Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Deck the halls with spiders and bats.

Today's Halloween, and on my way into campus I browsed across a radio station playing Christmas music. They're now doing continuous music through Christmas Day.

I like Christmas music, but there's really something strange about hearing Burl Ives in autumn. Listening to the music for a bit, it didn't have the "Christmasy" effect that I usually associate with hearing music of that season. I guess it's just that it has to be my choice to hear the music; I have to be somehow "prepared" to listen to it and receive jollyness.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Act III: Chaos strikes, following the two acts of foreshadowing

What a month! What a week, even!

I'm almost through, but not quite. Still ONE more concert and ONE more test. I was doing well until this week, when little things started to fall apart. It was rather like having someone shoot a squirt gun at your sand castle, gradually making it disintegrate.

I made the decision to put off one of the examinations. Well, I didn't really make the decision; there simply wasn't enough time in the month to accomplish it along with everything else. Luckily, it's a take-home one, which I have no doubts about being able to pass the first time. Still, it was a disappointing realization that my beautiful and highly organized plan was starting to fray at the edges.

The decay came to a head on Thursday, when I spent 9 hours in a row playing my trombone. It's not physically fatiguing (trombone almost never is for me), but it was a serious drain on my mental sharpness. Having to pay attention for that long, especially if part of it is a recording session that involves tedious repetition, is a headache.

I flopped into my computer chair at home after 10:00 pm and checked my email. A message from my academic adviser; I wonder what she has to say? I should have waited to open it. The message was her saying that I had failed three-quarters of the History examination and that I would have one last chance to retake it. "Be sure to wait until you feel ready," she says (un)helpfully.

I frowned, and read the rest of my emails. Phone bill due. Gig opportunity. University announcements. I opened the web browser, still frowning. The oddest sensation of a bee, buzzing somewhere in the back-right quadrant of my skull. I start proceeding down the line of my friend's blogs. Oh, Minx has a new post. [buzz] A nice long one, too; those are always really good. [buzz] I start reading the post. The first sentence loops in my mind. I start reading again. [I have to retake the history exam] What's she writing about? Something about high heels? [buzz exam] I lost my place and started reading again. [exam again buzz]

Then I realize that my eyes aren't focused on the screen anymore. They're looking towards a glass of water just to the left of the monitor. They aren't focused ON the glass, but just drifted left of the screen, like a car with poor alignment heading slowly but surely towards the highway median.

Without belaboring the point any further, it was a bad night for me. I was unable to do any other studying for the first half of my trombone exam, scheduled for 8 AM the next morning. I was unable to do anything at all, really, except turn the reality over and over in my brain. I went to bed by 10:45, and I stared at the ceiling until 2 AM. Unlike other nights, when I'm actively trying to tell myself "I need to sleep", this night was just me running mental laps. I had no idea what time it was. I just kept on thinking. I was in bed, motionless, but my thoughts were busy pacing the room.

Eventually, I woke up. I thought about the failed exam.... and wasn't mad. I didn't emote anything. "Very odd!" I thought. "This was such a big deal last night." I took a shower and thought about the failed exam. Still nothing. "Weird," I thought.

The trombone exam went well. Questions were asked that I could immediately gather all knowledge about and pour out an essay extempore. I remember thinking, "Gosh, this must be how it's supposed to work for all the other stuff I'm supposed to know!"

Then the Friday night concert. Today I finished the last of the projects for the trumpet professor. Tomorrow is another concert. Monday is the last test.

And then, seemingly some four years late (but in fact two days early), October will *finally* end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This is a Virtual To-Do Notice

I'm leaving this entry empty, so I can come back in a week and talk about WHY it's empty. I sat down to write something, then decided that writing on it wasn't the correct thing to do. When I get around to writing the proper entry, there will be reflection on WHY I almost "did", and WHY I ended up "not".

For now, bedtime!

The picture of the kitten is not related, but is just really cute.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Playing "doctor" leads to needing OB/GYN

WARNING: This entry contains discussion of under-age intercourse and sex toys.


King Middle School in Maine will be the first middle school in main to make a full range of contraception available to the students (also known as 11 to 13-year olds). That headline was enough to get my attention to the article. I was thinking to myself, "gosh, is this too early for serious preventative sexual equipment?" Surely these kids don't really need to be instructed on the finer points of sexual activity and have to worry about taking hormone pills or playing around with funnily-shaped balloons.

I was wrong. Oh so wrong.

In the last four years, the three middle schools in Portland, Maine reported 17 pregnancies. This figure does not include the unknown number of miscarriages or terminated pregnancies. I have nothing snarky to say here, because I don't know WHAT to say. I'll have to settle with being shocked that the experience of some kids aged 11 is so completely outside my own experience. Further in the article, these Portland schools have been offering condoms since 2000, and one quarter of all health centers nationwide that service children older than 11 offer some form of contraception.

I don't remember at what age I first learned that there was this thing called "sex" that people could "have", and that it related to babies somehow. I remember taking a high school health class from a teacher who vaguely reminded me of Don Knotts, who assured us that V.D. and sex were serious business. He also assured us that even though everyone should wear their seatbelts while driving, he never did because he had once escaped a fiery wreck only by virtue of not having to undo his belt.

In sixth grade, I remember that my homeroom teacher was pregnant and eventually was replaced by a long-term substitute. I don't recall if I knew what generated pregnancy, but it wasn't a point of discussion amongst us kids. I'm sure some people associated a case of "the pregnants" as one would get "the measles", only with the side-effect of occasional baby discharge.

One of the parents says, "This isn't encouraging kids to have sex. This is about the kids who are engaging in sexually activity". It's definitely an unfortunate line to walk. Can you afford to expose all the children to sexual knowledge in the effort to get the few who really need it? Or can you afford to continue fiddling as Rome burns, ignoring the fact that kids are having sex and having babies?

I suppose the trick is that the parents can't control their children all the time. I'm sure there are VERY few parents who believe that pre-teens having sex is a "good" thing. I bet no one wants their babies to be having babies, at least hopefully not after they've read the medical problems with having pregnancies at that age. But the parents can't hover over the children 24/7. At some point, you have to trust that your child, armed with whatever knowledge you have given them about sex, will decide not to do it. I'm sure most students just don't care. However, I suppose that by giving instruction and availability, you'll provoke some kids to say, "Hmm! What's all this 'sex' I've been hearing about? Perhaps I should try it!"

I suppose parents can only trust that they've given their children enough knowledge and direction to have the kid say, "No, I'd rather play with my robots than worry about that stuff." Or parents can simply plug their ears and shout MY CHILD WILL NOT BE HAVING SEX, BECAUSE THEY JUST WON'T.

I can't help but feel that shouted sentence upon learning that a Topeka, Kansas high school was forced to stop distributing free condoms to students this week, after the district learned that the program was entering its second month. The district apparently has a policy against providing contraceptives. No doubt this is in-line with abstinence-only education which is recommended by the government. Perhaps the feeling here is that if students are mature enough to have sex, they are also mature enough to go to a drug store (on their skateboards) and buy condoms themselves. Or maybe they get an older student to go in for them, in case they get "carded", as with buying beer.

Maybe we just need a change of spin. We all agree "condom" is a sexually-charged word. You can't even talk about it to kids without having them running off to the nearest cloakroom. So, perhaps we need to do what America does whenever we wish to defuse a situation like this: change the name. Remember the fiasco of the french fries turned "freedom fries" in the wake of... France saying we shouldn't attacking other countries? Well, it's time to re-badge all these smutty devices.

For example: in Alabama, it is illegal to sell sex toys. It was signed into law in 1998, and reaffirmed in 2004 by the Appeals Court. Under the "Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act", it is prohibited to distribute "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value", which underscores my belief that any law preventing obscenity must itself contain obscene imagery. In light of this prohibition, most sex toys are sold under the banner of "adult novelties" across the United States. In Texas, for example, it is illegal to sell sex toys unless they are marketed as "adult novelties", which basically means you can't describe what you're supposed to do with it. People who do describe it risk being arrested as "smut peddlers", which makes me laugh (though I'm probably supposed to shake my head and cluck my tongue).

I also laughed that a similar law in Georgia allows that a physician may prescribe the use of a sex toy for therapeutic purposes, but (and I quote) "the allowance does not apply to a therapist who only has a Ph.D."

Plain Andy, Revisited

Private Journal Entry from October 12, 2004. Originally written in blue ink in a blue-covered notebook. I present it mostly unaltered. Brackets [] will indicate anything I add or replace for clarity or anonymity. I post this here because I happened to stumble upon this entry from almost exactly three years ago, and found it interesting.

*** *** ***

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Boy, has it been a while since my last journal entry. I resisted it, because I feared it meant a return to the distant and anti-social tendencies that inhabit the dark side of my personality. I've come to the conclusion that these entries were never the source of the problem, only a symptom. So, perhaps as long as I can keep my head above the metaphorical water, it might be bearable.

Doctoral study in Kansas City! Who would have predicted? I assumed I would never bother getting this far, but then I realized I might actually use it. I think it will be a good career move. And who knows, maybe it will exercise some of the old Eagle Scout demons. Or, it will become a new Eagle Scout demon. Whee! [I never completed my Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts, a fact which was a point of considerable discussion and frustration in my family.]

It's fantastic to be on my own again. Living by myself and being responsible has its good points. There's a strange sort of symmetry between what happened four years ago in Columbia, and what's happening here and now. Moving to a new town and school, only acquainted with a couple of people, including a recently married trombone friend who has a baby. I spend a fair amount of time with [this friend and his child], usually Wednesdays after my lesson. I do it partially for the fun of being there, and partially for the purpose of starving off that feeling of being alone. It's hard to escape from that feeling. It's gotten stronger since [a friend's suicide attempt]. It would be nice to have someone to break it down with. I would do it here [i.e., the journal], but I'm wary of only getting regurgitated information that yields the one perspective I already have. I've tried reaching out to friends, but it didn't work. I think it was a problem with my delivery. Or maybe it's just me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is this the House that Mozart Built?

I had an audition today with the local symphony. I started the morning off by pacing through my house. It wasn't out of anxiety, as much as just being unable to think of what to do with my time. Eventually, I walked out the door to have a casual lunch, always mindful of one of the guiding principals of audition day: thou shalt not drink too much water.

It's a guiding principal because the greatest stumbling block to an audition is the workings of your own body. These workings can be either mental or physical; both are equally effective at DISTRACTION, which is the killer. If you are distracted, then you are more likely to not have every single thing go as planned, and all it takes is a single thing to go awry to start the house of cards collapsing.

The biggest mistake some people make is to drink lots of water. Water helps alleviate stress ordinarily, especially because we tend to "forget" about drinking water when we're worrying about other things. But in an audition setting, where you must (at a particular time) do something, you can't afford to run to the bathroom while the committee is waiting for you to begin your fourth of five excerpts. It's the same reason they won't wait for me to relieve myself during Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, simply because I have dozens of minutes with only rest.

The audition process was a study in the contrast between front of house and back of house. We waited in chairs set up in the lobby. Fancy mirrors, glass chandeliers, Rococco architecture; all very fancy. As we were individually led to the warm-up rooms, we pass through the doors into the rear stage area.

The paint is peeling. Things of all shapes and sizes clutter the hallways. Old risers, cardboard sheets, metal racks, and so on. The warm-up rooms are dressing rooms, complete with twelve-foot mirrors and stray eyebrow pencils on top of shelves only I can see. By the way, DUSTY!

The bathroom is approximately five foot by six foot. It contains an old pullchain toilet adapted to a single flush lever, and a single with a single off-center nozzle with two taps. Everything feels old. When I was in England, we stayed in a converted nunnery. These accommodations were similar.

Strangely, only yesterday I was in the OTHER performance venue for the symphony: the concert hall of one of the local community colleges. I was performing with a brass band, and the facility is beautiful, back and front. Funny how things that are new and costly feel and appear nicer!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Give the people what they want ... they come trying to copy for homework

By far the most common search terminology that leads to my sight is "my mistress eyes meaning". This, and variations of searches concerning the title of Shakespeare's Sonnet CXXX, leads me to believe that I really need to appease these searchers who are hard at work laboring for minutes upon minutes to find an internet site that gives free papers for copying.

I love Sonnet 130, but over the years it has become one of the "greatest hits" of the 150. Most people know "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" (or at least know the first line), but when TV writers have shows with students in high school, inevitably this is the sonnet they pick to be written on the blackboard while students decide which of their classmates to murder and which to have sex with (hopefully not in that order). At least, that's what I get from watching FOX promotional material for "The O.C." I may be wrong.

At any rate, from the depths of crudity, let's get the immortal verse.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

So, what's this sonnet about? This is one of the sonnets of the oft-called "Dark Lady" set. Possibly you think of all sonnets as being about simple love, over and over. In fact, Shakespeare's sonnets have at least two different intended subjects. And that most famous of sonnets, number 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?")? Well, it turns out it's in the section directed towards the "Fair Youth", a young man of the narrator's acquaintance. It has been variously analyzed as a fervent homosexual advance or as a bizarre kind of platonic love.

Let's set the homosexuality aside and focus on the sonnet at hand. This is a kind of parody sonnet. The sentiment of the author is sincere, but it is mocking the style of earlier sonnets. The previous master of sonnets, Petrarch, had an entire category of sonnets known as a catalog, where the author lists the various wonderful traits of his beautious love. Sonnet 18 is a catalog sonnet, too, but a positive one ("thou art MORE lovely and more temperate"). Sonnet 130 is a companion piece, showing that though his love is not beautiful, she is appreciated. The dark lady depicted in this not considered by the standards of the day to be beautiful. In fact, the object of affection is on the losing end of all the comparisons.

In the first line, the author explains that his mistress' eyes lack the "poetical" luster of all the other ladies. Coral, considered in the Elizabethan day to be a very faint pink, is FAR redder than her lips; her lips lack the color which was associated with vibrancy and energy. At a time when proper ladies stayed out of the sun and wore tons of clothing, pale white skin was considered a perk of the upper classes. Thus, the mistress, whose breasts are dun (a flat brown color) has not the brilliant complexion of other ladies.

Nobody compares ladies' hair to wires (don't try this at home, married types!), so the "black wires" is not a particularly complementary sign. Roses patterned with red and white are not to be found in her face. The next phrase has a curious softening: "in some perfumes". What, not all? The first hint that the author still finds praise amongst all her plainness. Either that, or the author has experienced some hellacious perfumes in his day.

This softening of the catalog continues through the rest of the sonnet. He loves to hear her, even though he admits that music (considered to be a refreshing art at this time) sounds better. And he's never even seen a goddess. He's surely seen other women, those considered beautiful. To me, this suggests that he doesn't see the other fancy women as anything special; certainly nothing like earthly goddesses.

The last couplet allows the author to tip his hand. Even though he thinks that she loses on all the comparisons to other, more beautiful things, in his eyes she's still as rare and highly valued as anything else.

This is a very accessible sonnet, simply because it refutes all the fancy language and simile present in many other "love poems". People today don't go around telling other people that their eyes are like the sun. It's probably sexual harassment or something. So here's Shakespeare's contribution to the natural beauty movement, currently en vogue. Even though society has different standards of beauty, the author sees only that his love is rare and beautiful.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

History Exam finished

Tired of exams.

Only three more to go this month. And one of those is 10 hours long!