Blurried Musings (a Kafkaesquí blog joint)
"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing."    Kingsley Amis
April 20, 2002
Incidental Music Fan

I was listening to a PBS special the other day, Lewis & Clark - The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. It's an accurate enough look at their travels through the then newly purchased Louisiana Territory all the way to the West coast, and back again. However, I did find myself at times arguing at the screen whenever historian Stephen Ambrose appeared to provide his take on events, my anger arising primarily from all the light being shed on his writing, or inherent lack thereof...

Anyway, for the most part I was not watching and barking, but listening, as I had the television turned on behind me while I was here -- that is, in front of my computer keyboard, working on a previous Blurried Musing article. So there I am, or was, listening to the television in the background, typing away as I hummed along to the old tunes used in the program for atmosphere in the story. And that's when I realized I'm a fan of incidental music.

This came as a bit of a shock. I've always been among the first to rise to the attack of crappy piped-in music (you should see and hear my impression of an elevator ride to Hell with a short Muzak version of Girl from Ipanema playing). Whenever the instrumental heart strings swell badly in a particularly moving moment of a film, I can be found chuckling over the unintended triteness of it (and subsequently being shushed). But I think I'm OK here, since both these reactions still occur quite regularly and with their original vigor.

Now that I know this about myself, I can see where important incidental music has popped up. I recall a song fragment from a commercial that caught my interest deep enough for me to look up it's title and lyrics online. There was a musical loop from a video game that stuck in my mind long after the program was deleted off my hard drive. And nothing short of a lobotomy will let me forget the few notes from an unknown ditty my grandfather used to unconsciously sing. Seems it runs in the family.

I liked a song clip so much, one of the Shona people of Zimbabwe I discovered in an encyclopedia software package, I hunted down the specific file in the application's directories and made a copy so I could play it whenever I desired. And though I hate to admit it, I start up the Windows XP Introductory Tour animation from time to time because it includes this short musical track I enjoy.

Kind of sad? Perhaps. But I can't help myself. Incidental music hooks into us in so many ways and from so many places while we go about our lives. Strange I've only recently caught onto the fact. And I don't mind it at all... except for the Muzak; I want to make that very clear.

By the way, when I say "incidental music", I'm not talking about Incidental Music. True, there's something intriguing and above the norm for a site that starts off by saying "congratulations on spelling "incidental" correctly," but it's still not what I meant.

April 19, 2002
Books They Should Never Publish (but probably will)

  • Eating for Dummies

  • Moby Dick II: The Resurrection

  • Living Life to Adequacy

  • After My 15 Minutes, by MC Hammer

  • Tourist Guide to Gas City, Indiana

  • Osama Bin Laden's Big Book of Humor

  • Best Java Web Sites

  • Super Models, Super Brains (foreword by Kate Moss, Ph.D.)

  • Zen and the Art of Toaster Repair

  • Talking Sex with John Ashcroft

  • Warez Made Easy

  • Success the ENRON Way

April 18, 2002
Agree to Not Disagree Disagreeably

These days I try to avoid arguments. It's not that I fear face to face confrontation (or in the case of this medium, computer to computer); quite the opposite. I thoroughly enjoy a good scream at the top of my lungs, especially when it's directed at someone else; and there's much to be said for the electrified atmosphere of a good row. The exhilaration one finds from the heat of it, how it forces you to think on your feet to deftly locate and strike hard at your opponent's weak points. I look back fondly at some seriously vicious, hair-splitting discussions I was involved in which left everyone psychically stunned, including the victor, for days. However, I have a good, sound purpose in standing down whenever a vocal wrestling match starts up.

There are obvious motives pointless to go into detail on: kindness is it's own reward, do unto others; the important but invariably ignored proverbial detritus of life. Beyond these are more personalized matters that weigh in heavily. Hypertension runs in the family, so taking care not to pop a blood vessel is a common desire of mine. An effective way to finish up your side of a raging debate is not by having your entire left side go numb. Outside the area of medical health, I've noticed a mean streak can at times come out in my method of attack. It's not a pretty side of me, and for all the apologetic notes and gifts afterwards, even I can't forgive when I metaphorically grab their balls and squeeze till they drop to their knees. Not a nice way to behave with people you'll be meeting for lunch the next day. And... well, there's few events less disheartening than having made an adult male cry over his choice of a favorite color. On this I won't speak further.

All good, logical reasons for evading disputes that just about anyone might consider, but there happens to be one more to take account of in my case, the one that probably has most to do in my desire to hold back at arguments: I tend to be a little too good at winning them. I admit this sounds ludicrous. It's the intention behind joining a fight to come out on top. So why would I have concerns in exhibiting a talent at it? Frankly, I'm not sure I can express it to anyones satisfaction, but let me provide one example that may help.

Years ago my then wife -- borne of a near upper-class, well-educated European background -- complained how American children know classical music only through the cartoons they watch. (B. Bunny does love to la-la-dee through a Brahms or Rossini tune while befuddling E. Fudd.) I myself picked up an interest in Beethoven through Charlie Brown specials, and my long love-hate relationship with Wagner due to Bugs' What's Opera, Doc, so I could hardly disagree with this pronouncement. But having it foisted in such a manner (total though unconscious arrogance), I balked and fought passionately in defense of cartoons. "Without them," I exclaimed, in part, "our children would know nothing of classical music. We should not slight, but thank cartoons for instilling an interest in major composers we'd otherwise have no contact with, as they'd be lost in the breadth but shallowness of pop cultural substitutes." Or I said something very much like this. Whatever the words, they persuaded her that we owed cartoons a debt of gratitude by providing one small outlet for important music to show through the noise.

That this was nothing more than pure crap and I didn't believe a word even as it left my mouth, should provide a small glimpse into my true reason for giving up on the art of arguing. Not totally, but to a degree so when I do find myself in a verbal brawl, I actually mean what I'm shouting.

April 17, 2002

I've had my share of small adventures and spent time wandering distant airports in cities like Brussels, and Vienna, and... well, there was Brussels and Vienna, but mostly there's been Chicago and Indianapolis, and Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I think there's a stop in St. Louis in there, though I don't remember when or why. Admittedly, my frequent flier punch card is somewhat skimpy on the holes, and my suitcase tends to stay dusty in the closet. I'm more of a stay at home traveller, holding a book in one hand and a computer mouse in the other. Not that I regret the scarcity of personal voyages to far off lands. This has been a pretty good life so far with a fair share of experiences, even if it does lack a thick, fascinating travel log.

But it wasn't always going to be that way.

Early on, long before words like responsibility and 401K crept into my regular vocabulary, there were many locales I wanted to plant my feet for a time. All kinds of places across the planet: the dry, awesome desert of the Sahara and on its fringe those shining white walls of Timbuktu (they don't shine like they once did); the sweltering beauty and intriguing people of Jakarta; the rolling hills and language of Scotland; the bleak wonder and size of the Australian Outback. For a time early in my adulthood, I wanted to paddle down the Amazon river, amble up the Andes mountains, and wander the somewhat closer to home terrain of the Adirondacks. I certainly didn't lack in my desire of locations to go.

Why didn't I strike out for any of these remote climes, tacking off and traveling wherever my heart and chance chose for me? Probably because a few real life obstacles interfered. One of them, actually the biggest, was a lack of funds. I'm sure it's possible to tramp across the world on a shoestring budget, but typically even that requires a pretty large shoe to start off with. A shoestring without a good pair to tie them into tends to break at the most inopportune time and strand one in Turkey or Brazil or somewhere else too far for a helping hand from friends and family to reach you easily. Also, there's this deep driving force in the bones I apparently lack. Not sure what to call it, but it's a motivating genetic ambition that pushes people to just get up and go, and I don't seem to have that trailblazing strand of DNA. Or I have it, but it prefers to stay dormant most of the time. Reading, first in books, and now on the Internet (but of course still in books), satiates what little hunger for the open road it's able to muster in me.

So I'm of two minds about the fact I've done so little journeying of substantial and personal concern in my life. On one side, it sometimes feels like I've missed out on an early dream of mine. But on the other, I think of all those dirty hotel rooms, long airport lines, inedible meals, and troublesome locals I've avoided. And as I said, it's not like I've missed out on a life. Just one without much of a travel itinerary.

C'est la vie, et le voyage. Wonder why I never wanted to go to France.

April 16, 2002
Empty Post

The title says it all. No, it's not about Emily's sister.

Sometimes I have a lot to say, though it may come out all wrong when it gets posted here -- wish I could blame my editor for that, but I refuse to take the blame. Sometimes there's very little I have to say, but with a little work I can come up with a good 400-500 words on some inane topic or other. I'm very proud of the hack hiding within me. Sometimes there's absolutely nothing I have to say, and try as I might I'm at a loss to go anywhere on anything, even on a subject of serious (though humorous) interest. Today is one of those times when the last Sometime comes into play.

So this is a post about nothing, which makes it about something after all.

Nothing is something I find rather interesting (no pun). There's this sense of distress built into the concept. Emptiness, nothingness. Most of us fear it in regards to certain issues, such as life after death, or the inside of refrigerators. We want and need to have stuff. I'm not sure it even matters what that stuff is, but we can't stand the idea of an existence (or lack thereof, considering) in which stuff is not around. I know Christians who would prefer eternal damnation to the total lack of an afterlife altogether. Not sure what that says about them. In less metaphysical matters, it's not like you can point at nothing. "Hey! Look over there! It's nothing!" Quite a good way to gain access to the rubber room, but not a major draw in public circles otherwise. It's also hard to get anyone to talk about nothing, though they often claim to be doing just that. Trust me, they're usually lying when they say it.

I like having nothing around, in that without it, "something" becomes a lot less meaningful. The quality of a thing is often best highlighted by what represents its opposite, and you can't get more definition then having an antithetical twin that's the ultimate blank slate. You can't describe it, can't draw a picture of it, can't get it to sign an autograph. But nothing turns out to be quite a lot, once you spend some time thinking about it. Or is that trying to think about it? Find all this confusing? Even the best philosophers go all fuzzy discussing nothing, so no reason to find clarity here on the matter.

What would the Bizarro World version of nothing be? Hard to say.

April 15, 2002
The Politics of Creation (Not Creative Politics)

I've recently become a member of a collaborative weblog (all right, blog) that will try and corral fourteen disparate folk into doing something even the simplest theme anthologies have trouble accomplishing with authors writing independently: create a running work of fiction within a world constructed specifically for our aggregate composition, and to do it in a way so that our combined effort is at least interesting to read. I'll link to it here, once things are a little more public-minded.

With nary a day spent going over preliminary issues, I already know the problem we'll have the most difficulty writing through. It won't be creating and guiding the plot, though we're hardly off to the races on that one; nor will it be the task of learning to harmonize so many voices in the variety of those gathered in our creative commune; even the editorial demands controlling a story that desires to go off down 14 different paths will pale in comparison.

It's been said many times, by people much smarter than I, that we humans are political animals -- hence it must be true. So it's politics that will bring the harshest weather to our little fabricated blog atmosphere. We'll have to deal with it just like any assemblage greater than two people must (and sometimes it only takes two). As my fellow blog composers and I will learn, attempts to erase the political value from an organizational equation rarely comes to anything. And when it does, the effect of the remedy is not necessarily what one expects or desires. So one must learn to live with it. And perhaps die by it.

That the political mind is also an ego-driven one will make it even more troublesome, as the potential for clashes is ever more ripe amongst a group of (young, old, noviced, experienced, unknown) writers. We're a collection of "artists", so expect sparks to fly as we push hard on our ideas. Creation is a violent act, politics or no. Getting in the way of that takes guts, but also an expectation you'll end up bloodied and on your back. Though I may make a few friends from it, I'll likely create a few enemies as well. And it's possible the bad parts will outweigh the good overall.

I already have enough of my own creative endeavors to keep busy for months, projects I'll need to cut back on while I have my foot in with this collaborative undertaking. So why, I might ask (so I do), am I getting involved when I see so much rough terrain ahead? The reason is simple (or is that reasons are?): this is no more nor less than a mountain, a thing I've got to climb because it's there. And though one doesn't need to give further motive, I will anyway: something James Baldwin wrote comes to mind, a thing I'd like to try and disprove, if in a small way: "The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone." A creative work borne out of collaboration can act to work against that state. We may not do it well, yet through the politics and the ego swells, we'll be trying damn hard to, that I'm sure of.

But I believe the best note and so best reason to end on is one from George Sand: "No one makes a revolution by himself." You were always my kind of woman, George!

April 14, 2002
A Conversation With Orley

O: "Enjoying your lunch, Kaf?"

K: "Orley! Hey, I didn't notice you poking around behind the soda machine."

O: "Sorry to surprise you, but can you help me with something?"

K: "I can certainly try. What's the problem?"

O: "It's that -- well, I seem to have lost my Purpose."

K: "..."

O: "Maybe "lost" is not the right word. But it's definitely not where it should be."

K: "I'm not sure I understand what you're asking of me."

O: "I need to find my Purpose! You know, my Purpose in Life! How much clearer do I need to make it?!"

K: "OK Orley, no reason to bounce around the break room. When was the last time you remember having it?"

O: "A good and smart place to start... I don't know. It's not something I've kept diligent watch over. Maybe a week back?"

K: "Well then, what does it look like?"

O: "Excuse me?"

K: "I mean, can you describe it? Just so I know how to recognize it if I come across it."

O: "That's a hard one, Kaf. Can you describe your Purpose?"

K: "Honestly, no. But then I never felt like I'd lost mine, so the need to provide a description hasn't come up."

O: "I wish it only felt that way, but it's much more than that. It's really gone. I lost it somewhere."

K: "Is that what you were doing in back of the food dispensers; looking for your Purpose?"

O: "No, I dropped a quarter. But now you mention it..."

K: "Look Orley, a Purpose is not something you misplace like a set of car keys. You can only distance yourself from it spiritually, perhaps psychologically, or even allegorically. Most of us have trouble discovering it at all. But in any case, this seems more an issue for counseling or guidance from your minister. I don't see how I can help."

O: "I know you can."

K: "Thanks for the vote of confidence. At the least, I can help you go over the basics; think it through. If I was seeking mine, I'd start at what I felt to have been my Purpose in the first place."

O: "We're back to a description?"

K: "Not exactly. Understanding something deeply important about oneself is not the same as being able to characterize its features."

O: "Much in the way one can accept the ideal of beauty, but pass on the particulars?"

K: "Uh, maybe. Look, it's all in how you go about dealing with it."

O: "Looking for is more to the point."

K: "If you like; but taking time to look is a misguided activity. You can't go in search of something you're unable to lose."

O: "I already told you I lost it. Now you're calling me a liar?"

K: "Orley, try to see it this way: pretend our lives are spun around in a coil about a rod of iron. Now how the rod got to be there or what it represents is unimportant except on an individual basis, but it's key to how we draw on our inner resources, both current and potential."

O: "Are you saying my Purpose is like the core of an electromagnet?"

K: "I'm using it as a metaphor, though I'm obviously failing. The issue is that like the rod of iron, your Purpose is trapped inside you -- the coil that is. One dependently requires the other to generate those waves of attraction. Now it will fail to behave in such a way without the relationship between the two, but to remove that component must cause more than a simple feeling of loss. It has to represent a total nullification of ones self -- something I would have noticed in you by now."

O: "So it's not so much I've lost my Purpose, but that the power supply to it has gone out somehow, so I no longer see it's effects?"

K: "Not quite what I was going for, but I guess it will do."

O: "So if I haven't lost my Purpose, why can't I find it? Looks to me like you're splitting metaphorical hairs to get out of helping me."

K: "I'm not. I'm very serious about you not losing it. Try this: that set of keys is still sitting on a table at home. You just haven't remembered where you laid them down. But you will."

O: "Well, at least that's almost comforting."

K: "It happens to be one of my many Purposes. Now sit down and have the rest of my chips."


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