Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Land of Angst

*Disclaimer* This is meant to be satirical.  The following opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the writer.  You may proceed.

In the land of Angst, the people are governed by rules far different from our own. During the day, they are divided into rooms with further internal divisions based on physical appearance and personal contacts. Not obeying the buzzers results in serious punishment. This is very similar to our very own factories, except the buzzers control machines and not—although some may question their humanity—actual humans.

The transportation system is a very odd one. Completely disorganized, any rules of the road are disregarded. I shudder to think how many accidents would occur if our own road ways were run in such a way. I desired to speak with one of these people and so naturally I attempted to make eye contact and initiate a discussion. Every pair of eyes would flit over mine in an effort to avoid eye contact. The muddied floor, yellowing ceiling tiles, worn-out shoes, trash: everything and anything seemed to be more appealing to look at than my eyes. As I wondered at how I could be that repulsive, my drive to communicate with these beings grew even stronger. Finally, I grabbed one by the arm and inquired as to why no one would make eye contact with me.

“It’s like an unspoken rule. If you make eye contact, it becomes an Awkward Moment.” This seemed like a feather light excuse to me but when I made similar inquires of others I received the same response. All efforts must be put into avoiding the Awkward Moment. What that was exactly, I wasn’t sure. No one seemed capable of explaining it. It seemed to be very undesirable and extremely contagious. The best I could figure was that it was some sort of horrific disease like the small pox and that making eye contact only spread the virus of the Awkward Moment.

Another disease was upon these poor afflicted people. They were all ridden with a strong case of aloneaphobia. The effects of it were everywhere. Everyone traveled in pairs. The compulsive need to be surrounded by people is one of the indicators of aloneaphobia. I had seen it before in the very weak and insecure of the nation but never before in such a large quantity and concentration. Occasionally, you would see a person traveling down the passageways alone, yet still suffering from the disease. Their eyes skitted from wall to wall, desperately searching for a comrade, desperate to be released from the state of being alone. There must be something very powerful and deep within their thoughts that they are afraid that if they are alone they might discover who they really are. Perhaps they are some sort of monsters in disguise, and this is why they must be with others: they need to presence of others to effectively feign their own normalcy.

I wondered as to why they did not leave. There must be something that keeps them within the building that was suffocating them. As I searched for the reason, I found a sign attached with sticky tack on a cold cinder block wall. Wads of gum decorated the majority of the surface. But what I could make out underneath the layer of gum, dirt, and fingerprints was this:
Our Mission is to ensure learning while challenging all individuals to exceed their own expectations.

Exactly whose mission was this? This certainly wasn’t a reflection of the majority of students whom I had overheard cursing the place. Their expectations seemed only to be survival. Survival of the diseases that threaten to kill their identity, survival of the restraints that threaten to limit their imaginations. Anyone exceeding those minimalistic expectations was not looked upon with favor. Instead, the rare instance where an inhabitant attempted to actually learn was often ridiculed by the others. Their own inability to break beyond mere survival had warped their thinking. They couldn’t see another way other than their own. When a foreign substance is introduced in one’s body, the red blood sells and good bacteria are up in arms to defend. When the foreign idea of going beyond mediocrity arose, the carrier of that idea was attacked in the same way.

I remained in the Land of Angst for as long as I could bear. But slowly, I could feel more own senses beginning to deaden, the first hints of apathy begin to creep into my soul. So I fled that place and bid farewell to the inhabitants of the land, with my sincerest hopes that one day they too will break free.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Confidently Incompetent

“You know, the really great thing is that at least he is confident in his beliefs,” my friend whispered to me as we sat at a motivational seminar listening to a 23 year old in an oversized suit waste five hours of our day talking to excess. With effects quite as damaging as if he was simply drinking to excess. Instead, his main intention seemed to be using the catch phrase “we are who we want to be” as many possible times within a single sentence. I counted seven times as his all time high.

While I quickly forgot his inspirational fluff, my friend’s words stuck with me. Was it possible that confidence made up for lack of competence? If as long as you are sure of yourself, is it a good idea to make yourself look like an idiot—albeit a confident one? For your dignity’s sake, I would say no.

I am confident that the military of the United States army will protect me. I am confident that this chair is structurally sound and will support me. I am confident that my God is all-knowing and that His sovereignty can be seen almost everywhere I look. This type of confidence is warranted and quite possibly a sign of sanity. A man who is so unconfident of his life and the world he lives in would be walking around trembling for fear the ceiling was about to fall down or that his life was about to collapse. That man would be seen as mentally unstable. Yet there is another type of mental instability that goes largely unchecked. It was this type of instability the motivational speaker suffered from.

Hubris is an ancient Greek word that means false overconfidence. While being simply overconfident will lead to one being thought of as pretentious and presumptuous, false overconfidence has much worse consequences. What of the man who is unshakably sure that he will have what he needs when he needs simply as a result of that need? He wholeheartedly believes that necessity is the mother of invention. This hubristic fellow will find that his exceptional confidence won’t save him when he jumps off a cliff, sure that his need to be able to fly will allow him to sprout wings.

You may say that I am being ridiculous, that that would never happen. Tell me the difference between that scenario and this one: a man is so confident that he can change his circumstances by simply imagining they were different. He spends his entire life pretending to live in a world that isn’t real, forsaking real relationships and real experiences in the meanwhile. The only thing that separates him from our cliff-jumping friend is that his is a slow and gradual death rather than a fatal plummet. Both were blinded by their overconfidence. I’m afraid that is the fate of our well-intentioned and hubris-afflicted motivational speaker.

If a man claims to be a bird, we would think him deranged. The sincerity of his belief would not change the fact that he was incorrect in his thinking. No matter how genuine a person is, their confidence in their insanity will not make him the least bit saner. Confidence is invaluable; it inspires armies and sets uneasy minds at rest. It is only when we are overly sure of things that are utterly false that we run the risk of jumping wing-less off of a cliff.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The One Thing Unfathomable

Music is moving.  It can move souls. It can transform lives. It can save lives. It can bring a nation to tears.  It can bring a stadium to its feet. It can define a generation.  It can define a human being.  The one thing that this all-powerful music can't move? Me.

I've tried so hard to get into music.  I see how many people enjoy it and I see what a strong influence it can have.  But try as I might, music really doesn't move me.  You might say this is because I don't understand music.  You would be right.  My brain loves making supply and demand graphs and writing essays, but it can't wrap itself around music.  This is how it usually goes down:

Me: "Listen to it. Feel it. How does the music make me feel right now?"
Brain: "Hungry. Oh wait, that's just because you were too lazy to eat breakfast."
Me: "No! Try again! What different instruments do you hear? How do they blend together?"
Brain: "Its all one thing! Music: •an artistic form of auditory communication incorporating instrumental or vocal tones in a structured and continuous manner"
Me: "I didn't ask for a definition.  Let the music move you.  Connect with the music!"

At this point, my annoyingly sarcastic brain starts ignoring me and begins hatching some new plan on how to make an underwater trans-Atlantic highway leaving me quite alone to just stand there, straining to hear something that my brain refuses to listen to.  It's frustrating to say the least. 
The best I can do is concentrate on the lyrics.  See, what melodies and notes and the essence of all that is music is to you, is what words are to me.  The way they blend together, play off of each other, create meanings and skew meanings, that is beautiful to me.  I'm not just talking about poetry (which happens to be my least favorite genre).  Writing can say so much or so little.  It just is.  So, the music that I truly enjoy is the music that has  lyrics that I find the most significant.  I realize that good lyrics doesn't mean good music but focusing on the words is the only way music and I can maintain a semi-amicable relationship.
It doesn't help that my entire family was sprinkled with magical music dust at birth.  My dad has his degree in audio engineering, my mom can play various instruments, and my sister dances as her career.  The extended family is equally gifted (masters in music, organ players, violin players, soon-to-be in an orchestra trombone players).  Everyone......except for me. 
If you are like my family and have a super deep connection with music, good for you.  Please don't hate me or this blog.  Instead, go and listen or play some incredible music and enjoy it to its full capacity for me.  I'll be sitting here with my words, typing..........and typing...........still typing.....

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Once Upon A Time at Office Depot

If you were looking for a semi-somber, mostly introspective, and completely philosophical post, look elsewhere.  Today I am going to write about Office Depot.

Once upon a time a girl was traveling around the territories of Clarkston in her '97 Mali-mobile.  One brightly lit neon sign caught her attention.  Office Depot  Those gleaming words attracted her.  Not like one enchanted; instead, she felt as if guided by an invisible hand through those glass double doors.  Here is where the happy violin music in the background stops.  For this was an abandoned, lonely Office Depot.  The employees gathered in small clumps and lit up at the sight of the newcomer. 

"Do you need any assistance?"
"Can I help you?"
"What are you looking for today?"
"How can I be of assistance to you?"

The questions flew at the girl at 100 miles per hour and nearly knocked her off her feet, and worse, her mission.  She gathered her wits however and with a smile and "no thank you" she pointed her feet towards her destination.  It was a magical journey. 

Walking past the brightly covered thumbtacks, she glanced longingly back yet continued on.  The planners were even a harder temptation.   Harder still, the graphic organizers made her stumble a moment as she stopped to examine the new arrivals.  Finally, she found her sought after item.  A pack of beautiful, pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils.  The packaging advertised that they were the best in the world. "How true that is," she thought.  The way back was equally enthralling.  Mountains of brightly stacked post-it notes filled her heart with joy.  A rainbow of sharpies unfolded around her.  Her face was filled with wide-eyed wonder as she skipped through the aisle of paper.  College-ruled, neon colors, journals, notebooks, wide-ruled, hole-punched and red-lined.  All seemed to call out to her.  The only thing that dampened this glorious journey was the pack of desperate employees that seemed to be around every turn, eager to be of assistance.  She found it particular that no other consumers seemed to be enjoying this beautiful land of office supplies. 

Five hours later, she made it out of this wonderland and back to the desolate parking lot.  Her trip was over, life must go on. yet she forever stored those images of organization and color-coded goodness in her mind and heart.

The End.

All right, I had my fun.  I clearly avoided anything deep or revealing.  Give me this then, just one new year's resolution.  My resolution is to be less organized.  I'm too likely to compartmentalize my time and my relationships.  I believe I am in danger of requesting my friends to wear certain colors so I can color code them more easily.  I have a tendency to live by my to do list, which really isn't living at all.  Even computers can obey a program.  My desire to is live with less lists and less spreadsheets.  Please try to hold me to it.  I promise I won't brand you with my sharpies.