By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

It’s Monday, so I have created new to-do lists for the day and the week.

Creating a list of things to do and completing that list is an oddly satisfying part of adult life.ToDo

I’m a to-do lister from way back. My lifelong friend and long-suffering college roommate, Jenny Couch, used to roll her eyes upon finding that my daily lists began with the same items: 7:00 wake/shower 7:30 breakfast. She asked me why I needed to write “wake up” on my to-do list. Clearly, she was unaware of the enormous sense of accomplishment crossing an item off a to-do list can produce.

wellbegunRMU’s English Department Chair, Mick MacMahon, has a fabulous habit of establishing a to-do list for our regular departmental meetings. The magical aspect of Mick’s to-do list protocol involves not just crossing off the item from a list, but deleting it through erasure. I have started erasing items from my daily course agenda, which is written on the white board to indicate the plan of action for every class period. As the class unfolds, the list is diminished by our work, leaving fewer and fewer concepts to cover until we’re all done.

Like every other good thing in the world, to-do lists have received a 21st-century update via online apps. The brilliantly named Wunderlist offers a variety of public lists. Some seem worth a look, but it’s unclear how looking at a catalog of lists can enhance my productivity. The skeptical Luddite within me balks. In this behavior, I am emulating Neil Postman, who regularly asked if there actually existed a problem before technological solutions were introduced. Pen and paper serve me exceedingly well. To-do list apps may be life-changing, but it’s likely that I’ll never know.

The world is more digital than ever, but my to-do lists will remain unchanged: embodying old-school achievement, vintage productivity.

By Tricia Lunt, English faculty

Early in November, I experienced a minor fashion crisis while my friend Ingrid was visiting. I was searching my apartment for my legwarmers as she and I were getting dressed to go out for a night of fun.

“Maybe you left them at your dance recital,” was her comic comeback.

“Ha-ha-ha,” I replied.

I discovered my rascally legwarmers hiding in my boots: disaster averted.

Legwarmers’ popularity peaked in the 1980’s, largely due to the movie Flashdance and the onslaught of aerobics videos, and the attendant popular culture phenomena, my favorite being Olivia Newton John’s invitation, “Let’s Get Physical”. While I certainly enjoy a wide array of legwarmer color combinations, my go-to pair is basic black—always slimming, easily coordinated with everything.

I never wore legwarmers during their 1980’s heyday, a decade with fashion fads that are remembered entirely too fondly in my opinion. I was quite young through those years, and certainly I don’t look back at shoulder pads and acid wash jeans with longing.

1980s-fashionitem-leg-warmers

Work that look, ladies!

 

While they may have largely faded from widespread popularity, legwarmers remain ridiculously useful, particularly as a functional, alterable layer. I can add them easily, or remove them, or scrunch them down to a little fabric bunch at my ankle. They are a portable and lightweight warming option, easily fitting into pockets or purses, unlike an extra coat.

Legwarmers are a vital part of my penchant for layering throughout the year, and bundling when necessary. Over the course of the 2014 calendar year, I wore my legwarmers eleven out of twelve months. When I went to the Pacific Northwest in July, I brought my trusty legwarmers primarily because the weather report included daytime highs in the 40’s and 80’s, which is a considerable range requiring effective packing. I wore my legwarmers on my arms as extra sleeves when on chilly sunrise boat trip to The San Juan Islands, and was able to pare down to just a tank top when the afternoon emerged as a sunny 75 degree day.

Cleary, legwarmers are a staple of my wardrobe. How did this happen? None of my friends regularly wear legwarmers, but I never was much of a follower when it comes to fashion. I am a fan of unique, utilitarian fashion accessories (see my abundant scarf collection). I follow the basic maxim to wear what feels and looks good, which is why I gave up high heels years ago (a cruel practice started by diminutive male aristocrats with size issues—no, thanks). I have always preferred to find my own style; legwarmers are just one pretty, peculiar part.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I have been a sports fan my whole life, and I engage with sports everyday in some fashion, be it watching games, reading articles, or talking with family and friends.

In all my years of sports, “Deflategate” may be the dumbest controversy I have ever encountered.

For those unaware, Deflategate is the ongoing controversy surrounding the NFL’s New England Patriots, who were found to have used underinflated footballs during their offensive possessions in last Sunday’s AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts. League rules require the balls to be between 12.5-13.5 PSI. The balls used by the Patriots were found to be around 2 PSI under those requirements. In theory, deflated balls are easier to throw, catch, and handle, which could have given the Patriots a miniscule advantage, particularly in the sloppy weather in which the game was played.

Deflated-NFL-Football

Note: This is way less than 2 PSI under regulation.

Before I continue, let me preface my comments by noting I am a Miami Dolphins fan. Not only do I not have an allegiance with the Patriots, but as division rivals, I actively root against them every season. I have no pro-Pats bias.

With that said, Deflategate is so stupid that I may scream until my lungs deflate. I am already tired of hearing about it and I know it will be the focus of all NFL conversations up to and through the Super Bowl. If the Patriots win, idiots will be screaming for an asterisk to be attached to the title; if they lose, fans will be screaming about karma.

Good lord – fans and media are going to lose their collective minds and ruin the biggest game in American sports over 2 PSI of pressure.

In my best Allen Iverson voice: "Pressure? We talkin' about pressure?"

In my best Allen Iverson voice: “Pressure? We talkin’ about pressure?”

Everyone, from commentators to fans to players on the Colts, agrees that the inflation of the balls had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the Patriots 45-7 dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts.

Still, plenty of people have been whining, “It doesn’t matter if it helped the Patriots win or not. It’s the principle of the matter; they cheated! Fine them! Take away draft picks! Suspend the Patriots head coach! Put the Colts in the Super Bowl!”

Wah, wah, wah!

Shut up, you horde of hypocritical, holier-than-thou sports fans and media.

In every sport, every day, players and coaches are bending or breaking rules to get an advantage, or they are actively trying to deceive the opponents or referees to gain an advantage. Anyone who has played sports at any level who claims they never “cheated” in any fashion is either a liar or a magnificently upstanding loser

Here are some examples of common “cheating” in sports:

  • Flopping, particularly basketball and soccer. The entire purpose is to deceive the officials into calling a foul, thus giving his/her team an advantage through an illegal act.
  • In football or baseball, when a player traps a catch. (ie: The ball hits the ground and the player knows it did, but they try to sell it to everyone else as if it was caught.)
  • In football and basketball, players illegally holding/grabbing on every play, hoping that they will not get caught by the officials as they gain an unfair advantage over their opponent.

When any sports fan, myself included, sees their team commit a blatant foul or penalty that is NOT caught by the officials, we don’t get upset and demand that our team be punished for their crimes. Instead, we say, “Sweet! We got away with that one!” and appreciate that the bypassing of rules will help us to victory.

Still, people will say, “But those examples are different! That’s gamesmanship! Acts like those are part of the culture of competition. Wah, wah, wah!”

Shut up.

Let’s talk doctoring, then. In football, there are stories about doctored jerseys going back for generations, from putting grease on jerseys to make them slick, to sewing ball bearings into the fabric.

Or, how about doctored footballs? In the wake of this Deflategate absurdity, current and former NFL quarterbacks including Aaron Rodgers, Brad Johnson, and Mark Brunell have talked about how doctoring the football is the norm. Brad Johnson even paid $7500 dollars to have people doctor the balls he used during his Super Bowl victory with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.

Should Tampa Bay forfeit their Super Bowl title?

Or should the Dallas Cowboys demand an opportunity to play in this year’s Super Bowl, since they lost to Aaron Rodger’s Green Bay Packers in the playoffs? After all, Aaron may have had an over-inflated ball, which is his preference.

Be it sports or any other issue in our world, people will rail against perceived injustices in the most illogical, hypocritical ways.

For example, take another form of “cheating”: performance enhancing drugs – steroids, HGH, etc.

In baseball, many sports fans and media members will never forgive players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire for using performance enhancing drugs. They were among the greatest players of their generation, yet they will likely be ostracized forever in terms of being recognized for their on-the-field accomplishments.

In football, players who take performance enhancing drugs are penalized and suspended for several games. Yet, fans don’t blink and then welcome those players back with open arms, no different than if the same player had missed those games due to an injury. A few players on the Dolphins were suspended for illegal substances this year. All I thought, like any other Dolphins fan was, “I can’t wait until Week 5 when these guys are back to help the defense!”

My Dolphins are an irrelevent bunch of losers, though. How about a more relevant example. Before last year’s Super Bowl, the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks – who are back in the Super Bowl this year – had a league-leading five players suspended for PED usage. Raise your hand if you knew or cared? Where are the people marching on the NFL headquarters with torches in hand to demand that the Seahawks be stripped of their title? As Deflategate continues in the next two weeks, should all of the Seahawks players be tested to make sure they aren’t cheating?

Should any player or team cheat? No. I’m not advocating it. Whether it’s a holding call, PED usage, or a deflated football, if it is proven that rules were broken, then the team/player should be penalized appropriately. Then, move on with life.

However, the media has already blown up Deflategate to such absurd proportions that you’d think the Patriots had hired Jeff Gillooly to coordinate taking out Andrew Luck’s knee at halftime.

nancy-kerrigan-attack

Who saw a Jeff Gillooly reference coming in this post? Not me, and I’m writing it!

Ultimately, in this case, I think the outrage is a mix of jilted lover/jealous fan syndrome.

The Patriots and coach Bill Belichick have been caught cheating before – the “Spygate” controversy. Both Spygate and Deflategate had little to no impact on the games, but people jumped on their moral high horses. Now, like a jilted lover, people are mad that the dude who cheated on them once before and said he wouldn’t do it again has cheated again. Only, with 2 PSIs, it was less like having an affair and more like saying good afternoon to the female cashier ringing you up at the grocery store.

And, face it, fans are jealous of the Patriots. Any fan who claims otherwise is fibbing again. The Patriots are the preeminent franchise in football, if not all of sports, over the past 15 years. As a Dolphins fan, if it would help my team be dominant and go to six Super Bowls in the next 15 years, I’d go deflate some footballs right now.

So, to borrow Aaron Rodgers’ infamous line from earlier this season: relax. Enjoy the Super Bowl, which will be a great matchup between two great teams, both of whom deserve to be in the big game. And don’t worry about PSI unless you’re checking the air in your car tires.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

In Tricia Lunt’s most recent piece on the Flaneur’s Turtle, she defined guilty pleasures like so:

What makes a pleasure (or preference) guilty? It must be common, low (as in the equally problematic and xenophobic term “low brow”), or beneath us. It is most certainly not good. At best, it may be kitsch, or is it camp? In order for a pleasure to be a guilty one, we must sense that the thing itself—usually some artifact associated with pop culture—is somehow bad. Maybe we might even like it because it is bad.

At first glance, I agreed completely with her definition, particularly since it fits my most immediate personal example of a guilty pleasure: The Celebrity Apprentice.

I can’t get enough of that show. There’s just something mesmerizing about watching D-Level celebrities fight to extend their 15 minutes of fame while trying to prove that they can be semi-functioning humans by completing simple tasks like selling a pie or creating a magazine spread. And I like to marvel at how Donald Trump and his sons can be so ugly, while his daughter is so damn hot.

"One of these things is not like the others...."

Punnett squares can yield fascinating results….

When I’m watching the show, I’m happy, but I’m also looking around my living room to see if anyone is spying on me with judging eyes. I know the show is absurd, trashy TV, but I love it.

As I poked around my mind for other personal examples of guilty pleasures, I began to question if some of them fit the definition, which led me to believe that Tricia’s definition needs some expansion.

Guilty pleasures do not necessarily have to be low brow, but they must be self-identified. Also, guilty pleasures are contextual.

By self-identified, I mean that we have to feel guilty and ashamed of something for it to qualify as a guilty pleasure. People cannot dictate that something we like be a guilty pleasure.

For example, among the many drinks I like, I’m also fond of “girl drinks.” I have no problem ordering a martini or margarita or any other drink that may be frozen, fruity, or pink. Friends don’t say a word if I have a beer in hand, but I’ve had plenty of friends tease me about how much I love girly drinks. But I don’t care. I like those drinks and I’m not ashamed. So, friends can tease me or be embarrassed to be sitting at the same table with me. However, if I’m not ashamed, then that drink isn’t a guilty pleasure.

But if I was ashamed, those drinks wouldn’t be low brow. Any drink over $10 with top shelf liquor is a far cry from a PBR. Thus, guilty pleasures don’t have to be low brow.

Guilty pleasures are also contextual.

Right now, I love the popular Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson song “Uptown Funk.” It’s like Bruno is channeling The Time and James Brown. It’s such a great song, and I’m willing to tell anyone I like it.

Most of the time, anyway.

I'd still take The Time over Prince, which is another thing I'm not guilty about.

I’d still take The Time over Prince, which is another thing I’m not guilty about.

I was at my gym the other day, and as I stepped off the treadmill to head to the weights, “Uptown Funk” started blasting in my earbuds. Were I at home, in the office, in a bar, or around friends, I’d probably have started bouncing my head along, if not full-on singing and dancing. But I was in a large open space full of dudes lifting heavy stuff and I was joining their numbers. I immediately turned down my music, fearing that if a single funky note escaped my earbuds, the gaggle of protein powder gulping power lifters would all drop their Olympic weight bars to escort me out of the building for not being manly enough.

In other words, in a particular context, I became ashamed of something I wouldn’t otherwise be ashamed about.

So, there you have it – I’ve amended the definition. And now that I’ve clarified all of this, I’m going to go listen to Bruno while I have a margarita swirl. And I won’t feel guilty at all.

GuiltyPleasuresby Tricia Lunt, English faculty

To escape embarrassment, I might pretend indifference, but more often than not, I will succumb to my guilty pleasures.

I feel slightly self-conscious while watching ANTM, that’s America’s Next Top Model for those in the know. And yet, however unfortunate it may be, I still like watching the models complain and cry in response to their often inane make-overs. I like watching Tyra Banks behave as though she single-handedly runs the modeling industry. I like the exotic and moronic photo shoots because they remind me just how artistically complicated and compelling an advertisement for lip gloss can be, and just how artificial every little bit of what we consider beautiful or stylish or artistic is. The taste makers might very well be telling an elaborate joke. Every time we buy in, we serve up the punch line. Just ask the emperor’s tailor.

Another seriously guilty pleasure back for another season is Downton Abbey. I am devotee, so much so that actually put the date and time of the premiere on my calendar. Despite the fact that it airs on PBS, via the BBC, high art it ain’t. The use of mythological (sword of Damocles, anyone?) and literary references (this week’s shout-out to Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice) can’t conceal the bodice ripping underneath. Posh accents, opulent rooms, and rich costuming aside, it is a soap opera.

badtasteWhat makes a pleasure (or preference) guilty? It must be common, low (as in the equally problematic and xenophobic term “low brow”), or beneath us. It is most certainly not good. At best, it may be kitsch, or is it camp? In order for a pleasure to be a guilty one, we must sense that the thing itself—usually some artifact associated with pop culture—is somehow bad. Maybe we might even like it because it is bad.

The “guilty pleasure” leads is to an investigation of and interrogation of taste. Good taste pretends to dictate a hierarchy. Certain things like bad television, schlocky pop songs, unconvincing actors might be popular, but they are not what we know to be good.

My friend and artist Matthew Schlagbaum explores the nature of “good taste” in his work. A book he’s consulted Let’s Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste has some interesting things to say about Celine Dion’s worldwide popularity. Like any true artist, Matt reminds me to contemplate ideas and draw my own conclusions rather than relying on external judgments.

Countless television programs, songs, and films are dismissed as crap, but remain beloved nonetheless. Good or not, we know what we like.

 

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

I watched a lot of movies over the holidays. I went to the theater, visited Redbox, logged onto Netflix, and watched DVDs and Blu-Rays I own. However, there is one thing I didn’t do:

I didn’t go to a video store.

Whenever I visit my parents out in the Chicago ‘burbs, I pass by Orland Video. It’s the video store my family would go to when I was a kid, and it’s one of only two brick and mortar video stores I know of that are still open.

Whenever I drive by, I wonder how – or even why – it is still open. With on-demand digital content and video rental kiosks, who are the customers that are keeping this store alive? Even my parents, who admittedly dislike technology and were the last people I knew who still went to video stores, migrated to Redbox years ago.Orland Video

Yet, the video store is still open, with its same yellow sign glowing at the end of a stripmall – a symbol of different, older times.

I first tried Netflix during my college days. Back then, Netflix mailed out physical copies of DVDs. It was a slow and obnoxious process. Netflix had some perks, but it was still far easier and faster to drive over to the video store. When Netflix first started offering streaming services, technology hadn’t quite caught up with the concept yet. Internet speeds weren’t fast enough – at least they weren’t in my house, or anyone else’s I knew. The movie would take a dreadfully long time to load, then about ten minutes of the movie would play, and it would go right back to the loading screen. Trying to watch a 90 minute movie was more of a three or four-hour process.

However, anyone with common sense knew that as soon as streaming content got faster, the old ways – the video stores – were going to die. And this was before Redbox emerged, adding just one more nail in the video store’s coffin.

These advancements in movie-viewing technology are great: they’re easier, cheaper, and more convenient than the old ways.

Still, we’ve lost something with the demise of the video store. They were more than just a place to rent movies and video games.

They were a part of the family. On Fridays, once the school week was over, my dad and I would go to the video store to wander the aisles. I could rent movies or video games, and he would rent a movie for him and mom to watch. He’d notoriously pick anything that was labeled as “Funny” on the box, my mom wouldn’t like it, and he’d defend himself by saying, “But the box said it was hilariously funny.” The weekend was then coming to a close officially when someone, usually mom, would ask, “Did anyone remember to return the videos?”

Video stores were a part of the neighborhood community. At their peak, videos stores were everywhere, so each drew from the neighborhoods immediately around it. Thus, there was always a good chance of bumping into neighbors and friends. Also, the employees and owners would get to know all the regulars. The video store was a place for familiar faces.

Video stores were a hangout for friends. Especially in my teens, I made countless trips with my brother and his friends, or with my friends, to the video store. The trip wasn’t just about picking a movie – usually a B-movie that we suspected would be so bad it would be good. The trip was about being together, discussing movies, arguing over what to pick, and figuring out who could rent the movies since most of us had late charges on our own accounts that we didn’t want to pay.

With the rise of smartphones, there are plenty of people and studies that bemoan how the technology – which is incredibly beneficial – has led to a decrease in social interaction. I, like most anyone else, wouldn’t give up my smartphone, but it’s hard to ignore some of the negative effects the technology has had, especially for those of us who lived before smartphones were in everyone’s hands.

Similarly, video stores are another, less-often cited, example of a decline in community due to an increase in technology.

Just as I wouldn’t give up my smartphone, I wouldn’t opt to go back to the old ways of the video store. At its most basic function, the video store was to rent movies, and we now have better, faster, easier ways to do that.

But, whenever I see that old yellow sign on the video store, I can’t help but get a bit nostalgic about the fun times that have been left behind with our technological step forward.

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Twinkle lights make everything look more beautiful. And everyone familiar with the story of Rudolph understands the significance of bright and colorful lights during the holidays.HolidayLights

Christmas lights were invented by Thomas Edison in 1880, largely as a means of marketing his new invention to a reluctant public. 124 years later, this December my neighborhood looks particularly festive. My neighbors have adorned their houses with decorations that are by turns classic, crazy, quaint, or contemporary, making my walk home after the 3:30pm sunset(!) much brighter indeed. Once inside, I plug in my lights to add more shimmer and shine to the cheery display along Spaulding Avenue.

lightsBefore their recent electric history, holiday lights were candles and bonfires, a celebratory response to the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, stemming from the understanding of the human needs for light. As extension of earlier pagan traditions, holiday lights continue to help humans endure this inescapable time of darkness. With the resolve to brave these dark days, we find our way to more light.candleswindow

Light encompasses a variety of symbolic meanings associated with the inventive, optimistic, and life-affirming. A sudden thought transforms into a light bulb above our head. Proud parents beam when they hear that their child is “so bright.” Scientists recall the flash of an idea. The shine, the light, the idea, all glimmer with possibility, warmth, hope.

Light replicates the spark of life in us all. We leave a light in the window to welcome travelers. We fall in love amidst the soft glow of candles.

And beyond the houses, above the city lights, the stars, too, offer to light our way.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Way back in September, perhaps on the 17th or the 21st of that month, I proclaimed that my family had entered “The Autumn of Bread”.  Sounds regal, right?  Well, it is.  For the last 2 and 1/2 months I have been trying to bake a new type of bread each week.  Some weeks I do more than one loaf, and some weeks I just repeat a previous hit.  ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has been wonderful. If

Pretzels!

Pretzels!

you don’t believe me, ask my wife.

Let me give you a little background on why I am doing this.

First off, I need to explain the name.

A couple years ago, my brother and sister-in-law went to Ireland. When they returned, they declared it was going to be the ‘year of the sausage’.  They had eaten so much processed, salted meat on

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

the Emerald Isle, that they decided to bring the practice home with them.  That sodium-filled year was inspiring. Ever since, whenever my wife and I become a bit obsessed with a foodstuff we jokingly name the season after said foodstuff: ‘The year of the Latte'; ‘The Winter of the Brussel Sprout'; ‘The Season of the Waffle'; Etc.

But, ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has beaten all previous comers. For all you bread-bakers, you understand why.

If you have never baked bread, what are you waiting for?

Here are a couple reasons everyone should bake bread, at least at some point in their lives:

  1. Fresh baked bread straight out of the oven may be the best, most satisfying food a human being can eat. No joke.
  2. Baking bread calls for creativity. The methods, the flours, the flavors, the herbs, the designs, the tastes.  Once you have the basic skills down, you can really play around and try new things.
  3. Baking homemade, leavened bread is an amazing science experiment.  If you have kids, you can show them how them the physico-chemical right in your own kitchen.    Actually, why don’t science teachers use bread-making as a teaching tool?  It is microbiology and chemistry lesson in one. Two great tastes that taste great together.
  4. Scientific? Sure, but also mystical. Bread grows seemingly on its own, gaining airiness because of the ancient tiny lifeforms that are working their microscopic butts off. We help them, they help us. So symbiotic.
  5. For me as a historian, I feel tied to the past when I make bread.  It is so central to so many cultures and rituals that bread has some magical humanistic quality that is hard to pin down.
  6. Last, it is a gamble, Thus, when you win, the payoff is so rewarding. Unlike whipping up many foods, bread has the capibility to be a huge disaster and waste of time. This may sound like a negative, but it means that once you have the skill down, you really feel accomplished once you complete it.

As the solstice quickly approaches, and with it, the dregs of winter, I wonder if the Autumn of Bread should become the Winter of Yeast?  Let me ask my wife and kids. I think I know the answer.

 

 

By Gina Marie Disalvo, RMU Student.

This one time, at band camp, my friend hijacked an elevator and had a disco. Seriously. In order to use the elevator, you had to boogie with the best of ‘em. These shenanigans continued for a few hours and even moved into the dorm lobby. Non-stop disco; bands from all over the country joined in and it turned into a regular old Saturday Night Fever. This…this is why marching band; because at the end of the day everyone wants to belong. Everyone spends high school searching for their place; whether it is sports, drama, academics, or music. Some of us find it, some of us don’t. What I can tell you is that marching band changed my life, and I can’t even play an instrument.
guard girl

I spent years in other activities. Cheerleading, girl scouts, pageants; I tried my hand at horses, archery, fishing, and even jousting. Okay, I am just kidding about the jousting. But seriously, singing and dancing were the only things I really enjoyed. Both required no team or group effort. You see, kids are cruel and being a tomboy on a cheerleading team can lead to some nasty name calling and seclusion issues. It doesn’t matter that I had been to nationals more times than most of them could count. They hated me on principle. I’m not the only kid who had this problem; sometimes mean girls and boys decide it’s a great idea to pick on the people who are different. So after eleven years of hard work, and seven national titles, I quit cheerleading. I walked away from the team of fifty people who made being a human being feel like terrible curse.

 

I walked onto a team of eight. Eight girls, all from very different backgrounds, who decided, let’s try something new. I joined my high school’s color guard.

 

Color guard are the people with the flags and the rifles that make the marching band look pretty. We dance, and twirl and do all sorts of cool stuff. I learned a lot 2010in color guard. We competed, and won State. That though, isn’t what I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to say, reader, is that these girls were the most accepting people I had ever met. We all had each other’s backs, even if we weren’t friends, because at the end of the day we were a team. In the group of fifty girls I couldn’t find a single one who cared as much as these eight girls. The best part though was that they didn’t just come with themselves; they came with an entire marching band attached. It was the band family. The director was the parent, the winds/brass were teenagers, the percussion were the children. Seriously though, these people made up a group that made you feel at home. For some of us growing up, it was the closest to home we ever felt. The most accepted and loved, and the bonds made in this one, or four seasons, changed lives, and made life worth living.

 

So, ‘this one time at band camp’, is a big joke right? But seriously, this one time, at band camp, I found the best family I’ve ever known.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As we start another quarter at RMU, I as a history teacher try once again to inculcate students to the importance of historical understanding.  In each of my courses I usually provide the students on the first day of class with a description of what history is, and why it matters. Simply put, I try to justify taking history courses to non-history majors.

This is old-hat for me. I have been justifying studying history long before teaching at RMU.  Ever since my days as an undergrad  I have been hounded by friends, peers and random acquaintances’ parents regarding the ‘value’ of a history degree.  With a smirk on their collective faces, I would hear the banal, unthinking question, ‘what are you gonna do with a BA in history?’  It was obvious to me long before entering the working world that in American society, the utility of a degree, meaning the amount of money to be made from having it, is the most important thing for a lot of people.

Of course, not everyone is so materialistically utilitarian. Some people simply don’t like history. Since I was a freshman, I i love historyoften gained unsolicited opinions such as, ‘history is my least favorite subject'; or ‘I can’t understand what you would find enjoyable about studying such a boring topic.’

This is a much more difficult challenge to face.  For paycheck-concerned-parents, I can always point to all sorts of studies that show that employers are looking for the skills taught by the liberal arts.  But, how do you answer those people who think your subject is a snoozefest? How do you change their minds?

You do the only thing you can do: Prove to those naysayers, whether they be friends, students, or whoever, that history is amazingly interesting and human. You point to Arlette Farge, the great historian of 18th century French, who beautifully stated that ‘It is a rare and precious feeling to suddenly come upon so many forgotten lives, haphazard and full, juxtaposing and entangling the close with the distant, the departed.’ For me, this statement encapsulates the study of history.

But, there is more. Those lives Farge ‘comes upon’ are often weird. They are often funny. Their lifestyles are often salacious.  Their worlds are often disgusting.  In other words, Farge’s lives illustrate that the past is achingly, tragically, amazingly human. You can discover all sorts of strange surprises in these lives.

teeth02For instance, a couple weeks ago I picked up Professor Colin Jones’ new book on 18th century French culture called The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris.  Jones investigated a seemingly ahistorical subject: human smiles. But, as he fascinatingly points out, emotions, and their physiological manifestations (smiles), have faced different cultural receptions throughout history. According to Jones, in France, open mouth smiling was frowned upon (sorry about the pun) starting in the reign of Louis XIV.  Open mouthed guffawing was considered to be low class. Why was this so?  Well, as Jones points out, this probably had much to do with the fact that people living in the 18th century had horrendous teeth. Here is Jones describing the sad, but common dental experience of the philosophe Abbe Galiani:

“In a gloomy countdown, he recorded that he still had fourteen (teeth) remaining in June 1770, but only eight in August 1771. By then, any untoward movement of his tongue while he was talking led to his teeth springing out of his mouth. His conversation, he complained, had become a mixture of unintelligible mumbling and inadvertent whistling which baffled his friends. He began to have dreams in which his teeth grew back. …By mid 1772 all his teeth were gone; he was in his early forties.”

Can you imagine this? I can. History makes me imagine.

Simply put, learning about such topics in history makes me feel like Bill Murray’s character in the Royal Tenenbaums, when he says: