Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

Two posts in one day! I'm usually lucky if that happens in a week. Lordy, lordy, lordy.

I have this one little hobby I go to when the world gets a little too ridiculous or overwhelming. I read along with YouTube recordings of T. S. Eliot reading his poems. It sounds totally pretentious, but I just find it fun. I don't analyze the poetry beyond a surface glance, but I love the way the words and sounds go together. Try it, I dare you.

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T. S. Eliot (1920).

 S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;        25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;        30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go        35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—        40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare        45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,        50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—        55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?        60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress        65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets        70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!        75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?        80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,        85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,        90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—        95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,        100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:        105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,        115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …        120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.        125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown        130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Surface-level observations regarding three early 20thC American piano trios

Dear string quartets,
I'm just not that into you.

That's blasphemy, I know, but it's true. I like some individually, but they just don't speak to me. I'm a much greater fan of chamber music that involves a piano. Stick a piano with a string quartet, and that's cool. But the four strings on their own are just not (usually) for me. Actually, stick another instrument with a string quartet--an extra viola or cello--and we're in business. Today, I'm all about piano trios.

I'm preparing for a presentation in my chamber music lit class tomorrow. It's just supposed to be on Copland's Vitebsk, but the assignment is pretty flexible, so I decided to expand to include Ives' and Bernstein's piano trios. Hope that's ok... Three weird pieces by three even weirder composers. As for the composers, I love two of them as people, and one as a character. Can you guess which is the character? I hope you can.

Ives completed his trio in 1911, and revised it around 1914–5. Somewhat curiously, the score I picked up at the library marks the year 1904 under the composer's name. It must be a typo, because I can't find any significance to that year. I suppose the most famous movement is the second-movement scherzo, TSIAJ. What does that stand for? "This scherzo is a joke." While I'd hate to have to learn and perform the piece, I really like listening to it, with Stephen Foster quotations galore! I don't have much to say about the piece, other than it being fun.

Copland wrote his trio Vitebsk in 1928, two years before the Piano Variations. I heard this piece performed live in August, by the resident ensemble for the Copland House. They're based in Peekskill, and they did a performance at a church in Pleasantville. I really enjoyed the performance, mostly because it was Copland that didn't sound like "Copland." It's pre-war, pre-populist, and largely atonal. Still, it manages not to sound too difficult. The piece is loosely based on a Jewish/Yiddish folk tune from the (amorphous) shtetel, and is probably Copland's most blatant musical expression of his own religion.

And finally, we have Bernstein, who always makes me smile. I'm listening to his piano trio for the first time as I type. He wrote it in 1937 as an undergraduate at Harvard, and I can only describe it as "Lenny." It blends traditional harmony/tonality, jazz, and harsher big-M-Modernism with that characterizing sense of adolescent optimism and excess I absolutely love about Bernstein. Fun pizzicato in the middle movement.

The three pieces work well together, and I'd highly recommend listening to all if you get a chance. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brahmsian perspective, or something like that.

Yesterday's post was Debbie Downer city. For that, I apologize. I don't regret it, though. I hate reading people's posts that invite pity parties, but I needed some catharsis.

I had a bit of a renewing experience today. It wasn't life-changing, and it wasn't magic, but it sure took my mind off of everything for an hour or so. Once my mind moved, I got some perspective.

After a somewhat complicated and involved sequence of events, I ended up turning pages for a pianist at a chamber music recital. I find it hard to believe, but this was the first time I was a page turner. The program was chamber works for violin & piano/cello & piano by Brahms and Schumann. I'm not all that much of a 19th century person, but I'm a fan of those two. Given the two composers, my job was on the easy side, but not mind-numbingly boring. It worked out well. Still, page turning requires concentration. For about an hour and a half, I followed along in the music, making sure I would know when to stand up and wait for the nod to turn the page.

I didn't rehearse the music and I didn't even know the pianist until a few minutes before the recital. Still, I felt connected to a musical performance, and that felt special. I also found an example of Brahms paraphrasing himself, and that's probably my favorite thing to do while participating in musical performances.

I also decided to start running. If I put it on something this public, it has to happen. I've tried to start running a few times, but I've never followed through. This is the time to do it. A friend who was a cross-country runner in high school and ran a 5K in the rain this morning told me to go out and run, and run 5 minutes longer than I want to run. I'm going to try that.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bloggity bloggy blog.

A few days ago, Dr. Crazy wrote about not really wanting to blog anymore. That post gave me palpitations. For some reason, I've decided that Dr. Crazy is my blogging idol, and that I'm probably going to be her when and if I ever grow up. If I could only be that cool. And I'm not into pseudonymous blogging...or anything, really. As much as I appreciate insight those blogging under pseudonyms can provide, I'm more comfortable attaching my name to my thoughts and knowing they're mine. But that's not the point. The point is that I'm nostalgic for something I missed.

I came into academic awareness about 5–10 years too late to be in the thick of blogging culture. I promised myself a long time ago that I would never regret or apologize for my age; it's the one thing in my life over which I have absolutely no control and never will. But I still wish I could have been more in the heyday of blogging. The people that still blog write awesome things, but I keep hearing of all these amazing bloggers from 5 or so years ago who burned out. Nobody in my age bracket maintains a freestanding blog (except my friend Allie who is building a yoga blog). My cohort is more active on Tumblr, if anything at all. (I was a Tumblr early adopter--I have an account that I used to use quite religiously until I realized that it wasn't satisfying my sharing needs. Now, I mostly use it to follow a few news sources and reblog the occasional New Yorker comic.) We started on EasyJournal, moved to Xanga, then to LiveJournal, then fizzled out. While I and others my age were doing those things, academic blogging was amazing. Every once in a while, I'll peek into the archive of a favorite blogger, and see wonderful things from 7 or 8 years ago an wish I was "there."

Ok, well, I've read my Raymond Williams. I know cultures emerge and cultures die. Blogging culture isn't necessarily dying right now, but it certainly isn't gaining any steam. Normally, I'm fine with that. It's the way the world works, and *maybe* it's time to say "goodbye" to cultural institutions instead of trying to save that which doesn't want to be saved. But I want so badly to be part of this machine. I want to read and have readers. What a way to engage with a community! Twitter's fun, for sure, but 140 characters is limiting (especially when replying to things others say).

I guess I care so much because I want so badly to connect. I'm a person who's a perpetual "me" rather than part of a "we," so I'm one of those who uses the internet to form and enhance social relationships. (Have you read the recent literature?) In all honesty, if I had a richer social life, I probably wouldn't use social media so frequently. You're all thinking it--I'm just admitting it. When I was in middle school and Xanga was taking off (or was it LiveJournal? I can't remember. Either way, 14-year-olds should not have blogs. I'm living proof of having adolescent blogs go terribly wrong.), a friend said that she didn't understand why we were all using these things because she'd rather be out living her life than writing about it. To an extent, she's right. But I was one that never got invited out to Applebee's on Friday nights--oh, how painful that was--and so was my friend with whom I remember that particular preadolescent gem. Now that I'm a bit older and wiser, I know that social media can be a very good thing. The jury is still out on using Facebook to connect with people I see regularly, but I love how social media lets me stay connected with those I don't often see. I also love how I can make friends through Twitter. The awkward "I think I follow you on Twitter" moment is one I really enjoy at conferences.

Maybe things will change when I go to grad school, but I'm just dying to nerd out with people in the same stage of their careers as me. I feel like blogging did that for students a decade ago, or maybe they were just more connected than someone like me who grew up with social media as a gifthorse since early high school. I don't want to do nerdy things all the time, but it would be nice to not be treated like a leper by most when I do get a bit nerdy.

I defended my senior thesis on Thursday. It was relatively low key, and I passed (I don't think people fail, but I'm told it's an available possibility). Two of the attendees were my friends since our freshman year. They've seen my entire undergraduate transformation and are among the small handful of my classmates--read: undergrad music majors graduating next month--who work under the philosophy of finding oneself rather than conforming to the cookie cutter. They're good friends to keep around. I mention this because they talked to each other after my presentation, and one of them told me about it today. She told me that they could see how excited I am about my work, and how it's clear that I'm going into something that a) I like, b) I can be good at, and c) will constantly challenge me. I was on my game that day; I wouldn't change anything about the defense if I could go back. I couldn't answer all the questions that were thrown at me, and that's because I was asked a lot of tough, deep questions. My friends who were there saw me in a space where I could exercise a part of myself that my environment tries (and succeeds, unfortunately) to stifle. I've found what I want to do and how I want to do it in a community that doesn't have new members. I've had no peers to figure this path out with. No matter how much time I have spent talking with professors, eventually, I'd have to leave and go back to people who didn't have similar goals or understandings. As much as I love my friends who love me, I know my needs aren't being met. Would blogging have made me feel better about this? Maybe. There's no way to know. It's a community, and I want one of those. For now, I'm just glad I have the hope of one to enter soon soon soon and some famous bloggers to read to hold me over.

Epilogue: Dr. Crazy posted today that she will not give up blogging. She's a star; her audience loves her. Thank goodness.

P.S.: Things will work out and be good. They might be a bit rough now, but looming change can do that. I know things will change, and they will probably change for the better.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

In which I come out as strongly against tiered tuition

I am just baffled and a bit tickled by how much blog traffic I got from my post-PopCon reflections! Maybe that means I'll have a readership of more than 4 (thank you Dana, Marion, Allie, and...myself). Since that blog entry, a lot has happened and I've wanted to comment on so much of it. I decided where to go to grad school. I finished the first draft of my thesis, which is pretty cool. I defend two weeks from today, which means I need to get a more polished draft to my committee members (official and unofficial) a week from today. I got my first conference paper abstract accepted, and I'll be presenting at the AMS Capital Chapter meeting next Saturday.

A few days ago, I started drafting a post on the issue of Bruce Springsteen using a teleprompter in concerts. Unfortunately (or not), I got really sleepy and busy and lost steam. The short story: The Boss can do whatever he wants because we're paying for a nostalgia show and Bruce can do whatever he needs to do to deliver.

But the reality of this all is that I'm generally too busy or exhausted to write my deep thoughts on pertinent issues. They pull at my consciousness for a few days, and then it wears off. By the time I can catch my breath (usually Thursday evenings), I opt for other things. I really enjoy this kind of writing--a low-stakes arena for trying to explain my "deep" thoughts about things I don't explore in written form in my daily life. There's also something that keeps coming back in the news and it really bothers me...a lot. It's the issue with Santa Monica College.

This has been all over the news, and I'm sure that somebody, somewhere--probably someone who gets paid to write his/her thoughts--has articulated my feelings about it. In case you missed it, Santa Monica College, a community college in southern California, is trying to introduce tiered tuition based on course popularity and desirability. By this plan, an introductory English or psychology course would be significantly more expensive than an upper level philosophy course. It is a very micro-level version of abusing the principles of supply and demand.

The difference between California and the rest of the country is that California students actually protest when they are taken advantage of. Some students protested the tuition hike on Tuesday night and were pepper sprayed for their protest. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment...

Awful as that may be, I'm more concerned about the precedent it might set for tuition across the country.

Tuition is absolutely ridiculous; there's no way around it. When I was a freshman, out-of-state tuition was around $18,000/year. Not a bargain, except when compared to all the other major public universities in the northeast and all the private colleges and universities. The only better bargain would have been in the SUNY system, and none of those schools had what I was looking for. Now, in my senior year, tuition is approximately $26,000/year. That's a significant increase to my non-mathematical eyes.

What would happen if tuition wasn't a flat fee for full-time students? Would it prevent students from taking mandatory intro-level courses? Maybe it would coerce students into taking upper level courses earlier than they would prefer, if at all. Would that force professors to dumb down their upper level courses since those would be the more affordable options? What would that do to university-wide budgets? There are too many questions and I don't have any of the answers.

For now, it's good that Santa Monica College was asked to hold off its proposed tuition changes.