Finding the Art in Everything

31 January, 2008

On Religious Tolerance

A former student of mine is Iranian, and she went home for Christmas. She came back frustrated because she had a lousy time, and I suggested that might have been because the "Spring Break" series never actually made it to Tehran.

She replied, "Actually, summer is the best time to go, and we party all the time. My cousins use heroine, and all they have to do is go to rehab--it's not even a really big deal. They pretty much let you do whatever you want in Iran, as long as they can't see your hair. I don't know why it matters, because I am more of an American, and everyone there can tell. Even the taxi drivers know, so they all tell me about Jesus. It is wierdest thing."

"Is that because they know you won't turn them in?"

"No. You can be a Christian in Iran. You drive past a mosque next to a Catholic church. I think there are even Jews in Iran, even though I've never seen one. They don't really care what religion you are... as long as you're not Sunni.

What I got in trouble for most, though, was my boots. Apparently they came too far up my calf to be decent. What doesn't make sense to me, is that I was getting in trouble for covering more of my legs. My grandmother and Iranian family want to cart me off out of shame. In Iran, they call me a 'spinster,' except this Iranian word for women like me literally means 'milk gone sour.' I'm tainted because of my boots."

"Your parents don't care about this?"

"No. It could be that I have the Iranian version of the hippie-liberal-green-party parents."

"But you were one of my most conservative students in our politics class!"

"Maybe," she replied, "but you have to consdider the rest of our family."

27 January, 2008

Act of Mercy

Sometimes I think one of the cosmic reasons I am unmarried is because Someone knows that I am a greater responsibility than that for which any individual can be reasonably held accountable. There is a distinct possibility they I may not have been assigned a partner in life because I require a team. I consider the redeeming purposes served by a successful and worthwhile marriage: counsel, companionship, and cooperation. Then I reflect on how many people in my life have been required to ensure even my most minute success.

For instance, it can't be normal that I require a diligent squadron to prevent me from setting fire to my surroundings. My dad steered me, with threats and ultimatiums, away from pursing a career in pyrotechnics; my sophomore lab partner Dietrich delivered my college chemistry section from certain explosion by guarding my contributions to the experiments; and my beloved roommate repeatedly removed me from drunken bonfires and flaming Sambouca shots.

As far as companionship, my daily wordcount can't be normal, either. I read someplace that women, on average, speak 20,000 words a day, whereas men may use as few as 5,000. Surely I exceed the 20,000, which is far and away too great a verbal burden for one man to primarily bear. For this same category, I must also consider my great passions and tempers--which are decidedly an assault on general order and solemn decorum. In fact, the only known subduing force is a significant amount of alcohol. (It should be noted here that my primary beverage is its opposite, coffee.)

And finally, it requires an Atlantean effort to coax me into cooperation. I would decidedly prefer to carry the world on my own shoulders, thank you very much. Furthermore, I am quite convinced mine is the best possible plan for doing it. I don't forsee a ready submission to someone who is contending for a share of my universe. Perhaps, for my own good, I must have my current arrangement: I am duped into cooperation by by surrendering in several tiny ways to a great many people, not one particular partner. The sum total of the cooperation is probably the same, but I don't have to acknowledge defeat.

So, it is a distinct possiblity one man would never be enough. And it may be a Cosmic act of mercy to spare someone the job of managing me.

Of course, I don't hold this to be an explicative certainty; most days I doubt this is even the case.

But it sure does make a great answer to those who pose impertinent questions.

26 January, 2008


#1. I have a thing for British Prime Ministers. Plural.

#2. I never really got over "Toxic".

#3. I am not a faithful Republican.

25 January, 2008

Life Lessons

29. Just because it is funny and on the internet doesn't mean it has to be porn.
30. It's never good to find out you weren't kidding.
31. If someone's shaking it, try not to look at it.
32. The value of situational appropriateness can't be overestimated.

23 January, 2008

One More.

I was right. That wasn't all of it. This morning I was wishing I had a copies of :

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt
Rock Steady by No Doubt
Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows
No Need to Argue by The Cranberries
Grace by Jeff Buckley
(Man. My dream last night must have been set in the 90's.)
Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings by Counting Crows (this is their new one! It comes out in March and it will be the first new track set in about six years!)

22 January, 2008


I need new music.

I know, with Amirah's pre-Christmas pile, it was sort of like hitting the music jackpot. However, I didn't get any new favorites out of it. I like a bunch, sure--like The Weepies and Tilly and the Wall, but I am missing that put-in-anywhere-anytime stuff.

I think most audiophiles have an irrational allegiance to a handful of bands, to whom few others measure up. You know, the desert-island-top-five bands. I want something new, but I want to love it as much as those.

I went through a phase recently, kind of an accidental backlash to the barrage of indie music that friends who are cooler than me shared, no-strings-attatched. I listened to all my favorite stuff that I have had for five years--the U2, Coldplay, Counting Crows, Jimmy Eat World, David Gray, with the despicable nostalgia culminating in a little--wince--Matchbox 20 (please don't judge me). But now I am tired of it all, again.

There are two forces at work here. The first is the addict's greed where getting a little begets desperation for more, and the second is that retro-music backlash.

It turns out, I don't just want more music for curiosity's sake, but I want more I can keep. In wading through all this not-always-distinctive indie music, I am sort of holding auditions for new favorites.

Below is a list of music I still need, both out of addicted, curiosity-driven greed and classic-favorite replenishment.

Cassadaga by Bright Eyes
The End of History by Fionn Regan
The Shepherd's Dog by Iron & Wine
Who You Are by Cary Brothers
The Vastness of Space by Reid Anderson
On the Outside by Starsailor
Shine: The Best of the Early Years by David Gray
Born in the U.K. by Badly Drawn Boy
Remedy by David Crowder Band
Do You Like Rock Music? by British Sea Power
Some Cities by Doves
North by Elvis Costello
Picaresque by Decemberists
Illinois by Sufjan Stevens
Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State by Sufjan Stevens
Sky Blue Sky by Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
A Ghost Is Born by Wilco
Prog by The Bad Plus
Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

And this probably isn't even all of it. Maybe I need help?

16 January, 2008

Driving Thoughts Part II

I have a really wise friend who has kids my age. Those extra years and family days she has on me have made her a genius, as far as I can tell. I hope I get to be just like her.

Lately, I have been struggling with several things that seem rather one-sided, including my sister's contentious wedding. My friend and I were talking and she said she makes it a policy not to care about an issue or another person's issue more than they do. She pointed out that it isn't healthy or productive. It sounds good to me, though it may not quite be a fail safe plan for "healthy and productive." It doesn't account for any kind of sentimental myopia, where I figure I am the only one who cares and I turn out to be wrong. Still, I find this error preferable to the agony of caring too much.

I can't explain how much I wish I had this advice 7 years ago. My sophomore year in college, I started being friends with a guy who made me crazy. He was insufferable, but I was drawn to him because we had everything in common, including music and a rare sarcasm. We had days that were inexplicably hot or cold--it was arbitrary. I never knew if he was my friend. I would insist that there was some subsurface tension or cause, and he would brush it off like I was the crazy one. (Hindsight shows I wasn't.) The hot and cold with him was exasperating and deeply destabilizing. I figured it was all my fault but I couldn't understand how. We fought all the time (more like I yelled at him in my head--there were no gratifying, direct exchanges) and I constantly vowed never to talk to him again.

The whole thing resulted from two broken people trying to be friends in spite of their dysfunction. (We had both just seen the end of significant relationships and carried a lot of hurt.) Eventually, we became close friends, but that beginning was rough. His head games and my sensitivity stemmed from baggage that was, right then, insurmountable. Our friendship needed time and patience. Instead of internalizing the perlexing strife, I could have rejected responsibility that didn't belong to me. That wasn't my mess to save. I could have used the rule: Don't care more than the other person. It spares you the fight for something that can't be won by fighting.

And that is something I don't readily accept:

Many fewer battles are won by fighting than I suppose,
and not every battle is mine to fight...
which is my most noble excuse for not talking to my sister.

15 January, 2008

Driving Thoughts, Part I

A couple of wacky moments with a student (who is seeming less and less like one) had me thinking about my accessibility--that I have a lot of it. It is a little awkward when it comes to students, and the one I have now isn't my first. I had my British student Gemma last summer with whom I routinely found myself in uncommon student-teacher situations. I used to work at Panera in the evenings with my students, particularly my AP kids, and then there was my unauthorized camping trip... I can't explain these any other way than that I just have a lot of space in my life for my students.

Actually, I just see that I have a lot of space in my life in general, and my students are welcome to fill some, if they want. I'm not married, don't have kids, and don't have a demanding family situation. I don't live near my favorite friends who would consume my time. I don't really have a "group." I have my job, my dog, and my small apartment where I live alone. I can see this one of two ways: I can feel like a loser because on paper my life is empty and pointless, or I can see it as space to be filled by unusual and delightful things.

It is this space and this emptiness that leaves me in the strange spot of not only being accessible to students, but also open to everything. I'll talk to anyone, and I crave interesting conversation, no matter its source. (I wonder if it's because I live alone and don't go home to talk to anyone.) I often worry my eagerness weirds people out. With nothing pressing to do, I look forward to everything, and I am up for anything. I am also deeply appreciative of any personal interaction.

All this begs these questions: What am I supposed to do with all this space? What could I do to make sure I don't squander it? How can I enjoy it, without letting the quest to fill it dominate my life?

13 January, 2008


I wish someone would invent an easy way to write and drive at the same time. In a Mythbusters moment of inspiration, I, in fact, tried writing and driving. People say it can't be done, and they are right: I almost died and couldn't read what I had scribbled.

I read an article once in the New Yorker about how Quentin Tarantino doesn't actually write any of his stuff down. He speaks into a tape recorder and has it transcribed for him. I want something I can plug in to write down what I am thinking while I am driving. It seems a universal truth that good thinking comes while driving. My commute isn't even vary long, but it's long enough (or I am forgetful enough) that I don't have what I was thinking when I get there. Of course, it could just be over confidence. If I saw what I was thinking written down, I would probably trash it like I trash some of the rubbish I actually write down.

12 January, 2008

Life-Lessons #4

21. You can only drink and burn things in Wisconsin.
22. Be careful what you tell the judge to kiss.
23. Nothing good comes of purchasing together.
24. Don't put foil in your mouth to make your own "grill." It cuts your gums.
25. Sometimes social grace requires flagrant lies.
26. An "of course" is no universal thing.
27. Drunk begets persistence.
28. Realizing "This is how it all starts..." should be a cue to abort the current undertaking.

08 January, 2008

Men are Friends , NOT FOOD

I got a phone call last night from my dear friend Mike James. (He wanted someplace to rant about the New Hampshire results, and if there is someone with whom anyone can do that, it's me). Mike is a friend who reminds me of something important: I have been very blessed with terrific men in my life.

Don't get the wrong idea. Mike is married with two gorgeous kids and a wife who is funny and kind. Mike and I met because we were both hired as first-year teachers at my last school, which is a bit like saying we were together for a tour of duty in 'Nam. He taught near me so it was his room I ran to after a hard day for solutions. He gave me a bunch of U2, (he is 8 or 10 years older than me) and I gave him Coldplay's Speed of Sound and David Crowder. Unless he was coaching, he was almost always good for a Friday beer. Mike only lasted at my school for one tour--I mean year--and when he left, it was hard to tell if our friendship was a work-related circumstantial thing, or something meaningful. (Confession: I hardly think anyone is my real friend. I always second guess things and write them of as circumstantial, only to be occasionally surprised) Those Friday beers meant so much to me because he was such a profound encouragement. Mike has called me or emailed every month or so for 2 years since he moved to North Carolina. Apparently the appreciation went both ways. I watch for cheap tickets to NC so I can visit his family. I have sort of adopted him as a mentoring big brother, and he is not my only one.

As an oldest child, I have ALWAYS, as long as I can remember, wanted a big brother. Someone to be bigger and smarter (OK, maybe not smarter) to deflect the heavy blows and look out for me. Because of this, I have adopted a dozen in my life. I had Paul, Mat, and Brian in high school. I just saw Brian over Christmas break when he was passing through Orlando. He was on the drum line with me and an upstanding Eagle Scout . He was sort of assigned to me because I needed help discerning the stupid in my plans, an I was assigned to him because I had a car. Paul and Mat were there to harass and embarrass me when I had my first date with another guy from the drum line.

In college, I had Kip, Mike, Dave, and Matt. Kip took me camping (the only time I have ever gone) and taught me how to shoot things with a 20-gauge. Mike, Dave, and Matt were sent with my sisters as the envoy to drag me back from Britain when I swore I wasn't coming. These four guys were voted "most eligible men" in my college circle, and other girls swooned and vied for their attention. I could call them whenever I wanted because they were my brothers. Dave is still like my brother 8 years later. I saw girlfriends come and go, but I still had more of their company over the long term than any of them. Those men were (and some are still) very precious to me--and I never dated any of them. I was never even interested.

Somehow, I always knew how to enjoy and appreciate men without needing to attach them to myself. Maybe it comes from getting along really well with my dad. It takes me about 5 mins (literally) to know which ISN'T the man I'll end up with. Sorting that out right away lets me just enjoy them for who they are. I have always been able to do this. And I've always had more guy friends than girl friends. ( having 4 sisters helps--really, do I need many more women in my life?) It turns out this isn't very common. Sometimes, there is an awkward few days where the guy has the wrong idea because I am genuine and friendly, but it is so great when he gets that I'm genuinely agenda-free.

I wish all of the high school / college girls I mentor could get it. It is like in Finding Nemo, where the sharks are going through the "program" chanting, "Fish are friends, not Food!" I wish they could get how much better it is to treat men as brothers instead of boyfriends. I try to make them see: Men are Friends, not Food!

More than my girls, I think we all suffer from the absence of the "Men are friends, not Food" mentality. Because it is so rare to be agenda free, we suffer under the constant accusation that there are ulterior motives. I have truly appreciated some men only to have a friendship precluded by social protocol.

I noticed one of my favorite co-workers at my last job because he was sitting in his first faculty meeting unabashedly reading Vonnegut and drinking a Venti latte. We had a common planning time, and I thought he was hilarious. He had worked with Justice Bryer and as a lawyer for Microsoft during the anti-trust lawsuits. What a fascinating guy to meet for coffee! Though these meetings were few. While it was more likely busy life than anything that prevented regular coffees, he is 40 and married, and I am twentysomething and single. I doubt this was remotely considered, but it looks weird when it shouldn't.

I've often been self-conscious about my relatively short dating history. No, I haven't had a lot of boyfriends who have given me emotional baggage (or other things--eek!). But I can count dozens of men who have taught me and enriched my life and treated me well. I am glad I never had an older brother, because I have been greatly rewarded in my search for one.

06 January, 2008

The Eternal Revolution

“We need not debate about the mere words evolution or progress: personally I prefer to call it reform. For reform implies form. It implies that we are trying to shape the world in a particular image; to make it something that we see already in our minds. Evolution is a metaphor from mere automatic unrolling. Progress is a metaphor from merely walking along a road--very likely the wrong road. But reform is a metaphor for reasonable and determined men: it means that we see a certain thing out of shape and we mean to put it into shape. And we know what shape.

Now here comes in the whole collapse and huge blunder of our age. We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision...We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.

But the man we see every day--the worker in Mr. Gradgrind's** factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind's office--he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day; and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory.

We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all the safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave's mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself.

As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realised, or even partly realised. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.

So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitless. The question therefore becomes this: How can we keep the artist discontented with his pictures while preventing him from being vitally discontented with his art? How can we make a man always dissatisfied with his work, yet always satisfied with working? How can we make sure that the portrait painter will throw the portrait out of window instead of taking the natural and more human course of throwing the sitter out of window?

To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan. In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam. No unchanging custom, no changing evolution can make the original good anything but good.

We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative.

An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old. It is the custom in passing romance and journalism to talk of men suffering under old tyrannies. But, as a fact, men have almost always suffered under new tyrannies; under tyrannies that had been public liberties hardly twenty years before.

So again, we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty. It is the new rulers, the capitalist or the editor, who really hold up the modern world.

--G.K. Chesterton

** Mr. Gradgrind is a character in Charles Dickens' novel Hard Times.

05 January, 2008

The New Album

A friend and I have a band, and on each of our outings, it becomes something bigger and more fantastic.

The band, known as The Hubcap Rapture, has released the following titles for the tracks off its new album, The Beef People:

  1. Cheesy Asian Smile
  2. Miniature Tarte
  3. We Don't Drink on Arbor Day
  4. Disco Dust
  5. Linguistic Middle Finger
  6. Face-Eating Zombies
  7. Beat Baxx
  8. Vanity Cobblestones
  9. If There Is Anything We Aren't, It's Plebian
  10. Rind Minions
  11. We've Got That In Spades

04 January, 2008

Life Lessons

14. It is not a good idea to publicly extol the success of your "new medication."
15. Cities don't like surprises. If you secretly erect a building in the middle of the night with no permit or civic notice, expect to wake up to a "Stop Work" order.
16. The fastest way to lose your audience is with a scary segue. (i.e. "Speaking of awkward...," "Speaking of disgusting..." "Speaking of humiliating..." etc.)
17. Political incorrectness is only funny if you don't mean it.
18. A mass-text message is no substitute for a meaningful invitation. Arguing about a sent E-vite is no way to begin an apology.
19. You must be careful where you point the "Strong" button.
20. Student essays and assignments are not like the boxes in Google Reader. You can't just "Mark all as read."