Sunday, July 31, 2011

To Meat, or not to Meat?

So, I folded.  I did it reluctantly, but I did it.  The pressure was too much, the temptation too strong, and I stepped back over the line.  I felt a little sick to my stomach as I did it, but I did it anyway.  Part of my psyche screamed at me unheeded “DON’T DO IT!!!”  I ignored it and did it anyway.
What am I talking about?  
I ate meat.
I admit, I have been thinking about meat a lot lately.  I have found myself salivating at billboards, sniffing a little too eagerly at the savory aromas floating off of the HEB sample tables.  At meals, I have eyed the meat on other’s plates from the corner of my eye, hoping not to be noticed.  I would have denied it had they asked, but yes, I was eyeing their meat.
I have even had dreams about meat.  The other night I dreamt that I gorged myself on a delicious buffet of animal flesh cooked in myriad ways.  It was BBQ, salt cured, fried, broiled, boiled, baked, sauteed, grilled, pan-seared, and slow cooked.  I had grease dribbling down my chin, sauces all over my hands, and an extremely full belly.  It was awesome.
Last night we opted for the quick and easy dinner, so we pulled into a Little Caesars Pizza to get a couple Hot-n-Ready pizzas.  They offered cheese and pepperoni, so I told Samantha I would get one of each.  You know, in case other people wanted pepperoni.  We got home and made our plates.  After awhile, she noticed my plate.  There was only one piece of pizza left, a slice of pepperoni with a Frank-sized bit taken out of it.
I honestly think it surprised her more than it did me.  For someone who has patiently put up with more flip-flopping from me than a DC politician, she certainly didn’t attempt to hide her rolled eyes.  I agree.  I am rolling my eyes at myself right this moment.
I didn’t feel quite right eating the pepperoni, after all, my brain kept telling me, this was a living animal at one point.  I was participating in its death by consuming its remains.  I said a silent prayer of thanks for the animals that contributed, but couldn’t help imaging the celestial grimace when I added “to the nourishment of my body.”  Remember, this is Little Caesar’s pepperoni.  I am pretty sure it only nourished my love handles.  Samantha brought up a good point as well, could we even trust that it was real meat?
Lunch today consisted of fried seafood, and amazingly I was less bothered by the prospect of eating fish and crustaceans than I was cute little mammals.  So maybe, I will be a pescetarian.  I have friends who follow that lifestyle quite successfully; they are healthy and seemingly guilt free.  As my mom told me a long time ago, there are always more fish in the sea, right?  Wait, that was about something entirely different.  Oh, well.
What is interesting about this whole situation is how I felt about it the entire time.  I was conflicted inside.  I knew my physical desire was to eat meat.  Whether this came from social pressures pushing me towards the norm, or from something my body was lacking, or something else entirely, I practically sweated desire.  On the other hand, I felt morally guilty for doing it.  In my mind’s eye, I kept imagining what the slaughtered animal might have looked like.  I wondered whether or not I could have killed the animal I was now eating.  Could I kill and eat my own pets if I had to?  They are just animals like these pigs or those fish.
So, essentially, I feel lost.  Although I have brushed my teeth twice since then, I still imagine I can feel the grease from the animal fat coating the inside of my mouth.  I also can’t stop thinking about the fact that there is left over pizza waiting for me in the fridge.  I could go eat some meat right now if I wanted to.  But do I?
I don’t know.
I am sure you all have gone through similar situations before.  Half of you wants one thing while the other half reasons against it.  Part of you argues that your actions are wrong, while the other half basks in the rightness of it.  In the past, I have taken both courses of action, sometimes successfully ignoring the desire and other times succumbing to it.  Ultimately, it is simply a choice.  The goal is to be at peace with the option you choose.
What is my choice?  I have no idea.  But I have faith I will get there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Long Ride

I spent some time at my Aunt’s house towards the beginning of summer and I made sure to bring my road bike.  The normal ride at my house takes me through a familiar neighborhood course sporting the flat terrain characteristic to the Houston area.  My Aunt lives near New Berlin, TX, which is just east of San Antonio, and while it is not known for its hills, they were certainly more plenty than around my house.
As I set out on my long rides, which were not nearly as long as many of my bike riding friends, I had to prepare myself mentally to tackle the hills.  I began flat, warming up my body, enjoying the feel of my muscles loosening, and staying in the easier gears.  Gradually, I would increase the pace, soon finding a comfortable cruising speed.  I would maintain this tempo until my first hill.
It didn’t matter if I was starting at the crest, or at the bottom, I knew I was still going to work.  From the top, I would push my speed on my way down, hoping to gain enough momentum to fight gravity on the way back up, which I usually did not do.  Invariably, I had to contribute effort to make it safely to the top.  If I was at the bottom looking up, I worked to kick up my speed as I approached the rise, down-shifting as I lost speed, grinding it out to the top.
The couple of different courses I rode had many different types of hills.  There were the long hills, with a slow, gentle slope, allowing a steady pace.  There were the steep inclines, slowing me down so much that a snail could have raced me to the top and won.  There were many times on these I considered stepping off the bike and just walking; I never succumbed, pushing my way to the pinnacle.
As I rode, I couldn’t help but notice how similar a bike ride was to life.  All of us have hills and flat areas.  We have times in our lives where we coast, not even having to work to move forwards.  Other times we feel as if we are going nowhere; no matter our efforts, we stay in the same place.
It reminded me to always keep this in mind: For every up, there is always a down, and for every down, there is always an up. 
Recognize where you are on the path, approach each situation with the end in mind, and you will always get to the end.  Some hills will take longer to climb and some will fly by.  Keep your eyes on the prize; know you will succeed.
There have been plenty of times I have been in either situation, down or up.  Sometimes I kept perspective, working efficiently towards the peak, but there have been many times that I would lose myself to the hill.  My momentum would cease and I would roll backwards, heading back into the trough.  I would have to work twice as hard to make it back out.  
Many of my band director friends are mentally preparing for the mountain that is marching band season.  Some began today, some tomorrow, and the rest on August 1.  This is a long, hard, climb, but keep in mind the pace you need, continuing to focus on the top of the mountain as you work.  You will make it to the end.
Life is a long ride full of hills.  Keep in mind there is always a peak ahead of you and beware the troughs.  Remember to always move forward and know you will make it.  Do this, and your ride will be much more rewarding.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Staying Afloat

Wednesday night I received a comment on my blog from July 13th blog Metamorphosis.    For those of you who don’t know, the comments portion of the blog can be found below the main body of text.  Sometimes people use it (not enough though) and sometimes people choose to comment on facebook instead.  Either way, I am always glad to receive comments.
This particular comment stuck with me as the critical ones usually do.  My first reaction was amusement, later followed by curiosity, and finally by the intention to write this blog today.  What was the comment?  Anonymous posted - “how do you not drown in your own pretension.”
The only other comment I have yet to linger on quite as long as this one was a reader’s emotional plea for me to strongly consider my words and analogies before publishing them.  I had made references to cancer and it had touched on a nerve, upsetting them.  I reviewed my choices in that particular blog, weighing the value of my ideas, and decided that I had written from the heart and was 100% right in my soul with the blog.
The comment on my “pretension” spurred an entirely different sort of reaction.  Honestly, I laughed out loud, or loled for the teens who are reading this (actually, it should be l’ed ol if we were splitting hairs).  Samantha and I were sitting at an awards banquet in Dallas for Mary Kay, I was extremely tired, and I had no desire to express negative emotions.  Laughter was the most natural reaction.
My first mental response, which I eagerly wanted to post, was even funnier to me - “I don’t drown in my own pretension because my head has become so inflated, it keeps me afloat.”
I knew this wasn’t the right way to go about this, so I decided to proceed with caution, reviewing my blog to see if there was anything I said that might have come across as pretentious.  I talked it over with Samantha, I reviewed my life, watching the mental slideshow float through my thirty one years of experiences, and made my decision.  I neither did, nor said anything in my blog that I view as pretentious, although my commenter would disagree, I am sure.
I will admit that I have spent much of my life delighting in my many abilities, my plethora of successes, eagerly sharing my prowess in the area of academics, music, or athletics with any and all who would hear it.  I have often made comments people might regard as over-confident, cocksure, and headstrong (if you don’t believe it, read the previous sentence again).  But, I will argue that there is a difference between being proud of my abilities and being pretentious.  I know what I can and can’t do - I am not afraid to talk about it.  I am proud of my abilities, but know my limits.  I have experienced success in my life; should I hide it?  I prefer instead to celebrate my victories, no matter how minute or grand, and share them when appropriate.  The best way to describe my attitude was first ascribed to me in high school, and I think it is perfectly appropriate - delightfully arrogant.  
Allow me, for a moment, to be pretentious.  
Hi, my name is Francis Xavier Chambers IV.  I was born on the island of Oahu, where I learned to swim in the waves of the pacific at a very early age, to which I credit with my success as a swimmer later in life.  I learned to read at an early age and have always read beyond my age level.  I received the Superintendent's Award in fifth grade for being the most outstanding student at the school and later went on to graduate at the top of my high school class (as twelve other’s are allowed to claim due to secrecy regarding class placement within our district).  During my time in high school, I made All- State three years.  I accepted a full ride to the University of Houston, turning down other equally rewarding scholarships in the process.  I graduated Cum Laude and played professionally for a year and a half, touring the US and living in London.
Wait, that isn’t pretentious.  That is my life.  That is who I am and what I have done.  Pretentiousness is defined as aggrandizing your experiences to make you sound better than you actually are.  
Now, I will be pretentious.
Hello, my name is Sir Francis Xavier Chambers IV, of the Order of the Garter.  I was born on the island of Hawaii, where I learned to swim in the caldera of a volcano at a very early age.  I eventually mastered swimming, taking my talents to the Olympics.  I learned to read before I could speak and have always read beyond my age level.  I received the Superintendent's Award in kindergarten for being the most outstanding student at the school, earning me a cash prize in the process.  They later renamed the school after me.  Later, I went on to graduate as Valedictorian, even saving one of the other student’s life during the graduation ceremony.  I made All-State four years and was first chair each time.  I accepted a full ride to the University of Houston, turning down full rides to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Oxford in the process.  I graduated Summa Cum Laude and headlined a US tour and extended stay in London during my 20s.
Pretentiousness derives from not feeling confident enough in your own story that you have to start inventing.  It surrounds the truth with lies, coloring reality with fantasy to hide your the shame of personal dissatisfaction.  I am not ashamed of my history so I tell it like it is.  I will not apologize for talking about the life I have led.  
This is not being pretentious.  This is Being Frank.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Casey Anthony.
This name has so much power in our country right now.  These five syllables have the ability to spur an armada of emotions in our population: hate, rage, anger, sadness, fury, loathing, pity.  People have addicted themselves to news surrounding the case and the trial, allowing this young woman and the circumstances of her life to envelop their own.  Allow me to be frank - I think it is disgusting.
Before you start direct your dark emotions reserved for Casey at me, allow me to plead my case.  The first mistake we have made is allowing both the news media and the cable TV industry to convince us that the Casey Anthony trial was entertainment.  Men and women all over the country eagerly awaited the next episode of the Casey Anthony show, filling the time in between with updates, breakdowns, legal strategists, and fact reviews.  It makes me think of Pavlov’s dogs who drooled every time he rang the bell.  Our society was drooling for more Casey Anthony.
Our Judicial System for the win!
Instead of this woman going through a trial, innocent until proven guilty, the audience sat on the edge of their couches, eager for the next bit of damning evidence.  The verdict was clear in their minds before the trial even began.  The Casey Anthony circus was a rude perversion of our judicial system - not because of anything that happened during the case - but because we allowed it to become Jersey Shore, The Hills, One Life to Live, and the most vile, impure elements of every reality TV show ever.

Just this week, a news story aired telling the tale of one such viewer deciding to take things into her own hands.  News outlets raced to tell the story - a woman was run off the road because she looked like Casey Anthony.  It went viral.  Later, it was quietly reported that the Casey Anthony element was fabricated by the news - there was never any mention of Casey Anthony be either of the women involved.  The news media took what was a simple car accident case and blew it up.  Why?  Ratings and advertising dollars.  They knew the entertainment value of the Casey Anthony name would attract people to their program regardless of whether or not the story was newsworthy.
Despite the story not containing any truth, I believe this is the eventual result of allowing our legal system to become entertainment.  People will feel it is their right to do what the jury could not.  Just so you know, vigilantism is not legal in the US.  Batman would be hunted by the police, not working with them.

I did not watch the trial.  I did not read the updates.  I did not eagerly await each bit of information - what did Casey wear today, what faces did she make, what did the lawyers say, how did the judge react, etc.  Because of this, I didn’t have a real and visceral reaction to the reading of the verdict.  I hadn’t emotionally invested myself into the trial, balancing my wellbeing on whether or not the jury saw the facts of the case the same way I did.  I can tell you that I am glad the jury came out with the verdict they did - not because I think she is innocent or guilty - but because they approached the facts of the case as presented by the two opposing council and came to a unanimous decision regarding her guilt.  Innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.
The reaction of the verdict has been amazing.  People get physically angry when they talk about it or think about it.  They find themselves brooding on the idiocy of the jury, or how Casey got away with murder.  Their energy is directed at what happens now.  They are focused on how karma is going to come back around and bite Casey Antony in the butt.  They hate her for the book deal she will get, or the made-for-TV movie that you know is inevitable.  They fantasize about finding her where ever she might go to hide now that she has been released.  They imagine how they can do what the jury couldn’t.
The amount of emotional energy our country has expended on this one issue has been ridiculous.  Imagine if we had turned our focus to something that mattered.  What if we had spent the equivalent amount of time building homes for Habitat for Humanity, volunteering for local homeless shelters, or collecting food for our local food bank.  Instead of raging at the jury or Casey, could we devote some time to finding a solution to bad parenting, maybe educating young mothers on how to better raise their children, or helping them to understand that adoption is a better option than abandonment, accidental death, or murder?
What if it was even more simple than that.  Instead of focusing on elements way outside your circle of influence, how about reading a book, exercising, fixing up your house, having a conversation with friends and family (not about Casey Anthony), meditating, writing a blog . . . The list of better things to spend time on than watching the Casey Anthony trial is quite large and practically infinite.
Finally, while I am saddened at the death of Caylee Anthony in a detached sort of way, I am more saddened by this statistic - in 2008, the year of Caylee’s death, 8.8 million children under the age of 5 died worldwide.  This is the epidemic we should concern ourselves with.  I don’t hear anyone discussing how we could have prevented the deaths of the other children, or how we will seek vengeance for their deaths.  I promise you will have a much grander impact on humanity and this planet if you shift your focus from Casey Anthony and what she might or might not have done to something productive.  Focus on the 8.8 million children and how they died - sickness and hunger.  Help bring nutrition, medicine, and education to those who need it, and you could help save the lives of many children.  Focus on the ones who are living and not the ones who are already dead.
I urge you to let Casey Anthony go.  Let her life be her own, she is not worth your time.  Find a better way to exert yourself and spend your time.  I am sure you will find it much more rewarding.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Change is a natural element in our experience.  Yearly, we observe the seasons pass the torch, phasing consistently through our experience.  Watching the mirror, we fail to see the changes in our bodies, but discover a shoebox full of old pictures, and suddenly change is right there in front of our faces.  
Frequently change is scary.  Change is different, it is the great unknown.  No matter how often or lengthy we announce the desire to change, secretly we fear the transformation.  I know that I have been a victim of change-fear many times in my life.  Sometimes I have succumbed, others I have overcome the fear, moving forward into the next great chapter of my life.  Many times, the eventuality of a changing element catches up to us, flipping our world on its ear despite our protestations.
Let me tell you my story of change.  Growing up, I excelled in school.  Math particular held a peculiar interest for me.  I remembering enjoying the simple austerity of an equation.  I knew I could always count on the certainties math provided for my life.  Two plus two would always equal four.  I also enjoyed reading, which I credit to my Mom, who always had a book in her hand.  She is the kind of reader that can knock out three our four books in a week.  As I grew older, I started to pick up the books she read, expanding my own vocabulary and world view.  I remember being proud of myself for finishing the un-abridged version of Stephen King’s The Stand.  It was the summer between fifth and sixth grade; I was eleven going on thirty.
During middle school I discovered another love of my life - music.  My middle school band director for seventh and eighth grade - Dana Pradervand - did something special for me.  She planted a seed in my soul that directed the next eighteen years of my life.  Also, during middle school, I began to dabble in poetry, striving to find a voice for my hormonal teen soul.  I was on staff for the yearbook and creative magazine.
In high school, another seed was planted.  My sophomore english teacher - Shelia Richards - made me fall in love with words.  I don’t have any clue how she did it.  The only book I remember studying that year was Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I didn’t read (although I somehow managed to ace the final).  I know she fascinated me, and I am sure I had a crush on her, but she took my hunger for reading and turned it into a hunger to create.
I chose the University of Houston as my collegiate destination, double majoring in Music Education and Bassoon Performance.  I still was writing, and I still loved math.  At one point during my first semester I strongly considered transferring to Texas A&M and majoring in math, but I pushed that aside, forging ahead.  I filled journals with awkward poetry, still struggling to find my voice.  While I loved to read fiction, the prospect of writing it frightened me so much I couldn’t get past the blank page, and so blank it stayed.
After graduating with a performance degree, I accepted a job performing with the new Blast!, Inc. shows Shockwave and Cyberjam.  While it wasn’t playing bassoon, my main instrument, I was performing on saxophone, clarinet, and flute, and loving every minute of it.  I saw the US, spending as much time on a bus as I did off.  I began to explore fiction - my first short story was a analogy for the blank page I feared so much.  Math had fallen by the wayside.
After our US tour and a stay in London, I came back to the US, still trying to find my voice.  I decided to be an english teacher.  I enrolled in post-baccalaureate english classes to earn my teaching certificate.  Halfway through the semester, I decided my desire wasn’t for teaching english - I wanted to write.  I changed my plans, deciding I would become certified in music and teach band while I wrote.  I re-enrolled in the UH music school, also adding on a masters in bassoon performance.  Two years later I emerged with my certificate and a masters and earned my first job.  This was 2006.
It took four years before I wrote another word.  I had no idea how easily high school band directing would consume time, and during those four years I couldn’t find the time or the energy to devote to my words.  I enjoyed my job, loved the kids, and found satisfaction in my love for music, but the words were absent.  Realizing that was the beginning of this current metamorphosis.  
As I started my blog and began work on a novel I found that I truly love to write.  I find such simply purity in the logical arrangements or letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into phrases, phrases into ideas, and ideas into stories.  In a sense, I find in words the best things I have loved about music.  I love the synergy, the emotional power, the push to think.  I was transformed internally.
I have now manifested my internal change in my life.  Tuesday of this week, I resigned my position as Associate Band Director at Conroe High School.  I know I will miss the kids, my co-workers, and the music, but I am confident I am walking my path.  Making the decision to move past so much personal history was difficult, and I struggled long with it, but now that I have acted, I strongly feel at peace.
I know the future is uncertain.  I know there are still many questions that have to be answered, but I also hold onto the certainty that following your dream is one of the most powerful steps you can take in life.  I encourage everyone to decide whether or not you are living your dream, or if you have hidden it away from yourself like I did for so long.  Find your dream, live it.  Go through the change.  I know it will be worth it.