Matt Brundage

Archive for the 'introspection' category

Monday, 2 June 2008

A Certain Confluence of Situations

A certain confluence of situations has devolved this blog into a near-ghost town. Admittedly, posts of late have been less than superb. About the only bright spots are write-ups (that I didn’t write) and photos (some of which I didn’t take) of our rabbit, Sniff. There’s been some unintentionally funny images and musings that only a mother could write.

Apart from that, posts have been sort of boring. I just don’t have the flair that I once did. I’ve gotten the mindset of not blogging about specific topics because they’ve been done in bigger and better fashion by others. To compound matters, I don’t find my life particularly interesting. Deeply fulfilling, yes — but hardly interesting.

Some authors of topical blogs feel restricted in that they don’t have any leeway in what they can blog about. They blog about one topic, and write well. I have the opposite problem — my site has no true focus, so my posts swing wildly from religious and political musings and random humor to geeky stuff to what I happened to do last weekend. Because I have the freedom to post in any conceivable topic, I post infrequently, and with poor results. I’ve had better luck with Facebook’s status updates, a feature I adore because it enables me to post witty one-liners without all the rigmarole of creating a full-fledged blog post.

My resolution for the summer is to assign myself topics to blog about. I may even ask people to demand that I write a blog post about a specific topic — however obscure or esoteric. Whatever it takes to get out of these doldrums.

Monday, 31 March 2008

More and more each day

my love for Annie I’ve told Annie that I love her more with each passing day. While on the surface, that may sound mushy and trite, but there’s actually some truth behind the statement. But the question remains: is this increase in love quantifiable? Would a graphical representation be adequate in estimating the inestimable?

The formula I use is simple: L+((1-L)/D) where L = love and D = divisor. Rules: The initial value for love must be a number between 0 and 1. The divisor must be a number greater than 1. The greater the divisor, the slower the rate of increase in love. For this exercise, the number is totally arbitrary. Actually the number I chose for love is totally arbitrary, too.

The formula calculates the estimated increase in love for each year — not unlike the increasing amount of principal that many of us see on our monthly mortgage statements. One crucial difference is that my calculations are, fortunately, not at all dependent upon the workings of the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve. At the current rate of increase, I’m projected to peak sometime in the year 2056.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Musical arc

It’s been said that the music you listen to as a young adult will — more often than not — be the music you’ll be listening to for the rest of your life. I’ve been trying to evaluate that axiom in terms of my own listening habits; so far the diagnosis is still quite muddy.

Like most people, my taste has evolved slowly and steadily; lately I feel as though I am settling down — not in the frequency in which I acquire music, but in the rate that I fall out of favor with certain bands or genres.

In my early years, I never listened to the radio and didn’t own any music. Exposure came from lying on the floor in my parents’ living room with an old Sears hi-fi record player and headphones massive enough to cause discomfort after a couple LPs. My parents’ collection was spotty at best. Random John Denver and Beatles albums. At least three albums by the now-obscure Mason Williams.

In the summer of 1989, I received a compilation tape of Beach Boys songs from my uncle in response to my positive reaction to the song “Kokomo”. A year later, I remember wanting to own M.C. Hammer’s breakout album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, and dancing around like a total loser to “Ice Ice Baby”. During this period, I was discovering vapid early nineties pop and listening to oldies. A few years later, I developed an intense obsession of the music of Ace of Base (my first pop CD). Throughout high school, I took to mostly mainstream rock (Weezer, then The Smashing Pumpkins) and pop and listened incessantly to commercial rock radio.

By the end of the nineties, I was acquiring CDs at an alarming rate of one every four or five days. It was as if I were making up for lost time. In 2000, I rediscovered the Beach Boys while taking a music appreciation class at Montgomery College. I embraced them with open arms and became a rapid Beach Boys completist almost overnight. At the same time, I began falling out of favor with commercial rock, especially that which is played on the radio. I started listening to more “indie” bands, more obscure sounds, more classic country, more underground bands.

Small Image Which brings me to the point of this post: what (in addition to my own tastes) has changed? I’ll use Semisonic’s breakthrough 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine as an example. If this album had been released nowadays, I would probably not even hear it, given my aversion to commercial pop and rock radio. If I did happen to hear it, I would probably brush it off, classify it as forgettable, and move on. But yet the album remains a classic in my own mind — dare I say, a minor masterpiece. I must acknowledge that I’m approaching the album with bias. I can’t evaluate it objectively because I continue to view the songs through a lens clouded with good memories: Buying my first car. The bittersweet relief of graduating from high school. The giddiness and elation of having a girlfriend. Becoming independent. Climbing up the lower rungs of the career ladder. Et cetera…

I look back fondly at music from my late teens, yet I recoil with disgust at some of the cookie-cutter “music” being released now. I used to follow the Billboard charts every week and know most of the songs. Now, I’m lucky if I can hum one or two songs in the top 40. I’ve come to realize that the deciding factor isn’t the music itself, but my emotional connection to it. I like to think that I evaluate music more objectively now, as a (mostly) level-headed adult. My appreciation of a new band or particular song won’t be influenced by frivolous things such as unrelated emotions. Or at least that’s my hope.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

My cousin, the president

My mom has a family tree program in which she’s entered literally thousands of names, some dating back centuries. One of the benefits — if you can call it that — is that you start discovering that you’re related to famous people. For instance, my mom recently emailed me with the good news:


Dick Cheney is your 9th cousin twice removed.
Franklin D Roosevelt is your 7th cousin 3 times removed.
William H Taft is your 6th cousin 5 times removed.

In other words, one of Dick Cheney’s 128 great great great great great great grandfathers happens to be one of my 512 great great great great great great great great grandfathers. And so forth. Oh, and I’m also related to George W. Bush and John Kerry, both by marriage.

I’m thinking that, if more families researched their genealogy, most would find out that they too are somehow related to famous people. But then it wouldn’t be so special.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Taking flight

In late May I was given the opportunity to join the web management team at the FAA. I enthusiastically accepted a position and started earlier this month.

FAA happens to be right next door to my previous location at the Department of Energy, but while my commute has barely changed, my job description has been given a huge shot in the arm, so to speak. However, I must point to serendipity rather than pure ambition as the reason for the “career” change — all the pieces came together at exactly the right moment. If you were to ask me what my ideal job would be, my answer wouldn’t differ much from what I’m doing now at the FAA: web management for the FAA’s various websites, coding, design, upkeep, testing, etc.

This is quite possibly my first truly fulfilling position.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Hey man, slow down

I recently touched on a small OK Computer-related coincidence back in November. Here’s another similar coincidence that bears repeating:

For a little over two years, I split my work days between the Dept. of Energy and the Smithsonian, in buildings facing each other on both sides of the National Mall in downtown DC. Each day before lunch, I’d leave Energy and walk across the Mall, passing tourists and their buses, large packs of school children on field trips, hot dog and t-shirt stands, and the like. One afternoon on my “commute”, I was running a bit late and made a conscious effort to pick up the pace. No sooner had I started walking briskly than Radiohead’s “The Tourist” started randomly playing on my MP3 player. The song is a lament of the average tourist, who, when pressed for time, will try to pack as many events into his day, pausing briefly at photogenic buildings and monuments to take sub-par snapshots.

While the song could easily have been directed at the myriad tourists around me that day, it was also speaking directly to me. People actually tour my city. They spend hundreds of dollars flying or busing themselves in, and I would like to think that they genuinely appreciate the attractions Washington DC has. I live three miles from the DC border, but you’ll rarely find me in DC on the weekends. Perhaps a handful of times a year at most. A shame, really.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys, and the Slow Burn

The Beach Boys at the San Diego zoo in 1966 for the photo session for Pet SoundsI purchased an old LP of Pet Sounds in the mid Nineties. By then, my infatuation with the Beach Boys’ music had ended, and I was but a casual fan. I played it, recognizing a couple of tracks from a mix tape that my uncle had made me. The rest of the album, I thought, was boring and disposable. It was too “mature” for me at the time. Consider this from Lindsey Buckingham:

The first time I heard Pet Sounds, I have to admit that I did a little bit of knee-jerk in the same way probably the record company and some other people did because it wasn’t as accessible as Brian’s songwriting approach had been up to that time. I’m not sure I fully appreciated that until years later, I started making records myself.

Over the next few years, I collected a couple more Beach Boys LPs, not seeing anything special in them. But in 2000, a music course at Montgomery College changed all of that. A teacher by the name of Roy Harris turned me on to their music again, and suddenly, I couldn’t stop listening. The Beach Boys albums in my collection were good, but they weren’t enough. To make a long story short, I bought their entire back catalog, as Capitol Records was conveniently in the midst of a Beach Boys reissue campaign.

After I exhausted that avenue, I turned my gaze onto bootlegs and oddities. A capella tracks. Studio rehearsals. Demos. Backing tracks. Live performances. Live rehearsals. Outtakes. Alternate mixes. Remixes. Tribute albums. Solo albums. DVDs. Books. When the dust finally cleared, the Beach Boys comprised about 14% of my record and cd collection, which is saying something, as I have close to 1200. But I digress.

Up until rediscovering the Beach Boys in 2000, I had no musical identity. I didn’t really know what I liked, and I was oblivious to what I was missing. A year or so later, I remember telling myself that “this band will be my favorite for the rest of my life. This is something that I know.” I am just as certain of this today. In a sense, I can liken this connection to my marriage — or to my religion. There’s a comfort in knowing that you’re done searching — you can simply sit back and enjoy what you have. It was as if I had found something of great value — something I could cherish and never let go of.

While my affinity for music in general means that I will never tire of seeking out new bands and new sounds, I can be confident that I will never find another band like the Beach Boys. Some bands may be more technically proficient. Some may be more savvy in the studio, or with the press. Others may win more awards. But the Beach Boys have the right mix of just about everything: Americana. Timeless, universal (if at times corny) lyrics. A studio genius (leader Brian Wilson) who wrote, arranged, produced, mixed, and sang (with perfect pitch). Equal parts hip and square. Girls, fun, sun, cars. Spirit. A trio of brothers, a cousin, and a childhood friend who formed the bedrock for quite possibly the best rock harmonies ever recorded.

Needless to say, that old Pet Sounds LP has grown on me. The songs have sustained me in times of happiness and soothed me in times of sadness and grief. It has become more than just an album — Pet Sounds and other Beach Boys songs from that period transcend the musical passages that they are and have become something else entirely. Something rich. Something that I may never fully understand.

“How deep is the ocean?”

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Wedding

Annie and me saying our vows. Annie and I were married at 11am on Saturday, October 21, 2006 at the Historic Chapel of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, Md. The weather was perfect: bright, clear, and brisk. My grandparents, the groomsmen, and I greeted guests until about 10 minutes till. Then, Msgr. Paul, my best man Ray, and I assembled in the rectory while my nerves went haywire. Msgr. Paul then took our hands and said a prayer. Before I knew it, we were walking around the altar; Ray and I took our places.

After a couple of gathering songs that I wasn’t really paying attention to, the organ then belted out Wagner’s wedding march, and the bridesmaids and groomsmen started walking down the aisle. As Annie stood at the doorway of the chapel, the sunlight hit her white dress and temporarily made her glow. I will never forget her smile as she walked arm and arm with her father. He escorted my bride to the sanctuary steps and lifted her veil. We took our seats and tried not to reveal our nervous enthusiasm. When the actual marriage sacrament began, we both became more relaxed. Msgr. Paul helped, too, with his whispered comments to us like: “I’m gonna take care of you both..” and “Don’t worry about a thing…”

During the nuptial blessing, I remember thinking, “Gee, they’re making all this fuss just for us. Everyone is here for us. We were blessed to have not only St. Rose’s pastor, Paul Dudziak, but their finest cantor, Alice Henning and their former director of music, Nancy Novelly. The former has a beautiful, effortless soprano; the latter is a virtuoso at the piano and organ. Their presence really helped; it was much better than having “just anyone” in those roles.

Outside after the wedding We walked down the aisle together and were followed by the wedding party. One of my groomsmen had the fortunate experience of escorting not one but two bridesmaids. After a brief rendezvous around a fountain in the church garden, we went back into the church for an extended photo session. What we didn’t know until later was that, while the session was taking place, most of our wedding guests were congregating outside the church, apparently waiting for us to come out and say hello.

Our photographer, J. Stuart Harris, had a way of being commanding and authoritative without being bossy. He was definitely in control (and organized) and squeezed some fine pictures out of us in record time. All the while, our faithful videographer, Dean Dykema, documented everything while preserving our spontaneity. When the church photo session was over, we headed outdoors to take advantage of the fall colors (see second photo).

After the outdoor session, we all drove over to my parents’, who were hosting a luncheon for a few dozen guests. We made our appearance, grabbed a few roast beef stuffed tortilla wraps, and then headed back to the townhouse to prepare for the Thai wedding ceremony and reception, held at New Fortune restaurant in Gaithersburg. We arrived there a few hours early to set up the tables and the Phakhuane tree for the Phiti Bai Sri Su Kwan (Holy Threads) ceremony (see third photo).

The ceremony is just a small part of a traditional Thai wedding. Another part would have been a parade from the groom’s house to the bride’s house. That would have meant a seven mile walk up Georgia Avenue in traffic. Oh, and I would have had to yodel a lot. That would have not been good.

Annie and I came up with this text for a postcard we sent out with the invitations:

Annie and me at New Fortune The Phakhuane (pron. PA-kwon) is a conical-shaped floral arrangement that is the central focus of the Bai Sri Su Kwan ceremony. It is traditionally prepared by respected elders who have had long and happy marriages. At the base of the Phakhuane is food that represents fertility, such as rice, eggs, fruit, et cetera. Flowers are placed throughout the Phakhuane as decoration; in between them are the Holy Threads. At the very top sits a burning candle.

When everyone is seated, we bow down to our parents. This is a time to reflect upon the good and the bad, the past, present, and future. We bow down to thank them for everything they’ve done for us and to ask for their forgiveness for any wrongdoing that we’ve done. It’s also a time for our parents to give us their blessing. The wedding officiator will take the holy threads and place them between our hands as we pray. We will be seated on the floor in front of the Phakhuane opposite from the officiator and surrounded by friends and family.

We will all sit in a prayer position during the ceremony while the officiator chants his blessings and advice for us. He will then ask everyone to call to the spirits (or kwan) to come. Since weddings are big transitions, this is traditionally done to ask the kwan of the bride and groom to come together. Afterward, the guests take the holy threads from the Phakhuane and tie them around our wrists. This is a chance for the guests to give us their blessings and advice for a happy marriage. Please join us to “Thai the Knot!”

The ceremony lasted about an hour; it seemed that nearly everyone in attendance knelt down with us and tied holy threads around our wrists. We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout. Following the ceremony was dinner and dancing. We didn’t get to eat but a few bites of food, as we went around to all the tables for photographs. The food looked really good, though. We were too wound up to notice that we were hungry.

Barry Lyons was our master of ceremonies and DJ for the evening. He can be considered a “freelance” DJ, as he has a fine day job as well. Barry was a must-have for the reception — in fact, we changed our wedding date to accommodate Barry’s schedule! It was well worth it. He gets a lot of gigs through word of mouth, and for good reason. He can get a dance floor jumping and is a master at getting the crowds to participate. Even with the language barrier with some of Annie’s guests, he got them to do strange, American traditions like the Hokey-Pokey, the Chicken Dance, and the YMCA.

Annie and I were seriously on autopilot by then, and smiled at anything that remotely looked like a camera. We danced for hours and the crowd started thinning out at around 11:30 or so.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Four days to go

I will be a married man in four days. Then, I’m off to Sint-Maarten for a bliss-filled week in the sun. But in the back of my mind… The final build of Firefox 2.0 may be released while I’m away, pending the success of Fx 2.0 RC3.