Saturday, December 6, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

The semester is almost over. Final exams begin Thursday, with my last happening Monday the 15th. Actually, the Monday exam is just final presesntations for my HUM 220 class. I'm going to swing dance with a girl named Amanda who is in the class with me. I've known Amanda for a few years through swing dancing, although she dances West Coast while I prefer East Coast. I've long been attracted to Amanda, but there's a half dozen reasons that I'd never ask her out, not including the fact that she's never expressed any sexual interest in me whatsoever.

Truth be told, I'm not very good when it comes to asking women out on dates. Actually, I'm not great at reading social signals, in general, which leads to me being rather ineffective when talking to women. As a result, I don't date much. It's not unusual for me to go five years between girlfriends. I just don't think to ask women out very often since the reward vs. attempt ratio is so low. But, lately, I've been really looking for someone to ask out on a date (looking, not asking, being the operative word).

When I met Ex, I didn't ask her out the first time we met; we met at a laundromat. I might never have seen her again. If it hadn't been for some luck, and me going back to the laundromat at the exact same time on the exact same day of the week for the next MONTH, I would have never been able to ask her out. We dated for almost a year. Ex claimed that she liked the fact that I waited until our second encounter to ask her out, but I still think it was a stupid thing to do.

And yet I continue to do it! I hate asking women out on a first meeting. It just seems too aggressive. And I'd like to know a girl a little bit before I ask them to spend time with me. Apparently, the accepted custom nowadays is that you ask a girl out for coffee or, at the most, lunch. But I'd like to sweep a girl off her feet, not interview her to help me run a non-profit organization!

Perhaps I'm setting my personal standards too high. After all, with my financial situation I can't afford to sweep anyone off their feet. Although, if the economy continues to decline, sweeping a girl off her feet will only require buying her dinner items which AREN'T on the Dollar Menu!

My friend, Osterberg, is of the mind that a first date should always be a sedate affair because you don't want to set the bar too high in the beginning of a relationship. Perhaps he's right, although I always put more pressure on myself to maintain the bar than any girl I've ever dated has. And the relationships, like my relationship with Ex, likely suffered as a result of establishing some high expectation that I could never fulfill to my own satisfaction.

I think I'm starting to see why I needed to get the lightsaber!

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reality Sets In

Painting entitled "Screaming" by Louisa Giffard

It always does... Reality manages to creep itself back into everything I ever attempt to do. There's no way around it. Life just simply NEVER goes according to plan. It's such a pain in the ass!

My Financial Experiment tanked. A couple weeks ago I was all set to double my initial investment, and then some. If things had gone according to plan, I would already have over $3000, possibly closing in on $4000. Well, as I already said, nothing ever goes according to the plan. Instead, my investment dropped back down to $1000. That's not a big deal, you say. At least you didn't lose your initial investment. True, except I was counting on having at least $3000 by now so that I could take out my initial $1000 and have some money to live on (and still leave money in my experiment to grow and take out as needed) while I wait for my next batch of financial aid money to roll in sometime in February. Now, I'm forced to take out the whole $1000 so that I have money to live on, which will not, by itself, stretch until February.

That's not the only bad news. I am not going to pass College Algebra. It isn't possible. Perhaps if I had bothered to really do the homework diligently, and ask for assistance from my friends in class, I could have done it. But, that ship has passed. And an F on a transcript really fucks up your GPA. Little known fact: Do you know that's why they call it an F? It helps to reinforce the idea of just how truly FUCKED you are! Now, my recourse is to either take the class over again (in which case I would need an A in order to balance out the F so I could get a C) or take another math course (possibly Statistics) in which I would still need to make an A. Also, I have a few Ds on my transcript which will not transfer over to State (you need to have a C or better in a class for it to transfer), so you might already see where this is going.

Yep... It looks like I'm going to have to spend an extra semester at community college before I can apply and get accepted to NC State. Granted, it isn't the end of the world, by any means. After all, I waited 13 years to get my ass back to school. What's an extra semester in the scheme of things? Still, it does annoy me a bit. I'd like for things to stick to the plan once in awhile. It would make life so much easier.

At least with regard to the grades, I can't blame anyone but myself. I knew going into the class that math isn't an easy subject for me. It isn't like English or Psychology which I have a natural talent for; I have to actually do some work to get by in a math class. I chose not to do it. Sure, my old Nemesis, the calculator, didn't make things easier, but if I had done the homework everyday I would have eventually gotten the hang of it. It just isn't going to work to try and pawn this failure off on someone or something else.

You know, in the past, it's always been so much easier for me to blame my problems on things other than my own choices. I would say and think things like "it's because I was abused", or "nobody ever helps me", or "people just don't understand". Even if I did accept blame, it was a value judgement on me, like "I failed because I'm a bad person", or "I'm just no good at this". None of these ideas ever really helped me identify the real problem and come up with a solution. These rationales just made me feel worse about myself. Either I was a bad person, a born failure, or I was helpless and hopeless.

I'm not sure what's changed, but I don't see myself or my problems like that anymore. Maybe I don't want to see them that way anymore. Now, I can see that failing at something doesn't have to be about me as a person. Instead, falling short of expectations can be the result of poor choices. I can learn to make better choices. I can clearly identify what events led me to this point and I can say "this worked" or "this didn't work" and I can adjust my behavior to compensate.

I think I understand now why I haven't been feeling bad about this realization, and why I haven't been beating myself up over the bad grade. It feels empowering to look at the world in an objective way and, rather than personalizing the mistakes, being able to see a better course of action in front of me. I guess this is the way that people with a healthy level of self-esteem must react to setbacks.

Have fun, and keep living life... Or some approximation thereof!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Giving of Thanks

In the off chance that you missed the interminable cavalcade of parades, Peanuts specials, Christmas music formatted radio stations, garland streamed shopping malls adorned with "95% Off" sales signs, and the smell of pine, cinnamon, poultry, and electricity induced house fires, we've officially entered the annual holiday season. As is requisite for the last several years, I indulged in Thanksgiving dinner with my uncle and his girlfriend. It should be noted that my uncle is the only Republican in my family (not including my aunt's husband, though he is only related by marriage, not blood, so he doesn't really count). Thankfully, he doesn't vote (neither does my aunt's husband, interestingly). It should also be noted that, like me, he has an annoying tendency to believe he is right about certain things and that thinking in a way other than he does is, by sheer force of logic, wrong!

It should come as no surprise, then, that I usually find myself keeping my mouth shut around dinner every year. My uncle tries to be peaceful, and so do I; his girlfriend acts as a pleasant referee, typically taking my side, if not always on the issues, at least in the understanding that my uncle's way isn't typically the only way.

This year I had to sit through a lecture about how Chris, my friend from algebra class, and I didn't do a thorough enough job when we replaced the spark plugs on my car (I didn't even mention to him about the oil in the cylinders, or the cross threaded plug). My uncle can't even commend me for taking initiative on my car, something he has chronically lectured me about for the last dozen years whenever I am forced to run to him for help when my car dies on the side of the road. But that wasn't the worst part. No, I had to sit through a lecture about how Obama is the Antichrist, and how my uncle can't believe that so many people were brainwashed into voting for a black, one term senator with "no experience"! He asked if I had voted for Obama, to which I replied, "Of course! I even contributed $250 to his campaign, and got a campaign t-shirt!" I went on to inform him that Lincoln was a one term Illinois senator before becoming President, and look how he turned out! I'll save you from my uncle's decidedly non-PC response, but when I've said that I'm not the most racially sensitive person in the world, it would be fair to say that my uncle makes me seem like one time NAACP President Kweisi Mfume (I've ALWAYS loved that guy's name, for some reason).

One thing we don't do for Thanksgiving is announce what we're thankful for this year. Chances are good we'd be thankful for things which were diametrically opposed, anyway. But, as I've listened to NPR and watched news clips online, I've been barraged by messages of thanks for everything from having a job, to having a family, to having legs! That last one came from a little girl who was skating at Rockefeller Center in New York.

My grandmother is always encouraging me to be more thankful for things. She says that it helps you to see what you have instead of fretting over the things that you don't. So, aside from having an opportunity to go to college, having a roof over my head, food in my stomach (most of the time), a car that gets me where I need to go (most of the time), and medications which keep me from attempting suicide every other Thursday, what do I have to be thankful for? I don't know... But I guess having legs seems like a good place to start!

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If This is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right

I went to the grocery store this evening because I had a craving. Now, I wasn't craving broccoli, or apples, or kale. Frankly, if you have EVER had a craving for kale you need to see a therapist because there is something psychologically wrong with you! No, I was craving cake frosting! And not just any cake frosting. I wanted brightly colored, day-glo, all sugar and vegetable shortening, fat in a cup, cake frosting! The kind they decorate cakes with at the grocery store. That stuff is GOOOOOD!

In case you're curious, I bought the bright orange one at the top left of the picture. No, it didn't taste like orange, although I did notice, after eating half the container in one sitting (it was a one pound container, by the way!), that I began to experience a slight placebo effect that made me start to THINK that there was orange flavoring in the frosting. Perhaps my mind was trying to convince me that eating half a pound of highly sweetened fat in one sitting might actually be somewhat less unhealthy for me than logic would require. Well, at least for 30 seconds I was convinced!

I've mentioned before that part of being a Lifer requires you to live your live with enthusiasm, to make even the small moments enjoyable for what they are, and to not just sit still and be oblivious while the rest of the world goes on around you. So, why then does being a Lifer sometimes require us to do things that we KNOW are totally unhealthy for us? Let's face it, at 5'7" and 200+ pounds I didn't really NEED that cake frosting. But something inside of me COMPELLED me to the frosting! I had to experience the childlike satisfaction of eating something too sweet and too pretty for my own good. I mean, I could have bought chocolate cake frosting for half the price of the orange, and it would have tasted like something besides sugar. No, I wanted something that took me back to childhood birthday parties that I never had, with neon colored piles of kiddy jet fuel, otherwise known as cake. Except, now I don't need the damn cake. Actually I never needed the cake. Let's get something straight... Cake is nothing more than a vehicle for frosting! Why waste $12 on a cake when all I REALLY wanted was the $4 of frosting?

But back to my question. Why do we sometimes need to experience things which aren't good for us, and which we know aren't good for us, in order to experience life to the fullest? Maybe it has something to do with testing boundaries. Sure, we can all drive under 55 MPH and get safely where we are going, but eventually we just have to haul ass and see if we can get our cars up to 80 (or more) simply to prove to ourselves that we can. Granted, we may end up having to deal with consequences of breaking accepted boundaries. But even if we don't have to pay consequences, breaking those boundaries teaches us something about ourselves and the world around us. Breaking boundaries allows us to see things from a new perspective -- instead of always being on the inside looking out we get to be on the outside looking in. Breaking boundaries allows us to learn for ourselves whether or not the accepted wisdom for how we should live our lives is truly a good fit for us, or if we should try to push through and remake the map to fit our own needs and expectations.

I'm not recommending you go out and start hunting people as sport. That's probably one of the few boundaries that needs to stay in place for a reason. But, short of that, go out and find a boundary to test and push through it. However, while you do it, think about why the boundary exists: does it make us safer, does it make our relationships better, does it keep life flowing smoothly? Then, while you are breaking the boundary think about how you feel, and how does what you're doing make others feel, if applicable. Then, when you're done, take some time to think about what you learned, if anything. Do you understand better why the boundary exists, or should we all start to rethink our need for it?

So, what did I learn from eating $4 of neon orange cake frosting? Well, I learned that people are probably correct in saying that you should avoid eating out of boredom or to satisy some emotional need. I learned that, while the frosting did fill me with a temporary comfort, a momentary vacation to a time and place that never really existed (though I wish it had), it didn't really give me anything permanent; it didn't satisfy the overarching need. Instead of eating the frosting, I would have probably been better served calling a friend, or playing a game, or going for a walk. The frosting provided a temporary high, which is always followed by a requisite low, where human contact, intellectual stimulation, or physical activity would have produced the same (or better) high with none of the guilt associated with wasting money or not looking out for my health.

There's always a lesson to be learned in life if you are just mindful enough to stop and pay attention to it.

Have fun and keep living life... But don't forget to test a boundary every now and then!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Force is Lame in This One

I apologize for leaving things in the lurch, but the good news is that I have finally been getting into my school work a bit. I at least got around to writing some papers, so hopefully I'll be able to pull out some decent grades for the semester. I've already registered for classes for next semester, as well. Hopefully, next semester will be the final semester for me at the community college before I head to NC State, but I may end up having to take one more semester in order to retake a few courses and see if I can raise my grades.

By the way, I wanted to share my precious with you! When I got home from school last Thursday night, my lightsaber was waiting on my doorstep! It is a working (okay, it doesn't slice people in half, but you have make compromises in life sometimes!) replica of Obi Wan Kenobi's lightsaber from Revenge of the Sith. I've spent a great deal of time practicing my saber twirling techniques with it. There are a few videos online with instruction for saber spinning that I have used for the basics, but I've strung a few of the moves together to form my own little battle move that I like. It's hard to explain, and since I don't have a way of shooting video I can't show you, not that I would, really. The last thing I need is to be the next "Lightsaber Kid". My self-esteem is already in repair, as it is! It would be nice if I could find a few other people with lightsabers in town who would like to start up a club, or something. There used to be a Jedi Club in Raleigh, but their website doesn't seem to have had any visitors in over a year, so I'm guessing they don't exist any longer.

My financial experiment is in great pain as of today! I should have about $2500 right now, instead it is hanging at around $1200. A couple of the stocks I chose tanked severely, for no good reason. Each of the companies had press releases showing that good things were happening to their business and then the next few days their stock value dropped like the Republicans numbers in the the US Senate! I'm not real happy about it, but I'm committed to holding onto those stocks until they go back up in value, and I'm fairly confident that they will. It's just a matter of how long it will take for that to happen!

I just got back from Pittsboro, where the NC Zen Center is located. My Humanities 220 class had a field trip there. It was a fascinating place. It is a small facility tucked back into the woods. We enjoyed a small lecture from the attending Master before engaging in a brief sitting, then a led walk, and a chant. I enjoy meditating. I had never really done it before taking this course. The professors hold a weekly meditation on Thursdays after school that I have been attending for the last month or so. It is cool to be aware of my thoughts and to actively try to clear my mind. According to the Master, the ultimate goal of meditation is allow yourself to lose your sense of self, at least temporarily, and be mindful of the moment. I can manage to do that for a few seconds at a time, but otherwise my mind is a seemingly neverending jumble of random thoughts. Maybe with time I'll be able to focus my thoughts a little better. Still, it is nice to be able to get away from the problems of the world, if only for a few seconds at a time.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud to Be an American... Kind Of

I stayed up all night watching the election coverage on MSNBC.com. In case you've been in a cave in Afghanistan for the last week, Barack Obama is our 44th President of the United States of America! It even looks as though North Carolina will go for Obama by around 13,000 votes. Unfortunately, that is a far smaller margin that Bev Perdue's victory for the governorship, or Kay Hagan's senatorial victory over Elizabeth Dole. That means that alot of democratic voters in my state either chose McCain for President or simply abstained from voting for President, all together.

This really pisses me off! I suppose I expected that North Carolina had come farther than it really has with regard to race. Don't get me wrong: I'm no paragon of racial equality. I still get nervous if I'm surrounded by blacks on a Saturday night at Waffle House. And I'm still prone to call a black person "nigger" under my breath if they cut me off in traffic or come to a stoplight with their car stereo blasting so loud that MY car shakes.

Barack Obama, though, is so much greater than that. He exemplifies the very best that America has to offer, regardless of race or gender. Obama inspires our brightest angels rather than appealing to our darkest demons. He makes people want to be their best. This is what I've been wanting out of a leader my entire life. But now that we finally have that, I can't enjoy it fully thanks to all the damn rednecks!

I found out that my friends from algebra class voted for McCain. That's not what bothered me. The fact that they used words like terrorist and Muslim to describe Barack Obama, and claimed that he would work against Israel is what bothered me. I expected better of them. This sort of thing makes them seem less intelligent and less informed than I would have thought. I know it is elitist of me to say this, but I guess I expect better of anyone who is going to college. Still, they are both freshman, so perhaps they will learn with time, but I somehow doubt it.

I've never been more proud of America than I am now that Obama is our President-elect, but I'm not nearly as proud of America as I would like to be. Until we figure out a way to exorcise ourselves of those for whom racial stereotypes of ALL varieties are borne, I fear that we will always be held back as a society. We are capable of so much more than what history has given witness. At least, that's what I'd like to think.

Have fun, and keep living life... It's getting better all the time!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Just Call Me The Procrastination Sensation!!!

I swear to God I have like four or five blog posts just sitting in my notebook waiting to be transcribed. I'll get to them soon, I PROMISE! I'll back date them, so I'm not sure how Blogger is going to handle that, if they'll post before or after this, but you're smart, you'll figure it out! Until then:


GO VOTE ON NOVEMBER 4th!

And while I would certainly prefer that you vote for Obama, just get your ass to the polls and do your civic duty! Don't pretend that you give a damn about America if you're just going to sit at home and masturbate on Election Day, pulling on your own lever instead of the one that will actually communicate your choice for the nation!

In the mean time... Here's a LOL Cat:











Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sick Days

I've been getting sick for the last few days. My throat was sore at first, then I started getting congested. Now my nose is running and I'm coughing up phlegm as if I were being paid by the pint! Add to that the periodic sneezing that erupts with so much force that my whole body feels weak for five minutes and you can guess I'm not feeling all that peppy.

On the bright side, I finally got around to doing my Abnormal Psych paper on the safety and efficacy of SSRI-based antidepressants. I made a 90 on it, an A, even with the 10 point deduction for it being over a week late. I also made an 88, a B, on my last psych test despite not reading the book!

I wish I had a working TV. I'm afraid of missing the election results this Tuesday night. Hopefully, I'll be able to find live video coverage online somewhere. I'm still all a tizzy about the prospect that North Carolina may go blue this time. The Real Clear Politics average right now is Obama by 2.5, with poll data ranging from a tie to as much as a 6 point lead for Obama.

I don't talk alot about my grandmother, but I was just thinking about things she used to do for me when I wasn't feeling well as a kid. I remember the familiar smells of Vicks Vaporub and Resinol that permeated sick days in her home. If you couldn't be cured by one, the other would never be far away. Toothaches were held at bay with the pungent, acidic, and somewhat alcoholic taste of Anbesol and the feel of a hot, baked in the oven, wash cloth pressed against my cheek. Spells of vomiting were always met with sips of Coke and Captain's Wafers. I miss Captain's Wafers. It's hard to find them in stores these days. There's something very comforting about those old home remedies that just gets lost in today's "there's a pill for that" mentality to sickness. Maybe I don't want to get better in six hours by taking Cure-Tex Pharmaceuticals "Healz-All Gel Capsules, Now in Minty Green Flavor". Maybe I'd like to ride out the cold for just a little while longer with a salve, a Coke, a puke bucket, and a pile of warm wash cloths. Screw you modern health care system!

One good thing about colds, though, is you just don't want to eat a whole lot. Food doesn't smell or taste as good when you're congested, and swallowing can be a real chore when your throat seems so swollen that you think someone must have installed a rusty sliding door that food has to open and close in order to go down. At any rate, I can now fit into a pair of 36" pants I couldn't button before.

I was trying to come up with some nifty lesson to all this, but I don't guess life ALWAYS has to have a point to it. Although, if I had to pick one thing that I've learned from this experience it would be that I find it annoying how completely out of touch I am with my body until something goes wrong with it. But, then, that's how I am with my car, and it's still alive... sort of.

Have fun, and keep living life... And bring me some more Kleenex while you're at it!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Expectations, Projections, and Spark Plugs

I'll be glad when November 5th gets here and John Sydney McCain can return to 1/7th of his homes, call Sarah Palin a cunt or a trollope (as he is often want to do, apparently... Just ask Cindy McCain!), and bury his dreams of one day destroying America with a cigar, a vaguely unethical poker game at an Indian Casino, and a bottle of whiskey!

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let me update a few running topics:

1. I voted early for Obama, straight ticket Democrat for all state and national races, then for every judge and commissioner supported by the state teacher's union. It felt good to do my part to make the world a better place. I'm really hoping that North Carolina will turn blue on Election Night. It would feel good to know that over half of the state has evolved beyond race and bigotry. I was going to add stupidity, but that's probably hoping for WAY too much evolution at once.

2. I completed my first buy/sell cycle in my financial experiment. I am in the middle of the second cycle now. Within a week and a half I've managed to turn my $1000 initial investment into $1400. At this rate, if things go perfectly constant, I will have $100,000 by my birthday in May. Of course, nothing ever goes perfectly for me, but worst case scenario at this point seems be around $25,000 by May. I'd still be happy with that, seeing as how I've never made more than $22,000 in any given year by doing actual work.

3. Something is beyond wrong with me as far as school is concerned. I haven't written a single paper this semester, even though writing comes naturally to me. I just haven't felt like doing any work for some reason. It's interfering with my ability to post on this blog, to be quite frank! I feel guilty all the time because, obviously, my first priority SHOULD be to doing school work instead of posting, so after some deliberation I end up doing neither!

4. One of my friends from Algebra class, a guy named Chris, came over and replaced three of my four spark plugs and resurfaced my headlights so that they aren't foggy anymore. We could only get three of the plugs replaced because the fourth had apparently been cross threaded at the factory and couldn't be removed without risking damage to the threads in the cylinder where the plug was located. Also, we discovered oil pooling around two of the plugs which is either due to decayed gaskets or a crack in the engine. Best case scenario there is to replace the gaskets, which would still cost $500 because of the labor involved for a shop to remove the top of the engine. At any rate, I'm going to be waiting awhile before I do something about it.

As payment for the hard work, I took Chris out to lunch at a local Italian place near my apartment. We had a good time, and I felt as though I learned new things about him. In some ways, it seems, Chris and I are in similar situations except that Chris has a much more financially well-off family to fall back on if things go sour.

All in all, I suppose things are moving slowly forward. My car does seem to drive better with the new plugs installed; and it feels good to think that I might finally be investing in my financial future and that I may not have to feel trapped by economic woe for the rest of my life. I was surprised at how easy it seemed to actually change the spark plugs on my car. Ever since taking my HUM 220 class I've been getting more into vehicle maintenance and am continually surprised by how non-intimidating it all seems when you have the right people around to explain it to you. If I could ever get around to buying proper tools I wouldn't mind doing some of the basic maintenance on my own. It would certainly save money, that's for sure.

By the way, I've noticed a few people have been checking out the blog lately, so what do you guys think, so far? What's going on in your own lives which may parallel some of the things I've been mentioning up to now? Any thoughts on topics you might want me to discuss later? Feel free to leave comments below.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Take a Picture... It'll Last Longer

I thought I would do something different today and post pictures of my day. All these were taken with my iPhone 3G's miniscule 2MP camera with no zoom feature, though they turned out surprisingly well. I've had an interest in photography for about six or seven years now, but I'm not a professional by any means. Still, I seem to have a knack for image composition and finding unusual ways to make the ordinary seem less ordinary. Hope you like the shots:

I chose to early vote today at a One Stop Voting location here in Raleigh. It was at the Pullen Arts Center and for some reason I was in a very "look at the ground and the sky" sort of mood today. It was a little gray all day, so I really liked the flat uniform lighting that everything had. I like taking pictures on gray days because you don't have to worry about compensating for shadows or harsh reflections. This photo seems to need no explanation about what it is.

I was just walking along the sidewalk down to the Arts Center when I passed this drainage cover. I was a bit shocked to notice what seemed like the most ornate drainage cover I could ever remember seeing in a sidewalk. I'm sure people thought I was crazy, but I had to stand there and stare at it for at least a minute before I decided to take the picture. Why would someone go to so much trouble to sculpt a drainage cover? A better question might be why don't more people go to that much trouble to craft ordinary things in their own lives?

Like I said, it was a gray day. Though, just before sundown, I caught some blue glimpsing itself past the crowd of gray puffs and wisps, and dancing across the edges with just enough sunlight to make for what I thought was a beautiful composition. Unfortunately, a photograph can't fully do justice to the moment which felt like getting lost in the realism of a planetarium exhibit as I cast my gaze straight up into the heavens. I do wonder what people think of me as I stop and stare at things that most people just make cursory notice of before moving about their lives.

I'm not exactly sure what it was that caught my attention about this large handicapped parking space. Something about the natural lighting at sunset made the blue paint take on an almost electric quality, even though it was constantly interrupted by cracks and blotches of oil. I started to ponder whether or not the badly weathered state of the area caused the parking space itself to be handicapped irrespective of its legal designation. Plus, I liked the juxtaposition of the brilliant blue, a reminder of how new it once was, with the deep pits and cracks of age.

And, finally, I end my day at the Waffle House, as is often my way, saddled up to the counter, finishing my meal off with a glass of sweet iced tea and a chocolate chip waffle as the blog of the days events scratches itself into my small notebook from the tip of my ball point pen.

Have fun, and keep living life...but don't forget to stop and look at it from time to time!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ex File: The Truth Is in Here, If You Can Handle It

Last Tuesday, when I was running around paying bills and taking care of my car, I think I saw her. It may not have been her, but it sure looked like her from a few yards away as I drove past at 25 MPH. She was walking along the sidewalk, next to NC State, wearing khaki pants, a baggy shirt, and a blue and black backpack. Her long brown hair was down. She's been on my mind ever since, which is to say she never really left my thoughts to begin with.

Of course I'm talking about the girl I wanted to marry. I hesitate to use her name in the off chance that she or someone she knows might one day read this blog, but I suppose I could just call her "Ex". There hasn't been a day since June 3, 2006 where I haven't prayed for her to be happy and healthy, and to make the best decisions for herself and those around her. However, I've also added my personal thanks for bringing Ex into my life, teaching me what love actually felt like even though I wasn't psychologically ready to handle it, and a request that, IF I can possibly make her happy in the future, we could find a way to come back together again.

I KNOW what you're thinking: "Ashe, she cheated on you for a month until you had pretty much figured it out for yourself!" You're right, of course. Though, after two years of retrospection, I think I've come to the conclusion that I probably deserved it, and definitely needed it. I needed to be jerked from my complacency. I needed a reason to re-evaluate my priorities, or for that matter make some. I needed to be shown just how badly my soul was rotting.

Ex was able to teach me lessons which others had tried, and failed, to teach me for decades. If you're a Gen Xer like me then you've seen Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. In the movie, a young man allows his insecurities about his relatively sheltered experiences to consume him to the point where he alienates the love of his life and his lifelong friend. Silent Bob, Smith's wise-like-Yoda film alter ego, provides the story's moral: If someone loves you the way you are, don't eat yourself alive obsessing over the things which you are not. And, just like Holden McNeil and Silent Bob, it was a lesson I could only learn in Ex's absence.

It would be a lie to deny that I want Ex back for my own selfish reasons. But it would also be a lie not to acknowledge how much I want to give back to her, how much I want to take care of her in the ways she took care of me, and how I wish that I could make up for past mistakes and do for her all the other things she managed to do for me without really trying.

I don't know if it was Ex or not, but I hope it was. It gives me hope that her life may be moving in a new direction, as well. Perhaps our directions will converge again one day. But, until then, I'm going to keep learning.

Have fun, and keep living life... You never know when the circle might begin again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

And a Pocketful of Gold

I finally received my financial aid money from school. The check was for about $3500, but I was in debt to the bank by $500 and had to buy new tires and get my car inspected. Plus, most of my bills were two months behind, so when the dust settled I only had about $1400 left. Fortunately, I'm also going to receive another $2500 soon since I had to update my FAFSA information after losing my job.

This brings me to an experiment that I have been waiting to conduct for about six months, I needed at least $1000 to properly begin the experiment, which may ultimately prove to be either the smartest thing I've ever done or, more likely, the dumbest. I took the $1000 and bought 3600 shares of stock in Citadel Broadcasting (CDL) at a cost of $.26 a share. Using the formula for exponential growth, y=Initial Value x Rate of Change^Time or Number of Calculations, and expeditious use of limit orders, the goal is to steadily buy and sell low cost stocks until the initial $1000 investment grows to at least $100,000, hopefully by the end of six months.

Citadel is either the third or the fifth largest broadcasting company in America, depending on who you ask and what they base their answer on, but its stock took a dive over the last three to five years along with the rest of the economy. I don't plan to wait for it to go back up to $5 a share, but I'll be happy for it to hit $.35 with a week or two. Naturally, though, the stock dropped over the two days immediately after my purchase to $.20/share. That's just par for the course for me!

I recently told someone that I needed this experiment to work or else I was going to have to find a job! You see, I've always been pretty work averse. I've long said I could never work two jobs because I'm barely willing to work one. That's why I worked at the radio station for ten years; It was BARELY one job! That's sort of how I perceive being a psychotherapist. I can get paid to stick my nose in other people's business. And since I've been doing that for 20 years for FREE it seems like a good calling, if I can just manage to make it through school, that is.

I've always dreamt of achieving the Communist Ideal in this Capitalist world, namely by having so much money that I can't spend it all, so that all my needs and wants are taken care of, and I can spend the rest of my life engaged in personal growth and spiritual fulfillment (learning, travelling, helping the poor and homeless).

Since I was a kid I've thought that my life was being wasted and that somehow I was capable of making the world a better place, if only I could get turned in the right direction or somehow gather enough money. I used to wonder, long before I'd ever heard of Communism, how much better humanity would be if none of us ever needed money again and we could all just work toward making the world a better place. For now, though, I look to the words of Robert Plant: "I live for my dreams... And a pocketful of gold."

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You Are an Obsession. You're My Obsession.

I've been on Fall Break since Thursday. I don't have to return to school until next Wednesday. Now, of course, I should have spent the last few days studying. Instead, I've found myself obsessing over various things. For several days I've had the song "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition stuck in my head. (I'll bet some of you didn't know Kenny Rogers performed psychedelic rock before becoming a Country Artist, did you?) And since the second Presidential Debate I've been focused on articles and poll results about the candidates. For the first time since 1976 there's a decent chance that North Carolina could turn blue, which has my nipples all erect! I've also been practicing my sword fighting techniques with a pool cue and planning out a custom lightsaber based on the dimensions and balance of said pool cue. I want it to be made of brushed aluminum without knobs or gadgets sticking out of it like you see on some of the sabers from the Star Wars movies. And whatever time has been left over the last several days has been filled with thoughts of what I would do with a few million dollars. By the way, I FINALLY got my financial aid money, and it came out to around $3500. Unfortunately, I'm probably only going to have around $1800 of it once I get my bills caught up and I get my car taken care of so it can be inspected for its yearly emissions test.

Anyway, I'm not the only one who has seemed obsessed over things lately. The economic crisis has people obsessed over their falling home values and collapsing stock portfolios; members of the world governments are obsessed about avoiding a global recession or, God help us, a global depression. Republicans are obsessed with their fear and hatred that a black democrat will likely become President of the United States. And Democrats are obsessed that their dream of winning the Presidency may once again be stripped away at the last moment by unscrupulous election shenanigans.

Pardon me for expressing a perhaps exaggerated sense of concern, but it feels like the US, if not the entire planet, is sitting on a powder keg right now. Everyone is stuck on a psychological carousel thinking about the same concerns, real or imagined, over and over without end. We're trapped in a broken groove of a scratched LP, listening to Huey Lewis and the News' song, "If This is It", but instead of the lyric, "If this is it, please let me know" all we keep hearing is "This is It. This is It. This is It." You could be forgiven for thinking the rumors about the Mayans were right and that the world is coming to an end in a few years.

I don't want to be mistaken for one of those Chicken Little "The sky is falling!" types. I'm really not, even though I've long dreamt of being alive at the end of the world just so I could see how it all ends... and maybe rub it in the faces of the evangelical Christians when it turns out Jesus isn't actually involved in the end of the world but instead it is brought about merely by the folly of mankind.

The thing is, obsession is rarely healthy. Unless you are obsessed with finding a cure for cancer it is probably best to be mindful of your thoughts and keep them moderated as much as you reasonably can. As someone who has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I can tell you first hand how destructive it is to your well-being and your personal relationships. One of the big things that ruined my relationship with the girl I planned to marry was my obsession with money. I often felt as though I had nothing to offer her because I couldn't afford to take her everywhere and buy her the things I wanted to buy for her. She had money and a decent paying job, but I could barely support myself financially. So rather than focus on things that I COULD do for her and give to her I obsessed over the things I COULDN'T do instead. It revealed my lack of self-esteem and crippled me emotionally. It's no wonder she chose to find a guy who wasn't hung up on his supposed shortcomings.

Being stuck on a few thoughts incessantly blinds you from the really important things in life, like family, friends, personal hobbies, and all the multitude of things that enrich human life. So next time you catch yourself thinking the same thoughts over and over, STOP, take a breath, let it out slowly and say, in the words of Phil Collins, "I Don't Care No More!"

Have fun, and keep living life... And get ready for a wild ride!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Power of Positive Speaking... Or Something Like That

Yesterday morning I woke up and, for some reason, started to realize why people in the past have referred to me as a "negative" person. People used to tell me all the time how depressing it was to be around me. Of course, back then I would blame them for not telling me this sooner so I could try to change my behavior around them. Hopefully, I'm little better than that now, but I still seem to have this tendency to say negative things. I'll say positive things, as well, but it seems they are typically prefaced by a negative comment. For example, in a discussion about favorite music I might respond to someones preference for country artist Travis Tritt with, "Oh, I don't like Travis Tritt! I've always liked Depeche Mode." And, sometimes I accidentally say things like this in a way that comes off as condescending or just belittling. People don't like this and eventually turn away from me. I probably would have kept a few more friends down through the years if instead of prefacing my comments with a negative, I just spoke the positive comment, "Oh, okay. I've always liked Depeche Mode."

While trying to do a little research for this post I came across a web page for the book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, by Julie Norem, Ph.D. On the web page for the book there is a description of what the author refers to as "defensive pessimism". According to Dr. Norem, defensive pessimism is sort of a learned coping mechanism where people will think of all the negative things which could possibly happen so that, if the bottom falls out of their plans, they don't get overly anxious about the outcome. According to the little quiz on the website, I qualify as a defensive pessimist, however I'd have to say that for every situation that it helps me cope with, there is another situation where it ends up getting in my way.

For negativity to be more effective than ineffective you have to pick and choose when to use it. It can't be a broad spectrum tactic because, as I eluded to earlier, negativity pushes people away. People don't want to hang around someone who essentially belittles their favorite things. People don't want to be around someone who can't immediately identify where they want to go hang out without giving an extensive list of where they don't want to hang out. And they don't want to have a romantic relationship with someone who is always expecting the worst, and broadcasting those expectations, out of every situation.

This loosely relates to why Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination in early summer. I'm not saying she was inherently negative... that's for more experienced political analysts to judge. However, negative people tend to be very self-centered people. After all, their worries are not about "you" they are about "me". They don't have time to care about what will happen to you, they only have concern for what will happen to themselves. Some will disagree with this assessment, I'm sure, but I've always believed that Hillary Clinton lost because she preferred the words "I" and "Me" where Barack Obama preferred the use of "You" and "We". Her speeches were always filled with "I've done this, I've worked for that, Vote for Me and I'll do this for You." In this context, You is a positive, because people like to hear about themselves, and I or Me are negatives because the speaker is spending more time talking about themselves. So, as Obama once said in a debate, Hillary Clinton was "likable enough", but just not.

So, if you're looking for ways to attract or maintain more friendships and relationships it may serve you well to watch your language. Who knows, it might even make you President one day.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My Weekly Roundup, or With New Enemies Comes a New Hope

Okay, I totally didn't mean to abandon the blog for a week! Once again, it seems life got in the way. I'll try to give a review of sorts to the week's events along with some thoughts on the big debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin.

I meant to post something on Sunday, but, well, I was feeling decidedly anti-social. Actually, that may explain why I didn't post anything this week perfectly. I've been fairly depressed lately because of my money situation. That is to say, I have no money situation, because I have no money with which to have a situation at all! I don't think I ever mentioned that I lost my job about a month before school started this semester. I had been working for Clear Channel in Raleigh for TEN YEARS when I was fired (Clear Channel owns a large percentage of the radio and TV broadcasters around the US and a growing number in Europe). To be honest, I should have left the job around 5 years ago, because it wasn't challenging, fun, or at all redeeming in any way. I was working overnights, by myself, and the schedule helped to isolate me from people. I only continued to work there for a paycheck and insurance, because medications can be pretty expensive. By the way, if you have a Costco nearby, get your prescriptions filled there. They are SUPER CHEAP! Instead of paying $275 a month for drugs (now that I have no insurance), Costco only charges me $90 a month!

So, anyway, I've been desperately waiting, longing, dreaming for my financial aid money to get sent to me. I was expecting it to arrive the last week in September, but due to a holdup in paperwork (Okay, I forgot to fax an enlarged copy of my driver's license to the bank for my records) the loan money didn't get disbursed in time for the first checks to be sent out. Now, I'm hoping that the money will be sent out on October 10th, because I've been living off of fish sticks and Lean Pockets for a week. That's a step up from the Oodles of Noodles and beef stew diet from the previous week.

Monday: I didn't get around to posting because I intended to work on a paper that I needed to turn in Thursday. I didn't do it, choosing instead to spend my free time surfing the Internet. Then, I had to volunteer at dance classes, so by the time I got home I had time to download Countdown with Keith Olbermann to my iPhone, watch it, and go to sleep.

Tuesday: I got my World Civilizations test back. I should know by now that if I ever think a test was easy, I failed! Well, I thought the first test was easy... However I barely made a D on it. By the professor's own admission there were only a total of 8 A's and B's in the whole class. There were a few Cs, but there were 8 D's and 8 F's. He had the nerve to call that a "perfect bell curve"! Bell curve my ass! That's a drop off into an ABYSS! What an ass! It should be illegal to be that psychotic in class and THEN be a hard ass on your tests! Forty points of the test was devoted to essay questions, and he wanted lots of specifics. One of the guys who managed to make a B said he wrote essays that were two pages each!

Later in the evening, I had to conduct a training class for potential volunteers to the dance academy. It went well and I had an okay time during the session, but it lasted 2 hours. At least I got fed pizza and cookies for a change.

Wednesday: I don't really have an excuse for why I didn't post on Wednesday. Again, I convinced myself I was going to work on that paper that was due Thursday. I didn't... Again! It wasn't that big of a deal. I just had to put into words (two pages of words, double spaced, to be exact) an outline that I had already written up in class describing my ideas for how best to judge a written paper. It's for my Humanities 220 class. Now, maybe you know why I like the class! It's easy, breezy, beautiful, Covergirl.

In the morning, I had a test in my College Algebra class. The best I could have gotten was an 80 because I had to skip 3 questions since I had no idea how to do them on my calculator -- change that, my NEMESIS, the TI-84 PLUS graphing calculator! And then, because it took me so long to do the rest of the problems by hand I had to skip one of the last two questions on the test. I was hoping for a C, but I was worried about getting a D.

Thursday: Okay, Thursday was unique. Thursdays are already my long day. I have class from 1230 PM until 5 PM. World Civ was dull and boring as we had to sit through a lecture on Africa. And since there aren't many written records about the various tribes throughout the history of Africa, the professor could only show us a slideshow of famine, disease, cattle, and give explanations of what the African indigenous people had to go through in order to survive. All that stuff is interesting, but it was nothing that I haven't seen or read a hundred times before! After that class was over I went to my HUM 220 class where there was some discussion about the final chapters of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Then, we headed to the Automotive Department to see the progress on the motorcycle. The head of the Automotive Dept. went through a meticulous explanation of the things he had done to the bike over the last week and how it seems to run. However, there are still obstacles in the way of getting it drivable, such as the carburetor, which is probably filled with rust or dirt, and the gas tank which needs to be completely cleaned out.

After school, I came home and just relaxed for a little while until the Vice Presidential Debate between Biden and Palin started. I was able to watch it on CNN.com. Once again, despite my predilection toward the Obama/Biden ticket, I have to say I was surprised to see Palin actually able to string solid sentences together after her embarrassingly laughable performances recently with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. However, I was annoyed with how she upfront told everyone that she wasn't going to answer questions the way Moderator Gwen Ifill, or Palin's opponent Joe Biden, wanted her to, but rather the way SHE wanted to answer them. At least she was honest about that if nothing else. Never did she seem to answer a question with an answer appropriate to the question. She seemed almost like she was reading from a teleprompter, her responses so prepared and perfect. She spurted out McCain Campaign talking points as though she had been indoctrinated as a child, Aldous Huxley-style, with the campaign agenda playing over and over in the background as she slept. I half expected her to accidentally blurt out, "Gammas wear such ugly uniforms. I don't like the color brown!"

Friday: And, finally, Friday. I really shouldn't have woken up, dressed, and wasted gas going to school. My Abnormal Psychology class was cancelled due to a family emergency for the professor, so that left me with just my College Algebra class. Unfortunately, I've missed all the classes I can and I have to attend everyday until the end of the semester, no matter what! I did get back my test, and I found that I was able to make a 74.5, a C. I was happy about that, even though I COULD have made a B had I been able to operate my Nemesis! The professor also gave us our cumulative scores so far, and I am only making a 59, an F! I've missed a few quizzes and I didn't turn in the first Excel Lab. There is still time to bring the grade up, but I'd do alot better to bring it up if I didn't have to struggle with that damn calculator! Of course, once again, my Nemesis had to ruin my morning. We did a rather simple lab on exponential growth and decay. It involved M&Ms and adding or removing them based on how many Ms were showing. I was able to gather the necessary data, but as usual had NO IDEA how to calculate this on the TI-84 PLUS (I'm guessing the PLUS means "PLUS the desire to rip your hair out by being dangled over a pool of hungry crocodiles after eating a warm bowl of camel crap and drinking it down with a tall glass of cow urine!") A few of my classmates attempted to help me, but it basically came down to them having to do the calculations for me, which just made me angrier. I'm a genius, I SHOULD be able to figure this out myself! So, before turning the lab in to the professor, I just balled up my paper, put away my stuff and left the class.

After cashing a check for my rent from my grandmother and getting something to eat at Waffle House, I paid my rent, which is still a month behind because I'm waiting on my financial aid, got to my apartment, stripped down to my boxers, and went back to bed!

So, did this week at least teach me anything? Did I learn some nugget that I can pass along to you guys as at least a small lesson of life? Well, I found out that it feels really good to vent. Oh, and after I stormed out of class Friday, I got an email from one of my classmates because all of us on the front row are supposed to turn in a group project on Monday that I'm supposed to be writing. They were naturally worried that I was dropping the class and wasn't going to come back. I told her that I had every intention of returning to class. Even if I flunk the class I'm still going to take my punches like a man. I explained that I'll write the paper, which is going to be super short when you factor in the charts and graphs of our data, and email it to them by Sunday morning. She emailed back and told me, "OK we just got worried! Don't get so flustered over a calculator... you'll get it if you keep trying and stay positive! We're always here to help you too!"

DING! DING! DING! No matter how you think things SHOULD be, don't let pride or ego stop you from asking for help. Even if you think you'd be a burden to others, ultimately people don't want to see people around them fail. Schadenfreude is only for people you don't have a direct connection with. And, as cheesy as this is, maybe asking for help doesn't have to be a sign of weakness. Perhaps we don't have to live as islands unto ourselves. We can be vulnerable without being endangered. Just because you're weak in one area doesn't make you weak in all areas. Enjoy your strengths and accept your weaknesses, and make asking for help one of your most important strengths. Things just might turn out alright in the end.

Have fun, and keep living life...
hopefully it's better than my current approximation thereof!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And the Winner Is...

No one. I just finished watching the first Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. Now, even though I've admitted to being in the tank for Obama, I'd have to say that neither candidate really knocked this debate out of the park. It was a rather sedate affair to be honest, with the only major sparring match being over whether or not Dr. Henry Kissinger, a McCain advisor, said that the US should meet with Iran without preconditions, a position supported by Obama but not by McCain. (By the way, according to the Associated Press, Obama was correct that Kissinger supported talks with Iran without preconditions, although Kissinger felt these talks should be conducted with lower level diplomats prior to meetings between the actual leaders of the US and Iran.)

During the debate, McCain was fairly condescending toward Obama. McCain often used the phrase "What Senator Obama doesn't understand is..." or some derivation. He also avoided looking at Obama for practically the entire debate. Meanwhile, Obama would divide his time between looking into the camera and looking at McCain, who always seemed to have this punkish smile on his face, as though he were secretly thinking, "Whatever, douchebag!" Of course there were the typical mischaracterizations of each other's records which have become such a staple of American politics. McCain had his deceptive mantra that Obama is against nuclear energy, which is easily verifiable as false. Obama's only issue with nuclear power is what to do with the used fuel rods.

I was surprised that neither candidate seemed to have any real zingers, though they could be saving them for the last debate, which is only a week or two before Election Day. I think I would have liked a bit more aggression from Obama, although since McCain had to prove that he isn't an impetuous hothead I suppose it wouldn't have served Obama to make himself look like a hothead.

Many of the reviews of the debate online gave Obama a slight edge in the debate, if for no other reason than he came into the debate with a 5-10 point lead in the polls and this event probably didn't push the needle in either direction. I certainly agree with the second point if not the first. If you were an Obama fan going in, you're still an Obama fan; if you were a McCain fan going in, you're still a McCain fan. This debate changed nothing. However, since many in the country are only just waking up to the Presidential race, this debate proved a good neutral introduction to both candidates. With only 39 days left before November 4th, this race looks to be another photo finish. It will be exciting to see if either of these candidates can really pull ahead and win this thing cleanly, or if one side will win simply because the other side makes a mistake.

Have fun, and keep living life... and get yourself registered to vote!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Great Debate

I'm holding off on posting this afternoon because I'm interested in watching the debate this evening between Barack Obama and John McCain. Even though I've already made up my mind to vote for Obama, I'm still willing to at least hear McCain out on the issues.

I think we should all strive to be informed about our political system, and that we should all vote. People toss the word patriotism around like its some sort of currency, as though the more you have the better you are. But flag waving and unquestioningly supporting war are not by themselves patriotic acts. One of the greatest freedoms brought to us by the Western World (actually the ancient Greeks, specifically) was the opportunity to vote. And if you want to truly show your patriotism screw the flag lapel pins and get yourself to a TV, computer, or newspaper, and find out what the candidates running for elected office want to do about the issues which affect your lives, then vote for the one who supports the ideas that are important to you.

All working Americans are required to pay taxes. I think we should all be required to vote, as well. It is bordering on disgusting that our ancestors fought and died in the Revolutionary War, and have continued to fight on through the World Wars, to provide for us the right to vote and only around 50% of the people who are eligible actually do so. THAT is what patriotism is all about. The flag is a worthless symbol. The Pledge of Allegiance is nothing more than collective indoctrination. Show that you actually love this country by giving back to it through your votes, and through your commitment to make our nation better on a regular basis. Instead of mindlessly chanting "USA! USA!" or "WE'RE NUMBER ONE!" how about you work hard, and elect the right people, to make us number one at something besides obesity, incarcerations, infant mortality, military spending, and violent crime.

Our country is rotting. Elections give us an opportunity to set a new path, to chart new opportunities, and make our country greater than what it has been. Voting gives all of us a voice in our nation's history. We can choose to move forward, or we can choose to hold ourselves back. The choice is yours... So long as you are actually willing to step up to the plate and make a choice.

Hmm... Didn't really mean to go off on a rant like that, but hopefully it was informative. I'll try to come back and post some thoughts about the debate, so long as I can get to see it online somewhere.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My College Milieu, or How to Win in School Without Really Trying

Sorry for not posting the last couple of days. I'm sure the legions of readers I'm slowly gathering hang on every word like a meth addict at a rundown trailer park. Sometimes college gets in the way of the really important things in life, like goofing off on the internet!

Anyway, since this blog is partially about my life as I work through college I should at least talk some about my current run of classes. I'm required to take College Algebra and I HATE math. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. The truth is I HATE THE TEXAS INSTRUMENTS TI-84 GRAPHING CALCULATOR! Whomever invented this thing needs to have it shoved up his ass, pulled out, washed off, then shoved up his ass again while he feeds on broken glass! And don't even get me started on Microsoft Excel. On top of having to struggle through the Sisyphian task of using that calculator I have to deal with a professor who thinks ass is a dirty word! I can't call a fellow classmate a smartass without her telling me to watch my language. I'm pretty sure that originally the term smartass wasn't referring to a person's ass but rather a donkey; and since smartdonkey just doesn't have the same umph as calling someone a smartass they chose to run with it. Ass is even in the Bible for Christ's sake! I do like the other students who sit on the front row with me. Even though they're all 15 years younger than me and make me feel like a borderline pedophile when I hang out with them they're pretty cool kids.

Next is Abnormal Psychology. Now, of course, being a wannabe Psych major means that this class should be a breeze. And so far it is. I managed to make an A on my first test and I only read one of the three chapters covered. I also missed alot of school because of sleep concerns. My professor is a short, late 40s, perky Doctor who has actually done some private practice. I tend to be the most talkative in class and she has pulled me aside to say that she thinks I would probably do well in Graduate School, but she would like for me to not pose so many questions in reference to my own personal experiences with therapy. Apparently, it makes other students uncomfortable, although no one has said anything to me, so whatever. I'm not afraid of my issues, they are part of who I am and my struggles to deal with them are something to be proud of, seeing as how so many people are afraid to enter therapy, or can't afford it when they really need it.

Then there is my World Civilizations class. Oh BOY is that class interesting. My professor is a gruff Italian-American who clearly needs estrogen therapy to counteract his glaringly obvious overabundance of testosterone. I love busting his chops in class. I'm always saying or doing something to get under his skin. I can't tell if I'm torturing the guy or entertaining him. This is a guy who, while he denies this on its face, believes that any culture that didn't kill a WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE, and subjugate the weak, was a culture of wussies! He easily spent five days lecturing us on the battle tactics of the Roman Empire. And another two days on Sparta. I was half expecting that our test was going to cover the movie 300! Believe it or not, there actually WAS a question on the test related to movie, although it wasn't openly framed that way. I'll find out what I made on the test next week. I figure I either did pretty well or pretty crappy. It was one of those tests.

And then there's Humanities 220, Human Values and Meaning. I love this course. I get to use my mind and think for a change. It is a three hour seminar class on Thursdays, and is taught jointly by an English professor whom I've had before, and a Philosophy professor. The class is reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It seems like a pretty good book, although I've only read the first six chapters. The rest of the class is about to finish the book next week. I'm such a slackass sometimes. I like the book, and yet I allowed myself to get really behind on the reading. But then, for some reason, I've NEVER finished any book that I claim to have loved, with the exception of George Orwell's 1984. I've never finished Brave New World, A Separate Peace, A Catcher in the Rye, or The Fountainhead. I don't know what my problem is with books. I just hate to finish them. At any rate, ZAMM is all about the search for quality in the world around us, and what defines that quality. Is there such a thing an objective quality which can be quantified, or is it all in our heads, like the Supreme Court Justice who once said,"I can't define obscenity, but I know it when I see it." I'm probably going to make an A in HUM 220 without really trying.

So, what does all of this have to do with you? Probably nothing. But ever since high school I've truly enjoyed going to school. It's a place where I can pretty easily shine above most of the others around me if I want, or I can be a slacker and still get by with fairly good grades. I know not everyone shares my enthusiam for learning. Many seem to see it as nothing more than a means to an end. But I deeply value the idea that I get to learn something new everyday. I get to see new details about life around me. I have an opportunity to open my mind and consider previously unthought of possibilities. If you are in school now, or considering returning, try to immerse yourself in learning for learning's sake. Don't worry about the grades so much. They'll come on their own as you fully engage your curiosity. Just sit back, relax, and let your education absorb into your life; let it become a part of you. You might just find out that things aren't as hard or boring as you previously believed.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wouldn't You Like to be a Jedi, Too?

video

Lately, I've been REALLY hungry for my own lightsaber. I've been watching videos of amateur lightsaber duels, researching the best lightsaber models and alternative modifications, even how to make a lightsaber from scratch. Right now, Hasbro is in the process of releasing the Force FX line of lightsabers (beginning in mid-October), considered the standard among saber enthusiasts due to their high degree in accuracy of reproduction compared with the saber handles used in the actual filming of the various movies. Originally, the Force FX line was manufactured and distributed by Master Replicas. Since MR lost the licensing to produce the Force FX sabers there has been some concern that the quality of the line will drop now that Hasbro has taken up the license, even though the sabers will continue to be produced in the same factory as they were when MR held the rights. And even though you can duel with the Force FX's, many hardcore enthusiasts opt for modifications to their sabers to add a stronger blade, or perhaps even a removable blade so that the handle can be comfortably worn at one's side without concern of dragging a blade across the ground.

I'm not sure where this recent fascination began. Sure, I've always loved the Star Wars Anthology, but I've never been one of those sci fi fans who dress up or otherwise emulate their favorite characters. And since there really isn't a formal Jedi Club in my city, I'm not sure where I would get an opportunity to practice dueling. Besides, the cheapest duel quality sabers (the Force FX's) start at around $120 ($250 if you are trying to buy a still like new MR on Ebay). So, I can't come up with a rational excuse for why I want a lightsaber. I just do.

Probably all the kids who grew up sort of geeky, or otherwise felt like outcasts, have long had this romantic image of the Jedi Knights maintaining order and justice throughout the galaxy with only a mastery of The Force and expert skill with an elegant and deadly lightsaber to protect them. We (us geeks and outcasts) have all had fantasies about putting away our fiercest foes (bullies, jocks, bosses) with a swift slice of a saber, topped off with an exquisite battle pose. It's the way we get through a rough day with the fantasy that WE could have control over THEIR destiny for once, if only we lived in a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago.

Well, that raises some interesting thoughts. What exactly could I be feeling powerless and out of control about that I lust for my very own lightsaber as a way to gain that which seems missing? Since I've been a ball of insecurity since my childhood, it could be anything I suppose. But there must be something different now to have brought up this sudden obsession...

Further contemplation will be required.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Magic of Hope

This is probably where I lose the attention of the conservatives. Just bare with me for a moment. I LOVE Barack Obama. Granted, he has lost some of his luster since the early days when even I mistook him for the second coming of Christ. But still, he's an impressive man with a fascinating background, beautiful family, superior intellect, and reflective demeanor.

But this isn't really about Obama. At least not directly. I'm curious about our fascination with hope. Of course, hope has always been an overarching theme of Obama's campaign, but he certainly wasn't the first, or the last. Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee both proclaimed themselves the men from Hope (Arkansas). Ronald Reagan's famous "Morning in America" ad was basically about hope. In pop culture, Star Wars: Episode IV is titled "A New Hope". A Google search for "Hope" returned 83,100,000 results. There's the movie Hope Floats, the old soap opera Ryan's Hope, the Hope Diamond, an incredibly large number of organizations use HOPE as an acronym or part of a 1-800 phone number, and even the Olivia Newton-John song "Hopelessly Devoted to You"!

So why? Hope implies that there's something wrong with the way things are now. Just looking at references to hope from the last 50 years you'd have to conclude that something is perpetually wrong with the world (or at least the US). Since the word hope appears in the Bible between 120 and 160 times depending on the translation I'm guessing that humanity's want for hope extends at least a few thousand years.

I would describe my first 32 years of life as definitively without hope. I hated the world and was sure it hated me back. Relationships would never last very long. I had a bunch of dead end jobs. By a rough calculation I'd estimate I had thoughts of suicide on around 10,000 separate moments. I seriously considered acting on the thoughts at least two dozen times, and I've had to resist the sudden urge to jerk my car into a concrete divider or oncoming traffic perhaps a hundred times. For some reason I never commited suicide. And I guess that reason was hope. No matter how horrible my life got I always had this dream that things could get better if I just lived long enough to see it happen. Well, that's not completely true, but you'd think I was nuts if I told you what I really was thinking. Suffice it to say, it had something to do with Einstein's theory of infinite universes.

So, I think hope is that thing which keeps us alive. Without a hope that things will get better we'd probably kill ourselves or the people around us. And the thing is, hope isn't that hard to find. Some people find it through religion, others through science, or, in my case, through my imagination. If your life is without hope don't give up. Keep looking until you find what it is you need to see you through. Start thinking of life as a game: You win if you survive long enough to beat it. And, as long as you're alive, that thing which will bring you hope is out there waiting for you to find it, even if sometimes that thing ends up feeling like a kick to the face.

Have fun, and keep living life... because it's the only way to win!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Baptism by Rain and Bacon

I haven't been sleeping well lately. There's no real reason. My mind just doesn't want to shut off. Seeing as how most Americans don't get enough sleep I'm guessing you can sympathize. I downloaded one of those neutral noise programs for my iPhone called White Noise. It doesn't have as many sounds to choose from as some of the other programs, but it was free so I'm not complaining.

The best noise of the program is its rain setting. Since this is a basic program you can't adjust the intensity of the rain, but I'm still impressed with the realism of the steady downpour that rumbles from my 3G's diminutive speaker. It's difficult to be bombarded by a barrage of mental diarrhea when you're laying contemplatively on your back as you meditate on the obligatory mental image of the rapid splash splosh of uncountable drops causing the surface of a puddle to dance and shimmer with light.

Of course, as I write this I'm at Waffle House again on a hectic and dramatic Friday night at 3 AM, where the sizzle skittle of an unending order of bacon on the grill is doing a good job of bringing my thoughts to singularity. Like the sound of rain, if I can just manage to focus enough to hear the bacon over the cacophonous crowd and the discordant clashing of plates and utensils, bacon is consistent, steady, dependable; it washes over my senses and cleanses me, at least for a moment, of the sins of intellectual dissertation which blockade my calm.

So, perhaps, instead of prescribing warm milk to curb those disabling episodes of insomnia you should fry up some bacon. Just make sure you're wearing something protective because you'll never sleep with 3rd degree burns on your sensitive areas!

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!
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