Thursday, December 08, 2011

The University in Crisis

An email alert graced my inbox not five minutes ago. A police officer at Virginia Tech was shot today. The details are still sketchy, but it appears as though the shooting took place during a traffic stop on campus. While the severity of the shooting is still unknown and the possibility of a second victim was reported, the report indicates no suspect has yet been apprehended. A campus-wide alert is in effect telling students and faculty to stay inside. It is at least tacitly ironic that today is the day that Virginia Tech is defending itself for a fine imposed due to its response (or lack thereof) in 2007, an event that still reverberates today. For those who recall the murderous rampage at Virginia Tech, this report is chilling and telling; our children live in a much different world today. Many claim that the murders of the “student gunman” who killed 32 students and faculty before killing himself at Virginia Tech represent a turning point in how campus police operate, but I contend that the relational alignment between campus police and the communities they serve did not change overnight. Virginia Tech provided a convenient justification for campus police, but in reality the relationship between campus cops and students has not been cordial for some time now.

Look at any local law enforcement agency’s regalia and you will find somewhere the words, “To protect and to serve.” Ostensibly the protection and service is provided to the community, the law-abiding citizens who, through their tax dollars, employ the force that is serving them. While never asked out loud, the implicit, perhaps rhetorical, question arises, “Protection from whom… or what?” Of course this is rhetorical because the answer is obvious, but it is decidedly not rhetorical when one digs through many of the police endeavors to “protect” us. While overzealous police activity is nothing new – indeed, it appears that a peculiar attraction of the job appeals to at least a few who are prone to egotistic exertions of power – there is something darker than just a few cops using too much force to counter criminal activity. Whereas the Rodney King beating was clear example of excess of power institutionalized within the Los Angeles Police Department, Rodney King was a criminal in the purest sense of the word. This does not excuse the excessive use of force by the LAPD, but it does highlight a troubling paradigm shift that something darker is going on here. Who are the criminals today, particularly in the institutional mind of campus police?

If the events last month at the Davis and Berkeley campuses of the University of California are any indication, the relationship is adversarial at best. Now it could be argued that those were isolated incidents and that the police were simply following orders, but it makes little difference whether either or both of those contentions are true. What could not be established in both cases is the presence of criminals or criminal intent. As the viral YouTube videos of the incidents show, the campus police were squared off against students and faculty who were peaceably protesting. Although it is true that they may have been violating some local rules, ordinances or – how dare they – decorum, they were not criminals any more than my receiving a speeding ticket makes me one. The battle cry from the defenders of force, “they were breaking the law, they deserve what they got” can be carried to logical absurdity by calling for the death penalty for parking violations. Using OC spray (euphemistically referred to as “pepper-spray”) and batons on peaceful, non-violent protestors, whether or not they are “breaking the rules,” is an inappropriate use of force. Period.

But this relationship goes much deeper than a couple of publicly displayed instances of (extremely) poor judgment by campus police. And this overall attitude, while certainly apparent in those who find the power of law enforcement intoxicating, exists at the upper levels of campus police administration. Shortly after the YouTube video of the UC Davis police attempts to “enforce” the law against those they are charged with protecting and serving, UCDPD Chief Annette Spicuzza defended her officers stating that they were “surrounded” and just needed to exit. She continued to defend them until she was silenced by “paid administrative leave.” As mentioned earlier, the video tells us much, and part of that “much” is that Spicuzza’s justification is patently false. And until the outrage went global, the upper levels of administration at UC Davis, including Chancellor Linda Katehi, condoned the actions of its law enforcement agency. When adversarial attitude comes from the top, is it any wonder the rank and file view the students as the enemy?

As a point of reference, a recent event on the Louisiana State University campus indicates how campus police leadership can positively influence the actions of its officers. Last summer a communication studies graduate student attempted to make a political statement by burning a US flag on the parade grounds. While ill advised, the action is constitutionally protected. On that day, protection is exactly what the student needed. A predictably angry mob of (mostly) other students mounted a counter-protest and his safety was anything but guaranteed. According to the student, the LSU campus police, while sympathetic to the counter-protesters, still managed to usher him away to safety. However, those officers also felt that he might deserved to be charged with some violation – perhaps the ever-popular law against using poor judgment? Causing a scene? Or maybe even a real law such as unlawful assembly or inciting a riot… regardless, the upper levels of police administration never let that happen. One would expect rational judgment from police administrators and at LSU, apparently, that expectation is realized.

It is perhaps logical that in the wake of Virginia Tech, campus police would reassess their role in campus life. However, the murderous rampage there and other equally random acts are just that, random. There is little that could have been done at Virginia Tech short of a total police state, and even then a determined nut-case would be able to carry out a similar slaughter. There was, after the tumultuous 60s where campus police exhibited a similar adversarial relationship (climaxing with the Ohio National Guard shooting 13 students, killing four at Kent State in 1970), a détente in campus police/student relations. I experienced it as a student at San Diego State University from 1983 -1985. As a initiate and later a member of a large national fraternity, I was involved in my share of pranks – pranks that occasionally brought me into contact with campus police. While I was sternly admonished and even detained for short periods of time, the police at the time knew who they were dealing with – a young, immature and easily influenced college student. In my two years at SDSU, I cannot remember one student ever being arrested and never once did I see any indication of militancy even at very large student gatherings such as home football games.

When I returned to college in earnest, it was 2003. The school was American River College, a community college in Sacramento, California. At the time, the campus police did not carry guns, but they were lobbying for the right to do so, arguing that there was the possibility that they might face a situation for which they would be ill-prepared. The student apprehension was palatable; many asking what recent situation would lead the police to believe that such a scenario was forthcoming. Despite overwhelming student disapproval, the ARC campus police now carry guns and, not surprisingly, have had occasion to use them. While the presence of weapons and riot gear does not foretell an occasion to use them, being prepared for an all out assault does signify the anticipation that such an event could occur. But the question should be, from whom would the aggression originate? A campus police force rarely deals with non-students. Are they expecting the students to mount a counter-offensive?

After transferring to California State University, Sacramento in 2005, my major was journalism. Upon completing my internship, even before graduation, I was a professional journalist – I had a real job at a real newspaper writing real news about real people and got paid real money to do it. It was not a campus newspaper. In my capacity as a journalist I was in contact with city police, county sheriffs and state highway patrol on a regular basis. Our relationship was always cordial even when investigating occasional police transgressions. I also had occasion to write stories that required input from the California State University police. I presented myself, depending on the context of the story, sometimes as a student journalist and others as just a journalist, and found the level of cooperation only slightly better when not identifying as a student journalist. My interviews were always with police “spokespersons” or upper administration and in both my journalistic roles, when asking probing questions I was met with indifference, indignation and more than once, disrespect. I was even underhandedly threatened with arrest on one occasion – for simply asking questions. This was before Virginia Tech and on a relatively quiet campus. As a student journalist, I would expect that the campus police would have viewed our relationship as synergistic rather than adversarial. After all, are we not on the same team? Are we not both members of the same campus community? It is as though the campus police, and more importantly, their leadership, have set themselves apart from and outside the campus to which they serve.

It is difficult to say if the new militarism exhibited by many campus police forces is a reflection of the recent militarism seen throughout the nation in the various “Occupy” protests or not. An argument can be made that the 1999 World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle was the turning point in the forced quelling of protest activity. The tolerance gained through the sacrifices in the 60s appears the have been forgotten. A college campus is no place to silence descent, as University of California President Mark Yudof said in the wake of the infamous “pepper-spray” incident at UC Davis,  “free speech is part of the DNA of this university.” If campus police use force to quiet civil disobedience the way civil rights protesters were dealt with in Montgomery, Alabama just a half-century ago, what is that telling our students? Although this is a dangerous trend, the public outrage in the aftermath of the twin uses of force in Berkeley and Davis is hopeful. Maybe we haven’t forgotten after all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seriously Questioning Authority

I have not had time to write in this space in quite a while. I do not have time now. But I am compelled by the recent police action on the campus of University of California, Davis. I, like a great many others, was appalled at the egregious violence perpetrated upon the peacefully protesting students last Friday afternoon. Many have come to the defense of the university police department saying that the students were breaking the law and failed to obey police orders. That is true, they knowingly did both. They likely expected to be arrested and might even have foreseen the use of OC spray (euphemistically referred to as “pepper-spray") against them. The numerous YouTube videos tell a very compelling story, but as many have pointed out, the videos do not tell the whole story. The question is, do they tell enough?

Without completely rehashing the institutional “he-said/she-said,” it is important to at least set the stage. Students at UCD were protesting – it doesn’t even matter what they were protesting. People protest about all sorts of things all the time, college students do it almost as a right of passage. Part of the protest was an “encampment,” a form of protest that seems to be all the rage these days. UCD policy prohibits “camping” on campus and in the interest of student safety and with a blind adherence to policy, Chancellor Linda Katehi ordered the tents, not the protestors, removed. According to her statements today, she was adamant that the police do nothing else, that a confrontation like the one that occurred at University of California, Berkeley days earlier was not to occur.

Apparently, the UCD Police Department (not to be confused with the City of Davis PD – an important distinction that will come up again shortly) did not understand this directive. Now, what we do not know is whether Katehi is telling the truth, - if that was indeed her directive. At the moment it looks as though she is sincere, but time will tell. Regardless, the video(s) show the UCDPD came to the scene in full riot gear, each carrying multiple “zip-tie” handcuffs and a full “non-lethal” arsenal including “pepper-spray” paint-ball guns, OC spray in fire extinguisher-size canisters and batons, at the ready. After dismantling the tents and arresting the protestors occupying them, supporters sat in a circle around the encampment, arms interlocked in absolutely non-confrontational, non-violent solidarity with the cuffed campers.

But they were blocking the pathway through the quad between the officers and their vehicles. There were numerous officers both inside and outside the circle. Nonchalantly, one officer, later identified as UCDPD Lt. John Pike, casually stepped over the seated protestors and proudly displayed a can of OC spray to the bystanders, the officers outside the ring and the protestors before spraying the seated, peaceful, non-violent protestors, emptying the can at point blank range in a sweeping motion like he was applying Miracle Grow to his garden. When he ran out, he motioned for another officer to bring his canister and continue the dousing. All actions are in apparent violation of the UC’s own policies. In the words of Katehi, it was “chilling” and the president of the entire University of California system called it “appalling.” It was all that and more.

Of course the story has garnered worldwide attention. Of course. How could it not? UCDPD Chief Annette Spicuzza defended her officers stating that they were “surrounded” and just needed to exit, insisting the officers were in danger. She continued to defend them until she was silenced by a “paid administrative leave” (joining Pike and the other officer). As mentioned earlier, the video tells us much, and part of that “much” is that Spicuzza’s justification is patently false. Remember that warning not to confuse the UCDPD with the city police? That’s because the city police were there due to a call for mutual aid. One DPD officer, later identified as Captain Darren Pytel, is easy to spot. He only appears for a few seconds, but he has no riot gear. His hands are empty, open and gesturing for calm. And he looks bewildered. It does not look as though he has the same “respect” for the “volatility” of the situation that the UCDPD expected.

It was a volatility that never manifested despite the UCDPD’s best efforts. Now I don’t know what their mindset was, but when the police go into a situation that heavily armed with riot gear and weaponry, they are expecting a confrontation. Perhaps they were disappointed that the students did not read the script. The students acted in a way far more mature than many give them credit for. The UCDPD underestimated their “adversary” and came completely ill prepared for passivity. They went in with an agenda that they would be facing students completely uncharacteristic of the students on a campus that they police all day every day. It is their only jurisdiction. They should have known better, even if no directive was ever sent down not to “create another Berkley.”

The question left is the time honored who-knew-what-when? Whose decision was this and whose head should roll? To her credit, Katehi is not sweeping this under the rug. She and UC President Mark Yudof are appropriately appalled and have publicly expressed as much, probably against the advice of their lawyers. If what Katehi said is true, Spicuzza is history and Pike should be, too. Even if Pike was “just following orders,” an officer of his rank and experience should have made a better assessment in the deployment of force. His salary is $110,000 (of your money) per year. For that much money he should be expected to think.

These are not “rank and file” officers. They are administrators, executives, they are paid to correctly asses situations, follow directives and ensure that those they are hired to protect are not harmed in the process of “protecting” them. On the quad of UC Davis, Friday afternoon, 18 November 2011, no one was served or protected and someone needs to answer for it. At last count, no less than four independent investigations are in process. What is on the video is obvious and the overwhelming public outrage is telling, but there are many questions that need to be answered. The ultimate questions are: Who is responsible and who will answer with his or her job? Because this is a job-costing mistake.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Not Just Any CEO

Although I must admit I was not entirely surprised to learn of Steve Jobs’ passing today, it is also true that I am more than a little taken aback. I knew his health was failing even before Jobs’ as much as admitted so when he stepped down as Apple’s CEO last August. I am, however, a little surprised that the turning of this final page in his life has me as reflective as it does. I am not a fan nor am I a groupie, but I am an admirer - and it is not just because of my devotion to a superior product line built by the company he cofounded less than two miles from where I grew up. That garage where Apple’s humble beginnings were forged could have been any garage in the sleepy Palo Alto/Los Altos/Mountain View tri-city area. A legend was born right in our back yards by a pair of visionaries who were not much older than I am.

And maybe that is part of it. At 56, Jobs was not an old man. Of course, 30 years ago my opinion of what constituted “old” would have placed Jobs squarely in that category, but at 48, I’m thinking Jobs was just hitting his prime much the same as Apple is… and I am. He was a man who had it all - way more than just material wealth. He was (is) highly respected as a businessman as well as a human; he was fiercely private in his personal life and at the same time never shunned the spotlight when it came promoting his company; he was not only a visionary, he was also universally recognized as such; and most importantly, he changed the world. He made peoples lives better. Millions of them.

He made my life better. Not in a big way, not like he touched so many others, but Jobs provided me with products I could count on, almost always without fail. That is how he touched perhaps most of us, but for some his impact is even more profound. The employees of Apple are of course beneficiaries of his legacy, but so are the thousands upon thousands of employees of other companies that are peripheral to the market Jobs carved out for Apple. Accessories companies, parts manufacturers, carpenters, plumbers, even truck drivers and airplane pilots (just to name a very few) have a share in the business Apple produced. And it all started in that small garage.

Apple is more than just a great hardware and software manufacturer. And it is more than just knowing what the secret to business success is. Indeed, it is hardly a secret, but one would not know it from the many companies that come and go that cannot seem to grasp three simple precepts. Apple engineers and produces very high quality products. Although it is hard to go wrong when your quality is a notch above everyone else’s, that is not enough. Apple also knows where their money comes from. The customer is Apple’s number one priority and it doesn’t take much interaction with an Apple employee before one feels like it. Finally and perhaps the most elusive part of the secret, a successful corporation must have employees who are happy and loyal. At Apple, they are part of a family. Throughout Jobs’ tenure, these three factors have not only been policy, they have been culture and one that allows them to charge top dollar because the customer is still getting more than he or she paid for.

As much as the above will keep a company afloat for a very long time, at some point new product ideas will hit a dry spell. Long-term dominance relies on the insights of a visionary like Jobs who can not only see the what the technology coming down the pipe can do, but can also develop products based on that technology that we don’t even know we want. Yes, Jobs did that. He transformed the way we do so much because his intuition told him what we needed before we needed it. And he filled that need while keeping quality high, his employees happy and loyal and all the while telling me, the customer, that I am the most important person in the Apple organization.

There are people who wish they had what Jobs had. They envy his power, his prestige and his money. But I wonder if they would trade places with him now, to have all that and pass away at such an early age? I might – not in exchange for his power or his prestige or his wealth – but for the ability to make the world a better place for so many people. Steve Jobs has done on a massive scale what too few are willing to do on even a personal scale. I, too, want to change the world; I want to make it a better place. His vision inspires me and his legacy continues to. Jobs will be sorely missed… and he’s leaving some mighty big shoes to fill.

Friday, September 30, 2011


It has been six weeks since my last blog post. Since starting this journal almost six years ago, this is the longest span between entries yet. And it is not as though there is nothing worthwhile to write about… I am at a loss to explain just why I have not taken the few minutes needed to reflect here over the course of these past weeks. True, I am busy, busier than ever, but it does not take long to do this type of writing. My archives tell a story, and the frequency of entries is a story in and of itself. The “perspectives, purpose and opinion,” as the subtitle states, are still pronounced, but my motivation to document them has definitely waned.

This blog was started as a living record of my trials and tribulations in a post apocalyptic world. No, the world did not experience an apocalypse – you would have heard – but mine did. This blog began as my world began to reconstitute itself. And that world is a very different place. That is where the “perspective” comes into play. The “opinion” posts are easily identified and there are many, some with the mixed mission of identifying perspective as well, but the middle term, “purpose,” has always been somewhat indescribable. I have written about purpose many times, but as far as nailing it down to something specific, well, that is likely never going to happen.

Those familiar with my story (either through reading these entries over the years or because they know me personally) also know that my life nearly came to an end almost 11 years ago. In each of the past five years I wrote a commemoration of that ill-fated day, but that series is over. After the 10-year mark I felt I said all there is to say about the incident specifically and I will not rehash it here. Inquiring minds can find the last entry in the series with links to the other posts here. However, the reconstitution is not complete as I find myself now in a place that I never dreamed possible in my pre-apocalyptic days. Despite my lack of posting anything recently to the “official record,” the wonder and amazement are still there.

Tonight I can be found in my apartment in Baton Rouge, just two blocks from the Louisiana State University campus. I arrived here on August 12th after four days of driving the 2,200 miles from Sacramento, Calif. with a trailer full clothes, books, my bike (no, not my Harley, it is still in Sacramento… and we don’t need to talk about that) and other necessities needed for survival. My driving companion/co-pilot/soul-mate was with me 24/7 right up until she had to fly back to Sacramento on August 15th, the date of my last blog entry titled, Upheaval. The title is self-explanatory. Tonight, after six weeks here, I have “settled in” to the extent possible, but to say that I am at home here is a stretch. But at the same time, the upheaval I wrote about has faded away.

However, the change is still fresh. I still miss home, my friends, my family and especially one very special lady who is not only suffering with me, but also suffering for me and because of me. And if wasn’t for some indescribable, nebulous purpose that is driving me, I would not have put either of us through this. Thankfully she understands; she doesn’t like it, but she understands. Nothing worth doing is easy and although the “pay-off” can be measured in the material (i.e., a Ph.D. will secure a good job doing what I love and carry me through retirement), if that was all I was after, I could have done it with an MA and at home. There is more – something is pulling me, something is “out there,” something that has probably been calling to me my entire life. And it took a personal apocalypse to realize it. It could come from the same muses that sang to Aristotle, Cicero and other wonderers or it could be a calling uniquely my own, but to deny it is to deny myself.

And that, once again, is as close to purpose as I can get. I cannot define it in anything more than abstract, nebulous, general terms. Like love, something we know exists, no one can show me a pound of love. I cannot go to a store and by a bag of it. I can find it represented in art but art itself is not love. But I know it is real. With every heartbeat I can feel it. And so it is with purpose. I cannot ignore it; this “purpose” is real.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Writing is among the things I do best. This is not to say that mine is any better or worse than anyone else’s writing (qualifying my craft is a job for those who read it), but it is absolutely a reflection on something I am very comfortable with. Through the written word I can access parts of my psyche that are otherwise difficult to reach. It could be that it slows my thinking down enough to actually be cognizant of my thoughts as they parade through my mind… or it might be that the part of my brain used to compose these symbols is not the same as my real-time, on the fly and instantaneous part… or it might be something altogether different. I suppose if I were to sit down and examine that phenomenon through my writing, the exercise would reveal insights, but that is not my purpose tonight.

Tonight I am decidedly not comfortable. And writing brings me a sense of ease that few other things do. Since my world tonight is upside-down, writing about it is a source of solace that I am usually reluctant to engage, but it always brings relief. Tonight I find myself in a new city in a new state at a new school embarking on a new goal. Almost everything familiar, including the geography, the weather, the time zone, my family, my friends and especially my girlfriend are still in California. Furthermore, while certainly not in the same class as the people I love so much, I had to leave my Harley behind, too. But since its benefit is largely reliant upon the Northern California roads I am so familiar with, my bike might actually cause me more stress here than meditative comfort. But I digress…

This is about change. Major change. And though I signed up for it and knew this was coming, the cold hard reality is just that - cold and hard. I have felt this before, many years ago when I was just out of high school. I left the home of my childhood to go to school in San Diego. I was unprepared for the isolation I felt in every respect but one; I was just 20 years old and far more resilient. Now 49, I have embarked on an adventure better suited for a much younger person. Exciting? Of course. Intriguing? Absolutely. But I have left a far more entrenched and established life and network than I could have possibly attained at 20. My past experience tells me this discomfort will get better. Not in respect to missing my home and friends and most profoundly, my girlfriend – that angst will remain prominent, but in time I will establish profession relationships and personal friendships here. That, however, will take some time.

In the meantime, I am struck with the wisdom of age without the resilience of youth. There is, however, another distinct difference between this move and past others. In the past, I was not so much moving toward the positive as I was moving away from the negative. What I left behind was not much and the discomfort felt upon arriving was no worse than the stagnation I felt prior to. This time there was nothing to run from. But Baton Rouge is where LSU, the school that offered me the opportunity of a lifetime, is and this is where I must be for many months out of the next three or four years… it can’t happen anywhere else. In this case, it is not a choice between the lesser of two evils, but rather a temporary sacrifice that I willingly undertook to advance my professional credentials. That will, in turn, positively influence mine and my family's security when I am finished. It will also place me in a job so satisfying that it will hardly feel like work.

But change is still uncomfortable and major change is majorly uncomfortable. Human nature tends to resist change and I am nothing if not human. Eventually I will become more used to the situation I have placed myself, but I am afraid that leaving those who love me and whom I love will always remain heavy on my heart. Reunions will be frequent, but bittersweet, as each will be accompanied by yet another departure at some point until this goal is completed, at which time, of course, a new challenge and more change, probably major change, will come again. This never gets easier, but at least this time it represents an advance, not a retreat. Seems like that should help, but it doesn’t…

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Petty Crimes

I live in a pretty nice neighborhood. It is in an unincorporated suburb in Sacramento County, Calif. known as Fair Oaks. The subdivision I live in is a relatively new development (late 70s) called Rollingwood. Although we are certainly not crime-free, the level of criminal activity here is low and for the most part petty. Of course, there are exceptions, but all in all, this is a very quiet neighborhood. One of my neighbors across the street started a neighborhood watch email list so that the residents are kept up to date on what is going on around here. The following letter is to alert my neighbors of a petty crime that occurred in my driveway last night or early this morning…

Dear Rollingwood residents,

Last night I failed to roll up my windows in my car. Although it was parked in my driveway on Long Canyon Dr., and my outdoor lights were on, someone decided it was worth entering my car to see what could be had. Fortunately there was not much there, but some items in the tray of my center console were taken – and the tray was taken as well. There was a small pocketknife, a silver ring and broken silver rope chain necklace… maybe a couple of other items as well. All tolled, these items were not worth much and with the exception of the tray itself, nothing that I will really miss. But the value of these items and whether I will miss them or not is obviously not the point. The sanctity and security of my home was violated and this would (or should) piss anyone off. The crime did not go totally undetected - there are always clues. The following is what I believe to be a probable scenario:

Although I do not know for sure when it occurred, my kids’ dogs were barking at about 5 a.m. this morning. They will bark whenever they sense someone outside my house, but usually it is nothing. This time we should have listened and let them out for if I had, I would be writing a much different story. It is also probable that the dogs scared off the punk(s) before they had a chance to search in any depth – much more was left than was taken. This was a crime of opportunity; there was no need to check to see if the car was open, it clearly was. I have not checked my security cameras yet, but due to where the car was parked and the pre-dawn darkness, I don’t expect they will reveal much. But here is the sad truth; the criminal(s) involved are most likely living among us.

This is a crime a kid would commit – one or more of your kids (not necessarily your kid, but very likely one of our neighbors’) and/or one or more of their associates. It is highly unlikely that someone would be casing this neighborhood in search of a car with its windows open to see what kind of score could be made. These are not professionals, but they are absolutely criminals in training. So here is the $64,000 question: Do you know where your kids were early this morning? Are any of them sporting a slick little pocketknife (it’s red and about an inch and a half to two inches long when folded), or a silver rope necklace or a silver ring? You might ask them how they came up with these things, because they among the things that were lifted from my car. I sure don’t want anyone to take this personally and I am by no means accusing every kid in this neighborhood of being a thief, but the evidence is pretty clear that at least one is. There is an opportunity here for a proactive, alert parent to stop a lifetime of bad choices in its tracks.

Me? I just want my center console tray back.


Michael K. Althouse

Monday, July 18, 2011

Still New

I have not done much writing here for the past several months. According to the archives section on this blog, I wrote 55 entries in 2010 and so far this year I have written only nine. And it is now halfway through July. I’m not sure why this is. I wrote quite a lot in 2007 and 2008, logging 160 and 134 entries, respectively. While it is true that some of those entries were not written compositions and a few were not even my own work (always properly cited, however), the need or desire to publicly air my thoughts appears to have been greater when this journey was new. It was almost as if the worldwide access to my words lent some reality or permanence to what can arguably be described as a living dream. Or beyond one…

But it can just as easily be argued that the novelty has not worn off. Each new chapter brings new amazement and the start of the next leg is only three short weeks away. It is still staggering to think about where I was just seven years ago compared to where I am today. And where I am going, though just as unknown as where I am viewed from where I was, is nothing I was even capable of dreaming of. This is not a dream, but I did not plan any of this. I did not plan to graduate with a BA at 45 years old, did not plan to have an MA at 48 and I had no idea I would be moving to a new city 2,200 miles away to begin work on my Ph.D. this same year. I simply did what was in front of me and availed myself of the opportunities that came along the way, not knowing whether I would or could succeed. I took chances, but without doing the work, the chances of success were zero. This I know only too well from experience.

This is not some sort of mid-life crisis; the crises I have faced were recurring and of my own doing well prior to some arbitrary ‘mid-life’ mark. It wasn’t until mid-life (I hate that term, it feels as though I have some sort of expiration date, but I digress…) that I was finally able to extract myself from crisis mode. Indeed, these things that I am now doing should have been done years ago, but I had neither the capacity nor the discipline to achieve anything for any sustained period of time. Success was always tentative and fleeting. As soon as I arrived at good enough I stopped doing the work and, truth be told, the work I did to get to good enough was only good enough anyway. I always wanted to be happy, satisfied, content, at peace, serene… supply your own utopian adjective, but I never imagined that those things required work. As a result, nothing was ever enough, but if there was such a thing, it could be had at a price. Or... perhaps I was simply deficient or cursed; accepting that was easier and in a strange twist of irony, opened the door that led me here.

Because I found peace only externally, even when I had small windfalls (which did not seem all that small at the time), it only bought some degree of comfort. And although comfort can make one comfortable, it cannot create happiness. Some may disagree, but I can cite example after example of those who have extraordinary wealth and equally extraordinary misery. While I agree that the opportunities to manifest happiness might be enhanced with monetary resources, it still takes effort to achieve that elusive element of quality in one’s life. Once I accepted that I could never afford the kind of happiness I thought I deserved and, even if there was a dollar figure, it was beyond my reach – ever – I was able to stop pursuing it. I gave up; I surrendered that my life was what it was and there was little I could do about it.

But that is not entirely true. While it is true that my life was what it was; it is also true that it is what it is. The world has not changed all that much. The injustices (perceived and real) that plagued not only my life, but many others’ and in far greater measure, are still there. My luck has not changed either as my infrequent visits to gaming establishments prove. But (and this is a key ‘but’), my happiness is not contingent on the outcomes of those excursions. Win or (usually) lose, I remain at peace. This example might appear to have little to do with anything, but the fact is that life is never going to provide me with a windfall of happiness, I have to create that myself. It has to do with perception and for me, once I accepted that this peace I longed for was not going to just land in my lap, I stopped seeking it. Once I quit fighting, I had an abundance of time and a bit of clarity… and I started to have moments of peace. I was experiencing happiness and found that it was not based on what I had (which was not much), but what I did.

And today I am doing quite a lot. My happiness ‘lucky streak’ has lasted almost seven years now and promises to endure as long as I stay committed to building on what I already have. In other words, I have not yet nor do I ever believe that I will have attained good enough. I know the effort it takes to create and maintain happiness is worth it, but old habits and ideals die hard. For me, it is always a battle to stay on top of what I have in front of me, for the idea that I have arrived manifests itself most often in procrastination… I can always do it tomorrow. But if I said that all those yesterdays ago, would I be happy today? Of course, the work involved in being content involves much more than just career-oriented work. That ‘more’ can be captured in a word: Integrity. Being part of humanity and being content with my contribution to it requires this. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me that takes some conscious effort as well. It requires work. And that makes me happy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quality - Revisited

A little more than a year ago, I wrote an essay for this blog that was more reflective than anything of any substance. I had questions - seems I always do. Although I didn’t ask anything of anyone with any specificity, in a little more than 800 words, I attempted to define quality. It is not a particularly easy concept to describe, though most people know it when they see it, hear it, taste it, touch it or even smell it. However, beyond experiencing it through our five senses, quality also has a transcendental nature to it. Real quality, like truth, beauty and goodness, is timeless and readily identified by people from vastly different cultures as “good.” A clay pot and a Greek vase are made from essentially the same materials and have the same purpose, yet one is beautiful beyond its utilitarian function while the other is not. That is quality – in this context artistic quality (or beauty) as opposed to functional quality (or goodness). 

We know what it is. We experience it everyday. A selfless act of compassion, a soft wind kissing one’s cheek, a glorious sunset… all universally known as possessing quality. But what is that elusive ingredient? What makes a Rembrandt better than Rockwell? Of course it’s quality, but what is quality? All this may seem to be much ado about nothing, but it leads to a deeper question, one I raised in that essay a year ago and one in which I am no closer to answering today. When it comes to the quality of one’s life – of my life – by standard do I measure it?

Obviously it is not a single “thing’” but rather a complex combination of factors that produce quality in one’s life. It is more a way of life than something in life. In many respects it is how one views life and defines his or her purpose. It can exist in one particular discrete moment in time and it can endure… and it seems not to be so much about one’s physical realities, material items and monetary wealth as it does with contribution. What have I done is far more important than what I have. And where I am going means more than where I have been. Quality is realized in the here and now, but it is not something that I can achieve and be done with it. For some time now, I have led a quality life, but that can change in a heartbeat if I do not continue to move forward… to try to fulfill that purpose, whatever it might be.

Which brings me back to a question I have pondered before and one that will likely always remain: What is my “purpose?” I do not know beyond some abstract generalities that seem to be common among those who experience quality in their lives. It has to do with making a contribution to humanity; being able to say that I did something positive today; and, at least, that I have done no harm. It is not necessary that I know exactly what my path is or where it will ultimately lead, only that I am moving in a positive direction… and for way too many years my life was stagnant. Today, with a sense of purpose comes that elusive quality that I could occasionally touch but never quite hold on to. For more than six years now, that element that defies definition has turned my life from an ordeal into an expedition, turned hardships into challenges and made every single day better than the last. That is quality.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The End of the World

Another doomsday prediction has come and gone. The end of the world was supposed to occur last weekend and, obviously, we are all still here. This is not the first such prediction and it certainly is not the last. And although we don’t know exactly when it will happen, the world as we know it will absolutely come to an end at some point in the distant future - our science is advanced enough that this is not a mere possibility; the sun will eventually exhaust its supply of hydrogen and it will expand, obliterating the inner planets of the solar system. The time frame is inconceivably long, but it will happen. Furthermore, other cosmic and geographic calamities that are impossible to predict could spell our demise much sooner. It is, however, so highly unlikely that it will happen in my lifetime that it is beyond wise is to continue to plan for the future.

But even with what amounts to a virtual guarantee that the world is going to stick around for a while, I won’t be here to see it 50 years from now. Death is part of life and if I optimistically live into my late 90s, the end of my world will come in 2060, give or take a couple of years. And that is only if everything goes well; indeed, that end very nearly came to me ten years ago. The chances of the world being here for the next 50 years are much greater than mine. But it begs the question: If we all know that we are here for a limited (and, in the big picture, a relatively short) amount of time, why do we do so much work knowing that we will never see the outcome?

We see it in our personal lives as well as our communal existence. We plan for 100-year flood protection, construction plans that extend 25 years or more into the future, research projects that extend over many generations, and hopefully soon, space exploration that might span multiple generations. And those plans project action well beyond some of the designers' lifespans. On a personal level, these questions are perhaps more easily or intuitively answered in the name of creating security for our children and grandchildren. But despite all this, we all face our own personal doomsday someday...

While the amount of knowledge and technological development we have created in the past 150 or so years is unprecedented in scale compared to the total of human history up to the 19th century, it is also true that it did not come out of a vacuum. Great thinkers, scientists and tinkerers alike, laid the groundwork for the road we now travel. They are not here to revel in their genius, but they might have foreseen a world that would benefit from their insights. Driven in part by a quest for a better life and in part by an insatiable desire for knowledge, these now dead visionaries lit the way and each one of them surely knew that he or she would not live forever. Yet they made that contribution anyway. Why?

Obviously I cannot answer for them, but I can say why I do what I do. There is an ever-growing body of human knowledge. It began when we did and will continue for as long as our race does - maybe longer. I am not seeking insight so much because I will find the  answer as much as I am making a contribution to what that answer might be. And like so many perennial “big” questions, there can be no ultimate answer. I can surmise this, however; if we are to survive beyond the death of our world, thinking beyond our own existence is an absolute necessity. Taken a step further, this ability, which is uniquely ours, is the only hope that the rest of the animal kingdom has of surviving the eventual destruction of this world... and they do not even know it. That is what separates us and why our species has been able to climb to the top of the food chain in such a short amount of time. We have a responsibility to continue seeking beyond our own doomsday.

And while the prophets predict, I will continue to seek...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Comfort vs. Happiness


Reading, writing, preparing, grading, and myriad other activities have defined my day-to-day existence of late. Both gratifying and frustrating, this unprecedented demand on my time is nothing I ever expected to encounter, nothing I planned on and, honestly, not anything I ever dreamed I would have wanted in my life. My modus operandi for many, many years has been a quest for leisure, an inherent propensity to relax. To be happy. And though that propensity is still with me today, it is that very drive that had left me so unfulfilled for most of those years. While it is true that through the duties I had acquired over the years – that of being a father, a parent (not necessarily the same thing – a father is something a man is, a parent is something a one does), an employee and other roles that must be assumed as one navigates life – I have absolutely felt a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But those things had an obligatory nature to them; they were defined by cultural norms and historical ideals such that success is expected and only failure noted. And it should be noted that although I succeeded in those roles to an extent, failure driven in part by that same need for comfort existed as well. I thought I was supposed to be happy, but I rarely was.

Today that drive is manifested in my always-reliable nemesis, procrastination. Although I have been able to push through it enough to have succeeded in completing the tasks necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree and everything but my thesis so far in my quest for my master’s, that thesis has proven fertile ground my old friend to flourish. The truth is that as busy as I am, I still waste too much time not working on it when I should be. And the looming work ahead of me has proven to be anything but relaxing. The crazy thing is as simple as it is profound: This is all voluntary. I do not have to do any of this - this is decidedly not obligatory. I could just as easily, indeed, more easily find a regular job and work a nine to five routine and be perfectly content with that. In fact, it would be a step up from my former goal of not working at all, living the “good” life of leisure and comfort. And being a contribution to society in that capacity would be fulfilling in its own right. I know this today…

But it begs the question: Why am I doing this? I can only partially answer that question. It is, in part, because I am intrigued by the intricacies of what I study. I have addressed my fascination with human communication in the past and that curiosity is absolutely some of the reason, but many things that I have not immersed myself into at this level fascinate me. Part of it is a desire to teach and the independence a university professor is afforded in the administration of his or her curriculum; and part of that is the very direct and positive effect I can have on the lives of others. But that is still not all of it – quenching curiosity and vocational independence can be had without earning a master’s degree or (if all goes well) a Ph.D. It could be that due to the change in my perspective from one of entitlement to one of service I feel a need to catch up, but that is not entirely it, either. The missing piece is one that I can only feel… it is impossible to articulate. It involves a sense of purpose that comes from someplace indescribable. It is as through this is what I am supposed to be doing.

So the battle wages on. I don’t want to do this work, but I need to. I don’t need to do this work, but I want to. Though I feel destined to do it, that I am supposed to do it, I also know that I am not obligated to. While it serves me as well as others, am I selfishly fulfilling my own desires or am I selflessly making a real contribution to the world? Quite likely both… and neither. I have said it before and it is still true today, this was not my idea. I never planned to pursue my education to this level – in fact, I never really planned to pursue an education at all. Everything I did prior to about seven years ago was a means to an end and that end was comfort. Physical and emotional comfort. I never achieved it. Isn’t it ironic that, considering the monumental tasks I have completed and even more so with those looming on the horizon, I have never been more at peace? I battle procrastination every single day. That inherent laziness has not left me – it still tells me that it would be so much easier to just relax, but I know that’s an empty lie. There is no purpose in leisure; it is not what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to do the work to realize my purpose whatever that turns out to be. All I need to know is that I have one.

And I am almost always happy.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Profile update

The Blogger profile field is limited to 1,200 characters including spaces and HTML coding (italics, bold, underlining, and other special text require more characters than just the text itself). Although 1,200 characters, with or without spaces, etc. might sound like a lot, it is quite easy to run short. From time to time it is necessary to update the profile field that appears on the right side ("Your host") of my blog and since there are new developments in my path, that time is now. Below is the most current version of this author's blog profile, all 1,196 characters...

Welcome to The 25 Year Plan. This blog was created in December 2005 as a means of keeping my writing fresh during the five-week break in between the fall and spring semesters at California State University, Sacramento. Entering as a 42-year-old junior (journalism major) in fall 2005, I was considered a “non-traditional” student. In fall 2007, I graduated magnum cum laude with my Bachelor of Arts degree - more than 25 years after graduating from high school. The 25 Year Plan is a reflective, inspirational and purpose driven journal of life. It is living proof that anything is possible and it is never too late. Evidence? I am just a thesis away from receiving my MA in rhetorical criticism, a new path that manifested in 2008. I also work at CSUS as a TA, teaching undergraduates public speaking and argumentation. And in the fall of 2011, I will embark on a new journey that will take place in another city in another state. Qualifying for a Ph.D. program at a school as prestigious as LSU was not part of my plan when this blog began just a short time ago, but it has become a reality. Living life beyond one’s wildest dreams requires dreaming bigger than one can. Dream big…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Straight Out of My Head

Getting started. This has always been the hardest part. It is, perhaps, part of the ritual that must take place before anything gets committed to words on a page. Some might call it writer’s block and I supposed if the resistance I experience in getting started prevented me from starting at all, then that would be my affliction as well. But whether it is for enjoyment, advancement, or pay, I write. Although it is my underlying art that drives any number of professions, past and present, writing is at once painful and exhilarating, both the blessing and the curse – and it is a struggle every single time I set out to write anything.

Including this. Although the words are now freely flowing, getting to this point, for this piece, took not minutes, not days, not weeks and not years. It is not only the culmination of every single minute of my own life, but also of those who have preceded me. At this moment in time, this one, single, unique and never to be repeated moment, this is all there is and it is through a collective community of memory that has turned this energy into these words. My perspective has been necessarily shaped and influenced by only what and who has preceded me – from the “Big Bang” to right now, there is nothing else.

I used to believe that my best, most authentic and purest writing came when it was “straight out of my head.” That is, I believed that simply transforming my thoughts - my insights – into words with some compelling style was my forte. It was the sort of writing I found easiest perhaps because it was just the keyboard, my thoughts and the words; I need not bring anything external into the equation. But after regularly running into resistance when attempting even this “pure” writing, it has become abundantly clear that nothing I have ever written has been “straight out of my head.” Nothing. Every thought I have ever transformed into these symbols we call words has to be placed into context with an infinite number of variables that are decidedly not “straight out of my head.”

From the beginning of time until now, this is what I have. These words. This life. A perspective that has been shaped by not only those close to me, but also by those now gone for thousands of years. All of it culminates in the here and now – it always has. We are unique in the animal kingdom – no other species has the cultural memory we do. None other can communicate as we do. No other animal can use, or as Kenneth Burke noted, misuse symbols as we do. When it is all said and done, when I write I am merely making my contribution to the human experience. With all that going on outside my head, is it any wonder that it is so hard to get started?

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Sunday, 24 October 2010

The rain has been falling steadily for about a day now. This first major storm in Northern California is perhaps early by some standards, but certainly not unexpected or unprecedented. It is a time of change; summer is transitioning to autumn in a cyclical fashion that is as old as dirt. And though every season is different from that which preceded it, it is also different from the one that bore its name the years before. And so it is again, this fall is not the same as the fall of 2009 – not in terms of the weather, the place I find myself in the world and the world itself certainly not the same as it was just one year ago. But like the seasons enough remains that we can recognize the changes and hopefully be ready for them.

This is my final fall semester as a grad student at California State University, Sacramento. If all goes well, I will receive my Masters degree before spring turns to summer in 2011. But it is not the end of this journey into higher education; it is simply a turning of the seasons. Next fall another semester will begin at a different school where my post-graduate journey will continue. Another season, not the same as this one, but in keeping with the cyclical nature that the school life is, there are too many similarities to ignore the changing weather. No longer on a quest to obtain a Masters degree, my new goal will be a doctoral degree… a Ph.D. It is a monumental task, but so was (is) my current quest, and it is nearing completion. The culminating experience left to complete is my Masters thesis, a research project the likes of which I have never attempted – both in scope and in size – and that is just now beginning.

It is of particular note that these are not things I should be capable of doing, at least not in terms of motivation and discipline. Although I have always been capable, I have been equally incapacitated. If I knew the amount of effort that was required going in, I would have turned tail and gone somewhere else. I seriously underestimated the work that would be involved, and that is probably why I am still at it. Had I known what I was getting myself into… if I knew this was going to be a particularly rainy fall, cold winter, balmy spring or searing summer, I might have high-tailed it to more comfortable climes. I left myself with little choice but to weather the storm and though I know it’s not yet over, I also now know that I can get through this and that is more than half the battle. It took more than I had, but I got what I needed along the way.

Sometimes I stop and wonder, “What am I doing here? Who am I fooling? How did this ever happen and when will it come crashing down?” Of course I know it does not need to come crashing down, that whatever I am doing here, there is a reason for it and if I am fooling anyone it is myself. The evidence speaks for itself. Yet this is not within my character – to push myself beyond what I think is possible and succeed. And maybe that’s because I never gave myself the chance to succeed. It was always easier to fail, or not even try because of the chance of failure. Oddly enough, the stakes are higher than ever now and the risks, if measured by the effort required, are equally so, yet I have made it farther than I could have imagined… 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

I set this essay aside 130 plus days ago because I felt it was going nowhere; I was not feeling it, as the colloquialism goes. I usually don’t open these partially written and abandoned works, but when reading the essay that replaced this, Negotiation, I found myself wondering what it was that I thought was so bad… and it no longer was. Since the contexts of any communicative event include every external reality including time and place, it is likely that whatever frame of reference I was in at the time was not in sync with what I was writing. And today it is.

Some things have changed in the past four months. That final semester of course work was completed and the only thing between standing between my MA and me is my thesis. And that has turned out to be more challenging than predicted… which was also predicted. Additionally, that quest for a Ph.D. is materializing as well. Four months ago I had just begun the application process; today I have results. Of the six universities I applied to, two have accepted me (LSU and University of Denver), two have turned me down (Stanford and University of Washington) and I have yet to hear back from two more (Columbia and USC). Though it is not time yet, in the not too distant future I will have some major decisions to make.

Although these are not decisions that can be taken lightly, they are decisions generated by my willingness to do something. Where my life was defined for so long by a quest for comfort, it is now energized by a quest of an entirely different sort. And though I have not a clue where it might lead me, this journey has transformed life from a passive, observatory experience to a dynamic, active one. And it all started by stumbling into a place I thought I had no business being, a place where I have, at best, experienced only marginal and incomplete success. All it took was a little faith and a lot of work. Maybe that’s all there is to success…

Monday, February 07, 2011

Dear Fran...

Some time ago, I somehow got on the email solicitation list for the Long Ridge Writers Group, a subsidiary of Writer’s Institute, Inc. Although I admit that I might have expressed an interest at some point in the distant past, that interest was rescinded long ago - and likely because it turned out to be yet another iteration of the “for-profit” model of higher education that I so despise. Over the course of the past few years, I have received numerous emails from Fran Saunders (the director of admissions) that use a strangely guilt-provoking pathos to reach prospective students. These emails almost have the flavor of a jilted lover… that I have somehow betrayed the generosity of this “school” by not accepting (and paying for) the benefits they provide. After a history of briefly responding to and then deleting Fran’s emails, today I finally decided to write at length… and of course, publish that correspondence here.

Dear Fran,

I am not sure how I ended up on your email list, but it is possible I might have inquired at some point in the distant past. Since whenever that was, I have received from you not one, not two, but several emails with subject lines like, "final chance" (Jan. 29, 2010), "is this our good-bye?" (Jan 10, 2010) and "this is our final good-bye" (emphasis added, Jan 9, 2009)... and those are just the emails that have escaped my notice and deletion. Isn't it interesting, however, based upon just these surviving emails that in the space of one year (2009 - 2010) our relationship went from a statement of finality to one of pining for clarity? And today I have been informed that I have one extra week. Since you appear to be having some difficulty putting this solicited relationship behind you, let me be so blunt: This is our final goodbye. I am not interested in whatever services you might or might not have. I am currently in the process of writing a Masters thesis and have little time to be reading or responding to your pleas to better my writing and myself. It should be abundantly clear just from the composition of these few words that I do not need your help.

As far as qualifying for your course - I suspect that everyone who responds qualifies for your course. The Writer's Institute, Inc. is a for-profit business. The purpose (or "mission", if you prefer) of all for-profit businesses is the production of money. That is what a profit is. There is nothing wrong with a mission of making money except when it conflicts with the mission of improving the human condition, society, charity and other similarly noble missions. Education does not fit the for-profit model (neither does healthcare - but I digress). One is either in it to make money or in it to provide students the best possible education regardless of cost. Those costs, because the educated individual's contribution to society is as valuable to society as it is to the individual, should be largely subsidized by that society... in other words, education should be a money losing (in terms of tuition) proposition in the short term. There is not nor should there be a tangible short-term profit, but the enormity of the benefit to society is indisputable - the fact that the US is the world's only super-power in every sense is evidence enough of not only the power of a public education, but also of capitalism - separated.

To conclude, dear Fran, I am not interested in paying you for the privilege of improving my writing and lining your investors' pockets. I am completing my Master's at a highly regarded California State University campus and continuing my education in one of five public or non-profit private universities. The mission of each is similar and has nothing to do with turning a profit. Yes, parting can be difficult, but be comforted that you have now extracted 30 minutes of my time. That time, however, will be immortalized on the Internet through my blog ( and by the many republications of it (which is permitted free of charge though a Creative Commons copyright). You see, there is more to our global community than trying to extract money by exploiting every possible dream and aspiration - you could do it the old-fashioned way. You could earn it.


Michael K. Althouse

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Uncle Sonny

It’s been raining here on and off all day. Now 25 hours into the new year, I am given cause to reflect yet again – not about the past year or where my life is, but on the life of my Uncle Sonny, who passed away just hours ago. Henry Smith lived a long and exceedingly full life; many loved him and those who were fortunate enough to know him could only form lasting memories. He was, in many respects, larger than life – a true Southern gentleman. He seemed to know everyone and was always quick to offer support to those close to him. Due to the constriction in this period of my family tree, he was my only uncle. Married to my mother’s eldest sister for nearly 60 years, he has been a fixture in my family for my entire life. He will be deeply missed.

Henry Smith
I write this not to elicit sympathy, but to pay respect to a man I have the utmost respect for. Indeed, I am fortunate enough to have known him, if sympathy is called for, feel sorry for those who did not know him. I do regret that, due to the distance between New Orleans and Northern California, I did not spend as much time with him as I would have liked, but I am absolutely grateful that I did spend the time with him that I did. And the same goes for my children, all of whom formed a bond with him that transcended space and time. Our visits were the stuff of legend, due in no small part to his efforts.

Henry Smith has always persevered despite the challenges life has – and he has experienced more than his fair share. He always appeared to have a profound affinity for life and lived it with all the zeal humanly possible. Although his passing was sudden, it was known the end was near when he was diagnosed with liver cancer just a few days ago. He passed peacefully at home with his family by his side. The end was mercifully brief. I can only imagine the sorrow that my aunt and cousins are experiencing, but I know, too, that the memories he left are of some comfort. I am quite sure Uncle Sonny would not want us to wallow in sorrow, rather, he would want us to celebrate his life and in due time I am sure that will happen... and in grand style. But for now, it is time to reflect upon a man who no one could easily forget, a man who left an indelible impression on everyone he touched. Rest in peace Uncle Sonny.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Unplanned Expectations

I just deleted 75 some odd words that seemed to be leading me nowhere. It happens. I wanted to write a 2011 New Years Day post reflecting on the past year. I wanted to pull reflective inspiration from my archives and convert it into a new arrangement of words that tells the remarkable journey life is. I wanted to put a frame around where I have been and where I am going. But as worthy as those wants are, it is clear that when this is finished I’ll be no closer to understanding what this journey is all about than I am right now. But for the sake of documentation at least, something should be added to this ongoing journal of life.

I have written some sort of year-end reflection piece each of the past five years. Each has documented how the relative quality of the prior year has been "better than ever," "among the best years of my life" and similar accolades. And 2010 has earned the same recognition – it was a very good year for me. Much is proceeding according to plan and while I am on track to achieve a particular long-term goal this year, it has turned into yet another beginning – a beginning that has already started. For the past five semesters, I have been steadily working on my MA in communication studies at California State University, Sacramento. I am now just a thesis away. If all goes well, by May I will have completed my thesis, I will be awarded the degree of Master of Arts, and I will be exhausted.

In addition to writing the longest and most involved work I have ever attempted, I am also charged with teaching 60 undergraduate students the art of public speaking. And since I have made the decision to continue my postgraduate education so that I can make that teaching gig a career, I am also vigorously pursuing admission to seven different Ph.D. programs throughout the country. This new direction will tack another four to five years onto my formal education, but it will also allow me to gain full-time, tenure track employment at an institution such as Sacramento State. In the past year, my world has expanded yet again – it was not what I had planned.

 In the coming weeks, I will be planning lessons, teaching, grading, researching and writing – this much I knew as long as a year ago. I will also be submitting applications to LSU, University of Southern Mississippi, and University of Denver – each of which requires careful consideration to propel my application to the top of a very competitive pool of candidates. My applications to Stanford, USC, University of Washington and Columbia University are already in. All are highly regarded schools and all accept only a small percentage of those who apply. I am hopeful, but just being qualified to apply is amazing to me.

I never know what to expect anymore. Opportunities have come my way in the past, but I was never prepared or motivated to turn them into anything of lasting value. And perhaps that is the difference today: preparation and motivation. Everything that has come my way in recent years was built upon what came before it. My plan for 2011, therefore, is the same as it has been for the past five years… there is no plan. I do what is in front of me and just keep moving. When the doors open, I walk through them with the experience I have built upon from days passed. It is a simple plan, but it seems to be working quite well.