Monday, May 29, 2006

Some Gave All

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country

from the Boy Scout Oath

Love your country and live with pride
And don't forget those who died…
All gave some and some gave all
And some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall…
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all

Billy Ray Cyrus, from the song “Some Gave All.”

It’s Memorial Day. Time for family and barbecues. Time for sales, and cheap political opportunism. Time for a day off of work. Time to get in your car and drive to a get-together. I guess it’s time to be American, in any guise that may take.

I have many thoughts this day, about what it means to be an American. About the freedoms that we profess to love, but in practice give away with no remorse or acknowledgement. About the greatness we’ve achieved on the work of previous generations, and whether we’re willing to continue that. About the tragedy of war, and how truly horrible a thing it is. I am not a pacifist; war is sometimes necessary. But it should always, always, always be a last resort.

I have become a huge fan of the ever-controversial “Vox Day,” but I want to point out his latest column - – which flatly asserts the need for a new political party. I’ve been saying this for years, even as I wonder whether we’ll ever be allowed to see one succeed.

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about America. And I hope that you do, too, in the midst of your busy weekend.

But in the midst of all this, take time to think about what Memorial Day is really about. Remembering.

Remember those who gave their lives for us.
Remember those sons and daughters who never came home.
Remember those fathers and mothers who never got to watch their children grow up.
Remember every sacrifice made in the name of freedom, freedom that we’re throwing away.
Remember those who were never whole again in either body or spirit, because of what they lost.
Remember every dream that never came true, every life cut short – for you and me!
Remember that some gave all.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A quick addendum

To those who read my last blog, and thought I was depressed; my apologies. In re-reading it, I can definitely see how you would get that impression.

I'm far from depressed, in fact, life is great. I'm a little bummed out that I'm in the twilight of my 20s, but other than that, things are great.

Also, I've had a lot of positive comments given to me about the previous column ("We're different - still"), mostly from women. However, there were a few people that took a great deal of offense to it, and said I was sexist. When I asked for specifics, I got no reply; they just said the "general tone" was, even if I didn't say anything they could point to. A friend (male) said that it doesn't matter what the truth is, the perception was that it was sexist. All I can do to respond to that is quote Theodore Beale:

"I merely write what I think. Given what people find persuasive, I see no point in spending any effort in trying to persuade anyone. If you can't get past big words or scary analogies, you can't be convinced by anything but repeated emotional manipulation anyhow."

I'm not that cynical about everyone, but those who are entirely concerned with the "overall" tone aren't probably going to get what I'm writing, anyway.

So, am I a sexist? By some definitions, assuredly yes. And I scoff (yes, I just used the word "scoff") at anyone who claims not to be.

As a noun, it can be defined as "a man with a chauvinistic belief in the inferiority of women." Personally, I find that definition rather sexist, as well - I've known just as many women convinced of the superiority of their sex as the reverse. Regardless, that definition does NOT pertain to me. I hold neither sex to be superior.

However, as an adjective, it can be defined as "discriminatory on the basis of sex" - and I do discriminate between the sexes. There are very real differences between men and women. We all know it, even the uber-PC people who wholeheartedly deny it.

Again, I don't know how much of the difference between men and women is based on genetics, and how much is based on culture, but there are differences.

Interestingly enough, most dictionaries combine the definition with "prejudice" - which is to judge prior to knowledge. Actually, it has been knowledge and experience which have caused me to believe there truly are inherent differences between men and women. That is not something I believed at all ten years ago.

So, if I offended you with the tone of my entry, read it again and tell me if there's something wrong, flawed, or specifically sexist about it. If so, I'll be glad to revisit it, or remove it, or apologize for it. If not, then perhaps it's not my communication skills at fault, but a prejudice on the reader's side of things. My blog consists of my thoughts - which are by my human nature fallible. But I have no interest in apologizing for writing a truth in an unpalatable form.

My job is to promote fiction, to manipulate emotion to make people happier. That's what I do for a living. For fun, I tell the truth. There's a reason I make money off of one, and not the other!


P.S. I was also told I come across as cynical. I am.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I'm 29 now - and yet, I'm still boring...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

29. Here. I’d say finally, but it kinda crept up on me, and then pounced. I’m not sure quite how it happened; I’m just getting into the groove of being in my 20s.

I’ve got a lot on my mind right now, and it’s exceedingly boring. So I’m going to share it with you, because I’m old, and that’s what old people do. We call it wisdom, because it just takes too long to say “boring crap that you couldn’t care less about, but it means a lot to me, and I’m going to tell you about it in hopes that you’ll find meaning in it.”

Even using the acronym “BCTYCCLABIMALTMAIGTTYAIIHTYFMIT” takes too long. And it’s harder to pronounce than “anthropomorphism.” So we’ll stick with “wisdom.” Maybe that stands for “We Ignore Stupid Diatribes Of Musicians.” Then again, it could stand for “Wicked Immoral Sex Delights Ordinary Men.” But I digress. As old people do.

What has happened over my life?

30 years ago, I was… Crap, well, not really doing much. Wasn’t playing piano, wasn’t drinking, wasn’t making time with the hot chicks… Damn, non-existence sucks!

20 years ago, I’d just discovered “The Lord of the Rings,” just figured out how to pronounce the letter “r,” and couldn’t say the letter “s” to save my life. Sorry, that should’ve been “to thave my life.” My sister Tammy had just moved out of the house (a big deal when there’s seven people sharing one bathroom), and I had been playing the piano for two years. I couldn’t play piano very well. I’d never had a drink. And I was still of the opinion that I didn’t really like girls. Damn, being nine sucked, too!

10 years ago, I was finishing up my second year of college. I’d just grown my ponytail. I was as insecure about being a musician as you could possibly be. I’d fallen in love with a girl named Sarah. I was pretty much a fundamentalist Christian, who didn’t cuss, drink, or anything fun. I was scared about being in my 20s. And I couldn’t get a date, no matter how hard I tried. So, I felt I couldn’t play piano, wasn’t drinking, and got nowhere with the chicks. You know, I’m not seeing much progress from 9 to 19 here.

So far, 29 has been pretty good. I’ve done absolutely nothing this year. Then again, I won’t officially turn 29 until later this morning, so we’ll just go back to my 28th year. It’s been like a soap opera this last year, anyway. You hear about the old Chinese Curse “may you live in interesting times” – well, there are apparently a lot of old Chinese people cursing at me.

One year ago I was living on Bourbon St., in New Orleans, living an incredible existence (except for the drunk people who peed on my porch on a regular basis). I performed almost every night (musically! Get your mind out of the gutter!). I was one of the top entertainers at the world-famous “Pat O’Brien’s.” I was taking ballroom dance lessons during the day, meeting beautiful girls from around the world at night. My friend Katie had just moved to New Orleans, and was living with me while I built her an apartment (which I finished in August). Despite my best efforts (and copious amounts of alcohol), she never did fall in lust with me. With my golden tan and bulging muscles, I’m not sure how she ever resisted, but she managed somehow. Still, much fun was had whilst we roommated (is that a verb?).

That all changed when an ill-tempered Katrina came my way. I left New Orleans with Katie, expecting to be gone a day or two. I ended up living with her and her parents for about two weeks while we watched all the news of New Orleans flooding. (Even grief didn’t make her want to get naked for me… man, it’s just hopeless). I thought I lost everything. I was mildly upset at this, but more upset for Katie; she’d just gotten her own apartment, her dad had brought all of her belongings down… She’d been living like a nomad for years (she’s a dancer), and was finally settling down, only to have it all ripped away. But there was nothing I could do; I had no job, no money, no way to help. In fact, I had nothing at all, including plans, ideas, prospects…

So I did what anybody would do. I went to Colorado and auditioned for “American Idol.” What can I say? I was bored. It was a joke, by the way. I was amazed by the talent there; I was completely out of my league, vocally. However, almost nobody with any real talent made it through the auditions, just the tone-deaf freaks who would look funny in the bloopers. I saw several people that blew 90% of the top twelve away. They were passed over immediately. If I were to do it again, I’d sing off-key in a funny costume. Much, much, much more likely to get through.

Anyway, after I got over my heartbreak at not passing the audition… Okay, I’m lying. There was no heartbreak. After seeing what they wanted, I’m grateful I didn’t make it. But after it was over, having no home and no money and no job, I hopped a plane to Las Vegas.

I came to peace with having lost everything. I realized that possessions are merely “stuff.” None of it was really that important (except my tequila collection). My family, my friends, my health, my career – all of these were intact (though not my tequila). People I’d never met opened up their homes to me. Friends from around the world called to make sure I was okay. My mother, my father, friends of my parents – all sent me money, though they really didn’t have any to spare. One of my college professors wanted to buy me a new wardrobe. There was an outpouring of generosity that I still can’t fully wrap my mind around. All I can say is that even thinking about it still humbles me.

And then, having made peace with loss, I found out that I’d lost nothing. Everything I owned was perfectly okay, and more importantly, so was all of Katie’s stuff. And that’s when my dad informed me that he was taking a week off of work, and making a 4,000 mile trip with me to haul my stuff from New Orleans to Las Vegas.

Again with the being humbled.

To make a long story… longer, I moved to Las Vegas, played the strip (that’s different than being a stripper – I think I’d get paid more to put my clothes back on) for several months, started freelancing there, then in California, all up and down the coast… I got tired of all the traveling. Vegas is an incredible city, but the dueling pianos scene is heavily into politics, and I just want to play. I don’t want to backstab or be backstabbed, kiss-ass and be insincerely flattered. I just want to make music and entertain audiences. So I came back to Texas, where I have (with a partner) started a dueling pianos freelance team in the Houston area.

So, now, when it’s all settling down, I realize that I’m 29.

I had a list of goals when I was 28. Some of them came true, but many did not. I did get in shape like I planned - and then I got out of shape again. I did not become debt-free, for obvious reasons. I haven’t become an expert ballroom dancer. I haven’t learned another language, or gotten back into martial arts. I didn’t reconcile with the girl of my dreams. I didn’t get a recording contract, or finish my new CDs. Not once did I have a threesome with twins.

But I did become a better singer, a better entertainer. I worked with some of the best people in the industry, and learned how to hold my own with them. I made some new friends that I think will be with me for life. And I got back in touch with some old friends that I hope will put up with me, too.

I did learn who cared about me, and some of those people surprised me. I learned who didn’t care about me, and some of those surprised me, too. I learned about how inconsequential so much of our stuff is. I learned what true generosity means. I learned the necessity of planning ahead, and the futility of expecting any of those plans to come true.

I’ve become more and more cynical about relationships; most are based entirely on fiction. Men and women lie to each other and manipulate each other constantly, and both sides find it normal for themselves to do so, and horrible and disgusting when the other side does it. Even people who pride themselves on being truthful will lie by omission if the truth makes them uncomfortable.

And yet - I’ve grown more amazed by true love. My cousin and my brother have both found incredible wives, and they have relationships that most people couldn’t even fathom. Not perfect, not without tension… But with incredible love. And when I see it, I think of how rare it is – like a flower that we’ve all seen pictures of, but so few have ever smelled the fragrance.

I’ve become more and more cynical about our country, as our government grows more and more power-hungry, like the decaying Roman Empire, and the people just clamor for bread and circuses. I’ve become disgusted with all the people who are willing to throw away not only their own rights and freedoms, but yours and mine, just as long as they can feel safe. I was disgusted by the people who took advantage of the devastation in New Orleans, those who looted, and stole, and lied to get more from the government. I’ve become repulsed by the incredible greed that says “I have a right to everything I want, because I want it, and you have it.”

And yet – though adversity brings out the worst in many people… Though I’ve seen the ugliest sides of the American populace, I’ve also seen the best. Whether you call them patriots or idealists, those who give until they have nothing left, in the name of America, and even more, in the name of God – those should make us all proud to be American. And though I don’t agree with many of the military conflicts going on, I know people who signed up believing that our country needs them, willing to sacrifice their own lives so that you and I may be safe.

I’ve become more and more frightened by the rampant ignorance around me. How emotion has become more important than fact, feelings more vital than reality. We seem to have thrown away our drive towards reason, science, history, in favor of group discussions and hand-holding. If you try to use logic and action/consequence in a discussion, you’ll get blank stares. Sometimes, I think we’re headed towards another Dark Age.

And yet - if you apply yourself, we have access to more knowledge than at any point in history. I can text a friend in Thailand, IM a friend in Germany, email a friend in Mexico, all while perusing world news on my computer, and listening to a CD on how to speak a foreign language.

Some of my dreams are dying. I’m getting too old to get a record contract, though I’m going to try for a few more years. I’m liking the thought of settling down and raising a family more and more, but I’m finding it even less likely than I did before. And before, I thought there was virtually no chance. Now, I’d remove the word “virtually” from that thought.

Other dreams are just awakening, though. I now own a business of my own. I’m making my own way. I am becoming a success in ways I never thought possible. Will I ever have a platinum CD? Probably not, but I will be playing music for a living as long as I want to. Will I ever have kids? Probably not, but my nieces and nephews are really awesome - and now that I’m back in Texas, I’ll be around as they grow up.

I used to see the world in black and white, with shades of grey here and there on certain select topics. Now, I can’t find the black and white any more, but how pretty all the colors in between have become!

My 20s began rough. But though it doesn’t get any easier, it gets better. Almost every day. I found out what I’m good at, and what I’m not! I found my true friends. I found love, though I had to let it go. Overall, I’ve found happiness. In some ways, I’ve found a lot of maturity. So maybe I am ready for my 30s.

Nah. Who am I kidding? I’ve got 365 days left to party like I’m a young guy! Who’s bringing the tequila? Clothing optional!

Talk to you all next year,
The Old Man formerly known as Jess