We moved to a new small town in Oregon, bought a crap load of candy, and sat out on the front porch while all of our neighbors averted eye contact and shuffled their kids past our front door. The only people who would take our candy were the few groups of Mexican migrant worker families who, we were later told, “don’t really live here, since they’re probably all Illegals.” Hmmm.
Don’t know what happened to the formatting of this picture…but it’s kind of spooky, right. Like a funhouse mirror. I’m going to go with it instead of trying a fix.
I live in the town of Indiana, PA, a rural community of about 15.000 people, surrounded by a township of similar size, and home to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the most prominent of 14 schools in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. We’re the hometown of both Jimmy Stewart and Edward Abbey–a pretty telling dichotomy, I think.
We used to be a farm town with a small teacher’s college, and lots of coal mines in the hills around us, but the transition to college town is and has been what we are all about. This is not without conflict. A significant minority would like very much to roll back the clock, even though the University is our lifeblood–a quick drive down the decrepit main streets of many similar-sized towns in the region makes it clear what we could be without the school, but it’s tough now that students outnumber permanent residents for 9 out of 12 months each year. That scares some people.
A committed group of forward-minded individuals and public servants have been striving to strengthen the bonds between year-round residents and part-year resident, on a variety of levels, and have been largely successful in the initial endeavors. Our futures are entwined. However, there remains a serious disconnect, an “us versus them” adversarial perspective that is manifested by hostility and resentment on both sides of the equation. Permanent residents complain about development, about noise, litter, parking and (hilariously, I’m afraid) traffic–showing just what a small town we really still are. On the student side, we hear that the borough is out to get them, via rules and ordinances, that we don’t appreciate them, (about half true), and complain “this town would be nothing without us.” And for those of us who are strong advocates for the University, and who look forward to the vigor the students bring to the community each autumn, that last bit hurts just a little.
The situation came to a head most recently in the wake of an annual bacchanal we like to call “Homecoming.” For me, this means a parade with marching bands and floats, Shriners on motorcycles, community groups and public figures lobbing candy and mardi gras beads into the crowds, firetrucks, a party on our friends’ front porch, and a football game. For the students, it means all of that and more–it really is a Mardi Gras experience. They drink, they dance, they stumble home and do it again–three nights running. It’s not entirely benign–every year there are soaring numbers of police calls, kids urinate in public, they pass out, a few of them fight, and a small group of them raise destructive hell–stuff gets broken. There was a stabbing a few years back, after a fight between two students from other schools–one of them died. For the President of our Borough Council, living among the students is “living the nightmare.” She remarked:
In my opinion, this was a gross exaggeration, but then again, I’ve lived in other communities, experienced celebrations in other college towns, and what we see in Indiana is nothing like what I’ve seen there. It’s also my contention that the “thousands of dollars of police overtime” is a worthwhile investment in the millions of dollars raked in by the jubilant throngs of revelers, their friends, and their families.
It seems now that the students have finally had enough. At least one has. Indiana native and IUP Senior Tara Federoff threw her hat in the ring as a write-in candidate. She has a long, steep road to climb–with less than a week to go, she’ll need every vote she can scour, especially as a write-in candidate, but the students may be her ace in the hole. a large percentage of IUP students live in her ward, and her candidacy is unprecedented. No IUP student has ever served on Council before–and were she to win, she would immediately bring a student voice to the community’s leadership.
Two days until NaNoWriMo, and I’m actually getting nervous–it’s good to feel nervous; the good kind of nervous. It’s good to feel the good kind of nervous, I just wrote–going to go far with this writing gig.
If you’ve waded into the WordPress community–or Blogworld in general–you probably know at least a little about NaNoWriMo; if you don’t, look around. It’s in front of you, even if you didn’t notice. The scientific term is “abuzz.” NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and you can dig into the grimy details here:
Basically, the idea is to write a short (50,000 word) novel in a single month. They provide, via the web site, a tool to record and count your text–you can compose directly into the site or use your own processor and cut and paste–and a support community that continues throughout the year. It’s really cool. And it’s not as easy as it sounds. Nor as difficult.* I think. It might just be. I’ve come up short several times, but we’ll get to that.
You should try it. If you ever wanted to write a novel, or if like me you’ve written crappy novels and 1400-page novels that really want to be six novels, and want to do it again, but better, it’s the perfect scenario. We’re all doing it.
I know, I know; if “everyone” was jumping off a bridge, would you jump off too? I’m a little ashamed to admit that, long ago, when they were, I did, and it was terrifying. I don’t have a sense of adrenalized dread over NaNoWriMo, not like I’m standing outside the railing of a bridge staring down at a trickle of water ambling over boulders–it’s more like disbelieving wonder, anticipation, and a little bit of chomping at the bit. Christmas Eve, the night before the first day of a new school year (but without the new shirt–maybe I should buy a new shirt?), or before the first day of practice for a new sports season, the first day at a new job, or that moment when you’re young and you call a girl on the telephone–and she answers.
I’ve been down this road before. I’ve failed NaNoWriMo before. I’ve had legitimate reasons, but let’s be honest:
reasons are just excuses wrapped in petticoats and pretty bonnets, right. Right? So, no excuses, no bonnets. (Part 2 is all about the bonnets.)
I’ve got a very simple, linear plot, a beginning, and end, a protagonist, an anti-hero, a moustache-twirling villain, and a darkhorse villain who may be the most villainous of all, or might be pretty reasonable, as villains go. I haven’t plotted out the details, which makes things much more difficult given the time constraints, but there’s no point in dwelling on it–I’ll just be aiming my characters down the road, with a few harsh words and a smack on the ass, to see where they go.
*I reserve the right, when I’ve finished, to ramble on almost indefinitely about how hard it was, how far I’ve trudged, how sore my butt is from sitting in this chair all these hours, etc.
*this is the final excerpt from what I’ve called the “big truck” series–an abandoned, unfinished road trip novel I lost interest in 17 years ago and recently revisited. I added it partially in response to posts by our friends over at the excellent Great Plains Trail blog–where they’re building something awesome. The Great Plains are remarkable, and filled with beauty and wonder both magnificent and subtle, but all that open land always strikes me as a little spooky, a sentiment that carried over into the following passage
From the hive he drove straight on, stopping three hundred miles in, when the fuel tank approached one quarter. Standing tight-shouldered and shivering at a self-service pump, feeling the fuel surge through the hose and into the truck, a tangible exchange of power, perched on the edge of unending Iowa, he looked out on hard gray fields frosted soil and stubble pierced here and there with copses of trees clustered about tiny empires of tidy framed houses, barns, and outbuildings: feudal kingdoms of maize, wheat, and soy. He wondered what sort of paradise it would be once the trees donned their canopies; but something about the flatness of the land unnerved a young man who had spent the relatively few years of his life traveling far, but only in latitudes, only up and down the broad, fecund spine of the Appalachians and the lands that separated those ancient mountains from the sea that once lapped at their flanks. Too young to fear death or need great favors, his musings rarely turned to the protestant God who had perched, predatory, above his childhood, but he thought it chilling that in the great exposures of plain and prairie, there was no place to cower and hide and cringe-that God could reach down to smite and scatter and howl vengeance unimpeded by mountain or foothill or cliff. And indeed He did, Hart realized, needing no great powers of concentration to recall the droughts and floods and blizzards and twisters that ravaged the region in biblical justice, almost ritually scourged and scoured the Midwest. He supposed that these were the prices exacted for the privilege of living in the long, flat shadow of God.
The great bands of the 1960s and early 1970s were just past their zenith when I started listening to music, but it was rare to sit down in front of a radio (look it up on wikipedia, kids) for any length of time and not hear hall of fame-scale music amidst the Foghat and Foreigner clogging up the airwaves. A kid could tell pretty easily what mattered and what didn’t, but despite that I was never really thrilled by The Beatles, the Stones were just okay, and The Who could drive me out of a room. Looking back, it’s likely that I would have responded differently to those great bands, if I hadn’t heard The Velvet Underground first.
They may not be the greatest band in the history of Rock N Roll, but they were the best, and the coolest. The soundtrack to my youth just got a lot quieter. Thanks, Lou.
Seriously? Pitt throws the game away to a team playing triple option, filled with players recruited mostly for their ability to fit into a submarine? Why do I care about this team?
When I started this, my most successful and sustained blog in a long history of failed, half-assed blogs* I made a decision that I wouldn’t allow ranting posts that, being a basically bitter, mean-spirited, cynical old son-of-a-sea-serpent, I’m prone towards. Now I’m thinking that maybe I could save each week’s worth of bile and throw it out each Monday morning. Could be cathartic–but possibly annoying to readers. It is possible that I’m the only person entertained by snarky negativity. Hmmmm.