Monthly Archives: December 2005

Still mostly maxin’ and relaxin’, but stopping in for a not-so-quick post while I’m thinking about it.

A couple thoughts, observations, or revelations gleamed from driving across Delosa:

1. You can still rent cars that have a tape player in leiu of a CD player.
2. You can tell a lot about a person by what kind of music is on his mix tape. Or was when he was fifteen.
3. Letting a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, or wife listen to a mix tape you made when you were fifteen may be a better sign of emotional trust than anything else in existence.
4. An advantage of blogging anonymously is that you can admit that once upon a time, you liked some of Michael Bolton’s music. To quote our esteemed President, when I was young and irresponsible…

Though I didn’t know they made them anymore, the rental car only had a tape player available. Since we visited my folks’ place first, though, the drive across Delosa to Clancy’s was accompanied by a bunch of radio-swiped mixed tapes.

It’s sort of a long story, but I only really got in to music in my junior high years. I made the transition from “adult contemporary” to “Top 40” to “Alternative Rock.” By the time I got to the second and particularly the third phase I was already purchasing CDs. Prior to that, I obsessively recorded stuff off the radio. I may write more on this whole process later, but what’s important is that I started migrating away from tapes in my high school years and so most of the stuff I had was from junior high when I listened to Sunshine 98.7 FM, the easiest easy listening in Colosse.

So the antiquated radio system on my car gave me a little time capsul as I listened to my few remaining tapes from the early 90’s that provided what was actually an almost scary glimpse into who I was at the time.

I’ve never been one for happy music. I don’t know that I’m a hugely pessimistic person, but it’s always seemed to me that story thrives on conflict and a song about loving someone so goshdarn much almost inherently lacks that conflict. The happier songs (or at least not-unhappy ones) are ones where there is a conflict, but it is somehow resolved or that provide a sort of sensation and you don’t know how exactly it’s going to turn out, but it’s exhilarating at the time the song is sung.

But what I found interesting about the music, and the subject-matter therein, is how it was wave-on-wave depressing. As she listened, Clancy said she didn’t know what was more disturbing: that I would have a Michael Bolton on a mix tape or that I managed to even find a depressing Bolton song to complete my depressing setlist. The pattern was unmistakeably clear.

What’s telling, though, is not just that the music was depressing, but that (a) I did not seek out depressing music, (b) it was depressing with subject matter that I had not experienced, (c) at the time I did not even consider it depressing.

The most common theme was a love-had-but-lost. That’s the source of most sad love songs, so it’s hardly surprising that my tapes would be populated with that theme. Even considering that, though, I found my ability, as someone that had never had love much less lost it, to relate to it interesting. Well it’s not that I could relate to it exactly.

I could relate to it the same way that I could relate to comic books. It was a sort of imagination twitch. A tilt on reality where everything was different, except that life somehow went on the same. All of these amazing things happened, and yet life went on so much more normally than seemed possible. Just as I could sort of imagine some comic books as the way things might be if some of us had extraordinary gifts, I saw some of the songs as what might happen if I someday actually got into a relationship.

Even allowing for eventually getting into some relationship somewhere along the line, I saw the result being heartbreak. In the same way that some heroes ultimately give up their mantle to resume a life of normalcy, I saw a relationship being terminated so that I could return to my normal state of being — abject loneliness. But I had a sense of appreciation, born more out of naivete than wisdom, of the ride. The old maxim that having loved and lost was better than never having loved at all rang true — as someone that had never really had love I could in a way attest to just about anything being better than that.

When I did “have” and did “lose” of course, my perspective would change greatly. But at the time I actually understood bittersweet before I had ever fully experienced the bitter or the sweet.

While most of the tapes and CDs I actually bought hold up to some degree or another even in my earliest purchases, most of the radio swipes do not. They were good for a nostalgic kick, an introspective look at who I was and a blog post, but not a whole lot more than that. I find it a bit ironic that easy listening music is often called adult contemporary because I outgrew it as I became an adult and once I started experiencing what they were singing about, it all became less magnificent and the blandness of the lyrics exposed as the mystery was peeled off.

The songs were depressing, but listening to them actually make me happy and it was in a way perfectly appropriate for the holiday season. When I was half as old as I was now, I had no idea that I would ever experience what I have experienced. I had resigned myself to a life of loneliness that I moved beyond rather quickly. My life has been so much more wonderful, colorful, and love-infested than I could ever have dreamed it being. Clancy is twice as good as I ever thought I might do. Same for Holly before her. Even Julie, who I left heartbroken because she wasn’t enough, was more than I could have dreamed of.

And so I am flushed with a thanksgiving for the things I have taken for granted. Not only now, but a perspective on what I didn’t realize I had then that made me ready for the wonders that awaited me: a loving family, an adequate education, a complicated and creative mind, and a good upbringing.

If there is a better place to realize this than with Clancy in Delosa with all of my families, I’m not sure what it is.

Category: Ghostland, Road

Bob Krumm has a couple interesting posts on the subject of sex with minors (both minors and minors and adults and minors).

Mr. Krumm makes a good point about the parents in all this. I remember when I was in school I was quite frankly amazed at the lattitude a lot of my classmates had. Of course, my best friend Clint was amazed at the lattitude I had. In fact, I had more than did most of my friends, but far less than the average person my age (or so it seemed). It often seems that many of the same parents that dutifully speak and vote as though they are concerned with cultural sexual decadence often become complicit in enabling that sort of behavior.

On the other hand, as Chris Ware points out in the comment section, the fact that kids like to have sex is not news and not a product of poor parenting as much as it is biology. Giving kids the freedom to (covertly or overtly) experiment sexually, however, certainly does fall on the parents.

How much parents should hold their kids back sexually is a value judgment, though. A tough one, in my view. On the whole, we can only contain biology so much. Holding sex until after marriage was a considerably more realistic option for more people when you could expect to get married between 18-25. Mormons are able to pull it off in higher numbers in part because their sons are often off to their missions at 19 and then come back at 21 ready to settle down with the 18-19 year old young ladies getting out of high school. It’s as good a set-up as I can imagine provided that you want your kids to marry young.

Historically speaking, the fifteen and sixteen year olds that are having sex now aren’t remarkably young to be having sex. It just seems to me that we’ve pushed growing up so far back that (a) it seems to be unconscionably young because marriage is presumably so far off and (b) they are likely less emotionally and mentally equipped to handle what they may be ready for physically. Both tie together in my mind, though, because they are often less equipped to deal with sex because marriage seems to be so far off because we’ve moved the milestones so far out that they have not been charged with the responsibilities that are required for one to grow.

A lot of the vapidity we can see in youth today can be traced to, as much as anything else, boredom. Middle class kids with educated parents are generally smart enough that school requires less than three hours of brainpower a day. And most of school is (or seems to be at the time, for sure) just jumping through arbitrary hoops anyhow. Extracurricular activities also usually seem to revolve around socialization or around flexing physical or mental muscles for the arbitrary end of winning the game. We’ve recast recreational activities as responsibilities (often superceding the relatively minor academic responsibilities that do exist).

To put it in Reality TV terms, it’s the difference between Big Brother and Survivor. Survivor has its arbitrary rules and whatnot, but a lot of energy there is expended towards surviving and trying to get as comfortable as possible. Alliances are partially found and kept on ability and work ethic in addition to who likes whom. Big Brother, on the other hand, already starts out with the characters being reasonably comfortable and so twice the energy is devoted towards socialization. Who likes whom moves from being a factor to being the ultimate factor.

Due to a lot of factors, including what I believe is a failure to thoroughly challenge young people, kids spend more time thinking about what other kids think than they do anything else. The frivolous pursuit of social status that the parents must balance with financial, employment, and childrearing responsibilities exists in the lives of the younger ones without any appropriate counterbalance. It mostly serves to fill the vacuum left by not having to work on the farm, not having to learn a trade, and not having to devote a day’s work into making decent (if not great) grades.

And because of this vacuum, physical desires that may ordinarily be put off, suppressed, and ignored begin to flower at a time inconducive for it to. The ultimate problem, in my view, with teenage sex is that the kids are ill-equipped to deal with it emotionally and they are absolutely ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of it — pregnancy. With birth control, however, we’ve given the illusion that they will not have to deal with it because we have made it to where they most likely won’t. With this, we’ve taken what little external responsibility that comes with having sex out of their hands. Or at least we’ve given them that illusion. The dirty little secret about birth control is that it has probably caused more unwanted pregnancies than it has prevented in the same way that rugby is safer than football because it lacks the protective gear.

Let me state unequivocally that I am a fan of the existence of birth control and I’m not very much interested in a discussion over the morality of birth control or abortion in this forum. But I do think that the results have been more mixed than we often consider. The cat has been let out of the bag, though, and I don’t believe it can be shoved back in.

Regardless, though, it is another example where we’ve taken responsibility and power away from our young in favor of prolonging youth. It seems that much of the last half of the last century was spent carving out a holding tank for young people. The intent was to take responsibilities out of the way so that they could form in our formative years. What I believe we’ve missed is that by postponing real responsibility past the adolescent years, many of the attitudes are not being formed in a time of entitlement when many of their actions (or inactions) have no real consequences and reality is so warped around that reality, making them ill-equipped at age 14 (or sometimes even 24) to accept responsibilities when they unavoidably intrude.

Category: Courthouse, School

I was, to say the least, not particularly popular in junior high. Fat and weird are a pretty bad combo in what is already a tough age period. I tried being tough and standing up for myself, but I wasn’t particularly convincing because by-and-large I could not fight back due to parental constraints. Trying to avoid them just goaded them on.

Eventually I discovered the secret: Bribe them.

Most of the bullies were not really the sharpest tools in the shed. Most of them struggled just to pass. By ‘struggle’ I mean beg, whine, complain, and do anything to cojole the teachers into giving them a grade they didn’t earn — for them, that was struggling. I think it started with Jack Knowles. Jack was pretty cold in our sixth-grade year, but in the seventh he sat next to me in a couple key classes. One day he had completely forgotten about a big assignment and was so desperate that he asked for my help. I doubt I was conniving enough to see the opportunity and I think I was just afraid to say no, so I gave him the answers.

It turns out that you don’t need to bribe all the tough kids. If you get one or two in your corner the rest will find someone else to pick on a la The Gator Theory. Of course, once they’ve found that they can lean on you they won’t stop using you. I’m not sure whether it’s the intelligence to see an opportunity or the stupidity that comes with a short memory, but a certain contingent of the bullies would befriend their enablers. Sometimes it was just a matter of passing along my homework, though sometimes I was doing homework for classes that I wasn’t even taking. Far from feeling abused, I actually felt appreciated. Before long I had placated a handful of former tormentors and even won a few friends. My yearbook is strewn with signatures and notes from Jack, other former tormentors, and friends I made through them.

High school was a vast improvement and I didn’t quite need the protection. I was getting taller and a less bulky and a high school of 4,000 allows for anonymity that a junior high of 900 does not. But saying “no” was less a strong point then than it is now (and it’s not exactly my strong point now) and I managed to work my way out of the cellar of the caste system by placating verbal abusers. In leiu of saying “no” to people I wanted to say “no” to, I started charging money. I never took World History in high school, but I knew m0re about Egyptian history than some of my clients that did. I had even developed methods of communications during tests.

I got caught once or twice and my grades suffered (though no disciplinary action was taken). That just served as justification to drive the price up higher for those that paid (by that point, most of the tormentors had fallen a grade or two behind me or been shipped off to the alternative school).

It’s interesting sometimes the moral blindspots we develop. In some ways the whole thing bolstered my contempt for public education. In a couple of cases I was caught dead-to-rights and nothing happened. The teachers were too worn out and apathetic to care. In that vein I can sort of understand why criminals continue to commit the same crimes and get tossed in to prison repeatedly. It’s not so much that I think prison life would be easy but that they are threatened with the moon and the stars and then given light sentences with moderate supervision afterwards. The criminal justice system just goes through the motions and eventually it just becomes a dance.

A dance.

I never needed the money the same way that I needed the protection. But it became apparent that few teachers really had the energy to care. It also seemed to me then (more than it does now) that the whole school system was a dance. Jump through this hoop and then the next one. It felt more like just doing sprints rather than actually playing ball. I didn’t realize then as I do now that those sprints pay off in the long run. My ability to jump through those hoops served more purpose than actually doing so.

If I feel guilty about anything, it’s about being an enabler for some of my clients. One of the bigger problems I have with public education as I experienced it was the inability or stubborn refusal to draw the line in the sand and fail kids that deserve to fail. I saw this firsthand in elementary school as I got 70 after 70 — it’s unlikely that I fell just on the right side of the pass/fail line so many times. It wasn’t until I got my first failing grade that I started to straighten up. The same system that coddled me also coddled my bullies. I suppose I could have drawn a line in the sand and told some of these people that they have to get their act together or they will fail because I wouldn’t help them.

But ultimately, what would have been the point?

It’s an easy trap to fall in to, to say to yourself that the world is so screwed up that no one will notice or care when you deviate from the line. Download illegal files, get a radar detector, take some juice so that you can measure up against your competitors that are all taking, and cheat in school and help others do so. When the data table is corrupt, it doesn’t matter what’s on the files, really.

It’s such a seductive argument that it can’t help but pervade my consciousness. It’s such a destructive argument that I really wish it didn’t.

Category: Courthouse, School

I spend an inordinate amount of time illustrating this blog — looking for just the right picture that encapsulates the content of any given post. Sometimes I find one that’s wrong for the post but that I love regardless. Not sure if I’ll ever be able to use these, so I’ll just post them. I’ve made the pictures smaller because they’re not entirely work-appropriate (they’re in that gray area). Click to enlarge when no one is looking.

Category: Server Room

Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said “Tell me are you a Christian child?”
And I said “Ma’am I am tonight”
-{Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis}-

I saw a movie last night that I hadn’t seen in some time.

A girl I once dated said that she fell in love with me when she read a novel that I wrote. After that, she said, all it took was meeting me to make it complete. Things never worked out between us. They never came close. I was more than justified in walking away, but it was still hard to walk away from someone that had glimpsed into my soul and actually liked what she saw.

A while back I had a cavity somewhere in the front of my mouth. I knew it was there because it hurt whenever I sucked in. I just couldn’t quite place it. One day I saw something on the front of one of my teeth. I painfully brushed my teeth the night before and yet it was still there. I decided to swat it with a toothpick. When the toothpick made contact with the nerves behind the cavity, my body was awash in pain. Every muscle screamed out in agony right down to the nerves in my toes. It was an amazing experiencing, feeling something so completely. When I recovered, I took the toothpick and touched the nerve again.

When art works, the same thing happens. A feeling that had been gnawing at you for a while takes a frontal assault, knocking you blindside and making every bit of you feel like it hadn’t in a very long time.

You’re sitting there on a couch or in a movie theater. Maybe you’re laying on the floor. You’re enjoying the show or the movie that you’re watching. Points of it make you uncomfortable in its familiarity, but it keeps you engaged. You have nothing in common with the main character who is a little robot girl or a transsexual rockstar or a man almost twice your age whose best years would be behind him if they had ever existed.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re lost until someone, or something, shows you the way.

Somewhere in the work, a culmination of story comes together in a climax or sometimes even an anti-climax. The curtains are drawn and you see distant you on the stage, naked to the audience that really only consists of you.

You want to cry. You also want to vomit. You feel almost submerged in something. The same way you felt when you dived a little too deep in the cold water and for a split second weren’t sure you would make it up in time to breathe again. You were only underwater for a drop of time, but the moment carried on for an eternity. You take pride in your ability to maintain composure in even stressful situations. Yetyou still want to cry. Yet you still want to wretch. Part of you even wants to pray to a God that you don’t even know if you believe in to give thanks for the life you have or apologize for the one you’ve finally seen yourself to be living. Penance and thanks and panic all merge in to one.

You don’t even know what it means when you think to yourself “I can’t live this way any longer.”

You suddenly know that you’ve known for some time that you must walk away from the relationship that you’re in. Or you finally know that you’ve always known that it has been over for months. The art rarely tells you something you didn’t already know. But you no longer know it just in your mind or your heart, but in your soul. When you wake up the next day, it somehow feels like it was all a dream. Like that thing you once saw that you momentarily thought might be a UFO or that voice in the wind that you thought was God’s, you try to rationalize it away.

It was just a show. It was just a movie. They saw it with you and they may or may not have been impressed, but either way they were not phased. It was just you. Alone and naked on the stage in the dream. But reality has a way of following those in denial until they finally face up to it — whatever it is.

The sky is still blue. The shower is still warm. The answering machine messages that she left you are still on the answering machine. You can finally face up to it, though, because you just saw something bigger than the words of apology that she has left for you. Or the words of jealousy or fear or guilt. Or whatever it was that she’s been saying over and over again that you are only now beginning to hear. Or he.

You see the show again from time to time. It reminds you of that moment in your life. That person you used to be. But it is as much a part of you as the person that you were when you saw it.

I’ve had five such experiences in my life. If you never have, I hope that you do someday.

Category: Theater