The Errors & Omissions of a Former Grammar Pharisee

My Road to Damascus Moment

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Errors & Omissions

Learning to Accept Imperfection

I graduated from the University of Florida. I earned two degrees. My B.A. is in History and German. My M.Ed. is in Secondary Education. I defended my dissertation in Administrative & Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh in April. I’ll soon graduate with a doctorate, the highest degree in my field. I teach both English and German. I help college students with essays and research papers. I’m considered an expert. In short, I’m no stranger to the written word.

My father-in-law found three errors in my published novel. My entire identity as a writer and scholar was destroyed by a single text message.

With the help of a strong community, and a lot of introspection, I’ve rebuilt my identity and self-worth. It’s stronger than it was before. Like the rest of my colleagues, I’m a flawed writer doing his best to tell a story. I will no longer demand perfection of myself or fellow authors with a misguided sense of douchy intellectual arrogance.

The How & Why

I was a smug douche for the first 34 years of my life. I sneered at CNN, Wall Street Journal, and other publications whenever I saw typos in their published copy.

“Fire that bum,” I’d say. “Automatic F”.

How could I commit such a cardinal sin? Should my novel also receive an automatic F from my readers?

In my shame, I thought it should. I was reluctant to even write this post. Why should I call attention to my flaws and write that F on the cover of my novel myself? Maybe no one else would notice it.

I talked to other authors. To my relief, I discovered I was not alone. Since I’m not alone, I felt obliged to start a dialogue on this important topic.

Indie authors and bestselling superstars alike suffer the occasional lapse in their published works. Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, spelled “wavered” as “waivered” and refers to Rupert Murdoch as “Rupert Murdock”. Sexton is a national political voice and a NYT bestselling author. I’ve found minor typos in the published work of some of my favorite writers of fiction. It happens.

But it shouldn’t. The questions remain. Why does it happen? How does it happen?

My publisher is a small press. Much of their editing is reliant on mechanical formatting software. Such programs won’t always catch omissions like a missing word.

But my editor should. Right?

Yeah. My editor is a saint. She caught 99.9% of the errors and omissions in a 472-page novel. However, she’s an academic like I am. We’re trained to read quickly, often scanning entire sentences and paragraphs with a single glance. When there’s a missing word, our brains fill it in for us. Many voracious readers of novels read books with similar strategies. Perhaps that’s why just one of my readers has noticed my novel’s flaws. On the other hand, perhaps everyone else is just being polite.

In short, both technology and the human eye are imperfect. Despite layers of protection, an error sometimes sneaks into the published draft.

Coping

I once took an urban planning course at the University of Florida. During one long lecture, our professor discussed all the measures different cities used to ameliorate traffic congestion. At its conclusion, the professor opined that city leaders should do their best to minimize traffic issues, but most accept the fact that some congestion is the price of prosperity and growth.

Like these mayors, we authors strive to ensure clean copies for our readers. Rest assured, I edit and revise until my contact lenses pop out of my eyes from staring at the computer screen too long. I hired an editor to do the same.

But it still happens.

When it does, we shouldn’t assume it’s a result of carelessness or stupidity. I’ve made both of those haughty judgments in the past.

It happens because writers, like everyone else on this planet, are imperfect. We should support and love our fellow writers when we discover errors and omissions in their drafts, blogs, and published novels.

As a former Grammar Pharisee, I’ve had my “Road to Damascus” moment. Having realized that I live in a house of glass, I’ll refrain from throwing stones. I hope that my readers will judge my work on the strength of my story, and forgive the occasional sin of syntax.

When the criticism of other Grammar Pharisees arrives, I will smile in resignation and accept it as fair recompense for the numerous times I’ve been an arrogant douche in my lifetime. After building a deficit of negative karma in this field, I must now hope for grace. There are probably typos in this blog post. Since I’m on a bumpy Amtrak train to New York, just putting a word together is difficult.

Feel free to share your own personal stories of error & judgment. As imperfect writers, we’re all in this together!

 

{RL}

The Terror of Judgment

Why write?

 

A mentor of mine at the University of Pittsburgh called writing a battle against “the tyranny of the empty page”. On many mornings, I lost that battle. The causes were numerous. Procrastination, random videos on Facebook, Playstation4, self-doubt, doing all the chores in the house…these are just a few of the reasons for past defeats.

Lately, I’ve experienced a few minor victories. I finally published my first novel, and I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation.

That should be cause for celebration. Instead, I’m experiencing anxiety. If the act of putting pen to paper is a battle against the tyranny of the empty page, waiting for sales reports and literary reviews consists of anxiety-fueled trepidation. After victory against doubt, a writer experiences the terror of judgment.

How does a writer determine success? What brings that writer back to the empty page?

I recently sat down at brunch with my wife and her cousin. I contemplated those questions while conversing with Cousin Robert, a published author and a kind soul. I told him and my wife that I was uncertain about whether I would write the next book in the trilogy. If few bought it, and everyone who bought it hated it, why keep writing? Wouldn’t that be a message to put the pen down and shut the hell up?

Personally, I don’t give a damn if people hate my dissertation. The opinions of four people mattered: the scholars on my committee. They said I passed.  If people hate it now, I don’t care. I’ll smile, forget their names, put my head on my pillow at night, and sleep like a baby. Additionally, academics are normally passive-aggressive with their hatred of work. They might give me an underhanded compliment at a conference presentation, or write a snarky message about my methodology on a comment card, but they are very unlikely to tell me I suck directly to my face.

Reviewers and Twitter’s Keyboard Warriors, on the other hand, can be vicious. My novel is also not an academic piece analyzing an aspect of public policy formation; it’s a part of my soul. It’s my own artistic expression and voice. If people think it sucks, then they think that I suck.

Finally, why would I write another book if no one buys the first one? Isn’t that the perfect example of Sisyphus-rolling my own writing boulder up the hill of futility? I might as well tell my story to the trees outside my window. At least there’s no chance that they’ll tell me I’m horrible.

Robert opined that I was looking at it all wrong. A writer should not look to others for verification about whether a book was a success or failure. Such conclusions should come only from the writer himself. Robert also advised me to avoid reading reviews. Neither ego boosts nor soul-crushing critiques were good for the spirit.

Likewise, sales reports are often an indication of an author’s visibility, rather than his ability. Indie and micro-press publications often only record around 75 sales, and debut authors can expect half of that. While my book is doing relatively well at the moment, I can’t expect to appear on any best-seller lists.

Robert’s advice and personal reflection have led me, I believe, to the most suitable approach to writing. I have to write for myself, and no one else. Sales and reviews are irrelevant. If I’m compelled to tell my story, I need to tell it.

In a way, the act of writing is simultaneously selfish and altruistic. It’s selfish in the fact that I will say what I have to say, even if the entire literary world tells me to be silent. It’s selfless, because I will bring the next chapter of my story to my readers no matter what, even if my audience is limited to just one excited fan waiting for Book 2 in her local library.

Charles Bukowski once wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it”. That short quote encompasses all of my feelings about writing. For better or worse, my story is bursting out. I await the world’s judgment of Realms of Glory. I will write its sequel. I am both anxious and excited about what lies ahead.

{RWL}

Closing the Door

By rolling back Obama-era Title IX requirements, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is turning her back on victims of campus sexual assault.

I shouldn’t watch the news.  It often changes the focus of my blog posts.  However, I feel that this week provided important stories that shouldn’t be ignored.  U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently explored the possibility of rolling back Obama-era Title IX requirements which protect victims of campus sexual assault.

On another blog last year, I wrote an article titled, “The Girl in My Roommate’s Closet”.  Given the events of this week, I think it is important to republish this article. This is an issue that is larger than petty political differences. I urge Ms. DeVos to show the American public that the U.S. Department of Education supports women on campus. Women nationwide face the crisis of campus sexual assault.  The Department of Education should not abandon them in their hour of need.

Here is the article I wrote last year. It’s a long read, but an important one.

The Girl in my Roommate’s Closet

I sat on the couch in my apartment, staring at the clock, drinking a bottle of beer.  It was 3AM.  My roommate sat next to me, sipping a beer of his own, questions written all over his face.  He had a big presentation early in the morning.  He went to bed before midnight, hoping to get some sleep.  His plans were interrupted by an event neither of us expected.

“Dude,” he began.  “Why is there a girl in my closet?”

I took a sip of Amber Bock, which we thought was good beer when we were in college.  “It’s a long story,” I replied.

It’s a story we would tell often in the years that followed.  We had many strange nights in that dingy college apartment.  This one ranked among the strangest.  I never committed it to paper because I didn’t consider our actions extraordinary.  To me, how my roommate and I handled that odd situation reflected basic human decency.

Brock Turner’s arrest, conviction, and early release from jail spurred me to put pen to paper.  The Department of Justice estimates that 1/5 women are sexually assaulted during their college years. Turner’s crime is unique in the fact that he was brought to trial and convicted, despite his light sentence.  Over 90% of campus sexual assaults aren’t even reported.

Perhaps basic human decency isn’t as basic as I first believed.  The girl in my roommate’s closet left our apartment with a story and an ugly Cleveland Browns T-Shirt instead of physical and emotional trauma. I tell her story with the hope that it can instruct other college students about alcohol and consent.  As I said on that couch, it’s a long one.  I’ll start at the beginning.

First Date

It was April, 2005.  I was a junior at the University of Florida.  I just finished my final presentation for an education course.  I had a crush on a girl who sat next to me in class. Let’s call her Edith.  In the last class of the semester, I finally had the nerve to ask her out.  I said we should meet at Gator City, a bar on University Avenue, to celebrate.  She said she was eating dinner with her girlfriends at a Mexican restaurant, but would meet up with me afterward.  We exchanged Facebook information, which was a new thing at that time.

I waited that evening at the bar in Gator City, nursing a beer.  I tried to watch the random NBA games on TV.  Anything to take my mind off of the fact that Edith was over an hour late.  I didn’t have her number.  Smart phones and 4G Internet access didn’t exist, so I couldn’t check Facebook to see if she wrote me a message. I sighed.  Wasn’t the first time I’d been stood up. Wouldn’t be the last. I got up from my stool.  I was heading for the door when I saw her.

“You’re still here!” she exclaimed, enveloping me in a huge hug. I could smell the tequila on her breath.  “Sorry I’m late,” she said.  “We had margaritas and nachos!”

“No worries,” I said.  I pointed at the seats I’d been saving for 90 minutes.  “Want to sit down and have a drink?”

Edith grabbed my hand.  “Let’s go to XS!” she said.  “I want to dance!”

I suppose I should explain about XS.  Gator City was divided into two parts.  One side was a sports bar and pool hall.  The other side was a dark, windowless dance club.  XS was known for cheap drinks, grinding on the dance floor, and make-out sessions with random strangers.  It was normally where folks went late at night after fueling up with liquid courage on the sports bar side.

It was a bit early in the night to head to XS, but I wasn’t going to decline dancing with a girl I had a crush on.  I let her lead me into the darkness of the dance club.

I was hit immediately by the pounding bass music of early 2000s hip-hop.  Cigarette smoke permeated through the club.  The dance floor was already filled with college kids grinding on each other.

Edith led me to the bar.  “Let’s do shots!” she yelled into my ear over the din of the club.  “Yeah!” I responded, taking out my wallet.  The bartender came over.  “2 double tequila shots!” she said.  I did my best not to cringe.  Tequila wasn’t my favorite.  “Got any salt?” I asked the bartender.  He shook his head and handed me a sad-looking lime wedge.

Edith held her lime in one hand and the shot glass in the other “To the end of the semester!” she said.  I clinked glasses, took the shot, and sucked all the juice out of that tiny lime.  I did my best to look normal, but that shot hurt my soul.  The feeling quickly passed. I felt energized.  I looked up at Edith.  She was looking at me flirtatiously.

She grabbed the collar of my button-down shirt, pushed me against the wall, and kissed me.  It was turning into a good night.

Edith grabbed my hand and led me onto the dance floor.  While dancing, I could tell that she was extremely intoxicated.  Dancing turned into a strange alternating experience between keeping up with her erratic movements and making sure she didn’t topple over.  When we went back to find a spot on the wall, she could barely walk.  She leaned on me and tried to kiss me again, but her lips landed on my neck.

It wasn’t sexy.

Edith giggled. “Sorry, she said.  She held up two fingers and pointed at me.  “I see two of you.”

“Ok,” I responded.  I realized I was subconsciously using the “teacher voice” we’d worked on in our education class.  “Stay here, I’m going to close out the tab, ok?”
I went to the bar and closed out my tab.  I looked to my right and saw Edith taking another tequila shot. “Dammit,” I muttered, signing my check.  I walked the three steps over to her.  She put her arm around me and led me back to the wall again- an awkward attempt to find something to lean on.

The din of the crowd and music had become louder.  “Edith,” I began.  “Do you have a ride home? One of your girlfriends you went out to dinner with, maybe?”

“I lost my phonnnnne,” she slurred.  She stuck out her lip, making a pouty-face.  I was now supporting almost 100% of her weight.  She thought it was sexy, and was trying to do some awkward half-dance against me while swaying back and forth.

I realized I was going to have to take care of Edith.  “Alright,” I said.  “I’m gonna take you home. Let’s go.”

“Yeahhh!” she slurred.  I don’t think she understood that this date was over.  There’s nothing sexy about a girl who can’t even stand up or talk.

Blockbuster Video is not your Apartment Complex

The two block walk to my car was a grueling ordeal.  I was practically carrying Edith.  Drunk frat guys gave me the thumbs-up on the sidewalk.  A few even tried to high-five me.

Why are you trying to high-five me, dude? I thought to myself in wonder.  I was too busy trying to keep Edith from falling over to high-five anyone.  She drunkenly began singing “Take me home tonight,” humming most of the words and speaking the unintelligible language of the severely intoxicated.

I finally got her to my car and helped her into the passenger seat.  I got behind the wheel.  I pulled out onto University Avenue.

“Alright,” I began.  “Where’s your place? Where am I going?”
“So bright,” she said, pointing out the window at the passing cars.

“Edith,” I said, with more authority, using the teacher voice again. “Where do you live?”

“Just go to Archer Road,” she said dreamily, staring out the window.

Archer Road is one of the main roads in Gainesville.  Driving up and down Archer means driving all over town.  Nonetheless, I made my way to Archer Road.

“Ok, Edith,” I said, nudging her arm. She had passed out against the window.  “We’re on Archer.  Which way do I go now? What’s the name of the complex?”

“Left, left, left, left, left,” she said.

“Left at the next light?”

“Yes,” she murmured.  “Left, left, left, left.”

I turned left.

“Ok, now where?”

“Right, right right right right,” she said.

I was beginning to think she was just giving random directions.  “What’s the name of the complex?” I repeated.

“Turn right here!” she shouted suddenly.  “That’s it!”

I pulled into a Blockbuster Video parking lot.  “Here we are!” she said, beaming.

“Edith,” I said slowly. “This isn’t your place. This is a Blockbuster.”

“We can make it my place,” she cooed.  She tried a wink.  Maybe the tequila was closing one of her eyes. Either way, her meaning wasn’t difficult to infer.

“Where do you live, Edith?” I asked again, trying to change that subject as quickly as possible.

“I don’t knowwwww,” she slurred.  “Let’s just stay here.”

I sighed.  I wasn’t going to spend the night at Blockbuster.  I was thankful my car had child safety locks that clicked on the second the engine was engaged.  Last thing I needed was drunk Edith trying to run into a closed Blockbuster Video.

“We’ll go to my place,” I said.  “I’ll set you up on the couch.”

“Yeah, you will!” she replied.

I didn’t respond.  I drove the car back to my apartment, hoping she’d go to sleep the second she hit my couch’s pillow.

Someone who was drunk enough to think Blockbuster was her apartment complex was most likely drunk enough to puke.

Toddler Mode

I pulled into my apartment complex.  Edith was passed out against the window.  I parked in front of my apartment and nudged her.  She yawned and stretched.

“We’re here, Edith,” I began, turning off the car.  “Let’s get you some water.”

Her eyes widened as she opened the door.

“You found it!” she exclaimed. “My apartment is right upstairs. Let’s go!”

She bounded out of the car with surprising energy and charged up the steps toward the second floor.

“Edith!” I said loudly, trying to keep my voice down but also trying to get her attention.  “That isn’t your apartment!”

My apartment was on the first floor.  My upstairs neighbor was a 300 lb. man with cornrows who loved working on his car in the parking lot. He had a custom license plate on that big sedan displaying his nickname: TRU-PLAYA.

Tru Playa would come down and have a beer with me and my roommate sometimes.  He was a fan of Bud Light.

Tru Playa would not appreciate a random stranger trying to break into his apartment at 1AM on a weekday.

I caught Edith right before she put her key in the lock, wrapping both of my hands gently around her own.  “That’s Tru Playa’s apartment,” I whispered.  “We’re in my complex.”

“That’s right,” she said, seemingly in realization.  “My apartment is across the courtyard!”  She ran down the stairs.

“God dammit,” I grumbled under my breath.

Where the hell did this energy come from? I thought.  I strode with purpose down the steps, not wanting to wake up my neighbor.  She turned the corner and headed toward the grassy courtyard area.

It had rained earlier that evening. Edith slipped the moment her heel hit the muddy lawn.  I ran toward her, worried she was hurt.

When I arrived, she was laughing. I reached out my hand to help her up.

“Come on, Edith,” I said, taking her hand.  “You’re getting all muddy.”

“I like it,” she said.  With surprising strength, she pulled me toward her.  “Let’s get dirty,” she slurred. “Come lay with me in the mud.”

I helped her to her feet.  “Let’s just go inside,” I said, exhausted.  “We’re right around the corner.”

She did a sort of skip/frolic toward my apartment, staying about three paces ahead of me.  I realized the best way to keep her from running off was to turn it into a game.  “Keep going,” I said.  She skipped a few more paces, looking back over her shoulder with raised eyebrows.  “One more door down,” I said, taking my keys out.  She leaned on the wall next to my apartment door, pointing at it, a quizzical expression on her face. I reached the door and nodded, opening it.  She went inside.

I closed the door and bolted it. Last thing I needed was drunk Edith frolicking all over our apartment complex or trying to walk into my neighbor’s apartment again.

“Which one is your room?” she asked, kicking off her heels.

“Around the corner to the right, the master,” I answered automatically, more concerned with ensuring the door was locked.  I realized my mistake immediately.

Shit.

I walked into my room just in time to see Edith leap onto my bed.

“No!” I called out.  I hurriedly took a pair of pajama pants and an old Cleveland Browns shirt out of the dresser, along with a towel from my closet.  I placed them in my bathroom.  I came back out to find Edith trying to get out of her shirt, flinging mud all over my sheets.

“Shower!” I said in my teacher voice, pointing at the bathroom. I felt like a middle-aged father yelling at a child.  That’s exactly what excessive alcohol turns us into.  Children.  Children should be taken care of, not taken advantage of.  They also can be really annoying.  Those were new sheets.

“Finnnnne,” she slurred.  She went into the bathroom and slammed the door.

I heard the water turn on.  I walked to my computer and logged onto Facebook.  I clicked on Edith’s profile.

Friends, friends, friends.  I scrolled through her friends list, looking for anyone I recognized, anyone who could come pick Edith up.  Most people didn’t put phone numbers on Facebook at that time.  A few did.

Then I realized it was super late.  Edith was my responsibility.  I sighed.  I needed to find someone to write a message to.  Someone who would be able to pick her up in the morning.

I clicked on her profile again.  I saw a picture of her with other girls at a Mexican restaurant.  I wrote a message to the girl who posted the picture, telling her that Edith was really drunk, but I was making sure she was safe, and she’d be on my couch with a bucket next to her face. I asked if she could pick her up in the morning and provided all of my contact information.

I opened the beer fridge in my room and cracked open an Amber Bock.  Before I even took a sip, I heard Edith yelling.

“Hellllp!”

I listened to the water. It sounded like she was running a bath.

“Helllllllp!!” she yelled again, with more volume and urgency.

I opened the bathroom door.  The tub was about a quarter full.  The remnants of salsa and nachos were around the drain.  Water weakly ran from the faucet.  Edith sat there, staring at the running water.

“I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower,” she said.  “I also threw up,” she added unnecessarily.

How do I remember, over a decade later, that Edith was at a Mexican restaurant before she met me at Gator City? That image of salsa clogging my bathroom drain will remain eternally imprinted on my memory.

I helped her to her feet.  I made sure the water coming from the faucet was warm.  I turned on the shower for her.  She flinched as the water hit her and then relaxed.

“Ahhhh,” she sighed.  “Thank you.”

I closed the shower curtain.  “Don’t worry about the drain,” I said.  “I’ll take care of it later.  There are pajama pants and a shirt for you on the toilet, along with a towel.  There’s some Listerine on the counter.”

I went back to the computer, double-checked the information, and hit SEND on my Facebook message. I took a long sip of my beer.

Edith came out of the bathroom wearing my old clothes, the towel wrapped around her hair.

“These pants are huuuuge,” she said, giggling. She tightened the drawstring.  I got a pillow out of the closet.  She hugged me.  “Thank you for taking such good care of me,” she said, trying to kiss my neck. I broke away gently.  “Let’s get you set up on the couch,” I said.

She looked at the bed, then back at me.  “Why not here?” she asked.

“Or you can take the bed and I’ll take the couch.  Either way, I’m going to get you a glass of water.”

Her expression changed in an instant.  “Fine,” she said, scowling.  “If you don’t want to sleep with me, I’m going to sleep in my room.”

Oh, shit.

Edith stormed down the hall toward my roommate’s room.  I hurriedly followed.  “Edith, wait-”

She opened the door. My roommate woke up in a flash.  “What the fuck?!” he said, startled.

Edith pointed at him. “Shut the fuck up!” she shouted.

She stumbled into his walk-in closet, curled up on the floor, and promptly fell asleep.  She was snoring within a minute.

My roommate got up and pointed at the closet, staring wordlessly at me.

“I’ll get you a beer,” I said.  We sat on the couch.

A Pillow & A Letter

That brings us back to the beginning of our story.  I told my roommate the entire epic tale.

“Did you write a message to one of her friends?” he asked.

“Done,” I said.

“Is she coming?” he asked.

I pointed at the clock.  He nodded.  “We should probably get her a pillow,” he said.  “Or she’ll have a crick in her neck in the morning.”

I snapped my fingers.  “I’ll write her a note!” I said.  “Bro, she thought Blockbuster was her apartment.  There’s a good chance she’s not going to remember any of this.  If I woke up in a strange closet wearing a Cleveland Browns shirt, I’d be freaked out.”

“Why do you have a Browns shirt?” he asked. “They suck.”

I laughed.  “I know,” I replied.  “My dad gave it to me for Christmas one year.  It’s one of my favorite sleep shirts.”

My roommate and I put a pillow under her head and a blanket over her.  I got to work writing a letter describing all the events of the evening. XS. Shots. Blockbuster. Falling in the mud. Throwing up in the tub.  The clothes she was wearing.  Thinking my roommate’s closet was her room.  And finally, that I wasn’t upset, just wanted to make sure she was ok and not freaked out. I told her the name of the friend I wrote to on Facebook, and said she was going to pick her up in the morning.  I wrote that whenever she was ready, to come on out to the living room and we’d talk.

I put the letter next to her head with a bottle of water. I went back out to the living room.

“Where are her clothes?” asked my roommate.

“My bathroom.”

“I’ll get a Publix bag,” he said.

We went to the bathroom.  He stared in wonder at my room.  The muddy sheets. Her dirty clothes, balled up on the floor. We put her clothes in the plastic grocery bag.

“You weren’t kidding,” he said.  “She actually rolled around in the mud.”

He looked at the tub.  “Oh, man.”

“I know,” I replied.

He went to the living room and began playing PlayStation games.  I put clean sheets on my bed and cleaned out the tub.  It ranks to this day as one of the most disgusting messes I’ve ever had to clean up.

I joined Tyree in the living room.  “Want to play?” he asked, pointing at the baseball game on the PS2.

“Don’t want to go back to sleep?” I asked in response. “You have a presentation in the morning.”

“No way I can sleep in my room with that girl in my closet,” he said.  “I’d be worried she’d come out and yell at me again. Or come out, wonder who I am, and start screaming.”

“You can sleep out on the couch,” I offered.  “I’ll try to sleep a little in the chair.”

“Naw, man.  I’ll wing it on the presentation.  We’re gonna remember this night. Let’s have a few beers and play some video games.”

So we did.  Eventually he dozed off on the couch.  I stayed up, staring at my cell phone, waiting for Edith’s friend to contact me.

The Promise of a Cake

At 7AM my phone buzzed.  Edith’s friend sent me a long text, thanking me for taking care of her and promising to drive over to my apartment within a half hour.

Edith emerged a short time later, holding the bottle of water.  She wasn’t the drunk girl from the previous night.  She was the smart, articulate woman from my education class.

“Hi,” I said.  “Did you read the note?”

She nodded.  “I was wondering why my hair was wet.”  She paused, chuckling softly.  “I don’t know why that was more alarming than waking up in a random guy’s closet.”

“What’s up?” said my roommate, smiling and waving.

“Hi,” she said.  “Nice to meet you.”

Edith’s friend knocked on the door.  She came inside and gave Edith a hug.  Then she gave me and my roommate hugs.

“Thank you guys so much,” she said.

“Yes,” added Edith.  “Thank you. And I’m so sorry.  I’m so embarrassed.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.  “Just did what any other guy would do. It happens to the best of us. Tequila is nuts.”

“Just, don’t mention tequila right now,” said Edith, holding up a hand.  “Still not feeling great.”

Her face suddenly became alarmed. “Oh, no, I threw up in your bathtub.  I’ll clean-“

“It’s done,” I said.  “Took care of it last night.”

“We are going to bake you a cake,” said Edith’s friend.

“Seriously, we’ll bake you any cake you like,” added Edith. “We’ll bring it by next week.”

My roommate and I described our favorite kinds of cake.  We gave Edith her bag of clothes.  Seeing them covered in mud brought back snippets of the memory of rolling around in the courtyard.  We gave them hugs goodbye.

Edith never came back with our cake. She was a year older than I was, and graduated the following week. She went to graduate school in another state while I finished my final year in Gainesville.  I never saw her or that Cleveland Browns T-shirt again.

The Problem with High-Fives

I told Edith that I did what any guy would do.  As a doctoral candidate on the brink of a doctorate in higher education management, I now know that’s not the case.  I still believe that most men have the aforementioned basic human decency to take care of the Ediths of American universities the same way that my roommate and I did.  But I know that Edith would have had a much different experience if she was with any of the guys who were trying to high-five me on University Avenue.

Turning sex into an objective, rather than an experience, creates a zero-sum game that highlights “winning” at all costs.  Even the rhetoric of hook-up culture on campus conjures troubling images.  “Sexual conquests”. “Breaking down her defenses”.  “Getting some ass”.  When sex is turned into a zero-sum contest, the losers are women at American universities.

If I had consented to any of Edith’s propositions, I wouldn’t be found guilty in any court of law.  But I certainly wouldn’t be innocent.  Having sex with a girl in that condition, even if she is pressuring you for it, goes against both conscience and human decency.  That girl trying to have sex with me at Blockbuster, in the mud, and at my apartment…that wasn’t Edith.  That wasn’t the sarcastic, articulate woman who sat next to me in class.

That was a drunk person with decision-making capacity of a toddler and the body of an adult woman.

If you’re against having sex with toddlers, you should be against having sex with women as drunk as Edith was that night.

At the time, I thought there was no way in hell anyone would have said yes to Edith that night.  Saying no was a natural response. I have come to the realization that that those frat guys on University Avenue would not only say yes, but would also celebrate afterward. Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman at Stanford who couldn’t even say the word ‘yes’.

Women nationwide face the crisis of sexual assault.

I’ve come to the realization that such encounters happen every night, in every state, on every campus around the country.

That alarmed me and compelled me to put pen to paper.  Edith’s story could illustrate what I thought was basic common sense.  If men exercised common sense and decency became common practice, maybe sexual assault wouldn’t be so common at college. If a woman is too drunk to remember where she lives, then you shouldn’t have sex with her.  Just because you could, doesn’t mean that you should.

Even when she’s saying yes, you should say no.

The Ediths of American universities deserve the confidence to know that even if they have too many drinks, they won’t be victimized by men who see them as objectives rather than people.  They should wake up with clean hair instead of muddy clothes.

Too many women across the country leave the apartments of strangers with trauma instead of T-shirts, and shame instead of stories.  It is my hope that telling Edith’s story can help college men learn to offer a helping hand to their female colleagues, rather than a high-five to the boys who exploit them.

When a night out ends in a closet, it should be a comedy instead of a tragedy.

It is my hope that Edith’s story helps make human decency more common on campus.

 

Rudolph W. Lurz is a doctoral candidate and writer.  He can be reached at rwlurz@gmail.com

 

 

Beyond Portland & Manchester

To provide security in a post-9/11 world, the West should not return to 1933.

I was going to use this Lurzday Thursday article to write about the origins of my novel.  I was going to introduce the basic outline of the plot and discuss character development. That can wait a week or two.

A dear friend of mine almost became a casualty yesterday.  That changed the focus of this post.

Let’s call my friend, “Pete”.  For the last few years, Pete has been tutoring a family of Iranian descent. Yesterday, he was early for his appointment, and was relaxing near his car.  A maniac began shouting at him from a balcony.  When he glanced up, the guy used his hands to mimic shooting at him with a rifle.  As he walked toward the Iranian family’s apartment, the man continued shouting at him, yelling, “You better fucking look at me!” When Pete ignored him, the man became enraged, ran outside, and charged toward him, screaming, “I’m going to fucking kill you!”

Crazed Man
Terror is terror. It might wave a black flag. It might decide to not wear a shirt in public.  Its function is to intimidate opponents into submission.

Pete didn’t know if this maniac was armed or not, and ran for his life.  He got to the door of the family’s apartment and barged inside without knocking, not knowing if his next footstep would be greeted by a bullet. He called the police.  The man was arrested.  The story told by the police and the apartment managers was chilling.  The neighbor had been intimidating the Iranian family for months, and was apparently not pleased that Pete was helping them. In this man’s eyes, teaching children was akin to aiding the enemy.

The man’s mother apologized to Pete, telling him, “Sorry my son terrorized you today.”

That’s exactly what it was.  Terrorism.  A good pair of shoes and a head start of a few yards were all that potentially separated Pete from being mentioned in the same breath as Portland.

To the police, what happened to Pete wasn’t terrorism. It was an incident of mental illness.  The terrorist was taken away in an ambulance instead of a police cruiser.  He’ll be evaluated and likely released within 72 hours.

Consider this.  If that red-bearded, shirtless man had mentioned Allah or Mohammad in any of the terroristic threats he directed at Pete, he would be in federal custody right now, being interviewed by the FBI.  Instead, he’ll be back at mom’s house by dinner time.

Terrorism is terrorism.  In America’s virulent and toxic climate, Portland is more likely to occur than London Bridge. Both loom over Western society as threats. Both are fueled by hate.

In a different article I wrote almost a year ago, I discussed how to confront terrorism in a complicated world.  I noted that travel bans and xenophobia were poor choices that wouldn’t keep the country safe.  The proper response is augmenting our capacity in cyberspace, human intelligence (HUMINT), and special forces.  Terrorists who desire glory on battlefields in Syria or rock concerts in Manchester should not be granted the opportunity to gain recognition.  They should be discovered early, and then silently destroyed in back alleys and bathrooms, where no one will learn their names.

Such responses require nuance, attention to detail, and meticulous planning. They require a multifaceted, cogent strategy combined with visionary and inspirational leadership.

Policy actors like President Trump and propaganda artists like Sean Hannity have chosen a different strategy: fear. Blind fear.  The message is clear.  Muslims are out there, they’re coming to get you, and true Americans have to stop them.

Muslims trying to enter the country must be stopped, and those who are already here should be kicked out. Those who rely on Breitbart and Hannity for their news are given the message that Sharia Law and suicide attacks lurk behind every woman wearing a hijab.

Such a response is misguided and tragic.  Travel bans and anti-Muslim rhetoric won’t make us safe.  Terror attacks in Orlando, Paris, and London weren’t committed by refugees, they were committed by citizens.  ISIS doesn’t need to help foreign nationals navigate the 18-24 month vetting process for refugees when they can use the Internet to recruit Americans to do the work immediately.

Muslims also are not a singular group with a monolithic, universal system of beliefs. By painting all Muslims with a single, Islamophobic brush, President Trump creates a message that aids potential recruitment of homegrown terrorists.  He’ll block attackers that weren’t going to get in anyway, and create more potential extremists on US soil.

The bigger danger is violence against innocent Americans like the tragedy that occurred recently in Portland.  People get so riled up by the “us vs. them” rhetoric that they are driven to actions that range from screaming to shooting. Bystanders who dare to stand up for the marginalized face the risk of getting their throats cut.  Those who commit the unspeakable offense of just appearing to be Middle-Eastern contend with the threat of being shot, like the Indian engineer murdered in Kansas earlier this year.

When bullets are fired and throats are slashed, it doesn’t matter what the attackers are shouting or which deity they claim to support.  The perpetrators of these actions are terrorists, the victims are dead, and families are left to pick up the pieces of broken lives.

Portland and Manchester are two sides of the same hateful coin. Combatting such hatred requires nuanced, smart security policy from nation-states.  For citizens, it means showing compassion and love to neighbors instead of suspicion and vitriol.  For leaders like President Trump, it means abandoning the divisive rhetoric which is simultaneously ineffective and inflammatory.

To provide security in a post-9/11 world, the West should not return to 1933.  Instead of turning to the fearful hate of the past, we need to look forward to the future-a future in which a teacher can tutor children of a different religion without fear of being murdered by an extremist.

Any extremist.

A world without the tragedies of Portland and Manchester is possible.  It can only occur if we stop judging, start listening, and demand more nuanced policy measures from those tasked to protect us.

 

Objective-Based Failures

Humans were not made to chase numbers and die.

Author. Scholar. Wild Rover.

That’s how I introduce myself to the world on social media. I wish I could do the same when I meet strangers at dinner parties.

It’s a situation I often encounter. My wife is a surgeon. Doctors get together at least once a month at various house parties and social gatherings. Professionals who spend 70 hours a week together are obligated to converse with the same people during precious days off.

It’s supposed to help doctors develop closer relationships with their peers and build a sense of community. What happens most often is they talk about the same subjects they discuss in the hospital, wearing khakis instead of scrubs. As the spouse of a surgeon, I’m also obligated to attend. Discussion topics are often either too technical for me to understand or too graphic for the social setting. Given the choice, I prefer attempting to decipher medical jargon and acronyms. While I’m eating chili at a cookout, I’d rather not hear about exploding, pus-filled cysts or messy colonoscopies.

Sooner or later, I’m approached for conversation.  When describing who I am, “Author, Scholar, Wild Rover” isn’t an acceptable response.

Doctors are objective-based professionals, usually more interested in results than rhetoric. They are not alone in this characterization. Many people stick to a standardized script when meeting new acquaintances.

Who are you? What do you do? Where do you do it?

As a teacher, I wish the field of education were not so similarly objective-obsessed. Every year, student progress and teacher performance are based on high-stakes, multiple-choice exams. This format is often attributed to Frederick J. Kelly, who designed the assessments to increase efficiency in education.  He later argued for more individually-tailored assessment methods, noting that the multiple-choice format was “too crude to be used, and should be discarded”.

Rather than inspire students to create innovation, our system of education attempts to mechanize them to correctly choose the best option out of 4-5 choices. Sir Ken Robinson notes that such a system was designed to train workers in an Industrial Age economy, preparing new factory employees for the assembly line. Such methods have no place in the Information Age of the 21st century.

My brother felt strongly enough about opposing this system that he waged a solo, 3-day protest, marching in New York and Washington DC. I applauded his passion, but it is going to take more than one man with a sign to knock down the factory model of education. It requires a united front of teachers, students, and parents demanding tangible changes.

Life has more than four choices.  Instead of teaching students to fill bubbles, we should motivate them to expand their minds as free-thinkers. It is the natural state of children to be inquisitive and creative. The present education system, which seeks to reduce students and teachers to measurable numbers, stifles that creative spirit. It should be no surprise that students rebel against such an unnatural obligation. Student anxiety crescendos as these assessments approach, and on the date of the test itself, many kids become physically ill.  The sounds of vomiting echo through the halls of schools. I hear it when I serve as a hall monitor during these tests. If students don’t make it to the restroom, and throw up in their classrooms, an “irregularity” must be reported to the State.

There is nothing regular about a system of education that literally makes kids vomit.

Societal expectations of meeting arbitrary, external objectives do not cease after graduation.  Millions drive 90 minutes or more every day in heavy traffic to jobs they hate, move papers from one pile to another, and receive a number from their boss on a performance evaluation which objectively rates their value as an employee. That value as an employee is often construed to mean value as a human being.  The stress of reaching a satisfactory level is a magnified, real-world replay of the anxiety faced by students in classrooms during standardized tests.

Adults facing workplace anxiety aren’t limited to vomiting in the restroom. Use of antidepressants has skyrocketed over 400% since the late 1980s.  Almost 30% of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recorded a workplace violence incident that occurred within the previous 5 years. Americans spend a third of their lives in cubicles next to coworkers teetering on the brink of mental breakdowns. How did we get here? How do we fix the human psyche of the modern age?

Germans have a single word to describe this phenomenon: Leistungsdrück. Literally translated, it means, “Achievement pressure”. This pressure follows us from kindergarten to retirement.  When we’re not thinking about our own leistungsdrück, we’re asking others how they’re doing with theirs.  What do you do? How is that going? What’s your test score in life?

Maybe in a few years, we’ll perfect the formula so we can boil it down to a single question and number.

“What are you?”

“I’m a 76. You?”

“54. But I’m hoping to get to the magic satisfactory number of 70 soon.”

“Good luck!”

Humans were not made to chase numbers and die. That isn’t an existence I find acceptable. We were made to chase our passions.

Charles Bukowski wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.”

That’s how I feel about what I’m doing with my life. My name is Rudolph Lurz. I write, I teach, and I travel. I’m trying to change how education operates. I’m interested in communicating with others and exchanging ideas.

I recently completed my first novel. It’s a dystopian story of three teenagers who arrive in an Afterlife teetering on the brink of revolution. The tagline of my book, Realms of Glory, states, “There is life after death, but Heaven is no Paradise”. It is being published this summer. Stay tuned to my blog and social media pages for more information.

I write about life, death, and everything in between.  I’ll post here about my books, short stories, and academic articles. If you’re interested, you can be one of the 12 people in the world who will read my 205-page dissertation about state government policy formation.  I successfully defended it in April, and will be publishing that beast in December when I graduate with my doctorate in Administrative & Policy Studies.

I hope you’ll follow me, read my stuff, and comment with your own ideas, thoughts, and snide remarks. Let’s talk about things that matter.

Today is the first Lurzday Thursday.  Welcome to my page.

RW Lurz

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Twitter- @RudolphLurz