Friday, April 11, 2014

Show Time

I spent this Wednesday morning finishing my weekly product review video, ate lunch, and then pondered what I should do for the rest of the day. The normal options are, catch up on bills, catch up on reading (I've been back-logged since I was approximately 12), work out, watch something on Netflix, or cook something particularly time consuming for supper. Somehow, I did none of those things. Instead, that evening found me 160 miles away, racing beneath the illuminated dome of the Pennsylvania State capital on the way to a concert I was late for––with half the band in my car.

But rewind.

Shortly after finishing my review, I got a text from an old friend, Pete. We'd met in Italy as teenagers  when he lived there and I was a student. We both came back to the states shortly after that, but to very different places, so I've only actually seen him and his wife, Amanda, twice in the five years since then. His text said their band was playing a show at a college in Mechanicsburg––that evening. Mechanicsburg isn't really close––but it's closer than Brooklyn, and a much easier drive. So, that was that.

Three hours––and one stop for coffee at Alabaster in Williamsport––later, I was driving slowly around Messiah College, feeling very much like a creeper as I rolled down my window and asked students for directions to the hall where the concert would be several hours later.

Just as I found the building––and ordered some wonderful cafeteria food––my friends showed up. They had setup to do, so, rather than get in the way, I decided to walk around the college a little bit. Was a nice campus, but it felt really weird. The weirdness wasn't that I felt out of place. More that two years after leaving a small, Christian liberal arts college, being their felt normal, and it was a jolt back to reality when I realized it wasn't. Girls playing Ultimate in a grassy field beside the school. students walking out of a night class still in conversation with their professor. Kids bent over books and screens in the library. It's funny how things change.

I got back into the concert room just in time to hear that there'd been some kind of disaster. A broken string––and the notable lack of a replacement––as it turned out. The nearest music store anyone knew of was almost half an hour away on the other side of Harrisburg, and rather than another band member driving Pete there in their van, I offered to drive.

So, fifteen minutes later Pete, Amanda and I were speeding through downtown Harrisburg and across the Susquehanna, on the phone with the music store which we found out had closed five minutes ago trying to get the salesperson to realize the gravity of the situation and stay open fifteen minutes longer. We passed the Forum where my high school graduation ceremony was, seven years ago, and I thought, again: it's funny how things change. Could I ever have possibly imagined the things that would happen in my life between walking across that stage and now? Could I have possibly imagined I would be back there that night, doing this?

My reminiscing was ended by nearly hitting a car as I cut diagonally across the spaces of a huge outlet parking lot and lurched to a stop in front of the music store. After all that, the salesmen were still there standing out front. When they tried to give Pete the wrong strings, though, and then proceeded to crash the point of sale system by logging in after-hours, we ended up sitting there––seconds ticking down to showtime, for almost twenty minutes.

It was an even wilder ride back to Messiah, but despite my best efforts, things started a few minutes late. Once they started, I don't think anybody cared, though. It was a great show.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Shape of My Heart

So, I really like Sting. Believe it or not, I actually can remember hearing his music when I was three or four––I was sitting on the floor in my grandparents' living room when it came on the TV set––and thinking it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. And then I didn't listen to it again. Period. That is, until relatively recently when I decided to give it a go again on the high recommendation of one of my former professors. And, I've found I love it nearly as much as when I was three. I've also found I enjoy playing/attempting to learn to play it myself now, and it inspired me to do something I haven't since I was an anxious something-teen year old. So here is my cover of "Shape of My Heart." I assure you, it sounds nothing like him, but if you're in a benevolent mood––or better yet––if you're slightly drunk, feel free to give it a listen:


Saturday, April 05, 2014

I had a positive interaction with the DMV. No, really.

I have had some frustrating experiences with the Pennsylvania DMV in my day. If you've known me for long, you've probably heard me tell some before. If you only know me from reading this blog or from some other venue on the interwebs, then you probably have not heard me talk about the Pennsylvania DMV, but that is only because I refrain from talking about it online, because anything I hither-to-now had to say about it might have been interpreted as a threat of terrorism.

It's not just a PennDOT/PADMV issue, though. Living in Tennessee for a couple years, things with T-DOT were no better, and my friends in New York always seem equally frustrated whenever they speak of it.

The acronym "DMV," it seems, is almost universally synonymous with bureaucratic density, inefficiency and stupidity. One might almost use the idea of having a positive interaction with the DMV as a potent metaphor for improbability: "When pigs fly I'll...." "It'll be a cold day in hell when...." "'ll be the day I have a good time at the DMV."

But this week, it happened. 

For reasons that are rather complicated, at work this week, I needed to find out how many trucks weighing above 26,001 pounds trucks were registered in Bradford County.

A similar study done in the state of Wyoming that I was using as a template cited county treasurers as the source of the information, so on Tuesday I fired off an email to our treasurer in Towanda. The next day, though, I got a response back that she didn't know, or have much idea who might.

My next guess was the DMV. It was a logical guess, but not one that I was very hopeful about that Wednesday morning. In fact, as I filled out the contact request form on and clicked submit, I was about as hopeful about getting a helpful response back as I would have been petitioning the government of Nigeria to provide me with accurate data on internet commerce conducted across its borders.

On Thursday, though, I received a courteous and not at all automated looking reply from someone at the DMV saying they'd received my question, but that it would require further research and they had forwarded it to their "research department."

This, was at least something to tell my boss, but I didn't feel particularly more hopeful. In college, saying something "required further research" was always one of those famous-last-words phrases. "Thank you for for submitting your application, we will contact you if it requires further attention." "It was just a misunderstanding, honey, trust me." "While the authors of this paper strongly propose the superiority of hydrolysis to the use of a reagent in the decaffeination of coffee, a real argument of the issue would require further research." 

Yesterday afternoon, though, while walking back to my desk and pondering how to go about getting information for another segment of the study that seems even less accessible, my phone rang. It was a woman named Cindy at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. She said their research department had looked into it, and asked if I had a pencil ready. She then directed me to a bank of non-searchable PDFs on their website that contained the information on vehicle registration in all counties in PA. The most recent data on those, however, was from 2012. So she said they had looked up the as yet unpublished numbers from 2013. And then she told me the exact number of trucks weighing over 26,001 pounds in Bradford County, and wished me a nice weekend.

And that, friends, was the day I had a positive interaction with PennDOT.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Pain and failure and endings

It's over.

That was it.

We'd better go to bed soon.

I dread that moment. I dread that feeling. I dread those words.

We're impermanent creatures who live an impermanent life. Everything comes to an end. There's nothing we can do about it.

Yet I live so much of my life in fear of that moment. That moment when whatever I'd been waiting and working for hours, days, months or years to feel, comes to an end.

I hate it. I hate it so much that I sometimes avoid doing anything just because of it.

For a long time I was a runner. I'd run for hours and hours not because of anything that it did for me, but because it was something that I could keep on doing, and doing, and doing. Inevitably, though, I had to stop. And I hated that. Hated how it felt.

For the pretty recent past, I've tried really hard to structure my life around things that don't lead to obvious ends. Not too much of this. Not too much of that. Margin. Consistency. Structure. Discipline. Onward. Forward.

Even those things ultimately come to the same end, though.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway wrote about a "deadly wheel.... that drunkards and those who are really mean or cruel ride until they die." Being one thing, and then trying to compensate for it by being another thing.

I've spent a lot of time and effort trying to escape that wheel ("It was making me dizzy for a couple of times," as Robert Jordan said).

But in the end we can't get off of that wheel, can we? We can only change the duration of the cycles. Even the best choices and the lives lived with the most wisdom come to the same end as the worst choices and the most foolish lives.

"The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, 'What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?' And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.... How the wise dies just like the fool!"
(Ecclesiastes 2:14-16 ESV)

"I wouldn't trade one stupid decision––for another five years of life," sings James Murphy in Pitchfork Media's #2 song of the 00s, All My Friends. In my worse moments, I'm inclined to agree with him.

And yet it's not even a trade we have to make, is it? Who can say that by not making a stupid decision they have five more years to live?

Everything eventually falls apart. That's the real reality.

For a long time, my response to that was despair. And there was a sort of abandon in that that felt good to be sure.

Growing up, I always felt a great deal of pressure to do something. To be something. To "make something of myself." Of course, I eventually realized that we aren't successful at  everything, whether it was school, relationships, church, etc. and all those things end, no matter what. When I finally came to the understanding that everything inevitably does end in disaster, though, I felt like it gave me the freedom to not do anything.

Lately, though, on the up-cycle of that old wheel, I've been coming back to another thought: Since everything ends in the same disaster, why not do anything? If the right thing and the wrong end the same way, then why wouldn't you do the right thing?

Believe it or not, for a brief (and rather depressing) time in my teens, Ecclesiastes became one of my favorite books of the Bible. But it confused me with its seemingly bipolar swings between saying how wisdom met the same end as foolishness, foolishness as wisdom, so on and so forth––and then ending by saying wisdom was what you should pursue.

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them'; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain....  or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 ESV)

I'm sure I'm likely wrong, but I wonder if the reasoning behind that isn't the same. We don't do the right thing in a situation to keep it from ending. Rather, we do the right thing because it will end.

God is ultimately the only unfailing, unchanging Person, so in light of our frailty and impermanence, shouldn't we remember Him? Even if our efforts often do fail?

Pain and failure and endings are all a part of life. But what if instead of being paralyzed by that reality, we should be empowered by it?

And maybe not feel quite as disillusioned when it happens.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Lent - My Useful Excuse

This afternoon I made the completely unplanned decision to get off of social media for Lent. I realize Lent technically started today, but the truth is it being Lent is only an excuse.

I've always scoffed at people who gave up social media just for the sake of giving up social media. Somehow for the last few months, though, I've had the growing urge to do just that. But because of my previously stated stance I needed an excuse. So, when I heard an old friend was giving up social media for Lent, I decided the excuse had arrived.

I haven't really decided if the fast is going to include blogging. With the lack of interesting activities and compelling stories I've had lately it's probably kind of irrelevant, though. I doubt I'll post anything even if it's not against the rules.

Facebook, Twitter and Google+, on the other hand, are definitely gone till Easter.

We'll see how it goes. Maybe when I come back I'll have something to write about because of it––as if fasting from social media/internet and then writing about it weren't the most overdone thing on the blogosphere.

At any rate, if you need/want to contact me and have no means of doing so outside cyberspace, leave your email address in a comment and I'll get back to you with mine.

Have a nice Lent.

- Andrew

Friday, February 28, 2014

In my day, we had winters that....

This morning I got on Amazon to check my affiliate stats for the day before as I usually do while I'm eating breakfast. Before clicking through to my account, though, I saw an advertisement for swim trunks, and thought: "I need some new swim trunks"––the last pair I bought at an H&M in Austria fit me at the time, but since 2009, either they've stretched, or I got skinnier, which has led to some obvious problems.

Soon, I found myself scrolling through pages of swimsuits pondering the same question Adam did when he took the fruit from Eve's hand and bit it: Board-shorts, trunks or racing jammers (briefs should never be a consideration) and wondering what would be most comfortable for a long day at the beach.

Then I wondered something else: Why am I looking at this now?

I'm sitting in front to the computer, in a sweatshirt, flannels and skullcap, two feet from a space heater, and still shivering. It's about 10°F outside, and in all likelihood, it will be another month and a half before any of the snow that's clogging my driveway melts, and another two months after that before I feel like getting anywhere near any body of water for 200 miles.

Obviously, it has been a hard winter. Even the crankiest old people I know who are usually inclined to say: "In my day, we had winters that were..." now admit to that fact.

We've had snow-cover consistently since before Thanksgiving. I've lost count of the number times it's been bad enough to not be able to drive, and while we certainly haven't had the deepest one-time accumulations I can remember, this one wins for sheer relentlessness.

It usually gets cold up here in the hills, but it used to always be a novelty when the mercury actually dropped below zero without factoring in windchill. Something that happened a couple times a year. Not this winter. It seems like most mornings I go out to start my car it's in the single digits or worse. It's got to the point where the other day I turned it on, read 13°F on the flickering dashboard display and thought: "Well that's nice," with complete sincerity.

On a national scale:

Heating propane has reached a record high, and even regular natural gas has hit the highest level since the fracking boom in 2008, prompting calls for emergency FERC intervention to divert more fuel north.

Meanwhile in the south, civil infrastructure has been stretched to the breaking point, snow related car accidents have skyrocketed, and Lowe's is actually considering selling snow shovels.

Okay, I made the last one up.

On a personal scale:

I flew off the road for the first time in my life.

The pipes in my room froze. Twice.

The propane furnace in my parent's house that I live in by myself malfunctioned and filled the entire building with gas before dying completely and leaving me to heat the entire building with a wood stove (with which I'm lucky to keep it above 55 on the worse days).

I've 1) become something of a master at getting cars unstuck from snowdrifts with nothing but a shovel, and 2) nearly set my clutch on fire more times than I can recall.

Don't get me wrong with all this. I really like winter, and snow, and cold and all that. I like it until about January, and this year was no exception.

Now, though... now I'm browsing the men's swimwear section of Amazon for no logical reason at all.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

In One Universe

I don't usually care much for my dreams. The happy ones tend to be flat and illogical and the vivid, realistic ones are almost always nightmares. Last night, though, I had one that wasn't really either of those things. And it made me stop and wonder.

It involved things I was planning on doing for a long time, but then decided against and was grateful I did so. Some things I am currently planning on doing. And also, some things that I didn't do, but wish I had done.

Only in my dream, these things were all wrapped together in one, concurrent universe. I can't really describe it, because parts of it were rather graphic. I will at least tell you, though, that it involved the Gulf of Aqaba, a girl who tutored me in a subject I was very bad at my junior year of college and who I had a terrible crush on but never asked out because I figured she thought I was retarded, and a Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier.

That's right.

It was very strange.

Even though it was a universe that never existed all at once, I can't help but feel that––in some distorted way––it's my mind mirroring the spot where I am right now. Kind of at a place where whatever is behind me up till now doesn't really mean much or have much connection to the present, and a lot of different paths are in front of me, but somehow I feel like they all lead to the same place.

Complete unknown.

Anyway, sorry for the pseudo-prescient mind journey thing. You should read some Frank Herbert. He does a better job at it than me.

I guess the real, main reason I started this post was because I'd like to tell you about my dream. I just can't find a way to do it tastefully. Alternately, I'd like to tell you about my life, but I can't really think of a way to do that tastefully either.

So for now, it's back to waiting.