Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Grinnell Experience

I'm giddy with excitement to be returning this weekend to a place that had a more profound effect on me in four years than any other place or period in my life.

Grinnell College. That liberal, hippy, gay-loving school in The Middle Of Nowhere, Iowa.

Only a few close friends know my wishes when I leave this Earth. I want to be cremated, and have my ashes spread in four locations. One of those is the Grinnell College campus.

A common term used at the college, back in my day, was "The Grinnell Experience."

It was a catchy little phrase that was probably thought up by some marketing major from Coe College turned "communications director," but for some damn reason, the phrase actually made sense.

Grinnell College alums have a special bond with one another, no matter when they attended the school. There's an understanding. "Oh, you also were fortunate enough to enjoy one of Iowa's best kept secrets?" Maybe not a best kept secret to nerds and geeks, but to the world-at-large, it was quite invisible.

I knew this because when my high school classmates asked me where I was going to college, I'd tell them, and they'd say "Oh, Cornell?"

It became much easier to just nod, and say, "Sure!"

So how did Grinnell shape who I am, so definitively in just four short years? 

Well there's the obvious. I met the mother of my amazing children there. And I'm fortunate enough that my parents met the love of their life, and parent of their amazing child (I'll let you guess which one of the three of us that is), at Grinnell. So pretty much my mere existence is a result of Grinnell.

And frankly, next to family, I have nobody in my life that understands me better than the group of close friends I made while I attended Grinnell. We don't all see each other as often as we'd like to, but when we do, we always pick up right where we left off. Just like the days when we were hosting keggers on the roof of Cowles, complete with our mini-golf course, hot tub, and water balloon cannon. Those guys are the closest things to brothers I've ever had, next to my actual brothers.
Oh, and that brings me to one of the other amazing things that shaped me while at Grinnell: I never let my classes get in the way of my education. Yet somehow I still made it through. Sometimes, an all-nighter drinking Milwaukee's Best Light and playing SuperNintendo with your "brothers" can teach you more than an all-nighter of studying Constitutional Law and Politics (with apologies to Professor Ira Strauber).

And there's no question that Grinnell shaped me politically. But not the way most people would think. They assume "liberal arts" is code for teaching us to be commies who love to play hacky sack and protest everything. 

But for those of you who haven't been around me consistently the last 20 years, you'd probably be shocked to know that when I graduated from Grinnell, I was still a registered Republican. In fact I worked on a Republican Gubernatorial campaign more than two years after I left Grinnell.

The most common misconception about the school is that it just turns out liberals, and is an institution devoted to brainwashing their students with an agenda toward all things leftist. Au Contraire.

Grinnellians by and large are outspoken. And not shy about sharing their opinions. But it's not because of any leftist agenda. It's because our professors wanted us to leave school and be able to 1) think critically, and make informed decisions, not just following the crowd; 2) communicate effectively. Because no matter how smart you might think you are, if you can't find a way to articulate that with others, you'll never get anywhere in life; and 3) communicate in both directions. Listening, learning, and processing information from people you disagree with isn't a bad thing. It's educational. You might even find some common ground.

And finally, I have to say, another important thing I learned in my four years at Grinnell: How to tap a keg.

I look forward to returning to my roots. My old stomping grounds. The place where I went from being a boy to a slightly older boy. And the place where I perfected the art of face planting into a comfy spot on Mac Field at 2 a.m., and yelling out for help until my friends would somehow find me each time.

The Grinnell Experience means a lot of things to a lot of people. But for me, it means four of the best years of my life. Even if I don't remember every moment.

See you Friday, Grinnell. And if you hear someone yelling for help on Mac Field, please direct me to my dorm room, and make sure to leave the garbage can near my bed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Anatomy of a Blocked Blogger

9:04 p.m: I've been staring at a blank screen for the last 20 minutes.

It's the modern day equivalent of a blank piece of paper. A fresh start. A new beginning.

And yet it is still blank. Out of fear. The fear inside that perhaps I'll write something that people will hate. That my words will be a garbled mess that fall upon an audience wishing me death. I write this blog for myself, but I'd be naive not to think that there are people who read it.

9:07 p.m.: Should I write a "funny" piece, or a "deep" piece? I try to mix it up as much as possible. My favorite thing to do in this World (besides things my mother would rather I not write about on this blog) is to make people laugh. But tonight, I'm not feeling the humor. I'm not sad, or deep, either, tonight. Mostly just numb from long hours of work lately, and some outside stress I'm doing my best to ignore.

9:12 p.m.: I have "The Brothers McMullen" on the TV. I remember a time when I thought Ed Burns was going to be the next great thing. But watching this movie makes me realize that his screenwriting is in fact very cliched, and the acting in this movie is worse than a 1970s made-for-TV movie.

9:17 p.m.: Maybe I should write about my memories of growing up in Sioux City. Wait, I've written about four or five variations of that one. Hmmm. I could write about my college buddies. Did that one already too. Ooooh! I could write something about 

9:23 p.m.: Saved by a text conversation with a friend who is going through a "quasi-break up." I could write an advice column on how to break up with dignity. Except I haven't found a way to do that, whether I'm the dumper or the dumpee, in my 41 years. Love is rough, yo. And so is lust, for that matter.

9:29 p.m.: Now I'm thinking about Jerry's Pizza. My Sioux City peeps know what an awesome thing that pizza is. And a select few friends from elsewhere have been introduced to the purely heavenly pizza that is referred to by my mini mes as "that one guy's pizza." Need to find a paper towel, I'm starting to drool.

9:30 p.m.: And I need a Charlie Boy and a Schooner. And Milwaukee Wiener House. Maybe La Juanitas. Maybe I should find a cloth towel instead of a paper towel. Drooling like Niagara Falls.

9:32 p.m.: I don't have to work tomorrow. Perhaps having one more Summit India Pale Ale would inspire my words to flow onto the blank screen. BRB. Need another brew.

9:36 p.m.: I hate the ending credit song choice for "The Brothers McMullen." Only because the song, "I Will Remember You," has been played so much in the past 10 years since 9/11, I can't enjoy hearing it anymore. It's sensually unpossible.

9:41 p.m.: I've come to the realization that there's no way I'll write a decent blog entry tonight. Too many shiny objects for this guy.

9:45 p.m.: Channel surfing, and I'm pretty sure I'm watching a dragon with Sean Connery's voice right now. 

9:47 p.m.: Got an email on one of the dating web sites I'm on. I'm too tired to read it tonight. In all likelihood, it's a spambot email from some Russian hacker telling me "she" has "nakid pitchers on privut web site. click here to see me in nude!"

9:52 p.m.: Interacting with my dad on Facebook now. I always wonder if it is just my dad, or if my mom is sitting next to him, asking "What does LMAO mean?"

9:55 p.m.: Now I'm searching for an old, but not well known, Beach Boys song. "Been Too Long." I know it was after Brian Wilson's "I'm Lying in Bed" semi-breakdown. And for some reason I can't find it. Oh wait, it's "Can't Wait Too Long," not "Been Too Long."

9:59 p.m.: Found the song. Enjoying it, but it's making me think about things I don't want to. Too bad life doesn't have a delete button.

10:04 p.m.: I've wasted an hour now avoiding writing a blog entry. I think it's time to just admit that this night would be better spent having a few more beers, watching some bad movie on Encore, and pondering subjects for a future blog entry.

10:06 p.m.: Throwing in the towel. Covered in drool.