Saturday, September 26, 2009

First Fall Color on the UNH Campus

Sarah from the Office of Conduct and Management (where I work, casually known as the OCM) told me I needed to see the fall color early when the first leaves started to turn, then again at the peak of the season. I had wanted to hike up Mount Major near Lake Winnipesaukee to check out the trees and the views of the lake, but unfortunately, the homework load didn't let us. Instead, Ashley and I drove down to campus, which he hadn't had time to really check out yet.

It was family weekend, which meant a ton of parents and little kids, and an inordinate number of students out and about for a Saturday afternoon, but it was still nice. We wandered through the trails and looked for the College Woods, but could not find them. We guessed that they were the little woodsy breaks between clusters of buildings on campus and wrote off the grandeur of the name College Woods to the tiny New England scale of things ("Guys, this mountain is huge!"), but a quick Google search proves us wrong. We actually drove through part of them on the way home, to avoid the family weekend traffic; it's a big 250 acre nature preserve that the campus shoulders up against, with plenty of hiking and biking trails. Another time, College Woods, maybe deeper into fall or after the first snow.

Anyway, here's pictures from around campus.

We've got wicked oak trees here.

The camera doesn't really capture how vivid these red leaves were. Some of the trees look like they're on fire.

These little dudes are all over campus, and love to run under the feet of passersby, stand paralyzed with fear for a second, then run back under the bush they came from.

Hitchcock Hall, on the upper quad, where I work.

Groundhog! Woodchuck1 Whistle Pig! Land Beaver!

The backside of Thompson Hall, which is the cool old building they like to show people on the website.

Defacing signs is big here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Weather

I had a conversation with Kelly, a fiction prof at WWU, about the Northwest's weather. She was from Florida, and didn't understand when Washingtonians commented on the weather's changeability--"If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes." She lived in the midwest for a time, and was used to thunderstorms descending from a blue sky, pouring out, and disappearing just as quickly. "The weather doesn't change here. It's just always gray. All the time," she said.

I laughed and agreed, and it wasn't until I got here that I understood Northwesterners perspective on their weather. It's about unpredictability. In Washington, weather forecasts aren't very useful: they may say that tomorrow will be rainy in the morning with clouds dissipating throughout the afternoon, but the weather invariably pulls a fast one--sunny in the morning, rain squalls in the afternoon, clouds at night. Or something else, who knows. In other parts of the country, and especially in New England--reading the forecast is like reading the movie times. It was humid and in the seventies today--miserable--and I looked online to check the weather tomorrow. The forecast says it will be humid and in the seventies, and I know, without a doubt, that it will be.

We've been having a weird summer hangover: humid, no rain, and the leaves don't know whether to die or hold on for another week. In a couple of weeks, Ashley and I are going to drive the Kancamagus in Northern New Hampshire to see the foliage. Pictures will happen, I promise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Obsessive Nerdery

I've been thinking a lot about old video games recently. Yesterday I watched my friend Patrick breeze through Super Mario Brothers like he had just beaten it yesterday. He knew every secret, every warp, every hidden block—like it was encoded into his genes. Nathan fared almost as well. They trash talked while they played. Patrick, from Alabama, would stand up and yell “BOOM!” every time he pulled off a difficult maneuver.

Nothing makes me feel more at home than playing a Mario game with somebody. This is what I'm into right now: how junk entertainment like NES games from the 80s can worm its way into our brains and hearts, into our art and music. They can become something bigger than computer code on a dusty gray chipboard. If I were still taking theory classes at WWU, I would be preparing to write a paper on how vintage video games affect discourse and aesthetics. Since I'm in an MFA, I'm brainstorming ways to slip this stuff into fiction without it coming off as indulgent, nerd-elitist, or overly referential. It's hard, but, to me at least, it's important.

So it turns out Ashley and I are both dripping with Nostalgia. In that spirit, here's the transcript from one of my favorite scenes in Mad Men, when Don Draper sells the idea of the slide carousel to Kodak.

It’s delicate, but potent…
Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound.
It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.
This device… isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine.
It goes backwards, forwards.
It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.
It’s not called the Wheel.
It’s called the Carousel.
It lets us travel the way a child travels.
Around and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

Bring on the emo comments, Chelsea!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Albums I've been listening to:

The Turtles - "Twenty Greatest Hits"
Fleet Foxes - "Sun Giant EP"
The Zombies - "Odessy and Oracle"
The Love Lights - "Problems and Solutions" and "Lakes and Ponds EP"
Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible"
The Shins - "Wincing the Night Away"

Here's a link to some Love Lights stuff. I recommend "Evermore" from Lakes and Ponds, and anything from either of the live albums. They played in Bellingham last night, at Boundary Bay, and I would love to have been able to go. I need to catch up with Jeff and con him into sending me some new recordings.

I'm posting this because I have nothing real to post. I'm doing homework, reading a lot, and working at the OCM. Promise I'll update when something exciting happens.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What am I doing here again?

During a discussion in a fiction workshop at WWU, the topic of making sacrifices for the art came up. The stereotype goes that writers aren't good family people, they have a hard time maintaining friendships, keeping pets and plants alive, etc. But they write. They produce literature. Which was more important. The fact that we were all locked in a room together at eight o'clock at night, tired and hungry and caffeine-depleted, and paying thousands of dollars to be there seemed to say that yes, we were the type of people who were willing to make sacrifices to write. Kenny disagreed. Yes, literature is important, we're all here because we want to write and have to write, but—and this is exactly what he said—“In the end it's just a book.” He would love to spend his life writing, Kenny said, but he would love even more to spend it with his wife and sons and daughter.

Today my brother Gabe and his wife Amanda became parents, and I became an uncle. My mom skyped Ashley and I from the hospital room where my niece Kaylee was born. They are 3100 miles away, in Seattle; I am wondering what the hell I am doing in New Hampshire; and I am thinking about what Kenny said.

Congrats Gabe and Amanda, and happy birthday Kaylee!

Another Quick Update

  • On Saturday night, Ashley and I went to the beginning of the year MFA program party. Lots of cool people here, but Ashley was the only person there from the MA. Matt and Patrick, who hosted the party in their tiny second-story apartment, were gracious hosts and quite entertaining. Matt is from Seattle and he, Ash and I commiserated about the sorry state of mountains and coffee in this state. As much as I love Ashley, it's been just her and me for more than a month--it's nice to talk to new people.
  • Ever since I got accepted here I've had that kind of stereotypical MFA thought in my head. "Everybody else is going to be working on a novel. I've got to start one, got to get one going." After an aborted attempt this summer, I stumbled on a story to tell completely by accident on the second day of classes. It could lead nowhere, or it could be my thesis. Right now I'm having fun planning out parts of it in my head.
  • I got a job! I'm working at the Office of Conduct and Mediation, keeping my fingers crossed that the raise they hinted at in the interviews will happen sooner rather than later, and that I can pull in some more hours than what I've started with. I start tomorrow. Basically I'm the principal's office: I keep track of academic sanctions, make sure people who got busted for drinking on-campus end up in the drug and alcohol awareness classes, possibly mediate low-level student disputes, that kind of thing.
  • It's easy to lose an hour or two to Legend of Zelda. I've forgotten what an addictive little game it is. It's so good I'm thinking of playing through the SNES sequel next, although I should really be writing instead of gaming. And yes, Holtmeier, that's how I roll.
Gold cartridge, yo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What I'm enjoying right now

  • Mad Men. This incredibly-written series has almost succeeded in washing the bad taste of Lost out of my mouth. It's clever, it's stylish, it doesn't sanitize early 1960s America (all the characters smoke copiously and cringe-worthy sexism abounds), and it treats its characters and structure in a way I'm used to seeing in literary fiction, not television. Very interesting, and I highly recommend you check it out.
Don Draper, where have you been all my life?

  • Good old Gatsby. I'm rereading parts of The Great Gatsby for my novel craft class, and I'm falling once again into Fitzgerald's beautiful prose. Most writers, when going for that concise expression of deep truths in poetic prose, come off as pretentious. Fitzgerald just comes off as mind-stompingly awesome.
"Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!"

  • Old School video games. I spent a few Wii points on Mega Man 9, which is a contemporary game (released late in 2008) designed to look like it's a twenty year-old NES game. Twenty-four colors, primitive music, two-button controls, and sprite flicker if too much is happening on the screen; it's like it popped out of a time warp from 1987, and I love it. It is also, like the old Mega Man games, so hard I sometimes want to throw my Wiimote across the room. Mega Man 9, and some conversations with Brett about the games he's been playing have got me itching to pull out my NES games. I think the original Zelda might be next.
This blog post has been brought to you by The Old School.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back to school

Hamilton Smith, my home for the next 2-3 years.

Now that I'm back in school, my culture shock is subsiding. Students are pretty much the same everywhere. There aren't nearly as many nalgene bottles, and the Death Cab and so-Cal punk patches on backpacks have been replaced by Guster and Phish and Vampire Weekend, but other than that, they're pretty much the same. Weirdly enough, not many young people speak with that classic thick New English accent (you won't hear of an eighteen year-old going fah in the cah)--it's mostly a thirty-five and up kind of thing. Not sure why.

Also, people seem to wear flannel and plaid-print shirts here in a completely straight-faced, un-ironic way. I guess that's what happens when your home doesn't have a rich history of lumberjacking to stereotype.

I've had all three of my classes now, and I enjoy them. My professors are all great and the vibe in the MFA program is laid back and intelligent. I really like all the fiction people, and I can't wait to start workshopping. Off to write now.