Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Address the Mess

So, my life is a mess.

It seems like these moments culminate unexpectedly even though I can often feel them building. I slowly realize that I am spreading myself too thin and just barely making it on my own while seemingly pleasing those around me without being completely open and honest (because I don't seem to have the time or energy to do so). Then it all backfires, and I am stuck wanting to just sleep all day because I don't know what else to do to make it right. Or I know what to do but I am overwhelmed by the simple thought of it.

It's funny that during these times, my surroundings sort of mirror my internal state. My room has been in shambles for weeks, every week getting a bit worse. I like having space and being clean, but it's usually the last thing on my list of priorities. Daily life often catches up to me and cleaning doesn't always fit in the day-to-day.

So here I am, lying on he carpeted floor of my room between piles upon piles of books, receipts, bags, teaching supplies, and half-packed boxes while writing this post. I have about three concert updates I want to write for you guys, but those will have to be put on hold at least until I can clean up some of the mess. I think I will have to start with my heart, though, instead of my room, which means its time for some journaling. Not for you to see, though. Sorry :)

Wishing for this escape right about now. Greystones Harbour, Ireland

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Peculiar Needs of People

Fun illunstration of the US by falldowntree
There are a few places in the world where you can spend most of your time running casual sociological and anthropological studies. Those places are where the worlds of diverse races, cultures, classes, and ages are forced to temporarily merge. In my recent travels to and from a pretty great vacation with my family on Tybee Island, GA, I passed through airports in Indianapolis, Charlotte NC, and Savannah GA. Every time I find myself in an airport, I remember how huge the world is and how different people are. Millions of a people a day go through airports all heading different directions with different purposes, carrying a variety of baggage (literally and figuratively). I overhear conversations that exhibit a variety of emotions and expectations. I see how people react to stress (airports experiences hardly ever go as planned).

The attendants working at airports especially interest me because they are often very professional, almost impersonal, despite the fact that they primarily work with people. On my trip back from GA, I had to get to the airport around 4:30 to check-in for my 5:30 flight. (Note to self, airports don't really open until about 5am.) While waiting for the desk to open, I realized that not only was I tired and completely inconvenienced by the time of day but the other people waiting with me were feeling the same way. As the desk clerk came out of a mysterious door in the wall behind the desk, he yawned at every computer he had to turn on while he prepared the desk for customers. I realized that the desk clerk, too, probably was not excited to be at the airport at 4:30 to serve tired and grumpy customers waiting for a plane that had just been delayed 45 more minutes. I wanted to ask him if he ever gets used to getting up that early for work each day, because I know that I never would. His yawns lead me to believe he would agree with me. He politely printed off my boarding tickets without making any conversation, and I was on my way! wait some more for the security gates to open...haha

But after I survived the Savannah airport and arrived in Charlotte, I realized I had been moved to a flight that was leaving two hours later than my original flight, so I went to Starbucks, got some coffee, ate a granola bar, and sat in the food court area of my gate to read. I watched many people around me, listened to some couples freak out about possibly missing their flight if they moved to an earlier one, and saw an eccentric family gobble down Burger King breakfast food while they joked and the teenagers listened to their iPods to tune them out. I also saw some airport workers interacting with one another and with the people working the food counters.

I had never thought about it before, but people who work at airports (even the ones who direct the planes to their "parking spots," as my pilot would say) interact with one another in the same way I would interact with my co-workers. They are friends with people in other departments of the airport. They joke around with one another and have fun relating to one another because even though their jobs are different, they all work in the same environment of people coming and going, and I'm sure they desire some permanent relationships and personal interactions.

Flight attendants and pilots seem to be a bit of a community in and of themselves as well. Usually they are working with people who are based in the same city or region as they are, so they get to know one another a bit. They seem to have lots of inside jokes, which is fun to think about. I bet they see a lot of interesting things in their day to day flights. It seems like they have fewer personal interactions with people, and I imagine that sometimes the days are lonely, but they do have one another. I sat in the back of the plane for my last flight from Charlotte to Indy, and the flight attendant's seat was right next to our seats. I was sitting by the window (being the akward girl who says two words to the nice woman sitting next to her), and the woman next to me was inquiring about applying to be a flight attendant. I got to hear a bit more about the life of a flight attendant, and the man was actually very passionate about the job as he had been doing it for 17 years. One can only wonder about his life outside of flying, though. Does he have a spouse or kids or family that he sees when he goes home? Is it possible to maintain those relationships in a job like that?

When I am traveling through airports, I try to remind myself often that airport employees are people with these relational needs and that they are people who often get mistreated by travelers like me who want things to go their way and go as smoothly as possible. My flight from Charlotte to Indy got moved from gate to gate, and the new gate was a double gate (didn't know that existed until then). The woman who was working the gate seemed pretty stressed as she organized passengers for two flights, one of which had been transferred to her gate last minute, scheduled to leave 5 minutes apart from the other at the same gate. I saw some passengers get frustrated, and I saw her react in frustration to some innocent passengers as well. I felt bad for her, and I made sure I thanked her for all her hard work as she scanned my boarding pass right before I walked to our plane. She looked me in the eye and thanked me as well. Although a smile never flashed across her face, I could tell that she greatly appreciated that someone noticed her and affirmed her when most of what she was receiving were furrowed brows and confused glances.

Although airport employees have many frustrating interactions with passengers, they seem to have a great time with one another because they have some basis of relationship: consistent personal interactions. It's a community. Personal interactions are the main things that are lacking when you travel alone. I felt that as a traveler myself. Passengers are in an awkward situation because they are uncomfortably closely surrounded by people they potentially have nothing in common with outside of the fact that they are traveling.

I'm sure many of you have had the experience of sitting next to someone you don't know on a plane. Sometimes you get the ridiculously chatty lady who talks about all her kids as if you wanted to know their purposes in life having never met them. Other times you get that cordial "hello" from that polite but reserved business man who fiddles with his iPhone in his attempt to avoid conversation. Other times you get the woman who says nothing to you and doesn't make eye contact with you because she is sitting across the aisle from someone she does know and has no need to reach further than that. The rarest times are when you end up next to an empty seat. My first flight from Indy to Charlotte was this way, and I was relieved to stretch out and make myself as comfortable as possible.

I learned so much about people, myself included, in the few hours time that I spent traveling through airports. People do not like being uncomfortable. Depending on the circumstances, they employ professionalism, cordial conversation, and simple isolation to handle the discomfort. I think discomfort is something our society has learned to avoid in general, so these interactions in airports are even more interesting because of that. People are peculiar, especially when they rub elbows with people who are different and unfamiliar. For myself, I aspire to be one who embraces discomfort for the sake of building relationships, even if those relationships last for only one moment or one flight. People are beautiful and messy, and ignoring that is plain dishonesty. Coming to terms and interacting with that fact can be an opportunity to give and receive a bit of interpersonal love. I like the idea of that.
Mandatory Vacation Pic

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Music Marathon: Concert #3

3. The Civil Wars at The Earth House

Coming into this show I had pretty high expectations for a number of reasons. In listening to The Civil Wars' first live album Live at Eddie's Attic before they were really known and publicized in media, I had come to love their humor, their lyrical commentaries on relationship, and their vocal precision. I never fell completely in love with their sound as many have, but they captured my attention and have been garnering quite a bit of attention from some respected music forums and media such as iTunes, Paste Magazine, NPR, and even the Christian cultural commentator, Relevant Magazine. I watched The Civil Wars perform on NPR's YouTube channel a few days ago to prepare myself for their show, and was blown away by their dynamics and energy. As a friend and I discussed, it's hard to believe that their relationship is solely professional because they exhibit such a high amount of chemistry during their performances. Here's that video for your viewing pleasure:

Joy Williams is definitely the performer personality of the duo. I'm guessing this is largely due to her past career performing as a dynamic CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) musician. It felt to me like she was putting on an act that was a little hard to break through and relate to.

On the other hand, I gather that John Paul White is by nature a bit more laid-back and introverted, as is expected from most good song-writers--it seems as though a certain type of personality expresses him or herself better through a musical means than simple person-to-person interaction...maybe I am drawing false conclusions here, but that's my perception. I wish he would step out more and share the spotlight equally with Joy, but there's so much more about Joy on the surface that captures people's attention. John Paul deserves more credit! This is true also for the interviews with The Civil Wars that I have read as well. In the Christian media realm, people are often very interested in Joy's "switch" from CCM to "secular" music, while John Paul White just gets a few blurbs about his musical influences and such. I'm interested in getting to know his background more than media people are allowing me.

But I have digressed, as I often do. I'm off my soapbox.

Some observations from the concert:
A. Their dynamics (as seen in the NPR video) were lacking a bit during this show. It felt almost a bit awkward, like Joy was trying to interact with John Paul White, but he wasn't responding as much or interacting with the audience as much. Maybe he wasn't feeling well. One can only speculate.

B. Joy smiles so much. Like she knows something that you don't know. Like there's something that lies farther beneath the melancholy melodies, bringing everything to light. It made me feel weird. Like she almost was being untrue to the nature of the songs, but it was enchanting. Her ballerina-like hand gestures attract and allure along with her voice, sometimes serving as a distraction.

It was interesting to me that Joy's vocal expression still seems very much rooted in her experience singing pop music, even in the context of John Paul White's country guitar riffs. Don't get me wrong, her voice is her gift. She slides up and down her wide range with ease, has amazingly compelling tone-quality to her voice, and she can belt out very powerfully, but it's just something about the breathy whispers or the way her syllables are shaped/exaggerated that bothers me a little. That's me being really picky though. Vocals are often the main thing I listen to when I hear music, especially music like this where vocals are the main focus of their song-writing.

C. John Paul White's song-writing skills are very compelling, and his variety of guitars on stage made up for the variety of timbres that a band backing would offer them. He had a hollow-bodied electric, acoustic-electric, resonator, nylon-stringed acoustic, and one other. Joy also played a bit of piano and accordion, which was exciting for me. I like a bit of variety, especially when their two opening acts were also melancholic acoustic guitar sing-songwriter types.

D. My favorite songs of the night were both Michael Jackson covers-- I Want You Back and Billie Jean-- and Barton Hollow and Poison and Wine. The second opener, Ryland Baxter, also played some pretty poignant and witty songs that I enjoyed.

E. The Earth House is a cool smaller venue in Indianapolis housed in an old church building. They have a sizeable coffee shop (with a sizeable line of people in front of the counter) downstairs, and the old sanctuary (I'm guessing) has been completely cleared of pews and hymnals in order for people to stand and enjoy whatever musical act might grace the altar/stage. The pace of this show was definitely conducive to chairs, especially having two acoustic opener acts, but standing didn't kill us. I'll tell you what almost did kill us though-- the people who we squeezed around to get closer to the stage. They weren't very nice. The crowd was pretty different than I expected-- a lot of yuppies, college students, and a good amount of middle-agers.

Although I left with a back-ache, numb feet, and a sweat-soaked shirt, the concert was still really fun. Seeing quality music live is hardly ever a disappointment. Overall, I give this concert experience a 3.75 out of 5.