I keep a lot of old papers. A LOT. When our moving van rolled over in an accident outside Los Angeles last summer, some people speculated that I didn’t have enough possessions to make this matter that much. The answer is papers. It’s all (mostly) papers.
Indeed, I’ve been known to say that I live much of my life as though I can assume that some archivist will eventually come in and take an interest in my old papers. Granted, that archivist may just be an older me at some point, but I still see a paper discarded as a grave tragedy. I’ve recently been able to do some purges of the really meaningless stuff, such as old receipts and bills, but it’s still pretty hard to get me to cut papers that I’ve taken the time to put pen to.
Often (as with the linked audio clip above), this is the reasonable subject of a small amount of lampoonery. But every now and then, even pre-archivist era, true gems emerge from the boxes and folders that justify the whole project. While searching for Emily’s immunization card last night, she ran across the following:
This document, circa mid-September 2002, was our outline of how to financially survive until October 2002. This crude effort at a budget, made shortly after we’d secured our first apartment, illustrated how close we were to running out of money at the time, especially with the desire to acquire a deftly illustrated “feline friend”. Emily and I remember the ensuing period as the “Month of Ramen”, when we holed up in our house with job listings and hot noodle soup and tried to figure out how we’d spend the next years of our life in the startlingly real world. Despite our concern that we wouldn’t make it till October 2nd jobless, it wasn’t until October 18th that one of us actually secured employment (my part-time job at Chapman).
We never went into debt or had to ask our parents for help. But we sure didn’t know it when we were drafting that document. We had no idea what the future looked like, but it looked potentially bleak. I know it’s no solace to the class of 2010, given how much worse job prospects are in the US now than eight years ago, but it is impressive how well life can turn out despite its scariest early rumblings.
I’m not sure whether I’m more horrified by the idea that we thought $30 could be a monthly cable bill or impressed by the idea that we thought to create this paper in such a forward-thinking light. It seems written for posterity, like some sort of declaration or defining document. Ultimately, I think we were just hoping it wouldn’t be our monetary epitaph.
The moon was crazy full tonight, approaching the kind of round perfection we are taught is never quite achieved in our mortal understanding. It stood as a stalwart reminder of why the energy seemed a little strange, overcharged perhaps. Enough to drive normally friendly rabbits into corners or normally social men into caves. After all, the depiction on the orb is one or the other.
As stated earlier, it was laundry night for me (miraculously, I seem to have not gotten a migraine). I normally sort of dread laundry in the way that I negatively anticipate most chores. They are monotonous, imminently predictable, and often require disproportionate energy and concentration relative to their ultimate value in one’s life. More aggravating than many household chores, laundry cannot be done while listening to a baseball game or music. I mean, sure, one could put a portable music device on and walk around listening, but the only point in having music on during chores is so one can loudly sing along and actively distract oneself. Being unable to do this would just augment the initial frustration of being concentratedly bored in the first place. And Mariners games aren’t exactly on while I tend to do laundry. Doing laundry in primetime is most unrewarding in Princeton’s Butler Apartments, especially at the volume that we accumulate.
Which is why I set out to do laundry at around 1:00 this morning. Normally there are at least a handful of other people around at most hours, but tonight there was just a lone soul packing up the last of his load as I arrived. I recognized the exhausted frustration on his face, the look of the last few items that one knows one should fold thoroughly, but one is becoming sloppy as real fear sets in that one might not be able to finish the laundry before needing to retire to bed. One starts bargaining with oneself about the safe and friendly patrons of the campus neighborhood laundry room, how no one would disturb the clothes if the last of them were just left in a neat unfolded pile, if just… one… more… shirt.
And I started to haul bag after bag into the room, unloading each completely before trudging to the car for the next one (I usually walk between our apartment and the laundry room with each independent bag, but I didn’t feel like traversing the distance for all five bags at a surprisingly cold 1:15 AM, so I drove the Prius circuitously around the complex to a prime parking spot in front of the fluorescent palace). The guy’s eyebrows were raising by the time I’d retrieved the third bag, but he was just about on his way at that point. Thus he missed the fact that my dirty clothes filled all eleven functioning washing machines in the room.
I mused at what might happen were the one other person in the complex who had been clever enough to wait till the middle of a Tuesday/Wednesday night to do their massive laundry to waltz in and drop their jaw at the row of churning tumblers. But said individual never showed, the product of academia demanding at least some sleep from those trawling toward finals. I noted that I had forgotten my book, jogged home for it and a few insurance quarters, and returned to settle in for the work that was barely underway.
The real pain of laundry, of course, doesn’t hit until the dryers stop spinning in their slow, tilty dying drones. At that point, it’s time to make an effort at folding and sorting, lest the five bags sit in hopeless mussed clumps at home, waiting for the cat to separate Emily’s shirts from my socks (we’ve done this before and it’s not worth it, trust me). This is what takes the real energy, mind-numbing and unsophisticated as it may be, and it comes when the enthusiasm for the project is at its lowest ebb. There will be no more time for reading, because no matter how fast one sorts, each dryer will stop before the last dryer’s load is sorted. There will only be time to try to think about something less dull than a catalog of all your doggone clothes, while still maintaining the focus to fold each neatly and sort them efficiently.
What I noticed tonight, amidst all this mental wrangling, is how much more relaxed about the whole thing I was than I am when I choose more popular hours for the task. Granted, I’m almost never there when it’s packed, but only once have I done the overnight thing and it was earlier in the night and closer to a weekend, ensuring that others at least darted in and out throughout my time in the room. There was something remarkably freeing about knowing that no one else was going to walk in, no one would eye my underwear or try to make awkward conversation (though this never happens in Jersey, frankly, despite being a staple of doing laundry in, say, the Bay Area) or give me a sort of abrupt head-nod if I said so much as “hi” (this is more the Jersey way) or create otherwise vague unpleasantries.
And then, of course, I started mentally composing parts of this post, pondering what details to retell of the laundry scene and how to convey my precise perspective on the chore. And I came back full circle to this bizarre conclusion that I couldn’t wait to tell a bunch of other people how much better I felt when I was alone.
And yet I relished the telling and the knowing that lots of other people would read this. Every bit as much as I dreaded the possibility of another person walking in.
Was this some grand contradiction in my perspective? Was I a hypocrite, or merely crazy? Could I really be thinking and believing both of these things simultaneously?
The answer struck me relatively quickly, to my general emotional relief. It’s not that the people coming in would be strangers and those reading generally aren’t – after all, some strangers do read this blog and I’m happy for the fact. And theoretically someone I know could’ve entered the bright hall of cleanliness and I’d still be less than enthused.
It was about free will.
See, every time you come read this blog (unless you’re subject to some Clockwork Orangeian experiment involving my impact on the unlidded human psyche, in which case my apologies), you do so voluntarily. And not just voluntarily in the way that people pledge money for their co-worker’s daughter’s fundraiser run, but legitimately of your own volition. You have chosen this activity over any other you could do with your time.
Granted, you might be bored or on Internet-autopilot or whatever, but your choice to interact with my perspective is about as unfettered as they come. You’re reading because you want to.
Meanwhile, entrants to the laundry room are certainly signing up for a date with Maytag’s finest, but by no means is my presence part of the equation. Sure, they understand that other people could be there and probably will, but it is no part of what they are volunteering for (again, unless – and this scenario is slightly less outlandish than the Clockwork Orange thing – they secretly seek out human contact in every trip to clean their clothing). Any interaction they have with me is functionally involuntary. A byproduct at best, but most likely an annoyance.
And that’s all there is to it. There’s something fundamental in my perspective that has always dreaded interactions with people who in some way do not desire that interaction, however casual or essential it might be. It’s not some secret desire to be liked or to have everyone want to interact with me, either, because I do nothing to try to bend these interactions into something enjoyable for others. In fact, I usually end up (less so than in my school years, but still at an alarming rate) making the interaction remarkably awkward, sometimes even by tearing up uncontrollably. This used to be a serious problem of mine in late high school and early college, usually manifesting with convenience store clerks and gas station attendants. These were not people I feared rejection from. I just felt intensely, a priori uncomfortable with the idea that I was abridging their free will so they could interact with me. That they felt obliged to interact with me, but clearly had no interest in doing so.
And I think, de facto, that’s how I see most public interactions with strangers. Obviously there are pleasant surprises sometimes, but generally it’s safe to assume that I’m part of the scenery. And I’d just as soon avoid any pretense or awkward attempts to bridge a divide based on a perception of polite obligation. This is why I got so excited the other day about the opportunity to order pizza online instead of calling someone in person, or why I opt for self-check-out kiosks in stores or movie theaters.
I know the arguments. In the latter cases, I’m helping put people out of work and destroying jobs, thereby eliminating livelihoods! But I would argue no one should have such jobs, and any system that makes us choose between people having jobs that are the functional equivalent of doing obnoxious chores all the time or starving might as well employ no one so it collapses immediately. And in the former, aren’t I making too much out of this whole free will thing? I mean, does anyone really choose anything?
I think this argument, more and more prevalent the more I talk to people, is what I find most disturbing. The idea that our wills are either chemically determined or otherwise imminently influenced to the point of predictability. While my deconstruction of this alleged reality is worthy of another entire, much longer (and less tired) post, I will stab wildly at the concept and accuse it of being one of the greatest threats to our humanity and hope on this planet. And as part of my evidence, I use this Kantian sensation I have about interactions with other people’s free will on a daily basis.
I stress that despite waxing on endlessly about free will for much of my life and being well aware of this phenomenon about my personal interactions, I don’t think I’ve ever linked the two concepts or labeled their connection until tonight in the laundry room. Which means that the reason I was feeling uncomfortable all those years was truly a priori, something I felt and intuitively understood, but could not articulate and was not really cogitating about.
Although the argument now occurs that making this discovery and connection in such a situation is exactly what makes mundane ridiculous chores like doing laundry all worth it. David Foster Wallace would be proud.
Used to be that I would get some pretty epic migraines. This was back in high school, before I started drinking coffee regularly, when I was out there in daily life with all the fluorescent lights and loud noise you could shake a stick at. There were migraines that lasted a full week and months when I had more time under the spell of the head-throbbers than free of them.
Then I started drinking coffee regularly, not intended as a migraine medicine (I was experimenting with actual migraine meds, to little avail but much consternation over the risk of stroke) and things quickly got better. Not great, but better. Then I started to make serious moves at trigger controlling after graduating college and things got quite a bit better. The last few years, I’ve been down to something like 30-40 migraines annually.
Enter April 2010. And the hammer dropped. With three days to go, I’ve notched 13 migraines, the longest of which lasted 36 hours (which used to be the norm, but is now sort of an impressive standout). And I probably have to do laundry at some point before the month is up, which has been the most consistent trigger since moving to Jersey (they really love fluorescents in our laundry room… it’s like a sort of shrine to the power of headache lamps).
I noted this April’s phenomenon earlier this month, hinting that maybe I was just on a really bad batch of coffee that was restoring me to the pre-caffeinated 1996 version of myself. While I haven’t tested against a different batch, I’m starting to wonder how to really isolate and test the factors. If there’s something more problematic about April itself, changing the batch of coffee May 1st doesn’t really demonstrate improvement on those grounds if the migraines go away.
What else could be going on in April, you ask? (Especially those of you who, let’s face it, haven’t fully subscribed to my theory that time is place and place is charged with meaning.) Well, there’s a lot of new theories running around about migraines being tied up with barometric pressure. And as I’ve learned since moving back to the region of the world where all our weather-based aphorisms about months hold true (e.g. March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb), there are a lot of storms in April. So that’s a lot of dropping barometers. At the same time, San Francisco is not exactly famous for its stable-to-rising pressure, and I logged some of my least migrainous years while working there daily. So what gives?
As with so much about migraines, I ultimately have to chalk it up to an ongoing mystery, try to test for certain variables (I really do need a new batch of coffee), and take relevant notes. And I must stress in this latter element that the symptoms are completely textbook. I really don’t think these are the early signs of some larger head problem, unless that head problem perfectly simulates frequent migraines. When you’ve had something like 600 migraines in your life, you get to know them pretty well. Except for those few fun outliers, like the one where I lost vision for a few hours or feeling in my whole left side. Those are pretty rare.
In other news, I’ve been watching a lot of sports lately. Last night’s migraine was prompted in part by the Blazers’ disastrous performance in their pivotal fifth game of the first round of the playoffs. (Incidentally, it’s funny that we always attribute headaches to having real-life sources comprised of frustration… probably true of minor day-to-day headaches, but largely untrue of migraines… although this one was caused in part by the lights in the Frist Campus Center where I had to watch the game, lacking cable at home, so…) I may watch the game tomorrow, though the Blazers showed me nothing to look forward to in that game. Although I guess they’ve been largely schizophrenic in this series anyway.
The M’s, meanwhile, finally won tonight, mounting a stellar comeback against the fact that Zack Grienke has no bullpen behind him. The AL West has thankfully been clumped enough that their late 4-game losing streak hasn’t buried them too far in the standings, so there’s still a lot of hope, especially since Cliff Lee makes his Mariner debut Friday. Since it looks like I’ll be out of the country for up to a month, I’m hoping they’ve built a substantial lead by the time I leave, but that’s making a lot of assumptions.
Like the assumption that we’ll get out of April someday.
I am proud to announce that Emily has secured an internship for the summer and will be spending early June through mid-August in Liberia.
If you’ve forgotten which country that is, here’s a refresher:
Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, you are free at last. You’ve said this many times in your life, but today you’re really hoping that it sticks. As a child, you ran away from injustice and oppression, only to
find new forms of it as you became older. Despite your many pains and struggles, you have eternally turned a hopeful eye to the future. You have long felt tied to those who first held you down, but their help has been dubious at best. Your favorite book is Roots.
Take the Country Quiz II at the Blue Pyramid
You could even celebrate with a T-shirt.
In all seriousness, though, I’m very excited for her, though not wild about how much of the summer we’ll likely be spending apart. This should fill in the details of my summer pretty quickly, though, which will lead to further announcements before too long. We’re both elated, though, to finally add Africa to our list of continents visited.
She will be working for the Liberian government directly, in their National Capacity Development Unit. More details to follow at some point on what exactly this entails.
April, you seem to be doing your best to make a late save here. I like it.
It’s probably no mystery that debate has been my primary focus this month, at least during the time that I’m not feeling surreal and/or migrainous. Between driving 7 hours to a tournament the first weekend, hosting our tournament the second, and attending the 3-day National Championships the third, it’s been a month dedicated largely to APDA.
Nationals was nothing special – in fact, much of it was an unmitigated disaster. In their first three rounds of competition, the Rutgers team faced the #1, #7, and #8 ranked partnerships in the country, who went on to place 2nd, 1st, and 8th in the Championship respectively. While they acquitted themselves largely admirably, such match-ups were enough to remove at a chance at the elimination rounds and the rest of the tournament became a tune-up of particular cases for next year. Next year still looks quite bright for the team, as no one who placed at a tournament this year is graduating, while this year’s senior class is quite top-heavy on most other teams.
Perhaps more infuriating than my team’s horrendous draw was my treatment as a judge at this year’s title tourney. Despite having the most overall judging experience and among the best debate credentials of anyone in attendance, I was not invited to judge rounds 4, 5, or the elimination rounds. Perhaps more amazingly, this was during the same weekend I was elected to serve as Tab Director for next year’s Nationals. The discord between general sentiment/presumption about my judging caliber (especially among many of the successful teams, who were just as curious about my exclusion as I was) and the decision-making of the small team of graduates running this year’s tab room was marked. While this really bummed me out for a while, I was ultimately able to be pretty Zen about the whole issue in realizing that next year, I’ll be able to demonstrate what an objective tab room looks like. Nevertheless, it prompted some disconcerting questions about whether I’m simply too old to be hanging around the college debate circuit, at least according to some folks.
And yet, one of my few roles at this year’s Nats was to explain the history behind APDA’s two awards named for deceased debaters, both of whom (as I noted in this year’s remarks) were younger than I am now when they passed. In 2007, I was asked to speak about Jeff Williams and declined, largely because I still hadn’t quite made peace with my difficulties on-circuit with the individual and there were other of our contemporaries present who seemed more sincere candidates for the job. This year, I was really motivated to explain Jeff’s positive qualities as a way of atoning for our acrimony, as a way of putting to rest any bitter tastes from competition now nearly a decade in the rear-view. I can’t much imagine Jeff would be pleased to hear that I was speaking for his memory, but I hope I pleasantly surprised him all the same.
Of course, I wasn’t speaking just for personal reasons. The larger point was to illustrate the importance of institutional memory in general, to remember that these awards to honor year-to-year excellence also honor the excellence of those who went before and are no longer around to discuss their legacy. And I guess the question arises as to how much stomach for such memory this debate circuit has. I was struck during the senior speeches by how generally positive and heartfelt they were. Almost no one called anyone else out. The two or three misanthropes in the league were lightly chided while most others were warmly lauded. I never envisioned during my last years on the circuit that such speeches could ever amount to such a lovefest. It was truly wonderful to see.
So maybe the memories of past rivalries and strife are unnecessary. Maybe APDA reinvents itself untethered to the past. Maybe my role is not to guide or advise or judge this new generation, but merely to coach my team, to try to build another rising program from the challenged ranks of the previously unheralded. Then again, of course, the election as Tab Director seems to belie all these misgivings. A whole other realm of the circuit, from tournament to tournament and in creating the 2011 National Championship, seems to appreciate my willingness to be both old and devoted to the circuit.
Ultimately, it’s probably best not to put too much stock in any one tournament. Even if it’s Nationals.
I have a whole summer to think about all this, of course… our last debate meeting is Thursday and we’ll part ways to regroup in September ready to tackle a year brimming with possibility. Meanwhile, I’ll be transitioning in a hurry back toward writing as the primary focus. While I haven’t exactly shelved my project this April, I’ve let myself focus on it less in exchange for the knowledge that I’m going to block out most everything else once debate is officially over. It’s been good to let parts of the book simmer and incubate and while the original May 17th deadline is starting to look truly unreasonable, I’m excited to take the best shot I can at it anyway.
Many people, meanwhile, are asking questions about different aspects of my summer, and beyond trying to finish The Best of All Possible Worlds by mid-May (or probably mid-June), everything’s up in the air. Emily still doesn’t have an internship locked down yet, and a great deal of my schedule depends on hers, though we will probably open her internship spending the most time we’ve spent apart since we started dating almost nine years ago. I don’t relish this thought, but I am eager to see as much of her internship locale (hopefully in Africa somewhere) as possible once that gets underway, even if it’s after a month or so of separation. As we get more information, the dominoes will start to align and fall and I will probably have a whole schedule of the summer ready to go. Until then, though, limbo.
Which is exactly what April feels like. What April always seems to feel like. And not the limbo of backbreaking stick-walks or even weightless space travel, but the limbo of its original use: purgatory. I am suspended in a kind of uncomfortable gray silence, processing the past and anticipating a foggy future still taking shape. Maybe it looks like ash, maybe like shaken earth. Maybe it looks like nothing at all. Were shaky, uncertain, somewhat miserable Aprils not so predictable, they would scare me. They probably did in high school, before I’d figured out the pattern, they felt like the end of the world. Now it’s just the world that feels that way. For me, April’s just being April. The cruelest month. When streams are ripe and swelled with rain. Fools. Showers.
Mayday. May Day.
From time to time, I feel the need to post a rambly cattle-call of happenings in my life and links around the web. I should start designating a day to do this and making it something like a regular feature, but that would probably require me approaching this blog with the discipline of a professional columnist.
In the past few years, Emily and I have never quite managed to get our taxes paid in full via check withholding. For a long time, the culprit was the division of her paycheck into two sources of income – one from PIRG’s 501c3 wing that did pure “research” work and the other from PIRG’s 501c4 wing that could do lobbying. When she’d get two checks each pay period, each would assume that it was the only check she was getting and thus guess that Emily was somehow making even less than the paltry sum PIRG offered her as compensation.
This remained a problem even when Emily fled PIRG for non-sweatshop employ, because the two checks we’d get as married spouses working would each be assumed to be the entirety of our married income. It’s like our tax withholding system is stuck in the ’50’s, assuming one steady job to support a happy family of four with a house and a raft full of deductions. Turned out the twentysomething full-time working couple with no assets and no kids was not what withholding could grasp in its automated little mind.
And for some reason, in all those years of tax filing, we insisted on getting our tax papers, along with the hefty checks for both the Feds and the state of California, filed by about February. It’s never precisely been pleasant to do taxes, but I’d do them or she’d do them and we’d get them in crazy early, along with our weighty little piece of paper offering a few extra thousands for killing Iraqis or building substandard schools or whatever.
Fast forward to this year, when we finally tricked the withholding machine into taking too much money from us by only working half the year! They assumed we’d maintain those income levels all year, when suddenly they disappeared mid-annum so we could flee to Jersey and live on idealism and ingenuity alone. According to early estimates, the Feds owe us something like $3,000 and we might not even owe either California or New Jersey a penny.
Of course, our taxes still aren’t filed. And their due, uh, tomorrow.
It’s challenging for me to theorize why we were in such a rush, while working day jobs for a combined 90-100 hours/week, to pay the state, but we’re now so slow, while going to school and writing/coaching, to get our money back. I guess it’s part of a long list of why we as a couple sort of break economics and the presumed incentives of the greedy individuals American capitalism was built for. It probably doesn’t help that the interest we could have accrued on that money over three months adds up to about a ha’penny. But even if it were 5%, I bet we’d be in roughly the same situation.
Maybe it’s just fear. When we owe money, we’re worried about someone coming looking for it, but when the money is due back to us, we’re not as concerned. This doesn’t really register with my conscious perspective, though – I never felt the IRS would come after me unless I actually breached the April 15th deadline.
Hopefully tomorrow, we won’t find out.
Congratulations go to Adam “Zimmy” Zimmerman, the grand prize winner of this year’s first-ever Blue Pyramid University Quiz March Madness Challenge. Zimmy wins an Amazon gift certificate and the adulation of hoops bracketeers everywhere.
Zim-Zim the Mayonnaise Man
News of a new set of brackets, namely that involving APDA’s 2010 National Championship if it were a 64-team single-elimination tournament, is forthcoming sometime early tomorrow.