A Random Picture and an Update

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A picture from when I visited Lookout Mountain.

This picture is totally unrelated to the content of this post. I just thought it was pretty.

I’ve been out of town for a little bit, hence the lack of posting. I was volunteering at a church conference in Nashville. It was awesome! Fantastic pastors and a lot of fun.

I’m about to head out of town again, but I wanted to post something before I went back to radio silence. I posted a couple of short stories I’d written, so feel free to check them out. In the meantime, I’ll be getting ready for my trip and trying to figure out what to read or write next.

mkb

Dear Mrs. Baade: You Were Right About Cursive

My third grade teacher was a sweet woman named Mrs. Baade. She loved apples, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and cursive. My elementary school taught all of the students how to read and write in cursive in the third grade, and Mrs. Baade was wonderful at it. She had some of the most beautiful penmanship I have ever seen.

While I like to think of myself as an enthusiastic student, I was not excited about cursive. I hated it. I had pretty terrible handwriting to begin with, and my cursive wasn’t much better. Plus, it was hard to learn, some of the letters (Like capital “G”) made no sense to eight-year-old me, and it took over a two minutes to write a sentence that I could whip out in scrawled printing in mere seconds.

Thankfully, we were only required to write in cursive through the fifth grade. Through middle and high school, we were not required to write in cursive. It seemed like a useless skill. Nobody, except for two friends of mine, wrote regularly in cursive. I sometimes would use my third-grade skills to make old-looking props for drama, or embellish a drawing, or, obviously, to sign my name; but otherwise, I always printed.

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An actual page from the diary I’ve been working with. 

This summer, I’ve been working at the county archives near my home. The project I’ve been working on involves transcribing and researching a young man’s diary from 1866. It’s involved me having to go through estate files, census records, and lots of other personal or legal documents. We’re talking about a time before the popularization of typewriters, and the age before people wrote letters, filled out forms, or wrote journals by printing the letters. Everything is in cursive. And not Mrs. Baade’s gorgeous, font-like cursive: this is fast-paced probate judge, busy and half-starved farmer, or barely literate Civil War veteran cursive.

 

And obviously, this is not the only document of historical merit that is written in cursive. Any number of digitizedcursive documents can be found online. If you’ve never been taught to read cursive, you haven’t got a chance at understanding any of those ten linked documents.

But this isn’t just for historians: with the big push in education right to now send students to analyze primary source documents, isn’t it a little strange that cursive is simultaneously being downplayed in some schools? How can a student transcribe or analyze a historical document if she can’t even read it?

Learning to write in cursive was hard, it wasn’t fun, and I still have ghastly handwriting. But if it wasn’t for my sweet third grade teacher, I wouldn’t have gotten this internship. I wouldn’t be able to write my friend’s names all fancy on their birthday cards. I wouldn’t be able to read notes or letters from any of my older relatives, my mother, or my friends who prefer cursive.

In closing, I would like to submit the following:

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Shoot for the Mundane: A Defense of a Normal Life

You can tell a lot by looking at senior quotes. I’ve got yearbooks from all four of my years in high school, and I noticed that there’s one that comes up over and over and over again.

Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

– Anonymous

I find this proverb to be a little trite, to be honest. It’s been tremendously over-used, for starters, and I don’t really understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having goals, or even big goals, is a bad thing. In fact, I think having big goals is a wonderful, very useful thing. The problem comes from what our big goals are.

moon-landing-60582_1920Have a talk some time with your nearest college student. You’ll start to notice a problem. All of us want to be astronauts. Not literally, but all of us want to be in jobs that are as selective, as challenging, as far out in the outer reaches of space as astronauts. We want to be in the top of a field that doesn’t exist. We want to graduate with a degree in Creative Thought Studies and make six figures at a progressive online start-up. We want to shoot immediately to the top of the pay scale, retire at 40, and go backpacking through Europe every summer. It’s ridiculous.

I’m guilty of this. This past year, I started looking into an accelerated Master’s program within my college’s History Department. My plan was to finish my Bachelor’s and Master’s in four years, get my Ph.D., and be working as a college professor by the time I was 30. I’ve got good grades, I’m a hard studier, I love history — I can do it. Except I can’t.

I started really thinking about it, and when I was painfully honest with myself, I realized that I just couldn’t. I was already so stressed as an undergraduate that I was losing sleep and feeling constantly anxious. It finally dawned on me that if I was struggling to control my stress as a college student, it would be completely out of control if I ended up pushing myself to be a college professor. I was heartbroken. My dream died when I told myself that.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to let a dream go. That’s part of growing up. That’s part of realizing what we are and aren’t capable of doing. We need to be honest with ourselves and with one another about what is actually feasible. Not only that, but we also need to re-evaluate what is truly helpful and necessary to society.

My grandmother is in a nursing home. When you visit a nursing home, you’ll probably see a dozen or so men and women in scrubs running around and taking care of our elderly friends, neighbors, and relatives. These people are Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs. They befriend, feed, change, bathe, and generally care for people like my grandmother. They work long hours and they do a hard and often un-glamorous job. But it is also one of the most helpful jobs out there in society. I owe the young women who help my grandmother get in and out of bed every day a debt that I’ll never be able to repay.

There are lots of jobs like that, in many different fields, for many different levels of education. You can make yourself a peanut butter sandwich in the comfort of your own home because someone made sure there was enough on the shelf last night while you were asleep. You can get your house checked for termites because someone picked up the phone at the bug-zapper place and told another someone to drive over to your house. You can read this blog because someone taught you about sight words and where commas go when you were in the second grade.

clouds-323426_1920These jobs aren’t found on the moon, or in the stars. They’re here on boring old earth. They’re normal. We’ve concocted this false dichotomy, though, where normal is bad and different is good. Normal can be good, too. In fact, normal is necessary for a society to function. These normal jobs might not make you the most interesting person at a dinner party, but they will give you financial security, time with your loved ones, and a sense of doing something good for society. And you never know, people who begin life with ordinary jobs sometimes end up doing extraordinary things.

So maybe, instead of shooting for the moon, shoot for what you can do. Shoot for what you can give to better society. Shoot for the mundane; even if you miss, you’ll land among people you can help.

Book Review: Brave New World

I recently read Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. I had just finished reading Amusing Ourselves to Death (I’ll write on that one later), which referenced Huxley’s book throughout, so I decided to give it a try. Brave New World is not for the faint-hearted. It has graphic scenes throughout, and its themes are meant for a mature audience. That being said, it was truly eye-opening.17vcsf62c89qljpg

I won’t go into much detail with the plot. Suffice to say, the book serves as a fable warning against the love of comfort and happiness, especially when it supersedes truth and morality. Set in a not-too distant future, in a world oriented around Henry Ford, zippers, virtual-reality, and fun, the cast of characters play out lives full of instant, constant pleasure, total societal order, and complete peace.

This book is disturbing. Huxley had eerie foresight into what our modern world, in many ways, looks like. While perhaps we are not worshiping Ford or quite so enamored with zippers, virtual reality is gaining traction and constant distraction and amusement is the norm — how long have you or I gone without checking Facebook in the past hour?

Personally, I found one argument imbedded in Huxley’s work the most compelling. This brave, new world he describes is undeniably happy. Everything is fun. Everyone is totally content and satisfied — well, nearly everyone. But this brave, new world is also undeniably broken. The morality preached in Huxley’s world is deplorable, and reading some of the scenes (such as when two characters are talking about sex in an elevator filled with their coworkers) made me viscerally uncomfortable.

I took an ethics class a while back, and the whole thing was basically a semester-long argument for utilitarianism. The greatest good — the greatest pleasure — the greatest happiness — the greatest fun — for the greatest number. Huxley’s world executes this perfectly. The results are a genetically-engineered caste system, the total loss of art, the extermination of religion, the numbing of emotional capacity, and universal, constant, instant depravity.

But everyone is happy.

But back to my ethics class: it was hard for anyone to argue a counterpoint to utilitarianism. Who doesn’t want to be happy? And on top of that, utilitarianism also promises safety and comfort. It promises a utopia. It promises a Brave New World.

So, dear readers, I suggest you give Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a read. It’s relatively short, not densely written, and very thought-provoking. Read it, and remember it the next time anyone promises you a solution to make the whole world happy. You might find that universal happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

mkb

My Apple Tree: Some Changes.

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been tinkering with the blog some. I’m in the process of revitalizing it after about a year of not posting. So, if you’re a long-time subscriber, please be aware that the format of this site is going to change.

Why, you may ask?

I constantly see blogs run by or targeted at people roughly my age, and frankly, I find them a bit depressing. I am capable of processing information not in a “listicle”, gif format. I enjoy reading and writing works of fiction that provoke emotions and stir up thoughts. I want informative pieces that escape the hum-drum world of naked celebrities and pointless misinformation. I see the state of human culture, media, and most especially the Internet, and it worries me.

There’s a Martin Luther quote that I like: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

I’ve taken that and run with it. Stick around.

mkb