Monday, February 28, 2011

Commit! Commit, damn you!

I used to joke, as recently as last month, that I knew I needed to be healthier but the choice of getting that way involved a lifestyle change to which I was not prepared to commit. I think, though, that the last trip to the ER where I was *content redacted* from my *content redacted* sealed the deal. I can't continue to live my life as if I were 25 and assume that my body will always recover from anything I put it through. I have real, chronic health problems that continue to affect my day-to-day situation, that have real, deleterious effects on my ability to function as a person. Note that it's not like I have anything serious like Crohn's Disease or Lupus or anything that many, many others that I know suffer through every day. In my case these are low-level, annoying-but-not-ultimately-fatal things like Kidneystones and Intermittent Benign Positional Vertigo and a bad back and weak knees. These are all things that with a proper diet, a good workout structure, and careful management of my time, attention, and focus. Part of it is recognizing that the foods that I eat (not even that I *like* to eat, just that I eat because I'm lazy or bored or anxious about something) are bad for me, and especially bad for my 'stone production. Part of it is recognizing that my back and knees are messed up because while I'm about right for a target weight, not enough of it is muscle and too much of it is fat in the wrong places. And part of it is recognizing that when I'm stressed I revert to behaviours that are not good for me, and finding other ways to deal with that stress.

So now I'm looking at my options. I need to find something that won't trigger my default response instantly dropping something that I'm not good at or don't like doing, and I need something that gets me out of the house and dealing with people that are not my current circle of friends (who are wonderful and supportive and awesome, but also not exactly the most health-conscious geeks out there), because I need more friends in my life and I think finding people to work out with will be a good way to in theory make more friends.

I hate my body. And it's pretty clear that my body isn't particularly fond of me at this point. So we both need to get together and do something to improve our relationship. And maybe this is the time to get it done.

Alternately, I may just buy an iPad and accept I'm going to be icky forever.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Well, that's incredibly annoying.

Someone decided to hijack my jeromecomeau.com domain. Which is a pain in the ass.

So, I went in, blew away all of the content, dropped a new redirect to here, changed the password to something significantly harder to crack, and hopefully that will prevent this from happening again in the future, at least for a little while.

In the meantime, I expect my traffic to this blog won't, in fact, increase significantly...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: The New Jonathan Coulton

So, last night I went to see Jonathan Coulton fronting a new band, playing new music, and with a new opening act. It was... disappointing.

First, the good:

-- Mark Phirman, the opening act and 1/2 of Hard and Phirm, a.k.a "The West-Coast Paul and Storm", was excellent. His standup was funny, if rather scattershot (it's clear that he's an "alternative" comedian, that is that his idea of comedy is to stand and tell a bunch of jokes, as opposed to Louie CK or Janeane Garofalo who have jokes throughout a themed set with a throughline tying everything together), and his music is quite good if a little gimmicky. It's clear that he has much talent in both comedy and music, and I'd love to see him in longer form. In fact, I'm probably going to get tickets to "Nerds and Music" so I can see him again, this time with Paul and Storm.

-- The New Music was pretty good. There are some issues with it, which I'll cover in a later point, but on the whole it has the quirkiness and intelligence and subversive tone of earlier work, without feeling derivative or repetitive. The new backup band is integrated well in the new music, and it's clear that the skill in the musicians is present and will drive success to a wider, perhaps less nerdy audience.

-- The Old Stuff was also nice to hear. It's clear that while I might make "nerd hipster" jokes about it, JoCo hasn't forgotten his roots, and it was nice to see some of the "big" numbers played and celebrated, while also throwing in some more of his historically obscure work.

-- The Venue was excellent, as always. The Aladdin is a great space for performers and for the audience, as it's really hard to find a bad seat. This time I sat in the balcony and had possibly a better view of the stage than I did when sitting on the floor. They'd also moved out some seats to make room for a dance floor, leading to the experience of watching a Nerd Mosh Pit, which resembles a line for a unisex bathroom: a bunch of people standing alone, some jumping up and down, and frequent apologies for bumping into one another.

Now the bad stuff:

-- The Audience, at least on the balcony, was AWFUL. There were at least half a dozen people who *would not shut up*. Now, talking during the gaps between songs, I have no problem with. But who the hell talks *through* the songs? Especially when the volume levels make it a requirement that they shout in order to be heard by the person next to them (and therefore heard by pretty much everyone surrounding them)? The folk in the dance area / mosh pit looked like they were at least quieter, but they were also significantly younger... as in, there were plenty of kids whom I sure had *grade school* the next day. I have no complaints about them being there, but it made for an audience that I wasn't particularly enthused to be a part of. Not because they shouldn't like JoCo, but because I'm fundamentally uncomfortable around children.

-- The Plug-In was, in my opinion, not a great idea. Yes, I'm having a Dylan Moment here. The switch from acoustic to electric guitar has, in my humble opinion, done a great deal to lessen the cleverness of the musical portion of the work JoCo does. The lyrics for both new and old music are just as clever and insightful and impressive as ever, but the switch to electric has necessarily taken some of the smoothness and, well, intelligence I guess out of the melodies. In addition, the drive to electric has increased both the pace and the volume of the music to the point where a significant portion of the craft seems lost to me in the decibels. The guitar solo for ShopVac, for instance, is fun to listen to on an audio track or play on Rock Band, but in concert it just gets completely washed out. This, btw, is the point I said I'd make earlier. I'll not hesitate to buy his new record when it drops (and wow is that an archaic piece of language there), but I sincerely hope that the quality of the musicianship is greater on the album than it is in a live show.

-- The Humour was also something that rather hit me from the outfield. It turns out, in my perception of the experience, that JoCo comes off as not liking his fans much. Now, I know that's not the case; he's consistently said great things about his followers on a number of occasions. But for whatever reason, without the self-deprecating influence of Paul and Storm, JoCo, at least to me, came off as a bit of an asshole during the show. I know that there are lots of people who find that sort of vaguely insulting comedy funny, but my personal tastes prefer that if there's a joke being made it's about the speaker, not another target. I'm happy to make myself the butt of my own jokes, but I get uncomfortable if someone else makes jokes about me, or for that matter if someone I'm with makes a joke at a third-party's expense. It's entirely possible that that particular note has always been there, and I've just never seen it, or that this was a new development, or that it's entirely in my own head. But for whatever reason, I just didn't enjoy it.

I rush to say that JoCo and his band are probably very nice people and this one bad experience won't keep me from buying and listening to the new music (of which I hope there is much, much more in the years to come), and I certainly wouldn't want to take away from any of the success or growth of JoCo as a musician, celebrity, or entertainer. And it won't keep me from trying to see JoCo and The Band again in concert, especially if he again appears with Paul and Storm or Molly or for that matter Phirman and Hardwick (singly or in a pair). But it was significantly less enjoyable than my previous experiences, and all in all I'd have to say that I didn't, in fact, have a good time. Which is rather disappointing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Distance (a story from my childhood)

"There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times."-Annie Dillard

The single greatest distance I have ever been from someone was the length of a loveseat.

In theory, the farthest you can be from another human being is about thirteen thousand miles, give or take; if one accepts that the circumference of the Earth is roughly twenty-six thousand miles, then you can only ever be opposite them. In truth, in the sixties, it was possible to be upwards of three hundred thousand miles from another person, for a very brief period of time; the moonshots were a pinnacle of just how far you had to go to get distance and perspective. But nowadays, I’m closer to the folks in the International Space Station, orbiting at two hundred forty miles up and circling the Earth every hour or so, than I am to most of my friends (if you take the average of the distance from me, over time). But all of this is physical space. I’m talking about the distance between two minds. And the farthest I’ve ever been from someone was the length of a loveseat.

I was seventeen years old, and I had just graduated high school. Picture it, if you will: I was short, gawky, rail-thin, with a gigantic (and oft-broken) nose, the beginnings of a mustache, bad teeth, coke-bottle glasses, and a collection of astoundingly mis- matched shirt/tie combinations. A sheaf of brown, unruly hair on my head, which was actually my hair but looked like every bad toupee ever worn by a short bald guy with an ugly tie. I had, since my entrance to the dating scene at fourteen, proceeded on a series of painfully intense but otherwise mostly forgettable relationships with an assortment of men and women of various shapes, sizes, colours, and interests; I had not yet figured out that being myself was preferable to becoming someone else for the sake of love. And I had found, I thought, someone for whom I could become anything.

We will call her Sarah, because at that point in my life, I knew so many Sarahs I had started referring to them by number rather than name; for the sake of accuracy, she was Sarah 24. She was already two years into college, studying to be a doctor on an accelerated program that would kill most people, and out of which most doctors themselves dropped, in order to have some semblance of a life. She would have none of that. Committed; she was committed to a path, like other people are committed to asylums. Brilliant. Funny. Beautiful, with a bushel of curly, red hair, and flashing green eyes behind the most charming little gold wire-rimmed glasses, with gorgeous, white, perfect teeth and thin but agile lips. She taller than me, and slim, but not thin; almost boyish, really, which in retrospect was probably part of why I liked her.

Like doesn’t really cover it. I think Sarah was the first person with whom I ever actually experienced "love at first sight." I saw her, and I stopped breathing. Stopped walking, stopped talking; the entire universe just...stopped, for a moment. I still remember the image of her framed in the doorway. She didn’t even make eye-contact with me, either; I don’t think she noticed me. To be fair, there were a couple of hundred people at the party at that moment, and probably something like fifty people between her and I. But to know that you’ve been struck by someone, slapped to consciousness, and know that they didn’t even register you on their radar...it’s a little disheartening. But only a little bit.

It was my party. The last hurrah before the End Of Childhood. My friends and I had all graduated, were all headed off to different places, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much distance was between us, we would remain the best of friends until the end of time. Except me; I was Tom Beringer’s character in "The Big Chill", you know? "[A] long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough." That guy. That was me, secure in the idea that my friends in high school were my friends forever...as long as forever was measured in four-year-increments. It was, in fact, the last in a series of parties I had thrown, each growing progressively louder, longer, and bigger. And, since this one was the end, it was the biggest. Live Band in the basement, people EVERYWHERE in the tiny house my parents owned, people I didn’t know and had never met rummaging through the cabinets in search of a corkscrew. That kind of party. And it was mine. I threw parties because it meant that I wasn’t alone, unloved, unpopular; I hosted them because it meant I never had to talk with anyone for more than fifteen minutes, and I frequently left them because I hated crowds.

Sarah was a friend of a friend of a friend, apparently, and I had never met her before that night, when I wandered over and introduced myself to the person she walked in with, just to convince that person (Sarah’s roommate, who was utterly and completely forgettable aside from being religiously intolerant) to introduce me to Sarah. We shook hands, and she smiled in that rather distracted way that people do when they don’t really know you and aren’t sure what to be doing just at that moment. She was scanning the crowd for a familiar face, I think. We hadn’t even met yet, and already I was in love with her, and already she had dismissed me. Frequently, this is how my life works, or at least, how it worked then.

I still don’t know, to this day, who it was that invited her, or why she came. I do know that I endeavoured not to spend too much time around her, because I didn’t want to creep her out or drive her away or all of the dozen other things that I had done to sabotage relationships in their infancies. The fact that I was thinking about her in terms of "relationship" at that point should have been a huge clue as to just how deep in it I was.

The party wound down, as all good parties do, as the night approached morning. By 3 AM, it was my and about a dozen people, sitting around my living room, talking. And Sarah and I, on either end of the loveseat.

A friend, who was there, mentioned to me later that I had been surprisingly quiet; not that I hadn’t talked, but that I hadn’t done the "Jerome, the conversation-kudzu" version of my personality that I usually stuck to. I said things, none of which I remember, but I remember talking, and watching Sarah out of the corner of my eye, judging her reactions to what I said. And realizing, slowly but surely, that she had no opinion of me because she didn’t really know I existed.

Oh, sure, there was a person-shaped thing on the other end of the couch, and there were words and even whole sentences being inserted into discussions, but she didn’t really see me as a person; just a placeholder. Everyone, I think, does that; in any group of more than, say, six people, there’s at least one person who doesn’t really contribute; they just sort of make noise so that the people you’re talking with can think for a minute. I do it; I’m pretty sure some of the people I know do it. And now, someone I desperately wanted was doing it to me. The irony did not escape me.

So there we were. About a foot, maybe eighteen inches from one another on the loveseat. And in entirely different universes. I think I realized, at that moment, that loving was less important than being loved. I knew, given two minutes, that I would be madly in love with her; I had fallen head over heels for her in two seconds of looking; two minutes would be a lifetime. And she couldn’t be bothered to learn my name.

For me, that was love.

Did I get the girl, eventually? How did the relationship go? What happened after that moment? None of that is important. At least, not to this story, which is about love, and learning, and the infinite spaces between the person who longs for something, and the person who is longed for.

All of history is made up, in the end, of moments in time, where a person turns toward the thing they want, or away from it. It is the want, and the turning, that is the fulcrum for the lever of our lives. Everything else, that’s just the fallout.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The things I think about when the power is out

It's been a rough couple of days. The toilet broke, requiring a plumber and a gigantic hole in my bank account (and the bathroom floor). Then I had a medical problem that sent me to the Emergency Department at 9:30 on a Friday, and I was there until 3AM on Saturday. Then today the game I was going to play in was cancelled, and then the power went out for my block, and then the Internet was out until 10PM. So I spent most of the day either hunched over in pain, reading, or staring at the flickering of candles in the dark. And because I wasn't feeling well, I wasn't really at liberty to get out of the house and drown my sorrows in profligate behaviours.

It's strange what runs through my head sometimes when I'm not paying attention. I thought, for the first time in a long time, about Sarah. I'm not really sure I've ever gotten over my first real honest to goodness love. She was brilliant and beautiful and funny and honest and I could never figure out why on earth she was with me. Eventually, she asked herself the same question, and then things blew up, and then we never saw one another again. But I still tell stories about her, and I still remember little things in the odd moments, and I still think of her once in a while. I hope wherever she is, she's happy. My life is a series of abandoned empty chairs, when I saw something on the horizon that I thought would make me happy, and so I sacrificed myself and everyone I knew to make the move. Looking back on it, that tendency to run away from (or towards) life has caused me some amazing levels of difficulty, pain, heartbreak, and distress. But it's also given me a lifetime's worth of stories to tell, and I suppose that's not nothing. It's also given me some amazing experiences to remember, and that's not all bad. It does tend to be hard on my relationships, though. And I wonder now and again how on earth the younger me ever managed to meet anyone at all, let alone have a surprisingly large amount of sex.

Part of it is that, now that I'm older and have a regular job and a real home and two ex-wives, I'm not nearly as adventurous as I once was. I'd much rather stay home and play videogames or watch Netflix than go out to a trivia night or see a band or ask some random stranger to dinner. Fear of rejection, maybe? Watching every relationship I've ever been in be destroyed one way or another I suppose puts a damper on my willingness to make myself available for others. And my intellectual engagement in my new work has been significant enough to consume most of my energy, which I don't have much of because I'm out of shape, and getting into shape takes more commitment than I seem to be able to muster nowadays.

I'm not one of those people that thinks that High School was the pinnacle of my life (in fact, I'd be willing to bet that my life is going to continue to improve over the next ten years or so, barring any sort of horrible, horrible incident that derails things entirely); I'm also not one of those people for whom High School was a living hell. I had a good time, tempered by the fact that I was pretty sure that the relationships I found and formed then were almost entirely ephemeral, the result of being locked up with one another for 40 hours a week. Which is not to say that I didn't love them and weep for them and wail with them at the time, just that I knew that our time together was finite. But I do sometimes wonder about whether that particular gossamer effect was at least in part a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I often wonder if at least part of my isolation is a result of each successive relationship I've been in being less and less an emotional investment for me. I loved Sarah with all of my heart. So how much was left over for Whatsername? Or for Michael? Or for Cheryl? And now, what's left for me? It can't be a coincidence that my emotional maturity has suffered, that I'm concerned enough about myself to start therapy in the hopes of working on some of my issues. I used to joke that I liked my life but I didn't like myself much. I'm not sure that's a joke any longer.

I'm feeling melancholy enough that I may even write a Story of M. Sadness and isolation seem to be my muse where that work is concerned.