A Quick Word

"In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism." -Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

27 October 2009

My life as it is now.

I am a jumbled mess veiled beneath an exterior of big teeth and pleasant speech. I fear I am on the verge of serious physical detriment due to lack of rest and erratic sleep patterns, which are causing some disturbing things to happen to me. My time sleeping for the year of 2009 is about 6 hours per night--sometimes less. The body was not meant to live on caffeine alone. Worse, these things are causing me to procrastinate, to get behind on assignments, and, ultimately, to perpetuate a vicious cycle that I must end somehow. My cognitive abilities have declined to the point that I forget ends of sentences as I start to speak them, can't remember simple things throughout my day, and can barely comprehend even basic reading material. All of these problems have built a weight of anxiety that hovers perilously over my shoulders at every moment, threatening to topple me into oblivion. Hyperbole aside, I really should get things in order. My eyesight, which has also declined dramatically, can't take much more or I'll surely go blind.

I realized something important last night: excellence comes not through hopes or ambitions, forgiveness for trespasses or fixing problems, but through the honest act of plodding along, of being proactive and taking charge-- in essence, it is bred of doing. During my lifetime, I have had the incredible opportunity to hear many great men and women speak about what it took to get them where they are, and their statement almost never had to do with being the biggest or the best or the brightest, but being the most willing and resilient. I am reminded of when I had the privilege to hear Tony Blair speak at a leadership conference, and he was asked what was the most important thing for a leader to have-- that quality that got him to the top of British politics (and a crucial leader in the free world). His response: just keep trucking (though he said it much more eloquently than that.) Mr. Blair advised everyone to identify and have what he called an "irreducible core," and to retain it at all costs. This "core" is comprised of all the things most crucial to who you are, and is what will allow you persevere through difficult times. I have neglected to maintain my own "irreducible core," and have let it slip away as the much more primal needs for sleep and rest have superseded my desires for anything more.

So, in a public forum, I am declaring a fresh start. First on the agenda: get more sleep. Because how can I do if I don't have the energy to?

21 October 2009


I don't know if annual visits by pestilential creatures are commonplace in the Midwest, but if so, I feel slighted for not having been warned. First, we endured the clouds of soybean aphids. These were gross, as you couldn't help but inhale them and/or get them in your eyes as you walked from class to class. The aphids disappeared after a few weeks, and I thought the irritation had subsided. However, a new breed of irksome creature has emerged to take up the aphid's mantle: the ladybug. That's right; I did not misspeak. Ladybugs, ladybugs, ladybugs, flitting around everywhere, swarming out of bushes, and descending in droves from tree branches-- its maddening! What's worse is that, not only do they land all over you, but they inflict painful bites to exposed skin whenever given the chance; I've already been bitten in the neck twice.

This is unnecessary. To any Midwestern natives: Are there any other plagues I should know about?

15 October 2009

Good mornings get the day going right.

I'm beginning to really enjoy my time in Champaign. I've found a few new haunts, one of them being the Pekara Bakery in downtown Champaign, on Neil St. right beside Aroma Coffeehouse (another great place). Everything is made fresh from all natural ingredients-- you can taste the difference. Today's crisp, misty Autumn morning was met with a steaming cup of their house roast coffee, a piece of pumpkin bread, and a piece of banana chocolate chip bread. Delicious.

Things in Champaign are much quieter than in nearby Campustown (not surprising, really.) There's two great used bookstores-- Jane Addams being the better one-- and great restaurants and a few really great bars (the Blind Pig, Bentley's, the Seven Saints), not to mention the historic Virginia Theatre, where Roger Ebert hosts his own film festival every year and one can catch movies for much cheaper than in regular theatres (it's owned by the Park District.) There are also a bevy of up-scale eateries, jewelry stores, and vintage clothing stores. I've frequented the Walnut Street Tea Co.-- one of the best specialty tea stores I have ever experienced. All of these places are within walking distance of my apartment. Win.

So, there's my plug for the city of Champaign. Come visit me.

10 October 2009

My current project (aside from not becoming a mediocre student).

About midway through last summer, after having finished re-reading the 6th and 7th Harry Potter books in preparation for the movie's release, I had a revelatory experience: instead of simply waiting for another burst of inspiration, I should focus my writing efforts on re-penning and improving the novel I had already written. So far, I have only managed a new title, a revised dedication, a new author's note, and seven pages of new material (chapter one). It's slow going. However, I have gotten a fair amount of pleasure out of the experience. I am enjoying seeing the book that I had envisioned begin to truly take shape-- no more misplaced modifiers or awkward sentences or rampant adverbs. The story itself is becoming richer, deeper. And with each minute I spend working on its tangles and blemishes, I feel myself becoming richer and deeper as well.

I've spent considerable time this past year thinking about my academic career-- too much time, I believe. In focusing all of my attention on graduate school, trying not to fall behind in Latin, and working through the difficulties of starting a new life, I have inadvertently rearranged my priorities. Because, as foolish as I know this sounds, academia is a fall-back plan to my true (and even less attainable) career goal of being an author. . . namely, a children's author (which is even less attainable than being pretty much any other kind of author). It's like a business degree in case you don't become the next Peyton Manning or something.

I have discovered that when I make my writing my first priority, it brings my grades up as well. I can't figure it out.

But I'm not going to argue with it.

07 October 2009

The sad story of the eternal enema.

In the sometimes difficult (and oftentimes, frustrating) business of living the collegiate life, I can easily let stress get the better of me. I can begin to blow things out of proportion, so that my mid-terms turn into life-or-death gladiatorial games or the fact that I need to go to Walmart becomes a daunting journey into the deepest, darkest jungle. Yet, every day, right as I step off the bus in front of the Union, I am reminded that my problems-- no matter how awful they may seem-- are not as bad as the fate that this poor lady must endure forever.

She sits majestically atop her fountain, which someone engineered and designed so that the main water feature blasts her right in the--well, you can see. I don't know whose idea it was to make the fountain do this, but I think its hilarious; I can hardly walk by without at least grinning a little bit. One day, my curiosity drove me to read the hefty copper sign that lay in one of the flower beds surrounding this lady's domain. I discovered that, originally, this fountain (which was designed by a Swede named Carl Milles) stood in downtown Chicago at 540 N. Michigan Ave, and was given to the school as a gift presented by Time Inc. on behalf of the class of 1921. The unfortunate woman at its top is none other than the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana (Greek: Artemis). This would explain the bronze animals that adorn the other tiers of the fountain, as well as account for the bow (that looks suspiciously like a stick) in her left hand. As for the reason why she must be subjected to a perpetual heavy crotch-dousing, I can't definitively say. However, I can say that, as well as being goddess of the hunt, Diana represented chastity, and, in myth, remained a virgin for all eternity.

Oh, you funny little Swedes.

02 October 2009

The Spectator.

I continue to watch and observe.

Recently, in Enlightenment Lit., we read various essays from Joseph Addison's popular (at the time) paper, the Spectator. At its most basic, Addison's paper was simply a collection of his observations of English culture. He viewed himself as being aloof from the goings-on of society, and it was this detachment, he claimed, that gave him license to offer his commentary. I thought such a credential was slightly ridiculous-- how could he be living in the culture from which he deemed himself so aloof? Could he have not picked something else to add legitimacy to his observations? Perhaps not. Today, while walking through the park toward my apartment, I realized that, in many ways, I was feeling like Addison. I stand just outside of a few social circles, yet participate in none. My observations of interaction at UIUC takes place in small vignettes on the quad-- sorority girls talking loudly and frustratedly into their cell phones (apparently something happens every night of the week that pisses at least one of them off in some way), or guys laying out a hazily detailed plan of how they "are totally going out tonight, man," or some activist group shoving flyers at you while attempting to solicit support for their cause (which usually has to do with socialism or saving animals--no hyperbole here). People argue about everything. I don't know the other people, who are usually quiet, and so they slip easily into the background of my everyday observations.

I want to feel part of a circle. Joseph Addison was great, but I don't want to be him. (Nor do I want to be in any three of the circles mentioned previously.) Patience wears thin.

My next post will be pretty interesting. I promise.