Why Album Art?

Thought of the moment: I don’t think I’ve ever paid any real attention to album covers.

Even as a kid, when all we had was LPs, I don’t recall ever caring what was on them. And there are only a couple albums whose covers I can summon to mind right now (some from childhood, some more recent). I’ve done the “just listening to an album” thing–not doing anything else, just listening. But it never occurred to me to have a visual component to that activity.

I just sorta realized that the experience I’ve heard lots of other music fans describe–of examining the album cover/liner in detail while listening to a new album–is not something I’ve ever done. In fact, if I really want to listen, it’s in the dark. This is probably why the emphasis on “cover art” in iTunes (and elsewhere) has never been helpful for me. Even before I started buying music digitally, before album art went from a square foot to less than a quarter of that, I didn’t pay any attention to the covers of my albums.

For me, album art has always been a useful-but-secondary bit of information. It’s decoration, not a mnemonic. I keep my music in alphabetical order, and I find an album by scanning the titles, not by looking for a familiar image. (It doesn’t help that often the color firmly lodged in my mind as associated with an album is not the color that’s on the spine of the CD case–and sometimes not actually a significant color on the cover, either.)

Thinking more about this, I *do* pay attention to book covers and cover art. I can quickly pick books out on my shelves based just on their spines, and I can describe the covers of favorite books. In fact, I couldn’t find a book that I’d misplaced on my shelves for months, despite doing book-by-book visual searches of the shelves multiple times, because I was looking for the green of the cover and didn’t realize the spine was white. Somehow I simply skipped right over it, mentally, without ever reading its (very clear) title.

With CDs (and LPs, and cassettes) I read the title to find it, and then I might admire the artwork. With books I use some combo of reading the title and recognizing the art to locate a book. Odd.

Musical Feeling vs Feeling Music

Last night I attended a very interesting Argentine tango lesson. And I actually mean interesting, not “interesting” as a polite euphemism for “bad”. The instructor focused on bringing musicality to the dance, emphasizing the importance of dancing both rhythmicaly and stylistically in tune with the music–and therefore dancing every song (more or less) differently.

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One Year On

Thought I had on the way to work this morning: Exactly a year ago, I had just finished my last shift at Badger Cab and was headed home to pack and sleep before heading to Gen Con the next morning. It would be the first time in nearly a decade to not start my Gen Con trip by working through the night and then hopping in a car for the ~8hr drive.

And I do mean exactly a year, since I got done with work at 7 am the tues before Gen Con, and for home some time after 8 that morning, since I had already moved out of my apartment and was stating with a friend. Today, I started work at 8, so I was on my way to work at almost exactly the same time.

Anyway, I was just reflecting at how different things are after a year. I’m still going to Gen Con, same as I have every year for 20+ years [I’m actually not certain which year was my first, but I think it was ’91]. And I’ve still got roughly the same Monday-night game group as I’ve had for the past ~4 years.

But now we’re gaming via Skype from 3 different cities.

I leapt into a new city, with nothing there but my girlfriend, but after only a year I’ve got a good job and my sights set on a better one. I have plans and goals–and, more importantly, I see a path to them. I’m going to the gym regularly–I’d been meaning to get back to yoga for a decade–and taking dance classes again. My posture is finally making real progress, after decades of half-hearted work on it. And for the first time in a long time, I’m actually feeling energized about RPG work again. I participated in Game Chef last week, and had a blast (and a big confidence boost).

It’s amazing the difference a year can make. Oh, it’s not perfect. I miss Madison and my friends. I’m still trying to create a local gaming group. And I’m horribly out of shape so it’ll be a while until I land a suitable music group.

But isn’t the adage that nothing worth having is easy? Or is that doing? In this case, they’re both apropos. I’m way too good at being contented and comfortable. The majority of the time, it makes me happy and well-adjusted and easy-going. But there’s such a thing as too contented, IMHO, and pulling the rug of life out from under me has at least forced me to be quick on me feet. Or something like that–I’ll let you impute meaning to that, since I’m not entirely sure it actually works as a metaphor. Particularly because I have friends and acquaintances who really have had their lives turned upside down, and I don’t want to trivialize the very hard times they’ve gone through. It may have been rough for a while, but at least I had a place to live and a wonderful girlfriend–it was just hard to see my way forward on other fronts.

A year ago, Gen Con felt a little like my entry to the underworld, leaving behind almost everything familiar and beginning a journey where even the common things (like trash service) were strange and new. I go to Gen Con one year later as a celebration of friends and fun, and realize that I’ve made it through the underworld. My journey is far from complete, but I’ve changed and learned, and now I see a path. And Gen Con is no longer a bridge between things, but is once again just a vacation.

Now, Soon, Forever

As anyone who has lived with a cat knows, they sometimes understand time much as we do, but other times their perception of time is baffling. After extensive observation, I believe I finally understand the perception of time by felis catus.

For the average domestic cat, a very few events are set: dawn, dusk, in some cases mealtime. Stanley is about 90% consistent now on waking me up 0-10 minutes before breakfast time, for example. But, for the vast majority of events, cats rely on a scale of time that is significantly different than most humans’.

Now: Much like the human concept, but with less tolerance for delays. “Now” does not mean “as soon as you put your shoes on”–it means instantly, and any delay is unacceptable, because it is no longer “now”.

Soon: This is a loose translation—the wordier but more-accurate term would be “as soon as I’m done with this”. This is a very flexible unit of time by human standards. It means whenever the cat is done with whatever it is currently doing, and thus ranges from [in human terms] a minute or less (when using the litterbox) through a few minutes (when eating dinner) to several hours (when sleeping). But from a cat’s point of view, these are all the same unit of time.

Forever: Any unit of time greater than “soon” and still today is approximately forever from a cat’s perspective. An hour until dinnertime? Forever. Waiting 3 minutes to go outside? Forever. You’re gone at work for 9 hours? Forever.

Forever and Ever: Longer than “forever,” up to and including some time tomorrow.

Any unit of time longer than a day, or any event further away in time than tomorrow, is literally incomprehensible to the vast majority of cats, so they have no term for it. For them, units of time beyond “forever and ever” are simply meaningless–the proverbial third dimension for a flatlander.

Stanley Squirreltail Chatters-at-Crows

I don’t feel comfortable naming others. It just seems presumptuous of me to decide for someone else what their name should be. I’m not sure how I’ll feel if I have kids—though I know I’d prefer to take the route of either not naming until they’re a few years old, or planning right from the start for the kid to choose a new name for herself once she’s a certain age. But, last I checked, they won’t let you out of the hospital until there’s a name on the birth certificate.

I don’t even like naming pets and other animals. Luckily for me, all my pets have been used, so they came with names—with one exception. My 4th ferret was 2+, and had never been given a name. I have no idea how his previous human related to him—it seems so weird to me to have someone in your life that long and not have some sort of name for them. Regardless, I solved that by calling him Nony, short for Anonymous, because all the names I tried out just didn’t feel right.

Though I think it was mostly the deciding-on-the-name part that bothered me, not the bestowing. I guess I just don’t feel like I can possibly know someone else well enough to decide how the world should label them, which is what name-giving feels like to me. And it’s particularly hard for a new child or pet, whom you don’t know very well yet. What if you name him Tim and he turns out to be more of an Xavier or Rajesh? Or Evangelina is really more of a Sue? But, of course, while it is theoretically possible to let humans choose their own names—and plenty do; how many people do you know that go by a middle name or nickname?—that doesn’t work so well for animals.

On the other hand, where do nicknames come from? To some degree, they are self-determined, based on behaviors, personality traits, and physical appearance, as much as explicit choice. And animals, just like people, can choose to not respond to a name they don’t like. [Well, at least in theory. In practice, I’m not sure they even recognize the sort of identification with a name that we employ, much less distinguish between a “proper name” and a “nickname” or term of endearment.] But, more realistically, i think that our pets often “tell” us their names through their behaviors.

Much like rugged Viking warriors, mighty Greek heroes, noble Arthurian knights—and a fair number of real-world peoples—pets should have the bynames they have earned. And while I feel weird bestowing or changing a pet’s name, I have no problem “recognizing” a byname that they have earned. So, from now on, our cats Stanley and Orion shall be known as Stanley Squirreltail Chatters-at-Crows and Orion Squeaker, respectively. Though I suspect Orion may outgrow that byname and earn another, once he learns how to speak meow properly.