Monday, March 31, 2008

Food and Music, Revolution and Protest

The last day of Women's History Month - yes, it is Women's History Month, quick, think of and appreciate a famous woman - I have decided to post to very different forms of cultural analysis and protest: eating, and listening.

In a stark, oppressive Communist environment, one man protested with classical music. The story is here:

Composing a Revolution
By Roberto Rivera3/20/2008

The Gospel According to Arvo Pärt
That is my goal: time and timelessness are connected.This instant and eternity are struggling within us.And this is the cause of all our contradictions . . . - Arvo Pärt
I recently watched the new documentary about Estonia’s struggle for freedom from Soviet domination, The Singing Revolution. The title refers to the defining characteristic of this national liberation movement: Instead of throwing rocks or even marching through the streets of Tallinn, Estonia’s freedom “fighters” would gather by the thousands and, well, sing.
Beginning with a June 1988 music festival, the public face of Estonia’s struggle for freedom was thousands of Estonians gathering together and spontaneously breaking into song, specifically patriotic songs. (If the examples in The Singing Revolution are at all representative, Estonians, as a group, are among the world’s best singers.) It was proof that three generations of Soviet schooling had not extinguished Estonian identity and culture.
Watching this inspirational and well-told story, I kept feeling that something was missing: religion. I can’t recall a single mention of religion in the film. Did religion have nothing to do with the Estonian identity and culture the singing revolutionaries sought to preserve?
This absence of religion is made all the more noticeable by the central role of religion—specifically Christianity—in the life and work of the most famous Estonian musician of them all, the composer Arvo Pärt.
Like his compatriots, it was music that got Pärt into trouble with Soviet authorities. His 1968 piece for solo piano, chorus, and orchestra, Credo, opened with the Latin words Credo in Jesum Christum, “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
As Pärt’s biographer, Paul Hillier, wrote, the “strongly personalized religious declaration” of the title and the text (taken from Matthew 5:38-39) was seen as a “gesture of defiance” and a “direct provocation,” especially in 1968, when the Soviets had crushed the “Prague Spring” and the Politburo was headed not by the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev but by Leonid Brezhnev. Not surprisingly, Credo was banned in the Soviet Union for more than a decade.
Credo marked more than a political turning point for Pärt—it marked a creative one, as well. According to Hillier, “with Credo, Pärt had written himself into a cul-de-sac.” Up to that point, his music, including Credo, had been written in thoroughly modern forms such as serialism and collage. He now doubted the idea that there could be “progress in art” analogous to progress in science.
Instead, Pärt looked to “early music”—by which he meant music before Bach—for inspiration. At the same time, Pärt experienced a spiritual awakening in which “the whole direction and meaning of his life found new meaning.” This led him to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The turn to early music and his spiritual awakening are, in Hillier’s words, “inseparably intertwined” and resulted in the emergence of the musical style Pärt is famous for: tintinnabuli.
Tintinnabuli, whose name comes from the Latin word for “bells,” attempts to “[evoke] the pealing of bells, the bells’ complex but rich sonorous mass of overtone” with human voices.
“Complex” but not “complicated.” As Bill McLaughlin of Public Radio’s St. Paul Sunday put it, “What is interesting in Pärt’s music is what is not there. There is little rhythmic complexity, no extravagant use of orchestration, no self-conscious harmonic display or dissonance.”
Instead, there’s a “powerfully affecting” simplicity that both reflects Pärt’s “deep spirituality” and evokes the early music, especially chant, from which the composer draws his inspiration. Not surprisingly, Pärt’s most “powerfully affecting” work is his sacred music for chorus, which has comprised the bulk of his work since faith and early music became inescapably intertwined for the Estonian composer.
Enough of words, it is time to listen to the bells, in this case De Profundis (“Out of the Depths”), Pärt’s setting of Psalm 130.
Now for Holy Week with Arvo Pärt. The first sample comes from his Kanon Pokajanen, a setting of the Orthodox Canon of Repentance. The Kanon is “a song of change and transformation” that “invokes the border between day and night, Old and New Testament, old Adam and new Adam (Christ). Applied to a person, it recalls the border between human and divine, weakness and strength, suffering and salvation, mortality and immortality.”
Ode I of the Kanon Pokajanen
From Orthodoxy and Old Church Slavonic, we move to Catholicism and Latin. Specifically, to Pärt’s setting of John’s Passion narrative, Passio. It’s the one CD I’ve listened to more times than any other, regardless of genre. The only time it left my CD changer, I felt guilty and quickly returned it to its rightful place in slot “1.”
Pärt wrote Passio shortly after emigrating from Estonia to Berlin in 1980. Perhaps more than in any of his other works, Pärt’s simplicity serves the text, John chapters 18 and 19, well. “What is not there,” to use McLaughlin’s expression, draws our attention to, as is Pärt’s intention, to the cosmic centrality of what is being depicted. The music is timeless in the way that an icon is: Both are windows into eternity. At the end you are ready to join Pärt in the Passio’s closing prayer: Qui passus es pro nobis, miserere nobis. Amen. (“You have suffered for us, have mercy on us. Amen”)
Opening of Passio
Pärt once told the BBC that the text is “more important than the music” and that, in writing his music, he tries to “find what is behind every word.” He succeeds in his Berliner Messe (Berlin Mass). You don’t have to understand Latin or know anything about the Canon of the Mass to know (or feel) what is being expressed in the Kyrie. Likewise, the pregnant pause after “passus, et sepúltus est,” (“suffered, died and was buried”) in the Credo (not the same one he wrote back in 1968) lets the hearer know that something big is about to follow: et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras, (“He rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”)
Back when there was a Tower Records and they had classical departments that were separate from the rest of the store, I used to frequent the one in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. One Saturday, I selected several CDs of Pärt’s music and took them to the checkout counter, where a young guy with multiple piercings and, as I recall, a heavy-metal t-shirt waited on me. He looked at my selection and said, “Arvo Pärt rules.”
He still does.
Roberto Rivera is a senior writer with BreakPoint and a contributor to The Point.

I encourage you to listen richly to the selections Roberto discusses - they are beautiful, and worshipful. You may find them free online or purchase the album.

Another provocative, unusual call for observation is this book on food and gender: "Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food." I found it online while searching for meatloaf recipes, interestingly enough. You can browse it here:

Catalogue of Green

It is a catalogue of green today. In a painting workshop in Oxford one time, a breezy New York instructor told us never to use green straight out of the tube, it would look fake. In an artist magazine one time, I read an entire article about how difficult it is to mix shades of green. Just consider: the yellow-green of the awakening shrubs is different from the serious green blades of bulbs preparing to flower, which is different than the evergreen trees, which is very different from the brash boldness of spring grass, which is, in turn, different than the vines growing up the corner of a house. Some have blue in them, some have yellow, and some greens are so dark they seem purple. Spring is an immodest season, flirty in forsythia yellow, surprising in hyacinth purples, blunt in nubial dress.

Other notes:
On my winding, hilly commute to work, I slowed for what appeared to be road construction vehicles. Turns out it was a backhoe and a truck - to remove a dead deer from the ditch. Which made me wonder: what does the highway department do with roadkill, exactly? Is there a big roadkill state depository?

Death downtown: pulling into the parking lot today, I noticed several unfamiliar vehicles parked at strange angles, and a bevy of construction workers standing nervously along the balcony above the sidewalk. (Above our front office sit several apartments that open onto a walkway leading to the stairs down to our sidewalk.) A police car was quietly parked to the side. My mind went straight to break-in or death. So - this being a small town - I walked up to an SUV where a woman sat and asked if something was wrong. She told me a man had died. I attempted to quell the morbid urge to find a way to see the body and sat down at my desk to begin the day. A bit later, my boss came in and inquired what all the fuss was about. When I looked out our door, I saw that more vehicles had arrived - including a fire truck and what I thought was a regular black SUV. Until I saw a man unload a gurney from the back. Apparently coroners use regular looking SUVs now. I accidentally squealed "ooh, a gurney!" to my boss and planted myself by the door to unabashedly rubberneck. They brought the gurney down and the well-meaning fire dept. clumsily tried to load it - almost creating disaster - until the coroner deftly took it and slid it into the custom vehicle. A small, portly woman with poorly dyed hair stood to the side, crying, hands to her face, then neck. I slipped outside, waited until the policeman was done talking to her - "doesn't look like foul play, looks like a heart attack or something" - waited for her to ask the medical examiner questions, then asked, "do you need a chaplain or clergy?" She hesitated, wavering, then said, "no, not right now," in a voice both decided and uncertain. I told her we could contact someone if she decided she needed someone later. There was a blurred mix in the situation - local excitement, something different on a Monday morning - and human grief at a woman's loss of her brother. Grass withers and flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. The cruelty of loss is that when grief takes hold and strangles the life out of you, it seems a taunting mockery that flowers continue to bloom, and the world keeps on spinning. But bloom they do, and spin it does, until the day that tears are wiped from every eye. There are many shades of green. Some flowers in new life, some grows over ancient graves. And in God's humor, he mocks death by resurrecting what was lost.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

these are a few OF MY FAVORITE THINGS

Can you tell that my voice kept getting louder as I sang that title? It's been a rainy day here, and ironically, sometimes rainy days cheer me. This rainy day has cheered me as much as a talking duck would. I decided I would share a few of my FAVORITE THINGS uh-oh, there I went again, singing loudly.

1) Agatha Christie. This woman should be awarded a posthumous award for something large and grand, like the Nobel Peace Prize, or a Wheatie's box cover. I know there are murder snobs out there, but you can't beat her wit, her character sketches, and her sheer longevity. Go read a Miss Marple mystery today.

2) Daffodils I didn't plant that come up anyway. It's like prevenient grace: you didn't do anything to make it happen, it just appears. You move into a new little house, and low and behold, bulbs start sprouting around the edges of your lawn, crocuses bloom, daffodils wave hello. Purple and yellow smudges of color before the trees even have buds.

3)Watching the dogs romp and play together. They wrestle, they each grab one end of the same bone, they literally try to jump on each other's backs (and no, I'm not naaive, they really are just playing), they bite at each other's mouths without ever actually biting each other.

4) Dried cherries. They're left over from making the BEST HOT CROSS BUNS I've ever made because I used a new recipe that was actually older than my other one. Dried cherries are yummy and they're like two bucks for a bag at Wal-Mart.

5) Peanut Butter Panic ice cream from Blue Bunny. There's peanut butter. There's panic. The panic arrives when you run out. There are also large chocolate swirls. The only way it could be better was if the ice cream was chocolate instead of vanilla. Even so. We're out. I panic. We're out. John buries his head licking the walls of the container and then panics.

6) My brother's NPR listening habits. For the second time in several weeks, he's called in and won tickets to something. The first time, we had a great time together, but the event itself was a bust: watching a taped performance of a horrible modern opera on a theater screen at a mall cinema. Avoid "Peter Grimes," people, it's a poor excuse for opera. We had a great deal of fun as the only people in the theater, though. But now, he's won again and I think this time it will be both fun to go with him, and will be enjoyable music - the symphony orchestra plays various selections. We did have a very good time last time imagining a skit called "opera at the Apollo."

7) Yardwork satisfaction. Yesterday, after a headache, I also felt like my brain broke and laid in bed in existential misery and emotional mudpuddles until John came home and suggested I do yardwork. If he was Ray from Everybody Loves Raymond, I would've seen through the manipulative suggestion. But he's not, he simply knows me and knows what soothes the spirit. So I raked last fall's leaves, I gathered towering piles of branches from our dozens of trees, and I managed - miraculously - to avoid blisters. As the creme de la creme, I started the rudimentary task of building a compost pile. COMPOST. YAY. I've been dreaming of composting since we first talked of moving to this house. Oh banana peels, you shall rest with the coffee grounds and egg shells, becoming hearty nutrients for my hungry, starving soil. Oh watermelon rinds, mingle with the stems of celery I cut off when preparing to dip them in peanut butter. Oh pits of green peppers that always want to leave extra seeds behind, you will transform yourself next to the worms John dug up from the new fledgling firepit.

I will leave these seven favorite things for now, seven being the perfect number. And really, how can you top singing odes to compost?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Page Six Portraits

Established in a hilly nook of Kentucky, a two-hundred year old house sits, perched overlooking a stream and keeping watchful eye on the horses rambling around the back paddock. Yesterday, this house overflowed with Easter celebrants. I was one of them.

Our landlords and fellow worshippers, Jim and Susanna, invited us to join Easter Dinner forces with their fete. John and I cluttered our kitchen with casserole dishes, dirty whisks, stained potholders and empty butter wrappers Saturday night, and the oven chugged on, producing chocolate peanut butter pie, corn casserole, macaroni and cheese, and hot cross buns. We hard-boiled over four dozen eggs for coloring and deviling - I make mine blue cheese deviled eggs, garnished with fresh dill. The living room still bears the tangy, stinging bite of vinegar from the mass baptism of the Easter eggs. The dogs were lucky enough to catch a puddle of spilled pie filling, and Daisy still bears drips of filling on her head, where she was baptized by sprinkling.

Sunday, at a frigid, shivering 6 a.m., we covered a few hot cross buns, bundled in layers, and drove, bleary-eyed, to a little country church on a hilltop. There, rows of wooden and metal folding chairs awaited yawning worshippers huddled in blankets and reading the sunrise liturgy by the beams of flashlights. We faced the East, and the sky slowly leaked pale yellow and orange into the grey clouds of night. After Scripture, and singing, preaching, and singing, we joyfully headed indoors for a breakfast potluck. Since a breaker had blown in the church, the furnace was on strike, so coats were kept on, hands cupped around bleak church coffee, sludge-like, but hot. Sausage and egg casseroles mingled with fruit salads, pigs in blankets (smart pigs), cakes and muffins. Friends were embraced, updates shared, and we trundled empty dishes and cast-aside blankets back to the car, taking Ethan with us.

We abandoned the Episcopalians in favor of a post-sunrise, pre-dinner nap, and I arose to plod into the kitchen and make the "quick white glaze" for the hot cross buns, which happened to be from a different, older recipe, and were the best ones, in fact, that I have made. Upon inquiry as to what arrival time "afternoonish" meant, we found that gathering would begin around 2:30.

Gathering did. Over thirty guests gathered to mill around picking bits off of hor's doevres plates, gather something from the "bar," or munch on my blue cheese deviled eggs. We mingled, we introduced, we tried to remember names but immediately forgot, and we looked. We looked at the house - once featured in a magazine - that stood when Lincoln was born, when Lincoln was president, and when Lincoln died. Low ceilings capped walls full of paintings of horses. Dark beams steadied rooms adorned with functional antique desks, tables, and chairs. A corner cabinet showcased silver cups, trophies and bowls. Four or five dogs wandered in and out, mellow, welcoming, and pleasant. The family crest stood proudly on one wall. A screened in porch reached out into the yard, beckoning in cool breezes and quiet babblings of the stream.

The people constituted an Oxford crowd, a Bluegrass "Page Six." The popular fashion choices were corduroy, tweed, and leather. Rich, buttery, wide-waled corduroy pants, a muted, tan, corduroy jacket with mellow leather collar and leather piping on the button holes and front pocket. The women were well-heeled and quietly sported scarves or unusual necklaces or couture boots.

And the conversations were warm, amusing, insightful, and merry. It was rather like a gathering of hobbits, centering on comfort, merriment, and eating. Some chats were highly amusing, like the exchanges I had with a playwright from New York, who has been produced off-broadway. When I asked what he did, he drawled, "darling, as little as possible. I'm a writer." He now uses his writing in service of museum exhibits, though I noticed he had a keen eye on people when they weren't watching - a sign of someone sketching characters, discourse, pose, and movement in the back of his mind. He met his wife "at a cocktail party in New York," and pronounced that, as "they" say, "you can make a fortune at theater, but you can't make a living." He wore impeccable shoes, stood like Tom Wolfe, and edged his words in a near William F. Buckley tone and style - his wit dry and immediate. And though he looked the spitting image of Sir Ian McKellan, actor who portrayed Gandolf so successfully, it struck me, just as I almost commented on it, that here was a man who should never be said to resemble an actor, but should only be said that someone resembles him. His caricature of the New York writer made him look like a cartoon out of the New Yorker, and his awareness of his significance was not so much a true depth of ego, one felt, as the appropriately acted part of one who needs their patrons' confidence.

And then there was the senile, frail lady, who greeted warmly but vaguely, stopped the food line by eating half of her dinner roll in line, and, when I asked her later if she was "from around there," looked at a relative and said, "well, are we from around there?" Yes, they were. I fetched her some water - she looked under-hydrated - and delighted her by wishing a "happy Easter."

Chatting in other knots of guests stood, I would vow, a living, breathing Saks Fifth Avenue mannequin. There are certain women so stunning that you avoid them out of fear. They're often quite friendly - a Venezuelan friend, Carolina, could have been Miss Venezuela - but didn't seem to realize it. Saks Fifth Avenue seemed to realize it, but seemed rather self-conscious of it. Exquisite brown leather boots, well-fitted jeans, chic jacket, expensive hair cut, and wide jaw line, she looked like the next Cover Girl. She may have been a Cover Girl. If she's not a model, she should be. But she moved timidly among people she didn't know, and seemed relieved to find someone near her own age. In short, she seemed nice, if you could get over the initial intimidation.

Giggling in and out of rooms, a perky "two and a half" year old, adoped daughter of the Episcopal priest, was delighted to celebrate Easter. Her dark, shiny hair and Asian features expressed a bouncing, squealing extrovert who loves pink and Susanna's horses.

And then there was the Easter Egg Hunt: an all-guest affair, adults went scrambling over lawn, creek banks, and rock walls, with shouts of "help me reach this one!" and "they said there are more. How can there be more? I can't find anymore!" A prize was given those with the most eggs collected, a boobie prize given to last place, and I took home two gargantuan blisters from wearing new shoes across a soggy, bumpy lawn in search of Easter eggs. The blisters are worth it, though - the hunt and the shoes were both blissfully worth it.

We discovered that Jim's people descend from George Mason, a founding father, and that Susanna's parents are both writers, on the history and culture of Russia. We discovered many books in the shelf-lined library, and an embroidered fireplace screen in the living room. We discovered that even though you have to go down the road, turn, and drive down a long lane, our house is close enough to Jim and Susanna's on the land that we can easily see each other. We discovered a Tolkein-esque map of Barter Farm, which revealed an old cemetary on the land: I must find it, and soon. We discovered Easter again among the horse graveyard, the Easter eggs hidden along the creek bank, and the bread pudding with rum sauce. We discovered the luxury of good company, good food, and good humor.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Have and have-nots, the blessed and the cursed, forewarned and forearmed. This week, so far, has already stretched an eternity, it feels, and the stretched, demanded feeling that pervades muscles after a sprint seems to seep into thoughts, percolate in prayers, couch feelings.
This weekend, my eyes passed over the Jean Valjean and Monsigneur Bienvenu passage of Victor Hugo's tragic epic of redemption. It split my soul in two, dividing seeds from fruit, cracking rind and hull from the softer, less developed interior. I heard the words while sitting in church, I saw the scenes while driving through ripe Kentucky brightness. Spring doesn't know the struggle to reconcile the robber within you with the priest within you.
The curve of John's back as his lungs quietly fill and exhale with sleeping labor still intrudes on my expectations. The surprise of finding a warm, living being curled up against me steadily tap, tap, tap, taps, standing at the door, and knocking. Every day I have the choice to answer and let him in, or twitch the curtains at the window suspiciously, wondering if this guest will bear blessings or will bear away what little I have. When I wake, my mind exclaims at his feet pressed against my calf, and then relaxes with a smile. His cold feet are pressing a simple, skin-covered message to my brain: the tangible love that snores softly makes no pretenses, finds no fault: it simply loves, and that it continues to do so stirs my soul with notice and then quiets it with calm.
Luther remarked on the strangeness of waking to the sight of pigtails on a pillow next to his. There is strangeness in unfamiliarity. There is also strangeness in constancy. It is strange to grow accustomed to the presence of the unfamiliar. Trust requires courage. It also requires surrender. And that is how the priest slept soundly next to a criminal. He knew that perfect love casts out fear - and he had, for decades, quietly absorbed that perfect love, spilling it out on neighbors, strangers, peasants, and mayors. How can we give grace, if we have not the grace to receive it? How will we love, if we move uncomfortably in its presence? How will we serve, if we squirm when another chooses to serve us? To reject forgiveness is to rob our own souls of the very thing they cannot live without.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What Do You Set Your Watch By?

Oh, it's enough to make my head spin. This weekend beckons me from so many different directions, and it does you, too.
There's Palm Sunday, heralding Holy Week.
There's Selection Sunday, publishing which teams will make the cut to the NCAA tournament.
There's St. Patrick's Day, Monday, technically, unless your city is one of those celebrating it today, tomorrow or Sunday, out of respect for the above-mentioned Holy Week.
A religious holiday. A culturally formed sports high holy day. An everybody's-ethnic, culturally formed, religious holiday.
(Yes, Virginia, there was a St. Patrick.)
And to top it all off, there's my-favorite-dept-store-is-closing-one-of-its-locations-so-there's-a-gigantic-sale Day. Happy Sale Day to Me.
Which ones are you celebrating? Which ones didn't even register on your calendar?

Monday, March 10, 2008

For Lent

Play the Psalms -
Pick your palms,
Rent hands are dry and scratched.
Narnia has run its course
There's mud before eggs hatch.

Desert's dry -
Rub your eye,
No ravens have appeared.
The lion's share is remorse
There's sand in flesh that's seared.

Famine takes -
Weep your lakes,
Gethsemene remains.
The table's ropes left screams hoarse
There's hollow, lifeless veins.

Birds refrain -
Leave your gain,
The priests will take it home.
Mice labor with zealous force
There's unlit paths to roam.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mad as a March Hare

I don't know where that saying comes from. Maybe early spring bunnies really are crazy. What I can tell you, especially all you women, is what I discovered about some other March sayings.
It's time for March Madness.
I've considered in the past writing a book called "The Girlfriend's Guide to Sports: ESPN and Estrogen," because every March, the work pla
ce changes. Depending on where you live, all the men, and sometimes the women, seem to resemble the mad march hares.
It's about college basketball. Here is your primer.
Why do I need a primer? you ask. Because a large portion of conversation you will hear the next few weeks will sound like German if you don't listen. Male pastors will thread it into expositions on the Gospel of Mark. Co-workers will have pools going on elimination rounds. And most importantly, this is the only thing that has earned me respect in several situations in recent years.

I don't care if it shouldn't be this way. It is this way. Therefore, ladies, we may as well a) join in the fun, b) use it to our advantage, and c) possibly win some of the brackets contests at work, school, or online.
College basketball is appealing to many because of alma mater associations, regional fidelity, and the appeal of a sport that still focuses more on skill and less on shoe endorsements and t-shirt guns. I happen to have lived in two rabidly baskeball st
ates: Indiana, home of the movie "Hoosiers", and Kentucky, home of the craziest fan base I've ever seen. UK tickets are impossible to come by. All games are sold out. You have to know someone. And it's dangerous to be cheerful - about anything - the day after a loss. Reject their love, and reject them. One day, while working in the nursing home (see former posts for anecdotes), I was interviewing a new resident. "How many children do you have?" I queried. "Oh, three. Or is it four? Well, now, that's funny, I cain't seem to recall. It's either three or four.." I asked a few more questions. Then: "Do you like sports?" "Some." "What about basketball?" She sat bolt upright. "Well, I love it, if it's UK basketball!"
Some things run deep.
Here's a few handy things to know:

1) College basketball tournaments run in March - the famed March Madness. Therefore, consider carefully what color you wear if you live in a rabid state. In Michigan, blue and yellow vs. green and white can mean a lot. Wearing red on a UK game day is like flipping Kentuckians off because you're identifying with rival Louisville Cardinals. You don't have to be a sports fan to notice what color everyone's car flags are. And even if you don't care, be aware - aware enough to explain that you just like the color. Unless, of course, you do care. Then see below.
2) There are "Christmas/Easter" basketball fans, who don't follow things closely during the season, but show up to support their region/team in the playoffs. These don't know stats or win/loss records, but they want to get together with friends on game day and may fill out brackets.
3) What are brackets? A) A hardware item found on HGTV. Also
, B) the diagram/rubric which displays the top 64 teams and how they're paired to play each other. It grows progressively smaller as teams are eliminated. It's actually kind of fun, if you like diagramming sentences. And I do. Here's an example from a few years ago:

Notice how it's divided into regions. Now, as teams are eliminated, there are some titles. When 16 are left, it's the "Sweet Sixteen." Then, the "Elite Eight." Then, the "Final Four." Everyone wants tickets to the Final Four, by the way. EVERYbody. Because even if you somehow win some at work, and you don't want them (and you should), you can eBay them for hundreds or thousands of dollars, or win LOTS of brownie points with a loved one. Now, a bracket caviat: I said there are 64 teams. There are, but there are actually 65, and two play each other to be one of the 64. It's one of those things that's handy to know.
4) Bracket Lingo: seeds. Not the kind I've been examining in Burpee catalogues. See how the bracket has four sections? So each section has 16 teams in it? Each of those 16 is assigned a number from 1-16, depending on how well they've played this season. And the first round of games, #1 plays #16, #2 plays #15, #3 plays #14, and so on. Obviously, #8 vs. #9 is going to be a close call. What's fun is watching the upsets - when #14 beats a #3 ranked. (Or, to apply lingo, when a 14 seed beats a 3 seed.)
Who determines seeds? Computers and a committee, which means there's always someone griping about how their team didn't make it high enough. So if you overhear, "I can't believe Tennessee got a 3 seed," that's like saying, "I can't believe Huckabee hasn't gotten more delegates for the convention," or, "I can't believe Brooke from American Idol didn't get more votes."
5) Before the tournament, your major area paper will have a special Sports section which lists all 64 (65) teams. It will also give you their basic stats, top scorers, and general info. I like to think I analyze this information well. But ESPN hasn't called me yet. You can also do what many "Christmas/Easter" fans do, and pick your teams because they're your favorite colors, or because you have a friend living in that state. (Okay, okay, many girls do this. And maybe gay guys. I don't know.) But the point is, you print off a bracket or rip one from the paper, and fill in who you think will win each game, and who you call to be the champion. Here is where real fans get in trouble - they often put who they want to win instead of who they actually think has the better chance.
6) Mark your bracket as teams win and lose - circle or check the ones you get right. Most pools award more points for ones you get right farther into the competition. If you do online brackets, the computer automatically updates them for you. ESPN and Facebook are just a couple of websites that host these. ESPN will rank you according to everyone else in the country.
7) Advice: browse occasionally if you want to fill in brackets this year but you're also competitive. It's helpful to know, for instance, that one of UK's top players is out the rest of the season with an ankle injury. That hurts their chances. However, they just lost to #1 ranked Tennessee by only a few points, so maybe they're not so weak...
Or, watch ten minutes of Sports Center on ESPN every night. It's like watching the news highlights.
8) Planning: party planners, event planners, pastors organizing your church schedule: keep in mind that a men's prayer marathon the weekend of the Final Four might not be a productive idea, or, ladies, a Pampered Chef party might get poor attendance if it's scheduled during the final game. Now, every person, every state, is different, but just keep it in the back of your mind as a positive, too - have a men's Final Four BBQ, or have a girls' night if your gal pals aren't into basketball. Keep in mind that cities hosting games will have traffic nightmares certain dates, so maybe a trip to the Children's Museum isn't such a good idea.
A final anecdote. I worked in a heavily male-saturated, chauvinistic atmosphere at a luxury car dealership for quite a while. I was the title clerk, processing title paperwork for sales and procuring license plates for customers. The salespeople depended on me frequently for special work for out of state customers.But no matter how hard I worked to title and license a car bought in one state and taken home to another, the only feedback I tended to get was if someone was worried because their license plate wasn't in yet. It was not an enlightened, respectful environment.
Until the day I mentioned I was going to a Pacers-Cavaliers game, looking forward to seeing young prodigy LeBron James play. Several heads slowly turned. "You know who LeBron James is?" (He plays in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers.) "Yeah, I mean, drafted right out of high school, actually exceeding all the hype? Of course." And respect slowly dawned on their faces.
Cable tv: $30 a month. Respect...priceless.
Learn the lingo. Understand the culture. Slowly take over the world.
Trivia: Condoleezza Rice? Big football fan. Also Secretary of State. One smart cookie.