19 April 2016

Five Things My Dad Probably Never Meant to Teach Me

Author’s note: I wrote this a few months before I found out that my wife and I were having our firstborn. Now that I’ve been a father for over a year at this point, I can say with certainty that all of these life lessons have given me the tools I have needed to be an outstanding dad to my own son. And hopefully I will accidentally teach him the same things my own father inadvertently taught me.

     Although I have virtually no experience with raising children, being a parent strikes me as one of the most knotty things a person can attempt in a lifetime. Fundamentally, you become responsible for raising someone to become a normal, functioning, and productive adult, and after working with kids of all ages as a teacher, I’ve come to realize that kids, in general, are fairly mediocre at things like listening, understanding, and knowing where their bodily fluids should go. I’m sure I was no exception.
     Over the years, I know my dad tried to teach me important things by telling them to me. I, of course, can’t remember a single one of those important things. Instead, like a reporter clinging to any wildly out-of-context remark, I have assembled a patchwork of little things my dad has taught me that, even though they often didn’t seem important at the time, crystallized certain ideas in my mind.

02 May 2015

How To Soothe Baby – An Insider’s Perspective

There is no doubt in my mind that some sort of cosmic baby lottery exists. Some people, like most of our friends, hit the baby jackpot: their children are happy, they’re healthy, and they’re quiet – often. Other people, like my wife and I, lose the baby lottery – or maybe it’s more appropriate to say that we bought a ticket and ended up being one integer away from every winning number. Our child is healthy (and very good looking), which is such an amazing comfort and relief. However, he is a loud, angry scream factory who demands nothing less than an all-consuming, undivided attention just to keep him from reaching a particular shrill frequency in his cries that literally causes our dogs to start barking.

06 April 2015

The Unintended Consequences of Better Home Security

     In the same way that I was in some small way relieved to receive my first A- during my freshman year of high school, I am just a little bit glad that our first break-in occurred only a couple weeks after we moved into our first house. It was nothing truly serious – probably just a few punk teenagers looking for cigarettes – but we did have our car and garage broken into. This also came as no real surprise.

16 September 2013

Changing a Tire the Frustrating Way

     In the middle of April, it rained for two weeks straight. I was teaching a remedial English class at a campus thirty miles away and was required to give a standardized, three-part exam one week early. I dropped my fiancé off at home in a downpour and was right on schedule. I only had ten minutes of leeway in my commute, but I had never been late to class, even in the middle of Michigan’s unreliable winter.
     I was on the phone with my friend J. when I hit a microwave-sized pothole. For a few milliseconds, it sounded and felt like Thor was trying to golf my car out of the rough with Mjölnir.

27 February 2013

YGOD - An Airport Story

Author's note: I wrote this back in 2010. I made a few revisions, mostly grammatical stuff, today, so I figured I'd throw it up on the blog. It's not great, but it has its moments. I never did send it to U.S. Airways...

     The day started out so well. I woke up next to a beautiful girl on a pullout bed in a D.C. hotel room. It’s not what you think. It is six in the morning and she has to get ready for work. Another friend of mine and her mom, in the bed seven feet away from us, have to get ready to travel back to Chicago. I pull a pillow over my head and hope I can get back to sleep before all the lights start turning on and the hairdryers start whining.
       They wake me up an hour later. I stumble around trying to decide if I should eat breakfast and then take a shower or vice versa. This is a difficult decision when you’re trying to fight out of the hazy cocoon of drowsiness. I take my shower, decide that blue plaid best reflects my mood, and head downstairs to eat a waffle with E., H., and B. Small talk predominates; the moments leading up to goodbyes are always profoundly awkward: everyone wants to say something meaningful, but no one wants to acknowledge that the time they’ve spent together is coming to an end. We all tacitly agree not to make a big deal out of separating.

28 January 2013

Becoming a Good Teacher in a Few Simple Steps

Author's note: this essay started as a three-page assignment I was working on with my class almost three years ago (I try to write all the assignments I make my students write). It got a little carried away. I'm not 100% sure I agree with me-from-the-past about everything, but I'm still teaching and loving it, even though the compensation is, well, insulting. Enjoy!

            As it turns out, a lot of idiots and morons get involved in trying to become teachers. In fact, there is a strong possibility that you had several teachers over the course of your educational career who barely passed their education or content classes in college. There is certainly a cavalcade of reasons for this lack of intelligence among teachers. Iowa, for example, has no G.P.A. requirement for entrance into the education program for their state. It might also be true that stupid people just want to become teachers. One source online claims that “today’s K-12 teachers have the lowest average SAT scores of people in any professional occupation” (Nemko). While I generally consider myself outside the categories of “idiots” and “morons” (there is a subtle difference between the two terms, particularly as they were applied in early psychological diagnoses, and most would agree that knowing this puts me outside of both categories), I actually received a C+ in Calculus II and a D- in my final history thesis seminar during my undergraduate experience. There may be perfectly legitimate explanations for these anomalies in my academic career (how else does one explain my almost-perfect, straight-A educational background, my 4.0 M.A. grade point, or my well-above-average GRE percentile scores?), but I certainly encountered a fair share of, well, dummies while I went through the tortuous process of becoming an educator, and the scene hasn’t changed much now that I teach college writing as an adjunct.

23 December 2012

Milton and Science: Depictions of the Universe and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Paradise Lost

            For being a poem about “Man’s first disobedience,” John Milton’s Paradise Lost contains a great deal of scientific discourse. There are a few scientific oddities in the poem, such as Adam understanding how the sun’s “gathered beams / Reflected may with matter sere foment” through a lens, considering the earliest known lens, of unknown purpose, dates to around 3000 BC (Milton 10:1070-1071; Kramer). Adam’s avid interest in and grasp of cosmology also seems unusual or perhaps implausible given his short lifespan of about a month. Despite their eccentricity, such anachronisms function as narrative inroads that Milton uses to address some of the salient and controversial scientific issues of his day. Ultimately, the different ways Milton depicts the universe of Paradise Lost provide valuable insight into what he is trying to say about the pursuit of knowledge and what he means by “Man’s first disobedience.”

“Alas, who may truste thys world?”: Malory’s Conception of Earthly Knighthood and Christian Living

Author's note: my ideas about Malory’s work have shifted quite a bit since I wrote this essay, and a good deal of evidence from Le Morte Darthur suggests exactly the opposite of what I assert in this piece: though Le Morte Darthur is explicitly religious, almost exclusively promulgating the ideals of Christian living, a strong, fundamental undercurrent throughout the work suggests that it is the earthly life of the knights and, by extension, earthly life in general that matters most to Malory; the continual focus on Lancelot, Galahad’s relative inactivity in the narrative, and the consistent reduction of didactic proselytizing from his source material suggests that Malory’s main priority in the Morte is not to disseminate any kind of overtly religious message. Furthermore, the genre within which Malory is working, primarily that of romance, glorifies adventure, heroism, magic, and amorous relationships, ideas that frequently run contrary to Christian idealism.
            While Sir Thomas Malory does not explicitly declare his overarching purpose for writing Le Morte Darthur anywhere within his text, his narrative about Arthur and the knights of the Round Table follows a clear trajectory showing the decline of earthly knighthood and the ascendency of Christian living. The drastic nature of this progression is seen through the circumstances in the first and last few pages of Le Morte Darthur: the book begins by describing a king besieging the castle of a rival warlord while also seeking the aid of a magician in order to ravish the warlord’s attractive wife, and the book ends with the remnant of Round Table knights discarding their arms and devoting the remainder of their life to the church. Between these two drastically opposed circumstances is a gradual progression from secular to Christian that involves all the characters in Malory’s work and culminates in a peaceful restoration of order brought about by the Round Table knights’ unequivocal devotion to heavenly, Christian living.

"Occupy" Etymology and the Occupy Movement

            Those of us interested in how the words we use every day arrived in the lexicon are a unique and, well, strange bunch. Most digging into etymology just reveals old meanings and forms of words long forgotten, but once in a while that digging can inform modern usage in unexpected ways. The history of the word “occupy,” for example, evidences a bit of both the archaic and the unusual.
            Unbeknownst to most people, we are constantly throwing around words that at one time referred to things of a sexual nature. Few realize that saying something is “quaint” would have shocked those of Chaucer’s day since the word originally referred to certain, generally unmentionable, parts of the female anatomy that Andrew Marvell may or may not have been aware of when he explained that “worms shall try / that long preserv’d virginity, / And your quaint honour turn to dust” (lines 27-29). Like the ignorant and unaware first-time homeowners describing their quaint dream homes, the Occupy protesters are probably blissfully unaware of the older, more tawdry meaning of their movement’s moniker.

Wanderlust: A Short Journey

“On a walking tour you are absolutely detached. You stop where you like and go on when you like. As long as it lasts you need consider no one and consult no one but yourself” – C. S. Lewis’ Dr. Ransom

      Optimistically, I make something like six dollars per hour of actual work as an adjunct English professor. I’m sure people close to me are sick of hearing about this by now, but I keep hoping that someone somewhere will someday do something about this. As a result of my low wages, my fiancé and I share a car that she pays for entirely because she is incredibly generous and makes a little bit (read: about five times) more than I do. Once in a while, our schedules become so convoluted that there is no possible way for us to share the car and both get to our destinations. On one particular day, I was going to have a formal informal meeting with one of my bosses. With the vague idea that my fiancé had an appointment of some kind, I ended up suggesting a lunch meeting at a location close to the place we work. This location also happens to be fairly close to where I live. By fairly close, I mean a little over two miles. 

23 September 2012

Ruins and Ruin: The Temple to Poseidon

       If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it shouldn’t be difficult to write a few pages about any photograph that comes my way, especially since I’m an English professor. The particular photo I’m attempting to translate into prose is of a structure left in ruins. By virtue of having been there and actually taken the photograph, I know that it was once a Greek temple to Poseidon. The photo, however, shows little more than a few remaining pillars of what was once a grand edifice overlooking the Aegean Sea, a symbol to all of the power, wealth, and awesomeness of a people and their god.
       I took a lot of pictures that day. I was in Europe traveling with my cousin, V., and my dear friend E. We had flown in to Paris; traveled to and through Croatia; taken a frigid, frustrating, forty-hour, capricious train ride through Bulgaria and a number of other countries; and arrived at the temple of Poseidon during a day trip on which our host’s friend T. was taking us. It was nearing sundown when we parked the car and started to walk up the hill, though it was more a gently-sloped, rocky mountain. There was not much to see, structurally, once we got to the temple, but the view was breathtaking.

22 September 2012

The Worst Part About Traveling: Other Tourists

       Since I first purchased a digital camera, I have taken well over 100,000 photos. This is symptomatic of a deep-seated desire for perfection in almost everything I do. Where I used to stand around for several seconds, minutes, and, on more than one occasion, hours composing a shot and waiting for the perfect moment to click the shutter, I now stand around for several seconds, minutes, and sometimes even hours composing a shot and waiting for the perfect moment to take a hundred pictures in quick succession. All the time that this and other compulsions (I am also an inordinately detailed journalizer) take up when I am traveling tends to annoy even the most amiable of traveling companions.
       One of my worst, or possibly best, photographing habits, however, is waiting for all other tourists to clear out of my pictures before I take them. A bird here or there is sometimes acceptable, but a full-blown human in the midst of a composition is right out. When you visit national landmarks, this photographic tick can be extremely time consuming; e.g., I was at the Louvre trying to get a decent shot of the Venus de Milo, and despite the fact that there were about thirty people milling about, I arranged the shot and took it when several people were passing exactly behind the statue. It took about thirty minutes, but the room looks completely abandoned in my picture and it is glorious.

The Most Dangerous Game: Jeopardy?

Aside from military personnel and doctors, I’m fairly certain that teachers have the most harrowing initiating experience into their field: student teaching. You spend an inordinate amount of your college career in education courses, almost always more than in your major area of study, and you don’t really learn anything about teaching because you’re too busy making posters with magic markers and being affirmed by positive thinkers. The classroom observations and experiences in which you’re required to participate are really only vague, cloudy representations of what teaching is actually like. You have to prepare and teach one lesson for one hour; any chump off the street could do that. You need to design a week’s worth of course material and teach that; almost any chump off the street could do that. Once you get to student teaching, however, the requirements exponentially compound and you are, seemingly out of the blue, expected to plan for and execute nine weeks of teaching a full load of classes with students you've never met, and you have essentially no supervision or oversight. Granted, that is how my student teaching experience was. I had many classmates who were given all of their materials and who only taught for two or three weeks on their own with their supervising teacher flitting around the classroom like a fairy godmother; I suppose their teachers took a more loose interpretation of “nine week internship” than the ex-military, decades-of-teaching veterans who supervised my student teaching and who were moderately disappointed that they didn't get me hammered before parent-teacher conferences.

14 September 2012

I'm a Writer, not a Philosopher; or, Ownership and Identity: Resolving the Problem of Theseus’ Ship

Author's note: I write all the assignments I give out to my students, and this is my version of one of the writing assignments I gave to the students in my Advanced Composition class. Although not the most interesting thing I've ever written, it illustrates the basic trajectory of an argumentative essay and provides good examples of all the essential parts of any paper.

     What does it mean to own something? Does ownership even matter when something already has an established identity? In the case of Theseus’ ship, a philosophical problem based on the exploits of a Greek hero, concepts of ownership and identity become extremely unstable. Using the most fundamental definition of ownership, however, clarifies some of the trickier elements in this classic philosophical problem and shows that whoever is in possession of an object is ultimately responsible for its value and safety regardless of its symbolic identity.

31 August 2012

Guns, Ammo, and All Things American

      Only a few feet away from my face, the effects of the gun blast were devastating. I was completely deaf for several seconds. All I could hear was a simultaneous cacophony of ringing and muffled soundlessness like someone clapped thick earmuffs on my head. I looked over at my dad, holding his ears, and could clearly see that he was talking, but it sounded like he was far away, talking through a thick scarf. It was the first round I shot out of my new gun, and I never made the mistake of forgoing ear protection again. The weeks leading up to that day were full of research, inner debate, paperwork, shopping, and bumbling around as I asked silly questions around weirdly knowledgeable individuals. I learned a great deal about guns, laws, and people during those weeks, and I discovered that acquiring a gun is much easier than I had ever suspected, laws are much less strict than I had ever imagined, and shooting a gun is much more fun than I had ever expected.