Monday, April 28, 2014

Questionable motivation

Received in a student e-mail this morning:

" I want to change my university and join the University of Hawaii [from university of Buffalo]. The reason that make me chose this university is my academic interests because it's the best university in this profession."

No. It's really not.  

I would maybe have given him the benefit of the doubt if he hadn't written that last sentence. The fact that he's defending it pre-emptively though.... he doth protest too much, methinks.  Good luck getting your sponsor to approve this one, buddy! 

Old Town Love

Old Town Alexandria....

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. The Potomac. This river, while full of unsavory things, is still very beautiful to look at, calming to my soul, and is a neverending source of joy for me.  
  2. I can walk to all my grocery stores.  
  3. the GW Parkway.  A beautiful and stoplight-free stretch of road with stone bridges and lovely panoramas.  
  4. Evening walks down on King St. make me feel like I am crashing about 150 dates at any given time.  
  5. The lights in the trees on King St. 
  6. PX - swanky cocktails with a side order of pretension.  But I always feel special when I go there.  
  7. The rooftop of my building, where I can seek a cool breeze, watch thunderstorms roll in, or get a great perch to photograph sunrises or sunsets. 
  8. Biking or running into the District.  It's close, but I still feel like I live a world away.
  9. Moonlit walks on soft summer evenings along the water. The more romantically inclined from all over the metro area seem to love this about Old Town too. 
  10. The old, narrow and short buildings in the colonial style.  
  11. Brick front row houses with brightly colored doors.  
  12. Hydrangea and honeysuckle blossoms in early May along the footpath.  
  13. The guy with the 427 Red Cobra on S. Union who is out there nightly with his garage door open showing off.  
  14. Cobra guy's friends who come over and bring their amazing cars including:  a late 70s Triumph TR6,  another 427 Cobra this one blue with a white racing stripe which I have had wild thoughts about stealing MANY times, a Dodge Viper, and a yellow Ferrari.  
  15. Jones Point Park. 
  16. GW Parkway Classic
  17. The historic boundary marker where DC, Maryland and Virginia used to meet.  
  18. The cobblestone section of Princess St. east of N. Washington St.  
  19. That corner near Del Ray where they just kept the cannon in the middle of the road.   
  20. The guy who plays the water glasses.
  21. The hammered dulcimer player by the shoe store on King St. 
  22. The lady who dresses in medieval garb and plays her lute.  
  23. Little kids making sandcastles on vacant volleyball courts.   
  24. Engagement and wedding photo shoots without fail EVERY weekend.   
  25. Lavender Moon Cupcakery, specifically the basil fig flavor.  
  26. The park bench at the tidal lock by the Canal Center office park that sits right on the water.  
  27. Spring sailing and rowing regattas. 
  28. The running group that goes out and high-fives everyone on Saturday mornings.
  29. Farmer's market. 
  30. Scottish Day parade.  
  31. The Apothecary.
  32. The porch swing tables at Virtue Feed and Grain.
Mostly it's just unparalleled charm and beauty that keep me coming back to this neighborhood and the gorgeous things about it.  I'm so happy there, even having to drive to Falls Church and Arlington all the time to see friends.  This is a love letter to Old Town, a list I hope keeps growing. I pray I never stop seeing new beauties and tender mercies about living in such a place.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

7 Days - 7 States of Mind

One week ago, I was on a plane flying to Las Vegas, NV to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of a dear friend from college.  One week ago I lived in a different apartment than the one I'm writing from now.  And one week ago, it was Lent, and now it's the Triduum, almost Easter.  It's been such a huge week that I can barely believe I'm almost through it and that so much has happened in such a short amount of time.  I feel like I need to capture it somehow, so the best I can do is write to try and recollect.

So we'll start at the beginning of the week.

I'm not really a Vegas kind of girl.  I own things with sparkles, but I never find occasion to wear them since I stopped doing things on New Years Eve that don't involve pajamas.  I don't generally like places where the only thing to do when you get there is to constantly spend more money.  Everything about Vegas is the promise of money, the chance of glory, the seduction of glamour, and the brightly-lit distraction from your normal life.  I don't gamble all that much because it takes me a pretty long time to earn the money I do get, and I hate giving it to someone without getting some good or service in return.  It's the marginal scale of utility in its most basic representation.  I don't find a lot of use for the entertainment of gambling whereas many others think its super fun and love it! In many ways I was deadweight in Vegas.  Although I did play the penny slots and I won $12 dollars.  But, I do like my friends.  In fact, I love them.  And if they are in a place, even if its Vegas, I know it will be fun and amazing and I want to be with them. So, 4 days before I had to move and without having done a lick of packing, to Vegas I went.

State of mind #1 : PARTY ON
  From the moment I touched down, I felt like the city was dictating my mood (24/7 party mode). As soon as I walked into the gigantic hotel we stayed in, I was slammed with clubby pop music, huge video screens and hoards of people.  In short, an introvert's worst nightmare.  I did get sucked into the excitement a little bit.  It's hard not to when everything around you is pushing you in that direction.  Neon lights, flashing signs, a sign in the hotel elevator saying "we won't rest until you don't rest".   Vegas knows why people visit and that's the carefully created image that each and every hotel, entertainment spot, club and restaurant buy into when they build a presence in Vegas.  People don't come here to relax or for an oasis of calm. They come to get wild, lose themselves, break boundaries that exist in their normal lives.

But for one of our merry company who had just gone through a heart-wrenching breakup, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.  Upbeat and fun music helps distract from that pain that comes in the wake of removing someone from your life that had a very big place in it. It helps to temporarily fill a very big void, and the toughest thing about breakups is figuring out how to do that in the long term.

State of mind #2: LOSE YOURSELF
Something I noticed while there, even among my friends, was that the excuse "we're in Vegas" was used over and over again.  Las Vegas, more than any other vacation destination I have ever encountered, has created such a deeply-entrenched attitude of escapism it's hard not to buy into it.  I'm thankful that I have friends with integrity who don't become wholly different people when given the opportunity to escape the normal.  Our version of Vegas means eating cupcakes for breakfast and drinking champagne around the clock.  It also involves a LOT of pool time.  I don't think that means that we're doing Vegas wrong either.  It may look different for other people but regardless, when you do the things you want to do in Vegas, you always say you're doing them "because you're in Vegas".

One of my friends made an interesting observation.  She said that she could do things in Vegas for herself without feeling plagued by guilt.  Again, I was struck by how Vegas - "Sin City", no less - has created a place where people assume it is okay to do things they would never do otherwise.  Excess, luxury, danger, spontaneity, and all around extremes.  Even if that just means that you feel the freedom to do things for yourself or indulge in things like a massage, or shooting a machine gun, shopping at luxury boutiques (they have no less than 3 Tiffany's Jewelry stores within a one-mile radius)... You can find it all in Las Vegas.  And you can find it because everyone comes here looking for something totally outside themselves.  Las Vegas promises that they have whatever that is for whoever wants it.  They come to Vegas to get away from their normal life and create a new, temporary one, which is not connected or accountable to the one left behind.

State of Mind #3: RELEASE
The one thing I did that was really an escape for me was renting a motorcycle and driving out into the Nevada desert to visit the Valley of Fire and Lake Meade.  I'm a pretty new rider, licensed now for less than 2 years and not owning a bike.  But I know that that ride will forever be one of the best rides I'll ever take.  At multiple points during my 139 miles of winding, scenic desert byways, I would yell WOHOOOO to no one in particular. I could barely hear myself yelling over the noise of a Harley Davidson going 60 in a canyon.  But that kind of adventure, a highway with no one on it, a winding road in the sun with a sky that stretches forever above you, wind in your face and hair, sun warming you up and the gentle lean of the bike as you accelerate out of a curvy turn, I'll take that over the thrill of winning big at a roulette table any day of the week.

I need to remember ear plugs next time I ride because the bike engine and wind together create a significant amount of decibels.  But when I would stop the bike to get a drink or to take in the scenery, the quiet engulfed me, just like it did in the Sinai desert 10 years ago.  The desert is the best for quiet, there's nowhere else that just sucks up the sound and doesn't give anything back. I can't really describe how beautiful it was out there, the drab beige of the landscape punctuated by these brilliant red sandstone formation.  These pictures do not do it justice:

State of Mind #4: BATTLE
It turns out that the hotel rooms in Vegas do a great job of soundproofing.  It was the only other place I could escape flashing lights, dinging machines and find quiet the entire weekend.  Every SINGLE other corner, no matter how far removed, bombarded me with the latest remix from David Guetta or Calvin Harris, not to mention adding 1000 other sounds and about as many people in the mix.  My ears and my mind were at war to be able to think at all.  Is that Vegas's brilliantly constructed subterfuge?  They distract you so much from your own thoughts that you make bad decisions, but then it doesn't matter because "it's Vegas"?  Clever girl....
The last full day in Vegas I actually had to leave the pool area because I kept trying to read and I couldn't, for the life of me, comprehend a single sentence in my book.  I just had to put it down and give in to the club music.  I took a few turns in the lazy river and then had to throw in the towel (literally, I threw my towel into a big bin when I left the pool complex) and head up to my room for a little quiet. The room was dark, cool, and utterly peaceful.  I flopped down on the bed and hugged my pillows.  Thank you for not lighting up or playing club music, I whispered lovingly to them.

State of Mind #5:RE-ENTRY
There were a lot of things I had heard about Vegas casinos that I didn't think could be true until I got there.  Sure enough, the DO pump extra oxygen into the air, you CAN bring your drinks from the gambling tables into the restaurants without question, and there aren't any windows, clocks or way of knowing what time it us unless you provide it yourself.  I felt completely disoriented after spending several hours in a casino with my friends before heading to dinner one night.  You absolutely do lose time.  Vegas is a money-making machine.
Since it was our last night in Vegas I was thinking about going out dancing.  But then it got to be midnight and leaving my hotel seemed really hard.  Even just going to the hotel next door seemed hard. Because that hotel, the one right next door, required me walking no less than one mile to enter it.  That's how big the hotels are.  You have to cab to places that are two "blocks" away. So as I realized I didn't have to amp up for clubbing and dancing, I started to relax a little and also turn my thoughts toward the coming days.  The super-high energy Vegas life and days by the pool would quickly turn into Holy Week, a big push to finish a project, and, the most daunting of all, moving!
We spent our last few hours in Vegas at the spa at our hotel, soaking in the tub, sitting in the "relaxation room" steaming and sauna-ing.  That was a great way to close the trip and it made me forget all that awaited me back in DC.

State of Mind #6: DO 
I got home from the airport at 2am on Tuesday morning.  I went to work at 8:30, I came home at 5:30 and immediately started moving things to my new apartment.  Fortunately, it's right next door to my old apartment. I didn't even have to go outside.  I called two friends and we moved everything and cleaned my old apartment in about 5 hours.  I was completely exhausted but also hopped up on adrenaline and the urge to clean and organize.  Fortunately, my body won that battle and I went to sleep.  Since that day, I basically haven't stopped making lists and dreaming of ways to make my new digs beautiful.  I've already obtained patio furniture for my new balcony AND have become mildly obsessed with getting an herb planter.

State of Mind #7: BE STILL AND KNOW
And then, coming from the frenetic pace of Tuesday and moving to a new home and trying to settle in, I went straight into Holy Week.  A messianic passover seder on Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday and a 50 person potluck.  By God's grace, He helped me find calm and peace to enter in to the beautiful narrative that unfolds in remembrance each year. And even led me to some beautiful new poetry and reading from Madeline L'Engle and Benjamin Alire Saenz.  I went to a concert after the potluck on Easter with a friend and had a lovely evening with her as well.  Fortunately it was a night of calm music, very like Bon Iver, listening to his music is akin to holding a puppy.  It just makes you feel good about things.

Though I don't want another week like that one for a looonnnng time, it was amazing, and I'm still alive. I can't remember a week when I felt a wider range of things and felt so dragged all over the map emotionally/physically/spiritually.  But I also can't remember feeling more grateful for the blessings of this life, wonderful friends who come out on nights when it's sleeting to help you move, landlords who are breaking their backs to make things nice for you, and most of all, a Savior who died for me... for ME!  I have to remember that he died so that I might hope for life, and that this life has been entrusted to me with a sacred purpose, built around serving Him and others.  How marvelous, how wonderful!

Guitar Goggles

Though I have always been suspicious of my own susceptibility to this commonly recognized phenomenon, it wasn't until the month of February that my all-out defenselessness was revealed and given a name: Guitar Goggles.  It's so bizarre and mysterious to me but I also can't deny that it's true.

I assume some of you have heard of "beer goggles", the situation in which one's consumption of alcohol makes physically unattractive persons appear more attractive.   For guitar goggles, this same principle is applied, only more specifically it is from the female perspective applied to gentlemen musicians who play guitar on stage.  I was at the Lord Huron show in early February watching the opening band, Night Moves, when the most striking presentation of this weakness I have ever experienced occurred.

I was already having a lovely evening, having just found a new group of music-loving, concert-going friends.  We were getting to know one another and riding high on anticipation for the headliners when the opening act took the stage.  A stringy, early-20s boy comes on stage with pubescent stubble and one of the worst sweaters I have seen in real life. He sported impossibly skinny black jeans, and longish, unwashed, poorly-dyed reddish-purple hair, worn in the 1990s grunge rock style about chin-length and parted in the center.  He also wore a long necklace of large, clear beads.  I remember thinking, that guy embodies the worst aspects of all three of my decades. This is the guy who stepped on stage:

And then he strapped on his guitar and I had to rub my eyes because I was seeing this:

And we all started to go like this: 

Immediately and palpably, the feeling hit.  A tingling from my head to my toes, not excluding my loins (which, incidentally, is the most uncomfortable word in the English language).  What IS IT about guys and guitars?  If I had seen this guy in the crowd of spectators at 9:30 club, I would have pitied him and judged him a fashion victim.  As it stands I did judge him, but when he put on his guitar, I stopped judging him and started being very interested in him. I wanted to ask him lots of questions.  I wanted to be closer to him.  For no other reason than he is a creator of music, a player of instruments.  Musicians and what they create have a power over me like no other art form.  It's not that I had never noticed this happen before.  But this time I was fully aware of the night and day difference between my perception of this guy pre-and post-band member status identification.

During the break between sets I asked one of my new friends about it.  I asked her if she felt it too. She gave me a knowing, sympathetic look.  "Ohhhh yes".  She knew the feeling well.  And I asked her if she knew why we feel that.  She said it's because they are showing us a part of their soul, they are being vulnerable.  I think I agree with that, but is that all it is?  I cannot deny that there is something extremely intense happening and it's not just a little bit sexual.

Case in point: I was at a concert on Sunday night last week and it was a seated, quiet show.  The opening act was a cellist, but not classical.  He was funny and engaging and played pop-indie music on his instrument and it was awesome.  You could tell he was a smart guy.  You could also tell he was married.  He was playing the cello for crying out loud.  It was super easy to see his hands.  There was a girl seated at the table right next to me, jammed into my left side, and I could hear everything she and her friends said all night.  After the opener's set, she wandered away from the table for a bit.  When she came back, she had the cellist with her! She dragged him up to the foot of the stage, while the headliner was playing, and he sort of knelt behind her while she took her seat at the table with her friends.  Thus he was right beside me too.  Then she scooted over in her seat and beckoned him to share it with her. Sure enough, he did.  You could tell he was hesitant, not wanting to disappoint a fan and make it weird, but also knowing it was pretty clear what this girl was after.  Certainly it wasn't this guy's first time at the fan-girl rodeo.  But he sat down and she put her head on his shoulder.  She started talking to him, praising him.  At one point she said "It's so refreshing to see a live artist who's really a live artist."  I'm not sure what that means exactly, but I know what she was really saying: "just letting you know, I'm pretty interested in sleeping with you,"  or in the immortal words of DJ Pauly D, she was "100% DTF".   I think at that point the cellist saw he needed to get out, so he said "thanks for listening, I'll see you later." and got up and went back to the bar area.

The power is live, and dangerous.  And it's a dangerous power that their fans wield over them as well. I believe I witnessed a moment where a man's commitment to his marriage vows was tested in a real way. We, as fans or even just spectators, feel like we know them after hearing them perform.  Intimacy is created in the simple act of sharing deeply with someone and if a musician's lyrics are true and honest, I don't think that feeling of wanting to be close to them can be avoided.  And we want to be even closer! We want that distance between the stage and the floor to be removed totally.  We want total intimacy. I think today, as Dr. Dale Kuehne says in the book I'm reading right now, that intimacy and sex mean the same thing in today's vernacular.  The girl in my story above wanted to be close to this musician and the best way she knew how was to try and hook up with him.  Then, I remember thinking this guy is literally kneeling at this girl's feet.  Maybe it's a small stretch to say, but I don't think that guy follows that girl up there to her seat if he's not playing with fire a little bit.  She affirmed his sharing of a very personal thing - his music.  It's not only his livelihood, it's part of his soul being bared each night.  If someone, anyone, sees that and loves it, you would probably be grateful and more open to that person.  That's my natural reaction to people who sincerely affirm and take interest in me.

I think my friend was right.  I think an exchange of vulnerability is at the heart of the guitar goggles phenomenon - a unique occurrence of soul-bearing intimacy.  That's also what turns someone who writes really good songs into a great performer, they have to connect with the audience. The currency that performers and listeners exchange is powerful and can lead to real experiences, spiritual, emotional, and maybe even physical. I hope it's not all objectification, though I'm sure part of it is, if I'm being honest. But these moments where someone tells you something true, even if its in a song, on stage, in front of lots of other people, creates an intimate moment, and that, no matter what it looks like on the outside, is always sort of beautiful.

Past Entries