Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Song of my life

So, for whatever reason, I've been in a writing mood lately. The move and the current family crises have seen to that. Oddly enough, a lot has me thinking lately. And this is as good a place as any to "think out loud", even if I risk being heard. As I sat at the piano today, I realized something interesting had happened to me as a musician. Indeed, it occurs to me that my time as a musician describes my life well.

For so much of my childhood, and into my teen years, I was trained in classical piano. Every note, every detail defined. My piano teachers were the strict type with quick rulers that slapped hands. I never excelled at it. Indeed, I felt myself to be average. I would sit, and force myself through a religious song, or maybe a piece of classical music. And, I'd work with the metronome. I never could keep the steady beat of the music. I never quiet "got" the sound of the classics.

And yet, I had a passion for it. I lived in a strange world, sitting and playing the piano. Music flowing from one of the most grand instruments. But it lacked ... soul. An interesting thing, a person so passionate about playing music, but who's music lacks feeling and warmth. Indeed, I didn't realize it at the time but I worked actively to remove it. If it wasn't on the page I didn't play it - or at least, I tried. I felt a failure because I would change the beat, slow down where I felt the need for a change, or swing the half beat notes. I tried to fit the mold of what I thought was 'right': all within detail, everything as written, no thinking for myself.

And seeing people 'break' the rules and 'fake it' pissed me off. They weren't working as hard as I was to follow the vision of the songwriter. I tried to fit into my image of a classical pianist. But I didn't fit. I didn't realize that the image in my head was wrong.

I never learned to fit into that classical world. But, people did recognize something different in me. The last piano teacher I had, sometime my second year in college, wanted me to learn. He played at baseball stadiums and concert halls. He sat me down with some beginner sheet music, removed the left hand part, gave me rules, and told me to make it up. I felt insulted, being told to 'fake it'. Because clearly I had no talent. Little did I realize that this teacher was complimenting me on my ability. My feeling. The very thing I was trying to remove.

I quit not long after, and stopped playing piano. At first, it was a slow process, I would stay away, then maybe play a song or two. Before long though, I couldn't remember the last time I played. A part of me died then. The thing I was most passionate about left.

The funny thing, looking at it now, is that my 'spiritual life' followed the same pattern. I went to the Church, followed all the rules I could, and did my best to fit in. The years I 'dedicated my life' or went into special efforts of increased service, I was also most serious about playing the piano. And when the music stopped, my faith did something of the same as well.

It wasn't just my faith either. I lived through the majority of college doing nothing more than going back and forth between destinations in a perfunctory act of existence. I had given up with the notion of trying to fit in. In a very real way, I was in prison - not allowed to explore the multitude of things I desired. Forbidden friends. Forbidden sex. Forbidden passion. Forbidden the ability to ask who I thought God was. Indeed, who I thought I was. My faith kept me in a situation with no way to break out. My finances tied up because of church service. No friends because of church beliefs. In the end, I had nothing to live for.

The music stopped.

Eventually a final call of sanity pushed me to the edge of collapse. My mind had no idea how to react to the prison I had created for it, so I began to fool myself. I listened to people that told me I was crazy, mentally ill. In all reality, I probably was. But, this wasn't an illness caused by delusions, it was an illness caused by recognition of truth. Eventually, the day that changed my life forever happened. I realized that I didn't have to stay in prison. I realized, that very real freedom existed outside the bounds of the Church. For the first time in my life, I was sane. And, in that one instant, I had what can only be described as conversion. For the first time in my life, I had faith. I did not know in what or who or how, but I knew it was there.

Of course, I still lived in prison. My living situation did not allow for this freedom - but it was there, in my head. I began to have interests again. And while, I didn't play the piano yet, I took the time to find my music books. I wanted again.

Eventually, I would meet several wonderful people. People that would take my hand, and pull me up and out of prison. As I came to Kansas City for the first time, I didn't realize I would call it home. I didn't realize the storm that would come. I just knew I needed to escape.

And escape I did.

Within the first few weeks of leaving my old home, music began to flow again. It was odd, playing piano. The notes and keys felt so unfamiliar. I had lost a lot of time. No longer could I scale up and down the piano effortlessly. I lost the robotic dexterity. Friends overheard, they said they liked what they heard. Before long, I tried out for a part in a musical. The music director told me the strangest thing then: something I never realized:

"You play with so much feeling, you really are a pianist and not just a player"

What is this? I didn't get how someone could say such a thing about my inept music. When I started working and got on my feet, I practiced more and more at the piano. And then, for some strange reason, I pulled out the 1st year book the teacher so long ago had given me.

I would try again, to remove the notes, and "Fake it". It felt strange, like riding a bike for the first time. I knew the rules, the chord structure, but the notes were no longer there. What was I to do without every last detail arranged for me?

I never realized it until a few days ago, that I now spend more time improvising and creating than practicing the written page. Indeed, I no longer have to force myself to improvise, and instead, have to force myself to read so I can learn new melodies and technique. I no longer work to master a given piece of music, but instead to learn new sounds and creations.

Oddly enough, even having to work at relearning technique - something I am nowhere near doing (most of my technical music is still far beyond my current ability) - I am a much better classical pianist. I never realized that part of classical music, an important part, is interpretation. Even when every note is out there, you must inject feeling into the song. It was an odd thing, in the middle of a piece by Debussy, to have this feeling that I knew what he was going to do next - like the soul of the long past musician was whispering in my ear. And that feeling happens more and more often as I continue to practice.

And so, what does one do without every part of their life written, categorized, labeled, and predetermined?

They live.

I sometimes laugh as people notice me, looking at the world with the eyes of someone so young, as if seeing everything for the first time. Some people go through their entire life without ever seeing anything. So, I celebrate this week, my second birthday. Because it is now 2 years since that rainy October day of conversion. October will be a special month for me always. You see, I started to live on October 22.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Go Go Earth Based Religion

So, I woke up in something of a mood tonight. Last night, I went out, celebrated, danced, had a cute girl gyrate against me, got really drunk, had a hang over cure, and crashed on the bed. This morning, I woke up at around noon, stayed in bed for an hour, then got up and walked over to pick up my car parked about a mile down the road.

So, I'm walking down, and enjoying absolutely *FANTASTIC* weather. Low 60's, with a very slight breeze. I'm wearing a denim jacket. Just a tinge of bite to the air, but the sun is shining so it feels warm. I take a turn into a residential neighborhood. The area is quiet, a few kids riding backs, but car noises from the main road are at minimum. The breeze blows the trees and the bushes, and I realize...

Damn, it's a nice day out, I should take walks more often.

I had promised myself to visit a local pagan group, to get a feel for what the "earth based" faith was all about. I've been once before, but I realized walking there, feeling in touch with nature and all, that it was Halloween, a very important time for pagans, and more than likely, they had some ceremony going on tonight. I smile, breath in the autumn air, and think "Why not?"

Of course, the old fundi in me at this time is protesting, "Nooooo don't go to the demon infested pile, you'll have your dishes levitate and clatter". I brush the old aside, and hit the web to discover that they are indeed doing a Halloween service. Yay! I head out, intending to get there a bit early, but am sad to discover that for some mystical reason my alarm clock was running an HOUR EARLY. Oh well, I decide to head in anyway, and walk up to the door of the small church area rented by the group.

I walk in, and nervously wait outside a set of open doors, somewhat scared to interrupt whatever ceremony that's going on. The Witnesses told me I was doomed for going, I don't want to mess with this nature deity as well - I'd be fucked on 2 counts then. One of the 'ushers' (for lack of a better term), motions me to enter and take a seat.

My immediate impression is that I'm in something of a Dungeons and Dragons religion. A blond gentlemen holds a large sword, asking people what they are doing to make the world better.

As I sit, the man faces me, sword in hand. "What service do you bring this Earth?"

I feel a strange desire to stand up and shout - "I am Andrew, King of the Kansas Citians, and I seek the Holy Grail." I decide to err on the side of caution though, figuring the guy DOES have a fucking sword on him, and I'm only armed with a jacket... So, I answer that I am a seeker of truth that desires to help others.

The sworded gentleman seems to respect my answer and bids me to enter the circle to be marked. I enter, and manage to lean down enough for a shorter lady to smear some blue paste on my face.

At this point, I'm rather disappointed by the lack of child sacrifice, beating human hearts being ripped out of chests, and positively no sex or nudity. Damn. As the lady smears the paste, she informs me that I can place something on the center altar/table thing to be blessed. I figure why not, I brought one of my decorative pieces of marble figuring this sort of thing would happen.

I place it on the altar.

Damn, I'm sure I'll have to burn that now, but wait.... fuck.... of course it won't burn if it's demon possessed. (Being stone might also make it be a bit difficult.. What was I supposed to do, oh yea, "God save my rock, protect me from the demons...")

Back in D&D mode.

Wow, the gifted Oracle of the center circle placed paste of constitution +5 on my face!

Back to fundi mode.

"God above, please protect me from this evil place"

New turn, liberal mode.

"Wow, this is actually pretty neat, a group getting together and encouraging individualism and free expression"

Wow, fundi mode happening again

"They are all going to be destroyed by God for their heathen ways"

Back to D&D mode

"I wonder if the +5 constitution paste will aid against McDonald's hamburger of Doom with -10 hp per turn."

Liberal mode

"You know, this is actually fairly cool, fuck off fundi and D&D"

The ceremony goes on for a while, I'm sitting the back, more passive observing, because I want to run if anything from the Exorcist starts happening. At the end, they pass around a chalice of whiskey

"Shit, I knew there was something to this pagan thing after all!"

The ceremony closes and I'm bid to pick up the rock I placed to be blessed.

"Wooooooohooooooooooooooooooooo, I have a rock +5 ward off evil" Damn, went into D&D mode again.

Honestly, I don't think it helped several people were wearing Halloween costumes.

Well, I *assume* that's what they were.

Ok, I have to go back next week to find out.

I can see the appeal of this particular faith path. People in these religions are generally good with whatever faith you take, after all, they have to face the social malice of not being of a given faith. And, there are a lot of different opinions as to what these nature based religions actually involved and so on.

The group was accepting, and the members I talked to actually had a strong belief system. It just happened that each of them was very personal to that individual.

And while I joke and kid about the clothing and so on, other faiths where uniforms that haven't changed for a lot longer. Who's to say a kilt and sword is any stranger than a priestly vestment and cross? I have a feeling the kilt and sword is a lot more ancient and traditional anyway.

In the event that my dishes develop minds of their own, or any number of evil things start to happen, I'll be sure to post back here. Until then, I don't know if I agree with this faith, but I do think it's at least worth respecting people that have chosen it - in the very least, they're creative.

I'm guessing that the claims of -5 ward of evil and +5 ward off evil claims of my prior faith and this recent ceremony cancel out and leave my rock, still, just a rock...

Or do they?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Please not Hillary....

I didn't really want to go here, but the news keeps coming in that Hillary is leading all the polls - for the primary, for the election.

For the love of $#@* Democrats, WHY HILLARY?

From someone truly not sure if his 2008 ballot will have a bubble next to a Democrat or Republican, why... why... why... WHY?!?!?!??!??!?!

Oh fuck me.

I don't want the same tired, partisan, politics run by a two face former white house inmate. At the end of the day, I guess it's time to realize - We don't pick the candidates. I don't buy the grand conspiracy theory, no sense making life more complicated than it is. But the sad truth is, the idealists never make it that far....

Life was easier when I didn't care about politics. Sad thing is, Hillary is probably one of the best out of the lot. New blood in the whitehouse? Never!

Here's hoping for someone I can feel slightly less dirty about voting for.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


You Are a Ghost

Mysterious, independent, and often unseen - you always do things your own way.
You are introverted, shy, and even a little secretive.
People are dying to know you better, but you're a difficult person to know.
A lot of your contributions to the world are left invisible and unfelt.

Your greatest power: Blending in really well

Your greatest weakness: Being too passive

You play well with: Witches

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kid Nation - WTF?

Has anyone been following this show?

I find it deeply disturbing. Not the so called exploitation of children, or the low number of adults around, but...

The blatant messages about the irresponsible use of alcohol

I don't know know if the producers of the show are attempting to make a point here. Or if this is just bad management, or encouragement... Or maybe, they are just behaving like their parents.

I like drinking. On my birthday, I went out with friends. Substantial amounts of alcohol and huge bar tab were involved. I do shots. I do strong mixed drinks. I do beer.

Still seeing impressionable preteens sitting at a "soda bar" drinking their troubles away. Doing "soda shots"... The faux party atmosphere. Seeing kids do it? Well, it's like hearing about 10 year olds giving each other blowjobs. Nothing wrong with the act, but, it's not yet time. Throwing these concepts at children invites all levels of crap as they grow up - alcoholism, etc... I really have to question a show on which I can see a 12 and 14 year olds doing shots. That they do them (near) correctly, well... it's bothersome.

As a society we need to develop some balance and show healthy drinking and partying. Going out partying and drinking and fun? It's cool until it bleeds over and starts interfering with living. Are we predisposing youth to a life of alcoholism when they go to a soda bar to 'drink away their problems'? What happens when the sugar water is replaced by something more potent?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

F*** Electronic Arts

So, Electronic Arts is the company behind much of PC gaming. They have an odd habit of buying up good game companies, and then leaching the name and developers to death, but that's not really what this is about. A recent flap has started about EA's move to SecuRom with the latest version of the Sims.

What does SecuRom have to do with anything? Well, on it's most basic level, SecuRom is a utility that makes it difficult to copy a CD in a usable form. And with that, EA is now installing 3rd party software without notifying users. This isn't exactly uncommon, most major vendors use one copy protection scheme or another. But, installing these tools is, I would argue, is unethical.

SecuROM is manufactured by a subsidiary of a company that has already revealed it has no qualms about installing harmful software on customer's computers: Sony. In 2005, Sony distributed music CDs, that if placed in the user's computer, would install software opening the user to remote access.

For a recounting of the Sony root kit scandal, check out Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Sony_BMG_CD_copy_prevention_scandal

The companies would argue that this software protects their revenue stream. I wonder how - copy protection software like this CAN and IS circumvented.

If you really wanted, any of the major games out there have been "hacked" to run already, or you can follow directions to make low level copies (the limitation being that you can't use those copies in a CDR drive..) So, if I want an illegal copy of the Sims, I can download it - provided I don't mind dealing with a few less than reputable groups. One might note, that as copyright infringement is ALREADY illegal, not much changed.

Which, begs the question, why does EA use this software?

The 'kind' answer is that management has its head up its ass. In any case, I can't escape the simple truth that 99.9% of users won't be able to make and use backup copies of game disks with this software, and that means if the CD is drawn on with a permanent marker by the toddler, or eaten by the dog, etc... they'll be stuck paying for a replacement disk (and dealing with EA directly), or (more likely) just heading to the store and buying another copy of the game. So,

Companies should be required to do 2 things -

#1 - Companies should not be allowed to install software on your computer that you don't know about - PERIOD. SecuROM, SafeDisk, et al are only the tip of the iceberg here. The problem has gotten so bad, that Microsoft and other companies, now provide tools to remove the software that other companies bundle with their apps, and install, not letting you know.

#2 - The packaging of software - IE, the box - should be required to include a clear marker that indicates what additional software that would be installed.

In all reality, while the low level nature of SecuROM can cause serious problems for your computer (leading even to a reinstall), it usually works just fine. The more disturbing thing to me, is that companies see the need to include this software when it's been proven ineffective against the people it's "defending" against anyway.

The disgusting thing here, is that Electronic Arts, and Sony, are removing a basic grant from the same copyright laws that they are using to license and prevent unauthorized distribution -

US CODE 117 -

(a) Making of Additional Copy or Adaptation by Owner of Copy.— Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program provided:
(1) that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner, or
(2) that such new copy or adaptation is for archival purposes only and that all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful.

Of course, the DMCA effectively voids that portion of the law...

In the end though, I'm glad that some people are getting it - there is a reason why the honor system works. So now, we see one of the primary advocates of this kind of technology, the music industry, selling music files on Amazon.com and Apple iTunes without any lock downs.

Come on, EA, shouldn't you be ahead of the old farts in suits? I thought you were supposed to be cool...

Still, life continues on as usual, and this will probably be disregarded as just another nerd's rant anyway....

Sunday, October 7, 2007

An anti-drug campaign I can get behind...

Edit: left out the link: http://www.myspace.com/heroindiaries

If you've followed the trend in education, we spend a lot of money on anti-drug programs. Programs like DARE, actually place police officers in the schools, where they talk about drugs and how bad they are for you.

And it's never enough. For some reason, kids are still going out, doing drugs. Looking at these anti-drug campaigns, we see one failure after another. The only question is as to the size and magnitude of that failure.

So, why now, am I encouraging yet another campaign?

Well, in all honesty, it isn't really an anti-drug campaign. It is simply a man telling the stories of the cost of addiction in his life - a life that many young teenage boys dream about.

I'm talking of course, about "The Heroin Diaries". Listening on the radio, you can hear the soundtrack to the book - but the book itself is much more potent - and gets at the real reason why these campaigns fail -

We are so busy creating reasons not to do drugs, that we loose the obvious truths associated around drug use.

Because, in the end, the truth is most drugs are not nearly as harmful as a Dare officer might point out. Even still, if we look behind the scenes at some basic realities, there is so much to say that doesn't require exageration.

Kids are smart, and sometimes, maybe all they need are the facts without the preaching.

So, more power to the Heroin Diaries - which I believe will do more to keep kids out of a very dark world than all the rhetoric about drugs are bad for you...