At the end of the school year, once I got all my projects done and I was free and clear, I did some fun stuff. I went on two camping trips. One of them was at the end of an 18-mile bike trip to Newton, Iowa, with my friend Ethan. The weather was perfect that day, and I finally got to exercise my legs after making them stay tame and asleep for most of the semester. I got all the way there with no problem except that I was slowing down toward the end. Ethan's a cross-country runner, so he was fine the whole time. We camped in a farmer's field, hidden by rises from view of the farmhouse or the nearby road, and tested out a woodburning camp stove that I made this winter out of tin cans. It toasted our bagels rather nicely until we ran out of sticks. We were disinclined to burn the undoubtedly chemical-ridden cornstalks on the ground. In the morning we got up and I went to the train yard and saw only the back end of the morning train as it left. So, sadly, I had to follow Ethan, who'd left about 45 minutes earlier, back to the college. On the way, my bike broke a lot and I had to walk it up the hills. But there are few things I would rather have done than gone on that trip.
One such thing, though, might have been the camping trip I did the night before it, because on that camping trip I was with a girl. We lay in the grass and looked up at the stars. About this no more will I say. It's just a shame that we had our first and only camping trip so late in the year. I mean, classes were already over. Now it's summer and I won't even be back in college until next January.
To the present day: I finally got everything worked out. I'm leaving for New York tonight by Amtrak at 3:29 a.m.. Then I'm staying with a guy I know from college, Darwin. He's a first-year and works for the newspaper. That's his given name. I'm staying with him for all but 16 days; I don't know where I'll be then, but I have 24 days to figure it out starting when I get there. I also emailed the company I'll be working with, and got my first assignment, one that I'll have done when I come in for my first day of work. I believe it's about the same thing as I'll be doing for most of my time there. I'm given a novel that was submitted, and I have to report back about it and say why they should publish it, or, far more likely, why they shouldn't. I also write a rejection letter about a paragraph long that the company sends to the agent who submitted the book for its author. And then I get a new novel. I don't know how many novels I'll be dealing with per week. I'm working two days in the office (Mondays and Fridays) and two days from home (Tuesdays and Thursdays). Which means I'll have free time. I'll use some of that on a side job that I'll get—I'm still planning on trying out being a bike messenger. I imagine that if I do that I might want a little time to get used to the city before I go asking for such a job. People have told me that New York is incredibly hostile to biking, but I searched online to verify that, and I found that an agency of some sort ranked it as the 8th most bike-friendly city in the nation out of 50 that it examined. So maybe I'll do okay.
I think I'll have fun in New York. Park Slope, where I'm staying, is supposed to be a really nice part of Brooklyn. Apparently Prospect Park has plays in it just like the more distant Central park does. And other fun stuff. I'll have plenty to explore there. I don't know quite what to expect there, but the 5 million people there must be staying for some reason. I imagine it's pretty bearable, even though Dad says, "I'd rather chew broken glass than go to New York."
I've also had a fun, oh, five days at home. I caught up with Aaron and Keith and we went out and acted like loons on Thursday. I'm not sure, but I think Keith probably always acts like a loon. What's a good example quote from that day? We passed a large woman on the street and Keith said, "That's how I like 'em! Large and afraid of their own shadows!" No one could figure out why he compared her to a groundhog. I doubt he knew.
I also got to go out to eat with Grandma & Grandpa at the Grand Finale, which was delicious and too much food. Grandma gave me some ginger snaps to make New York a bit more tasty. I've been reading a little, and spending time with the folks. But it's really not much time to spend here. Micah and I didn't even get to take a creekwalk that we were going to take—but we're going to do it in August.
By the way, I'm out of school for the longest I've been out since I was four years old. Fun commences tonight with my Amtrak journey. People say I'm always talking about things I'm going to do in the future, and I don't do things in the here & now. But I did those camping trips, darn sure, and now I'm going to the most active city in the country, where I'll never lack for something fun to do. I do have fun, and now that I have eight months of time with nary a college obligation, you'd better believe I'm going to be having tons more.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
No, I don't believe I'm actually going clinically insane. But from the perspective of normal people, it must look like I'm just trying to find all the possible ways there are to be very, very strange. What's really going on is that I keep finding things that look like they'd be a lot of fun to do, and deciding that life is finite and I ought to do them while I can. The latest thing that this means is polyphasic sleep. This isn't something you're likely to have heard of, but it's an interesting concept, and one that's been put into practice. The idea is that, instead of sleeping for eight hours out of every 24, which is an entire third of your time, you follow one of a few different sleep schedules that people have worked out that manage to give you just as much energy and wakefulness, but require as little as two hours of sleep. It sounds insane and impossible, but there are lots of people who've successfully made the switch to one of those schedules. There are three main ones, but actually there are just two, because I can't find any evidence that the third one's been adopted successfully by a real person. Suspend your disbelief for a moment while I talk about them, and then I'll get to what you'll be thinking at that point. So, the first one, the one that was invented first, is called the Überman sleep schedule. It consists of taking six twenty-minute naps, spaced exactly evenly throughout the day (and night). One problem with this is that it only allows you to be awake for 3h40m at a time, before you have to take a nap. You can take naps in all sorts of weird places, but it can get inconvenient to have to nap so often (and you have to follow the schedule to a tee), so another sleep schedule evolved. This one is called the Everyman schedule. You sleep four hours as opposed to the Überman's two, but it's a lot more workable around normal daily schedules. It consists of a three-hour "core sleep", and then three twenty-minute naps spaced about evenly through the day. (The third schedule is the Dymaxion schedule, supposedly followed by Buckminster Fuller and not successfully by anyone I've read about since then; on Dymaxion you take four evenly-spaced thirty-minute naps, which allows for more flexibility because you've got 5h30m between naps. But like I say, it's apparently the chimera of polyphasic sleep, in that no one or almost no one has done it.)
So right now the obvious question is, If you're only sleeping a quarter or a half of what normal people sleep, why don't you get unbelievably sleep-deprived and turn into a quivering pile of goo? The general theory goes like this. In monophasic (eight-hour) sleep, you go through several stages of sleep, which go something like Stage 1, then 2, 3, 4, back to 2, then 1 again, and finally the important one: REM sleep. That's the kind of sleep where you dream, and it's also the kind your body needs in order to feel rested. In the polyphasic cycles, you get your body to skip past all those other stages and go right into the REM you need. There's an alternate version of the theory that says you still do go through all those other cycles, you just blaze through them at lightning speed—but the difference isn't too consequential. And you can in fact get REM sleep on one of these schedules; I've read lots and lots of sleep logs ("plogs"?) by people who've done this, and they definitely report dreaming.
The tricky part is adjusting to the new schedule. You can't just go straight from monophasic sleep to the Überman schedule without a bit of jarring. For at least the first week, and more often for several, you're not getting that REM yet, because your brain hasn't come to terms with the fact that sleep isn't going to last as long as it used to. You just kind of wake up in Stage 1 or 2. Sometimes you feel refreshed, but it's maybe just as likely that you'll feel like crap. This goes on. Also, you have to regiment yourself really well when you're in the adjustment period. If you take a nap an hour late, you'll get thrown off for several cycles and get set back. If you sleep through one of your alarms, your brain will try to reset itself to monophasic mode, and you'll be set back. But if you manage to keep it up—and all the sources I've read say it takes a lot of willpower—you make progress. Gradually you stop feeling so tired. In the later stages of adjustment you might feel some "brain fog", as a few people describe it, that knocks you down to maybe 80% of your normal intellectual functioning. And then somehow after about a month you've adjusted completely. You're on the Überman schedule, and you have six extra hours in a day. Or if you're on Everyman, you have four extra. And that's like gaining another quarter or third of a life, for however long you can keep up your nap schedule reasonably well. People who adjust to Überman report feeling like time has gotten a lot slower, like everyone else is moving in slow motion except them. And they also say they have, strangely enough, more energy than they did with monophasic sleep. It's not as pronounced with Everyman, but it's still there.
So, as you've guessed by now, I want to try this. It won't be for a while; right now I'm thinking I'll try starting this winter around Christmastime, when I'll have a month until school starts and nothing terribly important to do. I haven't decided which one I want to try yet. What I've got in mind is starting out trying Überman, and then if it turns out I just can't do it, I'll fall back on Everyman. And once I get to school, I'll have no problem doing all my homework and having fun too. As it stands I tend to have room for only one of those, and they both seem to me crucial parts of college, so I'd love to be able to do both.
Since I'm waiting so long to start, I guess I could've written this closer to the actual start date, but I've been reading a lot about it lately, so I figured I might as well. Not much else to report for this last week. We had one of our book releases for Press, the cookbook, and our other two are tonight—the first one's in half an hour. Also I wrote a lot and didn't sleep much. I think I'll be able to sleep a little more (still in a vaguely normal way) starting now. Also I'm going to be going on maybe three camping trips, so that'll be fun.
Okay, see you again soon.
Friday, May 7, 2010
I think I have evidence that the time is ripe for me to start writing my book. I found the time—where, I don't know—yesterday to leave some seller feedback on some books I bought on Amazon. One of them was this year's 365 Stupidest Things Ever Said Page-a-Day Calendar. I said a little before 2010 started that I was done with this calendar, because it just wasn't as funny to me as it used to be. But I had to buy it anyhow, because the authors emailed me after I wrote that and told me that one of the quotes I'd emailed them had made it into the calendar. It was from our dining hall here, and it said,
TODAY'S BREAKFAST PASTRY
TRAIL MIX MUFFINS
Clearly, they meant to say "contains nuts", but they sure didn't. The other book I got was Relearning to See: Improve Your Eyesight—Naturally!. It's exactly what it sounds like: a book that tells you ways to sharpen your eyesight without the aid of glasses. In fact, what little of the book I've read so far rails against glasses pretty hard, saying that they're bad for your eyes in a variety of different ways. The main one is that when you look through glasses, your eyes don't have to work to focus right, and they get lazy and after you wear them awhile you find that you can't see as well without them as you could before you started wearing them. This claim is backed up with evidence, as is pretty much everything in the book. It's not a vanity-press thing put out by a pseudoscientist quack (although the author's name is Tom Quackenbush); it's a compendious 500-plus–page book full of technical diagrams and foldout eye charts. For this reason I haven't yet read even past the background into the part that actually tells you how to improve your eyesight. But once I do, I'll definitely keep you all updated on how I'm doing. Frankly, I'm not happy about the idea of wearing glasses, and this book sounds like a pretty legitimate way of making them unneeded without an expensive surgery that uses lasers to cut my eye. (Think about that description and tell me if it sounds like a good idea when you read it. I haven't found this in the book yet, but I've read reviews that said the book is against LASIK-type things as well, because they amount to having your current prescription permanently emblazoned on your cornea.)
Anyhow, the point I was going to make was that I wrote seller feedback for both of these books. You know, saying whether the seller was prompt and the package got to me on time. But instead of that, I decided to spice it up a little bit.
Review number one: "Not only did the calendar arrive instantaneously, appearing on my desk with a small 'puff' sound after I clicked the button to place the order, but the pages had been edged in fine gold leaf. The ho-hum standard cover art was gone and in its place was a 3-D hand-done painting of a metallic dragon destroying a zeppelin. If you ask it nicely, the calendar will also read itself aloud. Would buy again."
Review number two: "This book arrived just in time for me to use it to defeat my arch-nemesis in hand-to-hand combat. I threw it at his face with a supersonic swirling motion and the power of one hundred thousand papercuts overrode his miracle healing power just long enough for me to jab my poison spur into his secret weak spot below his sternum. Thank you to the delivery woman and to this seller. Would buy again."
These are why I say it's probably high time for me to start writing stuff. I have some things planned. First off I need to write something for myself, a kind of essay that lets me clear up to myself what I think about primitivism and civilization, what my standpoint really is, what's reasonable. If I didn't hate the word "manifesto", I'd call it a personal manifesto. That's something I've wanted to write for a while, although I don't expect anyone but me to find it fascinating. I'll probably end up putting it here, and maybe I'll turn out to be wrong about whether people besides me will like it. The other thing I plan to write is a novel. This is roughly the same novel that I've been wanting to write since about eighth grade. I've started writing it four times now, each time better than the last, none of them really usable. I figured out the problem with the latest one, which is the one that I started writing in National Novel Writing Month (November). I didn't really know who the characters were. There are two main ones, and they both basically thought the same and did all the same things and did them only to push the plot forward. Also, they were both pretty much me. I still don't have a firm grasp on them, but I at least realize that I'll need one. Probably in order to get a hang of writing characters, I'll rewrite a short story that I wrote in my Craft of Fiction class. That one had a pretty flat main character as well. Part of that is that the point of the story is how very, very flat he is—probably "lifeless" is actually the best word—but I'm sure I could make him seem more real even at the same time that he's lifeless. And the rest of the story could seem more real too. And it could just straight-up be better written.
The writing will take place while I'm on trains and waiting for trains and hitchhiking and regular-hiking and all that stuff. I would start while I'm in New York, except that I want to go to a wilderness skills school before I start writing the book. Not only do I want to know these skills, but my characters will definitely need to have a grounding in wilderness skills. So I guess in New York I'll focus on my short story, the one about Tim, and maybe my personal writing thing too. Probably some of it will take place on top of buildings. This is a recent addition to my plans. It started when I found out that a couple people I knew a little bit, but not much,* like to climb buildings in their spare time. (Let's call them Shortstuff and Ninja.) I invited myself to their next excursion, and we went downtown. We went to the back of a foppish bar where yuppies buy drinks, and, with no prelude, Ninja climbed up it: on top of a dumpster, up a shed connected to the building, and progressively up architectural stairsteps until he got most of the way to the top. I was right behind him, and when we got there, Shortstuff—she had a hurt leg and wasn't climbing today—took a picture of us, and we climbed back down. Incidentally, this was broad daylight. We wandered around town, then started heading back to campus. On the way, we found another short building and climbed that, and then when we got back to campus we climbed the arts building, without even really trying very hard to be secretive.
After this outing I realized how well climbing buildings would fit into my plans for next semester. I've read a lot online about the parts of a train journey that don't take place while you're physically on a train. One part of a trip that you have to consider is where to sleep, and a lot of people online agreed: if you're in a city and don't want to be seen while you sleep, and you can't find a nice forest in a park somewhere, and you don't want to pay for a motel room (which will always be a given for me), you can just climb on top of a building. No one will ever look there. So I've been practicing more with Shortstuff and Ninja. Lately, we climbed a bunch more buildings, and we're hoping to climb yet more that we ran out of time for. One of our excursions will probably end in one of the three potential camping trip that I might be going on before I leave town. It's going to be a pretty well packed two last weeks here. And then I'll be out of school for eight months. That's a pretty interesting thought. I'm about to embark on the longest stretch of free time that I've had since I was four, and it'll be considerably freer, too, since when I was a toddler I could hardly roam all around the country and climb buildings and hike mountain trails. I suspect that while I'm doing it, I'll discover that I'd prefer to live my entire life like that. And, barring physical limitations, anything is possible with the right mindset and willpower. So anything is just what I plan to do.
*Not the same people I climbed up the arts building with once before.