How I Ended up Being Sent to Poland

flying to Poland

During the spring of 1993—a long time ago now—I was a young academician teaching at a community college called South Plains College located in Lubbock, Texas.  After a very weird series of events that, if depicted in painting form would resemble something done by Salvador Dali, I suddenly found myself unemployed and on the public dole.  As the government checks rolled in, I pounded the pavement to find work.  The only result of all that pounding is me developing a bad case of fallen arches.

I got desperate.  I became a human testimonial of the wisdom of the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  It was necessary for me to find work, and I was not finding it no matter how many doors I knocked on and CVs I handed out.  On a day where I simple reeked of so badly of frustration that no amount of cologne splashing could ever hide such an odor, I happened, partly by happenstance and partly by thinking outside the box, to hit upon the idea of applying to join the United States Peace Corps.  I’d always heard it said that becoming a Volunteer would be “the toughest job” I’d “ever love.”  Hell, tough or otherwise, if I could do all the paperwork and somehow get accepted, I’d have work, albeit challenging.

To make a long story short, I did get in though it took me nearly a year to complete the arduous application process.  The federal government, in all its infinite wisdom, decided to send me to Poland.  It was the best choice they could have made for me.  I’d always been intrigued by those countries that used to reside behind what we called “The Iron Curtain.”  As a boy, I’d always wondered how a curtain could be made of iron and dreamed of peeking behind such an odd partition.  Now was my chance.  And the government was even going to pick up the plane fare to get me there.  All I had to do upon arrival was pass what was called “Pre-Service Training.”  If I managed to do that, I’d be sent off to do educational consulting work and teacher training…

Is It Dumb to Have a Smartphone?

smartphone

I struggled coming up with a title for this one.  I almost called it “My Love/Hate Relationship with My Smartphone.”

Okay, so I own a Samsung Galaxy Note5.  I know.  I know.  It’s certainly not the latest and coolest model.  But then again, I’m not necessarily the coolest guy either.  Almost nothing that I own is the latest version of anything.  In fact, I’m not exactly what you’d call a “high-end” fellow.  I’m more the sort who snoops around at resell shops and flea markets.

I was raised by a brilliant but eccentric father.  He didn’t believe in telephones.  So we didn’t have one in our house for a long time.  Looking back on that period in my life, I can’t see any sort of way that not owning a phone had any detrimental effect on my life.

I remember what life was like at that time in American history.  It seemed quieter, calmer, more serene.  People could, it certainly seems, be alone with their thoughts.  In fact, it seems that it might have actually been easier to have thoughts in that day and age.  It appears perfectly obvious that to have thoughts one would need to have a certain quietness of mind.  Thoughts are a bit like plants.  They need the proper environment to flourish.  The quiet mind is such an environment.

For many years, I resisted buying a telephone.  This was probably a direct result of the values inculcated by my father.  Then, about four years ago, I bought the above-mentioned Samsung.

This device has certainly allowed me to connect with the world, but I think people are generally mostly incapable of doing things in moderation.  Human beings—of course, it’s hard to generalize—are naturally extremists.  They don’t do most things half-assed.

I’m trying to tell you in a roundabout way that I am sort of addicted to my telephone.  As an educator–as someone who stands up in front of lots of young adults—I know that I am not alone in my addiction.  I’ve taught classes where students spent more time looking at their little screens than they did looking at my little face.  This makes me wonder if we really see each other anymore.  Do you think it’s possible that we’ve mostly become invisible to one another?

And do we hear each other?  Do we know how to formulate well thought out sentences?  I certainly know how to ask my telephone where I might find such and such a place by telling it the address I’m looking for.  When it replies, though, it doesn’t ask me any questions like, “Why have you decided to go to this location rather than stay at home?”  Such a question would turn me back on myself.  It might even make me reconsider.  By the way, as you’ve probably already gathered, my Samsung is a pretty poor conversationalist.

I guess I’m just writing whatever comes to mind here.  But there does seem to be a method to my madness.  In what way am I being changed by my telephone and other technological devices?  What ways are these things changing the world we live in?  Are we happier now than we used to be when the world was very small and everything seemed so far away and interesting?

This blog was first published at Pointless Overthinking.

 

 

No Thanks

banana republic

Two days ago, on a Sunday morning, I downloaded a PDF of the full Mueller report.  I plan to read it, in dribs and drabs, as my busy schedule permits, in its totality, because I feel it’s my patriotic duty to do so.

After downloading the thing, I did what many middle-class dudes do on a beautiful Sunday when it’s been a couple of weeks or so since the mower’s been out of the garage.  I rolled the beast out, filled its belly with high octane gasoline, and yanked the start cord.  The things spurted, then roared.  I commenced pushing it all around my yard.  The sweat rolled down my cheeks as countless blades met their gruesome ends.  In an hour or so, the grass had been decapitated and I was done.  Done.  Done.  Done.

I went inside, stripped down to my birthday suit, and climbed into the shower.  The hot water felt good and I started thinking about politics.  For one to ponder politics while he is soaping his naked body up after a dirty job is likely a sign that said person needs to get a life.  Certainly there are many other more pleasant things to think about.  But my mind delves—nearly of its own accord without my permission–into the political nearly every chance it gets.  I think I’m so into politics because I spent a large portion of my early life dirt poor, raised by a mom who didn’t have a husband or an education.  To say that things were tight during my childhood is like saying Donald Trump is a bit obnoxious.  Those early experiences taught me, in the most visceral way possible, that the poor and powerless get screwed in a million different ways and that it’s the rich and powerful that do the screwing.  It should not surprise a single reader to hear me say that the disempowered frequently become the disenchanted.

Thus, politics, to me, is personal.  I can’t claim ownership of that statement.  In fact, I ripped it off from Mayor Pete, now on the campaign trail along with half the Democratic powerbrokers that reside in this land of the fruited plain with so much purple mountain majesty.  I heard him say it recently, perhaps when he was being interviewed by Rachel Maddow?  I liked it so much I decided to commit plagiarism and stick it in this little ditty.

What came to me this past Sunday (when I was in the shower) is the thought that I don’t want America to become Trumpistan.  I’ve lived in Trumpistans before, and I saw how such places work.  Actually, they don’t work.  They stagger along like zombie nations—not dead, not alive, but certainly rotting.  Though we still claim to be the good ole United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, we are slowly being corrupted by a corrupting influence.  We don’t want to live in a place where the leader is above the law.  We don’t want to live in a place where racism, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and such become acceptable.  We don’t want to live in a place where there’s one system of justice for those with clout and another for those without.  We don’t want to live in a place where nationalism and patriotism are conflated.  We don’t want to live in a place where America gives the middle finger to its international allies and trashes long-standing partnerships.  We don’t want to live in a place that closely resembles a theocracy.  We don’t want to live in a place that devalues education and educators and poo-poos the idea that climate change is real and a threat to our very existence.

That’s why I’m going to read the Mueller report and advise everyone else to do the same.  If we don’t learn as much as we can about the sickness that’s infected our body politic, this place we all claim to love might cease to be the sort of place we can be proud of.

 

A Nomad Returns

bulgaria

I’m back.  It’s not like I stopped writing.  I just stopped doing things here after I was asked to become a regular contributor at Pointless Overthinking, a slightly odd but very international blog that seems to be growing in popularity at a rate that is best described as “exponential.”  Bogdan, the blog’s creator, is Romanian.  Back when I first started writing for him, we exchanged a few interesting emails about the weird train trip I took from Istanbul, Turkey, to Bucharest more than a decade ago now.  I’ve now done nineteen pieces for Bogdan’s PO.

I’m reminded of how much of a wild-haired nomad I used to be.  My trip to Bucharest can serve as Exhibit A.  On a whim, back when I was living in Turkey, I jumped on a bus from Ankara to Istanbul and then climbed aboard a rickety train—there wasn’t a restaurant car or anything of the sort—for a twenty-plus hour zig through mountainous Bulgaria until we came to Sofia and then a zag at the capital that would take us to our final destination.

When I left Turkey, I had no guidebook in hand, no maps of Romania, no list of “must sees,” and not even a room reservation.  I was flying by the seat of my pants.  I was flying while blind.  I was simply flying—high above the clouds—and was probably a touch giddy due to a bad case of oxygen deprivation.

I arrived in Bucharest and somehow bounced around until I took a room in a weird, Soviet-style hotel in the heart of the city.  The place could have been the setting for a Franz Kafka novel.

I spent the next week wandering, stumbling upon things, seeing visions, and was eventually nearly mugged by three bandits posing as police officers.  The three wanted my money, but I wanted it even more than they did.  After a brief bit of wrestling on the sidewalk, I prevailed though I was a bit ruffled and scuffed after the encounter.

I wrote this whole thing because I mostly wanted to come to a point where I could ask the following question:  Why ever travel with a guidebook in hand?  Guidebooks only tell you what others have seen, usually see.  They tell where the herds travel and graze.  Why do what others have done and usually do?

By the way, that’s a very serious question that requires some major contemplation.

Mystery Blogger Award!

mystery-blogger2

Hi, everyone.  You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t published anything for several weeks.  That’s not because I haven’t been writing.  In fact, I’ve been asked to be a regular contributor for Pointless Overthinking (PO), a very international blog started by Bogdan of Romania.  The compilation of blogs I’ve written for PO can be found here.

Today, I’m happy to announce that Davina Lyons, blogger at Davina Lyons Enterprises, has nominated me for a “Mystery Blogger Award.”

The “Mystery Blogger Award” rules are as follows:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)

I would also like to thank Okoto Enigma, creator of “Mystery Blogger Award.”  Okoto’s blog can be found here.

What Is the Mystery Blogger Award?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.

– Okoto Enigma

I will edit this post soon to complete rules 5 through 9.  Until then, keep on keeping on…

December 18, 2018

fist

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Twitter recently.  The direction of my thinking on this social media platform is mostly aimed at trying to determine if it’s something I want to continue using.  (As I write this, I haven’t tweeted a thing for weeks on either of the two Twitter accounts I’ve created.)

Though I haven’t come to any real firm conclusions yet, I’m beginning to feel more and more comfortable not tweeting.  In the beginning, when I first stopped, I felt like I’d gone cold turkey and was inches away from clenching up and breaking out in a cold sweat.  Then the days began to pass and it seemed like I was beating the beast’s hold on me.  I could clearly feel its grip lessening day by day.  As I write this, I have almost no urge to read what others have posted on Twitter, and I have zero desire to tweet.

I guess, looking back, I had seemingly fallen into what I’m more and more seeing as a self-destructive pattern of behavior.  Because I am such a political person, I was mostly tweeting political things.  (By the way, if you were to ask me today why I’m so politically inclined, I’d answer that I studied political philosophy in college—as an undergrad—and then moved on to other things in grad school, but that I’m still obsessed with politics because it is one very important way humans expressive themselves collectively, and there is nothing more fascinating than human expression.)

So I am very progressive and I was using Twitter to declare my version of Holy War on regressives.  (I won’t refer to them as “conservatives” because they aren’t trying to conserve anything.)  In fact, they want to take us back to a time when WASPs effectively owned the country because they suffer from a kind of white angst.  Of course, there’s great irony in the fact that political regressives feel this way since they think America suffers from what they call a “culture of entitlement,” meaning that too many feel like government owes them something.  At the same time, they want the rest of us to unquestioningly recognize their preeminence and to behave appropriately subservient.  If that isn’t acting privileged and entitled, then I don’t know what is.

Back when I was still tweeting about politics, I had a few favored individuals I liked to seek out and clash with on a daily basis.  I began to realize, though, that these Twitter wars weren’t helping me to feel better or victorious or good about myself and what I was becoming.  In fact, the more I engaged in these skirmishes, the more spite and anger I experienced.  A kind of red-face rage began to fill me, and I started feeling disgust with both those I was tweeting against as well as myself.  Despite the fact that I often “won” these Twitter conflicts, I didn’t feel like a winner.  I felt hateful, mean, and petty.

I really feel so much calmer now that I’ve walked away from Twitter and have stopped tweeting nasty things to those I disagree with.  I like to think of myself as someone who eschews violence.  But there is more than one way to attack a person.  One can pick up a weapon and inflict physical pain, or one can login to one’s Twitter account and send out hurtful messages which leave ugly scars that are invisible to the naked eye.

The self-reflection I’ve been doing mirrors the self-reflection our nation will eventually have to engage in once it moves past this moment of anger and brutal tribalism.  We will have to come to terms with how we’ve treated our political opponents.  This reckoning is likely to be painful.  It is likely to be instructive as well.  Let’s hope our nation learns an important lesson from this difficult historical moment.

 

 

December 11, 2018

cover your cough

I’m in the clinic, the one I always visit when I need something medical done.  Exactly one week ago I was in this same waiting room, awaiting the commencement of a physical exam.  I was hungry that day because they’d asked me to fast.

Last time I was here my name was eventually called.  I stood up, walked toward a nurse who asked me for some urine which would have been a strange request to make in any other context. (I remember how warm the plastic container felt as I peed into it.)  And then she drew some blood.  She made me walk down a hallway, opened a door at the end of it, showed me a large machine that could peer through my skin and look deep into my body.  She directed me to remove my shirt, stand just so with my arms raised above my head.  She then let the contraption shine its magical light on me so that an image of my inner workings could be captured and studied.  Finally, she attached some electrodes to my body to learn more about my ticker.

Today, I am back to get the results of all those tests.  I am sitting in the waiting room now.  There are others here.  Some are coughing and some, although certainly not all, are covering their mouths with handkerchiefs.  One man has an odd coloration and makes me think he might be a touch jaundiced.  Two young women have comically large bellies on their otherwise insubstantial bodies.  (The way they keep smiling and whispering together makes me they think they feel a special bond and are cherishing the fact that they’re carrying life within their protuberant abdomen.)

I felt persuaded, after no more than five minutes of listening to those folks coughing up their lungs, to move to a more distant part of the waiting room.  Who needs to be near those airborne germs?  If I have anything to say about it, I won’t allow that sort of sickness to get inside my body and fiddle around.  Sitting any closer than I currently am—now that I’ve put distance between me and them—is really asking for trouble.

I have a book with me, so I take it out and start reading.  Its title is The Awakening of Intelligence and it’s written by Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher and all-around swell guy.  I’m drawn to the words of wise people, mostly because I’m so lacking in the wisdom department myself.  A dumb guy can never go wrong spending a few moments reading what a smart guy has to say.

I tried to concentrate on the book but there was too much coughing and talking and such.  This caused me to put Krishnamurti down and look across the room.  Being around sick people usually makes me think that I’m about to die myself.  This happens because the ill remind me of my own vulnerability.  Actually, we’re all just flesh and blood and gelatinous, pulsating organs inside a wrapping of flesh.  There’s not much more to us than that.  It’s amazing any of us make it any time at all.

I’m reminded of a video that they showed us back when I was in middle school.  It was a videotape of a surgery.  (I still find it shocking that she showed such gruesome footage to a bunch of fifth graders.)  So they showed the patient being cut open and what his guts looked like. To this day, I remember being shocked at what the insides of a human being look like.  I was not impressed and almost immediately became a hypochondriac.

&&&

So I’ve just been called into the clinic’s inner sanctum to meet with my doctor and get what I hope to be good news—that I don’t have cancer or the palsy or the bubonic plague.  I don’t have to wait long.  He comes in and I stand and shake his hand.  (He’ll certainly hose himself down with disinfectant as soon as I take my leave of him and this room.)  He gets right to it and tells me that all my tests look good.  They haven’t found a single thing to worry about.  And then he informs me I’m free to go.

I step out into the waiting room and the coughing people are now gone—perhaps dead?  Despite their absence, I hold my breath as I head to the door.  I get to it, push it open, and step out into fresh, germ-free air.