Today’s Reality Check

•August 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’m seeing this idea that you’re a horrible person, if you don’t spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on vet bills when they come up or if you rehome/put a pet with a shelter. Can we please let this die? We say that people are being responsible, if they give up children they can’t take care of. So why is it the worst thing in the world, if you give up a pet under similar circumstances? Then again these types are the kind, who’d say “well they should’ve been more responsible/had an abortion/used birth control” rather than actually DO something about a problem.

For a lot of people, the choice isn’t between taking Fido or Morris to the vet or not, it’s between vet bills and going hungry or without shelter. It’s one thing to say you’d starve for your pet. It’s another to make your family (such as it’s defined) do the same. Or get evicted. Newsflash: most homeless shelters don’t take pets, either.

The larger issue is that we as a society have this notion that if bad luck of the social kind happens to you, it’s your fault.  If you don’t have enough to eat, a place to live, or any of the other things necessary for life, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough, have the right job, or a host of other life happenings.  People who need help with food, shelter, and the like aren’t freeloaders.  They’re people like you and me, who’ve had shit happen.  That same shit can happen at a moment’s notice to anyone–all it takes is one big medical bill or one lost job for most families to be out on the streets, especially  after 2008.

And if you don’t think food, shelter, and a living wage/work are rights, then I really don’t want to know you.

6 Things I Wish They’d Warned Me About Grad School

•July 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So it’s that time again, when bright-eyed and enthusiastic graduate students head to their new schools. Here’s some things I noticed in my time in graduate school that I wish someone would’ve warned me about.

1.) You’ll burn out. While you love your field now, it won’t always be so. By the end of your degree, you’ll want nothing more to never read another 19th century French novel, analyze another Mozart symphony, or see the inside of another laboratory. This, though, is the natural order of things. Or, as my uncle wisely advised me, you’re only in grad school to get out. It’s been about a year before I’ve been able to think about actually doing something in my field again. It does fade, but if it doesn’t and you’re not able to function, it’s a good idea to find someone to help you with that.

2.) Everyone thinks they suck. As the graduate advisor of my old department so sagely put, the ones that don’t admit to it are probably hurting the worst. You feel like you’re on the edge of being kicked out, especially in the days when continued funding is like a Sword of Damocles. But, like another teacher of mine said, if you do the work, you probably won’t flunk out.

3.) In a perfect world, scholarship money and TA positions are handed out to everyone deserving. In reality, there isn’t money to go around anymore, and your lack of a scholarship isn’t a sign that you suck. (See #2.) I can’t say this one doesn’t still sting for me, but things work out for a reason—if I were stuck teaching music theory and intro to music classes, I don’t doubt I would’ve burned out worse than I did. I certainly wouldn’t have had the freedom to throw myself into the things I was interested in, either.

4.) Along with #3, nothing is guaranteed. When I started grad school, I thought I’d be teaching somewhere. Now? It’s looking less likely in the short-term. I don’t toss it out entirely, but I know I’d rather work in some other industry than teach the entry-level classes most new professors and adjuncts taught. I’d rather go back to tech support, or any other job, than adjunct. That’s not to say there aren’t pathways for academics outside of the Ivory Tower, though. You have to be prepared to make your own path, if one isn’t prepared for you.

5.) Take time for yourself, as my chair told me. It’s easy to obsess, and spending every waking moment on your work isn’t going to make you more productive. If anything, it’s going to make you less productive. Look at the people in your department—do they model this? If not, you might want to look elsewhere for your chair and committee. Healthy is as healthy does.

6.) Don’t try to work full-time or take on more than one job, if you can possibly help it. For most of my graduate school career, I was working 2-3 jobs.  For every obligation you have outside of grad school (work, family, etc) is going to make it that much harder to finish on time.  Yes, you can work full time and do grad school, but I’d strongly advise against it.  Likewise, they tell women to start their families during grad school.  In my generation, I know very few women in my particular field who’ve finished after their child is born.  Yes, the culture needs to change, but it’s damn hard to balance everyone’s needs in graduate school without work or a child.  With either or both, it becomes exponentially harder.  So long as you know what you’re getting into and have a supportive partner, go for it.  But be aware that it’s not going to be easy and that the system is going to be rigged against you.

If You Aren’t Outraged, You Aren’t Paying Attention

•June 30, 2012 • 2 Comments

“If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention,” as the saying goes. 43 years ago (last Thursday, to be exact), the Stonewall riots happened in Greenwich Village in the east side of New York. The other night I was watching “Stonewall Uprising” on American Experience on PBS. While it’s worth watching, especially since that’s a part of history that isn’t being taught, it’s also worth watching to understand why Pride and the LGBTQ movement exists, and needs to exist.

In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal. Meaning, if the cops were called to your residence, and you were engaging in consensual sex with a person of the same sex, you both could (and would be) arrested. Don’t believe me? Check out Lawrence vs. Texas, decided by the Supreme Court in 2003.

The overwhelming opinion was that LGBTQ people were deviants, incapable of love and pedophiles. Given the chance, they’d prey on your children. People would point to the fact that they met in seedy and bad neighborhoods. (Although as explained on “Stonewall Uprising,” that’s the only place they could meet.) Good thing things have changed…oh wait…

Let’s unpack this a bit. The other week, the cops and fire banged on our door, because they got the wrong house. If, for the sake of argument, my fiance and I were engaged in something more than snoring soundly, we’d probably get a mumbled apology and a hurried retreat. A same-sex couple might not be so lucky, even in 2012. There are communities where that would’ve gotten them beaten or killed.

I can walk outside and hold my fiance’s hand, and it’s a reasonable assumption that neither of us will be harassed (at best) for it. If I, as a cisgendered heterosexual woman, were suddenly single and wanting to meet someone to date, hook up with, or otherwise flirt with, odds are good I can walk into any bar without an issue. If I were a lesbian or a transgendered woman, I wouldn’t be able to just saddle up to another woman and flirt in any bar or club. (Or wherever people meet people these days.)

Should something happen to me or my fiance, our families can’t have the survivor excluded from the hospital and (God forbid) funeral, because we live in a state that doesn’t recognize our marriage. If we want to adopt children, we can easily find adoption agencies, who’ll adopt to us.

As for the idea that LGBTQ people are out to hurt, rape and corrupt heterosexual people? It’s still there. Note to Brenda McFeeters: if you’re a transgendered woman, you’re more likely to be killed by bigots before the age of 25 than a cisgendered woman is going to be molested by a transgendered person in a bathroom.

While, yes, LGBTQ rights have come a long way since 1969, one can argue they haven’t gone far enough, especially when rainbow-stuffed Oreos and J. C. Penney’s catalog pictures invoke ire. I would argue in the days when people would love nothing better than LGBTQ people to go back into the shadows, we need more outrage, not less.

7 Things I’ve Learned from Minecraft

•June 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I like big sandbox games, where one can wander, explore, or completely ignore the main quest line, if there is one. So games like Terraria and Minecraft fit that bill. Recently I’ve been playing Minecraft, and it doesn’t disappoint, as it’s designed to be an incredibly big sandbox. Some things I’ve learned:

1. Don’t dig straight down. You’ll fall into lava.

2. Don’t dig straight up. You’ll dump water, gravel, or lava on your head.

3. You really can’t swim in lava. Don’t even try.

4. Don’t fear the creeper.

5. Unless you build out of obsidian, creepers will blow it up.

6. Creeper craters can make decorative lakes.

7. Don’t be greedy. If you have a handful of diamonds, a few stacks of redstone, and some gold ore, go back to your house, base, or chest. Don’t tempt fate with a full inventory of valuable stuff, because you’ll fall into lava.

Murphy’s Law, thy name is Minecraft.

Count the creeper craters in my front yard!

The more things change…

•May 26, 2012 • 2 Comments

Guess when the writer of this quote lived:

Against you, a world gone wrong, I must protest!  You boast an unbearable horde of moronoic sophists, who babble on with you and go dumb before God.  You have so many among you, superbly arrogant, who vaunt their vain eloquence and their empty philosophy.  But you can find no one who is the least bit inclined to write something useful for God’s people now and in the future.  Your courts are full of lawyers ready to hold forth at length and defend any case, so long as there is money in it.  But the church is empty of anyone with the skill to write about virtues and to narrate the deeds and glories of a ssingle saint.  O world, your people know all there is to know about doing evil, but they are too ignorant to do any good.

St. Peter Damian, The Life of Blessed Romuald, written c. 1042.

Haters gonna hate

•May 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

If you’re a composer in the 21st century, odds are you’ve bumped into the complaint that all new music is like listening to math and “not accessible.”  If you try to stick up for the likes of Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt, then you’re part of the problem.  You don’t write for “average” musicians and nobody seems to write “melodies” anymore.  All of contemporary classical music is condensed into one small faction of the 20th century.  But it’s never the musicians’ faults!  It’s not their fault they’ve never been trained to play “that stuff”!  They’ve only played “the greats.”

And people wonder why I stick to Csound these days, unless I’m writing for someone I know.

First, if you’re going to slam several generations’ worth of composers, at least have some familiarity with the people you’re dissing.  One piece you might’ve played from some composer somewhere is not an entire movement.  While a composer might write music you don’t like, that same composer might’ve encouraged and supported another generation entirely.  Milton Babbitt had a teaching career spanning decades, as did Mel Powell and a few others.  In my experience, the modernists I’ve studied with taught me a lot.  Sure, I don’t buy into everything they thought was important, but that’s part of the learning process:  you take what you need, and leave the rest.  And sometimes further down the road, the other stuff becomes important.

Secondly, if you’re going to decry “new music,” have a clue what “new music” is.  Even in the days of minimalism, the new music scene was Balkanized.  Even within minimalism (which I should note is out of fashion these days), Steve Reich didn’t sound like John Adams, who most certainly didn’t sound like Philip Glass or Louis
Andriessen.  Even just within the US, you’ve got factions among factions.  I can guarantee what’s being written and performed on the west coast is nothing like what’s being played on the east.  Hell, try looking at the differences between Boston and New York.  It’s like those who complain about “academic” music:  while there is some music that would fit the bill, there are many other composers in academe who write interesting things and encourage their students to do the same.

Thirdly, yes, you do need to know stuff.  Minimalism started out as process-oriented music.  (Steve Reich’s tape pieces.)  Modernism (like its movements in visual art) is a reaction against what that generation perceived as the excesses of the 19th century that led up to WWII.  You can’t just listen to modern music divorced from its cultural context.

And that’s the larger problem:  people expect music to be something easily consumed, like a special from McDonalds.  We’re so used to the pop model of music that’s easy to understand and doesn’t ever challenge.  (Which, I might add, does a disservice to those working within the pop genre who don’t aspire to be on American Idol.)  An entire generation has grown up with Top 40 charts and sales rankings.

Part of my problem with people who complain about the purported inaccessibility of new music is that they expect composers to spoon-feed them new material.  While I usually provide some information in program notes, it is not my job to make what I write accessible to you.  If you don’t know something,  ask.  Most new music concerts have talks with the composers beforehand.  Many of us are involved in academe and would like nothing more than to answer a simple question asked honestly.  What does piss us off, however, are those who shut down any chance of discussion by ad hominems and project their problems and insecurities on new music composers, as a whole.

Problematic Fandoms

•May 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Just once, I wish there weren’t something problematic about my fandoms. I wish I could happily squee and gush about the latest happenings without the real world intruding. But eventually it does, and most of fandom blissfully ignores it, but not without it festering and driving some away. Even if some in fandom are able to reconcile the problematic aspects of the object of their squee, the glow is tarnished.

It’s no secret to anyone reading this blog that I’m a Doctor Who and hockey fan. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan ever since I could remember (and when WTTW broadcast it in the afternoons after school), and I fell in love with hockey a few years ago, after I went with a friend to a Seattle Thunderbirds game around around the time of the 2008 Stanley Cup games, which I devoured. I’m really not kidding when I mention that I wouldn’t leave the house, if there were a way to combine Doctor Who and hockey.

I’d be lying if I said that Doctor Who didn’t have its issues. That there are problems with the show and racism are many. Classic Who used Caucasian actors in Asian roles in “yellowface.” The Talons of Weng-Chiang is heralded by fans and critics alike as one of the best Doctor Who episodes, yet there’s quite a bit of colonialism and overt racism in the episode. Even New Who isn’t immune: people of color in episodes die more frequently than white characters, and the handling of Martha and her family, especially in the final episodes of the series, was more than just a little problematic, dredging up old stereotypes and tropes regarding people of color and how they’re portrayed in film and television.

By now, most everyone has heard of the death of Junior Seau  , and that they’re calling is death a suicide. Every hockey fan who remembers last summer, with the deaths of the three enforcers  probably felt their stomach drop at the news of Seau’s death. There seems to be a clear link between head trauma in full contact sports and depression, not to mention chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  While some flatly deny a link, others don’t question that Seau’s death could’ve been a result of his football career. Seau, himself, admitted that football needed to change, “I’m pretty sure if everybody had to wake with their dad not knowing his name, not knowing his kids’ name, not being able to function at a normal rate after football, they would understand that the game needs to change.”

Following last summer, I can’t deny that I wasn’t a bit queasy, when I’d see Shawn Thornton challenge another enforcer, or that I didn’t wince at a particularly strong hit from Boychuck or Seidenberg. A part of me wonders if they’ll have a good quality of life after retirement, or if they’ll be old before their time, forgetting the names of people dear to them and spiraling into depression.

Now, I’m not suggesting everyone walk away from Doctor Who, hockey, football, or anything else. I know people who’ve quit watching Doctor Who, hockey, and football, and I can’t fault them. Responsible fans engage with it in whatever way they can for the benefit of the fandom, even if that means walking away.

With Doctor Who, I can write fanfic, my way of engaging with the “canon” of that fandom. With a few strokes on my keyboard in Scrivener, I can make Martha and Mickey awesome and have adventures where they’re respected. I can add my voice to the dialogue and correct problems in the show.

But in hockey, I can’t write different stories. There are no more stories for Belak, Boogard, or Wade. I do know, though, that the NHL is trying to cut back on hits to the head and is trying to change—although slowly, unlike the NFL. Are the changes enough? Will more be made? One can only hope, so that players like Shawn Thornton live happily ever after.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.