Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Commonplace Book 2

Here are three quotations from Robert Louis Stevenson's fine essay "Crabbed Age and Youth." It it Stevenson argues that the old need not look down on the young, nor should one regret one's own past folly too much. Likewise the young should not be afraid to think and act, even wrongly, due to their inexperience.

"Doubtless the world is quite right in a million ways; but you have to be kicked about a little to convince you of the fact. And in the meanwhile you must do something, be something, believe something. It is not possible to keep the mind in a state of accurate balance and blank; and even if you could do so, instead of coming ultimately to the right conclusion, you would be very apt to remain in a state of balance and blank to perpetuity. Even in quite intermediate stages, a dash of enthusiasm is not a thing to be ashamed of in the retrospect: if St. Paul had not been a very zealous Pharisee, he would have been a colder Christian."

"When the torrent sweeps the man against a boulder, you must expect him to scream, and you need not be surprised if the scream is sometimes a theory."

"If we are indeed here to perfect and complete our own natures, and grow larger, stronger, and more sympathetic against some nobler career in the future, we had all best bestir ourselves to the utmost while we have the time. To equip a dull, respectable person with wings would be but to make a parody of an angel."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Commonplace Book

Here are some quotes from today's reading:

"Pleasures are more beneficial than duties because, like the quality of mercy, they are not strained, and they are twice blest. There must always be two to a kiss, and there may be a score in a jest; but wherever there is an element of sacrifice, the favour is conferred with pain, and, among generous people, received with confusion. There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor."

—Robert Louis Stevenson, "An Apology for Idlers"

("Score" in this quotation refers to the number twenty, which I didn't find immediately apparent.)

Reading this today reminded me of those times when others have mistaken me for a cheery and upbeat guy. In Korea I was surprised on several occasions when somebody would be talking to me and refer to me as such a happy person, so enthusiastic and all that. I would immediately contradict them, to which they would respond with equal confusion. Eventually I discovered that although I saw myself as a very reticent and even melancholy person, to others I appeared quite joyful. It boggled my mind that I could be so unaware that I was happy. I thought it was just a result of the recent changes in my life, but it's even happened quite recently.

The first sentence is a gem as well. It reminds me that reading and writing—two things I espouse as major pursuits—should be first and foremost enjoyable. School (often) stinks.

"The captivating sisters displayed all their talents, and I own they excel in almost every accomplishment.—I have seldom seen a finer figure, taken altogether, than the younger sister, and indeed, your description of the personal beauty of both, was not an exaggeration.—To their acquirements, I have already done justice: yet, I am convinced, that, with all these advantages, my heart, were it totally free from every other impression, would never become devoted to either.

"It would be nonsense to pretend to give reasons for this.—With these caprices of the imagination, and of the heart, you have allowed that Reason has very little to do."

—Charlotte Smith, Desmond

I really couldn't say this better, and it's nice to know people knew it way back in 1792. Funny that it's that way in the first place.

Will Power

Last week my roommate got back from the thrift store with a stack of books he'd pulled off the shelf, most for 50¢ each. On top of the stack was this book, Will Power! A Biography of Will Smith, by Jan Berenson. You've seen this kind of book before. It has a "bonus color photo insert" and way more exclamations and scare quotes than is generally considered healthy for writers to use. In this book things aren't top-notch, they're "top-notch!" which makes sense, since Berenson's other writing credits include Meet the V. R. Troopers and Sister, Sister, Sister; Getting Along at Full House.1

So why would I actually read this book? Well, for one, I've had good experience with this genre. While at BYU I was thrilled and excited by Sting: Every Breath He Takes by Barney Cohen.2 For two, if I didn't read it I would've missed out on the following sentences:

As [DJ Jazzy] Jeff recalled in an article in Disney Adventures, "I was the best DJ in Philadelphia and I had heard of Will, but I already had someone that I worked with."

The successes, and the slings and arrows aimed at them because of it, would follow them for the next decade.3

Like Rock the House, this new album [He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper] reflected Will and Jeff's irreverent sense of humor and flippant approach to everyday life. It wasn't so much hip-hop as flip-hop!
Perhaps the most provocative passage in the book is this one, both for its unexpected sophistication and its grammatical difficulty:
To some in the rap community, what the frothy "Parents [Just Don't Understand]" had done was not so much crown Will and Jeff kings, but open the door of rap music to a more mainstream—read: white—audience.

Maybe I haven't become my dad at all.

Also, if I hadn't read this book I wouldn't have learned the following fact:
It wasn't only the music that was selling. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince started their own 900 number info line—which soon turned into a 900 number info gold mine.4 The rappers simply prerecorded daily messages for their fans, who responded eagerly to the new venture. In the first six months the line was set up, it received over two million calls—at an average of $2.45 a pop. Record company executives were taking bets that Will and Jeff would make more money on the telephone than on the album itself.
Friends, let us read. Let us read and be happy.

One more story to send you on your way. Will Smith starred, as you well know, in the uproarious sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. One of the best parts of the show was watching the snooty English butler, Geoffrey, look down his nose at the family. Well, a few years ago my brother and I were on study abroad in London, and as part of the trip we went to the Globe theatre to see a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. It's a lesser-known play of his, but you can imagine our surprise when Joseph Marcell, the actor who played Geoffrey, appeared on that famed stage as Cominius, Coriolanus's general. It was awesome to see him in what appeared to be his natural habitat, and after the traitors cut Coriolanus's beating heart from his body right before our eyes, Marcell smiled at Drew during the curtain call when he heard him point out to Rachel (Drew's now-wife, who probably has never seen an episode of Fresh Prince in her life) who he was.

1 Amazon has no picture of this book—what is it about!?
2 ML 420 .S84 C63 1984, but, amazingly, it's not due back until 8/18/2008.
3 This Shakespearean phrase appears again four pages later.
4 Wait, does this mean the phone line was an informational treasure trove?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Father Time

Last Thursday I was in class, setting up a DVD for viewing. I guess I was sort of shaking it a bit to the music playing on the menu screen, because one of my students said, "Mr. Grover, I'd like to see you dance."

"Heck yes, I'm a great dancer," I replied, "And I'm a rock star. You guys don't know a whole lot about me, it turns out."

I was just goofing around, but immediately another student challenged me: "I don't think you're a rock star, Mr. Grover. There's no way."

"What? Why not? I'm cool."

"Naw, not with those bright white New Balances. I'm just not seeing it."

I tried to defend myself—"You don't even know, man; these shoes are hot. I'm a rock star."—but he just wasn't buying it. Hmph. I didn't see anything wrong with white shoes and jeans.

But as I thought about it later, I realized he was right. I don't know how this happened, but I've become my dad.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

False Hope

So you know that feeling that lingers with you all day after you've been swimming in a pool—the slightly wet hair behind the ears, the chlorine smell on your skin, the faintly itchy eyes, and the intense desire to be eating a popsicle?1 I've had that feeling all week, everywhere I've gone, but I haven't been in a pool at all.

I finally figured out what it is though: allergy season. Turns out the mild irritation of springtime is a decent approximation of summer joy. My eyes are just a touch itchy all the time, and it's giving me fantasies of slacking around in flip-flops and air-dried shorts. I gotta get some popsicles.

1 The reason that feeling is so great is because (1) it is proof and a reminder that, even if you do nothing else today, you've already done that and what could be better, and (2) wearing a swimsuit is pretty close to being naked, which is awesome.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Best Ever

Remember a couple months ago when I was complaining about never being able to find a good messenger bag? Well those days are over!

That's right, since posting back in January about missing my old bag from Korea, I've come into the possession of what may be the world's greatest messenger bag, even better than Old Blue. Check it out:

A beautiful bag atop two beautiful quilts1

Where did I get such a beautiful bag, you ask, and what's so special about it? I'll tell you.

It is exactly the size of a MacBook in length and width, and it is only three inches deep. It has exactly one main compartment and one small pocket on the front the size of a typical paperback. The flap velcros down but has no other unnecessary fastener. The strap is long. And the whole thing is constructed from tough black canvas. It can hold very little without feeling floppy and empty, and it can hold as much as I'm ever likely to carry to school without having to be as huge and formless as most messenger bags.

It turns out that when I was researching my previous post on bags, I stumbled across a website I hadn't ever seen before: churchillbags.com. The site is the home of a small collection of messenger and other bags all made from scratch by a fellow named Kevin Churchill, a college student from these United States. Since it was such a small operation, I emailed Kevin to see if he would be interested in helping me get the bag I've been dreaming of. He read my blog post and told me he'd be happy to do whatever he could to help me, and we spent the next month or so chatting about possibilities and ogling the beautiful but expensive offerings at jackspade.com.

Finally I decided on what I wanted and Kevin offered to make it for me from some spare fabric he had, kind of as a prototype. I wired him some dough, and he got busy. A week later, this beauty showed up at my house and I haven't stopped smiling.

Friends, let me emphasize what I'm getting at: This messenger bag is 100% custom-made. It is exactly what I wanted. Exactly. I didn't have to settle in any way, shape, or form. It was made by a total stranger who not only was happy to follow my whim but who also freely proffered his advice and expertise and pulled the whole project together in a flash. I couldn't be happier—except of course, when I consider the price.

Kevin made and mailed this bag to me for $26. With my whole heart I recommend Mr. Churchill to you who seek fine handmade products. I suspect he would agree to your custom demands as well, though when you see his paisley-lined corduroys and sexy suit-wools you may just stick with the established catalog. Tell him David sent you.

My prized possessions: a ratty old quilt, a Taylor limited-edition made from Tasmanian blackwood and Sitka spruce, and a Churchill original

1 I stitched that light blue quilt together from two sheets I bought and Bed Bath and Beyond years and years ago. It's not and has never been much of a quilt, but it has touched down on three continents.

Monday, April 14, 2008


These are the instruments I got to play tonight at a bonfire at the home of a friend in the country:

Well not exactly these instruments, but one's like these. And there wasn't actually a bonfire, on account of the wet weather, but we did rock out and play some dominoes. I even got a blister from stomping out some furious basslines on the sweet upright bass her dad had.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Better Late

So it was much harder than I thought it would be to get an 11"x17" piece of paper into the internet, but I finally did it. Before I tell the story, I'd just like to comment that seeing the familiar handwriting on this flyer was like meeting an old friend. It reads in my voice, the way I talked and thought several years ago (which is long enough ago to be embarrassed by, if nothing else).

So the party. Well, as the flyer declares, it was a night of contests, which is what the Awesome Man's Club was all about. In addition to the three major contests listed, there were also some door prizes. We decorated the entire lobby and façade with green paper shamrocks that we cut out by hand (like five or six at a time—I did it while watching my roommate play video games). There was a jar for guesses as to how many there actually were (555), and the winner got something green, I can't remember. Also we put up one four-leaf clover among all the three-leafed imposters, and whoever found that one got a prize too. And there was a jar of M&Ms, and whoever guessed the number of green ones in there won the jar. Also, we put gels over the lobby lights, bathing the room in a soft green glow, and outside we stretched Christmas lights between the balconies for a canopy effect. There was green jello and green chips and green cups and napkins and green Kool-aid.

But before I continue, I have to pay tribute to my dear roommate Abe. Abe was the guy who moved in to take Joe's place (Joe who started the club in the first place). Whenever you get a new roommate you're a little concerned that they won't be as good as the last, but with Abe, if there had any been any doubt, it was completely destroyed by this party.1 See, Abe was kind of a quiet guy. He was from Alaska. Mostly he just went to class and played on his computer and listened to music—I don't know, he just did his thing, and quietly. He wasn't shy or a nerd or anything, but if you didn't know him you'd think he was. But if you payed attention, you noticed that when he did speak up it was usually quite funny whatever he said. I don't know; he was kind of a mystery, like a cool guy hidden in a really soft-spoken, unassuming guy's body.

Well Abe totally came out of his shell for this party. While my other roommates were willing to help and stuff, they weren't exactly jumping out of their seats to plan games or cut out decorations. But Abe was all over it. I'd throw out ideas, and while the others would be like, "All of that sounds good," he'd be like, "Yeah that one, but not that one. That's not a good idea. What about this idea?" He drove us to Walmart and the two of us picked out the food and the paper plates and stuff, and me and him split a cheap green sheet into two righteous togas. And when I laid down like $40 on supplies, he laid down another $30 without even blinking. I didn't even ask. And when, just before the party began, I said, "Oh, should we get like a bowl or something if people actually want to donate to help pay for this party?" he said cooly and without any reservation, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, "We're not going to take donations." And he was right, absolutely right. To do so would've diminished the awesomeness of the party; this way we felt like heroes. I had been thinking of Abe as kind of my sidekick since he was so helpful but seemed to prefer to stand just out of the spotlight, but in that moment I wondered if I wasn't his sidekick.

The other best part of all this was how visibly worried our RA was becoming since we hadn't told him a thing about this party. He was kind of a worrier, and we delighted in feeding his worry (funny that I became an RA after this).2 I think he really thought we would light the place on fire or tap a keg or something. Just watching him squirm a bit between his fear of us going too far and his duty to support us as his charges made the whole experience twice as nice.

Anyway, the party started, and I was quite relieved when like eighty people showed up. There's always a moment of anxiety just as a shindig's beginning when you feel sure no one will actually come, but come they did, many in ridiculous costumes. We played Tag-team Twister (which, I gotta say, was awesome considering I invented it about 5 minutes before the party started). The way it worked was that teams of four competed, but only one player from each was on the board at any time. Whenever a green space was called, though, the players had to trade with a teammate, who had to get into the exact same position. After that we played Tug-of-War-Duck-Duck-Goose (when one team pulled the other across the line they immediately began chasing them around the building, tagging as many as they could, who were then out for the next round—it didn't really work), and after that we did relay races involving ginger ale and spinning with one's forehead held to a baseball bat to simulate a true St. P's Day experience (I was the only one laughing). Then we all came back to the lobby to eat the entries for best dessert while we listened to the entries for best story. One girl's entry was a ziploc bag of yellow Skittles labeled "Leprechaun Gold" and another of green Skittles labeled "Leprechaun Poo." I think the costume contest ended as a dance contest between the finalists.

All in all I'd say it was a pretty good party. I'd put it on my greatest hits album. At the time, though, I thought, "What will I ever do to top that?" since it was pretty awesome and ambitious.

Don't worry, I eventually did.

1 Actually, it was probably wiped away by the time we watched that movie Michael late one night on TBS. The second the show ended (at about 1 in the morning) Abe decided we had to have some pie, so we called up some girls we knew with a car and told them we'd make them a pie if they drove us to Smith's right then. I made a lemon icebox pie, I think, and Abe made a beautiful pair of pecan pies.
2 Once he came over for cleaning checks to find we had put the kitchen table and the kitchen door and maybe even several of the chairs down in the storage cage in the basement. He couldn't figure out how to check their cleanliness if they weren't there, and his demands that they be replaced were met with dumb smiles or practical refusals. He eventually just gave up.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Singles On Ice

A few months ago we had a multi-stake activity in Columbus at the skating rink. Here are some pictures of that:

Eric, me, and Max getting skated up. Notice that those two clowns are in hockey skates, while I went the more traditional figure-skate route.

Here's a bunch of us on the ice looking so good.

So the highlight of the evening wasn't getting to skate around—though that's one of my favorite activities (and finding I could do it pretty good despite surgery last year was a relief)—it was working out my dream of a wedding reception on ice. Here's the plan:

First we'd have to decorate the place pretty good; ice rinks are notoriously ugly and warehouse-esque. Kate and I discussed the necessity of hanging lots of fabric to eat up the echoes and make the room more amenable to music and stuff. There could also be a thin layer of fog over the ice, giving the whole place a fantasy aspect, very "Night Among the Stars" prom-themed. People could have there pictures taken with the Zamboni. Then there'd have to be a stage erected on one side of the rink, for the band. Can you just imagine a rink full of elegantly dressed skaters semi-dancing to the sounds of a live band? Awesome. My lady and I would've worked hard to choreograph our first dance on ice, probably to something like "Everything I Do I Do It For You" or "More Than Words." (Seriously, can you imagine how much fun it might be to spend the weeks leading up to your wedding working on a figure skating routine with your lover? Just designing the costumes would be worth it.) Then, later on in the evening, I'd get up on stage and play with the band, some monster ballads and stuff. When it got time to play the solo to "Purple Rain" or "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," I'd jump off the stage, with my guitar, in my skates, and play those triumphant notes in all there glory as I skidded and twirled and skated to greatest effect.

Um, maybe this song will help you get the feel I'm going for. It's one of my favorites.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Posto de Facto de 'Stachio

So Dave and I are about a week behind watching Jeopardy! on account of some travel and stuff. Tonight we got back into it after seeing the NCAA final and we were shocked when Alex walked out at the beginning of the show—and he had the beginnings of a righteous-looking mustache going on!

You may be aware that Alex shaved his mustache back in 2003, so it was weird to see it again. It was...nostalgic? We could actually hear giggling from the audience as he said his opening spiel, and I couldn't help but feel for the guy as he stood there and ignored the obvious disbelief and disrespect from the crowd. I mean, I've been a mustache guy for almost a year now, and I can tell you it's a tricky thing working with facial hair. It's a commitment, first off, and it's a risk. Finding a long weekend to get the first few days of growth done away from possible ridicule is not easy, especially if you're on TV five nights a week and you have a long history of 'stachery behind you.

Trebek, back in the glory days, and a more recent Trebek
showing off his rarely seen left side.

But that's where we got really confused. See, they film five episodes of Jeopardy! back to back, knocking out a week's worth of shows in one day (Monday contestants have to bring five changes of clothes just in case they win four straight), and the DVR said this was last Tuesday's show. That means Trebek would have to have grown his mustache in the short break between taping Monday's episode and Tuesday's, a feat I'm not willing to grant him capable of. It was just too weird.

It gets weirder: sometime in Double Jeopardy the camera flashed back to Alex at his podium, and the mustache was gone. Completely gone. And not a hint of razor burn or anything. I goggled. Dave said, "He must've shaved it off during the commercial break because no one liked it." "No way!" I stated in flat disbelief. "No way. It just doesn't add up."

But then I started doing some subtraction instead, counting back the days to last Tuesday. And there was our answer (question?): last Tuesday was April Fools' Day. Let no one say that Alex hasn't got a sense of humor. The man's a genius.1

Check it out for yourself right here.

1 If nothing else, he had the foresight to make an April Fool's Day joke who-knows-how-many months in advance. That takes dedication.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Something Underrated, or at least not thought about enough

Those moments of displaced season, as today when, walking home from the first class of the quarter, I couldn't distinguish the early spring evening from one I might enjoy in September. There were still some leftover leaves on the ground, and the sky was swept wide and high from a cold afternoon shower. I felt a shiver of Halloween; the only thing to mark the month was the absence of a distant barbecue.