Archive for March 2009
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.
Note: this posting is almost a month old; I’ve been wrapped up in thesis work… my apologies for old information… Jeff
In the last email I sent, I talked about the unfortunate death of one of my buddies who died in Helmand Province. Well, last Tuesday, there were 4 more deaths in Kandahar (which is right next to Helmand, where 1LT Southworth was killed), 2 of them from the Illinois Army National Guard. All 4 died from an IED attack. Activity is really hot down south, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be getting any better soon.
2008 was the deadliest year for soldiers in Afghanistan, with 8 soldiers having died by the end of February. So far in 2009, 29 soldiers have died. But, it’s not just in the south where activity is happening. Our friend SGT Bandee also found himself in the middle of a hotspot recently. Bandee had a 4-day trip turn into an 8-day nightmare. He was stuck on the eastern side of east Afghanistan (all the way to a place called Salerno, if you’re familiar), and saw some crazy stuff. Once again, I’ll share with you his words as he reported to me while he was stuck, edited so it’s more civilian-friendly (and family-friendly) to understand:
“Got to Camp Clark via Chinook, and found out right away that because of its constant temperate climate and location (just 22 miles from the Pakistan border), Clark is an active area with a buncha Taliban activity. Since I last visited, Clark’s dining facility had been hit by a rocket, and another rocket came in and destroyed a newly constructed building. For Clark, it’s normal for not a week to go by without some kind of significant activity. One particular day I was there, I heard there was an attack that just occurred some miles away from Clark, and the casualties were being brought in to the FOB. I found out that there was one contractor that was wounded-in-action and one contractor that was killed-in-action. I bolted over to the makeshift hospital to offer my assistance. There was a contractor lying on a bed there, and his face had obviously been in a blast. I found out that he and another contractor got blown up by an IED in the area. The other contractor was dead, and now this contractor was lying on a bed with gashes in his face, and it was feared that he was going to lose his eyesight as the explosion had caused cuts around his eye, and possibly even in the eye itself. As he was being treated, a large explosion rocked Camp Clark and a feeling of chaos came over me as I stood in the rain outside the TMC, wondering if the entire FOB was under attack. I was told a few seconds later that the explosion was a controlled detonation, and it was just blowing up an IED that was found in the area. Moments later, a helicopter came and MEDEVAC’ed the contractor out to a more equipped hospital.”
Bandee found out later that the contractor’s eye was saved, fortunately.
If you’re curious as to why places like Camp Clark and Helmand and Kandahar are more active than other areas in Afghanistan, it all has to do with the accessibility that Taliban members have. You have to understand, Talibs are nomadic in an effort to avoid being traced, and they often live in tents on mountains for a few days, then drift to their next location after attacking. Well, considering that they have to live high in the mountains in tents becomes problematic for them in the winter. The harsh winters make such a feat very difficult to survive, and so the preferred spots are those with the warmer locations. But, you may have wondered to yourself before, “Why Afghanistan? Why are the Taliban trying to take over such a seemingly useless country?” It’s a perfectly legitimate question, and the answer lies in the politics, not the resources. After all, Afghanistan doesn’t offer much: there’s no rare crops, it’s too dangerous to be a tourist attraction, and the food isn’t exactly worth the trip . The real problem is that the Taliban hates America. Plain and simple. They don’t like American values, and they don’t like the freedom of religion (and specifically freedom of Christianity) in America. And so, wherever America goes, the Taliban will be there to fight her.
The Taliban in Pakistan greatly fear that Afghanistan will someday become completely democratic like America, as that may cause very anti-Talib feelings in Afghanistan. In order for the Taliban to remain strong, they have to stop America immediately, otherwise there will be too many people in the world that are against the Taliban. If the Talibs are to be successful, they need to kill as many Americans as they can to make the citizens of the United States want to pull out of Afghanistan, discarding the War on Terror as a “lost cause.” And thus, that is why there is a war throughout Afghanistan, and that is why our soldiers are getting killed in places like Helmand Province.
Things are changing in Afghanistan, and the changes are going to affect every soldier here. With the surge of troops that President Obama has agreed to send to this war-torn country, American forces are now going to be able to focus their efforts in more concentrated areas. So, instead of the troops of a unit being spread thin across several provinces in Afghanistan, they will condense the area that certain troops are fighting in and allow them to focus on that one area. Many troops have been told that they are being transferred to different areas of Afghanistan because of this surge, and I am no different. Last week, I was told that in a few months I will be transferred from east Afghanistan to Helmand Province. At first, I was disappointed because I felt so stable where I’m at, but now I have a much better outlook, because I know that God will put me wherever He needs me in this country. I can’t help but not be worried at all about this potential transfer. I mean, for one, nothing is set in stone yet about the transfer. But more importantly, I know now that God has complete control of this situation, and if I am to go to the most dangerous province in Afghanistan, then so be it. God is in complete control, and I am literally fearless of this transfer as a result.
My prayer request this week comes with a story. So bear with me: Lately, my Muslim friends, the interpreters, have been asking a lot about my faith. To them, Jesus is not the Son of God, but simply a great prophet. The Bible is considered one of their 4 holy books in Islam, and so they naturally wanted to learn about Jesus. I asked them if they had ever heard the story of Jesus, and all 5 of them said they had not. So, I went into a spiel about Jesus, explaining the Bible from beginning to end in a matter of 15 minutes. I explained to them that, at the beginning of time, mankind and God were very much allied, and there was no disconnect between them. However, shortly after God created man, man betrayed God and disobeyed God’s one command to not eat from the Tree of Life. As a result, sin and pain came into the world, and man and God were separated from each other. God constantly tried redeeming mankind: He sent Moses to the people to give them laws, but they continuously broke those laws. God allowed His people, however, to “pass” their sins onto animals (which are pure of heart and have no sin) and then sacrifice them, which would allow them to quash their sins that stained their souls. However, God didn’t want it to always be this way, because it wasn’t what He had hoped for, that sins would only be perpetually forgiven by constant sacrifices. And so, God sent Himself to earth in the form of a man, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life, and then became a sacrifice for all mankind: He was handed over to mankind to be brutally slaughtered, like an ancient Hebrew animal sacrifice.
As I was explaining this part to the 5 Terps that were present, they became visibly upset that mankind would do this to God. They were extremely distraught that we, as human beings, have so much evil in the world that we are capable of killing God’s Son. But, I went on to tell them the “Good News” of the story, that after Jesus died, He had been the final sacrifice for all of mankind. Because, three days after He died, He was raised from the dead and spoke to over 500 people, and then ascended to be with God. With this Resurrection, all could be saved by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice. I went on to explain to them that, when you receive a gift from someone, it’s only an unopened gift if you stare at it and reject it. But, if you take that gift, open it, and receive it, then you can use the gift’s contents in a practical, intended way. At this point, my Muslim friends finally comprehended the significance of Jesus, and were very troubled, as I imagine they knew that it contradicted their Muslim faith. I asked them if they wanted to understand the death of Jesus better, and they all were very enthusiastic. So, the following night, I brought over The Passion of the Christ and watched it with them. Once again, they were very upset as they watched the movie, distressed that mankind would do such a thing to Jesus. They were angry, hurt, and sullen, and a few of them even couldn’t help but cry at Jesus’ pain. It was a very emotional and spiritual time for all 5 of them, and that is where you come in. These Terps are going through some very heavy spiritual warfare. I ask you this week to pray for them, as they are wrestling with the concept of Jesus against their notion of Mohammad. I ask that you please pray for God to guide them to understand Him better in this critical period in their lives.
I had breakfast and lunch at Panera today. Breakfast in Gurnee, late lunch in Lake Bluff. I came up with the idea of breaking up the day’s work when I was coming back from downtown on the train yesterday . I knew I needed to get a lot done, and didn’t feel like parking myself in any particular location for most of the day. It seems to suck the life out of me when I do that. Besides which the thought of having to do that on any particular weekend day agitates my mind before I even do it.
In between, I folded the huge mound of laundry I threw on my bedroom floor yesterday. That upset the cat a little bit; she had already burrowed two or three tunnels through it and was resting comfortably within when I got down to the folding. Then I worked out for a half hour on the elliptical machine at the gym next door. Then I went over to the public library to recieve my award for 2nd place in their yearly creative writing contest.
I hate to play the part of the snobby writer, but I’m afraid I was. I had another twenty pages of edits to go through and didn’t want to lose time listening to the other award winners reading their pieces. I sat in the back and listened, but I also edited my manuscript by hand- and holy crap, did I get a lot done! I believe in creative energy; when it isn’t created of my own volition, I try to siphon it from others as they go through their creative processes. The mere act of other artists doing their thing is enough to send off the kinds of vibes I need, so it helps to be in the company of other artists as it’s happening. It was happening today at the reading. In an hour and a half, I got through 15 of the 20 pages I wanted to get through. It was just coming to me, like I was up to bat and the pitcher was chucking beach balls at me. I was nailing everything. This is crazy, because the rewrites have been killing me lately. It seems like it takes me 2-3 hours to get through 6-7 pages. I just got it today as the other writers read their pieces. I read my piece, took off, and was fired up at Panera a half hour later. I blazed through about 2 horus of work (it seemed almost effortless), then called it a day.
I’m not kidding about the artistic vibes thing. I’ve done some excellent writing while sitting at play practice or while listening to Lot 49 at Borders (they’re a local avante-garde jazz duet), or after watching a director’s commentary track on a DVD.
This is the second consecutive Sunday when I’ve gone to bed feeling pretty good about the story. I feel again that it’s within reach, and if I focus and keep my head for the next month, it’s all going to get taken care of.
It’s 2AM. My neighborhood is very quiet. I know because I just took a walk around it. The cold air felt refreshing on my bald head; it revived me.
I am 13 hours removed from the most important meeting I’ve had with Sandi. She had her usual load of comments, but it was what we resolved that was most significant. For one, I’ve been twitching about how I’m going to write the hugest transition in the story, the one that helps the story go from Jim in 2008 to Jim from 1971-1990. I’ve thought about it and dodged doing it for the past month; I even thought about it all the way through my drive downtown this morning. I realized it’s not as big as I think it is, nor will it be as difficult to write as I imagined it being. In fact, when Sandi and I talked, I realized I can rearrange a few paragraphs, load one up with a few more expository sentences, and it will work perfectly as the transition I so desperately need.
That leaves me with two significant parts still to write. One is Jim from 2001-2008. I have the interviews for that time span and listened to them tonight while I washed dishes after I worked out. I’m almost halfway through the writing of that part as I write this. I’ll probably finish the rest of the first draft of it tomorrow. I’m unsure of how many touches it’s going to need; I’m really feeling it right now and putting down some strong stuff.
The other part is the conclusion. It’s been coming together in bits and pieces as I’ve worked the past 3 months. I’m not worried about it right now.
Once I get those two parts done, I have a complete draft. I’ll send it to Sandi on the 20th of this month. It will include everything, including massive rewrites of the first and second halves of the story (we’ve been working by halves… don’t know why, but it seems to work best that way). We’ll meet two more times, at least, before I send it to my second reader for his approval. I know for fact that once it gets Sandi’s approval, I’m good to graduate.
I asked Sandi point blank this morning if she was seeing enough from me to indicate that this will be a done deal within the next five or six weeks. She said yes.
As for why I’m awake at 2AM on a school night: I’m not going to school tomorrow. Personal Day (read: Mental Health Day). I planned this, and even planned being up tonight for however long working on however much writing I can get done. I’ll wake up whenever Monday morning, and get back on it for however long I feel like it. I’m trying to go gonzo for a short period of time (if it’s any indication of Hunter S. Thompson’s style, I’m on my third Flor de Cana 7 cocktail and feeling fine). I have to do this to get out of my rut. I have to keep myself off balance right now, this weekend, today, to push through as much as I can. I can’t stay the course at this particular moment. I’ve often found that when I purposely put myself off-balance, it’s good for my writing. It puts my mind in a different place, I focus on different things, and the results are at least interesting.
When I left Sandi this afternoon, I went directly to The Men’s Wearhouse and scored two new shirts, two new ties, and a new pair of pants. I’ve been sick of my wardrobe lately, and will be excited to wear some new duds to school when I get back there. Then I sat at Panera for 3 hours and worked on rewrites. It has been liberating knowing that I don’t have to worry about time or sleep or anything for at least today and tomorrow.
I have to figure out why I feel the need to write in such a stiff, elevated style. Many of Sandi’s notes for me are about shortening sentences, using more conversational and casual syntax, and relaxing the text. She’s right. I want to sound very intelligent and insightful, and as a result I end up writing incredibly complex sentences and belaboring the point sometimes to where I might as well be hitting the reader over the head. I have to get to what is happening in my mind to make me want to do that. The best writing is as short and simple as possible. It’s easy for me to forget that when I’m wrapped up describing things, hacking out newly-discovered thoughts and ideas, and plugging in research I spent hours working on. You’d think I have brought on enough trouble given the complex structure of the story without adding ticky-tack things like the language I’m using, but it’s really not that simple. It’s happening subconsciously with me for the most part; I have to get my thumb on it.
I’m withing striking distance. It’s a great feeling. If there was but one thing I learned running Cross Country in high school, it was that you stay in the race no matter what– when you can see the finish line, you crank it up with whatever you have left; sometimes, you’re going to find gears you didn’t know you had.