Just Some Encouragement

Do you ever look back and wish you could do something over? The decision to date that person in high school, perhaps? That thing you blurted out because you were way too tired that irreperably damaged a friendship? Perhaps it’s something bigger, like your major in college, or the career path you feel locked into now. At the end of the day, despite a veiled claim by an ex-girlfriend, I think that everyone regrets something.

Initially, I’d say that I regret the story arc more than individual plot points. That is, I wish I had held a fundamentally different perception of my compass heading. The reason for this is that I was constantly moving from one box of a compartmentalized life to another for years, working from the starting point that I had to choose one and stay with it if I ever wanted to be anything when I grew up. Thus, I just tasted everything on the buffet, thinking that doing so was part of a decision to choose my permanent entree. This mindset began toward the end of my college career, when I was pressured by well-meaning loved ones to exit stage left from the production of trying different things and decide on something that would earn a living. Thus, the compartmentalization began.

Only shortly before I began grad school did I experience my first inkling that life is more holistic than that. I think that wrestling through that was a huge part of my graduate studies, one that informed my research, and for which I am so much better off now. You might even call me more enlightened. In any case, I feel as though I’m emerging from the other end, and recognizing that a holistic worldview leads to an interdisciplinary academic pursuit. And I can’t even describe the freedom that comes when you stop trying to decide which one of your million interests you want to nail yourself down to pursue, and realize that they are all just different ways in which to see the others, different ways to overlap and illumine each other.

I know, I know, I’ve written about this (too) exhaustively here, but I’m a firm believer. So go pick up those extra interests you’ve always wanted to devote more time to, recognize that a job is just a job and maybe, just maybe, careers are illusions. In fact, try something new, just for the fun of it. Don’t even lock yourself into one type of pursuit (science or art, right-brained or left-brained). Exercise the muscles on the other side. You may discover yourself to be like me, and completely mathematically clueless. Or, you might discover that you’re the next Renaissance man or woman.

Give something a try! And I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Spinning the Story…or Not…

War is a horrible thing. I fall into the school of thought that nobody wins a war, but somebody loses. However, war does happen, and when it does, we need to learn from events that occur. Thus the discipline of history becomes indispensable to any culture. Here’s the thing with history, though: in order to be truly useful, it must be taught completely and present the whole truth.

Now, before I write more, I’ll offer the disclaimer up front that I’m no historian, and I don’t claim to be. I know only as much as anyone who recognizes the importance of knowing the events that brought us to where we are. For in-depth questions, I ask my friends who study history. Some things, however, are glaringly obvious.

Recently, the National D-Day Memorial, located in Bedford, Virginia, installed a bust of Joseph Stalin, because he is associated with Operation Overlord. And, wow, did everyone get really pissed off. Protesters lined up, and one person quoted said something about how horrible it was to have Stalin in their back yard, or something like that. The general consensus: how dare a national memorial recognize and honor a Soviet dictator who was responsible for the deaths of millions? After all, Stalin was initially an ally of Nazi Germany, and only decided to enter the war on the side of the Allies after Hitler violated their non-aggression pact. And, as those who protest the statue are quick to point out, no Soviet troops were involved in Operation Overlord. Thus, no bust of Stalin has any business in a national memorial commemorating the lives lost in that offensive.

There’s a couple of glaring issues, here. First off, the placement of a bust of a historical figure in a national memorial isn’t necessarily meant to honor that person, and immediately claiming that it does any such thing is a leap in logic. In fact, I don’t think you can really get there from here. The foundation operating the D-Day Memorial placed a plaque with the bust identifying Stalin as a “genocidal dictator” and all-around not-so-pleasant person. Secondly, even as dramatically as history is generally distorted when taught in the U.S., I don’t think anyone really has a positive impression of Stalin…at least not anyone who has spent any time in a history textbook. The D-Day Memorial Foundation has stated that they are merely marking Stalin’s involvement in the war. Stalin was involved in D-Day in the planning stages, and was in fact instrumental, along with Roosevelt and Churchill, in formulating the concept of Operation Overlord.  Historians have debated why he did this, and his motivations in the war in general. As far as this particular bust is concerned, however, no one is using it to attempt to argue that Stalin joined the Allies with noble intentions. The purpose of the bust is simply to say that he did join the Allies on this occasion. That’s an objective fact. That’s history.

To omit Stalin from the story of D-Day, the sacrifices involved in it’s implementation, and the horrific loss of life that occurred that day, would be to tell a partial history because of a moral value judgment. Good history, however, is like good journalism: give the facts. Leave the value judgements to the ethicists and theologians, and tell the events exactly, as best we can, the way they occurred.

Those who are protesting the bust of Stalin should step back and realize that the purpose of the statue is not to honor a homicidal dictator, but to point out objectively that he played a role in the planning stages of D-Day. Doing so does not, as the petition in this blog claims, enter the realm of “misinformation” or “distortion.” In fact, omitting Stalin from a narrative of D-Day would be engaging in misinformation and distortion. Nor does the bust’s placement dishonor the soldiers who served in that operation, or in that war. To honor those who lived through it, perhaps we should focus on getting the story as accurate as we can. This is an attempt at a complete telling of a historical event.

That happens infrequently in the U.S., and perhaps around the world in general.

I’m disturbed that such a vocal opposition is raised because someone is attempting to do so.


There are moments when I don’t believe that “ADHD” exists.

Truly, I don’t. I tend to suspect that it is either a label we’ve created to excuse certain behaviors, to provide an excuse to “treat” normal behaviors that we prefer to not deal with, or (at my conspiracy theorist best) an invention of pharmaceutical manufacturers so that they have a lucrative method of treatment to market. All of these make sense to me depending on the timing: “It’s not your fault, you have a disorder” makes us more comfortable, “Tired of dealing with your child? Perhaps he has a disorder” excuses poor parenting, and “Difficulty dealing with your hyper-intense lifestyle? We have a pill for that!” makes unscrupulous people very wealthy. The times when I acknowledge the possibility of its existence, however, I recognize that it’s a demon of our own design. We’re attempting to discover ways to slay the dragon that we just might have created for ourselves.

Walk with me, if you’re not unduly disturbed, into my odd fascination with the profession of law enforcement.  Mostly, I’m fascinated with the field because of their cool vehicles and toys. Decades ago (and less than that, I believe, in European countries…perhaps still in other parts of the globe), a single spinning blue bubble atop a vehicle in our rearview grabbed our attention, alerting us that we needed to stop to let an emergency responder by, or perhaps answer for our disregard of the white sign warning of “55” (all too often the latter in my post-college days). Today, emergency vehicles utilize million-candlepower LED lights that flare with so much warning power that they can be seen for blocks.

Why do emergency responders require so much more illuminating efforts to gain our attention? One of my theories is that there is so much more ambient noise. Driving down a local street a few days ago, I passed two garish digital displays, one on either side of the street, grabbing the attention of motorists and directing it to the businesses using them, along with displaying the weather and various other information. Of course, this must be identified and digested by your brain along with the podcast you’re listening to, the text message you have just received (of course you wouldn’t do that behind the wheel!), and the directions that the sexy British voice on your GPS is giving you about your upcoming turn (or is that just me?) As our over-stimulation increases, the amount of stimuli required to acquire our attention from the rest of the landscape increases proportionately. The more urban the area, the “louder” the landscape.

As I have consciously attempted to balance my affinity for technology with space for quiet and contemplation during grad school and beyond, this article in the New York Times certainly leapt out from the landscape. I have actually begun to notice my ability to initially focus on a novel without my attention drifting to be on the decline. Eventually, I become drawn into the story, but my initial focus is more easily interrupted.

Will this be similar to the hearing loss I’ve experienced from too many concerts? I mean, that I’ve lost attention span, and can only work with what I have left, as the Times article claims? That’s disturbing to me. What to do? I intentionally avoid “push” services for email and tweets and so forth: I want to know the information when I want to know it, but I don’t want it to come to me.

Have we lapsed into the role of serving our technology instead of the technology serving us? Perhaps we’ve received one too many treatments? If we have, what alternatives do we have to minimize the damage? Let me know: in what ways do you streamline the information?

Or should we just take a pill for that?

Photo Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/webhostingreview/


Last week, while visiting my fellow-blogger Katherine in Washington, D.C., we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. We did this because…well, because I have to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe whenever it’s an option. I just have to. Otherwise the universe could implode.

Don’t laugh. It could happen.

After dinner, we stepped out onto the corner of E and 10th Streets, and I heard a familiar song drifting toward us:

I applauded at the end of the song. Passersby were dropping tips into the man’s saxophone case. I think I made eye contact with him briefly (it was difficult to tell because of the hat, but he noticed I was taking video), and we walked back to our hotel.

When we were checking out of our hotel the next day, we passed a housekeeping staff in the hallway. She smiled, and we smiled, and said “hello.” Nothing really more than that, but hopefully enough to have some positive effect on her day.

Driving back to Virginia from D.C. that afternoon, Karen and I pulled over at a chain restaurant for dinner. We were famished. As it was still only late afternoon, the restaurant was far from crowded, and we had our choice of seats. I remember the waitress more than the food: she caught my eye. Not in a lusting sort of way, but just in the way that she made eye contact and smiled and genuinely conversed, if only in an attempt to understand our order, and was a very beautiful woman.  What leaves me a bit disconcerted this evening is that I can’t remember her name.

I can come close: I believe it was Rachel, if I had to guess. I just don’t know for certain. I’m not wondering because I wanted her number of anything juvenile like that…I’m not the unfaithful type. And, realistically, I doubt anyone would think less of me for not remembering the name of a woman who waited my table once in my life at a restaurant to which I’ll likely never return.  But it bothers me. The reason it bothers me is because she was engaging, and bright. She wore what looked like an engagement ring. I was just curious about her life, because I wanted her to be in momentary recollection as a fellow human being, not just a woman who waited my table. She has a life, a story, passions, and dreams. They’re none of my business, and I don’t really want to go so far as to know them specifically, but I want to know that she has them. I don’t ever want to forget that. Nor do I want to forget that about the sax player that gifted me with his music, or any of the other people that I encounter on a daily basis that are looked upon, whether we like to admit it or not, as lesser in station because of their jobs, their educational levels, or (God help us) their ancestry or heritage. So often, we treat them as though they were there to serve us menially…as though that were their identity, instead of their employment.

We left tips for the housekeeping staff at our hotel, as well as for the valet who parked and retrieved the car. I once heard it said that how well you tip is the measure of how good a person you are, but I don’t think that it can be reduced to a monetary value. I think that’s just a trite way by which our materialistic culture chooses to try to quantify mutual respect and engagement. We’re culturally conditioned, at the end of the day, to look over certain people, to glance past their humanity. In fact, we’re culturally conditioned to look beyond everyone’s humanity while driving, it seems. I don’t want to look on a fellow human being as being somehow less because their employment involves waiting on me at a restaurant (I’ve been on the other side of the food counter in my life…it alters your perspective), or cleaning the hotel room I’ve just used, or any number of other jobs. Jobs that are respectable employment, that earn a living, and that any of us might find ourselves doing at any point.

A professor friend once spoke to me of the city where she lived while teaching at a certain institution of higher learning. She said that, in that city of which the school took a huge part, there was a great lack of professional employment, and that it was not at all uncommon to have your table waited by someone with a PhD. In fact, I’ve known professors who worked as baristas during the evening to make ends meet. And, lest we forget, the stereotype of the actor waiting tables during the day while they try to sell the screenplay they’ve written on the side exists for a reason.

Employment is a means to an end. Certainly, being able to do what we love is an ideal situation, but all of us will have at least some period of time in which we are not able to do that. Hopefully, those moments will lead us to respect everyone regardless of their perceived position on the social ladder, and not to look down that ladder as time passes.

And, as for the artist, a saxophone solo on the corner is just as valid any symphony. The payment doesn’t have to be with money.


I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten to meet someone in person that I’ve previously only conversed with online. This weekend, I had a chance to meet a long-time fellow-blogger, Katherine, in Washington, D.C. This doesn’t happen very often, and it is a very cool experience to finally meet someone personally that you have known virtually for years. Bloggers, unite!

While we were there, we had a chance to visit, among other things, the International Spy Museum, and several monuments. I’m not going to lie: I wanted to visit the Spy Museum to see James Bond sorts of gadgets. I wasn’t disappointed. As with any museum, you learn a great deal. The experience was an education in history I’ve known and forgotten, history of which I knew little, and history that I’ve never known at all (I am, after all, a product of mostly public education, and we know how well they do history).

The Spy Museum begins by talking about how critical secrets are to governments, and moves to the premise that, in order to understand history, you have to know the history behind the history. Therein is the realm of the spies. The stories of deception and the knowledge that spies look like everyone next to us, as well as how events in history unfolded because of secrets that were leaked, smuggled, and otherwise divulged, moved me beyond my love of intrigue in espionage novels. There’s an exhibit on propaganda that will leave you shaking your head in stunning realization. There’s an exhibit on the formation of the KGB, by whom spying was turned inward for the first time, that will make you cringe.

The next day, Karen and I visited some monuments that she had never seen. I haven’t been to D.C. since I was an undergrad, so the visit was just as impactful for me as it had been the first time. Years ago, I walked the length of the Vietnam Memorial to gain some appreciation for the war into which my father was drafted. Monuments, of course are erected to commemorate a person or an event. For example, the Lincoln Memorial points not only to the President, but also to his positive contributions to American history…a sign, more than a symbol. Enormous crowds of people pressed in on all of the memorials on Monday, in commemoration of Memorial Day, and I imagine many of them being as I was for many years of my life…reading a thankful patriotism into the history with which the monuments connect us. And I’m not saying that’s wrong. I was just left to ponder man’s desire for power, a power gained by keeping secrets, secrets that cause perpetual violence and war. Perhaps those things will always be with us in our mortal lives. I still like the intrigue (The real life Aston Martin was incredible for those of us who are James Bond fans), but knowing that a harsh reality is the basis for the fiction causes me to see past the intrigue, into shadows of a humanity always poising itself for power over itself.

The fiction we can put away when we go to bed at night. The reality is something with which we must always live, and moreso the consequences of that reality. In doing so, perhaps we realize that our monuments portray, at once, both the dark and the light that walk together through history.