Thursday, April 29, 2010

road tunes

Back when I was a high school laddie, a friend of mine's dad was what you would call a bluegrass aficionado. Not only did he listen to lots of bluegrass, travel to bluegrass festivals, and own an awe-inspiring instrument collection (including seven or eight top-of-the-line Martin guitars, which you'd often find just leaned against the couch), he also declared every Wednesday night to be Bluegrass Night. I can close my eyes and see him now. He'd put on his pink blazer, break out his best mandolin, mix a Seagram's and water, and open up his house to anyone who played bluegrass. Players from all over Jacksonville would come to hang out, have a few beverages, and play bluegrass classics until the late hours.

I went on a fairly regular basis. While I initially went to hang out with my high school friends, I eventually learned to appreciate (and even got to play) the unexpected development. Even now, there are still the occasional random melodies and lyric fragments which unexpectedly pop into my head.

But another part of the adventure was getting to know a wide variety of people from circles I wouldn't ordinarily enter. While time has eroded many of them from my memory (the banjoist, who was just blistering, is an exception), I remember one fun-loving guy in particular who always tried to crack us up. One time, upon hearing me moan about my long drive to work, this gentleman told me that he drove an hour each way to his job, but it his favorite part of his day...a time where he could be alone with his thoughts, with no demands on him, and it was the only time where he could play whatever he wanted on his radio without having to consider anyone else's preferences. At the time, I thought he was nuts, but that was probably because I was struggling to keep my 1973 Plymouth Valiant's monstrous gas tank full. 13 MPG is, after all, not exactly easy on the high school income.

Much has changed for me in the over 20 years. Instead of standing on a porch and trying to talk over the sound of G chords and pick noise, I'm waiting in my office for my last class of the semester and avoiding the inevitable end-of-the-term grading load. While there's a part of me that's gearing up for the zombie grading sessions, and another part of me is contemplating my stupidly optimistic summer research agenda, I also realized that today will be the last day for a while where I can pick a cd and blast it on the ride home. I will legitimately miss the ride.

If the interwub is to be trusted, the Wednesday bluegrass jams still go on. Right now, I kinda wish I was living in Jacksonville so I stop by. It would be fun to hear the music, but there's a bigger draw. Now that I'm more mature, who knows what further wisdom I might encounter?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

desperate times call for a desperate drink...

...and I call this one the "Final Exam":

  • throw a bottle o' vodka and a martini glass into the freezer and wait a while
  • after doing some grading and hating mankind, fill a shaker with ice
  • add

    • 1/2 measure of triple sec
    • 1/2 measure of peppermint schnapps
    • 2 measures of the icy vodka

  • shake the mixture while trying to look cool
  • take the martini class out of the freezer and add two twists
  • pour the drink into the glass
  • enjoy while plotting the downfall of undergrads

Monday, April 26, 2010

one of my turns

I am currently (for reasons I don't really wanna get into here) in a funk. I spent most of yesterday in a rotten mood...and by rotten, I mean the "I hate everyone of you idiots"/thunderclouds/looks of pure evil/decaying flesh moods. I wanted to hurt every single person, animal, mineral, and vegetable on this and on one other planet.

Ultimately, I realized I needed to get out of said mood. In fact, I spent a lot of the day contemplating various mood elevators. However, each unfortunately possessed a fatal flaw.

I wanted to punch somebody or something. However, I'm currently having arm issues (which I initially suspected were pulled muscles, but the three week duration suggests otherwise). Hurting myself more, when I already feel 183 years old and am contemplating walkers, would not, I suspect, ultimately make me any happier.

I then wanted to play something horrifically heavy on guitar. However, our band's material is really not violent enough save one song, and that one doesn't even have a guitar solo...which would limit the amount of ear drum damage I could achieve. I did try and play some Rage Against the Machine during practice, but while one band member played along, the other members just exchanged the seemingly omnipresent "here Mike goes again" look amongst themselves.

If I couldn't perform violence (or the representation thereof) myself, I wanted to at least see some violence...and lo and behold, there was in fact a wrestling pay-per-view. However, I only know one person who would conceivably go with me, and he wanted to stay in. I should've hunted him down and performed a pile-driver...but I like him in spite of his wimpiness in this particular matter...and furthermore, see the above "hurt" point about self-inflicting injury.

I wanted to drink. And by drink, I meant epic drinking bout. However, I had to be up stupidly early today, so my body wasn't really ready for the inevitable hangover compounding my already inevitable sleep deprivation. Also, I would've had to drink alone, and that tends to elevate rather than alleviate my moods. Hey, my life ain't Barfly

So hear this, every single person in the world: you better be glad I have a lovely spousal unit who makes me feel fuzzy and temperate...because if not for her, you would have had to deal with yesterday's mood compounded for 24 more hours. Trust me: that would not have been pretty.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I was so much older then...

Summers are (as you, oh faithful readers, know by now) my work period. Part of my mental preparation for this work period is to slowly get myself acclimated to the sound of partying and volleyball-playing undergrads frolicking in the frat-boy-hell apartment complex across the street while I'm in my office, chained to various pieces of scholarship-in-progress. Sometimes, it takes all my inner fortitude to not run out and join them. Then I (1) remember how I feel about the average fratboy dude/bro that lives at said complex, as well as (2) remember they likely consider me to be around 187 years old.

The secret is, I have found, to expose one's self in increasing doses to younger people having fun when you are in fact working on something. If one is careful to build up one's tolerance, eventually, the fun-receptors in one's brain can be completely disabled. Yes, it's a type of self-flagellation, but it keeps the working part of my brain somewhat focused.

I started this training regimen today by going to and fro the library by walking across the green on campus instead of taking the (more direct) back way. This way, I would pass a multitude of people both younger and more beautiful than I (which is, admittedly, not all that difficult). Furthermore, since a certain percentage of said good looking kids would inevitably be sunbathing, playing frisbee, or just plain goofing off, it would adequately crush my own internal fun circuit.

It worked kinda sorta, but not as well as I would like. Sure, it reminded me that there are people who have the time to goof off. Yes, it reminded me that the world is full of people considerably more attractive than I. However, it did not make me feel as old and decrepit as it usually would.

Why not? I blame a colleague, who earlier commented "you're a young guy...what are you, 30?"

This shook me. I don't think said colleague was trying to be nice...because it's me, after all, and people just don't ever try to raise my spirit. Did she seriously think I was that young?

Now I'm sitting in my office, but I am mentally torn. Am I ancient or no? Should I sit here and start work on an academic manifesto? Or should I go play beer pong with Natty Light?

Monday, April 12, 2010

riding the writing cycle

Each school year follows a predictable pattern. No, I'm not talking about the prep, making syllabi, and tracing my students on the path from sheet utter panic to comprehension. I'm talking about my own journey as a writer.

The summer is my major productive time, where I write and write and write. Basically, I try to break it up with exercise, glasses of iced tea, and such, but most every summer day is spent either on the couch reading theory or chained to the desk, writing on the computer. I have lofty goals in the summer, ones that require "total dedication."

Of course, although I get an awful lot done (one of my bosses tells me I'm producing tenure-track workload even I'm in a heavy teaching job), I never really come close to completing my "vacation" writing agenda. When the Fall starts, I tell myself that it will be different this semester...I'll find a way to both write and teach. As is, I did pretty good this past fall by getting a brief revision and resubmit out and one conference presentation, but that's it. I never even got that conference presentation written up in draft.

The Christmas break will, I always swear, be the time where I get an article out--this year, it was going to be the Fall conference paper. Unfortunately (for my productivity, that is), there are always visitations, family gatherings, parties, and similar distractions. I always enjoy myself immensely, but again, I never get any writing done.

I tell myself, "well, at least I have Spring semester to write"...but by this point do I really need to go into detail on this semester's work failure?

I'm thinking about these cycles, because although I am still several weeks away from the start of summer, I am at what is most accurately the starting point of my scholarly side. I am at that magical dead space in the semester where the students are buried in their own work and don't really need much hand-holding on my part. I have very few classes left to plan, and I am between conference weeks. This means I have a certain amount of time on my hand, and Summer is on the horizon, I can actually start working without worrying too much about losing momentum in the forthcoming grading/conference period.

There's only one problem: by this point in the year, it's been entirely too long since I ever had to think about anything at all. I know I have mental chops, but it's been way too long since any of them were flexed. My major goal now is to try and get my brain primed and ready to that when the summer finally hits, I can dive into my scholarship.

And I do have a ton of it on the summer "to-do" CSI article, starting a journal with friends, finishing my revision attempt on the music article, the theory-heavy Neuromancer article, and (tee hee) getting a draft of the book done (the latter of these will almost certainly never leave the "dreaming" stage). On top of that, I have a brief smattering of an idea for a paper on the Robert B. Parker Spenser if I need any more work.

I'm starting the brain recharging by reading Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. If you've only seen the awesomely fun film adaptation, you should know they are nothing like the same story. Heinlein's version is much more proto-fascist "go military" (although a much-smarter-than-I friend has already engaged me on my reductive descriptions), as opposed to the anti-hierarchy film. Honestly, even though I'm an ex-military brat, my sympathies are with the movie, but the film is more of a think-piece...and I think maybe it's the perfect way to ease me back into mental operations.

With the stupidly heavy workload in my on-deck circle, you would think that I would be in panic mode, but it's not really the case. Instead, I feel like I'm coming back to where I belong. I do love teaching, and I find it ultimately enriching, but the research, the writing, the scholarship, that's what really what drew me to this life in the first place...and that's nice to remember.

I have never come anywhere near where I want to be professionally, but I know I am far from alone in this. I don't know if the writing will help me in my career or not. The one thing I do know? Writers write. I might be stuck teaching "welcome to college" classes in a field far from my own, and I might be doing this forever. Doesn't matter, though. My writing is my true work, and I think it's important to realize that it's valuable in its own right.

I could get depressed by my age. I could get depressed by the fact that I rely on hand-me-down cars from my parents. I could get depressed by having to rent a house in the student ghetto because I can't get out of credit card debt. I could get depressed by the very real possibility that most of my friends will be gone in four months, and most likely not even to better places and situations, because damnit, I want all my friends to get great jobs in vacation-settings, so I have places to visit.

I don't know if doing the work will solve anything. I have no idea if it will ever get recognized. Ultimately, I don't even know if the work has value. But I suspect. I believe.

It might be a cliche to say "the work will set me free"...but I'm okay with least at this stage of the writing cycle.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

show number four

I've long since realized that I have the tendency to complain and moan. I'm sure this comes as a shock to many, but I also have a love of hyperbole and exaggeration. There's always a certain desire to embellish the truth to make my life seem more impressive than it is in reality. I swear, however, that I'm not doing that when I tell you that, upon loading in my equipment for last night's show, I immediately thought of Silence of the Lambs.

"It puts the lotion in the basket. It puts the lotion in the basket!!!!"

Ahem. Sorry about that.

The show was at an area anarchist bookstore/community center/performance space, and we were scheduled to play with one other local band and two touring acts (one of them from Mexico, no less). And while there is much to say about the evening, I am still trying to encapsulate my experience. My thoughts are, as they say, a work in progress.

First things first. I am not an anarchist. While my understanding of the philosophy is better than the reductive stereotypes which my students hold (and that I used to have myself), I admittedly only have a rudimentary understanding of anarchism and know few of its intricacies. I have sympathies with the suspicion of hierarchy in particular, but I hold my own suspicions of their proposed solutions. I am trying to learn more, and not just because of my anarchist friends...I do have a legitimate intellectual curiosity on the subject. But I'm not there yet, so playing a show at an anarchist center inevitably involved coming to terms with my limited knowledge and some preconceptions to boot.

Nevertheless, the idea of an anarchist community center/concert venue/infoshop is one with which I certainly sympathize. Non-traditional music venues are essential for growing musicians, particularly those who are underage and cannot play in bars. That such a place as an infoshop exists for any philosophy is great, and the communal spirit is undeniable, particularly in terms of community outreach. So it was with a limited knowledge and a selective sympathy that I drove to Monday's show.

At first, I have to admit that I was a little freaked out. My spousal unit got there before I. When, having problems locating the place, she called me, she described the area as generally scary. I eventually found the place, ran into my bandmates, and started the equipment load-in through the center's dark garage/warehouse. This involved passing much, stuff/appliances/crap, walking on a wooden plank suspended over a puddle that verged on underground lake territory, going down the "staircase of death," and entering a large basement space utterly covered with graffiti. This is when the Silence of the Lambs references started echoing in my head.

We went into the bookstore area to wait for the show to start, and my expectations took a little swerve. I expected to see a relatively easy-going space furnished with nice salvaged furniture and shelves upon shelves of zines...and I did find exactly that. What I was not expecting, however, is the Friends board's just not the stereotypical choice of either anarchists or Silence of the Lambs characters.

So, after a certain amount of milling about, we grabbed a table. Eventually, we found out that a local band had been added to the bill, and they were running a little late. Ultimately, I found out that this was reason one why I could never be an anarchist. Most of the people associated with this evening, it was explained to me, were "lifestyle anarchists," which (as it was explained) means "they believe you have autonomy and are free to decide to do whatever we want to"...thus the very idea of a schedule is not really within the realm of discussion.

Now, as much as I would like to be fairly free and loose with my time, I simply cannot be that relaxed. For one, I used to work at restaurants, where everything was timed (length of shift, of service, of cooking for each item, for performing every task, and so forth). Second, my years of grad school and later adjuncting means that I am used to having 3,652,809 thing going on at once, so prioritization and scheduling are not just options...they are ingrained necessities. So the wait was killing me. I assume Buffalo Bill could relate.

Anyway, after a few hours, my drummer told me that if nothing was happening in about a half hour, we would just go downstairs and start playing. However, the local band showed up and started setting up, so we wandered downstairs. This is when I fully was able to comprehend our performance space. Yes, it was low-ceiling, and yes, the stage was only two inches tall, but the graffiti was the most memorable element. Some tags were fairly dull (band names and such), some were quite expected (the anarchy symbol, of course), some were interesting (the one asking me to perform a sexual act on "gender binaries"), and some were just plain puzzling (the sprayed image of a fetus with the legend "abortions send babies to god faster").

The first band started playing pretty late and did a five or six song set. I suppose they were pretty good at what they do, but their music was a cross between 80s new wave and emo, and those are two genres which I simply cannot get into. My main impression, though, was of how young everyone was. I'm sure I was twice as old as 85% of the audience.

After the first band finished, we were able to set up fairly quickly and issue-free. Most people came back down when we started playing, but I noticed a number of them filtering upstairs as our set went on. By the end of it, there were about six people left in spite of us (I would humbly like to suggest) pretty well and mistake-free. The remaining "crowd" was admittedly appreciative (one of them thanked us), but I can't help wish we could quantify how quickly we cleared the room. While we were hauling our stuff back up the stairs of death, our singer and I were complemented by the singer from band one, who particularly liked our last song...the only thing is, I don't remember him still being in the audience when we finished.

While we were packing, my bassist told me she thought it was because we were too loud for everyone to stay. Now, it is true that we are a pretty loud band--we do have a drummer who plays as if he's punishing his instrument, and the rest of us have no real choice but to keep up. We were honestly trying to be relatively tame volume-wise, however. Said drummer was even using his "quiet" sticks. True, he still broke them, but we were trying.

My theory, however, is different. I took last night as a lesson on how well Analog Revolution goes over with "the kids." This is a shame, really, because it means that while we might sell some shirts, our posters will apparently never be over the beds of young girls nation-wide.

In light of this revelation, I guess I will have to adjust my lifelong goals and dreams...somehow. Well, at least I never had to put the lotion in the basket.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

show number three

Last night was the second of three shows in this ten day period. I was expecting a certain amount of wear or panic. I was also hoping that someone in the audience would flash the band. Fortunately and unfortunately respectively, I was wrong.

We were able to set up at a more leisurely pace, and it really helped having played on the stage last week...we knew how to better maximize a very small space. There were still electrical issues (albeit not at the Spinal Tap level of last week), and we couldn't hear each other as well as I would've liked, but in spite of that, we had a good night and barely screwed up in noticeable ways. And our new cover (a rockin' version of "Maggie May") went over pretty well.

For playing the same place two Fridays in a row, we had a pretty good crowd...especially considering that lots of our academic colleagues were either at a conference or at someone's party. But it was a pretty full room. We even had someone wearing some of our merchandise...and a non-band member's partner even!...although nobody modeled any of our band thongs. Maybe next time.

The other performers were all awesome, so as well as playing, we got to hear some great music. Afterwards, I stayed talking to friends until we were told (in a gentle manner, though) that we had to leave. All in all, there are worse ways to spend a Friday night.