Sunday, May 26, 2013

How To Fool Anyone Into Liking The Things You Do

Do you ever feel like you've fooled a group of people so successfully that you just sit back and wonder how it was that easy to dupe so many folks? As an introvert, I experience this more often than is probably socially acceptable to mention. Fellow introverts understand how you have to pretend to be an extrovert in most situations, resulting in no one ever really knowing that you are, indeed, dreaming of curling up in a ball under the covers until two in the afternoon the following day, all while someone else is talking about something you stopped listening to fifteen minutes ago.

I have often wondered if artists and writers feel the same. Do they think they've tricked masses of people into believing their work holds merit? Are they just as confused by affirmation of their talents as introverts are at false identification as extroverts? Then, when asked about their pieces, do they perform the part of artist/writer in the same way introverts disguise themselves?

I ask myself these questions because, as a hobby-writer, I have always said that, if I were able to fool someone into thinking that what I do is of any value, I'd let them have it. Prior to taking a creative writing course, I never showed my wordplays to anyone. The only person that knew they existed were my two best friends, and that's only because they know more about me than I do. I had absolutely no idea what other people were going to say about the pieces, which was a highly unpleasant experience -- remember that introvert thing we discussed? Sure, my friends puffed up my ego, telling me that I could really be a writer, and that I should try in earnest to do so. "If somebody else is dumb enough to pay me for it," I say, "I'll let 'em have it."

Back in March, while I was taking the writing course, a class-wide email was sent. In a most nonchalant way, this little tidbit was slipped between bits of highly unnecessary information.

The deadline for the Freelancer is coming up--April 5th. Each of you, as part of your grade for this class, must submit at least one work to the Freelancer, though the work does not have to be poetry.

I was immediately outraged. Freelancer? That little magazine that the English department deluges the campus with ever year? This was the first that anyone had ever heard of such an assignment -- it wasn't listed in the class schedule, list of work to be completed, in the grading criteria, or the list of due dates. Yet, there is was, dropped into my lap on short notice.

I looked through some of the pieces I had submitted in the class, and decided on two. The first, I was sure, was publish-worthy; numerous people complimented the piece highly, and the teacher suggested I send it in for Freelancer publication. The second, however, did not receive such praise. Phrases such as "off-putting", "difficult to read", and one blatantly put "I do not understand" were used to describe it. The teacher suggested I rearrange the piece, and leave the content alone. I humored him by playing with a different arrangement, but I had absolutely no intention of permanently altering the piece, and I told him so upfront. By this point, we all know that my ornery streak isn't so much of a streak, but my not-ornery streak is considerably smaller, and spiders through the ornery like a feeble conscience; I think that's why I submitted it with my original arrangement, instead of the altered one.

Thirty-five days since the due date had gone by, and the class was drawing to a close. No one had asked or been told if any of their submissions were used in the publication. Once again, I had to take over the vacant leadership role of finding out what had happened to these submissions. The teacher then sent an email back telling me that one of my pieces had, indeed, been published; he offered to send me a copy, and a letter of confirmation.

Since he didn't tell me which of the two pieces were used, I had to wait almost a week to find out if the supposed shoe-in piece was selected, or my obnoxious submission was published. As if it had been planned in a movie, I happened to be at the front window when the postman walked across our yard, large manilla envelope in hand.
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I opened the letter -- which was dated April 16, a full month before I received it -- to read that my rebel piece was the one selected. The one that no one in the class understood, and the teacher said "worked better" after I had rearranged -- more importantly, the piece that I submitted as I intended it to be seen, not what I was told was "better" another way. Also important, I suppose, is that I was one of only two students in the class to have been published.
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The full page.

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The piece itself.

So, the question still remains, then, if artists/writers hide behind a fixed persona when discussing their material. I realized soon after I received the advance copy that I had already answered my question. The person who didn't understand the piece asked if it was a poem, or a statement. Naturally, I felt I had to set him straight.

Put simply, it is a poem stating preferences. There are two elements, I feel, that make it poetry: word choice, and arrangement. The first draft looked nothing like what I have posted here, though it was just as brief. Originally, the word "incongruity" was "juxtaposition"; however, I decided "juxtaposition" didn't fully encompass what I wanted to say, and the form made little sense. There was a second draft, which I added a bit to, but was not entirely happy with; the piece lost the brevity I found charming, and drew out the conclusion reached at the end. Finally, on the third try, I knew I had found the right word in "incongruity", and eliminated the unnecessary additions. I also decided that the poem should feel imperfect, almost to make a reader trip over the words. By arranging the piece as it is, I intended readers to experience that imperfection on the first reading, and absorb the meaning of the words in the second reading.

As for whether this particular piece can be interpreted as poetry by others, I really can't say. I have never shared any of my work with other people, which has left me free to develop how I feel I should write in order to please myself, rather than what others find artistic value in. I hope, with a bit more insight on this particular piece, others might find merit in it; regardless, I am quite pleased with how the work turned out.

The truth of it is, though, that I made up the answer. I did accurately describe the writing process and discussion about word choice, but I didn't exactly tell the truth. The piece is the way it is because that's how I like it, and I cannot explain why I like it, but I do, so don't question my judgement. It's not like you can answer someone's inquiry with that kind of truthful response, so what else was I supposed to do? You can't just tell someone that you did what you did because it felt right.

So, that is the answer. We detrimentally overcompensate when we cannot make others understand. Sure, we can get all philosophical about how we as humans should be more open-minded, or less ruled by societal norms, but, if we're going to be honest about it, we all know we do it as a means of survival. And isn't that why art exists in the first place? To let us express what we ordinarily could or would not? Besides, we can all practice exaggeration when we try to fool people into thinking our work has merit.
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Monday, May 13, 2013

Adventures In Supersleuthing: Now With Royalty!

Last year, on this very blog, I made a somewhat creepy/highly entertaining post: Adventures In Supersleuthing, Or, It's All In What You Fangirl. In it, I somewhat cryptically ended the post with this image...
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At the time, it was a little joke. That is, until a couple of months ago, when I was put to a major supersleuthing task.

Back in February, when we were driving home from going to see The Who, my dad was on an antiquing adventure. For reasons still unknown to me, he wanted to stop at every curio shop between Tulsa and home. Usually, I'm OK with doing little stops along the way -- after all, that's part of the adventure. His stops that day, though, were excessive. At one point, I stopped putting my seat belt back on, because the odds of being hit by a car seemed smaller than the odds of us stopping at another branch of Auntie Wainwright's.
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We had already been to a few cold buildings that morning, I was developing a migraine, and growing more highly irritated with every "hey, let's go to that one!" he exclaimed as he made sharp turns into the eroding drives of the crumbling buildings dotting the highway -- then, before I knew it, I was crawling back out of the car into the biting winter air, saying to my mother, "if he wants to go to one more, I'm waiting in the car". When we walked past the threshold, I was pleased to feel a blast of heat on my chilled little frame. I was further placated with chocolate biscuits, and left to wander about the place at my leisure. And, let me tell you, those chocolate biscuits were sinfully delicious that morning. What with the lovely nibbles, I didn't mind being there; dare I say it, I was enjoying wandering in and out of little heated rooms, dribbling crumbs on my hideous travel jacket (yes, I know how ugly it is, that's why I wear it when I travel: I don't especially care if it gets destroyed).

It felt like we were there for ages, but I eventually reached the final room. It was a large space, with expansive windows, and rows of glass cases lining the walls. In the middle of the room were little cubicles, stuffed to brimming with an assortment of nick knacks and paddy whacks. In one of those teensy cubicles, I found something that immediately caught my eye. I don't know how long I stood there staring at it before my mother found me, and told me it was time to go. I, apparently, didn't pay too much attention to her, because she asked, "do you want to buy it?"

I couldn't help but be enamored with it. I felt like it had a story to tell me, and I was instantly compelled to find out what that story might be. As I carried it to the front of the shop to pay for it, I reasoned with myself that, regardless of what tale the object would tell, I liked it for what it was.

The next day, when we were finally home, I unwrapped the piece from it's newspaper, and prepared it for investigation. What I ended up with was this...
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At first glance, it looked like a newspaper page that someone had framed. The paper itself appeared thin and yellowed from time, and the ink is obviously aged. Knowing what little I do about older things, it looked like the picture had been framed in the 30s or 40s, and the print inside looked somewhat Victorian to me. Upon prying it out of the frame, I noticed that the paper is in much better condition than I originally gave it credit for, especially for guessing that it's at least ninety or so years old. It also revealed itself to be a playbill, as there is nothing printed on the reverse side.

I decided the best place to start unraveling the playbill's story was with the theatre itself. A quick Google search revealed the first piece to the puzzle: the theatre's first performance was in 1734, and, in 1892, the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden was renamed the Royal Opera House. Logically, this gave me a start date -- a much earlier date than I first imagined.

With a time frame to work in, I knew I could start narrowing it down to a more specific date. It seemed pertinent to see if I could figure out which His Majesty the royal command performance was going to be for. I'm an American, I know little to nothing about the history of the British monarchy; again, Google to my rescue. At this point, it could either have been King George II, III, IV, or King William IV. At least it's a place to start.

Knowing I wouldn't get far just by looking for which king it could be, I decided it would be a good idea to investigate the performers. Mr. Sinclair's name is most prominent, so I thought that Googling him would be a logical next step. It was here that I started to bridge the major gap I needed. I should have known this would be the pivotal point in the search: the very first link I clicked was an etching of Mr. John Sinclair (no, not that one) as Orlando in The Cabinet -- you know, the royal command performance piece.
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Pleased to know he had been in that part, I tracked down his birth and death dates; doing so eliminated King George II. As I was looking over the print for more keywords, something struck me as important: one of the actresses listed as appearing in Guy Mannering was a Miss M. Tree, and, beneath her name, it reads, "(her first appearance since her indisposition.)" Abandoning the Sinclair search, I tried to track her down. The first mention of an "indisposition" I could find was in a volume of "Theatre in Dublin". Entered as Wednesday, August 9, 1820, "deferred from 8 August on account of the indisposition of Miss Tree." This little bit of information eliminated the possibility of King George III being in attendance of the command performance.

So, how long was Miss Tree indisposed? Good question. It took some digging before I found this site detailing the text of another playbill. Miss M. Tree and her sister made their reappearance on August 16, 1822.

With the date beginning to narrow itself down, I thought it would benefit me to see if I could identify that any of the plays on the bill were performed in the theatre beginning in 1822. Back to searching for the Theatre Royal. I decided to start with Shakespeare's King John, thinking that something well known to a moron like me would have been important enough to write down as having been performed somewhere. An article from this site appeared, with a paragraph detailing how the attention to details in the theatre's production of King John in 1823 helped to boost theatre revenue, saying "receipts of from £400 to £600 nightly soon reimbursed the management for the production; and a complete reformation of dramatic costume became from that moment inevitable upon the English stage." The paragraph also mentioned that the theatre was under new management, as is touted at the bottom of the playbill. The source listed was a copy of the Illustrated London News in 1846.

I felt like I was close enough to finding out the exact date, but wasn't happy leaving it there. John Sinclair seemed too important to ignore; I had to go back, and find out more about his career. After some biographical digging, I confirmed from not one, but two sources that Sinclair performed as Orlando in a comeback performance on November 19, 1823. This information pretty effectively suggests that King George IV was in attendance of the royal command performance.

I still wasn't happy with suggestions. It's like I told my mother, "he was a reigning monarch, there has to be some record of his whereabouts that day". And, by jove, I was determined to find out what he was doing. 'Cause I'm nosy like that. In the process of figuring out if he was there or not, I found another playbill advertising the November 19 performance, but this second bill makes no mention of the king. The discovery of another playbill shook my confidence for a brief moment. I began to doubt my trail of discovery until I found a copy of an article written in 1889. Scattered between dates and names of people I don't know was the single line that satisfied my supersleuth-y-ness almost completely. The article states, "[e]xcept to open and prorogue parliament, he made no public appearance in London after his visit to the two theatres in 1823." Apparently he was self-conscious about his dropsy symptoms, and this playbill is advertising what became one of the final two public appearances made by the monarch.

There was just one more thing I felt like I needed to check before I was 100% sure I had followed all of the right trails. On my playbill, it says the command performance was performed on a Wednesday; the digital playbill also says that The Cabinet was performed on Wednesday. All I wanted to make sure of was that November 19, 1823 was, indeed, on a Wednesday.
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So, what I thought would look really neat next to my Lord Kitchener print...
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...ended up being quite a lot more than I bargained for.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that you really can Google anything.
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And, if that isn't it, then I think it just means that you really do have to hide things well if you want to keep them from me.
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Saturday, May 4, 2013

How To Kill A Fangirl In Twenty-Five Days

Something I have learned about myself over the last ten years or so is that I will either strongly dislike something, be totally neutral about something, or invest the only two worthwhile commodities -- time and emotion -- into something. There really doesn't seem to be any middle ground, which I have yet to decide is a good or bad thing. Regardless, this story deals with the time and emotion side of things. To be honest, I don't bloody know how I've survived it, because I thought I was going to die of hyperventilation and/or extreme stress a couple of times there. Just know that you have been warned about this before we even get into it.
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OK. We can proceed.

I had known that April 9th would be a high stress day for me. There was quite enough to be getting on with: questionable EPs and equally questionable television shows at the same time. I was bobbing up and down in anticipation for these things on the night on the 8th, as well as the highest stress event I can ever have in my little life, and we will talk about in a minute. At any rate, I was just minding my own business that night when this video came across my radar...

Did someone say tour?
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Regardless that I live in the worst possible location to go to concerts in the history of ever (think Narnia, then add four hundred miles), I love to hear about new tours; after all, you never know what you can stumble upon, whether you make it happen, or it happens for you. At any rate, this development added to my giddy state; the fact that they announced the tour without talking about dates at that point added to the excitement, since we have known for a while now that a new album was in the works, and wouldn't it just be so damn tidy to talk about those two things at the same time? Yes.

When the morning of April 9th dawned, however, EPs and TV and 8123 were all the furthest thing from my mind. I poured myself a cup of tea in one of my lucky mugs, and probably developed a couple of ulcers while waiting for ten o'clock to strike.

Can anyone say "Tulsa roadtrip"? Yes, on top of all of the giddy, I had been carrying the burden of Paul presale. And, let me tell you, this was not going to be an easy presale. Fortunately, we weren't trying for tickets to the Austin date, because that was an even bigger cluster than Tulsa ended up being. In the first twenty minutes of fan presale -- which began an hour before the American Express presale -- the site's servers crashed completely. Put simply, no one could get on. Everything from the ticket buying portion of Paul's site to the forums were obliterated; what that means, then, is that nobody knew if everybody else had gotten tickets, either. Do you even know how long twenty minutes is? I do. It lasts about half of my lifespan. And, after those twenty minutes, I lost approximately fifteen years from that lifespan. At the thirty minute mark, I still kept getting error messages, and probably developed a third ulcer. Finally, my mother got into the site, and ended up with a pair of seats. She was screaming at this point, which I don't think helped, because, as she was screeching bloody murder, I got in on my computer, too. We had, essentially, two minutes to decide what seats to take. Do you know how long two minutes is? Blink. There, two minutes. We took my seats, and happily forked over a small fortune. To which I say, "who in hell cares, we're going to see Paul!"
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In all of the commotion, I didn't think I could handle a fourth ulcer. It was decided, for my mental health, I shouldn't deal with any of the April 9th festivities. I was OK with that, 'cause, you know, Paul.
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In addition to the presale debacle, Paul's people then decide it's a good idea to put this information out into the universe.

Fun fact: When I started learning about Paul's solo career, the "Wings Over America" footage was my first stop on the crazy train. What eleven year old could say no to that?

And then, the next day, they decide to punch us all in the virtual face by showing us what comes with the super-dee-duper deluxe edition. We all know I can't resist a deluxe edition.

I need seven of these. Now. I guess the one I have on preorder will have to do.

Also, this happened, and a lot of people were not amused.

I thought it was hilarious, personally. They put out a couple of different joke teasers, then promptly removed them. In our modern age, this means to be on the lookout for pertinent information.

By the 12th, I felt I had mustered enough courage to finally listen to the Should've Gone to Bed EP. Seriously, I can only assume that they picked the single for the sole purpose of representing the EP to the popular market; the other three songs on the EP sound like a natural progression from Wonders of the Younger, and will work as a nice bridge between that record and their upcoming release later in the year.

And, speaking of releases later in the year...
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Can we get excited about everything that's going on right now? Too late, 'cause I'm already excited about everything that's bloody going on right now. Are you dancing yet? Do it. Go on, I won't tell anybody.
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Of course, it did rain on my little happy-parade when, on that same day, Paul announced a second Tulsa show. Unless I become a girl without virtue, I can't possibly hand over another small fortune for the second night. That's why I didn't give it a second thought, and I didn't even share the information with my mother, as I was sure it might rain on her puppy parade, too.
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That adorable little bugger.

A couple of days later, I was in my room, minding my own business, when I hear a timid knock on my door.
"Your dad had an idea," my mother said to me. "I told him not to offer unless he was sure, because I know that, once I tell you his idea, you'll take the offer."
Yes, yes, keep talking, woman, you have piqued my interest, what is this endeavor of which you speak?
"What if we stay in Tulsa an extra night, and buy the cheapest tickets we can get for the second show?"
I guess she saw the announcement via Facebook or something, because, within fifteen minutes of the offer being put on the table, we bought tickets, and extended our hotel reservation.
And the clouds lifted...

So, the next day, I'm asking myself if this week can get any better. I mean, judging from what you've read so far, it could be said that I was having a pretty fantastic one. Filled with the joys of my good fortune, I decided to see what was going on in my little band world. It decided to explode by leaking a new song from Forever Halloween, then releasing tour dates at midnight. Even though the tour wasn't possible for me, I still love to look. From tours come the human element of bands: fan stories, photographs, videos, things of that nature. Even from a distance, I can feel like a part of events I would want to be at -- you know, geography withstanding. Isn't the Internet marvelous?

Now, this post originally ended here. It was called "How To Kill A Fangirl In Eight Days" at that point, but things got in the way of posting it. Finals season is upon college students at large, and it decided to hit with a vengeance. I figured that, after finals, things would start to simmer down. Oh, no, not hardly. Before I even took my last final of the semester, I got a call from my dad's mother. She's been trying to get us to go to Dallas with her for a number of reasons, and, on this particular day, she called to remind me of her request.
"You really should think about Dallas," she said to me.
"Let me look at my college schedule, and I'll let you know what I can do."
It then occurred to me to not only consult my college schedule, but tour schedules. Remember how, at the beginning of this post, I said that some things happen to you, and others happen because of you?
Can you guess what I made happen?
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Solve the puzzle, Vanna.

I have to say, though, I am a little nervous about it. I mean, this is the kind of thing where you can meet and greet out by the buses. And, you know, I'm not that good with meet and greets. Remember when I met Alex Gaskarth? My sister does, 'cause she sent me this after she read that post...
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And she's absolutely right.
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I have to keep in mind not to do this...
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...or this...
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My problem is always that I feel like fans expect so much of people in their situation, and they end up giving to their detriment. They give their art, give up their normal lives, make all kinds of personal sacrifices, and then, some little half-wit makes further demands; and, to me, just because you buy an album or a ticket does not entitle you to ask for anything. They've got enough going on without somebody like me going all Scarlett-O'Hara-in-ridiculous-cat-glasses on them. Can you imagine that image? Little ol' me would rather not. I know I'd kick myself if I didn't at least try, but I'll think quite hard about it before then.

In all of this excitement, two days ago, I got another giant surprise. Yes, I arranged the opportunity to see The Maine, but I was actually handed the opportunity to see Ringo Starr and the All-Star Band in Las Vegas. It just so happens that he'll be closing his 2013 tour while we're going to be in town. How's that for timing?
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Ringo's presale was an absolute disaster. I had read the day before that the fan presale would be the day prior to regular sale. What I didn't know until the presale began, though, was that there was some kind of code required. I had to supersleuth for thirty minutes before I found the stupid code, because the Space Jam website is more up to date than Ringo's. And I'm assuming his fans are not nearly as rabid as Paul's, because I couldn't find an active forum to talk about presales. The physical box office wouldn't be open for another two hours, and I had absolutely no leads. I guess that was a major problem for The Palms, because they ended up tweeting the password for all of us scrambling idiots.
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I've been saving this for two years. That's how far in advance I plan blogs.

Believe it or not, I once turned down the chance to see Ringo. He passed through our little truck stop town a few years back, and I didn't want to go. Well, let me rephrase that: I didn't want to go for that outrageous admission price. His cheap seats are still more expensive than Paul's cheap seats; when I found that out, I still didn't think it was worth it. My mother, on the other hand, wants to go. It still irks me that we're paying more to see Ringo than for that second Paul show. Wouldn't that bother you? It bothers me. Regardless, we're going to see Ringo in all his diva-tastic glory. Wait, did I say that?
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What has this exercise taught us?

Who needs savings for the future when there's Paul and band stuff?
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And, have I not got the best parents in all of creation? I don't know how I have fooled them into thinking I'm worth all of this bother, but I guess I'll just have to keep baking to earn my keep.
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Based purely on the evidence before us, this is how to kill a fangirl in twenty-five days.
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Is It A Subscription Box, Or Something More Sinister? (It's A Subscription Box. Maybe.)