september, 2002

Walking by Lodge 1 Friday night, on my way to Worth (where half of our old freshman hall lives, and EJ was going to) to eat grape leaves, drink box wine, and watch Eddie Izzard before going to Dip, I heard very familiar strains of techno coming through Ed's windows. DJ Tiësto Summerbreeze, he informed me when I ventured into their newly-painted basement, unable to place it. Apt, as summer was winding down, and it was lovely dipping weather out. But wow, what sophomoreness was going down there! Painting a lodge basement, listening to trance, excited to be back ... and what seniorness was going on next door. So far, since EJ died, the rest of the extended hall has been making more of an effort to hang out more this last year. I hope it lasts through when classes get into full swing; I like it.

And what seniorness in Upper Tarble at The Graduate last night! I'd been to the showings both freshman and sophomore years, and both times sung along to Simon & Garfunkel, cheered when Ben keeps reiterating that he's "a little worried about his future" -- but never understood the movie. Junior year I was in Vienna and couldn't have gone, though I might have understood a little better then. But now, three hundred of us perched nine months away from a Swarthmore B.A. and utterly unsure what comes after, having spent the summer putting that into clear relief, it was an entirely different movie. The plot was superfluous, it was just Dustin Hoffman's distraught-cum-lackadaisical tone of voice, lack of purpose, and momentary goals and highs that hit closer to home. When he runs off with Elaine at the end, the two of them hop on a bus, elated, and then the camera stays and their smiles begin to fade, and The Sounds of Silence starts up again, insidiously. Amazing (well, understandable, really) that I'd never before perceived that for what it was.

So yes, I should be writing those fellowship applications.

But other than that, senior year bodes well. My room is slowly taking shape, and it faces east, so I get morning light, and I've suspended a pink paper lantern above my desk so I even get my own sunsets. It's good to be here in a position of responsibility, but not too much -- I can get you online and fix your computer, but if you need anything else, call your RA. Good to be almost 22. Good, in short to be a senior. Now for this classes thing.

So much red tape, so many errands, so many forms to fill out, so many requirements to squeeze in, and all to do now. Or so the beginning of the semester feels like. This morning I had to get into Philly to mail a package that Jenny didn't mail for me but instead put into storage, costing me about $30 total with train fare and postage. But I rode over with Oliver, who was returning a cello to New York, and we had breakfast in the train station. I told him that since I was in the city, I was going to stop by Chinatown and pick up a notebook with purple and gold brocade on it. He didn't say much, then five minutes later: "So what kind of laptop are you buying?" Laptop ... it dawned on me that I'd said "notebook." So, you thought I was going into Chinatown to buy a purple-and-gold brocaded laptop? Well, he pointed out, if anyone would ever buy such a thing, it would be me.

So I bought my notebook, just like the red one I already have, but with all the classes I'm doing (am I really going to be researching robotic soccer with a bunch of other CS/Engin senior geek boys? Heh ...), I need two. And stopped in Tower Records on the way, picking up the Verve Remixed I've had my eye on for the past week or two. I want to do this, I'm realizing -- mix music electronically, remix it, deejay ... ? Chuck [Groom]'s impressive new playlist maker gjay, all this music from him, Mark, the general ether ... I dig it, I do.

And speaking of things I dig, really viscerally, African has restarted. I've been in pain from those back and pelvic contractions for two days now, but it's a good pain, and it's so good to let my body think again. I've been in shape this summer -- running, lifting, &c. -- but that's just exercise, and dance is real "visceral intelligence," as the ever-sexy Kemal put it to his African One class today (for which I was drumming). Good, too, to pound out a pulse with Luke and Charles, and watch the new crop of African One kids struggle with the same things we did six months ago. I want to keep doing this, not only to watch them progress, but to keep a window open twice a week for thinking with my body -- first an hour and a half with my hands, then another session with the rest of me. This alternate intelligence is especially important here, in this hyperintellectual bubble. And it makes me feel so good.

The freshmen in my Econ 1 class are really incredible. I hope I wasn't as bad as that four years ago, but I have to assume I was. Have you ever noticed the different way seniors walk, I asked Seanius this afternoon as we were retrieving free ice cream from Parrish beach? --Yeah, he said, we move slower, and don't dart around wide-eyed (he mimicked, his curly nascent fro bobbing). The first thing the prof did on Thursday was to define the term "theory." They dutifully wrote it down, and then refused to accept a generalized, (= theoretical) definition of scarcity. Discussing the opportunity cost of coming to Swarthmore, it's evident that they think four years here is a magic ticket to everywhere, and they'll go straight into grad school, end up pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and come out on top, in the black. If I didn't believe in education for its own sake, for personal enrichment in many ways -- most of which I do not expect to be anything like immediately financially beneficial -- I wouldn't be here. Peter's roommate Mike, a fellow music major, has been working at WaWa since his graduation a year and a half ago! So forgive me, class of 2006, if I am skeptical of your enthusiasm.

But perhaps I exhibit something similar, such as when I purposely played dumb to make my neighbor spell out his notion of the glass ceiling and just where he will/has hit it, or when I pretend that just because I'm thick-skinned and enjoy taking Artificial Intelligence or this directed reading in robotic soccer with ({almost,}) entirely boys, that also means that there's no perceived discrimination going on at Swat. Just because I don't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there. The more I insist I don't know what people are talking about on subjects like these, the more they tell me about them. And I suppose that's showing my naïveté just as much as any freshman.

So where does that leave me as regards next year? I don't believe in the glass ceiling but I don't believe I'll make any money, either. People have plans, or at least seem as if they do. Richard, dapper and Italian as ever, is going straight on to an M.A. in History, and then on to study business. Amelia's writing fellowship applications as fast as she can meet with every academic advisor on campus about her essays. I suppose I can always keep living in the lovely state of Denial, where there is no discrimination, no glass ceiling, I make as much money as I want to, smoke and eat cake, listen to trance and dance all night -- and where there are no applications due. Damn.

Even though it's one of the more beautiful days within recent memory, I'm chilling in McCabe for the afternoon -- 'chill' being the operative word, as it's air-conditioned. It also has windows, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage over the Sun Lab, the other possible lab on campus with nice computers (discounting the Media Lounge for its crappy old CRTs) -- good in that they let in light (shades are always closed in the Sun Lab); bad in that I prefer Linux (as least Sproul has Suns -- just not the light-giving kind). And dude, McCabe has Aeron chairs, and these sexy little wirelessed laptops you can check out, with secure shell clients and relatively easy Dvorak mappings. With that and my newly re-resolved DNS mapping, I'm working from the library in my computer -- in the not-so-orange-anymore McCabe (so sad that they're removing that carpeting! at least it's still on the upper floors).

That Kid vacuumed up by
Andrew's and my state-based agent Things, in the most general way, are quite lovely. At lunch this afternoon, we took our trays (or lack thereof -- I've officially forsworn them) outside, and I lay on my back, marvelling at the sunlight explode in macrohelic glints on the leaves of the tree three stories above us, winking huge earrings of light. Even though the New York Times ("Time Has Come For Action! [against Iraq]") made me stare and choke in rage, Claire and Kellam and Lady Grey helped complete the Monday crossword. Branen and I coded our entire CS35 assignment in one sitting yesterday, and Andrew and I wrote a state-based vacuuming agent for A.I. this morning. (It even vacuumed up an extra parasite!) Hall relations are good. The weather is beautiful. Even thought I'm constantly hungry, I've been running and dancing, and getting up after even four hours' sleep in order to read the paper, eat croissants, drink tea, and chill for an entire day (Friday). My Chinese red/purple-and-gold notebooks please me every time I look at them. Now back to them, to finish writing up that Econ ...

These goddamn orange shoes. Thank the Powers that Be that I ran into dean Pat James and her red Danskos yesterday afternoon, and she told me where to get a pair (for which I've been saving, anyhow) half-price -- otherwise I'd be out of colorful pedal options! Because I'm never wearing them again, least not outside of the house ...

I managed to pitch off a curb while wearing them -- didn't quite clear the ledge, and those shoes don't bend -- and into a pothole, tearing the top off my left big toe (which had just healed from that Pyrex slashing!), and landing full on the 5th metatarsal of my right foot. Which I fractured.

So, I'm now on crutches, hobbling about and building insane upper-body strength. The worst is the trek from Kohlberg to the "handicapped-accessible" entrance in DuPont, which is on the exactly backwards side of the building. It took me a good twenty minutes to cover that ground on Thursday between classes (and I ask you: who puts a Linguistics class in the science building?!). I can't even get my own food, and Petar carried me piggy-back up a flight of stairs in Palmer yesterday (I would live on the third floor of a building with no elevator!). I call for the Public Safety Jeep to come pick me up in the morning, and I take the shuttle back in the evenings. They gave me a huge Velcro boot -- three weeks until I can walk on it, the doctor said, and then six till it's totally mended. Which is really annoying, but I guess the best possible prognosis for a fracture.

The worst thing about it (aside from dependency; and waking up with my left calf spasming the other night, overexerted from carrying my entire weight around instead of just the usual half) is that I had to drop African. It gives me more time to work, of course -- now I'm not in any performing arts classes, for the first time in what must be eighteen years! -- and also there's no way I'm going to go to any parties, or Olde Club shows. I've spent the past couple days mostly in the Sun Lab, programming for AI and Java (the most ass-backwards language ever), and I don't have to move. But I haven't been able to do things like celebrate Olivia's birthday with her, and play pool. Guess I'll just have to do an extra lot of the latter when I can walk again ;) ...

Meanwhile, I've pretty much decided to abandon those fellowship apps. I want to go to in Zürich, and the Swiss government would want me to have a Master's before giving me Fulbright money to go there. I can apply for the Fulbright later, and just like grad school, there's no point in applying for these things if you don't have a project you really want to do. And what I would want to do would be study French, English, and German at the Zürcher Hochschule Winterthur.

And, my birthday present came! Of course I wore out the battery within the first two hours, when Claire picked me up from getting my Velcroboot and I took us out to Tokyo-Peking (mm), and already crashed my computer trying to compile USB support for it into the kernel (not even rolling my own, but installing one Martin rolled for me! -- crashing it like that takes talent) ...

I've discovered the elevator in Sharples. It's a well-kept secret (not really -- it's right by the ice cream, and I guess I just never noticed it for three years), and it is enabling me to eat now (I have four extra meals left over from this week). While the food isn't any better than before I broke my foot, it's much harder to get at. While this dinnertime is still really a belated teatime, I get so hungry, eating so little, because the food is so bad. Clearly I'll have to go out more.

the corner of my face in a

I'm all in red today -- made the mistake of wearing what would normally be appropriate for a birthday yesterday (pink pants; the shirt I still haven't given back to Anna; a pink sock on my non-broken foot). But the fire-engine lapa and the red tank top are eye-catching enough. I guess this desire to be visually assaulting is tied to the desire for people to know it's my birthday? As in, if they see me and wonder why I'm wearing red, I'll have an excuse to tell them that I'm now 22? Or something. It just wasn't going to cut it to put on grey shorts this morning, however.

As it is, I've spent almost the entire day in the Sun Lab. I now have the code to the Robot Lab, and by all rights I should be in there, as the A/C here in broken! -- but the Sun keyboards, despite their swapped control and left shift keys, are quieter and easier on my wrists -- plus that would involve movement. I have the code to the Robot Lab (along with the other 30 or so AI kids, but it makes me feel special nonetheless), an account on the Linuxboxen in there, and am a senior CS major. I mean minor. Maybe. Turns out I'm just the senior conference away from the major, and the new guy Wicentowski is teaching it, and I hear he'll do Comp Ling stuff. Scheiße. Is there any way I can finagle an extra music credit out of the Music people, or take five credits in the spring?? I really want to double major!

The Sun Lab is kind of my default these days, as I can't move too much. The handle of my right crutch is cutting into my hand, pinching the central nerve running up and down my arm. I'm not too happy about it. After I convinced the Worth nurse that Ibuprofen would not do a thing, she told me to pad it, which has only helped minimally. Only a week and a bit until I can walk again, but in the meantime I'd like to keep my hand, thank you very much. So I come to campus via the shuttle or a Public Safety Jeep, and then sit here -- coding, or writing email, or typesetting homework for my Social Science classes. The only thing I can't do from these computers (and mine remotely, X-forwarding) is read or sit outside and enjoy the sun.

So right now I've been in the lab for five hours, working on Sean and my AI lab, and then not wanting to go anywhere -- the Beach is great, but somewhat hot today; I'm holding out on dinner for the wine and cheese Peter promised me for my birthday tonight.

I'm in such a good place, in all respects except for my foot. Less than a year left at Swat, classes I want to take and good majors/minors. On top of my classwork and understanding it all. Drinking coffee (more and more!) and tea, reading the paper. Friends to get me food and to send me one-line emails such as:


And perspective, and time to think, on non-academic subjects and relationships. As I said, feeling good about all of the above. And soon I will be able to walk.

Proved tonight at the Friendly Cafe that I can play pool with a broken foot, and even win against Yoshi. It just involves a lot of hopping. My left leg and upper body are twice their usual strength these days (too bad the right is all but immobile).

Claire in Kohlberg
drinking coffee I realized today that despite our group not adequately covering the Monte Carlo model of robot localization in seminar (we did a damn good job with the Kalman filters, though!), I am taking five credits, and I'm regularly on top of my work. I have the leisure to take an hour-plus lunch with Ed, drink beer and shoot pool with robot geeks, and all this having completed nearly all my work. A few chapters to read here and there; an hour or so of coding remaining. But because I'm not doing any music, five credits is easy. I don't know how I made it through my first three years here.

birthday cheese That said, I'm not sleeping eight hours a night. But I have better things to do -- long meals, as I said; reading the paper with Claire in the mornings; eating cheese and drinking wine with Peter and Keith for my birthday; lying around doing absolutely nothing productive all Saturday. I've been paying for that Saturday in sleep this whole week, but it was worth it.

Steve followed my map into Chinatown with no mishap -- the arch at 10th and Arch correctly labelled; the name of the huge Asia Supermarket correctly remembered -- to cook for the SAO Asian Jazz festivities this afternoon. I took a break from coding in the ridiculous language of Java to go hear the Susie Ibarra Trio in LPAC -- poorly advertised, and thus poorly attended, but cool! And Jennifer Choi, the Oberlin- and Juilliard-trained violinist, made me want to play again. Not that I've forgotten the desire, but it gets subsumed with coding -- robots that play soccer; evolving dinosaurs that eat people via genetic algorithms; asymptotic analysis of stupid code for Java. I dig the algorithmic functionality of my brain, and the immediate gratification of a cleanly compiled, running program, but I miss the music. And when will I have time to do it when my foot heals, takes the pressure off my wrists, and allows me to play again?

Hallelujah! I can walk again! I feel like I'm inside some parable, raising my orange and yellow crutches to the sky and hobbling away on my healed foot. And Abby's Acura Legend was my savior.

She came rushing into Sharples this afternoon, distraught for a number of reasons, the last straw of which being that her car had a flat. She found me, and remembered my telling her my flat-changing story the other day -- how I'd confusedly driven my listing car to Ben's house, where he and Mike pulled on their macho act and showed me how to change it; how the next week driving with Stoll and Ari they'd gotten a flat, and how I'd been able to change it for the boys -- an immediate gratification in switching up the gender rôles. So I offered to help her change it after lunch. Crutched it down to Meyers Ave., where all the parking lots by the train station are. Pulled out the jack, the spare, got the car up, the wheel cap off, and realized we had no lug nut wrench. Called Adrienne, who came over at the same time as a nice guy Todd did, who lent us his super-duper wrench. He showed us how to get one off, and we said, thanks, we can do the rest. Which we of course couldn't -- they were screwed on too tight -- even with Adrienne standing on the wrench.

Called AAA. Todd happens by again and removes two more lug nuts, but still one to go. A scrawny, laconic 130-pound AAA guy shows up, silently removes the last nut while I sit around feeling emasculated and fuming that it took a guy and his tools to bail me out.

--or rather, I stand around -- I've discovered in the interim that, miracle of miracles, I can walk! It'll have been three weeks tomorrow, and they told me I could walk on it in two to three. I was not looking forward to building up strength in that leg -- the quad in the left is now rock-solid, while the right is kind of ... atrophied -- but this awesome Velcro boot makes crutchless hobbling possible, stairs almost easy! I have a foot again! I have been literally dreaming about being able to walk for the past three weeks, looking wistfully at all the bipedal students in comfortable Birkenstocks shuffling unconsciously around campus and wishing that I, too, had two feet ...

I hobbled gleeful circles around Abby while waiting for AAA in celebration.

(Continuing saga of Abby's car et alia: Weakling AAA guy drives away. Then Abby tries to start her car, and the battery's died. Hook it up to Adrienne's; it growls. Call Public Safety; they jump it in five minutes. Drive around for the rest of the afternoon getting tire patched, gossiping, and eating more ice cream than my head. Fail to accomplish any work; forget Ling problem set at home; convert journal to php and spiff it up; possibly be dragged to dip tonight, even with a still-broken foot ...)

all this ©nori heikkinen, September 2002

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