Saturday, August 1, 2009


Greetings to all who read this,
This moving journal marks important events of recent times. I completed my calculus course. This cause for great elation. So please elate, I can wait. As always if you're reading this and wish you weren't I can remove you from the list. If you're not reading this and wish you were, we need to have a deep philosophical discussion. Tonight's installment marks the first time math has been used to generate multiple laughs in one journal entry. You will need to remember some of your calculus in order to truly get some of the jokes. Anyone who's suffered enough math to get these jokes deserves to have jokes written for just them.

Ants Carry their Dead...
I bet you didn’t’ know this. I know I didn’t. I had to see it with my own eyes.Certain types of ants carry their own dead. After one close encounter I had with an ant, who shall remain nameless, I killed it. What moved me about this particular ant lay in the events that unfolded after the ant had a near-miss with my hand ( I say "near-miss" because it nearly missed my hand. This correction in word usage I borrow from George Carlin). I saw fellow ants roll-up to the scene of their slain ant-fellow, inspect with their feelers, and then one ant picked up his/her dead comrade and began walking away. Normally I'm all for ants cleaning up after my messes but I couldn't have more ants returning to the scene of the crime. I had to whack the witnesses. I made these cute his-hers matching cement shoes (12 pairs in all). Ants all share a similar shoe size so fitting them wasn't hard. Now, they're swimming with the fishes.
In addition to the invasion of my home by ants, I am also visited by spiders. Eesh... I hates spiders. I think it's all those legs. The spiders and I were having something of a land dispute over who exactly ruled this territory. In matters of land dispute, or most matters in general, it is important to communicate clearly. Because spiders speak no language other than their own dark, ultra-high frequency death cackles, I knew I had to teach them to read English. So, I created a perfect trap, an infallible trap. You’ll find on my kitchen counter some baby books, grammar flash-cards, followed by Dr. Seuss, the Sideways Stories of Wayside School and the Spiderwick Chronicles. After this, the literature graduates to more serious and technical materials: Beowulf, Chaucer and Whitman balanced against the dry logic of the Robert’s Rules of Order, Common Sense, and old copies of the Bar Exam. At the end of this literary obstacle course lay my lease agreement and a large collection of virgin, nubile and supple flies. The trap is set. The flies are temptation. The baby books and remedial English books are there to teach the spider English. And to lease agreement is to prove, bryond a reasonable doubt, that I am the rightful renter.  By the time they reach the top, those tiny spiders will know enough English to know it's time for them to move out.
I sit silently in my kitchen, waiting for my first crop of literate spiders to read, once and for all time, that this land is my land. I’ve been sitting here, waiting for the spiders to read my lease, for 3 weeks now. I think they’re in another room building a human sized spider web in the doorway. It's almost completed.

   It is done. Calculus class is over. I finished my final exam early today making sure I now don't have to be present for the rest of the course. This makes time for me to travel to New Orleans for Siggraph (computer graphics convention). After Nola, I'll be in Boston for a week. I remember calculus to be particularly challenging, from the last time I took it. I was last enrolled in a calculus class at the University of Illinois, at Shampoo-Banana, during my undergrad. This calculus class I found much easier. It allowed me the space to drop it early and take Russian Literature in its place. Somehow I found the summation of depressing Russian authors to be less weighty than the summation symbol itself. My first go at dropping calculus was made easier by the strange and wondrous vocal inflections and heady dialects of my instructors. The professor was a German mathematician of note, whose note I lost so I can't remember his name. His teaching assistant was of clear descent. He came from an area in the Eastern Hemisphere, south of Russia, east of India, north of Australia and west of the Pacific. I could always tell when he was speaking because his mouth was moving and clearly and intentionally vocalising some manner of gibberish. It sounded like copper nails falling on piano strings. To be honest I couldn't understand a word he said. I tried very hard. I really wanted to like math even if I had to enjoy it clandestinely and not tell the other painters. Because calculus has a high rate of change of student enrollment I found it all to easy to keep this joy so clandestine that I forgot about it until 12 years later in the middle of my second attempt at a calculus class. I couldn't have picked a better or worse time for round 2.
     On the heels of a break-up it is often recommended to "get back on the saddle," or "do something with yourself," or "hey buddy, my eyes are up here," or "get out of the house you stank-nasty hermit and change the shirt you've been crying in for the past four days." Anger is a fuel by which we keep reminding ourselves not to call him or her back. We are reminded by way of intrusive memories and occasional Alanis Morissette songs that we deserve to be treated better than we were before and just how angry that person made us. While anger can keep us away from temptation to reconnect, if left unchecked it can become its own malaise (at better times) or its own sleep-depriving obsession. Sometimes you gotta feel what you gotta feel and there's no way around that. But when there is a way around it, swapping sources of anger can drain the intensity of a bountiful ire. In fact calculus is a wonderful proxy on which to focus your anger, when you seek to affect the rate and change in rate of you anger. Calculus will let you scream ghastly obscenities at it, at the very heightened expanse of you lungs. Ne'er will calculus take it personally. It is committed to being just as difficult after a 10-minute, red-faced, drool-inducing, verbal slug fest, as it was before you shouted those perversions of nature at it. Thanks calculus. After all my effort (38 homework assignments, 10 quizzes and 4 exams, in 7 weeks) I expect a C in the course... perhaps a B-. Damn... that won't look good on the transcript.  The last exam was was a bruiser. From the very moment that exam was handed to me, its gnarly eyeballs stared me square in the face, set its equally square jaw, inflated its menacingly saggy jowls and howled mathematical belittlements at me... for two whole hours. It called me the little root to its big square. It said I'd never be a numerator, only a denominator. It even said I was easier than finding the antiderivative of a constant and cheaper than an internet calculator. Believe me, that's just mean. I managed to slightly shame it with a few well placed jabs and even a hook, like knowing the limit as x approaches 0 of sin(x) over x or knowing when L'Hospital's rule was unnecessary. Easy. Solving the indefinite integral of cos(x) + cosh(x) all raised to the power of fear squared... that was more difficult. At the day's end, the points were awarded by the judges as follows: Calculus Final Exam score: The Riemann Sum from 0 to 64 with f(x)=x-cubed :: Britton's score: shame. After 1.5 hours of the test the formulas started to look like the sounds my first calculus teaching assistant made when he spoke.
       You know what Calculus? You're not invited to my birthday party anymore.

Bloody Knuckles...
   I'm a man. Therefore I like to punch things and blow things up. If I could get those two things on a comforter and wallpaper trim I'd decorate my son's room in such manly glory. "May he be a masculine child." I've found that the feeling of busting at the seems is a fantastic opportunity to try something new, or grow a little, or even just brutalize a punching bag. Brutalizing a punching bag is awesome. If I could put that feeling in a bottle and carry it with me I would. Maybe I need a portable Weeble. Like calculus, a punching bag feels no pain nor regret at being verbally assaulted. Unlike calculus, a punching bag will taunt you until you let loose and deliver every ounce of frustration in a fusillade of spastic punches and violent upper-body twitches.
     A punching bag, even the non-canvas types, require taped fingers or gloves. One of the many services a punching bag provides is the liberation of wimpy, sissy skin from your knuckles. Just a few robust minutes at the bag and your dermis is birthed joyously into a loving world by repeated punches against a semi-soft, inanimate opponent. The punching bag I have is the type whose base you fill with water or sand. I filled mine with water. Because of it's relative lightness, my punching bag fears me. The range of problems that can be worked out on a punching bag are broad. Having a case of the Monday's? Taking calculus? Suddenly Single? Having trouble sleeping? Having trouble staying awake? Bored? Have too much to do? Too much stress? Have a punching bag and don't know what to do with it? A punching bag can address or completely resolve each of these problems.
    My knuckles have been on the continuum of bloody to calloused for over a month now. I proudly tape my fingers before each round against my foamy aggressor and smile if I happen to leave some extra skin on the punching bag. I'm a man. I like to punch things and blow things up.