Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fun Things

In a bit of a funk [complete existential dilemma] the other day I was talking [complaining] to a friend. She suggested I make sure that I do at least one fun thing every day to ensure a good quality of life during the final weeks of a rough term. Well, I took her advice, and now I feel great!

It all started on Monday when I told myself I would stop homeworking at 8 and do some things for myself. When 8 rolled around I slammed my books shut and went downstairs to watch The Simpsons over a couple of steamy good grilled cheese sandwiches. Then I wrote out my goals for the year. Now I know what you're thinking: writing out goals is no kind of fun, unless you're some kind of mental case that can't function without first writing every little plan out on paper and who is constantly reorganizing everything from the order of the books on the desk to the inner workings of your MyDocs folder.


But karma is king. When I woke up on Tuesday morning there was an email from my 9 am class's professor saying she was sick and therefore class was cancelled. I felt so good I bought two of my classmates lunch. That evening: Jeopardy! with my roommate, and we kicked butt (though the 2-day champ and t-babe Aileen blew it in Final Jeopardy to lose).

Me as a Simpson
And it doesn't stop there. Today, though I was stuck up at school till after five, when I got home I realized I had nothing big to do for tomorrow—when did I do that homework?—so I watched even more Simpsons till Institute. After Institute I was walking along Court Street when I spied my friend Zach purchasing tickets and the Athena Uptown movie theatre. I said, "Whatcha gonna see?" to which he replied, "Be Kind Rewind."1 I thought about it for a minute, checked my schedule, considered the fact that I had just seen that movie last Saturday with my sisters, thought about the need to do fun stuff, and bought a ticket. Will the good times never end?

Many thanks to my personal advice buru, E-style. You too can get all kinds of wisdom [excuses for being irresponsible] by checking out her blog, Writing for Writing's Sake.

1Check that out: a movie title that's both italicized and in quotation marks, and it isn't wrong.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Goals, Garbage, and New Leaves

Hello all. The news for today is that I finally sat down and wrote out my goals for the year. They've been knocking around in one form or another since January, but today they become official and all that. If you care to see them, you can download the Word document here. I say that hoping that most of you don't and that those who do will have nothing but good suggestions about how to achieve what's there and about what I missed.

Also, a question: How come garbage bags are never quite the right size? Have you noticed that? The 13-gallon bags are always too small for the garbage can in the kitchen, and the 30-gallon ones are too big. Can't we get a 15-gallon one or something that will fit amply and that, when extracted, has a little extra room for the garbage that was piling up on top of the can? Another question: Do you prefer twisty-ties, the kind with flaps for easy tying, or the kind with the straps?

A realization: The phrase "turn over a new leaf" does not, as I assumed without thinking too much about it, refer to the things that fall off trees. I used to interrupt friends as we talked outside in October, saying "One second," and then I would stoop to very deliberately turn over a nearby piece of fallen foliage. The phrase refers to paper, to turning the page, as in one's book, one's journal, one's life. Fancy that.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Proper Plurals

When E. M. Forster invited Virginia Woolf and her husband over for tea, did he address the invitation to "The Woolves"?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Hot Chocolate: the remix

... as Tropicana Pure Premium with pulp is to orange juice, from concentrate, as sold in those gallon milk jugs.


Only in this case, weeks spent drinking the cheaper, clearly watered down variety prepares your mouth to be destroyed by the sheer ecstasy of the real thing.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Breakfast Quest: Revelation

I've long claimed to hate cereal, but in my recent breakfast quest I've discovered something I should've realized long ago: I don't hate cereal; I hate breakfast. I had confused the two things. Cereal was unappetizing because eating in the morning was unappetizing. I should've realized this since from time to time I really crave Cinnamon Toast Crunch or something, but for dinner. And I've long enjoyed breakfast-for-dinner as one of the great joys in life.

I just never put it together. See that? I'm already growing as a result of my goal.

If you placed one box of every variety of cereal end to end along the floor of the aisle, the resulting chain would stretch all the way from the deli up to the impatiently tapping feet of the night manager. He would then ask you to leave.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Hot Chocolate

I was home over the Christmas holidays, and one day while chilling in the kitchen with me, my niece asked for a cup of chocolate milk. I had her ask her mom (safe policy, I assure you), and upon receiving permission we went together to the fridge, found the ol' Hershey's in its chocolate-tear-drop container, and grabbed the milk. "I'll pour the syrup and milk, and you stir," I said.

"Okay!" said Charlotte.

"Tell me when."

Now here's the thing; I had merely begun to inject that milk with the sweet goodness that is Hershey's when that girl said "when." She stirred furiously. The water turned a pale shade of beige. I said, "Is that enough syrup?" and she nodded knowingly, drank a big swig, and beamed with chocolate delight.

Me? I'm not buying it. I stopped drinking chocolate milk like that years ago. I realized early on that no amount of syrup will turn milk into the same substance sold in gallon jugs at the supermarket, that staple of camping breakfasts, the real-deal chocolate milk. As boy scouts we called it "slime," and I'm sure you know why. Real chocolate milk is thick, chocolatey, and clearly not good for you.

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about hot chocolate. Now I want you to put on your SAT (or ACT) thinking caps and take a look at this analogy problem:

Homemade chocolate milk is to store-bought chocolate milk as homemade hot chocolate is to store-bought hot chocolate.

The above analogy is:

a.) True, because homemade hot chocolate is often disappointing to a comparable degree as homemade chocolate milk,
b.) True, because store-bought hot chocolate is as better than homemade hot chocolate as store-bought chocolate milk is to homemade chocolate milk,
c.) Neither a or b, because expensive test-preparation programs have taught you to rule out any two answers that seem the same, or
d.) False, because like everyone else, you are always disappointed by how little improvement there is over homemade hot chocolate when you shell out big bucks for a cup of so-called "gourmet" hot chocolate at a Starbucks or similar establishment. In fact, now that you think about it, you wish you had all that money back because it could buy a fair amount of Stephens, with which you could, having at least a little gumption and a modicum of creativity, craft positively delightful hot chocolate creations in the comfort of your own home, what with the ready availability of things like sprinkles and whipped creams and cinnamon sticks, not to mention the various half-used jars of ice cream toppings cluttering up the fridge door—you might even swirl a bit of Hershey's syrup on top for good measure. Furthermore, Starbucks never seems to be playing anything good—at home you have a perfectly good collection of Iron Maiden albums and, when those fail, a large library of Schwarzenegger films. And what is it with those baristas anyway? Do they feel I am dismissing their true calling and tainting their machines by demanding cocoa instead of café, the way bartenders do when a table of minors orders round after round of virgin daiquiris for which they will not tip? Do they refuse to put the same care into a cup of chocolate that they would put into a double mocha-frocha mega latte supreme deluxe with its "nutty overtones" and its "subtle elegance"? Hot chocolate just isn't good enough for them, huh? Well maybe I should just buy a jug of slime and put it in the microwave.

Time's up, pencils down.

I feel I should mention a few things. One, an upscale grocery store in my town once carried a brand of chocolate milk that was the flavor and consistency of melted fudgsicles. It came in heavy glass bottles that were meant to be returned to the store when you were done. Two, I'm not sure strawberry milk follows the same pattern as chocolate milk, but then, I haven't bought much pre-made strawberry milk in my time. Three, in Korea they sell banana milk as a compliment to the chocolate and strawberry varieties. It is equally good in both forms. The first time I drank it was on my first train ride ever; I have loved both things ever since. Four, there is apparently a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa—someone should look into that. Five, one word: Cocomotion. Six, Hershey's syrup or Nestle Quik? What about Ovaltine? Yoo-hoo? Carnation Instant Breakfast? Slimfast? Someone call America's Test Kitchen quick.

The answer was d.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Real Life

Here's a quote from a real live chat I'm having online:

"I think the last time I went to Applebee's was two girlfriends ago."

Yes, I said it. Yes, I sometimes measure time in that way. Yes, I'm trying to resolve it (the not having been to Applebee's part). But if you'll excuse me, I'm still chatting, and it's rude to keep a lady in waiting (oh the potential of that phrase).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sleeping In

This morning I was dreaming, dreaming about dreaming, dreaming about waking up, dreaming about waking up still in a dream and maybe even of waking up again. Somewhere in there my mind came up with the word "lima." And you know what? Instead of attaching it to its normal meaning—the name of a bean or the capital of Peru, my somnambulating mind decided it must be the feminine form of the word "limo." Never mind the fact that "limo" is an abbreviation, it reasoned, the point is that all cars are girls, and thus all limos ought to be called limas (or limae, I'm tempted to amend in my waking state).

How about that, huh? Crazy.

Well, maybe not all limos are girls.

(Incidentally, "lima" means "lime" in Spanish, so is calling a car a lima akin to calling it a lemon?)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On Buying a Car

I left my house tonight to walk to church—it was one of those clearish nights after a day of rain that makes the roads glisten, but that doesn't really matter since I was walking not driving. Also, it was hot today everywhere since the air conditioners aren't on, so it was nice that there was a little bit of a chill in the fresh evening air. It was hoodie weather, but only just barely, since when the leftover wind got to blowing it would make you tense up. I live up on a hill and it has been real wet recently, so the excess water runs off right across our street in little rivers (and big puddles where it isn't level anymore).

When I hit the street, I reached down to turn on my iPod, but instead of looking through the list of new podcasts I accidentally flicked the play button and the thing started on the first song by the first band alphabetically: "Lost in Love" by Air Supply. Now, I don't usually listen to music when I'm walking because I consider the iPod a more convenient way to do what I usually do when I walk, which is read (you try reading to the light of passing headlights!), but when I heard the opening notes of that song picked out on an acoustic guitar and when I imagined all to come—the electric piano, the synthesized strings, the backing falsettos, the graham cracker voice of Graham Russell alternating with the higher marshmallow coo of Russell Hitchcock, and the shooting-star sweeps of a synthesizer interlude—I had to go on listening.

But I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to belt it out, to close my eyes on the long notes and wink at the girl in the front row of my imaginary audience on the sweet lines, to clench my fist in sincerity when I assured her, "You know you can't fool me / I've been loving you too long." I wanted karaoke; I needed a car stereo. Is it just me who feels this way, every day, in public?

Last week or so someone at the office said something about the band Foreigner—actually, they could've been saying something about the play The Foreigner or something about someone from a distant land; I don't know, because as soon as I heard that word I jumped up on my chair and started wailing, "You're as cold as ice! You're willing to sacrifice our love!"

Have you seen this before? Does this happen all the time, or is it just me who is overcome with the desire to sing out, loud, out loud? And what can I do about it? Should I buy a car?

The other day I was working on a computer in the office when Leo walked by singing the "na na na" part of Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean." I joined him with the harmony on the second time through. It was a bonding moment.

(listen to Air Supply here; listen to Led Zeppelin here.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Working Out a Thought

I'm not sure how to say what I mean, but listen. People, in general, seem to be ashamed of their rough drafts and early work. Like, writers for instance—we get a little squeamish about putting our names on things we know aren't our best. We sometimes think to ourselves that we shouldn't write on a certain topic yet because we aren't yet good enough to do it justice and we don't want to waste our pet project with underdeveloped talent. Better wait until we are great, until we are established, until we can line up a series of masterworks, each pristinely crafted and perfect, our opus. We'd rather not have our rough drafts included in that collection because it shows that we at some point didn't know what we were doing.

We don't actually do that, but we think it, we feel that way. We feel tempted to use a pseudonym until we're awesome, or to hold on to early work and not publish until we're really ready, or to not want to show others our work until it is perfect. But life doesn't work that way: Wes Anderson's movies have grown in complexity, in beauty, and in depth; Paul Simon's early work with Garfunkel is almost embarrassing compared to his solo work; Neitchze forwarded ideas as a young man that he grew to completely oppose; Van Gogh's early paintings look more or less like everyone else's. And on and on.

In a related way, we all look back at our past selves with a degree of shame. We wonder, was I really that stupid, or that naive, or that ignorant? We wish our life wasn't such a series of failures and wait for the day when we will have become what we are to be—our final draft—when the days of looking back with a wince are no more.

Different note, same song: Sometimes I wonder about God letting us run the show down here. He seems to have left us in charge of moving the world forward to its conclusion, of doing his work, if you will, and we don't often make him look good. I mean, the things out of our power look real good—sunsets and oceans and stars and stuff—but the business of watching over the garden, of learning to live together peaceably, and of figuring out who we are and who he is and all that: we make more of a mess of it than progress. If God were to do it it would be done in one perfect draft, right? But instead he has signed his name on the top of the page1 and put the pen in our hands and is patiently waiting for...what? Are we ever going to get a suitable draft going?

Anyway, I think it's nice to know that God is okay letting us (and whoever else is watching) see the work in progress. He doesn't seem to mind letting the rough draft be seen. It makes me feel better about (1) my own writing and (2) my own life.

This idea kind of defeats time. It suggests that the point isn't to be perfect at every moment, but to progress, to become, until perfection is reached. So when God looks at the world, the work in progress, maybe he doesn't wince in shame and frustration; maybe he smiles at all the good editing that's happened recently. And at the end, when it has reached a state of perfection, he won't be embarrassed by all the scratch-outs and smudges and stuff that went into its creation.

In other words, maybe our lives are not papers running across time. Perhaps our births were not introductions followed by paragraphs for each year in our lives, each one hopefully with less typos and dangling modifiers and other grammatical sins than the last until the final paragraph stands as the only one free from error. That would be an odd paper indeed. Maybe instead life is a succession of drafts, each better than the last as we learn how to write it and how to stop repeating the same mistakes. If that's the case it doesn't matter how badly the first draft or the second draft or the next-to-last draft looked, how much red pencil marked the copy. It only matters that our final draft is something we can be proud of.

Is that how God sees me? Comments welcome.

(Two ramifications of this thought: 1, Thus the contents of our "paper" aren't our deeds. It isn't a record of the events of our lives. It is a record of what we have become, of who we are, which may be something distinct from what we have done or what has happened to us. I like that idea, because it helps explain why life isn't fair now but will be then, why we don't all have to have the same opportunities or experiences to get to the same place, why I look back on my own life and don't recognize myself as the sum of my experiences.2 It also explains why it's okay that I've forgotten so much of my life. It also points to the idea of grace and that we don't earn salvation through our deeds. 2, This changes the idea of a Savior. He doesn't fix our past, changing the things we did. What's done is done. Instead he helps us make sure those things are absent from our present, our final draft.)

1 I was going to say that he doesn't seem to mind us giving him a bad name, but then I thought, perhaps he is using a pseudonym after all.
1 Or recognize my experiences as my own. You know how your own life seems "right" and other lives seem a little off somehow? Like when you would spend the night at a friend's house and see what his family ate for dinner, and what kind of table they sat at, and what they talked about, and whether they kept cold water in a pitcher in the fridge or got it straight from the tap, and what shows they watched afterwards, and what kind of toothpaste they used, and you would wonder what it would be like to do everything this way every day, to feel the mild discomfort of strangeness all the time, to do everything "wrong." When I look back at my own life these days—at the kinds of friends I had and the relationships I chose to pursue and the clubs I joined in high school and the jobs I worked and the classes I took and the clothes I wore and the decisions I made—it feels like the neighbor's life, the wrong one. I wasn't the All-American boy after all. It's like the TVs at Best Buy, all lined up, and seeing them side by side you notice that some of them look distinctly green or red or whatever. You single out the one that looks normal and you say to yourself, "That's just like the one we have at home." But the thing is that now, when I look back on my own life, I'm starting to think it's a green TV, and maybe other people have had a more normal experience.


Just got back from a week in New York. Among other things, I spent a spell in Koreatown, down on 32nd. There I found a little music shop where I sweet-talked the owner with my skillz and bought a few CDs and a movie. He threw in a local compilation album as a bonus, to which I fluently replied: "Me am ever come in again at New York, I here will be come."

Among my purchases was a band called "Loveholic," which turned out to be pretty good (me buying Korean CDs is about as informed an operation as my grandmother picking out video games). Check out one of their videos:

I also got Wax's 7th album and that greatest of all romantic comedies, My Sassy Girl.