Friday, December 09, 2005

What I learned in College

For three weeks in August I endured some pretty strenuous times. I was beyond stressed having been thrown headlong into EIB, which is a “competition” of sorts to earn the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, which is a staple in an infantryman’s career, no matter how long or short it may be.

During that training I went to the E-5 board and was recommended for promotion. The stress of that event alone was enough to push me overboard and into the realms of insanity.

Getting your EIB the first time around is a rare thing. Most guys go through EIB two or three times. I was determined to get it my first time for two reasons: 1) As an infantryman and a leader of soldiers I had to set that example for the men I lead and 2) I didn’t ever want to do the prerequisites again, most notably land navigation, which entails finding points on a map with a compass within a two-hour time span. At one point I stopped to check where I was on my map and was enveloped in a cloud of mosquitoes. “Never again,” I thought. “Never again.”

I did get my EIB, by the slimmest of chances. You could say I was the “Cinderella Man” of the EIB. The odds were definitely against me.

However, above and beyond all of that, there was one thing that loomed on the horizon for me that no one could take away (or could they?). Having signed my life away for the better part of three years by reenlisting, I received the college incentive bonus.

Originally, the incentive was to be for six months of college, which I factored in my mind as six months out of the Army, making it the better part of two-and-a-half years of my life signed away.

The Army threatened me with sending me to PLDC (a month-long leadership course for newly promoted E-5’s) and yanking my college. I fought for it and made sure all of my paperwork was turned in, that the Army had already paid for me to go, whether I actually went or not. Fuck it.

The last week of August welcomed me with open arms as I stripped away my BDU’s and traded them for jeans and a hoodie and made my way to the main campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. I would get to play civilian until the last throes of December. I was on vacation.

Or was I? From the get-go I found that college, as I had sorely forgotten, was not a vacation. Having already earned an associates degree in film and television from the College of DuPage in the Chicago area, I had had plenty of college-level experience. But surely it wasn’t that much work was it?

I spent the first few weeks adjusting into the life much like I will when I’m finally out of the Army; trying to figure out if it was for real. I never gave much thought to the movies when they show the retired war vet trying to fit in with the rest of the crowd in the “real world” as being legit. While I may not have any post-war traumas that I’m aware of, I did feel a level of adjustment that was odd at first.

I had to re-learn manners, proper attitudes, and adjust my swearing and candor back to a civil arena. I’m used to an environment where fights break out at the drop of a dime, where people’s normal voice is that of shouting at the top of their lungs, where the control of bodily gas is never confined nor recognized; it simply is, and where the presence of females only exists within the imagination or on a soldier’s wall. Gone were dip bottles, boot polish, and the dizzying colors of green, brown, black, and loam.

One of my main goals while in college was to get in excellent shape. It was always my assumption before joining the military that I would simply be in excellent shape by being in the Army. This is not the case. We spend a lot of time doing nothing, when I would normally find the time to be working out. Now, I had nothing but time. And for the better part of my tenure, I made ample use of it.

I applied for degree-seeking status in the Journalism department, due largely in part to help develop my writing. It seemed like the place to be. Upon reviewing how UAA transferred my degree credits I should probably be seeking a bachelors of Arts degree. I have time, don’t worry.

The Journalism department is filled with working and seasoned professors, all of whom have a wealth of knowledge to share. Three out of my four classes really shined, giving my brain a full course meal to chow down. I still have leftovers in the fridge.

In my writing for media class it became evident that I would have to write “boring,” which is not my favorite style, but very manageable. My second story was sent in to the school newspaper, called The Northern Light, and was published, which is the first time anything I’ve written has found its way to print. I was excited to say the least.

Upon visiting the Northern Light offices I was offered to take on more writing assignments for the paper. I jumped at the chance and was excited to do so. Little did I know that these assignments would be as challenging as they were. My first assignment was to cover an anti-war rally at the college, which was, to say the least, quite the experience.

Being holed up in an entire room filled with people that believe in everything you are opposed to and having to be objective about the whole thing was very difficult. Added to which, channel 2 was there and guess who somehow made the cut? Oh yeah.

At a party the next day an Army acquaintance mentioned he saw me on the news. I was stunned for a second, having my response pre-loaded on the defense. The Army seeing their little newly princed E-5 complete with an unshaven face and styled hair, sitting in on an anti-war movement. Paints quite the picture. The article, however, turned out fine, and I felt it tackled the events and the attitudes true to how they were.

Homework. Yeah, there was plenty of it. My writing for media class had me writing every class period, as well as doing outside stories almost weekly, piled on top of my new writing gig at the Northern Light. My editing class was by far the most informative and interesting and I really enjoyed it. I felt an inclination towards the print editing work as I’ve always looked at writing and corrected it in my head. Whatever the hell that means.

If you’re bored, go away. I’m not stopping.

Web Design was an important class for me. I’ve been wanting to learn web design for a long time but haven’t had the energy to teach myself. A good base always gets me going on the exploratory path and this class has done just that. I have learned a multitude from that class, even if the barely English-speaking Polish chick next to me took up all of the teacher’s time, due mostly to her sad eyes and always-showing whale tail.

Yes, I noticed.

Which brings me to my next revelation. Women. Females. Girls. You must understand that I don’t ever work with, let alone see females in my day-to-day Army business. I work with loud, obnoxious, dedicated, horndog, frat boy killers. None of them have great tits or sweet asses or soft voices or long, lovely hair.

In an article I wrote for a final project, I said, and quote myself (how fucking weird is this?) “Sending a married man to college is like sending a recovering alcoholic to work in a liquor store.”

Listen, I am happily married. It’s a long-term investment in love and trust. Anyone who is married understands this. It is also a challenge. I may have developed some “crushes” and flirted with disaster, but never anything beyond that.

However, without delving too deeply into it, allow me to say that, without a doubt, it has been an esteemed pleasure to simply be in the presence of so many lovely ladies. I say that with utmost respect, admiration, and silent reverie. Thanks to all of you for simply making my day by being there. You all know who you are.

Marriage is tough and it is worth the challenge if you can work through your issues. Thankfully, I have not suffered much on that front. Everything is well oiled. Take that how you want.

Which brings me to my next phase of discovery and lessons-learned: MySpace. You can read all about its death in my first entry on this site. It is the main reason this site was created. Because, for some reason, I just can’t stop sharing my thoughts and insights with all six of my readers. God bless you.

One day I hope to have at least 20. You’ve gotta have goals.

MySpace, as I’ve said many times over, is like “drugs for straight-people”. I don’t know how true that is any more. I think that MySpace is a drug at this point, injected directly into your brain to fester and trickles through your fingers, causing them to type shit that will come back to haunt you one way or another.

And I was certainly afflicted with this terrible disease.

Having caused a huge drama with newly acquired MySpace friends, ranging from jealousy, attraction, e-mail, passwords, and mostly, hurt feelings, I put the site to sleep for good. Although I still maintain a page for my Arctic Ninja designs (at right) I won’t be setting up a site again anytime soon.

It has caused many hurt feelings and disruptions that make it completely dangerous. Since I’ve left MySpace I’ve read about girls kidnapped and murdered from MySpace relationships, a duo of Bonnie-and-Clyde-like teens murdering one set of parents, my own brother fending a relationship through the site, and I even heard a call to Dr. Laura regarding a MySpace dilemma.

I do think that MySpace may be the devil. Lucifer himself has found an online site and it is MySpace. Beware all you heathens of Satan, you inter-connected devils of hell, beware the wraith of the dark one who haunts your web-induced minds.

And get a haircut.

My next great challenge throughout this little trip through academia was the downright nasty gut-wrenching feelings I developed of the journey being cut short. I began to have small panic attacks involving the Army pulling my college and making me come back to work. I did, in fact, have to show up a few times, but now, in the end, I wish I’d known how little, because I would’ve enjoyed it just a little more.

I would check my cell phone immediately upon leaving class and if someone from work called I would get this feeling of dread, as if someone had just delivered news of a relative passing away. Yes, it was that bad. No, I’m not crazy. Yes, I need help. No, not professionally. Yes, I’ll have a cookie. Whatever.

So, fuck it. The Army did call on me for some stupid shit. Twice I remember thinking to myself for the first time in my military career that I would test them. And I did. I was told to come in and I thought, “What if I don’t? What if I simply don’t go in?”

I gave that some more thought and came to a conclusion. They wouldn’t do anything. I thought of the many times when people where called in and simply didn’t do it and the Army did nothing. The reason? It’s simple. They forgot. Yep. If you give the Army enough time, they will forget you exist. The speed and magnitude at which we work makes it very easy to forget shit, especially people.

And it worked. They didn’t call back. They didn’t come looking. Perhaps I had some help on the inside, one of my boys watching my back, but either way, I did manage to weasel out of a few things. Too late to take it back now, bitches.

If people really want us out of Iraq then they should just overload the Army with bullshit tasks (as if they don't already?) and they’ll probably fucking forget to even show up in that Godforsaken place. Give it a try.

I wouldn’t say I made any dyed-in-the-wool friends during this semester, but I think by the end I definitely formed a great base with many people to build lasting friendships. I met some great people and I met some real walking toolboxes.

I met beautiful girls, talented boys, and lost causes. It’s the way it always is. I found that, much like college five years ago, nothing has changed. There are still maybe a handful of talented people in each class with the rest being in limbo, unsure of what to do and without the talent to succeed in their chosen field.

Not that I am the shining example of perfection by any means, but I have enough faith in myself that I could easily secure a job in journalism or any media job for that matter, without much conflict. You have to want it and you have to be good at it. Without those two traits you’ll never cut it. One doesn’t exist without the other.

With each piece of work I did during the semester I felt myself improve and felt the knowledge seeping through my brain and firing it up. I was happy to be writing, happy to be working on what I do best, and humbled by the opportunity. Once again, as in my first go-round at college, my ambitions were reaffirmed, realized, and further chiseled into the stone that is being laid towards my future.

The final phase of my college experience, due largely in part to taking all elective courses, was the implementation of final projects rather than final exams. It would take too long to delve into each one of these and I’m sure you’d already be looking at a porn site by then, so I’ll keep it short.

All of my work was focused into an entire newsmagazine publication for my editing class, a profile story for my media class, an entire advertising campaign for my advertising class, and an entire Web site for my web design course.

Seriously, I’m not bullshitting you. Vacation my ass.

I just finished the Web site tonight. It’s due tomorrow. Yeah, hail Mary and Joseph and all that.

The profile was cake and I got an A. I still got a B for the class, which is some kind of “tough love” bullshit that I guess the professor does to talented students. That’s just me talkin’.

The editing newsmagazine was pretty fun, albeit a lot of work. I pulled in a lot of graphics work even though I was the co-editor in chief, a new one for me. I am used to leading people, however, and felt right at home with this group of people.

Oh, I’m sorry are you bored with my little “Tales from College?” What, I didn’t say “fuck” enough for you?

Sorry. My tourettes acting up again.

Back to my editing. Good assignment and surprisingly smooth working with everyone. Not everyone impressed me as much as they should have and a few really did surprise me with how good they were. If any of you are reading this (really?) then congrats on a job well done.

What was funny is I didn’t really get to know any of those people until we began working on the final project and I felt kind of bad about that because I started to like quite a few of them. I didn’t even learn their first names until the final project. Crazy.

So, tomorrow I turn in my Web site (that motherfucker had better work) and next week I take a final exam and that’s it. The dream is over.

I will wake up in BDU’s and endure shouting, fighting, shooting, swearing, burping, farting, obnoxious frat boys in uniform and I will slowly become one of them again and leave all this behind me.

God, life is so strange. But the ride is so great.

NEXT UP: My year in review for all things film, TV, music, etc. Join me for a fun re-cap of the year’s best and worst entertainment. See you in a few (all fuckin’ six of you better be here!)


Anonymous said...

Mr. Boy says he's envious that above all else, Mr. Shirey seems to carry a clear and unrelenting sense of focus and determination for more.

Mr. Shirey may not have all the answers for everyone, but he sure does realize that it all starts with being true to oneself.

His wisdom has led me through some rough patches in my life and for that I am eternally greatful. I like that he says the F-word a lot.


Anonymous said...

Dear the Notorious P.A.U.L.~

I must say, the Army has at least served one praiseworthy purpose; a crockpot for success. You are like a juicy pig's ass, smothered in saute'ed onions and crunchy carrots awaiting the prime moment to uncover and serve to the masses.

Despite my usual post as a myspace pagan, I too have quantified massive accomplishment this semester and will hopefully reign supreme with a 4.0 gpa (however 2 exams tomorrow will be the clincher).

I, too, have learned much; mainly in the areas of personal philosophy, friendship, evolution and rock identification...really though. Oh, and the fact that rainbow brite actually succombs to the law of gravity.

I take from it only the good parts and will hold them as fond memories to occupy the space in time when a good memory is needed.

I cant wait to see what you become in five years.

My bet is going on a tv talk show host (taking geraldo riviera's slot) or a proessional horse racer. But that's just me.

Hopefully you will continue to brighten all 6 readers minds will your delightful insight and witty prose!

Here's to a new year~

agent Y

ps it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...go with it!