Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Reality (????) TV

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Reality (????) TV: when reality TV was worth watching I wish I could honestly say that I watch absolutely no reality TV except for TV judge shows, which...

Reality (????) TV

when reality TV was worth watching

I wish I could honestly say that I watch absolutely no reality TV except for TV judge shows, which are not without educational benefit (some more than others, obviously). For me to say such, however, would be nothing more than a big fat lie. It wouldn't be the first big fat lie I've ever told, but it would probably be the most pointless. Why bother lying about it? People who know me are aware than I'm not any sort of  genteel intellectual.  Why should I pretend that I subsist on no television other than PBS and CSPAN? Who would believe such an obvious falsehood?

For me and for my family, it all started with The Osbournes. I can't recall how long it's been since that show was on. My brother and  I were arguably younger than we should have been to have  been watching the show, but the program's content wasn't sexually explicit, and Matthew and I had heard, courtesy of our father, just about any word we would ever hear, or at least any word we were likely to hear on The Osbournes.  I think my favorite Osbourne moment ever was when Sharon threw a ham in the driveway of their warring neighbors and said something to the effect of, "This is a model of your wife's ass." Between everyone's work or activities, watching the show together once a week was as close to quality family time as it would get for our family. After the fact, I find it both funny and ironic that the family lived for a time as next-door neighbors to Pat Boone.

I don't think there was another reality show we watched together, but we each had and have our own guilty pleasures since and presently. My dad has watched a few of those Hugh Heffner shows with scantily dressed females all over the place. He's now thoroughly hooked on Duck Dynasty.

My brother's probably watched more than the rest of us combined, but his favorites were that one where people's cars are repossessed  (I just didn't find it funny), Hoarders, Duck Dynasty , and even an occasional trashy Kardashian mother ship or spin-off. His current addiction, though is one about online dating called Catfish: The TV Show.  He's even persuaded me to watch it with him a few times.
He also likes Breaking Amish.

My mom  has watched just enough of the Real Housewives shows  to know they're too trashy and unrelatable for her tastes.  She watched 19 and Counting from  psychologist's perspective, trying to get inside Jim Bob's and Michelle's heads to see what would possess them to live their lives in such a way. She finally decided she would never understand it, and gave the show up.  She does watch Sister Wives, which is almost equally bizarre, but she says it's the proverbial train wreck from which she cannot turn away.  Even though it was a drama (Face it: all reality TV shows are dramas; otherwise, why did they need to cancel production when there was a writer's strike? Think about it.) the two of us watched Big Love  together eagerly each week. Dance Moms is her guilty pleasure.  She practically throws things at the television screen whenever Cathy from Cathy's Candy Apples appears. I remind my mother that it's all scripted, but it doesn't seem to help her understand  or to modulate her emotions.

I watch several Judge shows, with Judge Alex being the most regular.  I watch Toddlers and Tiaras, though I don't look for a knife and start cutting myself if I miss an episode. Even though the novelty has worn off, I watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo more to irritate my dad than because of any inherent  desire to keep up with the famous redneck clan. I usually try to have it on in the background while I'm doing something more productive, such as practicing violin  or transcribing notes from one of my classes.  I watched Jon & Kate Plus 8 all the way through to the bitter end, although I drew the line at the Kate Plus 8 version.  I watch Bobby Flay cooking shows even though I have no particular desire to cook.  I watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (taking place in the British Isles) and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding  even though, with the American version, I'd be hard pressed to distinguish the American gypsies, were I to run into them at a shopping mall or anywhere else, from any other form of American white trash.  I watch Untold Stories of the E.R.,  which is for real though partly reenacted. My dad loves to remind me that watching it is doing nothing to prepare me for a career in medicine, as the cases they actually show are so sensationalized that I'll be lucky  (or unlucky, depending upon how one views it) to encounter one similar case in an entire medical career. He says hes been working ER shifts for about 25 years and has yet to encounter a single case of Costa Rican beetle larvae embedding itself under anyone's skin, much less under a bride's skin, and manifesting itself on the day of her wedding.  Whatever. No one ever claimed that reality TV was supposed to be  realistic.

Sociologically, what does reality TV say about us as a society?  I should check to see if there's a course on the topic. I have room for an additional elective in the spring.

Monday, July 29, 2013

I still like you, Judge Alex, Happy Birthday Mr. President, and the Birthers

Judge Alex, my Twitter follower if not my actual friend, as I am not delusional and know the difference between celebrity social media rllationships and real-life friendshps

Where do I begin . . .except to note thst while Judge Alex's photo is set on "large' and Donald Trump's photo is set on "medium," size, even considering the head shot angle versus a "from the waist-up" orientation, note the relative differences in the sizes of the heads of the two men. Also note that money, as evidenced by the lower photo, can't necessarily buy a decent hair stylist.

This blog was to be about reality TV, but I allowed myself to become sidetracked in a major way. I'll discuss reality TV in the near future.  Then again, maybe I won't.  Regardless, for the most part, such is not the topic of the bulk of this post. I apologize if you are offended or even disappointed by my abrupt change in direction of topic, although since I never announced my topic in advance, you probably neither know nor care of the substitution.

I am once again being followed by Judge Alex on Twitter. Someone else on Twitter complained rather bluntly -- even rudely -- about having been un-followed by Judge Alex. I commiserated with the person and said the same had happened to me. I offered by way of a possible though far from definitive explanation that perhaps, with so many Tweeters who wish to be followed by him, Judge Alex can only follow any single Tweeter for a given amount of time before un-following the person to make room for someone else.  Judge Alex himself (as opposed to admin) posted to say that such was not the case. He said that his administrator periodically un-follows Tweeters who no longer follow him because of a perceived lack of interest. He said he had no idea what happened in my case, as I had never un-followed him. I am, in fact, one of his more regular communicators, though I make a sincere effort not to make too much of pest of myself. Being a minor pest is part of my job and is something I  do especially  well, if I may be so bold as to say so myself.

The bottom line is that Judge Alex again follows me. I no longer consider him a snob. I am happy, and all is right with the world, at least from this particular standpoint. Iran is still developing nuclear weapons, all manner of chaos is going on in Africa as well as various parts of the Mideast and North Korea, and there are still people walking the surface of the U. S., some of whom actually possess the power to cast votes, who believe that Barack Obama was born somewhere other than Hawaii, and is therefore not the actual President of the United States.  

Some of these people even accept that President Obama was born in Hawaii but still deny his rightful claim to the presidency on the grounds of his lack of valid U. S. citizenship by virtue of their rejection the 1959 Hawaii Admission Act and the March Referendum [a vote by residents, passed by a margin of 17 to1, to agree to statehood as opposed to continued status as a US territory; independence was not an option].This they proclaim, and do so loudly and proudly, despite the fact that, even had Hawaii been not a state but a mere territory, Barack Obama still would have been a rightful U. S. citizen.  

This is akin to my suggesting that the Compromise of 1850 never occurred or was otherwise somehow an invalid document and legal action, and that Texas remains, to this day, a sovereign nation. Such would clearly delineate that President George W. Bush, though born in Connecticut, clearly made his residence in and lived the greatest part of his life in  Texas, a residency which, in recognition of Texas sovereign status, would clearly invalidate his own U. S. citizenship and make him, therefore, ineligible to hold the office of President of the United States. Clearly, my suggestion is perfectly ludicrous. While George W. Bush was not a politician with whom I was or am politically aligned, I recognize his former standing as the holder of the office of President of the United States, and , despite any ideological differences I may have had with him, I respect the office of the Presidency of the United States and accord former President Bush #2 all rights and Privileges in accordance with the office. 

Still, once the infamous birth certificate of Barack Obama was produced  (Donald Trump's legacy, the pride for which I am certain he will carry with him to his grave, unless the man is so incredibly narcissistic that he plans on having himself cryogenically preserved, in which case he will carry the pride with him into the freezer) and even before, since the portion of the document necessary to certify the citizenship of Barack Obama was already available to the public,  the issue of the lack of Barack Obama's rightful claim to the presidency was precariously close to my perfectly ludicrous claim that President George W. Bush was a citizen not of the United States of America but of the Republic of Texas. Such is bat-shit crazy talk, yet it is far more parallel to the Birthers' claims than many acknowledge.

Furthering Mr. Trump's position in this fiasco, he treats himself as some sort of hero for his role in forcing the state of Hawaii to finally release the long form of President Obama's birth certificate. 
The undertaking was arguably out of line both as to the action of Mr. Trump and  to the response of the state of Hawaii in the sense that were I to approach my own county registrar with the request for the same long-form document  of my birth, my request would be denied. Why should Donald Trump, just because of his prominence as an obnoxious celebrity, have been given in to when neither you nor  I would  have received the same consideration had we requested such documentation concerning our own births? Still, Mr. Trump was not going away; the state of Hawaii most likely did what it had to do.

 My point here, though, is that Mr. Trump portrays himself as some sort of Moses speaking God's word from the top of the mountain (minus Moses' brother Aaron; Moses allegedly had a cleft lip or some similar major problem or defect resulting in a speech impediment so severe as to require the need for a spokesperson) for producing the long form of President Obama's birth certificate when all the production of such documentation accomplished was to verify what the President, his grandmother, and everyone who knew anything about his actual birth had been saying all along: that he was born  on August 4, 1961, IN THE STATE OF HAWAII.   What, in Mr. Trump's over-inflated self-opinion, rendered this act in any way as a furtherance of his cause?

In conclusion, I would like to paraphrase something that President Obama himself once said in [mock] praise of his mother, although he was not denigrating her,  but rather, the whole Birther movement. Stanley Ann Durham was so incredibly intelligent and filled with foresight that it occurred to her, at the age of eighteen,  while giving birth in Kenya to a baby boy, to have the birth announced in both the Honololu Advertiser AND the Honolulu Star Bulletin  and to record the birth in both newspapers as having taken place in Kapiolani Hospital in Honolulu, because she instinctively knew at that ripe old age of eighteen that her baby boy would one day run for President  of the United States of America and would need false documentation that the child had been born in the U. S. and not in Kenya, where the Birthers allege that the child was actually born. This is intended as no slight on Stanley Ann (she later dropped the Stanley and was called Ann ) Dunham's intelligence, as she attained a high level of education , earning multiple degrees, including eventually  a PhD in anthropology from the University of Hawaii, Manoa Campus in 1992, before succumbing to cancer in 1995. Rather, it serves as a  a testament to the sheer absurdity of everything for which the Birther movement and its proponents ever stood.

If you are or ever were a Birther, do yourself and the rest of us a favor: go hide under a rock, or, at the very least,  keep your ridiculous political opinions to yourself.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Other than nothing, what's new?

When yu're sick, it doesn't get muh better than this. The same is true even when you're not sick as far as my brother is concerned.

Life is a bit dull at the moment here in Dodge City by-the-Sea. I'm almost but not quite back to eating regular food. Have you ever noticed how much better saltine crackers taste when they're in packages of two wrapped in cellophane, as you get them in restaurants  or when you order chili at Wendy's, as opposed to in the boxed packages in wax paper in  tall stacks? I assume freshness is the issue and not the inherent superiority of the crackers Wendy's and most restaurants use.

Two nights ago when I couldn't keep down anything we had in the house, my mom called Denny's and placed a take-out order for 7-up or Sprite (I can't tell the difference) and saltine crackers. It was probably one of the stranger take-out orders Denny's had received lately, but they came through with flying colors. My brother was embarrassed to go to Denny's to pick them up, but my mother told them the order was already placed and he HAD to go.

Anyway, I'm not sure anything has ever tasted so good to me in my life as those crackers from Denny's, and I was able to keep the lemon-lime soda down.  I'd still be eating the crackers except that my brother, too,  discovered that they tasted good.  Once Matthew decides he likes something, it doesn't last for long.

Does anyone know if there's a place where you can buy crackers that are cellophane-wrapped in pairs as opposed to buying the boxes with the tall stacks? I'd be willing to pay the big bucks. There's  limit to how many times Denny's will fall for the "someone in the house is sick"  line, even though it was true this time.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How to Succeed Academically in College * by someone who hasn't made it all the way through but is almost there

The previous two posts were more important than many parents would acknowledge, as it is difficult to do well in your classes if you're personally miserable. (And if such is the case in the extreme, most if not all campuses have resources to help you deal with emotional issues. Don't wait until you're practically suicidal before taking advantage of the resources.)  Still, the reason you are attending college is not for the social life but to gain an education. While it is difficult to think of that on a Friday night when you're on your third beer, you would do well not to let it slip too far into the recesses of your mind.

Academics come more easily to some than to others. It's a fact, whether or not everyone is willing to acknowledge it.  You may be someone who breezes through every course ever thrown at you. Or you may be someone who has had to figuratively sweat blood from every pore just to get the B's and occasional C you've gotten. Or you may be someone who, with the barest minimum of effort, could have graduated with a weighted 4.63, but instead, showed up for class on most days of high school, turned in the occasional assignment, aced most tests, and frustrated the hell out of your teachers because they had to give you the same B's and occasional C that they were giving to the kid who was practically killing himself to get the those grades.  Life is inherently unfair, and one way life's inequality is manifested is in innate cognitive ability.

Not everyone should go to a four-year college or university.  The mere suggestion was and is  beyond ridiculous.

Some students lack the academic skills to be in community college or four-year college. Remedial classes now exist on community college campuses as well as on some four-year campuses. Such was unheard of a generation ago. That was what high school was for; adult schools (usually operated by high school districts) existed and still exist for such purposes.  While I don't wish to crush anyone's dreams, anyone in need of remedial courses in a given area should not be taking college classes in the domain of deficit until he or she has been successfully remediated.   If, despite a person's diminished academic capacity, he or she is determined to complete a bachelor's degree and is willing to work sufficiently hard to accomplish his or her goal, more power to that person, but it won't be handed to him or her on a silver platter without having jumped through the necessary hoops, and it will not be easy.

A multitude of career opportunities exist for a person  who either lacks the skills to attend a four-year institution (sometimes it literally feels like an institution) or for whom such is not practical for a variety of reasons. Trade schools exist to provide jobs that sometimes pay as well as or better than those jobs secured by college graduates and sometimes are very highly in demand. Sometimes one can find a good lower-level position in a company and can essentially apprentice his way up into a high-paying position.  My parents just paid  a truckload of money to a plumber  to replace collapsible pipes that were being clogged by tree roots. While I  don't know this for certain, I doubt that the plumber spent a substantial amount of time in college.

Anyway, regardless of whether or not your most suitable source for career training is in college,  at  this point you've been accepted and you're here, or you're at some other equally scenic campus. What are you going to do to make the most of your four years or more? (The five- or six-year plan is becoming increasingly common for a variety of reasons, and you should not feel ashamed if that is your best or only option.)

First of all, be open to the possibility of change when choosing a major.  While you should take at least one class related to your major in your initial year of college, don't invest yourself too heavily in it. You may change your mind. Most people, myself included,  do. Neither should you "get your electives out of the way."  If you change your major, the classes you've taken toward your major, unless you are fortunate enough to have them fall into the fulfillment of general education requirements, may very well end up becoming your electives, unless you've  already filled all your elective slots, in which they may become wasted units.

Many colleges have a required orientation/seminar the summer before your enrollment begins, in which an upper-division student advises you as to what courses you should be taking, after which you immediately schedule your initial courses.  The university does this because it's the best it can do with a massive group of students descending upon the campus all within a relatively short period of time. Those upper-division student advisors know roughly as much as I do, and I make no claims as to any great proficiency at devising any sort of plan to help another student navigate his or her way through college in  timely manner. The student advisors mean well, but the advice you get from them may not be what you would be told be someone more knowledgeable regarding scheduling of courses and designing of an academic plan to steer you through college in an expeditious manner.  It would be wise to study the university's schedule of courses  and to speak with someone, perhaps a highly  knowledgeable high school counselor about what would be your ideal course load for your initial semester or quarter, as well as a back-up plan, as you, a newly incoming freshman, will be at the very bottom of the heap and will have the lowest priority in scheduling classes. (Some universities do not allow parents, guardians, or other advisors to be present at the initial scheduling sessions.  These are  colleges and universities  interested in mechanically disabling those parent-bearing helicopters  before they ever get off the ground.)  Pickings in terms of courses may be slim, but if you've done your homework and have looked over everything that is offered and at what times curses are available with someone who has some degree of expertise in the area, you can avoid having the course load of your initial semester or quarter consist of  "The History of Barbie," "Philosophy and Star Trek," 'The Culture of Zombies,"  "The Science of Cyber Heroes," and "Far Side Entomology." ***

Your university employs an academic counseling staff. Ask around or go to an online site to check out who are the best among those paid professional academic counselors.  Make an appointment with one early in your first quarter or semester of attendance. Have this person help you map out an academic plan. This person will have the knowledge that goals and plans change, and will load your initial semesters or quarters with general education courses, which must be completed by everyone, and will help you to find introductory classes in your major which will also fulfill general education requirements. Additionally, this person may have clout in terms of getting you into a particular class you need when the Powers That Be say that all sections in the course are full and inaccessible, or may be able, in  place of such, to find a suitable alternative.

Now you have your classes mapped out for the next four years. You're in a class in which the professor positively makes you want to vomit. What do you do? Drop the course? No, you do not drop the course. You buy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and take it liberally, and get through the class. The biggest single contributor of unintentional five-, six-, or even greater-year-programs of obtaining four-year-degrees is getting into the habit of dropping classes. If you're fortunate enough to get into a class from the original plan you mapped out with your academic guidance counselor,  consider it a gift, no matter how big of a donkey's rectum the professor may be.

On the subject of professors who are the very essence of donkeys' rectums, you WILL encounter your share of them. Sometimes you simply have a personality conflict or a differing ideology with said professor. You need to grow up and learn to recognize when such is the case. In other instances, the professor truly will be the essence of a donkey's rectum.  In either instance, you can handle the situation in a way that can help or harm your grade point average. Some professors wouldn't remember Richard M. Nixon's name if he sat in a chair in the professor's class for five hours each week for an entire quarter. Others know every name of every student. Sometimes you cannot tell which professor is of which type despite the way they act. You, therefore, cannot afford to sit through every class period with a scowl on your face, muttering negative comments under your breath, which may greatly amuse your classmates but not your professor. Even though he or she cannot hear what you are saying, he or she will instinctively know by your classmates' giggles that you are not commenting on how much you like his tie or her skirt, or what a fine professor you believe he or she is.  Enter the class with a fake smile, or at least a fake interested look. It's OK to disagree with what a professor has professed on very rare occasions, as long as you do so with all due respect while acknowledging his or her point. Additionally, professors have required office hours. Make it a point to visit the professor during his or her office hours, particularly to ask advice on a paper that has been assigned. It's practically a guarantor of at least a few additional percentage points on the paper.

This leads to the logical topic of  ideological integrity in writing papers and/or answering essay questions. (This applies marginally if at all in truly objective subjects, such as many math and science courses, although writing is creeping its way into more and more academic domains, and where writing assignments or writing on tests exists, subjectivity exists.) While some would say my philosophy on this issue is disingenuous,  I submit that there are many times in life when one should be true to his or her convictions, but a college or university classroom is probably not the place to live one's convictions. If there is any one secret to success in college it is this: Every professor has something he or she wants to hear. Discover what is his or her personal truth as early in the course as possible, and repeat what ever it is he or she wants to hear back to him or her as many times  and in as many different words as possible.  Your own opinion on the topic is of little consequence. The professor's opinion is everything.  Be true to yourself in other ways. Vote your conscience, or even volunteer for the campaign of a candidate in whom you believe especially strongly.  Work in a soup kitchen.  Join the Peace Corps. Speak up for a person you feel is being mistreated.  In a college classroom, however, forget all about your personal convictions. What the professor thinks is all that matters.

Next comes the topic of academic integrity. Doing homework together may be permissible, though if it is verbal in nature, your words obviously should not match those of your classmate verbatim. If you do a math assignment with someone else, be certain that your answers are correct. If you repeatedly turn in papers with the same wrong answers as another student,  even if different  TAs are grading the assignments, you'll probably eventually be caught.  Your professor may still be OK with it if you explain that you were doing the work together as opposed to one doing while the other copied. Sometimes the policy is clarified in the first class session.  In terms of papers, it's easier than ever to purchase an essay or research paper. It's also easier than ever to get caught.  Is it worth being thrown out of a university over one lousy paper that you were too lazy to write? Take your chances if you must, but you're certifiably insane if you submit a paper not of your own writing that was written by anyone who isn't an extremely close friend or relative, and even then, think twice before turning it in. The stakes are high.

There are many ways of studying. My methods are extreme.  About two weeks into the quarter, I read everything that will be assigned and complete every assignment that can possibly be done. Then I have a mini-mental breakdown. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone.  At the same time, while many of us have procrastinated once or twice without disastrous results,  turning procrastination into a way of life or an art form seldom works to one's benefit. Power outages have been known to prevent students from finishing papers, printing them, or sending to a professor on time. (You may catch a break on the sending part, but good luck on receiving much mercy in regard to missing a deadline on  finishing or printing due to a power outage.) Wireless sources can go down as you're doing your research. Your hard drive can crash. You can get sick or break your arm.  Things can go wrong . Not all [as in very few] professors possess abundant sympathy.   We all know people in high places got where they are by procrastinating, then having a last-minute inspiration, but, in general, even if you're not the extremist that I am, it is wise to set some sort of schedule and stick to it.  Read assigned readings as they are assigned if not ahead of time.  The actual due date and time for a paper does not necessarily mean that  such is the very second your paper should emerge from the printer.

If there were any one piece of advice every student would be wise to follow, it is this: GO TO CLASS! Some professors base part of grading on attendance or will fail you after a given number of un-cleared absences. Even if the professor doesn't take attendance and doesn't know the kid who always sits in the front row from Bruce Jenner or any of those other Kardashians,  and even if you have access to the notes from the very best note-taker in the world,  there is no substitute for actually being there. Go to class.

I wish you the best of luck in your journey.


*** All are actual courses offered at major universities, and I've barely skimmed the surface of the oddities out there in terms of course offerings,

Friday, July 26, 2013

Part One A: Survival in College for Baby Geniuses

This child has mastered the technique.

I hope you understand that my title is intended to be facetious. I am neither a baby nor a genius. The post is directed at anyone entering or in college who looks young for his or her age, or is chronologically younger than most of his or her college peers. Much of the information, however, is applicable to some degree to most college students.

Other than the stuff at the latter part  my most recent post, the part about being cautious in regard to parties in general and frat parties in particular, we all know that I don't actually know anything about that of which I wrote. I have developed a technique, which I should perhaps copyright, for how to blend into the walls and furniture of a classroom and not draw attention to oneself.  When I look like I'm fourteen and am surrounded by people mostly over the age of twenty, this isn't an easy feat to have accomplished, and I take pride in my thorough mastery of the technique. Nonetheless, we all know that blending into the woodwork isn't true social success in any setting.

In my case, being a social butterfly or anything resembling such was never  a goal. It was always about not alienating classmates and avoiding being a target for bullying. Except among the frat rats and their sorority counterparts, some of whom haven't truly  made it all the way out of high school or even middle school yet, bullying takes on an entirely different form in college. No one (other than the very rare especially immature frat rat)  is stuffing students into trash cans or anything remotely close to that.  Bullying in college, which, from what I've seen, is decidedly rare, takes more the form of  dead silence and a conversation-ender when the unpopular student makes a comment in a class discussion, or when  a student sits in a particular seat, and other students sit as far away as possible. I've seen very little of any of it. For the most part, college students have consciences and will openly address it if they see someone else being targeted.

My parents warned me when I started college not to be too much of a know-it-all and not to volunteer too many opinions or provide too many answers in class.  A little kid trying to show up her older classmates is setting herself up for becoming the class pariah.  I think I had a pretty good idea of this without my parents' having said anything about it, but they were wise to remind me.

On the other hand, some professors reserve the right to base a percentage of a student's grade on class participation. Personally, I think that  if they must do this, they should base it more on the degree to which a student appears to be following a classroom discussion whether or not he or she is saying something. Some people are  shy or insecure, or may even be stutterers. There could be valid reasons why a student is reluctant to speak out in class. If a professor is intent upon considering class participation in a course's final grade, it should be based upon whether the student is paying more attention to his Smartphone or laptop than the class discussion as opposed to whether or not he or she speaks frequently. An astute professor can tell if a student is paying attention and following a class discussion just by glancing at the student.

As I'm approaching my final year of undergraduate studies, I'm almost beginning to look as though I'm not an under-aged prodigy sitting in on a class during "Visit A University Week," though I still look young in comparison even to the incoming freshmen, and I'm mostly not taking classes with incoming freshmen. I still try to follow my own unofficial rules. I don't wave my hand around wildly like Arnold Horshak from the old "Welcome Back, Kotter" series, which I've caught on reruns.  I try not to be the first student to offer an answer when a specific answer is requested unless it's a class that's been going on long enough that I'm comfortable and I've developed a friendly relationship or even a friendly rivalry with a few other students.  When a professor asks a question to which I know the answer, and no one else offers an answer for  a deadly ten seconds or so of silence, I answer, but do so with a not-terribly- confident tone of voice. Tone of voice is everything in such a situation. You can say the same words in a manner that conveys, "I know everything," or in such a way as to imply. "I think I know this, but I could be wrong; I'm human."  I'm not sure many of the professors even notice, but the other students do.

In class discussions, when  contributing, validate something another classmate has just said if you have the opportunity. Your classmates have egos just as does anyone else. Make them appear smart. They care whether or not they act as though they do.

Grading curves, if in use at all in a given class,  are now modified to the extent that they are essentially used only to work in students' favors, as opposed to against them. For this reason, one does not need to behave in nearly so cut-throat a manner as might have been to one's benefit in previous years.  It doesn't harm your grade to give someone else a leg up. It's still wise to maintain the number one standing in your class if it's an option for you, but once you've taken care of that,  look out for others' interests. I've found that I have a sixth sense in terms of when pop quizzes will happen and what might be asked on them. While waiting for a professor to appear, I occasionally bring up for short discussion the topic related to the question I think might be asked.  Other students appreciate this, and it pays off in terms  of how a person is treated by his or her classmates.

I'm usually pretty good at guessing what questions will be asked on an exam as well, but I typically keep this information to myself unless a student I really like is struggling and in danger of ruining his or her GPA with an especially poor showing in the class. Maybe it is cut-throat behavior for me not to share my psychic knowledge, which is really not psychic knowledge at all but rather, years of paying attention to teachers' vocal inflections and other manner of emphasis when lecturing, then noting what ends up on the exams. It's neither rocket science nor anything otherworldly; it's simply the science of human behavior.  People, including professors, are more predictable than they would like to think that they are.

My classmates, even if they like me as a classmate, still are not going to invite me to go partying with them on the weekends. For true social friendships, a student has to look to interest groups, dorm roommates, and similar sources. The suggestions I've offered, however, will make the time spent in class at least bearable if not enjoyable.

How to Succeed in College

You don't need this nonsense in your life.

My  dad asked at dinner last night what my next blog would be about. He or my mom sometimes ask that when there's a lull in the conversation, but it this case, my dad might have been concerned that I would take on a local true crime topic that has nothing to do with me and should not be discussed by me in public or in the semi-anonymity of my blog. I assured him my intent was to stay as far away from that subject as possible, and that I might discuss what one needs to do to succeed in college.

My mom sort of coughed. "Um," she said (I considered using the Judge Judy line, "Um is not a word," but saw no reason to ruin a peaceful meal), "wouldn't a prerequisite for any qualification for writing on that topic be to have finished college successfully - at least an undergrad degree?"

"Not necessarily,"  I answered. "Sometimes the most highly-sought-after therapists are those whose personal lives are the least stable." She gave me a  "What gives you the right to say that to me when you're sitting at my dinner table?"  look. "Present company excepted," I quickly disclaimed. "Besides, you're not even working in that field anymore. Continuing along those lines, what's the  common thread among life coaches?"

She has the same opinion as I when it come to life coaches. "Their own lives are usually such a complete disaster that such alone [my mom actually speaks that way] would preclude them from giving advice about anything,"she answered.

"My point exactly," I said.

"You haven't exactly flunked out of every school you've ever attended," my dad commented, "So I'm not sure how that's your point, or even  what's your point."

"My point," I told him, "Is that the qualifications on paper give you the right to speak with authority on some topics regardless of your obvious lack of working knowledge  in the field, at least as it applies to yourself.  On other topics,  one need not possess any qualifications even on paper, much less in real life, and in some ways it seems like the less you now, the more people hungrily devour your advice. Other topics are fair game to anyone with advice dispense, though people may be more likely to listen to you if you've somewhat entered the field of expertise you profess without having thoroughly stunk up the joint."

"It reminds me of that musical  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," my dad commented.

"It's not totally unlike that," I responded "except that the lead character in the play was overtly misrepresenting himself. Where my plan involves a bit of trickery and playing of mind-games, it's essentially solid technique I'm expounding."

"Are you planning on copyrighting your method?" my mom asked.

"No," I answered. 'I just want to help people who are entering a place I've already been to avoid some pratfalls I've either personally experienced or have seen others go through."

"So tell us about your method, " my mom asked. "Is it similar to Sylvan [a commercial tutorial program that seems less popular than it was a few years ago] or is it like EST [Warner Erhard's attempt at body and mind control]?"

"No," I answered, "It's nothing like either of those."

"Then what exactly is your method?" my dad asked.

"I won't know until I start typing," was my answer.

So after that rather lengthy introduction, I shall share with you my methods for being successful in the college/university setting.  This entry will focus upon social success in college.  I must offer by way of a disclaimer that my knowledge here is limited. I'll share what little I know about social issues on campus, but being considerably younger than my university peers and looking even younger than I am, I haven't mastered the art of social ease in class or elsewhere on campus; my information in this regard comes from the perspective of a person standing on the outside of the glass goldfish bowl, peering inside for glimpse of the activity.

My best shot at having fit in socially would have been to have joined a sorority, but every action comes with its equal and opposite reaction, and I was not willing to sell my soul to the devil, or more specifically,  I was unwilling to shell out hard-earned cash so that other people would be forced to be my friends.  I concede that not everything about a frat or sorority is guaranteed to be inherently evil, though the vast majority of what I've seen in that realm is reasonably close to the epitome of the most snobbish form of debauchery on the planet.

The friends I have made have been mostly from common interest groups - from the a capella group with which I was affiliated (the one that made a capella sexy), from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, in which  I played the character of Chava, amd from my intramural diving group. Additionally, and I'll write more about this when I address academic success in my next post, smart people have a way of recognizing each other in classes.  There are two ways of approaching this: A) be  jealous and competitive and do everything you can to outperform the other smart person or people you've recognized; B) make this person your ally; take notes for one another if you must miss class; study together, as two smart brains are smarter than one; and if group projects must be done, be sure that this person is in your group so that you're not stuck either risking your grade or doing all the work yourself. Additionally, you;ll usually find, unless this person is a total asshole (and a few smart people are) that you have a natural peer with whom you have intelligence in common, and you'll find that by the end of the quarter you're actually friends and might try to sign up for  few of the same sections of classes in the future.

Let me also note that there are academic major-related groups that give themselves  Greek names and that may even call themselves frats or sororities, although those that call themselves frats often admit female members as well. (Some don't, and I will refrain from referring to them as sexist, as an element of camaraderie can exist between a group of the same gender that is de-solidified when the other gender is interpolated. I don't think all such societies should necessarily be gender segregated or gender integrated. Whatever works for any of them is fine.) These are not truly frats or sororities, but are instead pre-professional societies, and are usually committed to raising academic standards, creating an environment where one can readily find a place to seek academic assistance if needed, and creating a sense of community among those with like or similar majors, and are usually heavily involved in charitable work. These organizations are noble, and if one is a good fit for you and you have the opportunity to join it, do so if you wish.

I wonder about their use of Greek letter names. I suspect it's an attempt to muddy the waters and confuse the issue as to whom are the haves and  whom are the have nots.  This probably drives the real frat/sorority rats to distraction.  ("Daddy," whined the sorority girl, "they're using the Greek alphabet for their little clubs, and everyone knows that only people whose parents have lots and lots of money are allowed to use the Greek alphabet. Make them stop it now!  And I want an Oompah Loompah!") Furthermore, what the frat/sorority rats may not know is that the terms have and have not  can be equally applicable to intelligence as to financial excess.

Anyway, I can't give loads of valuable advice on how to be a social success in college except for the obvious number one rule, which is not to try too hard to be a social success in the college/university setting.  Nothing is more pathetic than the male attempting to usurp the role of Big Man on Campus. (My great uncle told me that back in the day, as in the 30's, at many campuses there was an official election for an actual position of Big Man on Campus. Those were the days when only individuals whose parents were wealthy ever got as much as  a single toe onto the campus of a college or university, and all sorts of weird shit went down that even at colleges and universities in which a sizable percentage of students possess drug-addled brains,  would never be allowed to happen today.)

The metaphorical female  counterpart to today's figurative Big Man on Campus  is the proverbial "it" girl, of which there are two or three from each sorority. This is California, and our university is on the coast and even has its own private beach, so the "it" girls are usually California blonde -- either natural or au de Lady Clairol --  and tend to be very tan. In most cases the tans are not spray tans (why pay for the fake, unless we have an extended rainy or overcast period,  when one can have the real thing for free, but the excessive sun exposure will eventually catch up with the "it' girls, who will look sixty when they're forty even with the best work a Beverly Hills Cosmetic surgeon can do; leather skin is not easily undone, surgically or otherwise).Those from a given sorority usually get along, or at least pretend to get along, and there's a limit to how much in-fighting a sorority allows, but their tolerance for each other within their own sororities is more than compensated for by their utter antipathy for the "it" girls from other sororities.   These girls walk into their classrooms each day as though they're Kate Middleton, awaiting recognition from the masses. When nothing happens, they sit in their designated spots [seats are  almost never assigned in college and university courses, but by the second session of any given class, students have usually selected where they will sit, ] and glare at their counterparts from any other sororities,  In auditorium-sized lecture classes, these guidelines don't apply because,with the sheer mass of people present,  group dynamics have shifted to the extent that no one even notices if one girl gives the evil eye to another.

It's best to consider the frat and sorority rats little more than a curiosity and to pay little as attention to them as possible. DO NOT attend their parties -- particularly fraternity parties, but even sorority parties can be hazardous to one's well being. If you ignore my advice and attend a party at a Greek house anyway, do follow a few simple rules. Attend as a group of at least two, and ideally three or four. Agree that you're not going to sneak off into an out-of-the way bedroom or backyard spot no matter how cute the frat boy is who shows an interest in you.  Do not accept any drink that someone provides that has been previously opened. Open it yourself, and guard the top of it as though you're Fidel Castro and you think the CIA is trying to kill you by adding toxic substances to your drink. DO NOT consume more than two alcoholic drinks while at the party. There are places where  it is safe to get a bit bombed as long as you don't approach the level of alcohol poisoning and you don't drive or even ride a bicycle directly afterward.  Frat/sororities parties are NOT among those places.

Arrive together with your group, and leave together. DO NOT remain at the party, no matter how great a time you think you're having, when your friends leave. DO NOT leave a friend there. If you cannot easily find him, or especially  HER, look for her in every nook and cranny of the frat house, and then look outside on the grounds. Call her cell phone. Enlist others' assistance in looking for her, and do not stop if you cannot find her. Call law enforcement if necessary. Say the party has gotten out of hand when you call them for assistance so that they will show up. Otherwise they won't want to help locate your friend until 24or 48 hours have passed. By then, your friend might have become the next Natalee Holloway.

If, at a frat party, you notice that a large group of males are leaving at the same time, be very concerned. It's a "thinning of the herd" ritual. Non-fraternity-member males are asked to leave  so that there are enough females for each frat member to have one to himself. At this point, frat members may become sexually aggressive, and there's really no one likely to come to your assistance if the frat member to which you've been informally assigned won't take no for an answer. When you notice any sign of this sort of action, gather the friends with whom you came and, as a good samaritan action, quietly warn other non frat-associated sorority member girls that something not good is in the works. Get the hell out of the frat house or anywhere else the party is being held as soon as possible if not sooner.

While sorority parties may not be as insidious as frat parties, the girls are not inviting you to their party because they're sweet girls and wish to be friendly and inclusive in regard to those less fortunate than they who could not afford to go Greek. They may be assisting a related frat in insuring that there are enough vaginas and/or mouths to go around (sorry mom, but I'm telling it as it is), or they may be trying to get as many people as possible as wasted as possible so that they can get a decent amount of funny [read: humiliating]video footage for YouTube. Regardless, you have not been invited to a Saturday Afternoon Tea by this sorority, unless you've literally been invited to a Saturday Afternoon Tea, in which case I would still exercise considerable caution if I went at all.

I'm not relying on urban legends that can easily be debunked by consulting Snopes.com. I know of what I speak or write. A friend of my family, who is also my personal friend, was drugged and raped last July at a fraternity party here. She showed up with two male friends, and when the
"thinning of the herd" ritual happened, they, for whatever reason, left without her. I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they had no clue as to what was happening and, for whatever reason, assumed she was either OK or already gone,  though her fiancee says one of the two boys is particularly non-chivalrous, and would leave a girl in such a situation.

She was found incoherent, limping in a vacant lot with a large bruised lump on her forehead, with tattered clothing, with a badly bruised and banged-up knee, and with defensive wounds.  A graduate student from France happened to see her as he drove past, and stopped to investigate. He called 911. Blood, urine, and hair testing later that night revealed gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid in unnatural amounts (the human body itself produces trace amounts of the substances) in her system, as well as Carisprodol, a muscle relaxant commonly used with in combination with  GHB or benzodiazepenes for date rape purposes.  Testing also revealed male DNA in the genital area, though not internally. Evidence was that the attacker used a condom, though he was careless in its removal or not very quick in putting it on.   The results of this testing didn't come back for months. Real life is not like the various Law& Order genre, where any lab testing has to be wrapped up and ready for the jury within the hour-long segment of the show. Even though the show doesn't occur in real time, the week or two that it takes to get the results  back as portrayed on the program is not in any way realistic. I suppose if Dick Cheney or one of the Obamas were involved, some lab  might be able to come up with  results within just  few days, but for normal people, including college students, expect to wait several months for lab results.

She was given a tetanus shot, antibiotics, antivirals, and a morning after pill.

The little Richie Riches in the fraternity know their rights. None agreed to submit to voluntary DNA testing. Had all but one or two agreed, law enforcement could have focused on them, but when an entire fraternity refuses, that's too many suspects on whom to focus.  For that matter, it could have been a brother or cousin of a frat member. They guy's DNA is in the system now, and if he screws up in any other way related to leaving his DNA lying around or is forced to provide DNA for another infraction,  he'll give a name and face to that DNA and  will be prosecuted for my friend's case as well.

Jillian thought she should sue the fraternity, as some attorney would have taken it on a contingency basis, where the client pays nothing unless he or she is awarded damages, and the attorney takes usually 1/3 of the damages that are awarded. At the very least, the fraternity received a ding with both their national chapter and with the university. If a frat or sorority gets enough dings, they are both disenfranchised by their national organization and banned from association with  the university. It's bad that she can't remember because she cannot identify her attacker. It's good because she has no memory of the attack. Sometimes the best you can do is just not look a gift horse in the mouth.  Dr. Jeff told me she may spontaneously remember his face a some point in time. I'm not sure about statutes of limitations, but it has been increased since the onset if DNA as evidence. Regardless, she would probably still have a civil case.

So, speaking socially, college is not high school.  Don't approach it with hopes of being popular. You may end up being very well-liked within your dorm or within a group of students with whom you associate through a club or an academic program. If so, great.  but do not approach college with hopes of being a all-around popular person in every class or gathering by being loud and obnoxious and drawing attention to yourself, or you will make an ass of yourself.   And dangers lurk. You can avoid most of them, but it involves being prudent, which includes actively looking out for yourself, because sometimes no one else is going to do it for you, and not doing anything stupid. If a person has nine lives in the way a cat metaphorically does, most of us have used up at least seven of them before we even get to college. Don't count on too many lucky breaks in terms of safety and well-being.  Be safe.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, How Great Thou Art, God of Our Fathers, Praise Him, Praise Him, O Worship the King

Paul and Jan Crouch, hosts of Trinity Broadcasting Network's Praise the Lord

I will begin by reiterating, as I have stated in previous posts, that I am a practicing if cafeteria-style Catholic.  I have a belief in a higher power, though despite what the Bible may say, I don't really know if God is male, female, or something else entirely. It's my belief that the Bible is very much a product of the times in which its  books were composed, and much of what is contained is heavily influenced by the mores of the times in which the various books of the Bible came into existence.

I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I know enough to realize that  in today's world, or at least the western part of the world,  if we tried to live our lives according to the way things were done in  Old Testament times, we'd find ourselves locked up either in a maximum security loony bin or a prison. You just don't go around as a group throwing stones at people. You don't force  your daughter to marry the man who raped her. You don't burn your house down because it has mold in it, and you tried cleaning the mold once, but it came back.  Some parts of the mideast are not too far removed from this lifestyle. The recent case of the woman visiting Dubai who reported a rape and was herself arrested for unlawful sex comes to mind.

This is not to say that the Old Testament is a worthless document. It contains cherished literature and literary allusions.  It's a tremendously valuable history, if not strictly literal, and it does introduce The Ten Commandments, which are exceptional guidelines by which to live one's life. The Jewish communities, with their varying degrees of adherence,   have made the Old Testament and other scriptures work for them in such ways as to live lives that, while I wouldn't choose some of them for myself, do not cause the people who do to present themselves as lunatics. By and large, though, I take the Old Testament with a grain of salt.

I'm more of a New Testament person, although I take that with a measurable amount of salt as well. Much of it -- including the words of Jesus himself -- was written long after the fact. And the words of Jesus are a relatively small part of the New Testament as a whole.  Paul got a great deal of print in the New Testament. Paul,while deemed worthy by Jesus to have been an apostle, was never proclaimed by Jesus to be his personal spokesman, and Paul was not a man without his personal biases.

Peter -- the man whom Jesus said would be the rock, the cornerstone  on which the Church was built, and considered to have been the first pope -- once pulled out his sword and chopped a man's ear off before Jesus used his power to replace the man's ear and to scold Peter by saying, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword."  Seriously, in today's world, would the cardinals consider electing  as pope a man who had ever chopped off another man's ear?  Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear in a boxing match, and people in general then wrote Mike Tyson off as not quite playing a full 88-key piano, and that was just for biting a man's ear, as opposed to removing it in its entirety with a sword. I don't know exactly what goes on in that cardinals' enclave with the black and white smoke where the popes are elected, but I'm reasonably certain that having chopped off anyone's ear would essentially exempt anyone from ever reaching even the level of cardinal, much less from being elected pope.

I've digressed excessively before getting to my main point, which is to ask a question. How much does God want us to praise Him verbally?  A grateful heart is an important thing. We should all have gratitude in our hearts to the giver for the things we have been given. In a sense, everything we hve, from my own personal viewpoint, comes at least indirectly from God.

While my parents gave me the car I own, God gave them, at least through the gift of favorable DNA, the intelligence to have jobs that allowed them to earn money  and a work ethic they learned either from their own parents or by osmosis. So I have reason to be thankful  to God for the car that I was given with no strngs attached. I thanked God at the time for the car, and from time to time, when I see others on foot walking what appear to be considerable distances, I am reminded again to thank God for my car and for many other blessings I receive on a regular basis. (As much as I would like to share my blessings by offering rides to some of these people, in today's world it is not prudent to invite a stranger into one's car.)

Being thankful to God for my car did or does  not exempt me in any way from being thankful to my parents for giving me the car. I expressed my appreciation to them enthusiastically and sincerely  at the time the car was given, and I have thanked them for it more than once since the time it as given to me.  It is right and proper for me to have done so and to continue to do so. Yet can there be too much of a good thing? Do my parents want to hear me say thanks for the car every hour on the hour for all of my waking hours when I am at home? Do they want to hear it three times a day, or even once daily?  My parents bought a car for my brother as well. Do they want to hear his expressions of gratitude  hourly, or three times each day, or even once each day? My guess is that, while gratitude is a righteous attitude, when expressing it verbally, enough eventually becomes enough. My parents would eventually grow weary of hearing my expressions of thanks and politely ask me to shut up.

I contend that the same is true in praising God.  If God can know what's in our hearts, do we really need to praise aloud quite as much as some among us, including televangelists and ordinary citizens, sometime feel necessary?  Are Paul and Jan Crouch (hosts of the TV show Praise the Lord) and their ilk onto something, or are their words eventually something of a redundancy?

Extending this a bit further, in first Thessalonians, my favorite apostle [ ironic font]  Paul said "Pray without ceasing," What is meant by that?  Surely Paul didn't mean that if you're on the witness stand and an attorney asks you a question about what you observed, neither God nor the apostle Paul thinks (only God knows what Paul Crouch thinks) that you should tell the attorney and the judge, "Sorry; I pray unceasingly, so I can't pause to answer any of your wordly questions."  I would conclude that, rather, one should strive to have a prayerful mindset at all times and that one's first thought should be to be thankful or to ask God for guidance, but not neccessarily out loud  and constantly, and certainly not at the expense of doing something such as, hypothetically, caring for one's children.

Many hymnals are filled with songs of praise to God. I would never suggest that the writing of these hymns was a redundancy. Each was presumably an expression of deep feeling by its author.  Nor would I suggest that these songs not be sung, just as I would not suggest that the words "Praise God" or anything similar be erased from our language.

What I would suggest, by contrast, are that there are also hymns written about trying to be a better person or about helping other people. These songs probably should be sung at least as often as the hymns we sing in direct expression of how great our God is. God surely must already know that God is great. While we should continually be mindful of this and appreciative of the many blessings most of us receive on a regular basis,  instead of telling God, others, and ourselves, how great God  is, perhaps we should find a way to express our feelings by our actions, as actions speak much more loudly than words.  Others are not so blessed as some of us are.  I believe it was Jesus who said, "If you love me, feed my sheep."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Petit Papa Noel and My Grandmother

My brother and I were with my father's family just before Christmas while my mother was receiving one medical treatment or another. There were so   many medical procedures that it's hard for me to keep track. I believe we   had just turned five and were in kindergarten.  My twin brother and I went with  my grandparents and miscellaneous aunts, uncles, and cousins to the ward Christmas program. The theme was to be "Christmas Around the World.",,Families were supposed to prepare and songs from their regions  of  heritage, combining with other families if they so desired. The program  would end with everyone singing "Silent Night.".i should mention that such  programs more often than not aren't particularly well-organized. Someone    has a    great idea, but then no one checks up on anything or follows through.                                          

This program would be typical in that regard. The program began with a Hispanic family singing "Los Pastores a Belen. They finished and everyone applauded enthusiastically. One of the bishop's counselors, who was emceeing the gig, called for the  next family. No one stepped forward. My grandmother looked furiously  down the pew at her offspring. She had asked them to get together and prepare a French carol, which obviously no one had done.

I  waited a moment, then tiptoed from my chair to my grandmother's, and  tugged on her sleeve.. "I can sing a French carol, Grandma," I whispered to    her.                                       

My grandmother looked at me skeptically. "What can you sing, Alexis?"  she asked haltingly.                                       
 "Petit Papa Noel, "  I told her. There was no time for a run-through.

 "Are you sure?" she asked me.

"I'm sure, " I answered. My parents had been singing with us in public  since  I was three and had taught us to be confident performers. I'd never performed that particular song, but I felt i knew it well enough to pull it off.
 My Uncle Michael plays piano well and can play by ear.  He thought he somewhat  knew the        song. My grandmother sent him with me so that if I  was a total bomb, he could drown me out or something.

 In the uncomfortable silence that had ensued since no one else stepped  forward,  Uncle            Michael and I walked to the front of the chapel. The lone  microphone was affixed to the podium and could not be lowered to the reach of an undersized five-year-old.. The bishop's counselor looked around for a box or something on which I could have stood.  "It's OK," I told him. "I don't need a microphone."

"Are you sure?".he and my Uncle Michael .asked in unison. I couldn't have sung to the back row of a large auditorium, but a typical LDS chapel was well within my range.

My Uncle Michael sat at the piano. "Do you even know what key this should be in?" he asked very tentatively. 

"A-flat if you can manage it," I answered him.  He relaxed slightly, as though the knowledge that I knew in what key in which  I wanted the song to be played meant I might have some clue as to what i was doing.

'What do you want for an introduction>" Uncle Michael whispered.

"The introduction is vocal, " I told him. "I sing and you play."

"Do you need a starting note?" he asked,

"No," I answered. "and after the second bridge, you do a piano interlude if you can. You just play the melody of the verse. It's just the second half of the verse."  He looked at me somewhat quizzically. "Just follow me, " I told him. "And if you get confused, I can do this all
by myself."

I stepped to the end of the grand piano, facing the congregation, looked around the piano to nod at Michael, as I couldn't see him over the piano, and began the opening line, "C'est la belle nuit de Noel." Michael realized that I actually could find my E-flat without his hitting it on the keyboard first. He relaxed slightly.

I had perhaps more confidence than I should have had without having practiced the song, but sometimes confidence is a good thing. Once Michael stopped worrying about me,he was great, and even embellished his interlude solo. We finished to loud applause. 

As we were stepping down, the emcee. asked if we had any additional participants. No one volunteered, so one older lady raised her hand and said, "Can we hear that last number one more time?"

The bishop's counselor repeated, "Can we hear the last number one more time?"

Uncle Michael took my hand and we turned around and walked back to the dais.  The second time was easy,and the applause was even more uproarious.

We finished and walked back to our seats where we would remain for "Silent Night," the closing prayer, and the blessing of the light refreshments that were to be served. When we reached our pew, I was dismayed to find my grandmother crying.

"Grandma, I'm so sorry!," I told her. "I  didn't mean to embarrass you. I thought I knew it well enough. I won't ever do it again."

She reached for me and held me in a tight embrace, My uncle Michael's new fiancee (herself a Christmas miracle of sorts, as evidence to my grandparents' homophobic LDS friends that my Uncle Michael was not gay), seated directly behind us, leaned forward and whispered to me, "She's crying because she's happy, Alexis. You sang beautifully."

it was the first evidence I'd seen since I was old enough to remember that my grandmother loved me. That alone makes "Petit Papa Noel" one of my favorite songs.  Anytime I'm around her during the Christmas season, I always have to sing it to her, even if we're somewhere like in the lobby of a restaurant. It embarrasses me, but not her. She loudly says to everyone around, "This is my granddaughter. Isn't she wonderful!". 

                                            Josh's version is just a tad superior to mine.


The Greatest Songs Ever Written or Performed

my future polygamous husband

It's time for a new edition of my list of favorite songs, but I'm too lacking in humility or even modesty to call it that. Instead, I refer to it as "The Greatest Songs Ever Written or Performed" as though my personal take on the topic is the final word. I know such is not really the case, but I still elect to entitle my list in the manner I've chosen. Furthermore, in addition to the obviously over-inflated ego as evidenced by the title, I recognize the redundancy in "ever written or performed." Duh! A song needs to be written to be performed, even if it happens simultaneously as with the original calypso music. (Those Carribbeans who created and perfected the music form were more talented than for which they were ever given credit. Making up lyrics and sometimes even melodies on the fly while one is performing is not easy and, moreover, takes major guts.((I was going to say balls instead of guts, but I deferred out of respect to my mom, who will most likely never read this blog. Am I not an extremely considerate daughter?)) )  

But  I digress. Sometimes the brillianc of a song isn't so much in the composition as in the performance. Some raw material had to have existed in the mere composition of a song, but in various cases, it's the artist who took a mediocre work and turned it into sheer brilliance.  I won't cite specific examples of such because we all have our own perspectives on what songs fit this mold, but I offer the elucidation as a justification for my redundancy. 

My list follows. I'm not consulting any previous lists because tonight's list is how I feel tonight. Whatever I thught or wrote three months ago is irrelevant.  Additionally, the order is random. The list is in neither ascending nor descending order in terms of my relative preferences. I'm just typing songs a they occur to me. I'm also not pre-listing a number, as in "My Top 25 Songs," because I'll type songs until I decide I have no more favorite songs tonight. I may stop at eighteen. I may stop at ninety-three. (Don't feel obligatedto readto the end if I go all the way to ninety-three.) In reality, i'll prbabaly top somewhere between eighteen and ninety-three. Again, a song's relative ranking on my list has no relationship to its actual relative merit in my mind tonight. It just appears where it appears. Fate puts it where it belongs. In actuality, this list matters to me and probably only to me. Someday when I'm old and gray (my mother says I deserve to go gray very early in life because of everything I've put her through, but I happen to know that she does not have a gray hair on her head, so who is she to suggest that I deserve to go gray prematurely? If I'd given her as much trouble as she suggests, there would be at least the occasional random gray hair or maybe a wrinkle or two. She is forty-seven. She buys Clairol Natural Instincts just because she likes the conditioner that comes with it. She's never ever put as much as a drop of the coloring product on her head. When she gets too many boxes of the coloring to fit in her bathroom cabinet, she throws it all out. It sounds wasteful to me, but as long as I'm supported in the manner to which I've become accustomed, who am I to complain?), I may read this and it may remind me of what I was thinking and feeling tonight.  That's really what the whole thing blog is about, anyway, although I do love a platform from which to pontificate. 

Anyway, the list . . .

1. House at Pooh Corner (or "Return to Pooh Corner;") 
                        I have no preference as to whether or not the nostalgic little verse 
                        at the end is included. it neither makes nor detracts from the song.
                        I saw a video inwhich Kenny Loggins described how he wrot this song
                        one day while he was cutting class in high school. Earnings from this 
                        song have paid for the education of eachof his children. Irony in its 
                        purest form.

2. I Will
                        From the Beatles' "White Album," it's  a love song to a love the singer                                             and/or writer has never met. It has a decidedly sweet melody. Though
                        I enjoy the occasional song that rocks loud and hard, i'm partial to sweet                                         melodies.

3.On and On
                        I'd temporarily forgotten of this song's existence until Knotty reminded me of                                   it by posting a Stephen Bishop video of it. Remembering it makes me happy
                        and reminds me of the simpler times when my daddy used to sing it to me                                     before I went to sleep.

4. Down to the River to Pray
                        I don't know if this is an old gospel song or maybe even a spiritual, or if it was                               written for George Clooney's movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? , but I                                         believe I love it a litle more each time I hear Alison Krauss sing it.  

5. My Life
                        I could probably comprise my list of favorite songs with music written                                               exclusively  by Billy Joel, but I will refrain  from such single                                                                 dimensionality. Of all of Billy Joel's songs, this one best expresses where 
                        I am at this moment in time. 

6. God Only Knows
                         The crazy genuis Wilson brother wrote this (I get them confused). One
                         account I read related that it was getting into the wee hurs of the morning
                         and the others were getting tired, so he sent them all home and did all the                                      vocals on the recording of this himself. If so, he nailed it, although it was                                          beautiful  in performance, with everyone else singing the vocals as well. 
                         I read somewhere that one of Paul McCartney's children told of ho                                                  McCartney used to play th song repeatedly and bemoan the fact that                                              someone else other than he (McCartney) wrote the song, as he considered
                         it to be the most perfect song ever written. I'm not sure i'd go that far, but it's                                  damned close.

7. If I Fell
                         I don't even remember what Beatles' album this one came from, though I                                        know it was one of the very early ones, and probably the song that caused me to                          fall in love with the Beatles.  At the time, when i was maybe three, I'm not                                        sure what was in the song that i thugh i could relate to, but i loved it when                                        the Beatles sang it, and I loved it whenmy dad sang and played it to me.                                        the chord structure is especially lovely.

8. We Will Rock You/ We Are the Champions
                          Two separate songs usually played in tandem, I'm not sure there's anything
                          truly great about these songs, musically speaking, but I love them anyway.
                          The words, however, are epic.

9. Come, Come, Ye Saints
                           This is a not terribly fitting song for meto have chosen for my list of favorite
                           songs, but I love it, particularly when performed by the MoTab, who are not
                           even close to my favorite group. This song, however, they nailed. I                                                    especially love the version that begins with strings playing the initial notes                                      of the melody in modulating keys until it settles and the choir begins to                                            sing. There's  a video on YouTube -- are many, actually -- but one                                                    particular video touches me. In a place in the video, one family's ox has                                          done all he thinks he can do and will go no further. He lays down and                                              refuses to get up as the families that were previously behind them pass                                          them up. The family's survival may depend upon this ox, although they                                              were not traveling alone, and one would think someone would have come                                      to their aid. Still, the already arduous trip  would have been made even                                            more so at best. The  young  mother in the  family, traveling with her                                                children and either her aging parents or in-laws, as her husband had  gone                                    ahead with an earlier group, prays  for the ox, pets him, then, crying,                                                pleads with him to get up and continue. She  takes the reins, pulls with all                                        the strength her petite body can accumulate, pulls the ox to his feet, and                                          persuades him to continue the journey.  Her father or father-in-law pats her on                                the back in a 'You go, girl!" manner, and they rejoin the wagon train procession.                            I know it's only a dramatization and isn't real, but still I get teary-eyed each time I                            watch the video.

10. Mother of a Miner's Child
                            The Poet Laureate of Canada, Gordon Lightfoot, has written more songs                                       than I can ever remember. I've been exposed to much of Lightfoot's music.
                            especially because my father was a friend of his late lead guitarist. I don't                                       know exactly what about this song appeals to me so, except for its pure                                         simplicity and beauty. I know next to nothing of mines and the mining                                               industry, but the song tells a sweet love story which a person who knows                                         nothing about mining can follow.There are probably only six or seven chords in                             the entire song, but the particular inversions of the chords are more perfect                                   than perfect can be, and the guitar work is exquisite. Though he played rhythm                               and not lead, Lightfoot's guitar skills have been heavily underrated. As rhythm                               guitarists go, he's one of the all-time greats. I'll get my lazy butt out of its                                         persistent vegetative state someday and post a Youtube video of the song,
                            but at this point, a great one has yet to be made. If you happen to go searching,
                            be sure to listen to Lighfoot himself. The covers do not do the song justice.

11. Nessum Dorma
                            From Puccini's opera Turandot, this is probably the all-time classic tenor 
                            aria. Once, in an effort to delay the inevitable bedtime, I asked my dad to sing it                             for me. He has a much better-than-average voice and has sung                                                       back-up professionally, but he's not a classically trained singer, nor is he even                               technically a tenor, although he has a fairly expansive range. Good sport that 
                            he is, he printed the lyrics off his computer before my mom could locate the                                   libretto from her volumes of music of every genre. I won't pretend that someone                             closing his or her eyes would have confused his rendition with that of Bocelli,                                 but it was seriously not bad.  My mom, who is not easily impressed, was                                         impressed.

12. Hey Joe
                            Covered by many bands but probably most famously done by "The Jimi                                         Hendrix Experience," this song makes the list probably more because of                                       positive associations and warm fuzzies than because of anything about the                                   song itself. I have a cousin on my mom's side who is about thirteen years older                              than I. I adored him when I was little and still do. he did not know how to play                                 the guitar (and he knew he didn't know how to play guitar; he wasn't a                                             delusional sort of person. Nonetheless, anytime he saw  guitar lying around,                                   he'd pick it up, begin strumming chordlessly, and sing "Hey Joe, where you                                   goin' with that gun in your hand?" I think of Brian now whenever I hear the song,                             and I have happy memories.

13. Hey Jude
                            A classic Beatles' song, it may have been  about marijuana and things even                                   more nefarious, or it may have been a simple song of consolation to                                               Julian Lennon as penned by Paul McCartney. Lennon and McCartney took joint                             credit for most or all either one wrote as a Beatle whether or not it was a                                         collaborative effort, but those in the know are aware of what was written by                                     whom. I tend to side with those who believe in the more innocent origin of the                                 song, but regardless, the song was and is a thing of beauty.

14. We Are Young

                            By a group known as "Fun," this isn't a terribly profound song, but not all songs                             need to be profound. two hundred years from now I'm not sure this song will                                   even be a blip on anyone's radar screen, but for tonight anyway, it's on my list
                            of favorites, 

15,  Like a Prayer

                             I don't know who wrote this, but I suspect the genius is in the arrangement.
                             The black gospel choir, the church setting, everything about the video and
                             the song itself is nothing short of perfection. It's Madonna at her very finest.

16. Blackbird 
                              This song will probably turn up on any "favorites" list I compile. Beautiful                                          melody,simple yet profound words -- what's not to love?

17. Penguin Lament
                               Words are by Sandra Boyton, a children's author and songwriter,  who is                                        somehow able to persuade amazing artists to record her stuff. Both Ms.                                        Boynton and John Ondrasek outdid themselves on this one. It deserves radio                                 play time even if it is a children's song.

18. Gira Con Me Questa Notte
                               Written by David foster and recorded by Josh Groban, my dad refers to this                                  as  the poor man's Nessum Dorma. I don't really care what my dad thinks                                      about it. I think it's a beautiful song and I love both it and Josh Groban. If he                                    asked me to marry him today, I'd do it even if I found out that he had fourteen                                  other wives I would have to share him with and we were going to live in                                            Colorado City or on the ranch near San Angelo, Texas, or wherever Warren                                  Jeffs assigned us to live.

19, Petit Papa Noel
                                 This is a relatively modern French Christmas carol. The words and melody                                    aren't totally suited to one another, as the melody is somewhat somber, as                                     though the song might be about the immaculate conception or some                                               similarly reverent topic, the word are of a child telling Santa that he or she 
                                  hopes Santa bundles up warmly because if he gets sick, it will be all the                                         child's fault because Santa was outside delivering toys to him or her.  My
                                  dad said the song had to have been written by a Catholic, because it has                                       the classic Catholic spin of taking something that should be light-hearted
                                  and fun, and turning it into the typical Catholic Festival of Guilt.

                                  While I think the melody is gorgeous -- perhaps too beautiful for that of a                                         children's sing -- and I especially love my polygamous fiance Josh Groban's                                   version, my real reason for being especially fond of the song hasn't much                                       to do with either the words or the melody. it's because it was the song that                                     made my grandmother love me. I'll end my "Favorite Songs' list here and                                       tell the story related to Petit Papa Noel in my very next post.