Thursday, February 25, 2010

"That's what she said" (and other immature things I find funny)

For many people in the collegiate world, Thursday is really just an extension of the weekend. I can name countless friends whose freedom begins when their last class gets out somewhere around 12:15. One of the infinite perks of being a Biomedical Engineering major happens to be the fact that our department has spared us the agony of Friday class (believe me, they use the rest of the week to their full advantage), but unfortunately, Thursday has become the bane of my existence. Leaving my house around 7:30 every morning and usually returning around 6:30 or 7pm leads to some major fatigue and a little delirium. My 11am materials science class always gets the ball rolling as far as immaturity goes. My professor is a pretty stoic, but really interesting guy who spent a good part of his life doing Naval Ship R&D. As someone who finds most forms of transportation very cool, I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of his flying and sailing adventures. Additionally as the only girl in the class, I get a serious kick out of all of the bros discussing the merits of certain materials and arguing whether or not a particular item will implode. Nevertheless, corrosion (yes, this is a class about how to prevent things from falling apart), has a vast number of really good "that's what she said" opportunities. The problem is that no one else really picks up on them (the lack of sociability of engineers does, in fact, hold some water). I'll spare you the specifics, but when you're discussing various holes in materials, there are some verbal mistakes that are just too good. As my friend Kiki says, the word "motorboating" is just always funny. After spending the class unsuccessfully trying to stifle my laughter, I resigned the rest of my afternoon to a two and a half hour Architecture seminar. Typically, I sit on the far side of the room, but last Thursday I decided to switch it up and put my stuff down next to a particularly fratty kid wearing (shocker) a Patagonia fleece, camouflage hat, and boat shoes. As you may have been able to garner from my earlier discussion, I have a history of laughing uncontrollably. I used to be embarrassed by it, largely because there are a lot of times (class, church, operation of motor vehicles, etc) when completely out of control laughter is not appropriate. Usually, something mildly funny sparks some kind of subtle laughter, which slowly progresses as I continue to laugh at whatever is going on in my head (I'm not a freak, I know you've all experienced this). There are certain people whose texts I'll never read in class solely to avoid cracking up. Anyway, one glance at this kid's laptop screen and I knew it was a lost cause. After watching him peruse his Twitter page briefly, he switched over to Youtube. His first video of choice? "30-year-old trainer attacked by Orca whale." Then using the"related videos" link to the right, he explored additional animal encounters (squirrel, flamingo, and bear) before heading on to Facebook to his virtual farm and aquarium. I think he realized that I was cracking up at his interweb activity about 2 hours into class, and began actually taking some notes. The sideways glares I got from my professor as I tried to contain my hysterics via my coat sleeve were probably well-deserved but hey, it wasn't totally my fault. Moral of the story? Sometimes acting your shoe size, not your age, isn't such a bad idea.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I've got long division covered, thanks.

So the world may have taken a toll on my blogging, but now that I have things under control (or so I'd like to think), I'd say its about time I returned to the internet. After spending the afternoon in a job interview where the interviewers more or less assessed my ability to solve SAT-style math problems (think logic puzzles and long multiplication) on a white board in front of an audience, I could actually probably use a gin and tonic. Nevertheless, the inspiration for this endeavor (credit where credit is due) largely comes from my best friend Sarah, who finally started a blog (More Olives Please). After starting so many sentences with "Well one of my bloggers says", I for one am so excited that Sarah has decided to make the foray into online journalism. That being said, this return to blogging is one of my New Year's resolutions that has been a bit neglected up until this point. Though typically I don't make New Year's resolutions, this year I felt compelled to write down a few of the things I deemed worthy causes for 2010:
  1. Learn to like Diet Coke (and other more readily available diet sodas - no one serves diet root beer, its just a harsh reality)
  2. Get a salaried job (To pay for an apartment, ideally somewhere warmer than this icebox)
  3. Read books (that I like) while I am at school and revive the blog
  4. Pay off all parking tickets to the University of Virginia and not incur any others (already failed, but earnestly attempted)
  5. Look nicer for class (use a bag for gym clothes, it never hurt anyone)

So, in the spirit of resolution #3, I present A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers (also responsible for the screenplay of Where the Wild Things Are). Published in 2000, I was slow on the uptake with this one, which irks me a little considering I fancy myself a bookstore connoisseur. In a quest for new material over winter break, a good friend of mine told me this was a personal favorite of his. After investigating, purchasing, and reading (probably in less than 3 days), I can completely understand why. Eggers' humor is presented in the novel's very first page, which states very simply, "This was uncalled for." After a preface and introduction that, among many things, defend Pluto's planethood ("Why did we do that to Pluto? We had it good with Pluto."), it is apparent that Eggers' writing style is truly unlike any other. As someone who tends to write in a stream of consciousness (friends can attest to my paragraph-less emails), it took me no time to adjust to the quirky phrasing and syntax of Eggers' prose. Whether or not you've lost a parent, as Eggers does twice in the novel's beginning, the feelings expressed are ubiquitous for those of us teetering on the edge of adulthood. Eggers describes his parents' death without the soft glow so often found in the movies (think The Notebook). His father's passing in a haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol consumption in conjunction with his mother's prolonged battle with stomach cancer leaves Eggers without a sense of purpose and direction. It is in his younger brother, Toph, that he finds the project that will sustain him through his early twenties. After relocating from their suburban Chicago neighborhood to California, Eggers begins to understand the complexities of Toph, for whom he feels completely responsible. Though often framed as a burden, the reader quickly realizes that the relationship is as much a necessity for Eggers as it is for Toph. The other aspects of Eggers' life (namely women, alcohol, and work) are presented superficially and tangentially, which only further emphasizes the anchoring relationship of the two brothers. As Toph becomes increasingly self-reliant, Eggers realizes he not only depends on Toph's companionship, but validation that he serves a purpose for another individual. You find yourself rooting for each to find a place in their own life as Eggers' novel resonates with honesty, sadness, and the humor derived from life's subtleties.

"For example, we soon discover that, because the floors of the house are wood, and the house sparsely furnished, there are at least two ideal runways for sock sliding. The best is the back-deck-to-stairway run (fig. 1), which allows, with only a modest running start, one to glide easily thirty feet, all the way to the stairs leading to the lower floor, the first half of which can be jumped, provided one is prepared to drop and shoulder-roll upon hitting the landing, which, if stuck, should be punctuated with a Mary Lou Retton arm-raise and back-arch. Yes! America!"
- Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius