14 Years Ago The World Changed

I don’t really have much to say that hasn’t been said a million times by a million people in a million different ways. Instead I’m going to share a poem I stumbled across on Tumblr earlier that felt particularly poignant this afternoon as I marinated in my own memories of that horrible day and bawled my eyes out over this.

“Searchers” by D. Nurkse

We gave our dogs a button to sniff,
or a tissue, and they bounded off
confident in their training,
in the power of their senses
to re-create the body,

but after eighteen hours in rubble
where even steel was pulverized
they curled on themselves
and stared up at us
and in their soft huge eyes
we saw mirrored the longing for death:

then we had to beg a stranger
to be a victim and crouch
behind a girder, and let the dogs
discover him and tug him
proudly, with suppressed yaps,
back to Command and the rows
of empty triage tables.

But who will hide from us?
Who will keep digging for us
here in the cloud of ashes?


Never Forget.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front

God, I forgot how soul sucking this book was.

I decided on a whim as Jim and I were perusing through the bookstore weekend before last to pick up a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front. I had read it in college as part of one of my core History classes – back when my head was filled with dreams of being a famous novelist and History was just something interesting and extra to fill spots in my course schedule – and had enjoyed it then. Even then I was drawn to the dark and brutal honesty of the prose. But once I was finished, I promptly put it aside and forgot about it. Eventually my copy found its way into the book donation box at the end of the year as I desperately purged things so we could fit everything in my mom’s car (probably, anyway – I just know I no longer have it).

It is, however, one of those works that I felt the need to re-read now that I’ve refocused my professional life on History. I remembered the experience of reading it only vaguely, but I knew that there was a whole world of stuff within the text that I could appreciate on an entirely new level now. So much small detail and nuance that I can guarantee you that I missed the first time around as a vaguely irritated and majorly homesick college freshman. And of course, I knew that I could see so much more of the big picture this time since I now possess a solid historical background in WWI beyond the, like, 5 minute summary my high school classes gave it and that one page from The Onion’s Our Dumb Century Collection that my Dad keeps on the coffee table.

Our Dumb Century WWI All good comedy has a grain of truth to it.

And oh boy, was I right. When I read it in college, I remember thinking it pretty sad. But it was pretty easy to move on from. Book closed, and on to the next thing – like how the hell I was going to survive this music theory course that I didn’t want to be in? Wam, done, that was that.

This time?

Oh this time.

My first reading of this in college had been split up over probably two weeks – which is a long time, honestly. The book’s not long, and I’m a decently fast reader. I probably read just a handful of pages a day. And now I can honestly say that that’s NOT the way to read this book. Splitting it up like that really really softened the impact of the prose, and of the content. But now, I’ve sort of become a binge reader – because I rarely have time during a normal week to read for pleasure, when I do, I read for literally the entire day. So this time, I read it in one sitting. And honestly? That’s the way to do it to really get it to hit home.

Take a Saturday. Settle in. Read from start to finish.

And when you’re done, take the time you need to recover. Because oh boy, should you need to recover.

This book is often hailed as the best war novel ever written – and quite frankly, for good reason. It is heart-wrenching and horrifying and tragic, and it depicts the cruelty and hopelessness of World War I with a poignancy that stabs you straight in the heart. Repeatedly.

But as traumatic as it is, it’s an experience I feel that everyone should have. It’s one of the few books I’ve encountered in my life that I really feel like everyone should read (and certainly this should be required reading for those in positions of power politically). Fiction though it may be, it strikes at the human reality of the war in ways that no non-fiction book I’ve read has managed. A concrete reminder of the terror of the war – and why we can never allow it to happen again.

I won’t say much more about it here, mainly because to get into details would require giving away content, and this is a book best approached unawares. To spoil content would be to spoil its overall impact. And that would be unforgivable in my eyes.

So I’ll end this review with this brief assessment: 10/10, 5 stars, would require (not just recommend).

(PS – it’s a particularly timely read right now, as we’re currently in the middle of the centennial years of the war – the war ran from July of 1914 to November of 1918.)

Back to School Week: Academic Advice from the Other Side of the Desk

Back to School Week Day 3 Academic Advice

So here we are at our last Back to School Week (that turned into two weeks because I’m still not quite back in the blogging groove) Post for this year! Some academic advice direct from your resident student-turned-professor. Being relatively young for a prof certainly has it’s benefits in being able to give this kind of advice because I am both familiar with professor expectations (having them myself!) and remember keenly what it’s like to be a student.

So here are Magpie’s top 9 pieces of academic advice for the college student!

Go to office hours.

Seriously. Your professors have that time specifically set aside to meet with and help students, and it’s a waste if you don’t use it! Most of us LOVE when students drop by, and office hours are your opportunity to get help with whatever you need. This is not high school – you get a bad grade on a test, your professors won’t chase you down and force you to get help. That onus is on you now. So do it!

Bonus to utilizing office hours: they will help you develop a personal relationship with your professors, which can be EXTRA handy down the road when in need of references for grad school, internships, jobs, you name it.

Plan ahead when you can.

Many professors will include a detailed schedule of lecture topics and assignments in the syllabus, and I can vouch for the fact that they do that for your benefit – not their own. Planning ahead will help you mitigate the worst symptoms of “hell week” around midterms and 2/3 of the way to finals by keeping you on top of all the little stuff. If you stay on top of reading and everyday assignments, you won’t have to panic when you get to that big paper or exam, because you’ll have the time built in already!

Take responsibility for your own screw-ups.

Admitting when you’ve balled something up and asking, “how can I fix this?” instead of making excuses and trying to act like it wasn’t your fault will earn you the respect of your superiors. Nobody likes excuses, and in general? We can tell when you’re making them to try to avoid consequences. We may not always call you on it, but in general – we know.

If there’s something going on in your life that is messing you up – talk to someone about it.

Schools have counseling centers for a reason. Going to talk to a councilor is NOT a sign of weakness, or just for people with “real problems*” or some other such bullshit. They’re there to help you figure out how to handle the things you can’t.

And as a side note to this one, when emergencies happen that interfere with coursework – let your professors know. I can’t speak for everyone out there, but if a student comes to me with an issue immediately after it comes up and before it starts actually having in impact, I’m generally a thousand times more capable of working with the student to figure something out than if they say nothing and then come to me at the end of the semester with a failing grade and excuses – however valid they might be. At that point, my hands are sort of tied.

*PS – if it’s impacting you enough to take a toll on your emotional health or your academics, it’s a REAL problem, even if you think it’s small beans compared to what other people in your life might be going through. Problems are not a competition, and there is no hierarchy… if it’s messing you up, it warrants fixing.

Utilize the resources your school provides you, particularly the academic ones.

Writing Centers, Tutoring Centers, you name it. You’re helping to fund them with your tuition dollars… might as well benefit from it. And in general, they will help you. Additionally, needing or wanting a tutor is not a sign of stupidity. I see so many kids avoiding using a tutor because they think if they need one that means they’ve somehow failed. Stop that line of thinking RIGHT. NOW. Tutors are there to help you. They’re resources put in place specifically to help you SUCCEED – just like the library or any other academic resource – not as evidence of your failure. Use them!

Your librarians are simultaneously the most valuable and least utilized resources on campus.

Seriously. They’re awesome. Get to know them, and get to know them well. You won’t regret it.

Take your composition/basic writing class seriously.

If you don’t have to take one, take the time on your own to learn how to write a solid academic paper. Know how to construct a thesis and support an argument. And take writing seriously – you may not think you need to write well for your field, but trust me: you do. Clear, efficient, and professional communication has its foundation in writing.

Don’t get your textbooks from the bookstore unless you have to.

Shop around – odds are you can find your books WAY WAY cheaper on amazon – even if you’re like me and prefer to buy new as opposed to used. On a similar note – usually the previous edition of textbooks are just fine in terms of material (although check with your professor on this if you can – occasionally there are exceptions to this rule) and are about 1000x cheaper.

And then finally…

Remember that college is first and foremost about receiving an education.

There’ll be plenty of time for fun, and absolutely you should be making time for it, but if your pursuit of leisure starts getting in the way of your academics, you need to do some priority re-shifting. What you’re paying for is the privilege of an education, and to waste that opportunity would be a shame.