Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why I Listen To Jay-Z

A while ago I noticed a copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in a used bookstore.  I had known of the title for some time but had never read it.  Since being more effective is something that I strive for, and since I feel it's one of my strongest weaknesses, and since I love used books, I bought it.  Really all I wanted was help in figuring out how I could best get schoolwork done with less procrastination but I was happily surprised to realize that the book provided considerably more than that.

Certainly there are mainly valuable lessons contained within, I'll mention one that really stood out.  Much of the advice contained deals with how to navigate various relationships and of course communication is invaluable regardless of the type of relationship.  One of the points the book's author Stephen Covey makes is that one should always First Understand, then Be Understood.  When I first read this it seemed so obvious that it doesn't really bear stating.  It is just too cliche seeming, like a commendation to "walk a mile in his shoes."

However, the problem is that comprehension is always done through one's own framework which necessarily skews understanding.  The suggestion then, is to really seek to understand the other person's point of view, by considering not just the information being presented, but why it's being said.  This involves questions and rephrasing so that both parties can be certain they're on the same page.  Only when you understand the other person's point of view do you present yours.  Then seek to have the same level of understanding.  So often disagreements stem from people who are arguing different things.  Here's an example.

A while ago my friend Calvin loaned me a book by Jay-Z called Decoded.  It is part autobiography and part discussion of his rap lyrics.  It was perhaps surprising that Calvin loaned me the book because historically I've been dismissive of rap, not being overly fond of the sound and outright contemptuous of the lyrics.  The lyrics are after all, hopelessly materialistic, violent, misogynistic and based solely in shock value.  However, I decided to read a bit.

I read about Jay-Z's start in the projects selling drugs but later skipped over to his explanation of the only song of his that I knew, 99 Problems.  I had heard the song before but the only lyrics I knew were of course, the chorus.  "If you're having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I've got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one"

In the book he discussed the lyrics from the second verse:

"The year is '94 and in my trunk is raw
In my rear view mirror is the mother fucking law
I got two choices y'all, pull over the car or
bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor
Now I ain't trying to see no highway chase with jake 
Plus I got a few dollars I can fight the case
So I pull over to the side of the road
And I heard "Son do you know why I'm stopping you for?"
Cause I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low
Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don't know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?
"Well you was doing fifty five in a fifty four"
"License and registration and step out of the car"
"Are you carrying a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are"
I ain't stepping out of shit all my papers legit
"Do you mind if I look round the car a little bit?"
Well my glove compartment is locked so is the trunk and the back.
And I know my rights so you gon' need a warrant for that
"Aren't you sharp as a tack are some type of lawyer or something?
Or somebody important or something?"
Nah, I ain't pass the bar but I know a little bit
Enough that you won't illegally search my shit
"We'll see how smart you are when the K-9's come"
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one
Hit me"

The thing that surprised and impressed me the most was the chorus.  "I've got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one" isn't misogynistic here, he's talking about the drug sniffing dog.  Granted I'm a sucker for puns, but that's where my perspective changed a bit.  Looking back through the rest one can see the what life is like for a poor, black man from the projects.  The power tripping and racism of the cop, the prejudice, and the us versus them mentality is all there.  I can complain about his dealing drugs but in the absence of any other opportunities it's difficult to lay too much blame on that.  

Now I wouldn't say that having a rough background justifies all rap lyrics.  Some of them are truly horrible, but I don't see how anything productive can occur if offended, middle-class, white people mount a censorship attack on their art without really understanding what's being said.  From the little I learned about living in the projects from the book, the mentality is that it's a dog-eat-dog world and you can only look to yourself to overcome the trials.  Maybe the lyrics about having the Bentley, the diamonds, the champagne and all the rest is the justifiable pride that comes from starting with nothing and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps to success despite the fact that countless others do nothing by try and pull you back down.  Maybe the glorified violence, materialism, misogyny and all the rest are just a contrast of the life in the projects to the life on top.  Maybe at the heart of the lyrics is a glorification of what's been overcome.  

I don't know to what extent that's the case, but I'll never know if I don't learn how to understand and be understood.  I imagine that without any of that understanding my criticisms will be understood as "You're evil and threatening and so is your culture and you should be more white.  I didn't care about you when you were growing up in a neighbourhood of drugs, fear, violence and lack of opportunity and the only reason I care about you now is because you offend me."  Hardly possible to have meaningful dialogue.  

I'm not ready to go out and buy a bunch of rap albums; even if I loved the music I still find the lyrics too offensive to enjoy.  That doesn't mean I wouldn't listen to them though, how else could I come to understand?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Karen Gomyo: Epilogue

This feels like the height of egotism with a splash of laziness, but I think I can justify my actions.  A cousin of mine mentioned that he would like to reread the posts and of course, I'm all too happy to comply.  To some extent, I've been keeping a blog for about six years, most of them largely forgettable.  However, there was one topic that for me, and probably the majority of those few people who read my posts, that will be forever associated with my blog.  I'm referring of course to the posts about the lovely Karen Gomyo.  Since the majority of the events occurred five years ago, I'm going to repost them here.  That's where the laziness comes in.  I'll have to trust that you aren't as lazy as me, because all together it makes for a long blog post.  At the very end comes, as promised, the exciting epilogue.  

The story begins back February 18th, 2007.  Due to the proximity to Valentine's Day I had already written a post or two about how being single was not only the state I was in, but the state I was happily in.  Then my roommate Calvin came back from a date with his girlfriend to the symphony.  (evidently the date went well, they're now happily married)  He described how they had listened to Sibelius' Violin Concerto and how the soloist was a beautiful, young woman.  I looked up her picture online and,  instantly suffering from a celebrity crush, wrote this post on my myspace blog:

In my head I can already play it all out. It'll start with the fan letter that I'll write her. In it I will invite her out for coffee. She is, of course, always surrounded by fawning admirers and and demanding managers and conductors. I will provide a breath of fresh air for somebody living a life of stress and demands. 

Over coffee I will be friendly, funny and charming, she will be sophisticated, alluring and exotic. I will provide a window of normality and calm, she will provide a breath of excitement.

We will enjoy several days of bliss as we experience infatuation and attraction of a hollywood romance level. Then her busy schedule will beckon and she will be off on a road trip to New York, London and then Tokyo. I will be back to work installing doors, casing and baseboard. She will be my foil, awing audiences with the beauty of her sublime playing. The most perceptive critics will wonder where the new found passion in her playing came from. Every memeber of the audience will tangibly feel the love and pain of separation singing from her violin.

We will both rack up exorbitant long distance phone bills, with me short on sleep from spending hours on the phone in the early morning hours to make up for the time differences. She will relate her feelings on bearing the weight of heavy expectations and I will comort her with jokes. Perhaps I will quote "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" to her. I will surprise her with a visit to one of her concerts in Paris. It will be awkward though, both wondering how long this can last.

Perhaps it will start when I, in exhaustion, will nod off while on the phone with her. Perhaps there will be a handsome cellist with perfect pitch who can better understand her life. In any case a slow decline will occur. Her life and mine will be too different; we both know how the script ends before we arrive there.

I will lose Karen to the demands of the road. However, one day many years from now she will be long since retired. Then she will look back on her career, remembering the standing ovations in Carnegie Hall, the glamour of exposing her soul through music with the best musicians in the world. She will then remember the only person who treated her as a person instead of a commodity. The only man who gave more than he asked for. She will remember this and wonder if she made the right decision.

Then she will pick up her Stradavarius and play a tune so mournfully that the angels themselves will fly down and incline their ears to the tune. The tears they shed will fall as drips of rain and in that moment the world will stop and all hearts will beat with the same rhythm, and all hands will drop their weapons, unclench their fists, and join hands and cry for the terrible beauty and tragedy of love.

I thought that the story was over except for one of my other roommates mentioned that Karen (spoiler alert!  Yeah, we're now on a first name basis) also had a myspace page.  Probably under the influence of alcohol or worse, infatuation, I sent her a short email with a link to the blog.  A terrible thing happened.  She replied!  She complimented my writing and all in all, was very friendly about the whole thing.  There were a few more emails, I later posted this next blog, on June 4th of the same year:  

She's Playing Me Like a Violin

For those of you who followed my previous myspace blog you'll be aware of the blog I wrote about Karen Gomyo. 
As you may know, I was surprised to receive a reply from Karen who also had a myspace profile.
Now when I wrote the first blog about Karen it was totally tongue in cheek. I had no intention of contacting her, nor did I expect ever think of her again. When I learned that she had a myspace profile I sent her a link to my blog but didn't expect her to read it. Well she did read it and then she wrote me a reply setting into motion an unfortunate chain of events.
The first problem was that I wasn't lying when I wrote that Karen Gomyo is beautiful. Nor was I lying when I said that I find musical women attractive, and Karen is a professional musician. The next problem is that I suffer from the same disease that most guys suffer from, basically if a girl pays attention to me I optimistically think that she's interested. The final problem is that Karen perfectly fits into the category of girl that I always fall for, unattainable.
We kept up a correspondence for a little while and likely she was just kindly sending out a few emails to a fan. I however, feel that she had a more devious plan in place.

The first email that she sent was short, a polite reply to the blog I sent. She ignored my reply and I thought that I had heard the last of her. Then a couple of weeks later, out of the blue, came another email much longer and more personal. I was very surprised. I wrote back but she did not reply; not for a couple more weeks anyhow. I replied but this time I was kept waiting, and waiting. There were no more replies.
A few weeks later I went to write her another email and to my surprise she had deleted her profile. I was quite shocked, this time I knew it was over. I was quite disappointed and not just because I wanted her opinion on some violin recordings that I discussed in one of my blogs.
A week later I received a myspace email from someone named Karen. Her profile was completely blank except for her name, age and location. It was her, or perhaps someone playing a cruel prank on my, giving her opinion on the recordings. She had read my blog, and then created a profile solely to write me. This time I didn't know what to think.
The thing that she managed to do was write me an email just when I had lost all hope that I would hear from her again. I would always got through the same cycle of surprise at an email, hope for another reply, followed by disappointed resignation. Each email that she sent though, would further the reason for hope and those emotions would grow stronger with each cycle.
The problem is that now I see the pattern of receiving an email only after I've given up hope. Now I've lost hope that I'll hear from her again yet I know that it is in this time that she sends an email so I am unableto give up hope. She's got me stuck in an awful limbo. Obviously she is just toying with me for fun. Miss Havisham would be so proud.
The other thing is that I've got so many questions to ask her. "Is there time to sightsee when playing in foreign cities? Do you enjoy traveling so much? Have you visited the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park? Do you have the Stradivarius at your house when not touring or is it locked up? Will you marry me? What does Ex Foulis mean?
Man if she knew what she's done to me.

I don't like this last post as much, largely I think for one reason.  I received an email from Karen apologizing for her actions, but between the lines also a "I don't know who you are or what you want, but it's starting to get weird and I wish you would stop" message.  I felt bad because I just wanted to make people laugh, but perhaps the facetiousness of the message is lost for those who don't know me well.  I wrote back to her apologizing and suggested that if she preferred, I would not contact her anymore.  She replied that she would appreciate that.  I sent  one final email, asking that she would pardon this last blog post:  (Which of course I linked in the email)

And So It Ends
Since I began blogging there have been a variety of subjects that I have broached on multiple occasions. There were the indecisiveness blogs (I'm ready to write another of those), the pacifism blogs, and of course the blogs about my internet friendship with Karen Gomyo, professional violinist.
I must admit, the first blog I wrote about her, the tragic romance story is one of my all time favourite blogs. However, I did try reading it to my mom and failed, I was too embarrassed and Lisa had to read the last part. I couldn't quite vocalize the whole "angels flying down" or whatever part. It was a little too over the top, to employ generous understatement.
I really liked some of the other blogs of the same subject. For one thing, I always found them very easy to write and satisfying afterwards. A conclusion of mine, based on no actual evidence, is that they were among my readers' favourites as well. Well this shall be the last blog on the subject because it's all over.
I think things first started going downhill after she left myspace. I think that my first blog was actually quite prescient because the story played out very similarly to real life except for a few minor details. In real life there was no meeting for coffee, blossoming romance, new found passion in her playing, no late night phone calls, nor a trip to Paris, no wondering on how things can continue and the cellist with perfect pitch finally ending things was actually just me, writing too many emails that were too akin to creepy, stalker emails.
In the end, each party involved, her, myself, the police and the judge, decided that it would be for the best if I stopped contacting her, maintain a 750m perimeter from her at all times and attend counseling. So I guess that's that.
I read once that people generally date and marry those of a similar level of attractiveness. I guess that most people automatically pursue those of a similar standing as themselves. Maybe I need to learn to do this because I obviously was way out of my league. But that's OK, I learned from my mistake. No more professional musicians for this guy. What's more, in a serendipitous stroke of luck I stumbled across Jessica Simpson's email address and I think that armed with my new knowledge and awesome moustache I should have a pretty good chance.
On a totally unrelated subject, does anyone want to buy a half carat, VVS1-VVS2 diamond solitaire ring?
That blog was posted on October 1st 2007 and until just recently, it was the final word on the subject.  (Except of course during parties when we would play Deep Purple's My Woman From Tokyo and I would get misty-eyed and have to excuse myself from the room because I had some dust or something in my eye.)
Fast forward to March 3rd of this year.  The symphony will be performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto and the guest soloist is of course, the lovely Karen Gomyo.  The concert would have been tempting anyway, with our tempestuous history I couldn't resist.  I bought tickets and a friend and I attended the event and it was fantastic.  She can really make that Strad sing.  Beautiful.  Plus, she chose the Nathan Milstein cadenzas, which I think are rare due to the fact that the wikipedia page doesn't even mention them.  
After the concert there was a Q and A with a couple members of the orchestra interviewing Karen.  I say interviewing, but really it was more of a "I think this blah, blah blah, don't you agree Karen?"  A little bit irritating. What they should have asked is, "What's the best fan email or blog you've ever received?"  
After that most of the audience filtered out save for a few people who asked for autographs.  Then I saw my chance.  I walked up and introduced myself to her.  If that sounds confident and perhaps suave I should probably qualify the statement.  I walked up and stammered some sort of apology/explanation of who I was.  She looked at me without comprehension until I mentioned a blog and email.  Suddenly she remembered, and God bless her, smiled at me.  (beamed really)  She shook my hand and all was right with the world!  Then I invited her out for coffee.  
Just kidding.  Then I said I enjoyed the concert and left.  I've grown past these childish romances.  
Just kidding.  There's a part of me that hopes she'll read this blog and contact me.  Besides, I've since talked to a friend of mine who plays in the orchestra and she said that Karen is really nice.  
Well, what I wanted most already happened.  I always felt that she had a negative but flawed impression of me and I feel like I finally exonerated myself.  I did after all, wear my good shoes.