Archive for category Writing


The Studentenheim in Bonn

The Studentenheim in Bonn

I have just posted a spiritual fantasy called “Dreams.”     The heroine Jenny finds herself in a different reality, able among other things to enter into the dreams of others – past, present and future.   Go read it if you’re into that kind of thing!   I wrote it about 20 years ago and have given up on ever having it published.  However, more than anything I’ve ever written it outlines my core beliefs about life, including speculation about the nature of reality.  Read that and you know me, even 20 years after the fact.

The story had an odd genesis.   While I was studying in Germany I had the pleasure to spend a chunk of time in a Studentenheim (dorm) in Bonn on the Endernicher Allee.  When everyone left for Christmas I stayed in my room.    I could have gone to visit friends elsewhere in Germany, but I wanted a little bit of time alone — I had been traveling all through November as I shifted from staying in Berlin to Bonn, and wanted some time by myself.

On December 25th I took a magical train ride through the snowy Moselle valley (I had a German rail pass I was using up), eating my Christmas dinner at the Frankfurt train station.   On the 26th I took another train ride, finishing my rail pass.  That evening the Letsch family – caretakers for the Studentenheim – invited me for Raclette.  I drank at least two liters of beer and enjoyed a wonderful evening.

The next morning – December 27th – I awoke at about 4:00 AM.   I had been listening to a CD from the former Supertramp member Roger Hodgson Eye of the Storm quite a bit that week.   It has strong spiritual undertones, and the time alone had me in an introspective mood.   I woke up with a story in my head.  I grabbed my Zeos 280 laptop and started typing.

It was like that for the next two and a half days.   All day on the 27th and 28th I was in my dorm room, typing out this story.  I’d run out of ideas, take a break and lay down…and then get up as new ideas popped in my head.   I finished it on the 29th, a sunny bright day.   “Wow,” I said to myself, “where did that come from!?”

I then went for a run through downtown Bonn and along the Rhein river, finally getting outside after spending nearly three days consumed by this story.     I thought I had something really good – I printed it out, made copies, gave it to friends, many of whom reacted positively to the ideas.    A couple said it was remarkable and inspiring.   I looked into publishing it a few times, but with no luck.  I would share it with people I thought might enjoy it and for awhile fantasized about getting it published and maybe even becoming a full time author.   But that was a pipe dream – I write too much like an academic!

This morning I started a blog post in which I mentioned how I used to keep a journal of my dreams, including lucid dreams.    I had interesting encounters with vicious dogs in those dreams, and some of that had worked its way into my story.    I put that post aside and decided to post my story for anyone who might be interested in a story I still feel really close to.

So I’d be honored if any of you take the time to read my story Dreams.


European Union as a Model

For three years I have been running in place in terms of my research.   It’s not that I haven’t worked.  I’ve delved into new literature and even did some writing.    I’ve blogged about it here and here.   Yet somehow, despite lots of notes, books read and false starts, I’m left where I started – lots of ideas and ambitions, but no clear research strategy.

How do I restart my research?   My last publication was in 2009, when I shifted to this “new project.”   The final draft of my last major work, German Foreign Policy: Navigating a New Era, was sent to the publisher on April 3, 2003, the day my first son was born.     With young kids I purposefully cut back on research, but now I have a desire to write and produce but progress is elusive.

The problem is that I lacked a clear center.   The themes have been shifting- the changing nature of sovereignty, the impact of the communications revolution and social media, the profound challenge created by energy and environmental crises, the dysfunctional nature of economic policy throughout the industrialized world and the shift of power and influence from the West towards countries like China, India, and Brazil – whew!    How do I come up with a clear framework?   At times I think I have a track and then somehow it goes astray.

So I started to think.   What is the point of my research, why am I motivated to move away from examining German foreign policy?    The answer is because I feel myself lucky and intrigued to be living in an era of real crisis and transformation (the theme of this blog).   As a social scientist I find it fascinating to be on the planet at this time, watching as one era folds into another, bringing about profound change.

Watching the political discourse, its clear in the attacks on Obama that many people are lost in the 21st Century, trying to understand it through a 20th Century anachronistic lens

A motive of mine is to focus on what I see as the biggest barrier to successful navigation of this period of transition – old thinking.   Old thinking is everywhere!   When I see someone call Obama a “socialist” or a “Marxist,” I shake my head in amazement — can’t they see how obsolete looking at the world in those terms has become?   When people argue against globalization, talk as if a fossil fuel based economy is sustainable or speak of American power as if it still has the force it did in the last century, I realize “old thinking” dominates much of the political discourse.

That’s true in the US, but not so much in Europe.   I’m surprised by how Americans dismiss the European Union.   When the Eurocrisis started a couple years ago bloggers said things like ‘bye bye Euro’ and a few dismissed the possibility that the EU could survive.   I realized they were imagining people in the EU to be thinking about politics just like they were – with ‘old thinking.’  This is especially true from Great Britain and the US, the two former hegemonic powers where old thinking remains strongest.

E pluribus unum?

Yet within the EU, new thinking has already become entrenched.   The EU achieved the goals set by the Kyoto accords without harming their economy and are cutting ambitiously moving forward.   Germany plans to be off fossil fuels by 2050.   Military power is considered best used for humanitarian interventions sanctioned by the UN and not raw pursuit of national interest.  Sovereignty has already been replaced by subsidiarity, and globalization is taken as a matter of course.

That’s it – the European Union needs to be the center of the research.   All policies and issues connect, and it takes me back to a literature I know well and have been studying since the 80s – European integration!   Moreover, I think there needs to be some work done really stressing the revolutionary, positive and sustainable aspects of the EU at a time when people want to prematurely embrace its demise.   The fact the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize this year only adds to its relevance.

The Euro crisis opens the door to analyze the global economic crisis, its causes and the way out.  The EU’s strong focus on human rights, the environment and energy opens the door to address those issues, including the diversity between France’s embrace of nuclear energy to Germany’s (apparent) rejection of the same.    The diverging paths of the US and EU since the Iraq war, including questions about the future of NATO, open the door to discussing terrorism and the nature of war/conflict in this new era.   Issues involving Islam and the West are profound in Europe.   The whole package requires a new theoretical approach to politics, building on the neo-liberalism and identity theories of the 20th Century.

That necessarily includes the impact of the information revolution ranging from the internet to social media and beyond.  But with the EU as the core, I can now envision how it will fall into place, including how all the work I did the last three years is not for naught — I simply needed something to center it.   To find that I went back to my roots as an academic, a focus on Europe and the EU.   In fact, my concluding chapter in the book on German foreign policy has those very arguments which I can build upon.

Of course!  The answer has been in front of me all the time.   I thought I had to venture away from my specialization to look at media and change.   The key is to integrate these ideas into what I’ve already been doing.   Time to get writing!


Sunshine Award


I do not do this sort of thing.  I don’t go for blogger awards and lists, I don’t cut and paste things into my facebook status, I don’t even use Facebook to wish people happy birthday.   Yet when Larry Beck of Woodgate’s View honors me with this, I have no choice but to put past practice aside and join in.    As Larry put it:  “As a part of this nomination I am expected to answer 10 questions about myself and then nominate 10 others who I feel have inspired me in kind.”

Here goes:

Favorite Color:  Blue green.  I have my office painted with that color – it’s been my favorite since I could use crayons.

Favorite Animal:   Dolphin.   As a Pisces, I have to stick with sea creatures.

Favorite Number:  2012.  I kid you not.   If I have to go with a single digit it’s been “2” for as long as I can remember.  Yet I had a crush on a girl who lived at ‘2012 Main St.’ at one point in the distant past (I must have been 12) and I remember looking at her house and thinking, ‘wow, 2012 is the perfect number.’

Favorite Drink:  Schneider Hefe-Weizen (a white beer).   Best enjoyed at the Schneider Brewery restaurant in downtown Munich.   They have eight varieties (even the alcohol free one is pretty good), but the original classic is still the best.

Facebook or Twitter:   Tried Twitter but I don’t have time for two forms of social media.   I really enjoy Facebook, and am glad now that my 74 year old mom is finally on board and posting!  It’s also fun to see what students are posting, and to follow former students as they go into the world and have a career.   If you like my blog and want to connect on Facebook, here’s my page:

Passion:   Teaching.   I love my job.  I teach at a four year public liberal arts university, and there is nothing else I would rather do.   It’s a joy to help students learn to think creatively and critically.   I teach courses on international relations and politics in other countries, so I feel like I’m helping young people learn more about the world.   With our large education major, many of them are future teachers too!   I also love an honors course I’m teaching about intellectual history.  Today I’m prepping for tomorrow’s class on Petrarch.   The fact I can keep learning and growing while doing my job is a joy!

Travel is another passion, and I often get to mix my passions and lead travel courses whereby students discover a new culture.  This coming May I’m heading off to Italy along with colleagues Steven Pane (Music History), Sarah Maline (Art History) and Luann Yetter (Literature) and probably with about 40 students (I blogged about the last such trip).

Giving or Receiving Gifts:   I prefer giving, but I’m a bit turned off by the commercialization of Christmas.   So much stress about what to buy, and then others inevitably give things that aren’t really what I like, but I can’t say that since they meant well.    The best gifts are unexpected, not obligatory.  That’s why I prefer Halloween — as do the kids.   We have a huge annual party, decorate the house and the sugary treats flow freely.

Favorite Day:  Monday.  I love my work, and like getting a new week started.   The kids aren’t yet tired from a long week, so they go into school well and are energized when I pick them up.   They go to school very close to the university and I managed to get my schedule such that I can drop them off and pick them up every day.   I like that!

Favorite Flower:   Marigolds.   I don’t know why.  They were my favorite when I was a kid they remain my favorite.

Favorite food:  Pizza.   I’ve worked in various pizzerias, made my own pizza as a cheap staple food all through grad school, and to this day am not tired of it.   There are so many things you can do with pizza.  I love experimental pizzas, though a basic pepperoni and sausage pizza with a good red sauce and not too much mozzarella cheese is the ultimate comfort food.   I do tend to appreciate Italian pizzas more than American ones – they have fewer toppings, are less greasy and don’t go so heavy on the cheese.

Honorable mention: Gelato.  When I lived in Italy I became addicted to it, and when Wicked Gelato opened in Farmington my quality of life index soared!.

Blogs I nominate:

I won’t copy any of Larry’s, though I’m discovering a few going through his list.  Note: do not feel compelled to continue this chain blog.   I will not be upset if you do like I usually do and ignore such awards.  (But, Larry, I do thank you!)

Empathy 2012:  Empathetic guidance/Empathy 2012 is a great blog by a woman who is a self-described empath, with an inspirational outlook on life.   She seems to have shifted attention from blogging to facebook, so like her Facebook page too!

Norbrook’s blog: A political blog by someone who is definitely a progressive, but irritated by the “frustrati” – those on the  left who want ideological purity over compromise and pragmatism.

The Third Eve:  Jungian psychology anybody?  An interesting blog that mixes psychology, academic reflections and religious themes.    A very thoughtful blog by a strong, principled and open minded woman who has experienced a lot in life.

Juan Cole: Informed Comment:  OK, this is a big time blog by a noted academic, but his insights on politics and the Mideast are extremely valuable.  He’s a progressive and is often attacked by the neo-conservatives and foreign policy hardliners.

Families are Built With Love:   The experiences and daily life of a non-traditional family, well told.

Tarheel Red:  I like to think of myself as  a thoughtful progressive, not demonizing the other side and willing to listen and discuss issues without taking it personally.   Pino at Tarheel red exemplifies those traits from the conservative side.  We often disagree, but I like the guy!

Notes along the Path:  I tend to get busy and stop following blogs daily, even though I really like them.  I’ve done that with this one, and I’m the poorer for it.   It’s an interesting blog mixing bits of spirituality, religious faith, experience, politics, and everything from Pam, an insightful and interesting woman with a lot of life experience.

Blue Skies Over New England:  An eclectic, personal blog, it has a very positive vibe to it and is enjoyable to read.

Bucket List Publications:  Everyone wants to read about someone who undertakes adventures and lives boldly.   A cool website, and one with over 8 million hits!

Life as I know it photography:   Yes, it’s a business, but one just started by a UMF grad whose photography is amazing.   Read about her journey building a life and a business just out of college.

List of X:  Some humor in the form of lists – lists of ten items for such topics as “Ten reasons why Mitt Romney choose Paul Ryan as his running mate.”

OK, now I have to go engage in my passion of teaching!


Giving in to Voice Recognition

For the last 38 years I’ve kept a journal.   It started back when I was thirteen, paused when I hit 15, and started “for good” at age 16.   Up through 1985 it was pen and paper, then I started to use word processing.

From 1985 to 1989 I used a word processing program called “Paper Clip” with my Commodore 64, which I had hooked up to both a printer and an old black and white TV as a monitor.  I still have that old computer, disk drive and “Paper Clip” program.   I believe I have the old floppy disks (the 5+ inch variety), but I have no clue if it would be possible to transfer those files to Word.

Last summer I started the task of typing up my old journals.   I am a fast typist.  In 7th grade I took typing and had homeroom in the typing room so I practiced a lot.   Back at Patrick Henry Junior High in Sioux Falls in 1973 I was one of only three guys in my typing class.   The reason the girls outnumbered us 10 to 1 was because typing just wasn’t a skill boys were expected to learn.   Most guys took more shop courses (wood working, metals, drafting, etc.) while the girls took things like typing.   You see, guys would likely end up in an office with a dictating machine, while the girls would be the secretaries who would have to type up the work.   Why would a boy want to develop typing skills?   A male secretary would be, well, weird.

I’d love to say I enlightened enough to oppose sexual discrimination back in the 8th grade, but the truth is I loved to write even back then.    I wanted to type.   I was going to be a journalist, preferably a sports writer.  My hero was Sid Hartman, an insider for the Minneapolis Tribune (now the StarTribune) who wrote daily columns about the goings on inside the Twins, Vikings, Gophers and North Stars (the hockey team of that era) club houses.   I could imagine myself following sports for a living.   So I learned to type, and I was one of the fastest in the class — my typing teacher was thrilled to have a boy learn to type and be so good!   In junior high, otherwise lost years for me academically, typing was my best subject.

I remember writing about the Ali-Foreman fight, various football games, and handing my “column” (I’d get to school early so I could write) to friends and have them comment and often argue about my effusive praise of Fran Tarkenton or prediction that Bert Blyleven would be a superstar.    I learned and wrote on an Underwood manual typewriter, and still remember those drills to strengthen the little fingers, slapping the carriage return bar, and making sure that I didn’t type past the little mark representing the one inch bottom margin.

By college I had my own Royal Electric typewriter (I still have it, though I have no idea if I could get a ribbon for it), and for long papers I would go into my dad’s office to use his secretary’s IBM selectric.  That was a sweet machine, and I fantasized about owning a Selectric.  It had a backspace button that automatically whited out a mistake — and if you backspaced ten or so times, it would remember which letters to white out.   It was sleek and easy to type on.   I hit 100 WPM with no errors at one point.

Of course, I never bought a Selectric.  Shortly after college the technology revolution brought the PC age, and at age 25 I got my Commodore 64.   That’s also when I shifted to typing my journals.

Last summer I started retyping my old journals, getting 1973 to 1975 complete.   But as I look at the stacks of paper representing journals between 1975 and 1989 and consider the aches and pains of constant typing, I realize that I lack the time to quickly type them all up.   I’m also not sure my hands and wrists could take it.   So today I went on line and ordered voice recognition software.

The typist in me has been resisting that, the same way I resist texting.   I don’t have that many skills in life, but typing is one of them!   To be sure, most of my writing will still be done via keyboard.    I think through my fingers.   To me typing is the process of writing, I don’t do well with a pen and paper, or by talking it.   I could never create blog entries with voice recognition software, my fingers on the keyboard are integral to the creative process.  But copying already written material?  Yeah, I can see just reading it aloud.

I also have “dream journals” to copy.   These were made from 1986 to 1990 and contain thousands of dreams.   I would become what I called “dream aware” (I’ve since learned the official term is lucid dreaming) and then do experiments, waking up to jot down the ideas I’d type up (on my Commodore 64) the next morning.

I’m not sure how well voice recognition will work, if I find that I’ll use it more often than expected, or end up hating it — I’ll blog the result when that happens.  And who knows — maybe I’ll balance giving in to this new technology with a purchase down the line of an old Underwood manual typewriter.   I’m sure my fingers (especially the pinkies) have gotten lazy and soft being used to these sensitive PC keyboards.   My fingers could use a good workout!