Saturday, August 28, 2004

So It Begins

Today marks the official start of the new semester at school and if things go as planned, this will be the last semester in which I'll have to take any structured classes as I'll be completing all the requisites in my program of study. *doing happy dance* All that remains is an additional few semesters of research, a seminar, and the masters degree will be finished. I suppose I could wrap up the thesis research sooner, but the additional work will certainly be of benefit as I hope to enter a PhD program somewhere in the near future. If there's one thing to guarantee entry into a doctoral program is demonstrated research ability. And publications. So the extended time on the thesis will achieve both of these goals. Of course, given my past history, I'll probably still take classes just for the fun of it.

Yeah. I know. I'm a sick puppy.

I've always quite enjoyed the college experience, which is surprising given just how much I absolutely detested high school. Very few fond memories from that period of my life. College turned out to be so different. You're not "spoon fed" the material and whether you sink or swim...well, that's largely up to you. I found this new approach to academics surprisingly appealing. After receiving my bacholors degree in the fall of 1997, I took a semester off to do the "enjoy life" thing. About two months into the break I was missing the challenges of acadmeia in the worst way. So I began taking classes for "fun" and formally started the masters degree program in January of 2003, in a field entirely different from my undergraduate studies. Going from liberal arts to the sciences required a bit of an adjustment, but so far so good. Unless I totally drop the ball this semester, I'll finish the masters with a GPA somewhere around a 3.96 or thereabouts.

Anyway, off to get a coffee refill and get started on the day.

Monday, August 23, 2004


I took half day off from the office so I could get some things done around the apartment. Many things were on my list, including laundry, cleaning, and continue working on the thesis. So what did I do first? Took a long nap. Oh well...the sleep was probably needed and I've gotten quite a bit done since I woke.

Yesterday I went down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to get a little sun and let me Jeep play on the beach. I did get a bit of a tan (ok..more than tha tan. I look like a lobster), but had second thoughts about taking the Jeep onto the beach, mainly due to the fact that I have not yet "prepped" it for beach driving. I've taken it out onto the sand before and it handled things well, but I don't want to make a habit of that until I get the appropriate equipment for beach driving: portable air pump, small shovel, rope, etc. The last thing I want to do is get stuck in the gathering dark miles from the nearest house. The more important element of beach driving is deflating your tires down to 20 psi which creates a flatter surface (meaning you shouldn't get stuck quite as easily). So this week I'm going to look for a portable air pump. I have one more free weekend before the semester starts back, so I'm going to try to spend it back down on the OBX.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Chili Man

Living in a semi-urban environment gives one the opportunity to meet the most unforgettable characters, both good and bad. This is not to say that small towns lack their share of eccentrics; the most certainly have them, but in a much lighter density (per square mile) than one finds in the city. I grew up on the outskirts of a small town and remember well a number of people whose lives and overall impact on the traditional quietude of life were more colorful than a highway strewn with dead clowns (which is one of the reasons maximum occupancy laws now exist for those teeny cars they drive).

One of the most eccentric individuals from my youth was known only as The Purple Lady. She was an elderly woman who presumably lived alone in the then-rural northern part of the city. No one ever saw her, so she was this great mystery. She got her reputation not by who she was (of which we knew nothing), but by what she did. As her "name" implies, she was quite fond of the color purple. Her little clapboard house set back off the road behind a field was painted purple, as were the tree trunks in her yard. Even her mailbox was purple. And she didn't stop there. All down the road on both sides of the house she painted the telephone poles to match as high as she could reach, which couldn't have been more than five or six feet high. She must have done this in the dark of night as no one ever caught her in the act, which would have made the front page of the local paper had someone done so. But with the passage of time, her little house fell into disrepair and became overgrown and the purple on the mailbox and telephone poles faded. Eventually, the land was sold to a developer and a subdivision now stands where the Purple Lady once lived. All traces of her handiwork long since disappeared until one day not long ago when one telephone pole near where she used to live was painted a familiar color no more than five or six feet high.

And Im not making this up!

While Norfolk certainly isn't New York, or even Washington, DC for that matter, it is large enough to harbor the eccentric characters one finds in larger cities. To the list of occasional goths, punks, The Crying Lady, The Dirty Old Fool, and What The Hell Is That, I have to add The Chili Man.

On the way home from work the other afternoon, I stopped by a convenience store. As I was waiting in the ridiculously long line (which kind of took the whole notion of "convenience" from the stop) I noticed a gnarled, gnome of a man standing by the cheese/chili machine at the back counter. Ragged, filthy clothes, unkempt beard, and hair that probably hasn't been washed since the Reagan Administration, the poor old chap was evidently homeless. Or had had a really long day. He stood there looking around the store, at the clerks, at the customers, all the while with his hands wrapped tightly around a 40 ounce Colt 45 (the beer, not a gun). I felt sorry for him and wondered why he would take what little money he had to buy beer instead of food, which he obviously needed.

I soon had my answer.

He inched closer to the chili and cheese machine and set his beer down on the counter. Suddenly he began pressing the button that dispenses the chili which oozed out into a mound in the palm of his left hand which he then shoveled through his beard into his mouth. He did this several times, shovelling it in like a man possessed. Like a ten time champion at one of those pie eating contests at a county fair defending his title. I was shocked. Convenience store chili couln't be that good. Finally he licked his hand clean, then ran it all over the catch plate and nozzle of the machine to clean up all the residue, eventually leaving the machine covered in smeared chili and whatever else may have been on his hand. By the time he took his place in line, someone *ahem* had notified the manager of the situation who went over to clean things up. The Chili Man assumed an air of angelic innocence that was spectacularly betrayed by the orange/red chili residue all over his beard and mouth and hand wrapped tightly again around the beer bottle.

Before I get any hate mail from my one reader (Mildred in Utah), I do hasten to add that I'm not trying to find amusement at The Chili Man's expense though it may seem that way on a superficial level. I guess what I'm trying to do it get at the basic elements of human nature, the choices we make when faced with untenable circumstances.

Saturday Afternoon Ramblings

Went out this morning to visit the parental units (and raid their garden) and returned home a short while ago with bags of all sorts of vegetables that I'll certainly put to good use this coming week. Admittedly, I don't visit the 'rents as often as I probably should, but in my defense, I do stay a little busier than I would like with my own comings and goings here in Norfolk. They understand this, so they don't go overbord with the guilt trips for not visiting.

So now I'm working my way through a cup of particularly strong coffee that I just procured from the shop across the street (they did indeed ask where I was this morning). The goal is to become sufficiently caffeinated to start plugging away on the thesis draft that I mentioned in my post of earlier today. I've nearly reached the caffeine level where research and furious scribbling are possible, so I suspect I'll have the thing wrapped up this afternoon once I get started, which is always the most difficult part. Once I get going on such a project, I can usually make good progress in no time at all. So we shall see. One eccentricity on my part that may slow the creativity process a bit is my old habit of writing out such research by hand. I use the same tired old mechanical pencil I've had since starting college way back when. And I've always used the same style of yellow legal pad as well. When it comes to such academic pursuits, I'm certainly a creature of habit.

Saturday Morning Routine

As a change of pace this morning, I decided to make coffee here at home instead of going across the street to the local coffee shop. I'm sure they're wondering what horrible misfortune occurred during the night to keep me from my daily ritual (the commercial from years gone by with the old woman crying "I've fallen and I can't get up!" comes to mind). More than likely I'll make an appearance over there later on before they start issuing cups with "Missing" and my picture plastered on the side.

So here it is, Saturday morning and I'm not sure what's on the agenda for today other than assorted chores and tinkering with my masters thesis. I must have a draft completed this weekend to turn in to my advisor by the first of the week. I've been somewhat indolent this summer towards completion of the draft, so a self-imposed deadline will certainly inspire academic creativity over the next two days.

At any rate, off to be productive.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Is It Friday Yet?

Suffering from a slight headache this evening that is probably the result of too much coffee combined with the typical stresses of work. Though it's a far cry from the debilitating migraines that I have on occasion, it's annoying nonetheless, a shadow on the edge of perception.

It has been quite the week at work. Between personnel issues, logistical problems, budgets, and so forth, I wonder why anyone would ever want an administrative position. I certainly do not thrive off of the authority this position provides; rather I see it (and the associated headaches innumerable) as just a part of the natural career progression. I suppose the one thing that keeps me going more so than anything else is having a passion for my chosen field. I've never minded waking early to go in to the office (once I've had my morning coffee), staying late, or going in for a few hours on the weekends as needed. An while there are some days I question my sanity in my choice of professions, such thoughts are fleeting and in the average of things are more than outweighed by the more positive aspects. I recall an old saying (it may have been from a fortune cookie a million years ago) that went: "if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." This as certainly proven valid over the last few years.

So I guess the keys to happiness are: love what you do and take fortune cookies seriously.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Storm Watch

Cloudy, warm, and very humid here in Norfolk on this early Saturday morning. After doing its thing in Florida late yesterday, Hurricane Charley is over the Atlantic and heading for the Carolinas, the effects of which should be felt here late this afternoon and evening. We shouldn't see anything more than just a strong tropical storm, but as such storms are so unpredictable, who knows. Since the ground here is so saturated from weeks of heavy rain, the biggest concern is just how many trees Charley is going to bring down.

Despite their destructive nature (and perhaps because of it), hurricanes are quite the fascinating phenomenon. It's humbling to experience such raw power; in the ultimate contest of man versus nature, the latter reins supreme. We can deforest and pollute the Earth, exploit it of mineral and ecological wealth, and mold it, change it's landscape to suit our own interests, but from time to time nature shows us that she's still boss. No matter the length humans go to set themselves apart from nature, to raise themselves up from everything else in the world, its but a fanciful dream easily crumbled by water, wind, and other natural elements.

I've long been fascinated by storms. I was born during a severe summer thunderstorm (or so I was told anyway) and remember as a kid the excitement of approaching storms: the dark, angry clouds gathering on the horizon, the distant rumble of thunder growing ever louder, and the first few drops of rain from the darkened sky. Back in my single digit years, my family and I would often sit on the screened back porch and watch the approach of storms, at least until an ear-splitting crack of thunder and lightning sent us scurrying for safety inside the house.

One of my fondest childhood memories was walking the fields behind the house after a heavy storm. On many occasions, rainfall was heavy enough to wash away the topsoil between the rows of whatever crop was planted that year which often revealed a treasure trove of scattered Native American and colonial era artifacts (points, pottery, buttons, pipe stems, etc) on the surface just waitint to be picked up. While I've since learned that such "pothunting" is discouraged by those in the archaeological profession, I was unaware of this as a kid and spent many blissful hours walking up and down the rows picking up this and that and returning to the house muddy and wet with hands full of newfound objects that needed to be washed, dried, and sorted into various collection boxes. I believe it was archaeologist James Deetz who called such fragments of material culture "treasure without price." This is certainly true as in the monetary sense, such bits and pieces of the past are worthless. But to a daydreamer of a kid growing up on the old family land, they are indeed priceless.

I haven't walked those fields in over 15 years and I suppose my old artifact collection is still at my parent's house, stored away with the other once-cherished remnants of growing up in rural Virginia.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Please Dress in Forgettable Attire

Today was one of "those" days. I rushed home from the office so I could get some laundry done before going out this evening. Laundry facilities in my apartment are down in the basement and there is never a wait to use them. Except for today. Both washers were full of clothes presumably recently washed. Strategically placed laundry basket on top of the washer, the drier door open with a heavily scented drier sheet already inside. Not a problem, I thought. Work in progress. I'll check back in about an hour and get my stuff going, once the owner begins to dry their things. Besides, I really don't like the idea of digging through someone elses clothes, even if it is only to transfer them to the laundry basket. I would be afraid of stumbling across something that would cause permanent emotional damage.

An hour later I go back down and, behold, nothing had changed. Very curious, I thought. How could someone forget their laundry? Perhaps they were stuck on the phone with some long lost aunt from Utah. So I gave them more time.

An hour passed with no change in status. I was over it. So I placed the laundry basket on the floor and forked all the unmentionables from the washer with a stick. Still kinda damp looking, probably washed yesterday. An hour and a half later when my laundry chore was done, those clothes were still sitting there, forgotten. Perhaps the owner was called away unexpectedly on some emergency.

Or maybe they just ran out of quarters.

Anyway, enough of such nonsensical prattle. I'm off to be productive and promise that I'll write something more substantial next time.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Martha Stewart Strikes Back

The condition of my apartment has been vexing me for some time now, so today's major goal was to bring things back into order. Not that it was dirty...far from it. Nor was it in a state of disrepair. The problem was twofold: 1.) the accumulation of day-to-day clutter: a pile of books over here, a stack of bills over there, and other little things that seem to have lost their place as of late and 2.) a general feeling of "incompleteness" in the way the apartment was set up. I've been here almost a year and things have never felt quite right. Maybe there's something to that feng shui business after all.

So today was a flurry of domestic activity that would have made M.S. proud: Putting books back where they belong, throwing away bills (Ha! who needs them anyway), and other similiar efforts that have made a world of difference. The most significant impact was rearranging some furniture including moving the dining table (once I located it under a pile of books) and lugging the futon from the study/guest bedroom back to the living room. The advantage of the latter is that I have more room for guests to sit when they visit and now they're not quite as inclined to spend the night. A true win-win situation if there ever was one.

More work remains, particularly with the study/former guest bedroom. If I'm in the mood tomorrow for further domestic endeavors, perhaps I'll leave the office early to finish things up. The study will take some time as it became the "catch all room" soley to deter overnight guests. If it wasn't so late, I would begin working on it tonight, but I want to do some reading before bed. I'm satisfied with the progress today, though. Domestic activity: "It's a good thing." Im going to hell for saying that.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Sleeping In

I crawled out of bed this morning around eight-thirty, which for me is seriously sleeping in. I'm normally up around five-thirty regardless if it's a workday or the weekend, so I feel a bit out of sorts and guilty this morning for the extra three hours worth of sleep. There are probably two reasons why I slept in this morning: 1.) I was up too late last night reading; and 2.) Unseasonably cool temperatures make it difficult to leave the warm confines of the blanket.

I've always enjoyed being an early riser for reasons more than just being first in line at the local coffee shop (Me: "Ha! I'm first! I'm first!!). Rising at an early hour gives me ample time to get myself organized to start the day. Even on weekends when there is usually no pressing issue (e.g., reporting to the office), the early morning hours are nonetheless rewarding on a personal level. Going for walks around the neighborhood as life begins to stir is certainly one of the fondest experiences that I'll long remember when my time here in Norfolk is up. On occasion, I'll make the half hour drive out to the Virginia Beach oceanfront in time to watch the sunrise. It's almost a spiritual experience being practically alone on the beach with nothing but the sounds of crashing waves, the occasional call of a gull, and the Sun rising over the eastern horizon.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Full Plate

Just wanted to hammer out a few lines before I'm off to bed. While it's still a bit early to turn in, I need my sleep. Tonight is one of those rare occasions that I feel a bit daunted by the number of things I'm trying to juggle. Between work, finishing the masters degree, and finding the time to engage in some semblance of a social life, I feel as though I'm stretched a bit thin. The important thing is focusing on one thing at a time and keep in mind the fact that this level of activity is not permanent. Another semester or two and I'm done with least until the next academic goal appears on the horizon.

But then again, a good night's sleep and a cup or two or coffee to bring my caffeine level back up to "normal" and I'm ready again to face any challenge, any amount of work.

Naming of the Blog

After glancing the Outer Banks of North Carolina and dumping a lot of rain on the whole area, Hurricane Alex now spins out to sea. The most significant impact here in Norfolk was street flooding, so things could have been much worse. And when you own a Jeep, street flooding isn't really that bad a thing. It needed washing anyway.

One of the more challenging aspects of developing this blog was coming up with a suitable title, something reflective of me and my perspectives on life. I tend to be a person atypical of what one would expect of a 32 year old guy of relatively rural Virginia origins. I certainly don't fit into any particular category and I wanted the blog title to reflect this. But then again, how I perceive myself may differ considerably from how friends see me. Hence the challenge. While I trust their judgment, naming the blog is not a committee project. As such, I chose the title most appropriate to where I see myself to be at this point in time. Five years ago the title would have been different with the same being said for two or five years from now. Such is the evolutionary phenomenon known as life. At any rate, "To Whatever End" was among the short list of possible titles that also included:

"River of Life:" wayyyy too dramatic and reminiscent of a Richard Dawkins book on human genetic variability since the dawn of mankind.

"Field of Meaning:" again, too dramatic.

"My Life:" too ordinary, though worked well for Clinton.

"Journal:" Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

"The Diary of Anne Frank:"

"To Whatever End:" This sums up well my current perspectives on life and, consequently, my humble place in the grand scheme of things. Certainly, this title implies a fair amount of uncertainty, but that itself is the most sublime and beautiful part of life. Not having a road map, open to all possibilities, and no path to follow other than a general sense of where you want to go. Just go, just "be," and make the most out of every moment, whether it's the accomplishment of some goal, or just being alive, aware of the present moment. The end is not important; it's the journey that truly counts.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Rainy Norfolk Night

Great. Tropical Storm Alex is churning up the Carolina coast bringing with it the promise of more rain. After our bout with Hurricane Isabel last fall, this is just what we need, particularly since my refrigerator has not long recovered from the "twelve days without electicity" smell. Depending on the ultimate track of Alex, we may get soaked or emerge relatively unscathed. The latest forecast track has the storm a bit to the west of where forecasters originally predicted, so it looks like we're in for rain, rain, rain.

But as for right now, all is quiet save for the tree frogs and crickets calling in the dark.

So here is my first blog entry. Admittedly I'm a bit apprehensive typing my innermost thoughts on here knowing full well that everyone (ok..probably just some old lady in Utah) may be reading them. I've long kept a hand-written journal, but this particular form will take some adjustment time.