The Weirdness of Going North

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SouthConsidering the fact that I lived in the Midwest for the first 11 years and 9 months of my life before moving to the South, it wouldn’t seem like it should be such a big culture shock to be back up North. But I guess that over the past ten years, I’ve gotten more accustomed to being a Southerner than I realized. That is, I’ve gotten accustomed to being around Southerners. I’m not sure I ever entirely counted as a Southerner; I’ve gotten into the habit of interchangeably referring to myself as a Southerner or Northerner depending upon the context. For example, if it’s too hot, I can complain about it because I’m a Northerner and am not used to having temperatures exceeding a hundred degrees for weeks on end, but when it’s cold, I can complain about it because I’m a Southerner and don’t even know what’s happening when there’s white stuff falling from the sky. I can drink iced tea either with or without sugar. I can make nostalgic and affectionate remarks about both corn fields and cotton fields.  I can claim that everyone else has an accent, and when someone tells me that I have an accent, I can attribute it to ancestors who came from fascinating distant places, even though those ancestors died years before I was even born. If someone asks me whether I consider myself a Northerner or a Southerner, I can tell them that I have the best of both sides. At the moment, though, I feel like a Southerner living in the North.

Roll TideFor one thing, the “Roll Tide” bumper sticker on my car is the only one I’ve seen since coming here, and I have not seen any Razorbacks references, either. I also haven’t heard anything about LSU, Auburn, or any of the other various teams whose names make up at least forty percent of conversational topics in the South. People around here aren’t as obsessed with college football as they are in Alabama, and any individuals who do watch college football are going to cheer for different teams and are probably not going to be particularly devoted to football this time of year, since it’s not even football season. Actually, I myself have never been a really big football fan. I think that the fan culture is actually just as important to me as the game itself. And really, I’ve been a Chicago Cubs fan for much longer than I’ve been an Alabama Crimson Tide fan, and I understand and enjoy baseball more than football anyway. But I’m sure that one of these days, I’m going to slip and use the phrase “Roll tide” in public, and it’ll come as a shock when no one knows what I mean. In fact, I’m a little tempted to start saying, “Roll tide, y’all”, instead of “Hello”, just to see how people react. In Alabama, this would not be a weird or unusual thing to do.

Another weird thing is that it’s cold here. I don’t mean that it snows more in the winter; that’s obvious and I’m prepared for the fact that next winter is going to feel long and cold to me no matter how mild it is by Northern standards. I mean that non-winter temperatures are surprisingly cold here. It’s still a bit chilly now, in the middle of June. There have been days that it’s been in the 60s. In Alabama, we have a word for this kind of weather, and that word is “freezing”.  Admittedly, I’ve always been amused by the way that Southerners panic every time it drops below eighty degrees, but even I have gotten to the point that it really doesn’t feel like summer unless it’s so hot that you can bake things by holding them out of an open window for a few minutes. Okay, I admit that I’m exaggerating there, but it’s literally true that in the summer, you can brew tea in just a couple minutes using no heat source except sunlight. I’ve done that in my dorm room many times. Then I’d stick it in the refrigerator for a while and put some sugar in it. There’s something very satisfying and summery about a cup of sweetened iced tea, or, as we call it in the South, “tea”.

NorthThen there’s the accents. I don’t have a Southern accent at all, and neither do I use the word “y’all”, but I no longer really notice Southern accents unless they’re very strong. Now, Midwestern voices sound unusual to me. For the first few days after I got here, I thought that everyone’s voice sounded clipped and harsh. But at least around here, talking takes little enough time that it’s a useful and efficient means of communication. In the South, it’s rather inconvenient to have a four-syllable first name because it takes the average Southerner about five minutes to get through each syllable. Each vowel is a meticulously crafted work of art, the kind that leaves the observer wondering what it’s supposed to be, but agreeing that it is certainly aesthetically pleasing. The stereotype says that Southerners are more talkative than Northerners, and I wonder if that idea comes from the amount of time spent talking rather than the number of words spoken. (Actually, Southerners probably talk more than Northerners according to either form of measurement. But I still think that the difference is much greater if we’re measuring time rather than words.)

If a random stranger does exchange small talk with you, that’s weird and kind of creepy around here. I had forgotten this because in the South, it’s perfectly normal for people to chat with people they see in public places. I’ve never been the type of person to strike up a conversation with a random passerby, but I’m so used to the normality of such encounters that I thought nothing of it when a random man who saw me applying for jobs one day stopped me to offer information about the town and to welcome me to the area. In fact, I appreciated his friendliness until I realized that he was flirting with me and thought that I was going to go on a date with him. Then he continued to follow me even after I said goodbye and told him to have a nice day. In order to escape, I had to give him a fake phone number and then pretend that I was in a hurry to go someplace else. Then I ran away and hid in my car and said to myself, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Alabama anymore.” I really hate lying; I am still very bothered by this even now that it’s been something like two weeks.

Speed Limit infinitySomething else I’ve noticed is that people drive differently here. I think that every single place in the world, with the possible exception of uninhabited areas such as the ocean floor, is known for the fact that people drive more quickly there than anyplace else. This would seem to be statistically impossible, but it would also seem to be true. I definitely have noticed that, both in Alabama and in Illinois, people drive faster there than they do in the other state. This is slightly less paradoxical when you take into account that the speed limit is drastically different; people are supposed to drive significantly faster in Alabama.

In my experience, Alabama drivers are terrible about changing lanes abruptly and not looking where they’re going when they do so, and indeed, I have seen for myself that Illinois drivers are much better about this. But they have their own idiosyncrasies here. (Which is fairly obvious considering that this is, in fact, what the word “idiosyncrasies” means.) For instance, drivers around here tend to pull so far forward at stop signs and stoplights that they’re actually in the intersection. They really will block traffic rather than give up that tiny little head start when it’s their turn to go. It annoys and confuses me, but absolutely everyone does it.

Also, tollways are weird. I don't like tollways.

Also, tollways are weird. I don’t like tollways.

Drivers around here also aren’t very nice about letting someone make a lane change. If you accidentally get into a turn lane when you want to go straight, or don’t get into a turn lane when that’s what you were trying to do, your mistake cannot be rectified. Last-minute lane changes are not things that happen in Illinois, apparently. I am sure this relates to the aforementioned fact that Illinois drivers are slower and safer about their lane changes than Alabama drivers are, but it makes life very difficult for people like me who are unfamiliar with the area and don’t always know which lane they want to be in until the last minute. This issue has in fact inspired the song (To be sung to the tune of “Come Ye Thankful People Come”) which goes like this: “Let me over, let me by/ You don’t want to make me cry/ If I get lost I’ll be sad/ I am likely to go mad/ At this rate I’ll ne’er arrive/ I will never end this drive/ Let me get into that lane/ You are driving me insane.” Yes, I did make this up on the spur of the moment and sing it out loud with my windows open when it was entirely possible that other drivers could hear. I apologize for the irreverent use of a hymn tune, but I could not help it, for the song was so relevant to the situation that my conscious mind was not involved in its invention.

One thing that I do not miss at all is the cockroaches. I don’t think I’ve seen a single cockroach since I left campus, and that is definitely a very good thing. And there are fewer mosquitoes and wasps, as well. And the roads tend to go in straight lines and intersect other roads frequently, which makes it easier to get back on track if you’ve gotten yourself lost. Around here, there seem to be fewer car crashes, probably because of the aforementioned reckless lane changes in Alabama. Also, there is no risk of hurricanes in this area, and storms can usually be predicted somewhat farther in advance. So these are all good things.

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700 Miles of Fear

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Note: I seem to have developed a bad habit of wasting far too much time writing rambling, introspective, and vaguely depressing things with the general idea that I could use them on my blog. But then I always choose not to post them because they’re no good, or I never quite finish them, or they are a bit too disconnected and jumbled, or they’re too dismal. But I figured I ought to post at least one of them sometime, just so that I could somewhat justify the time I’ve spent on this kind of thing. The following blog post was written between classes early this afternoon, on a sheet of notebook paper that I borrowed from my calculus folder. I can’t say it’s completely unedited, because I did reword it a little as I typed it up, but it’s pretty close to what I originally wrote. If it sounds like stream-of-consciousness, that’s because that’s exactly what it is.

I think that all writers- amateur or professional, poet or novelist, experienced or aspiring- has a few favorite literary passages or lines that they wish they’d written. I know I have a few, and one such line comes from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.  It goes, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”.  I know, that’s just one short line out of a long and complex poem, and it’s silly to single out those eleven syllables as being particularly profound. But it’s such a remarkably accurate description of life.

T.S. EliotIn general, I am not a big Eliot fan; in fact I resent him a little for being so famous that I’ve had to read “The Wasteland” a bajillion times. But there are things he wrote that I like, and that one line is chief among them. I could use this opportunity to make a few comments about other interesting things I’ve noticed or been told about my favorite Eliot lines, but I’m not going to do that. In my opinion, the less said about Eliot’s poetry, the better, because much of it is actually quite self-explanatory. Yes, there are many literary allusions and clever metaphors and a lot of symbolism that a literature class could fill up any amount of time trying to analyze. But the central meaning is something so basic and yet so hard to put into words that there is no way to say it better than the line itself does. The coffee spoon line is the prime example. Maybe that’s what I often dislike about Eliot; I love metaphors and allegories that translate neatly into literal language, resulting in a beautifully mathematical symmetry between reality and poetry. But I can appreciate this different kind of metaphor, which isn’t really a metaphor because there’s simply no other way to say it. It’s very true that life is measured out by coffee spoons. (And other seemingly trivial daily things)

roadThis morning, I counted. I counted how many days I have left before graduation,  how many of those days have classes, how many total classes I have left, how many exams I have to take, how many papers I have to write, and how many miles I have left to drive in that time. That last sum was about 700. It’s a frightening number because it’s so large and my car is so rickety. In the eleven months that I’ve had it, it has broken down numerous times and had several repairs, and there are several other repairs that it ought to have, if I could afford them. Every time I drive that car for any distance, no matter how short, it’s a nerve-wracking experience. And I have to drive a lot. Over the course of the last few months, it has gradually filled my life with a general sense of paranoia and dread that I sometimes forget was originally associated specifically with car problems.

booksAfter I counted, I stacked up my books and spent the last couple of hours before class reading from them alternatively. Many of these books and the concepts they discuss have played much too prominent a role in my life lately, and I was in no frame of mind to put the level of focus into each one that they all required. The ideas all jumbled together in my brain- the theorems of linear algebra, the disorienting randomness of postmodern fiction, the masterfully ironic tone of Douglas Adams. (The latter, actually, is one thing that I am not reading for school, but rather of my own volition) There somehow seemed to be common themes between all of them. A sarcastic attitude towards advertising, a few concepts regarding number of dimensions, something about technology and its relationship with people. And somehow they all combined into something very profound that had something to do with something very important, but I wasn’t quite sure what. This is the nature of liberal arts. Everything ceases to mean anything because anything can mean everything. Perhaps it’s all my own fault for taking Postmodernism in my last semester. I don’t know whether or not it makes any sense. To me, nothing makes sense right now, and it won’t make sense for another 700 miles.

Then there are the voices that speak in multivariable integrals. I noticed it one day when I was so tired that I was doing my calculus homework in my sleep while I was awake. In the next room, there were numerous people talking, saying all kinds of things all at once, and I thought that if you added up the area covered by their conversation, one voice at a time- each in terms of the ones you hadn’t done yet, because they were all talking to each other, of course- you could get a single, simple, numerical solution out of all the chaos. But that’s silly, if for no other reason, because it makes no sense to think of other people’s voices as steps in a calculus problem when I’m something different (I’m not even sure what) just because I’m the one who’s not talking.

puzzleFor the last couple months, at any given time, I’ve had a jigsaw puzzle on my dresser that’s never been finished. Every couple weeks, I almost finish one, but there’s always a piece or two missing, and so I put it away and start another one without ever quite finishing the previous puzzle. I’m not particularly prone to losing things; puzzle pieces are really the only things that I have a tendency to misplace, which makes the obvious metaphor even more poignant and a little disturbing. The missing pieces invariably do show up eventually, usually just a day or two later. But by then, they do me no good, because I’m working on a different puzzle and am searching for different pieces.

mileageThat’s what really scares me about the 700 miles. I’m not quite naïve enough to think that a college diploma is the metaphorical last step in a long calculus problem or the last piece in a big jigsaw puzzle. I am well aware that my life will continue to be measured out by coffee spoons after I graduate from college. The next 700 miles of my life don’t lead to a finish line, or even to a place where I can stop and take a break for a little while. They just lead up to an interesting landmark mileage number. And then I have to go on driving just as much in the same rickety old car, both metaphorically and literally.

Various Aspects of My Life Today

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Every now and then, generally on a Sunday afternoon, I like to open a Word document and just type random things at intervals throughout the day. Later in the evening, I then give the whole thing a very quick and cursory edit and stick it on my blog with a few pictures added. I am not sure if anyone else in the world is particularly interested in reading such random collections of stuff, but it’s fun to do, so I keep doing it anyway. Without further ado, here is a list of stuff that I felt like typing at some point between noon-ish and 8:30-ish PM this evening.

I found this online and edited it a little. It used to say Missouri, but I've been to Missouri many times and I can assure you that it is more true of Alabama.

I found this online and edited it a little. It used to say Missouri, but I’ve been to Missouri many times and I can assure you that it is more true of Alabama.

1. Alabama is such a weird place. Today’s weather feels more like an example of the proverbial April Showers than like typical mid-January weather. The temperature is high enough that I would have the windows open if it wasn’t raining, and it’s so humid that my hair is just as curly as it is on a ridiculously hot summer day. The current weather system is interestingly reminiscent of the rain that occurred during the first week of June. In fact, I am now experiencing much nostalgia regarding the beginning of last summer.

2. On the way to and from church today, I discovered that I still know all of the words to all four verses of “Today Thy Mercy Calls Us”, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”, and “Be Still My Soul”, the first three verses of “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” and “Soul Adorn Thyself With Gladness”,  and the first two verses of “By Grace I’m Saved”, “We All Believe in One True God,” and “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”, even though I haven’t sung in the car much since about late September. Ironically, despite being able to do all that singing in the car today, I still couldn’t sing in church due to the cold that I had almost two weeks ago. Also, I can’t remember all of “Christ is Arisen”, which is odd given the fact that it’s only one verse long.

No, there is no reason for this image to be here. Should there be a reason?

No, there is no reason for this image to be here. Should there be a reason?

3. When you think about it, it’s really amazing and incredible to have a body. It’s a concrete and physical representation of your entire self and identity, like an avatar in a computer game except that it’s more real. And you can do stuff with it, like walking around and like eating. I might not like everything about this physical self-container; I might wish that it had a prettier face or that it danced better, but the fact remains that it’s a pretty cool thing.

4. I feel very proud of the last couple chess games I just won. None of them were particularly interesting tactically; they mostly involved things like races to get pawns queened and slow maneuvers to chase the opponent’s king around. But now I’m sad because I just lost a game. Yes, I am typing and playing chess at the same time. I might be playing better if my attention wasn’t divided. (Update a couple minutes later: I won a game by resignation because my opponent made a really stupid mistake and lost his queen just a couple moves into the game. That blunder would have been unusually bad even for me. The moral of this story is that you should always think very carefully before moving your queen that soon.)

A picture of me and my sister. As you can probably guess, it's a rather old picture. I'm the one in pink.

A picture of me and my sister. As you can probably guess, it’s a rather old picture. I’m the one in pink.

5. It just occurred to me that last summer, when my sister and I fought a spam war, (the evidence of which can be seen here and here) this was before we used tumblr. I think that the time is coming when I should plan my next attack.

6. It’s mid-afternoon and I’m still wearing my church dress. I’m lazy and I hate changing clothes. Also, I happen to particularly like this dress. It fits me nicely and it’s comfortable, which always win major coolness points for dresses, especially dresses that still look as nice as this one does. I like the pattern, too; it’s brown and white with pink flowers. The really appealing thing about it is that, unlike most of my clothes, it doesn’t have a super low neckline or a very short skirt. I suppose I could see it as a compliment that the fashion industry assumes that anyone who wears my size would want to wear revealing clothes, but they happen to be wrong. I would prefer to dress more modestly than most clothing manufacturers allow, and this dress happens to be adequately modest.

I posted this on tumblr this morning

I posted this on tumblr this morning

7. I have two jigsaw puzzles in progress right now. I’ve been too busy to really work on them, so right now, they’re just sitting around and I put a few pieces in place every now and then. That’s not the way I like to do jigsaw puzzles; I have been known to stay up ‘till the wee hours o’ the morn to finish a puzzle that I started earlier that evening. Puzzles are fun because they’re somewhat intellectual but take up little enough mental energy that you can use that time to let your mind wander wherever it wants. And they’re metaphorical for life in that the point is to take hundreds or thousands of little pieces and put them together in a way that makes sense and allows you to see the big picture. The difference is that, in the case of a jigsaw puzzle, it really is possible to get the whole thing put together properly, and it usually doesn’t even take very long and isn’t very stressful in the meantime. Still, the metaphor is accurate enough that there’s something comforting and reassuring about accomplishing a jigsaw puzzle, particularly if you do it in a short time frame. The fact that life is significantly more complicated than jigsaw puzzles is the main reason that I decided to do two at the same time. That setup is still much simpler than real life, and it’s less fun that just focusing on one puzzle.

In progress

In progress

8. I’ve made a list of my top 100 favorite songs four times over the last three years or so, and it’s always a pretty long process. Making a list of my top 250 songs is taking forever. But it’s a great excuse to find time to listen to a lot of good music. That includes some music that I haven’t listened to since the last time I made a top 100 favorite songs list.

9. Speaking of music, I’m a little bit obsessed with Judith Durham of the 1960s Australian folk band The Seekers.  I think that she exemplified everything that a female pop singer should be. Most importantly, she had a very beautiful voice and she sang songs that I like, but besides that, she had a pretty face and dressed nicely. Also, she was married exactly once and divorced zero times, she never did drugs or got in trouble with the law as far as I know, and there was nothing even remotely provocative about her image. But mostly, I like her because she had a very beautiful voice and sang songs that I like. Examples of Judith Durham’s awesomeness can be found here and here and here and here and here and here and here. Those are about half of the songs by The Seekers that are going to be on my top 250 favorite songs list.

On days like today when there's lots of stuff I want to do and none of it involves leaving my room, I just stack everything I intend to use on my bed or desk.

On days like today when there’s lots of stuff I want to do and none of it involves leaving my room, I just stack everything I intend to use on my bed or desk.

10. I have experienced an utter lack of schedule since my car broke down on Friday. Even though it’s working again, and even though it got me to and from church just fine this morning, my life still isn’t following a predictable and controllable chain of events. Because I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies regarding my schedule, this feels like an anomaly in the space-time continuum. Note to self: get to class early tomorrow so I can ask my physics professor how to solve anomalies in the space-time continuum. If he asks what I mean, inform him that my car broke down on Friday. This should clarify matters entirely.

11. I don’t know what to make of the fact that I barely have any homework to do. It’s not that I have a problem with this situation; there are an infinite number of things that I’d rather do than homework. It’s just that I am unaccustomed to having as little homework as I’ve had this last week and a half. It’s an aberration that baffles me even while it brings me pleasure. I am content to spend the rest of the evening reading, writing, playing online games, and recording snippets of my favorite songs, but my brain tells me that this is not the way college students are supposed to live life.

In case it isn't obvious, I don't care if my pictures are relevant. Here's a random picture of Oswin from Doctor Who.

In case it isn’t obvious, I don’t care if my pictures are relevant. Here’s a random picture of Oswin from Doctor Who.

12. Here is a fun fact which my sisters told to me over Christmas break: Liquid Paper (which is a certain brand of correction fluid) was invented by the mother of Michael Nesmith, who went on to become one of the Monkees. In case anyone reading this doesn’t know who the Monkees are, The Monkees was a television show in the mid-1960s featuring a band by the same name. As a musical group, the Monkees were successful and talented enough to earn themselves the reputation of a serious band in their own right, despite the fact that the television show was anything but serious and clearly modeled after the Beatles. (To my sisters: Sorry, but it is true. I’m not criticizing them. I’m just saying that they were intended to be very, very similar to the Beatles.)

13. And now it’s time for a fun grammar fact! The contraction “ain’t” stands for “am not”, and technically is grammatically correct. Or at least, it was grammatically correct until it departed from common correct usage because it had become so prominent in common incorrect usage. It is frequently used in cases where the correct contraction is “aren’t” or “isn’t”. For example, “Ain’t those some funny-looking chickens?”  or “That one ain’t a chicken at all; I think it’s an ostrich.” But if the word “ain’t” can be correctly replaced with “am not”, it would have been grammatically acceptable. For example, “Actually, I ain’t sure if it’s an ostrich or a penguin.” On an unrelated note, I take pride in my ability to come up with brilliant examples of sentences with which to discuss grammatical points. Just kidding. I was only trying to come up with a relevant way to mention an ostrich in this blog post. Mission accomplished.

A picture of my beautiful cat that I think should go viral

A picture of my beautiful cat that I think should go viral

14. It’s raining very heavily outside, I’m feeling extremely lazy, and I’m not particularly hungry, but I feel like eating. Besides, it’s suppertime. It’s a good thing that I’m a college student and that popcorn and hot chocolate constitute a perfectly valid dinner under such conditions.

15. This popcorn has utterly failed to live up to my expectations, and I feel that my expectations were entirely justified on the grounds that the bag in which the popcorn was packaged clearly indicates that this popcorn is butter flavored. This, as it turned out, is untrue. However, I do have some cause for satisfaction, because there are notably few unpopped kernels. This is not a condition for which the popcorn or the corporation who packaged and sold the popcorn can be commended; rather, it is a sign of my own impressive popcorn popping skills.

16. I recall those days when I was a young child who had no fear of thunder and lightning, for I was brave and bold, not in general, but in regards to such phenomenon. Those days are long gone, and now I live in a world where storms are to be feared, not because of a paranoid phobia or a childish terror of vague and uncertain causes, but because I know I must drive my car tomorrow, and my brakes screech something terrible when it has just rained.

17. Once again, I am engaging in an interesting experiment where I periodically time myself attempting to memorize a string of digits acquired with a random number generator. The history of this experiment can be found in these blog posts from last summer. I find it relevant to mention this point now because I am pleased with my statistics recently. Despite the fact that my life is currently in turmoil, as indicated by other statistics regarding my quantity of sleep and my emotional state at various points throughout my daily life, my brain appears to be functioning at higher than normal efficiency. Out of the past six runs of this experiment, I have succeeded four times in memorizing a string of twenty random digits in less than a minute, holding them in my mind for more than a minute while not consciously thinking about them, and then writing them down accurately in just a couple seconds. This game does have some practical applications. Early last week, for example, I instantaneously memorized the speed of light (299, 792, 458 meters per second) without having to actually put any effort into it. Clearly, I am well on the way to turning my own brain into a robot, and I expect that the fact that this doesn’t bother me is evidence that I’m getting quite close. Now, if only I was as good at things that actually matter in real life.

I made this sign for my wall this evening. Aside from the obvious fact that I can't draw or write properly, I think it's an awesome sign.

I made this sign for my wall this evening. Aside from the obvious fact that I can’t draw or write properly, I think it’s an awesome sign.

18. In order to make hot chocolate, I microwaved some milk. It scalded a little, and when I took it out of the microwave, I observed that there was a sort of film across the surface of the milk. I lifted it, and it had the texture of wet paper. This fascinated me. I am easily fascinated.

This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day

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Various sisters of mine will be delighted to see a Monkees reference on my blog.

Various sisters of mine will be delighted to see a Monkees reference on my blog.

January 2nd was doomed from the start for a couple of reasons. One was that I was sick, and had in fact spent the last couple days asleep on the sofa with my face on the cat. He didn’t mind; he loves me and appreciates my company, even if I’m not entirely alive. The other reason is that it was the day that I had to drive back to school. In theory, the trip is supposed to take six hours, which isn’t bad, except that my car has had many issues and I have therefore developed a fear of driving that makes even a trip to the grocery store a terrifying ordeal. Also, in this particular case, the trip did not take six hours.

Before I had even left town, my car started blipping. Google gives a different definition for the word “blip” (and forms thereof) than I do. My definition of blipping is “That thing my car does when the battery stops working for an instant”. So my mother and I took the car to Joe the Mechanic, and Joe the Mechanic had the battery cables tightened so that my car would stop blipping. Joe the Mechanic also commented that the battery looks brand new, which is a comment I have heard from everyone who has ever looked under the car hood. There have been many occasions for people to look under the car hood, and most of them are because the battery has misbehaved. I have a theory about my car battery, and it is closely based on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In case anyone reading this isn’t familiar with that book, I’m not going to spoil it for you, because it is a book worth reading. But anyone who has read that book and who has heard the tales of my car battery will understand the connection.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

This emergency car repair, as well as a failed attempt to activate a debit card at the bank, delayed my departure by several hours. Not only was this very inconvenient, it also was probably somewhat dangerous, because I was already pretty tired by the time I left. It was the first time in days that I’d been conscious for more than a couple hours at a time, and there was no indication that Life intended to offer me a chance to sleep anytime soon. It almost came as a surprise that the first two and a half hours of the trip passed without incident.

Then an incident occurred. Or rather, an incident failed to occur. The incident that should have occurred involved me getting onto a certain road, but I never saw that particular road. Many miles later, the realization slowly dawned on me that I should have passed it by then. I would like to reiterate at this point that I was sick and my brain felt cloudy. Realizations, like the sun, don’t dawn as brightly when they’re obscured by cloudiness. At any rate, by the time I got off onto a smaller highway and stopped in the empty parking lot of a Church of Christ building, I wasn’t even remotely close to where I was supposed to be, and the title song of this blog post was stuck in my head because it seemed so appropriate. I consulted the cool road atlas that the insurance people gave me shortly after I got my car, and the road atlas helpfully offered me an alternate route. Feeling very clever for the fact that I wasn’t actually totally lost, I started the car up again and headed along onto Plan B.

I have never been here before, but I've been to gas stations that look a lot like this.

I have never been here before, but I’ve been to gas stations that look a lot like this.

Like Plan A, Plan B required my car to have gasoline, so I stopped at a cute little gas station in the middle of nowhere. It occurred to me that I have very frequently found myself at cute little gas stations in the middle of nowhere in rural Southern communities. On the one hand, I don’t mind because rural Southern communities are nice places, but on the other hand, it’s not cool to be lost in the middle of nowhere, no matter how nice nowhere is. At this particular cute little gas station in the middle of nowhere, I learned two things: 1. It was very, very cold, and my hands had already gone totally numb without me even noticing. 2. My car wouldn’t start. This, you see, was a slight problem.

A random guy at another gas pump was saying something to me, so I opened my door and called back, “Sorry, what did you say?” I noticed with disassociated interest that for some reason, my voice didn’t sound particularly panicky. It turned out that he the random guy was telling me to try again and again until it worked. It took a few tries and made some disturbing noises, but finally, the car did in fact start. I thanked the random guy, then drove away. ‘Twas then that my check engine light came on. That light has been the bane of my existence for a couple months now. (Or perhaps I should say one of the banes of my existence, for my existence has multiple banes.) It had appeared to have been solved by Joe the Mechanic and the tightened battery cables, but alas, such was not the case. I think my check engine light just likes being on all the time. Also, I think that somebody should start a band called Joe the Mechanic and the Tightened Battery Cables. Just kidding.

Darkness set in, as darkness has a tendency to do, and I gradually noticed that I was freezing. Also, I noticed that the traffic was suddenly quite heavy and quite slow. In fact, it was at a standstill. I considered taking the opportunity to call my mother to tell her that I was in Mississippi and I was stuck in horrendous traffic and I was sure I’d be on the road until late at night and it was dark and cold and I had been lost for the last hour or so and I had experienced car problems and I was still sick and my head hurt and my vision was getting blurry and that she wasn’t to worry. The thing is, I don’t like talking on the cell phone while driving, so as long as there was a possibility that things would speed up soon, it didn’t seem like a good idea to make a phone call.

Eventually, the traffic did indeed speed up, and it wasn’t too much later before I reached the Alabama state border. Memory told me that the road was surrounded by beautiful trees and hills, but all I saw at the time was a black void all around. On either side of the highway, there was an abyss of nothingness, like midnight in the bedroom of a small child who’s terrified of the dark. I wasn’t sure if anything really existed except me, my dysfunctional car, the road I was on, and all of the perils it included. Disruptive eddies formed in the space time continuum for the sole purpose of making my life uncooler, and hours later, I discovered that only minutes had passed. I drove halfway across the world and only advanced a couple miles. Gradually, I became aware that it was entirely possible that I would die of starvation or old age before the night was over. The title song of this blog post, which was still going through my head, began to sound disturbingly warped and distorted in my brain. It occurred to me that perhaps I was merely tired, but I dismissed this theory because it was just so obvious that time-and-space anomalies were to blame for all my woes.

I wondered to myself, how do truck drivers and bus drivers do it? They have to drive during the night all the time, and surely they get tired. Then again, they probably don’t have to do it when they’re sick. I pondered the question of how easily truck drivers and bus drivers can get sick days. Since driving can be dangerous, you’d think that their employers would want to be cautious. I mean, driving a car when you’re sick is risky enough. All I’ve got is a bit of a cold, but it’s enough to mess up my vision and my reaction time, so I certainly wouldn’t be able to drive. Oh, wait. I looked at my hands on the steering wheel and noticed that I was in fact driving and had been for several hours. I also noticed some inexplicable distant-sounding eerie music slowly seeping from the dark abyss into my car the way a flame spreads across a sheet of paper, and I saw vaguely flashing lights in the sky that vanished when I tried to look directly at them. These things, it seemed to me, were not good signs. I felt about as safe behind the wheel as a ceramic Christmas angel on a shelf where a cat likes to play.

A cat who has been known to play on shelves with ceramic Christmas angels

A few lifetimes later, and after one more gasoline stop, I started to see familiar landmarks. A few miles away from campus, I made a stop for some groceries. Some people in the store gave me funny looks, and I can understand why, because I was shivering uncontrollably even though it wasn’t cold inside, and I had been so tense that my shoulders apparently had taken up permanent residence in the vicinity of my ears. I bought shampoo, hand soap, and enough food to get me through breakfast the next morning, then I returned to my car, which was conveniently sitting right where I had left it. For a moment, I had forgotten that this is what cars are normally supposed to do when their people are in grocery stores. It would be just like this day to change that rule.

This is not at all what the keypad on the door looks like, but I felt like I needed another picture here.

This is not at all what the keypad on the door looks like, but I felt like I needed another picture here.

Shortly thereafter, when I got to campus, I found that the Residence Life people had cleverly changed the code to the door while I was on the road, and I had no way of knowing what the new code was. I tried using my typical method of guessing the code based upon certain mathematical patterns that I have noticed in previous codes. Normally, if they have changed the code without my knowledge or if I have forgotten the code, this method works within five to ten minutes. (It is worth noting that I am often too lazy to memorize the door codes, but not too lazy to invent formulas for mathematically guessing them.) Unfortunately, my brain was so tired that I couldn’t keep track of the possibilities I had already tried. The only way I could have guessed right was by sheer luck, and as you probably have guessed by now, sheer luck was not a resource that was currently available to me. So I tried shaking the door, a tried and true method for accomplishing nothing.  Then I looked carefully at the lock, figured out how it worked, and tried to pick it with a CD, the only useful tool I had in my hand. For a moment, it actually seemed like it might work. I told myself that if my college didn’t want students breaking into their own dorms, they shouldn’t change the code without telling me, and if my college doesn’t want students finding a way around the door code system, they shouldn’t encourage original and creative thinking. But the lock wasn’t as easy to pick as I had hoped, and my CD didn’t do the trick.

So I stood outside while my nose ran and my fingers froze and I cried until a random guy who I don’t know came and opened the door.

Now it’s past 2:30 AM, I’m not quite done unpacking, and I have class tomorrow. But now tomorrow is today and today is yesterday, which is further proof that the space-time continuum is just messing with my brain.

More Random Thoughts on Another Sunday

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A few weeks ago, I found myself with a totally free afternoon on my hands, and it seemed like a good idea to arbitrarily write a couple sentences or a paragraph every now and then throughout the day, and eventually to stick it together into one blog post of randomness. That turned out to be a fun way to spend an afternoon, so I’m doing it again today. The difference is that this time, it’s not so much afternoon as evening, and by the time I actually post this, it’ll probably be late.

1. This one actually isn’t random at all, because I’m actually pretty mad about it. I just want to say that good works are not one of the marks of the church. They are good things, which is why they’re called ‘good’ works, but you cannot say that the good works of a congregation prove that the word of God is taught accurately and faithfully there. Grace and good works are distinct. (Romans 3:20, Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 3:10-14, Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:4-7, etc… Just sayin’.) Rather, the marks of the church are the sacraments and the word. (Deuteronomy 8:3b, Psalm 119:81,Mark 16:16, Luke 1:45, Acts 2:28, Acts 2:42 Romans 6:3-5, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:26, Galatians 3:26-27, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:4-7, etc… The only reason I’m stopping there is that this is taking a really long time and I think the point has been made.) On a related note, I am looking forward to Pastor’s return from vacation next Sunday.

2. I’m not sure what a cherimoya is, but this bottle of water is flavored like it. Okay, I just googled it and discovered that it’s a fruit native to the Andes, and it looks a little like a spiky avocado.  Good to know.

3. Why does my cell phone have an alarm clock feature under the ‘office tools’ category?

Second annual gingerbread house
December 2011

4. I can’t wait until next December when it’s time for my family to make our third annual gingerbread house and gingerbread-house-making documentary.

5. In those awkward situations where I suddenly don’t know what to say next, I should yell, “VERBAL FALIURE! Loading, please wait,” and stare blankly into space until I find the words to say.

6. I like my new puzzle. It has a picture of turkeys, but the turkeys aren’t the part I like best. I like the sky best. The sky is almost always my favorite part of jigsaw puzzles, unless they don’t show the sky.

7. On the way to church this morning, something odd happened. Normally, it takes exactly three times through ‘Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted’ for me to get to the right exit, (This is, in fact, how I ensure that I get off at the right exit) but today I must have either been driving too fast or singing too slow, because I still had two verses left to go when I got off the interstate. It was weird.

8. At the moment, half of my fingernails are bright lime green and the other half are dark blue.  The blue ones match my shirt. The green ones don’t.

9. Why does the word ‘impertinent’ have a meaning other than ‘not pertinent’?

I didn’t make this. I borrowed it from Google.

10. A few weeks ago, I was planning to write a blog post about the similarities between Star Wars and The Matrix. Then I watched the first Matrix movie a second time and I saw the others for the first time, and I realized that the similarities are much less subtle than I had thought at first. Then I was going to write a blog post about my opinion that in Titanic, Jack Dawson never existed, (even in the fictional context of the movie) and that he was just Rose’s imaginary boyfriend. Then I realized that my theory had a hole in it because of the sketch that Jack drew.

11. My sister says on her blog that she told our mutual little sister that Marco Polo was an Olympic sport.

12. There’s a certain place on the interstate where there’s a sudden tight curve and the speed limit drops down to 45. I can’t help always feeling a little smug when everyone around me has to suddenly slam on their brakes, and I don’t, just because I always take my foot off the accelerator a few seconds earlier than they do.

But I did get this strange knight fork. That’s not something you see every game.

13. I seem to have forgotten how to play chess today. This is a little pathetic.

14. Why does the phrase ‘more or less’ mean ‘approximately’? Shouldn’t it mean ‘anything besides exactly’?

15. I really wish that I was taking my car when I go to Chicago next month. Instead, I’m taking the bus, and I’m going to miss my lovely car. She and I have such fun going places together.

16. As much as I love the Olympics, it seems a little odd that we think we’re celebrating intercultural and international unity by pitting the best, most dedicated, and most determined athletes of the world against each other and encouraging everyone to cheer for the contestants from their own country.

17. Before classes start again, I’m going to have to get in the habit of getting more sleep than I have been lately. As Benjamin Franklin never actually said, “Late to bed and early to rise, leads to fatigue and bloodshot eyes.”

18. I have heard it said that semicolons shouldn’t be used very often; any place where you can put a semicolon, you could just start a new sentence. I disagree with that; I love semicolons.

Fun Things To Do With a Car

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Five weeks ago today, I got my first car. Her name is Guinevere Saturn and we’re good friends; she’s very awesome. The reasons I need a car are mostly boring not-little-kid things like getting a job off campus and contracting college courses off campus, but I’m also enjoying having my own car for some very childish and immature reasons.

1. As I have seen my parents do, I keep a notebook where I record every time I buy gasoline. Unlike my parents, I call this notebook ‘captain’s log’ and label the column for the date ‘stardate’. I am not quite geeky enough to know or care how to actually convert the date into the Star Trek stardate equivalent, so I just use the actual date, but it still makes my life awesomer to have a captain’s log for my car.

2. Driving on the interstate is like playing chess. Since I only go forward, obviously I’m a pawn. Lane changes are therefore captures. When I reach the end of the board (and get off at the correct exit) that means I’m a queen. When I reach my final destination, that means I won.

3. (To be truthful, I haven’t actually done this one, but I always think about doing it.) When I park my car, I say “Sit.” Then, after getting out of my car and starting to walk away, I turn around, point at the car, and say, “Stay.” If anybody else sees and looks at me funny, I inform them that my car is very obedient and well-trained.

4. Ten miles an hour is warp one, twenty miles an hour is warp two, thirty miles an hour is warp three, forty miles an hour is warp four…

5. I’ve alluded to this idea in a previous blog post, and I still haven’t done it, but I will. I’m going to get a cardboard box and use it to make a fake flux capacitor for my car. I will then frequently find reasons to say, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour…” And sometimes I’ll complain about how hard it is to find enough plutonium to generate 1.21 gigawatts.

6. Another rule for interstate driving: Exit ramps are portals to another set of dimensions.