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You Cut the Crap and I’ll Cut the Crap

My Friends,
   Recently I saw this picture floating around the facebooks:

This bothered me for the obvious reason that it was being thoughtlessly shared by most of my fellow army guys.  This type of gung-ho propaganda is odious to me on the best of days, but something about this particular pic struck me deeper.  I think I have finally figured out what aspect of it bothered me so.
   First, let me ask a couple of questions:

   Have you ever been deployed with the military to a war-zone?
 
   Have you ever attended a post-secondary institution?

Many of you will answer “yes” to one of these questions.  Many will answer “no” to both.  A few will answer “yes” to both.  I count myself among this last group, and thus consider myself well-informed to speak on this picture.
   Basically, my feeling is that I have never been as stressed as I was in the middle of a busy semester.  Even during my very worst times in Afghanistan (which were very mild compared to many others) I never dealt with the all-consuming stress of a full academic workload.  I don’t expect military types with a high-school diploma or less to understand this (although maybe they should understand better than anyone because obviously school was kicking their ass), but the military existence, or at least the “grunt” existence which I am qualified to speak on, is relatively simplistic and stress-free.  Let me illustrate the difference between these two lifestyles so you can better appreciate where I’m coming from.

Stresses of the Student Mid-Semester
-“How am I ever going to get out of this mountain of debt?”
-“I am never going to be able to read all of this assigned reading”
-“I have to stay up and keep refreshing the course-selection screen or I won’t get into this class I need, which means I will be ineligible for a masters, which means I will be homeless on the street”
-“Since my parents are helping me pay for my education they scrutinize all of my marks”
-“If I don’t make a good impression on this professor I won’t get into this program and will end up homeless”
-“I have to buy that book from the bookstore before it is sold out or else I fail and end up homeless”
-“I have to stay up all night and finish this assignment/studying otherwise I will fail and end up homeless on the street.”
-“I have to study, but if I don’t work I can’t make rent and I’m fucked”
-“Wow, I wish I was back at home; this whole being an adult shit sucks”
-“If I don’t pay $XXX by the end of the month I am going to get kicked out of school”

Now let’s contrast that with…

Stresses of the Deployed Soldier
-“I hope me and my friends don’t die or get injured today.”

   Now I realize that there might be other concerns for the soldier, such as an overbearing NCM who insists you shave even though you’re in the fucking desert,

PO-LICE THAT MOO-STACHE!!!”

but provided you go through the motions and make all of your timings, you can otherwise coast through a deployment.  
   “But doesn’t the risk of death/injury trump all of the student’s concerns,” you ask?  Well no, at least not in my opinion.  It may be anecdotal, but I found I was able to adapt rather well to the threat of imminent death.  So were those around me.  And if googling “funny military pictures” is any indication, so are a great many other soldiers.  
   Now if you have read this and understood me to be saying that “war is a cakewalk,” you have misunderstood me completely.  War is a horrible thing which should be entirely abolished and I’m glad I made it through unscathed.  Many did not and they deserve the full support of the government on whose behalf they went to war.*  All I am saying is that war consolidates all of your stresses into the most basic stress of all, survival.  Once consolidated, that stress is much easier to handle, because you actually have a pretty good chance of surviving a NATO tour of duty.
   Similarly I think it is disingenuous of military types to paint other occupations (academics/students in this case) as less prone to stress.  When someone’s whole future very realistically depends on the outcome of one test or the predisposition of the person marking their paper, it is ignorant to say that they don’t know what stress is.
“You don’t man cause you weren’t there…”
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
*Military Minds is a great new site started by a Canadian soldier which offers a support network and spreads awareness of the very real stresses faced by soldiers.

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Naivete and The Lonely Road called "Follow-Through"

Last night I infiltrated a group of criminals who had some vague plans for crime (go figure).  As I worked with them I began to laugh and joke with them and respect them as people.  Suddenly my plan to bring them to justice became complicated.
I think this is the problem for those who want to “change things from the inside;” to get inside you necessarily have to conform with norms.  When and if you finally get into a position where you have influence over the way things are, you have likely become so ingratiated to and dependant on how the way things are that you balk at change.

Essentially, you become “Toruk Makto”

My Friends,
  Two evenings ago I attended an alumni mixer for my alma mater.  It was a pleasant affair, with free drinks and food. Had I known that being alumni would have such perks (recent alum are also being offered a free course which I will not be able to take advantage of due to travel plans) I would not have taken 7 years to graduate.

-“A lot of people go to college for seven years.”
‘-Yeah, they’re called “doctors” ‘

Although I had fun and met some cool people I kind of felt like an odd man out.  Most people there who were my age (26 going on 27) had already not only graduated, but done a post-graduate degree, law school, and/or started a career.  In fact, many people a lot younger than me were already finishing up grad school and starting careers.  Bearing that in mind I was a little self-conscious when people asked me about myself.  Now for the record, I try to ignore social pressure. or the idea that my life should conform to some idea or some schedule, but I can’t help it sometimes; I feel like I have to qualify myself to others for their approval.  That said, the people I talked to were not there to impress or outdo each other, as they are in certain engagements I have previously attended, but instead listened attentively without trying to one-up me.  It was an unexpected relief, but it was a relief that came with its own set of problems.
   While speaking with one gentleman we got on to the topic of me (a field I consider myself an expert in) and through the course of conversation he learned about some of my exploits, works in progress and future plans.  He seemed genuinely impressed and said quite earnestly, “wow, you’re like my hero.”  As much as I like to be appreciated, I handle it awkwardly sometimes.  I kind of just broke eye contact and mumbled something about how the trade-off for an adventure-filled life was being a 26 year-old undergrad with no career to speak of.  He reassured me that there was no rush and that given the chance to do things again, he probably would have taken time off like I did to gain some more life experience.  As encouraging as it is to hear that someone admires your lifestyle, you still have to wonder why more people don’t do what is apparently so admirable, namely taking their sweet ass time with growing up and getting a real job.*
   I don’t think its fear, as that would imply that I am somehow braver than others.  Not the case.  I can say without exception that the most important adventures I have had in my life have been terrifying for me either for the inherent danger or the abysmal loneliness. (more on loneliness later)
   I don’t think its aversion to travelling or adventures either, as most people I talk to seem to view the general idea of “travel” as a universally positive thing.  
   In a lot of cases, especially among younger folk I think there is a problem with being beholden to someone else for your livelihood.  Parents tend to canalize the aspirations of their children and shoehorn them through the path of least resistance so that the children can propagate the cycle of maturity-breeding-dying in an expedient and streamlined manner.  And when these parents hold the purse-strings (ps travelling can cost money), the dependant has to play on their terms even if their inclinations are contrary to the the beaten path.
   In spite of the allusion to expense I just made, I don’t think that cost is a big deterrent.  While travelling  can be expensive, it by no means has to be.  Certainly adventures can be had on the cheap just by finding a “No Entry” sign and entrying entering.
Everything happens in high-definition beyond the “No-Entry” sign

And let’s be honest, when has cost ever deterred people from pouring money into something with no foreseeable financial return?  Dining out, movies, automobiles …. people are well accustomed to dropping money into things that aren’t profitable.
   I could continue speculating but ultimately everyone is different and they all have their reasons for what they do or don’t do.  Yet whatever it is that deters people from taking the scenic route in life it has left me feeling kind of alienated.  As I prepare to go hitch-hiking around the globe this Septober I can’t help but wish I had a travelling companion; someone else with a cavalier attitude toward the daily grind who would take six months to traipse about the globe simply cause it makes good sense.
Why do what most do? Do what you s’poseto…

But instead I am forced to go it alone again.
   Getting back to the title of this entry, I have a certain naivete that, while inconvenient, has served me well.  Essentially, I take people seriously.  When someone has an awesome idea my reaction is typically “let’s make that about to happen.”  But depending on how much time and effort the idea will take they will put it off or disavow it completely while I remain enchanted by the prospect and resolved to do it.
   Most of my greatest adventures weren’t my ideas.
   Compounding this problem is the fact that I am averse to bullshit; If I said I’m going to do it I’m going to do it or at least give it the old college try.
“Your word was everything, so everything you said you’d do, You DID It
couldn’t talk about it if you ain’t live it”
-Jay-Z
I am very afraid to go around the world by myself but I am even more afraid to be called out for talking shit.  I am most afraid of putting off indefinitely something I want to do because it is inconvenient or dangerous. (that’s a slippery slope)  Fear can be a powerful motivator I suppose.  But if its my fear that enables me to face my fears then so be it; I’ll go it alone taking what solace I can in the fact that others would have liked to be there with me but they were just too brave.
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo
   

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