Thursday, June 19, 2003

I've had occasional problems with a reactive airway since I was a small child. I don't have asthma and I haven't been formally diagnosed with any of the "reactive airway syndromes" that pop up in the medical literature. However, "reactive airway" is what my doctor calls it, and some of my friends who have seen it in action can confirm that I can launch into an impressive wheezing fit if something -- even a drop of water -- tickles my throat the wrong way. Today at lunch it was triggered by a fragment of basil chicken chili, nowhere big enough to mechanically obstruct my trachea but sufficient to make everything slam shut the minute it got just slightly down the wrong path. Since there were only about five people around in the cafeteria and I had no way of knowing whether any of them would know what to do, I managed a quick self-Heimlich over the back of a chair. Worked like a charm; add this to the list of Things That Are Good To Know. I think it scared the bejesus out of my lunch partner, but I sat down and we continued our conversation as though nothing had happened. Just one more example of "landings you can walk away from".

Returned to the lab to find my officemate talking to a campus police officer. Some idjit had managed to get into our locked lab in our absence, dump out the contents of Eric's backpack, retrieve his Palm Pilot from same, stuff the backpack with both of Eric's laptops, and run like hell. At least that's how we reconstructed the crime. Other valuables in the lab -- bicycle, stereo, lab equipment -- were untouched. We've had laptops stolen from the building before -- and a couple of times, the thief or thieves have thoughtfully backed up the data from the hard drive and left freshly burned CD copies for the bereaved owner. We don't know whether our lab was hit by the same crew, but it's surreally reassuring to know that there are polite criminals around. We're still being careful to lock all the passageways in the lab complex, though. I wish Nigel were still around to provide added security. ("Bite 'em, Nige!")

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I played my keyboard for a while tonight; for "a while", read, "the usual ten to twenty minutes before I get antsy and have to back away". Big, big sounds come out of my keyboard with very little effort on my part. I use the headphones so that I can keep the big sounds to myself.

There's been a keyboard instrument of some sort in my life for nearly 40 years now, starting when I was a second grader wheedling piano lessons out of my parents because my best friend Kathy was learning to play. I was never a stellar piano student, mostly because I could sit down and play for two hours at a stretch without actually practicing. As it happened, I'd already started writing songs at age four. My mother was furious when my cousin Patty and I tore up Mom's little notebook of my songs in order to make a pile of paper cargo for a toy train set I used to have. It didn't bother me, though, and still doesn't. I was embarrassed that Mom wrote the songs down in the first place.

Later, when I was in my teens and twenties, I took up songwriting in a most obsessive way. I took some guitar lessons towards the end of that time, with the partially realized goal of playing in a band. (True to form, and to the spirit of the early eighties garage-band lifestyle, our keyboardist was really a guitarist.) The band didn't last, and neither did my flirtation with the electric guitar, but I kept plodding away at keyboard music for a while after that.

And then I gave it up for over fifteen years.

Most of my friends don't really understand this. I didn't understand it myself until fairly recently, but I think the explanation is fairly simple. Nothing I've ever done in my life, whether I've done it well or done it poorly, whether it was work or play or both, whether or not I enjoyed it at the time, has ever caused me to be subjected to so much petty crap as the fact that I played music. There was the alleged high-school guidance counselor who booted me out of my long-anticipated senior-year registration in an electronic music class because I was a science student, goddammit, not a music student. There was my mother complaining that everything I wrote was "a protest song", whether it had lyrics or not. There was the cousin who listened to a song I wrote -- it was a play on a street name in our home town -- and then asked me if I knew how to play any songs. There was the man to whom I had the true misfortune to be attracted, who told his friends that my lyrics proved that I was dangerous to be around. (I was mystified. First, he had an even more curmudgeonly sense of humor than mine. Second, there wasn't a mutilated ex-boyfriend or an incendiary revenge fantasy in the whole verbal/musical carload. No one ever done me wrong in my songs during that time. I was too busy writing stuff like fantasies about enjoying solitary lunar orbit, and satirical lyrics poking dark fun at everyhing from the alleged ascent of man to the bizarre fame of G. Gordon Liddy.)

Given all of this, the constant yammer of music in my head got to be too much, like a daily slap across the face coupled with a pronouncement that you're never going to amount to anything. In self-defense, I took a decade and a half off to clear my head of all of the worrisome creative stuff and get more in touch with my rational, analytical side.

Y'know, I was never ready to quit my day job. But I really don't think I was that bad at music. I know I'm not bad at it now, and I spend about a hundredth of the time playing now than I did then. I've even actually learned to sing in the meantime.

I bought my current keyboard, my main axe, about three years ago; it's got a nice, full-sized touch-sensitive keyboard as well as over 1100 presets, perhaps 20 of which I actually use. To paraphrase the Doobie Brothers, it keeps me running. Every once in a while I give it a few minutes of time out of a day made busy with other things. Yes, I've finally written a angry song --just one -- about the dude who found my lyrics dangerous. It was one of those cases in which if you're going to be accused of it, you might as well do it. On the lighter side: I've even written a couple about bugs.

Someday I may record my songs and post them electronically in a public place. Or, they may just remain a secret between the headphones and me. I don't owe music to anyone, and no one owes music to me. What goes on between my own ears is my secret unless I choose to reveal it. I push the sliding volume control towards its maximum. My head expands to fill the available space. And no one outside is any the wiser.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

What do you want from life?
An Indian guru
to show you the inner light?
What do you want from life?
A meaningless love affair
with a girl that you met tonight?

It's still (sporadically) 25th college reunion theme week/month/year, and I have to admit it; I still love The Tubes. Not all of their stuff, and not all the time. But someone had to cheer me up and make me laugh after a hard day during those years before the B-52s were around. And -- c'mon, if you're my age -- admit it. Could you keep a straight face through "Don't Touch Me There?" Didn't you play air guitar to "Mondo Bondage"?

How can you tell when you're doin' alright?
Does your bank account swell
While you're dreaming at night?

Migawd, this was in 1975. And a few years later, when the band recorded "The Completion Backward Principle", they were photographed for the album sleeve in business suits, with captions like "Guitar and public relations." Can you say "prescience"?

What do you want from life?
Someone to love
And somebody you can trust?
What do you want from life?
To try and be happy
While you do the nasty things you must?

I also remember hanging out in an apartment with some friends in Los Angeles -- make this the summer of 1978 -- and watching them engage in a favorite ritual. They'd tune the TV to a random channel, turn the sound off, and put a random album on the turntable. That night, one network or another was showing a comic Western movie. The guys turned the sound off just before a classic bar-fight scene. You know the drill. Tables and chairs flying, bottles getting smashed over people's heads, actors in cowboy drag getting tossed out of everything from swinging doors to closed windows. The song playing in the background: None other but the classic anthem "White Punks On Dope".

(In that same year some other friends, on the opposite coast, named their D-league college intramural basketball team "White Popes On Dunk".)

Anyway, I still love The Tubes, and although I haven't followed them in the intervening years, I'm thrilled to find out that an incarnation of the band is still out there playing. When I programmed several cuts off a greatest-hits CD into my player this evening, I had to take off my glasses and squint at the jewel case to read the notes and find the numbers of the songs I wanted. It doesn't matter. I can't imagine a better band to ward off the bifocal blues. If Fee Waybill and Prairie Prince are still out there jammin', I can spare a little effort to keep the rock and roll alive. The song quoted here today is one of my desert-island tunes, and I can't imagine how anyone can ever top their answer to the title question: "What Do You Want From Life?"

Well, you can't have that, but if you're an American citizen you are entitled to:
a heated kidney shaped pool,
a microwave oven--don't watch the food cook,
a Dyna-Gym--I'll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home,
a kingsize Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum,
a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi,
real simulated Indian jewelry,
a Gucci shoetree,
a year's supply of antibiotics,
a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth
and Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number,
a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick,
Rosemary's baby,
a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams,
a new Matador,
a new mastodon,
a Maverick,
a Mustang,
a Montego,
a Merc Montclair,
a Mark IV,
a meteor,
a Mercedes,
an MG,
or a Malibu,
a Mort Moriarty,
a Maserati,
a Mac truck,
a Mazda,
a new Monza,
or a moped,
a Winnebago--Hell, a herd of Winnebago's we're giving 'em away,
or how about a McCulloch chainsaw,
a Las Vegas wedding,
a Mexican divorce,
a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot,
or a baby's arm holding an apple?

Lyrics (abridged on this page): Spooner/Evans
Copyright 1975 Pseudo Songs and Swiveltone Music

Monday, June 16, 2003

Bugs can be so smart ...

Rick was working in the garden this evening, and accidentally unearthed a spider guarding her egg case. When Rick accidentally startled the spider, she became agitated and dropped the egg mass, so he prodded her with a finger until she bumped into the egg mass again. She promptly picked it back up and scooted out of gardening range. Spiders can be such good moms -- almost as good as earwigs!

And so can humans ....

I'm becoming intrigued with the theology of Stanley Hauerwas, the Christian pacifist professor with a joint appointment in Duke's divinity and law schools. It's been a good thirty years or more since I've considered myself to be Christian, but I have an increasing appreciation for anyone who uses his or her religion as an ethical focus on the path away from violence. The thing about Hauerwas that's most intriguing is best expressed by his quote, used as a title of an interview with him in The Progressive: "I'm a pacifist because I'm a violent son of a bitch." In some ways he's restated, more bluntly, the self-assessment of a Unitarian Universalist peace activist writing in a recent UU World: "I don't think of myself as a pacifist; I think of myself as a violent person trying to become non-violent." It's really not much of a challenge to embrace peace and non-violence if one doesn't sometimes feel rage. Understanding one's own capacity for anger and vengeance is tremendously empowering as a first step away from the pathology. And, the more of us who step off the pathological and homicidal/suicidal vengeance treadmill, the better.

Then again, humans can be REALLY stupid ....

On today's menu: Restaurant rage. (Hmmm, I don't think anyone's ever factored this into the various pros and cons of low-carb diets....)

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Please bear with me; I'm trying to learn rudimentary HTML while updating the format of this blog. I've linked to the pages of a few friends (most of whom have already linked to this one). If I don't have a link for you and you'd like one, please let me know and I'll add it. If I've set up a link to your page and you'd like me to remove it, I'll also be glad to oblige. Also note that comments have been enabled courtesy of SquawkBox.

Now I remember why I didn't become a programmer ....