Thursday, October 22, 2015

1989 vs 1989

Now that I've listened to Ryan Adams' version of the album a handful of times I feel compelled to make the comparison. Who did it better? Taylor Swift or Ryan Adams? I'll go song by song with a overall judgement at the end.

1) Welcome to New York (Ryan Adams) - Neither of them make this song bearable to me. But I'm giving the node to him because he makes me think I could like this song if 1989 Bruce Springsteen covered it.

2) Blank Space (Taylor Swift) - She does crazy better. 

3) Style (Taylor Swift) - Her version is just too good. No competition.

4) Out of the Woods (Ryan Adams) - I love his guitar work in this one and his version seems a lot more heartfelt. 

5) All You Had To Do Was Stay (Taylor Swift) - Her voice was made for this song. It makes it hard for someone else to claim it--no matter how hard they try or how well they do. 

6) Shake it Off (Tie) - This was the hardest to judge. Her's is perfect for what it was meant to be. His somber twist has better purpose but not quite as great at being what it wants to be. 

7) I Wish You Would (Taylor Swift) - This is a near tie, but I'm giving it to her for writing it. 

8) Bad Blood (Ryan Adams) - Hard to judge properly. I might just be done hearing her version on the radio.

9) Wildest Dream (Taylor Swift) - Again, her version is way too good to be competed against.

10) How You Get the Girl (Taylor Swift) - The shift from female to male doesn't work as well as it does in other songs. It feels better coming from her. 

11) This Love (Ryan Adams) - Wow, he kills this song. By far the best on his record, IMO. 

12) I Know Places (Taylor Swift) - Barely. I'm not super thrilled with either version but she knows how to sing a hook like no ones business. She gets the node for making the chorus so catchy even though the rest of the song is sort of meh.

13) Clean (Taylor Swift) - Her version of the song does 1989 better than anything else on either album. So she wins.

Overall: Taylor Swift reigns supreme (8.5 vs . 4.5). I'd say his album feels a bit more cohesive and has a more consistent sound and mood, but her highs are a lot higher and overall her version feels more like 1989 than his does, which is important for an album like this.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Identity theft

"I've always been good at math." No seriously, like really good. I once skipped studying for a calculus final in college because I felt I'd learned enough doing just the homework and I wanted to play some Magic the Gathering in the cafeteria--I managed to get the highest grade in the class. In high school, my senior year, I participated in a school-wide math test and was crowned math champion of Lakes High 1996. When Robyn took statistics in college I not only explained Bayes Theorem to her but pointed out that the manner in which her professor was teaching it was incorrect. 

So I've said on countless occasions, "I'm really good at math." I made this realization in the fourth grade when our teacher would make us take timed tests of our multiplication tables and I was always the first one done. It progressed naturally through high school, as I explained above, and later carried me through higher level math in college. It was mostly effortless, some sort of natural number sense. Often it was hard for me to explain math to other people because it was all so very intuitive to me. I had no language to explain my intuition, I still don't. 

I've spent my life believing at any given moment I likely was better at math than anyone else in the room. This notion of course is challenged from time to time when encountering someone who studies math for a living, but this happens irregularly.

Part of my personal mythos is that I'm a person with great math skill. I'm male, I'm nervous in front of big groups, and I am a math champion. These are long time constants of my identity, old traveling buddies. 

But why care? It's incredibly tedious I imagine for someone else to read about these facts. And it likely comes off as bragging. But I'm trying, and ironically failing (if you keep reading you'll see the irony eventually), to find the words to express how big of a part "being good at math" is of my identity. I've worked as a programmer for 17 years now, day in and day out; even so, when I think of myself and my talents, math comes to mind before software development. It's a layer of skin. 

Who else am I? I hated writing papers in high school. Grammar vexed me; I was horrible at spelling; writing at length made my wrist hurt; my senior year English teacher told me I had a limited vocabulary. I partially chose my college major because it had me avoiding major writing assignments. Still to this day I'm a terrible speller, and sometimes I want to dropkick commas and semi-colons. 

Then today happened. I sat down at a computer and over the course of four hours attempted to bang out answer to the GRE. At the end the testing software flashed two numbers onto the screen. The numbers themselves probably lack meaning to most people not actively preparing for the test or who haven't recently completed it. You get two immediate scores upon completion. One for "verbal" and one for "quantitative" which is synonymous with "math." My verbal score was exceedingly good, something that places me in the 98th percentile of test takers. My math was far less flattering, a relatively pedestrian 71st percentile score (I would have been happy with an 85th percentile). The score is borderline embarrassing to me, it's hard for me to share it here. 

I no longer know what it means when I say "I'm good at math." I've been in a bit of a daze since seeing these scores. 15 years ago I never would have guessed I could have achieved either of the scores I did. A part of me feels like I should be celebrating that verbal score. But I feel at a loss, like some part of my identity has been taken. Perhaps it has been replaced with something even better. But that doesn't alter the fact that today I feel like I know myself less than I did yesterday. Where else might I be wrong about who I am? Am I getting old and slow witted? So, you see, all that earlier bravado wasn't about me, but about some other version of me lost in the swirls of time. 

I can give you a logical explanation for why I received the scores I did, but it doesn't make the experience, even now, any less dizzying. Here's the explanation in its simplest form: I've read and written a lot these past ten years. As for math, besides simple addition and subtraction and calculating a 20% tip, I have rarely used it. Geometry has been especially useless in my life and the test bombarded me with questions about angles, areas, and lengths of sides of rectangles. Once upon a time I knew about those things. And once upon a time I was good at math. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

My Struggle, Book 1

I read the first page of this book in a bookstore and promptly bought it. It sounded fantastic! I was excited for it; I've been having a hard time recently getting into books and this one seemed full of potential from the little snippet I read. I started reading it in January.

I finished the book sitting at my kitchen table last night.

I must say I enjoyed the first and last pages more than the rest of the book. I'm still confused on what his struggle is. I assume it's related to alcoholism, but it's not really clear, perhaps it's just his entire life. He struggles.

Anyway, I wanted to like the book more but couldn't manage to. I also don't think I'll manage reading the other four books (or however many). I can see people liking the story and the book and even the author. But I couldn't handle him as a teenager. I know I should take pity on the teenager he was but when I was in high school the only people I liked less than popular people were people who worried about being popular but failed spectacularly at it. So much potential in not being popular, of not having it come naturally to you, and to have it wasted on efforts to fit in and be cool seems like such a shallow shame. Now that I'm older I'm much better at liking popular people and failed popular people, but it's hard not to view the story through the lens of my own childhood. It's like, we could have been friends but he wasted all of his time trying to get into parties and trying to find ways to consume alcohol. Such a bore. Man I'm fun. This paragraph says more about me than it does about the book or the author.

The writing (translation?) was fine. I did notice that he did something I feel like I do all the time in my own writing. I don't know how to say it other than "writing action as a list". He did opened the door, looked for some food, sat down, and turned on the T.V. I was very aware of it happening in this book for some reason. Either he does it more than other authors or I don't know what. But it distracted me.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Year Was 1996

Seeing as it's March, the month of my birth, it might be worthwhile to think about aging and time and such.

The year was 1996, the summer of 96 to be exact. The day after I graduated high school, I packed my shit and left home, off to sunny California with my best friend since the fifth grade, my parents standing, crying in the driveway watching their youngest son leave in the car they'd bought him. There are two stories there, one about Jason and me, the other about my parents and me. I've been thinking on the latter, in large part because I have kids of my own now and secondly because I'm reading this book, "My Struggle," which over the last hundred pages or so has been about a parent's death.

This event was written into destiny years before, the year I left Indiana (the start of my 9th grade) it would have been made irreversible. But even before that, the day my dad joined the Army it was all but done. I wonder if my parents took for granted that some day they'd be done with the Army, that they'd settle down and their kids would settle down near them as well. I wonder if they knew or even suspected the impossibility of that notion, at least for their youngest son. I'd spent a life-time getting pulled around, living at the whims of others, not even of my parents' but of the government. At my first possible chance of choosing where I could live I reached for it. I couldn't leave sooner. I couldn't shape my life before that day. And yet my parents probably dreamed of us kids living "in town" while they lived out on the reservation. Or even less possible, all of us close together out on the reservation, just a field of grass separating one generation from the next. Dreams of cows and hay, pigs, chickens, and pickup trucks--dreams of grandchildren a stone's throw away. Dreams all crushed by the gentle hearts of their own children.

I didn't give consideration to what they wanted that day. I don't think I was especially cruel, just 18. In my head they were fine if I stayed, they were fine if I left. And so I left. I couldn't conceive of it being a big deal. Now, having  a one-year-old and four-year-old in the house, it is, of course, all these years later, incredibly obvious to me how stupid that thought was. Another 17 years down the road I can only image how much more stupid it will look.

That moment wasn't even the original inspiration for this post, my 37th birthday was. But my 37th birthday quickly took me back to that day. Having left home at the ripe age of 18 and some odd months, I've now lived outside of my parents' house longer than I lived with them, a division created on that day. And likewise, they've now been empty-nesters longer than I lived in their house. Being the younger person, the child who left home, I'm expected to have changed a great deal. But I wondered, how much have they changed? If I stood 1996 Charles and Barbara Kessler next to 2015 Charles and Barbara Kessler, what would I see? How much do these two living breathing people resemble my memories of my parents? I'll surely be asking these questions again in a few years--I expect a certain amount of vertigo when I reach the age they were when I left home, which will be quite a few years before my own children flee the nest. On the surface it seems like a real shitty deal for parents. So much is given. And so much is taken for granted. It can be no other way. What's below that surface? I suspect you never stop worrying. I suspect you never see them enough, they'll never be close enough. After holding on so tight for 18 years, a whole other lifetime is required to learn to really let them go.

Would it have hurt to stay another day? Another week? To live in their house as some kind of adult for a while? Probably not, but my heart was set. Even to this day I'm bad at those transition times. If I'm on vacation for longer than a week then the last few days I just can't enjoy fully. It's not the dread of returning, but the realization that the vacation isn't the real part of life, and the real part of life is beckoning me back. If those days had existed between graduation and when I left, I imagine they would have been much like those last days of vacation for me. While my body would have been there at their house, my spirit would have already been on the road. Perhaps no one would have enjoyed my time there. I don't know. But still, 2015 Shawn Kessler sure would like to send some flowers and a hug and a little note that read "I'm sorry" to 1996 Barbara Kessler.

Love you mom and dad.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Two Hours You Can Never Have Back


Like all hours passed, those two are gone. Slipped away in near silence except for the low in and out rumble of air roughly passing her lips. The room went from blue, to gold, to grey, to black. Elsewhere doors opened and closed, keyboards clicked, and children played--they sipped little cups of tea and giggled with their dolls.


But we two, she slept, and I her pillow. First my shoulder, then my chest, and lastly in some disparate fit of resignation, my belly. Each part ached in its time. And each pleaded for her return after she woke, coughed, and found a new home for her head.

Days are the same. Years, too. And now one is gone. I’d like to snap them up into some invincible and infinitely large memory chest. I think of my own parents. Do they remember hours like this? Can they pull two out of the possible 315,567?

She’s not a cuddly child, neither is her sister. Most nights I’m grateful they have their own beds, that I sleep well without child-sized knees and elbows in my back. Yet, so rarely do I get to hold their little bodies. The void makes my queen-sized bed feel vast like an ocean. It’s its own sort of pain to have her so near for two short hours that once gone, will likely never be back.