Archive for January, 2014

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Over the last couple of weeks I have been slowly watching, and greatly enjoying, the HBO miniseries John Adams.  HBO always does  historical dramas well.  The Pacific, Band of Brothers and Rome are all worth your time, if you can take the violence and heartbreak.  Though not as violent, or heartbreaking, John Adams is also well worth a viewing.

As someone who teaches history, I am always looking for realism when it comes to film/television drama.  I have written about this on the Turtle before, so I won’t go into it too much, but suffice to say, the thing that independence-03-1024concerns me about verisimilitude in drama is not historical minutiae. I can get over an anachronistic hairstyle, or an incorrectly used musket.   What  I can’t forgive is when filmmakers/TV producers create anachronistic mentalities for their historical characters.  An out of place, or out of time, character’s worldview can ruin the reality of a piece.  Anachronistically transporting our ideals onto the past may make audiences like characters more, but it muddies up historical reality.

John Adams does quite well in it’s portrayal of early American mentalities.  For instance, the first and second episodes of the series vividly portray how the Revolutionary generation, and Adams in particular, struggled with the decision to break with England.  Though not usually taught in our schools, most men and women of 1776 loved England and the King. They generally saw themselves as children of the mother country.  In fact, it is not too far fetched to state that many of the arguments for revolution sprang from the notion that America and Americans were the true heirs of what it meant to be English. The revolutionaries viewed the English Parliament, and the King’s advisors, as attempting to take away the freedoms inherent to being an Englishman. The colonists believed they were being enslaved (yes, they used this word with no irony). As Englishmen, the revolutionaries believed it was fully just to rebel. Rebellion against oppression was a natural right of being English, and Adams and Jefferson and Washington thought of themselves as such.

This seemingly odd, but very much true, mentality is front and center in John Adams.  The love of Albion is obvious for these men and women, as displayed by their actions and their words.  And not just the words they speak, but how they speak those words.  The newly minted Americans in John Adams often have a tinge of an English accent, and though we can’t know how the Founders sounded, it seems ‘realistic’ that the men and women of the Revolutionary generation had a definable and recognizable English ‘twang’. Watch the short clip below for an illustration.

My question, which may be unanswerable, is when did Americans lose this accent?   At which point did Americans living in what used to be British territory stop sounding British themselves?  And, perhaps even more interestingly, why did this occur?

There may be no one to answer  for the first question.  Perhaps we could closely read the extant writings of men and women who were not well educated during the early years of the Republic in order to see how they spelled phonetically, and hence, catch a glimpse of a fading English speech, but that seems questionable at best.   I just don’t know. Maybe some linguist already has theorized an answer I am not aware of?  If that is the case, and you, Turtle readers, know the answer or source, feel free to clue me in and enlighten my dark ignorance.

One thing is clear however, and that is the fact that in today’s America we don’t sound much like Brits any longer.  Why this change occurred seems obvious.  The history of immigration to America must be the key to our American accent/accents. The years and years of immigrant groups bringing their languages, their accents and their dialects into this nation has caused our language to become the hodgepodge that we now know as American English.   It seems to me this makes sense.  And, as I did a little research on this subject, I came upon this fascinating CBS News story about a small fishing/tourist community on the Outer Banks of North Carolina that strengthened my notion.

The ‘brogue’ these island natives speak obviously has a bit of Irish-ness to it.  This must be the shadows of their ancestors’ speech. With few newcomers flooding the islands, and a roughly homogeneous ethnic poplulation, it seems this little island kept an ‘old-world’ sounding accent. As more and more outsiders come to the island, the accent disappears.

But, I have one last question on this topic?  If the brogue can still exist on that island, can we still see the remnants of the ‘old English’ accent at play somewhere in the nation?  Let’s look: The New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania corridor?  No, I don’t think so.  The Midwest seems to be a no.  You can throw the Southwest out as well. But, what about the South?  Perhaps we can still hear the English accent in some southern twangs?   I have always thought so, and this quick two minute video seems to provide the proof.

Just a little something to add even more romance to the old Southland.

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Daft Punk ruled the Grammy’s on Sunday night, winning five awards including Best Record for “Get Lucky” and Best Album for Random Access Memories. They also had a fun performance of “Get Lucky” with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder.

daft-punk2I like Daft Punk. I defended “Get Lucky” all year as the best mainstream song of 2013, even as the super catchy “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke flooded airwaves. I own their albums, and their song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was just outside my Top 25 on my list of Top Songs of All-Time. I dig their whole robot schtick, which somehow works for them and seems cool rather than forced.

Yet, Daft Punk’s success at the Grammy’s makes me once again question how we Americans view music.

To make that point, we need a brief recap of Daft Punk’s history:

  • Back in 1997, during my high school days, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” was everywhere. Very good (not great) song. Cool video.
  • Then Daft Punk vanished for a while.
  • During my college years in 2001, they reappeared with hits like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Strong.”
  • Then *POOF* gone.
  • Their third album, 2005’s Human After All, is largely forgettable. It wasn’t until Kanye West’s Graduation album that Daft Punk seemed mainstream again because of Kanye’s song “Stronger” which sampled “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger.”
  • There was some Grammy success in 2009 for a live album, then in 2010 they did the soundtrack for the film Tron: Legacy.
  • In 2013, they released Random Access Memories with the hit “Get Lucky.”
  • So, from 1997-2013, Daft Punk had three albums (not counting Tron or the Live album) with maybe 3-4 very good songs and 1 great song in “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

In total, their career track record didn’t add up to what some artists do in ONE great album. Yet, during all that time, people treated Daft Punk as if they had some kind of indie-artist coolness to them, which is nonsense because they had international hit songs – there was no “insider” quality to them. Yet, that aura remained, and this was especially true with the way people lost their minds about Daft Punk doing the soundtrack for Tron, as if it was actually the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jesus who formed a super group for the soundtrack.

Then Random Access Memories comes out, which has two real standout songs – “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” – both of which feature Pharrell on vocals. And, maybe it’s Pharrell who’s the artist on fire, between “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” and the deliriously fun “Happy,” Pharrell had as many hits in 2013 as Daft Punk did in the past 10 years. Pharrell’s songs aside, Daft Punk’s album feels like an inferior Jamiroquai album.

(This is when everyone under 30 Googles Jamiroquai and says, “Oh, the band that did that song in Napoleon Dynamite?)

Some of the same groovy, funk-disco deliciousness that makes “Get Lucky” so damn good is what has made Jamiroquai so successful worldwide, yet in America, they were mostly written off as one-hit wonders after their 1996 song “Virtual Insanity.” Maybe Jamiroquai’s lead singer Jay Kay picked the wrong type of headgear. Jamiroqaui remains active and very popular – just not mainstream in America.

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Another example is how America lost its mind over the folk-rock stylings of Mumford & Sons, yet barely noticed the harder-edged, lyrically superior folk-punk-rock of another artist from across the pond, Frank Turner, whose 2013 album Tape Deck Heart was the best new album I heard last year, yet only hit 52 on the Billboard Top 200. His single “Recovery” – my favorite song of 2013 – got solid airplay, but didn’t grab hold of the mainstream the same way Mumford hits like “Little Lion Man” did.

I like Daft Punk, Mumford & Sons, Jamiroquai, Frank Turner. I’m not questioning the artists. I’m questioning us, the American music audience. Daft Punk deserves the accolades for “Get Lucky,” but there is frustratingly little logic in our pop culture scene. 

Daft Punk seemed to have earned a decade-long pass from Americans, as if we were just waiting for them to finally release an amazing song like “Get Lucky” just so we could all say, “SEE! I told YOU Daft Punk kicks ass!” Other artists are given no such pass and are cast aside as one-hit wonders even if they continue to produce good music for YEARS after bursting onto the scene.

Many great songs flew under the radar in 2013 – Turner’s “Recovery” being one example – and yet we prop up and reward ultra-obnoxious songs like “Royals” by Lorde. (She should be working on her resume and CV right now. Her 15 minutes is almost up.) 

As someone who plays the piano, classical pianist Lang Lang blew my friggin’ mind with his musical introduction to Metallica at the Grammy’s. I am not bad at the piano, and yet I could NEVER play like that. The audience hardly made a peep. Then, a simple strum of the guitar intro for Metallica’s “One” and the audience went nuts.

Perhaps it’s just that the collective whims of the American music scene are tugged in so many directions by countless variables that the end result is what appears to be a confounding lack of logic. Or maybe it is just illogical.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

21st-century adult life entails entirely too much paperwork. One of my primary aversions is paperwork, which clashes most unpleasantly with my chosen profession. Nurses and doctors encounter paperwork in daily charting. Restaurateurs endure the endless weekly paperwork of inventory and ordering and scheduling. Paperwork comprises a large percentage of the duties and expectations of every profession (whether white color or blue), yet it is rarely mentioned as a path to that profession is undertaken. I’m sure this obfuscation is intentional, as paperwork is as relentless as an avalanche. For teachers, paperwork means grading.

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Tricia Lunt?

I’ve been trapped under a pile of paperwork all week. I refer to time spent evaluating papers as “going into my grading cave,” since I have little time to focus on anything else. Not counting pages of journals and in-class assignments and online grammar modules, I graded 21 essays on Friday, 18 essays on Monday, 29 essays on Tuesday, and the final set of 21 essays on Wednesday, which is why I’m just now getting to my preferred version of paperwork—my own writing.

I am continually surprised by the amount of time and effort I devote to grading. About 70% of my efforts as a teacher fall under the “grading” heading, which is important work, but difficult and draining on nearly every level. Without even considering the inherent problems of attempting to conduct objective assessment, grading is overwhelming. There are always essays to grade, and a lot of them, and they need to be done immediately, because there are more assignments due next week, and they’ll need to be graded, too.

When I tell my students that grading is challenging, they (kindly) seek to simplify my life by suggesting I just “give them all A’s”. My response includes reading and discussing Roberta Borkat’s satire of higher education, “A Liberating Curriculum.”

Hello, “teachable moment!”

Although grading demands so much, it is an essential part of meaningfully engaging with my students. In order to improve their writing skills, my students must write, and I can only help them develop their writing if I study it closely, considering how their own unique voices might be made stronger, more effective.

Oftentimes, students are shocked by the extent of marks and commentary I make on their essays. I could easily provide even more recommendations, but cannot dally since another stack of essays awaits my attention. Grading offers my students the one-on-one attention they so urgently need, and ultimately deserve. I ask them to pay attention to their language use, to contemplate the validity of their examples, and to develop the logic of their arguments, so I must lead by example and give their work thoughtful consideration as I seek to help them develop useful intellectual skills, writing or otherwise.

grades2Eventually, most students come to respect and value the time and effort professors put in to grading (or evaluating, critiquing, if you like) their work. Even now, I have an email from a former Columbia student expecting my input. Meanwhile, my dance instructor asked me for editing suggestions to improve her studio’s website. I’ve edited countless cover letters and resumes for friends. And when I write anything, I solicit numerous opinions from my trusted colleagues. Just last week, I asked for reaction to the vegetable masala I’d made. Anything good can be made better, and there’s nothing quiet as useful as honest advice.

Grading reveals offers proof of this unassailable truth: criticism is love.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Martin Luther King, a rabble-rousing civil disobedient, is now an American national hero.  This statement is obvious.  It is fact.  But, the lionization of MLK in America today elevates him beyond simply the level of hero. For the vast majority of the country, he is part of a even more exclusive pantheon of great Americans.   Paradoxically, we can see this by the use, and misuse, of MLK’s name and memory.

Watch the news.  Listen to the political talk-show hacks.  Use C-Span to spy on Congress as they argue over some arcane issue.  If Martin Luther King’s name comes up in any of these arenas, it is usually because someone12583152-standard is calling upon his memory to harden their argument into a moral imperative.  Or, alternatively, MLK’s memory and beliefs will be used to differentiate a political enemy’s ideals from those of the great Civil Rights leader. In other words, a sanitized, sanctified version of Martin Luther King has become a political weapon.  ‘What Would MLK say/think about this?” constantly gets thrown out into the public realm, leading to such ridiculously unanswerable questions as “what would MLK think about assault weapon bans?,’ or, ‘what would MLK believe about the Chick-Fil-A boycott’!  The best question, but the one that is never asked is, ‘What would Martin Luther King think about all these ‘What Would MLK think’ queries?”

Though sometimes absurd, or even distasteful, this usage of MLK’s message and life places him into exclusive company.  Only a handful of American historical figures are appropriated by the political left and right in this way. In fact, only the nation’s ‘founders’ are called upon as often as King and his legacy.

FoundersWhen the moniker ‘the founders’ gets thrown around in today’s political culture, it usually refers to a small sampling of men who signed the Declaration of Independence, fought the Revolution, and created the Constitution. Though usually not stated outright, it is safe to assume Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin are the big six.  Though historians will tell you that these men disagreed constantly and vociferously about the the meaning of America, twenty-first century Americans gloss over such complexities.  When ‘the founders’ are spoken of as a homogeneous bunch, it is usually to justify our political proclivities, or attack political enemies.  “What would the founders say about Obamacare?” “What would the founders think about waterboarding?” Picking and choosing the quotes of Jefferson, or Franklin that suit their needs, media personalities and political figures utilize ‘the founders’ to fight today’s political battles.

MLK is now part of this national pantheon. But, in one way at least, MLK is an even more evocative symbol than Jefferson, Adams or Washington. King’s image and visage resonates so brightly not just because of his life, but also his death.  Unlike ‘the founders’, MLK is a national martyr.  He died for what we understand today as being the best of American ideals.  Though ‘the founders’ fought to create the nation, and their lives were often in danger, none of them made the greatest sacrifice for the new republic.  (Of course, Hamilton is the exception. He died a martin-luther-king-jr-in-front-of-lincoln-memorialrelatively young man in a violent manner, killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. But, to our twenty-first century eyes, this death, though romantic, was not for the nation, but only for Hamilton’s individual pride and honor.) Most of the first generation of American heroes passed away quietly in their beds. They had cleared their own, and the nation’s hurdles, while alive.  They lived to see their dreams made real. MLK died before he reached his ‘promised land.’

But, martyrs die so that others may live.  Martyrology means that King’s death caused our collective rebirth. This places MLK in an even more exclusive club.  It could be argued there is only one other member: Abraham Lincoln.  Both King and Lincoln fit the definition of martyrs as they both died so that others could thrive and survive.  Both American heroes foresaw the future far before their contemporaries, and died for this prescience.

As our nation is at fault for the death of these two men, the least we can do is celebrate their births. 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Looking back, I have always been drawn to dancers and dancing. “Singing in the Rain” ranks on my top five favorite films, and I was a strange super-fan of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, thanks to the movie “White Nights.” Throw “Footloose” into the mix of my formative years, and I was doomed to a life of wistfully longing to enter the magical world of dance.

I never took dance lessons, they were a luxury, expensive; they still are, but I find, more and more, that dance is a necessity in my life.

Since moving to Chicago, I have enrolled in a variety of dance classes, and I am sure there are more types of dance in my future.

I know my skill level as a dancer (indefinitely beginner), and am happy to work at it. The truly tremendous thing about taking dance classes as an adult is that there is no hope whatsoever that I could have a career as a dancer. Thus, the pressure is off, and all that remains is to relish the pure pleasure of moving to music.

There are oftentimes ludicrous limitations and extreme expectations imposed upon children with regard to excelling in extracurricular activities, and dance is among these demanding atmospheres. Eager, dedicated young dancers are too often treated with disdain. The proclamations that someone is “not talented enough,” “not a natural dancer,” or that he or she doesn’t have “a dancer’s body” are ridiculous.

Do you have a body? Good, you can dance.

Suggesting dance is reserved for the elite undermines the joy that dance can bring to every life, (and explains why ballet performances are so poorly attended). Dancing at home with cherished family, at parties with unforgettable friends, at bars with inviting strangers, and at weddings with, ideally, every guest between 2 and 92 remains as an unrivaled way to celebrate being alive.

I enjoy learning, so dance lessons offer an extension of that fun, even when I am frustrated by my own meager abilities. I see the teacher do something, and I try to imitate it. I know in advance that my attempts will be a poor reflection, but I don’t care. There is something about dancing that makes me want to try, even though I know I will not master it (perhaps I have finally realized why people like to golf).

My first foray into dance lessons was a delightful class at The Old Town School of Folk Music. I took guitar lessons, too. Do yourself a favor and take lessons there, as it is as close to a hippie commune as can be found in 21st century Chicago. The class was “Hip Hop for Beginners,” and my instructor was a woman who was professionally known simply as “Boogie.” That alone was enough for me to appreciate. Alas, I didn’t excel at Hip Hop, particularly when the skills moved to the floor, meaning falling to the floor and popping back up. Anyone who knows me can confirm that I am not adept at this type of quick vertical movement. Hip shaking was my strongest skill, so I left Hip Hop behind, so to speak.

The next type of dancing I explored was Bollywood dance, essentially musical theater with a Hindi backdrop. The moves in Bollywood are an enchanting blend of gesture and storytelling. My teacher was excellent, knowledgeable, and indefatigable. I’ve never seen an adult with so much energy. She shared the splendor and vitality of this important cultural tradition with boundless enthusiasm. Dance provides an incredibly rich entrance into the remarkably beautiful cultures of the world, a global excursion without the high cost airfare.

The current “dance” class I attend is Zumba, though it is technically an exercise class inspired by and infused with dance. Nevertheless, my instructor, Krista, is trained in tap, jazz, classical, and currently competes as a ballroom dancer, so she brings plenty of fancy footwork to her far less agile students. The music at Zumba is eclectic, but most songs whether popular or obscure contain a driving beat and Latin rhythms. Ass shaking is an absolute necessity in Zumba, which keeps me coming back for more.

The fine art of dance requires discipline, yes, and there are truly gifted dancers in the world, thank heavens, whose skill and talent are a joy to behold. However, that shouldn’t preclude everyone from joining in the fun. Imagine if professional chefs were the only ones permitted in the kitchen, or Olympic swimmers where the only ones allowed in the pool. We all need to be encouraged to fully participate in all the joys of living.

There are dance floors enough in this world to accommodate everyone. So, don’t wait for permission, or even an invitation; get out there and dance.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I am writing this down here at the Turtle in order to avoid any excuses.  I have a goal for the new year, and I really want to accomplish it. This is something I have wanted to do since I finished up with graduate school about 10 years ago, but I just never found time.  No more rationalizations.  This year, I do it.

00505813_largeYes, yes, another New Year’s resolution post. I can feel cyberspace sigh with annoyance.  But wait!  Perhaps this will interest you?  I have never, ever made a New Year’s resolution before the one I am about to share.   This is a first.

So what do I resolve?  What will I accomplish?  Well….It may not seem exciting to a lot of people, but here it goes….drum roll please….

This year, I will keep an online, private journal recording each new book I read. Each entry will be a small synopsis of said book, and if called for, memorable quotes from the text.

*Crash, crash, crash* (Sound of cymbals)

Now, why am I resolving to do this?  Honestly, and this is not some pretentious claim, I read such a large volume of books at this point that I often forget what I have read. Don’t you think this pretty much defeats the $_35whole purpose of reading? I do. You know you have a problem when you go to the library, or bookstore, and see a book that interests you, and yet you wonder, “did I already read that?”   I was looking through some books the other day and I stumbled upon Francois Furet’s “Interpreting the French Revolution.” ‘Oh, that sounds excellent,’ I thought.  But, then, as I pondered, I could not, and I still cannot, remember if I ever read it.   How infuriating.

Oh, and there is one other reason to keep a ‘books read’ journal.  Though many people think I read the ever growing stack of books on my desk at RMU from cover to cover, I have a confession.  A good number of books piled up at work never get completely read.  Some of those mighty tomes only get a good skimming.  I will begin a book, find it boring, poorly written, or not about what I thought it was about, and put it down.  Nonetheless, even when that is the case, there are usually a couple pages of each book that has some value to me.  I hope fulfilling this journal resolution will help me keep track of those partially finished, or quickly dismissed books for my records.  I need to get this book obsession under control.

I know. Not the most world-shattering resolution, but there it is.  Welcome to the 2014 Flaneur’s Turtle.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

If I’m right, you’re getting set to watch the second episode of Downton Abbey having put all the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, brushed your teeth, made a good strong cup or pot of tea or coffee, and are about to consume half a dozen donuts, or a huge slice of banana bread, or 3 humungous scoops of double rich, double good, chocolate chip ice cream with a bit of chocolate sauce on top.

Now I must admit, in all candor, that I can also imagine I’m dead wrong and you’re not about to consume a huge chunk of banana Imagebread–not at all. Instead it ‘s a medium sIzed piece of pumpkin bread with a maple walnut topping. Or perhaps I’m wrong because you have no plan to eat the pumpkin bread or the banana bread. And then again maybe I’m off base since you’re not now, nor have you ever intended to watch Downton Abbey. For you, it hath no relish of salvation.

Well, thankfully, this is a free country and you don’t have to watch the show if you don’t want to. However, let me also make use of this freedom and sing some praises for this mega popular BBC series for it’s got an awful lot going for it.

Let’s start with pageantry. The show sports loads of pageantry, but this is pageantry you can enjoy snuggling up to munching a Baby Ruth, or some pretzels, or that banana bread I mentioned earlier. This isn’t the kind where you have to sit in a cold, concrete block, stiff benched cathedral listening to soggy bromides mixed with especially pompous platitudes where you end your several hour stay furious and exhausted.

Au contraire. Watching the pageantry at Downton, you find yourself at the end of the show wanting more of the stuff. Pageantry at Downton is like a pageant–I mean it’s like fun. It’s a holiday, an Olympic event; it’s a kind of rock concert you want to dress up for. Or watching puts you in a festive big hotel wedding mood with mounds of shrimp and oodles of oysters there for the taking. And all the chocolate you can get your hands on. I mean some folks are even wearing tuxedos and shiny dresses and five inch high heels.

But here’s the thing. If you don’t like pageantry that’s perfectly OK. You can still be entertained for Downton provides you a wonderful opportunity to enjoy despising the mindless excesses of early 20th century English aristocrats who never have had to squeeze into a packed redline rush hour train car during a January snow storm or 100 degree Chicago heat wave in July. By all means, let your flood of opprobrium for these folks flow.

On the other hand, you may prefer warmly sharing in the more modest sorts of joys and concerns which are offered the downstairs staff. For they too have their loves, and dreams, and anxieties and interesting conundrums they work hard to favorably resolve. The show doesn’t present the downstairs staff as flat, boring, card board creatures who we, the audience, don’t worry about or identify with.

ImageFor the point is that both the upstairs and downstairs folks are shown sympathetically which is to say they’re both shown in an attractive light. Whether their portrayal is historically accurate I must report, with some consternation, I’m unable to say since I have no first hand knowledge or experience of people who lived these kind of lives, nor do I have much book learning under my belt to help me decide. But what I can report with some confidence is that at by the time an episode has ended I feel as if the better angels of our nature have had many opportunities to come forth.

Downton Abbey is in its fourth season and enjoys a huge viewership. According to several surveys, it’s easily the most popular TV show in England. And it’s amassed a large American audience as well. The most frequent explanation for its popularity is that both here and in England people harbor secretly and not so secretly a huge wish to live the lavish life style enjoyed by the aristocrats of old. I mean waking up surrounded by tons of Spode or Haviland cups and saucers and plates amid a sea of sterling silver trays, and tea sets, and immense serving spoons, and napkin rings, and silverware. And gorgeous sloping lawns, and fancy cars, and a downstairs staff to minister to one’s every whim.

However, my explanation for the show’s success points in the opposite direction. I believe Downton’s popularity rests on the way the show shows not how the downstairs staff takes care of the upstairs aristocrats but on how both stairs take care of each other. Care and concern and love and affection doesn’t travel in one direction only.

What we learn from watching Downton Abbey is that our probable preconceptions about aristocratic life were wrong. Contrary to the idea that the old world was composed to two groups of people who were very very different, Downton portrays a universe where upstairs and downstairs people share a common humanity and common concerns. Right is right and wrong is wrong and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly which is which. Moreover, both upstairs and downstairs folks are basically pretty nice, but some aren’t and the ones who aren’t sure end up creating an awful lot of trouble for everyone, upstairs and downstairs alike.

By Jane Wendorff Craps, English Faculty.

I instantly fell in love with the title of our beguiling CLA blog: The Flaneur’s Turtle. Maybe it was the monocled, top-hatted Anglo-Saxonite image that was introduced with the blog. I’ve always thought I was born in the wrong country; I’m a closet Anglophile.

Quite honestly, I had to look up what flaneur meant, and it wasn’t in my 1975 edition of Webster, which is always kept on my desk for quick reference, so I had to high-tail it to the 21st century and “Google it.” I’ve always thought I was born in the wrong century; I believe Geoffrey Chaucer and I would have been best pals in high school.

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Jane Wendorff-Craps?

I discovered I may actually be a “flaneur”—an idler or loafer, according to thefreedictionary.com. The whole idea of “loaf” reeks of negativity, thanks to Jenny Jocks-Stelzer’s Facebook post on those 1970’s recipes inspired by gelatinizing meats, veggies, and fruits into idle loafs of uneaten globs on a plate.  I’ve always thought gelatin was weird science; I’m a left-brain language lover.

By all descriptions of me provided by others, it seems as though I often become one with my couch while befriending a book, magazine, or the Turner Classic Movie channel. I never considered it “loafing,” though. The online dictionary says a loafer is one who “idles time away,” but reading and classic movies aren’t idle hobbies. I’ll sit on my couch and argue that all day long; I’ve never been one to get up for no good reason.

A “loafer” has a connotative connection to “good-for-nothing.” So let us adjust the definition of flaneur to an idler or a lounger—one who sits or stands in a relaxed way. Relaxed is good; I like to relax.

As for turtle, I’m not so sure what the affection is to that animal. It is cold blooded, it retracts its head (more weird science), and it has sharp toenails, not conducive to snuggling under warm, cotton sheets. However, it does house itself in a cool shell with a unique design. Not to mention, there is an entertaining and timeless cartoon about four turtles named after Renaissance artists—heroes in a half-shell, turtle power!

Turtles make great soup, too. I like soup; who doesn’t?!

But there is no denying that turtles move slowly, hence a direct connection to loafer. They do appear to be relaxed as well, hence a direct connection to lounger. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare where the relaxed, unworried tortoise wins the race, all because he was relaxed and focused on his goal… which begs the question, is a tortoise a turtle? Back to Google. There is one major difference: a turtle is a water dweller, and a tortoise is a land dweller.

d_blumin_streetparis2000-thAs a kid, I probably spent more time in the water—living near a lake, going to summer camp, bathing daily. As an adult, sadly, I definitely spend more time on land. Not by choice, though. I’ve always thought I lived in the wrong state; Hawaii has more water.

Now back to the elusive Flaneur’s Turtle: the best darned blog this side of the Mississippi. In kindergarten, we learn “when all else fails, read the instructions.” In the “About” section of the blog, readers will discover the meaning behind the name. The historic, Parisian flaneur was known for walking his turtle around the streets of the city, which then gives him plenty of time to gaze, smell the roses, and enjoy all that Paris has to offer. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris; I took French classes on the high hopes of fulfilling that lifelong dream.

I find the image of a man, in a double-breasted wool coat, tailored knickers—oh wait, that is British—tailored pantaloons, polished shoes, and a leashed reptile quite exciting, nay sensational! It could easily be Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, or Charles Coburn… more likely, Charles Boyer, we are in France you know. Why, my pulse ever quickens with the thought, and I didn’t even have to get up off the couch to make that happen. I wish I liked doing cardio as much as watching old movies; wait, no I don’t.

There are many Flaneur Turtle fans out there, as rising blog “Likers” indicate. These “Likers” come from near and far and are not limited to the Liberal Arts arena. What makes us flaneur and what makes us turtles certainly varies, too, which is great. The blog speaks to all kinds, and the blog serves several purposes, not to be confused with porpoises. That is a different blog. I like the second purpose labeled “B”: to explore and discuss topics and ideas. I’m not much of a talker, but writing is even better than talking since it is way more reflective. It seems to be more formal as well; I like formal.

Maybe that’s why this turtle enjoys old movies where people dress for dinner, slap someone with a glove when they are angry, or tell someone off using no curse words, which sounds so much worse than the “f” word sometimes. I tip my hat to my fellow flaneurs as I am perched comfortably on my couch, lounging with my cat. I’m not yet aged (please read that with two syllables, as if Cary Grant said it) enough to submit to the senile idea of a pet turtle, or maybe not lonely enough, or maybe I’ve never liked reptiles. I’ll settle for a Flaneur Turtle.

 

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

Don’t! Don’t rush into writing out your New Year’s Resolutions just yet–and it’s already January the 10th. That’s right: don’t rush into this annual very momentous occasion. For writing resolutions ain’t that easy. Not if you really take doing resolutions seriously. And if you don’t, why do it at all, I ask myself, in woe and wonder, and with charity and good wishes for all and sundry, both for you and your loved ones, and maybe, just maybe, for your putative enemies as well.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890I mention enemies because with the new year beginning, shouldn’t we, even if only for a second or two, consider once again the wisdom of the famous admonitions contained in that most magnificent recording of resolutions, the Sermon on the Mount? Sure we should. So there we read about your enemies that if they take a whack at your left cheek, turn and offer them the one of your right; and if they take your shirt, offer them your down vest, heavy wool socks, and fleece lined overcoat. That’s right. I didn’t make this up. I couldn’t. Surely you’ll agree these would be challenging New Year’s Resolutions we all should make. Yet most likely most won’t and, in all candor, you can probably include me in this reprobate group.

So you can see already, can you not, that making resolutions isn’t for sissies, or to be taken lightly, as though you’re looking through a sparkling clean glass recently taken fresh from the dishwasher. No. Resolutions create an enormous conundrum, a mind numbing riddle, lodged inside an outsized enigma, forcing us to consider anew some of the most brain boggling metaphysical mysteries known to the human heart. For instance, consider this my very dear New Year’s Tingling Turtle: do or don’t you have free will? No, not free love; free will?

Well, what’s your answer? Shouldn’t you have already –meaning many years ago–wrestled with this all important question and have at your finger tips or, if you prefer, at the very outer most tip of your tongue, some reasonably coherent answer to this age old puzzle? Of course you should. OK, then, what is it, exactly? Assuming you do remember your conclusion, now forced to think about it again, how confident are you that it’s coherent and compelling? You see the point here is that if you’re not sure you have free will, then most likely–no, for sure, you’re wasting your time even thinking about making New Year’s Resolutions.

Indeed the very idea of a resolution really makes no sense since the absence of free will leaves your actions determined, meaning you, as you, never can resolve anything. Your actions have already been plotted out for you, without you ever having been consulted, and without you ever knowing the plotting had already taken place.

free will

Now I hope you can see more clearly why I said you shouldn’t rush into making New Year’s Resolutions. You absolutely need to consider this free will issue more carefully before sitting down and scribbling four or five or ten or whatever number of New Year’s Resolutions you were figuring you’d like to make so you can be like everyone else.

And here’s another little mystery you might want to spend a few minutes reflecting on. What if–that is, just suppose for a moment–you’re thinking one of your resolutions involves helping a spouse, or significant other, or potential spouse, or possible significant other with a challenging task–say, like losing weight. Sounds great, does it not? What could be more loving, more helpful than lending a hand to a person you feel so much love for achieve the arduous and very laudable task of losing 15 pounds of ugly, cholesterol saturated fat? Answer: absolutely nothing. I mean it’s a life prolonging goal. Less fat, less weight, equals longer life. Q.E.D.

Well, my dear, high minded, utterly altruistic, Turtlelet, what if your spouse, or significant other, or your favorite offspring, or friend, or sibling, or parent, or even grandparent can’t make a resolution to lose weight because they no more have free will than do you? In other words, they can’t resolve to lose weight just as you can’t. And any effort indeed every effort on your part to assist them in losing pounds will only create loads—I mean—loads and loads of bad blood. So don’t make your New Year’s Resolution to try and help anyone lose weight, for you’ll only make that person hugely dislike you for your host of altruistic efforts. If you want to keep your loved ones close, don’t volunteer to help them lose weight. Please, trust me on this one.

Where does this leave me? I’m sorry to say—in the soup. I’ve got some hum dinger resolutions I’ve been hoping to share with you, but so far, I’m hesitant. One side of me tells me to make the resolutions, and the other—the thoughtful philosophic side—strongly argues I should take my time, as should you, big hearted, well meaning, hugely dedicated newly resolved 2014 Reader of our wonderfully friendly and provocative Turtle for Flaneurs.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

A Happy, Happy 2014 to all the people reading these lines (and all other good people besides).

On December 30, 2013, I experienced the joy of looking through the small slips of IMG_20131230_075035369paper that populated my “Happiness Jar.”

IMG_20131231_165947283(1)A “Happiness Jar” is a concept that originated with the author Elizabeth Gilbert, I believe, but the practice of counting one’s blessing thankfully goes back millennia.

I’m a firm believer in celebrating as many things as possible, and so I share two truly lovely lectures on the subject of happiness with my students. One is by Mr. Srikumar Rao, who reminds us all to be content in the present moment, without longing for the fantasy of an elusive and faraway future.

The other is Neil Pasricha’s 1,000 Awesome things project and his “Three A’s of Awesome”.

http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_pasricha_the_3_a_s_of_awesome.html

The cultivation of happiness is not the practice of the naïve idealist; rather, it is a skill, like any other, that can be improved with practice over time.

HappinessThroughout 2013, I amassed “happiness” in a jar. People asked me to explain what, exactly, I put in the jar. I put in happy thoughts, of course, the kinds of ideas that would enable me to fly, should I ever find myself in Neverland.

Another frequent question was whether or not I put something in the jar every day. I suggest that no one is that happy. I’m happy often enough, though, and it is a good practice to remember those moments. Then, at the end of the year, I was able to reflect on what was, to be grateful and amazed by the quotidian beauties of life, and to feel quite complete with happiness, and so the promise of my “Happiness Jar” was fulfilled.

Here, like a true librarian, I shall catalogue my happiness, line it up in rows, and study it more fully, hoping as scholars do to find even more meaning in the minute details.

My Happiness Jar contained 73 items.

The big happiness consisted of four weddings (congratulations to Sarah & Nik, Sarah & Miles, Kait & Alex, and Hanna & Ryan) and two brand-new babies (welcome to the world, Brock & Maeve).

My family happiness happened on trips to my hometown, involving just plain-old togetherness typically talking in the kitchen.

My Urban Family happiness meant outings: a walk along the lake with Kris, a picnic hosted by Clark with everyone at the happily named Lunt Avenue Beach, a visit to The Milwaukee Art Museum, backyard barbeques, a tubing trip down the Tippecanoe River, and several dozen meetings for drinks.

My wanderlust happiness was a trip to California, specifically San Francisco, with a divine day trip to the Russian River valley for a wonderful wine tour with my dear fried Kait.

My visitor happiness hit the trifecta with Emily in July, Stacy in August, and Ingrid in November.

My feasting happiness entailed cooking for the people I love, and making an abundance of meatballs, and drinking fancy champagne, and going to a new restaurant called Azzurra.

My professional happiness continues to be this lil’ turtle, and my RMU CLA All-Stars, colleagues who inspire me and, more importantly, make me laugh every day.

My Lady Woolfs book club happiness consisted of thoughtful questions, generous pours, and laughter galore.

My silly happiness took the form of a tiny plastic dinosaur I found on my kitchen floor after Matt’s birthday party.

My community happiness involved evenings spent at The Whirlaway with the matchless Maria, and a cast of neighborhood characters and plotlines as intricate and passionate as any of Puccini’s operas.

My dogoodery happiness filled the days I spent promoting the aims and ideals of 826Chicago, and in the evening I spent celebrating the tremendous success of my former students (Collin, Chas, & Chris) at the premiere of their first feature-length film, In Bloom.

My loving happiness was, unsurprisingly, an even, infinite vacillation between deciding whether or not I should keep on loving him.

My miscellaneous happiness was picnics and concerts and lectures and bike rides and swims and naps and sunsets.

And for all of these, I am truly grateful.

I am sure I was happier than even these many items suggest, so I shall continue to collect happy thoughts and keep them in a jar, like so many beautiful things, with or without wings.

I have begun my Happiness Jar for 2014, of course, and it already has three slips of paper folded inside. I am eager to fill the coming year with happiness, and hope you are, too.