Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Find Your Math

Friends and I working hard in high school math class.  

Lately, I've read a bunch of lists on Buzzfeed and the Clymb about things you think about while you're on a run, and they're probably true for most people. But there is something they all fail to mention that I spend doing at least two thirds of a run, no matter the distance: Math.

As my feet hit the pavement and my heart works my butt off (literally), my brain maths all the math it can math.

I calculate distances and time and miles per hour. I calculate the number of houses I've passed and what my average house per minute is. I take educated estimates on how many trees are in a forest taking into account acreage of its area and average tree trunk sizes and distance between trees and other absolute absurdities. I look at my watch. And then I try to speed up and calculate my time and miles per hour all over again.

I calculate calories and heart rates and what percentage I've finished of my run. Dang, that's a lot better than having to positive-think my raging heart through to the end of a jog.

I'm a distractonaut. I live for the exploration of distractions. I lay in my bed and thoughts unravel. Plans for my life and death unfold,  bills and loans to be payed pile up on the hall table of my mind, and the to-dos of weeks and months to come lay their heads onto the pillow next to me. At my desk, it's a fight to make sure I keep my keyboard-tapping fingers on the task at hand. It's a challenge to not be constantly thinking a million miles a minute about anything and everything that's happening outside the refrigerator I like to call my office.

On a run, though, I ignore all that garbage. And I just math.

If you hate math, this probably sounds repulsive to you, but god, thinking about math is so much better than running each step at a time and thinking about the next step and the next and the next.

Mathing on a run is my favorite distraction. I don't have to turn it in or pay it off or tell anybody about it later. Hell, half the time I don't remember any of the solutions or equations to tell myself. If math isn't your schtick, find your something that gets your brain occupied on other things for a while. Things that don't matter.  You don't have to be running to give your brain a break from the world. Do it while you're meditating or laying in bed or taking a minute on a park bench during your lunch. Write a little story in your mind. Think about good memories. Think about something you don't have to remember to write down or do later. Think about pie. Or, if you're like me, think about pi.

Even for an insane extrovert like me, solitude is where I find my sanity. Find your math and run with it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

People Observation/No More of That: Musical Snobbery

photo courtesy of The Verge.

This blogpost is inspired by a post a good friend of mine named Eric put on Facebook a couple days ago reading this: 
"Helplessness Blues is a great album by the Fleet Foxes. So late to the game."
First of all, Helplessness Blues is amazing. Eric, I'm so glad you found such a wonderful album. So many feels. 

Second of all, I know you didn't mean it in this way, but IT ISN'T A GAME! 

There is something empowering about being unique, the first, or one of the few in the realm of knowledge. It makes you feel special, I understand. This stupid thing that happens in fandom that I have dubbed Musical Snobbery, however, has got to stop.

I've explored a lot of genres. I like to sing music and play music and dance to music on a morningly, afternooningly (that's a word..) and nightly basis. With the exception of country music sap songs because those are awful, I like music that grabs my heart straight out of my chest and gives it a good smackin'. I like music that leaves my heart alone, but instead yanks at my brain and tickles my curiosity HQ. I like lyrics that mean something. I like lyrics that mean nothing. I'm a classically-trained Soprano with a secret love for a little bit of screamo. (I guess it isn't a secret love once you put it on your blog.) I can recognize a Strokes' bass line from three houses away. I can shout Bruce Springsteen lyrics at the top of my lungs and only mess up on the parts that he's mumbling his face off and I've never understood.  Just like most of you, I, too, had an emo phase. And going to college in Appalachia turned me into a lover of anything with a banjo. I'm lookin' at you, Steve Martin.

In high school, I took advantage of the surprisingly awesome bands that would come through Columbus (thanks for being a good stop-through town CBUS!), and -- without any actual expenses -- I spent every last dime that I earned at my minimum wage job on the relatively cheap basement shows. Possibly like you, I have memories of talking to bands after shows and accidentally elbowing middle school girls in the face for being the worst crowd members in the history of rock. 

While 90s music envelopes the brilliant nostalgia of early Generation Y, I find the early 2000s to be a musical dark age.  I thank heaven for things like Myspace, which would eventually lead the way for new and creative musicians to gain followings without having to sign to a major record label.  I love the things that are happening currently in the music world (for the most part). (Sidenote: It isn't a coincidence that the 90s and now are both musical eras of awesome as pop culture cycles every 20 years... but that's another blogpost for another time).

Alas, here we are. With so much music being home-brewed and accessible to fans all over the world every day, I can see how a subculture of music snobs could emerge. In every kind of category and hobby and subculture of anything you've ever seen or heard or smelled, there's always some group of snobs trying to make it exclusive. (It's all somewhat preschoolesque in a Neener-neener-neener-I-know-something-you-don't-know kind of way). 

But what kind of true fan of a band would want to hide the music they enjoy? 

I have friends from college who stopped liking Mumford once everybody knew who they were. Why wouldn't you celebrate their success? Why would you not want something you love to live on? 

A true fan of a band would want to support the band and share it with people, not keep its supposed awesomeness to him or herself. Hide it under a bushel, no; blast it in your car with the windows down and scream it at the top of your lungs. 

Take these non-musical, yet also applicable references: I love Bob's Burgers. I need everyone else in the world to love Bob's because without their according fandom, Bob's will get cancelled. (See: Arrested Development.) My love for the Columbus Blue Jackets represents a similar situation. I've loved the Blue Jackets since their Inaugural season in 2000. No true fan would get upset that a bunch of bandwagoners are hoppin' on after this year's playoff run. More fans leads to more tickets, jerseys and other random crap with a CBJ logo on it, which leads to more money, better players, and thus, a better team. As Paul Brown used to say, "There's always room on the bandwagon."

Don't let the hipsters fool you. Music is meant to be enjoyed regardless of how obscure it is. Classics are meant to be heard. And thank God for it too. Cheers to all of those times I was recommended a great song or band, and double Cheers to the times they have led to friendships and experiences and, a lot of times, easing some pretty harsh pains. 

Which takes me right back to Helplessness Blues: 
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking,
I'd say I'd rather be A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
The music game is not a game. It's an awesome collective of fandom and shared experiences that were meant to be shared. You are a functioning cog in some great machinery of amazing sounds and lyrics and beats serving something far beyond a little music ego. 

My message to hipsters: Revel in the obscurity of the songs that you find. Enjoy that strange sound that tickles your ears in a way you've never heard. And then, when you've downloaded it (probably illegally) and played it on repeat for ten or twenty times straight, share the crap out of it. Good music is meant to be heard. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lessons from Lucy

Lucy and me the day we met.
I hate those phone calls.

The ones you get where you can tell the minute you pick up that there is bad news to be delivered. The extra hesitancy that lingers on the other line; It is endless. 

This weekend I had to say goodbye to my sweet dog Lucy. She was relaxing in the living room smiling those dog-breath riddled teeth one second and the next she was gone. 

Lucy was an incredible dog.
Lucy taught me how to love others unconditionally, to forgive, to not care so much about the little things, and to cherish every second that you have with your people. 

What if we loved like our dogs? What if we really decided to be the people that our dogs saw in us? What would that look like? 

When nobody is ever mean to you, there is no understanding of such a concept. 
When humans are hurt by others, they build walls, they stop trusting others, they turn bitter and sometimes get angry or violent. The same is true with dogs no question, except their ability to rehabilitate after abuse is a lesson for us all. When a dog has been hurt, accepting love begins to come easy. It's like they know that love is exactly what they need.

Nobody was ever mean to Lu. She was brought home as a furry ball of squish and she didn't go a day in her life treated badly. Sometimes we came home late to feed her dinner, and sometimes she couldn't hold herself anymore and had to defecate on the carpet in the dining room. (Of course, then she'd put her tail between her legs in shame, as if it was her fault that we left her in the house too long.) And don't get me wrong, I'm not watering down the pain that associates with holding your bowels for too long. 'Tis is a pain no one should have to go through, It does, however, bring home the point that Lucy lived an incredibly loved life.) Can you image your life if no one ever hurt your feelings? A life where no one ever stole all the good sharp crayons from the box or laughed at you the first time you tried to work out in the weight room or told you that you needed to lose some weight or said that you just weren't good enough for this or that?

A little girl once told Lucy she was fat, and asked me if I fed her hot dogs, but Lucy had a limited English vocabulary so her getting bullied by a chubby girl on a ferry to Kelley's Island doesn't count.

As a result, the concept of "mean" was foreign to her. She had no understanding of what it meant to treat someone badly.

Such a life is pretty impossible for humans. Babies are brats. And adults are babies. And there are cynical butt holes that are going to be rude, and selfish and irrational. But that doesn't mean we can't try. We can welcome our people with the joy that a dog brings us when we enter the room (even if we've only been gone for twenty minutes). We can treat each other like we've never been hurt, like "mean" is a foreign concept. 

Who cares what you look like? 
Lucy was born with a defect that required a surgery and left a crooked scar on top of her head. She was completely ignorant of her abnormality her entire life. She was 75% fur, and this would sometimes lead others to mistake her fur for fat.

Lucy didn't care. Because Lucy didn't know. She didn't sit in front of the computer looking at less fluffy dogs. She didn't research surgeries to remove the scar tissue and straighten out her crooked face. How would a dog be able to even understand the idiotic concept where we all strive for perfect bodies? So why should we?

Cherish every second you have with your people.

There is no joy in the world like coming home to a happy dog who is indubitably enthusiastic at your arrival. You could have had the world's worst day. People could have told you that you were an idiot four million times, but when you walked in that door and there was someone there crying with joy at your mere getting home, all of a sudden you don't feel like an idiot anymore.

I had to pack my bags and leave for college at the end of every summer to a dog that would cry. She knew I was leaving and she cried.  It made me cry too. Every time. 

I hope to greet the people I love with a bit of that genuine excitement. I hope to cherish the minutes I get to spend with the people that I love. 

As a believer who's questioned every bit of a God's existence on a weekly basis, friendships like mine and Lucy's have served as a witness for me to keep faith in a Father with a heart so big it rivals Lucy's. As a believer, I hope to love others like she did, helping others try to understand what it means to believe in a higher power who represents love. 

I'm not sure I'll ever meet a person with as big of a heart as my sweet Lucy. But I know if I approach the world with even a sliver of the love she did, I am set.

Lucy, I will miss you so much. Thank you for teaching me how to appreciate everything, to love unconditionally, and that sometimes you have no other choice in life than to just poop on the carpet.