Saturday, February 13, 2010

cotton head

Yesterday, I had a full day of online student conferences. By and large, the students were fairly good (only minimal horror/humor stories to tell colleagues at the bar), but online conferences are de-facto annoying. They take twice as long...because there are these dead spaces between me typing in a comment, student reading said comment, and student typing response. This means I can't actually do any multitasking and be productive on something else while awaiting responses. Hell, I can't even get good traction on a game of Spider Solitaire, for Bob's sake!

Day before, I was running in-class conferences and teaching two classes (one of which really enlightened me into the state of American education in a way I really can't explain in a public forum) I got no real work done that day either. Wednesday was spent doing more online conferences. Tuesday was a snow day, so I spent most of the time trying to get caught up on a million little things (bills and my scary income tax situation among them) that pile up while I'm doing other things (such guessed it...conferences) when I wasn't outside freeing cars from 37" of snow. I did much the same thing on Monday.

What's the result of such a work week? For starters, my head feels like cotton. Conferences generally do that to me, but this round was did it just a bit more than was tech writing, which, although I do a decent job at it, just does not critically engage me as much as I would like. Online makes it worse, because I get the lack of critical engagement on top of throbbing eyeballs from staring at my monitor for eight-plus hours.

If only I didn't still have these ideas, theories, and articles floating in my head and no time to start researching them, let alone write them down.

I guess that's why I drink.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

the music of my youth

I have always been a music guy. It's kind of strange, considering my father seemingly doesn't want to hear anything that challenges him in any way, and my mother uses music for mostly background noise, but music has always played a special role in my heart.

Moreover, I have the cd collection to prove it. While my 1,000-1,200 cds pales in comparison to some (one friend in TX has, I think, around 20,000), it's still notable in size. Moreover, it's filled with disks that are more than just collections of songs, instead acting as emotional markers, evoking fragments, memories, and stories. This album was originally given to me (several copies ago, originally on cassette) by my first high school crush. I burned through several copies of this one while driving around and smoking cigarettes in high school. This one got me through my last bad breakup. I played this one for my now-wife on the first night she stayed over.

My collection also has cd copies of a lot of old albums which specifically prompt recall of key times when I was really young and first discovering my love of music. Every time I play Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny, I think of my brother bringing home a vinyl copy from the base library. Motorhead's No Remorse makes me think of a recently deceased friend, who owned the leather-bound records. Metallica's Ride the Lightning reminds me of the shock and wonder of discovering something which so blatantly demolished every single rule of music I thought existed, a feeling which my current students (for whom Metallica has long been classic rock) can never understand. These disks in particular act more as markers of my musical experiences and knowledge...metamusic, if you will.

Apart from evoking these memories and stories, however, most of the albums still hold up as really good music. And whenever I realize that the soundtrack to my life also would work as contemporary artistic production, I feel that I've done something right, dedicating a large part of myself to music. It's also one of the reasons that I rarely get rid of anything, album-wise, and why I look down upon with scorn anyone who would trade in cds. Why would you get rid of a cherished memory in exchange for three dollars of store credit? No, keep everything, a part of me (one that clearly doesn't have to worry about storage space) cries.

Lately, though, my head's playback mechanism has been shifting towards the greatest hits of the past which, for one reason or another, don't reside in my collection. Yesterday, snippets of REO Speedwagon songs from when I was a nine year old jumped to the forefront. Today, while showering, it was April Wine, who I doubt I've actually heard in 25 years and haven't thought of in at least a decade. I'm expecting an onslaught of unowned classic rock to consume me this afternoon. Even as I write this, there's most certainly a part of my frontal cortex looking for an old Styx song to recycle.

I've been trying all morning to figure out what my head turning unwittingly has turned into a classic rock station, a format which I normally hate. While I recall April Wine as being enjoyable enough, they never played a role in any significant or memorable event other than vague recollections of idly watching MTV, back in the days the network actually lived up to its name and played music. Nor did they redefine how I thought about music. And I suspect that neither is it sentimentality, a trait that rarely plays a role in much of anything I do.

I'm sitting at the computer, hands on the keyboard. I should be doing any one of about a thousand tasks today (grading, e-mails, taxes), but instead, I mostly hear the guitar crash in "Just Between You and Me's" chorus. I can't explain how it got there or what it's doing to me. My only hope is that it is not signifying some inevitable mental decline into the world of nostalgia.

I've got too much still to do to think of the past in that way.