Thursday, January 6, 2011

In the right business?

Today I heard a sixteen year old girl give another sixteen year old girl a piece of advice. It seems the first girl is back at school after taking a semester off because of having a baby. The second girl has apparently found out she is pregnant. I was sitting at the next table overseeing some students on a group project. They were on top of things and my ears drifted to the conversation of the two girls. It was a terrible situation for the girl to be in, but the other girl very diplomatically and concisely gave her very good advice. The young lady had no insurance but she was able to petition Medicaid to help out. She gave the young lady very specific programs to look up and people to call. These programs will provide health care for the girl and the baby for the first year and apparently it is fairly stress free for the pregnant girl. It was sage, heuristic advice and delivered with support and tenderness. It was delivered by a peer and perhaps the only person in this expectant mother's world that she could trust to have "been there". It is a tough situation to be sure but it was nice to know that this country isn't incapable of helping a little a bit.

Another young girl is in a bad spot. Her dad is in jail awaiting arraignment for a more serious crime in the next county over and could be remanded to the state pokey for the next 6 to 10. Her mom is living two counties over attempting to hide from the local constabulary that wants her on a minor drug warrant. The young lady has no idea where exactly her mother is. With little other family the girl is living out of suitcases on the charity of others. While there is apparently charity to go around the nature of the situation wears on her. How terrible that must be. My parents were the kind, are the kind, that would never let me fail. The girl has very little hope. As far as she knows she is and will always be on her own. She works a job. She works hard in school. She wants to be a mechanic. It takes about ten seconds to realize that being a mechanic, to her, is a veiled desire to have the freedom to never be stuck or left behind. I am not entirely certain if I am mature enough or capable enough to help these children suicceed in life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It just a brown bag.

There is a little church beside the road in a valley in rural Southern Indiana. My great, great, great grandfather donated the land it is built on it. The Sunday before Christmas my cousin dresses up like Santa and hands out gifts to the little kids. After that, everyone gets a small brown treat bag. It is just a brown paper bag. The treat are modest. It is a candy bar, some gum, an orange, a candy cane, and a few handfuls of peanuts. The bag has a particular smell. The peanuts are the biggest smell but it is painted with a touch of orange and peppermint. It seemed, somehow, that the treat bag was preferable to me instead of a present. I always love the smell of it. If you asked me in the middle of June, and I was too stupid to tell you my name, I could tell you what that bag smells like.

I asked my father several years ago where the bag came from and he told the story not so easily. Dad was of a generation older than most of my friend's parents. He grew up during the tail end of the Depression. In that little valley the families were pretty close. There were essentially two kinds of families. There were farm families and families that had parents that worked in at the chair mill in town. During the Depression the chair mill slowly folded. Though no one was wealthy by any means, the farm families were far better off having access to more food and cash traded for surpluses. Lots of folks were having a hard time getting by. Lots of kids were not going to have anything nice for Christmas. When things took an ugly turn during the 1937 dip, the chair mill sold to a company in Bloomington and shut the doors. The church, in an effort to give something to those who were looking at rough times, decided it had to do something. Those that had a little bit sold some milk, eggs, pork and honey and pooled the cash, buying a small barrel of peanuts, a crate of oranges (a delicacy in those parts in that time as there were plenty of apples but citrus couldn't survive the frost), a box of chewing gum, and some candy bars. In those days it was Hersheys and Baby Ruths now it is Hersheys, Snickers, or 3 Musketeers. They put them in bags and put them under the tree.

For a lot of folks then and later during the war years, it was the best they got during the holidays. Dad loved those little bags. If we didn't eat their contents fast enough or hide them he would steal our peanuts. He and I would get home from church and pull two chairs together and put a trashcan between us and murder those peanuts. Now it is just me left with that memory. Like any song with that kind of father I weep like a fool as I write the story out. Dad would get emotional when he told stories about that time, when movies picture it, when books talked about it. He once told me, "I can only hope you will never see the kind of despair so many people wore on their faces out in the open.". He loved his friends that were from the valley and that time. They were a symbol, to him, that the valley had survived. The little brown bags were a symbol that the little church beside the road was a nexus of a community of good people and that it would not let its people suffer needlessly or alone.

My God, we have so much. Look at this machine I type on. Look at the clothes on my back. My family is not wealthy. Many people could call us poor if they were so inclined to only look as far as our material position. Our lives are so RICH. SO SECURE. There were moments when I saw tears form in my father's eyes while he contemplated the distances we have traveled as a country. My dad loved these little brown bags SO MUCH. There are people who could look at them and scoff, viewing their meager contents as little more than a modest distraction. What can I do to help these people understand a greater value?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My red hat is very red.

The mission to help people make themselves better is a good one. I believe in it. I want to help. I want, on the day when the questions must be given good answers, to say I stood up and taught people things, not just because it made me a better person, but because it helped other people. That said, my red hat is a very new one. My state coordinator is a real good dude, he is a damn fine instructor, and he will push me over cliffs if I let him. It isn't his fault, he was punished with a leadership position and that is what leaders have to do sometimes.

My red hat is very new, and very red. In a judo dojo you don't look at the color of a person's belt, you look at its condition. Judo, like shooting and life, is a journey of discovery. That journey creates wear and tear. A person who owns a well worn belt is a person who has obviously spent time working on their journey. A person who owns fresh belt is more of a wild card. They may have just earned a much deserved promotion or they may be part of a dojo that hands out belts for every little thing. It isn't the promotions that matter. It is the journey. A black belt isn't the goal, it is the sign you just crawled out of your crib and are ready to take a very long walk. I have been stomped by people with all kinds of belt colors, I have also....well, mostly I just get stomped. Eastern philosophy, well, the philosophy of the well-rounded understands that mastery is a label other people use. Rifleman, like judoka, like Kyuzo MifuneSensei, are never good enough to stop.

My red hat is very new, very new. I need time to get to understand what that means. I need time to reflect on the change in roles. My mentors are now taking steps back and I need to find orange hats that I can help and mentor them. I need to improve my shooting and get to know it and myself better. I need to lose twenty pounds so I can keep up with teenagers on the basketball court and I need to gain fifteen so I can be healthier in judo. I need to squeeeeeeze.

It isn't that I need to say "NO", I just need to say "slow". It isn't a race because I don't get to know where the finish line is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What was it today...

I was in a hurry this morning. I couldn't sleep the night before. I reread The Winter's Tale.

We were as twinned lambs, that did frisk in the sun. And bleat the day the one to the other.

Its one of the best explanations of boyhood friendship I have ever encountered. Yeah... Anyway, i was late and shaved on the quick. Slapped on some aftershave. Combing my hair I smelled it for the first time. My dad and I both used Stetson. Me not very often. I did it absentmindedly. It is the first time I have done it since. I can't describe the way I felt. I sat down on the old Faucet rocking chair and sobbed like an infant. I couldn't stop the images in my mind and they just made it worse. I won't make that mistake again.

Appleseed schedule was updated today. They have the Bedford shoots listed and I couldn't be happier. My woman, my RIFLEwoman I should say, was the first to sign up for them. She is intent on shooting Rifleman with iron sights. I couldn't be prouder. On a good day she is a 230+ shooter. She isn't as consistent as I am, she has bad days that are way worse than mine, but I would put her marksmanship up against anybody.

I will wear my red hat at the Bedford shoots, and probably any Riley shoots. The woman is going to put me on a pitch count, she says no more than 8 'seeds. I say 12. The negotiations are heated. I offered all Bedford or closer shoots plus 6 and she countered with plus 2. I said that was crap. We are working it out.

I want to do at least two shoots out of state this year. I hear good things about Meanstreaker in Ohio. All of the Indiana instructors who have mentored me say I should work with him, and he seemed like a decent enough feller when I met him at the Riley shoot, but Kentucky needs the help worse than Ohio. Mudcat likes my DOM so I may go work a couple with that old boy.

I am, however, done instructing for this year. It is 10 degrees and yet somehow I got rained on. Techres and I are working on a plan to push the AS on the local college students bodies. I have been 7th stepping a lot this year with no real results. Tough crowd I reckon. Students don't trust me because i am a grad student. Faculty doesn't trust me because...I don't want to get into it. I will keep at it. Student teaching will slow me down but I have a long-term plan to get the IUPD and ROTC. The Judo Club might get into it if I can convince a few of the heavy hitters. CodySensei is down, that is huge. The older players understand the attraction, the amalgamation of eastern and western philosophy that Kano Jigoro handed out is right on target with NPOA shooting. I just need to get them into it and get rifles in their hands. The younger kids just came to judo to learn to fight and can't figure out why and ancient 30 something, out of shape dude is cutting off the supply of blood to their brains. Maximum efficiency with minimum effort.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let us be Teachers

I have a special place in my heart for anyone who wants to be a teacher to teach. Indeed, it is the instructor that takes responsibility for the progression of society. An individual who is taught a skill, or teaches himself a skill, and does not pass along that knowledge is incredibly vain and selfish. They are hoarders of knowledge. They care not for others. An instructor, though, takes responsibility for the betterment of their world. They share. They want to see other people improve themselves, even if it means that they will exceed the teacher.

That is what I tell myself, anyway.

I went back to school to get my teaching license because kids don't know shit about social studies and I think they are important. I figure if there is one social studies worksheet warrior out there, and I can do his job better than he can, I have to go take his job.

I am an instructor for the Appleseed Project because I think it is a good program that can do this country a lot of good. I think the people in it are doing good things for the right reasons.

My dad was a teacher. I loved him. I am embarrassed by the lessons he didn't get the opportunity to teach me. Without him in this world I have nothing with which I can compare myself. When I lost him I lost my competitive instincts, my ambitions, and goals. I found that many of the things I wanted for myself I wanted so that I could somehow give them back to him through my success. Now I just don't want them. In the end, the only sensation that I discovered within my limbs was the desire to try to help. Seeing people get better makes me feel better for a brief moment in time. I'll take it. So I go to the line and hand out Steady Hold Factors. I prowl for safety violations. I bark a quick line. I tell people it is because I am power hungry and vain and ruggedly handsome and they laugh and relax and have a good time on my line. It is really because I want to make myself better and I want them to be able to make themselves better too.