Monday, September 14, 2009

Back to school...I wish?

You know that feeling.

It comes when the summer foliage's just starting to crinkle, and a few overeager leaves have already taken the plunge. The wind's a bit sharper and everything has a hint of the sweet smell of dried grass. There's a spark, a crackle when I step outside, and just the tang of the air carries with it a sense of purpose.

Only problem is, the root of that purpose appears to have passed without warning. Gone are the days of rushing between classes, done are the days of staring at the clock and waiting for a lunch break, finished are those long-ago moments of trading of drug-dealer TI-83 programs and playing chicken with my GPA. And did I mention learning some occasionally cool stuff in-between?

Yeah, I'm really, actually referring to Back To School time. It's probably just me, but despite the reluctance of leaving those long slacking days of summer vacation behind, preparing for school and getting into a new school year is something I've now discovered I enjoyed. Back in the day, I'd organize my plastic binder (TrapperKeeper, anyone?), stick those little white donut-shaped protectors over the torn holes of my folders with the amazing paintings of space and underwater 'scapes, label my stack of spiral-ring notebooks and organize everything in my backpack. I'd note when all the exams and big assignments were in my planner once I got each course syllabus (which would eventually vanish), and write down my daily class schedule several times so I wouldn't forget. Never mind that organization, as always, is futile, and soon my backpack would be stuffed full of wrinkled assignments and candy wrappers and pencil lead and linty tissues. I loved reading a book beneath my desk during a boring lecture. Though tests kicked my butt more often than I kicked theirs, that occasional ace was a high. I liked having a collection of finished essays and assignments at the end of a school year because if not for that deadline, I'd just have a bunch of beginnings with no end. I mean, I'm pretty much writing the equivalent of a "Coming of Age" prompted English essay right now. What the hell is wrong with me?

This has got to be the most obvious embodiment of the saying, "distance makes the heart grow fonder." Do I really miss homework? No. Do I really miss exams? Absolutely not. Pulling crap out of thin air artfully for acceptable bs-ing on assignments? ....maybe. Having to get up before the sun at times to make it to class? Definitely !affirmative.

But what I do miss is that sense of community, of belonging to a class going through the same annoyances and professor-induced torture, of having expectations and being able to fulfill them. Completion. Almost instant gratification. Deadlines. Yes, I said deadlines. Freedom is beautiful, but only if you're the type able to whip yourself out of procrastinatory vegetation to do some unidentified task your brain keeps feeling that you should be doing. It's especially beautiful if you can squelsh that restless need to always be doing something, in which case I envy you your happy-slacker spirit...

It's not that I don't appreciate stability, free time, the power to be my own scheduler and timekeeper. I still do on the currently rare occasion when life is truly hectic. Yet normally, when things are slow and calm and predictable, motivation to do all those things I had been dying to do but put off when I was busy takes a bow and exits, stage left. Boredom can trigger creative muses, but having periods of busyness provides the basis for their inspiration.

This will be my second fall of no classes, no backpack, no textbooks. No assignments, no multitasking, few real timelines, no real guidelines. It's Back To School no more, that's all, folks! And I have to say, sometimes I'm a little wistful. School wasn't a piece of cake, but it was mine to have and sometimes nibble on.
And really, it's not school that I miss, but that strong sense of immediate purpose that buzzes on September air. Back in high school, physics class taught the fundamental truth that human beings aren't speed detectors; they're acceleration detectors. We can be hurtling through life at a breakneck pace, but if it's a constant breakneck pace, it gets old. Crawling along leisure-like for long periods also gets my great surprise. This must be why people have mid-life crises; their brain is screaming for change, some novel stimuli, a new knot to untie, a new goal to direct themselves towards.

So you know the feeling, right?

Ok, so probably normal people don't. Normal people have a solid goal they chip away at, day by day, until they end up with a product, a skill, a purpose. But something about my current situation makes my final goal something more like a fuzzy star on the horizon, elusive, tantalizing and frustratingly intangible. I'm not quite sure how to get there, how long the travel time will be, and not a clue what to do once I arrive.

This just means I've now realized it's time to stop whining and put that sense of purpose to use.
And my next goal is finding me a piece of oily rectangular pizza and a little pint of chocolate milk with a straw and a snac-pac of chocolate pudding so I can properly wallow in my mental regression.

Just for tonight.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Ants are fascinating creatures. In fact, up close, the average little worker is rather cute. The long waving antennae, her preening cleanliness, the delicate little legs, the stubble dotting her shiny exoskeleton, and on some of the little household ants I have ample experience with, the almost iridescent honey-colored stripes ringing her abdomen lend a touch of class. All in all a docile, pixie-like being, silent and subtle.

As a kid I used to dream of catching a newly mated queen and setting up an ant colony in my room. I remember building one of those flat, rectangular little wood and plastic houses for them, and even once nabbing some larvae and workers beneath these large gray bricks lining our garden. I got up early for a week to stare into the little world I made for them because the moment I was conscious, I'd think to myself, "I wonder what the ants are doing!" and killed any chance of further sleep. Once I captured a winged queen and kept her in a plastic tube with honey and a damp sponge, and she even laid eggs which started to develop into babies. But then she died and my hopes of my very own ant kingdom were crushed. The dream lives on, though. Even now when I imagine a collection of little wiggling ant larvae, I get all excited.


...en masse, roving uncontrolled inside your house, ants are disgusting and horrifying in their relentless, mindless swarming, searching and crawling. Their little marching lines across your carpet, across your desk, across your 19 inch LCD screen while you're trying to watch a movie...yeah, that's going a bit far, you little beasts! Time to get out that EDIBLE DEATH and give your Queen a meal to remember. Or better yet, not remember because she'll be DEAD.

One of my personal heroes, the physicist Richard Feynman (and no, he's not my personal hero because he won the Nobel Prize and is a nerdly stud, but rather because he's brilliant yet down-to-earth, disrespects authority, challenges rules, picks locks and isn't afraid to admit he's wrong, though being a decorated nerd certainly ups his awesome factor) has shared the non-violent way in which he rid his house of ants. He basically ferried them on a piece of paper for hours from one point in their chemical scent path to another point, effectively rerouting their advances without killing a single one. A remarkable feat of science, patience and a noble regard for the ant's life.

Unfortunately for me, I'll never be a nobel laureate, and I have no patience to spare when a relentless army of hunger is marching on my kitchen. Do you know how quickly those little suckers can eat in force? I probably overdid the combination of ant bait and scattered offerings of 20 Mule Team Borax (quite effective as claimed by countless other ant-pestered internet folks), but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I thought they would never go away. They kept wandering around my carpet, climbing around my keyboard, and I never saw one enter the baits, though they did form undulating feeding lines around the molasses and borax mix I spread around the door where they were entering. Eat, my pretties. Eat it all...

Now it's been maybe a month since the poison was first set out. Finally, I'm free from the tickly honor of having several ants wander up my arm while typing at the computer. A lone ant meandered across my desk the other day, but I let her be. I think their leader is dead, so she's safe as the lone survivor. Perhaps the army of darkness will return again in the spring, but for now, I can think happy thoughts about wriggling ant babies without wishing death and doom upon their transparent little heads.