Thursday, December 28, 2006

Year End Tally

Time to put 2006 on the mental shelf, filed away with old tax returns and other detritus from years gone by. Here then is my "Best Of..." for the past 365:

1) The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger): great, wonderful, fantastic sci-fi time-travel story, thinly veiled as a boy-meets-girl love story. This latter aspect keeps the books on lots of Oprah-esque club lists, but don't be fooled: this is as novel (ha!) an approach to the time-travel story as you're likely to find. This is the first book in a LONG time I actually picked up in a book store, flipped through a few pages, and then paid full price to buy it. I couldn't put it down. Go get it.
2) The Dirt (Neil, Sixx, Mars, & Lee): you're probably thinking that this book is only pertinent to Mötley Crüe fanatics. You could be right, but the story is so outrageous that I'm betting almost anyone with an interest in behind-the-scenes rock & roll will find this tome fascinating. Wow. I'm filled with a sort of awe-struck disgust just thinking about the lifestyle these 4 have lived. Seriously, you'll wonder how they even lived, let alone recorded and toured. Underneath it all, you come to realize that the four members were really small-town geeks, the losers of their respective high schools who put on this outlandish front to try to cover up some deep-seated insecurities.
3) Runner-up: The Expectant Father (Armin Brott): this is pretty self-explanatory. The book is concise yet very readable, moving through pregnancy on a month-by-month basis. The author writes about what to expect from the mother-to-be, but really spends a lot more time focusing on the man's feelings and emotions. Far from being unnecessarily patriarchal, I think a book like this has been long overdue: the pregnancy doesn't belong just to the woman, even though she's the one going through all of the physical changes. BOTH partners are going to be parents, and the assumption that the expectant father is unchanged by that is absurd.

1) Friends With Money: a coming-of-age film...coming of MIDDLE age, that is. Since I'm there, this was a very entertaining look at how people well into their adult lives deal with their various relationships. Friends, lovers, spouses...all sorts of different angles are approached here, and the movie pays off well. One of my favorite things was that I was able to recognize parts of myself in the three husbands: the easy grin and shrug-it-off mellowness of Matt, the aloof coolness and passive-aggression of David, and the "you-know-how-I-know-you're-gay" attention to clothing and decorative detail of Aaron.
2) Clerks II: I may be lambasted as a heretic for this, but I think the sequel BLOWS AWAY the original. When I go back now and watch Clerks what I notice most is the stilted way the dialogue is delivered, especially by Randal. This update tracks our heroes-du-jour through their early-30s life changes, and does so in a (fairly) believeable way. Jay & Silent Bob are on hand to provide lowbrow humor (example: while standing next to a graffiti-sprayed wall reading "eat pussy," Jay confidently tells two passing teenage girls "Oh, we SO do!"), and there are even brief cameos by Askewniverse mainstays Ben Affleck and Jason Lee. Oh, and there is an EXTENDED scene with a flabby donkey-fucker. That and the filthly language probably make this movie a kids-at-their-grandparents kind of night.
3) Runner-up: The Squid and the Whale: a nice 80's-era piece whose plot focuses on two brothers trying to figure out why their parents are breaking up. Although done in 2005, this film "feels" real when investigating what must have been very novel ideas from 25 years ago: joint custody, who gets the house, etc. The parents each have their own issues, so I found it impossible to take sides between them. Their solutions are also interesting and kind of twisted: professor Jeff Daniels ends up shagging an intellectually inferior student with her OWN hang-ups.

1) Slunt (One Night Stand): Filling in the special guest slot on Paul Stanley's brief solo tour this fall, Slunt (I get the "-unt" part, but what is the "Sl-" for? Slutty? Sleazy? Slippery?) is two guys & two gals who deliver a blistering punk-metal sound reminiscent of the Donnas, but turned up to 11. Drop-dead-gorgeous hottie Abby Gennett (formerly an MTVs VJ) fronts the group, delivering powerful vocals and a burnin' rhythm guitar. Charles Ruggiero (no relation to my esteemed former prof from MSU) hits the skins with creativity and passion. Pat Harrington is the James Hetfield-lookalike who rips out screamin' lead guitar. Jhen Kobran is the newest addition, selected in early 2006 to fill in the undertones with her thunderous bass. This is heavy metal at its finest, full of melody and brutality. Go get some.
2) Paul Stanley (Live To Win): Well, this was kind of expected, wasn't it? I must say, though, that when I first heard Paul's new solo album, I was kind of disappointed. Tess prompted me for a number of stars, and I said 2.5 (out of 5). There's a lot of shmaltzy stuff here, where Paul sings about relationships both past and present. The thing is, though...the album REALLY grows on you. I liked it better the 5th time through, and the 10th even more than THAT! Now I even like the songs I DIDN'T at first, and the catchy uptempo numbers like Bulletproof and It's All About You can really stay stuck in my head. This is a tamer variety of rock than Slunt, very accessible but still keeping a thrust-your-fist-in-the-air intensity.
3) Runner-up: Twisted Sister (Twisted Christmas): I shit you not, this holiday album is dead-on AWESOME! Of course, you have to go into it knowing that, hey, it's Twisted Sister. If you don't like Sister's music (both of you out there), you won't like this album. But for all true SMFs, this album is pay dirt. Can't imagine Oh Come All Ye Faithful over top of the beat & chords of We're Not Gonna Take It? You need to listen. With nary a string section or crooning chorus in sight, Dee & the boyz rock hard through all the holiday classix you could want. It really is a full-on metal album, replete with guitar solos and thunderous overdubbing. I'm just sad to think that I'm pretty much relegated to hearing this only one month of the year.

1) Ringo Starr (mid-June, outdoors at Pine Knob): this was definitely the highlight of the summer concert season. It was a beautiful night, only getting down to the low 70s even when the sun went down. Tess & I went with her sister Amanda and (as we soon found out) her new fiancé Joel; seems that he was corny enough to suggest that the concert itself might serve as their "engagement Ringo." Ba-dum-bum. We drank some good beers (some EXPENSIVE beers!) and partied with a very charming Ringo & his All-Starr band. Guitars: Billy Squier & Richard Marx. Keyboards, saxes & percussion: Edgar Winter. Drums: Sheila E. A good time was had by all.
2) Paul Stanley (early November, indoors at the Emerald Theatre): this is the first concert I'd ever really been to in a "club." The Emerald is a 1,000-seater, and Paul packed the place. Opening band Slunt was outstanding, and it didn't suck that lead singer & guitarist Abby Gennett was a major hottie. We sort of worked our way up close to the stage, eventually ending up in a mob about 6 people back from Paul. It was great to see him be so personable & warm with the crowd; I defintely think the makeup is just a hindrance for Kiss now, cramming them into a mold I'm not sure they fit into any longer. The backing band was the House Band from Rock Star, and you know what? I didn't miss Gene at all.

3) Runner-up: Endeverafter/Cinderella/Poison (July 12, outdoors at Lansing Common Ground Festival): another great night with perfect weather, and a good crowd to hang with. Tess & Amanda went mainly to hang with me, Joel, Lisa & Mark, as they weren't really interested in this brand of hair metal. The REST of us - those with good taste! - rocked the night away. Endeverafter was the opener, and they rocked hard...although they looked about 19! It was the first time I'd seen Cinderella, and I was pleased that the whole original band was there. Poor Tom Keifer lost his voice pretty early on; I suppose you can only scream/sing the way he does for a limited number of years. Poison was AWESOME! I hadn't seen them since their headlining Open Up & Say Ahh tour of 1988, and they didn't disappoint. And, this was the easiest large-scale concert I've ever driven away from: no long lines of cars waiting to get out of the Pine Knob or Palace parking lots...just a quick right turn, then an immediate left and we were OUT of traffic. Nice.

1) Pregnancy. Yeah, sure, I've been dropping hints on this blog since we found out in mid-November. Consider this your official notification: we're expecting! This was by far the biggest news of my year, and of course I know I don't have any IDEA yet how much my life is going to change. But, I'm 38 years old, and I've been jonesing for a kid to play with for a few years. I'm as ready as I'm gonna be. The best part? A friend of Tess' mom gave us our (read: my) first baby gift: a Kiss onesie. Oh, this is gonna be SWEET!!
2) Propsal acceptance at SCI. Okay, so anything FOLLOWING #1 above is pretty small beans...but from a professional standpoint, this is good news. I send out conference proposals fairly frequently, and then just sort of forget about them. Well, turns out one got accepted! I'm delivering the paper "A Composer's Sketchbook" at the Society of Composers Inc. Region V conference in Dubuque Iowa on Saturday, Feb. 24th. Stop by, if you're in the neighborhood. Mention this ad, and I'll buy your first drink. ;-)
3) Runner-up: meeting Paul Stanley. God, I'm like a broken record with this, aren't I? So, to recap: Kiss perfume, Paul in-store at Parisian in Rochester Hills, handshake & photo, great concert the next day. There. Happy now?

I hope everyone had as good a 2006 as I did. It was a watershed year, and now I can't wait to dive into 2007 with the promise of more good music to write, more good music to HEAR, good books to read & movies to watch...and a babe. Yay! But first, I have to spend some time diving into the warm waters off of Akumal, Mexico. Darn the luck. See y'all in the new year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Fun with Books...TAG!

1. Find the nearest book.
2. Name the book & the author.
3. Turn to page 123.
4. Go to the fifth sentence on the page. Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog.
5. Tag three more folks.

Nearest book WITH 123 pages to my desk (well, there are many...this is the first one that caught my eye):

1. Kiss: Behind the Mask - The Official Authorized Biography
2. Author(s) are David Leaf and Ken Sharp
3. Page 123, sentences 5, 6, and 7:

(Peter Criss): "I'll be thinking so much, where did it go and why is it over and now how do I get this adrenaline that I used to get, where do I channel that?" One of the best things about the Kiss reunion is you were given a second chance to shine once more with the band. Peter Criss: "It was tough."

Okay, nobody said they were going to be GOOD sentences! So, since Mike seems to have STARTED all this, I'll ignore him and instead tag Stephanie K., Suze, and Kirsten. Have at it, ladies!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Power of Threes

Tess and I are deep into our annual Lord of the Rings fest. We got so hooked on the films as they were coming out to the theaters (always at the holidays) that we turned the end-of-the-semester weeks into a gluttony of Ringdom. We have the special editions, too, so we can easily stretch the three films into 6 or 8 nights of mind-numbing relaxation.

As we near the completion of Return of the King, I got to thinking about the overall awesomeness of film trilogies, and decided to vamp a little on the subject of threes...

1) The original Star Wars films: I don't know if these represent the first EVER cinematic trilogy, but they certainly stand for that to anyone my age. Grand in scope but simple in story, these set the bar by which all other trilogies will be measured. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite, the so-called "dark" movie of the set. I like the pacing of this film, the unsettled and incomplete ending (when A New Hope could easily have been the ONLY film with that happy-go-lucky ending), and the pacing of events. Lots unfolds during this one, all of which needs resolution in Return of the Jedi. The last (and maybe best) interesting thing about the trilogy is that, unlike many 3somes on this list, it is INTENDED to be a single story told over the course of 3 films.

2) The prequel Star Wars films: poor 70s fanboys kept clamoring for this prequel installment, and Lucas delivered. Then, those selfsame fanboys proceeded to rip Lucas a new asshole. I don't get it...those movies are GREAT! When someone in his 30s complains that the new movies just don't compare to the originals, I say: "No shit, Sherlock! You're not 10 frickin' years old anymore!!" People bitch about Jar-Jar, who I think is funny as a stitch and fills in the goofy straight-man role until Threepio can actually come online and resume that part. People bitch about all the gooey love scenes between Anakin and Padme, when I think those are necessary to develop the plot concept that he becomes Darth not out of hate, but of LOVE. I think that plays well into his redemption by Episode VI. I dunno...when I watch Star Wars now, I'll always start with Episode I and work my through chronologically, which I think is what Lucas intended. They'll play VERY well for a very long time.

3) Indiana Jones: great in concept and keeping with the swashbuckling adventure of the 40s-era serials that fed Lucas' and Spielberg's appetites. The first is arguably the best, with the strongest plot and best interaction between characters. Temple of Doom is unsettling to me as it happens chronologically before the first film, and I find Short Round to be of supreme with Batman, I just don't see Indy as a take-a-young-boy-as-your-ward kind of a guy. We're back INTO the timestream with Last Crusade, but Sean Connery steals every scene he's in. I know that there's a 4th installment in pre-production, and I think it'll work IF Spielberg/Lucas update it to show that Indy has aged and move him forward in time so that instead of fighting Nazis, he's fighting communists.

4) The Matrix trilogy: set up in almost exactly the same way as Star Wars, in which the first movie could easily have stood as a single film should it bomb, with the 2nd installment being the "dark" cliffhanger which leads to resolution in the 3rd film. As with Empire, I like the 2nd film best here, although the conceptual introduction in the 1st is quite cool. The first time I watched The Matrix I thought it was actually pretty dumb...full of obvious and clichéd religious symbolism. Keanu Reeves has a very flat acting style, which plays well for the emotionless Neo but also sets him a little back when he NEEDS to find that (supposedly) deep emotion he feels for Trinity. These are good "grading movies" for me: I can pop them in, in order, on a snowy Sunday and plow through theory and ear training tests for hours.

5) Terry Gilliam set: okay, okay, I know that The Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen aren't really a trilogy. As a director, Gilliam did a lot of the Python films, as well as some one-offs (like Jabberwocky) before The Time Bandits. However, I really feel like these three films belong together in terms of vision, scope and ideology. While each explores different sociological quandries (from within the context of very different settings), they still seem to represent Gilliam working out what HE feels about modern society. You need a feel for these films, as they all run a little long and can seem to wander if you're not into the overall concept. Of the three, I quite like Brazil and the way modern society, with all its paperwork and silly "norms", is roasted. An odd cameo role by Robert DeNiro makes it a very entertaining film.

6) Die Hard films: not really a trilogy as much as a hit movie, a sequel, and ANOTHER sequel. Heaven help me, I do adore Bruce Willis, though; I've been watching his stuff since the days of Moonlighting. Remember that show? Pretty awesome; one of the first shows to have an actual "series finale" that I can remember. ANYWAY, I think these action films hold their own. Willis' character John McClaine is a wrong-time/wrong-place cop who always manages to save the day...usually with the delivery of a horrible pun while he's wasting bad guys. More good grading films.

7) X-Men franchise: I was never a big fan of the X-Men comix, but comic book MOVIES...well, those I gotta see. These went over really big, mostly because of the spot-on Wolverine created by Hugh Jackman. They're solid films, if not not my favorites. I think a team-oriented film will ALWAYS be harder than a solo superhero film, if only because you still have to cram all those origin stories somewhere near the beginning. This is one of the first examples I know of where fans actually played a part in the casting: Wizard magazine had this long-running feature entitled "Casting Call," wherein the editors would assemble a dream cast for a particular comic book franchise. Lo and behold if Patrick Stewart wasn't cast as Professor X way back when.

8) Spider-Man: NOW we're talkin'!! The comic book movie that saved comic book movies, the first Spider-Man delivered the goods so powerfully that it remains the 7th highest-grossing film of all time. Outstanding casting, great GREAT special FX, and above all, an equal portrayal of the human side of all the superhuman characters. Director Sam Raimi (a comic geek himself) felt very strongly that all of the characters needed to remain believable on the human level, which is a concept that differentiated Marvel Comics from their distinguished competition back at the dawn of the Silver Age. Spider-Man 2 upped the ante in terms of action and effects, and with the third (final?) installment opening on May 4th, the best trilogy in comic film history will be complete. Yowza!

9) Lord of the Rings omnibus: and so, we come full circle. Peter Jackson brought to life on the silver screen a story that had long been thought impossible to film, something that had only been done as a cartoon. If you're not already a fan of the books, the movies probably seem like a lot of walking, walking, walking...and then throwing a ring into lava. Each time I watch them, though, I pick up new little nuances that prove to me all over again how special these films are. I honestly think Jackson took movie storytelling to a new level, and defined the fantasty/adventure film genre for at LEAST a generation. I'm not sure how movies will move beyond this point, to be honest. We probably said that about the Ray Harryhausen special FX in movies like Sinbad and Clash of the Titans as well, but eventually things DO get more realistic. The thing about LOTR, though, is that they're NOT just special FX scenes empty of plot or character development, like Van Helsing or Underworld tended to be. This is moviemaking at its finest, and I think this trilogy will remain our end-of-semester extravaganza for many years to come.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Gah! Another waste of my time! I should be composing!!

1. Eggnog or Hot Chocolate?
I like both, but under different circumstances. Hot chocolate is a snowy-afternoon thing, while eggnog (with rum!) is an evening/party thing.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
He wraps them, using different paper than Tess & I have. I think he has the elves make it special.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Little strands of both on our little tabletop tree, white outlining our porch.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No, but I saw a dippy t-shirt printed with a picture of mistletoe on the belly. Hmmm. What's the message there? "If you're under this, you might as well smooch my love rocket"?

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Usually the weekend after Thanksgiving. We downsized this year, filling an entire box of "giveaway" holiday crap that's too tacky even for US.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Stuffing. (Mmmmm...stuffing.)

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
All my "child" memories are caught up together while we were living in Auburn. The whole holiday TIME seems child-like to me, something I really feel helps keep the adult me young at heart. I just loved the whole time of making construction-paper chains of red & green at school, and being OUT of school for a few weeks, and people coming over, and calling my best friend on Christmas afternoon asking "what'd YOU get?!?"

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I always read at a higher level than my age, so I was deep into a book intended for the 12-14 crowd when the older siblings started talking about being careful not to tell their younger brother that Santa wasn't real. I was stunned...and, it didn't take me long to put two and two together and figure out the skinny on the Easter Bunny, either!! For YEARS I tried to find that book (being one of those vaguely sad guys who feels compelled to buy back his childhood at 10x the original cost), even going so far as to try to harass older librarians by relating the few skimpy plot details I could remember. Finally, the internet came to my rescue, and I was able to refine my Google search enough to cough up the book. Then, on to eBay, where I think I was the only bidder on my tight-binding copy of Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians. When they told us that the internet would put a world of information at our fingertips? THIS is what they meant!!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
As a child, yes. This was abandoned by my family when I got into my teen years, but has been revived by associating with that Tess.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
It's all Tess' stuff, and it's really lovely. Instead of worrying about where to store a big ol' tree, she simply has this little 18" job that fits beautifully on one of our pub tables. When she first bought it (B.S., or "Before Scott") she & her mom looked all over for very tiny ornaments for this tree. Now it takes about 1/2 an hour to put the whole thing together, and it's decorated with lovely little crystal angels and tiny glass bulbs (to which we are CONSTANTLY losing hooks, resulting in a hilarious menagerie of bent-up paperclips) and little silk roses. Then, presents go under & around the "Christmas table."

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love it, except when I have to drive in it. Which is, you know, pretty much every day it snows. So, I guess I'm screwed. *sigh!*

12. Can you ice skate?
Yup. Skating was big to us 70s children, so I've had a pair for as long as I can remember. Black figure skates with the bottom two toe picks ground off. ("Toe pick!") None of those pussy hockey skates for me!

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
No, not really. I'm an only child, so pretty much ALL the gifts are for me. Mom had great taste in toys, and now that I'm an adult (so-called) she gives really cool (i.e., expensive) electronic presents. And snow blowers...THAT was a good gift, once we moved to a corner house with 150 feet of sidewalk! Tess is always very creative, and her mom has great taste in clothes. It's all good.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
My best friend Eric has a mother who is a baking fiend. She makes all manner of pies & cakes...but the BEST is always her Christmas cookies. I don't know how she gets them so THICK, and so that they stay soft for weeks! As kids, when I would spend the night at his place we'd always take a big Ziploc bag down to his bedroom and just gorge on those frosted slabs o'heaven while we read & reread comix until I passed out from sugar intoxication.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Getting out all the wrapping shit, popping a holiday DVD into the player and making a mess. Usually with the cat's help.

17. What tops your tree?
A little plastic angel with a red woolen robe. Our white light strand wouldn't do its thing this year, and we discovered a bulb was missing. I replaced it, but when Tess went to top the tree she said "Oh! Our angel has a bulb crammed up her ass!" I really had to go to work with a pair of pliars to get that sumbitch outta there; turns out that, while Tess liked poking her onto a bulb so that she'd be all lit up pretty, the heat from that tiny bulb was slowly melting the plastic. Now she just has a branch crammed up her poop chute.

18. Which do you prefer giving or Receiving?
Both. I'm a pretty clever gift-giver, so I really like seeing people open up what I've given. But, well, yeah, receiving doesn't suck.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
Fast: Jingle Bells? by Barbra "Cancel Detroit" Streisand
Slow: Silver Bells by Jerry Vale

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?
Yum, but for some reason I don't suck them as much as I did when I was a kid. Then, I would always take a little of my allowance and buy one of those big honkin' candy POLES and just work that bitch down to a sharpened stake. I'm probably lucky I didn't end up stabbing one through the back of my throat while I was running around the house.

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
Cheesy Christmas movies are EXACTLY my thing! Hard to pick a fave, so you get a list-within-a-list. In no particular order: The Family Man, A Christmas Story, Holiday Inn, It's A Wonderful Life, Elf, The Polar Express, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, A Wish For Wings That Work, and every single damn Rankin/Bass special from the 70s. Every one.

22. What do you leave for Santa?
Uh...good cheer? I guess nothing right now, but that'll change with a child. I'm still debating whether it's possible to teach a kid that Santa represents the wonder & joy of the season (sorry Christians, but as an agnostic...well, moving on...) without the need for him or her to believe in a bona fide flesh-&-blood being. We'll see.

So, to all y'all out there: let's see YOUR Chrimble list! And be sure to have a Twisted Fuckin' Christmas.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Public Parenting

So, Vice-President Cheney's youngest daughter is pregnant. Okay. Cool. Ordinarily, I wouldn't give this any thought whatsoever...I don't know this woman, and I don't WANT to know her father, a man who, ideologically, is in opposition to almost everything I stand for. Problem is, Mary Cheney is a lesbian, and the media are having an absolute field day with the fact that the daughter of "Mr.-Homosexuality-Is-A-Sin" is not only shacking up with this...this...OTHER WOMAN, but that now the two of them are - *gasp!* - going to have a baby. NOW, I need to get into it.

Because, see, the news headline I read today was this: "Groups Mixed on Mary Cheney's Pregnancy.", like...WHO GIVES A FAT FUCK?!? Okay, I know, I'm not totally naïve...this is headline-making BECAUSE of the awkward situation. And I actually respect - grudgingly - the VP's stance, which is to pretty much say "cool, another grandbaby to spoil!" and leave it at that. But..."groups" are getting into the fray? Holy crap...I just cannot even begin to comprehend leading a life that public, especially when it comes to something as innately PRIVATE as parenting.

I'm not a parent yet, but I imagine it to be something like this: my child, I'll do as I please, piss off. My own moral code - MINE, not "god's" - says that I shouldn't beat this child, or prey upon it sexually, or any other hideous form of physical or psychological torture. Bring a child into the world, love him or her, turn said child into productive and deep-thinking member of society, and congrats on a job well done. Meantime, I'll do what I please: if I want to teach my child that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the creative force in the universe, I'll do that. If I want to dress my child in all manner of Kiss paraphenalia, I'll do that. AND, if I want to try to take back the term "porch monkey" (something I'd never even HEARD until last weekend during "Clerks II"), I'll fucking well teach it to my child! MY child!! Because there are people out there who teach THEIR children that homosexuality isn't a biological imperative, it's a "disease" that needs to be "cured" fire, if possible.

Shit. Now I'm ALL worked up.

So, backing off from the disingenuous rhetoric for a bit...all I'm trying to say is that parenting is private, and here Ms. Cheney and her spouse are going to be dragged into the middle of a maelstrom, buffeted by forces on BOTH sides of a parenting debate that should be talked about with cool heads and a respect for differing opinions. Pro-rights organizations are heralding the decision, as if conceiving had ANYTHING to do with them. Anti-rights groups, like Focus on the Family, are knitting their brows in consternation, looking all grim and self-righteous. A policy analyst for that hate group said the following: "Just because you can conceive a child outside a one-woman, one-man marriage doesn't mean it's a good idea. Love can't replace a mother and a father." This bothers me, because I was born without a father, and spent the important formative years without a father, and I'm doing just FINE, thanks. Except that the folks who disagree with me won't do so respectfully; they'll say my words PROVE I'm a heathen and a sinner, as if having a father in my life would have changed that. Here's your damn god-fearing father figure:

A married Baptist with two teenage children impregnated my mother out of wedlock. He tried to cover this up by denial and bribery.

How's that, Focus on the Family? You like them apples? And while I'm throwing this at you with all the spite and malice aforethought that I can muster, I'm actually not upset by the FACTS of my conception at all. My mother is a fantastic woman, a pioneer in her chosen field who worked her ass off to 1) raise me in an environment of love and understanding, 2) complete a Masters degree, and 3) provide for me in such a way that I never knew how tight things were financially. Um...where in that equation was a father necessary? And here, the Cheney daughter will have TWO parents who love her...neither of whom has a penis, and so what? Since when was a penis necessary to raise a child...or change the oil...or any of a million other fucking things that have kept women "in their place" for a couple of millenia?

My father, to his credit, eventually accepted me and we had...well, we usually had a cool and distant relationship. There were rays of sunshine, like when he asked me - of his own accord, with no urging from my mother - to be the best man at their wedding. There were also dark times, with shouting and sullen silence between us. But - and I cannot stress this enough - the life lessons I learned, the GOOD person I learned to be...those things I learned from my (single) mother.

I only hope that, in having each other, Ms. Cheney and her spouse can steer their family ship through the rough political seas ahead. Bon voyage, ladies...and congrats.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

List of Haves and Wants

I snagged this list from Suze, and immediately grokked its contemplative nature of self-discovery. If you are so inclined, consider yourself tagged. Enjoy!

Five things I want but do not have:
1) A garage. I'm tired of having walnuts fall and dent my car, and I'm tired of tracking mud into both car and house when the weather turns shitty. I hate scraping in the winter. I would love to take down the big pine tree in the back yard and have a 2-car garage built in its stead. Simple, clean lines that evoke the quasi-folk craftsman style of our house, two storeys, with a studio on the 2nd floor. We could move ALL our music shit - books, flutes, drums, keyboards, all of it - to that space, and really feel like we had a place to be to get work done, a place we could LEAVE when it's time to "come home."
2) A new Kiss album, by the original Kiss members. Little esoteric here, since this isn't something I really CAN have. But, while I'm sure would be nice to have Peter, Paul, Gene & Ace drop their inter-band B.S. and just put out an album with contributions from ALL members, each playing & singing songs. I really feel like that is what I've missed the most about Kiss since the late-70s: at least the impression of unity and equality. I love the 80s stuff as well...but the nothing-but-Paul-and-Gene-songs only goes so far.
3) Tenure. My job is great: I teach classes I really like, and I'm having a ball with my private composition students. And I know that most workers don't have the kind of reliable job security that tenure represents. Whatever. The job I'm in, tenure is there, and it's kind of the "golden ring" all professors strive for. I want it. I've been at CMU for nine years, and there's no real worry that I'd be let go. But...well, there's always that "but," isn't there? If I had tenure, not only would I have that job security, I'd also have that implied pat-on-the-back we all seem to secretly crave from our employers.
4) More time to write. I want to write symphonies, and pop songs, and chamber music, and etude books for every instrument that introduces young players to modern music in a way that doesn't scare the shit out them. I also like being lazy, and watching movies, and spending time with friends. Hmmm...what to do, what to do?
5) A usable basement. Don't get me wrong: I love our house. Built in 1900, it carries a lot of old-school charm and is VERY amenable to renovation. But, the basement is this mish-mash of poured concrete, block, stone, and (frighteningly) wood. I visit friends who live in newly-built houses of such bland disposability...then I go down into their luxurious basements with 8' ceilings and smooth walls & floors, all dry and just WAITING for a home theater, recording studio, exercise room...and I get all jealous. Maybe I could somehow build a large underground complex UNDER our house, stretching all over the back yard. And put a garage right over top. (See item #1 above.)

Five things I have but do not want:
1) A black walnut tree. See above with regards to my dented car. Beyond that, the nuts themselves are a total pain in my ass (and back!) as I have to pick them up a dozen times a year, and in the fall they keep us awake when they bang on the porch roof all night long. It draws a huge oodle of squirrels from all over the county, who, having depleted the nuts in short order, set forth to rooting around for my tulip bulbs. The long leaf stems clog up my gutters, leading to occasional water in the basement. I hate to kill a VERY healthy tree for seemingly petty reasons...but I want it gone. Yesterday, if possible.
2) A mess o'grading. Yeah, I know, it comes with the job...but, I really do resent having to take THIS much work home with me. Tess and I are grading fiends; when friends of ours talk about all the time they have to read, or play video games, or go out clubbing, we just freeze our faces into a rictus of a grin and get out the ol' red pens and settle in for a cozy evening of correcting the mind-boggling array of mistakes and grammatical mishaps our students present to us. I suppose we could simply NOT give homework...but then, what do you base a grade on? If you feel so inclined to riff on the subject of eliminating grades altogether, feel free...been there, done that.
3) Middle-aged flub. Yeah, okay, I should stop eating cheese and dark M&Ms. While I'm at it, I should have the metabolism I did when I was 21. Joining a gym should help, and really, I don't need Usherian washboard abs...I'd just like to feel toight like a toiger again. Whatever.
4) A long commute. 45 minutes each way, and yeah, I live where I do by choice. I also sometimes appreciate the "alone time" that driving can deliver. But, if we could each live 15 minutes away from work (maybe by folding the map somehow?) there would be more time for writing. Or reading. Or staring adoringly into each others' eyes...whatever! Just less time on my car-seat-flattened ass! Especially when the roads start to get slick. 'Cause, yeah, that's what I want to do: slide off the expressway for a tenure-less job. Moving on...
5) Anal retentiveness. I like my personality, but sometimes I wish I could just be a little more "go with the flow" in terms of life. As it is, I like to know where I'll be, what I'll be doing, and when I'll move on to the next thing. I like order, and schedule, and finishing one thing before moving on to the next. If plans change on me suddenly I get antsy, and I let those changes throw my whole day out of whack. Lighten up, Harding. It's...okay.

Five things I do not want and do not have:
1) A treadmill. We waffled on this item as our "big gift to each other" this year, talking about how much we wanted to spend and where we'd put it. Then, we read in the local paper a story about how the Clinton Memorial Wellness Center had recently opened a fitness room that is open to the public, and all our planning got flushed. This new place is awesome: all state-of-the-art equipment, treadmills with individual TV screens, and a mess o'weightlifting machines. It's 5 minutes from home, and a couples membership is $350 a year. Done.
2) A bigger office. This seems counter-intuitive - perhaps especially to anyone who has been IN my little pie-slice of an office - but I love my space. It's little, it's cozy, and it's WAAAYYY down at the end of the hall, where no one comes unless they're coming to see me or to leave the building. I could stand some more bookshelves, but I don't need a grand piano, or a couch, or whatever. Let me be.
3) Pessimism. Again, that's a little esoteric; I'm just glad to generally be an upbeat, happy, grin-&-shrug kind of guy.
4) A debilitating or life-threatening affliction. Seems obvious on the face of it, but sometimes I take my general good health and mobility for granted. This item is especially difficult sometimes because, despite an overall optimism, I sometimes can be a bit of a hyperchondriac.
5) A pissy, manipulative boss. Some folks at work are at odds with our department chair, but I like the guy. He's big and bearded and amiable. He has back problems, which isn't great for HIM but gives us common ground. He likes me, and he likes the job I do, and he tells me so. That makes CMU a nicer place to work.

Five things I want to have...and do!
1) A happy & fulfilling marriage. I've been coupled a LOT of times, and many of those other girls made me think "okay, she's the one." Yeah. Not so much. I put off finding "the right one" a lot longer than most of my friends...but I've also spared myself a messy divorce or an unhappy home life. The security of coming Home - with a capital "H" - to someone I'm crazy about is better than any job tenure could ever be.
2) My grandparents. My mom was relatively young when she conceived, and her mother was even younger. Consequently, my grandparents are still in their seventies. There's a little age-induced dementia & general forgetfulness sometimes, but they're still here and I've gotten to know them as an adult...something most of my friends never had the chance to do with their grandparents.
3) Good friends. 'Nuff said.
4) My hair. God, that's vain! And, I've mentally moved beyond the point of thinking I'm defined by my ever-silvering ponytail.'s comforting, laying there all heavy & warm. Mildly receding temples aside, I'm pretty hirsute for late-30s. And, where it counts...which is on top of my head, and not sprouting out of my shoulders & lower back.
5) Anticipation. I'm lucky: a fun event for me is enjoyable for weeks before it actually occurs. This is especially good when the grading & other mundane day-to-day worries start to bog me down mentally. I can always think "Well, that's okay: in two week's we're spending the weekend at Amanda & Joel's, and we'll go record shopping and drink wine and all sorts of good stuff." Then, when the fun event is OVER, there's usually something still on the horizon, which keeps me from gettin' the blues.