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On being alone.

Over the last two weeks, my social calendar has thinned out a lot. Everyone is trying to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19, and social distancing is super important for that. In my area, there’s a curfew. Restaurants are not permitted to open their dining rooms- delivery and takeaway are the order of the day there. Grocery stores are limiting their hours. Companies and schools are transitioning largely to work-from-home where possible. For those scenarios that can’t be done remotely, lots of layoffs are happening so that their employees can try to find something else or sign up for unemployment. And so it goes.

While I understand and agree with the reasons behind all of this, I’m very frustrated with the end result. I’ve lost nearly a dozen concerts from my schedule, as venues close in an abundance of caution. I’ve canceled airfare and hotels for two different out of state trips, and there’s another two that may be on the chopping block over the next week. My weekly trivia and monthly karaoke are canceled for the time being. The only thing left on my calendar for the next ten weeks aside from work stuff is MegaCon and one doctor’s appointment. I suspect both of those could wind up canceled before much longer. (Edit: Two hours after this was posted, MegaCon was rescheduled for June.)

For most of my friends, our new weird quarantined reality is a big adjustment. For me, it’s not really all that different than my previous life. I work completely remotely, live alone, and eat most of my meals alone. I actively enjoy not leaving my apartment- I can stay here for days without ever feeling bored or stir-crazy. There’s always something for me to do here. There’s a pitfall, of course- the longer I stay in, the harder it is to break the inertia and get out.

My extrovert friends are losing their minds right now, but for me this isn’t bad at all. Doing stuff alone has always been easy for me. Movies, concerts, trips to other countries: I’m perfectly happy going by myself. Having companionship for these jaunts is enjoyable, but never necessary. I’ve learned over time that while I usually have anxiety about leaving the house, I almost always have fun once I get to where I’m going.

These are the two warring sides of my personality: the loner and the social animal. Am I an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert? One of my friends told me a while back that he thinks I’m very social even though it’s sometimes really difficult to get me out of the house- he’s not wrong. Crowds drain me. Too much of that kind of noise makes me glaze over. Too much ambient noise (other than music) depletes me.

There was a brief time a while back where I thought that my loner tendencies might be some sort of personal or psychological failing on my part, so I read a bunch of books about being alone. In “Party Of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus, there is a paragraph about how children played with the original GI Joe doll, the 12-inch version that my brothers had. (This is not to be confused with the four-inch toys that came out in 1982 with all the vehicles and accessories to compete with the similarly sized Star Wars toys at the time. The first GI Joe, the 12 inch one, was only one Joe. They didn’t introduce the snow guy and the ninja guy and the metal-faced guy until later on with the four-inch GI Joe friends.).

Anneli Rufus writes:

“Creating scenarios with only a single doll validates the power and wonder of the individual. Even if this is only a molded-plastic individual with painted-on hair and a mass-produced costume, it is a vessel through which the child projects his own visions of himself as an independent thinker, doer, adventurer, and winner. With only a single doll, the child celebrates self-reliance, learns to strategize, and learns the most potent lesson of all: The doll- or the real person the doll represents- requires nothing in order to do things and have experiences. Its adventures are sparked and carried out through ingenuity, imagination, creativity. In playing with a single doll, the child discovers how to entertain himself. A lone doll gives the message that one is enough.”

— “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus

The book goes on to talk about how the four-inch toys came with their personalities already set, predetermined. Reading this, I thought back to my own childhood. Whenever I was playing with my armada of the tiny Star Wars toys, I didn’t follow the preinstalled personalities or their already-written adventures.

Instead, I would put a blanket on the floor in a blobby unfolded state so that it would make caves. Then I’d select one particular character, never a Luke or a Han- generally some smaller, less important character, and I’d make that character go live by themself in one of the caves. I only chose one, and I stuck with that one. On the far side of Blanket Mountain. Far away from the rest of the action figures. When I was playing Star Wars with other neighborhood kids, this usually led to some frustrating times, because they wanted to interact, and I wanted to be a hermit.

I think a therapist would have a field day with that one.

How are you handling quarantine and social distancing?

13/52

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
Header photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-reflection-color-toy-1679618/

Music History: Firsts

I love music.

This may be the most understated thing I will say all year.   Long-time readers of this blog probably figured out a long time ago that most of my non-work trips start with me going, “Ooh, a concert I want to see!”    I’ve talked a great deal about music on this blog already- I’ve talked about They Might Be Giants, and Leonard Cohen, and Eurovision.   I ‘ve posted about musicals in general, and about Starlight Express and A Chorus Line in particular.   I’ve also talked about my first ever concert (New Edition), and about my memories of the Ghostbusters soundtrack in that glorious red plastic Arista case back in 1984.

And of course there’s a page on this blog that I keep updating to show the artists that I’ve seen play live.

I’ll say it again:  I love music. I need music.  If I don’t listen to music for a while, I can get downright cranky.  It’s as vital to me as breathing, and I go to concert after concert after concert for the love of music, even though I hate crowds and I have a fair amount of travel anxiety.  I can’t not go. (FOMAC, or Fear of Missing a Concert, is an entirely different blog post that I may come back to later.  Shut up, it’s a real thing!)

With that introduction in mind, I want to talk about music throughout various parts of my life.  I’ll start at the very beginning.

My earliest memory of music, any music, was all the way back in 1978.  I was five years old, and I remember being in some sort of a school or daycare center or something along those lines- it wasn’t a usual place for me.  I was waiting near some other kids while we picked up one of my siblings. The kids I was hanging out near were playing with original first-generation Star Wars action figures. I remember they made me be C3PO. While we played with the Star Wars toys, there was a radio on.

There were two songs in heavy rotation on the radio at that time, and they were the first songs to ever penetrate my tiny little head.  Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air.”

Those two songs played back to back. I can’t remember ever hearing music before that day. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember it.

I also recall the very first album that I ever owned.  When I was ten years old, there were advertisements in the back of comic books that said that if you sell stuff from their crappy catalog, you could win prizes.  This company sent an army of tiny Willy Lomans (Lomen?) door to door to sell magazine subscriptions, Christmas cards, pecan turtles, and wrapping paper.  With enough sales, you could get yourself a tent, a bicycle, or any number of other “fabulous prizes.”  It took a hell of a lot of sales to get anything substantial, but in 1983, I used my hard-earned prize bucks to get a voucher for a cassette tape from one of those music places like Columbia House or BMG, only not quite as obnoxious. That first album?  I was grooving to “Future Shock” by Herbie Hancock.

I had seen the video for Rockit, of course, and the kicking-pants robots made me want to dance.  Or something.  The entire album turned out to be really phenomenal, but I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much in 1983 as I do now.

My mom got me the second album I ever owned- we were in a Richway, which was sort of like the larval form of the retail chain now known as Target.  Richway’s parent company sold all of their stores to Dayton-Hudon Corporation around 1988, and that company closed all the stores, stripped them for parts, and then reopened most of them as Target stores.  The specific Richway from this story is actually some other non-Target store, according to Wikipedia.

But I digress.   We were in Richway, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1984.  It was an amazing day for eleven-year-old Steven because not only did I get my first transforming toy there, a red Gobot sports-car named Turbo, but  Mom also bought me a cassette of Rockwell’s first album.   Again, I was familiar only with the first single released, a popular song called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which had Michael Jackson on backup vocals. The rest of the album was a lot of fun, though, and I still listen to it sometimes.  “Obscene Phone Caller” was always one of my favorites songs, even though it would be years before I actually understood how pervy the song really is.

What was your first album?  Your first concert?  The first song you remember hearing?

5/52

The Art of the Brick

When my friend Charlotte was in New York, she went to an Art of The Brick exhibit.  She posted about it on her old blog back in April.

Art of the Brick is an exhibition of art by Nathan Sawaya.  Rather, it’s a series of exhibitions.  There are currently exhibitions in New York, Miami, and Dublin.  I caught the Brussels exhibit in its last weekend there.  Everything in the pictures below is made of Lego brick.

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What’s the biggest Lego kit you’ve ever built?

 

Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg

A number of my Blog-Friends have posted about Miniatur Wunderland, but I didn’t know it existed the first time I visited Hamburg. I wish I had known, because it’s awesome and I want to go back sometime.  The place is so incredibly detailed, there’s no way I saw absolutely everything.  I’ll give you some examples…

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The exhibit is broken into sections.  There’s a Hamburg section, an America section, a Scandinavia section, Bavaria, Switzerland, and a large portion for the fictional town of Knuffingen.  One of the most amazing parts is the Knuffingen airport, a large and completely automatic airport with planes landing and taxiing to the gate every few minutes.   Oh, and every fifteen minutes, “night” falls and the lights change.

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I took some video of one of the landings, because it was amazing.

There are also lots of smaller things happening.  While I was there, this plane caught fire and tiny fire trucks raced over two it for about ten minutes…

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The imaginative people who put the exhibit together aren’t shy about nudity either.

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Speaking of the people behind the exhibit, they have a fairly sophisticated control system.  Their monitoring area is in the exhibition area, which has got to be incredibly distracting:

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…and they’re building new sections.  I’ll have to come back in a few years when England is built.  This section is going to be Italy!

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There were fires in other parts of Knuffingen, but the firemen were ready to roll!

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The core of Miniatur Wunderland is that it’s got automated model trains.  Miniatur Wunderland is the world’s largest model train, in fact, with more than 12,000 meters of track.

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There are lots of tiny jokes embedded throughout the Wunderland.  For example, this kid has tossed his shirt in the bushes and he’s running, naked and free!

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…while across the meadow, a pedophile watches him with binoculars.  Kind of creepy, but also a little bit funny.

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Meanwhile, in a giant field of flowers, another couple gets it on.

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The fair was also incredibly detailed, with a half dozen moving rides.  The ferris wheel, the spinny thing next to it, the bungee jump, and more, were all in motion.

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The sports stadium in the Hamburg section had a game on.

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One of the buildings in the Hamburg section opened up, and a tiny orchestra was playing-  the various pieces of the orchestra were moving.

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Meanwhile, in Scandinavia, weird shit is happening.  I don’t know if there’s a real place that looks like this.  It wouldn’t surprise me, though.

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Some of my favorite things were just little tiny gags that you might miss if you go through the Wunderland too fast.  Here, we see a mole who has been busted by the Polizei for digging a hole in the park.

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…and cows wearing scuba gear.  Seriously.

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Master criminals at work!

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…and in the America section, Area 51 has a Stargate!  (And little green dudes playing basketball!)

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When the Wunderland chooses to duplicate a real building, they do an amazing job of it.  Here’s tiny Miami Beach.

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… and here’s tiny Las Vegas.

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The Grand Canyon.

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They’re amazing at buildings, but I don’t think they really understand America’s relationship with sports.   The baseball player ready to hit the pigskin thrown by the football player while an elderly couple and a flamenco dancer look on is pretty confusing.

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The Wunderland makes up for that weirdness with lots of incredibly detailed tableaus.  Here’s a very intricately detailed concert.

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They’ve really thought of everything… the tiny concertgoing people even get a row of tiny porta-potties!

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…and in the crowd of that concert, I found more adventurous cows!  These two seem to be wearing shower caps.  Maybe it’s the scuba diving cows from earlier…

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There are also some exhibits near the cafe and restrooms of certain time periods in Germany.  Here’s the day that the Berlin Wall came down in 1989:

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…and here’s the bombed out city at the end of World War II.

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Have you ever been to Miniatur Wunderland?  What was your favorite part?