Tuesday, November 23, 2010

after the rock show

I grew up with parents that didn't like music.

This, of course, I realize is a total lie. Of course, my folks listened to plenty of music, owned music, and incorporated it into their lives. Yet music, for my Maw and Paw, was by no means something with which to become consumed. I'm sure both my parents like music just fine, but the importance it has to their lives always seemed, from my perspective, nowhere near on the same level as it eventually became for me. It was more like background sound, or it was "that's nice" music.

As a result, I kind of drifted lazily into the world of music, picking up on some things I heard on the radio, some things I heard from my sister (most of either category was classic rock, like Styx or Foreigner). There were plenty of songs I liked, but for many of my early years, there was nothing that really grabbed me and refused to let go.

Then I heard AC/DC. AC/DC smacked me across the face. It demanded my attention. It did things to me emotionally that I had yet to experience. As I was a shy, quiet kid, I was completely unprepared for the power, for the energy, for the liveliness. In fact, AC/DC's If You Want Blood (You've Got It) was the first album I ever bought. And when I discovered Black Sabbath, my path was sealed. It's no surprise that Angus Young and Tony Iommi are the two guitarists who influenced me the most.

My first concert was Molly Hatchet opening for Triumph. Molly Hatchet was pretty horrible. They sounded like they were playing through mud, and I began to wonder what was the big deal with live music. But Triumph came on, and because of their tight playing, anthemic songs, and the biggest light and laser show in the business, I became a live rock show convert. They did much less a performance than an experience...which is now the heights which I expect rock and roll to reach.

I'm thinking about live rock and roll because this evening, the lovely spousal unit and I went into Toledo to see The Hold Steady. This is a band I utterly love. Everything about their live show screams "you must have a good time tonight." They might look utterly unlike rock stars, their singer might rarely if ever actually play the guitar slung over his shoulder, but their music is based on riffs that nail you to the wall. Lyrically, they are very much about rock and roll...about excess, about inclusiveness, about unattainable dreams, about good times, about what happens when the good times end. And personally, I think they give hope to all of us ugly, middle-aged rock musicians.

It was also my child's first concert. Yes, I realize the kid doesn't actually get born for six more months, but I'm going to stand by this claim...because womb concerts count, right? While I have fears that the urchin eventually will rebel against my tastes and listen predominantly to either new age or electronica, I hope that The Hold Steady show implanted at least a bit of rock and roll in the its soul. If not them, who?

Although it does occur to me that there will be an in utero Analog Revolution show or two...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

obsession and imagery

I was watching Aliens last night, when it hit me: the movie is more than just a cool action sequel to a horror movie...it's also the perfect metaphor for pregnancy.

No, I don't really expect the child to come bursting out of the Spousal Unit's chest and snarl. While the movie monster is cool, what strikes me more about the whole Alien series is how the appearance of the bugs cause everyone in the area to freak out in a different way, albeit one uniquely suited for their character. Businesses turn even more bottom-line obsessed/evil, risking not just imprisonment but human life (there own and others) on the chance for profit. Scientists turn more "let's dissect, and damn the cost to human life." Marines turn more "hu-rah" and "let's blow up everything in sight." And particularly in the second, Ripley, the narrator, sadly enough, goes into "she's a girl, so she's going to become the snarling protective mom" figure over her own safety. Aliens, in other words, prompt extreme behavior.

This is what seems to be happening around me. Sometime in June, I will be a father. While I am fully experiencing the typical trials, stresses, and expectations of the addition, this is not currently the most fascinating element of the process. No, the freakiest thing in the whole deal is how an impending child causes everyone in the world around you to freak out. To be clear: everyone seems very happy for us, and that happiness seems perfectly genuine. Yet within many reactions of joy, I learn a bit more about those around me and the things with which they are obsessed.

The spousal unit and I first noticed the gendered nature of most congratulatory comments, particularly with the vehemence of assumptions on our respective roles. Whenever spousal unit told anyone about the upcoming urchin, she was often asked "How does Mike feel about this? Is he happy?" When I tell anyone, a lot of people wonder "Is your wife okay? Has she been throwing up much?" For many people, that must be who we, as expecting parents, are: a vomiting wife and a depressed husband.

I have particularly noted how the "depressed husband" bit seems pervasive in not just some acquaintances but in society in general. What, according to the literature, is my job? Well, when you're part of an expecting couple, people give you lots of brochures and magazines, and according to New Parent, I don't really have much of any role in this child process. All of the articles are written by women, to moms, and the only mention of fathers is that "the husband may be confused on how to help, so write him a 'to do, dear' list." No wonder the father-to-be's supposed to be depressed...everyone thinks he's a neglectful moron. I'm also assuming that having to clean up all his wife's vomit might have something to do with his mood.

People also seem inordinately fascinated by the question of if we're going to discover the child's sex before the breaching begins. Right now, we're going back and forth (I don't care, while spousal unit has changed her mind at least once), but some folks are adamant that we should have either a boy or a girl...but they really should've submitted a request months ago. Both of our families are actively pushing for a girl for some reason and don't feel shy about telling us so. At this stage of the pregnancy, this line of conversation has morphed into a debate on whether the urchin's high heart rate means it's a boy or a girl. Personally, the level of obsession leads me to believe that most of my friends own stock in either blue or pink pigment manufacturing processes. Sorry, y'all, we're going with gender-neutral colors.

The biggest weirdness catalyst so far, though, has been the ultrasound photos. When my spousal unit took them to work, she was unprepared for the political ramifications they brought up. In particular, there were co-workers that, after expressing congratulations, made them into salvos in the pro-choice/pro-life debate and started to reach at-the-throat levels...that is, after they asked if the photos changed how depressed I might be.

I also shared the photos with my friends (ah, e-mail...the blessing of the lazy yet ambitious communicator), and, as many of them are academics, this naturally stirred up a theoretical debate. That there was a debate was very unsurprising to me, and that there were views I found reasonable, views with which I respectfully disagreed, and views that seemed beside the point was also expected. However, throughout many of the responses lay an intense and not-so-subtle distrust of institutions: of communicative institutions, of technological institutions, and of medical institutions. There was co-opting, devaluing, and erasing. And this made me realize: man, I know a lot of folk who are truly paranoid, but only in a theoretical sense.

And to think that it was Aliens that brought it all home to me. I should note, incidentally, that I personally don't find any of this scary in the slightest. Instead, I am amused intently by all of the reactions. I really haven't, for the record, found anything about the impending fatherhood to be scary at all...except the realization that I'll probably have to patronize a Babys-R-Us in the future. The horror!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the right metaphor

I have news...but most of the standard metaphors are kind of clunky and inappropriate. "Knocked up" makes me think of some weird zero-G mixed martial arts. "Bun in the Oven" is too Hansel-and-Gretel/cannibalish. And "expecting" makes me think that someone is never going to finish their sentence.

This is more delicate than you might think. I know that I have to maintain the dignity of the situation. On the other hand, though, I also have to communicate the joy, excitement, and potential of the event. While I am a professional writer and thus have to hunt for metaphors all the time, this one is relatively important, so I really hope this does it justice:

My spousal unit and I would like to announce that, on or about the 8th day of this upcoming June, the future master and potentate of the universe will arrive, and we, as a couple, are the responsible party...so some of the "hails" should be for us.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

a new dastardly student trick revealed!

I've been teaching for a while, and I used to think I'd seen everything, in terms of papers. No, I'm not talking about stupid subjects or thesis statements (although, after "The Catholic church is the mother of homosexuality and should be banned," not much surprises me there either) but in terms of length stretching.

While I can't talk for all teachers, I personally am not really so anal that I desperately need a certain number of words or pieces of paper to sleep at night. When I set a length requirement, I'm mostly thinking about an appropriate level of focus and critical engagement, because writers think much differently about a topic in three pages than in six. So when a student tries to slip past inadequate thought, it kind of gets me steamed.

I have, like most teachers, seen students try a ton of different tricks, such as:

  • the use of Courier New, which stretches out a short paper
  • the use of Courier New on a Mac, which adds more space than on a pc
  • a slightly larger font, ranging from 13 pts. up to the fairly obvious 16
  • increasing margin size, up to an unsubtle 2"
  • increasing spacing, from the sneaky 2.25 spacing to the ridiculous triple spacing
  • adding extra spacing between paragraphs, up to 16pts. worth

By this point in my career, these are all relatively easy to spot...and when I do see them, I get angry that the student in question thinks I'm dumb enough not to be able to immediately spot their lazy attempts to stretch out a short paper.

Today, though, I discovered a new one. My spousal unit brought me a page which I was sure was triple spaced. When we opened the file, however, it was in double spacing. I opened it up in both Word and OpenOffice without difference. After puzzling over it for a while, I discovered the student trick: only the periods were in 18 pt....which stretched out the spacing while keeping it officially double spacing.

Pretty clever on the student's part. I still think, however, that it wouldn't cost too much more effort to just do the damn assignment. I am, however, pretty happy to learn another student trick. I have another bit of evil I can now effectively thwart!