I apologize for Above the Neck’s recent lack of fresh content. The only excuse that I can offer is that the author is just too darn busy with life to write about it. As I am sure some of you know, I am in the midst of an NCCC project in Memphis, TN. The past few weeks have been ones of intense exposure. I have been adapting to life in a transitory environment, experiencing a unique American city, and functioning in a demographic environment that is unlike any I have previously encountered.
Surrounded by the new and the yet to be seen I, as of now, can offer no commentary. Any such reflections would be premature. I appreciate your forbearance as I continue to lead my nomadic existence and interest in what I have to say, even if it is for the near future, sporadic.
P.S. I might stop reading non-fiction for a while. I picked up some great southern literature: The Sound and the Fury, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Oxford Book of the American South, to name a few. De Tocqueville may have to wait.
A friend of mine recently recommended that I read The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. As implied by its title, the book’s emphasis on acquiring power stirred within me an immediate aversion to do so. This sentiment was further embolden as I flipped through the pages and skimmed the narcissistic synopsis found on its back cover. After much rumination, I have gathered my thoughts on the subject and why I think, Mr. Greene, that the advice you prescribe in your unfortunately bestselling book is fundamentally misguided.
The pursuit of power is a hollow and lonely journey. Those who seek power ought not possess it. Wise men venerate leadership. Cultivating knowledge, compassion, and reason should be the aim of anyone who wishes, or more importantly–deserves, to shape the world.
Perched atop a tree-lined bluff, journal in hand, I write to you. A swatch of thick–and for the moment–dormant foliage presents itself before me. If I peer through the vines of kudzu, I can just make out the blue ribbon that is the mighty Mississippi River in the distance. The pillars of Green Hall stand dignified behind me while to my left and right lie the now muted earthen indentations that once cradled Confederate armaments during the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863.
Having led a transitory lifestyle for the past year: a summer in New England, a fall residency in our Nation’s Capital, and the holiday season back in the Midwest, it is pleasing to be–once again–in a new and different corner of the country. Though I have been living in the state of Mississippi for nearly a month now, it was not until this past weekend that I began to call it home.
Much has changed since I landed in Jackson on a rainy February afternoon. My surroundings are no longer foreign, I understand references to local street names, and strangers have become friends. This past Sunday I was assigned to my permanent NCCC team. A fantastic, diverse, and interesting constellation of people, that I look forward to working and living with over the next nine months.
On Wednesday the Corps and I traveled north to Oxford, MS. A town which proved to be one of the most authentic and enjoyable places I have yet to visit. One might say that the South has swept me off my feet. Home of the Rebels and the South’s native son, William Faulkner, it possesses a quaint downtown square (pictured above) brimming with region culture and Southern nostalgia.
My enthusiasm for the area aside, team building and service was the trip’s true objective. We developed esprit de corps by completing beautification projects around the summer camp at which we stayed and via activities on the Ole Miss ropes course. Reader, you would be proud of me. I was one of four individuals who were able to climb a 20 ft telephone poll, leap off, grab a trapeze bar, and complete three pull ups on said trapeze bar, all the while swinging at a dizzying hight.
Notwithstanding, gone are my sweaters and hours of leisure time. They have been replaced with a Carhart and tree removal. I have become quiet familiar with the chain saw and wood splitter. Tomorrow I ship out to Hattiesburg, MS for a day of clean up operations in response to the devastating tornadoes that hit the community this past year.
And I am still not finished. I will soon confront more change and move again. My team has been assigned to an eight week urban renewal project in Memphis, TN. The infamous Beale Street, Civil Rights Museum, and South Main Street Historic District come highly recommended. Our departure date is March, 12.
This has been the week that was. I am–at least until next December–a Yankee in Grey.
The photo (left) is of the Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It is located across the street from the U.S. Capitol. The Library was constructed as a palace of knowledge. The Founding Fathers hoped that the wisdom contained within its collection would guide the decisions of Congress.
When asked on a late night talk show what his response was to people who do not believe in global warming or evolution, astrophysicists and science communicator, Neil deGrasse Tyson, replied, “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Tyson’s wisdom transcends his field. It ought to be applied to other academic disciplines, philosophies, and for the purposes of this editorial, politics. To make the connection, bear with me as I alter a couple of Tyson’s words, “the good thing about ‘Truth’ (the capital T is intended) is that it is ‘accurate’ whether or not you believe in it.”
As a left leaning, okay tumbling, political wonk, I occasionally find myself in conversations with folks from across the aisle. As these conversations, debates, arguments, or whatever term is most appropriate to call them, conclude, the usual verdict is some cliché compromise such as: “perception is reality,” “let us agree to disagree,” or “there is merit to what each of us have to say.” These face-saving truces are not always valid and are too often used in this age of political correctness. The Truth is that on issues with definite solutions, humoring erroneous fallacies demeans civic discourse, impedes progress, and weakens the nation’s ability to respond to the real geopolitical uncertainties.
Whether you are a liberal, conservative, fascist, pacifist, or an anesthesiologist, it is time for some straight political talk. Yes, capital T-Truths! 1) Global warming exist and is being expedited by human behavior. If mitigating action is not taken climate catastrophes which threaten our very way of life could ensue. 2) in order to prevent Wall Street from becoming an avenue of socio-economic disparage, greed, and plutocratic enrichment, government oversight is vital.Without it the free market ceases to be free and the avarice that led to the finial crisis of 2008 is permitted to continue. 3) It is time we recognize the significance of the words articulated in 1818 on the State Seal of Illinois, “State Sovereignty, National Union.” One or the other will not do, in order to preserve our “imperfect union” we must honor both.
So reader, there you have it, now you know. We can close the door on these debates and turn our attention to the truly ambiguous–and rightfully contentious–issues worthy of a 21st century world superpower’s attention.
One week into my NCCC experience I have already been confronted by a myriad of emotions, surprises, and strangers. Questions such as why am I here? what am I doing? and who are these people? have–and continue to–tug on my mind. With the exponential change and flexibility demanded by this program, I imagine that these introspective inquiries will persist until graduation ten months from now.
It is hard to think of another program that assigns young folks, 18 to 24 years old, from every corner of the country, of different ethnicities, with all types of background stories: college graduates, high school drop-outs, foster children, rich kids, people doing gap years, and returning Crops members, to live in a group setting while tackling service projects located anywhere in the United States.
Can I get a culture shock? I think so! Today I find myself in a state that I have never been to, in an environment that is unlike the one I was raised in, studied in, worked in, or lived in, midst a diverse group of people, that collectively, is unlike any that I have been apart of. Ah, but you see reader? those last three words are the key in that long-winded introduction. “Apart of,” yes, I am apart of the NCCC Class 19 and the journey, yet to be defined, has begun.
With one week of training under our standard issue government belts and three to go, my fellow Corps members and I have been the recipients of countless presentations. One phrase from the previous week stands out. Unfortunately, I do not remember the session’s topic but for the sake of story telling let us pretend it was something like, “The History and Mission of NCCC” or “Guidelines for Intra-Corps Relationships.” The line read: “AmeriCorps NCCC: Where Theory Meets Application.” This mantra encapsulates the crux of my motivation for joining the organization. As a student I have been exposed to theory. Now, as a volunteer, its time to apply that knowledge. Perhaps, apply is even too weak of a word, thrive and embody, may be more suited to carry with me “this year and beyond.”
Each day that goes by it all gets better. I make more friends, I hear more positive accounts from previous members, my exposure to the culture of the Corps and Vicksburg, MS area increases, and my desire to be here mounts. Though I do miss my warm bed at home, friends in Washington, conversations with the Monmouth gang, and the beauty of the Berkshire Mountains, at this moment there is no where that I would rather be. As I look to the next ten months, I recall–and am inspired–by the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ”the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.”
P.S. for readers who do not know, NCCC is pronounced, “N-Triple C,” not, “N-C-C-C.”
Photo (left) is of Carly, my sister, and I on New Year’s Eve.
If you are my dad or the family cat Susan, this update will be a tough one to bear. Come Monday morning I will end my two month layover in Cedar Rapids by embarking on my AmeriCorps NCCC adventure. I will be leaving on the 5:45am Delta Airlines flight from the Eastern Iowa Airport to Atlanta, followed by a quick jump to Jackson, and finished with a by a bus ride to Vicksburg.
Having spent little more than a collective week at home since the start of 2012, it was so good to be back, reconnect with old friends, experience new places, catch a couple of good shows, and read a book or two. Seeing La Boheme in the recently renovated Paramount Theater, RumChata!, and family Christmas, the largest gathering of Klimesh kin assembled in years, stand out in my mind.
With my ten month term in the NCCC upon me, I will not be seeing my room at 1004 Iris Ave and most everything in it, I am traveling light with one duffle bag and a backpack, until next December. If I may tip my cap, I hope that this elongated absence is a sign of things to come. As a junior in high school I participated in Youth Leadership for Five Seasons and have never forgotten a piece of advice relayed to the group and I by the then director of Brucemore, Jim Kern. My memory has faded in the subsequent years so Jim, if you are reading, forgive my paraphrasing. “Leave Cedar Rapids, see and change the world,” he said. “But when you are done, bring what you learned and all of your experiences back to this community, its one of the best around.” With a semester of college, a summer, a senior year, graduate school, and a life beyond all of this ahead of me, I plan to do exactly that.
Oh wait, I am breaking my rule of not planning anything farther than four months in advance–OPPS! Any who, I have got a plane to catch. In the spirit of the South, I will talk to y’all later.
Thanks for reading,
New Mailing Address:
This morning I had an epiphany! A couple of months shy of Above the Neck’s one year anniversary I am pleased with its development. Nearly 30 posts, over 1,000 hits, a fresh format coupled with other refinements made to the site as well as my writing, give me much to be proud of. Today I would like to break from Above the Neck’s tradition of supplying the topics and invite you, the reader, to pose questions.
Now though this may sound like an exciting shift it is really only a slight change. I plan to continue to post articles of my choosing and write about my experiences; however, with a 12 month absence from academia upon me I believe that responding to your prompts will do me good. So from here on out feel free to pose a question via the comments section of any post, if I feel up to the challenge you can expect a response (ideally within one month’s time) addressing the issue. I, and hopefully you as well, look forward to it!
John Muir once said, “wilderness is a necessity. I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get into the mountains to learn the news.” In an effort to begin–and maintain–the opportunity for me to do just that I have joined the Sierra Club.
Some of you long-standing readers or close friends already know that I am a tour guide at Brucemore, a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and as exemplified by my multiple letters to the editor published in The Gazette (Cedar Rapids), a strong proponent of community revitalization via restoration.
Climate change being one of my chief concerns, the same passion applies to my stance on environmental issues. With the 21st century world’s mounting dependence on global production systems, fossil fuels, and a burgeoning consumer class, I lament the fact that most people do not appear to feel the same. For these reasons, and for a couple indescribable others, I hope to transform my lifestyle into one that treads lightly on the environment, functions in harmony–not dissonance–with nature, and is fueled by sustainable practices. I have no delusions, I recognize that Mother Nature would be better off if I (and a few billion of my homosapien friends) did not exist; however, with my fuel efficient car, coming environmental stewardship work in the AmeriCorps, and new membership to the Sierra Club, I am trying to balance that relationship.
(Clicking on the Sierra Club logo above will link you to the organization’s website)
The photo (left) is a tapestry depicting a mass burial during the time of the Bubonic plague.
While reading Ina Caro’s book, Paris to the Past, I made an exciting discovery. Akin to Columbus’s virgin glimpse of the New World, Beethoven’s composing of the Ninth Symphony, or Lord Carnarvon’s exclamation that he saw “yes, wonderful things” as he peered into King Tutankhamen’s Tomb, I, in my own little way, in my small contemplative niche unearthed an answer to the age old question: does life imitate art or is it art that imitates life?
Posed to me in an English class during my freshman year of college, this question puzzled my peers and I. Our failure to produce a definitive answer is, in hindsight, emblematic of the 21st century lens in which we were looking through and depending on. In an age where younger and younger girls sport increasingly provocative dress, men pride themselves based on the number of “notches in their belts,” and collegiate extra-curricular activities have little to do with school, the hyper-sexual popular culture of today seems to be an adequate reflection Conversely, perhaps such societal behavior is the consequence of the example being set by tasteless movies, the glamorization of criminal behavior in rap songs, and the scandalous lives of celebrities? This is cyclical quagmire that a modern inquirer is confronted with if they rely solely on contemporary inputs to answer the question of life’s relationship with art.
Fortunately, (for us) this question was answered by the war torn, plaque ridden, and starving French of the 14th century. In Paris to the Past, an easy to read page by page journey through French history, the work discussed the the effects of the 100 Years War, Bubonic plague, and food scarcity on French society in the 1300′s. A midst her description de jour, Caro mentioned that the tapestries (one of the most popular and accessible artistic mediums of the 14th century) depicted grim scenes of death, sickness, and hunger. These pieces are far more disheartening to the viewer than the pleasant images captured on the tapestries of the previous century, the 13th, a time of relative peace and prosperity.
Though it is difficult to conclude whether the sexuality of “art” today is impacting modern life, or the other way around, I hardly doubt that the French who suffered throughout the 14th century did so because tapestries made it look appealing.