August 31, 2004

Birthday pie.

French Silk pie that has 560 calories and 40 grams of fat per slice (one half of the size shown). So good.

August 30, 2004

So nice.

Nicola is so sweet:) I have been spending my birthday in my grand style of doing nothing. I didn't go into my office at the university. I didn't crack a book. I didn't shave. I didn't cook. I didn't do any housework. Nothing. It's my favorite way to spend my birthday. More coffee and the movie I always watch on my birthday, Amelie, later. Going out and getting drunk or getting into bed with a stranger are never ways that have occured to me of spending one's birthday. But to each hers or his own. I'm sure I'm guilty of cultivating the laziest birthdays on the planet.

August 29, 2004

Being an ass.

A very close friend of mine has a fellow graduate student who is, plainly, a bitch. She cuts people down whenever she gets the chance, usually in front of professors. She openly says, "Oh, I wish I were you," outloud to people. She calls people lazy and passes judgment on who goes to which meetings. She's just entirely unpleasant, disagreeable and bad-mannered. Two minutes spent with this young lady shows, as my friend correctly points out, that such nastiness comes from this person's insecurity. There is another person with whom I was in a graduate program once who was equally unpleasant. He was the kind of person who would say the most obvious things in a seminar with the air of making the most immediate connection between Heraclitus and Taoism out to be the most profound thing ever uttered in a class on ancient Greek epistemology. He would loudly retrieve stinking food from a greasy bag in a class that was not so long that one needed to take one's meals in the middle of a seminar. He could not have a regular conversation, even with the unfortunate suckers who were his friends. He was, in short, an ass, an arrogant ass. So, as the new graduate students arrive in my department,* I asked my office-mates what characteristic/world-view makes a person more of an ass: insecurity or arrogance. I think that insecurity does, because it introduces a level of pettiness/nastiness/meanness to the mix. Arrogant people might cut one down in class because they feel that such a person is ignorant and ought to study more. The insecure person, in my experience, is out for blood. The lurid desire to make another person "less" is, in my estimation, far worse than exposing another person as already being "less." An arrogant person might mutter to a person in front of a seminar, "Perhaps, my friend, you fail to understand the importance of Scheler's notion on suffering because you need to go back and re-read his Formalism." It seems so much more cruel to say, "See, you don't know your Scheler, either." I can't quite say why I feel that insecurity is more likely to make one behave as an ass. Sure, I can be arrogant sometimes, and perhaps I thereby sympathize with arrogant asses. (I would never cut down a colleague in private, let alone in a room full of people, however.) Maybe it is a case of, "Oh, well, he's an ass, all right. But at least he knows what he's talking about." Who knows? Asking which is worse is not asking a very pragmatik question, is it? *[Most of whom are perfectly nice folks, really. I haven't actually met a new ass yet this year:)]

August 27, 2004

"My So-Called Life."

Paige reports that"My So-Called Life," our favorite 90s angst show is returning to the air. Unfortunately for me, it's on cable, the Family Channel. In an effort to watch less television, we don't have cable. We make up for it by purchasing dozens and dozens and dozens of DVDs. But now, I want cable.

August 25, 2004

Sugarbowl: A tribute to Mr. Roland.

A sugar bowl on the deck at my family's home in Baltimore. August 2004. I wanted to post something good today. But I was in graduate seminars from 9:30-4:30, and I'm pooped. So, instead, here is a tribute to my youngest brother, Baby Joe, A.K.A., Sugarbowl.* *[So called because he leaves the sugarbowl empty as revenge for when he finds it empty.]

August 23, 2004

The Killers.

We bought a coffee-maker in Baltimore.* Low and behold, the damned thing didn't work. So we exchanged it tonight. As we pulled into the parking lot, the song I have had in my head lately came on, and I finally found out who performs it: The Killers. We picked up their album. It's...(get ready)....killer. Really, check out the samples on Amazon, and see what you think. "Somebody Told Me" is their current single. It's a good record. You heard it here first. *[We have not had a normal coffee-maker in two years, as our five French presses have reigned. For multiple morning cups, however, we need something that keeps the coffee hot. More on the new toy later.]

More birthdays.

My brother Tom and my one-day-sister-in-law Heather, Rehoboth Beach, Deleware. August 2004. Tomorrow is my younger brother's birthday, and his girlfriend's birthday was last Tuesday. A very happy birthday to a very nice -- and very tall -- couple.

August 21, 2004

Updates and crack.

My sincerest and severest apologies for the lack of updates lately. My trist in Baltimore has been much more busy than I thought it would be. No car wrecks this time, but there was a death in the family. Maybe I shouldn't jinx Maryland anymore. I visited my old Polish grandmother yesterday, where she lives in Canton: a very posh and expensive neighborhood near the water in Baltimore city. The real-estate there is so hot that folks call her weekly to see if she'll sell her house. My grandmother's fat little poodle has a thing for Burger King french fries, so we went there to get some, a little after the lunch-time rush. A dingy-looking chap comes in and approaches a slightly-less-dingy man who is sitting with a woman eating his lunch. The dingy character gives the man something wrapped in a Burger King receipt, and the man gives him a small vial of crack. Rather than putting it in his pocket, the dingy crack-head holds it up to look at it. He then grabs a cup from the trash can, fills it with soda and leaves, crack in hand, smiling (I guess smoking crack makes you thirsty). Weird. So much for one of the yuppies' (not Bobos') favorite "new" neighborhoods.

August 17, 2004

Fort McHenry.

I went to Fort McHenry on Saturday, the famous site of the attempted invasion of Baltimore by the British in the War of 1812. The geometrically interesting fort looks like the above model. It's certainly strange to go somewhere like Fort McHenry, where the American national anthem was composed (well, in the water outside, allegedly) and where the fervor of "patriotism" feels so safe. It is strange because of the Right's constant allegations that those who don't always agree with President Bush must therefore hate America. It is strange because it is a reminder that my antipathy toward our current administration comes not from a hatred of our country, but from a love for it. But enough of that. We talk about things like that at the Blog Collective. This is a canon, up close. You can still smell gunpowder on it, if you stick your nose it. Not that I did that, of course. These are three big-giant-guns facing the place where Baltimore's Inner Harbor meets the Chesapeake Bay. Since the Army used the fort up to at least World War I, I am pretty sure those are not the original guns. To be sure, the Union occupied the fort during the Civil War and aimed the guns at Baltimore itself, to prevent an uprising of slave-holders (and some misguided souls call Maryland part of the North!).

Blogging from Baltimore, part II.

I have tons and tons of photos to post from Fort McHenry in Baltimore and from Rehoboth Beach in Deleware. Tons tons tons. Promise to post them shortly. Going to IKEA tomorrow!

August 12, 2004

Blogging from Baltimore, part I.

The Mazda, full of the squished carcasses of hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny bugs and such, including these unfortunate invertebrates who found their way into the fog lights. I've driven almost two thousand miles this week so far. We had to take the Mazda to get something checked in Missouri on Monday. Then, we drove to Baltimore, Maryland Tuesday. We drove around Baltimore Wednesday. Today, we drove to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, a five-hundred mile round trip. I have a blister from the steering wheel. Really. Lucky for the nice paint on the Mazda, we drove through seven (really) severe storms on the way home from the mountains today. The damned thing is really power-washed now. Sadly, we saw a red Ford Focus wrapped around a telephone pole in the first storm. No one was hurt, but I know all too well what a Focus with a bent frame looks like. And that one is totaled, I'm sure of it.

August 09, 2004

Happy Birthday, Walden.

Thoreau's Walden was published 150 years ago today. I really want to write more about it, but I have to leave at dawn for the 850 mile drive to Baltimore, Maryland. Besides, I ramble about Thoreau enough, ay? I'll be blogging from the happenin' East Coast from tomorrow, until the 21st or 22nd, when I will return to Southern Illinois for the start of the semester. Don't worry. I'll still post photos and such, and now, they may be of people, rather than objects found in my apartment or things outside.

August 08, 2004

Writing by hand, redux.

I sent my first email in the late spring semester of my junior year as an undergraduate, April 2000. At Goucher, we all had email addresses and a postbox and voicemail and such. I even had classes wherein I was required to check my school email address daily, but it was understood by most of my professors that I did not use personal computers (to say that I never used computers at all is, of course, false – I flew to Boston frequently on a plane that depended on computers for everything but taking off and landing, had a computer in my stereo, benefitted from computerized everything in a modern American city, etc.). For the first two years of college, despite my friends scratching their heads, I wrote all of my papers by hand and typed them the long way on an electric typewriter. I was never a very good typist, and typing a five-seven page paper literally took me from the mid-afternoon to the late evening. I know, that IBM typewriter was not the simple contraption of yore, any more than a gel pen is a quill pen. But something in that writing process made my writing infinitely better than it is now. My parents made me take a laptop away to college my junior year, but I resisted the internet/email devil until late that spring. I began to compose on the computer, as I began to be able to actually type ten pages in one sitting, and the quality of my writing just seemed to go away. Almost five years later, I was still telling myself that my writing would pick up, that I would get back in the swing of things. My paper for my research project this summer was less than great, certainly not what I hoped it would be. I noticed that my writing has lost its compactness and has become corpulent. So, I thought for a while about getting a typewriter last week, since I can now type on a computer faster than I can write by hand and since the right amount of caffeine can help my digits keep up with my brain. But simply typing slower might not be the answer. The terseness with which I used to be able to write essays on Nietzsche and Sartre would have made Hemingway proud. There was a time when I could be compact, clear and consistent. Perhaps the way to get back to where my writing was is to write more by hand, not to get a typewriter or to act as if the ability to write better philosophy papers will just magically come back to me one day. It probably has nothing to do with a magical intimacy between the writer’s brain and the pen or pencil on paper. I’m sure that, for me, it has more to do with the fact that I learned how to put what is in my head on paper, not on a screen. And, in college, I had a system worked out that started with writing everything out. I never even tried to replace my system with a better one when I switched to computers. I seem to have expected the same results with a different approach. That doesn’t make any sense, does it? So, my resolution for the upcoming fall semester is to write more by hand, even though I’m a poor speller and even though it will take much, much longer to write papers. Too bad, though, that I am through with my course requirements for the PhD (no more required classes, that is) after this fall’s semester. What was it that the Romans used to say, “The owl of Minerva flies at midnight”?

August 06, 2004

Is cursive writing obsolete?

The old Faber-Castell pencil I used in kindergarden, one of my favorite possessions. I was reading this blog post about the waning of cursive writing, and I thought it was definitely worth posting about: Regarding learning to write, I must have done everything in a more old-fashioned way than I thought I did. In the first grade, we learned from a stern nun how to print perfectly. I learned cursive in the second grade. We learned only one letter a week, and we were held to strict standards. We were always required to write with a pencil, skipping lines. When our teacher decided we had good enough writing in the third grade, we could use all of the lines on wide-ruled paper. In the fifth grade, we were allowed to use pens! In my middle school, we were allowed to carry two #2 (HB) wooden pencils and one pink eraser in our clear pencil cases, and the evil nun in charge of the school made us hold our pencils a certain way, the way that she did. Everyday, the whole school (even up the eight and highest grade) had handwriting lessons, in order to make sure we would always write perfectly. Eventually, we were allowed to use pens, though we could only use ballpoint pens in blue or black. We had to hand-write our essays and papers and everything else. I didn't think anything of it. I got to high school, and suddenly, I was allowed to write anyway that I wanted to. In the tenth grade, those of us who were not in the band took typing class -- on old manual typewriters that needed to have their ribbons changed, badly. It took a while on a computer for me to stop hitting the keys with all of the might in my pinky. I guess it is a bit strange for someone my age to have had such old-fashioned writing lessons. But I am usually glad that I did. The old nuns got their way, and my writing is always legible, sometimes attractive, occasionally noteworthy. My mother has the most uniform writing I have ever seen, another product of our common struggle through twelve years in Catholic schools. I have some more things to share regarding writing and typing and how they relate to the writing process, but I'm tired. Stay tuned this weekend for more goodies, then.

August 05, 2004

Off for two weeks.

I can't remember the last time I really got drunk. I'm not a heavy drinker, and I go weeks without a single beer or wine or drink. When my friend Chris visited me in Southern Illinois in June, we poured some Sam Adams Spring Ale and went outside to throw around the frisby. The ale was flat, however, so we threw it out and went to the store to buy some Sam Adams Summer Ale. We came back and made coffee in the French press instead, and drank no ale. This is typical of my "drinking habits." I like coffee or tea better, ususally. I do, however, enjoy a nice, cold Sam Adams seasonal brew at the end of a paper sometimes. That said, I had one such frosty ale tonight to celebrate my research for the summer being over. It was beautiful to drink. I'm free now until August 23rd, one week before my birthday, when classes resume. Besides, I'm going to Baltimore next week, and I always drink a bit with my friends, my brothers, and my Dad. Cheers!

August 04, 2004

100th post.

What to do with the 100th post? I feel obliged to offer something profound, weighty, or at least worth reading. However, I just finished a 25-page essay for my summer research study, and I am a little tired in the brain. Maybe later, for the 101st post. So, here is what I would look like as a "South Park" character. According to my youngest brother, it is "perfect." (Thanks to Gary for the link.)

August 02, 2004

Bass in your face.

I should really have saved these photos for September 2nd, since that is the day that I got my first bass guitar in 1994. Yup, I've been playing bass for nearly ten years now. I have a million stories about playing bass, the trouble it's gotten me into, how I met some of my best friends playing bass in various bands, and how I met my wife playing bass in a band called Binda in 1997. But those are good topics for later posts. I am just over-joyed that I played my bass today. (Yes, that's a Fender Precision Bass, buddy.) My downstairs neighbors moved out, and I remembered that I had not played my bass in a shamefully long time. My fingertips were starting to have feeling in the skin again! I have been playing my mandolin more frequently than my bass for the last two or three years, since I've been nomadically living in various apartments, and since the mandolin tends not to shake whatever building it is in. But it's not the same as the hugeness and understated solidity of a bass. If you've ever played a bass or depended on a bass-player to hold your band together (Ha!), then you know what I mean.

Happy Birthday to someone in Baltimore.

Today is the XXth birthday of the person whom I admire and aspire to be like more than any of my other heroes, such as Thoreau, W. James, Hemingway, etc. He is also the man to whom my aspiration will undoubtedly and inevitably fall the shortest. Not many of people I know who are in their mid-twenties like their parents a whole lot – or, at least, few of them would be willing to admit it to themselves, let alone on the internet. Regardless, I unabashedly wish my father a very Happy Birthday today, even though I live 850 miles away.