Nine Things I Miss About Dance

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I was a dancer in high school and college. (Technically, I was a dancer before then, too, but I was fourteen before it was really a defining part of my life.) Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to take a class since I graduated from college nearly two years ago. I never really intended to give it up and still hope that, at some point in the future, I’ll have the financial means to take some ballet classes again, if only in a recreational capacity. But, for the time being, I suppose it’s fair to call myself a former dancer. And as such, I completely relate to this article that I stumbled across this morning. It’s a list of things that former dancers miss, and it’s mostly pretty readily-apparent things, like the thrill of performing, flexibility, and dancer camaraderie. But there are a lot of things I miss that aren’t so obvious, so I thought I’d make my own list.

1. Pointe shoes

One of my favorite of my own pointe shoe pictures

One of my favorite of my own pointe shoe pictures

Most young ballet students look forward to their first pointe shoes with eager expectation, and for most intermediate ballet students, that first pair of pointe shoes is among the most exciting life milestones they’ve ever reached. It certainly was for me, even though I was a late starter and was in my teens before I got my first pair. I technically started pointe at the age of fourteen, but then when I switched schools, I went off pointe for a year and a half. So I was sixteen before I ever got to the stage where I wore pointe shoes practically on a daily basis and got to perform on pointe. I never really felt fully comfortable on pointe. Still, I loved my pointe shoes and I loved the way my feet looked in them. I even loved all of my old pointe shoes that got too worn-out for use, since battered-up pointe shoes are proof that you’ve danced hard, and they all have so many memories. Most dancers end up having a love-hate relationship with their pointe shoes, since they are painful and do deform a dancer’s feet. I was no exception. But in retrospect, I actually miss some of the downsides of pointe, too. Which brings me to my next point. (Pun not intended, but acknowledged with pleasure)

The feet in this stock photo are actually pretty un-damaged-looking for ballet feet.

Ever wondered what ballet dancers’ feet look like under the pointe shoes? Kind of like this, only usually redder because pointe shoes are tight.

2. Bloody little toes

When you dance on pointe more than once or twice a week, toe afflictions are a normal part of life. I actually was never blister-prone, but I did regularly rub the skin right off my little toes, which is even more painful than it sounds. Of course, I didn’t appreciate the pain, but I did kind of like feeling like I was tough because of it. (Once, I had to use scissors to cut a chunk of partially-disconnected flesh off of my toe. It wasn’t dead skin; it was alive and sensitive skin, and I felt like I was really special for being able to do that to my own foot.) Even when I wasn’t dancing, I could feel that pain on the edge of my foot with every step I took, and it was a constant reminder that dance wasn’t just something I did, it was part of who I was. As annoying and challenging as it was at the time, it’s hard not to miss that sensation, and the blood stains on the toes of all my dance tights and some of my socks, when I was used to feeling like they defined my identity.

3. All those dancer quirks

This one is really just reiterating the article I linked at the beginning of the post, but I wanted to reiterate that, because to me, those little dancer quirks were also integral parts of who I was. I mean things like popping your hips and ankles, complimenting your friends on the shape of their feet, walking or standing with your legs turned out, and being hyper-conscious of whether your hips and shoulders are in line. There’s dancer terminology that other people don’t understand, there are products like jet glue and toe pads that mostly only dancers use, and there are experiences like putting your hair in a bun every day that are normal when you’re a dancer but not normal if you’re not. There are just so many little things along those lines that it’s just natural that dancers get in the habit of thinking of themselves as practically a different species than “normal people”. And yes, dancers do distinguish between “dancers” and “normal people”. There isn’t necessarily an implication that normal people are inferior, but once you’ve experienced both, it’s hard not to feel like being a dancer was just more interesting.

4. The outlet for perfectionism and obsessiveness

pointe shoe music box 2As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it turns out that I actually have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For most of college, I knew it but wasn’t officially diagnosed. I feel like I actually handled it pretty well in college, though, because so many of my obsessions had to do with dance and most of my compulsions had to do with practicing dance. Don’t get me wrong; it was still miserable. I hated myself for not being a good dancer, and I worked myself so hard that it was actually counterproductive. In the summers, when I didn’t have actual class, I would practice for hours on end and would usually only stop when I either collapsed from fatigue or when my Achilles tendonitis got so bad that I could barely stand, much less dance. When I had actual classes, I didn’t work myself quite so hard because I had a teacher there to offer corrections, but I still was constantly overcome with embarrassment and frustration because I was just no good. It didn’t help that I had a teacher freshman year who discouraged me from continuing in the major and that I overheard more skilled classmates making unkind comments about me a couple of times. So, to be honest, I really can’t say that I enjoyed those three years of my dance experience. (My senior year, when I was taking classes off campus, was a different story. Big shout out to the Grebel Center for Dance/Alabama Youth Ballet Company for an enjoyable, productive, and injury-free year of ballet.) At the time, I told myself that the occasional moments of success were so wonderful that they made up for all the literal blood, sweat, and tears. But it was more than that; it also helped me keep the rest of my life relatively free from all the self-disgust, perfectionist obsession, anxiety, and pressure that come with OCD.

5. That moment when you do something just right

But don’t get me wrong; ballet isn’t all pain and misery, even for someone like me who is unfortunate enough to be a mediocre perfectionist. There are few things in life more exciting and fulfilling than that rare moment when you do a flawless pirouette or an especially high jete, or when you get through a tricky combination without messing up, or when you really like what you see in the mirror while you’re dancing. Both emotionally and physically, it feels like a special moment and it makes you happy in a way that other parts of your life just can’t do. Bonus points if your teacher notices and comments. There’s no kind of validation more satisfying than when a hard-to-please dance teacher is pleased with you.

Natalia Osipova, one of my favorite ballerinas

Natalia Osipova, one of my favorite ballerinas

6. Getting to watch dance all the time

As great as it is to dance, it’s great to watch dance, too. When you take dance classes at a quality dance school, you constantly get to see some really great dancing. And you get to see it up close and personal. Sometimes, you even get to vicariously experience what it would be like to be a better dancer than you are. Watching ballerinas on youtube is fun, but sitting on the floor of a dance studio in rehearsal and watching your friends’ and classmates’ pointe shoes on the dance floor is a completely different experience. Even in class, watching other dancers can be a rewarding experience. Certainly, non-dancers can sometimes have the opportunity to watch dancers in such an environment, especially if they are parents of young dance students. But being a dancer enriches the experience because you know what it’s like to be that dancer you’re watching, and you know the difference between a fairly good dancer and a great dancer with impeccable technique. The same goes for watching performances; it’s an enhanced viewing experience if you know a lot about what you’re watching.

7. The routine of a classical ballet class

One reason that classical ballet is by far my favorite dance form is that it’s so neat and organized. Every class follows the same routine, which feels comfortable and comforting to people like me who like routine, and makes it really easy to track progress. The exact combinations vary from day to day, which keeps class from getting boring, but the structure is always the same. Some dancers actually don’t like that, but I always did. Maybe it’s partly because of my OCD, but to me, it made me feel like ballet class was my natural habitat, even if I was devoid in natural talent. That feeling of being at home is something that I’ve never been able to establish to the same degree anyplace else. Since ballet is so all-consuming, most ballet dancers would probably relate to that, even if it isn’t the classroom routine that made them feel that way.

8. The way a performance takes over your life

Snow scene from the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker

Snow scene from the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker

The article that I linked earlier alludes to this, but I wanted to include it as a specific point in my list. For me, unlike most dancers, the actual performance isn’t necessarily the whole point of dance, but it is the most exciting part. For months, you’ve been practicing the same thing over and over and over, and all of a sudden you get to do it in a costume, on a stage, with people watching. Even better, (in my opinion) there are several days where dance is really truly your whole life. For a dance school where the performers are children and teens, the last week before the performance usually goes like this. The weekend before the show, there are several-hour-long rehearsals in the dance studio on both Saturday and Sunday, usually with costumes and props. The studio is busier than usual, because the full cast and a lot of the parents, as well as maybe some guest performers and/or board members, are in the building at the same time. Everyone is feeling stressed, but everyone is excited, too. On Monday and Tuesday, rehearsals will probably still be in the studio, but they’ll probably start as soon as the dancers get out of school and will go until nine or maybe ten in the evening. (Little kids will probably leave once they’re done dancing, but older dancers will stay until all rehearsing is done, even if they don’t dance for the last half hour or hour of rehearsal.) Wednesday and Thursday are usually full dress rehearsals in the theater. Dancers come straight from school, put on their leotards and makeup, have a warmup class on stage, and rehearse all evening until at least ten O’clock or so. Then they go home, eat a super-late supper, and go to sleep immediately, just to do the same thing the next day. Friday evening is usually the first performance. There might be two shows on Saturday, in which case dancers probably arrive by nine or ten in the morning for warm-up, and don’t leave the theater for even a moment until ten or eleven at night. Sunday early afternoon is usually the last show, and everyone’s exhausted but pumped up. Sunday matinees were always my favorite show. Sometimes, there will be a casual photo shoot and/or cast party afterwards. Then it takes several days to recover. It’s exhausting, but it’s fun, and there’s really nothing else in life like it.

9. The constant sense of hope

Maybe I’m a bit of an optimist, but I always assumed that I was just days or weeks away from suddenly improving drastically, and I always had my sights on a bright future in dance, even though that became increasingly implausible as I got older. Even in college, when I had to gradually face the fact that I didn’t really have a shot at a career in dance, there was always that sense that maybe tomorrow would be the day that I’d do a triple pirouette on pointe, or that maybe next week or the week after, my arabesque would be higher than it was today, or that maybe, if I spent a couple hours straight practicing petite allegro over the weekend, I would suddenly be good at it next Monday. Hope is a funny thing. Even when it’s unrealistic, it makes hard work worth doing and hardships worth enduring. But in most aspects of life, goals are a little less concrete and effort is a little bit less quantifiable. In dance, it’s sometimes easier to believe that all your hopes and dreams are just barely out of your reach and will be easily achievable if you can make it just one step farther. And when you feel that way, it gives meaning and purpose to everything you do.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything I miss. But I think it gives a sense of how much dance means when you’re a dancer. It’s not all about fun and glitz, and a former dancer loses more than a hobby and a little glitter. Part of you dies when you stop dancing.

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Cat Pictures

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Since I have not done much blogging for a while, I have neglected to use this method of announcing tohe world that I have a second cat now. He’s five and a half months old, he’s orange and white, and his name is Melchizedek because that is an adorable name. Yes, I know it’s weird. But it’s adorable. He also goes by Houdini, which is one of his middle names. He acquired it when he learned how to open his cat carrier from the inside. Anyone who knows me on facebook has already seen many pictures of my little guy, but for your viewing pleasure, I’m going to post a bunch of them here, along with a few relatively recent pictures of my older cat, Romana. Please remember to go “AWWWWW!” frequently as you scroll through these pictures.

These first two are from the day he moved in with me

These first two are from the day he moved in with me

My facebook caption for this picture was, “Do you have these in a smaller size? It fits a bit loosely at the heel.”

My facebook caption for this picture was, “Do you have these in a smaller size? It fits a bit loosely at the heel.”

Double cat nap

Double cat nap

Romana wasn’t sure she liked him at first, but she changed her mind

Romana wasn’t sure she liked him at first, but she changed her mind

Kitty hug

Kitty hug

All worn out

All worn out

Melchizedek really enjoyed his first Christmas

Melchizedek really enjoyed his first Christmas

Slumber party in the cat carrier

Slumber party in the cat carrier

I took this picture on Christmas Eve

I took this picture on Christmas Eve

My beautiful Romana

My beautiful Romana

Kitten in the ceiling

Kitten in the ceiling

On Instagram, I hashtagged this #tisgoodtobeanindoorcat

On Instagram, I hashtagged this #tisgoodtobeanindoorcat

Romana loves to help me with jigsaw puzzles

Romana loves to help me with jigsaw puzzles

I have a thing for cat close-ups

I have a thing for cat close-ups

Can you really blame me? My cats have lovely eyes.

Can you really blame me? My cats have lovely eyes.

Romana does this thing where she goes slightly cross-eyed when she smells something she wants to eat or when she sees an affectionate hand approaching her head

Romana does this thing where she goes slightly cross-eyed when she smells something she wants to eat or when she sees an affectionate hand approaching her head

This is my current profile picture on facebook

This is my current profile picture on facebook

And now, to finish this post, here's one with both cats

And now, to finish this post, here’s one with both cats

Stuff I Would Have Said

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It’s been a while since I’ve had time for any blogging, since life tends to get in the way of such things. I would say that I’m going to be posting fairly frequently in the next few weeks, but I actually don’t know if I can commit to that. However, this is the last week of the semester, so there’s at least a good chance that I’ll have more time on my hands for the next three to four weeks. Unfortunately, over the past month, I’ve missed a lot of events and occasions that I would have liked to have observed and acknowledged on my blog. For that reason, I’m using this blog post to list a few of the things I would have written about if I had written stuff.

NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo: This November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) and wrote a 50,000 word story in thirty days. This is, in fact, part of the reason that I only wrote two blog posts in the entire month of November. Between school and work, I really didn’t have much time for that novel, and there were an awful lot of days that I didn’t get to write at all. I ended up having to write more than 10,000 words all in the last day, so I’m kind of proud of myself for finishing. With that being said, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to basically rewrite the entire thing in the editing process. My finished product is not remotely ready to be read. There are a few parts that sound like a plot summary written out in full sentences rather than like actual written work. When I finish editing and rewriting it, I’m guessing that it’s going to be significantly longer than it is now. Also, I regret that I never found the time to participate in any of the events associated with NaNoWriMo; I did all of the writing during homework breaks and in the middle of the night. But all in all, it was a good experience and I definitely intend to do it again next year. Who knows, maybe then I’ll have my schedule under control and it’ll be easier to dedicate time each day to writing.

Da Vinci CodeThe Da Vinci Code: For a good deal of this autumn, I have been reading The Da Vinci Code. I forget when exactly it was that I finished it, but it was definitely sometime in November. It was my intention to write a blog post about it, because I can think of a lot to say about the novel. In fact, I think I might still write a blog post about it in the near future, even though it’s now been a little while since I finished it.

snowSnow: This is my first winter up north since the winter of 2002-2003, and so I’ve gotten in the habit of thinking of snow as something unusual. In Alabama (where I went to college) and central Arkansas (where I lived before college) it only snows a couple times a year, and when it does, it’s a pretty big deal. In fact, it’s highly surprising that this is the second year in a row that it’s snowed in December in Arkansas. Here in northeastern Illinois, there have already been a couple small snowfalls, and yesterday, it snowed a couple inches. I will presumably be seeing a lot more snow in the next three or four months, but for right now, it still seems noteworthy and blogworthy that I’m seeing snow at all. If I had been posting stuff on a regular basis last month, I probably would have already blogged about snow several times.

JFKThe fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination: Actually, I hadn’t decided what I would have said about John F. Kennedy’s death if I had had time to write a blog post that day. But I would have wanted to write something. I went through a phase when I was probably about eight or nine in which I read everything I could find on John F. Kennedy’s death and the various theories associated with it. It is technically not completely certain who the killer was or whether it was a conspiracy. Even though it is fairly well established that it was almost certainly Lee Harvey Oswald and that he was most likely acting alone, I was intrigued that there was an element of mystery at all, and I had it in my head that I could solve the crime simply by reading a lot about the topic. Admittedly, I was not unbiased. I wanted to believe that it was an elaborate conspiracy that didn’t involve Lee Harvey Oswald at all, just because it would have been fun to disprove the commonly accepted theory. Obviously, I never did find enough evidence to prove anything, but that was really my first taste of research. (If you don’t count simply looking something up in an encyclopedia or dictionary) I never really lost interest in the topic, even though it has been several years now since I’ve taken the time to read anything at all about it. The event itself may have happened decades before I was born, but I still have personal memories concerning it.

Doctor WhoThe fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who: The day after Kennedy’s assassination, the British TV show Doctor Who made its debut. Consequently, the day after the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, the British TV show Doctor Who had its fiftieth anniversary special. This was the most exciting thing to happen to me since I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last June. That movie had been out for a while before I finally got to see it, but I only had to wait one day before the new Doctor Who episode was available on Amazon. It was awesome. In fact, it was well worth giving up the internet for a day and a half to avoid spoilers.

The beginning of Advent: This year, the first day of the new church year conveniently happened to fall on the first day of the calendar month, which only happens one seventh of the time, so that was pretty cool. I wrote this blog post for the beginning of Advent last year. If I had actually written something for the beginning of Advent this year too, it probably would have been pretty similar to this, so I suppose it’s okay to just post a link to the old post instead of writing something new.

I took this picture out of the window of the parking garage one day back in late October or early November.

I took this picture out of the window of the parking garage one day back in late October or early November.

School: I’m now only two days away from finishing my first semester of graduate school, and it occurs to me that I have had very little to say about this on my blog. I normally try to avoid writing much about my everyday life or about specific events in my life, but I consider schoolwork and holidays to be two exceptions to that policy. In fact, it would make sense for me to blog about school even more now than I did as an undergraduate student, because I’m no longer studying the kinds of things that almost everyone studies at some point in their educational career. I’m in graduate school, y’all. I’m not saying that there’s anything in particular I want to share about graduate school just now. I’m just saying that it’s a little weird that it’s been an entire semester and I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to write a blog post specifically about the stuff I’m doing in school.

Behold the beauty of my cat.

Behold the beauty of my cat.

My cat: Dude, my cat is so awesome.

Number Two Hundred: Another Top Ten List

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A little less than one year ago, I wrote my one hundredth blog post, and I decided to acknowledge the occasion by making it a top ten list of my favorite things I had posted on my blog up to that point. I had fun compiling that list, so I further decided to do something similar when I hit #200. This is my two hundredth blog post, and so I have now made a list of my top ten favorite things I’ve written on this blog since #100. I actually had a little difficulty getting it down to just ten, which is why I sneakily included links to a couple others. There was a lot of stuff to look through; my blog is over 192,000 words long, which is equivalent to a book of nearly 500 pages. Here are the highlights from the most recent half of all those words.

10.  Awkwardness in the Checkout Lane from February 24. This was a short blog post that I wrote very quickly without putting much thought into it, but I liked the way it turned out anyway, and I still find it amusing.

9. On Sentences that End with Prepositions from January 1. It’s about Star Wars and grammar, so you can tell it’s worth reading.

8. More Stuff that Martin Luther Didn’t Say from September 4. This is kind of a follow-up to a much older blog post, and it complains about how Martin Luther incorrectly gets associated with transcendentalism. I would have liked to have put this higher on the list because it says some important things, but I personally didn’t feel that I did a good job with it.

7. Just another Blog Post about Kate and William’s Baby from July 24. I wrote this just because I felt like I ought to put something on my blog on that particular day, and the new prince was a major news topic at the time. But looking back at it, I think it’s pretty well-written considering that I didn’t put much time and effort into it.

6. Cotton Candy: A blog post in which I rant about bad theology on the internet from June 15. As the title implies, this is just a complaint about certain ideas that are prominent among religious people on the internet. (And, to some extent, just in general) Like the previously listed one about Martin Luther, this blog post didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked, but I’m including it on this list because of the topic. I’m also going to cheat a little on the top-ten thing by including a link to a somewhat related blog post I wrote a couple weeks later: In Which I Continue to Rant about Bad Theology on the Internet from June 27.

5. The Confusing Thing about Random Facts from November 25. This was the first thing I posted after my previous top ten list, so it has had to wait nearly a year to find its place on this list. At that time, I didn’t like it quite enough that I would have expected to still like it eleven and a half months later.

4. Nothing Really Matters: A Close Reading of Bohemian Rhapsody from March 2. Cool people like to put thought into listening to Bohemian Rhapsody.

3. Why I Don’t Think “Go Tell it on the Mountain” is an Awesome Christmas Hymn from December 14. I forgot about this particular blog post shortly after writing it, and didn’t even notice that I reused the ideas in it a month later in one of my all-time most-read blog posts, Why Young People Leave the Church, which had a title that happens to be a phrase that often gets searched on Google. I only noticed that self-repetition just now as I was trying to decide whether the latter blog post was quite good enough to make the list, and I came to the conclusion that the one from December was somewhat better, even if it was seasonally-specific.

2. Humans: An Owner’s Guide for Cats from July 18. This one contains multiple pictures of my beautiful kitten Romana, who was only about seven months old at that time.

1. Star Wars Chronology Compression and related issues from April 14. It’s about Star Wars. Clearly, it’s awesome.

Old Facebook Posts

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facebookI got a facebook account when I started college back in the end of August 2009. The main purpose of facebook and other social networking sites is to stay in touch with people, whether that means old friends that you haven’t seen in years, current friends and acquaintances who you don’t see as often as you’d like because you’re all so busy, or people who you actually do see all the time. I also use facebook as a repository for memories; there’s an awful lot that comes back to mind if you look through your old pictures and statuses. But perhaps the most noteworthy purpose of facebook, at least in my experience and opinion, is to publicly say whatever entertaining things pop into my head. That’s the cool thing about the internet; I get to choose what sorts of ideas I do or do not feel like communicating to the world, and I have all the time I need to think about how I want to say them. That way, I am perceived according to things that I decided I wanted to say, instead of by the awkward situations that happen in that thing we call “real life,” where there’s no backspace key and where you don’t have the option of reading something one more time before clicking enter.

But another thing about the internet is that, despite the fact that stuff stays there indefinitely, it’s only recent things that get noticed. That’s true about content like news and viral videos, but it’s even more true about the facebook posts of a non-famous individual person. So all of my old facebook posts are essentially gone, even the ones that were clever or funny enough that I would have liked it if they could somehow remain on my permanent record as things that people think of when they form opinions of me.

That’s part of the reason that I found myself looking at old facebook statuses yesterday afternoon and making a list of the ones that I liked. Another reason was that it was fun and that it brought back a lot of memories. At any rate, I collected about eight pages of facebook statuses that still made me laugh or that seemed worthy of remembering for any number of other reasons. I have cut that list down a little for the sake of brevity. (If you can call a 1250-word blog post brief) Here are some of them, listed in backwards chronological order, that I don’t really want to fade into the oblivion of old internet content.

July 9, 2013

They say that a penny saved is a penny earned, but I think that a penny saved should be two pennies earned, because that would be a useful source of income.

April 27, 2013

Watching television is the lazy version of dreaming.

November 6, 2012

Go vote today, and they’ll give you a sticker! That’s incentive for ya.

November 4, 2012

In the middle of the night, I reset my clocks for the sole purpose of saving the daylight. But then, when I woke up this morning, it was cloudy and gloomy, so I could only conclude that my efforts had failed. Sorry, daylight. I did all I could.

October 12, 2012

It has just occurred to me that “Schrodinger’s Cats” would be a great name for a band. Now I need to learn how to play some musical instrument.

August 12, 2012

Holy Communion: It’s edible salvation, because God is awesome.

July 19, 2012

I did things before they were cool before it was cool.

June 15, 2012

I’m thinking about running for President of the United States this November. I realize that someone has to be at least 35 years old to be president, but nowhere does the Constitution specify that we have to count our ages in base 10. In base 5, I’m already 40.

May 24, 2012

You aren’t really your own worst critic unless you’re an only child.

January 22, 2012

I put pen to paper with the intention of creating a shopping list, but instead, the result was science fiction.

December 13, 2011

Phrases from statistics class that would be awesome names for bands: “The Outliers”, “Linear Regression”, “Interquartile Range”, and, best of all, “The Standard Deviation”.

December 8, 2011

You know you’re both a sore loser and a nerd when you stastically analyze all 1215 rolls in a game of risk played a couple weeks ago in order to prove that your rolls were significantly lower than the overall mean, and that it was therefore totally unfair that you lost.

September 23, 2011

My brother and I model our conversations on calculus. We go off on tangents at every point.

July 16, 2011

It was my intention to go to bed early last night. Instead, I went to bed early this morning.

May 8, 2011

I’m not entirely sure whether the word ‘finals’ is an acronym for ‘Foolishly, I never actually learned stuff’ or ‘First, I need a little sleep.” But it must be one or the other.

May 7, 2011

Five more days to finish four more courses with three more exams, two final papers, and a partridge in a pear tree.

April 30, 2011

Last night, I succeeded in getting to sleep before midnight. If by midnight, you mean, like, one o’clock. And if by ‘before’ you mean ‘not too long after’.

April 14, 2011

Either I need to stop being so distracted by the red squiggly lines appearing under all my words, or I need to learn how to spell.

March 25, 2011

It’s kind of like Schrodinger’s cat. If I don’t look at my history test, does that grade really exist? As long as I don’t know what it is, is there still a chance I can improve my grade by finding a four leaf clover or something?

February 7, 2011

Life is short. Read fast.

January 20, 2011

I am not going to give my life to God, because he has already purchased it, and incidentally, he paid a lot more for it than what it was worth.

December 26, 2010

Polka music is like fruitcake. I know people aren’t supposed to like them, but I can’t help it.

December 22, 2010

family, noun: A group of people who all know the same silly songs and sing them frequently in random situations.

December 12, 2010

I would like to point out to Santa Claus that all my sins have been forgiven through Christ’s death and resurrection.

December 11, 2010

Studying gives me attention deficit disor- I should move that blue ornament a little higher on the Christmas tree.

December 5, 2010

Homework is like a scary bumblebee. If you just ignore it, it doesn’t really go away.

November 29, 2010

Some people would say the glass is half empty. Some would say the glass is half full. And others would say, “Are you sure it’s exactly half? Let me go get a ruler.”

August 17, 2010

I was going to procrastinate today, but somehow I got busy with other things, and now I’m going to procrastinate tomorrow instead.

May 27, 2010

My house: The place where mealtime conversations revolve around such topics as Star Wars, the difference between various blood types, the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the question of whether or not tornados are life forms from other planets.

April 26, 2010

Gud spehling iz foer peepl hoo lak creeyativitee.

April 14, 2010

Late to bed and early to rise leads to fatigue and bloodshot eyes.

Really Awesome Fun Things That I Would Do If I Had Time On My Hands

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I should probably start by acknowledging that, when I say “really awesome fun things,” I mean what other people mean when they say, “weird, pointless, and nerdy things.” In fact, people often respond to my “really awesome” ideas by giving me a strange look and saying, “But… why?” And the only answer I have for that is, “Because… awesomeness.” So keep that answer in your mind as you read this list and think, “But…why?” about everything on it.

Number One: Codify the language used on my imaginary planet

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

On my imaginary planet, they use a language that, unlike English and other Indo-European languages, has a syllabary rather than an alphabet. That means that each syllable is represented by a symbol. This system is not unique to the people of my planet; it is used in some Earth cultures, most notably Japanese and Cherokee. But it is much less widespread than a phonetic alphabet because it tends to be inefficient and more complex. That is, that’s the way it works on Earth. On my imaginary planet, they use a syllabaric language just because I personally think it would be more fun to make up. It actually won’t be too complex because there are only 100 different syllables in their language, and when I say 100, I mean 49, because they count in base seven. The 49 one-syllable words are one-digit integers, pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. Two-syllable words are adjectives and adverbs.  Three-syllable words are verb roots, (with a fourth syllable suffix determining tense, mood, and aspect) and five-syllable words are nouns. That allows for a vocabulary of as many as 10,001,010,100 words counting in base 7, which is 282,595,348 in base 10. (I should perhaps acknowledge at this point that there is a significant possibility that my math is wrong, because that is a thing that does happen sometimes.) Considering that there are approximately a million words in the English language, (an exact count would be impossible due to the nature of linguistics) it is safe to say that my planet’s imaginary language would not exhaust its capacity for vocabulary. With the exception of verbs and nouns, this language would have a more limited number of words than most Earth languages, and it is my intention for the grammar to also be simpler and involve fewer exceptions to rules. That’s as far as I’ve gotten; I haven’t formed the syllabary or made up any vocabulary yet. Once I do that, the next step is to translate the entire Bible into my imaginary language. And of course, the translation has to be done from the original Hebrew and Greek, because it is vitally important that all of these imaginary people have a scripturally accurate Bible. (Note: This translation could take a while, because I currently do not know Biblical Hebrew at all and only sort of kind of know a little Biblical Greek.)

Number Two: Memorize lots of Pi

I am a little embarrassed to admit that all of Pi that I can remember is 3.1415. Actually, I thought I remembered a few more digits, but it turns out that I had the 9 and the 2 switched. I was right that the next digit after that was a 6, but that was as far as I could get. I used to know a lot more Pi; I think that at one point, I had about 40 digits memorized. Of course, that’s not extremely impressive because there are some extreme nerds out there who have Pi memorized to a bajillion places. But the point is that I want to be one of those extreme nerds because that seems like a fun skill to have.

Number Three: Be an Artificially Artificial Intelligence

I'm pretty sure that's more or less how Cleverbot works.

I’m pretty sure that’s more or less how Cleverbot works.

This game would make use of an anonymous and random internet chat program, of which there are several in existence. Before beginning, I would make a short list of random phrases. In the first chat, I would enter each of these phrases and make a note of how the other person responded. From that point on, anytime someone uses one of my original phrases, I would respond in the same way that person #1 responded. When chatting with person #2, I would use the phrases that had been typed by person #1 in chat #1. Once again, I would keep track of the responses for use in any later situation where someone types those phrases to me. Over the course of hundreds or thousands of chats, I would build up an extensive list telling me how to respond to things that people say. The longer I do this, the more my chat messages would begin to resemble an actual conversation with an actual person.

Number Four: Organize my wardrobe

This is what I need to do. I need to make a list of every non-underwear article of clothing that I own and determine which of them “go with” which others, so that I have a specific list of every outfit I have available. For each outfit, I shall then determine rules for when and where it can be worn depending upon factors such as degree of formality and suitability in cold or hot temperatures. Finally, I shall make a complicated and convoluted chart that tells me when to wear what. The point of this is not to simplify the process of getting dressed or to save time; the point is to have the fun of consulting a chart. Because that’s a very entertaining thing to do.

Number Five: Finish the mancala algorithm

Mancala Board(I use the word “finish” because this is a project that I have started before. See this blog post from June 2012.) When a game of mancala begins, the first player has six choices, and only one of them makes any sense. It is fairly self-apparent that the number of possible moves increases exponentially for each additional move being considered in the calculation, and that the number of good moves also increases to such an extent that there is a very wide variety of possible outcomes. However, the game of mancala is a lot simpler than, for example, chess or scrabble, so it seems that it should be feasible, although ridiculously time-consuming, to create an algorithm determining what the best series of moves is. One goal of this algorithm is to develop a strategy that will always win; another goal is to determine how early in the game it is possible to predict beyond a doubt who will win. As far as I can tell, the best way to develop such an algorithm is to play lots and lots and lots of mancala and try out lots of possible combinations of moves.  It isn’t literally necessary to play out every possible game, but it will be necessary to try out a lot of them, to try out various ways of continuing the game after various sets of opening moves, and to take a mathematical approach to the outcomes.

Number Six: Learn how to talk in Iambic Pentameter

It seems to me that the ultimate test of quick thinking is the ability to maintain a poetic meter and rhyme scheme in conversational speech. One would have to count stressed and unstressed syllables and think of rhymes all while concentrating on communicating whatever it is that one wants to say in the context of the given conversation. I’m not sure if such a thing would be possible, but it would be so totally awesome if it was.

Number Seven: Continue my experiments on whether putting your hands on your face helps you think

Many people, myself included, will sometimes put their hands on their face while they are thinking, and I am curious about why. In the past, I have made up experiments to test the intellectual effects of this gesture. (See these two blog posts from Summer 2012) These tests have obviously been inadequate to answer this question for various reasons. For one thing, they were conducted in the same way, which measured intellectual activity by memorizing a string of random digits. But memorization isn’t the only kind of thought. It seems to me that a strategic game is a more thorough test of effective thought. Chess is the ideal game for this experiment because it has no element of luck and is more intellectually stimulating than certain other games like checkers. (In case anyone is interested, I dislike the game of checkers and am always glad for an opportunity to say so.) The next experiment would involve playing consecutive online chess games, all using the same time limit, for many hours on end. During some games, I would rest my face on my hands while I think, and during other games, I would make sure not to touch my face at all. This experiment would have to be repeated several times on different days in order to decrease the risk of confounding variables. I imagine that I would need to play a few hundred games before calculating the results. Even then, these results would be meaningless unless I came up with further experiments which would involve other people and other methods of measuring intellectual activity.

Number Eight: Memorize cool movies

Star WarsThis one is pretty self-explanatory. It also is quite obvious that the first couple movies that I would memorize would be Star Wars and The Princess Bride. Others that would be high on the list would be the other Star Wars movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Back to the Future trilogy, and The Matrix. You know, all those movies that cool people quote all the time.

Number Nine: Finish this list

This list is incomplete because there are a semi-infinite number of really awesome fun things that I would do if I had time on my hands. There are a bunch that I had intended to include in this partial list that have temporarily slipped my mind, and I’m going to go ahead and post this without them because what I have here is already sufficiently long. Then there are others that I thought of a long time ago and have completely forgotten, and many more that simply haven’t ever occurred to me yet. Just to finish the list would be an unachievable goal. But it would be entertaining to spend a lot of time working on it.

Three Encouraging Cliches that People Shouldn’t Use

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Number One: “These are the best days/years of your life.”

Pictured: how the majority of people over the age of thirty seem to think of people under the age of thirty.

Pictured: how the majority of people over the age of thirty seem to think of people under the age of thirty.

This expression is often used by middle-aged or elderly people when speaking to teenagers and young adults with the idea that it encourages them to live in the moment and to enjoy the carefree days of their youth. But it’s actually a depressing and discouraging thing to tell someone because it’s basically equivalent to saying, “Things are never, ever going to get any better than they are now.” That’s a little sad even if the person hearing it really is relatively content and carefree, but the fact of the matter is that most teenagers and young adults really aren’t that happy with the way things are going. In the same way that adults tend to forget the extent of the disappointments and frustrations of childhood, it would seem that older adults forget the extent of the stresses and struggles of being younger.

School is hard, learning to make financial decisions for oneself is hard, and making long-term life choices is hard. And right now, it is becoming increasingly normal for recent college graduates to initially fail at the whole being-a-grownup thing, and to take several years to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet and what they’re going to do with their lives.

As someone who doesn’t have a home or much of any money, who has recently moved to an unfamiliar area and isn’t having an easy time settling in, who doesn’t necessarily eat three meals every day because food is expensive, and who spends a couple hours a day driving a car that has had the check engine light on for more than ten months now, I don’t want to hear that these are the best days of my life.

I do realize that there are advantages and disadvantages to every age bracket, and that being middle-aged or elderly isn’t all that great, either. I’m pretty sure that there’s no specific age that is the best age to be. Everyone goes through times that are happier or harder than other times, and the chronology of those phases varies from person to person. Even within the life of one specific individual, it would probably be impossible to pinpoint a certain time period that was the best. But the bottom line is that nobody likes being told by an oblivious but well-meaning friend or family member that they have things better than they actually do. So unless you somehow happen to be absolutely certain that someone is genuinely content with their current lot in life, you shouldn’t imply to them that it’s only downhill from there.

Number Two: “There are other people who have it worse.”

In order to be allowed to be sad, please fill out an application form and include a pathetic resume and list three references who think you're worthless.

In order to be eligible for sadness, please fill out an application form and include a pathetic resume, a list of three references who think you’re worthless, and medical records that indicate that you suffer from numerous fatal diseases and are in constant agonizing pain. Your application will probably be denied if you have not been diagnosed with manic depression, do not have substantial credit card debt, or have supportive family and/or friends.

On tumblr recently, someone posted a text post that went something like this: “After much searching, the person with the worst life is finally found. They are officially granted permission to be sad, but only them, and no one else.” (Paraphrased quotation because I’m too lazy to go back and find it) As silly as that is, the absurdity comes from the implication of the original cliché, not from the tumblr user’s response to it.

After all, why would it be reassuring or comforting to point out to someone who has a problem that there are other people who have it worse? Unless the person to whom you are talking has some serious personality issues, they aren’t going to be happy about someone else’s woes. Even if someone is unselfish enough to easily and immediately forget their own difficulties in order to feel sympathy for someone else, that person is still not going to be happy about the situation. Empathy for other people’s hardships is not an enjoyable state of mind, even if it is morally better than feeling sorry for one’s self.

By an odd coincidence, nearly every time that someone I know has been seriously injured, it has occurred at a time when I was frustrated by a reoccurring minor injury myself, and it neither cheered me up nor cured my not-really-very-severe pain to know that someone else was suffering from much worse pain. It made me feel both guilty and worried at a time when I was already upset.

Besides that, it’s not as if a person can suddenly become happy just by deciding that they ought to be happy. Despite what every motivational speaker has repeatedly said, you don’t choose your emotions. They are determined in part by your personality and in part by the circumstances and events of your life. Neither of those factors is something that you can change at will; if they were, you wouldn’t ever be unhappy in the first place. When things are going badly, the last thing you need is someone trying to guilt-trip you into being happy, especially because guilt is also a negative emotion.

Number Three: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

"Susie's had a rough day, so I don't think she can handle anything else going wrong at the moment, but I bet Bobby could take a few hurtful insults, a car accident, and a death in the family before he totally loses it."

“Susie’s had a rough day, so I don’t think she can handle anything else going wrong at the moment, but I bet Bobby could take a few hurtful insults, a car accident, and a death in the family before he totally loses it.”

Like many religious clichés, this isn’t actually in the Bible, but it’s often quoted as a piece of scriptural wisdom.  You can already tell from that fact alone that something’s a little fishy about it. Granted, there are some Bible verses that could technically be reworded to say this, if you were really flexible with how you defined what it means to be able to “handle” something. But that ambiguity is the only way you can get away with using this cliché. After all, stress and unhappiness can worsen physical diseases and trigger mental illnesses, people’s personalities and outlooks on life can change for the worse because of difficult experiences, and there have even been people who have lost their faith after going through a traumatic loss. If none of those things count as not being able to “handle” something, I’m not sure what would.

This is essentially a false promise, just like the false promise that God will give you financial abundance if you donate a certain amount of money to a televangelist, or that God will heal the physical infirmities of anyone whose faith is strong enough. (So therefore, anyone who is ill or injured or who has a disability must not have very strong faith.) And just like those other false promises that claim to come from God, there is risk that a person will be turned away from the church when they realize that life as a Christian really isn’t free from all cares and concerns. There are plenty of wonderful promises that God does make; there isn’t any need for people to make up their own divine promises to share with each other just because they sound good.

Of course, that isn’t to say that anyone who hears a cliché like this will be turned away from their faith. More likely, the person hearing these kinds of promises will be hurt that they’re being fed meaningless clichés when they could really use some genuine moral support. But that’s still a good reason that people just shouldn’t say things like this.

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