The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for December 2008

Guest Blogger: Also A Cross Country Runner

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Christine DiGrazia is a teacher of 11 years experience at Zion-Benton Township High School. When she’s not busy grading essays and following University of Illinois basketball and football, she coaches track and cross country. Last month’s posting Once A Cross Country Runner inspired her to relate a true tale of hardcore running steeped in the philosophy she originated.

Once a Cross Country Runner brings to mind the first 5K that Jobs for Illinois Graduates sponsored at Zion-Benton. I had decided to run the race for a number of reasons: first, I wanted to support local running; second, I hoped to use the race as motivation for a post-bronchitis comeback; and third, I asked my team to run the race, so I figured I should play along, too. After all was said and done, my t-shirt might as well have had “Once a Cross Country Runner…” plastered across the chest.

It was the last weekend in June, and the day was rather hot. The late start (9 a.m.) only made matters worse. I arrived at Van Patten Woods eager to kick off my comeback, albeit a little worried about what type of performance I would be able to muster. As I warmed up and stretched, my Once a Cross Country Runner… pride began to kick in, and I silently sized up the competition. It was a small race, so I figured I could do reasonably well in my age group.

Rodney Winslow toed the line next to me, and right before the gun sounded, I decided that I couldn’t let a 6’4” science teacher / badminton coach beat me. At the crack of the pistol, I instantly bit off more than I could chew by dashing out in front of him faster than I should have for my fitness level. As we passed the mile mark, my lungs started to burn and my diaphragm spasmed. I realized that perhaps I wasn’t as post-bronchitic as I thought.

When I glanced at my watch and saw 7-something for the first split, I tried to reassure myself that my years of running experience would save me.Then we left the safety of the shade and made the turn at the north side of the lake. My diaphragm was a sinewy knot twisted in my lungs, completely uncooperative in the breathing process. My legs not only felt like lead, but were starting to itch, too. We hadn’t run through much grass, so I didn’t understand why I was having an allergic reaction. Rodney was inexplicably in front of me, and his giant silhouette grew smaller and smaller as my pace slowed. Before he was too far away, he called out something about beating the cross country coach, but my brain was too murky at that point to process the insult or use it for motivation– I was far too busy participating in a pity party of one.

As I turned south on the path that seemed more desert than dirt, it felt like the sun was blasting my pale skin. I began re-evaluating my goals for the race. This type of advanced thinking was difficult though, because my body was on my mind. I could barely lift my knees. My tongue was four sizes too big for my cotton mouth, and it felt like I had stopped sweating. I wouldn’t realize until my next race that I should not run this hard in the sun while taking antibiotics for bronchitis.As I contemplated simply stepping off the course and finding some shade and some water, the dull thumping of Jeff Burd’s pace behind me reminded me that I couldn’t. For the last mile and change, my whole being was dedicated to one cause: Beat Jeff Burd.

At several points, I had that weird feeling that time was standing still; I would look around and wonder how I had gotten to that spot on the trail, because I didn’t remember running to it. At one point, I tried to do math in my heat-stroked head; all I could figure was that I had run my middle mile real slow, because I was going to finish around the 30:00 mark; it was bewildering. At another point, doubt crept in my mind about whether or not I could finish. Then I’d hear footsteps again, and snap back to reality: must beat Jeff Burd… must move one leg, then other…

Finally, I enjoyed a stretch of shade before attempting a kick. My arms pumped to their own rhythm, out of sync with my legs, and my legs… well, they were doing what they could. I remember Crazy Bo Ledman (who had already finished, cooled down, had breakfast, showered and come back to cheer for us pluggers) giving me the “Oh, you’re finishing!” pity-clap along with a few of my runners, but I didn’t care because I had held off Jeff Burd.

After the finish line, I don’t remember much. Somehow I got home; the next thing I remember, my husband woke me from a nap as I shivered fitfully in my sweaty t-shirt. I remember him bringing me Gatorade. I remember him scolding me, “Why didn’t you just stop? What’s that rash all over your legs? Jesus, you’re totally dehydrated!”

I remember smiling and quietly uttering between sips, “I had to beat Jeff Burd.” He smiled back at me, knowing exactly what I meant. He, too, was once a cross country runner.

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Written by seeker70

December 29, 2008 at 6:25 am

Posted in Cross Country, DiGrazia

Thesis Blues pt.6

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I have a week until I have to make my first submission to my thesis advisor. I promised her 30 pages, and will probably deliver more than that. I’m happy with what I have at the start of the story and for about 30 pages; it’s almost strictly biographical about Jim. I’ve done some solid research, and found a way to develop character based on little more than conjecture. One of the joys of Creative Nonfiction is that you have license to conjecture (amongst other things), so long as you are on the level about it with the reader. And don’t go crazy with it. It’s certainly not my preferred method, but it will work where I’m using it in the story.

I stopped by Jim’s house over Christmas. I brought some Northwestern gear for him and his daughters. I have school spirit falling out of my ears; I think everyone I know should have some solid Northwestern gear to wear out and about on their regular routines. I do. I wear it with pride!

Seeing Jim last week may be the last time I see him before the thesis is due in June. I had to check on a couple of things and do some recon to prep myself for the end of the story. The end sort of came to me in a flash two weeks ago. I think I figured out how to wrap the whole thing up, but I’m not sure. I thought I had a solid opening to the story at one point and it has changed three times since then. Jim’s life is still going on, so it makes it difficult to put any solid closure on it. I have to kind of catch him at some point that seems logical for a stopping point. One of my professors warned me that it would be very difficult to get a story arc with Jim since he’s still alive and active. Not to sound morbid at all, but it’s just a fact that he is still alive and active. Something could happen at any time that could drastically change the story. It’s one of the challenges of writing it.

I’m also getting into the factual research about poverty at this point. I have a couple of books by a leading authority (Ruby Payne) that I checked out of my school’s library. I wonder how I’m going to weave in all that. I’m sure I’ll find a way to do it. What has me more nervous, though, is finding a way to manage all the different angles her writing is going to inspire in my writing. No doubt it will lead me in many new directions, many of which I won’t be able to pursue. Some will be too minor for the story, some will lead to deadends, some will prove to be too much to cover. I guess I’ll have to deal with that as it occurs.

Written by seeker70

December 28, 2008 at 6:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: SGT Danger; A Very Islam Christmas

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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.

I just wanted to send a quick Christmas update to all of you:

Things are going okay here in Afghanistan. I’ve learned so much about the culture, and even more on Islam. One of my responsibilities here as a chaplain assistant is to work with the locals who live on the FOB, and I often meet with them. They all have learned to call me Danger now, because they wanted to know what my friends call me. Whenever I walk into their little hut, I announce, “Natersade! Khatar injast!” In Dari, that means, “Don’t be afraid! Danger is here!”

In the Afghan culture, when you enter someone’s house, you will be offered Chiai Tea. You should not refuse it. Unfortunately, I detest tea. The first time I came into my interpreter’s hut, he asked me if I wanted some tea, and I said no thanks. A few minutes later, I could tell that he was disappointed in something, and so I asked, “Am I being rude because I did not accept your tea?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes.” So, now I always have to drink their tea.

On the FOB is an Afghan National Army (ANA) boot camp. It’s one of the locations that they train the ANA to fight the Taliban. Yet, at the same time, it’s known that there are Taliban that have infiltrated the ANA, and when you walk by a formation of ANA soldiers, you can sometimes pick-up on who you think the Taliban are: when you look into the eyes of an ANA soldier, and he looks back at you with eyes that are full of evil and contempt, you just know that you are but a few feet away from a terrorist who wants your head on a platter.

One of the other responsibilities I have is to meet with the local Mullah / Imam (Muslim religious leader of the village). That, too, has been very eye-opening. We often talk about politics, culture, terrorism, and religion in order to better the already successful relationship between the American forces and Afghan leaders. I asked the Mullah if he believed that there were terrorists within his own ANA troops, and he said he can’t be sure, but if he found one in his ranks, that Taliban member would quickly be killed. On the flip side, if the Taliban were to somehow take control of Afghanistan again, then every Afghan who ever helped Americans would be killed: every interpreter I’ve met, every ANA soldier, every Mullah, and every American within the country would be hanged.

As I send this, my Christmas day is nearing its end, but yours is still going on. And even though I miss America incredibly so, and I miss my family all the more, I know God has me exactly where He needs me, and there’s so much peace in that. It’s difficult to have a bitter Christmas in that sense. I have no pity on my situation, and I would request that you don’t either. Just please don’t forget to support us.

As for prayers this week, I ask you to pray that the Packers don’t lose to the Lions. Oh, goodness gracious, may God have mercy on Green Bay.

More seriously though, I ask you to please pray for my Uncle Jeff Love, who has been battling cancer for the past few months. This month, the cancer was diagnosed with leukemia. It has taken a toll on him as well as his family (as you can imagine). Uncle Jeff often speaks about how he is content with dying if that’s God’s will, but my hope is that God’s will is the same as everyone else’s and that he pulls through. So, may God’s will prevail either way, but may all of us be at peace with whatever that will include.

I’ve attached a few pictures of the FOB area, and one is a
picture of my chapel in which I celebrated Christmas this year.

Thank you, God bless, and have a merry, merry Christmas. Don’t forget the meaning behind the holiday.

Written by seeker70

December 27, 2008 at 7:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger; "Ernest Goes To War"

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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.

11 December 2008

Hello my America-dwelling friends,

Before I begin, I just want to reiterate the sensitivity of everything I say. I will refer to the location I am at as my “final destination,” not by its actual name. The fact of the matter is that every email is sent through the Iranian satellite network, and emails from American soldiers are then sold to the Taliban / Al-Qaeda from Iran. I guarantee that a terrorist is reading this email right along with you, but they’ll be very disappointed when they find out that I spill no secrets for them in this email.

I arrived into the combat zone on December 6th, St. Nick’s Day. After a flight that approximately took a day, I arrived in an undisclosed country in the Middle East (no, it was not Kuwait). From there, we got on a C-17 military plane and flew to the outskirts of Kabul, which is the capital of Afghanistan. The C-17 flight was very nerve-racking… in the plane, you have no windows at all, so you kind of feel like you’re on a ride at Six Flags or Disney World or something, except you know it’s extremely real because you’re wearing body armor and holding a weapon the whole time. The G-force was very extreme in the plane, and it was a lot fiercer than any roller coaster I’ve been on, which made it all the more real.

We landed outside Kabul, and we were told that we had to jump on a convoy into Kabul. Before we got into the convoy though, we were briefed about the route we would be traveling. In the military, they rate routes on a scale of 1 to 4, 1 meaning that there is virtually no danger at all, and 4 meaning that you will certainly be blown up if you try to travel that route. On that particular day, the route was classified as a 3. (Yeah, when we heard that, it got really real, really fast.) Even though it was just a 15 minute ride, there was a lot to beware of. They told us that there were 3 known VBIED’s in the area (VBIED = vehicle-borne improvised explosive device = car bomb), and they gave us the license plates of the cars to look out for. Beyond that, regular IED’s were possible, and there’s always a possibility of small arms fire (automatic weapons being shot at you) and BBIED’s (bicycle-borne improvised explosive devices). So, we all got into the convoy, and were on our way.

As we were traveling, we passed the “downtown” of Kabul and got into the fields just outside Kabul. You can imagine the pace of my heart when I looked out the window and saw three Afghans on bicycles heading towards the side of our vehicle. I gripped my hands and just tried to continue breathing normally. Fortunately, they were just riding their bikes in our general direction, but hopefully you’re starting to understand the fear that a soldier feels out here.

We arrived in Kabul safely, only to experience the worst air quality you can ever imagine. It constantly tasted like carbon and smelled like car fumes. The reason for that is because the Afghans have to burn tires in Kabul just to stay warm, and with the way the air circulates in Kabul, the fumes from the burnt tires are like a cloud hovering over the city. If that wasn’t enough, there is dust everywhere, and rooms that haven’t been occupied in a week have so much dust that you’d think it’s been a century since the last time someone was in there.

While I was at Kabul, we learned news that 160 military vehicles were torched to a crisp in Pakistan. Some of you read that in the news, I’m sure. Well, what you may also have read is that those vehicles were torched because they were carrying gear for new troops coming into Afghanistan. Well, back in October, we each packed a large black box (called a Tuff Box) with any gear that we wanted in Afghanistan that we didn’t want to lug around in Fort Bragg, and were told that it would go through Pakistan in December and arrive to us then. You probably put two and two together, those boxes may be ours. It hasn’t been confirmed yet that it was our stuff, but if it was, a lot of soldiers are going to be without gear that the military issued us, not to mention any personal items we put in there. But, like I said, that hasn’t been confirmed yet, so we have yet to see.

Anyway, Kabul was an interesting place to be, but as I already said, it was not the final destination for my chaplain and me. So after we finished our business there, we had to find a way to get to our final destination. There were 4 others (besides me and my chaplain) that had to get to where our final destination was, and we all banded together as a group and called ourselves the Sexy Six until we arrived. However, getting to the final destination is very tricky, and let me explain why: in Afghanistan, there are only 3 paved roads, one of which we rode on to get into Kabul. The only paved road from Kabul to my final destination is extremely dangerous. It also is usually a level 3 road, and is surrounded by level 4 unpaved/unimproved roads. Me and my chaplain have been in communication with those already stationed at our final destination, and we have always been told that we would fly into our final destination on a helicopter because the roads are beyond dangerous. Anyone traveling those roads are just asking for trouble.

Well, the day before we left to get to our final destination, we found out that there were no flights going into our final destination, and the only way in was by convoy. So, us Sexy Six were slated for a convoy to our final destination.

So, the next day, we got all our gear and headed out of Kabul and down the only road that could take us to our final destination. We loaded all of our bags onto a couple trucks… one that was named the “Mary Ann,” and one that was named the “Shannon.” (Those of you from Grigoni descent… yeah, kinda weird, huh?)

The route at first was great… again, we got to see the “city life” of Afghanistan, and as we drove by, kids would stop and give us thumbs-up or wave to us. They were so excited to see soldiers going by in their town, and it was great to know that even if it came to the point where nobody in our own country supported us, at least these little kids felt we had value. It was very comforting and very emotional. But, as we treaded on, there were less and less Afghans, and more and more dirt fields. It was encouraging to know that everything was in God’s control, so I can’t really say I got overly nervous during the trip, except for moments when you see something that you perceive as a potential threat, like the Afghans on the bikes into town.

We continued traveling down the road (this time, the route was a lot longer than 15 minutes… it took us about a half a day to trek across), but then there was a point where all the vehicles in the convoy stopped. We were told that up ahead, there was a wire in the middle of the road, which if you know anything about tactical movements, a wire in the middle of the road screams “I-E-D!” We sat there a few minutes, and then were told to dismount the vehicle. We got out, and with loaded weapons, we patrolled the nearby area to make sure there were no terrorists, IED’s, or snipers in the mountains as the guys up ahead investigated the wire. After about 15 to 20 minutes, we were told to get back in the vehicle, and so we all mounted back up. Apparently, the wire was just a cut wire from an appliance, and was not a threat.

We continued down, and had to dismount one more time during our trip. This time, we were in-between two large mountains, and so we got out and scanned the sides of the mountains for snipers with our scopes, ready to fire when needed. Eventually, we got back into our vehicles and continued down.It was an interesting sensation as we drove along: as we climbed higher and higher in the mountains, I became more and more tired. It got to the point where I literally couldn’t even keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds because of how thin the air was. The Army knew that us “newbies” weren’t acclimated for the altitude, and so that’s why we were riding down with those who had already been in those mountains for quite some time as we struggled to stay awake.

When I woke up, it was over an hour later, and we were extremely high in the mountains, just under 9,000 feet up in the air. At this point, it was starting to get dark, but the view was gorgeous as I looked down into the valley below. We made it to our final destination, safe and sound, no casualties reported.

I imagine that some of you are gasping to yourself, “Oh my gosh… poor little Nathan / Danger is in such a dangerous place, he could have been killed!” Yes, little Nathan / Danger had an experience that was intense for him, but now little Nathan / Danger is safe at his FOB, and doesn’t have to make that trip again. A year from now, when I go home, I should be flying back by helicopter. The trip is done. Don’t worry now. In fact, the chaplain assistant that is here that I am replacing told me that the FOB I’m at is extremely safe, and I’ve heard that from several others. Besides that, with the way the FOB was built, I have to agree: we are at a very safe place. I can’t go into detail obviously, but trust me when I say that we may, in fact, have the safest FOB in all of Afghanistan. If you visited this FOB and could see what I mean, you would agree.

So far, the FOB seems pretty nice. We have porcelain toilets here, and warm bathrooms. I think I will have a nice and tolerable year here. It gets difficult at night, because we have a “blackout FOB,” where the lights go off at night completely. We do this because American forces are the most elite nighttime-ready forces in the world. It’s been said that we “own the night” because we are so efficient at nighttime operations. Not to mention, we have all different branches of the military here, as well as soldiers from other foreign countries, so we are very well-rounded. But for the moment, it’s a little bit difficult remembering where everything is in the dark, but in a couple days, I will know the whole layout by heart in the dark. Because we have had full moons the past couple nights, the visibility hasn’t been bad at all. But come next new moon, I’ll know the FOB layout by heart anyway, so it won’t be a problem.

There’s only two things that’s really been problems so far here: one of them is the water supply. All of our water is not potable, meaning if we drink it, we’ll get extremely sick. If you’ve ever had a boil order before, you know how annoying that is. Imagine having to deal with a year-long boil order. Instead of tap water here, they constantly supply water bottles around the FOB almost everywhere. It sucks a lot to have to brush teeth using a water bottle, but I imagine I’ll get used to it. Apparently, the tap water here was found to have something like 40% fecal matter in it, so we don’t drink that crap (literally). It sucks taking a shower, knowing you’re washing your body with Afghan poo, but when I think about what soldiers had to do during the OIF and OEF campaigns in 2003, I really can’t complain.

The other thing that sucks is the altitude. The air is very thin up here, and so it screws with our bodies in ways we didn’t expect. Of course you frequently get your standard shortness of breath, but it goes beyond that. For one, my sinuses are going nuts. My nose is constantly either running like a waterslide or clogged up like a mud pit, which then turns into a sore throat at night. Also, all of us have been having bladder problems. Because the pressure is so high here, it’s like someone is constantly pushing on our bladders, and so we have to pee all the time. The bags of chips we have here are completely puffed up to the point where they feel like a blown-up balloon when you touch it; imagine what our bladders must be going through. Last night, I had to pee three times during the night, and I have a young bladder. I can’t imagine what some of these other older guys are experiencing. Not to mention, your body will tell you that you gotta pee all of a sudden without warning, and when it tells you to go, you better get going. I also get tired a lot earlier, but when I finally go to sleep at night, I can’t sleep for very long because I’m either trying to breathe too hard or my mouth is too dry (there is 0% humidity in the mountains here). Also, we have to take pills everyday to prevent malaria, which makes our skin drier, and with us being so high up in the air and close to the sun, it’s like a double whammy of dermatology issues. So, whoever came up with the phrase “your attitude determines your altitude” obviously never took a trip to Afghanistan.

On the bright side, at least the local nationals that serve the food around here put on little beard covers, so our food doesn’t get beard in it. On the downside, between the nasty air, the altitude affecting my body, and the body armor tearing down my back, I think I may have some long-term damages after I get back. In fact, I heard that those stationed at Kabul for a year can file for a 10% disability paycheck because of the air there. Overall though, I think I’m very fortunate to be here, and I know God has me where He wants me.

CH Pace and I are still getting into the groove of things here. Today we met an interpreter that we will be working with, and he seems very nice and very knowledgeable. He is an older man with gray hair, which makes him very respected among the Afghan people (if only I could grow my hair out and show them my white hairs that are popping up already). The ‘Terp educated us very much about the country and the people here. For one, he explained to us that he, as well as the other Afghans, want us here. He said that, of the Afghan people, probably 98% of them want us here. We were invited to the country, and have truly liberated them from a lot of the tyranny and fear they were living under when the Taliban ruled their country. He respects us very much, as do more than most of the Afghans. The Taliban is becoming less and less successful here because of American efforts, and the Afghans are becoming less and less fearful as a result. In fact, most of the suicide bombers these days aren’t even Afghans… he said that they’re Pakistani terrorists who found a way across the border. It’s gotten to the point where the terrorists are running out of volunteers for suicide missions, and those that did it once before don’t answer their phones for a second round… go figure. But, after hearing this man’s appreciation for America gave me a newfound hate for the media, as they really never show that side of the story. It’s a huge encouragement to know that the Afghans support us.

So, the prognosis is good. I’m here safe in Afghanistan, and things are going well. It’s a laid-back atmosphere, and much more pleasant than Fort Bragg. Not to mention, it’s a beautiful country. I am completely surrounded by mountains, some of them snow-capped. If only this were a safe country, it’d be a tourist attraction that would rival Ireland or Italy.

This week, those who need the prayers the most are my parents and Joanna. It’s a big lifestyle change (especially for Joanna) not to be able to talk to me every day, and while I have the luxury of being occupied all the time, they don’t. So, please pray for them, not that they learn to live without me, per se, but that God comforts them in their loneliness and worry. As for me, don’t worry so much about me. I believe God is on high-alert for my sake, and though I always appreciate prayers, I am actually at a point where I am exactly where God needs me and could not be comforted more by Him at this moment.

I have attached some pictures of the Afghanistan countryside… enjoy them.

Thank you, and God bless!

love Nate


Written by seeker70

December 20, 2008 at 3:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Thesis Blues pt.5

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A writer friend of mine mentioned some advise a few years ago that has been indisposable to me of late. He said that when you need to knock off from writing, leave at a point where you have an unsolved problem in the writing. I’ve forced myself to do that for the past two weeks, and it has helped quite a bit. It’s played out like this: I’ve been moving all the biographical information about Jim to the front of my story for right now. I’m focusing only on his life, and am going to split it up and parcel it out in different ways later on. But there’s a lot of stuff there, some of which I haven’t written yet and some of which takes a long time to write. So I’ve been writing chunks at a time, and then leaving off with the first few sentences of the next section I want to write. In between, I keep thinking about what I want and need to say about the next section, and as soon as I sit down and start back at it, I’m already in the zone and getting the problem solved. It helps me think ahead and weigh different options before I attempt to write something.

I really nailed it today. I spent over two hours hacking out and polishing two critical sections about Jim’s life away from campus when we first became friends. I had already researched stuff (the census bureau info and corn detasseling stuff I mentioned in entry 4), and just worked to sew it in as seamlessly as possible. It felt like I was working mostly by intuition, and that’s always a good sign when I’m writing. Then, since I was in the zone, I started to hack out a digression based on my own opinions and experiences as a teacher. It’s unpolished, but it gives me some things to think about before I sit down next time. I’m also going to listen again to my interview with Jim about the time he spent in Atlanta before I sit down to write about that later this week.

So if you’re keeping a scorecard of all this at home, this story features significant statistical research and background interviews, sections that are definitely memoir, several editorial digressions, and an ongoing biography amongst other things. This is good. Am I fucking nuts? No. I picked this story because it would force me to write a mixed-genre piece that would present numerous problems to any writer. Solving those problems in the writing process is going to make me a better writer.

Written by seeker70

December 15, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Thesis Blues pt.4

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I’ve done some great research the last two weeks; fact-finding stuff more than anything. The difference the small details make can be significant. One such detail is in regard to the economic status of Goshen, Indiana in the late 80s and early 90s. I found what I needed, for the most part, on the US Census Bureau website. It’s awesome! You can dig through more information than you could ever imagine being collected; in fact, you can even download spreadsheets full of information– and you can customize the information you want displayed. I was floored by what I could find. The only drawback was that it took a good deal of time. But I like to dig and muck around in the mess.

The sheer variety of information I’ve needed to find has helped keep the writing process fresh and interesting. In addition to the economic information mentioned above and details of a particular football game mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been digging around for lyrics to certain songs from Rent, plot notes for Les Miserables, the purpose and process of corn detassling (look it up… it’s interesting!), and substance abuse assistance programs offered at the Elkhart County Minimum Security Facility. These all fit into the complicated puzzle that is this story, regardless of how random and unexpected they seem to be.

Written by seeker70

December 15, 2008 at 4:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Thesis Blues pt.3

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I had a hot start last night as I got back to work on things. I needed to find out the exact date of the legendary football game against South Bend Clay that ended Jim’s high school football career. Going on details of weather conditions and the traditional day of the week on which high school football is played, I found what I needed on the Farmer’s Almanac online. I love any way I can find out odd and elusive information; it all adds up to a repertoire of research skills that is a sin qua non for any writer. My favorite recent example is from last spring, when I dug around and found a bunch of information about the elevations and distances of a course we used to run in cross country. The website was enabled to measure distances for you as you dragged a map along a set of crosshairs on the screen. It took some getting used to, but was fun to use. It also enabled me to put some seriously cool details into the story I was writing. You can check out the website here: http://www.earthtools.org/.

I’ve spent a lot of time since last summer transcribing phone conversations I’ve recorded as I’ve interviewed people. It’s a time-intensive practice that I’m not sure has paid off as I thought or hoped it would. I came up with a different idea. I’m going to try to listen to the recordings over and over as I go about my regular daily business. They’re backed up on my laptop, so it’s really just a matter of playing them and listening. I feel this will give me a solid command of the content of the conversations, and this will translate to me writing more intuitively rather than worrying about how I’m going to fit something in. If I want to get exact details, I can rewind the recording and listen. I tried something similar about 6 years ago when I directed a Vietnam-themed play. I wanted to get the feel and mindset for Vietnam as best I could. Each night when I got home from school, I had a Vietnam film in the DVD player. Even if I wasn’t watching it, it was still playing and I was still thinking about it. The process flooded my mind with all kinds of details and thoughts, and that paid off handsomely throughout the production of the play.

Finally, this is why we do research: because memory is not fact. What Jim remembers of the South Bend Clay game varies considerably from what Brad Park told me as he rattled off a string of stats from the statbook he leafed through as we spoke last week. Brad wasn’t too sure of details right off hand, either, but referenced the statbook. He ended up telling me things I would have spent hours trying to find.

Written by seeker70

December 2, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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