Sunday, January 31, 2010

5-H

Whenever I get my hair cut, I always get caught up on news from back home.

The woman to whom I entrust my haircuts (no small honor) is also from Carroll and so, we have a lot of common ground and she always has a tidbit be it gossip or whatever (usually it's gossip.) Yesterday, while she was cutting my hair, she said to me, "Did you have Miss Hindman as a teacher? Did you hear about her?" My response was "Please don't tell me that she died!"

Sadly, the answer to that was "yes." She passed away on Friday - apparently rather unexpectedly - at the early age of 59.

Joyce Hindman was my 5th grade teacher and is certainly not the first of my elementary school teachers to pass. That honor goes to Esther Zimmerman, my kindergarten teacher who lived to a very ripe old age. I remember her coming into the pharmacy where I worked during summer vacations, long since retired from teaching. She had to have been in her 80s by then but she still remembered who I was. When she died, I affected me much like the death of anyone who is elderly and lived their life to the fullest does. But for Ms. Hindman, it's different. To die at 59 and and in the middle of a school year jolted even me.

This surprised me a lot as it's been probably 20 years since I last saw her, and probably longer than that since I last talked to her. But she was a cool and hip teacher of whom my friend Jeff and I have many good (and some hysterical) memories, many of which have been embellished on over the years to great comic effect.

My biggest and most enduring memory of Ms. Hindman will always be my uncontainable jealousy of the fact that she was able to see Olivia Newton-John in concert when the Physical World Tour stopped in Ames back in 1982. I had begged my parents to let me go see ONJ to (predictably) no avail. I seethed at them and was green with envy when I heard that my teacher was going! The concert ended up as an HBO special later that year which I watched a bazillion times. But I remember Ms. Hindman letting me bring in my Olivia's Greatest Hits Vol. 2 record album to play during class parties. Seriously, how I survived elementary school without being beaten up on a daily basis is a continued mystery to me.

Joyce Hindman taught me about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth via her packet on explorers. I remember her putting up the solar system on the back wall of the classroom during that unit. She had a penchant for Snickers and Pepsi (or so I recall). In the building shakeups that the Carroll district had over the years, she went from 5th grade to 4th grade, leaving behind the 5-H moniker that I so distinctly recall and becoming 4-H. She was, in the end, a great teacher who left a subtle yet recognizable impact on me. And apparently I'm not the only one as there's already a Facebook group dedicated to her memory.

The visitation is this afternoon in Carroll and were it any other day, I'd drive over to pay my respects. But I think I'd rather leave it like this. It's better this way.

RIP Ms. Hindman. You will be missed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gotta shake myself up here

(and what follows naturally is "I should run away, run away, run away.")

For those of you that follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook friend, you already know that I'm getting the equivalent of the 7 year itch with my facial hair. And in all actuality - it really has been 7 years. July 2003 and Heidi was gone to an RWA conference. I decided not to shave for a week just for fun. And for whatever reason, it stuck. My brother had always been on my case about when I was going to grow a beard since I was the only male in the family capable of it - not true as my dad now has a goatee. So I decided why the hell not?

But frankly, I'm kind of bored with it. I shouldn't be bitching because it's very low maintenance, especially when compared to being clean shaven. And I've been down this road before and I always end up growing it back as I really don't like my clean shaven face and looking at it is just plain jarring for me.

You can blame that ridiculous celebrity Doppleganger thing on Facebook for the current wave of beard ennui. I hesitated putting up that picture of David Tennant as my celebrity Doppleganger as really, there's only a very minor resemblance. The fact that I had the same glasses as he did for a few years enhanced the resemblance, but really, I felt uncomfortable putting it up as my profile picture. I finally relented and did it. But now I no longer want facial hair. I want sideburns.

I don't want anything ridiculous looking. I don't want anything that makes me look like I'm trying to be 23 when I'm nearly 38. I'm very acutely aware of "acting my age" and not looking like an older guy trying to be young. I did sideburns for a Halloween costume a couple years ago and I actually toyed with the idea of keeping them but ultimately chickened out. I'm not sure how it would play at work - will it look stupid? It is, as many people have pointed out - just hair and it grows back, especially for me because I can grow my full beard back in approximately 72 hours.

So far, the response on Twitter and FB has been overwhelmingly "do it." Except for one person and that person is Heidi who has the equivalent of 128 votes. In the end, it is my face and she has no more control over it than I do the length of her hair. I still can't decide and will wallow in the indecision for a while. But I do feel the need for a shake-up and that might just be the ticket.

Writing about it in greater than 140 characters has helped me sort it out a bit more and has also pushed Wilson Phillips a bit further down the page. I didn't think they'd stay up there that long.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Give it up

I mentioned a couple posts back that I was vetting songs for the latest DMB CD (that stands for Dan, Matt & Bess for the uninitiated.) Most of the time, we each contribute 4 random songs that we're into, one of us burns them all to a CD and we distribute and opine and generally marvel at each others awesomeness. But every now and again, we mix it up and do a themed CD. We've done covers, live performances and a CD full of Christmas songs. This time around, the theme is guilty pleasures and man, it was hard paring it down to 4 songs. Every time I turned my iPod on, I found another song I had forgotten. This morning, I emailed them to Matt lest I be tempted to change my mind again.

I'm pretty pleased with what I picked, but then I heard something today that made me think of the beginning of Twilight Zone: The Movie.

"You wanna see something REALLY embarrassing?"


It's Wilson Phillips and yeah, fuck off but I really like this album. Well, most of it anyway. Wilson Phillips is, of course, best known for their eponymous first album which sold a zillion copies and spun off something like 5 hit singles. "Hold On" was popular during the spring of my senior year of high school and I can't listen to that song and its trite lyrics without thinking of good old CHS and the class of 1990. I'll be honest and admit that I really did like a lot of the songs, with the notable exception of "You're In Love" in which Chynna Phillips is totally okay with her boyfriend being in love with someone else because she wants him to be happy. One of my college roommates always took issue with how that was never the sentiment the girl he was breaking up with had, EVER. And oddly, I do kind of like the song "Impulsive" even though my friend Jeff always referred to it as "Repulsive." It's so easy to hate on Wilson Phillips, the insults practically write themselves.

I bought their second album Shadows & Light solely on the strength of the single "Give It Up" which I saw on VH1 shortly after my arrival in Iowa City that August. I had resisted the album after the first single kind of fell flat on the pop chart and it was clear that Wilson Phillips were in the business of redefining "sophomore slump." But it was cheap at K-Mart and my parents were down buying other crap for my dorm room so I figured why not try and get them to buy me a CD as well? I got it back to the dorm and instantly hated it, which should have been a sign that I would be blogging about it 18 years later. Admittedly, there's no "Hold On" on this album. There was no song that stood out from the crowd demanding to be a single. Mostly, it's an album full of album tracks which can sometimes make for good albums but doesn't really do much to actually sell the album. Turns out both were true for Shadows & Light.

Much was made of Carnie Wilson's weight, and how Wendy and Chynna were always in these skimpy outfits and they put her in a tent. It reminds me a lot of what was said about Ann Wilson of Heart, but Wilson Phillips never made enough videos for them to resort to stretching Carnie out like Heart did. It pisses me off that people make fun of women that are anything other than stick insects - Christ, there are men that look like the bottom of a boot (to steal a line from Heidi) and no one says anything. The truth of the matter is though that it's Carnie Wilson who can really sing. Wendy Wilson is very nasal and Chynna was always so damn dramatic! It's on the song "This Doesn't Have To Be Love" (stream the full song here) that, to me, showcases the quality of Carnie's voice and why she really wasted her time with that mid-90s talk show.

Shadows & Light is very much a college album for me, but it has made random appearances in my life since then. "This Doesn't Have To Be Love" will always be Gulliver's song - Gulliver being the cat of ours that died when Heidi was 6 months pregnant with Anna. Every time we would play it, he would tuck all his feet in and close his eyes. Either he really liked it or was just waiting for it to be over - who can tell with a cat? - but it was his song nonetheless. And in 2008 on the way to Sticky & Sweet, Jeff and I were playing the infamous "pick a letter of the alphabet and I'll pick a song starting with that letter" game (which is SO much more fun with 8000 songs on an iPod than it ever was with CDs). I chose "F" and before I knew it, Jeff was saying "Ladies and gentlemen, Wilson. Phillips." as the song "Fueled For Houston" came on. It was a song I probably hadn't heard in a decade and today could not listen to without remembering that event.

Wilson Phillips never really recovered from the Shadows & Light debacle. They did regroup for one album of covers which I never even heard and I don't think many others did. They are, to me, a bit unfairly maligned because they really aren't offensive at all. Saccharine, yes, but offensive? Hardly.

Just don't ask me to listen to "You're In Love" because I will not be responsible for my actions.

Friday, January 22, 2010

To and from

As many of the regulars around here know, I try really hard to walk to and from work every day. Work is only a mile from my house and it's through a nice neighborhood. Also, driving to work only saves me a few minutes by the time I get there, get parked and get inside. But more than anything, what I like about walking is that it's my version of a commute - time by myself with the input that I choose, rather than the stuff that is chosen for me.

I was thinking about this on the way home from work tonight and how I feel like the walk home from work is almost always better than the walk to work. You might be tempted to think that this reflects on how I feel about my job but you'd be wrong. The walk to work is filled with stress and deadlines. I know the exact moment at which I must leave to get there on time. Nowadays, with the sidewalks jam-packed full of ice, you have to build in even more time to get there. And then there are the days that I leave past the time by which I know I have to leave and then arrive at work earlier than I do when I give myself plenty of time. Perhaps this is a wormhole. I'm not sure.

But the walk home is always better, even (and especially) after days from hell. There are no deadlines, no stress of "must get home." Again, it's time for me - time that is harder and harder to come by these days as my child grows up and as Heidi's writing career really starts to take off. Tonight the walk home was more arduous than usual - even in my YakTrax, it was still slippery. It's above freezing and the ice is starting to come off the tree, but there's so much ice and water on the sidewalks that walking is treacherous at its best. There's a shellac of ice on the snow that's starting to give way in places. The icicles on the houses are works of art that belie the damage they do to roofs and eaves. Sitting here, I can hear the ice coming off the roof and eaves and if we weren't already having the eaves replaced this year, I'm starting to think that we would be looking into it anyway.

I didn't mind how hard the walk was tonight, because somewhere in all that, you find the center again.

Many mornings I say "screw it" and drive. Some mornings I have to. But when I don't walk, I miss it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sweeter and sweeter

At long last, a professionally shot, high quality video of Madonna's 2004 Re-Invention Tour has surfaced. If you asked fans to list the things they want most from Madonna, an official DVD release of Blond Ambition would probably top the list, but a DVD-quality recording of Re-Invention would almost certainly be in the number 2 slot.

Madonna had the Re-Invention shows she performed in Lisbon, Portugal filmed for broadcast on CBS and an eventual DVD release. This never happened and many reasons for this have been put forth by both Madonna's management and her fans. Rumor has it that Madonna didn't like how it turned out and therefore blocked its release. It's also said that CBS refused to air the show without commercials (which was Madonna's request) so the whole thing broke down. There's also this business of a lawsuit that the guy who filmed the Lisbon show brought against Madonna. So the ultimate answer is to the question "why has Re-Invention not seen the light of day on DVD?" is "who the hell knows?"

Oh sure, there are clips of it in I'm Going To Tell You A Secret, the Re-Invention Tour documentary filmed Truth or Dare style and released in 2005. While the documentary is good (it's home to Madonna's TMI "I can't stop shitting!" moment), the problem with those clips is that they are all edited in some way - opening number "Vogue" most heinously - and rather than satisfying fans it just whet their appetites for the full, unedited show, a show that looked like it would never ever turn up on DVD.

Yesterday, raw footage of the entire Lisbon show leaked to the internet. I won't link to it here, but it was 3.82 GB of downloads, split up into 10 different files of roughly 380 MB each (Update: It's gone now anyway.) Each segment took roughly 20-30 minutes to download, and I had to wait a half hour between each download. I was helped not one little bit by the flickering power during yesterday's ice storm, but as of this morning, I had downloaded all 10 parts, hooked them together and finally, after years of waiting, saw "Vogue" as it was intended to be seen. It's still raw footage (you can see a cameraman roll by MST3K style during "Deeper & Deeper") and THANK GOD the vocals are not autotuned. Overall, it's miles better than the shaky audience recordings with crappy audio we have had up to this point.



Warner Bros. and Madonna both completely missed the boat on this one. No matter what the reason is regarding the lack of DVD release, it's kind of a moot point now. Sure if one were released, I'd probably buy it, but at this point, this will do just fine for now. I don't feel one iota of guilt in downloading something that they are not selling, because if it were available for purchase, I would have bought it years ago.

Now I just need to find a way to rip the audio from as my only copy of this concert is a cruddy (but passable) bootleg from Atlanta.

(my original post after seeing Reinvention in D.C. in 2004)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We're not here for the dialogue

(possible 2012 spoilers abound)

Back when the trailer for end-of-the-world disaster flick 2012 hit theaters, my friend Matt put it best.

"This is going to be the best-looking bad movie EVER."

So when it arrived at the dollar theater this week, we wasted no time in setting up a time to see it. In fact, it only took us 48 hours to find a time that was agreeable for both of us. This was a good thing because you really have to act fast on those dollar theater flicks as they can come and go with amazing speed.

For those that have been under a rock, 2012 is yet another in a long line of Roland Emmerich movies that destroy large American cities, but this time upping the ante to include the entire world. Based very loosely on ideas put forth by the ancient Mayan calendar that the world will experience some kind of physical or spiritual upheaval on or near the winter solstice in 2012, the movie is basically an excuse to show massive global calamity the likes of which have never been seen before. Even though the trailer looked fantastic from an effects perspective, I was prepared for cardboard characters, bad dialogue and a dog that narrowly cheats certain death. Because, as Matt said "when has Roland Emmerich ever let me down...oh wait...EVERY TIME." (Yes, Matt is very witty. I'm hoping that by hanging out with him some of that either rubs off on me or is absorbed by osmosis.)

I'm happy to report that 2012 contains all of the previously mentioned items (although the dog cheating certain death came a lot later in the movie than I thought it would.) I'm also happy to report that it was nowhere near as horrible as I was expecting. First of all, the effects were amazing. As I always say, if I'm going to see a movie like this, it's going to be in the theater because I think even on Blu-Ray, it wouldn't pack the same punch as it does in the theater. There's something about seeing mass destruction like that, computer animated as it may be, that is equal parts horrifying and exhilarating. The destruction of Los Angeles and its subsequent falling into the Pacific Ocean had me on the edge of my seat in spite of myself and was probably made just that much more personal because I visited L.A. last summer. The eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera was no less intense. You don't want to be taken in, but you can't help yourself. The attention to detail is so good that even though parts of it feel cartoonish, you are caught up nonetheless. And while I could have lived with about 50% less of scenes in which an airplane just barely escapes the approaching apocalypse, by the time the USS John F. Kennedy slammed into the White House, I was totally on board.

But along with the good must come the bad. The stock characters present in all of Emmerich's movies are here as well. This time, it's John Cusack in the role that would have gone to Jeff Goldblum 10 years ago. Honestly, I prefered him to Goldblum (hell, I prefer a purple turd to Goldblum) and Cusack never seemed to be taking the movie too seriously. And dear LORD the dialogue. You had the obligatory wink-wink-nudge-nudge dialogue, and then you also had the stuff that was so bad the groans were audible. I didn't find it any more offensive than anything in any other Roland Emmerich movie, although when you end a disaster movie with the cute little girl declaring that she doesn't need Pull-ups any longer, you know you need a script doctor RIGHT NOW. But clearly, we weren't there for the dialogue (although that posed a huge problem when the picture cut out about an hour and a half into the movie while the audio prattled onward.)

Overall, I really do recommend this movie. Could it have been tightened up storywise? Sure. Were there characters that annoyed me beyond words? Oh yeah, but at least Woody Harrelson (in the Randy Quaid role) died early on. In actuality, 2012 is a big dumb Saturday matinee movie. It's a B or C movie with an A+ budget. Will it bring about world peace or a cure for cancer. Hell no, but it was a more than enjoyable way to spend the afternoon - and at 158 minutes, you're in it for the long haul. Once again, like Freddy vs. Jason before it, it benefited from amazingly low expectations. And at least it was better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

But that sure wouldn't take much.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A long long way from Tennessee

In what can only be attributed to early onset dementia - or, more likely, my ever present absent-mindedness - I nearly forgot that today was Dolly Parton's 64th birthday! Yep, she's 64 years old and she doesn't look a day over...well, I don't know that I can answer that question.

I wasn't sure what I would write about, as I already did my favorite Dolly songs last year (those haven't changed much), and posted random videos of her two years ago (and most of those have been removed, damn it.) She's also a frequent subject on this blog, so I was a little worried that there just wasn't anything left to say about Dolly that I hadn't already said.

Don't believe that for a single minute.

For Christmas this year, I got two Dolly related items, the Dolly Live In London CD/DVD and the brand new 4-disc box set Dolly. The live CD and DVD, I'm sorry to report, was completely and utterly bungled. Neither the CD nor the DVD contain the whole concert. Also, as seems to be more and more the case these days, Dolly's vocals have been manipulated such that many of the songs have lost their "live" feel. It also helps nothing that the show was filmed at the 23,000 seat O2 in London and the intimacy that was felt at the two shows I saw is not present at all in the concert footage. A complete misfire and ultimately disappointing as that live show was so good.

The Dolly box set, on the other hand, is very enjoyable. Predictably, I have a lot of the songs already, but the first two discs really have a lot of very early Dolly, including stuff with Porter Wagoner that I would never be inclined to seek out on my own that it is worth the price of admission. Sure, by the time you get to disc three and four, the usual suspects that have been on a million Dolly hits packages start to show up ("Here You Come Again," "9 to 5", "Two Doors Down," etc. etc.), you forgive it because 1) it's Dolly and 2) the rare and unreleased tracks more than make up for it. It's also provides for a fun chronological listen, even though it is far from complete as the last song is from 1993.

My favorite of the unreleased tracks is one called "Eugene Oregon" which came out of the sessions for My Tennessee Mountain Home in 1972. It's classic Dolly and really, that says it all. I'm glad it finally saw the light of day on this box set. You can stream it here for free.

Happy birthday Dolly! And hurry up on that dance record that's supposed to be coming out. If it doesn't contain a remixed version of "Potential New Boyfriend" there will be words.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm gonna get you, yes I am!

When I was in college, I had a roommate who was totally into the 90s dance/R&B stuff. You know the music of which I speak - songs like CeCe Peniston's "Finally," Black Box's "Strike It Up," La Bouche's "Be My Lover" and Snap!'s "Rhythm Is A Dancer." There are countless others and at the time, they all sounded about the same to me, but that hardly mattered when you were out and pleasantly buzzed by cheap beer. And even though it's getting to be 20 years on (!), they still sound pretty much the same. But it still doesn't matter. Whenever I get 90s nostalgic, trashy 90s Eurodance is usually what I reach for first.

My favorite of all these songs is a song that I spent the last 5 years of the 90s trying to track down. I remember my other roommate singing along with it in the car, and the only things I remembered from it were the lyrics "Why waste your time/You know you're gonna be mine," a rap breakdown that started "Yo DJ pump this party!" and a vampish part that went "da da dat da doo da da/da da dat da doo da da da." I recall searching AltaVista like crazy for this song, trying to identify it. When Napster hit, I tried every permutation of "Yo DJ pump this party!" and "Why waste your time" that I could muster to completely no avail.

Then one day, I got extremely lucky and stumbled across it while searching 90s dance music compilations on Amazon. By then, Napster was defunct, but Audiogalaxy wasn't, so I went and got the song. I remember bragging to my sister about how I had found this song I had been looking for so long. Turns out, she knew it all along and all I would have had to have done was ask her and all the hair-pulling could have been avoided, even though a part of me enjoyed the thrill of the chase.

The song in question? Bizarre Inc.'s "I'm Gonna Get You."



The version of the song I got from Audiogalaxy was not the version I remembered, so about a year ago tonight (I went through my massive Gmail archive to find out for sure), I put out a call to some friends of mine to see if anyone had a better version of the song. As one of those guys said, this is why it pays to have gay friends. Not only did he have a better version of the song, he had THE version of the song I remembered. It was 1993 all over again.

Over the last few weeks, I've been vetting songs for the latest installment of the CD I make with Matt and Bess - the theme for this one is guilty pleasures. "I'm Gonna Get You" didn't quite make the cut as I'm not really embarrassed by it. But it sure does take me back.

(thanks to XO and Robbie whose Twitter conversation has inspired this fit of 90s nostalgia)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reading the internet is NOT reading

One of my goals in 2010 is to try to read more. I used to be a reading machine in college. I always was reading something for pleasure, even when I was balancing 19 credit hours and all the work that came along with them. But somewhere along the way, I lost that drive and I just don't read as much as I used to. I'm really envious of Heidi as she can sit down and read a book in a day whereas it can frequently take me 6 weeks to read something.

I think a lot of the blame for my relative lack of reading can be placed squarely at the foot of the internet. I'll admit that my goal to read more is partially driven by my desire to walk away slowly from the computer. It's so easy for me to get sucked into the vortex of the shiny internet, surfing from place to place to place until I've sufficiently numbed myself to whatever it is that I'm trying to avoid. And I don't want to just quit - I know that I'll never be able to do that cold turkey and I do have to keep the dust from settling on this part of the internet. But more and more, this cartoon reflects my life more than I'd like it to.


So I think a shift in my focus might be in order, one that puts less emphasis on sitting at my desk and more on other activities, and upping the number of books I read feels like a step in the right direction. So here's the deal - I'm going to read 25 books this year - that's only an average of 2 a month. 20 of those books have to be new-to-me books (i.e. not re-reads). I will keep track here per the usual with what I'm currently reading by putting it in the sidebar. But I will also up the ante here and say that I'll blog about every book I read, even if they suck. Even if it's just 2 paragraphs. By doing this, I kill two birds with one stone - I read more AND I write more. Both things cut down on the mindless surfing of the internet that seems like it's becoming more and more of a problem with me these days.

First up, as you can see from the updated sidebar is Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I figure, let's start of with something I know I'll finish. Stay tuned for more updates throughout 2010.

(Update: My blogging friend P.Viktor is joining me on my quest to read and blog about 25 books in 2010 - anyone else who wants to join is more than welcome to do so. The more the merrier! Just leave a comment if you're in.)

(photo credit)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Lonely bowling

The end of the year is such a crap time to try to read anything - travels and messed up work schedules and holidays all seem to play a role in making it difficult to sit down and read. Despite that fact and the not-so-insignificant fact that I was beta-reading Heidi's latest novel, I had been reading the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam. This book has been on my radar for a while, but for whatever reason, I had never picked it up.

Bowling Alone is a very meticulously researched tome about how Americans have lost their sense of community. It takes its title from the statistic that the number of people bowling has steadily increased over the last 20-30 years, but the number of people who participate in league bowling has dropped precipitously. Putnam expands on this example and shows how civic participation has dropped consistently and significantly, especially in the latter part of the 20th century. His argument is that without this civic involvement, people are no longer connecting with each other and what he terms as "social capital" is on the decline.

I have to admit that I did not finish this book. I was about 150 pages into it and when I went to renew it, I discovered that someone else wanted it at the library. That having been said, I don't feel like I missed much by not finishing it. I feel like I got the general gist of it in what I did read. Part of the problem with the book is that it is VERY repetitive. Although each chapter examines a different segment of community - participation in politics and religion, workplace and other "looser" social interactions as well as volunteer and charitable work, it seemed like the same message was being hammered over and over again. After a while I was very much of the mind "YES WE GET IT. People don't connect anymore."

Honestly, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Examples abound not just in my life, but I'm sure in everybody's. I look back at my parents' generation (my folks are on the leading edge of the baby boom) and the things they did when we were growing up. They belonged to a very active church fellowship. They played cards once a month with 3 other couples, and while the couples changed over the years, it wasn't until I was married with a child of my own that they really stopped. My dad was a member of the Lions Club selling light bulbs to help blind people. My mom was a member of Faculty Wives, the spousal organization of the high school where my dad worked. People stopped by - I vividly remember the pastor showing up unannounced while my dad was working outside, although in hindsight, I think it was to heckle my father into coming to church. We knew all our neighbors.

That doesn't hold true so much anymore. A couple years back, the UU Fellowship where I am a member tried to start a young-adult fellowship and while it had its moments, I'm not sure that you could safely say that it ever really got off the ground. That certainly wasn't for lack of trying, and I shoulder at least a piece of the blame for that as I really didn't go but a couple of times. Any attempt that Heidi and I have made (admittedly, not many) at setting up monthly or even quarterly type get togethers with friends often find themselves stymied by prior committments, be they work or family or whatever. Stopping by unannounced is not only perceived as the height of rudeness, but is also likely to find the people whose house you're stopping by either not at home or in the process of getting home or leaving again. And really, service organizations like Elks and Lions and Rotary are going the way of the dodo bird, a relic of days gone by.

What do I think of this? Well, I think it's sad, but it's not all that surprising.
We spend more time commuting to jobs that are farther away that require more and more of our time. We are overscheduled to the hilt with obilgations to this thing or that thing, especially those of us with children. It'd be really easy to lay the blame on our virtual lives - Facebook and Twitter may keep us in touch with far flung friends and family, but is this any replacement for face-to-face contact?

I would argue that none of those things are solely to blame. Blaming the internet is like blaming TV or XBoxes for the fact that kids don't play outside any longer - it's too simplistic. But I do think that we're missing something, not being as connected as we once were. I often say that online relationships are great and can be as fulfilling as real-world, local relationships, but you can't put someone who lives in Timbuktu, Internetland as the emergency contact on your child's school registration. And I love commenting on people's Facebook status and @replying them on Twitter as much as the next person, but for me, it's not the same as time spent in real live conversation which is something that, even as introverted as I can be, I do crave.

I don't know what the answer is, and since I didn't finish the book, I don't know what Putnam's final conclusions are either. But the book did get me thinking about social capital. I
t's caused me to be really conscious of times when I am building social capital and times that I am deliberately choosing not to. So for that, I am thankful to the book, But ultimately, although the book had an interesting premise, I wasn't terribly surprised when I found out the book had its genesis as a magazine article. It probably could have stayed that way.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Five favorite books

Heidi did this a while back, and I always meant to do it as well. Then Christmas happened and I lost track of it and I thought why not now? What she did was very simple - she picked her five favorite books. When I sat down to do it, I found out that it only seemed simple. I thought I'd give it a go anyway.

1) Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney


This is hands down my favorite book. It's not a high art. It's not great literature. It's not even particularly original, borrowing its structure liberally from Salinger's A Catcher In The Rye. But nonetheless, this book spoke to me. New York City in this book spoke to me. The unnamed narrator spoke to me, adding countless lines to my vocabulary ("there's a certain shabby nobility in failing all by yourself" is one of many.) Without this book, I would be without "men don't trust other men who don't watch the Super Bowl" which started me down the road to being really interested in the nature and definition of masculinity. Add to that it reads like a train running down the track at breakneck speed. To borrow from the book itself, it is decadence, debauchery, and drugs and how one man finds redemption from a world spinning out of control. Highly HIGHLY recommended.

2) And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts


This book literally changed my life. Randy Shilts harrowing account of the early days of the AIDS epidemic was the first thing I ever read on AIDS that really crystallized the reality of it for me. It reads like something you hope is fiction, as otherwise healthy young gay men start dropping like flies from obscure illnesses. It also chronicles the incompetence of the federal government, scientists more interested in notoriety than in curing sick people and the deafening silence of a man named Ronald Reagan. Reading this book made my walk past the Stonewall Inn in New York and through "gay New York City" in 2008 a very somber affair. I read this book every couple of years - you should too.

3) A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving



Although I haven't been able to read anything by Irving since A Son of the Circus, I knew he'd be on this list. It came down to this one and The World According To Garp, and Owen Meany won by a hair. Like all of Irving's books, it is sweeping and covers decades and is chock full of tragedy and enormous amounts of what appears to be insignificant detail. But it's also funny and amazing and I love how everything that's happened in the previous 400 pages all comes together for an ending I really didn't see coming. This really was Irving at his peak. He's become pretty much insufferable now.

4) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


I didn't think I gave a shit about mountain climbing, and the fact is, I don't. But I sure did while I was reading this book. A first hand account of an attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Everest that goes terribly wrong, this book grabs you by the shirt in the and doesn't let go. Krakauer's writing is top notch and even the technicalities of mountain climbing are become not only interesting but also important in understanding the story. It topped his Under The Banner of Heaven which I expected to like more than I did and even Into The Wild. The man was truly humbled by his experience on the mountain.

5) The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon


Heidi cited The Adventures of Kavalier & Klay in her list, and I enjoyed that book tremendously as well. But for me, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has the edge. I think that the fact that I am male and she is female made all the difference here. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is really a book about guys. It's about how they relate to each other and how women affect that. It's about unrequited love and lust and the crazy things that you can only do in your youth. I expected it to make me a bit sad for missed opportunities, but really it didn't. It sometimes tries a little too hard to be literary (a trap Kavalier & Klay avoids), but I somehow managed to forgive that. Six months after reading it, I have a hard time remembering what actually happened, but I can remember how it made me feel. And that's a sign of a good book.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Guanido nobody

My wife can't stand Barbra Streisand. But she has sparked a Babs renaissance by asking for a whole shitload of Streisand for the idea for another novel. I combed through what I have imported into iTunes, conferred with a friend of mine about what would be good for her story and in so doing, realized that Barbra Streisand's Greatest Hits was NOT imported into iTunes. I mean, seriously. How did that happen? (answer: most of the songs are on other albums already imported.)

Anyway, listening to all that trying to figure out what to send her without making her barf all over her iMac got me listening to "Don't Rain On My Parade" which serves as the end of the first act of Funny Girl. I always loved the movie version of that song - so full of bombast and drama, just like any song that finishes the first act of a show should be (see: "Defying Gravity" from Wicked.) It reminds me of a lot of things, but what "Don't Rain On My Parade" always seems to remind me of most is biochemistry.

I took biochemistry at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1992. It met at 8:30AM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Back in those days, 8:30 was the crack of dawn for me and I remember vividly saying "I will NEVER have a job that requires me to be to work at 8:30 AM" which cracks me up because by 8:30 at my current job, I've frequently put in 90 minutes of work already. I also hated biochemistry with a passion. It was all catalytic reactions and ATP and enzymes and I just didn't care about chiral sugars and guanido compounds, especially not at 8:30 in the morning.

In the fall of 1992, I was also very lonely. I had transferred to the U of I to go to pharmacy school, knew practically no one and because I felt so fish out of water, I was not the best at making friends. I did eventually meet people, but in the run up tot hat, I took a lot of solace in "Don't Rain On My Parade," especially the "I'm gonna live and live now" part. I even named one of my typewritten journals "Live and Live Now!" and yes, they are as painful to read as you might imagine. But that's being too hard on the 20 year-old me. I have to be nice to him because he is a part of the 37 year-old me.

And he's also the one that heard, thanks to biochemistry, what actually is "nobody, no nobody is gonna rain on my parade!" as "guanido nobody is gonna rain on my parade." Listen, it's at 2:47 here (but start at 2:41 - it's so damn dramatic!!)



It totally sounds like it. Of course, I didn't think that was what she was ACTUALLY singing, but it sure sounded like it.

And that, my friends, is purely and uniquely Dan. As I have said before, this is my brain. It's a lovely place to visit, but I get to live there.