Research Riding on the Mcity Shuttle

I rode in an autonomous vehicle for the first time today! It’s a shuttle that’s part of a research project of our big autonomous vehicle testing center

It was pretty fascinating! Some coworkers of mine and I had been meaning to make it up there since they started doing this last summer but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. It was also closed over the winter. 

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Here’s the bus stop, with a foreboding warning: 

The key part is, “There are inherent risks of riding in an automated vehicle (including bodily harm and/or death) that cannot be eliminated regardless of the care taken to avoid injuries.” Cool!

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Isn’t she CUTE???? The shuttle is manufactured by a French company, Navya, that opened a small plant in neighboring Saline in conjunction with the Mcity launch.

A student/engineer/otherwise responsible professional is always standing by in case of a malfunction.

A student/engineer/otherwise responsible professional is always standing by in case of a malfunction.

From the above photo, you can get an idea of what it’s like inside. It’s pretty close quarters. There are eight permanent seats and three that fold open to the side. Wearing a seatbelt was heavily encouraged.

Baby is in an autonomous vehicle!!!!! 2spooky!!!!

Baby is in an autonomous vehicle!!!!! 2spooky!!!!

The route is less than a mile long and all on university-owned roads because Ann Arbor hasn’t approved it to operate on city roads as of yet. The man in the preceding photo is an engineer who serves as a backup in case the automation does something funky - as of now, there is always someone monitoring the shuttle’s systems, so it’s not truly autonomous, in that sense. It’s also on an entirely pre-programmed route and requires manual takeover any time it has to deviate from that route. On my trip, there were lawn equipment vehicles blocking the road at one point and the engineer had to take over (using a Nintendo controller!). 

It felt safe. We encountered pedestrians a few times, and each time, it slowed dramatically and beeped loudly at the pedestrian while avoiding them. It felt safer than riding in a vehicle with a human at the wheel, though substantially jerkier (more on that shortly). 

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But it’s one of those things. There’s a daycare on the loop where the shuttle originally operated, and parents complained enough that the daycare was removed from the route. 

Lastly, it was all a grand old time, but I was really motion sick by the time I got back to work. I don’t think I even realized how off I was until I started going up the stairs into my building and, uh, WHAT IS UP AND DOWN AND SIDEWAYS AND HOW DO STAIRS WORK? And I skinned up my knee. Alas.

Golden hour photography at Barton Dam

Last night, I drove over to Barton Dam in Ann Arbor. The dam is the link between the city’s water supply, Barton Pond, and its residents. It’s a popular spot to take photos, but I’d never been before.

In this photo, what I wanted to do is capture the mist that collects at the bottom of the waterfall into the river. It was tricky! The mist was certainly more pronounced in person, but I did get some of it here. It would’ve been great for the sky to be less cloudy, but c’est la vie.

The water is stunning. It’s loud, shockingly loud…the train tracks are very close by and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tell if one was passing (a bit more on that later).

The sky in this photo is what makes it. I edit all my photos in Lightroom, and I did so a little more editing than normal in this photo. I applied a graduated burn filter to the upper half of the image in order to regain the integrity of the blue sky that I saw, and I got rid of some tree branches that were invading the view in the upper left-hand corner of the image.

My goal with editing is to never edit past truth. Some photographers pursue a certain aesthetic, and that’s certainly an art of its own. But my philosophy thus far has been to use photography to find unexpected meaning in what we see every day. That might change someday, but it’s how it is for now.

I walked up a set of stairs that had a broken caution tape at the foot of them, assuming (hoping) they had been blocked off for winter but now there there was no ice and snow it was safe. There were other folks in the area who had done the same. Nevertheless, the catwalk that goes over the dam doesn’t feel like the sturdiest bit of equipment ever made. The water is rushing so hard and fast that the metal seems to always be shaking a bit moment to moment.

I had a lot of fun playing with shutter speed, though, and love the movement I was able to capture of the water rushing and subsequently crashing as seen from above.

The train tracks at Barton Nature Area.

The train tracks at Barton Nature Area.

I discovered that if you walk behind the entirety of the dam and reach the other side of the river, there doesn’t seem to be an official way to get back to public property/the rest of the Barton Nature Area. But there were multiple trails crossing the tracks to get over to the rest of Barton anyway.

NB: I DO NOT CONDONE STOPPING AND TAKING PHOTOS IN THE MIDDLE OF RAILROAD TRACKS. But I can’t seem to help myself when the occasion arises, either. I made sure I was looking in both directions every few seconds, but it really probably wasn’t a good idea considering the noise of the dam is so loud in this area too.

While editing, this photo somehow ended up a bit more desaturated than I usually go for, but I ended up really liking it. Something about the wood and steel of the tracks.

I don’t love this photo, but this is just to say LO AND BEHOLD, five minutes after I took the photos on the tracks I did catch the Amtrak zooming by.

I don’t love this photo, but this is just to say LO AND BEHOLD, five minutes after I took the photos on the tracks I did catch the Amtrak zooming by.

As you walk along the main path in the Barton Nature area, you eventually reach another pedestrian bridge. From this bridge, you can see the railroad bridge and the M-14 bridge over the river, which makes for some interesting layering. I didn’t do any editing to this photo at all - pretty rare for me. But I liked pretty much everything about it as soon as I saw it load up in Lightroom.

I turned around and headed back to my car, but as I was starting to drive home I noticed the sunset lighting up the sky in a spectacular fashion, and drove a bit recklessly to try to find a spot to take a photo from. But this is Ann Arbor, and there are trees EVERYWHERE. Trees, ye foul beasts!!

As seen from the parking lot at Wines Elementary School.

As seen from the parking lot at Wines Elementary School.

I ended up in the Forsythe/Wines parking lot and did manage to get those rosy-fingered clouds I had seen from the car. Moments before, the magenta hues were far more pronounced, but I just wasn’t there in time. And moments after I took this photo, the skies were simply dark gray. If you don’t already know how quickly things can change from moment to moment, getting into photography will quickly drive the point home.

I turned away from the sunset and saw this spare quality emanating from the combination of the empty parking lot and empty soccer field. Lonely spaces that are meant to be full hold a certain allure to me as a photographer.

As the weather improves, I can’t wait to spend more time outside with my camera, and to find more local gems to highlight.

A Winter's Eve

I took a trip downtown a few nights ago and walked around with my camera until my fingers went numb. I realized it's been months since I shared anything on this site, and that I should be more active in posting about my creative efforts. So, I've updated my theme, and below I have a few photos I especially liked, and I'll write a bit about what I was thinking as I took the photo/approached it.

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This photograph was taken through the window of a Starbucks. I'm generally hesitant to photograph people, but as I was peering through windows I couldn't resist -- there's something so intimate about looking in seeing another person's world.

I was drawn to the similar poses of the subjects in the foreground and background, the stabling presence of the table, and the reflections of lights from the street to snap this one.

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When I walk by it, this sandwich shop, located in what was once Ann Arbor's red-light district, never seems busy. This time it was closed, and empty. The white lighting inside the Coca-Cola fridge makes a nice contrast with the warm lighting emanating from the back of the shop.

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It turned out less sharp than I would want, but I was crossing the street, so had to be fast! I just had to get a shot of the lights, the colorful sunset, the cars in motion. Everything is in motion.

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There's a lovely tradition of artists painting on windows during this time of year in town. With a wide aperture, you can get the art, and the rest fades into bokeh. It has a beautiful effect in the evening.

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Here's another example where I was really taken with the light. The table lamp's light reaches across the painting to its left but not much farther. It reminds me of a fire trying to stay lit. This moment reminded me of an old polaroid. So I shot it.

One More Net

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Credit to: Patrick Barron // MGoBlog

You saw it on their faces in the way they looked at each other; it's written on their bodies in the way they jump up and down together as they celebrate; it's in the words they say. In a season where this kind of success was unimaginable two months (and especially three and four months) ago, you can find yourself asking, "How?"

The answer is the oldest answer, the purest answer, the truest answer.

Teamwork.

"Everyone on this team has a great relationship with each other," Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson said. "It's like a brotherhood we've built. That separates us (from others).

"We don't have small cliques here. We're a team."

We're a team.

“I feel like we all believe in one another, but that is the special thing about this group of guys,” Charles Matthews said. “We don't get caught up in the win streak that we're on. Like most of the guys, we didn't even know we were on a 13-game win streak. We just take everything one day at a time and we stay connected through it all. When you have guys like that who are truly your brothers, anything's possible."

We're a team.

On Saturday night, there was one snippet of net left to cut down. Beilein told Moe Wagner to cut it down. "Are you sure?" Wagner could be seen asking.

Yes, Beilein was sure.

We're a team.

"Coach B just told us that seeing us jump up and down here with our teammates, that's what it's all about," Matthews said. "It's not about who gets this stat or that stat.

"But winning for each other."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjv2iDxiGBI

This team has been through so much together: ugly losses, teammates transferring to rival schools, a near-plane crash. And it's that last one, occurring just before the Big Ten Tournament last year, that I believe laid the foundations for what this team is today: the plane skidded off the runway on the way to the Big Ten Tournament. They held a vote and decided to still go, though no one could have blamed them for staying home.

But they went and won four games in four days. They learned how to win that way.

Then they did it in this year's Big Ten Tournament.

And they're still winning.

Who could deserve it more than a team that plays as a team? Who else could deserve a championship more than John Beilein, who runs the cleanest program in college basketball, teaching his players how to be better people, how to be teammates? He admitted himself he's "no spring chicken." There's always another year.

But this is the year they're here.

Two more games. One more net.

Go Blue.

Book Review: Strangers in their Own Land

First of all: whoops. I look back and see my last post was almost two full months ago. How the time flies! I have done other writing...a bit of unshared poetry, and a personal essay that'll be published next week I'm immensely excited about as it'll mark my first ever successful pitch the first time I've been paid for my writing. PAID! I also came in third in a local poetry contest in November, so though nothing to brag about, the past three months have easily been my peak thus far as a writer. On to what I wanted to discuss today: Strangers in their Own Land  by Arlie Russell Hochschild. This gripping journey follows Hoschschild as she tries to "climb the empathy wall" from her left-leaning UC Berkeley wall over to southern Louisiana residents who embrace the Tea Party.

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Most impressive to me about Hochschild's book was her commitment to understanding the right and her ability to form a coherent narrative other than "they're bigots because they just are," which was my default and seems to be the default of many on the left. We're at a crisis point in terms of people on opposing sides finding understanding with each other, but it's important for our society that we do find common ground. It seems lately everything has become partisan, and it shouldn't be that way. We're allowed to agree on things!

Hochschild's ultimate offering is the presentation of the right's "deep story," aka, the narrative that shapes their value system. She argues that the Tea Partiers (at least in the area she visited) place self-sufficiency above all other values, believing that if they put in the work, their turn will come. One-percenters aren't the enemy; they're just people who worked hard and are enjoying their turn. And what really grinds their gears is to see women and people of color "cutting the line" through pesky federal initiatives like federal rights. I'm not doing a good job of making it sound empathetic because I'm not that empathetic, but I understand it. I was interested to note that Charles M. Blow had an op-ed in the New York Times today that echoes this, through the words of Lyndon B. Johnson:

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

And, well, that's it. Their state has been torn asunder by greedy corporations and politicians. They are victims and don't even seem to know it. And it's because of this undying narrative rooted in the pre-Civil War south that as long as the white man had it better than anyone else, they'd be content, even if their environment is being destroyed. Fox News has probably done more to perpetuate this narrative in the modern day than anything else.

But they believe this deep story.

Meanwhile Hochschild argues that on the left, we value providing public goods. We feel pride in our public libraries and government services.

And both sides are trying to address the same problem: the runaway wealth of the wealthiest citizens of our country. Isn't that something? Very different methods, but I agree with Hoschschild this is what it boils down to: a singular feeling that the American dream isn't obtainable in a way it was in the past. We all see it becoming harder to get ahead. We all want comfortable lives.

I highly recommend the read.

The Wave

Saturday night, I attended the Michigan vs. Minnesota football game. It was a memorable game occasion for a few reasons -- as can happen with any event that happens outdoors, the weather was a surprise. What I had thought was going to be a misty drizzle ended up being a torrential thunderstorm and as my friend and I approached Michigan Stadium we were both drenched to our very cores, despite our ponchos. My socks and boots were saturated. The legs of my pants were soaked. Yet having an experience like that in a crowd, when your adrenaline's pumping, and you're all there to root on your team -- it's magical anyway. Another reason this night was special was the title of this post -- the wave after dark. Ten thousand arms in the air at a time, a yellow-tipped ripple traveling counterclockwise and in varying patterns. Probably one of the greatest examples of human cooperation to be found. These trying times of division have made such traditions all the more special. 

There's really nothing like seeing it in person, but here's a sample from 1984:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79soqk-Oxts

The absence of sense

220px-i_giorni_dell27abbandono Every now and again I'll read a book that makes me wish I were in college again and it had been assigned, and we'd speak about it in discussion. The Days of Abandonment is one of those books. So good, and no one to talk about it with! (Until tomorrow, at least...a coworker recommended it to me.)

As the book opens, Olga has been married to her husband Mario for fifteen years. They have two young children, Ilaria and Gianni, and a German Shepherd named Otto, and overall, Olga believes they have made a good life for themselves.

Then Mario leaves her. What follows is a harrowing look into the mind of a woman whose life has been turned upside down, the stability of her life shredded, her responsibilities multiplied, including the care of the dog Mario convinced her to add to their family.

This story is about the fragile strings that tether us to our understandings of ourselves and our places in the world. The strings more fragile than we can bear. What happens when one is severed, but life still goes on?

It all crescendos to a spectacularly nightmarish day credible only in this context. And it's so worth your while.

Buying and Selling a Car: An Exercise in Adulthood

If there's a scale of adulthood somewhere, somewhere between "making your own doctor's appointments" and "bringing another human into the world" lies the exasperating process of buying and/or selling a car. As someone who doesn't have children, it's probably one of the experiences to date that most made me feel like an Adult Person Supposedly Having Her Stuff Together. It was miserable! But it did at least do that for me. Going into the process, pretty much everything I knew about cars had come from watching Top Gear. Unfortunately, Top Gear mostly features cars that are way out of my price range/cars that have British branding and I didn't know what their American equivalents were.

I knew I needed something reliable, efficient, ideally less than 10 years old, easily maneuverable, (the car I was selling, a 1997 Grand Mercury Marquis, was only the first of these items), and less than $8k. I knew I needed to get as much cash for the Marquis as possible. Here are the things I learned that helped:

  1. Do your homework. I determined how much the car I was selling was worth; how much in a down payment and monthly payments I could afford on a new car; researched which cars and brands are most reliable. I quickly determined Honda and Toyota are the most reliable car brands and used a Consumer Reports list of most reliable used cars in the $5-10k range as my guide. Living in SE Michigan and with several friends who work for the Big 3 auto makers I'd have loved to buy a domestic vehicle, but looking at the data, I couldn't justify it.
  2. Don't make rash decisions. It's okay to come up with an idea of what you're looking for or willing to put up with and pull the trigger, but walking into a car dealership with a malleable mind is bad idea. The salespeople know what they're doing, and if you're not firm up front, you could end up in a predicament that'll hurt you.
  3. The private market hosts the best bang for your buck.  Dealerships exist to make money. The private seller probably wants to make money too, but they may be simply looking for the first reasonable offer that comes along. They may also be unaware of their car's value.
  4. Ask for help. Frankly, most of the people I asked -- my parents, friends, other family members -- weren't much help. But my grandpa came through with great advice and the Consumer Reports information, and reddit also hosts a wealth of information on buying a new or used car.
  5. Be judicious with your contact information. Dealerships will use it and abuse it. I'm still getting regular phone calls, texts, and emails from salespeople.
  6. Take a deep breath. You'll be okay. It's a tough process but you'll get through it. And it turns out they're doing a great job with technology on cars these days! It's been so exciting to discover. The other day my Prius beeped at me because my groceries were sitting in the passenger seat and it thought there was a person without a seatbelt sitting there. THAT IS PRETTY COOL.

Go yonder into adulthood, young padawan, and find some slick new wheels.

 

 

Trail Review: Matthaei Botanical Gardens

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fleming creek

Despite having lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, most of my life, I'd never found my way to one of the most well-known and loved natural areas in town until this weekend. Matthaei Botanical Gardens, owned and operated by the University of Michigan, consists of a gorgeous botanical garden and 3.2 miles of trails. Perhaps because it sits on the northeast side of town is one reason I haven't been (west side for life!) but that's certainly no excuse now that I've seen what I've been missing.

I only peeked in at the gardens today; the trails were the focus. As we walked from the parking lot to the trailhead with two other groups of people I worried the trails would have more humans than suitable for the real nature escape we were going for, but as soon as we hit the first marker our paths diverged and we barely saw another soul.

The terrain here is markedly different than I've seen at other Washtenaw County nature areas: usually there's woods with little undergrowth or wetlands, but at Matthaei the trees are spaced further apart and green vegetation surrounds them.

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the blue trail

Trails were either dirt, mowed grass, or wood chip; they were clearly marked but my desire to "get lost in nature" prompted me not to look too carefully at the posted maps and so we did indeed end up a bit lost (though with Fleming Creek never too far away, there's always a way to find your way back).

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great white egret

Last note: BIRDS! I didn't have my longer range lens with me, but I spotted a Great White Egret (above) and a Great Blue Heron at Willow Pond, next to the parking lot. I definitely will plan to return and see if I can't spot some avian friends.

Michigan football: When will it be The Year?

Each year I have the unshakeable urge to write something poignant about the upcoming football season. The sound of the marching band practicing drifting in through open windows in the late afternoon; the slight chill in the air; the buoyancy of town when students come back to campus and the thrill of excitement that maybe this is The Year. I never know if it is The Year.

The Year is an elusive leaf on the wind. It's the word on the tip of your tongue you can't recall; a parade of what-ifs walking in shame. I'm 25 years old and have no recollection of Michigan's national championship in 1997. It happened in my lifetime. I know it's there and it brings me a vague, effervescent joy...but it didn't happen to me. In fact, I lived in Dayton, Ohio, at the time. My parents must have mentioned it to me -- must have! -- but when I try to conjure my recollections of the sportsball world as a child all I can see is the popularity of Cincinnati Bengals apparel at school. And an older, prismatic memory of driving by painters giving Michigan Stadium The Halo.

Last year felt like The Year. Besides a brief scare against Colorado, Michigan marched through their scheduled opponents like so much riffraff. The collapse down the stretch was painful, but familiar. Despite Michigan's prolific football history, we haven't been good most of the last ten years. Disappointment I know. Disappointment I can accept.

I hate it.

Maybe it should be enough that under Harbaugh we're at least back to being consistently good, if not elite. Maybe someday it will be. I'm sick and tired of looking back at Shawn Crable's unnecessary roughness call and refs that can't measure.

Michigan will be young this year. Mike McCray, recently voted co-captain, is the only returning starting defender, but the new starters all had ample playing time last year. We have a pretty much entirely untested, if hugely talented, receiving corps. Why not this year?

As painful as the past was is as earnestly I look to the future. These golden days of summer's end: anything is possible. There's no telling what will happen. Who's got it better than us?

 

A great American re-read: Deliverance by James Dickey

I've found the reaction to a mention of Deliverance is nigh on universal: "Is that the movie with that scene?" To get that out of the way: Yes, it is. This association is beneficial in one way -- most people do recognize the work, after all -- but still a shame. Deliverance the movie is a tour de force that is more than "that scene," and before it was ever a movie Deliverance was a book. And not just any pulpy old thing ripe for moviemaking, either. It's one of my very favorite books and one I consider to be one of the great American masterpieces. dickey-deliverance

Primal, penetrating, provocative: this story of four men who try to tackle the rapids of a river in north Georgia gets right to the heart of core matters facing society today and humanity as a whole. Why do we have society? Are we missing something by being civilized with this unruly planet under our feet? Can the bridge between city folk and country folk be built, and crossed?

I visited Nashville the weekend before last and simply being in the South brought about the urge to read Deliverance again. At the Tennessee State Museum, I saw a watercolor exhibit and noticed that the author's father had worked with James Dickey on a book about their love of the South. I should read other books of Dickey's at some point, but instead I read it for the second time.

It's always fascinating to re-read a book and see what you pick up the second (or third or fourth) time around. The toxic masculinity was more troubling to me this time, though I do remember it from the first time around. By toxic masculinity I mostly refer to Ed's insistent preoccupation with all that is traditionally manly and his admiration of Lewis for epitomizing those traits. But what surprised me the most is that after my first reading, despite all Dickey's work to clearly make it appear ambiguous, I was all but convinced Drew was shot. And while I've come to respect that the ambiguity is part of what makes it so brilliant, this time I came away just as certain that Drew had thrown himself into the water. There might be even less textual support for this supposition than that he was shot, and yet...Drew is the one who begged them to do the right thing. Drew is the one who couldn't live with the decision not to go to the police. Drew is the one who understood that it would never, ever end. Not for any of them.

 

On escaping to nature

Last weekend, a friend and I took the drive up to Alpena, Michigan to get away from medium-sized city life. Much as I love the city where I live, there's something so grounding about being in nature. Standing on the edge of an inland sea, nothing but water along the horizon line for as far as the eye can see -- no, it's not the same as standing on the edge of the ocean.

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That first night we drove north to Presque Isle in search of some fireworks I had found advertised on mostly word-of-mouth website michiganfireworks.com. It took many false starts with the GPS (which could not find a system much of the time) and a few differing accounts from locals at a bar called the Hideaway that was at least ten miles from any other sign of civilization (its name, I suppose, is apt) before we finally got up to Presque Isle State Harbor. I took the below photograph as we waited for the real show to start; the homeowners of the house on this point gave an unexpected pre-show as peachy hues still lit up the west. The reflection of the firelight on the water seemed to reach out nearly to where I sat on the beach like a beacon.

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We took a trip inland one evening to locate the secluded Bruski & Steven Twins sinkholes. Owned by a local conservancy group and open to the public, I'm still a little baffled I somehow read about them somewhere online while preparing for the trip. The sinkholes are very close together but far enough apart to each have their own dirt parking lot: we were the only visitors, and barely saw another vehicle within a five mile radius. I'd never seen a sinkhole before and it sounded intriguing. That it was.

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I tried taking photographs but the depth was impossible to portray, at least in the summertime when the sinks are verdant with trees and ferns the likes of which are not found anywhere else south of the northern reaches of Canada. From the ledge of the sinks you can see rocky ledges on the either side; gaping, cave-like orifices; and most striking to me, the tops of trees that start over a hundred feet below.

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An imperfect example, but you can see how the ground has fallen away from the birch -- and the greenery in the center appears to just be small plants, but it's comprised of treetops.

I think a wintertime trip would be very worth it.

My life has been stressful lately. Almost comically so. But two feet on the ground -- the sanctity of still water reflecting the sky -- the solid earth beneath -- breezes rushing through with a flighty hush -- and as suddenly, waves crashing and pliant limestone and the hairs standing on the back of your neck as you realize all has fallen silent. The most natural state is change. Maybe the only natural state. Remembering this could be a key to accepting change within my own life.

How to Qualify for Welfare, by the Authors of Trump's Budget

First of all: make sure you have a job. This may sound counterintuitive, because you may be seeking welfare as a result of recently losing your job -- but only by having a job can you prove you’re a good person, and we only give help to the good guys. If obtaining a job seems overwhelming, don’t worry! Just call your dad and tell him you’ll be a great fit as VP at one of his companies. If for some strange reason your father does not own a company, you’ll have to find one the old-fashioned way -- pounding the pavement. This entails going outside and pounding the sidewalk with your fist while yelling, “GIVE ME A JOB! PLEEEEAAAASE GIVE ME A JOB!” Before you know it someone will want to shut you up and will offer you a great position. This is how we assume people get jobs, at least, since none of us has ever had to look for one on our own before (Thanks, Pops!).  

Another thing is to make sure you never have more than $2,250 in your bank account. As soon as you have enough money to pay for tickets to a crappy Super Bowl, we cut you off. The American people are not going to pay for you to see a good Super Bowl matchup, or to not live paycheck-to-paycheck for a month. If you’re not struggling, you’re not worthy! We struggle too. I mean, can you imagine having to talk to people who are of such poor judgement and distasteful disposition that they don’t have jobs? Yikes.

 

Kids are more of a catch-22. If you have them when you’re super poor, you’ll be eligible to for some assistance. If you’re only at the poverty line, you’ll receive two lollipops per fiscal quarter. Don’t count on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (If we can’t lock Hillary up, we’ll just keep chipping away at all she holds dear.)

 

Now, sometimes we hear from people worried about losing their eligibility if they quit their job. This is true; you cannot remain on food stamps if you voluntarily quit your job. Sure, it’s too bad your job at a chemical factory is causing a cancer that will lead you to an early grave, but by continuing to work you’re proving your character, that you’re a true American who works hard for a living, and through that toil can achieve everything life has to offer. Before you know it you’ll be plant manager at that factory, and when your family and friends are sobbing over your corpse, they’ll have known you made it.

 

In any case, don’t worry. It’s really not going to be much harder to qualify than it already is. But if you don’t think you will be eligible for benefits, the authors of this report recommend simply selling your soul to Satan. He pays well, and none of that mainstream media nonsense that he was cast out of Heaven is accurate at all -- fake news!

Am I A Writer?

I've just set a timer for ten minutes. Embarking on the path of trying to becoming a writer, I've found a peculiar hiccup -- it's almost impossible to get myself to sit down and write. I think about writing all the time. Ideas float through my head, seeking purchase on a page; I practice my typing skills, always wanting to stay at about 100 wpm or higher, so when the words start bursting out of me, my fingers will be ready to go at a breakneck pace. Yet even though I've dreamed of being a writer -- a Proper Writer -- since childhood, here I am, at this impasse anyway. In high school my 11th grade AP English Lit teacher often had us begin class with a 10-minute speedwriting session. Usually he would assign a topic, and the only instruction was to write, write, write, as quickly as you could coherently. It would sharpen the brain and flex the vocabulary. I wish I still had some of the ones I wrote. I'm sure they were terrible, but it was still writing. I'm borrowing that practice right now, today to get me started on this journey. Oh god, how long is ten minutes, really? It feels as though I've been writing forever. In my mind, maybe I already have.

The scary thing about following a dream -- more than a dream, really, but following a vision you've had of yourself to fruition -- is the possibility that it won't become fruition. I could fall to suss it as a writer. I want to write about everything (focus is an issue for me) and so I find myself writing about nothing. I want to be a poet, a comedy queen, an essayist, a reporter, a storyteller. But I can't do it all, really, can I? Or I probably can't do it all well. Perhaps the best thing to do is to type away and see what comes out, though if my days on Tumblr are any indication, it'll all be achey-breaky confessionals that I cringe upon revisiting two days, two weeks, two years after penning.

I don't want to add to the mess of voices already out there. I want to be singular; special. Oh, who doesn't? In today's world anyone can share their thoughts as easily as thinking them, as easily as tweeting a string of characters with a choice hashtag that'll be read again and again, as easily as writing nothing at all and merely echoing.

The timer is up.