Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Jiggety Jig

Home again, home again . . .


Actually, I've been home for a couple of days. I drove down to Atlanta with Jen on the 15th and 16th and flew back up the next day.

The 18th was Eastern College Career Days all day, a job fair with several law firms, some publishing companies, and a few other employers thrown into the mix. Basically, it was an opportunity for us "well-rounded liberal arts majors" to test the job market. From what I heard being bantered around by those present, we were a motley crew of English majors and sociology or psychology majors, with a few theatre majors here and there. And they say the liberal arts are dead.

I'm not in fact so jaded about the liberal arts - it's just that everyone else seems to be, which makes for a rather depressed job market, both literally and figuratively. Who doesn't want to hire a well educated individual who supposedly has been taught to see several sides to any situation? Theoretically, those who have been exposed to the liberal arts go on to be leaders and decision makers because of their critical thinking abilities. After all, if everyone was just going to get one job and stick with it, every 18-year-old out there would be going to a trade school next year, simple as that.

There are some who argue 18-year-olds should just go onto trade schools, or focus exclusively on economics or applied sciences.

I used to struggle to answer the question "What are you going to do with an English major?" (Variations on that include "What are you going to do with a double major in English and Biology," "Where does an English major get you these days," and several quizzical glances which convey a thousand words in a second).

My answer used to be "Law, I think, or teaching . . . maybe." I'm rather ashamed of my own narrow-mindedness. Because what I should have said was "Anything I want to."

It sounds pompous (and it is), but I think it's absolutely true. Of course, "anything I want to" comes with several requirements, including:

1) What makes me happy
2) What I'm good at
3) Where I'm comfortable
4) And last, but not least, what pays the bills - that's a big one.

I did in fact interview with a couple of law firms. But if I do work as a legal assistant and go on to law school, it will be on my own terms, and I'll do what interests me (which could possibly include intellectual property - reading Gaiman v. McFarlane was fun - I recommend it for anyone with an interest in comic books. I know that in any profession you have you "pay your dues," I think I could manage to amuse myself adequately as a legal assistant for awhile.

I think a lot of people who receive liberal arts educations become disheartened by the potential of doing something they don't want to do. They're faced with the possibility of not being good enough at writing or drawing or acting or singing, enough to make a living at least, and they must then go onto something else.

For a lot of people, this means resigning themselves to some office job they don't really have any connection to, and I think that there's a general feeling of failure when this happens.

A lot of people at the job fair were drooling at the opportunity to do into advertising, because they thought that advertising was one of the few professions out there in which the end-product can reflect the personality of the individual. I think those people are in for some hard times, but that's just me.

I have a lot of respect for the people that I worked with this past summer for this reason. The non-profit arts isn't the most glorious profession in the world, and it is more than likely that you won't get paid nearly as much as the work and time you put into it is worth, but they're supporting what they love at the Arts and Business Council.

How many of us will be able to say that when we leave college? How many of us are going to go onto middle management or entry level jobs that we take out of necessity, both because we need the financial stability and also because we just don't know what else is available to someone of our unique talents?

This makes me a bit angry. Why should doctors and lawyers be placed on privileged tracks towards their professions? This applies more towards pre-meds than pre-law, since most school have a pre-med track and not all of them have pre-law. But don't some of these people do what they do because that's all the vocabulary they know? If you've been raised to know that the only legitimate professions are lawyer and doctor, of course you're going to end up in med school or law school.

I'm going to harp on stereotypes for a second and rail at Asian American pre-meds. The stereotype is not that Asians or Asian Americans are better at math. No, the stereotype is that they are told from day one that they're going to grow up to be a doctor. Of course they're going to focus on their sciences and be pre-meds in college. What else could they do?

It is a stereotype in that, of course, not all Asian American families operate like this, but there's a lot of support for it. It's not so much the overbearing parent or the filial child, I think, as much as it is the popular conception in Asian American families of an "honorable profession." Of course, to be "honorable," the job should compensate well - preferable in the six figures.

Why isn't there a liberal arts track?

That's a rhetorical question of course - liberal arts track is an oxymoron.

And it leaves us liberal arts majors in an uncomfortable position. On one hand, I can scoff at the people who have "always know they want to be a ____." On the other hand, they know what they're going to be doing in five years, and I don't. So can I really complain, since the liberal arts derives a sense of pride from a broadness of educational experience which prevents the intensely specialized education of say, a pre-med student?

I just sometimes wish that there were liberal arts advisors. Of course, these would just be people that got to know you and then incessantly told you to do what you liked. Although I think the world would be a better place if there were more of these people. The arts would certain be a better place if more Creative Writing majors or Arts majors went on to work in arts service organizations.

When did that stop happening? I seem to remember back in elementary school, there was always the "you can be what you want" mentality. Either that, or it's in a Cat Stevens song - oh yeah, it's "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out."

I think at some point, educators are encouraged to stop encouraging the dreams of the kids they are teaching, and to push them more towards waking up and preparing for the harsh world of a 9 to 5 job. Sometime in middle school, maybe, it started being embarrasing for people to say "I want to be an astronaut" or "I want to be an artist." But I think there's an artificial exclusivity there that doesn't have to be present.

This is actually, why I think the remarks made by the President of Harvard are so damaging. Instead of saying "The existing gender stereotypes encourage boys towards the hard sciences while discouraging girls towards similar professions, thereby creating a perceived gap in potential to learn sciences and math," he said "Girls don't learn science as good as boys. Duh. Life is like a box of chocolates." [Note, I am merely paraphrasing his statement]

Real intelligent that one, the President of a liberal arts institution and all.

Part II


I'm listening to the new Fiona Apple album (which might not be publically released yet. shh . . . . )

For those of you who know me or who have been following this blog for a while, I have a special place in my heart for both Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple.

I enjoyed Fiona Apple's second album very much, and her first remains one of the best rookie efforts of any singer/songwriter in recent memory (and I do hate the term singer/songwriter, but it applies in this case).

I feel that she's a much better singer than Norah Jones, and manages to write significantly deeper songs, both lyrically and from a melodic standpoint. Her voice is also much more unique and doesn't sound quite as lounge singer-esque.

There are those who argue that her second album was too pretentious, as she leaned towards an in-your face jazzy feel while maintaining the lyrical impetuousness of her first album. (That and the fact that the title was 98 words long). But I thought the songs sounded great and even the songs that lacked lyrically ("Paper Bag" being one) were well mixed and had great melodic lines.

My initial feeling for this new album, entitled "Extraordinary Machine," is that it really plays with the jazz sound in her music, utilizing some very intriguing orchestration (she uses strings and brass in several songs) and quite a bit of synthisizer, but it doesn't succeed quite as well as her first two efforts.

The reason, I think, is that as I listen to the bells and whistles (literally), I'm not focusing on her voice nearly much as I should be. One of the unique aspects of her first two albums was the way her voice blended seamlessly with her instrumentals, and it sometimes feels like she struggles to be heard on this album.

Fiona Apple has a remarkable voice, possessing an excellent range and a sultry tone, but with a tremulous quality which calls up a youth and fragility. Her voice really sold her first two albums, and I really wish it was brought to the forefront in more of the songs on this album. At one point in the song "Oh Well," her voice really erupts at the climax of the song, and it sounds wonderful. I only wish it happened more in the rest of the CD. Whoever mixed this CD (I think it was a big name producer too - Jon Brion?) really did her a disservice by not establishing enough contrast and emphasizing the vocals more.

Some of the songs are very strong. "Get Him Back" is a very basic song in terms of bass line and piano line, but that's why it works - Fiona's voice comes to the forefront of the song, and the song is very typical of her style. "Better Version of Me" is a good example of a song that expands on what she did in her second album, "When the Pawn . . ." There's a lot of synthesizer and percussion, and the lyrics fall a little flat, but the sound is vintage Fiona Apple, if one can call anything by her vintage.

At other times, though, the CD is almost Broadway-esque. A few of the songs sound like show tunes, and they're over-orchestrated (not overproduced, since her voice is seldom layered) to the point that they are stylistically questionable.

The piano comes through too strongly in several of the songs, and the usage of instruments like oboe and french horn are surprising to the point of distraction. I actually really like the song "Extraordinary Machine", but the flute and oboe really sound out of place sometimes.

"Not About Love" sounds like it was written for a theatrical production, as it opens with a low piano line followed by a cello intro, and by Fiona's entrace she feels like an accompaniment, and I'm not sure I like that. It almost sounds like she's going for a neo-Big Band feel at times and is striving too much for that "vintage" sound I mentioned earlier.

The persistent presence of brass and loud piano makes the contrasts of songs like "Oh Well" less than they should be. In her second album, a song like "Get Gone" had a contrast between the slow, soft start and the pounding piano later in the song which really illustrated the building of both the piano and her vocals as the song progressed.

I think this album is kind of similar to Radiohead's "Kid A" effort, which initially made me cringe, but really won me over after a few listens. I don't think any of the songs are strong as the ones on "When the Pawn" though, in terms of how they progress musically, and I doubt I'll end of liking this album as much as either of the first two.

There also isn't enough variation on the CD for my tastes. Fiona has shown she can write excellent ballads ("Never is a Promise"), even though she is known more for the angry pounding sound in songs like "Limp" and "Fast as You Can," but none of the songs on this new CD really commit to either.

The experimental nature of several of the songs including the melodic turns and what she does with discordance, especially with bells of all things, is anathema to anything we're really trained to listen to these days, and this album probably won't sell too well.

Her record label at Sony knows this, which is why they delayed the CD for a long time and tried to get her to re-record some of it, but it sounds as if she kept most of the experimentation that she wanted to. There really is not a very marketable single on the CD, so from that standpoint, there's little to no chance you'll be hearing much of it on the radio.


Blogger Trevion said...

Your point about liberal arts advisors is interesting. Both here and in high school there were advisory systems which received a fair amount of lip service from the institution but ended up contributing just about nothing. In both cases, I think part of the problem is that the faculty aren't really paid or suited to be liberal arts advisors. Of course, it's part of their job description, but despite Dartmouth's token efforts to solicit student input on tenure hearings, etc., I get the strong impression that tenure is based on publications here, just like everywhere else. At least, that's how it's worked in the departments I've known.

Perhaps more importantly, the nature of modern academia doesn't encourage faculty to have broad interests. People are hired because they are, for example, excellent computational geometers or experts on Milton, not because they have a broad understanding of computer science or English, let alone other departments.

Under these circumstances, I feel somewhat sorry for the professors tasked with advising incoming freshmen, especially those without clear interests. Professors spend their time specializing further and further, and liberal arts advising requires almost exactly the opposite.

12:58 AM  

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