Thursday, November 28, 2013

Senioritis.

12:39 AM Posted by Patrick 4 comments
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.

1:01 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
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.

12:18 AM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Globalism vs Community: Food.

1:09 PM Posted by Patrick 6 comments
If I wanted to oversimplify things grossly, then this is the part where I would tell you there were two kinds of conservatives; the right kind and the wrong kind, my kind and their kind. I could tell you that there is only one kind of conservative, and then proceed to shock you by telling you that the trademark of a true conservative is conservatism. Not all those, I would say, who stand under the banner of the VRWC are actually conservatives. I would be going somewhere with this, and I might even ask you to bear with me.

I stake my claim to conservatism on the grounds that my philosophy and outlook on the world might actually be described as conservative. My worldview is two nuanced and multifaceted--ok, so its a Hydra--to say that there are just one or two elements which define my world, but there are a couple dominant threads in my political thought. In the first place is a healthy respect for things received. Being the thoughtful student of history that I am, I understand that the mores, customs, and laws of a people do not come about by accident, but in order to prosper and knit together the community. Note, however, that I do not say that I hold these things in reverence. The customs of men are always flawed, and will require adjustment from time to time, especially as the community changes.

The other dominant thread, which defines my outlook as conservative--and puts the lie to many pretenders--is moderation. Just as we do not engage in ancestor--say Founding Father--worship, it is also foolish to rush into any change without first considering all of the possible consequences.It is, after all, the mistake of an enthusiast to confuse the intent of an action with its consequence.

This definition of conservatism could actually accommodate any number of minor political opinions and persuasions, but I feel that it should stand as something of a rebuke to the reactionaries, who would claim conservatism as they tilt at windmills.

It is my opinion, however, that the ideas above must necessarily stand in stark contrast, and opposition to, globalism. How can I mean such a thing, and why do I deal in such vague general terms? No, you are right. Let us begin with something we may all agree is evil, and I will develop my point from there.

Of all of the things which we have received, not one of them is greater than the earth. That might seem obvious, but with our modern attitude toward the earth, it seemed to need restatement. It is our home, our means of subsistence, and the inheritance that we will leave to our children. It is also beautiful, and, as a certain Someone once saw, it is good. Amongst the greatest duties of man is the careful cultivation and tending of the earth.

I am not an environmentalist, I am a conservative. The earth is something good that we have received, and which it is our duty to preserve for our posterity. I also understand that the wellbeing of men is tied up in the wellbeing of the land. That is not to say that we should ever value the land above the people, but that we should understand the importance and dependency of the one upon the other.

Our global orientation has no consideration for the land. The commercials on the radio advertise that best poisons, for both pests and weeds, so that farmers will get the maximum yields. And since those alone are not enough, they also should use--and almost without exception do use--petroleum based fertilizers, all in order to get the maximum yields.

But these yields do not mean much for the farmer, because the farmer is essentially a share cropper for an Agra-industrial conglomerate, like Mon$anto. The farmer scrapes by, and bulk agricultural produce sits in silos and waits for what is left of its lessening nutritional value to deplete, at which point it will be shipped over seas or turned into microwave dinners.

No matter what the other effects, things never look great for the farmer. The prices he sells his grain for must be competitive, not just with his neighbors, or with the surrounding countryside, but with the whole world. He must sell his product cheap. There might be some who say, good, that means cheaper prices for the consumer. I will remind you now: you get what you pay for.

In order to scrape by each year, the farmer is using genetically modified crops, which certainly produce more, but which deplete the soil faster. Instead of rotating crops and allowing fields to lie fallow, which responsible farmers have been doing for millennia, he must use all of his land, every growing season. He continues to pour poisons into the ground, even as the crops he grows diminish in nutritional value, and the soil is stripped to the point of exhaustion.

This process, the demeaned position of the farmer, the destruction of the land, the degradation of our food, is carried out to feed the needs of the global market.

Corporations like Monsanto are not particularly concerned with the state of the land; they hold no affection for it, and so long as you can force the sufficient quantity of metric tons out of it, they will never see any reason to change their practices. Indeed, at the point that they see lower yields, they will probably resort to stronger chemicals.

I might demonstrate this with other areas later, but I believe--in congruence with my conservative tenants--that the care and maintenance of something requires understanding and respect. These are categorically impossible at a global level, and so the only truly sustainable and healthy economic and political arrangements are found at a local level. I might look at our government structure and the development thereof as an example later.

But I think the most important, quite possibly, is a local food economy.

Examine the farmers markets which have sprung up in Fort Wayne, and which do a relative bustling trade. Nothing like what we need, but a start. For prices competitive with those at the grocery store, we buy unpolluted, nutritionally superior food from local farmers. The difference for these farmers is that the entire profit from their yields is their own. The corporate farmer is splitting their share with two middle men, their Agra-industrial handler and Kroger. The local farmer can make more money on a smaller yield, and so, does not need to abuse his land. In the meantime, these farmers markets lend to an almost festival air, one sees familiar faces at the local farmers market, and one develops relationships with the vendors. There is dignity. There is community. There is a genuine love for the land.

The global has no consideration for the local; it cannot. It is a large sum game, and quantity must always trump quality, to say nothing of decency.

As a conservative, I also recognize that we probably cannot legislate our way out of this hole. What would we do? Tell a farmer how much of his land he is allowed to use? Do we own his land? Has he not lost enough of his dignity that we should also set ourselves over him? Do we outlaw fertilizers and pesticides and watch in horror as tired soil no longer produces sufficient yields to make our microwave dinners, let alone enough for global export?

No. Like most things, sudden change would not be beneficial either, and it is not wise to force such a thing. The only answer to this problem is for people to change the way they live. People need to turn their eyes to their own communities and buy local goods and local produce. I do not speak of "the market" as some talismanic force which will set the world to rights, but behind that word is the reality that all movements start with individual choice.

Healthier communities and healthier food are not going to come from global initiatives, which understand neither the land nor the people, but only from the concerted effort of individuals, who are willing to give of their time, talents, and money in order to bring about a more morally sound and sustainable system. Communities do not come about by fiat. They are necessarily organic; they intimate knowledge, care, and the active participation of individual members.

It takes more time, and it takes more effort, but the essence of conservatism lies in patience, moderation, and respect. But to what end? A community is a small thing and delicate. It cannot make war. It cannot change the world. It cannot even forward the aims of peace and democracy.

No. It will not be able to do any of these things, and it is not going to be a paradise, but, at the very least, it might just tend its garden.

It is insufficient for such a topic, but I suppose that is enough for now. I'll write about another facet later.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Sunday Evening.

10:52 AM Posted by Patrick No comments
Last night, I got home, I ate, and I crashed into bed about 2 hours earlier than I am accustomed. What rendered me inert? What brought such a fine specimen as myself to total exhaustion?

It might have had something to do with work.

Yesterday was the last day before Fort Wayne Community Schools went back into session. It was all but guaranteed to be a pretty wild ride. From the time I got there I could see that it would be a long and busy night. The tops of the tables had already been reduced from neatly folded piles to heaps, and I did not see nearly so many coworkers as I had hoped. To make matters worse, the two guys who were supposed to arrive at the same time as me were not there yet, and the lines were long enough that I could forget about helping customers or cleaning up: I would be running register.

The situation did not get better from there. We continued to be crushingly busy until about an hour and a half before close, at which point we were still busier than we are on a normal week day. The two gentlemen I mentioned never showed up, and to make matters worse, they were not alone. Nine people failed to show up that evening, knocking our numbers down from being woefully understaffed to absolute skeleton crew. The lines were long and crabby and under-prepared customers became even crabbier. I did my utmost best to keep a smile and perform my job as well as was in my power, but it really wears on you, and, under the surface, my attitude was not helping things either.

I was seething. I was so angry that I felt like delivering two weeks on the spot. I nearly did. Human Resources continues to hire candidates that raise all manner of red flags with the rest of us, and retains employees that should have been fired a long time ago. In addition, no help was brought in after everyone called off. This is not merely an aberration, but the culmination of ongoing failures in management. In addition, our software--and hardware, really--is so outdated and undependable that it easily doubles the time it requires to perform simple tasks, like, you know, check the customer out.

But I didn't walk out. Why? Because my coworkers still would have been stuck there, along with the managers who have no control over the issues. It would not be fair to saddle Michael, Amanda, and Laura with that much more of the work.

Which only made me fume that much more at the...people who didn't show. They knew that not coming in would cause the rest of us stress. They knew that they were letting us hang out to dry on what was slated to be a busy and not terribly pleasant day.

I was furious, and you know how tiring it is to be angry? I managed to get my outlook under control and relatively positive by the time the store was closed, but I was already fried. I hadn't eaten in about seven hours and was about as far removed from any caffeination, and I had heaped up all of my tension on top of that.

I think I kind of knowingly fed it too, allowed myself to brood on it, which was completely stupid. Anger is never worth it. The petty satisfaction is far outweighed by the negatives, and last night serves as a reminder. I have worked much longer shifts, been much busier, and still come out the other side with energy. The difference is attitude. You can leave as a grim survivor, or a conquering hero. Or, you can get to a place where you no longer give a shit. I thank God that I am not there, and pray for the fortitude never to go there, but I think it is time for a change. My self control is decent, but why keep pounding my head against the wall, especially when it is not my only option.

I guess I took a few lessons from last night, but the most important was self-concerning: do not give in to anger, that leads to the dark side. I could have walked out of there last night and been ready for my evening to begin. Instead, I walked out feeling much wearier than my body has any business to feel. I had help, but I did that. I don't think I shall let it happen again.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to School.

11:09 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
Every year, about this same time, the unwashed masses descend on my place of work, and trash it righteously. They are not buying presents this time, oh no, buying presents would not make them quite this angry, or not all of them. The seething masses are angry because they are spending their money on their children (again!). That's right, all of this money, all of this clamor, just so little AJ--gender unconfirmed--can be ready for school.

A great number of them are incensed that they have to buy to fulfill uniform requirements, of all things, and that AJ can't just wear his Nike shorts and tank tops. Many of the rest of the parents are enraged, because their AJs have a preference for Nike gear, which is so derned expensive.

AJ's and AJ's parents agree on one thing, however: it is almost worth it, since that little rugrat will soon be out of their hair.

I wonder how many of this actually feel this way, or whether it is all the same false, callous, bravado of 13 year-old boys speaking of girls in the way the imagine men speak. Not to say that many men do not speak as they imagine, but just that they are putting on an act. Is it the same amongst parents? Are they merely playing the part of the super-consciously long-suffering parent who is glad to see the kiddo go? Or is it just what they think they are supposed to say. Minutes ago I was reflecting on poserdom, and perhaps there is some in this. Perhaps these parents are showing me some of what they think I expect to see: what someone like me might type as normal and healthy. They are so interesting and busy and important that they will be glad to be rid of the distraction posed by their children.

As to the expense, I have seen many of them before, and often spending much greater amounts on their own clothing, and in some cases on a regular basis. If they begrudge the expenditure, they clearly do not begrudge it to themselves, but only when spent on others. They do not stress at spending money, just at spending money on school clothes. I could spin this a couple ways. In one case, perhaps the worst, the are merely frustrated on spending money on clothing which is not for them, which might be true for some. Or else, it might be that they are frustrated with spending money on clothes which will not fit next year; highly possible. It could be that they are just so busy, that the extra effort and expenditure are a bit much. I like to pretend, sometimes, that one of the contributing factors to their stress is that they are going to miss their children. Hey, you never know.

The attitude of the children is another thing entirely. While they are almost always happy that I start talking to them as well--you know, as if they were rational human beings, even if pint sized--they seldom seem to display much happiness at the prospect of going back to school.

While I do not exactly understand their situation, this always puzzles me just a little, since I am practically quivering with anticipation at the approach of classes--for a distraction, for learnings and stuff, who knows?--and would assume that I would find at least the occasional excited kiddo. Instead, I get a bunch of head shakes.

There are a few schools of head-shake as well, however. One--my favourite--is the head-shake followed by an impish smile. This one speaks volumes. Dijon's mouth says no, but his eyes say yes. They, perhaps like their parents, are giving me the answer that they expect me to expect, but there is too much excitement there for the answer to be entirely true.

The majority, unfortunately, are genuinely glum, and for this I blame our factory schools and one size fits all education (which nicely foreshadows a future possible rant post). These children dread school because it is a place of boredom and discomfort, interspersed with time to see their friends...which is what they just spent all of their summer doing.

Still, children can be drudgery and we are a selfish people, so the attitude that says it is glad to be rid of kids is to be expected. I think it is also basically true that conventional school is basically tedious and does little to cater to individual strengths and interests. Zum Beispiel: stick in in geology and social services courses rather than History and German...you could practically watch me shrivel. Granted, I would do well; partly because I have such a wide variety of interests, but mostly because I'm so terribly clever. Still, I would not be the same, and I do not know if I would maintain my excellence separated from the things I love. I kind of doubt it.

I have no idea where I'm going with all of this. I think I might have just wanted to muse on something which has so traumatized me over the last couple weeks. I really could do without back to school. I really want to get out of the mall, but I just don't see that happening soon. Can't I just do something outdoorsy until school is done?

Reading Fail.

10:21 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
I fail at pretension. Oh, yes. I know that may be hard to believe, but I definitely lost this round.

There I was, innocently sitting at Starbucks,trying to kill a couple hours and a half dozen shots of espresso before I left for work, studiously working my way through German adjective conjugation--gotta keep sharp, right?--when a flight of madness struck me. I put away my German and snatched up Foucault's Pendulum out of my bag. Eco. Good Author. Entertaining book. Such were y thoughts as I settled in to read.

Forty odd pages in, I had realized my grave mistake.

The book reads like it was written by the hand of an eccentric eighty year-old Italian academician-philologist-semiotician with an endless amount of literary knowledge and no editor.

I could keep up through the references to Borges and Nietzsche and St. Paul and other such, but exotic obscurities kept popping up, and by the time cabala came up--and I was still not sure what the story was--I resigned myself to never finishing that book. Very sad.

I simply lack the abstract knowledge and raw pretension to finish such a monolith, which the New York Times proclaimed "an intellectual triumph."

It is beneath the arches of this triumph that I meet my defeat. I cannot finish that book, nor do I even have the fuzziest desire. I may try again some day, when I myself am an 80 year-old lunatic and semiotician, but not yet. For now, I am chastened. The deep end is fine, but best to keep out of certain territories

I can be a little bit of a poser at times--I believe that Jonathan was making "tool" comments the other day...only in the most loving, playful, and outrageous manner--but there is a certain degree to which I think everyone indulges in poserdom. We adapt ourselves to the cultural norms and seek after what is generally acclaimed as being good. I hope, however, that I demonstrate the sufficient moral fibah to cast aside poserdom when it gets ridiculous, or outside what is practical.

Perhaps I kid myself. Perhaps it was just that this act of poserdom required too much work.

On a minor side note, this is the first novel which I have laid aside for the sake of its difficulty. I rarely give up on a book, and never because it is simply too much for me to grasp entirely, but this one did it. I am humbled, if but a very little, and I will resign myself to just watching TV in the time I would have finished that monstrosity. I will be much happier for it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Short Evening with Brothers.

11:04 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
I think the odds that I will some day be struck by lightning are slightly higher than average.

This evening was good. It was very good. I have come to realize, over time, that with very few exceptions, there is no pair I'd rather be marauding with than Jonathan and Andrew. Tonight, we went down to enjoy the sights and sounds of Foodstock before Jonathan went over to the Civic for Les Mis. Of course, there was no easy parking for a few blocks, so it began with a short walk.

Walking with my brothers is a separate experience, when we are not communicating in our own bizarre language of movie quotes, song lyrics, inside jokes, and favourite disses, even our body language and the way we walk and move--to say nothing of facial expressions--feels so comfortable familiar and natural, that even our silences do not feel empty or pregnant.

We were feeling amusing tonight, however, so there wasn't much silence at first.

We made it down to Foodstock in good order, just before it began to pour rain, truly pour. At the opening of the heavens, all of the patrons scurried like beetles for shelter. We followed a large portion of the beetles to beneath the mighty columns of One Summit Square. But as we stood there, looking at the soggy whippet faces of the people around us, we realized that we were hungry, we were us, and there was no way we where going to sit there and cower under cover because of a little downpour.

We had decided to go get some food, rain or no, when we heard thunder. That settled it. It was time to get something to eat. So out we went, into the rain, and off to find some quality chow. It is amazing how the decision to face the rain, the change in mindset, changes how you feel. Instead of standing there shivering, we strode through the rain--Andrew might have been strutting--and enjoyed every second of it.

There are two attitudes one can take when facing rain. You may decide to hide from it, or you may greet it as welcome. A simple change of mind, and even Booey, who had been looking grim--like a disgruntled wet hen--under cover, now was grinning as the water ran down over his face. We ordered overstuffed shrimp po-boys, the sun came out, and we exalted at having ordered before the crowds came back out of hiding. Po-boys in hand, we went to find a place to sit and eat, which we did, only then regretting that not one of us had thought to bring napkins.

Our food devoured, we realized that we still had plenty of time before Jonathan had call, so we decided to go to Starbucks. Mundane normal happenings, right? Wrong! Did I not tell you? Walking places with your brothers is not like walking places with other people, and walking to Starbucks is even better, because where you are going is really exciting!

Downtown was also quite the place to walk through--back and forth, multiple times--on this particular evening, because there were many sights to see. People. So many people. People we knew. People we knew not. People, at whose visages one could only say, hell no. There were a few primary strains. The leftover downtown presence left from Pride, the usual food truck contingent, the normal downtown people, and the Rock the Plaza people. While all of them can be interesting to watch, getting to watch them all at once--on the same streets--is even better. Note: Food truck peoples have better ink than Plaza peoples.

We finally walked our way down to the Civic--none of my usuals were in Freimann--bid adieu to the second born, and Dogmeat and I made our lonely way back to get Whip n' Chill.

I am already well accustomed to bald jokes.

But I think I was going to make some point about the rain. Oh yes.

Dogmeat and I, once upon a not so terribly long ago, sat out in the middle of a thunderstorm, just to watch it go by. We of course remained low to the ground, and would have gone in had the lightning strikes been too close, but we were kind of enjoying having the storm to ourselves. Since then, this has been just one more part of our crazy brother code, and it has even caught with Jonathan. When the storm drives all others under cover, we go out to greet it. We are odd creatures of tradition and custom, and it may some day get me struck by lightning, but it is part of the way we relate to each other, part of our own queer language, and I don't think I am likely to give it up.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Drawing to the Close.

12:50 AM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
I really have not been in the mood to write on here, and because of this unreasonable frame of mind, I have kind of missed out on chronicling many of the things that I have done this summer while they were still fresh. Some I should have blogged about, others I would not have blogged about either way. Sometimes the things you would like to write out are the things that you least want a permanent public record of, and so forth. Perhaps it is better to allow certain summers to fade into memory, which gradually colors them to the point of being indistinguishable from fond imagination.

I was not so productive this summer as I thought I would be. I have kept up on my German, and have been making regular efforts to restore my lost--in some cases never acquired--mathematical acumen. Nonetheless, summer is flying, and I have limited yields to show of a useful nature. What I take from this summer are memories, and even those fade with time. I could write them all down in an effort to preserve them, perhaps I have written many of them down already, but next summer will hold new memories, and it seems silly to try to hold onto them all. Some of the best will win out, but ultimately they are all going to the same place.

Our visit to the Toledo Museum of Art this summer gave me a new appreciation for Van Gogh, whose work triggered my slightly morose meditations this evening.


In this painting, at least to my eyes, autumn is falling. Summer is fading into golden splendor, but the bare hard bones of winter are already lurking underneath. The summer is being swallowed; it was a fleeting thing and could not hold out against the inexorable march of time.

The old peasant knows this. He knows the summer can not and will not last, and so he is making preparations for the winter which is to come. For whatever reason, he makes his preparations alone. His house, jutting up before the darkening skies in the backdrop, appears to be perched precariously on its foundations.

That bent man and his rickety windmill have seen many of these summers come and go, but there will be spring and fall long after he has seen his last, and he may yet see more summers long after he has grown weary of them; perhaps he is weary of them already.

There are obviously other lenses through which the painting might be viewed, but this was the one that struck me on first glance.

My summer is fading and it is always a question whether I have sufficiently prepared for the time to come. Questions always rise up, taunting with imagined missed opportunities, and reproaching me that I did not drive myself like a madman to greater feats of self improvement. But why fret over such things? Next year will see another summer with new opportunities, new friends, and new memories to forget in the fullness of time.

What we learn from the peasant is persistence. Just because he has seen summer die every time does not mean that he gives up and dies with it. He prepares himself for his coming labors; he puts his head down, harvests, and remembers that there will always be the hope of good times ahead.

But let us be more optimistic yet, because we are not necessarily like this peasant. Fond though I am of the Sun's warm rays, summer is more beautiful in art and fiction than reality. It is also humid, and crowded, and pungent, and lazy; it can be green, but it is more often charred brown, and it is not forgiving to the weak.

Autumn is coming in all of her splendor. The caress of the wind will replace the stifling humidity, and temperance will stand in the stead of extreme heat. Winter will come, and that will suck royally, but better times will come before and follow after.

So I bid this summer, and its memories, adieu; not with the morose countenance of one leaving something behind, but with the contented recognition that the past can not be changed, nor re-lived, and we have but to accept it gracefully. I leave it with the expectation of one who has many summers yet to come, and who looks forward perhaps to better things even than summer.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brother, Can You Spare a Blessing?

2:26 PM Posted by Patrick 3 comments
Living where I do, I now regularly meet with a most pesky form of individual: the panhandler. Especially on our street, but often also on walks, I will be approached by individuals asking me for money, with cigarettes being the second most favourite request.

There is always a pattern when they approach, such that, anytime now when I hear the phrase "sir, may I ask you a question," my internal dialogue responds "here we go again." Before any mention of money is made, I am given the first story. This story establishes why the person is in such dire straits. The variety of stories I have heard on this front are quite remarkable; this is the basic story, meant to engage. They may not have eaten in five days. They came to the city to visit family, but their family was gone when they got here. They are gathering money for a sick family member. There are many initial stories.

The interest always comes with the details. It may just be perverse curiosity, but I always listen. No. That is not quite right. When it came right down to it, if I was genuinely convinced of the person's situation and honesty, I would probably give them something. On the other hand, if the person is a liar and shows persistence in trying to get something, I would prefer they have to engage with me, rather than wait around for Mutti, Dogmeat, Jacqui, John, or Emma to walk past. The more reluctant they are to go about their business and let me go about mine, the more certain I am that I will see them leave. As it stands, I am yet to be convinced of the virtue of the asker, and that in large part due to stage two.

Stage two begins with me denying that I have anything with me to give, a detail which is always true, as I never carry cash around with me. This does not deter them. Their first question after that is always whether I could go to the house or bank and get some. I always improv the answer of that one based on where I am and my situation. My eventual denial always leads to a next round of stories, upping the ante.

The tone of these stories is never quite so desperate as the first round, and often goes back to the hardness of humanity and their inability to catch a break, the obvious implication being that I do not want to join in with that sad tradition. The details begin to pile up at this point, and I count the contradictions as the come. It never takes long.

This morning, story one had him having arrived from Alabama to find his family, who he was supposed to be staying with, was evicted from their rental property. He now needed money to get back to Alabama. His family he could not find a trace of. I had seen him on his cell-phone, but apparently he did not know the phone numbers of this family he had been coming to stay with.

Never call attention to the unbelievability. Never voice doubt. Keep your tone perplexedly helpful. But they always catch themselves in their own net, and multiply their own discomfort by the obvious incredulity of the story.

Later, during story editing and expansion phase, he had just got off the greyhound from Indianapolis, where he had been for the last nine months. The details he gave me about that stay--or supposed stay, as I already had reason to believe, from information evinced from him by trickery, that he as indeed a Fort Wayne native--are tedious and typical and need no repetition. The key detail is that he was, according to him, in Alabama and Indianapolis at the same time.

The last line after this usually involves lots of religious talk and bargaining with air. Firstly, if I bless them, then God will pay it back to me twice. And furthermore, they will also pay me back twice, once --insert opportunity here--pays off for them. It only gets less believable as time goes on.

If this person stops me in front of my house, as happened earlier, my preferred approach is to allow them to make their pitch as I walk them away from where I frankly do not want them. Walk with me toward Rudisill, my love. And, when it turns out they are lying, I play my part and insinuate the idea I want them to get: you will have more luck elsewhere and should probably leave.

I have become pretty darn good at getting this last one across as innocuously and clearly as possible. The one time it appeared that someone intended to hang around and wait for others after I got this across, I just sat and watched him, pointedly. He then took off and we lived happily ever after.

Being constantly outside and walking around, I am exposed to this more than usual. It probably also stems from living in one of the nicer hoods in the hood. Modest property values. People have something to give, but it isn't like walking into Old Mill where you will get Jupiter and Mars sicced on you.

Anyway, I know there are truly desperate people in this city, and people that need help, but it is not these people that I am running into. The people I run into have the delivery of experienced salesmen and often wear expensive shoes, they openly tell you that they would be as happy with a check as cash, as they take another draw on their cigarette. Sometimes you find them chatting up someone else days, or weeks, later. No joke, but the story had changed.

My last issue is purely instinctual. Some of these people are like amusing nuisances, but others make me uneasy, and I am seldom uneasy for no reason.

In the end, do I have trouble with people asking for money. No. But if you are going to ask me for money, either 1) I better know you, or 2) one of my good friends or family members better have recommended your cause to me. And lastly, and most importantly, do not give me any bullshit.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Waiting for Departure.

11:34 AM Posted by Patrick 3 comments
I must clock in at work in just a little more than three quarters of an hour. For some reason, one entirely unknown to me, I find it difficult to relax in the time before I leave for the day. I will work somewhere between eight and nine hours, and instead of using the last hour beforehand, I always blow it on restless pacing, interwebz surfing, or staring off into space.

No matter what I do, I can be fairly certain that I will not really enjoy it. I am always glancing at the clock--much more often than I really need to--and counting the minutes until I need to leave. On the bright side, I am never late. On the negative side, this has become something of a major time suck for me.

I am going to try, however brief the time I am given for the task, to spend these restless moments writing from here on out. I have neglected to restore my old hard drive, so I am cut off from all of my old stuff for the time being, but I can go ahead and start again, start fresh.

Three minutes have passed.

I spend entirely too much of my time anymore just expending restless energy. I am to the part of the vacation where I have begun to miss school. When I have this much free time it becomes far too easy to squander it. I would never have wasted an hour of open time toward the end of last semester. My time management skills go down the tubes when I do not really need them. I could probably pick up a few more hours at work, but I truly loathe the mall, and I have a feeling that it would only drive me to want to quit. 30+ is ok for the time being.

Have considered the possibility of looking at other options, but realistically, I am not likely to find anything that pays as much, that is as flexible, or that will look better than holding a job consistently for more than three years.

Five.

I really need to actually use a calendar consistently. I fail to keep track of my days and then wonder where a week went. Also, reading is a damn fine use of time, but I suppose I also need to cut a chunk out of that time to keep in touch with people. I have kind of neglected everyone I do not come into contact with on a daily basis, and it would probably be a good thing if I made a few phone calls to catch up...maybe skype them. I like to see faces.

Did call that Shewoof today though. I need to reestablish my habit of calling here regularly, even if I don't quite manage it with everyone else.

Seven.

Another prime use of this time would have been harassing Dogmeat in the middle of whatever he was doing, but he is already off at work--the industrious little critter--as he often is when I am leaving for one of my endless, evening-gobbling, shifts.

It is not dread that makes me waste time before I need to go. Indeed, it is always with a certain feeling of relief that I finally set off, but I should dearly like to diagnose why it always turns out so.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Place Unmapped.

1:02 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
Maps give the illusion that there are no more secrets, that everything has been discovered, and that all is well ordered. But there are places and things that those maps do not show. I know. I have been there.

This morning I left home with the intent of finding Immanuel Lutheran Church, where my friend Winston would be preaching. I left home in plenty of time to get there and mingle before the service. Unfortunately, I knew but loosely where I was going, and I did not have any maps in my car.

After a smooth beginning on the wide, well marked, roads of the city, I departed onto the infinitely wilder, narrow, arrow straight yet somehow winding, roads of the country. The signs became smaller, and went by much too fast for a careful perusal. Despite my great care, I was soon lost on the back roads, little more than a single lane wide, with not another soul in sight for miles.

It was there, lost in the fields of Indiana, that I found a place not marked on maps. A strange and wonderful place, which may be found only by those who get lost on an early Sunday morning.

I had found a land where there were no posted speed limits, wide open sight-lines, and not a soul around. Time stood still as I swept past it, covering distance in a way that maps--or at least Google maps--would tell us was impossible.

With nothing but my sense of direction to guide me, and with a rapidly dwindling tank of gas, I realized that I would never make it to my destination without a resupply. I count it a stroke of divine providence that one of my wrong turns took me right into Hoagland. With a fresh tank of gas, I returned once more into the wide unknown of roads whose names are forgotten, and whose traffic is apparently too light to attract state troopers.

I barely made it in time, and was seated only just as the service started. Things happened thereafter, one of them being a sermon by Winston, which was followed swiftly by me slipping out to return to the city.

This time, the apprehension which I first felt when I found myself on these narrow, aged, tracks had disappeared. There was only anticipation and exhilaration. With windows down and music up, I soared along the strange paths with a familiarity I had previously been lacking. I knew their twists and turns; their secrets and hidden ways. I followed them until at last they yielded me back to civilization. I was sorry to leave them, but the magic of the place rested in the early solitary morning. As the world woke, that place would disappear one way or another.

Far better to leave the trail with its magic intact, than to watch it fade around me.

For a little while I wandered in the place with no speed limits, sometimes lost, sometimes certain. It was the adventure of a morning. I found a place that is not on your maps, that is not on any maps, that exists only fleetingly, and that reveals itself only to the wanderer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Deleting Friends: Politics, Friendship, and Facebook

1:48 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Facebook, besides being a fantastic tool for stalking old friends and acquaintances, also seems to serve quite well for destroying old friendships and acquaintances.

In particular, the political rhetoric of Facebook seems to be the most caustic and least reasoned that I can find. This is part of the reason that I tend to assiduously avoid such discussions on said site, because, even if you are engaging an individual of upright character and great intelligence, everyone has a few friends who have more opinions than they have brains or courtesy.

Perhaps it is because I am surreptitious, but I have never been unfriended for an opinion I have expressed, nor have I ever unfriended someone for stubbornly insisting that conservatives are neo-Nazis, although I may have had to filter posts from some people as things got closer to the election.

The thing is, I know those people do not think that I am a neo-Nazi. They know that I try to be kind and generous as a rule, and they would never think to say such things to me in person, not just because they are being polite, but because they know it simply is not true. The evil of internet politics is that you can say terrible things about amorphous groups, to which some of your friends certainly belong, which you would never willingly ascribe to those same friends singly. Not only that, but you can say those terrible things, and then believe it. And if your friend raises an objection to that internet proclamation, the challenge is public; the friend in the wrong cannot back down and apologize--as they almost certainly would in private amongst friends--instead, they need to prove their grit and conviction to their friends of the same political persuasion. The love of their friends is subordinated to their self-love and desire for reputation.

Moreover, when the others jump in, all parties lose sight of the fact that this is a spat between friends, and instead mistake it for the last great debate in defense of political principle. And in digital format, everyone forgets that they are arguing with real people. A profile picture is not replacement for the changing emotions of a human face, particularly one that you are hurting.

Does that mean that political disagreement has no place on Facebook? Of course not! Friends argue about politics. It happens. However, I hope I would not say something about a friend online that I would not say to his/her face.

Can I understand ultimately deleting a friend for repeated vitriolic attacks? Yes. If those attacks are general, it is my custom to send a message asking the friend to tone down the rhetoric, and to remind them who exactly they are denigrating. I have no problem with political disagreement, but when great evils are imputed to my character based on my convictions, I do ask the offending party to reflect on what they are saying.

There are two extremes. One, posting things of such a caustic nature as to demonize your friends--directly or indirectly--and damage your friendship. Or, second, being so obdurate in your politics that you cannot reconcile yourself to having friends who disagree: simply, deleting those who disagree. Both ways are immoderate and childish.

I have not yet needed to remove anyone, but if your internet philosophy is more important than your friends, you probably do not deserve them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shallow Irony.

9:40 AM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
I wonder if I am not actually just another hipster? I apparently dress the part. I flirted with keeping a beard. And I do try so very hard to find merit in folk music, essentially devoid of virtuosity, for the sake of its organic, homey, and therefore unassailable, pure form. Alas, to no avail. I make it through about 5 songs before I begin to suspect that I have actually only been listening to different lyrics set to the same tune, which consists of four repeated guitar chords.

Perhaps I am a failed hipster, or an odd hybrid creature which exists on the outer edges of hipsterdom. Irony is fine, but is often cloak used to distract us from the fact that there is nothing much deeper behind it. I remember Lee once talking in class about how badly modern Germans abuse irony, to the point that its subtle use is almost lost amidst the crass sarcasm and lower forms. I appreciate irony, but to take it to heart as a defining characteristic--to mold oneself to a more contrary nature--seems a bit odious to me. I do not think it makes for a genuinely pleasant person.

On the other hand, the chill attitude which so many try to cultivate is a natural reaction to the sustained excess and vulgarity of the culture. Postured diffidence when thrown up as a bulwark against exorbitance might just be interpreted as a conservative reaction. And here I am not referring to a negative cultural reaction to something new based on its newness, but rather, a reaction tied back to an older ideal of moderation. Conservatism as an instinct not to use up or cast aside what is beautiful or good, or perhaps just not consuming for consumption sake. It is not good that we should cast away Bow Ties into nothingness, and we thank the hipsters for saving them. The fascination with a return to a natural more conscientious lifestyle is also a positive hipster trait.

For all of the decent impact that I think the trend could have on society, I have never really felt like I was actually one of them. I believe the way I do based on a rudimentary but hard won knowledge of philosophy and theology. It happens, then, that I am Descartes, and insufferably wish to drag things back to first principles.  Unfortunately, I might be a little too earnest to be ironic. I will try not to let that turn me into a prat. But I question whether much of what I have seen and heard comes from deep ideological belief and knowledge, and therefore might enjoy staying power, or if it is just another fad which will define this generation and be forgotten with the next.

Hipsters make better neighbors, and good friends, but I wonder if it is not still devoid of a deeper tether, and I worry that it will not last.

I, on the other hand, fully intend to be around for awhile, becoming more colorful and ridiculous with age. Bow Ties will cease to be cool. Folk music will fade with dissonance back to bars from whence it sprang. People will stop trying to pretend that they are consuming less. And yet, new things, both good and beautiful, will rise to replace them in due time. The world, even this garrulous society of ours, is never devoid of good things when you look for them.

I suppose then, that what I hope to mold myself to do is to find the beautiful things as they come, and perhaps not let them so quickly when they fall out of vogue. What I want, then, is good taste. But it must go a little deeper than that. I want grace. Without grace, even something beautiful may be rendered coarse. I just want the grace to do justice to that which is beautiful, good, or true.

So, yeah, I guess I'll get right on that.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Sleepless Mind.

2:23 AM Posted by Patrick No comments
Nights like these are simply not made for sleeping.

Granted, the bed is never so welcoming as when the room is well chilled by the crisp night air. But the air is invigorating. Energizing. Vivifying. The sweet scent beckons me outside, so that is where I go. The cool is bracing, bringing out gooseflesh on the backs of my arms, something that feels like adrenaline follows. The peace, the isolation, and the darkness leave the senses sharpened. A heightened state of awareness and a feeling of restless vitality stir up discontent, perhaps because I seldom have this sharpness, and now I have nowhere to apply it. I settle down to read. There might be adventure out there somewhere, but probably not the kind I am hungry for. Books will have to do.

I act like I do not get cold; that is all show. On nights like tonight, I linger constantly on the edge of discomfort, not putting on my jacket for the sole reason of feeling the discomfort. It is not pleasant, but it is an interesting sensation and strong. You can never push the sensation from the mind entirely, but you can master yourself in spite of it. The cold is pushed to the back of the mind; it is a challenge, an art. Stupidity? Yes, probably some portion of that as well, but there is also discipline involved.

The quality of my work is always so much better when it is conducted in conditions like these; I do not read books, I inhale them, even as I inhale the scent of a juniper sprig that I just shredded into teeny-tiny pieces for reasons unknowable; not a labor, nor an effort, but natural. Perhaps it is the lack of distractions?

No. Heavens no. The books are just about all that can distract me from my thoughts on nights like these. The internet is ok, but simply does not have the power to sustain my attention span for any length of time. I am finding that blogging seems to perform a similar function, although it deals mainly with voicing my fumbling attempts to understand my own frame of mind. It also serves only as a distraction from the heavier concerns that weigh on the mind.

Unfortunately, nights like these--gorgeous, solitary, and all too brief--are perfect for attempting to contemplate issues like school, work, the future, and other things that are scary to contemplate while sober. Not that any one of them is to be dreaded, but rather, they are scary because I am young and still relatively inexperienced. I do not want to let anyone down, and naive though this sounds, I should dearly like to remain happy; a goal which seems to allude many with time.

I sit in the breeze and wonder whether the discomfort I feel comes from the coolness that is slowly creeping into my arms, or from the reality that money is much more important than I like to pretend it is, and that I do not want to spend my life fighting to keep it from feeling like the center of that life.

I walk in the breeze and beat myself up over could haves and should haves of years, months, weeks, days, and hours of yore. I forgive myself and pep talk myself into doing better next time. I pray. I was not always much of one for praying, but nights like these are good for reflection, for discovering what is wanted and needed, and realizing that there is no shame or childishness in asking our Father in Heaven for it.

 And for all of that, the mood is not nearly so somber as it sounds. The clearheaded sharpness remains with me the whole time. The sense is not one of impending doom, but of anticipation. So I might fret a little is something particular is bugging me. I push it down and try to re-approach it from with some perspective. Does this always work? No. But I don't pretend to have all the answers here. I just try to sort things out.

 So I take my time, turn things over in my mind. I think, worry and fret, reflect and remember, plan and plot, give rein to my imagination, and sit down and read a book so I don't drive myself insane. In the end, there is at least one thing that I have figured out...

Nights like these are simply not made for sleeping.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Under the Sky so Blue

2:25 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Today we--yes, the royal we--are playing hot lava. Anywhere that the sun is not shining is the hot lava, and must be avoided at all costs. The only exceptions are class periods, and getting my coffee cup refilled.

I find the sunshine most conducive to thought, including thoughts which should have occurred to me some time ago. Today, in particularly, it was just something regarding my research, which I really grasped for the first time. I had previously realized that Austrian national identity was poorly defined prior to the end of WWII and the Austrian Victim narrative. I had failed to reconcile, however, the real import of this. Austria is almost completely a post-WWII concept. The Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburg dynasty was a broad collection of regions, united under a central bureaucratic mechanism. Within that Empire, regions  ethno-cultural likeness were organized into provinces; there was no Austria, as such, but Tirol, South Tirol, Salzburg, and Vienna, amongst numerous smaller entities.

The connection between these provinces broke down with the collapse of the Empire the borders of Austria were drawn rather arbitrarily, and there were almost no impetus toward a unification. Austro-Fascism was an attempt at achieving national unity, but suffered from minority support, even among Austrian Fascists, many of whom preferred a Pan-Germanistic union.

The disunity of Austria is further shown at the end of WWII. It was not a given that Austria would reunite as one, although we treat it that way now. Tirol, particularly, debated on whether to acknowledge an "Austrian" authority, or to assert Tirolean sovereignty. Similar discussions permeated the political spheres of the time.

Germany, and the Anschluss, entered at the very height of Austrian Ego-permeability. The vacuum left behind the Hapsburg Empire remained unfilled until the time of Adolph Hitler's annexation of his homeland to a "Greater Germany," and I am of the mind--though this must remain always a speculation--that a Nazi victory would have lead to the contented erasure of separate Austrian identity from a broader German identity. The Nazi defeat, however, left Austria in the ruins of a second fallen empire, and a second economic depression.

The shift of fortunes which came with victim-hood and the Marshall Plan could not have been more perfectly timed. It coupled economic recovery with a distancing from the idea of Greater Germany, and security against a clearly hostile Soviet Army.

One might question how this resulted in Austria, as opposed to a federation of Austrian provinces, which was the Allied plan originally. The answer lies in necessity. Too large a part of the Austrian population had been complicit in campaigns of Nazism, both foreign and domestic, and in addition, some provinces were much guiltier than others: South Tirol is pterhaps the one place where any credence might be lent to the idea of Austrian resistance to Nazism. But to punish some and not others would have damaged any attempt to create Austrian unity, which--due to recent developments--had become a source of preoccupation for the West, which was swiftly coming to desire an independent and neutral Austria.

I am of course alluding to the Cold War and the threat of extended Soviet influence in middle Europe. The Allies, or those of republican constitution, recognized the utility of a strong buffer nation between the communist satellite-states and the impressionable and often idiotic peoples of Italy and Greece.

In order to create such a nation, it was not expedient to cause any division amongst  the provinces. The so called victim-hood of the provinces, then, was to be cast as a corporate martyrdom of the Austrian people: whole and undivided.

The provinces readily excepted this story: first, because it absolved them of their wrongdoing; Second, because it came with generous economic aid; and third, because it was a shield against soviet occupation.

What I had previously underestimated, was the malleability of the Austrian Persona, and that it had failed to take shape after the Great War. The legacy of Austrian-wictimhood may thus be considered, not as the termination of an identity crisis beginning with the Anschluss, but as the final resolution of the identity crisis left by the fall of the Hapsburgs.

There are the attendant issues of never being able to deal with the Austrian war-criminals properly, leading to celebration of Austrian service in the Wehrmacht, and ultimately Waldheim--along with who knows what other cultural disease, but it remarkable how fast the victim narrative allowed them to coalesce. They went twenty years before the Anschluss without figuring it out, but it took them months after the end of WWII to solve the problem. Remarkable.

I suppose it is nearing time for class. Time to make an end of it and enjoy these last few minutes in the sun.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Meanderings which began with a Realization that I really had no Time for Blogging, but that I similarly had no Will to do Research.

10:30 PM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
To controvert a meme: Summer is Coming.

That is quite fortunate, because I am simply a tad bit tired. There is only so much heavy academic literature one can read before it is time to cut it with a healthy dose of talking animals. Although, I have come to believe that it is not the literature itself which is so stuffy, but rather, that it is the knowledge of coming graded work which renders the otherwise pleasurable suffocating. A prime example of this would be the work I am doing for my senior seminar. I find the topic fascinating, and I still get the familiar chills down my spine each time I discover something particularly weighty, but as the semester drags on, I come to view it more as plain drudgery, not because the topic has lost merit over the course of my studies, nor because my expanded knowledge on the topic makes each new discovery any less triumphant, but merely because I realize that the time will be coming when this is no longer just for me, and when I will have to yield up the sum-total of all of my work--imperfectly represented in my writing--for a grade.

Granted, I am yet to receive a poor grade on any paper that I have written, but in every single case I have found my own finished product insufficient. It frustrates me to no end to spend a semester reading exemplary research, only to turnout something that I do not feel entirely pleased with. Now, I might have touched on something previously unexplored in my current work, but even then, I hardly feel like my brief acquaintance with the topic is sufficient for me to posit something new in a confident manner: even when I dare to be original, doubt lies in the wings.

When it comes right down to it, I can tolerate mediocrity from others, but when I find it in my own efforts, I hate it, quite passionately. More than that, it makes me feel ashamed. Failure could mean that you are just not quite good enough in your person, which is itself a horrible thought, and one I've always tried to cut out of the calculations. It might also signify that I simply did not try, which is sometimes the case.

The one that really gets me is option the third: failure through inadequate means. The means in this case are primarily time and access to research material. There is nothing more frustrating than turning out a weak paper because of insufficient access to the desired research materials. I remember doing an African research paper for one professor, which came out merely ok. This result stemmed from greater than anticipated difficulty in getting my hands on the sources I wanted, many of which simply were not readily available to those who did not speak Spanish or Portuguese.

I suppose my problem is rooted entirely in ego. I, much like everyone else, do not object to being respected by my betters, and confident though I generally am in my abilities, there is always the possibility that I will offer up something which leads a professor to puncture my inflated view of self.

It is the constant danger  to my ego, then, which I find so tiring. People have wondered before, why I spend so much more time and effort than is necessary on the little things. While the main part of it is that I do indeed prefer to do a good job for it's own sake, and for the feeling of having done something worthwhile, there is always an element that voraciously desires acclaim.

Here is the odd thing: I cannot think of another field, outside the academic, where I feel quite the same drive. I really do not feel the need for the acclaim of my boss, nor have I particularly needed to worry about securing the affection of my family: that is in the bag, and what drive I feel rises more the desire to make them happy. I do not particularly care for the acclaim of strangers; I always find it a little awkward. Nope, just my professors, and maybe--from time to time--my pastors.

Perhaps there is a certain level at which my desire, then, is tied in a way to the way I experience it with my family.

My professors (I have been fortunate) and my pastors have looked to my care and growth: the pastors, theologically; the professors, academically--okay, the pastors get academic motivation kudos too. As these people have poured their time, efforts, and talent into my development, I am aware, to a certain extent, that what I do, say, write, etc, reflects on them as well. Poor theology reflects poorly on my pastors, and poor academic work reflects on my professors. And as I work and live with these people, gratefulness and a certain measure of affection naturally grows, and it feels like the height of ungratefulness not to repay their effort with the validation of their work which comes with the success of the student.

I would not have any mistake on my part read into as an inadequacy in my teachers; I am more than capable of making my own mistakes. I compare the difference in my attitude in Political Crimes and Trials, or even my Music for the Listener class, in both of which I had great respect for my professors, with my attitude toward my English writing course, where I felt a certain antipathy for the instructor. My effort and attention to detail where much greater in the former.

H'anyway. That was totally a tangent that carried on much longer than expected as I explored it. Entschuldigung.

The reason why it is so good that summer is coming, is that I will be glad of the time that I haven't had in awhile. Between work and school I leave the house 7 days a weak, for between 8 and 15 hours (looking at you, Friday) a day. My time on campus is largely spent on research and other homework, 'cause I'm an insufferable little streber, equipped with a genuine interest in history. Other time on campus is spent talking to people, sometimes for school, but largely social. A decent chunk is also spent just walking around, trying to draw meaning from/reconcile/order everything that I have just read; have to understand something before you write about it, dontcha know.

These routines grow old, and the reality is that I see a lot less of any people who fall outside of that sphere of those whom I see at school; this can even include people who go to IPFW, as our schedules are not always compatible. So there are some people who I just haven't really talked to in awhile; people who I should give a phone call at the very least. But that can wait. There is blogging to be done.

My upswing in social feeling is still going pretty strong, but it is hard when I have to choose between spending time with my peoples, or else getting a couple hours of downtime after a long day at school, work, or both. I need time to spend with my peoples, when I am not already burnt out by sleep shortages, or by work. There are such people, M'aiq has been told, who unwind by surrounding themselves with throngs of people. Alas, I am not one of them. Don't get me wrong; I like the people, but I prefer them when I am well rested and fed.

More than anything, I am ready for some sunshine. I have been reduced to something pale and pasty; like some kind of weird albino. It is only a matter of time before women and children start screaming at my approach. I wonder that my eyes have not yet lost their color. I just want to spend time by the pool, get my color back, and do some gardening.

Is there a point to any of this rambling? Yes, on the one hand, it is a necessary outlet for my whining, which would otherwise fall on those dear to me. I have also written it to say: bear with me. I might be a little hard to get a hold of for the next month--or else not so pleasant as I should be, in the cases that you do--but spring is coming, and with spring comes time, and with time? Well, only the summer will tell.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tipping.

11:07 PM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
I will keep this brief.

I have my feelings on tipping. If one does not have money, one should not got out. If one feels that there is indeed money to justify going out, then I see no reason why one should budget on the tip. If one can not include a generous tip and remain within means, why go out in the first place.

I admit, a quasi-theological idea has worked it's way into my tipping, and I cannot bring myself to regret it. When I tip, I hope that my generosity borders on the level where it would appear to be prodigality. Even as we receive grace beyond what is expected, much less deserved, so also, one should tip one's waiters and waitresses, giving gladly, just for the sheer joy of giving, and in the hope of bringing some pleasure to others.

There are places I can cut, but tips will never be one of them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Musings on a Favourite Book

7:48 PM Posted by Patrick 3 comments
Since having heard about the upcoming radio Drama of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and since having learned that the Shewoof does not esteem it so highly as she ought, I have been considering what it is about that book which spoke to me so.

At a basic level, it is escapist. It is an adventure story set outside the realms of everyday life. The world is fantastic, and magic satisfies in a way that no crime drama or spy/military thriller ever will. But it is not a world so vague and separate as Middle Earth; it coexists with the world of the known, and therefore, taps into the realm of daydreams in a way high-fantasy never can. In Neverwhere, the remarkable lurks just beneath the surface, out of sight of the ordinary, but waiting to bubble up through the cracks.

The story has the magic of a rainy day in a foreign city; total anonymity and the simultaneous thrill and fear of leaving everything behind and striking out into the unknown. For the protagonist, everything is new and frightening, and at the same time, so much is a twisted reflection of the world he already knows.

I think part of the appeal to me is the very notion of adventure. In the America of the 21st century, adventure and danger--especially to my demographic--means "let us go do stupid stuff." One does not get many opportunities to prove one's incipient heroism these days, outside of fighting wars, without objectives, in far removed lands, without the appropriate legal sanctions of the Congress. I applaud those who serve, and while I would rather many of our campaigns not be embarked upon, I am glad they are prosecuted--by and large--by men of honor. Perhaps a topic for another time.

That is not the adventure for me, but there is a definite hunger for adventure, which will only find vicarious satisfaction.

The protagonist is not prepared for his adventure, he does not want it, and yet it takes his goodness, purifies it by trial, and makes a hero out of him. And even then, part of Gaiman's genius, he sits weeping brokenly against that wall, scrabbling to return. He is lost to that adventure, and he could never return to the ordinary. That is just another aspect of the danger, the thrill of the story. He became something more in that other reality, and he did not want to lose it.

It is a story about an ordinary, boring, fellow who gets pulled into a world where the ordinary cannot survive; he must become extraordinary or perish on the way. It isn't as though I'm dreaming about getting pulled into the sewers, or chased around by Croup and Vandemar, but there is some kind of uralt primordial craving for a test. The feats of strength simply are not enough.

You take the slow burn of this psychological subtext, and then toss on the accelerant of Gaiman's master wordsmanship, and it is no surprise that it speaks to me as it does.

Plus, I think that Gaiman has mastered, more than any writer I have ever read, the vocabularies of anonymity and shabbiness. I have to think of American Gods as well; it isn't just shabbiness, rather, resplendent shabbiness. I am thinking of the Marquis de Carabas and Odin in particular. Both are unknown and unknowable, obviously powerful, and yet, wear all of their power veiled. Everyone in their world knows who they are, yet no one outside, and yet, that anonymity does not make them any less than what they are.

Curious, I will need to consider further.

Shaggy II

6:58 PM Posted by Patrick 5 comments
Alright, it is still difficult for me to decide, after a while, what exactly I think of the face-rug. It has its ups and downs. The response, despite a few nay-sayers, has been overwhelmingly positive.

You must understand, I was not prepared to like it initially, mostly because my sister had some withering comments to level at my previous attempts to grow facial hair. It has never turned out well in the past, and I was prepared, generally, for it to look abysmal.

What I am saying, in basic, is that I was not nuts about it, and I am still not totally convinced, but having been told many--no, really--many times that it looks really good, I have wandered into the unknown.

What I am saying, ya'll, is that: if I start looking like trapper john, or a large animal, or a NASCAR fan, for the love of all that is good and holy, tell me. I am operating under the effects of peer opinion and am not entirely within my mind.



Hey, Brother. Crag.

2:46 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
When I was younger I had alter egos. My brothers and I envisaged other planets in a far off world, where these characters lived. That world was an analogy for our own and we created it, not out of whole cloth, but using the materials supplied by the world around us. So also, those alter egos were not wholly outside of us, but aspects of our personalities.

The alter egos in particular were interesting, because, though they were prone to exaggeration, everything that they said was merely a caricature of something we  actually thought. Speaking as an alter ego--we could tell by voice change, slight or extreme, depending on the character--we could put an often humorous twist on whatever we were thinking. We would say something ridiculous, but beneath it, we could immediately find the kernel of truth that the other had spoken.

And, have I been using the past tense? I beg your pardon. Our alter egos are not nearly dead yet, nor do I expect they ever will be.

In the first part, I have no intent to surrender my imagination, nor my sense of the ridiculous, both of which have definitely been sharpened through our playacting. It is extraordinary good fun, and it is a mechanism we often use to take something that annoys us, and laugh heartily at it. And, more importantly, it is the particular language which I speak with my brothers. There are certain words, phrases, faces, tones, and gestures that speak volumes.

I really see no reason why growing older means putting the kibosh on imagination, and it really is not like I could surrender my alter egos; they are kind of attached. Plus, they really come in handy from time to time

So, until further notice, the Dragons are still protecting humanity from imminent "justice." The Two are scheming, and the Saint is probably being chastened as we speak, even whilst Junior and Eddie execute a glorious reverse charge. Jonathan and Andrew will know what I mean.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pride and Petulance Prompted by the Elder Brother Instinct.

10:23 PM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
My SAT essay score was a 6. I got two threes, which signifies that I have a mediocre grasp of the English language at best, and could use some work stringing together my arguments.

Now, my style might get a little florid; I take no small delight in playing with my words, but I have never--from any other source--had it suggested to me that my writing was mediocre. Is it a difference between my writing in the comfort of the home and writing in a high pressure test environment? I answer: I have never received less than an A on any essay based exam. It is seldom that I even get points deducted, let alone receive something equivalent with a C.

A C is well into seppuku territory.

Why do I bother to revisit this point? Because Dogmeat got a similar essay score on his SAT. The time given to the grading of each essay is around 2 minutes, which means that much of your score is based on assumptions and first impressions. The greatest guarantors of a good score are pretty script and a few well placed buzzwords.

My script will never be aesthetically pleasing. It has become more legible with time, but despite my efforts, it hardly looks like it belongs to an advanced life-form. Moreover, the language I use in tests--though generally flawless--is simple. I write with directness and clarity, and concern myself more with making my point than with making it too prettily; though simple, they are substantial. But when the only consideration given is that of the first glance, and when the essay is not read in its entirety, I hardly make a smashing impression.

We are left with two possible conclusions. First, that Andrew and I both just had off days in our writing, and the essay portion accurately diagnosis writing ability. Or else, the essay portion is a flawed assessment of capability.

Given that I have never repeated a poor essay for a grade, and that I have written essays across multiple disciplines, and for some notoriously tough professors, I not so humbly submit that the first option is ridiculous. Also, being familiar with my younger brother and his intellect, I submit that he will reiterate my point, emphatically.

If a portion of the test grade is to be subjective, then the essay should be read, not glanced at. For my own sake, I don't really care. The good people of the College Board may bite me. But it gets more on my nerves when I see Dogmeat get the same score; partially because his personality is one which feels a greater need for affirmation and approbation, and also because he almost certainly did not get the score he merited.

We write our deep thoughts a touch--alright, quite--messily, and I think that is why we got marked down. Thinking back on some of the near illegible comments left on my papers, I wonder how my profs would have fared.