In Consideration of 20 Somethings, Christine Hassler’s Manifesto

 

I picked up Hassler’s 20 Something Manifesto: Quarter- Lifers Speak Out about Who They Are, What They Want and How to Get It(2008) as an experiment, just to see the differences between my time in 20 Something and the experience of X and Y types. I was born a war baby, but due to my extended time as a professional student and sophomoric intellectual, I fell onto the early fringe of the Boomers. To typecast me, use Benjamin Braddock, anti-hero of The Graduate.

I’m glad to have read Hassler’s observations on the stories of young American men and women circa 2008. I wish I’d had a read like this when I was twenty or so and I wonder what Benjy Braddock would have done with it. Benjy and I were dedicated to existential drift. We had plenty of passion and we were muddled by it. I’m afraid Benjy and I were too entitled to have read a guide like Hassler’s. Looking back, especially given my shyness and lack of high school social life, I might have learned what the other kids were feeling and sensing. I was a loner and there was no program, however accurate it was, called “Friends.”

Hassler’s 20 somethings, whether they are passionate about good grades or not, know they should be. I was Beta Club in high school and placed in the Ohio physics test. No one fussed much. Dad probably figured it was an aberration. My physics teacher, passionate about mentoring his kids and pets, told me to look into engineering. I blew him off. I thought I liked English more — nothing more than that. For the most part high school bored me and I passed hours in revery walking the hillsides and riding my bike worrying about being bored and why I couldn’t fit in like the other kids. Today’s parents would knock such dreaminess out of their kids.

And I suppose that is the biggest difference between my time in 20 Something and that of the X’s and Y’s. It was the late Fifties and while I and my cohorts did think about career and success, we also took it for granted — plastics would always be out there if and when we got around to it. A job, if that’s all you wanted or even a career awaited us in the real world. I knew I’d have to face it one day, but I was in no hurry to work for the Man.

My dad pretty much let his sons figure out their own lives. In my case there was concern that I never would. I had two, squared-away brothers before me. Dad was an electrical engineer who set his goal when he was eleven in 1911. Because I was not as quick in math as he was, I felt low in his estimation. If not overly patient, Dad did help me with algebra, geometry and physics. Dad worried but did not meddle. Unlike today my parents hovered no helicopters over my activities and destiny. My stepmother stood watch to ensure that I would keep my instrument in my pants, safe from the hands of earthy farm girls. She was terrified I might find a fateful hay mow before I got to Ohio State. “The trouble with this small town,” said she, “is preoccupation with sex and babies.  — the earlier, the better.” Other than that she wanted me to play a good game of bridge, tennis and golf. When I dated a Jewish girl, her brow furrowed as it did when I spoke well of John Kenneth Galbraith and John Maynard Keynes.

At Ohio State my eyes were opened by Professor Kettler in political science who told of his stay in Buchenwald and shyly showed his prisoner number to reinforce the poignancy of his lecture. There was also Harvey Goldberg, history professor, whose lecture on the Storming of the Bastille over flowed his classroom with one-time auditors. Much to my parents druthers, the liberal arts changed me. And while I have never completely shed my Republican, Waspish heritage, a liberal streak, despite some back sliding, has only gotten wider over the years. Books and learning utterly changed my world view. Actually, they gave me one. However sophomoric I am sure I felt much more weltschmerz in the Sixties than most X’s and Y’s in their time. I did not think at all about creating wealth. Global angst was de rigueur for an aware person. What was to come in the late Sixties and Seventies sounded clarion notes notes in Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, even The Kingston Trio.

In the late Fifties employers just wanted college graduates and they wanted them bad enough to assign an English major on-the-job, finance training. There were plenty of men in my fraternity who had clear goals to be a vet, an MD, a lawyer or to just climb on the corporate bus to success. I studied next to my big brother who was set on landscape architecture. In those times having more expectations than goals was more accepted, concerning but not critical — at least not immediately. Today, everybody from parents to educators to the afflicted person herself wants the searcher to get well quickly.

After I finished college and didn’t know what to do, I went to OCS and became a Naval officer, hoping four years on the bounding main would shape me up — perhaps make me a Navy lifer. I was game for that if it worked. In Hassler’s sampling, no one tried or even mentioned the military as a viable action. Fully half my twenties I passed in the Navy. In the service I thought I learned what I did not want to do. As time passed and after I met Myers-Briggs, I questioned that conclusion and decided that a Navy career would have been a very wise choice. I miss the sea.

When Alexandra, one of Hassler’s 20 something’s was 24, she was thinking about her “headiness” — actually she was making a frontal assault on that ruminative beach. At her age I was well into my failing marriage and leaving the Navy. Like Alexandra I indulged in analyzing, brow furrowing, and asking for too many opinions from too many people. Like her I wanted to divide myself into multiple persons, each of whom could take a test run at every pathway that appealed. In one I wanted to go back into the Navy.   In another I wsnted to go to grad school. On another road I wanted to find a decent job and make an effort at being a family man complete with mortgage and car payments. I wanted to want to be the pleaser of a woman longing for children and the picket fence — just like dear old Dad had done. As for Alexandra the potion“ of worrisome headiness caused low energy, bitterness and the urge to just give up. It fostered Mittyesque fantasies about career for me, but they were not funny like Walter’s. Like her I willed some trust in myself, left the marriage and went back to grad school. I had begun reading Henry James and totally immersing myself in books — more headiness of course, but of a different kind. I passed hours browsing bookstores. I was being the thorough introvert I knew I was and making no apologies for it. I thoroughly earned the disgust of my parents. I didn’t like the disgust, but the rebellion was good for me. Guilt mounted. Once back in classes with books, professors and inquiring minds (I fancied), I felt happiness for the first time in a long time. I let my feelings validate this act of self-trust. That was a rare moment for an INTP.

Erin, at the ripe age of 27 felt she should be doing more with her life. After nearly seven decades on the planet, I feel I should have done more with my life and have felt so for most of my life. Erin had taken her dancing talent to New York and returned vanquished. Erin was living with her parents and crying a lot. I was living in a crappy studio apartment behind an equipment rental business, driving a little Honda 55. living on cube steaks, Kraft cheese dinners, washed down with Hanley beer at 89 cents per six pack. She was crying a lot. I cried a little, made a girl friend and found myself thriving on a fancied visit to bohemia. I lit out for Czechoslovakia after Prague Spring and studied French for eight weeks in the Pyrenees.

In the Fall I started my MA. Erin experienced Hassler’s Expectation Hangover at a comparable age. I was full of expectation about my new plan to be a professor of English, but my Expectation Hangover was on the way. Erin was paying off debt and feeling like a failure on the threshold of 30, comparing herself to friends and feeling miserably full of regret. I compared myself, of course, to models nearly impossible for yours truly to emulate.  I still  waged a putative battle against materialism. It went on too long and tended to throw out the good of personal success with the bad of human greed.  Delayed adolescence was upon me in those days — a necessary passage regardless of tardy onset. I was an introverted rebel with a false cause. I only denied myself, and punished myself for God only knows what. The Red Convertible has many forms. My little Honda trail bike was red and I rode like a knight on his steed.  I had achieved delightful anonymity. But Erin and I struggled with how to end regret.

Hassler’s answer is simple. Stop it. But it’s like drinking. Regret induces a melancholy and the feeling of might have been is not far removed from might be. Regreter forgets it’s only a memory, The result is perverted hope. The habit becomes an insidious companion, a punishing, perverse demon chasing one around on a bewildering, evil and bleak landscape. Dear Regreter, run away, read a poem, whatever, but find an angel and stop it. Remember that hope was the work of a trickster god named Prometheus.

At three times the age of the current young, I am amazed that a constitutionally flaky person like myself has survived into retirement that includes a nice home in a pleasant city. How it has happened I’m not quite sure for I have functioned more on expectations than disciplined goal setting and methodical performance. Shame! Shame! Having a very good Friend upstairs has had much to do with it. I have never been a good list maker or box checker — perhaps I am impossibly thrilled by surprise.  And, Friends, it is too late to start box checking in all but modest ways.

I do, however, recommend an attentive reading of Hassler’s Expectation Hangover Treatment and Protcction Plan. It has taken me years to learn to take steps, not leaps. Reactive leaps have been my specialty. While I visited “comparison land,” my INTJ/P nature has always been driven by my own ground of being. As a result, hell and high water came unto me. I have belatedly learned to expect nothing from anyone, however.

Unfortunately I still find myself expecting others to read my mind. Bluntness, considered virtue in 2008, is not a family trait either. I’m not anxiously awaiting others to tell me I am fabulous. Deluding myself of my own fabulous nature, keeps me going. The present is the best place to live. Remind, remind, remind yourself of that. I always thought living in New England or New York would be cool. But there’s nothing like a blazing summer in Kansas and the sunsets are astonishing and too many fly over types go through life without seeing one. I could be somewhere else, but I am here and as is often said, “Someone has to live in Kansas.” Aha comes in small packages. There’s nothing like a new toothbrush.

I’ve always been a Humanities man who calls on drama, novels, poetry, philosophy, art and scripture for answers and guidance. Being Hamlet would be a bummer, I know. We’re both Pisces, though, so I have a fondness for the Prince of Denmark. For years in my effete way, I scoffed at the behavioral school and the self-help crowd. Then one day in executive training and feeling misfit as a chamber executive, I met Myers-Briggs which, of course, led me to Jung et cetera. I always go to the deep end of the pool. If I had known at twenty that I was INTP (if I even was INTP at twenty), I wonder what I might have done with the knowledge. I might have tried to be more feeling and sensing, but — most likely I’d have blown it off like the cavalier I was. But now, I’m a believer in coaching, even red-faced, passionate athletic coaching which I never experienced and wish I had. A good assessment, a coach’s ire or a comeuppance is a good thing for a person. Every time I have tried defiance, like Ahab I have met a white whale.

So I recommend Christine Hassler’s 20 Something Manifesto for young and old, foolish and wise. Besides, you’ll understand the 20 somethings better. But for getting in touch with one’s personal myth, I recommend the experience of Myers-Briggs assessment. It’s fun, revealing to say the least, and makes for great conversation.

Still — I go to poetry. When I was young I met T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, I determined never to be like Prufrock and then I decided that a hollow man is no person to be. Becoming a full man has been my task and a formidable one. I work at it still. In the end only God can judge relative “hollowness” in human beings. He was the Engineer after all and I’m not going to condemn the Engineer’s work.

I do know that Hassler and the self-aware 20 somethings in reaching for fullness are searching like the poet into the shadow that falls between motion and act. The shadow is deep, dense and deep teal in color and requires a lifetime of shedding light underwater. As long as a person wants her life to be meaningful, there will always be expectation hangover. These hangovers occur on either side of optimism in the lands of panic and fear, on a tour of personal progress the tour begins in either land. Age and experience may decrease the hangover’s intensity and duration but, O Youth, if you are sentient, expectation hangovers never go away — if you drink life. Eventually they become solitary, post-disappointment debriefings, i.e. talking to one’s self. When they disappear completely, you won’t be here anymore.

“I move that . . . “ is only a procedural gesture, a notion or dangling idea looking for support and wherewithal. Between mere gesture and performance lies will and willfulness and intense focus. And then comes accomplishment. Making something happen marks the victory. I understand the sea tortoise is quite fast underwater and the closer he swims to the top, the more light he finds until  — POW! — he bursts through, and cracks the surface into light and air.  He gulps and dives deep again; hangovers, yes, but eventually some celebration.

Steadfast and cautious,

 

The Tortoise

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perseverance Out of Time

This moment will not last. See, already past

and another moment, come and gone. See that! Flown.

Another one’s gone, too, and you hardly missed it — until youth fled.


Perceiving moments in time requires watching

And knowing the big hand from the little hand.

And what of the millisecond, microsecond, nanosecond,

picosecond et cetera ad infinitum?


If I knew nothing of number and language: abstractions,

my day would be a dog’s day — marked by bowls clanking to the floor,

full and empty, empty and full — per what? Per care from hands that feed?

Or scavenge and quarry per what? Chance.


If I had no watch, there’d still be routine and random, fear and hope and panic,

passings told by no per what I’d know. What of repetition?

Or when called for dinner or bedtime, variety synched with event?

Who’d know — perhaps sun, moon, stars et cetera. Regularity?

Would menses be discrete or by moon? The moon one, permanent.

The sun one, permanent — both per sight, day and night? But regular?

Who’d know? What’s the interval?


Would I know perseverance? Yes, by drive: to  eat, to sleep, to cover —luck and duck.

Look out for low-hanging birdhouses. Keep your eyes open. Watch your footfalls.

Shit in the grass! Be wary. Why? Just keep your wits, son.


So why worry? Would I like a dog’s life?

 

David Milliken


 

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Ghost of My Failure Past: the PhD Octopus

For more than thirty-eight years I have been haunted by a failure . that has tinctured my life. Counseled by some to “just get over it,” I am only now seeing the ghost vanishing slowly behind me  in a mirror, but it recedes ever so slowly, too slowly at the pace of a tortoise. I want this specter to disappear from my life. Perhaps final demise depends upon this offering to cyberspace, an effort to save another PhD wannabe from a similar fate.

My ordeal battling the PhD Octopus occurred from 1970 through 1973 at a Midwestern, land-grant university I will call Stiltmoor State. While passing time and other careers have brought a measure of peace — enough for me to admit that a 20 something put himself into his own predicament — I would have preferred to be a professor today. I’d have been a good one, a teaching professor. At least that was my dream. However, there were causes of my failure to become another Mr. Chips and I want to reveal them. The particular PhD program itself is long since dead; and all emotion aside, deservedly so.

Therefore, I offer my caveat emptor. Because the University progresses no faster than the tortoise, much of what I experienced still goes on. And while schools have created Doctors of Arts programs for the teaching professional or better focused the PhD on teaching, the old, excruciating, academic, medieval dragon waits in his cave for the next knight in armor.

Perspective for my story goes back to 1903 when William James, brother of Henry James, wrote “The PhD Octopus,” for The Harvard Review.  James wrote his paper because he was concerned about the “tyrannical Machine” of graduate education and the growing obsession with examinations, diplomas and “decorative titles.” He feared that the American university could lose its openness to individuality and encourage a machine that would throttle personal independence. Jacques Barzun in his History of the American University(1968) said, “That octopus . . . has not relaxed a single one of its tentacles; rather, it has grown additional ones.” Barzun’s statement occurred in 1968 just five years before I bilged out of PhD School. Corey Olds most recently 1n 2009 has written “My ‘Miserably Naked Name: The Ph.D. Octopus Is Alive and Well.”

I encourage anyone considering a PhD program to read these and other articles on this arduous ordeal. Research on success and failure in graduate study is available from schools of education — and less likely from the academic disciplines themselves. The latter remain above it all. Read and then if you choose to venture into PhD Land, choose your university well. Not only did I make a miserable selection, but I picked a start up program at a mediocre English department. The vet school, however, was excellent and the football fanatical.

James referred to three types of graduate students. At the top are people who complete with ease, the great ordeals in life. These students are “naturally born” for professional success like natural athletes. Examinations do not terrify them. Their spiritual and worldly interests remain unaffected by sacred rituals. They might take a law degree, and then pop over to the medical school and wind up with an MD as well, and on schedule, hippity hoppity. I was decidedly not in this group. Frankly I don’t know why any of this class would ever have gone to low-prestige Stiltmoor State University, unless like me they had no alternative for financial reasons.  Taking out a private loan never occurred to me. In those days I had no awareness of the crucial importance of graduate school prestige in one’s career.

James’ second class of students are not as gifted as those in the first group, but somehow they still rise to the challenge and get a ‘stimulus from the difficulty.’ James says there are some among the cannon fodder “for whom to pass one degree after another seems the limit of earthly aspiration. A professor’s advice does not discourage them. They will fail, and go away to recuperate, and then present themselves for another ordeal, and sometimes prolong the process into middle life. Or else, if they are less heroic morally they will accept the failure as a sentence of doom that they are not fit, and are broken-spirited men thereafter.”

My heroic morality lasted only through the allotted two chances to pass prelims. Intellectual stimulus from literary ideas worked far better for me than the difficulties of an academic program.  My priorities were askew and thus, I fell among the cannon fodder certainly, but I didn’t fit perfectly into any of the classes.

While I was found “not fit” by the Committee, passing one degree after another has never appealed to me. Gauntlets have never inspired me with the competitive spirit. I had my Masters from a student-oriented institution I loved. In contrast my Stilty State professors had no effective advice to offer or they held their tongues. Only at the end one said, “There used to be a place for someone in your position, but unfortunately the market is very tight. Small liberal arts colleges don’t have to settle for a Master’s degree or Ab D (All but Dissertation). Good luck.”

I wasn’t even a certified AbD.   I had only a certified packet of course transcripts and a 3.7 GPA;  oh yes, and the memory of one professor’s recommendation to publish one of my papers on Shelley. I have read since that spending too much time on class work can be fatal in PhD school, but I always enjoyed writing papers and I put much time and effort into them — time that would have been better spent on memorization and data storage.

Thus, I fit James’ third group in my lack of “native force,” but I exclude myself from not having “marked originality.” In evidence I cite notations on papers praising my “imaginative insight.” For example,  I was good at associating ideas and relating, say Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy” to America in the late Sixties.  I knew that in strict scholarly terms, association of ideas ranked low as marked originality — despite the fact that association lies at the heart of poetry. To be markedly original one must be William Empson developing the concept of The Seven Ambiguities of Literary Criticism. No one on the Stiltmoor faculty swam in Empsonian waters. (Later on I found some solace in the fact that a disillusioned Matt Arnold, one of my heroes,  slogged through a dull career as inspector of schools without benefit of a doctorate.)  In all my papers I was, if not original (and who really is), at least inventive. I was rather persistent and stubborn, but that’s not what James meant by “native force.” I was  willfully strenuous at best. Third groupers are fond of truth, study and books — here I finally fit. My cohort ranks as cannon fodder of the wars of learning — chair à canon as James puts it.”

My mood was improving when in 1973 I began re-inventing myself as a community college public information officer. There was hope. At least I was in post-secondary education, if not higher education. I hoped for a course or two to teach, but administrators were denied the chance. As an Idaho State friend of mine did, I might have started a doctoral program in communications, but I was utterly exhausted by my ordeal and could not immediately start another. And I was fed up with preparing. Besides, a proper job was in order.

Some Stiltmoor faculty maintained that GRE scores alone should not exclude a potentially fine professor. Stiltmoor, having said this, then utterly ignored the possibility that the English Department, might bear some responsibility for individualized mentoring, i.e. taking an interest in the student’s idiosyncrasies, and at least helping a man stay within the white safety stripes and guard rails. In truth Stiltmoor recruited its annual yearly chattel of teaching assistants, pre-MA’s and pre-PhD’s, and unleashed them on the freshmen. The senior faculty in order to publish and not perish were thus enabled to pursue the academic preferment of their fancy. Unfortunately Stilty State typified the profession-wide boondoggle.

Throughout the entire three years I felt like an outsider and, for a little while an unabashed one. Some said I was a little cavalier in my attitude. If true, perhaps I was reacting to my sense of isolation. I just did not fit. Behind my failure in PhD school lie elements of youthful ignorance, radical behavior and bull-headedness which I admit.  I was not an humble supplicant at the altar of erudition.

Once my faults are taken  into account, there remain questions of why I received positive comments and high marks on graduate papers and then was rejected by the examining committee.  Before I left I posed just this question and heard in response, “Well, we talk a lot about this in our meetings.” Silence.  Certainly a faculty of PhD’s, successful survivors of the ordeal themselves, could have seen behavioral warning signs and spoken up.  I heard not a word of admonition. Periodic performance reviews did not exist. Why didn’t the system filter me out sooner so that I might have got on with another life? They knew that most of their GTA’s were miserable and even established a liaison committee to improve morale and continued to chat in closed meetings — or didn’t. Many of us ultimately concluded that misery was part of silent harassment. A few smarter folks baled out. I tried to transfer but there was no assistant ship available. It did not even occur to me to take out a private loan.

James greatest fears have been realized. University faculties are responsible for creating this new class of ‘social failures.’ I am not among them now nor in their trap which ‘intends to pass no man who has not native intellectual distinction.’ That’s what William James said of Harvard. In some equally twisted form I have no doubt that the attitude prevailed at Stiltmoor State University as well. James also said critically that ‘we at Harvard are proud of the number of candidates whom we reject, and of the inability of men who are not distingué in intellect to pass our tests.’ I do not regard myself as a social failure. Stiltmoor State was a social failure.

Quickly from my point of view I cannot tell anyone whether grad school is for her or not. For me, as far as credentialing or enhancing my income or copping better employment, my three years pursuing the PhD in English literature were wasted. I had every research skill I needed by the end of my Master’s program. Unfortunately I elected to hold the pencil harder.  I’m afraid I was badly spoiled by my previous institutions and faculties where amidst hard work there had been joy of learning — even some laughter. Because I had prevailed before, I assumed I would again. I admit my ignorance of the realities of the institutional, academic life. Mr. Chips world disappeared long ago if it ever existed.

Stiltmoor State, of course, had a library and I did benefit personally from more books and writing. In an otherwise stultifying atmosphere of academic pretension, I recall with greatest pleasure my courses in 19th Century British Literature, my projected area of specialization — especially The Romantic Movement. The Augustans or Neo-classicists of the 18th Century? Well, I found them august; and satire has never much appealed to me, even though at Idaho State I wrote my thesis on the first four novels of John Barth. Given time and application I hoped to appreciate them better. The Metaphysicals like Marvel and Donne? Oh, one day in the quiet of my cellar room I’ll return to them. I might have been wise then to become a journalist — seeing that Addison and Steele produced literature. But that’s useless hindsight. In an otherwise grim society one professor of Old and Medieval English provided warmth and humor. He seemed to have a whole other life. Alas, now I remember only a line from Deor: “Thaes ofeorode, Thisses swa maeg,which means “That passed away, so may this.”

The good friend at Idaho State wound up teaching English in a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts — pretty close to the ideal I had imagined. Hindsight again. In fact, later on when I entered PR, I taught myself a journalistic style. An MFA might have been another avenue or even rhetoric and composition. But no, I decided to slog on and try to finish what I had started. How many times can a man start over? I pondered.

I let myself be trapped. I also think that the faculty at Stilty knew they had sold out to this Mandarin system. And it seems to me there had to be some cynicism in setting up a new doctoral program in an already glutted market. But I was there too, an enabler of sorts, a buyer. They had to have known they were guilty of malpractice — especially related to a certain type of student.

But I learned to beware of the poo pah of the academic effete. The pretentious, high nose of erudition can be very cruel. And Stiltmoor State  University was its home and still is metaphorically speaking. A little research well after my failure revealed that many universities like Northwestern and Columbia take greater care with pedagogy at the graduate level. Some attempt to reveal the real demands of university career building. Many schools design programs with checkpoints of progress. In addition some sensibly break twelve centuries of  literature into manageable pieces. Like law schools they take stock in one’s ability to look something up — far more important than a pedantic memory bank.

Once at Stilty I said to a don, “Then I should assume I need to know everything from Beowulf through Arthur Miller ?” “Yes,” came the reply, “and in depth and breadth and a little Faulkner would be wise.  Memorize the Cambridge history and don’t forget the best of literary criticism.” Had I known at the time, I might have selected one of those universities that permit a measure of specialization between the completion of credit requirements and prelims.  Question is, would any of them have been interested in taking a man from Bench Three?   Probably not.

I came out okay, but I’ve had to repair a broken spirit. A sense of the damage has never left me and never will. You can usually tell when a car has been through a major accident. There are signs that disappear only in final demolition and recycling — tough to do with a human being. In the mean time the damage is permanent. Just like a once-wrecked car, my frame’s a little twisted. I consistently pull a little to the left and I shall never have even tire wear.

At this juncture a natural tendency would be to serve  up  some woe is me and wring my  hands over what might have been.  I will not do that.  First, I have already done so to the extent necessary. Privately and alone I have had my excesses. I will not do it again. The brink of despair isn’t fun. Eventually the cud must be expectorated and rumination ceased.  Some stuff cannot be or should not be digested.  Second, it is not the way of the wise tortoise to pass hours in lamentation. The clock ticks and I must get on with new activity.  Third, that’s the way God made the world and I will not challenge his design. Professor Larry Rice at Idaho State, a Milton scholar, once advised me to submit. “I submit, Larry.”

I can’t blame anyone for not having in Emerson’s term “a perfect intelligence of me” (although Larry Rice came pretty close). I did not have sufficient intelligence of myself — even at thirty-one. And I’ve taught enough to know that no teacher can predict or perfect a student’s performance or savvy. No professor is responsible for developing anyone’s self understanding. I do think they might have made some effort, however, to salvage a 3.7 failure and one whose insight impressed them. Basic humanity can be sorely lacking in the academic Humanities. There was no reality at Stilty State — only my delusions butting against quietus. Something was wrong and it needed fixing.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken


HERE ARE SOME SITES TO VISIT:

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7661357/a-phd-in-the-humanities.  This is animated and worth the visit.  Wish I’d seen it years ago.

http://www.whitecoatblackhat.com/academicfailure/. An amusing, satirical view of the whole process.  A budding grad student should not miss this, while there’s still time.

http://matt.might.net/articles/successful-phd-students/.  Three requirements of a Ph.D. student.

 

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Honey Dipping

Spending hours in front of this computer has been driving me a little bonkers and from what I’ve been reading,

sedentary life itself can be bad for health.   For exercise on a regular basis I roust out my two terriers for bladder and other alimentary calls whereupon I take a turn or two about the yard.  Terriers are ready for action at any moment, especially a saunter on the lawn with their master. They oblige me.

And I look for other tasks about the house, little chores I can break into smaller assignments like sweeping the Chevy side of the garage one day and the Suzuki side on another.  And last winter I shoveled snow from the patio which  used to  wait upon the natural thaw. Trucking the snow in a wheelbarrow and dumping huge barrow-shaped hunks on the lawn proved diverting; and I had to clear a path into the yard for the wheel barrow. In that exercise I  directed the routine  of my pets defecation. At one point I had a virtual labyrinth of paths in the whiteness.

Soon I was realizing an entirely new ritual for me, my pups and my better health — not to mention sanitation.  The ritual revealed finer points I could not have imagined.  Honey dipping refers to activities in the culinary arts and sexual arts (some of them perverse in my opinion — stuff that even my terriers and self-respecting tortoises would find repulsive), but it also refers to the service of cleaning septic tanks which grew out of the honey dipper’s trade in early America.  The honey dipper used to show up on a regular basis to “dip the honey” from  outhouses.  I presume the rates were scaled according to one, two and three holer sites.  I work for nothing.

Thus, around our place, I assiduously apply “honey dipping” to cleaning dog dung from the yard. I have become quite the expert and become as accustomed to organic odors as any farmer.  I began after the first heavy snowfall. Embarrasingly I confess to gleaning nearly a small bucketful first time around, but I have risen to the task since the initial backlog. An extensive challenge has developed into perfecting do-do maintenance and removal.

Proper implements  make for better differences in my craft.  I began with a shovel, but that required multiple trips to either the hole I had dug or to a special receptacle suitable to meet the finicky standards of our recycling company. When the hole proved unworkable in frozen ground, I  started lining one of those  plastic potting containers with a trash bag.  Cold weather, of course, enabled me to collect matter with nary an offensive odor from the plastic bag which after each deposit I clamped with a heavy duty paper clip. However, I tired of messing with a shovel which proved cumbersome and involved a special trips to the garage.  In my attention to the details of my art, I eschewed exercise.  Artists  get that way.

So I cut the bottom out of  an half-gallon bleach container and started scooping with a small garden trowel.  That worked, but did not meet my standards of tidy perfection.  We’re going for a Sigma Seven quality rating here. Then in a brillant insight I thought of plastic salad tongs which my wife found a little disgusting; nevertheless, she returned with a set from the market.  They worked parfaitement! They were particularly useful in the snow.  Later on, with practice I have been able to develop a twisting, single motion of the wrist permitting capture of an entire pile.

All useful work is honorable and in this case a very green activity.  I confess, though, in moments of irreverent, orneryness to launching one or two missles over the back fence into the weedy and brambled easement.  Success in this requires getting exactly the right trajectory and releasing the tongs at the precise moment to fully maximize lift.

Like life itself the dipping of canine honey is not an exact activity.  The best one can do is shoot for maximum, approximate perfection.   There will always be a miniscule crumb or two that escapes my finest work. My pursuit is relentless.

If you find me an oddball in these finer pursuits, you should visit the research of a Japanese scientist seeking to develop  the turd burger.  I leave this pursuit to others.

Cautious and steadfast,

The Tortoise

 

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Can Americans Be Friends?

I’ve stolen the idea for this blog from Albert Camus.  In 1945 he gave a speech to L’Amitié Française (French Friendship) called “Defense of Intelligence.”  Camus speaks about the third word in the French trinity of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.  We Americans do not speak of fraternity, but the speech made me think that perhaps we should.

The subject is not back-slapping camaraderie, but a more serious kind of deeper friendship which requires an intelligent assault on falsehood and hatred.  For Camus these were the legacy of Hitlerism.  In America in 2011 we see other forms of falsehood and hatred — a frightening trend in the debasement of fact and mindless hatred. More fundamentally Camus believed that  intelligence had to be saved from the leftover poison of Hitlerism and the constant threat of dictatorship.  Poisoning intelligence is job one for the would-be dictator. And “the most difficult battle to be won against the enemy in the future,” said Nobel Laureate and French Resistance member Camus, “must be fought  within ourselves, with an exceptional effort that will transform our appetite for hatred into a desire for justice.”

In devastated France nothing less than intelligence itself had to be saved and defended before the French could be friends again.  Camus quotes Goering who declared, “When anyone talks to me of intelligence, I take out my revolver.” Does this sound familiar?  Does it ring any bells?  In occupied Europe and Vichy France, “philosophies of instinct” and “feeling over understanding” dominated.   At the time according to Camus, “If you merely make an effort to understand without preconceptions, if you merely talk of objectivity, you will be accused of sophistry and criticized for having pretensions.  No we can’t have that!  That is what must be reformed.”

The French man of action was not defending what some Americans might now call fuzzy-headed intellectualism or pinko liberalism.  He was defending intelligence backed by courage.  He suggested that a nation “passionately attached to truth”  is the only insurance against a “vast solitude” and the only way to friendship in a democratic republic.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

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Did Jesus Find Life Absurd?

In an instance or two, how could he not? Jesus was after all a man and if I cannot empathize with the man in Jesus, then indeed there is no hope.  I have trouble identifying with gods, so I have to start with the man. In a recent blog I  suggested that Jesus might not have been a stranger to the absurd and I cited that moment on the Cross when he  cried to  God, “Why has thou forsaken me.?”   No doubt the cry came from Jesus, not the Christ.

Because humankind has at the very least felt pain, we can imagine what those penetrating nails might have felt like.   In smaller ways, both as agent and object, we known betrayal. I have never been spat upon, but even here I can imagine the humiliation.  If the Christ had to “become as a man,” then that would have included knowing absurdity.  To love the woman at the well required empathy so Jesus must have suffered with her.  That would mean that Jesus was well on the way to empathizing with man before he was crucified. But could even Jesus have imagined how horrible his sacrifice would become?

In the mythical world before the Fall there was no sense of the absurd. The Fall is all about being plummeted into the absurd.  As for the unholy despair of Existentialism, with the exception of Native Americans, Blacks and some other select groups — decidedly not white, middle-class and fortunate — I don’t believe a majority of us in our history have known what living under Nazism was like.  I also don’t think we sense the anguish of all the Europeans who “capitulated.”  That was the absurd at its finest.  Those years in Europe only reinforced a far more tragic view of life than we Americans have. The British, an insular people like Americans, take a more optimistic view.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

 

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