The Attack of the Evil Interdimensional Psychic Trains

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10:00 PM

Cups of coffee: 0

It’s horrible just how many all-nighters I’ve pulled this semester. What makes it even worse is that the real reason this is necessary is just that the middle of the night is the only time I can get a moment’s quiet. My life is essentially characterized by an incessant cacophony of train whistles, airplanes, sirens, people’s voices, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, running faucets, hair dryers, loud footsteps, and slamming doors. The lawn mowers are the worst. The train whistles are really high on the list, too, and they unfortunately are the one that is still present in the middle of the night. But at least the noise level goes down enough that it’s technically possible to get work done, which simply isn’t true during the daytime. So I’ve gotten into the habit of pulling all-nighters at least once a week, and I think I’m actually in danger of literally going insane. If for no other reason, I’m looking forward to graduation because after that, I’ll be able to sleep occasionally.

 

11:00 PM

Cups of coffee: 1

As long as I’m going to be up all night, I decided that this would be a delightful opportunity to do my laundry. Once upon a time, (until about a month ago, in fact) Saturday mornings were laundry time, but now the universe is falling apart and laundry time has become a movable occurrence. I cannot shake the conviction that Monday night is not a time during which one really ought to be doing laundry, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t do laundry last Saturday morning because I really, really didn’t feel like it, and so it is necessary that I do laundry early this week. So I put my laundry in a laundry bag and headed to the laundry room, only to find to my dismay that washer number nineteen had someone else’s laundry in it. Now, there’s nothing particularly significant about the number nineteen, (in fact, I happen to intensely dislike the number nineteen) but there is something significant about washer number nineteen. That significant thing is that I always use washer number nineteen. Except sometimes when it’s full of someone else’s clothes, and so I use washer number seventeen instead. But this time, washer number seventeen had someone else’s clothes in it, too. I settled for washer number seven, but this is not the way it should be. This is an even greater problem than the new uncharacteristically mobile nature of laundry time. In fact, the horror of this situation is comparable (although still significantly less) than the trauma of finding someone else in my favorite parking space. For the record, I am a Lutheran and a ballet dancer and I’m OCD which means that nobody had better take my parking spot. When they do, bad things happen, and considering that I’m the one to whom they happen, other people don’t necessarily have an incentive to stay away from my parking spot, which is really a problem. Granted, my parking spot has only been taken from me once in the last several months, but it was a very traumatic experience and will probably haunt me for as long as I live.

 

1:15 AM

Cups of coffee: Technically still one. I just poured the second cup.

This is a book I greatly enjoyed, and its title is very relevant to my life at the moment.

This is a book I greatly enjoyed, and its title is very relevant to my life at the moment.

I have no idea what has happened to the last three hours. Well, actually I do; they were killed by homework, a fate which I fear I may end up sharing. But while they were in the process of slowly and pitifully losing their battle against the overwhelmingly powerful army of my math homework, I was not aware how many of them had fallen. And now the three of them lie lifeless on the battle field, and I sadly stand here staring at their remains and thinking of all the potential they had. I could have used those three hours to read interesting books or to write Doctor Who fan fiction or to play many games of Settlers of Catan or to do any number of other delightful things. But instead, they gave their lives so that I might do my calculus and linear algebra homework, and indeed, they died in vain, for I still don’t understand math. Over the course of this semester, there have been times when I’ve hated calculus but been okay with linear algebra, and there have been times when I’ve hated linear algebra but been okay with calculus. At the moment, I’m not on very friendly terms with either of them. But if I had to choose one as a favorite over the other, I’d go with linear algebra. In calculus, I understand the concepts, but I somehow invariably get the wrong answers anyway, and I have no idea why. In linear algebra, I don’t really understand the concepts, which completely explains why I’m not always getting the right answers. It’s a much less frustrating situation, because it implies the possibility that there shall be a time in the future, perhaps the very near future, that I will understand the concepts and will find correct answers to the problems. Or maybe not. Because that’s just not the kind of thing that happens in my life.

 

2:30 AM

Cups of coffee: 2

I got this picture from Google, but it looks a lot like the train tracks I remember from when I was little.

I got this picture from Google, but it looks a lot like the train tracks I remember from when I was little.

I hate trains. This is a sad turn of events, for I once loved trains. That is, I loved toy trains. The wooden train track set that my siblings and I once played with, which is presumably still in a box in my parents’ garage, was a source of much entertainment and many good memories. I have not had many experiences involving real trains, although last year I read a very fascinating book on the history of the Milwaukee Railroad. That may sound like a somewhat dull subject, but I greatly enjoyed the book for two reasons. First, it was extremely well written, and I found myself admiring the prose in a way that one does not normally do when reading a book about the history of a railroad company. Second, as it turns out, the history of the Milwaukee Railroad is a riveting tale involving many interesting personalities, some very complex controversies, and probably a few illegal dealings. Unfortunately, I do not remember the title of the book and cannot specifically recommend it, but I do wish to express a general recommendation for books about the history of the Milwaukee Railroad. Nonetheless, I hate trains, for they seem bent upon preventing me from accomplishing anything tonight. The train whistles have been going constantly all night long, without so much as pause. I’ve been keeping track; it’s literally true that the train whistles haven’t stopped since I got back on campus hours ago. This has also been the case every other time I’ve tried to use the middle of the night to do homework. In fact, I have had this same problem for my entire college career, although it has been worse since I’ve lived in my current room, which has a window that doesn’t close and that looks out over downtown. It makes no sense for train whistles to blow constantly, so I can only come to the conclusion that this is a deliberate conspiracy aimed specifically at me. Unfortunately, it seems to be working, because I can’t do this anymore and will probably now have to drop out of college, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be graduating in less than four weeks. I can only imagine how odd it will sound when I try to explain to future prospective employers that the reason I don’t have a college degree is that the trains were out to get me. Alternatively, I could make an attempt to stay in college despite the train conspiracy, in which case “train whistles” will be the cause of death listed on my death certificate. This, I can only imagine, will both baffle and amuse many people. Many years from now, historians will have long
arguments as they try to guess what exactly happened to me. I will become famous as the only person to have ever died of sheer annoyance.

 

4:00 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

This was the episode I saw.

This was the episode I saw.

They say that one of the main purposes of sleep- and of dreams in particular- is to organize and arrange new information. It’s an essential part of the learning process. Unfortunately, I’m too busy learning to sleep. This is a problem; college is making me stupid. Fortunately, I’ve recently come up with something that helps a little. Sometimes, watching an episode of Doctor Who is a reasonable substitute for dreaming. I tend to dream in Doctor Who fan fiction anyway, so the only actual difference is that it isn’t my own brain that’s making up this stuff. (Admittedly, that’s a pretty significant difference, but I don’t really have a better option.) Also, Doctor Who only takes about 45 minutes, while sleeping takes a few hours. And Doctor Who involves wearing earphones and deliberately blasting noises into my eardrums, which temporarily block out the train noises. (Which, unfortunately, I can now hear again. This is ridiculous; it’s been at least eight hours since they’ve been quiet.) In case it isn’t obvious by now, trains are not my friends. I prefer weeping angels. Maybe, when I go downstairs to get my laundry in just a minute, there will be weeping angels down there, and they’ll catch me and send me back to a time before trains existed. That would be nice.

 

4:30 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

Pictured: An ordinary, harmless train

Pictured: An ordinary, harmless train

I have a theory. As you may have guessed, it involves trains. My theory is based upon two observations. For one thing, I don’t know where the train tracks are. In the course of my daily life, I drive a total of more than 200 miles each week, and I never ever cross train tracks. Yet these trains must pass quite close to where I am, since they’re so loud and disruptive. The other observation is that I rarely hear anyone else mention or complain about these trains. Instead, other people mention and complain about the birds. It’s true that the birds on campus are fairly loud and have a tendency to sing at all hours of the night. I’ve been hearing them for the past three or four hours now. But I am very baffled as to why someone would be bothered by the sweet, melodious tunes of a little bird when they could be bothered by the loud, mechanical bellow of a train whistle. Evidently, other people simply do not hear these train whistles, which is quite odd, considering the fact that they are absurdly loud and unbearably frequent. So I ask myself, why is it that there are trains without train tracks, and that other people can’t hear these trains? The answer is obvious. Well, not really, but I’m going to go with it anyway. These trains exist in an alternate set of dimensions. They are evil interdimensional trains that cross the void into my own dimensions for the sole purpose of antagonizing me, and their whistles of doom have properties that pull IQ points out of my brain, depriving me of intellectual capacity. That’s why I can’t ever get stuff done adequately. Maybe I should explain this to all of my professors and see what they have to say about it.

 

6:00 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

sunshine‘Tis approaching sunrise, that time of day when the sunshine reappears on the horizon and says in its cheery early morning voice, “Good morning! I’ve just gotten back from having a lovely day on the other side of the world, during which time I provided light and warmth to billions of people and made all the plants grow and brought smiles to many faces. What about you? What have you done in the last few hours?” To which I respond, in my grumpy early morning voice, “Be quiet, sunshine. I’ve done my best, and it isn’t my fault it hasn’t worked out. Don’t criticize me unless you yourself have experienced the plague of evil psychic interdimensional trains stealing your brain from you.”

 

7:00 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

At last, there is some progress being made on my linear algebra homework. In fact, I have suddenly found that I’m nearly halfway done. That’s after working on it for the past nine hours, and it’s due in about five and a half hours. Um, never mind, I guess this isn’t such a good thing after all. Especially considering that I have other homework to do during that time, too. Meanwhile, the city has woken up and the train whistles have been joined by their friends, the ambulance sirens and a lawn mower. Meanwhile, I’m pondering how ironic it is that I once loved the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”. On an unrelated note, I think it’s about time for me to take a short break to get breakfast and, more importantly, coffee.

 

8:00 AM

Cups of coffee: About 4

My question is what the trains want with my brain anyway. I mean, they’re presumably from some planet with advanced knowledge and technology; otherwise, they wouldn’t be capable of mind theft. I doubt there’s any information in my brain that would benefit them in any way. Even I am not quite paranoid enough to imagine that an alien race would do things to mess with my mind for no other reason than to be evil to me. There must be some motive. If I can come up with a good one, this could be the basis for a decent science fiction story. I would call it “Train of Thought”.

 

9:30 AM

Cups of coffee: About 4 ½

I posted this on tumblr the other day for the purpose of complaining about math.

I posted this on tumblr the other day for the purpose of complaining about math.

I was finally starting to think I was actually going to get this algebra homework done, and even have a couple of hours to spare for other stuff, like, you know, calculus or something. But this last problem clearly just isn’t going to happen.  I hate eigenstuff so much because I have no idea what the camaduka any of it means, which probably is due to the fact that I was in Louisville, Kentucky, presenting a paper, during the time when the rest of my linear algebra class was learning what the camaduka eigenthingies are. Considering the fact that this was a couple weeks ago, you’d think I’d have caught up by now, but the book makes no sense and my notes from subsequent classes contain contradictions. I have come to the conclusion that eigenstuff, like trigonometric functions, have no purpose or definition and exist solely for the purpose of making mathematics more confusing. At some point, some evil genius realized that he was so much cleverer than everybody else that he could make up random things that sounded like math, and everyone would believe him, and some people would even pretend to understand it, just so that they could feel clever. And thus was born a branch of mathematics that doesn’t actually exist. Either that, or I’m too stupid to understand it, and I don’t like that theory much.

 

10:45 AM

Cups of coffee: About 4 ½

The morning has more or less come to an end, and I’m about to go to class. Therefore, I shall now wrap up this blog post with the acknowledgement that I have succeeded in surviving one more night without having my brain taken over by a sinister extraterrestrial psychic train. I can still hear them even now, but their power seems to be diminished slightly in the daytime, or maybe it’s just that I can’t hear them as clearly over all the daytime noises. At any rate, the fact remains that I still have at least some remnant of my mind more or less intact. One more alien invasion survived.

‘Tis the Life of a Dancer, Episode 2

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102_0102I recently got a new pair of pointe shoes. Like almost every other pair I’ve ever had, they’re Grishko 2007, 5.5 XXX, medium shank. To anyone who isn’t familiar with ballet and with pointe shoe lingo, that means absolutely nothing. To anyone who is, it gives a pretty specific description of what my feet are like, because pointe shoes are a very individualized thing. Different dancers have different pointe shoe preferences based mainly upon the shape, size, and strength of their feet. If I wanted to give you an even better knowledge of the nature of my feet, I could do so by describing exactly how this particular type of shoe fits me.

For those of you who don’t know much about pointe shoes, I will clarify that Grishko is the brand, 2007 is the name of that particular product, 5.5 is the size, (which obviously does not correspond to street shoe size), XXX is the width, and “medium shank” refers to the stiffness of the part of the shoe that would be called the sole in most types of shoe.  (Technically, a pointe shoe has both a shank and a sole, but they’re more or less in the same part of the shoe) I haven’t actually tried enough different types of shoes to be completely sure that this is the best possible shoe for me; in fact, I would expect that a shoe with a shorter vamp would be more comfortable given the shape of my toe joints. Still, I’m pretty fond of the Grishko 2007. It fits decently and, in my personal opinion, it’s basically the prettiest pointe shoe available.

I'm sticking this is just for reference, although some of these labels aren't terms that are used very often.

I’m sticking this is just for reference, although some of these labels aren’t terms that are used very often.

Despite my regard for my particular kind of pointe shoes, and despite the pointe shoe obsession that I share with pretty much every other ballet student in the world, I thoroughly hate getting new pointe shoes. Of course, it’s very difficult to dance in old shoes that have gotten too soft and weak, (or, to use a technical term, “dead”) but the transition from a dead pair of shoes to a brand new pair of shoes is pretty miserable.

Have you ever gotten a finger or toe slammed in a door? Wearing new pointe shoes for the first time feels like having your entire foot slammed in a door, with someone holding the door shut on your foot for the duration of the class or rehearsal. Just in case anyone reads that as hyperbole or humor, I want to emphasize that it really isn’t. A new pair of pointe shoes is extremely hard and quite tight, even if it fits just fine a few days later. Bruises, blisters, bloody toes, and swelling are so characteristic of the ballet experience that it’s weird and unusual not to be suffering from at least one of those afflictions at any given time. Stress fractures and tendonitis are perfectly normal, too, although they are more avoidable. Crushed toes are not avoidable at all. Of course, in my case, the thing about the longer-than-ideal vamp doesn’t help. And it’s true that it’s possible to start breaking pointe shoes in before actually dancing in them, which also helps. But there’s only so much that can be done; it’s inevitable that the first time one wears a new pair of pointe shoes is not going to be an enjoyable experience.

This particular shoe and I got along quite nicely, at least for a couple weeks in the middle of its career.

This particular shoe and I got along quite nicely, at least for a couple weeks in the middle of its career.

It seems like every pair of pointe shoes breaks in slightly differently. Some pairs become reasonably comfortable as soon as they’ve been worn a couple times and have softened just a little bit. Others remain tight and painful right up until the moment that they’re too dead to feel right and function properly. When a pair of shoes is temperamental like that, bruised toenails are inevitable, because that is a problem caused both by shoes that are too hard and shoes that are too soft. On some pointe shoes, the shank is the first part to die, which basically means that the shoe becomes too weak along the bottom of the foot and it becomes difficult to hold the foot in the correct position on pointe. That will hinder balance and control, but it actually makes the dancer’s foot look really good on pointe and it doesn’t generally hurt. Other times, the first part to go soft is the part where the platform meets the bottom of the vamp. (That is, the front of the shoe right at the tip) I know that other people sometimes have the platform die before anything else, but that isn’t something I’ve experienced. I don’t know whether that’s because of the kind of shoe I have or because of the shape of my foot.

On my new pointe shoes, the shanks are probably going to be the first thing to die. They’re already pretty well broken in, which is great right now because it means that the shoes already look good on my feet, (which sometimes can take a few days or even weeks) but it probably means that I can’t count on the shanks to stay hard for very long. The box, on the other hand, is still pretty tight. In fact, on the right shoe, I’ve even bruised my fingers while pulling my shoe onto my foot, and not surprisingly, my foot is more badly bruised. I’m hoping that they’ll soften soon and that this pair of shoes will be friends with me, but I’m guessing that this will be the kind of pair that will be dead before I really have finished breaking them in. (Note to my sister: It’s okay for me to end this sentence with a preposition because the word “in” is not acting as a preposition; it’s acting as part of the verb “break in”.)

102_0103So, to all the non-dancers who like to ask if it “hurts to stand on your toes like that”, the answer is yes. Yes, it does. But we do it anyway because it’s fun and it looks cool.

Star Wars Chronology Compression and related issues

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Star WarsThe biggest difference between people of my generation and people of my parents’ generation is that I was able to watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time over the space of a few days, while my parents and their friends had to wait years in between each release. Some people may try to say that values and perspectives change across generations, but, if that is true at all, its significance shrinks in comparison to the effects of Star Wars Chronology Compression.

For people who were there to see the trilogy when it was brand new, there was a significant amount of time during which they didn’t know that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and an even longer period during which they assumed that there was to be a romantic relationship between Leia and Luke. But for me and my generation, the two major plot twists concerning Skywalker genealogy are taken for granted just as much as the destructive properties of the Death Star and the conflict between the Empire and the rebels. This generational divide is one that greatly overshadows any trivial shifts in pop music, fashion trends, moral convictions, social conventions, or any other factor of human experience. (With the exception of the internet)

Star WarsBut there is just as great a chasm between people of my age and people just a few years younger. You see, I remember a time when there were exactly three Star Wars movies. I remember a time when Jar-Jar Binks did not exist, when Obi-Wan Kenobi could only be pictured as a man with a white beard, and when Anakin Skywalker was only the distant memory of the oldest characters. The prequel trilogy was an addendum that came along later, when the Star Wars saga was already a fundamental part of my existence. Not so for those a few years younger than me. Some of my own siblings are younger than The Phantom Menace and probably don’t make nearly as clear a distinction as I do between the original Star Wars and the newer Star Wars.

Although I was not nearly as disappointed and upset by the prequels as many Star Wars enthusiasts were, I strongly agree that they aren’t nearly as good as the originals. They just aren’t. I feel sympathy and concern for those who view the six movies as a unified saga. While that may seem to be a more tidy and satisfyingly holistic way to view the series, it ignores the plot holes and the differences in storyline quality and special effects. (In my opinion, the over-the-top special effects of relatively recent movies are actually a distraction from the plot.) I think that my tendency to perceive the six movies as two distinct series allows me to better appreciate Star Wars in general, just as classic Doctor Who and the current Doctor Who are not the same TV show.

Now, we are approaching the dawn of a new era of the Star Wars fan experience. As of last October, Star Wars has fallen into the hands of Disney, and fans have been promised an episode 7 in 2015, with an implication of future installments after that. Star Wars lovers have mixed opinions about this. Some are horrified, but others say that the worst has already happened and that the future of Star Wars can only be an improvement on its past. And then there are some who didn’t have a problem with the prequel trilogy and are excited by the prospect of yet more movies, regardless of what organization is in charge of making them. I don’t mean to imply that every Star Wars fan falls into one of these categories; my point is simply that this new Star Wars movie is already receiving mixed reviews, two years before it even exists.

Star WarsMy own opinion falls somewhere in the middle, although it is probably closer to the pessimistic side. I acknowledge the possibility that future Star Wars movies could be good, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re terrible. Even if they are better than I expect, it troubles me to know that there will one day be people on this Earth who know Star Wars as an epic series of at least seven episodes, rather than as a series that expanded around one really great movie. They will be misunderstanding their own culture because, no matter how good the rest of the series is, it is the movie now known as Episode IV: A New Hope that revolutionized cinema and science fiction, single-handedly redefined all subsequent pop culture, and has earned a place in history shared by few other works of art.

Before a new Star Wars movie comes into existence, there is something I must say. It is essential that I make this quite clear for the record, in order to protect myself and my love for Star Wars. When future Star Wars movies come out, I am not compelled to accept them or to acknowledge that they count. My opinion of them and their significance are contingent upon how good they are and how well they fit in with the other Star Wars movies. If they meet my Star Wars standards, I will duly love and obsess over them. But if they fail, even slightly, I reserve the right to roll my eyes and deny that they are really Star Wars or that they bear any relation to the preceding movies. Just because Disney has bought Star Wars, I will argue at great length, does not mean that they can make Star Wars movies, for Star Wars is not a product that can be bought and sold. It is a way of life, I will further inform my bored and annoyed listeners, and ways of life do not come with price tags stuck on them. Commercialism cannot contain and define Star Wars, no matter how hard it may try.

So Disney can go ahead and do its worst. No matter what the new movies are like, there is nothing Disney can do to hurt me or to shake my appreciation of Star Wars. I remain secure in my admiration of the original trilogy.

Ode to a Blank Dry Erase Board

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Dry Erase BoardUpon my wall there lives a board;
It’s white in color with blue sides,
And there upon its surface stored
Whatever marks my mind decides
Should go upon that board now clear,
Then be erased in future days
When other things I scribble here.
If I see errors in my ways
And choose to wipe those marks away,
They dissapper without a trace.
I wish that real life work’d that way,
And all mistakes could be erased,
And that all things that I regret
Could be so easy to forget.

There’s This Book I’m Reading, Episode 5

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Douglas AdamsI read a lot of stuff. Much of it is for school, but when I can find the time, I like to read just for the fun of it, too, and I have always found that pleasure reading is just as intellectual and conveys just as much knowledge and school reading. For example, here is something I have learned through extensive pleasure reading: Douglas Adams was really clever. He was both a skilled writer and an all-around genius who either had extremely varied fields of knowledge or was very talented at using knowledge he didn’t even have. Either way, reading a book by Douglas Adams is both an enjoyable and an intellectual experience.

My familiarity with Douglas Adams’ writing is primarily limited to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I actually hadn’t read those books until about the time the movie came out, which Google informs me was in 2005. That means that I was fourteen, (well, thirteen and a half; it was in the spring) and I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t already read the books by then. I knew that my father liked them and I seem to recall that he had recommended them to me on more than one occasion, but yet I somehow didn’t read them until there was a movie ready to be watched shortly thereafter. Given the fact that I have always considered myself to be a greater book-lover than movie-lover, I cannot justify the movie-centric priorities that I displayed as a thirteen-and-a-half year old. But this is unimportant, because the point is that I did in fact read the books and I loved them and have since read them many times and continued to love them every time.

Douglas AdamsThis blog post isn’t about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s about another book by Douglas Adams called Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Sadly, it is the only Douglas Adams book I have read apart from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it has greatly reinforced and increased my high opinion of Douglas Adams and has reminded me that I must find and read more Douglas Adams books, particularly The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was written in 1987, which was three years after So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, (The fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book) and five years before Mostly Harmless (the fifth and last Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book). In many ways, most notably the writing style, it is very similar to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it is certainly a book worth enjoying, admiring, and discussing in its own right.

Douglas Adams, like great British writers before him, (this is an allusion to Shakespeare, by the way) is remarkable for his skill in characterization. Not only are the characters memorable and interesting, but Douglas Adams is very good at realistically articulating the thoughts of apparently normal characters in ridiculous situations, ridiculous characters in apparently normal situations, and any kind of character in any kind of situation between the two extremes. If I was writing an unreasonably long paper arguing that Douglas Adams’ characterization is just as brilliant as Shakespeare’s, (Oh, why did I not think of that several months ago? That would have been such an awesome English senior seminar paper!) I could take several pages giving textual examples. But I am not writing a paper here and I don’t have a minimum length, but I do have a minimum amount of time to dedicate to this blog post, so I will instead stick to a couple characters in the book I am specifically discussing.

Apparently, there's a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Apparently, there’s a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Richard and Susan are both pretty normal people. They are talented and notably intelligent people, (Richard works with computers and Susan is a cellist) but they act and think more or less like any other Earth human who has never encountered extra-terrestrial technology or been faced with paradoxes of the space-time continuum. Richard is absent-minded and obsessed with his job; Susan is his girlfriend who wishes he would step away from the computer screen a bit more often. Richard is somewhat in trouble with his boss because he’s behind schedule on certain tasks; Susan is his boss’s sister who is annoyed that her brother leaves long rambling messages on her answering machine telling her to pressure Richard into getting his work done. But somewhere along the line, they get involved in a bizarre course of events that involves a murder and police investigation, a ghost, and inexplicable anomalies in the fabric of space and time, which Richard cannot solve with his computer simulations.

Then there’s Reg, an eccentric and absent-minded professor who reminds me very much of a certain professor I have had, except that Reg is even odder and his conversation is even more convoluted. Like the aforementioned professor, Reg is inherently likable, even though the reader can tell right away that there’s something extremely strange about him. If nothing else, it’s weird that he’s a professor and nobody knows exactly what his field is. The fact that his position is called “the Regius Professorship of Chronology” is a hint, but not a very specific one. Reg’s extreme absent-mindedness, which first appears to be a trait that Douglas Adams uses just for the sake of characterizing Reg according to a stereotype and adding an extra touch of humor, turns out to be part of the plot. That’s another thing about Douglas Adams; many of the most random and silly side-notes of the beginning of the story later turn out to be significant and incredibly brilliant plot twists.

And there’s Dirk Gently himself, a character who cannot be described in any way other than to quote directly from the book itself. When Reg casually mentions Dirk, formally known as Svlad Cjelli, Richard “wondered what had lately become of his former… was friend the word? He seemed more like a succession of extraordinary events than a person. The idea of him actually having friends as such seemed not so much unlikely, more a sort of mismatching of concepts, like the idea of the Suez crisis popping out for a bun.” Richard and Svlad had known each other as undergraduate students, during which time Svlad had spread the rumor that he was psychic by denying it far more vehemently than necessary and then failing to disprove it. This, as Douglas Adams emphasizes, is the best way to make up a convincing story. Now, Dirk Gently is a terribly unsuccessful private detective who believes in the interrelatedness of all things so strongly that he deems it necessary to go sit on a beach in Bermuda while working on a case concerning a missing cat. Dirk Gently is the kind of character who can spout off fascinating theories regarding Schrodinger’s cat that almost make sense in once chapter, admit that he was just saying that to be ridiculous in another chapter, and later yet, say profound and quotable things like, “It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?” I left that last bit in there because I like it and intend to use it in regular conversation whenever possible.

Douglas AdamsThere are many other brilliant things about the book that I don’t have time to describe in any detail, such as the Electric Monk and Richard’s sofa that’s stuck in an impossible place on the stairs. One of the best things about Douglas Adams’ stories is those random details that seem so simple and/or humorous, but required an extreme degree of intelligence and creativity to write. And there are many other wonderfully quotable lines from the book that I don’t have time to quote. Another one of the best things about Douglas Adam’s stories is that they are rife with clever and quotable lines. But I think that the thing I like the absolute most about Douglas Adams is that his writing style is so memorable and even inspiring. Every now and then, I read over something I’ve written and notice a phrase or sentence that sounds a little like Douglas Adams, or even a group of sentences that express a very Douglas-Adams-esque idea. When Douglas Adams’ influence manifests itself in my own writing, those are the times that I am most satisfied with my writing, because he has set the standard to which I aspire. Maybe that’s a little funny, because in some cases, (obviously not the one quoted above) his wording and phrasing is so simple and vernacular and his ideas seem so natural. One reads Douglas Adams and thinks to oneself, “I could have thought of that!” But the fact is that one didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is, too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?

On Wasps

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This is a picture from a couple years ago that shows a diferent wasp on a different window.

This is a picture from a couple years ago that shows a diferent wasp on a different window.

A couple weeks ago, I experienced the first wasp infiltration of the season. That is to say, a wasp got in my room. Considering the fact that my window doesn’t actually close, it was inevitable that such a thing would happen at some point, but it was annoying that it happened in the middle of the night. Supposedly, wasps are always diurnal. Actually, the internet has helpfully informed me that there are a few species of nocturnal wasps, but none of them are supposed to be native to this area. So it was quite odd when I was awoken at about one in the morning by the sound of wasp wings beating against the wall just above my head.

nerf gunAs it so happens, I am deathly afraid of wasps. In fact, I spent the following hour and fourteen minutes crouching behind my bed with a water gun in one hand and a nerf gun in the other hand. If that thing had come any closer to me, I would have shot first and asked questions later. (Actually, I would have shot first and never gotten around to asking any questions.) Although I have never successfully shot an insect with a nerf gun, I can tell you from personal experience that water guns don’t kill wasps, but a couple good shots can stun them. Then you can easily catch them in a glass jar and leave them in there to die a sad and lonely death. For the record, I am strongly opposed to cruelty to animals except where the animals in question are misquitoes, fleas, cockroaches, harmful single-celled organisms such as many types of bacteria, and, of course, wasps. Although I’m also somewhat scared of bees, I much prefer them to wasps. To explain this, I hereby list several reasons why wasps are worse than bees.

  1. waspBees are intelligent and wasps are stupid. I judge insect intellect based upon the insect’s ability to find its way out of a room that it has accidentally entered. Since the dorm rooms at my college don’t have screens, I have had many opportunities to observe the relative intelligence of insects based upon this standard. More often than not, a bee that flies into the room will simply turn around and fly right back out again. A wasp, on the other hand, is generally unable to find the window. If it isn’t killed or captured first, it could spend a good couple hours flying around and walking aimlessly around the glass surface of the window (often inches away from the exit) before it eventually figures out how to go away. For the record, the aforementioned wasp did eventually leave by way of the window, but it sure took a while to find it. As a side note, June bugs are really stupid. I have never seen one fly out the window. They will fly to the light and batter against it until they die. If you turn off the light, they’ll just batter against the ceiling instead. If you trap a June bug in a jar, stick the jar out of the window, and then open it again, the June bug will fly right back into the room and fly into the light and/or ceiling again. I’m not kidding; they’re that idiotic.
  2. Wasps are much more likely to sting. If you are close enough to get a good look at a wasp on a windowpane that wishes it was on the opposite side of the window, it will actually sting the windowpane in frustration. Bees don’t do that because they’d die if they did. I have actually never been stung by a wasp and have only been stung by a bee once, about ten years ago. But that was only because I accidentally stepped on that bee. Most species of bees are not aggressive at all. Bumblebees in particular are unlikely to sting you. There have been a couple incidents where a bumblebee has actually gotten caught in my hair and I have pulled it out with my hand (because I didn’t realize at first that it was a bee and not a piece of leaf or something) and it didn’t sting me, even though I was momentarily holding onto it with my bare fingers. In that situation, I can guarantee that a wasp would sting.
  3. Wasps are sneaky and insidious. If a bee gets in the room, you know it’s there because you can hear it buzzing. If a wasp gets in the room, you don’t hear it until it hits the wall or window. Unlike bees, they fly in ominous and sinister silence. While there’s a wasp in your room, you have to keep your eye on it constantly or else you lose track of its exact location.
  4. bumblebeeBees are technically actually kind of cute. Wasps are hideously ugly. They have little beady faces with sinisterly oblong faces, and long, snake-like bodies with an almost-microscopically small midsection and a thick, wriggling back-end. Worst of all are the red wasps with black wings, which are the most common ones around here. The aforementioned wasp was of this type.   Those critters are just so horribly ugly.
  5. Bees make honey. Honey is good. What good do wasps do for the world?
Spiders, although often creepy and sometimes even dangerous, are not to be greatly hated. In fact, when small and not too disturbing-looking, they are to be allowed to remain in the home and affectionately addressed as something along the lines of Sophie or Charlotte. These are always good names for spiders, although I cannot explain why Sophie is a good spider name. Charlotte, of course, is a reference to the children’s book Charlotte’s Web. This particular spider was my sister's friend and his name was Beowulf.

Spiders, although often creepy and sometimes even dangerous, are not to be greatly hated. In fact, when small and not too disturbing-looking, they are to be allowed to remain in the home and affectionately addressed as something along the lines of Sophie or Charlotte. These are always good names for spiders, although I cannot explain why Sophie is a good spider name. Charlotte, of course, is a reference to the children’s book Charlotte’s Web. This particular spider was my sister’s friend and his name was Beowulf.

Random Thoughts on a Sunday Afternoon, Episode Six

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Louisville Kentucky1. If anyone has been keeping track, they will have noticed that I haven’t written many blog posts over the past few weeks. There are several reasons for this, many of which are quite predictable and include a lack of free time and an excessive amount of stuff to do during these infrequent bouts of free time. (For example, I spent the last three days in Louisville, Kentucky, at an academic conference. That is why the five pictures included in this blog post all show scenes from downtown Louisville. For the record, they were all taken by me between about 11:30 AM and noon on Friday, April 5.) Despite the aforementioned fact that I have not posted much on my blog lately, I would like the record to show that I had started many things that were intended to become blog posts, including some potentially good ones for Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, and April Fools’ Day aka The First Day of Baseball Season. The Holy Saturday one was practically finished, too, so I’m kind of annoyed with myself for not going ahead and finishing it on time. However, I can now inform you that I actually have two finished drafts, so I actually can promise at least two new blog posts after this one in the relatively near future.

2. (Added much later in the day) I would just like to stick a disclaimer here and say that I haven’t really read through much of this after typing it, so it is going to be even more random and disjointed than usual, and probably will contain many typos. Sorry ‘bout that, but I’m not going to actually get around to posting this if I take the time to edit it.

Louisville Kentucky3. After church this morning, I stopped at Wal Mart to pick up some hand soap and some band-aids.  For some reason, these are both products that are challenging to find. The hand soap was somewhat easier, but the band-aids greatly baffled me. They had gauze bandages and little circular band-aids, they had band-aids with pictures of cartoon characters and specially shaped band-aids and water-proof band-aids and special non-stick band-aids for sensitive skin. But they didn’t have regular band-aids. All I wanted was the kind of band-aids that you put on your toe to keep it from bleeding in dance class. But they didn’t have that kind of band-aid, so instead, I got absorbent non-stick band-aids with comfortable fabric that stretches with movement and innovative adhesive that stays on long without irritating the skin. So the box tells me. It seemed like the closest thing to normal band-aids that I could find.

4. Today, as I left my dorm to go get food, people stared at me. This was not surprising, given the fact that I was wearing black boots, blue-and-white socks that went up just barely past the top of the boots, a fairly formal purple floral skirt, a very casual T-shirt, and the earrings and necklace I had worn to church this morning. I fear that I may have committed some kind of fashion crime.

Louisville Kentucky5. It struck me as being very interesting that in today’s gospel reading, (John 20:19-31) Jesus identifies himself first to the group of disciples and then to Thomas by showing them his hands and side, where he bears marks from the crucifixion. I have always been puzzled by the fact that, after the resurrection, people who knew Jesus keep on not recognizing him, but it’s cool to note that even the very first Christians recognized Christ by His sacrifice for them; the crucifixion was the foundation for their faith. Another fascinating thing along the same lines is Luke 24:13-35, the part where Jesus talks to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They come to realize who Jesus is and to understand what he has done when he first explains the scriptures to them and then breaks bread and gives it to them. It’s Word and Sacrament.

6. I wish I was doing a jigsaw puzzle today. Given the fact that it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and I have yet to accomplish enough stuff to justify the existence of this day, I can’t really take the time to start one now. But a jigsaw puzzle seems like a fun thing to do right now, and besides, I have the feeling that there are many rambling thoughts I need to be thinking, and jigsaw puzzles are good things to do while thinking rambling thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t really have time for rambling thoughts right now, either. That’s problematic, because it’s really hard to think organized thoughts when my brain is in rambling-thought mode.

Louisville Kentucky7. My hands smell like early December. It’s this new hand soap; I like its scent much better than the previous hand soap, but it seems all wrong for April. This anomaly in time disorients and confuses me.

8. Maybe this is just some kind of senioritis thing, but I have lately found myself having a very hard time distinguishing between reality and imagination. Just a minute ago, I suddenly and randomly remembered a certain recent conversation, but I couldn’t remember whether it was in real life, a dream, a movie, or just my imagination. I couldn’t even remember who the other person was. It doesn’t help that I’m taking a class in postmodernism, and some part of my mind is fascinated by the question of what constitutes reality.

Louisville Kentucky9. Along the same lines, I have noticed something very odd about college life. This is especially true of my current phase of college life, in which I am trying to figure out what in the name of Galoompa is going to happen after I graduate. Anything that has to do with “the real world”- looking into financial aid, jobs, places to live, etc .- involves sitting around and staring at a computer screen. Likewise, homework either involves computers or books. But when I step away from all of that and do something like running away to a certain secret hiding place and flipping over logs to look at the bugs underneath them, or driving in a literally real car on a literally real road, I can guarantee that everything happening in my head is abstract and/or imaginary. If I’m not pondering hypothetical questions or reliving conversations that never actually happened, I’m probably making up stories or determining details of some imaginary fantasy world. So “the real world” apparently exists only in my computer, and imagination apparently exists only in the outside world. The question is which reality is real, or rather, in which reality I am real. And the other question is, whether I’m actually trying to find reality or hide from reality.

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