my feet, they're falling asleep. Time to move myself, sitting too close to the fire. Time to get a drink of water, I'm apparently very thirsty. But when the need of the moment was met, it was back to focusing on the fire and then focusing past the fire.

Of course, the problem with just thinking is it never really resolves anything. We can ruminate all we like on the issues in our mind, but even if we come to a conclusion about the course of action, it's still without purpose until we actually DO the think we put so much thought into.

I've got some serious problems making that last part work.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

C'est impossible!

I saw through a student to one of their parents yesterday. We all know that kids are very likely to say what their parents say. When kids are stuck in a situation without an answer of their own, they're likely to say something that they've heard their parents say. Children are good at retaining and returning information, so that parents may not even realize that an off-hand remark in one situation may become a standard answer in many situations.

During a lesson, we were discussing a piece that was called "Les Casques" or something similar. The student asked if it was French or Spanish. I answered that based on the composer's name (Joeseph Boutine de Boismartier), it was probably French. When speaking the composer's name, I used my best "this might be how they pronounce it in French" accent, culminating with the last name of BWah-mar-tee-'yay. The student looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted a third eye and flew around the room. "I didn't know you spoke French," he said. "I don't," said I.

Let me digress for a moment and explain the history of my French language knowledge. For most of my life, I've heard bad French accents in movies and TV shows. I've occasionally heard people who actually do speak French talk. And I once helped a girlfriend study French tenses, mostly by impressing her with my ability to mimic good pronunciation, even though I had no idea what I was saying. Since I had no actual background in French, this experience was frustrating, because so many of the letters in written French are not pronounced; makes it hard to read out loud.

My (apparently) crowd-pleasing French consists mostly of three things, comically simplified for blog purposes.

ONE: swallow all end-stop consonants ("croissant" becomes "croissannn").

TWO: accent a different syllable than you would if pronouncing the word in English. ("Disney" becomes "dis-NAY") But remember to keep the sound of the final syllable short (about the length of the "neigh" part of "neighbor", if pronouncing Disney)

THREE: keep your lips small and not far apart when making all sounds. If you purse your lips as though you were ready to kiss someone's cheek and then say a sentence, you'll be halfway to a French accent. Take the title of this post. "C'est" is pronounced like "say", but with a clipped 'y' sound. "impossible" is basically like the English, but accent the syllables as "im-pos-SEEB-lay". Viola! (And yes, I know it's "voila", but it's more humorous to me as a musician to write "viola!", especially since people may not know the difference unless they look closely.)

After witnessing my not-spectacular pronunciation of a name, my student said he knew no other languages. "I'm *proud* that I don't," he said again, smiling and laughing. I assume he said this so I would be forced to respect his position. I've noticed that people who feel self-conscious about what they believe will sometimes say it as an important pronouncement, as if that will somehow get around the silliness of what they just said. Also, it works to stifle any opposition, since they appear SO CONFIDENT that even though I know that the moon isn't made of cheese, I might not mention it for fear of them breaking out evidence and schooling me.

I expressed my surprise, and wondered why it wasn't necessary to graduate high school. My student said that it was required if you wanted to get a state scholarship, but not if you just wanted to graduate. And since he's hell-bent on attending the local community college (even though I know he could get into any of the local state universities), I suppose that's enough.

But I can always tell when something is coming from his parents. Having spent a fair amount of time talking with his mother, I can practically hear her tone when her child says certain things. And at no time was that more clear than when he said his next words after his admission of knowing no languages. "Well, I'll probably have to learn Spanish eventually, since by 2030, they'll be the majority population in the United States."

Err, what? How does a kid who spends most of his time playing XBox care anything about Census Bureau Ethnic Projections? At this point, I could see this was a much larger conversation than I could tackle in a 30 minute music lesson. So I rallied back around the music, saying "Well, we're dealing with a French import now. Start at number 17."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

That's when you have a lot of money, right?

I'm sad that I saw another college-educated native English-speaker use the word "richeouness".

From the context, I believe that's "righteousness" to you and me. I suppose it's "rich" as in "rye".

Spring Cleaning

It's that time again. I've updated and changed the presentation template for my blog. It may or may not stay this way for a while, depending on whether or not I think it looks acceptable.

Please leave comments or feedback, if you feel particularly moved (positive or negative) about the new look. If you're content, or only here for content (heh, homonym humor!), then you don't need to comment at all.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I'm not sure that's healthy...

I figured my BMI (body mass index) tonight. Through this handy website HERE, I determined my BMI is 30, which is the starting number for obesity. That's high for me, but I've eaten quite a bit of food today, so I'm not surprised. Ordinarily, I'm closer to the middle of the "Overweight" category.

Just for fun, I tried to figure out how skinny I could be and still qualify for "normal" status, on the line before "underweight". It was shocking. I'm taller than 6 foot 3, and I could still be "normal" if I weighed 150 pounds. I have no clinical background, but if you had asked, I would have assumed than anything under, say, 170 would have been unhealthy.

The BMI calculation wasn't what kicked of my most recent food awareness. My parents are starting again on a very calculated diet. Within the first few days, they notice minor gains. It's always good for them, even though they basically have eggs (or egg substitute) every morning, and my father doesn't like eggs. Strange how I didn't know that from years of camping out with him...

I'm going to be watching what I eat in the next few weeks, mainly portion control. I'm under the impression that I eat too much in a particular sitting, so I'm going to remedy that. My impression seems factual, because whenever I curb my food intake even a small amount, I drop pounds quickly. Plus, if I can cut down on my soda intake, that'll do nothing but good. I don't tend to drink soda often, but when I sit to eat, I drink copious amounts of whatever liquid is at hand. If I can keep soda out of reach, that will eliminate that problem.

On Friday night, my family went to a pizza buffet. Portion control was on no one's mind at that place, let me tell you. The food was good, and there sure was a lot of it. But, nothing makes you conscious of your weight like sitting next to a table of extremely obese people, who have difficulty sitting at a booth. It certainly gave me pause.