Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thanksgiving [Bryan]

Well, we are thankful for having survived Thanksgiving this year. Last Tuesday we boarded an airplane (the wonderful Delta 4027 -- direct flight to SLC) and headed back to Utah. We hadn't been there more than a day when Andrew started to get sick. Really sick. Making-deathlike-coughing-sounds-at-night sick. Then Bryan got sick. Sinus-infection-so-bad-it-made-his-nose-continually-bleed sick. Then Nora fell sick. Then Ellie, last of all. After several trips to the doctor, and much worrying about insurance, we were feeling a bit better by the day we headed home.

Now, it is one thing to be sick at home, where you can mope around in your pajamas, be grumpy with your kids, or gaze at the television with a blank stare. It is another thing to be sick as a house guest. What can you do? Not leave your room? No, you've paid big money to come out and everyone has spent much toil and trouble to make your visit wonderful. So you blow your nose, clear your throat, medicate to the hilt, and try to be social. All the while, you suspect that your infection will soon be hitting the wonderful family who is hosting you. Not fun.

Now, having said that, we DID manage to have a good Thanksgiving. We visited with Ellie's folks on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Ellie's Mom made a scrumptious yam dish and their family, seeing our misery, even let us win at Settlers of Catan. The rest of our visit was spent with the Warnicks. My family had labored at yet another full Thanksgiving meal, with luscious turkey and my Grandma's famous chocolate cake. (Ellie thought the nut cups were impressive -- weird choice, but whatever.)

Many thanks to our families for being such wonderful, patient, and generous hosts. We hope you feel better soon -- it is a nasty bug isn't it? We love you guys very much.

Thanksgiving with the Merkleys.

Ellie's gingerbread house -- a Warnick tradition.

Dad Warnick took us to his lab for root beer floats -- another Warnick tradition.

That's a really good point

Via Brad Delong:
It is a strange fact about organisations that although we can put men on the moon and grow human ears on the backs of mice, there is no force on earth that can stop people from double-booking rooms. One of the most unrealistic things about Star Wars is that Darth Vader never swept into a conference room ready to do something dramatic and evil, only to find a bunch of IT people with sandwiches having their monthly planning meeting...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Warnick Campground

Next time you are in Utah, be sure to go hike up to Timpanogos Cave which is a few minutes up American Fork Canyon near Provo. After you've done that, go up the canyon a few more miles and turn right into Warnick Campground. Stop for a moment and pay respects to the Warnick cows that used to spend their summers frolicking there in the serene mountain meadows.

This has long been a source of family pride, but my brother only recently showed me that the US Forrest service describes it on their website:
Warnick Campground
Pleasant Grove Ranger District. The Warnick family of Manila, Utah, camped at "their" campsite each year during the roundup. Eventually the site became known as Warnick Campground.
I think that would be my great-grandpa and family.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Blue Man Group

We went to the see Blue Man Group last night. Never seen anything like it. Un. Be. Liev. Able.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day [Bryan]

It sounds odd to say "happy Veteran's Day." For me, it is a day of mourning. Not only for those who had to die in war or for those who were physically or mentally scarred. It is also a day to mourn the fact that our world is a place where people have to become "veterans" of human conflict. It is a day to mourn the existence of the (more or less) organized mass bloodshed we call war. It is a day of questions: "We were a family. How'd it break up and come apart, so that now we're turned against each other? Each standing in the other's light. How'd we lose that good that was given us? Let it slip away. Scattered it, careless. What's keepin' us from reaching out, touching the glory?"

In that vein, here is a Veteran's Day clip from The Thin Red Line:

My favorite quote is at the end:
Where is it that we were together? Who were you that I lived with? The brother. The friend. Darkness, light. Strife and love. Are they the workings of one mind? The features of the same face? Oh, my soul. Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bryan Stories, Part 3 [Bryan]

Here is the third installment of my personal quest to better know myself by telling myself stories about myself.

It was something of a family tradition in my family to work at a place called Christensen Heating and Air Conditioning. The boss of the company, Walt, was a good man and a longtime family friend. Both of my older brothers had worked for Walt. He paid well and was generous with time off. I would hear stories from my brothers, though, about a man named Lee who was a foreman there. Apparently he had a foul disposition and a hot temper. I didn't pay much heed to these warnings, however, and the summer after I graduated from high school it was my turn to work at Walt's. It was then that I first met Lee in person. He was a small man, with a high-pitched voice and streaks of gray running through his hair. He always wore overalls.

I was assigned to be Lee's "grunt," meaning that he and I would go out to the job site and work all day together. After working with Lee for a few days, I came to understand what it meant to be degraded. The man was brutal. If the work was not performed up to his expectations -- if it was imperfect, or done too slowly, or simply not done his way -- he would make a public spectacle of you. He would criticize you in front of whomever happened to be around, be they plumbers, electricians, or homeowners. He took to calling me "Bry-guy" -- and that was the most respectful of the long list of nicknames he developed for me. "Moron" was actually much more common. Sometimes, he would combine the nicknames. For example, he would combine "moron" with "Bry-guy" and turn it into a little chant. "Moron! Moron! Bry-guy is a moron!" he would sing over and over again. When I made I mistake, he would yell "OOOOPS!" at the top of his lungs for the rest of the day. He was never pleased. At the slightest provocation, he would turn into a raging, overall-clad ball of sarcastic, dehumanizing furry. The worst part was that I had to ride in the truck with him for hours each day. Each moment featured a long list of insults and criticisms. Silence was even worse, because that's when I knew he was really seething.

Needless to say, I hated the man. At several points, I was nearly reduced to tears of rage and frustration. I was continually tempted to shake my hammer at him and scream the most vile curses upon him and his posterity.

In truth, I was just the sort of person Lee despised. He would see me reading Freud at lunch and laugh hysterically. I would tell him about my research at the University of Utah and he instantly declared it an "enormous waste of time." He mocked "self-proclaimed intellectuals" who, for all their theories and flowery rhetoric, had nothing important to say. What he valued was action over reflection, practice over theory.

But there are other things you should also know about Lee. First, the man was a true craftsman. He had the soul of an artist whose medium was ductwork and refrigerant lines. What marble was to Michelangelo, sheet metal was to Lee. Merely getting things to work right was not enough, it had to look right. The lines had to be straight, the curves pleasing, the design geometrically precise. The large houses we worked on were his canvas; his tools were the means of gaining human validation. It was his way of asserting himself in a world that was otherwise indifferent to a small, working man's existence.

The other thing to know about Lee was that, in fact, he would drop everything to help somebody who really needed it. Walt would tell me stories of Lee's generosity and I was floored. You really can't judge a book by its cover.

I decided that I wanted to be an artist in the same way that Lee was an artist. I doubled my efforts at learning the work I was supposed to do. I tried to discover the secrets that transformed something from a "good enough" job into a "work of art" job. I turned the seams of my roundpipe upward so as to be hidden out of sight. I tried to drill my holes neatly. I tried to line up my paneling so it would look like one long piece of sheet metal. I would ask him questions about how stuff would work. And I would work hard. The amount you could get done in a day was also a source of pride for Lee, and I tried to respect that.

Granted, I never did get to be an artist. My work was always a little rough around the edges. One day, though, Walt assigned me my own truck and, with this new independence, I tried to take pride in how the job looked after a long day of work. Over time, I believe this all gradually began to earn Lee's respect. He would still lash out occasionally with a vicious dehumanizing tirade. The nicknames would continue. But he began to talk with me, even sometimes to philosophize with me. I still remember him saying, "so here's a thought..." which meant he wanted to bounce and idea off me. We became friends, although I'm fairly sure he would deny that today if asked. I guess I know he thought of me as a friend because, when I got married, he gave me a wedding present. The present was this: a pencil sharpener and a toilet plunger.

Best song (and most intersting video) of the 90s [Bryan]

A song about life and death, falling and then rising again. Forces pulling from the center of the earth again -- I can feel it! And the only song to ever use the word "placenta" in its lyrics. Here is Live's Lighting Crashes.

My First Buckeye Game [Bryan]

I went to my first Ohio State football game on Saturday. Going to an OSU game is a religious experience for most people in the Buckeye state. I can see why: the pageantry, tradition, and passion are all to be found in plentiful quantities. I must say, though, that I felt like a bit of an outsider. After all, the Buckeyes were playing the Fighting Illini of Illinois -- my beloved alma mater. Don't get me wrong. I want OSU to do well this season, and they have. But I found myself inwardly rooting for Illinois. It is always good to see a team defy expectations, overcome criticism, and come out on top. That is what Ron Zook and Illinois have done.

Anyway, some scenes from the game:

Note that this was twenty minutes before the game started. That gives you some sense of the atmosphere.

Here the band is finishing is famous "script Ohio" when its writes out the name "Ohio." Notice the sousaphone player "dotting the i" at the end. Young tube players grow up in Ohio dreaming of the day they can do that. It's cute.

After an OSU touchdown.

Friday, November 09, 2007 [Bryan]

You may know about the websites that allow students to rate their professors online. Well, I decided to check to see if anyone had rated me yet. Sure enough, they had (scroll down to Warnick). Take special note: the chili pepper is given to instructors who are "hot." And no, I did not put that up myself. Must be the bowtie.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bryan Stories, Part 2 [Bryan]

Here is my second installment of my personal quest to better know myself by telling stories about myself. (The first can be found here.) This story has to do with a guy named Pete who I met in the Salt Lake County Jail...but it's not what you think.

I was a senior at the University of Utah and I was taking a class called "The University Experience," taught by Jack Newell. This turned out to be a life-changing class for me, and it is actually the class and the professor that sent me along the career path that I am now on. Jack was a guy who believed that teaching consists mostly of telling stories. And boy, could that guy tell a story.

Anyway, we were reading an article that appeared in Harpers Magazine in the late 1990s by Earl Shorris. The article dealt with an educational experiment. Shorris went into the inner city and taught college level humanities courses to the urban poor. He and his co-conspirators taught classes in history, philosophy, logic, and poetry to struggling people who could barely read. The results, he found, were impressive. After taking the course, many of Shorris's students enrolled in college, engaged in political and economic activism, and so forth.

This article hit me like a lightning bolt. I had been searching for a way I could make a real contribution to the world. The article coincided with a growing unease about my easy lifestyle. This unease had started on my Mormon mission, where I worked closely with people living in slums and boxes. Returning to the United State was a jarring experience. Two years after returning, I was ready for closer contact with the world -- the real world of blood, sweat, poverty, and toil, where the drama of survival and redemption really plays out. At the same time, I was growing to love the humanities -- the world of the theater, art museums, dead languages, and Classical philosophers. Shorris's ideas, I thought, offered the chance to put my new passion to use in the service of my fellow man. I subsequently volunteered to teach inmates in the SL county jail. I was supposed to be preparing them for the GED, but I hoped to slip in a little philosophy and literature on the side.

Here is how it worked. The organizers of the program gave me a pass to enter the jail. They also gave me the name and the cell block information of an inmate who expressed interest in being tutored. In short, they expected me to navigate the jail by myself. To be honest, entering that place was always a scary experience. At various checkpoints, I had to wave my ID badge to the surveillance cameras so the guards would open the doors for me. I would pass cell after cell with inmates gazing (leering) at me. I would pass the cells, reeking of alcohol and vomit, where they would throw drunk people to "dry out." Distant shouting. Bars clanging. I was ever fearful of making a wrong turn and ending up somewhere I wasn't supposed to be. (To be honest, the scariest part was the guards, who thought my presence was simply an annoyance -- they had probably seen many do-gooders like me before.)

Usually, I would show up to the cell block, and I would ask the guard to go fetch the prisoner who had requested tutoring. Usually, the inmate refused to come out (often, they would sign up just to win favor with a judge). Sometimes, I would tutor for a session or two and the inmate would lose interest. But then I was asked to tutor I guy named Peter.

Pete had been in and out of jail 39 times, he said. He never told me what he got in trouble for, exactly, and I never asked. Based on some things he said, though, I think he may have been in there most recently for car-jacking. A violent offense, to be sure. But Pete was the first guy who seemed genuinely interested in learning. We worked on arithmetic, basic reading, and other GED stuff.

After a few sessions, I decided to put Shorris to the test. I gave Pete Book 7 of Plato's Republic to read after a brief introduction to text. This is a selection that deals with Plato's famous "Allegory of the Cave." This allegory talks about a man imprisoned in a cave. The man gradually works his way out of the cave, sees the sun, and returns to tell his fellow prisoners about it. The allegory deals with how we overcome "mere opinion" and come to know the truth. I only half expected Pete to read it.

The next week, I grabbed my ID badge and passed through the security checkpoints. Same story: Leering prisoners. Distant shouting. Annoyed guards. Pete emerged from his cell, clutching his copy of the Republic. He had read! Not only that, he seemed genuinely touched by what he had read. He told me about how his experience in jail had mirrored that of the man in the cave -- how he and his fellow prisoners were often blind to sun, which is Plato's symbol for "the good." We talked excitedly for about half an hour before turning to our regular tutoring activities.

I emerged from that dark jail with a feeling of euphoria. I felt like I was bringing something of real value to Pete, something nobody had ever offered him before. I felt like I was living up to the biblical injunction to visit the needy and those in prison. I had faced my fear and made a difference. Finally, I was living up to my ideals. I had found a connection between my passion and my contribution.

Other visits with Pete were equally exciting. I got him reading on the theme of "imprisonment." The next task we tackled was the narrative life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass, of course, escapes slavery through literacy. Pete really seemed to enjoy it. We were developing a good relationship. He was something of an artist, in a gangster sort of way, and often gave me his drawings. Pete seemed to be honored by this exposure to literature, history, and philosophy. It made him feel worthwhile to read such things, as if the treasures of civil society were finally his. It affirmed his humanity.

I wish I could tell you that this story had a happy ending. After a few months,though, Pete gradually began to lose interest. I would show up and the grumpy guard would go get Pete from his cell, only return and report that Pete said he was too tired to come out. After a few more weeks, I lost contact with Pete. Whatever spark had been lit during those few weeks had been extinguished. I still don't know what happened or why.

Did I find, then, the perfect reconciliation of personal passion and social contribution? I don't know. I guess you could say that I'm still looking.

Halloween [Bryan]

A good Halloween was had by the Warnicks. But. Is it just me or is there way more trick-or-treating than when I was a lad? This year, we went trick or treating three times. Once at our church activity (the misnamed "Trunk or Treat" activity), once at the so-called "Boo at the Zoo" (a Halloween activity at the Columbus Zoo), and then of course on Halloween night. This seems like a little much. Or am I just a Halloween Scrooge? (And what would a Halloween Scrooge say -- Boo-humbug?)

Anyway, I asked Nora what she remembered from Halloween, and she said, "Andrew tried to join all the Halloween families trick-or-treating and I didn't want to do anymore trick-or-treating." This about sums up our Halloween night. Nora got tired of trick-or-treating after about eight houses. I nearly begged her to continue, but she wanted to go home and eat her candy. Andrew, meanwhile, was really into trick-or-treating. Whenever he would see another family out trick-or-treating, he would try to sneak into their group. We would then have to go chase him down.

Oh, and I feel really guilty. This Halloween, I am ashamed to say, we ran out of candy. In Ohio, it is a tradition to trick-or-treat only during the official hours (6-8 PM) . And you have to either sit outside your house and pass out candy or at least leave your lights on and your door open so kids know that you are open for business. When we first ran out of candy, I dipped into our own children's candy so that we could feed the begging masses. With only 15 minutes to go until 8:00 I decided to turn out all our lights, blow out our jack-o-lanterns, and basically put up a "go away" sign. Five minutes later, though, the door bell rang, and out on our dark porch stood three adorable children. Bryan's dilemma: Does he further pillage his own children's candy, or does he tell the kids to go away? Bryan's solution: He slowly opens the door and meekly tells the children that he is out of candy. You should have seen their poor faces fall as they turned away. Since then, I have felt an unending stream of guilt. The lesson, dear reader, is this: find something, anything -- even multivitamins or a stick of butter -- to give to trick-or-treaters. Do not turn them away!