Thursday, July 26, 2012

I generally post about interesting events and places that I go to, but today I'm going to share something else. Today I'm going to reflect on one of the best days of my life: 26 July, 2012. Yes, that's today! I wanted to mark it because, well, I want to remember it.

I woke up at about half past eight, feeling kind of tired (as usual). Made myself the usual one slice of toast and two eggs with a banana and berry smoothie. Took my vitamins, made a blog post, and holy moly was it nice out so I decided to run outside instead of going to the gym. Ran nearly 3.5 miles, returned home, planned to go into the studio to do some work, but the idea sort of pained me on account of the beautiful weather. Now, non-Irish residents cannot comprehend how much we were all coveting the sunshine today. Going indoors felt like a sin. So when I received a text message from a friend to go to the park, I decided to play hooky and go for it.

A long time ago, I decided that having experiences with people is the number one greatest pleasure in life. Sure I could have spent the afternoon creating a great dress, or working on a novel, but I decided that whenever I get a chance, I'm going to spend time building relationships rather than a legacy. There's just more pleasure in it. And let me tell you, you can't beat sitting in the sunshine in the park on a sunny day, eating home grown peas out of the pod, shooting the shit with a good friend. You can't beat it!

That is...until you go to the pub with your in-laws and they are in a lively mood, and you make jokes that they laugh at, and they tell you stories you have never heard before. You look around and think here, this moment, I want to remember this because we're all here, and we're together, drinking and enjoying each other's company. Then they give you and honeydew melon and you cycle home....

Where you eat home made soup and dance in the kitchen to Roger Miller's "Do Wacka Do" and "You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd." When you're done eating, you both watch Louis C.K. do standup on Netflix and laugh your butts off while eating the aforementioned melon.

It really is kind of like Roger Miller says: "You can be happy if you've a mind to."

I want to talk about the humble Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. For the most part, having been living in Ireland for over three and a half years, I think I manage to fit in pretty well. Nearly all my local friends are Irish, and they make me feel loved. And when I travel to touristy areas where a lot of Americans can be heard, I get really annoyed and wish they'd just pipe down already.

Yes, I have become prejudiced against my own kind. American accents are grating. And they're SO LOUD. Sometimes I shudder with embarrassment knowing I'm one of them. But I am, although my accent has softened and I try to keep my volume down (not always successfully).

But sometimes...sometimes I can't escape where I'm from. And I say things that cause the people around me to roll their eyes and shake their heads and say, "You're SUCH an American*!" Which is kind of funny because I suppose most Americans would take that as a compliment.

Yesterday I re-learned that our beloved sandwich, the meal that nearly any American child or adult will happily eat, the holy PB & J, is not a world-wide phenomenon, but rather more or less American fare. Now, I have no idea what sandwich Irish children love universally, but I assume it has something to do with cheese and mayonaise, since it's practically impossible to buy a sandwich without mayo in this country.

But what amuses me is that after I was scorned for suggesting we feed children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I thought to myself, "These poor depraved people! They don't know the joys of PB & J! I feel sorry for them." Which, I suppose, is more American than suggesting PB & J in the first place.

*sometimes they say "Yank" instead of "American," which I just want to re-iterate from an earlier post that FYI Yank is mildly offensive and you shouldn't use it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

So, I'll admit right now that I like the Fall. I LIKE them. Do I adore Mark E. Smith? Does the Fall stir something deep inside of me? Well, no. But I was game to travel to Galway to see the Fall in a small venue, Roisin Dubh. We arrived before the opening act went on, and were pleasantly surprised to enjoy their set, though I can't for the life of me figure out who they were, even after an extensive search. Ah well. If anyone reading this knows, please let me know.

We stood at the front in anticipation. Who knew what would happen? No one, that's who. Because no one ever knows what's going to happen at a Fall show. The obvious die-hard fans made their way to the front. I settled in with a good view, with only one person in front of me: a relatively nondescript guy of medium height with a shaved head and a Current 93 t-shirt. He seemed pretty excited. Like, really excited. That's cool. I mean, I was at the front, what did I expect? But here's the thing. I've been to a lot of shows in the past 20+ years. Hundreds of shows of dozens of genres. I understand what is appropriate behavior depending on the band and their fans. And this guy didn't fit in. If you looked around, you'd see people nodding, singing along, maybe even jumping up and down with excitement. Maybe even jostling the crowd. That's cool. But Current 93 dude was flailing around, dancing as if the crowded space were his own personal disco floor. He kept doing this one really bizarre move where he'd crouch down, almost like he was tying his shoes, sticking his butt into whomever was next to him (usually me) and then he'd pop up again and flail around some more.

So I was getting annoyed. I actually started wishing I was drunk so I'd lack the inhibitions to stop myself from beating the crap out of him. But I took some deep breaths and let it slide. Ok, for a while. Then I guess I just got frustrated, so this one time when he leaned his butt into me while crouching over, I kneed him in the ass. Twice. And then when he stood up to do his flailing thing on me as he'd done so many times before, I shoved him. Twice. Not hard. Just "get the frig away from me" hard. But here's the funny thing. He said to me, "If you touch me again, I'm gonna call the guards!" (For my American readers, the guards refers to the police, not the bouncers of the venue.) So I said, "Hey, you've been hitting me way more than that, buddy!" And he was like, no I haven't. So I did an impression of him, flailing and dancing around, right up against him as he'd been doing to me. To the people around us, it must have looked pretty funny. Not to mention that this was all happening while the band was playing. But he relented, saying, "I'm going to keep away from you, because you're clearly crazy." And I thought, I can live with that. And he did. And I laughed my butt off.

About five minutes later, Current 93 guy put his hand out to me, and I shook it, even though it was sweaty and gross. Then he danced over to the other side of the stage and I didn't see him again. There's always that one person who has no notion of their own personal space and doesn't give a crap if they ruin the show for anyone else. And I know from experience that politely saying, "Hey, can you not flail around like that?" doesn't get the intended results. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Or crazy with crazy. Or something.

But here's the thing about the show. The Fall is essentially a rotating roster of musicians who revolve around Mark E. Smith, who really is The Fall. The other members are incidental. He's famous for being wildly drunk, often too drunk to perform, or for doing extremely short sets. Everyone goes to see Mark E. Smith. And I suppose the anticipation of how he'll perform is part of the excitement. We were lucky because he played a fairly long-ish set (all things being relative). But I started to observe the band. The guitaritst was staring down at his guitar, sweat dripping off the tip of his nose. The drummer was drumming away. He did nothing when Mark E. Smith purposely knocked the microphone out of his bass drum. The bass player stood in one spot and dispassionately played his bass, and similarly did not react when Smith turned the knobs on his amp, distorting his bass. And the keyboard player, Smith's wife, came on stage with her overnight bag, which she hung from the keyboard stand, and her handbag strapped across her chest. She didn't even take her coat off when they came on stage for the encore. She didn't seem to crack a smile through the whole show, but watched Smith intently. When he stumbled off stage, she was the first to follow.

But as I watched the band, who had the demeanors of abused children onstage, my eyes traveled back to the enamored audience facing them. Then back to the band. Then back to the dancing onlookers. It was as if they were completely unaware of each other. The band seemed unaware of the adoring audience; the audience seemed unaware of the band's obvious sense of drudgery. And I thought this must be what it's like to watch someone have sex with a prostitute.

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the show very much. How could I not? It was The Fall in a venue that fits like 140 people! And no matter what, it's a great band. But I did feel a little sad about the whole thing, knowing that something eats so deeply at Mark E. Smith, and by extension everyone he chooses to work with.

Here's a video I found on youtube from the show by someone with a far better camera than mine:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I haven't even looked at the last time I posted. I know it was a long time ago. And I've done SO MANY THINGS since then, that it gets a little overwhelming! But right now I want to talk about something in particular so the recap of goings on will just have to wait.

Today I'd like to talk about living in the moment vs. recording technology. In April I went to a mindfulness retreat led by Thich Nhat Hahn of Plum Villiage. Breathing was discussed extensively. But here we were, in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, with one of the most profound teachers in the world, and what were a good number of people doing? Taking photos and videos. Now, I understand wanting to capture a moment. I took a couple of snapshots myself. But when I say "a couple," I really mean a couple. Other people at the retreat seemed to have  their recording devices throughout the entire weekend, despite the fact that Plum Village records all their retreats and posts them online. Did no one understand the irony of going to a mindfulness retreat, and then trying to record the whole thing in video and stills for future consumption?

So the ubiquitousness of cameras/iphones is one of my pete peeves, along with a lot of other people, I'm sure. I mean, don't get me wrong: I take my camera with me wherever I go (if I could afford an iPhone, I'd have one). But I take a couple of photos, and then put the device away. Some people's jobs are to record events, such as political events. I get that. But last night at a Bruce Springsteen concert, where the cheapest tickets were 89 euros a pop (that's nearly 110 US dollars), I wondered why so many people seemed hell bent on standing there looking at the show through the screens of their phones rather than just experiencing the show and relying on their good, old fashioned, tried and tested method: their own damned memories. Like, if you just pay attention, enjoy yourself, be present in the moment, and have a good time, the movie you replay in your head of your experience will probably be more accurate, more robust, and more fulfilling than watching some shaky, far away video which, by the way, will probably feature other people's iphones more than the thing you're all supposedly there to "see." Has everyone forgotten that we have five senses, not to mention the emotions we feel when we do things, like go to a music concert or do walking meditation with an incredibly inspiring Buddhist teacher? Things that can not be recorded anywhere else but in our mind's eye. Things that are more important than recalling what way the Boss pointed when he sang "Born to Run", or what the people in the stands looked like at 9:03pm. Look around! Pay attention! I promise -- you'll remember it later.

And I want to say something else about group situations. When you're in a tightly packed space, like a mini-marathon for charity where everyone is walking, or a political protest rally, or an outdoor stadium, the person next to you can't really move somewhere else. They're there in that same packed area for the same reason you are. They also may not be able to change the fact that they have asthma, or are pregnant and sensitive to smells (no, I'm not pregnant, btw), or have another illness or allergy. I understand that you may be addicted to nicotine. That's what patches, gum, and lozenges were invented for. What I really want people who smoke in spaces packed with other people to know is that you're probably making someone next to you feel ill. And I don't mean this in a judgmental way. If you want to kill yourself, and make the people who love you most watch you die a horrible, painful death, that's your business. But if I pay a crapload of money to be somewhere, I just really wish I didn't have to put up with being made physically ill while I'm there.

You'd think from my complaining that I didn't have a great time seeing Bruce Springsteen. I totally did! But the experience was negatively affected by these two distractions. I was going to say something nasty about the oafish guy from Boston standing next to me at the show, but I'm going to refrain. Instead I'll post some photos. The photo at the top of the page, by the way, was taken by accident when I was trying to take a photo of the stage. The people in front of me were so much taller than me that that photo was taken with my arm raised as high as it would go. I kept getting great shots of dude's heads.

This one here was lucky. Mostly I watched the large screens to the left, right, and center of the stage. After a while I almost forgot that the real people were even there. I was actually quite close to the stage, but hey, that's life as a shorty. As you can see, it was a sold out show. He played for three and a half hours, and really gave it his all. If you ever have a chance to see Bruce Springsteen play live, whether you're a fan or not, he's definitely worth going to see.