Stop whining, start dancing.

February 21, 2009

My friend Ruby, on her blog, was doubting her love for social dancing: Does the brief (3-5 minutes) and unrecordable nature of her dances render them useless compared to the lasting works that live on the page, the canvas, the film, or the record? Does her dancing eat at time that could be better spent doing other things, honing other skills? Is she nothing more than a junkie seeking one peak experience after another? Is her habit something selfish and unsocial that cannot benefit the other parts of her life? I have asked myself these sorts of questions before, so I wrote her a response. Afterwards I thought, “hey this would make a great blog post.”

Ruby, for how long have humans been able to record and duplicate their works? For writing, 6,000 years and for most of that time it has been an intermittent ability, exclusive to discrete regions of the globe. And of those precious ancient pages produced how many survived the millennia, of those how many are still read, and of those how many are still treasured? Think of all the tablets, scrolls and books which have vanished into the vicious maw of time. Does the sweat, inspiration, and craft of those writers loose meaning once the final letter was erased, the last page annihilated? How much time does a work need to survive, and remain remembered for the effort to be worth it? What of the countless generations before Cuneiform, Hieroglyphics, and Alphabets? Were the philosophies, poetry, dances, and art of those countless generations for naught because there were no cameras, no printing presses, nor microphones 9,000 years ago?

We cannot judge ourselves based on what we think “ought” to do, instead we should examine what we authentically feel from experiences that give us joy and fulfillment. Do not let the impermanence of your art make you believe it is a lesser form. A real painter does not stop after the portrait is complete, she starts working on the new painting–always exploring, always growing. One moment, one performance, one masterwork cannot sustain a person forever, a whole person strives to create new moments, new works again, and again, and again; in doing so they find the joy in the subtle flavors, acquire tastes for exotic spices, and rediscover the sweetness of the ordinary.

How is improving your craft egotistical? The better you dance, the more enjoyable you are to dance with! As your dancing improves, the more joy you can find and share during that 3-5 minute song. Doesn’t all that work on balance, coordination, and pliancy improve your well being in the other areas of your life? I keep learning better ways to breathe, each one more relaxing and sustaining than the last. For me, my posture is a living monument to what I can achieve with patience and persistence. Writers and painters stay cooped up in their rooms, actors have to do their thing within the confines of the script and the director. I get to do nearly whatever I damn well please (within reason) for 3-5 minutes and share that joy, that rapture with another human being attached to my rhythm, my energy, my body.

Nothing is truly permanent, and as long as we desire contact with others, our passions will find ways of making us more enjoyable to whomever we may meet.

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A prayer from a guy who never worships.

February 17, 2009

In my Shakespeare class today, I heard the sentence, “the Muses are the daughters of Memory.” This inspired me to write the following prayer.

Prayer for Memory:

Lord, keeper of my thoughts,
sanctify me with your gift,
inscribe my name upon the list of your blessed.
May the memories writhing within my mind not lay forgot.
Keep all I recall fresh and vibrant, full of color and life.
Do not let me falsely re-create the past
as I look upon it with my mind’s eye.

When my bones lay cold and bare,
house me in the hearts of those I’ve touched.
May they remember my deeds and tell tales of my acts.
Grant me immortality in the souls of men,
make me a touch of kindness inherited from mother to son, from father to sister,
a vibrant dot in a sea of feelings.

Oh keeper of my secrets, defender of my essence!
Embrace me with swells of recollection,
Charge me with echos of my senses
and may my life not end forgotten.

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*For those curious to how the proverbial sausage was made: The first version was titled “Prayer to Memory,” and the first line was “Daughter of Memory,” Which really sounds nice, but didn’t make sense, since the Muses have no powers over memory.


I’ll buy a vowel, Pat.

February 4, 2009

A French friend was struggling to enunciate the verb that describes what goes on in her laboratory/office. “Oh, research” I reply. She was making the sounds of the word’s component letters, but with her French accent and lack of familiarity with English phonemics, it all came out wrong. I told her, “think of a Donkey. Donkeys go, ‘HEE-haw,’ now go ‘REE-search.'” She giggled, felt a little embarrassed, but she nailed it and has has never had a problem with it since. This got me thinking about how I pronounce words. “Research” is not a word I say often, but I was messing about with it, and it dawned on me that I say “ree-search,” “ruh-search,” and “rih-search” interchangeably. I found it baffling that I would say one word three ways, yet always be understood. Obviously if a there was a separate word pronounced “ruh-search,” which meant, lets say, “to defenestrate your mom,” I would be able to say “research” while never accidentally suggesting the possibility that I would want to toss your mother against the nearest single-pane.

Of course most of us do not learn “proper pronunciation” whatever that is. We learn to say the words well enough to be understood and then are left to our own devices, probably not corrected for the majority of our phonemic missteps beyond the age of eleven or so. While this works and it’s all fine and good, it has the problem of really fucking up my spelling. It seems I only semi-memorized how to spell words, I say them in my mind as I type them and my brain comes up with letter combinations that best match what I remember and how I say it. When I read my spelling errors aloud, the word reads precisely how I would say it.

My sociolinguistics class touched upon the British solution to this problem, Received Pronunciation. Of course the British would come up with a name for their “standard” dialect that invokes an image of God handing Standard British English on a silver platter to a horde of Druids, which is probably what the British thought they were doing with their language as they handed it to the teeming masses of India, Belize, and wherever else they’ve slammed down their linguistic stamp. Fortunately this gave the world the gift of Indian women with crisp chipper English accents, which I find infinitely delectable.

America lacks the stark pronunciation politics, and the strong accents of the British Isles. Sure New Yorkers mock the dulcet tones of Sarah Palin, Larry the Cable Guy, and many from Appalachia and the Deep South (I bet those folk have their own linguistic pet peeves, but I wouldn’t know), but people are not judged as harshly for their regional accents as the Brits. I recall the Beatles not paving over their Liverpool accents being a big deal back home. One a related note, I met a guy in the Airforce who was from Podunk, Midwest who says the military is rife with guys, like him, from tiny towns in the middle of nowhere, with strong local accents. When they get in the military, they try to sound like everyone else. This is why, I imagine, military guys tend to have a particular accent.

In a similar vein, the Television networks adopted an accent seemingly devoid of regional features for our newscasters and actors. I have mixed feelings about this. I believe the “TV accent”, or “General American,” as Wikipedia calls it, is eroding the local American accent. New York is famous for our accents, watch any New York movie or TV show from the 60’s and 70’s and you’ll see what I mean. While still you hear local New York accents, they are not as strong or as varied as they used to. Maybe I am looking back on the past with rosy shades, but I wish I had some strong New York accent. I grew up talking like most of the people on the TV, and it seems most people I know sound the same way. I find my accent flat, devoid of the rhythmic tones you find among the among the Irish, the Scottish, or the glorious accents of the West indies. I wish my voice moved up and down in melody, but it does not. I love my words, but I wish they had a more musical nature to them.