-First, she's dealing with a new isolation, the one entailed by sending off her firstborn son last August to an institute of higher learning. Though he'll be coming back home for winters, summers, and holidays, she knows that this transfer is the beginning of the end of her parenthood. She knows that it has to happen, that she can't hold onto him forever. But at the same time, she's been with this boy since he was still inside of her. She knows his complete life story better than he does, and she's been with him for all the defining moments of his childhood: his first steps; his first words; his little obsessions like Attack Packs, coins, plants, and fonts; the first time he rode a bike; the first time he fell off a bike; his elementary school graduation; the stresses of high school; and his high school graduation. She looks for every moment she can spend with him. Even though she knows he's off at college and very busy, she chats online with him at any opportunity - but trying at the same time not to be a clingy old mom, and to let him do his own things. It's hard to find a balance between letting him live his own life and keeping him in hers. She tries not to let her sadder side show through, and to present a happy face for him whenever they chat. She loves him more than anything else in life, except her other son, whom she loves equally. But she still has to let him go.
-Against this background, he comes home for Christmas. At first, it's just a simple, joyous having him back for an entire month. The family pulls off all the Christmas festivities. Then, completely without warning, he drops this suddenly irreligious blog post.
-For his whole life, she's been working to get him involved in the Christian community. Most of the time it's been a losing fight. He goes to church, but he only ever does that, and doesn't take any interest in further Christian things, like mission projects or retreat camps. She's sent him to several church camps, but each time he's come back from one he's said that he hated it, because it's just a bunch of singing about God, and praying, and he can't relate to that. What, then, can she do? He says he's receptive, but through his whole childhood, he hasn't done much to demonstrate that. She feels helpless, as if any effort, any at all, that she could undertake to bring him closer to God would fall short. What can she do for someone who seems so stubbornly unmoving, so unresolvably without God? Instead of forcing him, she lets him make his own decision. She'd like it if he believed everything she said, but he also recognizes that that would prevent him from being himself. So, as he left for college, she encouraged him to join Christian groups on campus. That, she realized with a deep sense of despair, was perhaps all that she could do. She had to let him go and make his own life choices; the umbilical couldn't connect them forever. But, now, she sees that her plan didn't work. He's been thinking about Christianity, but he hasn't come out necessarily in favor of Christianity. These other ideas! She sent him away to college hoping he wouldn't change - that he'd always, deep down, be the cute, credulous little boy that she used to take to kindergarten. Instead, he's become someone who doesn't seem to have so much of a basis in her raising, her love-filled and Godly raising, but rather has more of a basis in the worrying environment of thinking on his own and coming to conclusions that she can't deal with. She feels as if her whole motherhood has come crashing down, and maybe she might as well have never parented him. Her heart is breaking.
-At the same time, she also has to deal with the substance of what he's asking. It's not just that his attitude is changing, but that his attitude is changing and there are reasons for it. What about this blog post that disproves the coexistence of Heaven and Hell? What is she to make of that? She knows - I know that I know that I know that I know - that Christianity is the real, ultimate answer. She's known it in her heart of hearts since she was fifteen years old. How can she get through to him? He seems like a brick wall. Or maybe like a sieve: only rational thoughts can get through to him, and anything that's based purely on her unshakable, deep-down knowledge of God gets strained out and falls to the floor. What to do! What can she do! How can she help someone whose nature seems to refuse help! She prays to God for answers. Not only for how to bring him into the Christian flock, but for how to make sense of the new things he's wondering - for the intellectual fulfillment of him and her. She believes! And that belief is the truth, but he doesn't seem to be able to say the same! No matter how long she nestles with him on the couch, their two souls won't melt together, and she won't be able to transfer this feeling from the core of her being to the core of his. She can't even express it in words. Her words seem to fail her, traitors running away. How do you express inexpressible truths? She knows that Heaven and Hell are both real. She doesn't know how, she just knows. When she tries to tell him why, all she can say is that the peace of God tells her that it's real. I don't know right now whether she's questioning the truth of some of her basic tenets, or whether she accepts them still as irrevocably true and is trying now to make them make sense in the context of her knowledge of logic and the world. Maybe even she doesn't know. It's the most unsettling thing in the world when someone points out a problem with something you know has to be true. She looks for answers to those who are more eloquent than she is. There are people who can explain it to him so that he'll understand. She'll bring him to those people.
-So she's trying desperately to remedy the situation. At the same time, a deep, all-pervading sadness has come over her, because she's dedicated her life not just to raising this boy, but to raising him in Christianity and opening the way to eternal life for him. She feels as though all those efforts are starting to collapse. And her little boy doesn't share this firm, unwavering, unshakable faith. That tears her to pieces inside. She cries all the time, for the Godly love that he seems to be tearing asunder. How can this happen? Is it because she wasn't good enough at bringing God into his life? She can't shake that feeling - the feeling that she didn't get him into enough church activities, that she didn't talk enough about God with him, that she should have made sure he knew God before she let him go. She's plagued by doubt. Was she good enough, was she there when he needed him? It makes her sad all the time. She can't escape the sadness.
-On top of all that, she has to deal with the physical demands on her. The hot flashes she's having are not helped in any way by this mental anguish; the two combine to give her a nervous breakdown. She relies on her Effexor to keep her from deteriorating completely. It takes its toll. She sleeps a lot to get away and to relax her nerves. But there's always the time when she's awake. She prays to God for guidance. She consoles herself with miracles she's seen and heard of.
-I'm writing this, Mom, not just to tell you that I know what you're going through. It's to tell you I understand it too. Right after I started thinking about all this stuff, I went through a time of unending emotional turmoil, with no end in sight. I tried to make everything just the way it used to be, to go back to where I was. It didn't work. I wanted to sleep too. I slept to forget. It was terrifying. But I pulled through it. And I want to say that I love you. That will never change. As long as you've been my mom, you've always been the most loving person in my life, always telling me how much you love me and how much I mean to you. I don't express it much, but I love you right back. I know that no matter what happens, we'll always both love each other. That's the most important thing I can imagine. You said yourself that you believe God will work everything out the right way in the end. I believe it will all work out just right as well. You have never, ever been a bad or an insufficient mother; even when you've been sleeping and I've wanted you to take me somewhere (remember those days?), you still always loved me. Don't even dare put down your mothering. There are so many people who are worse off than me in the parents department: people who have never felt loved, who have been abused, who have never been told that they're the best thing in someone's world. Despite your weirdness sometimes, I've always loved you, even though I didn't say it so much. You did great. No matter what else happens, know that too: you did great.
-Contrary to how it would seem, though, I didn't come up with this stuff all at once. Here's how this chronology played out. Before a few months ago, I never really did think about religion. I went to church, and that was that. I also went to school. Occasionally these two would create a slight conflict of interests, but I dealt with those by not thinking about them. Being taught about evolution, for example. I didn't try to merge that with Christianity and the Bible's history of the world. I just let them both be; I kept them in separate compartments. Whenever I came across something that criticized religion, I turned hot and red from something like embarrassment mixed with fear, and then turned the page and tried to forget about it. And I did. I erected a barrier in my head; on one side there was religion, and on the other real life and science, and I tapped into each when the time called for it. That sturdily built barrier lasted me for years.
-This summer, I left the nest. Mom encouraged me not to let college change who I was as a person. She assured me that she would pray for me every day, and told me not to become just a part of the college - it seemed she saw college as a sort of Borg collective, where all ideas are supplanted, by those inculcated by professors. Now, I know she didn't really see it that way. She knows, of course, that college is a place where you go to learn about stuff, not a mindless drone factory. But still, she saw me off that day in August as if it weren't. So I got there. We've all read that story. I learned about calculus and Russian and English and disabilities. The barrier stayed up; no problem.
-It didn't break at once: it melted gradually, made of ice and finding itself in the spring thaw. I started wondering, if evolution and Christianity are compatible, just exactly how? And other things. I still stayed Christian, and made lots of attempts to restore my faith. One Tuesday, when I had lots of work to do, I went to a worship service (a great deal of it was singing); I started reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity; I looked at all sorts of apologetics. It wasn't easy on me. I didn't want anything to interfere with religion as I'd always known it, but I couldn't avoid it. I tried to simply stop thinking about it, tried to turn my mind elsewhere and leave my thinking about religion just where it was. But it was too late for that; the ice had melted; I couldn't escape from myself. Each day, from the beginning of the morning to the end of the day, I was thinking about religion. It actually got to paralyze me a bit in my day-to-day life; I became abstracted and my mind kept wandering away from class subjects. The harder I tried to scrabble out of the well of my psyche, the quicker I lost my handhold on the slick walls. This wasn't losing religion, it was losing the ability to be complacent about it. But it jarred me anyhow, and I sank into a funk for a good while. I kept trying to reevaluate things so that I could still hold them. After I read Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth for class - an unexpectedly serious piece from him, pointing out a great many absurdities in the Christianity he had been taught, and especiall with that taught by the Bible - I fell into a hot swoon, and then tried to accommodate this new information. "I don't have to believe in the entire Bible to believe in God, do I?" I wondered. "No - I can let that go, because it has some contradictions in it that I can't work around, and sanctions lots of things that I can't condone*, and instead I can see God in the wonderful aspects of day-to-day life, like love and music and nature." I worked with that idea for a few days, but then realized that without the Bible, Christianity wouldn't even exist, and so how is it possible to believe in the Christian God without believing in the Christian Bible? So I was back to square one. What I looked forward to each day was going to bed, a sweet eight-hour respite from my own thoughts. It's terrifying to be held hostage by yourself, because the only possible escape I can think of is death. I hasten to add that in no way am I suicidal, at all, which is why I knew I had to find answers that would satisfy me, instead of madly running away from the questions.
-Where did all this thought come from, why did it blossom into existence so suddenly? To some extent, I think it is possible to point the finger at my change in environment. Before I left, I was almost always in the company of my parents, devout Christians, and I was taken to church frequently. Then I went to Grinnell, which, according to a survey of college students across the country published in The 361 Best Colleges (one of two big compendiums of college information that I used last year), is twelfth-to-last for prominence of religion in students' lives. (I found this out after registering there.) This meant that some of the best friends I now made were agnostic or atheist. We've already seen that my English teacher - an atheist - assigned me that Twain reading. However, no one ever actively tried to talk me out of Christianity. In this way, moving off to college simply acted as a catalyst, to get me started on applying critical thinking skills not only to the material realms of my life, but to religion as well. The more I applied these critical thinking skills, the less it seemed religion could work. "Tease out complexities," Professor Savarese had advised me on my first paper, which was a simplistic and very poor close reading of a text we were reading. I doubt I'll ever forget that exhortation; it works so well at getting a much deeper understanding of an issue. Instead of floating on my back in the ocean of religion, staring up at the sky and treating this water as an undistinguished whole that didn't bear deeper reflection, I dove down and asked questions. I composed a whole list of them, actually, compiling them in a blog post that I left unpublished but kept adding to, called "Questions". I extracted the questions that I'd kept crammed down deep down inside of me for my whole life, and found new ones, drawing from this inscrutable ocean. I snatched a few from the air, too, putting criticism to secularism as well: I'm an equal-opportunity questioner. I realized that I was asking
more questions of Christianity, though, and that they seemed much tougher to resolve. If you'd like, I can publish that post and see what you think of them. They're not easy questions. I plan to keep reading extensively about them and other things.
-I started my serious reading when I got back home for Thanksgiving. I'd been looking forward to it for quite a while, because I wanted to pick up The Case for a Creator, which I figured would show me that Christianity is compatible with science after all. I tried not to approach it with an eye to tearing it down, but ultimately I realized that that was a euphemism for trying not to approach it critically, and that I couldn't deny my nature in order to accept it unquestioningly. I read through it, finishing it in my dorm a few days later, and put it down feeling supremely frustrated with Lee Strobel, the author. The book was no good at all. Here's what it is: Strobel tries to show how science doesn't just leave room for God, but indeed points to Him. The most glaring problem is that Strobel only interviews scientists who are Christians. This is ostensibly because it "wouldn't make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset" (28). However, notice that in limiting himself to scientists who are Christian, he DOES PRECISELY THAT. I really want to shout that, because it makes me mad. He refused from the very beginning to give secular science a chance to rebut, making the book fairly well useless. Beyond that very elemental error: he also interviews those with doctorates, but on subjects that they did not earn their doctorate in, and he leaves out key hypotheses that science has developed, attacking instead a straw man - science as he chose to see it. His entire chapter about evolution can be refuted by two words - "punctuated equilibrium" - which I learned in my high school biology class, and other science is similarly misrepresented. Secular science was always kept in the distance, an idea that he mentioned solely as something to let go of immediately, and again, he interviewed no secular scientists to see how they explain the hypotheses that he refuted. He dealt with straw men, knocking down caricatures of science and keeping the real science perpetually at bay. At the end I was left with no faith in Strobel's ideas on the reconciliation of science with religion. So, I need to read different books.
-Books! Why, I continually wonder, should my understanding of religion be contingent on reading all the right books? Why shouldn't I be able to find the answers solely within myself? But whenever I look inside myself, I can't seem to find any religion. Is this because there is none for me to find, or is it because my book learning from an early age in school has pushed it aside, and because I haven't pursued a religious education to match pace with my secular education? I don't know. Here's something. I've prayed before. But I've never prayed just because I felt the need to; it's always been out of a sense of obligation to the church or to some religious person or group. And every time I have - even from a very young age - I've always held at the same instant a doubt, the question of whether I was sincere. Every time I pray, even in the privacy of my own bedroom in the dark, I feel like a goof: like I'm saying words to myself, emitting a radio signal that travels only to the rest of my brain, and then peters out. Those who hold to the power of prayer will tell me that I'm wrong, that God hears me. I realize that other people can pray without the slightest hint of irony. If you're one of these people, you'll tell me you've felt God in you after your prayers. You've had a stirring in your soul. I can respect that. But remember, so did the pagan Native Americans - they drew incredible strength from their worship of animals and stars. There are tons of stories about these feats, one of which I just recently read in this month's Adventure magazine, called "Running Away". Myself, I've never had any experience analagous to these ones. Lord knows I've tried. I've really tried to pray, but I've never been able to do it without coming away wondering if I'd just done anything. I've gone out into nature. Mom said to me once, "That's where you find God, isn't it?" I agreed. But when I've gone out into nature and tried to feel at one with God there, I've never been able to do it. I've wanted to, but I've never left the woods telling myself that I just had a real religious experience. I just enjoy nature for nature. Nature isn't an analogy; it's just nature. That's what I've always come away with. Understand, none of this is for lack of trying or from a mental block. For eighteen years I was unquestioningly Christian, and, listening to Mom, tried many times to personally experience religion. Prayer, nature walks, church. I tried to make these things affect me deeply, personally, and religiously. I wanted them to. But they never did. It got to where I couldn't enjoy nature as much, because my conditioning was telling me from the back of my head that, really, I ought to be experiencing some deep movement of my Christian soul. Nothing really happened. I've always thought it was strange that some people "felt" religion and others didn't. Why should that be? Tack that onto my list of Questions.
-I came back home for Christmas break, hoping to do some serious talking with someone religious about religion. I didn't do much of that in Grinnell. I waited until I got home, because I wanted to talk with Mom. That basically brings us to yesterday. I broke the dam.
-Mom's been, predictably, crying a lot. It's hard to argue against a person when she's crying and making arguments straight from the heart, bypassing the brain and talking with pure emotion. However, Mom didn't do exclusively that. She's mainly been giving me evidence that Christianity is true. Miracles, for example; we listened to Duane Miller's* recording. In that, Miller explains how he got sick with influenza, and the myelin lining in his vocal cords deteriorated such that he lost his voice entirely, and had to speak in a loud whisper. Then he puts on a recording of a service he was giving, and in the middle of it, as he's preaching about healing powers, his voice comes right back. So how does that work, if not miraculously? I don't know. It seems pretty real. But I still have lots of questions about miracles, even if we assume they're true. She responded to my proof of the impossibility of the coexistence of Heaven and Hell by saying that she doesn't know, that it's a mystery, and that God will give us the answer in the end. I can see where she comes from with that, but it still leaves me unsatisfied. She's telling me that God creates an area where everyone is without sadness and some people may experience a deep and pervasive sadness (such as the one Mom would definitely feel if loved ones of hers were in Hell), simultaneously. (She says she doesn't believe we forget everyone - that we aren't lobotomy patients there.) In mathematical terms, in heaven, P and not P are simultaneously true. That's a logical impossibility, akin to saying that in Heaven, 1=2. Some things have to make sense even for God. If P and not P are simultaneously true, there's nothing to stop Heaven from being a place where up is simultaneously down, someone is in one place and at the same time not there at all, and everything simultaneously exists and doesn't exist. Since that can't work, I subscribe to the view that, if Hell exists, it must necessarily be empty but for Satan, and God forgives everyone. In my Questions post, there are more reasons, in the form of questions, that I don't think it's logically possible to believe in a place of eternal damnation. I've heard (from Wikipedia, though) that this idea has some currency in religious circles. I don't know much about it, though. In fact, I don't know much about a lot of religious things. And I want to. That's why I'm going to read the Bible, cover to cover. I need to at least know something about the Christianity that I keep taking about - the Christianity that I was raised with, and which Mom tells me, with the most extreme confidence that I think exists in this world, is the real truth. I can't really make an informed decision about Christianity until I read its fundamental text. For now, the issue remains up in the air. I remain up in the air - I'm not even on the fence, I'm hovering above it, so don't even bother to ask which way I'm leaning. Over the last few months, I've felt as if I were on a seesaw. Some days I've felt like atheism is a universal solvent that will melt everything in its path - dogma, old-time beliefs, mysteries that religion doesn't deal with. Other days I've felt like Christ has to be the true, and I'm looking in the wrong places for the answers I can't seem to find. Time will tell. But I can never rebuild the barrier, and I won't stop short of truth, no matter where that takes me.
*From the aforementioned unpublished Questions post:
"Q: Why is it okay to ignore certain parts of the Bible, e.g. the ones that sanction the death penalty for extremely trifling crimes like working on the Sabbath (Exodus 3:52) and saying "Oh my God" (Leviticus 24: 10-16), and ban things like homosexuality and shrimp, and condone selling your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), and stuff like that, but we have to scrupulously keep to the other stuff? Why aren't we allowed to covet? Coveting is what the entire free-market system is based on. If you don't covet, you're a communist or a primitivist, probably, yet Christianity is practiced mainly by adherents of other forms of civilization. Do we have to honor our mother and father if they're crack addicts or pedophiles? Should we just throw away the whole Old Testament for this reason, and stick with the less objectionable New Testament, which doesn't have all this wrath and these arbitrary rules in it?" Note that I haven't read the Bible all the way through, but I plan to. I'll see if it's possible for this stuff to work, but it doesn't seem likely. However, for other questions that don't seem answerable, go read the Twain that I linked to.
**There's a short recording on the link given, to his ministry, but for more background detail you'll have to go to this website, about halfway down the page, where there are longer recordings with expository details.
Note: I know everyone is going to want me to publish "Questions" now, but I think I'm going to let this stuff cool for a few days first.
Junger, Sebastian. "Running Away." Adventure December 2007/January 2008, p. 121.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2004.
(Now that I'm in academia, I feel the need to cite every reference. This probably means that I have no soul.)
If you believe in Heaven and Hell, and you would like to continue doing so, leave this post immediately and continue living in blissful ignorance. I say this without a tinge of demeaning you, because I respect that. I respect it, that is, if you'd rather your beliefs go entirely unchallenged, and each time something contrary happens, you avoid thinking about it. I know that used to be me. Now, however, I can't stop myself from thinking. I respect your willful ignorance, if you insist on it: but do you?
I've been thinking a lot about religion recently. This is a new development. I never used to think about it at all, and that's the way it has to be. If I read anything that pointed out something wrong with Christianity, I turned red and hot with something akin to embarrassment or fear, and then tried my best to forget about it entirely. But now I think. That's incompatible with a lot of what I believed.
-I'm reasonably sure that I've independently proved that the concepts of Hell and Heaven are mutually exclusive. I'm sure other people have come up with this before me, but I figured today:
- Heaven is supposed to be a place where there are all the happinesses that exist, and no sadness at all.
- Hell is supposed to be a place of eternal torment, with no chance for reprieve.
- Some devout Christians - Mom for example - have deep love for atheists or agnostics in their lives (Micah*, Dan). I'll be focusing on Mom's example here.
- If the Bible is correct, atheists will go to Hell for rejecting Jesus, and Christians will go to Heaven for accepting him.
- The Christians who love atheists will then be sad. All throughout Micah's and my life, the shibboleth of Mom's motherhood has been, "I love you guys SO MUCH. I don't know what I would do without you." She could never, ever be happy if she were in heaven and Micah were eternally separated from her and being tortured in Hell.
- It's impossible to claim that Mom will go to Hell for loving an infidel, because according to the Bible, Jesus both loves all and is completely free of sin; loving an infidel is not a sin.
- Therefore, there are a few possibilities:
- -Everyone goes to Heaven, because God forgives all offenses, even atheism.
- -Everyone goes to Hell, because God doesn't think anyone in the history of Earth has prostrated themselves well enough.
- -There is no Heaven and no Hell, just our lives on Earth.
Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure this soundly indicates that we're all in the same boat, and there's no point whatsoever in trying to change it. Undoubtedly there's some sort of apologetic argument against this. But it's going to have to be pretty damn impressive before I recant this. I tried to come up with some myself. Perhaps when a Christian goes to Heaven they lose all their love for any atheists they know? Come on, that just reeks of nonsense. For one thing, it would entail God changing free will, which is pretty much the one and only thing he's not supposed to be able to do. For another, it would mean that the Christian in Heaven wouldn't be the same person as the Christian on Earth, but rather a gutted version, and aren't we supposed to go to Heaven as we are? Perhaps the atheist-loving portion of the Christian goes to Hell, and all the rest gets into Heaven? That really stinks, and I imagine no one holds that theory, that it only exists as something I just made up. I doubt there's even one passage in the Bible that suggests something that absurd. I found an answer from Thomas Aquinas. He says there are two types of pity, one that we feel with our earthly selves and one that we feel with our heavenly selves. In Heaven the first will disappear entirely, and the second kind will be unable to pity the damned because that would require that it want the damned to become saved. So, there will be no pity for the damned. What? So in Heaven, love for those who are damned will disappear as an inferior, earthly emotion? Then what about Jesus, who is said to love all? Surely he wouldn't immediately stop loving Micah if Micah died and went to Hell. Jesus can't be a fair-weather friend like that. This answer also sounds like the first one I made up: that something changes in a Christian when they go to Heaven from Earth, and they lose their love for people they love. It still entails God changing free will, or gutting it. If God suddenly took away Mom's love for Micah and me while she was on Earth, she would not be the same person, not by any means. Her love for us is an essential part of her being. If she went to Heaven as a different person, it would be pointless, as pointless as if she went to Heaven only under the condition that she forget everything she knows about humans, or mathematics, or science. Heaven cannot be a place where there is no knowledge.
-I'll keep looking, but I doubt there's any defensible answer to this boulder of logic. Of course, I'm willing to change my mind if there is. I have an open mind. I can't stop thinking about stuff, and that's what an open-minded person does. I thought too hard about the Christianity of Heaven and Hell, and I broke it. If there's a good answer, let's hear it. I'm completely open to anything. I'll point out a problem with any answer, and acknowledge any and all problems in this post, in the idea of being completely fair. Let's get to the bottom of this, if I haven't already.
*Micah has stated unequivocally that he doesn't believe in God, as recently as a few days ago.
-That morning I woke up at 1000 and tied up all my loose ends: turned in library books, printed my paper and turned that in, and had lunch. I was a free man. I think Ben across the hall embodied it best when he came in as I was working on my paper and started yelling about how great this was, and he could finally read for pleasure, and he finally had free time! Jeremy says that's the happiest he's ever seen Ben. I rode to Ohio with Dan Malarkey again, and this time with two friends of his as well. It was foggy in Grinnell: a dense fog that had been there since the day before. As we drove away from Grinnell, the fog stayed around, a constant. It was like driving through a glass of milk. The road had a shortened memory span and forethought; anything more than a hundred feet or so away was forgotten. We didn't know how much fog there was. As it turned out, there was about the Midwest's worth of it. We hadn't gotten out of it by 1700, or mid-Illinois, when it got dark. Then it dissipated a little. We still ran into some after nightfall. It felt like Waiting for Godot. We pulled in to Dan's house at about 2300, and Mom drove me back to Cincinnati. Then I was home. We played Scrabble, and I won.
-Christmas!* I went shopping the next day for my secret Santa person. WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD IF YOU'RE UNCLE DAN. I didn't know what to get Dan, because if he wants something, he probably already owns the best model there is. I ended up getting him a little assortment: some really thick, warm socks that say they'll last forever; a bucket hat; and a fishing lure.
-Then Christmas was first at Tami & Mike's house. I hadn't seen those guys in so long. Jackie and I traded card tricks. She has a little book of beginner level tricks, which are more cute than anything. She thought mine were pretty good. I taught her one, and it baffled Aunt Tami. (She tried to pull it on Travis, forgetting that he was in the room when I explained it to her.) Travis and I told the rest of the family what we'd been doing in college. Travis, as it turns out, had gone to Europe, and he showed us a slideshow of pictures on the computer. What really struck me was the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. It looked like it was melting, or maybe it looked like it was alive. There's no end to the amount of detail in it. I didn't realize it was even possible to build something like that. In a way, it isn't so far: construction started in 1882, and Wikipedia says it's forecast to end in 2026. Apparently it was originally going to take several hundred years, but we've gotten quicker at architecture since the 1800s. His trip to Marrakesh was similarly incredible in that I saw an exotic place that only exists in pictures in National Geographic as a real thing that can actually happen: going to an airport where cats roam around freely, riding a camel through a sculpted sand dune, taking a series of hairpins down a sheer cliff face to the night's hotel. Studying abroad is looking more and more interesting.
-We opened presents; as I'd hoped, Nana got me some pants. All my khakis had disappeared! I only had jeans, and I like khakis better than jeans. She also gave a flat cap, of which I will post a picture not too far into the future. My flat cap is awesome and makes me look awesome. ...-er. Additionally, I got some mukluks (Tami & Mike, I think) and some peanut butter fudge (Nana of course) and a zip-up sweatshirt (chosen by Jackie). We had Cincinnati chili for dinner, and Micah declared it better than Skyline and Gold Star both. (First time I've had Cincinnati chili in months, and I had it in Dayton. Bizarre!) Eventually, though, we had to go home.
-The next day, the 24th, is Mom's birthday, so Grandma & Grandpa threw her a party with excessive amounts of rib roast, mashed potatoes, and other delicious food. Dave was there too, and Grandma & Grandpa made sure we wouldn't leave hungry. We had some ginger cupcakes for dessert. I, of course, had a black cow also.
-On Christmas we had Christmas. Before we left for Oxford, we opened our intra-family presents. Mom got Micah and me helmets, giving us at once handy protective gear and a lesson in the fine art of subtlety. We also got weird egg-shaped Weeble-type alarm clocks, which are kinda keen. And I got some more pants. Pants! And I got a 15-in-1 board game set. Then we left. It was really weird: we left on time. In fact, we got there slightly before Dave & Cº. Sierra and Jazmin brought some Christmas presents they'd already opened. Sierra had a pink thing where you put fancy dresses on Disney princesses. She showed it to me, and I said that was so great. Cute kids can cause you to lie right through your teeth. Sierra and Jazmin are awfully cute. Without much delay, we started opening presents. Dan & Tracy weren't there, so they didn't get to open theirs. Most of the presents went to the kids - Sierra, Jazmin, Hayden. They got toys. Ah, toys. You know, I never really liked toys all that much. As for the grown-ups, Mom got Dave a travel bag; Dad got Grandma some wine; Grandma got Mom an Amish-made oak cabinet; Maria made everyone spaghetti sauce; Tracy in absentium gave Dad a sensible fishing rod and reel and net, because she was tired of looking at his "oceangoing" assembly; Grandpa got Micah a TV; and Maria made everyone spaghetti sauce. Grandpa drew my name for the secret Santa, so I got lavished with a spectacular Leatherman and a really sturdy and excellent krokay set. This one is going to stand up to much more abuse than the flimsy model I had before. Grandpa liked it so much, he ordered one for himself after looking at it. This means I won't have to wait to start the Grinnell Krokay Contingent until I can get a custom set made. We can just use this one. Now, any wood set is going to eventually wear and need to be replaced, but I think that even if we play ruggedly and frequently, this one can last us at the very least to the end of the year, and probably well into next and perhaps beyond. Eventually, I'll want to get a custom set made, with nylon heads, but this one is probably the best one I could hope for outside of a custom set. It will work just right. I can't wait to try it out, and as I find people, I'm going to gather them together for a breaking-in game at probably Winton Woods, before I leave for Grinnell.
-I'm going to have to get my driver's license before I leave, because I don't think I'll be able to fit this in a car with the rest of everyone's stuff if I'm carpooling home. Hm.
*Most of this section presupposes you know all the names in my family. If not, just go along for the ride, I guess.
-I tried to get a winter job, but the hiring person from Hillman says it wouldn't be cost-effective enough for them to train me for two weeks during the busy inventory period of the year for a four-week job. Even though I'd be coming back for spring and summer breaks, it wouldn't work, she says. So instead, I'm going to focus on my fonts. I'll be buying a copy of the industry-standard program (well, there are competing programs, but one of them - FontLab), as opposed to the watered-down version of it that I have now, and then I'll be able to make my fonts of professional quality, and start actually selling them, instead of talking about selling them. I've already talked selling with a guy from Veer, though we haven't mentioned any numbers yet; that'll start after my font becomes pro quality. So, hopefully that will start me off making money with fonts, and also it'll be cool to be "officially" a type designer, one whose fonts are for sale on the internet. It'll be really cool to start seeing my font in use all around the world. Now, you're not likely to start seeing it in your supermarket or just anywhere once it starts selling; there's too much type for every font to become widely seen just because it's being sold. But someone (I hope, at least) will use it for something, and I think Veer does a thing where buyers are encouraged to send in specimens of the font in real-life use. I'll enjoy that.
I guess you can tell I like fonts and talking about them.
-The entire room was filled, so it was good planning to have Obama on a raised platform. He made a rather good speech about how we need to leave behind the politics of pandering and start doing what's right. Of all the candidates I've heard of, Obama is the only one I can support. This is probably mainly because I've heard very little about the other candidates. The Obama faction is pretty active in Grinnell, postering on all the walls and bathrooms. The posters I've read describe him as a really honest guy, who gave a carbon-reduction speech in Detroit because he wasn't going to make two different speeches in California and Detroit. I know next to nothing about the Republican candidates; they don't really get much attention in Grinnell. But Obama seems like a guy with real goals and a real plan, whereas the rest of the candidates are "Not George W. Bush!".
-I realize this bit of politics is extraordinarily biased and that I could do with knowing more about the rest of the contenders, but I think there's at least some grain of truth in it. Obama's a good guy.
-Something that happened here was that we played some poker. Just Hold 'Em, because they weren't gutsy enough for dealer's choice. It was just Jay, Ben, and me, with a three-dollar buy-in. I joined in late when I came by and saw them playing. Jay knocked Ben out shortly after I got in, and then I proceeded to beat Jay. Thus, I won six dollars. Jay thought he only had to give me the three that he won from Ben, but I eventually convinced him that he owed me three too. I'm still not sure what I told him to convince him made sense, but it was in response to what he'd said, which definitely made no sense, so it worked out in the end somehow at least. Later we had a poker study break, and I stuck around to the last hand, but lost it to Ben. This time there was no cash buy-in, so all Ben did was win Departed the DVD.
-Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. I got a ride with a different guy this time, whose name really is Dan Malarkey. In Ohio, he lives in the same neighborhood as Dave Chappelle. It was snowing pretty good as we left Grinnell, but we came out of that by about Illinois. So, we talked awhile as he drove me to his house. He's interested in film and stuff. Senior, French major. Then Mom picked me up and drove me to Cincinnati.
-We had Thanksgiving at Grandma & Grandpa's house. Nice to get back home again and remember all these people that I'm still related to. And I get to come back yet again, for quite a while, in just three to four weeks! Thanksgiving made me happy. I ate far too much, but it didn't seem like enough. As always, we had wildly inappropriate dinner conversation, which we always try not to do, but it happens anyhow. That's us. Then I ate more - pumpkin pie and a black cow - and watched Ratatouille with Sierra, and she made me pretend I was that rat in the movie and had to lead her everywhere. I lost a pool game, which was too bad, but I still played a pool game. In sadder news, we're toning down Christmas this year. Each adult is only buying one present; we did a drawing to see who's buying for whom. (But it's a secret, so I can't tell who I'm buying for.) It makes things simpler and saves some money, but it seems like it'll take the spirit out of the present-opening part. I like there to be lots of presents and a long time opening them all and wondering if there are any more for you. This year, we'll just get one present, and there'll only be one surprise in store for us. We'll be in front of the tree for maybe ten minutes. I guess most of the participants are pretty jaded as regards the surprise element, having done this stuff for decades, but for me it's still something special. I guess I'm still a kid, even if I wasn't allowed to be one in the drawing (kids don't have to buy, and get presents from everyone), and Christmas still gives me that something to look forward to. This year it's less to be looked forward to. Seems like we're regarding it more as a chore, like, "Ahh, Christmas is coming again. Snorrre." I still like it. The other argument for it was, "Who needs that much stuff?" Well, I'm as Thoreauvian as* the next guy, but even if you like to "Simplify, simplify," it's still really nice to get presents, and I mean, it only comes once a year. Maybe I'll buy presents for everyone. Maybe I won't, because I don't have much money or a car or a mall, but maybe I will. I guess I'll continue considering it.
-We wrapped up Turkey Day with a Scrabble game, and drove off to our respective homes feeling full and happy.
-On Saturday night, I had a little fun. I called up A----** and we completed a plan we'd devised earlier, to go out on a midnight run to ihop. ("Did you know ihop is pohi backwards? POHI!!" --Keith, last year) He drove by and picked me up at about 0145. We collected another friend of his, S----, and went about trying to find gas, which was a complete fiasco. S---- had to call up one of her friends, who told her where a station was. We weren't on fumes getting there, but not too far away. Then he drove us to the ihop on Colerain and we had some breakfast. I wasn't particularly hungry, but got pancakes. A---- got a full-sized breakfast and S---- said she'd have my third pancake if I wasn't hungry enough. They both mainly had coffee. A---- tried to drink his normally, but S---- kept putting sugar packets in it. Like, five of them. And creamers, too. And he drank it anyhow. She also kept throwing stuff at him. She was pretty slap-happy. A---- threw stuff too. Heck, I joined in the fun. S---- made a cootie catcher, and I drew a creepy splitting face on it. We ate our pancakes; I gave S---- my last one because there was no way I was going to eat it. They were both broke, and I'd known from the beginning that I was financing the venture, but it was worth it, and anyhow it was only about twelve dollars, plus tip, plus I paid for that gas. A----'s going to pay me back, though. We left ihop and, at S----'s behest, moved along to the Colerain Historical Cemetery. She'd been there before, though not by night. It took us ten or fifteen minutes to get to it, down a long and winding road. It's marked by an old wooden sign, and after that there's a lengthy gravel path through some tall grass. At 0350, it was decidedly weird. We came to a sunken field surrounded by a low fence, with a scattering of headstones in it. The moon illuminated streaky clouds and accentuated the frozen air. There weren't many headstones, so the tour was short. Some of them had been broken down by vandals. I only read one, which marked about four graves in a family, dated around the 1890s. There was a section in a corner sunken a little farther than the rest of the cemetery, which was apparently the children's section, but we didn't go to it. I wanted to get home at a kind of reasonable time, so we didn't linger forever. A---- drove us back down the gravel path, this time avoiding the giant pothole. Then he dropped me off at my house, around 0430. We need to do that again! ...Maybe without S----. She basically served to make a huge mess, and give us a few chuckles by throwing stuff at A----.
*more Thoreauvian than
**name redacted just in case, because his parents are kinda strict, even though we didn't do anything bad
-I made a couple new YouTube videos. One, Two. Total time about 5½ minutes.
-Grandma has broken her ankle. Grandma, I'm sorry that you broke your ankle. Hope you feel better soon. Have you got a cast, or what?
-Yesterday, Jordan and I had some spare time, so he took me to Sugar Creek, which is a nature preserve nearby. He'd told me about it, but I didn't know where it was, so he showed me. It was way better than I'd anticipated. First off, it wasn't just some trees given space at the edge of a field. It was a proper forest, with full-size trees and a real live ecosystem. It's way better than Warder. It even looks like excellent krokay grounds. We walked through the leaves downhill to the creek. It runs through a gully about four feet deep with sheer walls, and its banks are deep thick mud, which was fun to walk in [neither of us bothered with shoes]. We waded through the cold water to the other side, and walked around a little more, then crossed back over and leisurely navigated back up the hill to his car. Now I'm imagining having a wicket on the other side of the gully, so that you have to jump your krokay ball over the wide chasm. That would be awesome. I wish I knew a plastic manufacturer that could do the machining I need in-house. If anyone knows a company that can sell and machine 3"-diameter nylon 6,6 rods, give me a shout.
-I had never really done an appreciable walking journey without shoes before, nor had I yet trackwalked barefoot. I didn't have much in the way of strategy at first. I walked on ties, but when they had rocks on them, I balanced on the rail itself. The rails are actually really thin, thinner than my foot. It doesn't seem like a train ought to be able to travel on them, especially not for hundreds of miles. Pretty soon, the structures of the town and the college petered out from both sides, giving way to small trees and brown bushes. We didn't talk overly much, because the journey spoke for itself. But we did talk. Jordan told me about other times he'd come this way. He does a lot of trackwalking, often with camping equipment and food. He just walks off and then comes back later that day, or sometime on the next. The bushes stopped along with the ground they were on, leaving the railroad on top of a ridge flanked on either side by farms. He pointed out a creek that crossed under the railroad and continued off in a squiggle across the field on the left - he creekwalked down it once. I'm not sure where it ends up going. After a while, he slid down the ballast rocks onto the grass margin, then skied down about fifteen feet to the field at the side. I followed, but a little slower. This place was the grove we were walking to. On a warm day last year, he had come this way and found it, and ended up just falling asleep under it for a few hours. There were a bunch of young oaks, planted in rows and standing up straight. That was the grove, a stand of trees at the bottom of the hill, surrounded by an expanse of field on its other three sides. The grass underfoot grew fluffy and wild. One kind of oak had deep red leaves for fall; the other had brown ones. There were also a few other trees - a spruce, a juniper, a short ash enclosed by chicken wire. We found a lean-to, made of branches scattered over a wire framework. It might've been for hunting; it didn't provide good cover, but maybe it was meant to have something draped over it. We walked through it slowly, and when we came out the other side back into field we had come halfway back up to the level of the railroad. We found a barbed-wire fence and climbed over it back to the tracks, and kept walking.
-Mostly it was farms on the side of us now, but they seemed remote, because we were at the top of the ridge on the railroad, the farms below us at the bottom of a hill of ballast and grass. We walked over a couple private grade crossings and one bridge over a highway. We could see forever, usually. We were headed for a tree that Jordan had been to. He spotted it a couple times; only on the last time was he actually spotting the correct tree. To get to it, we cut through a harvested cornfield, full of dry stocks and spent, empty cobs, with a distinct smell of cow manure. At the edge of that was a field of green grass with a runnel filtering through it, keeping the ground squishy for me. The tree had situated itself to take full advantage of this squish. I climbed up into it. It was a world-class climbing tree, a field maple that had spread out to take up all the sun there was to be had. Within four feet from the bottom, it splits into about nine smaller trees, each of which is the size of a full-grown tree. There are several absolutely perfect perches. Mine took a rash leap of faith to get to. We sat and relaxed in the tree for a good while. But we eventually had to turn back to the tracks.
-It seemed shorter on the way back. Jordan told me about how he once walked all the way to the next town, and then it started storming, so he ate in a restaurant for a while. But then it didn't stop, so he headed back toward the college in the rain. Halfway there he stopped and camped out in the rain; his sleeping bag got wet, but it kept him somewhat dry, and he strolled into the college the next day. I recommended a few things for him to check out on the internet and such, and he told me about some comedy troupes he's seen on TV, and other stuff. I mostly walked on the rail, and at one point we both balanced on it for probably upwards of half a mile, which took some focusing. We came back into the campus shortly before 1700. Then I went and had dinner.
A band called The Mountain Goats came here on Friday. They were pretty cool. I got their CD called Get Lonely. The guy's lyrics are very sophisticated, not just words. If I seem a bit distracted, it's because I'm listening to music.
I finished with Mom's ginger snaps, and transfered my peanut butter fudge into the tupperware they were in. I left that on my dresser.
-Today I went to calculus. When I came back, something leapt off my dresser; it paused on the windowsill and I saw it was a squirrel. Then I saw this:
Luckily, I seem to have chased it off before it was able to get to any of the fudge. However, probably some fudge disappeared while it was in the box that Nana & Papaw shipped it to me in. I didn't keep that closed. That's Grinnell.
* * *
Let's listen to a tale of Rock Creek. [Mostly excerpted from my journal directly after the fact]
After I made that last blog, I put on some longer clothes, failed to get a Maid-Rite (they were closed; I had to have a sub instead), and started biking. It was a very different ride by daylight. There seemed to be a lot fewer hills now that I could see the whole hill each time. It was tough going when it was uphill, because I was fighting the wind too. But I got there in good time.
-I started off at the same place I was last time, which was, it seems, a mooring dock for sailboats and stuff, but it was out of season. I eventually found a place to get water, which I needeed, because in my hasty non-planning I didn't bring a water bottle. It was a well, and I had to kneel down to drink out of it, but that was fine. So then I set off to find good krokay. The trail around the perimeter of the lake is nothing llike straightforward. I kept getting whisked away from the shore whenever I got close. However, I did find a couple good spots. It looked like I had come to a dead end, but then I found the "Multiuse Trail". It wasn't a short trail from one point to another, I discovered, but rather a long ad spderwebbing trail with more ups and downs than a roller coaster, and steeper too. Frequently I found myself hurtling into an invariably mud-filled low point in te trail. This was often filled with sharp rocks for no discernible reason but to make me nervous about my tires. Just as often, I had to power up a 45° incline, which was often also muddy. I only kinda kept in view of the lake. I found a few good krokay spots, but realized that it would be ridiculous to bring krokay equipment this far just on foot. I mean, that stuff is heavy. Ovvasionally, - two or three times - the trail dumped me out into the collective back yards of a lakefront neighborhood. I also ran into a few more dock-type things. The last neighborhood had a large, wavy field behind all the houses, and te field was covered with Canada geese. There were probably 300 of them. I was getting worn out frm the ups and downs, so I moved onto the paved road instead. It took me up to a gravel higway. THe sky was getting darker for the night. As I biked down that road, I realized I'd gotten pretty far afield of the lake. Finally I saw it off in the distance, at the bottom of a big giant hill. THere was agracel loop that went to it - or so it seemed. It was actually just a vantage point, and got nowhere near the lake itself. I moved on, looking for a better way to get to the lake. But the road just moved farther and farther away. I turned around and went back to the gravel loop. There was a chain around it, but I was determined to get back to the lake, so I lifted my bike over and rolled down a hill all the wy to the shore, tall yellow grass smacking me in the face the whole way. But, skirting the shore, I had found a trail. Yes. So I followed that around the shore. I had realized long ago that I would circle the lake, or most of it (there's a bridge that crosses it - sort of like a long pier that goes all the way across, at a narrow part). From the view I got I was a little more than halfway done. I had miles left, probaby. But I kept going. It was pretty smooth, and the trail was pretty good for biking at least compared to the trails earlier. But it never seemed to end. And it never came near anything that wasn't forest. I was getting exhausted. And it was getting hard to see. The trail had lost sight of the lake, but I kept turning right so I knew I must be following the shoreline at some remove. Still, I could now see nothing but the trail a little ways ahead, and even that was getting dim. I stopped and caught my breath, took off my zip-off sleeves. I was hot. I had been biking aong this trail for what seemed like a half-hour, surely, and probably all of one - I wasn't checking my watch. There were no lights to be seen, except one, which, as I got closer to it, turned out to be totally out of my way. I couldn't see the road, couldn't see anything but trees. I didn't know if this trail led anywhere. For all I knew, it was taking me to the middle of Iowa via a route that crossed no roads, but it seemed to be following the lakeshore at least very vaguely. I had no water, and I was really exhausted. The lactase in my spit was forming crusts on the sides of my mouth. I had no cell phone, and even if I had, I didn't have any way to place myself for search & rescue people or whever I would call. I could be out there all night, especiall if I got a flat.
-I could die.
-I had nothing to recharge my rpidly dwindling energy. I might have been able to find food, but it was dark, and a pretty sparse Iowa ecosystem as well. My only choice was to keep going. Backwards would kill me; I knew I was so far already. I would gladly ask help of the next person I saw, but I saw no one. I got back on the bike and kept pedaling. It was pretty much night. The trail started getting more erratic, taking on those unreasonable peaks and calleys I'd left behind earlier. A few times, I felt myself biking over rocks. I planed through mud frequently, barely keeping the bike upright. Once I had to wade a mud puddle. I considered ditchin the bike, but realized that was a "mega-dumb idea", as I said out loud; it was helping me, no matter if I did have to walk it uphill sometimes. The forest was closing in more now. I rounded a bend and ound the trail vanishing into obscurity, or perhaps behind some stacked sticks, in a sickly field. I began walking my bike, occasionally sinking into an area of soft ground made by I didn't want to know what. But: I now could see the lake.
-The trail rematerialized. I followed it along the shore; it was getting more definite. THere were lights visible on opposite shores. W H A M. I ran into a chain blocking the trail. I've always wondered what it'd be like to hit one of those at top speed. It just stopped me, that's all, and not gently. I lifted the bike over the chain and found myself on paved road.
-"Thank you, God," I said. "I am not going to die in Rock Creek State Park." I biked along and found two guys who had stopped their cars as they passed, and were having a conversation about hunting. They told me where there might be potable water, but it was too dark to find it, so then they both gave me a bottle of water and pointed me in the right direction. I biked down the "pavement", he called it, and found the bridge over the lake. I couldn't find any water at my original entry point, because the well had vanished into the night, so I went without. Then I started up the hill, to Grinnell.
-On the way, I fixed my fender. A screw had come out, and it was flopping around, so I replaced the screw with a twig; amazingly, it worked. The wind was at my back now, so I made it back to Grinnell in what seemed ridiculously quick time. Then I had a giant meal at Subway, which was mercifully still open. I'm sure I appalled them with my absolutely filthy bare feet, one with a previously acquired wound on it that I'd reopened on the trip. But no one said anything. I filled up. I had an appetite for the ages. I ate every bite and could've eaten more.
-The rest of the night, I think I was justified in siting at the computer. Before I did that, though I took a long, hot shower.
-I need to be better at the wilderness. I need to be able to know that I won't die if I'm in this type of situation again. Ideally, I won't be. Well, at least not until I know I can live.
* * *
On Tuesday, I left for home; a guy named Jordan was giving me a ride. It was a long ride. He's a cool guy; we talked some, but mostly listened to music. I slept, but vaguely. We lost a time zone, and arrived at around 1800. The first person I saw was Micah, who uncharacteristically gave me a hug. He was playing RuneScape, still. Dad was downstairs, and introduced me to the ferret (as Mom noted, the kittens ran off). Mom came home and gave me a big hug and went into that squeaky voice of hers. So, from there, I proceeded to just hang out there for a couple days. The ferret bites a lot. Dad took Micah and me out for 5-Ways, which I had been missing. Micah and I walked to the park by the railroad a couple times and talked and watched trains go by. On Friday, Mom took me out to see the marching band. Ah, marching band. I miss it, but there again I don't. Even so, the band this year is just awesome. I was really jealous, because I was never in a band that took Grand Champion at a competition. There were seventeen trumpets, so the band sounded great. And powerful. It was the band's last gam, the Halloween game, s everyone was wearing costumes. They all said hi to me, and I swapped stories with Tim Schafermeyer and some other people. They left to the band room after third quarter, because it was raining. I followed them, and before I left, they made me snap for old time's sake, so I did Vesuvius. It's nice to get in touch with old friends, though I'd like to stay away from the Compound as much as I can. On Saturday, Dad took Micah and me to New Paris, Ohio, for SCUBA-diving. That was pretty cold, but not too bad. I got to wear my new тельнашку. That's a telnyashka, in the accusative: a blue-and-white striped shirt that they wear in the Russian Navy. Dad had ordered three of them from Russia. After we dove, we had a good old-fashioned breakfast for dinner at Grandma & Grandpa's. But, finally Sunday came and I had to go home. I feel pretty good about having gotten back in touch with everyone during my break.
-I rode home with Jordan. We talked more on the way back, about stuff like living a real life, not delaying your gratification for 65 years. He and I are looking down the same road. We reinforced each other's ideas. It was pretty great. He does creekwalking, and he devoted some of his time last year to finding places around here to do it. He found a place called Sugar Creek, which he says in addition to being a great little creek also has something matching the description I gave of good krokay territory. He also does trackwalking, and along the various railroads that lead out of town, he's found several really nice places to relax. He's slept out there a couple times. I've wanted to sleep outside, but I haven't, because I hadn't realized there was anywhere good to do it. The loggia? Mac Field? Rock Creek is too far away. But we're going to go trackwalking this weekend, and he's going to show me one of those places. I'll find the rest on my own. This is pretty great.
-What's been going on recently? Basically, fifty-seven varieties of work. I also came up with a ride to Cincinnati, such that Grandma and Grandpa don't even need to inconvenience themselves coming down here; the guy's also taking me back afterwards. He's visiting some friends there. So, it looks like I get to be introduced to the two (2) new cats and one (1) new ferret that we have now. So far I've only seen them hazily in a webcam.
-It's the perfect day to go to Rock Creek. I plan to bike there and look around for krokay places until it gets dark. Then, I'll play it by ear, I guess. Tomorrow I'll find out how much ash rods are from the lumberyard, for mallet shafts. I'm collecting information to get together a budget for when I make krokay a club. I may have to wait until next semester to form the club, because the committee in charge of granting funds accidentally ran through practically all their budget in half the semester. They'll have more money next semester.
-The squirrels here are really audacious. There's one that comes right up to my window. Then, when I look at it funny, it just stays there. I put my screen up last night to keep it out. It was climbing all over the screen. I was able to bop it off onto the loggia once. I wonder what it does when I'm not here to keep it out. I haven't noticed my peanut butter fudge disappearing … but, time to put up the other screen.
P.S.: Well, I still haven't had a Maid-Rite. They're closed Sundays.
One other thing: I ordered and have received a copy of Tally Hall's only album thus far, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, and it's definitely absolutely excellent.
It's been a lot of work. I recently picked up a shift at the Spencer Grill, which is located in the Joe Rosenfield Center, which I understand used to be a parking lot. It's on the southern end of Mac Field. The shift is from 2300 to 0300 on Saturdays. I've only done it once, but I'll be doing it again today. Last week it only ran until 0215, which was nice. "Work" work doesn't account for most of my time, though; most of my time is schoolwork. I have two papers due on Tuesday, both of which I'll do tomorrow. I also have really tough calc to do tomorrow. So I haven't been doing a whole lot of leisure stuff.
-Last night, I got off work about 2030. I sat in my room and did internet stuff for a while. I've been trading emails with Bob Warseck of the Connecticut eXtreme Croquet Society, preparatory to starting my own krokay club here. I've asked him for advice on how to make mallets, and talked about rules. They have a very complex rule set, developed over years of extreme croquet. They've been playing for 23 years. It's pretty impressive. You ought to check out the feature that the Discovery Channel did on them. There was a different feature about them by a local news channel that won an Emmy, but the Discovery Channel's is much more informative. The local one was just interesting, I guess. I think it was also part of a three-part series. Anyhow, at about 2330, I decided I needed to get off the computer ad out of the dorm. I wanted to go see if Merrill Park might have any good krokay grounds. I biked there, but even in the dark I could tell it didn't have much in the way of extremity. It was flat, with just a playground. Also, a plastic lion, which was weird. So, I left Merrill Park. I started heading west. They've built a bike trail to Rock Creek, and I wanted to see if I could find it for future reference. It's even miles from Grinnell to Rock Creek, so obviously I wasn't going to bike there tonight. I found two streets that seemed like they ought to have the bike trail on them, but they didn't. The third one didn't seem to either, until I turned around and realized it was right there, but I couldn't see it in the dark because I was biking on the other side of the road. The sky was clear and so was the Milky Way. I had seen one car since I got to the trail. It had only one headlight on. I continued heading east. Most of the time, I could only see about five or ten feet of trail in front of me; luckily, though, it was completely straight. I could make out how far there was until the crest of a hill based on the dim horizon. Occasionally I passed buildings with lights on. The only noise was the diligent drone of the insects. Two fences rose up on my sides. "Ths is definitely a bridge," I said in surprise. "That was definitely a bridge," I said once I got off it. I kept on biking. I was barefoot, and immersed in a cool summer night. I felt it all around me. There were no mile markers, so I kept track of how far I'd gone by how many hills I'd come over. I didn't count them, but each one put me a little farther away from Grinnell.
-The last one I took was a neverending downhill. At the bottom there was a road closed barrier with flashing lights. Across the bike trail there was orange fence, which was hard to see, and I was lucky I braked before I got to it. The lake was strangely bright. I stopped the bike and stood looking at it. There was a sound of waves hitting a wall, but it took me a while to figure out what it was. I sat on a dock and put my feet in the water. I wandered around and felt the soft breeze bouncing off the lake to me. It picked up a part of the lake as it went by. Wind has the character of all the places it's visited. If I could understand the language of the wind, maybe I would be everywhere. I turned around and biked back up the hill. I know how many hills there are from Rock Creek to Grinnell: the same number as there are from Grinnell to Rock Creek. I assume it's the same number in the daytime, but it wouldn't be quite the same overall. The Milky Way followed me to the outskirts of town, and then it disappeared.
I was hungry, but it was 0130 and everything was closed, so I had to get food through slightly illegal means, with the help of three other determined guys. I won't elaborate, so I don't incriminate any of us. In any case, I slept well. By the way, it was too dark to see if there were any good krokay places, so I'll have to go back there in the day sometime.
-Previously, though I hadn't really thought about it, I think I was subliminally dreading the course of life. How does it go? Go to school for seventeen years. Then get a job. Do that job for about forty years. In doing your job, you're banking money so that you can eventually retire and enjoy the later years of your life doing whatever you want, although with perhaps diminished vigor, simply because you're older. There are vacations and weekends and evenings that you can use to do stuff in the meantime, small breaks so that you don't lose sight of what you're aiming towards. In this life course, for about sixty-five years, you mostly put off doing what you want to do.
-Sixty-five years is a lot of delaying gratification.
-So, what's the solution? I've decided to live my life how I want to even when I have a job. How do I want to live? For one thing, I don't want to spend my days, weeks, months, and years all indoors. We don't think about it often, but a building is a dead environment. We engineer the spaces we live in so that we're the only thing that lives in them. Maybe it's because we want to feel important. But as soon as you step outside, you're in the middle of life; grass underfoot, trees rising overhead, even the soil full of life. I suppose it's not actually going to kill you if you're inside, but at the same time, isolating yourself so habitually - almost obsessively - is something I find deeply disturbing, and I have a suspicion that it runs opposite to human nature. If not in general, it certainly runs opposite to my human nature. I want to be part of the world. That doesn't mean just sitting outside instead of inside when I do work that I have to do. Nor does it mean taking hikes every once in a while or even frequently. These are things that tourists do. As a citizen, I won't live in the forest. I'll live with it. Now, that sounds mystical, and perhaps, BJ, you're flexing your fingers to warn me that I ought to be more careful about my life. Let me clarify. I will have a house. I mean, come on. I will also have a job. Obviously. I'll get a house in a forest, preferably near a stream or, even better, a lake. But I won't spend a whole lot of my time in it. Preferably, the majority of my time will be spent outside of it. What will I do? Well, you know how most people go to the grocery store for their groceries? What I would enjoy is to learn how we got our groceries before that. Very few people actually get their own food; most buy it from other people. I'll hunt, fish, and collect. Now, from time to time, I'll still go to stores; you can't pick ginger snaps. But the stores will be something I could live without. Eventually. I'm not saying it'll be instantaneous; it'll take me years, probably, to become proficient in getting what I need from the outdoors. But that's all right with me. I love learning new things, and I don't think the forest will ever fail me for new things to learn. And, at the same time as I'm having so much fun outdoors, I'll be saving money by dropping less of it back into the black hole of food bills and an endless supply of things (here I'm talking about living Thoreauvianly). Our civilization operates cyclically; we get money, but we always have to feed it back in almost instantly. By saving money, I can pay off my student loans quicker, pay off my house quicker, pay off my car* quicker, and eventually just use it for anything I want to do: vacations, books, college educations if such a thing comes up. Not only will I have a life that I'll enjoy every day, I'll also be able to enjoy it more and more as I get rid of worries and obligations. If I work it right, I might even be able to retire early. My life will never suck; I will get up each day and look forward to how awesome it's going to be.
-That's how I want to live. Now, other people may not be so hot into the forestry thing, and while I disagree with that personally, I respect it. I'd say in general the way to enjoy life is to think about what you would do if you were retired, and then figure out a way to do it without retiring first. Quit putting off enjoyment for when you're old. Life is for you to enjoy, not to enjoy later. We don't get that many days, after all; I intend to love every one of them.
Note that I have the added advantage that if civilization does collapse, I'll be able to cope just fine, and if it doesn't, I'll be having fun without it.
*Sometimes necessity dictates that you have to have a car, but it is another thing that I will use sparingly, giving vast preference to bicycles.
-What's some other stuff? Well, last week I did a sort of experiment. I'd read about the "Paleo Diet", which is where you eat as a forager would eat, on the theory that humans evolved to be best able to use those sorts of foods. Basically, it decries grains, beans, and potatoes as too recent additions to our diet. That's because these foods require cooking to be edible, and cooking wasn't invented until comparatively recent; also, they couldn't have been very widespread until the Agricultural Revolution, about 10 000 years ago. They're inedible before cooking because of chemicals in them with names like "lectins" and such, which, the advocates say, are still residually bad for you even after they've been cooked. (The Ag Rev is seen in these circles as "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race", as even so illustrious a persona as Jared Diamond put it.) Anyhow, I decided I'd scientifically try the Paleo Diet out for a week. It's not like I need to lose weight, but I've heard claims that, if you go on it as a regular person, you'll end up more energized than ever before in your life, now that your body is detoxifying and finally getting exactly what it needs: Meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruits, mostly. Our society is built on grain, though, and it took a lot of creativity to stay paleo at the dining hall. I mostly managed, but I believe the experiment was tainted, because one day there were ginger snaps and another day there was angel food cake, and sometimes the only meat was breaded. I also didn't have any way to objectively measure whether I was feeling better, or rather I hadn't come up with one yet. Now, I'm back off paleo, and trying to observe the contrast, but there's sure a lot of static in the data; for example, I think I've now picked some disease up from Jeremy (who is perpetually sick). The experiment, then, was pretty much inconclusive, though I have a vague feeling that I felt a bit better last week.
-Some prospies (that's prospective students) came over last week as well. Jay and Jeremy got them completely trashed. It's becoming pretty evident to me that my roommates aren't just average when it comes to wanting to drink and party; they do it at absolutely every opportunity. Luckily, the triple we share has sectioned-off rooms, so when it gets to a fever pitch of ridiculousness I just close my door and wait for everything to get closer to normal. Thus, until Jeremy told me I didn't know that they had gotten one prospie so drunk that - he? she? - peed on Jeremy. I don't even know how that happens. And I'm glad about that. Despite it all, I'm doing fine, thanks to the trusty door that can separate me from all the idiocy.
-Aside from classes and that, not much really happened to me last week. That's because classes take up so much time and effort. I suppose they're a valid thing to write about, though. In English, we've been reading Emerson, Hawthorne, and Poe, and we're getting into more people of that period. In calculus, we did vectors in 3 dimensions, and now we're getting back to doing derivatives and integrals. In Russian, we're gradually learning how to say less and less simple stuff; we've now learned how to tack endings onto adjectives. What's a tutorial? Well. I guess I'll explain a tutorial. It's a class everyone takes in their first semester here, designed to help you out gaining all the skills you'll need for such a thorough education as you'll get here. It has a topic besides "tutorial"; before coming, we picked our top five choices from a list of thirty or so tutorials. There are ones about climate change, the aesthetics of home, weird music, and Icelandic Sagas. I am in Professor Savarese's tutorial, "Dis Lit: Disability in Literature" - actually the title is a little longer, but I don't remember it. So, we're reading books written by deaf, quadruplegic, blind, or otherwise disabled people. So far we've read just two books, one by a Deaf actor (Bernard Bragg) and one by a quadruplegic woman who is a much better writer than him, because she writes for a living (Nancy Mairs). Also, I suppose, because Bragg's was translated out of sign language, but Mair's has more structure, which is something that wouldn't have been lost in translation. And we're beig taught how to write effectively and read critically. That type of stuff. So, now you know. I'm going to go have lunch.
So, what has Grinnell been like? Well, it's been busy. Busy but excellent. Even though I'm out in the center of Iowa, there's still so much stuff to do. It's such that I don't even have time to do it all. I haven't really been bored at all yet. Whereas, in Cincinnati, even though I was in a big city with theorietically tons of activities to do, I found myself bored out of my gourd. Right now I'm sitting on the loggia, doing my best to touch-type and look out over the big campus field at the same time. It's kind of interesting typing without looking at what you're typing at all.
So, here's a sample of something I did. I may have mentioned CERA, the college-owned parcel of prairie about eleven miles down the road. They have 365 acres there, of all different types of prairie, plus a pond and some scrub oak forest. Last Friday, there was I guess what you'd call an activity out there. It was called "Prairie Night: Sights and Sounds". So, basically a bunch of people from the college and the town got in a big ol' bus and went down to CERA. I personally rode in a van with the director of the program, because there were a few van seats available, and I figured why not? When we got there, it was late evening. Everyone congregated in a big mowed spot and sat down. A few guys who were part of the trip came up front. The sun started to set. As it did, one guy read excerpts from a few different passages and poems about prairie nights. I believe Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were represented. Once he was done, a different guy took his place and started telling us about insect sounds, and stuff like that. I paid more attention to the sunset. Earlier that day, we had been rained on with vehemence; there was a mist in the air, and the sun caught it and turned it into hanging art. Sunset in the prairie is different from sunset in the city. In the prairie, when the sun goes down there's a clear, straight dividing line between the sky and the earth, and it glows. A corona of energy. As I watched, a few points of light started appearing in the darkening blue. I counted them as they came in, three four five, but it wasn't too long before that became futile. The corona shrank until it was just a lingering fringe of day trying not to be forgotten. And so, once people were done presenting, the last person told us that we should walk on down the mowed trail, and take in the night.
-I did. I had visited the prairie before, during the day, so I knew what it looked like, but now by night it was much changed. It was no longer possible to pick out compass plants or Indian bluestem; instead, the prairie was an indistinct sea, raised four feet above the ground by the mower blades. The grass was wet on my bare feet. I started out ahead of everyone, so I had a sphere to myself. A symphony, an unpretentious symphony, set my background. I don't know the names of the players, but I know music. There was a bass line, a steady drone; melodies that shifted as I walked by; and solos that broke out erratically, disregarding others, only concerned with getting their notes in the air. I found my way to the pond and ended up standing on a dock. I hadn't visited the pond before, so I only know it by night. I stood and surveyed. The night was a dark one, but peopled by clusters of light, ones I seldom see.
-I realized I ought to get back, or I'd be left behind and not get to hear about any of the other stuff that was happening, so I turned around and walked to the lab building's basement, where everyone was. There was apple juice, and some other stuff. After that, we got to see some moths that they attracted to trees nearby with a mixture of sugar and beer and wine and honey, I think. And the professor of astronomy had a telescope, so he let people take a look at Jupiter, the brightest thing in the sky tonight; its four brightest moons were easily visible. He also told us the names of some of the constellations up there. Now I know a little more about that. Finally, we drove back to Grinnell.
-Not everything was that fun, and most of it I would be hard pressed to write that profoundly about. Everyone's been having party fun. Jeremy and Jay like partying. Jay is much more into it than Jeremy, though, and Jeremy seems to just get dragged around by him. He says he's done with Grinnell's parties; the only thing they have going for them is free beer, handed out indiscriminately. I've heard that it's really bad beer, and the only reason to drink it is to get drunk. I've been pretty busy overall with my classes. I certainly set myself up a hell of a course load. Two reading- and writing-intensive classes - the tutorial, and American Literature Traditions II (AmTradsII, because no one's really going to say all that). So I've kept occupied, which keeps me from being unoccupied. I've also been working in the dining hall, sorting silverware out on Fridays and Saturdays at dinner. The dining hall pays $8.25 an hour. I'm going to sub for lots of people who ask for subs, because that's darn good money. And résumé padding, too. I already subbed today at lunch for some guy I don't know. I did the first dish line. The food's real good here; I don't care what anyone else says. I will speak more of food in a forthcoming entry. They do their best to change it up a lot. Their desserts are great. They had ginger snaps a few days ago! Ginger snaps are the very best cookies in the world. No, they are. I don't care what you think are the best; it's ginger snaps. Deal with it.
There's so little theft around here that many people don't even bother to lock their bikes, instead leaving them strewn about major congregating places. I locked my bike anyhow. Though, I increasingly have just been putting it in a rack, if I'm not going to be long. Yesterday, Security sent out an email saying that there's been a rash of bike theft and stripping, and people ought to start using their locks.
-But I didn't check my email yesterday. I got up to go to breakfast, and went to my bike, and my bike was gone. In my naivety, I had left it unlocked over the night banking on trust in my fellow Grinnellian. It was nowhere around. So I had to walk to breakfast instead. Then I called up Security to report it, but I didn't have time before class to file a report, so instead I went to class. Afterwards, I called them up again, and they said to come on down to the Security building to report it. I walked there. And before I got in, I noticed my bike was in their bike rack. The lock was still on the lock-holder bracket, so I undid it to prove to the lady on duty that I knew the combination and it was mine. She had no idea why it was there, and I was the second person to come to file a report and find their bike there that day. She asked someone else in the back, "Do you know how's come we have all these bikes?" So I have my bike again. It took a different theft to convince me to lock my bike up every time I used it; now it's taken this one to convince me to lock it up every time, no matter where. On a side note, people suck.
-So, now that I've said that, let's get an in-depth look at my first week or so at Grinnell. The first few days were taken up completely by New Student Orientation stuff, which booked our schedules. Luckily, I had already gone on the Outdoor Orientation, so I was able to skip some of the stuff and take a rock climbing class instead, in the old gym. They created all sorts of events to get us to meet new people, most of them flawed in one way or another. For example, in the new gym, they had everyone aggregate on the floor and get in groups by various attributes, like shirt color. Then they had us make a human map, and then they had us line up by birthday. The flaw in this is that we met at least a hndred new people and were expected to learn the names of all of them, and consequentially we overloaded, and I only remember one person from the whole thing (Sadish). Another time, we played a massive game of freeze tag on Mac Field, but it was well over the critical mass for a freeze tag game, so everyone stopped playing and fractured into little groups, standing around. As far as I'm concerned, the very best way to meet new people is through something like GOOP. At the very least, they should do this stuff in way smaller groups and more organically. Anyhow, despite all that, I managed to meet a whole bunch of people, although I've forgotten many of them. And everyone here is someone I could get along with, and also carry on an intelligent conversation with. It's weird coming out of a place like Finneytown, where there are only a few people among the mass who actually have the faintest clue about anything, and coming to Grinnell, where my intelligence is probably only about the average, and everyone understands when you talk about abstruse, obscure, or non-sports things. I won a game of Scrabble at a Board Game night. And did other fun stuff.
-They had a hypnotist come over; he's been coming here for about 7 years to give a good time to each incoming class. Being interested in the unconscious, because of a book that I'm going to write sometime, I tried to get hypnotized, but it didn't work. I just had to content myself with watching the 30 or so people on the stage. It was pretty awesome. There was no specific moment where he signaled "Now you're hypnotized", so it was weird watching them gradually become entranced without feeling anything. He started out tame, making them think they were hot and then cold. Then he had them experience various tastes from an imaginary piece of candy, finally locking their jaws open with it by making it expand inside. After that, we got to watch a butt dance competition, and everyone put their all into it; two people were actually quite impressive, putting some creativity and energy into it. He trained one guy to take an imaginary cat to the litterbox every minute or two, and trained another guy to be physically attracted to a microphone stand. He also struck a soft spot by maltreating a stuffed dog, which they thought was real. And the had some people put on an Aretha Franklin concert, complete with a girl lip-synching "Respect". Finally he wound down by planting some suggestions that they could keep, like, some people had to answer to a ringing sound he had by taking off their shoe and answering it, and some people ot dragged by imaginary dogs when he said "Big dog," and one guy, at the sound of a slide whistle, rushed out to a tiny life preserver on the stage and called for help from an invisible ship. All of this las stuff was post-hypnotic stuff, too. It all ended after they left the room, at least. Oh man, it was great. I have a feeling this place is going to be the time of my life. Where else would they bring in a hypnotist? And, you can start a student organization and request funding for it, so obviously I'm going to create a krokay group, and hopefully get some extraordinarily durable nylon 6,6 for some mallets that will last a lifetime. I've joined some other groups already, like the newspaper, the press, Quiz Bowl, and possibly Dag (people hitting each other with foam swords in a melee situation) and some other stuff. The organizations here are so great. I didn't realize until I got here how little fun I had before.
-The classes are tough, though; especially English 223, which was my second choice, and I'm trying to get into 228, so I just have to hope someone already in it drops it. The professor opened the class with a quiz. Honestly! The others are some better, but that might just be because they haven't gotten into full swing yet. I'm sure I'll be quite familiar with unending torment by the end of the semester. DID YOU KNOW: Grinnell's workload is rated the third highest in the country, approximately, depending on the source.