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Friday, January 30, 2009

In which our building catches fire and we contemplate rental insurance and escape plans while our apartment fills with smoke.

I heard the voices first. Somebody was talking on their cellphone outside our window again. Can't these people find a better place to talk in the middle of the freezing winter night? Then I heard the knocking, first on the door of the apartment next to ours. It's not unusual for them to be knocked at in the night, as they are frequent abusers of loud music at all hours, and have pissed plenty of people off. But there was knocking somewhere else, too. And then I heard the cellphone girl say, "Somebody's alarm is going off. I'm not sure whose. It's the Wright Apartments."

Is my alarm going off? I wondered to myself, half asleep. Sometimes I worry that I sleep through my alarm a little too long and might annoy my neighbors. My eyes opened in slits and peered at the clock. 1:00. I had only been asleep for an hour, Ian a little longer. But I could hear an alarm-like sound in the distance. And then I smelled the scent of a campfire.

I grabbed my glasses off the nightstand and got up, making my way to the living room. Someone's alarm was definitely going off. Didn't sound like a car alarm. I opened the front door and stood in the doorframe, peering out into the courtyard. People were running around below knocking on doors. I caught some of their glances and we just looked at each other, confused. I didn't ask What's going on? And they didn't offer it. I heard sirens sound in the distance, and I stepped back inside, shutting the door.

Back in my bedroom I pulled back the blanket that acts as a makeshift drapery on the window and split the blinds with two fingers. Two fire engines were pulling up fifth south, on the other side of the Trax line. They would have to make a U-turn at the light. Several people were standing outside in the walkway below our window. Our next door neighbors were there, and the girl with the cellphone to her ear, and a couple other people I didn't recognize. We don't really know any of our neighbors, I realized.

"What's going on?" Ian asked behind me, groggily.

"I think there's a fire in the building. Can you smell it? Someone's alarm is going off, and people are knocking on doors downstairs."

"Should we get out?" He asked, sitting up. He began pulling on some jeans and a T-shirt.

"I don't think we're in danger, I think it's downstairs. There are firetrucks outside."

"Well let's put our clothes on in case we need to vacate."

I grabbed my hoodie and zipped it up over my pajamas, then grabbed a pair of socks from my dresser drawer. We made way for the living room, and Ian grabbed his coat while I slipped on my converse. We peered outside through the blinds and front door, trying to see what was going on, but there was nothing to see. We went back into the bedroom and looked through the blinds again at the firetrucks below.

"Nobody's rushing around down there. We probably don't have to worry. I think we can try to go back to sleep," I said.

I visited the bathroom, and upon returning announced that the smell was worse in there, probably because of the vent. I slipped off the converse and slipped under my down comforter, placing my glasses on the nightstand and snuggling my face into the pillow. Ian replaced his jeans with pajama pants and turned off the light.

Then the smell suddenly got worse. Ian switched the light back on, "Is it smoky in here?"

"I don't know, I'm not wearing my glasses."

"Let's get out."

We pulled our clothes back on, and grabbed our coats and my cellphone. I hesitated a moment, glancing over at the grove of guitars in the corner of the living room, but then I looked away and we went outside.

Downstairs we could see smoke streaming up from the basement level. "That must be where it is, then," I said. Our landlord was standing on the ground floor looking down toward the basement, and Ian asked him, "Is there someplace we should go? Or is that side of the building safe?"

The landlord looked at Ian and said, "Well, what happened was the water heater in this unit caught fire, and they thought they could contain it from in there, but the fire burned down through the floorboards into the basement apartment. So they're going to cut down through the floor and try to contain it."

Having not had our question answered, we decided to play it safe, and went around the back way to the front of the building. A third firetruck was pulling up. We joined the people congregated out front, and watched the firefighters dragging their tools and hoses about. By the time the fourth firetruck arrived, we noticed the smoke billowing out from the walkway underneath our window. "That's why we could smell it so bad," I said pointing, "It's probably leaking in through our window. That explains the condensation on the glass too."

We stood around for a long while, and I cursed myself for choosing the least warm shoes I own, and for neglecting to put on my leg warmers after my shower earlier that evening.

"I guess we don't really have an emergency plan," Ian said suddenly.

"Well, the plan is: Get Out!" I said.

"Yeah, but I mean we could have a bag with some clothes in it, maybe some clothes we don't really like, or something."

"I guess so. We could use the yellow camping bag, since it's otherwise useless."

"Something to think about anyway."

"I guess you should figure out what it is you love the most, and make way for it first in an emergency."

"Well, I wouldn't grab what I loved the most; probably what was most useful -- my laptop."

"Yeah, it does have all your songs on it," I said. "I would go straight for the grove of guitars and grab as many as I could. Screw my computer. It doesn't have anything important, except my pictures." Then I thought about what a shame it would be to lose my pictures, and suddenly I wished I could carry both my computer and my guitars to safety in case of an emergency.

We stood around for 15 or 20 more minutes until the smoke stopped billowing, and the firefighters began to look more relaxed. A news channel had arrived, late as usual, and began shooting the scene and interviewing a firefighter.

"We're on the scene of a house fire at the Wright Apartments," I mocked. "It's not quite clear what the situation is currently."

Ian joined in, "Firefighters are saying there might still be fire somewhere in the building."

We laughed. Newscasters always paint their stories in vagaries and unsureties whenever there's really not much of a story, maybe to keep the audience interested.

A few minutes later, our landlord conferred with the fire master, and then said everyone who didn't live in apartments 1 and 6 were safe to go back inside. That was us, so we went back up to our apartment. We opened the door to a haze of smoke. "Ah, crap," I said, "Now everything is going to reek of smoke."

Our bedroom was the worst. The smoke must have worked its way around the edges of our ancient single-paned windows. No wonder our heating bill is so expensive this year. The windows are not adequately sealed. We opened the windows all over the apartment and turned on various fans and vents. Eventually the haze cleared out, but the scent of campfire has inundated all our possessions. "At least it wasn't our apartment that burned," I said to Ian, "That's the bright side, just think of that." The irony is that Ian had earlier that evening stated that he wanted to make breakfast for dinner, but didn't want to make our apartment smell of bacon. Bacon sounded like a pretty good smell to me right then.

We gathered some blankets and made a camp in the living room, which was much less smoky than our bedroom. "And at least tomorrow is Friday," I iterated. Then we drifted off to sleep.

I'd like to thank the Salt Lake Fire Department for their quick action and professional expertise, without which our entire building may have caught fire, and we'd have a lot more to worry about than smoky possessions. Thanks, guys!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Play hard, unless you're kicking the other side's trash, in which case stop trying

Picture this: One high school basketball team beats another high school basketball team 100-0. School administrators from Team 100 feel bad about the blowout and apologize to Team 0. Coach of Team 100 does not feel bad about the blowout, and says his team played a fair game and should not apologize for their victory. Coach gets fired.

School administrators say, "This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition."

Coach says, "I do not agree with the apology or the notion that [Team 100] should feel embarrassed or ashamed.... We played the game as it was meant to be played."

Your reactions?

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Dreams of Law School, and Commenting thereon

I had a strange dream last night. I had decided to attend UC Davis law next fall, but upon talking with the dean of admissions, I learned that after your first year you have to go through a retention interview during which the school decides if they still want to keep you as a student. I was upset by this because it meant I would have to send out transfer applications next fall just to make sure I would be able to continue my legal education the following year, in the chance that I bombed my interview. And I'm terrible with interviews, so I was sure I would bomb it. Then my alarm went off, and I was moist with sweat and sorrowful that it looked like Davis would be out of the picture. Now that I'm fully awake, I can see how ridiculous that scenario would be. I guess I just can't wait for all the decisions to be over.

I'm very pleased with the offers of acceptance I've received so far. Of my choices, I am actually leaning toward Davis. But, I got a very enticing scholarship offer from Pacific McGeorge. They would give me $20,000 per year, plus my first year law books for free. That's before any FAFSA money, too, so my education at McGeorge would be practically free in the grand scheme of things. Man, that's enticing. But McGeorge was basically my safety school. It's the lowest ranked school I applied to, and you have to consider the fact that the higher reputation your school, the better your job market after graduation. So I have to consider that along with the financial offers. I don't have all the financial offers on the table yet, either, so I can't really predict what will happen.

I check the Berkeley application status about three times daily, but there's never a change. My friend Whit-Face sent me a postcard from Hawaii with a picture of a UC Berkeley building on it. I remember seeing the building during my trip to the campus last fall. She said she wanted to send the cosmic acceptance energy my way. I can see the results on that one going either way, but maybe the cosmic rays will tip in my favor now :) I appreciate the thought, anyway.

In other news, you may have noticed that I changed my comment system. I had a handful of people complaining that they couldn't comment at all, or that their comments got eaten frequently. I think it was an incompatibility issue between Firefox 3 and the Javascript running the previous comment system. Now that I've changed it I think there should be no more problems with commenting. It's not as pretty a system, but you can't always strike a good balance between form and function, unfortunately.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

History of My Love Life, Episode 4: Machine Guns in the Desert

Well, after my second day of actually working out in my cycling class, my thighs are killing me. I feel like I can barely walk, let alone cycle, and yet I have another class tonight. Also, I have a slight case of sore crotch, as promised, and a gnarly bruise on my knee from jamming it into the emergency break, which so conveniently juts out between your legs on the newer bike models. Maybe I'll stick to an older bike tonight. Ah well, the first two weeks are always the worst, and then after that it's not so hard anymore. I look forward to that. But I am reminded of a certain little cycling-class-related episode several years back, which doesn't really qualify as part of my love life per se, since we never ended up going out (you'll soon see why), but I'll include it in the series anyway.

It was the last day of cycling class at HYPR East. I felt like I had made great improvements in my physical condition during the course of this class, but I did not feel as if I had made any friends. That was not the point of the class anyway; you can't very well carry on a conversation with someone when you're struggling just to breathe through 50 grueling minutes of torturous exertion. So, no, the class was not conducive to meeting people. Roll was called a few times toward the beginning of the semester until the instructor learned who was who, but there was no mention of names after that.

So I was surprised that evening, after my final class, when I heard my name called out behind me.

"Hey, Sra!" I stopped and glanced over my shoulder.

"Yes?" A boy approached with a look that belied his shock that he had actually spoken, and that he wasn't quite sure what to say next. He probably wasn't any younger than me, but he had a geeky quality that always seems to make people look younger than they are.

"That is your name, isn't it?" He asked sheepishly. Of course he knew that was my name. He was trying to play it cool.

"Yes." I said. Maybe at this point he expected me to ask what his name was. Maybe he actually told me what his name was, but the moment was so frought with his nervous energy that I can't remember.

"I have something I want to show you." He set his book bag on the floor and began rustling through it, eventually pulling out a file-folder.

"Ok," I said, stepping forward cautiously. I couldn't fathom what someone I had never even talked to might want to show me.

It was then that I noticed the picture of Jesus on the cover of the folder. Oh great, I thought, He's going to try to tell me about Jesus. I opened my mouth intending to say that I'd already heard about Jesus, thank you very much, and I wasn't interested, but before I could form the words, the boy had taken a page of photographs out of the file-folder and thrust it into my hands.

I looked down at the page, and the first photograph to catch my eye was that of a flaming white van in the middle of nowhere. Yes, flaming. Brightly on fire. My jaw fell open as my eyes wandered to the other photographs littering the page. A man lay on his stomach on the desert floor, cradling a large gun and sighting a target in the distance. A group of four or five men stood smiling and laughing, arms thrown about each other's shoulders in camaraderie. Broken bottles and not-yet broken bottles lined up along the desert floor, and more men with guns. Maybe this wasn't about Jesus after all.

"Sometimes I like to go with my dad and brothers out into the West Desert to shoot machine guns and blow stuff up," the boy started to say, and I looked up from the flaming van into his hopeful and suddenly courageous eyes, in which my own astonished eyes were reflected. "I thought perhaps you might like to come sometime."

"Uh..." I didn't quite know what to say, so I stalled for time, "You guys blew up this van?" I pointed down at the flaming van on the page held numbly in my fingers.

"Yeah," he grinned at me sheepishly, almost licking his lips like a cat pleased with the kill he's just laid at your feet.

"Wow....Huh....Um, I don't know." I looked at him, and felt like I couldn't say what I really wanted to say, which was something along the lines of, "Are you nuts?'Come with me and several other men you don't know into the Middle of Nowhere so we can SHOOT GUNS! Don't worry, we definitely will NOT kill or rape you!' I think maybe bowling, dinner and a movie, even coffee would be much more appropriate suggestions for a first date with someone you've never even talked to, don't you? K-THX-BYE!"

But instead I just said, "I'll tell you what. I'll give you my email address and we can talk about it, ok?" I took a pen from his opened bag and scribbled my email address on top of the page of photos, and then handed it back to him. He slipped the page back into his Jesus notebook, and I watched Jesus' face retreat back into the bag.

I tried to ignore the boy's visibly crestfallen expression, as if I'd just called him an ugly loser and slapped him across the face. I gave him a quick smile and said, "I'll talk to you later," and then I quickly made my own retreat down the hall. I could almost feel Jesus winking at me beneath the canvas bag.

Much to my relief, the boy never emailed.

Previous Episodes of the History of My Love Life:

Episode 1: Ian
Episode 2: Specialized, Part 1
Episode 2: Specialized, Part 2
Episode 2: Specialized, Part 3
Episode 3: Like Me

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Monday, January 19, 2009

To de-add or not to de-add, that is the question

I'm not a big fan of social networking sites, even though I met both Ian and Sov through MySpace. At the time, if you recall part one of The History of My Love Life, I was in the middle of a bad relationship and was attempting to enlarge my social circles in preparation for the impending implosion of said bad relationship*. It was a good idea, as I actually met quite a few people through MySpace at that time, and a few of those relationships have lasted over the years.

These days Facebook is the hot social commodity of the interwebs. I'm not quite sure why, because I find the layout and everything about it confusing. But the thing that irks me the most about Facebook is the fact that people you wouldn't really consider your friends, or even acquaintances, add you as their friend, and then you feel pressured to confirm the add so that you aren't delivering the electronic equivalent of a slap across the face.

In my case, these non-friends are fellow alums of my high school, many of which I never actually talked to in high school, some of which I know actually loathed me in high school, and others of which I would have considered "high school friends" back in the day (i.e., we were friendly at school, but didn't hang out after school), but we haven't kept in contact over the years, so I don't see why we should keep in contact now. One of them mistook me for someone who went to an entirely different elementary school, but I allowed his add request anyway.

So now the question is, do I de-add these non-friend folk? Or do I just leave them cluttering up my friend list like a lie?

* Sorry to be a wanker by using "said" as a demonstrative. Just preparing for law school.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

I suppose I should have planned ahead...

It is nigh impossible to procure quarters on a Sunday in Salt Lake City. What's a girl with 3-5 loads of laundry to do?

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Comfortable in My Own Skin

I'm a tomboy. If you know me personally, you've probably noticed this about me. I'm not sure how much of my tomboyism comes out in my blog, if any at all, but if it doesn't, now you know. Basically I'm more masculine than your stereotypical girl, and maybe even more masculine than your stereotypical effeminate gay man. I've always been this way, for as long as I can remember. If you ever visited my Flickr photostream (see thumbnails at top of page), you may have noticed this photo, which I call "My Element", with the subtitle "This is who I really am":

I'm probably about 5 in this photo. I've got my boyish haircut, free from bows and ribbons and other disgusting frillies that other girls put in their hair. And I've got my boyish polo shirt, and Puppy Love, my puppy doll. No baby human dolls that make gaga noises, blink their creepy little eyes, or wet their diapers for me. No, no. For me it was Ninja Turtles, Legos, Star Wars figures and GI Joes, and maybe a little Rainbow Brite and Care Bears for good measure.

I always hated wearing dresses, always. During my Mormon years from about 13 - 16, I got accustomed to wearing skirts and dresses to church, and I didn't seem to mind it at the time. But I think about it now, and it kind of gives me a sick and uncomfortable feeling to imagine wearing a dress again. Ian and I went to the opera a couple years ago, and I wore a dress over some slacks, which was a bit of a fashion trend at the time. I felt ok like that. I actually felt pretty. And I think I could do something like that again, but mostly I'd rather just not think about it. It's just not my thing to dress like that.

Anyway, this tomboyishness is my nature to the core, and there was a time when I was completely comfortable with it. But it's harder to be comfortable when years of outside opinion and disapproval chip away at that comfort layer by layer. It occurred to me recently that I may not be comfortable with who I am when I realized that I was ashamed of others seeing my short, stubby, chewed nails. I've been a habitual nail biter for most of my life, although I did manage to control the habit for a few years in high school and college. Even then I kept the nails short. Ian tells me I shouldn't worry about it; I should just be who I am and not worry about what other people think about my nails. But even he, at the beginning of our relationship, told me he thought I should grow my nails longer. I told him I have to keep them short so I can play the guitar. After that I started to bite my nails again. And now, a few years later, I find myself curling my stubby little chewed fingers into my palm to hide them from others in public. I have never been ashamed of my nails before. Why the sudden shame now?

Well, I think the outside criticism has taken its toll over time. Sometimes the criticism is direct. I remember being asked point blank why I was such a tomboy by a girl being tended by one of my friend's parents when we were about 6 or 7. I didn't have an answer for her. I am what I am. I remember a kid at recess asking me whether I was a boy or a girl when I was about 5. I had just had my hair cut short, and probably did look a little ambiguous. I remember an exboyfriend complimenting me on my watch, which was elegant, unlike me. (Not the first back-handed compliment I've ever gotten, and probably not the last.) I remember during college eating in the dining area at Wendy's with a couple of my roommates. One of my roomies, K-T, had short, spikey, but still feminine hair, and my own hair style was similar at the time. A couple dudes at a neighboring table yelled out that we must be dykes because we had "short hair, n shit". My mom called me Spike after I got that haircut -- which I loved, incidentally -- and I got mad at her for the passive-aggressive criticism. She would say it wasn't criticism, but that's exactly what it was. She has always been good at subtly communicating her disapproval of me. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

So I guess I just want it to be ok to be myself. Why do I have to feel ashamed of who I am? My old roomie K-T is the type of person who never seemed to give a damn what anyone else thought about her. And I think she genuinely didn't give a damn, too. Probably still doesn't. I've always admired that about her, and wish I could be like that. I wish I wouldn't let it bother me when other people don't approve of me. I wish I could just shrug my shoulders and say whatever. But deep down I get hurt by it, and then I feel like I should be ashamed. But I just want to be the tomboy that I am, you know?

This is something that's been bothering me lately, and I guess the best way to start processing it is to get it out. Then maybe I can do something about it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Avoiding versus Censoring

A comment on yesterday's post reminded me of something I was going to post about. A few mornings ago, my semi-conscious thoughts were molested by my morning radio alarm blaring a commercial for ClearPlay. This is a DVD player that you can set to automatically filter certain objectionable content from your movies during playback.

Now, you can argue why you think this product is a good idea if you'd like. But personally, I don't quite get it. I mean, on one level, it's kind of like hanging a picture of a famous nude on your wall, but blacking out the naughty bits with little censor strips (and not doing so ironically).

I remember watching an edited version of The Godfather Part 1 with one of my college roommates. In one scene, Brando tries to get his way by making an offer that can't be refused. He orders his men to cut off the head of the horse belonging to the man he's trying to manipulate, and stick it in the guy's bed. When the guy wakes up, he sees the bloody horse's head, and screams out in horror. He experiences the pain of having his most prized possession taken from him, and that is the entire point of the scene. Well, in the edited version, all you see is the guy waking up to some bloody sheets followed by his screams. If you haven't seen the original version, you don't know why he's screaming. Maybe his legs have been cut off or something, but you just don't know, and more importantly, you don't experience the depth of the loss. I was kind of appalled at seeing this version of the film. It felt cheapened, and ruined.

Now, I understand completely that there are some things you might not want to see, and that's ok. Personally, I can't bring myself to watch any kind of movie that involves sadistic, psychopathic behavior. I can watch scary movies about aliens and monsters, and anything fantastical, but as soon as it becomes something that could really happen, I can't handle it. I can't watch movies like Saw, or Silence of the Lambs, because I become too disturbed. The last such movie I saw was Wolf Creek (I didn't know what it was about), and I ended up having nightmares for weeks.

I also can't bring myself to watch anything with spiders. I had a very difficult time sitting through much of Harry Potter 2 because of all the spiders. I can't watch Arachnophobia. I even have a difficult time with the spiders in the cartoon version of The Hobbit. If I know there are a bunch of spiders in a movie, I don't watch it.

So I get the fact that there are some things you can't bring yourself to watch. But I don't understand why you wouldn't just avoid the film altogether when it contains elements that you object to. I mean, when we're talking about a movie about gangsters (The Godfather), you can't expect to clean it up and still have much content left in the film, because it is a dark subject matter. You can't make a nice movie about gangsters.

I think if you object to the subject of a movie, you should just not watch it. You aren't missing anything when it's something you don't want to see anyway. But you ARE missing something when you start cutting out pieces of someone else's art. You are missing the point.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Smack Your Cycling Bitch Up

We didn't exercise during the first session of my cycling class at the U last night. It's an exercise class, so I expected to exercise. But instead, we spent 50 minutes talking about things like:

(a) proper adjustment of your seat and handle bars for your body (which is important, yes, but should only take 5-10 minutes tops to cover)

(b) something totally embarrassing, but try not to laugh, although if you do laugh, I guess I won't fault you, but here goes: you are gonna get sore crotch from this class. but if you go down to the condom aisle in your grocery story, you will find the KY jelly, which is meant to be used in your crotchal region, and which is cheaper than buying the butt butter from a cycling store

(c) you need to eat, even if you are taking this class to lose weight, and let's raise our hands, how many of us are taking this class to lose weight? now don't be shy, come on, hands up! yeah, you can't expect to maintain the muscle in your body if you don't eat, and for god's sake, you MUST drink water. you should drink a full water bottle for each class, and eat 3 hours before class, and eat after class. but you must eat. don't go thinking you can starve yourself and survive in this class.

(d) the music in this class is not always -- how shall we say -- "Utah friendly". one time, you're gonna laugh at this story, it's really funny, I was playing a song that sounded to me like "snap your picture", but some girls from my class came up afterward to tell me that, no, the words were "smack your HMM up"! I had no idea! So if you have a problem with the music in class, then you need to tell me about it, because otherwise, I have a license to drive and I'm gonna use it!
(e) this class is a cycling class, not a spinning class, so if you are expecting spinning, you might end up learning some techniques about cycling that you weren't expecting to learn, but you will get a workout, for sure (except during the first session, where your only workout will be attempting to ESP some laser beams out your eyes and into the head of your annoying instructor)
(e) and various other mind-numbing wastes of time that made me want to smack this bitch upside the head.

Thankfully, this woman is not my regular instructor, but is just covering for the regular guy this week. (Which makes you wonder why she felt she should talk so much.) And that's good, because I'm not sure if I can handle much more of her condescending, self-important blathering.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rainy Day Parade

I spent roughly 5 hours last Saturday walking around Salt Lake City with my friend Sovknight and a video camera. We started at the main City Library, a stunning piece of modern architecture that is a popular place for the homeless to hang out during the winter. Then we walked over to Main Street, and shot footage of all the empty storefronts with their many Available signs in the windows. We made our way north to the giant pits in the ground where the Crossroads and ZCMI Center Malls used to be, took a quick jaunt through Temple Square, and then walked over to the Gateway Mall, where we shot the jarring juxtaposition of the new Mall across the street from the homeless shelter. Finally we walked past Pioneer Park on our way back to my car. We didn't linger, though. Ever since a jogger got stabbed there a year or two ago, I don't feel very safe being there unless it's a summer Saturday, when the weekly Farmer's Market pushes the vagrants and dopers off into a corner, and the park takes on a pseudo cleanliness for a few hours.

We shot footage of all these things because I was asked to participate in a project called 50 States in 50 Days. I was supposed to get some footage of my town and answer some questions about the current economic state of the country. I didn't really think I was the right person to ask to participate in this project, because I am no expert on the economy. But after asking for further information on the project and reviewing the list of questions, I agreed to participate. I told my solicitor that I would upload the footage by Saturday.

What I was not told was that several other Utah bloggers were asked to do the same thing, and only one of us was to have our footage included in the project. Hell, if you are a Utah blogger, you might have been asked to participate as well. Had I been told this, I would have passed on the project altogether, but I was made to believe that I was the only one asked, and that this was as good as an agreement.

So I fulfilled my part, but, upon returning home from our little urban tour and preparing to upload the video, I found an email in my inbox sent sometime that morning saying that another Utah correspondent had uploaded their footage and they hoped I had gotten the message in time to spare me any effort. You can imagine how irritating it would be to receive such a message after walking around on a sunny but chilly day for 5 hours, and after putting thought into some artistic shots and trying to come up with some thoughtful responses to questions. Yeah, I was pissed.

So I wrote the project coordinator back, and told him that, no, I didn't get the message in time to spare me any effort, and that I did not appreciate not being given adequate notice of the cancellation. I was also none too pleased about having not been told what to expect. If I had known this was some race to upload, then I would have said I can't film this before Saturday, so no I can't participate. I guess they asked several people because they can't count on somebody to do what they say they're going to do. Whatever. If I say I'm going to do something for you, I do it, otherwise I don't say I will. I guess most people aren't like this.

The project coordinator wrote back apologizing, saying they were a start up company, whatever that has to do with it, and that they would be sure to be upfront about the fact that they were asking several people in the future. Excellent, well, since this project is being shown alphabetically, and Utah is quite near the end, I'm not sure what good this will do for the future of the project. But I suppose it's the thought that counts. Incidentally, the PC said I could still upload my footage, they'd still pay me the $50 I was going to earn for this, and they'd likely still use the footage. I decided that sitting around for a couple hours while my videos uploaded was a further waste of my time, and I didn't do this for the $50 anyway, so fuck it. I just feel bad that I promised Sov I'd split the fee with him, and I'm ending up screwing him. And as for them using the footage? Well, it's not like the project is called "50 States in 50 Days and 1 more from Utah!"

So bah, humbug.

I felt like I had been robbed of a Saturday, but in retrospect, I did enjoy hanging out with my best friend trying to make some art. We had been talking about doing an urban tour of Salt Lake anyway, because people don't usually play tourist in their own towns and explore them by foot. So it was rewarding in that respect.

But it was also still aggravating.

I told the PC they would get no love from me, so I'm not linking to the project, but I'm sure you could find them if you search. All I can say is that when the Utah video debuts in a week or so, I hope it really stinks.

Unless, of course, the Utah correspondent whose footage is being used is among my dear Readers. Then I wish you the best as always.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Janis Ian's Article on File Sharing and the Music Industry, an excerpt

My brother Zac over at Reflections in the Void mentioned a great article by Janis Ian about file sharing and the music industry. (More from the artist at The article is from 2002, but it's still very relevant today. This is why I'm going to law school, people.

Here's a particularly pertinent excerpt in which Janis counters the claim that the RIAA et al. are fighting against file sharing to protect the interests of the artists:

I object violently to the pretense that they [the record labels] are in any way doing this for our benefit. If they really wanted to do something for the great majority of artists, who eke out a living against all odds, they could tackle some of the real issues facing us:
  • The normal industry contract is for seven albums, with no end date, which would be considered at best indentured servitude (and at worst slavery) in any other business. In fact, it would be illegal.

  • A label can shelve your project, then extend your contract by one more album because what you turned in was "commercially or artistically unacceptable". They alone determine that criteria.

  • Singer-songwriters have to accept the "Controlled Composition Clause" (which dictates that they'll be paid only 75% of the rates set by Congress in publishing royalties) for any major or subsidiary label recording contract, or lose the contract. Simply put, the clause demanded by the labels provides that a) if you write your own songs, you will only be paid 3/4 of what Congress has told the record companies they must pay you, and b) if you co-write, you will use your "best efforts" to ensure that other songwriters accept the 75% rate as well. If they refuse, you must agree to make up the difference out of your share.

  • Congressionally set writer/publisher royalties have risen from their 1960's high (2 cents per side) to a munificent 8 cents.Many of us began in the 50's and 60's; our records are still in release, and we're still being paid royalty rates of 2% (if anything) on them.If we're not songwriters, and not hugely successful commercially (as in platinum-plus), we don't make a dime off our recordings. Recording industry accounting procedures are right up there with films.

  • Worse yet, when records go out-of-print, we don't get them back! We can't even take them to another company. Careers have been deliberately killed in this manner, with the record company refusing to release product or allow the artist to take it somewhere else.

  • And because a record label "owns" your voice for the duration of the contract, you can't go somewhere else and re-record those same songs they turned down.

  • And because of the re-record provision, even after your contract is over, you can't record those songs for someone else for years, and sometimes decades.

  • Last but not least, America is the only country I am aware of that pays no live performance royalties to songwriters. In Europe, Japan, Australia, when you finish a show, you turn your set list in to the promoter, who files it with the appropriate organization, and then pays a small royalty per song to the writer. It costs the singer nothing, the rates are based on venue size, and it ensures that writers whose songs no longer get airplay, but are still performed widely, can continue receiving the benefit from those songs.

Please note that I am not advocating indiscriminate downloading without the artist's permission. I am not saying copyrights are meaningless. I am objecting to the RIAA spin that they are doing this to protect "the artists", and make us more money. I am annoyed that so many records I once owned are out of print, and the only place I could find them was Napster. Most of all, I'd like to see an end to the hysteria that causes a group like RIAA to spend over 45 million dollars in 2001 lobbying "on our behalf", when every record company out there is complaining that they have no money.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stephen Fry's Podcast on Language

Check out this beautiful podcast exposition on Language by Stephen Fry, available for free download from iTunes.

If you are a fellow linguaphile, you will get a kick out of this 33 minute spot, but even if you aren't a linguaphile, you should give this a chance. It provides a delightful overview of the reasons why we have a field called linguistics, the take-away ;) reason being the pleasure of Language.

My favorite bit of the podcast is where Fry compares language usage to clothing. To paraphrase from memory: "You slip into a suit for a job interview, and you dress up your language too.... You can wear whatever you want linguistically at home."

He explains that there is no right or wrong language just as there is no right or wrong clothing, but context, convention, and circumstance help determine what is appropriate when and where.

But the message Fry wants to deliver is that Language is fluid by nature, and its usage should not be so prescriptively policed. He celebrates the pleasure of language variation and change, and lambasts "pedants" who write letters to newspapers and TV programs complaining about "incorrect" usage. Although he admits to having his own grammatical pet peeves, he explains that he views these as any other vice to be worked on, such as anger, for instance.

So it's been awhile since I've written about Language on Bunsnip, which is unusual because it's generally a very enthusiastic subject for me. I tongue-in-cheekingly call myself a grammarnazi because many of my Language posts are directed toward my grammatical pet peeves, and this has made some of my readers feel self-conscious about their own grammatical errors. Some worry that I take my red pen to their own blog posts or comments on my blog posts. No, no, no, I stress time and again, I never do that. For one thing, have you ever proofed my comments? I make terrible errors left and right. That is the nature of comments, they are informal and quickly schrifted off without much attention to editing, as it should be. Likewise, blogging is an informal venue for Language. We're not writing for prestigious journals here. Context, convention, and circumstance.

So anyway, I am sharing this podcast here because it explains brilliantly my feelings about Language. Give it a listen.

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Uncle Jay Explains 2008

Check out this brilliant 3-minute musical revue of 2008 by Uncle Jay Explains the News.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Park Ave. Strikes Back

In retaliation for the fact that I didn't drive my 1991 Buick Park Avenue anywhere since last Wednesday, it refused to start for me this morning. Flat out refused. I asked nicely too. Because even though the Park Ave. is falling apart piece by piece and bit by bit (an 18 year-old car can be expected to do that), I still have a good relationship with it. I may resent the fact that the heater doesn't heat quite hot enough fast enough, and that the air conditioner doesn't cool quite cold enough... ever. But it's always been a dependable vehicle for its age, and I have a fond connection to the damn monstrosity. It took me across the country after college, for god's sake! I mean, we got there after breaking down in Chicago, but still, the Ave. and I have been through a helluva lot together.

So I was deeply disappointed by this slight.

I was also deeply disappointed that this meant I had to walk to work this morning. Now, I don't mind walking when it's warm. My office is only a mile away from my apartment, so it only takes about 20 minutes to walk the distance. But it was about 20 degrees F this morning, and I thought my cheeks might freeze and fall off on the way. They didn't, happily. But it took a good half day before my bones warmed up at the office.

Luckily I had Ian to pick me up after work, but when we got home, we still couldn't get the car started. I think it's just too cold and maybe there's a freeze in the water line. I don't think it's going to start until it gets warmer, and I have no idea how long that's going to take. So now I have to figure something out. Ian goes to and gets off work much earlier than I do, so we can't really do the pick up / drop off thing. I could keep walking to work so long as it doesn't storm too much. It wasn't snowing this morning, just cold as hell frozen over, but then it blizzarded lightly in the evening. It's just too unpredictable.

My office manager offered to give me a ride if I can't get my car started tomorrow, but I feel badly leaning on other people like that. I don't think it's too much of an imposition for one day, but I don't know how many days this weather is going to put me out of a car.

Well, I guess that's life, and you have to roll with the punches.

Some things I am thankful for:

(1) People who adequately shovel/salt their sidewalks. Thank you for providing me with sure footing on my walk this morning. (As for the rest of you... DIE!!!!)

(2) Stainless steel vacuum thermoses. Because of you, I still had piping hot burr-ground coffee by the time I got to the office, even after 20 minutes in 20 degrees. Thank you.

(3) Scarves. Without you, I think my cheeks might have really fallen off, and then I couldn't show my face anywhere.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Resolution 2: HealthQuest2009

So I didn't exactly achieve the results I hoped to achieve with HealthQuest2008. I don't actually weigh any less, and I haven't been able to downgrade into those size 8 pants folded in my dresser drawer yet, but I'm not going to call 2008 a loss. On the contrary, I did make quite a bit of progress.

For one thing, I scaled Mt. Olympus, a 4,000 ft climb in elevation over 3.5 miles, and I took many other amazing hikes in preparation for that feat. I will continue my hiking endeavors in 2009, and this year's goal peak is going to be Mt. Timpanogos.

I also made quite a bit of progress in building muscle mass in my body last year. Hiking and cycling helped me build some rock hard calves and strong thigh muscles, but most impressive are my biceps/triceps, which I built with the help of some killer yoga classes. Ok, so the muscles themselves aren't anything impressive, but the fact that you can actually feel them underneath my fleshy upper arms is impressive, considering that you wouldn't have known I even had any arm muscles last January.

So all things considered, I am in a much better position to attain my goals this year than last year. But an important difference this year is that instead of just focusing on making changes in my body, I am also focusing on the psychic rewards that come from engaging in physical activity that I really enjoy. I have learned that there is a mind-body connection, and the benefits of physical activity to your mind are just as valuable as the benefits to your body.

This year my office is doing a Biggest Loser competition, starting with our first weigh-in on Monday the 5th, and going to our final weigh-in at the end of March. I fully intend to win this year. I haven't stepped on a scale since Thanksgiving, and I have a hunch that Monday's weigh-in is not going to be pretty. (I blame the Christmas fudge.) But I am beginning my twice weekly cycling class at the U on January 13, and I also plan to enroll in my usual once weekly yoga class that same week. From then on out, I will be heavily exercising at least 3 days a week, but since exercise can become addictive, I wouldn't be surprised if I felt inclined to engage in further physical activity as well.

In the meantime, I am weaning myself off the remaining sugar in my household in preparation for another sugar embargo. Since I'll be trying to save money this year, I expect that Ian and I will cook more meals at home, which generally lends itself to healthier eating. I may even make it a goal to try out new recipes. Well, ok, for me almost all recipes are new. Thank god Ian can cook.

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