Friday, February 27, 2009

The Non-Conformist

You might be a non-conformist if…

I. You wear eccentric fashion accessories
II. You gravitate toward people who are atypical and excel at weirdness
III. You can do “un-cool” things like shopping at Goodwill, and not be ashamed of it
IV. You still like silly putty
V. You knit retro clothing items for yourself
VI. You attend classical concerts
VII. You can befriend middle-aged, or even “old” people
VIII. You hang out with a small group of people completely unlike you, and yet completely loveable
IX. You like vanilla ice cream because it sounds exotic
X. As a general rule, you would be considered unpopular
XI. You still get excited about magic towels
XII. You run with scissors just to feel dangerous
XIII. You adore argyle vests
XIV. You are more interested in good friendships than meaningless relationships
XV. You are secure about who you are
XVI. You feel fulfilled in life right now…not when you move up in the world
XVII. You desire friends more for the companionship than the support of your self esteem
XVIII. You can laugh at yourself
XIX. You like things “because you like them,” not because other people do
XX. You can honestly congratulate the success of others and view them as an inspiration rather than a threat

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Performance Pacesetter

Performance Pacesetter is Heidelberg University’s annual competition for high school students. I competed in it last year (placing third) and this year. A year ago, I was still at the point where I was terrified of all things resembling performance, making the competition a paralyzing experience, to say the least. My teacher, Dr. Pierre, has told me that I am a very musical person, but I fall apart in performances. A few months ago (I’m not sure when it really came to be), I completely overcame performance anxiety. I recognized that I begin by expecting failure, and decided that whatever happens, I get up there and have a good time. I began having some of the first performances of my life that did not evoke nerves and needless mistakes. I haven’t been truly nervous at a performance since.

So, there I was, waiting outside the doors of Ohl concert hall, drinking green tea, and listening to the pianist who was competing before me. It was one of those moments where I had to stifle the urge to think of it as a competition. When you hear a phenomenal pianist, also your competitor, and sincerely wish him all the luck in the world, you have succeeded in seeing the success of others as an inspiration rather than a threat. I was remarkably relaxed. One of the best things I ever learned about performing is to appear confident, and begin with confidence, no matter what you’re feeling. If you pull it off well enough, you actually become confident. I walked across the stage with an ease I didn’t know I possessed, bowed, and took my seat at the piano.

I began, starting with a Spanish piece by Turina. The entire piece went smoothly, and I was having a good time performing by the time I reached the end. After a comfortable pause, I began my Beethoven sonata. Beethoven sonatas have always been my greatest weakness, or rather, the memorization of them. For some reason, I can memorize thirty pages of Ravel in a day, while five pages of a Beethoven sonata could take weeks. The real problem is that all Beethoven sonatas have sections in which a simple note or key change takes you to an entirely different passage. This usually means that I end up going in circles. However, I was completely comfortable with the memorization of this sonata. I had memorized it hands separately, and could easily explain, entirely from memory, how the different passages connected.

There are certain instances in which a performer who has a piece memorized without flaw fails to think ahead to subsequent passages and, hence, goes in a few circles. This was my downfall. The second time a certain forte came around, I started to get a little concerned. When it came around a third time, I became slightly worried. Had I been nervous to begin with, I would have ceased playing and run from the stage. Instead, I thought positively: I know this piece, and I need only think of the next passage and how to get there. To my vast relief, I smoothly progressed to the next passage, and ended dramatically. I bowed, forced myself to smile, and left the stage.

When I re-entered the concert hall, now as an audience member, Dr. Pierre told me that I had played very well. I was greatly surprised to find that my sister, a fellow musician who must have listened to my Beethoven five hundred times, had not even noticed my memory lapse. To all of the audience except my teacher, it must have been invisible. I expected it to remove all chance I might have had of placing, but for some reason, I didn’t really care. I had an excellent time (for the most part) listening to the other performers, several of which were absolutely incredible.

In the end, I placed third. By the close of Pacesetter, I was in a state of complete indifference about the whole thing.

During the trip back, I perused my judging sheets. I had to laugh when I read one of Dr. Bevelander’s comments:

“You recover very well from mistakes.”

Note: The title picture is a bookmark I got for placing. It’s actually worth like three bucks at the Heidelberg store. I might be chagrined if a check weren’t coming. [If I cared that much about anything at all.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Knit-savvy-ness

Recently, I was browsing my awesome friend Ashley’s blog, and noticed the pictures of her sweet-lookin’ striped arm-warmers. I thought to myself, “You know, I should knit something awesome like that.” I whipped out my Knitting Patterns For Dummies book, and found a pattern for fingerless mitts that was just waiting to be knitted. The real issue was that I had never used double-pointed needles before, although I own several pairs of them. I decided it was worth a try. As the book pointed out, “getting started can feel a lot like juggling chopsticks,” but it improved from there. To all knitters who are intimidated by double-pointed needles, remember:

I. You aren’t actually knitting all four needles at once
II. It gets easier after you’ve knitted a few rows
III. Start out on a simple, cylindrical shape before you move on to fancier stuff
IV. Make the corner stitches of your “triangle of needles” tight enough to avoid a seam
V. Give yourself some time to get used to it

You divide your stitches onto three needles, like this:

You knit onto a fourth needle, working in a circle and switching off needles. I will now say something that I think few knitters would vouch for: I love using double-pointed needles!

I used a yarn with some delightful color variance, and it sort of striped itself.

I finished my first fingerless mitt, which looks like this:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Descriptive Paragraph

My grammar and composition book never fails to frustrate me. It is boring, contains extensive diagrams, and explains objective complements. Over the time we’ve been together, I’ve learned to create some excitement for myself in order to avoid complete monotony.

Recently, I was compelled by this book to write an essay. The following were my topic choices:

A: building a bookcase
B: painting a house
C: fishing for trout
D: giving a pet a bath

The last time that choices were so dismal, I was forced to describe a busy street corner that didn’t even exist. This time, I decided to describe a fictional building of a bookcase, involving my brother Rich and myself:

“Descriptive Paragraph of Someone Building a Bookcase”

“I aspire to build a bookcase,” said Richard, and so it began. Desiring an audience for the observation of this grand endeavor, he recruited me to join him. We made our way to the shop, where he painstakingly measured the many required sections of wood. “I would like it to be about eight and one-half feet tall,” he said thoughtfully. “But Richard, how will you fit it anywhere?” I inquired. “Why, ceilings are nine feet. I would like it to be quite tall.” “No, our ceilings are nine feet. Ordinary ceilings measure only eight feet.” “Oh, do they?” he carefully re-measured, allowing a height of seven and one-half feet. Using his spiffy table saw, he cut each piece with greatest precision. He then measured a border, on which he hoped to carve a tasteful embellishment. “You see, I’ve got this wood-carving manual,” he explained. I leafed through the aforementioned manual, finding it quite fascinating and difficult. Later, he picked up the border in order that he might begin carving. Within half an hour, this angular piece began to take on a new form. With ragged juts and shapes, he carved what should have been a lovely peacock. “Oh,” he said, laying down the piece in dejection. He stacked the pieces carefully, and tucked them behind his worktable. Thus ended the making of his bookcase.”
Note: Richard actually built a bookcase recently, and it turned out quite nicely, despite some mistakes. As an engineer, he likes to call them “design changes.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Random Words

“Little armored one”

“Adorned with a plume or plumes”

“To make light ringing sounds, as a small bell”

“Crying out loudly”

“An empty, voluble, pretentious talker”

“A man excessively concerned about his clothes and appearance”

“A small can or drinking cup”

“A clever trick or stratagem”

“A person who packs groceries or other items into bags”

“An act of deleting”

“A substance used or capable of being used as food”

“A person or thing that gobbles or consumes voraciously or quickly”

“Full of hooks”

“A person who laughs”

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Culinary Experiment

Saturday, I had my first experience making a traditional Jewish braided bread, “Challah.” My first loaf looked slightly absurd, but the second did not leave quite so much to be desired. It is a light, soft bread, and contains honey, lending a hint of sweetness to the flavor.

For weeks, or so it seemed, I had been poring over a Greek cookbook, and looking with great longing at a certain colorful soup. It looked flavorful and delightful, and the presence of some little seasoned meatballs appeared positively delectable. To my surprise, it also called for lemon slices, but as I am always interested in new ideas, I was quite willing to suppose that a moderate amount of citrus flavor could add quite a bit of character to this particular soup. It was supposed to be made with lamb, but not having any, I determined to substitute beef. I mentioned this soup repeatedly, and last Saturday, I found the chance to attempt the making of it. I had high hopes for it, and carefully selected the required ingredients, but met with failure. In the end, it contained, most unfortunately, an almost overpowering lemon flavor. With some added beef broth, the intensity of this citrus-ness lessened considerably, but it still wasn’t the winner I’d aspired toward.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Novel Excerpts

I decided to post a few excerpts from the novel I am composing, for anyone who may find it of interest. Thus far, I have two main characters of three different nationalities, several pages of rambling, and no plot. It will likely be almost wholly re-written when I finish the rough version of it. The following are a few excerpts from throughout, in their un-edited form:

"Nicholas Komarov sat at his immense, richly mahogany desk. His office, of sorts, was small. Cramped, really. He enjoyed the control its lack of size seemed to him to allow. Easily accessible and easily viewable. Comfortable, in a way, to his thinking, yet it could hardly be considered pleasant. Stiff wooden furniture, smooth texture immaculately polished, was arranged in an entirely orderly fashion throughout the room. Not a paper out of place, or anything lacking perfect order and specific planning: Intentional. Everything must be Intentional. Bare, colorless walls surrounded this establishment, almost like a collection of furniture in the middle of an empty space."

"Komarov woke groggy and sat up straight. The window looked large and luminous. It was dark outside, and his lamp cast a long glow on it. He could see the streetlights, and heard the faint strains of music coming from the house nearby. He saw the soft glow of cat’s eyes across the street, and then they were gone. He was calm, even peaceful. He knew this scene, didn’t he? He remembered it. A scene similar. He closed his eyes, and saw in his mind the house in which he grew up. He was young once, if a strange child. He remembered waking up and looking out the window of his room. It was a small, square room with dark walls that had seemed to enclose him. He attempted to unearth the memory in all of its clarity, without success, and somehow he knew that it was not a memory that would bring him enjoyment."

"Education had continually been a hobby to her. She found it stimulating, enjoyable, humorous, and essential. Most of her education had not taken place inside a school building. Formal schooling was too…planned. She found that the real world was a much better setting in which to find an inclusive education. She had always assumed that the only way to achieve something worthy of the title “education” was to further it independently. Education formally meant letting someone else think for you, and then inform you of what and how to think. This she abhorred."

"Komarov considered it...what is normal? Dense, very dense. Quite stupid, really. And who wants to be stupid? A lot of people, apparently. Why else are they stupid? They are born that way, as is everyone else. They have, quite obviously, never arrived at any advancement stage. And worst of all, they refuse to think. A few with the slightly reduced stupidity of the lot have the head to realize that no one is thinking. These people then write books or head magazines, or other more prominent businesses. The non-thinkers of the world read these publications. They are full of obscurity on the points that could nullify their statements, but appeal to the emotions of the general population. The non-thinkers, born with emotion, a thing that need be little developed, applaud these publications despite their lunacy. Those who think, but do not wish to appeal to the emotions of the public, state their concerns about the lunacy. These people are then ignored or ostracized. And Komarov knew what they needed. It was something accurate with a general appeal to the emotions, which, whether containing a valid emotional appeal or not, would be effective."

"He could not abolish stupidity, but if he could influence the stupid, why abolish their stupidity? They were more useful to him in their natural state of mind."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Whom it May Concern:

You can now publish a comment on this blog even if you're not cool enough to have your own blogspot account! I apologize to all who previously attempted to comment without success.

Metallic Blue Scarf

The other day, we visited my grandma on my dad’s side of the family. She is a feisty old lady, and a great source of entertainment as a conversationalist. I had taken my knitting, and was working on a retro, royal blue scarf. After discovering that I knit, she said, “Why, don’t ever buy yarn. I’ve got stacks of yarn, and I’m not sure what to do with it.” I asked, “What colors?” to which she replied, “Oh, all colors. Anything you could want.” She retreated to the basement, and returned lugging several large bags overflowing with yarn.

If you know anything about those who knit, you will know that I felt like I’d just been handed the moon. Most of it was simple yarn, although there were some more decorative varieties. As promised, there was a collage of brightly colored skeins. There was white and pink “Dazzle” yarn, containing reflective fibers that seem to shimmer. She told me to take anything I wanted. I recently taught my sister Bonnie to knit, so she began eagerly perusing through it as well. Best of all, or so I thought, was a skein of metallic blue. It held a distinct silver tint, and I had been looking for just such a treasure, but without success. I began a scarf that evening, completing it the subsequent day. It is not quite as long as I intended, but I adore it. I used the simple knit stitch, and a small stripe of ribbing near each end.