Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spontaneity, Homework, and Pennsylvania

Just so you know, I didn't actually take this. Or any of these photos.
I was too busy being spontaneous to remember my camera.

Today being part of what I like to call Chaos Week, but is more commonly known as Midterms, meant that I had to tackle the PHP final project that has been looming over me for the past two weeks. For those of you who don't know, PHP is a web language, but it's not a friendly web language. It's not like CSS with rainbows and sunshine and lots of things floating everywhere. Or even HTML, which is like hanging out in a dentist's office with lots of blank walls and pastels and uncomfortable chairs. No. PHP is is the business man on a construction site wearing the hardhat and holding a clipboard, giving you a stern look. PHP will play nice only if you obey all the rules and wear your own hardhat and get things done ahead of schedule and below budget.

See? Hard hat guy is not amused.

That is probably more than you ever wanted to know about code, but anyway, moving on. I've taken PHP before and I kind of enjoy it. You start to feel very professional and gritty when you wear a hard hat and walk around a construction site like you own it, which is how PHP starts to feel once it puts you through bootcamp and decides you're worthy.

But this semester, PHP has not been my friend. It kind of went, "Hah! You thought you knew me, but now I am going to be sly and evil and stop acting the way I'm supposed to, even though you're using arrays the way they're supposed to be used, and all the right syntax but maybe it's not the right syntax, maybe you've forgotten, and I am going to make you wonder, I am going to make you question everything."

By which I mean it took me two weeks and about 10 hours to work arrays into my simple program.

I was like, really? Really, PHP? Now I'm behind on my final.

Also, I now dread the idea of this final.

So I finished every other scrap of PHP homework I could, putting off this durned final, until today, when it could be put off no longer, at which point I hemmed and hawed and whined a bit about wanting to get out of my apartment. Perhaps (I thought) if I leave my apartment, and go to a nice coffeeship where I can maybe buy a Pumpkin Latte (even though I have quit coffee*) or a Bubble Tea (even though Bubble Teas cost, like, $4 a pop and I am a poor poor student writer) maybe, maybe then, I will get some work done. (Note that normally I would buy a tea. But it was a bad day. I was trying to lure myself out with the promise of treats.)

I am addicted to Bubble Tea. But FYI, not actually tea, not usually.
Nowdays it's more like a tasty milkshake with tapioca pearls at the bottom.
The overall thing sounds gross, I know. But it's incredibly good.

But that brought up the topic of where I could go. Since moving to College By the Sea, I have discovered that there is a real dearth of good homework places to go to. I don't know about you guys, but as a writer and a web designer and a college student, I spend way too much time indoors, on my laptop. So not only does a good homework place get me out and about where people are, where internet and power sources are, where there's the promise of drinks (aforementioned) and snacks if I break down and buy myself food--but it also needs to have some element of fresh air about it. The optimal and somewhat unrealistic homework place would even be, GASP, outside. I need windows where I can see nice views at the very least. I also need it to be a quieter sort of shop that won't get too busy around dinner or lunchtime, and where they won't mind me hanging out for three or four hour stretches, nursing my $1 tea. It needs to be a cheap place where I could buy tea for $1 and not $3 or $5 dollars. Oh. It also needs to be close by.

Which is to say there's a real dearth of good homework places to go to.

In fact, when I first moved here, I was quite desperate. I have since discovered a scattered handful of parks that do not charge you for entry, and made a sort of compromise with a Panera Bread and a local coffeeshop, but none of those are ideal--too noisy, to expensive, too loud, too far--and I'm endlessly circling back to my original question.

Where should I go to do homework?

Normally when I'm stuck, I pray about this. And I sort of start packing up and heading out while prying until one direction feels more right than the other.  Because I was so down in the dumps today, I ended up settling for the local coffeeshop with the $4 Bubble Teas, but as I flipped on my right blinker to pull out of the parking lot, I felt a kind of check, a sort of urge, to go to the left.

I was like, God, there's nothing in that direction besides the park. And the park doesn't have benches. I need benches to work on my laptop for any length of time, You know that.

But there it persisted. Go left.

And I went left. I started heading in the general direction of the park, and it was a lovely day outside, and I started to get the sense that maybe I needed an adventure before I did homework. Maybe I was going to drive around for a while and see Lovely Fall Leaves and enjoy New Sights and oh boy, look, a Dunkin Donuts! It was a sign! So I got myself a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and was feeling much better and more adventurous already. And when it came time to turn right toward the park, I turned left again.
Except mine was from Dunkin Donuts. Cough cough cough.

And I drove. Not only did I see Lovely Fall Leaves and New Sights, but I saw cornfields standing dry and golden, and the overdeveloped concrete landscape giving way to hills that plummeted away from me into green and mauve valleys, and the road got tinier and I got happier, and the trees started forming little tunnels overhead, lit through with the setting sun and burning red leaves, and all of the sudden I was In The Country. By which I mean, I saw a sign reading "Welcome To Pennsylvania."

The roads looked like this. Can't you just breathe on roads like this?

By then, I was starting to feel it was time to find a park. So I began slowing down a little and praying some more (here God? Am I here?) and was beginning to worry I'd never find one, when, huzzah, I did. Not only was it big and pretty with trees and footpaths and a little creek, but it was also had a pavilion. I don't normally like pavilions, but this was one nice pavilion. It had a high, overarching ceiling, and it was set on top of a slope so I could look out and see the park, and the sun was streaming in, and it had these fantastic picnic tables, and there was a Comfort Station** nearby, and to top all that off, there were electrical plugs by every single picnic table.

I was in heaven. I flipped open my laptop and got to work.

This is going in a novel someday, I swear.

This finally brings me to my point. (Did you guys think I had one? I bet not. To your credit, this is probably the longest introduction-to-a-point ever.) Actually, it's more of a metaphor than a point. But potato patato. My point is this:

The way I go about doing homework is a lot like the way I go about writing. By which I mean, the occasional outburst of spontaneity is required.

Because do you know what happened as a result of all this? I lost half an hour in driving and I stopped dreading my PHP final. By the time I got there, I was excited. Rejuvinated. I got to look at pretty things and hear the birds singing, and also this intensely peaceful rushing quietness the country tends to have. I got to write down all the If/Else/Then logic of my PHP program with the sun shining on my head. I got to breathe deep and enjoy it instead of plugging away in my dank little apartment (it's not really dank, but it would have felt that way. The little part is true though.) where I would have been miserable.

People talk about BIC or Butt In Chair, which means Sit Down And Get It Done No Matter What, You Big Fat Lazy!!!

And some days, BIC is important. A lot of days BIC is important. But those days are when you're drafting and you know what you need to write and you just need to plug your way through it, or the days when you're editing and you're tired of editing but you have a deadline and you just need to plug your durned way through it. But after a period of plugging away, you need a period of unplugging. (Did you see what I did there? Oh, she's smooth.)

This is sort of like the topic of recharging, which I am a huge fan of. But it's not quite the same thing as recharging--that requires you to have drained your batteries to their last dregs. What I did today was more along the lines of upkeep. Like, oh, hey, if I want to get through this big project, I need to make sure I breathe a little in between mile markers, or I'm going to pass out before I finish.

Or I guess you could just jog off into the sunset, like this lady is doing, consequences be damned?

It takes persistence to continue, but it takes maturity to know when to stop. To know when not enjoying it anymore is a sign that you need to make it enjoyable again.

So, moral of the story? The whole long drawn out adventure story?

Well, for one, I made headway in my PHP final. But the real moral is that sometimes you need to just go for a drive. If I can quote Neil Gaiman: "It's that easy, and that hard."

Which is true.

Truly and always,
-Creative A

*Even though I stinkin love coffee! And coffeeshops! And drinking it while writing! And basically everything associated with coffee except the jitters! But I'd been drinking such copious amounts over the past year I suspected it was starting to screw up my system, so I quit over the summer, and I've been healthier since. Which is why I occasionally allow myself a teeny tiny spiced pumpkin latte when I'm desperate.

**The idea of a Comfort Station was news to me, until I noticed the traditional bathroom signs. And then I thought how funny Comfort Station was. Because the idea of bathrooms was comforting. And then I thought, well, Restroom doesn't make much sense either, does it? Who goes to the bathroom to rest? If it was a rest room, there would be cots in there or something. So I guess Comfort Station*** is as good a term as any.

***Only now I'm curious how popular it is over restroom. Like, if public sanitary facilities were a YA novel, would the majority of folks be Team Comfort Station or Team Restroom?


Christal said...

LOVE THIS. Also love how it was posted at exactly midnight. Oh, Mandy... ;)

Creative A said...

Oops. How did that happen? ;)

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