The Liminal Hymnal

my mind: a curio cabinet

One of the things about new things is that they quickly become old things. At first, your brain, trained in your native place, notices every unusual difference in the new place, but just as quickly – a week or two! – and these differences melt into your new sense of normalcy. They aren’t differences anymore; they’re merely how the world works. I was so surprised at how quickly I became accustomed to Prague; how quickly this process took place. It is now difficult to think of how things are different. Others here, my American classmates (now ex-classmates) have maybe had a harder time, but I can now barely remember what these subtle differences are. So to document, I’m going to try to make a grand effort here to remember and think of all the tiny unusual things that make this new place new. Here they are, in no particular order:
When it rains, snails come out, not worms. Some of the snails are enormous. Most of their shells are ochre. They are fun to watch, if you have the time.
Cashiers at the post office and at the supermarkets sit down in a chair all day. Why don’t they sit down in America? It’s not like you need to stand up to do that job.
They are no traffic jams in Prague. The system of buses and trams and metro deliver so many thousands of people so efficiently, that the cars tootling along navigate without jamming up the roads. I have also not seen a single police car pulling over a driver for speeding or disobeying traffic laws. Some of Prague is 18th century and much older, a lot of it is 19th century, and there’s a river bisecting it. When I think of what it must have taken to build the metro, it hurts my brain. How did they do it?
You have to bring your bags to the supermarket, or you can buy one for 5 Kc (about 25 cents USD). It makes so much sense to do this. No one bats an eye. The heavy-duty plastic bag you buy, if you forgot your bag at home, can be reused and people do bring them back on their next grocery trip.
If wages for typical Czechs are somewhat depressed, they make up for it by the two cheapest things to consume: beer and baked bread. A rohlik, nice little crescent roll for breakfast, will run you 2 Kc (10 cents) – freshly baked that morning. Nice draught brew at the restaurant, the equivalent of $1.50. A bottle of the cheap stuff on sale at the supermarket, about 40 cents; the nice stuff, 80 cents.
Along similar lines, that rohlik will be hard as rock the next day. There seem to be just many fewer preservatives in food. This means you shop for groceries every few days. As a result, the typical refrigerators I’ve seen are much smaller than American refrigerators.
Prague cordoned off a beautiful chunk of park-like forest on the west bank of the river, leading up to the castle. At some point, they planted an orchard of plum trees and cherry trees and apples. You can go to the park and pick the plums. I did this with B. yesterday and it felt like I was in a fairy tale.
Czechs love their little dogs, and if the dog is small enough, it will be shoved into a bag so it can ride the bus/tram/metro without paying an extra fee. Also, a lot of Czechs walk their dogs off-leash. A bustling metropolis of 1.3 million people, and your average German Shepherd is just hanging out, walking next to its owner down a busy city street like it’s no big thing. I’ve only heard one dog bark here. I have also seen a woman with a ferret on a leash, an old woman with her rabbit on a leash, and a woman with a rat on her shoulder, riding or waiting for the bus. They were also, predictably, calm and well-behaved.
Certain things about my family I assumed were family oddities are actually very Czech. Going every weekend in the summer into nature (I did more than your average American/Canadian’s worth of camping in my childhood), for one. Extreme frugality and suspicion about spending money on things that might bring you happiness is another. Eating fresh peas straight out of the pod in the summer.
No water at restaurants. It would be nice to have some tap water sometimes, but I guess that’s what the beer is for.
On the other hand, for non-beer drinkers like myself, I have the option of Kofola, a Czech cola invented in 1960 that tastes like…well, it has ‘bylinky’ in it, which is the cute Czech word for ‘herbs’. You can even buy ‘bez extra bylinky’ if you want to feel like four ricola cough drops have been melted into it, versus the regular one. I am really developing a taste for it and it somehow tastes better in the big mug that beer is supposed to go in. The food here deserves its own entire blog post but suffice it to say I’ve now had moravsky vrabec twice (Moravian sparrow).
In many places, the interior locks to the bathroom have an actual key in the lock. If you lose the key, you cannot lock the door. The key is usually ornate, like a skeleton key. It is a fancy key with which to lock yourself into a room with a toilet in it.
I think the Czech language is very musical. Sometimes I feel like I can almost pick out the first four notes of Dvorak melodies just when the next station is announced on the tram. Plus, there are neat words like ‘nemonice’ (pronounced, vaguely, as NEH-mots-neetz-eh), which essentially means, not having power anymore. So when you’re at the hospital, you’ve lost your power. It’s true! Sunrise is the equivalent of ‘sun east’ (I think). And you don’t need vowels. The Czech word for death is ‘smrt’.

Smrt!

 

One of the things about new things is that they quickly become old things. At first, your brain, trained in your native place, notices every unusual difference in the new place, but just as quickly – a week or two! – and these differences melt into your new sense of normalcy. They aren’t differences anymore; they’re merely how the world works. I was so surprised at how quickly I became accustomed to Prague; how quickly this process took place. It is now difficult to think of how things are different. Others here, my American classmates (now ex-classmates) have maybe had a harder time, but I can now barely remember what these subtle differences are. So to document, I’m going to try to make a grand effort here to remember and think of all the tiny unusual things that make this new place new. Here they are, in no particular order:

When it rains, snails come out, not worms. Some of the snails are enormous. Most of their shells are ochre. They are fun to watch, if you have the time.

Cashiers at the post office and at the supermarkets sit down in a chair all day. Why don’t they sit down in America? It’s not like you need to stand up to do that job.

They are no traffic jams in Prague. The system of buses and trams and metro deliver so many thousands of people so efficiently, that the cars tootling along navigate without jamming up the roads. I have also not seen a single police car pulling over a driver for speeding or disobeying traffic laws. Some of Prague is 18th century and much older, a lot of it is 19th century, and there’s a river bisecting it. When I think of what it must have taken to build the metro, it hurts my brain. How did they do it?

You have to bring your bags to the supermarket, or you can buy one for 5 Kc (about 25 cents USD). It makes so much sense to do this. No one bats an eye. The heavy-duty plastic bag you buy, if you forgot your bag at home, can be reused and people do bring them back on their next grocery trip.

If wages for typical Czechs are somewhat depressed, they make up for it by the two cheapest things to consume: beer and baked bread. A rohlik, nice little crescent roll for breakfast, will run you 2 Kc (10 cents) – freshly baked that morning. Nice draught brew at the restaurant, the equivalent of $1.50. A bottle of the cheap stuff on sale at the supermarket, about 40 cents; the nice stuff, 80 cents.

Along similar lines, that rohlik will be hard as rock the next day. There seem to be just many fewer preservatives in food. This means you shop for groceries every few days. As a result, the typical refrigerators I’ve seen are much smaller than American refrigerators.

Prague cordoned off a beautiful chunk of park-like forest on the west bank of the river, leading up to the castle. At some point, they planted an orchard of plum trees and cherry trees and apples. You can go to the park and pick the plums. I did this with B. yesterday and it felt like I was in a fairy tale.

Czechs love their little dogs, and if the dog is small enough, it will be shoved into a bag so it can ride the bus/tram/metro without paying an extra fee. Also, a lot of Czechs walk their dogs off-leash. A bustling metropolis of 1.3 million people, and your average German Shepherd is just hanging out, walking next to its owner down a busy city street like it’s no big thing. I’ve only heard one dog bark here. I have also seen a woman with a ferret on a leash, an old woman with her rabbit on a leash, and a woman with a rat on her shoulder, riding or waiting for the bus. They were also, predictably, calm and well-behaved.

Certain things about my family I assumed were family oddities are actually very Czech. Going every weekend in the summer into nature (I did more than your average American/Canadian’s worth of camping in my childhood), for one. Extreme frugality and suspicion about spending money on things that might bring you happiness is another. Eating fresh peas straight out of the pod in the summer.

No water at restaurants. It would be nice to have some tap water sometimes, but I guess that’s what the beer is for.

On the other hand, for non-beer drinkers like myself, I have the option of Kofola, a Czech cola invented in 1960 that tastes like…well, it has ‘bylinky’ in it, which is the cute Czech word for ‘herbs’. You can even buy ‘bez extra bylinky’ if you want to feel like four ricola cough drops have been melted into it, versus the regular one. I am really developing a taste for it and it somehow tastes better in the big mug that beer is supposed to go in. The food here deserves its own entire blog post but suffice it to say I’ve now had moravsky vrabec twice (Moravian sparrow).

In many places, the interior locks to the bathroom have an actual key in the lock. If you lose the key, you cannot lock the door. The key is usually ornate, like a skeleton key. It is a fancy key with which to lock yourself into a room with a toilet in it.

I think the Czech language is very musical. Sometimes I feel like I can almost pick out the first four notes of Dvorak melodies just when the next station is announced on the tram. Plus, there are neat words like ‘nemonice’ (pronounced, vaguely, as NEH-mots-neetz-eh), which essentially means, not having power anymore. So when you’re at the hospital, you’ve lost your power. It’s true! Sunrise is the equivalent of ‘sun east’ (I think). And you don’t need vowels. The Czech word for death is ‘smrt’.

Smrt!

 

This was written about 1 week into my move to Prague. I am only getting around to posting this now because the course I enrolled in wound up being very intense, and didn’t leave me with much extra time.
A decade or more into your adult life, you wear pretty deep grooves into your own personal ruts. There’s a kind of sludge through which you move and through which your days move, the same things, the same thoughts, the same experiences, the same-same. I had definitely felt this way for awhile but had chalked it up to just being an adult, and had accepted it as some notion of what being an adult meant: this is life, get over yourself. Sure, I might go forward a bit, and backward a bit, and it felt like movement, but the movements were so repetitive, they just dug me into the rut further, until two walls of mud grew up between me so high, I couldn’t see over them, and after awhile, didn’t even notice they were there. It just felt normal to have months go by and wonder where they’d gone.
So if living in North Carolina had started to feel like my life was a tire stuck in mud, I didn’t just get some help with pushing it out. Instead I planned a long time, put a polite note on the car and then (yes, with help from many friends) scrambled up the embankment where I boarded an alien craft that deposited me upside down in a completely new environment. Just like everything for a long time was same-same, suddenly everything was new-new: signs and sounds and smells and music and architecture and people and language. Half-naked lady statues carved into every building; statues of horses; statues of saints and iron grillwork and pastel-colored 19th century buildings where people still live and where the potraviny on the bottom floor sells you cold bottles of kofola, the Czech cola that tastes like a Ricola cough drop has been melted into it. Walking around, riding the tram, taking it in: it feels a bit like my brain is pleasantly on fire. I can feel myself firing; my brain is working better here.
And what I realized was this: when you’re essentially living a decently comfortable if uneventful life in a place where things are easily understood, you don’t have any chances to surprise yourself. What you expect to happen happens, and you feel like you know what there is to know about yourself. Moving to a drastically different place has made me realize I have unusual reserves of pluckiness and some unsuspected talents. I am picking up Czech faster than I thought was humanly possible, and buried words I have not spoken in 20 years are coming back to me unbidden. Dormant words like kachna (duck!), sprcha (shower!), dohromady (together!) were just waiting around to be remembered. I also found that I have a better sense of direction than I thought I did, and that things like maps aren’t impossible. For some reason, I had always thought myself bad at navigating physical space, but whatever mental sludge ideas about myself I had accumulated were quickly wiped clean when faced with new challenges like figuring out how to get home on two different modes of clean and efficient public transportation.

Now, I am one month and one day into living in Prague. Everything is still new, but there are, thankfully, a few normalcies on which I can rely. Most of this will be again shot to hell though, as I’m moving again next week to a different part of Prague and my days won’t be spent in school, but hopefully, relatively soon, in the Czech workforce. I learned, in a month, how to be a teacher, though realistically, it probably takes 2-3 years of full-time work to become a really good one. I can decode 80% of the Czech in a Czech menu and we figured out how to tip properly. I know the place in the big park in Petrin where you can pick ripe plums off plum trees the public orchard. We found a shop of vintage Czech ephemera and saw a quarter-tone piano built in the 1930s. I need to play a piano soon, or I will wither inside. More later.

This was written about 1 week into my move to Prague. I am only getting around to posting this now because the course I enrolled in wound up being very intense, and didn’t leave me with much extra time.

A decade or more into your adult life, you wear pretty deep grooves into your own personal ruts. There’s a kind of sludge through which you move and through which your days move, the same things, the same thoughts, the same experiences, the same-same. I had definitely felt this way for awhile but had chalked it up to just being an adult, and had accepted it as some notion of what being an adult meant: this is life, get over yourself. Sure, I might go forward a bit, and backward a bit, and it felt like movement, but the movements were so repetitive, they just dug me into the rut further, until two walls of mud grew up between me so high, I couldn’t see over them, and after awhile, didn’t even notice they were there. It just felt normal to have months go by and wonder where they’d gone.

So if living in North Carolina had started to feel like my life was a tire stuck in mud, I didn’t just get some help with pushing it out. Instead I planned a long time, put a polite note on the car and then (yes, with help from many friends) scrambled up the embankment where I boarded an alien craft that deposited me upside down in a completely new environment. Just like everything for a long time was same-same, suddenly everything was new-new: signs and sounds and smells and music and architecture and people and language. Half-naked lady statues carved into every building; statues of horses; statues of saints and iron grillwork and pastel-colored 19th century buildings where people still live and where the potraviny on the bottom floor sells you cold bottles of kofola, the Czech cola that tastes like a Ricola cough drop has been melted into it. Walking around, riding the tram, taking it in: it feels a bit like my brain is pleasantly on fire. I can feel myself firing; my brain is working better here.

And what I realized was this: when you’re essentially living a decently comfortable if uneventful life in a place where things are easily understood, you don’t have any chances to surprise yourself. What you expect to happen happens, and you feel like you know what there is to know about yourself. Moving to a drastically different place has made me realize I have unusual reserves of pluckiness and some unsuspected talents. I am picking up Czech faster than I thought was humanly possible, and buried words I have not spoken in 20 years are coming back to me unbidden. Dormant words like kachna (duck!), sprcha (shower!), dohromady (together!) were just waiting around to be remembered. I also found that I have a better sense of direction than I thought I did, and that things like maps aren’t impossible. For some reason, I had always thought myself bad at navigating physical space, but whatever mental sludge ideas about myself I had accumulated were quickly wiped clean when faced with new challenges like figuring out how to get home on two different modes of clean and efficient public transportation.

Now, I am one month and one day into living in Prague. Everything is still new, but there are, thankfully, a few normalcies on which I can rely. Most of this will be again shot to hell though, as I’m moving again next week to a different part of Prague and my days won’t be spent in school, but hopefully, relatively soon, in the Czech workforce. I learned, in a month, how to be a teacher, though realistically, it probably takes 2-3 years of full-time work to become a really good one. I can decode 80% of the Czech in a Czech menu and we figured out how to tip properly. I know the place in the big park in Petrin where you can pick ripe plums off plum trees the public orchard. We found a shop of vintage Czech ephemera and saw a quarter-tone piano built in the 1930s. I need to play a piano soon, or I will wither inside. More later.

One of the surprises of working from home for a year was how much time I wasted on the Internet, as though I had been stuck at a desk job with no choice in the matter. Let’s be clear here: while working for myself, I wasted time by checking Slate.com and Facebook too often, sometimes for half-hours at a time, hoping not be caught by the boss, who was, in this case, me. In desk jobs I’ve held at other points in my life, the ebb and flow of work would mean that on some days I might not have very much to do, and I would basically wait for work to come into my email inbox. The nature of 8-5pm work hours (a throwback to a different era if there ever was one) meant that regardless of this ebb and flow, I was to sit and wait for work during that span of time. In these stretches, I could not really leave and go for a walk or do laundry or anything else, and there were only so many times I could clean out my files and take out the recycling bin. So I had to find something to do while still seated at a desk in front of a computer. With nothing else to do, I would read Wikipedia articles and check the weather. Millions of people around the globe are probably doing this right now.

Fast-forward to my self-employment, and what did I spend sometimes hours per day doing? Reading Wikipedia articles and checking the weather. I was waiting for editing jobs to come down the metaphorical chute, and checking my email continually really was part of the job. However, checking the weather online held a special stupidity because I could, literally, open the door of my house to assess the weather myself, tangibly, with my hand outstretched and palm upturned. In previous cubicles, the question of “Is it raining?” could only be answered by going to weather.com. But as my office is/was my living room table with a direct view out a window to the outside world, it really made no sense to keep going to this website. I was free from the constraint of the watchful eye of some boss, but so ingrained were these internetty routines, that I typed in weather.com on a daily basis almost involuntarily. What a creature of habit I was! And pathetic!

Facebook held a special confusion for me. I was finding myself, by mid-summer, becoming strange and isolated from my lack of adult interaction. I didn’t have normal, daily interactions with other adults – even the kinds of interactions, like with a checkout person at a grocery store, that are basically meaningless. All editing business came through email. My students were/are 3-12 years away from adulthood. Social media was a way to connect, so it felt almost justified to spend so much time on it. But by the end of the year, I definitely had the feeling of having frittered away an obscene amount of time, and what’s more, I noticed a shift in the general sense of what people were posting. It occurred to me, scrolling through the umpteenth “This man did this thing and you will never believe what happened next!” clickbait garbage, that Facebook had slowly slipped into a version of those urban legend chain letter emails that people’s sweet but naïve mothers would pass along to their offspring in the ‘90s. I remember in 1999, my college roommate (now an Episcopalian minister!) saying her mother had forwarded her an email that if you licked an envelope horizontally instead of vertically, you would cut your tongue and roach eggs were imbedded in the envelope glue such that baby cockroaches would develop into larvae and eventually burst forth from the wound on your tongue. It seemed, unwittingly, ever so slowly, that Facebook had turned into people posting versions of these cockroach egg envelope stories. And I would click on every last one of them, and read them all, hating them all, until an editing job popped up.

Incidentally, it is also not lost on me that during this time, I could have been actively finding new clients, networking, designing a fancy website or otherwise have been building up my business. But as you know from (not) reading yesterday’s post, it took me months to accept the fact that I could actually work for myself successfully, and that this wasn’t a stopgap measure before a nonexistent dream desk job came along. So caught in this liminal state, I would refresh and refresh and refresh the same tired websites, wasting time, and feeling awful about it.

I don’t own a TV, and when I read statistics about people watching some outrageous X number of hours of TV a day, it used to just perplex me. What were they watching all that time? What was holding their attention? But of course, what was I reading-while-goofing-off-on-the-allmighty-internet all the hours of my day? I was no better. The Internet was like a reading version of bad TV, and this abuse of it was all the more painful and poignant because let’s not forget, I was working for myself. No email with a grant in it to edit? I should have just gone for a walk or picked up a book or painted a picture or any number of things that desk job drones would love to have the chance to do if they only had the time and flexibility. But again, I was really nervous to admit that I was self-employed and had the power to choose to do that. A good drone stays at the desk all day no matter how much work there is to do, right?

So my one resolution for 2014 has been to limit the time-suck of the Internet. If there is not work, there are other things (wonderful things!) to do. To help me with this resolution, I installed time-tracking software that blocks me out of self-selected time-suck websites. Once I’m out, I’m out. I hung up a sheet of poster paper and every time I feel that need for a break or a time-wasting-internet article-reading, I instead get up and stretch and glue vintage ephemera onto the poster paper. What I have so far is pretty striking. It is very unusual, and what’s more, there’s already so much of it. At the end of this month, or two months, or three or however many it takes to complete the work, it will exist as an exact representation of all the hours I did not spend wasted on the internet. In this way, I can make manifest that time. Making the most of my time in 2014 – this is the first lesson that my first year of self-employment has taught me.

One of the surprises of working from home for a year was how much time I wasted on the Internet, as though I had been stuck at a desk job with no choice in the matter. Let’s be clear here: while working for myself, I wasted time by checking Slate.com and Facebook too often, sometimes for half-hours at a time, hoping not be caught by the boss, who was, in this case, me. In desk jobs I’ve held at other points in my life, the ebb and flow of work would mean that on some days I might not have very much to do, and I would basically wait for work to come into my email inbox. The nature of 8-5pm work hours (a throwback to a different era if there ever was one) meant that regardless of this ebb and flow, I was to sit and wait for work during that span of time. In these stretches, I could not really leave and go for a walk or do laundry or anything else, and there were only so many times I could clean out my files and take out the recycling bin. So I had to find something to do while still seated at a desk in front of a computer. With nothing else to do, I would read Wikipedia articles and check the weather. Millions of people around the globe are probably doing this right now.

Fast-forward to my self-employment, and what did I spend sometimes hours per day doing? Reading Wikipedia articles and checking the weather. I was waiting for editing jobs to come down the metaphorical chute, and checking my email continually really was part of the job. However, checking the weather online held a special stupidity because I could, literally, open the door of my house to assess the weather myself, tangibly, with my hand outstretched and palm upturned. In previous cubicles, the question of “Is it raining?” could only be answered by going to weather.com. But as my office is/was my living room table with a direct view out a window to the outside world, it really made no sense to keep going to this website. I was free from the constraint of the watchful eye of some boss, but so ingrained were these internetty routines, that I typed in weather.com on a daily basis almost involuntarily. What a creature of habit I was! And pathetic!

Facebook held a special confusion for me. I was finding myself, by mid-summer, becoming strange and isolated from my lack of adult interaction. I didn’t have normal, daily interactions with other adults – even the kinds of interactions, like with a checkout person at a grocery store, that are basically meaningless. All editing business came through email. My students were/are 3-12 years away from adulthood. Social media was a way to connect, so it felt almost justified to spend so much time on it. But by the end of the year, I definitely had the feeling of having frittered away an obscene amount of time, and what’s more, I noticed a shift in the general sense of what people were posting. It occurred to me, scrolling through the umpteenth “This man did this thing and you will never believe what happened next!” clickbait garbage, that Facebook had slowly slipped into a version of those urban legend chain letter emails that people’s sweet but naïve mothers would pass along to their offspring in the ‘90s. I remember in 1999, my college roommate (now an Episcopalian minister!) saying her mother had forwarded her an email that if you licked an envelope horizontally instead of vertically, you would cut your tongue and roach eggs were imbedded in the envelope glue such that baby cockroaches would develop into larvae and eventually burst forth from the wound on your tongue. It seemed, unwittingly, ever so slowly, that Facebook had turned into people posting versions of these cockroach egg envelope stories. And I would click on every last one of them, and read them all, hating them all, until an editing job popped up.

Incidentally, it is also not lost on me that during this time, I could have been actively finding new clients, networking, designing a fancy website or otherwise have been building up my business. But as you know from (not) reading yesterday’s post, it took me months to accept the fact that I could actually work for myself successfully, and that this wasn’t a stopgap measure before a nonexistent dream desk job came along. So caught in this liminal state, I would refresh and refresh and refresh the same tired websites, wasting time, and feeling awful about it.

I don’t own a TV, and when I read statistics about people watching some outrageous X number of hours of TV a day, it used to just perplex me. What were they watching all that time? What was holding their attention? But of course, what was I reading-while-goofing-off-on-the-allmighty-internet all the hours of my day? I was no better. The Internet was like a reading version of bad TV, and this abuse of it was all the more painful and poignant because let’s not forget, I was working for myself. No email with a grant in it to edit? I should have just gone for a walk or picked up a book or painted a picture or any number of things that desk job drones would love to have the chance to do if they only had the time and flexibility. But again, I was really nervous to admit that I was self-employed and had the power to choose to do that. A good drone stays at the desk all day no matter how much work there is to do, right?

So my one resolution for 2014 has been to limit the time-suck of the Internet. If there is not work, there are other things (wonderful things!) to do. To help me with this resolution, I installed time-tracking software that blocks me out of self-selected time-suck websites. Once I’m out, I’m out. I hung up a sheet of poster paper and every time I feel that need for a break or a time-wasting-internet article-reading, I instead get up and stretch and glue vintage ephemera onto the poster paper. What I have so far is pretty striking. It is very unusual, and what’s more, there’s already so much of it. At the end of this month, or two months, or three or however many it takes to complete the work, it will exist as an exact representation of all the hours I did not spend wasted on the internet. In this way, I can make manifest that time. Making the most of my time in 2014 – this is the first lesson that my first year of self-employment has taught me.

Last year, 2013, marked the first year in my adult life in which the vast majority of my income came from self-employment. I was laid off from a job as a science editor at a proteogenomics lab in January (through no fault of my own – the lab was dissolved by the principal investigator), and after a head-clearing stint at a composer’s residency in northern Michigan, I returned to North Carolina not having a clear plan for how I would feed myself. Luckily, I had a studio of eager, universally-adorable oboe students I had been teaching for some years as a sort of side business, so it was not that I was in immediate danger of starvation. Furthermore, the lay-off was a long time coming, and I had been squirreling away money for just such an outcome. All this plus a nice vacation payout final paycheck would ensure I would scramble through March relatively unscathed.
For almost nine months, I drew piddling amounts of unemployment insurance, based on the state’s complicated calculation of what I was making, and for how long, at the now-defunct proteogenomics lab. In the back of my mind, I was always ‘looking for work’ and this self-employed thing was just a way to tide me over until I found something permanent. I was dutifully applying to multiple jobs per week for which I was qualified, and also reporting every dime of freelance editing and oboe lesson money that came in, such that these unemployment checks were sometimes for just $50, $25 a week (hardly worth the paperwork it took to draw from it). I kept at it though, because part of me could not believe that I was basically making ends meet. Freelance editing clients were plentiful. Oboe students continued their lessons and some new students started up. Yet, I couldn’t stop filing the almost-useless unemployment paperwork week after week. I went in for a few interviews for jobs that paid literally less than half of what I used to make, and the jobs seemed difficult, boring, dead-end or all three. All were support roles for other people doing the really interesting stuff. It occurred to me: if I was basically making my living expenses doing the interesting stuff for myself, why was I bothering with this nonsense at all? Where might it all lead except for another layoff?
I am known for a lot of things, but flexibility is not one of them. I’m not proud of it but I recognize myself as rigid. I have strict rules and routines for myself and I like order. Everything is very intricate and tightly controlled and this even comes out in my art and music (kindlier reviews have called it ‘complex’ or ‘ornate’ – others, ‘confusing’). I even told Missy Thangs, the keyboardist I had cajoled into playing the Felix Obelix album release show, not to panic, but you know, if she didn’t practice these parts and have them all under her fingers, everything would fall apart and it would sound like nothing. And essentially, until only recently, I had lived my life with that as my motto: keep it in control or it will all fall apart and sound like nothing. So just prepare, and know what’s coming, and you’ll be fine.
And of course, with self-employment? You can’t know what’s coming. What you need to be self-employed? Flexibility. You can’t control everything because you don’t know what’s coming. You have to trust that a great, working-all-the-time, making-lots-of-dough month will be swiftly followed by crickets. And crickets came. They came in August. I was eight months into applying for jobs I would probably hate if I got, but I could just not make myself believe that self-employment could actually be viable. So I kept applying thinking it’s just a matter of time before this all goes to hell. And with that thinking, voila! August came. And it all went to hell. Jobs like teaching and academic editing are tied to the academic calendar, and the academic world takes off the month of August. I suddenly had entire weeks of almost nothing. At this point, I interviewed for a temp job at the university doing something actually in the field of music, that I thought would be a good teaching experience. It paid/pays less than what I make private teaching or editing, but I went ahead and accepted the position (and had a blast – but that’s another story). 
Technically, since the job was a temp position and so lowly paid, I could keep drawing on unemployment. But I made it through that August and something clicked. I realized I didn’t need to know exactly how August would go, and I could still be fine, because then September hit and I was awash in work again. I had gotten just a tiny bit more comfortable with not knowing what was about to happen. So like ripping blankey out of the clutches of a 7-year-old far too old for it, once I got that temp job at the university, I said to hell with this. A full-time job at a middle-class wage with benefits was starting to look hopeless, and even if I got the job, wasn’t it just another stepping stone to another layoff I had no say in? And without more education, wouldn’t I just be forever supporting someone doing the interesting stuff?
So I became a self-employed person (with a small side temp job for a bit of stability) and this is what I now consider myself. I had one of the most fulfilling years I could remember. I also had far, far less money total. I learned a lot, and I think I’ll write about some of those lessons in other posts, because they almost all took me by surprise.
Incidentally, I am one of these ‘lost’ statistics of the labor force. Each month, looking at the unemployment numbers, news outlets will proclaim ‘unemployment is down .5%’ or whatever, to which more left-leaning analysts will retort, ‘well just hold on now, this means people are just dropping out of the workforce. They’re not looking for work anymore. They’re just there.’ And I’m one of these, because I just stopped drawing from unemployment (far in advance of when I could have, by the way). I didn’t take a traditional job to replace the traditional job I lost. I made up my own. Am I a good statistic or a bad one?
There’s a (Czech?) saying that what you do on the first day of the year, you will do for that entire year. I won’t promise to write every day, but some days I will, when I feel like it. Like today, I’ll also play the bass for fun in the middle of the day, go outside with my cat and watch birds, and cut out weird shit from old yearbooks and glue it onto pieces of paper. I’ll also do the lesson planning like I did today, and the invoicing of last month’s projects. But I can plan when the work for love is done, in relation to the work for money, in relation to the things you do in life just to feel like you’re alive and part of the world. I’m looking forward to much more of all three in 2014.

Last year, 2013, marked the first year in my adult life in which the vast majority of my income came from self-employment. I was laid off from a job as a science editor at a proteogenomics lab in January (through no fault of my own – the lab was dissolved by the principal investigator), and after a head-clearing stint at a composer’s residency in northern Michigan, I returned to North Carolina not having a clear plan for how I would feed myself. Luckily, I had a studio of eager, universally-adorable oboe students I had been teaching for some years as a sort of side business, so it was not that I was in immediate danger of starvation. Furthermore, the lay-off was a long time coming, and I had been squirreling away money for just such an outcome. All this plus a nice vacation payout final paycheck would ensure I would scramble through March relatively unscathed.

For almost nine months, I drew piddling amounts of unemployment insurance, based on the state’s complicated calculation of what I was making, and for how long, at the now-defunct proteogenomics lab. In the back of my mind, I was always ‘looking for work’ and this self-employed thing was just a way to tide me over until I found something permanent. I was dutifully applying to multiple jobs per week for which I was qualified, and also reporting every dime of freelance editing and oboe lesson money that came in, such that these unemployment checks were sometimes for just $50, $25 a week (hardly worth the paperwork it took to draw from it). I kept at it though, because part of me could not believe that I was basically making ends meet. Freelance editing clients were plentiful. Oboe students continued their lessons and some new students started up. Yet, I couldn’t stop filing the almost-useless unemployment paperwork week after week. I went in for a few interviews for jobs that paid literally less than half of what I used to make, and the jobs seemed difficult, boring, dead-end or all three. All were support roles for other people doing the really interesting stuff. It occurred to me: if I was basically making my living expenses doing the interesting stuff for myself, why was I bothering with this nonsense at all? Where might it all lead except for another layoff?

I am known for a lot of things, but flexibility is not one of them. I’m not proud of it but I recognize myself as rigid. I have strict rules and routines for myself and I like order. Everything is very intricate and tightly controlled and this even comes out in my art and music (kindlier reviews have called it ‘complex’ or ‘ornate’ – others, ‘confusing’). I even told Missy Thangs, the keyboardist I had cajoled into playing the Felix Obelix album release show, not to panic, but you know, if she didn’t practice these parts and have them all under her fingers, everything would fall apart and it would sound like nothing. And essentially, until only recently, I had lived my life with that as my motto: keep it in control or it will all fall apart and sound like nothing. So just prepare, and know what’s coming, and you’ll be fine.

And of course, with self-employment? You can’t know what’s coming. What you need to be self-employed? Flexibility. You can’t control everything because you don’t know what’s coming. You have to trust that a great, working-all-the-time, making-lots-of-dough month will be swiftly followed by crickets. And crickets came. They came in August. I was eight months into applying for jobs I would probably hate if I got, but I could just not make myself believe that self-employment could actually be viable. So I kept applying thinking it’s just a matter of time before this all goes to hell. And with that thinking, voila! August came. And it all went to hell. Jobs like teaching and academic editing are tied to the academic calendar, and the academic world takes off the month of August. I suddenly had entire weeks of almost nothing. At this point, I interviewed for a temp job at the university doing something actually in the field of music, that I thought would be a good teaching experience. It paid/pays less than what I make private teaching or editing, but I went ahead and accepted the position (and had a blast – but that’s another story). 

Technically, since the job was a temp position and so lowly paid, I could keep drawing on unemployment. But I made it through that August and something clicked. I realized I didn’t need to know exactly how August would go, and I could still be fine, because then September hit and I was awash in work again. I had gotten just a tiny bit more comfortable with not knowing what was about to happen. So like ripping blankey out of the clutches of a 7-year-old far too old for it, once I got that temp job at the university, I said to hell with this. A full-time job at a middle-class wage with benefits was starting to look hopeless, and even if I got the job, wasn’t it just another stepping stone to another layoff I had no say in? And without more education, wouldn’t I just be forever supporting someone doing the interesting stuff?

So I became a self-employed person (with a small side temp job for a bit of stability) and this is what I now consider myself. I had one of the most fulfilling years I could remember. I also had far, far less money total. I learned a lot, and I think I’ll write about some of those lessons in other posts, because they almost all took me by surprise.

Incidentally, I am one of these ‘lost’ statistics of the labor force. Each month, looking at the unemployment numbers, news outlets will proclaim ‘unemployment is down .5%’ or whatever, to which more left-leaning analysts will retort, ‘well just hold on now, this means people are just dropping out of the workforce. They’re not looking for work anymore. They’re just there.’ And I’m one of these, because I just stopped drawing from unemployment (far in advance of when I could have, by the way). I didn’t take a traditional job to replace the traditional job I lost. I made up my own. Am I a good statistic or a bad one?

There’s a (Czech?) saying that what you do on the first day of the year, you will do for that entire year. I won’t promise to write every day, but some days I will, when I feel like it. Like today, I’ll also play the bass for fun in the middle of the day, go outside with my cat and watch birds, and cut out weird shit from old yearbooks and glue it onto pieces of paper. I’ll also do the lesson planning like I did today, and the invoicing of last month’s projects. But I can plan when the work for love is done, in relation to the work for money, in relation to the things you do in life just to feel like you’re alive and part of the world. I’m looking forward to much more of all three in 2014.

Welcome back self, to the writing of this, and you, to the reading this. Today’s fun-filled topic is my animal self and my mental disassociation with my own body. I woke up at 5:00 this morning by the real animal in my domicile (gray-haired narcissist), meowing for food, and as is sometimes the case, never went to sleep again. I worried about the next 2-3 years of my future until I couldn’t do that anymore and then I ordered and re-ordered and re-re-ordered the 30 songs on the new Felix Obelix album. It’s a challenge to put 30 songs in order properly so the listener feels like he/she is taken on a cohesive musical journey, but I thought, triumphantly at daybreak, that I had finally managed it. Usually after accomplishing something profound in the early hours, I can successfully return to dreamy-times, but not today. Exhausted and still panicky about September 2015, I could only calm myself down by spending an hour with Stephen Fry, and more specifically, the thrilling final episode of his canceled UK programme Kingdom in which he plays the sort of warm-hearted do-no-wrong father-figure we all hope will pop up our weakest moments to hug us asexually and wish us a good chin up, chin up. To be hugged asexually and reassured that everything would turn out all right (and by Stephen Fry, as pictured above, no less!) seemed very important and even possible in 6:15 a.m.  In this TV show, everyone around Stephen Fry is a bit mad and his job is to weather, so very, very kindly, an unending and engulfing brouhaha. Later in the day, I find out that in real life, Stephen Fry is bi-polar. 
My animal self, repeatedly, throughout my day, told me to just go to sleep already. The first instance of this was in the ten minutes before my mid-morning breakfast date with Sara Z., of the many wonderful adventures. It was an inopportune time for my body to remind me that mammals need rest and that I am one of these, so I powered through with coffee and had a grand time. Back at home, I was then again exhausted and wired and sleepless and continued to power through some emails, but the concentration necessary to edit a grant I could not muster. So back in bed, I fell asleep for just ten minutes of nightmares. Restless, I woke up and listened to the 30-song order again, only to change the placement of one tune, whilst the lentils turned to happy mush on the stove. Go to sleep, commanded my body, so I drank three glasses of coca-cola instead and started editing, sent some work emails, etcetera. And of course, just now, the cannot-keep-eyelids-open sleepiness threatened to overtake me just in time to not be able to do anything about it because pulling into the driveway is a fine young oboist with make-up application skills much greater than my own who has shown up for her weekly lesson. 
Furthermore, I just remembered, or rather, the disassociated part of my body reminded me that I never ate lunch today.  Could that be the source of my exhaustion? It’s likely, as mammals require food intake, or so I am told. Likewise, I did not exercise today, and I am aware that that’s another requirement of us higher-order eukaryotes. I know that when I do exercise somewhat consistently, the outlook on unrelated things like September 2015 seems a lot brighter, mysteriously, as though my brain has something to do with my body. And yet, whilst knowing this, I still cannot seem to make myself exercise consistently. It’s a painful thing to admit, but I just really would rather be reading a book or thinking vs. anything else that might require the use of my lousy musculature.
One sad summer, some summers back, I saw a therapist I wound up disliking, and he made an observation that I seemed very out of touch with my body, as though my body were this floaty, extraneous nonsense that was just keeping me from the more important work of my intellect. To this, I believe I replied wittily, “DDD-DUH! Tell me something I don’t know!” And to myself I thought, and you get paid for this? A well-paying career in telling sad people the bleedingly obvious: sign me up! Sidenote: I wound up disliking him not because of this obviousness, but due to another conversation about my ongoing, still-problematic what am I doing with my life crisis. When I explained the artistic/creative life vs. day job conundrum, his response was, have you considered just getting a new career and giving up the creative life?  I narrowed my eyes at him and thought, well then, wow, you just don’t get it at all do you? Goodbye, purple sofa!
Exercising the corpuscles – how do humans do it? Regular sleep, regular eating of healthy food – it all seems impossible. Human emotion – what is it and how it is achieved? Books should be written on these topics for people like me.  

Welcome back self, to the writing of this, and you, to the reading this. Today’s fun-filled topic is my animal self and my mental disassociation with my own body. I woke up at 5:00 this morning by the real animal in my domicile (gray-haired narcissist), meowing for food, and as is sometimes the case, never went to sleep again. I worried about the next 2-3 years of my future until I couldn’t do that anymore and then I ordered and re-ordered and re-re-ordered the 30 songs on the new Felix Obelix album. It’s a challenge to put 30 songs in order properly so the listener feels like he/she is taken on a cohesive musical journey, but I thought, triumphantly at daybreak, that I had finally managed it. Usually after accomplishing something profound in the early hours, I can successfully return to dreamy-times, but not today. Exhausted and still panicky about September 2015, I could only calm myself down by spending an hour with Stephen Fry, and more specifically, the thrilling final episode of his canceled UK programme Kingdom in which he plays the sort of warm-hearted do-no-wrong father-figure we all hope will pop up our weakest moments to hug us asexually and wish us a good chin up, chin up. To be hugged asexually and reassured that everything would turn out all right (and by Stephen Fry, as pictured above, no less!) seemed very important and even possible in 6:15 a.m.  In this TV show, everyone around Stephen Fry is a bit mad and his job is to weather, so very, very kindly, an unending and engulfing brouhaha. Later in the day, I find out that in real life, Stephen Fry is bi-polar. 

My animal self, repeatedly, throughout my day, told me to just go to sleep already. The first instance of this was in the ten minutes before my mid-morning breakfast date with Sara Z., of the many wonderful adventures. It was an inopportune time for my body to remind me that mammals need rest and that I am one of these, so I powered through with coffee and had a grand time. Back at home, I was then again exhausted and wired and sleepless and continued to power through some emails, but the concentration necessary to edit a grant I could not muster. So back in bed, I fell asleep for just ten minutes of nightmares. Restless, I woke up and listened to the 30-song order again, only to change the placement of one tune, whilst the lentils turned to happy mush on the stove. Go to sleep, commanded my body, so I drank three glasses of coca-cola instead and started editing, sent some work emails, etcetera. And of course, just now, the cannot-keep-eyelids-open sleepiness threatened to overtake me just in time to not be able to do anything about it because pulling into the driveway is a fine young oboist with make-up application skills much greater than my own who has shown up for her weekly lesson. 

Furthermore, I just remembered, or rather, the disassociated part of my body reminded me that I never ate lunch today.  Could that be the source of my exhaustion? It’s likely, as mammals require food intake, or so I am told. Likewise, I did not exercise today, and I am aware that that’s another requirement of us higher-order eukaryotes. I know that when I do exercise somewhat consistently, the outlook on unrelated things like September 2015 seems a lot brighter, mysteriously, as though my brain has something to do with my body. And yet, whilst knowing this, I still cannot seem to make myself exercise consistently. It’s a painful thing to admit, but I just really would rather be reading a book or thinking vs. anything else that might require the use of my lousy musculature.

One sad summer, some summers back, I saw a therapist I wound up disliking, and he made an observation that I seemed very out of touch with my body, as though my body were this floaty, extraneous nonsense that was just keeping me from the more important work of my intellect. To this, I believe I replied wittily, “DDD-DUH! Tell me something I don’t know!” And to myself I thought, and you get paid for this? A well-paying career in telling sad people the bleedingly obvious: sign me up! Sidenote: I wound up disliking him not because of this obviousness, but due to another conversation about my ongoing, still-problematic what am I doing with my life crisis. When I explained the artistic/creative life vs. day job conundrum, his response was, have you considered just getting a new career and giving up the creative life?  I narrowed my eyes at him and thought, well then, wow, you just don’t get it at all do you? Goodbye, purple sofa!

Exercising the corpuscles – how do humans do it? Regular sleep, regular eating of healthy food – it all seems impossible. Human emotion – what is it and how it is achieved? Books should be written on these topics for people like me.  

"There’s bound to be trouble when the cool, rebellious new kid in school sets his sights on the hottie girlfriend of the school’s tough guy." - Netflix description of ‘Tuff Turf’ 1985, rated R, 1 hr. 51 minutes, which in this case is a very long time.
This is a short review of a hilariously bad movie from 1985, featuring James Spader, a.k.a. the a-hole yuppie in every other 80s teen movie, and “Robert Downey” who eventually added Jr., when he was still a kid and before all the drugs did him in so bad.   Also starring a bunch of other bad actors with bad attitudes, and a variety of terrible white soul bands, and Jim Carroll, of Basketball Diaries fame, who I knew had done music but whom I had never actually seen perform.  This is one of those movies that doesn’t exactly have enough plot in it to make a full-length movie, hence the several-songs-in-a-row choreographed dance montages and scenes that involve people eating.  In my ol’ days in creative writing classes, eating was trotted out as an example of an author-doesn’t-know-what-to-do-next device: the characters go eat something because really, where is any of this going?  In this movie, at one point, the ‘hottie’ in question, who apparently also starred in ‘Escape to Witch Mountain’ in her earlier career, goes to a burger joint with her friends for no real reason, and the directory of photography, inspired, shot the burger joint’s sign, slowly, letter by letter: B  -  U  -  R  -  G  -  E  -  R, taking up a solid 15 seconds.  At another point, after the ‘warehouse’ dance sequence where the tough guy is made livid by the dancing of James Spader with the Escape to Witch Mountain hottie to Jim Carroll’s band, James Spader and hottie go to another club to dance some more, a club featuring a white soul guy’s band called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (?), and it just goes on and on, with dancing upon tables, in cages, on counters, giddy and finally free from the Hispanic/Italian(?) boyfriend tough guy who considers the dancing hottie his “praw-puh-tee”.  In another notable scene, James Spader, whose family used to be rich but isn’t anymore, takes his low-life friends, including hottie, to a country club, where he pretends to belong because he knows the ‘code’ from having used to be a yuppie in every other teen movie from the 80s, and various supposed-to-be-hilarious one-liners ensue including the low-brow hottie’s friend explaining about blow jobs to the country club women elites, and James Spader talking about gourmet food to people who I guess know about gourmet food (?).  Robert Downey — who let me first say is so fun-loving in this movie, prior to all his no-longer-a-cute-teenager-adulthood drug incarcerations, he might as well be Matthew Broderick! — attempts to stuff a baguette down his pants, while James Spader jumps onstage with the hottie and sings to her a ballad, something ‘about the ni-i-i-i-ight' while playing the piano except obviously not actually doing so.  Eventually, out-of-control ethnically ambiguous tough guy roughs up hottie's dad in the liquor store, and straight up slow-motion shoots in the chest James Spader's dad, who no longer yachts in Connecticut but drives a taxi in L.A.  The movie culminates in a long, long fight sequence at the Warehouse, empty and sadly bereft of Jim Caroll and his band (the drummer of which is Robert Downey, naturally), where James Spader performs some knot tricks and gets a hatchet and throws some punches and wrestles and punches and kicks and hatchets his way up a staircase, and boxes, and beats up and gets beaten up by the tough guy, whose honor he has sullied by dancing, almost non-stop for the preceding 45 minutes, with his ”praw-puh-tee”, i.e. the hottie, who, let us not forget, once escaped from Witch Mountain.  Perplexingly, the tough guy, who yes, of course, eventually dies at the hands of James Spader’s expert yuppie boxing maneuvers, first shoots James Spader’s dad almost to death, and then they rendez-vous for this drawn-out death match fight sequence, when tough guy is, at that point, surely, being sought after as an attempted murderer.  Incidentally, Robert Downey shows up at the warehouse to protect James Spader, and he brings his vicious doberman pinschers with him, even though said dobermans are not addressed previously in the movie, until about 5 minutes pre-fight scene.  It was though the director said, you know what this fight scene needs?  Vicious dogs!  How can we make vicious dogs make sense here, oh I know, Robert Downey will bring them with him why not, I mean he’s a drummer (?).  Lastly, in my favorite moment, tough guy is on a night prowl with hottie and his thugs in the backseat, looking for James Spader’s dad so he can shoot him.  It’s nighttime, oh it’s so dark, so dark in this scene, passing by this house it’s so dark, then oh wow! it’s morning! No just kidding, it’s dark again!  So bad it’s good, and you even get to see two exposed nipples for just 1 second per nipple.  A+, recommended viewing, especially for those times you are okay with wasting your life! On netflix streaming!

"There’s bound to be trouble when the cool, rebellious new kid in school sets his sights on the hottie girlfriend of the school’s tough guy." - Netflix description of ‘Tuff Turf’ 1985, rated R, 1 hr. 51 minutes, which in this case is a very long time.

This is a short review of a hilariously bad movie from 1985, featuring James Spader, a.k.a. the a-hole yuppie in every other 80s teen movie, and “Robert Downey” who eventually added Jr., when he was still a kid and before all the drugs did him in so bad.   Also starring a bunch of other bad actors with bad attitudes, and a variety of terrible white soul bands, and Jim Carroll, of Basketball Diaries fame, who I knew had done music but whom I had never actually seen perform.  This is one of those movies that doesn’t exactly have enough plot in it to make a full-length movie, hence the several-songs-in-a-row choreographed dance montages and scenes that involve people eating.  In my ol’ days in creative writing classes, eating was trotted out as an example of an author-doesn’t-know-what-to-do-next device: the characters go eat something because really, where is any of this going?  In this movie, at one point, the ‘hottie’ in question, who apparently also starred in ‘Escape to Witch Mountain’ in her earlier career, goes to a burger joint with her friends for no real reason, and the directory of photography, inspired, shot the burger joint’s sign, slowly, letter by letter: B  -  U  -  R  -  G  -  E  -  R, taking up a solid 15 seconds.  At another point, after the ‘warehouse’ dance sequence where the tough guy is made livid by the dancing of James Spader with the Escape to Witch Mountain hottie to Jim Carroll’s band, James Spader and hottie go to another club to dance some more, a club featuring a white soul guy’s band called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (?), and it just goes on and on, with dancing upon tables, in cages, on counters, giddy and finally free from the Hispanic/Italian(?) boyfriend tough guy who considers the dancing hottie his “praw-puh-tee”.  In another notable scene, James Spader, whose family used to be rich but isn’t anymore, takes his low-life friends, including hottie, to a country club, where he pretends to belong because he knows the ‘code’ from having used to be a yuppie in every other teen movie from the 80s, and various supposed-to-be-hilarious one-liners ensue including the low-brow hottie’s friend explaining about blow jobs to the country club women elites, and James Spader talking about gourmet food to people who I guess know about gourmet food (?).  Robert Downey — who let me first say is so fun-loving in this movie, prior to all his no-longer-a-cute-teenager-adulthood drug incarcerations, he might as well be Matthew Broderick! — attempts to stuff a baguette down his pants, while James Spader jumps onstage with the hottie and sings to her a ballad, something ‘about the ni-i-i-i-ight' while playing the piano except obviously not actually doing so.  Eventually, out-of-control ethnically ambiguous tough guy roughs up hottie's dad in the liquor store, and straight up slow-motion shoots in the chest James Spader's dad, who no longer yachts in Connecticut but drives a taxi in L.A.  The movie culminates in a long, long fight sequence at the Warehouse, empty and sadly bereft of Jim Caroll and his band (the drummer of which is Robert Downey, naturally), where James Spader performs some knot tricks and gets a hatchet and throws some punches and wrestles and punches and kicks and hatchets his way up a staircase, and boxes, and beats up and gets beaten up by the tough guy, whose honor he has sullied by dancing, almost non-stop for the preceding 45 minutes, with his ”praw-puh-tee”, i.e. the hottie, who, let us not forget, once escaped from Witch Mountain.  Perplexingly, the tough guy, who yes, of course, eventually dies at the hands of James Spader’s expert yuppie boxing maneuvers, first shoots James Spader’s dad almost to death, and then they rendez-vous for this drawn-out death match fight sequence, when tough guy is, at that point, surely, being sought after as an attempted murderer.  Incidentally, Robert Downey shows up at the warehouse to protect James Spader, and he brings his vicious doberman pinschers with him, even though said dobermans are not addressed previously in the movie, until about 5 minutes pre-fight scene.  It was though the director said, you know what this fight scene needs?  Vicious dogs!  How can we make vicious dogs make sense here, oh I know, Robert Downey will bring them with him why not, I mean he’s a drummer (?).  Lastly, in my favorite moment, tough guy is on a night prowl with hottie and his thugs in the backseat, looking for James Spader’s dad so he can shoot him.  It’s nighttime, oh it’s so dark, so dark in this scene, passing by this house it’s so dark, then oh wow! it’s morning! No just kidding, it’s dark again!  So bad it’s good, and you even get to see two exposed nipples for just 1 second per nipple.  A+, recommended viewing, especially for those times you are okay with wasting your life! On netflix streaming!

A few summers ago, I did a social experiment with my friends called The Happiness Project, which, unbeknownst to me, had previously already been used as the name of a book someone had written about happiness.  That aside, I invited a broad swath of my friends to participate, and a really great subset actually did.  My happiness project was essentially this: friends were to come on Sunday #1, for a potluck guided discussion on happiness: what it means, how do we achieve it, and so forth.  Friends were then given a stack of blank notecards (thank you Scrap Exchange!) and were instructed that for the course of the week, before bed each night, they were to recall their experiences that day and write every single instance of happiness felt that day. In this way, we were to accumulate a highly unscientific sampling of my friends’ daily experiences with happiness.  I encouraged people to try to think of the thing itself that caused happiness, e.g. not to write down “the cat made me happy” but “petting the cat and hearing her purr made me happy”.  This was to drill down into units of happiness, in an attempt to quantify and name them.  Then, the following Sunday, potluck #2, we took each individual card-unit of happiness and attempted to group them into appropriate categories.  Roughly, they fell into categories of “love”; “outdoors/nature”; “work” (including creative work, which is often unpaid for my friends but work nonetheless); “exercise”; “pets”; “social time”.  If I am remembering correctly, “social time” was a lot larger a pile than I was anticipating.  We read aloud peoples’ cards, and my favorite, put in the “love” pile, was simply: “Maria is a wild child”, which I think if you know Maria, can guess who wrote it and why it is so awesome.  I remember one person thinking that the exercise missed a basic point that it’s often a combination of things that make the happiness notable: sitting outside in nature, petting the cat, talking with friends…and that categorizing into units bastardized the emotion.  However, the larger point of the exercise was to see why I’m not getting adequate returns on my happiness investments and why I am always, no matter how successful at something, just kind of a downer of a person.  I’m just geared towards being unhappy and wanted some answers that only friend-oriented pseudoscience could provide. But overall, the experiment came down to two interesting features: 1) it was concluded that happiness is really within our grasp. None of the participants was so destitute as to have the kind of stress that comes with not having one’s basic needs met. Beyond that - spending time outside, loving people, having good times with friends, enjoying a challenge at work - these are easily within our grasp. They don’t require huge amounts of money or time or things like status, outside of our control…only the mental framework to recognize those smaller moments and enjoy them. Interesting feature #2 was that in having us all sit in a circle and talk about feelings, I had inadvertently created an unregulated group therapy situation. Whoops! I have never been in group therapy, so didn’t even know what I was doing, but apparently many of my friends had.  Interestingly, several people, at various times after the Happiness Project, told me they really liked having a social time where they could talk about ‘real’ things…that that almost never happens.  One person told me that was the entire reason he decided to participate.  I do a fairly decent job of interacting socially (with people who understand that by default, this means the social interaction is  going to be not normal in some way), but I do find that I don’t often talk of my emotions unless very much prompted.  I don’t often talk about the fact that I basically consider myself not good enough at anything to justify being alive, and that this makes me generally kind of depressed, in an abstract way.  Discouraging things that shake my confidence seem a-plenty.  Lately it has been very hard to keep the conclusions drawn from the happiness project at the forefront: that happiness is NOT some big mystery, or something that comes as a natural outgrowth of outrageous success.  Happiness is built into the littler moments, the ones I’m always bypassing for the Grand Moments that are so few and far between. Lately, it’s been hard to feel happy, and since I never really tell anyone, it can be pretty isolating.  I’d wager many of you reading this might feel similarly - it’s pretty gauche to talk about one’s emotions, especially sadness. But a major conclusion drawn from the Happiness Project  was that people are actually really interested in each others’  emotions, and talking about deeper things going on with each other is something they wished there was more of. There’s an artificial wall about it at which I am cleverly tapping by writing about it instead of talking about it.  It also makes me consider doing two similar projects, which I have been considering doing for some time:
1) The Unhappiness Project.  Maybe, if I am so bad at learning my happiness lessons, it is more interesting/important/crucial to examine the causes of unhappiness.  This again, would be highly unscientific sampling of my friends whose basic needs are met.  It is entirely a different matter to be unhappy about not having money for your next meal.  Instead, this would serve to bring to light what sources of unhappiness exist, how they can be categorized, and maybe which are worth having? Which are solvable?  Is it really, as they say, not the bad thing that makes us unhappy, but our reaction to it?
2) The Fulfillment Project - It is often the case when I wake at 6am to comp takes for an album before a full day’s work, or I make oboe reeds after teaching four oboe lessons just so I can keep playing the oboe even when my brain is fried, that I think why in god’s name do I do this myself?  I already know this doesn’t bring me happiness, see previous paragraphs.  It’s that I am compelled to do something that will lead to a special kind of fulfillment.  And I am aware that happiness and fulfillment feel very different, and that there is a relationship there, but I’m murky on it.  This feeling of being compelled (creatively, I have to add) doesn’t even feel like a choice - it’s like what I imagine a guy with OCD must feel like after the 27th time in a row that he washed his hands.  So I imagine a similar Fulfillment Project, with daily notecard units of fulfillment. Realistically, I can only ask my friends to do something like this for a week, but I wonder if a week would be enough for the fulfillment project - it would be more than enough for the unhappiness project, for sure.
So, what other emotions are we not talking about?

A few summers ago, I did a social experiment with my friends called The Happiness Project, which, unbeknownst to me, had previously already been used as the name of a book someone had written about happiness.  That aside, I invited a broad swath of my friends to participate, and a really great subset actually did.  My happiness project was essentially this: friends were to come on Sunday #1, for a potluck guided discussion on happiness: what it means, how do we achieve it, and so forth.  Friends were then given a stack of blank notecards (thank you Scrap Exchange!) and were instructed that for the course of the week, before bed each night, they were to recall their experiences that day and write every single instance of happiness felt that day. In this way, we were to accumulate a highly unscientific sampling of my friends’ daily experiences with happiness.  I encouraged people to try to think of the thing itself that caused happiness, e.g. not to write down “the cat made me happy” but “petting the cat and hearing her purr made me happy”.  This was to drill down into units of happiness, in an attempt to quantify and name them.  Then, the following Sunday, potluck #2, we took each individual card-unit of happiness and attempted to group them into appropriate categories.  Roughly, they fell into categories of “love”; “outdoors/nature”; “work” (including creative work, which is often unpaid for my friends but work nonetheless); “exercise”; “pets”; “social time”.  If I am remembering correctly, “social time” was a lot larger a pile than I was anticipating.  We read aloud peoples’ cards, and my favorite, put in the “love” pile, was simply: “Maria is a wild child”, which I think if you know Maria, can guess who wrote it and why it is so awesome.  I remember one person thinking that the exercise missed a basic point that it’s often a combination of things that make the happiness notable: sitting outside in nature, petting the cat, talking with friends…and that categorizing into units bastardized the emotion.  However, the larger point of the exercise was to see why I’m not getting adequate returns on my happiness investments and why I am always, no matter how successful at something, just kind of a downer of a person.  I’m just geared towards being unhappy and wanted some answers that only friend-oriented pseudoscience could provide. But overall, the experiment came down to two interesting features: 1) it was concluded that happiness is really within our grasp. None of the participants was so destitute as to have the kind of stress that comes with not having one’s basic needs met. Beyond that - spending time outside, loving people, having good times with friends, enjoying a challenge at work - these are easily within our grasp. They don’t require huge amounts of money or time or things like status, outside of our control…only the mental framework to recognize those smaller moments and enjoy them. Interesting feature #2 was that in having us all sit in a circle and talk about feelings, I had inadvertently created an unregulated group therapy situation. Whoops! I have never been in group therapy, so didn’t even know what I was doing, but apparently many of my friends had.  Interestingly, several people, at various times after the Happiness Project, told me they really liked having a social time where they could talk about ‘real’ things…that that almost never happens.  One person told me that was the entire reason he decided to participate.  I do a fairly decent job of interacting socially (with people who understand that by default, this means the social interaction is  going to be not normal in some way), but I do find that I don’t often talk of my emotions unless very much prompted.  I don’t often talk about the fact that I basically consider myself not good enough at anything to justify being alive, and that this makes me generally kind of depressed, in an abstract way.  Discouraging things that shake my confidence seem a-plenty.  Lately it has been very hard to keep the conclusions drawn from the happiness project at the forefront: that happiness is NOT some big mystery, or something that comes as a natural outgrowth of outrageous success.  Happiness is built into the littler moments, the ones I’m always bypassing for the Grand Moments that are so few and far between. Lately, it’s been hard to feel happy, and since I never really tell anyone, it can be pretty isolating.  I’d wager many of you reading this might feel similarly - it’s pretty gauche to talk about one’s emotions, especially sadness. But a major conclusion drawn from the Happiness Project  was that people are actually really interested in each others’  emotions, and talking about deeper things going on with each other is something they wished there was more of. There’s an artificial wall about it at which I am cleverly tapping by writing about it instead of talking about it.  It also makes me consider doing two similar projects, which I have been considering doing for some time:

1) The Unhappiness Project.  Maybe, if I am so bad at learning my happiness lessons, it is more interesting/important/crucial to examine the causes of unhappiness.  This again, would be highly unscientific sampling of my friends whose basic needs are met.  It is entirely a different matter to be unhappy about not having money for your next meal.  Instead, this would serve to bring to light what sources of unhappiness exist, how they can be categorized, and maybe which are worth having? Which are solvable?  Is it really, as they say, not the bad thing that makes us unhappy, but our reaction to it?

2) The Fulfillment Project - It is often the case when I wake at 6am to comp takes for an album before a full day’s work, or I make oboe reeds after teaching four oboe lessons just so I can keep playing the oboe even when my brain is fried, that I think why in god’s name do I do this myself?  I already know this doesn’t bring me happiness, see previous paragraphs.  It’s that I am compelled to do something that will lead to a special kind of fulfillment.  And I am aware that happiness and fulfillment feel very different, and that there is a relationship there, but I’m murky on it.  This feeling of being compelled (creatively, I have to add) doesn’t even feel like a choice - it’s like what I imagine a guy with OCD must feel like after the 27th time in a row that he washed his hands.  So I imagine a similar Fulfillment Project, with daily notecard units of fulfillment. Realistically, I can only ask my friends to do something like this for a week, but I wonder if a week would be enough for the fulfillment project - it would be more than enough for the unhappiness project, for sure.

So, what other emotions are we not talking about?

A few weeks ago on a Saturday night, as Billy and I were snuggling in to watch Children of the Corn, part of a monthlong October-inspired horror movie binge, an 18-year-old freshman at UNC fell 40 feet to his death, right around the corner from my house.  When I heard about this on the news the next day, despite the report having said only he died on my street, I assumed he had been murdered.  This is partly due to the fact that another UNC student had actually been murdered off-campus earlier this year - a beautiful Native American girl who seemed to be one of the academic success stories of her tribe and very small community -  in a mysterious homicide for which there has not been an arrest.  This, and the fact that we’d been watching a lot of horror movies, made me immediately think that a murderer was loose in my neighborhood.  Discussion of a security system ensued.  Then I read the following day more carefully, and the cause of death had not been announced. I immediately, morbidly, thought suicide.  Freshman year is tough on people.  Then the day after that, foul play had been ruled out and we soon learn that he had climbed some equipment at the concrete factory, and fell in an accident.  People did not find him for some time later, and the only other things I know were that he was an athlete from Charlotte who had been drinking the previous night and who was pledging a fraternity. I think by now fraternity hazing has been ruled out. I imagine him climbing the equipment, and I imagine myself getting ready to watch the movie, and then I think of him falling to his death and nobody hearing or seeing anything until they found him much, much later.  Why he was there in the first place, if he was alone — these are not known at this time.  The photo of him in the news, at some stadium with half of a sports mascot in the frame to his left, just screams America.  One of those faces that could be any 18-year-old athlete boy, just starting out.  From my house, lately, the concrete factory hums and buzzes at night.  Sometimes trucks back up with their back-up beeping noises.  Cement in and out all day.  The trains next to it whistle in the cold, 12 notes at once.  When the whistle blows, I try to hum all the different pitches, lowest to highest. The enormous TV of the neighbors flickers the wall of their living room blue beyond their curtains, and one of two fluffy cats looks out the window at everything it can’t catch and kill.  Runners run and bikers pedal the bikepath, and sometimes the characters of the community get together in one spot by the graveyard to pass around bottles in brown paper bags.  Once, with the help of another girl, we pulled a man who had passed out and banged his head and was lying prone on the railroad tracks.  Another time, two middle-aged heavyset biker types in their biker gear were trying to help a man up, a homeless man I recognized instantly as Polar Bear, who also hangs out near where I work, who had collapsed next to the path.  The middled-aged biker duo could not get him to speak to tell him what was wrong, but as soon as I said his name, he just kept repeating it, Polar Bear! Polar Bear!  I actually really hope the boy was out of his mind drunk and passed out during his freefall.  He would not have known anything.  

A few weeks ago on a Saturday night, as Billy and I were snuggling in to watch Children of the Corn, part of a monthlong October-inspired horror movie binge, an 18-year-old freshman at UNC fell 40 feet to his death, right around the corner from my house.  When I heard about this on the news the next day, despite the report having said only he died on my street, I assumed he had been murdered.  This is partly due to the fact that another UNC student had actually been murdered off-campus earlier this year - a beautiful Native American girl who seemed to be one of the academic success stories of her tribe and very small community -  in a mysterious homicide for which there has not been an arrest.  This, and the fact that we’d been watching a lot of horror movies, made me immediately think that a murderer was loose in my neighborhood.  Discussion of a security system ensued.  Then I read the following day more carefully, and the cause of death had not been announced. I immediately, morbidly, thought suicide.  Freshman year is tough on people.  Then the day after that, foul play had been ruled out and we soon learn that he had climbed some equipment at the concrete factory, and fell in an accident.  People did not find him for some time later, and the only other things I know were that he was an athlete from Charlotte who had been drinking the previous night and who was pledging a fraternity. I think by now fraternity hazing has been ruled out. I imagine him climbing the equipment, and I imagine myself getting ready to watch the movie, and then I think of him falling to his death and nobody hearing or seeing anything until they found him much, much later.  Why he was there in the first place, if he was alone — these are not known at this time.  The photo of him in the news, at some stadium with half of a sports mascot in the frame to his left, just screams America.  One of those faces that could be any 18-year-old athlete boy, just starting out.  From my house, lately, the concrete factory hums and buzzes at night.  Sometimes trucks back up with their back-up beeping noises.  Cement in and out all day.  The trains next to it whistle in the cold, 12 notes at once.  When the whistle blows, I try to hum all the different pitches, lowest to highest. The enormous TV of the neighbors flickers the wall of their living room blue beyond their curtains, and one of two fluffy cats looks out the window at everything it can’t catch and kill.  Runners run and bikers pedal the bikepath, and sometimes the characters of the community get together in one spot by the graveyard to pass around bottles in brown paper bags.  Once, with the help of another girl, we pulled a man who had passed out and banged his head and was lying prone on the railroad tracks.  Another time, two middle-aged heavyset biker types in their biker gear were trying to help a man up, a homeless man I recognized instantly as Polar Bear, who also hangs out near where I work, who had collapsed next to the path.  The middled-aged biker duo could not get him to speak to tell him what was wrong, but as soon as I said his name, he just kept repeating it, Polar Bear! Polar Bear!  I actually really hope the boy was out of his mind drunk and passed out during his freefall.  He would not have known anything.  

I think many lessons can be learned from the recent election and its turnout.  I’m buoyed by the idea that the flavor of this country is changing, and that interesting people were elected who represent a bit of that diversity, including the first Hindu elected to US Congress (from Hawaii, female, a year younger than me, and an Iraq war veteran!), an openly gay woman, an actual, living, breathing independent behind whom the Democrats threw support, and some more I don’t know about.  But I am more interested in this ‘lesson’ that the election taught the right about its own media echo chamber. I feel a lot sadder for the right than I was anticipating I would be.  Mainly, my left-leaning friends have been gloating, which is not classy, as everyday conservatives were really blindsided by this.  It’s an awful feeling to be blindsided.  How many of those people have to completely rethink their view of the country?  Are they doing so?  I’d wager a majority of them are not, but some are.  Faced with irrefutable evidence that Fox News was feeding them misinformation about nearly everything for years, culminating with things are so bad there is no way Mitt Romney can lose, what are they supposed to do now?  It has to feel to them like what it feels like to be lied to.  That sick-to-stomach feeling you get when you realize someone has been lying to you: that isn’t a feeling I wish upon anyone.  
I always balance situations in my mind, to put myself in the opposite position, to question whether I should apply a similar lesson to myself.  I was, cautiously, expecting Obama to win, but only because the media, especially in the few days leading up to the election, was telling me so.  In this way, I am no better than those blindsided conservatives in believing what I was told - I just got the as-it-happened, correct information fed to me.  I think the best lesson anyone can learn from how this turned out, is the necessity of a media that at least attempts at balance, or better yet, the necessity of getting information from a variety of sources, or even better, going straight to sources.  I am not much better than people who rely solely on Fox News, as I rely almost solely on NPR, and WRAL and the News and Observer for local interest. Are these sources better than Fox News?  Arguably.  But I know people who rely solely on MSNBC or The Huffington Post, and their versions of things. Salon.com, another source I read and one pretty left-of-center, showed me that viral video of Mitt Romney apparently going ballistic about his religion on an off-air segment of a radio show.  I purposely just watched the video without reading Salon’s take on it first, and had a completely differing reaction to it.  I’m not religious, but I know enough to know that deeply religious people will take great offense at someone calling into question their faith, which is what Mitt felt like this radio DJ was trying to do.  He isn’t ‘going ballistic’ - he’s just reacting to something he finds deeply offensive. It’s liberal echo chamber journalism that was trying to tell me “just watch this – look how crazy weird Mitt the Mormon is going ballistic!” but that’s just the echo chamber’s read on it…it’s a lefty, non-religious person’s reaction to someone passionately defending their religion.  Somebody passionately defending his devoutness to his faith, against someone who was challenging him on it – I guess I’m not seeing what I’m supposed to be seeing here.  One strength of this country is the idea that you can believe the second coming will happen, partly, in Independence, Missouri, and still run for President.  You know? He’s allowed to believe special underwear can protect him, and the other things about Mormonism I just can’t even begin to believe.  It’s part of what makes the country great, that he can get kind of mad at somebody for questioning his religious beliefs - the fact that he can have those beliefs in the first place, and get mad at somebody, without the authorities coming to drag him off to a gulag, is one of the reasons I became a citizen.  I was disappointed by Salon.com just telling me, a nonreligious leftist, ‘look at this guy who believes crazy things getting all ca-razy about it!!” because it is exactly the kind of thing that a Fox News anchor would tell me, in reverse: “look at that crazy black guy who has to be Muslim because his middle name is Hussein!”  We are just owed more than that.  It’s hard, because who has time?  We work incessantly. But we have greater access to first-document type materials than ever before, to make those calls for ourselves. I can just watch the video – the entire video, not some edited version, and come to my own conclusions. I can just look up the person’s voting record.  That information is out there, and it’s not nearly as tricky or time-consuming to find anymore.  My hope is that both sides - the Republican emperors who are just realizing they are not wearing clothes – and the rest of us, watching that naked moment happen – can rededicate ourselves a bit to 1) questioning what is being fed to us; 2) seeking out new feeding sources; and 3) feeding ourselves. Only by a combination of all three, can we come anywhere close to calling ourselves actually educated about what is going on, in this very vast and confusing time and place.

I think many lessons can be learned from the recent election and its turnout.  I’m buoyed by the idea that the flavor of this country is changing, and that interesting people were elected who represent a bit of that diversity, including the first Hindu elected to US Congress (from Hawaii, female, a year younger than me, and an Iraq war veteran!), an openly gay woman, an actual, living, breathing independent behind whom the Democrats threw support, and some more I don’t know about.  But I am more interested in this ‘lesson’ that the election taught the right about its own media echo chamber. I feel a lot sadder for the right than I was anticipating I would be.  Mainly, my left-leaning friends have been gloating, which is not classy, as everyday conservatives were really blindsided by this.  It’s an awful feeling to be blindsided.  How many of those people have to completely rethink their view of the country?  Are they doing so?  I’d wager a majority of them are not, but some are.  Faced with irrefutable evidence that Fox News was feeding them misinformation about nearly everything for years, culminating with things are so bad there is no way Mitt Romney can lose, what are they supposed to do now?  It has to feel to them like what it feels like to be lied to.  That sick-to-stomach feeling you get when you realize someone has been lying to you: that isn’t a feeling I wish upon anyone. 

I always balance situations in my mind, to put myself in the opposite position, to question whether I should apply a similar lesson to myself.  I was, cautiously, expecting Obama to win, but only because the media, especially in the few days leading up to the election, was telling me so.  In this way, I am no better than those blindsided conservatives in believing what I was told - I just got the as-it-happened, correct information fed to me.  I think the best lesson anyone can learn from how this turned out, is the necessity of a media that at least attempts at balance, or better yet, the necessity of getting information from a variety of sources, or even better, going straight to sources.  I am not much better than people who rely solely on Fox News, as I rely almost solely on NPR, and WRAL and the News and Observer for local interest. Are these sources better than Fox News?  Arguably.  But I know people who rely solely on MSNBC or The Huffington Post, and their versions of things. Salon.com, another source I read and one pretty left-of-center, showed me that viral video of Mitt Romney apparently going ballistic about his religion on an off-air segment of a radio show.  I purposely just watched the video without reading Salon’s take on it first, and had a completely differing reaction to it.  I’m not religious, but I know enough to know that deeply religious people will take great offense at someone calling into question their faith, which is what Mitt felt like this radio DJ was trying to do.  He isn’t ‘going ballistic’ - he’s just reacting to something he finds deeply offensive. It’s liberal echo chamber journalism that was trying to tell me “just watch this – look how crazy weird Mitt the Mormon is going ballistic!” but that’s just the echo chamber’s read on it…it’s a lefty, non-religious person’s reaction to someone passionately defending their religion.  Somebody passionately defending his devoutness to his faith, against someone who was challenging him on it – I guess I’m not seeing what I’m supposed to be seeing here.  One strength of this country is the idea that you can believe the second coming will happen, partly, in Independence, Missouri, and still run for President.  You know? He’s allowed to believe special underwear can protect him, and the other things about Mormonism I just can’t even begin to believe.  It’s part of what makes the country great, that he can get kind of mad at somebody for questioning his religious beliefs - the fact that he can have those beliefs in the first place, and get mad at somebody, without the authorities coming to drag him off to a gulag, is one of the reasons I became a citizen.  I was disappointed by Salon.com just telling me, a nonreligious leftist, ‘look at this guy who believes crazy things getting all ca-razy about it!!” because it is exactly the kind of thing that a Fox News anchor would tell me, in reverse: “look at that crazy black guy who has to be Muslim because his middle name is Hussein!”  We are just owed more than that.  It’s hard, because who has time?  We work incessantly. But we have greater access to first-document type materials than ever before, to make those calls for ourselves. I can just watch the video – the entire video, not some edited version, and come to my own conclusions. I can just look up the person’s voting record.  That information is out there, and it’s not nearly as tricky or time-consuming to find anymore.  My hope is that both sides - the Republican emperors who are just realizing they are not wearing clothes – and the rest of us, watching that naked moment happen – can rededicate ourselves a bit to 1) questioning what is being fed to us; 2) seeking out new feeding sources; and 3) feeding ourselves. Only by a combination of all three, can we come anywhere close to calling ourselves actually educated about what is going on, in this very vast and confusing time and place.

I have no idea if Elliott Carter was the sort of chap who would have loved to have passed away on a day when people were preoccupied with steering the course of history through suffrage.  Remember when Princess Diana died dramatically in a tunnel in France, chased by people, and the media exploded, only to have little Mother Teresa just kind of piddle into the afterlife?  If I remember correctly, she died either the same day or the next day, with the world occupied by the lack of seatbelt use, how far the paparazzi will go, how the young princes were suddenly weepy teenager boy royalty, etc.  I always imagined Mother Teresa wanted it that way (wikipedia note: she was Albanian-born and spoke five languages; who knew?) Now, with weird polling shenanigans and swing states and stump speeches, Mr. Carter, who continued composing after his 100th birthday, shuffled off without even getting to know who his next president would be.  Maybe the election killed him, or more likely, old age.  He was born in 1908 and saw the premiere of the Right of Spring as a 16-year-old, if I am reading that correctly.  Fascinatingly, or maybe a stroke of subtle genius on the part of some NYTimes writer who didn’t get to cover the election, the NYT obituary says this of Elliott: “The complex way the instruments interact in his compositions created drama for listeners who made the effort to understand them, but it made them difficult for orchestras to learn. He said he tried to give each of the musicians individuality within the context of a comprehensible whole. ”This seems to me a very dramatic thing in a democratic society," he said."
!!!
I may have played some Carter in my undergrad days, and most definitely studied his music in 20th century theory.  I believe I had a hard time making sense of it, and I am pretty open to making sense of things.  He wrote an oboe concerto I’ve never played, which was written when I was 6 and he was 78, and an oboe quartet when I was in college when I actually might have had the chops and inclination to learn it/perform it.  Interestingly, that quartet was premiered on September 2, 2011.  Just a few days later, the whole world would change irreparably, and then-president Bush would concoct every reason to go to war, dismantle any goodwill we’d ever had internationally, and all because some Floridians voted Nader.  Obituaries don’t list party affiliation.  Incidentally, one of his students was Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and that is the second time this week I have spoken/written the name Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.  Why? What is the significance?
Somewhat less/more interestingly, when I learned of his death today, I was surprised because I had assumed he was already dead.  That is what must happen to the very, very aged.  He was pretty close to almost getting to his 104th birthday, and only today did I learn that he wrote prolifically in his 90s and past his 100th birthday.  I had no idea, and wonder if he sped up his production knowing the end was nigh.  And also, why the hell not, most people think I’m dead, so…This raises the question of whether he was working on something he never got to finish.  I hope I get to be old enough so that when I die, people think I’m already dead, and the awesome crap I crapped out in my dying days raises alarm and surprise and a renewed interest by the people who had assumed I’d died 20 years earlier.  Maybe some intrepid somebody will finish my last, unfinished work in some horrible way so I cannot rest easily in the afterlife and instead I’m allowed to haunt them by knocking stuff off shelves and turning on metronomes in the middle of the night and making walls bleed and so forth.
Obviously, you are not reading this because you are in line and are being harassed by pollworkers, and are instead calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE, the election protection hotline I have just very cleverly plugged.  Good luck! 

I have no idea if Elliott Carter was the sort of chap who would have loved to have passed away on a day when people were preoccupied with steering the course of history through suffrage.  Remember when Princess Diana died dramatically in a tunnel in France, chased by people, and the media exploded, only to have little Mother Teresa just kind of piddle into the afterlife?  If I remember correctly, she died either the same day or the next day, with the world occupied by the lack of seatbelt use, how far the paparazzi will go, how the young princes were suddenly weepy teenager boy royalty, etc.  I always imagined Mother Teresa wanted it that way (wikipedia note: she was Albanian-born and spoke five languages; who knew?) Now, with weird polling shenanigans and swing states and stump speeches, Mr. Carter, who continued composing after his 100th birthday, shuffled off without even getting to know who his next president would be.  Maybe the election killed him, or more likely, old age.  He was born in 1908 and saw the premiere of the Right of Spring as a 16-year-old, if I am reading that correctly.  Fascinatingly, or maybe a stroke of subtle genius on the part of some NYTimes writer who didn’t get to cover the election, the NYT obituary says this of Elliott: “The complex way the instruments interact in his compositions created drama for listeners who made the effort to understand them, but it made them difficult for orchestras to learn. He said he tried to give each of the musicians individuality within the context of a comprehensible whole. ”This seems to me a very dramatic thing in a democratic society," he said."

!!!

I may have played some Carter in my undergrad days, and most definitely studied his music in 20th century theory.  I believe I had a hard time making sense of it, and I am pretty open to making sense of things.  He wrote an oboe concerto I’ve never played, which was written when I was 6 and he was 78, and an oboe quartet when I was in college when I actually might have had the chops and inclination to learn it/perform it.  Interestingly, that quartet was premiered on September 2, 2011.  Just a few days later, the whole world would change irreparably, and then-president Bush would concoct every reason to go to war, dismantle any goodwill we’d ever had internationally, and all because some Floridians voted Nader.  Obituaries don’t list party affiliation.  Incidentally, one of his students was Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and that is the second time this week I have spoken/written the name Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.  Why? What is the significance?

Somewhat less/more interestingly, when I learned of his death today, I was surprised because I had assumed he was already dead.  That is what must happen to the very, very aged.  He was pretty close to almost getting to his 104th birthday, and only today did I learn that he wrote prolifically in his 90s and past his 100th birthday.  I had no idea, and wonder if he sped up his production knowing the end was nigh.  And also, why the hell not, most people think I’m dead, so…This raises the question of whether he was working on something he never got to finish.  I hope I get to be old enough so that when I die, people think I’m already dead, and the awesome crap I crapped out in my dying days raises alarm and surprise and a renewed interest by the people who had assumed I’d died 20 years earlier.  Maybe some intrepid somebody will finish my last, unfinished work in some horrible way so I cannot rest easily in the afterlife and instead I’m allowed to haunt them by knocking stuff off shelves and turning on metronomes in the middle of the night and making walls bleed and so forth.

Obviously, you are not reading this because you are in line and are being harassed by pollworkers, and are instead calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE, the election protection hotline I have just very cleverly plugged.  Good luck! 

Everything you ever wanted to know about voting in this election but were too afraid to ask.
I know you! You’re too scared to ask any of your frothing-at-the-mouth civic-duty-fascist friends the following questions about voting.  Just asking the question invites public shaming, and you want to avoid that, and maybe the easiest way to avoid that is to not ask and consequently not vote.  I appreciate your perspective.  It was like in middle school, when the teacher would say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.  The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” And then, inevitably, someone asks a question and everyone laughs, sometimes including the teacher.  I have a memory of someone once in middle school asking a question, and the teacher responding sarcastically, “what kind of a question is that?!” and the student actually, bravely, calling out the teacher on her reaction. Teacher was appropriately chastened and this was the one time that we fellow students, though inwardly laughing at the stupid question, sided with the stupid-question-asking student because we felt we had won in some way, proved some point, made a difference.  
There’s also the standard teacher cliché of “If you have a question, there’s a very, very good chance someone else in the class also has that same question but is too scared to ask.”  I believe this, having not, in my recollection, asked more than 4 questions total during my 17 years of public education, more often exhaling with relief when someone else would step up for me.  Little known fact: people who are seen as smart do not want to ask questions, for fear their asking will expose them as not knowing everything.  So truly, I understand you.
And I think voting is unnecessarily complicated.  The rules/places/times are different for early voting than for Election Day.  Early voting hours are different for different locations.  Different states do it differently – some judges are elected and others are appointed.  When in school do you learn any of this?  You never do.  You’re expected to navigate it on your own, and if you don’t have easy access to the internet, finding out even a number to call to ask somebody can be daunting. You have to want badly to find it out.  So if you’re just a bit laissez-faire about the process, you might not spend the time to find it out and you might not vote.  OR, you just need a know-it-all like me to tell you everything, so here goes! (Note that since it’s past the early voting period, these questions and answers are only for what you do now that Election Day is your only option. They are also specific to North Carolina, the Old North State, my home, land of the long leaf pine.)
I’m not registered to vote? Can I vote?

Not anymore!  Early voting ended November 3.  During early voting, you can register to vote and vote on the same day.  You can really, really procrastinate with registration and still get to vote up until the Saturday before a Tuesday election, because North Carolina, for all her backwards miseries, is very forward-thinking in this one regard. So, you procrastinated a bit too long and you are SOL. Why don’t you take this time to just fill out a voter registration thingy so this doesn’t happen next time: http://www.ncsbe.gov/content.aspx?id=1&s=1 ?
Where is my polling place?
This is trickier than it looks because early voting sites are not always the same as your election day polling place.  But you’re reading this on the internet, so you have access to the internet, and you can find your polling place here: http://www.ncsbe.gov/PrecinctFinder.aspx.  This is the NC Board of Elections website, so it’s non-partisan and won’t send you to some whack-ass non-existent voting site full of menacing orangutans wearing spiked helmets who have been drinking all day, in a county in which you do not reside. And I mean, real, live orangutans! You just punch in your address into that website and it spits out your polling place!
When are the polls open?
This one is easy because it’s the same for all NC polling places on Election Day: 6:30am-7:30pm.  If you’re in line by 7:30pm, you will get to vote.
Who’s on the ballot? And who do I vote for? (or, if, like me, grammar is part of your livelihood: for whom do I vote?)
This great website, the NC Voter Guide (another non-partisan endeavor, this time a service of UNC-TV) http://www.ncvoterguide.org/ should be your first stop. The best part of the website is that the candidates gave little blurbs on themselves, and you can view them side-by-side.  You can also go directly to the candidates’ websites from that site (new windows are opened up), and determine easily which candidates demand America be turned into a theocracy.  It’s hard to muddle through the media portrayal of candidates, so what can you believe?  Fudge, man, just go to their websites! If it’s on their website, you know they put it there and mean it.  Tim D’Annunzio’s website has “Christian Nation” as an entire page (from left to right, the linked pages read “Home”; “Christian Nation”; “About Tim”; “Issues”; etc.)  Click through, and you can tell exactly where Tim D. stands and that there’s no way I’d vote for him.  Thanks for being clear in your message, Tim!  The NC Voter Guide website allows you to generate your own personalized voting guide tailored to the candidates on your particular ballot, and there are even places for you to jot down your own notes.  Then you can print out the guide you personally generated, and take it with you to the polls. Oh marvelous technology!
Do I need ID to vote?
God, why is this so confusing?  It’s different everywhere, but in NC, mercifully, it’s the same in every county. For most people, you don’t need ID.  This is because when you registered to vote, you gave your driver’s license and SS# and both were validated.  So you might need to provide those, but not ID.   You also don’t need to show your voter card, so if you’re not the filing cabinet type, and it’s in a big pile of papers under an owl knickknack, mixed in with those phone bills you never paid, do not despair. However, it’s trickier if you’re a first-time voter and there was some snafu with your credentials.  In this case, you’ll need ID (valid photo and something that shows you live where you do).  My best advice, honestly, is when you go to vote on Tuesday, just bring this stuff with you anyway.  Just do it! How hard is it – if you have it, just take it with you in case you get hassled. 
What if I get hassled at the polls? What if something goes wrong when I vote on Tuesday?
This one I am happy to plug, because the good folks at the UNC School of Law, where I used to work, are again manning the election protection hotline for the entire state.  On Election Day, if shiznit seems weird when you vote, try to remember every detail of the shiznit in question and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.  You’ll get someone on the line, a real person, who will take it all down and investigate.  I volunteered for the hotline in 2008, and it was an eye-opener and awesome.  It’s there all day on Election Day, so if trouble finds you, call it! That number again is 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
Can’t I just vote straight ticket?

Sure, but remember that you have to 1) fill in the president separately – if you vote straight ticket, it will not fill in the presidential race automatically.  Don’t ask me why.  It’s the same for judges, which are supposed to be non-partisan races, and also for the county referenda.  For Orange County, par example, there’s a box for a tax to raise $ for transit, which is not taken care of by straight-party voting.  Like a fine cocktail, straight ticket voting will solve many of your problems and may make things easier on you, but it won’t magically solve all your problems, so don’t get caught with your pants down having accidentally not voted for the president, or for judges, or for light rail.
My NC county is conservative.  I’m a Democrat, so I might as well not vote for President because it won’t matter.  Right?
Wrong! This one I had to look up, though, which is the moment I admit I don’t know everything. I too, must learn.  For NC (and all but two states), the Electoral College is winner-take-all by state.  It’s a popular vote in NC: the total number of votes for one presidential candidate means all electoral college votes for that state go to the winner.  So a Democrat in someplace like Stokes county can help the entire state go for Obama, even if everyone at his Stokes county church votes Romney.  Likewise, if you are in Carrboro and are voting Romney and probably not telling a single person you are doing so for fear they will put a hippie hex of some sort on you, fear not – your vote for Romney will go in the big pile with all your cohorts in Stokes county.
If you have other questions, let me know and I’ll make another update tomorrow!

Everything you ever wanted to know about voting in this election but were too afraid to ask.

I know you! You’re too scared to ask any of your frothing-at-the-mouth civic-duty-fascist friends the following questions about voting.  Just asking the question invites public shaming, and you want to avoid that, and maybe the easiest way to avoid that is to not ask and consequently not vote.  I appreciate your perspective.  It was like in middle school, when the teacher would say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.  The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” And then, inevitably, someone asks a question and everyone laughs, sometimes including the teacher.  I have a memory of someone once in middle school asking a question, and the teacher responding sarcastically, “what kind of a question is that?!” and the student actually, bravely, calling out the teacher on her reaction. Teacher was appropriately chastened and this was the one time that we fellow students, though inwardly laughing at the stupid question, sided with the stupid-question-asking student because we felt we had won in some way, proved some point, made a difference. 

There’s also the standard teacher cliché of “If you have a question, there’s a very, very good chance someone else in the class also has that same question but is too scared to ask.”  I believe this, having not, in my recollection, asked more than 4 questions total during my 17 years of public education, more often exhaling with relief when someone else would step up for me.  Little known fact: people who are seen as smart do not want to ask questions, for fear their asking will expose them as not knowing everything.  So truly, I understand you.

And I think voting is unnecessarily complicated.  The rules/places/times are different for early voting than for Election Day.  Early voting hours are different for different locations.  Different states do it differently – some judges are elected and others are appointed.  When in school do you learn any of this?  You never do.  You’re expected to navigate it on your own, and if you don’t have easy access to the internet, finding out even a number to call to ask somebody can be daunting. You have to want badly to find it out.  So if you’re just a bit laissez-faire about the process, you might not spend the time to find it out and you might not vote.  OR, you just need a know-it-all like me to tell you everything, so here goes! (Note that since it’s past the early voting period, these questions and answers are only for what you do now that Election Day is your only option. They are also specific to North Carolina, the Old North State, my home, land of the long leaf pine.)

I’m not registered to vote? Can I vote?

Not anymore!  Early voting ended November 3.  During early voting, you can register to vote and vote on the same day.  You can really, really procrastinate with registration and still get to vote up until the Saturday before a Tuesday election, because North Carolina, for all her backwards miseries, is very forward-thinking in this one regard. So, you procrastinated a bit too long and you are SOL. Why don’t you take this time to just fill out a voter registration thingy so this doesn’t happen next time: http://www.ncsbe.gov/content.aspx?id=1&s=1 ?

Where is my polling place?

This is trickier than it looks because early voting sites are not always the same as your election day polling place.  But you’re reading this on the internet, so you have access to the internet, and you can find your polling place here: http://www.ncsbe.gov/PrecinctFinder.aspx.  This is the NC Board of Elections website, so it’s non-partisan and won’t send you to some whack-ass non-existent voting site full of menacing orangutans wearing spiked helmets who have been drinking all day, in a county in which you do not reside. And I mean, real, live orangutans! You just punch in your address into that website and it spits out your polling place!

When are the polls open?

This one is easy because it’s the same for all NC polling places on Election Day: 6:30am-7:30pm.  If you’re in line by 7:30pm, you will get to vote.

Who’s on the ballot? And who do I vote for? (or, if, like me, grammar is part of your livelihood: for whom do I vote?)

This great website, the NC Voter Guide (another non-partisan endeavor, this time a service of UNC-TV) http://www.ncvoterguide.org/ should be your first stop. The best part of the website is that the candidates gave little blurbs on themselves, and you can view them side-by-side.  You can also go directly to the candidates’ websites from that site (new windows are opened up), and determine easily which candidates demand America be turned into a theocracy.  It’s hard to muddle through the media portrayal of candidates, so what can you believe?  Fudge, man, just go to their websites! If it’s on their website, you know they put it there and mean it.  Tim D’Annunzio’s website has “Christian Nation” as an entire page (from left to right, the linked pages read “Home”; “Christian Nation”; “About Tim”; “Issues”; etc.)  Click through, and you can tell exactly where Tim D. stands and that there’s no way I’d vote for him.  Thanks for being clear in your message, Tim!  The NC Voter Guide website allows you to generate your own personalized voting guide tailored to the candidates on your particular ballot, and there are even places for you to jot down your own notes.  Then you can print out the guide you personally generated, and take it with you to the polls. Oh marvelous technology!

Do I need ID to vote?

God, why is this so confusing?  It’s different everywhere, but in NC, mercifully, it’s the same in every county. For most people, you don’t need ID.  This is because when you registered to vote, you gave your driver’s license and SS# and both were validated.  So you might need to provide those, but not ID.   You also don’t need to show your voter card, so if you’re not the filing cabinet type, and it’s in a big pile of papers under an owl knickknack, mixed in with those phone bills you never paid, do not despair. However, it’s trickier if you’re a first-time voter and there was some snafu with your credentials.  In this case, you’ll need ID (valid photo and something that shows you live where you do).  My best advice, honestly, is when you go to vote on Tuesday, just bring this stuff with you anyway.  Just do it! How hard is it – if you have it, just take it with you in case you get hassled. 

What if I get hassled at the polls? What if something goes wrong when I vote on Tuesday?

This one I am happy to plug, because the good folks at the UNC School of Law, where I used to work, are again manning the election protection hotline for the entire state.  On Election Day, if shiznit seems weird when you vote, try to remember every detail of the shiznit in question and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.  You’ll get someone on the line, a real person, who will take it all down and investigate.  I volunteered for the hotline in 2008, and it was an eye-opener and awesome.  It’s there all day on Election Day, so if trouble finds you, call it! That number again is 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

Can’t I just vote straight ticket?

Sure, but remember that you have to 1) fill in the president separately – if you vote straight ticket, it will not fill in the presidential race automatically.  Don’t ask me why.  It’s the same for judges, which are supposed to be non-partisan races, and also for the county referenda.  For Orange County, par example, there’s a box for a tax to raise $ for transit, which is not taken care of by straight-party voting.  Like a fine cocktail, straight ticket voting will solve many of your problems and may make things easier on you, but it won’t magically solve all your problems, so don’t get caught with your pants down having accidentally not voted for the president, or for judges, or for light rail.

My NC county is conservative.  I’m a Democrat, so I might as well not vote for President because it won’t matter.  Right?

Wrong! This one I had to look up, though, which is the moment I admit I don’t know everything. I too, must learn.  For NC (and all but two states), the Electoral College is winner-take-all by state.  It’s a popular vote in NC: the total number of votes for one presidential candidate means all electoral college votes for that state go to the winner.  So a Democrat in someplace like Stokes county can help the entire state go for Obama, even if everyone at his Stokes county church votes Romney.  Likewise, if you are in Carrboro and are voting Romney and probably not telling a single person you are doing so for fear they will put a hippie hex of some sort on you, fear not – your vote for Romney will go in the big pile with all your cohorts in Stokes county.

If you have other questions, let me know and I’ll make another update tomorrow!

Raw oysters? More like raw materials!   This was my ocean treasure haul, though the crab legs got thrown out because they were starting to smell and the cat couldn’t figure out how to eat them and was going to destroy everything in the process of finding out.  Last night I stop-motion animated a crab claw so it looks like he is talking.  I’m not sure what I am going to make him say, except it has to be 5 syllables, then 6 syllables, then another 6, then 5. Suggestions? 
Today I cajoled Billy into coming with me to an estate sale of some musician/global traveler type.  How one can get rich enough on music to own fancy music stuff and furniture from around the world, I don’t know, but I did score a black Manhasset stand (the kind you have in your house because you stole it from your local college, probably), for just $10.  I have never owned one of these, but now I can raise it all the way up and my gigantic teenage boy student can look at his music straight on without bending his neck down.  Plus, the simple act of having a really professional, solid music stand elevates daily Billy’s classical guitar practicing. Do you practice as diligently as Billy does – slow scales and exercises to a metronome, for 1-2 hours per day?  Maybe you need a black music stand that can easily bear the weight of your metronome.  He put in an offer on a Finnish guitar at that sale, but they wouldn’t take it, and B. would not budge on his price.  Later, I pounded the pavement for Obama again, in the chill wind, in the mansions and lower-income apartment complexes, right next to each other, while Billy stayed home to rake leaves and make crockpot chicken soup that is better than your mama’s.  All the Halloween candy is gone, signaling the beginning of the end.  I wonder if when I go to bed on Tuesday, we will know election results.  I wonder if snafus will abound, and what parts of NC will go for Obama, and whether the transit tax will go through for my county to help get some decent light rail up in this joint.  Today, I added another ‘if I had a smart phone, task X would be easier’ item to my list, in trying to find an address on my list of voters…there’s a cemetery back where I never knew one existed that deserves my attention.
Lastly, tomorrow I give you my long “everything you ever wanted to know about voting in this election but were too afraid to ask” spiel.  I won’t tell you for whom to vote, but I’ll let you know the answers to sticky questions you are ashamed of asking because you don’t want to appear the least knowledgeable and most pubescent in the locker room of civics. All the other girls already have boobs and understand the subtleties of polling locations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn/develop in your way, on your own time.  Wait…for….it!

Raw oysters? More like raw materials!   This was my ocean treasure haul, though the crab legs got thrown out because they were starting to smell and the cat couldn’t figure out how to eat them and was going to destroy everything in the process of finding out.  Last night I stop-motion animated a crab claw so it looks like he is talking.  I’m not sure what I am going to make him say, except it has to be 5 syllables, then 6 syllables, then another 6, then 5. Suggestions? 

Today I cajoled Billy into coming with me to an estate sale of some musician/global traveler type.  How one can get rich enough on music to own fancy music stuff and furniture from around the world, I don’t know, but I did score a black Manhasset stand (the kind you have in your house because you stole it from your local college, probably), for just $10.  I have never owned one of these, but now I can raise it all the way up and my gigantic teenage boy student can look at his music straight on without bending his neck down.  Plus, the simple act of having a really professional, solid music stand elevates daily Billy’s classical guitar practicing. Do you practice as diligently as Billy does – slow scales and exercises to a metronome, for 1-2 hours per day?  Maybe you need a black music stand that can easily bear the weight of your metronome.  He put in an offer on a Finnish guitar at that sale, but they wouldn’t take it, and B. would not budge on his price.  Later, I pounded the pavement for Obama again, in the chill wind, in the mansions and lower-income apartment complexes, right next to each other, while Billy stayed home to rake leaves and make crockpot chicken soup that is better than your mama’s.  All the Halloween candy is gone, signaling the beginning of the end.  I wonder if when I go to bed on Tuesday, we will know election results.  I wonder if snafus will abound, and what parts of NC will go for Obama, and whether the transit tax will go through for my county to help get some decent light rail up in this joint.  Today, I added another ‘if I had a smart phone, task X would be easier’ item to my list, in trying to find an address on my list of voters…there’s a cemetery back where I never knew one existed that deserves my attention.

Lastly, tomorrow I give you my long “everything you ever wanted to know about voting in this election but were too afraid to ask” spiel.  I won’t tell you for whom to vote, but I’ll let you know the answers to sticky questions you are ashamed of asking because you don’t want to appear the least knowledgeable and most pubescent in the locker room of civics. All the other girls already have boobs and understand the subtleties of polling locations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn/develop in your way, on your own time.  Wait…for….it!

What could these adorable Polish-costumed children possibly have to do with the end of my anxiety-unrelieving vacation AND voting in North Carolina? As it turns out, quite a lot.  As part of my research into this trip, I stumbled upon the fact that it would coincide with a Polish heritage festival in tiny Castle Hayne, NC.  Castle Hayne is the little municipality you hit right before Wilmington, on your way to the beach, and before now, had been for me a place to stop and get gas before the mania of the long strip mall of Wilmington’s College Road.  I was a bit surprised to find a Polish festival in southeastern North Carolina, having never heard of any sizable Eastern European communities in the state (minus the Moravians, I guess).  So I found out that none other than Hugh MacRae, who built up a lot of industry in NC in the late 19th and early 20th century, had as one of his pet projects, a rebuilding of agriculture wherein he invited/shipped in European immigrant peasants (Dutch, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Germans) and settled them into intentional communities to farm.  Castle Hayne (originally Castle Haynes, but the ‘s’ was lost at some point) was set up for Dutch tulip-growers, and later Poles, and seemed the only one that really took off. I read that the Italians, faced with Prohibition and the inability to grow grapes for wine, promptly got the heck out of dodge.  Upon first reading, I thought, how adorable and interesting, and still more, that the Polish people, a century or so later, would still be forcing their preteen girls to dress up and learn polkas on violin and such. St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in Castle Hayne puts on the Polish festival (replete with Proud to be Polish-American t-shirts, etc.) every first Saturday in November and the line was WAY too long for the pierogies and kielbasa, though I did leave with a pint of sauerkraut.  I listened intently, but found no one actually speaking Polish, not even the older people.  It was, however, a big old good old time, with a LOT of people there, and just another melting pot ethnic ingredient in North Carolina’s history.  Polish rednecks in the coastal lands - fascinating!  
But then of course, I dug deeper into Hugh MacRae, because I kept coming back to this weirdness of — you know, agriculture had been happening by 1900, in North Carolina, for a long time.  So why ship in Europeans?  Ostensibly, they knew how to farm different things besides tobacco and cotton, and MacRae thought the way out of the backwaters was to diversify the crops.  This is why those Dutch people were growing tulips so prodigiously.  But there is of course more, sadder, undertones to all this because MacRae, even for his time, was a white supremacist, and it is my guess that he thought European farmers would make good North Carolina farmers because they were white.  MacRae was one of the instrumental figures in the only coup d’etat ever to happen in US history.  Really? That happened? In North Carolina? Yes, it did, in 1898, in the Wilmington race riots, where MacRae and a bunch of other prominent white supremacist intimidated/ran the elected government out of town using an ad hoc militia, in the run-up to an election!  If you missed this chapter in US history, you can read wikipedia’s take on it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_Race_Riot).  If the story confuses you a bit, and maybe you’re not from NC to know this, but what we think of as the Democratic Party and the Republicans now were exactly switched  in ideology at that time, so sometimes it’s hard to follow.  But what the Wilmington race riots did (and let’s not forget that armed vigilantes drove out an elected government! this happened! hello!) in the long haul was suppress the black vote for years and years, through poll tax, literacy tests, etc.  A lot of black people died in the riots, and many left and never returned.  A little pre-election intimidation, and voila! job well done, white supremacists. Keeping blacks disenfranchised for decades beyond this, and changing the racial make-up of a major port city.
Which brings me back to voting.  Hey, just about a century later, we have a black president and white jerks are still trying to suppress the vote.  We’re right into the lead-up to an election, and the well-meaning Polish-American ladies scooping out the sauerkraut, ancestral byproducts of some white supremacist’s social experiment in agriculture - do they even understand any of it?  How much of this history are they aware?  There were a few black people in attendance, pushing strollers and carrying giggling, mustard-smeared, biracial children, noshing on sausages.  Can I repeat the adorability of this scene?  But there are layers of history here, and with just a few days to go before the election, I was dismayed by the number of Romney/Ryan bumper stickers in the vast grassy parking lot of St. Stanislaus’s church.

What could these adorable Polish-costumed children possibly have to do with the end of my anxiety-unrelieving vacation AND voting in North Carolina? As it turns out, quite a lot.  As part of my research into this trip, I stumbled upon the fact that it would coincide with a Polish heritage festival in tiny Castle Hayne, NC.  Castle Hayne is the little municipality you hit right before Wilmington, on your way to the beach, and before now, had been for me a place to stop and get gas before the mania of the long strip mall of Wilmington’s College Road.  I was a bit surprised to find a Polish festival in southeastern North Carolina, having never heard of any sizable Eastern European communities in the state (minus the Moravians, I guess).  So I found out that none other than Hugh MacRae, who built up a lot of industry in NC in the late 19th and early 20th century, had as one of his pet projects, a rebuilding of agriculture wherein he invited/shipped in European immigrant peasants (Dutch, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Germans) and settled them into intentional communities to farm.  Castle Hayne (originally Castle Haynes, but the ‘s’ was lost at some point) was set up for Dutch tulip-growers, and later Poles, and seemed the only one that really took off. I read that the Italians, faced with Prohibition and the inability to grow grapes for wine, promptly got the heck out of dodge.  Upon first reading, I thought, how adorable and interesting, and still more, that the Polish people, a century or so later, would still be forcing their preteen girls to dress up and learn polkas on violin and such. St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in Castle Hayne puts on the Polish festival (replete with Proud to be Polish-American t-shirts, etc.) every first Saturday in November and the line was WAY too long for the pierogies and kielbasa, though I did leave with a pint of sauerkraut.  I listened intently, but found no one actually speaking Polish, not even the older people.  It was, however, a big old good old time, with a LOT of people there, and just another melting pot ethnic ingredient in North Carolina’s history.  Polish rednecks in the coastal lands - fascinating!  

But then of course, I dug deeper into Hugh MacRae, because I kept coming back to this weirdness of — you know, agriculture had been happening by 1900, in North Carolina, for a long time.  So why ship in Europeans?  Ostensibly, they knew how to farm different things besides tobacco and cotton, and MacRae thought the way out of the backwaters was to diversify the crops.  This is why those Dutch people were growing tulips so prodigiously.  But there is of course more, sadder, undertones to all this because MacRae, even for his time, was a white supremacist, and it is my guess that he thought European farmers would make good North Carolina farmers because they were white.  MacRae was one of the instrumental figures in the only coup d’etat ever to happen in US history.  Really? That happened? In North Carolina? Yes, it did, in 1898, in the Wilmington race riots, where MacRae and a bunch of other prominent white supremacist intimidated/ran the elected government out of town using an ad hoc militia, in the run-up to an election!  If you missed this chapter in US history, you can read wikipedia’s take on it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_Race_Riot).  If the story confuses you a bit, and maybe you’re not from NC to know this, but what we think of as the Democratic Party and the Republicans now were exactly switched  in ideology at that time, so sometimes it’s hard to follow.  But what the Wilmington race riots did (and let’s not forget that armed vigilantes drove out an elected government! this happened! hello!) in the long haul was suppress the black vote for years and years, through poll tax, literacy tests, etc.  A lot of black people died in the riots, and many left and never returned.  A little pre-election intimidation, and voila! job well done, white supremacists. Keeping blacks disenfranchised for decades beyond this, and changing the racial make-up of a major port city.

Which brings me back to voting.  Hey, just about a century later, we have a black president and white jerks are still trying to suppress the vote.  We’re right into the lead-up to an election, and the well-meaning Polish-American ladies scooping out the sauerkraut, ancestral byproducts of some white supremacist’s social experiment in agriculture - do they even understand any of it?  How much of this history are they aware?  There were a few black people in attendance, pushing strollers and carrying giggling, mustard-smeared, biracial children, noshing on sausages.  Can I repeat the adorability of this scene?  But there are layers of history here, and with just a few days to go before the election, I was dismayed by the number of Romney/Ryan bumper stickers in the vast grassy parking lot of St. Stanislaus’s church.

Relaxing vacation going downhill fast!  I’m sitting at Pat’s Auto Service Center where a woman named Ariella or Anniella or something, with her rhinestone earring through the not-lobe part of her ear, who is young but seems to be running the place, declared “stinks ya drove it flat fer so long, tire’s in pretty good shape ‘fore you did that!”  Fox News on the TV is telling me how Obama has waged war on the good reporters of Fox News who are trying to keep him accountable. The cavern-sockets around my eyes are just throbbing with a slowly-churning headache/migraine.  I am pretty sure that early this morning, full of continental breakfast items at the hotel, when I embarked with binoculars to the salt marshes of the southern tip of the island, hope in my heart, I went over a hotel curb, and sure, things felt a little wobbly, but I’m on ‘island time’ so I was driving slowly and didn’t notice as my rear-passenger tire slowly went flat, and then out in the marshland, so beautiful in the morning, spotting egrets and a cormorant and the like, and then on the flotsam-ravaged shore, finding pink coral and a crab leg with pincer hinge still functional, and then back to the car, feeling that headache coming back on, but otherwise feeling reinvigorated, and voila! a nice flat-as-fcuk tire, in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, there were three park ranger types who jumped to help me, including that old guy you’ve all met before who, when I said I didn’t exactly know how to put the spare on, asked me “you got a husband?” like it was something I should have ordered from Wal-Mart before I left on vacation, and when I said no, he said, “you got a Daddy?” which I do, but whom I have never referred to as such, and the gist, in case you are not Southern and have not met this type of old guy, is that both non-existent husband and Daddy were derelict in their duties as men to have not taught me this, and if you want my help, you will submit to this kind of cajoling and I did, and they all helped me, and were nice about it, with old guy gentle ribbing, as is to be expected.  Lucky they were there at all!  It would have been bad news if I had come later in the day or after-hours to be adventurous or something. I am, incidentally, in the middle of a six-month thought experiment where I mentally note each time having a smart phone would be useful, and today, though I was lucky in the people who have helped me, is counting towards the tally of situations in which a smart phone would have been useful.
So now, in the prettiest time of day, instead of on the beach, I’m inside a tire joint.  This morning when I woke up, I thought, in every presidential and vice presidential debate, unless I missed something, no one mentioned don’t ask don’t tell being repealed OR more pointedly, Obama coming out (ha!) in favor of gay marriage.  Could we possibly be at a point where even the Republicans know being against gay marriage is bad for electability?  I am kind of desperate for food right now. Fox News – Jesus Christ almighty.  Still, in the downtime, in the softer moments, well-choreographed, high-concept Oral-B toothbrush commercials give me small hope. And now: “Gold gives me freedom from all the financial badness in the world today…that’s why I buy gold every chance I get.”  
What I will do when I drive away from here in one hour and 100.37 poorer, is go to a Mexican restaurant, I think, and get one of those weird bowls of seafood, and a margarita. Someone just said, “I remember playing with the baby chickens out there.”  Oh shoot, I have leftover Halloween candy in my bag!
Lastly, please, today and tomorrow are the LAST days for early voting in North Carolina.  Great swaths of North Carolina are very, very conservative, and if you are not, and you live in the fine bubbleland of the Triangle (Carrboro hippie, I’m looking at you), please go vote and tip this scale for Obama.  If we don’t, and Romney wins, we’ll continue to not get paid attention to in future elections.  Also, Walter Smith for Commissioner of Agriculture is pro-small family farm and pro-puppy mill legislation and pro-ending gassing in animal shelters. That one’s a no-brainer, especially for someone who knows this much about agriculture: I am in favor of eating it right now.

Relaxing vacation going downhill fast!  I’m sitting at Pat’s Auto Service Center where a woman named Ariella or Anniella or something, with her rhinestone earring through the not-lobe part of her ear, who is young but seems to be running the place, declared “stinks ya drove it flat fer so long, tire’s in pretty good shape ‘fore you did that!”  Fox News on the TV is telling me how Obama has waged war on the good reporters of Fox News who are trying to keep him accountable. The cavern-sockets around my eyes are just throbbing with a slowly-churning headache/migraine.  I am pretty sure that early this morning, full of continental breakfast items at the hotel, when I embarked with binoculars to the salt marshes of the southern tip of the island, hope in my heart, I went over a hotel curb, and sure, things felt a little wobbly, but I’m on ‘island time’ so I was driving slowly and didn’t notice as my rear-passenger tire slowly went flat, and then out in the marshland, so beautiful in the morning, spotting egrets and a cormorant and the like, and then on the flotsam-ravaged shore, finding pink coral and a crab leg with pincer hinge still functional, and then back to the car, feeling that headache coming back on, but otherwise feeling reinvigorated, and voila! a nice flat-as-fcuk tire, in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, there were three park ranger types who jumped to help me, including that old guy you’ve all met before who, when I said I didn’t exactly know how to put the spare on, asked me “you got a husband?” like it was something I should have ordered from Wal-Mart before I left on vacation, and when I said no, he said, “you got a Daddy?” which I do, but whom I have never referred to as such, and the gist, in case you are not Southern and have not met this type of old guy, is that both non-existent husband and Daddy were derelict in their duties as men to have not taught me this, and if you want my help, you will submit to this kind of cajoling and I did, and they all helped me, and were nice about it, with old guy gentle ribbing, as is to be expected.  Lucky they were there at all!  It would have been bad news if I had come later in the day or after-hours to be adventurous or something. I am, incidentally, in the middle of a six-month thought experiment where I mentally note each time having a smart phone would be useful, and today, though I was lucky in the people who have helped me, is counting towards the tally of situations in which a smart phone would have been useful.

So now, in the prettiest time of day, instead of on the beach, I’m inside a tire joint.  This morning when I woke up, I thought, in every presidential and vice presidential debate, unless I missed something, no one mentioned don’t ask don’t tell being repealed OR more pointedly, Obama coming out (ha!) in favor of gay marriage.  Could we possibly be at a point where even the Republicans know being against gay marriage is bad for electability?  I am kind of desperate for food right now. Fox News – Jesus Christ almighty.  Still, in the downtime, in the softer moments, well-choreographed, high-concept Oral-B toothbrush commercials give me small hope. And now: “Gold gives me freedom from all the financial badness in the world today…that’s why I buy gold every chance I get.”  

What I will do when I drive away from here in one hour and 100.37 poorer, is go to a Mexican restaurant, I think, and get one of those weird bowls of seafood, and a margarita. Someone just said, “I remember playing with the baby chickens out there.”  Oh shoot, I have leftover Halloween candy in my bag!

Lastly, please, today and tomorrow are the LAST days for early voting in North Carolina.  Great swaths of North Carolina are very, very conservative, and if you are not, and you live in the fine bubbleland of the Triangle (Carrboro hippie, I’m looking at you), please go vote and tip this scale for Obama.  If we don’t, and Romney wins, we’ll continue to not get paid attention to in future elections.  Also, Walter Smith for Commissioner of Agriculture is pro-small family farm and pro-puppy mill legislation and pro-ending gassing in animal shelters. That one’s a no-brainer, especially for someone who knows this much about agriculture: I am in favor of eating it right now.

It is time for another set of Liminal Hymnal installments, circa November 2012!  It’s the early Christmas present you didn’t want but have to find a place for anyway in case I come over and ask about it (“so that reading of my blog, you’re uh, doing that where?” etcetera.)  It is very wrong to take a vacation by oneself solely for the purpose of relaxing and not doing anything and in lieu of that, doing stuff, but I was feeling lonely and anxious in the hotel by myself, doing nothing, so here I am, doing something, as usual.  Turns out, the only thing worse than being anxious about all the ten million things I feel like I’m always doing, is doing zero things instead.
This is a dispatch from the ocean of North Carolina, which is the place my heart always pulls to, when I need to feel relaxed.  It worked well, on a beautiful day (see un-touched, un-Photoshopped photo above as exhibit A) on the off-season, for most of the day, until the sun started to set and I became confused about my next move (do I do this? Or this? Or this? What would be the most crucial next thing I should be doing right now to relax?).  This of course, sounds pathological, but if you’re reading this, you likely know me and are therefore not surprised.  The blue of the ocean at mid-day was azure with streaks of green; as the sun set on the sound side, the waves rolling in were tinted light violet.  I found the perfect husk of an ex-crab, and a piece of coral, and snail shells in ochre and navy blue.  This, and much else besides, flotsam and so forth, I have plans to glue together into a maritime art monstrosity (MAM, patent pending) which I will later videotape from many different angles as part of a larger video project I hope to do in conjunction with my album. I even brought the rubber cement to the hotel, but am going to wait on that so I don’t inhale fumes and lose my senses on day one, here, all alone, in the Microtel of the Redneck Riviera.
What is curious about this trip is 1) I cannot stop worrying and thinking about the election; and 2) B. and I came here this summer at the height of the season, with the amusement park screamy rides and throngs and crusted, overtanned smokers, and no places to park.  Now it is quiet, and the boardwalk is boarded up though I can still walk, the screamy amusements no longer here to amuse/scream, the throngs now marked only in pelicans and not people. I can park wherever I want and it costs no money.  I find I am doing the exact things I was doing with B. four months ago, but like in a science fiction movie of an alternate universe.  It’s the same place but entirely different. All I can think of, when the nice lady brought me the clam chowder was, have you voted yet??? I swathed my red-blotchy face with an avocado and oatmeal mask until it fully immobilized my facial muscles and was rinsed off, but I’m still keyed up. I imagine a lady at a cosmetic counter somewhere tsk-tsking at me that my skin looks stressed.  Yeah, well.  Tomorrow I will take Jonathan D.’s fancypants oldschool Japanese binoculars to the place where the Hermit who lived in the WWII bunker doled out advice in the 1960s and 1970s, and will look through them to spot exotic birds the hurricane might have blown in. Disoriented, they will be magnified 70x, and won’t even know I’m there, watching them so closely.

It is time for another set of Liminal Hymnal installments, circa November 2012!  It’s the early Christmas present you didn’t want but have to find a place for anyway in case I come over and ask about it (“so that reading of my blog, you’re uh, doing that where?” etcetera.)  It is very wrong to take a vacation by oneself solely for the purpose of relaxing and not doing anything and in lieu of that, doing stuff, but I was feeling lonely and anxious in the hotel by myself, doing nothing, so here I am, doing something, as usual.  Turns out, the only thing worse than being anxious about all the ten million things I feel like I’m always doing, is doing zero things instead.

This is a dispatch from the ocean of North Carolina, which is the place my heart always pulls to, when I need to feel relaxed.  It worked well, on a beautiful day (see un-touched, un-Photoshopped photo above as exhibit A) on the off-season, for most of the day, until the sun started to set and I became confused about my next move (do I do this? Or this? Or this? What would be the most crucial next thing I should be doing right now to relax?).  This of course, sounds pathological, but if you’re reading this, you likely know me and are therefore not surprised.  The blue of the ocean at mid-day was azure with streaks of green; as the sun set on the sound side, the waves rolling in were tinted light violet.  I found the perfect husk of an ex-crab, and a piece of coral, and snail shells in ochre and navy blue.  This, and much else besides, flotsam and so forth, I have plans to glue together into a maritime art monstrosity (MAM, patent pending) which I will later videotape from many different angles as part of a larger video project I hope to do in conjunction with my album. I even brought the rubber cement to the hotel, but am going to wait on that so I don’t inhale fumes and lose my senses on day one, here, all alone, in the Microtel of the Redneck Riviera.

What is curious about this trip is 1) I cannot stop worrying and thinking about the election; and 2) B. and I came here this summer at the height of the season, with the amusement park screamy rides and throngs and crusted, overtanned smokers, and no places to park.  Now it is quiet, and the boardwalk is boarded up though I can still walk, the screamy amusements no longer here to amuse/scream, the throngs now marked only in pelicans and not people. I can park wherever I want and it costs no money.  I find I am doing the exact things I was doing with B. four months ago, but like in a science fiction movie of an alternate universe.  It’s the same place but entirely different. All I can think of, when the nice lady brought me the clam chowder was, have you voted yet??? I swathed my red-blotchy face with an avocado and oatmeal mask until it fully immobilized my facial muscles and was rinsed off, but I’m still keyed up. I imagine a lady at a cosmetic counter somewhere tsk-tsking at me that my skin looks stressed.  Yeah, well.  Tomorrow I will take Jonathan D.’s fancypants oldschool Japanese binoculars to the place where the Hermit who lived in the WWII bunker doled out advice in the 1960s and 1970s, and will look through them to spot exotic birds the hurricane might have blown in. Disoriented, they will be magnified 70x, and won’t even know I’m there, watching them so closely.