just when you thought you were too old for snow days.

I couldn't really explain the reluctance to go sledding, but I could surely feel it. Every time it snowed, every single time, Ashley asked if I wanted to go sledding. And every single time, I said no. Maybe it was all the work involved in just getting dressed to go sledding, the layer after layer of clothing you have to put on, even though you just know snow is going to end up in your pants.

But I relented this afternoon, put on three pairs of pants and who knows how many shirts before trodding out to a hill behind the math building down the street. I hesitated before going down the hill, watching others go first. I hadn't been sledding in years, maybe since I was twelve or thirteen. Finally, I found myself watching the bottom of the hill rapidly getting closer, and then the sled turned and I was watching the top rapidly getting farther and farther away. Snow found itself in the first of my pair of pants.

After a few runs down the hill, we hiked up a littler further to the mother of all hills behind the music building. It was long, it was steep, it was flanked by two very large, very brick buildings at the bottom. Again, I waited to take my turn, much longer this time. I remembered being very brave, or maybe it was stupid, as a kid. At some point, I had lost all that.

I went down the huge hill once. Snow in the second pair of pants. The climb was ridiculous. And then I got to the top, sat down on my sled, and just watched everyone else. I was done. The way I saw it was that I had one more pair of pants that didn't have snow in it, and I wasn't taking any chances.

Our little group was joined by several other groups quickly, mostly guys, though a bunch of giggling girls with matching Gap ski outfits took on a gentler hill behind us. The guys, they were idiots. I don't know who it was exactly they were trying to impress, whether it was the girls, each other, or God Himself with their defiance of gravity and their own mortality. They went down standing up, they went backwards, they talked in excited tones about "360's" while I highly doubted they even knew the geometry behind the term. And they were technically doing 180's, though I didn't bother pointing that out to them. Instead, I mused over using radians to describe their moves with Ashley. "Whoa! That guy totally did a two pi!"

So it wasn't a terrible time. I wasn't miserable, but I don't see myself giving in the next time Ashley comes bounding into my room with her long underwear on, begging to go sledding, even as endearing picture as that makes. Now I have a much more concrete reason not to go, that being that I don't get much of a thrill out of it. I could probably find something warmer to do.

Something where you don't get snow in your pants.



"You can't put everything into boxes. Everything doesn't just fit into neat little shoeboxes."

She said it, angry at me, angry that someone could still believe in such an unenlighetened idea as the shoeboxes. I guess she was angry at me, she was angry at most everyone. She was arguing with someone else, but as a believer in the shoeboxes, I felt attacked just the same.

Godel's Theorem has many profound implications, both for science and for philosophy. ...

Godel believed in the shoeboxes, I'm sure of it, though if I ever said that to the math teacher that told me about Godel and his theorem, she'd think I was crazy. Actually, it was Godel that was crazy.

I didn't defend myself, didn't defend the shoeboxes. Maybe I looked like I wasn't even listening to the two people arguing, one my friend, the other a bi-polar water faucet that ran scalding or freezing, so I could never do more than dip my toe before jerking back and hiding in the corner. I didn't want to look like I was listening - I wanted to look detached from them, as I if I were quietly having my own deep thoughts. I saw no point in contributing. It's not like I could change anyone's mind on such a faith-based idea as that of the shoeboxes.

Godel's message is that mankind will never know the final secret of the universe by 'finitistic' or constructivistic thought alone;

No one believed Godel either. Not because he wasn't right, but because no one wanted to. People spent their whole careers looking for the shoeboxes, and then he went and said they didn't exist. In Godel's time, it was still very popular to believe in the shoeboxes. It was American to believe in the shoeboxes. Godel was German.

Now it's my time, and believing in the shoeboxes is almost a sign of unintelligence to those intelligent enough to not believe in them. "If you believe in them, then you obviously haven't thought about it, because I have, and that's not the conclusion I came up with." She never said that, and if you asked her, she would deny feeling that way, but she felt that way just the same. I had thought about it, years ago when it first occured to me that there may not be shoeboxes after all. And maybe I wasn't smart enough, because I did not come to the same conclusion as she did when she thought about it.

it's impossible for human beings ever to formulate a complete description of the natural numbers.

Poor Godel, he was one of those who spent his career looking for the shoeboxes, but he was the methodical type. One step at a time, that was the way to the shoeboxes. The first step was to simply prove the shoeboxes existed. But then Godel proved the opposite, and the rest of the steps became pointless.

I was listening to them, though. The fact that I remember the evening at all shows that. It was at night, a mid-summer night without the dreams. We sat on the edge of the parking lot next to the soccer field. It was early in the evening, before curfew beause I was never the kind to break curfew. I was pretending not to listen and looking out into the field, watching rabbits as they hopped around, nibbled, and thought nothing about shoeboxes.

There will always be arithmetic truths that escape our ability to fence them in by any kind of finite analysis.

Godel thought about shoeboxes, though he didn't know it. The shoeboxes are a philosophical idea, or maybe a metaphor for a philosophical idea, and Godel was a mathematician. The two things don't overlap much. I wasn't good with philosophy. That's why I studied math, to avoid it. To avoid those conversations where I listen and don't say much, not because I don't have anything to say, but because I can't say it well enough to come across as an intelligent human being. Well, sometimes I don't have anything to say. Either way, I don't say much.

And I never said a word that night. I never stood up and yelled a defense of my beliefs so forceful and eloqent that the rabbits didn't even run away, but applauded their little rabbit paws. Staying out of the discussion was as characteristic of me as never breaking curfew. Predictable, aloof, safe, boring.

As Rudy Rucker has expressed it, Godel's Theorem leaves scientists in a position similar to that of Joseph K. in Kafka's novel 'The Trial'. We scurry around, running up and down endless corridors, buttonholing people, going in and out of offices, and, in general, conducting investigations. But we will never achieve ultimate success; there is no final verdict in the court of science leading to absolute truth.

My math teacher used Godel as an example of the price of brilliance. After Godel disproved the existence of the shoeboxes, he went crazy. He screwed up the beliefs of so many mathematicians, himself included, that I guess it got to him. He starved himself to death because he thought everyone was trying to poison him and would not eat. I'd like to be brilliant without the price. If I could find the IQ with the maximum amount of intelligence and the minimum amount of mental and emotional instability, I'd like to have that. But I suppose it's too late for all that now.

She wasn't a math person. I suppose she was good at math, because she was probably smart enough to be good at everything. But she was interested in saving the world, social issues and deep thoughts and other things I didn't care about. I doubt if she knew anything about Godel. I didn't know anything about Godel then either, and wouldn't know for another four years or so. I'm glad she didn't know because I would have hated to hear her use Godel as evidence. Godel would've hated it too.

However, Rucker notes, "To understand the labyrinthine nature of the castle [i.e., court] is, somehow, to be free of it."

Really, Godel didn't prove that there were no shoeboxes. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, such a great name for a theorem, proved that there was no way to represent mathematics in its entirety by a simple set of axioms or truths. You can't take half a dozen or even half a million true statements and derive the rest of math from them. If anything, he proved that there were no shoeboxes when it came to math. But if mathematics doesn't fit into shoeboxes, how can life, the universe, everything?

And there's no understanding of the court of science that digs deeper into its foundations that the understanding given by Godel's Theorem.

Maybe it's the same, and maybe it isn't. Maybe there are shoeboxes, neat little shoeboxes that Someone could put the whole world into. Maybe the likes of she and of I and of Godel are too small and too simple to see them. For all our intelligence, we don't know everything. Maybe there are shoeboxes, and therefore Someone large enough to put us all into our place. She doesn't know for sure, I don't know for sure, thought we're both arrogant enough to think we do.

I guess Godel knows now, but he's not telling.

From Casti, J.L. "Searching for Certainty", Abacus, London. (pp.381-383)

Godel's Incompleteness Theorem


the importance of the mix tape.

The making of the mix tape is an art form. This fact has been covered, I know, but I don't think people realize it yet. People still think that a mix tape is just a tape of recorded songs that someone gives you and you can like it or hate it. That's just not it. And even though we are in a new age now, where mix tapes are obselete and mix CDs are where it's at, the fact remains that the gift of a hodgepodge of music for enjoyment and judgment, no matter the media, is very serious business. But for simplicity's sake, and in homage to our roots, we'll stick with the term "mix tape".

I think the idea of the mix tape has gotten a bad rap. It makes you picture an unkempt guy, maybe he looks like John Cusack, giving a beat-up tape to a girl, who immediately chucks it into the trash. Maybe it looks like a desperate and pathetic attempt to win a girl next to the wining and dining that so many men use for courting. In some cases, this is true. The mix tape is not going to impress everyone, because its only weakness is that to work, the receiver has to listen to it and be open to what he or she is hearing. And not everyone will. Not everyone will realize the importance of it, and put it in their stereos, even out of courtesy to the hard work you put into it. Those people are jerks, and really, did you want them all that much anyway?

But the rest of us, the non-jerks, we'll listen to it. And then the mix tape can do it's magic, but only if it's made properly.

Many a good relationship traces its roots back to the making of mix tapes. You meet a girl, you think she's cute, you want to see a lot more of her. A well-made mix tape will put you in this girl's house or car, with her at all times in ways that you could not do with that bulky human form you carry. It will make her think about you, when maybe otherwise she would have been thinking about someone else, probably someone more attractive and more intelligent than you are.

Now, mix tapes are not all about impressing new people, say people that you find intriguing and would like to find more of. I've made many a tape for people I've known for a good while, people I know already like me and think I'm cool. That does not mean that I do not give a lot of thought to the making of their tape. Being cool is about maintaining the aura of cool, and just because they've known you for forever doesn't mean that they won't judge you based on this little piece of music.

Regardless of your particular audience, you want the mix tape to say good things about you. The receiver will not only be judging the music on the tape, because that would be too simple. They will be judging you based on the tape. Maybe this song will say that you're sensitive, this other song will say that you're fun, this last song will say that you are versatile. You want to show a variety of feelings here to represent you as a multi-faceted, yet well-put-together person. Don't think for a moment that it's just about the music.

Because it's all about judgment. I met a guy once at his house. He was a friend of my friend and we stopped by to visit him. I had nothing really to add to the conversation, so I spent some time examining his movie collection. He asked me, "Are you one of those people who judges people based on what movies they have?" I said that I was, but then I tried to figure out who wasn't one of those people. The same goes for music. I look at CD collections, too, and I determine how tragically hip or how ridiculously uncool you are, and how good your tastes are. I can decide that you're probably a pretty cool person, but your tastes are rotten, like if you have a lot of little-known bands that aren't very good. Of course, I know them, and I know that they suck. Or I can decide that you haven't a clue at all. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll decide that you too are cool, and that you probably already know the importance of mix tapes.

So this mix tape, it's a sampler of your music collection, a sampler of your personality, of your coolness, of your tastes. How will you measure up?

You want songs they probably do not know. If you recorded a song from the radio, at least from popular radio, it does not go on the tape. Period. If you recorded from public radio or some underground radio show, then that is acceptable. But that song had better not seen the light of a Billboard list, unless it was a good fifteen or twenty years ago. Sometimes you may want bands they don't even know, though that is a tricky thing. Just think, the receiver of your mix tape may hear a song from a new band, fall in love with it, go buy ten of the band's CDs, and develop a new favorite band, all because of you. That's what we're going for, people. Then, the band is associated with you. Every great song they wrote, you get credit for. Of course, with new bands, the person may hate them all. And that's very very bad. It's a thin line right here, because knowing bands that other people do not know about is a sign of coolness, particularly if the bands are good bands. And you want a certain amount of coolness, so that the person almost envies your cool and wants to become as cool as you are, perhaps by being around you. If you are not cool, then perhaps you should go more with the wining and dining rituals.

So you've got your track list, you have your twenty or so songs that you feel present the best image of you. You are so not done. The ordering of your music matters, too. The tape has got to flow, which is hard since this music is probably a hodgepodge of styles and feelings. I personally like to start out with a good upbeat song that has a strong opening. It's the first thing they hear when they pop this bad boy in, it better make them turn their heads to look at the player and go, "Hmmm, I'd like to get married and grow old with the person who compiled this," or whatever reaction you're going for. And I like to finish the tape with a long song, maybe with some jamming or guitar solos, something that will linger. Whether the tape ends with a good feeling for the listener will help determine whether or not it stays in the player.

But in between those songs, there is a lot of room to play with. You want to make it seem like these songs were written one after the other, that they were meant to follow each other in this order. Some songs are more difficult to place then others, like if you have kind of a goofy song on your tape. If it won't fit anywhere, do the best you can and hope for the best. Of course, you should try to choose songs that go together at least somewhat as much as possible. Not that they sound the same, but just not that they are on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. There will be many great songs that should be shared, but not necessarily with certain other great songs. Just cut them from your list and hope that you get the opportunity to make another tape where they can be included.

I feel like I should continue to elaborate on all the nuances of mix tape creation. I should illustrate with examples of good and bad track lists, excellent and poor song order choices. But if I have not convinced you already, then there is nothing else I can do. I have to console myself that mix tapes are not for everyone, that not everyone even wants to appreciate mix tapes for the effort of love that they are. Some people have enough money and enough lack of a personality to impress people with gifts that are not homemade.



the cabin in the woods.

Unique three room house with sleep loft in Blowing Rock. $400/month.

That's what the ad said. And though $400 is a little out of the range of rent that I wanted to pay, the thought of living in an actual house by myself made me copy down the information a week ago and finally call the number yesterday.

The person who answered, I wasn't even sure what sex they were. The speech was slow and the responses to my questions were a little odd. After I talked for a good while, I decided that the person was very old and female. She put down the phone to turn off the TV, a process that took about two minutes, before coming back and explaning that she was 79 years old and a stroke victim.

She gave me directions to the cabin, an old cabin part of the new defunct Camp Catawba for Boys. They were directions like people in North Carolina give them, describing for me in great detail roads and turnoffs and then telling me that I didn't want to go down those, they were the wrong way.

I asked about the lease period, and she hemmed and hawed a little bit and told me that I could choose whether or not to have a lease, an idea that was altogether wonderful and suspicious. She said she didn't want anyone to feel trapped there, then pondered on how anyone could feel trapped in a place with apple and pear trees.

That afternoon, I decided I had time to make my way to Camp Catawba to see the place. I wasn't sure if it was going to be someplace I would want to live, I remembered the cabins at the camp I went to when I was little, but I was definitely curious to see the place. I dragged Ashley along and we called the woman to tell her we were coming. She told us okay, but be there before it got dark. The place was right outside Blowing Rock, the ritzy tourist village where I work.

It was only on the second turn of the directions that the road turned to dirt. We got partway down it before we reached a snow-covered hill that my little Toyota couldn't climb. We had no idea how much further the place was, and my cell phone couldn't get any reception out that far. So we parked the car and walked up the hill, trying to identify animal tracks on the way. The woman on the phone had described a brown gate with a reflector. We found a pair of posts with a reflector, and decided that would do. We walked through the brown gate and down the snowy road to a pair of brown houses, one with a sign that said Camp Catawba For Boys, and an old Winnebago.

This was another world. On our walk, we had even passed a bed and breakfast for tourists with four-wheel drive and a desire to stay in the middle of nowhere. But somehow, in walking through the brown gate, we can crossed some sort of line between Blowing Rock and a scene from Deliverance.

We knocked on the door of the house with the sign, since it looked the most lived-in. There was firewood piled neatly on the porch, as well as a huge mailbox turned on its side that read Camp Catawba. There was no answer to our knock. I peeked through the window and saw an old bookshelf and a desk, both piled with the kinds of books you see in antique stores in plastic wrapping. The door was locked.

We made our way through the snow to the other cabin, which we figured was the one up for rent. When no one answered the knock on that door, we found the door unlocked and went inside, calling out to anyone that might be inside. The place was empty.

Rustic isn't even the word. Rustic is a word they use at some of the inns in town to describe the decor or the atmosphere there, like their rooms have an old rustic charm. The place was clean, but it was old. In the main room, there was an old medical scale in the corner, a plastic broom and dustpan leaning against the wall, and nothing else. There were picture tiles in the wall and windows that hadn't even heard of Windex. To the right was the bedroom loft, which looked more like a lean-to with a double bed with a questionable mattress. To the left of the main room, there was another small room with a modular couch all piled up on top of itself and a ladder up to the attic. The attic door was open, and we could see a toilet. There was also a mirror on the ceiling of the attic, and through it, we could see a bathtub right underneath the reflective glass. We thought it was a bizarre place to put a mirror, or maybe a bizarre place to put a bathtub. The kitchen had all the basic appliances, a fridge, a stove, a sink. Inside the fridge there were random items, including some Hershey's chocolate. Another bathroom with a toilet and a shower adjoined the kitchen.

The place was incredible. I didn't know there were still places like this left in Blowing Rock, places like this left in the world. I thought I was from the backwoods. I didn't even know what the backwoods was.

At some point in our exploration of the house, Ashley heard the sound of scurrying upstairs. I listened for a minute, and then I heard it too. I was afraid to poke my head through the attic door, fearing that my face would be thrust into a fight with some angry and rabid critter, and my face was sorely unarmed. I asked Ashley to hand me the broom, and I stuck it through the hole and banged it around to scare whatever it was away. If only the thing would just get into the bathtub, I could see what it was through the mirror. Finally, broom in hand, I climbed the ladder halfway to see upstairs. Nothing. Frightened even more of the thing we could hear but not see, we left the cabin.

From this angle, we could see another, more inviting door to the other house. We trudged over and gave it a knock and finally heard a woman's voice answer. Inside, we finally met Tui, though we didn't know we had until she told us.

Tui was a tiny little woman with wild white hair and big brown eyes that looked like they had only gotten bigger with age. She was wearing a pink long underwear shirt and a pair of gray sweatpants tied around her waist with a shoestring. Her boots looked like children's snow boots, so tiny were her feet. She wore a jacket over her shirt.

The room where we met this tiny mountain woman was cluttered with all manner of things. There were pictures of people and hand-made cards on the walls. One of these was where I learned the spelling of her name. There were a couple of chairs, a bed, a coffee table, and a heater in the corner. On the table were books, pill bottles, glasses, and all manner of clutter, including a little plastic baggy with some dried up greenery. There was an armchair in the corner next to the heater with some sort of animal skin draped across it. There was a TV on a table beside the door, and a gray tabby cat that Tui called Mabel sat beside it and tried to decide if she would let us pet her.

Tui didn't see well, so Ashley and I introduced ourselves loudly and explained who we were. She asked us if either of us were wicked enough to smoke cigarettes. Neither of us are, and she was disapppointed that she couldn't bum one off of us. Then she asked if we had any friends wicked enough to smoke cigarettes in our car and leave a butt. I'd never let anyone smoke in my car before, not that anyone had asked, but then and there I wished I had, even though my car was about a quarter of a mile away right then.

We told her we had already looked through the cabin, and she asked if we had looked out back. We told her we hadn't, and she told us we were missing the best part.

She disappeared through a back doorway and returned a while later with a coat. We walked ahead of her before we realized she needed a little assistance getting through the three or four inches of snow on the ground. She leaned on the both of us and we made the slow walk to the back of the other cabin, asking her this and that about herself as we went.

Behind the cabin there was a little open area with some chairs and a tiny grill. The courtyard was surrounded by rhododendron and then bigger trees bare of leaves. There was a little path in the back, and Tui said it led down to another one of the old camp cabins that was deserted now. It was quiet and the snowfall of a couple of days ago had been mostly undisturbed until then. It was so tranquil, the kind of peace that comes from being completely alone in the middle of nowhere, which was exactly what we were. Tui looked up at the sky, and said, "Look at that blue sky."

We turned to go back to Tui's cabin. She took a couple of steps in the snow, one foot sinking an inch and groaned. I gave her my arm to lean on, I could barely feel her weight she was so light, and we walked slowly back.

Ashley did most of the talking, asking her questions. Tui had lived around here off and on since 1941, the year before my mother was born. The Winnebago was hers, and was named Earnest. She said it was spelled like ear-nest because she was a musician. Ashley asked what she played, and Tui explained that she didn't play, she wrote. She was a composer.

Tui liked to talk about her music. She told us she had written all kinds of things, classical pieces, had even had a couple of CDs out. She knew a man in the music department at the university, and they had been working on doing a performance of her work. One had been scheduled for the previous week, but one of the singers had gotten sick and it had been postponed indefinitely. She said that now she was reaching the end of her career, the one thing she had never done was to have a performance on a grand scale of her work.

Time wasn't on our side yesterday, and we had to leave Tui to be back in Boone by 5. We said our good-byes, promising to bring her cigarettes next time, to which she laughed. We made the long walk back to the car, back through the brown gate to the rest of the world, trying not to fall on our faces in the snow. We wanted to go back, to turn around right then and go sit down and talk to Tui more, to look at all her old things, to hear stories from way back when. I wished more than anything that I was the type of person that could live in a place like the cabin Tui was renting. I was pretty sure I could not get DSL service out here and I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a big enough person to deal with that. Not to mention the invisible creatures that make scurrying noises in the attic.

Still wanting to hold on to that piece of the world we found in the backwoods of Blowing Rock, I did an online search for "tui, composer". I came up with entries about Tui St. George Tucker, a composer and recorder player born in 1924. I did the math, and it came out right. I searched for her name in the phone book and found the address we had visited. The old lady in the woods was actually a composer, was apparently not too shabby. The information made her even more incredible to us.

I sent the link to Ashley, and we both did a little research. We found places to buy her CDs, bits and pieces of information about her life (including something that said she lived in Greenwich Village, wouldn't they be surprised?), and listings of her musical career. She had a symphony called peyote, which we found interesting, but not altogether surprising.

We wanted to go back to the woods. We wanted to go back through the brown gate. We wanted to sit on the couch and listen to Tui, to hear her music. I wanted to live in the cabin in the woods. I felt like I would never run out of writing material if I lived there.


just a friendly that's been juniorized.

I started writing when I was in the first grade, at least that's the earliest I remember writing, and this is my journal, so we're going with that. I wrote these "novels" about a character named after my best friend who was a cheetah, my favorite animal at the time. It was only lucky that my best friend Charity had such great alliterative possibilities with my favorite animal.

By novels, I mean stories that probably would have ended up being half a typed page long, written on sheets of illustrated notebook paper stapled together with three staples evenly spaced apart on the left edge. I sold them to my classmates for a nickel apiece. It was a loose definition of novel, but no one seemed to mind.

As far as writing for fun went, I pretty much stuck to Charity the Cheetah for the next couple of years, though I did write a novel about an Native American princess named Running Flower or something like that who had a pet dinosaur. The whole thing strikes me as historically inaccurate now. Once I tired of having Charity get caught by the hunter and devising yet another clever way of escaping, I began experimenting with other forms of writing, specifically song lyrics and poetry.

I did poems and lyrics for years. Most of them were about my pet cats. I say "most" only because I mean "all" but don't want to appear completely weird. Most of these historical relics of my writing past have been lost or burned or shredded or torn to tiny tiny pieces and then burned, though I do remember the lyrics of one of my songs, one about a cat named Friendly Jr., the son of Friendly. I was very fond of descriptive names in those times. This was the chorus:

He's not Friendly, he's not junior,
He's just a Friendly that's been juniorized.
He's just a Friendly that's been juniorized,
in his eyes.

It was a classic tune, about struggling to be seen as your own person apart from your family while still being able to be a part of the greater whole. I'm really not sure where I got the inspiration.

I stopped writing poetry and song lyrics completely around the sixth grade, when I finally realized that I was terrible at it. As bright as I was, it really did take quite a while for me to figure that out. It took a whole notebook full of pink paper with a cat on the cover full of poetry to convince me that I was just really rotten. I also realized that I didn't sing very well either at about this time, and found myself in the despairing position of being nearly thirteen years old with no direction in my life. I dabbled in fiction some, but found no comfort in my stories about the dectective who solves the painfully obvious mysteries and had the same name as my new best friend. It may have been around this time that I decided to be a computer programmer, so deep was my despair. I had pretty much stopped writing for fun anymore, thinking that it was just another one of those silly things I did as a kid. I like to call this period my awkward stage, both in terms of my writing and my life in general.

The awkward stage of my writing continued until the eighth grade, while the awkward stage of my life continues even now with no apparent end in sight. It was at this time that I was assigned a major class writing project, an autobiography. It was about seventeen or eighteen chapters, each chapter having anywhere from two to half a dozen writing prompts about life. It was no trivial task to begin with, but it was one of the few projects where I showed myself as an overachiever, and not merely an achiever. Some of the prompts I found little to talk about, such as my favorite kind book to read and things like that, but others really sparked me and I took off, writing pages and pages about things I didn't even realize were important to me. I tried all kinds of different angles for different prompts (including writing an interview between TV Guide and myself to answer the prompt about my first experience on stage, as well as an in-utero monologue about my nearly-tragic birth), and found myself editing and re-editing for weeks. The thing turned out to be about 130 pages long, typed and double-spaced, with pictures supplied from my family albums. I was so proud of this work, this masterpiece, that I kept all the original hand-written first drafts as well as the final book.

The experience of my autobiography reminded me why I had liked writing so much as a kid, and taught me both that my strength lied in nonfiction essays and that nonfiction didn't necessarily have to be boring. I threw away that silly computer science profession idea and steered myself for a life of productive and unappreciated poverty as a writer instead.

I still didn't write much for anything but class, which concerned me. It was a general lack of inspiration and desire, and I figured that real writers probably wrote for other reasons than deadlines. I wrote some prolific pieces for English class, including a poem about how much I hated writing poetry, but other than that, I generally concerned myself with being a teenage girl instead, which took up a surprising amount of time.

I was particularly productive during my senior year of high school, both from English class and the ridiculous amount of essays I had to write for scholarship applications. The application essays appealed to me because they forced me to think a little outside the box to make myself stand out from the hundreds of better qualified but perhaps less articulate applicants. There was one essay in particular that I remember writing for a completely mundane prompt about my hobbies or something. I was so bored from the prompt that I ended up writing a third person narrative that answered the question. I didn't really intend to use it, except that the scholarship had some 8,000 applicants and chose fifteen finalists, the average SAT score of which was above 1500. I figured it was a lost cause anyway, so I sent off the essay and forgot about it. When I went to my series of interviews with the fourteen other finalists, every single interviewer asked me about that essay. I didn't win. Apparently, one of the other people had saved a busload of orphans or something and then taught them to read, and no essay is that good.

From my rebirth after my awkward stage up through high school, I was always very private about my writing, almost neurotically so. I let my English teachers read it, because I had to, and I let my mother read it, because I had to have some sort of outside editing and she was guaranteed to like it, being that kind of mother. But that was it. We were encouraged to let our classmates edit our work, a suggestion I completely ignored. For the most part, I did my own editing, much more obsessively than a classmate would have done anyway.

And now we arrive here, to the point where I write this and put it somewhere where you read it, where anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and the right combination of letters can read it. To update you, I am a computer science major with an online journal updated semi-regularly viewable by the public and a passion for garlic mashed potatoes. It's the first time in my life that I'm writing for the sheer fun of it, writing because I enjoy it and writing because people can read it and relate to it, even if it's not always very good. Take this seriously, dear readers, because who knows if I'll look back on this time and call it my glorious beginning or my short period of productivity. Regardless of where it leads, I'm enjoying it.

Besides, if this whole computer thing doesn't pan out, I can always go back to song lyrics about cats.


another sandra.

I don't even know the girl, but I hate her all the same.

No, no, I don't hate her. Hate is really a strong word, Daddy told me not to use it unless I meant it. He told me that back when I said I hated things like rain and tests and Melinda Sanders who took the last cupcake and didn't even finish it all. And I rolled my eyes or maybe sighed quietly in a subtle defiance that couldn't be seen or heard and therefore couldn't be punished. But now, here I am, a grown woman, at least the state of North Carolina says so, and I still wait for my dad to scold me if I misuse the word "hate". I suppose that was his aim.

But anyway, I don't hate her. I don't hate her because I don't know her and even I am not that shallow.

I resent her. Yes, that's the word. I resent her, and I envy her, and I fear her, and I am intimidated by her very existence. She holds this immense sway over me, and she doesn't know that I exist. I only know that she exists by chance. The chance that a friend of mine said he knew a girl named Sandra that wasn't me, a very small chance indeed when you think about it, and that was all it took. Even if he happened to tell her that he knew a girl named Sandra that wasn't her, because it's me, I don't think she would even care.

The news that she was out there, living in this very same country as I do with the very same name that I have, was enough for me to fall apart. I begged him not to tell me that she was attractive or intelligent, which he did not.

He told me she was gorgeous and brilliant.

Did I say I wanted honesty? I didn't mean it.

See, it's different for me. I'm not like a Jennifer or an Ashley or a Jessica. Those girls grow up having five or six others sharing their names around them. They grow up as a first name and a last initial, so we could distinguish them from the Jennifer W.'s and the Ashley B's. Me, I never had that problem. No one names their kids Sandra anymore, that was a generation ago. That's why all the Jennifers and the Ashleys and the Jessicas have mothers named Sandra. And they didn't matter, because they're not in my league. They all have to compete against each other, in the Mothers Named Sandra category, but I've always been the only one in my age group, the only runner in my heat.

But now there's this other one, this Sandra who dares to be my age, gorgeous and brilliant. And I am, I am threatened, yes, that's it, threatened by the fact that not only is she Sandra, she is probably much better at being Sandra than I am. She has taken being Sandra to new levels, she is now the model that all future Sandras will have to live up to while I fall by the wayside as just another Sandra that lived in the time of The Great Sandra but wasn't as good. No one would even bother to remember my name if not for the cruel fact that it is the same as hers.

I might as well have been a Jennifer.


first date.

Originally written 2.14.03

I had my very first date five years ago today. I was fifteen, and he had just turned seventeen. We'd been to football games and such together, but this was our first "real" date, you know with dinner and stuff. It was Valentine's Day, so he brought me roses and a teddy bear.

We went by all the sit-down restaurants in Hickory, and couldn't find a place with less than a two-hour wait. We were hungry then, and did not want to wait. One of us, I'm not sure who, made a joke at some point about going to eat at Food Lion. By the time we had hit all the restaurants with no luck, it wasn't really a joke anymore. So we went to Food Lion, and found to our delight that there was no wait.

We went up and down the aisles, picking stuff out. I picked out the stuff that I'd always wanted as a kid, but never had because Mama didn't think it was cost efficient. I got Lunchables.

We spent about $20 on food that night, and then took our loot back to his car. We sat in the Food Lion parking lot on our first date and ate Lunchables inside his Camaro.

It's been a long time since I was that girl and he was that boy. Our Valentine's Day today consisted of him coming over for a while when he was feeling sick during a break between classes. Tonight I served Valentine's Day cheer to 8 tables and he went off to Raleigh with friends. It wasn't one of our better February 14's. I'm lonely, and I miss him.

I wish I had a clever, happy ending to this rambling. Something to tie it all up in a nice pretty package. There would be a theme of enduring love, I think; that is one of my favorites. It would make you all sigh and envy that I am in such a wonderful relationship. That stuff is all true, I am in a wonderful relationship. But right now, that's not what I'm feeling.

I'm lonely and I miss him.


make a little birdhouse in your soul.

The day you turned sixteen, you woke up and pulled a brown package out from underneath your pillow. A padded envelope addressed to you, postmarked two days ago, received the day before, but still unopened because it wasn't your birthday until that morning.

You pulled out a copy of They Might Be Giants' album Flood, 19 songs of quirky dork rock. My favorite band, my favorite album at the time. Six weeks earlier, on New Year's actually, I'd given you a mix tape of their songs, which you had liked. How many romances begin with mix tapes? Only the best ones.

Happy Birthday, honey.


engagement chicken.

So the chicken, it's not hard to make?


Even I could do it?

Yes. Even you.

You know I'm no good in the kitchen. I've never cooked a chicken before.

I will help you if you're that nervous, but I don't think you'll need it. The recipe is pretty explicit on what to do. It even suggests some good side dishes.

Side dishes? I have to make side dishes? You never said that.

It's just asparagus. And potatoes. He likes asparagus. I think it's an aphrodisiac.

Asparagus? I thought it just made your pee smell funny.

Oh. Well, maybe some people go for that.

I don't think it's an aphrodisiac. Besides, I don't like asparagus.

So don't eat any. Just make enough for him. You can eat more potatoes and chicken.

Will there be enough chicken for the both of us?

There should be. But he should be able to have as much as he wants, just to be on the safe side.

So I make this chicken, and I serve it to him...

And he'll propose.

Just like that? Just from this chicken?

That's what they say.

When? Like how long after the chicken?

I dunno. The magazine says that some propose within like a day or two, but others take a couple of weeks. Are you going to be picky?

No, no, I'm just a little skeptical.

It can't hurt to try.

How can that be possible? That a chicken would make a man who avoids the topic of marriage at all propose?

I don't know, but these women swear by it.

What kind of women?

I dunno. Regular women. Engaged women.

Maybe the guys feel so bad that these women went to the trouble of making an engagement chicken that they pop the question.

You'd think that they would only realize how pathetic the girl was for making an engagement chicken to get a diamond and then break up with her.

You think I'm pathetic?

No, no, no, I was only kidding. It's pork that makes men break up with you. Chicken is for engagement, beef for having a baby, and pork is for divorce.

You're making that up.

Am I?

Yes. And I'm not going to do this if you won't take it seriously.

Fine, fine, I'm taking it seriously. Let's make an engagement chicken.

But, but, well, but what if it works?

That's the whole point, isn't it?

Yeah, but, well, what if I make the chicken and he proposes and we get married and it's all great, but, won't I always wonder whether he proposed because he wanted to or whether it was because of the chicken? It's like cheating.

Are you seriously asking me this?

And whether or not it works, I certainly can't tell him about it. If it works, then he'll know and he won't want to marry me anymore. And if it doesn't, then he'll never want to marry me because I thought I could make him propose by making engagement chicken.

So don't tell him.

Yeah, but then there is guilt involved. It wouldn't be a big deal not telling him except that I've decided to not tell him, like I'm hiding it or something. And then I have to tell him because it occurred to me to make an effort not to. So the second I decide not to tell him, which was about ten seconds ago, I have to tell him.

Fine, don't make the chicken.

But then he'll never propose.

So what is more important, getting engaged or risking looking stupid for making an engagement chicken?

Did you make the chicken?

What? You mean before I got engaged?


No. I made beef and got pregnant instead, and then engaged.

You did not.

Okay, so I didn't. And I didn't make engagement chicken, but then again, I didn't have to wait so long either. Desperate times, you know.

I am not desperate.

You are making an engagement chicken. A chicken to induce engagement. A foul dish to serve to a man so that he will ask you to marry him. That's not desperate at all.

I never said I was going to do it.

You knew you would do it from the minute I told you about it. You're already thinking of what you'll wear and how you'll set up the table and whether a bigger chicken means a bigger diamond.

Really? You think that would work? Maybe I should make a turkey instead.

Just stick with the chicken.

The engagement chicken.

The engagement chicken.


Engagement Chicken
1 whole chicken (approx. 3 lb.)
2 medium lemons
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Kosher or sea salt
Ground black pepper

Place rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Wash chicken inside and out with cold water, remove the giblets, then let the chicken drain, cavity down, in a colander until it reaches room temperature (about 15 minutes). Pat dry with paper towels. Pour lemon juice all over the chicken (both inside and outside). Season with salt and pepper. Prick the whole lemons three times with a fork and place deep inside the cavity. Place the bird breast-side down on a rack in a roasting pan, lower heat to 350 degrees and bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and turn it breast-side up (use wooden spoons!); return it to oven for 35 minutes more. To make sure it's done, insert a meat thermometer in the thigh; it should read 180 degrees, or juices should run clear when chicken is pricked with a fork. Continue baking if necessary. Let chicken cool for a few minutes before carving. Serve with juices.


kind of obnoxious.

I'm stuck here, you know, and my fingers are ready to write if only my mind will tell them just what. I sit and think, think and sit, do both those things in any sort of order you please. Like on those old Sesame Street cartoons where you'd have five apples, and they'd show you ten different ways to arrange them, but you'd still have five apples no matter how you placed them.

It wasn't always apples. Sometimes it was blocks, and I seem to remember penguins or lions. It was always good and wholesome things. They never showed you ten ways to arrange five shotguns or five martinis. No matter how you arrange five martinis, you'll still end up with a hangover.

I learned a lot of things from that show. Nothing about martinis, but many useful things nonetheless. I learned how to sound out words phonetically, lots of useful Spanish and sign language words, and not to bug Oscar when he's in a bad mood, which is always.

I can tell whether Hispanic-owned stores are open or closed thanks to that show. There was this one segment where this man was in his house, but he could never get anything done because everything was "abierto," which means open. The wind kept coming into the house, all his dishes fell out of the cabinets, his milk got spoiled, and his dog kept running away. He sang a little song about it. Then later, there was a sequel, and everything was "cerrado". He couldn't leave or get any food out of the fridge or have himself a glass of spoiled milk because everything was closed. His dog came back, but couldn't get in. That guy had a hard life, but I managed to profit from his misfortunes by learning some new words.

I wached Sesame Street until I was at least eight or nine years old. I remember the kids in my second grade class making fun of me for it, but I didn't care. And since I was cool back then, I made Sesame Street cool again for the students in Mrs. Banks' second grade class.

I was really popular in elementary school. The girls wanted to be my friend and the boys wanted to hold hands out by the monkey bars. I liked boys a lot, too and I liked that they liked me, though I'm not sure why they did. I think I might have been obnoxious. I had a terrible conquering attitude about males in the early days, like Sex in the City: The Early Years. I remember deciding one day that I was going to "go with" every single boy in my first grade class. I was working down the list and I got to Ray and decided that maybe it wasn't such a great idea after all. Poor Ray. I got sick of boys completely in the third grade and wouldn't have them for three and a half years. By then I was in middle school, and my popularity didn't carry over. I think the boys just figured out that I was kind of obnoxious.

I had stopped watching Sesame Street by then. I was on to more mature TV material, like Darkwing Duck and TaleSpin. Darkwing Duck was a great show, and I was sad when they moved it to 3:00, since I didn't get home til 3:30.

Sometimes I still watch Sesame Street. It's still a good show. I like the old clips the best, the ones I remember from when I was little. The new stuff is good, too, but doesn't have the sentimental value, I guess. Or maybe I 'm just too familiar with the idea of addition being commutative and it doesn't enthrall me the way it used to. I have an impressive mp3 collection of Sesame Street songs and clips, and I listen to them while I'm working on my Calculus 3 homework. I like the irony of that.

And my roommates, they make fun of me for it, but I don't care. Sesame Street is still cool, and this time I have very little to do with it.


between astronauts and plumbers.

I've never seriously wanted to teach, not for a living. Seems like I wanted to be a teacher sometime in third grade or so, but I think I wanted to be an astronaut, a plumber, and a firefighter that year too. I've had people tell me I'd be good at it, and I suppose I have some teaching-inclined genes as my dad was a teacher. But really, it's never been something I've taken all that seriously.

I have had some limited, informal experience. I've been the instructional assistant in a couple of classes, a CS lab and a remedial math class, as well as having done a little coaching. And through all that, I learned that teaching is not as easy as it looks. I had always assumed that if I knew something and they didn't, I could simply tell them, the light bulb would go off, and they would skip happily off with their newly-found knowledge. Apparently, it doesn't work like that. So I've learned some things myself through my few teaching experiences.

Lesson one: What makes sense to you doesn't necessarily make sense to them.

With the math class, I found myself at a loss to put what I wanted to say into words. I saw the solution in my head, could turn it upside down and every which way, but it was all numbers and not words. And apparently words were necessary for these people. I couldn't just do a couple of examples and assume they would see the pattern. Even if I did manage to somehow get an explanation out, it was not always one that was acceptable to them. It was hard to put myself in their mindset, particularly when these kids were not mathematically-minded at all. Some things will click for some people, but not for others. If these kids learned the way I did, they wouldn't have to be in the class at all.

Lesson two: You have to pretend you don't know too much more than they do.

I had a guy come into the lab one night and asked for help on his CS program. It was for the entry-level class, one I took two years ago. I looked at his code for probably fifteen minutes, at a complete loss. I knew fifteen different ways to solve the problem he was working on, but they were all at a more advanced level than he was taking. Finally, I had to just think the whole thing out from the beginning and then I was able to help him some. But I felt like an idiot, being in junior level classes and not being able to solve his problem.

Lesson three: They don't listen.

The example here comes from the same experience with the guy who came into the lab for help. After I worked this all out, I managed to give him about four lines of code that would solve the basic problem. He still had to add a few things to make the output exactly how he wanted it and to write a segment that performed a simple task, but it was pretty much the general answer. I showed it to him, and he said, "Oh, that's the thing that the teacher gave us in class." His teacher had given him that much, which he had lost. Ten minutes later, he was still trying to use the same procedure he had been working on before he ever asked for help.

Lesson four: What is obvious to you may be revolutionary to them.

I was the assistant coach for a middle school volleyball team my junior year of high school. There were two assistant coaches, a short one and a tall one. As the taller one, it was my job to teach the girls to spike. They were having trouble, which was to be expected since they'd never done it before for the most part. I stopped the exercise to explain something about hand movement or whatever and said something, completely offhand, about hitting the ball down. A girl interrupts me to say, "You mean, we're supposed to hit it down?"
"Uh, yes."
She then proceded to perform the best spike I've ever seen hit by a middle schooler. Unreal. I thought it was obvious to anyone that of course, you wanted to hit a spike down. That was the whole blessed point of a spike. Therefore, I hadn't specifically told them that.

Lesson five: Assuming they know nothing insults and bores them.

This is one I learned at work. Having been at Vintner's an obscenely long time by Vintner's standards, I'm generally the one who trains the new servers. This consists of them following me around to tables and looking a little bit foolish standing awkwardly to the side all the time. The people have all different levels of waiting experience. Some people have been doing it for years, and others are amazed to have been hired with no experience. I never know what to tell them. I'm at a disadvantage because I came in completely new to the job, and I don't really know how much is Vintner's-specific and how much could be said at any restaurant job. I try to give them advice in addition to information about where the coffee is kept and whether they can take smoke breaks, and while some are gratefully received, others stare at me like I've just told them something terribly obvious. Even if I ask them ahead of time how much experience they have, it doesn't help me much to narrow down the level of training they might need.

Lesson six: They won't ask for help.

In the math class, most of the people in my group did okay. They weren't blowing anybody away, but they seemed to understand most things enough to pass, and since they generally had low math-standards, that was good enough for them. But there were a couple who were obviously not gettting it. The homework they bothered to do received dismal grades, and I'm not sure if they ever passed a test. We had work days where they would work on some problems and I would help them if they asked for it. Or rather, I would recognize that they had been staring at the same problem for ten minutes with a very blank stare on their faces and force my assistance upon them. After I worked them through something, I would ask if they were doing okay. They always said yes, that they thought they understood it now. They weren't stupid, but apparently they had difficulty with the difference between understanding something and otherwise. They both had to repeat the class.

Here is where I'm a big hypocrite. I won't ask for help either. It's a little unnatural how much I dislike it. Asking for help is way up there in my list of dislikes, worse than going to the dentist, but not as bad as cantaloupe. I have to be so confused I can't see straight to seek assistance. Otherwise, I just assume I don't need to know that badly or I continue to work on it myself until I either get it or start to cry and then I ask for help. But if I were ever in danger of failing a class, a remedial class, you can bet I would be asking some questions. Part of me thinks that they just didn't realize how badly they were doing, but even they could put their grades into a calculator and get an average.

Teaching is an art of fine lines, where you pretend not to know while trying to tell them, where you assume they know nothing without insulting their intelligence, where you tell yourself that you're helping when they go off and do whatever they want anyway, where you help them without doing it for them. I have had many amazing teachers, and I can only assume that they found most of those happy mediums, probably through more experience than assisting with middle school coaching or remedial college math. It suffices to say that I haven't found the lines. Frankly, I don't know that I'm all that interested in finding them.

And I'm surely not going to ask for help.



Ways to kill time are a valuable resource in the lab. It's like some sort of reality show. Who can stay the least bored using only a computer, a desk chair, and your school books? We'll throw in a stapler for good measure.

You'd think with the internet I'd never get bored, but everyone on my buddy list is either in class or having a stubbornness contest with me to see who will message the other first. Most likely, they don't know such a contest is going on. I always lose.

I have the world wide web at my fingertips, but even that gets old. That's right, I said it. And the limited gaming possibilities on this machine are, well, limited.

One of the things I've taken to doing are looking at journals. I'm always looking for a new journal to add to the list of two or three that I read daily, or semi-daily depending on just how bored I really am. I play some sort of six degrees game, where I read one, then pick one on their list of links to read and proceed onward.

It was like this when I happened across the surrogate moms journals. Notice the plural of "mom", I did not misuse it. They all had something like "surro" followed by angel or mom or something as their journal title. I read a couple, and they used abbreviations for common phrases like "home pregnancy test", "birth control pill" and a couple others that I could never decipher. They talked about their bodily fluids and how a cervix looks when it's holding a baby back. I paused to think about what a pregnant cervix would look like. I might have giggled.

Surrogate motherhood is an interesting concept to me. These women, I think they might do it for a living, or at least as a supplement to their living. They just have babies for other people. I guess they're selling usage of their bodies if you look at it in a completely capitalist way. But I don't think you could do it just for money. Because really, I'm sitting at a computer for six bucks an hour, and I don't have to deal with swollen ankles. I'd imagine it would make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, as well as bloated, to do an incredibly nice thing like that. Nice isn't even the word.

I was asked to be a surrogate once. I know a couple in their late twenties/early thirties. The woman has always had health problems, and it's no surprise to anyone that's met her that she wouldn't be able to bear children. She asked me once to be a surrogate. She asked it jokingly, but I think if I had been willing, she would have jumped at it. Maybe she was feeling me out. I'm young and healthy, and really, have you seen my hips? These hips were made to shoot out babies. I think I played it off as a joke, because it took me by total surprise and I was a little uncomfortable. I've always thought about having my own children; having someone else's never really occurred to me.

How do they do it? How do they let something grow inside of their bodies for nine months and then give it away? How do they see a tiny body come out and then say, "Okay, it's yours now. Here's my bill." Don't they want to just sneak off, have it quietly, then run away to Mexico and name it Jose? Even though the baby isn't theirs by blood, you'd still feel attachment for a nine month passenger. And I'm sure many surrogage moms work out some sort of way to visit the kids. But it's not the same.

I fear my tone may be mocking, when that is nowhere near my feelings for people that can become surrogates. I am in awe. I think maybe if I were completely unattached, not in college and a few years older, I'd seriously consider this. Or maybe it would be better if I had already gotten all of my own personal uterus usage out of the way, particularly since most parents would want a tested reproductive system. But I don't know if I could handle it. I've never had the oppotunity to test my baby equipment, but assuming it's fine, then I could be pregnant and I could pop that baby right out, but could I give it up?

I was reading one of these journals last night, starting at the beginning and just reading the whole story. I read for at least half an hour and I still didn't get to the part where the woman was even pregnant. There's lots of paperwork and attornies and legal stuff behind all this, and it's really no surprise. It's expensive to buy a baby. There was some drama, since the woman's mother didn't want her daughter having other people's babies. There's so much more to think about than I would have originally dreamed of.

There is no need for you to have concern. I can be flaky about things I want to do; last month I wanted to join the Peace Corps and every time I hear a boring sermon I convince myself to join the seminary so I can do better than this. I resent the fact that I don't have time to live all the lives I want to live, all the lives I think I could do something with.

So it's doubtful that I'll ever travel down the path of surrogate motherhood. The only way it would happen would probably be through some friends, very very very close friends. I can't imagine myself filling out an application for my reproductive system and sending it to a service. And if it happened that I couldn't have children for whatever reason, I'm not even sure that hiring a surrogate would be something I would want. Maybe it would be just as well that I didn't further these genes anyway.

Anyway, it got me thinking about something I'd never really considered before other than right after I see previews for the TV movie about the surrogate mom from hell. Just thought I'd share some thoughts on it.

Plus, I like a good opportunity to scare the living daylights out of my mother.