Posts Tagged ‘English’

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.

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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

When I was in third grade, I made a new friend in class named Ryan. Given that I was in the same school system K-12, many of the faces stayed the same throughout the years, and Ryan was no different. However, like many kids, just because we knew of each other didn’t mean we were friends. When we did become friends, Ryan invited me to come hang out with him and his already established group of friends on the playground during recess.

The group was standing in a circle waiting for us. Ryan brought me over to them and promptly introduced me by saying, “Everybody, this is Paul. He’s funny!”

Everyone turned and stared at me.

The introduction was flattering, but what was I supposed to do now? Talk about creating immediate expectations. So, I pulled a microphone out of my back pocket, turned it on, and started with, “So, what’s the deal with the cafeteria food….”

Okay, I actually just said, “Hey,” and received a mumbled chorus of “Hey” in return.

How spectacularly anticlimactic. The group had to be disappointed, like buying tickets to see Louis C.K. and instead getting Carrot Top. I didn’t know I was going to be introduced like that, though! I didn’t know I was supposed to have material ready! I wish I had the perfect thing to say that would have made everyone in the circle laugh.

And this story comes to mind because of what happened in Boston on Monday.

A couple weeks ago, I told my esteemed colleague and “Father of the Flaneur’s Turtle” Michael Stelzer Jocks that when it comes to the Turtle, he is the intellectual counterbalance to my idiocy. In his posts, he explores history, delves into psychology, compares and contrasts cultures; I make jokes about Easter candy.

However, the eclectic nature of The Flaneur’s Turtle  is one of its strong suits. The authors are not many faces with one voice; we are all individuals with our own interests, personalities, and writing styles. Consequently, each author has a different role. My students have told me I fill the role of “hopeless romantic” or “comedian” depending on the post.

Today, I’m sort of a hopeless comedian. Like everyone else, I find what happened in Boston to be horribly sad and deeply tragic, and I feel an additional touch of kinship with all of the victims and families because of my obsession with running.

But, I am terrible at comforting people during grief, loss, and hardships. I don’t know what to say, and even if I do, I say it wrong. And I could try to be intellectual about a tragic event like this, just as Michael was in his last post, but he’s smarter than me and I can’t pull that off.

However, I can occasionally make people laugh. So, I set out to write a diversionary post. During bad times, I don’t want to laugh in order to hide from reality or diminish the significance of what has happened; I merely want to provide some momentary escapist entertainment. During races, there are water stations along the way for the runners. The stations aren’t meant to be places where runners stop and quit, but rather where they get a boost as they carry on with their struggle. At times like this, I like laughter to be the water station. We can all acknowledge there is a long road ahead and more hard times to deal with, but we can use a little boost to help us along.

Unfortunately, sometimes I find myself grasping for funny, having nothing witty to say, no water to offer, and no clever one-liners to impress the gathered circle.

 

 

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

This week, I have a couple follow-up anecdotes to my two most recent posts. In a way, I feel like I’m pulling the sitcom cop out of having a clip show. But I’m not! This is NEW material. This isn’t like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air showing old clips of Carlton dancing – these are all new Carlton dances. So, let’s dance.

Shuffling My Personal Best

Chicago PicsThis past Sunday, team “Run RMU Run” ran the Shamrock Shuffle. The race itself was exciting and fun as it navigated runners around the Loop through spectator-lined streets. One of my favorite moments along the way was running down State Street past the Chicago Theatre. I took this photo on my iPhone without breaking stride. (What can we call taking photos while running? Options: 1. Flash & Dash 2. Joggin’ Photog. 3. Obnoxious.)

My other favorite moment was a guy standing on the side of the road around Mile 4 who was dressed likeCowbell Will Ferrell from the famous SNL cowbell skit. True to the skit, he had the shirt riding up his belly as he hammered away on a cowbell. What made it even funnier was that he was standing all by himself and he never broke character. It’s a good thing, because at that moment in the race I was tired, and the only cure was more cowbell.

Everyone on our team ran at their own pace, so we found each other after the race to share in a deserved sense of accomplishment. Everyone did really great and had good reason to be excited.

In my post last week, I said one of my goals was to beat my own personal best time for an 8k. I did that by 21 seconds with a time of 43:17. I finished 8,403 out of 33,266 runners, placing me around top 25% of all runners, which was my other goal. I was very pleased with both accomplishments…until about midday Monday when I began whining around the office about how I could have done better and then set my goal for next year at a time of 39:30. To run that fast, I’ll need a lot more cowbell.

Easter Treats

My mom loves bargains. Mark something as discounted and she will buy it, regardless of its worth or necessity. Take, for instance, the bags full of discounted Easter candy she had on the kitchen counter when I visited on Monday. I mostly avoided diving headfirst into all of the sugary goodness, though I may have eaten some of the Starburst jellybeans she bought.

As I was preparing to leave, my mom looked through one bag filled with an assortment of giant chocolate Easter bunnies and asked me, “Do you want to take some of these home?”

“No, I don’t need that stuff in my house.”

“Then, how am I going to get rid of all of these?”

“You could have started by not buying dozens of giant chocolate bunnies!”

She then tried to persuade me to take some of the candy to work, but I said no because I could already feel the “Why did you bring junk food?” glares of my colleagues. (Of course, we always eat the candy when it’s the office…we just make sure to be angry about it first.)

Mom dropped the discussion after that, not because I had convinced her, but because she knows that I have no willpower when it comes to candy. I stop by my folks’ house enough, and those Starburst jellybeans can’t last forever (or, really, past Monday night, because I ate them all), so it’s only a matter of time until one of my visits involves me gnawing on the head of a stale chocolate bunny while wishing some Reese’s eggs had been available on discount instead.

Easter Treats

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

It’s almost Easter, which is that special time of year when Christians like me celebrate the wonder and spectacle of Mel Gibson’s highest grossing film.

Additionally, as someone who likes food (too much), Easter is one of my favorite food holidays. Not only is there always a feast on Easter Sunday, but there is so much candy and junk food! Let’s review:

  • Growing up, my aunt would always make the traditional Easter lamb cake, which is pound cake in the
    Lamb cake
    shape of a lamb, complete with vanilla icing and coconut wool. The finishing touch was two black jelly bean eyes, which made this confectionery representation of Christ look terrifyingly satanic. (Does this also qualify the cake as “sinfully sweet”?) Unfortunately, coconut is one of the few foods I do not like, which left me to scrape it off my chunk of dismembered lamb. Eventually, my aunt started leaving the lamb’s head coconut-free. There was something unsettling about beheading the lamb, even if it was just cake. Thankfully, the evil eyes took a bit of the edge off.

  • Black jelly beans were invented to prevent people from blindly eating jelly beans.

    • Alternate Punchlines:

      • Black jelly beans were invented so people can say, “Well, I didn’t eat ALL of the Easter candy.”

      • Black jelly beans were invented so the few people who like them can be angry about it.

      • Black jelly beans were invented so there is something acceptable for people to spit out.

  • Peeps are like White Castles: they are a great idea until you put them in your mouth.PeepsWhite Castle
  • I’m a fan of Starburst jelly beans. No punchline here. Just gimme some.
  • Cadbury eggs are delicious, but I’m still trying to figure out how they came out of this bunny: 

cadbury-bunny

  • Perhaps the most disappointing treat to find in an Easter basket is the gigantic bunny made of unbreakable, stale-tasting chocolate. If chocolate of this quality were in the shape of a basic square, no one would ever buy it. But mold candy_chocolate_bunnyit in the shape of a bunny and it hops its way into every basket. It’s always the last thing anyone tries to eat, only after all the good candy is gone. Chipping off a piece with your hand is impossible, so it leaves two options: 1) Carve it with a knife like a rock hard rump roast or 2) Risk chipping a tooth by biting directly into the bunny, leaving behind fang marks like a coyote. The bunny will remain half mauled/gnawed until about June when someone asks rhetorically, “Is anyone going to finish this thing?” before throwing it out.

  • I love the Easter egg version of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, because not all Reese’s are the same. The normal-sized, checkout counter ones do have a great chocolate-to-peanut butter ratio. The minis, on the other hand, don’t do it for me; not enough peanut butter. But my Goldilocks fit is the Easter Reese’s for its egg-stra shot of peanut butter.

    • Is it really peanut butter in those things? Is it even real chocolate?

  • I get irrationally excited by the holiday-colored M&Ms. I know this is ridiculous, because no matter the color, they all taste the same. It is also ridiculous, because it’s an example of blatant marketing tricks working on me. Do I buy a pound of M&Ms when the regular colors are on sale? No. But put them in a pastel bag and coat the chocolate in pastel shells, and I jump up and down clapping my hands like a Pee Wee cheerleader before putting a bag in my shopping cart. Well played, Mars.

  • Easter mm

There is so much sugary goodness to find in the Easter basket. So, rather than talk more about it, let’s go eat some. After all, I’ve been gnawing on a chocolate bunny the entire time I was writing this – and I think I chipped a tooth down my throat.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(Go here to read Part 1.)

What if memories could be selectively erased?

BrainScientifically speaking, that may be possible. Our brains already work to push away bad memories through substitution and suppression. Also, some studies claim that therapy may make it possible to (sort of) erase memories.

While the literal science/psychology is interesting, I’m more interested in the hypothetical “What if?” scenario.

In film, TV, and literature, there are plenty of stories in which characters are presented the option of erasing bad memories. My favorite example of this, which is also one of my favorite movies, is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this film, the main character Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) both undergo a fictional procedure to erase their minds of each other after their break-up.

Eternal Sunshine

Joel (Jim Carrey) undergoing the mind-erasing procedure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It is a fantastic movie for a number of reasons, one if which is how it spurs on self-reflection: if this procedure were real, would you use it? If so, on what memories? And why?

My personal answer to this question is…I don’t know.

I know, quite the cop out. But let me explain.

If I address that question specifically about relationships, the degree to which I’d be willing to pull the trigger on the procedure varies from relationship to relationship. In my fairytale breakup, I have no need to erase anything. Time already erased the bad and left behind the good memories. In other relationships, there was nothing traumatic done to me that requires erasing. And yet, in other relationships there are memories that bother me quite a bit, even long after the fact.

The question becomes this: if a memory bothers me a lot, what else would I lose by erasing it?

Would erasing that memory skew my entire perspective on the relationship? Would this change fundamentally who I am and have become? Would there be mistakes I am then doomed to repeat because I don’t have this knowledge anymore?

In other words, bad memories may be beneficial and productive in some cases.

However, the level of drama (and trauma) I’ve dealt with in relationships is peanuts compared to issues many people have dealt with. For example, let’s move away from romantic relationships.

Every week, my dad and I do volunteer work at his VFW post. He is a Vietnam vet, and members from the post range from World War 2 to current conflicts. Most of the members I know are my dad’s age and fought in Vietnam. Some of them suffer from PTSD and have gone through therapy to deal with the horrible things they experienced. Some have told me a portion of what they went through and saw, and I can’t even begin to imagine having been in their shoes.

From the outside looking in, having never been  soldier myself, I wonder if they wouldn’t prefer to snap their fingers and have all of those memories wiped away. On the other hand, I’ve listened to so many of their war stories, and I’ve listened to them all banter about the good and bad memories of serving, and it is clear that these aren’t just memories; this is a part of their identity. These shared experiences are also what creates the camaraderie between all of the veterans.  If these memories were taken away, would it be like taking themselves away?

So, the questions may become this: at what point does the “productivity” of traumatic memories get outweighed by their negativity? When does the memory stop being a tool to learn from and start cluttering our mind to the point of being a roadblock? When does the memory stop being a piece of our identity and start consuming us?

 

The only real conclusion I can come to is that these are such personal questions that are impacted by our own variables: our own personalities, how we deal with memories, how we deal with trauma. The question of erasing memories begs for a unique answer from all of us.

So, what’s your unique answer? If you could erase some of your memories, would you do it?

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I sat in my car looking out through the chain-link fence that separated the student parking lot from the university’s airfield. A small plane came in low overhead, cutting through the spring air to land on the runway. The first time I saw this happen LU Planesthree years earlier, it seemed exciting and vaguely dangerous. But after a few years of attending a college with an Aviation major, the planes were like pigeons I could mindlessly stare at from a park bench while thinking.

I just got off the phone with a girl from one of my classes with whom I’d gone on a couple dates. I asked if she wanted to get together again, and I got the “I’d love to but I’m busy between now and…forever” brush-off. Truthfully, I wasn’t all that interested in her. She was my attempt at a rebound, but the rebound just dropped out of bounds.

This left me time to think about the relationship I was trying to rebound from, which was the two-years I spent with my “first true love” that ended a few months earlier on Christmas Eve, when she came over to give me my Christmas present and say goodbye. I hid that present in my closet for months without opening it, as if preserving it would keep the relationship alive in some small way. When I finally opened it, it was a t-shirt of Grumpy from Snow White. Any friends and students reading this may think, “Grumpy? That doesn’t seem accurate for Paul’s personality.” Meanwhile, any ex-girlfriend reading this is saying, “Ha!”

Sitting in the car, feeling desperate and lost, I called my only brother. I had never turned to him for relationship advice before, even though he is nearly nine years my elder. Our conversations always stayed within certain boundaries: movies, music, games, sports. This was uncharted territory for us.

I spewed to him everything that was stirring around in my whiney, youthful, achey-breaky heart, about how she was “the one” and how I would never recover from all the pain I was feeling. He listened attentively (rare for him) and then said something rather perspicacious (even rarer): “It will get better. The pain will fade over time and you will be able to focus on the good memories.”

Of course, at the time I thought that was crap, as I continued to moan about how life as I knew it was over, how I’d be alone forever, and how I’d have to seek companionship by either buying a dog or cloning myself.

However, it turns out he was right. Sure, it was difficult in the short term, as with all breakups. But by the end of the semester, I was playfully running around Brookfield Zoo during a rainstorm, hand-in-hand with my new girlfriend. The next chapter of my life had begun.

Gradually, all the hurt of the previous breakup slipped away, all the pain we caused each other in our relationship vanished, and all that was left behind was a mental scrapbook of our fondest memories.

If there are fairytale romances, this eventually grew into a fairytale breakup for me: we weren’t together, we didn’t want each other, we moved on with our lives, and I got to keep the good memories.

For a while, the outcome of my fairytale breakup made me overvalue my brother’s words of wisdom. In my youthful inexperience, I believed mine was the normal resolution for a serious breakup: bleed for a bit, then heal with no visible scar.

Years later, I’ve now been through more relationships, and watched as many friends have dealt with their own relationships, and this obvious realization became apparent: sometimes the bad memories refuse to slip away, and they linger like boxers landing solid shots to the brain and heart. Not all bad memories will go down without a fight. And others wobble but they don’t fall down.

But – what if there was a way to selectively eliminate these little ruffians from the mind? That very solution has been presented in literature and film, creatively leading to self-examination on some very interesting questions….

(To be continued in Part 2)

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I spent the weekend watching movies. I watched The Muppets (the new one), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Princess Bride, and Derrida (a documentary about the French deconstructionist). Let’s just say that I have eclectic tastes and the weather was dreary. Derrida suited my mood. Documentaries appear unbound, going seemingly in any direction. Derrida leaves the viewer with more questions and fewer answers, a reasonable result considering the subject.

The director’s agenda must be to unsettle the viewer, or Jacques Derrida himself does, and she follows his lead. Crucial interchanges persist in their uncertainty. The philosopher and his wife are seated on a high-backed loveseat. The director asks how and when they met. Derrida divulges the answers, but warns that he will only provide the facts, nothing more. “Why only the facts?” the director wants to know. He resists, and he and his wife stay silent for a moment. The exchange is uncomfortable; it exposes the artificiality of the conversation. He watches it later with some satisfaction. Derrida is particularly pleased that he and his wife both remained quiet, relating nothing more than the where and the when of their lives together. The director shows the clip of him watching the clip.

Still curious, the director poses a less personal, but still intimate, question to Derrida. She inquires, “Can you speak about love?” He demurs. This is not a good question, or a question at all. He cannot answer something so vague. Why does she ask such an ill-formed question?  From that moment on, I distrust her. She returns to the clip of him watching the clip of himself and his wife. This time it is removed a third time. He is watching himself, watching himself, watching himself. In her attempts to capture Derrida’s point of view, she offers the audience little insight.

Later in the film, a question is posed to Derrida from a man off-camera. The audience knows he must be part of the production team, but nothing else. His question is infinitely more interesting, both to Derrida and to me. Derrida finds the question so intriguing, he contemplates it for a full three minutes, saying every once in a while that it is “a good question”.  The man asks, “What philosopher would you wish to have been your mother?” Once the complexity of answers is understood, only keen questions can compel an answer. Derrida takes the opportunity to attack the patriarchal and phallocentric nature of philosophy while (inadvertently?) accomplishing some rather clever self-aggrandizement. He concludes that only a woman coming after him could be his mother, so his granddaughter could be the philosopher-mother he might choose. Instantly, the mind of a philosopher is revealed, and the world spirals out of control once more.