(Last modified 23 April 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 34

Locations: Swarthmore, Media
Dates: 4/6/97 - 4/12/97

Sunday it rained in the morning. After the rain stopped, I eventually drove to campus to meet Melissa B and Anna for juggling. We juggled behind Mertz for a bit -- Anna working on learning clubs, Melissa and I working on learning to pass clubs -- and moved inside (to upstairs in TiC) when it started drizzling again. Some dancers waiting to rehearse enjoyed watching us, and tried tossing the clubs when we stopped. I've found a lot of people are fascinated by juggling but believe they aren't coordinated enough to learn to do it themselves; believe me, if I could learn in high school, just about anyone with a full range of arm motion can learn. (Though as someone pointed out, even if it doesn't require much coordination it does require quite a bit of patience. But I think patience can be learned. (Given time and patience... :) ) )

Walked to Beardsley with Anna, checked email, then walked down hill in light rain to my car, drove back to Media. Melissa R and I played a fairly cool word game called Overturn (much like a cross between Boggle and Othello), then she and Jay played Scrabble while I wrote my column, which I'd for once neglected to start 'til Sunday evening. Fortunately it went pretty quickly, consisting as it did of mostly random tidbits from my files.

For reasons I can no longer comprehend, even though I was having trouble keeping my eyes open I stayed up 'til 1:30 reading stories from Jim's library copy of the Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction anthology from '95 or '96. Couple of interesting Greg Egan stories, though nothing of his I've read recently has quite measured up to "The Safe Deposit Box."

Swat tree photoMonday, after another slow start, I went back to Mertz in the early afternoon to juggle with Melissa B and Anna again. I found them (and Heather) sprawled on the grass in the bright sunshine, and blissfully joined them -- lying around in the sunshine, as I remarked to them, is a Californian's native habitat. We eventually spent a couple hours juggling, and half a dozen other people who wandered by stopped to join us. Much fun was had by all. It's marvelous to be juggling again; all my juggling equipment has been lying, forlorn and neglected, in the back seat of my car since I left home in August, and I hadn't juggled for more than five minutes at a time in probably two years before that. One of many things (skating, bowling, skiing, waltzing, playing pool, singing, etc.) that I enjoy a lot but never seem to make time to do. And passing pins is the most fun I've ever had juggling -- I had enjoyed ordinary ball-juggling before learning to pass clubs, but it had never thoroughly captivated me the way that passing does. It's a little less magical when I'm keeping count aloud, but that's a necessary step to get to the point where we can pass comfortably. And this is one of the first times I've passed with a friend -- we did some ball-passing back when I was a student, but that isn't the same, and I was never terribly close to any of the people I juggled with at Apple and SGI. (I think Michael and I tried club-passing once or twice, but never spent enough time on it to get really good.) When club-passing really works, it's sheer magic, much like when singing really works -- transcendent, moving into a timeless wordless zone where the mind/self goes away... Very Zen, I guess, though I've never been able to clear my mind for meditation or even for Aikido -- in the latter, always was too caught up in paying conscious attention to exactly what my body was doing. Again, I think that's a necessary step before one can get to the area where the body knows what to do, but I haven't yet made that breakthrough in Aikido.

Anyway. Went to see Donna Jo after juggling for a couple hours, but she was seeing a student. Sat outside (juggling, reading, then just letting the sunlight wash over me in glorious warmth) for about 45 minutes, then went in and had a brief chat with her about fiction and the linguistics program before she had to go to a dance class. Ah, well, I'm sure I'll see her again before I go.

Decided to get a milkshake at the Tarbles snack bar, something that I associate with comfort and relaxation because I used to do that with Cathy P my senior year here. Unfortunately, the snack bar no longer serves milkshakes. Sigh. So I chatted with Will Q and Joel McNary in the Tarbles lounge for a little while, mostly about I-Con (sf convention at SUNY Stonybrook on Long Island, which Will attended this past wkend), then came back to Media. Arranged with Jim to go to Da Chen for dinner after his bike ride, checked email, called Virgin Atlantic to find out why they said my ticket to England had been returned to them as unforwardable.

Back in Swarthmore, picked up Jim and drove to Prospect Park. I think this is the first time I've consulted a map before heading off to Da Chen -- usually we just start driving, and when we find a familiar landmark (like rte. 420) we turn and hope for the best. Don't know who introduced me to this restaurant -- possibly David VS, possibly some professor -- but we've been going since I was a student, and I've gone there almost every time I've visited Swat since leaving. They have a superb appetizer called Cool Noodles (one of those noodles-with-peanut-sauce dishes) that alone is worth the trouble of getting there, and the rest of their menu is quite good as well (this time I tried something new: diced chicken with green peppers, which turned out to be yummy). Da Chen: 848 Chester Pike, Prospect Park, PA (1 block south of Rte. 420); 610-461-4000. Go there. They're open 'til at least 10 every night, and 'til 11 Friday and Saturday. And they've never been crowded when I've been there.

Over dinner, we played a new mini-game from Cheapass Games (whose games are all the rage among SWILfolk these days -- good stuff, cheap, easy to learn, fun to play, and usually more complex than they immediately appear), and made plans for the weekend.

I dropped Jim off at home and continued to the SWIL movie, which I missed at least half an hour of so I won't list it in the movies section below. It was Journey to the Center of the Earth, and I saw plenty enough of it to know that it was really bad. Almost redeemed by the sheep scene at the end, but not quite. Afterward, in what's becoming a habit, a bunch of us (Joe R, Melissas B and R, Otavia, Jay, Ross, possibly others I'm forgetting) chatted until 2 am; then I drove Jay and Melissa R home.

Tuesday I sent out email advertising the evening of parlor games we're having on Saturday. (Jim is having a story reading on Friday, but I won't be there; I'll be at Brigadoon.) Put clothes in washing machine. Had lunch with the Math Forum folks, and chatted with Gene (and, briefly, Helene) afterward. Gene and one of the Math Forum people, a Mawrtyr named Emma, showed me around the Forum Web page -- some way cool stuff, esp. what Emma's doing with organizing email archives into coherent threaded hierarchical conversations. I suggested she look into Tamara Munzner's hyperbolic-geometry system for displaying maps of Web pages and filesystems.

Decided to see if Melissa B was around for juggling and/or a trip to the Ville; was walking toward Parrish to call her when she walked up carrying a complete set of Cheapass Games, which had just arrived in the mail. (Only $42 for 8 games, including postage!) We walked to the pharmacy, where I picked up the photos I'd left -- a single roll starting with stained glass windows in the National Cathedral and going through my CA interlude, NC, and Swat roundsinging. I've managed to miss getting photos of a lot of folks I've seen, alas. But a lot of the pix in this roll came out really well. My forwarded mail hadn't arrived at Greylock -- I later called and found it hadn't been sent yet 'cause I hadn't told the Mail N Motion folks I was still here -- so we walked back up to the DuPont parking lot and got out my clubs and juggled for a while. Things went much more smoothly than they had the previous couple days -- we even switched from passing every third throw to "every-others" without loss of accuracy. Yay! A little after 5 she went to prepare for seminar and I drove back to Media. Had dinner with Melissa R, spent most of the next several hours bringing my journal up to date. I've got to start writing a little every day so I can keep current without spending hours writing sixteen pages once a week.

Wednesday I slept late for once, then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon finally updating the travelogue here... Then off to campus for a woodswalk in the Crum, led by Anna, whom I recommend as a guide. Nice to see the woods again, though of course with a group it wasn't as quiet/contemplative as I'm used to such walks being. But of course had the advantage of good company and several pairs of eyes to notice and point out cool stuff, plus Anna to tell us what various things were. One part of the walk reminded me of a certain snowy night when I was a student; I ought to put my SWAPA essay about that night's walk up on the Web at some point...

We rambled along trails, crossed the frigid Crum twice (brr), passed Crumhenge and the meadow, and returned along Fieldhouse Lane to Sharples (the dining hall). I tagged along for dinner; felt very odd to be eating in the small room again, especially since I so rarely did so as a student after I moved offcampus at the beginning of '88... After dinner we played a silly but fun card game called Skitgubbe (also known as Goat), which I'd only played once before (when Josh Smith taught it to various folks) and had been wanting to try again for years. Then off to Jim and Jere7my's to see an old Babylon 5 episode ("Babylon Squared," which most of us hadn't seen). Then several of us hung around playing Melissa's new Cheapass Games, while j7y looked at Crum water in a microscope. Made some of us a bit nervous about what we'd been wading through...

Eventually we packed it up and headed home. I stayed up 'til 2 answering email, and slept 'til 10.

Thursday we had a sort of fragmented lunch with Sherry at J&M's, then I gave Jay a ride to campus and went down to Mertz to juggle. Melissa B and I are getting much better at this passing thing very quickly; I've never juggled with someone more often than once a week, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how much faster things go this way. (Then, too, Melissa picks things up quickly -- it took her about two minutes to learn a flourish that I spent at least a week getting down. The advantages of a background in baton-twirling.) Other folx showed up eventually, and some juggling was done but more desultory lying about in the sun. Eventually M and I joined said activity. Alastair showed up and convulsed us all with his Valley-Girl version of the prologue to Henry V -- "Oh, for, like, a muse of, like, fire!" After a couple hours of drifting across the lawn to stay in the sun, we finally decided it was too cold and was time for dinner. Melissa and I went to a nice Italian place over on Baltimore Pike, new in the past year. We chatted about this and that for a few hours, eventually meeting back up with others later that night for more Cheapass games in Kohlberg. I drove back to Media a little after 1.

And then I got even worse about updating this travelogue than I've been in the recent past. I hope I haven't lost all of my loyal readers...

Friday afternoon (after one of my patented slow starts) I met Melissa at the Sun lab and we juggled for about 40 minutes -- chilly, but not too bad while we kept moving. Then went inside for a CS talk by Jim Marshall, a candidate for a leave-replacement position for Lisa (?), the second tenure-track CS professor at Swat. Chatted with Charles Kelemen for a bit (the head of the CS dept), said hi to Steve Maurer, and then it was time for the talk. Fascinating stuff about patterns, similarities, metaphors, analogies, based on work Marshall is doing with Douglas Hofstadter at the Fluid Analogies Research Group. Was disappointed to learn I was going to be out of town for Hofstadter's visit to Swat in a couple weeks.

Read email for a while, went to dinner at Sharples with various current students. More comfortable this time, despite it being "Bring Your Phones to Dinner Night." Eventually headed up hill, picked up car, drove Melissa and Kendra to Brigadoon (followed in Joe's car by Joe, Heather, Chaos, Otavia, Kira). A great deal of fun, and nice to finally have faces to attach to names I've been hearing about (among the local Scottish dancers) for some time. When we went to say hi to Melissa S backstage after the show, the male lead smiled at me; I mumbled something inane like "you were great!" and he patted me on the arm, causing various others to snicker at my incoherence.

After the show, we went to Greylock, where story reading had just ended (it went quite well by all accounts I heard). My passport had arrived in the mail (yay!), and Michael B had left a message that my ticket had arrived at his place, so looks like I'm going to London after all. We played more games and chatted until 2:30, at which point I finally headed back to Media.

Saturday I skipped SWIL in order to have a relaxed day with Melissa R (and I want to make clear that it's not my fault that there are three different Melissas among the Swat-area alums). We went food-shopping, stopped by the library (where I read a delightful Joan Aiken picture book), went to Selene's (the natural-foods co-op in Media). Then listened to music and showed Melissa my travel photos. Also set things up so Jim M could transfer his Web pages to my site, their new home.

That evening we went to Greylock again for a long but mostly enjoyable evening of parlor games. Pavlov, Plenty Questions, Zoom/Schwartz, Minister's Cat, Encore, Freeze, Similes, Proverbs, Deprivation, Telephone Pictionary, perhaps some others. Also a backrub circle (really two parallel backrub lines), my first in years; felt great. We eventually stopped around 3 am on Sunday morning.


Movies, Books, etc.

Brigadoon (stage performance)
Lovely show -- lots of funny lines, good songs, good dancing, cute leads, lovely backdrop. One or two of the songs were partly inaudible, but mics along the front of the stage helped considerably to boost singers' voices over the too-loud orchestra, and most of the words were perfectly audible.

The Moon's Revenge, by Joan Aiken
Lovely pictures by an artist whose name I neglected to copy down, typically Aikenish (which is to say delightful and offbeat) fairy-tale story about a boy who wants to be the best fiddler in the world.

Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>