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Stephan's Journal

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  2005.01.12  19.17
Morning Passages: "They didn't know where Stephan was and it could have been a bad situation."

Across Walnut Street is Algeria, where the waiters are doubly surly, because they are kin to the French gastronomic tradition, and because they despise the French, le garçon brought out six sauces in a round, vertical-sided dish to provoke my appetite. "Il faut d'abord deviner l'identité de ces six sauces avant de commander votre plat." And so I spent the greater part of the night rebuffed, "Non, ce n'est pas une sauce à la citrouille." Watermelon, no. Tomato, watercress, no. By the end, I ventured to guess one of the harsher flavors, "C'est au tamarin et au gingembre?" But I looked at my watch, 5:30, and decided to try my luck looking for breakfast somewhere else.

I lost my way in a rambling house, where the basement had been converted to a foreign language library, and everyone whispered, "The mayor's corrupt - dark bargains - black mail." Music came over the speaker system, "Morning Passages" by Philip Glass, which brought Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughan, shape-shipting, trading places on beat with the piano, all staring intently at books into the landing by the computers.

I woke up and found that I had hit the remote, and "Morning Passages" was playing.

I drove halfway to town, and symbolic of my struggle to overcome my nature, I turned back at the gas station to retrieve my peanut butter-peach bagel still on the counter at home, without regard for quick recall practice.


"Hmmm, my mom's here," Char' said.

Jean came to school this morning to settle a score, since Char' accidentally passed on the details of the "A" tournament. I discussed Char's conditions, her projections, middle-child singularity, and dependence on parents in every class of the day. Ideas ranged from "It's all a plot to expel you so that she can give a speech at graduation..." to "You don't understand how hard it is to be her...". In a troubling echo of themes and devices, Ralph and Kelsey popped out of Mo's room onto the Northern hall (while I carried paper to Roots and Shoots to make recycled journals): "Stephan, wouldn't it be funny if you dropped out of school - tomorrow, just stop coming?"

"Why? Who - or what gave you that idea?"

"Well, just because of your grades and Princeton and..."

I raised my defenses against subtle mental manipulations again this afternoon; the written record should jolt me back into the truth if I am led astray.


  2004.12.29  21.26

The days of innocence have ended on this computer. I was trying to download something by Haydn on a file-sharing network when the uploader told me to 'share with everyone', accused me of being a 'lamer' and prompty blocked me. Unfortunately, it's hard to share files when you have none (except for those pre-installed gems like "Party on the Mountain" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). I actually spend inordinate amounts of time wondering whether I am breaking decorum in the intricacies of new-born traditions. Oh well, I have actually enjoyed reading the preferences of some of the users. Composite: All right, first of all, if you aren't sharing with me, then I won't share with you. And I can tell if you are holding back and have simply created a decoy shared folder. (Don't ask me how, because that's a guaranteed way for you to get blocked!). To download from me, you must first add me to your list. Then, I will look through the files that you have decided to share. If you have a poor or limited collection, then you will be unable to download from me (if anything is particularly offensive, I will probably block you (don't let me be the one to tell you that you are listening to terrible music)). But if you do have a reasonable selection, then I will allow you to download one file from me, assuming that it is not too big (if you have to ask if a file is too big, then it probably is). If you attempt to download a large file on your first attempt, I will block you. At any point before, during, or after these steps, I may reconsider all decisions.

So everyone watch out, there's a lamer on the loose.


  2004.12.26  23.47
A Hole in Space and Time

I know that everything (the quick recall practice with the autocratic visionary and his willing subjects, as well as the trip to the Small City to the North) will go more smoothly tomorrow if I go to bed, but I figured out this afternoon that I was reading the one book (White Noise) in the world that was truly meant for me. I can't put it down.

Like J.A.K. says: We are two views of the same person. I would spend the rest of my life turning to speak to her. No one there, a hole in space and time.

Today, Dad and I went to Office Depot, where we bought a machine to make all of our dreams come true (it at least allows me to write this in bed), which we installed after little physical effort and a great deal of frustration (which disappeared after we contacted our cyber-guardians in a phone bank, most likely in Bangalore).

On the same trip, we dropped by the music store in town, because Van Lear Rose was merely a "Passing fancy..." that someone dared not risk, "Even though it might be good...". Dad and I searched all of the bargain bins and used music aisles for deals. I left with 2 3-CD volumes of Bach and Dvorak, a compilation of 19th Century Dutch composers, a compilation of German folk songs, and a compilation of Monteverdi's madrigals. To be honest, I felt bad for the music, and wondered if I might have the best chance of any local customer of appreciating them. I rescued nine CDs for $9.49. Their packaging claimed that they were used, but I had my suspicions. In the car, I opened to find that they were all in pristine condition and I thanked the cosmos.


  2004.12.25  21.06
Christmas on Ice

I am on sensory overload. After going to Shakertown for dinner with the extended and semi-family, my brother and his girlfriend revealed that they had not really gone to a professors' party with cheese, but had wanted to surprise me with my recommended cheeses in a roundabout way. But then I explained the cosmic symmetry, how I had gone to a professor's house, where I was given cheese.

The revived Internet has allowed me to re-evaluate the past year's music: the misunderstood Fiery Furnaces, which seem more legitimate in light of the faster connection and recent PoMo leisure reading (EMRFABW and White Noise), Animal Collective, which made more sense in snippets longer than thirty seconds and The Go! Team, which made more sense after seeing Kill Bill and listening to Ennio Morricone.

I christened my laptop's DVD drive on Wednesday night with Amadeus. Since then, I have watched Hero, Napoleon Dynamite, Trainspotting, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and parts of Return of the King (extended). Trainspotting changed me in a shaken to the core sort of way, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane renewed my faith in classic comedy, and Napoleon Dynamite suddenly became one of my favorite movies ever. On a cultural/historical level, it reclaimed the high school comedy genre from the IDIOTS, though it seemed to be more closely related to Ghost World than Scary Movie from the beginning. It ranks up with the Death to Smoochys and Office Space as one of my favorite comedies if for no reason other than that it seemed mundane and plausible (I might call it post-modern fractiousness if I wanted to get technical).

I actually completed all of my Christmas shopping in a few hours without leaving the city. A squirrel-proof bird feeder for Dad; a rosemary topiary for Grandma; a CD book (Silas Marner) and a book of 100 short stories (Teller of Tales, actually found a few weeks ago in the Public Library's giveaway box); The Day After Tomorrow for Sister, Van Lear Rose, The Triplets of Belleville, and Meet the Parents for Parents; and profuse gratitude for Uncle who has everything already and the generosity to "invest" in my future.

I stayed up last night to finish This Side of Paradise, which was disappointing, considering the author and subject matter, mostly because of the aimlessness and untimeliness of the obscure pop and literary references, which are as relevant now as this entry will be in 80 years.

I received to the letter what was on my list: CDs of varying hipness, the Kill Bill volumes, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, along with some surprises: a print of a shoddily-repaired stone building ornament in Italy, a poster of Naples, socks, as well as flamboyant gold-monogrammed 'S' notecards.

Maybe the weather didn't turn out as hoped. Before I went to bed on Wednesday, I heard the sound of flakes missing their targets and rain falling unfrozen, but it was enough for me to legitimately miss the student-run practices without any remorse or fear of retribution from the zealots.

The ice storm bested everything else, turning the roads into miles of chandelier and prism-lined corridors. On a slippery, late afternoon run yesterday, the woods near the railroad glowed an unbroken white light off in the distance. Nobody would have believed a photo, let alone a painting. I thought of one of my teachers.


  2004.12.22  19.39
Holy tango - we brew corn...

I realized last night, after typing ten pages (double-spaced) on the new computer that the time was set incorrectly, and that it was not midnight, but a few hours later: such is the power of an epic (or the confessional first-person explanation of an aggressor with a knife, and the travails of a newly-arrived academic team impresario who plots to overthrow the sitting coach).

After I came home from a strange, coachless Academic practice (held on the second floor of the State Association of School Councils) I fell into a void that knows no time or space, my Grandmother's house. After vacuuming for an hour in vain, I discovered part of the reason that the fake ladybugs were everywhere, a window was ajar. I then spent the rest of the visit helping her to clean her kitchen, which was much more dramatic than it would sound, since she has a Depression-era philosophy about food perishability.

I went out to brace the redbud in the front yard with all the appropiate lumber in the garage that looked strong enough. Something is about to happen, moving West to East. My bones grow cold...


  2004.12.21  14.40
Based on a True High School

Yesterday doesn't seem like it should have happened. I accomplished too much for a holiday break: I went to an agonizing two hour quick recall practice, registered to vote (after soul-searching over which party to affiliate with), registered for Selective Service (after waiting in line for ten minutes at the post office), received a computer in the mail, advised my brother on cheese for a party, constructed a massive, intricate diagram for an epic novel (complete with illustrations), bonded with a long-lost friend, and ate one of my top five dinners ever (consisting almost entirely of cheese (unrelated to my brother's dinner)(chaume, cheddar, irish blue, a runny brie, a creamy goat cheese), plus a few apple slices, a pâté of chicken and mushrooms, nutty fudge, seltzer water with a wild berry mix juice, and a few (sugar?)cookies. Once I had come home, I fell asleep reading into the middle of the aimless This Side of Paradise.

I was almost ready to drive through my town today searching for wireless hot spots to use the Internet, but our cable connection was set up just in time. I have had a hard time putting much faith in the concept of streaming video and audio, but now I believe. I Now I can never return to the ways of the old modem.

With an afternoon of "webbing" and venn diagramming, I am ready to write more about an epic battle in a place not unlike this one.


  2004.12.19  12.04
Precipitation that is, and precipitation that isn't

I have lost all concept of time and space, which is to say that I have not had Internet access for almost a week. Fortunately, I have gotten some (voluntary) reading done: Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World (I am a sucker for any book that includes the line "Access memory at the cellular level and ride the DNA chain like a wave back into prehistory..."), which was comically absurd or vice-versa. I also started "reading" The Rule of Four on CD, which I guess is my greasy listening for the break.

Yesterday, I had time for the simpler pleasures: cutting back raspberry brambles, clematis, relaying confused messages from one family member to another, and ringing a bell at the Big Lots for two hours as shoppers of all stripes walked past (the handful of people who tried in vain to snag a plush toy with the mechanical crane), the mysterious old man who warned me that "They'll try to rob you if you're not careful...", and the large woman carrying a baby who fulfilled the entire evening when she actually noticed (despite the monotone limitations of the bell) that I was playing "Jingle Bells", and commenced to dance and sing along in a hoarse, tobacco-ish voice.

In my dream last night, I had a long conversation with my former geometry and algebra teacher, who carried around a cart and a pitcher of orange juice.


  2004.12.13  17.53
Tiger Mountain...Taken

Admission Office
P.O. Box 430
110 West College
Princeton, New Jersey...

December 10, 2004

Dear Stephan:

Congratulations! The committee has reviewed your application and has admitted you to the Class of 2009. We had a powerful early decision pool and your credentials distinguished you in this early group. Your exceptional academic accomplishments, extra-curricular achievements, and personal qualities impressed the readers. We are delighted to be accepting you...

Have a wonderful holiday season.


Janet Lavin Rapelye
Dean of Admission

Well, I have not woken up yet. This is a good sign.


  2004.12.11  20.53
Would Napoleon if I Told Him?


They said that they had bought me other presents, but they couldn't find them. These were all fine with me. Just think of the natural resources, and the amount of free time that I don't have:

1. Donald Antrim - Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World
2. Don Delillo - White Noise
3. The Beatles - Sergeant Pepper...
4. Philip Glass - The Hours Soundtrack
5. The Hours - starring Nicole Kidman, etc.
6. A folding chair from Aldi.
7. A CD mix of various authors reading their work (James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, etc)


  2004.12.11  19.59
here are my stats, what are my chances?

On various college application message boards, they are rattling their cages and banging drums. "Here are my stats, what are my chances?" has given way to "Post here if you were deferred/rejected". To say the least, I am nervous too. I have grown to regret every essay that I submitted, and can only speculate about what other people wrote for me, why I never had an interview, or whether my scores arrived since they were supposed to inform me about whether my application was complete or not.

After I had turned in all of my regular decision recommendation forms, the quick recall team assembled in a vacant classroom on December 8, and an hour later had scored first in the state and eighth in the nation in a reputable computer quiz competition out of 881 schools. Yes, every summer and afternoon that I spent at the library or reading the newspaper was finally vindicated, I could hear loose ends tying and subplots fusing, but too late for anyone of consequence to take notice.

Now that the decisions are moving through the mail right now, I feel free to comment, and possibly emanate negative energy, assuming that none of it will travel backwards through an imperfection in the fabric of space-time. And yet, while I rang the bell for the Salvation Army this morning from 10 to noon, I couldn't help but hope that some of the unease of standing out in the rain would transfer back to the adcom roundtables of the past few weeks in the form of some kind of holy aura.

And all the while, it is my birthday today. I can't help but wonder whether John Kerry and I are inexorably and cosmically bound, all the horoscopes seem to point out that those born today are extremely intense and driven people who have recently suffered great setbacks, though I'm not really sure if I fit any of those descriptions.


  2004.11.28  19.49
Between Our Words

I innately like Thanksgiving because of the Over the River and Through the Woods mentality in the long drives when everyone is together. I put a dent in my APES homework by flashlight, read one of my brother's short stories, and listened to my grandma's reminiscences -- and then the immediate merges with the extended family. In the first few hours at the house in Tennessee I became the object of taunting when several relatives insinuated that I would not have eaten beef jerky (the kind marketed to dogs) if not for the influence of Woodchuck Cider. Despite my case that they really did taste fairly similar, someone said, "Yeah, yeah, we'll ask you in the morning," as if to say that I was not in my right mind (which is mostly ridiculous since I clearly remember all of this). Fortunately, others took up the slack of creating embarrassing situations: my cousin's husband cast a pall of awkwardness over the house when he spanked her shrieking son. My afternoon watching the first season DVD of Chapelle's Show turned into a one-way dialogue on race relations between several passing relatives and Dave Chapelle on the TV screen.

Some things stay latent for a while. Then they suddenly appear - - mushrooms on a rainy day. 'I have procrastinated for too long,' I thought. "I think I'd like to see Magnolia," I said without provocation yesterday. We rented it, and it changed my life even if no one else wanted to watch. It at least convinced me that a large cast and meandering plot can work out well in execution.

In other plot developments, I finished a villanelle, "Between Our Words", and received a new folding chair. A few more villanelle ideas occurred to me in the meantime. I won't stop writing them until I've mastered the form. I can't expect to write a "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", "One Art", or "To Eva Descending The Stair" but I can get close enough.

Who am I kidding? It's Sylvia and Dylan or bust!


  2004.11.19  16.24
Shaken to the Core

After all these bitter weeks, my poem (possibly inspired by a former history teacher) made the front page of our prestigious literary broadsheet, which was released this morning while the Journalism teacher was out of the building.

Shaken Villanelle

I had a dream that shook me to the core,
Which I should tell before my thoughts confound.
I think that I’m supposed to tell you more:

The hulls of foundered sailboats lined the shore.
Furious whitecaps broke without a sound.
I had a dream that shook me to the core.

You were drinking, you let the water pour
In your palms from a hollow in the ground.
I think that I’m supposed to tell you more:

You were sinking fast, the sand sucked on your
Feet as the ocean surged in all around.
I had a dream that shook me to the core.

The tide was strong, which we could not ignore.
I tried to move but found my legs were bound.
I think that I’m supposed to tell you more:

You seemed doomed but the scene turned black before
I could turn back to see if you had drowned.
I had a dream that shook me to the core.
I think that I’m supposed to tell you more…

I had to put villanelle in the title to make it clear that I had put some effort into it. Still, I probably could have made the cut even if I had submitted this kind of work:

BFF Haiku

Guys, remember the
Sleepover when we watched that
Movie and we cried?

Somehow, I have survived the 3.5 exams of the past two days.


  2004.11.18  20.45
The Astral Plane

The closer I come to mastering the challenges that life throws me, the more I realize that the rules are changing in such complicated ways that my effort seems irrelevant. After my years of bitter cold, revealing clothing, and inconvenient practices, my final varsity cross country race involved a small amount of straightforward running. The rest was an intricate dance through the sticky mud.

I have to remind myself that school has not become meaningless, it has simply moved beyond any comprehension, into rarefied strata that have not yet been explored by the mind, but are just beyond hands grasping air. Two of my classes this week have involved dizzying and gratuitous games, besides abstract and tangential class presentations. Whenever a teacher announces that students will present information to the rest of the class, you can bet that at least half (who am I kidding, all of them!) will try some novel, unconventional method of explaining, for instance, the significance of slavery or Macbeth, if they are going to try at all.

I am guilty, too. My group met at "Char"'s house on Sunday to make a film of Macbeth Act V, which required me to play three characters in one scene. Overall, it was pretty traditional, no new age wind instruments, mirrors, or rips in the fabric of space-time.

Of course, none of this would matter if these performances were informative, but half of the English presentations were more concerned with making a skewed statement than actually preparing us for the test (and AP exam). Number one, "How to Make a Macbeth", which involved four girls dressed as witches, throwing ingredients (bread crumbs, green liquid, candy) into a cauldron, would not have been too bad, but the directions became stilted and confusing after a while. How are you supposed to remove a dash of Banquo and Duncan after you've mixed them in, anyway? But the first offender was the Jeopardy game, which consisted of trivial information (What happens in Banquo's dream? What does the Porter do before he opens the door?), which my team, of course, could not answer, especially since the other team had the teacher. (And worse, in the passion of the game, after [hmmm-hmm-hm] told me to "Sit in a desk like normal people...", I replied, "But you're not on my team!", to which he replied without the subtlety of the forensics craft, "I'm the teacher, sit in a desk!")

(Fortunately, some people took the time to connect their creativity with the subject matter, so the hand puppet performance of Act IV was actually informative and funny to the point of being impossible to push out of my head).

Unfortunately, APES has been playing Quake Estate, a Left Coast, socially-conscious Monopoly knock-off for the past two days. After almost four total hours of playing, my group, especially Petra, decided that we had had enough of the baseless pursuit of material possessions. We stopped rolling the die and started to add in random "Whooo"s to keep up the impression that we were still playing, because we did not especially want to do anything else. The Doctor is not preparing us for the AP exam. Shame.

Today, I had three tests: in Calculus, English, and Chemistry. About ten hours after I was supposed to turn it in, I finished the improvised take-home Calculus test without cheating. ("He said you couldn't look in your book, but you could always look at your notes or on the Internet," someone claimed earlier today as justification for their plans to cheat. "He knows it's wrong and we know it's wrong, but it is a loophole...").

I am already worked up about the weekend. Still, I need to finish The Sound and the Fury.


  2004.11.12  15.30
Nautical Theme

I may have written my own theme song, with some kind of central C - A - B- C - D - E - C. For the first time, I now have a digital recording device, so yesterday afternoon, I hummed my song into the recorder and went upstairs to play it on the keyboard. On my second attempt, I made something that sounded vaguely sea shanty and organ grinder - ish. It may be pretty simplistic, but in a complicated chart that factors in natural talent, formal training, against song quality, there was some kind of quantum leap of luck, so it's decent for "outsider" music. Now that it's in the computer's hard drive, I may be on my way to making an album, however scary that may sound (if only I could make a compilation including a certain song about a commercial airline pilot). I am usually tapping my feet or buzzing something to myself, but most of my previous songs have disappeared since I don't really understand musical notation. But as "Kim" ominously warned me last year, my aptitude for musicianship will dry up when I turn 18, no earlier or later.

For most of yesterday and today, I have had the feeling that I am a very minor character in everyone else's lives, which should be a very natural feeling by now, but still, there have been powerful forces working outside of my control. Not too long ago, Coach Mo pitched the idea of going to a Science Symposium (Competition). After I heard the function's date, November 12, I told him that it wouldn't work out due to cross country. "Well, uh ... I'll just go ahead and turn in your name as long as you're a 'maybe'," he said.

Yesterday, he asked me if I was going. ( 'Was I supposed to plan for this? Wouldn't I simply embarrass myself in front of a crowd? The best possible outcome of this would be me leaving unscathed, but feeling like I'd wasted my day') I thought. I saw it coming, it had the dreamlike quality of going to school naked. "No, I think that we have some kind of cross country practice..." I said.

"Oh - - but we can work it out. It ends at two, we could get you back by four." On the information handout, the estimated return time was between 4 and 6 PM.

"It will still be too late," I said. "Sorry."

Perhaps in mourning for the science symposers, we did nothing in Calculus this morning. Besides, four girls had disappeared, so we spent a while speculating on their whereabout (at least two of us did), imagining some complex system of roadside elderly busybodies from here to the nearest large mall: "Yerrrhhh, I seen some girls pass by, looking like they were skipping school...". And also, we discussed how the search process would go if someone we knew decided to run away, leaving a heartfelt mix tape and letter hinting at her whereabouts ("Ok, guys, I really meant it this time. I need some way to distinguish myself in the college application process, and this might just put me over the top...Besides, you don't understand how hard it is to be a middle class, teenage girl growing up in a small town, because all my favorite bands would never come here, and nobody else I know likes my favorite bands, so I'd have to go to Cincinnati to see them...And every day, I get homework, and I have to do it...And, of course, I am the middle child, except that it's different from all the other middle children, and a lot harder, because..."). You know, all the extraordinary obstacles: the burden of gravity, the constantly regrouping desire for food, water and air, the steady march from day to night, and the claustrophobic confinement between the future and the past that is the present moment.

And speaking of people lamenting the woefulness of their lot, whether in mixtape or letter form, we reached this point in Macbeth the day after I started reading The Sound and the Fury:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

On page 133, The Sound and the Fury still does not make sense. I told [hmmm-hmm-hm] about this, but the first thing that he said to me was: "After a while, it starts to make sense. Raskalnikov kills the old lady..."

"Whoa, I'm not reading Crime and Punishment, that's Petra's," I said, "I'm reading The Sound and the Fury."

"Oh, that won't make sense. It'll come together after a while."

My yearbook plans (and Jennifer's) may be coming together. I'm trying to mesh a nautical map and the table of contents into one. If we weren't bonding before, Art is becoming some kind unifying, shared experience for us. "I can't believe that all four of us have never done anything together in or outside school, but we have this group and talk about everything."


  2004.11.09  17.19
After the Fact

I was about to go to bed on Sunday. All the lights were off. I was shaken up to look out the octagonal window and see the sky glowing a pale green-white. Since I am fairly new to my room, I took this as a normal event.

'What a swiftly tilting planet,' I thought (I really did). 'It must be getting late if the sun's coming up.' Driving home with the radio today, I heard about widespread reports of the Northern Lights. I may be too far south for the show, but I can still tell that something's going on.

Today, I realized with some prodding that I had slipped Freudianly into calling The Sound and the Fury, As I lay Dying, which is odd, because I thought about titling the previous entry "The Sound and the Fury", but didn't think that it was an auspicious enough day for something that dramatic. They do both take place in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, and they both involve mean people.

"Reese" also reminded me of the truest tense moment between my English teacher and me. The first school day after the ravine cleanup behind the school, I was scrambling around trying to get someone to pick up the scrap metal piled behind the practice football field. I called Solid Waste, and they made vague promises about coming with a truck. On Tuesday, October 5, a large, possibly bearded man arrived to deal with the trash, I ran through the school looking for a custodian liaison since I had class, but finally Mrs. Devine and Mme. Goodwin wondered if I might just go down and help them (and "Win" the office aide) with the mess. I went back to English to inform [hmmm-hmm-hm] of this.

"How do I know that you don't want to just skip class?" His words were even and coiled after decades spent training in the art of speech, skilled enough to deliver it well, but not skilled enough to mask the practices and honing. But there it was anyway, clear as day.

"Because Ms. "D'v'n'" - - she was there in the office, and "Win'", too. They could tell you."

"Why should I trust "Win'"?" Is Ms. "D'v'n" going to call?"

"Well, no, but I could come back with a note, eventually. They need me to help with the scrap metal. Everyone saw the trash from the ravine," I looked around pleadingly.

"Just sit down. You're not going to cut into my class time."

"That's fine," I said. "Mrs. Goodwin said not to press the issue if my second block teacher was going to get mad about me leaving."

Somewhere in the inner workings of the [hmmm-hmm-hm] mind, I may have tried to skip to avoid reciting Hamlet's main soliloquy. But when I went up, I'd like to think that I managed it just fine. Those grounded in the humanities put so much gusto and brio into their performances that my version must have been one of the truer ones (at least in the light of Hamlet's suicidal and brooding tendencies).

Just after I sat down and got my score back, the principal announced the earthquake drill, and everyone in the room crawled under their desks, laughed at the people out in the hall who were in tornado mode, and recited the soliloquy as a group. But that, of course, is beside the point, since I'm talking about the confrontation.


While I'm still talking about teacher, and while I still have plenty of time on my hands, I may as well recount some other awkward teacher moments.

scene: in the Calculus teacher's room, Wednesday, November 3, 2004, 20h10.

Teacher: Now, there are some authors that I just can't stand. But I really love Ayn Rand and the way she writes. In the book I'm reading, she's describing this diver on a cliff. She says it looks as if his shoulders and arms are somehow holding up the cliff, not the other way around.

Stephan: Yeah, I've read a few books by her, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, but I can't stand her ideology. (in a vaguely hoarse, sarcastic voice) "You shouldn't help other people".

Teacher: Yeah, you shouldn't have to help other people if you don't want to!

Stephan: But you see, I really disagree with that. It's kind of important in a society -

At other points we disagreed about George Bush and John Kerry.

Teacher: I just can't stand how John Kerry tries to go out and act like he's a man of the people. Give me a break. His wife probably told him that he was supposed to marry her.

Stephan: At least he's looking out for the people's interest. George Bush acts country and get all these people to vote for him, but does he really care?

Teacher: You have to remember, though, he grew up on a ranch.

Stephan: Bah! His family is extremely rich. They're from the same part of the country as the Kerrys, but Bush just goes out and hunts and acts like he's a regular guy.

Teacher: So you'd like him better if he canned beans?

Stephan: I'd like him better if he cared!

David: How about we do some calculus?

After tutoring/studying, the teacher stopped David and me in the side driveway. Somehow, he snuck the conversation back onto the topic of books.

David: Yeah, I tried to read some extra this summer. But I opened The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I just couldn't read with everything else going on.

Stephan: Yeah, I brought Anna Karenina with me to GSP, thinking that I could read it in desperation if I had nothing else to do. But I didn't actually start it.

Teacher: Anna Karenina, I loved that! It's kind of long, but my wife and I both read it. There were some parts in there that were so insightful, because Dostoevsky has such a strong grasp of the human mind. Now some passages I hated and my wife loved. But there were others that my wife hated and I loved. Anna meets this man, and he's telling her about how important it is for him to work. My wife just didn't understand, because for women, the most important thing is life is...

David: Children?

Stephan: Family?

Teacher: It's about relationships and talking, calling their friends on the phone, talking about their day. Work just isn't that important for them. And that's where my family is right now. My wife doesn't work, she's home with the kids. And she's fine with that. Now I can understand that. I had that job with the state last year, and I suddenly realized, "This is horrible", because they really weren't challenging me. So, I'm really happy to get back to teaching. Actually, my wife and I were watching an episode of Dr. Phil, and he said, "Work is important for men. They need projects..." And she turned to me and said, "Is that what Quick Recall is for you?". And I think it is. I think you'll both find that as you get older. Now, Anna and this man are both in similar situations in their lives, and he [...] while she just decides to [...].

He completely gave away the ending to Anna Karenina.

Stephan: Well, now I really want to read it.

Teacher without hint of sarcasm: You really should try.


"Reese" and I were looking at the [speech] sheets on [hmmm-hmm-hm]'s door this morning during our mid-Macbeth water break.

"I can't believe it. I wish I could be in David's group for practice instead of Emma's."

"Really? I wish that I could be in Charlotte's."

"Well, I can't blame anyone. Now that I'm doing duo-interp' with whoever that sophomore is who is my partner, that's just the way it will go."

"Guys," David said. "You might actually know what you're talking about if you had joined the forensics team. But it's too late now."

"But I do, at my flight at K'SD', it'll be rough..." David looked mildly annoyed.

I am tempted to imagine that there is a large contigent that has treated me decently in the hopes that I might add to the ranks of the walltalkers. But in October, the door finally shut, and it became clear that I would never join. Now I fear that they have definitively turned against me.


I went to look up digital voice recorder prices at RadioShack after practice today. As I told Dad, "I feel like my life and its details are slowly slipping away ... and I'd also like to have a recorder for class."

I never got a class ring, which is supposed to symbolize the undying memory of high school and the good times, and serve as some kind of object of solidarity. But years from now, a transcript would be a much better memento of these happy days.


  2004.11.08  20.12
English Language Edition

I almost woke up this morning. In the dream, I was in the garage, doing call and response with my echo, "Stephan - Stephan - Stephan," until I stopped completely and my echo worked alone. Then I realized that it was someone yelling to get me out of bed.

[hmmm-hmm-hm] remained largely skeptical of my work today. He assigned English class "skewed element" stories a while back, basically, we could change the location, narrator, theme, tone, of any familiar story. I finished a two-page story last week to turn in, but realized that I could not continue to write it because it contained the kind of innuendo that some might take the wrong way. Then, I wrote a second story, "An Urgent Message", six pages, which followed a sort of mid-life crisis afternoon. For the record, "David" and "Reese" both read an early version and claimed to enjoy it, but [hmmm-hmm-hm] said that it was not "obvious" enough. I started a third short story, "Character Displacement", which is pretty clearly a Messiah-archetype sort of story when you read the entire nine pages, and parallel to "Why I Live at the P.O" if you've read that.

"What are you spoofing?" he may or may not have asked, after reading the first paragraph of my story along with everyone else's.

I wasn't sure that I'd ever say it, but [hmmm-hmm-hm] may actually be stifling my creativity. His predilection for pastiches and campiness, and I think we all know what I mean, does not leave much room for experimentation away from puns and broad humor. So, of course, "I'm telling The Night Before Christmas from Santa's perspective" will be more warmly received than, you know, a pretty basic archetype.

For future and current reference, there have been other tense moments in English. "The latest Nobel Prize in Literature went to a Swedish woman," he said.

"No, it went to an Austrian woman," I said.

"I think it went to a Swedish woman."

I could tell exactly where he was coming from, because he later expertly about Margaret Atwood's chances of winning the Literature Prize. It dawned on me that all of this had been a recent piece on Public Radio.

I admit that I can be argumentative, speak out of turn, and go off on tangents sometimes. I have realized recently that I have justified about a third of my major declarations and observations about current literary trends based on what my brother has told me, which seems stranger for me than many might realize.

"Has anyone read meta-fiction?" [hmmm-hmm-hm] asked. "It tends to be very ... self aware."

After a few people commented, I tried to contribute. "Oh, yeah," I said, "I read one of my brother's stories last night, and it was very self-conscious and referential. The couple talked about how their dog was supposed to be a strong symbol of their love."

"Yeah, isn't that what we've been saying?" [hmmm-hmm-hm] asked anew.

Anyway, these sorts of moments explode into large events when you have thirty minutes of running a day and you can not listen to music, and otherwise have only a marginal ability to make up songs. Sometimes, I fear that I am so sorely lacking in the forensics gift-of-the-gab that I do not realize how awkward and wrong my class contributions can be, at least for those accustomed to the rarefied upper strata of persuasive speaking, where crafts are invariably honed. Otherwise, I think that English has consumed me more than other classes anyway because I can study for a few minutes on everything else, while papers and stories don't show up the same way. (And also because I spent about a month writing a total of 1900 words for my four college essays).

I chose As I Lay Dying for my English book today. Thieves swooped in and stole Crime and Punishment and East of Eden.

All the other classes involve painful memorization and repetition (Calculus, Chemistry, Environmental Science), or painful contortions required to draw body parts backwards (Art). While I'm on a roll in this entry not developing my ideas or connecting them, Art Coach has taken to calling me "National", and has given me permission to design the inside cover of the Yearbook (nautical theme, of course) along with "Jennifer". I have actually enjoyed developing my motor skills in there, since I get to listen to "Jenn" and "Alyssa" recount their social exploits.


  2004.11.07  23.42

At colleges across New England and upstate New York, a band of naked students from Hamilton College, who call themselves the school's varsity streaking team (and consider themselves undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation, though it is not clear - or even probable - that there is any competition), has been spotted tiptoeing through college libraries stark naked, forefingers on noses, advising people to shush and running down campus hills in a Flying V formation, also naked, flapping their arms and making "caw" noises...

For the first time since the results came in, I laughed without anyone around to help me, thanks to an education special in the New York Times.

I have a strong feeling now that all my pent up energy (possibly rage) will serve a good purpose in the end, but I'm not sure what I should be doing. Fasting? Becoming a vegan? Writing a novel? Going to bed?

We won the regional meet, and it will soon be over, though I imagine that I will probably move on to more interesting events, like marathons and eco-challenges. I wouldn't mind it if it weren't so cold. A lot of people think that they've been cold, but when the temperature is around freezing and you're wearing clothing that was designed to be a bad insulator, you begin to understand how chilly it can get.


  2004.11.03  21.17
Do Not Go Gentle

Every fourth year reinforces my bad feelings toward Kentucky. They wane, but always flare back up.

"I'm so glad that it's over," someone said.

"It's only beginning," I wanted to say ominously. All I can see is that we have four more years of raging against the dying of the light.


  2004.10.30  20.36

Which would be more surprising, Osama bin Laden staging an attack on America, or simply not appearing at all before the election? Of course, in the nature of the surprise, he did neither. Surmise no more, his video message to American voters, even more oddly, does not contain vitriolic platitudes. For being a mass murderer, he is pretty lucid. Some of his remarks, like "Bush says and claims that we hate freedom, let him tell us then, 'Why did we not attack Sweden?' " practically stole the punchline from Jon Stewart.

There's still time left for another, truer surprise. Besides, an extra hour is going to appear tonight, which will thankfully give me just a few more minutes to work on my college application. It's all coming together. I can feel it.


  2004.10.27  17.28
The Twin Speaks of Rivers

I completely revised what was supposed to be my first completed college essay last night. What used to be "Spreading the Word", which connected my experience working for the local Democratic Party has become "The Hard Sell", which subliminally connects my plea to a mysterious voter with my unstated final plea to be accepted. I never say it, but I could almost interject with:

So here I go is my shot.
Feet fail me not, 'cause this maybe the only opportunity that I got...

[hmmm-hmm-hm] liked my essay this morning, so I was relieved.

At around 7:40 this morning, I checked the College Board website, where I discovered that my SAT scores had arrived. I was relieved, and convinced that Early Decision was a reasonable decision. I was late in leaving, so I simply brought all of my stuff to first block. "Ch'" was more excited than I was to see my results, and secretly spread word about them, for her own shady reasons.

If I didn't have it before, I have election fever. I have been John Kerry in several recent dreams. In Chemistry, I mistakenly added 270 instead of 273 to a Celsius figure to find Kelvin because of the importance of the number. Daniel Mongiardo is still tied with Bunning. If there is any good indicator of Mongiardo's chances, my Cross Country Coach told me that he was a strong Republican, but would feel very conflicted going into the polling booth. "Ask me who I voted for after the election."


  2004.10.23  16.59
Return of the Nativity

On Friday morning, Guidance Coach appeared at the English class door. He gestured with an envelope, which he handed to the nearest student, who passed it on. Everyone in the row looked at the address and names, as I stared helplessly. 'That's right, go ahead and look where I'm applying to college', I thought reflexively. A few passes later, I had the letter; Guidance Coach had filled out the entire administration section of the application in less than a day.

I worked at the local Dem headquarters last night from 4 to 7. As promised, I started calling every Democrat in my precinct. Just for fun, I worked through the list chronologically, starting with the oldest. Not surprisingly, I was met with various explanations and excuses why the individual(s) couldn't come to the phone:

"He's deceased!"
"They're in the big house!"

I called an old man, but a lady picked up, "Oh, he's gone out. I'll give him a message when he comes home. What's the message?"

"I'm just a local Democrat encouraging Mr. {...} to vote on November 2nd."

"I don't think he'll be able to, he's so old."

"Does he need a ride to the polls?"

"No. He's so feeble, he can't get out of the house..." I was suspicious, but I let her go. I'm not a mean telemarketer.

After I worked through the oldest of the bunch, I started to call people with interesting names, but Mr. Patel and Ms. Liu didn't answer.

In the midst of this, Reese called to tell me that she was alive. I regret that instead of going to Nashville for a big QR tournament, I decided to go to a Cross Country Invitational, but I still had pangs of guilt imagining Freshmen and Sophomores circling her and forcing her to play complex handclapping games or the regret of knowing that I was missing a major confrontation. Think of all the bonding that I missed, too.

When I came home, one parent was worried and relieved. I had assumed that they knew where I was going when I left. "I saw that the last website you visited was the College Board site, so I was afraid you'd gotten bad news about scores and'd decided to drive somewhere." It was the sort of statement that I can't stand to hear all the time, but at least has some entertainment value. Besides, the College Board site still won't offer up my latest scores.

At least in my imagination, writing college essays is improving my writing skills, or honing my wordcraft. More often in the past two weeks than ever before, I have had those "Ohh yeah. Ohh yeah." moments as I type, which is to say that I've felt a surge of self-congratulation course through me as I write something that I consider profound. I found the most critical person in school and let her read over my "Bicycle Diaries" essay in Chemistry. She may be trying to trick me, but she claimed that it was good work. My brother confirmed that it was passable material. Now on to the next essay, "Agricultural Revelation".

In last night's especially vivid dream, Reese decided to throw a multimedia Christmas pageant at my church. People came from all over town, and passed potluck dishes down through the pews since it was some kind of BYOD dinner theater. I was nervous as she came onstage and explained that she would shed new light on the Nativity by reenacting parts of several Shakespeare plays: Cymbaline, King Lear, and Hamlet.

"Look, it's Paula Poundstone," an elderly Black man whispered to me as Reese introduced herself.

The actors were synchronized with animated figures on the screen behind them as the medley began. As all the lights turned off, the image of a train, black-and-white, running on tracks several hundred feet above farmland, chugged toward a monochrome city. It was Louisville at the end of the 19th century, I somehow knew. Another burst of light, which centered on Reese. "Remember, there is only one J of hearts, and it stands for Jesus, not Jack."

When the lights came up, everyone was crying and hugging, but still managed to give a long round of applause.


  2004.10.21  17.11
Swing States

Who says that John Kerry is always on the wrong side of history? His favorite baseball team, the Red Sox, is finally going to the World Series. How is that for validation?

I went to the guidance counselor's office this afternoon, thinking of excuses, when all I really wanted to ask was, "Well, how far along are you on my application?". Instead, "Hi, [Guidance Coach], are there any other parts of the application that I need to sign?" He looked through his stacked black trays, opened my folder.

"When is this due?" I peeked over and saw the pages conspicuously untouched.

"November first."

"Hmmm...". I pointed to the box on the front of the first page, which read Early Admission, November 1. "I'll get back to you at the end of the week," he said.

I was appeased.


  2004.10.20  17.54
Showdown State

With somewhere around 286 hours until I have to turn in my college application, I have reached an elevated state. It may not be color-coded, but it is palpable. With only 1.5 of my essays finished, I am starting to imagine the nightmare that my application could be. How many taboos could be included, counting the other letters? Some possible excerpts:

I'm so creative...And I finally learned my lesson...It was cutting edge...I realized that I NEED poetry to be true to myself. My life, as I see it, is an unfinished poem...You know, the funny thing is, Stephan hasn't talked to me all year. But I won't bore you with him, the important part of the story begins on a mountaintop in rural Eastern Kentucky, near a town where all the unfortunate residents sit out on their front porches and wave at passing cars...But anyway, he's really mean when you get down to it...I'm writing this letter of recommendation to tell you about a bright girl, Sarah Justice...

There is trouble brewing on the Academic Team.


  2004.10.19  17.16
Cold Frontin'

My assignment sense, or in this case, my sense of [hmmm-hmm-hm]or was on the mark. Today, [hmmm-hmm-hm] assigned a short story (actually, whatever writing we want to turn in, whether essay, story, or poem) just as I was developing my plot. I realized that my drug deal/use scenes in my story were not going to be very realistic, so I finally asked someone for help at lunch, while fearing that they would somehow be offended or worse, consider me a narc'. Fortunately, they seemed flattered that I asked. I feel so much more worldly now that I know the weight and going price for a blunt, or the meaning of "Flippin' bricks".

Last night, I went to a college fair. The combination of words sounds very madrigal and medieval to me, and the guilty excitement that I had was proportional. I put in a good word for David at the Davidson booth, and talked to local alumni guy from another school at their booth.

On the political front, I signed up to participate in some kind of school debate, after badgering the organizer to include me. "Are you a Republican or Democrat?" he asked, writing down my name. Hopefully, they will let me talk about the environment, and hopefully someone on the opposing side will be clueless enough to want to debate it. Things are looking up in the Senate race. Jim Bunning was up over 20 points, then 12, 8, 6, now he and Dr. Daniel Mongiardo are tied 43 - 43 in a Gavin/Hart/Yang poll. Clearly, somebody has momentum. Hopefully, I can get a list of all the Democrats and Independents in the precinct so I can call them all before election day. The powers at the local office had some kind of form telephone conversation, but for practical purposes, I'd rather skip the talk about John Kerry and cut to the Mongiardo. It's easier than walking outside, since it has gotten so much colder recently.

Hm, I have more than doubled my friends on here. The one character has just started a journal, and due to some confusion about 'friend' and 'friend of', I never added the other, so I am the mean person, it seems, though that is in style these days. I did not realize that the third person had a presence here until today, so I added him too.

I am copying some choice songs for my music-lorn friend, Dave, who told me a sad story about wandering into Sam Goody and leaving with a set of remastered Bob Dylan bootlegs. He vaguely mentioned Sufjan Stevens and The New Pornographers, so those he will hear. Of course, he will very soon go out and buy those albums so as not to bring the long arm of the law down on him.


  2004.10.17  20.59

After the cross-country meet in the bitter wind, I went to the library and rented Lawrence of Arabia, Minority Report, and The Shipping News, mostly because they did not have The Hours, Ghost in the Shell, or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I finished eight of my drawings watching Lawrence and Minority Report, which combined take up a lot of time. I ditched my idea of the Water Cycle as an art theme, since it was a little vague to begin, in favor of cut flowers.

If I can strike some balance between vagueness and candor ... I had another creative burst last night related to writing, mostly just figuring out the relations between characters. I am afraid that I may go off the deep end before I lose interest, because the story (and there is one) is kind of sprawling (hopefully in an epic way, and not an unfocused way). Fortunately, I know how it ends, since I figured that out first, but not how it begins.

Afternoon hike at the Wildlife Refuge was odd, given that fifteen other people of various ages (but uneven in political leanings) were in the group.


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