Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Though it's been sadly uninspired as of late, this blog is now one year old.

Happy First, "Adam's In Site"!

Here's a list of links to my three favorite entries of 2009:

1) My "Social Experiment"
2) In My Opinion No. 1: Animals
3) Yes, I Speak Teacher

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eternal Student

PhD applications are in!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Then and Now

Both community colleges where I teach have construction sites for new buildings. It's amazing how small, local colleges are exploding in terms of popularity and enrollment, generating a never-ending need for more class space. The phenomenon has given me pause as I contrast this past summer's with my current employment. For a brief three-week stint, I was one of those construction workers. One of my coworkers at the time told me that anytime I felt frustrated with teaching I just needed to remember the heat, fatigue, and squalor of being on the lowest rung of the construction industry.

In that vein, I've got a list of stark contrasts, then and now:
  • Then: My day started at 4:30 a.m. I can't tell you how violated I felt every time that blasted alarm went off at the ungodly hour.
  • Now: 6 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and you wouldn't believe how much of a difference an hour and a half makes. 9 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursdays--bliss!
  • Then: I sunburned and peeled and sunburned again before my skin adjusted to the Virginia summer sun and I stopped forgetting to apply sunscreen.
  • Now: I work under fluorescents and miss ol' yellow-face.
  • Then: Wicked callouses in just a few weeks. It's amazing what five straight days of shoveling gravel can do to unprotected hands.
  • Now: Baby soft again. I guess a month isn't long enough to make it permanent.
  • Then: Voracious appetite. I used to come home and eat thirds or fourths at every dinner.
  • Now: I have to remind myself to eat lunch.
  • Then: Typical attire included hardhat, safety glasses, long-sleeved shirt (on days with insulation) or white T-shirt to reflect the sunlight, industrial gloves, blue jeans, steel-toed boots (which discolored one toenail). Apply several coats of grime to complete the ensemble (grime = dirt + sweat).
  • Now: Collared shirt, sweater, belt and slacks, argyle socks, dress shoes, backpack. I only sweat if I overdress that day.
  • Then: Hating my job; dreading it every night before I went to bed.
  • Now: Loving life! (Merely tolerating the bad writing.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In My Opinion, No. 2: War

Deep down, I'm a pacifist. I believe it's the only postition that is morally viable. That said, I think that even something as heinous as war is sometimes necessary, but only when every other resort is utterly exhausted.

When gunpowder became commonplace on the battlefield sometime around the Napoleanic Era something irrevocably changed about warfare. It's right around this time that world history loses much of its appeal to me (and I minored in history). The gun is a devastatingly powerful weapon in terms of both accuracy, range, and damage. I don't think it's prosaic to say that its widespread use and the invention of even deadlier weapons have forever altered the course of human history.

Most disturbing to me is the gun's dehumanizing effect. Modern soldiers never see their enemy face-to-face, allowing us to more easily overlook individuals obliterated and become innured to the sheer numbers of lives lost. It used to be that you would stand toe-to-toe with your opponent in a match of skill, strength, and stamina. You needed to know something about them, which sometimes led to respect and admiration, if ancient literature--which often extols the virtues of a "worthy opponent"--is any indication. Today, in our efforts to minimize American casualties, we've developed technologies so advanced that we can now send an unmanned plane to level a building, push a button to bomb a city, or snipe a "target" from a mile away. I used to know an LDS artilleryman who had served in Desert Storm and wasn't sure if or how many he had killed, but was haunted by the fact that he may have hit innocent bystanders. Modern warfare is both strange and tragic; no wonder much of the literature about it is bleak, depressing, and hopeless.

Because war, by definition, is the systematic destruction of another group of human beings and their livelihoods, it should never be treated lightly. Naturally, I'm troubled with the many organizations, such as today's Al-Qaeda, and nations, like Nazi Germany, who wantonly dole out death to accomplish their aims, as if it were the primary solution to any problem.

But what of us? We're certainly not the killers that some groups are, but I wonder if sometimes the United States is either too hasty or too inconsistent in going to war. For over 70% of the 20th century, the United States was engaged in some type of warfare, from territorial wars in Latin America to the two World Wars to Cold War conflicts and, finally, to Desert Storm. While we have long since abandoned wars for territorial acquisition, our more recent justification for war usually falls somewhere between protecting American interests/survival and spreading democracy. But are we unwavering and honest in these endeavors?

We have become a policing nation in the sense that we go to war to right international wrongs and bring unethical ideologies down. But we do so inconsistently and often overlook the most heinous of crimes against humanity. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, killing about a thousand Kuwaiti civilians, we began a seven-month conflict to liberate the overrun country. Just three years later, between 500 thousand to a million people were killed in the Rwandan Genocide while the United States looked on, actually lobbying, just after the fighting began, that all UN troops leave Rwanda. The genocide in Darfur is making headlines today, but little is actually being done about the conflict with fatalities now numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Some promote our role as the global enforcer for democracy, but we are variable in our dedication. The United States went to war with factions in Korea, Laos and Vietnam in the 1950s and 60s to halt the spread of communism, a sort of political preemptive strike. But we never made similar attempts in Russia or China, probably because wars with superpowers would have been disastrous for us. Today, we ignore the newest communist leanings in countries like Moldova and others. With the possible exceptions of China and North Korea, communism has almost become a joke, synonymous with poverty and backward thinking.

No, terrorism and tyranny are the modern manifestations of political evil. Americans believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and went to war to stop the perceived threat. Years and many casualties later and we know now that Iraq was merely posturing in an attempt to look more powerful. There were no weapons of mass destruction to be found and no evidence that there had been any. Some say that we ousted an immoral and threatening head of state and, therefore, did the world a favor, but was that justification enough to go to war? If it is then we have a long list to tackle, including Kim Jong-il of North Korea, Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and others. Certainly ousting each one would stretch our military resources very thin, and is therefore impractical, but I still don't understand our rationale. Why Hussein now and Ahmadinejad later?

As with all other moral concerns, I look to my religion for answers and guidance. Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle of the Church, described war as the "most satanic and evil state of affairs that can exist [...]. It is organized and systematic murder" (Mormon Doctrine). Under what circumstances then would the Lord permit such evil?

The Book of Mormon is rife with war, especially as the events wind down to the genocide that wipes out the Nephite civilization. In fact, primarily as a result of studying the Book of Mormon, I ruled out preemptive strike as a justifiable reason to go to war. If we are meant to liken the Nephites to ourselves, then their account becomes very relevant to this discussion. One LDS blogger's take on war goes as follows:
"[N]ever in the whole of the Book of Mormon can there be found a single instance of any group, who is identified as righteous, launching a war or invading enemy territory even when they had clear and compelling evidence that they were about to be attacked. [...] According to the Book of Mormon there are several conditions, all of which must be met, to justify war: 1) Life and land and rights must be threatened by an enemy that wishes to take them away by forcible subjection (Alma 43:9-10, 43:46-47). 2) The enemy must actually have the power to follow through on their threat to deprive the conquered of their rights, land, and life (Alma 43:14, Alma 48:4). 3) War should be in defense against invaders (3 Nephi 3:21)."

Additionally, the Nephites are divinely instructed not be "guilty of the first offense and neither the second" (Alma 43:46). When the Gadiation robbers, who have some similarity to modern terrorist groups, threatened the Nephites, the Nephite response is instructive: "[...] if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands" (3 Nephi 3:21). If preemptive strike is unacceptable for the Nephites, then what of us?

Initially, then I was confused in rereading comments on the current conflict in Iraq. Church President Gordon Hinckley said in April 2003 that "as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders. They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally." Then again, bearing in mind that the Church is an international organization, his comments were directed to all members under various leaders with different opinions on war. Additionally, I wonder if Church members are as willing to accept President Hinckley's comment today, now that we have a new administration with a different outlook on war. I believe we are still beholden to "being subject to [...] presidents."

Other religious leaders also possess spiritual insight. Last year I read a biography on Gandhi and was very impressed with his life and mission. Gandhi taught that non-violent protest is more powerful than war because it converts an enemy's soul, instead of destroying it. I'm also interested in the idea the apostle Dallin Oaks outlines, that Jesus did not attempt to oust the tyrannical Roman Empire but taught his followers to be good citizens and peacemakers. In fact, Christ was rejected as the Messiah partly because the Jews had "missed the mark" and thought the Savior would fight their battles and liberate them politically.

Finally, I am comforted by the teachings of Elder Oaks in his talk entitled "World Peace." He espouses the idea that peace is not the absence but the opposite of war. In order to promote global peace, we must become local peacemakers. Praying and hoping for world peace is insufficient. Healing our relationships, forgiving quickly, and helping others is also necessary. If everyone really did that, all wars would cease.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I am Ninja

This Halloween I was a ninja-pirate, or, I should say, a ninja with pirate elements. Here are some of the crazy antics I had with my friends last weekend:
Arriving at the barn dance with Eve in traditional Japanese dress and my roommate Carl as a bucket list.

From right to left: Myles as a medieval peasant from the hit movie "A Knight's Tale," Heidi as Princess Fiona, me, and Merry as herself.

Nobody kicks the bucket on my watch!

Urban ninja!

Trick-or-treating on Embassy Row. This is the gang in front of the Cosmos Club with random Cosmos Club employee.

We went to a corn maze Halloween night. It was not frightening, so I didn't have to punch anyone this time.

After the corn maze, we went to my apartment, watched "Corpse Bride" and ate Halloween cake. It was so good it made Sarah cry.

Perhaps I should also mention that I did extensive research on the art of being ninja. Here's a small taste:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In My Opinion, No. 1: Animals

It may surprise some of you, readers, but I'm deeply interested in animals. I blame my parents, who got me a subscription to Zoobooks while in my formative years when I didn't know any better. Thus began a long-lasting interest in the kingdom that is defined, according to the Smithsonian Institute's Animal, as any multicellular species that takes in food. As a food-consumer myself, I can identify with that sort. That's my kind of organism!

Resultantly, I know things one shouldn't know about animals. I know why pigeons have acclimatized so well to urban settings. I've read how certain ravens have been observed using passing cars to open hard seeds and nuts. I know that, in danger, squirrels circularly climb, simultaneously escaping danger on the ground while putting the trunk between themselves and any airborne predator. Owls' ears are on the sides of their head, while the tufts on top simply direct sound. While cheetahs are the fastest animal on land, pronghorn gazelle are the second fastest, peregrine falcons fastest in air, and sailfish fastest in water. The axolotl is a creature that even in adult form has not metamorphosed as other amphibians do (and as its DNA was designed) but can be artificially matured in a laboratory. The ancestors of gerbils come from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, while chickens hail from tropical jungles in Southeast Asia. And, yes, I have read cover-to-cover the book sitting on my shelf entitled How to Raise Milk Goats Successfully.As I've matured, the basis for my interest in animals has shifted from boyhood curiosity to firmer ground. As with so many other things in my life, I find that my spirituality influences my way of thinking. How compelling it was for me to discover that animals have spirits of their own and that some will inhabit the heavens, that they too are here to fulfill a measure of creation, and that God has commanded humankind to treat animals well. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I am reminded every time I go to the temple how important the Earth and its lifeforms are to God. Nature is beautiful, complex, and majestic and, in my opinion, worth preserving even if we are inconvenienced in doing so.

I'm a firm believer that all lifeforms have intrinsic worth and that to take a life, directly or indirectly, animal or human, is a practice that must be held up to careful scrutiny. That being said, I'm not a vegetarian and I value human life much more than the life of, say, a cat. Even a really awesome cat. In fact, the aesthetic or utilitarian qualities of animals seldom affect the importance I place on any particular species. I kill only in self-defense or to eat. If a mosquito attacks, I fight back. I feel no guilt eating meat. But I am willing and do pay more for animal products humanely raised and slaughtered. I've even been known to go out of my way to take a nasty insect outside instead of crushing it with the nearest shoe.

But it's strange to me that so few people share my feeling. After thinking about it, I grew surprised that the Christian world in general seems so apathetic toward animal life, with little or no liturgy on the subject.

That said, might I suggest some reading material on the subject of animals/nature that might be of interest to Christians (and Mormons in particular): Genesis 1:26, 28; 9:2-5; JST Genesis 9:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Psalms 115:16; Proverbs 12:10; Isaiah 45:18; Daniel 1:8, 12, 15; 1 Timothy 4:1, 3-4; Doctrine and Covenants 49:18-19, 21; 89:12-13; 104:13-14; Moses 7:48-49. Also, Gerald E. Jones' "The Gospel and Animals."

What especially saddens me is the extinction of an entire species. As a LDS, I know that all animal life will be resurrected so, in a way, the species is not forever lost. But is that a viable justification for causing a species to go extinct? If so, the same rationale can be used about taking other forms of life, even human. Through intentional harm, apathy, overhunting, or lack of foresight, we sometimes bar a unique group of animals from multiplying. Do we not rob them the ability to obey the law God specifically gave them in the creation?

I conclude with a Zion's Camp story, from the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "We crossed the Embarras [R]iver and encamped on a small branch of the same about one mile west. In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger" (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2:71-72).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

i miss books

For almost an entire month I have not indulged in any leisure reading. My mind has not atrophied because I still read plenty of essays and short stories in order to teach my class. It's my soul that ails me these days.

I am in the middle of reading Les Miserables but it's anyone's guess when I'll have time to finish it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bucket List

A friend recently posted on her blog 100 things she wanted to do before she dies. Coincidentally, I already had made one about a year ago and thought I'd drag it out and post it. Here are the highlights of my list; skipped numbers indicate something I've left out for privacy's sake while things crossed out indicate something completed but possibly needing repeating:

1) travel to Europe, South America, East Asia
2) get married in the temple
3) become a father
4) baptize my children
6) write a book
7) publish said book
8) learn to paint
9) complete a week-long hike
10) live in a wooded area
11) sail a boat
12) plant a garden
13) learn birdwatching
14) habitually have long talks with my siblings
16) laugh every day
17) baptize a friend or neighbor
18) white-water rafting
19) build a giant sandcastle
20) learn to make old-fashioned maps
22) live with friends
23) fulfill my ward callings
24) read scriptures, pray daily
25) learn bass guitar
26) get a Ph.D
27) inspire some students
29) learn assertiveness
31) read great literature
32) eat my own home-grown food
33) recycle
34) buy a hybrid car
35) live in a foreign country (preferably Brazil, New Zealand, or Portugal)
37) donate to charities
38) visit Africa
39) own a cat, name him Maxwell
40) raise cashmere goats
41) live in the country
42) own a library
43) ride my bike weekly
44) get to the point that I can ride my bike as long as I want without exhaustion
45) learn more languages
46) become a better cook
47) help build my own house
48) remodel an old house
49) live by a lake
50) live along the Pacific northwest
51) serve another mission
53) teach college
56) do more projects with my dad
57) attend hockey games
58) publish an essay
59) plan fun dates
64) take ancestors' names to the temple
65) visit my grandparents in Canada
66) put others before myself
67) see a Broadway show
68) play sports
71) design a floorplan
72) build furniture/bookshelves
74) learn east-coast swing dance
75) start/join a book club
77) frequent the temple
78) know God
82) go on a non-typical cruise
83) climb some serious mountains
84) help save wildlife
85) dress up every Halloween
87) 200 in bowling
88) find music I like again
89) store food
91) pay off student loans
92) pay a full tithe
93) donate to the Perpetual Education Fund
94) raise chickens
95) get a new wardrobe
96) 100% home teaching
99) witness children learn to walk/talk/read
101) see Christ

ED: items in italics are things I'm currently working on.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Yea or Nay

For the past month and a half I've been sporting a beard.
At first it was just a lark. I was working with a roofing crew the last two weeks of the summer and it seemed the natural course of things to try to blend in, especially after they found out I had no criminal record. Plus, I was lazy. Not shaving meant I had an extra ten minutes in the morning, precious time when you're waking at 4:30 a.m.

But the beard-growing became more deliberate when I contemplated the maturing effect it has on my baby face, which belies my 28 years. I was about to start teaching English to college freshman and I didn't want to look like a student. When people guess my age it's usually in the 23-25 range, which is roughly the same age as some of the freshmen at Montgomery and NOVA. So I've kept it a few weeks into the semester to establish myself as an authority figure. All fear me.

People say I look good with a beard, that it "works." Someone even said, "As a rule I don't like beards, but yours isn't bad."

But I'm still not sure bearded is really me. I look in the mirror and continue to surprise myself with my appearance. What's more, sometimes it itches, especially on humid days. And you know that comforting feeling that washes over you when you turn your pillow over and it's cool on the other side. I don't feel it anymore, just bristles.

So, it's time to cast your vote. Beard or no. Plenty of pros and cons, which balances the scales and makes me indecisive. Your vote could tip the balance.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Since I've started teaching I always conclude e-mails to my students like this:



(I can't very well put "Love, Adam," can I!) To be honest, I copied this complimentary closing from my grad school professors. My thesis advisor always ended his e-mails this way, as did a lot of other faculty at Georgetown. But here's my question: What does it mean? It must be an abbreviated way of saying, "Best of luck," or "Best Wishes." But I've also thought it might mean, "I'm the best," "Who's the best?" or maybe even "I like you best." (I think I've ruled out "Bestially.") Can anyone help me on this one? How did this start? Or, if you want to play a different game, make up your own interpretation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yes, I speak Teacher

Guess what! I love teaching college. There, I've admitted it.

And, to be honest, it's not what I thought it was. I heard horror stories. You've probably heard them too. Students described as non-participatory and remedial who write substandard prose. They are shockingly nasty words to come from educators.

My students, young as they are, are brilliant and driven. Don't believe me? Cases in point: Mere minutes after the first day of class a student takes an online quiz that isn't due till mid-October and receives an A-. Another student anticipates an assignment days before I tell the class about it and hands it in (typed!) just moments after I assign it. Another student already knows what his final paper topic will be and it's amazing (1960's Brazilian musicians' influence in national politics). Students talk about literature with insight and opinion. I ask a question and several hands shoot up. They argue persuasively, with minimal prompting, on the social ills of corporate greed, discrimination, apathy, and substance abuse.

The irregularities turn out to be my own. I've noticed that I pace in front of the classroom, almost from one end of the whiteboard to the other. Why? Am I a wild animal in a cage? It's not nerves, because I simply don't feel nervous. I thought I would, but...nope. I started to sit behind my desk to correct the problem, but after my mom told me that that's probably distancing to my students I now sit on my desk. And I think about my classes all the time, even when I'm not preparing for the next lecture. Furthermore, I feel like ideas come to me through the Spirit all the time. Sometimes I'm teaching in class and the students teach me and I get chills. It's incredible.

In short, I can now say that, for the first time in my life, I am a satisfied employee. Now if only it paid better....

Friday, August 21, 2009

Post-Summer Update

Yes, as of next week summer is over. Sure we'll have a few warm weeks ahead, but school is in. And get ready, because I'm moving back to D.C. on Monday!

I'm been working furiously on my class syllabi the last couple of weeks. I'm teaching two sections of a course called "College Composition II" at Northern Virginia Community College and one section of a course called "Techniques of Reading and Writing" at Montgomery College. I won't say which, but I am much more excited about one class than the other. The less exciting class has lots of hoops the school is making the students and instructors jump through, making it difficult to find ways to keep the students from disliking English. But, I'll do my best to be creative.

I'll be living with Carl Cranney and Steve Ward, just a hop, skip and a jump (or a street, a bridge and a parking lot) from Parkside. That's very exciting, mostly because normally when I move into a new apartment it's usually always with strangers (LDS strangers, but still strangers). It usually leads to good friendships, but how comforting it is that I already know my roommates. Oh, and if you're reading this, feel free to drop by my new digs (during reasonable hours).

Lastly, my sister Angela came over last night for an end-of-summer party. We played video games, watched a movie, had dinner, and painted. Here are some pictures and my latest painting:

Angela at work
Angela's half-finished painting
my painting, supplies, and work area
my half-finished painting

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Chimney in the Woods

My parents walk the dogs in the woods behind their house several times a day. One day they ventured farther than usual and stumbled upon a chimney standing alone in a little clearing. The house has rotted away and there are no signs of a yard but for an old well half-filled in and a pile of stones.

We are left not knowing who lived there or what they did for a living. The image of that chimney in the woods, however, is captivating:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Painting Fauna

I've taken up a new hobby this year--acrylic painting. It began as a challenge from my brother. He wanted a piece of artwork from each of his brothers and sisters to hang on the wall in his living room. Not having much experience in visual arts, but willing to give it a try, I went out and bought a canvas, paints, brushes, and invited a date to paint with me.

Now I find that painting is a challenging and engaging hobby and I plan on doing more of it from now on. (Also, I don't buy Hallmark cards anymore; I make my own.) My favorite subjects to paint are wild animals and nature scenes. Here's one I recently did of a bluebird:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mid-Summer Update

In a previous post, I announced to the world that I dislike summer. After reading a few of your comments, I should clarify: I have nothing against warm weather or Mother Nature--the flora is beautiful--it's our man-made tendency to let our minds atrophy that hurts me so. Still confused? I shall now give an example from my personal life:

In May, I graduated with a Master's degree in English. I had three full weeks to look for gainful employment so that this summer I might continue, um, living. I had no time to look for work before graduation because writing my thesis had eaten up every sane moment of my life. I know what you, my fellow blogger, are probably thinking. If you were strapped for cash why did you go to England? I admit it looks like a strange thing to do, but I'm fairly certain it was personal revelation that prompted me to visit those London streets (and scroll through microfilm of about the same length as those streets). The point is that in making it my full-time job to look for work for the three weeks prior to my trip, I thought I had it covered. Alas, I spent between 6 and 7 hours a day at it for that long, all to no end. I kept praying for God to just give me something, but He had other plans in mind.

So as I packed my bags for England, I was also packing all my worldly possessions in order to move back to my parent's house as soon as I returned to American soil. It was a strange feeling for me, a 28-year-old who had been living on his own for several years. (My mom was thrilled though. Thanks Mom!) Sadly, I did not know if or when I would live in D.C. again and, to my surprise, I had grown attached to this urban area.

I wish I could say I redoubled my efforts in job hunting upon my return to the States, but I felt slightly defeated. Nevertheless, my earlier diligence was paying off and I started receiving e-mails and phone calls. In fact, of the three voice-mail messages waiting for me when my cell phone started working again (London is outside its range) two were about job interviews.

I started making frequent trips to D.C. from my parent's home in Virginia--a few hours' drive--to interview with potential employers. I was also looking for summer employment in this area, anything to keep me productive and financially self-reliant. I finally found work with a temp agency in Charlottesville. Reminiscent of the Great Depression, a horde of hopefuls and I descend on a downtown office every morning at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. for work. We wait in the lobby for up to five hours for our name to be called. If I am called, I can expect a full or half-day's work moving office furntiture or doing construction cleanup at $7.80 to $8.50 an hour. I collect my wage the same day, check or cash. If my name is not called, I go home with no pay, ready to wake again at 4:30 a.m. the next day to try again. I now have odd hours of wakefulness and sleepiness; also, I'm reading more these days....

But, thankfully, the job hunting has paid off. I am happy to announce that I am going back to school, only this time I'm the teacher. I have been offered two classes at Northern Virginia Community College-Annandale and another at Montgomery College-Rockville. All three are freshman English courses. I'm really excited. I will actually be professionally doing what I've always wanted to do. How many people can say that?

I am very grateful to my parents who took me in and for friends who let me crash on their couches in D.C. every now and then. But once again--and here's my point--just like every other summmer, I am counting the days 'til Autumn so that my life can resume.

Monday, June 22, 2009

England Vacation

Here, as promised, is my post on the England trip of '09:

It is my maternal granddad's 80th birthday this year and we're having a family reunion in Washington state to celebrate his life. His name is Clinton Law but I call him my glowing granddad and perhaps you can see why. The man is virtually luminescent!

My contribution to the family reunion festivities came about because of a friend named Heidi Johnson and her inspired idea to go to England this summer to do family history. I have long wanted to go to anywhere in Europe and especially England, and coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences), the Law family hails from the West Midlands there. I was able to walk the same street my ancestors may have walked, study their lives, and see the churches they worshipped in and the cemetaries where they're buried.

A few months after Heidi introduced the idea to me, I had a plane ticket to London in hand and I was standing in the Dulles airport, about to fly across the Atlantic.

We spent five days sightseeing in London and then I alone traveled by bus to Birmingham in the West Midlands to investigate my own family history. The first thing that struck me about my family's old stomping grounds is how different the area must be compared to what my ancestors knew in the mid-nineteenth century and before. Today there is a sizeable Indian and African population with accompanying cultural influences and Birmingham is very industrial and dilapidated in parts. Indeed, the experienced shattered many of my preconceived notions of England. I often remarked to other members in our traveling group (Heidi, her sister Michelle, her aunt, two uncles, and two cousins) that it didn't really feel like I had left home. England felt like a very quirky corner of the USA.

Some of my favorite parts of the trip were seeing Canterbury Cathedral, taking in a production of Wicked, and walking the streets of London and Birmingham. But the coolest thing by far for me was finding the names of five people. I spent a couple of days in the Smethwick public library scrolling through microfilm for 7 hours, but when I found new names that I knew I was related to a thrill ran through me every time. One name brought such an onrush of the Spirit that I knew she had been waiting to be identified. She seemed to be saying, "You found me!" I also got to visit a cemetary where several of my ancestors are buried to take pictures and rubbings. I leave you now with a picture of the final resting place of my 4th-great-grandparents:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I am a Master of the Arts!

I just finished my last final today!

I am now on my way home to spend Mother's Day weekend with the family and for a much-needed vacation. See you next week, D.C.!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ode to the Thesis

A significant portion of the last year of my life has been poured into the research for, and the writing of a 72-page thesis entitled, "When Brazilians Brave Britain." Now it's all over. Yesterday, yes, only yesterday, I added a few final touches (and by a few I mean I pulled ideas out of nowhere for an additional five pages) and submitted it to the Graduate School.

Now I'm awash with different emotions. I, of course, feel relief, something so unlike stress I don't even know what to do with it. But I also feel a bit sad, how an empty-nester might feel watching his own "flesh-and-blood" go off into the big world where he has absolutely no more control over it. What's written there is permanent, set in stone--flaws, gaps in logic, ever-so-brief moments of brilliance, etc. Sadly, it'll probably sit in the basement of the library here at Georgetown and never again see the light of day...but I think (gasp!) I actually might miss the work. When I printed it out yesterday and the actual weight of it was in my hands for a moment I was downright giddy. I do not miss the deadlines, but the work for the actual thesis was rewarding, stimulating, eye-opening.

So, here is a digital toast to my thesis. May the ol' girl rest in peace!

Edit: If the thesis could have been illustrated, this picture would have been perfect!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sharing Breakfast

Yesterday morning as I was eating raisin bran in the dining room of my third-floor apartment, I glanced to my left to discover a large hawk in a tree branch just outside the window. It had a squirrel carcass in its talons and was ripping fur from it, no doubt to prepare it for eating. Yum!

Did it gross me out? On the contrary, it made my day. It was nice to share breakfast with a hawk.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My New Era Moment

I have had precious few "Mormon moments" in literature classes. While my professors sometimes assign risque literature, I always seem to get through the book by skimming and skipping scenes or pages. After all, it's my mind, right? I should be able to decide what becomes a part of my long-term memory.

As an undergrad, I even used said method to get through Lady Chatterley's Lover. What a quick read! All I know is that there was this game warden who was friends with this woman married to a paralyzed man and some interesting contasts between pastoral countryside and industrialized coal mines.

Anyway, one of my professors assigned The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi last week and after skipping the third sex scene I decided that it just wasn't worth it. To all within the sound of my digital voice, if you want to protect your innocence you shouldn't read this book. But because of my sense of duty (no doubt garnered in middle school), I decided to go to class anyway even though I'd only read about a third of the assigned reading.

Here's what happened immediately after class began:

Prof: Alright, so how many of you loved this book?
(90% of the class raise their hands)
Prof: Okay, how many hated this book?
(I alone raise my hand)

First of all, I was surprised. I didn't think the book (what little I'd read of it) was written very well. The protagonist was as weak-willed and static as Harry Potter (and you all know it!). Nevertheless, all eyes suddenly turned on me and my mind flashbacked to New Era articles I'd read about setting a good example and speaking out about your beliefs. Sure enough, here's what happened:

Prof: Adam, why didn't you like the book?
Me: Well, as the cover says (pointing to the cover because I couldn't really reference anything in the book), it's about "drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll." I like rock-n-roll, but the other two.... (I trailed off before I started explaining that I'd only had experienced rock-n-roll anyway.)
Prof: So, it offended your sensibilities?
Me: Um, yeah.

That was it. My sensibilities had been offended. Not exactly a New Era story but I felt like in the battlefield of life a moral victory had somehow been won...maybe.

But then guess what happened! A classmate sitting across from me also began expressing how it had offended her sensibilities too. Later on the bus ride home I sat next to her and she asked if I were religious. I told her I belong to the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints. We then started talking about skiing in the Rocky Mountains. I don't know what will come of this--probably nothing--but it was nice, I must say, to have this little moment.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Things That Go Bump In the Night, and Early in the Morning When I'm Trying to Sleep

Okay, so I think my apartment building is haunted.

First, there's the baby ghost, who cries any time day or night, just below us. I did see a woman from our building pushing a baby stroller this morning, but it was empty! Creepy, no?

Then there's the ex-rocker ghost one floor down and across from us. He plays his phantasmal drums at 8 a.m., making my morning reading of the book of Revelations even more rhythmic. Other times, he prefers the guitar.

And finally, there're the small shades of deceased squirrels living in our wall in the dining room. The scratching is incessant from noon until 4 p.m. This is a sound clip of my studying: type, type, type, scratch, scratch, type, type, scratch, scratch, scritch-scratch, whimper.

Either we're haunted or we have some very loud and interesting neighbors...and a rodent infestation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Summer Blues

Last Friday was the first day of Spring but I'm already dreading summer. What is it that gets me down (besides my fear of sunburns and sweating while standing still)? The absence of school.

When I was a kid I thought winter break should last three months and that we could continue going to school in the summer. Many a frigid winter morning when I was a kid I would stand in knee-deep Utah snow waiting for the bus and wish I were at home hibernating like the rest of God's creatures. I still love the cold, the snow, and believe that keeping kids off the roads in the winter just makes more sense, but I'm probably in the minority there.

Yes, even today I wish for summer-school. When summer comes it means I have to get a job in retail, let my mind go stagnant, and spend my time wishing I could be in a classroom somewhere. Let's face it, if I'm not hiking or eating icecream I'm dissatisfied with the whole summer experience.

Even more troubling is the fact that once this school semester ends, I will have a 15-month hiatus from school before I can start a Ph.D. program. So I've started weighing my options and I've decided to let friends and family vote on my future. I'll probably make the decision on my own anyway, but this at least will have the trappings of a democracy. Please select one of the following, with an explanation of your choice:

1) Teaching English abroadI've thought about ditching the USA for a year to teach English in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, or some other Portuguese-speaking country. (East Timor anyone?!) Not only can you pick this option, but you can weigh in on which country I should go to. I think I might even consider a country whose language I do not know. I loved living in Brazil for two years, love foreign cultures, teaching and learning languages, etc. etc. The down-side is that I've heard it's a very difficult and long process (3-6 months) to get a work visa and usually you need a sponsor employer before going. I could go to Brazil on a tourist visa (renewed every three months) but I don't think it's exactly legal, so due to my moral leanings that's out. I also worry about getting shot, mugged, or abducted but that could happen anywhere, right?

2) Tutoring full-time
I could stay in D.C. (I think I have an apartment lined up in Parkside if I want it) and try my hand at tutoring elementary and high school students. The plus-side is that people are willing to pay exorbitant rates for tutors and I already have a friend involved in it and he said he could find me some work. Moreover, I would still be relatively near my family and I still be in DC 2nd. I also love the idea of the tutor-student system, which is almost totally absent from our public education system. The down-side is that I have little experience, so I can't charge $100/hour, meaning I need to work more hours and I need to buy a car. I'd also be trying to start in the summer, when kids are on break (see my above grumblings) so work would be slow when I need it most. Plus, I won't be living in Brazil.

3) Teaching at a community college
I've already applied to teach at Montgomery Community College in Maryland and I can also apply to Prince George CC. Both are Metro-accessible so I wouldn't need to buy a car or move any farther than next-door to where I live now. Teaching would look great on my resume and it would be the closest thing to what my future career will look like, but for some reason, this option seems the least appealing to me. Maybe it's the thought of standing in front of forty students day after day, week after week knowing that if I assign a five-page paper it amounts to hundreds of pages of student-writing to read at home. *cringe*

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My "Social Experiment"

I used to think that being social came naturally to some people. You know, the kind of person who has something to do every night of every weekend for as long he/she can remember. I'm trying a little 'social experiment' of my own which I think will turn into a permanent change in lifestyle. Every night that I don't dedicate to studying (and by nightfall I'm usually ready to call it a day) or class, I make at least one concerted effort to hang out with at least one other person. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and I knew I needed to find something to fill the sudden vacuum that had appeared in my life. In fact, I had so much spare time that I just couldn't healthily fill it with down-time alone. In the words of Bill Cosby, "I'm no good on my own!"

It's a new and uncomfortable way of life and this post is for people who wonder if they can make a similar transition.

First off, it's hard! I'm beginning to suspect that it's hard for everyone and that my natural inclination is quite normal. Sometimes I just want to retreat into my shell, stay in my room, read a good book, be a little self-absorbed. I think that eventually I will need to find a balance between social life and me-time, but I think me-time has won out far too often in my life, so I'm trying this alternative for a while.

Organizing a party or calling up some friends is nerve-wracking and time-consuming. I'm plagued with a thousand little doubts about the quantity and variety of food I should make, if any; the number of people who will actually show up, if any; overshoot and invite the whole ward + grad school program or be more selective (or is that rude?); invite people in person, which I find exhausting and/or implausible, or by some electronic medium? Don't get me wrong, I love people and enjoy company and lots of it, but being proactive in this department challenges me.

Secondly, there have been days where I have felt like I need time to myself. So far, I've been ignoring that impulse usually to discover that I was shying away from the responsibility, not the time spent with friends. Just keeping at it I've discovered that people reciprocate, after a while. I've just had to remember this: people aren't used to this, my being interested in their time and lives, and they need time to get used to this change.

Thirdly, I've found that this new lifestyle, as challenging as it is, is worth every effort. In the past month I have had so many fun times with so many new people that I continue to be astounded at the sheer number of great people that live in this world, former strangers, former names and/or faces.

Gradually, my set of challenges is starting to change. Instead of wondering what I'm going to be doing on weekends, I've started to juggle my options. Now I'm having to deal with making sure I remember to invite everyone who might be interested or they'll call me out on not receiving an invitation. Now I start to crave a variety to social situations (because, honestly, how often can one guy play Settlers of Catan?!). That's not to say that this has become easy. I think I'm still a fairly private person and I'll often take the easy way out in social situations, but I'm progressing and getting closer to the kind of guy I've always wanted to be. Let me just say this in conclusion, it's hard but so totally worth it. If you need practice, just call me and we'll hang out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Oral Exam

Last Wednesday I underwent a rite of passage called orals, which is mandatory in order to graduate from the English M.A. program at Georgetown (though the thesis itself is not actually required). My chosen topic was Late 19th-century Anglo-Brazilian Relations in Literature. That's a long title but I'll try to condense the main idea.

Britain decided that after Brazil became independent in 1822 it needed the equivalent of a mother country to replace Portugal. For about 75 years, Brazil was part of what certain members of English Parliament were calling "Greater Britain." Basically, Britain reserved the right to tell Brazil how to run its government and how to conduct itself as a people. Despite religious, linguistic, and cultural differences (not to mention something called the Atlantic Ocean), Britain became Brazil's "best friend" which Brazil paid for in favors and treaties. Britain dominated Brazil economically but also attempted to impose their moral ideologies by enforcing an abolition of the slave trade. Brazil began to resent long years of unequal international relations while Britain struggled to understand why Brazil was not more cooperative.

In their literature, Brazilian writers often cast Europeans as their villains, usually French or English, but almost never Portuguese. (Americans have often cast their own "mother country" as the villains, a la English accents in Star Wars.) In Brazilian literature, Englishmen are drinkers, subtly aggressive, more interested in trade and inventions than women or friends, and deeply irreligious. English writers describe Brazil as a beautiful and rich landscape almost bereft of people. When English literature depicts Brazilians they are lazy, superstitious, unintelligent, and ignorant or poor, black slaves. One English traveler said that Brazil is a large untended garden overgrown with weeds in need of a more nurturing and careful caretaker.

It makes me wonder how history will represent the dominant powers of our modern world. Are large, powerful nations justified in imposing their ideology? Should they do it all over the world wherever a nation or organization hurts innocents or only against nations that are perceived as a threat to their own people? It makes me wonder why the United States attacks some nations, then leaves others alone that perform the same crimes against humanity or that pose a similar threat. What is the reason and rationale for our biases? What is the rubric for our "most wanted list"?

For my orals I presented my findings for 20 minutes; then my two advisors (Prof. Schwarz from the English department and Prof. Vieira from the Portuguese department) asked questions and bounced ideas off me. I think my presentation was dribble for the first 5 minutes but after the butterflies settled down it went more smoothly. I must say I am really glad that Prof. Vieira was there. Instead of asking questions, she contributed to the arguments I was making and made them that much stronger. After an hour and a half of this they sent me out in the hall so they could deliberate about whether or not I passed....

It's a strange and scary five minutes sitting in the hall waiting to see if what you've been studying for the past 6 months means anything, if it makes any sense. I ran into a friend a month or two ago who looked positively ill while he waited and didn't even notice me until I said hi. Thankfully, when the door opened Profs. Schwarz and Vieira were smiling and immediately congratulated me on passing. I can't tell you how nice it is to have orals out of the way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The joys of food poisoning...

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of the month, so I was fasting until dinner. That evening, my roommates and Claire's roommates collaborated on a wonderful dinner including chicken, biscuits, salad, fried carrots, brownies, etc. etc. I started feeling tired that evening and went home early, then straight to bed. I woke up at 2:30 a.m. barfing into the toilet not at all sure how I got to the bathroom. I know I'm terrible about posting pictures, but I think in this case, it's a good thing.

I spent the next day in bed eating nothing and drinking plenty of water. On the plus side, with my faculties intact, I got a lot of studying done but didn't have any fun doing it.

The next day I had class, so I got out of bed, and went to school. Literally three different people commented that I had either lost weight or just sat staring into space. I still don't feel totally well and I'm trying to go easy on my stomach, but hopefully in a couple of days things will return to normal.

In other news my orals exam was postponed a week, so it's now two weeks from yesterday. Yikes! I'd better get studying!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

So, I'm in my pajamas watching the inaugural festivities on television when I should actually be studying. I have an in-class presentation tomorrow but I feel strikingly unmotivated. It's hard to do any studying when half of D.C. is on holiday and the other half is treating their workday like an inaugural party. For example, last night my roommates and several other people I know spent the night sleeping in an office building. (I spent it in a sleeping bag on my bed because our heat doesn't work properly and I need more real blankets.)

Although I don't totally support Obama (sorry Amber), I don't not support him either (sorry Dad, Mom, and Jeremy). It'll just be very, very interesting to see what the next four years will bring. The most distressing thing I've heard is that he plans to almost immediately pass the FOCA. Plus, big federal government is also not the direction I want things to be heading. (But Bush and Cheney sort of went that direction too.) It seems like the more executive power you give one man, the more liable we are to experience corruption in government. Checks and balances, slower but less Caesar-prone. I can say that the most exciting thing is how many people support him and are talking about working with him. Individuals, average people are talking about how they can do their part in making the country better and that's exciting to me. Whatever happens, it's cool to live in the city where everything is taking place.

Oh, I have played more Settlers of Catan in the last three days than I ever thought I would or is possible. I guess nothing says Martin Luther King Jr. Day like, um, taking over an uninhabited island. Remember guys, mean people stink.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Navidad 2008

Feliz Navidad de nuestra familia a su familia!

Halloween 2008

Just wanted to share a picture from Halloween.

Great fun dressing up as Westley from The Princess Bride and I don't mind telling you that even though I look absolutely manly and masculine, that entire costume is made up of used women's clothing.

My Final Semester

I start classes tomorrow!

They are Literature of Atlantic Empires and Black British Writers. I've become so used to school that it feels like I never left... and maybe because I've been reading 150 pages every day all winter long anyway.

I'm seriously considering applying to teach at Montgomery Community College in the summer or fall. I just need to polish my resume and apply on-line. If I get a full-time position I may be making more money than I have ever made before, nay, double the amount I have ever made before. I may even make more than Claire is making!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seasonal Affective Disorder

I am so glad the days are getting longer. I think I have had a touch of what some might call Seasonal Affective Disorder this winter. All those rainy days, darkness, and absolutely no snow in the District. So, I've been turning on every light in my house at dusk, basking in the sunshine when I have it and eating healthy. But, phew, so happy the light is coming back!