Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I just finished the hardest essay I have done in school. It was supposed to be thorough (i.e. 20ish pages) for a class regarding the Israel Palestinian conflict. We were given the choice of topics (and having a last name like Weller, meant I got last pick) and then the professor picked what side we would take. The topic I was writing on was who was more to blame for the failure of the Syrian and Israeli peace talks. The side I was assigned was one I did not agree with, which is what made the paper so hard but quite interesting to try to argue. I had to use, to quote my favorite play Inherit the Wind an “agile mind.” We were given constraints and that has made all the difference…

Drake offered a photography class during my fall junior semester. During that class we watched a video, and then I bought the book it was based on. A photographer was allowed to take one photograph a day. The work he put in for the constraints he was given was amazing.

That photographer is referenced in a post I found reading through one of my favorite photography blogs

Try constraining yourself in your creative process and see what unfolds.

These are a few of my favorite things

I mention a distaste for the acquiring of stuff. Nothing will reveal this more when one has to move all their stuff into a dorm room, as I did my freshman year to Morehouse Hall. The only other time I have had to pair down to the essentials was to put everything in one suitcase for international living. I distinctly remember laying it all out in my living room and trying to take stuff out that wasn’t posivetly essential or couldn’t hold up. When I was thinking about those times, as well as the Black Friday issues, I started to come up with the things I have held onto which have lasted me to a point that I am happy with their performance. These aren’t in any particular order:

Macbook pro (2008): I bought the computer on which I have written almost every single post on this site during my senior year of high school. It has travelled all over the world with me, from the pyramids, the wonders of Amman, castles in Prague, to sand dunes in Muscat, to conferences all over the US. I still have the same battery (which does get warm) and the same power chargers. It has held up and I can count the number of times I have had to restart it on one hand. Owning this computer has made me a mac fan for life. (It is bulky and heavy by current standards, so will become a regaled to a desk upon my first deployment when I will grab something smaller, more lightweight and new.

Pacsafe computer bag (2008): “I’m heading to the Middle East, and need a computer bag, what do you have” I asked the salesman. He gave me a funny look, and we walked away from the bags emblazoned with Badger logos. This pack is slash proof, and can be locked to anything. The strap is knife proof, and only broke this year. However I still use a handhold, and do so almost every day. When I went home for thanksgiving, I packed my computer in the pocket, my notes in another, two books and a charger along with a change of clothes in the rest. One bag travel, but with a laptop bag. I should probably get the strap fixed one of these days.

Orange Northface Jacket (2006): “we will be in a rainforest, you and your brother need rain jackets.” I was puzzled about our Alaska adventure. I knew there was precipitation up there, but I assumed it was the snow kind. However there were times we experienced heavy rain, and high winds. The, in my opinion rather stylish jacket, kept me warm. I also had it in Jordan the first time, and it kept me warm in a cold desert camp. It continues to keep me dry and warm to this day, and I have used it all through college. I also felt extra cool as I bought it the summer before North Face fleeces became super popular in high school. Trendsetter.

Bose Computer Speakers (2005): I remember answering the “what did you get for Christmas” question to a quizzical look. “You got speakers?” Nice speakers. The Aston Martin of speakers. I am a huge audiophile and almost always have Pandora, spotify, itunes, or youtube stations playing. Though my band never hit it big, I have always taken great joy and use out of my speakers. They have come to every domestic living quarters I have had.

Fender Bass Guitar (2002): Speaking of my band, I have had the same guitar since 7th grade. The strings definitely haven’t lasted but it is has been put through heavy use. At one point I had guitar lessons, Jazz band practice, jazz combo practice, rock band stuff, worship band practice and performance, and church band, all in the same week. I don’t play nearly as much in college but living out of the dorms has given me room to keep it and pick it up from time to time. I also haven’t travelled with it as much (World Tour anyone?) as the other things but I intend to keep using it for a long time.

What has served you for a long period of time?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happiness is...

“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from the store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.”

“26 Billion was spent today…” Local news, immediately followed by stories of shootings and a lady pepper spraying people at a walmart or deals.

I got up around 8 and started cleaning on Black Friday, convinced to try to make my own Friday holiday. I ended up donating 3 bags of clothes and shoes. Don’t get me wrong I liked looking at the ads the night before. I still appreciate the concept of designing some of these really cool and useful new things (side note: I am stoked to get through a skymall magazine tomorrow as I fly back to DSM, and was excited for my brother to get what looks to a wonderful new phone)

The night before, as people were starting to line up at the stores I was in my bed. I laughed my girlfriend on the phone. I read a little bit. I worked on homework. I cleaned. I tried to do as many things as possible that either got rid of junk or did not produce it. We listened to Christmas music as a family and went out to eat.

My mom and brother went out early black Friday to do some errands (like getting glasses fixed while home from college) and shopping. (They got me a watch, which I am thankful for.) They said it wasn’t terribly hectic at 6am, probably because people had stayed up. We debated what would be the effects? Will stores stay open, forcing workers to leave their families on the holiday, and then maybe close at 2am next year? Will workers continue to rebel as target employees did? What burden are we willing to put on others for minimum wage so we can save some money on a tv?

What happens to all the other stuff, the old tvs, the not as new phones? (google 60minutes e-waste if you want to see.)

I don’t know if true happiness comes from stuff. I am truly happy thankful for my family, my friends, my experiences with them. Drake means the world to me, not because of what I have learned from a book, but because of the people I have met, the places I have been, and the professors who have honestly taken me under wing, hell-bent on teaching me useful things and new ways to wrestle with issues. These are things we can’t wake up to shop for, these are things which can’t come from a store.

Monday, November 21, 2011

GO RUCK (Challenge) Yourself

Finals week is fast approaching. For my cohorts of IR/Poli Sci majors, that means papers. Big papers. 10, 15, 20 page papers. It really is not that long as we have had all semester to do it (and for once I am on top of my game, having laid out much of what I intend to do on large sheets of butcher paper in my room. The topics I am writing on get a few concerned looks from my housemates who saw the underlined titles of “Piracy” “Syria and Israel (Israel’s fault)” and “Killing.” The first is for globalization, the 2nd was assigned by the prof for Arab Israeli Conflict, and the final is for my psychology of aggression class and focuses on the research of Lt. Col Grossman in the book On Killing.

This marathon of double spaced, cited, edited, torn apart, reassembled and title paged academia I am producing allows for some free time of internet wandering (25 mins productive, 5 min break. Rinse. Repeat.) One of the more interesting things I found from the Minimal Mac blog I read was a marathon (ish) of Special Operations awesomeness. It is called the GORUCK Challenge. A ruck (or Rucksack) is the backpack used in the military. It allows one to carry what they need in combat. This event, it is not really a race, but a test-your-limits-for-10-hours-suckfest ditches the ammo magazines in favor of bricks…and push ups…and dead weight carry… and buddy carry, all while perusing through a city. Des Moines is in March. I am tempted as I know this would be a great way to get my training in gear for OCS.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's my job

Drake has given me plenty of opportunities to support my social spending habits. Since day one I have done this job (blogger) interspersed with a few others. I was a front desk worker at Crawford for a year while I was a Resident Assistant there. My junior year I asked my counselor Ryan if he knew of anyone who was hiring. Within a day I had a job at the admissions office doing data entry. I am finishing up that job after being there a year and half to conduct another for my final semester.

Drake is adding a J-term. I am now employed to help build a program which streamlines professors abilities to conduct a jterm international experience. These will not just be courses, but full fledged experiences. In theory if a pharmacy professor gets an idea to take students to learn about flora and fauna of Antigua, she comes to us and we have the whole process slick and packaged. The goal is to get as many students abroad as possible. Drake students will taste the international flavor, they will feel the waves beneath their feet, surrounded by their friendships and professors in ways that only Drake can provide.

The part I am most excited for: in conjunction with the above, I am helping to plan an actual experience…on leadership…at sea…in the Bahamas. I got this job under the guiding hand of Dr. Westbrook. I am supporting his vision of putting Bulldog students on a twin-masted clipper (think pirates of the Caribbean or Master and Commander movies) for a week of leadership and sail training. I will be on a slightly larger vessel at the time (Go Navy!) and thus will not be able to participate, but it is becoming a very exciting time to be at Drake.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veteran's day

Normally I take offense when people do not uncover indoors, doubly so at the dinner table (“Ian, Garrett hats off!” “Yes Mom.”) However this was different. They all had worn other hats, and had followed the strict rules which went along with those hats. On Friday they were wearing baseball caps. These caps said different things: Khe Sanh, Korea Vet, Vietnam Vet, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, OIF, 34th ID, WWII VET. Sweatshirts also adorned the seated with the same logos. A PFC came in with and immediately saluted two captains, all in ACUs as they waited for their names to be called. As I walked from the back end of Texas Roadhouse, one of the many restaurants in the Des Moines area honoring veterans with a free meal on Veterans Day, I swelled with pride. The stories these men and women could share. The sacrifice they had made, and the thanks a restaurant was showing them…was an amazing experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Zoot suit riot

I had dinner with a friend last night. She remarked that in the time we were hanging out, she could have ran a half marathon (Thank you Drake’s all-you-can-eat dining experience. Food should be social!) We talked about everything and anything, including one of my more cocky moments…

When I was in 9th grade I needed a suit for a career class job shadow. I was going to be shadowing a State Senator, and thus found myself needing a suit. I remember my father and the salesman telling me about which button options I had and a whole slew of other French sounding terms. I picked a three piece. After I picked it my dad looked at me and said “sometimes, always, never.” This was the way to button my options, to maintain the look of professionalism.

When I got slightly older, I became a big fan of two button blazers. There is something about the fit that just brings out confidence in me. The rule with these buttons was “Always, Never.” One never buttons the bottom on a two buttoned blazer, it just looks wrong.

I had a very young professor a few weeks back demonstrate how to give our final presentations. He had come in wearing a new suit. He mentioned that he got the suit for his job interviews coming up at a big state university in Ohio. He is just an adjunct here, and was picked up as the original professor took very sick right before the semester started. I like him, and think he will do great. There is limited chance he will go fulltime at Drake, and his dream school is in Ohio.

He made a big deal about making sure we look professional in our presentations. His suit was pressed and sharp. He stood up to give the presentation and immediately buttoned both of the buttons on his two button jacket. I cringed. I do not consider myself a slave to fashion at all (in fact I complain about people wearing topsiders who have never been topside.) However this was a sin against basic male dressing, something I felt might damage his chances of getting the job.

After class got out I waited around to pack up. We walked down to the main floor where there is a large glass entryway. The glass was immaculately clean, and reflective. I asked if I could speak to him in private and motioned to the glass. He said absolutely with a concerned look on his face, asking me if everything was okay. (I am the only non-major in this specific class and struggle with some of the material.)

I said I was fine, but I wanted to show him something. I asked him to put on his jacket and button it as he did in the class. Then I requested him to point, as if he was repeating something he had said in the presentation. He did, and I said “you see how that looks really awkward?” He wholeheartedly agreed, and so I told him how to fix it by only having one of his buttons used. That immediately made the suit fit better and he looked more relaxed.

My dinner date and I go back in forth about whether it is appropriate to tell a professor they are dressed wrong. Normally I do not care how professors dress (and almost all of mine have tenure.) This professor was just starting out, and was about to have one of the most important interviews of his life. I am a senior, full of way too much confidence, and therefore saw no qualms with pulling him aside privately. Had I done it in the middle of the class, in front of my peers, the results would have been horrific for saving face (and possibly my grade.)

This is the culture we have at Drake. We help each other out. Generally it is the professors helping us out, but every once in awhile, after developing a large amount of confidence through the Drake experience, we students look out for ours profs.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I was talking to one of my professors a few days ago their summer travel. Drake sends a lot of students abroad with Drake professors during the summer. That professor mentioned a student whom I was familiar with. With great pride, they let it slip that upon informing the group that he would be taking the spring semester off to spend much time outside of the country working on research, the gal cried. I take great pride in the relationships we have with our professors. It was amazing to hear that this gal thought so highly of the prof they were upset that she wouldn’t be able to talk or learn from him in the classroom setting.

My love of a small school was increased yet again yesterday. There are a few military types in one of my classes and we were talking about the art of shooting. The professor overheard this, and said they had never fired a weapon before. We immediately set up a chance to take him to the gun range. I can’t imagine this happening at many of the larger universities many f my high school friends attend.

In other news I registered yesterday, for the last time of my undergraduate career. I only have class on Monday and Wednesday, from noon on. Meaning I will have plenty of time to study Navy stuff, get in shape, and maybe pick up some more hours or another job.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A pirate's look at 22

“I need to go to the hospital. I broke my nose.”

“Ok, I am on my way.”

A vastly different way than I thought I would spend my 22nd birthday. I spent the better part of the actual morning celebrating my birth in the hospital with my best friend. Fittingly he celebrated the festivities of Halloween as the game Operation. The doctors loved him. However we spent a lot of time in the emergency room (2am to 6am) which allowed for some reflection on the last year.

This time last year, I was setting up for one thing; my semester abroad in Egypt. I knew from my French teachers in grade school that I would study abroad for a semester in college. The parts of my life I consider most interesting (Jordan 1 and post) were all training to do the full semester in a place as different as Egypt. I had done two summer long stints in Jordan in 2007, and 2008, and had gotten the short trip dance taken care of with numerous conferences and a three week study session travelling around Egypt. However there would be a big punctuation before I would leave for the Arab world. This exclamation point would take the form of an anchor. I was offered a position with the United States Navy on the last day of the Fall semester, sending my life down a very different path from what I went into my previous year with. I was then ready to take the plunge, to fully immerse myself in Alexandria, Egypt and fall in love with the sea. My last post before I left was from a Jimmy Buffett (whom I have become borderline infatuated with in the past year) song:

“Reading departures signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I’ve been…Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure make me want to go back again!”

So I will.

See you in the Sandbox!

And I went. And had a wonderful time. The first night I was there I walked to the Nile. I watched the sun set over the old city, as hookah smoke tangoed above my head and below the Arabian stars. However things would not be as they seemed. The country I intended to fall in love with as on it’s own course. The Arab Spring would become a defining moment in my life, and has provided me great insight.

And like that first crack from the authorities gun, I was off like a pinball for a quick stay in Prague, where I yet again learned the power of patience and an easy going attitude. I found myself in a country where I once again had to look up exactly where it was. Oman was different. I never thought I would end up there, and can’t say it was all fun and games. But I learned there. I learned Arabic, I learned photography, I learned solo travel, I learned that faces are so much more interesting than trees, sunsets, and buildings. Above all I learned to understand myself. I learned to not long for consumption, to travel light and look for the best in situations.

The tumultuous semester eventually found me walking off a plane to those I love. It was an absolute thrill to see my parents after undoubtedly putting them through a rather stressful semester. It was just as pleasing to see friends and a gal whose company I have enjoyed for the better part of my Drake career.

Taking my love of beaches and at this point life’s soundtrack of Jimmy to heart, I took a job living in Des Moines sailing. This was the first time I had ever lived in the US without being in school or with my parents. I finished off a basement with the help of my fraternity brothers and had a wonderfully fun summer. I read, hung out, got into trouble and then got out of it. It was a positively wonderful way to spend my last summer of civilian life.

I learned and then taught sailing. I had friends out on a Hobie Cat almost every week. I spent countless hours before and after work tacking and jibing up and down Gray’s Lake. I watched sunset after sunset from a dock and reaffirmed my love for Iowa.

I witnessed my brother graduating and head for college in Minnesota. I got to relive some of the entering freshman angst through him, fondly reminiscing.

I spent one of the top three nights of my life with a beautiful woman seeing the man in concert who along with Steve Job’s ipod, kept my spirits up and wanderlust flowing.

And now I am a senior. 22 years old. By this time next year I will have a degree, and be an Ensign in the United States Navy. I may be underway back to the Middle East. Before the next birthday I will have undergone one of the most challenging and grueling experiences I will face: Officer Candidate School. A lot can and will still happen before then, and it is always good to have a crew. I will continue writing this as long as I have interesting things happening. Come along, and welcome aboard.

All Drake bloggers are compensated for their time. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Drake University.