(Last modified 11 April 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 33

Locations: Swarthmore, Philadelphia, Media
Dates: 3/30/97 - 4/5/97

Sunday I did laundry, and not coincidentally got a lot of reading done down in the Greylock laundry room, including finishing a book I've been reading since David VS loaned it to me in Boston. (Also had a nice chat with Will Quale when he came down to do laundry, mostly about SWILCon, the sf convention sponsored by SWIL that happened here the weekend before I arrived.) Chatted with Kendra a bit, too; haven't seen her much since getting here. Also got through a small amount of my backlogged email, and sent out information about Friday's upcoming roundsing. Also worked on improving my list of rounds.

Monday it rained all morning and snowed all afternoon. Heavily, at least to my untrained eye. I had planned to finally trek upcampus during the day and see various faculty/staff friends, but the more it snowed the less interest I had in doing that. Instead, I called some of them, made arrangements to see various people, and updated my journal; also went through the forwarded mail that had arrived (including a couple of birthday cards and a paperback copy of Gift from the Sea from Barbara, which I'm delighted to have). In the late afternoon I suddenly became possessed with the desire to see a movie; made it through the wind and snow to my car, drove to the theatre, got to my seat just as the opening credits began. After the movie, spent at least half an hour missing various turnoffs in the heavy snow on an unlit highway, but eventually made it back to Swarthmore.

Monday evening I went to the SWIL movie, and spent a couple hours hanging out with various other attendees afterward. I'm afraid I'm overusing the phrase "hanging out" in this stage of the trip, but I'm doing a lot of it -- sitting and chatting/bantering with a group of friends about anything that comes to mind. Yet another thing that I do a fair amount of at home but that seems to happen more naturally and often (with a group of more than two people, anyway) in a college environment, where everyone is within easy walking distance of everyone else, and most people have extremely flexible schedules. Comfortable and fun. Walking back to Greylock that night, I discovered how much fun it is to walk through snow if you have adequate footgear; I've always done it wearing ordinary shoes, which results in cold wet feet and shoes, but with rubber overshoes walking through six inches of snow is great and not at all uncomfortable.

Tuesday through Thursday I didn't do much. Had intended not to impose on Jim 'n' j7y's hospitality for longer than two weeks at a stretch, but other options weren't unavailable just yet. Did some Websurfing and some writing (wrote a draft of the first scene of Act III of the screenplay, heading into the final stretch of first draft, yay!), talked with Arthur (via email and phone) about the screenplay. Also talked with two or three other friends long-distance; monopolized J 'n' J's phone quite a bit... Good thing I have a calling-card. Also spent some time organizing rounds list, figuring out which rounds we had sheet music for, and beginning to recopy some of said music into an organized set of music rather than the hodgepodge of five or six sources (of varying accuracy) we've currently got.

On Thursday I finally decided to go upcampus and see people. (The snow had all melted by Wednesday.) Ran into Helene Shapiro (math prof.) at the train station, chatted with her briefly, then continued up the hill to DuPont (math bldg), but Gene and Annie had already left -- Gene to a conference, Annie to work at home. Ah, well. I left a copy of the VRML Handbook for Gene (when I left here in '91 I'd promised to give him a copy of my first book; this wasn't quite what either of us had in mind, but I figured it'd do for the time being, especially since I got my first 3D graphics experience working for him). Stopped by Donna Jo's office, but she was ultra-busy, so I made plans to see her Friday. Continued to Jane's office; nobody was there, so I meandered down to Parrish lawn and read D. H. Lawrence for an hour or so in the marvelous warm sunshine. Stopped by Beardsley again and found Jane (also ran into Anna in the hall). Talked with her (Jane) for an hour or so -- good to see her as always. The computing center seems to be losing a bunch of staff these days -- I once again briefly entertained the notion of applying for one of the openings, but reminded myself again that the weather out here would drive me nuts.

Friday was a major social day. Took the train to Center City Philadelphia for lunch with Dominus; got to our assigned meeting spot a little early, so spent some more time basking in the sun and people-watching, trying again to practice noticing and describing what people wear. Over lunch, discussed clothing, and faces, and smells, and the difficulty of describing all of them without the right vocabulary (though presumably, as Dominus pointed out, smell-professionals have a specialized vocabulary; so why isn't it in wider use?), and various topics in cognitive science, linguistics, philology, and whatever else came to mind. Wandered in the park a little afterward, then Dominus headed off to a lesson and I found a copy-shop to photocopy rounds lyrics.

While waiting for next train (having missed the one I'd intended to catch), realized that there was no way I'd have time to both see Donna Jo and juggle with Melissa B (as I'd scheduled before telling Donna Jo I'd see her Friday). So I called Donna Jo and postponed to Monday. Got back to Swat and discovered Melissa wasn't up to juggling, so postponed that to Sunday (but it would've been too late to see Donna Jo anyway). Managed to fritter away the rest of the afternoon somehow or other until it was 7:00 and time for roundsinging.

Which was huge. At least 23 people over the course of the evening, probably more, though people came and left at various times so we probably never had more than 20 at once. Mostly good singers as far as I could hear. Most had never been to a roundsing before and apparently enjoyed it a great deal. I had fun but wasn't thrilled (for much of the first couple hours, anyway), 'cause as usual the new folks wanted to sing all the silliest rounds, most of which (in my opinion) don't work terribly well as rounds. (And I have to admit that part of my reaction is just general curmudgeonliness -- many of them have lyrics that I thought were funny the first few times we sang 'em, but after five-plus years the jokes wear a little thin. Grump grumble grmph.) I guess what I'm really saying is that I'd prefer a mix of about 10% silly rounds and 90% pretty ones, while most people seem to prefer the other way 'round. On the other hand, we did do a couple of truly marvelous ones, including one (the infectiously joyous "Gaudeamus Hodie") which I'd never sung before.

Unfortunately for us, Sixteen Feet (Swat's all-male a cappella group) had chosen that night to have a sixteen-year reunion of all their former members, at the belltower (where we were singing). I was feeling obstinate and selfish; I knew that the Feet have never left the belltower to let us sing there when situations have been reversed, and I haven't had a roundsing with really good acoustics in at least two years, and the Feet were (I'd heard) going to spend most of the following day rehearsing for their concert the following night, so I was in favor of staying around as long as we wanted to sing. But more and more Feet kept gathering and making more and more noise, so finally, defeated, we left for the quieter pastures of DuPont patio. Where I eventually cheered up a great deal, partly because a bunch of people stayed with us despite the move (I assumed we would lose everyone by shifting venue), and partly because we switched to songs I find much prettier than the ones we'd been (mostly) doing. Briefly considered waltzing with someone to one particularly pretty song in waltz time, but haven't waltzed in years (and only once in public in my life), so quashed that idea quickly.

I thought people would want to stop singing at 10 to see the campus movie (the new Romeo and Juliet, which I've been hearing a lot of good things about), but everyone wanted to keep going. We sang until 11, giving up only when voices gave out. Many of us decided we were still awake, so we walked down the hill together to Greylock (singing on and off as we went) and played fun & silly games there 'til nearly 3 am.

Woke up abruptly at 7 and couldn't get back to sleep. Eventually went to SWIL meeting, where they were voting on t-shirt designs and movies to bring for the annual Schlock Film Festival. Afterward, spent some time working distractedly on an In Nomine character with j7y and Chaos.

Then headed back to Greylock and packed up my stuff preparatory to moving to Jay & Melissa R's for a few days. Put some of it in the front closet for safekeeping, put the rest in the car. Thought I knew how to get to J&M's, but wasn't absolutely sure, so Jim came along -- especially nice since I'd barely seen him this week.

Gracie photoWe chatted with Melissa while she gardened, then Jim and I walked over to a nearby pizza place and brought back (surprise!) a pizza. We eventually drove back to Swarthmore, specifically to ML, where an evening of fluffy (ie, non-strategy-oriented) games was in progress. We played various board and card games for a few hours (during which someone commented on my earring, the fourth or fifth such comment I've received in the past couple weeks; seems odd to me, since back home it's completely unremarkable for a male my age to wear one. Practically de rigeur, in fact). Switched to parlor games for a while (including a very silly theatre warmup Alastair taught us, involving vikings, bunnies, and kamikaze pilots), headed home at 2 am (which suddenly turned into 3 am due to the miracle of Daylight Savings Time). ...and then Sunday morning I woke up at 8 (EDT). Ack. But this time I did get back to sleep for a couple hours.


Movies, Books, etc.

Of Men and Monsters, by William Tenn
Possibly Tenn's only novel (most of his work consisted of short stories), this is a semi-satirical post-alien-invasion story vaguely reminiscent of (but much better and less depressing than) Disch's later The Genocides. Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite live up to the promise of its first sentence: "Mankind consisted of 128 people."

The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker
Although I found conclusions and methodology to argue with every few pages here, I have admit that it's probably the best introduction to linguistics available to a layperson; in clear, readable, detailed prose, Pinker explains why everything most people think they know about language is wrong. Because his goal is to convince readers of his thesis (that language is an instinct, hard-coded into humans by evolutionary processes), he frequently pounds points into the ground; and because his audience is non-technical, he frequently includes jokes and quotations whose purpose is to entertain without having much of anything to do with his points; and because he works with computers, he frequently uses computer slang and metaphors (without explanation) which may be confusing to those unfamiliar with computers. Real linguists may find the book even more frustrating than I found it. However, it did contain much that was new and thought-provoking to me, and so despite my reservations I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding current theories about language (and its interactions with anthropology, psychology, education, and biology) without having to wade through the impenetrable prose of theorists like Chomsky.

Donnie Brasco
The posters are extremely misleading; this entire movie is set in 1978, and is mostly a pretty standard affair about an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the Mob, with standard (though interesting) issues of trust and betrayal. Pretty much any episode of the first three seasons of the TV series Wiseguy did at least as good a job, though, and even stalwarts like Johnny Depp and Al Pacino can't really save this movie; I expected much better from director Mike Newell. (Who, by the way, has the same birthday as me...)

The Wizard of Speed and Time
Probably my fourth or fifth time seeing this; still wonderfully sweet and funny, but worth seeing a less fuzzy copy, and repeat viewings don't particularly enhance the movie -- I think I'll hold off on seeing it again for a while.


Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>