The REAL List Parents of College Freshmen Need

Today is “move-in day” for freshmen on our campus. Naturally, there are moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters everywhere. In the past, I always liked to ride my Harley on move-in day. When the crowds were at their peak, I liked to cruise around campus—pipes bellowing, pony-tail flowing, tats showing—and pull up at the sidewalk where the upperclassmen were helping the freshmen and their parents tote far too much stuff up the stairs. The parents eyed me suspiciously, especially those with daughters. We’re not that large a University; at least a couple of the upperclassmen would know me and let the worried parents know that, not only was I an employee, I was a teacher. I try to always be mindful of the gifts life gives each day. The look on those parents’ faces kinda makes me feel like Christmas morning.

But this year, well, it’s the hottest day we’ve had all summer and the humidity is somewhere around 118% (what? I was an English major), and they’ve closed the road that goes nearest the girls dorm, so I decided not to ride the scooter. In the spirit of tradition, I decided the least I could do was trek around campus, see how things were going.

There are parents and grandparents and siblings everywhere. Ev-ry-where… But, this time, today, I noticed a different look on their faces. I knew this one, too. It struck me that I’d been on all sides of their equation (I have no idea why all these “math-ish” terms keep appearing). I’d been a student, I’d moved my son into his college dorm, and now I’m a teacher—someone somehow, in some ways, “responsible” for these kids for the next four years. Yeah, I know, that’s an unsettling thought, especially for me, but hey, life’s a journey and this is the wrong turn dimly lit alley we’ve taken, so let’s just go with it for now. It’s scary turning your bay-bay over to any one, least of all the likes of me and all the other “unknowns” awaiting them on campus (remember Animal House?)
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I know, I know. Last night I was talking to my son and one of his good friends, a friend he grew up with, one I knew well, now grown and married. We were going to a concert (yes, I am an Old Hippie, but I was not the oldest hippie at the show), having a few beers before the show, catching up on life. I asked about his kids. First words out of his mouth—“I never knew I could love somebody as much as I love them.” I know, I know. Now imagine dropping them off at college, at the doorstep of unknown, and driving away. It’s tough.

A few years ago, I posted a piece here called The REAL Top Ten List Every College Freshman Needs. While that list still holds true (and is worth a read, hint, hint), it dawned on me as I saw the looks on the faces of both parents and kids that maybe the parents of college freshmen need a list, too. And like I mention in the “for freshmen” essay, there are plenty of them out there. The parent of a college freshman really only needs to know one thing, though, not ten.

It’ll be okay.

Sure, your kid is going to change. But so are you. They’re still gonna mess up in big ways. Some of them won’t finish. Some of them are gonna get their heart broken. It might take some six or seven years, or longer, to graduate. Some of them are gonna drink too much, party too hard. Some of them are gonna change majors three or four times. But they’re gonna see things, do things, experience things that make them grow, that make them see the world in a different way. Maybe not your way, maybe so. They’ll come back a different person, but they’ll be a person, a real, live, (semi) independent (hopefully) person. And that’s a good thing.

Not to get all Lion King, Circle of Life on you, but here’s the thing. That concert I mentioned last night? My son got us the tickets. Got us upgraded to box seats. He bought the beers. Owns his own home. Hasn’t asked for money in a long time. Met some folks he works with and they all bragged about him (did I mention the bands were fantastic?). It was a great night all the way around. Did I also mention I dropped him off at college one day? That he made plenty of bad decisions over the next five and a half years before he graduated (finally). That I missed him terribly while he was away?

See. It’ll be okay, parents. They’ll be okay.

Until next time, Peace!

The World Cup Has Started…

According to every news source imaginable—it’s all over the Innerwebs, from social media to porn sites, every TV news outlet (I heard Fox News is blaming Obama for Spain’s defeat), even front page above the fold of the local newspaper—this thing called the World Cup has started. Apparently, that’s a big deal. Apparently, it’s a big soccer tournament.

Being of a certain age and growing up as a true American, I know very little about the sport. But, I am the inquisitive type, so, when it came time for my cardio session at the gym this afternoon, I decided to dial up the game, or match, or walkabout, whatever they call it, on the treadmill’s TV monitor. I figured, it’s sports, I’ve got 30 minutes, how hard could it be to figure out what was causing all the fuss?

I set the timer, set the duration, settled into a steady jog, and began my study. The green team was playing the white team. I don’t know where they were from, I had the sound turned off and was listening to Neil Young’s “Harvest” on my iPod, but the two teams seemed to be evenly matched. Really evenly matched. Amazingly evenly matched. That helped me to figure things out pretty quickly.

About five minutes into my workout and at what looked like 24:16 minutes into the soccer contest-slash-event, my hill section started and neither of the soccer teams-clubs-groups had scored yet. By the seven minute mark, my breathing fell into a routine. Still no score. Things got a little fuzzy for me around the 8 minute mark and I think I either dozed off or entered some dream-like state of Zen nothingness.

At the twelve-minute mark, the nice lady wearing far too much perfume on the treadmill next to me nudged me awake with a gentle tap on my shoulder. It must have been the raised consciousness of the Zen thing that allowed me to absorb the intricacies of the sport without realizing it, because when she touched me, I knew exactly what to do.

I flopped off the back of the treadmill and writhed on the floor with all the dramatics I could muster. My exposure to the sport was brief, so I drew on what I’d learned from all those hours watching wrestling as a kid. Everybody gathered round. I grabbed my right ankle, then my left knee. I reached for my elbow, my hip… I would have reached for my pride but after watching for only a few minutes, I knew pride was not a requirement. They brought over the stretcher, loaded me up (I screamed in agony every time they touched a different appendage, just to make sure), and carted me out of the way. Most of the folks went back to their workouts while the staff checked me for injuries. After an appropriate amount of time passed, I told them I would fight through the pain, that I had to get back to my workout. I jumped up and sprinted to my treadmill as the patrons cheered wildly. I started the machine, went directly to the hill section, and even increased my pace. Fifteen minutes later, when I saw the words “You Have Successfully Completed Your Workout” appear on the monitor, I dashed off the machine, both arms high above my head, and ran in circles around the entire gym, screaming “GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL” into everyone’s face.

Now you’re probably thinking, naw, he didn’t really do that, but then you’re also thinking, well, I don’t know, Winchester’s a little unbalanced and he did have two sections of Freshmen last semester…

Relax, I made it all up. I had to, thirty minutes on the treadmill is a long time, and it was a hill workout. I did give the sport a chance, I really did, but it was sooooooo boring. I’d rather watch golf. At least with golf, somebody scores every few minutes, or hits it in the water, or beans a spectator, or you see an alligator, something happens. I checked the scores in the paper the next day. The final of the soccer gathering I watched? Zero to zero. Zero. To. Zero. I… it’s just… if… like those two teams, I got nothing.

I know, I know. Futbol is the world’s most popular sport, and it’s growing in popularity every year, even right here in America. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, soccer fans. You can have it, world. Me? I’m good. I tried it. Been there, done that, don’t need the t-shirt. And as for my next hill workout on the treadmill? I heard NASCAR has its own TV channel, maybe I can ferret out the appeal of turning left all afternoon.

Until next time…
Peace.

Look What I Found

Yeah, okay, I must apologize for the lengthy silence. It’s been a rough semester ’round these parts. I promise, new blog posts will start rolling out soon!

In the meantime, the fine folks at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature were kind enough to publish an essay of mine in their spring issue. You might like it, it’s in the same vein (pun intended) as most of the stuff I post here. Check it out, it’s called “An Eye Patch and a Grainy, Orange Keyboard.”

And again, I will start posting a bit more regularly in early March.

Until next time,

Peace!

The Typical, Welcomed House Guest Aura

Yes, I know, it’s been a couple of weeks. Forgive me, I sorta went off the grid over the holidays and have been a bit reluctant at rejoining society. You know how society is, there are large swaths of it that can be less than appealing; segments that make you cringe and look away; individuals so cold-hearted, selfish, and deluded they render BSC reasonable. Given that state of society, why rush, right?

Speaking of society, guess what I got for Christmas (for my writing students: that’s called a weak segue). I got an eighteen year old, five foot two, ninety-five pound bundle of estrogen and various other hormones, emotions, and hot-water-draining energy. My wife and I have a son, a thirty year old son. So, it’s been a while since we’ve done the whole teenager-in-the-house thing. Equal emphasis on the son part. Trust me, I was, and still am, ill-equipped to be the responsible party when it comes to kids of any age, let alone teenagers. And when the new houseguest is a female teenager? Let’s just say it’s been a learning experience so far.

Now, at this point you may be wondering exactly how it is we ended up with an eighteen year old female living with us. On one hand, it’s the proverbial long story. On the other hand, if I told you the details, you’d never believe them. On yet another hand (look, if you did know all the details, three hands would not only seem plausible, but normal), refer to my previous comment about the unappealing aspects of society and you’ll have a good enough idea of the why and how.

Whatever the reason (my suspicion is that karma is somehow involved), our new addition arrived a few weeks before Christmas. At first, the typical welcomed house guest aura settled over us. You know how it works: the towels are here, glasses here, computer’s in here, I’m up around 5:30, Terri rises at the elegant hour of eight, sometimes nine, occasionally ten, do you eat breakfast, let us know if you need anything else. Good night. Wait. I remembered eighteen. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and didn’t say anything more, but made a precautionary count of my beers and eye-balled the liquor levels.

After a couple of weeks, the welcomed house guest aura morphed into something akin to an extended distant-relative stay. Technically, this aesthetic rang true, as our new bundle of teenage joy and my wife are related. This phase didn’t last long. It ended abruptly on a late Saturday afternoon. Our new house guest had plans, as did Terri and I. Everybody needed a shower.

Normally, I don’t give much thought to taking a shower. For the past ten years or so, I knew that when Terri showered first, there’d be plenty of re-heated hot water by the time she finished her post shower extra-curriculars (exfoliating, extrapolating, applying creams, gels, and ointments, reading War and Peace, whatever women normally do in the process of “getting ready”). Even though I majored in English, I can do basic math. And I do teach logic in my comp courses. You’d think I’d have said, “Hey, there are two women in the house. One of those is a teenager with a date. Logic dictates multiplying the hot water usage by two and doubling the re-heating time.” One also would think this simple matter would’ve crossed my mind before the water temperature sent me to the verge of hypothermia, but no. I’m convinced the only thing that saved me from frostbite was the fact that all appendages and extremities somehow, miraculously retracted inside my body before the glacial liquid took its toll.

At this point, to reference the Bard, the gild was off the lily.

I’m not that bright, but I catch on quickly. It takes some planning as far as the rest of your day, but a hot shower around 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon is worth the sacrifices. That’s not all I’ve learned. In a little over a month, month and a half, we’ve been through boyfriend drama, boyfriend breakup, boyfriend reuniting, then breakup number two. They didn’t tell me about the second one for a couple of days. I liked the guy. Yes, I was hurt a little. Oh, and the new “they.” I’d forgotten that with Taylor, me and him were the “they.” Now, I’m outnumbered by the additional X chromosomes in the house. They’re plotting, I can feel it.

There’s a lot of gleeful squealing during phone conversations, a lot more talking in general. Terri and I had settled into old-couple-in-a-restaurant mode, able to have full and enriching conversations consisting of grunts, nods, facial contortions and nothing more. Now, it’s like, using words and all, like, to talk and stuff, like, you know? On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve discovered there’s a certain exhilaration, a sense of adventure even, when it comes to navigating rapidly changing moods.

I’m settling in, though, acclimating, so to speak. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve come downstairs to find flames leaping from the stove burner covers and the ensuing smell has nearly dissipated. I’ve accepted that a teenage girl’s bathroom, unlike the previous “male teenager” experience of one washcloth and one towel for weeks on end, is filled with many, many things that are apparently critical to said species’ day-to-day existence. I’m at peace knowing that I understand even less about teenage girls than I do women of my own age.

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s more than okay. Baby Girl—yes, she already has a nickname—makes me smile. She makes me laugh, too. We’re bonding—she doesn’t like Beiber anymore than I do. I find myself worrying about her, hoping she has a good day, hoping she finds kindness and compassion, hoping she stops, breathes in—breathes out, and appreciates the beauty and joy in the world around her even when it’s sometimes hard to see it, even when society tries to blot it from her sight. Yeah, maybe this crusty old hippie has a soft spot, but it doesn’t really feel like an extended distant-relative stay at our house anymore. Feels more like family. Feels like a pretty good Christmas present.

The Old Hippie’s Heart Breaks…

Normally, anything I post to this blog is rooted in humor and satire. Not so today. My heart breaks for the people in Connecticut directly affected by this latest shooting. Children. Children. At school, no less. Children

We all know what comes next, we know it all too well. The endless questions. The analyzing. The TV specials. Those railing in support of the 2nd Amendment, those against. Those shouting we should enforce the laws already on the books; the fervently religious clamoring that if God were allowed in schools this would not have happened.

I’m sick of it all.

For the record—I’m an over fifty, white, Southern male. I own guns, both pistols and long guns. While I no longer hunt, having made a conscious and long-considered decision to stop several years ago, I did hunt for most of my life. I have a healthy distrust of government and fully support the 2nd Amendment as it was originally intended. This latest shooting will not change any of that for me, personally. I have no intention of selling or destroying my guns.

What sickens me is that society—you, me, all of us, each of us, has devolved to the point that this sort of thing keeps occurring. We have become so wrought in an us-versus-them mentality that we’re quickly losing all compassion for our fellow Man. Somehow, taking a gun, car, a bomb, words, whatever, and lashing out and harming others appears as a viable solution, an option for our side. Left versus Right. Capitalists versus Socialists. Christians versus every “religion” that’s not Christian. Israelites versus Palestinians. The Haves versus the Have-Nots. Rich versus Poor. The secessionists versus the Union. Unions versus Right-to-Work. Versus, versus, versus… It’s disgusting.

Leading up to this last election, on-going still, is the discussion of the direction in which our country is heading. Look at Newtown, Connecticut. Where we’re headed? That’s where we are.

My hope—if any hope can remain after another senseless shooting—is that all the pundits, the talking heads, the Fox News’ and CNN’s, the liberals and conservatives, the gun proponents and the anti-gun coalitions, the religious zealots and the atheists, will finally realize that theirs is only doctrine and dogma. My hope is that each contingency, regardless of their “us-versus-them” allegiance, can embrace some sliver of compassion, some parcel of rationale, and admit that it is entirely possible that their position doesn’t have all the right answers. That maybe, just maybe, our actions are often barbaric, and we Americans—as a society—legitimize those actions in grandiose fashion. My fear is that the richest, most prosperous, most successful country on this planet has so isolated its citizens into pods of like-agreement and us-speak that we prefer spouting our doctrines and dogmas over actually compromising to solve anything.

Stopping shootings such as this? It doesn’t lie in striking down the 2nd Amendment. It doesn’t lie in arming everyone to the hilt as a deterrent. It doesn’t lie in holding one religion or philosophy as the ultimate truth at the expense of all other viewpoints and pathways.

No, it lies in treating all beings with some degree of compassion. It lies in asking all those questions that will inevitably follow the Connecticut shooting for the next days and months before an occurrence, not after. It lies in reaching out.

It’s not complicated, people, unless we make it so.

When Willie Shows Up in Your Dream…

Yes, it’s that time of year. First, we have the date 12/12/12, and of course, everybody’s excited about the Mayan calendar’s approaching world end date of 12/21/12. Throw in the Geminid Meteor Shower on 12/13/12 and it must create some kind of universal trifecta. Some pyramid portal that’s responsible for letting in all these crazy dreams I’ve been having lately.

I fancy myself a writer (yes, I’m aware very few others think likewise, but I always received a check plus in the “entertains himself” column). We writer-types are highly in-tune to these cosmological signs, so in-tune that we perpetuate the myth that these signs are actually proof of a muse, and if one does not have a muse, then…well…one is simply not a real writer, but is instead, a muse-less writer. Muse-less writers are doomed to forever scribble only fan-fiction, or worse, get a job. If both of those fail, the muse-less writer begins reeling off vampire or S&M fiction and listening to Justin Beiber. When that happens, we real writers call them sell-outs and hacks, unethical capitalists preying on the helpless and unknowing masses, somehow duping those masses into buying their little books and therefore, getting paid for their….their…writing. But, I digress.

I was talking about dreams and writers. Me? I rarely dream, at least not that I remember. I go long stretches, months and months, without recalling a single dream. So, when one presents itself with any clarity, I assume it contains a message from the other side. You know, some cryptic yet deeply existential truth whose message ultimately turns out to be “don’t eat jalapeño poppers dipped in Sriracha an hour before bed.” Or something more practical, such as “buying a veggie burrito out of the back of that guy’s van at the Widespread show may not have been a pragmatic choice on a school night.”

But lately, the frequency and intensity of these dreams has increased, so it has to mean something. It started a month or so back. Nothing significant, at first. I’d wake with a start, vaguely aware I’d been dreaming, but not able to remember anything. I’d plod to the bathroom then try to summon the dream’s return as I drifted back to sleep…always to no avail. Next, it increased to once a night and I could grab snippets of the scenes when I awoke, even remembered them the next morning, but fractured and disjointed, never enough to translate.

The past week or so, things have gotten out of control. I’m awake three or four times a night, which means three or four trips to the bathroom. I’m not eating anything strange, I’m not eating late at night, but still the dreams. The scenes aren’t that weird or bizarre by dream standards, no Inception stuff, no Nightmare on Elm Street. Nope, not the first hint of sex, no trains and tunnels, no hotdogs chasing doughnuts, no Jamie Lee Curtis, no Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, nothing.

Instead, I get random but normal people coming up to me, asking to borrow $789 dollars for a variety of reasons. Exactly $789. One was starting a business. Who knows what kind of business you can start for exactly seven-hundred-and-eighty-nine bucks. I knew I was dreaming, but didn’t think to ask. Another needed brakes. Still another wanted to buy books, lots of books. The same book. My book. Naturally, I wanted to help, but I had no wallet.

One night, homeless people—I assumed they were homeless because of the cardboard boxes and shopping carts—tried to catch salmon as they swam upstream to spawn. The shopping carts lined the opposite bank of the stream, snaked out of sight into the thick woods beyond the rushing water. The people used the cardboard boxes to catch the fish when they leaped, then dumped them into the nearest cart, where the salmon flipped and flopped until they escaped and slid back into the water, only to be caught again. I thought of Sisyphus, then got up to pee. I got up a lot that night. My subconscious apparently has a twisted sense of humor, offering up all that rushing water.

The best one, I had a couple of times. I stood in line at a Bojangles restaurant. It was a long line and it stretched behind me, out the door, and down the street. You’d’ve thought the Fundamentalist had heard Foghorn Leghorn was gay and Bojangles supported his coming out, there were so many people. I carried a sign, but it had a huge picture of broccoli on one side and a peace sign on the other. The line moved forward, one person at a time. When I could see behind the counter, I recognized Willie Nelson. He’d nod and smile at each customer, then turn and pick up a piece of chicken and a biscuit, drop them in a box and send them on their way.

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Needless to say, the closer I got, the more excited I became. It was Willie, after all, the Red Headed Stranger himself. When my turn arrived, I moved up and Willie turned his back to me, going for the chicken. I reached forward, but when he turned back around, it was Ric Ocasek from the Cars. Trust me, that was not “just what I needed.”

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What does it mean when Willie Nelson shows up in your dreams? More importantly, what does it mean when Willie’s replaced by Ric Ocasek in that dream? I don’t know, but for some reason I’ve been considering the possibility of writing a YA vampire, S&M book that first appears as fiction but ultimately morphs into a biography that unveils Justin Beiber as the main character.

Everything Your Student Needs to Know About Final Exams

This Old Hippie is feeling slightly refreshed and blissful of late. It’s a combination of things—an enjoyable Thanksgiving spent with family, the new music project is shaping up nicely, and most importantly—five days away from campus. As always, I try to stay in the moment, but I know a stark interruption to this calm lurks. That stark interruption is known by many names, several of which cannot be spoken, but the generic, speak-able term is “end of the semester,” and I can feel it approaching.

Those of you who’ve been reading along for several months (thank you) might remember the post at the beginning of the semester called The REAL Top Ten List Every Freshmen Needs To Know. In that post, I offered a behind-the-scenes-view-from-an-educator’s-perspective list for parents and freshmen that I hoped would provide a realistic idea of how to approach their first semester at college. Well, this is the time of the semester when we find out who paid attention. Ah-ha, didn’t know there’d be a test, did you? Therein lays the problem, literally. Yep, you guessed it—exam time. And, after offering sage advice to begin the semester, I would be remiss to not offer a few comments for ending a semester. So, here’s the REAL top ten list every undergrad needs to survive exams.

1.    Number One on the “Freshmen Needs” list explained that college profs’ have their degrees and therefore already know all the crap discussed in class and that it’s the student’s job to know it too. Thus, the final exam. Tip number one—if you don’t know it, don’t try and fake it. Your professors have listened to every pitiful excuse imaginable all semester. They’ve attended countless departmental and committee meetings. They have read essay after essay after essay filled with sentences like “The ballerina rose en point and raised one slender leg behind her like a dog at a fire hydrant.” They are tired, irritable, over-worked, under-appreciated, and frankly, at this point in the semester, are searching for someone, anyone on whom they can take out their frustrations. BS’ing an essay answer on the final puts that target squarely on you, dear student. Just admit you don’t know by writing “I have absolutely no idea what the answer is and beg for your mercy, oh Wise One.” Odds are you’ll get more points for the honesty.

2.   Yes, the library is filled with knowledge and yes, my first list implored you to take advantage of that most fabulous building and those employed therein. It happens every semester about this time… All of you wandering around the building with that squid-like look on your faces, staring mouth-gaped at row after row of reference materials, numbly asking: “Where are the bathrooms at?” (and blinking in utter confusion when we reply, behind the preposition). You need to understand that knowledge rarely happens via osmosis by spending one week in the library at the end of the semester. And yes, yes, a paper on legalizing marijuana is a fantastic choice for that ten page sourced paper due tomorrow, the one your prof said should be argumentative, unique, and insightful. But no, producing your backpack smuggled bong in the Library’s quiet study area and then sparking it does not constitute research.

3.   Number Three on the original list suggested that attending class was a good idea. If you failed to heed that advice, be sure to have your student ID handy when you show up for the final. Sure, Mommy and Daddy always said you were special, but just because you showed up to the first day of class, and two other times, does not mean your professor will remember you now. Although, while that professor is putting so many red marks on your final it’ll look like Santa’s overcoat, he or she will probably mutter, “my, my (pause to flip back and check the name), Joshua is so special.” So, essentially, Mommy and Daddy were right. Remind them of that next semester as you are explaining what academic probation means.

4.   Remember how, in the original list, I explained Thursday nights were “college nights” at every bar in every college town throughout the land? Well, if you’ve spent the semester conducting an independent study at said establishments on each and every one of those Thursday nights, you’ll be disappointed to learn that an exam for aforementioned independent study is not, contrary to popular belief around the beer pong table, offered on Reading Day. On a related rumor-dispelling note, no quality points are offered for spending Reading Day hammered, either.

5.   Being relaxed, confident, and prepared are essential components of a successful final—oh, who the hell am I kidding? Re-read point number one above. Pay close attention to the sentence, “They are tired, irritable, over-worked, under-appreciated, and frankly, at this point in the semester, are searching for someone, anyone on whom to take out their frustrations.” As a student, that’s everything you need to know as final exams approach. If you haven’t put in the effort up to this point, don’t bother now. In fact, skip the final altogether, it’ll be one less for your professor to grade and when you re-take the class, perhaps the professor will remember and appreciate this simple kindness. Trust me, no professor wants to read “…and that forms a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently pressed in a Thigh Master” in your blue book essay answer.

See? Now look. I knew it. No more blissfulness. Gone. And I have a stack of research papers to grade before final exams. Oh well. But hey, “Christmas time’s a-coming.” That means a break of nearly three weeks. Relaxation. Bourbon. Quiet. Bourbon. Yes, I said bourbon twice, spring semester’ll be here before you know it…

Until next time, Peace!

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