The Polyester Rite of Passage

It finally happened. I graduated. I can officially say it now. I’ve got the paper and everything. So, why don’t I feel any different?

You know what? That’s a lie. I do feel different. I feel as though I’ve been hit by a train. It’s something about big glamorized ceremonies that makes my hair curl and not in the cute way. I completely understand how important graduation (or “commencement” I guess) ceremonies are. It’s a tremendous accomplishment that not everybody has the privilege to achieve. I firmly hold that anybody who manages to meet the extraordinarily arduous (and sometimes legitimately challenging) requirements for any diploma should be recognized and presented proudly to their friends and family. I don’t intend to belittle the importance of graduation. I intend to explain why I never felt particularly inclined to bask in all its glory.

First of all, it took me eight fucking years (including a three year hiatus) to complete what is normally determined to take four years. Now, I know that’s a superficial reason to reject pride. Most people don’t complete a four year degree in four years. But at this point, I’m nearly 28 years old. I’m not personally proud of changing my major three times before deciding that what I really need is a Bachelor of Arts in English. I respect the English major and I know a lot of people who also respect the English major. That being said, I know more people who don’t respect the English major. You know the stereotype because you’ve heard it a million times. The tale of the English major who spent four years studying Charles Dickens so they can properly craft a Grande White Chocolate Mocha in their professional life. It doesn’t offend me because I get it. In an STEM world, the humanities are cast aside to make room for more useful things like vaccines and renewable energy. It makes sense, doesn’t it? What people don’t realize is the humanities are responsible for getting us where we are technologically. I won’t get into all that boring history today, but I will find the time to tell you all about it. We’ve got all the blogging time in the world. My point is, not many people care about a BA in English. Why should I celebrate my triumph with a bunch of people who don’t give a shit? The answer is, because there is a handful of people who do give a shit. The aforementioned family and friends? The graduation ceremony is for them, not for me. It took a surprisingly long time for me to come to terms with that, but I eventually found inner peace.

Okay. It took me forever to graduate. So what? Well. That’s the other thing. Graduation doesn’t mean much to me because I’m already over 1/3 of the way finished with my Master’s degree and I’m pretty much barreling straight into the rest of it after this. The BA is a checkpoint. Checkpoints are cause for a little celebratory jig, but do I really need a whole musical number? What if Sonic the Hedgehog came to a screeching halt every time he hit one of those checkpoint diddlybobs because Tails and Knuckles strongly believe it warrants a fucking coronation? I know it’s not the same thing, but that’s how it feels. Even if I tragically drown trying to retrieve golden rings from the bottom of a lake, I don’t get to go back to my graduation and try again. I’ll just stay dead. In that regard, graduation isn’t so much a checkpoint as much as it is a very loud and brightly lit roundabout.

In all seriousness though, I honestly hoped to do the ceremonial walk once and for all when I complete the requirements for my MA. I felt that it would be pretty redundant to go through all that hassle for something that I can do in just one more year with far more dignity and self-importance if people were willing to wait. If I’m extremely fortunate and receive an enthusiastic acceptance into a reputable Ph.D. program, I will even do it again! Ph.D. graduation is far more interesting than regular graduation anyway. Each Ph.D. recipient is individually recognized and presented to the audience (none of this marching onto the stage like a herd of cattle and having names hurriedly called out from a long list bullshit) and an elaborate hooding ritual takes place. Now that’s a tassel worth the hassle. Even if you don’t get a job in academia, people have to call you “Doctor” and you have the express license to be as much of an ass about it as you’d like. In a perfect world, that would be my one and only graduation.

It’s not a perfect world, though. We have cancer, poverty, and dog fighting rings. And I have to attend my commencement ceremony, even though the only thing commencing is the other half of my other more important degree. Que sera sera.

So. How was the ceremony anyway? I’ve been a such a diva about it all this time, I’m sure you’re ready at last to hear me admit that it really wasn’t that bad and that I regret making such a fuss about it.

I couldn’t tell you how it was because I was barely cognizant. I haven’t the foggiest idea who our speaker was or what he/she spoke about because beneath my 100% polyester graduation gown was a small purse containing my phone with a freshly downloaded audiobook, a portable battery charger, and a can of Red Bull. Once I sat down in my seat under the oppressive glare of the arena lights and threaded my earbuds through the neck of my gown, I could close my eyes and imagine I was back on my patio, listening to the the gentle voice of a carefully selected narrator and working on my bomb ass tan. The only thing missing was a little gin and a nice smoke, which I’m honestly surprised I didn’t bring. I admittedly detected a slight hitch in my brilliant plan when I realized too late that I was still listening to my book when my name was called to the stage. Did my graduation photos all feature me shaking the hand of the elderly president with a pair of white Apple earbuds jammed in my ears like I’m in a poorly choreographed iPod commercial? They certainly did. Was it worth it? Of course it was. I would have been bored to death without my provisions. If the trade off is a tacky graduation photo, then at least I’ve got a good story.

Go Back To Sleep

If you’ve ever had the tremendous honor of seeing A Perfect Circle in concert, then you know exactly where I’m going with this title. Last night was the experience of a lifetime, and I mean that in every sense of the expression. I feel the need to justify the bold confidence of a statement like that. After all, bands go on tour all the time. Any schmuck can get on to Ticketmaster and buy a seat in the cheapest row of their favorite band’s concert venue, and it will still be totally fucking awesome. Is it some rare life experience though? Well, sometimes. I’ll give you three reasons, starting with the most obvious.

The band itself is a paragon of musical excellence with a lineup more impressive than any singular band you can think of. The best way to describe it is a cornucopia of talent plucked like fruit from the trees of the world’s most beloved bands. Another way to describe it is “Tool but with more pizzazz,” although I’ve been repeatedly told this does not do A Perfect Circle any justice. So, besides the fact that their music should be used as a yardstick for evaluating the quality of future supergroups, why else is seeing A Perfect Circle live is such a delicious treat?

Despite the band’s wild success, its activity has been sporadic at best since its conception in 1999. Over the last 17 years (yes, it has been that long) they have released no more than three albums. All three are awesome. But that’s just it. There are only three. Think about how incredible it is that a band with only three albums under their belt manages to sell out every arena after going on tour for the first time in six years. We live in a time where a meme is considered washed-up when it appears on your Facebook news feed a week and a half after you saw it on Reddit.

Now, I know I’m cheating a little bit by claiming that A Perfect Circle has but a modest three-album career. If you add up the albums that every member of the group has worked on, the collective number would beat some of the world’s longest-standing stars by long shot. Maynard James Keenan alone had a hand in so many albums, it warranted a separate Wikipedia page. But there’s something about A Perfect Circle that is unique from each artist’s individual work. While most people associate A Perfect Circle closely with Tool (owing in part to the fact that they share a frontman), it’s nothing like Tool. Sure, the average listener will instantly recognize Maynard’s familiar and uniquely robust voice, but it sounds ever so slightly different from the voice he employs in most of Tool’s music. The distinction is eerie but truly magnificent. That same aesthetic applies to A Perfect Circle’s music when compared to any other generic rock music. You know what I mean by “generic.” The kind of thing that Pandora will play when you select the “Hard Rock” station. I imagine it will take an arduous amount of thumbs-up and thumbs-downing before Pandora plays even one song by A Perfect Circle on a standard rock station. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a healthy sequence of songs by Tool or even Nine Inch Nails and a few thumbs-up might kick you in the right direction. That’s what is so great about A Perfect Circle. It’s difficult to shoehorn their music into a genre because it seems to defy genre altogether, to the point where the band has a cult following. Diehard fans feel more strongly connected to this particular band’s music than the type of music it’s supposed to represent. This is where I offer you another justifying reason for this concert’s awesomeness.

A Perfect Circle is a thousand times better live than they are on recorded album. Put away your pitchforks before you claim that what I just said implies their recorded music is bad. It’s not. I’d let it go without saying, but this is the internet so I’ll spell it out: A Perfect Circle makes outstanding music that opens a door into my subconscious, invites itself in, and serenades my psyche with the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard come through my otherwise unremarkable phone speaker. It rattles my very soul. We good now? Terrific. Now let me tell you about how much more awesome they are in concert.

Let me preface this by saying that not all bands are good live. Some vocal talent does not easily translate from a padded room and high-quality recording equipment to a microphone blaring across a screaming audience. It comes out sounding echoey, harsh, and all-around terrible; it’s no fault of their own. Live singing is not for everyone. Other bands are just not particularly exciting in concert. They don’t do much on stage short of exist. So, you get the awesome live music, you get the proximity, but the band doesn’t do much to convince you that you wouldn’t have been better off listening to the same music somewhere else. Other bands are too exciting in concert. Case in point, a mosher suffers the pain of literal death for attending a Smashing Pumpkins concert without remembering to wear his riot police uniform.

A Perfect Circle is better than many other bands because it is as much a visual experience as it is an auditory one. And it’s not because Maynard jumps around on stage in punk rock manner, dives into the audience, or leads a grand choreography. There are no tesla coils or flamethrowers. No elaborate masks. It’s really quite the opposite. The band, especially Maynard, lingers mostly in the shadows. Maynard’s disembodied voice drifts out from somewhere behind the heavy fog. It’s surreal and it instantly captivates you. When the music picks up, your only job is to submit yourself to the music and bear witness to the festival of light arrays and kaleidoscopic imagery that suddenly rolls across the elaborately assembled stage and dances the dance of its people. Not unlike Tool, A Perfect Circle commit themselves to pairing their music with an equivalent visual experience you won’t easily forget. It’s so visually engaging, you almost forget where you are until some human turd decides he needs a twentieth overpriced beer, so he gets up and stands in the middle of the stairs with his flowerpot of a girlfriend and chooses that moment to discuss the future of the critically endangered black-footed ferret or whatever the fuck it is they decided to discuss right then and there while blocking your entire row’s view of the stage. When that doesn’t happen, it’s a really stunning show.

Speaking of bands that are better live than they are on a recording, let’s talk about who opened for A Perfect Circle. If you are already familiar with a duo known only as Prayers, then this may not come as a shock to you. The rest you, gentle readers, are about to learn some brand spanking new information. Prayers is a Chicano electric rock duo that happens to be the first group to identify as Cholo goth. Didn’t know you could string all those words together to form a coherent genre? Me either, but I fucking love it. Listen, Prayers is a weird group. They’re a little intense. The lead singer shouts pretty much all the lyrics right at you and the music is performed on a single synthesizer. I can’t explain why, but I was instantly taken by their eccentricity. If you’re feeling brave, look them up on Spotify. It’s worth a listen. If you don’t like it, which it won’t come as a shock to me if you don’t, try to keep an open mind anyway. Picture laser lights and inverted crosses. Go see them live if you get the chance, even as an opening band. I really enjoyed the music in that environment and if you’re anything like me (you’re probably nothing like me) then you may just be pleasantly surprised.

Pro tip: Pandora may not be the best medium to explore Prayers. The genre is too obscure and the algorithm will desperately throw songs at the proverbial wall until something sticks. Here’s an example of what it did to me in the first five songs:

Prayers – Ready To Bleed >> The Cure – Play For Today >> Die Antwoord – Strunk >> Prayers – Tomorrows Unknown >> Depeche Mode – Precious

 

Start a Prayers station on Pandora. What could go wrong?

Eat Your Science (at Ovenbird)

Last night I had the pleasure of attending (for the second time) Alton Brown’s road tour, Eat Your Science. I had already seen the show in Huntsville, but I didn’t mind getting to see the same show again in Birmingham this time. Different city, different audience, different experience. That’s the beauty of a live show!

Before the show, though, we experienced something almost as exciting as the show itself. We had the great honor of dining at the same Birmingham restaurant that Alton Brown himself deemed the best food in the city. He had visited the place for lunch the very same day, in fact. It came to me as a rather last-minute decision. The plan was to have dinner in Birmingham before the show, but there are a few cardinal rules I follow when dining in other cities. 1) I prefer not to eat at a chain. If I can get it at home, why bother eating it away from home? 2) I choose a restaurant that most of the locals (or somebody of culinary prestige) have chosen either as the flagship restaurant of their city or the one with the most consistently high-rated food. Those two don’t always coincide, I find. I was closing in on the last hour or so before we would be leaving for Birmingham when Alton Brown’s Facebook page lit up with pictures of delicious food. Tiny plates of food, but they appeared delicious nonetheless. Ovenbird. What an interesting–if slightly morbid–name for a restaurant, I thought to myself. Let’s eat there! So we ate there.

The food was excellent! As the restaurant promised, everything was served as if it was an appetizer at a gourmet restaurant. That is, it was all on “small plates for sharing” which is just a salesman’s term for “order lots of food.” I chose the “Mussels and Clams” and the “Leg of Lamb.” Don’t be deceived, it’s not as big as it sounds. Terryn ordered the “Beef Shoulder Complex” and the “Suckling Pig” (featured photo). Again, not as big as it sounds. With these names, you would think we were having dinner at Medieval Times. I assure you, it was nothing like Medieval Times the jousting restaurant nor the period of time between the 5th and 15th centuries. For dessert, we split the Seven Layer Chocolate Cake. I think that may have been my favorite dish. It was a perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter, but it was still light and fluffy. Not too rich, not too chocolatey. I would definitely order that again, and I don’t even really like chocolate cakes. The dishes were small, but incredibly flavorful. I think the most shameless thing I did was ask for more bread so I could sop up the delicious mussel and clam broth, totally Greek style. Despite my reservations, I was pleasantly surprised. I left the restaurant pretty satisfied! Then again, I’m used to eating snack quantities as meals, so I have a pretty tiny appetite as a result. I’m a cheap date. Scale your appetite accordingly. In fact, scale it closer to my alcohol tolerance.

So, what about the show? That was the whole point of driving an hour and a half to Birmingham, after all. The show was great, but more than that it reminded me of how much I miss Good Eats (rumor has it that it’s coming back, but I’ll believe it when I see the next Tool album finally drop). What I love about Alton Brown the most is that he, among others, is partially responsible for paving the road between science and the arts. The culinary arts are so remarkable because in essence, they’re a science. They’re as science as science can be, actually. The best chefs aren’t just the chefs that have a nose for good aromatic complements or an eye for proper sauce viscosity. The best chefs are the chefs that fully understand why something is prepared the way the recipe book (or your instructor, your grandma, Emeril, what have you) says it should be prepared. What’s really going on in the pressure cooker while it makes that relentless hissing noise? What happens beneath the moist towel that makes your bread dough go from a lumpy mass to a perfectly smooth doughy balloon? (If you’re as fanatic about Good Eats as I am, then you know it’s obviously the work of several flatulent sock puppets.) Alton Brown is, dare I say, the only Food Network persona who aimed to answer–rather than obscure–these seemingly irrelevant questions of science. Naysayers often insist that precise measurements (by weight, damn it) and by-the-timer cooking is offensive to the warm, whimsical imprecision that went into grandma’s home cooking. Grandma didn’t need a digital scale and neither do I! Right? Well. My grandma also stuck her finger in 120°F milk to “measure” the temperature before adding the yeast cultures because there were no digital probe thermometers in rural Greece during World War II. (In case you’re curious: If she could count to eight, the milk was cool enough.) That doesn’t mean I’m going to stick my finger in every pot of yogurt starter and hope my pain tolerance is the same every time. It’s imprecise, impractical, unsanitary…and it kind of hurts, ya know? Sometimes, technological advancement, and precision, is a good thing. Embrace it! It’s science! That’s what Good Eats aims to teach us. (Namely that yeast cultures will die if the milk is just a few degrees too hot and you absolutely should measure the temperature with a digital thermometer if you want the same result every time, but I digress.) Good Eats is entertaining, educational, and nostalgic. It’s no surprise that AB has been granted the official title of “The Bill Nye of Food.”

By the way, Bill Nye has a new show on Netflix and Alton Brown was on it for all of one minute. What the actual fuck? They could have co-hosted the damn thing.

More information on the Eat Your Science Tour and Ovenbird.

 

 

The Disreputable Chronicle of My Graduate Life

That’s what I hope it will be, anyway. I’ve decided to start this blog at this particular juncture in my life because, in short, I couldn’t think of a better time to finally do it. For a long time, I have deliberated on owning my very own blog. A place where I would record the moments of sudden lucidity that only the written prose can do justice. A tiny slice of the Internet that represents me. My keyboard identity. That thing I’m supposed to do on my Macbook while I sip on my Tall Double Skinny Vanilla Latte (because they don’t do Skinny Caramel anymore, but they can do an actual unicorn Frappuccino). I never got around to starting one because every time I thought about it, I always returned to the same stupid questions. Why now? Who will even read it?

I guess I always thought that if I’m going to start something, it can’t just be at random. It needs to represent not only the start of my blog but the start of a new chapter. This time, written (typed?). I hate vapid motivational buzz phrases like “new chapter,” but I can’t deny that it fits the situation. As a newly minted English major, it makes for an excellent pun. Actually, it’s a lot less annoying when I think of it as a pun.

So, why now? I guess graduating from college is a pretty good excuse for a “new chapter,” if I may be so bold. I’m starting graduate school at UAH in the fall. I accepted a job as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. I’m beginning the process of applying for Ph.D. programs (again, but more on that some other time). I’m taking the whole summer off from all manner of work and school to transition. If this isn’t a good excuse to start a blog, then I’m obviously too wishy-washy be in the business of starting one. Besides, who gives a shit if anyone reads it? It’s a blog. It’s basically an Internet diary without all the heart doodles and Harry Potter fanfiction.

So—here it is, gentle reader. Go nuts.