The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for November 2008

Once a Cross Country Runner

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My knee hurts.

That’s the good news. I noticed it most of the morning and some of the afternoon, whenever I bent it. It’s the left one; it hurts a little bit under the knee cap, but not enough to cause discomfort or be much of a concern. It feels like a tendon or a muscle under the cap has been overworked, which it probably has. That probably happened after I ran 20 minutes on the treadmill after 20 minutes on the arc trainer on Sunday; Tuesday morning’s 15-minute turns on both only added to it.

The other good news is that I have worked up to 20 minutes on the treadmill. I expected to be farther along than that at this point, but also understand now that I’m 38 years old and don’t bounce back like I used to. In fact, I’ve spent a year bouncing back from what happened on Thanksgiving morning, 2007, when I first realized that I don’t bounce back like I used to.

You have to understand this: Once a Cross Country runner, always a Cross Country runner. The three former Cross Country runners in my office have reached consensus on this point, and we check in with each other a few times a year after having revisited that philosophy while out running a half marathon or a 5K or a few miles around the school with the Cross Country team. What that means is that you ignore minor pains; they only exist if you mention them or think about them, and if another Cross Country runner hears you talking about them, they’ll most likely call you a Sally. It means that when you go for a run, you don’t pay much attention to weather conditions because chances are you ran when it was hotter, colder, or wetter than the current conditions. Most importantly, you do whatever you have to do at the end of a race to avoid getting beat down the stretch. It’s a mindset that quickly becomes second nature to a Cross Country runner, and it’s something that can be flipped on like a light switch even later in life by those who lived it. If you have to throttle up your pace a bit to keep people off of you as you near the finish line, then that’s what you do. If you have to sprint at the end of the race to keep someone behind you or catch someone who just passed you, then that’s what you do. If you have to bolt headlong across down the street like your tail is on fire to beat someone, practically scratching and clawing and growling while sweat and spit fly, then that’s what you do.

That’s what I was doing when it happened.

I wasn’t trying to prove anything; that had been taken care of by the mere act of getting out of bed at 7AM on Thanksgiving Day to run the 14th Annual Jon Callaghan Memorial Turkey Trot as flecks of snow flew into my eyes and stuck to my tights. I was 2.5 miles in, feeling good about my pace and my chance to keep my time under 30 minutes, which was all I was really concerned about. There were plenty of other runners around me that last half mile as I settled in to cruise across the finish line. I had picked out a few that I was going to pass, but it wasn’t going to be an ostentatious display of athletic prowess or anything. I was just going to speed up a bit and glide through to the end. Some other dude had a different idea.

I heard him coming from a dozen strides back. His breathing was heavy, his feet pounded in a quickening cadence as he sped closer. I spied enough of his face when he passed to notice a salt-and-pepper pushbroom collecting snowflakes under his nose. He had a collection of wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, and an accordion forehead. A navy stocking cap covered whatever gray hair wasn’t peeking out on the sides and back of his head. He was older than me, probably by ten years. He was five or six strides ahead before I realized what was going on. He was running way too fast for us penguins still on the course. This wasn’t some guy protecting his pride and finishing strong– this was hubris. I flipped my switch: Once a Cross Country runner…

I accelerated, hoping to close on him with at least a quarter mile left in the race. He heard me coming, and picked up his pace even more. I felt like I was two notches away from an all-out sprint, but had no clue about where he was in his repertoire of gaits. When I cranked it up another notch, I was able to draw even with him. We stole looks at each other, glanced to the finish line, and then stole another look at each other. He pulled ahead by a few feet, I drew even again with an eighth of a mile left. His gloved hands were flying in a furious rhythm, like he was trying to pull himself along to get an edge. I was sucking wind and blasting it out of my nose and mouth; sweat was streaming down my face.

I ground into my final gear. I was careening down the street, feet pounding asphalt harder than they had for five or six years. I was straining, and it was an uncommon feeling. I could feel the burn in my calves and thighs. I felt a pain under my ribs, like I was being poked with a filet knife. I pulled ahead by a stride, and then he drew even. I maintained my desperate sprint, hoping he didn’t have anything left, certain that I didn’t. I pulled ahead again. He tried to pull even, but gave out. Three strides later, I broke the finish line and doubled over with my hands on my knees. It took most of my effort to stay on my feet. It didn’t used to be this hard. When I looked at him, he had adopted the same posture. We eyed each other, shared a laugh, and shook hands.

“I thought I had you,” he guffawed.

“I thought you did, too! Nice sprint there at the end. I haven’t been pushed like that for a long time.”

“Yeah. That was fun.” We stood there speechless for a few moments, shaking our heads and laughing. My legs twitched. Sweat began to freeze on my face. I grabbed a drink from the refreshment table and headed to my car.

Later that afternoon, I stood up from the couch at a friend’s house to gather around the Thanksgiving feast, and my Achilles tendon spasmed. It was as tight as a piano string. Damn. That’s tender. I hobbled to the table and sat down, and didn’t think much of it; I had been living with daily physical annoyances since my late twenties. Sore calves, achy feet, stiff shoulders, and tight hamstrings, amongst other things, have become a fact of daily existence. I’d work through it, and in a week or two it would be better. I’d be sure to stretch a little bit to relieve the tension.

Three months later, and I was finally tired of the painful twinge in my Achilles every time I made a sudden move, changed directions, or jangled my foot in some odd way as I put on my pants or shoes. Also, I was tired of hobbling to the bathroom or kitchen every time I got out of bed or got up from the couch after watching a game or movie. I had cut back on the running, but still hit the treadmill at the YMCA for a half hour once or twice a week when I wasn’t on the elliptical. My tendon would flare about 2 minutes into the run, but I would keep at it. There was pain, but nothing debilitating. Once a Cross Country runner…

I went to my physician. He referred me to the orthopedist on staff, who ran me through a few exercises, twisted my bare foot around, tested my flexibility and strength, and asked me what had happened. I told him about Thanksgiving Day. He responded, “This is worse than you think. You should have been in here right after it happened. You’re lucky it’s not ruptured.” Leave it to a doctor to burst my prideful balloon, to undermine the braggart philosophy that many other people would have outgrown by now. “You need to lay off it. I want you in here twice a week for rehab. Ice it twice a day, at least, for fifteen minutes each time.” He scratched me a prescription for Mobic (7.5 mg, once a day), and said he’d see me in a month. His final words were anathema: “No running until I say so.”

So I went to physical therapy. I had weekly sessions on a stationary bike to loosen everything in, around, and associated to my ankle and Achilles. I was tutored in the ways of rehabilitative exercises. I layed on my belly as the therapist probed my tendon with an electro-stim wand, and then massaged everything from my heel up to my knee. I nodded my head as she implored me to exercise at home, work on my flexibility, strengthen the tendon, and above all else, “Keep off it. No running.”

I also learned why my calves ached about half the time when I ran. “Your flexibility is horrible,” the therapist told me. She measured it with a sliding plastic gauge each time I came in. I would sit upright with my legs extended, and she would tell me to point my toe out as far as I could. She would hold the plastic gauge up to the side of my ankle, make a measurement, and then tell me to pull my big toe towards my body as best I could. Sometimes she would put her weight behind it and push it toward me before making her measurement. “Your flexibility is shot; that causes you to run different. Your foot strikes the pavement at odd angles, and then it doesn’t roll the way it should. That causes stress on the calves. That’s why your calves scream sometimes when you run. And that’s what probably caused this. You were running awkward to begin with, then your burst of speed, with all that pounding, tweaked your Achilles.” What she didn’t say, but what I knew, was that my 215 lb. mass didn’t help matters. I was too heavy to be running so hard.

I had visions of a quick rehab– I would bounce back from this, just like I had from every other injury. There was a 5K I wanted to run in the middle of the Spring, and so long as I was more flexible and less painful at that point, I would run it… Once a Cross Country runner… I showed up to the race, warmed up sufficiently, and ran. I gunned it a bit at the end of the race, but not nearly as much as I had on Thanksgiving 6 months previous. I felt fine. I was ready to resume my normal workout, which was to run 3 miles 3-4 times a week.

That lasted about a week. Both times I went out the week after the race, my calves screamed for me to stop. Within two minutes of starting, there was throbbing pain in both legs. Every stride was a bolt of lightning up to my knee. I kept hearing the therapist’s voice in my head: “Your flexibility is horrible… your ankle doesn’t roll the way it should…” I spent so much time thinking about the mechanics of my joints and worrying about doing permanent damage to myself that I couldn’t focus on the run. The serenity I usually enjoyed from the steady pace and deep breathing may as well have been memories from a previous existence.

I went back to physical therapy. This time, it was laid out in no uncertain terms: “Stop running, or risk never being able to run again.” Maybe that’s what I needed to hear the whole time. I can’t not run; it’s too much a part of who I am. Running does so much for my mental health, so much for my physical well-being, so much for the metacognitive processes that are critical to my writing that I can’t not do it. I could no sooner extract a major organ from my body than I could stop running and hope to live a full and complete life. But given the choice between not being able to run for a little while, and not being able to run again ever, I decided it was finally time to listen and do what I was told.

So I stopped running. I went on a diet for the first time in my life (I never dieted before because running helped me keep weight off), and began riding my bike with a degree of fervor uncommon to me since I bought the machine five years ago. This went on throughout the summer. I rode 20 miles several times a week. I found excuses to ride my bike to places I would usually drive. I parked my bike in my bedroom as a constant reminder that it was either this, or grow into middle age as an out-of-shape lump.

It began to work. The constant rotation of my ankle on the bike pedals kept me loose and flexible. My Achilles began to strengthen. I noticed the improvement at the oddest times. If I was sitting on my chaise lounge on the balcony, I could push my feet out and remain flat-footed on the cushion 4 or 6 inches further than I could before. I could raise the weight of my entire body on both toes, and even bounce, with little or no discomfort. I could point my toe out further than I had been able to for 6 months.

September rolled around, and I bought a membership to the gym on the corner of the street where I live. I had access to brand-new elliptical machines and treadmills, and I could slowly work my way back up to being able to run three miles. I was convinced that this was going to be it– this was what was going to finally get me back running with as much fervor as I had before. I devised a foolproof plan that was so logical that I didn’t bother to waste the orthopedist’s or physical therapist’s time by consulting either of them: I would run on the treadmill for 10 minutes the first week, 20 minutes the second week, and by the time the third week came around, I would be up to a full 30 minutes. Once I could do that, I would have returned to normal. What’s more, I could do my favorite 5K run (it’s one lap around a local nature preserve) before it got too cold out to enjoy it.

That plan lasted almost to the end of the second week. I ran 20 minutes for the first time since the 5K in the Spring with only minor irritation, but within an hour after I was done, my achilles was inflamed and throbbing. I spent an entire week worried that I had really done it this time; I screwed myself up bad and my running career was over. I stuck with the elliptical machine for two weeks, trying to keep my ankle loose and flexible, and then went to the treadmill for five minutes at a time once I felt normal. I began to notice that again, my achilles felt strong and flexible. But it was tight. Real tight. It helped a little bit if I stretched it when I was done.

I’ve been building up in 5-minute increments ever since, and at this rate I should be able to run for 30 minutes by the middle of winter. The process is slow and agonizing, if only because I want to run like I used to a year ago. I want to be carefree and as painfree as possible when I run. I want to live again the mystical zen born from a long run. I want to be that boy who ran Cross Country in high school more than 20 years ago. If I can’t do any of those, if I never run again like I used to, the philosophy that sustained me for so long– and that lead to my downfall– will be no less important to me than it has ever been because this may be the point to which it has been pushing me all along. Perhaps what happened on Thanksgiving Day a year ago was how my life as a runner was supposed to end. If so, I don’t have much about which to complain.

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Written by seeker70

November 26, 2008 at 3:46 am

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger’s Final Post From Stateside

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Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Hey everybody.

A quick FYI, I haven’t been able to read any emails since Thursday, so if you’ve sent one, please be patient with me getting back to you, as our Internet access is extremely limited now. I am able to send emails, but not see what I’ve gotten.

As I write to you, my training is completely done. My weapon has been turned in already until I get back from Thanksgiving pass, and it feels great. What I know now is everything that I will be taking into Afghanistan with me. From November 10th to the 19th, we had our final Mission Readiness Exercise (MRX), which is the capstone of our training that tests our abilities for what we will face in Afghanistan. For instance, most nights between the hours of 1 AM and 4 AM, we would be woken up to dummy mortar rockets coming down, and we had to react appropriately. The Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) for us chaplain assistants was to run and get to the officers’ makeshift bunkers to account for our chaplains. Even though it was all simulation, it’s a pretty intense sensation to feel a mortar go off right by you (albeit a dummy rocket), because the blast hits you like a strong wall of wind and you can feel your clothes smack against your skin, even when it’s 100 meters away. I can’t imagine what a real mortar attack will feel like.

One night, while we were getting notionally attacked, I went to go account for my chaplain, and he was nowhere to be found. I went to his tent (which happened to be the tent for everyone with the rank of Captain), and found that everyone was asleep in that tent, including my chaplain. I turned on the lights and told all the Captains to get outside to the bunkers. I didn’t stick around for them to find out who just woke them up at 4 AM, but from what I heard from another chaplain, they were annoyed. Okay, I know that seems like a dull story, but anyone who has previous military experience can appreciate a buck sergeant like myself waking up 10 officers to basically tell them that they’re lazy.

Lately, it’s been freezing outside. I’ve had to spend a few nights sleeping outside in the past two weeks, and they were miserable, miserable nights. About a month ago, we packed all our cold weather gear and shipped them off to Afghanistan by boat, which was really unfortunate for when we were sleeping outside, because it was freeeeeeeeeeeeeeezing. (On top of that, one of the nights I was out in the field, Mike Ditka and Ryan Kittle stopped by F.O.B. Patriot, and I completely missed it because I was busy growing icicles on my nipples.) One night, I slept out in 20-degree weather in a very thin tent that retained absolutely no heat with just a thin sleeping bag covering me. I woke up about every hour that night. In the past week, it’s been so cold here at F.O.B. Patriot that in the mornings, all our water supply is frozen. We don’t have any water to shower, brush our teeth, or shave. We’ve learned (or at least, those of us who know how to adapt have learned) to fill up our own personal water supply in our canteens or camelbaks between mid-afternoon and midnight when the supply isn’t frozen. I heard a soldier make a comment this morning, “I can’t wait to get to a third world country, where our living conditions will be better.”

So, that’s about it. Yesterday, we turned in our weapons (until we get back from Thanksgiving pass) as well as our humvees. Actually, funny story. In order to turn in our humvees, they had to be completely washed at a military vehicle washing site. I had just taken a shower for the first time in a few days and was about to get my laundry done. I was then told that they needed help cleaning one of the vehicles, and so I volunteered to help clean one. Boy, was that a stupid move. How the Army cleans vehicles is like this: they have two soldiers spraying your vehicle with a hose as you drive up, then you slowly drive into a huge pool of water, and at the end of the pool is another two soldiers spraying your car again. Well, someone failed to inform me that humvees’ doors don’t close airtight. So, as I drove up to the first two soldiers, their hoses went straight through the cracks of the door and flooded the inside of the vehicle that I was in, completely drenching me. I put my foot down on the gas, sped through the pool, and as I approached the final two soldiers, I waved to them to tell them to stop firing their hose as I blasted through the cleaning facility. When it was all done, my shower had been wasted, and I regretted putting on a clean uniform that morning. Later, the Lieutenant who was in charge told us that he knew that was going to happen, but thought it would be best if he didn’t tell us. Moral of the story: don’t volunteer to help in the military. Though, you’d think I would have figured that out after spending 5 years in already.

I’ve been able to make a few friends here, but unfortunately none of them are going to the same place as me. There are about two soldiers that I can see myself hanging out with after this deployment, and coincidentally enough, both of them are named Nathan. One is SPC Nathan Hastings, and he’s a public affairs soldier from Edwardsville (I attend SIUEdwardsville for those of you that don’t know). The other guy is SPC Nathanial Gish from Buffalo Grove who is a bodyguard for our General who just got attached to our Urbana unit for the deployment. Funny story about him: the first time we ever had a roll call together, the First Sergeant called out my name, and Gish got really confused, because when you’re in an armory with a bunch of echo, “SGT Nathaniel Geist” sounds a whole lot like “SPC Nathanial Gish.” Since then, the people in his platoon had been calling him Geist instead of Gish to make fun of the situation, and so Gish had been determined to find who this Geist guy was. After all, a 24 year-old soldier named Gish from Buffalo Grove and a 22 year-old soldier named Geist formerly of Buffalo Grove must have some kind of galactic connection, right? So eventually, we crossed paths and got to meet each other, and as we shook hands, bolts of lightning shot through the skies and a booming voice from the heavens said “it is complete,” and the galaxies all collapsed. Okay, so it wasn’t that dramatic, but ever since we met, I’ve been hanging out with his platoon because they’re a great group of guys. When I first walked into their platoon area, everyone was like “Oh my gosh! It’s GEIST! The real Geist!” They treated me like a celebrity because they had been calling Gish by my name, so it just kind of came with the territory, because even though they were calling Gish by my name, they hadn’t ever actually seen me. Like I said, when we get back from deployment, I’m fairly certain I’ll be hanging out with a few of those guys, but certainly Gish. Like me, Gish is a firm Christian. He is also a great soldier; in fact, he is one of the three best soldiers I have ever met. I put him in for an award yesterday because of his outstanding performance, and my hope is that the award will give him enough promotion points to give him the edge over the next guy to get him his Sergeant stripes at the next promotion board. He already is as professional and responsible as a Sergeant, so I’d love to see him promoted.

That’s about it for now. I will be going home for a few days in the next week, then will return to Fort Bragg the day after Thanksgiving. About a week or two after that, I will jump on a 22-hour flight to start the “big adventure.” I will try to email once before I leave for Afghanistan if I can, and then will email again as soon as I can when I get to Afghanistan. But, worst case scenario, I’ll send out a short email after I get to Afghanistan to let you know that I’ve arrived.The prayer that I am requesting right now is that the Lord prepares the way ahead of my brigade. In much less than a month, I will be in a combat zone where death will continually surround me. But I also know that the Lord will surround me, and He is bigger than death. He is whispering to me to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I can’t imagine going to war without having God to rely on… they say that there’s no atheist in a foxhole.

I’ve attached a few things. One is a picture of me with Gish. The second is a picture of me jumping out of a helicopter in mid-flight (ignore the fact that I’m only 10 inches off the ground).

Thank you, and God bless!

Written by seeker70

November 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Nathan Geist

Thesis Blues pt.II

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Not all is miserable with the thesis. Things are moving along smoothly right now, especially considering that I promised myself I would not work on the writing this month. I’ve mostly lived up to my promise, but the month is almost over.

In order to ramp back up to working on it consistently, I will conduct 2 critical interviews within the next week, 1 of which will help close out a section of the story. The other will most likely open a can of worms I don’t really want to think about right now.

Brad Park is one of the people I will interview. He was Jim’s defensive coach in high school. I’ve already spoken to him once. He teaches Math at Goshen High School, and having a profession in common has created some rapport between us. I’m going to see if he’ll open up about the crushing defeat that ended Goshen’s run at a second straight state title in 1989. I have some of the essentials, but need him to fill in the rest. I don’t want to go to Jim for it because he’s a bit biased about how things played out on the football field, and Brad will probably provide better information than what I would find in newspaper articles. I’m excited; I want more details about the game that was played in crippling snow and ice and ended when the opposition scored on a breakaway run down the sideline on the final play of the game. Jim was standing on the sidelines when it happened because of the change in position that was forced on him at the beginning of the season. He told me recently that he’s still unhappy about it.

Jim’s mother Patricia will be my second interview. I was surprised at how excited she was at the idea when I first spoke to her last Sunday. We’ll meet in Kendallville and talk for a few hours before I head back to Chicago next Sunday. I’m nervous about some questions I want to ask her, and fear I might push her away if I get too nosy. There are elements of Jim’s life, especially before he was born and the time shortly after, that are sketchy at best (even to him). I wonder what she’ll have to say about them. She offered to bring some pictures with her, which I somehow didn’t even think about.

One of the things I love about writing is talking to different people and learning their stories. I have found that most people are willing to talk, even at the spur of the moment. They like to share their stories, and almost always tell me things I didn’t expect. Ranking a close second place is the research I like to do. I take pride in finding unexpected facts, or digging up things others couldn’t find. It’s almost always a matter of determination… I haven’t not been able to find something I needed if I was willing to spend as much time as possible finding it. One of my proudest moments as a writer was last winter when I was writing about Mensa. I impressed a number of Mensans with what I already knew about their organization; a few couldn’t believe the things I knew about Mensa that they didn’t know. I guess the only exception thus far pertains to some of the people from Jim’s past that I mentioned in my previous post. But I’m not done looking for them. All I need is for the right door to open up. I guess I’ll keep knocking.

Written by seeker70

November 24, 2008 at 2:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Quantum of Solace

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I took time to see the 23rd James Bond film this afternoon, this after reading only 1 review of it (Anothony Lane in The New Yorker; you can read it here: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2008/11/17/081117crci_cinema_lane). I had confidence after the phenomenal Casino Royale that this would live up to what I expect James Bond films to be and what I now know they can be– I had almost abandon the franchise after the dreadful Pierce Brosnan films, especially Die Another Day. They had become too formulaic, too high-concept, too much of a parody of themselves. It’s nice to see them being steered in another direction.

This is not to say that Quantum is without fault. It has problems, but holds together well for reasons I didn’t expect. I had problems with the editing in at least two of the pivotal sequences in the film. The opening car chase and subsequent pursuit of a traitor were pieced together with so many shots and cuts that they are nearly impossible to follow and appreciate upon first viewing. This seems to be the fad in the contemporary high-concept action genre. There are probably many things to blame for this (rapid-fire realistic video games and speedy MTV music video philosophies come to mind). I complained about the same issue as long as 6 years ago regarding some sequences in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. This could also mean that I’m getting older and my eyes don’t track as well as they used to.

Something that I thought plagued Casino Royale also plagues Quantum, and that is a climatic scene featuring a humongous set piece- an entire building- being brought down around our hero as he deals with the baddies and tries to save his own ass. I was able to forgive it in Casino because of the gritty quality of the rest of the film, but two times in a row is too much.

The good news is that the new Bond films adheres to the basics in the same fashion that Casino did: cars, guns, and cell phones are pretty much it. There are some jaw-dropping MI-6 technologies that add some flash and zing to the international game of technological stalking, but Bond himself sticks to cars, feet, motorboats, and airplanes– none of which are remarkable or bulletproof or gadget-laden or specifically designed to be featured in an extended chase scene. In a way, that’s a shame. Some of the most memorable Bond scenes of all time were created around outlandish vehicular technology (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Living Daylights come to mind), but the sins of the past 15 years of Bond have made those signature elements passe and comical. The invisible car in Die Another Day probably did more to kill that idea than anything else in recent memory.

What we end of up with, then, is something of a character study. Quantum does more to develop the “new” James Bond than Casino Royale did, which seems fitting given that Casino was tailored to reboot the franchise more than anything. Quantum follows Bond along a trail of brutal and bloody vengeance begun in Casino, and thusly works to shape him as a cold, calculating, conscienceless killer who mixes business with his personal vendettas. The savoire-faire of Sean Connery and Roger Moore are notably absent. Daniel Craig spends at least half the film looking like he’s been run over, beat up, dragged around, and pummelled by endless explosions, which he has. It’s not glamorous, but it is effective in creating this new-milleniuim Bond.

While it’s not impossible to follow Quantum without having seen Casino, it is certainly difficult. I read through the wikipedia entry for Casino as a primer (having forgotten several important plot developments over the last two years), and was still struggling with some of the plot twists. Also, it’s worth mentioning that long-time Bond fans will likely appreciate the allusion to Goldfinger about 2/3 of the way through. I spotted an allusion to The Spy Who Loved Me shortly before that.

Now that the loose ends of the Casino plot have been tied up– and Quantum didn’t appear to create any new ones– I’ll be interested in seeing where Bond goes next. The good news is that the franchise is as all-around strong as it has been since Roger Moore’s glory days in the early 1980s, and we only have to wait 2-3 more years to find out.

P.S. Speaking of Roger Moore’s glory days… For Your Eyes Only has to be the most underrated Bond film of all time. After 4 rounds as Bond, Moore struck gold with this gem from 1981. It’s notable for several reasons: it’s the only time that the Moore incarnation of Bond battles Blofeld (even though it’s only for the opening sequence); it’s also one of the only times that Bond’s mission is a failure. There are memorable action sequences on skis, underwater, and in cars (the chase of note takes place on a bobsleigh track). The pacing of the film is noticably different than the two previous films, with the result being heightened suspense for a good 45 minutes at the end. The cinematography on location in Greece is stunning, especially the climatic scene around and atop The Monastery of Holy Trinity.

Written by seeker70

November 23, 2008 at 2:15 am

Posted in James Bond

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Checks In

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Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Interview. Sgt. Geist will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

October 31, 2008

Hello friends. I hope this email finds you well. Things are going okay here right now. Just a head’s up, this email is a very long one, so I would encourage you to read it when you know you have time to if you choose to read it at all. There are a lot of facts about Afghanistan in this email that will surely give you a better perspective of why I am being deployed. Also, if you did not receive my last email, please let me know, and we can get that remedied.
Last time I asked you all to pray for better training for the mission ahead, and the prayer was received. Though we only really have small spurts of truly useful training, those spurts are extremely educational and helpful. For instance, we had training where we searched a house for IED’s (for those of you that are unfamiliar, IED’s are Improvised Explosive Devices, and are one of the most efficient ways to kill soldiers… they are bombs that don’t really look like bombs until you get up close, at which point it’s too late to tell anyway). Also, we’ve been kicking down doors and searching houses for cardboard cut-outs of insurgents and shooting them with live bullets, which was a little nerve-racking because it only takes one idiot standing next to you to point their rifle in the wrong direction. Then, the same night we did that training, we went back to that house and put on night vision goggles and did it in the black of night. What was especially cool about that training was that there was a camera overhead, and it recorded us clearing the house, and we got to watch ourselves and evaluate what we did later.

There are a lot of soldiers that die overseas when their humvees roll over and the soldiers get trapped, so we also did this training where we sat in a humvee that rolls over, and we have to escape. It’s just like a roller coaster, except it’s obviously a little more dangerous, considering you’re hanging upside down and you fall when you unbuckle yourself, not to mention that other people fall on you, too. But it was extremely useful training.

We’ve also been training on hand-to-hand combat, specifically how to choke someone to incapacitation. While that training may be slightly useful, it really was no fun because we did it at 5:30 in the morning outside, when there was still frost on the ground. Not to mention, if you have to get in a real hand-to-hand fight with an insurgent, chances are that’s going to be a really bad day, anyway.

Also, we’ve been learning the language of Dari, which is the most used language in Afghanistan by the locals. They also speak Pashto, but we will not be working with Pashtuns as much. In Dari, the translation for “Danger” is “Khatar,” so I’ve been getting called SGT Khatar now.

We’ve had a few soldiers already taken out of the fight for the year, as the medical check-ups have been discovering soldiers with a few diseases. For instance, two soldiers were found to have leukemia when they did blood tests, so they are now non-deployable. In fact, our head chaplain, CH Guy, went to go see one of the soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital in D.C., and ran into Robin Williams in the hallway. It turns out that Robin Williams often goes to see soldiers when he has time; no media, no hidden motives, just to go make hurting soldiers laugh. Needless to say, I was very jealous of CH Guy.


As far as the chaplain assistant job goes, the issues have finally begun hitting full-force. We’ve been having soldier issues to deal with on a daily basis, from genuine problems at home to whiny soldiers who want to give up and go home (as if there is any soldier who doesn’t want to give up and go home!). On the bright side, I’ve been able to meet a lot of different interesting people, and it is extremely odd the number of soldiers I meet who live in the Zion area or Edwardsville area. In fact, when I talk to the Zion-area soldiers, I ask them if they remember the Potty Protest at Zion-Benton High School, and when they do and I tell them that I was the leader of that movement, they get pretty excited and treat me like a celebrity. (For those of you who are scratching your head, check out this web-site: http://squirtzman.tripod.com/id36.html)

Lately, an area that has proven difficult to me is the amount of ageism I’ve been facing. I am extremely young for the rank that I have, and so many soldiers don’t take me seriously as a Sergeant. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself “don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12), and have made a conscious effort to go above and beyond to win the confidence of my commanders. The chaplain assistant job is a very odd responsibility, because instead of dealing with people who are a rank or two higher than me, chaplain assistants generally advise Lieutenant Colonels, Sergeant Majors, and sometimes even Generals… if you’re unfamiliar with those ranks, those are the big-whigs of the Army. One of the chaplains here (CH McGinnis) has encouraged me to pray that my commanders’ hearts open up to me, and he told me to keep in mind “the king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; He guides it wherever He pleases” (Proverbs 21:1). Basically, it’s out of my control in a sense, and I have nowhere to go but my knees in order to receive the trust of my commanders.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Afghanistan (and Iraq, too, for that matter): When it comes to sexuality, men are used for fun, whereas women as solely used for reproduction. That’s a huge paradigm difference than America, where opposite sexes are generally used both for fun and for reproduction. Instead of going to a female strip bar for quick sexual pleasure like Americans do, the Afghan men take the young boys from their villages and rape them. In fact, each village designates a few boys to be their designated child whores, and paints their pinkies red as an indicator of who it is acceptable to rape. The children, being raised with this culture, accept their responsibility as the town whore, no matter how sore they become. When children are not available, Afghan men often use chickens or donkeys instead. I know many of you are like me while reading this, asking yourself, “Why doesn’t the U.S. stop this crap?” Well, it’s very simple: not too long ago, Russia was threatened by Afghanistan, just as the U.S. is now. Russia invaded Afghanistan and tried setting up a civil government, much like the United States is now. However, Russia enforced Marxism ideals upon Afghanistan, which angered the Afghans, and the Russians lost that entire battle, solely because they did not have the support of the locals. The fact of the matter is that the Russians killed 30,000 insurgents per year during their war with Afghanistan, and even with a number that high, the Afghans’ operations were not slowed down the tiniest bit, all because the local people rebelled against Russia. The U.S., on the other hand, is focusing on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, and in order to do that, we can’t be enforcing U.S. morals and standards because that will surely anger the Afghans. The only thing we won’t allow is strapping IED’s to kids, or training to be terrorists against the United States. Basically, we are trying to enforce freedom as best we can, and so far, that much has worked (and that’s an objective observation), because the Afghan locals support us tenfold more than they did back in 2003.

If you want to learn a few more facts about Afghanistan in this email, scroll down and read the facts at the bottom. I guarantee you will find one thing at least that surprises you.

A common question I have been getting for the past few months is what my shipping address is for Afghanistan, to send letters and packages and stuff. However, after much internal deliberating, I have come to the conclusion that I really would prefer not to release my address to receive packages; let me explain why, though. Basically, this deployment is very unique compared to other Operation Enduring Freedom missions, as we are in Afghanistan, not Iraq. In Iraq, mail is easy: the terrain isn’t overly difficult to trek across and no destination is too far from European Army bases. In Afghanistan, it is extremely difficult because of the terrain: unimproved roads, snow-capped mountains, and unreasonably high altitudes dominate the country. Beyond that, almost all of the mail in my area gets shipped through the Pakistani border (it is simply the easiest point of access), which is on the east side of Afghanistan. So, not only does it take up to 3 months for mail to arrive (which makes food a very bad idea to send anyway), it also creates a lot of danger for the mail carriers who have to deliver the mail. Also, I’ll be quite honest about it: I am not all that interested in receiving anything but email anyway because anything I receive is just one more thing I have to account for, and moreover, there simply isn’t a lot of space for my personal items at all. So, here’s what I’ll ask of you: as much as you would like to send me mail, please do not, not just for the sake of the limited room I have, but for the safety of the poor sap who may have to go through Pakistan to get it to me. However, I understand that some of you are dying to send me stuff, and if that’s the case with you, send me an email, and we can talk about how to work the situation. Otherwise, I appreciate you understanding that the mail situation is not ideal, and it is simply 10x more convenient to just email me instead.

For those of you who did not hear, I am getting a 4-day pass the week of Thanksgiving, which is incredibly awesome. I will be home on Thanksgiving, and any of you are invited to drop in and say hi if you will be in the Zion area. I leave the morning after Thanksgiving back to Fort Bragg. After that, I will be leaving sometime between December 4th and 9th to get on a plane to either Kuwait or a small country north of Afghanistan for two weeks, then will arrive in Afghanistan around December 22nd. CH Todd and SPC Fentress left this morning from Fort Bragg to Afghanistan, so they will be the first iteration from our chaplain team to hit the Middle East.

My prayer right now would be that I become more established in my role as chaplain assistant on this deployment. As I said, my commanders don’t seem to take me seriously, and I often feel like a Sergeant who gets treated like a Private. So, my prayer request is that I am able to more fully accomplish my role, not just for the use of the United States Army, but for the people whose lives I am to be touching on behalf of Christ.

I have a couple attachments with this email; two of them are pictures of me out on the ranges.

If you are reading through my entire emails, know that I appreciate it, because it isn’t easy to send these updates, but I know there are some who really want to hear from me. So, for those of you who find use in reading these emails, thanks.

Thank you, and God bless!
love Nate KHATAR! Geist

Some quick Afghanistan/Islam facts that you may find interesting:
– 80% of Afghans are Sunni Muslims, while 19% are Shi’ite Muslims. There is 1 registered Jew in all of Afghanistan, and no registered Christians (though there are underground churches).
– There is approximately 0% humidity in Afghanistan, so even though we will be elevated about 8,500 feet above sea level, it will take no time to dry when we get wet. I hear it’s a weird sensation to sweat, and then be completely dry in moments’ time.
– March 21st is the New Year in Islam. However, they are still in year 1387. Just like most common calendars revolve around the birth of Christ, the Islam calendar revolves around the year that Muhammad traveled to Medina from Mecca. They have been at war literally ever since then.
– Islam looks kindly upon Jesus, and in fact believes Jesus will accompany Muhammad at the end of times. Muslims accept Abraham as their great ancestor, just as Jews and Christians do. The only difference is they believe that Ishmael was the chosen son of Abraham, not Isaac. For more background, read Chapter 16 of Genesis in the Bible, knowing that Ishmael is the ancestor of Islam, and Isaac is the ancestor of Christianity and Judaism.
– There is an 80-85% illiteracy rate in men, and a 90-95% illiteracy rate in women.
– Afghans do not know their birthday. It is not important to their culture, so when Afghans decide to travel to the United States, most of them must just make up a date to use as their birthday for their passport. In fact, there are even many Afghans who are unaware of the year they were born, so they sometimes have to guess how old they are as well.

Written by seeker70

November 17, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Thesis Blues

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I have about 7 months to finish my thesis if I plan on graduating from Northwestern in June, 2009 on what will no doubt be a beautiful sunny day in Evanston on the shores of Lake Michigan. I have about 7 months to secure the tickets to the ceremony and coax some family and friends to share in my joy. I have about 7 months to compile all my notes, finish interviews, and then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite.

It’s about Jim Wysong, a friend from undergrad. He has lived every day of his life in poverty; his life and experiences make an interesting intersection with my teaching career. My writing is a quest to understand what it means to be poor. By doing so, I feel I can put myself in the best possible position to help many of the students I teach. I’m not a crusader; I just want to find answers to questions that will help me do the best I can as a teacher.

It’s driving me crazy. I have too much to write about, too little time to write it, too little clue about a structure that will work, too little experience with this style of writing, and too little motivation.

The most important thing I’ve learned to this point is that the ability to duck and cover is an essential survival skill for the lower class. Those I most want to find for purposes of interviews and background don’t want to be found; some I have found won’t talk to me. They are as inaccessible to me as most social institutions must seem to them. What I’m experiencing is probably very similar to the frustrations they experience when dealing with the financial, educational, health care, and legal systems. No doubt that frustration breeds mistrust for “The Man.”

Whether I want to or not, I represent “The Man.”

I love capitalism.

Written by seeker70

November 17, 2008 at 3:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Prepares to Deploy

with one comment

Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

October 17, 2008

Happy Friday all,

Being deployed has brought so many new experiences, even after this short of time. Of course, there was the whole “saying goodbye to my family for a year and crying all night about it” experience, but besides that, there have been some great things to see. For instance, leaving the armory in Urbana to get on the plane to Fort Bragg was an experience that words don’t do justice for. The entire 5-mile route to the Champaign airport was closed off as we trekked through, no matter if the stoplights were green or red… we had a plethora of ambulances, fire trucks, and cop cars escorting us, lights flashing and sirens blaring. There were policemen lined up along our route, saluting us as we passed, not to mention the bounty of civilians waving to us and giving us blow-kisses goodbye. But, from what I hear, that’s nothing compared to the reception coming home that we face in a year, when you’d be tricked into thinking that we had just won the Superbowl; when the 2-130 Infantry came home from Iraq in 2006, there were 70,000 people linings the streets, and that was a much smaller group of soldiers that deployed compared to the 2,700 we have with this Illinois deployment now. And so here we are now, training for war in big ol’ Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
I received two questions frequently from a bunch of you. The first was this: what are the responsibilities of my job: the chaplain assistant? In a nutshell, a chaplain assistant provides religious support to the soldiers. That gets broken down further into three regular tasks.
The first task is actually something the chaplain is mainly supposed to do, but for several reasons, a chaplain may not be available, so the chaplain assistant often takes on the role. That role is being a counselor. Many issues come up from all across the spectrum: girlfriend issues, financial issues, stress, death of someone back home, etc.
The second role is, basically, being an altar boy. We help set up services for all religions (depending on the faith backgrounds of other soldiers) and get Bibles and Qurans and Bhavagad-Vitas and Tanaks/Torahs for those who request them. Generally, we have mostly Protestant soldiers, a handful of Catholic soldiers, and a few Jewish soldiers. I’ve never had a Muslim or Buddhist or Wiccan soldier to tend to, and I would be willing to bet that I won’t for this deployment, either.
The third (and by far most important) role is that of the bodyguard. If the chaplain dies, then religious support goes down the toilet. Any by the Geneva Conventions code, chaplains are not only not allowed to carry firearms, they can’t pick up firearms in self-defense from a nearby dead soldier. As such, the role of the chaplain assistant emerged. In fact, before it was an official job in the military, people have been chaplain assistants for every war since the Geneva Conventions were set. So, I, as a chaplain assistant, have a somewhat different mission than everyone else: I am to make sure the chaplain survives. We have not had a chaplain die in war since the Vietnam War, although there is one Catholic chaplain who is now in a vegetative state because of injuries. But generally speaking, the Unit Ministry Team has long been thought to be protected by God. We hope to continue that trend when we get home. So far, we have practiced bodyguard techniques only twice, but that training is very intense, so you don’t want to overdo it. There’s a lot of throwing other people on the ground, throwing yourself on the ground, etc. One guy on our team, Sergeant (SGT) Jag dislocated his finger doing the training. Beyond that, we’ve been practicing reloading our weapons without looking away from the enemy, which is extremely tough in our heavy equipment. Let me tell you, this military equipment wasn’t made for a guy like me with such a little frame. I’ve had a lot of lower back pains lately.
The second question I often received from you all was what my mission actually is. Though the mission can change frequently, as stands, unless there is an extraordinary surge of violence in Afghanistan that extra troops are needed for, the 33rd Brigade Combat Team has been activated for the sole purpose of training the Afghan police, so they can stand up to the Taliban bullies on their own, thus allowing the United States to pull out. Because there are so many soldiers that are being deployed for this mission, the Unit Ministry Team (UMT) has sent more chaplain/chaplain assistant teams to war than there’s ever been before. We have 6 UMT’s going, and we have all been training since January this year together. For those of you that care to know the names of all of us going, here they are: the chaplains are Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Robert Guy, Captain (CPT) Greg Moser, CPT Chad McGinnis, CPT Steven Pace (he’s my chaplain), CPT John Todd, and CPT Michael Giese (pronounced Gee-zee). The chaplain assistants are Staff Sergeant (SSG) John Robinson, Sergeant (SGT) Philip Henning, SGT Nick Jagodzinski (don’t try to pronounce it, we just call him Jag), SGT Nate Danger Geist (yeah, they even call me Danger here), Specialist (SPC) Nick Fentress, and SSG David Penny. Ironic that there’s 12 of us going, eh?
Conditions aren’t ideal here, but they could be worse. We have been sleeping in tents, and working long hours. One day we had to be ready at 3:45am, and we worked that day until 9:00pm. Also, the nights are very cold this time of year in North Carolina, surprisingly. The cold hasn’t been too bad, except for the first two nights when our gear hadn’t arrived from Illinois yet, and so I had been using toilet paper as my pillow and my dirty laundry as a blanket. Needless to say, it was one of the coldest nights of my life, if not the coldest ever. Not to mention, we were all shot up with smallpox and anthrax this week, so we are collectively one big infected walking mass of disease. My back has been hurting because of the body armor we need to put on, and it’s gotten worse the past few days, so I’m hoping that clears up. Regardless, I can tell you right now, when I get back from war, the VA Hospital will know my face really well with the number of times they’re going to have to see me for my back.
Obviously, you see that I have Internet access. But what you don’t see is that it takes approximately 3 to 5 minutes everytime I load a web-page, no matter how little there is to load on that page. So it still stands that I ask for your patience if you send me an email, because it could be a month before I reply. I plan on sending an email out about every two or three weeks from here on out.
All in all, things are going well. Though I’m not “excited” to be here, I’m glad that I am, and am slowly getting into the swing of things. Over the past two weeks, I’ve learned what it truly means to take things “one day at a time.”
At the end of every email, I will have a list of prayer requests for those of you who are committed to praying for me and those around me. Specifically this week, if you are going to pray for me, please pray that my mindset becomes battle-ready, as I am definitely not “in the zone” yet. For that matter, this entire operation hasn’t gotten in the mindset yet: this is one of the most disorganized training messes I’ve encountered. Those soldiers who are going to be out and about every day in Afghanistan are getting fairly nervous about the fact that they feel they are not getting the adequate training they expected. Though at the same time, “the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). We can train all we want, but unless God wants us to have victory, then we won’t. That being said, faith isn’t an excuse for disorganization, so I want to train as best I can.
Attached to this email is a picture of me with my beloved smallpox infection; it’s only going to grow bigger and nastier as time goes on, and in fact, has gotten a lot uglier since I took this picture two days ago (I decided not to include a picture of my anthrax arm… it’s just a raised bruise, that’s all. My smallpox will eventually become a scab, and then fall off soon after. I will still be infected for 7 days after that, though. All in all, I should be completely rid of my smallpox by November 5th).

Keep asking questions! Now is the time to ask them, especially questions in which the answer is a number. After I get to Afghanistan, I will unable to answer any question that virtually has to do with a number, if that makes any sense.

Thank you, and God bless!
love Nate DANGER! Geist

Written by seeker70

November 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm

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