The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for February 2009

Thesis Blues pt. 13

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Let me get this out of the way right now: The only reason I’m blogging is to get myself warmed-up for a night of writing. And I haven’t blogged for three weeks. That, and I feel some strange sense of loyalty to the nice people who follow this blog. That means you, Stacy Mittel-Wisnewski. Remember that time you came to my play, and I pointed you out in the audience? It’s hard to believe that was 7 years ago.

I am of two minds with my thesis. One is that I’m not going to finish it on time. I have about 6, maybe 7, weeks, and it seems like there’s too much left to do. Each time I meet with Sandi, I have a little panic attack and feel like I need to pop some Klonopin. It’s not her; it’s me. She finds a lot for me to work on– all good stuff. So I work on it. Then I work on whatever parts she didn’t look at when we met, send them to her, and we talk about those next time. Anyhow… we met Monday afternoon. She had the first half of the piece, had a ton of stuff for me to consider and rework, but noted that it’s in pretty good shape. Yay for me. It just feels like I have more to do in the next 2 months than I can get done.

But my other mind says it’s almost in the bag. I’ve done so much, and come so far, that all I need to do is focus hard for the next 6-7 weeks, and it will all come together. Then I can submit it, graduate, and throw a big party for my Master of Creative Writing degree and my 39th birthday at the same time. June 20. Mark your calendar. Not only that, but I’ll submit the manuscript to a few places, and they’ll fight over who gets to publish it. Then I’ll take some time off (like a year or two….) before getting into the doctoral program for creative writing at UW-Milwaukee. And they’ll take me. I went to Northwestern. I wrote a published piece of literary journalism about Mensa. I wrote an experimental piece about learning how to hit a baseball that is simply brilliant. They’ll take me despite the broken arm I have sustained from patting myself so vigorously on the back.

I say “all I need to do is focus hard for the next 6-7 weeks…” like it’s just as easy to do as it is to say it. It’s not. I’m already focused about as tight as I can be. Any tighter, and I might break my focusing devices. But who knows? Maybe this is only what I think my focus threshold is. Maybe I need to break it and go so far beyond what I thought it was that I find the true meaning behind what it means to be focused and dedicated. That happened once before, in the very play I mentioned that my friend Stacy came to see 7 years ago. I thought I knew what it meant to be exhausted, until I worked on that play. I shattered my previous threshold of exhaustion, and the areas to be discovered beyond it were full of wisdom and understanding the likes of which I had never known. The play changed me significantly because of that. It feels like this thesis is doing the same thing. It already has, and it has not yet released me from its jaws.

Written by seeker70

February 25, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Thesis Blues pt. 12

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Never go into combat without your weapon. It’s something I have told my junior-level College Placement students over and over since the start of the school year. Not only are you going to need your weapon, but you need to make sure its cleaned, loaded, and properly sighted so you don’t have to worry about any operating issues in the thick of the action.

Saturday, I went into combat without heeding my own advice. I camped out at Panera in Round Lake, ate some lunch, checked some email, and formatted Sgt. Danger’s latest communication for blogging. By the time I got focused, I was half-way through my first battery. See, I bought a brand-new laptop when I started the writing program. I bought a nice backpack to haul it, a security cable to lock it down, and a spare battery. All of the accoutrements were designed so as to be ready to fly off and write within one minute (no exaggeration- I wanted to be able to be packed and gone in sixty seconds flat), and then not worry about where I was going to work because two batteries would see me through about five hours of writing. Sounds like a perfect plan, huh?

It usually is. Unless you drain both your batteries and forget to recharge the spare. Unless you pack up and leave your power cord sitting on your desk at home, so when your first battery runs out you don’t even have a means to plug into anything even if you move to a different table at Panera.

I’ve never done something so “rookie” before in my life. The most I’ve done is leave my mouse sitting at home on my desk. That’s no biggie, though, because my laptop has a touchpad. I don’t like to use it, but I can when needed. It makes the whole writing process slow down, requiring me to think about psychomotor skills I don’t want to think about while swimming in a sea of cognitive processes.

So that’s what happened. I zipped home, grabbed my cord, and then trucked over to the local Caribou Coffee, which is always choice #2 when things aren’t happening at Panera.

I’ve started to think that I’m becoming too much of a diva with writing, like everything has to be perfectly balanced and I have to be totally in tune to do my best writing. It didn’t used to be like this, but then again I wasn’t always writing for Northwestern and saddling myself with a thesis that has exacted a huge toll on my time, energy, and emotions. I guess it’s a sign of me stepping up my game so I don’t disappoint my thesis advisor, my second reader, or Jim.

Written by seeker70

February 9, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Ruminates

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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 all,

Just a word of warning, there is some graphic content in this email, though I only describe it because I believe it helps you understand the situation.
It’s a weird stretch we’re in right now: I’m certainly no longer seeing Afghanistan as foreign, though I still am not completely seasoned. I feel like I’ve been here forever, but in reality, I still have several months to go. Though, when I look back at when I enlisted, I never envisioned being deployed at all, yet when I look back, I realize how much the National Guard has changed in the last decade. For instance, in 2008, I was on duty about 70 days of the year (and that only includes 3 days of this deployment), and in 2009, I’ve only had 4 days off the entire year so far. The “Weekend Warrior” truly has become a thing of the past, as far as I’m concerned.
When I think about it, if I had to be anywhere in Afghanistan, I’m glad I’m at where I’m at. It’s a place with such a rich culture here that other places don’t necessarily have (I stand in the same place where the Mongols once ruled, and one of Alexander the Great’s castles is on a nearby hilltop). All around me are the devastating effects of the Russian invasion, and the locals around me can talk for days about it. Not to mention, every morning I get to wake up to the sun hitting snow-capped mountains with beautiful splendor. I look at the mountains and imagine a tourist snowboarding it, and I realize that if that image ever becomes a reality, then we’ve accomplished our mission.
For those who are wondering how the overall mission is going, I must say it’s going well in most aspects. The Afghan military is really getting up to par, and this country has already become a place that terrorists fear. In fact, northeast of here along the Pakistan border, there is a district where the decapitated heads of dead Taliban are displayed on tall spikes, a message to all terrorists who wish to attack that district. It’s as if the heads can still speak, saying “Come, dear terrorists, and we will make you martyrs.”
The one aspect of the American training that isn’t going as well as expected is the medical aspect of things. The process to become an Afghan doctor is not very selective at all. One American doctor who is mentoring the Afghan doctors told me a story about a patient that came in with appendicitis. The Afghan doctor cut open the stomach and heart area of the patient, taking out all of the patient’s innards and setting it on his chest. The doctor then proceeded to massage the heart. The American doctor immediately stopped him and helped him to correct the mistakes, saving the patient’s life.
Though that seems completely awful, maybe even to the point where it’s as if there’s no progress being made, believe me when I say things used to be a lot worse than that. An American doctor who’s a Colonel here told me that he believes in 18 years, they will be up to American standards. He believes America has done all she can to help the Afghans in the medical realm of things, and that the only way they will learn at this point is through “evolutionary progress,” as he describes it. In time, they will learn what to do and what not to do through trial and error, life and death. He said, after all, that it’s the way Americans arrived at the point we’re at right now.
Essentially, the whole situation reminds me of a video game I used to play called Pikmin. (Yeah, leave it to Nate Danger to resort to a video game analogy.) In the game, you’re a space guy named Captain Olimar that goes to another planet and you meet all these little weak things called Pikmin. You lead them into battle and help them to kill the other species that threaten them. In the end, after you leave the planet, the Pikmin have learned to fend for themselves, and using the skills you taught them, they learn to survive. Suddenly, I realize how similar America is to Captain Olimar, and finally our Pikmin need us less and less. We’re not quite at the end of the “game” yet, but we’re really getting close. And I’m not just saying that to say that, I really believe we’re close to where Afghanistan needs to be.
Lately, I’ve developed really great relationships with the interpreters, or “Terps” as they’re called. They are my substitute friends, more than anybody else on the FOB, in fact. We have a lot of fun together: they discuss their Muslim religion as I discuss my Christian religion, we play cricket with each other, we go to the bizarre with each other, we go to the obstacle course together on the FOB, and we even had a dance party in their hut last Saturday. Many of them have actually even gone to church with me, and at least half of them requested Bibles to read. Unfortunately, I’m not welcome in their Mosque because I am not Muslim, so I haven’t had the chance to go to their worship time, although I see them pray throughout the day. I’ll just be sitting in their hut with them, and then they bust out a Muslim prayer rug and pray right there, allowing me to watch. They also inform me of stories they have of when the Taliban ruled when they were pre-teens, which really makes me understand why they like and appreciate me so much. The abuse they went through is incredible, and I feel really blessed to be a part of something that their country appreciates and needs.
A couple weeks ago, we had a Catholic priest and an assistant come to our FOB to provide Catholic Masses, which is a very rare thing, as there are very few Catholic chaplains in the military. It was a great time that they were here, and the priest spent a great deal of time getting to know who I am and where I am with God, more than any other chaplain ever has. His assistant, PFC Garcia, was really a cool kid, too. Garcia, who comes from New York City, told me a story that you may find interesting. He told me that last year on September 10th, he was at his church when the preacher pointed him out of the congregation and said to him, “You are going to a war zone!” It was a very weird thing, because though the preacher knew Garcia a little bit, he didn’t know much about his Army career. The preacher continued, “But, don’t be afraid, because God is going to take you home earlier than you expected.” Three days later, the U.S. Army gave Garcia a call and told him that he had been activated. Two days after that, Garcia was training for this war he’s in the middle of now. Yet, like me, he’s been promised early deliverance from Afghanistan. God is certainly moving here.
Some of you have asked me if I believe it was a mistake for me to have enlisted in the Army. And, for a long time, I wasn’t sure. But, for those of you that have asked, I finally have an answer. My answer is no, it was not a mistake for me to join the Army, and I don’t regret it. At the time, I joined for all the wrong reasons under all the wrong premises, (I enlisted because I was a naïve 17 year-old who wanted something to be proud of, and I enlisted under the premise that I would never see war because I would only be working “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” as the recruiter promised), yet God has been able to completely fashion me into the person I believe He wants me to be at this point. Joining the Army has had its setbacks, of course, but when it’s all said and done, it will have turned out to be a good thing for me. And for those of you thinking about enlisting, don’t assume that because I’m saying this, it will be the same for you if you enlist; I’ve just been blessed on my journey in the Army, that’s all. For me, things happened at exactly the right moments for me: promotions, this deployment, training, etc. This isn’t the case for most soldiers.
For those of you wondering about our friend, SGT Bandee, he has now been on his share of missions and faced quite a bit of real danger. For instance, do you remember how I said there’s four levels of roads in Afghanistan, 1 being the safest and 4 being roads that nearly guarantee an attack? On one mission, his convoy got lost and strayed from his level 1 road to a level 4 road for a couple hours. His Humvee was ambushed by little kids asking for chocolate and candy and stuff, and there’s no telling how close he was to getting hit by a terrorist in a nearby building. At one point, he told me it got so bad that his convoy got stuck in a dead end, and they were literally driving backwards through the town to backtrack the route they’d traveled! He emailed me something that was just too poetic not to share with you. He puts my writing to shame. I asked him if I could share it with you (because, like I said, his stories give you much more perspective than mine can), and he didn’t have a problem with me retelling it. Also, it’s been slightly edited for content, as he… well… swears like a soldier. But again, he gave me permission to edit it as well. And so, I’d like to close this email with his account of a convoy operation:
“Along the way, I took the time to really appreciate the kids of the country. The kids are constantly giving soldiers “thumbs up” as they pass by on convoys. When convoys pass through Afghanistan towns, the kids run out to the edge of the streets like American kids do for the ice cream man. I look out to the kids and see them use their hands to wave at me, and my hands return the gesture. They use their eyes to look at me in sheer intrigue, and my eyes replicate that intrigue. Their hearts go out to me because they know I’m in a dangerous spot, but not before my heart aches for them for the same reason. And as all that happens in a split moment, we drive on.
Along the route, I looked out my window and saw the remains of several cars blown up by IED’s. There was one field in which there were probably around 15 blown-up vehicles, abandoned and alone, never to be used again. And as I am in the vehicle thinking these things, we continually hit potholes that feel like the precursor to an explosion, making me believe that I’m about to be launched out of my seat and added amongst this field of death. That is, until a quick moment passes and I realize that I’m still on the road, not being thrown from the Humvee.
Yet, along the way, we receive reports on our Blue Force Tracker that there was an attack on three vehicles that are about an hour or two behind us, taking the same exact route as we just did. In times like that, you have to think to yourself, “that could have been me just now,” and you recognize that if it had been you just then, that you need to be a true soldier and do what you don’t want to do: fight alongside your fellow soldiers and possibly even have to kill another human being.
We continue into a dangerous district named Saydabad, in which we are told that we should expect to be fired upon. I pull out an extra carton of ammo and open its case, ready to feed it to the gunner in case he runs out of ammo in the anticipated excursion. Fortunately, it’s extremely cold right now. In fact, it’s so cold that I am shivering and my toes are going numb to the point that I am continuously wiggling my toes to fend off frostbite. The arctic frostiness is so severe that I feel disabled. I barely want to move, yet moving is what will keep me warm. I have a love-hate relationship with the weather, because as it conquers me, it also conquers the Taliban. And on this specific trip through Saydabad, nobody dies today because it’s so dastardly cold.”
Today, for my faithful, I ask that you pray for the troops as a whole. As Bandee just said, right now, it’s cold here, and I agree with him that the cold truly is an awesome thing. But in no time, things are going to start heating up, and it will be common news for us to hear about our fellow soldiers going home early in a coffin. The cold has protected us a great deal, but the winter is thawing, and the blood of spring is right around the corner. As for Bandee, the next time he goes through Saydabad, I doubt he’s going to be as lucky as he was this time… he knows it, too. So, may God be with all of our troops as we enter the long stretch of warmth ahead.
I’ve attached two pictures of myself in Afghanistan to give you an idea of the kind of snow that we get in this area. There are also two pictures of my FOB at dusk that I thought you’d enjoy.

Oh, and at the bazaar here on the FOB, they sell a lot of black-market movies and TV shows, and I thought I’d share with you a verbatim description on the back of a Family Guy DVD box:

“Peter (protagonist) is always a lovely Shasha says his family. His wife is addicted to a baby son, the mischievous fun of the day, she envisaged how to control what she-year-old son, the one year old The son of a Trick or Treat ghost is born, he would come up with many ways to let his parents angry surprising things.”
Thank you, and God bless!
love Nate

Written by seeker70

February 7, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dear Sam’s Club,

with one comment

I’ll be plain with you: the only reason I’m a member of Sam’s Club is because Costco is too far away. My sister assures me that I can be a member on her extended plan for free because she works for Costco; however, I have declined her offer on several ocassions because the nearest Costco is too far away for it to be practical for me to shop there. I have encouraged her to offer the freeness to someone who would make better use of it than I.

“Making better use of it” is what I’m writing about, Sam’s Club. I would like to see you make better use of the personnel you have guarding the entrance to the Gurnee Sam’s Club. Surely you can find a better way for him to earn his wages than by having him check if every person who enters the store is a member. This policy is so asinine that I have decided to make a sport of defying it. I walk right past the guard; sometimes I look at him when he asks me to show my membership card. I usually quip, “Oh, no thanks. I already have one.”

See, Sam’s Club, I don’t have to be a member to shop at your store. You specified that I can shop the pharmacy and the liquor department without being a member. So, I don’t need your guard stopping me– he can just assume that I’m going to either the pharmacy or the liquor department. In fact, if you continue with this policy, I most likely will be using goods from both locations in tandem to help me forget how ridiculous and unnecessary it is for you to stop me and ask me for my membership card each time I come to your store.

Sam’s Club, have you ever visited your Vernon Hills store? It’s nice. It’s clean and the staff has had a pleasant demeanor on the few occasions I’ve visited. Guess what? They’ve never asked me to show my membership card at the entrance. If this policy is so important, why is it so different 10 miles south of my local Sam’s? I’ve noticed that it seems fewer minorities shop at the Vernon Hills location. Does that have anything to do with the difference in policies between the two stores? Are there more minorities at the Gurnee location, so you have to make sure everybody is legitimate?

Will you at least promise me that you will train your guards so they know why they are stopping every person who enters the store? I’ve asked them why they stop me, and they have answered, “We’re just supposed to. To be sure you’re a member.” I don’t have to be a member! Remember? My sister explained to me that your policy is probably a matter of keeping the competition at bay. You don’t want them to come in, analyze your prices, and make adjustments that make it harder for you to sell your merchandise. But what’s to keep me from doing the same thing if I’m a member? Surely you can’t stop me from reporting your price on the 12-pack of Le Seur Peas to the suits at Costco corporate headquarters in Issaquah, Washington. Besides, can’t a competitor get on your website and check prices?

My sister also said that people try to sneak by without a membership card. They will ask to borrow the card of the next person in line, or try to con a manager into letting them through “because I forgot my card at home.” Here’s an idea: Don’t let somebody do that. If he screwed around in your store long enough to shop and then tries to sneak by, call the cops. Have them make a record of the trespass, and then ban the perpetrator from the store and put his name on file so he can’t get a membership. Society will take care of itself; pretty soon, word will be out that you don’t mess with Sam’s Club. But I’m not like that, Sam’s Club– I have a membership. So why do I have to be subjected to your ridiculous rule that implies that I am the type of person who would trespass and take advantage of you? I especially won’t tolerate it when it is different 10 miles south.

I hope you think about this, Sam’s Club. You can expect me to continue to walk right past your guards so long as you insist on maintaining an unnecessary, arbitrary rule that is disrespectful to your honest customers.

Written by seeker70

February 4, 2009 at 3:27 am

Posted in Sam's Club

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