Privilege without Expectations, or, I’m a Terrible Marit Larsen Groupie

Life is certainly strange at times.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were invited by your favorite recording artist to a rather intimate venue, and after having wanted to see her live for over 4 years, you drive nearly 3 hours to watch her do a 10-minute set, and then afterwards you were too nervous to approach and talk to her. That’s what happened to me.

Being a Norwegian pop sensation, it’s been rare that Marit Larsen is ever in the US. Having no idea that she was in the Bay Area and preparing for a US debut, I was caught off guard by her twitter messages stating that she was visiting radio stations and doing some small concerts in the area. I was obviously a bit sad that she was in the Bay Area and it seemed impossible to actually buy tickets to any of the concerts, which were promotional. So I posted a despondent tweet, wherein I learned what the @name thing does in twitter. The fact that she responded to my tweet caught me off guard; that it was an invitation to a performance was stretching the realm of credulity. (Unrelated, but she has a US website now, too.) Despite the location being in Sacramento, this would be one of the few things that would compel me to spend 5 hours driving to see. Sacramento is kind of far away from the peninsula. I guess it isn’t that far from, say, Oakland. I didn’t really expect her to respond again when I said I would be excited to go (even gods forget their promises to little people), but she did, so it was on.

Ms. Larsen’s music set was pretty great, 3 songs from her second album. Her performance was about what I expected, which is to say that she is incredibly charming and ebullient. You don’t love her for strong vocal chops, but she’s still a great singer with a unique voice and amazing, polished songwriting skills. But if you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know that already.

Granted, given my lack of being a disciple of the cult of celebrity, expecting me to perform in this instance would be like expecting a freshman benched all season to pull through on game-winning free throws in the NCAA finals.

And granted it’s hard to talk to celebrities, especially ones whose albums you’ve listened to literally hundreds of times (only partly because you were too lazy to switch out CDs in your car), because then they become real.

Also granted that Marit Larsen is female, and girls are kind of scary to talk to.

Additionally, granted that there was also a really strange social interplay going on, because I might have been the only person there to see her perform and not some dude who won American Idol (I had no idea who Kris Allen was, not having had a TV and not keeping up with American Idol in any case, but now I know that I’ve heard one of his songs on the radio a few times), so there was this social pressure to not act too excited; and I wasn’t sure if maybe it would be really out of place to be chasing her down in between sets or asking for her autograph when everyone else was all casual-like and in all probability really didn’t know who she was. Celebrity, I suppose, is partially in the eye of the beholder; I’m straining my brain trying to think if there’s any entertainer that I would have wanted to meet more than Marit Larsen.

Even granted she kind of disappeared quickly after her set and then only appeared in the audience right before the guy’s set, and ran out before the end of Kris’ set, I still feel kind of dumb that I didn’t get to talk to her, and was too nervous to approach her, for example, in between Kris’ songs.

Upon some introspection and a day-long deconstruction of the events of Tuesday, April 13, 2010, what I was left wondering was what did I really want? In one sense, I got out of it exactly what I wanted, which was to see Marit Larsen perform live. And there was already the icing on the cake that she responded to me on twitter. People I admire have a strong sense of integrity and humility in the presence of fame or power — that is, being true to oneself despite the seductive pull of circumstances — and Ms. Larsen demonstrated that in abundance.

Even now, I’m not sure if the primary emotional response I feel for not talking to her is regret or bafflement. I mean, I have a fairly strong dislike for the cult of celebrity, and am afraid that the lure of fame might corrupt those whom I admire, but I can’t but feel somewhat that there was a missed opportunity. Yet, my expectations were mild, and they were met that day.

In many ways, my life is absolutely ridiculous. Life had been handed to me on a silver platter, but I balk because it wasn’t gold. Almost everything I’ve wanted, I’ve been able to get. In terms of struggles, physical or otherwise, my life’s been a cupcake. I’ve been able to go to the college I wanted to, get the jobs I’ve wanted to. I’ve learned from top professors, I have first-rate friends. I’ve never been materially wanting or hungry.

Yet, those who know me know that I tend to complain a lot. It might be true that how one views life is how one experiences it, but I do not think it is as easy to change one’s outlook and perceptions as most people do.

Maybe I’ve become what I’ve tried to avoid. I’ve been given privilege without expectations and have been aimless with my abilities. After being admitted to Stanford for undergrad, my goals have been vague and formless. Of the things I want, I can get, but maybe I don’t know what I want. I’m not talking just about the girlfriend thing here, or just the fact that if I really really wanted to talk to Marit Larsen, I could have and should have.

Basically, I’ve been guaranteed a very comfortable existence with a minimum of effort or hurdles. I won’t ever be particularly wealthy, nor would I want to be, but the life trajectory that my parents put me on will all but keep the stream of honey flowing. And the disturbing thing is that, short of the apocalypse, this won’t ever stop. So where does the motivation come to do anything?

There has to be meaning at some point, a devotion to some purpose or some desire that causes one to not stagnate, to not be too comfortable in one’s station. There has to be some expectation that what we do is worthwhile, confirmation that our work will be appreciated, that what we strive to do is correct. I’m afraid that I might miss another opportunity like Tuesday’s, none the wiser from experience. Worse, I’m afraid that I might not care enough to change. And I think that would be more pathetic than what transpired that fateful day.

The $10 question

I wonder if I post on diverse enough topics, whether it’s possible for someone to emulate me to a sufficient degree to pass a “friend test” akin to the Turing test.

The bonus question is, if so, whether that’s a good or bad thing.

That physical self

For most of my life, I viewed the body as a vessel for the spirit or mind. This might seem a bit strange or contradictory as I am not one who thinks of the mind as separate from the physiological self (no ghosts in machines here). Yet, the “emergent properties” that constitute consciousness or intelligence or mind are, at least theoretically, separable from the electrochemical processes in our brains. So I guess there still is some sort of mind-body duality, in that there are some things we do for the brain versus for the rest of ourselves.

Thus, it was my belief that the physical body should only be afforded the minimal amount of maintenance to ensure that the other parts survived. Of course, being young and invincible helps that manner of thinking.

Some things have changed, surprising even myself. As the ailments of age slowly manifest themselves, it becomes ever apparent that it really does require no small effort to maintain the aspects of youth. I’m no spring chicken anymore, as it were. Being healthy is easy when it requires no work. Also, that slowing metabolism really sucks when trying to lose weight.

It now strikes me as being a bit intellectually smug and naive to think that mental improvement alone is a worthwhile personal achievement. Of course, it’s hard to blame people like myself, who have been comparatively gifted in intelligence and weaned on learning, to prize that which we possess. However, if it is through human efforts that value is derived, then the striving of physical beauty is certainly a huge human accomplishment. One might say that the latter pursuit is ephemeral, but one might also say that everyone dies in the end. In terms of personal goals, all are selfish.

It wasn’t until I started ballet that some of these ideas began to sort themselves out. I’ve slowly come to realize that beauty can be an end unto itself and that self-improvement physically is as important as mentally. (Hidden shout-out to Cardinal Ballet for their Urban Nights performances, as well as obligatorily to tp girl.) So what before seemed disdainful, now it is almost disrespectful to not appreciate the effort she puts into making herself beautiful. One friend commented that it’s okay to compliment a woman on her ass, as a nice ass is always a product of willful action, while, for example, breasts are for the most part endowed by genetics. While my gestaltic view on female beauty disagrees with his, and not to mention my hesitation to objectify women, I think he has an interesting point. All this is to say… something. I’m not sure what. My thoughts are pretty jumbled, and it is late.