Monday, October 13, 2003
It's been two months, and I still can't bring myself to write this damn thing. I'm moved in, though! That is certainly a surprise. I've been slowly exploring the area. Not knowing anyone is tough. I hate not having a support network like a family or friends. M has been aloof. C has been wonderful, letting me come over to watch TV with her. The housemates are so-so.
Friday, July 25, 2003
Whaddya know? I'm writing in my blog on yet another Friday! These classes keep me busy and cost/benefit analysis has led me to skip out on doing things on the weekends. 'Tis not all bad. I get some time to explore the world of thought and idea online. I just listened to Bernard Lewis in a Booknotes special from a few months after Sept. 11. He is a very smart, very old man who knows a lot about the Middle East that I wish I knew. He described the Wahhabi sect of Islam in this way: imagine that the KKK suddenly got an infusion of money -- say, from a very large supply of oil -- and used that money to start building schools teaching their version of Christianity around the world. What strikes me about him is that he is an expert in the field but he has an interest in clarity and honing things down to their essential parts, which makes him a joy to follow. If only Tom Friedman were more scholarly we might have a twice-weekly analysis of the world comparable to the occasional analysis of Bernard Lewis. That would be worth serious money to me. Not that Tom Friedman is a hack, but his analysis could benefit from a much richer theoretical/historical perspective, which Mr. Lewis brings.
On a similar note, today the NY Times took on David Brooks as a regular columnist to start in September. This could be a good thing. I'm used to reading him in the Weekly Standard and watching him on the Newshour, where his commentary is astute, witty, and usually funny. I am not entirely sure of his politics, though, so I don't know how his "neoconservative" voice will sound on a larger stage like the Times. In any event, it will certainly be interesting to read and the Times could use more conservatism than the old standby Safire.
Friday, July 18, 2003
Words are very unnecessaryGlancing back through my blog -- I don't think I like that word, but it is what it is and that is the word used to denote it -- I notice that last Friday included a bit of rain, much as it is raining tonight. I talked to Jen Lopez about rescheduling our picnic that I cancelled from 2 weekends ago for tomorrow. Last night she said "maybe" because she is "tired." I don't know what to think. In any event, it is raining, so maybe we won't be able to do it even if she wants to. This seems to be a pattern with me. I am a "one-date" kind-of guy in the broad, non-dating sense; I have a hard time sustaining relationships. I show up late or get depressed or act dorky, or whatever on the first outing, and then I either don't feel up to a second outing or convince myself that they are trying to tell me they aren't interested and back off. I'm not a perceptive guy, so I'm more likely to walk away from something than risk the embarassment of misreading a person, which I think I tend to do.
I also have my share of times when I act like a dork, know it, but keep doing it despite my better judgement. This was the case today in my second class -- I kept laughing at things that no one else thought was funny. And when I say laughing, I mean laughing in that horrendous guffaw my mother has at dinner parties that never stops. After class I ran into a girl from the class in line at Subway. She told me about being a Poli Sci major, which didn't seem to enthrall her that much. The other day she told me she made a B on her midterm and asked me how I did. I could only muster a "I did okay," which sounded pretentious only after I said it. It is hard to know how the other kids in class perceive me -- there's that perception thing, again -- but I seem to get the impression that I am either not liked or I am looked to as someone who might know the answer, though I am perpetually late, unshaven, and tired when I arrive to class. I made a 99 on my IR midterm and the teacher referred to my answer, without saying my name, as being particularly good for one question. I was proud of myself, though I've been a goofball recently and not done the reading. Steve's interesting, but he's a graduate student, so it's hard to talk to him. He can be a pedant and kind-of dorky sometimes, which reminds me of myself, so we have that in common.
It shocks me that I only have a week of class left before finals. I want so badly for these classes not to end. It's the only thing that's been keeping my head above water. I have been thinking about what I will do after this, which I am loath to do. I do not get responses to my emails to Tony Brown and the girl in Sen. Dole's office, but I cannot bring myself to be more proactive. Going back to Anderson is like returning to hell, like Martin Sheen's character in Apocalypse, Now when he learns after completing one mission in Vietnam that he is being sent back for another. I emailed grandmama that I will not be seeing them at Montreat, which was good for me. She responded politely, but she's so goddamn co-dependent -- she can't stand to not know what I am doing, where I am, etc. FUCK, I'M LOSING MY MIND!!! I have to move to DC, or I think that I will do something awful. Not really, but you know what I mean.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Winning the Real War
Amen to Tom Friedman's near-infinite pragmatism!
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Four walls and roof, built by MarxThe Gang of Four (the band, not the Communist Chinese cabal) are hardly the leaders of any great political movement, but their music is tagged as "neo-Marxist," which puts them among the few bands since 1977 who openly declare their political views and make them an integral part of their music. The lyrics, naturally, focus on consumption, capitalism, and oppression, but there's a thread of Christian moral philosophy running throughout, which I find odd. The capitalist may exploit the proletariat, but does Marx have anything to say about God that isn't related to "false consciousness"? Nevertheless, the wrinkle in their "Marxist" philosophy is just a small part of the contention I have with Marx -- or, perhaps, with Marxism in general. It's influence is enormous. Nowhere is that more obvious than in academia, where the philosophy of a long-dead German clutters the ranks with tenured professors who can't converse without using ever more abstruse terminology and reducing everything to moral relativism. I don't know if there's a correlation between the two philosophies (Marx and relatavism), but they are two distasteful qualities I expect to encounter if I go to graduate school. I dislike scholarship for its own sake and faux scholarship is doubly irrelevant.
Regardless, the band has a raucous, jarring sound I like. I even sing along when I listen, despite the Marxist mumbo-jumbo.
Sunday, July 13, 2003
The elusive sparkIn rejecting the generic path of previous and current college graduates I have, in effect, borrowed from my reserves of psychic tranquility well beyond my ability to repay. The curious limbo that I currently amble through has the subtle yet unmistakable temper of a personal crisis, a crisis of mental well-being that threatens to bring down the whole of me in body and in mind. My eyes droop with the sting of recent tears shed and sleep deprivation -- my trivial toils. Collapse is not inevitable but the search for a simple, reliable catalyst for personal change is wanting and soon may be replaced by dogged pessimism about the future and disdain for those who might extend a helping hand. The reasons for my current state are so deep-seated and intangible that I cannot hope to purge them in a single stroke, so finding an ongoing relationship with a therapist should be a top priority. It is not.
Friday, July 11, 2003
A conflicted and conflictual FridayThe sun and the rain can't seem to agree on who's day it is to play lead, so they're improvising a little free jazz duet.
I just finished my midterm for the American political thought class. I have had nothing but early American writers on my mind for the past few days and I am pooped. I skipped the reading for IR and, probably, bombed the quiz on neo-liberal institutionalism today just so I could spend more time with Bradford, Winthrop, Bradstreet, Mather, Sewall, Wigglesworth, Franklin, and Paine. I don't know how much it helped me, though, since I have so little clue about essays. All that pressure and information, and not having much sense of literary construction, leaves me feeling like a balloon perfectly squeezed from all sides. I just hope the stuff I churned out is in the same state, let alone the same ballpark, as what he is expecting. I didn't get through the first half of the subquestions -- the topic was the American concept of authority -- and barely touched on the fourth of the four writers I chose (Bradford, Winthrop, Franklin, and Paine), so my essay was but a small window on a much larger tableaux.
One consolation, if there is one, is that I wrote the way I like to write -- clearly, correctly, and forcefully -- with much less effort than in the past. I used to be so hung up on organization and perfection that I would just spin my mental wheels, unable to cope with my fear of time constraints. This time I didn't even think there were time constraints, which made me relax. I even worked on an outline first! My ignorance cost me dearly, though, when the professor told those of us still writing after an hour and a half that we only had one minute left! I am used to the feeling of having to stop mid-essay, but this time I didn't think I had reason to worry. In the future I should read "it should not take the full time" to mean "it will take you the whole time and I will stop you when it does." I can only hope that the paragraphs I was able to bring up were adequately thoughtful and made use of enough examples from the text to warrant a decent grade. At least with engineering and physics tests, I usually have a good idea by the time I finish what my grade is; with me and humanities tests, I just have no clue.
It's not fair, but part of my decision on whether to pursue political science further can be found where that little blue book of scrawlings and my professor's red pen meet. No longer an undergraduate, I do not have the luxury of electives and semesters in which to explore them. My major -- make that majors -- are set in stone, and I have graduated. Finis.
But I don't want to feel that I've wasted four years of my life and $140,000 on an education that I will never use. Having a degree from Duke means something, but I do not feel prepared for anything. Engineering is the absolute dreariest, most mind-numbingly tedious occupation I can imagine other than being an actuary. Currently, I am settled on that point, but uncertain about everything else. Why did it take me four years, spent mostly in engineering classes, to figure this out? Beats me. Only thing I can figure is that my preferences and personality changed dramatically in those four years and I only slowly awoke to the reality that I don't want to do anything remotely technical in my life. I enjoy solving problems and being creative, but, otherwise, engineering is the essence of "cogdom" -- a word I define as "lifelong devotion to a skillset that could easily be taught to a monkey and for a purpose that is wholly divorced from any measurable benefit to humanity." A great many things fit my definition of cogdom (business, academia, government, etc.), which either means that I am very picky and haven't found what turns me on yet, or that I am just depressed.