Annum Novum Faustum Felicem!

Annum Novum Faustum Felicem! Thus I wish you cheer.

Annum Novum Faustum Felicem in the coming year!

Annum Novum Faustum Felicem, as I said before;

Annum Novum Faustum Felicem now and evermore!

I presume I’ve now made plain this Yuletide wish to you.

Explication would make it mundane: a fate I fain eschew.

Ergo, Annum Novum Faustum Felicem! How so well expressed!

Annum Novum Faustum Felicem simply says it best.

Id est: Happy New Year!

~ Eugene Meltsner, Adventures in Odyssey

I would like to share these warm wishes from Eugene Meltsner, even though his words are so, well, wordy. A number of them are in Latin, and even some of the ones in English are a little hard to follow.

When I was a child, I delivered unto my listeners the following pronouncement: “People don’t always understand me when I use big words, but say let ’em learn ’em!” (At any rate, my relatives tell me I made such a statement; I don’t remember it, but that’s hardly a surprise.) Even as an adult, I sympathize with Anne from Anne of Green Gables, who declares, “People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”

I like wordy words, but I’ll be the first to admit they have two faults. First, the purpose of language is communication, and fancy-sounding words don’t always fulfill that purpose. What’s the point of using those words if nobody understands them?

The second problem with a large vocabulary is that is gives an impression of self-conceit. People who use big words seem like they’re showing off. In college, a classmate once accused me of shaming others by flaunting my vocabulary. His criticisms really stung. After all, I don’t consider it a personal insult if other people are more skilled than I at dancing or baseball or repairing cars. Why should anyone be outraged if I use big words? My classmate and I argued about it until a professor shut us up.

In the end, as much as I appreciate fancy-sounding words for their power to convey precise shades of meaning, I acknowledge they aren’t suitable for many contexts. The value of language is in being understood, not in seeming smart.

That said, instead of repeating Mr. Meltsner’s unintelligible benedictions, I’ll just say, “Happy New Year,” and leave it at that.

320. Hope

Last month, my parents took a break from being awesome in Uruguay to spend a few weeks being awesome in Indiana. I have possibly the best parents in the universe, and I don’t get to spend much time with them—we live about fifty-five hundred miles apart—so I cherished every moment of their visit.

Of course, it was challenging to pack four people into a one-bedroom apartment. I relinquished my bedroom to my parents and set up camp around the dining room table with my sleeping bag, laptop, laundry basket, and assorted plush animals.

IMG_8456

When he must, a blogger can rough it with the best of them.

In this and other ways, my parents’ visit made my life messy. My routines and habits were disrupted. I had to improvise. We also spent a few days on the road, leaving behind my home in the little town of Berne. My life was extremely different for a few weeks, and it was really refreshing.

When my parents departed, leaving little gifts and pleasant memories, I faced the daunting task of putting everything back in its proper place. I had routines to reestablish and an apartment to reorganize. Then a funny thing happened: I kept finding opportunities for improvement. Having abandoned my ordinary lifestyle for a while, I could now look at it more critically.

I began changing things.

For a month and more, I tidied up my life. I swept through my apartment like a whirlwind, reorganizing drawers, cabinets, cupboards, and closets; I altered my diet, adding more vegetables and cutting out certain unhealthy snacks; I replenished my wardrobe, ditching holey socks and buying geeky T-shirts; I did some redecorating, adding five machetes and a plush llama to my bedroom decor; I reordered my priorities, putting first things first.

A few days ago, I reflected upon the changes I’ve made. My life has definitely improved. There is still room for improvement, however, which prompted me to ask myself: What else needs to change? What else do I need?

It was then I realized I could use a more hopeful attitude.

For several reasons, I often live with an attitude of defeat. My recurring depression makes it hard to have a positive outlook. Winter has arrived with its dark days, barren scenery, and bitter cold. Not least of all, my life situation is humbling.

From my early teens onward, I wanted to be an English teacher. I was convinced it was my calling. I went to college, attended classes, completed my student teaching, and earned both an English degree and a teacher’s license. This was all well and good, but there was one concern.

During my last semester, after three full years of study, I had second thoughts. My student teaching utterly demoralized me. I was no longer sure I wanted to spend my life teaching. Thus I eventually found myself in Indiana, using neither my degree nor my teacher’s license, working a low-wage job.

That was two years ago.

I’m still working the same job, and it looks like I won’t be moving on any time soon. (I have reasons for staying.) Heck, I don’t even know where I would go. I may end up teaching; I may not. Many of my peers are using their education to pursue great careers. It’s humbling for me to be so far behind. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever use my college degree or teacher’s license for anything.

I just don’t know.

My ambitions of becoming an English teacher have faltered. I don’t know whether I’ll ever put my college studies to use. My attempts to become an author failed; that particular childhood dream is extinguished. As I work a job that seems to be going nowhere, worrying about the future, struggling with depression, freezing in the icy darkness of winter, I realize what I’ve been missing despite all my earnest attempts at self-improvement.

I sure could use a more hopeful attitude.

Hope is a simple solution, but not an easy one. Hope is hard. As I blunder onward, I’m trying to look back. My life—even the past two years—hasn’t been wasted. I’m trying to look forward. The future is uncertain, yet full of unforeseen opportunities. Above all, I’m trying to look around at my life as it is now.

Setting aside my insecurities and uncertainties, I remain sincerely convinced that I am where I need to be—for the time being, at any rate. My life is full of blessings. I’m surrounded by awesome people. My coffeemaker still works. God’s grace never fails, and I’m comforted by these words from C.S. Lewis: “If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you.”

These are things I mustn’t ever forget.

Criminal Penguins

When a globetrotting family friend recently shared tales of thieving penguins, it reminded me of something I had long forgotten. A few years ago, a college friend showed me this footage of penguin crimes. I hadn’t known penguins were so nefarious. They seemed so cute, fluffy, and innocent.

It’s worth noting that one of Batman’s greatest foes is known as the Penguin. Coincidence? Clearly not!

Be wary of penguins, dear reader. Watch your wallet and hold your children close! There’s no trusting the white-collar criminals known as penguins.

272. Making Lessons Stick

I struggle to remember things. There’s probably a reason for this, but I’ve forgotten it.

In seriousness, I don’t have any good excuse for forgetting stuff. It’s not like I’m an old man or the guy from Memento. All the same, things seem to be constantly slipping out of my mind: names, faces, phone numbers and memories of all kinds. It’s especially hard for me to recall details from my own life. The past twenty-something years are a brightly-colored blur.

I visited my old college campus a number of weeks ago. It was a bit surreal. That campus was my home for seven semesters, yet it seemed to vanish from my memory the moment I graduated. Every time I visit the campus, it seems unfamiliar. I can hardly believe I spent months, let alone years, living there.

Why does this place seem so familiar? Have I seen photos or visited? Oh, that’s right, I spent a few years there. I suppose that would explain it.

In some ways, my poor memory is actually kind of a blessing. I’ve lived in so many places that it’s nice not to be burdened with homesickness for all of them. It’s hard to pine for the past when I can’t remember it. My day-to-day life is mostly uncluttered by memories, and they’re all the sweeter on the rare occasions I recall them.

Of course, a bad memory is also a nuisance… mostly for the people around me. I sometimes offer my younger brother an observation, opinion or bit of news only for him to reply, “Adam, this is the fourth time you’ve told me that.”

My memory isn’t even consistent in its faultiness. For example, I memorized the “quality of mercy” speech from “The Merchant of Venice” for an English class nearly a decade ago. I’ve made no effort to remember the speech, yet can recite it word for word to this day. On the other hand, entire epochs of my life (like my college years, mentioned above) seem distant and empty. It takes an effort for me to remember anything that happened before, say, last Tuesday.

The worst part of having a lousy memory is that it makes learning lessons hard.

If you’ve followed this blog for more than a few months, you should probably find some better way to spend your life. (I’m joking! Don’t go! Please come back!) If you’re one of the brave readers who has stuck with this blog for half a year or more, you’ve probably noticed how I’ve revisited certain things. I’ve written a lot about grace, and depression, and doubt, and the fear of not being good enough.

Part of the reason I revisit things is that learning is an incremental process. Learning a lesson takes one day; living a lesson takes years. If I’m honest with myself, however, part of the reason I write about some things so often is that I forget them. Writing about lessons and struggles helps me remember them.

What does this mean? Well, TMTF has had plenty of posts about grace and doubt and stuff, and it will probably have plenty more. I’ll keep going in circles, hitting some of the same notes again and again, occasionally hitting new ones (I hope) and gradually making the most important lessons stick.

Now then… what was I talking about?

149. Why I Watch Cartoons

As many of my readers have probably noticed, I like cartoons.

Well, I like some cartoons. Others I would watch only on pain of death, and perhaps not even then. (I’m looking at you, SpongeBob SquarePants.) Besides loving many animated films—for example, classic Disney movies and everything directed by Hayao Miyazaki—I enjoy television shows produced for kids.

I also like literature, especially the classics. Explosions? Car chases? Sultry romances? Bah! Humbug! To blazes with such nonsense! Give me meaningful themes, compelling characterization and well-crafted plots.

Thus I decided to take no fewer than three literature classes in one semester when I was in college. (Where was Admiral Ackbar when I needed him?) For months, I was hammered by grim novels like Silence, a bleak story about the silence of GodOne Hundred Years of Solitude, a fantastical history of a disturbing, sordid society; The Penelopiad, a cynical postmodern perspective on The Odyssey; and several more depressing books.

It was not a happy semester.

Some notable literature is lighthearted—I thank God for cheerful authors like P.G. Wodehouse—but the good stuff is mostly depressing. Even stories by humorists like Mark Twain and James Thurber have tragic undertones. Thurber once wrote, “To call such persons ‘humorists,’ a loose-fitting and ugly word, is to miss the nature of their dilemma and the dilemma of their nature. The little wheels of their invention are set in motion by the damp hand of melancholy.”

I like cartoons because they’re innocent, bright and funny, and they’re unapologetic about it.

Do cartoons give a balanced view of the world? Of course not—but then, neither does much of the best literature. Cartoons remind me that the world can be a pleasant, cheerful place, even as literature reminds me that it can be a dreadful, hopeless one.

For me, cartoons are a kind of escapism.

Is escapism wrong? When balanced with realism, I don’t believe it is. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien, who is awesome, “I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

A Farewell to Arms tells me there is suffering in the world. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic tells me there is good in it. The Great Gatsby tells me happiness can’t be bought with money or popularity. Phineas and Ferb tells me happiness can be found by two kids sitting in the shade of a tree on a summer day. Animal Farm tells me the good guys sometimes lose. Avatar: The Last Airbender tells me the good guys sometimes win.

The other reason I watch cartoons is because, well, they’re fun to watch.

125. Literary Criticism and Nonsense

When my academic adviser in college signed me up for a literary criticism course, I assumed it would teach me to criticize literature. I’m a literary snob, so I figured passing judgment on written works would be easy. Just give me a textbook and any book in the Twilight series and I’d be ready to roll.

As I soon found out, literary criticism is actually an attempt to find meaning in literature. In my (admittedly biased) opinion, it’s also an attempt in some cases to invent meaning and superimpose it on literary works.

There are many kinds of criticism, each with a distinct focus. Mythic criticism finds symbols and allegories in literature. Biographical criticism studies the writer’s personal experiences, and deconstructionist criticism tries to prove that everything is meaningless.

In my studies of literary criticism, I discovered two varieties that were kind of hilarious.

The first was Marxist criticism, which views literature through the red-tinted lens of Communist theory. To heck with myth, morality and religion. The working class shall prevail! Down with the bourgeois!

The other funny perspective was Freudian criticism, which finds sexual innuendo in everything. Is something longer than it is wide? It’s a phallic symbol. Is a man unhappy? At some level, he’s sexually frustrated.

What’s that? You disagree? Ha! I laugh at you, person of lesser intellect! Do you think you’re smarter than Sigmund Freud?

I was quick to discover that half of literary criticism was analyzing literature carefully, and the other half was making up stuff that sounded plausible.

You don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.

My final paper was a four-part analysis of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I examined it from four perspectives: mythic, biographical, moral and gender studies. Much to my surprise, each approach illuminated some fascinating facet of Tolkien’s masterpiece. My appreciation for The Lord of the Rings, and for literary criticism, was deepened.

Weeks before, I wrote an essay on The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. Just for the fun of it, I decided to pit Sigmund Freud against my favorite author and see what happened.

The resulting analysis determined the Wood Between the Worlds to be a place of sexual balance, Queen Jadis to be a faux mother figure and the three elements of the psyche—id, ego and superego—to be represented by Uncle Andrew, Digory and Aslan, respectively.

The essay, which received a B, was ridiculous, but not much more so than some of the Freudian analyses in my textbook.

My studies, silly and serious, impacted me deeply. Literary criticism even became a recurring theme in the novel I was writing at the time, The Trials of Lance Eliot. Its protagonist was a literary critic because it fit his character perfectly, and it gave me an opportunity to poke fun at the nonsensical side of literary criticism.

I’ll finish up this post with a friendly warning.

Watch out for phallic symbols. They’re everywhere.

122. True Gentlemen

I have a friend named Socrates. (His name is actually Steven, but I’m obligated to call him Socrates because of this blog’s time-honored traditions.) Socrates and I met during our freshman year of college, and we became housemates in later years.

Socrates is a gentleman: a fedora-wearing, tea-drinking young man who looks good in a suit, knots neckties effortlessly and opens doors for ladies. He’s chivalrous, affable, old-fashioned and awesome.

The world needs more gentlemen.

I’m not speaking of outward appearances. It’s well enough for someone to look dapper in a suit, fedora or necktie, but anyone can wear nice clothes. I’m not referring to sophisticated tastes. Drinking tea is sometimes considered a sign of refinement, but anyone can sip hot liquid.

No, I’m speaking of the things that mark a true gentleman.

A true gentleman respects himself, taking pride in his personal appearance. A true gentleman respects other men, putting their needs before his own. A true gentleman respects ladies, listening patiently and serving humbly.

A true gentleman is a paradox: refined and sophisticated, yet humble and unpretentious; confident and assured, yet modest and gracious; patient and kind, yet strong and brave.

I know a number of true gentlemen. Most of them don’t fit the gentlemanly stereotype. Few wear nice clothes. (At least one gentleman of my acquaintance despises neckties.) Many play video games, watch Disney films and enjoy other unsophisticated pursuits. Some even dislike tea.

Their attitudes are what matters. They are gracious, sensible, kind, cheerful, chivalrous, humble and selfless. In the end, a fedora is just a hat, a necktie is just a noose and tea is just a hot beverage. Defying stereotypes and outward appearances, these men modestly serve those around them.

They are true gentlemen, and the world needs more like them.

110. That Time I Melted a Screwdriver

I like fireworks, except when they’re unexpected and burst out of light switches. Then they’re scary.

You see, I once melted the tip of a screwdriver. With electricity. By accident. There were fireworks, and not the good kind.

I spent a few summers during my college years painting walls, doors and miscellaneous fixtures on campus. Before painting a wall, I had to remove the plastic covers from light switches and electrical outlets. These plastic covers sometimes adhered to the wall after the screws had been removed, so I tapped them gently with the tip of the screwdriver to knock them loose.

In a bathroom in the dining commons, there was a particular light switch. The Light Switch of Death. I gave the plastic cover a gentle tap with the tip of the screwdriver, and—fireworks.

A blinding flash! A shower of sparks!

I reeled backward, blinking and clutching my screwdriver. Once my eyes had refocused, I noted with detached interest that the tip of the screwdriver had melted. A few moments passed. Then, gathering my courage, I examined the Light Switch of Death. I expected to find a blackened crater or some other kind of damage.

The plastic cover had fallen off. That was all. Apart from the missing cover, the light switch seemed unaltered in any way. Later, when the screwdriver’s tip had cooled and I had regained my composure, I cautiously flipped the switch. The lights turned off. I turned on the lights. There were no problems.

The screwdriver’s tip, which had hardened into a misshapen mess, was eventually filed down in order to make the tool usable again. As far as I know, the Light Switch of Death never gave anyone further trouble. It’s there to this day, lurking in a bathroom in the dining commons, concealing its menace behind an immaculate plastic mask.

I’m still not sure what happened. I think the tip of the screwdriver must have slipped behind the plastic cover and touched an exposed wire or something. Fortunately, the handle of the screwdriver was made of plastic. Had I been touching the metal part of the tool, I’m not sure how much damage I may have sustained.

As much as I wanted to end this post with a clever electricity-related pun, I can’t think of any. (If one occurs to you, feel free to leave it in the comments.) I’ll conclude with a word of warning. Be cautious when removing the covers of light switches and electrical outlets. If you’re careless, fireworks may ensue.

67. Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

I once made a journey through HEL.

HEL had nothing to do with eternal damnation, though it sometimes felt like it. HEL was an (eminently appropriate) acronym for History of the English Language, one of my college courses. For the record, it was a good class. It was also really, really hard.

Although my journey through HEL was a good deal more comfortable than Dante’s stroll through the Inferno, it was not without its difficulties. My fellow students and I learned a little history, a little linguistics, a little philology and a little grammar. We also memorized a number of old literary passages, including the Lord’s Prayer in Anglo-Saxon (which sounded eerily like some kind of evil incantation) and the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English.

We often joked about giving our professor a bronze plaque on which were inscribed the words Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. He could put the plaque above the doorway to the classroom, we mused, and inspire students to new heights of academic diligence.

On the day of the final exam, one of my fellow students cackled demonically upon entering the room and said, “Welcome to HEL!” After a pause he added in his normal voice, “Whoa, I hope I never have to say that again.”

The class taught us a number of interesting things. Did you know, for example, that awesome and awful, which have completely opposite meanings, originally meant the same thing? Both words designated something that evoked a sense of awe. Awesome eventually came to represent things that inspired awe and amazement: Chuck Norris’s beard is a good example. Awful eventually came to represent things that inspired awe and horror, like natural disasters and teen pop stars.

I’m glad I journeyed through HEL. It gave me a better understanding of the origin, development and mechanics of the English language—and the English language is kinda what I’ve chosen to do for a living.

HEL also gave me a new appreciation for the words we speak and write every day, not to mention greater sympathy for poor old Dante.

40. To My Dear Friends at Bethel College, IN

Anyone is welcome to read it, but this post is intended for my dear friends at Bethel College, IN.

My time at Bethel College has been excellent: sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, always interesting. I’ve learned a good deal about English, pedagogy, writing, relationships, faith, coffee, culture, grammar and literature. I’ve also learned a good deal about myself, which has surprised me a little—at the beginning of college, I thought I knew this person named Adam Stück after wearing his clothes, drinking his tea and generally living his life for eighteen years.

One of the things I thought I knew about Adam Stück was that he was an introverted, solitary sort of person who wouldn’t find many close friends at Bethel College. He might develop friendships, but probably not any deep, lasting relationships. As a missionary kid, he had spent too many years moving around—or staying in one place as his friends moved around—to form many strong attachments.

I thought I knew Adam Stück pretty well, but I was wrong.

Here’s the thing.

I didn’t know that I, Adam Stück, would make quite a number of friends—or rather, that quite a number of people would graciously decide to make me a friend.

I didn’t know that my friends would give me coffee cups, coffeemakers, cookies, candy, brownies, pies, parties, tea, stuffed chickens, books about ninjas or pictures of Uncle Iroh.

I didn’t know that my friends would put up with my remarks that seemed witty until I said them or my long ramblings about my writing or my vicious tirades against Twilight and crazy fundamentalist protesters.

I didn’t know that my friends would be willing to share their lives with me, whether in long conversations or pleasant cups of tea or epic bouts of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

I didn’t know that my friends would be so quick to hug me or so patient when I grumbled about being hugged.

To wit, I didn’t know that my friends would be so kind, loyal, honest, generous, patient, fun or just plain awesome.

But they were. And they are.

My friends, you deserve all the points in the world. Thank you for everything. God bless you. Keep up the awesomeness. Drink much tea. Keep in touch.

With that, I take my leave.