In Praise of Women

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I know amazing ladies, four fabulous sisters and one remarkable mother introduced me to the world of women.

My mother stressed the importance of female friendships, and I have had the unbelievable good fortune to have met terrific girls and women throughout my life. I have giggled along with their silliness, learned from their example, been astounded by their artistry, and marveled at their strength.

Sisterhood and friendship with remarkable women are the source of these essential life lessons:

Laughter each day

My female friends make anything fun. Go to the grocery store with Jenny Couch or (and!) Leah Allen someday and you’ll discover how hilarious a supermarket can be.

Generosity of Self

Women share what they have and what they know. The first and best example of generosity I can remember is my own mother, single-handedly raising seven kids, yet still selfless enough to donate blood to the American Red Cross at every opportunity, having given three gallons thus far. She explained that although she had no free time or available money, she still had something other people needed and it was her responsibility to help others any way she could.

The members of my book club—ten tremendous ladies—have another thing in common: volunteer service at 826 Chicago. Women historically volunteered more often because they had more free time if they didn’t work outside the home, but all the women I know through volunteer experiences work full time, at least.

One of my frequent complaints in book club is that most of the literature we read doesn’t fully represent the complex awesomeness of women, only rarely coming close to the depth of person-hood I know to be present in all women, and magnificently visible in those allowed to flourish.

Creative Energy

My favorite kind of historical woman is fierce, fearless, and uncompromising, wielding an unwavering belief in her own voice, talent, power, and path to prominence.

womenunite

Women in history amaze their admirers. The amount effort and tenacity they possess simply to fulfill their inherent talents and realize their full potential is astounding. Extraordinary women who transcend repression, a few of my chosen female trailblazers include:

Artemesia Gentileshci (1593-1656)

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

auguste-reading-to-her-daughter-1910

“Auguste Reading to Her Daughter,” Mary Cassatt

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

Maria Montessori (1870-1952)

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)

Dolores Huerta (1930- )

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1933- )

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

Dr. E. Sara Huh (1980?- ) [Seymour sends his best]

Malala Yousafzai (1997- )

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Persistence when faced with Problems

Every woman. Everywhere.

Leadership

Female heads of state are commonplace in every other industrialized nation, and they perform precisely as any other leader does, imperfectly but with conviction. I eagerly await the election of our first female president.

Just this summer we enjoyed the amazing accomplishments of the Women’s Olympic gymnastics team—young, strong, diverse, determined women, succeeding on their own and together, an ideal model for  the future of feminism.

Much is said of the capabilities women possess, or lack.

Capable of every worthy thing is what I know women to be.

good-women-quotes

The Chicago Experience

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For undergrad, I went to a smaller, Christian-affiliated university in the Chicago suburbs, and all students had to take a handful of religion courses as part of our general education requirement. My senior year, I took a course in religious artwork to fulfill my final religion course. I was an art minor, so the topic sounded interesting, and I knew and liked the professor from a previous course. It was a good fit.

Mostly, we read our textbook, had discussions, and viewed examples of art that were projected onto a screen. The class was informative and enjoyable, and the professor was still very nice and knowledgeable. However, twelve years later, I have retained very little of the information. The fifteen weeks of classes seem to blur together as one, with no particular lesson or detail sticking out.

Contrarily, at the end of the semester, my professor asked us to meet him on Saturday in Chicago so we could visit various churches and cathedrals to examine them from an architectural and artistic perspective.

Twelve years later, I remember everything about that day.

For suburban kids, which is an appropriate description for all of us in that class, visiting the city was a rare event. Growing up, the city was only 35-40 minutes from home, and yet I would only be downtown once or twice per year, and always for some big event like the circus as a kid, or Bulls games when I got older. Even then, we’d drive in to our specific destination, attend the event, and then flee back to the suburbs as soon as it was over. Never was there any attempt to wander and experience the city. Everyone else I knew who grew up in the suburbs had, generally, the same experience. The city and suburbs, though separated by only a few miles, are two different worlds.

So, having the class meet at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, directly across the street from the John Hancock Center on Michigan Ave., was a different experience for all of us in class, and it took us outside of our comfort zones in a good way.

4th Pres

Fourth Presbyterian Church

I still remember specific details about all of the locations. Our first stop was Fourth Presbyterian, with the wooden angels flanking the nave. At St. James, we took in the rose window. At Holy Name, we got a “behind the scenes tour” to see papal garments. I reference that day whenever I am near any of those spots, much to the delight (or annoyance) of anyone with me at the moment.

Being able to go out into the world and experience the subject matter, rather than just talk about it inside a classroom, made all the difference. I interacted with the material, I retained the information, and I had an experience I will always remember. The stuff inside the classroom: a forgettable blur.

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The inside of Holy Name Cathedral.

After the class tour ended, I did something that seemed so wild to me at the time: I found my way to Wrigleyville, got a cheap ticket from a scalper, and went to a Cubs game. It was so much fun, and it just added to the day of memorable experiences in Chicago.

At Robert Morris University, all of the professors – myself included – try to get our classes out into the city as much as possible, as it is part of “The Chicago Experience” that we want to promote at RMU, but also because it’s just good teaching. We are so lucky to have our main campus right downtown. That trip I took in undergrad required all kinds of planning and coordination, and we had to do it on a weekend. Now, I could take my classes at RMU on the same trip with a quick walk or by hopping on the El, all during our regular class period.

Having such easy access to the city is not only a great academic experience, but it’s great life experience as well. When our classes head into the city, hopefully students learn the day’s academic lesson, but perhaps more importantly, they will be exposed to people, culture, and ideas they would have otherwise missed were they stuck in a classroom looking at PowerPoint slides or listening to a lecture.

For students who are from the suburbs and beyond, it’s exciting to welcome them to the buffet of awesome opportunities in Chicago. For students who are from Chicago, I never doubt that there is plenty more for them to explore and learn about in their hometown.

Since that undergrad course, I’ve spent so much time in the city, even aside from all the hours working at RMU’s downtown campus. I feel like I know the city fairly well, and yet I know I have experienced only a tiny fraction of what it has to offer. I want to keep exploring, and I like trying to pass that desire to explore on to my classes. I only have them in class for ten weeks, but they can venture out and learn from the world around them for the rest of their lives.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I recently returned from a truly terrific trip to Spain.

As is sometimes the case, I hadn’t really expected to go on a trip to Spain. Travel opportunities present themselves in rather interesting ways. Margo and I went on one other somewhat spontaneous trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest eleven years ago, so we knew each other to be compatible travel partners. She wanted to go to Europe to celebrate a big birthday, and generously brought me along, in no small way helping heal my recently disappointed heart.

There is nothing quite like getting away to find your way back to who you truly are.

My older sister Margo and I spent twelve days exploring a spectacular slice of Spain, from Madrid northeast to Barcelona and southeast along the Mediterranean coast to Valencia.

The highlights of our trip were as eclectic as the country. We enjoyed art and architecture, culture and community, food and drink.

Here, in no particular order, is my “Top Ten” Spain List

Cable Car to Montserrat

Riding in a cable car was a new experience, which is enough to make it special, but the views of the surrounding mountains were also memorable.

Flamenco Dance Performance in Madrid

flamenco

The most apt response to seeing the phenomenal flamenco performance at Café de Chinitas is that it is worth crossing an ocean to see the artists perform: simply breathtaking!

Paseo in Madrid

The tradition of evening strolls is pleasing as both spectator and participant. On the second night in Madrid, I followed the crowd across a street and stumbled upon the park at Plaza De Espana, complete with sparkling fountains, kissing couples, happy families, and enthusiastic street artists. Oftentimes during my travels, I find myself feeling completely at home in some far-flung part of the world, imagining another life I might have led, if only. .

Mercat de San Miguel in Madridcava

Here, my sister fell in with the Saturday night rituals of Madrilenos, inspecting the delicious foods on display, and finding our way to the bar for a fantastic glass of cava.

Tapas, cervezas, and sangria: oh, my!

Much of our travel itinerary included sampling as much local fare as possible via tapas crawls, really just day-long bar crawls, of which I was happily aware. My favorite discoveries included boquerones, fresh anchovies pickled in vinegar and served with olive oil, bread, and garlic. I shall attempt to make them at home and see how well I can recreate the delicious taste of salt and sea in this delightful dish. Tapas are just an excuse to sit and have a drink, so we concocted as many excuses as possible and had a great time!

While I’ll never be able to remember all of the bars where we stopped for a quick rest, a cold drink, and a salty snack, El Rincon, connected to the train station in Montserrat, appeared like a mirage in the afternoon heat, offering glasses of iced sangria while we waited 30 minutes for the next train back to Madrid.

A great view and a friendly waiter at a bar in Segovia

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Our day trip to Segovia ended with a steady walk downhill, with a perfectly-timed stop at an inviting sidewalk café and bar. The view of the surrounding countryside, the cozy tables, the shady umbrella—it was all delightful.

Our bartender immediately noticed our family resemblance and asked me while pointing to Margo, “Tu Hermana?”

“Si,” I replied, and our conversation rolled well from there.

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Swimming in the Mediterranean off the coast of Valencia

I mean, c’mon. The sea is a lovely place to be.

Paella in Valencia

We tried the seafood paella at La Pepica, one of Hemingway’s old haunts. He was so effusive of his praise of restaurants that some clearly survive off just the rumor of his passing through. The next night I got the paella Valenciana at El Coso, prepared with rabbit and chicken, and, honestly, it was even better than the seafood version. I shall endeavor to make a decent paella sometime soon for my Urban Family.

Barri Gotic in Barcelona

For goodness sake, when you go to Barcelona, go here immediately and wander into the charming squares and have a drink under the archways and listen to local gypsy musicians sing and play.

The Magic Fountains on Montjuic

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Selected to cap off our trip and happily scheduled for our last night in Spain, the Magic Fountains are an incredible show, with music and colored lights and seemingly at least 20,000 spectators. My sister and I grabbed a table and ordered beer after beer until the show began at 9:00pm. We stayed long enough to see the colors and hear the songs, until we were both happy, and tired, and drunk.

The world is home to all of us, with all its natural and man-made wonders. We must enjoy them, and each other, while we can.

One of the truly humbling—and crucially important—aspects of international travel is the necessity of communicating in a language other than our own. I stumbled through my weak Spanglish, occasionally slipped into terrible French, and often resorted to reusing important two-word refrains, “muchas gracias” and “lo siento” being the most suitable.

Traveling allows us to see the world differently, and understand how unique and wonderful every individual is. We all have our own histories and neighborhoods and experiences that shape who we are and what we become. As we venture far from home, we come to know ourselves better, recognize in fresh faces new friends.

***

On a more somber note, the tragedy in Nice, France, occurred while I was abroad. My first awareness of the event happened via Facebook. My friend, Vicky “checked in as safe” as she and her husband and young son live in Nice. I met Vicky in Nice in 1999, on my first international trip to stay with our mutual friend, Leah, who was in France teaching English at the time. I’m glad I could learn that Vicky was safe without having to wait and worry, but how dreadful that such technology is necessary. The tragic loss is just one of countless losses, the result of ideology that seeks to see only irresolvable differences between people, rather than shared humanity. Travel does the opposite.

Across the world, I have encountered countless friendly strangers, willing to help me find me way when I was lost. We can and must continue to celebrate ourselves and invite others to join our celebrations. The only way forward, onward, will always be together.

The world is vast, but travel can help develop an open mind and a loving heart. No matter how different we may seem, we are all one human family.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Political humor is a wonderful and necessary rhetorical tool in shaping our perceptions about politics and politicians.

Growing up in the 80s/90s, I was shaped in part by the many hilarious impersonations of politicians by one of America’s most notable comedic institutions: Saturday Night Live. A number of SNL’s most famous impersonations have become more ingrained in our culture than the actual politicians.

Still today, when I hear George H.W. Bush I first think of SNL’s Dana Carvey:

And Carvey again for Ross Perot:

Ross Perot

“Can. I. Finish?”

And Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis:

 

These days, it seems nearly impossible to separate Sarah Palin from Tina Fey’s brilliant impersonation of her:

Sarah Palin

When done well, political humor reveals critical truths about politicians, policies, laws, and societal injustices, all in a way that makes us laugh and makes topics a bit more palatable and approachable. Even scorching criticism can be made to seem charming in the right hands; Fey’s Palin is a good example. In some ways, so is Jimmy Fallon’s Trump impersonations, like when he played Trump with the cast of Full House.

 

Or back in the 90s when Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton stopped in McDonald’s to sneak food off of customers’ plates:

phil_hartman_clinton

In this way, humor invites a larger audience into important discussions. Upon taking over The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon was advised by his predecessor Jay Leno to lengthen his monologue because it isn’t just a source of laughter, but also as a way to inform people about the news of the day. And the same can be said for other famous sources of political humor like The Daily Show and The Onion.

However, I wonder if our round-the-clock access to social media, communication, and information has created a detrimental excess of political humor.

This week provided one possible example.

On Monday night, Donald Trump’s wife Melania spoke at the Republican National Convention. By the time I woke up early Tuesday morning, reports were posted everywhere that she had plagiarized a portion of her speech from a Michelle Obama speech. By the time I arrived at work, I had already seen countless posts across social media making fun of Melania and the situation. When I checked social media at lunch, the flood of jokes had not even slowed, nor had they when I checked social media again in the early evening. The jokes were coming from all levels: from regular folks to major publications and shows.

Not even 24 hours removed from Melania’s speech, I already thought, “Okay, the jokes have been absolutely beaten to death.”

Just to be clear, I have no allegiance or affiliation to either political party or candidate, and my example is not a veiled defense of Melania or the situation. I am all for anyone and everyone calling out any politician or any of their associates who do or say anything wrong, and I want people to be able to have productive dialogue about important issues. And that’s really a major part of my concern with the excess of humor.

Political humor, when done well and delivered in the right doses, inspires productive dialogue. But the well done doses are now surrounded by floods of other material, much of which is unfunny, and some of which can even be insulting and inflammatory, which just serves to shut down dialogue, not inspire it.

Partly, the poor material is a product of the “writers”; there is obviously a world of difference between John Q. Facebook trying to be witty and the professional writers developing material on shows like SNL, The Tonight Show, and The Daily Show.

Plus, on social media, many of the posts are just playing to the lowest common denominator to get attention and more ‘Likes’ while having zero concern for promoting thoughtfulness and dialogue.

Ultimately, the comedic congestion can turn important issues into white noise, meaning the inspired political humor that is aiming to be informative and transformative is getting partially (or completely) lost in the buzz. And if the flood of voices “kill the joke” so quickly, are people burning out on subjects before ever taking time to give the subject some proper thought and conversation?

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

As a student of history, I am usually pretty dubious about claims to novelty.  When someone says ‘There has never been a time/event/thought/argument like this before!!’, my first thought is usually ‘You sure about that?’ But, there are times when professions of originality are justified. No matter what the cliches claim, history doesn’t simply repeat itself ad infinitum.

This political season has had a number of ‘never-befores’.  Just because it is a ‘never before’ though, doesn’t mean that it will be a ‘never again’. The most revolutionary aspect of this election cycle, and the one that will be with us for the foreseeable future is the role social media is playing in our political culture.  This blog post will be the first in a number that will explore the sometimes exciting, sometimes troubling innovations in the quickly developing realm of social media politics.


To label social media politics as revolutionary is not hyperbole, nor is it surprising. Social media has revolutionized so many parts of our lives, why not mainstream electoral politics?  However, what is shocking is the transformative figure at the forefront twitter-social-network-icon-vector_652139of this revolution. It is not some youthful radical Congressional candidate from Berkeley or Brooklyn. No, this revolutionary figure is a 70 year-old angry dude who, prior to last year was best known for a reality television series and a combover.  Of course, I refer to Donald Trump.

Since he entered the race for the Republican nomination last June, Trump has continually been underestimated.  Over and over, political prognosticators have made two incorrect, though related projections.  One group of media fortune-tellers simply believed Trump would inevitably lose because of his ‘lack dailynewstrumpof a filter’.  According to this mainstream assumption, Trump would say too many offensive and/or ridiculous things, and the inherently moderate American voter would surely turn away in disgust.  That did not happen in the Republican primary, and these prognosticators were forced to reassess their beliefs….but only slightly. The Nostradamus crowd predicted that once Trump had to deal with the larger American general electorate, he would either veer to the center. The assumption was that Trump would batten down the hatches, go middle of the road, or inevitably face defeat. If the latest polls are any indication, these ‘expert’ opinions may be proven wrong as well.  What the nation’s political commentators never grasped was one of the  reasons Trumpists love Trump: The man never does what most rational observers would expect.

Nothing has displayed Trumpian ‘irrationality’ more than the candidate’s Twitter account. Like all social media, Twitter allows the user to instantaneously respond to external events, or share individual thoughts and personal desires. Trump tweets have allowed America to see the ‘realDonaldTrump’.  But Trump’s Twitter has become much more than simply a tool for his personal attacks, or a display of his psyche. Trump has  transformed the social media tool into a personal permanent propaganda platform. In this, he seems to eerily understand our media saturated environment better than any major political figure in recent memory. Here is how it all works:

  1. In 140 characters, Trump shoots off 3 or 4 controversial messages a week, knowing full well the media echo-chamber will spread his message to the masses.
  2. His twitter followers see his tweet, and adopt his political lexicon.
  3. However, many of these ‘followers’ are not Trumpians. Some are social media watchdogs who wait for the candidate to write something outrage.
  4. These people then retweet the original tweet with criticism attached, sending it to a whole new audience.
  5. Eventually, social media news platforms of both political stripes pick up the tweet, share it, and pass it on to an even more diverse audience.
  6. Lastly, once these platforms are all writing similar articles, the largest outlets get involved.  When Trump’s tweets get enough traction, it gets splayed in the MSM (Main Stream Media) of major Newspapers, TV and radio. And just like that….billions upon billions of humans can’t stop analyzing Trump’s latest statement.

This methodology of political propaganda is obviously cunning.  But, there is a very strange paradox wrapped into this method as well. Trump’s social media campaign speaks to his voters and, perhaps even more importantly, he speaks in the voice of his voters. Trump provides quick-hitters in black trump-twitterand white absolutes. After all, there can truly only be absolutes in the Twitter-verse; in 140 characters nuance is all but impossible. For a very large portion of humanity living in a confusing time of change, this absolutism is obviously reassuring. However, for many of the people Trump is speaking to and for, the original medium he is using for his message is one of the most troubling symbols of our rapidly changing world. For a great number of Americans who wish to ‘make America Great Again,’ social media is an enemy. It is understood by wide swathes of Americans as THE vehicle feeding our nation’s already intense narcissistic tendencies. Even more mysterious is that one of Trump’s most important demographics has no experience with using social media at all. Last year, when Trump was still fighting for the Republican nomination, almost 40% of his supporters were over 65 years old.  These same 65 year-olds are generally the ones who, at the very least, don’t have a strong connection to social media.  According to Pew Research, only 9% of Twitter users are over 60 years old. 91% of Twitter users are ‘kids these days.’

So, what is happening?  That is a much more difficult question to answer.

I think part of the answer can be found in the duel nature of social media in our political culture. It is both a source of enlightenment, and also a source of paranoia.  Perhaps investigating this duality in my next blog will shed light on this paradox.

 

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

When Paul Gaszak and I started this blog 4 years ago, we did so with the goal of avoiding ‘controversial’ and ‘political’ topics. Of course, this has not always been possible.  Completely ignoring the aforementioned two topical realms pretty much closes off most blog possibilities.  Our blog’s discussions of race, education, food, history, science and pop culture can’t help but be political. These topics themselves are politicized in our culture.  Plus, would you really want to read this blog if those topics were never discussed? Our subjective viewpoints make this blog interesting; without them, our little venture would be pretty lifeless. All in all though, I think we have fulfilled our initial promises. We have kept out of many of the ugliest political controversies that seem to rock our world on an ever more common basis.

But, times change and so do politics. As anyone can see, this election year is unique.  I capitalhave been dying to write about it, but we have that whole ‘no controversy’ goal. What to do, what to do?

I’ve decided to start anew….kinda.  With this post, I am creating a new subsection of the Turtle titled ‘Politics 2016’.  ‘Politics 2016’ will be devoted to analyses of the coming November elections, and the state of American politics generally.  Of course, I will be voting and I have an interest in who wins the upcoming election. I fall on one side of the political divide, and I’m sure many readers fall on the other. Hopefully though, the posts that appear on our blog will not identify any Map_of_the_District_of_Columbia,_1835sort of partisan alliance. There will be no hyping of one candidate or the other. There will be no soap-box stances taken on any particular ‘contentious’ issues. This subsection will simply deal with the changing face of American politics, and our larger political culture.

This will be a challenge.  Can this challenge be faced without generating nasty political rancor?  I don’t know. But, I feel it is necessary to try, both for our few readers and for my own mental stability during this crazy election cycle.

So, join us, won’t you?  And, if you have something to add, please do!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This weekend, I’ll be voLUNTerring, once again, for the Logan Square Arts Festival, in the beer tent on Friday night from 4:30-7:30pm—stop by!

Volunteering in my neighborhood is something I see as my responsibility as a civic-minded individual fond of building and enjoying the profits of a strong community, and it’s fun!

logan1

“The monument” in the park in the center of Logan Square, where people congregate and enjoy life in our beautiful corner of the world.

I love my neighborhood—Logan Square—where I have lived since relocating to Chicago in 2007. I’m thoroughly at home in this place. Many of my closet friends live here, too, and we can walk easily to visit one another on weekends. The numerous joys of neighborhood living include running into friends on the streets, at cafes and bars, in the parks, and on the train.

Over Memorial weekend I encountered two friends who quickly and eagerly encouraged me to join them at the BBQ where they were headed. Just this week, I was pausing at an intersection to look at a rose blooming along the fence at the corner at Kedzie and Fullerton. My friend Joey was passing. He said hello and we stopped to catch up and we discussed the book he was reading. I could recount an infinite number of frequent and lovely encounters I share with friends and neighbors; we should all be so lucky!

logan2

 

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, a gift bestowed on urban citizens that yields incredible benefits; unfortunately, the plague of neighborhoods has always been and will always be gentrification.

When I moved into Logan Square, I paid a reasonable rent, $800 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Without such a low rent payment, I’d never have been able to stay in the city and build a life here. That particular apartment’s rent was increased to $850 a month the second year. The third year, I was extended the surprising offer of $1050 per month, an increase of $200 in 12 months; I certainly hadn’t experienced a $200 increase in salary. I moved to another apartment elsewhere in the neighborhood. The rental company, the reviled M. Fishman, was able to rent out my far-from large or luxurious place for $1150 that year. Due in part to this unchecked and illogical increase in rents, the current going rate for renting a one bedroom apartment is a ludicrous $1400 per month.

M. Fishman has the distinction of being the worst landlord in Logan Square, perhaps all of Chicago. Anyone who isn’t in his pockets truly despises the man’s business practices. He was instrumental in driving rent prices up and hard-working low-wage workers (including college students and artists) and middle class (healthcare professionals, educators, lawyers) residents out. In fact, a local artist made artwork depicting the ways M. Fishman’s prices were forcing locals out of the area; the young woman’s art was selected for display in the local Art Fest a few years back. As a board member of I am Logan Square, one of the festival’s sponsors, Mr. Fishman objected. The artwork stayed. It was he who was asked to leave (he was asked to step down from I am Logan Square). I’ve heard a rumor that the man has chronic insomnia; trouble sleeping seems a most appropriate condition for him.

Despite my manifold connections to the community, I’ll have to leave Logan Square soon. Other friends and neighbors left long ago. Many young couples found the escalating rent too much to pay. The family who lived on the first floor of my current building was forced out due to a huge rent increase just last month. They had lived in their apartment for twenty years, raising a daughter who now attends RMU, where I work as a professor.

Meanwhile, terrible, and tremendously costly, building projects are invading Logan Square. In addition to being hilariously over-priced, the truly hideous “towers” condominiums projects are effectively ruining the view of the city visible down Milwaukee Avenue. I expect even the head foreman would confess that the buildings are ugly.

highrise

Well, this corner used to be cozy. . .

I enjoy living simply, and I respect my neighbors, whether they have more or less than I do. Apartments are the happy households of countless Americans. Not everyone will have a house, but everyone needs a home. Neighborhoods benefit from the investments, both economic and intangible that contented neighbors bring to a community. Indeed, it is the diversity of a neighborhood that makes it strong, which is why building and renting to members of only one economic stratum strips a place of both personality and heart.

What is lost when truly rooted residents are forced out cannot be quantified. Perhaps that is why so many people have difficulty understanding the real value of a neighborhood.

logansq2

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Punctuality and productivity are crucial skills for a purposeful life, and I am a champion of reliability and consistency. My friend Hanna once remarked that if I say I’ll be somewhere at 11:00am, then that’s exactly where you’ll find me. I consider this a ringing endorsement of my character.

Nevertheless, a drawback to precision can emerge when I forget to relax and savor life’s little moments.

Recently frustrated by noncompliance with my desire to “press on” to the next destination because there was “no need to linger,” I was reminded by my wonderful friend Kris that waiting a few minutes would do no harm.

At Sunday brunch, I was urged by wait staff to “take my time,” since there was “no rush.” These messages are both slightly comical and abundantly necessary for a regimented individual like me.

Over the long holiday weekend, I was reminded to “relax,” which, ironically, always has the opposite effect. Relaxation simply must come from within; however, it can be summoned by a pleasant reminder.

no hurry

Thus inspired, I decided to slow down. Given the early arrival of balmy temperatures, the time is ripe to downshift into the slower pace of lazy, hazy summer days. Following Walt Whitman’s lead, I shall take time to marvel at a blade of grass while I “lean and loaf and invite my ease.”

I recall the absolute delight of meandering through the woods during my childhood. I had hours and hours to fill, no destination, no boundaries. Ian Frazier’s sweet essay “A Lovely Sort of Lower Purpose” discusses these same unintentional rambles; coincidentally he also grew up tramping through the woods of Northeastern Ohio. Certainly, a walk in the woods is a worthy way to invite leisure. In fact, I recently learned that the Japanese advocate healing through “forest bathing,” called Shinrin Yoku.

relax2

A bottle opener also makes an excellent book mark.

These days, the way I achieve relaxation of the meaningless sort involves taking a blanket, and few beers, and a good book to the park to sit under a tree: reading, thinking, drinking, and soaking up the subtle beauties of Chicago’s neighborhood parks. Two weeks earlier, I’d done just that, and snapped a photo of my version of aimless contentment. Indeed, on any sunny day, Palmer Square Park positively overflows with layabouts.

With this renewed intent to behave less intentionally, I go forth into the summer months determined to do less and enjoy more.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

There is a specter haunting the world of academia, and college professors are wailing with fear and frustration. Every few months, the opinion pages of such diverse publications as The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoan this specter.  50 year old college professors fill the pages of these prestigious productions with 6a6151155fbde50cec7b9616661c1448d3374fa7op-eds categorically stating that today’s ‘college students can’t write.’  If you don’t believe me, the weblink attached takes you to 78 million screeds lamenting the lost art of the sentence, the paragraph and the essay. Peruse your pick, and fear for the future.

Personally, I find such concerns to be generally overstated and misplaced. I read thousands of student journals and papers every year, and I have seen very little decline in the standard and quality of student work.(In fact, it has generally been the opposite) Some students are good writers, some are not so good writers. Some are good because they try hard at it, edit furiously and understand how to analyze ideas. For those who are not so good, I find it often comes down to simple laziness.  A proofreading here and there never hurt anyone, but there are some students who can’t take the time.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It just means they have no problem turning in mediocre work. That is their prerogative.

Most concerns about the lost art of writing feel there is more to this issue than just laziness. However, these concerns are often based upon misguided notions. For one thing, there seems to be a belief that college students in the past wrote Dickensian prose and essays that would put Virginia Woolf to shame. This is ludicrous.  The conservative linguist John McWhorter illustrated this in his intriguing 2013 TED talk ‘Txting is Killing Language. JK!!’ About halfway through his 13 minute lecture, McWhorter illustrated that our concern about the lost art of writing is by no means novel.  In 6 quick examples, McWhorter quotes professors and educators from the past 2000 years that sound incredibly like the Cassandras of today. See the queued up clip below:

So it seems that  professors have  always complained about their younger charges’ writing skills. As McWhorter displays, this has much to do with the simple fact that language and linguistics change over time.  But, I think there is something more to it. It’s difficult for humans to believe that what they know now, they have not always known. Ask a professor or teacher about their undergrad writing skills. I guarantee most believe their writing ability at 19 compares favorably to their abilities today. After all, if you are a good writer at 40, you must have been a good writer at 19….right?

Just recently, I was reminded of the much messier reality. When I think back on my undergrad writings it is with rose-tinted glasses.  I mean, I got a bunch of A’s on my college papers after-all!  So, imagine how flummoxed I was the other day when I stumbled upon on old box of 20 year old papers I had written as a junior in college.  Woah!  Pretty ugly!  The work was not terrible by any means, but it was not quite as magical as I recalled. In fact, most of the writing looks pretty similar to what my own students produce today.  To be honest, many of the papers I grade are much better than what I did 20 years ago.  There is no shame in this.  As a 20 year old college student,  I was a different person than my present day self. In college I was just starting to develop many skills in life. Writing was just one of those skills.  The college students that I see today are in the same boat.  They’re 20 years old, and still learning.  It is ridiculously inane to profess an absolutist belief about their abilities at this point in their life.  To say they ‘can’t write’ is at best a misplaced prejudice. At worst it is a sign of outrageous egotism.  Unfortunately, those 78 million Google hits fall under both categories.

My suggestion to the writers and readers of that litany of op-eds?  Before getting too concerned about the end of writing as we know it, look back at your own work from college. You may be in for a surprise.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This Tuesday’s Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation day offered an awesome opportunity to ponder the power of tremendous teachers everywhere.

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How cute is this?

As a teacher, I have the good fortune of working with extraordinary teachers. My colleagues in The College of Liberal Arts at Robert Morris continuously inspire me and my teaching practice. My fellow teachers are exciting, creative, funny, and smart. Naturally, all of the regular Turtle bloggers top my list of coworkers whose contribution I hold in high esteem (MSJ, Paul, JJS, Dr. Stern, Mick, Ellen). Many more colleagues in the College of Business, Health, and Design impress me with their ability to encourage and empower their students every day.

My past teaching life in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere in Illinois was equally enhanced with wonderful educators who helped form my curriculum and understanding, many of these past coworkers remain among my most trusted friends.

My personal experience with teachers has been rich and varied. Most of my closest friends currently are or have been teachers (too many to list; we teachers stick together!).  Over the years we discussed, at length, the countless joys and frequent frustrations teachers endure.  Ultimately, teachers are my tribe.

Thinking back on my most memorable teachers calls to mind not precise details, (who taught me fractions? I have no idea). Instead, the larger lessons emerge, and with them the recognition of the ways they suffuse all that I am and do. To honor the teachers who shaped my life, I contemplate and celebrate the knowledge they so generously shared with me.

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Mrs. Debbie Bernauer was an incredibly kind and supportive third grade teacher. The woman went so far as to attend one of my softball games. This compassionate commitment is typical of the best elementary school teachers who devote a marvelous amount of their time, talent, and energy to the children they teach with boundless love.

In Middle School, Mr. Johnson taught the behaviors of critical thinking and the importance of the preparation a good education can provide. A history and government teacher, his favorite phrase was “There’s nothing constant except change.” This sort of philosophical wordplay stayed with me across the years. His side job as a farmer no doubt helped underscore his tendency to address the cruel realities each life was bound to encounter.

Many of my teachers at Brecksville-Broadview Heights high school are still vivid in my memory: how extraordinary!bee

My long-suffering Math teacher, Mr. Sycz, worked tirelessly to help us grapple with geometry, algebra, and calculus, which resulted in a much easier encounter with college math requirements.

My choir teacher, Mr. Valley, was a fixture throughout all four years. Choir class concluded my day, and I still highly recommend singing every afternoon. His enthusiasm for music and the program resulted in the growth and development of remarkable range of musical opportunities. He expanded the choir, band, orchestra, and song & dance team, the delightful “Music in Motion” in his time, long before Pitch Perfect made singing cool.

Mr. Chordas’ intense approach to education was endlessly inspiring. A brilliant history teacher, he also taught a psychology elective senior year that offered an intriguing peek into the life of the mind.  The biggest impact on my learning was a result of his model of excellence, curiosity, and openness.

Mrs. Ford was the woman who helped me love language and literature. She planted the seed for my future in teaching. In her class, we read widely, the classics: Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare; moderns and contemporaries: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Alice Walker. Conversations of the texts, followed by writing copious journal entries molded my thinking and my life. I’ve kept a journal ever since her class.

In college, I learned from many different teachers, all of whom knew a great deal, but I did not make the effort to develop a meaningful relationship with most of my professors, the exceptions being Kathy Fagan and Christopher Highley. No doubt the sheer size of The Ohio State University makes creating a personal connection more difficult. I regret not having sought ought my professors for advice and guidance.

In graduate school, the bond between professor and student evolves. The exchange of information tends toward a cooperative learning of equals working side by side. At Cleveland State University, I had the benefit of an extraordinary English Department filled with professors who were thoughtful teachers and accomplished writers: Dr.  Neal Chandler, Dr. Leonard Trawick, Dr. Daniel Melnick, Dr. Rachel Carson, Sheila Schwartz, and the brilliant Dan Chaon.  At Kent State for MLIS, my thesis advisor and favorite professor, Dr. Jason Holmes, guided my every step, a kindness for which I shall be forever grateful.

Teachers create an incredibly positive impact on the individual and the world; I remain humbly in their debt and happily among their ranks.

Cue Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”