Liam, who is getting married(!!!), has tagged me with a new meme. I'm to come up with 5 things you don't know about me. Given how much I've told about myself already at this blog, that might be an impossible task. If you've been here very long you probably know more about me than I know about myself. But here goes. These are the Five Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I flunked out of school... TWICE!
I was a marginal high school student. I was identified as "gifted" in elementary school, and was part of a special program, but by middle school I was bored to death with school. By the end of high school I was as likely to skip as to show up for class. I graduated high school with a 2.7 GPA, and that was inflated by honors classes, which were weighted.
I started college with no plan or direction, and quickly learned that it was easier not to go to class. I spent my first year of college playing pick up games of basketball and chess, and talking philosophy and religion with anyone who would listen. I failed all but one of my classes.
I took (mandatory) semester off, on academic suspension, before enrolling in a community college, where once again I flunked out. That was when I learned that I have...
2. An anxiety disorder.
When my stress levels get high, I am nearly paralyzed with anxiety. I have panic episodes that feel like heart attacks, and I can't perform even the most basic social functions. I've been in counselling off and on, but it has never helped. I have gradually learned how to control my symptoms through meditation and redirecting my thoughts. Also, living in the emotionally stable environment my wife provides helps. It is no coincidence that, before I met her I flunked out of two colleges, and after we married I was an honor student who had all A's until his final semester, when Adam was born. For some reason having a brand new baby in the house distracted me a little, leading to *gasp* a B! [shudders in horror]
3. I've always dreamed of being an actor.
I took acting classes in high school and college, and have done some acting for churches. I'm pretty good, but not good enough. I can read well, and I can capture the depth of the lines with my voice, but my body doesn't move like it should. I'm a little too stiff and a little too awkward. My college drama teacher thought that I should try to make it as an actor, and even offered me a chance to compete for a drama scholarship, but at the time I was focused on ministry. Now I realize that, even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that I could make a living as an actor, it would be a hard living. It is easy to dream of a life in theater, but I can't think of anything romantic about starving.
What acting skills I have came in handy when I was a preacher. Now they help when I give lectures for our Wednesday Evening Forums at church, and I'm sure they'll also help when I finally finish with school and get to pretend to teach.
4. While I was a student at Indiana University Southeast, I became the first philosophy major to win the school-wide IUS Writing Competition, previously dominated by those dreaded English majors.
I won first prize in the Short Non-Fiction/ Creative Non Fiction category for a paper I wrote in my Ancient Chinese Philosophy course, titled The Tao of Relationships, an exploration of how Taoist principles can inform our interpersonal relationship skills. Despite my odious habit of posting old papers here, I don't think it has ever shone its face on my blog. Perhaps I'll have to post it the next time I can't think of anything to write, but really feel the need to write something.
5. The paper that I am most proud of was the product of an independent study in Modern Black Literature.
I've long loved jazz music, and so I used one of my electives in college to take a course in African American Music History. I loved that so much that I decided to meet my degree's literature requirement with a summer course on Modern Black Writers. The first day of class I found myself surrounded by black women, so I started up a conversation with them. It eventually turned to Negro spirituals, and their influence on American music. One of the women said, noticing my wedding ring, "I assume you married a Sister," to which I replied something like, "Well, not your sister, anyway." She then said, "You mean your wife's not black!?! Then why do you know so much about our people?"
I don't know that I do know very much about black people or the black experience, but the notion that because I am white I shouldn't care about any other race bothered me. I know that we often give that appearance. We often see races and cultures in competition with each other. This is one of the reasons, I suspect, why so many of us fear immigration so much. If those people come here and do well, what will happen to us? But I firmly believe that we are all radically interconnected and interdependent, and so I can't separate my fate from the fate of another. This also applies to races and cultures.
Anyway, I loved the class, and wrote some good papers on it. One of them concerned John Edgar Wideman's use of language in his book Hoop Roots. When my teacher returned the paper to me, there was a note on it, asking if I would be interested in expanding the paper, and trying to get it published.
I stayed after class to talk with her about the note, and she said, "I don't do independent studies. Students have asked, and I always say 'no.' But I'd like to do an independent study with you. I'd love to help you explore the thesis of this paper, and see if you can get it published. This is an interesting idea, and nobody is writing on it."
Obviously I did the independent study. You don't turn down an offer like that. The end result was pretty good, but not quite publishable. My lack of experience in literary criticism shows a little, I think. I never tried to get it published. I was pretty sure tat I bluffed my way through, and didn't want to be exposed for the fraud I thought I was.
I finally re-read the paper last week, following a conversation with at church. I'm about to co-lead a series of discussions titled Marching Toward Equality: Issues in Race, Culture, Education, and Economics, and some of the issues raised in a planning session reminded me of questions I asked in my paper. The paper was better than I remembered it being. For a white guy whose never really studied literary criticism, it was damn good. Now I think that I probably could have gotten it published.
It's always good to stretch yourself, to go beyond your field, beyond your experience, beyond even your expectations. That's how you grow. I've done better work, I'm sure, in philosophy and theology, but I never would have guess that I could write such an interesting paper on a black author's use of language.
If it weren't 19 pages, I think I'd post it here.
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