Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Some Writing About Reading

I don't read as well anymore.

Not in a "I can't see the pages anymore" kind of way, nor am I just gradually becoming illiterate. And I wish I had some great profound point (you know, something I think sounds profound, even if no one else does), or a humorous touchstone to this post (you know, something I find humorous, even if no one else does). But I just felt like writing, and my latest foray as a TV binge consumer, 30 Rock, only requires half my brain's attention span (though it is a much more brilliantly written show than I had originally given it credit for).

I just finished a book today. It's the first one I've read in a while...at least, the first one that wasn't going to be on a big exam involving medical treatment and diagnosis. And it was the first one I actually read in a while...as in, I didn't listen to it being read to me via headphones or my car speakers. Though I should point out that audiobooks have been a godsend in my life these days. My most recent long car trip, a 4-hour drive to Pittsburgh to see old friends, was made much quicker by C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" read to me by writer, actor, and tall person John Cleese. Highly recommended, both the book and the audio recording.

Anyway, after I took Step 2 of my board exams, I immediately went to Netflix and started through my queue of movies. After Thanksgiving, I began the final season of The West Wing, which I had been putting off for close to a year while I kept up with the non-stop pace of the third year (and the beginning of the fourth) of medical school. Upon finishing that, I went the next day to the library and checked out two books. I could have waited and done one at a time - it's not like there are that many people in Amherst, NY waiting for the memoir of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Sheila E's autobiography. But I figured, I used to borrow multiple books at a time, and I would finish them long before they were due back.

I can remember buying the Harry Potter books the day they came out (after pre-ordering it - by phoning the bookstore - and waiting in line at Waldenbooks, obviously). I read all of them within 24-48 hours of their release (except the 7th one, where I had to wait close to a week because my sister Jocelin somehow hijacked it before I could start reading it...I have no idea how that happened, but I remember it seeming to matter way more than it actually did).

So I was counting on that kind of reading speed now that I could fully devote my time to leisure reading, and losing myself in the pages of these books. Maybe it was because I was reading a more scattered memoir, with a tone more wry than out-and-out funny...but it was a struggle.

It's ridiculous. Multiple times within chapters (sometimes every few pages) I would find myself checking my phone and its connection to the rest of the world - to see if I had gotten a text, to check Facebook, to look up something in the book that would eventually lead to some other random Internet search, things I tried not to let myself do while studying. And I can't seem to stop going to the kitchen for a drink or a snack, either. But I still liked the book, and wanted to keep reading it.

These kinds of things happen to me during movies and TV shows, too, but not to the same extent. The visual stimulus holds my attention a lot better (as long as it's good), I guess. Mr. Fagen, the self-described puny malcontent musician whose memoir I finished today, probably would have been disgusted with me for the amount of times I put down his book for silly reasons.
The only reason Mr. Cleese had a captive audience is because I couldn't leave the car to get a snack (and I recently dropped the texting-while-driving habit...that one's still tough to maintain).

I'm not making some sweeping declaration about technology and social networking in my life...that's a slow undertaking. Nor am I trying to philosophize or wax poetic about it. It's just a mental resolution: just like I had to do with my study reading, I'm trying to get better at shutting down distractions faster. I have some rare free time for now, though I'll have to go back to medical studying soon enough. I have a long list of books I want to read in this time, and I look forward to losing myself in them. I just have to let myself get lost.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Here Are My Thoughts on Cat-Calling

So there has been a lot of talk about cat-calling and harassment of women in the news (and/or gossip sites) lately, as I'm sure you've seen. That video of 10 hours of walking in New York City (and the subsequent parodies), the CNN video of Steven Santagati "mansplaining" his views on catcalling to a female host and guest, and all the other articles and opinion posts...there's a lot of discussion about that.
I know, as a man, that I can never fully know what a woman goes through. I know that I can't do justice to this topic. As my attending on my OB/GYN sub-internship a month ago put it, "You have the wrong chromosome for this job." (She was joking...I think). But I can provide my own opinion on one particular aspect of it. Putting aside (but not lessening the importance of) the disrespect, the murder of women, the fact that women can't feel safe on the street, or whether some women enjoy the compliments...all of these things are being debated. But there is one overarching fact that I think most people would agree on.

Men look stupid when they cat-call.

There's a reason I can't watch those videos, at least not all the way through. Maybe part of it is because my attention span is too short for them, but mostly it's because they disgust me. It's principally because the catcalling is disrespectful to women and hearkens back to an outdated way of thinking. It's a philosophy that was once seen as fun and/or funny - by many people, men and women alike, including myself. But one component of that philosophy I never understood, amid the mildly sexist jokes and the checking-out-women and all of that...was catcalling. I could never wrap my head around the idea that yelling to some woman passing by that she "Looked good" or that "I want some fries with that shake" was a proper way of complimenting them. That it was a good way to get them to date you or sleep with you or even notice you.

Jerry Seinfeld, in his hilarious 1998 comedy special "I'm Telling You For The Last Time", talks about this. Parts of it are pretty dated, but he has some great bits, including one on Men and Women. "This is why you see men honking car-horns, yelling from construction sites. These are the best ideas we've had so far...
Honking the car horn amazes me, this has gotta be the last living brain cell...
What is she supposed to do, kick off the heels, start running after the car, grab onto the bumper? 'Well, it's a good thing you honked! I had no idea how you felt!'"

This sarcastic scenario sums up my attitude towards catcalling. Men never look dumber than when they are catcalling a woman. It astonishes me that men actually think this will work. That they actually think they are going to get anywhere with this, or that it's worth doing to "compliment" a woman. 
If a man wants to tell a woman he is interested, or try to get anywhere with her, even if it's just to sleep with her (hopefully being honest with his intentions)...he should make more of an effort. Talk to her for real, not just some lame one-liner. Write her a note...show that you actually took the time to put something down on paper. Do like Heath Ledger (God rest his soul) in "10 Things I Hate About You" and sing "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" on the loudspeaker in a football stadium. He made a fool of himself for her, but at least he looked smarter than some moron yelling "You know what I like!"

Again, if you're a woman, I have no idea how you feel about this. If you find it disrespectful, or if you enjoy it, I don't pretend to have a say. But I know how my gender comes off in this, and it's not good. We don't look attractive when we do this. Some of us look menacing. Some of us "give off that rapey vibe" that means women can't feel safe at night or alone, when there should be no reason not to feel safe. But almost universally, we look like freaking idiots, and not funny ones. And I can't laugh at any part of that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Semiannual Christians, But Not Really

As usual, I'm supposed to be studying now. But it's still early enough in my current rotation that I can follow my latest inspiration and get this post down.
I don't post about religion much, even though I am religious and I try to pray often and earnestly.
I don't get a lot of explicit religious inspiration these days, because I don't take out my Bible as often as I should, and I definitely don't go to church as often as I'd like. I know that going to church isn't always equated with spirituality, especially in a traditional service where you find yourself just going through the motions of prayer. But I like going and having that structure there to help guide my prayer (not to mention many priests/ministers/preachers/pastors/etc. are aware of this problem and trying to inject more life into their services).
One of the guys I do draw inspiration from (and who I have mentioned multiple times on this blog) is my good friend Aaron. He shared a picture on his Facebook wall today that was funny (because it combined two of his favorite things, coffee and Jesus) and awesome (because of its message).

I was going to share this on my wall because, as stated, I thought it was funny yet thought-provoking. And then my provoked thoughts came to the realization that, inadvertently, I am one of those Christians that only attends church a couple times a year. It's usually more  frequently than just Christmas or Easter, but especially in medical school I haven't felt like I could take Sunday morning off from studying to go to church. I have never been one to openly judge the "semiannual Christians" - as I know I have referred to them before - that only come to church on the two biggest holidays, but I'm sure that somewhere in the back of my head I made note that I only ever saw them twice a year, whereas I could be seen in that church every Sunday.

Now I am at a point in my life where I am constantly conscious of how much studying I should be doing and how much paperwork/data entry I need to have done and how busy my schedule is. And suddenly I understand much better how church attendance falls by the wayside.
Incidentally, my parents (who go to church faithfully every week) came up to visit this weekend and I did go to church with them (it's Easter, after all). I got to hear the ever-passionate Father Pat jump for joy at the resurrection of Jesus - and that is the other reason I like going to church. That passion, that joy, to me is infectious.
When I'm not in church, as I try to live a Christian life with good morals and actions, I still try to remember to pray, and I try to read the Bible, at least on Sundays (I even have an app!). And I wonder how many of those other semiannual Christians work even longer hours than I have now? How many want to go to church, but are on call on Sundays, or have group projects and the only time they have to work on them is Sunday, or have to provide for and care for their children or relatives or even strangers on Sundays?
How many of us semiannual Christians aren't semiannual at all, but simply celebrate or reflect on our faith in buildings other than churches?

P.S. Happy Easter, everyone! He is Risen. :)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Music Heard on the Island in 2013

I was going to start this by saying some disclaimer like, "This post is going to be a bit of self-indulgence." But then I realized that's what most of my posts are. And you know that, otherwise you wouldn't be here reading it. But I'm still on break, so I wanted to do a bit more writing before I go back to the excitement but complete lack of free time that is my third year of medical school.
So without further ado, a few musical delights from 2013 that I was excited about. I don't claim to be some smart music reviewer, but sometimes I like to pretend.
Oh wait - one further bit of ado: I'm not trying to sound elitist with this list. I know sometimes I come off that way when talking about music, and I know there are certain aspects of the Top 40 charts that annoy me. But I'm honestly not trying to dis any music you might like. And I don't pretend to be the best musicophile out there, either - my friend Gamy will inevitably be releasing his own mix of 2013's greatest music which will be much wider in scope and genre than my own. But hopefully you take a listen and like some of these.

"Get In My Way" - Robin Thicke
Obviously Robin Thicke was quite famous this year for a little ditty about how much he loves sex and how he hates when it's not quite clear what's appropriate. Or something. It was catchy and Pharrell is ageless (41 years old and he looks like that?!). Anyway, people became so sick of that little ditty, as people are wont to do when a little ditty is played 16 times a day on the radio, that they began to ignore Robin Thicke (there were also negative feelings due to the racy nature of the song or his performance with that girl who came in like a Wrecking Ball later in the year). And a few more singles were released from the album, but by then people were too inundated with Robin Thicke to care. But there are actually some really fun songs on Blurred Lines. This one is my favorite - it's a bouncy pump-up song with a dash of old school dance funk similar to the album's title track, but without the racy imagery or repetitive "hey hey hey."

"Instamatic" - Vertical Horizon
Yes indeed - THE Vertical Horizon. Matt Scannell is still making music - both teaming up with other artists (like my first musical idol Richard Marx) and with the band that brought you "Everything You Want" and "You're A God." Their 2013 release, Echoes From the Underground, shows mature modern alternative rock songwriting with beautiful lyrics that only come from experience and age in songs like "Frost" and the beautifully subtle "Lovestruck." But my favorite moment comes from "Instamatic" where Scannell brings in his long-time friend Neil Peart (drummer of my favorite band, Rush), who plays the crap out of this song. The blustering riffs and drum fills of the song scream prog rock while still retaining pop sensibility, and the made-up word of a title personifies the fun-but-emotional song perfectly. http://youtu.be/KEiVfMi1JIU

"Unchain My Heart" - Hugh Laurie
Anyone who has watched House for more than a few episodes has probably seen Hugh Laurie play the piano. In recent years Laurie has indulged that side of himself by releasing a couple of musical albums showcasing his musical talent. He acknowledges in the liner notes the fact that purists may be quick to dismiss him as a Cambridge-educated white boy trying to play New Orleans blues (his first album) or old-school jazz (2013's Didn't It Rain), but if you give it a chance, Laurie's easy lilting piano, top-notch instrumentalists, and talented vocal guests lay your expectations calmly to rest and ease you into some beautiful piano-vocal jazz. The whole album is terrific - you'll only find this track on the deluxe version, but it's worth it - and if you don't think so, watch the video: http://youtu.be/KEiVfMi1JIU

"'Til The Lights Come On" - Sun Rai
A few years ago my good friend Aaron introduced me to the website Noisetrade and since then a lot of my new music has come from there. Artists of all genres and monetary values have put their music up for free on this website as a matter of promotion and because they just want to get their art out there. One of my favorite Noisetrade finds in 2013 was Sun Rai. He's got catchy melodies and clearly looks like he has a lot of fun while he's playing. Here's a great sample of the fun of his music: http://youtu.be/KZlvRWGEwZg

"Cry Cry" - Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots has had a long struggle over the years with Scott Weiland's endless relapses into drug addiction. Finally in early 2013, after decades of trying to make it work with him, they let Weiland go. They came out swinging later in the year with a new EP featuring Chester Bennington (the non-rapping half of Linkin Park's vocals). People love to hate LP as much as they love to hate Nickelback, and so fans were in an uproar. I'll be honest, I'm hesitant when bands make major lineup changes but keep the same name. And I will miss Weiland, but I'm sure it came to the point where working with him was just too hard for the other STP members. Despite that, I urge you to give this new line-up a chance. Regardless of your thoughts on LP, Bennington has a versatile singing voice, and he channels the STP vibe here much better than expected.

"Colors (Remix ft. Tomahawk Pointe)" - Empire Theory
Previously blog entries have detailed my love for good EDM (electronic dance music), specifically dubstep. Another example of the variety of stuff you can find on Noisetrade, Empire Theory is a solid pop rock group with deep lyrics to supplant their catchy melodies. As a charity endeavor, they created this remix of their EP's title track and it brings a whole new dimension to the song. And it sounds wicked (plus, proceeds go to charity!).

"Power Trip" - J. Cole
You probably heard this one. I'm throwing it here because listening to rap is not something for which I'm known, but that I do occasionally. I have a major soft spot for the Notorious B.I.G., and I love it when they call me "Big Poppa." My delusions of grandeur aside, I'm not moved by a lot of today's rap, but there are good rappers, and J. Cole is one of them. I was instantly hooked by this slow wistful chorus, and found myself fascinated by the verses as he professes his forbidden love for this girl he's obsessed with. The music video adds to the picture, and its twist ending may surprise you.

Feel free to comment with your own favorite musical moments of 2013, especially the ones that weren't televised or controversially reported. I'm always looking for new music, so I'm excited to see what you liked last year!