Thursday, September 29, 2005

When the gods conspire, they think they're being cute

All I really want to do is get my songs recorded. It shouldn't take that long... there are about eighteen of them, and I have everything I need to get it done. My mics and mic stands are set and ready to go, my Baby Taylor is all tuned up, my recording interface is linked to the laptop, and my mixing program is up and running. Naturally, I need a few obstacles to contend with, because things look too easy at this point.

Obstacle #1: Natural forces. It simply can't be helped that I live on a busy street in the Bronx. I have to time my recording opportunities just so, else I suffer the consequence of some very melodic car horn or fire truck accompaniment on my track.

Obstacle #2: Kyadden. The cat is direly opposed to certain songs. On one or two of them, he makes it a point to voice his opinion. Loudly. One track took ten takes before I could get a clean non-mewing version.

Obstacle #3: Weird mic noise. At one point, for no aparent reason whatsoever, my instrumental mic began making strange noise. It continued to do so for about an hour, which set me back a good bit.

Obstacle #4: My roommate. Completely accidental, of course. She wasn't due to be home during the afternoon I was recording, but she popped in to get something that she'd left in the apartment. The door opened rather loudly, which lost me a really good take.

Obstacle #5: Perfectionism. Thing is, I'm hardly a perfectionist. One little flaw can screw up the whole take, though, which means another take. And another. And another. And another twelve.

Obstacle #6: The mixing software. I'm not as good at using it as I could be, and the book that comes with it doesn't seem to explain things very well. Unless, of course, I'm an idiot. I can read Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and about a hundred gazillion scientific journals, but I can't for the life of me read this book that might enable me to work this stupid program correctly.

Obstacle #7: Vocal fatigue. After twelve takes, it gets hard to keep singing these angst-ridden, belligerent songs of mine. By the time I've gotten all the other kinks sorted out, I'm just too vocally tired to keep trudging through the song. Then, after I've taken a break, I'm sort of out of the groove, if that makes any sense, so it's back to square one.

Obstacle #8: Tedium. I mean, not only is it just emotionally taxing after seven or eight hours, but it's also very lonely work with no feedback from anyone on how I'm doing and how things sound. I'm sitting by myself in my room, wheeling on an office chair back and forth between my mics and my computer. At the end of it all, I get so tired that I end up settling for passable, mediocre recordings that, with some help from at least one other warm body, could be much better, I'm sure.

Obstacle #9: Busted cuatro. I'm not sure how it happened, but I'm pretty confident that I can blame one of the cats. The cuatro fell from somewhere, and now the bottom of it is cracked open pretty badly. I can still play it, but it can't exactly maintain its tuning for longer than one song, so I constantly have to stop what I'm doing and retune the thing.

Obstacle #10. The Baby Taylor. My sweet, sweet Baby Taylor. Right in the middle of a pretty decent take, a string pops, whacking me in the forehead. My head's fine, but now the Baby Taylor's temporarily out of commission. That hurts, man. That hurts deep.

Yeah, I know... it could be worse. I'm certainly glad to at least have the equipment with which to record, whatever the quality of the outcome. My dad's in Venezuela right now, so he can get me a new cuatro while he's there. As for the Baby Taylor, I can get it restrung this weekend. Still, I can't help but feel there are powers at work here, impeding my every attempt at progress. Curses, I say, as I rail against the forces of fate that ceaslessly seek to thwart my endeavors! Ugh... whatever. I've fought through worse. Besides, I have two weeks to finish this thing in time for having a complete CD to hawk at the CBGB gig. At this rate, most people would panic. Me, I have little choice but to panic very silently and briefly, then suck it up and pick up another guitar.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Answering the call of Husserl

I never saw it coming. Well, not exactly. I feared that it might be coming... let's put it that way. I feared that it might be coming, and I hoped with all my might against it.

Dr. Wertz couldn't be in class today. Jury duty. The class, sadly, is my favorite: Qualitative Research Methods. For those of you not following things very closely, just know that qualitative research has been my bread and butter for the past two years, since the program from whence my masters came specializes in it. Further, I've been steeped in one particular sort of qualitative research approach for the past two years... existential phenomenology. Guess what today's lecture was going to be on?

I took this class just for this lecture. Hell, I cited Dr. Wertz in my thesis... he's one of the most esteemed voices on the subject today, and I've been wanting to hear him speak about it since I found out he existed. So yeah, I was pretty bummed. We received an email last night from Dr. Wertz, explaining the situation. I figured, okay, so we take it up next week, right? No such luck. He requested that we meet without him and have the class anyway, that we discuss the readings on our own. This is where I got a little nervous... after all, people might actually discuss the reading, and then they might look to me to say something. Ugh.

It's been no secret to most of the people in the program, newcomers or old hands, that I come from an e.p. background. Until now, it's done nothing but get me funny looks. What's strange about it isn't just the fact that I'm a real live existential phenomenology psychology doctoral student in a largely quantitative program (an e.p.-leaning psych person is pretty rare, so running into someone in the field of psychology who claims it, let alone can pronounce it, isn't something you come across every day)... what's really weird about me is that I'm in the applied developmental department, and not in the clinical department under Dr. Wertz. In other words, I'm a rogue operative, doing this whole e.p. thing of my own volition, and flying solo in my extremely quantitatively-minded research department. In short, I get funny looks, and I guess I can't argue that they aren't well deserved. But hey... they knew what they were getting when they let me into the program, so I'm not gonna question it. Anyway, here I am, the weirdo e.p. kid, and everyone knows it. We're supposed to have a lecture on e.p., and Dr. Wertz happens to be gone. We get to the classroom for our professorless class meeting, get ourselves settled in, and I realize after the first few minutes that all eyes are fixed steadily on me.

At first, it was a couple of questions. What was the relationship between Husserl and Heidegger? What does it mean to 'bracket' something? How does one perform the 'epoche', and is that the same as the 'reduction'? What's the whole thing about 'Dasein' have to do with all of this? I figured I could venture an attempt at providing the best answers I could, so I offered my help, or at least I tried to. On the bright side, I did have a good idea of how to answer the questions I got from my classmates... luckily, they were simple enough questions in terms of e.p. that I could handle them well enough. If they had progressed much further than they did, I might have completely drowned, but they didn't, so I lucked out. Or so I thought.

The thing about e.p. that almost goes without saying is that there's no such thing as an easy explanation. Some of these folks had never been exposed to any of these concepts, while others had been well acquainted through their own work with Dr. Wertz. I would explain something, and then someone would ask for an elaboration, which I would have no choice but to walk right into. Before I knew it, I had been bamboozled into giving a freaking lecture on existential phenomenological psychological research to a classroom of graduate students, some of them ahead of me in the program. I lived through it, sure. But damn, did it suck. I mean, come on... who needs that kind of pressure?

When it was all over, I went to my office and sat there for a good while, staring at the wall. What if I'd screwed up? What if everything I said totally contradicts Dr. Wertz's views? What if I said too much, and now the rest of the folks in the program think I'm some kind of know-it-all bastard that can't shut up? Then, all at once, I snapped out of it. What's done is done, I thought to myself... freaking out about it in hindsight is pretty pointless. I wrote it off to another bizzare experience, settled back into my chair, and moved on with my day. Mind you, I was supposed to do some reading for my other classes this week, but my office mate and I thought it would be a much better idea to mess around online and talk for a couple of hours about absolutely nothing... thinking about it now, it was just what I needed.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Not-so-surprising discoveries

I went to the Fencer's Club the other day, to sort of scope the place out. It's the oldest fencing salle in the United States, home to the National Foil Team, and home base to the Peter Westbrook foundation as well as the coach of the men's olympic sabre team. That last part is the carrot that's dangling out in front of me. If I can train with him, I'll be in sabre girl heaven. Anyway, the visit was more of a formality than anything... I know I want to be at this place. Needless to say, I haven't got the money for it right now, but when I do, just try and stop me.

When I got there, I found that the salle itself was up a few floors, so I rode the little elevator up to the place, where I found a bunch of kids warming up and running drills. A woman dressed in all white (slacks, blouse, and chiffon shell... not in an all-white fencing uniform... just wanted to clarify) was walking around very briskly and talking on a cellphone. My guess was that this would be the woman to accost and speak to. I caught her eye, and she greeted me, leading me back to an office. After that, there was basically some banter about where I was from, how long I'd fenced, who my coaches had been, here's our paperwork, come fence with us, we're a really nice group, best sabre in the country, see you later. Before I could get a word in edgewise, I was out the door again. So much for that.

No surprise, really. I mean, fencing people are nice. Nice and prideful, and often curt. This woman was nice enough, but, honestly, no different from what I expected. And why should she be? Besides, she wasn't exaggerating... they really do have the best sabre fencing anywhere. Trust me. I've done my homework. Fencing with these people would be... well... let's just say I don't consider myself worthy. But hey... when's that ever stopped me from doing anything, right? So let them laugh when the chubby girl with crap equipment walks in and starts fencing. I'm eager to learn, ready to train, and I'm drinking milk. Okay, soy milk, but it's got calcium, damn it.

Speaking of equipment, I also visited the Blade storefront. Blade is one of several stores that you can purchase fencing equipment from online, and I've done business with this company several times over the years. This, however, was my very first visit to a real live fencing store. Once again, pretty much the way I expected... brusk, old Russian man behind the counter, lots of fencing jackets, weapons, and shoes on the walls. "You buy? You need I help you buying something? What size your jacket... thirty-four? Oh, yeah, you wish... here, we measure you, then you know what big size the jacket you buy." Yeah. Love those Russians. My Dallas Opera chorusmaster was Russian, and I dated a Russian once, so I wasn't surprised by his forward demeanor and borderline insulting tone. I got a good idea of the prices, told him I'd definitely be back after chatting him up a while about the fencing in the area (he verified my hunch... Fencer's Club is the only place for anyone serious about sabre), and made my way out and about Manhattan.

Still wishing to extend my day's theme of all things unsuprising, I found Chevy's, a Mexican restaurant that I'd eaten at once in California. I had a great, albeit predictable, meal there, complete with a strawberry-banana margarita the size of my head. From there, I made my way across the street to the movie theater. I looked at the selection of movies, seeking out something... you guessed it... painfully predictable. My choice? Heh heh... Roll Bounce. Oh, yeah. Bow Wow was in rare form. Good, predictable fun. Yes, I enjoyed it, but it's no sin to wait until the video release to see this one. I did redeem myself this evening, however, when Russ and I watched Corpse Bride. This movie was much better than my selection from yesterday... sorry, Bow wow, but the stop animation Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter collaboration had you beat. Predictably.

The rest of my evening, along with most of tomorrow, will be spent recording some songs... I've put it off too long, and I need to get these tracks laid down before the CBGB thing. Given my tendancy to take five or six hours recording one song, and seeng as I have at least sixteen to record, I'm hoping I don't do things so, er, predictably this time around.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Working like a doctoral student

My undergrad years were harder than they are for most people, but I got through them in one piece. I've been through my masters and survived. I'm starting my PhD, and I'm sure I'll survive this, too. Just give me a sec.

I've been reading just about nonstop for a week now, and my eyes have fallen out twice already. I have my lab to teach tomorrow, which I've already got my lesson plan ready for, but I can expect to receive several late assignments from two weeks ago, not counting the on-time assignments from last week, which means more grading. A lot more grading. Not to mention (although I feel the need to mention it anyway), more reading. Even more than last week. And it isn't all of my classes that are causing me all of this reading grief... it's actually just one in particular. And the culprit? Well, the culprit will go unnamed. All I'll say is that last week's reading assgnment... all one hundred sixty-four pages of it... just about killed me. This week, there's more. Six book chapters and two research articles. Great... there goes my weekend.

My other classes, I can handle. A literature review here, a critique there, a few readings interspersed throughout. Hard work, yes, but nothing I can't handle. Then, of course, there's this class. Not so easy to get through. The other students undergoing the same grueling conditions are finding their own ways to get through. The two youngest of the six of us, fresh out of their undergrad work, are about to lose thier minds, and are killing themselves trying to take maticulous notes on every single thing they read. Poor babies. One of us actually opted to not take the class, but, then again, she hasn't really been talking to the rest of us much, so I can't report much on what she's up to... I only have one class with her, and no one gets a chance to talk to her then. As for the remaining three of us who already have our masters, we're all pros at this game. Yeah, we do the reading, but there's not exactly pages upon pages of notes to go with each article when we go at it. Some of the articles are lucky to get a thorough skim, at best, particularly if their structures lend to that sort of treatment. The ones that are read more thoroughly get some underlining, maybe some highlighting. That seems to cut it, usually. I'm not saying I slack off when it comes to reading... I'm just saying that, after a few years of being in the school business, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Sure, you read... but you don't kill yourself in the process, no matter how good a student you are.

One thing is certainly different about this program in comparison to the one I just came from: we're about to complete the first month of the semester, and I haven't written a single paper. Not one. At UD, I would have completed three, maybe even four pretty major papers by now, and would have still been holding down a heavy reading load. Aside from that one class with the crazy reading, the work load here (and I say this, despite the fear that I'll jinx things) has been chump change. Seriously... not a single written assignment? Wow. I don't even know that I could have made that claim about my undergrad, even. Oh, well... I'm sure it'll get rougher in a moment. Still, it's a bit of a shock. I hate to say it, but I actually like writing papers. I know, I know, it's blasphemy to even think it, but I've gone there so whatever... chastize away. It's a good way to learn, though, and it's easier to bitch about how much work you're doing in your program if you have a few heavy duty papers due in a week. So yeah, call me a masochist, but I stand by what I say here. I miss the papers. Check back with me in a month and see if I feel the same way... to be honest, it could find myself eating my words before then. Till the papers come along, I at least have this blog, right?

On a brighter note, I have an official date from John on when he'll be here to visit: the weekend right before my birthday, and on the Monday of my birthday as well... Thursday through Monday! Knowing that is giving my ritualistic calendar cross-outs some much needed purpose. So, then, that gives me... what... three weeks, yes? Yes. And the CBGB gig is right before that. Looks like I've got a lot to get ready for. Well... that, and read.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Welcome distractions

Saturday wasn't so bad after all. In fact, I have to say that, busy though it was, I had a fantastic time. Let's see... I slacked off on doing laundry, deciding I could get by for a few more days. Instead, I went to the office and got a little bit of work done, then went to the church on campus to sing with the concert choir at the annual family weekend mass. Nice church. (If you know the Edgar Allan Poe poem about the bells, a line of which actually reads, "bells, bells, bells, bells," then you might find it interesting to know that the bells he was writing about were the bells of this church, since his cottage was, and still is, just down the street from the campus. Or you may not care. Either way, I thought I'd volunteer the information.) The singing went well, the mass was short enough, and I left the church and was returning to my office for a bit more reading when I got a phonecall from Chuck. He had arrived in town the night before, and he wanted to know if I felt lke joining him and his friends for some dinner and drinking. Dinner and drinking? Absolutely. Frankly, it had been a good while since I'd managed to undertake either of those activities... and with actual live people, even... so I jumped at the chace. Besides, I needed to see Chuck... sort of my infusion of home, which I think I've been needing for the last couple of weeks.

After a train ride on the Metro North and two subway transfers, I found myself in K-town, the Korean district of Manhattan. Chuck was waiting for me on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant where he and his friends were just getting started, so I seemed to have arrived just in time. When we walked in, I was introduced to two of Chuck's friends from college at UC Berkeley, along with one friend's wife, the other friend's girlfriend, and a childhood friend of the first friend... I didn't even try to keep everyone straight... all I knew is that there was plenty of food, plenty of drinking, and no one seemed to care what anyone's name was by the third or fourth round. After dinner had wrapped up, someone suggested that we go upstairs. Those who seemed to be in the know agreed enthusiastically. The way I rationalized it, these people were kind enough to feed me and liquor me up, so this upstairs thing was bound to be a great idea. How about those spur-of-the-moment decisions... you never know what you're walking into until it's too late.

We walked up the stairs to the next floor up, where we found a woman at a reception desk, then two indescript hallways, both lined with five or six doors each, all painted red and individually numbered. Someone asked me whether I had ever been to one of these places before, and my answer got caught in my throat... would saying 'no' cost me some kind of strange, drunken initiation process involving strippers and pieces of fruit? Okay, maybe my head was in a weird place at the time, but it was a legitimate fear from the looks of the place. We were lead to one of the doors which opened onto a medium-sized room; the lights were dimmed, and there was a multi-colored dancefloor light ball haning from the ceiling, doing its part to festivify the place. There was a rather imposing big-screen TV in the corner, and the opposite corner's walls were occupied by an enormous black leather sectional, in front of which there was a sizable square table. On the table were about five six-packs of imported beer, three large platters of snacks and three large, unmarked binder folders, chock full of white pages. I stood at the door, my eyes glazing over as they fell on those binders. Damn it. Suddenly, I knew exactly what this was. "Dear God," I thought, almost saying it out loud. "No! For the love of all things sacred, NO!!!!!"

Oh, yeah. I had walked into what I can only describe as a karaoke bordello. I knew Filipinos had it bad, but Koreans have taken it to another level. They like to do the same drug, but they have these parlors in which to do it among friends, in some privacy... sort of like an opium den. We got into the room, and the microphones appeared, along with a huge remote control used for entering song selections (not as compact as the Filipino magic mic, but apparently just as effective, and maybe even more so, given the drunken state of my company). Before I could voice any sort of protest, someone shoved a beer in my hand, flopped me into the sectional, and dropped one of the enormous binders into my lap. Then it began... the onslaught of songs by the likes of Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Guns n Roses, and other assorted hairbands from the glorious eighites. If there wasn't blood flying from people's mouths by the end of the night on account of all the screaming, I have no idea how. It was a screamfest unlike anything I've ever witnessed, and it became more and more boisterous in perfect correlation with more and more beer.

So, the big question... did I join in the baccenalean debauchery? Did I scream my head off with the rest of them?

Actualy, no. I drank the beer, ate the snacks, and laughed like a hyena, but there was no screaming from me. I did, however, sing a few songs. And yes, it felt dirty.

But, honestly, I preffer this incarnation of the crackaoke use/abuse. For one, it's behind closed doors, so you manage to salvage some of your dignity, and the whole world doesn't have to know you're an addict. Also, there's no stage involved, no DJ announcing the travesty about to take place, no audience to get nervous in front of... and, perhaps best of all, there's seemingly unlimited snacks and beer. I'm not about to start frequenting these houses of ill repute on a regular basis or anything, but I certainly consider this a more respectable incarnation of the ugly and tragic crackaoke abuse that marrs the lives of so many otherwise perfectly good and respectable Asian people.

After we had all had quite enough... about five hours later... Chuck and I went to the Sullivan Room, a bar on the other side of the city, where we met another group of Chuck's friends (what can I say... Chuck's just a popular guy). We danced for a while, but we both found that we were so foggy from all the drinking at the crackaoke den (and, of course, we were doubtlessly still reeling from the crippling physioloical effects of the crackaoke itself) that we sat down and bobbed our heads for a while, then left for pizza and finally decided, at aroung six in the morning, to call it a night. We went back to Chuck's hotel room, which was a pretty huge suite. Chuck, ever prepared, had the forethought earlier in the day to have them make the sofa bed up for me. Lovely. Of course, that's not the best part... right next to the sofa bed, at just the right angle, there was a large TV. With cable. Needless to say, I was a very happy, cable-ready camper. I fell asleep to CNN... beautiful, beautiful CNN.

We woke up at around noon, had some coffee, then left the hotel in search of a meal. We ended up at a nice little restaurant about three blocks from the hotel, where we had the pleasure of being served by an unquestionably adorable Scottish waitress. We chose a table in the outside seating section and took our time eating, chatting, watching pedestrians, and enjoying the weather. Before long, it was time for Chuck to head to the airport, so we said our goodbyes at the hotel. Off he went in a towncar, and off I went in a yellow cab... with two extremely large pieces of luggage.

Chuck had brought two bags that John had packed for me with things he thought I'd need. Apparently, John felt I was pretty damn needy. Both bags were huge, packed full of who-knows-what, and horribly unwieldy. When I got to my building.... my five-story-walk-up... I had to take a few deep breaths and think happy thoughts before embarking on the task of hauling these bags up to my apartment. I kept telling myself, amid the pain, sweat, grunts, groans, and thoughts of doing severe physical harm to John, that it would be worth it, that John undoubtedly packed things I simply couldn't live much longer wthout, that I'd feel completely gratified upon unpacking the odious bags. At long last, I made it to my door, got inside, dropped the bags, and deposited myself in front of the air conditioning unit in my bedroom, reacquainting myself with the sumptuous joys of sitting still and sucking oxygen. Finally, I could undertake the task of opening the bags and seeing what John felt was so bloody important that I have sent to me.

He did well. Very well. My fencing equipment, my recording interphase, a few stray little aesthetic items for my room, several DVDs I've been missing desperately, two bamboo flutes, a practice drum pad, some books of guitar chords and method, blank notebooks for composing... and, most impressively and importantly, my cuatro and my Baby Taylor. The cuatro is simply near and dear to my heart, and makes it possible to practice some of my songs that I simply couldn't play without it. As for the Baby Taylor, it's my favorite guitar in all the world, an instrument I can honestly admit to having a very special relationship with. I know it sounds strange, but you have to play her to understand. In a word, she's just amazing. She's little and unassuming, but she plays like velvet under your fingers... and man, what a sound.

Good thing I hauled those bags upstairs... thanks, John. Very well done.

After I finished unpacking, I went back into the city to meet up with Russ for some Malaysian cuisine. I ate chicken out of a pineapple. I don't think I need to add any more to that in order to make it interesting. For desert, we went down the street and ate at a cheesecake place; Chelsea Clinton had reportedly had their red velvet cake on her birthday, so Russ ordered that... you know... for Chelsea. As for me, I had the rasberry swirl... you know... for Tori. (If you understand that, good for you. If not, just know I'm an unhealthily devout Tori Amos fan.) We chatted, reminisced, then made some plans to meet up again soon and parted ways. I spent my subway ride back home with a smile on my face, reflecting on the weekend and, perhaps moreso, thinking about getting home and picking up that Baby Taylor. Funny, the things that bring us joy. For me, it's friends and music, and the moments their coupling always give birth to.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Irksome obligations

I'm definitely back to my old, busy self. Tomorrow, for instance, is a somewhat busy Saturday. I'm devoting the morning to working in my office, reading the all-too-numerous selections assigned for both of my classes on Monday, as well as getting a few more of my students' assignments graded. At some point, I have to make my way to the magical kingdom of clean laundry, which may have to happen before I go to the office. Then, in the afternoon, I have a choir rehearsal, followed by a performance at the Family Weekend Mass. Then, If I can make it in time, I'm going to try to get to Guitar Center in Manhattan so I can finally get the tuning peg on my guitar replaced. By then, it'll be about 7pm, and I'll finally have some free time on my hands. Joy.

I'm glad to have my hands this full. It keeps me going... makes me more focused than I would be otherwise. If I weren't busy like this, I'd be sitting around missing John and being useless, and I simply couldn't stand for that kind of deterioration, not after so many wonderful things have begun to take shape for me out here. The way I see it, I can miss John and be productive at the same time... call it emotional multi-tasking. And hey... the more productivity I sustain, the more accomplished I can feel at the end of the day, and the easier it becomes to remind myself that being away from my boy has its very good reasons at the moment. I'm still crossing off the days on my calendar, every single day, just as it passes. Still, I find I'm also crossing through a lot of writing crammed in that day's square, things I've done to make this time of living apart from my own heartbeat at least a little worth the seemingly continuous dull ache, this inconvenient absence of sunlight in my dreaming mind.

We've done this before. That was actually one of the biggest reasons for our decision to do it again; we did this before, and we survived. Granted, it was excruciating, but we seem to have weathered it. Besides, it was a separation of a two-hour drive between Dallas and Waco, so we did get to see one another at least ever other weekend. Still, we hadn't yet been married that long, I was holding down twenty-two hours of courses in a semester, and John was starting at a new teaching job at a huge public high school... a big change from his previous hippy-love driven private school diggs. Naturally, it was a year and a half of utter hell. We hated being apart, yet we were always exhausted from our week when we were together. I say again: utter hell.

This time, though, things are very different. For one, we're not as new to this marriage thing. What's it been... almost seven years now? Anyway, we have a much better handle on our dynamic as a team. Also, we're weathered veterans of not seeing eachother as often as we'd like. Even when we're living under the same roof, we somehow find a way to keep ourselves busy and out of the house. We do always make it a point to do a good many things together (a fringe benefit of having such similar interests, I guess)... working together on bouncing gigs and riding our bikes around was always great for that. Still, we'd finally grown somewhat comfortable with the idea that our affections could, in fact, stand firm against silly things like distance and time apart. Yes, it hurts. yes, we miss each other like mad. But, dare I say it? I'm actually doing just fine. We talk almost every day, and that seems to be enough to get by on. I have my work to deal with, music to write, fencing to look forward to (I go to my new salle for a visit next week)... John is not only teaching and bouncing occassionally, but he also has a gathering of friends that seems to have developed into something of a commune... these folks are at the house at nearly all hours, helping him with every odd chore imaginable. So yeah, we're keeping busy, we're constantly in touch, and I think we'd both say that we're actually doing fine. Meanwhile, I cross off the days on my calendar, keeping vigil with that little part of me that waits by the window for the days to pass more quickly and bring my boy to me.

Chuck is in town this weekend... it'll be good to see him, if only for a short while. He's also bringing a couple of bags for me, which John packed with whatever random detritus he felt I needed to have here with me. I like that... John's thought of what I might need, and he's sending it with Chuck. When I finally get to look through the bags, it'll be as though John's here somehow, handing things to me, saying, "Here... thought you could use this." Of course, I wish he could have folded himself up in there. Or at least one of the dogs. Man, do I miss those kids of mine. Oddly enough, I look at Apollo's and Athena's pictures just about daily (I seem to have more of those on hand than I have of John, so hey...). Boy, I'd better actually be smart enough to make this PhD thing happen, or I'm gonna be pissed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tales from quarantine

I suppose it was silly wishful thinking of me to assume I could stay healthy for an entire two-month stretch. Actually, I think I did, technically. Anyway, who cares... I'm sick now.

It's inevitable, I've come to realize. I have to get sick at least once every two months or so, or the apocalypse may very well take place. Suffice it to say that I'm doing my best to ward off the impending bronchitis (I guess we can safely deem it to be "chronic"), and that the bronchitis is somehow still winning. Mind you, I'm doing much better than usual... this is the end of day three of the battle, and I'm still able to speak perfectly well. Typically, my coughing is so raucous that I'm pitifully mute by this point in the dance. My seemingly effective arsenal this time around consists of more water than any human should ever have to drink (I think I'm at about 10 liters a day), an assortment of often strange-tasting lemon-based hot teas, vitamin C by way of orange juice and more tea, and lying around on the Red Destiny while doing my best impression of a throw pillow. I've been abiding by a self-imposed quarantine for the entirety of the day, and I've managed to be completely worthless in the process. This had better pay off, because I'm about to go nuts... that's all I'm saying.

I think I've pinpointed the culprit who bestowed me with this little gift of gross. There was a girl at choir on Saturday sitting next to me with what sounded like an innocent little cough, nothing serious or fear-provoking. Of course, a little cough gets into my system and has a field day, then gets big and strong and becomes a nice, thriving bronchial infection in record time. I'm told it's due in part to my not having a thyroid, another part to having a moronic pituitary gland, and another part to good bloody luck. I tell ya... cancer can be damn silly. Screw it. I don't care what anybody says; I'm blaming John. Let's face it... I haven't blamed him for anything in a while. We had a game in the early days of knowing one another where we'd blame each other for everything imaginable. This, of course, was our sick idea of fun, and I think it still is. So yeah, John... I blame you for this one. If I get another wave in the next couple of months (as I'm bound to), I'll consider blaming Chuck for that one, but you're the lucky winner on this round. As for the girl who's responsible for handing off the precious little cough-baton, don't worry. There's plenty of time left in the semester, and I know where to find her. Oh, yeah. It's like that.

I can't say I was entirely worthless duing my quarantine. I did a little reading for class, I worked on my music, and I watched a couple of movies I've been meaning to make time for. I suppose that now would be a good time to come clean and confess that one of the movies I watched (willingly, I have to add) was Hustle and Flow. The verdict? It's really quite good. Granted, it's not for some, given the fact that it's about a pimp in the south and his quest for rap stardom. To be honest, I wouldn't ordinarily say that it's for me, either, given that description. Still, I have to recommend it to those who can handle plenty of bad language, a bit of violence, the often conscience-enervating pimp/ho dynamic, and, of course, rap music. A bunch of my friends and I have been making fun of this movie ever since we heard about it months ago, and now I have to say that, despite the fun I've had mocking the premise and the genre, the movie's worth a watch, and I'll likely watch it again. I mean, I'll still make fun of it, as is my duty, but I'll have to do it affectionately from now on. It'll be harsh, ridiculing affection, but the affection will be there nonetheless.

I've also spent the day learning something I could very happily have gone the rest of my life without knowing: female cats in heat are annoying as all blue hell. Jane's cat, Trouble, is good and heated up at the moment, and seems to want the entire world to know all about it. She mews incessantly, and, seemingly, with great fervor and purpose. She even gets multi-syllabic from time to time, which can get a little creepy. I will say this for the experience, though... she's morphed into a very sweet cat. She no longer tries to bite and claw at anyone, nor does she run and cower when you come toward her. In fact, she comes running when you call, and she can't get enough of tactile affection. She seems to preffer one sort in particular, which can get a little strange if you think about it too much... she loves it when you pat her on the rump. Hard. And I mean hard. Basically, she puts her ass in your face until you wack her on it about thirty or forty times as forcefully as you can without outright slapping the poor beast. After a bit of that, she calms down a little, but it takes some serious arm work to placate her. Frankly, I came to realize after about the third or fourth time of doing this that I was... well... you know... helping the cat out, as it were. That's what I mean about it getting sort of weird if you give it too much thought. Naturally, I seem to have done just that. Now, when Trouble swaggers over to me, mewing like mad, I start feeling violated and dirty. Sad, I know... so I'm blaming the bronchitis. And John. And okay, I'll blame Chuck, too. Fair's fair.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

F is for foshizzle

I taught my first set of labs at Lincoln Center on Friday, and it went very well, thank you. It's nice when you're teaching a classroom full of students for the first time and you actually know what the hell you're talking about. Let's hope the trend continues.

In addition, I've finished two new songs. At once, no less! That's a first, actually... I must be pretty bored. Whether or not either one of them will make the cut come time for the CBGB thing is anyone's guess (if CBGB isn't closed by then... or maybe the lounge is staying open... who knows...), but I have them, either way. My friend Chuck is coming to New York next weekend and bringing my recording interphase and recording mics to me, so I'm looking forward to throwing these two onto a track and seeing how I feel about them. In the meantime, I still need to get my stupid guitar fixed, which I'm still saving my pennies for.

I also had "choir day" yesterday. It's been a while since I've been in a day-long choir rehearsal, and with a bunch of undergrads, no less. It was fine, though... it's just going to take a while to get used to all of the younglings. I'm not exactly geriatric in comparison, but I may as well be. It's horribly dreary to reflect on the fact that I'm singing in choir with people the same age as those I teach, and that the vast majority of them are ten years younger than me (flashback to Gross Pointe Blank: "Ten YEARS! Ten... TEN YEARS!") Whatever... my demeanor is apparently pretty youthful in the opinions of some (I apparently employ the lingo the kids are using these days?), and a lot of the little ones even walked in and assumed I was a freshman at first. Morons. And who knows? In a month or two, if I get a job at a club somewhere, I might be throwing these same kids out for underage drinking or something. Funny world, this.

By the way, I miss working the club scene. I love it... don't ask me why. It wasn't a power trip or anything... it was just nice to be a protector, a member of a team that made sure everyone was safe and didn't get too alcoholically challenged with one another. That, and it's great to have a team of big, strong, martial-artist types who are serious about what they do count you as one of their own, especially in the middle of an ugly physical altercation, when you can get each other's backs. It's always been a little strange being one of a very rare breed... female bouncers aren't exactly getting together and having meetings anywhere... but we do come in handy (ask any male bouncer who's had to deal with a chick fight or make his way into the women's restroom... and who else can pat down the female patrons without getting the club sued?), and we girl bouncers have a lot of pretty cool stories to share at quilting beas. Anyway, I miss it a lot. Which reminds me... I owe John a bouncer song... I told him I'd write one, so I suppose I should start thinking about it. Besides, I'll owe it to him after he hears the last one I wrote. Tisk, tisk, Emily... singing about being naughty again...

Aunt Jenny and Uncle Willy are coming by today to bring some things over and to see what I've done with my room. I have laundry to do before tomorrow (which is always an event... it's a block away, up and down five flights of stairs, and I always manage to have way too much laundry to carry comfortably), so I'd best get going with all of the cleaning up business. Ah... just a quick random note: I acquired a blanket at the university bookstore, which I've put over the Red Destiny, and Kitty (aka Radames, aka Kiddy bin Ladden, aka Kyaden, aka Walt, aka Deepthroat) has taken a liking to it. At any rate, here he is, doing his part to show school spirit:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Doing my show-and-tell duty

It would be foolish of me not to post some photographic evidence of this mythical trip to Canada... after all, no one would beleive anything I say otherwise.

For starters, here's me on the first day, at the top of Niagra Falls...

The next day, my cousin Apple (and the answer is yes) took us to the canadian Expo, to which we took the subway. For those of you who have experienced the New York subways but have never had the pleasure of their Canadian counterparts, let me tell you... it's a whole other experience entirely.
Here's the interior of the station we departed from...

And here's the inside of our train...

Once we got there, we wasted as much money as possible (mostly gambling... oh, Canada...).

At long last, here's a picture of my infamous Aunt Jenny, with Uncle Willy...

When we'd finally gambled away all of our Canadian money, we headed to the CN Tower, which was indeed... um... tall. We went to the observation level, and I had a good time playing around with my silly little fear of heights.

Here's me with the CN Tower coming out of my neck...

So there you have it, folks. See? I did go! (Note: no towers were harmed in the taking of these pictures.)

The crimes of overachievement

If there was ever any doubt in anyone's mind, let me quickly reassure you. I am most certainly an idiot.

The proof lies in my choices, as it does with anyone. Sure, I'm a PhD student... I'm busy with ample amounts of work, which should go without saying. Two weeks of classes have gone by, and I'm already treading water in a fair amount of work: Endless reading assignments, research probes, general departmental politics... the works. Hardly any spare time, really. So, naturally, I need to take on a few extra things here and there. I spend a few hours in my office working, go to class, work out at the gym, begin teaching my lab tomorrow, squeeze in some practice time for the NY Songwriters thing... why not sprinkle a little more on top? You know... for good measure.

Because I'm not exactly bright, I auditioned for the university choir. The way I saw it, I could audition, get rejected, and move on. When I sang for them, I wasn't remotely in good voice, and even struggled on my way up the scale in the middle section of my range... ever since that last bout of laryngitis, I haven't quite gotten it completely back. (Interestingly, the audition required us to sing the first verse of "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which is exactly the same thing I had to sing at my audition for the Texas Girls' Choir so many moons ago. At least I knew the words this time. Hell, at least I could speak English this time.) At any rate, I checked the list at the student center when I got back from Canada, and I'd rather unfortunately gotten into the top choir. Damn it. Seriously. Now I've got two rehearsals per week, including a tour and a few concerts. So why even audition, you may ask... to which I can only say... come on! it's a choir audition! Since when do I say no to a choir audition? Or any audition, for that matter. Besides, I thought it might be a meager, if not altogether insufficient, replacement for singing at Dallas Opera every stinkin' day. It was hard work, but I loved it, I have to admit. I know this is not remotely the same thing, but whatever... at least it's something. That was my thinking, anyway. So it's simple, really... I snap out of it and just decline. Or, in perfect idiot fashion, I show up at the first rehearsal. You get two guesses as to what I did, but I'm sure you'll only need the one.

Fine. So I'm in friggin' choir. Enough already, right? Yes, absolutely... just as soon as I finish up with fencing practice.

Oh, yes. I'm truly that stupid.

Not only am I helping with the instruction of a fencing class being offered right after choir rehearsals, but I'm also pretty certain I'll be starting up a competative fencing team at Fordham. Frankly, it's sacrilege that a school this historically prestigious... and in New York, no less... doesn't have a fencing team. Well, I won't have it. I'm contacting the powers that be next week, and I'm starting a team (probably in the guise of a club) to fence for Fordham, both in regional competition and at national tournaments. Aside from which, putting together and heading up a fencing team is a great way to get a shiny new set of Fordham warm-ups to wear around, so I can look all athletic and collegiate without beng a poser. And, since there's no one here to talk any sense into me, I'm going ahead with it.

For those who know me, I'm sure you're not surprised. It's what I do... I run myself into the ground doing everything imaginable, then complain about how I'm bored and start looking for something else to add to the pile. Between fencing, teaching, studies, NY Songwriters, and choir, I think I'm set for a while. I may need my own personal supply of oxygen by the time a month's passed, but don't be too sure. After all, I'm losing weight exponentially, I have normal-person hair, I live in a city I've dreamed of living in for as long as I can remember, and I'm doing things with my life that I couldn't fathom I'd ever do... time, then, to get back to my usual grind.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Attack of the Filippino birthdays

Um... yeah. Anyway, I went to visit my Aunt Jenny in Queens, and I ended up in Canada.

I went on Saturday to Queens to meet up with Aunt Jenny; she wanted company on the drive to JFK to pick up my Uncle Willy, who'd be arriving from the Philippines that evening. After we picked him up, we went out to dinner, went to their house, and I tinkered around on the computer while they took a nap for about an hour. Then, out of nowhere, Uncle Willy appears and says "Okay, by 3 o'clock." Keep in mind that 1) it's 2:30 in the morning at this point, and 2) I knew there was a trip planned for Canada, but I wasn't entirely aware that I was going. A half hour later, we were in the car and on the road. I fell asleep, only to wake up about six hours later at a Burger King in upstate New York. Aunt Jenny turned around and stuck her head between the two front seats to peer back at me. "Have you seen Niagra Falls?"

Ten minutes later, we were parking the car and walking on a path through a beautiful wooded area. There were people from countless nationalities all over the place and in various culturally indicative attire; it was like a United Nations nature hike field trip. We got to the rapids, and people were getting close to the water, even hiking up their pants and wading in on occasion. As we kept walking, the trail made a sharp downhill shift, and we followed the tree-lined path to an area that eventually opened up to a remarkable scene: the U.S. side of Niagra Falls.

We walked up to the rail and looked down. There were dozens of people below us in yellow rain coats, getting up-close and personal with the bottom of one of the falls via a series of wooden ramps at the base. To our right side, the largest of the falls roared past us, majestic and deceitfully calm at the top, where we were, then raging to its crashing plummet far below. Directly ahead of us, at the point where the water dropped, a massive and perpetual spray of fine mist lingered thick in the air, trapping the sun withinin it and producing the most magnificent rainbow. We lingered there for a while, enjoying the view and the spectacle, gazing over the water at Canada's shore. We trecked back to the car to round off the pleasant surprise of a moment.

We arrived in Toronto not long afterward, pulling into my Uncle Melvin's driveway early in the afternoon on Sunday. It was his wife's birthday. and we were there for the party (note that I wasn't aware of this until the trip was already underway). As it turns out, we were providing the party... Aunt Jenny brought a magic mic.

For some, this requires a bit of explaining. Filippinos have a devastating genetic disorder in common with some of their Asian cousins, yet it is an affliction known by their race in particular to be incredibly severe. The disease is hereditary, can spread on contact, and has lifelong effects for which a cure has yet to be found, despite the long efforts of modern science to combat this tragic epidemic...


It's a drug they can't get enough of. It's like crack for these people. If they know there's karaoke going on, they'll clammor to the microphone like a bunch of crazed European soccer fans. Believe me, I've seen it. And it's ugly... personally, I'm scarred from having borne witness to the phenomenon. The most horriffic thing about the disease isn't that they sing badly. On the contrary... almost the entire race of Filippinos are gifted with beautiful singing voices (but for extremely rare exceptions... bad Filippino singers are about as numerous in the culture as albinos). So no, that's not the problem. The problem is the fact that they all aspire to sing like fifty year-old lounge singers. Their vibratos, which are entirely artificial, are warbles that are wide enough to drive a truck through. Even more agonizing are their song selections... one is lucky to hear anything as contemporary as a cheesy 1980's love ballad, a la "Groovy Kind of Love" (unless there are certain current Celine Dion songs available on the playlist... you might hear those from time to time)... for the most part, you get Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, and Karen Carpenter, along with some vinegary-vintage stuff, like Doris Day, Anne Murray, Perry Como... and it doesn't end. The worst part about this affliction is the power of its crippling longevity. They can't put the mic down. Once they start, they absolutely cannot stop singing.

The magic mic is a device that makes the karaoke (or, as I affectionally call it, crackaoke) easiest and quickest to get into the bloodstream. Much like a syringe, the magic mic contains the drug within it, and delivers the dose directly from the device. In short, it's a microphone with buttons on it; you plug the mic directly into the TV, and it serves as a fully-contained crackaoke machine, complete with words to the songs, an on-screen menu of available tracks, and a slideshow of scenic photos from around the world. Needless to say, the party was cooking.

Afterward (say, midnight), we went to a casino and played the slots. I broke even, and I got free coffee. That's all I feel about reporting there. No big winnings, nothing cool. In short, I suck at slots.

It's now the next morning, and the crackaoke is already being passed around. Everyone is sitting in a circle taking hits from the magic mic... it's my mom's birthday today, so I figure they're doing shots of crackaoke in her honor. As for me, I'm hiding in a bedroom, hoping the cops don't raid the place and think I'm in on the scary sadness going on down there.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Let the games begin

First day of class was, in short, the first day of class. What would have been two-hour long classes on a normal day were actually about an hour long, given the nature of first-day introductory business. We received syllabi, got general information from the professors, met one another as students in the class, and moved on. We have reading assignments and a week to tackle them in... nothing particularly incredible about any of that.

I did, however, make an unexpected discovery during my first class meeting of Research Methods. As we were taking turns telling the professor what our research interests were, one young man from the clinical division spoke up (rather loudly) about his research history being the sort involving hermeneutics and qualitative, phenomenological work. These were words I hadn't heard spoken by another person since leaving Texas, so I was definitely curious. At long last! Another phenomenological weirdo like me! And to think that I assumed I'd be the only one... but NO! There was at least one other! I was elated, almost giddy. At the end of class, I stopped him on the way out of the door. He went to school at the University of Miami in Ohio, and it turns out that we were sitting next to eachother at graduate student orientation and didn't even realize it. He asked me where I'd gone to school to pick up existential phenomenology, and I told him. "You were at Dallas? Wow!" Yeah, this sort of reaction after telling someone I got my masters from UD was definitely a first.

Apparently, UD is pretty well known in existential phenomenological circles of academia for the work they do. This guy was actually jealous of me. Oh, yeah. I said it. Jealous. He then started pelting me enthusiastically with questions about the program, the people we covered, the texts I'd read... and all of my responses were answered with a sort of "wow" or "oh, man, that's great," etc. Seriously, I never expected anything like this from ANYONE, let alone someone from the Fordham department. We had lunch together, after which he told me I was crazy for not having gone in and spoken to Dr. Wertz yet (he's the head of the department, and a pretty big name in existential phenomenological psychology... I even used some of his work in my thesis), and that I should set up a time with him immediately or I'd be missing out. This mystery find of a guy, whose name was Miraj, had already spoken with Dr. Wertz and had a great time of it, so yes, I have to admit a little jealousy. So there we were, both jealous of each other for something. Then, to make matters even creepier, he lives about a block away from me, and his roommate was almost Jane's roommate... apparently, he was on the verge of closing the deal with Jane, but then I came along and looked like a better fit, so he ended up finding Miraj on the same website where I found Jane, and there you have it. Bizzare. So yeah, Miraj and his roommate (named Scott... for those who know my undergraduate history at all, you know why this is just too ridiculous) both know Jane, because she's gone over to their place for a visit a couple of times, just days before I moved in. Oh, and Scott is also a continental philosophy major, and Miraj chose to live with him for the same reason I chose to live with Jane... so someone would know what the hell we were talking about. Anyway, weird. Cool, mind you, but weird as hell, almost creepy weird.

Later that night, in following with Miraj's advice, I composed an email to Dr. Wertz, introducing myself and explaining where I'd come from and what I'd like to do with that background now that I'm at Fordham. I didn't expect a response very soon, but I hoped for one anyway. Sure enough, it came early the next morning... this morning, in fact. Not only was he very happy to hear from me and welcomed me to come by his office any time, but he also mentioned that he didn't know about me until going to the APA convention over the summer, where he ran into my UD professors. Apparently, they said nice enough things about me, because now Dr. Wertz is really pumped about talking to me about research. I'm just hoping the UD profs didn't build me up too much, because I'd hate to turn out to be a let-down for Dr. Wertz... wouldn't be a good way to start things off, I imagine. Anyway, I'll stop by to chat with him next week, and I'll see him in my Qualitative class on Wednesday, so that's that. I'm definitely nervous about the meeting, but it doesn't matter, because it's happening, no matter how I feel about it.

Speaking of nerve-wracking meetings, I met with the prof I'm TA-ing for at Lincoln Center, Dr. Malcolm. Very nice man... even nicer in person than on the phone. We spoke quite congenially in his office for a good while, and then he gave me a quick tour of the rooms I'd be utilizing, including the lab and the larger classroom next door. I also received a mailbox assignment in the psychology office down the hall, and was given a software package for "Sniffy" the cyber rat, which we'll be using for experiments in the lab. It's nice to have the meeting over and done with, but now I have the teaching to be nervous about, which begins next Friday. Funny how the nervousness never seems to end... you either have to thrive on that sort of thing, or fall flat under the weight of it and let it beat you. As for me, I'll just have to fake it until I get my bearings.

I'm writing new music; that'll calm me down. Besides, it might be nice to do something brand new for the CBGB gig. As if there isn't enough new in my life, let's throw in a new song to perform at a new gig, in front of new friends (so far, at least eight are coming, ranging from philosophy and psychology people to family members nearby) from my new school and my new home. Jeezey Chreezey, do I need a drink. And a backrub. Let's add a backrub to that order.