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.

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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.

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.

The Non-boring-ness of Jigsaw Puzzles

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I’m not entirely sure what it is about jigsaw puzzles that makes them so awesome and entertaining. Putting a puzzle together doesn’t seem very exciting. It’s a slow and gradual process and it isn’t in any way competitive or really even very challenging. It’s tempting to treat jigsaw puzzles as an intellectual activity; at least that makes them seem a little more worthwhile, but they really don’t require that much intellect to solve. It’s true that there are aspects of intelligence that might help; I’ve seen questions on IQ tests that require you to be able to mentally rotate a shape or to match patterns on the edges of shapes, and those are basically the skills that one uses when doing a jigsaw puzzle. Still, while those abilities might save you a little time on the puzzle, they aren’t as important as the patience to sit there and work on it. There are so many pieces that the act of looking at them and moving them around on the table/desk/floor is the most time-consuming aspect of assembling a puzzle, rather than the act of actually thinking. I don’t really see how it can be considered intellectual to have the patience to sit there sifting through puzzle pieces, and I also don’t understand why that isn’t boring.

But it isn’t boring at all. Jigsaw puzzles are lots of fun and they’re extremely addictive. For the last few years, every time I have started a puzzle, I have intended to spend a minimal amount of time on it and to do it over an extended period of time, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Just having the puzzle in my room is a distraction from anything else I’m doing. For a little while, I can resist the temptation to ignore my homework or other important things in favor of the puzzle. Sooner or later, though, my resolve has been worn thin and I can’t resist the puzzle-assembly urge any longer. This is particularly an issue late at night, because sleeping time is more readily adjustable than doing-important-stuff time. So I decide to spend just a few minutes putting just a few pieces into place. The next thing I know, it’s several hours later and the puzzle is finished. Then I say to myself, “At least it won’t be distracting me anymore.”

Last night was one of those nights.