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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

No Report.

8:22 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
Dear publicly-visible internet diary ego-sink,

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

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

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

All much the same, none of it revolutionary.

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

I don't think I will this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How empty. How sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Is failure really so frightening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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