Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smoking.

America is not a nation fueled on Christian thought; it is a nation fueled on suppositions of moral superiority.

You think my words too harsh?

Think about it for just a moment. Gandhi, who was himself not the most innocent of parties, put forth the idea of Satyagraha, or the force of moral strength over physical strength in the world of politics. It is not necessary to be the greatest in numbers, nor to be stronger in either the ways of violence of intellect, but merely in the ways of perceived moral superiority; from there, mastery follows, because none dare act in the face of perceived morality.

In Gandhi's case, he challenged British control, on the grounds that they were abusing the Indian peoples--plural, not singular--and were refusing the Indians self-determination, of which they were fully capable. At the same time, when Jinnah went to Gandhi and Nehru to ask for protection of the Indian Muslims in the face of Hindu majority, Gandhi rebuked him and told him to get his priorities straight; not that Jinnah's request would have derailed Gandhi's agenda, but Gandhi did not care overmuch about the concerns of Indian Muslims, and would prefer to have control with his own party.

I do not say this to challenge the greatness of Gandhi: he is still amongst the wisest of men. However, like all men, Gandhi falls short of the mark, because all men are imperfect, even according to their own standards.

Nonetheless, Gandhi was a hypocrite in his call for Indian self-determination, because he intended to afford no protections to the Muslims. The moral high ground that he seized was created, not real, and so it is--or so I believe--with all of the moral high ground created by men.

There are any number of modern topics to which my critique could be applied; there are perhaps some of you that have gay marriage dancing before your eyes, perhaps others dwell on the death penalty.

No matter what, there is not one party within our society that bases its claims upon superior numbers or might or wisdom or pragmatic realism; all parties lay the foundations of their arguments in  perceived superiority.

To challenge certain societal norms--or emergent societal norms--makes you a bad person. To act against these norms puts you at a level that is practically sub-human. There are some behaviors we are no longer allowed to question, and still other things in which we are no longer allowed to engage.

I am about to go where you did not expect.

Would you care to know why I began smoking a pipe? (occasionally, of course)

I can think of three moments that most strongly influenced me. The first was my great grandfathers that used tobacco, and apparently derived some pleasure from it, both of whom were intelligent, healthy, long-lived men, who understood the importance of moderation, but also enjoyed their simple pleasures.

The second instance was a pastor at the Higher Things, In His Face concert in Texas. I left the absolute bedlam of the hotel for a moment of fresh--98 degree with equal Houston humidity--air and found myself alone with a pastor, who was taking a mental health moment. He was reading and smoking his pipe; it smelled marvelous, and of all the people of the conference, he seemed to me like the one who was making the best use of his time.Being a thoughtless teenager, with as yet uncontrolled social impulses, I began talking at him, and he seemed perfectly content and at ease. I will carry the image of his bearded person for quite awhile I imagine; I wonder who he was.

The last influence, with which I would never have picked up the pipe, will come as less of a surprise to those who know how contrary I am.

Connie Willis wrote a book. Her book was named Bellweather. If you have not read Bellweather, then you are wasting your time reading this. H'anyway, in this most amusing and best of books, Willis parodies the visceral reaction of societies against smokers, and the ridiculous reviling of a single vice.

I laughed at it in Willis, but the reality is that smokers really do get the shaft from the rest of us. Habitual smokers are looked at like they have a disease or a mental defect, and the rest of society seems to stand together in agreement that they and their second hand smoke may--and you will pardon my profanity--fuck off.

Smoking is dirty, can be quite uncouth, and like all behavior, should be abstained from around those who do not care for it, as good manners and basic courtesy dictate.

However.

When I have someone in line at work who gives someone else a dirty look for smelling like smoke; when I have someone act as if smoking were a mental disease; when I hear smokers as not caring for those around them...I draw the line.

I have no time for the perceived moral superiority.

Those same people who get angry with the smokers drink too much alcohol, drive too fast, do not exercise enough, and are all going to die one way or another. Smoking is a dirty habit. So are lying, gossiping, and masturbation, but the latter three are generally excepted by society as inevitable.

Furthermore, I say that smoking is the only one of those three that is not an absolute moral wrong. It is a small pleasure that is bad for your health, like large quantities of red meat and insufficient exercise. Obesity related conditions--especially heart issues in males--are still more deadly than lung cancer to date, so where is the outrage over gluttony? Or is it that you only care about the 'dangers of second hand smoke.'' You know, from that one time you walked past a smoker on the side walk.

Smoking is not wise, but chew on this.

In some forms, it is indeed pleasant. I smoke, usually, no more than once a week, and only when I am at my most restless. I can get to the point where I find it hard to do anything but pace like a caged animal, especially when I have a headache. Smoking tends to relieve this in the space of fifteen odd minutes. I tend to spend a much better night after this.

The other great attraction is social.

I went to Riegels today. Riegels is our local tobacconist, and they have a simply splendid selection. On this occasion, like every other, I was not alone in the store. In the store were three old men, all of whom seemed to know each other, and all of whom were having a good time smoking their cigars.

Smoking, like drinking, is a social vice. It gives these men an excuse to come together and enjoy themselves, just as it does with the young people in the smoke huts on campus. They have a good time, and they have community. The people in the smoke hut are huddled against the wind, and the old men in that tobacconist are huddled against the disapproval of society.

In the one case, the young folks in the smoke hut are rebels; they do not care that society has decided that their little pleasure is unacceptable. The reality that their habit alienates them from the rest of the body only makes their sense of community that much stronger: everyone knows the other people who meet in the smoke huts.

So also, those fine old men of Riegels know each other, and though society does not approve of their particular little vice, they know their way around life and have learned something that most of us are yet to learn. Everyone dies.

Is this a reason to go out and chain-smoke? Good heavens, no. I do not, and nor will I ever.

But it is a lesson in moderation. Just as we should be moderate in how we take things into ourselves, so also, we should be more moderate in the judgements we hand down.

Accept that your body is already moldering. Birth is the beginning of the slow road to death, if you will allow me to be macabre. It is also, however, blessed with the ability to perceive numerous--innumerable--kinds of pleasure, all of which should be enjoyed in moderation and in the proper time and place. Alcohol, tobacco, food, sex, music, poetry, and coffee are all for our enjoyment, but are all destructive if they become obesessions.

If you abstain from alcohol and smoking entirely in the interest of preserving your body, go ahead. But please have the consistency to abstain from gluttony and laziness; do not fall to the darkness of a delicate pastry, neither the leisure of fake buttered popcorn, nor allow yourself to fall into contact sports; such as are contrary to your God, Goodhealth.

Addiction is not a good thing, so far as anything that takes a man's will from him is a bad thing; in the same way, peer pressure, and caving to perceived moral force in the absence of principle may be said to be a bad thing, as it strips a man of his will and makes him dependent on something outward. A slave is a slave, regardless of who the master is.

My problem is that we are all slaves of public opinion; the greatest evil in our society--whether we will admit it or not--is to be unpopular, and this is exactly what we should expect from a democratic society, where the will of the people is the alpha and the omega.

I started smoking, je so oft, as a protest against all of those who looked down on smoking and smokers. Had I not been so angry at the outrage against smoking, I never would have picked up my pipe.

Get rid of all of your bad habits. Obey all laws fully and completely. Stop being a glutton. Stop undressing women in your head as they walk past. Stop sitting there and reading stupid blogs when you should be doing something useful.

Then, we can talk.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lazy Sunday

Sunday morning began rather later than it normally would have for me. In one way, you could say that the reason was that I hit the snooze button eight times, after--of course--listening to the opening cadences of M.I.A. 8 times, but cutting it off before the acoustic guitar gives way to the electric. In another way, you could say that it was because I was--am?--a lazy bum, and just did not want to drag my carcass out of bed. To some extent, both of the above would be true.

The real reason, however, is that I--and several unnamed accomplices--had just finished watching the last season of breaking bad at 2:30 the night before, and one does not simply slip off into gentle sleep after that. I will not say anything about the show here, because everyone should watch it and spoilers would be a bad thing. Without spoiling anything, I can say, it was really good.

How good? I might just buy into TV as a potential art form; that kind of good.

Anyway, my Sunday started late, and I took no pains to make my morning rituals any faster. I moseyed down the street to the Gottesdienst, not thinking about how my leather soled shoes would fair on the polished ice. Concentrating my full energies on not spilling my coffee, I skittered my way down the sidewalk like a Great Dane puppy; unfortunately rather less cute and coordinated.

After a couple close calls I had made it across Rudisill. There was church, complete with Confirmation and Baptism, with an excellent little reception to follow; the morning was satisfying, life was good, and the rest of the day promised interest as well.

Now, before I continue to chronicle my boring day, and so you do not feel like I have tricked you awfully when I reach the end, I should tell you that the only reason that this day seems worth chronicling to me, is because I never get Sundays off of work. Ever. As such, while everyone else is used to Sunday being a day to chill, mine is usually pretty well occupied from 9:15 until 8:00 in the evening, which makes for a fairly long day to be out and about; nothing to complain about, but I usually never feel settled on a Sunday until I stop to unwind at night.

A free Sunday is something of a novelty for me, and having the time to assimilate it makes everything so much more pleasant and clear, both at the time, and even now as I reflect on it. Even church and seeing my church family are more pleasant when I know I do not have to rush off to work right afterward.

This could be a place where I might launch into much breast beating about my desire to have a normal, fixed, work schedule, but that is rather done to death at this point, so we press on.

After taking my sweet time at the reception, I got home and realized I needed to book if I wanted to change and get to Cinema Center on time. And I was not showing up in a suit.

Cinema Center was having an event to support the Three Rivers Language Center, and particularly their excellent--and quite fascinating--work reanimating the Myaamia language. The Myaamia are working on relearning how to speak their language, which went dormant in the Sixties; the center is helping them decode all of the linguist speak to recover the syntax and pronunciation. Interesting work. A worthy cause.

I was there because I had been bribed with extra credit. Sad, but true. In my senior year, there are now many things I won't do for extra credit or bad free pizza, but this seemed like it had the potential to be interesting. Plus, this was all being done at Cinema Center; how better to build my cover with the hipsters, the secret to whose origins I am still seeking.

I changed and got downtown much faster than I anticipated, so I decided to park by the library and walk to the theater. It was windy, and downtown Fort Wayne lends itself quite well to turning ordinary wind into bone-chilling, biting, howling winds. While I was not entirely comfortable, I was consoled by how remarkably bad-ass my coat looked in the wind (so the nice hooligans said).

I finally made it to the theater, considerably warmer for the walking. The first thing I saw when I got into the theater was Dr. Bischoff, who was pleasantly surprised that a few of his students were taking the bait. It appeared that I was the only student that had made it from my class, but there was a fairly decent group there, including people I've had classes with before.

I slipped into the auditorium, and two minutes later I was joined by someone I did not expect to see. I was sitting there, counting a larger number of people than I had expected, when Joe Strange slid into the seat next to me. I have had several classes with Joe before, in both History and German, and it was not until we started talking that I realized that I missed him. He is probably in his late thirties or early forties; he has a wife and kids, a wry sense of humor, and a je ne sais quoi that makes him really easy to be around. Oh, and his name is awesome.

He and I spent the last little bit before the show catching up, and then, just before the show began, Curt sat in the seat on my other side, and it was really good to see that Curt wasn't dead.

An announcement was made, we applauded about something, the lights went down, and our feature began. The Linguists turned out to be a documentary about the documentation of dying languages. As the film reminded the viewer--over and over--there are seven thousand languages, and languages go dormant--or lose their final speakers--at the present rate of 2 a week. The viewer is whisked along on an often amusing but thoroughly alarmist exposition of how an intrepid pair of linguists spend their professional life tracking down and recording these languages.

My final review of the movie is that it was worth my time. It belabored a few points, presented the linguists in a light that was less than flattering to them as skilled academics, and tried to make a cheap drama out of an otherwise fascinating topic. Nonetheless, the crap editing and attempts to make it sexier did not spoil the interest of the people and languages.

In the movie talk afterwards, I got to hear Myaamia spoken, which was rather cool, and I got to listen to the panel try to toe the line between supporting the cause and acknowledging the flaws of the movie, which was especially funny, since all  threee panelists had worked with the linguists in the documentary.

I didn't hang around after the screening, mostly because I had consumed a fair amount of coffee before the film, a bottle of water during the film, and by the end of the somewhat protracted talk, and in the face of a long line, I decided I would be a happier man if I just hoofed it back to the library. I got there, saw some more of my classmates, stopped, chatted, then went looking for research materials before the library closed. New materials on hand, I left them in my trunk, and decided it should be a marvelous thing if I went to Starbucks. To Starbucks I went, I got a cappuccino, and it was good. Even in the snow, Downtown is a great little place to walk.

After that, I really had to get back and do homework, but the afternoon of unexpected freedom was nice. And yes, it might seem like a somewhat boring afternoon, but I genuinely enjoyed it.

And that was my lazy Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Final Semester: First Impressions.

I realize this exercise is not as exciting for everyone else as it is for me, but I feel the need to go through and do my beginning of semester overview, mostly to reflect on what I am into this semester; to organize my thoughts, don't you know.

In the first part, on the surface, it comes to me that this will be an easy semester. Granted, I am taking 15 credits while I am taking on a full-time, or near full-time, load at work. Nonetheless, I am still not anticipating any issues.

I suppose I should begin by confessing that I am taking two of the easiest gen eds on the planet. I am taking Physical Systems of the Earth and Weather and Climate. I am nearly blinded by the sheer ease of these selections; it almost does not seem moral, and I find myself questioning the choice, purely because it does not challenge me, at all. Although, I must also note that these were the ones that I could fit into my schedule, without having to add Monday classes: the lesser of two evils.

The first is physical systems, which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1:15. It is probably the single easiest possible science with lab available in the catalog; thank God, that I have already taken my science lab, because I imagine it probably would tie with geology for most stupefyingly boring. The students in this class are something of a mix, but a great many of them  are sophomores and freshmen. There is no spirit of volunteerism, and you can smell the attitude on certain students, even from where I sit in the upper decks.

The Prof is trying very hard, and he seems like the kind of guy who it would not be bad to have a beer with, but, unfortunately, the class is not exactly game, and his questions go unanswered and his dad-jokes fall flat, even though some of them are actually fairly decent. He wants to spend a period doing some geocaching type work, if he can ever find enough volunteers to go into the cold. I feel sorry for him when people leave after attendance has been taken.

 The guy sitting next to me is in a similar boat to mine. He is an upperclassman, both bored and fairly intelligent. We sit in the back, largely because we can watch everyone else.

Weather and Climate is comprised, almost entirely, of bored Juniors and Seniors, all of whom--it is my assumption--are fairly pissed off, because they were surprised when they discovered that they would have to take this class instead of Soviet Revolution and Regime. Still, they labor on gamely, in a class which their professor insists, was designed to get them an easy A, just so long as they take lecture notes and do the homework. I weep.

I am so toast by the time this class arrives in the evening, that I have not much to say about the others in the class, except that I have met many of them before, and they represent a cross-section of various majors at IPFW, and that many of them are actually fairly serious students...just not pushing themselves in this instant.

The professor is a man, beginning to go gray, with a quiet and calm demeanor, a soft voice, but a certain air of authority, which probably comes in part from his other job, which is nothing to sneeze at. He strikes me as being extremely nice, but we saw a little bit of iron when the person who came in 40 minutes late was asking question after question about things we had already covered.

Intro to linguistics will be very interesting. If you walked into the class, you would notice 20 odd heads of varying age, all sporting somewhat longer hair, and belonging to females. Then you might spot the one the one closely cropped--balding--head of what appears to be a man; that would be me. I am waiting to see if I have any lost brothers who have not made it, but we will see. *Edit, lost brother showed up mere hours after I wrote this. There is another dude. One more.

Another thing I have noticed, is that I am probably the second oldest student in the room. In fact, I have noticed, with something like annoyance, that most classes, and the campus itself, houses an unnatural profusion of whipper-snappers, who listen to their music too loud and need to get off my lawns.

H'anyway.

The professor is a tall man with an angular face, dark hair, and a voice that is sharpish and bossy, somewhat nasal, and almost always set to sardonic. His jeans were a little short over the tops of his white trainers the first day he walked into class, but that just enhanced the general elan of I don't care that was radiating off of him. Not that he did not care about his work or his students, which I believe he does, but that he cleverer than anyone else in the building, knows it, and his wit could probably raise welts on you if you cared to mock him for his faux pas.

The material is all familiar ground, and I only wish I had taken it much earlier.

World in the Twentieth Century is also so much familiar ground. It is, again, absolutely full of people I have had class with before, including a couple fellow club presidents, the other Withers Scholar. I sit next to a forty year old man, who shares my appreciation of irony, and a set of twins, who might just have an attitude.

The professor is tall, ginger, and has a voice which is set to project to the far corners of the bulding. She lays her emphases in the oddest places, and tells us to write things down, which I rebel against, but she has a sense of humor, and some of it is directed at herself, so I am on her side. She is, naturally, outspokenly of a different political-ideological mindframe than that which I espouse, and her demeanor makes me believe she would probably have me burned alive if she found me out. No worries though, she has heard only good things about me, and would never suspect the dark affiliations I have made.

The class is structured for those who have not thought about the topics of nationalism or identity before, so for a political historian like me, the first couple classes have been a touch boring. I hope for better things when we get to socialism; a topic which seems to bring the light to her eyes.

The last class on my slate--best for last--is History of the Early American Republic. Which will cover the time period from the ratification of the constitution to the glorious reign of William Henry Harrison. The content is familiar, but is presented so well, and with such a fresh perspective, that it all seems new.

The professor is about my height, beginning to round just slightly, has dark hair, dark eyes, and looks young enough to be one of the students. His voice is a little higher, somewhat nasal, and yet it is not entirely unpleasant; when he gets really excited, he sounds like Radar. He has a grin which could only be described as impish, and his sense of humor matches his grin. He is genuinely funny. He is a moderate democrat--a difficult animal to find in the wild--and does his best not to let politics bleed into history. I should say: his best is pretty damn good.

The students are actually a mix. I am one of the only ones who has had Malanson before; his fan club has since graduated, so this class holds a greater proportion of people who need to take an upper level analytical writing class, and who think American history will be the most interesting choice. This group includes a couple pre-med peops, business majors, a couple crazy older guys who venerate the founders, a few hard line history students with other world interests, and a crop of newer history students, who are about to learn how to work.

I admit; I am slightly disappointed with this as a last semester, mostly because it is largely without a challenge. I would have liked it to include Soviet History and a couple other topics which I find more interesting, but basic sciences are what I get. I will go through the motions, get the easy A, and wonder who a joke is being played on; the bureaucrats, who seem to believe that these classes are imparting something better to me than more intensive upper division courses in my major, or me, who pays for these inferior group-nap sessions. Who knows.

I will get something out of all of these classes--I always do--but I feel like I might get more out of it than I am. I also wonder, since we have individual advising with the faculties of our departments, who have the greatest interest in turning out savvy students, why not let them determine what is appropriate to each student? Why does a paper pusher, probably without any knowledge in my field, and certainly without knowledge of my capabilities, decide what would make me a well rounded student; was it not an indicator that I passed my first science and lb practical with A+ grades? Is a pair of easier classes really necessary?

Maybe. Maybe I am just being spoiled. It is just that, here at the end of my time on campus, there are great professors, with whom I would be privileged and honored to study further, and with whom I will not get to study again. I will miss these professors; I will miss their lectures and I will miss our talks. It will not be easy for me to find people I can talk to about my areas on equal ground, much less who have a wealth of knowledge to share.

I suppose I should tell them how grateful I am.

Now wouldn't that make for a nice awkward little exchange.

Their poor little selves having to sit their and take it while I tell them who ardently I admire and love them. No. I'm afraid not. Ours is a staid branch of knowledge and learning. We do not blow things up. We do not make pretty light. We do not cut people open (normally). We write. We research. We geek out with each other over discovered minutiae that would cause others to yawn. A fun, kind of quirky, group.

That is my tribe. We are not there for the money. There is no glory in it. We are in it for the love of history, and I just feel like I would have liked spending my last semester surrounded by this group. I get to spend some time in that environment, but not enough.

Granted, I have romanticized all of this wildly, but I am a historian, and I think we are all romantics at some level.

Monday, January 6, 2014

No Report.

Dear publicly-visible internet diary ego-sink,

Usually I write something for new years; these posts tend to follow a particular pattern, and they often end about the same way as well. I did not write one this year, in part because our domicile was positively lousy with guests--all of whom I was more than thrilled to see--but also because I do not want to become too predictable. Probably a vain goal, but you must allow me my idiosyncrasies.

I have no new years resolutions. I have goals, certainly, but nothing that I was unaware of or uncommitted to before drinking heavily on new years eve. I will continue to be more budget conscious, as I have been since this last autumn. I will continue working on attaining a point where I may consider myself a self sufficient adult and independently functional societal unit--lofty goal though that may be. I am going to try and stay in shape, convincing myself that I hate all junk food, one item at a time, and I am staying on top of my regimen. I get my own place when I graduate.

I am getting that tattoo. Don't think for one second that I have forgotten...

All much the same, none of it revolutionary.

Ordinarily, this is where I would go on at great length detailing my personal angst and psychoses for the enjoyment of the reader, but really more for my own enjoyment.

I don't think I will this time.

Suffice to say, I am modestly frustrated with myself on several points, none of which anyone will get to hear, and I am excessively well pleased with myself on so many points that it is disgusting.

Growing up has taken me rather longer than it should, but I am getting there bit by bit; it is funny how you can feel the priorities shift.

Tattoos get higher priority when you are a grown-up, right?

Seriously though, the number of felt needs has kind of plummeted, and even Starbucks intake has dropped by over fifty-percent. I also bought almost no new clothes, which is unheard of for me. I also learned how to use the library in lieu of my debit card to procure books, which I feel is also a very valuable life skill. Over the course of my summer break, not only did I rediscover our lovely downtown, but I remembered how much more pleasure I get out of the little things.

Ok, so I also get greater joy out of evenings at the bar, which is kind of expensive, but we can balance this. We got this.

Bottom line though, I have rediscovered the importance of places, people, and my own mindset over stuff as far as contentment goes. Do not get me wrong, nice stuff is, well, nice, but it is a garnish, not a main dish.

Isn't that just special? It sounds like it could have come off a Pinterest board full of yoga positions you will never use and nominally uplifting sayings. But not really. Those things bug the snot out of me. They all proffer the reader the secret to happiness, which in the world they are written in, is to be strong, independent, and not  give a shit about what anyone else thinks. Be at peace with yourself and who you are. Don't go changing yourself for anyone else. You do you, and don't worry about the haters. Blah. Blah. Blah.


How empty. How sad.

Congratulations. You have held everyone who could possibly hurt you at bay. You are your own person. Are you happy with yourself in your own inaccessibility?

I admit, I go through my phases in which I place different amounts of value on different things, but my experience, which I will allow is limited, is that, when I go through a stuff phase, the more stuff I get, the more I hone my image and persona, the more I look for my patterns of consumption to bring me satisfaction, the farther from sated, the farther from satisfied, the farther from happy, I am. Each new novelty just means that I want more novelty.

More than that; what memories do you have of the great times you and your stuff have had? When was the last time your stuff made you laugh? Not likely.

Fine, say the pinteresters: you need to be enough on your own. Don't be materialistic. Get into nature.

Better, I say. I love nature; I spend as much time in the open air as I can, and I find that I can easily spend a few hours lying out in the grass under the sun, or several whole days hiking through woods and over bluffs. But while I enjoy these things, I enjoy them even more when I have other people to do them with.

Now, I am not a confirmed extrovert by any means, but I have long since become accustomed to the idea that people are not an optional thing for my sanity; I need people. And, guess what? If I need people, you probably need people, too.

I am happiest when I get to spend time with the people I love; friends and family. Granted, there are times when I love being with them more than others, but life is undeniably fuller and richer with them there.

To push those people away. To keep them at arms length. To let no one in but yourself. That is not strength; it is cowardice. And, again, underneath all of that armor that you have built up for yourself, how does it feel to be alone?

There is no yoga pose, greek yogurt, or 90 day glute routine that can make you happy. In fact, I hate to break it to y'all, but there is no guarantee of happiness or any secret to get you there. You will probably spend a good portion of your life dissatisfied with both your yogurt and your glutes. But it does not end there, because we are all getting old, dying, and not only does our yogurt suck, but our clothes will be out of mode in mere months, if they still fit. Yeah, your shades are pretty awesome; I'm sure that will be a great comfort to you as you face your lengthening years alone. You are safely cocooned in your self-sufficiency, where no one can hurt you.

Uh-huh.

We are so proud, that we would rather deny ourselves and cut ourselves off from what we want, rather than risk rejection. If we pretend not to care, then, at least, our dignity is preserved. We can sit comfortably aloof, and pretend that we don't want to play soccer. But the said reality is, that we have forgone the possibility of greater pleasure, for fear of getting picked last.

Is failure really so frightening?

I nearly quoted a Leann Womack song. You know the one. Close call. But the dancing metaphor really is fantastic; nowhere more room for fun...or for judgement.

In lieu of Womack, consider soccer. For those of you who have not played the game, I pity you. For those of you who have, which is more fulfilling; drilling by yourself, or playing with others? These others you bring in may ruin your perfectly choreographed maneuvers, and you will almost certainly score fewer goals in a match than in shooting practice, but it means more, because you are doing it along with others. Along the way you develop rhythms, funky rituals, animosities, and even injuries, but you will come out as a far more complete player on the other side, and even with the bad, you will have a fuller experience of the game

Yes, a wildly inadequate metaphor, and rather like comparing apples to wombats, but you get my general point. There are very few things in life that are better alone than shared. Granted, one prefers to share the things with someone else who can appreciate, but just because you occasionally find yourself surrounded by philistines, don't pretend that you would not like to share them.

Here, perhaps, is a better resolution: be honest.

Yes, by all means, this also means to be honest with yourself. Quit holding out hope for those 'fake' people who do not actually care about you: drive them from your life like money-changers from the temple. Bar the door against them, and purge all that nasty negative karma from your life.

But, c'mon now, be honest with yourself. If they are fake, then what are you? What was the last time you were totally open with someone? There is no one you trust that much. Hell, that is no one that I trust that much. So here we are, a bunch of lonely divas, ready to hear that all we need to be happy, is to love ourselves. The unspoken thought being that loving anyone else is just too dangerous.

Be bold and be brave. The danger is nothing next to the reward.

This is a new year, and while I find it to be much like the last year that we just left, though perhaps somewhat colder, I will assume that this year, like last year, and like every year which came before and follows after, is a perfect year to love. Admit to yourself that others matter, and then force yourself to realize that they might matter every bit as much as you do. Stop looking at them like accessories. Stop using them.


And then, when you pull it off, tell me how to do it, too.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Senioritis.

I just turned in my first late paper. Ever.

It is not that I could not have had it done earlier. It is not that I did not have sufficient time, or that there was anything particularly unfair or difficult about the assignment. It is not that the entire universe is so interested in my failure that the fates themselves conspired against me. Oddly enough, neither was it laziness. I have certainly kept myself busy semester.

What, then, was it?

The due date on the paper had moved a couple times, and I thought I had the final one, but it had, in fact, moved two days earlier. So my paper was due yesterday, Tuesday the 26th, 2013. The funny thing is, I realized this in what would normally be enough time for me to throw ten pages together in a frantic effort.

I worked on the paper yesterday, but not the same way I would have three years ago, or even a year ago. I worked on it, accepting that it might indeed have to be a day late when I delivered the finished product. It would mean a middling penalty on the grade, nothing too terrible, and it seemed to me a better path than totally ignoring my recently arrived Shewoof and Helen and Even and flogging myself to the finish. I would have two years ago, so why not now?

It is not that I find the subject uninteresting. It was a book review over a rather fantastic book, and I felt like the review I wrote had valid points. The topic was good, my writing was good, and the greatest challenge was keeping it short enough. Nonetheless, my passionate perfectionism was absent.

Looking back on this semester, I have done quite a bit of reading, writing, and extra academic work for fun, but my assignments have seemed almost odious to me. I have finally come full circle to where I started. My curiosity is sufficient, and I no longer feel the need for a guiding hand in my learning. I will not pretend that I believe myself to be more learned than my professors, but I have a solid enough grasp of my disciplines that I feel capable of pursuing the details on my own.

Also, during my senior seminar, I felt like I set a new bar for myself. I had done serious research on sources not yet examined in my field of study. My senior thesis still needs serious work, and it would require countless pages of reading over the ten thousand that I already did before I could ever treat my topic satisfactorily, nonetheless, everything I write now is going to stand in light of that more sophisticated work.

Arbitrary does not seem like quite the right word, but the cookie cutter assignments handed out in college classes no longer have the same importance or urgency in my eyes. Sure, I can understand the usefulness of a good grade, but I have also been trained to despise the grade for grades sake mentality. I am at school to learn, and when I learn nothing additional from an assignment, it gives me cause to question. When I feel that I am expending time and energy that could be used on learning, or leisure, on producing something of questionable value, it gives me cause to question.

What is the point?

Once upon a time the point was to prove myself. Not to be too smug, but I have done that many times over now, and I do not feel that repeating similar tasks is proving much more. I like these people, and I want their respect, but I have done this on a darn near perfect track record for 4 years, while working on the side. I know I can, they know I can.

I have come to the point of repetition. I am going through the motions, and I hate it.

I still enjoy the lectures for the most part, but there are starting to be more and more bits--not to say whole topics--which are already well known. I do not mind when a great lecturer retreads familiar territory, but when I have been there half a dozen times? It all gets to be a bit much.

I do not know if my case is like all others, but I am fairly certain that I have senioritis. I feel like life is waiting on the completion of my undergrad, and that schooling is now taking place where I was being educated before. I am checking boxes to get to the finish, and what is worse, I know that I am just checking the boxes, which leaves me dissatisfied, both with my tasks, and with myself.

There is work worth doing, but so long as there are hoops, the work must wait.

 Also, the priority of school in relation to everything else is not so clear as it once was. Is studying for a quiz in a topic unrelated to my disciplines actually more important than a night out with friends? Is a paper deadline more important than time with out of town family? Is it actually more important than work? At least my contributions at work over the last week will go toward securing the revenue of our store, and thus, the jobs of the employees. The hours I spent pushing thousands of pieces of extra merchandise to the floor will have a result which mans something for people outside of myself. Can I say the same thing about the book review?

I am done agonizing about my grades on such things. I will produce the material, and I will produce it in line with my standards as a writer and historian, but I cannot see it as so important any longer. I want to be done. I want the expense and the time drain to end. I now have the tools to study and understand history, so why the farce.

I am further embittered by the fact that I do not get to take soviet history, but I must take World in the 20th Century. I mean, get real. Interesting history I don't actually know oodles about vs more repetition. Argh!

And so we come to the turn.

For all the stupidity that I feel like I am dealing with right now, I am wiser and better educated now than when I arrived on campus. I am bored now, only because I was challenged, guided, and sometimes dragged to greater analytical and technical skill in my previous years with these same professors. I am fortunate to have enjoyed the benefit of their attentions, and I would not have been what I am now without them.

What I am now is a slightly sarcastic, perhaps sometimes lackadaisical, and always exceedingly clever young historian, who they know full well is beyond their little games and who is waiting as long as humanly possible to tell them that he is going to use their grad school application advice to apply for MBA programs.

So many lessons learned during school. Most important lesson: be practical.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Interpret at Own Risk.

This dream began, at least what I can recall, on a forested hill overlooking a dilapidated city. It looked vaguely dangerous, and many of the houses were in various states of ruin. I had never seen this place before, but I was fairly certain that it was Anderson that I was looking at. Andrew was with me, but he had forgotten to bring his shoes, and was fairly certain that I was taking the long way, so he was going back to the house to get something for his feet and meet up with Jonathan. He left me up on the hill, and felt that it was fairly urgent that I get going rather quickly, but I was wearing a suit and oxfords, so--and this made sense in the dream, I left my jacket and shoes behind so I could run faster.

Upon reaching the outskirts of the city, I realized that I needed to go to the library, I also realized that at some point I had lost my shirt and trousers during the run, and that I was wearing nothing but my underwear. It was cloudy, and at this point it had begun to rain; the people out and about on the street took no notice of me as I went running through in my drawers. The grubby city gave way around me, to large red-brick buildings, well kept and impressive. I wondered what Purdue was doing in Anderson, but it still did not dissuade me from my quest. I had to find the library. I continued to run about, calling Jonathan and Andrew on my phone--which seemed to just magically appear in my hand every so often--to try and give them directions to find me.

I kept running around the city/university, until finally I came to what I knew must be the library. Once inside, I found it impossibly vast. one giant chamber, with spiral staircases going up many stories to tiers further up. The bottom floor had reading desks running all the way down the center. Everything was dark wood and marble, and this was the first point that I felt distinctly uncomfortable that I was mostly naked. Now that I was here, however, I remembered why I needed to find the library. The librarians needed to tell me where Jonathan, Andrew, and I were supposed to go to dinner that evening. The librarians were all in the Gardens/Cafe that was a giant transept along one side of the library. I went to find them, and they told me where I needed to go. I realized that I had not been taking the long way around in the beginning, like Andrew had said, but had gone exactly the right way. I was smugly satisfied.

It was impressing itself on me more and more, however, that I really needed to find some clothes before I went to this dinner.

I resolved to go back to the ruins to find out where I had left mine.

I took of through the city on foot again. Now I was avoiding Jonathan and Andrew: I could not let them find me and take me to dinner before I had found my clothes. I made my way back toward the hill. I was sure that all of my clothes would be there. They were not there, and it turned out that the dinner was being held on the hill, where they had just finished building the reception hall, but when I went in, it was not a dinner, it was church. Now I was distinctly uncomfortable. When it came time for communion, I was not going to go up, but for some reason they came out to us, and, upon discovering me in my half clad state, pastor promptly excommunicated me.

After the service I tried to find him, but he was already missing. I found my clothes outside--I just remembered that I had buried them--and went off to try and find him. Jonathan and Andrew had joined me in the hunt, and then I jolted awake.

What cannot possibly come through in this, was how very vivid this dream was. Even now, hours after the fact, I can still remember parts of it in near picture detail.

Also, I woke up with my comforter entirely twisted and turned around, my sheets in total disarray; I wonder if I was actually sleep running in bed?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

School: What it looks like this semester.

I do not suppose that I have said anything on here about this present semester yet? No? That is a shame, because it is really shaping up to be rather interesting.

I was not expecting to enjoy Stat-125, and I might not, but it is proving mind-numbingly easy to this point. Granted, there is a load of homework to be done, but doing it thus far has been driving home every minute point. The practical application of it has actually been pretty interesting. The beginning has all been about methods of gathering and evaluating data, and it has been rather informative when it comes to seeing how might skew statistics with relative ease: by accident or on purpose. The professor seems to have a general misanthropic cast, coupled with a folksy arsenal that would rival Pat White. She is probably tottering on the very edges of sanity, or so it appears, and lacks greatly in demeanor, and in her failure to keep us straight with her other classes, which is particularly problematic when she expects us to know material, or have homework prepared, that she never told us about. I am determined to get something out of that class regardless.

My classmates are an interesting lot. I sit next to a woman in her mid thirties, whose children are all but grown, and who is studying to be a kindergarten teacher (I think I successfully veiled the hard light which kindled in my eyes when she said this). She seems nice enough, but she also lets it show that she feels that she is more experienced and world wise than the rest of us; there is some definite conceit there, and she does not hide it so well as I hide mine. The guy behind me is an ex-army loudmouth, who says something off color each class-period, without fail. He is studying to be an anthropologist, but does not appear to have a high opinion of Muslims or black people: someone should tell him that anthropology has changed in the last century. He is charming enough when he is not being ein Depp. He might just survive if he does not open his big mouth around his professors. He sits next to cute-but-not-so-bright-guy, who is clearly into cute-but-not-so-bright-girl; they would make an excellent couple. Guy in the Corner is well spoken and apparently well read, but a total math-phobe; I will probably end up helping him. Dumb-blonde sits in front of me and asks the most inane questions. Tennis-girl appears to be a real human being, so won't get described here.

Ottoman History--see also, The Bernd Fischer Show--is taught by the dryly humorous and rather charismatic ex-Chair of the History Department. His deportment is excellent, and his jokes are almost as funny as he thinks they are. His refusal to move away from the old lamp projectors is almost endearing. His minute knowledge of centuries of history across a great part of the Earth and recorded time is near over-awing. The subtext of the class is the chaos which prevails in the remnants of the Ottoman Empire; the last dark--and totally accidental--legacy. He is a god amongst insects, or so he has given us to understand: a big deal in his own right. And in case we wondered who the insects were, here is the reading list and the writing assignments.

Ottoman history draws a different set than American history does. Amen. I am sitting in one of the most socially awkward and eclectic classes I have ever been in. Medieval history buffs with gen ed students with African Studies students with people studying Islam. I guess this means more to me, having been in contact with people from each of these areas before, but it is funnier than you would think. First: the quality of history student dropped after last semester. Our Senior Seminar class was twice the usual size, and many of us genuinely kicked ass...in the sense that a historian ever does. It was a high powered senior-class that left, and there is a little bit of a vacuum. The history students I have in the present class--at least a few that I know of--had to take the writing intensive  multiple times, because it whooped on them royally. A handful dropped this class after the first week. Some of the people I do not recognize. Either they are not history majors, or have not been significant enough to pop-up on my radar. Judging from some of the questions asked in the class, there are people who have not done any of the reading, and I expect them to be gone too, at least once the reality of the workload hits. First exam? First ten page paper? It will hit. There are people in the class I wouldn't mind talking to, but there are also people who like to chatter at me--'chatter' being operative word--so I make sure to arrive just moments before His Eminence.

German Culture and Folklore are both taught by Lee, who is pretty good. He has a penchant for going on tangents, which is alright, except that he has a tendency to go on tangents into things that I already know, and to spend valuable time on a favourite point. He also lacks his wife's instinctive ability to get to the heart of a question, or--better still--to the heart of what a student is asking. Lee can dance around it for 15 minutes and still not get there, meanwhile there will be two or three students who clearly get the gist of what the student is trying to ask, but who do not want to cut Lee off. Lee is intelligent, thoughtful, and generally kind, but he has an ego, and does not like it over well when it is pointed out that he is missing something. You must lead him to it. That said, he is an excellent teacher of the material, and has the talent--if not of answering questions succinctly--of asking really meaty questions. I enjoy his classes without exception, I just think he has some room for growth left.

 The Content of the classes is good. The culture course is pretty basic and deals with the basics of German society and life: economics, education, and the like. The side goal of the course, as with every class Lee teaches, is to get us talking as much as humanly possible. All activities and homework is geared toward this as much, or more, than imparting permanent knowledge about Germany to us. The Folklore class is more interesting. We are examining the idea of what is "German" starting with Tacitus description of the Germanic tribes, and going right through German nationalism. This is a fusion of Folklore, bound together with Lee's personal specialization, so I think it should be excellent.

My German classmates are amazing. I don't think that much more need be said. I have an ego too, and I can sit in these groups and feel among equals, and in some cases betters.

ILCS300 Methods of Criticism was my wild card. It was required, but I was not really looking forward to it. Three weeks in, I am fairly certain that it will be my favourite class of the semester. It should have been termed ILCS300 Masters of Sophistry. We are studying literary criticism, which is always conflicted, never settled, and somewhat fascinating. The first thing we did was to lampoon silly outmoded things like "fixed meaning" and "truth," which can only exist if there are unchangeables and unchangings, which simply do not exist: hermeneutics and exegetical studies are outmoded and simply jejune. I saw this coming, so I was not exactly dismayed, but I play along and enjoy the game of it, finding the contradictions and asking the questions that each successive approach cannot answer. They should give up and accept the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour; then, at least, we could allow that there could ever be a definitive answer. But, alas, part of the point is anti-theological in the first place, so oh well.

Really though. Sophistries is my favourite game. The more complex, the more ridiculous, the more lost everyone gets, the giddier, the more energetic I find myself in class. We stare into the abyss, into this morass of self-important and arbitrary noise, and we smile at the twistedness, the contortions, the false distinctions, and the inconsistencies: I smile at them, because I can see what the author wants me to see, but also see the problems therein, and further still see that there are many around me who take what the author wants them to see as gospel. I am not so prone to this as I once was; it comes from losing perspective.

Did I tell you about the time I almost thought I had tones of Marxism in my personal philosophy? It came right on the heals of reading Marx: powerful words, fine words. Much of what Marx says has a ring of truth because he is addressing very real problems with the world. The problem, when reading Marx, is that one should never forget that he believed in the perfectibility of human nature, and that it was central to his model for creating a better world. Human beings, in his version of the world, are basically decent, but corrupted by the artificial forms and mores of civilization. It took me a solid week of serious walks to get everything hammered out, but at the end I had realized that, though much of what Marx said sounded good, it was all based off of a fantastical world where people were basically good. A lovely edifice on a rotten foundation. Since then, I have been much more careful to examine the principals behind the fine words I read. I am not perfect at this art, but I am getting better.

The greatest joy comes with working with my classmates. Some of them buy the whole thing. Completely. Others remain skeptical. In either case, this group--made up entirely of foreign language students, goes about muddling through these things enthusiastically. I have never been in a class where group participation was so strong. Even among the skeptics, they play the game along with and turn out some really bright and interesting ideas. Sitting to my left are Danyelle, Sarah, and Scary Carol Watson, French majors all, good feminists, and true believers in the gospel of literary criticism. They are all intelligent, but sometimes too eager to be perceived as intellectuals, aligning themselves with each edgy idea as it comes, sometimes obviously before they have actually grasped it in its exactitude. To my right sits Communist Kyle, whom I respect. He understands all, or most, of the content as we receive it and is in competition with me for class Streber. He is able to take each idea as it comes, apply it, test it, and to his enormous credit, challenge it. He is aggressive and immoderate in his personal and political opinions, but he thinks on a high level, so we'll look past that.

Turko-German chick--to my shame, I simply cannot remember her name right now--is the other German speaker in the class. She speaks five languages and strikes me as being a genuinely decent person. Everyone in there is polite, but she is one of those people who actually seems to care.Morgan and Tall French student sit in front of Kyle; they are quiet and clever, probably come from Bourgeois parents, and one could never guess whether they buy it or not. There are other characters, but those are the ones nearest me, and probably those most important to the classroom. Kyle and I make up the backbone of the class: when things go off track, eventually the professor relents and just lets one of us talk. Carol is opinionated and willing to talk; she occasionally misses the mark, but has a lot of substance and value to say.  TGC talks, but has too much range of knowledge and interest, and therefore tends to go tangential. I think those four are the people that all 20 odd persons in the room would know by name and sight.

Getting to the professor: he is remarkable. His delivery is clear, fun, and effective. He explains things simply and elegantly, without needing to dumb them down. He is enthusiastic. He loves the topic, and it is infectious. I am more impressed with him, as a lecturer, than I am with anyone else this semester...he is on a level with maybe only one or two others. Stephen Buttes, Spanish. I regret that I did not get to take more of his classes. Oh well.

The other change that I have undergone is my total lack of anxiety over grades, deadlines, or class loads. Spring semester was it: my trial by fire, my crucible, my leap of faith. After making it through last semester without a scratch, I feel a kind of study zen going into this somewhat lighter load. In addition, graduation is in sight, and there are more serious things looming on the horizon. Job searches, apartment hunting, and possibly grad-school are not so terribly far off. I am almost done with school, so I will have time to concentrate on the concrete world. There are times that I have felt like school was an impediment to my growth as a human being and a man, and I still feel that way at times. I go through my classes this year as a formality; I already have the tools, and anything they throw at me will not prove a new or daunting challenge. I gain more knowledge, yes. But that is something I could also do on my own. I have been taught the skills necessary to acquire the knowledge; that was the challenge.

Now I am ready for new challenges, whatever they may be, and my gut says I need to stop putzing around and start looking at finding grown-up work. I think that will have to be the first item on the agenda. Anything to escape this feeling of being in neutral...it is feelings like these that drive better men than me to join the Army.