Absolute Uncertainty

It has been a while since I have taken the time to write something that does not have to do with something read or researched for a class, but writing I have done. There are so many things that have happened since my last writing that I really do not know where to begin. Even if I did, I think other pieces I have previously written and posted say what I want to say, and I do not want to be a broken record.

I am all but done with my first semester of graduate study with only one final revision to turn in on Friday. I learned a lot this semester, though a fair amount of the reading and writing I did does not directly pertain to my scholarly interest or curiosity. However, I did manage to find ways to connect subjects which were read to something that interested me and was able to weave my interests, questions, and opinions into the arguments my classmates and I had during seminar meetings.

Our seminars, like most graduate level history seminars I am assuming, lasted for up to three hours with a small break in between. Most of the time two hours was about the limit, and most of that time was spent arguing about interpretations of what was read or written for discussion.

The largest seminar ended with ten participants and the smallest, six. We came to class prepared. The professor opened the discussion by sharing his own thoughts or opinions concerning the reading assigned, and then opened the floor with this, “what did you think?”

Now here is the funny thing. At no time did a professor tell a student that they were wrong or mistaken. At no time did a student tell another student that they were wrong or mistaken. At no time was a voice raised above what passes for civil discussion or discourse. At no time was a student attacked personally. What would happen is the student offering an opinion would be challenged to better support their opinion, and most of the time, really all of the time, the student would be successful in fulfilling the challenge.

In short, we conversed. We discussed. We may not have left class with an overall common agreement, but we did leave with a better understanding concerning the multiple and widely varying interpretations that arise from an event or a figure from history.

It took some time, but I have been able to find a topic I want to investigate for my thesis. Questions concerning the topic will likely change continuously as I delve deeper into the primary and secondary source material, but the overall scope will likely remain unchanged.

Here is another funny thing. The professor who will serve as my advisor/mentor is unabashedly liberal in his political philosophy, and, well, so am I. The topic of the research seminar I took this semester related directly to my thesis, so the paper I wrote will serve as at least a portion of one of my thesis chapters, if not all of one. The professor that led the seminar is unabashedly conservative in his political philosophy. Though not his primary focus of study, he has just as keen an interest in my topic as I do and has expressed so multiple times. I will likely ask him to serve on my thesis committee, and I hope he accepts.

About halfway through the semester, my seminar professor arranged an informal interview with a friend of his to help me develop a stronger grasp on conservative thought with regard to politics and conservative interpretations of historical events and figures that relate directly to the paper I was writing as well as my thesis. The conversation between the three of us was, well, enjoyable. We all knew that we weren’t going to be changing any minds and on some things we did happen to agree. He and I were both up front with one another concerning our philosophies and outlooks concerning the current political landscape, and we laughed when we each said “I won’t hold that against you.” When he asked me about one of the figures I am studying, I told him that I did not agree with just about anything that ever came out of his mouth, but after reading his memoir I could relate a little more with him, but that I still had questions to ask. Our conversation lasted more than two hours, and when we parted ways we shook hands and he told me to be sure he got a copy of my paper.

I found out a little later that it was on the suggestion of my advisor that my seminar professor set up that meeting because he wanted me to have a well-rounded perspective and idea going into my research. He wanted my assumptions and opinions challenged before I ever got started on the study, and challenged they were. Did the meeting change my mind? No. Did the dialogue carried on throughout the meeting force me to entertain an idea or an opinion different from my own? Yes. Did I have to work harder to support my point of view? Absolutely. Did the outcome of my study meet with my previously-held assumptions? Yes and no.

It is that yes and no for which I am grateful, because it opened my eyes to something I had never considered. It is that yes and no that has led me to ask questions that have not been answered. Can I answer them? I am going to try. Because of the challenges presented, I find myself in a realm uncertainty that is either divisive or not addressed at all.

Something my mentor told me brought back something I have always believed. “Make sure you find an opinion that differs from yours.” In order to refute that opinion, I have to entertain the possibility that it may be correct. By entertaining the idea that it is correct, I have to work harder to find the evidence that will support my argument refuting it. If I cannot find the evidence I want to find, I will have to change my argument, as I have already done once and will likely do again. Though I will likely depend some on what others have previously written, what I say or write will be my argument against the differing opinion, and doing so will be both a challenge and an experience.

In a world that is filled with ideological and unwavering absolutes, the challenges ahead loom with a level of uncertainty. I look forward to it, and of that, I am absolutely certain.

 

The Jumbly Jumbled Jumble and the Pathless Path

Do you ever have that nagging thought that just will not go away until you write it down? And then, when you do write it down, another thought delving more deeply into the thought you wrote down enters your mind? And then another? And another? And another, until you reach a point where you consciously stop the thoughts from coming because you realize that the original thought is lost in a sea of jumbled points and ideas?

That is where I am at now, and it is hard to find any level of clarity concerning it. So then the stream of thought becomes one of finding a way to clear all of the thoughts that are confused and jumbled, yet related to one another at the same time. I guess this is where I am, actually.

I will not go into the thought or idea just yet, other than to say that it began as a small seed and is growing rapidly out of control, and I am having a difficult time pruning the branches back to the main stem while at the same time keeping the thought alive and evolving.

So that is what this post is…just a rant about these jumbled thoughts concerning a central idea. It is a simple thought, at least I thought it was when the seed was planted and first began to sprout. It has since grown into something very complex, but it really shouldn’t be, but it is.

I’m going to go old school with it, I guess. Where I would usually just begin typing and finding the path through each word that appears on the screen after it is tapped out on the keyboard, I am going to the faithful standby of paper and pen so a clear path can be found.

I hope it helps.

Getting Prepared…

I totally forgot to write about this when it happened a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were out to dinner with friends, and I was frustrated because it had been nearly a week after the early review deadline for my graduate school application. I asked one of those eating with us, whom I knew to be a graduate student at Appalachian, how long it took for her to hear back from the graduate school. She said she heard back rather quickly, but it probably depended on the program to which I was applying and how many early applicants they had to screen. She just suggested contacting the graduate school at the beginning of the week and seeing if any headway had been made.

Being my rather impatient self, I was not completely satisfied with that answer, but did not press anymore, knowing that there was little I could do. So I dropped it.

Later that night, after my wife and I got home from dinner and the movies, I felt an overwhelming need to check my email (since for some reason, even though I have my email set up on my phone for push notifications, my email never sends me notification of incoming messages unless I open the app). The previous conversation took place at about 5:00pm or so. According to my email, I received a notice from ASU to check on the status of my application on the website portal, because a decision had been made concerning it, at 5:36pm.

Talk about vague and heartstopping! What kind of decision was made? Why not just send me the rejection notice or acceptance letter through that email? Do these people not understand what an email like this does to someone like me?

So with my hands shaking and my heart beating out of my chest, I opened my application account on the website portal (have you ever tried to input passwords and such on your phone with your hands shaking? It does not work too well.), clicked a link here and a link there to get to the link to a letter from the university. Three words popped out immediately.

Congratulations.

Unconditional admission.

I finally heard back from the program director this morning, and registered for a class this Summer and three for the Fall. I contacted health services at the university and will, unfortunately, need to get a tetanus booster, which is only slightly mortifying.

The rows are setting up and the ducks are figuring it all out slowly.

With registering for these classes, my reading list has been updated to twelve texts, so far. For one class I have not found the reading list, yet, but I have a feeling that will change once I get in touch with the professor.

Needless to say, I foresee a few trips to the library in the not-to-distant future.

In homage to Chief Brody, We’re gonna need a bigger coffee cup.

Positive Writing

I’ve been a little negative in my writing lately, so I’m going to do my best to make this one positive, because regardless of what we read on Facebook or twitter, or what we see on the television or hear on the radio (does anyone other than me still listen to the radio?), the world is still a pretty swell place…most of the time…especially when people aren’t screwing it up (shhhhh…remember…positive writing!).

What makes this particularly difficult is that as I look out the window in front of me, I see an overcast sky.  Gray and really just kind of blah.  My handy-dandy weather app tells me that the sky will be clearing to partly cloudy over the next few hours, allowing the sun to shine.  That’ll be nice.

As I’ve said in posts past, I’ve been thinking about my writing.  I’ve been thinking about what it is that I want to say.  I’ve also been thinking about what it is that you want to hear. I bought a book on writing prose yesterday at the bookstore, Good Prose:  The Art of Nonfiction, Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (I really should own stock in Barnes & Noble), and I loved the opening line of the first chapter, “To write is to talk to strangers.”  Granted, many of the people that are reading my writing are not strangers, but I’m sure that some are. This is a fact though.  I’m putting my thoughts, my “stuff”, out there for a theoretically infinite number of people to read.  Since I do not know an infinite number of people; I have to assume that a fair amount of strangers are going to be reading my thoughts.  And here’s the hard part…

I want strangers to keep reading my stuff.  I even want strangers to comment on my stuff so that I can carry on a dialogue with strangers.  I’m talking to strangers!!  Are we not supposed to talk to strangers?  I’m pretty sure I heard that more than a few times in days long gone by. But anyway, I want strangers to come back and read more of my stuff, and maybe re-read some old stuff.

Enough of that.  You don’t want to hear me blather on and on about my writing.

Last Monday began a five week stretch at work with one day off, so I’m not sure how much writing I’m going to get done over that span of time…shit…more about my writing.  Okay, I’ll stop.

Anyway, a five week period of work with one day off.  It is hard to be positive with that staring me in the face, but I’m going to try.

C’mon August. You cannot get here soon enough.

I am positive that when you get here, I am going to enjoy it.

See what I did there…

A Title? Yes, it needs one…

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and research on writing, making my writing better, and expanding my readership. Within most of what I have read, there is a common theme; identifying my brand and sticking with it. Therefore, I am going to use this post to nail down what my brand might be, because the thoughts that spill out of my brain, either through my fingers or out of my mouth, tend to be completely random and based heavily on something I hear or read at a random time.  Really, what the majority of my writing here is, and will probably be for the foreseeable future, a response.

But what do I want my brand, my writing, to do? What do I want it to say? Those questions seem pretty important to me. I want my writing to have some purpose. I want it to not only to present my thought on whatever the subject may be, but to provoke a thought or response from the reader. A good response. A bad response. Something. I’d prefer it provoke an agreeable response, but I know that isn’t always going to happen.  Disagreeable responses are acceptable, too.  I’d like to make people’s heads nod or shake.

I guess that is what most of us here want.

I also understand that patience is my friend in this endeavor; a kind of “if you build it, he will come” thing.  Patience is not my strong suit.  Really, I stink at being patient, but I’m trying.

Anyway, I am going to keep trying to hone my brand, and follow where my writing takes me.  If there is one thing I know, it is that writing cannot be forced.  It has to come freely from somewhere inside with plenty of honest thought and contemplation.  Otherwise, it stinks…mine does anyhow.

We live in exciting times.  There are so many things happening around us all the time, and a lot of it is thought provoking.  Let’s see what is provoked and also where the thoughts go and what they generate.

Impulse

“Too many people buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t know…” ~Jerry Mac

Though based on a quote by Will Rodgers, I’ll give Jerry the credit…

Just browsing my facebook status feed and came across this gem posted by a friend of mine, and thought about how it relates to something else I have been working on.  I’m doing some soul searching of sorts; attempting to discern what is needed versus what is wanted. What makes it so hard is the fact that, with a little ingenuity, one can justify pretty much anything they want as a necessity.  I do it often…not necessarily to impress anyone, but to add a little “pop” to my life or to make my life easier or to make it possible to do the things I want to do.

I can be an impulse shopper.  I try not to be, but it happens. Usually the way it goes is I see something I want and I say, “I’ve got to have that,” or, “I’ve got to try that.”  Usually, or maybe sometimes, my brain kicks in and searches out the necessity of what it is I’m seeking to purchase. It will find a reason most of the time. I may not be able to buy it right away, but it goes into the bookmark file of my computer or in the back of my mind as something that will be purchased at some point in time.

I’m going to leave it at that for now because I don’t want to get into a thought that I haven’t fully worked through just yet. 

Need vs. Want is complicated!

Looking out the Window at Work…

It’s a slow day, so I thought, “why not write?”

Truth is, I am bored at work. I mean…really bored.  So this will end up being a bunch of rubbish from start to finish. Sometimes I just like the feeling of typing something out. Always have. I can remember when I was a kid and our old Tandy computer with no games on it. I would find my way to the word processor and just start typing. Nothing of any real consequence (like this), but just typing. Maybe not even real words, just jibberish like this…

ajkekmenjdn dikenyeooie ,fnliha wusndimfb vi fjknf fhjs nsl,fnlufhyrnosnuemdnaha.

I don’t know why. It is just something I would do when I was bored…kind of like now.

There is somethng that has me thinking this morning, but I’m not quite sure I am ready to tackle it just yet. I did leave a bit of a cliffhanger with one of my previous posts asking what do I want to see concerning being the change one wants to see in the world.

As I sit here at work, that comes across my mind as a pretty complex question, and one that I probably shouldn’t try to answer, but sometimes it’s good to go with your gut. So here goes…

What do I want to see?

I want to see a world without apathy. I want to see a world where people care about something beyond themselves and their wants. I want people to consider others when they make decisions. I want more empathy in the world. I want to see more people care for one another. I want a world without labels. I want a world that is inhabited by human beings. Not Europeans. Not Americans. Not Asians or Mexicans or Latinos or Hispanics or Whites or Blacks or Chinese or Japanese or Italians or Greeks or Germans or Turks or Iraqis or Iranians or Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or Sikhs or Eskimos or Canadians (don’t ask me why Canadians came up last. I don’t know). I want to see people live according to their fullest potential and see them happy doing so.  I want to see myself living according to my fullest potential and be happy doing so. I want to see a world without regret. I want to see others living without regret. I want to see others and myself learning from those regrets and no longer regretting them. I want the poor to no longer be poor. I want the sick to be healthy. I want to see it snow. I want to see the sun shine. I want to see it rain. I want to see the wind blow. I want to see the sun rise and set. I want to see the moon.  I want to see the ocean and the tides.  I want to see a world where possibilities are realities everyday. And right now, at this very moment, I want to see food because I am starting to get hungry.

What do you want to see?

More on Living and Being Alive

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about this since posting it yesterday.  I always come back to one glaring question.  When the writer talks about “life” and “aliveness,” what, exactly, is he talking about?

To most evangelical Christians, or maybe I’m just inferring or assuming this, but to most evangelicals, the life being talked about is the life given where one is “born again” in Christ.  Essentially, having been saved through the Spirit and decided to live more according to the rules set forth within the Bible or the Church.

However, when I consider other things the writer has written, I know that to not be the case.

Everyone, saved or not, has the ability to live this life.  Everyone can receive it, and we can all bring it to others. What the writer is referring to is the idea of the awakened soul or the self-actualized person.  Each lives to their fullest potential, using the gifts we have to bring positive and constructive purpose and change to the world around them.

Imagine a world where everyone was awake within…feeling alive and, as the writer states, bringing “aliveness” to others.

I admit the idea seems less than realistic.  Not everyone could possibly tap into their full potential, right?

Well…

Why Not???

Personally, I believe it has to do with one word and one word alone…

FEAR

I admit it.  I fear a lot, and fear holds me back.  What is it that I fear most of all??

Failure.

FAILURE!

There is nothing that will bring me to a halt more quickly than believing that I will fail.  Nothing crushes my hopes quite like the realization that failure is possible.

For a long, long time I have called myself a realist, and I base that on knowing that failure and disappointment are real.  They exist, and they matter.

But for those living at their fullest potential, does that matter?

I struggle with this, I admit.  I am well set in my “realist” ways, and those ways are difficult to break.  I’m working on it, though, and I’m sure I can get there.

One thing is for sure.  The state of mind is much, much more pleasant and infinitely more free, and THAT is what matters!