Friday, December 13, 2013

Pt. XIII - Laughter

After yesterday's post, I appreciate the incentive to reflect on the brighter moments of 2013.  Fortunately, there are a lot of them.  My work in elementary education and pool of genuinely funny friends gives me good reason to spend a healthy portion of each day smiling and laughing.  I have so much to be thankful for, but perhaps I'm most thankful for that.

That being said, I don't really have too many funny narratives to pull from the year.  The most humorous bits are embedded in specific contexts or characters and wouldn't translate well into a blog post.  Some of them are also a tad too inappropriate to be made public.  Sorry.  I don't want this blog to compromise the dignity or marketability of any of my friends.

So in place of a funny story, here are the funny pictures I wanted to share in my first blog post but didn't.

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "When did you laugh out loud [this year]?"

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pt. XII - Memorium

A good friend of mine passed away on Tuesday.  He had only just turned twenty five.  Instead of blogging, I spent that evening eating Chipotle and watching Disney movies.  Though seemingly insincere, it felt like an appropriate way to remember him.  Those who knew him would all probably agree.  Chris was known for his love of Chipotle, and if my memory serves me correctly, I experienced my first Chipotle burrito at his insistence.

The Disney movies were a tribute to the Disney sing-alongs he and his roommates used to throw during parties at our college fraternity.  I'm not sure how they got started -- a means to juxtapose the predictable pop hits that always sounded at parties or simply a love of Disney -- but they were really popular.  The sing-along became a staple of our parties and certainly stand out in my mind as a cluster of positive college experiences.

Yesterday, I tried to write a blog post about him but simply couldn't.  So today, I'm going to eschew the prompt and try again.

My most vivid memory of Chris comes from a car ride we took together from Greencastle, IN (home of DePauw University, our alma mater) to Bloomington, IN.  Chris had sustained a concussion from a cycling race and needed to be driven to Bloomington for a follow up doctors appointment.  I'd be lying if I said the drive wasn't painful.  Chris, in normal health, was an upbeat, talkative guy.  The concussion, however, removed some sort of filter on his speech, and he would not (or perhaps, could not) stop talking.  We, or more appropriately, he, talked the whole hour there, the whole fifteen minutes we spent getting Chipotle burritos, the ten minutes we spent in the waiting room, and the whole hour back.

I got the Chris Alonzi conversation buffet special that day.  There were the usual topics; Boy Scouts, whiskey, anecdotes of famous American figures, camp life, girls, cycling.  But the most memorable one was his argument of why Batman was a superior superhero to Superman.

"So, you see, Superman's greatest superpower is his strength.  And that's great.  He does a lot of good with that.  But Batman's greatest superpower is his character.  And that's why, in my opinion, he's the superior superhero."

Of all the things I've heard come out of Chris's mouth, from the beautifully optimistic to supremely ridiculous, that utterance, that essentially expendable idea is the one that shines brightest when my synapses fire.  Perhaps, it's my subconscious self giving him the memory he deserves.  For Chris's greatest superpower was undoubtedly his character.

The last time I saw Chris in person was in June 2012, a few weeks after his diagnosis, a few weeks before he started chemo therapy.  Matt Brauer and I went to visit him at Rush Hospital, hoping to cheer him up a bit and show our support, but Chris didn't even seem fazed by the Leukemia.  He was thankful it had been caught early and spoke pragmatically about the treatment.  His only real concerned seemed to be that he might embarrass himself in front of one of the nurses if he had a weird poop or something.  I think he did more to cheer Matt and I up than we did to him.

The three of us had what seemed like a reasonable amount of conversation, and then he offered to take us on a tour of his floor.  Dressed in a loosely buttoned flannel shirt, athletic shorts, and a face mask, he led us, IV dolly in hand, down the halls, into various empty rooms, and, of course, to a large window where one could view the United Center.  At one point during the tour, I took out my phone to capture what I felt was the surreal-ness of the situation.

Surely, this wasn't cancer, I told myself.  This was just Chris.  Chris is strong, Chris is kind, and Chris likes to dress sort of sloppy when he's hanging out with his bros.  I couldn't sense the change such was Chris's incorruptible sense of character.  And that's how I'll always remember him.

Rest in peace, Alonzi.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pt. IX - Surprise!

To say I was completely surprised by something this year would contradict my "Decisions, Decisions" entry in a way.  Surprise occurs when something happens that one does not expect, so by that definition, I was either always surprised because I was always encountered with something I did not expect or I was never surprised because there simply was no expectation.  Not that I'm free of contradictions or that I never expected anything, but you get my point...

Today (or yesterday, sigh...) was a busy day, so I don't have time for a story.  But I do have time to admit that I was surprised by America this year.  Between February and April, I traveled from coast to coast in the manner of the pioneers (meaning east to west, not in a buggy; no one died of cholera), and that allowed me to observe the sheer size of this country as well as how diverse its terrain is.  I would say I was surprised by both.  Maps don't really seem to do our country justice when it comes to physical geography.  It is vast, and it is varied.  I consider myself lucky to have witnessed such greatness firsthand.

I'm sure the details of my travels will come out in other posts this month, so I will leave this post as is.  If it's any consolation, I spent all my available time today writing; editing both my parents' Christmas card and my girlfriend's grad school application essay.  It's been a long day.

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "What completely surprised you this year?" 


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Part VIII - Creation

Most of my creative thought follows an outlet into my music.  I spend hours of the day obsessing over rhythms, bass lines, lyrical choices, song structures, album concepts, etc.  I've done a fair amount of creating this year, but nothing that I could really share or would even want to share.  That's a part of my life that currently exists between synapses and that I'm doing my best to keep out of this blog.  I want to explore other parts of my character.  

What I'm going to share, instead, is something rather simple, rather mundane; a meme I created a few weeks ago.  I didn't put much thought into it.  I didn't put much time into it.  I'm not even proud of it as far as artistic integrity is concerned.  Nevertheless, I consider it an achievement, one I'm willing to talk about here.  For me, this meme exemplifies a method of creation I have difficulty executing on a regular basis.

Normally, my creative process looks something like this:

Idea -> Write Down Idea -> Mull Over Idea for a Few Days/Weeks -> Draft Idea -> Redraft Idea -> Revert Back to Original Draft -> Redraft Idea -> Refine Draft -> Refine Draft -> Mull Over Draft -> Refine Draft -> Finished Product???

It's a frustrating process, though one that ultimately works.  What seems to hold me back are my lack of will to act immediately and my inability to make final decisions quickly.

That method for my meme, however, looked something like this:

Idea -> Immediate Execution -> Finished Product

I had an idea to make a meme.  I had some time to make it.  I took advantage of the time I had.  I finished the meme.  It's not the sort of work I wish to pump out on a regular basis, but the process is one I hope to emulate with my future creative endeavors.

So, without further ado...

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "Share your creation"              

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pt. VII - Inspiration

Yesterday was the Men's World Cup 2014 draw.  The thirty-two teams that made it into the tournament were divided into eight groups of four and must finish in the top half of their group in order to make it into the single elimination round of sixteen that eventually leads to the final.  Needless to say, a lot rests on the draw.  Here's what happened yesterday (if you're having trouble seeing the photo go here):

As a massive soccer fan, loyal to two teams who probably won't go home happy (USA and The Netherlands), I've decided to use today's prompt to dream.  Here is what I want my World Cup bracket to look like (with 100% accuracy!) from the round of sixteen through the final:

In case you can't read my colorful, hand-written bracket, I have the USA beating Brazil in Brazil and taking the puzzlingly small World Cup trophy home with some pretty fantastic match ups happening along the way.  Similarly pleasing results would include the USA beating England in the final and The Netherlands beating Germany in the final.  I know my Dutch grandparents in particular would feel a small bit of reparation should The Netherlands take down Germany on the world's biggest stage.

I'll end this post by encouraging you to watch World Cup next summer.  Pundits claim it's the strongest grouping of teams in years and many of the world's top players will be competing.  Additionally, the USA team, despite being placed in the most difficult group, is arguably the best USA team of all time.  Though they aren't favorites to win it, anything could happen come June...

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "What do you want your ____ to look like?"

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pt. VI - Community Service

To be honest, community service isn't something I really think about or seek out.  I've done a fair amount of it over the years, but to say any of it was done for the purpose of acting philanthropic would be a lie.  The experiences more or less presented themselves, and I chose to participate because I assumed they would be enjoyable.  I like working with students, so I volunteered as a tutor.  I like soccer, so I volunteered to coach a youth soccer team.  I like writing, so I volunteered at Chicago's 826 center.  Perhaps my view seems a bit self-interested, but unless you're forced in to giving back by sheer moral principle, then community service is going to be self-serving on some level.  Service should feel organic in my opinion.  I like the idea that doing right feels natural.

That being said, there's no reason I can't think about what community service experiences I'd like to have in 2014.  Here are a few that come to mind:

-Bringing music to those who cannot go out and listen.  A friend of mine used to go and play at the local retirement home when we were in college.  I see this act of service as being mutually beneficial.  I enjoying performing with my guitar, and I could definitely use the practice.

-Community workshops.  I haven't looked into this yet, but if there is some sort of program that offers free workshops to the community, I would enjoy doing one about writing or playing guitar.  I've done similar things in the past and enjoyed the interaction as well as the personal challenge of effectively passing on my skills or understanding to a group of people. 

-Coaching.  I have experience coaching youth soccer teams, and this being a World Cup year, I know it will bring out the competitor in me.  Or maybe that's a bad thing...

-Any new experience.  I'm almost always up for trying something new and meeting new people.  Perhaps this is the year to explore a different type of service.  

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "A little community service..." 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pt. V - Interview

This is me with my sister, Catherine.  These photos were taken two days before her twentieth birthday (celebrated this year) at Octave, her favorite restaurant (I think) in Chesterton, IN, the town where we did most of our growing up and where our parents still live.  We've done a lot of growing up individually, taking different routes through our grade school and college years, but we've also done a lot of growing up together.  We posses a mutual love of Calvin and Hobbes, Scrubs, and Ice Cream.  We've learned how to share a room on family vacations and still could if necessary.  We can quote nearly all of "Just Friends" together.  And we hardly ever pass up an opportunity to ruin a photograph.  If there's anyone I can call up for a quick update without worrying about pleasantries or time wasting, it's her.  So that's what I did.  Because I really wasn't pumped about having to interview someone for today's prompt (despite my obvious desire to be social), but I'm always pumped to spend time with her whether it be on the phone or in person.

Catherine is witty, much wittier than my "interview" will show.  Her twitter profile exhibits this sense of humor quite wonderfully but also demonstrates her tendency to write vague, passive aggressive insults in response to the melodrama of her life.  We all have our vices.  She would waste no time in telling you mine.  She wastes no time in telling me mine.  It's one of the many things I love about her.  If I'm doing something wrong, she'll tell me.  And we'll laugh together about it.

This has been a year of transition for her as well.  In January, she transferred from Loyola University in Chicago to Oklahoma University.  In Norman, Oklahoma.  Few people, if anyone, were wholeheartedly excited by the move, but she made it for reasons we all understood.  Looking back on it now, it ended up being the right decision, and we're all very happy for her and proud of her.  She noted in our conversation, however, that it wasn't the move itself that was a highlight, if not the highlight, of 2013.  It was the moment when she finally felt settled there, when she finally felt like she could live so far away from home and flourish.  That moment, according to her, took place the night she celebrated her acceptance into DSP, the university's business fraternity, with a hay ride to a large group bonfire in the middle of a field.  That's Oklahoma for you...

Coming back to OU after summer break was another noteworthy experience on this year's timeline.  A semester defined by increased involvement in both academics and extracurriculars and a narrowing of career paths began with an imperfect, yet gratifying reunion with her boyfriend whom she hadn't seen in over three months.  She'd forgotten about a philanthropy event she signed up for and had to spend the evening volunteering and stressing out about how and when they'd be able to meet up.  It was 2am when Brad (said boyfriend) met her under the fluorescent lights of a Target parking lot to pick her up from the event.  Relationships are built on moments like that; broken ideals made whole by the simple joy of being in the same place for each other.

We talked about a few other memorable moments from this year (visiting me in Portland being among them), but I think I'm just going to leave it at.  It's late, and I want to go to bed.

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "Interview at least one other person about their favorite moments of the year"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pt. IV - Decisions, Decisions

I'm intrigued by the wording of today's prompt; "what was the wisest decision you made this year?"  Unless I'm reading too much into the language (something I do often and with great pleasure), the prompt asks not for the best, favorite, most impactful, or most important decision, but the one most informed by learning, the most thoughtful one.  In some ways, this distinction makes the prompt more difficult.  In some ways, it makes it easier.

The wisest decision I made this year was not a deliberate one.  There is not a time I can point to as "the moment" when the decision was made, nor a place where I can recall making it.  The decision came about gradually as all learned behavior does; a pyramid of experiences forever under construction.  My wisest decision this year was trying to silence expectation.

This is not to say that I no longer hypothesize or act without foresight.  I'm not "Yes Man."  I still observe the laws of cause and effect.  I still fall victim to my romantic notions of the future from time to time.  I still feel crippled by financial restraints, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.  But I have gotten better about redesigning my thought process so that when I make a decision, it's less about an intended outcome and more about an internal sense of right.

Guided by this wisdom, I no longer see going out with a friends as a means to do something awesome.  Experiences that begin with such preconceived notions often end up hackneyed or hyperbolized to the point of delusion.  I go out with friends because I enjoy being with them, and I trust that their companionship is meaningful.  I find I'm rarely disappointed.  Similarly, I don't anticipate my workday before heading to the preschool.  Some days are truly wonderful.  Other days are terrible.  But no matter how upset I get, I never feel robbed or wronged.  I know the work is right for me, and I find value in it.  I believe in balance.  I believe in symmetry.

This "decision" owes just as much to my good fortune in friends, family, upbringing, and environment as it does to my ability to internalize experiences (and a shout out to Benjamin Hoff, author of The Tao of Pooh).  My decision was a privileged one, and I am thankful simply to have been able to make it.  It has afforded me a far less stressful life than I had previously known.  And I wish the same to you.

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was: "What was the wisest decision you made this year?"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pt. III - Strange

When I'm asked to "tell a story" or "share an experience," I tend to get anxious and frustrated.  I'm not great at remembering things off hand.  I rely on triggers, often through conversation, to help recall such narratives, and my desire to deliver something profound clouds my head.  Today's prompt was no different.  I feel like I don't really have a truly "strange" experience to share.

This time, however, I'm surprised nothing comes to mind.  2013 has been a strange year, arguably my strangest year.  Chicago bloomed for me the moment I set my mind on leaving.  I led classes of elementary school students to and from lunch every day and coached basketball after school (we were 0-6).  My hat changed in the evenings to that of a young guy who sold drinks to concertgoers at the Old Town School of Folk Music cafe.  The band I so badly wanted to succeed was losing steam, but I was happy to be experiencing the city not as a music scene, but as an ever-expanding community of friends, coworkers, and strangers.

Then there was Portland, which is as weird as they hype it up to be.  I saw a lot of strange things, but no one experience bears a "that was really strange" tag.  Perhaps I just need to think on it a bit more.  Sorry to disappoint.

Bloomington has been all too normal, despite it taking a fair dose of intuition to bring me here.  I'm working on it, though.  Give me a few more months, and I'll be sure to have something strange to share.  I'll try and remember to write it down or something.

While I may not have a great story to share, I do have something; the wonderfully strange Folk Rock Gallagher.  Borne of a few maj7 chords and Alex Thompson's gift for improvising lyrics about the articles in his apartment, this "new and unexpected" music project became one of the most memorable accomplishments of my year.  Fortunately, the sonic bits of the magic ended up on SoundCloud, but listen at your own discretion.  The lyrics are NYFW.  Apologies in advance, mom.

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was "Share the strangest experience of your year"

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pt. II: Take a Poll

Today's prompt was to "take a poll and share the results."  This post is not about the poll or the results.

I woke up early today to do some things before work, checking my email for the daily prompt being among those "things."  After reading the prompt, the musician in me spoke first and suggested an inquiry on favorite songs, favorite Beatles albums, underrated and overrated bands.  I declined to go the music route, mainly to force myself to think about something that wasn't music related.  I already think about music quite a bit.

Putting the question on hold, I started to think about how I would go about getting responses from people.  Texting and Facebook came to mind.  I didn't think any further on the matter.

The first half of my workday came and went.  I'm a full-time aide for a preschool class at a public elementary school, working with 2 older women (both mothers with kids in high school or graduated) to help improve the literacy and social functioning of 10 endearing children.  Sitting alone in the faculty lounge on my lunch break, I decided on "What is your favorite Disney movie?" as my poll question.  It's a question nearly everyone I've ever met could answer, would be excited to answer.  And I was curious to know.

I pulled out my iPhone, posted the question on Facebook, and headed back to work.  I didn't think about it for the rest of the workday.

As of the current moment, 18 of my 1,296 Facebook friends responded.  In other words, 1.389% of my social network (or most of it) responded.

This isn't a post aimed at exposing the failings of Facebook. While it frustrates me, I ultimately believe its resourcefulness is too great to walk away from.  This isn't a post designed to guilt-trip my friends who failed to comment on my status.  I'm thankful for those who did respond.  That is all.

This is a post about my own social failing.  I'm upset that failed to make the effort to call or text any of my close friends and family.  I'm upset that I didn't think to ask any of my students or their parents when they came to pick them up from school.  I'm upset that I didn't use the poll as an opportunity to spark conversation with the staff at my school.  It's embarrassing to think that a primary responsibility of my job is to encourage positive social interaction amongst my students, yet I completely whiffed at an obvious chance to discuss, debate, and celebrate one of the most shared and beloved collections in our culture.  Good grief.

I learned something today.  And that makes today a good day.  Here are the results of my poll in case you were curious:

Beauty and the Beast (4 votes)
Lion King (2 votes)
Alice in Wonderland
The Nightmare before Christmas
Mary Poppins
Peter Pan
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The Kid
Cool Runnings
Swiss Family Robinson
The Fox and the Hound            
The Little Mermaid
Mighty Ducks: D2
Make Music Mine

And my personal favorite: Robin Hood

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was "Take a Poll"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Preface + Pt. I: My Year in Photos

Allow me to preface this sudden "urge" to blog.  I've been meaning to put something online for some time now but wanted to avoid simply babbling about my life.  As much as I hate to admit it, I do better with structure, with a defined set of parameters to explore and maybe, when the time is right, expand.  Luckily for me, a good friend of mine (here's your shout out, Christine DiGangi!) suggested the Think Kit writing challenge (courtesy of Small Box).  It sounded like a good way to at least get something started, even if the blog will be more personal than I'd probably like.  "A journey of a thousand miles..." etc., etc. 

Thank you for reading my blog.  Let's begin.

Around the time I started documenting my life on Facebook or, perhaps more accurately, around the time I started following other people's lives on Facebook, a lamentation began, though admittedly trivial and infrequent, for the lack of photographs I have documenting my life.  Through Facebook, I came to realize how few pictures I take (or perhaps just upload) and how few pictures are taken of me in relation to many of my friends with active profiles on Facebook.  Maybe we all feel this way, but like everyone else, I think my situation is unique.

I haven't done much to quell this problem.  It doesn't bother me that much, I suppose.  And I don't really like taking out a camera every time something "eventful" happens.  But it has made this first prompt a little challenging.  In order to "document your year in photos," one would ideally have photographs exemplifying the key events or feelings that emerged over the year.  I don't have many that do such a thing, and this has been a particularly eventful year; a year in transition for sure.  I spent the first three months living in Chicago, the next four exploring Portland, Oregon, and the last four trying to ground myself a bit in Bloomington, Indiana.  But even if I had been avidly capturing my life in ones and zeros (sorry film!), I'm not sure how accurately they would reflect the confusion that, for me, defined 2013.

I was tempted to add a caption to each of these photos, but I think I'll just give the time and place and let the photo do the rest of the telling.  I've become of fan of the "soft sell" this year.

Additional Notes:
-Soon after I started posting these pictures, I found that I wanted to create a narrative with them.  It was difficult, not only due to a lack of quality pictures, but also because I felt I had to sacrifice the funnier or more interesting pictures for the ones that actually told a story.  On another day, I might have chosen differently.
-A number of my work pictures couldn't be posted because I work in elementary education, and I could get in trouble if I posted pictures of the students without consent.
-When you live with a cat, your photo album gradually because more and more about your cat.

January - Chicago, IL

January - Chicago, IL

February - Chicago, IL
February - Washington D.C.
February - Chicago, IL
March - Chicago, IL
March - St. Louis, MO
March - Boulder, CO (or a mountain near it)
April - Portland, OR
April - Portland, OR
April - Portland, OR
May - Portland, OR
May - Greencastle, IN

June - Portland, OR
June - Portland, OR
June - Portland, OR
June - Portland, OR

July - Grand Tetons (WY)
July - Yellowstone (WY)
July - (somewhere between Oregon and Montana)
July - Chesterton, IN
August - Bloomington, IN
August - Hillsdale, MI
September - Bloomington, IN
October - Bloomington, IN
November - Bloomington, IN
Novemember - Bloomington, IN
Novemember - Chesterton, IN

This post is part of Think Kit by Small Box
Today's post was "Your Year in Photos"