Thursday, November 7, 2013

Social identity

Social identityI continue to try to get caught up on the lectures for my online courses, and I continue to struggle! I’ll get there. That week in New Orleans really set me back, but ask me if I care! The good news is that my sleep schedule is getting back on track, I’m keeping up with my workouts (and I’m happy to have added weights back into the mix, after taking some time off because of a strained neck muscle), and I inexplicably managed to drop a few pounds over the past couple of weeks. I have no idea why, but I’ll take it!

Today I read the required articles for the Walking Dead course that I’m taking. This isn’t a course just about the show; it’s more like looking at a global disaster in terms of social, governmental, health, and ecological changes. They use the show as a backdrop and as examples, but it’s actually some pretty fascinating stuff. It’s also one reason I love the show so much, because it makes me think about how drastic the changes would be, in all aspects.

Anyway, this week's topic is about social identity, which is defined as a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s). I found a couple of quotes from the articles really interesting:
“It is, however, important to recognize that sometimes we perceive ourselves primarily in terms of our relevant group memberships rather than as differentiated, unique individuals.”
“Self-stereotyping is a cognitive shift from perceiving oneself as unique and differentiated to perceiving oneself in terms of the attributes that characterize the group.”
This is really making me think. Ow! Haha! But seriously, this dovetails nicely with my recent entry about my paradigm shift. I wrote that when we categorize others, it’s way too easy to demonize them. It leads inevitably to an Us vs Them mentality. Is it possible to do that with ourselves? I think it is!

In the course of my life, I’ve found myself having a hard time being a part of any sort of insular group, or identifying with one particular group very strongly. I’ve never been a “joiner.” There have been times that I tried, but I always end up resenting the commitment. This is not the same as resenting the people involved with the group; I’ve made some long-term friends through some of these associations, and I continue to value those friendships.

I think it always bothered me to be lumped into a group, or to feel obligated to a group. I’m not deluded enough to think that I’m some sort of a rare flower; I have too many like-minded friends to think that I’m something special. But I’ve always had a certain sense of individuality, and a tendency to not want to “conform,” whatever that means. There have been many times when I haven’t quite fit in with others. I’ve always been driven to be at least a little bit beyond the norm. I wouldn’t call myself a rebel, Dottie, because I’ve led a very traditional life of Birth, School, Work, Death (not the last one for me...not yet!), but I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always been a little different. I’m cool with that. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

I wonder how that would play in a disaster, though? Would I still be that way when the number of people has dwindled so much that you have to depend on others for survival? Going back to the show, although Michonne spent a lot of time on her own, she has willingly joined the group. Several characters, including Daryl, have mentioned that it’s impossible to survive alone. Would I be able to set my loner attitude aside and become a fully integrated member of a group? I’d like to think so.

That was good food for thought today. Then my brain started to hurt, so I stopped. Heh.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beth’s Music Moment: The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

Ghost Brothers2Last night, we attended the penultimate (got to use that word...yay!) show of this musical collaboration between native Hoosier John Mellencamp (he wrote the music), Stephen King (he wrote the dialogue and storyline), and T Bone Burnett (he produced the music) at our local theater, the Morris Performing Arts Center.

We had reasonably good seats. Pffft...screw that...front row, baby! We were right in front of the character called the Zydeco Cowboy and the band was right behind him. This was cool for me for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

This is a really dark story that is based on an incident in Mississippi in the ‘60s, in which a guy killed his brother in a dispute over a girl, then committed suicide with the girl. The musical brings it into the present, with a haunted cabin and another pair of feuding brothers. It’s a fun story (well, ‘fun’ being a relative term) full of ghosts and guilt, but it was so dark that we actually joked about it afterwards, talking about how pretty much everyone dies! My sister and brother-in-law went with us, and Tom said, “They should have killed the little kid off while they were at it!” It’s not a real happy story, but what would you expect from Stephen King? There were little snippets of humor sown throughout that were very much in King’s voice. I’ve read enough of his novels—like all of them—to know that sense of dark humor!

The real star of the show for me was the music. Even before the show started, they were playing zydeco recordings, which delighted me but also made me miss New Orleans. It’s not every day you get to hear zydeco music—even just recorded—in South Bend! The songs were classic Mellencamp. I could hear his musical stamp all over them. Even better was finding out that the band was Mellencamp’s band. So we were basically hearing a Mellencamp concert without Mellencamp singing.
As an aside, there was some applause before the show started, coming from the back of the theater. We saw some people standing and applauding. Turns out that John himself was in the house! We found out later that this was only the second performance he had attended, so it was an honor to have him here! When I wrote on Facebook about him being there, Cousin Shane said that when he heard that, he expected to see a picture of me with John, wondered what was wrong with me, and said I must have been off my game last night! I had to laugh...somehow I’ve managed to get people to expect pictures of me with musicians. It’s not that easy! Anyway, that was funny.

Okay, back to the music. This was Mellencamp’s band. No wonder they sounded so tight and the musicianship was so incredible...these guys have been playing together for some time, and they have the reputation as one of the best bands in the business. Mellencamp is known as a hard taskmaster, and he expects his band to be pretty damn close to perfection. They really did sound great, and I was especially impressed by the guitarist, Andy York. We were right in front of him, so I got to see him step offstage and bring out cool guitar after cool guitar. I’m no guitar expert, but I knew the Gretsches! He also played banjo a couple of times, and even a washboard vest, which was another fun reminder of New Orleans.

The music had even more of a country twang than Mellencamp’s often does, with some zydeco elements and western elements thrown in there. Although I’m obviously a rockgirl, I love other styles of music, too, and I’ve always loved Mellencamp. The songs were so beautiful and the singing was so well done that by the last number, I was wiping away tears. I love it when music can move me to tears, and I’m getting a little choked up just thinking about it. Maybe one day I’ll do a Music Moment about Mellencamp, because his music has meant a lot to me over the years, and I’ve seen him in concert several times. Never a bad show! We got the soundtrack, and I’m looking forward to listening to it again.

I will admit that I felt that it lagged a bit in the beginning, and really took a bit to get into the meat of the show. But right after the intermission, it felt like things kicked into overdrive. The story really gained momentum, and the music just soared. I loved it. Ken said he thought it was one of the best shows he’s seen at the Morris, and I would definitely have to put it right up there. The music was just outstanding. The cast and band got a standing ovation at the end...I hope John was still there to see that and know that we enjoyed it!

After Ghost BrosAfterwards, we went to Madison Oyster Bar for a couple of post-show drinks, and as we were all sitting there talking, a guy walked in. It was the Zydeco Cowboy! I went over and said hi and told him how much we enjoyed it. He said, “Oh yeah, I saw you! You were in the front row, and you were really getting into the music!” I laughed...yeah, that’s me! We talked for quite a bit, and he and Ken talked even more. We bought him a beer, and he was a super nice guy. His name is Jesse Lenat, and he’s known Mellencamp for like ten years. I think that’s how long Mellencamp and King have been working on bringing this musical to fruition. I asked how it is working with Mellencamp, and he confirmed what I’ve always heard: he’s tough, and he can be prickly, but he’s a good guy. He said they’ve gotten to the point where John seems to look on him as kind of a kid brother, so that’s pretty cool. It was very enjoyable to talk to him, and I’m glad we got to tell him how much we enjoyed the show...and I’m glad that he noticed how much I was enjoying it!

The show ends in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I believe that show was tonight. I don’t know if they’ll try to do another run of it or not, but I’m thinking that this is probably it, at least for the band. I’m truly glad that I got to see it, because I thought it was a great show. I highly recommend the soundtrack album.

I noticed in the trailer that Stephen King says that if he sees someone in the audience wiping a tear away, that makes his day. Mission accomplished, least with this girl! I shed more than one!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A paradigm shift

New paradigmI used to hate that phrase when I heard it in meetings at the lab, but it seems that I have experienced a bona fide paradigm shift of my own.

Or maybe it was more of a two-by-four upside the head.

Either way, it was quite an epiphany. Settle back, because this is going to be a long one (that’s what she said). Okay, I’ll stop with the dick jokes. This is important…at least to me!

I wrote last week about our fun vacation in New Orleans, and one of the funnest things was seeing a band called the Daywalkers. They have a Facebook page up now, so go check it out and like I always say, show the band some love! We were cruising down Bourbon and heard some unmistakable washboard playing. It was Alex, who we had seen a couple of other times when we were in NOLA, but with another band. Turns out that he’s in a new band, the Daywalkers, and they are even more fun and talented than his previous band, at least in my opinion. A better mix of music, lots of great energy, and some harmonizing that makes your heart take wing. Shut up! I can be eloquent sometimes!

Anyway, I kind of took a shine to the guitarist. I wrote about Jason previously, about how he was really nice and sweet, and invited us out to his other gig one night. You know how you sometimes just feel like someone is kind of cool and would probably be an interesting person to know? That was the vibe I got. I can’t explain it, but sometimes you just dig a person.

So after seeing the band a few times and chatting with Jason a bit and having him tell me that he was on Facebook, I found him there and sent a friend request. He accepted fairly quickly, and I looked at his profile. Turned out he is pretty conservative. He’s from Texas, so I should have guessed that, but for some reason, I didn’t.

Here’s where my epiphany comes in. I went through this thought process:
  1. Oh man...I’m a liberal, and he’s really conservative. He’s not going to like me anymore!
  2. Wow...can I really be friends with someone who is so conservative?
  3. Holy shit...did I just wonder if I could be friends with someone—this cool and nice guy who is a fantastic musician—just because he’s a conservative, and I’m a liberal? That is fucked up.
It was like someone tossed a glass of cold water in my face. I felt ashamed of myself. Was I so far gone that it would even occur to me that I might not be able to be friends with someone because he is conservative? Was I such an asshole that I would think so little of HIM that I would assume he wouldn’t like me because I'm a liberal? To be somewhat easier on myself, it wasn’t so much that I was thinking he might think that was just that I’ve been burned that way before when a relative defriended and blocked me because of my opinions. That hurt me deeply, and I was afraid that was going to happen again.

My fears were unwarranted. The next time we saw them play, he gave me a grin from onstage, and when they took a break, he came over to say hi, and shook Ken’s hand and gave me a hug. I said, “Thank you for still liking me even though I’m a crazy little liberal!” He shook his head and said, “Nah. You’re not a liberal.” I laughed and said, “I really kind of am.” He said, “You guys own a pickup?” I said actually, yeah, we do. He said, “Then you’re not a liberal.” After a brief discussion of guns, in which I said it might make him feel better to know that I’m a responsible gun owner, he said, “You own a gun? You’re not a liberal.” He was cracking me up, but he was just so matter-of-fact about it, it seemed like it was no big deal to him, and I felt even more ashamed of myself for doubting him and for being so unfair that I had actually wondered for a brief moment if we could really be friends.

The thought occurred to me that my Dad would have loved this guy and would have immediately started talking to him about guns. My Dad was a super conservative guy, and we didn’t always agree about stuff, but we could have civil discussions about it. I loved him completely and with no reservations, so how the hell did I get to the point where I would actually wonder—even if only for a split second—if I could be friends with a conservative? What happened to me? I thought of my cousin Curt, who is also a conservative, but was my protector when we were at Ball State, and with whom I have always been able to have great philosophical and political discussions. We met up with him and his wife a while back and we once again found many things on which we had common ground. My brother-in-law Tom is a conservative, but we are also able to discuss these things, and at the end of the day, I still love him like my own brother, and I’m reasonably certain he still loves me.

It was a real eye opener. I pondered this quite a while, and I resolved to make a change. I can’t change others, but I can change myself. I realized that while those of us on the left may talk about the “conservative bubble,” in which opinions are confirmed and reinforced by what people read and watch, on the left we have our own bubble. It is a closed loop of confirmation bias. Granted, I don’t think our bubble is quite as impenetrable as the conservative bubble, but it is definitely still there. I don’t watch FoxNews, but I also stopped watching MSNBC quite some time ago. I will probably upset a lot of my liberal friends by saying that I don’t even watch Rachel Maddow!

My viewpoints aren’t changing. But I hereby resolve to raise the bar when it comes to discourse. I was always able to have such discussions with my Dad, I can have them with Curt, I can have them with Tom, and I hope to have some fun and interesting discussions with Jason not about politics, but about music. As I told him, if we can’t come together over music, what CAN we come together over? Music is sacred to me, and I still feel horribly ashamed of myself for even thinking that we might not be able to be friends because of our political differences. Seriously. Shame on me.

The ad hominem attacks from me stop. I will still disagree with people on issues, and I will point out something I feel is wrong, but when we slap labels on ourselves and on others, it is far too easy to demonize and vilify them. Meeting Jason was an important reminder to me of something that I’d managed to forget: there are real people behind the labels, and sometimes they are cool and interesting people who it would be a pleasure to know. To automatically exclude some people is to cut yourself off from what might be a very enjoyable experience and friendship. As my wonderful friend Lisa pointed out, if someone doesn’t like you because you’re a liberal (or a conservative), isn’t that pretty much the same thing as saying they don’t like you because you’re black? An excellent point.

When everyone is shouting, no one is listening. It might make me feel better to go off on a political rant and attack a politician I don’t like, but what purpose does that serve? Conservatives aren’t reading it, and if they do, they’re going to be turned off by my rhetoric and not pay attention to my point. If I rant about something, I’m just preaching to a liberal choir. I still remember those Palin fans attacking me on Twitter and basically calling me a pot-smoking whore who never did an honest day’s work in her life. How is that accomplishing anything? How did that bring me over to their side? It didn’t. It just made me think they were rabid dogs who enjoy calling people names. I’m not going to be that person. Not anymore. I refuse to participate in that sort of behavior. I refuse to even entertain the notion that I might not be able to be friends with someone because of their political leanings. That being said, neo-Nazis and KKK people can kiss my sweet ass. There are limits to my new style!

So that was my epiphany. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but this is kind of a game changer for me. I’m still rather amazed that it came about because of a Texan playing guitar in a Bourbon Street bar. That’s actually kind of cool, though, isn’t it? If you’re going to have an epiphany and change your ways, having it happen because of a Texan guitarist on Bourbon Street is a pretty damn cool way to do it. Hell yeah.

This is also a reminder to me that we can affect people in ways we might never imagine. Jason has no idea that I’ve been thinking all this stuff, but I hope to tell him about it. Words and actions can have an impact. Just a simple act of friendship made me completely rethink my behavior and my own words. How amazing is that? Doesn’t it make you wonder how you affect people that you encounter, even if it’s only a brief encounter? Maybe something as simple as a smile at someone when they’re having a bad day can make a difference in their life. This has made me resolve to always do my best to be a positive influence and a kind person, and to make people feel better for having met me. I know I won’t always succeed, but it is something to strive for.

I hope Jason and I will be friends going forward. Even if that doesn’t happen, I will always be grateful to him and will always remember him for helping me to realize this about myself, even if he has no idea what he did! Thank you, Jason. You’re a peach! *mwah* And I would be happy to call you my friend. I hope you will want to say the same about me.

You all can still expect me to have my opinions, but you might see a kinder, gentler Beth. Just don’t piss me off, okay? Then all bets are off. Ha!