Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Another room

This post is, in part, about Kesha (but please keep reading even if you think her music is the worst thing that’s ever happened to planet earth… you may be surprised).

I’ve always prided myself, more or less, on being an objective person (which shows just how subjective I am). But when I hear new music, I try to focus on the song itself, and not on what I might already think of the artist (note: I’m using the term “artist” to generally mean a musician, especially one still making music today). I make an effort to judge every song on its own, regardless of what I think of the other songs I’ve heard from this person or group. Even if every song I’ve ever heard from this artist has had horrible lyrics or an awful sound to it, every new song I happen to hear deserves a chance.

But I’ve pretty much allowed myself to make an exception with Kesha (Or should I say Ke$ha? I’m not even sure if I owe her that respect…). I’ve heard a number of her songs, and I can sincerely say that whenever I hear them, I feel them grating against me like cat claws on a blackboard. The messages I hear through her songs generally inspire a disgust in me that apparently only her music can. The talking/rapping/not-sure-what-to-call-it style that is her trademark is somewhat annoying. The atmosphere her songs project is what I would call (to put it mildly) trashy, tasteless and overly negative. The tunes are usually catchy, and the beats sound cool. But I find that the songs only sound so good as to make the overall effect worse. It’s like giving mosquitoes dragonfly wings; they’re still a problem and a nuisance, and now they’re even harder to get away from.

That’s pretty much what I’ve always thought of Ke$ha. I try to form a separate opinion for each song I hear, but as I experience more music from one artist, it builds up into an overall picture of what I think of the artist. And in Kesha’s case, the picture wasn’t looking so pleasant. Each new song just made the grating worse, and to be blunt, I started hating her music.

But a while back, I happened to hear a song I had never heard before. I liked how it sounded; not just its particular elements, but the upbeat, positive vibe exuding from the whole song. When I found out it was by Kesha, at first I refused to believe it. It didn’t sound anything like the other songs by her that I had come to know and despise. But it was her song, and I liked it. I still don’t think I’d agree with the message entirely, but it definitely was not, if I may say so, the garbage I had come to expect.

You may disagree, but here’s the song:

I’m not saying that I approve of everything that Kesha is doing, that I like all her music now, that this song doesn’t still have elements that I would disagree with. But I think this song has reined me in and reminded me to practice what I preach. Had I known this song was by her before hearing it, I probably would’ve hated it just because it was by Ke$ha. It wouldn’t have been an entirely unjustified reaction, but still an unreasonable one.

No one song can give you the whole picture about any given artist, either ideologically or musically. Sometimes artists change, sometimes they turn out a piece that’s radically different than what they’re known for. Sometimes they just might have a wide range of expression, and thus use a wide variety of songs to get their message across. Whatever the case, you can’t just look at one song you particularly love or hate and jump straight to how you feel about the artist as a whole.

Obviously, you can’t wait until you know every single song a particular artist has produced before deciding whether you like his or her music or not. There are too many artists, too many albums, too many songs to know them all (unless you’re really that obsessed dedicated). I don’t recommend searching out all the songs of a seemingly bad artist just to give him/her “a second chance” either. But passing a judgment on a music artist based on only one song is as foolish as passing a judgment on an entire house based on only one room; it only shows part of the picture. And keep in mind that your view of the house will always be getting bigger too, as you explore more rooms or as the artist makes more.

I doubt this means you’ll suddenly start hating all the artists you once loved and loving all the artists you once abhorred (in fact, I hope it doesn’t). But it might put a new perspective on things, one that is more balanced than before.

So keep an open mind. Judge the body of work before you judge the artist. Look at as much of the house as is visible to you. And give each new room a chance.

Battle of the Bridges

A few weeks ago, the second annual Battle of the Bridges took place. We, Mr. Peer’s physics class of 2011, built bridges out of nothing but popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. There were various designs, but all conformed to the same set of rules (required length, weight limit, building restrictions, etc.). Each was the product of weeks spent inĀ (more or less) grueling laborĀ  in research, gluing, sawing, and much more.

Each was taken and systematically destroyed.

A bridge with no breakage in its past

A bridge being prepared for the slaughter

A bridge bravely resisting its fate

A bridge that will live no more

The resulting carnage

Basically, you pile on weight until the bridge can’t take it anymore. The bridge with the highest ratio of the weight it held and its own weight is the strongest.

Popsicle sticks actually make better bridges than you’d think; first place held well over 200 lbs for at least 5 minutes before breaking (though that was definitely the exception, not the norm; most of them broke somewhere around 40 lbs).

This bridge got 2nd place for strength (I think it held almost 100 lbs)

Below you see my bridge before it was broken.

My bridge

It certainly ended up being a very nice-looking bridge (it won 1st place for aesthetics), which surprised me, since I’d given its appearance little thought. My primary goal had been to make it strong.

But it didn’t last long. It broke under twenty lbs. The strongest parts of the bridge didn’t even break; they stayed intact while the parts that connected them collapsed. “I guess looks aren’t everything,” said my teacher when the bridge gave way. I had to laugh at that, but it bothered me that my bridge had been so weak (and yet still looked so nice). As my dad put it, I guess I’m “an artist, not an engineer.”

Of course, my bridge had not been entirely devoid of engineering concepts. The features that made it look the nicest (the parabolic curve shape, the triangles, etc.) were originally intended to add strength. The problem was that I didn’t know how to properly apply those principles.

Overall, the most common failing was that the bridges we’d built were like regular bridges, designed to hold weight uniformly. But the way we were breaking them, all the weight was concentrated at the center point (not surprisingly, most of them broke straight down the middle).

This bridge was a lot stronger than it looks, but didn't have enough support in the middle

All that work for nothing...

Have you ever focused so much on the big pieces that you neglected the smaller parts that hold everything together? Have you ever prepared for an all-around assault, when you really should’ve just focused on the one spot in the middle getting hit the hardest? Have you ever had lofty thoughts and ideas, but came undone when it came to applying them on a practical level?

I hear next year’s class will be using toothpicks…

White is a color

I recently read one of G.K.Chesterton’s essays, A Piece of Chalk, for school, and I’ve never read or enjoyed anything quite like it before. If you haven’t read it, you should. No excuses allowed.

I’ll try not to spoil anything, but here’s a quick summary of Chesterton’s little story:

He goes one summer morning with chalk in his pocket, and asks his landlady for brown paper to draw on. He goes out onto the hills to draw. He discovers he forgot his white chalk, but realizes he has more than enough of it all around him.

That’s a quick plot summary for you (if you’re wondering what I mean by the end, I hope it forces you to read it yourself). But much more happens in the essay (nay, drama) than mere plot points, for while Chesterton’s body only takes a brief walk before settling down on the hilly landscape to draw, his mind runs to the moon and back over the course of this short journey.

He goes off on many tangents; in fact, I think you could call the entire essay a series of tangents strung together (if most essays were circles, this would be a twelve-pointed star; tangents all the way around): He tries to explain the particular quality of brownness in the paper he requests when the poor, confused (though certainly well-intentioned) landlady insists on supplying him with the wrong amount or wrong type of paper. He ponders the poetical nature of the things he carries in his pocket; he once toyed with the idea of devoting an entire book of poems to their poeticalness, but regrettably put that aside, as it would have been far too long (a problem I’m well familiar with). He goes to the hills to draw, not Nature, but all the fancies his glorious imagination can contain. He sketches the soul of a cow, “all purple and silver.” And he despairs at the discovery of his missing white chalk, for nothing could be more crucial.

There were many splendid blasts and bursts of color throughout the story, but white was the essential, the pivotal element. This was his claim: white is a color, “as fierce as red, as definite as black.” And this same assertion is the basis of all true Christian morality, for white is a color just as virtue is a living being in itself, not just the absence of something else.

It’s interesting that we think of white as Nothing. Just blank space. If you get a page that is all red, or green, or even black, it is colored paper. But a white page is just “blank.”

Ironically, the exact opposite is true. White is not the absence of color; that’s what black is. As strange and awful as it is, white is in reality the sum of all colors. When you mix the three primary colors equally, you don’t get gray, or brown, or black.

If you look where the colors are all balanced out, right in the middle, you get white.

Anyways, back to Chesterton. Hopefully, I haven’t given too much away. But seriously, read it if you haven’t already. You can find it right here.

Enjoy!

Beautiful day

“Sing to the LORD with grateful praise;
make music to our God on the harp.”

“He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.”

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the LORD delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love. “

Horses

Psalm 147:6-11

Actors

Actors are provided with the basic instructions by their Director, but are given partial freedom to work out some of the details on their own.

Actors may be told to change what they’ve been used to in order for the show to turn out the way the Director wants it to.

Actors must put off their own mannerisms and thinking, and fully become who they are imitating to be credible.

Actors have to play whatever role their Director wills.

Actors have to be willing to play background when the spotlight belongs to someone else.

Actors can be reminded a thousand times when to do what, but still cause train wrecks when they don’t know their own cues.

Actors have to be willing to cover for each other when mistakes and mess-ups happen, as they inevitably will.

Actors must keep going, even when things don’t go as planned.

Actors are only on stage for a brief period of time, and exit when their Director so wishes.