All things weird and wonderful, 36

8 01 2014

Why do we sing?

Why do we dance? Why paint and hop around and declaim in pentameter and chop stones into bodies and trees into ravens and how can people become so naked in themselves so as to become someone else, in front of god and everyone?

There were times watching some of the would-be soloists in the Gotham Rock Choir that I was embarrassed at how they let themselves just sing—just sing!—and let the song cover every missed note and skipped tempo and just, just sing.

And then I would be abashed, for so missing so much.

I don’t understand why we do this: let ourselves go in front of one another. I don’t understand why we sing and dance and conjure beauty and sorrow out of the rough leavings of this small world, I don’t understand this at all—except to know that I am moved by these conjurers, and their conjurings.

When I say there must be something more I don’t mean magic or angels but these conjurings, the way we take what we’ve got and make something other, something more, than what was there before.





All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror

16 09 2013

When I was a young ‘un I was all about performing.

Give me a stage and I’m on it, a light and I’m in it, and a chance to shine shine shine, and I’m takin’ it. A full-length mirror in my bedroom, a stereo, and a balled-up fist were my substitutes for the stage, the orchestra, and the microphone I wanted more than anything.

When I was pre-teen, it was all about Hollywood, but a bit of adolescence and I turned east, toward New York and the theatre (which was the genesis of my desire for New York).

Theatre in high school provided some of my best memories; it was also the peak of my performing days. I was at best competent, something which I had figured out even then, so while I very briefly flirted with the idea of going into theatre (in terms of considering whether or not to apply to Northwestern), once I decided on Madison, it was clear I’d major in political science, as a prelude to a career in journalism.

Funny thing about print journalism: it is a backstage activity. Yes, television is now clogged with scribe-pundits, but back in the olden days, journalism meant print (tv was something else entirely), and any fame would be confined to a front page byline on a national paper.

The jazz of journalism for me, though, was even less the bylines (tho’ that mattered: I still remember my first headline story, on a strike by the TAA, the grad student union) than getting the next day’s news the night before, and taking part in churning events into news.

We weren’t the story, but we wrote the story, and I decided I liked that more than anything.

Skip forward 25 (or so) years, and I still love that backstage churn. And while there is a performative aspect to teaching, outside of the classroom I am not only not interested, but dread taking center (or even side) stage.

Which is why I joined Gotham Rock Choir. Of course.

Yes, a big piece of this is kicking myself out of my rut, but the GRC provides something more: active discomfort with the activity.

Oh, Absurd, you’re saying, that makes so much sense: of course you should choose to do something which you won’t enjoy.

Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s one thing to get off my ass to do more of the things I’m used to doing, but quite another to push myself to see if I can get easy with something which makes me uneasy. And it requires a commitment, which just magnifies the unease. . . so, y’know, perfect.

If I really don’t like it after this cycle (which ends in December), I won’t re-up. But if the experience doesn’t kill me (which it won’t), maybe I’ll be willing to try something else, discomfort be damned.

If I want there to be something more, then I have to try something more.





Sing! Sing! Sing!

4 09 2013

I’ve been trying to change my defaults—at least, that’s been my story.

A while ago I declared I would make the attempt to get my ass out of my desk chair and into the city, that instead of offering excuses for my nos (noes? no’s?), I’d just say yes.

It’s worked in all kinds of small ways (especially when it involves meeting friends at a bar), but it hasn’t led to any kind of ongoing commitments.

My friend E., to whom I had mentioned my (honestly, fake) desire to say yes more often, had the temerity to take the idea and run with it. Let’s do Gotham Rock Choir, she said!

Um, okay, I said. What it is?

A choir! In New York! That sings rock songs!

Um, okay.

It’ll be fun.

Um, okay.

(Un)fortunately, we weren’t able to make it into the winter/spring round, but E managed to partake of the summer round. I had to teach at night (when they rehearse), so, darn, I couldn’t do it.

E. didn’t really like it at first, but, better woman than I, she stuck with it, and ended up having a gas. I’m going to do this again, she said. You wanna?

Uhhh. . . .

Come on! It was fun!

Uhhh. . . .

Just go to the first rehearsal, see if you like it.

Oooookaaaaayyy.

And  I went. (And she went. . . cf 5:28.)

And it kicked my ass.

I had a decent enough voice when I was younger—nothing special, but enough to carry a tune in high school musicals—but even that mediocre decency dropped with disuse. I used to be able to nail some very low notes, and now, pfft, now my voice bottoms into flatness.

The other folk in the choir? Not flat. Pretty damned good, in fact.

So I was thinking, Ohhh, man, do I really want to do this? I’m not very good, my interest in performing died with my youth, and man! a commitment!

And then a bunch of us hit a nearby bar and I was able to talk with some smart and funny people and I thought, Hmm, hanging out with these folks wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And, as I told one woman, Yeah, this kinda kicked my ass, but given that I can be real bitch sometimes, it’s probably not the worst thing to get my ass kicked.

So. I have to decide by next Tuesday whether to go all in.

We’ll see.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Dum de dum dum DUM (II)

8 10 2012

Chill.

Yes, Obama’s debate performance was mediocre, and yes, Romney has bumped himself up in the polls, but just as the alleged walk-off Obama of two weeks ago was an overreaction to Romney’s bad coupla’ weeks, so too is a WE’RE DOOMED response to Obama’s bad week.

The election is November 6—November 6, not October 1 or 6 or 8.

We’ve got a month, people, a month in which much can happen. Could Romney win? Yep. Could Obama win? Yep. Will the last two debates matter effect the electoral outcome? On the margins, yes. Will general campaign performance matter to the electoral outcome? On the margins, yes.

Given that this is likely to be a close election, do those margins matter? Yes.

This is one of the reasons I was annoyed by Obama’s performance*: When your on the ledge and the other guy is hanging off of it, you don’t step aside and let him elbow his way back up; you stomp on his fingers. Yeah, the other person could still claw his way back up, but why make it easy?

Anyway, Romney is back on the ledge—which, to this Obama supporter, is unfortunate—but that hardly means that Obama is hanging off of it.

Dude is pretty steady, remember?**

*Sure, his answers as information-packets were fine, and more fact-based than Romney’s, but debates are not just about the information-packets but about the delivery of those packets. Romney threw his packets hard and fast, while Obama just kinda dribbled them out, then toed ’em on the ground; he didn’t even bother trying to intercept Romney’s deliveries.

**Pace my last post, this is a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, if only because my first reaction to setbacks is often AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Logic and lies

6 07 2012

Mitt Romney is an odd man.

Okay, yeah, not a fresh observation, but I’m not talking about his odd sense of humor (pretending a waitress played grab-ass with you? really?) or his awkwardness carrying on back-and-forth conversations with the ordinary folk, or even his gosh-gee-gollyisms. (As someone with a fondness for retroisms, I kinda like this, especially because I think it’s completely sincere.)

No, I’m talking about the split in his personality between the logical man and the one with his pants on fire.

Sullivan and ThinkProgress have done bang-up jobs tracing Mitt’s every last doubling-back on his own words and records, as well as the campaign’s enthusiastic uninterest in the truth—unexceptional tactics in the winning-is-the-only-thing presidential campaign—but I haven’t seen as much about Romney’s rigidity regarding rules.

Did you watch any of the GOPper primary debates? Neither did I, but I did watch chunky excerpts of them, and it was clear that Mitt could be thrown off his game by someone else breaking what he saw as the rules. There were the peevish “I’m talking/I didn’t interrupt you, don’t interrupt me” moments, and the attempt to counter the more outrageous charges thrown his way by insisting “that’s just not true!”

Terribly effective, that.

Or consider his response to the disbelief that he would strap a beloved family pet to the roof of a car for a long trip to Canada: he noted there was no room in the car and hey, he built a windshield, so what was the problem? Perfectly logical, he did nothing wrong, so there was no more need for any further discussion of the terror inflicted on poor Seamus.

More substantively, consider his responses to queries about his taxes and his grudging tardiness in releasing the tax form. Some of that grudging may be for a good reason—he’s made very good use of his tax attorneys, and I’d guess that someone in his campaign must be aware of the optics—but he seems genuinely put out that anyone would question him about the way he worked over the tax code. I pay every dollar I owe and not one penny more, he’s said, which, while likely technically true, is rather beside the point. In Romney’s eyes, however, submitting to the rules, even rules which one’s accountants have stretched to the screaming point, is all that matters, and anyone who’d suggest otherwise is simply small-minded or out to get him.

Similarly, it is perfectly legal to open overseas bank accounts, provided, again, one follows the rules on these matters—and I would be very surprised if Mitt Romney didn’t follow the rules. But, dude, you’ve been running for president of The Goddamningnest Best Country in the History of the Universe for the past five or six years, and it didn’t occur to you in the meantime to bring all of your dollars back to The Goddamningnest Best Country in the History of the Universe, lest it appear that your patriotism stops at the bottom line?

I mean, shit, I’m not much for nationalism nor am I bothered in general by foreign bank accounts, but even I think the president shouldn’t be dividing his monies among nations. This reaction may not be logical, but I’d bet it’s not rare.

Sure, one could say that because Romney is such a stand-up guy, he thinks following rules ought to be enough, but given his penchant for lying about Obama, I think we can safely forego the “stand-up-guy” bit.

Still, it appears that he does believe that when he follows the rules, that ought to be enough—and when it is not, he does not know how to act.

It’s unclear how much campaigns matter—events beyond the candidates’ control nonetheless tend to control presidential elections—but assuming they matter at least a little, Mitt’s adherence to the rules could get him in trouble with an opponent who writes his own rules.





Names scattered in the wind

17 10 2011

I don’t know if it’s the tin whistle, the fiddles, the syncopation, or the tens of thousands of jumping Irishfolk, but damn. . . .

I don’t understand, I don’t understand this at all.

People leapin’ about stage, singing and shouting and moving in all sorts of strange ways and. . . and performing as if, ah, as if the song and singing and the strangeness all mattered.

And yet it does.

h/t Andy Hall





Don’t get your back up over this

7 09 2011

I’m less clear about how we “get people to meet an obligation to inform themselves before offering an opinion is both to reward such information and punish its lack”. Online and off it has been my experience that people generally don’t appreciate it when you point out (even if gently with leading questions) that they don’t have much of a basis for their not so considered opinions, they feel certain and righteous about their position and have been told over and over that they have a right to their opinions as if that in an of itself justifies the opinion at hand, they may even have a one-line answer from some undergrad class they took in support of it. Whatever the reason people seem to have a hard time separating judgment of the basis of an idea that they may hold from judgment of their persons, even, maybe especially, with strangers, so how to bring some of the philosophical ethos of pushing the ideas, fleshing them out, and testing them and their implications from the seminar into the public realm. and what rewards are there to share with people who don’t yet have a taste of how such demanding work/research can be.rewarding?—dmf

Just when I thought I was done (for now) with this question, you pull me back in. . . .Ha, no. Really, d, Imma stealing from you to feed my blog.

I think it helps to classify one’s interlocutors. If you’re dealing with adversaries—those who seek to get one over on you and vice versa—then it’s anything goes. If they’re shifters, you punish them by not letting go of a single thing they say and not giving in on a single point they make. You point out all the ways they’re wrong, admit of no wrongs on your side, and go after their credibility. “You were wrong on this, and you were wrong on this, and this, and this. . . why should anyone take anything you say seriously?” Attack attack attack.

Despite my vociferousness on this matter, it’s actually not my preferred way of doing things. I like rules, like the notion of “keeping one another honest”, and prefer not to cheat in order to win an argument. If there are no rules, however, then you’d be a fool to act as if there were. The best you can hope for is to diminish the shifter’s sphere of influence.

Or, if you’re not in the mood, you simply walk away—preferably laughing the whole while. (This is how I deal—or don’t deal—with Objectivists.)

Not all adversaries are shifters, however, so some standards apply. If the argument is “staged”, as in, we both know that the real person we’re trying to convince is not the other but neutral others who are listening in, such questions may take on an edge, and some shortcuts in service to the performance are acceptable, but you can’t go too far in upending your adversary. You can’t get mad and you don’t want to make the other person mad, as that would ruin the enjoyment for onlookers, and you have to know when to shrug and let something go. You want to appear reasonable and creditable to those onlookers, so while light jabs are acceptable, garrotting is not.

But if it’s not a performance, if I’m simply trying to suss something out, I find it best simply to ask questions. My forte in verbal combat is in going after the other person’s argument, so I get as much information as I can about that argument. I ask real, not gotcha, questions, and allow the person a full answer. And if their information is or appears incorrect, I’ll ask about that, as well.

If it turns into a fight, I’ll use their words against them, but a lot of times the mere process of asking the questions leads away from the gladiatorial arena. Because I don’t twist their words or mock them or sneer at their views, if I offer them the benefit of the doubt, they’ll often open up, both in expanding upon their views and in their willingness to hear my concerns. And I don’t try to convert anyone, not overtly, anyway. I just ask questions, ask them to think about x from the vantage point of y, and then let it be.

It’s the soft approach—something which I would have abjured when younger—but now I can see the possibilities, and not just the threat, of such softening up.

The Old Man knew this long before I did:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

There is a crack, in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

_____

(h/t Zoe Pollack, The Daily Dish: Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”)