Everything was Exactly the Way It Was

Last night I turned in my final paper for English, and my finger was hovering above that decisive mouse-click – ‘SUBMIT’ – as if hand and mousepad were like-charged electrons, just trying to keep the hell away from each other. It’s hard to be sure that you’re finished. And that’s the end of English 102. I have final exams left in History and Symbolic Logic, then a summer Biology class. Big wheel keep on turnin’.Big Wheel

You’re all well past this. You’ve been in the classrooms, done the cramming, fretted over the bibliographies, cursed the MLA/APA/Chicago tango, and had your futures in front of you. So it may strike you as a little droll, but how incredible this all is. Doing the work.  Doing well. Being one of the good students. Heck, not even that, but merely being one of the students at all. In high school I was a non-student. A class-skipping idiot with no forward movement, embarrassed to show my face in class, afraid to go home. Every assignment intimidated me, because I already knew I wouldn’t try to do it.  I know what it is like to be lazy, and I don’t think that I was that. It was worse. I was perniciously unproductive. Pointedly, actively opposed to doing what I knew was right. After missing my graduation because I didn’t have enough credits, I hacked through summer school and correspondence courses so that I could get my diploma mailed to me. I swear even the mailman was ashamed of me. I took a few sheepish runs at community college in two different cities, failing or withdrawing from nearly every course I took. And throughout those years I essentially cooked my way around a few different restaurants in Littleton and Ft. Collins, being the roommate that nobody wanted. I’m sure a therapist could suss out the actual underlying reasons: a spoiled boy given to believe that the world would see his talents and come to him without asking anything in return. Or a kid subconsciously so tired of hearing about his potential that he chose to prove everyone wrong. Still, too myopic to realize that not achieving your potential is different from not having potential. Whatever. It’s all shredded cheese now, never to be made into a wheel again.

One day I rode my bike to the Army recruiter.

And now, since April 4th, I’ve written two 5-page papers and one 10-page paper, along with all the attendant outlines and intermediate work. I’ve done over 30 writing assignments and 4 tests for a History class. Burned through two spiral notebooks formulating proofs and taken 8 tests for Symbolic Logic. And, God help me, it was easy. Did I mention that I’m an at-home Dad with nearly 100% of the domestic and landscaping duties, and a dog that’s more work than the furnace in A Christmas Story? This is not complaining. This is not me saying “look at all the shit I have to do.” These things are my duties.  Life is service, and I am honored to do mine. If I had this attitude while I was in the Army, I’d be almost 20 years in right now, and thinking “retire now, or go for Sergeant Major?” But I also wouldn’t be sitting at this table, writing this post, worrying about my children, and doing the planning I should have been doing 20 years ago. I suppose those things could be happening in some form, but it wouldn’t be this one.  And this is the only one I want.

Everything would have been different if none of it was the same. But, as it turns out, everything was exactly the way it was.

It’s a little embarrassing to be doing at 41 what I should have been doing at 21, but I’ll do this until the GI Bill runs out in a few years, and then find a way to a Master’s with any luck. I can live with that.

 

My Dust Jacket

I was just looking the end of this first quarter of college, coming next week. I’ll be kicking off my new future with a 4.0 GPA. It suddenly occurred to me that holy shit, the world is mine. And I have a family. the world is ours. Foreign languages, every job conceivable. You’re never too old to be giddy, never too old to do further right. Sorry, Mom and Dad, that I wasn’t listening to you 25 years ago.

My 8 year old Girl is reading a book about Presidential elections, my 5 year old Boy is making a “sword that transforms into another kind of sword, and sometimes a gun.” I’m measuring infinity in units like the poetic yard and the GigaWaffle (Cool Whip x e9, or something like that). And technology. I just told my speaker to “play jazz for deep thought,” and carried it outside while Miles Davis spun up.  It’s just past 11:00pm. My sleep schedule has shifted since school started, going to bed much later now, as I spend much of my evenings saying goodnight to my kids, then goodnight to my wife, then doing homework. But it’s after 11:00 and I’m just getting drowsy. I submitted an online Philosophy quiz, removed my headphones, and realized in that howling silence of a sleeping house, that there was rain tapping at the window over my shoulder. So I told the speaker to play that jazz, turned off the lights behind me, and stood in the open front door.  Right shoulder leaning against the jamb, feet crossed, and the languid cacophony of the night.  Dogs, sirens, rain. The soft friction of a giant Western Red Cedar across the street.  A hundred feet tall and probably as old, sounding in the whispering night like all of its nested birds are shushing their babies to sleep. It creaks when the wind is stronger.  The fear of God. The sound of traffic is distant, and at this hour it is sporadic. The airplanes cannot be heard over the rain, but their strobing lights give them away as they play tag with Boeing Field, and Seatac farther south. There’s a U-Haul sign all lit up about half a mile off. On a clear day it’s the herald to our view of Mt. Rainier, another hundred miles south and east.

Tomorrow we’ll read poems at the breakfast table. Five or six by Silverstein every morning. I’m at the head of the table with the kids flanking me. We’re in Where the Sidewalk Ends, have already finished A Light in the Attic, and before that we read Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Abstractions and delights (that would make for a nice title to a collection itself). As we start they are seated plainly, but after a verse or two they have gotten to their knees, leaning way in towards the book. Towards the center of the table. Towards me. Our heads nearly touch and call to mind a funny Far Side comic:

Coconut

My daughter can read and she is scanning the words as I say them. My son cannot read and he is scanning my face instead. I am stared at and I stare back and I pause: “Papa needs his coffee.” I love our rituals. They’re always eating before I am (no, L.T., the troops eat first), and as I come to the table I see the book at my place. Set there by The Girl. She’ll put it back after, too, but not until The Boy tucks the dust jacket over the last page we read and closes the book on it, marking our place for tomorrow.

Imperial, Colonial, Memorial

Oxford comma, people of the world.

Looking for the return of these days:

IMG_0025

This started as a Facebook post, but then I remembered that I like to write, and the only thing less credible these days than a blog is Facebook.  There was a time when I told myself that, in order to get back to regular writing, I should note the times that I am about to post to FB, and come to the blog instead. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to resist that vanity of mass exposure and ‘likes,’ and instead face the burden of saying something substantive in a relatively unviewed forum.  But of course, if you have the wit for it, you can say some pretty substantive things in a short FB post, too.  The only problem with that is that you might be the only person who gets it.  What I found out, ultimately, was that the best way to get back to writing regularly is to go take a college English class.  The audience tends to be pretty small, but I’m wearing out my keyboard these last two months. And my brain feels so much more efficient and useful. It’s a whole new world.

Meanwhile, Americans ate a red, white, and blue cupcake for every dead civilian. I gave them the Rape of Nanking.

School.  First quarter in two decades. I think we’re on the verge of week 9 here. 4 weeks to go. Here’s an update:

First, week 4 (maybe 5):

ENGL102: 98.33%
HIST128: 97.5%
PHIL120: 91.07%

Comparison with now:

ENGL102: 98.15%
HIST128: 97.78%
PHIL120: 92.38% (JUST got grades from last week’s homework, and a little bump: 92.49%)

Looks like I got high and stayed high, which I believe is the point of college. Success! I’ll have that Philosophy grade up a point or two before this thing is over. English is fun, the kind of teacher you want to have – lots of work due pretty much all the time, well structured, and pretty uncompromising. I heard a few students, in a concerned but friendly group, asking her the other day: “Does ANYONE get an A in your class?” Those are nice moments. She did give me more credit than I thought I deserved for an outline that I turned in unfinished, but I also proactively followed up with her about it in office hours, and asked for her help.  Also, it wasn’t exactly a tiny little effort, sparsely populated with detail and info.  It was two pages of deep research that contrasted favorably against the other submissions from the class. I just kind of hit a wall with it and didn’t know where to go. And frankly, I panicked.  It was the first point of confusion for me in that class.  I had been so driven, so directed, and then I just got flippin’ sick of voter ID laws and couldn’t find a single way to add interest to the topic. She helped pry me loose and get me going, and while I’m not really using any of her ideas, it was the process that did it. I’ve considered seeing if she really meant to give me full credit, make sure I get the grade I deserve.  But a couple of points on that lightly-weighted assignment, against a 98% overall grade, won’t be much of a difference. Makes as much sense as doing extra credit at this point – posturing more than anything.

My History class may be getting a little tired of me doing things like obliquely defending the Imperialist perspective in Burma. I said that by shooting that damn elephant, Orwell demonstrated the chasm of philosophical sophistication that existed between the British and the Burmans. Kind of takes the guesswork out of colonial relationships. Everyone else did the usual:  white man bad, noble brown people, etc.  Of course imperialism sucked, by and by, but national borders were spreading like peanut shells in a honky-tonk, and imperialism needed time to prove itself a nearly irredeemable hell of impossible harmony. It was not, in my estimation (and in most cases), preemptively evil.  It was opportunistic and optimistic, but as our hindsight tells us, doomed to fail from the outset (after a boatload of initial success, of course).

Then President Obama talked about the bomb, and we were asked to talk about Truman and how, AS EVERYONE KNOWS, the Japanese were begging to surrender, but Truman simply sniggered and nuked them anyway. Meanwhile, Americans ate a red, white, and blue cupcake for every dead civilian. I gave them the Rape of Nanking, “decisive battle,” Japanese civilian militias, all that.  That an American official mentioned that “We had 100,000 people killed in Tokyo in one night, and it had seemingly no effect whatsoever.” That the consensus among the scientists who made the bomb, not the military, was that a low-casualty demonstration over Tokyo Bay would not prove to be a deterrent, and we’d have to just drop one on a city anyway.  Still and ever, America is/was SOEVIL that Truman wasted no thought on murdering 200,000 Japanese civilian and military to show off for Stalin. So much more plausible.

Symbolic logic continues to confound (not an accidental segue).  I’ve had a few video conferences with my instructor, one Anthony Ferucci.  Young, Italian as cannoli, affable and sharp.  That Roman nose, which I think you can say without being accused of racism because Italians are ersatz white people. He’s crammed in a tiny office at the University of Washington, trying to scribble rules of replacement, conditional proofs, indirect proofs, and all manner of other hieroglyphs on a white board in the corner behind him, while I wonder at the bags under my eyes that my image on the laptop shows me. Nothing exhausts my mind like these proofs. Intellectual weight training.

It rains here today, or at least threatens to, as we completely expect on Memorial Day weekend.  The going joke in Seattle is that the sun comes out on July 5th.  As a rule, I don’t like “the going joke” in any given situation. Recycled cleverness is about as true to its source as leftover pasta. However, this one I find myself making when the chance arrives. It tends to fit, and a fella has to fit where he can, too.

 

The Social Justice CSI

If you pay attention and have a healthy instinct for precognitive bullshit, you’re looking forward to this conversation like a lion in the veldt.

The author’s crime is that she perfectly understands her subject.

Years ago, when I was in my writing heyday, my posts were family-forward.  Often, they were poetic and fluid and flirting with sentimentality to a degree that I think I stayed fair of.  I so very badly wanted to be nice, always thinking I could say something important and be rightly understood while still invoking an artistic pathos that could, hopefully, pardon me for the crime of trying to make a point.  I remain committed to being understood, though I am losing some of my interest in being pardoned.

I’ve been reading articles about the heavy ideological orthodoxy in American colleges for a couple of years now.  It has been easy to read the articles and shake my head, all concerned, tell myself that I can teach my kids to see through it, and generally wish it weren’t so.  But when I realized that I was more likely to talk my teeth out of bed than convince anyone around me that it mattered, I decided to go back to school.  Of course, it would be absurd for that to be the only reason.  It would be absurd and far too egomaniacal to go to college just because nobody was listening.  Unless that’s simply another deflection, built in a world unwilling to be told anything.  Unless getting people to listen was exactly the best reason to go to college.

There’s really only two occasions for not listening to something.  One is that you are distracted. The other is that you know you are wrong.  I think the majority of our social tension stems from the fact that fundamentally and frighteningly, an awful lot of people are backing away from their realizations that they are about a cell wall away from being proven inexorably wrong.  Liberal America is a society quivering at the recognition that it’s being found out, and with black lives matter and transgender bathrooms and safe zones and disinvitations, it is littering the sky with chaff as it retreats.

I have no idea what role I am playing in this retreat.  Some cynical cossack, maybe, hoping to cut off and isolate the fleeing ideologues wherever I can.  Whatever the case, I’m in it now, having not so much jumped in feet first as broken the surface from below.  An apologetic periscope.  Today, after a few weeks of chasing light skirmishes, I spied the armada.

This submission was the flagship, and it is what I saw in class.  If you are a liberal, you know what’s wrong with it before you’ve even read it. If you are conservative, you probably don’t know what’s wrong with it at all (aside from being a bad read).  If, however, you are a conservative who pays attention and has a healthy instinct for precognitive bullshit, you are looking forward to this conversation like a lion in the veldt.  It all came from one paragraph of a three-paragraph introduction that we were asked to analyze for:

Language elements
Thesis statement
Set up for follow-on paper structure

First, the paragraph:

“Learning more about the differences in communication styles between men and women will aid in the more successful sending and receiving of messages, both verbal and nonverbal. For example, a woman may communicate in a way that has meaning to her. However, the man receiving the message may interpret it differently than she intended due to their differences in communication style. This can cause conflict and lead to further problems in the relationship. However, if the man decoding the message were familiar with his wife’s style of communication, he may have interpreted it properly therefore avoiding a conflict situation. The reverse, when men are communicating to women, is also true. Husbands and wives are interdependent, and their level of commitment and desire to maintain a healthy relationship often depends on the other person (Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 2008). ”

The glaring atrocity in that paragraph is not, as you might have guessed, the terribly incompetent citation at the end.  The atrocity, as any liberal – and my English class, but I repeat myself – would have noticed right away, is that this paragraph is a detailed manifesto of anti-gay bigotry and hatred.  To say “husband and wife” is to say that there can be no other arrangement. It is, in a word, offensive.  It’s a paper about the ways that communication can affect a marriage, and all it took was one mention in one paragraph on one page of an example wherein a man is married to a woman, to make this an offensive piece worthy of discussing in English class from that perspective. Communication and marriage health, which were the aim of the paper, are now off the table. The paper is meaningless as written, and suddenly only has value as a minutiae-laden narrative in the marriage debate.

Imagine, by those standards, if I say “this guy was driving his Chevy Suburban down the road when he ran a red light because he was texting on his iPhone.” We would have to conclude that:

  1. Only men drive.
  2. Only Chevy Suburbans can be driven.
  3. All traffic lights are red.
  4. All cell phone use is texting.
  5. All cell phones are iPhones.
  6. I hate every human who suggests a condition other than those above.

What a way to view the world.

 

It takes work to actually eradicate the usefulness of reality altogether.

Can you get your mind around the guided ideological acrobatics it takes to turn that paragraph into culture crime?  To be able to read that paragraph and scream “REPUBLICAN CHRISTIAN BIGOT?” It could be kind of laughable, except that it’s damaging.  And it’s intentional.  You have to be taught to do that, to read it as my class did – to read it through the eyes of a Social Justice CSI – and to abandon intellectual rigor and intellectual honesty.  You have to be taught to do that, because we are not, by nature, that cognitively antagonistic.  We want and look for things to make sense, and it takes work to make us stop doing that.  It takes work to make us actively ignore the good sense of our ordered reality, and choose instead a substitute that is painful and destructive.  It takes work to actually eradicate the usefulness of reality altogether. It takes work to choose a path that is antithetical to our instincts to survive.  It has to be approached, considered, planned, and carried out.  And it’s being done, on purpose, supposedly because our instincts are wrong.  What hamartia. What incredibly proud miasma.

Once that work has been done, the only possible outcome is to create more angry people who are not on topic anymore.  This poor girl’s paper has a topic, but it has been rendered meaningless. All the more impressive, if only speculative, is that as she is a college student, there is a better than 90% likelihood that she is the ideological twin of my classmates (Heterodox Academy is an amazing place to learn more about this).  If she is liberal like they are, you can bank on the fact that she did not, accidentally or otherwise, write a paper denouncing gay marriage.  But that information is a layer or two beneath the surface, swimming around with things like attention, evidence, and context.  Who she is and what the paper actually says are instantly rendered second-tier details, because the first words build a path to social commentary. This reaction, this interpretation of a slice of a thing independent of the actual content and theme which it accompanies illustrates the disproportionate importance placed on conscience over merit.

We did manage to spend about 5 minutes on the thesis statement, but the rest was lost in a little quagmire of unsupportable accusations.  I can usually see these things coming, but my radar must have been jammed today, because I was shaken when this discussion actually became about the author’s offensive exclusion of same-sex marriage. Not her refutation or criticism of it (which would not have happened because it wasn’t her topic), but simply about how offensive it was that she didn’t mention it. I’m not kidding you.  Classmates were, by verbal declaration, offended by it.  The teacher even asked – you know how people do when they’re asking while nodding their heads up and down for pre-affirmation – “is anyone offended by this?” The simple omission of a mention of same sex marriage becomes synonymous with condemnation of same sex marriage. And it’s grounds for personal offense.  Omission is all it takes.  I’ve written about this before, years ago, and I’m not alone.  It’s been said time and again that in today’s violently accusatory world, the only way to be innocent of a crime is to protest it, actively and loudly.  You are racist, for instance, if you are just hanging around and being not racist.  You only stop being racist when you are marching in a parade against it. And even then, check your privilege.

I hope you’re still reading, because here is the spotlight moment.  Here is the dye in the vein, the mass on the scan:  This paper was written in 2014.  A year or so before Obergefell, and therefore a year or so before there was any way to characterize marriage other than as a heterosexual union.  For this author to have written her paper with a nod to same sex marriage would have been like writing a paper on football by saying it is played on horseback in a baseball stadium.  But there’s your ordered reality, eschewed and forgotten for the cause.  Which means what, exactly?  It means that in this case, according to the retreating culture, the author’s crime is that she perfectly understands her subject.

I’ll drive on.  I have to.  I’m too good not to.  But this was certainly an eye-opener, only four weeks into a community college associate’s program.  There are rough seas ahead. The necessity to maintain generosity and virtue is not lost me, so I think a lot and pray a little on my consequent behavior, knowing that I can do good, even with these people. Especially with these people.  My team is whoever is around me.

Sloppy Thinking

You’ll get this in a minute.  Or two:

“I’ve never understood it, and it speaks so poorly of you.”

It’s important first to understand why that quote matters.  Why it matters to have something speak poorly of you.  Seriously.  We’re in a world where wrong is relative.  I want to scream just typing that.  Wrong is relative.  Wrong is not always the same.  Wrong depends on circumstance.  To depend upon something means to be determined or influenced by it.  In a world where wrong depends on circumstance, there can be no honesty.  Because honesty needs – honesty depends upon – consistency.  Honesty is determined and influenced by consistency.  But to a relativist, right and wrong depend upon circumstance.  Every time a circumstance changes, a thing that is wrong has the capacity to become un-wrong.  Everything that is wrong has the capacity, depending upon circumstance, to become right.  This cannot be considered consistent, and therefore cannot be considered honest. And so we’re back to the quote:

“I’ve never understood it, and it speaks so poorly of you.”

In a relativist world, whether something speaks poorly of you depends on circumstance.  Which, as I’ve established, means that it can’t ever matter.  What does that mean, anyway to have something speak poorly of you?  It means that through your actions, you’ve created a sort of signpost that you hold in front of yourself that says “liar,” or “jerk” or “hypocrite.”  It means that you carry indignity before you wherever you go.  If you’ve been told that something speaks poorly of you, you can bank on the fact that you’ve done something wrong. However, we’re still in this world where wrong can be right, humiliation can be dignity, and shame can be pride. You can be told that something speaks poorly of you, but you don’t have to care.  All you have to do is say so.

In nearly every educational facility in America, they are saying so.

I know, I’m the conservative you haven’t unfriended on Facebook yet. The conservative who doesn’t “constantly post that Republican crap.” I’m posting that Republican crap right now.  Please understand, when someone has a lot of posts that are not in agreement with you, that does not constitute hostility. It is exactly what you are doing, so please be a little more generous.  Do you have any idea, any idea at all, how many slaps in the face I endure every day from your untethered “likes” of Huffpo and NYT and (oh God, save me) John Oliver links?  Do you get that?  And by untethered, I mean that you don’t do anything except click the “like” button.  You never explain yourself, never lay claim to any sort of thinking you have done on the subject.  You’ve just clicked ‘like’ in the social media equivalent of “so there.”  Please explain yourself, because guess what?  Most of the time, I click on those articles and read them.  I do you that favor.  But it’s not a favor, at all.  A favor is defined as “an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.”  For me to read the articles you like is not beyond what is due or usual.  It is exactly what is due and usual. I owe you that as a matter of course.  We owe each other that as a matter of course.  But if you don’t care what’s right and wrong, that doesn’t matter much.

Having said all that…

There’s not much to this post, but watch the two minutes (less, actually!) of video. It’s video! YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ ANYTHING!

Steven Crowder has gotten plenty of play for his rant at UMass during this presentation about political correctness gone mad, because it has that “epic smackdown” kind of feel to it.  But after watching this, I think it’s more important to give less than two minutes to Milo Yiannopoulos, the Catholic Greek Conservative who also happens to be queer as a three dollar bill, while he gives a very level-headed summary of the campus virus.  The video should start right up at 44:16.  Give it a listen from there until 46:10.

 

 

Morning Breath

The plump little rabbit under the creosote bush did as next to nothing as possible.

20160421_071447

 

This morning I watched while a coyote asked some innocent questions of four recalcitrant deer.  The coyote was alone, and one of the young ladies was kind enough to step closer, probably to be sure she would be heard over the sound of melting snow and exhaling sage.

“Excuse me,” the little dog began.

The group of deer looked plainly put out already, so they gathered and drew mental straws to appoint a spokesdoe. She turned half to him – a lesser show of respect could hardly have been arranged – and said “indeed.”

Coy-dog lifted a paw and twitched a tall ear.  His mien was all apprehension. “No, I just, I don’t know… Why did you say ‘indeed?'”

The deer turned back, half-lidded eyes under the shade of the foothills.  She nibbled a columbine flower and said “why wouldn’t I?”

“Right.  That’s fair.”

Little happened for a moment or two, save the scratching of a squirrel at the cold bark of a pine.  An aspen branch jumped up, relieved of its heavy load of wet Spring snow.  The plump little rabbit under the creosote bush did as next to nothing as possible.  The coyote put his paw down, twitched his other ear in a way that looked like he didn’t mean to, and started:

“I was just -” the deer turned in no hurry and stepped twice towards the coyote.  He loaded his haunches and glanced behind him, then back at the deer, and continued “-just wanting to wish you a good morning.”

“Indeed.”

The coyote turned back and carried his heavy tail down through the buffalo grass, away from the cresting sun.  The deer, for some reason, waited a few minutes and then followed.

20160421_122705

 

 

 

Who Made the Summer

It’s around here somewhere.

This is one of my all-time favorites, and something I think about every time it gets hot for the first time.  My parents had sent me a picture a few years back of a roughly 3 year-old me, drinking from the hose, limbs all exposed to the sun. It’s around here somewhere, that picture, complete with a big, tacky, inflatable pool wrecking the grass underneath. We do our best to give our kids the kind of summers that we hope we can keep remembering. They try to legislate it all away, but they have no power against the family.

It’s around here somewhere, that summer.

 

“Papa, can I have a drink?”
“Of course you can, sweetie.”

In 1978 the water from the hose tasted like metal, and it didn’t scare anybody. Now it tastes like water, but he’s told that there’s something dangerous in the hose – don’t give it to your children. Lead, they say. We’ve been 35 years filtering and cleaning and protecting and irradiating the water for you, so now it isn’t safe because nobody thought about the hose.

“One day, someone will tell you that you can’t. Someone will always tell you that you can’t.”

“Will he be right?”

“In a way – in his way he will think he is right. In his way he will know he is right and he’ll have numbers and articles and so-called facts to make sure he keeps knowing how right he is. But his way is only really there for making you scared of something, and you can be as sure as the grass going brown that if he has children, they drink from the hose when he is out here telling you not to.”

“What does he think is wrong with the water?”

“That it is full of things that you can’t handle without getting sick, and that he can make those things disappear by making you feel lousy about them. He thinks this because he doesn’t know that you come from the same place as the water, or that you both come from the same place as the summer.”

“And my brother, too. Where’s that place, Papa?”

“That’s a tough one to answer, sweetie. I only know it’s all the same, and that even if I never know it all the way, I come closest when I’m closest to your Ma.”

In 1978, Mother clipped a shirt to the line and didn’t hear the conversation, because in 1978 the conversation didn’t happen. She just held open the patio door, and put the boy out there to find the summer in the business end of a garden hose.