Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Musical Makeover

I've been listening a lot to Eels, Weezer, Ben Folds, Smashmouth, Cake and similar music lately.

It's a bit of a jump from the usual suspects on my iPod. Sweet friends who'd had enough, albeit baseless, faith in my musical taste were almost always disappointed when they borrowed it. The initial content was archaic, and that's putting it mildly. The youngest musician was Frank Sinatra, and he's been dead for a while. The rest were mostly nether-century composers, when music involved very little singing or none at all and most of the cover art were paintings of the composer because photography then was probably advance technology.

So I decided to botox it since a. it's getting a bit depressing because I'm leaving my house to places this summer (starting from a fortnight from now) which means I'll be leaving the piano behind which means I would miss playing and listening to classical would be like salting the wound, b. my socially adept sister (more than I can say about myself) says you are what you listen to these days and from that principle I would be a boring sixty-year-old snob. I wouldn't say that's inaccurate, but I'm not sixty, and c. I've started listening to contemporary music and hey, they're not half bad, and they'd probably help me in future karaokes.

So, my mp3 player now holds an eclectic repertoire of everything new from Black Eyed Peas' Boom Boom Pow (I still giggle when I see the title) to Lenka, Katy Perry, Kings of Convenience, One Republic, All American Rejects, The Ting Tings (what's in a name anyway), Jason Mraz, Lady Gaga (she can actually sing), Kris Allen (gasp) and the abovementioned maestros on the first line. I still keep some selected classical pieces on a separate folder, though, as collateral. Save it for a rainy (summer) day. My sister's pretty proud of my updated taste, even when I pointed out that if I'm what I listen to now I'd probably be a very confused fifteen-year-old chart-hopper. Give it two weeks and I'd probably start reading romance novels. Err... or not. I'd take Flo Rida over Nicholas Sparks any day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Feeling Frosty

Somehow I was left feeling rather Robert Frost-y. I really can't tell if it's just me or because of the movie. Here's one of my favorite Frost poem my high school literature teacher made me read in practical criticism class once.

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and reappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost


It's been a while since I've seen anything that can move me on TV. I used to crave epiphanies from Hollywood flicks; Disney cartoons were to me what Aesop’s fables were to Greek children. I've learned to believe in dreams from little nemo, to seize the day from dead poets' society, to have faith in love from Romeo and Juliet, and so on.

And then at some point I grew sceptical.

It's a lot easier to be sceptical in this world, I assume, as a laugh and a scoff can turn even the sourest of disappointments into a forgivable joke. I heard once that clowns wear a permanent smile to mask their sorrows from the world because there's no room for sad clowns in the world.

I suppose at one point we all turn into clowns.

At some point inevitability abandons us all and we suddenly stop running around and the questions start coming. All of a sudden we needed a purpose, a role, an identity. All of a sudden we wanted to map a track and build a yellow brick road leading to our own personal Oz.

And thus with it comes the need to find a niche that fits you, but most of the time you don't bother creating a new one (the idea seems rather self-indulgent in itself), you simply try to fit within the mould that existed. Sure, certain variations are acceptable, but the general idea is to follow certain ground rules. Being secure and confident and happy is one of them. When you meet a person for the first time, you set your countenance into default mode, and this usually includes a polite smile, a calm composure, and a welcoming tone of voice (assuming, of course, that you, like most people, still believe in the value of civility). You might have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, fell down a flight of stairs, got bitten by a dog, and fell into a puddle, but when you meet someone for the first time, you try to smile and shake their hands and not make a fuss. Because it's not really their fault, is it? They didn't know you had a rough day. They had nothing to do with it, so why rain on their parade?

Of course, if everyone was like that then we'd have a very happy society made up of very unhappy individuals.

So then you factor in pride (or you can call it an innate, instinctive sense of self-preservation, if it makes you feel better).

You see, you know that these people exist, the people who are unhappy and yet still put on a smile. But it would be a shame if you were one of them, wouldn't it?

So you look for a remedy. You anticipate sadness by constantly hunting the reverse. You try to codify happiness. You subconsciously construct within yourself through your own values and through your observation of the world through your eyes what you believe to be the source of happiness. A successful career, a good health, a comfortable life, a room with a view, a promise of heaven and salvation, a gold medal, a word of praise or thanks, a sense of social and financial security, whatever it is you choose to include, in the end you end up with a customised framework of happiness and then, be it subconsciously or deliberately, you begin to pursue it. And you start walking purposefully.

But you're not the only one walking, are you? That yellow brick road is not a one-way freeway; it is an overlapping, bottlenecked, jammed up maze filled with people trying to get to their Promised Land. And although they say you shouldn't measure yourself with others as yardsticks, sometimes you can't help but compare yourself, can you? I mean, these people are right there in front of you, on your left, and on your right, and, since you're blessed with peripheral vision, you can't help but compare.

Because nothing makes your glass feel fuller than an emptier glass beside it and nothing makes your glass feel emptier than a fuller one next to it.

And sometimes you can't help but think that it's not even about how much you put into the glass anymore; some simply start the journey with a gallon while other were given teacups. But a part of you (that self-preserving morsel) refuse to believe that. You must at least carry enough to get to your destination, and if it turns out you don't, you're simply not walking fast enough or you're wasting your water along the way. You cling to the idea that although the world might seem to be unfair, in the end you'll get your fair share if you keep at it (whatever 'it' is according to you). If it works, great but if it doesn't, surely it's not the end of the world.

If you get to the end without reaching your destination, you change tactics. Perhaps the end is not the end. Perhaps there's something better beyond the end. And then you try less and pray more.

If you get to the end before reaching your destination, if somehow along the way you genuinely felt that you've found happiness and contentment and a sense of fulfilment, you also change tactics. Perhaps there is more. Perhaps the end will give me more so I should want more. And then you lose that contentment and look for what you've already found because you simply believe that something better must be waiting around the bend.

In the end we all just keep going until it finally occurred to us that all this sprung from that set of ideas we constructed ourselves a long time ago, and that when all is stripped away, really, the point is the journey you've been walking on all along, not the destination (here come the clichés - but I'm taking off that mask now anyway so screw conventions and hail clichés).

The point of all this rambling is that the movie made me realise that I need to keep in mind that the pursuit of happiness is a huge part of happiness itself. The toil, the pain, the waiting, the wondering, the ebb and flow will all culminate to form your own personal happy ending. And understanding that will let you appreciate your journey in all its colours, not just the pastels. It all comes down to perception in the end. I think so anyway.

- drying my tears after "Shadowlands".