The Contradictions of a Caucasian

Let me briefly explain the practice rooms at the school I attend.

At the beginning of the semester, you preemptively spend about $80 for a slip of paper that fits in your wallet (I say preemptively because it gets deferred to my student loans). You bring this slip of paper with you into the basement and hand it to a person sitting alone in a small room with only a window looking out to you. This person gives you a thick plastic card that is about the size as the slip of paper, and you go find the particular room that the card opens. The middle of the day is “rush hour,” when so many students are practicing that your card gets put in line, and the person inside the room waits for someone to return their card before speaking through a microphone and calling your name. This could take two minutes, it could take twenty.

“Linus.”

It could be the only word you ever hear them say.

But if you don’t promptly get up and get to the window to get your card, they will call your name a second time. If you still have not made it because a cluster of cello players waiting for rooms had impeded the hallway with their instruments and giant ear training textbooks written by the professor upstairs, they will proceed to the next slip of paper in line. When they call the next name, you might get the opportunity to hear two words instead of one. But you would have much preferred to hear just one, because now you have to wait some more.

Today while I sat waiting for my $80 slip of paper to work its magic, I squeezed and crinkled my plastic water bottle to the jingle of thousands of dollars a year spent (preemptively) in this basement. A violinist got her practice room, dropped her instrument and music inside, and left down the hallway towards the coffee shop in the next building. Crinkle crinkle, jingle jingle, wait wait, da capo al fine.

It was at this point, fully immersed in my water bottle, that I noticed what it said on the plastic: “Best When Used By Jan. 2013.” The water that came inside my water bottle would stay completely normal and drinkable until after I graduate from college. Was this new knowledge supposed to make me happy? Because the result was more akin to discouragement. I will graduate in two years. And two years is a long time.

I have never been one to worry about the future to the extent of meriting my Facebook status. But at the rate — nay, the intensity — that my collegiate experience has been, the sound my brain makes is more and more like the sound of a crinkling water bottle. Best When Used By Graduation. Get as much out of me as you can before I end up in the recycling. We won’t be young forever.

There exists an idea that we “need time to recover.” This is viable in many ways. However, I am convinced that it is a psychological recovery rather than physical one. We seek a change to refresh our enthusiasm and self-esteem. The need to “recover” is, the more I ponder it, a first-world idea. Where else would Earth’s people consider stopping their work or their education because they are tired? They work to eat and to afford to learn, and they learn to afford a better life. The question is, can they be happy too?

Let me synthesize my ideas. We pursue careers based on that which we enjoy. Yet, in our culture, we value the notion of rejuvenation from hard work. Do you see the contradiction?

“Rejuvenate” comes from the Latin word juven, which means “young” (and in Spanish, the word for “young” is joven). So, etymologically, “to regain youth.” In our culture, my age is considered young. If I had lived one or two hundred years ago, I would be admonished for not having a child or two already. But every day, the need to rejuvenate arises. To re-youth-ize. Rejuvenecerse.

Again, do you see the contradiction? It’s as though we’re telling ourselves that we made a mistake, and we need to try again. Why should we re-discover youth? Did it go wrong the first time?

Because of how much we work, we can no longer find what makes us happy within that work. We are not young, but we can be satisfied. We work for paper slip educations. We rejuvenate for crinkled water bottles. And while the tuition preemptively jingles, we have the capacity to be content.

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What I Learned from Indiana Jones

I am sitting on my couch with my laptop over my knees and my headphones by my side; off of my head but still plugged into the audio jack of my computer. On the coffee table next to me is my cell phone patiently waiting for something more interesting to happen. Indiana Jones is hopping from train car to train car on the television. My phone wishes we were there instead.

“That cross is an important artifact. It belongs in a museum.”

And there he is, standing in front of his college class, professing the honest truth of archaeology to wide-eyed students. Audrey the Betta, at her new location in front of the TV, finds nothing dashing about this adventurous professor.

Little does she know that I grew up with this film like a third sibling. While Mom cleared away dinner, Big Sis and I cleaned the living room and retrieved the VCR tape from the movie cabinet (right-hand door. Pull pretty hard. It’s the 3-tape set). Dad cleaned off the countertops and began to prepare the food. Popcorn bubbled out of the big black popcorn machine before being drizzled with butter. Malts were being made by the hand-held blender rattling the countertops with a WHRRRRRRRRR…. RRR…. RRRRR….. R…. RRRR!! I swept my Legos into their big bucket, and Big Sis put the tape into the shiny rewinder on the floor next to the TV stand, which looked like a small animal and made a similar noise as the blender. Yes, Indiana Jones took some serious preparation, and we were professionals. That shit went down like a well-oiled machine.

Dad never liked it when all of the lights were turned off, but sometimes he let it slide. After the tape was rewound, I scooped a bowl of popcorn, held the precious, cold malt in my hands, and waited for the VCR to kick in. First, the room was lit bright blue. This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen. That was the orchestra’s overture. Quiet down, it’s about to start.

And start it did! From deep darkness, the first bright sunlit scene illuminated the room in every corner as though the desert sand was beneath your feet. The music of John Williams rumbled over the popcorn being chewed, the sound effects of punching and whip cracking over the clanking of our spoons, and the sophisticated way Sean Connery aspirated every h in words like which, what, and where kept us silent and attentive. We soaked up every bone, every blonde, every betrayal.

“Dr. Jones? I knew it was you. You have your father’s eyes.”

“And my mother’s ears. But the rest belongs to you.”

Don’t fall for her. She’s the bad guy. But boy, that was a great line.

I am mostly sure that this is where my sister learned to spell archaeologist before she read her first chapter book—though the two weren’t that far apart. For me, Indiana Jones fostered a respect for history, honesty, and National Geographic. Without these things, I may not have become the person I am today.

We could have been in the midst of financial burden during job switches and the end of Clinton’s surplus, but Indiana was just about to find the Holy Grail and exorbitant riches. We could have been waiting for a phone call from a hospital which could end up shaking us to the core, but Dr. Jones Sr. had been kidnapped and could only rely on his cunning son to unlock the clues in his journal. Children in China could be starving, but Shorty was in serious trouble.

As the years come, the moments where such complete submersion into another world and out of my own become more and more scarce. I am expected to always conduct myself professionally, to use a delicate, thoughtful sense of humor, and to work. Hard. Everything I have done has of course been beneficial to my learning and my development. I have spent and will be spending a large amount of money and time on the education I am receiving. I want it to be worth it. I want it to be good.

On top of that, my generation keeps changing. Sometimes I change with them, and sometimes not. Sitting with a cell phone, laptop, headphones, and television all trained in my direction shows you how I am changing with them. My lack of knowledge on the Top 40, reality TV, and clothing fashions are examples of how I am not. Not only is it a change in my age, but a change in America’s cultural currents, and that’s okay.

Change hurts, change is uncomfortable, change is slimy and off-green in color. At other times, it is smooth, sleek, and refreshing. We could all be in that moment when a change will be our tipping point. An easier life may be coming our way. It might be signaled by a peak in the strain of intolerable repetition like a breaking dam, or it might not. It might not be signaled by anything and leave no trace behind it. That type of change is something that goes unnoticed until an unrelated or consequential event happens that causes us to reflect and discover that we have, in fact, grown and altered ourselves over the course of time. You can never notice how much someone has changed unless you look at a photograph from their childhood.

I certainly believe that I am on the brink of a tipping point, and I think that tipping point is the hand that holds the photograph. The headphones, the laptop, the cell phone, the television… how did it come to this point? How did I ever come to watch Indiana Jones in this way? After he pulls himself out of an underground river of petroleum, he holds up a photograph and points at me. “Look at this,” he says. “You used to watch me and my adventures with such devotion and dignity. You haven’t realized it, but this changed through the years.” The petroleum lights on fire and the rats in the ancient tomb scatter, but Indie isn’t fazed. “Nothing used to distract you from me, just the way nothing distracts me from my discovery.”

Yes, you’re right, Indiana Jones never said that. But there is a man who can teach any man to hold the door, stand for a guest, take off his shoes, and shake hands like it’s an art.

How things have changed.

The justification for taking time, pursuing a career, and eating soup

Right now, we just finished eating a delicious family dinner. One roommate cooked French onion soup, I baked up some biscuits and threw a salad together, and another roommate provided his mom’s apple pie. McNick carved pumpkins with her girlfriend, and seeds are roasting. It’s so warm, and the smells are amazing. I am sitting in my room, which I don’t do enough (I’m always the last person to come home late at night, so I traipse through in the dark so I don’t wake up my roommate. He works for Land Care and usually gets to work by 7:00 AM a few days a week). Turns out, I kind of like this room.

What’s nice about all of that is that I never feel like I’m in one place. Everywhere I am, I’m only thinking about where I’m off to next. Whatever year I’m in, I’m always thinking about what the year up next will bring. It’s nice to just stay put for a little while, and have the opportunity to decide that I like it. With music education, I haven’t quite had the opportunity to “sit” for a while in my major; everything just heaps together as the days go by, like a snowball rolling down a hill. Do I enjoy any of it? I think I do.

If you’ve read my older blog post, Do You Like Beethoven Yet?, you’ll know that I am still on the quest to justify music education. Over this Halloween weekend, while I was dressed as a white spat, I had a discussion with a Ricky Ricardo on this topic. She (yes, she) believes that a large problem with current music educators is that most cannot answer the question, “why is music education important?” How can we stack up against English, Math, and Science? I feel like a little god standing before Titans.

So what was my next step? Wikipedia.

Music education is a field of study associated with the teaching and learning of music. It touches on the development of the affective domain, including music appreciation and sensitivity. The incorporation of music training from preschool to postsecondary education is common in most nations because involvement in music is considered a fundamental component of human culture and behavior. Music, like language, is an accomplishment that distinguishes us as humans.

What a fantastic 4 sentences.

I encourage you to read the entire article Wikipedia has on music education. It’s very good, with great links at the end to external sources (including another article entirely about Music Education Bloggers. How convenient!).

Near the end of the article, the topic of music advocacy is addressed: “Many contemporary music scholars assert that music advocacy will only be truly effective when based on empirically sound arguments that transcend political motivations and personal agendas.” As I said in the older post, shoving sappy inspiration and dead composers down administrators’ throats will likely not win the day over. Political motivation and personal agendas are becoming a common, poisonous thread sewing together education, politics, media, news, and any other field that has the potential for personal gain. Let’s avoid that, eh?

So, after trying to justify music education for these past few hours, I now need to justify how I sat in front of my computer without completing more important tasks than blogging. I’ll venture to say that it helped me stay put and to sit in my major for a while. It has given me the opportunity to decide that, at least for now, I’m enjoying it.

Like a year without coffee

While I sat at my couch with my computer, a reactivated Facebook account staring back at me, drooling, I realized how accessible was my warm bed and the end of my weekend. So, I heated up some leche, turned Ben Sollee on low, and began to write a blog post.

One year, one great year, without Facebook. It’s interesting that I count my years “without” Facebook, rather than the other way around. As though I’m saying “one year since quitting smoking,” or “one year without coffee.” Ha, to that last one.

I will have you know, my social life improved. My initiative increased to find friends and connections. Throughout my years in an educational institution, I’ve worked hard for what I’ve received. I turned that knob to include professional development, when that time came. Now I’ve turned it again to include people, and working towards fostering relationships, rather than sitting and waiting for them to go by. A wise man once told me that relationships are the key to a successful life, more so perhaps than talent and knowledge (those are my words, and I’m sure he said it better).

Of course, there is a difference between “relationships” and “knowing people.” Knowing people doesn’t go much further than occasional free tickets and burned music. In my life, this is how it has gone, and these rewards are but briefly reaped. When a relationship walks into the room, it warms the soul, and keeps that warmth maintained long after it has left through the cold. Material possessions are a low priority in these scenarios, and longevity is guaranteed.

Now that you have been inspired and are ready to go beyond “knowing people” and start deeply fostering relationships, there is one rule. It is difficult, annoying, and it will make you uncomfortable. You cannot be selective about whom you build relationships with. In other words, you can’t pick with whom you DON’T build a relationship. Close yourself off to positively no one, and I cannot reiterate that more sonorously. I, of course, am at fault for it in my own life. There are parts of the people around you that can be like slivers in your big toe. Keep walking. Jesus did once, all the way up to Golgotha. You might not believe it happened, but it’s an inspiring story.

That same wise man, a musician, also said, “play with a cool head and a warm heart.” I think “play” can be substituted for any action. Build relationships, speak in public, text a friend. I like to blend my personality in with my surroundings, and I don’t think I poke out my individuality much (tell me if that’s not true), which keeps the head cool and down to earth. Some might say that my head is too cool, bordering on breezy and floaty; a “go with the flow” mentality. I’ll just make some leche to warm things up a bit. Come on over and share.

Paper Cranes

Another August Sunday, another St. Paul Irish Fest. It was a beautiful day to enjoy rugby and hurling matches (hurling, not curling; the ice has not traveled down to Minnesota just yet), eat potatoes, drink cool beverages, and listen to the sounds of fiddles and tin whistles blowing through your shirt. Or maybe that was the wind. Too-ra-loo-ra-laddie.

This was the first part of the group birthday celebrations for Big Sis #2 — the red-haired sibling I never actually had — and was followed by a trip to The Malt Shop south of Uptown (which is south of Downtown… no entiendo tampoco). I was very excited for my chocolate chunk pecan cookie dough malt (read that again) with their homemade cookie dough. This time, however, the waitress informed me that they were out of said homemade cookie dough. I died a wee bit within. But a pumpkin malt instead restored order while a lass in the next room played ABBA and the Beatles on an upright piano. Slainte!

(photo: William C. Shrout)

On to our next adventure.

Our band of buds walked around a bit of the Lake Harriet shoreline and found their botanical gardens. For the men of the bunch, this was not the ideal destination (odiamos la naturaleza), but we had looked at broadswords, scimitars, and daggers at the Irish Fest earlier, so we were content with our current situation. First was a rose garden, which would have been quite romantic were there no screaming toddler to the left of the flowers that were yellow and perfume-y. Her family huddled around her, the father muttering in vain, «Cállate ya, cállate ya.»

Second was the Peace Garden. According to the information display at the entrance, it was declared an International Peace Site in 1999.

“Why can’t we just make the whole world an International Peace Site?” I asked, very like a toddler.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Mandals (that would be a man with sandals). “We can’t have world peace.”

Peace sites and war zones. The rest of us are the unfortunate bastards stuck in between.

“Look!” said Big Sis #1 (the blood relation). My eyes darted around — much as they had earlier that day when KurtMan said cleavage cleavage cleavage! — only to realize it was dangling right in front of me: a small paper crane tied by its tail from a low tree branch. Had I stepped only inches to the right, it would be perched on my nose.

More of the small paper cranes appeared as we went along; on the grass, in bushes, in branches. Finally, we came upon a tall thin statue replicating the many steps to making the origami figurine with written instructions encircling it on plaques. A wooden post contained a box of colorful paper slips, and the small birds were scattered everywhere. We quickly stole upon the idea and proceeded to join a family from India to construct our cranes, backs bent over the low plaques, fingers folding, creasing, and smoothing.

I folded, creased, smoothed, unfolded, re-creased, crumpled, uncrumpled, re-smoothed, squished, and ripped. My brain’s left side could not wrap itself around the instructions at my shins, despite the pictures illustrating the process meant to appeal to the kinesthetic learner. The group progressed around the statue quickly — the future engineers, the archaeologist, the future composer, the future film director — while I stumbled back and forth between the different plaques as though strapped to a Maypole in a bad wind.

“This would more likely incite war than peace,” I grumbled, folding the wings together for the third time. The family from India glanced over and snickered.

There are very few times when I lift my hands to my face and work at a detailed task that requires concentration and patience. Sure, I concentrate on my chicken and rice, my music practice, and my blog posts. I cook to feed myself, I practice to improve myself, and I blog to hear myself talk (at greater length than Facebook allowed). At first glance, there is little personal satisfaction from building a single paper crane and dropping it amongst others without even your signature. Is the dream that someone will one day come to the garden to read the signatures on each and every one, and hopefully recognize mine in particular so I’ll become famous?

I think the obsession with personal recognition is a case of a two-sided coin. On one side, it is necessary to have such competition in a capitalist country. Completely necessary. On the other side, when will we stop pushing others out of our way to get it?

What if the dream were different: what if we competed for doing the most amount of good? For not recognizing ourselves, but recognizing a community? For inciting peace instead of war? Ay Linus, que profundo. The first step for me is knowing that it involves patience, concentration, and help, so locating my friends is a must. This is making me realize that recognition is not a product of my own talents but how I use them to affect my piece of planet. The dream is a world where we sprinkle each of our paper cranes and then step back to take in the view.

I, in the rear, finally neared the end of the circle of plaques. To my comfort, I was accompanied by members of the family from India who were having similar struggles trying to crease and fold in ways contrary to the laws of physics. But with assistance from the various brains around us, we breathed into the bellies of our complete and completely wrinkled paper cranes.

A Church, a Mosque, and a Hot Babe

About a month ago, the Vatican revised existing laws on priest sexual abuse cases, making the process to convict priests faster and the punishments more severe. According to a New York Times article:

The Vatican…doubled the statute of limitations for abuse cases to 20 years from the victim’s 18th birthday. After that, a priest could be removed from the ministry but not defrocked unless the Vatican lifted the statute of limitations in the case, a right it reserves on a case-by-case basis.

According to the new law, this crime is being punished in the same way as pedophilia, possessing child porn, heresy, apostasy (purposely leaving the faith), schism, and ordaining women as priests.

Wait.

Ordaining women as priests?

Yes, thanks to Mr. Eggs Benedict XVI, catching a priest ordaining a women is just as bad as molesting a child. This is what Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s internal sexual abuse prosecutor, says:

Sexual abuse and pornography are more grave delicts, they are an egregious violation of moral law… Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on another level, it is a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacramental orders.

I fail to see how a woman guiding me through my faith as a priest (just as women have guided me through my education as teachers) is an attempt made against my faith. She would read the same Bible passages, recite the same prayers, preach similar homilies on holy and sacred topics. Should we say that all female teachers who have given me my education were actually making attempts against my education? I fail to see it.

I think we have come to a crisis of words. I would define an attempt against something as an intentional act to undermine or purge that something out. If I have a yo-yo, and I am playing with my yo-yo, and you come along and take away my yo-yo, that would be an attempt against my playtime. What the hell, man?

Don't undermine my Jesus Yo-Yo.

On the other hand, a priest’s duty is to give Jesus yo-yos to all the members of their community and teach them what they are and how to play. (Time to drop the metaphor, I think.) Punishing anyone for only wanting to share and spread their faith is inexcusable, no matter what the religion is.

I think from the previous sentence you can also divine my opinions on the mosque near Ground Zero.

Several years ago, when I was a Confirmation student, I was sitting in the social hall of my church. We had written questions on slips of paper and dropped them into a bucket, and the priest was drawing them out of the bucket to answer at random.

“Why can’t women be priests?”

His answer was simple, and after he said it, I was nodding. The Catholic Church is based deeply in tradition. Priests wear the Roman collars, congregations kneel, and the mass is still structured the same way it was back in Medieval Europe. All around the world, whether they know the language the priest is speaking or not, a Catholic can attend a mass and know what to do. That being said, according to my priest, the fact that women are not ordained is simply because of traditional roles.

He did not call women wounds against the Catholic faith, and he did not describe the ordination a woman as though it compared to the molesting a child. As a Christian, this law has angered me. As a Catholic, the Vatican has embarrassed me.

But I still sit in the lap of luxury; I know that even though this has happened, the rest of the world will not look upon me and think that I, as a Catholic, am a misogynist child rapist. Others do not have it so lucky.

An opinion columnist from the New York Times describes his thoughts—and mine—about the mosque in New York City, after watching a performance of Broadway music at the White House:

That resistance to diversity, though, is not something we want to emulate, which is why I’m glad the mosque was approved on Tuesday. Countries that choke themselves off from exposure to different cultures, faiths and ideas will never invent the next Google or a cancer cure, let alone export a musical or body of literature that would bring enjoyment to children everywhere.

When we tell the world, “Yes, we are a country that will even tolerate a mosque near the site of 9/11,” we send such a powerful message of inclusion and openness. It is shocking to other nations. But you never know who out there is hearing that message and saying: “What a remarkable country! I want to live in that melting pot, even if I have to build a boat from milk cartons to get there.” As long as that happens, Silicon Valley will be Silicon Valley, Hollywood will be Hollywood, Broadway will be Broadway, and America, if we ever get our politics and schools fixed, will be O.K.

I would rather stick around in my own little world, still clutching onto a tiny belief that maybe, just maybe, my religion and my country are fair to all people.

This beautiful girl is.

The Bear Dog.