Michael Battalio

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Serious conversations (part 15):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifteenth entry concerns self determination:

To quote my friend:
The problem is this: in a world where you can do just about anything, how do you decide what to do? When you're smart enough and educated enough to do almost anything there is in the world to do, how can you possibly figure out what you should do, what you want to do?

Ever wondered about why the fiction stories that seem to appeal most to our world now involve people who are fulfilling their "destiny?" Take something like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, and you find a hero who is simply playing out something they were always meant to do because of their bloodline or because of some particularly extraordinary thing that happened to them that doesn't really leave them much choice about what to do with the rest of their lives. That's how they become great. Indeed, it seems like heroes in these types of stories are the ones we like best. We hold some romanticized notions of destiny and fate that really play almost no bearing on everyday life today. Granted, it is undoubtedly much easier to craft an interesting story when you have a definite problem and a character with an unavoidable fate, much easier than writing a story about a character with no specific inclination toward anything or any particular obstacles in his way except the anxiety of self-determination. But that's what real life is like for people like us. It's terrifying to think that we could literally do /anything/.

In a way, life would be easier if some huge challenge or extraordinary circumstance suddenly landed in my lap because then I would know exactly what to do. Whatever it was might be extremely difficult, but it would be easier than making a choice about what to do in the first place.

Here’s what I said:
I have often pondered about self determination as well. Having taken a lot of different classes (by way of changing majors multiple times), I figured out I could pick just about anything I wanted to do and to it just as well as any other person. This is part of why I keep collecting degrees. (If I had unlimited money I would do that for the rest of my life; I really enjoy learning.) I get an inkling about an interest, and I go investigate it. This is the blessing of our youth. If we have an interest, we can go pursue it. So what if you decide that the path you are taking is wrong. At worst you've wasted some of your time (and money). I think this is what most self-determined people end up doing-trying stuff until they like it. I know a lot of people who change careers mid-stream. It is just a matter of being patient enough to wait until you have found a vocation.
        Unfortunately, some people are anxious about self-determination, and they just go to the first and easiest place they can go. I think this is partly the reason people working just awful jobs don't leave, because they are scared of what to go do next, not necessarily that they wouldn't be able to find something next, just that would have to find something.
        I agree that actually making the choice about what to do is harder than actually doing something. The problem is, I don't really know how to go about making the final determination of what I should do. I just have to hope that my future self will be able to make a better choice than I can presently.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Serious conversations (part 14):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fourteenth entry has general comments about a career and college (With a paragraph about classical music just for the heck of it):

         I think once you get far into a profession, most people are devoted to their field. Undergrads are there because they know no better. Grad students are in a field because they think they will like it. Doctoral students because they believe they will enjoy making it their career. Post docs because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And professionals because they know enough about their field to be excited.
        I am of the belief that as an undergrad you narrow down your career path to one field, and grad school is where you figure out what you want to do in that field. There are numerous exceptions, for example physicists or mathematicians going into meteorology or some sort of engineering as they go into grad school.  But in general, that’s how I see the end of college, a increasing narrowing of scope.
        A lot of finding the perfect job is luck; a large portion of it is diligence though.  That’s the part I’m determined in making sure is in my favor.  You just have to try until you find what it is you can do for 30 or 40 years of your life. You just have to look into something that you might be interested in and finding who it is that hires those people, what degrees they have, what is their job description, what other duties they have, etc.  The possibilities are endless really, especially in the age of information we are in today.
        (In reference to the last bit of part 13 of this series.) I am not aspiring to be a professional musician or conductor, but if it ever happened, I believe I would be happy doing it.  As far as composing is concerned, that’s the problem with contemporary “classical” music; there are so many other genres of music, that not many people really listen to it anymore.  There is also something to be said of music not being appreciated in the era it is composed.  For example, rioting at the Rite of Spring, but now it's considered fantastic, same with a lot of Schoenberg.   Bach wasn’t even appreciated in his time.  I’m certain that fifty years from now we will look back and see the “great composers” were right in front of us.  Although it concerns me that “classical” music is not appreciated as much as it should be. A lot of that has to do with the perception that classical music is boring. The real problem is that you actually have to pay attention, be absorbed by the music. It takes effort to listen to classical. Pop music has made everyone a passive listener. As long as there is a repeating set of chords, a heavy bass line, and some vulgar lyrics, it can become popular. You don't need much brain activity to listen to it. Although there is some quality popular music being made, the vast majority of pop music is geared towards those who don't actively listen, they just follow along as a lemming.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Serious conversations (part 13):

This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirteenth entry is a continuation of the part about where I am going in life:

A long time ago I figured out that I was going to have a hard time in deciding what to do with my life.  I enjoy doing too many things.  I considered music for a while, but I also enjoyed building things, so for a while I wanted to be an engineer, which is part of the reason I started out majoring as one.  My dad started making me go to the library right after I began going to junior high, which is one of the things I am most grateful to my dad for actually.  I always had a curiosity about physics, so I began reading about it.  That's where my physics kick began.  For what ever reason, I also loved watching the weather channel.  I still don't know why I like it so much, the material repeats every 30 minutes.  So, I got into meteorology and reading about it as well.  And meteorology is after all, only applied math and physics
Forgetting changing majors so many times, the biggest problem still remains what to do after all my school, and how much school do I want.  I do intend on getting at least a master's.  At this point I'm already signed up for a program.  I suppose I'll decide on whether to get a doctorate once I'm a ways into my masters.
After school, I'd like to get a job.  Where becomes the issue. Currently, I'm playing with the idea of staying in higher education and trying to get a tenure track position as professor.  From what I've seen of it, I think I'd like research and teaching.  I have also toyed with the idea of going into the National Weather Service.  It's difficult to get into because they consolidated the offices about a decade ago, so there are significantly fewer positions.  But, after a few years, you get paid very well.  However, they work in shifts, and seniority does not get you out of working the night or weekend shifts.  You get paid a 10% bonus for working then, but I'm not so keen on the idea of working outside the regular 9-5 workday, much less having to change my schedule every few weeks.  In TV, the pay and hours stink for the first ten or so years (avg. salary starting out is less than 30,000 and just about everyone is given a weekend shift, meaning you work just about your entire 40 hour week in two days.  No thanks.)  I am good at the TV stuff, but I don't really want to deal with the stress and publicity of it.
That's about it.  In spite of all that though, if I could make a nice living playing the piano or any other instrument and composing, or especially becoming the director of an orchestra/symphony (my dream job), I would drop everything and do that.  I fall more and more in love with music every day. Don't get me wrong, I love meteorology and physics and the rest as well, but music is my passion.  I also think it might be interesting to become a philosopher or writer.  That would be something very interesting to try.
2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)