Friday, December 17, 2010

Hiatus

That is all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter.

The blogging world seems to be dead at the moment.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Casserole

I'm convinced that the majority of my family is certifiably insane. It's not that they're psychopathic serial killers or those people that sit in corners fingering greasy strands of hair and talking to the wall. They're not. They're just...strange. Allow me to illustrate:

Yesterday my mother had to go to the doctor's office for same-day surgery on her knee. Several weeks ago she had a total knee replacement and apparently there were some complications that I don't really understand because I know very little about the human body, especially the knees; I just know there was an infection and some other stuff and it was wrong. So they took her in and did another surgery that involved things like "nerve blocker" and "manipulation" and "make sure you eat and go to therapy tomorrow."

Of course, whenever anything happens to anyone that I'm related to, the entire family immediately descends on the scene of the event like a flock of loud, baking, well-meaning chickens. Chickens that never shut up.

Now, I should clarify that this is mainly my mom's side of the family. My father's mother and two sisters all live relatively close to each other on the Ohio/West Virginia border and pretty much take care of themselves. They have a decent sense of something called "personal space" that my mother's side can't seem to grasp, and they live too far away for us to see them more than a few times a year. My mother's side, on the other hand, pretty much all live within an hour of each other. My grandma lives down the street from my parents, and my aunt and her family live in State College, where I go to school. This turned out to be pretty convenient, especially recently since my mom has had so much trouble with her knee. There are plenty of people to help out when she needs to go somewhere, especially since my dad is travelling a lot right now, my sister can't drive, and my brother is at school like me. I should also probably insert here that my grandmother has started seeing a nice man recently and this gentleman friend has been worlds of help to us and is pretty much included in every family function these days.

But back to the chickens. When we do get together -- and we use anything as an excuse to see each other: surgeries, graduations, plays and musicals (my cousins and I are all involved in theatre on and off), just passing through town, business trips, holidays, you name it -- when we do get together, we greet as if we haven't seen each other in years and descend on each other like a smaller, more Irish version of Toula's family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Instead of a million of us, there are ten, but that does mean we're any more quiet or eat any less than her family does.

I could write an entire book on the things that my family does that they think are normal. Just last night we all went to dinner after my mother got out of her surgery. We promised the nurse that we would get her to eat, so we took her to Perkin's; but not because we couldn't cook anything ourselves. On the contrary, Grandma actually had a casserole in the back of her car. The problem was that the casserole needed to cook for an hour, and Mother needed to eat now. So we went to Perkin's. But just because we couldn't go to Aunt's house to eat didn't mean that no one was going to get casserole. Instead, Grandma came prepared: two Tupperware containers and a spoon. After dinner she popped open the trunk and stood there in the dark parking lot, spooning servings into the Tupperware and passing them around like some sort of casserole pusher.

This is just one example of the things we do. We also (mis)quote movies obsessively, refuse to take money from each other, and fight over who pays the bill when we all go out to eat. This usually results in someone threatening the waiter to a) not give them a tip, or b) forcibly tie them down, if they don't give them the check. This also results in a lot of frightened waiters that we leave behind when we're done eating.

Seeing as I'll be going home for the holidays soon, I'm sure that I'll be experiencing a lot more of these antics over the next several weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Les Misérables 25

Throughout the course of today I walked over two miles in three-inch heels and got massive blisters on both my feet. I put on makeup (which I hardly ever do; and even by makeup I just mean a couple swipes with the mascara wand) and wore a fancy and uncomfortable shirt. I left a meeting early. I skipped dessert. And for what?

One of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Tonight was the showing at a local theater of the 25th anniversary concert performance of Les Misérables done at the O2 Arena in London. I'll just let that not sink in for a moment for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about or why it means so much to me.

....

Ok, we're good? Good.

The plot involves some people doing some things around the time of some Parisian uprisings (early 1800s), but the story of the show is actually about love (and God -- but isn't all religion just about love anyway, in the end?). It follows Jean Valjean, a runaway convict; the girl he adopted, Cosette; the police officer that pursues him throughout their lives, Javert; and the revolutionary student with whom Cosette falls in love (and who falls in love with her), Marius. The musical version is an opera and the anniversaries are done in abridged concert fashion.

The concert tonight was nothing short of magical. It's not that every singer was amazing (they weren't) or that the theater I was in was packed (it wasn't) or that I actually got to see it live (I didn't). It was more about the experience (ask me about the Bob Dylan concert sometime). It was the experience of seeing the performance of a show that I've grown up with, that has shaped my love of theatre and music since I was a child. Not just any performance, but the anniversary performance. A performance that was specifically produced to mark the passage of time and commemorate the years that this show has existed -- existed to touch millions of people all over the world. It was the experience of watching an extremely talented group of individuals breathe life into one of my favorite stories of all time.

Now is probably a good time to mention that I've also seen the 10th anniversary concert that was done at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1995 (the official title, Les Misérables: The Dream Cast in Concert, might give you an idea of why I like it so much). I've think I've seen this concert once. Or twice. A year. For the past ten years. Like I said, I've grown up with the story, the show, the songs, the singers. I've fallen in love with the characters again and again through the power of music and theatre (which, if you know me at all, you must know that one of my maddest obsessions is with musical theatre). I also tried to read the book once, but I was too young -- I'll try again sometime soon.

Perhaps the most exhilerating part of the show (though it's hard to pick just one) was the end. Isn't the end always the best part? For those of you who don't know (or can't count), the musical Les Misérables was first performed (in English at least) in 1985 at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. It was produced by Cameron Mackintosh, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boubil, and Herbert Kretzmer, and the original cast starred Colm Wilkinson (most amazing man alive) as the leading role. Now forget for a moment that the high school girls sitting behind me didn't know who any of these people were, what the plot was, or that this was the cumulating event of my musical-watching career so far. Forget for a moment that Nick Jonas played the role of Marius tonight. Forget for just a moment that I was going through all of this by myself because I'm the only person I know who is both free on Wednesday nights and crazy enough to spend $15 on a ticket to a show about singing Frenchmen. Just focus on the fact that after the finale, just when everyone was thinking about grabbing their coats, peacing out to avoid the rush, and wondering why no one was leaving, the cast parted to the sides of the stage, and out walked the original 1985 cast from London. I put that in italics for you in case you wouldn't have understood without them how much of a mind blower this was for me.

By that time I thought that I was cried out. I had already cried off all my mascara ten minutes into the first act, and it just kept going from there. I really thought I had no emotion left for this show. Boy, was I wrong. I could hardly contain myself. Out walked Colm Wilkinson himself, looking a little old and grey for a Jean Valjean, but still obviously capable of the role. Beside him strode Michael Ball, showtunes singer extraordinaire and original Marius. My grandmother likes his voice almost as much as his dimples, but in my opinion the dimples play second fiddle. The man has the voice of an angel. The rest of the cast was there too, and just in case you thought it couldn't get any better -- and I couldn't be any more surprised and blown away -- Colm Wilkinson stepped up to the microphone and began singing the most famous solo of the role. But instead of a solo they turned it into a quartet with a few other Jean Valjeans, including the man who acted the part tonight. The two (or three? I couldn't tell) casts sang a couple more songs together, the Important Men (Mackintosh,
Schönberg, et al) said a few words, and then they shot off fireworks, as it appears is becoming customary at these anniversary things.

I attempted to stand. I clapped at a screen, forgetting where I was. I furiously wiped my eyes, hoping the high school girls behind me (why were they there?) wouldn't notice my tears. I walked home, decided that that ticket was the best $15 dollars I had ever spent. Thank you, Cameron, for producing such a beautiful and enchanting show. And thank you, State Theater, for broadcasting it, allowing me to experience the magic along with the 23,000 audience members in the O2.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Post Script

I forgot to mention in my hockey rantings how much The S.O. loves that sport. This is an important fact as I probably wouldn't even watch it if it weren't for him (and my dad, who always has it on at home). Not only did he used to play, but I'm pretty sure he's certifiably obsessed with watching/listening to it on TV or the radio. This strange S.O./father combo of sports obsession is also why I watch golf and frequently make a complete fool of myself in front of them at the driving range.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Last Five Weeks

This room has somehow come to mean so much to me. These four white walls, not exciting or comfortable or intrinsically meaningful, have seen so much within the past 18 months that it would be impossible to be completely detached from them.

In this room I see the sun rise every morning and the moon come up every night. I can see the lights from the apartments across the street, and if I lean a little to the right I can see the complex I lived in the one year I wasn't in this building. I can see what used to be Hooters, now an Irish pub; I watched the employees there go from plastic under-dressed girls to slightly more realistic, slightly more clothed girls and a beefy bouncer.

In this room I've slept with the bed facing every direction; in this room we made love for the last time; in this room we made love for the first time; in this room his picture sits on my window sill. Into this room are packed all my possessions (except the bag of stuffed animals under my bed at home and the books on my bookshelf). In this room are reminders of the friends I've had, the boys I've loved, the girls I've watched over, and the classes I've taken. This room holds the memories and the things I've learned, the laughter and tears and breath of my entire last three semesters of school (nearly half of my higher educational career). The holes in the wood from my pictures and calendars. The marker on the walls. The dust on the floor. The feel of the air.

In this room, this 20 x 30 ft space, I studied, procrastinated, created, destroyed, learned, was entertained, and lived.

To the new inhabiter of this room, I leave my legacy: a leader that everyone loved, an acquaintance that most will miss, a teacher, an employee, a co-worker, a lover, floormate, friend. A girl about to move on with her life, about to make the next step into the world. To this room's new occupant, I leave my love for this job and my passion and caring for the others who live here. May you live up to the shoes you have to fill.

It's no simple task, living in this room.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why Hockey Rocks My Socks

Some of the greatest debates of our time revolve around the issue of sports. Not only about which teams are better or who has the best draft picks or who's going to win the championship this year, but also about which sports, in general, are better. As a general rule, you have two groups of fans: those who like football, hockey, and basketball, and those who like soccer, baseball, and tennis. Then you have the people who love all sports and the people who hate all sports. We'll leave these two groups alone, as they don't really play into the discussion. There are the groups who like really random sports, like cricket, rugby, and, curling. And there's the group that will watch most sports, but they really have a soft spot in their hearts for just one.

I would fall into this last group. I will watch many sports, including swimming, football, water polo, figure skating, some gymnastics, etc. A lot of things. But there's one sport that I'm currently having a full-blown love affair with, a sport that I could watch all day everyday and never get bored of. That sport is hockey.


Now I used to have a relationship with Football, but when I met Hockey, it was love at first sight. I haven't quite been able to end it with Football yet, so what I usually end up doing is sneaking around behind Football's back and spend a lot of time with Hockey. I feel really terrible about it; all my friends like Football so much more (and every girl knows how important it is for her friends to like her significant other), but I just can't get Hockey out of my head. To help me sort things out, I'm making a pros and cons list.

In reality I'm just going to discuss why hockey is better than football in general.

Now, I have to preface this by saying that I really don't have anything against football. This is especially relevant and dangerous right now, as Joe Paterno just won his 400th game two days ago; as a Penn Stater, I have to take pride in that on principle. So let me reiterate: I don't have anything against football. I just like hockey better.


For starters, hockey is just more interesting. Football is great, but it's extremely stop-and-go. No matter what, after someone runs a play or throws a pass, the game will inevitably stop while they line themselves back up and get ready for another go. The longest a play ever lasts is 10 seconds or so, and that only happens if it takes an exorbitant amount of time for either the quarterback to pass the ball or the runner to get it down to the end zone for some crazy 80-yard touchdown run. In hockey, the clock doesn't stop nearly as much. Yes, there's always that situation where a team feels like they need to ice the puck every time they have possession and the game gets a little jerky. But theoretically speaking, the play can go on forever, until there's either a penalty or the official loses sight of the puck. This gives the game a lot more potential for continuous action.

Now, this whole herky-jerky thing wouldn't be so much of a problem in football if they handled it like they do in hockey. In hockey, when the whistle is blown, they blast exciting rock music and show replays of the last interesting thing that happened before the play stopped. The announcers talk about fun things or tell jokes or use big words (I'm looking at you, Ralph Strangis) as the players beat the crap out of each other on the replay. In football, on the other hand, when a play stops for an extended amount of time, nothing interesting happens. They either show a replay of something kind of boring (but they try to make it interesting by drawing all sorts of colored squiggles all over the screen), or pan the camera around to dull places, like the box with people on mics or a disgruntled coach scowling and pacing the field. I'd rather listen to Crazy Train.

Another thing is the fights. I know that this is the single most overused reason for loving hockey, but I don't really know what to tell you there. The fights are great. The feeling you get when one of your players socks the opposing team a good one is indescribable. The anger that stirs in your gut when some punk from the other team makes one of your boys bleed is undeniable. Girls seeing young fit guys go at it is kind of the equivalent of boys watching girls wrestle in cherry-flavored Jello. As for the men, they just like to see a good fight.


The fights bring me to my next point: attractive young males in amazing physical condition. I'm sure that football players are attractive; at least some of them. But I know that some of them really aren't. You're not guaranteed a really in-shape player with football. And whether or not they're really hot, they all have to wear those pants that look like stockings with pads shoved down them in weird places.


Hockey is a different story. I don't know if it's the sweaty feet smell, or the shoulder pads that make them look extra broad, or that their helmets allow you to see more of their faces; maybe it's just the fact that anyone that size who is that graceful on two blades that are less a quarter inch thick is instantly attractive and impressive. Every hockey player I've ever seen is hot, even if their face is ugly.


In short, I can't think of a reason that I don't like hockey. But despite all of the previous infallible logic and evocative illustrations, I have to say, secretly, that the real reason that I love hockey the most is because of my future husband.

Chris Kunitz.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Look At My New Hat

life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans

The bully never remembers that event which most humiliated the bullied.

Have You Ever Noticed How Qs Look Like Elephants?

You don't think so? Quiggley the Elephant, yes?

And Gs look like cats! Greg the Cat.

And Ms kind of look like bats. Milton the Bat?

...but S's look like snakes. Sylvester the Snake...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November

Three things I dislike very strongly (We don't say "hate" in this house. Often.):

Cold
Getting up early
Running

So naturally, what do you think I've been doing this week?

That's right. Getting up an hour early to go walking/jogging/running in the freezing cold.

Real post later, promise.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Humor

Why do demons and ghouls hang out together?
Because demons are a ghoul's best friend.

What do you call a witch who lives on the beach?
A sand-witch.

What do Italians eat on Halloween?
Fettuccine Afraid-0.

What can't you give the headless horseman?
A headache..

Why didn't the skeleton go to the Halloween party?
Because he had no body to go with.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Planets Bend Between Us

It's like you're here, but you're not. The room is a mess: clothes strewn everywhere, dirty socks and underwear covering the floor, books and papers and glue sticks and shoes and rumpled blankets littering the beds. But you're not here. The DVD player is hooked up, my pants are off. But you're not here. The feel of you is here but not the smell. The feel of disorder, the feel of not wanting to waste a minute of the little time that we can spend together with cleaning so we leave everything where it falls. The feeling of two people having just walked out of the room, leaving their mess and proof that they were there. That feeling is here. But the smell, your smell, our smell, is absent. The smell of your skin, of body fluids mixing, of your hair mixing with the scent of me that is already present; that smell isn't here. That's how I know that you aren't here, that you never were. That's how I really know that you didn't just walk out to use the bathroom or wash a bowl or go take a phone call down the hall. That's how I know that we won't spend this night together. The feel is here, but not the smell; that's how I really know that I'll spend another sleepless night alone.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Art

I think it's a crime when parents don't teach their children how to cook. Then it gets lost. The art gets lost. Everyone knew how to cook at one point, not too long ago, before there were microwaves and restaurant chains. So there's no reason that the skills shouldn't have been passed down through the generations...no reason at all. It makes me ashamed of my society/generation because they can't do these things that I've been around for most of my life.
Discuss?
More later.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

GREs

I took the GRE on Friday. I stressed about it for weeks, studied constantly in the days leading up for the test. For those of you don't know, the GRE is an extremely stressful and -- some argue -- an extremely important standardized test that's similar to the SAT only you take it in college instead of in high school. The test scores are required on most graduate school applications, even though most graduate schools don't care what the test scores actually are. I went into the test knowing this, and that it wasn't going to be as bad as I was expecting, and not much else.

I don't remember much of the actual test. I remember the essay questions and some of the math questions. I remember reading lengthy, intricate passages (although I don't remember what they were about) and answering complicated questions about them, and choosing words that best fit in the blanks of long sentences that didn't make much sense. I remember sitting on the floor by my locker without my shoes on, eating cheese and crackers and carrots and Nutri-grain bars during my break.

I remember being shocked when it was over. That's...it? That can't be it! I just got here three hours ago! The test itself only took me a little over two hours, which is relatively short for a standardized test like this. This fact alone was enough to make me feel a little shell-shocked for the first part of the ride home. I'm sure my father, who drove me to Harrisburg and back to take the test, was wondering what was wrong with me. I couldn't believe that it was over so quickly. I couldn't believe that I had stressed and studied for weeks, spent over $150, and drove for six hours round trip for a test that went so quickly that I can barely remember it. (I'm sure that the stress is part of why I don't remember a lot of it, but it also seemed really short.)

I also got my scores before I left. Since it was computerized, it was easy for the machine to calculate the number I got wrong almost before I was done. At this point I hadn't really researched what were good scores and what weren't; I just knew that I had gotten a pretty good score on my SATs and this score was lower than that one. I wondered if it was a good score; what were schools looking for? Was I going to be rejected from every school I applied to? How could I get the same score on math and verbal again? (I scored the same on math and verbal in high school too when I took the SAT; I didn't understand it then either; math has never been my strong point.)

I sat in the car, watching the red and gold trees fly by on the side of the road, trying to puzzle out this phenomenon. I figured that I could have taken this test when I graduated high school and probably wouldn't have scored much lower or higher than I did this time around. But I know that I'm smarter now than I was three years ago. So what's the deal? What does the GRE (and the SAT) actually test? I started to feel like I had wasted the last years of my life here in school, "learning" things that apparently aren't important. I felt bad for wasting my time and money (not to mention other people's) on this test, wondering what the whole stupid point of college is anyway.

Then I guess I discovered something. These tests aren't really that important. A lot of schools don't even look at the scores anymore, especially not for liberal arts programs like the ones I'll undoubtedly be applying for. College is a place not to learn how best to fill in bubbles on a standardized test about bar graphs and analogies but to learn how to better yourself as a person. It's a place where you expand your horizons, make new friends from all over the world, and figure out how to survive on your own. The things I've learned in my three and a half years here can't be reflected on any standardized test. The skills I've acquired that allow me to BS a 10-page paper the night before it's due, talk about any piece of literary work whether or not I've read it, and deal with conflict between the people I live with can't be learned by reading textbooks and can't be tested via electronic exam.

Now is not necessarily the time for a reflective piece about how much I love my friends or how many memories I've made in this small college town that doubles or triples in population during the school year (it's not that close to graduation, is it?). But it was certainly a relief to decide that the last three-plus years haven't been a major waste of my time and my parent's money. Who cares if I scored in the 52 percentile in math? I got in the 89 percentile for verbal, and what school would turn that down? I rock at analogies.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stress

Forget the Sneaky Hate Spiral; what about the Sneaky Stress Spiral? The one that builds upon itself over and over again until the amount of stressors in your life is so many that you feel like curling into a ball under the bed and never coming out ever would be your best option. The one that starts small, with a couple homework assignments due on the same day, and ends up as a monster that devours the calm, rational part of your brain by combining projects, papers, homework, exams, future plans, relationship problems, family craziness, and the messiness of your room. All within the same week or so.

This is how I feel.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You So Punny

I know. I've been terrible. To be fair, this is the busiest month of the semester (at least I really hope so, or else November is going to SUUUUCK), and I hardly have time to get all my homework done, let alone entertain you all. To tide you over until I have a second to breathe, I leave you with these fantastically awful puns:

A guy goes into a nice restaurant bar wearing a shirt open at the collar and is met by a bouncer who tells him that he must wear a necktie to gain admission. So the guy goes out to his car and he looks around for a necktie and discovers that he just doesn't have one. He sees a set of jumper cables in his trunk. In desperation he ties these around his neck, manages to fashion a fairly acceptable-looking knot and lets the ends dangle free. He goes back to the restaurant and the bouncer carefully looks him over for a few minutes and then says, "Well, OK, I guess you can come in -- just don't start anything."

These two strings walk up to a bar. The first string walks in and orders and the bartender throws him out and yells, "I don't serves strings in this bar!" The other string roughs himself up on the street and curls up and goes back to order. The bartender shouts, "Hey, didn't you hear what I told your buddy?" The string says, "Yeah." The bartender says, "Aren't you a string?" and the string says, "No, I'm a frayed knot."

A neutron walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender promptly serves up a beer. "How much will it be?" asks the neutron. "For you?" replies the bartender, "no charge."

A three-legged dog walks into a bar and says, "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."

Descartes walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, "Would you like a beer?" Descartes replies, "I think not," and POOF! he vanishes.

Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One says, "I think I've lost an electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first one replies, "Yes, I'm positive."

A man walked into a bar, sat down, and ordered a beer. As he sipped the beer, he heard a voice say, "Nice tie!" Looking around he noticed that the bar was empty except for himself and the bartender at the other end of the bar. A few sips later the voice said, "Beautiful shirt." At this, the man called the bartender over. "Hey," he said, "I must be losing my mind. I keep hearing these voices saying nice things, and there's not a soul in here other than us." "It's the peanuts," answered the bartender. "Say what?" "You heard me," the barkeep said. "It's the peanuts...they're complimentary."

There was a man who entered a local paper's pun contest. He sent in ten different puns hoping at least one of them would win; but unfortunately, no pun in ten did.


Enjoy. I'll be back next week or so.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Top Ten

This week in my Reluctant Inspiration class (so named because of the reluctance I feel in being inspired by it; more on that later perhaps...all you need to know is that if I ever post anything written in a class, it's from that one) we were talking about the Modern Library's Top 100 Best Novels list. As an exercise in conjunction with this conversation we were asked to quickly compile our own Top 10 list, which would then (I assume) be turned into a class list intended to inspire us in our reading endeavors.

This assignment began innocently enough. "Top 10 books!" I thought. "Nothing to it. I've been reading for years! Almost decades! This is the easiest assignment I've ever done." I set about to write my list, thinking to myself, "Now what books are great? What books have inspired me?" This was a stipulation for the list set down by my instructor. I chewed my pencil, doodled headings onto my paper, and looked around the room at my fellow students, who were alternating between scribbling furiously and doing the same thing I was -- looking lost. I tried to run through books in my head that I had read recently. I couldn't think of any. I thought about books I had read in middle school and high school. Nothing came to mind. I wondered to myself what exactly I had been reading for so many years if I couldn't even think of one book. I started to write down classics like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Great Gastby -- because those are the things that people think should be on a Top 10 list -- then realized that I never really liked those books that much; at least not enough to identify them as works that had inspired me in any way.

As I struggled to remember any books that I had read in the past 10 years that had affected me in any way, I came to a startling and extremely embarrassing realization: I haven't read any good books. And by good I mean great. And by great I mean books that stick in my head, allowing me to recall scenes and plots and themes and characters from them; books that move me and enlighten me and inspire me to do or be or write great things.

Eventually a few came to mind. I wrote down things like Ulysses and Frankenstein and Jane Eyre and things by Ayn Rand. As we looked at each other's lists, we fed off each other and jogged each other's memories. I suddenly remembered how good the Harry Potter series was, and how taken in I was by The Hobbit.

But mostly I remembered all the books I want to read. The ones sitting on my shelf at home half-started or not even looked at, collecting layers of dust as I spend money here at school learning that I need to go home and read them. Arabian Nights, Pride and Prejudice, The Chocolate War, Gone With the Wind, The World According to Garp, The Princess Bride, Through the Looking-Glass, Lady Chatterly's Lover.... The list goes on and on. Then there are the books that I really need to reread: Ayn Rand, James Joyce, Jane Austin, John Steinbeck, Les Misérables, The Canturbury Tales...this list is more extensive and harder to think of.

This exercise gave me an opportunity to discover something about myself that I couldn't even have guessed at. I haven't read the books I want to, and the books I have read I hardly remember. Is this a comment on the way I read? Do I read too fast, too glancingly, not thorough enough, not enough like an English major (taking notes in the margins, etc.), not enough like a reader, not enough like a writer? I haven't had time to read anything at all this semester; I'm only 50 or so pages into a great book by Jhumpa Lahiri, a wonderful author whose books everyone should read at some point.

My spring/summer project: read all the great books I want and compile a new and improved Top 10 (or 50 or 100) list.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Running. Um...part two.

Well, I finally did it. I went running. I know this sounds a bit contradictory to my previous post, but hear me out. I did this for a couple reasons.

One: It's in the air. I'm not kidding with this one. I hear about running everywhere, and everything I hear about it sounds good. Everyone loves it. Great benefits. You feel good. It makes you smart. It makes you healthy. And on and on. How could I resist?

Two: I'm doing this for The S.O.* He likes to run, ok? And if we're ever in the same town again (when will this happen, O commanders of the cosmos?), I think it would be great if we could go for a nice jog together. Doesn't that sound lovely? ...it doesn't? What's that you say? Running will still suck no matter who you do it for? Well, please, allow me to direct you to point number

Three: I really need to lose weight. This fact has been apparent to me for quite some time now. I figure one day of running might turn into two (eventually) and then perhaps three or five or at some point, miraculously, it might become a regular thing. And then I'll lose several dozen pounds and become a supermodel.

But let's not get too hasty. We can start with the first day.

I ran a total of 0.7 miles this afternoon, and by "ran" I mean that I walked/jogged a little over half of that and speed walked (sped walked? sped walk?)/cooled down for the rest of it. I didn't die. I didn't pass out. I only became slightly dehydrated. I acquired no headache from the exertion. I believe this partially has to do with the fact that I didn't push myself too much. I pushed myself just past the point where I wanted to stop, but not to the point where I couldn't breathe or wanted to curl up into a ball in the middle of the street and let cars run over me.

This was an effective strategy! I have to thank The S.O. for this one, because he's the one who told me that I need to take it slow. I mean, he has a point. I haven't legitimately exercised since I took kick-boxing at the beginning of last year, and before that it was probably upwards of two years since I had done any physical exertion. So it doesn't make a ton of sense to try and run 12 miles the first day out. The other thing that The S.O. knows about me that no one else does (not even me all the time) is that I try to go all out on something and then when it doesn't work I get fed up and quit. So it was really very smart of him to suggest that I take it slow the first day.

And take it slow I did! And die I did not! So...successful day one. Updates to follow as more running occurs.


*Significant Other

Running

This is a short journal I wrote for class. I thought it was kinda funny:

I hate running. I'm not sure why anyone does it. I mean I guess I understand, it's good for you; good exercise, burns cals, releases stress (and endorphins), and as I recently learned in one of my classes (see what college teaches you?), it makes your brain bigger. So I almost get why other people do it. As for myself, I've always wished that I could run. I want to feel that connection with the land and with my own body that people describe, or that I can guess exists.

I've tried. I really have. My best friend and former roommate runs; she ran a half marathon last year and I remember the first time she came home after running ten miles while she was training. She brought me a hubcap and a look of triumph and pride that I know I haven't worn since high school. I tried going running with her while we lived together. Slowly, even. "Don't worry, Em," she'd tell me, tying up her sneakers as I uncertainly slipped into my skate shoes, "I go slow. And your legs are longer than mine so you'll keep up fine." So she tells me.

I've definitely tried. And it's not even the running itself that is so bad. I don't mind it, really. My legs ARE longer than hers, so sometimes I pass her, or speed walk while she jogs. The problem comes when my body reacts to the running. For some reason I've never really been able to handle much physical activity that wasn't swimming. I'm not saying that when I did swim and was more in shape I couldn't go a few rounds on the Treadmill, but since coming to college and becoming woefully out of shape, I'm hard pressed to even do that. I think it's just because my body isn't used to exercise anymore. I never work or push my body beyond walking around campus. (Not that that's any small change, but it really doesn't compare with running or swimming several miles.)

My body hates me when I run. First I start to sweat (pretty standard reaction), then my face gets bright red (less standard, but not unheard of). By the time I finish I feel thoroughly overheated and dehydrated. So I drink some water when I get home. Sounds like an acceptable solution to dehydration and sweating, no? It helps, marginally. Slightly. Finitely. Barely. I have to lie down. There’s no choice at that point. I don’t even have time for a shower. I have to lie down before I pass out. This is when all hell breaks loose in my body. Slowly, mind you, but it’s in there, breaking loose all over my insides. I feel like I’m going to throw up, my whole body feels hot, and my head starts to pound. This is the worst part. I recently acquired some neck problems ("acquired" -- as if they were passed down through my family and I got the happy privilege of taking them when my grandmother and mother passed; which, funnily, is not far from the truth), and I already have frequent migraines. Another headache, this one self-induced, is not my idea of fun.

This isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that now that I’ve run a couple miles, I seem to think that that fulfills my exercise requirement for the week. I don’t watch what I eat as much (and if I do it’s only because I feel so “healthy” after running that I don’t want to ruin it by eating crap; sweets are just unappealing to me for a day or so afterwards), and I feel like I don’t need to do any more physical activity because those miles did so much; why would I need to walk instead of taking the bus, or take the stairs instead of the elevator?

If I could make my brain bigger, lord knows I would. Don’t think I don’t need it. If I could improve my writing or connect with all of my favorite places just by running around the block, I’d be the first in line. However…my body forbids it. And my impatience demands instant gratification, so I can’t even start slow and build up to running proficiency because I get too discouraged to continue after the first few times. I’m doomed then, it seems, to a life of runninglessness and a small brain.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Limping Through Photoshop

Will post more as I progress. Forgive my nearly non-existent drawing and Photoshop skills; I'm just playing around instead of doing homework or something else productive (sound familiar?).


What's The Difference?

Lose
Loose
Loss

There
Their
They're

Quit
Quiet
Quite

Ignorant
Rude

Site
Sight

College
Collage

Threw
Through
Though
Thorough

You're
Your

Cause
'Cause
Cuz

Etc....

Friday, October 8, 2010

Conversation

Resident: "Do you ever go out, or do you just sit here and...cut things all the time?"
Me: "...I go out during the week. But thanks for noticing that all I ever do with my life is arts and crafts."

Procrastination


This is what happens when I have a lot of time and a lot of homework and absolutely zero motivation:

This is Why English is Frustrating

Let's Face It. English Is a Stupid Language.

There is no egg in the eggplant,
No ham in the hamburger
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England,
French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted, but if we examine its paradoxes we find that:
Quicksand takes you down slowly,
Boxing rings are square,
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don't fing?
If the plural of tooth is teeth,
Shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth?
If the teacher taught,
Why hasn't the preacher praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables,
What the heck does a humanitarian eat?
Why do people recite at a play,
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways and
Drive on parkways?
How can the weather be as hot as hell on one day
And as cold as hell on another?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language where a house can burn up as it burns down,
And in which you fill in a form
By filling it out
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers,
And it reflects the creativity of the human race
(Which of course isn't a race at all.)

That is why:
When the stars are out they are visible,
But when the lights are out they are invisible.
And why it is that when I wind up my watch
It starts,
But when I wind up this poem
It ends.

-- someone that isn't me (again)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Moar Grammar

My father and I were sitting peacefully at breakfast the other day when I got a text that simply read, "What's the difference between 'which' and 'that'?" Now, my dad doesn't like when his offspring text in front of him, so I usually try to include a disclaimer when I do it so he doesn't clear his throat and give me one of those looks. I started scribbling sentences onto a napkin.

"Someone wants to know the difference between 'which' and 'that,'" I clarified, alternately texting and jotting. "How do I explain that?"

Something you should understand about this particular parental unit of mine is that he's not exactly...a words person. He's not the first person you would go to if you wanted the definition of an antecedent, or even to figure out what the subject of a sentence is. So the fact that this conversation even started is pretty strange all by itself. My quick answer was this:

"Um...you use a comma before which?"

But the real answer is slightly more complex. Thus began an amusing back and forth between my dad and me on how to explain the difference between 'which' and 'that.'

"It's like...describing a coat," I said, writing two sentences on the napkin. "'I bought a coat that was red' and 'I bought a coat, which was red.' One is necessary; one isn't. You see, when you use an appositive..." I think I lost my dad at that point. So for his benefit and yours, here's a crash course on "which" vs. "that."

As it turns out, the appositive doesn't actually come into play. But we are dealing with what are called essential and nonessential clauses. They mean pretty much what they sound like. The nonessential clause is a further description of the subject of the sentence. These clauses are always set off by commas: "The artist, an Irish man with a beret, liked to paint cats." (You can't tell but those commas are italicized too.)

An Irish man with a beret describes "the artist," which is the subject of the sentence. The phrase an Irish man with a beret is the nonessential clause in this situation.

There are also essential clauses. These are similar to nonessential but they differ in that they are actually needed to make the sentence clear. For example, "The lady dancing naked in the street is my old babysitter."

The difference between the two examples is this: There could be many ladies around in the second example, but the speaker is interested only in the one dancing naked in the street. If the speaker said only that "the lady is my old babysitter," the listener could be confused as to which lady was being referred to. In the first example there's really no question about the identity of the artist. The speaker is simply offering some additional detail about the man who likes to paint cats.

This idea of essential and nonessential information carries over when we use words like "which" and "that." These are what I call describing words, and you use them to add more information to your sentences. They're pretty simple to differentiate; use "that" with essential clauses, and "which" with nonessential clauses.

I like to ride yaks, which are big and hairy.

I like to ride yaks that are big and hairy.

You can see the difference. In the first example which are big and hairy is a nonessential clause. You don't need to know that yaks are big and hairy to figure out what the speaker is talking about; it's just a nice bit of information so you can better visualize the yak. In the second example that are big and hairy is essential to the sentences. The speaker is clarifying that he or she prefers to ride the big and hairy yaks instead of the ones that are small and hairless.

My father has his own method for remembering the different situations in which to use "which" and "that." He said to me, "So...if you have a catalogue, and you need to describe to your customers essential information like the color of the coat, you would use 'that.' Because your customers need to know what the products look like." I didn't really get where he was going with that, but if that helps you to remember it better, by all means use that example instead and ignore all above pictures and explanations.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

However Much Fun You're Having Right Now, This Post Is Better

As you might have noticed several days ago, I promised a post about the correct (better more awesomer) way to use the word "however." It's a common misconception that it's a really good idea to use it in place of words like "but" ("Mice love peanut butter; however, they hate cheese," is pretty much the same as saying, "Mice love peanut butter, but they hate cheese.").

People think it makes them sound really smart and sophisticated to use "however" instead of "but" because it's a longer word and has more syllables. I'm guilty of this myself. A lot, actually; I mean, it's really simple and safe and sounds alright. However, you shouldn't really ever start sentences this way. (See what I did there?)

Unfortunately for fans of this use of the word "however" who are also readers of my humble blog, a professor I had several times throughout college and for whom I have a great respect is completely against the "however, they hate cheese" camp. Professor Eric Hayot of the Comparative Literature department of Penn State thinks (I assume) that this is usage is too common and ordinary and, ultimately, uninteresting (also, all the cool grammarians tell us that you shouldn't start sentences this way -- see above). He suggests a less regular but more interesting and fun usage: "However much I wanted to dance, my level of inebriation would not allow it."

An alternative example: "However I tried, I couldn't lift the elephant."

As you can see, this use of the word allows for greater mobility of language and sentences that are great fun.

If you MUST write a sentence in which you are offering contention of a previous point ("Lions are cool; however, aardvarks are cooler") try to use something a little more sophisticated, such as "nevertheless" or "even so."

And don't ever try to compare lions and aardvarks. Aardvarks will win every time.

The Egg

I didn't write this; I wish I had.

The Egg

By: Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It (Sometimes) Gets Better

Not to be "ordinary"...but people need to know about this. Why? I have no idea. I think so that we can stop things like this from happening, but hate crimes can't be prevented solely through the knowledge of previously-committed hate crimes. So...spread awareness, folks, and help me think of a way to stop this shit:


The Laramie incident happened over ten years ago, but it seems to have become relevant again as the suicide of Tyler Clementi becomes big news. These are just snippets I found; if you want to know more, just Google it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Letter

This is something I wrote on September 20, 2010, while sitting in class after reading the newspaper. Joe Dado was a student at Penn State who died last year on campus after a mostly alcohol-related incident. It was also mostly an accident. Mike Simpson was a resident in my building last year and a dear friend of mine who died this summer in a car crash. I don't think it was alcohol related, but it was definitely an accident. It was also not on campus. Hence the discrepancy in media attention the two events got from the campus newspaper (at least I've been telling myself that's the reason that one event made the front page everyday for almost two weeks and the other barely got one day). This is what I was thinking about that day.


Dear Mike,

Today is the one year anniversary of Joe Dado's death; he made the front page again. The entire front page. Plus a bit on the local page inside too. I couldn't help rolling my eyes. I'm not trying to minimize his death, I'm really not, but in the past year he's made the front page like 12 times! I guess I just don't think it's...fair?

It said in the paper that when Joe Dado died, Penn State lost someone extraordinary. But you know what? When you were in that car wreck, we all lost someone extraordinary too. And all you got was a little snippet on the side on the first day of Summer classes in June.

I'm not saying that you want all that attention. Hell, I'm not saying Dado wants all this attention either. So what's the difference? Is it because his death happened here, during the school year, and you were out of town over the summer? What about the kids that were with you? I dunno, Mike, I guess it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Joe, maybe you're up there with Mike right now, the two of you standing side-by-side, looking down on us this day. Maybe not. I have to chuckle thinking about that. I wonder what that conversation would look like.

Joe, I wonder what you think about all this. Mike was a great person too. He was your age, had an accident as well. No alcohol involved either (was there?). Why do you get so much more attention?

No offense or anything.

I don't know what kind of point I'm trying to make here, if any. I'm not trying to insult anyone. But why do some bad things get so much more attention than others? This happens all over the country, every day. A comment on the media, I guess. Joe, you managed to change the way things are done around here in a big way. First year buildings are dry now because of you (another chuckle). Frats have to have lists, and bouncers! Well, bouncer...things. Grahamy's really cracking down. But more than that, you touched the lives of the people you knew with your humor and leadership. I know you did, because I read it on the front page of the paper almost every day for a couple weeks last year. But Mike, you touched so many people too. I know that you made my job fun -- and sometimes hard -- because of the person that you were. I know that you made people laugh and feel good and know that they had a great friend, because you were a great person.

So what am I getting at? I have no idea. I really don't. I was just thinking. Maybe you should have gotten more press time, Mike. Maybe Joe should have gotten less. Maybe it doesn't even matter. I just know that within the last year Penn State has lost two wonderful students; probably more than that. But we don't know; the Collegian hasn't said anything about them.

I hope you're keeping each other company up there.