The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for May 2009

Shiny Objects

leave a comment »

It seems some days that everything that happens in the classroom is a distraction, all the way down to any shiny objects that students see in or around the room. When we commiserate about this in the office, somebody invariably points at something and calls out with faux enthusiasm, “Shiny object! Shiny object!” I couldn’t help but think of this phenomenon yesterday when I was driving on the expressway and a Miller Lite commercial came on the radio.

It seems that Miller’s latest marketing ploy is some kind of can or bottle liner that is supposed to “protect” the beer from making direct contact with the can or bottle, thus keeping the beer from tasting like a can or bottle. Because you know how annoying it is when you drink a finely balanced beer like Miller Lite and the taste of aluminum saturates your palate. Whatever the ploy is, it seems to be an extension of the can liners touted by Coors and Miller a few years back. But now Coors has two distinct edges on Miller (and Bud Light, for that matter). They have the vented can (because you know how annoying it is when you can’t drink Coors Light fast enough because of a poorly ventilated can); they also have the temperature-sensitive can that changes color, thus indicating the beer is at a suitable temperature to drink. Because you know how important the exact temperature is when you are drinking a delicately nuanced beer like Coors Light (I’m told Dom Perignon is much the same way– it, too, must be served at an exact temperature to be fully appreciated).

I couldn’t help but think what a sad state of affairs the general beer-drinking public must be in if these asinine marketing ploys work. And they must work… the beer companies keep coming up with them. The ploys amount to nothing more than shiny objects tossed out to distract Joe Sixpack into buying more, more, more light beer. I guess this doesn’t surprise me, given most of the target market for Miller and Coors (and Anheuser-Busch, I guess).

I don’t drink any of the three major brands, unless I’m caught unaware at a bar or restaurant, at which time I usually default to plain old Budweiser. I find all three beers, and all sub-varieties therein, to be uninspired versions one another. In fact, I talked to a man from England one time who probably said it best. We were sitting in a bar at Chicago Midway Airport when the bartender offered what he thought was an outstanding special on Miller Lite. The English gentleman turned up his nose and declared, “I never touch the stuff. It’s something more suited for piss artists.” When I asked him what he meant, he explained that where he’s from, the only people who drink Miller Lite are those who make an artform out of getting drunk. When he asked for my recommendation, I offered Goose Island Honker’s Ale. We each ordered one, and he enjoyed it so much he bought the next round.

To me, this gets back to the prevailing ignorance of the general beer-drinking public. Too often people buy into the stupid vented can liner ploys (or worse, the “lime” beer craze) and continue to buy bland beers that are best suited to be drank as quickly as possible if only to get ripping pissed as quickly as possible. But if these gimmicks were so effective at delivering a better, more enjoyable product, why aren’t the other beer companies trying them? Why doesn’t the Summit Brewing Company try to brew an “ice” beer? Why doesn’t Sierra Nevada market a vented can? Why doesn’t Great Lakes Brewery have special labels that indicate when their Burning River Pale Ale has reached its ideal temperature?

But then again, maybe I don’t know much about beer, or how important it is to have a gimmick attached to your drink of choice.

Written by seeker70

May 25, 2009 at 4:14 am

Posted in beer, marketing

Dislocate

with one comment

It’s official. My story “Denver or Bust” arrived in the Spring 2009 issue of Dislocate, the literary magazine published by the University of Minnesota. A package of 3 copies was on my doorstep when I arrived home Friday afternoon. I’ve skimmed through and noticed one edit to my story thus far. It was a quote from an anonymous stranger; not that it makes a big difference, but I can see where it changes the nature of what he said to me, if not the actual meaning. I don’t mind the edit in the least; heck, I edited the story myself about two weeks ago as I prepared to send it off for a contest. I saw a place where things could have been said more effectively, so I touched it up a bit. I’m hoping it places well in the contest. I think the fact that it had been published bodes well for my desired outcome.

You can find out more about Dislocate at http://dislocate.org. I guess there was a launch party– nobody invited me! There are also several “acclaimed authors” included in the publication, as noted on the website. I hope I make good company for them.

Written by seeker70

May 11, 2009 at 1:17 am

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Considers Setting and Character

leave a 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.

Note: this posting is almost a month old; I’ve been wrapped up in thesis work… my apologies for old information… Jeff

April 8, 2009

Bandee was in the thick of it again, again in Bermel. This time, he was standing in line for chow a little before noon when, not far away, some Taliban members hid just behind a hill known as “Spaghetti Hill.” Pretty soon, an explosion penetrated the FOB. A rocket landed with the gates. He made it to a bunker with a bunch of other soldiers before another rocket hit. Nobody was hurt, thankfully.

Later, Bandee ended up becoming the gunner for a combat mission. Gunning, for those that don’t know, is the deadliest position any soldier could have on a mission, in my opinion. If an IED goes off, they the first damage. If they get shot at, they are the first to get fired upon, as well as the first (and often only) to return fire. If they get shot at by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG), they are the ones who suffer serious injuries from the shrapnel. Fortunately, Bandee’s team didn’t experience any combat that day.

As for things by me over at my FOB, the only combat we’ve experienced is with the weather. There was one day in particular that it felt like a hurricane was ripping across our FOB. It began as rain, then turned to light hail, then progressed to large hail, and the wind caused our entire chapel to shake as items crashed to the ground. For awhile, it was too heavy to even travel to the bathroom just a few feet away. I’m told that this is what’s considered “mountain weather.”

Many of you have asked about my potential transfer to southern Afghanistan, and I finally have an update. According to the Task Force Commander, Brigadier General (BG) Huber, the transfer is now set in stone: all of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team currently under Task Force Phoenix will be transferred in June, most likely to Helmand or Kandahar, which are the deadliest provinces in Afghanistan.For those of you wondering about my friends, the interpreters, things are going well with them. The other day, one of them randomly and humorously commented to me, “You’re like Spider-Man.” I had never expressed my fondness of the comic character to him, nor did I tell him that my costume of choice for Halloween every year is Peter Parker. Perhaps when Tobey Maguire moves on, someone will let me carry the franchise to its slow death.

As for my assigned interpreter, he just got engaged less than a week ago, which just like in America, is a very big event in one’s life. One time, my Terp was speaking on the phone with his fiancée, and he offered to have me talk to her with my limited knowledge of Dari. So, I picked up the phone and attempted to ask her, “How are you?” The other end of the phone drew silent as the interpreters around me erupted in laughter. Apparently, I need to brush up on my Dari, because instead of saying “How are you?” I accidentally said, “You are a terrorist.” Fortunately, Muslims are a forgiving people.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating how much I truly admire the Afghans here. In America, I know many people turn away from Christianity because they see hatred bred through the religion because of people’s (in my opinion) misconstrued conception of the message of Jesus and the Bible. People often feel they’ve been wronged by Christians, and though that may be accurate, it saddens me to see people turn away from Jesus just because of His followers. But, here in Afghanistan, there has been so much more severe religious oppression than in America, yet Afghans don’t blame Mohammad for his followers’ actions, and instead blame the ones responsible: the extremists. Instead of turning away from Mohammad because his teachings have caused so much violence, the Afghans instead embrace Mohammad all the more strongly because they recognize his message isn’t necessarily the one that the radicals are preaching and acting upon. I know that if we were oppressed by Muslims in America, the Muslim population would certainly go down, just as the Christian population has been decreasing as people feel victimized by Christianity in today’s society. As America is considered much more enlightened than Afghanistan, it makes me wonder why then America is turning from Jesus while Afghanistan is turning to Mohammad, yet Afghanistan is victimized much more by radical followers of Mohammad’s teachings than America could ever even imagine they were victimized by the Bible’s teachings. Even though Afghanistan is oppressed by religion, they don’t see that as an excuse to turn away from it. Instead, their faith is rock-steady and just as apt to follow their religion’s teachings, whether they have radicals within their religion or not. I envy the faithfulness of the Muslim population during a time when it would be easy for them to reject the religion. I just wish many Christians could have half the faith in Jesus that these Muslims have in Mohammad.

When I look at the countryside of Afghanistan, I can’t help but think about all the potential it has. This place could become a tourist attraction, but unfortunately there is so much work to be done. I’ve spoken with my interpreters, and they had no idea what a “roller coaster” was, and when I explained what it was, they were amazed to hear that I had actually been on one and lived to tell about it. It took me a few minutes to convince them that I honestly, truly, truthfully had been on a “roller coaster” before. Yet, with all the mountains here, a grand roller coaster or theme park could easily be built, if only it was a certainty that it wouldn’t be blown up a week after it was completed. This is a country in which the thought of carnivals, malls, and water parks are too foreign to understand. And, perhaps that is part of the problem as to why none exist here.At the same time, the country is being “westernized” by countless Afghanistan TV shows. In fact, they have an “Afghanistan Idol,” though it’s not called that. Unfortunately, even a contestant show like “Afghanistan Idol” is run by politics… the winner of the show’s most recent season was not regarded as the best singer by any means, yet he won because he had strong political ties. Imagine an “American Idol” where Sanjaya Malakar wins the contest because he is friends with a governor.

Even with all the problems Afghanistan is having, it still is a comfortable place for its inhabitants, who are very simple people. They enjoy living a life that brings them closer to God, family, and friends. They eat together in fellowship, and treat each other (and outsiders like me) like royalty. The only hatred in their hearts is that of the flawed theology of the radical Muslims that give Islam a bad name. Everyone has a good time with each other, and though they know their country isn’t perfect, they accept their homeland and love their country. When they’re disappointed in their president, they’re not ashamed of their country; when they’re disappointed in their religious leaders, they’re not ashamed of their prophet. Even though it’s America trying to help Afghanistan become a better country, I believe that we could learn a wholesome lesson from this simple country, and in that way, Afghanistan would be able to help America.For my faithful, I simply ask for your continued prayers for us here. Not only have we already felt the sting of sacrifice, but “our day” can come at any time. And to be honest, I am tired of putting together memorial services for heroes that will never get to enjoy their labor again.

In less than 10 days, I will be at the 50% mark of my deployment orders. But I hope you’ll be ready for me when I return earlier than that.

Thank you, and have a God-blessed Easter weekend!

love Nate

Written by seeker70

May 8, 2009 at 11:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Thesis Blues pt. 19

leave a comment »

It was a year ago today that I lit upon the idea for my thesis. I had actually thought of it almost a year earlier and wanted to talk to Jim about using him for something I was going to write for a workshop; I abandoned the idea when it seemed to great in scope for what would be a 10-15 page workshop piece. But something bit me a year ago today, right about 2PM when I wrote a journal prompt on the board for my creative writing class. I don’t remember what the prompt was, but I know it inspired me to write this journal:

Jim Wysong lives in a town near Goshen, IN, where he works a tech job at a manufacturing company. He grew up in Goshen, living with his mother and his aunts throughout his school career. Jim had no other place to stay; having never met his father. To hear him tell it, he grew up in the “bad part” of Goshen, where he was but one of three from his elementary class to see his way through to graduation. Though I’ve never been to his house, I’m certain it was most likely located in or near a trailer court, down a side street wedged between rusted car bodys, spare tires, and broken machinery. I imagine he walked across broken glass manhy morning on his way to school, past barking german shepherds as he rubbed his swollen eyes and tried to shake the echo of last night’s domestic arguments and sirens from his head. He probably walked with the same quiet confidence he does today, hands thrust into his pockets to keep the dry, chapped knuckles out of the cold air. He would look straight ahead but be aware of all things happening all around him. His walk alone tells you in the most matter-of-fact way, Don’t F— With Me. Don’t f— with me or my neighborhood because if there’s one thing we have learned from this hard-scrabble life, it is how to quickly and coldly knock you on your ass.

Three days after I wrote that, I was on the phone with Jim reading it to him. He said it was relatively accurate, which had the effect of flipping a switch in my head. Suddenly, I saw a structure and a purpose for the story, and I was more excited about it than any other idea I had been considering for my thesis. I pitched my idea over the course of the rest of the conversation, and Jim gave me the green light to write it. A month later I was in Goshen for my first day of research.

The journal entry made it into my final draft, albeit after numerous rewrites and additions. It’s on page 76:

We were four blocks from the Elkhart County Minimum Security facility. I remembered what Jim had told me about the Friday afternoon traffic through the neighborhood. Suddenly, something else made sense. It was this location that most influenced Jim to develop the walk that I first noticed eighteen years before. He knew from scrapes and tussles in and around the neighborhood, on the playground, and on the streets on the north side that most trouble can be avoided by creating an authoritative presence. One trick he picked up was to thrust his hands into his pockets–any wise guys who wanted to take a crack at him could never be sure if he was concealing a blade, chain, brass knuckles, or something else that might extract flesh or blood. Not that Jim would need them. More than anything, he kept his hands in his pockets to protect his dry, chapped knuckles from cold morning and winter air while he walked to school, or to the corner store to pick up a snack or gallon of milk or pack of cigarettes for his mother, or to the crumbling Peterson mansion that was by then owned by the city and used to house the Boys Club. Regardless of destination, Jim would look straight ahead, but still be aware of all things around him. He would scan left and right to pick up every detail as he walked past low-rent houses with moldy and stained furniture on the front porch, spare tires and rusted auto bodies in front yards, broken machinery in driveways, and the poor man’s security system: a pit bull or German shepherd staked in the front yard. He knew to keep an eye out for broken glass on the sidewalk. Most of all, his walk had to exude cocky confidence, which it did when he pushed his shoulders back, which caused his chest and belly to thrust forward. To see him walk down the street, or down a dormitory hallway, or through a keg line at a party, is to almost hear a low, deliberate muttering: don’t f— with me; don’t f— with me or my neighborhood because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is how to quickly and coldly knock you on your ass.

Written by seeker70

May 6, 2009 at 5:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger tells some stories

leave a 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.

Note: this posting is over a month old; I’ve been wrapped up in thesis work… my apologies for old information… Jeff

March 21, 2009

Hello my friends,I hope you all are doing well. Things are going alright over here, and it’s getting better each day, as each day I endure is one day closer to being home.

In the past couple weeks, all Task Force Phoenix Unit Ministry Teams (i.e., chaplains and assistants) have been tasked with conducting suicide prevention briefs for each FOB in our ARSIC, and so we have been very busy taking care of that. (Hopefully what I’m saying isn’t gibberish so far.) So, the three of us (that is, SGT Bandee, CH Pace, and myself) have each been taking care of as much of that as possible. That being said, I hope you aren’t frustrated that the majority of this email is going to be about Bandee’s experiences, not necessarily mine.

Before I get into Bandee’s portion of this email, I want to iterate something that I strongly believe the media and politicians have skewed. In the past month, a multitude of reports have come out saying that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and that we are losing the war. Believe what you may, but from this soldier’s perspective, that information is false. For the people who are saying that we are struggling to maintain stability here, I don’t know where they’re getting their information, but they’re certainly not sitting in on the same meetings I have been, nor are they seeing the progress that is developing here. The Afghan National Army has been successfully conducting military operations and defeating the Taliban, though you’d have to flip to page 12 to see that, as opposed to the front page headlines indicating that the war is becoming a lost cause. Perhaps the media feels there is a decline because of the amount of sacrifices that have been made already, but if that’s the logic, then World War II was certainly a failure as well. But, like I said, I encourage you to not necessarily take my word for it. But for what it’s worth, from what I have seen firsthand and from what I hear in daily reports on the situation in Afghanistan, there is no current threat that we are losing here.

The other day, I was talking to my interpreter, and he stressed to me how much progress he feels has come to Afghanistan ever since America was asked to help eradicate the Taliban. He told me that it used to be, quite frequently, that Afghan children and adults alike would go and pray at the mosque, and then on their way back home, the Taliban would accuse them of not praying, and threaten to beat them if they didn’t return to the mosque and give Allah his due respect. Just five years ago, my interpreter was living in Pakistan, as his family felt it was much too dangerous to live in Afghanistan under the Talib regime. But, after the American forces drove away the Taliban from Afghanistan, his family finally felt it was safe enough to live there again, and has since moved back to their beloved land. Though Afghanistan is far from becoming a land of Utopia, the locals take much more pleasure in the condition it is in now. Furthermore, the educational difference between generations is astounding: the Afghan National Army soldiers lived in a generation where the Taliban ruled the country, and many of them consequently still can’t write their own name today. Yet, for the generation that has lived in Afghanistan since the Taliban fled, they are becoming so educated to the point that many of them not only have high school educations, but most of them aspire for college educations, many of them dreaming of getting an education at an American university.

But, as you already know, getting to this point wasn’t easy, and sacrifice is inevitable. Soldiers are continuously put in danger, and SGT Bandee knows this all too well now. SGT Bandee recently treaded the KG Pass for a second time. The first time was in December when there was little danger, but this recent return to the mountainside was just five days after three soldiers were casualties of an IED explosion: one of them died, one of them barely survived but is much more stable now, and one is still comatose and unrecognizable because of his burns.I attended the convoy brief before the crew set off on their mission, and it had the most serious tone I’ve ever seen in a convoy brief. An Army Captain who has endured several deployments already and never has shown fear as long as I’ve known him admitted very bluntly that the KG Pass scares him. After he spoke, one of our intel analysts told the soldiers that they needed to be prepared to “bite the bullet” on this convoy.

On the morning of the convoy (which was Friday the 13th), SGT Bandee told me that he recognized this was the most dangerous day of his life. Three hours into the convoy, they were flagged down by an American contractor who wanted to tell them that he and some other contractors were shot at by insurgents earlier that morning and that they would surely be fired upon.

After hours of driving on the jarring mountain roads, when they could have slid off the side and dropped thousands of feet, they were at the bridge where the previously mentioned soldiers had been killed. They were relieved to see a lot of activity in a nearby village, because if the villagers had all stayed inside that day, it would mean that they knew something dangerous was going to happen. Nonetheless, they all knew the story of what happened on the bridge (we all did). A humvee traveling over the bridge was met with a large explosion. The vehicle started on fire. A medic named SGT Sleaford ran from his vehicle and carried one soldier to safety, and then returned to the burning vehicle. There were two more soldiers inside: one was burnt to a crisp and very much dead, the other was close to that. Had it not been for the medic he would have been KIA. The medic treated the soldier on the spot, ignoring the shrapnel that had penetrated his very own leg. That burnt soldier is alive today because of SGT Sleaford, though still in a coma at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Three days later, Bandee had a mission in Bermel, less than 30 miles south of where NFL star Pat Tillman was killed, and only 4 miles from the Pakistan border. Taliban activity is a daily event on the border. If that wasn’t bad enough, Bandee ended up going on two dismounted combat patrols along the Pakistan border in downtown Bermel. They watched the rooftops as they went around asking the locals if they knew anything about the Taliban activity in the area, specifically about caches of weapons being hidden under woodpiles just outside the town. Bandee said he could see their lips said no, but their eyes said they knew all about the caches. Unfortunately, the locals in that location don’t trust Americans, so they didn’t help. They were talking to a local who claimed the Americans had left a bullet hole in his truck (they hadn’t; it was too big for a 5.56mm round and too small for larger weapons) when radio transmissions were intercepted and they heard the phrase “Allah is great, Allah is great!” in Arabic, which is often an indication that terrorists are getting ready to attack Americans. Everybody headed back towards the FOB. Suddenly, two large explosions were heard (and felt) throughout the town. After they took cover, there were two more large booms.

After they got a “clear” signal, they continued towards the FOB, stopping along the way to investigate various wood piles. Unfortunately, there were so many (hundreds), that it was useless to investigate every one of them. After the woodpiles, a car quickly approached them. Bandee described that an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier quickly told the car to stop, and an American soldier pointed his weapon at the car. He couldn’t raise his own weapon as there were 5 friendly forces in front of him and he didn’t want to risk flagging any of them if he had to shoot. Fortunately, the car jerked to an immediate stop, and the driver got out of the car and was searched, as was his car. He was clean. Shortly thereafter, they arrived at the FOB gates, and the mission was complete. Later that day, the recorded transmissions that we had intercepted were translated. It was a conversation among Taliban members. Bandee’s translation of the translation was rough:
“The truck is going right now with wood. Take the rockets and hide it under the wood.” “Bring it to the mountain. After you set everything, contact me.”

“We are ready to attack. I am the enemy of your enemy. God willing, you will kill a lot of Americans. Amen.”

“Allah is great! Allah is great!” At this point in the conversation, rockets were being fired.

“Oh, you missed. Look in the binoculars.”

Gunshots were then accompanied with the recurring phrase, “Allah is great! Allah is great!”

The translated report also indicated that at least one of the members of this excursion was a corrupt member of either the ANA or ANP. At the same time that these transmissions were going on, a location to the northeast, Command Outpost (COP) Margah, had been attacked. It’s very obvious that the transmissions came from the offenders of that COP.

To give you an idea of how vigilant we have to be, I’ll tell you the following, which Bandee saw happen on another dismounted combat patrol in Bermel. He saw a local walk out of the Mosque in the center of town, and then lay down right beside it, hiding himself under a blanket. Had Bandee not seen the man exit the mosque, he never would have seen him because the blanket camouflaged him. An ANA soldier approached the man as a dozen other soldiers stood by, waiting to react if anything went down. The man under the blanket revealed himself when the ANA soldier approached, and claimed that he had a nightshift that he just got done from, and was just trying to catch some sleep while he could. They felt bad about disturbing him and surrounding him, but at the same time, a soldier’s gotta survive, right?

For my faithful, I ask a prayer of you this week that I’ve asked before. Weapons and IED’s have increasingly been discovered outside my home FOB, indicating that the war has finally moved in around here, right on schedule. After all, it certainly has gotten much warmer around here. So, my prayer request is again that you pray for the soldiers as things begin to heat up – both literally and figuratively – around Afghanistan. Along with that, I can’t help but also ask that you pray for the Taliban. Christ charged us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and I can’t think of any human enemy that I hate more than the Taliban.And, with that, I think it’s time I sign-off and let you get back to whatever you were planning on doing today. That being said, I have one great wish to extend to you on this day: HAPPY NEW YEAR! Starting today, the year is now 1388 in Muslim culture, and when I think about the unpaved roads, the state of technology, the standard of education, and the principles of hygiene, it truly does feel like I’m living over 600 years in the past.

Thank you, and God bless!

love Nate

Written by seeker70

May 4, 2009 at 1:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: