Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feckless Catharsis

I've spent the better part of the evening (and into the morning, now) writing. It began with writing in my journal for an extended time. Too often, I use my journal as the last refuge of my unmitigated thoughts. Things end up there that do not even belong in this blog, my ordinary location for the tussling about of thorny thoughts.

But today was filled with thoughts that I didn't care to elucidate even in this blog. I'm sure that will immediately suggest something embarrassing or controversial on my part, but I assure you it's much more tame than all that. It consists mostly of one or two thoughts which would be unwise to yell in a crowded room.

The "feckless" part comes from the fact that writing at length produced no solace. My labor did not effect any sort of reduction in the tension I feel. I'll have the opportunity to go to confession later in the week; at least, as close as I (a non-Catholic) can get and still drink beer at the same time.

It's very strange when a close friend is the problem. Stranger still if the problem lies within me. Normal avenues of expression become closed. Normal paths of coping become blocked. We all know that honesty is the best policy, but that doesn't take into account the preservation of friendships. Sometimes honesty is unnecessarily cruel and taxing.

We're all aware that we're flawed. But it doesn't do us much good to have our flaws singled out for comment by our friends. It may already be something we think about often, operating under the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy of friendships. Generally, friends are good enough to cut each other slack on topics we may not wish to hear. There's a funny psychological emphasis that's placed on anything friends might mention, even if it is only a minor issue. The thought process becomes, "Why would my friend mention that? It must be a much more serious issue than I ever thought!"

There's a very fine line between "why is my friend treating me like a child and not telling me?" and "why am I being singled out for so much criticism?". The line between may even move after the declarations are made; a sure sign that the playing field is treacherous. One of the hallmarks of a friend is someone who will protect us, but we don't want them to over-protect us. We value their honesty, but we dislike the situation of caustic truthfulness.

There are some things that should not be said. Some words that carry to heavy a price. Some actions that cause more trouble than they solve. Some fallacies that should be ignored.

Some things should be kept forever secret from friends, in order that we remain friends.

Friday, January 23, 2009

27 Odd Things

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?
--"Why is my right eye slightly bloodshot?"

2. How much cash do you have on you? -- At last count, I had upwards of $87 in cash in my wallet. A byproduct of having students pay with bills.

3. What's a word that rhymes with "DOOR?" -- What an odd question. The first one that popped into my head was "floor".

4. Favorite planet? -- I suppose it would be Earth: it's where I keep all my stuff. Excluding that, I've always liked Neptune, even though I know very little about it.

5. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your cell phone? -- It's a number not known to me. It came from the 604 area code, which Yahoo helpfully identifies as the area code surrounding Vancouver. I know of no one living there.

6. What is your favorite ring on your phone? -- I've only ever owned one phone (which most people find amazing) and I've only ever used one ring: Tone 4, which is an approximation of the bell from a rotary phone. I had forgotten what rings I even had, until I picked up the phone to answer this question.

7. What shirt are you wearing? -- My undershirt is the cast shirt from the Civic Opera production of "Street Scene". The overshirt is a thin fleece-like thing.

8. Do you "label" yourself? -- I suppose I do, though that label tends to change depending on what I'm doing. In a room of musicians, I'm the trombonist. In a room full of Asians, I'm the outsider. In a room full of people who dislike lima beans, I fit right in!

9. Name the brand of your shoes you're currently wearing? -- I'm currently in sock feet, but the shoes I wore today are New Balance athletic shoes, to go along with the unseasonable weather today.

10. Bright or Dark Room? -- I suppose I prefer bright rooms, but I walk to my bedroom each and every night in pitch blackness, often not bothering to turn on the light while I brush my teeth, since I know where the brush and paste are by memory.

11. What do you think about the person who took this survey before you? -- I think they've never done ANYTHING for me. Mostly because I'm the first person to take this survey.

13. What were you doing at midnight last night? -- I was busy fiddling with my computer, which has decided to put up random graphical artifacts.

14. What did your last text message you received on your cell say? -- My phone doesn't receive SMS messages, but the last one anyone mentioned *trying* to send was a notice that a friend was running late for dinner.

15. Where is your nearest 7-11? -- I think there's one on Wornall. I filled up there in December when gas was at its lowest: $1.29. The other stations in the area had already risen, but the 7-11 station was lazy.

16. What's a word that you say a lot? -- "Embochure." Try as I might, there's really only so many ways one can dance around using that word in lessons.

17.Who told you he/she loved you last? -- Probably my mom. She was visiting here on Monday.

18. Last furry thing you touched? -- Probably one of the cats I visited over holiday break.

19. How many drugs have you done in the last three days? -- None. Not even painkillers or common cold pills.

20. How many rolls of film do you need developed? -- How old can this survey actually be? I haven't developed film since grade school....

21. Favorite age you have been so far? -- Thirty has been good to me so far....

22. Your worst enemy? -- Keeping my car organized. Just can't seem to do it.

23. What is your current desktop picture? -- A winter scene from Glacier National Park.

24. What was the last thing you said to someone? -- I thanked the lady who bagged my groceries this evening.

25. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to fly what would it be? -- Flying, of course. I'm sure I'd be able to make a million bucks in advertisment after being unveiled as the only flying human. Not to mention, I'd probably save a ton of money in travel costs.

26. Do you like someone? -- Indeed. I like many people. And to avoid being overly coy, I like some people romanticall, too.

27. The last song you listened to? -- "All the things you are"

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I find this synergy weird

The piece of embedded HTML code shown below comes courtesy of HULU.COM, which you may know as an NBC-powered source of online TV shows. They've also branched off into political theater, streaming copies of the presidential debates.

What I found interesting about this countdown timer is that it is sponsored on HULU by an upcoming movie, "The International" starring Clive Owen. It's a spy thriller about currency and shooting people and ... things like that. There's a tiny misfire in my brain when a movie publicity machine moves over to supporting coverage of a real-life political event.

This "state of the union" address brought to you by Pepsi?

Sure, it's only this particular coverage outlet that's being sponsored. Obama gets inaugurated whether or not anybody can see him on TV. But what's the advertising angle? Do watchers of political speeches go see particular kinds of movies? Or is Obama so darn popular that you can put any advertisements in front of him speaking and make a profit?

[As the inauguration is now over, the code widget is non-functional and has been removed]

EDIT: I know this banner partially overlaps the sideboard, but it will be gone in five more updates.

EDIT 2: Didn't even take five more updates: banner removed after Inauguration Day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Even that isn't enough to get me to watch "Americal Idol"

I saw this headline on the front page of Yahoo just now. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I've never watched an episode of American Idol. I don't know anything about Simon, other than his name is Simon and he can be mean and bitchy. I don't know anything about the other judges. I don't know anything about the host, Ryan Seacrest, other than hearing late night comedians use "Ryan Seacrest" as the butt of jokes. I know that the first winner was Kelly Clarkson, but only because I heard her debut song on the radio SO MUCH, and they always referred to her as "that girl who won 'American Idol'".

So I don't know if they're letting people on in bikini tops because it's set in the south of France, or because it's on Fox during a sweeps period, or what. I'm just not that much of a fan of reality TV. A few weeks ago, I expressed surprise that there was still some form of "Survivor" on, because I'd never paid it any attention since half-heartedly watching some episodes while playing with little kids eight years ago.

It basically has to do with me getting VERY uncomfortable with people singing badly. I don't know what it is, but I just cannot stand mediocre singing. I realize I shouldn't point my finger so loudly, since I myself am no great singer. Luckily, I confine my singing to my car and my shower; two places where I am most often alone with no one to torture. It drives me crazy to hear bad singers at our basketball games, though some of that can be attributed to our high-difficulty national anthem.

I realize that not all the singers are bad. In fact, part of the press being shoved down everyone's throat about this new "Idol" season is that they're actively pruning most of the bad people. This may or may not lose them a significant portion of their audience, namely the part that watches NASCAR for crashes.

I'm not keen on watching people be critical of other people, either (except if one of them is Tim Gunn). No doubt the episodes are not chock full of the judges tearing people apart, but that's basically all that gets showed in the TV ads, giving me no incentive to watch.

In the past, whenever I've talked about my negative "unpreferences", I get emails from people who think I'm bashing them personally for liking things. I didn't see it that way then, and I don't now: anyone is free to watch AND like these programs. Obviously, "American Idol" is one of the most popular shows on TV and it's not my job or intent to say that people should or shouldn't watch it. I'm expressing my own personal opinion, and make no assertion whatsoever about the values or merits of the people who do watch.

Unless you watch something that stars Tila Tequila. That makes you a bad person.

Patting myself on the back

I noticed today that the "Visitors" tracker at the bottom of my page turned over to 10,000 sometime while I was asleep. Since I started the blog back in February of 2006, I achieved this milestone in just under 2 years. That's cool.

Unfortunately, the number really isn't that reliable. Some of those visits come from my own computer, when I look at the newly published posts to make sure everything is formatted correctly. Ordinarily, I have a bit of code in my browser that specifically ignores visits from my computer, but my browser likes to forget pieces of code if I don't pay attention for a brief period of time. I usually notice because I'll do a flurry of back-and-forth editing to line up a picture or something, then I'll be surprised when the visit counter climbs in proportion.

So some of the visits are erroneous. Other visits aren't counted at all. Some people have cookies blocked on their browsers for security reasons and that prevents my little counter from appropriate counting them. For obvious reasons, I have no idea how many visits are lost this way.

Then there are the random internet searches. The people who only visit to see the entries with the word "sex" in them somewhere or the disturbing run of people searching for "playing doctor", who were disappointed that I PLAY the trombone and am called DOCTOR. Lately, it's been people searching for my post about the 10,000 calorie intake of that poor 10 year old. I'd say close to one-quarter of the total visits have been unique visitors who pop on for one page from back in my archive, then never return. While these are "visits", I can't really claim them as "readers" in the traditional sense. They're here for the content, not the author. Ah, well.

All this combines to mean that 10,000 visits is probably not near the actual number, and that I have no idea where that actual number is. Still, it's my only yardstick and it does indicate a milestone with a lot of zeroes in it. For a blog that started off without a single viewer, I've made great progress by my own standards!


I love the randomness of the internet. I did an image search for "10,000" to find an appropriate graphic to go along with this post. Among the first five images was this promotional image from that forgettable film "10,000 B.C." from last year or so. But if you look closely at the picture, you'll see that this particular image in what appears to be German. I have no idea why that would be among the most popular images for people searching for 10000, but that's the magic of Google's algorithms.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh, being LONELY; now I get it.

I had a surprising burst of loneliness last night, while coming back from a rehearsal. It comes and it goes, but last night I had a sort of realization about why I don't always see it coming.

I'm playing with the local brass band and they rehearse every Sunday until 9:30pm. It takes me about 15 minutes to get home from the rehearsal hall and it's one of the few times I'm driving at night nowadays. It used to happen very often when I was trapped on the university campus for all hours of the day, but I've paired my schedule down so much as to only drive to campus two or three times a month, and then only during the day.

Driving home last night, I was thinking about relationships. It was dark, the roads were clear and mostly deserted... and suddenly I was lonely. This feeling tends to sneak up on me. I don't tend to see the episodes coming from far away. Instead, they sort of jump up when I'm not paying attention. Suddenly, I was distinctly aware that I was alone in my car, that no one was waiting back at my home, and nobody would care if I took the long or the short way back. It was rather affecting.

This particular bout took me so much by surprise that I tried to step backwards through my thoughts to see if I could track what had sparked it. Surprising to me, I thought that the immediately proceeding thoughts were positive: they related to a feeling of independence. In the clinical reality of this after-the-fact blog entry, I think what you all think: boy, isn't that obvious? At the time, though, I was somewhat taken aback by the quick flip and relationship between independence and loneliness.

I'm not so much of an emotional scholar to juxtapose them in any meaningful way. They seem related, perhaps even positive and negative applications of the same emotional core. However, I have no great secrets to reveal in this text about how to flip one into the other. I don't have the resources to devote to that line of thinking, so it will have to remain a head-fake towards a more motivational analysis.

These feelings of loneliness had a short hold on me, though while they persisted I was in a nice state of self-pity. It made me think about people who suffer under more systemic occurrences of loneliness. Were this emotion to flip onto its negative head more often, I could see why people end up existing in a cloud of negativity. Being by myself on a cold night, it is easy to be dragged down by the idea that nobody in the immediate area cares about me. That's not true in the larger scheme, of course: my family and friends care a lot about me. But in the dark of that night, it was easy to ignore the larger scheme for the present intimacy of one.

*** *** ***

The relationship I was thinking about immediately prior to this bit of self-conscious "alone-ity" was one I had with a woman last year. She is an attractive person, possessed of a quick mind and an eager voice. All these things are positives (or at least neutral) and they make a becoming picture. But things ended up not working out, largely to do with attitude. Both hers and mine.

She was, I came to find, almost diametrically opposed to myself in terms of temperment. I tend to be cloying; she drifts towards being sullen. Where I am often insufferably cheerful and optimistic, she was dour and given to inveigh against circumstances at hand. She viewed her life and choices as a series of mistakes and considered herself having been shepherded into a position she despised. I look at even my currently un-sunny prospects in the frame of a larger quest of self-improvement and relish even the minor opportunities.

So here we two were, looking at each other across a gulf of considerable distance. Our relationship was divided into two unequal portions: the "lets hang out together in company" part, and the "let's have time to ourselves" part. The latter lasted all of a few days and probably consisted mostly of the newness of being around someone different.

But it didn't last. I'm sure that I was too frank in my estimation of her and managed to say something unintentionally callous. It would seem I have a habit of that and have yet to break it. And she certainly dragged me to a place of infectious negativity, which I certainly didn't thank her for.

I don't regret the time spent with her, or the aborted extent of our relationship. It was stimulating mental work, which I appreciate greatly in the context of regular life. And she's certainly had more than her allottment of misfortune to brood over, so I can't begrudge her the effect it has.

Still, seldom have I encountered someone about whom I thought, "Almost, but not quite." I remember thinking at the time that it would have been something special if I'd met her 5-7 years ago, before she armored herself in cynicism and disdain. It's a feeling that I can't say I've had that much when considering other people. I usually just think about people in the Here and Now, considering that's the only place I can interact with them.

Part of the mental loop of loneliness is the trap of past relationships. Was it really that bad, the saying goes. Is it preferable to be alone, the late nights whisper. If we've thought about it enough, we give our answer heartily. The force of the answer (whether affirmative or no) will sweep the doubts to the side. Only if we're lucky. Otherwise, we get trapped in the loop, unable to fully convice ourselves of what we feel to be true. Mired in the past, we ruminate in circles; covering lots of ground but making little distance from the origin.

Good thing I've matured enough to avoid spending time saving people who like their predicaments very much, thanks. Now I've cut down to just wasting time *thinking* about them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A catholic fate (small 'C')

This was originally an entry started on New Year's Eve/Day. It began with comments about how I could hear fireworks being set off early and other zeitgeist of the moment of yearly changeover. I ultimately spent too much time on that end of the entry and not enough on the more somber nature of the original intention. To reflect that, the entirety of what was originally written has been condensed into a single opening paragraph which contains no particular humor, unless you count the light situation-based meta-humor of summarizing unpublished fragments.

My friend's mother mother died the morning after Christmas. I don't know all of the details, but it seems that she died at some point in the night, without incident. It was seemingly a peaceful death, which I would certainly prefer. I must admit that it does seem odd to call anything a "good" death, but maybe it's just one of the assorted ways we humans deal with death. Describing any positive aspects of death seems inappropriate or at least out of touch, rather like admitting that the knife-wielding maniac was going to chop off an arm, but at least he took the left one (I'm right handed).

While I was watching a movie with family, another friend left a message about the death. After the film, when I listened to my messages back, I had to do something that everyone talks about when hearing bad news: I had to listen to it a second time. The first time, I was half-listening, waiting for key phrases like "hang out", "in town tomorrow", and "sexy stewardess, wants to meet you", while simultaneously fixing myself a plate of the various holiday foodstuffs that take up an entire counter during the seasons: buckeyes, coconut drops, holiday bell cookies, Enstrom's Toffee... Hang on, did he say "died in her sleep"?

The second time through confirmed my initial perception: found dead that morning [December 26th]. One more time to get the other details: wake Monday, funeral Tuesday. So much for seeing my friend and catching up over holiday break! Nobody's going to be in the mood to talk about jobs and family at the Houlihan's bar this year.

I got in touch with my friend's husband (also a good friend) the next day. We hammered out the details of where and when the remembrance services would be. My uncle and aunt were visiting, so they had some comments of their own. My aunt kept referring to the wake or visitation as "the calling", which is a term I'd never heard before. Every time she said it, I kept thinking it was an appropriate title for some sort of hour-long drama on CBS. Someone like Jennifer Love Hewitt works as a customer service person for the phone company help desk, and has to solve mysteries while wearing inappropriately revealing clothing. Also, there's ghosts. Or super-smart animals or something. Coming this Fall! "Pissed-off People. She can hear them now."

After a brief trip to Kohl's find some funeral-appropriate pants, I set out for the visitation. It was held at a funeral home in St. Louis that I probably know better than any other, though not from ever having been there. It's located right next door to the animal hospital we've been taking the family pets to for as long as I've been alive. Plus, it has a funny name: Bopp. For the longest time, I thought it was an onemotapaedic sound for hitting someone on the head with a slipper, but I guess it actually rhymes with "dope". It's a good pronunciation choice, really: one shouldn't associate a funeral home with the 1960's Batman series.

Bopp Chapel added on since I've lived in St. Louis and I couldn't get the word "necropolis" out of my head. It's not nearly large enough to be a "city of the dead", though. Just a rather large and unassuming one-floor cream-colored building. With some columms, because nothing says "funeral home" like some decorative columns. Stepping inside, everything feels large and spacious. The hallways are very wide and there is little furniture. It feels sceptic and utilitarian, but with touches towards the somber, like a great carpeted hospital.

There are greeters at the door to direct newcomers to the appropriate rooms. I say, "I'm looking for Mrs. So-and-so," and the stupid-meter in my head sounds an alarm and thinks it sounds like a line from an old western. Walking in the room (Parlor C?), it's like being at someone else's family reunion. The room is filled with people talking loud enough to keep over the din of other people talking. First glance shows no one I know, and my anxiety rises a little: will I have to make small talk with people I don't know about a person I didn't really know well?

Second glance uncovers Matt and his family. Matt and I went to high school with my friend and her husband. There are other high school acqauintences dotted throughout the room, I later notice. It gives the proceedings the feeling of a very stuffy reunion. People I haven't seen in years, dressed in their finest, making uncomfortable small talk. Matt and Amy brought their two children, who are very excited to see me. Finally, a face they recognize!

It's a relief for me, too. A way to escape the somber hand-holding and furrowed nodding of the rest of the room. It's life-affirming, too. These two kids are energized, making for a nice contrast of a few days of obsessive rumination over the death of parents.

Gradually, I become aware that there's a coffin at the end of the room. It's open. I snap my glance away, like someone who's been caught looking at someone else on the subway. I should probably be more mature about it, but it's just out of my experience to be in the same room with a body. I begin my struggle of whether or not I want view the body up close.

On one hand, I'm curious. It seems a slightly shameful thing to admit in a room filled with grief, but there is something morbidly fascinating about funerals. On the other hand, there's also something morbidly disquieting about being near the dead, for me at least. I'll struggle with the decision throughout my visit.

In lieu of deciding, I move towards my friend. She's been continuously surrounded by a continual throng since I arrived and probably has been all day. She's not someone I've seen in months, though we've kept in contact. She's cut her hair since last I saw her, into a style I don't think I remember seeing on her from our high school days. That's the last time I saw her with any freqency, so those memories of appearance tend to stick.

I've got plenty of time to examine her, because the "line" doesn't seem to be moving. She's dressed very nicely, which is to her credit considering I'm sure she didn't bring any clothes from out of town suitable for funerals. She's wearing a necklace of small Christmas lights shaped like Mickey Mouse heads. I'll find out later that it was a favorite necklace type of her mother's. She's picking absently at one of those ridiculous wax-paper cone cups one sees next to office water fountains. Don't they have glassware or something nice for the family?

We eventually talk. She's apologizing for not being able to spend much time talking to all of us "friends", what with there being so many other people to speak to. I'm trying very hard not to use any sort of funeral cliche. Do people want to hear cliches at funerals? Am I trying TOO hard to not say, "I'm really sorry about your mom"? Am I overthinking this?

She talks a little bit about having to choose the funeral outfit and pick out a coffin, and I just want to grab her and hug her because she's being so brave and admirable. But if I did that, I'd cry. Then she'd probably cry. And there isn't a "crying" vibe in the room at this point. So I stand there with my hands politely folded. And I just *think* really hard about hugging her. Which is enough to get a few tears out of me, even now as I write this.

I've got more things to say about this, but the entry is starting to feel long. So, we'll end with me crying, which is probably a good pivot point to several other thoughts about that week.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Merry 2009

The new year stretches out before us, and I'm starting it off by postponing a blog entry. This is merely a signpost that directs to a forthcoming entry, once I have enough sleep to actually make good on it and express what I want to.

Until then, welcome to the future! Let's hope the bad improves and the good gets better.