Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Confounding Thing Happened on the Way to the College

I have been driving over a decade. Since Americans are scared to actually get on a bike to pedal and fearful of our feet doing too much repetitive motion on concrete sidewalks, many of us have spent more hours than necessary driving.

I have driven in numerous cities and states. I have been in the presence of my husband as he drove around in numerous cities and states. And I have seen my share of impatient drivers. Chicago. Minneapolis. And let's not forget the bustling metropolis that is Roland. And yet, South Bend isn't willing to settle for bronze. She has tried to rival the best of them in her enigmatic antics, but what I saw this week certainly takes the award for unnecessary and unfruitful impatience.

I had made the decision to run home for lunch and was then returning to work while I was stopped at a red light. This particular intersection is a reasonably busy one in town, and I happened to be in the right lane with quite a few other commuters, as my right turn was coming up in a block. The left lane was nearly empty in comparison. Our green turn arrow was finishing up its cycle, and at most we were ten seconds away from resuming forward motion.

Cars were crowded bumper to bumper in front of me, inching closer in anticipation. Being the defensive driver who needs her personal space, I opted to wait to advance instead of pulling up to fill the recently vacated car-length space, only to have to come once again to a stop.

Suddenly, someone two cars behind me pulls out into the left lane. I imagine she likes the idea of space as well and wants to have a head start on the others by sidling up to them in the left lane. No. Not even close. Instead, she slinks around us, only to angle her car directly in front of me. And stop. For all of two seconds, until we received the green light.

Never before have I been passed at a red light. I will never understand what drives someone to such lengths. South Bend may be busy traffic-wise on home-game Saturdays (which this wasn't, being a Wednesday and all), but as a general rule, two car-lengths does not constitute an intelligible difference.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Catching Up With Unfortunate Events

I'm indulging in some young-adult literature again. This is what comes from having been an English teacher; you accrue a wide variety of novels, often unread for a season.

This summer I read the first ten books in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The premise surrounds three children who have lost their parents in a fire at the start of the first book. They are shuttled from distant relative to distant relative, all while one Count Olaf is trying to kill them for their fortune. The books are dark and ironic and even with all the treachery, the three siblings rise up to the occasion and outsmart their opponent through using any combination of their respective talents, only to face another daunting experience in the next installment.

As the series by Snicket (or rather, Daniel Handler) evolved, I've grown to enjoy the books more. They seem more nuanced and clever and not nearly as formulaic. Lemony Snicket has even been developing a mystery through the course of the books. And don't even get me started on his morbid dedications. Each one is to a mysterious Beatrice, whose presence has been hinted at in the book but not fully disclosed. It started with:
For Beatrice--
darling, dearest, dead.
Another was:
For Beatrice--
When we were together, I felt breathless.
Now, you are.
And the last one I will share:
For Beatrice--
No one could extinquish my love,
or your house.

Should you like to delve into the world of the author or his pseudonym, you can read some interviews conducted with him (or is it them? It's all very quite confusing).

The thirteenth and final book just came out this week (aptly titled The End), so I've returned to reading with The Grim Grotto (Book the Eleventh). To give you an idea of the writing style, I will share one of the sentences I encountered tonight:
A short woman might be difficult to see on a crowded city street, particularly if she has disguised herself as a mailbox, and people keep putting letters in her mouth.
I've completely wronged you by not giving proper context, but such is life. I trust this was not the most erroneous thing done to you today. And if it was, you're not doing too badly.

I will close with another quotation to whet your appetite. Here is one from The Miserable Mill, an earlier book in the series:
If an optimist has his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed," but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!"

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Family Misunderstanding, or How Feuds are Started

While at a movie a couple weeks ago, we appropriately had our phones on silent. Eric missed a call from his young nephew who, when his mom dialed the number, insisted on getting the phone immediately after. He was interested in listening to it ring and then asking us about our kitten. Alas, the voicemail came on: "You've reached Eric and Faith. We can't come to the phone right now...."

Later, when Eric listened to his message, he heard his four-year-old nephew's mournful voice: "He hung up on me!"

Sunday, October 08, 2006

One Year Anniversary of a Buick Century's Passing

One year ago today was a momentous event. There I was, driving along a highway early one Saturday morning. Normally, a teacher would have been better suited to being at home, snug in her bed on such a day, but I had graciously given up my slumber to proctor the SAT at the high school in my district. Little did I know that evil was afoot.

There were few cars on the road, typical of an early Saturday morning in the Cities. I was in the right-hand lane, only a few miles from home, when I noticed a semi barreling down at a fast speed in the left lane (here you can imagine ominous music for the soundtrack, slowly building in intensity). He passed me, but as we were nearing an intersection that had just turned green, he was forced to substantially slow down for someone coming from a stop right in front of him. My lane was empty, so I was coming upon him again, thus passing him on the right. I decided I didn't want to stick around in his blind spot for long since I knew he wouldn't be very patient behind a slow car. Few drivers are.

Right when I was nearly parallel with his cab, I suddenly found myself screaming as my car lost control -- he had turned right into it at 60 mph. If you know me, you know I am not typically a screamer. So much so that when I was in a dinner theater a few years back and was forced to scream from offstage on command, I was unable to do so and someone else did it for me. But that day I became a master screamer! I rivaled the ring wraiths from Lord of the Rings in piercing quality and shrillness. The semi scratched along my left side and since he hit my front left side, he set me into a spin. The only thought going through my mind, as my scream filled my car and my frozen arms gripped the wheel, was that I hoped he wouldn't throw me into traffic, as I could no longer control my car from the damage it had sustained.

After a nice spin or two, I landed miraculously in the median of our four-lane highway. There was just enough grass for my car to rest in the median. Just ahead of my car was a sign I missed by a couple feet. And then the median widened and dipped, so I would have been more likely to roll. Just before where I landed, there's just a small median of concrete, and if I would have been thrown there, I could have been in oncoming traffic.

So I found myself in the midst of my first car accident. As soon as I realized my car was at rest and I was no longer in immediate danger, I reached for my purse and grabbed my phone to call Eric. I was shaking noticeably as he picked up, suspecting nothing. He answered with a delighted, "Oh, my baby is calling to talk to me!", whereas I could barely wait for him to finish to blurt out, "Eric, I've just been in a car accident. A semi hit me. I'm fine, but you have to find someone's number so they knows I'm not going to be there on time!" While he said he admired my dedication to my job, he was confused why shock didn't keep me from being responsible.

Fortunately my door opened enough for me to get out, and my body, other than some bruises, had sustained little damage. I have been receiving continuing treatment for my back since then, as it was sprained from the impact. When there are days where I'm tired and worn and my back is especially acting up, I just remember the accident and how favorable it was to me. And my back is getting steadily better, so those self-pitying thoughts are further and further apart.

The semi driver had pulled over down the road. Our only interaction after the accident was when he walked over to gruffly ask, "Where are we at?" so he could relay it to the person on the other end of the phone call, presumably the police.

The police officer arrived and took my account first, then took an unusually long time to talk with the semi driver. The driver, 24 years old, corroborated my story, admitting he just hadn't seen me there. Unfortunately for the driver, while he did have insurance, he didn't have a license. From the officer's account, it wasn't clear whether it had lapsed or if he didn't have the proper license for the rig he was driving, but we were told that was of no concern to us. We were allowed to go after about an hour, while the other driver was in the back of the patrol car; there was no way they were going to allow him to drive without a license. He had been transporting cattle, so the officer was slightly at a loss how long it would take to track down someone qualified to drive the truck to its destination. For good measure, he was going to test the driver for substances to ensure it was simply human error, and not an intoxicated or drug-influenced accident.

Our car was totaled and counted as a loss. There was some nostalgia as I parted with that car, but she served us well in the time we had it. After all, she protected me to the end. Since every car needs a nickname, our Buick Century had been My Precious, in homage to Tolkien and his literary tome. It seemed appropriate that in the end, it had to be destroyed so that I could go on.

And lest you think my Century was poorly made, I'll have you know that, according to the police report, while my car received 'severe' damage, the semi sustained 'moderate.' That's right. I didn't mess around with any small vehicle for my first accident, and My Precious packed a wallop in her death throes.

My father-in-law's birthday is today as well. One year ago, in response to the accident, he said, "The best birthday present I could have gotten today was Faith being okay." After all, not too many people get to tangle with a semi and then walk away.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Literary Pretensions

I recently learned about an annual activity called NaNoWriMo by its followers. It stands for National Novel Writing Month. In 1999 came its inception. The premise? Write at least 50,000 words in one month's time. This constituted the size of a shorter novel, in the league of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye or Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.

The tongue-in-cheek responses to the FAQ won me over. This year in November, I aim to start with the swarm of others. Do I have an idea what I will write about yet? Nope. But I choose to believe Ray Bradbury's philosophy will work: "Your intuition knows what it wants to write, so get out of the way."

In preparation, I broke in Interlibrary Loan here in South Bend to scrounge up a copy of No Plot? No Problem!: A low-stress, high velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days. The creator of NaNoWriMo penned this book to guide us through the experience. I feel much as I did preparing for my first RAGBRAI, where I read everything the Des Moines Register had on conditioning for the event. As well as readying Chris Baty's book, I found myself browsing the forums; one was analyzing the merits of various typefaces.

Will I finish the month with a rough draft? I'm not sure. I would certainly have the time to accomplish this (Baty claims the average individual needs 55 hours to do so). We'll see if the drive holds out. I wasn't sure this blog would be around past the first couple months, but it seems to want to stick around a while longer.

So come November, send author-ish vibes my way. I will try to frequent coffeeshops and libraries so I can get in the literary groove. Perhaps you want to join me in this challenge?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

First Impressions

At work, I've been working on catching up on emails sent to our department account. It had been forgotten since October 2005, leaving me with 844 messages (not including the spam in quarantine).

Many of the messages were prospective graduate students just asking questions or requesting information for our department. Come springtime, the questions became, "Did you receive all of my materials?" and "What's the status of my application?" One amusing international student, becoming frustrated with no reply, began sending the same message at frequent intervals. Once he became especially desperate and we received his message once per minute. I imagine him home late at night, disgruntled with us, pounding the Send button over and over. (I must add, though, I felt guilty many of these waited without receiving a response, which is not professional, but seeing as how I wasn't responsible for the lapse, I'm trying to find some humor in the work.)

I faced this daunting task and have now caught up with all the messages that needed attention. However, I must mention that, although I may just be a conduit for these messages, there's no way anyone addressing messages to that address knows it's me versus the director of graduate students or the chair of the department. This is why I was surprised to read the following message:

To whom it may concern

I was wondering if i coudl get some information on your biology
programs. I am requesting this so i can make a decision on where i hsould attend for graduate studies.

[Name withheld to protect him from humiliation and justified censure]

I recognize it sure can be tricky to hold down Shift as well as press another key in order to create a capital letter. And have you ever actually tried to run spellcheck or glance through your message before relegating it to your Outbox? Because that is just tiresome. But when you're hoping to be a potential graduate student in a prominent university known for their strong academic tradition, shouldn't you make the effort?

In short, I responded, but he's fortunate that I don't make the admission decisions. Let's hope, if he does apply, he puts a little more thought into his application. And that this message was not characteristic of his work, instead being written under the influence of cold medicine.

Monday, October 02, 2006

You Are Hereby Summarily Rejected...

Today I opened a business letter addressed to me only to read the following:
The University is currently working with new systems and as a result you may have received a [rejection] letter for a position that you did not apply for. Please accept our apology for any inconvenience.

Yes, this happened last week. I questioned the validity of the dismissal, as I was fairly confident that I had not applied for the position of one Camps/Facilities Internship. Nevertheless, I deftly stomached the rejection, as long as it took me to cover the distance to the recycle bin.

I must say, it's a harsh world where I am being rejected for jobs that I haven't even applied for. It's fortunate for everyone involved that I'm already gainfully employed.