Life, the Universe, and Chicken Tenders

The weekend was relaxing. Campus is often deserted on Saturdays and Sundays, but with the persistence of well-packed, week-old snow still on the ground, even fewer people ventured outdoors than usual. Campus was a tomb. As unsettling a comparison as that may be, the campus was very quiet and peaceful. I value little else in life as much as peace and quiet (although a piece of pizza eaten in quiet is quite nice).

I didn’t really do anything Friday except edit video. I started sometime in the afternoon and worked until… well, until Saturday. Dan and I shot everything for episode two of our show a couple of days before Christmas. After a cursory glance at the footage and putting together a rough cut of the intro, I abandoned the editing process to work on VBA graphics.

After the first week of classes, though, I was ready to edit again. Some of my brother’s YouTube subscribers were asking for episode two of our show. We never planned to make a second episode (the first was a burst of semi-random spontaneity) and frankly, I didn’t have any ideas. My attempts at humor always suffer when I try “to be funny,” and I was content to bask in the knowledge that people enjoyed the first one. Why ruin that with another?

In any event, we filmed episode two. Dan had the idea of jumping off the shed long before I started formulating the shape of the project. It’s hard to explain in concrete terms because it’s a strange process, but certain jokes or momentary pauses linger in my mind, and I try to find ways of delivering them without scrutinizing the details. As long as it stays slightly abstract, it stands a chance of working (and being funny). Half the fun is wondering how my warped brain will give shape to those half-conscious moments of verbal expulsion.

As you may imagine, working with me can be a little chaotic. Dan was kind of lost when we filmed episode one. I made sound effects and sweeping arm gestures, muttered my ideas for cuts and transitions (none of which existed yet), and gave him obtuse directions. I feared that explaining my murky vision to Dan would both kill its life in my brain where it bubbled and flourished, as well drain him of any excitement about the unknown. It’s hard to fake genuine surprise, and multiple takes of certain jokes only go downhill after the first. In my experience, at least.

As for episode two, I realized shortly after shooting it that we needed to re-shoot most of it. We had shot it with my new FlipUltra HD camera, which threw off my sense of framing and distance. I’ve become so accustomed to using my Canon PowerShot in my video series that I could “see” the framing even without seeing it. Not so with the FlipUltra. I cut Dan’s head off in most of the shots, and part of my face was missing more often than not. So we shot episode two twice, sans the Nerf gun bit and outdoor scenes. We managed to do a better job with the deep thoughts segment on re-shoots, but the email and advice bit wasn’t nearly as fluid as the first time (hence so many distracting cuts). Oh well.

Editing is a puzzle. A big, gigantic puzzle. I love puzzles, so it stands to reason that I love editing. Episode two was a monster to edit, though. The trouble with it was finding a sense of rhythm. It’s all so random (apparently, at least) and filled with one-liners that it was difficult to tie it all together in a mildly coherent way. It doesn’t have to make a lot of sense, just enough sense.

The title sequences are my favorite, of course, and they did most of the work for me. I love it when expectations are squashed in a humorous way, so making titles that instill a sense of grandeur for an otherwise unspectacular video is all part of the plan. This time, however, I think I may have gone too far. I don’t know. Yes, I want to undercut expectations in a humorous way, but at the same time… well, these titles do sort of deserve a better video to accompany them. Then again, maybe I’m just over-analyzing everything. Will Jon and Dan return for episode three? It’s possible. It’s probable. But no promises.

Sunday is Eggs Benedict Day.

On Sunday, I overslept. I woke up on time, but I didn’t get up. It was my intention to check out First Christian Church on Ruby Street. It’s closer than New Life and… well, that’s all I know about it. Guilt set in due to oversleeping, so I decided to take a walk downtown and find the church. I did, along with some other interesting landmarks. It felt great to get off campus even if it was cold and dreary outside. Plus I felt like an explorer. Silly, but true.

I’ve been re-reading the Magic Kingdom of Landover series. I read pretty slowly. I started reading the first story before leaving for school. It took a few days but I finished it. The sequel took fewer days, and last night… well, last night I read the entire third book and started the fourth in the span of a few hours. Needless to say, my dreams were of Landover.

My brain kept trying to continue the story in my sleep since I’ve read all five novels before, but things weren’t playing out correctly. I’ve forgotten too many details so the dream just kind of stalled. I was prompted to buy the two new paperback volumes and re-read the stories after learning about a new novel in the series. I bought that too, but I won’t read it until I’ve finished the others. I’m masochistic that way.

Today was interesting. My brain didn’t click on until after twelve. In the cafeteria, I got two chicken tenders, some green beans, a salad, and a bowl of vegetable chili. Well, I tried to get a bowl of vegetable chili. I set my unbalanced tray on the narrow edge of the counter top while scooping the chili out of the pot. I should have known better. My tray fell and landed on the floor. Italian salad dressing splattered on my shoes, and green beans lay crisscrossed atop the chicken, which was in turn covered by my plate. It was embarrassing and messy. I tried to clean it up, but the kitchen crew hurried over and told me it was fine. So I got another tray and tried again. I skipped the green beans the second time through.

Last quarter, I ate lunch at roughly the same time each day. James, a fellow resident of Wilson Hall and a friend, shared the same lunch hour. Conversation started small at first, but eventually we got to know each other better and traded stories about growing up. Before today, before the incident involving chicken tenders and the start of winter quarter, we hadn’t seen each other at lunch. Sure, we saw each other a few times in the hall and once or twice in the communal bathroom (which is all sorts of awkward), but that was all. Today, however, our schedules coincided. We caught up a little over lunch and discussed what we did during winter break. We talked about our current classes and discussed all the things that drive us nuts.

I went on a small rant about the education system, specifically all of its seemingly pointless hoops I’ve had to jump through in my short lifetime, and then the conversation got a little more abstract. I brought up the topic of life, the universe, and everything. Well, more specifically, time itself. Some years ago, Matthew Johnson and I “fathomed the mysteries of the universe,” and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. The event, anyway. The particular details of time and its role in the expansion of the universe are a little sketchy, I’ll admit, but it seemed shockingly brilliant at the… time.

After lunch and poetry class (ugh), I decided to get a coffee. Honest to goodness, every interpretation I make of these poems is askew. I almost cringe when Professor Powell calls my name. I just don’t get this stuff! You wouldn’t believe some of the discussions our class has had on a couple of silly words strung together in a stanza. Academia has killed any chance I may have had at appreciating poetry as a creative art form. My readings are an exercise in brow-furrowing.

As for my coffee, that was interesting too. I ran into Director Kramer and the head of the communications department (I can’t remember his name, though). Kramer is the director of the writing center on campus, and she lead ENG 402 last quarter. I have no quarrels with the writing center or the people who work there, but I do not share the center’s ideological approach to anything, much less understand how it has survived so long without a clear mission statement or purpose. The same could be said of the government, I suppose.

Kramer asked me again why I didn’t opt to take ENG 403. In some ways I was flattered, but in others I was confused. Wasn’t it obvious? I rarely said anything in class. I was disinterested, without passion, and didn’t understand most of the reading material. The irony is that I did enjoy my consultation, I do enjoy collaboration on certain projects (specifically, the kind without grades attached), and it’s great to bounce ideas off other people. It comes down to a matter of absolutes, however. In the writing center, truth is relative. I accept some relative truths in life, such as which brand of mouthwash tastes better, but not in matters of right and wrong, good and evil, or Superman and Batman.

Sometimes, though, I don’t even know what I’m talking about. I told Kramer the truth. The surface truth, at least. I told her that working in the writing center requires a certain personality type, and it does. It’s not the place for me, despite any enjoyment I derive from helping others. Another aspect of it, one I didn’t mention, is that it’s hard for me to avoid getting involved. If I’m going to give someone help with a paper or a story, it requires an investment of some kind. I’m so obsessive in my quest for perfection that I’m afraid of taking over a project that’s not my own. I see creative paths that I might pursue myself and seek to steer others towards them. I don’t know how to encourage others to find their own creative choices. I only know my own, and that’s all that matters. Brutal, but true.

Sometimes I benefit from feedback other people give me, but usually I’m only seeking affirmation of my artistic choices. I can’t honestly commit to “helping” students in the writing center out of any sense of duty or greater calling. It’s presumptuous to assume my ways are the best, and I admit they are not, but admitting that fact here and now is easier than while collaborating. Great ideas are rare, and I don’t have many of my own. I’m secretive and selfish, self-serving and anti-social. Not always, but still. Any positive traits I do exhibit are the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. One such trait is humor.

Humor springs from joy, I think, at least true humor. It’s a wellspring of contentment despite the circumstances, and it’s a light that reveals the subtleties and quirky behavior of fickle, contradictory human beings. That’s where true humor springs forth. And by true humor, I mean the kind of humor that’s timelessly funny. Humor that’s not a crude punchline or a foul word, but humor based in character, idiosyncrasies, and often contradictory or unexpected perceptions of reality. I also love humor that leaves something to the imagination of the audience.

This isn’t all to say humor equals joy, but you certainly can’t have humor without some measure of joy. Darkly, your joy could spring from the misfortune of others, but that’s more indicative of selfishness than joy. You enjoy the misfortune of others because you think they deserve it, or you’re glad it’s not you. It’s not wrong to laugh at someone skiing off the roof and landing on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it’s wrong if you truly enjoy seeing someone suffer.

Wow, I’m really rambling now. Must have been the double-shot, 16-ounce hazelnut latte. It didn’t taste very much like a hazelnut latte, but it cost the same. I guess it’s not always true that you get what you pay for. Again, I think of the government. We pay a lot in taxes to support causes we don’t support, to fund research we don’t want to fund, and to pay politicians who don’t share our point of view. But now I’m whining again, so I’ll stop.

Time for homework. And maybe some Swiss Miss.

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3 Discussion to this post

  1. Andun says:

    Hehehe. I told Prof. Powell you’re my friend just before he walked into your first day of poetry class. ;-]

    Also, the head of the communications department is a she.

  2. Andun says:

    Oh great. Do I even want to know?

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