Thursday, August 25, 2011

8/25/2011 - . . .

The story about the helicopter crash in Afghanistan is tragic in its own right, of course, but the account of one petty officer's dog, who walked up to his casket at the funeral, sighed, and plopped down on the floor. . . well, I don't have much more to say about it.

Other than, of course, that I can't wait to see mine wag his entire body on the way from the living room to the front door when I walk through later this afternoon, jumping on me to welcome me home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

8/24/2011 - the journey back. . .

First, a confession: when I began my time off from this blog about a month ago to work on my "music project," a) I had been needing a break for some time, and the music was marginally more than a convenient excuse, a worthier reason than laziness, to stop writing for a while, and b) I was not fully committed to coming back.

Writing every day wore me down, what with a full-time job, a partner and pet at home to enjoy my evenings with, music rehearsals, and assorted other hobbies and flights of fancy to compete for my attention.  I will not lie--this past month, without the onus of daily writing, has been nothing less than a blessing.  I had forgotten how it felt to be without this layer of responsibility.

And, just like when I overextend a hiatus from the gym, I found it near impossible to start back up again.  Not only to write this first entry, but also to recommit myself to the hundred or so entries I still have left in this year.  Do I have it in me to pick up where I left off, shake off the rust and run?

I'm still not really sure, but I guess I would never know if I kept putting this off.  Truth is, I finished my music project a couple of weeks ago.  On my computer right now sits the completed draft of an a cappella arrangement of "Run Freedom Run" from the musical Urinetown, with a little bit of George Michael's "Freedom '90" mashed in there.  I can not attest to the quality of it, but I am proud of it nonetheless.  Whether it ever will see the light of day, or get sung in the dark of a theater, I have no idea, but I do know that I was able to accomplish something that I did not think was possible, even after so many years of exposure to a cappella music.

In addition to that, I have had much to be grateful for in the time I took off.  Sam surprised me one nondescript Wednesday afternoon with tickets to Billy Elliot the Musical.  That he took the unexpected effort made me smile; that he did so for a musical made me fall in love all over, even if we both ended up hating the show itself.  Somewhere this past month, we celebrated four official years together.  On a different night, we had dinner at a favorite restaurant in our old neighborhood with some new friends, and I remember one particularly beautiful moment where we all laughed together, where I was completely swept up by the lightness of it all.

And there were other things in which I've had to struggle to find gratitude.  A few days into August, Sam and I woke up to a leaking water heater that flooded the washing machine, damaged some of the hardwood flooring, and ultimately cost $700 to fix.  Just yesterday, somebody broke into my locker at the gym, stole a couple of credit cards, and promptly purchased around $3,000 worth of Giants tickets.  Twitter officially turned down my application to work for them, and I couldn't tell which scenario feels worse: never hearing from a prospective employer, or having the employer reject me outright. 

Through it all, I constantly thought about this blog, how I could have written about this or that, even the bad stuff, how I have handled the bad stuff in what I hope was a healthier way, and how maybe the blog and the positive thinking I've been doing contributed to that.  How I needed to rekindle my drive to write in order to make my journey back.

It all starts with one, I guess, one thought, picking up my pen and writing the first word, one entry, all of which I have done (or will do, once I send this off), but I'm not even sure if this signifies my return, as I found a new goal to work towards that may replace this blog.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered Grr into a "Cutest Dog in SoMa" contest, and since then, I have convinced myself that he will undoubtedly win.  Just about every day, strangers at the dog park will come up and tell us how cute he is, "pretty" or "beautiful" if they are women, "cool-looking" if they are (straight) men.  Yesterday, a woman commented on how "stunning" he is.  I mean, seriously, how could he not win?? 

And of course, I beam with pride every time I hear these compliments, but I also feel more protective.  He fears the world, strangers and the unknown, believes that all are out to harm him.  Even a compliment and a slowly-extended hand makes him jumpy, and I wish that I could do something to ease that. 

And from one thought to another, I eventually land on the realization that so much of my life revolves around this little dog, and I don't necessarily mind.  This is particularly epiphanic (?) since I never thought that I would feel parental toward him, especially after the first few months when I was ready to leave him at the nearest fire station or swaddled and drifting down the American River.

Sam often notes this spectacular transformation in my relationship with Grr.  And though I often fail to see it myself, much like I fail to see how big he has grown, I recognize that these feelings I have inside, the love and fear and an inexplicable and ill-defined nostalgia, have not always been there, have taken some time to solidify, yet now are something akin to fatherhood.

This new endeavor will involve him.  I hesitate to describe anything more for fear of jinxing it; in grad school, I could guarantee failure in a poem-in-progress if I told somebody about it before I had a draft completed.  So I will hold on to this project for a little while until I see it take shape.  Either way, whether it comes to fruition or lingers as nothing more than just an idea, I don't think it would have happened, meaning I would not even have had the inkling to embark on it, without this blog.  For that, I'm thankful.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7/26/2011 - in comes my way out. . .

I think I'm about to trade in this blog for a different creative endeavor.  I'm not sure if it's been apparent, though it certainly has been to me, but I have not been able to give this blog my fullest attention, nor have I wanted to.  I've wanted to take a break, or just quit altogether, but I didn't know how to do so without guilt.

Then in comes my way out--music arrangement.  I somehow got the idea in my head that if I put my mind to it, I can arrange a song for my a cappella group.  Not even so much that I want them to sing it (though that would be ideal), but to prove to myself that I can.  I have listened to pop a cappella music for years, and now I've sung in a group for a few months.  I have a fledgling understanding of music theory, just enough, I hope, to get by, but most importantly, above all else, I have found myself with this hunger to do this.  Where this hunger came from, I do not know, but with every day that passes, I become more convinced that I want to do this.  I have to.

Soon, but not sure when yet, I will take a hiatus from writing.  I don't feel as bad about it as I would if, say, I just blew this off to play God of War III, my new favorite Playstation game, after work.  Best case scenario--I come back after a couple of weeks with a piece of beautifully arranged music and a renewed fervor to write. 

Worst--I come back after a couple of weeks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

7/25/2011 - universal human experience. . .

PostSecret is a website where people can send anonymous postcards with their secrets written on them for publication.  Often, the secrets are funny; some are sad.  Always, though, they remind me of how complicated we all are.  Yet as different as we all may seem to each other, there is also a commonality between us, a sort of universal human experience as we move through phases and moments of life.  

PostSecret can also be eerily specific.  For example, years ago in high school, I had a friend named Grace.  She and I were close, but because I never came out to her, I always felt that wall of deception between us; I never could tell her why I didn't have a girlfriend and why I was not interesting in finding one (and she certainly asked).  Somewhere inside, I had the vague notion that she was interested in me, that if I took some initiative, we could have dated, gone steady, became boyfriend and girlfriend, or whatever it is that teenagers call it these days.

When junior prom season came around, she asked if I would like to go with her.  Play coy, she did not, and accept graciously, I could not.  I flat out told her no, that I "don't do dances."  In part, this was true, as I was one of those boys who stood awkwardly against a wall during the fast songs, and then swayed awkwardly in front of a girl during slow ones.  I had no interest in participating in this awkwardness with a girl who had the possibility of a romantic notion toward me.

So that was that. 

Months later, Grace was looking through my wallet where I kept pictures of people (you know, those little wallet-sized photos, the ones where friends would write sweet little notes on the back, "K.I.T." and all that), and what did she stumble upon but a big group picture with the words, "Moreau Catholic High School, Junior Prom 1997" emblazoned on the bottom corner like an incriminating fingerprint.  And there I was, kneeling in my all-white tuxedo with tails (I know) with a girl standing behind me, her hand on my shoulder.

Oh, did I mention that I went to another school's junior prom?  Yea, I forgot to tell Grace that as well.  I only went because I had friends who went to that school, and I wanted the excuse to see them.  Grace, as expected, did not accept this rationale, but instead treated it as evidence that I blatantly lied to her (which, really, I did) about not doing school dances.  She did not speak to me for months, and even after that, she only did so to bring up how I dance-cheated on her, and what a jerk I was, and so on and on.

We, of course, got over that and patched things up.  Now, we have become those friends who enjoy seeing each other when we do, which is once or twice a year, often less, but don't otherwise make an effort to keep in touch (or K.I.T., as it were).

A few years ago, I saw the following "secret" and subsequent response on PostSecret:

(Click to enlarge)

I took a picture of that screen and sent it to Grace, who swears that neither the postcard nor the response came from her.  I believe her, I guess, but how many Austins could there be who have jilted a girl during high school prom season? 

Well, at least two, apparently.

This morning, I checked PostSecret for its weekly update of postcards, and came across this one

and wondered if it was a sign.  Lately, I have not felt the confidence I once did that I can, and will, fulfill my goal of a year.  This blog has felt more like a burden than a privilege, more a yoke than a path to creativity.

At the very least, it seems I am not alone.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

7/24/2011 - movie adaptation of some superhero. . .

Because I live with and love a man who read comic books as a kid and still somehow maintains an impressive database of knowledge on the various comic universes (yet he struggles with remembering my exact birthday), not a single movie adaptation of some superhero or another goes by without us sitting in the audience.

Generally, I find them tedious, a perfunctory take on the tried and true "hero's journey" template, where the hero is called to adventure, goes through a series of trials before emerging triumphant against his (or her) greatest enemy and then using all that was learned during this journey to make a critical last decision, often resulting in some sort of sacrifice.

Captain America was no different, and outside of a 15-second scene where a once short and skinny Chris Evans emerges from some laboratory chamber shirtless and with newfound height and muscles, I was bored and more interested in finding a way to integrate the whole experience into this blog somehow.  (And here it is.)

For those who have been spared the details of Captain America, a brief recap: A little guy with a myriad of health issues and who often finds himself getting his ass kicked in alleyways wants to enlist in the military to kill some bad guys in World War II.  After participating in a government experiment that turned him from a David into a Goliath (if Goliath was tanned, waxed, and modeled part-time), he did just that.

Captain America was originally released as propaganda during this exact time period, boosting the morale of the country during an otherwise dark time of the world.  Captain America, along with his alter ego Steve Rogers, gave America someone to cheer for, someone unequivocally good, stalwart and righteous, who emerged a winner--a runt with the heart of a fighter.  Much like America, then, a relatively new country but stood as a pillar in the war.

I don't think anyone would question the role that America played during World War II.  I don't think anyone would dismiss the struggles of the underdog, especially in light of recent tragedies due to bullying.  I thought this movie stood alongside a great opportunity to address these issues: bullying on a mass scale, good and evil in their purest and most unquestionable forms, and what it means to fight and fight back.

But in the end, it was just an action movie, another prequel in a series of prequels in anticipation of next year's Avengers, the veritable casserole of a movie where Marvel superheroes all come together to ward off Earth's impending doom.  Or something.  What a shame, though, because Captain America reminded me of a time when war was viewed as necessary, a tragic but essential component to freedom, when soldiers who risked their lives in war were welcomed home like the heroes they were.  Captain America was about bullying, interpersonal and international, and the need for us to address this problem with the attention it requires.

So in the end, I guess I got more out of the movie than just a display of Chris Evans' body; I didn't feel like I spent two hours of my life with absolutely nothing to show for it.  But still, I thought it could have been so much more.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

7/23/2011 - wish fulfillment. . .

I never bought into "The Secret," that pseudo-spiritual, but mostly pseudo, "movement" built on the belief that positive energy begets positive outcomes, mostly of the financial sort.  I firmly believe in positivity and how people are attracted, whether knowingly or not, to someone who exudes a sense of confidence and good.  In theory, this blog was built on that principle.

However, I don't believe that if I told the universe that I am ready for a life of wealth and power, it will come to me without hard work.  Conversely, I don't believe that I do not live a life of wealth and power simply because I did not phrase it in a way that the universe understands, or because I did not think positively enough.

But lately, it seems that whatever I ask for, even if I don't actually ask, I have been given freely (by the universe?) and without much of my effort.  This morning, I received an e-mail from the music director of Rapid Transit A Cappella, giving a high-level guideline on how to arrange music for the group.  I am obsessed with the idea that I want to sing a showtune with them, but it seems difficult to implement this if I can't arrange the music myself.  A difficult task, for sure, but not impossible, I don't think, as I should have enough of a grasp on music theory to be able to muddle through.  And right when I got to thinking that I just don't know how to begin, I get this e-mail to hold my hand.

In my job search, I've hit up against a wall, and right when I told Sam that a headhunter might come in handy if only I knew where to find one, I randomly met a woman at the gym a couple of days ago who hunts heads in San Francisco.

And yesterday, I walked to Union Square on my lunch break to buy the third and final installment of God of War for the Playstation 3.  I decided that I would not pay more than $20 for the game, which is now over a year old, a reasonable parameter with all the used copies of it floating around.  Of course, when I got to GameStop, the used version was $26.  Fortunately, I have no self-discipline, so I took it up to the register anyway, fully prepared to break my resolution by $6.  Without any prompting, the cashier asked if I would like a new copy instead since they were on sale for $14.99.

What else can I ask for before my streak of wish fulfillment comes to an end?

Friday, July 22, 2011

7/22/2011 - as if. . .

I finished reading Marisa Silver's The God of War this evening, and I believe this makes three books I've completed this year.  Three, which is a long way off from the seven I should have finished by now if I want to be on target for reading one book a month this year, but three nonetheless.

Some of my favorite books, the ones that remind me of how amazing the ability to read can be, have made me feel something.  I remember as I came to the end of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, a retelling of the Arthurian legend through the perspectives of Morgana and Guinevere, I had to read while crying.  I was devastated for a week afterwards.  Even having prior knowledge that Arthur dies in the end (that wasn't a spoiler, was it?) did not prepare me for the beauty of her words and the emotional blow of the scene. 

Good books also remind me that language can be beautiful, not only in its sound, but its imagery.  I've probably read Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams a handful of times, and each time, I want to read it out loud, because the meter of the words he uses hums along like a familiar folk song, while at the same time painting thorough and authentic vignettes of life and the human experience of it.

Some of the worst books, however, made me realize how much time I lost in finishing them, if I even reach the end at all.  How many times now have I tried to wade through Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, only to be left confused and pitying myself for not understanding what the hell was going on?  Six?  Yet for all the praise it has received from friends and critics alike, I failed to see it.  I wondered if the death sentence he received in Iran for this book was simply because the Ayatollah had wasted however many weeks and months of his life trying to finish this convoluted and overwhelming mess, bored himself to death, and now simply needed somebody to pay for what had happened. 

And then, there are books like The God of War.  By all expectations, I should have loved it.  A coming-of-age story about a boy growing up in the mostly abandoned desert towns of Southern California, it hit upon themes that I hold dear: the swirling definitions of love, the development of an identity apart from one's family, the need to feel connected to the world.  Yet I could not surrender to Silver's prose because of one thing: her use of the phrase "as if."

In just about every page (and I mean that literally), she uses "as if" to indicate comparison or metaphor ("as if the sun had leached the heaviness of living right out of them," or "as if they were in a toy store sweepstakes," or "as if trying to shake away water," all from the second chapter alone).  Really, to make sure I wasn't exaggerating, I checked 10 pages, just opened the book randomly and skimmed through the page, and on eight out of the ten, these little "as if"s sat there, like potholes on an otherwise freshly paved street.  Silver telegraphs her metaphors so clearly that I could barely pay attention to what was happening; I could only anticipate the next occurence of an "as if;" they begged me to see them, to recognize their brilliance, their intention, their purpose. 

And the emotions of the story, the spirits of the characters, were buried underneath them.

I didn't hate the book, but I couldn't love it either.  I did, however, learn something very important, something that I always knew, but this book proved decisively: good ideas and good writing must go together.  To have one but lack the other is to squander the virtues of the former.