Monday, December 21, 2009

Succinction

In the same box of metaphors as "difficult as herding cats", tonight's dinner spawned a new one:

"like stacking applesauce"

As in, "Don't bother trying to get Jim to put the toilet seat down -- you're just trying to stack applesauce."

If you've never tried, it's pretty difficult to make applesauce achieve any significant height.

Pre-Christmas in St. Louis

I've been visiting in St. Louis with my family.  My parents and youngest brother live there (in one place), as does my middle brother and his girlfriend.(in another).  It's nice to see them all again, though the unemployed ones all visited me in Kansas City just a couple of weeks ago for the final Fountain City concert of the calendar year.  Following that, my youngest brother stayed with me for a few days.  It was mostly so he could have the famous pizza from Minsky's, but we all pretend it was to hang out with me -- that helps preserve good feelings all around at this festive season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No such thing as common scents


I love women.

As somebody who loves to know about the different ways other people think about things, women provide an endless bounty.  Despite lots of gum-flapping about how similar we are, men and women are tremendously different in how they approach problems, how they conceive of themselves, and how they comport themselves around the stage that is their lives.

Today I want to address one thing I love about women, followed by one thing I loathe.

Let's start with soap.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

FCBB on the BBC (but act ASAP)


Frank Renton, who I first met in his capacity as master of ceremonies for the U.S. Open brass contest, is a well-known figure in the British brass band world.  He's become a common sight to the Fountain City band, as we've crossed paths with him three times in the last month: first at the '09 U.S. Open, then as voice of Brass in Concert, and finally as an adjudicator at the Scottish Open.

In the evening following our Scottish Open gala concert, I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow in the hotel bar who praised our trombone playing.  In the conversation that followed, he indicated that Frank has a radio show and that we were featured in the most recent episode.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Press Clippings from the Tour


2009 Brass in Concert -- The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Odd
"Fountain City had an authentic screamer who played in a manner that didn’t sound like a man extricating a red-hot poker from up his jacksy.

The Brits sounded as if they were auditioning for a part in the next Exorcist horror movie  - it was excruciating."


Concert Review from St. Gilbert's Church, Glasgow

"The dynamic contrasts were excellent and the march allowed Andrew Schwartz on Bass Trombone to show off his impressive sound."

Concert Review from Palmerston Hall, Boscombe

"It is a long way following the Yellow Brick Road in Kansas City to the Salvation Army Hall in Boscombe, but 30 talented musicians made it there last Friday."

The fantastic photographer Ian Clowes took images of FCBB performing in the Brass in Concert gala as well as the subsequent competition.  He was also present and snapping for our Thanksgiving Day clinic at the Royal Northern College of Music with Garry Cutt (director of Foden's, the band who took first at BiC).  Mr. Clowes has put up catalogs of those photos, including the one heading this entry.  All image rights belong to him, naturally. 

Photos from Brass in Concert Gala

Photos from BiC competition

Photos from clinic

Tour's End

A welcome back, both to me and to you.

The Fountain City Brass Band concluded our U.K. tour yesterday with our arrival at KCI airport after 5:00pm.  Like any proper international traveler, I was struggling to stay up until 10:00pm and woke promptly at 4:00am ready for business.  Should take another few days to re-adapt myself to the GMT -6:00 system.

If I were to condense the trip to a single word, it would be phenomenal.  That's an unjust description, however, seeing as there's no way to condense 18 days of experience into a single word that does the layers of the tour any justice.  Luckily, I'm not limited to a single word in the context of this blog, so I'll be unpacking as many different kinds of experience as I can over the next little while.

Let's get some quick bullet points out of the way:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dis-connecting flights

It's right at midnight as I begin writing this.  All my bags are packed.  All the instrument stuff is taken care of.  Passport and money at the ready.  I even have my selected book: "The Portable Atheist".  Incidentally, the "portable" book could be a lot more so: it's about the thickness of the last Harry Potter story.

I think I'm ready.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday night thoughts

I rose bright and early this morning to meet FCBB's director at his day job.  He had graciously outlined his entire schedule for the convenience of me tracking him down and borrowing the four conductor scores to the pieces I lost.  I then hiked over to the university library and installed myself with blank staff paper, one of my favorite pens, and a "comfy" chair designed in the sixties, covered in squeaky S&M-approved vinyl.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

To the victor goes the spoiled

Back in Kansas City.  The headline worth cheering about is that Fountain City pulled off what the brass band news site 4barsrest.com called "the double hat trick", referring to the group's three years of back-to-back-to-back wins at both major American contests, NABBA and the U.S. Open.

Yet I have a personal shame...

Friday, November 06, 2009

U.S. Open Brass Championship - 2009

Waiting for my last load of laundry to exit the dryer.  In an hour or so, I start the long road trip to St. Charles, IL to compete (along with the Fountain City Brass Band) at the 2009 U.S. Open Brass competition.  First leg of the trip is to drive to Lathrop, a small town in Missouri north and east of Kansas City.  There lives one of my fellow FCBB-ers, and we're to carpool together across Iowa to the FAR western Chicago suburb.

Further details about the competition can be found on their website: http://www.usopenbrass.org/index.php

We're contesting against eight other bands, including an international band from Toronto.  Afterwards, we all put on our fancy suits, new FCBB formal ties (used extensively in our upcoming UK tour), and get scandalizingly drunk at the "banquet", conveniently held in a room with copious alcohol.

It's a good time, though.  Good people, too, which makes it certainly easier to play and work hard for the group.  FCBB won the competition in 2007 and 2008 (and won five national contests in a row), so we'll have to see whether or not we can continue our high standards before we board the plane for parts beyond the sea.

More details on Sunday!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Great expectations ... and humble realizations

In each relationship that isn't going to work out, there's a moment that can be clearly identified in hindsight: the apex.  The individual second when the romantic verve bursts the borders and paints a riotous color across the sky.  Inevitably, it is followed by the jerky descent towards aching bitterness and wasted expression of feelings.

At least everything's great before that, eh?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Open Box


I worked for a toy store in my high school/early undergrad years.  It was seasonal employment around Christmas, what with DePaul University providing students a break from Thanksgiving to the New Year.  I was a basic laborer, who wandered through the store replacing knocked over boxes, bringing things out from the back room, and making sure people didn't run off with the shelving.

I hardly ever touched the cash register, but that didn't stop me from managing to demagnetize a customer's charge card.  I ran it through the slot, only to be informed that the slot was actually for reading the MICROS numbers on the bottom of personal checks (this was back when stores accepted checks).  Of course, I wasn't ever actually trained on how to use the register -- someone just clamored for me to get up there and "ring" during a particular swell of customers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where the Other Half Lives, part I


I received my Master's degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia, or Mizzou for short.  Part of the fun of that degree involved being at a "college" for the first time.  Rather, it felt like what a college should feel like, based on watching movies and TV series about the college experience.  There are fancy stone buildings, a long history filled with bizarre traditions and rivalries, and an on-campus McDonald's.

This week, I made my first visit to Lawrence, Kansas -- the home of the Mizzou's perennial rival, the University of Kansas.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lotta bot

You've probably heard of Google, but I'd like to introduce you to the Googlebot.  Googlebot is the name of the web-harvesting code that Google uses to index things into a searchable database.  If you think of the Internet as being somewhat like the connected railroad network, Googlebot charges down each railway and notes where new track has been added (like I said, it's not QUITE like real trains).

Google is hunting out links that refer one page to another, because it's easier than trying to guess what a new page might be called.  The Googlebot (which is probably an array of Googlebots, plural) scours the Internet for new connections and indexes them.  It was also one of the first visitors to my blog, which probably happens sooner when you're hosted by a Google-owned site like Blogger.

Lately, Googlebot has taken an atypical interest in my site.  For years, Googlebot would visit every six or eight months.  This month, it's visited 10 times.  4 times in the last 24 hours. 

I'm at a loss to explain this change in behavior, other than my blog becoming more popular amongst robots.  Actually, I have been featuring sexy inanimate objects that a piece of code may could find alluring... who am I to judge?

Monday, October 19, 2009

I want to wring her neck, but you can't say that about women

She wants help so badly, but she's unable to ask for it.  She can't even admit that it's something that people might occasionally want -- "A shoulder to cry on?  Psh, whatever, weirdo!"

People do want it, though.  They are socially retarded enough to scoff at it, but they still yearn for it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not happiness, but money WILL buy you money.

"What if I gave you a whole mess of that neon toilet paper you Frenchies call money?"
--Duke Phillips, "The Critic", 1994.


The brass band's U.K. tour sidles closer and closer, a fact which is made very apparent by the increasing responsibilities and pressure during each rehearsal.  "If only we had another month to refine and rehearse, then we'd do something REALLY great."  All lies, of course: had we another month, we would have just started later in the season.  Whenever people get nervous, it's in our DNA to wish we had more time.

There's a Kubler-Ross stage of grief called "bargaining" for a good reason and that's not because we're trying to finagle a new pair of socks.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I've been doing "blogging" incorrectly!

While I was driving around yesterday, I heard the tail end of a story about something that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) was requiring people who blog (like me) to start doing.  When I got home, I found the relevant story on the New York Times website.

It turns out I've been missing out!  I must have a ton of free computers and free trips built up from 3+ years of blogging!  Back in six months, losers!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fall Cleaning

I took part of last week to return to St. Louis and help my middle brother move.  He was moving out of his apartment and into a house that he purchased.  In addition, we assisted moving his girlfriend from her apartment into same house.  Now they just have to figure out who's going to cook dinner.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Do shut up, sirs and madams!

I like Facebook.  It's handy to keep tabs on people whom I wouldn't necessarily contact directly.  Those old friends from high school, lost to the dust on the shelf were it not for their ability to leave a virtual sticky-note on my front door.  Some of the contacts I've made would have slipped by if not for the site, so I'll always be appreciative of that angle. 

Doesn't it sound like I'm working towards a giant-sized "however"?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kickoff

Today is the Fountain City Brass Band's first concert of the season.  Rather like athletic teams, we don't start our year in the "home stadium".  Instead, we're "on the road" in Topeka, roughly an hour or so west of here, on the campus of Washburn University.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is it enough to have "good music"?


Today, I saw a theatrical trailer "Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT", the movie that was stitched together out of footage of the rehearsals for MJ's next tour.  The trailer shows lots of big and flashy sets and dance numbers, befitting something that you might see on a Michael Jackson tour.  Lest you think the title might be exploitative, "This Is It" was actually the proper name of the once-forthcoming tour. 

The reaction of my friends to his death fascinated me.  Most of the people who had an opinion were saddened, but a few were self-righteous: one referred to him as "that child molester who shouldn't have a holiday".

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Into every life, a little Fall must reign.

No, I didn't forget about my blog.
No, I didn't die.
No, I haven't become homeless and thereby lost my WiFi.
No, I haven't "outgrown" my blog.
Yes, I have joined the Indonesian sex trafficking industry for grocery money.

Monday, August 31, 2009

It's not triangle trade...

There was a news story today that said that 30% of domestic cocaine that has been seized is laced with a veterinary medicine.

It's not a vicious circle, but I do think it's an interesting set of news stories that:

CHINA owns a lot of our debt and currency and

the majority of U.S. MONEY has traces of cocaine which has

apparently been laced with VETERINARY PRODUCTS to up the HIGH and

we've had nasty ANIMAL FOODS laced with god-knows-what imported from China.


Ahh, the hidden aspects of global trade. I suppose this could easily be an excerpt from a crazy anti-globalization email combined with a unhealthy amount of conspiracy theory, but I think it's just a notable set of tenuously connected stories.

Why did it have to be my GRABBING hand?

When I arrived home last night after my rehearsal, I found I had injured myself. Somewhere between the end of rehearsal at 9:29pm and me arriving home at 9:51pm, I had managed to take a circular slice out of the skin between my right thumb and hand. It's a small wound and only took the skin off in an area about the size of a small drop of glue.

Still, it's one of those really offensive nagging injuries, because it gives me a twinge of awareness every time I flex my right hand or use it to close on anything. Being right-handed, both of those things happen quite often. Luckily, I've been doing a lot of typing today, which (especially on my tiny little netbook keyboard) doesn't involve any thumb stretching. But that somehow makes it worse when I go to close my hand around my cup to take a drink.

It's too small to be an "ouch" feeling, so instead it's just a *streeeeetch* "hmm" feeling. Worse, I have no idea what caused it. Nothing in trombone playing involves that particular area of that hand; were it the left hand, it might be cause of a pointy loose spring or something. Did I carve myself with the sharp side of my seatbelt? Did I grab some pointy part of my steering wheel?

At least it's not a paper cut, I guess.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wireless whee!

So, the mouse I ordered from Amazon last ... Saturday(?) arrived today. It's wireless, which it turns out makes for an excellent user experience on something as small as my netbook. In the regular usage, it had wires coming out of every port available. I replace the longest and most troublesome of cords (thanks to that ridiculous rebooting mouse) with a little USB wireless sensor about 2/3rds the length of my thumb. The mouse now works 30 feet away, which I find to be MORE than enough. I can't see much of my little screen at 30 feet away. It's probably designed for home theater PCs, so one can mouse from the couch.

I've lived in KC for five complete years. Today, something happened that has never happened before. With my mailroom, of all things. I've probably been in there 1,000 times, and never once have I opened my mailbox to find a key. Huh? Turns out, those little things that look like lockboxes down below all the mailboxes are actually temporary package dropoffs. Little lockers that the mailman can lock with a key, place the key in the mailbox, and when the person uses the key to get a larger package out, the key stays trapped in the lockbox (ready for next time). Fantastic!

Though it makes me wonder why none of my packages have ever used it before. I've had many things delivered by the USPS, so I can't understand why ALL the previous times, they'd place it with the office (ensuring you can only grab it during business hours, M-F). Maybe the mail carrier just figured out what they were for, also.

Speaking of strangeness, this mouse was supposed to arrive next Thursday. I know that, because I looked at the online tracking information this morning and saw that it was still in Indiana, where it had been since Monday. Somehow, the package got all the way from Indiana to my mailbox in under four hours. On a Saturday! I appreciate being provided with the tracking number, but if they're not going to use it, what good is it?

I just checked the webpage again, and now there's moving traffic updates from previous days that have mysteriously (and retroactively) happened. I disapprove.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Paper paper paper paper... new mouse

Paper paper paper paper

My mouse is starting to traverse beyond annoyance. If the cord moves strangely, the mouse loses power and has to be "rebooted" by unplugging and replugging it. Sometimes this gives it another day of motion, and sometimes it dies again before I can even put my "plugging" hand back on it.

It's been like this for months, but it finally annoyed me enough that I went to Best Buy and bought another mouse on Sunday. Wireless, so that this particular problem won't happen again. (It'll be some other problem).

I spent about 30 minutes in the mouse department trying out various things. I dislike mouse shopping because it's always so hard to tell what feels right. Anyway, I was flitting back and forth between three, and finally made up my mind to buy one.

Back at home, I looked it up on Amazon, just to see what the consumer reviews had to say. They were all very positive (which made me feel good), but they showed that it could be had for almost $20 less through Amazon. Buh... Unfortunately, that's a big difference when the item is only $40 to begin with.

So I agonized a bit, thankful that I hadn't opened the box from Best Buy. It's not that they wouldn't take it back even if I HAD opened it-- it just makes it easier to grab the box and go. Eventually, I decided to order the one from Amazon and return the one to Best Buy.

Because of my ethics (or bad digestion or something), I decided not to open the one from Best Buy and use it until the Amazon one arrives from Cactus Suck, Utah next week. So I'm still using the frustrating mouse ... under the watchful (laser)eye of a brand new mouse sealed in plastic, laughing at me.

I need to return it today before I turn the box around to prevent it "looking at me" and talk to it like Tom Hanks' volleyball.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Atropos has a quirky sense of timing.

While I was busy dithering over the previous entry over the last two days, thinking about what it means to be dead and to wish for death, Death flanked me. While I was sitting at the Plaza, idly wondering at all the smokers and listening to a friend play the marimba, there were the most serious sort of news waiting to be told.

My uncle John died on Thursday at 3:05 in the afternoon.

As I alluded to it earlier in the summer, this is not a death that seizes me with hot anguish. It is likely I will not shed tears for my uncle. I do not admit this for the purpose of boasting: actually, it makes me rather uncomfortable to admit it to myself. It would feel more normal if I did cry.

Instead, when my mother called and told me the news this afternoon, I reacted in the way many people do-- I sort of... sat down. I made that sort of soft frown that we use when something is unfortunate, only the frown carried through to the rest of my body. Every bone and joint compresses a little more than normal. Every extremity moves ever-so-slightly more towards the floor, as though the gravity of the earth throbbed and increased by a small amount.

Just before I wrote this, I went looking to see if there was an obituary. I found one, indicated to run in Saturday's paper. As I scrolled through the list of names, it didn't really occur to me that they were all other loved ones, other people who had children and parents and friends and kin. I was just looking for "Thieme", his last name.

When I saw the name in the list, I let out a sigh. I didn't sigh because I was now able to confirm he'd died; that's what I'd expected would happen. I actually sighed because it was a visceral reaction to seeing a family name in the roll call. It was a gut reaction to a thought: "I know that person!", almost as though I was discovering the fact of his death for the first time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So lets talk "Twilight"

I finished reading "Twilight" earlier this week. Let's start with some context...

One of the opportunities (or problems) with this book is that it reinvents what it means to be a "vampire". The standard mythos of vampires gives them many easily recognizable traits: no reflections, hate garlic, avoid sunlight, fear the cross. There's also an even larger cavalcade of secondary traits that often apply to vampires, such as being unable to cross moving water, being unable to enter a dwelling unless invited, turning into bats, and having some form of mind-control.

Twilight does away with all of this. Every single one of the things I mentioned has no relation to the "Twilight" vampires. They even poke fun.

Which is fine, because when we get right down to it, there's really only one core vampire trait: sucking blood. This is a trait that most tales of vampires share with each other, but also share with the only "real" vampire: the vampire bat. The vampires from "Twilight" also like blood, though they don't seem to have the fangs that identify other vampires.

Notice that at least half of the common traits of vampires listed above are vulnerabilities. That's a critical part of the myth, because vampires have extra-human powers. Most times the vampire is faster, stronger, and more hearty than the humans; they are, in fact, our predators. But we have several advantages over them. We can move around in the daytime, enjoy Italian food, and see the unsightly errant nose-hair in the bathroom mirror.

These vulnerabilities are important because otherwise the monster is too powerful -- we wouldn't have a chance, which doesn't make for good tales by campfire. We have to at least have a chance of surviving, otherwise we don't identify with the story as much.

I don't want to sound like I'm harping on about this, but I feel it's important. I know that some people are very angry that the "Twilight" vampires don't share a whole lot in common with "vampires" as we know them and are ignoring the rich traditions of the myth. That's not the part that bothers me.

What bothers me is that the book vampires don't have weaknesses. Let's take Edward, the romantic lead vampire.

-He's super strong.
-He's super fast.
-He has super reaction speed.
-Sunlight makes him sparkle like granite, but doesn't hamper him.
-He doesn't need to sleep.
-Or breathe.
-He's REALLY beautiful, as all vampires are in this world.

To add to this, each vampire gets a bonus superpower that's unique to them. Edward's super power is that he can read minds. Anyone's mind. From a distance (a mile or something?). Everyone EXCEPT Bella, because... well, that's not really covered. Not that it matters: she wears her emotions on her sleeve and half the time he seems to guess what she's thinking anyway.

The only way a vampire in the "Twilight" world can be killed is seemingly through being pulled apart (by another vampire, I assume, since vamps are super-dense and resilient) and setting the pieces on fire. So, regular people are just out of luck. We are merely lambs at slaughter.

In fact, the book takes a rather dim view of humanity. All the people at school are wrapped up in petty relationship issues, parental figures are absent or distant and unconnected, and the vampires seem to get a lot of amusement from being superior.

And they are superior. Or, in the parlance of the book, "perfect". By the last page, I was really tired of hearing how perfect Edward and all of his vampire friends were. There's far too much use of the word "perfect". They're perfectly beautiful, perfectly graceful, perfectly muscled, perfectly happy, perfectly successful, perfectly family-oriented, and so on. He even has perfect breath, which is good. Someone who dines exclusively on blood might be expected to need Mentos now and then.

In fact, the only thing about Edward that isn't perfect is that he loves Bella TOO MUCH. That's like saying my flaw is that I don't win every footrace, just the ones I enter and compete in. Edward's flaw manifests because he's afraid that he won't be able to avoid chomping on his beloved. But then he tries hard, and he CAN resist. Yay, character arc!

Bella's character arc is ... different. She starts off depressed. She's smarter than most people, way ahead of her classes, and despite her constant bewilderment and annoyance, she's apparently really attractive, considering she has at least four guys after her (in a book where the cast isn't that large). She may not be on vampire-level perfection, but she's pretty high on humanity's pedestal.

The vampires get bonus powers, so I guess it's only fair that the humans get... I'm not sure. What's the opposite of a perk? Anyway, Bella's anti-perk is that she's clumsy. Really clumsy. To put it into perspective, Inspector Clouseau is a freakin' ballet dancer compared to Bella. She tells us right off the bat she's clumsy. When her father picks her up from the airport (way back on page 5), she stumbles off the plane and her father catches her automatically, because that's what you have to do with Bella. She's a freakin' hazard to herself. If only she had a super-agile and intensely protective boyfriend...

The clumsiness is hammered home throughout the book. Bella is perennially getting hit by balls in gym, tripping down sidewalks, dropping things, fainting, and generally trying to force Darwin's hand to remove her from the pool. It's brought up so often and shoehorned in so readily that I was expecting something to happen near the end that would "pay it off". Perhaps she'd accidentally trip over a staircase, forcing Edward to reveal his powers to save her. Maybe she'd hurt herself in a way that would emphasize her frailty and humanity to her inhuman lover.

But nothing like that happens. She just keeps on tripping and fainting to the end of the book. In fact, when she DOES get mortally injured through no fault of her clumsiness, she and her friends conspire to let it be publicly known that she fell down the stairs. "Oh, Bella!" chide her school chums. "You SO crazy!" and they all laugh until the credits roll. And in the background, Anton Chekhov appears and takes away his gun in a fit of pique.

It occurs to me that perhaps this is simply intended to be contrast with the perfect and lithe vampires. They move so gracefully that they dance, always regarded as perfect. In comparison, Bella is gross and inefficient. She's acutely aware of how much better Edward and his family are than her at-- well, everything. She harumphs at him for being perfect, but only in a "do it again, baby" sort of way.

And that leads up to the final part of her character arc.

But before I address that: do you remember the book "Tuck Everlasting"? I think I first read it in middle school or high school English. It's about the Tuck family, who found a spring of eternal life. At the point the story begins, they've been alive for 100 years (coincidentally the approximate age of "Twilight"'s Edward). They live a life of isolation, this family of four, because immortality prevents "normal" life. A young girl, Winnie, stumbles across the family. The Tuck son who's her age is thrilled that she'll drink from the well, they'll get married, and everything will be grand.

But the book doesn't just force them into that fate: it talks around the viewpoints. The older brother once had a wife and children, who ran away when he revealed his secret. Eventually, the wife died in an insane asylum. The father explains that the Tucks are now outside of time, like "stones beside the road". Because the father views it as a curse, they live apart from other families and form no connections, since they would be doomed to watch everyone else die.

Ultimately, Winnie decides to live her life, including her death-- she embraces the order and the cycle. She does not drink the water, avoiding the sunny-eyed plans of the youngest Tuck to have someone. The final scene is many decades later, as the Tucks visit her gravestone.

"Twilight" is the anti-"Tuck Everlasting". In "Twilight", eternity is perfection, not stagnation. To be a vampire is to be better.

By the end of the book, Bella is actually begging Edward to make her immortal. She's so obsessed with him and whipped into such a passionate frenzy that she cannot conceive of ever having to live without him. She pleads to be given "the gift".

I don't blame her, given the knowledge she possesses about how her world works. She's seen how the vampires are basically all-awesome all-days. And here she is, a person who feels distinctly unawesome. She's the outsider. She's disconnected from even her family members, she's uninterested in the social things her peers do, she's madly connected to her new boyfriend. She's ready to make an eternal commitment to become awesome herself. Sure, she'll have to eat blood, but Edward's family seems to turn out OK, so how hard can it be? Plus, then she won't be clumsy. And maybe she'll be "beautiful-er". And she'll get a neato power, like being able to name whatever song is playing on the radio, or be able to talk to turnips.

I don't know the plots of the other three books, but I'm betting she ends up a vampire before the end. I'd be shocked if she dies of old age at the end. There certainly aren't any powerful drawbacks to make her pause! Often, the lure of power and eternal life tempts people to become vampires, but they reflect on never being able to watch the sun rise. Or being condemned to a life where one must directly consume human life in order to continue, a parasitic lifestyle which some people wrestle with. Or having to watch old family and friends pass away into dust.

But Bella doesn't have to worry about things like that. In the hospital, her mother coming to visit is mostly annoying, because Bella just wants her to leave so Edward can caress her again. She's probably not going to sweat too much if she has to leave her dad and mom behind. It reminds me of other literary depictions of addiction, where a brief withdrawal makes the addicted shudder with ecstasy when contact is restored. Brief separations throw her into a funk, with her obsession devouring her life. Becoming a monster simply means she'll be able to get what she desires every day forever.

To me, it seems like she's suicidal. My experience with people who want to kill themselves is that they feel disconnected from their own lives and want to end it because anything -- even the cold nothingness of death -- has got to be better than living. Of course, Bella doesn't want to die: she's just spent most of a book finding out how great love is. But she is in a terrible rush to get this current life over with. By dying. The difference here is that, after dying, she'll wake up in Lollypop Land.

So she's actually more like a suicide bomber, in an all-fired hurry to end her own life to get to the mystical rewards that have been promised. Edward (to his credit) tells her that he won't change her and "damn [her] to an eternity of night." The roles reversed from "Tuck Everlasting"; this time it's the human pleading to be given eternal life, while the immortal hesitates and reasons.

In my opinion, this is the part of the story that most clearly shows the vampire's humanity. The author seems to connect it with "learning to love", as the relationship slowly unlocks the memories of what it is to feel human. I feel that we are never more aware of being human than when we contemplate death. It is important that it's Edward who feels that the natural order must be preserved: he, who is himself an affront to that order.

In conclusion, I'm not what I'd consider a fan. In the same breath, I can't deny that once there was an urgent possibility that someone was going to get dismembered and eaten, the story FINALLY took off and I kept the pages turning. I'm not saying that because it's a stereotypically guy thing to do; I'm not an enthusiast of blood and gore. It was more the realization that suddenly there was plot and conflict, and the action started moving fast (prior to that, it moves at what could be called a "leisurely" pace). There's some serious blocks that keep me from really enjoying it, though.

One-- the heroine. I never really liked her. My hoped-for scenario of the author making her intially unlikable to promote a change in her character did not materialize. She just morphs from grumpy sulking to strident obsession, surrendering all the power to her boyfiend. I kinda wanted to shake her by the shoulders and check that she still has an intact spine. I mean, she doesn't really freak out when it's revealed that Edward has been watching her sleep every night without her knowledge. Let's talk boundaries, little girl.

Two-- the hero. I don't know if I can directly blame Edward for... himself. Unlike Bella, he's actually underwritten, which makes for an unintentionally funny situation. Because Bella gets her thoughts exposed via the narration and because most other people are written to be shockingly obvious with their thoughts and feelings, Edward (the mind reader) is the one person whose thoughts and motivations are most obscured.

He seems to flit back and forth between making fun of her and brooding on the fact that he could destroy her easily. And he really likes to bring up the fact that she can't take care of herself, even though the times she came closest to being injured have nothing to do with her epic clumsiness.

Three-- the notion of love and romance. This is kind of its own deal. Maybe I'll address it in a later entry. Suffice it to say that everyone seems to have unappealing traits that go unregarded in the pursuit of love. Edward is controlling and jealous, but that's OK: Bella is so scatterbrained that she NEEDS help. Bella is rather manipulative and often in distress, but that's OK: she's just trying to get everyone to do what she wants.

Personal predictions for books two, three, and four:

-Bella becomes a vampire, because it's all she ever wanted (since page 300 or so).
-There will be a love triangle that's probably NOT really ever a triangle, because of her destiny with Ed.
-Nobody has sex until after marriage, unless they're evil. Consequently, Edward and Bella get married as soon as feasible.
-Hopefully, someone discovers that there's actually a really big flaw with becoming a vampire, so that it's not a simple "make me super" decision.
-Hopefully, Bella develops something (or someone) on the human-side that acts as a counterweight to all the vampy perfection. This might be the love triangle, but that would be REALLY cheesy. I'm hoping her mom has another kid and that Bella appreciates discovering a blood-relative (one last pun before I go) that needs her.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Look who's still awake.

Though, I suppose by the time you (a normal person in one of the U.S. time zones) read this, it will already be morning. Or even later. So... good morning!

I rather hoped that this would all go away after I made my early morning call. 8:30 Monday morning, I called a person I'd never met and turned down a job. I spent all weekend turning back and forth. By the time the rehearsal ended on Sunday night (a relaxing space of time when I barely thought about it), I had made a decision. Looking at my now-only-manual garage door (that's a different story) and hearing the rain pound on the car roof, I decided that I *had* to take it. Had to.

Yes, it was more of a drive than I wanted.
Yes, it wasn't very much money.
Yes, it was doing something that I didn't particularly want to do.
Yes, it doubled the chance to find myself in proximity to a person I'd rather not be near: from 0.5% to 1.0%.
Yes, there weren't any benefits.
Yes, I would have hated it.

But it was for-real work. And money.

I had talked myself in. By the time the sun rose next morning, I had talked myself out.

I cradled the phone in one hand, watching the time tick by. Closer and closer to the time I was supposed to call. What's the "good" way to turn down a job I haven't been formally offered? Should I even bother to call? I mean, he's probably not even expecting me.

Lies, told to myself. Of course. Eventually, I pushed myself over the mountain and dialed the number. No answer, left a message. Anxiety evaporated. Short and simple.

But still I can't sleep. Maybe it's something else. Maybe it's my discomfort for feeling that I somehow let down the friend who referred the job to me? Maybe I don't want there to be even a hint of the obligation which hangs in the air between us: not obligation that I'd need to be appreciative, by the way. No, this obligation runs in the other direction. In some microscopic way that isn't accurate, she feels that she has a small obligation to me. It's nonsense, but trying to talk people out of perceived honor-bound obligations is as ineffectual as attempting to sell carpet to a wall.

Or maybe it's the other friend at the job who presented it as a fait acompli. I've had enough of those jobs this summer, thanks very much. I'd really like to earn a position on my own merit. It doesn't ever seem to be in my cards, though, which is certainly another anxiety-causing factor.

Maybe this is now the new normal, as long as I'm going to be working hard on the papers. Maybe a redoubled effort plays havoc with my internal clock. Perhaps I'm just disturbed by unjustified guilt and discomfort. In any case, it can't be stopped now. I've got things to do!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Insomnia again

Spent the better part of three hours turning endlessly in bed without being able to make progress towards sleep. Frustrating, since I was nodding off while I was reading earlier. At least there's a thunderstorm outside, with conveniently spaced thunder to allow me to tick off the time.

It has to be attributable to the assorted worries in my head, but I think I'd better drop the thermostat a few degrees, just in case. It seemed to work last time.

One of my friends spent many of her years in the Floridian climate, so she's permanently cold here in the "north". Many is the time I've been out with her when a comfortable climate for me finds her perma-goosebumped.

I found myself in the reverse situation while sitting in her apartment, which gave me an understanding where she's coming from. I was actively sweating because there was no air movement and the temperature was set too high for my taste. It was quite uncomfortable and all I could think about as we sat on the couch talking. She was, naturally, perfectly comfortable and gave no thought to the temperature.

On another note: earlier this evening, we had the first rehearsal for the brass band. Things went well for the beginning of the season, though people were complaining about pain by the time it was over. We're heading to the U.K. for a tour in November, so we'll be learning three separate concerts as well as memorizing some pieces and choreography.

Not all of the members are able to take off the month of November to go gallivanting across the ocean. All the people with "real jobs" and "responsibilities" and "families" apparently have other priorities. Well, except the people who are bringing along wives, fiancées, parents, or children...

This is a busy year for the band. Lots of commitments and opportunities to impress (or bore). Plus, apparently I get to be Frosty the Snowman this year.

Yeah, I'm not sure what that's about either.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I hope they recycled it...

A couple of months ago, my subdivision installed a recycling dumpster. Bright green so you know it's for recycling, they even poured a fancy concrete pedestal for it to stand on (with fancy sculpted edges!). I was thrilled, because anything that makes consumer recycling more accessible to me and everybody else gets my vote.

Last week, I noticed a small typed sign by the mailbox. "Due to numerous complaints about the appearance of the recycling dumpster, it has been removed permanently."

Sure enough, it's gone. Just the fancy concrete left behind. We can put a light post on it or something.

I'm dismayed. Was it just that people objected to the dumpster look? It was shiny and green, looking like a very fancy dumpster. Sure, the trash dumpster is hidden under a gazebo-thing. But every weekend, no one seems to remember how to run the compactor and the bags pile up right in front on the sidewalk, sometimes five deep. That's not keeping a good appearance, but I don't think anyone's going to take the trash dumpster away.

Academics isn't pretty

Shame and personal disgust may not be attractive qualities, but they sure are great motivators. Five new pages of my paper written since lunch. Trying to have it sent off for first round of editing by Friday.

Has to be between 25 and 50 pages-- or so. Currently standing at 37, with no end in sight. May have to start hacking and slashing to refocus the paper again. I'm thinking 30 would be a good amount, but I don't have an ending. Also, I'm still searching for an "oh yeah awesome" trivial relation to pull out of all seven pieces to support the idea that they're all linked around a common theme.

Final thought: you know you've spent a lot of time writing when formatting your footnotes to be "Chicago Manual of Style-approved" is what you do for fun between analytical ideas.

Cut to the chase

Insomnia is what I've got.

Had a long post written, rambling on about all manner of things in my head. Fortunately, I turned down my AC and am already feeling better.

Short form:

Monstrously ignorant people make me angry.

Friends who keep not doing what they say they want make me sad.

Friends who rediscover their laugh after bad things happen make me happy.

Friends who repeatedly climb on their cross and preach make me disgusted.

I could use a good kiss from whomever it is who delivers these things.

My inability to succeed at things is starting to de-shine my apple.

My lack of millions of dollars is starting to be an inconvenience.

I still remain inexplicably pleased with who I am, how I behave, and all the things I know.

The fact that it may now be cold enough to sleep makes me happy.

Friday, August 07, 2009

So THAT'S a text message...

I had a rather momentous technology day on Wednesday. I sent and received the first text messages that were specifically to me at a number that belonged to me. It's like being in 2003!

Of course, since this is ME we're talking about, this new frontier was not crossed because I upgraded my cell phone to handle texts. No. That would be the normal and most simple way. In fact, the texts I sent have nothing to do with my cell phone.

Instead, they're originating from a number that was newly assigned to me through the Google Voice application. This number, while a traditional phone number in appearance, doesn't actually ring it's own phone. But it's not like Skype either, so it's not like my computer rings. When someone calls the Google number, every phone I have rings (or some phones, or none, based on parameters I can customize down to the individual caller).

Google Voice doesn't replace having some form of telephone: it only rings phones you already own. It also allows text messages to be sent and received for free. So when a friend was stranded at the DMV on Wednesday and already over her monthly allotment of minutes, I was able to communicate with her for free.

But that's exposed a problem with Google's system. Text messages are a way for mobile telephones to communicate without actually placing a call. There are numerous situations where a discreet text is a fast and easy way to communicate a simple piece of information. If someone asks, "What room is the meeting in?", it's easy to send a text saying "Room 211".

The problem arises because I can only receive and send text messages at my laptop, which must be connected to the Internet. So the on-the-go appeal of text messages is lost. I won't receive them until I sit at my computer and despite the smaller size of my netbook, I don't carry it around everywhere as I do my phone.

So this isn't the ideal situation. I'm reluctant to open the floodgates of friends texting to this number because it doesn't function like people expect it to function.

Looking down the pike, I'd like to have a so-called "smart phone" such as the Palm Pre or iPhone; these phones can handle internet data connections. When I contact my friend Dave (an iPhone user) by email, I know I'm reaching him WHEREVER he happens to be. He and I were able to coordinate (through a series of real-time emails) an emergency pickup at the KC airport with him being in some airport in Virginia.

And just to wrap this entry up on a bizarre note, here's a story of an Indian man who set the Guinness Record for text messages in a single month: 189,689. As the article points out, that works out to one every 14 seconds or so. Considering the man must have had to sleep, I can't imagine how many messages his family got that contained deep information like "g" or "6". His bill was over 1,400 pages long, but he had unlimited messages on his phone, preventing him from looking foolish. Hmm.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

And I hated Scarlett O'Hara! (part I)

I'm working my way through "Twilight" (2005), by Stephenie Meyer. I had decided that I was going to reserve the bulk of my commentary until after I've finished it. It seems fitting to do this (as I haven't read the entire thing), but it was quite a controversy in my own mind. Specifically, I came close to washing my hands of the book after finishing the first chapter. What follows, then, is the story of why, after seven days and another read-through, I decided to move on to chapter two.

I'm not used to having my reading routine subjected to such... perturbed impulses. Then again, I'm not used to spending time reading a "project book" like this. As I mentioned before, this is a book I picked up primarily to discover what the fuss was about. It wasn't due to any particular interest in the author or plot, so perhaps that explains my flighty commitment.

Or maybe my reticence to continue reading was due to my near-pathological dislike of the protagonist.

--- --- ---

Several years ago, I decided I wanted to see "Gone With the Wind" for the first time. I remember being at my parents' house and picking out a copy from the local library. I knew vague bits about the story, knew she shot a Yankee, knew Atlanta burned, and knew that Clark Gable turned at some point and said one of (if not THE) most famous line in movie history.

That's not really a lot to go on, though. Even "the line" is largely inscrutable outside of the context of the film, and it's usually quoted without even the line that precedes it. What doesn't he give a damn about? Is he blowing her off, or running off to counter the whims of society and ask her father for permission to marry her? I had no idea.

So I watched it through. And by the end, I had answers to all the questions. More importantly, I knew that I had a passionate dislike of Scarlett O'Hara. So much so that it soured the film for me: this was the masterful epic that people went on and on about? Feh!

I can appreciate that this heroine was unlike all the others who came before. She certainly doesn't get tossed around like a damsel in distress. But I found her calculating, manipulative, dishonest, and self-serving. Her two character poles are selfishness (her active trait) and self-pity (her defensive trait). Maybe that's her "point", but I just spent a few hours watching a brat manipulate everyone she ever cares about and complain about everything else. It left an awful taste.

Good score, though.

Scarlett is often described as a strong-willed woman. Not willing to let the plot push her around, she puts life around her into motion with her actions. I can respect that: the women I'm attracted to tend to be similarly decisive. But Scarlet burns up all my goodwill by around the fourth or fifth time she manipulates the relations of other people due to her pride.

I'm more than willing to admit that I'm not seeing the greatness of the movie. Maybe watching her resolve to get Rhett back right before the credits roll is supposed to indicate character growth. As it stands, I don't see it. So it puts her on the list of women I couldn't care less about, which doesn't seem that great of a place to be forced to put the protagonist.

--- --- ---

And that's why I had trouble with the protagonist in the first chapter of "Twilight": Bella Swan has bewildering levels of self-pity and I could care less about her. Her lack of appeal is almost shocking, given that the best way for readers to immerse in the book is to identify with the lead character. Maybe it's just because I've never been a 15-year old girl... I've heard of the literary technique of the Unreliable Narrator, but the Unlikeable Narrator is a new one to me.

As I worked my way through the chapter, I tried to decide if the author was in on it. Is she writing Bella this way to ... emphasize that she's a really unlikeable and sullen teenager in the beginning, so that she can make a transformation to the ... ahem ... swan that she'll eventually be? That'd be one way of showing change in a character over time. Hard to imagine a bigger transformation trip than from scorn to "awwwwwww!"

But if that's the plan, it's subverted by the other characters in the story (ALL of the others), who meet Bella and think she's great. Every girl wants to be her friend, every guy wants to take her to dances and dates. So... it's obvious that she's not unlikeable in the reality of the story. So... maybe we're supposed to look down on all the supporting characters too, as being "fooled" by her in the beginning, so that they also go on a path of discovery? Hmm. Or maybe we're not supposed to like her EVEN MORE, because she wants nothing to do with all these shiny happy people around her. But then Bella points out the flaws in the supporting characters' character, so I guess we're supposed to armchair-analyze along with her and see that the others are really false. Or...hmm.

I begin to feel a certain stretching in the cloth I'm trying to use to encircle this plot. Better ease off.

Next time, we'll head back to the beginning of the story. We'll meet Bella on her terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day -- where she moves to this pristine and beautiful town she "pre-loathes", feels uncomfortable at her new school (as she KNEW she would) while all her new "friends" act friendly and do nice things for her, and eventually finds ONE guy who doesn't trip over himself making her feel special. This last guy seems to DISlike her right away, instead of liking her. She's mortified, finding that all her fears (that were completely disproved) came true at the very end of the day with regards to one anti-social loner kid who (her friends explain) doesn't actually like or associate with ANY other student.

She has tears all the way home because the weird high school guy who keeps to himself doesn't like her. Ladies and gentlemen: our heroine.

Friday, July 31, 2009

...now with Voice Messaging

I added another cool piece of technology to the blog. In the right hand column, you'll now see a big "Call Me" button. That button does what it says. Pushing it allows anyone from the US to leave me a voice message from the comfort of your home or cell phone.

Here's how it works:

1) Click the "Call Me" button. It should bring up blank windows for the input of your name and the number where you want Google Voice (the program) to reach you. Let's assume your name is Barry and you want to be reached at 555-555-1234.

2) After inputting the numbers and clicking connect, the automated Google Voice client should call the number within seconds. Barry's phone will ring. When he picks up, the Google lady says "Google Voice is connecting your call."

3) Waiting patiently, Barry is rewarded with my voice mail. He then proceeds to leave a message saying that he hates what's happened in Antarctica, that I'm totally wrong on flag burning, and that my hands smell like bubble gum. Good feedback, Barry!

4) Note that because Google Voice calls him, Barry incurs no long distance charges, other than possibly spending some minutes had he been on a cell phone.

5) It's possible fill the "name" blank with nothing and even instruct Google Voice to hide your home number from me. So this, too, can be totally anonymous should you desire.

6) I, Doctor Andy, am the only person who has access to the voicemail. The messages will never be heard by my cleaning lady, or the neighbor from across the way, or my friends. Everything's password-encoded on my end.

I don't expect to get a stampede of people using this, but it was just too cool to pass up. The fact that computers connect phones together on-demand based on a blog button made my tech senses go crazy. If I wanted to, I could even set up this service so that it would ring my cell phone and we'd be able to talk just like a standard phone call, but I don't want to be disturbed at 3:00 AM just because a random visitor from Poland searching for sex dolls, Florence Henderson, and peanut butter happens to find a fun button on my blog!

If I had a nickel for every time...

Soles on board

Women own more shoes than men.

Phew! I know it's impossible to have a conversation about shoes without including some short acknowledgment to the difference between the sexes, so I've gotten it out of the way at the beginning.

Helping the friend move this week (the same one who passed on the Twilight book), I ended up carrying a box containing shoes from the trailer. My friend, self-conscious about being thought "girly" for having an entire box of shoes, called from over my shoulder. "You should have seen my roommate! She had three or four HUGE boxes."

Uncharacteristically (some might say), I made no comment. Our genders have different ways of thinking about shoes. I give only the most superficial nod to matching shoe with outfit. I wear my gray pinstripe suit with my black shoes and consider that fine. Better those than my brown shoes.

Thinking back, I decided to do a shoe inventory! How many pairs of footwear do I have? I'm counting everything that goes on feet, from flipflops to snow boots.

1) Sandals. These are my only open-toed foot clothes. They're angular, leather, and manage to give me blisters every spring. They might have been a purchase from an outlet store in Colorado, which would make them ten years old or so?

2) Boots. My all purpose fall/winter shoe. Good ankle support in icy-twisting weather. Thick treads for crunching along in the snow. As they still look nice, I occasionally use them in place of brown dress shoes when weather is inclement.

3) Slippers. A cheap purchase of some slippers from Target or Famous-Barr, received as a Christmas gift a few years ago. They don't quite fit, which makes them less than comfortable in the long term. That's what happens when the biggest "normal" size is 12.

4) Snow boots. A "why not?" throw-in when I first left home. Rubberized velcro boots for proper snow moving. They REALLY don't fit. Only used when I must trudge through ice and snow above the ankle to fetch the mail.

5) Black shoe. Not expensive enough to be a true "dress" shoe, I use them that way anyway. Also worn with tuxedo in icy weather for better traction.

6) Vinyl tuxedo shoe. Purchased on clearance from a mall tux shop, because they happened to be near my size. Material is flaking where the shoe creases, so new shoes may be in order. Absolutely bald tread, guaranteeing a fall on anything remotely slick.

7) Brown work shoes. Once looked pretty, but after a year of working with food, they're ingrained dirty. Plus side: these shoes can be worn through standing 12-hour shifts without causing foot discomfort.

8) Brown fancy shoes. Brown leather dress shoe. Owing to being fancy and plain, they appear to be the largest shoes I own, with great swaths of leather. Slightly embarrassing, but can't expect different from size 14's.

9) Athletic shoes. Regular walking around shoe. Only used for anything remotely concerning "sport" when watching friends play "Tiger Woods 2009" on Nintento Wii.

And that's it. More than I thought, but I included things I don't normally wear. I debated whether to leave them out, but I've often heard female friends say "I never wear those," meaning they hardly ever wear them. So I, too, included "shoes" that rarely meet feet.

They'd probably fill a small moving box on their own, owing to the pronounced mass involved in making size 13-14. If I had to consider various heights, styles, and more colors, I'm sure I'd end up with lots of shoes, too.

It's just as well I don't have to consider those things. I'd be a terrible slouch were I six-foot-seven in heels.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twilight's dawn

So apparently "Twilight" is big business.

I figured this out in dribs and drabs over the years. It helps that I have one or two acquaintances who are (for lack of a better term) obsessed and continually swooning over how much they love parts of the books. In many ways, I started to think of this book as the de facto BOOK, meaning that thing that's really popular and flies off the shelves. For many years, "Harry Potter and the Sundry Adventures" was the BOOK. Before that, it was "The Da Vinci Code". And before that, it was "Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematic".

Not really.

I'm not terribly "in" when referring to popular things. The first time I'd heard of Harry Potter was when the grad student sharing my office was arguing about whether things in the soon-to-be-released first movie were or were not like the book. I read gofugyourself.com for the tart fashion commentary, but I have to use Wikipedia to figure out who most of the people are, which probably dulls the experience. When a friend referred to someone as looking like Heidi Montag from the MTV show "The Hills", I was pleased that I'd heard of MTV. And I knew I was out when my shy 11-year old male student asked one day if I ever watched "The O.C." and I was unable to water-cooler with him.

As a result, I'm behind on the "Twilight" wave. I think the first I'd ever heard of it was watching the trailer for the first movie. The most I got out of that experience was it starred the guy who had the distinction of being the first "good" person to die in a Harry Potter movie. The leading lady was an actress I didn't know, but I was (and still am) struck by her ability to look slightly angry and disappointed in whatever pictures I see of her. This isn't granularly true, of course; no doubt she's got lots of pictures where she's smiling and laughing. It's my perception, though: for example, I always think of Cameron Diaz as smiling, even though I'm sure she doesn't pose like that for every picture. It's not as though I've seen a lot of pictures of this Kristen Stewart (certainly not as many as Cameron Diaz), so it's just a snap judgment on my part. Maybe she'll smile more later.

Of course, perhaps I'm out of the "Twilight" loop because I'm not the target audience. I have debated whether or not this book is for me. Just going by the synopsis and library classification, it's geared towards teens and young adults. Despite the presence of vampires, there's probably enough romance and feelings in here to skew towards female readers. Applying the Princess Bride test, this may be a Kissing Book, even though there are fights and monsters. Still, Fred Savage learned a Very Valuable Lesson© by waiting around to see what happened after the final sword fight. So a few months ago, I decided to put it on my list.

Curious if I'd be able to find out what all the fuss was about, I put my name into the local library queue for the first book. This would have been last fall. As of today, there were still 68 people ahead of me, which is amazing considering the numerous copies the library must have. There are 50 copies circulating in the libraries of the local system, and books with holds are non-renewable. That means every two weeks, the line should advance 50 people, barring people who accumulate fines while trying to dash through the last chapters. I think I was number 420 when I first made the hold.

I circumvented the last of the library line, thanks to a loan from a friend. It's a hefty book, even in paperback. Running just shy of 500 pages, it has a further promotional chapter from what I assume to be the second book appended after the acknowledgments (which is unnumbered, leading to confusion when trying to leaf from the back to find the page count).

I'm curious to read this book not because I've heard so much about it, but because I've heard ABOUT what people are saying about it. It seems to be alternately described in extremis as either a handbook for defeating feminism and normalizing male obsessive/abusive behavior or as a depiction of the dreamiest man since a certain fellow named Fitzwilliam smoldered in his affection for a strong-willed woman. Anything that causes even a single person to use "Oh my Edward" as a substitute for "Oh my god" (let alone buying a T-shirt or tote bag) is bound to be instructional on the motivations for excess of opinion.

But therein lies a problem. I have a feeling that some people zealously like or dislike these books ironically. It's the marker of these "post-modern" times, I suppose, where serious opinions get eclipsed by concocted ones. Even the most ardent of fans at the peak can become, if not purposefully ironic, then at least hyper-enthusiastically saccharine. At the same time, detractors will willingly march into Wagnerian excess of vitriol.

I won't quibble: it's fun to get into an all-powerful snit about some movie or book and how it's the end of civilization. That may even be what the entire blog scene is really about! Things which become very popular are great targets-- there's already legions of fans saying positive things, so no one thinks amiss to add a few contrary voices. The critics think the fans are sheep, the fans think the negative critics are jealous, and everyone gets to huff, puff, and say "Would you look at this idiot?!"

So what's the deal with "Twilight"? Is it about a swooning pre-feminist and her ultra-man controller? Is it about a man who must fight his own nature to be with the woman he loves? Is it about a series of books that fits into a PG-13 Anne Rice niche? Or is it about an author who thinks vampires should be quite different than Bram Stoker described?

I'll let you know when I have the definitive answer. Surely it's contained somewhere in the first book and we can proceed straight to pigeonholing the rest.

A pleasant evening. And yet...

It was a good night. I made a tasty dinner with almost enough garlic to suit myself. I happened to notice that the temperature was falling, so I opened the windows and shut down the A/C. Now I'm listening to the seemingly endless drone of the cicadas and other night insects.

I was put into the remembrance of camping. That wonderful time of night after the meal has been cleared away and other evening business has been resolved. The fire gets extinguished and everyone heads back to their tents. The smell of the tent as you take one look around the undifferentiated darkness and then zip yourself in for the night. Eventually, all the people in tents stop making noise and the sounds of the evening are all that's left. No whipperwhils tonight, but they're more of a southeastern Missouri thing.

It's been a hard few weeks for me. Many things have happened that can be termed unfortunate. Nothing severe, I'm pleased to say. Just a steady stream of things that each took a sliver off the supports, like an endless parade of clumsy movers who always scratch the wall at that same place.

Part of it is the weather. I often talk about the effect of the whether on me during the fall and winter. How it lifts my spirits when the first shuddering breeze blows through town. How it makes me alive with happiness when the snow falls. But there's the opposite swing of that pendulum during the summer.

I don't mean just being displeased at the heat and humidity, either. Having been born in a particularly hot July, I've always detested the heat. I am continually uncomfortable if I can't be cool. I've been described as radiating warmth, so it's uncomfortable to be me on the hot days.

But there's a psychological toll from the summer, too; one that I don't always refer to seriously. If I do indeed have reverse SAD (seasonal affective disorder), my mood falls in the months that most people long for.

The heat makes me tired. It slows my thoughts and my actions. It makes me quicker to anger than normal. It pushes me into rash decisions, with the goal of trying to make some particular thing go away. It increases my irritability to levels beyond what I consider to be "me". It brings out a judgmental side that I would ordinarily blend out to avoid being unhelpful.

Perhaps worst of all, it increases my feelings of self-pity to wallowing levels, which is the damaging part. It makes it seductively easy to sulkily thrust out my lower jaw at anyone who has anything wonderful or constructive about their own lives. So I throw myself at whatever labor I can find, as a penance for conspiring against the happiness of my friends.

They're very real, these mood shifts. As always, I dislike them because I feel (even slightly) like I'm not in control of myself, a state that's very important to me. Or perhaps the shifts aren't real. Which would mean it's been a rotten summer, I suppose; a season that's piled lots of unfortunate things on top of each other.

Let's hope a change to being un-rotten is as simple as moving along in the path of seasons.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awkward first date conversation ... with another man.

A few weeks ago, I was placed in the situation of making chatty introductory conversation one-on-one with men I had never met before. While it certainly wasn't for a "date", it had all the awkward feel of one. On our own in the kitchen, both of our female companions had vanished and left us staring at the floor in awkward silence.

I was the first to arrive at the party, resulting from my continued inability to calculate how long it should take me to drive from one end of the city to another. The hostess and I had a few brief minutes to sit and talk, which was pleasant: she and I seldom cross paths now and we enjoy the speed of each others' thinking. We talked about her boyfriend's job search and the upcoming trip she was taking.

Being conversational, I asked about one of her friends upcoming business ventures -- something like a beauty salon, but younger and hipper than the image of Fifties-era housewives in conical hairdryers. The hostess demurely explains that the plans are on hold, owing to the suicide attempt of the would-be proprietress. "Oh!" say I, genuinely shocked at both the attempted deed and at the strange place the conversation had found itself.

First to arrive at the party was a friend of mine, who had brought her current "friend" with her. I say that in quotation marks because they hadn't dated long enough to actually become "boyfriend and girlfriend". In conversation with me earlier in the day, she had referred to him as "that guy I'm dating", which implies a continuing motion (running, jogging, etc.). That makes it the middle ground, just above "we've been on some dates", implying a series of isolated events. Later, I was corrected by her from calling it a "relationship", but I think I'll continue using that term for similar connections in the future, as it encompasses all matter of sincerity and acquaintance.

After my friend arrived, we made introductions. "Tom" and I shook hands. Within moments, my friend and the hostess had vanished from the kitchen. I don't even remember seeing them leave, yet here I am alone with Tom. It would seem that they've gone to share immediate news, such as "ok, you've met him-- what do you think?" Or perhaps they've just gone to tour the house.

"Sooooooooooo...," I helpfully break the ice with.

We're standing at loosely perpendicular angles, because face-to-face is too confrontational for a party. He's shorter than me by about a foot, so I lean against the kitchen counter to collapse my presence a bit (and for my own comfort). He has the body-shape of someone who exercises with some purpose. Ordinarily, I wouldn't notice such a thing, but my mind is now working overtime trying to piece together small-talk.

Tom works as a graphics design artist for a food production company here in town. I call to mind all the experiences I've ever had with them, but our conversation is extremely forced. He mentions some sport he's rabid about, but I have nothing concrete to offer on that subject. It's far too soon in the converation to fall back on talking about our mutual acquaintance, so we spend a lot of the time in silence, sucking beer.

Is it obvious what religion he is? No. Hmmm... His freshly cut hair, combined with a seemingly-careful choice of shirt and pants may mean he's conscious of appearance, or simply that he's conscious of going to a party to meet "her friends". He seldom makes eye contact with me, even while listening.

I'm speaking to him about something, when suddenly he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. I notice this, but don't even think about it; I often pull my phone out of my pocket simply to check the time or to see if it actually WAS my phone ringing a few minutes ago, instead of just a trick of the ear.

But while I'm speaking to him, he smiles and begins to tap continuously on his phone keypad, the universal sign that he's now composing a text message. Noticing this and noticing that Tom makes no effort to explain or apologize, I am taken aback. It's been a long time since I've encountered a behavior so openly rude.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I wouldn't dream of multi-tasking conversations right in front of someone else. Perhaps that's just the style nowadays, though it certainly isn't among my friends. People usually explain or wait for a lull in the conversation to begin texting, and even then it's usually a quick message. After all, there are live people in the room.

Having been so affronted, I'm not really in the mood to think positively of him. During the rest of the evening, I avoid having any further contact with him. That's easy enough to do at a party when other people are present. My friend brought Tom along because she liked him and she's known him longer than I have, so I just let it be.

Luckily, just after the texting, the second "couple" arrived. "David" came with an acquaintance, who promptly also disappeared. I take a beer outside, talking to David as I go. We sit and have conversation. He's a poet, which is interesting. We can chat about hobbies that don't make any money. What styles of poetry do you write in? "Well, right now my poems are embracing the dark side, after my time in the psych ward." Ah. I see. My senses get overwhelmed so I move back inside for more chips and salsa.

Eventually, the party takes on a "how do I lose this person I brought?" vibe, which isn't usually what smaller parties of mostly friends feel like. By the end, David's arrival partner has driven him home, bemoaning the drive with an intoxicated and amorous guy while she's on her celibacy fad. And not many days later, Tom is spending all day texting my friend, trying to "work things out" after a supposedly mutual breakup.

Ahh, young love!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Andy and the DMV: The Sequalizing

I'm used to waiting in lines at the DMV. The lines are infamous: perhaps no stand-up comedian goes his career without making a DMV/line waiting joke. I headed to the DMV today to renew my license plates. Since Missouri has changed plate designs, I will also be issued fancy new plates with a new license number. Adios to "192 LGM".

In the parking lot, I use the socket to remove my old plates for recycling. Though the weather is nice, it's not quite as clement as previous days: the sun beats a little hotter, the wind is calm, and it's hot out there on the pavement. Still, I make quick work of removing the old plates and head inside. Posted to the door is a hand-lettered sign, "Computers down until 11:00AM". Chuckling at the thought of anything actually going smoothly at the DMV, I check my watch (10:53am) and decide that I can wait in a non-moving line for seven minutes. Getting inside, the line isn't too bad so I pick my spot at start waiting.

But then they revise the computer fix time. Now it "could be hours". Entire Missouri system is down, so no point going to another location. Line dissolves. I spend five more minutes putting my license plates back on in the sunny parking lot.

Now I'm at home, waiting for the DMV. I can't decide if this is good (because I have lots of other things to occupy me at home) or bad-- I mean, I am still technically waiting for them, but now they've got me thinking about it miles from where I should be taking care of this business.

Either way, I feel like the DMV won again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Birthday Thursday

Today, July 23, is my birthday. It happens to fall on a Thursday this year, which I find somehow fitting. Just one of those little thoughts that arrives in our brains from an unknown source: my birthday feels like a Thursday type of day.

I realize that my birthday is as likely to fall on a Thursday just as much as it is on a Friday or a Tuesday, but it always feels like a Thursday, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's connected to me thinking of Thursday as the "weekend" before Friday; a statement which makes perfect sense in my head, but I've just found sounds confused when put on the page.

I turned 31 today, which I hadn't actually thought about until I just typed it. Sounds like a big number! If I tried to pretend that ten years ago, this is where I expected I'd be, it would be a ridiculous lie. Ten years ago, I hadn't even finished my undergrad schooling, had never kissed a girl in anger, still lived in Chicago, and gave few thoughts as to where I'd be in the future.

Now it's the year 20-nine. Still no flying cars.

In the wake of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and the death of Walter Cronkite this week, I had thoughts about the perspective of time. It works out that man first landed on the moon nine years before I was born (born in '78, landed in '69). While I was growing up, I always felt like the moon landings had been a lifetime ago, sometime just after the Civil War. The past always felt really far away.

And yet, this coming September will be the eighth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, an event that feels much more immediate. I'm sure this has everything to do with me being completely aware of every year in the last eight, compared to not even having a grasp of world events until 1990. In that way, it's not so strange.

Still, it gives me a bit of pause to think that so little time had actually passed between man-on-moon and my birth. Turns out that it wasn't really near the Civil War at all!

I had a similar stark awareness of time when Michael Jackson died. It made me think about being very young indeed and dancing at a friend's house to Thriller over and over. Keep in mind that, being so young, this was in no way the "Thriller dance". It was simply ecstatic jumping and gyrating that six-year-olds did in 1984.

But all that is just rambling. The vaguely important point here is that I'm starting my thirty-second year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The "Fifty Isn't Old" Folks Home

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit with some old friends. I'd been trying for months to coordinate a time, but with me and the married couple all being musicians, it makes it difficult to align a proper "grown-up" visit, meaning not at a party at 11:00 at night. (In fact, I found a mention in a blog entry from April 28th, indicating that I had already been trying.) The only reason it worked this time was because I had a man on the inside: a friend is moving into one of the couple's spare bedrooms and tipped me off that it was just a work Saturday at home.

It was a nice alignment of situations, too. The weather yesterday was gorgeous; the humidity was low, the temperature was in the middle seventies, and there was an invigorating breeze. It was the kind of day that I always associate with "spring", which is a mythical season that never quite occurs in the midwest.

With the weather being fine, I didn't mind the bit of a drive to my friends' house. Once there, it was like all the best ways of "visiting family": I was offered plates of food at least twice, despite my protestations I had just eaten. And as I got ready to leave more than seven hours later, I was loaded down with a large box of miscellaneous coffee mugs, a listing of their business cards, contact numbers, and email addresses, and a copy of the new album by Wilco, with instructions to "tell me what you think".

I orbited between the three people comfortably, helping or conversing with whoever wasn't busy. When two went off to the hardware store, I spoke to the third. When they returned, I went to the upcoming bedroom to help a different person strip wallpaper and clean electrical sockets. And somewhere along the way, I ate a green olive stuffed with blue cheese, something I'd never tried before.

The husband has cancer, so I was able to talk to him about how the treatments went (currently looking good) as well as his being sequestered in his bedroom during chemotherapy to limit contact with other people during his "radioactive" period. I agreed that his first impulse to dribble luminescent paint on himself and complain to his wife that he's leaking would not have been well received.

The wife just switched companies after 15 years, so there's a large sense of transition in the household. New forms, new rules, new benefits, and a new drive to work all make everything feel flustered. She had plenty to say about that.

And everyone wanted to know about my latest news. Did I get that job? How could I have NOT gotten that job? Are those people insane? Do you ever talk to that ex-girlfriend we all know? Be sure to come visit whenever!

And my favorite: "We're proud to know you!"

Now that makes you feel good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Curiosity Killed the Relationship



Whenever I go for too long without producing an entry on love or relationships, I receive feedback that establishes how much my awkward prose on these subjects is appreciated.

The fact that anyone takes what I say about relationships with anything less than an entire hill of salt is amazing to me. Insufficient luck has followed my course through these waters and whatever I have to say should be taken merely as a lighthouse placed upon precarious rocks: a lighthouse shows what to avoid as much as it shows what to follow. But, I suppose people must make do with what they can get, as none of my friends who are happy in relationships tend to write about them. Terribly selfish of them.

With that out of the way, I wish to tell you a story...

--- --- ---

Once upon a time (defined here as between now and five years ago), there lived a man. The man had already been in (and back out) of love, so that many of his expectations of hand-kissing romance had been modulated to accommodate a more mature outlook. He had made a list of things he learned:

1) Getting into a relationship because a person NEEDS you isn't fun in the long run.
Your body NEEDS oxygen. Without air, you will not function. Consequently, when we are deprived of things we NEED, our bodies revert to a bestial state to obtain it. If someone is holding you down and preventing natural breathing, you flail your arms and kick your legs wildly in order to restart the flow. On the other hand, if the store runs out of the type of cookies you WANT, then you simply make do by grumbling. Unless you're an Oreo-powered robot. Perhaps it's connected to the Florence Nightingale effect, but people tend to think that because needs are stronger and truer, that love should of necessity be a need.

2) People can tell emotional untruths as easily as verbal ones. There's a long-standing romantic ideal that the heart is always truthful. Unfortunately, the people connected to those hearts can be willfully devious, even over their own emotional presentation.

3) The belief that people may genuinely wish to change their bad habits can be a false one. There are some who know of no way other than their tried-and-true bad habits. A change from those damages their sense of self and independence (or dependence).

4) It's best to avoid people who find their own security in disturbing others' wobbling plates. Isn't it fun how many places we can apply the Golden Rule?

5) Seeing parts of yourself in your partner can pull you into love. Or pull you out.

6) Exuding (or faking) a sense of self-certainty is very attractive.

7) Be wary of "post-ironic" statements, defined as voicing an opinion that sounds ironic but is actually sincere. "Oh yeah: I'd really love to go feed the penguins. Pshh." Also watch out for the kissing cousin: false irony.

8) Find the things you can't compromise on to build stronger foundations.

The man found that the list ran on and on. "I must have been very much in the dark," he thought while committing it to paper. Still, he felt good putting it down. Most of the entries were not things that came from the beginners manual of self-help, so he felt like less of a dolt for falling prey to them. For example, he was relatively sure that one should go into relationships expecting truth, but was now better armed for the ways "truth" can be distractingly clothed.

The man eventually realized that the pain he was feeling wasn't the loss of a previous relationship, but the loss of any relationship. It was the loss of not having a partner. Someone to discuss the news with, someone with a second car to make maintenance appointments easier, someone to install a shelf while he was making dinner.

His friends were pleased. "Good for you," they said. "You wouldn't want those previous times you tried, failed, and caught fire to scar you!"

The man blinked. "Umm...thanks!" He laughed genially, knowing that (in spite of the words), his friends wished him to be happy.

And after a while, there was a woman who was closer than others. The man had started to pay more attention than was otherwise normal. It was not near the amount he would pay to someone he was actively interested in, but it was enough above the median that it caught his attention. The realization of that confused the man.

He was confused because he wasn't sure what he thought. There were external forces pressing in. Never oppressively, but occasionally he would feel the slight motion. Friends were encircling the two. It was never malicious and perhaps not even conscious. It simply attracted viewers and attention the way a single speck of dust does in a planetary birth, gradually pulling in the outsiders.

The friends gave off a whisper of hopefulness that the man and the woman would fall in love. "The right amount in common," the whisper said. "They'll always be on sympathetic ground." Other whispers said, "The right amount of differences. Wouldn't want to be too similar." Additional threads commented on the compatibility of the personalities, or the ease of the repartee, and the wouldn't-it-be-cute angle. All zephyrs coalesced to agree that it would be very nice if the two did fall in love, but simultaneously resolved that even if the two didn't, that was also ok.

The man furrowed his brow. "Am I in love with her?" he thought, attempting to reason his way through the unreasonable. "If I think to ask that question, does that mean 'no', or does it mean 'yes'?" He went to his problem-chair and sat in it, fixing to think his way in.

"It's her smile, I suppose," he thought. "That's the physical part I like. Makes her beautiful, though she doesn't do it as often as I'd like," and he frowned, wondering if that last bit should be thrown on the "dislike" pile. In the end, he decided against making piles, because that leads to numerical reckoning. After all, something like "convicted child molester" is just one thing, pile-wise, but it carries a LOT of weight. He frowned again. "I need a gestalt-love metric," but then frowned for being nerdy even in his own head. "Oh, and I like her hair," he helpfully thought.

"Boy", he reflected, "thinking about physical attributes does make you sound shallow. Though, those parts sure are easy to bring to mind." With a what-can-you-do snort, he thought, "How like an Animalia, to be thinking about plumage."

Striving for a declaration, he posited thusly: she is not unattractive to me, and she is not plain to me, so that must leave attractive to me. Given {X, Y, B}, if new element A is not = to X or Y, then A must be B. The man was pleased at being able to use (or mis-use) high school set logic.

The man started running through traits she exhibited:

Kind.
Sarcastic.
Talented.
Driven.
Accessible.
Thin-skinned.
Righteous.
Opinionated.
Fun-loving.
Sentimental.
Private.
Intolerant? Maybe of failure.
Self-disciplined.
Realist.
Decisive.
Cozy.
Loyal.
Inflexible.
Unpretentious.

All the positive traits had negative aspects. All the negative ones had positive flip-sides. It was a list the man could love.

Another good descriptor came to him, and he tried to fit it into the list:

Curious.

But he failed. No matter how he twisted it, pushed the letters together, spun it like a Rubic's Cube, or chopped it into pieces. It always bounced off the list and came to rest at his feet. It was the one thing unlike all the others.

"Surely not!" he thought with rising excitement. "I've got to remember some instance of her being curious. She's bound to have shown some inclination for learning and understanding at some point in the time I've known her!"

But he couldn't think of one. He was pacing now, angry at the nonsense of the situation. "Everyone gets curious. Surely she's shown some desire..." But nothing came to him.

She was cozy and not curious.
She was unpretentious and not curious.
She was kind and not curious.
She was private... and not curious.

The man's brain raced to follow his train of thought. Suddenly, everything on his list offered a commentary on her. There was a gleaming negative side to every attribute he had placed on her. She wasn't curious. Everything now passed through that lens. Sure, she was driven - but she wasn't curious about what drove her or why. Sure, she was opinionated, but she wasn't interested in why other people thought differently. Sure, he was accessible, but she wasn't wondering what other people were thinking and dreaming about.

He couldn't stop thinking about it. Every conversation he remembered offered him another example. Every greeting that had him saying "how are you?" and her never returning the question. Every time he talked about what he was feeling and why he was angry, sad, hopeful, desirous, amused... and she had responded with "I don't know."

"I don't know," said with an inflection that flowed straight on into "and I don't care."

He had to sit down. It was like watching the puzzle pieces come together at the end of The Usual Suspects, only instead of thinking "What a clever bastard!", all the man could think was: how could I have never thought about this before?

It only made him feel slightly better when he realized in the next moment that he had thought about this before. Every time it happened, every time she said something that made him wonder, he had put a little mark next to it in his mind. A little "flag for follow-up" that indicated that something had... caught his interest. Sometimes he had even frowned, feeling at the time like he was trying to remember something he'd forgotten.

He consoled himself with the thought that maybe he was making too big of a deal out of it. Maybe it wasn't that important. After all, she was all of those other things! Besides, all those romantic poets didn't go on and on about how curious their immortal beloveds were. Shakespeare doesn't have sonnets about curiosity and love. Was curiosity so important that its absence tainted a great thing?

And he didn't know. That was a question to which he had no answer. More than that, he had no way to even begin to formulate an answer. All that he could do was think about it, hoping that new information and experience would eventually help him. He had found something he didn't think he could compromise on, number eight from his list - something to use as a common point of reference for a serious relationship.

And it had only made him feel more alone than he could remember.