By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

When we hear about violence between the Israelis and Palestinians marring the Middle East, it is common to view the situation as ahistorical, or even timeless.  The news media sometimes plays this game by painting the troubles of the Holy Land as having ancient roots, as though this fight has been going on for 3000 years.  Though this may seem to be the case to outside observers, Umujyi-wa-Gaza-uri-kuraswa-nindege-za-Israel1this is most definitely a false belief.  The seemingly unending disputes in the region stem from the very recent past (relative to the history of the land where the fighting is taking place.)  To understand the crisis, we need to cover a century’s time; a drop in the chronological bucket for the ancient world of Palestine.

To grasp the complex situation, we could investigate many formative years of the crisis: 1936-1939, 1948, 1967, 1973, etc.  But, to get to the heart of the matter, we must look at the year 1917, and the war that was changing the world at that time.

In 1917, the First World War was entering it’s 4th year.  Millions had already died on battlefronts all over the globe, and the carnage did not seem to be abating.  In February of that year, Revolution struck Russia, the Czar fell, and a provisional reform government gained power, vowing to continue the fight against Germany.  France still had German troops on her soil, and fr-trenchwas facing mutiny from disaffected frontline troops who had been sent into the meat-grinder one too many times.  Britain was feeling the strain of the Kaiser’s U-Boat attacks, and was concerned that their new ally America would not get troops over to Europe quick enough to help in the war effort. 

Nonetheless, these struggles did not stop British and French policymakers from planning a new postwar order. In 1916, the two nations agreed upon dividing Mideast Ottoman holdings between themselves, with, of course, the assumption that the war was to be won.  Such plans would be moot if Germany won the war.

Victory was precarious, but oh so colonially valuable; the beginning of 1917 was the ‘now or never’ moment for the Brits. As the French were slowly crumbling, the little Island nation needed to assure themselves of allies. 

Ironically, it would be an anti-Semitic stereotype that would influence British policymakers in their quest for war assistance. Many within the halls of power in London held old, quite often offensive, and generally apocryphal notions that the Jewish communities of Russia and the United States had disproportionate power and influence. Hence, London was looking for a way to please these mythical Jews in the hope that their supposed power would ensure Russian continuation in the war, and absolute American military and financial involvement. 

Thus, with their plan of controlling Palestine after the war, the British government decided to make a promise to the Jewish people, and the Zionist movement in particular.  If Britain won the war, and gained Palestine as a holding, the Jews would be given a home land in the Holy Land.  This was the so-called ‘Balfour Declaration’, named after Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary. The declaration, which was in the form of a letter, read:

November 2nd, 1917

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely,
Arthur James Balfour

Of course, for the Zionist movement, this letter embodied opportunity and hope.  The letter seemed to grant 220px-Balfour_Declaration_in_the_Times_9_November_1917the future promise of a national state. However, for the Arabs already living in Palestine, who the British understood as being a backward, controllable people, this letter would quickly be interpreted as a imperialistic tragedy.

According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, the Balfour Declaration, and future statements of the British government in the years immediately following WWI illustrated that Palestinians ‘were seen as insignificant “natives” and usurpers, whereas the incoming Jews were viewed both as Europeans and as the rightful owners of Palestine.”

‘The rightful owners of Palestine':  Can any words be more loaded? 

One hundred years on, the decisions made for the sake of ending the “War to End All Wars”  continues to spark bloody conflicts.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’m back from my week of adventures in the Pacific Northwest, eager to reflect upon the many joys of an incredible vacation.

Portland, Oregon was the first stop on my journey. More than a town than a city, Portland is incredibly walkable (aside from the steep hills on the west side of the Willamette River), and the bus system offered service everywhere I wished to visit, including the charming home in Buckman where I stayed with locals as part of Air B & B, a home sharing system that benefits homeowners and travelers alike.

I chose to start my vacation in Portland largely to attend the Oregon Brewers Fest, specifically to take part in the opening day parade across the Hawthorne Bridge to the festival grounds in Tom McCall Park. The day of the parade was soggy and cold, a phenomenon described locally as “Portland gray,” which offered an important insight to Portland’s weather the remaining nine months of the year.

Despite the weather, the Brew Fest parade and festival did not disappoint. rainI’m easily pleased by a brass band and a good walk, which was how this great day began. I was joined by my friend, Sarah, a Portland transplant since 2010. With 188 beers to choose from, the $1.00 per 3-ounce taste was a perfect way to try as many as possible; I believe we sampled sixteen beers between the two of us (the remarks added to the “notes” section of my festival guide are strangely unclear). Sarah and I spent the day happily under tents and umbrellas, relishing a “to do” list that listed only one item: drink beer.

Before my vacation, I read about the area, finding the extraordinarily insightful The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest by Timothy Egan. And, while visiting Powell’s “city of books,” a local mecca for devoted readers, I bought another Egan, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, an amazing book I’d highly recommend.

rosesThe International Rose Test garden shines as a stunning part of the expansive Washington Park perched above the city. My early morning visit resulted in a fantastic mixture of growing sunlight and roses in every hue. The terraced layout makes the most of the effusion of blossoms, resulting in roses blooming in every direction.

For the remainder of my stay in Portland, I explored the surrounding countryside, the true draw of the region. I went on an excursion to The Columbia River Gorge, with stops at the lovely Latourell and majestic Multnomah Falls, culminating in a stop at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood.

gorgeThere was also a stop in the orchard region, known affectionately as “fruit loop” at Packer Orchards, where I eagerly devoured Rainer cherries and indulged in an ice cream cone at the urging of a remarkable man I met on the tour. A retired Army officer (and 1960 West Point graduate), John assured me and his grandson, Jessie, that it would be a mistake to pass up the opportunity to try fresh huckleberry ice cream.

wineriesThe next excursion to the countryside was a day exploring Willamette Valley wineries with my extraordinarily generous Portland insider, Sarah. The first vineyard we visited might best be desired as paradise, with an infinity pool. Please go to Blakeslee winery (during the week) and experience what we did—the whole place to ourselves with the tasting room attendant inviting us to dip our feet in the pool, while drinking in the view and a glass of Pinot Noir. blakesleeAdelsheim winery was the next stop, which boasted superior wine and a tasting room suffused with the scent of flowers. At Adelsheim, we walked out to see new grapes on the vines and admire the surrounding hazelnut trees. The third vineyard was a mistake; take my advice and skip Arborbrook. The last stop in the country was Four Graces, another fabulous tasting, where Sarah scored a good deal on two very good bottles. Back in Portland, we stopped at Enso Urban Winery for a cheese board and one last glass of Pinot. If anyone discovers a way to ensure each and every Friday of my life is one tenth as delightful, I’d love to know.

From Portland, I boarded an Amtrak train to a Seattle. . .part 2 of Boho Hobo.


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Most Americans don’t give much thought to the First World War.  Much like the Korean War, WWI may be considered a ‘forgotten’ conflict.  Of course, both of these conflicts have one other thing in common; they have been overshadowed by the Second World War.  WWII is the struggle Americans are most usually obsessed with; from  movies and television shows, to our dubiously titled ‘History Channel’, to national best-seller monographs, WWII gets most of the coverage.  And why not?  The war radically altered the world, and America’s place in it.

But, to understand our wider world, with it’s complexities and it’s many tragedies, we need to look back even further than 1945. After all, to understand the world created by WWII, we must investigate the World War that preceded it.
Ukraine Plane What Happened

We live in a violent, confusing world. The last couple weeks have proven this to any Pollyannas who may have forgotten such a hard ap_israel_hamastruth. For many Americans, the events unfolding in Ukraine, Iraq and Israel/Palestine are difficult to comprehend. As outside observers, we often simply throw our hands up in dumbfounded frustration. I fear such frustration leads many people simply to label the people and politics of these regions as ‘crazy’.

Of course, such an ‘explanation’ explains nothing.

True explanations are difficult. True explanations are complex. True explanations are unsettling.
But, true explanations are desperately needed.  If we are to understand what is happening in Iraq, or grasp why the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is so persistent, or why such bad blood exists between the Ukraine and Russia, we must go to the history books. Specifically, we must investigate the First World War.

Let us begin with Iraq.

As we all know, the American intervention in Iraq beginning in the Spring of 2003 did not go as planned. Though the United States quickly won a technical victory on the field of battle, the ‘rebuilding’, or ‘occupation’ of the nation was marred by, for Americans, seemingly inexplicable violence, sectarian strife, and near civil war.  The reasons for such violence are many and complex. One unarguably important cause was American policymakers’ ignorance regarding the complexity of the Iraqi past. Such ignorance, willful or innocent, is even more shocking when it is understood that the Americans had a predecessor they could have learned from. In 1918, at the end of WWI, the British made many of the same mistakes Americans made in 2003.


The Camel Corp, 1915

During the First World War, the British were not just fighting the Germans in the fields of France. They also were at war with the ‘Sick Man of Europe’, the Ottoman Turkish Empire. In this Middle Eastern war, the British looked to rile up the Arab peoples of the area, hoping the Arabs would be interested in throwing off the yoke of their Turkish overlords. The British promised the Arabs of the region national autonomy. According to Scott Anderson however, the British did this without understanding the complexities of the area.’For nearly 400 years prior to World War I, the lands of Iraq existed as three distinct semi-autonomous provinces, or vilayets, within the Ottoman Empire. In each of these vilayets, one of the three religious or ethnic groups that predominated in the region – Shiite, Sunni and Kurd – held sway, with the veneer of Ottoman rule resting atop a complex network of local clan and tribal alliances. ‘

iraq-ethnic-mapThe British did not concern themselves with this ethnoreligious system, seeing instead one, indivisible, homogeneous Arab people.

After defeating the Turks, the British, and the French made two troubling decisions. First, they reneged on their deal with the Arab populations of the Middle East, basically replacing Ottoman rule with European Imperialism. Second, much like in Europe in 1918, the victors of the war redrew maps, and went about ‘state building’. Out of this came the imperial holdings of Palestine, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Iraq.
This situation was not only tragic, it was absurd. Last year, The Daily Show wonderfully captured the absurdity of the situation:

As John Oliver hilariously illustrates, the mapmakers took no account of the ethnic, tribal and ds_18146_02religious disparities of the region. Iraq was transformed into a simmering land of tension controlled by a crumbling British Empire.  Scott Anderson points out that this was a disaster waiting to happen, and the British did not have long to wait: Iraq’s history of the 1920’s-1950’s ‘would be marked by a series of violent coups and rebellions, with its political domination by the Sunni minority simply deepening its sectarian fault lines. After repeatedly intervening to defend their fragile creation, the British were finally cast out of Iraq in the late 1950s, their local allies murdered by vengeful mobs.’

British decisions from 1918 seem to have never-ending repercussions in Iraq. With this in mind, it seems ISIS is simply another chicken coming home to roost. 

(My next blog post will deal with Israel/Palestine and the First World War. After that, Ukraine and The First World War)

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I have always been intrigued by the First World War.

On second thought, perhaps ‘intrigued’ is not quite the right word. It doesn’t seem strong or descriptive enough.

Captivated? Yes…..

Mesmerized? That seems more like it.

But, why?

Maybe it is because the First World War seems strangely distant and foreign. You may be saying, ‘well sure, we are now a century removed from the war, so it should seem distant.’ But, wars further afield in historical memory seem more familiar, more understandable than WWI. Why is this so? Why does World War One seem so mysteriously exotic?

For me personally, I believe the distant aura of the war must be related to the conflict’s paradoxical uncanniness and absurdity. Though the most modern of industrial slaughters, the war was and is surrounded and shrouded in myths, legends and the supernatural. Myths of the strange and magical were created in the first days of the war, and they endured long after the Armistice was signed. These tales were created by the soldiers who fought, the people on the homefront, the government propagandists and the memory makers in the years following the catastrophe. Everyone seemed to have a hand it producing this aura of unreality.

Painting of the Myth of Langemarck

Painting of the Myth of Langemarck

Some myths were straightforward nationalistic yarns. For example, in the early months of 1914, as battle causalities consistently climbed to unexpected heights, people throughout Europe desperately tried to find a meaning behind the sacrifice of sons, fathers, friends and neighbors. Many people felt the sacrifice needed to be for something larger than individual interests. If such mass death would have any meaning, it would need to be for the protection, or perhaps, perfection of the nation. The Germans in particular told tales that pushed this nationlistic agenda. So, in late 1914, no story held so much power for citizens of the Reich than the idealistic university students marching into the face of industrial battle at Langemarck. Legend had it that twenty-thousand well-educated young Germans not only bravely attacked the enemy at Langemarck, they did so singing rousing nationalistic tunes. This legend of Langemarck became proof for Germans that Teutonic spirit would always, if only eventually, defeat Anglo-French material might. Machine guns could destroy the body, but the German soul would eventually prevail.

However, the Germans were by no means the only ones to look to spirituality to understand this war. The Kaiser’s soldiers may have had song on their side, but the

The Angel of Mons

The Angel of Mons

English were sure they had both history, and heaven, on theirs’. In the early months of 1914, the British public began to whisper to each other that their soldiers were protected from German machine guns not by national spirit, but by national spirits. The Brits relayed fanciful tales that their soldiers on the front were being assisted by the long dead bowman of The Battle of Agincourt. The ghostly bowman came to be known as the Angels of Mons. Obviously, their supposed existence were meant to prove that England could not help by be victorious in this struggle. After all, God was on the English side.

These were national legends that sold better at the homefront than on the frontlines. Individual soldiers often viewed such tales as disgusting propaganda; lies to make the comfy shirkers on the homefront fell better about supporting the war. However, that does not mean the hardened men of the trenches disbelieved in the otherworldly or

Robert Graves

Robert Graves

unexplainable. Over and over, soldiers recorded tales of their run-ins with the supernatural at the front. According to Canadian historian Tim Cook, soldiers’ diaries commonly relay stories of ghostly, uncanny and explainable events. One of the most famous such events was retold by the brother of Wilfred Owen, the great English poet who died
Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen

at the front a week before the war ended. Owen’s sibling claimed Wilfred’s spirit appeared to him on a ship at sea the night Wilfred was killed in France. True or not, such stories continued, and often became more powerful, long after the war had ended. In his famous war memoir, Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves told numerous tales of ghosts and phantoms haunting the trenches and homefront.
It seems likely that as the front became more psychologically destructive, such stories became more common.

Now, living one hundred years on, stories of the spooky and supernatural inevitably mark The First World War. It is part of a collective memory of the war. And yet, such legends and myths seem almost unique to the industrial killing of WWI. No other war, in my opinion, has such a feeling of the uncanny or the mythic. In fact, as we drift away from 1914, the wars that scar the world seem less and less mysterious. To look for angels and spirits during World War 2 is laughably strange. To create myths and legends surrounding Vietnam, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq or the Balkans seems disgustingly absurd.

World War One really did make us say ‘Goodbye to all that.’

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

In life, as in art, the beautiful moves in curves. ~Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

As a young student in art and art history classes, I was initially perplexed and unimpressed by the artistic tradition of the still life. Tables overflowing with fruits and vegetables seemed strangely lifeless, the “still” in still life feeding my early misunderstanding. Ultimately, I learned to appreciate and revere not only the art form, but the notions that inform it.

Produce stalls at Cleveland’s West Side Market

The West Side Market in Cleveland introduced me to produce stalls stacked high with fruits and vegetables. A field trip in sixth grade remains vivid in my memory because I experienced my first taste of fresh pineapple; the moment revealed canned fruit to be a syrupy sham.

When I worked as a grocery store cashier after college, my awareness of the beauty and complexity of produce deepened and developed; I began to recognize the loveliness of fruits and vegetables: glorious colors, wonderful shapes, infinite textures and sizes.


On the west coast of Ireland in 2002, I rose early and went for a walk to the sea. When I returned the proprietor of the B & B, The Churchfield, brought my breakfast. The sweet Irishwoman created a fruit plate for me, one that miraculously contained only my favorites: grapes, berries, kiwi, and bananas all arranged like a rainbow.

My mother’s traditional “fruit boat” carved from a watermelon filled with diced fruits emerges each Fourth of July. I push past the filler of cantaloupe and honeydew to find the best items. Preferences span the spectrum of red: pink watermelon, red strawberries, and crimson cherries.

The abundance of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the many things we all relish during the summer months. Biting into a tomato as though it were an apple seems perfectly reasonable. Simple salads seem unspeakably delicious. Farmers’ Markets are a spectacle of the marvels of fresh and local everything.

still-life-1918Diego Rivera

Still Life, 1918 by Diego Rivera

How obvious now to see a still life pulsates as a celebration of plenty—an astonishing abundance—a study in perspective, an understanding of depth, and an initiation into the nature of the relationship of things.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

June 28th.  A prominent date in the history of the world. To be more precise, June 28th, 1914.  100 years ago almost to the day.

If you don’t recognize this date, and if it doesn’t ring bells like December 7th, July 4th, or September 11th, let me explain. On June 28th, 1914, a young Serbian terrorist by the name of Gavrilo Princip shot and killed the

Artist's drawing of the assassination.

Artist’s drawing of the assassination.

Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  This assassination set into motion the foreign policy decisions of Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, France and England that led to the outbreak of the Great War during the summer of 1914.

The Great War was in no way a ‘good war’.  Greatness signified scale, not quality.  The horror of the war made people hope that it would be the ‘war to end all war.’  In fact, the opposite was the case. The Great War would in actuality be overshadowed 20 years later by an even more extreme conflict in the Second World War.   But to understand the Second, we must investigate the First, because without it, the Second would not have taken place.

With the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the The First World War approaching, I think it only right to put together a series of blogs devoted to this catastrophe of  human folly.


There are only handful of people living today who were alive during the First World War, and most were tiny children at the time. All those who fought in the war, and lived to tell the tale, have long since passed on.  For the vast majority of us today, the war lives on only in written memory and cultural imagination.  Ironically though, the war can seem completely unimaginable.   The sheer scale of the war for anyone under 80 years old (who can remember the even more massive Second World War) is beyond  reckoning.  Since 1960, the Western way of war has become localized and specialized; like much else, war has become professionalized, mechanized, and corporatized. For my generation of Americans who have not been a part of the military (the vast majority of us), war can seem remotely distant; both geographically, and emotionally.

Statistics can paint the picture. Numbers will provide us perspective.


American soldiers fighting in Fallujah

In the Second Iraq War, the ‘Second Battle of Fallujah” was the largest battle fought.  In this battle American, British and Iraqi forces attacked insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallajuh. The coalition forces fought with 13,000 men. They outnumbered the 5,000 insurgents within the city.  The battle lasted a little over a month. It was deadlier than most engagements.  Coalition forces lost over a hundred killed in action, and 600 wounded, and the insurgents lost about 1500 dead.

These numbers should not be belittled. But, when put into relation to the First World War, Fallujah illustrates the extreme horror of 1914-1918.

Let’s compare Fallujah to the worst of The First World War; The Battle of Verdun.  The Battle of Verdun took place from February 1916, until December 1916.  The

French soldiers at Verdun

French soldiers at Verdun

battle began when German forces attacked French positions east of the ancient fortress city of Verdun.  On the morning of February 21st, the Germans inundated the French lines with over 150,000 men.  In the lead up to the attack, the Germans rained down 2.5 million shells on the French forces.  For 10 months, the two armies slugged it out over terrain that slowly became more and more nightmarishly pock-mocked.  With the dead everywhere, constantly being violently disinterred by artillery, Verdun was often described as a giant charnel house. Being sent into the battle’s front line was understood to be close to a death sentence.  Here is how two different French soldiers described the experience:

You eat beside the dead; you drink beside the dead, you relieve yourself beside the dead and you sleep beside the dead.

People will read that the front line was Hell. How can people begin to know what that one word – Hell – means.

After almost a year of incessant fighting, both the French and Germans lost roughly 350,000 men each.  In this one battle alone, 700,000 men died.  To put that into perspective,

Aerial photo of Verdun fort before and after battle.

Aerial photo of Verdun fort before and after battle.

that is about the number of Americans killed in The American Revolution, The War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, The First World War, The Second World War, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….COMBINED.

One battle, Ten months, 700,000 dead.  The First World War would have a thousand more battles, and would rage for over 40 months more.  Those men who died at Verdun would be joined by 9 MILLION others.

It is difficult to wrap your mind around such suffering.

This war’s blood-letting would form our world. In the coming weeks, we will see how.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time. ~Bill Bryson

Very soon, I will be enjoying the one preposterously pleasant perk I receive for my pains as a teacher: two months off. I’m anxiously awaiting my travels this year, which include a trip back home to Ohio and my first trip to the Pacific Northwest with stays in Portland and Seattle.

Travel brings out the best in me, which is true of everyone else, too.


Traveling renews our sense of our selves. The essential core of people—their inclinations, habits, and predilections—will emerge in full force once entirely engaged in vacation mode. Travel results in self-augmentation in every possible way. A “putzer” will be content to laze around a hotel room until 2:00pm. A shopper will battle the crowds and bazaars with zealous abandon. A night owl will be escorted from bars at 4:00am.

Many people erroneously suppose that they will encounter a life-altering experience whileHawaiitravel on vacation, but this is seldom true. While being on holiday may encourage each of us to let go of our daily routine, expecting a dramatic transformation will only result in disappointment. On your flight to Hawaii, you will not meet a handsome stranger.

I think too often vacations are sold (and bought) as “getaways” and “escapes” from everyday life. No matter how surroundings change, the traveler remains the center of the experience. Although people may leave some reservations behind when they go on a journey, the activities pursued arise from interest and desire, not a lapse of reason. Despite the brilliant marketing campaign, whatever happened in Vegas was intentional. I do not like Vegas (and will never go back) primarily because it is the antithesis of my life, to which I say, “No, thank you.” I do not understand the appeal of Las Vegas since in addition to being completely artificial it is also fundamentally depressing: the luxurious hotels and opulent casinos built on the foundation of lost money. Moreover, gambling with a group is unwise; a lesson learned when sitting at a roulette wheel with my oldest friend’s husband. Every time I won, he lost, and vice versa, which does not make for a pleasant evening among friends.

Holidays are trancroissant-d-or-seatingsformative when we allow ourselves to do and be what we want, thereby illuminating ourselves from within. I’m an early riser. After fifteen years of impatiently waiting in hotel lobbies for friends and fellow travelers, I recently started going to breakfast on my own and returning to collect my group. I fulfill my wish to explore the city and my friends get to take their time. In this way I have discovered remarkable spots, including the terrifically charming Le Croissant D’Or in the French Quarter, to which I will return if I pass that way again.

Ultimately, the genuine, open, engaged selves we display on vacation while exploring happily, accepting heartily, and indulging eagerly simply reveals the phenomenal people we already are.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Any job very well done that has been carried out by a person who is fully dedicated is always a source of inspiration. ~Carlos Ghosn

Tis the season for job hunting for graduating seniors looking to find a position in their field of study and while hopes are high, opportunities are rare and salaries low.

Recently, one of my students said she was desperate for a job. I recommended that she apply at Target, a good company with regular vacancies and the potential for advancement. I won’t detail her response, but she was not pleased with my suggestion.

One of the many difficulties encountered after graduation is the harsh terrain of the employment landscape. There is an enormous gap between student expectations and job opportunities. I have had, over the years, many interactions with students who are frustrated because they cannot find a good, high-paying job. To which I reply, who can?


A former student contacted me to ask for encouragement as he’d been out of college for over a year, with still no hope of landing his “dream job”. My advice: wake up. Among the things that I don’t believe in are the Tooth Fairy, soul mates, and a dream job.

I do believe in good, meaningful work, and that is something that can (and should) be done at every level. I’ve had difficult jobs that involved unpleasant tasks, but they were still good jobs.

Here are the jobs I found in the months after graduating from college in four efficient years:

  • Cashier at a grocery store
  • Hostess at a restaurant

I hurried back to graduate school.

Here are the jobs I found after graduating with my first Master’s degree:

  • Adjunct English instructor—hooray! This job does not pay the bills.
  • Waitress at a restaurant

Graduate school, one more time!

Here are the jobs I worked after graduating with my second Master’s degree:

  • Adjunct English instructor—hooray! Still did not pay all my bills.
  • Academic Librarian—hooray! Alas, it was only part-time
  • Bartender, which with the other two part-time jobs added up to enough.

The list did not end there. With a college degree (or three) in hand, I worked as a temporary office assistant. When I first moved to Chicago, I served for a caterer, worked beer tents at festivals, and even did “coat check” a time or two. I’ve also provided ACT tutoring for high school students. Quite often, we all must take what is available until a better opportunity arises. After all, student loans don’t pay themselves; yes, like so many Americans, I am still in the process of paying off my student loan debt.


What makes a job good arises primarily from attitude and intention. I distinctly remember a young man grabbing a broom at a small mom-and-pop convenient store, owned and operated at the time by practicing Buddhists. He turned to the owner and said, “I will now go outside and practice the Zen art of sweeping the parking lot.” His boss nodded in approval. How invaluable to learn early on that sweeping the parking lot is a necessary task and can be done beautifully.

I’m certainly not the first person to promote hard work. Oftentimes, students allow themselves to be misled. Too often students believe that completing college signals the end of the struggle; ultimately, we all come to know that the struggle is never-ending. They dream of illustrious careers, only to discover the reality: a life filled with work, work that we are all incredibly fortunate to have.


Doing a job well will result in a good job, all that remains is to get to work.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

FYI: This is a SPOILER-FREE Turtle post. I won’t ruin Game of Thrones for those who haven’t seen recent episodes yet. Also, you don’t need to watch GoT or The Walking Dead to understand this post – so read on! 

Wow. The most recent episode of Game of Thrones (Episode 4.08: The Mountain & The Viper) was intense, to say the least. In a TV series that is marked by regular twists and surprises, no twist has shocked me the way this one did. Even after letting the episode sink in, I’m still thinking about it.

My reaction to the episode has shifted the more I think about. At first I was pleased: I love when a story – Game of Thrones or otherwise – surprises me. After all, great storytelling should surprise us.

Then, I gradually started to turn on the episode. The more I consider the conclusion, the more I’m displeased with it, because I believe the surprise ending sacrificed some deeply interesting long-term plot threads in favor of a short-term shock. Having not read the books, I’m hopeful that I’m wrong and that new, interesting plot threads develop from this conclusion.

Games of Thrones and The Walking Dead – two of the most popular shows on TV – both work well in part because each show is willing to do what most TV shows and Hollywood movies will not: kill of characters – or more specifically, kill off protagonists.

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin loves to kill off characters!

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin loves to kill off characters!

I love superhero movies. Just this year alone, I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Typically, one of the flaws of superhero movies is that our main protagonists aren’t in any real danger. Secondary characters or villains may die, but when we go to see a Captain America movie, we are pretty damn sure that Captain American is going to survive. (Yes, yes, comic nerds, I know Cap gets assassinated in the Civil War story line in the comics, but that hasn’t happened in the movies – yet.) And even when a main protagonist dies, somehow they always come back – that was half of the point of X-Men: DoFP, to resurrect characters.

Thus, superhero movies have to find other ways of being satisfying without the real sense of danger for our main characters. In the Spider-Man movies (and comics) we know Spider-Man will survive, but his loved ones are in constant danger. Also, like in the first Spider-Man movie (2002), we see him lose out on love despite beating the bad guy. In The Dark Knight, Batman survives and beats the Joker, but at the cost of becoming a vigilante and more.

However, in every episode of GoT and TWD, we fear for our characters. Each show has proven, time and time again, that nearly any character can be gone in an instant. When Captain America is surrounded by bad guys, we know he’ll survive; when a character is surrounded by zombies in TWD, we have no guarantees. This is part of the appeal and power of GoT and TWD. We are invested in the characters and we’re scared for them.

In an appearance on Conan, GoT’s creator George R.R. Martin says all of this directly: “We’ve all seen the movies where the hero is in trouble, he’s surrounded by 20 people, but you know he’s going to get away, because he’s the hero. You don’t really feel any fear for him. I want my viewers and my readers to be afraid when my characters are in danger.”

The killing of characters is, typically, warranted in these shows. Both shows are set in worlds filled with chaos, destruction, and death. The core ethos of each show requires that characters not emerge unscathed from all of the horror surrounding them.

Yet, for as much as I applaud both shows for being willing to kill off characters, there are times when I wonder if the shows/stories aren’t just kill-happy, and end up killing off better story arcs for the sake of shocking us with character deaths.

From a writer’s perspective, the usual stance on killing characters is that a death has to be “earned,” meaning that a character is not just killed for the sake of killing a character; rather, a character has met his/her demise for sound, logical reasons that can be pieced together through the story. Even if we are initially shocked that the character is gone, we should be able – in hindsight – to understand why it happened and how it adds to the story moving forward. If it ever seems like a character was killed simply because his/her name was pulled out of a hat, that isn’t an “earned” death. And if a more interesting story is sacrificed with the death of the character, it isn’t an “earned” death.

So, back to my mixed emotions on “The Mountain & The Viper.” I wonder if the episode’s conclusion was “earned” for that second reason – were interesting story arcs sacrificed? Again, without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen the episode, I will provide a hint for those who have:

When a certain character points a finger and yells, “Who gave you the orders?” toward the end of the episode, I immediately foresaw a WORLD of ridiculously interesting story possibilities in terms of character conflicts that could be played out over many episodes. Then, a few minutes later, that was all undercut. The short-term shock replaced the long-term story.

Again, I still loved the episode, but I will have to wait to find out of the conclusion was truly “earned.”

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

“Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.”
― Michel de Montaigne

I’m using a new book Alain De Botton’s quirky, exploratory text The Consolations of Philosophy to teach my summer course, the rather ambitiously titled Creative Reasoning and Investigative Learning: Critically Engaging Self & Society. Reading along with my students is a rare treat since I can be surprised by the assigned reading as my students are. This week’s chapter addresses the theme of inadequacy through a discussion of portions of the Essays of Michel de Montaigne.Essays

Every teacher of writing knows Michel de Montaigne as the “father” of the “modern” discursive essay, primarily because he was among the first to call what he was writing “essays” or “Essais” in French, meaning attempts, which casts a redemptively pleasant light on the endeavor to create meaning through reflective writing. Another important distinction of Montaigne’s work is that he wrote about anything and everything that interested him, sometimes including classical references and scholarly ideas, but most often not, thereby freeing prose writing from centuries of strict formality. Thus, the essays that my students consider excessively formal are actually a relaxed form encompassing a leisurely discussion of essentially anything.

A lover of words, I am a fan of eloquent statements, a trait I share with Montaigne (one of several similarities I can draw between my life and that of a man who lived and died more than 400 years before me). Montaigne collected and considered quotes from thinkers he revered, decorating the ceiling of his library with his favorites. I’ve posted favorite quotations to my walls since college, more evidence of the deeply personal relationship we seek to build with authors and texts we admire, seeing in them what we want to see in ourselves.A-Readers-Lens-and-Baggage-Framed-copy

One of my favorite books utilizes Montaigne’s essays as a means of understanding life. I may have already mentioned or recommended it here: Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. Bakewell’s writing style is equal parts fluid and fascinating.

After finishing the Bakewell, I read Montaigne’s original essays because her explication makes them seem so fabulous, which they are to a large degree, the historical distance causing few difficulties. A brilliant scholar, Bakewell elevates her source material, identifying the most enthralling aspects and glossing over the rest. In fact, Montaigne’s essays were a tiny bit disappointing after Bakewell’s glittering overview, because they contain dull bits she chose to exclude.

Alain de Botton’s exploration of Montaigne is decidedly different. He offers less in the way of interpretation; instead, he uses Montaigne to discuss the selected theme of inadequacy. Honestly, I would never have connected Montaigne’s work with the theme of “inadequacy” as De Botton has done, but the results remain intriguing.

One of the central discussions De Botton supports with excerpts from Montaigne involves sexual inadequacy. When I think of inadequacy, my mind does not immediately jump to that of a sexual nature. I almost never contemplate sexual inadequacy. Indeed, I was surprised to see the subtopic as much as the connection to Montaigne.

This, coupled with a different reading of a crucial part of Montaigne’s life reveals a wonderful attribute of interpretation—a great many are possible, and a large number can be valid, as long as ample textual evidence and sound logic make the argument reasonable.

Another key difference between Bakewell and De Botton’s discussion of Montaigne pertains to his most intimate friend, Etienne de la Boetie. The friendship was exceptionally close, and while Bakewell considers yet ultimately dismisses a potential sexual aspect to the relationship, De Botton doesn’t address this possibility at all.  The differentiation is analogous to two portrayals of Hamlet, an apt correlation because source material must be richly complex in order to support a range of responses. With the same source material, these two capable authors produce insights that are only potentially true, and certainly not all encompassing.multiple-paths

Thus, all readers can and should add their voices to the conversation. I tell my students that if there were only one way to think about something, there would be only one book on each topic in the library.

This is part of what drives my devotion to books, and reading, and ideas: all open endless avenues to explore, allowing each reader to forge ahead to create his or her own unique path.