Monday, October 31, 2005

all treats, no tricks

I thought tonight was going to be a total loss in the Halloween department. Nary a trick-or-treater - and thus a nearly-untouched bowl of candy - until the doorbell finally rang (and Scout freaked out) around 8:20. These two kids already had a quarter of a pillowcase of candy each. So they got to add to their stash, I got to say I had at least one trick-or-treating family...everybody's a winner.

Meanwhile, I feel as if there are still bits of weekend residue left unmentioned, a few loose ends yet untied....

First, the interesting lunch conversation I had with Andrew Corsello. We were continuing a dialogue about music and silence that we had begun the weekend before at the retreat. The gist of the conversation is summed up in my October 18th post - namely, that the ability to record music has completely changed the way we think about music and the way music affects us. I should mention that Andrew is a pianist of near-professional caliber on top of being an exceptional journalist. He had the opportunity to interview several of the world's greatest pianists (Emmanuel Ax, Stephen Hough, Sviatoslav Richter, etc.) for a GQ article a couple of years ago and was kind enough to pass on a partial transcript of his interview with Stephen Hough. There's a great portion in there about how one loses taste for things when stimulation is unending. Comparing the easy access of recorded music to a constant eating of chocolate, Hough says, "I adore chocolate, yes, but all these musical influences — it's like having a chocolate mouthwash. You can not keep the same excitement for the flavor." Consequently, I decided to spend a couple of days avoiding music whenever possible. The effects of this self-inflicted musical famine were twofold: I found that a few moments of quiet, especially while driving, really did re-awaken my dulled senses. It forces alertness. And when I finally sat down to break the musical fast, it was deliberate. The music was beautiful. It tasted like candy again.

On a completely different topic, I was planning to launch into a much-too-lengthy description of a bizarre Friday night and Saturday...but it's really summed up fairly simply. The Friday night band party/Halloween kegger was in a weird low-ceilinged second floor practice space overlooking some small parking lot downtown. It basically consisted of costumes ranging from a guy wrapped entirely in duct tape to a frightening Smurfette, not to mention a U2 cover band that was dead on...except for the singer. The party was still in crescendo when we took off about 2:00 AM. The mandatory next-morning greasy breakfast commenced around 11:00 Saturday. There was a waitress we thought was really cute until (and maybe even after?) we noticed she was slightly cross-eyed; there was a tech geek/serial killer-looking guy sitting at the next table downing Budweisers; Colin dissected a botched Western omelette and removed all the mushroom "tumors" with surgical precision; and the rest of the day was devoted to college football and not yardwork. Pretty satisfying.

Happy Halloween, one and all.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

complete and utter stupidity

There are so many things to write about over the past few days: a really interesting conversation over lunch with my friend Andrew Corsello, who writes for GQ Magazine; a surreal Halloween party last night complete with kegs, costumes, and local indie bands; a day of upsets and near upsets in college football; etc. etc.

But that will all have to wait. Right now, I just want to know one thing: WHY do they make film cannisters the exact same diameter as vacuum cleaner tubes??? I nearly blew up a perfectly good home appliance trying to clean the dust from under my dresser. And now I have a vacuum cleaner with a film cannister jammed halfway up the tube, like Augustus Gloop in the river of chocolate.

Yeah, that's right, I threw out the Wonka reference. Sweet.

relevant quote: "She's gone from suck to blow!" -Spaceballs

Friday, October 28, 2005

dig deep

I am trying to dig up my front yard and plant grass so I can have a real lawn to replace the overabundance of weeds and wiregrass that I have called a front yard for the past three years. I've been meaning to do this for the entire month of September...and October...and now I'm about 4-6 weeks late getting it done. (Done? Who am I kidding? I've barely started.) And now I'm sitting inside at the computer because I'm tired and I've only dug up a quarter of the grass so far. I very well may end up with a mudpit for a front yard for the duration of winter until I can replant in the spring.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

oh say can you see

In a stunning move of Un-Americanism, I managed to watch all of two whole innings of the entire baseball post-season. And they happened to be the last two of the Series. Frankly (and here's the Un-American part), I couldn't have cared less. I know that's terrible, and I'm happy for the people of Chicago that the White Sox have won for the first time since 1917, but I just did not - could not - get excited about this Series.

On a more somber, unrelated but largely more important note: today someone sent me a link to an interactive page on the New York Times website entitled A Look at Those Who Died in Iraq. It memorializes the 2,000 Americans who have died in the Iraq War since March 2003 with a photo of each and brief biographical information when you move the mouse over each picture. To see all those faces - 80-90% of them younger than I - really puts the death toll of the war in perspective. Not only does it drive home just how many 2,000 is, it makes those 2,000 feel much more personal and immediate, not just an ambiguous and theoretical list of casualties.

The article has a subheading that reads, "Since the war in Iraq began in March of 2003, about 2,000 service members have died. The dead come from all branches of the armed services and represent the highest toll since the Vietnam War." I know it's not healthy or useful to dwell excessively on the negative aspects of our current state of being - but I feel as if these things should not be forgotten or ignored, either. We are so numb to disaster of late that most of it seems surreal. But these faces woke me up again.

I guess it's like staring at the sun: you can only look at it for so long until you're blind to it, and you have to turn to other distractions. I suppose baseball would have been as good as any.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

pictures of the weekend

Knox and I preparing for the retreat program.

The youth (with spray-dyed hair) before the North Mountain hike.

The ascent begins...

Climbing the rock formation at the halfway point up the mountain.

Sort of a "Blair Witch" vibe.

The (non-)view from the peak.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

"lights will guide you home..."

This weekend has yielded a plethora of fun and exciting activities, including (but not limited to):

- A cumulative 2 1/2 hours spent at the Green Valley Book Fair near Harrisonburg - I'm now $30 poorer and 8 books richer.
- A 1,200-foot, seven-mile round-trip hike up North Mountain near the border of West Virginia, including a wall of fog at the peak and an unintentional "detour" that brought us out of the woods a little further down the road than we planned.
- A great three-hour discussion with 40+ people about finding spiritual themes in contemporary popular music genres.
- Smoking two cigars.
- Drinking 5 different kinds of Scotch, but only to moderate degrees of excess (if that's not too much of an oxymoron).
- "Butt buns" (so named for their "cracked" appearance) with apple butter and pecan pie.
- A sky full of stars with no city lights to muck things up.
- Having a church service outdoors at the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration at Shrine Mont in the beautiful fall weather.
- Eating at Bottom's Up Pizza in Richmond for the first time ever in four years of living in this city.
- Managing to avoid the score of the Auburn vs. LSU game for 24 hours, only to watch it on TiVo and see Auburn lose in overtime on a missed field goal off the uprights (this would fall into the "exciting" but not so much "fun" category).
- Calling my dad to wish him a happy 59th birthday.

And now, after 72 hours of perpetual motion, I am finally home. Exhausted, but mercifully close to my bed, as I am in danger of ending up face down on the keyboard. Pictures of the weekend to follow tomorrow, I hope.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

16 down, 84 to go...

It was brought to my attention today - by a friend who will remain anonymous for reasons that will become apparent momentarily - that Time Magazine has released what it calls "The Complete List", an all-time top 100 English language novels from 1923 to the present. Why 1923? Not sure. Seems arbitrary to me - were there not any good novels in 1922? Or perhaps there were too many? What I do know is that I have only read 16 of the aformentioned novels....and said anonymous friend has read 22. That's like 30% or 40% more than me (I think - apparently I'm not very good at math, either). I feel like a failed English major, as if someone has suddenly uncovered my dirty little secret: I'm a slow reader and I haven't actually read all those great classic novels that one should read when one has a degree in English Literature. I'd say .160 is a pretty poor batting average, no?

I feel as if I'm getting dumber by the day, and this is not helping. I best get to reading, I suppose...

something wicked this way comes

I was watching the bit on the news about this Hurricane Wilma thing, as it is now the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. I'd say that's a pretty bold statement, and one full of foreboding for our favorite Sunshine State. Seriously, how much can Florida take in two years? Mother Nature seems to have some personal vendetta against Floridians. I'm fearful that my parents will have to evacuate, even though they're in northern Florida along the panhandle. And what about my favorite little camper in Miami? Will she ride out the storm in style or have to flee north?

What's most unbelievable is that there's still more than a month left in hurricane season. Yikes.

Close eyes. Cross fingers. Hold breath. Say prayers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

the listening unto deafness

This weekend my buddy Knox and I are leading a 60-person retreat at Shrine Mont (the Episcopal retreat center near the border of West Virginia) with the theme "God on the FM Dial: Finding the Sacred in Secular Music." We spent a good bit of the night talking through tunes and artists - U2, Nickel Creek, Coldplay, Steve Earle, Ben Folds, etc. There are lots of cool specifics that we discussed...for example, the Coldplay song "A Message" takes it's first two lines (both melody AND lyrics) from the Anglican hymn "My Song Is Love Unknown," tune by John Ireland. Kind of interesting, regardless of its meaning or your own personal belief set.

But the thing that really struck me is how music can simultaneously be so powerful and so inconsequential. Think about it. A little over 100 years ago, you only heard music if someone was actually sitting in front of you playing an instrument or singing. How often might that have happened then? Once a day? Once a week? Think about how often you hear music now. It's in our cars. Our offices. Our bedrooms. The elevator. The grocery store. Every minute. We have stereos, iPods, radios, everywhere - you can't escape it without tremendous effort.

This is the greatest triumph and greatest tragedy to befall the transcendent power of music. On the one hand, how amazing is it that we can hear the clearest, most beautiful recordings of our favorite pieces any time we want with a mere flick of the finger on our iPods? On the other hand, the fact that music is so ubiquitous dilutes its power and turns it into a sort of white noise soundtrack to our lives, the static that we tend to tune out. I can't tell you how many times I've been driving along and had no idea what I've been listening to for the past 15 minutes - not because it was bad, but because I was just ignoring it.

So if you're reading this and you can relate, do something tomorrow: try to go the whole day without hearing music. Turn off your car stereo, don't turn on the radio at work, mute the TV during commmercials...and before you go to bed, sit down and listen to something really great, and do it with intention and purpose. Doesn't matter if it's Bach or the Clash, Jeff Buckley or Patsy Cline. Whatever moves you, take the time to hear it as if you're listening for the first time.

Personal favorite for today: Beethoven's 7th Symphony 2nd Movement

Monday, October 17, 2005

thank you very much, i'll be here all week

The tone of the day was really set from the first moment I couldn't open my eyes when the alarm went off at 7:30...and then again at 7:40, 7:50, and 8:00. Despite the fact that it was a perfect weather day, the little annoyances of the morning seemed to pile higher and higher until I couldn't see over them. And after a two-hour nonsensical and completely pointless staff meeting, I walked into my office realizing that I was already in an absolutely rotten mood before I even turned to the pile of work that (somehow) has to get finished this week. It was quite obvious that today was a Monday.

Based on the day's trials and tribulations, I have made two rules:

Rule #1 - if you want to buy/use a cool techno-toy, you should be required to pass a basic electronic competency test before you start messing around with it. People act like finding a cure for cancer is easier than downloading pictures from a digital camera.

Rule #2 - Basic meeting etiquette says if it doesn't have to do with the whole group, talk about it later and quit wasting my time. I don't need to hear about issues with the parking deck or who's going to set up seventy-five chairs. End of story.

So...a little bitter today? Perhaps. But I'm feeling better after partaking in Capital Ale House's $1 Burger Monday Nights and subsequently hanging around the house Lebowski style (sans white russian) in my bathrobe for the rest of the night.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

thank God for nature - technology sucks

I spent the afternoon at Ashland Berry Farm - about 20 miles north of Richmond - out in the pumpkin patch picking pumpkins (how's that for alliteration?). Ashland Berry Farm has this great thing around Halloween where you take a hay ride out into their pumpkin patch and gather as many pumpkins as you can carry for $20. The deal is you can have several friends help out, and only one of you has to be able to hold all the pumpkins and take three steps. So we made it an afternoon youth group event and gathered 32 pumpkins, which four of us were able to hold and carry. The plan is to give them to Highland Springs Elementary School in Henrico County for the kids to decorate their classrooms - not a bad contribution for $80 and an afternoon spent enjoying another beautiful fall day.

So that was the upside of the afternoon. The downside was trying to download all the pictures from Ben's camera and transfer them to my computer via Hello, this new P2P picture-sharing software. That, coupled with my complete ineptitude at trying to add a simple picture to my profile on this blog (an hour isn't too long to spend on that, right?), has completely wilted any confidence I might have had in my technological savvy.

Yea Nature. Boo techno-hassle. Let's hear it for the pumpkin fiends...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

in the beginning

Admittedly, I've said a lot of negative things about blogs in the past.

While they are sometimes funny and occasionally moving, they are often self-indulgent, narcissistic pieces of exhibitionist drivel. So, of course, I've decided I have to have one, too. Not so much because I need the whole world to know what I'm up to daily (though the thought of a cyber-stalker or two does feed my own self-indulgent, narcissistic, exhibitionist tendencies), but primarily because I suck at writing when I know I'm the only one who will read it. Ironically, it makes me far too self-conscious -- like hearing your own voice on your answering machine. Even if no one actually reads this, the fact that they could gives me a little more focus and context.

That being said...I got nothing else at the moment. It's Saturday, high 70's, cloudless. Near perfect. I'm going to go enjoy it while I can.