Vets in Public Space (Excerpt)

It ain’t easy to be proud, and it’s only getting harder. I don’t know if I ever really was. Sometimes I don’t even tell people I’m in the military at all. I avoid it when possible, make fewer stops if I’m headed home in uniform, put my driver’s license in the front of my wallet instead of the CAC card. I don’t like when people thank me for my service, or offer to pay for my food. Saying this, even thinking about it is out of bounds for any “real soldier.” Certainly, there are standards we’re supposed to abide by–be physically and mentally tough and what not (which is quite ironic at a national guard PT test), but the narrow monolith of what a soldier must be, whether in our out of uniform is too thin, and, like the masculinity that anchors it, too fragile.

Susette, on the Lions and Writers blog talked about the oxymoron of being a writer in the military, how leaders and peers are unable to understand her artistry, seeing it as a distraction. It’s definitely  part of a much larger problem. Everything that might require one to think is deemed a distraction.

It is an oxymoron indeed, that an institution which constantly gets on soldiers about classes and planning and education, is completely against said education, thought and informed decision making.

I cannot count how many times in nine years I’ve been thrust into mandatory check in the box Army courses where not a single “instructor” has any knowledge of the subject material or has made any noticeable effort to inform themselves or subsequently, the class. So much time at drill is devoted to the importance of these classes that section leaders inevitably fight over how and when to shove everyone into them. Even though most often, half the company is sitting on their thumbs. More odious though, is that some of the most poorly planned, least thought on blocks of instruction are ones like sexual assault, mental health, and adjusting to civilian life.

Seems like there’s a pattern there…

It’s like the Army goes out of it’s way to minimize the importance of this shit. If say, a world renowned psychiatrist who specializes in adjustment issues, depression or suicide were to walk in on one of these “classes,” Uncle Sam would shoo his ass away and tell Sergeant who the fuck ever–who probably can’t spell psychiatry–to come up with something better in five minutes and teach it to the company. And sure as hell Sergeant who the fuck ever won’t voice any concern because that’s complaining, then he’d be a “pussy,” and so he dives right in without even trying to fake confidence or proficiency after googling what a neuron is on his phone for a few minutes until he realizes he’d have to read some shit to learn that. He wouldn’t wanna look like some fruity liberal using fancy words anyway.

I once sat in a sexual assault class packed with bros where some officer pulled up the tea and consent youtube video for a few laughs and called it a day. Every soldier signed the block for the year while women were still dying of dehydration overseas rather than go to latrines at night because some of those same fucking bros would be waiting for them outside of the porta shitters at night.

I know, I know though, the Army is definitely boasting about paying for people’s civilian education at least, right? But that’s really only when it’s convenient. Let’s not forget amongst infinite stipulations to get a third of your tuition covered, that FTA could just get cancelled by congress mid semester and then you have to pay both the school and the Army back for money you never even received.

How many people has that happened to?

Countless times I’ve been denied career advancing opportunity because leadership thought a handful of MUTAs–to watch people fail PT tests or videos about tea and consent–were more important. Things like academic conferences, graduate school (to include interviews and substantial out of class responsibilities) or even temporary academic appointments, all of which could be absolutely necessary for building a real career, are just dumb libby shit to them. While I was in PA school, I wasn’t even permitted to miss half a drill day for weekly tests. God forbid there are clinicals or you’re in a stringent accelerated program that demands any weekend time.

I’m certainly not the only one though, soldiers have been counseled, written up, transferred, and even made their decision to leave the military altogether because of education issues. I saw an article the other day that talked about the Army pushing out it’s best leaders and promoting followers, and another one that says they finally decided to include writing in leadership courses. They were cute. Mostly because the response from troops is overwhelmingly hell no, and it’s clear that the Army gods of pedagogy don’t plan on doing away with the currently lauded half-baked model of fake learning, bland servitude and box checking.

Sometimes, in the midst of a good laugh with military friends I can think back to what kept me in this long. But now, more often than I’d like–as the Army moves toward better integration, drawing out staunch racists, anti-intellectuals, and “real men” desperate maintain their coveted subject positions–I feel more shame than anything.

APA, It’s All Cray

If there’s one thing I wish I could compel from the minds of young writing students, it’s this brain chilling obsession with citations. The frequency with which students–to include senior English majors and graduate students–waste their time with APA or MLA precision in an otherwise garbage fire of a paper, is a damn shame. One that used to surprise me.

It seemed insane that grammar, diction, spelling, and hell, even the meaning of words themselves was so frequently ignored for organized bibliographies. I recently had a student who could not define four of the words (wrongly used) in her second sentence, but demanded that we spend the entire hour appointment going over citations, most of which were just fine. When I prodded a little she had to set me straight. Sweating onto the crinkled rubric from her bag, she laid the facts on me.

Citations, in proper APA format are 40% of her grade. Clearly, this makes said papers easier to grade for all those professors who aren’t reading them anyway.

Ironically though, she’s being graded on her ability to copy instructions from Purdue Owl, in order to prove that she isn’t copying or stealing ideas without properly attributing original authors.

Instead of promoting critical thinking, and demanding a rational organization of thoughts–>arguments, professors are sometimes guiding students away from actual inquiry. This is a scene that plays out in about half of all my writing center appointments. Often, to suggest that a student think about the ideas in what they’ve read–if they read–or to consider the meaning of what they’re writing is too much. It’s against not only a societal tide of anti-intellectualism (with it’s own new leaders) but contrary to what their current higher authority, the professor, is asking of them. And to be clear, this same kind of refusal to think, just tell me the answers so I can get an “A” type shit happened back when I was tutoring for math and science too.

Still, this isn’t to say that citations don’t have their place, sure–but 40% of one’s grade? Half? More important than learning enough to synthesize information, to improve one’s understanding of the world in which they live and prompt them to interact with said world more critically? Nah.

So it’s not always their fault. While I’m quick to complain about the lack of critical inquiry, of intent, of de-centering that people–often pretentious college educated liberals–come to conversations with, I have to admit, mostly when I’m struggling not to correct a glaring inadequacy or narrowly derived position in an annoyingly polite conversation, that they were set up. Students are grade obsessed because an anti-intellectual, neo-liberal society taught them to be “just smart enough to run the machines, but dumb enough not to ask questions,” as Carlin would say. In this way everyone gets to appear and feel valuable. And loud. Loud is getting real popular. But the discomfort, the grinding and stretching necessary for learning is taken as more and more offensive. And why shouldn’t it be? Knowing that traditional definitions of success depend primarily on following rules and getting good grades, mostly through rote memorization, is too tempting for many to pass up. Too difficult to circumvent. Takes time that we don’t have. What with life going on and all–boyfriends, girlfriends, beer, sex, drugs, money, friends and kids all looming over our heads, all more tightly linked to likability than using a brain.

Still, this is what I’m currently most disappointed about in the supposed value of higher education. Not that the degree alone doesn’t get you anywhere, but that students aren’t required to get anywhere on their way to the degrees. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of undergrad and graduate school, but only by constantly going out of my way to add, challenge and re-think the standards for “excellence” in university courses. It’s still a shock to the naive to come across someone with degrees on top of degrees who can barely read, write or comprehend doctrine that they themselves write, speak or advocate for. Rest assured, that college education was made as safe and as comfortable humanly possible. And unfortunately, it’s only getting easier, especially at the more expensive and prestigious schools.

This Could be the End

In the good ol’ days I’d fantasize about Jojo living with me and us doing his homework together. I was a dumbass. Five minutes into guiding him through a book and I’m furious. He makes this sad face when sounding out words–no matter their difficulty–as if I’ve scoured the depths of hell to find this Nat Geo book about bugs to torture him with, even though I let him choose what to read. Always. He purposefully shifts his voice to something more nasally and whiny and grasps his throat with one hand.

“Daddy, my throat hurts,” he’ll say. “It’s too hard.”

I think three things at once:

  1. You’re full of shit.
  2. You’ve said the word “creepy-crawly” about a hundred times earlier today when you ran from your room to escape a house centipede and now you’re sounding it out, essentially saying it perfectly, but looking at me with sad puppy eyes welled up with tears as if I’m torturing you because it’s “too hard.”
  3. If you would stop being such an asshole about this whole thing neither one of us would be “hungry” because we’d be done reading for the day and I could make dinner.

What really gets me though is that a day earlier he’d breezed through the same passage like it was beneath him. Too easy. The mental laziness raises my temperature. Sometimes, just to be sure I’m not being too harsh I’ll fuck his head up and say “hey Jojo, we can have fish sticks and cheeseburgers for dinner if you read x” or “do these math problems” or whatever. And of course he hops to it like baby Einstein. As if he hadn’t previously decided to sob into the carpet doing pushups instead of spending just a half hour learning, using his brain, thinking critically.

But what can I really say? I was exactly that kid for a long ass time, though I often use the excuse that our life circumstances can’t be compared. I’d avoided intellectual labor as a kid because it would only get me picked on more. There was no one in my household interested in learning or with anything to teach outside of drug abuse and making Chi chis. No books, no arithmetic, shit, no one even bothered to explain the foundations of personal hygiene until I got one of those little packets with a toothbrush and toothpaste from school. I had different shit to worry about and so I’m constantly side eyeing Jojo thinking, this motherfucker…

But I feel the same way with college students half the time. A student will come into the writing center for help writing a paper on some topic that’s been studied heavily for say, twenty years and want to brainstorm a thesis. That often implies they want me to give them a good thesis statement because they haven’t read any of the literature for their proposed paper. I ask when the ten page, thesis driven essay using a minimum of three peer reviewed sources (not very many) is due and they say in two days.

I think three things at once:


  • Why the fuck haven’t you read anything at all. Anything.
  • Why, since you haven’t read anything, would you choose said topic that you don’t seem to be interested in?
  • What makes you think that this is a respectable way to demonstrate your responsibility to learn as an informed citizen, but more so as a college student who is paying, or whose parents are paying nearly a hundred thousand dollars for a private education?


They always seem proud too. The talk usually begins with the student expounding on their chosen topic with the confidence of some famous academic, but none of the knowledge–every word or phrase used improperly, every assumption long since studied and debunked, every theory wrongfully attributed and deeply misunderstood. Which, to be clear would be okay for someone struggling with the material, putting in work and seeking help. Not so much though for someone who, when presented with the appropriate corrections/sources and directions/ideas for further readings brushes over it and repeats the jabberwocky they’ve said before simply because they “feel” like it’s correct. It’s “my truth” they often say.

It certainly is, I think. People are trained by our staunchly anti-intellectual populus to avoid all manner of discomfort by doing and saying whatever the fuck they “feel” is correct no matter how chocked full of bullshit it is. No matter how little effort they’ve put into preparation. No matter what platform or in what manner the discussion takes place. No matter how often they’ve run away from facts, friends, statistics, reality, circumstances or professional educators that contradict said “truth.” Being wilfully ignorant is encouraged, and it’s rude to contradict even the most wild claims (flat earthers, anti-vaccers, etc. Listing too many would hurt feelings) because it means not respecting another’s opinion or truth.

Liberals champion this kid’s gloves approach to equality of opinions but can’t see the cognitive dissonance, the way it degrades discourse and the circulation of important knowledge altogether. I re-read George Saunders’ essay “The Braindead Megaphone” the other day and the whole time I thought, this is how we got here. This is how we give credence to racist, misogynist, dumb and outright false claims repeated over and over again through that damn megaphone. No one is aloud to call it what it is. Attacking the growing scourge of stupidity and bigoted rhetoric is to be a meanie yourself. Give them equal time. Let them have a voice. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. All opinions are equal. We need unity now more than ever.

Makes me sick. Motherfuckers act like we’re talking about who prefers coffee to tea. The minute an opinion threatens, dehumanizes and infringes upon the civil liberties of half the population it ceases to be an appropriate opinion. But I’m being divisive now. We need unity. I would turn the other cheek but many of us ain’t got no more fucking cheeks to turn.

All that is to say the college kid won’t read a damn thing and will be praised for his paper, receive a B+ at worst. I’ll keep frustrating the hell out of myself and my kid by trying to make him learn, which will contradict everything else the world tells him is important. Our political leaders will continue to be more loudly, proudly idiotic and false and the violent tide of anti-intellectualism will wash away everything I care about leaving dried out brains on dirty beaches for what I now hope is the sooner rather than later zombie apocalypse the kids are always going on about.

I Guess We Gotta Vote Tomorrow

For me, much of this whole thing is about the regular placement of taxation, economy and the expansion of an American empire above basic human rights and social well-being. Every conversation that I’ve had with an evolved Trump voter, or most pre-Trump republicans freezes there. They try to appeal to me with shit like “but Joseph, think of how hard you’ve worked to get where you are and have options. You gonna give up everything for those people?” And somehow, that’s supposed to implicate our common enemy: the poor, gay people, immigrants, women, colored people (which whites tend to think is synonymous with poor/ghetto). The claim posits that inconveniences like higher taxes or lost boasting rights about economic growth can be equated to re-locating one’s entire family for physical safety, or the ability to marry someone you love, or being assaulted, raped or killed with impunity.

The sad part is that we’ve accepted that as a legitimate political position. While one candidate flails around grabbing pussies and threatening or demeaning anyone who isn’t a well-to-do straight white man, we take his bid for the presidency seriously. I’m expected to prove this man’s positions wrong? We feel the need to give equal time and respect to lunacy and bigotry, so that presidential debates–places where no issue I care about is brought up anyway–are literally turned into bragging about dick size. Word? That shit became immature when I was sixteen.

Now we’ve gone and further normalized sexual assault and racism by comparing them to personal email usage.

Everything that comrade orange says is some combination of impossible, untrue and blatantly evil. Yet, half the country is all about him. It only takes one threat of violating or setting back human rights to eliminate a candidate from my purview. For others, it might take more, a lot more. Even white friends I’m close to have said shit like “I looked on his website and he has some decent policies.” Really bruh? I think, but what about the racist housing policies and wall building? And though people have said this, just imagine if you can, what would happen if a non-white or woman presidential candidate behaved that way. Shit, Obama kissed white ass for eight years and they still hate him.

It seems to me that a profound level of selfishness, one previously unimagined by the optimistic American public, is necessary to align oneself with team tangerine. Sure, everyone hates Hillary, some for legit reasons, some because she has a vagina. But I don’t dislike her anymore than I dislike damn near every other politician. Those who want to dismantle the status quo by voting outside of the human species are either disillusioned or just lazy to think that’s enough, those who just refuse to vote Hillary and want to vote for third party crystals or incense and voodoo dolls are idealistic or looney, those who are voting Trump because they’re afraid of losing their stuff in all its material glory can afford to grow emotionally, and those who are aligned with him based on common enemies, fuck you. We’ve been too nice to you people as it is.

I mean, Clinton got in trouble for claiming that many of Trump’s supporters are motivated by some form of bigotry. Deplorables. Some white dudes that people confide in about race in America claimed that she was extreme. To those on the margins, this election has only exposed the truths of our collective woes to naive liberal whites. Half the country is as far from progressive as abortion clinics are from women who need them in Texas.

It’s funny though because I’m not even conventionally nice. I don’t get sad when people die (children excluded), I make all manner of jokes about suicide and murder and war, I’m a ridiculously strict and harsh parent who is painfully judgemental of everything from the books people read to the manner in which they eat and I too, like my stuff. But I still find it ridiculous to consider my own comfort above anyone else’s basic rights.  

Sometimes I’m just tired of respecting people’s unwarranted fear of losing their money, their power. The same people who have never been without power or money and have no idea how far they’d truly have to fall in order to deal with the same social circumstances of those they condemn.

Every time these people speak I think, what the fuck is wrong with you? And maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe my unwillingness to see brutish ignorance as a legitimate position places limits on the formation of a collective human bond. Oh well.

Doin’ it

“Booty, gettin some booty is more important than eatin food.”-The Booty Warrior

As one might expect, sex was of the utmost importance to my teenage happiness. We’d come to school with CD players listening to Songs About Jane checking for Consuila in those jeans with no back pockets. That one red-headed girl would be giving blowjobs to the latino boys in the stairwell, and we’d debate who of the 10th and 11th grade girls had the fattest asses and why–based mostly on what they were eating/ drinking (I am told that now this quandary, post cooptation, gentrification and crossfit is based on squats and not whole milk, etc).

When the weather broke, it was mating season. Playing pickup basketball at whatever court was exciting not just because of the game itself, but the idea of what the girls might be wearing and what combination of physical/verbal tactics could be employed to impress them. And by that I mean convince them to lead you into their grandmother’s basement through the back door. After that, the most important thing was simple, you had to try and make the girl cum.

I’ve only recently discovered that this was a rare concern for teenage boys. All I remember is how important making a girl cum was to one’s place in the teenage boy hierarchy. Clarence, Bruce and I would sit around talking all manner of shit about how niggas were lying, saying they made some girl squirt, or whose girl was the loudest, if we’d all done it in the same room. Who left the bed sheets the wettest? “Nah nigga, that’s sweat cuz yall out of shape and shit,” I’d say. “That,” I’d continue, pointing to a thicker patch of moisture, “that’s the pussy juice. Step ya game up.”

Teenage Quotes that immediately come to mind:

“Nigga, I gotta do laundry every time ya girl come over, bed be like a bathtub and shit.”

“Soon as my tongue touch the pussy that thang melt in my mouth.”

“I made them legs shake like she was havin a seizure.”

Most exciting was the discovery of the clit. The immediate way the girl’s body would respond was like tapping into nerves themselves. Whether you were fucking up (a slap on the head, a jolt away) or doing something right–a tightening of hips and thighs, a groan–you could form and test your hypothesis over and over. Then that glorious moment might occur, where your tongue clocks out of its blue collar job well-done to relax those muscles on the couch and bask in the glory of its earnings. That was something to live for. It was like being broke as hell, but paying all your bills on time, and then getting what you really want for dinner that night because fuck it. Even if everything around you was shit, there was transcendence in that tiny moment and the few hours that followed.

Now, as an adult, I’m told that this isn’t truly a thing. That boys were never interested in the girl’s orgasm, nor touching clits, which at first seems bizarre. Then I consider the startling frequency of women in my adult life who’ve claimed they’d never had an orgasm, or are afraid to. I remember Caitlin Moran’s open letter in the beginning of How to Be a Woman and this avoidance of the female orgasm still just feels unreal.

How else can you get excited then, if not at least the prospect of the girl cumming? It certainly isn’t watching porn (people always look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m not much interested in that). The sexual pleasure of women though, just isn’t a very popular consideration, and maybe it only is for me because it’s tied to my own excitement. But what if it wasn’t?

Welp, done thinking about that.