Archive for May, 2013

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Outside the stadium before the start of the Solider Field 10 Mile race.

Outside the stadium before the start of the Solider Field 10 Mile race.

On Saturday, I ran the Soldier Field 10 Mile race. It was an appropriately timed event: Memorial Day weekend at a stadium that is dedicated to the men and women of the Armed Services.

The route began outside the stadium, went south along Lake Shore Drive, and then led runners back to the finish line inside Soldier Field on the 50 yard line. Running onto the field was one of the primary reasons I signed up, and doing so was even cooler than I imagined.

The finish line inside Solder Field.

The finish line inside Solder Field.

Then, after the race, a different moment that was intended to be special actually left me feeling quite different.

Runners filtered back into the stadium and got treated to the typical post-race amenities: water, Gatorade, and a souvenir bag filled with snacks. Another post-race reward at many races is the finisher’s medal. It is essentially a participation trophy as everyone who crosses the finish line gets one, but I like this extra touch to commemorate the accomplishment of finishing the race.

I followed the stream of people while holding my phone in one hand (I use the MapMyRun+ app to pace myself) and a bottle of water in the other. A logjam of people stopped where race volunteers were putting the medals on the runners. Another volunteer then began directing people to another spot for the medals; I went that way.

Instead of volunteers, there was a line of service members in their uniforms putting the medals on runners.

At this moment, I had one of those internal debates that seemed to last far longer than the few seconds of real time it actually took me to walk up to the serviceman on the end of the line who couldn’t have been more than 21-years-old.

The finisher medal.

The finisher’s medal.

My internal debate led me to a conclusion that apparently differed from many runners. Days after the race, feedback online from other runners was overwhelmingly positive about having the service members distributing medals. People said it was cool, that it was an honor.

I felt ashamed.

Here I am: an overweight, sweaty English teacher whose big accomplishment that day was running some miles.

Here he is: a young person voluntarily serving our country.

I wanted to run back to the other line and get my medal from one of the volunteers. This kid shouldn’t be putting a medal on me; I should be putting one on him. He already caught sight of me approaching, though. I wanted to ask to be handed the medal rather than have it placed on me like I did something special or important, but my hands were full, and before my internal debate fully concluded, he was already putting the medal over my head.

All I could say to him was, “Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it.”

Yes, I was thanking him for the medal and the gesture, but the sentiment carried a different level of meaning that belongs to him and all of our service members.


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Recently, a photographer named Lelage Snow began an incredible project.  Based in Kabul, Afghanistan, she photographed Scottish soldiers before, during, and after they had seen combat.  What she produced is astounding and haunting.  See here:


This is Private Chris MacGregor, 24.  The rest of Snow’s work can be found here. There is no need to analyze these photos, as I think they speak for themselves the proverbial 1000 words (the eyes alone speak 900).  However, what does strike me is how almost a century ago the German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, described what we see in these contemporary faces.  In his essay The Storyteller, Benjamin had this to say about veterans who returned from the cataclysmic First World War:

“With the First World War a process began to become apparent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience?  What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes mouth to mouth. And there was nothing remarkable about that. For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechanical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.”

A century on, the human body is still fragile.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Yesterday was Memorial Day, and I am sure many of us enjoyed the long weekend by having a cookout with friends, relaxing 3419566889_18c412a73d_bwith family, or simply getting some extra sleep.  I had planned on writing a Memorial Day post for the Turtle yesterday, but I decided to wait until today (and tomorrow as well).  Since the United States has been at war for over 4000 consecutive days, I thought providing the fallen with an extra 24 hours of thought was appropriate and necessary. So, before settling into the short work week, take a couple minutes and view this quick lecture by David Blight, one of America’s great historians of the Civil War era.  In this snippet of a larger talk, Blight provides the amazing story of the first Memorial Day Celebration.  Please watch, and enjoy:

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Folks, brace yourself.  I’m going to make a statement that will blow your mind.  The internet is revolutionary! BOOM!…In reality,we all understand that the internet has, and is, radically transforming our lives. Information transmission, social networking,  international trade, finding significant others; the internet has changed these central aspects of  human experience.  For some cultural commentators, the internet is the best thing that has ever happened to humankind; for others, it is absolutely the worst.  But, there is no denying on either side that it is here to stay, and it is only going to become more transformational as years go by.

A couple weeks ago, Peter Stern and I were having a discussion about the internet’s effect on film.  Peter asked me my thoughts on streaming movies and television shows. I let him know that I have Netflix streaming, and I generally enjoy the service, save a few annoyances.  For instance, I can’t stand Netflix’s 5 star-rating system, and yet, I have a hard time ignoring it.  After pondering what bothered me so much about this rating system, I realized it is indicative of a larger dangerous trend that the internet has brought about: the digitalization of viva voce, or word of mouth.

The internet is radically democratic.  This is the best and the worst thing about it. Anyone can write anything.  Information is ubiquitous and generally free.  Such a radical democratic nature seems wonderful, but it becomes troubling images (11)when it is combined with two other calling-cards of the internet: user anonymity, and instantaneous info transmission.  Behind a relative veil of secrecy, any person can state a crude, uninformed, ridiculous opinion, and, on the web, it can flourish. Often, the loudest, most sensationalist ideas prevail over more reasoned argument. This is obvious in the political realm, where a man like Alex Jones can spread his lunacy far beyond what might be expected because of tools such as youtube and twitter.  Digital word of mouth politics is often based upon hearsay and conspiratorial theory.

However, the digitalization of word of mouth goes far beyond fringe politics.  This novel form of communication influences anyone who buys, sells, or watches goods and entertainment on the web: In other words, almost everyone with a computer. Of course, prior to its digitalization, word of mouth had historically been central to entertainment and consumption.  The great change with digitalization is the user anonymity mentioned previously.  Traditional spoken word of mouth is based upon trust and understanding between two people. If your best friend, who has a great sense of the hippest new music, tells you how great an artist is, what do you do?  Likely, listen to the friend and check out the artist.  Or, imagine if your uncle with an incredible palate tells you about how poor the food is at the neighborhood’s new restaurant. What do you do?  Probably avoid the place.  Viva voce has always been influential in the decision-making process because it is based upon mutual respect and understanding between two consensual parties. Word of mouth traditionally empowered an individual by helping him/her make an informed decision.

By digitalizing word of mouth, the internet has greatly increased the quantity of viva voce, but at the cost of quality.  Though the star rating system is obviously simplistic, it is quantifiably influential. It is hard to look past 300 separate itunes reviewers panning the album your friend told you was great, or 100 yelp reviewers giving that neighborhood restaurant 5 stars that your uncle hated.  Such is the power of peer pressure that I inevitably take into account when a book I want has only 3 of 5 stars on Amazon. Of course, sites such as Amazon, Netflix or Yelp don’t depend only on the star-rating system; they also want to provide supposedly qualitative digital word of mouth by providing comment sections for the user.  Ironically, such attempts at qualitative digital word of mouth also fail since comment sections often illustrate the absurdity and humor of anonymous viva voce. To see what I mean, check out this video.

Though silly, I think we should not look past the upsetting nature of the original critic’s message. The actual reviewer was practicing nothing short of reputation assassination; he provided an unjust assessment of a restaurant based upon what most people would consider absurd standards. Nonetheless, in the quantitative realm, his ridiculous review carries the same weight as a fair critique of  the restaurant.  Such anonymous, word of mouth ‘hit and runs’ are standard fare today. Arguably the oddest example of such smear tactics occurred in England in 2010, when a famous historian of Russia named Orlando Figes anonymously wrote a vicious critique of his fellow historian Robert Conquest’s most recent work.  Figes did this in an attempt to stop consumers from buying Conquest’s work.  By doing this, Figes illustrated the absurd downside of digital viva voce.  The anonymous critic now holds a position of far-reaching power, and that power is corrupting.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

One of my goals this summer is to spend one day without my iPhone. While smartphones are incredibly useful and have revolutionized how I (and many people) do things, they can also be soul-sucking, obnoxious burdens. I want one day when I can’t receive phone calls, texts, and e-mails.

However, there is an overwhelming positive to having my iPhone on me at all times that ties all the way back to childhood.

From the age of five, I wanted to be a writer. As a result, I was gifted lots of journals. Apparently some people believe that writers want nothing more than a quiet prairie, a shade tree to sit under, and a journal in which to write their deepest thoughts about puffy clouds and butterflies.

Amazon: You're not helping the stereotype about writers and readers.

Amazon: You’re not helping the stereotype about writers and readers.

The problem, however, is that I hate writing by hand. It takes too long. My handwriting is awful. I can’t save, copy, cut, paste, click, or drag a piece of paper. Mostly, I can just fold paper eight times, stick it in my pocket, and then pick the shreds out of the dryer a week later.

Almost all of my creative writing has been done on technology, going all the way back to DOS prompts and floppy disks. Now I use my laptop and my iPhone.

My predilection for technology presented some problems in the pre-smartphone era, which for me included my college years and most of graduate school. Way back then (all the way at the start of the 2000s!) technology wasn’t that portable, even laptops. This meant any writing I did on the fly was handwritten, presenting all the same problems, including that I would eventually want to transcribe it into a computer anyway.

This is one of the photos I took on the trail.

This is one of the photos I took on the trail.

These days, life is easier. This past weekend while on a hike, I came across a bridge on a forest trail. The image intrigued me and, in less than a minute, I took multiple photos with my iPhone, opened my Google Drive app, created a new document in my “Poetry” folder, and wrote a stanza. Rather than shoving a piece of paper in my back pocket to be forgotten, that file is now saved, sorted, and accessible from any device with internet access.

Turtle Hall of Famer Tricia Lunt sent me this photo recently after a discussion we had about remembering to actually experience the world around us.

Turtle Hall of Famer Tricia Lunt sent me this photo recently after a discussion we had about remembering to actually experience the world around us.

Of course, as useful as technology is for writing, it has its drawbacks. One of the largest goes right back to a reason I want to ditch my iPhone for a day: sometimes we are so busy communicating and documenting our lives via text, e-mail, websites, and social media that we fail to – ya know – experience the world around us. And in my quest to scribble notes and take pictures with my iPhone, I may sometimes be robbing myself of the best writing material of all.

Ultimately, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives in terms of how the smartphone has revolutionized my approach to creative writing. It has significantly increased my organization and productivity. So, now I save handwritten creative writing for meetings at work. My colleagues think I’m taking notes, but I’m actually writing about puffy clouds and butterflies.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

I had a professor in graduate school named Dr. Daniel Melnick who rarely gave student Imagework a full-fledged “A”. He nearly always wrote, “potentially excellent, A-“. Many years later, I am accustomed to imperfection, still happy with an “A-,” still encouraged by the word potentially. Unfortunately, I still make foolish mistakes; take every post I have written for this blog, for example. Even though I have drafted and edited each at least five times, the minute I re-read it online, I spot an error.

I am a ceaseless critic of my students’ work, by necessity, but also of my own work and life, generally. It has a lot to do with the training I received in undergraduate and graduate school, and I am grateful for the capacity to be critical, but I must defend against my proclivity to become overly so (I am sometimes referred to as the “Dream Killer” when rushing to identify problems instead of pausing to provide encouragement). Recently, I did what I too often do: I jumped to the fault. I pointed out the one tiny error in a truly useful info-graphic my friend Hanna made for a class for which she was to be a guest speaker. Only after realizing how ungrateful my behavior was did I retreat and praise her efforts and thank her again for kindly sharing her expertise and advice with my students, devoting both her time and her knowledge without pay. In my haste to correct problems, I must remember not to diminish the larger accomplishment.

Perfection is not attainable, despite what my friend Ian’s mother might say. I share the truth as embodied by baseball batting averages; a phenomenal batting average is .400, orImage “batting 400”.  I discuss the implications of this statistic with my students. In ten attempts, we should expect six failures, hope for no more than four successes. I find this analogy immensely comforting. Nevertheless, I feel foolish when what I write contains errors since I am supposed to know better. Well, I suppose I do know better, I just don’t do better. Fortunately, this realization does not paralyze me with fear because my colleague and fellow turtle member, Paul, has given all who write for this blog the gift of a revolutionary idea: “perfect is the opposite of done.” This motto allows us to accept the inevitability of flaws as part of the larger process of building something that has lasting value.

My friendships are the best example of something spectacular I have built over the years. Coincidentally, friendship provides a different perspective on flaws. The longer a friendship Imagelasts, the more accepting friends are of each other’s foibles. At some point (around about the one decade of friendship mark, it seems), something rather extraordinary happens: the flaws and eccentricities and imperfections become what we love most. When I behave in my peculiar way; lining up M & M’s in color-coded rows, insisting Chris Rock was not in that movie, packing seven scarves for a three-day weekend, or arriving entirely too early for a party, people who have loved me for ten years are charitable enough to view these quirks as part of my charm. Flaws are noticeable, often painfully so, but being loved in spite of, or even because of, our flaws creates a powerful connection established in the understanding that though we are imperfect creatures, we are magnificent, too. Besides, when a thing is flawless, there’s really nothing left to say. 

 By Jennifer Muryn, Associate Dean, School of Business. 

My first posted blog was titled, “How I Met My First Canine Love” and I admit that my first canine love had some ups and downs.  Correction: continues to have ups and downs.  We’re working it out.  And by that, I mean he gets his way- and I modify my life completely.

Allow me to explain.

Duke, my half-German Shepard, quarter German-Shorthaired Pointer, quarter Wire-Haired Pointing Griffon (yes, he was saliva-DNA tested!), looks like a black lab but is anything but, and loves summer.  Specifically the plethora of water options available to lunge at.  From barking at me while washing my car, to barking at the neighbor kids with squirt guns and slip-and-slides, to barking to get access to the garden hose or sprinkler … well, I’m sort of losing my mind, truth be told.  We won’t even go into winter and shoveling.  That truly is another story that involves expensive window replacements.  Ah, but the windows now look amazing.  Again, another story.

Duke is a canine handful.  And I love him.  While losing my mind.

This story is about my second canine love.

ImageA little background: I serve as the president of the board of directors for the South Suburban Humane Society, located in Chicago Heights.  Over the last five years I have had some involvement with this 40-plus year privately funded organization, including fund-raising (at this point many of you are having flashbacks to me cajoling money out of you, Mr. David Pyle, I hope you are reading this!) and operations, including working at off-site animal adoption events.  I volunteered at such an adoption December 3rd of 2010 and was asked if I wanted to handle (hold and tell people about) Smoochie or Rocco.  I smiled when I heard the name choices.  “I’ll take Smoochie, of course!”  The name made me smile and I noticed what a friendly, approachable dog this was (as soooo many of them actually are, including Rocco).  I’m competitive and figured he’d be adopted straightaway and that I’d be able to work with another dog that day, placing someone else in a FURever home.  Pun intended.

He wasn’t.

December 3rd, 2010, outside of the PetCo in Tinley Park there were few people who had any interest in stopping and looking at dogs up for adoption.  It was the start of winter, cold with no snow, and as anyone from the mid-west can attest to, we start comparing the new weather to whatever we experienced the week before.  If this same weather was in place in March we’d all be talking of the coming of Spring.

After three hours of walking, playing and talking up Smoochie, while he was on leash with me, I had to take a biologically necessary break.  I asked someone else to hold Smoochie’s leash while I popped into PetCo.  During the three hours I was with Smoochie, talking him up, him getting petted and not much more, and basically ignoring me, the second I handed over the leash he started whimpering for me.  These were the first sounds he made – and the seeming first awareness he made that I, Jennifer, was at the end of the leash.  Smoochie emitted a high-pitched “hmmm, hmmm , hmmm”.  Re-imagine this as high pitched as possible.

He sounded just like Duke, when Duke knows he can get something and wants to manipulate my mind.  Like water hosed at him.  Or ice tossed his way for catching.  Or a piece of my gourmet, 10-year-aged Asiago cheese.  Or – well, the list is infinite.  And through reinforcement he has learned whimpering pays off big time.

I took my necessary biological break and then returned to handle Smoochie.  The volunteer event was wrapping up.  No one expressed anything resembling a lead on Smoochie.  I was shocked no one seemed to share my amusement at his name or with his gentle persona.  My competitive spirit of having a 100% placement rate (based on two prior dogs!) was crushed, balanced by my growing fondness of this dog.  He had been at the shelter for 6-weeks, a second returned trip.  He was 11-months old and had been in two homes already, mine would be the third.

He came home with me as a foster dog.  And never left.  I’m a terrible foster dog mama.  ImageAnd I am okay with that.

We assume much about shelter dogs: there is something wrong with “them”.  I’ve learned that people take advantage of those who have no voice, assuming no one will ever know their story.  I’ve learned firsthand, through this affable and gentle creature, that love comes in many forms.  Maybe we should be open to it when it presents itself.

I’ve learned The Joy of Smooching.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 


This year it was mulch.

It’s that time of year again.  The time when my wife orders a huge pile of compost and dirt, has it delivered to our front yard and then decides where this fresh earth is needed most.  Of course, all three cubic yards of this will be moved into the ever-expanding vegetable and fruit garden she is constructing.  It began a couple years ago with one raised-bed in our backyard, and now takes up our entire property.  Granted, we live in NE Oak Park, so it is not like we have a huge yard, but covering even such a moderate area in fresh compost/dirt can be quite a chore using only a shovel and a red children’s wagon (we don’t have a wheel-barrel).  It is a physical job; your hands get dirty, your fingers get calloused and your arms and back ache.  Though this doesn’t sound like an enjoyable task, it actually is quite fulfilling.

I think many people love the ‘good’ muscle pain of a hard day’s work. To me however, this job is enjoyable for another reason.  The question I have been asking myself the last week is why?  Why do I enjoy this seemingly mindless chore?  Well, I think I may have a reason.  It’s the ‘natural’ way to work.

In his brilliant 1967 essay “Work, Time-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism”, the English historian E.P. Thompson illustrated how pre-industrial, agricultural work was ‘task oriented’. This was very different from our modern way of working, in which any down time is usually thought to be ‘wasted’.  The modern notion of time really began with the industrial factory where time was to be ‘spent’ specifically and exclusively for production.  Any time ‘spent’ otherwise was time that was lost, and hence, profits. This was new. It was not called the Industrial Revolution for nothing. 

Obviously, most Americans don’t work in factories, but our modern style of labor still is based upon this industrialized ethic.  I learned this at 19 when I worked at a certain, infamous fast-food chain. It was constantly reiterated in that job if you had “time to lean, you had time to clean.” In other words, don’t rest (or think), just work.

As Thompson pointed out, this type of labor was “unnatural” in the sense that humans had never worked in such a structured manner.  Instead, people had always worked based upon ‘task orientation’, which had three major differences to the industrialized method: “First, there (was) a sense in which it (was) more humanly comprehensible than timed labor. The peasant or laborer appear(ed) to attend upon what was an observed necessity. Second, a community in which task-orientation (was) common appear(ed) to show least demarcation between “work” and “life”. Social intercourse and labor (were) intermingled – the working day lengthens or contracts according to the task – and there (was) no great sense of conflict between labor and “passing the time of day”. Third, to men accustomed to labor timed by the clock, this attitude to labor appears to be wasteful and lacking in urgency.”

It must be stated, I am a college professor, and am very lucky in the sense that I am one of the few who still work based largely upon this “task orientation”.  But still, I often don’t have that strangely ecstatic feeling of completing a manual task.  I rarely get the sensation that Stephen Duck wrote about in the eighteenth century:

At length in Rows stands up the well-dry’d Corn,
A grateful Scene, and ready for the Barn.
Our well-pleas’d Master views the Sight with joy,
And we for carrying all our Force employ.
Confusion soon o’er all the Field appears,
And stunning Clamours fill the Workmens Ears;
The Bells, and clashing Whips, alternate sound,
And rattling Waggons thunder o’er the Ground.
The Wheat got in, the Pease, and other Grain,
Share the same Fate, and soon leave bare the Plain:
In noisy Triumph the last Load moves on,
And loud Huzza’s proclaim the Harvest done.

My labor of moving dirt from one place to another in my small yard is of this nature.  I feel Imagelike proclaiming a “loud Huzza” as I finish this task. 

All this being said, let’s not get too romantic.  The thought of moving dirt from one place to another everyday instead of preparing for my history classes is not very appealing.  But, without such physical tasks I believe I would be missing something intensely human. Even in our labors, the immortal and wise words of the Oracle of Delphi ring true: “In all things moderation.” 

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Last week, I went hiking at Starved Rock State Park. The area is beautiful: there are sandstone canyons with waterfalls, outlooks perched over the Illinois River, and miles of forest trails.

The trails are clearly, and perhaps excessively, marked. The full trail map is posted at regular intervals, there are markings that indicate whether you are moving toward or away from the Visitor’s Center, and the squirrels have been trained to answer questions. (But sometimes their advice is nuts.)

iPhone 5-8-13 084Additionally, areas that look like trails that aren’t are subtly marked, “NOT A TRAIL.”

Naturally, whenever I saw those, I went that way.

This isn’t necessarily advisable. Actually, it’s against the law, as the ample signage points out. Warning at SR

Starved Rock’s neighboring park, Matthiessen, also notes on its website: “Hike only the marked trails. Unmarked areas are dangerous. Numerous people have been seriously injured or killed in this park. Be off the trails by dark.”

(What terrible things are wandering the forest at night? Ghosts? Monsters? A really dedicated Deliverance reenactment troupe?)

A quick Google search turns up plenty of news stories about people heading off trail at Starved Rock to terrible results. One was about a woman who fell 40 feet into a canyon, had to be airlifted to a hospital, and THEN got ticketed for being off the marked trails. Because police thought the ticket would teach her a lesson.

Eschewing logic, safety, and legalities, I went off trail multiple times. One time, I scrambled down sandstone, over tree branches, and battled a persistent wasp to get a look at one of the canyons. While climbing down, had I hooked my foot on anything or taken a misstep, I would have fallen down jagged terrain, but that would have just been a good storytellin’ scar.

It was later on in the day when I had second thoughts.

You can't see the ground underneath me? Exactly.

You can’t see the ground underneath me? Exactly.

I climbed down another “NOT A TRAIL!” to look at one of the park’s many waterfalls. A winding strip of land led to a canyon, narrowing to mere inches where I finally stopped to take pictures of the waterfall spilling down about 40-60 feet. While playing amateur photog with my iPhone, I looked down and saw how close I was to the edge.

For a moment, I felt like a kid again who recognized he had just done something stupid, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my head reprimanding me, making sure to use my first and middle name the way mothers (and girlfriends) do when you’re in trouble: “Paul Thomas, get away from that ledge!”

I sidled back to safer ground and then looked back at where I was standing. I would consider it insane to climb onto the ledge outside my 6th floor office window at work,  but apparently if you put a waterfall within my sights, I’ll dangle happily from that height.

We all have different interpretations of what qualifies as dangerous, and sometimes our personal perspectives are contradictory or even absurd. Take for instance:

1. I have never been on a motorcycle; it just seems dangerous. Yet on numerous occasions, I have driven a waverunner in excess of 60 mph out to secluded waters by myself while doing every dangerous thing the user manual likely says not to do.

Brick and bear2. Furry animals don’t bother me no matter how large, how angry, or how much white foam is coming from their maws. I’d happily cuddle a man-eating bear like Brick Tamland. Yet, snakes horrify me; I truly have ophidiophobia. The most terrifying part of Starved Rock was

Even this doe-eyed cartoon snake with eyelashes terrifies me. Actually, the eyelashes make it even scarier.

Even this doe-eyed cartoon snake with eyelashes terrifies me. Actually, the eyelashes make it even scarier.

the sign that warned visitors to be aware of poisonous snakes that may be basking on the trail. But it’s not just dangerous, poisonous snakes – it’s all snakes: big, small, cartoon. Two weeks ago at Kankakee River State Park, I saw a snake the size of a pencil and nearly ran screaming from the woods. My phobia wasn’t quelled any by the fact that the snake was also terrified and desperately trying to get away from the dumb, gigantic, lumbering mammal who spotted it.

skydeck3. I have heart palpitations just looking at pictures of that architecturally sound and completely safe deathtrap-looking box at the Willis Tower Skydeck, yet I’m not bothered by the heights of a canyon I was warned not to go near.

Whether a fear is learned or instinctual, sometimes our sense of danger is triggered even when danger isn’t present (see: tiny snake). And other times, when it should be going off, it doesn’t. Sometimes fear is what drives us or creates a thrill. And sometimes, we just ignore signs, logic, and laws, because they’re all just suggestions – right?

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m moving at the end of May, so I spend a small amount of time each morning packing a box or two. I am not going far; I found another apartment Logan Square, approximately seven blocks away. Nevertheless, the process of moving has been revelatory. The first observation for all movers is the same: I have more stuff than I thought.  As I slowly pack, carefully wrapping things and nestling them according to similarity of purpose and placement, the boxes have begun to pile up, and I still have more stuff. I don’t even own much, really. I certainly don’t own things of much value, except the sentimental kind.  Moving forces individuals to confront their relationship with their possessions, and I am pleased to see how my things beautifully align with the life I have chosen.

Like most American women, I own entirely too many articles of clothing. However, the clothes I own are inexpensive, enabling me to rationalize buying more than I need and buying from thrift stores ensures that no one else will be wearing the same thing. I have already packed most of my considerable scarf collection. There are two segments of the scarf collection, the winter variety, at least fifty scarves that range in size, color, and pattern, including special scarves handmade for me by Ruthie, my brilliant friend from graduate school; Jackie Couch, my best friend’s mom; and other crafty friends Ingrid and Hanna.  The non-winter variety includes another fifty whimsical, colorful bits of fabric, many gifts from friends who recognize scarves as my accessory of choice because they are unique and appealing and make any outfit infinitely more fabulous.

A growing number of boxes are filled with items for cooking, baking, and entertaining. Even though I live alone, I have (mismatched) service for 12 or more in order to feed as many people as will fit in my modest apartment. I grew up in a crowded, rowdy house, and can think of no better definition of home than a small space overflowing with people and laughter. My incomparable book club cycles through my place twice per year. I host brunches and dinners for my Urban Family on designated holidays and birthdays, and just for the hell of it. I cherish oddities, a fair amount of serving “fish dishes” and accessories shaped like fish (I like rhyming). The best example are gifts from Leah, twin fish salt and pepper shakers, and a completely adorable and utterly inaccurate set of fish-shaped measuring spoons that are the mysterious secret behind my perfectly salty chocolate chip cookies.

City_Lights_BookstoreI have beloved books, and plenty of them. I love books, but not all books are worth the trouble it takes to lift and lug them across states, or even around the corner. I keep the countless books I have received as gifts, specially selected for me by my tremendously thoughtful friends and family. I buy a book every time I travel, being careful to select a title meaningfully tied to the place. On my recent trip to San Francisco, I visited City Lights Books and bought a poetry anthology from its own publishing imprint. I have inscribed copies of all the books written by Dan Chaon,a phenomenal writer who was my professor in graduate school. Books comprise a majority of my possessions, which seems reasonable to me.

The last major segment of my possessions consists of works of art, relatively inexpensive art, but art nonetheless. As I eagerly anticipate hanging them on new walls, it occurs to me that these things are the most prized. I have wonderful souvenirs from my travels, a Huicholi yarn drawing from my trip to Puerta Vallarta. Austin Kleon’s  work wowed me online, and bought one of his limited edition “Newspaper Blackout Poems.” Chicago festivals are a treasury of local artists, including Jay Ryan. I’m incredibly lucky to know artists. My dear, old friend, Emily made me two fantastic pieces, and gave me one more. I bought a marvelous reclining nude hand-drawn by the wonderfully creative Chas Appleby, my former student and forever friend. Matt Schlagbaum knows he owes me a work of art, too. All this art makes my walls sing.

Despite all the trouble and strain, moving affords the chance to look carefully at the stuff of life. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll discover you are very rich indeed.