Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Profanity, updated

Originally posted at 11:42pm on 3/30/09. Updated at 12:50pm on 3/31/09

Last week on Twitter, [a friend] tweeted about one of her writer friend's weekly video podcast and encouraged her Twitter followers to watch. Because "Obedient" is Item #7 in the Scout Law, I clicked over and watched her friend's video. Below is the conversation that I had with [my friend] before, during, and after my viewing of the 14-minutes-and-31-seconds-long video podcast in question. (You may click the pic to embiggen.) [UPDATE: I removed the Tweetcap in response to my friend's feedback.]

My response to the video was pretty much, "Why so much of the swear, man?" As you can read above, My friend defended the use of profanity in literature as a character-development and plot tool. This, I am OK with. What I was really questioning is why an adult human of any profession would choose to pepper profanity into his everyday speech, let alone the speech he or she would record and then make public on the InterWeb-o-Tron.

We didn't really come to any conclusive resolution, and I thought this episode was finished. Imagine my surprise, then, when the author's next weekly video podcast [UPDATE: I removed the link in response to my friend's feedback] rolled around and his entire first segment, the [identifying segment name redacted], was a defense of his profanity, quoting me almost word for word at one point and then ridiculing Great American Songwriter Cole Porter while completely missing -- and, haha, simultaneously proving -- Mr. Porter's thesis.

So, you know, I feel good for spurring that kind of internet debate.

But perhaps I wasn't eloquent enough in 140 characters to sufficiently lay out my argument. Yes, I grew up believing that the word (cover your eyes, Mom) "fuck" is offensive. And despite my colorful and frequent (though less so, now) use of it, it still affects me when I hear it from others. However, that's only part of my objection to the writer/podcaster's profanity. To me, relying on profanity is simply lazy -- I think that's really what Cole Porter meant when he penned:
Good authors, too, who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.
Anything goes!
When people pay you to do things with words, why use a derivative of (again, Mom, please to be making with the eye-covering) "fuck" when any number of verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, and whatnot would work just fine -- and, likely, more descriptively? Because "Anything goes" these days, is why. Because you can.

I get that each writer has his own voice. And I get that the writer's voice is his fingerprint, his Unique Selling Proposition in the marketplace. People buy this guy's books or that woman's poetry because they identify with how he or she crafts words. And sometimes profanity is a part of it. I'm just surprised by how much this one writer's Unique Selling Proposition relies on his artistry in the medium of profanity.

All I'm saying is if I ever do a weekly video podcast, profanity won't be a part of it.

I am President McKinley

The new Facebook has somehow brought with it a flood of "Which __ are you?" personality quizzes apparently based on as much science as an issue of CosmoGirl, if it were written in the 18th century by the shaman of one of those lost Amazon tribes.

What I'm saying is, they're not at all scientific. *taptap* Is this thing on?

But in the interest of full disclosure, I share with you now the results of my Facebook personality tests. In no particular order, I am:
  • President McKinley in the Which President Are You? quiz
  • "Climb Every Mountain" in the What Musical Theatre Song Are You? quiz
  • The Princess Bride in the What 80's Movie Defines You? quiz
  • Alamang in the Kung Ikaw Ay Isang Sawsawan, Ano Ka? :)) quiz (I have no idea)
  • Olivia Newton-John / Sandy in the Which Grease Character Are You? quiz
  • Clairee Belcher in the Which Steel Magnolias Character Are You? quiz

Saturday, March 28, 2009

#3? Really?

I hosted a Twitter-based game tonight that really had about five players, with one consistent player throughout the evening. I called it "Lyrics Showcase" and you can see it here. Basically, I would tweet lyrics from an 80's song and players had to name the song.

In the process, I learned that the awesomely 80's Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald song, "On My Own," was the #3 song on Billboard's Hot 100 songs for 1986.

Really, 1986? That's the best you could do?

Anyway, by request of the good folks at Universal Music Group, embedding the original video is not allowed. BUT! Here's a live performance from 2000, which is still pretty 80s. Enjoy it in all its wondrous glory:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ooooh, sorry...NOT enticing.

This invitation arrived in my e-mail inbox this afternoon:

Let me break it down for you: Under no circumstances whatsoever do I want to be on any island with Alex Trebek. I especially don't want to be on an island of historic, scientific, and otherwise educational importance with Alex Trebek. I doublespecially don't want to be on an island of historic, scientific, and otherwise educational importance with Alex Trebek in a safari jacket.

But, hey, if you wanna visit the 'Gos with Trebek, don't let me get in the way. Click the pic to enter the drawing.

[UPDATE: As of 4/13/09, this post is the #1 Google return for the search phrase: alex trebek's safari jacket. I'm honored.]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Volunteer Management Manifesto - What would you add?

Here's the thing. I volunteer a lot.

If you include church stuff, last week I gave almost 30 hours to volunteer service. Admittedly, last week was an unusually high-volume volunteer week, but I probably average between 10 and 12 hours a week. So I know what it's like to be a volunteer.

I've also recruited, trained, and supervised volunteers for years, starting way back when I worked on my Eagle Scout service project, all the way through my time at IU as a student and then as staff, to my time as a professional fundraiser supervising volunteers in the process of soliciting their peers for donations. So I know what it's like to depend on volunteers for the success of a project, event, or initiative.

From my perspective, the single most important thing about the volunteer experience is to remember that at any point, for any reason, with or without notice, the volunteer may walk away. Sure, most volunteers will at least let you know why they're leaving, but you can't necessarily expect that.

We volunteers are doing what we're doing -- whether it's building a Habitat house or staffing a soup kitchen or walking/cycling/triathloning/scavenger hunting to raise money -- because we believe it's important. Of course, the reasons we believe it's important to volunteer vary:
  • Because a loved one dealt with this important cause (homelessness, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's, etc.)
  • Because we want to feel like we're part of something (a solution, a team, a movement)
  • Because there's some pay-off (our school requires community service, a resume is padded, enhanced networking opportunities, etc.)
  • Because a trusted person asked us to
  • Because we want to meet new people
  • Because we want to learn more about an organization
  • Because we want to "help" or "give back"
  • Because we feel some duty - civic, personal, social
  • Because it gives us a chance to share a special skill or develop new ones
  • Because if we volunteer, we get into an event for free
  • And tons more
The reality is, we each come to the volunteer experience from our own perspective. But the single most important thing any volunteer manager can do is listen and look for our motivation for volunteering and honor that by helping us achieve that goal or fulfill that need. And for Heaven's sake, don't get actively in the way of us achieving our own personal goals for volunteering.

Here are five important things I've learned about the care and feeding of volunteers:
  1. Volunteers need direction. You can call it guidance, or leadership, or vision, or management, but we volunteers need someone telling us what to do -- and, often, how to do it, and why. Usually, that's a staff person, but sometimes it's another volunteer.
  2. Volunteers need communication.* And not just while we're on-site; we need immediate information that will help us fulfill our role (and meet our motivational need for volunteering) and we need to know that what we're doing matters in the long-term, big picture. Of course, communication is a two-way street -- we volunteers need to feel listened to, as well. Often, your volunteers are the ones who can most immediately (and cheaply!) help you meet a challenge or identify a solution to a problem.
  3. Volunteers need acknowledgment. The annual volunteer-recognition dinner is an important event, but the more important opportunities come every single day, when you have an opportunity to thank a volunteer face-to-face, sincerely.
  4. Volunteers need training. Even the briefest orientation communicates to us volunteers that what we're doing matters. And if it helps to equip us as teammates for your organization, all the better. For what better ambassador for your org than someone who has given his or her own time on your org's behalf, talked to your service recipients and made a difference in their life -- who could possibly be a more powerful advocate?
  5. Volunteers deserve honesty. If I'm failing as a volunteer, it's OK to address that with me. You might even have to "fire" me by speaking with me directly about how it's not working out, and helping me find another opportunity that better fits my skills -- either within or outside your organization. But if you can do that sensitively and with loving truth, it could be the most important interaction in either of our experiences.
The reality is this: most volunteer managers simply don't think about what we volunteers need -- there's just not time. Very few people only manage volunteers and have no other component to their job. And that's OK. But if we can all come together to build a culture of best practices in volunteer management, our orgs will be a lot better off, now and in the future.

* In fact, this is the reason for this post today. I'm part of a couple organizing committees for upcoming events, and the most frustrating thing that I've been dealing with is unacknowledged e-mails and unreturned phone calls. Not. Cool.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Milo and Behold

It's been a long time since I've posted anything about my roommate, Milo. Here he is:

Aaaand, that's pretty much why I haven't posted anything about him lately -- he looks and acts exactly the same as he did the last time I posted about him.

He's slightly more messy with his food these days (as evidenced by the hay and lettuce on the floor), but other than that, he's the same old Milo: laying around, eating salad, drinking water, headbutting feet, etc.

It's been more than a year since Milo came to live with me, and I'm really glad he did. He's a funny little guy, and he's a lot of fun to have -- he's a cool dude, just the right combination of fuzzy, bouncy, and chill. (Like me.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Our "Requiem" concert just got a lot more personal

Shortly after yesterday's dress rehearsal for today's "Requiem" concert at St. Luke's, I got an e-mail letting me know that a dear friend and fellow choir member had passed away. Bob Butler, a good friend and a good man, had been hospitalized earlier in the week, and his condition had worsened over the past few days, and now he's gone Home.

Bob was one of the first people to welcome me to the St. Luke's Chancel Choir when I started singing there four years ago. He helped me get oriented to the way the choir rehearsals and performances worked, and he always had a great smile to share. Bob was always there, faithfully occupying "his" place in the front row, very end seat in the baritone section. Steady is a word I would use to describe Bob. Steady and dependable and faithful.

Today's concert will go on as planned, and we'll be keeping "Bob's seat" open for him. The thing that strikes me (at 5:30 A. freaking. M., when both of you, my regular readers, are fully aware that I should be asleep...) is that, up until now, this business of singing a "Requiem" has been a largely theoretical exercise for me -- proclaiming God's love and comfort for an anonymous audience. But now, as we sing this concert, the members of the choir will be ministering to each other as much as to those in attendance.

So, if you're planning to come, be aware that I'm not exactly sure what to expect from this afternoon. As we've been discussing and preparing for this concert, we've readied ourselves for a variety of emotional responses from the audience, but we didn't really plan for a contingency like this one. Hopefully, we'll be able to connect with the uplifting message of promise and inspiration that is at the foundation of Mack Wilberg's "Requiem" and deliver that message to you, the audience, as well as to each other.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Why would I want to spend part of a Sunday listening to a Requiem?"

I just wrote this over on SmallerIndiana, and I figured it would fit here, too. It contains more information about what the "Requiem" piece is like and what to expect when you attend the concert on Sunday.

Having grown up in the orchestra program of Carmel-Clay Schools, I'm probably more into classical music than the average person. I hope, though, that you'll consider joining me and almost 200 other musicians for a concert this Sunday, to hear the Indianapolis premiere of a piece that debuted at the opening and re-dedication of the Mormon Tabernacle just a little over a year ago.

The centerpiece of the concert is "Requiem," a stirring composition by Mack Wilberg, music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If you're big into church music (and, come on, who isn't these days?!), then you already know that Wilberg is widely known as one of the foremost composers and arrangers of spiritual music in the world today. If you happen not to be big into church music, I'll share with you what I've learned along the way about how we'll be performing the "Requiem" and why this piece is special.

If you'd like to save your eyeholes and use your earholes, just click on the player below. Otherwise, read on!

I think the most important thing to know about this "Requiem" is that it's not all dead people, dying, doom and gloom. In fact, Wilberg intentionally set out to compose what he describes as "a requiem for the living." The setting builds on the centuries-old tradition of a requiem (a Mass for the dead) but makes it contemporary and accessible by opening the Latin and Greek choruses up with familiar scripture in English. The ethereal Latin and tumultuous Greek are interwoven with passages like "The Lord is my shepherd..." and "How lovely is they dwelling place..." as performed in English by baritone and mezzo-soprano soloists.

Before we started rehearsing Wilberg's "Requiem," my only requiem reference point was from the movie "Amadeus," where Mozart is commissioned by a scary guy in a scary mask to write a requiem, only to die before he could finish. Morose, right? So I was reluctant to dive head-first into a concert whose centerpiece would be so dark and foreboding. But, it turns out, Wilberg's piece doesn't really have that tone at all; rather, it's uplifting and inspirational. A rundown of the seven movements (yes, seven! be strong -- it's only about 35 minutes, start to finish) is below. You can listen to clips from Movements 1, 5, 6, and 7 in the audio preview above.

1. Requiem Aeternam
A movement for the choir, introducing the requiem itself and reflecting the traditional requiem theme: "Give them eternal peace, Lord." Though this movement starts out somewhat bleak and dark, it transitions quickly to more soaring passages. Performed in Latin.

2. Kyrie
A lively, even stormy, movement for choir and baritone soloist, wherein we (humankind, the world) cry out for mercy. ("Kyrie eleison" is translated, "O Lord have mercy.") The turbulent orchestration is almost cinematic, as the realities of our humanness conflict with the promise of eternal life. Performed in Greek and English.

3. I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes
The first of three scriptural passages from the Book of Psalms. This movement contains some of the most moving music of the piece, with the message of the psalmist dancing back and forth between the soloist and the choir. Performed in English.

4. How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place
The second of the three Psalms texts, performed entirely by mezzo-soprano soloist. The high wind instruments mimic bird calls throughout the piece, and it will be easy to imagine sparrows and swallows flitting around the concert space. The orchestration alternates between bright and dark, bleak and promising. Performed in English.

5. O Nata Lux
A calm and ethereal movement sung by the entire choir that offers a prayer that we may be worthy of God's love. Performed in Latin.

6. The Lord Is My Shepherd
The third, and perhaps most recognizable, text from Psalms. This movement is performed entirely by the baritone soloist and follows Psalm 23, a stirring and soaring expression of God's promise to us and our trust in God. Performed in English.

7. I Am the Resurrection and the Life
The final movement of the piece returns to musical themes from the first and second movements and adds even more uplifting and inspirational themes. Performed in English and Latin.

Even if you normally wouldn't be up for an experience like "church music on a Sunday afternoon," this concert will be a great refuge from the noise and chaos of the world. You are welcome to join us, whatever your faith background -- sometimes just letting the music wash over you is the most spiritual experience (non-denominational) you can have.

I hope you'll consider joining us for the concert this Sunday, March 22, at 4:00pm, at St. Luke's United Methodist Church: 100 W. 86th Street. The concert is free to all persons, and a free-will offering will be received. You can click here for more details.

You like free things. You like music. So, you'll LOVE free music.

Click here or click the pic below for a handy reminder of how great the concert is going to be this Sunday, March 22, at 4:00pm at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Are you daft, man?

There exists, I have just learned, a French electronic music duo called Daft Punk. I do not know why they are called this, generally, nor do I know why their name is not itself made up of actually-French and/or French-sounding words. Fortunately, for our immediate purposes, this is not important.

What IS important is this: The Daft Punks (or whatever they're called) have this song called Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (which, again, not sure why it's en anglais, but what do I know?) and it's pretty cool. You can listen to it by clicking the link, or you can hear it by seeing below what the various corners of the intertubes have wrought.

First up, some amazing creativity from someone with writing (and too much time) on their hands:

Of course, when I do something innovative and someone tells me I have too much time on my hands, I tell them they're just jealous. In this case, I am just jealous of the ability to write so clearly on one's own hands, as well as the ability to moderate one's hand perspiration so as not to make the marker run.

Next up, we have a reimagination of a Disney classic, wherein a maiden in the woods who has shacked up with seven midgets gets her electronic groove on:

In this case, I am jealous of this person's video editing skills, and sheer chutzpah, flouting The Mouse's veritable army of copyright-infringement attorneys and proceeding forward with such artistry.

Finally, you can click here (or click the photo below) to get your own iDaft, where you can mix your own Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger sound effects.

I think I can speak for humanity when I say these videos and the iDaft console make the world a better place. Thank God for daft people, and punks, and especially for Daft Punk.

Can't see the videos? You're missing out! Click over to: http://sssemester.blogspot.com/2009/03/are-you-daft-man.html

Friday, March 13, 2009

9 Banjo-Strummed Notes, and I'm Seven Years Old Again

When I was at the library earlier in the week, I was browsing CDs, and I came across a compilation of Muppet music. It contains original music from The Muppet Show, as well as from The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. It goes without saying that I, of course, checked it out. It's great, with old classics like "Mahna Mahna" from The Muppet Show and The Great Muppet Caper's "Happiness Hotel," an awesome ensemble piece that melds music and comedy seamlessly, flawlessly, and peerlessly.

But I was most struck by about 20 seconds at the beginning of "Rainbow Connection," the famous introductory song from The Muppet Movie. The nine notes that Kermit strums on his banjo at the beginning of the song were like a time machine. I heard those notes and was instantly transported back into Jason Gregory's basement. Jason and his family lived across the street from us when I was growing up, and he had The Muppet Movie soundtrack (on vinyl). I remember sitting down in the basement playing board games and listening to the record.

Take a listen to the beginning of the song. (Again, I'm only posting a little bit, so I hope the lawyers, the FBI, and/or the Ghost of Jim Henson don't come after me.)

Those nine notes -- "STRUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-STRUM" -- are magic. And then even before they're played again, there's this exquisite hangtime. It's only a second or so, but there's so much potential, so much room for dreaming what could be, in that space. Only after offering that space are the notes then repeated: "STRUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-STRUM." And another bit of dreamspace, and then the song begins.

Of course, a dreamer like me is going to tell you that "Rainbow Connection" is a brilliantly composed piece of music. And that's exactly what I'm telling you. But it's not because of the words or the performance; rather, it's because of what lives in the space between the notes. I think that's what the Muppets and those who worked with them understood: leave room between the notes for comedy, for reflection, and for dreaming.

That's the gift they gave us.

If you can't see the audio player, click here: http://sssemester.blogspot.com/2009/03/9-banjo-strummed-notes-and-im-seven.html

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Amazing Discovery - "Brandswag" Baroque

Do you remember Colin Clark? He's a blogger friend (whom I've never met in person) -- the one who randomly and generously sang "On The Bayou" a while back -- and he now works with Kyle Lacy at Brandswag, the new media / social media consulting firm whose tagline is "Ideas infecting business."

Colin and Kyle are producing a weekly video series called Brandswag.TV, and I think Colin is the one who composed their theme song, which you can hear by watching the video below. (You can also learn about selling your couch on Twitter.)

The funniest thing, though -- I would have SWORN that Colin's "Brandswag" theme song was an original composition, but as I was going through my old classical music CDs recently, I came across an astonishing clip, which I've posted below. What do you think?

I think Colin's neo-punk theme is certainly more contemporary and edgy, but there's something to that Baroque one...but how did they even know about social media in the 17th century?

Can't see the video? Click here: http://sssemester.blogspot.com/2009/03/amazing-discovery-brandswag-baroque.html

Chuck Klosterman's 23 Questions (Yikes.)

I've just subscribed to Elizabeth Friedland's blog at Circle City Snark. Elizabeth is a Smaller Indiana member, and I've grown to admire her willingness to step into the ring to debate politics with any and all (dogmatic, crazy, delusional, whatnot) comers.

It just so happens that the first blog post of hers I saw mentioned Chuck Klosterman's book, "Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs," in which the author lists 23 questions he asks everybody he meets in order to "find out if I can ever really love them." Having not yet read the book, I have followed Elizabeth's advice and Googled the questions and placed my own answers here. This is a long one -- and a weird one -- so buckle up and let's hit the road. Here we goooooooo!

Chuck Klosterman's 23 Questions (as transcribed by Melanism at Don't Cross the Streams)

1. Let us assume you met a rudimentary magician. Let us assume he can do five simple tricks--he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, he can make a coin disappear, he can turn the ace of spades into the Joker card, and two others in a similar vein. These are his only tricks and he can't learn any more; he can only do these five. HOWEVER, it turns out he's doing these five tricks with real magic. It's not an illusion; he can actually conjure the bunny out of the ether and he can move the coin through space. He's legitimately magical, but extremely limited in scope and influence. Would this person be more impressive than Albert Einstein?

To me, it's a question of whether it's the same rabbit/same coin each time, or whether the magician can manifest coins and rabbits at will, with magic. If he has the ability to manifest millions of dollars in coins and/or millions of rabbits (which he could then sell for millions of dollars in coins and/or paper money) through magic, then I find this far more impressive than Einstein. If not, then I'd say he's about equally impressive.

2. Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while his head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but completely immobile. And let us assume that--for some reason--every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?

There is no way in the world I would agree to those terms. I'd probably throw up simply at the prospect.

3. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler's skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can't give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler's skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical. Which option do you select?

Totally the skull. Turtles are cute, but boring and I'd be afraid that there's something wrong with the turtle that would end up costing me money. I'm wary of the phrase "relatively normal turtle."

4. Genetic engineers at Johns Hopkins University announce that they have developed a so-called "super gorilla." Though the animal cannot speak, it has a sign language lexicon of over twelve thousand words, an I.Q. of almost 85, and--most notably--a vague sense of self-awareness. Oddly, the creature (who weighs seven hundred pounds) becomes fascinated by football. The gorilla aspires to play the game at its highest level and quickly develops the rudimentary skills of a defensive end. ESPN analyst Tom Jackson speculates that this gorilla would be "borderline unblockable" and would likely average six sacks a game (although Jackson concedes the beast might be susceptible to counters and misdirection plays). Meanwhile, the gorilla has made it clear he would never intentionally injure any opponent. You are commissioner of the NFL: Would you allow this gorilla to sign with the Oakland Raiders?

No way. I've seen too many episodes of "BJ & the Bear" and "When Animals Attack" to take the gorilla at his word.

5. You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate's collarbones with a Crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear--for the rest of your life--sound as if it's being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it's being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it's being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you). Would you swallow the pill?

Totally not. I have barely a passing familiarity with Alice in Chains but it doesn't sound all that good to me. Sorry about your smashed bones, soul mate -- but I'll be around to help with the recovery every three years.

6. At long last, someone invents "the dream VCR." This machine allows you to tape an entire evening's worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device of you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you don't agree to this, you can't use the dream VCR. Would you still do this?

I remember most of my own dreams, so I wouldn't need this machine, but even if I didn't, I wouldn't use it. I think we're all pretty judgmental and I'd prefer not to open myself up to that any more than I already do. (See also: this entire blog.)

7. Defying all expectation, a group of Scottish marine biologists capture a live Loch Ness Monster. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, a bear hunter in the Pacific Northwest shoots a Sasquatch in the thigh, thereby allowing zoologists to take the furry monster into captivity. These events happen on the same afternoon. That evening, the president announces he may have thyroid cancer and will undergo a biopsy later that week. You are the front page editor of The New York Times: What do you play as the biggest story?

I'd go with Nessie, unless I have a credible source who says the president is soft-selling the cancer thing and he already knows he has it, in which case I'd go with that story. Sorry, Sasquatch, you're third-tier, although I'd probably find a way to link the Nessie-Sasquatch stories in a weekend feature.

8. You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal: You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they have one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Henson's gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the film's "deeper philosophy." Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?

I think marriage would be enough to stop me from marrying her, but if I had decided to marry her, then no, the Dark Crystal obsession would not be enough to prevent it. I'd probably have to watch it again to know what she was talking about, though.

9. A novel titled Interior Mirror is released to mammoth commerical success (despite middling reviews). However, a curious social trend emerges: Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, it appears that almost 30 percent of the people who read this book immediately become homosexual. Many of these newfound homosexuals credit the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their orientation, despite the fact that Interior Mirror is ostensibly a crime novel with no homoerotic content (and was written by a straight man). Would this phenomenon increase (or decrease) the likelihood of you reading this book?

I do like a good crime novel, and considering the whole celibacy thing I've got going on, I'm pretty sure the potential of switching teams wouldn't make that much of a difference.

10. This is the opening line of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City: "You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this time of the morning." Think about that line in the context of the novel (assuming you've read it). Now go to your CD collection and find Heart's Little Queen album (assuming you own it). Listen to the opening riff to "Barracuda." Which of these two introductions is a higher form of art?

You already know I have great respect for the written word, and McInerney's opening line is a story in itself. But to me, there's about four stories inside the opening riff to "Barracuda." Heart FTW.

11. You are watching a movie in a crowded theater. Though the plot is mediocre, you find yourself dazzled by the special effects. But with twenty minutes left in the film, you are struck with an undeniable feeling of doom: You are suddenly certain your mother has just died. There is no logical reason for this to be true, but you are certain of it. You are overtaken with the irrational metaphysical sense that--somewhere--your mom has just perished. But this is only an intuitive, amorphous feeling; there is no evidence for this, and your mother has not been ill. Would you immediately exit the theater, or would you finish watching the movie?

Exit and call immediately. Without question.

12. You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random stranger. The wizard says, "I will now make them a dollar more attractive." He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different. But--somehow--this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you can't deny that this person is vaguely sexier. This wizard has a weird rule, though--you can only pay him once. You can't keep giving him money until you're satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front. How much cash do you give the wizard?

I'd give him a dollar. I think we could all stand to be "vaguely sexier." But I'm not a chump.

13. Every person you have ever slept with is invited to a banquet where you are the guest of honor. No one will be in attendance except you, the collection of your former lovers, and the catering service. After the meal, you are asked to give a fifteen-minute speech to the assembly. What do you talk about?

See #9 above. I'd talk about whatever was on the catering staff's mind -- a plan for divvying up all the leftovers, probably.

14. For reasons that cannot be explained, cats can suddenly read at a twelfth-grade level. They can't talk and they can't write, but they can read silently and understand the text. Many cats love this new skill, because they now have something to do all day while they lay around the house; however, a few cats become depressed, because reading forces them to realize the limitations of their existence (not to mention the utter frustration of being unable to express themselves). This being the case, do you think the average cat would enjoy Garfield, or would cats find this cartoon to be an insulting caricature?

Cats would find it insulting, but not surprising. I think cats consider every interaction with human culture insulting. However, I reject the premise that they would be unable to express themselves -- perhaps they can't express themselves verbally, but I imagine they'd find plenty of ways to make their opinions sprayed, clawed, and otherwise known.

15. You have a brain tumor. Though there is no discomfort at the moment, this tumor would unquestionably kill you in six months. However, your life can (and will) be saved by an operation; the only downside is that there will be a brutal incision to your frontal lobe. After the surgery, you will be significantly less intelligent. You will still be a fully functioning adult, but you will be less logical, you will have a terrible memory, and you will have little ability to understand complex concepts or difficult ideas. The surgery is in two weeks. How do you spend the next fourteen days?

I'm not sure I'd actually have the surgery, but the question seems to assume its inevitability, so: I'd spend it laughing as much as possible with my favorite people to laugh with. Like, non-stop shifts of movie-watching, tv-watching and reminiscing. I'd rather lose a leg than my witty repartee.

16. Someone builds an optical portal that allows you to see a vision of your own life in the future (it’s essentially a crystal ball that shows a randomly selected image of what your life will be like in twenty years). You can only see into this portal for thirty seconds. When you finally peer into the crystal, you see yourself in a living room, two decades older than you are today. You are watching a Canadian football game, and you are extremely happy. You are wearing a CFL jersey. Your chair is surrounded by books and magazines that promote the Canadian Football League, and there are CFL pennants covering your walls. You are alone in the room, but you are gleefully muttering about historical moments in Canadian football history. It becomes clear that—for some unknown reason—you have become obsessed with Canadian football. And this future is static and absolute; no matter what you do, this future will happen. The optical portal is never wrong. This destiny cannot be changed. The next day, you are flipping through television channels and randomly come across a pre-season CFL game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Knowing your inevitable future, do you now watch it?

Screw that. If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen, but I don't need to hurry it along in any way, shape or form.

17. You are sitting in an empty bar (in a town you’ve never before visited), drinking Bacardi with a soft-spoken acquaintance you barely know. After an hour, a third individual walks into the tavern and sits by himself, and you ask your acquaintance who the new man is. “Be careful of that guy,” you are told. “He is a man with a past.” A few minutes later, a fourth person enters the bar; he also sits alone. You ask your acquaintance who this new individual is. “Be careful of that guy, too,” he says. “He is a man with no past.” Which of these two people do you trust less?

Of the two, I'd say the man with no past, I suppose, because he's clearly got something weird going on (witness protection program, cyborg from the future, etc.). Of all the characters in the question, though, I'd go for the soft-spoken acquaintance, because (a) he's so damned vague, and (b) I think low-talkers are manipulators.

18. You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select?

Europe. Totally.

19. Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you don’t kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that. So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you can’t tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

Total denial. "What kick? I have no idea what you're talking about." My real friends already expect this from me. (The denial, not the rib-kicks.)

20. For whatever the reason, two unauthorized movies are made about your life. The first is an independently released documentary, primarily comprised of interviews with people who know you and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing the documentary as “brutally honest and relentlessly fair.” Meanwhile, Columbia Tri-Star has produced a big-budget biopic of your life, casting major Hollywood stars as you and all your acquaintances; though the movie is based on actual events, screenwriters have taken some liberties with the facts. Critics are split on the artistic merits of this fictionalized account, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing?

Hmm, that's tough. I'd probably be more interested in seeing the documentary of me, to get a real picture of how I'm perceived in the world. I do enough internal self-aggrandizement -- I'd probably be disappointed by the big-budget fictionalized version.

21. Imagine you could go back to the age of five and relive the rest of your life, knowing everything that you know now. You will reexperience your entire adolescence with both the cognitive ability of an adult and the memories of everything you’ve learned form having lived your life previously. Would you lose your virginity earlier or later than you did the first time around (and by how many years)?

Again, this question assumes I'd actually reexperience adolescence, which I wouldn't, but for the sake of the question, I'd say neither earlier nor later.

22. You work in an office. Generally, you are popular with your coworkers. However, you discover that there are currently two rumors circulating the office gossip mill, and both involve you. The first rumor is that you got drunk at the office holiday party and had sex with one of your married coworkers. This rumor is completely true, but most people don’t believe it. The second rumor is that you have been stealing hundreds of dollars of office supplies (and then selling them to cover a gambling debt). This rumor is completely false, but virtually everyone assumes it is factual. Which of these two rumors is most troubling to you?

Haha, I don't think anyone would believe either one. I don't even work in an office! Seriously, though, in the context of the question, I'd say the second one, clearly, would be more troubling.

23. Consider this possibility: Think about deceased TV star John Ritter. Now, pretend Ritter had never become famous. Pretend he was never affected by the trappings of fame, and try to imagine what his personality would have been like. Now, imagine that this person—the unfamous John Ritter—is a character in a situation comedy. Now, you are also a character in this sitcom, and the unfamous John Ritter character is your sitcom father. However, this sitcom is actually your real life. In other words, you are living inside a sitcom: Everything about our life is a construction, featuring the unfamous John Ritter playing himself (in the role of your TV father). But this is not a sitcom. This is your real life. How would you feel about this?

Oh, my gosh, it makes my head hurt to think about the details related to this question, but boiled down to its most essential, this is pretty much how I think of life anyway. I grew up -- and came into adulthood -- with such a TV influence that I already think of the other people in my life in terms of TV: sitcoms, dramas, police procedurals, whatnot. So really the only change would be that it's unfamous John Ritter instead of the unfamous people already in my life. So: meh.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mmmmmmmmmmm... Roastburger...

The other day, as I was talking with my friend Julie, whose boyfriend Matt works in Arby's management, she mentioned Arby's new product, The Roastburger. Specifically, she mentioned that I could get one for free with purchase of a beverage. (She gave me a secret code word for use on Sunday, March 8, and I have since found a coupon that is valid through Saturday, March 14.)

So last night, I tried the Roastburger -- a roast beef sandwich seasoned with burger seasoning -- for the first time. Here's how it went down...

I went to the Arby's at 38th and Lafayette -- I mean, come on -- to obtain my (first of probably many in the next week) free Roastburger. I decided to go inside, so as not to get carjacked just to be safe with the handling of the coupon, and actually encountered no problem getting my free dinner. What I did have trouble with was deciding between my options. For, you see, there is more than one kind of Roastburger. Dig -- you can get:
  • The Bacon 'n' Cheddar Roastburger -- grill-seasoned roast beef with pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a specialty bun

  • The Bacon 'n' Bleu Roastburger -- grill-seasoned roast beef with pepper bacon, bleu cheese spread (whatever that is), lettuce, tomato, and onion on a specialty bun

  • The All-American Roastburger -- grill-seasoned roast beef with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, ketchup, mustard, and "our tantalizing special sauce" (whatever that is) on a specialty bun

I opted for the Bacon 'n' Bleu Roastburger and it took Violeta, the counter-service person who had a single braid of hair down to the back of her knees, a little longer than I'd anticipated to get me my sandwich, but that was OK; I was in no hurry.

I got me and my Roastburger home and opened up my haul. It looked like a typical Arby's roast beef sandwich, just with bacon and other stuff on it. But when I took a bite, it really did taste like a burger -- like a loose, kind of randomly compiled, burger. I'm not sure it changed my decades-old preferred Arby's order (Beef 'n' Cheddar, curly fries) forever, but it was good.

Especially since it was free.

"But," as the inimitable LeVar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, "you don't have to take my word for it." Use the coupon link above and get your own today -- no secret code needed! Just print the coupon out -- in color, since sometimes places make a big deal about that -- and, heck, you can even print out three coupons and try all three varieties!

Let's end hunger together

I think we can all agree that no child in America should grow up hungry.

Over in the left-hand sidebar, I've placed a widget from the good folks at Tyson Foods, Share Our Strength, HUM/Kimball Office, and MediaSauce.

Do me a favor and click over there (or just click here) and make your pledge. You can pledge to GIVE money to support efforts to feed the hungry. Or you can pledge to VOLUNTEER at a local foodbank -- they'll even help you find the one nearest to you. Or you can pledge to SHARE this effort -- either on your blog or website, or by personally talking it up with friends and family.

For every 1,000 pledges, Tyson will send a truckload of food to your local foodbank.

So click it now and make YOUR pledge!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Whoa. Who are you? And who am I, again?

A funny thing happened just now on Twitter. (Well, over the course of the last day or so.)

Last night, I saw an old high school friend on Facebook. He's now a transplant surgeon in Wisconsin, and his Facebook status said he was "putting the kids to bed then going on a fly out for a liver!" Which I thought was pretty awesome, but which also intimidated the hell out of me. Because, while this guy is brilliant and way more focused and ambitious than I ever was, the fact that we graduated high school together made me think, "Wow. That could have been me."

I started at IU thinking that I would go to medical school. But I decided part-way through that I definitely did not want all that much more school, let alone all the stuff that doctors have to put up with (malpractice, insurance, malpractice insurance, actual patients, etc.) -- so I opted not to go the med school route. But seeing his status update got me all "What if..."

So I tweeted out into the Twitterverse both his original status update and my response: "I kind of wonder where I stepped off that path (those paths, really), but I'm both super happy and a touch regretful that I did." Because I couldn't imagine having kids right now, nor could I imagine being a transplant surgeon right now. But, you know, "what if...?"

Still with me? Because here's where it gets weird.

A woman named Diane, whom I had not met before, engaged me in conversation about my friend's status update and my response. I thought that she was perhaps just being (overly) friendly, but it turns out (as I found out just now) she thought I was somebody else. Somebody named -- wait for it ... wait for it -- Scott Smeester.

I'll wait while you read that again. Scott. Smeester. Shall we continue?

So, yeah. There exists someone whose name is like my name, but with two letters transposed.

What amazes me is how I reacted. Because there are currently eight people in the US with the last name "Semester," three of whom -- my sister-in-law, niece, and nephew -- we've added in the last three or four years, I have grown supercomfortable in thinking that I would never, ever be name-confused for someone else.

But this sudden threat to my name-identity really threw me for a loop. I mean, I've never before discovered Scott Smeester when I've Googled myself -- and trust me, I've Googled myself plenty. (It's the only truly safe form of Googling.) So I don't think it's all of a sudden a thing or whatever, but it did make me feel a little less unique.

Gonna need to noodle over this and figure out if it really means anything...

You should listen to this.

Here's a clip of some of the music that we'll be singing at the free "Requiem" concert on Sunday, March 22, at 4:00 p.m. at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. The clip also gives you an insider's look at why the concert is special and what to listen for during the performance.

If you can't see a PodBean box above, click here to listen: http://sssemester.blogspot.com/2009/03/you-should-listen-to-this.html
This is what you do:

  1. Turn up your speakers.

  2. Click the little triangle.

  3. Listen.

  4. Go to the concert.

  5. Heap praise upon me and the other musicians because we are awesome.

Simple, right? So do it!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

While it is true that "One of these mornings, God is gonna call me home..."

... I must take issue with the claim that Lucky Charms lose all meaning in the Kingdom of Heaven. Bacon, oatmeal and the rest, I can do without, but my very soul depends on the hope that Lucky Charms will be made available to us in the afterlife.

Can't see the video? Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYqM9-Fj0Pg&eurl=http://sssemester.blogspot.com/&feature=player_embedded

What's going on here?

As regular readers of this blog, both of you know that while I'm looking for a job, I've gotten involved in a number of volunteer opportunities. Between resumes and interviews and writing and some other projects, here's the volunteer stuff I'm working on these days:

QUASH - The Quest to Unravel Alzheimer's Scavenger Hunt
On Saturday, April 25, teams of 2 to 4 people will descend upon downtown Indy to participate in a scavenger hunt of epic proportions. QUASH is a fundraiser to support Alzheimer's research and treatment, and my brother and I participated in it last year. I'm on the steering committee this year, and I'm looking to recruit some team captains. If you're interested, let me know, and I can get you the hook-up on your registration fee.

St. Luke's
I'm happily -- oh, so happily, you have no idea -- back at my home church. I'm still working with St. Luke's Stephen Ministry, and I'm back doing some stuff with the Together In Ministry Everyday movement within the congregation (helping to plan and promote opportunities for interfaith study and dialogue in April and May). I'm also occasionally subbing with the handbell ensemble, singing monthly at the Taize worship, and singing each week with the Chancel Choir. (You should come to our free concert on March 22. And watch for some audio clips here on the ol' blog to help you decide to attend the concert.)

Freewheelin' Community Bikes
I'm on the board, as this project began as a ministry at Broadway Church (where I used to work), even though it's housed at Tabernacle Presbyterian. It's a neighborhood outreach and community development program based around bikes -- kids come into the shop and learn about bicycle mechanics, maintenance, and repair, and in the process they earn their own bike. Freewheelin' sponsors a number of bike rides throughout the year, and there are all kinds of ways to be involved -- if you're interested, let me know, and I'll share more info with you.

Motus Dance Theatre
My term as the chair of the board of directors for Motus Dance Theatre has expired -- well, to be truthful, I expired it and engineered a self-coup in December. ¡Viva la self-initiated revoluciĆ³n! I'm still on the board, though, and my main focus is fundraising -- working with the company president to get our grant reports and applications hammered out and submitted on time. (What? Five minutes before the deadline is "on time.") Motus is also where I took those Zumba classes at the beginning of the year -- if you want a real workout that's a ton of fun, check out Zumba with Megan on Thursday nights.

Do I need a reality check or a marketing plan?

The last few days have led me to believe that either I consistently overestimate my own abilities or the rest of the world simply hasn't heard how great I am yet. So, I tweeted this out to the Intertubes a few nights ago, and the three responses I got, each one word, were very helpful: "Plan." "Check." "Yes." (Haha, thanks.)

Since I'm holding down the couch today, kind of sick and mostly tired, I figure I should spend some time pondering. The irony is that even though the most hammered-in underpinnings of my psyche support the message "Scott Semester is awesome," I am frequently seized by such overwhelming self-doubt that you'd think I was hiding a secret of JameGumbian proportions. (Which, to be clear, I am not. I don't even have a basement.)

But the doubt is there. When I go to a meeting of the steering committee of a fundraiser and it's "brainstorming time" yet the group responds to my good ideas with disdain, the self-doubt rears its head. When I show up at a networking event and someone says, "You look nothing like your Twitter profile," even though (a) I'm pretty sure I do even when I'm not smiling a toothy grin and (b) I have no idea what that even means, the self-doubt rears its head. And when the guy whose behavior while interviewing me for the job I didn't get was WILDLY inappropriate leaves me a message saying he'd like to give ME feedback on my interview, despite my carefully thinking through the situation and intentionally deciding not to call him back, the self-doubt again rears its ugly, ugly head. The last week or so has been pretty challenging for me.

It kind of goes back to what I posted last week -- I think I go through ups and downs of being my best me and not being my best me. But my forgiving myself is as important as (more important than?) my forgiving others.

So, as I've pondered this, I've decoded something about myself. The fact that I give a crap what other people think is a part of my personality -- part of who I am. Not everyone is like me -- and I think we can all say "Thank God" for that. I can behave in a way that's different from who I am (and, certainly, sometimes I should), but I also shouldn't be ashamed of who I am. And I sure as hell shouldn't forget all the good things that I've accomplished as a result of listening and caring, and acting on that.

Therefore, I hereby step out of the Self-Doubt Spiral. I return to blogging, and I return to all the other things that I am good at and enjoy. And I'm going to do a better job of promoting myself and letting others in on the secret that I'm pretty special. Viva la self-confidence!

Just as soon as I get over this sore throat.