Archive for May, 2012

By David Pyle, English Faculty. 

    I’m accustomed to waking up to my old-school Tick-Tocking clock, but, unfortunately, my early morning began with a tick. And then another one. And a third.

Size of a deer tick.

And, these weren’t clocks. They’re ticks, actual ticks, that are trying to live and eat rent-free on my body. All over my body (yes, in that area. Yes, in that other area, too). My girlfriend, Jennifer, along with Sophie the dog and I had spent the previous Memorial Day holiday exploring around and camping in Southern Illinois at the Shawnee National Forest. The $8.00 a night campsite offered a nice glimpse of wildlife: deer, a few raccoons, a variety of birds, and lots of ticks.

     There’s two types currently residing in the tree branches and leaves just south of Carbondale: deer ticks and Lone Star ticks (as the name suggests, they’re big, carry weapons, and are most likely Republicans).

Lone Star ticks are easy to identify, as they’re about as big as a small raisin. They have a distinct white dot on their backs, not that this info would be a factor in one’s decision to allow them to remain on you, or not. These ticks, who, according to USDA Shawnee National Forest website, can spot a host, i.e. me, from 20 feet away. They hunker down in grass, positioning themselves in an advantageous spot with a goal of reaching your pant legs. Also, they hang out in taller bushes and short trees, dropping down onto unsuspecting, or, for that matter, suspecting, victims. They’re hari-kari Nuttalliella namaqua.

Deer ticks are a bit harder to spot. In fact, you feel their prescience first. They’re super-tiny, about the size of a pinhead. These blood-sucka’s crawl around on grass and leaves, looking for opportunities to climb up hosts’ legs. In both cases, once these critters get ta’ biting, you usually know that they’re there. You can also feel them walking around your body—say, if you’re sleeping, for example— searching for the optimal spot to hide-n-bite. They’ve been on your person for a while, making the long journey from your foot zone to your armpit, behind-the-knee, or waistband zones. At least 15 times each night during our 3-night stay, the other 2 warm bodies in the tent would hear a jolt (“Oh, sh*t—is that a tick?!), followed by the clumsy search for the trusty flashlight, followed by a rustling search for, in my case, eyeglasses, followed by a click of the light and a few minutes of floor-to-ceiling body inspection (stare at the mole, see if it moves).

The larger Lone Star tick is easily pulled right out of your skin; the deer tick, sans tweezers, has to be pinched out with the very end of your fingers (don’t forget to sacrifice 4-5 leg hairs while you’re at it). The final sound is the unzipping of the tent’s door (only two inches—don’t let any more in…) to drop the tick back into its own territory. Now sigh heavily—you’ve won this round. Then, try—just try—to go back to sleep without the paranoia of the mass of lying-in-wait ticks, who somehow are smart enough to know to wait a good 20 minutes, when you’re only dreaming of the tick attacks,  before again advancing to plasma-town.

Result of tick sucking.

If you’ve never had a tick suck on you, let me describe it for you. If you are luckily enough to be awake to watch this thing bite you, you’ll feel an instant pinch on your skin, delicately balanced with a persistent itch (learn to love it; you’ll have a full 7 days to embrace this hellish ying-yang of strange feelings: itch itch itch, scratch scratch scratch, burn burn burn, curse curse curse). It attaches only with the mouth, hoping to feed for the required 6 – 10 days before dropping off and laying 4,000 – 6,000 eggs. Yes, 4-6k eggs per tick. Good news, though…once a tiny, tiny deer tick gulps on ya’ for 3-4 days, it becomes almost big enough to reveal itself as a tick, and not just another scabby remnant of past scrap- and-destroy missions.

Right now, I have 20 – 30 “tickies” (tick hickies), some of which can be publically displayed, some I could never show, to anyone. Some welts are large (pinky-finger tip) and some are small (mosquito bite), all are red and itch like the devil’s business. Most I removed at the campground, using tweezers that we were forced to buy from Wal-Mart (talk about an ethical dilemma…but, we caved, sad to have supported the MTFs—the Malaysian Tweezer Factories), but even with much visual reconnaissance, these buggers hitch a ride back to good ol’ Chicago. I’m not sure where they’re hiding out, but they still showing up, days later, allowing me to experience a bit of nature indoors.

Sophie the dog, affectionately nicknames “Lil’ Sophie Tick-head,” fared much worse, being so low to the ground and all. Over the course of a week, we’ll mine at least 50 ticks off her (sometimes a soft “click” sound, accompanied with the sight of a small nugget of inner-ear flesh, echoes around the room). Jennifer and I have different disposal methods, mine being the sensitive “I’m not going to kill you, but am going to place you outside where you’ll have to Darwinize yourself to some other sucker, sucker.” Jennifer prefers the Charles Bronson-revenge type style, fiendishly smiling as she walks towards the toilet bowl (“Dead tick walkin’…). In the out-of-doors, she’ll “pull and drop,” but inside, she’s got quite the Michael Corleone attitude, during the scene where machine gun bullets are sprayed around his bedroom by Johnny Ola’s hitmen. She screams to the tick, “You see what’s happening in my home. Where my life-partner and dog sleep?! In my home…” Then, she gives them a flush that they can’t refuse (except for their jaws and un-squishable skin/bodies, they are pretty vulnerable…).

In my many years of camping, I’ve probably pulled 200 ticks of me. But, in only 4 days, I pulled off almost a good 100 (plus, at least 30 from an earlier trip to Nebraska this spring). Why so many? Warm winter. The mild winter allowed an inordinate number of ticks to survive. This gave them more time to, shall we say, get biz-ay. And now, these creatures are hungry—fightin’ to bite.

In my prediction, it’s the first of many “seemingly small changes” that rear their ugly heads, as drastic shifts in our weather systems will continue to negatively impact our world… Is it too late to reverse? Tick, tock…tick, tock…tick…tick…

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

After a visit to Half Price Books in Orland Park, where I couldn’t walk out without at least three books, I was thinking about how I purchase books and in what format/shape I like them. Let’s break it down:

NEW: New books are clean, untouched. No one else has ever owned them. They have that new book smell. The cover and pages are sharp. They seem like shiny collector’s items waiting to be gently read and then placed on a bookshelf for show. Sure, they are a little more expensive, but – in most cases – any book desired can be found new, if the reader is willing to pay the price.

USED: They are cheaper, sometimes drastically so. Depending on the age of the book, they can have that “old book smell” which is delightful to bibliophiles. They may be beat up, worn out, written on, torn, have slips of paper shoved in them – but that just seems to give the book personality and a sense of history. Depending on the book, it’s not always easy to find a used copy, but on the other hand, used bookstores often offer the opportunity to stumble upon something cool.

LIBRARY (or borrowed): The book is free – except for potential late fees. The reader has zero ownership of the book, which makes it feel like carrying around someone else’s precious possession, thus tacking on the slight burden of eventually returning the book in the same exact condition in which it was received. Libraries, and library sharing, usually make getting any book relatively easy, but there may be a wait involved.

ELECTRONIC: Kindles and other electronic readers offer books (usually) for cheaper or even free, but then there is the initial price of the device. Not all books are available electronically, but plenty are, and getting a copy takes only seconds – no going to the store, no waiting for shipment. Books are owned and can be viewed across multiple devices, meaning I can open a book on my Kindle, continue reading it on my computer, and then read some more on my iPhone. Electronic readers lose the tactile connection to the book and also defeat the sense of “progress” through a text by displaying progress bars and goofy numbers rather than being able to visibly see how far into the book you are. Electronic readers reduce the clutter of having hundreds or thousands of texts sitting around the house, but it also eliminates the collectible, showy aspects of hard copies. And there is no sellback option for those who like doing that.

*******

Personally, I like NEW and USED books. I want hard copies that I own. I like that both of my offices, home and work, are covered in books, and that the coffee table at home also has another dozen or so books on it. My feeling is that the books aren’t just books, but additions to my home/office that don’t just speak for themselves but also say something about me and who I am. I’ve tried the electronic route, but after reading several books on my Kindle, I just couldn’t get into it – and I say this as someone who reads a LOT off the internet. Plus, I like collecting books.

So, with all of that said – readers, where do you stand on this issue?

by Dr. Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

The old saw about living in interesting times—namely, beware of—came to mind after a friend remarked–rather matter of factly though, come to think of it, perhaps with some teeny hint of condescension—she remarked that I shouldn’t lose sleep over the outcome of the Greek’s current debt crisis and the possible demise of the Euro.  That in response to my comment about how the European mess augurs ill for the rest of the world, including us, i.e. the U.S.   From there we moved on to making Memorial Day plans.

But seldom one to take advice, whether bad or good, I found myself continuing to worry about the fate of the Euro.  Yet the idea that worrying about the Euro wasn’t necessarily making the best use of my time preyed upon me.  On the other hand, surely the issue of preserving the European Union deserved at least some attention; after all, many more people would be affected by the collapse of the Euro than would be excited or put out by my plans for Memorial Day.

Whereupon, to my surprise, I suddenly realized I wasn’t mulling over the Euro’s future; instead I was wondering whether it was true that ignorance is bliss.  For, dear reader, regardless of your view about the seriousness or lack thereof concerning the fate of the Euro, you must admit that the question of whether ignorance is or isn’t bliss affects each and every one of us on an almost minute by minute basis, and thus is an issue that far transcends in importance Ms. Merkel’s decision to finance or not finance the Greek’s ever growing debt.  

Surely no sane public spirited person would advise me not to worry about whether ignorance was bliss.  If we shouldn’t lose sleep over this, what should we lose sleep over?   I can’t imagine we (that’s you and me) have been put here on earth never to lose sleep over troubling issues of great pitch and moment.  I can see that losing sleep isn’t sleep’s chief purpose, but wouldn’t you agree it comes with the territory?  Of course you would. 

So….the question now is whether ignorance really is or isn’t bliss.  Truth to tell I seem to be of two minds on this one.   For I can easily see where the answer must be obviously yes, but I think I can also find occasions where the answer must be no.

On the many virtue’s of ignorance, we should all, by now, have considerable experience.  If I never figure out what exactly Kant meant the antinomies of reason, why should that make me unhappy?  Moreover, finding out what he meant might well make me miserable; if so, why should I have to force myself to learn what he had in mind when learning it will leave me horribly depressed?

 And if I’m going to have a heart attack in a month and there’s nothing at all I can do about it, how does knowing about it in advance improve the situation?  I can’t see that it does; realizing this leads me to conclude ignorance is bliss or, if you prefer, it’s much better than knowledge.  Moreover think about this:  I decide I don’t want to know my child’s gender in advance because I believe not knowing will make me happier rather than the reverse.   What has my ignorance cost me?   Answer: nothing.   I’m better off with it than without it.

But I can also appreciate that ignorance makes us dumb and who wouldn’t agree that behaving stupidly usually leaves us worse off.   This issue has gained some notoriety in medical circles around the question of whether to tell patients their true health status.  For example, should or shouldn’t a doctor tell his patient he has incurable cancer and will shortly die.  Current wisdom tells us that the doctor should let the patient know exactly where he stands.   The rationale for this approach centers on the idea that the patient can deal with his condition better if he knows what’s going on, rather than believing death is a ways away.  More generally the reason for preferring knowledge to ignorance involves believing that knowledge can improve whatever situation we find ourselves in.  Socrates is probably the most famous proponent/defender of the view that knowledge confers many benefits.

Nonetheless, something inside me—some quiet force within—tells me there’s “gold in them thar hills” meaning, don’t sell ignorance short.  Knowledge doesn’t always work and, thus, perhaps, ignorance really is bliss.  So once again finding myself on the horns of a dilemma, what will probably happen is that, sometime around 3 AM, maybe this week maybe next, I’ll wake up mulling over whether or not ignorance is bliss and, in the process, unfortunately, I’ll lose some more sleep.

 

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

No matter what we would like to believe, we are all prejudiced.  That term has an ugly connotation in the twenty-first century.  Prejudice automatically gets associated with the prejudgment of a set of people based upon such social constructs as race, gender, or sexual orientation.  In reality, this is just one kind of prejudice, though admittedly the most infamous. Humans prejudge things all the time, and I am a human.  I have never tasted insects, and there are many people living in the world who love to eat them, but I have made an uninformed prejudgment that I would not like them. This is prejudice.

Though I try not to prejudge people, I have no problem prejudging cultural matters. I will avoid television’s latest extreme reality talent show extravaganza like the plague; instead I will watch some PBS programming. Superhero movies?  No thanks.  I will spend my two hours enjoying a nice documentary.  And, if I won’t waste two hours on a movie that doesn’t live up to my snobby standards, I most definitely will not be spending a day reading a book that I believe will not expand my intellectual horizons. Here is where my cultural prejudices reach a climax. I prejudge romance novels, crime stories, adolescent literature, and many other forms of writing that I believe would not be worth my while. Not surprisingly, this feeling of inexperienced distaste colored my opinion of that seemingly most pop culture of genres; ‘graphic novels’. I will admit it; when I thought of graphic novels, I thought of comic book conventions. I thought of super-hero fans meeting at the local Radisson.  I thought of teenagers who are obsessed with Japanese style anime or manga due to the works’ infamous graphic violence and sexuality.

I can now admit that I was wrong. My prejudice was ignorance. It was misplaced. What disabused me of my prejudice was reading a book of amazing historical significance: Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking work, Maus. Maus is a bit difficult to describe.  In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Spiegelman began to record conversations he had with his father about the latter’s days in 1930’s Poland, and his experiences during the Holocaust as a Polish Jew.  From these interactions, Spiegelman produced a unique memoir. He wrote the chronicle as a ‘comic book’/graphic novel.  The book revolves around the elder Spiegelman’s memories, but also the difficult relationship between a father that survived Auschwitz, and a son who grew up in 1950’s and 60’s America.  To make things even more revolutionary, in true comic fashion, Spiegelman depicted the Jewish victims of the story as humanized mice and the Nazis as humanized cats.

If you have never heard of Maus, your reaction to my description may be a bit dubious.  This is how I felt before I read the work. At best, I believed that this ‘comic’ strip adaptation of the Holocaust would be ineffective.  At worst, I was worried that the aesthetics of the work would simplify and trivialize the central event of the twentieth century. What concerned me about a comic book adaptation of history is what concerns me about Hollywood depictions of history.  A ‘bad’ movie that covers a historical theme does more harm than good. Hollywood creates a dualistic history of good vs. evil in order to speak to an audience’s perceived desire for massive problems easily solved. This is how I prejudged Maus, but I was looking only at the negative. If a poorly made film can trivialize history, a powerful movie can make history come to life much more effectively than written accounts.  Maus has the same capability.  It has the visual power of an incredibly well done film, but the depth of a 300 page written work.  Reading this book makes the reader FEEL history; the pain of humanity. Humans are incredibly empathic, and a visual work such as Maus grabs our emotions.  It plays with them and destroys them. It does this even though it depicts the Holocaust using animal characters to relay human history. Representing people as mice and cats is actually incredibly effective. When Spiegelman portrays dead mice in the crematoria, you feel physically sickened.  The artwork oozes sadness, despair, pity, anger, hatred.  This is possible because humans have an incredible ability to see humanity everywhere.  We see faces in the most mundane, least human artifacts. If you doubt this, Google ‘celebrity faces in food.”  The ability to see human faces in non-living objects or non-human life forms is known as pareidolia, and we all do it. Because of this, Spiegelman’s mice quickly transform to humans; his mouse tale becomes a tale of humanity.

A work like Maus shatters genre as it shatters your understanding of an event.  Reading it changed the way that I view ‘comics’ and the possibilities that exist therein.  As soon as I finished Spiegelman’s work, I began the lookout for other well-made graphic novels dealing with historical events.  My prejudice has been destroyed, and I am better off for it.

I do still hate American Idol though; with extreme prejudice.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I remember as a child standing in the mall parking lot, thinking about breakfast. “Mmmm. What smells like waffles?”  I asked my mom. She explained that that delicious smell was antifreeze leaking from the car. Let me tell you, Eggos and Aunt Jemima are not the tools with which to disabuse a child of that notion. Indeed, that breakfast smells uncannily similar to a leaky automobile.

Gross. For some reason, many of my childhood memories revolve around the smells of cars and food, and, disconcertingly (now), those smells are often interchangeable. I remember the sharp plasticky smell of the inside of my parents’ blue Chevy station wagon, which made me think of Smoke-Y-Links (and kind of gave me a headache, to tell you the truth), and I remember pulling into the gas station and breathing deeply the stingy, eye-watering smell that makes me think of Combos and pop (my high school lunch). I also remember watching the waves emanate from the vehicles all around us in a McDonald’s drive thru (not “through”): hot asphalt and fries.

Blech. Now, this post isn’t just about how gross car smells remind me of gross food. It’s about memory.  Much of what I remember about growing up seems to have had to do with being in the car and eating processed foods. I grew up in Mid-Michigan. My stay-at-home-mom was 25 and had 3 small kids to feed while she worked to keep her family and her house in order through buying things at stores (and my dad worked, building cars). In the 1980’s, that meant driving around a lot and eating convenience foods because there was no option to do things any other way: life was too busy. This, of course, was painstakingly designed and unabashedly sold.

Ick. “You, harrowed housewife and busy working man, are FAR too busy for the things that slow life down (growing food, locomoting sans vehicle). Don’t you worry, little lady; we’ve got you covered.”  Thus, we got a country built for cars, and a brand-new (note that descriptor) mindset: convenience.

Thirty years later, we know that those mad men were bs-ing us, and we know two things:

  1. The food that was created and processed (instead of cultivated and cooked) to save us time has brought us epidemics of obesity and cancer, and the notion that someone else should be providing sustenance for our families.
  2. The machine that gets each of us going quickly and bestows upon us independence theretofore unknown, has brought us polluted air, an insatiable thirst for a limited resource, and the notion that we are each in this alone.

So, why do we keep it up? Why do we continue to eat foods that are made from the cheapest, grossest stuff possible and are dangerous to us and damaging to our land and water? Why do we continue to demand to move ourselves around with a 2-ton machine that makes dangerous the air we breathe and helps to change our climate? I think it’s because we don’t yet know the third thing:

  1. We are NOT so busy that we must sacrifice our earth, our health, and our happiness for convenient eating and swift transportation.

“Oh, I would LOVE to grow some of my own food…ride a bike…shop locally…etc., but I simply don’t have the time!”

Sure, it feels that way. We’ve got kids to raise and jobs to do and stuff to buy and television to watch and more money to make and more stuff to buy and more driving to do and…etc. Of course. But, really, we act in accordance with what we value.

The interesting thing is that these are all fond memories for me. I enjoyed the time I spent with my family doing the things that we did. The point is that our world has changed, so we need to change with it. I don’t want to raise my kids in the car headed to McDonald’s or Dominick’s. I want their memories to be of the time we spent growing our own food and getting ourselves around on our bikes. I don’t want them to simply believe that that cinnamon roll and/or chocolate smell wafting over Chicago and the ‘burbs is just some little bakery getting ready for their day. It’s the antifreeze leaking from that car that just passed us, or something way grosser.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I have seen this amazing map/video circulating the web recently, and I was intrigued.  What strikes me as so effective about this video is it gives us a sense of the mutability of human made political geography.  Unfortunately, Americans are notoriously ignorant about geography. What’s the big deal, you may say? Well, this time lapse map illustrates why this is something to be concerned about.  Ignoring geography makes many believe that the map today is unchanged from the past. Lacking the ability to understand historical and geographic change makes people feel that what they know today will always be, giving them a sense of hubris.  This map should show how wrongheaded such lack of thought is. We can plainly see that kingdoms, empires and republics have risen and fallen at an incredibly fast pace during the last 1000 years in Europe, as in the rest of the world. There is no reason to think that this will change, though many fool themselves into believing otherwise.

One other danger of geographic ignorance: the educated man/woman needs to realize that the little quick flicks on this time lapse map represent still unhealed scars for millions of people.  Wars, ethnic cleansing, and religious tensions are being fought, planned, and escalated as a result of the events that are signified within the first seconds of this time lapse.  To think that events from millennia ago have no effect on our lives today is dangerously naïve.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As summer nears, my wife is outside in her garden all the time.  I have no idea what she is doing out there.  Well, that is not actually true; I know she is ‘working’ in the garden, but I don’t know what that really entails.  She comes inside with her hands, apron, knees, and shoes a mess.  But, she also walks through the front door with a sense of contentment on her The means of production. face.

Creating a vegetable garden is not my bag and I don’t have much desire to work out there. But, I am excited that the whole of our back and front yard will be used for a productive purpose. Though not as interested as her in urban farming, I do recognize the importance of her motivation.  She loves planting seeds, watering them, watching them grow, pulling weeds, and eventually, harvesting her rewards.  I appreciate that by doing this, she is fomenting rebellion.  By being a producer, she is opposing the ubiquitous life of the American conspicuous consumer.

Think about this for just a minute.  How many Americans today actually produce a physical object?  Unbelievably few.  I think you could perhaps say painters, writers, poets, playwrights and other artists. How many of these people make a living from their production?  Even fewer.  If we think artists are rare, that is nothing compared to the lost class of artisans that once marked the Western world.  Artisans were expert producers of goods for the commonweal. They fashioned an artifact through all the steps of creation. The loss of the artisan is due to our mass-produced society, and modern service economy.  People working in cubicles, both management and employees, ‘produce’ essentially nothing.   America’s biggest employer, Wal-Mart, produces nothing but self-proclaimed low prices. Their employees specialize in our most ‘revered’ trait, customer service.  Even those few Americans who still work in a factory setting produce few goods individually.  Sure, as a team, they may manufacture a product, but as one individual, each man and woman on the line has his/her own specialized role.  Not one person produces an end in itself.  Not one person even knows how to produce something as simple as a graphite pencil. Production as an end in itself is what my wife practices in the garden.

Though there are so few producers in America, there is a glut of consumers.  Actually, there are 300 million consumers in America.  This is unavoidable in today’s economy, but some of us take consumption far too far. Americans have made ‘Consumer’ our personal identity. Self-worth is based upon consumption.   Consumption becomes our spiritual path.  Americans are bombarded by the government, businesses and our peers to buy, buy, buy.  Americans are told we will find the “good life” by consuming.  Inner peace, happiness, wisdom are no longer searched for in work, learning, or meditation; we can simply get these virtues for $14.99 at the local big-box megastore.  Consumption then, affects our mental-health.  As 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne so wisely put it, “Poverty of goods is easily cured; poverty of soul, impossible.”

And so, this is why my wife loves to work in the garden. She is producing food, by herself.  A poverty of goods in her life is not her concern; the production of food ensures that her soul is bursting with riches.  Complete production as an end in itself leads her to self- fulfillment.  The question then becomes, what do you produce?

By Jonathan Derr, English Faculty

This is picture of my grandson posing with some statues in a playground at the University of Chicago Lab School.  Although they look like they should be sitting behind a rope in an exhibit space at the Museum of Contemporary  Art, a  playground is really a much better place for them.  These statues were designed to be interacted with, since the artist left a space on one of the benches where they are sitting so that people can sit down and be a part of the exhibit.  Kids climb on the statues, talk to them, share their lunches with them, ask questions about them and generally treat them like toys, playground equipment and imaginary friends.  The statues are also really durable since they have been on outdoor exhibit in Hyde Park since 1986. In fact they have outlasted their old site in Harper Court. The property was bought by the University of Chicago and most of the stores and the local movie theater have either been completely remodeled or torn down.  This means that for the past twenty six years they have been sitting outside, enduring Chicago’s winters and summers and all of the punishment that the kids of the south side can dish out.  Their appeal is now spanning several generations.  When my daughter was four or five she and her friends used to play with the same statues when they were still in their old location.

I think that this is a real lesson about how we should approach art.  Often we are afraid to really engage with it since we have been trained to approach art with a combination of fear and reverence that children have not been infected with yet.  Kids like art because they like it, not because they have been told that it is great art or that it is “good for them.” Probably the best way to get a kid to stop liking something is to tell them that it is “good for them.”  After all, broccoli is good for you.  In the adult world art galleries are nearly always as silent as a tomb, unless there is free wine and cheese, and people sit quietly and clap politely after even the most rousing performances of Shakespeare or Beethoven.

It may be a cliché but art is what endures. Even though their old location is gone, these statues are still around in their new, more kid-friendly environment. I hope that if my grandson has children he will be taking them to wherever these statues end up in the future so that his kids can climb on them too.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty. 

The other day, I got stopped by railroad tracks near my house. It was one of those obnoxiously long freights that seemed to stretch endlessly into the Nowheresville, Illinois cornfields. I didn’t mind, though. I had nowhere urgent to be, and it was a beautiful day out. Dare I say it was pleasant sitting there with my windows open, music on, and the randomly connected graffiti letters speaking to me in an unknown language.

Whenever I’m stopped at a train like this, I usually have two thoughts. The first is, “Isn’t there a law about how long these damn things can be?” The second is that I imagine running alongside the train and grabbing hold of one of the ladders, pulling myself up and riding off into the sunny blue horizon to some place only easily accessible by train, like Hogwarts or downtown Chicago. I tell myself that one of these days, I’m going to do it.

But I won’t.

First of all, when grabbing for the ladder, I suspect the force of the moving train would tear my arm straight off my body. (Yes? Science teachers? Can you confirm this? Would I suffer but a flesh wound like the Black Knight?)

Secondly, train hopping is illegal. And I’m a good boy and a law abiding U.S. citizen. (Cue the Lee Greenwood….)

But those aren’t the predominant reasons keeping me from doing it, because what’s a lost arm and some jail time if you end up having a good time, right?

The main reason I don’t do it is the inevitable disappointment. The unspoken, unimagined conclusion to this fantasy is that I wouldn’t know where I was being swept away to, but when the train stopped I would be somewhere interesting. I’ve left this part of the fantasy so unimagined that I can’t even define what an acceptable “interesting” place would be. Would it be a big, bustling city I’ve never been to, like New York? Would it be a quaint, secluded town in the sparsely populated areas of America? Would it be another country, like Canada or Narnia? I simply haven’t thought that out, and I don’t want to it. The mystery is the real charm of the fantasy.

 

Paul Gaszak?

However, what keeps me from getting on that train is that I do know what would be an unacceptable ending, and those endings are the far more likely than rolling to a halt in a land of talking animals. This particular train was moving straight west. It may have gone just a few more miles to Joliet. Not exactly magical, but at least I could go to the casino.

Or maybe it carried on to the western border of Illinois, or into Iowa. I could have left my mundane hometown cornfields behind for…more cornfields.

Or maybe it was heading to that enormous train depot in Kansas City. I don’t particularly care to risk limb and legality over some barbeque.

The fantasy is as fleeting as the train itself. It passed and carried out of sight around a bend. The arm of the train signal raised and I shifted back into drive. I was headed home, back to a place where every inch is familiar and the wild animals don’t understand a word I’m saying.

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty. 

Real experiences for the real world. Such is the focus of experiential teaching and applied degrees.  That seems logical and certainly applicable in business and computer fields, and even quite necessary in the medical field.  Yet, “true to life fiction,” isn’t that something like “military intelligence”?

Hamlet is a staple. It is a foundational piece taught in high schools and universities worldwide.  Even so, as an instructor I find myself giving the same sales pitch each time I assign it as required reading.  “Why do we have to read such antiquated literature?”  “Ugh, Shakespeare.”  “People don’t act that way anymore; what a waste of my time.”  These are the G-rated comments offered by students.

If only I heard, “Hooray, Shakespearean drama!  I could sure learn a lot about human behavior when reading that!”

Fast forward a few days after reading Act 4 of Hamlet.  Picture a group of athletes standing around a vending machine discussing that “rank dude” at the party last night.

“Yeah, no one would believe you if you told that story about him; everyone likes him and thinks he’s the bomb.”  “He’s such a fake.”

“Well, what if we have Gary talk to him and get him to say it out loud, and we could be standing behind some lockers and have all the other guys hear what a jerk he is. Then they’d believe us.”

“Aw heck yeah, let’s bring him down.”

Fast forward back in class the next day. We are discussing the next act in Hamlet where everyone dies (“Aw man, that is totally cool. Why didn’t you tell us there would be a fight to the death, prof?”).

So class, what happens before everyone dies?  “Well, the king is exposed as a liar and murderer.  Hamlet gets his honor back. And Laertes forgives Hamlet because he realizes he was just a victim of circumstance.”  Great class, it looks like you’re ready for the quiz. “Arg.”

However, let us look at this a little closer. Say you have some fellow students in class with you.  And say one of them wants to set up another classmate to hurt him in some way. All the while, other classmates are “hiding behind the arras” watching it all unfold. Does this remind you of anything?

“Aw dude, that’s so cold. It’s like the king and Polonius setting up Hamlet.”

“Yeah, and later when the king and Laertes set him up again in hopes to knock him off.”

That’s right class. Why would a person do something like that?

“Power trip.”  “Mean spirited.” “Revenge.” “Make yourself look better than the other person.”

Sure, all those seem reasonable. Do people do things like that these days, or is that just a Shakespearean thing?

Silence. Exchanged glances. Lowered heads.  Student, thy name is Laertes.