Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Like and The Dislike/The Sound of Settling

Let's be clear: I do hate the Eagles. I have always hated the Eagles. Unlike my (more musically savvy) friend Tom, I didn't realize that it was trendy to hate the Eagles. On the contrary, I hated the Eagles for a pretty basic reason at first.

My mother hates the Eagles. Hates them. My mother is a vocal woman (anyone surprised?), and soon I realized, hey, she's right, it's a bunch of whiny crap without the balls to go full-out country. Thus, I hate the Eagles. For much the same reason, the following bands are lumped into a "why do they still play them on the radio" category - Foreigner, ELO, BTO, Boston, etc etc ad nasuem. Many people love these bands. "More Than a Feeling" stirs the souls of men, and I must admit that I can sing along with it. But thanks to my mother, I derive no pleasure in these sing-a-longs. To tell the truth, it really is thanks that are due to my mother. These are throwaway bands, and I'm well occupied spending my musical time elsewhere.

But what about the delicate balance between letting someone else's likes and dislikes dictate your own? Generally, when kids are at the formative age where they really notice what's on the radio (junior high for myself), aren't they also at the age where their parents are the very last place they'd look for cool music tips? One would think that I'd have learned to love the Eagles, just because my mom hated them. I've always wondered about this; the only thing I can come up with is that their music is so obnoxious, I had no choice but to agree with my mom.

On to the spark for the blog - This morning, here at work, I connected to the radio station out of Seattle that I listen to on the internet, KEXP. They played a great new song by Softlights, a band I hadn't heard of but will now look for, and followed it up with "The Sound of Settling" by Death Cab. I think, in most musically avante garde circles, that "The Sound of Settling" is that song that made it big on the radio that true fans aren't supposed to really like anymore. (Actually, I think many of those avante garde circles would have me leave Death Cab behind altogether, buried with the textbooks of my college days. Oh well.) But I love "The Sound of Settling." I like the catchy beat, and I think the lyrics are terribly clever. I mean, the man is talking about what settling sounds like. Give him some credit.

It's funny, though, because were I still DJing, "The Sound of Settling" isn't the song I'd pick from Transatlanticism to play. I wouldn't want people to think I wasn't a true fan, etc etc. I'd certainly let the dislikes of the minority (automatically the likes of the majority) decide what I played (probably "Tiny Vessels" or "Title and Registration"). Reverse snobbery has always driven me crazy, but I perpetuate it often. I think my mom (and the Eagles) would disapprove. Maybe settling actually sounds like obscure Scottish groups when all you really want to hear is "The Pretender" by Jackson Browne.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Existence Validated - Yessss

Because it had the word story in it, I read it. Because I was at work, I read it in pieces. I love to read the NYTimes each day at my desk: I feel like it's healthy for my vocabulary (yet to see that payout) and good to stay connected, even if it is a slanted connection. Today, "This is Your Life (and How You Tell It)" was the fourth-most emailed article on the online version of their paper. Obviously, the title intrigued me as a nonfiction writer.

When I read the following, I rushed to the blog, eager to show my 6 readers the importance of memoir:
When we first started studying life stories, people thought it was just idle curiosity — stories, isn’t that cool?” said Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern and author of the 2006 book, “The Redemptive Self.” “Well, we find that these narratives guide behavior in every moment, and frame not only how we see the past but how we see ourselves in the future."

Maybe it isn't so strange that I find myself waking up and narrating the details of my surroundings in my head, generally in third person (meta-writing, eat your heart out). However, the article turned out to be mostly about the use of stories in psychoanalysis. Interesting enough. Everyone loves to tell their life stories, but it turns out that the manners in which we tell these stories are patterned enough to show similarities between healing habits of subjects. Your stories and your health: on the next 20/20.

In music news, my opinion that the Eagles are the most over-rated band ever is validated by Wilco. Check it out on Spinner.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Where everybody knows your name...

Thanks to my friend Tom Drew, I spent an hour of this otherwise tedious day reading and rehashing the Debbie Masten debacle. For those unlucky few readers who didn't attend Truman, a few details:

Debbie Masten was the Mayor of Kirksville, but more importantly the owner of Too Talls, Two. Too Talls was, to me, an afterthought of a bar - two whole blocks from the Woody's/Dukum corner of magic. As a freshman, I had a dear friend whose boyfriend (a senior) was always at Too Talls - thus, we hated it. I made my first appearance at the place for a hallowed trivia night in my junior year - or was it senior? Trivia night was born at Too Talls, and it grew to be a fine young tradition over those months. Highlight of my first trivia night? Being the only person in my group to know the name of Wilco's lead singer.

Then, on New Year's Eve 2004, a fire broke out at the bar. The remainder of my senior year, rumors flew that Debbie, owner of Too Talls, had set the fire herself for insurance purposes. These were actually less rumors than certainties held by the old, wise, bar-going circles of Truman students. Trivia night moved to Woody's - the place where everyone knew my name - and so I was happier with the state of things. Debbie Masten became an even-more ridiculous figure than anyone thought possible.

As a matter of fact, after I left Truman, someone else bought Too Talls, Two. This person renamed it - Too Talls: The Inferno. I heard from a friend who still lived in town that the servers all halted what they were doing at midnight to perform dances in firemen's hats. This, I had to see. I next found myself in Kirksville for New Year's Eve, 2005. My friends and I hastened to the scene of the crime. Reports of the dancing? True. A giant projection screen, showing artful music videos like "My Humps?" True. We left after an hour and a ridiculously bad tasting shot special - juice and sucrose, it would seem - to seek haven at Woody's. That was the end of the affair for the Inferno and I.

Then today, I read an article from the Truman State Index (thanks, Tom). Memories came flooding back: the red bowties, the upper-level table for trivia, the time we won the cash bonus because the questions were about John Irving books, the dance contests. Some days, the small town of Kirksville seems laughable, but I know this much: no way could I go to any bar in the world but Woody's, and get charged $5 for a night of gin and tonics strong enough to kill my alcoholic grandfather. I miss that familiarity and rockstar treatment. I definitely miss trivia night - Kansas City has got NOTHING on the boys' trivia. You'd think KC could get the small town flavor down, but no, trivia is all a pretentious exercise in who knows the most obscure BS possible. I miss geography questions, and Simpsons questions, and the challenges between rounds. Sometimes, I miss everybody knowing my name.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pouring Water on a Drowning Man

While I am fairly tall for a woman (some might say average, I might say tall), I am highly disproportionate. I have long legs (score!) and a somewhat stunted torso (freakish). This is never more apparent than when I sit at my desk here at the Foundation on Aging offices.

My desk is a lovely piece donated by a lovely woman who volunteers on our Communications Committee. Because it was donated, my desk and I have quite the close relationship. I went to pick it up one misty March day last year, after about a month on the job. For help, I had the 17 year-old nephew of my boss. I think I weighed more than this guy, but he and I liked the same kind of music so I was immediately impressed with him.

He helped me carry the desk in pieces to the back of my family’s Aerostar van, which I had on loan for the day. I am not strong. This kid was not strong. It took a lot of out me. In the meantime, I was being peppered with phone calls from my drunk friends, for this was no ordinary misty March day – it was St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone, it seemed, was at the parade or crammed into a crowded bar. I, for sure, was moving furniture with a high school junior.

So the desk. We got all the pieces back to my office, and sprawled them on the floor of our office reception area (hence the term receptionist). I put them together with a screwdriver my young friend found on the floor of his car. It was shaky at best for many months, until I asked our building’s maintenance man (a story in himself, let me tell you) to borrow an electric drill.

Now, my desk stands solid under the weight of much crap – papers, files, flat screen, keyboard pens, phone, printer, papers, mail, etc etc and office infinity. Its L-shape accommodates a lot of crap. The crap sits on a surface seemingly normal-distanced from the floor.

This distance between the floor and the top of my desk is not good for me. The stunted torso is a great disadvantage while sitting at the donated desk. Most days, I cross my ankles underneath myself and sit “Indian style,” giving myself a few extra inches of false torso. It’s pretty hard for strangers walking into the reception area, expecting to be received by an adult, and being confronted with a spindly girl sitting “Indian style.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

On Water

Kansas City has been experiencing a great deal of rain lately. Fortunately for six lucky 20-somethings, the sun broke loose over the Ozarks last Saturday.

Friday afternoon, a car was packed and I headed out with a couple of friends and a 30 pack of beer. Lake weekend had begun. After the obligatory twisty roads and Grateful Dead album – the Grateful Dead exudes sun, in my consciousness – we hit lake town. We broke out a celebratory beer and wound our way to Charles’ grandparents’ cabin. We unloaded the car in time to walk down to the dock and watch the sun set.

The weekend was rife with descriptions (in my head): the shocking cold of the water contrasting with the heavy warmth of the sun; the way beer tastes better when you drink it on a boat; bare feet on warm, old wood; the fluff blowing from the dock’s innards onto the water – a secret duck’s nest with seven eggs revealed. People fished; I dangled my toes in the water. I got up earlier than I would’ve liked, and slept sprawled on a couch in front of an open sliding door. I didn’t talk on the phone; I almost went the whole weekend without showering. Phones and showers aren’t necessary at the lake.

But the best part about this lake weekend, this cinco de lake celebration, was that nothing happened. Yes, we had fun. Yes, we drank too much and got sunburns. Yes, we laughed and talked and grilled. But no one fought, no one yelled, no one planned things or went anywhere. Nothing happened. The sun rose and set, people ate, drank and slept, and the lake welcomed everything. It was perfect.

Now I'm back home, back at work. I wake up at the same time, drive the same car the same direction, and sit at the same desk for the same amount of time. I go back home, watch TV, read books, and do it all again. This can all be labeled: this can all be called something. "Nothing happened" is unforgivable here, in the scope of this life. Structure rules and fills the time. All the water - the rain, the humidity - is a burden here.

So, to copy NPR, I believe in the lake. I think we're pretty lucky to spend a sunny weekend in May commandeering a lakehouse, riding a boat, sitting in the sun, and doing nothing. I believe in doing nothing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Guns, God, and Guts

This morning, on my rainy drive to work, I stopped at the stoplight that always gets me, the one at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Nall. I ran the wipers once and gazed at the other cars around me. Jackpot~ an old-school, white Suburban held the front spot in the left turn lane. On its back window, proudly lined up in the center, was a bumper sticker: Guns, God, and Guts are What Made America Free. Next to this glamorous slogan was a crude drawing of fingers, curled around the base of a handgun, with the barrel pointed straight at the unsuspecting Kia behind it.

I see things like this and I think about recent events in our country, about recent events in my hometown. I wonder if the person driving that Suburban has ever felt empathy in their life. I drive my car to work in the rain, desperately repeating "GunsGodandGuts, GunsGodandGuts" so I can quickly snap an email off to my friend. She and I like to compare absurd vanity plates, and I think this bumper sticker will be quite the feather in my cap. Like that, I erased empathy and replaced it with sneering mockery. The driver of that Suburban is no longer a person, but a symbol of everything that I think is wrong with our country right now. There's not a single cell in my brain that can fathom why someone would form a belief system that could support such a slogan.

Should I feel sorry for this driver the same way I feel sorry for victims of gun violence? The first thing that flashed through my mind when I saw that car was "I wish that driver would have someone he or she loved killed by gun violence. Then they'd think twice about guns and god and guts." But is that fair? It's not. Are handguns and their ubiquity fair? No, I don't think that's fair either. What a mess. What freedom.