succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Musical Theater

AWB and I have a very official beginning to our friendship. But I should probably start this story a little earlier. I've always wished that I could sing, and I've always been a bit of a theater groupie. I was friends with several kids in the theater crowd in high school and though gymnastics didn't leave time for much else, I painted sets and hung around rehearsals and crashed cast parties whenever I could. During the fall of my sophomore year of college I attended a student production of Cabaret and the following spring I walked into my morning English class to discover three of the 'cool kids' from the play sitting on the opposite side of the room (AWB was Fraulein Schneider, two of her friends, who played Ernst Ludwig and the emcee, were also in the class). We're talking serious adulation here. They were smart and funny and talented and horribly intimidating. I tried not to stare. Shortly after the beginning of the semester the same theater group announced its spring show - Jesus Christ Superstar. I loved Dan Kehde's local production (it was a close second to Hair as my all time favorite musical, at the time) and had some dance experience so with the encouragement of some friends, I e-mailed the director to ask if they ever cast strictly dancers. I said I'd be thrilled just to be in the back of the chorus, but that I absolutely couldn't carry a tune. She said I should come down to auditions anyway. I made it through round one, without having to sing, and was asked to callbacks. Callbacks turned out to be an emotional marathon, for everyone involved, which resulted in quick, fierce bonds. I was told I would have to sing during callbacks, and was quietly trying not to panic. Because this particular student group, despite its share of stereotypical melodrama, was full of some of the nicest, most encouraging people you could ever meet, a few offered to coach me as best they could before my audition. I remember walking into the room with the director, choreographer, and accompanist as one of the most frightening experiences of my life (since I later became friends with all these people, they hate that I still remember it that way). Anyway, back to the point of the story. While we all sat around waiting for our turn, I worked up the nerve to tell AWB that we were in the same English class. Well then, she said, tomorrow morning you will sit with us, and we will be friends.

Though the friendship has (clearly) been a smashing success, that particular show ended in heartbreak. The group failed to get rights to the show and had to re-cast something totally different at the last minute. But I was already completely smitten - that semester I was an assistant director, and for several semesters after I stage managed and was even president of the organization my senior year. My last year there the group finally did manage to secure the rights to Jesus Christ Superstar. My friends told me I had to audition again, it was too nice and symmetric and full circle to pass up. So this time I actually practiced and learned a song and managed to not sing horribly off-key during the audition and got my little part in the chorus!

So where am I going with all this? I watched (the movie version of) Rent tonight, and got to thinking about the fact that I haven't been even remotely associated with theater for three years. Sure, I thought about it, half-heartedly researched local undergraduate groups and asked about the need for stage-hands, but never followed through. Now, I used to give AWB a hard time about 'giving up' theater. She's crazy talented, and she made this sort of conscious decision, just said that with grad school and everything there wouldn't be time for that particular pastime anymore. I hung onto it a bit longer, probably longer than I should have for my own health and sanity. But many times it really was true that a bad day working on a show was still better than a good day doing anything else. I think about all the nights spent in Ford apartments, how that place became like a commune, with mattresses tossed on the floor, costumes made in the dining room, sets constructed and painted in the living room, and a perpetually full pot of coffee. Carrying sets through the snow at 3 am to the church that functioned as our performance space. The fact that being a stage manager was my serious back-up plan for a while. And yet...and yet I too have just let it go, quietly, hardly noticing. I scoffed when people said in grad school all you do is the thing you're studying. But what do you know? All I do is the thing I'm studying. (ok, and a little political activism and drinking and hanging out with friends and, starting Monday, coaching gymnastics) But still, take my word for it, this is way more focused than I ever used to be. I think in the long run it's a good thing, the way it has to be. But I don't like that it happened in a way that feels without my consent, without my notice. AWB decided when her 'career' was over, just like I decided when to 'retire' from gymnastics. But this was the very next thing that I fell completely, madly in love with and it feels like I didn't do it justice...well, either that or late-night viewings of Rent make me particularly emotional and nostalgic.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Worst. Documentation. Ever.

So I finally got around to working on my dissertation this afternoon and my advisor set me up with a new dataset that's related (conceptually) to the one I'm using and may contain some data that we may be able to use as validation for our work. So I'm trying to get this other dataset up and running and it comes in several pieces with some read me files about how it all goes together and how it was collected and blah blah blah. So how might this documentation be provided? These pages and pages of manuals and protocols and sample surveys? Why, with every single page as a separate TIF file, of course! Good grief!

Update - on the 754th of 983 files I finally found what I was looking for - the table translating variable names within the database.

FUCK. I just spent two hours working on a paper and what do I have to show for it? One additional sentence. That's right. In two solid hours of serious work I managed to type (and keep) one fucking sentence. This wouldn't be so bad if I were a) getting paid or b) working on my dissertation. But since this particular project has nothing to do with either of those (in my calmer moments I know that I'm doing this because I care about the subject matter and it's good experience and there's a small chance it will get me my first publication as primary author) it's really hard not to throw a little hissy fit right now about two wasted hours. Oh wait, I think I just did.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sense and Sensibility - who knew Alan Rickman could be so sweet and lovable?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Holy crap, I wish tonight's episode of Frontline had aired on one of the main networks (because, sadly, how many people really watch PBS these days?). It was about the age of aids (it's been 25 years since the first published account of aids cases) and was remarkably good. I learned quite a bit, and I'd like to think I probably already possess an above average amount of knowledge on the subject (ok, maybe not as much as Kathy, who left for Lusaka this afternoon - there's a little shout out for you dear!). Things like current Supreme Court Justice John Roberts wrote a personal memo to President Reagan shortly before one of his first speeches on aids, and as a result Reagan downplayed medical advice that aids cannot be transmitted through casual contact and instead claimed that no one was sure and sending your kids to school with HIV positive kids would be a tough decision, one he was glad he didn't have to make. This as a reaction to specific instances of kids being harrassed out of elementary and junior high schools and at least one instance of a FL family having their house burned down. (party of family values my ass) Unlike the sappy made-for-tv version of the Reagans a few years ago, and all the slop tossed around after his death, PBS didn't shy away from criticisms of Reagan or his administration during the early years of the aids crisis. Part two airs tomorrow night, 9-11.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Amidst all the marathons on tv, cook-outs, beer, and shopping, try to pause a minute and remember why we take this day off from work.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Liberal Media?

Jamison Foser has an excellent piece over at Media Matters outlining just a few examples of the myriad of ways that the mainstream media treats liberals and conservatives differently. The main structure of the article compares press coverage of Clinton "scandals" to Bush "scandals," but can easily be generalized.

In the 24 months between Jan. 1994 and Jan. 1996, long before Monica Lewinsky entered the picture and back when Whitewater was about an alleged crooked land deal, Nightline devoted 19 programs to the then-unfolding scandal and investigation, for which no Clinton White House official was ever indicted.

But during the 24 months between Sept. 2003 and Sept. 2005, Nightline set aside just three programs to the unfolding CIA leak investigation, for which Libby, an assistant to the president, was indicted. On the night of the Libby indictments, Nightline devoted just five percent of its program to that topic.

I've been trying to imagine watching CNN side-by-side with a (reasonable, rational) conservative and comparing notes regarding where we see biases in reporting I'm looking for someone to play devil's advocate - the evidence of a conservative slant in mainstream media (most notably in reports from the White House press corps) seems pretty straight forward to me...but am I just letting my own liberal bias color my interpretations of data?