Saturday, April 23, 2005

More is Better

I’ve been watching my “blog habit” grow over a semester of studying new media with Dr. Jennifer Bay at Purdue University. I now read an expanding list of blogs aggregated to deliver daily feeds through Bloglines, and I contribute actively to building three blogs beyond the one you’re reading here. When, at the beginning of the semester, Jen told me about blogs, her mention then of tracking 250 blogs on her own list scared the liver out of me. Times change. Though I’m not yet a big feeder, I now track about 50 blogs, and there’s fun in watching my “table manners” when it comes to the order I impose on reading.

I always begin my "meal" with those blogs I approach as staples, foundational – something along the lines of an obligatory responsibility to health: various aspects of news with the NYTimes and accompanying editorials that prompt me to chew a while on the issues, to think through them more deeply – the meat, so to speak, (though I’m vegetarian, too, Alice). Vegies are next, those reads from scholars working in the worlds of education, rhetoric and composition, and electronic literature. With these blogs I’m learning to read the complexity of my profession – rewarding work if it is nonetheless overwhelming at times. I keep a stack of “dinner roll” blogs on the side to complement the meal, to nourish aspects of self that can too easily be sidelined by the work I’m doing at school: Ronni at Time Goes By on the politics of aging, Lisa at culturekitchen for the wild and lovin’ it woman me, and a new friend in Ken at Digital Common Sense who “gets it” in a way that resonates familiarity.

The tasty rewards of this blog “diet” are in the dessert, however, and I’ve been fascinated to see a pattern develop … always the same feeds left for the end to savor, to linger, to lounge in. There’s Alice’s blog – a window onto the world from a soul-rich point of view with courage to feel out loud where the rest of us might keep quiet; here is crunchy apple cobbler or the certainly messy pleasure of a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day – don’t forget to add nuts. Then there’s Kat’s blog at Keep the Coffee Coming, a narrative of each next day punctuated in turns with introductions, remembrances, and unexpected musical connections; here is sometimes embellished cheesecake, sometimes giant cinnamon rolls hot from the oven with frosting strizzled on top but always terrific coffee on the side - I'll take mine strong with cream and sugar. Finally, there are words from my daughter, my Tommi at Sentinel 47: Keeping the Gate on duty in Iraq. This read I hold to last – anticipation enriching the pleasure while allowing time to reason with myself against the tricks of mind suggesting these words could be all there is left of my daughter. They will not be: I have to believe that. She is still there, and this read is choice - delicate chocolates, Bavarian fruit torte, and fresh “Scott” baklava.

I write all this for you tonight because, well … I’ve had great feeds today from all my favorite places, but I had the joy of dessert times two (or three or more) from my friend, Alice. She posts here of my daughter’s new blog and reflects so thoughtfully of Tommi in the writing that all but my mother’s heart fell away from me today with the reading – deep gratitude for the honor extended. Dr. B followed with engaging remarks, and Kat spoke friendship from her visit to The Gate, too.

The copter downed yesterday near Tommi’s base in Iraq sent pressure on security there sky-high today. I hold my breath and wait. Word from her will come; another post will come. There is strength knowing others are with her. With me. Thanks, Alice. With thoughts toward dessert, "more is better."

Friday, April 22, 2005

It Matters

I’m posting a CELEBRATION!! Tommi’s telling her story now over on a new blog, one all her own: Sentinel 47 Keeping the Gate. She’s very excited about the writing, and I promised that when she was ready, I’d send you all her way. I encourage you to drop a comment so she knows you’re reading along. Comments make the connection that keep a blogger posting, so don’t hesitate to leave a word or two from time to time. Let her know how you found her and what prompts you to read. It matters.

The countdown clock says Tommi has 270 days left guarding the gate on a base in Iraq. If thought of her comes to mind for you along the way, you could do her mom a good turn: log on to Tommi's blog and say “hi!” Would now be a good time? It matters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Meme Tag ... Wanna Play?

Alice "tagged" me with a book “meme” that’s been traveling around the blogosphere – for those of you new to the word, it means a kind of “pass-along-blog think game” you process before passing it on to the next set of bloggers. I invite those of you without blogs to “jump in” here with me! Go ahead … add yourself to the game by answering the questions in a “comments” post of your own. Just click on the link at the bottom of this writing. I’d love to hear from some of those new to (Pro)Claiming Age or from those of you who haven’t written for a while. Here we go:

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be? Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins … feeling my wild self here.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Yossarian, Catch 22 … and this is where Alice’s interest in my “theoretical paradigm” might kick in. Move this into another mood, however, and I’d have to say Tom Bombadil, The Fellowship of the Ring … though in this case “crush” might not be the right word.

The last book you bought is? H.G.Frankfurt, On Bullshit (Harvard Press), planned for a first, fast read during days of after-semester recuperation before beginning summer studies in earnest.

What are you currently reading? Writing New Media, and I make no apologies – this is a great read even if it is one of those theory/pedagogy/classroom texts assigned as course reading books … and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
· The Bible: Old and New Testaments … an old and best friend
· The Complete Shakespeare, Ed. Orgel, Braunmuller
· The Critique of Judgment, Kant
· Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel
· The Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Gay, Kaufman
· The Essential Foucault, Foucault, Rabinow
· On Grammatolgy, Derrida
· A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze

Ok, ok…. I know eight is not five, but I’m willing to negotiate re: leaving some other part of life behind. I’m planning for a long stay!

Who are you going to pass this stick to and why? Brad because he’s just getting started with blogging and this is a good excuse for a first entry; Jen for the same reason; Kat, a new musical friend who’s bound to answer with a song; and, Tommi who is collecting good ideas for entries on her soon to be operational blog.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Shit Falling From the Sky

The Yahoo chat window opened unexpectedly last night, and Tommi wrote, “I have a surprise for you! Hang on. Are you at home? One of my buddies is lending me his satellite phone to call you. We’ll have to keep it short: I don’t want to use all his minutes. Which number should I use?” And we settled the details, and I plugged in the headset and stared at the phone. No ring. I distracted myself with reading (or tried) and stole glances at the phone. It was still there. No ring. Thirty minutes passed. I went back to my reading in earnest. An hour more and I hear the Yahoo “buzz” signaling me for attention. Tommi again.

Sorry. We took rockets again. Not the time to stand in the middle of the parking lot for a satellite connection. All kinds of shit falling from the sky.

Now, it should have been a sober moment, but maybe I’ve just had too many sober moments lately. I started to laugh. With voice enabled Tommi could hear, and I just couldn’t stop laughing. “Shit falling from the sky,” I stuttered, “Oh, God, yes. Take cover. Shit? Shit falling from the sky? God, no. Don’t stay in the parking lot for that! The stench!” And she started to laugh … at me? at the moment? It didn’t matter. More and more laughing … long laughter … carried home on laughter to kitchen talks and the sense of a certain tomorrow for just a moment ... or two.

Reading news from the Times this morning, I noticed this story about a soldier named Pat Tillman. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan last year. His story catches attention because (and maybe I should have known this, but I didn’t) he was an NFL player for the Arizona Cardinals who left a promising career in football to enlist, along with his brother Kevin, in the U.S. Army. Without question his death was a tragic loss, but what captured my attention in the story was this one line: “Four months before he was killed in Afghanistan, Pat Tillman was told that he could opt out of extending his military service because National Football League clubs were clamoring for him.” Because Pat Tillman turned down the offer, he didn’t come home.

I regret the loss of any life to a war I believe dishonorably engaged, especially the lives of those so certainly destined to make great contributions to the strength and well being of American identity and ingenuity. But Pat Tillman is not alone in that count! At the time of this writing, 1,557 men and women – each one an American citizen and each one a great asset to the treasure house of this nation – have been lost, killed in the madness of a war against terror where the terror turned on them. Nearly 6,000 have come home wounded. Do I think Pat Tillman should have saved himself by accepting an offer unjustly given? No. He did the right thing. Tommi is doing the right thing, too. She won’t leave “her soldiers” behind. It’s a hellava dilemma when to do the right thing can cost so many lives for all the wrong reasons.

There’s shit falling from the sky every single day in Iraq. “Thank God their aim is bad,” Tommi will say, and it gets me to thinking: If the “clamor” of an NFL football league could raise enough noise to create choice for a single player to come home, there’s hope. The line defining “right” can be moved, but it's apt to take ahellava lot of noise!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pat Said

Because comments in response to posts made here can "hide" behind links left unexplored, I want to highlight one I received from Pat today. Pat, you may remember, is the Master Sergeant who works with Tommi at the gate. Pat does not imagine himself a "good writer" and was, in a first comment, powerfully reluctant to "go public" with his thoughts. His writing here today both surprised and reassured me, and Pat ... if you're reading this, thank you again. I am encouraged and deeply moved by what and how you've written.


Mary, once again your insight is amazing. Tommi and I have talked at length about the insulated world we live in, and the emotional numbness that sets in after a while in these kinds of environments. She didn't believe me at first, but I think now she understands. This is not my first experience like this, the kind of experience that so few understand, and that you just can't communicate to those who haven't walked it. I was a Marine who turned 21 in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, 22 on an Aircraft Carrier within veiw of the Beruit skyline.I was a soldier who turned 32 sleeping on the floor of the olympic ice arena in Sarajevo Bosnia, and 35 in a plywood shack in Kosovo. And I turned 40 in Iraq. At the Gate. My friends and family try to understand this life, and I let them pretend they do. I smile and shrug my shoulders and say the words they want to hear. But so few understand. It's not about freedom, or patriotism, or any larger concepts like that. When the trappings of our existence are stripped away, when our life is about the next 10 seconds or the next patrol of the next rocket, who we are is stripped bare. Souls are exposed. Weakness can no longer be hidden by the right words. The core of your being is a secret to no one around you. Tommi will come home. Sometimes, on a summer night, she will stare quietly across the lake and not say a word. Let those moments be. Touch her on the shoulder and let her have the silence. Tomorrow, after she reads this, she will tell me I am wrong, that won't be her. But I know better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


If the Tommi story comes in three parts for me, as I think it is/will do, then we're passing from the first into the second now. Routine. Patterns. There is an odd sort of settling into war, into the realities of her being there. In one moment rockets are flying overhead and in the next friends are stopping by to play guitar with her. Others have built a veranda off one end of her bungalow and a putt-putt golf course outside her door (about which she complains bitterly, though I’ve lost her favorite word for the guys who play there … “the bridge club” maybe, I don’t remember). “We took a rocket last night” might pass in conversation between us now as easily as a report of her excitement for having scored a free manicure from a guy who coordinates “beauty services” there: he promises to “fix” her ragged cuticles. When she turns on the web cam, I watch her do Estee Lauder skin care before strapping a Beretta to her right thigh and slipping into body armor for a day of work at the gate. Routines. Patterns. Life at the gate, but life that makes no sense to me even when it's routine for her. How could it?

I’ve been thinking about connections, about what it takes to stay with my daughter who is away at war in a place so far beyond any context I have for knowing. I conclude from her telling, when I ask, that the common experience for a soldier there is to “let go” of anything more than periodic emotional forays into “life in the States,” to instead take up residence in a kind of ruptured experience, a place apart where stories lived in Iraq stay in Iraq – encasing two years of life in a tumor one trusts to remain benign. How else could it be? Where find the energy for building the cultural vocabulary needed to speak with those of us at home about a world being lived in/through there? Long days at the gate often make conversations short; it is enough to know home will still be here when the countdown is over. Life at survival, even when survival includes manicures, putt-putt golf, and friends over to jam the passing of a hot desert night, is still survival. I’ve lived stories of survival; there’s always more to tell than fits in the place made for listening.

This is the “Vietnam” I fear: the condition of so disjunctive an experience for soldiers returning from Iraq that, lacking any context for understanding, we fail to listen to them, or worse yet, we insist on listening only in the context of American values and understanding, making sense of war as “the right thing” and measuring “right” by an increased measure of American identity being exported in the name of liberty. Will that context work for a soldier who has been there to see – to know – another side of the story? Are we not composing the stories our soldiers are free to tell by imposing the force of our own willingness to hear, by defining a notion of “truth” before we’ve begun to listen? “Freedom” is changing hands in Iraq – trading places, but does this necessarily mean there is “more” freedom? Are there fewer atrocities committed simply because those being afflicted and those holding power have traded places? Are you able to hear what Tommi might tell you from Iraq?

Whenever news from the gate is "bad," Tommi asks me, “Do you really want to know?” I ask the same question and wonder, if I don’t, am I not just stuffing shit in a box and hoping the stink won’t get out?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Counting the Days

Tommi recently inherited a “countdown tool” that has been floating among the ranks of soldiers currently deployed to Iraq. You can view this EXCEL program by clicking here. The information graphed by the program tracks Tommi’s deployment in terms of days since mobilization, days remaining, days in country, and days remaining (if her present orders remain unaltered). The page will refresh each next time it is opened. In reading the data you will find there, the acronym MOB (mobilization) may be familiar, but you may find the term BOG (boots on ground) new to you as an interesting means of measure. At the time of posting tonight, Tommi has completed nearly 20% of her in-country commitment. When the days can count down so slowly, sometimes a clock helps.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Collection of Sharings

Headlines: This morning’s news came with bold headlines, “Two U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq,” and I couldn’t help the breath I held as I read. Friday’s near miss of rocket fire on base where Tommi serves has so increased my awareness of the possibility that … that I might already have had my last touch of her, but it wasn’t Tommi, and I felt myself hauntingly translated into Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery for the relief I felt in knowing it wasn’t her, it wasn’t Tommi that had died. Someone had died, but it wasn’t Tommi. Two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq today. I am remembering their mothers and fathers tonight.

War Games: The Air Force is calling for 15 more flight crews to put the newest of spy planes in the air over strategic sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fascinating part of the story is that the pilots will fly the planes from a base in Nevada. Go here for a short but interesting read on the new players in 21st century war games.

Roses: And all that being said … a mid-morning knock on the door left me thinking the postman had come with a package for which I would have to sign. I was bothered by the interruption – too many pages demanded reading before a 1:30 class. Armed with impatience, I grudgingly opened the door and was greeted with a dozen vased roses “fresh from Iraq.” How wonderful is that?! How lucky am I to know love like this on the planet? You are joy to me, Tommi. Be safe. Come home. I will be here.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Another Winning Season

Tommi was back in touch today and feeling recovered, re-centered again following Friday's harrowing experience of war at close range. She has an unusual few hours “off” on Sunday and hopes to connect with a computer for some emailing time. I was relieved to hear her possessed of herself again and was consequently able to do a bit of my own work today.

My work led me to Bloglines, a collecting location for the various “blogs” with which I try to read along. There I came across a couple of rewarding reads on the topic of age and aging, and as this is a blog addressing that topic, I’ll share some of the highlights from those two pieces, both from the New York Times online.

With an eye toward the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court this past week, the first article, “More Help Wanted: Older Workers Please Apply,” discusses the turn being made toward the hire of older workers in the workplace and the effort of some top companies to recruit in that fertile field. Some of the more interesting quotes from that article include:

“… a growing number of companies are hunting for older workers because they have lower turnover rates and, in many cases, better work performance.”
“Training and recruitment costs are much lower than for younger workers.”
“Costs of training, recruitment and learning the job routine are all much lower than for younger workers.”
“In the 65-69 age group, about one-third of men and almost one-fourth of women were working in 2004.”
“…almost one in three workers will be 50 or older within five years.”
“Older folks seem to catch on a lot quicker … They’re used to life in general.”

Baseball fan? The season is underway! “Better With Age” is a summary report with a measure of awe and growing respect for the power of aging players in the game. Though the focus turns primarily toward the dynamo pitchers, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson (Clemens in his 22nd season and Johnson in his 18th), writer Jack Curry recounts the “good company” with which these men are reshaping the face of the game. Some highlights from the article include:

“… superb pitchers who just keep going and going.”
“… still uncorking the heat and still dominating as power pitchers deep into their careers.”
“Burn my birth certificate, they are saying, and let me pitch.”
Of Johnson: “…the nearly triple-digit miles-an-hour fastball…”
“…they don’t care about my age. They just want me to win.”
“…wanted to continue chasing magical numbers while not worrying about other numbers – like the count for the candles on his birthday cakes.”
“The expectations put on you, you either shy away from them or you take them for what they are and understand them and try to maximize your ability. Even though we’re getting older, it doesn’t mean we can’t do the things we’ve been doing all along.”

When I wondered aloud recently whether or not I could actually “do this,” whether or not I would successfully complete the course of study for my Ph.D., a woman with whom I’d been chatting, a visiting scholar in agricultural economics - herself in her fifties with a recently awarded doctoral degree, answered in a series of matter-of-fact series questions and a conclusion punctuated by exclamation:

“Have you given birth?” she asked, and I answered, “Yes, three times.”
“… survived a divorce?” Again, “Yes.”
“… lost a parent, a job, or both?” Still, “Yes.”
“Then you’ll finish. You’ll do fine. Compared to those, this Ph.D.’s a breeze!”

The currency of “life in general” is gaining strength for me over time; along with Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, I’m looking forward to another winning season.

Friday, April 01, 2005

On Duty

I was supposed to make a meeting. I was supposed to observe a student teacher discussing The Odyssey with her ninth grade honors English class. Tommi called on Skype from Iraq. I listened and typed while she talked. When the conversation was finished I didn't have the contitution to do more than watch my ants continue to tunnel. Here is that conversation:

We were lucky today
We were just lucky
A rocket landed close today
Really close
We all went down
I was scared but then I saw how close it was

Almost … almost gone
Nobody got hurt

I’m just sorry
I don’t like talking to you about this stuff

M: Why?

I don’t want to scare you
I just got back
I’m glad you were there

We were a football field and a half away from where it hit
And I know that sounds like a long way
It’s not a bomb …
it’s something dangerous
Nasty nasty shrapnel
Shreds metal … rips through stuff

Can’t tell you here
Anything I put into cyberspace gives an opportunity for exploitation
There were 5,000 people observed there
Many of them military
Then rockets hit the next two days in a row, hit right there again… where people where seen
All the stuff inside shreds
Shreds and tears through everything
They’re made to kill people
It doesn’t make any sense
I hurt so bad over that
It’s not my life I’m hurting over
It’s just like … I don’t …
I wanna go home in one piece
I wanna see my family again
And I want my soldiers to see their family’s again

And you wanna know the crazy part?
We knew it was coming
We closed the gate today
But I had to do my job
So I let most of my guys go after the half day
My Sgt and I stayed at the gate

The crazy part is that it didn’t explode and that’s the only reason nobody got hurt
Sometimes the detonation mechanism doesn’t fire
It missed some Iraqi soldiers by like forty yards
They could’ve been aiming for the gate … I figured the margin of error … the gate was well inside range

M: So they missed?

Yeah, they missed
The good news is that they miss all the time
They’re horrible shots
But they still manage to hit something … people … equipment

I love you
I miss you
I wanna come home
You would be proud of me
I stay strong in those moments

There was a woman at the gate with no body armor no protection … that woman from the non-profit, non-government ... she stood there watching the rocket fly over ... just stood there … the Sgt standing next to her … we gotta get you to a … it was about 75 yards … a run to our building … we had an extra flack jacket, so we gave it to her while she was there.

These attacks come in batches
They’ll hit you two or three at a time and then wait 20, 30 minutes and then hit you again
They usually dispatch the Apaches … fighter helicopters with guns on them … to go hunt

I hate this …
I don’t wanna be here

God did a very good thing for me when he put me in a place where I would be forced to see the nastiness
Even the men I came here with… sit in their air conditioned offices … they’re separated by distance and when Sgt and I went there to tell them we were safe … they’re like ok … thanks… oh, you were down there?

We’re desensitized to loud noises here because there are groups who actually control …
It would never hit them… I mean, where they’re located … it would never hit them … they would never be hit.
The First Sgt was there … I did learn that he went out of his way to make sure we were ok … you wanna know why? … cause when the rockets hit down at the gate last week … he was there … he knows …
he knows how scary it is

Wanna hear a funny part about it?

M: Yeah… tell me the funny part.

There’s a sign, a big arching sign over the road right at the front gate … It’s suppose to say “Camp _____” but it doesn’t.
It has the old name of the camp still there, and we all hate that sign but there’s no money to change it … well, the rocket hit close to that sign.
It missed by like 40 meters
We all thought "Damn" ... if it hit the sign we could fix it
The problem is there were people under that sign …