Monthly Archives: March 2014

Master of None

So I spent some time looking at job listings the other day. You know what that means? That’s right, it’s time for another rant! This time, let’s talk about feeling underqualified.

Now, I like to think that I have a wide variety of skills. I can write relatively well. I have a “knack” when it comes to basic tech support. I’m a martial artist. I speak French. I can teach. I’ve gone to school, for both foreign language and architecture. I’ve lived in a foreign country. But none of that seems to matter when I’m faced with the “Minimum & Recommended Qualifications” of a job listing.

There’s the basics, of course. 3-5 years for what is ostensibly an entry-level position? I’ve pretty much gotten used to seeing that. What gets me is the ones that are phrased in such a way that my breadth of experience seems woefully lacking in depth. And I guess that could be true, to a point: I’ve done such a variety of things I haven’t really concentrated on one or two skills as deeply as I might have.

But now I’m starting to wonder if I should have.

I mean, come on. I’m almost thirty, and I don’t have anything resembling a stable career. Popular culture tells us that we’re supposed to have it “all figured out” by a certain point, and I’m not sure I’ve met that (admittedly arbitrary) target. Sure, I’ve done a lot of stuff. But how does knowing how to find out the answer help me when a recruiter wants proof of competency via a fancy piece of paper that says “DEGREE” on it?

So what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to keep looking for employment in a system that doesn’t want me because I don’t have the right initials after my name? Or do I somehow magically assemble my eclectic skill set into some sort of unique career that I, as a special snowflake, can create for myself? You know, that thing that no one was taught to do.

*sighs*

I’m not expecting answers to these questions. I’m not expecting a “get rich quick” scheme to tumble out of the heavens and land in my lap. I just want to vent about how, at my low points, I’m starting to wonder if I didn’t screw something up along the way.

Jack of all trades: it seemed a good idea at the time. Now I’m not so sure.

Losing My Religion

By the end of high school, I was very much in the “spiritual but not religious” camp. Conveniently, it was also a great way to get people to stop asking you about religion, and to avoid thinking too deeply about things. Religion had been a background part of my life for so long, I probably didn’t know what I’d do without it. But looking back at it now, the choice to be “spiritual but not religious” was probably my first step down the road away from belief.

Like I said, it allowed me to avoid thinking critically about my beliefs, and at the time this was a good thing. I had graduated high school a year early, and was well on my way to going to college. I planned to double major, and would have little time to spend pondering the vagaries of existence.

Unsurprisingly, religion and spirituality became less of a daily concern. I was more concerned first with keeping my head above academic water, and then avoiding completely burning out after a grueling freshman year. I began to say and think things like “I’ve got too much going on in my normal life to worry about the next one.” I even stopped referring to myself as “spiritual but not religious.”

I woke up one day and realized how little my previous beliefs had to do with my life. But more surprisingly, I realized how little difference that made to me. I still got up in the morning. I still went to class and work. I still enjoyed my hobbies and the company of my friends. My life still felt full.

For a while, that was enough for me. I became wholly unconcerned with the question of whether or not there was anything “out there,” metaphysically speaking. I guess you could call me “un-gnostic:” I didn’t need to know.

But as it turns out, I was merely ignoring the issue. I had yet to really ask myself any tough questions. As a result, I still held on to a lot of internalized beliefs that I hadn’t critically investigated. The big one was whether or not life (…the universe, and everything) had any overarching purpose that it/we/I was meant to fulfill.

This became my greatest source of angst for quite a while. Unlike other people around me, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I was supposed to do. So I worried. And then my old friend Catholic Guilt reared its head to make things even better. So I wandered. I finished college. I fell into a job. I tried grad school. I quit the job, finished grad school. I got depressed.

Until one day I was driving my car and had an epiphany: what if there wasn’t any purpose to things? What if there wasn’t any deeper meaning to life? What if what we saw in front of us was all there was, the only meaning that which we give to things?

I don’t know if I can communicate how freeing that realization was. It was like the sun came out after a long, dark winter. I actually smiled, laughing slightly to myself as I drove down the road. “Everything is meaningless!” I told myself. And I knew that it was true. Rather than sucking the wonder and vitality out of everything, it seemed to enhance them.

So there’s my story, how my faith ended with mostly a whimper. It trickled out gradually, and I found that I didn’t miss it. I still have some baggage from my religious and spiritual past, of course. I don’t always remember that life is meaningless, but when I do, it frees me from a bit of the guilt I carry around with me. And talking with people who may not know about my journey and current worldview can get awkward. Especially given my tendency to not want to rock the boat/cause a scene.

Hopefully you enjoyed this look into my mind. Hopefully you came away educated rather than offended. But just in case, I will add a final disclaimer: this is what works for me. What works for you and makes you happy may be different, and I respect that. I’m willing to have a good conversation about things, even a debate. But if you want me to respect your beliefs, all I ask is that you respect mine.

That’s Me In The Spotlight

I mentioned in my last post that my parents had some difficulty finding a new church after we moved to Colorado. They tried several, but failed to find any that truly struck a chord within them. So they broadened their search, outside the bounds of Catholicism, and even traditional Christianity.

I guess you could say this was the start of our experience with New Age woo.

Past life regression. Angel therapy. Auras. Chakras. The Law of Attraction. The “power of positive thinking.” Things like that.

They found a church that practiced something called Religious Science. Even though it was clear on the other side of town, we started attending every Sunday. Major tenets included the connectedness of all things, that we were all expressions of a “Christ Consciousness” that permeated and touched everything in the entire universe. It seemed to pull teachings and philosophies from both Western and Eastern sources, recognizing a number of great teachers throughout the ages. Positive thinking was paramount, and one simply had to put the intention “out to the Universe” to achieve a desired result. In addition, one always got back what one put out.

I remember a bit more about this time period, not just because I was older, but because the contrast to what came before was quite visible. The philosophies and teachings of my parent’s new church became a larger part of our day-to-day life. Looking back, it still felt fairly Christian at its core, just with some more elaborate window dressings. They even said a version of the Lord’s Prayer during services.

My personal experience in this church was a little different. When we started going, I was still fairly young to sit through the Sunday services, so I instead got to go to what was effectively Sunday school. I don’t remember much about what was taught, but at least I didn’t come home with nightmares.

As I got older, I was given the opportunity to sit with my parents during the service. However, I had a hard time sitting still and paying attention for that long. Whether I can blame that completely on my ADD is open for debate. It’s also possible that I just didn’t find the sermons that interesting. I will say this about my parent’s church, though: the music was pretty phenomenal.

So as my parents had searched, so too did I start searching. I took the more mystical aspects of my parent’s church and went one step further. That’s right, it’s time for the High School Pagan Phase!

I jumped in pretty strongly, too. I meditated regularly in front of my altar. I even attempted some rituals of my own, using props scrounged from what I had lying around. My altar was a white particleboard nightstand, my ritual dagger an ornate letter opener. My candles were glass votives from the grocery store. I started reading a lot, mostly about Celtic Shamanism and other new/old religious like Wicca.

I approached my research and practice dogmatically, trying out what I found in various books. But too often it felt like I was just going through the motions, doing things because I was told that was “the way it was done.” The rituals began to feel empty, and I found myself meditating less and less. I eventually came to the realization that maybe organized religion of any sort wasn’t for me.

I started to think of myself as “spiritual but not religious.”

That’s Me In The Corner

I will admit: I’m a little nervous about writing this next series of posts. I’m going to be talking about very personal things. Things I haven’t really discussed much with friends or even family. Things that many people get very passionate about. True, some of my recent philosophy rants may have alluded to the subject, but this will be the first time I’ve talked about it this plainly, maybe even to myself.

I’d like to talk about how I lost my faith.

I hope you’re still with me. For those of you that are, thank you. I’d like to take you on a journey through my personal history with religion. I’m not trying to offend anyone, and would welcome thoughtful, considerate discussion on the matter. This is a big topic, and one I may be revisiting if better words come to me in the future. With that said, let’s jump in!

Like many people born in or near the American Midwest, my early life was spent growing up Christian. Catholic, in fact. Even though my family wasn’t overly religious, it was still a big part of the background culture. We went to church on Sundays. We got dressed up for Easter. I even received my First Communion. At the time I wasn’t really aware of religion as a “thing;” it was just part of the culture, as ubiquitous and unremarkable as water to a fish. In other words, it was most definitely taken for granted as a given.

But not all my experiences with religion at that time were benign and forgettable. My experience with Catholic school, for instance. While my family lived in Cincinnati, I attended Catholic school (creatively named St. Mary’s, of course) for first and (most of) second grade.* I don’t remember much about this time, other than having to go to Mass as part of school. Even then, it wasn’t very fun. I also remember getting into an argument with my teacher about the number of syllables in the word “tire” (I was convinced there were two, for the record). Other than that, I can’t really comment much on the quality of my education.

That being said, there are a few things that stick with me from this time period. One of them is good old Catholic Guilt. That’s something I internalized all too well, and it’s still affecting me to this day. Sometimes it gets to the point where I can’t even enjoy a day off without feeling like I should be doing something productive, or if I don’t give an activity 110% effort I’m somehow letting someone down. Let me tell you, it’s been great for my self-esteem.

The other thing that sticks out for me is an experience I had once my family moved to Denver. We didn’t know many people out here when my dad got transferred, ans had to start looking for a new church from scratch. One of the ones we tried was a little more… vigorous than what I had been exposed to back in Cincinnati. I don’t remember the specifics of what I was told; all I remember are the nightmares. I had always had an overactive imagination, and it swung into vigorous action filling my head with visions of hellfire and burning pits whenever I closed my eyes to sleep. These visions, on top of my already internalized guilt, were devastating for me. I was convinced that I had done something wrong, and would be damned to suffer for all eternity. I was literally so worried I couldn’t sleep.

Needless to say, my family didn’t stick with that church for very long.

*It turns out telling the parents of a bored second grader that “he would be much happier if you didn’t let him do science experiments at the kitchen table and made him play Candy Land instead” doesn’t endear one to said parents.

Clearly I Am Not A Music Blogger

I had a humbling experience lately. When I log in to my blog, I am presented with a few facts, such as recent posts, update news, and a quick stats preview. However, when I opened up last Friday, I realized that my viewing figures had plummeted. In fact, most of the days I was doing my recent “Music I Listen To” series had 0 views.

Zero.

Continue reading

Shot In The Dark

How is one supposed to search for a job?

Job hunting is certainly a weird skill. It’s one that’s never really taught outside a specifically-structured course or seminar. Most of the time, things are going well and you don’t need it. In fact, most people actively hope they won’t need it. As such, it’s not uncommon to not really keep up or practice. So when we do need it, whatever competence we had in it is atrophied beyond recognition.

This means that a lot of people are floundering, directionless, when it comes to looking for a job. A common response at this point is to go back to the basics: trial and error. Try something, see if it works. If it does: great! You did something right (or got wicked lucky)! If it doesn’t: too bad. Change something and try again.

But what do you change? Far too often there is a complete lack of feedback about why you did or didn’t get a job. For all you know, you could be making the same mistake over and over with multiple applications and have absolutely no idea why you aren’t getting callbacks. Are you underqualified? Are you overqualified (don’t get me started on that gem)? Did you forget to put your phone number on your resume? Was the hiring person offended by your choice of font and/or color (or lack thereof) in your cover letter? Did they see a picture of you, ended up being reminded about an ex-lover, and squashed you without a second thought? You have no idea.

So you keep searching, hoping you’re doing something right. But seeing as you haven’t gotten any bites, mustn’t you be doing something wrong? It can’t just be random chance, right?

Right?

But what if it is random chance? What if it’s the same for getting a job as not getting one? Are you just as well off continuing your current approach, hoping that by sheer coincidence the perfect storm of factors will align to work in your favor? Should you start sacrificing squirrels to Eris?

These are thoughts that have been going through my mind lately. At this point I’m feeling at a lost regarding how to get out of my current job situation. I know it involves applying to other jobs, but the lack of feedback of any sort is extremely discouraging. Am I doing well? Am I failing? Who knows! I might as well be laying out my resumes on a craps table in Las Vegas.

And no, I haven’t heard back from any of the recent applications I sent out.

Blargh.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!1!!11!!!ONE!!

This here is my Drama Llama. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Music I Listen To: The Rest?

And the weeklong slog through my musical tastes draws to a close. Don’t forget about Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Today I’ll talk about all the other stuff I listen to that didn’t fit in the broader categories mentioned earlier. Some of these genres take themselves seriously, but most of them don’t.

And that’s okay.

Classical

Mentioned way back at the beginning along with Disco. There’s a lot here, and no way I could really do it justice. I’ll often put it on in the background when I need to relax. In fact, for several years I would regularly fall asleep to Pachelbel’s Canon.  I also had a André Gagnon CD that was a staple of my study time throughout school

Folk

You may have guessed from my mention of Mumford & Sons a while back that I do have a taste for some of the softer stuff out there. Well, I do. In fact, I really like some of the “Celtic” inspired folk music, like Gaelic Storm, The Chieftains, and some of the other artists you hear on radio stations like KBCO. After all, one can’t be angsty and or dancing to the beat all the time. Sometimes you just have to relax…

Comedy

…and sometimes you want to laugh. A lot of these bands are still folksy, but if you take a moment to listen to the lyrics, you can’t help but smile. Jonathan Coulton. The Arrogant Worms. Flight of the Conchords. The Lonely Island. Tim Minchin. And of course, Weird Al.

Nerdcore

If you’re looking for a genre that doesn’t take itself too seriously, look no further than Nerdcore Rap. Now I’m generally not a big fan of rap, but I find this subgenre hilarious. It’s exactly what it sounds like: nerds rapping, and it’s as fun as it is amusing. Remember Zork? MC Frontalot will hook you up. Surge? YT Cracker. MC Lars can even get political. Like I said, fun. And I must say, it kinda confused my coworkers that I would listen to “that kind of music” (until they listened more closely).

* * *

So there you go. A wholly incomplete and limited view at my musical tastes. Of course, as I’ve continued writing this, there are artists I forgot. Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly (Gaelic Punk). Rammstein (German Tanzmetal ). Voltaire (kinda required after the last link). I Fight Dragons (Alternative fused with Chiptunes). Stemage (Heavy Metal covers of songs from the Metroid games). Vernian Process (Steampunk!). Tiësto (I’m amused, because I had a professor with a very similar name in grad school). Trans-Siberian Orchestra (I especially like their album Beethoven’s Last Night). And I’m sure there will be more.

But like anything, it is time to draw this list to a close. I hope you enjoyed it, and don’t think I’m too much of a poser; music is one of those things people tend to get very passionate about, for better or for worse. If you discovered something new, great! If you have something you enjoy that I haven’t mentioned, feel free to let me know about it.

Music I Listen To: Techno

It’s hard to write about yourself and something so personal as musical taste, but I continue to do so. FOR YOU!!1! Don’t forget about Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Believe it or not, there’s more to electronic music than just going OONTS OONTS OONTS over and over again. In fact, this is a genre I never thought I’d like growing up; at the time, it just seemed like so much noise. But I’ve developed an appreciation as time goes on.

I’ll repeat: categorizing genres sucks. Luckily this time I have help, in the form of Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music. If you’re curious, have a few minutes, and don’t mind listening to song samples, it’s a great way to pass the time. I was really surprised by how many of the songs I had been exposed to without knowing it. It’s definitely a blast-from-the-internet-past in terms of interface, and doesn’t include newer genres like dubstep, but it’s still useful.

Anyway, on to the genres.

Trance

It’s amazing how encompassing this genre is. So encompassing, in fact, that I really had no idea where to start. Luckily a friend lent me some of her music collection to get me started. For me, this genre includes the more dreamy (trance-inducing, if you will) tracks. You know, music you could put on in the background and just float away with. Or dance to by way of swaying back and forth. I find it relaxing (despite the tempo), yet not sleep-inducing. Artists like Robert Miles, VNV Nation, Front 242, are some of the bands I would include in here off the top of my head. And while it may not be completely orthodox, I’d probably lump Kraftwerk in here as well.

One thing that surprised me was how fond I’ve become of Goa Trance. It’s… trippy. It doesn’t tend to relax me the same way as other Trance music does, and sometimes seems to bleed into the next category.

House

If you lived through the 90s, and especially if you were into martial arts at that time, you probably heard this track. I think of this genre as a bit more “dance-able” than Trance, in that it inspires me to move more. Maybe some jumping up and down instead of swaying side to side (am I even making sense any more? I can’t tell). Artists I would put in this category would be people like Ryöksopp, George Acosta, Deadmau5, and of course Daft Punk

Daft Punk is interesting in how they seem to vary in style between albums. Homework was very funky, while Discovery scratched a lot of the same itch that Disco used to (did you know that album got made in to an anime movie?). Human After All swung back towards the funk, and Random Access Memories back towards disco. Interesting, no?

Chiptune

Oh man, right in the nostalgia feels. You remember the type of music that video games used in the NES era? Well, people are writing new music that sounds like that. Sometimes even using original hardware. And it is awesome. Admittedly, I often have to limit how much I listen to (the lo-fi stylings tend to grate after a while), but it’s a fun genre.

Music I Listen To: Classic Rock/Metal

The musical odyssey continues! Don’t forget about Part 1 and Part 2.

This is another wide category, but I’ve chosen to differentiate it from Pop/Modern Rock via both age and intensity.

Classic Rock

Seemingly the gold standard for what counts as Good Music™. It’s what “kids these days” don’t appreciate, myself apparently excluded. Like with Modern Rock yesterday, it would be a bit tough to listen to all the bands and artists I like. I listen to a lot of The Fox locally. But my favorite band has to be Queen.

The guys in my immediate family seem to have a tendency to fixate on one band for some reason or another. For my dad, it was The Beatles. For my brother, U2. For me, it’s Queen. I’ll admit that Wayne’s World had something to do with me becoming aware of Queen’s music. But since then, they’ve become a mainstay of my album rotation. Even if it does occasionally get me weird looks from some of my coworkers.

Metal

DEATH TO ALL BUT METAL! Okay, not really. But the song, while crude, is amusing. I’ll admit that there’s a lot of overlap between this genre and the previous. But I happen to like a lot of classic heavy metal and hair metal. Iron Maiden. Scorpions. Quiet Riot. Metallica. Queensryche. Dethklok You get the idea.

Honestly, this section is feeling pretty short because it overlaps so much with the one above and below.

Power Metal

This is definitely a sub-genre of metal, but one I listen to quite a bit. It tends to be a bit more symphonic or melodic, often incorporating fantasy or sci-fi themes. I came across this genre while in France, as it’s much more popular in Europe than it is in the States. Some bands include Kamelot (I did get to see them in concert), Blind Guardian (they have a concept album about The Silmarillion), Epica, Nightwish, Sabaton, and more.

For me, it fills the niche of something harder but still understandable (both in melody and lyrics). When I was still doing Taekwondo, I had to put together a creative form set to music for my 3rd degree black belt test. I ended up using “The Bridge of Khazad Dum” from The Lord of the Rings because I wanted something unique that wasn’t techno (this was the early 2000s) but still had a powerful beat. If I had known about Power Metal back then, I probably would have used something more akin to this.

Music I Listen To: Pop/Modern Rock

This is a continuation of the series I started yesterday, airing out the embarrassing laundry that is the music I listen to.

Pop

Let’s start with the most generic, meaningless category of all: Pop! I don’t listen to much in this “genre,” and the way it’s defined by popular culture is often vague enough to be useless for categorization. But let’s try.

I tend to shy away from many of the “popular” artists on the radio these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally entertain a begrudging appreciation of artists like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.

As I mentioned yesterday, I went through a phase when I didn’t listen to much else besides Classical music and Disco. Don’t ask me how I ended up with that combination, but there it is. I don’t listen to much Disco any more, but that type of beat does still show up in some of the more electronic music I listen to. During that period I listened to a lot of ABBA.

These days, my somewhat-guilty pleasure has jumped a few decades to 80s Pop for reasons just as unknown. Maybe it’s what I was exposed to as a very young kid? For whatever reason, that synthpop sound really just resonates with me.

Modern Rock

Modern Rock, on the other hand, is defined in my head as “newer music that is Not Pop.” Don’t ask me to define that any more concretely; I did warn you that this was going to be very subjective, didn’t I? One of my primary sources for this type of music is the local radio station Channel 933. Like a lot of people my generation, my tastes skew more towards the Alternative side of things (another useless descriptor. What is it even an alternative to, any more? Pop?). Bands like Yellowcard (reminds me of high school), Linkin Park (the angrier parts of high school) and others often crop up. Mumford & Sons. Florence + the Machine. Barenaked Ladies. Bloodhound Gang. I could go on.

There are a number of bands I was exposed to while studying abroad in France, and I usually associate hearing them with my time there. These include Muse, Interpol, and Starsailor. This is also when I first heard Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.

Like I’ve said, these are broad categories. If I listed everything I listened to we’d be here forever. If it’s played on Channel 933, I probably don’t hate it.

Except Jack Johnson. That guy annoys me.