Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Grown-up Job: Pt-1.

4:01 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
One of the greatest anxieties of my final months at school revolved around a very simple question: What the devil comes next?

I had toyed with half a dozen ideas, but was not particularly optimistic about any of them. The thought of going back to school immediately I had simply written off. I did not want to be forever a student, never moving on to the next thing. I was ready to be productive, and I was weighing my options.

My favourite was sitting the Foreign Service exam and becoming a world renown diplomat. I have not ruled it out entirely in the long run, but in the mean time, I cannot take the exam until February, and even then, only one in every hundred is accepted, and almost no one on their first try. So although it was one of my favourite solutions, it was not a short term answer to what I would do after College. Should I just sit on my keester for ten months? I think not.

I could have stayed on at Penney's. I would have had a good shot at promotion, and it would not have been terrible on my resume. There might have been additional management experience in it, but there would almost certainly have been a lot of soul crushing days ahead of me. In the mall. It just was not an option I fancied.

I thought about looking for a job waiting tables. This was seeming like a much more practical short term solution, and would have been better pay, more likely than not, but it did not satisfy my need for a big boy job.

I will not dwell on the reasons I needed a grown-up job, but I had them and they were compelling, so I started to look at jobs with companies that I did not necessarily feel I was qualified to work for.

The jobs I felt most qualified to apply for were the paralegal jobs,  but I was not actually thrilled with the prospect of getting one, having seen my sister's experience. I did not need anything to make my hair fall out any faster.

I applied for positions with firms that handled logistics, with C.H.Robinson and BAX. Either of which would have been ok, and both of which promised a continuous and heavy load of what my brother in law termed as the white collar equivalent of manual labor. It would have been more satisfying and definitely would have given me a new skill set, but would not necessarily have been my choice.

The last class of jobs I applied for were those for which I felt least qualified. Jobs with Northwest Mutual, Wells Fargo, and--my favourite of the unlikely options--Lincoln Financial. These were jobs that I could actually see developing right into a career. They were all with companies, and in positions, that would surely go to some yappy business major.

But that was not about to stop me. It sounded good, so I took my Resume and my liberal Arts degrees and asked around and put in my applications. In the end, I had a chance for interviews with two of the financial services companies, as the others had not really panned out. I had an interview with Lincoln Financial, and was preparing to set one up with Northwestern, where I had received a glowing reference, for which I am still grateful.

However, the interview with Lincoln came first. How I got to that first interview is still a mystery, and hangs largely with the fact that someone named Sarah Wilson decided she liked me, in spite of the fact that technical difficulties screwed up a solid part of my video interview, at which you got one shot, and which left me a little flustered for the latter half. I did not think there was any way I was getting a call back, but I did, so I was practically giddy the morning before.

I decided to dress casually. Play it cool.  So, after getting up three hours before my interview, eating breakfast, and drinking my coffee, I walked out the front door in my favourite suit and tie, wearing freshly shined new shoes, and sporting a new haircut. No way I was going to blow this again. I got to the Harrison entrance of the Lincoln building, which looks rather palatial. It was just enough to keep my heart rate a touch above normal. Then I walked into the atrium for the first time, which was all sandstone and marble; I had to work there.
You may not be able to see it in this picture, snapped while I was waiting to be summoned for my appointment, but the walls were covered in a hundred years of etched names? I was sitting in Lincoln's hall of heroes, with the names of the most honored forerunners carved into the stone for the perusal of lesser men that came after, but also with space reserved for future heroes.

After a few minutes of sitting, Amber came out to get me.

Amber has one of those dispositions that can make it difficult to know whether she is joking or deadly in earnest. She can deliver, and was delivering, some pretty decent one liners with all the gravitas of a senior undertaker, dispensing with the mask every once and awhile to reveal a warm smile. She led me up through the middle of the busy operations and into a conference room where I sat at a table with a fantastic view out the window of Downtown Fort Wayne. Amber sat across from me, and was soon joined by Heather, who identified herself as a one time English major. Heather was tall, blonde, bespectacled, pregnant, and always smiling.

The interview lasted over an hour and a half, and it was the most fun I have had in an interview. Heather and Amber played off of one another, working to put me at ease, while also clearly just being the way they usually are with one another. The English person and the Math person. Tall and short. Dark and light. Our conversation ranged all over, going from my school and work history, to Amber's new car and how to spend time downtown. It came out that Amber would be my boss, were I hired, and I was totally ok with that thought.

I left feeling good, and Sarah called me two days later--right before I went to help Emma feed the poor--and told me that I had the job.

But I guess many of you do not know what the job is. At the moment, I am something of a supercharged customer service person. I will have calls that I answer, some from customers, but mostly from agents, other institutions, and our own internal problem solving. I will also document and process contract changes and withdrawals, I will apprise people of tax and other financial implications of their actions, and do research projects. The way it was put to me, this was a very good place to start--whatever my ambitions within the company--because our licensed annuity dudes and dudettes need to know everything. As I have learned in my first weeks while shadowing people who are working, when financial advisers do not understand the investment instruments their clients own and how they work, they talk to us.

In order to perform these tasks, we are expected to participate in and complete a rigorous training program, starting with an intensive aimed at preparing us to pass a Series 6 securities licensing exam. I was again somewhat nervous when I arrived for the first day of training. I had no idea what exactly was waiting, but I was eager to get started with my grown-up job. I walked into the atrium again, this time to find that there were several people waiting already, and more trickling in as the minutes passed. In the end, 16 of us were seated in the atrium, and Amber came for us shortly thereafter.

There was a little bit of chat amongst the group as we went, but it was kind of quiet. I think most of us were bracing ourselves for what we new lay ahead: processing, and the obligatory corporate on-boarding presentation.

Our fears were met, when minutes later, we found ourselves led down the stairs, deep beneath the sunlit streets of Fort Wayne, and into the department of Human Resources. The processing had come. We were to be filed and photographed. The others were made to sit and watch as each was called, verified, and photographed. You sat for your picture in plain sight of all these strangers who would be your coworkers, and who watched with amusement as each person smiled at the camera; it was slightly awkward.

Thankfully, this whole thing went rather quicker than anticipated, and we were headed back upstairs soon enough. Our elation was soon to be drenched, however, when we walked into a room...with a projector! (Sinister music)

Before any of us had time to slip back through the door, a tall woman in a tasteful--actually, downright cute--skirt and jacket with an abnormally wide, bright smile and expensively styled short blonde hair stepped into the gap. She beamed at us like we were her long lost children and seemed constantly on the cusp of taking us all up into her arms and giving us a good squeeze. Here was one of the chiefs of HR. A person so brimming over with love for mankind and vivacity that they, and only they, can routinely look for ways to 'downsize' without it breaking their spirit. The kind of person who will get a smile out of you, whether you want to give it or not. Who makes you wonder where their draw their energy from, and leaves you with a sneaking suspicion that they suck it from the people around them.

This last hypothesis was almost certainly confirmed when she started the presentation on Lincoln Financial Group. The first part we were all kind of interested, because it was the history of Lincoln, its business profile, and especially the history of Lincoln in Fort Wayne. We made it through just fine. The next segment, which was longer, contained words like Vision, Excellence, Commitment, Synergy, Diversity, Enterprise, and Innovation. As this presentation dragged on she only seemed to get more energetic and excited, even as heads drooped around me.

Things were looking grim, and I was worried that none of us would never leave that place, as our host was practically bursting with excitement as she drained the last of our vital energies, when the door flew open and Amber walked in with four other people trailing behind her.

They were managers, they said, and HR lady could not have us any longer, each of us was to go with our respective managers and never return to that place. HR lady would probably have fought them for us, but their numbers were too many, and Amber can seem pretty formidable, so she surrendered us over to them.

The managers led us back into the light, and we all split up and went on our tours, during which time we found ourselves reminded that Lincoln has the inhabitants of a small town--2,300--and that it houses the amenities to keep them comfortable, including a massive--and rather decent--cafeteria, an equally impressive gym, a convenience store, a coffee shop, and various break and reading lounges spread around the building.

Soon, however, we found ourselves led to a room where we would spend much of our time for the next several weeks. The training room was equipped with desks, each boasting its own impressive computer with dual hi-def LCD monitors, office supplies, projector, white boards, fax  machine, printers, and comfortable chairs.

I was not a bad set-up, for which I am most thankful. The rest of our first day was spent on icebreakers and getting to know each other in that room. We had to fill out questionnaires, just to have in front of us, and then tell other people in the room about our favourite movies, what superpower we would choose, how we like to spend our spare time, a little bit about our family, etc. It was surprisingly effective, and people were not just presenting, but talking to each other by the end.

We learned at the end of our day that our training would begin in earnest the next day, We were given a text-book, the codes to access a bunch of online materials, including texts, videos, and thousands of sample questions, and a schedule of what our next two weeks would be; it was going to be busy.

(To be Continued)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Happenings of the Early Summer: T-Day.

5:28 PM Posted by Patrick 6 comments
June is a long time ago. Since June, a great many things have happened. Some of these things have been major landmarks, others have been silly little things of no significance to anyone but me. Nonetheless, their passage has left me feeling as if this June were as removed from me as the distant past.

I always tell myself, upon writing a blog post, that it was fun, that I always enjoy it, and that certainly now I will do it more often. I make a liar of myself. Writing is work, and no matter how well I enjoy it while I am in progress, the inexorable pull of my own laziness always makes itself felt when I next think about writing.

Indeed, if you wonder where I found the strength to overcome my laziness and procrastination to start writing today, you may thank--or else blame--Emma. She is making me confront my inane excuses and get to it; good women do stuff like that, you know.

The first minor event since I last wrote was that Andrew, Jenna, Emma, and I went to an Arctic Monkeys (A band, not literally monkeys. I know, I was disappointed too) concert in Indianapolis. Like I say, a minor event, but great fun. We drove from Fort Wayne to Indy in Emma's car, which is pretty nice to drive most of the time, but redlines it and accelerates wildly when one reaches a hill and the cruise control is on. So aside from a couple instances when I suddenly felt like I was in the Grand Prix, the trip went smoothly. On the way down, Jenna went to work trying to scandalize Andrew--and may have succeeded once or twice--and also told all manner of Emma stories.

Our first stop was at Keystone Mall, largely because they have an Anthropologie store. We were only there half an hour, when a tornado warning was declared, and they started herding us toward a designated shelter. When they redirected us, we were in the middle of the mall, on the ground floor, away from all windows, and right next to a couple stores that were recessed back beneath the rest. In order to move us to safety, the proper authorities herded us up to the second floor, down a walkway, which was all glass, through a hotel stair, which was also walled by glass, and finally down into a large ball room, where we interrupted a CDC conference on biological and chemical weapons. They locked us in the ball room until half an hour later, at which point they decided that it would be okay for us to leave.

Unfortunately, there was no more exciting part of that adventure. I wish I could tell you that some of us got sucked out, or that we inadvertently released a bio-weapon, or that a KGB agent was unmasked in our midst, but no such thing happened. We merely sat in an ugly ball room with a bunch of fake blondes for a while. The shopping spirit was not entirely smooshed out of us, and we did manage to haunt Crate and Barrel for a little bit, but we left soon after and continued on to our main goal.

(Note: I entirely skipped over the part where I realized that I had forgotten the tickets, and spent 5-10 minutes panicking and getting a hold of my provider to get them re-issued at will call, because I am way to smooth and organized to make an oversight like that.)

We got downtown, parked in a garage that doubled as the worlds largest easy-bake oven, and set off to find food. After eating, we returned to find the entrance to the park, and discovered a line that was roughly three quarters of a mile long. I left the three girls to hold our place in line, and went off to find our tickets at the will call desk. What they did while I was away, I know not. As I was trotting along to the booth, I could not help but notice that this was perhaps the most interesting crowd I had ever seen. It was like an index of current fashion trends, taken to the extreme. Never have I seen such a consolidation of high wasted shorts, combat boots, and crop tops; flower headbands also abounded. Many of the had, or were trying to grow, facial hair. Emma later remarked--with what seems like insight--that it is crowds like these, and pictures of them, that give us skewed ideas of what a crowd of people would have looked like in the seventies.

Anyway, White Denim came on to open, and I doubt they will probably show up in Indy again. When they came on, I thought at first that it was a sound check or something, or maybe a local band which was added at the last minute. They got no intro and no fanfare. The crowd stayed seated during the performance, and White Denim did not help their own cause. Their live performance could be summarized as suburbanite white-boys, just standing there and playing their instruments. No style. No flair.

There was a long break between the two acts, and we took advantage of that to try and score some tee-shirts. However, the same people who take 5 minutes to order in the coffee shop were also in the T-Shirt line, and there were more than a few of them. Because of the delay, we missed the Monkees Intro. So sad.

The rest of the concert, however, was  really good. They displayed some pretty serious showmanship, and played a long encore; I was happy. The trip back was uneventful, and being in the dark, was with people who were largely sleeping. We got home safe, and the whole thing was a triumph.

After that night I went back to my ordinary routine, for a little while. Okay, I guess there were some additions in there; like Emma and I hanging out and doing exciting things like baking, but you don't want me to bore you with all of that. Just so you know, though, pastry cream only requires 2-1/2 tablespoons of flour. Trust me on this one.

H'anyway. It was only shortly thereafter that I did indeed serve out the end of my sentence at JCPenney. My only regret is that I left some of my friends and brothers in that place, and that I did not get to take them with me. My final shift was with some of my favourite people, and that was nice too.

My last shift was a Wednesday, the 9th. The Next day was Thursday, the 10th. T-Day.

I left the house fairly early on Thursday, because I really preferred not to get there late. When I got there, early though it was, this entire part of the day had been blocked off for my use, so he did not make me wait, but we got right to it.

The first thing I had to do was sign the forms, and confirm indeed that I was in good health of mind and body, not under the influence of alcohol, and that--to the best of my knowledge, I was not not allergic to certain topical anti-septics. Upon signing off on the appropriate forms, Nick brought out the trace paper.

And that is when I got to see my tattoo.

It was better than I had imagined. He had incorporated all of the imagery that I wanted, but brought them together with remarkable and striking cohesion in his own style. Up to that moment, I admit that I had been nervous. What if it was not right? What if there was something missing?

But it was right, and it was better than I could have imagined.

The easy part was over; it was time to do some tattooing.

The first thing he did was clean and shave my arm, to make sure there would be no dirt or hair getting into things. The next step, was to lay the trace paper into place over my arm--the tattoo had been designed to my dimensions, and coat it with iodine, which cause the ink from the trace to bleed the outline on to my arm. When the paper was removed, the outline of my tattoo was ready to trace.

While sitting and waiting to get ready, he talked to me about his process and equipment again. He was using two different tattoo guns. One was set up for doing lines, the other for coloring and shading. The tracing gun had an attachment of 7 long sinister looking needles, which, when the gun was active, all came together in a very tight area. The coloring and shading attachment had 9 needles, which all fanned out to cover a broader area. They would strike about 140 times a second; I was thrilled.

The anticipation was really worse than the pain...most of the time.

He started tracing toward the base of the tattoo, and it was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Granted, it hurt. If I had not been paying him to do this to me, I probably would have been mildly homicidal toward him, but it still was not as bad as stories had led me to believe.

Sitting there as he worked, I had ample time to take in my surroundings.

The walls of the inside of the shop are covered in art and concept art. There are five different primary artists at the shop, so the collections on the wall also had a great deal of variety. If the walls seem cluttered to my eyes, it was not in a bad way. It was a thousand picture frames full of distractions and escapes from having to dwell on pain. Nick Fabini does a lot of fish and faces and birds and flowers. The others specialize in more classic topics, like skulls and flames and naked ladies.

If the walls were cluttered, everything else is immaculate; from the glass of the front window, to the countertops you can see you reflection in. If the walls were messy, everything else was in good order, and exactly where it was supposed to be. All personnel wear surgical gloves while working, and if their hands touch anything other than the gun or your arm, they grab another pair. The bathroom was also quite clean and pleasant, although its walls were also completely covered in art.

There were two other people getting tattoos at the same time I was. One was female, probably in her mid twenties, with shoulder length black hair, a coach bag, and quite dressed-up for a tattoo parlor; she was wearing a long maxi-skirt and had on a little white jacket over a black shirt. She was quite tall, and fairly elegant. She also, however, wore the face of a person who is either perpetually bored, or else displeased. The basic set of her face was petulant, and she did not talk much with anyone. She was getting a butterfly on her foot, of course.

The other person was probably in his early forties, a biker, who was getting a big ol' tattoo on his calf. What it lacked in originality, it made up for in adherence to classic tattoo iconography: skulls, flames, naked ladies. He was friendly, however, and quite genial for the amount of time he had been poked with needles that day.

My artist, Nick Fabini, looks like someone's dad. Someone who you would trust with your taxes. If any of you know Michael Frese, I would not hesitate to say they had certain similar mannerisms. He could have been any friendly, professional, young man...if ones eyes were not drawn away from his bright eyes and neat blonde fade to the intricate sleeves that wound all the way down to the back of his hands.

He was friendly and casual while he worked, but I was amazed by his attention to detail and the deftness of his hands. He improvised as he worked, and added much of the best detail as he went.

I did not get to note as much about their handiwork, but the other guys working were Alex and the other Nick (who I had met before). Alex and other Nick had beards; that is the only detail that really comes back, probably mostly because their beards were large enough to cover over every other detail.

It took about an hour and a half just to get my lines done. None of it was too terrible, except for the moments when the lines got up to the edge of my armpit...closer to the elbow also was no fun.

The filling part was much worse than that lines, as it often required him to go back over the same area repeated. In some cases, a square inch of my arm would receive his attention for 5-10 minutes to get the color deep enough and the shading right. There were a couple times when I had to fight to keep my arm from tensing up, but otherwise, I did not flinch, or cry, or do anything to bring shame on myself.

By the end of the process I was ready to be done. I asked myself, probably 7 times in the final minute, "when will he make an end." He finally told me that he was done, and left me to peruse the work.

Here it is:
There are other things that happened that afternoon, like me getting a flat tire on the way back from the tattoo shop, but those are not important.

I healed super quickly and did not have to have my arm amputated, neither was I fired from my new job (stay tuned for an upcoming blog post!) when they discovered that it was there. I had survived an estimated 15,000,000 needle strikes, and I felt great. (Ok, probably did not feel that great that afternoon. I was pretty out of it).

I have also been pleased to note that the feedback has been largely positive, and even in some cases that it wasn't, it has since grown on some people. But there are still those on whom it has not grown at all. We could immediately dismiss them, saying that these are haters, and that they gonn' hate, but that seems unfair to me, and I rather like some of the haters.

A majority of the haters are worried that I am doing this on a whim, and that I will hate it soon enough.

My dear, my very dear Haters: I have thought this out and wanted it for some time, and you might not even appreciate my reasons, but allow me to give them to you.

First, and most important, I enjoy the art form. I went looking for a tattoo that I would consider to be beautiful. Moreover, the idea of getting to wear a work of art also intrigued me. I had seen it executed well by various people, and executed poorly by a far larger number. But I thought that, done well, a tattoo was quite aesthetically pleasing. Yes, I realize that it is permanent and will degrade when I am old and my skin is old. But when I am a wrinkly old man, I don't think I'm going to spend much time regretting the adventures of my youth.

Second, and somewhat embarrassingly,  I did it because there were people who did not think I would. There were some people, not many of them, who implied that it was all talk. That made it a dare. There are probably many stupid things that I would still do on a dare...not that this was one of them.

Third, it is a senseless taboo, but especially amongst homeschoolers. I do not feel the need to violate all taboos, but some of them are patently idiotic. Tattoos now have widespread social acceptance, but not really within our circles yet. I did this to push myself further outside the homeschool stereotype in the eyes of others--and so take another step to expanding/weakening/destroying the stereotype--and also to try and reconcile the practice to some of my fellows. I am generally what you might call a good kid. I love my family, am active in church, graduated summa cum laude, work hard, respect others, participate in politics, and floss my teeth. I am as far from perfection as the rest of us (no, it's true!), but at least I show all signs of being a thinking, moral, productive member of society. In this respect, I have the tattoo to show that good kids can have tattoos too, and that the taboo is ridiculous.

That last bit may not have made any sense to you, but if you know why I read Harry Potter the first time--and how important that book was for me--you my understand why the paradigm carries so much weight for me.

But why Aesop?

A valid question. I love Aesop's fables, and I think that is part of it. Another part is the nature of the fables. If I am going to wear something for the rest of my life, I wanted it to be something timeless. I also wanted it to be something that tied back to the greater canon of Western culture. Aesop appealed to me because of the simplicity; it is written for children, but still wisdom to old men. Also, it lends itself so well to the style of art which appealed to me, which was illustrative; more like children's literature. To me, christian symbolism is unappealing. We worship and confess with our tongues, with our words, with God's words which we confess back to him. And furthermore, God has already permanently marked me as his own--I do not require phylacteries.

I chose the fox and the crow, partially because of the imbedded moral and caution against vanity, but also because of a secondary moral that I have always read into it. The crow forgets who he is, gives up the good that he has, all in order to gain some illusory glory which was never something that could be his in the first place. The crow is every adulterer and false friend, who does not think he is going to lose his cheese, and blindly he goes after something else that seems sweeter to him in the moment, but it all ends in ugliness and humiliation and hunger.

That is the other lesson I get from the fox and the crow.

Perhaps this whole episode was nothing but silliness. Could be, but I hope I may be allowed the liberty of doing something silly every so often.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Things Have Happened...And Stuff.

10:47 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
There once was an old house on the side of Harrison Hill--which is not really a hill--and in that house there lived a boy, who was actually more of  a man than a boy. He lived in this house with his two brothers, his mother, and on certain special occasions, like weekends and holidays, with his father. They all lived there happily on the edge of the Thousand Acre Hood.

But our story today, disappointingly, tells us nothing about the doings and such of the Thousand Acre Hood, nor of the many adventures of its inhabitants; it limits itself strictly to the a meager how-do and an update from the House on  Harrison Hill.

You see, the hero of most of our stories recently gradumacated from college and received a really swanky piece of paper telling him that he was awesome. Let's face it; I already had some sneaking suspicions that I was awesome, but now I have the seal of an accredited university to make it official. The final tally had me graduating Summa Cum Laude in German and History.

The ceremony was not unlike what I expected. It was long, consisting of a constant drone of names being read to the accompaniment of marching feet, punctuated every so often by the delivery of a speech, which one may assume was quite dry. The key redeeming factors of this exercise were three. First, that my family got to watch me walk and receive my diploma. Second, that it did afford some measure of closure to me. And last, that I had the pleasant surprise of spending the ceremony sitting with friends, who made the whole agonizing exercise so much more fun.

The immediate upshot of being graduated was that I got a lot more sleep, and felt a noticeable lightening of the weight on my shoulders.

Slightly longer term fallout of this graduation was that there was a party. At this party, there at the House on Harrison Hill on the edges of the Thousand Acre Hood, I got to see a lot of my family members and some friends that I had not seen in a long time indeed. Between school and work I had been rather hard to lay hands on over the last few years. But I saw many people, whom I love. To my shame and embarrassment, their thank-you notes are not going out until later this week. Even with school set aside, I still find ways to procrastinate.

I will not pretend that I have mastered maturity and the art of living well, but now that I have graduated, I find myself intentionally--and sometimes unintentionally--doing adulty things.

For instance, I have recently gone out and procured for myself a real job. You know, the kind that you can turn around into a career. I will be working for Lincoln Financial Group in their annuities division. The work I will be doing initially will be largely processing, data entry, customer service, and problem solving, but it comes with a significant pay increase, regular hours, excellent benefits, and a generous 401k plan. They will also start by putting me through ten weeks of training to pass the FINRA exam, which is a huge plus all by itself. The new job starts July 21st, and I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, I am still at Penney's. It is truly remarkable how much longer each day is when the end is approaching. Now that it is over, I am no longer building toward anything, but going through the motions.

I will miss my coworkers. Many of them are great, and I have spent several days a week with them for quite some time. I will be sad to say goodbye, but I'm still hoping to bring some with me to my new employer. As much as I will miss members of my JCP family, I will not miss that place.

Now that I am finally leaving, I am allowing myself to realize just how much I detest the mall. The mall is not a place where people go to buy things because it is more convenient. Not really.

The mall is a place for people to hang out. To gather. To spend time with friends. To walk around and spend some time. While they do these things, however, they are also discovering new needs for products and services that they never required before. They are inundated with flashy advertising and half a million schemes intended to addict them to shopping. A stunning number of mall shoppers are habitual regulars, who spend money they don't have and waste the valuable time that they do have.

The mall is where you shop for recreation, not for need. Just to fill the vacuum  that should ordinarily be filled by something worthwhile. This is the place where people go to consume for its own sake. It is probably totally irrational of me, but in my mind it has become a symbol of some of our deepest societal issues. People look for identity, happiness, and acceptance in brand names and new images; half price, and an additional 20% off when you open a new credit card.

I tried, while I was there, to do the simple service of treating everyone I dealt with like a human being. Not a customer, not an honored guest, not a mark, but like a real person--with respect, kindness, and personality. I did not always live up to that standard, but I tried, and I like to think that I was successful a fair amount of the time.

Anyway. The important thing is that I have closed that particular chapter. I start a new job soon, and I am sure it will be fraught with its own complications and obstacles, but I am really excited about it, none-the-less.

I have also begun looking at apartments. I--to quote a customer of mine from earlier--am having two minds on this subject. On the one hand, I would love to live downtown and in walking distance of work. And while I have never felt particularly restricted in my present arrangements, there is also a part of me that recognizes that this is our custom. I should also say that there is something to just proving that one is capable of taking care of oneself.

In the other mind that I am having, living at home is much cheaper, and I will be able to afford to save so much more money this way. There is also the question of having constant company, as well as a magical refrigerator.

In addition, even as living downtown would have me close to work--did I mention that I will be working in a big gorgeous building downtown?--being at home also has its own geographical advantages.

Church is one such important local. The other is Emma's house.

I will keep this as brief as humanly possible, but the most exciting thing that happened this spring--at least for me--was that Emma and I started going out. No, I don't know how I swung that. And I am afraid I am still only just beginning to discover how ridiculously lucky I am. What can I say? Life is not fair, but I feel no need to question providence if it has taken my side.

Long story short, I graduated just over a month ago, and I feel like I have spent the intervening time basking in my own good fortune.

Some of the less impressively adulty things I have found myself doing.

Item the first: with school out of the way, I have discovered that bed time is never, and that the snooze button can be pressed an infinite number of times.

Item the second: I have helped design, and set an appointment for, my first tattoo, which is happening July  10th.

Item the third: Emma made me watch television, and having watched it, I have found it to my liking. Pleasant for the eyes and good for consumption.

Item the fourth: I have rediscovered coloring, which I did not realize I missed.

Item the fifth: I have read many things since school, but almost none of them are substantial. Slowly working my way through Sandman, as I find the pieces.

Last: I will be going to a White Denim and Arctic Monkeys concert tomorrow, and it is Gogol Bordello or bust for later this July!

What all of this is meant to say is that things are changing, but life is good. I am relearning to be frivolous, but hopefully still with a certain je ne sais quoi and an underlying layer of substance. But come now, we would not want me to become all serious and dull, now would we?

I'll write something more cohesive and substantial later, but I'm just getting my feet wet for now. It has been so terribly long since I've written anything.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Die Opfernation

10:52 PM Posted by Patrick No comments

         I realize that research is never as interesting to everyone else as it is to the author, but for any who might be interested, this is the presentation I gave today. It represents an ultra truncated version of my original paper, but a fair portion of the most important elements are intact.
I'll post my thoughts on everything else tomorrow.

  In the wake of World War II, each of the Allied Powers envisioned an Austria shaped and governed by their designs and contributing to their interests. If independence were to return to Austria, it would be on a timetable and in a form approved by the Great Powers. For the Americans, the British, and the Soviets, the plan had been to occupy Austria, eliminate all traces of Nazi ideology, and then decide what “to get out of or make out of Austria.” But Austrian politicians and Diplomats were not content to be reduced to a puppet state, and swiftly consolidated behind a plan new to create an independent Austria.
            The cornerstone upon which a new Austria was to be erected was the Opferdoktrin; a stone under which Austrians intended to bury their guilt. The Austrians had been on the losing side of the war, and now, in order to obtain more favourable treatment, it was their task to convince the world that they had never sided with the Germans at all. The victim doctrine held that “the Anschluss was forced. It was Austrians who took part on the German side, but not Austria.” While individuals might be guilty, the collective was pure. The Germans had forced themselves on the Austrians and as one Austrian diplomat argued “one cannot well make the Austrian people responsible for being dragged into war by Adolph Hitler.”
            To make their case the Austrian provisional government published the Rot-Weiss-Rot Buch as the official version of the Austrian role in World War II, and the official case supporting the Opferdoktrin. The tragedy of the Anschluss and Austrian experience of the War, according to Rot-Weiss-Rot, goes back to the Treaty of Versailles, from which point it takes on all the force of fate.  The dismantling of the lands of the Monarchy had destroyed the dynamics of an intricate imperial economy, and no previously Habsburg state had suffered the consequences more than Austria. Austria had been poor and preoccupied with producing the day to day necessities of life, and so had been helpless against an industrialized Germany. Nazi Germany was the clear evil doer, but there was still blame to be apportioned. That blame would be placed on the Allies, for sitting back and watching as Germany armed, for remaining on the sidelines as German designs on Austria became clear, and for refusing to intervene when the Germans occupied Austria. Given the shared blame of the Allies in Austria’s travails, the thought of Austria being judged by them for any actions during the War was portrayed as unreasonable. Austrian participation in World War II was a result of the Anschluss, which the Allies had borne a legal and moral obligation to stop, only failing to do so through cowardice. In addition, while the Allies showed cowardice in failing to confront Germany, Austria claimed that it was the first free state—and during five years the only state which offered practical resistance to Hitler’s policy of aggression.”  Therefore, the Allies blame of Austria for post-Anschluss sins was the height of hypocrisy. Liberation was no longer being conceptualized as a salvific favor bestowed by the Allies upon Austria, but as a right which Austrians had been unjustly deprived.
                        Austria’s victimhood as laid out in Rot-Weiss-Rot was complete. Abandoned by the rest of the world, they had suffered German invasion and the destruction of their republic. They had struggled against Nazi oppression unaided for years, and at the end of their long suffering, the same nations who had abandoned them to the Germans now made them the villains. The effect of Austria’s documented history of victimhood was the externalization of blame. Austrian participation in the war was rejected as categorically impossible. Certainly, it might be allowed that there had been a small Nazi cache which facilitated the Hitlerite invasion of Austria, but it was an overwhelming minority, and typified by men like Seyss-Inquart, who had already left Austria for Holland—men who abandoned their Austrian heritage to serve the Nazis. But the people of Austria, as a collective and whole, had suffered the ill consequences of pre-war allied policy, the loss of sovereignty, and a long occupation. But not only had they born the occupation, they had also fought like heroes; a swift return to liberty would be the only just outcome.
            The externalization of all blame for Nazi actions complicated the already sticky task of denazification. Prior to the occupation, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union had planned upon embarking on a rigorous campaign to root out Nazism. Under the first Denazification Law passed by the allies, it was illegal for those with previous ties to the Nazi party to vote, hold a public position, teach, or own weapons. Those caught actively participating in National socialist activities would be “subjected to the same force” which they had brought against those who supported anti-Nazi political parties during the War. The first year of the unified Allied program passed without complication. But 1947 saw a split.
            The American Foreign Minister advocated allowing Austria to deal with the Nazis as they saw fit. In laying out his strategy for Austria, he wrote that “the reintegration into the body politic of former nominal [Nazi] party members was an essential condition for the restoration of normalcy in Austria,” and further that “having been wronged, the less implicated Nazis are now entitled to leniency.” All high ranking Nazis having long since been removed from power, these statements signified the end of American pursuit of Austrian denazification.
            And those 487,000 less implicated Nazis were not going to find themselves actively pursued by the government under new Austrian president Karl Renner, or at least not as foes. The number of disenfranchised ex Nazis represented around 12.5% of the eligible Austrian electorate, and it was not lost on the Renner government, that previous members of the NSP would be more likely to side with Renner’s more conservative ÖVP. “The Austrian government wasted no time and issued a general amnesty, “and with that general amnesty “began the unsavory process of competing for Nazi Votes.” In pandering to Nazi votes, candidates of all parties would include the “little Nazis” in the Austrian tale of collective suffering.
            Until the amnesty, the SPÖ had formed a left coalition with the KPÖ, and both parties had generally supported a more rigorous denazification, but with the prospect of ex-Nazis reentering the electorate in large numbers, the SPÖ elected to throw their communist compatriots overboard.  In their 1947 platform, they claimed that “the Socialist Party is a true Austrian National party. The Communist Party is an agent group of the USSR.” The Communist Party is for a bloody way, we for a peaceful one.” The re-inclusion of Nazis into the electorate and the abdication of the Socialists from the leftist coalition also caused a new split in the communist position on the treatment of Nazis. Unable to ignore the large new pool of voters, a segment of the KPÖ tried to reconcile the party to at least a portion of Nazi voters, allowing that they might have been duped into Nazism. This position allowed for a reunification between Austrian communists and their Nazi neighbors.
With the increasing assumption of the Nazis into the victim myth, the victim collective was complete, and no segment of Austrian society remained outside its protection. For one million surviving veterans of the Wehrmacht and their families, for half a million little Nazis, belonging to the Austrian nation now came with immeasurable benefits. To identify oneself as an Austrian, rather than an Austro-German, was to identify oneself as a victim, rather than an aggressor, and as a victim, to receive the full protection which came with that designation. Such a myth, however, came with the disadvantage of subordinating real individual tragedies to what was, in essence, a pragmatic lie. The suffering of Communist resistors, the isolation of principled exiles, and the martyrdom of Austrian Jewry were being assimilated into the same collective victimization with the supposed misery of ex-Nazi party members and SS commandoes.
            The story went largely without internal challenge, because Austrians found themselves closing ranks against the very real danger posed by the Soviet Union. As Austrians were busy chasing Nazi Votes, the Soviet Union was busy classifying the majority of the Austrian population as reactionary anti-Marxists. To Soviet officials, the 1,2 million who had served in the Wehrmacht were a Nazi cadre, the elected government—majority ÖVP—was fascist, and the Amnesty only proved the lingering strength of Austrian Nazism. Soviet officials watched the gross injustice of Nazis allowed to carry on as if nothing had happened. Moreover, in the 1949 yearly report from the Propaganda Department of the Soviet Component of the Allied Commission for Austria, it was repoted that “the Austrian Government not only ignores its duty to the Denazification of the land, but creates conditions favorable to the resurgence of Nazism in Austria.” And Soviet officials still remembered that “no other land occupied by Hitler had been so fast to take up Nazi ideologies,” and they estimated, conservatively, that as many as 600,000 Austrians remained “true believers” in the National Socialist ideal. The Soviets would employ every measure to hinder the emergence of a fascistically inclined Austria.
            And so Austria saw one of the first great battles of the Cold War: a battle without guns, but not without weapons. The battle was fought in the hearts and minds of the Austrian people, and it was fought in print, in radio waves, and in film. Thirty percent of all personnel committed by the Soviet Union to Austria during the ten year occupation were assigned for propaganda and political propagation duties. Despite their enormous commitment of resources, however, communist propaganda failed to make any real impact on the Austrian people. This was often attributed to the large portion of Austrian citizens who might face consequences with the installation of a Soviet backed regime. When Soviets examined their losing position in the propaganda war, they found that “Enemy propaganda was spread daily in approximately 200 newspapers and magazines with circulation greater than two million copies,” as well as the three largest Austrian radio stations, and Western films being shown 10:1 in proportion to soviet films.
            The failure of Soviet propaganda left the Soviets and their KPÖ allies shut out of the political future of Austria. Consequently, they would also be shut out from any decisions regarding how Austrians would remember their past.  Those left in power had opposed stringent denazification. When textbooks were written to teach young Austrians, the version given of the Austrian role in WWII was well sanitized, making no mention of any wrong doing or war crimes perpetrated by Austrians, but propounding a version of history very similar to the one found in Rot-Weiss-Rot. The war memorials built by Austrians to venerate soldiers who fell while fighting in the Wehrmacht would speak of the Helden der Heimat (Heroes of the Fatherland) and of Pflicht, the devotion to duty they had shown. The uncritical portrayal of Austrian soldiers in WWII, and their total divorce from a greater Hitlerite campaign, served to reinforce the myth of a collective Austrian Victimhood.
            The Soviet Union did, however, have a final role to play in the formation of the Austrian Nation. After the rearmament of the West German military in 1953, a new danger loomed in the mind of Soviet politicians. With the large number of ex-Nazis in Austria, the Soviet Union worried about the possibilities of a second German unification. In addition, three fourths of the country was firmly ensconced in the political camp of the Western Allies. Understanding that a political victory was impossible, the Soviets developed a strategy to ensure that Austria would not reunite with Germany, nor end as another Satellite of Western interests. After long negotiations, The Moscow Memorandum of April 15th 1955, laid out the terms for a full Soviet withdrawal and assent to a unfettered Austrian sovereignty. No mention was made of Nazis, the rights of the Austrian communists, or reparations. The only stipulation made by the Soviet delegation, was that Austria must maintain total and permanent neutrality.
            The Austrian Constitution was enacted on May 1st, 1955, and the Parliament passed a constitutional amendment requiring permanent neutrality on the 26th of October—the day the last occupying soldier left Austria. In permanent neutrality, the Austrian people secured to themselves and their posterity something which they had sought since the fall of the Habsburg Empire—it provided them stability.  Newfound independence and security, coupled with autonomy from the spheres of Western or Soviet influence, became a point of pride with Austrians, who exalted in being a small country which could stand on its own authority. But arriving at that point had not been without cost.  The story of Austrian neutrality was “the tale not only of how a tiny country was able to defend its interests successfully on the bargaining table of international politics, but also of the high price it paid for that success: a loss of intellectual consistency and moral rectitude.” With the capstone of Neutrality in place, Austrians felt neither the need, nor the desire to turn once again to the dangerous topic of the Austrian role in WWII. The topic was settled and in the past.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Told by an Idiot, Signifying Nothing....

8:40 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
This will be the last spring I see at IPFW.

The above will seem like an unimportant and insignificant phrase to many of you, but the reality is that I have spent a fair portion more of my life there than many of you could imagine.

In less than a week, or so I imagine, I will watch all the trees burst into blossom for the last time. I will watch as the student body discovers that the air outside is indeed good for breathing, and I will watch the vast, unyielding, landscape of yoga pants bloom into booty-shorts with no intermediate stage.

I  will watch the trees burst into blossom, and they will as gorgeous as they ever have been; even as they have grown more perfect each year since I first arrived.

Campus has changed since my first year. New buildings have risen where there were none, new clubs and groups have formed to meet the social needs of the campus, the student populations has increased in number, and the trees have grown in a way that campus administrators only wish they could grow the profits from the school..

Most of the people I knew the best are gone; through graduation or the simple rigors and difficulty of life, including all of those I liked the best. It is not lonely that I feel, so much as a constant, chafing, impatience. Certainly some of them preceded me only as I completed my first year, but I feel the need to follow them none the less. Every time I work on a seemingly purposeless exercise for one of my less interesting classes,I remind myself that it is for the last time.

And even so, I wait with mixed apprehension and anticipation, as I wait for the blossoms on campus to greet me for the last time. The buds are full, and  I do not imagine I have long to wait before it flowers once more.

And yet, as a person I am basically unchanged. College is supposed to be this grand tansformational process, yet it has taught me that I was a person fully formed, more or less. The new and divers political and moral creeds; I have heard them, but I am unimpressed. should peer pressure and appeals to authority persuade me? I have heard nothing to sway me from the positions I once held. Is liberty and a measure if injustice not better than over-reaching authority and the same? What can one expect from governments of men?

And yet, whether polity or oligarchy wins the fight around me, I wait and watch as the trees of IPFW burst into bloom one more time.

What are grades? I graduate Summa Cum Laude this Spring, and what a lovely piece of paper that will be, but I know cleverer and more ambitious people who have graduated with less, and who will end life with more; at least in wealth, cash prizes, and the like. But am I supposed to be jealous? Do I deserve more, just because I write a nice essay and find the right answers.

Odd though it may seem, even more than graduation and my awards, I look forward to watching the trees bloom on campus.

Is that not boring? I have no transformational story, no 'aha!' moment; that is part of my secret to success; I know of no isolated facts, but only additions into the whole as I see the world. There are not many narratives, but one narrative with many elements.And here is the awful truth of the strange permanence of my world as I come to the end of my college career:

Even as the world springs into blossom, and even as it shall wither away once more, I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will raise up me and all flesh at the last day, and even as we wither, so will he bring us forth in blossom once more.

Is it not appalling that my perception should be discolored by such unreason? But there it is. I am forced to see the hand of God in creation, so that all that I learn merely enters within the scope of a world into which God has died and risen for fallen and sinful men. It is a world in which God forgives my numerous sins shortcomings, as well as all of the shortcomings of those who have come before me.

And yet, in spite of my weaknesses and failures, and the same of all those around me, the trees will burst into blossom on campus before my eyes, one more time, and in beauty that I could never hope to recreate.

I leave campus as the same person as I arrived; Patrick Michael Casey, marked with the highest and only distinction that matters--marked in baptism, marked in the absolution, and marked in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is an odd thought; in almost every discipline I have approached, there is an idea that we understand the individual according to something larger. In politics, one understands precept in relation to first principles, one understands history in relation to history within a greater scope, and language may only be understood within a system of structures of language--a langue and parole--which gives meaning to every utterance. So also, all of our little stories are joined into a greater story.

My story, then, is just one more minor chorus in the ceaseless anthem to the God who lives, Who died, and Who will raise all men on the last day, and bring us all amongst the blossoms of a garden which shall know no end.

So as the world breaks forth into Spring once more, and as I leave campus, I leave as a holy fool; a servant at the table of Jesus Christ, an Acolyte, a dog. But it is enough. I rejoice as God reminds us that he still brings life to our world, and that he will bring us to everlasting life thereafter.

And so I run my course, not in the nihilistic, depressive, mindset that the trees bloom as termination of a biological process that ends in death, but in the hope that it will end as it was always meant to end; in life, and seen through resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I am, perhaps, a little older--I perhaps even fancy myself to be little wiser. Nonetheless, nothing has changed. Jesus lives, and it is enough.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


10:04 PM Posted by Patrick 13 comments
America is not a nation fueled on Christian thought; it is a nation fueled on suppositions of moral superiority.

You think my words too harsh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am about to go where you did not expect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I have no time for the perceived moral superiority.

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

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

Smoking is not wise, but chew on this.

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

The other great attraction is social.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, we can talk.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lazy Sunday

11:37 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Sunday morning began rather later than it normally would have for me. In one way, you could say that the reason was that I hit the snooze button eight times, after--of course--listening to the opening cadences of M.I.A. 8 times, but cutting it off before the acoustic guitar gives way to the electric. In another way, you could say that it was because I was--am?--a lazy bum, and just did not want to drag my carcass out of bed. To some extent, both of the above would be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was my lazy Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Final Semester: First Impressions.

11:06 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
I realize this exercise is not as exciting for everyone else as it is for me, but I feel the need to go through and do my beginning of semester overview, mostly to reflect on what I am into this semester; to organize my thoughts, don't you know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose I should tell them how grateful I am.

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

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

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

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