Thursday, December 24, 2009

2009 - A Year in Review - zeus sitting on a whoopee cushion image

Is this post a little outdated? It most certainly is. I was in the middle of writing the 2010 year in review when I found the following article already written. It's a great night in bloggamy when you find an unpublished, completely written article requiring only edits. Something to know about this post is that it really was written a year ago and so I decided not to change any tenses to reflect the current date. In order to understand this post you'll have to put your 2009 thinking cap on and read it. From the perspective of this article, you're in the future!

:: Obscure Fame ::
First, let it be known that fame comes in variety of formats, many of them being: wealthy, a popular entertainer, CEO, or crazy. Below the International House of Fame, are the smaller huts and igloos of local or obscure fame. Yup, obscure fame. For instance, imagine your blog about random life moments while working toward a graduate degree is in the top four search results for the following string of text in a Google search: "zeus sitting on a whoopee cushion image." Now further imagine that you didn't make the cut for the top three search results for that same search pattern. That is obscure. It's obscure fame when it turns out you're number four in the search pattern because people have located and navigated to your website 7 times already! I'm really moving up in the world.
I'd be very happy to help produce a shirt if someone wants to design one that incorporates these key pieces into one design: "zeus sitting on a whoopee cushion image," "From Riches to Rags: The Journey of Gradudate School", and "7 hits." I'll be very happy to sell your shirt on this blog and we can split the profits. That probably means we'd order two shirts and split the cost, but hey... that sounds good to me.
In true irony... the only other registered search phrase that has guided people to this blog has been "graduate school and being broke." That search pattern fostered only one hit. I just don't get it, but I do relish the strangeness and quirkiness of it all. My goal is to have this blog be number one on the list when someone searches for "zeus sitting on a whoopee cushion image." I need your help. In one month's time, I need 19 (the largest prime number less than 21) people to travel to this site using that search listing. We can do this!

:: The 2009 Year-In-Review Preamble ::
There's so much to tell this time around I'm not sure it will all fit. Perhaps a cursory survey of everything with choice details to make the story entertaining or a chance delightful. Maybe however, it is best to start with the immediate moment and expand the story's universe from there. As ideas explode from the origin of a single thought today's journal will originate from the theme of music. However innocuous this seems, I hold to be true the idea that the world is saved and lost in the little things. These are the things that surround us so completely we depreciate their affect, thereby giving them more influence.
I've recently made the switch from music with lyrics to music without lyrics. When people sing, they sing of things that will move us. The number one topic for people to sing about is Love. Ah l'amour. Screw it. I have better things to do. For instance, I'm currently enrolled in a master's program. You may, or may not, choose to believe that this takes a considerable amount of effort but is at this moment more important than the often demotivatingly pedestrian search for Love. To prove this point, my professors are still assigning homework. Your letters to my professors begging for my release from this travesty are very appreciated. Keep sending them. One of these days I'll have no more homework, but I’ve lost the point.
The greatest thing about music without lyrics is that it has all the passion of lyric music, but now in place of someone else's words is the chance to implant my own feelings instead of absorbing a stranger's broken romance or struggle against her father to keep her illegitimate half alien baby. I have plenty of struggles without needing to absorb a stranger's. So I choose to begin the stories here because this is a place to begin releasing drama. Is it hypocritical that I write of freeing myself from a stranger's well-sung upset while at the very moment writing about my own moments and stories? I think not. If you were forced to read this then perhaps yes. Until that time, I'll keep sending the "Thank-You-for-Reading-This-Blog" Bribes Checks.

:: You Can’t Go Home, but Facebook Will Let you Plant Crops while Trying to Swim Upstream ::
You can't go home. You can't stand in the same river twice. You can't unsee what you've already seen. Life is the river and Facebook is a most curious looking glass through which to view it. Past and present merge to create access to new movements in old relationships while furthering the current relationships. 4:03a, listening to new music previously outside of the accepted scope and perusing the past and present via Facebook, is a perfect moment to look at the river and see it new again, as a stranger looking at a painting free from the nuanced artist's struggle seeing only paint and none of the history that created the strokes of paint. To release the past with fresh perspective is freedom. To revisit the past while planting virtual crops in barren virtual fields is Facebook.
For many years I have thought to ask strangers if they knew of my friend George Costanza or where he was. And for some of those many years, I did ask random strangers if they knew of my friend George Costanza and where he was. I know it’s odd to do such a thing. I didn’t honestly believe they would know him or would even fess up if they did know him to a total stranger. The world is more complex than most people give it credit for; which is curious because the complexity is daily driven by those people who think the world isn’t complex, who often lose the grandeur of the moment to a jaded pessimism from a perspective of the entirely un-magical inner workings of Life.
To show that I’m not entirely muddled by bats in my belfry, I approached only a select group of strangers who all shared something in common with my friend George Costanza. Everyone I approached was a Mormon missionary walking the streets of the Earth in attempt to spread a word of their choosing. Growing up I had many Mormon friends, and George Costanza was one of them. I hope by know you’ve realized “George Costanza” isn’t my friend’s true name. It’s a moniker used to protect his identity.
Ever since leaving Texas, at the age of 15, I have moved from one address to another, every year, for 18 years. In this much transition, I have lost contact with many good people, especially the friends of my childhood: George Costanza, Beatle Bailey, Alanis Morisette and Casanova Frankenstein. Facebook has allowed me to connect with a near forgotten past, to see again joy in old memories, to connect with my dear friends and to discover which friends are still dear and which are now wonderful memories. Thank You Facebook for connecting me to Alanis Morisette after all these long years.

:: Christmas Day ::
For years now I've been wishing random people "Happy Holidays" during the winter seasons instead of the more Christian centric "Merry Christmas." I didn't start this to fall in line with any rules of political correctness. I found it to be the greeting that conveys my wishes that people be happy, it's commonly accepted, and it makes no pre-judgement about someone's faith or beliefs. Heaven forbid I wish followers of Christ or Mohammed a "Happy Channukah," or any manner of the opposite. The honest intentions may not tranlsate well. Only one person this season took the time to "correct" me and say something to the effect of "We celebrate Christmas around here." I can't remember thinking about any of this while riding my bike in the snow on Christmas day. I can remember regularly hoping I wouldn't slip on the ice/snow.
I've never made it a habit to be dangerous or do crazy things. I have always made it a habit to do something once I put my mind to it. I get a little blind when I decide something. This trait is clear throughout older posts. I've been cooped up in my house for about four days now because my car has been in the shop. On Christmas Day I decide that I Really want chili, homemade chili. I don't live close enough that making the walk, in the snow, seemed like a good idea. That left only one option... my bike.
My bike is beautiful. It's an old Miyata (Japanese model from the 80's). It's got a steel/chrome/molybdenum alloy frame with more than 2 gears and somewhat less than 101. It's a road/racing bike. It's quick and light with dry weather racing tires. Even as I write this I can't help but chuckle a bit. I know it's ridiculous to bike in the snow on tires without tread, but I got my mind set on chili and chili I was going to have. So I put on 5 shirts, 2 pairs socks, a multitude of undergarments that are best kept undisclosed, 2 pairs of gloves and mind full of all the things that can go wrong when biking in the snow on slick tires, going uphill. The first trip to the store wasn't that bad. I had both of my saddle bags and plenty of bungee cords to hold the rest. The major problem with this whole trip (overlooking the obvious weather barriers) is that I only know how to make chili one way: in large servings. When the shopping was done I probably quadrupled the weight of my bike with: 6 cans of beans, corn and soup, 30+ batteries, 2 quarts milk and OJ and 2 lbs of 80/20 beef (if your beef is too lean you lose the flavor) and hotdogs (mmm.. chilidogs for Christmas).
The worst part about the whole trip? Realizing that because I shipped all my ex-girlfriend’s belongings back to her I now didn’t have a cooking pot. So I resaddled the impossibly thin road bike and trekked back into the below freezing temperatures, uphill, with treadless road tires and had to figure out how to attach a two gallon cooking pot onto a small bike rack.
The best part of the whole trip? Chili dogs...
Was it worth it? You bet!

:: Making Poor Look Good ::
I started the year 2009 with a fire engine red, dashing, cunning, stout and dangerous 1996 Jeep Cherokee Sport. I think you know by this point that my dashing chariot of four-wheeled mayhem rolled itself into a heap of great fiscal sorrow. One hole in the exhaust manifold (no less than $1000 fix), one transmission that wouldn't start in first gear or stay in fourth gear at high speeds ($1900 - $2200), one upholstered ceiling lacking in upholstery adhesive. You know... you never realize how irritating a failing upholstered ceiling is until it gently buffets your consciousness while you're trying to focus on the road ahead. It’s like a little, plush puppy nipping at your heels, or accosting you with its constant barking. It’s like the cat that is nowhere to be seen until you take the first step down the long staircase and it somehow magically appears under your feet, and each step becomes dangerous if your focus slips for a second. It’s like the sibling that’s having a bad day. You know a random punch is waiting to happen but you’ll never know when until after the air has been forcibly driven from your lungs. Except the plush puppy nipping at your heels and the cat isn’t trying to kill you (this time). Failing automobile upholstery is more like an anti-gravity, terry cloth octopus continually buffeting and cuddling against your head while you're driving, an infirm Jeep Cherokee.
Perhaps a better way to picture the scene is to think of driving. You're in the driver seat, turning the wheel to follow the slight bends in the road and you feel this slight weight on the top of your head. It's at this point you realize your car is playing the game of I'm-Not-Touching-You. Even when it actually isn't touching, you can feel this nervous spot on your head, anticipating the very moment when the failing upholstery will blanket your head, inciting small panic attacks, with anti-gravity, terry cloth octopi encroaching your very personal boundaries. There were a few other problems with the Jeep. The locks were going and there was some clear body rust burying into burnt-orange tunnels within the steal exterior. So... one thing to do. I sold the Jeep for $500 and bought a new vehicle.
With the Jeep out of the way, this left me open to purchase something I'd been wanting for a long time. I could now buy anything that was in the fiscal realm of a broke grad student. This meant that I was looking at used cars. Not “used” as in the type you buy a few years after they were made, think older. It also means we're not looking at cars that are in mint condition or close to it. Whatever I purchased though it needed to have style; it needed to speak to my artistic sensibilities. It needed to grab me and say "Hey Man! I may be old, but I'm classically sexy enough to make poor look good." That's a tall order on an emergency, grad student budget of please-don't-make-me-pay-for-anything-can't-you-see-the-whites-in-my-eyes. At first I had time on my side. I could look around and see what the used car world had to offer. While up in Wisconsin for a trip I spotted something old, something antiquely sexy, and something cheap at a local orchard. Sitting on a grassy curb sat maroon elegance, understated by today's standards, exuding weathered and tested confidence and pedigree. My eye spied the 1976 Mercedes Benz 300D (photos enclosed).

The car sat in a barn for nigh on 15 years. My favorite moment was test driving the elegant, maroon tank through a Wisconsin orchard. Grayed skies hung low but bright overhead. Snow lay in mounds throughout the rows and columns of empty trees and for the most part everything was still. The Benz reaches a mighty 88mph with 65hp. The owner let me drive the Benz through his orchard and though the drive was short there's no forgetting the feeling of driving a moment of time from thirty years ago through an empty, quiet orchard passing by trees with all the reckless abandon one can muster going 15 miles an hour over a dirt road. Braking at the end of the road pulled the car hard to the right which is not a good sign for a broke grad student; this means 95% guaranteed brake repair. So... I had to think more upon this car. It gets points for classy, elegant, and making poor look stylish. It loses points for probably making poor be unbearable with suspected future repair bills. Which brings further irony to the question of automobiles, later to come.

:: So You Think You Found a Deal ::
I couldn't honestly reconcile the risk of getting such an old Benz, regardless of its elegance. The initial cost was too high and the expected cost of near future repairs was risky. So I settled on something more better, more cheaper, more risklessier, more unelegantier and generally more morer. So... what caused me to pass over a 1976 300D, with matching hubcaps and front bumper mounted lights? See graph 1.

Oh that's right. I am now the owner and operator of a 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan. I'd brag about it but... Oh! I did get it at quite a deal, as you can see from the graph. While the coolness factor is below zero, the cost factor is close to zero. Initial purchase price: $1600. She's silver, seats 7, which is enough room to hold my laptop. Oooh, both sides have sliding doors and it fits in my garage and the gas mileage is fantastic. I can drive over 400 interstate (300 something in town) miles before having to refuel. Some of you may already be able to do this but you gotta remember, my previous car got 14-15mpg on the interstate. I could go just over 220 interstate miles before having to refuel. Oh, did I mention that in the past month it's needed $1100 in repair? Time to make a new chart.

:: Grades ::
Despite the trials of the Fall 2009 semester, it seems I do best in the Fall. I had three classes: TECH 646, CGT 581c, Independent Study. TECH 646 was a good class. Surprisingly it wasn't as boring as it could have been. The course was a research methods course. Ugh... my fingers tire at even writing that brief synopsis. I know... boring, boring, boring. But! The professor made all the difference. Somehow, a three hour class at night on the subjects of research practices, data analysis, testing methods and all that gibberish was made interesting by expert delivery. The professor has an immediate presentation and clear sensibility defined by: alert eyes, clean and discerning dress, and a quiet, collected, competent reserve. Were it not for the professor's ability to engage students and allow students to guide class conversations I would have reshaped my ear drums with scissors while running really fast, with bacon streamers clipped to my nostrils, chewing on mentos while drinking diet coke, rubbing baconnaise in my armpits. Luckily that's not what happened.
By the end of the semester I was burned out. Moments come to us sometimes where we come face to face with the state of our self. I hit this wall where I couldn't continue. I wanted everything to stop. Everything became overwhelming. Everything became heavy and everything became scary. I didn't think I was going to finish the semester. When it came time to finish the semester and take finals I couldn't study. I tried to want to study. I tried to reach deep down and pull out a miracle of motivation and triumph. What I found though was It's not quite a device to further motivation, but I have to say I became pretty good at killing fake dragons with a very large bow and arrow.

Burnout sucks. Killing dragons saves lives.

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