26 December 2006

Hot air in the cold night

On the 23rd, my family and I went to visit some long-time family friends, the Dingles. Earnie and Dian Dingle used to flag and work turns at auto races with my mom. Now, they focus their time on hot-air ballooning. Every year around Christmas time, they invite a bunch of people to their place for a balloon glow, where they put the whole thing together and light up the stack in a stationary position. Well, the winter Pa weather often prevents the full-on glow. This year, the wind wasn't too bad, but the ground was too damp to lay the balloon out and fill it.

In lieu of a full-on glow, instead they brought the basket out and fired the burner up into the air. Here's Earnie getting ready to do so:

Check out that stream of burningness:

Like moths to a candle, we all crowded around and went, "Oooooo. Warrmmm."

When Earnie really fired the burner good, he created a hybrid day-night sphere all the way out to a treeline maybe 200 yards away. Quite awe-inspiring. Here, my dad (far left), the Witmers (center), and a Witmer-in-law (far right) bathe in the warmth and light radiating from the massive bursts of fire:

In the end though, the evening was an occasion for us to sit around, shoot the bull, and eat/drink ourselves silly. Here the Grays (center; also long-time family friends who still work at auto races) do the sitting around:

In the next picture, my mom shoots the bull while Emily contemplates another Wheat Thin with dip. Behind them are two growlers of some of the fine beer Harrisburg's own breweries have to offer: Troegs Mad Elf, and something hoppy from the Appalachian Brewing Company:

Also, in both pictures, you can see racing posters hanging on the wall--evidence of the exciting pasts of all these old farts. Not that I can talk though. In the end, I became the life of the party by looking at balloon glow pictures on my cell phone, and sending them to Earnie and Dian.

19 December 2006

Those darned semesters

Okay, so maybe I'm not cut out for this regular blogging thang. How about I just promise to post when I do?

The semester's over now, which is why I actually made it here to my chew toy to do some chewin'. I'm not suggesting anything, but the spring semester may accommodate more toy-chewing. I am no longer a GTA. I'm staying on at the University writing center, but I think I'd like to take some time off from teaching for a while. I will definitely teach again someday...when I get to decide the entire sequence and syllabus. As it is though, I am entrusted with the duty of instructing composition for 22 students, but I'm given a selection of readings to pick from, and told how to teach the process of writing. There's a lot more to college writing than making academic arguments. When I teach again, my sequence, in addition to the academic argument, will include other types of writing (i.e. creative, opinion, research).

At any rate, only working 10 hours per week should allow more room in my schedule for my own work. I'm at the point where my thesis proposal is in sight, so I should have more of it done than I actually do.
Also, my classes for the spring have me really excited:

Fiction Workshop
The American Short Story
Women, Ecology, Eco-feminism, and Environmental Justice
Methods in Madness (a one-week seminar led by poet Rosmarie Waldrop)

Good ol' reliable coursework. When all else irks me, I can always count on classes to cheer me up. After the spring, I'll only need one more writing workshop, but I know I'll take more classes than that--just for poops and laughters.

15 September 2006

David Strathairn on a plane!!!

Most of the people I've told about this haven't cared a whole lot, but on my flight from Baltimore to Albany last weekend, I shared a plane with David Strathairn. If you don't know who he is, search for him ( www.imdb.com ) and recognize.

Suffice it to say he's not one of those actors that's gonna show up in Star magazine. I like him because he's in one of my favorite movies. He plays Whistler in Sneakers. If you haven't seen it, maybe a name-drop will interest you. He co-stars with Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Akroyd, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, Ben Kingsley, and Timothy Busfield. And it's a fun-ass movie to watch over and over.

Anyway, I'm just chillin' in Baltimore, waiting to get on the plane, and he walks up to the trashcan nearby and sets his coffee down. I recognized him almost instantly, then surprised myself by doing the whole nervous thing. I couldn't believe seeing an actor actually made me nervous. I know famous people are just people at the core, but there's something so surreal about seeing someone in the real world that you've seen over and over in a fictional world.

Flying Southwest, he boarded with Group A, I think. I boarded later. Once I sat down on the plane, I found him from the back of his head and just sort of glanced forward every once in a while to see what he was doing. He proved himself a person by just sitting there quietly, reading throughout the entire flight. From the moment I first noticed him, I caught his occasional glance around to see if anyone had spotted him. I don't think anyone ever noticed him. I sort of felt bad for him, but I'm sure he preferred it that way, even though I think a small part of him wanted to be recognized for the skill he has within his craft.

On the flight, having struck up conversation with my neighbor, I saw fit to divulge my secret to her. She didn't know who he was either. Then, once we landed, I had to wait for people to clear out so I could get my bag from an overhead bin that wasn't right next to my seat. He too waited for everyone else to deplane. He wasn't taking any chances getting noticed. I grabbed my stuff and walked off.

As I headed for the rental cars, I listened to my voice mail for messages from Emily. I had to pick her up at the train station later, and wanted to see if her train left on time. In the process of paying attention to her message, I passed the turn toward the rental cars, so I doubled back.

And who do you think approached the turn just as I did? None other than David Strathairn. When he caught up to me, I lowered my phone, turned to him, and said, "Hey, how's it going?"

At first, I think he thought I was talking on the phone, but he must've felt me looking, so he raised his head, and returned the greeting--sort of a shy, unsure "Hi." But as he continued on to baggage claim, I saw him smile. I don't know if he was smiling because he knew I had recognized him, or because he thought he had said hi to me mistakenly while I was on the phone. I get the impression he knew I had recognized David Strathairn, the actor, in an airport, which made me happy that I might have made him happy.

I could've said any number of things to him about his movies, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I didn't become the rambling moron. "Oh, David Strathairn! I'm your biggest fan! I loved you in Sneakers." I didn't say anything dumb like that, and he didn't have to think anything like, "Yeah right, douche bag. You're the biggest fan. Ummhmm. Oh, Sneakers, eh? That was 15 years ago, schmuck!"

The way things went, I was just some guy in an airport acknowledging and respecting the presence of a skilled artist. I like that.

07 September 2006

I hope it isn't temporary

In the past year, living in such a small apartment (made smaller by wedding presents, a brother-in-law, and a second dog), I've noticed what a disorganized pile my life can be when I'm busy elsewhere. In the past week though, I've been trying to slow my life down some. I'm taking the Tri-Rail more, hardly working any hours at the lab, and focusing my energy on staying active. When something requires my action or attention, I just freakin' do it, instead of waiting until it really needs me.

We only have one sink in the dishwasher-less kitchen, so the dishes used to pile up as fast as the pile of junk mail on the kitchen table. Now though, Lucas (brother-in-law) and I are washing dishes almost as soon as we dirty them. My bedroom is still a pretty nasty mess, but the other parts of the apartment keep me sane. The kitchen table, where I do most of my school work, has stayed clean. Even if clutter does collect there, I know I can reserve a corner of it for my laptop.

I must say, cleanliness is my new top boy. It's a routine I've never been able to practice, but hopefully one I can learn. I stay a lot calmer when I don't see clutter everywhere, and calmness is of great value to this poor college student.

My only hope is that I don't jynx myself with this blog, because good luck is just as important to me. I now know I'm capable of overcoming the chaos bred by my possessions, but divine disorder handed down as a major computer meltdown or a Cat-5 hurricane might turn me into a gyroscope. If that happens, I guess all I can do is take it Job-style and be like, "I don't fuckin' care. Go ahead, God. Blow my shit all over the place. See if I care!" And then I'll reach into my pocket, pull out my USB stick, thrust it high into the air as I leap and shout, "I've got a fuckin' flashdrive, bitch!"

04 September 2006

Welcome to September, me!

September means something unusual this year. I've known for months that these first two weeks of September might be stressful, but I think they'll turn out quite nicely in the end.

Emily and I went to the wedding of Brandon and Shendi this past weekend. I only knew half a dozen people there, but we still had some fun drinking and dancing. It was good to see friends I don't get to see very often. And next weekend, I see different friends I haven't seen in a while. Plus, I'm such a sucker for weddings in general.

I have lots of work to do before I hop on the plane next Saturday morning, but I have all week to take care of it. Emily is visiting her friend Megan this week, so I can stay up late working on assignments. The apartment will also seem a little empty. I admit that sleeping alone in a bed is pretty fun every once in a while, but I imagine I'll miss her being next to me before the week is over.

As for school, I think I'm going to like this semester. I'll probably be busier than past semesters, but in a good way. By taking three workshops-- all not of the fiction variety-- I am broadening my influences not only through what I read, but also in how I write. The health of fiction as an art form seems to be on a gradual decline with nonfiction on the rise. I'm hoping this semester teaches me a thing or two about how I can do my part to give fiction a thump in the chest.

15 August 2006

The not-so-easy Big Easy

New Orleans is not the kind of place to spend twelve hours. In that twelve hours, I ate two amazing meals -- Catfish Pecan for lunch and seafood-stuffed ahi tuna for dinner. After dinner, I forced myself not to drink too much Abita, because I knew the 5am airport shuttle pick-up, even sober, would suck the mad bizzalls. I could've used another couple days to become one with my environment.

Emily was there attending the APA conference. I went the first day as her guest, and actually had fun just wandering around, playing the role of crazy rogue psychologist. With inappropriate gin camouflaged in a plastic soda bottle, I sported equally inappropriate conference attire, complete with blaze orange hunting cap. Who wants to blend in with the sea of slacks and polos?

Having never gone to a professional conference before, one aspect I did not expect was poster presentations. Instead of having a scheduled time and room for the organized presentation of a project, some psychologists chose to have a scheduled time and posterboard where they stood and answered questions about their poster-form presentation. Most posters were a little lacking in visual stimulus, making them hard to understand in the few minutes I spent absorbing. The posters that did have pictures, graphs, etc. usually got the point across much faster and more thoroughly. I'll keep that in mind for next year when APA meets in San Francisco. Until then, I will brainstorm my very own un-APA-accredited, unofficial, possibly inappropriate poster to present at one of the empty boards. I'll load it with graphics on the topic of "Toddler Drug Use: Are the Teletubbies to Blame?" The hardest part is going to be keeping a straight face while answering questions -- and there will be questions. I'll be surrounded by real psychologists.

Even though I spent less time in New Orleans than I did traveling to and from, I still had fun there. Conferences are fun. New Orleans cuisine was fun. The quieter bars were fun. The streets smelled like detritus, but cities aren't often noted for fragrance. Had I known about Emily's surprise to bring me for a day, I probably would have refused to go. Long trips for short amounts of enjoyment aren't really my thing. But since I did get on that plane, I went, I saw, and I rung the crude juice out of my time there.

01 August 2006

"Becoming" a "writer"

I know the title sounds pretentious, even more so because of the quotation marks. Can you picture my fingers hooking into the air? The most difficult part of becoming a writer seems to be learning how not to sound pretentious. My tendency for vulgarity helps me some, but I still find myself in those moments where I'm searching for the word path that brings me back down to the real level of the plebeian.

Probably my least favorite thing about becoming a writer is figuring out how to work around reading aloud with that stereotypical softened tone. Another stereotype of becoming a writer is the "I write for myself" phase, which I think every "becoming" writer goes through at some point. Writing brings a certain vulnerability with it. At first, I hid in the vulnerability, but as I learned to confront the fake-assedness of writing for myself, I felt (and continue to feel) a lot more positive about where mywriting might go from here.

My favorite thing about becoming a writer is the actual act of writing, which I should engage in much more often than I do. I should be reading and writing for an hour each each day.* Instead, I don't. I read a few days a week, and write a few days a month. I'm scheduled for three workshops this fall. I'm hoping that will help me gain the discipline I need to work full-time at becoming a writer.

* I know this sentence could've been worded differently, but I don't care. When I read, I love coming across sentences with identical word couplets. Even though the author has planned them, they still seem such rarities to me. I'm probably seeing the positive in something often considered a drawback in writing. Sometimes, I just find confusing wording interesting. Perhaps it is that that which is just is.

18 July 2006

Ever wonder why you exist? Ask Kafka

Some days seem less useful than others. Other days seem stranger than some. When I get to the end of a day that seems both useless and strange, I know I've had a good one. The days spent toiling for the company or tidying up the apartment somehow don't have the same effect as days spent advancing my own chaos-- or at least not advancing my order.

Today, I slept in (which is becoming a habit of late, and one that seems like it will continue until school starts in the fall). Then I woke up, ate breakfast, walked the dogs, watched TV and went for a destructive lunch of wings and beer. Then I went there and there, accomplishing nothing major, had a few beers at a friend's, where I started watching a movie that always makes me think. Later I watched TV, ate dinner, and finished watching the movie, thinking even more by that point (since I spent the interim letting my subconscious review the first half).

Had I fully itemized my day, not only would this post have been even more boring, but I would only have highlighted the lack of substance in my day. Had today been a workday for me, instead I could've itemized the things accomplished on company time. Even though I
would've been paid, I still would've accomplished the same thing today: minor impacts making no influence on the state of existence. I suppose we've tricked ourselves into thinking we matter, or that our daily dealings matter.

I'm not saying I feel one way or another about existence. In fact, I rather like focusing on the mundane nature of the human state, because that's what connects me to the dull rumble of the churning Universe. Still, days like today remind me that it's okay to exist, no matter what that existence consists of. I just like those moments when I remember that guilty laziness is no worse than proud success. They're both spent in reality.

It's hard to find, but I recommend the 1991 film, Kafka. That's what put me here arguing in favor of my own existence.

17 July 2006

Possible Blogospheres

In a class I took earlier this summer, I learned a thing or two about possible worlds as they relate to literary theory. Being new to literary theory, I am really glad I picked possible worlds theory on which to do my presentation. Most literary theory makes me gag with its disgusting pretentions, but possible worlds theory (along with the more gentle forms of theory, like narratology) seem to be more direct products of literature, and less about critical readers forcing their thoughts into the mix.

Possible worlds theory basically suggests that works of literature act as pnaws (possible non-actualizable worlds). Theorists view works of fiction as constructs of our actual world, which, of course, they are. However, some theorists (such as Umberto Eco with theater and Mihai Spariosu with literature) discusses the ways in which fictional constructs can work backward from a pnaw to influence the actual world. For example, a writer tells the tale of some poor character who suffers greatly the injustices of a fictional world. In our actual world, readers come to recognize these injustices, and begin looking for ways to prevent them in the actual world. In this way, authors can and do shape the future of the world by actualizing possible future worlds that might not have been actualized otherwise.

Well, naturally, the same could be true of blogs. If people didn't blog, then the readers of those blogs might not have the significant effect on the world that they do. In the process, they are actualizing possible future blogospheres. In every instant, only one blogosphere can be actualized from the infinite possibilities, and right now, you are experiencing one unique blogosphere taking shape. And again right now. And again right now... ad infinitum et nauseum.

Alright, so the last part about possible blogospheres was semi-sarcastic, but the rest of the post about being really stoked about possible worlds theory... yo, that shit has already been way actualized, biatch!!!

11 July 2006

Hey, no one. I'm married now!!!

The simplest reason for not blogging since the last entry was because our Internet connection wasn't working for a while. My wife and I were both too busy to make the call. I was also busy because I'm now 1.33 semesters closer to getting a master's, and I dun got married too. See?

Yep, Emily and I have been married now for 4 months. It seems like longer, but I'm sure that's because now I'm married and stuff.