27 February, 2010


I had an amazing dream. I was back in grade school, but I had an unprecedented level of self-confidence. I confessed my feelings to the girl I had a crush on, and we had a deeply personal conversation (the details of which escape me). I stood up to the teacher who was treating us unfairly. And I fought back against the jealous bullies who got physical after realizing they couldn't break my confidence and self-esteem. One of them maliciously dumped coffee on my lap (lucky for me it wasn't hot), and I attacked him in a rage. For a moment, I imagined that I was Wolverine, and I smashed his skull between my clawed fists. (That'll teach him to make a fool of me).

Shortly after, I found myself alone and in nature, returning to a scene that I feel is from a previous dream (though that could have been an illusion), where I fought a bear in the clearing of a large wood. I flew in with some personal flying device (some sort of jetpack/hang-glider thing) and was looking for myself to rescue. I saw a signal flare (and, strangely, also had the sensation of firing it off) and followed it to its source - a clearing on the bank of a stream. I recognized the place. There was a bear lying dead in the stream. At that moment, being out there in nature felt incredibly good, like as if it alone was intrinsically a feeling worth living for, and that nothing else that might get me down mattered in comparison. Then, it was getting dark, which made for some dangerous flying to get out of there. I disturbed a flock of birds on the ground to get them to fly up so I could follow their silhouettes against the sky (which was only barely lighter than the pitch black ground).

In an earlier dream, still in a school atmosphere, but not directly related to the other one, I had another encounter with a girl. I was outside, for some kind of recess or something, and the weather turned sour. She appeared out of nowhere and shared her umbrella with me. We weren't alone, but on the other hand, I was proud to be seen associating with this girl in this way. A big storm was called, and we were all brought inside and taken to the assembly hall. The girl sat down with her friends, but I was still holding onto her umbrella. With uncharacteristic confidence, I approached her to return it, hoping to engage her some more, but she just told me to keep it, and I got the feeling I was being shooed away. That's when I realized she was just the type of person who does nice things for others, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything personal. I was disappointed.

In yet another, even earlier, dream, there was [another] zombie invasion. I remember very little now, except furnishing a crawl space in an attic, accessible only by a small hole in the ceiling of a room, without any kind of ladder or anything to assist in getting up there. It was pretty cozy.

I get the feeling I had an extremely vivid dreaming night, which is not common for me (unless it happens without my notice), and I can't help wondering what, if anything, triggered it. Oh, to repeat the experience! Dreams are billions of times more fulfilling than life. Even the bad dreams, funnily enough.

25 February, 2010

Alvin Lee

There's this really good video of Ten Years After doing their unique version of the classic song Good Morning Little Schoolgirl on YouTube (just watch it, it's great). I've been learning [this version of] this song, and I was hoping to get some hints on how to do the solo, which I'm pretty helpless about. I'm not good at picking things up strictly by ear (one of the primary reasons I've never considered myself a real musician), and I have a hard time working things out just by watching someone play, unless I can get a good look at what they're doing (and they're not going too fast). Unfortunately, live videos, as great as they are, aren't real good for musicians trying to pick out their individual parts. It would be boring if the camera just focused on the guitarist's fretboard, but if you want to figure out what he's playing, it doesn't help looking at his face, or at the drummer, or what the bass guitarist is playing.

Anyway, the performance of the song I linked above is nice and tasty. It's crisp, and concise. Alvin Lee is often criticized for "noodling", although noodling has always been a good thing in my book. There's a difference between noodling and meandering, by the way. The Grateful Dead meanders. Alvin Lee noodles. Granted, if you're not a big fan of the electric guitar (gasp!) I can imagine it getting kind of boring. Like those dragging drum solos (although I think I at least enjoy them more than the average listener, maybe because I'm a musician, even if not a drummer). But to me, a huge fan of electric guitar, I think noodling is exciting.

Still, it's hard to copy. It's a hell of a lot to tab out, and as much [deserved] respect Alvin Lee gets as a guitarist and among guitarists (and enlightened rock fans), he and the great band Ten Years After are not super popular, and tabs are sparse. Of course, you could take an Alvin Lee solo from the perspective (as "real" musicians undoubtedly do) of an improvisation in a certain key (or scale or whatever), in the Alvin Lee "style". Every [good] guitarist has their unique style, which, in the context of guitar solos, generally indicates certain types of licks that come up often. The more guitar solos I'm learning, the more I'm coming to understand this, and it's quite fascinating. Alvin definitely has his style, and I've learned some of those licks off of the tab of the intro to I'm Going Home that I scrounged up a while back.

But still, I'm not real keen on improvising a bunch of semi-accurate licks. If I was a much better player, and could pull it off impressively, I'd do it, but I'm not. At this point, it's akin to the ever-popular "hand-waving" technique in physics lectures. That's where you sort-of-explain a concept in vague terms because you don't really understand it yourself, but it's just enough to fool the people you're explaining it to. That's what it would be like to fake my way through a solo well enough to trick people into thinking it was effective. But it still wouldn't be on the level of an Alvin Lee solo. And I'm not interested in tricking people, I'm interested in getting better and learning how to play as well as the players I admire.

Coming back, yet again, to the video I linked above, what's nice about it is that - although I'm not bothered with noodling to start with - it is, as I said, concise. It's robust, and it's got everything it needs, including a nice 2:30 long solo, but it doesn't really have anything extraneous tossed in. And the solo just sounds great. It doesn't drag at all, it's just one melodic lick after another. And those are the licks I really want to learn. That's the kind of solo I'd love to be able to play on that song. Just like Alvin himself.

I don't know if there's even any chance of me figuring out what he's playing there. But I really want to.

24 February, 2010

Work vs. Play

I glanced at the stack of unread books on my desk (which is, mercifully, not as large as it has been in the past) and thought about the difference in approach to reading between myself and my friend who is something of a bookworm, and an idea came to me. See, for me, reading is work. I enjoy it, but I have to commit myself to doing it or it never gets done. On the contrary, my friend reads all the time, and while I can only speculate, I presume that to him, reading is something he is quite naturally inclined to do, and to him it probably feels more like play.

Regardless of the accuracy of that last part, the idea is this: that work is things you have to force yourself to do, whereas play is things you do enthusiastically without the slightest need for coercion (whether from yourself or anyone else). Now, I'm not talking about work as in work for pay, and it's true that what is work by this definition can be something you actually enjoy doing. For example, I enjoy playing guitar. But I still have to push myself to pick it up and start practicing, or else it will never happen (I know from personal experience). I enjoy doing it, but it's still work to me.

Play, on the other hand, occurs spontaneously. It's probably what you do when you're supposed to be doing the things that are work. You don't necessarily have to enjoy it, either, although I think in most cases you do, at least on some level, or else you wouldn't be so inclined to do it. I think that, for me, grabbing my camera and taking photographs is often play, even though it is at times strenuous, and even frustrating. But it comes naturally, and I have fun doing it. Processing those photos later, though, is work.

Now, by this construction, a thing could change from being work to being play (or vice versa), depending on a number of factors, including conditionals, and something as unpredictable as one's mood. Writing up a blog entry like this one is play for me, because all I have to do is follow my inspiration, and it feels good to get these thoughts down, which, while still in my head, are and have been practically screaming at me to get them out. (I also feel compelled to mention that I'm so moved by these thoughts' desires to be written down that I had to interrupt my work - practicing guitar - just to tend to them). But, remove the inspiration, or apply certain guidelines such as forcing me to write about something I'm not interested in, and this activity would quickly become work (again, personal experience :p).

Here are a couple more examples. Take eating: having a pizza dinner when I'm starving would be play, whereas consuming meatloaf [especially] when I'm not really hungry would be work. Sleep could be play at the end of an exhausting day, or work if you're not tired and only have to go to bed because you know you need to get up early in the morning.

If you think about it, a person who is more prone to consider things as play would likely have a more enjoyable, less grueling life, whereas a person more prone to think of things as work would have a rather hard time of it. Apply that thought to specific activities: obviously, a person who considers playing guitar to be play is gonna have a huge advantage over a person like me, who has to constantly struggle with it. Learning things on guitar takes an exorbitant amount of effort for me. The payoff is huge, but it's still a lot of effort. Learning other things, however - like reading up on a topic of interest on the internet - can very often be play to me. I imagine to someone else the same thing would be work.

In these terms, being "bored" is simply a matter of being in a state in which everything is work!

19 February, 2010

Once and Again

"You don't have to be the bravest person in the world. Just the bravest writer."

Once and Again is a television drama that aired for three seasons starting in 1999, about two divorced families (each with a pair of school-aged children) who come together, and all the troubles they face in life. I recently discovered it upon hearing that Mischa Barton - an actress whom I have had a crush on ever since seeing her in Lost and Delirious, a film that instantly became one of my favorites - stars in a guest role that involves a lesbian kiss. The rest goes without saying.

But the great thing about this show is that it turned out to be really good on its own. It would have been worth watching even absent Mischa's relatively small (yet important) role in the third season. More than the plot or the premise, it's the approach that grabs me. As a viewer, I feel like I'm not being patronized. It's a very depressing show, and all sorts of things go wrong (the kind of things people actually have to deal with in life). But there's also a faint glimmer of hope that shines through it all. These people are pummeled by life, but they're not destroyed by it. And the show emphasizes the importance of focusing on the small victories, in spite of the larger failures. Because that's what really counts.

And the characters are all strong and likable. They all have their flaws, but they're basically good people, that you want to root for. Of the four kids, Grace is an inspiration (she starts out as this anxiety-ridden mess, but she grows into a very strong-willed young woman), Jessie (a budding Evan Rachel Wood) is gorgeous, Zoe is adorable (and humorously mature for her age), and even Eli is cool (considerably more so after he quits being a jock and decides to become a musician instead). You find yourself wanting things to work out between Rick and Lily, the divorced parents, and yet you also feel sympathy for their exes (and their new lovers).

And I cannot neglect to mention that this series contains not one, but two of the best kisses I've ever seen on television (and the fact that I don't watch much television in no way denigrates the impact of those kisses). As of this writing, the third season of the show has yet to be released on DVD (and even the first two seasons appear to be discontinued), and that's the real tragedy, because I recommend this series and I think more people should get to see it.

"Tonight, you let everything inside you actually show. Which, I believe, is the only thing in the world worth doing. Although I've never been willing to do it, myself."

11 February, 2010

The Cult of Psyche

Psyche et L'Amour

A while ago, I found myself reading up on the mythology of Cupid (also known as Eros), everyone's favorite Valentine's Day icon (right?). I think most people are aware of the fact that Cupid is the son of Venus, the Goddess of Love and Beauty. But what I found of particular interest was the identity of Cupid's lover, Psyche.

Based on what I read, Psyche was a mortal girl of such beauty that Venus herself became jealous and conspired to destroy her. With great reluctance Cupid agreed to assist his mother's scheme to have Psyche fall in love with a monster (with, of course, the help of Cupid's magic arrows).

Now, as the story goes, just as Cupid is about to prick the sleeping Psyche with his arrow of love, the girl opens her eyes and (somehow) sees straight through his guise of invisibility. Startled, Cupid inadvertently pricks himself with one of his own arrows, and subsequently falls in love with the girl.

Cupid and Psyche

Personally, I like to think this is an excuse Cupid made up to salvage his reputation as the one who drives the whims of romantic affection and not one who is subject to them; and that Psyche was so beautiful, even he could not resist falling for her. But you can come to your own conclusion.

Now utterly enamored with Psyche, Cupid cannot in all conscience complete his mission. Furious at this turn of events, Venus places a curse on Psyche never to find a suitable mate. Cupid becomes angry in turn, and goes on strike, vowing to sling his arrows until the curse is lifted.

Love recedes from the world in the absence of Cupid's magic, and the planet grows old and gray. Venus finally gives in and lifts the curse over Psyche. But still Psyche cannot find a mate, so she consults an oracle, who reveals that her beauty is so great, that no mortal man can have her.

Then the story gets a little complicated. Psyche is married to Cupid, her only fitful mate, but his identity is hidden from her on his request (for some odd reason). They only meet in darkness, but Psyche breaks the rule and lights a lamp to reveal Cupid's identity while he sleeps.

Cupidon et Psyché

Upon recognizing him, it is said that she accidentally pricks herself with one of his arrows (yeah, right), falling in love with him. Clearly, I think she thought to herself, "my gods, I'm married to Cupid himself! Let me just jab myself with this arrow and I'll be in love with the most desirable ex-bachelor in the pantheon!" Or something similar.

But, Cupid awakens and is furious at what Psyche has done, so he runs away. Psyche, now very much in love, roams the earth searching for Cupid, without any luck. Eventually, she swallows her pride and prays to Venus, hoping for some guidance. Venus, still quite jealous, sends her on a series of fatally dangerous tasks that are quite impossible for a mortal to accomplish, but she - surprise! - manages to accomplish each one with a good bit of luck (and mercy).

Cupid and Psyche are ultimately reunited (after some kind of sleeping beauty stunt), and Jupiter (Zeus) grants her immortality. They have a daughter, called Voluptas, or Delight, who is the goddess of sensual pleasures.

I found this tale quite interesting, and the character of Psyche quite intriguing. And desirable. I noticed that, in counterpoint to the birdlike angel wings that Cupid is often seen adorned with, Psyche is sometimes depicted with butterfly wings. A beautiful young maiden with butterfly wings - is it just me or does that sound like a faerie to you?

The Awakening of Psyche

I meant to write up a post at some point about the advantages of polytheism, but I don't think I ever got around to it. The great thing about having a pantheon of divine beings, each with their own aspects and personalities, is that you can personalize your spirituality by focusing on the gods and/or goddesses that resonate with you. For example, a fighter might spend his prayers on Mars, the God of War, while a lover will pray to Venus. A fisherman might carry a lot of respect for Neptune, while a drunkard and party animal might worship at the feet of Bacchus.

This compartmentalization of aspects appeals to me. As a form of ordering, I find it intrinsically interesting. It's like the various sailor senshi in Sailor Moon, whose personalities and attributes correspond (to some extent) to the deities and/or elements associated with their ruling (or, rather, ruled) planets. Additionally, the power of choice that a pantheon offers is very appealing from an individualistic perspective. Instead of having everyone pray to the same boring all-things-to-all-people god, each person can find their own god, who they feel is worth worshipping. Of course, to fully support individuality, I encourage people to be loose in their interpretation of accepted gods, so as to truly make them their own.

Anyway, there are a number of different kinds of gods I could worship, but above all, the one thing in this world that strikes me as carrying a divine aspect above all others is the beauty of girls and young women, which has the power to move my soul (my psyche, if you will). If a religious shrine were to be erected to honor such a thing, in the manner that I envision it, I would visit it often and offer up my prayers.

Amor and Psyche

In pagan spirituality, there is the concept of the Triple Goddess - she who exists in three forms: maiden, mother, and crone. Each form plays an essential role in the cycle of life. And of the three, I am most drawn to the maiden, as among the three, it is the maiden's role to inspire desire and the promise of sensual pleasures, which then lead to the next phase, and its role.

This - love and desire and courtship and flirting and sensuality and eroticism - is just one part of life, as are all others. But, if you ask me, I think different people have different strengths in different aspects, and different levels of interest in different parts of life, and it is fulfilling to find what one desires most and to make a concentration out of it. Which relates back to my polytheism argument.

If your life is fighting, you may worship Mars, and if your life is romance, you may worship Venus. Bacchus has his cult, and so do (or should, if you ask me) the rest of the pantheon. Long have I attended the Cult of the Maiden, but I've longed for a name and a face to attach to it. Even more so than Venus, I think Psyche fits that role well, as the female counterpart to Eros, with which eroticism (as opposed to full-on sexuality) can be associated.

Le Ravissement de Psyche