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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Brief Thoughts on President Obama’s Inaugural Address

Posted on by Paul Roth

I have never stopped being proud of being a US citizen, but that pride is certainly renewed afresh with this auspicious beginning. I admired the President’s address and applauded many of his points. It is not required that I agree with all of my President’s statements as that is one of my treasured freedoms. Yet if I have any qualms, I am far too happy to be a dissenting voice today.

I congratulate and welcome President Barack Obama!

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2009 Resolution the Last: To Distant Lands

Posted on by Paul Roth

I’ve never been interested in travel. That’s not the same as disliking it, the way I really dislike moving. Travel has just always struck me as a means to a goal rather than a goal in itself. I grew up as a child of the military so would routinely move from one home to another every couple of years. My parents would take me from Korea to Japan to Hawaii to Maryland to Illinois and back. The trips themselves always seemed to get in the way of our purposes, which were generally to visit family.

When I settled into high school and then college in Maryland, I finally stopped moving with my family and was happy to put an end to the traveling, too. On my own, I never went anywhere far from home. With the onset of my dancing career, I started to travel for the purposes of getting to those dance events which were inconsiderate enough not to be in my backyard. What I thought was that everywhere is pretty much the same. People, places, things. Gravity? Yep, still 9.8 meters per second per second. Now, where’s that venue?

It wasn’t until I started dating someone who loves to travel that I slowly began to understand a little bit of the allure. The fact that every place is influenced by its own history and that the history of every place is different from its neighbors. The beauty and uniqueness of each environment. The culture and practices of different peoples. There really are places where the grass is greener, the water is bluer, the horizon is wider, and the sky looks bigger. There are towns where I fit in as if we were designed for each other and there are cities where I would always stand out no matter how still I stood. The weather travels more than any of us and it has its favorite places, too, depending on its mood.

Even in that relationship where my eyes began to open, I still didn’t want to admit the fun of going to a new place and exploring it. It has taken an overlong time for me finally to confess that the world is an amazing place full of astonishments and that all I need to witness more of those surprises is to stand on a different patch of land.

Two years ago, I started to enjoy traveling for its own sake and went on trips just to go on the trips! Last year, I let go of the last of my reluctance and began to embrace every bit of it. I liked the driving, I liked the flying, I liked the getting lost and the getting found, I liked encountering the people who spoke differently and ate differently and thought differently. I sang along with the Discovery Channel commercials that declaimed Boom De Ah Dah, the world is just awesome!

I would like to go to England and Canada and Australia and Japan and the various tropical islands where people play in clear sweet waters. I’m sad to say, though, that I am a little stuck. I have become estranged from my sister and mother and I think that my birth certificate and most recent passport were last in my mother’s possession. I have a driver’s license and social security card, but no way to prove… well, that I was born. My physical existence notwithstanding, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how I can show that I exist and thereafter how to get a passport as a U.S. citizen. My friend, Soo, has given me some ideas and so I will try to see if I can get a passport this year despite the odds. I hope that I am not deported in the process. Damn my slanty eyes!

Even if I don’t get a passport, I’m going to stay open to the opportunity of travel. If I see a cheap flight to Boston or somewhere in Florida, I’m going to try to go! Las Vegas, Seattle, anywhere in California? Yes, please! And if there is ever a last-minute cheap flight to Hawaii, I am so there. Hmm, I need to find a dogsitter. Or make friends with a pilot who likes flying with dogs. Oh, man, that would be great!

Thus, I resolve to travel to places this year not just because a dance event is happening there (although I am looking forward to New Orleans for Showdown!), but just because I haven’t been there yet. To give myself two quick guidelines: if I can drive there in less than four hours, it doesn’t count; if it’s specifically for a dance event, it doesn’t count. I’ll start small and aim for just one completely new place before the end of the year! And if I manage one, I’ll shoot for a second. And if I manage two, well, you can see where this is going. This resolution will go hand-in-hand with my fourth resolution and I will try not to let a lack of a clear plan prevent me from moving toward that new destination.

It’s taken me a while to admit it but the world really is awesome, and I want to see more of it. Here I come!

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2009 Resolution the Fourth: Without Plans

Posted on by Paul Roth

I like to think I know what’s coming. I try to prepare for the future by planning out my own path and predicting the obstacles I will encounter and then ways to get around those. I don’t think this is a bad characteristic, necessarily. After all, Carrie taught me that a man with a plan has a better chance of being a man with a happy girlfriend. The problem that I have with planning is getting stuck there.

There’s a mental momentum to traveling from A to Z by visiting all the letters in between. Missing a stop is at least disconcerting and at worst makes you a horrible speller. I am not proud of the fact that when my contrivances have gone awry, I have reacted poorly in the past. It’s not as serious a problem for me these days; I’ve become more flexible and accepting of accidents of circumstance. Still, even if I no longer wail and gnash my teeth when my schemes fall by the wayside, I continue to begin each day and each task with a recipe of ordered steps.

Just as staying along the edges of life restricts me from encountering more of what there is to discover, so too does staying on a prescribed path. In the musical, “Into The Woods,” when Little Red Riding Hood is attempting to evade the Wolf and stick to the path, he replies:

Just so, little girl – any path

So many worth exploring

Just one would be so boring

And look what you’re ignoring…

Sure, he’s just trying to catch her to satisfy his own vile desires, but he makes a valid point that has stayed in my mind for well over a decade now. By staying on the path, I don’t know what I’m missing. That’s not to say I shouldn’t try to get to my goals, and certainly the straight line appeals to my efficient scientist’s mind, but crooked lines possess a beauty of their own. When I have strayed from the straight and narrow, I have found things like amazing architecture, intoxicating restaurants yielding exotic foods, magical sights of nature, and at least one remarkable girlfriend.

In 2008, I got a really good GPS device (my previous Magellan was garbage) from Navigon. Since this acquisition, I have found myself happily driving off in random directions just to see what’s out there, confident that I can eventually find my way back to my goal. But in doing this, I’ve also come to realize that I could have always made those drives. I have no problems stopping and asking for directions, and roads always go somewhere. It was fear more than disorientation that kept me on the well-known lanes.

Today, I have a credit card, a reliable cellphone, and that nifty Navigon. The only thing that keeps me from wandering the world is me. I think I am capable enough that I can get back safely wherever I go and whatever I do on the spur of the moment. There are facebook events to which I get invited, there are Meetups that seem interesting in passing, there are flyers for events all over the place. I turn away from things too often because I’m not prepared for them. But what would it hurt me to try things without preparation? I might stumble and look a bit foolish, but there’s no lasting damage that comes from foolishness. Unless you consider knowledge to be lasting damage, and that’s debatable. I want to shake off my anticipations on occasion and just do stuff because I really don’t know what will happen and I find myself yearning to find out.

Thus, I resolve this year to jump into things without plans. No, that’s not a plan, just a resolution. A goal, maybe. So, I’ll say yes to more invitations. I’ll hear about something in passing and try it. I’ll point to places on google maps and just go there. I’ll call up friends and ask if I can join them in whatever they’re doing, just because I have some time to do it.

Speaking of which, what are you up to?

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2009 Resolution the Third: Sharing Notions

Posted on by Paul Roth

When I was in secondary school, I decided I wanted to become a teacher. It was almost a defensive choice as it seemed to be a safe explanation for why I was such a know-it-all and why I always seemed willing and able to tutor my friends in various subjects. I tutored primarily in maths and sciences but could also lead group discussions in writing and literature classes. There were also a couple of semesters when I took art courses and people started coming to me for help on their sketching and painting.

I was no athlete nor a popular kid nor attractive, so holding a position of esteem by dint of being knowledgeable on a subject was terribly enticing. The clincher for me was when I started taking Physics from Mr. Moore in my third year and discovered not only that this was a topic that explained the world around me but also that I grasped the concepts almost intuitively and could then explain them to my classmates. That’s what I wanted to be! A guru, a shaman, a demystifier of the peculiarities of life!

Then I went to university. My spirit broke. I still liked most of Physics from Newtonian Mechanics all the way through both types of Relativity… but then things got Quantum. And I found no solace there. Maybe it was because I aimed too high as I did attend a college known for its research concentration and graduate student programs and perhaps I just chose the wrong place to nurture my aspirations. I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything, though, as I did make some great friends there and ended up learning the technical concepts that lead to my current livelihood. Still, my thoughts of teaching classes faded with my enjoyment of taking them.

When I escaped academia and began to make my way in the private sector, I did occasionally fall into the role of tutor once again. I would provide individual instruction on computer technologies and enjoyed it. As I took up swing dancing, I found myself becoming that student who would learn the steps quickly and then could offer bits of advice to the other students. I tried not to be obnoxious about it, but certainly if I saw someone struggling to figure out what they were supposed to do, or if I were asked for help, I would step up.

A few years into my dancing, I would join my friend Monica and then later my girlfriend Carrie in teaching some dance classes or workshops. I don’t know how good I was, but I know I enjoyed it. It was simultaneously easy and difficult to teach dancing since I would usually give the disclaimer that regardless of whether it was the right way to do things, this was my way to do things. Then all I had to do was avoid looking bad and maintain consistency. As I became a DC dancer instead of a Baltimore dancer, it was readily apparent that my teaching wasn’t needed in that locale. There were several, sometimes as many as a dozen, incredibly knowledgeable dancers who were teaching around me and often in the styles that I liked. I would be redundant at best.

Now, as I am content in my daily life designing and manipulating databases, and then heading out in the evenings to dance the night away, I rarely seek positions of teaching. Yet, I still find myself sharing what I know and what I think. I don’t tutor these days but I still dole out advice as though I were overflowing with it. That might be an accurate description. I thoroughly enjoy casual mentoring. I’ve lived through some trials by fire and though the scars have taught me much, I find I like to veer others away from those flames by passing on my own experiences. I find I want to teach more.

My topics of expertise revolve around my skeptical but positive view of life. I find I am knowledgeable about the relationships between people in general and men and women in particular. I am able to predict trends in business and entertainment based on my knowledge of how people work. I read books, I read internet articles, I read magazines. I also watch more educational television shows and documentary films than ever before. Drawing from this personal pool of acquired tidbits of information, I advise my friends and find that when my advice is followed, betterment ensues! Fantastic!

Thus, I resolve to pursue teaching this year in whatever capacity I can. Business Writing for Nerds? School for the Courtship Arts? Dancing for Fun at Varying Speeds? How to be Badass Without Hurting Yourself? Santa Claus University? Maybe I’ll take a page from Yes Man and hold Meetup style seminars on how to have a positive outlook in life. Whatever I end up finding, I’m starting my hunt now.

Any questions?

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2009 Resolution the Second: Bearing More Words

Posted on by Paul Roth

Words are important. I still think that numbers are the vocabulary and mathematics the language of the universe, but that metaphor shows just how essential words themselves are. Words are what we use to change the world, more than muscle and more than science. In fact, I think that the notion of magic came about because some people were able to use words in unique ways that frightened and amazed others around them. The ability to manipulate words so that disparate ideas can be joined together in unexpected ways is beyond many and certainly strikes me as magical.

I am proud of my ability to make letters dance across a page to a tune of my own devising. I am not the greatest author the world has ever known, but I think I am no simple scribbler of pedantry either. I write sentences that make me smile and I try to convey concepts in interesting layers of colorful hyperbole. Sometimes, I can surprise myself by the structure and eloquence that I manage to capture in fleeting phrases.

In 2008, Aba invited me on a quest to write fifty-thousand words in a month. I worked hard to accomplish that goal and in looking over my achievement, I think it was good and feel pride in my production. That story is not yet finished, but I intend to tackle the challenge again come this year’s November.

Thus, I resolve to finish my book from last year’s National Novel Writing Month before the next begins. I shall also continue to write whatever I can, whenever I can, in the form of these blogs and perhaps in other endeavors. I have found that I can write poetry, though it is juvenile and amateurish. I have found that I can editorialize and spin fictions. I have found again and again that I feel great joy when my words come together and stand before me in thoughtfully organized dispositions which effectively convey my ideas. I have been happy to discover that once I record an idea for posterity, more ideas stand up to be recognized and captured.

I will write more in 2009 than any previous year because I love words.

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2009 Resolution the First: From The Edges

Posted on by Paul Roth

Deer are creatures of the edge. They live along the outskirts of life, be it in the forest or the suburbs. They survive on what they can find, grazing giving way to scavenging should they exist near sources of great teeming life. They are pretty and innocent and useless. They make this world a better place by their beauty but it is a purposeless accidental achievement. I like them, but I do not want to be them.

I think my nature also keeps me living along the edge of things. At dances, I stand on the sidelines and watch for opportunities to dance. At parties, I move out of the center and converse with those who happen to pass by me. I wonder how many more instances there are when I stand at the border of some aspect of life and just enjoy whatever circumstances fall in my direction?

I am comfortable on the edge of things. I stand by myself, I do things on my own, I make decisions based on personal reasons, and I avoid impacts with those around me. That lifestyle is comfortable to me. But I realize that psychological comfort is an illusion.

I suspect that we are comfortable when we think that we have support and safety and knowledge of what is to come. I could make the argument that by staying in comfortable situations, the probability of harm or calamity is lessened, but statistics working in one’s favor aren’t sufficiently useful when you are hit by an unlikely disaster. At the beginning of September of 2001, I would have thought that working in a lower level of the Twin Towers in New York City was a safe enough thing to do. I imagine probabilities would have been on my side. But those probabilities didn’t save the victims of the terrorist act that occurred soon into that month.

I have come to realize that staying back in the shadows is only useful for cowards and villains. When I wade into the thick of events amidst people and the chaos of life, I encounter more opportunities for excitement and happiness than what drifts in the thin fringes. It can be a bumpy experience, but bruises heal and collisions breed interesting stories.

I have already inserted myself into the midst of dances. I can have fun with a dance partner along the side, at the back, or in the middle of a dance floor; but when I can be there in the middle of things, I am more likely to be surrounded by excitement and can better share in my fellow dancers’ joys. Most of life is a dance of some sort, so why not extend this approach to broader circumstances?

In 2008, I went on more journeys than in most years, though many of them happened by accident. I attended more events and parties. I put myself into more crowds of people. I reached out to more people. I didn’t like all of it, but that’s not required. I did experience a much greater variety of emotions and encounters than perhaps ever before and by the end of the year I had much better stories. All of those benefits came to me often without my conscious decision to pursue them. Well, I can learn from accidents as well as I can from lessons, and I have learned that there is more and better in this life than what I can see from the edge.

This year, I resolve to throw myself into the midst of things. Whether that means sporty activities, meetups of various groups of people, venues I normally wouldn’t enter, or just random circumstances from which I’d normally veer off, I will strive not to move away. I will instead stride into the center of the world to explore what I haven’t yet encountered. I wonder if I’ll find you there? I wonder what I will find?

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