Monday, November 23, 2015

it's getting rough in here

We're still several days away from Thanksgiving, and I have been accused of being a "humbug" for the first time of the year. Record timing on my part, sure, but it does show the extent of what I'm up against in this place.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

album update 11/22

So, how's my new album coming?

I had yesterday to record, which is good. I got all of my vocal overdubs for my album done, which is also good. Moreover, I refined my recording technique, so the vocals sound better than ever...which is essential for anyone with a voice like mine.

However, the recording spirits are nothing if not fickle. When trying to install some effects plug-ins (so I might better manipulate my recordings), I also got some malware on my computer. The act of removing said malware somehow disabled my computer's ability to connect to the internet. Then, as I was mixing in the overdubs, I realized they sounded so good, they made it clear that I now have to totally rerecord several songs worth of vocals. No problem, right, as I have all of today to record...except my sinuses have started acting up and my throat is getting sore, so no singing today. Sigh.

It will all be worth it in the end, though. I'm getting really good guitar and vocal sounds, so I will be able to keep the song arrangements relatively spanrse  (at least as compared to Skeleton Coast's kitchen sink approach) while also having it sound very full. The drums sound great, and I had a blast indulging my percussive quirks...not to mention I have a magnificent bassist recording tracks for the album.

One of the best things about doing a DIY project and being one's own producer is the ability to fully commit to the "there's no reason not to do everything right" dictum. I should be ready to release the album by January, and I think you will like it.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

more things to think about

If you read a plea to think, you know I've been thinking about the whole ISIS situation. You also know I feel it's more complex than people believe. Here's some further readings:
  • I Was Held Hostage by ISIS presents a good inside look at the terrorist group. They come off less as malevolent evildoers and more like angsty teenagers desperately searching for something in which to believe.
  • How Islamic is the Islamic State? largely undermines the notion of the terrorists as fanatical ideologues. The author writes: "Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process...It is an excuse, rather than a reason. ISIS is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices."
  • ISIS Has Studied the Past Successes of Terrorism All Too Well undoes the idea of a real distinction between terrorists and legitimate methods of social change. Terrorism, the author argues, often works quite well as a means to achieve political goals: "neither Sinn Féin, the IRA’s long‑denied legal political wing, nor Hezbollah could ever have acquired the power, influence and status they enjoy today if not for their terrorist antecedents...while governments regularly decry terrorism as ineffective, the terrorists themselves have an abiding faith in their violence, and for good reason"
  • What Americans Thought of Jewish Refugees on the Eve of World War II points out some fairly frightening parallels with the anti-Syrian refugee movement. "[M]ost Western countries regarded the plight of Jewish refugees with skepticism or unveiled bigotry (and sympathy followed only wider knowledge of the monstrous slaughters of the Holocaust)." Hopefully, we won't follow the same path.
Okay, next time, I'm moving on to other things (my album, existential philosophy, or new recipes).

my Onion horoscope, 11/17/15

"Remember, people like you for who you are: an incredibly insecure person willing to do almost anything for acceptance."

Get out of my head, Onion!

Monday, November 16, 2015

a plea to think

"Just remember...there are reasons"-- Spider Jerusalem

It was a difficult weekend. Like many, I spent a lot of time checking the news feeds for updates on the Paris shootings/bombings. I spent a whole lot of time thinking about meaning. Mostly, though, I spent a lot of time being scared.

I am not afraid, for the record, of the terrorists. This is not, for the record, naivety on my part but a conscious choice. They are scary, yes, but if you're actively afraid, you're helping them achieve their goals of terrorizing. And living in fear never ends well.

To tell the truth, I actually find many common reactions to Paris to be scarier than the terror. I saw way too many people who allowed the killing to in turn make them equally frightening and bloodthirsty. Almost as if to consciously prove the "violence begets violence" adage, cries of "wipe these people/religion off the face of the earth" flooded the internet. Even politicians got in the act, ranging from Senator Ted Cruz saying we had to be okay killing more civilians to former Governor Jeb Bush proposing only helping Christians. Personally, I have doubts that being more narrow-minded will solve much.

It is true that I did see a lot of good, including various French groups offering their help, their support, and their houses. And it was obvious from just a glance that the general tragedy certainly touched many people in social media, when before too long, French flags started showing up on Facebook.

It was at that point I started to notice something else scary. There was a ton of sympathy for France. Just a day before, though, Lebanon had been hit by similar terrorist attacks...yet they got no sympathetic outpourings. Where were the cries for Russia after an ISIS bomb took down a commercial airline flight? Where, for that matter, was the outrage over any other recent act of violence, no matter what group was at fault?

Why did we all latch onto the Paris tragedy? Is it because they're European? White? More like us than any of the previous victims of recent violence? Was it because we don't expect bloodshed in France like we do in other places? Why are we so hurt by unexpected violence yet immune and numb to violence where it is a fact of existence? And if this is the case, how screwed up are we as a species when we can actually not care about people in a specific place getting hurt because they're always getting hurt? These questions had special importance, because the bad behavior of only caring about the French victims? I first saw it in myself.

Maybe it's naivety on my part, but I feel that shortsightedness is not only a problem on the part of the terrorists. We're equally guilty. A seemingly senseless act occurred, so how did we react? Simplistically, with either a "kill 'em all"/blood-centric approach or existential "why do bad things happen" angst. Neither of these will solve anything.

There are reasons. And if we want to avoid tragedies, the first step has to be to find those reasons so we may address them. This requires analysis, though, and one of the prime rules of analysis (as I tell my students with some frequency) is that base assumptions such as "they must be insane/ignorant/stupid/bloodthirsty are pointless, as they tell us nothing.

We have to be willing to see other perspectives...even those of the people who are trying to kill us. To that end, I present two must-reads, What I Learned From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters and Confessions of an ISIS. If you take nothing else from them, just realize that the situation has no simple truths. It would be easier to go by our stereotypes, but if anything is to ever change, we have to learn just how complex the world can get. It's hard knowledge, to be sure, but it's the only viable first step.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

my favorite bit of praise

Today was my daughter's picture day at preschool, so I got to take her there three hours earlier than normal so she wouldn't miss the photo shoot. Knowing how much I utterly love mornings, this was a bit of a burden. However, I did get to have her rest in my arms for a while, and that's one of my favorite things in the that eased the pain a little. But the part about the early day which made me feel the best? As we pulled up to daycare, my kid (totally unsolicited, mind you) told me, "Daddy, I like your head."

The rest of you could learn something from my girl.

on a university walkabout

Every so often, I get antsy at work and get overwhelmed by the desire to wander around campus. I never actually do this, though, because my schedule is usually kinda packed on work days. Today, however, I got to be on campus three hours early, so my time today is more fluid. I wanted to pick up some books on existentialism at the library and I had time to kill, so out the door I went.

This was, ultimately, a mistake.

If you haven't been to a university library lately and feel the need to murder any nostalgic feelings you might still have for the institution, you really should make a special trip. Floors one and two of my university library are now utterly devoid of any books, magazines, catalogs, or journals. Here, the spaces are called "the information commons." What this means in practice is that they have wifi and a bunch of close-to-obselete computers. I guess this is cheaper to run than hiring librarians and actually doing, you know, library stuff. The upper floors do have some books, but they are in an utterly lovely environment which includes stained carpet and a significant supply of dank.

I walked through the food court on my way back to my office. It was at least a new experience. Before today, I'm not sure I ever completely appreciated the scent of artificial flavor.

Captain Willard ultimately got this one right: "Never leave the boat."

Thursday, November 05, 2015

philosophical states

It was about two weeks ago when we made a grand breakthrough in therapy. The day had already started weirdly, when an auto repair place offered to fix my car for free (why? Were they perhaps fans of my music? Doubtful, as I remember all 20 people who've bought my album). After describing the latest pseudo-tragedy in my life, I found myself saying, "I bet it would be much easier to cope with this kind of stuff if I believed in any sort of order or justice in the world. That would probably be nice."

My therapist, asking the natural question: "Don't you believe in anything?"

"Well, at one point in my life, I believed in my skills, and I believed they would be enough to pull me through...but getting rejected over 500 times on the job market kind of beat that out of me."

My therapist, after taking a breath: "Well, we're swaying into the realm of philosophy here. I'm completely happy to go there, by the way. This is very much existential angst...and many people have it."

"Maybe we could start a support group for them."

"Hi, come on in to the church basement. Grab a coffee and tell us why you're doomed."

"We could make them read Kafka before joining."

My therapist, after another breath: "I'm not sure that would help sell the endeavor."

After the session, I continued my day, which went about as expected; after grabbing a coffee and then leaving my Kindle in the coffee shop bathroom, I went to an appointment to get my face blasted with liquid nitrogen...but the idea of philosophy, I realized, had finally started to resonate with me. I'd tried to read the great philosophers while getting my Master's degree, but I never really got them. It took the advice of mental health professionals to make philosophy stick.

Later on that week, I had a psychiatrist appointment, and I told that doctor about the existential conversation. He immediately recommended I get and read a "philosophical textbook/novel" called Sophie's World. I've been plowing through it ever since it arrived, and while it hasn't actually helped my diseased mind just yet, I am learning a lot. There's one part where the protagonists are discussing Existentialism, and the philosopher says (paraphrasing), "Existential angst is always a starting point on which to build a new philosophy."

I'm not yet sure what new philosophy I'll build. I am, however, working towards finding one.

dream interpretation needed

Last night, I dreamed I was in some kind of big competition. My team consisted of my mom, dad, and a few other people. The mission? We had to find out where Tom Bombadil was hiding.

There were tons of competing teams, but after camping out (in the tent me and my brother used in Boy Scouts, no less), I had an idea where we could locate Mr. Bombadil. I found him hiding in his condo. As my reward, I became Tom Bombadil. After saying hello to everyone, I returned to the Bombadil condo (widely furnished with Ikea products), where I hung out with Swedish flight attendants. Then my alarm went off.

If you believe dreams have hidden meanings, I'd love to hear your take on this one.