Category Archives: Wish I Was A General

Post while you can

I have had several friends talk to me about the end of the world, or the apocalypse, seen numerous FB posts or news stories, films, all about the end that is scheduled for 21 December 2012. Bunk, I say. But if I’m wrong, you better get thee to a blog and post while you can.

I’m right, though, and here’s why: it’s the bicentenary of Robert Browning and Charles Dickens this year (mentioned this in a previous post), and nothing untoward could possibly happen to mar this year. I do love the hullabaloo surrounding the whole end-of-days thing. Some folks need to have a hobby–and there are worse things to focus on than this. I suppose.

Stars. They fall on Alabama.

Stars. They fall on Alabama. Stars are supposed to play some key part in the apocalypse. Right. When pigs fly.

I think I’ll just make a play list, gaze at the stars, and plan to do all my holiday shopping at the last minute from Dec. 22 to Dec. 24, like I do every year.

And if some transformative event happens, I will roll with it. I am in favor of transformation. Change is life; as a friend says, “when you’re through changing, you’re through.”

To have fun with my playlist, I think I’ll include all the songs I know that are about change. I think I’ll name the list: “Post-Apocalypse Change Or Die Trying” Playlist (PACODT List). (I should have really saved this post until 22 December, but if I’m wrong and I go down swinging, you, gentle reader, may hunt me down and say: “I told you so; you suck; you were so wrong; welcome to the Dark Side.” Or whatever comes to mind to humiliate me for my hubris.)

Number one on the list has to be Sheryl Crow’s “A Change Would Do You Good.” I think that’s the point of all apocalypse talk–we may be “waiting on the world to change,” but there’s no question that “change is gonna come,” and it will “do you good,” because “the more things change,” the more they stay the same; we all know you’re “going through changes,” so you’ll need to “roll with the changes,” but remember “some things never change,” even if “some people change.” And ch-ch-ch-changes are all about transformations, and before you know it, the apocalypse might “change the world.”

Let’s hope the apocalypse is about fab intellectual transformations that come about through open hearts, open minds, and open educational resources. These are “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes” that I could really get behind.

The PACODT List: song title, artist.

  • A Change Would Do You Good, Sheryl Crow
  • Change, Churchill
  • Change, Taylor Swift
  • Change, Carrie Underwood
  • Change, Tracy Chapman
  • Change, John Waite
  • Changes, 2Pac & Talent (thank goodness someone tossed in an “s”)
  • Change, Blind Melon
  • Change, Lecrae
  • Changes, David Bowie
  • Change, Tears for Fears
  • Change, T-Pain
  • Change, Sean Kingston
  • Change, Kim Hyun-a
  • Change, Diddy
  • Are thinking what I am? Get a damn thesaurus people. I found one online in 6 seconds with over 75 possible OTHER words for “change.”
  • Change, Staind
  • Change, Black Stone Cherry
  • Change, Lloyd Banks
  • Change, Kimberley Locke
  • Change, Good Charlotte
  • Changes, 3 Doors Down
  • There are many, many more. Oh have mercy anyway. Let’s change this up a bit and go with more than just “change” as the main title of the song.
  • And just in case you notice, the below argue for and against change–depending on whether a job’s been lost, a love lost, or a chance lost. Or in the case of Hank Williams, Jr., he just has an axe to grind about change.
  • Waiting on the World to Change, John Mayer
  • A Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke (this is the first and my favorite, but I must say Seal treats this song with grace; not mad for Al Green’s version, but Otis Redding is very fine with this)
  • Going Through Changes, Eminem
  • Change My Mind, One Direction
  • Don’t Change for Me, Gin Blossoms
  • Change the World, Eric Clapton (oh sigh)
  • Change Your Mind, Sister Hazel
  • Cool Change, Little River Band
  • Some People Change, Montgomery Gentry
  • Roll with the Changes, REO Speedwagon
  • What I Cannot Change, LeAnn Rimes
  • We Never Change, Coldplay
  • We Can Change, Belinda Carlisle
  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, Jimmy Buffett
  • I’d Love to Change the World, Ten Years After
  • Don’t Change, INXS
  • Never Change, Jay-Z
  • Never Gonna Chang, Drive-By Truckers
  • See the Changes, Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • The More Things Change, Bon Jovi
  • Keep the Change, Hank Williams, Jr.
  • Some Things Never Change, Sara Evans
  • Some People Change, Kenny Chesney
  • Am I Ever Gonna Change, Extreme
  • I Don’t Want to Change the World, Ozzy Osbourne
  • Change It, Stevie Ray Vaughn
  • Weekend Sex Change, The Dillinger Escape Plan (I couldn’t leave this one out)
  • This Changes Everything, Dead Sara (a little of this)
  • That Changes Everything, John Michael Montgomery (and a little of that)
  • Money Changes Everything, Cyndi Lauper
  • Love Changes Everything, Michael Ball, et al.
  • Nothing Ever Changes, Stevie Nicks
  • Ain’t No Change, The Be Good Tanyas
  • Baby, Don’t Change Your Mind, Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • Change or Die, Papa Roach
  • Change the World, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
  • Things Change, 50 Cent
  • So Many Changes, Dan Fogelberg
  • I Wouldn’t Change You if I Could, Ricky Scaggs (thanks, Ricky–I appreciate that)
  • What Never Changes, Forevermore
  • There’ll Be Some Changes Made from Fosse (Go, Bob Fosse)
  • Changes I’ve Been Going Through, Mary J. Blige
  • Time Changes Everything, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Johnny Cash rocks this song, too–just in case you’re interested in changing things up just a bit.)

There’s no better place to stop than on this song by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, because time does change everything.

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Don't make 'em like that anymore, because "time changes everything."

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. They don’t make ’em like that anymore, because “time changes everything.”

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I’m shallow, but I’m okay with that

I’ve been reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I love it.

I first read his work in an article in The Atlantic (2008): “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The second I finished it, I knew I was going to have to use it in classes I teach–especially classes with LONG novels–over and over again from freshman to graduate students, because we need to talk about reading–always.

It’s really hard to read eight or more long novels in a British lit class in one semester. Stamina in reading is in short order. I speak from experience. I’ve lost a lot of power in reading myself. It’s harder than ever for me to single-task a reading experience. Focusing on reading is hard, hard, hard now. When I sit down to read a big ol’ novel, I have to be in the right mood; I have to turn everything off; I have to prepare to have no distractions of any kind; I have to really push myself to sustain reading and thinking over a long period of time. It’s the best way to really understand a piece of literature. I need deep time on a text.

Knowing when you are working in the shallows might keep you from being stupid.

Knowing when you are working in the shallows might keep you from being stupid.

But more and more, I am distracted by anything shiny. Been complaining about this trend for years. Sigh. Bummer. Nuts. Oh, there’s a text. Oh, someone’s posted to Facebook. Oh, someone needs me. Oh, I’m so important. Oh, I’ve got to respond. Oh. Oh. Oh.

As a teacher, I have to account for this change in how I work, because if I’ve changed this much, think what my students are like who are raising themselves to be multi-taskers who do 18 things at once and can read a long novel, but need more time stretched out to do the same thing we used to do in less? I teach less content now yet more interaction and more writing (and hence, more thinking). It’s a better deal, but truly, we’re covering a lot less than I ever have before. It’s a bummer on some level, but I love that thinking takes precedence, that writing really makes a difference in learning. Writing is my thing.

I’ve regularly had students read the article from 2008–it’s smart, savvy, and raises issues I need to talk about with them. But now Carr has come out with the book (2010) published by Norton (a favorite publisher). But, it’s taken me awhile to get to this; it’s so worth it. SO totally worth it.

I’m taking weeks and weeks to read this, not because it’s dull. It’s not dull. Every page has notes, underlines, arrows, stars, questions. Every chapter, I think: ” I have to teach this chapter right now. No, I have to make this book part of what I’m teaching right now. The whole book.” There’s a way cool part about the history of reading, handwriting, printing, and books and the relation of all that to how our brains work. Of course, there’s a ton of information on our brains. Of course–it’s the title of the book. But the connection between the brain and the book is so very meaningful to me (English teacher, voracious reader, addicted writer, book collector). I can’t read fast because I’m reading so deeply and thinking so much about everything I’m reading and taking copious notes. Good Lord. It’s ironic, isn’t it?

It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. It’s inspiring me to rethink everything I’m planning to teach next year: honors composition and a 19th century novels course in fall 2013 (and everything in the summer of 2013, too: LOTR and Narnia for an honors course with a philosophy colleague, and a detective novels class).

Oh man. I love when that happens.

And then I realized, KA-BLOOIE, KA-POW, KA-BAM, I’m working in the shallows. Not just that: I am shallow, so shallow. I get it. I’m dancing on the surface of places where I used to dig deep with shovel and pickaxe. I have moments when I get deep (like, ironically, reading Carr’s book), but I don’t get as deep as I used to nor do I regularly go deep. Not really diving like I wish–sort of splashing around about the ankles and knees.

Whine, whine. But here’s the great thing: I’m a much happier person than I’ve ever been. I’m deeply profoundly madly satisfied to have the answers to almost any question I can ask… right at my fingertips. I love having the world right here, right now, right away. I dive into the shallows. Sometimes I smack the bottom a bit, but I sort of, kind of, a little bit know how to dive “light,” or how to dive in the shallows without breaking my neck or dying (no special trick to it–you leap into a position that is more like a belly flop than a dive).

I am a learning junkie. I know it. I love to learn; I love knowledge from the arcane to pop culture; I love to read; I love to write. And the internet does something for that addiction that I’ve never had before–I can get a fix any time, day or night. For free. Libraries used to do that for me–I haunted them morning and night. I’d sit in different places every time so I could discover new books in places I might never go. It’s how I discovered Banjo Patterson. It’s how Alexandre Dumas stole my heart when I was ten. It’s how Allen Drury converted me to his work. It’s how I found Jane Austen and so many more authors who changed my brain. It’s how I found my love of football and military history. It’s how I fell in love with baseball writing. It’s how I learned to love the serendipitous. I still dig wandering in physical libraries–may they never disappear–but many of them are not open all night and they may not be convenient to my home: as in, I’m in bed right now, reading and writing and thinking and exploring. I can tell you with zero equivocation that this is very very right.

I feel so right, I just signed up for a MOOC (a massive open online course) on digital cultures and e-learning that begins in January. It’s free. The texts are free. The videos are free. And I can take the course at home–listen to lectures when I feel like it rather than when it’s convenient for the professor to teach (or in this case, several professors). I could get a certificate of completion from the University of Edinburgh for my efforts, but I don’t care. I just want to learn. I just want to have fun trying to learn in a new way.

And (whoo-hoo) I just signed up for another MOOC on strategic thinking to support innovation in organizations. I think a lot about writing and strategic thinking for the part of my job that is directing a graduate writing center for senior military officers and civilian leaders. Course costs this much: nothing. I will have to buy a book and spend my time reading and learning. OH NO. Invest in my own education and professional development. I CANNOT BELIEVE I HAVE TO DO IT THIS. Wait. I can’t believe I get to do this. My time required: 5-7 hours a week for seven weeks and the books will cost less than $15 and will be downloadable to my Kindle in 30 seconds or less. Am I worth that investment? Yes. Will I learn something valuable? I might.

I did all that while I was writing this blog post, thinking about how the internet is changing my brain, writing about how Carr has written about that, how distracting being online can be, while checking email and Facebook. Yep, about seven things at once. For a short time, I took a break from several of these things to make a phone call, but then about half way through the call, I said, “Hey, I forgot to send you that photo from the other day–want to get on FB, and I’ll message it to you right now?” I was back online in 22 seconds flat and scrolling through FB while talking, and then I opened my email again.

I also have another book lying next to my computer and The Shallows (check out a nice bit on NPR about this book). The other book I’m reading right now is a novel by Michael Connelly–a favored detective novelist. I sometimes take a short break from online “work” to read a fun book, in this case, in a hard copy version. I try to read both ebooks and print books. I like the variety. I’ve read several of the Game of Thrones books in hard copy, big page, bigger print formats, and the last couple in ebook form. Keeps me on my toes. Bobbing and weaving. Reading guerrilla style. Ready for anything.

I imagine part of my ability to do all that is I’m not scrambling to feed myself. I just drive to the store and buy all the food I need; I don’t have to spend days hunting down a mammoth to feed my village. Nor do I need to build my shelter. I pay for it with the money I earn at a job that is largely mobile. Even my laundry isn’t all that hard or dangerous. I’m not risking my life beating my clothes on rocks down at the creek waiting to be attacked by wild animals or shot through the heart by an arrow of a rival clan member. I’m full of the kind of time that allows the kind of intellectual leisure that leads to the kind of blog post you are reading right now. And it is this very situation that Carr is writing about–the fundamental change some of us have undergone in our grown-up-working-adult-professional-and-personal lives made possible by the Information Age. (When I spend too much time contemplating this–it becomes unnerving. I mean, my brain has actually changed over time, and hence, my ways of working have, too. Just read a few posts on this blog, and you’ll see I have rarely bemoaned and often celebrated the Information Age, the Open Movement, and all that jazz; I frequently mention it or aspects of it with great love, e.g. I vowed at one point to always mention Writing Spaces in my posts, but I lost track awhile back and haven’t for some time. LOVE the Volume 1 and 2 of WS. Do click on the link so your writing live can be transformed, too–you’ll love me for it. Love.)

There’s no doubt I’ve changed, my tastes have changed, my brain has changed, my life has changed. Thinking about how that’s happened and why it’s happened, by reading a book like Carr’s, and then spending some time being meta about the whole thing (me, the book, my brain, Carr’s brain) allows me to know what I’m doing. Knowing when you’re romping around in the shallows is a good way to keep from getting too stupid.

I think we are getting smarter–many of us humans. It’s just a kind of smart that we don’t all recognize because it’s new and we don’t know exactly what it means. Or this is the end of the world, and I’m already too stupid to recognize the signs. If the latter is the case, then I imagine I’ll keep on being blissfully ignorant up until the moment of the apocalypse. If the former, then: I win.

I win. I’m really okay with that.

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Lead me, follow me, or get out of the way

I’m on the fence about General George S. Patton, Jr. Do I love him or loathe him?

General George S. Patton, Jr.

I have a crush on him, of course. Just look at the portrait to the right. Honestly, you’d have to be stone not to fall for this man. If I were a man, I’m sure I’d have a man crush. But then, there’s a lot to be wary of–he’s fire, he’s elemental–a man like this can heal or destroy.

But that’s just the visual rhetoric side of me talking, my singular perception based on image only. I recently ran across a reference to him in a book I was reading (several references actually across a few genres–kismet), and I wondered that I’d never seen the iconic film with George C. Scott and that I really didn’t know much about Patton except that he was an important leader in WWII.

I decided to wander around online to see what I could see. What I found: he came from a long line of warriors; he attended Virginia Military Institute and West Point; he was innovative and creative; he wanted to be a hero (like members of his family before him); he was likely traumatized by war (who isn’t?); he survived much drama; he was a good leader; he was a controversial leader; he was not an epic-win poet (but I like that he tried); he was a great orator; he was a cussing-the-air-blue leader. I think it’s the last that I really appreciate. I’ve always found an accomplished cusser to be irresistible.

My conclusions: he was an ass kickin’ prima donna. Just look at him with the ivory handles on his pistols. And below–check out his shiny helmet. He rocked the role of leader. He understood spectacle, the visual rhetoric necessary in an age of only moderate media exposure. He knew people needed something to follow, something they could see, not something they needed to understand. He certainly erred on more than one occasion in public, but he somehow lived through that. Or I could be wrong about him being a mixed bag and retaining his power? I’m not a Patton expert, just a casual observer. But I’m sure he is no different than any of us–an amalgam of good and bad choices, daring and fear, love and loathing. I certainly can’t judge, but what I can do is learn from him–take what I can and give nothing back. (That’s right, this is part of the pirate code from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.)

(And to bend the pop cultural references in this post a bit: Could I say he was/is the warrior equivalent of Aretha Franklin? Think about her filling in for Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards–in his key, and every other thing she’s ever done? I surely can learn some things from who he was and what he did. So why not explore what’s possible and think about how my thinking on Patton connects to other media, genre, texts, images?)

There’s a lot of Patton online, so I collected several Pattonisms that I like which I’m thinking can smartly inform my thematic-academic-intellectual work for the spring term: all out war. I want to win this semester, I want to vanquish my tasks, I want to defeat my fears, and so I am going to use Patton as my icon… a far cry from MC Hammer who helped me through a spring semester a few years back  and whom inspires me occasionally to consider what I’m doing as a writer. (“U Can’t Touch This”–such a perfect sound track for teaching and learning–but I need more power right now.)

Gen. Patton in all his 4-star finery

Meanwhile, my Spring 2012 Pattonisms are below. These guiding ideas will help me shape what I’m going to do with my life this spring and beyond (perhaps). Each is followed by thoughts on how I will make this semester bend to my superior will.

1. We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.

I only have so much time for nurturing right now. I need people around me to lead me, follow me, or get out of my way because I have a LOT to do, and I intend to do it. I have seven lists of several pages long and nothing will escape my intense scrutiny this term–I will win. I will defeat disorganization. I will “shoot first then ask questions later” (Gen. Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Well, metaphorically, you know, I’m on board with this–as a matter of policy Ripper’s philosophy is, perhaps, not always the right one.

2. Always do everything you ask of those you command.

This is my teaching modus operandi for most of my classes–I write with my students. I haven’t always and don’t do everything they do–who has time? But I do write some things, start some projects, show how I might approach a task–be a writer in front of them. I am also a writer with them.

3. Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

Again, more of my teaching m.o. I try to say something like this in most teaching situations: “Over there, see? That’s where I want you to head, down that valley, take that ridge, secure that beachhead. Here are several ways to accomplish this task. Here are ways people have attempted it and succeeded. Here is a sample of a successful operation. Here is how I’d do it.” I explain all the moving parts, and help to focus learning on a process that might work for students in writing anything or reading anything. Then I point students in the direction I want them to go… and they must get there.

4. There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by praying.

I like the order of these: planning, working, praying. These three things account for how humans manage to accomplish anything: one must have a plan, and work at it, and then pray that everything goes right. But it won’t. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. So. Mission adaptivity. Gotta happen. I get that. (See Lakoff and Johnson for more on war metaphors–Chap. 24 in Metaphors We Live By–been reading too much lately on war, maybe.) I don’t pray much except for this kind: “coming in on a wing and a prayer.” I do a lot of that. I plan like Henry Gantt, work like Samuel Smiles, and pray like George Eliot–her translation of David Strauss’s The Life of Jesus is stunning (1846).

5. Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.

In teaching, what are victories? What are weapons? Words? Is a victory when students pass or when they learn? When they achieve greatness in a single project or class, or when the teacher learns more than the students? How does winning, academically or intellectually, get measured? By grades? By student evaluations?

Learning is a war fought by both students and teachers–time is the enemy. It marches on no matter what else happens. Fighting is the acquisition of knowledge and its dissemination to others–in the classroom and beyond the classroom. Winning the war is being able to say what value the learning experience provided to any and all participants, though the explanation will be different for every single student and the teacher. The articulation of the value of what was learned is the thing, isn’t it? The teacher is responsible for leading the operation, but see number 3 above for who handles the tactical business and gains the objective.

And my last Pattonism for the spring.

6. Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.

I eschew the static and embrace the dynamic–in all things, especially in teaching. I can’t ever step into the same river twice, neither can I teach the same class twice. Perhaps it’s a failing, or maybe it’s my greatest advantage, my best weapon, the way I am–no fixed fortifications, always on the move, bobbing and weaving, wearing down the enemy guerrilla style.

So, am I loving or loathing Gen. Patton? My position couldn’t matter less. I can stay on the fence because I’m learning from him–that’s a bit more appropriate for me, and moderate, too. Wasn’t it Aristotle who said, “moderation in all things”?

Maybe the Spring 2012 should be themed by six Pattonisms and one Aristotelianism.

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