In Defense of Bad Music

Bad is a lamentably subjective term. I’d love to simply sweep all popular music into the “bad” category, but I remember when grunge was popular, and I liked that. I will say that grunge, the good stuff anyway, tried to say something in the middle of all of those crashing chords. But enough of that; I came here not to complain about pop, but rather to praise bad music that I happen to like.

The song that inspired this post is entitled “The Lads o’ Wamphray”. Yes, it’s a Child Ballad (184). Yes, it’s a Scottish Child Ballad. By now I’m sure that most of you are saying “Dammit! There’s no mystery here! You’re predisposed to like Scottish Folk music; this song simply fits inside your musical prejudices.”

I can’t really argue with that, but there’s more to it than just my preferences. Even I have my limits.

Lads of Wamphray is not one of those songs that makes a larger point about Scottish history, nor does it tap into some sort of archetypal mythology, nor does it address some sort of fear, nor yet does it tell a tragic love story, nor still does it repeat an older story in a newer form. The ballad narrates a few incidents in one of those sordid little clan feuds that pepper Scottish history; this one is the Johnston-Crichton feud.

A member of the Johnston clan, called “The Galliard”*, does something to piss off the Crichtons, and attempts to steal a horse but is caught and hanged. His nephew, who witnesses the Galliard’s death, rounds up some Johnstons, wreaks a bloody revenge, and the Johnston boys celebrate by going out for drinks. Oh, and they pat themselves on the back.

That’s it. Petty, self-congratulatory to the point of being masturbatory, and grandiose.

The arrangement is not much better. The tune is catchy, but simple. The singing is, well, mediocre Ren Faire quality at best, the recording itself is a bit hard to understand, and so on. The one thing is has going for it is the stress that the performers place on the fourth line of every verse, which underscores the action in those lyrics, thus giving the song some dramatic impetus.

I’ll link here to the lyrics: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch184.htm

The point I’m trying to make, at some length, is that music evokes emotion. And if it can do that, and do it well, then that ability can make up for the lack of technical skill, lyrical complexity, etc. Some more modern examples might include “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or, say, “Cum On Feel the Noise”.

Bad music has a place. Not necessarily a prominent place, not necessarily a merited place, but a place.

The Fanboyest of Nitpickery.

I’ve been listening to the Tolkien Professor podcast, which I enjoy, though I do not always agree with his conclusions. For example, I’m reasonably sure that some Balrogs have wings. Maybe not all, but some.  

I am basing this contention on two pieces of information. First, when Morgoth is assailed by Ungoliant, he lets out a dreadful cry, which summons the Balrogs to him.  Now the Silmarillion says that they cross Hithlum to reach the region know afterward as Lammoth. So, if they are wingless, we’re left with the image of a shit ton of Balrogs running their asses off across Hithlum and over mountains to reach Morgoth in time to prevent Ungoliant from eating him. I just don’t buy it.

The second is a kind of negative proof. Olsen, the Tolkien Professor, maintains that as two of the Balrogs that died did so, at least in part, by falling, it does not make much sense to envision them with wings. However, in the War of Wrath, it is clearly stated that Ancalagon the Black, a very pointedly winged dragon, plummets to his death after having the bad sense to take on a dude with a crystal ship and a Silmaril bound on his brow. If a winged dragon can die by falling (see also: Smaug, yes I know, but he did fall) then so can a winged Balrog.

If you enjoyed this picayune entry, please stay tuned for my discussion in praise of bad folk music.

Timor Mortis

My maternal grandmother died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 36.  I have borderline hypertension. 

I’m too heavy, again.  When I wake up in the morning my heart beats wildly for no apparent reason.  

I was driving home yesterday, listening to a Moth story about someone’s death from cancer, and I was suddenly terrified of not existing.  I have no idea what happens afterward, and I really don’t want to.  I’m not ready, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s coming soon.  

I can’t help but wonder if every headache is a sign of the end, or whether a muscle twinge in my chest signals an incipient heart attack.  I’m afraid that I’ll get my adult life started just to check out early.

And then I worry about my parents and their mortality.  I think about how long they have left, and I know I’m not ready to lose them.  

My mom had a double mastectomy in July.  One of her brother’s lost a kidney.  My dad had leukemia 13 years ago, and when he had hernia surgery last week, the doctor noticed that his lymph nodes were “activated”.  He’s going back in for a biopsy in a couple of weeks.

I’m not ready for any of this.

Trophies aren’t the problem.

Hey!

Hey guy!

Hey over here!  Yeah, you!  The guy that just posted some damn meme with the caption “This is what happens when everybody gets a trophy.”

Fuck you.

Fuck you sideways.  

Fuck you sideways with a goddamn cactus.

Let me explain something.  Let me tell you why this Gen X/Millenial/Gen Y bullshit sticks so far down my craw that James “The Most Important Part is Spectacle!” Cameron needs to use his submarine to get it out.

I was born in 1977, which puts me- generationally speaking- near the border.  

I played sports when I was younger.  I was bad.  But sometimes, we all got trophies.  I had 7th and 11th place ribbons from a swim meet that took place when I was in grade school.

Do me a favor, will you? Grant that some of the people you’re deriding had the capacity to understand that the only important trophies were those awarded for the three fastest, best, what-have-you.

Do you know what an 11th place ribbon says to a 12-year-old kid?  Here’s a hint: it doesn’t say “You’re a winner!”  

Would you like a clearer translation?  Great.  “Hey, dumbass!  You know this thing you chose to do?  This thing that you might want to do well?  That you think you should do well? You’re shit at it. You got a pity prize. Enjoy.”

Maybe that kind of message encourages other people to try harder or some similar Afterschool Special nonsense.

Maybe.

Do you honestly believe, when you rant self-righteously about the kids these days, that no one at any stage of their development noticed the gap between parental encouragement/expectation and actual achievement? That any number of “You’re specials” or “You can do whatever you wants” can trump enough empirical evidence?

Yeah. Many people my age or younger aren’t willing to pay our dues.  You’re right.  But that has nothing to do with trophies.  It has everything to do with “working hard” for no reason.  I can work as hard as I want at my current job, but it’s never going to provide the security I need. I could write my dissertation too, but I’ve seen the future, and I don’t want to adjunct for any length of time. I suppose I could work hard at adjuncting, but clearing under 25,000 a year, before taxes, with no benefits doesn’t seem like a good use of my time.

The dues don’t pay for anything anymore.

Rant over.

A timeline of my dealings with financial aid at CUA.

8/1 See financial aid statement.  Panic and start making contingency plans for payment of 2012 taxes.  Plans include getting a full-time job and keeping GRE prep job.  Start applying for jobs.  Consider asking parents for $, parents are retired, reject idea.  Consider taking out an additional loan.  Waffle, but eventually come down on options A and C.

8/6- Go in to FinAid Office to put myself even further underwater because the job I have doesn’t pay me enough to live on.  Fill out all govt paperwork online, get instantly approved for new massive loan. Turn in one piece of analogue paperwork to office.

8/13 Get worried because FinAid Office has said nothing about loan status, nor is info available online. Go in to FinAid Office.  Am informed that loan will be processed 8/14.

8/14. See amount of loan, it is a mixed blessing at best.  Disbursement date is 8/16.

8/16.  Stafford Loan disbursed, Grad Plus loan nowhere to be seen.  Take several screenshots proving existence of loan and loan amount.
Panic returns.

8/19  Call FinAid Office.  Am informed that while I can’t see it on my screen, they can see it on their screens and the Grad Plus loan has been disbursed. Wonder why the software is structured to cause maximum panic in student body, remember with whom I am dealing. Check FinAid account after phone call.  Tuition paid, remainder of Mandatory Health Insurance paid to School that is against Obamacare. See refund amount.  Choose to delay panic until loans come due.

8/22 Check FinAid Account.  Mandatory Health Insurance suddenly not paid.  Refund in processing.  Call FinAid Office for clarification.  Explain yo-yoing numbers.  Am told that Mandatory Health Insurance cannot be paid directly from loan, rather, I must receive refund and then pay insurance myself.  Am told Federal Loans not allowed to be used directly for insurance.  Grit teeth.  Insurance card has end coverage date of 8/14/13 on it.  Have appointments with doctors next week.  Wonder why system is designed to cause maximum frustration in students.  Remember with whom I am dealing.  Ask about expected arrival of funds in my bank account, am told I will need to speak with enrollment services.

Am connected to enrollment services.  Ask about money.  Am told it takes 48-72 hours for money to get to me.  Since process started Wednesday,should see the $ Friday or Monday. Am told about Mandatory Health Insurance.  Am asked if I am part-time.  Am dissertation.  Am told that I will need to get a waiver if I do not want to pay for insurance.  Know that such waivers require proof of other insurance.  Do not have other insurance.  Do not have access to other insurance.  Do not care about having to pay for insurance, am happy to pay for insurance, am sick of needless back and forth about paying for insurance.

End phone call with enrollment services. Wish for a time machine to convince past self to stay in workforce, dummy. Fret.

Just So’s It’s Not All Depression and Complaints…

During last Saturday’s improv performance, I had to guess that one of the other players was looking for a newspaper printed on human skin.  When I’d gotten to that point, he then asked if the newspapers had headlines, to which I replied “Yes, right above the necklines!”

This would be unremarkable except that an audience member stood up, pumped his fist in the air and yelled “BAM!”

I mean, I get it, but I don’t really get it.

As those of you who read this are undoubtedly aware, I was issued a ticket by DC parking enforcement in April for “failing to register in DC”.  In order to fight the ticket, I had to supply them with a copy of my lease along with a utility bill and a copy of my registration.  Their need for that last document is puzzling, as one of the implications of the ticket is surely that I have valid registration in another state.  Mind you, I’m not sure why that’s surprising at this point as the entire premise of the ticket is absurd.  Yes,  I have out-of-state plates. The population of the District quadruples during business hours, so I doubt that DCPE finds out-of-state plates to be unusual. Yes, I do spend 3-4 hours a week in Petworth. By any reasonable metric a fraction of time that small doesn’t even approach proof of residency, but DCPE doesn’t care about reason, they care about revenue.

 

I might post more about that later. Well, I probably will post about it the next time I get a ticket. For now, let me return to the matter at hand.

I sent in all of the documentation that they requested, only to find out, four months later, that I also needed to provide my registration and that failure to do so would result in a demand for full payment of the $100 citation. The notice was dated 8/9/13 and it gave me 10 days to fulfill the above requirement, however, I didn’t find it in my mailbox until last Friday, the 16th. I called their office to ask whether I needed to send everything and was told “No, just fax your registration, and be sure to reference the ticket number. When the fax line was busy both times I tried to send the fax, I called again and was told “The only way we can accept a fax is if you’re here to pick it up, but you can come in and bring your documents with you.”
I expressed concern about the 10-day time limit, given that I had only one business day left, or really, one business day total, in which to get them my registration. The person with whom I spoke told me that I’d be ok, unless I parked in DC and someone issued me a(nother) ticket.

After all of that, clearing this mess up was surprisingly painless. I walked in and handed a clerk a stack of paperwork. In return, he gave me a receipt for my paperwork, and confirmation that my car had a ROSA (registration of out-of-state automobiles) exemption, which means that they’ll assume I’m not a DC resident for a year, at which point I’m fair game again.

Now, it really isn’t much trouble to get the exemption, but the idea of having to do it at all is troubling. I’ve been under the assumption that someone couldn’t find a parking space in my friends’ neighborhood and called parking enforcement. It seems unlikely that DCPE actually bothers to keep track of when a given car with VA, or MD, or what-have-you registration parks in a given location, unless that car is parked illegally. I didn’t have this problem in my girlfriend’s neighborhood and I’ve parked there for days at a time. Furthermore, DCPE is much more visible in that area of DC than it is in the area in which I got the ticket. I would also like to point out that I’ve had a schedule that included 3-4 hours every Sunday in the same part of DC for a couple of years now, and this is the first ticket of its type I’ve seen. So great, I’m at the mercy of someone who’s had a bad day.

I suppose the most irritating aspect of this whole experience is that it’s cheaper and more convenient to register a car in DC, if one lives in DC, than it is to keep a Virginia registration. It costs $40.75 to register in VA, as opposed to $72 in DC, but VA levies a personal property tax on vehicles, which in my case is about $200 (I remember being upset about that when I moved out here from California, but as it turns out, the costs are about equal. California adds a vehicle licensing fee in lieu of personal property tax). In addition to the reduced costs, DC insists that cars be registered to a particular parking zone. If a car is parked in the wrong zone, it can only remain there for two hours, before it becomes ticketable. I used to get parking tickets all the time when I lived in DC, because I didn’t want to pay a special fee to park in front of the house I’d purchased, until I discovered that the fee is (or was) $15. So yeah, it’s about 1/3 as expensive to register in DC and not have to worry about exceeding parking time limits. Why would anyone, unless they didn’t have registration to begin with (which is an entirely different issue), go through the hassle of having out-of-state plates in DC?

A recipe I’d like to Save

Persian Rice

Cook rice and empty pot, clean for later.

Chop 4-5 carrots, 1 big onion, 1 potato (1/2 slices) , 4-5 chicken thighs/breasts

Fry in 1 tbsp turmeric
1/2 onions, chicken, add 1tbs cumin, 1/2 tbsp turmeric, saffron, seasoned salt, salt and pepper.

1/2 onions, carrots, slivered onions, currants

Line the bottom of the pan with

potatoes
rice
chicken
rice

Carrots/almonds/currants
rice

poke holes to bottom of rice for steam to rise

Steam on low heat for 30 min.

Things get more serious.

I have been in and out of therapy since I was young.  Let’s say 9, because I remember that my first therapist would treat me to a white chocolate Crunch Bar after our sessions, and that seems like the kind of thing a nine-year-old would like.  Although, in all honesty, I wouldn’t mind if my current therapist gave me a candy bar- my love of sugar hasn’t changed much.  My next therapist wasn’t necessarily a therapist, his name was Jim and I’d go down to the Noble Education Center every week, mostly to figure out why I was underachieving.  I suspect it was because I wasn’t happy.  I saw Jim for most of Junior High and through High School.  Jim taught me a lot of life lessons, most of which didn’t stick, if I remember correctly.  

There is a reason for that, please bear with me.

I did a little therapy in and after college, maybe a year’s worth, and then I dropped it for over a decade.  

I started it up again last year, it seems to help, and I don’t intend on stopping any time soon.  I have learned a few things which explain, well, a lot.

So here goes.

I have Dysthymia, which is basically mild depression.  I’m sure some of you might be asking yourselves “Fair enough, but what is ‘mild depression’?  Is it just being kinda sad?”

This is my experience of it- and let me start with a literary reference, because I really can’t help myself.  Sam Vimes, of Discworld fame, is described by his fellow watchman as being too sober, a person who needs to have at least two drinks to bring him back to the normal human level of sobriety.  

That more or less describes my relationship with happiness. I’m about two good things down from neutral, which means that every day is automatically a bad day.  I need stuff to go right before I can upgrade to “ok”, let alone “good”  which is why my responses  to “How are you doing?” take a little getting through.

To complicate matters, I have trouble recognizing good things when they do happen.  I shrug off praise, especially when it comes from someone I know (because they know me right?  So they want me to feel good, right?  So their estimation of my abilities must be inaccurate.), I am more or less unable to tell how I’m doing on a given project.  If I get positive feedback, I assume that whatever level of quality I reached to hit that mark must be my baseline, and if I get negative or no feedback, well, that just confirms what I knew the whole time.

I’ve decided to call that last part “The Grey Weight”.  It explains why I don’t write more, even though people have encouraged me to do so, or why I didn’t ask that girl out, or why I didn’t apply for that job.  Every time I think about doing something along those lines, my brain reminds me of all of my failed undertakings.  All of them.  The Grey Weight essentially works like this: “If I had something to offer, surely, SURELY, some one would have noticed already.  Since no one has, I can conclude that while I am good, I am not good enough.”  

It’s why I never went into professional acting (again, ditto writing), I don’t see the point of letting someone tell me “no” over and over again.  I don’t have the patience for it, and I don’t have the confidence to keep going.  I already know I’m not that good; if you think differently, I’ve managed to fool you.

It’s much, much easier to open another book/watch another dvd/play another game, because nothing’s really going to get better.  If it were going to get better, I would have seen some evidence of that by now.  It’s a nice vicious cycle, because, well, it dovetails neatly with my inability to see when things get better.

I’m having a particularly bad time right now, not because things are really bad, but because I’ve begun to realize that I haven’t been “normal” since at least the divorce, possibly before.  I’ve spent a good long time medicating myself with media and I’ve come to see that state of being as “normal”.  It’s not.  And that means I have a lot of work to do.

On top of that, I’ve pretty much spent the last 6 years and tens of thousands of dollars to find out that I do not want to be a Professor.  At least, I do not want to do the job I’ve been doing as a teaching fellow, much less as a career.  

So, I’m 36, I have no career and I don’t make enough money.  Those circumstances don’t help my thought processes.

I will say that my romantic life is good, honestly, better than good, but I’m worried about the impact my financial status will have on my relationship.  In my experience, not making enough money destroys my relationships.  

And yet…I’m not really motivated to search for another job.  Why not?  Jobs make me miserable.  I have yet to feel fulfilled in at all by a job, and the best thing I can say about the current one is that at least I only work 18 hours a week.  

Things have gotten a bit better since I wrote the forgoing. The job situation continues to be iffy, mostly because I’m still dragging my feet.  

Let’s Start Off With Something Light.

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As some of you may know, I had some teeth out last Friday.  The dentist (well, oral surgeon), after he asked about where I went fishing and ignored the smobuk, gave me a prescription for Percocet.

Now, one of the reasons I don’t indulge in mind-altering substances is fear:  I’m somewhat scared of my willpower issues with stuff I like to do, and I already spend enough money on books and food.  I’m aware that this is neurotic, as no one in my family has had a history of addiction, but I don’t care enough to bring it up in therapy.
As a result of the foregoing, I left the percocet scrip unfilled.

When I told people about my decision, their overwhelming response:  “You’re gonna fill that, right?  I mean, you might need it for your back.  Or I might need it…for, um, my glaucoma or something.”

For a moment, for just a moment, I imagined myself as a more popular Walter White.  I would call myself “the Candyman”, and dressed in shades and a black leather jacket, I would drive around the NoVA area, merrily dispensing percocet to the needy. People would whisper my name at parties, and after a quick call to my burner, I would appear-  stubbly, rough-hewn, eyes gleaming devilishly.  With a knowing smirk, I would tap a few pills into the palm of my hand and scatter them among the crowd.

And then I would vanish into the night.  I would speak not a word and retreat to my secret sanctum in Virginia where I would wait until called on again.

Sure I would.  I’d also get a fauxhawk and pop my collar.

I’m surprised at the nonchalance with which my peer group views prescription meds, but if they really want this stuff, I’ma let ‘em get their own teeth pulled.

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