Thursday, December 1, 2011

Track 12- The Closing Hymn

I was serving as an LDS missionary in Fort Worth, TX back in 2002 when we received word about an upcoming conference with our neighboring missionaries from the Dallas mission. This was pretty much unprecedented. Missionaries from the Texas Fort Worth Mission never stepped foot into the boundaries of the Texas Dallas Mission, let alone gathered together in the same meetinghouse. What on earth could inspire such an anomaly?!

As it turned out, Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of the church, was visiting our area and wanted to meet with us. His impending visit caused quite a bit of excitement among the missionaries. After all, it isn’t very often that you get to see an Apostle of the church in person. (Unless, of course, you live in Utah, in which case I’ve seen them at Hogle Zoo.) Even more exhilarating for me, however, was the fact that I was appointed to conduct the congregational music during the conference.

Now, to be perfectly honest, there is no great stewardship that comes with conducting music at church. In fact, anyone who’s actually been to an LDS Sacrament Meeting can testify that no one watches the chorister. If you really want to know the tempo and/or cut offs of a congregational hymn, you’re probably better off staring at the bobbing head of the organist.

That being said, I was honored at the prospect of leading the music because it also meant I would be sitting on the stand alongside Elder Ballard. I mean, let’s say, for example, a natural disaster ravages the meetinghouse we’re gathered in… No problemo—I’m sitting next to the Apostle.

Anyway, the day of the conference came, and Elder Ballard gave a very nice talk, after which we began to sing the closing hymn, which happened to be the rousing missionary anthem “Called to Serve.” The organist began the introduction, and it was immediately made clear to me that instead of the usual punchy tempo that the song was known for, we were going to sing it in at much more majestic pace. Think…the Mormon Tabernacle Choir going into a final chorus after a big key change.

I went along with it, recognizing my place not only as a lowly chorister, but also thinking that it might be a unique arrangement for the very unique gathering. So I waved my arm with pomp and circumstance, hitting the four beats per measure with precision and pride. But then suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Elder Ballard get out of his chair and start waving to the organist to pick up the tempo. Then he turned to the congregation of missionaries and signaled for them to do the same.

Immediately my pomp and circumstance were gone, and I started flappin my wing like I was trying to levitate! When an Apostle of the Lord tells you to sing faster, you do it!

As I look back on that experience all of these years later, I don’t really remember a word that Elder Ballard said during his talk, but I do remember the tempo at which he told us to sing “Called to Serve.”

Why did he want to sing it faster? Did he have a plane to catch? Is it sacrilegious for missionaries to sing that song slowly? Maybe he had to go to the bathroom. The truth is, I don’t know. But the point is, it doesn’t matter. He was the presiding authority, and he wanted a jaunty closing hymn.

I initially felt a twinge of embarrassment when the whole thing happened, as though I had received a celestial chastening for leading the music at the wrong tempo. With time, however, that embarrassment gave way to admiration as I marveled that one man had completely led a room of 500 nineteen-year-old missionaries with the wave of his hand.

And now today, as I sit and think about that singular experience, I realize my feelings have morphed into a wave of melancholy— kind of like when you have to say goodbyes.

“After you’ve stood and shared everything you are, how do you sing your closing hymn?”

It’s kind of like deciding the last track of an album, or the final chapter of a book. It’s the capstone to something to which you’ve essentially given life. That’s why it’s so impressive that even after visiting countless congregations and delivering countless discourses, Elder Ballard still stood up to fight for the energy of his closing hymn.

As I finish my 2011 Album today, I face the same kind of predicament. How do I want to end it? What is my closing hymn? And more importantly, how do I want to sing it?

After a lot of thought, I think the best way to end this album is with it’s beginning. As humans, one of our greatest abilities is to forget, but as this blog yearns to stand as a testament to my personal evolution, I hope, at least for my own sake, that I will never forget it.

Therefore, may this album play on a loop to help us remember it whenever and wherever we need it. And in those moments of personal need, may the WiFi used to access it be strong and free of charge.

Track 01

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Track 11- Track 11

In the “cinematic masterpiece” Runaway Bride, there is a pivotal moment when the character of Maggie (Julia Roberts, playing herself quite convincingly) faces a fear that all human beings must face: Eggs.

Yes, in her great quest to discover why she keeps running out during her marriage ceremonies, she vows to figure out how she likes her eggs in the morning. Not how someone else likes her eggs, not how she wants other people to think she likes her eggs, but how SHE likes her eggs. It’s an age-old question, really, and one that I can proudly answer, “Scrambled Whites.”

In other aspects of my life, however, I understand fair Julia, er— Maggie’s plight. Sometimes I wonder how many of my “favorites” are actually products of my personal tastes or simply consequences of my culture and environment.

In short, how do I know what my Track 11’s are??

Back when I first started buying CD’s, (Compact Discs, for those who may not know) I became fascinated by the fact that when I’d listen to them, particularly my Broadway Cast Albums, many of the tracks that made me think, “Hmm, this a good song, what number is it…?” were always Track #11.

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s an unspoken Musical Theatre rule that composers put a really great song at Track 11. (Or maybe that’s 11:00?) Regardless, it happened to me enough that I noticed, and here are a few examples:

Sunset Boulevard- American Premiere Recording
Track 11: Girl Meets Boy

Into the Woods- Original Broadway Cast
Track 11: Ever After

Side Show- Original Broadway Cast
Track 11: We Share Everything

Martin Guerre- 1999 Cast Recording
Track 11: Don’t

Triumph of Love- Original Broadway Cast
Track 11: Issue in Question

Wicked- Original Broadway Cast
Track 11: Defying Gravity

Now, if you can hum even two of those six songs, then I probably consider you a close friend. And if you can’t, I really hope you haven't stopped reading. I also hope you realize that in finding the freedom to hint at the true depth of my Musical Theatre dork-dom, I have come a long way.

You see, it wasn’t too long ago that I looked at my itunes and was ashamed, yes, ASHAMED of my music collection. And to a degree, it was somewhat merited. I mean, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis? Was I menopausal? This sudden self-awareness led me to waste money on a couple of albums from artists that I mistakenly thought would make me seem edgier. (like Seal and The Dixie Chicks)

Since that rock bottom of embarrassment, I have worked hard to reconcile ‘yours truly’ with his inner high school teenager. Where did that young nerd go who asked for Stephen Sondheim’s Passion as a reward for his straight “A” report card? Tell me, what happened to that kid who explained to his father that he wasn’t excited about his birthday present because he wanted the “New London Cast Recording” of Starlight Express instead of the “Concept Album?”

What I’ve come to find is that no matter how hard I try to reclaim that boy from my past, I never completely find him. And you know what? That's OK! The time and experiences I’ve lived through have expanded my tastes to include many more things besides Musical Theatre, and I’m a better person because of it. What I have been able to reclaim, however, is that I am once again free to embrace my favorites. And now, drunk with that power, I would like to say something else:

I love Celine Dion.

I love her crazy high riffing. I love that when she sings “love” is sounds like “lerve.” I love that during ballads she beats her chest like Tarzan on crystal meth. I love the bizarre musical genres that she often has no business singing. I love that when she belts really high you can see her incisors. Finally, I love Celine Dion because no matter what she does, you know it’s because she thought it was a good idea.


You know, sometimes I think we fear being permanently defined by our tastes. That somehow by declaring what we like, we declare “not-liking” everything else. But discovering our “Track 11’s” doesn’t exclude us from anything. Our favorites create preferences. And why shouldn’t we know what we like, or in many instances, prefer? It makes our happiness definable. Just like eggs at breakfast.

Track 12

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Track 10- That One Song with All the Words

I will say this about scholastic life: without it, I’d have no frame of reference to organize my childhood. If you were to ask me, for example, what I was like at seven years old, I’d have nothing to share. If you asked me what I was like in the 2nd grade, however, I would easily recall my obsession with counting loose change, and a particular recess spent discussing the film 9 to 5 with my teacher.

For that very reason, the following story begins in the following way:

At some point during the 8th grade, I was asked to be a part of a two day-long seminar designed to create Oprah-like “aha” moments for young people. Even though affirmative action was in full swing to ensure a diverse peer group for the seminar, I managed to squeeze my way in as one of the nice, preppy white kids. Also along for the ride were the “creative” kids (boys with long hair, girls with short hair), the “athletic” kids (football players who already drank), and the “ethnic” kids (Catholics).

On the first day of the retreat, we were split up into small groups and together participated in various visualization exercises. The following day, we were all bused to a frozen tundra where we played team-building activities in the snow. All in all, I’ve never believed that balancing on an icy 2X4 will help you go to college, but I did end up learning two very valuable lessons over the two days.

Lesson #1- Winter gloves are useless. All you can do while wearing them is pee your pants.

OK, that one doesn’t count.

Real Lesson #1- I am grateful for my family. I heard a lot of stories from kids who had it so much harder than I ever did growing up, and I will never lose sight of that reality.

Lesson #2- Your word is the only thing you have. Every time the seminar leader introduced an activity to us, she would establish a set of rules to go with it. We were then required to choose to abide by those rules in order to participate. As the activity proceeded, any rule breaking was met with the her stern voice simply calling out from behind a knitted scarf, “Keep your word.”

I’ve thought about that a lot since then. Even now, as I’ve been to other sorts of seminars in my adult life, that one principle appears over and over again. Keep your word. It’s all you have.

When you strip everything away, the way you look, the way you make a living, the people with whom you surround yourself, what’s left? Your truth. And the greatest living representation of that truth is your word.

I wish we valued our words more. Not just the air tight ones that are printed on a contract, but the living, breathing words that are formed in a far more personal place and then shared, so that others may receive them. Simple phrases like, “Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” “I love you.” “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what you mean to me.”

Imagine, if you will, a world where words mean more. Where every merited apology is immediately accepted because there’s no reason to doubt its sincerity. Or how about a world where people keep the law simply because they say they will? Funny enough, this hypothetical world would be filled with all the same words as we have now. The change would happen, however, through the people that use them.

I guess that means Ghandi's right…again. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And while you're at it, keep your word.

Track 11

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Track 09- The Power Ballad

Have you ever filled out those surveys that companies give you after you’ve paid for their products? They kind of look like this...kind of.
“Thank you for giving us your money! Now that you’ve done us a HUGE favor by taking inventory off our hands, please take some more of your time to fill out an online survey that will allow us to send you emails for the rest of your life.”
With this perspective you'd think I’d choose to refrain from participating in said surveys, but being the American consumer that I am, the promise of a 10% off coupon in exchange for my time always proves too tempting to resist. Therefore, with head held high, and junk email folder full, I confess that I am a "Survey Taker."
As an experienced Survey Taker, I have recognized many of the similarities and differences in survey technologies. For example, while they all differ in time duration, taking anywhere from five to twenty minutes to complete, most of the surveys usually share the following question and subsequent scenario:
“On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being Extremely Satisfied and 1 being Extremely Dissatisfied) please rate your overall experience.”
At this point, I typically take way too much time deciding on my answer. “What is a 10?” “Would I recognize a 10 if I saw it?” “WILL I EVER BE SATISFIED!?” When I finally start breathing again, however, I remind myself that there can be no wrong answer. I am, after all, just a statistic. So, I click on 8. Then I change it to 9 because I don't want to be mean.
The surveying process continues in this same fashion until finally, after all my hard work, I receive that illustrious message:
“Click to receive your coupon.”
And I do.
The coupon is printed, and I go on with my day feeling confident that if I return to the store within the next 60 days, and I probably won’t, I will be able to elude sales tax.
So why do companies go through the hassle of convincing people like me to take these surveys when they know full well I could possibly write a blog about it? They do it as a way to understand the current experience that their customers are having with the company. Then, after the results are in, the people in power make the necessary changes to ensure the company is running exactly how they want it to.
Which then leads me to ponder, “What if our lives had surveys?” “What kinds of questions would we have to answer?” Maybe one like this:
“On a scale from 1 to 100 (100 being the most important, and 1 being the least important) please rate the different persons, places, things, and ideas in your life according to their respective importance.”
Seems simple enough. I rate my highest priorities: family, health, home, faith… And then fill in the rest: work, thai food, Project Runway…
“Now on a scale from 1 to 100 (100 being the most powerful, and 1 being the least powerful) please rate the different persons, places, things and ideas in your life according to their respective power.”
Interesting. You would think it would just be the same list, right? And yet, so often, my “personal health” is competing with “chocolate.” “Family” is threatened by the power of my “cell phone." And “laughter” and “love” are battling their most powerful nemesis, “stress."
The results of my make believe survey remind me of one of the greatest lessons that I continually learn in my life. “Things are only as powerful as the power you give them.”
Priorities cannot be powerful by themselves. Neither can cell phones. They can all be important, but they can’t be powerful. It's up to us to decide. It is our decision alone that gives others the power to make us feel a certain way. It is up to us to determine the true power of our words. The concept may seem overly simple, but the fact is it's true.
We are the CEOs of our lives. If we don’t like the results of our surveys, that’s okay. It’s not a summary of who we are. It’s just a summary of our current experience. And with those survey results, we, as the ones in power, can oversee the changes that will make us exactly who we want to be.
Track 10

Monday, August 1, 2011

Track 08- The Interlude

A few years ago, I was browsing through one of my old journals, and became sorely unimpressed by its insipid optimism. I seemed really bland!

While I usually prefer a healthy dose of optimism to accompany my sassy Caucasian commentaries, I must admit that in this case, I was thoroughly bored by the never-ending pages of sunshine. There were no details. No names, no emotions, just watered down descriptions that kept everything in a nice, even light. It was like a year long cheerleading routine without any gymnastics, or a symphonic fantasia filled with just one note.

This glossy coat of positivity was probably an extraordinary accomplishment at the time. Ten years later, however, it was an abysmal failure as I had nothing to remind me of what actually happened!

Thanks to this experience, I decided I owed it to myself to create a journal that would attempt to embody everything that makes me who I am: the good, the bad, and the cringe worthy. I got a leather bound notebook and in its pages began to create a personal collage. Anything I wanted to put in there I put in there, and anything I was scared to put in there I made myself put in there.

At first, I didn’t want to bother with chronology, so I left random pages blank. Somehow my life felt more organic if it was presented out of order. But as my type of personality often does, I started to plan. Without even being aware of it, I began assigning expectations to the blank pages of possibility. I decided one page would eventually have something funny on it, while another page would be really colorful, and so on…

There was one page, in particular, that I vowed would be truly important. Every time I felt inspired to write, I would look at that empty space, and eventually convince myself that it wasn’t quite time to fill it. It had to be special!

Finally, after about six months, I took a long, hard look at the now holy piece of parchment, and thought, “What am I waiting for!?”

“Why would any one moment ever be any more precious than the present? Why shouldn’t the newest moment I’ve received also be the most profound?”

Inspired by my new philosophizing, I grabbed a pen and went to work. I drew a little stick figure with a big smile and squiggly hair. Then, I drew his stick house and a stick tree with a stick sun shining down on it all.

I looked at my newly filled page, and felt content with its significance. By way of a rather long and unexpected gestational period, it was exactly what I wanted. Then, I added one more thing at the top of the page. In bold letters I wrote,

Here’s something really important.

Track 09

Friday, July 1, 2011

Track 07- The Song Featuring Somebody Else

Has anyone else noticed that the word “duet” has all but disappeared from mainstream music? Where did it go? Is it being held hostage somewhere by adult contemporary radio stations? Either that or it’s been banned along with the movie love themes of the 70’s…

The fact is no one sings “duets” anymore. Instead, individuals sing songs “featuring” another artist: Lady Gaga “featuring” Beyonce, Eminem “featuring” Rihanna, Katy Perry “featuring” Snoop Dogg.

So my question is, in a day when the fine print has never been more carefully scrutinized, why the change? What does “featuring” do that “duet” doesn’t?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was one of few 10th graders allowed to sing in the Concert Choir with the juniors and seniors. The choir was well respected statewide, and I was grateful for the opportunity. Somewhere along the way, however, I did something. I’m not entirely sure what it was.

It may have been that I opted out of our school’s production of Pirates of Penzance to go participate in a musical presented by a different high school. Come to think of it…that could have definitely been it. But before you judge for yourself, please know that there was a lot of tap dancing at stake. A lot!

It also could have been that I just didn’t fully understand the order of things. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to be validated by my peers for another two years, particularly when the other choir members had all of the wisdom and experience of not being sophomores.

Whatever the reason, there was a handful of older classmates that wasn’t so crazy about me that year. I first learned this when a performing group came to our school and held a weeklong workshop that ended in a student-performed showcase. In preparation for one of the musical montages in the show, all of the students had to vote by secret ballot for “the biggest clown” among them. The winner would then receive a pie in the face at the end of the number. Ha! What a riot.

Three or four finalists were chosen, and much to my surprise, I was one of them. Now, I may be a lot of things, but I don’t think anyone who actually knows me would ever call me a clown. A cartoon character? Perhaps. But never a clown.

I was later told that one of the seniors had sweetened the ballot box by writing my name on as many pieces of paper as he could find, just so I could get the pie. His stunt was enough to get me nominated, but sadly, the devotion of that diehard fan wasn’t enough for me to win. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts…

Later on in the year, individual choir members were invited to perform solos in front of the class as preparation for an upcoming competition. After each soloist sang, we were asked to give critiques and praise as needed. After one girl sang some art song about a green dog, I raised my hand and offered the suggestion that while she sounded great, the song’s lyrics sounded silly and could possibly benefit from a lighter performance quality. My comment included the phrase, “It doesn’t sound like a Greek tragedy.”

The next week, after I sang my solo, “Weep Ye No More Sad Fountains,” a different girl sitting in the ever popular back row raised her hand. When called upon she stood and said, “Um, maybe you should smile, because this isn’t a Greek tragedy.”

My first thought was, “The fountains have cried so much they’ve fallen asleep! It’s pretty tragic!” I had clearly forgotten about my commentary from the previous week. I was soon reminded, though, when her comment was met with cheering, laughter, and high fives across the back row. Then the bell rang.

I share these stories for two reasons, neither of which is to gain sympathy or wreak vengeance. That would be sooooooo high school.

I share them because #1- we all have stories like these, and if I was ever stupid enough to instigate them for somebody else, then I’m sorry, and I hope that they don’t waste time thinking about them.

Reason #2 is because as silly as it sounds, I still think about them! I know, who cares? Truthfully, I don’t. I promise. But that doesn’t mean that every now and then I don’t wonder why anyone as important and talented as high school seniors would give two hoops and a holler about what a puny little sophomore has to say about the green dog song!

Maybe the answer is also the reason why today’s recording artists don’t sing “duets.” (That is, besides the obvious explanation that today’s artists don’t actually sing very much.)

I think the current trend of “featuring” somebody else on a record has gained popularity because it is safer for the artists in question. It's still their song. They’re still the seniors on campus.

As it tends to go, the main artist will usually sing most of the song, followed by their featured guest popping in on the chorus, or maybe the bridge. Technically, the artist can still do the song without the other performer, and they often do in concert or radio edits of the song. If they choose to sing a duet, however, they have to be committed to sharing the spotlight every time the song is heard.

Sharing is part of growing up. We start with our toys, and then slowly progress to our feelings, our ideas, and eventually, ourselves. It’s sometimes painful. It’s often embarrassing. But sharing ourselves is the true cost of a great duet. And every artist should have one.

Looking back, maybe I entered high school singing a little too loud. Maybe that kept others from hearing it as one half of a duet. I’m still not sure. But the real Greek tragedy to recognize is that somewhere in the middle of all that singing, I decided it would be safer to downsize all my duets to mere collaborations. For the time being, it was better to “feature” other artists.

But things have changed! And things continue to change. The silver lining here is it’s never too late to share your spotlight. Heaven knows the music industry is constantly changing. I guess the better news is… so are we.

Track 08

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Track 06- The Remix

A few years ago I spent New Year’s Eve in a nightclub. It was awful.

Most of the evening consisted of me sitting on a barstool with a bottle of water, watching a silent montage of scenes from the film “Airplane” projected on a wall. Happy New Year!

I had agreed to go to this 1980’s themed club with the promise that this place was a pillar of the partying world, a Mecca for New Year’s celebrations. The novelty of it all, however, wore off long before midnight. (I believe it was around minute seven of the never ending “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” dance remix.) Still, despite my feelings, I was there with friends and was determined to be the designated martyr…I mean, driver.

Now let’s get something perfectly clear about the whole nightclub scene. When a club is popular, there are always too many people in it. This means you can’t dance! In fact, the only thing you can do is jump up and down a little, which means that you end up with everyone's booze spilled all over your shoes, which then makes the dance floor sticky, which then makes you jump up and down a little, and on goes the vicious cycle…

I know this now because just before the clock struck twelve that night, I hoisted myself into the middle of the dance floor for the big New Year’s countdown. The madness culminated in a World War worthy balloon drop, preceded by an announcement that the balloons contained free drink tickets for those willing to pop them. This proved to be quite dangerous.

Accompanied by a disco version of Auld Lang Syne pumping through the speakers, intoxicated clubbers began hurling themselves at the cascading balloons, drowning out the deafening thumps of the music with a sea of miniature explosions, and sending the room into complete chaos. It was a crazy so intense that all I could do was silently pray that Jesus wait to come back to earth until I left the building.

That being said, I am fully aware that this account of how the evening played out is mine and mine alone. I won’t make assumptions for any of the other sardines present in that can. For all I know there very well could have been many people enjoying themselves. I just wasn’t one of them.

That’s because I tend to struggle when crowded alongside large masses of the general public for extended periods of time. For example, a few weeks ago I went to Six Flags Amusement Park AND the grocery store on the same day, and when I got home, I had to give myself a timeout. The combination of the husband and wife walking around in matching American flag t-shirts and the old Persian man yelling at me for standing in between him and his prune juice proved a little too much for me to handle.

And who can blame me? The American public can be overwhelming at times. I remember when I was 16 years old, I had a short stint working at one of Northern Utah’s premier fruit stands. (A fruit stand, for those of you who don’t know, is a local hut along the highway that sells fruit during peak produce months.) I was there during cherry season, and was regularly assaulted by people armed with such questions as, “Is this pineapple local?” (I really wish I’d said, “yes.”) And my personal favorite, “Are these last year’s peaches?” (How???)

Look, I don’t believe people are imbeciles, at least not on purpose. But when you assemble large groups together in an environment away from home, stupidity usually ensues. Why do you think “reality shows” are so popular? Certainly not because they show people standing in their own kitchens waiting for chicken to defrost. When we are out of our comfort zones, things can and usually do get awkward.

My go-to sign of social awkwardness is when I combine phrases. For example, if I find myself searching for an exit to a particularly unwieldy conversation, I’ll start anticipating things to say like, “Have a nice day,” “Pleasure to meet you,” or “See you later.” Unfortunately what ends up coming out is some strange hybrid like, “Have a nice later” or “Pleasure to seet you.”

If I put that aside, however, I do think I’m above average at putting those around me at ease. I’ve learned important skills like recognizing when to talk and when not to talk. And maybe more importantly, I’ve learned that I can’t abandon all common sense when faced with the presence of other human beings.

Still, I have to draw a line somewhere. We all do. My line just happens to be the waiting lines at roller coasters and grocery checkouts, usually because I’m either suffering from the dehydration of 98 degree weather or the hit sounds from the boy band 98 degrees. In either situation, I am most likely NOT interested in hearing someone’s political views and/or plans to get on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Not that I’d ever be mean. If you really do have to bring up “The Biggest Loser,” I will absolutely feign interest.

All I’m trying to say is there are times in my life when I really need to have my own space. And that’s ok, right? Right. So anyway… Pleasure to seet you.

Everybody needs a place to call their own. Sometimes it’s a meditation room. Sometimes it’s a blog. Sometimes it’s a dark dance floor filled with anonymous faces. Whatever it is, we all owe it to ourselves to find a place that makes us feel like the thoroughly original creatures we are. And when we make it a priority to spend a little time there, I think we are more likely to find the joy in recognizing everyone else around us.

Track 07

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Track 05- The Love Song

Love becomes a cliché in life when you don’t have it. And I’ve got it. I’ve got love by the spoonfuls! It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, especially my family. We all started at a very young age to develop this kind of love and devotion. And the result? I love dessert.

It’s a simple love, really, without statutes or limitations. I love all kinds of desserts. I believe ice cream should be it’s own food group. Cookies are epic. And brownies—well, you don’t even need to make ‘em from scratch. Give me a box of Duncan Hines, and I am good to go!

Now I used to believe that this sincere affixation was actually a “highly sophisticated palette,” developed throughout my youth— kind of like wine tasting, but for a white LDS kid. That theory was shattered the moment I realized sprinkling refined sugar on morning bowls of already sweetened Life cereal was not as sophisticated as I thought.

Still, that hasn’t prevented me from now learning, as a mature adult, to not only respect the importance of “rich and chocolatey,” but also the appeal of “light and sweet.” I can enjoy “hot and crispy” while appreciating “cool and creamy.” I can justify both “mild” and “tangy,” while making a separate case for both “ripe” and “tart.” And of course, I’m always ready for seasonal favorites…

Back home, the month of September always marked the peak of peach season. And the peak of peach season always marked the annual return of homemade peach ice cream to the Parsons household. Every year, as summer started winding down, Dad would dust off the old ice cream maker from the downstairs storage room and place it outside on the back steps. It had to be outside. As yummy as that ice cream was, the mechanical grating and scraping required to get it to that point was way too much to keep indoors.

In fact, the sound of the electric ice cream maker was downright noise pollution. It was louder than the buzz of the big dehydrator we used to make apricot fruit leather, and more drawn out that the squeal of the food processor that assisted us in preparing jam. Comparatively speaking, it was most like the sound of my little sister’s rock polisher from the 4th grade. That geological equivalent of an Easy Bake Oven sat in our garage grinding and polishing at the top of its lungs 24 hours a day for at least three weeks! I would often lay awake at night, plotting my revenge against the science department at Fisher Price. And on top of it all, by the time the rocks were finally as smooth as little drops of cake batter, “little sis” had lost all sedimentary interest.

The same fate, however, never befell our homemade ice cream. Despite all the time and noise it took to complete, the peach ice cream was always met with cheers and second helpings. Served up in my mom’s sunflower dinnerware, and eaten outside on a warm September day, this dessert will always remind me of two things. #1- The smell of mosquito spray. #2- That some things are worth the wait.

Other childhood desserts were far more immediate in nature, but no less appreciated. For example, I spent a lot of time with my mom’s parents, whose house made Candyland look like a vegetable garden. Grandma and Grandpa always had a treat basket filled with Hershey Chocolate Bars on which I would regularly declare war.

Grandma also frequently stocked her freezer with a fresh supply of Creamsicles. My favorite flavor was, surprisingly enough, banana. Banana Creamsicles had the sophistication of ice cream in the peppy convenience of a popsicle. I always thought of them as “an old person dessert,” probably because of their vintage-looking plastic sleeve. But at Grandma’s house, I knew I was mature enough to take them on.

Granny also made Bon Bons, which I requested one year for my birthday. I liked them because they looked and sounded exotic, but in reality, the chocolate dough wrapped around a Hershey Hug and drizzled with frosting was about as American as childhood obesity.

Which speaking of patriotism, do you what else is undeniably American? Cherry Pie. That was always my brother’s favorite request. My dad, as I remember it, seemed to favor Apple Pies, though I’m not sure if he liked to eat them as much as he liked to make them.

Not that I blame him. Making Apple Pies was pretty cool. We had one of those “peel, core, and slice” machines that would attach to the kitchen counter like a vice. You’d stick an apple on three little spikes, and then turn a crank that would send the apple through a series of events that left it looking like a Slinky. It was pretty amazing. It also left behind a lot of apple peelings that, for some reason, I always felt the responsibility to eat.

My mom, on the other hand, felt the responsibility to bake…Sugar Cookies…for every occasion. No matter the holiday, we had the corresponding cookie cutter. If you were feeling like an extra festive St Patty’s Day, BAM! Shamrock Sugar Cookies. If Easter needed a little something extra, BOOM! Chicks and Bunnies straight from the oven. And since Halloween was always more “cute and fun” at our house than “dark and spooky,” BING! Pumpkins, Witches, Bats, and Ghosts. All of them, delicious!

Come to think of it, the only family dessert I never really got behind was Gingerbread Cookies. They were made every year for Christmas, and while I enjoyed decorating them, I always had to use a lot of Cool Whip to get them down. Too dense for their own good, I say.

And with all of these desserts around, you’d think the same could have been said for my family. Too dense for our own good! The truth is, however, that we were all pretty active, so we never got too tubby. True, I had a “chubber” stage around the fifth grade, but then I had a growth spurt, and everything evened out. My loving relationship with dessert remained unscathed.

I was raised in a family that had no problem saying “I Love You.” I heard the phrase every day at least once, and read it countless other times. The napkin in my school lunch, the “welcome home from scout camp” banner, the Post-its on the bathroom mirror; all of them were upholstered with those three little words. And on the occasion when I couldn’t hear “I Love You,” or read “I Love You,” I could still smell “I Love You.”

Maybe that’s why now, whenever I start to roll my eyes at some cliché of love, I decide it’s time for a little dessert. J

Track 06

Friday, April 1, 2011

Track 04- The Mid Tempo

Never Black or White. Never Fast or Slow. But always somewhere in the middle—

I’m pretty good at fence sitting. Maybe it’s from all of those years of literally sitting on fences… Or, maybe with the contradictions that life produces, and all the different opinions I respect in the world, I just want to see people happy. Either way…All hail Switzerland!

In the game of Tennis, the part of the court located between the base line (the white line at the back of the court) and the service line (the white line half way up the court) is often referred to as “No Man’s Land.” Novice players often find themselves vacationing in “No Man’s Land” under a false sense of security due to the area's total lack of commitment. You’re too far back to be playing at the net, and you’re too far forward to be playing at the base line. In theory, you should be ready for anything.

The problem is, however, that when you’re neither here nor there, you play neither offense nor defense, and in turn, forfeit all strategy to win. Still, if you’re looking for a comfy place to merrily skip around and chase yellow balls, “No Man’s Land” is your place!

In celebration of my ability, or disability, to find a neutral “No Man’s Land” in virtually every aspect of my life, I would like to delve into another realm of ambiguity. It’s a place where nothing happens, and yet enough happens to incite laughter, tears, and yes, even bed-wetting. It’s the “No Man’s Land” between dead and awake. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Land of Dreams!

I think I can safely say we have all had a dream or two in our lifetimes of slumber. We may not remember them, of course, but we all dream. Our subconscious dreamlands are like an elaborate buffet of insecurities, hopes, and fears, all served up in a trippy, opium den of thought. So, in no particular order, I would like to take you on a tour through some of the most memorable JSP dreamscapes. They range from silly to horrific, from poignant to jarring. What they refuse to be, however, is boring.

Dream #1: The Interview

What I Remember: In somehow keeping with the previously established tennis theme, I dreamed that I was interviewing tennis superstar sisters Venus and Serena Williams. It was a casual chat, and I brought up the fact that they hail from a Jehovah's Witness upbringing in California. I knew this because Venus had been featured in a book I had growing up of famous young athletes.

Anyway, when I addressed this, they stopped to correct me. I was wrong, they said. They were not from California, but from the South American nation of Chile. Hmmm. My bad.

Then I woke up.

The Interpretation: The Williams Sisters are not from South America! I had to re-convince myself of this when I woke up the next morning. So why Chile? The only connection I have to that place is my father, who served his LDS Mission in Santiago. He also liked tennis… Maybe I somehow connected the famed proselyting of the Williams sisters’ J-dub upbringing with the LDS missionary efforts of my own father? That would mean that, in this dream, the Williams sisters were my dad… Nah—I don’t buy that. My father was not African American, nor did he have thighs that could out squeeze a boa constrictor.

Dream #2: Motel 6 & Meryl Streep

What I Remember: This dream was neither linear nor mosaic. It just…was. I remember that I was in a dimly lit motel room. There were two queen beds topped with tacky comforters of the paisley kind. I was seated on one of them, with my legs crossed “Native American style.” Sitting across from me on the other bed was Meryl Streep. Of course—

Meryl and I were catching up. It wasn’t anything big, you know, just two old friends enjoying time together. During our chat, I suddenly became aware that an actual friend of mine was huddled in the corner of the room, kind of where you’d imagine the air conditioning unit to be. All of a sudden, that friend perked up and yelled, “ALPACAS!”

Then I woke up.

The Interpretation: After telling my friend of her supporting role in “Motel 6 & Meryl Streep,” she did some research and told me that the presence of llamas in your dreams symbolizes great trust and strength…OR that you’re carrying around too many problems on your back. Personally, I’m just happy my subconscious scripted the scene with the word “alpacas.” It is a much funnier word than “llamas.” Which, now that I think of it, where do llamas live? In Chile! What is going on!!?

Dream #3: The Door Slam

What I Remember: You know those dreams when you find yourself sprinting away from a deranged maniac who is only walking and yet somehow manages to keep up with you? This dream was a variation on that one. I was back home and heard a knock at the door. I answered it, and by some means, immediately realized that the person standing there had come to take away my two little sisters. I then spent what seemed like an eternity of panic trying to shut the door in time.

Then I woke up.

The Interpretation: Nothing clever or quippy about this one, folks! This was a good, old-fashioned nightmare, obviously playing off of the pressure I put upon myself to take care of my family. Yay, fun.

Dream #4: Final Dress and Nowhere to Go

The Dream: Every actor has had the dream of getting on stage and not knowing his or her lines. In my dream, however, I showed up to the theatre, and was told I had to do the musical, Cats. I’ve never done Cats!

Now, it’s one thing to dream about not knowing your lines. It’s something completely else to dream about not even knowing how to put on your freaking costume! Let alone the choreography—

Then I woke up.

The Interpretation: Well, isn’t it obvious? This dream proves once and for all that despite what I actually think, my inner kitty wants to get on a stage and sing “Memory.” Very, very loudly.

Thus concludes our tour of my subconscious; I hope you're feeling rested…Now wake up!

You know, it seems we live in a society that is increasingly fascinated by labels. There is a growing obsession to diagnose things. If you’re not this, then you must be that. If you’re not with us, then you’re against us. And yet, in the face of that kind of presentation, I find myself simply thinking, “Why can’t I just be me?” Maybe that is what living in “No Man’s Land” is all about.

As I see it, whether you’re asleep or awake, every “No Man’s Land” tends to hold more questions than answers. There's little strategy. It requires constant readjusting. You’re always looking to either side, continuously aiming towards the middle. It’s a balancing act, really. Living in “No Man’s Land” requires a lot of patience, and sometimes, a lot of silence.

But, hey, it’s also a great place to dream.

Track 05

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Track 03- Sophomore Slump

“The only thing scarier than failing, is failing after succeeding.”

I happened upon this quote the other day when I thought it up. I don’t think it’s true. I hope it’s not true. But based on the way I behave, sometimes it’s true.

Not when I was younger, of course. Back in the days of my spiral bound Mickey Mouse notebook, my ambition knew NO FEAR, just like my t-shirts…

Around the age of eight, you see, I became an entrepreneur and created my very own company that I named The Five Co’s. It consisted of Clean Co, Candy Co, Car Co, Can Co, and Kid Co.

Confused? Here’s a brief rundown of the companies within the company:

  1. Car Co- Simple. For a mere dime per minute, I would clean anything you’d ask.
  2. Candy Co- After the Christmas Stockings, Easter Baskets, and Trick or Treat Bags were abandoned by my siblings, I would gather all the leftover candy, put it in my desk drawer, and then sell that candy back to the sweetest (and most desperate) teeth during the “off seasons.”
  3. Car Co- I would wash the family cars for a negotiated price. And if Dad thought I was going to wash the Suburban for the same price as his Grand Prix, he had another thing coming—
  4. Can Co- There was a time when my family would go through enough soda to send Willy Wonka himself into a diabetic coma. Therefore, you can imagine how many empty soda cans were lying around. I agreed to crush and bag each can with the stipulation that I could keep the profits upon delivering those cans to the recycling plant.
  5. Kid Co- When babysitting my little sisters, I would charge a penny a minute. A real steal, if you ask me, but I figured I needed a competitive price point in order to get paid for doing what I’d probably have to do anyway.

Now, every time one of “The Co’s” was put to work, I logged my time spent and profits earned into the Mickey Mouse notebook to ensure proper bookkeeping. I obviously wanted to avoid the threats of scheming older brothers and the IRS.

In time, The Five Co’s grew to be quite a lucrative venture of my youth. I made dollars and dollars. $16.72, if I remember correctly. Enough to buy a few more Disney action figures or Gloria Estefan’s Greatest Hits.

Not soon after, I chose to dissolve The Five Co’s. More accurately, I forgot about them when my grandpa gave me a cow. Entering the livestock business promised to be a far more profitable enterprise than recycling aluminum cans. I accepted Grandpa’s heifer and shamelessly named her “Muscle & Money.” (“M&M,” for short.)

I’m not entirely sure when my ostentatious ride upon America’s Right Wing of Capitalism came to an end. It might have been one of those moments that all children have growing up. You know, like when you finally confess that you don’t know your times tables as well as you let on, or when you notice your feet are getting bigger and nothing else is, or when you realize your favorite recesses involve playing hopscotch by yourself and humming “On My Own” from the musical, Les Miserables.

Well whatever it was, there came a point when I realized that sometimes I felt fallible, or “failable.” In other words, I found out I could fail…and I hated it!

Ever since that moment, I’ve been trying to decrease my imperfecto-meter as much as possible. The problem is, however, when you worry too much about eliminating failure, you often end up eliminating the possibilities for success. Why? Because it’s no longer worth it. Suddenly losing feels worse than winning feels good.

Now back when my family would go water-skiing during summer, we often joked that if you were going to eat it out there on the water, it better be a Grade A wipeout. That meant a full-blown, limbs-flying, face plant into the cold waters of Willard Bay. As it turned out on those water skiing trips, our spectacular spills often received as much feedback from the observers in the boat as the smooth, yet uneventful performances.

With that in mind, wouldn’t it be awesome if we all took a little time to celebrate our Grade A wipeouts? It would kind of take away the fear of failure, right? Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying we should celebrate mediocrity. Mediocrity is boring. I’m talking about giving a little love to the infamous face plants that we all make in our lives.

So let’s hear it for bills—particularly the forgotten ones that ruin your credit score!

Give it up, please, for the birthday cake you spent six hours making that looked and tasted like an old sponge!

Raise the roof for your botched job presentation, and the subsequent lunch stain that followed!

A round of applause, please, for the car wreck that left you sitting on a bus with a homeless woman and her “homemade jewelry!”

Since both success and failure are eminent, there really is no reason to live under the pressure of one while fearing the other. Every hit won’t be a homerun. Every single won’t be a #1. Every life won’t have a winning streak. Still, the good news is that every day won’t be awful either. The contrasts exist if not now, then later, and if not in one thing, then in another. And that’s ok! It doesn’t make us better or worse; it just makes us human. And though we may pretend at times that we don’t have that in common, the fact is we do. quote:

“The only thing scarier than failing after succeeding, is doing nothing at all.”

Track 04

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Track 02- The #1 Smash Hit Single

Awards Season is upon us, and the denizens of Los Angeles have once again been bombarded by advertising campaigns designed to generate the greatest and most coveted “buzz” since we discovered bees make honey. That’s right: Oscar Buzz.

It seems everyone in town wants their film to be considered the best of the year. And why not? Who doesn’t love a little prestige and a big celebrity gift bag? Still, it’s hard to believe that all of the pomp and circumstance strutting around our fair, polluted city isn’t just a big popularity contest. Upon further investigation into the so-called prom kings and queens of the film industry, however, I discovered that 90% of the time, it just ain’t so.

Did you know that of the 20 top-grossing films of all time, only two were awarded the Best Picture Academy Award in their respective year? Those lucky films were, in no particular order, the epic final chapter of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King, and the epic final chapter of that lousy ocean liner, Titanic.

While each of the other 18 top-grossing films earned their weight in gold (at least 300 million dollars), they received no gold in the form of a skinny man named Oscar. This leads me to believe that either the Academy has bad taste, or the American public has bad taste. Or maybe the Academy just thinks the American public has bad taste. I’m not entirely sure—

My confusion might exist, in part, because I myself saw Titanic more than once during its initial big screen release, each time sobbing in my Doc Martens. What can I say? It was 1997; I was experiencing hormonal changes, and witnessing never-before-seen special effects.

In 2011, however, I confess with the same candor that things have changed. Gone is my desire to hear an old lady talk about flashing Leonardo DiCaprio. And if my opinion has changed, what on earth do the members of the Academy think? Were we all just carried away by a wave of frenzied popularity?

Does anyone actually know when something is good?

Not always. Take music as an example. Did you know that Michael Jackson’s legendary song “Thriller” never made it to #1 on the charts? A similar fate befell Queen’s anthem, “We Are the Champions.” Never a #1.

But guess what song did reach #1…AND STAYED FOURTEEN WEEKS???

“The Macarena.”

(Moment of silence)

While it seems we can’t always identify a classic when we see it, or hear it for that matter, there is something that can: “Time.” (not the magazine, of course, the interval)

Time is why high school seems so different after you leave, or why bad relationships seem so silly once they’re over, or why late night burritos seem so disgusting the next morning!

But until Time hands us its foolproof goggles, complete with 20/20 hindsight, we are the best we’ve got to choose the best we get. And when it comes down to it, that’s still pretty darn good.

The funny thing with popular trends is they have no power by themselves. (Unless we’re referring to women’s shoulder pads…) Something is never popular unless we decide it is. We have the ability to discern what we want and need in our lives, and as long as we keep that power in check, I’m pretty sure it will keep us in check too.

And for every “Macarena” or Titanic that we rabidly embrace, Time will surely reconcile those debatable lapses in judgment with the memory that, for at least a short time, there were a lot of people dancing and going to the movies. Together. And loving it—

Track 03

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Track 01- The Intro

Every journey starts somewhere.

Rarely is it ever behind a thick white line, sounded into action by the shot of a starter pistol, or better yet, inaugurated by the sounds of cheering crowds and massive choirs.

In fact, I tend to recognize new beginnings in my life after they’ve already started: as if I’ve been hiking for days, and upon reaching a clearing, I stop and think, “Huh.”

That being said, on the occasion that life hands me “a beginning” with a proper starting point, I usually find myself feeling a wee bit intimidated about what to do with it. After all, you always want to start off on the right foot…or with your best foot forward…or with your foot in the right direction... “Huh.”

Take a recording artist, for example. Can you imagine the pressure they face both personally and professionally when deciding how to begin an album? Once again, where would you even start?

In the past, a lot of great albums begin with an introduction of sorts. I guess it serves as kind of an appetizer to the rest of the album. The Intro doesn’t necessarily represent the album as a whole, but eases the listener into what he or she may hear during the subsequent tracks. Kind of like a welcome mat.

It’s as if to say, “Hello! I’ve been expecting you, and I’m so happy you stopped by. Please, take a seat. It’ll be worth your time, I promise. I will do all the work. In fact, in many ways I already have. I just need you, like that whole ‘tree in a forest’ riddle: Will the music have been made if no one’s there to hear it?”

“Anyway,” the intro continues, “this album is eclectic. It is entertaining. And, if I’ve truly followed my instincts, it is 100% me. And who knows? Maybe you’ll get a tune or two stuck in your head along the way.”

“In short, welcome to my new album. It’s gonna be good-”


Track 02