Monthly Archives: May 2010

On frivolity and its many forms

For proper context here, it may be important to note that I never had a drop of alcohol, nor set foot in a bar, nor bought alcohol until I was 35 years old. So it’s somewhat atypical given the entire span of my life that I spent several hours this evening in a bar with a motley assortment of co-workers and complete strangers. After this experience, I’m left with a decidedly wide variety of observations.

Firstly, the noise. While I agree that this was a karaoke bar and music was supposed to be front and center, I have no clue why these places have to be so intolerably loud. My ears are not trained to sort out the tiny strain of human speech among 120 decibels of Bananarama blasting away in the background so for the entire evening I’m functionally deaf. This makes it impossibly difficult to form any sort of conversational connection with anyone without screaming at the absolute top of your lungs. Not to mention, even if you CAN hear someone, the throbbing of the music is an obnoxious distraction to trying to give them proper attention. I have no doubt that half the people who addressed me this evening thought I was some horrid and inattentive lout. I could have gotten more service by far from inviting them each individually for a walk around the block and was at times tempted to do so.

Secondly, yet significantly more horrifying, I’m always humbled by the number of people who address me directly, and politely, and enthusiastically by name yet I have no clue who they are. I typically have some knowledge of where they sit in the company or what their role might be but when someone looks at me, smiles winningly and addresses me and I have no clue who I’m talking to, it’s appallingly rude in my mind and I hate little more than being rude to someone. They deserve better. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to invite the entire company out for one-on-one lunches in alphabetical order.

Lastly, and appallingly, as I looked out across the teeming masses of bar-goers, I had the revelation that some percentage of these people are making important decisions about their lives in this room. Going out and “having a good time” is a key process in human dating rituals. In fact, as I understand it anyway, the dating process often consists of little else except going out for various recreational activities including going out to a bar. In a key way, the dating couples in this alcohol-soaked and nicotine-stained establishment are forming the patterns for the rest of their lives. They’re using this venue as a part of the process by which they choose the person with whom they are going to spend the rest of their lives. Somewhat ironically, those people who are most flippantly irresponsible here and place themselves front and center on the dance floor, have an advantage over those who quietly sit back and calculate how best to word their blog-based response to the evening. The mating and selection process favors those who are wild and irresponsible. This strikes me as a terrible error.

To me, relationships at their heart are about responsibility. At the end of the day, someone has to take out the damn trash. Period. Yet the vetting processing for potential mates, consists almost entirely of recreation. Someone’s ability to sing with wild abandon while drunk, tells you little about their ability to be a responsible partner. In fact, it could be argued that the tendency to embarrass one’s self in public is inversely proportional to one’s suitability as a partner. Yet every day in social clubs all across the world, people make dating and social decisions based on entirely the wrong criterian. I’d suggest that rather than going out for fun to find a mate, perhaps we open clubs where couples can sit down and put together 1000-piece puzzles together. As the couples worked, they could slowly come to realize that in fact the pieces were from 27 different puzzles and therefore impossible to assemble. It is exactly this sort of impossible scenario that is iconic of human relationships. If the art of negotiation and compromise can be learned early on, then the rest, like learning to have fun together and relax, will come quite naturally and easily. As usual, I think we have it backwards. All the couples in bars everywhere getting to know each other should learn to work together first. Then when properly mastered, perhaps they can go out for drinks to celebrate.

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Talking to the IMA

I write this particular entry not because I suspect anyone will find it particularly interesting, but because I want to save my own impressions of the day. Today I ventured off to the IMA to explore volunteer opportunities. I realized not long ago that I have FAR too much extra energy bouncing around in my skull and that giving it a direction would benefit not only my tenuous grip on sanity, but also potentially someone else as well. So I sought out somewhere to volunteer my time and energy. The first target on my list was the IMA and being only a short 6-miles and 30 minutes of insane traffic away, it was a natural fit. It also promised in some small way to allow me to vent some of the creative urge I cannot properly service at my 9-5 job… well, ok, more correctly stated, my 7-10 job, but whatever.

So as is my wont, I arrived for the interview 3 hours early. As I strolled in the front door, camera in tow, I was feeling exceptionally confident. My naïve mind reasoned that the only people who would be applying to volunteer must be old people and housewives. Among this crowd I must stand out like a shining star. (One will note that in addition to naiveté, I also have a fairly large egotistical streak.) On the way in, I passed a group of 10 doing some gardening. Once inside, I began to notice just how MANY people were involved. There seems to be, quite literally, a docent in every single room. All of them, presumably, volunteers. It was about this time that I began to realize the sheer immensity of the institution with which I had made contact and also started to feel more than a bit under-dressed.

Before I move on, one comment on the docents themselves. After speaking with my interviewer at length on this topic, the docents are surprisingly well trained and vetted. Four interviews followed by a 14-month training course to be exact. If nothing else, I respect their determination. I will admit, that they certainly are a varied lot. I spoke with one woman for a full 10 minutes about a particular work of art and she was the nicest person you could hope for. She alone added a lot to the experience of the museum just by her approachability and ability to carry on a conversation. Some of the others, however, it was difficult to coax so much as a grunt from them. These truly were the Surly Docents and they seemed little more than guards.

Docents aside, I was extremely impressed with the institution. The permanent staff number 300 with the volunteer staff approaching 400. Hopefully, they’ll find some work for me to do in the more technical areas of the museum. I should hear shortly if I’ve passed their screening process. If nothing else, I ended up with a membership to the place, so I’m incented to go back.

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One Cup and a Million Draughts to Fill it

It is a basic human tendency to assume that we are all somehow different from everyone else; that within each of us lives a unique spark, a hidden secret need or desire that is ours and ours alone. We’re trained from the age of toddlers to think that we’re special; that there’s no one in the whole entire world who is exactly like us. This thought, no matter how buoyant it may make our youthful spirits feel, is simply wrong.

Every one of us has a cup rattling around inside. Some are full, some quite obviously empty. Some have the appearance of fullness but are no more than illusions tailored to fool the unwary. The cup represents our need to be necessary to the world or the universe around us. No more hollow feeling can smite the human soul than the thought that one’s own existence is superfluous and that nobody would notice if you were to simply vanish one day.

For a million cups, there are a million ways to fill them but not all are so obvious. Somewhere a new mother is holding her son for the first time, hot, bright, pink, vital. Her cup will be filled for a while until she begins to realize he no longer needs her. Somewhere a girl is dancing, lithe, enticing, the music pounds in rhythm to her heart. The lights reflect her fraudulent and inviting smile. Her cup is full as long as the eyes of her audience cling to her like barnacles to a storm-tossed ship. As they slip off into the night she feels empty and alone more than ever. Somewhere a man kneels in prayer, his inner voice raised up to a universe attentive, kind, eternal. His cup is filled as long as he can hold his faith in his God. Somewhere a man struts upon a stage, night after night after night as he labors for the love of his fans. The spotlights form a pillory where his weary soul slaves for the adulation of the masses. His cup is full as long as the lights are on.

Somewhere… somewhere a wiser man than all the rest, looks up at the night sky and realizes there doesn’t need to be a cup. That the desire to fill the cup is the source of the sorrow. That the true joy is merely in being alive. That the million pin-pricks in the dome of the night bring a satisfaction more calming and more lasting than any other.

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The Empty Cup

Here I sit, nearly half way through the year, with dangerously little to show for it. My personal projects have all stopped and started in too close a succession to have anything to show for themselves. I find myself wandering, both physically and metaphorically from purpose to purpose, seeking meaning where it is not to be found.

My mind teems with ideas and thoughts, projects yet undone rap at the entrance to my attention unceasingly yet they all ring hollow, mere phantoms which, finding themselves unattended, rise up to haunt me in the months and years that follow their birth. When time admits I make my way into the world and sometimes, for the briefest second, I can capture something of potential. Something that speaks to me months or years later. But like a wisp of smoke on a spring breeze, the inspiration is too soon scattered and inchoate.

I know this feeling. It is the vast echoing emptiness of life. The clatter of a thousand useless journeys without purpose or destination reverberate through the impossible labyrinth of my soul. The hobnail boot of despair click-clacks along the long marble hall ticking off the seconds until death finds us all finally at rest. Potential spent. Burden lifted. Debts paid.

Some say that the ancients built God from the lightning, the rain, the mountains, the epic and unspeakable, those things so far beyond our comprehension. I disagree. God was found in quiet, plodding hours of solitude. God does not live on the mountaintop; he lives in the silent despair of the empty cup.

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