Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I'm All Out of Love.....

After my incredibly snobby post about good art, I've been starting to think of myself as something of a hypocrite (yeah, huge revelation there). Because, as much as I'm all about finding good art with “substance,” I more than frequently indulge myself in cheesy, light, feel-good stuff that doesn't make me think, only makes me smile. I indulged in this brand of sugar-coated entertainment just last night, and it was a lot of fun. I have no regrets.

Last night, I saw Air Supply in concert. Some of you may never have heard of them (shame on you!), but I'd bet money you've heard their music. That's because they wrote many of the songs that form the backbone of every “light adult contemporary” radio station, including “I'm All Out of Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” “Lost in Love,” “The One That You Love,” “The Power of Love,” and, of course, “How Many Times Can I Say The Word Love in One Song?” Ok, so that last one is made up. I'd place them in the same category as Chicago and the Moody Blues: cheesy white people music that somehow became mixed up in my childhood. Is Air Supply's music of dubious artistic quality? I think my friend Nick would say yes. And I would agree. But I'll tell you what, I didn't let that stop me from having a good time. It was good to get off my artistic high horse for once.

Frankly, part of the fun, however, was in that I knew how silly and uncool the whole thing was, like I was flying right in the face of modern musical tastes. I'm much more indulgent to light entertainment from twenty or thirty years ago than of to its equivalent of today. You know how I like to be the rebel.

I did not go alone, however. That would just be weird. I took my mom (it's her birthday this week!) and my friend Spencer, who nearly had a heart attack when I asked him if he wanted to come along.

“Air Supply? AIR SUPPLY?” he shrieked, wildly, “Are you freakin' KIDDING? Wild rabid dogs with machine guns couldn't keep me away!” Well, he said something like that. The point is, he wanted to come - somehow, I suspected he would.

Spencer more than outmatched me in terms of enthusiasm for the whole thing, which really added to the pleasure of the concert. My mom seemed to enjoy watching her son and his buddy, both in their mid-20s and way below the mean age of Air Supply's target demographic, swaying with the music and singing along at the top of our voices.

The Air Supply guys were really showing their age, but managed to put on a solid show nevertheless. They were going to prove that old guys still know how to rock! Unfortunately, their music does not "rock" or even do anything more than sway gently, so most people remained unconvinced. However, we loved it for what it was. And, all things considered, they were enjoyable to watch. You have to admire that kind of passion poured into a song they've been singing every day for thirty years. Russell Hitchcock's voice is still as smooth and piercingly charming as ever. They really played to the crowd, who were more than appreciative, and seemed to enjoy the attention and adoration just a little too much.

Which really got me thinking about fame and celebrity. Most of the people crowding the stage and begging for autographs (seriously) were kids in their teens who probably had never heard of Air Supply before that night. But it didn't matter – we worship celebrity in our society (its the state religion) and even though these guys were well past their hey-day, icons of a previous by-gone generation, there was still enough fame there that it drew instant admirers like moths to a flame, especially in a remote, rather backwards little town like Orem (come on, admit it). When they came down into the audience during one song, they were mobbed with people begging for handshakes, hugs, a picture, anything to connect themselves with that most sacred of qualities: fame.

We stayed put, since we had come to hear the band and enjoy the music, not worship the musicians. I'm not sure I would ever want to enter the realms of mainstream celebrity – fortunately, thats not in my list of career goals. I would hate to become so famous that I personally overshadowed any of the work I was trying to do. I want my career to be about the art and the characters I play, not about me. When you see Tom Cruise in a movie, you don't think “Wow, this character is really conflicted and, in so many ways, reminds me of myself in a very moving and thought-provoking way,” even if he's doing a really good job acting (unlikely, but possible)! No, you just think, “Wow, that's Tom Cruise! What a weirdo! Seriously, what's up with all that scientology junk?” For the serious artist (which probably rules out Tom anyway), this is a big problem.

But here I go being all snobby again. For now, I'll just need to enjoy the fact that, for the rest of my life, I'll be abler to remember seeing Graham Russell, in person, saying some of the most delicious tripe I've ever heard: “Beautiful music... where does it come from? It falls from the heavens like crystal rain, it carries you away to far-off mountain, and you stand on a precipice and look at the world.... And you see her, the goddess of love. In her hands she holds the white dove of peace... and she lets it go, and it flys away into the heavens and reminds us all of the power of love....” It just doesn't get any better than that.

Air Supply is just one of my many "guilty pleasures." Another is the movie "Hello, Dolly!" with Barbara Streisand. There, I've admitted it. What are your guilty pleasures? I'd love to know, and it feels really good when you finally get it out there. Come on, I won't make fun of you.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Entertainment? Art? Whatever....

I frequently get into discussions about random subjects with a co-worker, because its an easy and convieniant way to put off doing more work (or pretending to do more work, as the case may be). Today, for some reason, we were discussing theater, and he asked me which local theater venues were the best, in my opinion. I replied that that really depended on what your idea of good theater was, because there are definitely different schools of thought on that point.

He said good theater is entertaining theater. That's all. Same for film, books, TV, etc. Entertaining = good. No other qualities required. I don't want to make fun of my coworker or criticize his viewpoint. He's a great guy. His view on what makes good art is held by millions of other people. When I suggested that perhaps good art involved a bit more than simple entertainment, he suggested that I was a snob who had lived too long in an artsy bubble. Which is a valid point.

I encounter this point of view very often, it seems. Convincing people that entertaining art is not necessarily good, or that good art is not necessarily entertaining, has been an uphill battle. Well, really, its all a matter of opinion anyway. But the real problem here is, I think, that there a various kind of “entertainment” causing a communication barrier. When people say that all they want from art is entertainment, I immediately assume they mean “passive” entertainment – that is, that which require little or no mental energy to watch, which places one into what I call the “stupid coma” where the entertainment is passed into and quickly out of the brain with little effect. Its wrong for me to assume thats what people mean when they say they want “entertainment,” and its also wrong for me to assume that this sort of “passive” entertainment is necessarily a bad thing. But I do.

But when I say that I want art to do more than just entertain, I think that sometimes people assume that I want everything I watch to have some sort of grand, deep, moral significance, to teach some kind of profound lesson or truth. That is certainly not true; indeed, some of the worst art out there, in my opinion, is that which tries to do exactly this and fails utterly. What I'm talking about is a concept I've had trouble defining and can only refer to by the word “substance.” Does this art, this entertainment, have substance? I'm not sure what I mean by that. I only know that “The Simpsons” and “Seinfield” (despite being "about nothing") have it, and “Friends” and “American Idol” do not. Substance is not necessarily something big or profound. It doesn't have to be some kind of moral or lesson. It's more to do with something smart or clever, witty or well-crafted in the work. Sometimes this results in a powerful moral message. Sometimes it provides comedy that's funnier and funnier the more you think about it. Almost always it involves active participation of the audience, it increases mental activity instead of decreasing it. Some would say the whole point of entertainment is to relax, and that relaxing means not thinking. I can accept that. Sometimes, a good action flick where you can just sort of turn off is fun. I love James Bond movies. But it troubles me when thats the only kind of art people want to have anything to do with.

I guess I just see there being so much more. But I have an emotional stake in this. I'm going to spend my life in the “entertainment” business, and it seems less frivilous if I convince myself that there's more to all of this than just razzle dazzle. Anyway, these are the kind of debates I constantly struggle with, leading many to believe, rightly, that I need a life. Just my two cents, anyway.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Happy First Anniversary, Blog

Today is a special day. Exactly one year ago today, I first decided I'd see what this new blog craze was about by starting up one of my own. I figured I'd play around with it for a few weeks before losing interest, but somehow, surprisingly, I stuck with it. I don't usually follow through with anything, so this is a big deal. One whole year of blogging; one year distilled and digitized for posterity. Consider it my little gift to the world, and to myself. It's quite gratifying to look back over my various posts and remember the events of the last year. It's our first year anniversary, and my blog and I are still in our honeymoon phase.

In the last year, I submitted exactly 100 posts to the blog. Many of them were really crappy, frankly. Some were simply filler material, some attempted to be profound and were only tedious, and some served merely as means to vent any emotion I felt like venting. On rare occasions, however, I actually wrote something that I thought was interesting for one reason for another. I've reviewed all my previous posts and picked ten that, at the moment anyway, I particularly liked or thought were noteworthy in some way. Ask me in a week and the list would probably change. But, anyway, in case any of you missed one of these classics, here they are:

Top Ten Posts of My First Year of Blogging (in chronological order):

1.Battle on the Homefront - May 31, 2005
2.Trials of the English Major – June 19, 2005
3. Childhood Obsession & the Digitized Pilgrimage – June 27, 2005
4.Aboard the USS Imagination – July 31, 2005
5.Coming of Age in an Age of Simulacrum – September 10, 2005
6.God Bless Us, Every One – December 9, 2005
7.“Thus goes everyone into the world but I...” - December 19, 2005
8.What's in a face? - December 29, 2005
9.Job Openings #1 – March 1, 2006
10.An Open Letter – April 4, 2006

As I look over this list I find that many of the posts I like best had similar themes in common. Most of them are about trying to adjust to the adult world without losing the wonder of childhood. I guess this was a year in which I was thinking a lot about growing up. It's about time.

Well, enjoy! I look forward to another productive year in blog-land.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Decidedly Delightful Discourse on "D": A Drill

For reasons past my comprehension, I have been assigned the task of defining ten words that begin with the letter "D" in a manner which somehow reflects my personality. Many bloggers have preceeded me with various other letters. Here is one of them by the friend who then passed the torch on to me. I relied heavily on Ambrose Bierce's timeless work "The Devil's Dictionary" for inspiration. In fact, half of the definitions (everything in italics) are his. The other half can be blamed solely on me.
1. DANCE, v.i. To leap about to the sound of tittering music, preferably with arms about your neighbor's wife or daughter. There are many kinds of dances, but all those requiring the participation of the two sexes have two characteristics in common: they are conspicuously innocent, and warmly loved by the vicious.

2. DATE, n. A highly-frustrating and usually fruitless activity often undertaken in a spirit of obligation under the pretense of familiarizing somebody with yourself while actually pretending to be someone else entirely.

3. DAWN, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it.

4. DAY, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent. This period is divided into two parts, the day proper and the night, or day improper — the former devoted to sins of business, the latter consecrated to the other sort. These two kinds of social activity overlap.

5. DENIAL, n. A pleasant state that usually succeeds, for a time, in promoting mental health by postponing mental anguish. A high-interest emotional loan.

6. DESPAIR, v. To indulge oneself selfishly in the tragic, ignoring all obvious evidences of the comic. Closing your eyes, plugging your ears, and shouting “LA LA LA LA” at the world.

7. DESTINY, n. A tyrant's authority for crime and fool's excuse for failure.

8. DIET, n. A thoroughly exhausting exercise involving the mind-numbingly difficult task of paying attention to what you put in your mouth.

9. DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.

10. DOLLAR, n. A little slip of green paper endowed by society with a shifting, non-inherent value, for which men routinely lie, cheat, fight, and kill.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Birthday Requiem

Dearly Beloved,

We gather here today to remember our dear friend and loved one, Matt. For twenty five years he has brought joy and frustration into our lives in his own unique and disturbing way. For a quarter of a century he has walked the earth, touched our hearts, and depressed our spirits. Matt was never self-serving or arrogant. He never spoke much of himself, didn't seek the limelight. He would be embarrassed, I think, by all of this attention. But today, on the celebration of his life, it would only be appropriate to say a few words on his behalf. I would like to take this time, then, to remember him and to honor him.

Many of you will always remember Matt as the remarkably attractive young man with brown eyes full of hope and cynicism in equal measure, grinning goofily at both the world's incompetence and his own. But to those of us who knew him best, he was so much more. He was a true friend in times of need; always willing to listen briefly to your problems before launching into a helpful description of his own, always ready to explain a particularly obscure dirty joke in the Shakespeare play you were studying, and ever draining away your approval and affection like a needy and self-conscious leech.

Matt was born twenty-five years ago on May 11, 1981 in McCall, Idaho, the eldest child to Steven and Denise Haws who have never since regretted (save on one or two occasions they've told me of) their first successful act of procreation. He was a loving and dutiful yet rather surly son, a devoted momma's boy, and a continual source of both pride and disappointment to his eager if somewhat optimistic parents. He was followed into the world by a brother, Blaine, and a sister, Rebekah, who continued the tradition for many years by following him everywhere. But he always treated his siblings with the utmost respect and love, and was, by all accounts, their favorite brother (because Blaine had no other brother, and neither did Bekah, really) and his parents' favorite child (once again, sort of the de facto choice). As he developed into his own personality, he was at times so different from his progenitors that they were often heard to wonder where on earth he came from. He defied his origins and shattered preconceptions.

His interests were many and varied and noble, but basically boiled down to Shakespeare and skinny dipping. He was a lofty man of ideas, and since he had some issues with modern capitalism, was clearly a filthy Communist (aka, a Marxist minx, Trotsky traitor, Lenin lover). And yet he loved America, mostly. He talked big but did very little. He routinely practiced what he did not preach, and often had his cake and ate it too. He spent a great deal of his time pretending to be somebody else. He loved ketchup but hated tomatoes. He was a man of many inconsistencies.

But let it not be said that he was a man who did not love, for his heart was full and his affections great. He had many loves that were dear and close to his heart; chief among these were computer games and The West Wing, but many of his family and friends made the Top 20. He had many friends, many of whom he hardly ever saw or spoke to, and a blog with a legion of devoted fans. He formed crushes easily, but rarely fell in love. He was at once both fiercely loyal and an unreliable flake. His sanity was always somewhat questionable and he often caused people he liked to flee from him in terror, but those who stayed agree that a more likeable nutcase you'll never meet.

Ultimately, if there are words suitable to describe the complexity that was Matt Haws, I am not wise enough to know them. I mean, I could use a thesaurus but, frankly, that would just be a lot of bother. I merely wish to add, in conclusion, that from the first moment I saw him I loved him dearly, and that was the beginning of a life-long romance.

And now, I would invite his many friends, family members, and admirers to come forward to pay their respects. No, he's not dead. Yet. It's just his birthday.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More Complaining

So I'm sitting in my cubicle, waiting for the urge to work to hit me so that I can actually get something productive done today. I've been here an hour and no urges yet. Not a single one. I'm aware that this is irresponsible of me. It reflects poorly on my maturity and work ethic. I'm also aware that everybody else here today is doing the same thing.

In an average week, I get perhaps four or five productive hours on the good days and two or three hours on the bad days. This may sound like an ideal situation to some, but the constant tedium of having to fill those excess hours with SOMEthing is almost as draining as if I actually did what I'm being paid for. So why not just work the whole time? The answer is simple: I am in a situation in which it is to my disadvantage to work as efficiently as I can. I will produce more headache for myself and my coworkers if I were to burn through my work in a matter of a few weeks rather than a few months. Frankly, I could work myself right out of a job that way. Its a limited scope project, and once its done, its done. Besides, I'm already twice as productive as many of my coworkers; it would not be wise to stand out more than that.

So, despite having only about fifteen to twenty useful hours in my work week, I'm required to be here for forty in order to get my full paycheck. That's modern capitalism for you. Apologists say that our capitalistic economy encourages hard work and rewards those who go the extra mile. I say that, all too often, it breeds apathy and mediocrity. As a member of the work force who sells his time and labor to the highest bidder because I am without any means of production of my own, I'm merely one small part in a large machine whose purpose I cannot understand from my limited perspective. I'm not sure what happens to my project before or after me. I'll never see or interact with the customers who use what I create. I have no personal investment in the product. I get paid the same rate per hour whether I complete 10 categories or none. Something is wrong here, with the entire system or just with me; either way I'm getting out of corporate America, taking the road less traveled, and never looking back. If that means I must be poor the rest of my life, then I'll just have to deal with that.

A friend of mine remarked the other day that she doesn't like water because she resents the fact that we have to drink it to survive. We teased her, of course, but I think I understand what she means. I feel the same way about money. I resent the fact that you can't do anything without money. I resent the fact that we live our entire lives as slaves to little green pieces of paper. We sacrifice so much our time, so many of our relationships with other people, so many of our dreams and hopes and aspirations, all for what? For paper, which only has value because we all say it does. It seems absurd. But complaining about it isn't going to change it. I need money for my move to South Carolina; I need it to pay rent and to buy a car. So here I am. Seven hours left to go.

And speaking of a messed up system and buying a car, what is the deal with car dealerships? Buying anything besides cars (computers, expensive sets of clothing, or even a house) does not involve a blatant and complicated game of cat and mouse in which seller and buyer are in constant competition to cheat each other and gain an upper-hand in international politics-style diplomatic negotiation. Why on earth does getting a car have to be so freakin' complicated? I was going to try to get a car last week, but I put the whole thing on hold because it was seriously stressing me out. I can't deal with salesmen. Let's face it: there's a lot of things I just can't deal with. I'll be twenty-five in a few days and I'm still mostly incapable of handling just about anything. You'd laugh at me if I told you all the things that freak me out and bother me. Better not to ask.

But if you'll excuse me, I have an hour of doodling to do, followed by a strenuous hour of failing horribly at online crossword puzzles. How depressingly pathetic.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Gym Memoirs

As many of you already know, since I'm horrible at keeping anything on the “down-low,” I have started working a personal trainer at the gym within the last couple of weeks. His name is Taylor and he is a nice young man currently attending UVSC. I meet with him twice a week for half an hour and let me tell you what, he doesn't pull any punches. He works me so hard I'm sore for days and days afterwards! This guy is an animal! Today, for example, I'm finding it a bit difficult to go up and down stairs and to sit without wincing in a bit of muscle pain. Taylor scoffs at such petty inconvieniances. Its a good kind of pain! It builds character. And despite my usual inclination away from physical activity of any kind, I actually have to agree.

I decided to sign up with a trainer for a number of reasons: 1) I clearly had NO idea what I was doing at the gym, with the result that I would usually just avoid going, 2) I needed something to keep me going even when my inherent laziness began to loll its ugly head, and therefore 3) knowing that I had invested some money into it would help me to go regularly, and also 4) knowing there was a beefy guy at the gym who could break me in half without a second thought who would be very displeased with me should I fail to show up would also be a great motivation!

I'm not saying its for everybody, but, for me, working with a trainer has been great. I'm the kind of person who needs somebody there making me push to my limits, to do just one more. I've only been at it for a couple of weeks, but I feel like I've already seen some nice results. For those concerned, I have not become a musclehead whose life-ambition to rip shirts when I flex. Those are the guys I'm scared to death of whenever I'm forced to go into the free weight section on my own. Actually, I'm not sure if I'm scared directly of them or of that feeling of compromised masculinity I get when I'm sweating like a madman trying to lift my ten pound weights while they are practically juggling fifties. Like I need any more reminders of my blatant femininity.

Anyway, I'm not trying to compete with the big boys. I simply want to build bit of muscle to help burn off the body fat. And I've already seen a big improvement in that department! If I keep this up, I could really look good by the time I move in August. So thats whats important, thats what I try to keep my mind focused on. I have a target body fat percent I'd like to reach by the end of summer. Yes, I actually have goals! Its a major improvement from my previous “go to the gym and do stuff and see what happens” mentality.

Generally I go to the gym in the afternoons, right after work. I try not to eat too soon before I go, because running or working out on a full stomach often makes me feel a bit sick. So when I had an appointment with Taylor on Saturday at 9:30am and I woke up at 9:10, it didn't even occur to me that I should eat something before I went. I know this was stupid. If I had taken two seconds to think about the situation, I would have realized it was stupid and had something, anything. But you have to understand that I wasn't thinking and that I was in the habit of going to the gym without eating something right before.

We worked on legs (which is why they are still so sore) and Taylor, true to form, had me working like a madman. Leg presses, lunges, squats, again and again with hardly any break. It was intense, but I was enjoying the effort in my own way, and the burn in my muscles and the grunts of exertion that escaped my lips made me feel very powerful and manly. This was an illusion soon to be torn to shreds, however.

As we walked to another machine, I began to feel a growing discomfort in my stomach. I suddenly felt very strongly that I was going to throw up. To make matters worse, my vision began to get blurry and I felt pretty dizzy. I told Taylor to hold up a second, and that I was feeling a little weird, and then sat down on an exercise machine to catch my breath. I seriously don't remember anything after that.

There were dreams, I'm sure of that. Lots of random and meaningless images. Taylor says I flopped against the machine I was sitting on, and only his timely intervention had kept me from sliding to the floor. I vaguely remember coming to and hearing Taylor tell me that I had passed out before the darkness returned again. This time I felt like I was asleep for an entire night, a long dark fitful sleep full of dreams. The gym seemed a remote memory, and there was nothing but the blackness.

According to witnesses, I was only out for five to ten seconds before I snapped back into consciousness quite abruptly. There was something hard and flat pressed up against my back. It was the floor. Taylor and a small crowd of others looked down at me. My first thought was “Why am I at the gym?” which was followed a sudden realization of what had happened. I was then horribly embarrassed, and so the first thing I said was, “I'm OK! I'm fine!” as if passing out was a normal, cool thing to do. The third thing I thought, before Taylor made me start focus on breathing regularly, was that I just had to write a blog about this.

I felt quite calm and relaxed, puzzled at the surreal nature of the entire experience, while Taylor, for all his suave fitness know-how, proceeded to freak out in quite a natural way. I've decided I'd rather be the guy who passed out than the guy who has to deal with the guy who passed out. He wouldn't let me move much or say much until he was completely satisfied I wasn't going to go out again, then sat me up gently and had me drink small mouthfuls of water. He had somebody run to their little nutrition shop and buy a pack of cookies for me to munch on to get my blood sugar back up. He then properly chided me for not eating anything before I came in. He was right, of course; it was very stupid of me. On the whole, though, he came across as genuinely concerned for my well-being more than just being worried about how this might affect his job. I appreciated but was a bit embarrassed by his attention and care. Eventually, we had that awkward post-pass-out moment of “So.... um, I guess I'll see you next week then.... take care....” Don't you just hate those? You know what I'm talking about!

Anyway, I've received very little sympathy from anybody about this. That's OK, it was really my fault. But hey, I learned my lesson! I won't do it again! I guess when we are young, we all really do kind of feel like we are invincible and will live forever. Since it had never happened to me before, I had never considered the possibility that I could pass out. The whole experience left me considering my own mortality and physical vulnerability, so its been quite bitterly profound in its own way. Its not a big deal, really, but it did remind me that my body isn't just going to take care of itself all the time. We need to put a little extra effort into caring and protecting ourselves so that we can live long, productive, and happy lives. And thats a good moral to the story; even Taylor would have to agree.