Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wondering about literature

There are times I wonder about my reading ability. Obviously, I get the words and the sentences and all that, but sometimes I read a book that some would consider a classic, and I just don't get it. Not even a little bit. Which makes me wonder if maybe I just don't have the tools to fully understand certain literature.

I'm not trying to get people to come around and convince me that I am smart or educated or deep. The fact is, I'm not a trained reader. Besides a couple classes in high school and the world's greatest bookclub, I'm mostly self-taught, exploring books on my own, and while there's really nothing wrong with that, it does have limits. (After all, you wouldn't want a self-taught surgeon taking out your gall bladder.) I am trained as a scientist, and although I am sure you could pick up the latest issue of The Journal of Bacteriology and make comments, I'd like to think that I would be able to read it at a different level. We all bring different skill sets and tools to the table.

When I read these so-called classics and I just don't get them (not that this happens all the time, but it does happen), I start to wonder if it's my lack of training  that is getting in the way. I'll read passages full of description and details, and instead of loving the words, I am thinking, "just spit it out, already!" Or I'll miss some symbolism. ("What do you mean that the fish represented his long-lost brother? I didn't even know he had a brother!")

A few years back, I read "Catch-22" and I can't tell you how much I hated it. In fact, as I was reading it, I started to worry. Let me explain. You know how you might love a certain food, but you don't get it as much as you would like. Say there was a certain type of cake you loved, but you only got it for special occasions. But then a bakery who specialized in that cake opened right across the street from you, so you could get it whenever you wanted. So you got that cake once a week, maybe more. Then one day, you went to get a piece and you thought to yourself, "I am really tired of that cake. In fact, I'm not sure I like it anymore." And you really never do want that cake again. What does this have to do with "Catch-22"? When I was reading "Catch-22", I hated it so much, I was actually afraid that I was tired of reading. That, after all these years, this was the breaking point: I no longer even liked reading. (Luckily, this was not the case.)

But I do wonder: what am I missing here? This novel consistently shows up on those "great books" lists, and I simply did not get it at all. Do we really need a book to tell us that war is bad and ridiculous? The characters were all so unlikable and boring. I didn't really notice any great writing or interesting turns-of-phrase. I had to push myself to finish (I kept hoping it would get better or there would be some clever thing that got me in the end, but no such luck.) There is a part of me that thinks maybe I should try again, but then my soul starts weeping.

How much training should one have to have to enjoy "great" literature? Should it need that much explaining? Should it be easy? I won't stop reading and I won't stop pushing myself, but I'm staying away from Joseph Heller.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hosanna Heysanna Sanna Sanna Ho

Do you have the album that you don't listen to for years, but when you pull out and give it a listen, you just are blown away at how awesome it is? Today I am listening to "Jesus Christ Superstar" and it is blowing. me. away.

This is not a post about criticism of "JSS" -- it's far from perfect. There are the clunkers, it's firmly in the seventies. It's a bit (a bit?!) melodramatic, but I adore it anyway. This post is not about who's the cooler Jesus (hint: not the "Godspell" one.) This is also not about what Andrew Lloyd Webber became (hint: bleh!) This is about stumbling upon things you love.

I love this album like one loves an old friend who stops by after being away for a few years. Admittedly, it's one of those friends who, after a while, you remember why it's been a few years. I'm sure I'll listen to this album for a day or two and then put it away for another couple of years. But when I listen to "JSS", I am pulled into it completely. Do I want to sing along at the top of my lungs, complete with diva poses, in the middle of this coffeehouse? Maybe. (hint: yes. Totally.)

I am listening to this on headphones and I am picking up little things I never heard listening to it on my parents' old victrola. Today I am hearing the sadness in Jesus' voice. He knows he's doomed, but he's not telling anyone. He's marching into town, pushing himself to sing "Hosanna" with a forced joy that isn't there, but he's got to keep the crowd into it. He's tired, everyone is telling him how to do his job, he's literally begging for his life. It's not a good week for the guy. You almost get the feeling that he hands himself over to Pilate to just end all this craziness. He just wants it over.

When I listen to albums I've ignored, I realize I need to dig deeper in my music collection. Tomorrow I'll pull out another album that I've forgotten about. But today, it's back to "What's the buzz..."

P.S. Dear stoned guy singing back-up -- I kind of love you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shut up, Phil Collins

A few days ago, Phil Collins announced his retirement from music. To which I say: really? I am not here to bash Phil Collins (as I have done this previously) (although I probably will), nor to question his music choices/"artistic" direction, but I do have to wonder the purpose of this announcement, because I have a few question for Mr. Collins.

What, exactly does he mean by "retiring" from music? I get that the drumming thing is not a good idea these days, but he's probably as well known for being a singer. He is a songwriter. (Now, now, we're not here to bash his work. Please save your comments for the end.) Does this mean he won't sing or write? At all? No tribute concerts for the Queen, no reunion tours? Where is the line? How do you retire from art except not do it anymore? Does this mean no "Happy Birthday" at his kid's parties?

I call bullshit on this statement. If he's any sort of artist, it'll pull him back. If he can walk away from music completely, well, then it's just a job for him, and he needs to get over people bashing him for selling out. Because if he feels nothing grabbing him and getting him to create, even if it's just in his basement, then he did sell out. He did it for the money. There's nothing wrong with that. He made buckets of money, so he knows what we want (or what we wanted in the eighties.) But don't tell me you did it for the love of the music, then just put it on the shelf one day.

Here's another question: didn't he just release an album? (He did: late September this year.) That's less than six months ago. He was that drawn to music less than a year ago that he made a whole album and now he's done? That smells funny. Could this, just possibly, be a grab at publicity/bump in sales or even a bit of a pity party? This just feels like a "if you don't start paying attention to me, I'm taking my ball and going home!" sort of thing. Like he put it out there so that all these newspapers, radio stations, artists, whatever, would be all,"No Phil, no! We can't lose you! You're too important and super relevant with your note-by-note covers of Motown songs!" I'll bet he was a bit shocked when people actually started bashing him. (Note: I just read that this retirement is a "false alarm." I'm sure that he and his publicist are so very happy that they've gotten a few more days of media coverage.)

I really do hate what Phil Collins has become. In the eighties, sure, I was a big fan. Yeah, I always do the drum solo from "In the Air Tonight" -- I'm only human! I have a weird love of pop music. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing it for money. Really. If you have the magic for a few years, take what you can. But you have to understand that this run rarely lasts, so just sit on your stack of cash and enjoy yourself. Do things you love, but don't get all upset when the rest of us don't appreciate it. It's okay. But you need to accept that your career peaked over 20 years ago, and you won't be getting the spotlight as much. Just do what you love and count your blessings that you have the money to have this freedom. And, seriously, shut up!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Breaking up with Starbucks

Dear Starbucks,

I know we've been seeing each other for a couple of years, but it’s official: today I’m breaking up with you. I’ve tried to be patient, I thought we could work out our issues, but, frankly, there are other fish in the sea.

There are so many little reasons. I hate to point to the physical, but the truth is that you’re a bit too old. You don’t have outlets for my computer and your set-up is so open, noise just bounces around. I can live with the coffee shop-type noises, but when you have to run the vacuum cleaner for a half hour when I was hoping to get some writing done, I get a bit cranky.

Your slow customer service just confuses me. I see five people running around behind the counter, but there’s only one person who seems to actually be taking orders and serving coffee. Perhaps that long line feeds your ego of being needed but it works my last nerve. 

I’ve had it with the internet that doesn’t seem to work. And when it does, it’s so slow, it takes me back to the days of dial-up. Yes, I like reminiscing about old times as much as the next girl, but there are things I don’t mind moving past. And then to add insult to injury, you’re kicking me off after an hour? That just hurts!

I see so many other beauties around: the local coffee shop, Panera, even Dunkin Donuts. Better food, better service, a dependable internet connection. I'm a simple girl with simple needs. Why should I let you continue to hurt me? No, I will seek out a new place to squat for a few hours and nurse a cup of coffee.

I'll admit that there will most likely be moments of weakness when I come back to you or visit an attractive cousin of yours. I may try to revisit the old times, but I do want to make it clear that it really will never be the same between us. I am seeing other places and I may not come back at all.

Yes, Starbucks, it is time to move on. I will miss your overly hot coffee but we need our space.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Girl in the Bubble

Maybe I've been lucky. Maybe I've managed to dodge bullets. But it seems as if my friends and family have managed to not have serious problems in their lives. Sure, there have been the blips along the road, but no serious addictions or depressions or anything like that.

At least none that I know about.

I suppose this shows how lucky I've been, at least that's what I always used to tell myself. As I get older,  I'm beginning to believe that I don't hear these stories because people are afraid that I can't handle it or that I won't help. I hate to think that I have that barrier around me. Or that I wasn't strong enough to help you handle some of your burden.

I am seeing, more and more, how much so many people go through. I like to pretend I don't know anyone who has been raped or has serious suicidal thoughts or a secret so deep and awful they can barely say it out loud, but I know that simply can't be true. My problems tend to be of the "I really wanted the black ipod but all they had was the silver, so should I wait until they get the black ones or is the silver one really going to be alright" variety. I'm sure that's a part of it. How could I possibly understand a real problem when mine are so vanilla?

I hope that if someone comes to me, I can be strong for them. I know I can. Maybe I haven't felt what they have or gone through the fires they have, but I will be here for them. I don't want the people I care about to hold me at arms length or protect me. You can show me your flaws or your scars, and I will still love you.

I suppose this is a letter to all of those I haven't been there for. Maybe neither one of us was aware that this was happening. I am so sorry.

To my friends: I am here for you. Absolutely. Without judgment. And I am sorry if you ever felt I couldn't be.