Friday, December 31, 2010

We're Just Two Old Souls Swimming In A Fish Bowl Year After Year

There's something uniquely satisfying about having the first song of the day be an extremely angry chick-power song. I don't care that I have no reason to identify with it, I choose to be empowered. I've drunk from the Kool-Aid for so many years; I might as well reap the rewards of Poe furiously condemning men's narrow conception of women's place, capabilities, and potential. Rock on, angry feminists, I'll pretend I have a real reason to be this vindictive and righteously outraged if your music meets me halfway.

So, I've been working on this blog for the last couple days, but haven't posted. Why, you ask? Does it have anything to do with a desire to put out a truly polished, well formatted and intricate posting? Sorry, wish I was that interested in your reading experience being pleasant. It has everything to do with the fact that so far this year I've written 19 posts, and that's a prime number and therefore awesome. Even numbers are to be avoided at all costs. Odd numbers are cool, but prime numbers? Shoot dang, that's the prize. But I've been pulling these nine hour (odd number!) days at work, and the stir craziness has been too much to bear--blog I must. I considered postponing the posting of said post (oooh, that was fun) until the New Year, therefore preserving my darling 19. But as soon as I had entertained that thought, I felt cheap. I knew I no longer deserved 19 posts with such cheating heart tactics as that. However, I comfort myself that this will be my 39th post ever (odd number!) and when you divide 39 by the 3 years I've kept up this blog is equals 13--not too shabby, I'm only two degrees from a prime number! That's like barely off-beach property. Quality stuff.

Shit. I just took the precaution of recounting my posts and this will only be the 38th. Epic fail. I really don't know if I can handle the reality that I've annually posted even numbers of posts. And then I couldn't even count it right. Sigh. I've already walked myself through the whole accept-your-numbered-fate; it's far too late now to rejustify my actions.

And yes, I do realize that I just gave a terrifying peek into how my brain relates things that may leave some of you scarred for entire minutes of your life. Shrug. Peoples is peoples.

Here's a serious question: Did Keith Richards and Mick Jagger get what they wanted, or what they needed? I'm almost a little terrified to find out the answer to that either way, but the query intrigues me.

So I sell my plasma for extra cash. It leads to lots of killer prostituting-myself jokes and is a great way to stretch from one paycheck to another. But my absolute favorite part of my twice-weekly visit to the plasma center is that I have a large and fervent following amongst the male phlebotomists.

I'm not delusional, I don't mistake their excitement at seeing me and quick tussle to get my chart first as the final indicator that I have Arrived as the hawtest piece on the market. I understand that this level of devotion to me has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of plasma donors are men, and the few others who are women tend to look a little more . . . how shall I put this . . . "rode hard and put away wet" than I do. But hey, supply and demand being what it is I'm willing to supply my fresh-faced smile in exchange for some of shallow fawning my ego demands.

Unfortunately, there is one aspect of the plasma donating process that ruins this illusion of hyperactive flirtation every time. The last step of screening, before the organization graciously agrees to stick a hollow needle in my arm for an hour and suck out my lifesource, is a routine battery of questions between me and one of the phlebotomists. These questions include "Have you ever had sex with a man who has had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977?" "Do you have hepatitis or have been in close contact with someone else who has hepatitis?" "Do you participate in high-risk behaviors like prostitution, recreational drugs, or needle sharing?" and, my very favorite question, because it always always includes a flickering glance at my stomach after I answer in the negative: "Have you been pregnant in the last six months?" Yeah, I dunno, maybe I'm just awfully sensitive, but being interrogated concerning your potentially criminal and wild sex life by someone you were shamelessly flirting with two minutes ago is a pretty big buzz kill. I just thought my meaningless flirting with people whose last names I don't know would be a little more . . . special.

I think I find the name Brock to be offensive to my soul. Either that or I really like it, without a tangible reason why. I can't decide--all I know is that I have a visceral response to the name Brock, and I'm beginning to doubt it can be entirely blamed on the Treetop-apple-juice-toting lactose-intolerant boy in my second grade class who everyone called Brockoli. So if I end up having a kid and naming him Brock Cobain, don't look too surprised. I may have to name a kid Brock just so that I can objectively figure out if I hate the name or not. Just sorta sucks for him if I come down on the side of hating.

I read Steve Almond's Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life last week. It was a lovely little read, except for the fact that I kept on having the thought "Wow, so I have really never had an original thought on my blog. This guy says everything I've ever touched on, and with infinitely fewer apologies or run-on sentences."  But aside from my own insecurities, the book was great. Its main focus was delineating, defending, and demarcating what it means to be a 'Drooling Fanatic' of music. Not a rock star, just the people who are obsessed with said rock stars. I certainly am firmly entrenched in that sad little hole in the world.

So, of course, while reading this book I about how Drooling Fanatics are the wannabe parasites of the music world I frequently escaped reality by envisioning what kind of rock star I would be if I somehow got in a horrible accident that shredded my vocal chords to a pleasing growl while simultaneously giving me that brush of death necessary to get over my paralyzing primness while performing.

I quickly discarded that I would be an Epic rock star, let alone of the Timeless variety. I love Janis and Joan and Freddie way too much to consider myself worthy of the pantheon. Instead, I determined that I would be a rocker like The J. Gells Band or K's Choice who talk about finding their homeroom crush in the centerfold of Playboy or how people need to get off their backs for smoking. I'd glory in the mundane, find some humor in a daily encounter, all while getting to wear all the outfit combinations Becca won't let me wear in the real world and shredding the air guitar (the idea that I could ever actually become skilled on the real guitar is even further off in dream world than me being a rock star).

Maybe after years of perfecting my observational humor lyric-writing Grandness I could hook up with a genuinely imaginative mind and we could write something in the grey outer edges of the magnificent world of songs like The Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." That, indeed, would be the peak of life achievement for any red-blooded American.

But sadly, I think if I ever went down that road I would, as has so often happened to me before, get bogged down in the minutiae. I'd try to write a song about eating in a restaurant alone and watching strangers or how people need to back off my soda addiction and would end up writing a whole stanza about the napkin that looked like a mutated platypus and the song would get away from me. The loyal fans would try to finds the deeper significance of me devoting half an album to metallurgy, but in the end would just have to conclude that I'm someone who really likes shiny things. Ah, such is the fleeting mistress we potential failures call Fame.

How much street/life cred would I lose if I admitted my discovery that Timbuktu and Kathmandu were real places in the world wasembarrassingly recent? For some reason I had some elaborately designed explanation for how those names were just nonsense words from Lewis Carroll's writings that denoted exotic locales. I don't know why I didn't take it a step further and decided Jabberwocky was really the name of a charming suburb nestled in the Swiss mountains, but my brain continues to elude even me.

Ultimate Spinach Rules.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm Not Sick But I'm Not Well

I just spent seventy minutes writing feverishly about the rise of secularist subject matter in Germanic art, and what do I feel like doing? Writing more. Cause, you know, the fun. Actually, I consider it of anthropological interest to document my state of non-mind immediately post my final final.

Warning, this post is going to be scattered with lyrics, both with or without context. Specimen one, from the immortal and underrated Harvey Danger: "A shooting star is a little piece of cosmic debris desperately wanting to fall to earth. It doesn't get too far, it's not a real star, it's hardly even worth footnotes in your memoir . . . it's just a surrogate connection, leaving you all alone." I'm just saying, that's fairly impressive wordology for guys whose big hit was "Flagpole Sitta." But they were in Seattle in the 90s, and therefore they are gods. Right? Right.

My work installed a new Big-Brother soul-crushing fun-sucking anal-retentive internet filter. The end result, other than my general misery: no Pandora for Mary. It's pretty horrific. To compensate for the lack of bass beat to accompany my always rhythmic mad 10-key skillz, I've had to dig up my massive stack of mixed cds that are cryptically worded with phrases like "Sweet n Low" and "Why Not?" It's quite the adventure, sticking in a cd with less than the slightest hint of an idea as to its theme or content.

There have been some delightful side effects to this state of affairs. For instance, I have rediscovered a) I know all the words to Savage Garden's "I Want You," and therefore b) I am just the awesomest. That was sooo worth the better half of a semester three years ago when Alyssa and I methodically mastered each verse with brief bursts of enthusiasm every time we got to say "chic-a-cherry-cola."

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't tip my hat to Mary nine-point-seven (there are many, many versions of Mary, I'm thinking I"ll need to break it into Eon, Era, and Epoch soon) for glorying in the poetic grandness of the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack. Rock these lyrics:
"It took 6 whole hours
And 5 long days
4 all your lies to come undone.
And those 3 small words
Were way 2 late
Cause you can't see that I'm the 1."
Did you see what they did there, with the numbers and the word play? Bloody Shakespeare, that's what that is.

The crazy aspect that keeps me up at night concerning how much I loved/shamefully still love things like Josie and the Pussycat is not my possibly terrible taste, but rather how it pulls into relief how trapped everybody is their immediate reality. I look back at Mary 9.7 and immediately become guilty of historian no-no numero uno: I apply my contemporary philosophies, morals, and expectations to my past self. Which means even though it was me doing all those stupid things, I still can't really tell you why it was that I was/am/will be such a mess. I'm in the best position to recall enough to sketch out a detailed outlined of my past actions, but I feel like I have no more of an upperhand in actually dissecting and predicting my own motivations than any stranger would.

It's like all the circular conversations in my International Organizations class. We discuss again and again the options for peacekeeping, sanctions, regional organizations, but when it comes right down to it we fail to come up with anything innovative or at least mildly better than this mess of an anarchic globe because we cannot fundamentally comprehend what it would be like to live in a world that was structured differently than what we got.

The occasional writer might get all Utopian on me, but I normally find that irritating. A current global political structure without the United States as unipolar power is too essential to our understanding of the underpinnings of our life for us to really "get" multilateralism or a balance of power set-up. Our parents couldn't conceive a world without the Soviets breathing down our necks, and now that we got it we don't know where the hell we're going to go next. It's like we keep on tripping into a new scenario where we pause, straighten, orient ourselves, and then promptly forget everything that had come before. This is the fragmentory, fleeting world we live in, and it's the state of my personal psyche as well.

But back to the important meaty issues. I'm pretty sure that the reason Poison is one of my top-all-charts best-studying/living/breathing/showering/make out-music ever is because it taps into my Inner Mullet. Everybody's got one of them inside--either an Inner Mullet, Inner Trailer Trash, Inner Hillbilly, they all correlate with a seriously mediocre genre of music that creates a bliss factor far beyond their own chord-progression power (I won't disclose what matches up with trailer trash and hillbilly, I don't wanna get in trouble).

But regardless of the causation, Poison is my happy place. And luckily, love-ily, it is now also irreconcilably linked in my brain with the road trip I took with my sister and her mess o' kids for the previously blogged and lauded Denver Trip Of King Tut Mind Melting Goodness. I think I'm just going to have to make Poison my life long culture-journey theme music. Which will totally discombobulate the minds of my future art history students when we go on summer trips to Europe. Ohh, I like this idea even more now. Almost as much as I like G. Love and Special Sauce. Man I should have been in my twenties in the nineties. The music was so much better, and the technology wasn't sophisticated enough to make me as paranoid as I now am. Stupid bunch of Android Cylons.

Oi!! Quick rant. I love me some Hieronymous Bosch. I really do, and it's not his fault that he's a product of his people's preconceptions and indoctrinations, but in "Garden of Earthly Delights" the Garden of Eden panel depicts the creation of Eve as being instantaneous--and in fact synonymous--with the creation of evil. Those kind of historic visual gems genuinely make me want to hurl my cookies across the room every time. It's been noted by wise people that the only type of content in films that I genuinely cannot sit through is the debasement, marginalization, and subjugation of women by men, especially when those men are supposed to be their partners, lovers, and sympathizers. I get so tense it takes me days to wind down just thinking about it.

But when I do need to wind down, this is what I listen to:

I don't wanna be a rusty suit of armor
Or a tumbledown forgotten castle in your mind
I just wanna be a twisted willow
So I can leave your shallow thinking far behind

I can feel the darkness in your shadows
And the melting of ice behind your troubled eyes
And the discoloration of all the words you're saying
As you're hunted without mercy by your lies

I've flown so high I'll never return
And I've been to the bottom of the dregs of your troubled soul
And I've basked in the sun of your revelations
But I guess you and I, we have different goals

So go and slay your dragons in blind amusement
And topple imagination with a song
At the moon, it plays little mind games
So you'll wonder where all the stars have gone

You have spoken to me about nothing
And you've shown me fantasies in a crystal ball
And you've promised me the world for my asking
Don't you know that to me it means nothing at all?

Because I know you'll leave me a burned out matchbox of forgotten roses
Inside a get-well card I had to address by myself
But that's not what I need from another stranger
So I guess I better do things without your help

Ultimate Spinach, y'all. So glad something went right in Boston in the 60s.

I know, posting lyrics is lame, emo, and lazy. So sue. I just freaking schooled finals.

I just re-read this and it's possible a little bit of my essay/paper-writing vocab snuck in there. Profuse apologies.

Twelve hours later I re-read it again, and man there are some pretty interesting spots of grammar going on there. I'll preserve them as an homage to taking school seriously (it's a first!).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Feeling Like You're Constantly on the Brink of Having a Heart Attack Has Its Perks


Quick background: My roommate Rosemary works as a reading tutor in a high school and also has a close relationship with one of the English teachers. This teacher decided today to have some fun and mock her in front of his rather large class, accusing her and our friend Joseph of having a secret passion for each other. I have a passing acquaintance with the teacher, so I decided to defend Rosemary's honor. I sent him an e-mail that reads as follows:


Master Rutter:

I am here to provide a ground-zero perspective/defense of the implied romantic entanglements of Rosemary Larkin and Joseph Moore.

But before I dive in, I can't allow your abuse of power to pass without a stern reprimand.

Presenting your version of the Rosemary-Joseph love affair to your students, in an environment where you as instructor wield significant credibility, is an argument style that is beneath your persuasive abilities. Also, the inclusion of teenagers in any accusation of affection is tantamount to whipping up a mob against evolutionary biologists at a Wednesday prayer meeting in the South. Even before this Twilight Generation, teens have had a long history of being constantly on the brink of hysteria, and they certainly don't need your muckraking to push them over the edge. Think of those poor, excitable kids, Rutter, and restrain your need to be validated in your wrongthinking.

And now to the meat of the issue: Joseph and Rosemary. Watching TV. K-I-S-S-I----No. Absolutely not. I've known Joseph since we were married in the fourth grade play, and I've alternately loathed from afar and lived with Rosemary since we were twelve. From that unique position of expertise, I can say--without a shred of doubt or wishful thinking--that Rosemary and Joseph have as much of a chance of getting together as I have a shot at the Heisman. This is not something to mourn over. My heart isn't broken over the lack of another shiny paperweight, and I can assure you that neither Rosemary or Joseph are nursing any melancholy wishes for "what-might-have-been."

How dare I speak with such authority concerning other people's inner feelings? Observation has provided me with enough information to consider my findings conclusive. After 15 months of witnessing the movie nights, soda runs, early morning rides to work and break-up talks, I can declare without any outlying data that Rosemay and Joseph have the combined chemistry and sexual tension of a mis-matched pair of oven mitts. The kind of oven mitts where one was crocheted for you by your senile great-aunt and is slowly devolving into a singed mass of unravelling yarn and the other is large, serviceable, but with shiny yellowed stains of questionable origin that make you relieved to take them off as soon as the tray has been removed from the oven.

Kindly take this into account before you choose to take another flight into the charming but unsubstantiated realm of Blind Man's Bluff Matchmaking. And don't beat yourself up too much over your mistake--it isn't entirely your fault. You simply must remember that you are severely handicapped as a Happily Married Man. Married Persons suffer from dating amnesia, meaning when they look at two people of a legal age they can't remember why that isn't enough to equal a couple. Also, as a Happily Married Man, you've had your best friend as a spouse for so long that you no longer recall that while you may have both in one person, correlation does not indicate causation.

Enjoy your day,

Mary Shurtz

I know. I'm hilarious. Really, I take my own breath away. He responded very quickly, and while the response was funny, it couldn't touch this masterpiece.

So, the moral of the story is: when your brain is being pulled in twelve directions at once, that is when you have the most potential to be the most creatively dynamic you've ever been. Yayyy masochism as a lifestyle.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Make the Best of It, I'm An Extraordinary Machine

My brain is a mystifying object. It's like it has the microscopic/telescopic quality of a van Eyck. I just typed that am already deeply ashamed that I've become that art history person. I wish I could make it up to you. But instead I'm going to continue with the simile, because it's a fairly apt analogy. Judge away. In van Eyck's paintings every piece of the painting, whether far away or right at the front of the scene, is executed in excruciatingly minute detail, without any haziness or blurred lines to indicate distance.

I can remember with equal clarity the piece I read in the news yesterday about the Mossad pulling crazy Bond/Bourne stunts to assassinate Iranian nuclear physicists and my lines from our fourth grade production "Of Mice and Mozart." The minutiae of daily life don't really get sifted out of my brain. Ever. I can typically recall first conversations with new acquaintances, kids from my second grade class, and what outfits other people wore six months ago with such a stunning level of recall that the inevitable consequence is that I frequently come off as the creepiest mass stalker on the planet. This grieves me at times. More people just need to believe that in my brain it isn't a signal of obsession that I remember the clogging performance my friend's little sibling's friend is having if I'm in the room to hear about it. I'm not saying that you shouldn't typically find such behavior to be red flags: there are real creepers out there, and they act just like me. I'm just the exception that proves the rule.

But my creeperesque mannerisms are actually a demonstration of how singularly inept my brain is at releasing it's deathgrip on pretty much any shred of "knowledge" that floats within its vicinity. It gets so bad that sometimes I play dumb, pretend I don't remember huge tracts of information just to avoid the wary gleam in the other person's eye, like an alert gazelle that is beginning to suspect that that waterhole might not be so refreshing after all.

Fret not; this is not an aimless ode to my brain, or even an extremely circular route to complimenting myself. I was merely providing the background information that is necessary to understand my complaint about my brain's fatal flaw. So, to summarize so far: Mary's brain is tenacious to detail, but not creepy. This does not mean one shouldn't be vigilant against mouth-breathing uncomfortable-level-of-eye-contact skulking types as a rule; in fact please do, just cross Mary off your list as an anomaly. And now for the fatal flaw:

I can't prove anything, mostly because I don't care enough for science to try, but I'm pretty sure there's something sinister about the barometric pressure in winter which inhibits certain synapses to fire at all, leading me to lose all memory of what it is to step outside and be warm. It happens quickly, this mental block, usually within moments of the first truly cold walk to the bus stop. But even now in my almost temperate basement office, I couldn't tell you what it feels like to step outside and not ready myself for breath-stealing braced-back cold.

I don't mind the cold in of itself, I'm even considering getting my masters in Milwaukee, a city to which no one I have shared my plan with has anything of interest to say except "Milwaukee--it's a cold place." Thanks, guys, for the razor-sharp insight with its limits-pushing subtext.

No, I really don't mind cold. But I do object to brain damage. And this complete loss of a basic sensation I have a solid six months of every year feels like deliberate and malicious damage on my brain. I guess I could try and re-read my blog post about when the AC broke, but I resent that necessity to read my own pale, amateurish attempts to describe something as basic as being meltingly hot. I live in the desert, for the love of DDP.

I think Utah Valley girls watched way too much Anne of Green Gables growing up. Only individuals with that particular kind of handicap would think the sloppy ponytail/bun-ish thing on the very top of the head was remotely attractive/aesthetically appealing. You, my dears, have been exposed to one too many pompadours in your day. Next thing you know you'll all be sporting puffed sleeves so large you can't walk through the door. I have luckily escaped these fads. In exchange, though, I have huge hangups because my inner psyche is waiting for a Canadian farmboy with brains, ambitions, and infinite patience for crazy girls. Yes, Mom and Dad, this is the most recent theory for why you're going to have a cat lady for a daughter.

This blog is happening because I would rather insert tiny razor-sharp pieces of glass into my fingernails than re-read, edit, and finalize my art history paper that I spit out in rough form Sunday. I'm truly terrified to read what it says--I dosed myself with chocolate at around 11:30 Sunday night so that my hypoglycemic self would crash into a sugar coma and I could actually sleep. The flaw in this sly, ever so crafty plan? I still had a page and a half to write. Which I did write. But I have no memory of it.

You see my conundrum. Ah, well, might as well face my psychosis head on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Ode


I've only been on the right road to being a Person for approximately three years and five months.

I've been a lot of things in my still-short existence. Many of them have been contradictory; the punk ballroom dancer, the overachieving malcontent, the socially incapable aspiring actress, the khaki-wearing rebel, the physically violent shy girl that ducked behind her feminist maxims. But something that was constant in all these interpretations and perspectives was my fundamental discomfort with the all-encompassing truth that is me.

As I flipped around like a beached whale from one definition of self to another, the running commentary in the back of my head was always heavily laced with panic, anxiety that someone would point out a piece of me that didn't fit my newest reinvention and this whole Jenga game of let's-pretend would come crashing down. I speak flippantly about it now, but it truly was a crippling kind of mindset, a fundamental discomfort with myself and my own thoughts, tastes, interests, background.

June, 2007: one of my brother's best friends from high school calls me up. This isn't that peculiar, he had been in the habit of doing that from time to time since he got back from his mission. Back when we were both in high school--he the wise and benevolent senior and I the freshman in the throes of yet another identity crisis--this guy was the epitome of Cool. In the time since, very little had changed in my perception of him. The guy was so Cool he even occasionally kept in touch with his friend's little sis who, I'll admit, hero worshipped him more than a skosh. But we had once in the good ol' days bonded over a pomegranate, and this guy wasn't one to disrespect the memory of ritualistic dining on mythical fruit. That would be Un Cool.

So he remembered to keep in touch, this time with an invite to run up to Salt Lake City for dinner and a movie. I needed a friend even more than usual, and a hangout with the essence of Cool was just what the doctor ordered. We had the normal warm but mildly stilted greeting, got in his car and headed off. He tossed me a huge binder of CDs and informed me I was in charge of music for the trip.

This was terrifying. Someone as insecure as I was knew all too well how quickly you could step wrong with a poor music choice. I thumbed through the selection with almost reverent care, occasionally using a finger to mark a possibility, refusing to commit until I knew I had picked something completely acceptable and perhaps even inspired. In short time all of my spare fingers were occupied with marking places. I was beginning to have another panic attack--his music was so varied and so so Cool, I didn't know how I was going to pass this imaginary test.

Thankfully I was near the back of the binder now, wiggling my thumb in a painful sideways movement in order to turn the plastic pages without losing any of my precious potential selections. I turned to the last page and stared at what I saw. He owned *NSync's original album and "No Strings Attached." I was so at a loss for an appropriate reaction, I promptly fumbled the binder and lost all the places I'd been saving.

Some background: all through sixth and even bleeding into early seventh grade I had loved *NSync. JC Chasez had been my one true love. My mother not letting me go to their concert in sixth grade had broken my heart and lead to weeks of door slamming and a point-blank refusal to eat her lasagna. But then I had discovered Kurt Cobain: without a moment's pause or guilt I trapped any tender, positive feeling I had for that adorable boy band in an airless compartment, threw away the key, and never looked back. I denied them many more times than thrice in the subsequent years, completely willing to risk my soul as long as no one knew I ever had such a Shameful Secret. And here I was, with the Coolest guy I knew, being confronted with the worst kind of transgression he could commit--publicly displaying something so very, very not cool. Didn't he realize people could now "out" him? How could he be so careless?

I was inwardly appalled for him, but to the naked eye, my reaction wasn't of that nature. As only the truly insecure can, I pulled a 180 and turned on him my most venomous voice of judgment. I used all my most derisive vocabulary as I mercilessly monologued about his taste in music. How quickly the rabidly self-loathing turn on their heroes.

But then the most surprising thing happened, marking the turning point in my odyssey toward Personhood. As I drew breath for another spouting wordfest of malice, the victim's inherent Coolness showed his real stripes once again. Without bothering to take his eyes off the road he just casually shrugged. "It was early high school. It was fun. Why wouldn't I want to keep that around, for those times when I'm reminiscing? Those were good times; I don't have a problem with it."

I was stopped in my tracks. And I was so, so mortified by how I had reacted. Once again, I was far from Cool. I wanted to sink right through the upholstery, I wanted to hide in that space under the seat where tic-tacs and sunglasses go and never return. Since that wasn't an immediate possibility, at least not until we hit another stop light, I instead focused on what was in my hands. I studied the album art of those two nefarious CDs, and thought about how often Ashley Beutler and I used to watch their music videos, learning all the dance moves and fighting over who was cuter, JC or Justin. I couldn't believe how completely I had buried those memories. I tentatively inched the original album halfway out of its sleeve with my fingernail and looked beseechingly at the driver.

Mr. Cool, who of course was completely oblivious to the existential crisis that was occurring two short feet away, smiled and agreeably nodded in consent. Lickety-split in went the CD before I could change my mind for the both of us. "Tearin' Up My Heart" blasted enthusiastically from the speakers. It was too infectious for words. I started my incredibly suave seat-dancing, coming in spot on for every vocal cue, breaking off for the harmonies. Quicker than I could have imagined I realized that the album was over and we were in Salt Lake. My enabler had endured the entire cathartic exercise with remarkably good grace, and after the movie and restaurant even gave in to my pleas that we continue on to "No Strings Attached."

Luke N Lewis brings up that trip from time to time with a good-natured moan at my instance to car-dance to two full albums of *NSync, having no clue of how huge of a day that was for me. Through his own example, he gave me the room and permission I needed to settle into my own skin with a greater degree of comfort than I had felt since elementary school. And it only could have been Luke. There wasn't anybody that could have played surrogate in that experience, no amount of persuasive speak could have talked me around to beginning to like all past and present versions of me. Luke was the one who had to be there, because he was the only person I admired, respected, and blatantly aspired to be like on such a monumental level.

And that sentiment shouldn't be placed in the past tense--I don't know if many of you have had the opportunity to become best friends with your hero, but from that night onward it's been the best aspect of my life. I don't think scientific instruments exist that could measure the magnitude that Luke's willingness to be my Person for these last three and a half years has shaped, influenced, and liberated me. I wish I could think that I had the capability to give as much back to Luke, but I'm afraid this friendship has been a tad uneven--I've been reaping the greatest rewards because I was the one who needed the most help, and Luke in his benevolence was always more than ready to be the rock, the reassurance, the fun mind-expanding influence.

And now this freakin gem is getting ready to marry a girl that is totally worth every bit of him, and I wanted to get a jump-start on the teary tributes to all that is Luke. Love you. Let's eat pomegranates again soon.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fine, Fresh, Fierce, We Got It On Lock

We're going to spend the majority of our time talking about this fabulous individual. But first things first, I gotta get this nerdiness out before I explode:

Northern European Renaissance art is SO COOL! Of course I remain in awe of the monumental feats of the Italian Renaissance; the grandiose scale of their accomplishments is unparalleled. And technically speaking, the Italians were much more advanced as far as the mathematics they uncovered for accurate perspective and anatomy. Which is why the contrast of what was going on Up North is so appealing to me. Each artist was a lot more out on their own, feeling their way towards a style they liked, no real over-arcing purpose or message present in their works. It's just all so . . . idiosyncratic. Yes, that's exactly the word I'm looking for. The artist's whims or predilections had so much more room to exhibit themselves in the Burgundian north. See here a detail from Geertgen tot Sint Jans's Nativity:

Just look at the angel in the bottom right corner! Isn't he just the most joyous, overwhelmingly rapturous little guy you ever did see? Especially in comparison to the angels around him, who are so static, so flat, so unmoved by the Christ child's birth. The norm of Northern figures leans much more toward those more complacent figures, but I adore that tot Sint Jans snuck this little dude in there. I was completely distracted during the lecture on this piece, absorbed with the idea of what went through his mind when painting these disparate figures. And then there's my slightly stranger reaction to this detail of Geertgen's The Burning of St John the Baptist's Bones (how could you not love that title!)

Note the guy in brown on the far right, his gaze going off into space. I'm weirdly into to this guy. Ya, I know, sort of a creepy overshare. But this guy and Michelangelo in Raphael's School of Athens? I find them attractive. I can't help it. Maybe in this image it's his nose, I've always had a strange thing for the larger-nosed men--Michael Vartan, James McAvoy, Adrian Brody, Jason Schwartzman, all dreamy. I understand that as an art-historian-in-training I should keep more distance and objectivity with my subject, but my first reaction to this piece was not to examine any of the details that would get me an A on a paper. Instead, I zone in on that guy and say "Dang. Oddly attractive." I'm not going to seek professional help yet, I figure I can keep it under control if it stays at this level.
 
But nevermind my weird crushes on oil-on-wood characters, back to what makes Renaissance art cool. Item numero three: grisaille, or the art of painting a scene so that it looks like stone. This is Throne of Grace from the outside panel of the Flemalle Altarpiece by Robert Campin. And it is so, so incredibly awe-inspiring. Sculpture is possibly my very favorite medium of art, but by its very nature there is significantly less of it, and what does survive the centuries rarely is in primo condition. Which is why images like this sorta help fill the void. Sluter basically left behind only one enormous well and an intricate tomb, so it's nice to see his contemporaries emulate his style in their paintings. And just when you were about to pass out from the dry scholarly torture-talk, let's refocus again on my favorite gal-pal-in-waiting:
     Katy Perry. Is. The. Bomb-diggity. I, Mary Shurtz, professed rocker-grrrl extraordinaire, have a girl-crush on pop goddess Katy Perry. I know this is inherently problematic. And to start out, I have to say that I owe my devotion to KP completely to my roommate, Cassie. Cassie and Katy have a lot in common, at least in my head. They have an eager, unapologetic love for life, color, and choosing to giggle at all that is ridiculous in life instead of rolling their eyes condescendingly.

Katy is a bit more of an exhibitionist than Cassie is, but that appeals to my own favorite things. And despite the fact that Katy's hits deal with layered subject matter such as regional archetypes, adolescent fantasies and superficial displays of various sexual orientations, she delivers each song with such exuberance and inherent humor that I find I don't mind when I spend a whole day humming about my futuristic lover's cosmic kiss. Ya. Right there, this is why I adore her.  I know some of you now are feeling like I would deserve to have my band posters and rocker-queen status stripped from me right this second, but I must protest with two points: One, what is more rock-n-roll than making the excesses of life a point of celebration and satire all at once? And two, I have no moral issue with biting and kicking to keep my Ramones poster where it belongs. Street rules only.     

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go commune with Katy about how "It's Not Like the Movies."




Friday, October 22, 2010

I'll Be With You When The Stars Start Fallin'

I'm at a heart-rending crossroads, torn between two dreams. I'm entrenched in my indecision, uncertain of which goal I should pursue, desperately crying to the gods to show me my future, to reveal which path will lead to the greatest contentment. Let me break it down for you; show you how impossible the decision to chase one ideal over the other is:

Situation 1: I'm being interviewed by the History Channel as the leading expert in the (fill in the blank liberal arts area) field of study.  They have me seated in front of a minimalist dark background which flatters my tweed jacket piped with red that I wear over a band t-shirt and accent with silver jewelry that, on closer inspection, is comprised of a complex labyrinth of interlocking skulls. Eccentric and unconventional? Yes, but no one at my (fill in respected university, preferably one within driving range of a lighthouse) cares in the slightest, I'm too passionate and brilliant a scholar and teacher to have them be bothered with standards and practices. And the History Channel people just adore it; it's so much more interesting than their usual somewhat dour and owlish guest experts. I'm poised, confident, funny, and engaging, and I get asked back again and again on related projects. Eventually, they find the funding for a complete series around my sizeable collection of published scholarly articles, which conveniently address subjects all over the world, necessitating that I travel to all said places to get shots of me walking in various ruins while discussing opposing interpretations of such and such. In combat boots, fishnets, and the everpresent tweed.

Situation 2: I get to be one of the partial-face black-and-white split-second-shot people in those crazy-ass Levi commercials, the one with old scratchy recordings of stuff like "O Pioneers." Think about it. It'd be epic.

So, you see my conundrum. They sure sound equally rewarding to me. Both have their drawbacks--on one hand, I don't think I'd be really primed for being able to support myself after the commercial (I'd be far too drunk on fame), but on the other hand, what if I get hot in all that tweed? Sigh. This period of my life is just too fraught with the tough decisions.

I've been closely following the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, both to indulge my nerdiness, distract me from work, and for my Middle East class, and I swear, if they just had more people who looked like Omar Sharif in either leadership I think the possibility of gaining sympathy from the global community and really getting things done would increase one hundred fold. Just two minutes of looking into that man's soulful brown eyes and I'd be ready to sign over the Golan Heights and throw in my addiction to Diet Dr Pepper just to demonstrate how much I want him to stick around. Those eyes are the designer hot chocolate that keeps me from freezing straight through when I watch Doctor Zhivago.

I should be doing homework right now. Any moment that I'm not actively committing to memory verbs, rock types, regimes, or theories of global structure, I fall behind. But I knew my public needed me, so this continuing homage to moi is really all for you.

A brief explanation for why I choose bravado over self-deprecation as my mainstay humor style: I feel that false modesty already pervades our culture to an alarming degree, to the point the self-deprecating humor normally falls flat due to people believing that a) you are actually fishing for compliments, or b) you actually believe that you are that terrible at everything. Neither of these options is at all desirable. I find option b particularly troubling, because I consider this society-wide emphasis on never admitting to your genuine strengths and talents to be toxic to one's notion of self-worth. Once you fall into the pattern of brushing aside praise or focusing only on areas in which you stumble, it can become a boa-constrictor like creature that squeezes all potential or ambition out of you.

So, as a general statement on the world and because I think it's funnier to constantly consider myself the cat's meow, I pick bravado every time. Which I know disconcerts any new acquaintance, but I figure the worst that can happen is that a) the occasional casual introduction goes badly, but I can always make up for that in overtime,  b) I fall flat on my face every once in a while, which isn't necessarily at all bad because physical comedy is also underutilized ever since Jack Lemmon went out of style, or c) I could actually convince myself and others that I'm fairly fabulously awesome. Things could be worse.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'll Sprechen Your Deutschland

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could pull an Inception-style hijack on the world’s brain and dictate which words get to be used to describe us? I think if I had that power—or more accurately, when I have that power, mwahahaha—the adjective that hopefully isn't entirely out of my reach to achieve on my own that I wish to be used to describe me is "electric.”  In fact, if I had my way nearly as often as I ought, I think electric is the one word that would be absolutely synonymous with the conception of me.

Yes, the choice of that word may have more than a little to do with my obsessive attachment to Oasis’s song “She’s Electric.” On top of that positive association is the slightly more bizarre childhood love I still have for the way John Travolta exclaims “it’s electrifyin!” in the high-brow favorite “You’re the One That I Want.” And yes, Joe, this whole section of this post was inspired by you drawing a flattering connection between me and MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” Way to be.

But aside from my permanently fabulous music and friend taste, I want that word to equal me because I think it encompasses so very many things that I consider valuable in a person: vitality, excitement, stimulation, bombastability, dynamicism (just made that word up), galvanization, a general idea that lying flat and letting life go by just isn’t an option for an electric person, and that anyone in contact with said person would be either shocked or energized by their presence.

So, there it is, the goal: not just to team up with Leo and take over people’s minds while having his babies, but to keep on gaining static stores from the daily friction I encounter in classes, work, and the five minutes of ‘life’ I get every day until I can be an absolutely electric personality. I may be a little weak on the physics of that analogy, but I think I have enough of a working understanding of people to implement it.

And now, for the main attraction, the best example I have of what kind of experiences I think really juice up the wires on the road to a truly electrifying presence/mind/soul: Seeing beautiful, wondrous, and life-changing art.



That’s right, I just said that my visit to Denver’s King Tut exhibit was positively life changing, and no, I don’t think that that hyperbole is too grandiose for the event--in fact I would argue that it isn’t a hyperbole at all.

I have, in the past, future, and present, waxed pretentious about art. This is not news. But I have reserved the right in the midst of my massive superiority complex to loath people who try to be more/differently pretentious than me. For instance, I have always have a twitchy semi-Tourette's reaction to those who pompously declare that you “simply must see it in person, dahling, or else you just couldn’t understand what the piece really is.”

This bothers me because it often is in conjunction with a long braggish description of a recent trip to Europe from people who don’t really know how to tell stories. Also, I believe my intellect and capacity of understanding can fathom a painting even if I wasn’t in that little nook of Eastern Europe. And I still stand by that. But now I’m amending my previous position just a leetle bit: because when it comes to ancient Egyptian art, you sorta really have to see it in person! Go ahead and hate me for that reversal and lack of integrity of approach.

Or maybe it was just me that had to see it in person to get completely swept away in what they were able to accomplish. In all my art history classes I enjoy the Egyptian section, but inevitably find myself comparing their works to the Greeks, and since Greece is later in time and in fact builds on what the Egyptians were doing, Greek art is undoubtedly more advanced in realizing the human form in a naturalistic setting. So, in short, Egyptians=cool, Greeks=Egyptians plus extra strength awesomeness.

And then there I was, staring up at a fifteen-foot bust of Akhenaton, completely enthralled with the stylized shaping of his ear for a good twenty minutes. I couldn’t get over it, I couldn’t contain or express the awe I felt for all that had been done four thousand years ago. The muscle and tears and sheer inspiration these people used to grind and coax and compel unyielding rock into holding a piece of their culture, their souls, their sheer stubborn insistence that people remember that they were there, not just doomed to fade away into the sand.

I'm sure I was a sight to see at the museum, a little girl of indeterminate age with my pigtails and combat books making me looking like a combat-ready Rebecca of Fort-Sumter Farm, dashing about from statue to stoneware, a look of part glee/part incomprehension/part geek-out of unchartable proportions on my face.

In fact, as I scurried from the bust of Hepshetsut to a tiny but lovingly formed statuette of Imhotep a security guard stopped me in my tracks and asked "What is it?" I was confused and just stared at him. He elaborated: "What is it that you're reacting to right now? Which piece?" I was the least articulate person on the planet in that moment. I finally spit out a befuddled "Wah--wel---Everything!!" and got back to what I wanted to be doing, which for once didn't have anything to do with the people immediately around me.

There were many quiet moments, usually as I looked at the smaller pieces of statuary and the inlaid jewelry, that tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn't tell you exactly their source, there seemed to be a lot of confusion in my brain, but I know at least part of it was an overwhelming feeling of kinship and love with these people who cared for beautiful things in a way I am still aspiring to.

One thing is for sure: as I walked out of that gorgeous museum, I was positively crackling with electricity.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Don't Want Some Pretty Face To Tell Me Pretty Lies


I've been thinking about all of the impressions I give, and how much thought and worry I put into them.

Not just first impressions, although it has been fun to watch the new roommate's face as she tries to navigate the murky waters of my past personalities only to discover the contradictory facade that is today's partially actualized M. R. Shurtz, or her soon to be anagrammed pen name, Tzar Hurt-My-Rush.

No, I have been thinking about my daily exchanges, and the great lengths I go to in order to have a stranglehold control on how I present myself to oldest friends and newest acquaintances alike.

The fact that I've been ruminating on this won't surprise any of you. I've made a joyous career out of applying my obsessively analytical brain to the study of other's reactions to their environment, and to my presence in their habitat especially. The fact that my favorite movie in high school (and a recently revisited obsession) was "SLC Punk!"--a manifesto on the culture of the outsider and its effects on society--is also not an accident.

So why even address it anymore? The subject should be worn out by now, there's only so many ways I can make neon signs that say "Don't pigeon-hole me, you close-minded automaton!"  And you're right, that bitter diatribe is tired at best and meaningless at worst. Instead, what I've been focusing on is the somewhat more subtle and definitely more willing changes I make in order to soften/accentuate the impressions I make on my peers, families, and peoples with authority.

I, despite my clinging to my band t-shirts, am exceptionally adept at this type of self-reinterpretation/censor. An example that comes to mind is when I compiled a calendar of my favorite poems as a Christmas present for my parents. I know, I'm adorable. And broke, but whatever. A conscious decision I had to make while putting together that selection of poetry was eliminating roughly 74% of my favorites and replacing them with what I considered to be lesser cousins to the greats.

Why, you ask? Because the subject matter of most of my favorite poems is of a fairly dark, melancholy nature. And I knew that not only were my parents not of a temperament that would enjoy those poems, but more significantly, if I included even a handful of verse that was written from a negative perspective, my parents would attribute those themes to my mental state and would worry/fret/bother me with frequent visits to snap me out of it.

Let me emphasize, those are not my favorite poems because I am perpetually in a deep dank dark dungeon of depression. They're my favorite poems because they are well-written monuments to some of humanity's strongest emotions. I believe that the greatest amount of trash and genius has been written about love and despair because those two themes are what pierce us to the soul, and drive individuals to find an outward way to express it. This applies to poetry, music, art, film, sky diving, any medium of self-expression.

In relation to this, I also censor myself on an almost daily basis. When I'm too lazy to think of a witty comment for facebook, I generally choose a song lyric fragment and post that. Some are meaningful; some are arbitrary, all from music I love. I have almost never allowed myself to post lyrics from my very favorite songs, for fear of misinterpretation or a bad impression.

Some of them are very angry, most of them are incredibly romantic, and none of them are about situations I am currently in. But I'm not a creature who really needs music lyrics to speak to me in the humdrum, literal narrative sort of way. If all my song lyrics were a play-by-play of my daily emotions and events, it would be the flattest, most non-committal changeless bunch of hooey you ever did see.

Songs become my favorite because an artist or lyricist's message was so sharply in focus to them that it reaches out and grabs me. I wish I was less afraid to share those moments, but I have this self-imposed paranoia of leaving the impression that I'm 'emotional.'

How ridiculous is that? Of course I'm emotional. I'm part of the human race, we have souls and communication and history progresses because we have more than the basic animal instincts to feed and procreate.

Well, most of us do.

So why on earth should this be something I shy away from so resolutely? Couldn't really tell you. It'd be easy to blame it on our post-modern 21st century cynicism, where no display of feeling is real or without cliche unless $50 million is spent on post production. But I sometimes sit in fearful contemplation that my abhorrence of personal display has a lot to do with a very singular disconnect that I have within.

On an unrelated note, school is incredible. It's also facing me off like a prize-winning sumo wrestler, testing to see if it can smother me and remain the undefeated champion. But I've carbed up and am ready to roll with it. Ewww, roll with it. Bad choice of words for this piece of imagery.

I will be victorious.

Also, I guarantee my next post will be frivolous fluff in an effort to slyly distract you from this post.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You Just Put Your Lips Together And... Blow.



My parents have ruined my ability to be a normal woman who is satisfied with her position in life.

Bless their dear little hearts, they really didn't mean anything by it, but the fact remains that I am going to blame them and only them. And no, I don't think my own neurosis should be taken into account in this manner. I believe nurture champions nature every time when blame needs to be assigned.

And like most things related to my family, the parental unit didn't see conventional tactics as an interesting enough way to mess up my brain. I got plenty of hugs as a child (and a few of spankings, but I'm pretty sure I was a really bratty kid). No, instead my parents chose to go a different, more subtle way.

My parents destroyed my chances at contentment by indoctrinating me with classic films.

I know, it's a rough existence, being raised in a home that strives for a level of culture and understanding of all art mediums. It's even worse when it's accompanied by a desire to keep the children in their home from being exposed to the crudity of modern entertainment at too young an age. I'm so oppressed.

But I will say unequivocally that saturating me at such an early age with the archetypes of the winsome ingenue and the mysterious femme fatale has permanently stunted my level of personal satisfaction. Essentially, classic Hollywood set up the most unachievable paradigm of womanhood possible for a gal like me.

I would kill to be mysterious. I would sacrifice half of my caffeine consumption to be ethereal and aloof. I'd give myself a papercut in the eye every day if it meant that I could carry around with me an aura of mystery, allure, and a hint of troubles past. Lauren Bacall could totally pull off the accompanying eye twitch of a perpetual eye paper cut and make it look incredible.

But I could never be any of these things. I like hugs. And sticking three gumballs in my mouth to see how big of a bubble I can get. When the occasion calls for it, I've been known to giggle. It's true that I've dealt with what sometimes feels like more than my share of early adulthood troubles; but much to my consternation, I keep on bouncing back and trying to make the best of it.

I truly wish I could look world-weary before my time. Instead, people walking their dogs when I'm on the way to my bus stop ask me if Provo High has already started up for the fall. I yearn to have a laugh laced with bitterness, to be the lovely heroine who is racked with troubles but confides in no one. I confide in everyone. I love the sharing, the storytelling, the insights in my youth that might explain why I am who I am.

I'm an oversharer, I couldn't be enigmatic if I tried. I'm quirky, I'll give myself that, but I'm not even aloofly quirky. One of my quirks is that I love to cross examine and explain the mind process and physical manifestations of my quirkiness (ref: this blog).

I'm not even sufficiently vulnerable. I'm small, which is a plus, but I'm also sturdy. With a tendancy to laugh when I get hurt. And a certain air of 21st-century-woman competence. Damn feminism. And no man is ever going to sweep me up in the classic neck-cracking kiss, because they'd have to bend over too far to reach me at that point and it would just create a very awkward silhouette.

My existence obviously isn't that horrible, but let it be known (since I can't seem to keep myself from sharing) that I will always and forever feel like my life in it's totality was a little bit flatter, a shade less shiny, because I was never the woman who's large-brimmed-hat-profile in the deeply shadowed restaurant made anybody go "Who is that woman?" I'll never be described as intoxicating, glamorous, dangerous, or unknowable. And that makes me a tiny bit sad.

Just not sad enough to be awesome.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From What I've Tasted Of Desire

This specific post is for posterity. I feel like my roommates and I have gone through something traumatic: and even though it is now blessedly only a bad memory bordering on the edges of a hazy sun flare-filled dream, the journey should be documented. Those few harrowing days took a lot out of everyone involved--even casual visitors to the scene were impacted; they'll remember how dreadful it was almost as long as the poor persecuted residences of the house will. Let the week of July 19th go down in infamy as the Time Our AC Broke.

Don't you dare laugh, even though that entire paragraph was set up to induce a chuckle. It was terrible. If there was an instrumental expression of the kind of oppressive, gummy, muculent atmosphere we were trying to swim through, it would be layers of thrumming didgeridoos, sending out walls of white noise in waves that simulate our own deadened world of endless malicious heat. Overlaying that would be a group of discordant basses getting sawed to bits by their players, much like our minds were rapidly being shredded by the fiery gasps of air we desperately tried to eek out of our infernal atmosphere.

It was bad enough that we tried to eat, talk, move, and entertain in our stifling surroundings, but sleeping was just out of the question. I did everything short of actually dismembering myself to insure that my limbs wouldn't accidentally touch any other part of my body and through that contact be the last bit of friction between me and spontaneous combustion. Not that the conflagration of my fevered extremities would be spontaneous--it was almost inevitable.

You'll notice that in my efforts to capture this atmosphere, not once do I use the word "sultry." This is because any positive connotations present in that word have no place in the airless, bleached-out world that was our house. Sultry is a word you use to describe eating seafood outside while swatting away a cloud of mosquitoes, Peggy Lee's "Fever," or the crowded amphitheater of an outdoor summer rock concert when everyone's enthusiasm for the music makes the press of bodies and slick bare skin only a supplement to the experience.

All of these enticing, amiable nuances were banished from our ravished perception of the world until Jose the AC guy came on Friday and brought back to our scrambled minds the words draft, cognition, moderation, breeze, and animation.

God bless speedy repair service and controlled climates.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Could Blow Through The Ceiling If I Just Turn And Run

The answer stands in the ink. No, really, the ink explains it all. I've been feeling ridiculously uninteresting the past couple weeks--all beige and washed out and socially camoflagued, but no longer. This morning my investigative skills, keen intellect and burning curiosity (all courtesy of many hours devoted to Indiana Jones) have paid off.

The facts are these: at work when my last pen met its demise--ran out of ink or disappeared into that damn crack in my desk, I can't remember which now--I was in a rush to complete my task and just grabbed the closest one to my desk, a standard blue Bic pen.

This is the root of my drab month. Not only did I continue to use this pen, I used it until it ran out of ink. This is the danger of accepting mediocrity, even for an hour of wire logging: once you temporarily compromise yourself to blandness, you lose the will to assert yourself again (ref. the last two years of my high school career).

I am not a blue Bic pen gal. I'm not much for blue ink ever; I prefer black and red with the occasional green to mix things up. But if it's blue, it had better be smeary and inky and automatically make my messy boy handwriting look more interesting by bleeding everything together into pleasing Rorschach designs. To accept less is to lose the spark, to drop the torch of proclaimed personality in favor of the sputtering penlight of whatever-is-in-front of me. Let that be an inspiration for everyone reading: with enough dedication, neurosis, and sleep deprivation, you too can discover the meaning of life, the universe, and everything by a pen choice. You're so lucky.

Through a couple of mild and honest dissings on my lack of comprehensive knowledge of current bands and the frequent blank looks I have to give my roommate Cassie when she references a top 40 song, I've begun an examination of my music emphasis and the "why" behind it. I demonstrate that I have the patience, interest, and motivation to do a fairly thorough investigation of popular music (with an emphasis on jazz and rock and complete disregard of disco) from 1920-2000, but when the millenium hits I have an inexplicable drop in interest/retained information.

Why is this? I don't hate modern music, Postal Service, The Darkness, Muse, The Killers, Death Cab, The White Stripes, they're all top notch. I just don't have the breadth of overall knowledge or interest that I do in bygone days. Which initially troubled me: am I already one of the old people who just call music today noise? No, that can't be it, I'm the Spirit of Youth personified, how dare I even think such a thing. But I still fretted about the implications until I struck upon an elegant explanation that also works as a description of the motivation for my chosen career/education plan:

I am very interested and intrigued by what is going on currently in music. I really love some specific bands, but there are quite a few trends that I'm equally repulsed by. This can be mirrored in my passion for and Bachelors-in-progress major in International Relations. But in both academics and recreational music, the nature of current events and radio hits is that information is always incomplete. Data is still be collected, subterrainial trends could emerge at any time and upset my whole concept of what I do and do not like about what is going on. Essentially, they lack a clear context by being current.

Now let us turn to music of past decades and my chosen career goal of getting a Ph.D. in Art History. These two are closely linked. I like both music and art on an aesthetic level, but what makes me love them is the understanding of where the artists came from, why and how they chose to change the status quo, how that affected everything around them forever. I need the history to come into play, just a good ten years of perspective, before I get firmly attached and opinionated about what is going on around me. I'm so glad I found an occupation that'll facilitate that over-the-shoulder-longingly look of the world that I have.

I just realized I spent four paragraphs essentially saying that I'm a nostalgic person by nature. Oh well, brevity isn't that great. Also, "All Along the Watchtower" is to Michaelangeo's David in that they're both heavily referenced but worth every moment. Conversely, most songs by the Rolling Stones are to da Vinci's Mona Lisa in that the hype was largely self-perpetuated until the masses were duped into caring.

I think it's cleansing for the soul to at times attempt to be "smooth" and fail utterly. I adopted this philosophical perspective after yesterday's debacle: as I passed my coworker walking in the opposite direction with receipts that belonged to me, I made the motion to snatch them playfully out of her hands without breaking my stride. But I stopped 85% of the way into the action with the concern that maybe that would startle her/we aren't there yet in the playfulness. Unfortunately, she had already correctly read the trajectory of my intended action and tried to hand off said receipts, which I subsequently fumbled in my surprise and then stumbled into a nearby desk.

Like I said, this is all cleansing for the soul--it puts what is important in life at the forefront, like office shoes with just a leeetle traction. It's just too bad that the price for my catharsis was my coworker discovering that I am fundamentally incompetent.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

You Want Everything To Be Just Like The Stories That You Read But Never Write

I'm back! I had a very selfish month of obsessive, trivial thought patterns of the circular nature. Don't worry, it's over. But out of loyalty to my loving readers and to avoid later re-reading a post two weeks later and loathing myself (ref posts from 2008), I put a moratorium on blog posts until I had something to say for myself. Essentially, I sent myself to my room to think about what I'd done.

This has been a frustratingly long week of post attempts. I open the page every day, jot down a couple keywords for incandescently brilliant discourses that are already half-formed in my head, and then . . . I get onto xkcd.com and spend five hours clicking the "random" button. This is the final proof: it's out there, innocently lurking on a random server, enticing me with guarantees to delight me again and again. My digital kryptonite has been discovered. For someone as low-tech as I generally am, I didn't believe there was a temptation on the webbytubes strong enough to distract me from something so enthralling as this site that is solely commited to continuous minute examinations and sideways praise for myself. But by the sheer volume of links I have shared from that website in the past week, I've had to face the facts. I, too, am a vulnerable, easily impressionable, obsessive compulsive mortal who has an ever growing appetite for little nuggets of wildly nerdy and sarcastic observances.

Sometimes I pity my future children for the influences their parent has been under in her youth, and how that is going to inevitably damage them. Sometimes. Mostly I just think about the ridiculous names I'm going to stick them with just to make sure they're required to develop a personality to pull it off.

So, Canada Day was last Thursday. And I love me some Canadians--my dad's one, many of my favorite relatives hail from there, visiting there has been some of the best times I've had. Alberta could take Quebec any day of the week, by the way. But with that all said and done--and while you'll frequently hear me say that I'm half Canadian in an effort to obtain some distinctiveness--I'm now going to have to trash them.

Not to say that they aren't a nice little country. But when you put Canada up against US for sheer balls-awesome history, US takes them in a single 20 year period. Because the story of the revolt of the colonies under British rule and subsequent successful establishment of themselves as an independent nation? Freakin sweet. I've read an embarrassing number of biographies and historical accounts about the founding; nothing gets me as riled up as North America in the late 18th century. And that's all before you factor in the musical 1776, which aids by adding a snazzy soundtrack to the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

And Canada? Not a catchy tune to be found about their gradual and respectful steps towards autonomy from their benevolent and still revered ruler. There just isn't anything very stirring about a series of treaties that released the United Kingdom from the obligation of keeping Canada financially solvent and permitted Canada to take control of it's destiny after it ever so politely and docilely requested it. So, yeah, love western Canada, but USA all the way!

And if any of you humble readers take from this the opportunity to post a snarky, condescending and/or sardonic comment about the founding fathers/US history at large/the despicable naivete of those who get so excited about such a failed nation, I swear I may go Cujo on you. I was speaking in a deliberately histrionic display of my real patriotic feelings because as a political science major I can never ever get away from those who validate their puny, grasping existence by making cutting and belittling remarks about events of the past. I'm not saying that as a citizen you shouldn't be informed of the real history of any time period, quite the opposite, but I do say that I find nothing wrong with taking positive lessons from my history and choosing to emulate admirable moments of imperfect lives. Ok, that's all for the venomous lashout at all past classmates that equated intellectual superiority with how little idealism they personally hold on to.

Do you know what I love? Really fantastic science fiction writers. Like our comrade Isaac Asimov. The singular quality about great sci-fi writers and great sci-fi shows (shout out to Star Trek, word to your mother) is that they take the world, throw it lightyears into the future, and bust the restraints of human potential right open. In the future, nothing is outside of humanity's grasp. Former ethical, social, medical, and technological shortcomings have been tweaked, twiddled with, and resolved into neat little packages. It's such a refreshing outlook on the ever-present-but-forever-in-the-future "what comes next." My friend Grant reminded me of this love of mine by having me read Asimov's essay "The Last Question," and my mind has been cycling around my admiration for the strength of his optimism ever since. I also maintain that it's only the true storytellers, like Asimov, who choose to give ultimate power to Thought instead of a more mundane tactile force.

On Friday I was reminded of yet another long-lost love of mine. It was an incredibly high-stress day at work: everything that could go wrong did, and even though I had my own specific task relatively in hand I was feeling the pressure of every coworker's stressed-to-the-limit auras. Laugh all you want, but put that many panicking individuals in cubicles and try telling me that there isn't an almost visual presence of their collective freak out. So anyways, I'm buckling under the pressure, blood is pumping far too fast and vessels in my eye sockets are bursting under the strain, when I was inspired to add an opera channel to my Pandora station.

Wow, what a moment of clarity. It's an even better match than listening to hard rock when you're in a rage or country when you have a fit of unbearable melodramatic cheesiness. Not only do the vocal expressions in opera emote on a scale no tiny individual could ever achieve alone, the orchestral arrangements sweep whatever messy emotions you've been unsuccessfully dealing with right out of your system. Crisis averted, I typed up my little wires in a bubble of serenity while lovers were betrayed, fathers perished, and villains triumphantly travailed in my headphones.

I'm going to close with this beautiful parody of Forrest Gump. Not because I agree with the sentiment--my world view has far too much bounceability to be so exquisitely cynical--but because it's a quality bit of writing by my close personal friends of the X-files 'verse:

"Life... is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So, you're stuck with this indefinable whipped-mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while, there's a peanut butter cup, or an English toffee. But they're gone too fast, the taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits, filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts, and if you're desperate enough to eat those, all you've got left is an empty box, filled with useless brown paper wrappers."

Tubular.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Sign That Says: It's Free, And I Hope You Have More Luck With This Than Me.

I had an unusual experience last night—I went to an entertainment event that had roughly 85% women in attendance. Since I don’t enjoy Twilight, listen to David Archuleta, or ever make it to Women’s Conference, this was a pretty unusual occurrence. But I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation on whether or not my sister and I were possibly mistaken in our chosen amusement, because Stars on Ice is the best thing since double-stuffed Oreos.

And while I traditionally disdain any efforts of sisterhood bonding unless it has something to do with a book club study of The Awakening, I had no problem feeling solidarity with everyone else there who was ridiculously excited and solemnly up-to-date on the techniques that go into triple axles, death spirals, double-toe-loops, and Sal chows.

Most of us can’t even skate backwards, but that’s beside the point. We are committed to the marriage of art, athleticism, and sequined men’s trousers that is figure skating. So, for today, I will look fondly on the female gender as a whole in a rosy spangle-influenced air of well-being. Until somebody walks by in sweats rolled down at the waist, raggedy ponytail, and perfectly applied makeup. This just happened. Goodwill officially rescinded.

X-Men has ruined my ability to pronounce the name of my coworker Xavier correctly. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve seen his name on the caller id I’ve answered it addressing him like he’s Patrick Stewart's character. It doesn’t matter how many times he tells me the X has an ‘h’ sound, I inevitably screw up the next time. Mortifying.

I’m starting to get stir crazy to the point where my skin might just rip off my body and head for the hills. Gross image, but it’s what it feels like. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t think a vacation is going to fix it, even if I do still think that my life will be incomplete until I go to Denver for a Rockies game and a viewing of King Tut’s tomb artifacts.

I’m 23, I have a year and a half left of school, and if I’m not out of the state within a month of my graduation date you’ll know that despite my best efforts I died inside before reaching the finish line. Ew, now my skin is gone and I’m dead inside, that just sounds like all kinds of unpleasant cleanup for you guys that are still around, picture sacks of decaying flesh and the stripped flesh of wasted ambition. Yuck. Guess we better hope for the best, then, hope that I get into a grad school in New Orleans or St. Paul or the like so that I can escape before I look like something from the aftermath of a comic book fight.

Let me share with you the best family moment of the decade:

A couple weeks ago I crashed a Sunday dinner my parents were having with another couple in their neighborhood. I was the loose cannon at the dinner: I only lived in that area for two years and have rarely returned in the last five years, so the gentler folk of Sandy suburbia approach me with all the caution I would give a particularly paranoid porcupine with projectile quills.

But, surprisingly, it wasn’t my presence that made the quiet Sabbath gathering go sour—the guests committed unwitting social suicide all on their own. Everything was going more than pleasantly until the visiting wife responded to a reference of Mary Poppins with the comment “Oh, I’ve always hated that movie. She’s a real witch; I can’t see how anyone could like her.”

I swear those words echoed as a hush fell over the room. The temperature plunged into the arctic zone. The air pressure tripled. I tried to catch a look at my parents’ expressions without drawing attention to myself, and my dad—the man who prides himself in his superb hosting skills and even tempered conversation—had a frozen look around his eyes, his brow a mass of creases as he attempted to cope with that faux pas of epic proportions. Their guest’s faces lengthened in tandem with the sustained silence, their mouths opening occasionally in aborted efforts to save themselves, only to snap shut in a dejected manner before a single sound escaped.

Dad’s ears gradually lost the ruddy quality that had abruptly flushed up his face, and he took a few slow breaths, reaching over to enclose my mother’s tightly clenched hands in a reassuring manner. But time was still being pulled along like salt water taffy, my mother’s mouth was still pinched and downturning, there seemed to be no escape hatch in sight. I was having the time of my life.

Eons later my dad finally rallied with a boisterous “And the most aggravating thing about the Japanese people is their complete refusal to believe than anyone not Japanese can have any skill or understanding of their language.” An awkward transition, but no one was criticizing technique at this point. The dinner concluded shortly after, the guests still seemed to scurry within their slow even tread; their faces were still apologetic as the door closed firmly behind them before they could retrieve their tupperware.

It’s possible, just possible, that that event may be highly colored in my mind based on how well I know my parents. But whether or not that vein in my mother’s forehead was really as prominent as I remember, I maintain that having a family that reacts almost violently to any criticism of Disney’s live-action masterpiece is as cool as having a jetpack of my very own. It’s also one of the best demonstrations that despite all other proof and/or skepticism, I do share DNA with the most noble and ancient house of Shurtz.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Withholding The Rest So I Can Be For You What You Wanna See




I have an insatiable hunger for pie this week. But instead of spending too much time whining about it, I have the situation in hand and will be devoting the majority of my Friday night to repieifying the county. I am particularly suited for this monumental task, since I make even better apple pie than my grandmother. Shhhh, she can never know. I don’t know if she would cry or kill me if she found out she had been knocked off the pedestal. She’s old now. She doesn’t need that kind of information to burden her twilight years.

I’m starting to talk like a coward. Or, worse, like I’m too nice. Either way I’m giving the impression that I care too much about what other people think to say what I really want to. It’s been a growing problem that has rapidly escalated in the last nine months.

I’m not liking the trend, so I feel the need to justify it in high-falutin language that makes me look like I’m really the next step in our ethical evolution by doin what I do. So, here goes. The reasons for my appearance of cowardice fall into two camps:

1.    I can’t control the crazy people I say things to--no amount of force can make them accurately interpret/portray what I say. Essentially, when I’m talking to someone I know to be overly dramatic, self-involved, a bibbling idiot, or just plain hostile, I’ve learned over time to just save myself the trouble of carefully crafting anything of note to say to those kind of people.

Because no matter how brilliant my syntax, and let's not cut corners, I bandy words with the best of them, I have learned from painful experience that you can never underestimate a person’s ability to turn everything and anything into a sentence that makes them look wonderful/like the victim and myself into a horrible, dark-slime-of-the-earth-like-in-Fern-Gully type. I’m not even talking about how they would twist my words when relaying a conversation to others, I’m saying they have some sort of horribly constructed camera obscura right in their frontal lobes that turns something like “Hey, roommate, I really like this guy, could you do me a solid and give us some alone chat time?” upside down and inside out until they’re narrating real-time “And then Mary head-butted me, called me fat, and said the next time I opened my mouth around her boy—like she owns him, gosh, she’s so possessive—she would key my car.”

Don’t even get me started on how much worse it gets if I ever allowed myself to talk politics with anyone my age—yes, I know, I’m a Poli Sci major--I must talk politics at least occasionally. That line of reason is entirely false. If you think I actually volunteer to discuss anything with those nimrods in my program, you’re crazier than me. I think it’s my constitutional right to refuse to give my peers fodder that they can flip into “And then Mary confided in me that she is a racist profit-driven oil whoremonger who would prefer nuking Beijing to discussing gun control.”

So essentially, in these scenarios I’m not a coward, and I don’t care what they think necessarily, I’m just tired. Just plain tuckered out, drained of any motivation to keep on hitting my head against the wall of another’s determination to misunderstand me.

You could easily turn this into symptons of a myriad of trust issues that I seem to be avoiding, but I’ve been burned often enough that I’m going to stick to my guns on my cautious, guarded manner. Also,

2. I don’t need to be forthright at the cost of making civilians a part of the collateral damage. Unfortunately for my rep as someone who cares more about telling it like it is than her own personal popularity/safety, the harsh truth is that about 90% of those people that I want to give a verbal dressing-down have either a blood or friend connection with someone who I actually like. And too often in the past I have disregarded that fact, with the inevitable result that the shared third party gets dragged into it and either has to choose between us, mediate, or sit there uncomfortably and try to juggle us.

Unkind. Unfair. I can sacrifice the natural high I get when sticking it to someone if it means at the end of the day I still have the highest stats of people who still like me and consider my friendship to be low maintenance.

So, in this case, I do care what someone thinks or feels. It’s just the man behind curtain number three, not the one I want to chew out for choosing to make a break-up or mourning period more about them than the people actually involved.

It’s a crippling new part of my character that I’ve come to a point where I can no longer accept innocent bystanders as acceptable losses in my expeditions to take the crazies down a notch or two. My mission has been severely compromised by this change in my mandate. But there are enough people in the world right now who are with full legitimacy still pissed at me, so it had to stop some time.

I’d like to think that all of this prudence comes from a place of growing maturity, but let’s not get carried away here. It has a lot less to do with how wise and awesome I am and lies mostly in the blame column of how much other people suck. But at least you can come away feeling warm and fuzzy inside if I verbally berate you—it means I think you’re not one of the crazies. If I seem typically polite in a manner reminiscent of Stepford, you better watch yourself.

Someday I'm going to be granted a wish from a genie and I'll have a voice like Mayer Hawthorne or the Temptations for a day so that I can sing the soulful blues in the manner a little pasty-faced chick like me will never be able to do unaided.