Archive for May, 2017

Inspiration Point

Posted: May 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club”

Jack London

I appreciate all the verbs associated with inspiration: get inspired, be inspired, stay inspired, to inspire.

As an educator, I require a steady supply of inspiration, for my students and myself. Like the heliotrope sunflower, I bend toward inspiration, eager to get closer.

Naturally, reading offers endless marvels. I just started a fascinating book, one that came my way via a recommendation from another artist constantly seeking inspiration, Austin Kleon.

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“Black Out Poem,” by Austin Kleon (with reflection of Samantha)

I follow Kleon’s blog and have read and admired his books, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Quite happily, I also own a piece of his original art work, a prized possession bought for a song. One of his “Blackout Poems” hangs in my living room, perpetually intriguing. Most of my guests admire it, though a police officer—called to respond to a break in—did not seem to care for it. My niece Samantha, who recently visited, apparently saw something of herself in its expression of the desire for impetuous recklessness.

The book is called Daily Rituals, an expansion of a blog by Mason Currey (a blog becoming a book: intriguing). In it, Currey outlines the day-to-day schedules of some of the most revered artists and thinkers.

I am an inveterate scheduler myself, keeping no fewer than four calendars. A friend once confessed he had three. I said, “Sounds like you forgot to count the one in the kitchen!”

How reassuring to be reminded all people who accomplished great things were still, fundamentally, people, meaning they ate breakfast and had to bathe and dress and visit their mom. The quotidian increases unity; we all must live day to day.

Daily Rituals underscores the importance of reserving space on the calendar for artistic endeavors, whether writing or any other form of self-expression. The book also reveals the crucial importance of consistency for all who succeed in creating meaningful work (artistic or otherwise). The need for a productive routine ought to be reinforced.

Artists want to work; they want to devote time to their craft, often to the detriment of everything else. A musician friend of mine pointed out that I’d never play guitar really well because I have too far many friends and social obligations. When it comes to music, I really am best left as an enthusiast.

We can all act as conduits for inspiration, perpetually sharing new discoveries. I marvel at people’s abilities, particularly the stamina and determination of innovators who worked in and through difficult circumstances.

I contemplate the city of Chicago, my home, overflowing with imagination. When I take a moment to admire my city, from out on the lake especially, looking back at the spectacular skyline filled with skyscrapers of every silhouette, I reflect upon its hidden beauty: all of it was made by people: architects, engineers, designers, craftsmen, artists and laborers constantly creating for the past two hundred years.

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Given the time and skills and resources and determination, people can build remarkable, stunning, incredible things. The shared human experience that infuses life and art ought to amazes us all.

Look closely, and creativity reveals itself to be a fundamental part of everyday life; admire the perfectly set table and consider who laid your place with such care, perhaps it was even you.

Take the time each day to be inspired, and inspire.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The Spring of 1998.  Good times.  I was a fourth year college student at Michigan State. I was 21 years old. I was dating my future wife. My biggest concern was where I should go to graduate school.  Oh, and I had a cushy job in what was known as the MSU Microbiology Store.  For about 9 bucks an hour, I and a couple co-workers made sure

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Giltner Hall – Where the Microbiology Store was located

the Microbiology labs had enough supplies for…well, whatever Microbiology labs did.  It was quite easy, and I had a great deal of free time to study and keep up a nice solid GPA.

One day in late April, I came into the ‘office’ as my two coworkers were looking at The State News.  The student newspaper had a small story buried deep inside that had some bad news for a great number of students and alums.  The Board and President of the University had decided to disallow alcohol consumption on Munn Field, specifically during football tailgating.  I just shrugged off this story.  But, for my co-worker Adam this news was troubling.  You see, Adam (I can’t even remember his last name) wanted to be a politician. He was soon to graduate and was headed to DC to start graduate studies in Political Science.  Adam read this news as a 22 year old defender of democracy. He felt that the powers that be had passed this measure at the end of the school year specifically to avoid student input regarding the decision.  Adam believed this was unjust, and authoritarian.  He felt something needed to be done.

He decided to call for a protest rally.

Let me just stop for an aside. This was 1998. How do you get the word out about a SNlogoprotest to the community? There was only one week before finals started.  You couldn’t get that story to the student paper in time. The 50,000 students attending MSU would be home for the summer by the time The State News picked it up. Picket lines?  Flyers on campus?  None of these methods were going to have much effect.

Adam decided he was going to spread the word to a small group of students via email.  At that time, MSU had it’s own closed email server only for the campus population.  Adam, and my other co-worker Deborah, sent out their carefully crafted message ringing the tocsin. The initial message went out from two student email accounts to twenty friends in total.  One week from that day (a Friday) there would be a small protest on Munn Field.

The following Tuesday I headed to my political philosophy course. The course had roughly 90-100 students. As with most classes at MSU, I did not know a single person in the class.  As I sat down about 10 minutes before the class started, I heard a couple sorority girls next to me having a heated discussion. These girls said, ‘So, are you going to the protest at Munn Field Friday? My whole house (sorority) is going’!

Oh…my…God! Strangers were discussing the protest. How did they find out? That day, I went into work after class and told Adam. He had heard other people discussing it al well. The word was getting around, and Adam had lost control of the information. Friday’s planned protest  went from being a small hand-chosen meeting to being….well, we didn’t know what.

drinkingguidejpg-5fcad23e6601a3abThe Friday of the protest was cold and rainy.  As 7pm grew nearer, I was getting more and more nervous.  A couple friends and I decided we needed to trek over to Munn Field to see what was going to happen.  A couple days earlier, the Administration learned of the protest. The University wanted to put a stop to it.  The campus police took out an ad in The State News that warned about consequences for students ‘trespassing’ on Munn Field. Things were getting serious.  Walking over that Friday, I quickly realized thousands of others were heading out to do the same thing as me and my friends. The protest was no more. Now, it was just a gathering.

When I got to the field, a large crowd of students had already formed.  The police had fenced off the field with ‘No Trepassing’ signs. On the other side of the field, local police were lined up in their cars.  It wasn’t just a couple cops; police were out in force.  Of course, many students had already been drinking and it only took one student to climb the fence. A shirtless guy made the leap, ran out onto Munn Field and started to dive in the mud. Others followed. A couple guys started to throw a football around.  The police weren’t sure what to do.  As they started to move on the field, the students who had ‘trespassed’ jumped back into the big crowd of students outside the fence and disappeared.  It seemed the crowd might disperse.  Then, someone yelled that the crowd should march on the President’s house.  Sure, why not? Hundreds of students started to march.

At this point, I was done.  This was going nowhere. It was quickly turning into a waste of time. It was more of a roving party than a protest. I went back to my dorm room to get ready for finals on Monday. But, as I sat in my room, I could see police lights outside. Students were running down the halls of my dorm shouting.  Something big was happening out in the streets. Friends started to call me to give me updates. I heard the words ‘fires in the street’, ‘riot gear’ and ‘tear gas’.  No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening.  Finally, at midnight, I had to go outside and see for myself.  It was madness. A major bonfire had been lit in the middle of Grand River Avenue.   Police were in riot gear. Tear gas was in the air. My eyes starting watering and my throat was closing up.  There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t going to get involved. I marched back inside my dorm and went to bed.

The events of the previous evening filled the newspapers the next day.  Amazingly, it wasn’t just the local media.  National organizations started to pick up the story. MSU students had ‘rioted’ for the freedom to drink beer!  A bunch of drunk idiots were shown burning couches and breaking windows. It was an embarrassment.

Adam hoped to change the University’s political methods. He wanted to give students a stronger voice. He hoped for a powerful display of direct democracy. Unfortunately, his protest turned into a farce.


This story flooded back to me recently for an interesting reason. I have been reading a good deal about social media lately as I begin preparations for a new ‘History of Social Media’ course at RMU.  The other day, I was speaking to a colleague at RMU who has a couple kids in college. We were discussing drinking and the college life, when I began to retell the above story.  But, as I told it I had a revelation.  Those of us who lived through that night at MSU, and the news media that covered the story,  missed the most revolutionary angle of the event. Nineteen years removed, this story is not about drinking, beer or riots; this story is about the viral nature of social media!

When Adam and Deborah wrote to their 20 friends on email, they had no idea what they were doing.  They believed they were inviting a handful of well versed, intelligent and serious students to make a show of structured resistance. In fact, they provided the university with a first taste of the Internet’s power.  Within a week, that email message did what viral information does; it spread exponentially.  It was a glimpse of our future. Twenty years on, and I realize that Adam’s protest did change the world.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This past weekend, I had an extraordinary encounter with “The Human Library.”

An art experience and an exercise in communality, The Human Library originated in Denmark, “developed in Copenhagen in the spring of 2000 as a project for Roskilde Festival by Ronni Abergel and his brother Dany and colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsenas” and has since grown into a “Worldwide movement for social change,” offering the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with someone who has a unique story to tell, an exercise in listening and togetherness that has become too infrequent.

A “Human Library” is staffed by volunteers who play the roles of “Librarians” and “Books.” The “Librarians” acclimate the visiting “readers” to the process, establishing parameters and ground rules, which are set forth in a comforting statement.

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Human Libraries allow external participants (readers) to choose from a selection of individuals (books) with unique histories or attributes about which they are willing to talk. Readers are permitted to ask the human books questions during a fifteen-minute conversation.

I encountered the Human Library Chicago, at The National Veteran’s Art Museum and become a “reader” of a human book. At the event, there were approximately ten books on offer, and most of them were busy being “read” when I arrived. I looked at the available titles and selected a “book” who was a Vietnam Veteran.

The opportunity to speak to a veteran—specifically about his wartime experience—seemed particularly fascinating, and the conversation that I had with Ned was even more remarkable than I had anticipated.

Ned was tremendously forthcoming. He explained his service. He was an officer who, at 23 years old, took command of 197 men for one year-long tour in Vietnam from 1970-1971.

I asked him what it was like, what he remembered.

His responses overflowed with honest, vivid imagery. He talked about the smells: rot and fire and shit; the sounds; the singular noise made by bullets whizzing through the leafy jungle; the terrain: earthy, mud in the wet season, grit in the dry.

I asked him what he missed. He recalled food cravings in vibrant detail. He longed for chilled orange juice, cereal with icy milk, and cold Coca-Cola.

I asked him if he was able to befriend any of his men, but he explained how any personal relationships would have made his command more difficult. I realized, then, how profoundly lonely he must have been.

“Yes,” he agreed, “lonely.”

Lonely and tired and scared and far from home.

I’ve always been interested in the events and history surrounding the war, and cognizant of the intensely painful complexities that make Vietnam a fraught topic.

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I was overcome with emotion at The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, as countless others have been, and are, and will be. Aware of the depth of the loss present in the names etched in dark stone, Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision is a superb documentary about the selection of Maya Lin’s work for that important tribute which underscores the complexity of the lasting impact of Vietnam. The new documentary from PBS, The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns, will offer amazing insights as well.

Naturally, I am eager to take part in future “Human Library” experiences, as a reader, book, or librarian. I am hopeful that this new means of practicing empathy and fostering conversation will continue to grow understanding.

My conversation with Ned deepened my appreciation for the men and women in the US military. Ned’s willingness to share his story with strangers is an act of phenomenal generosity.

Talking to Ned, looking into his eyes, connecting with him, laughing with him, and learning from him was an unforgettable experience. I am grateful to him for his service, and for permitting me to read his story.