365 T-shirts - the reasoning

This blog should be sub-titled: a journal of my life in geek.

I get my geek on with things about which I am geeky: comic books, Baseball, Ultimate, science fiction, my favorite bands, books I have read and loved, and Jungian psychology to name some of the most frequently traversed subjects.

I began this project simply as a way to count my T-shirts. I own a lot of T-shirts. But how many do I have? Do I have 365? We shall find out.

When I started this blog, I thought about how each T-shirt means something to me. I bought it for a reason, after all. I set myself the task to post an entry about a new T-shirt every day as a way to simply write something every day, a warm up for writing fiction, which is my passion. Writing is like exercise. Warm ups are good for exercise. But after completing a month of blogging about T-shirts, I have learned that this blog serves as a journal; it documents my life in geek, sort of a tour of my interests in pop culture. The blog serves as a tool for self-inventory, for assessment and analysis of self and the origins of self, for stepping through the process of individuation in catalogues, lists, and ranks.

The blog also made me aware that I have some serious gaps in my T-shirt ownership, and I am in the process of collecting some new T-shirts for several of the great popular culture icons that I truly love. Stay tuned.

I was also a bit surprised that people checked out my blog and continue to check it, read it, and even comment on it. I am very appreciative of this readership. Please feel free to share your thoughts in my comments section. I will respond.

Also, please note that I have moved the original introductory text to the side bar. And now, I present to you the most recent entry of 365 T-shirts: a journal of my life in geek. Thank you for reading.
(Second Update - 1310.24. First Update - 1306.05 Originally Posted - 1304.25.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

T-shirt #100: Kalamazoo College

T-shirt #100: Kalamazoo College: Identity, part one

Where does identity come from?

How is it established?

Is it solely formed through experiences?

Or does some identity derive innately from genes, from connections through a spiritual fabric?

When I began this blog one hundred days ago, I did not realize what it would become. The first impetus for this blog came simply from the question: "do I have enough T-shirts to wear a different one each day of the year?" Later, when I began writing, I considered the blog simply a way to exercise my writing muscles, to give me a reason to write every day. The T-shirts became the vehicle, more of a jumping off point than an end point.

I never imagined I would earn actual readers. I assumed that if anyone read the blog at all that it would be a very hit and miss thing. These readers would catch it maybe as often as once a week, or by request, as I tell actual people I know: "hey, I am really proud of yesterday's blog" or "hey, I brought up this exact subject in a blog earlier this week."

I may be getting a little insufferable in mentioning the blog, actually. I am going to have to watch it. I noticed that at a family function yesterday I brought it up three times in a two hour period. I doubt any one wants to hear about it that much.

Though I know that I have many occasional readers, I have had people tell me that they are actually trying to read the ENTIRE blog. I find this to be a little insane, but I am honored that some people would actually try to accomplish this goal. Mainly, for them, I have tried to mix some shorter entries in among the longer ones, especially last week during Grading Robot Hell. Since I never really considered having readers when I began, thinking about readers has changed the blog. I am tailoring content based on reader feedback. So, if you are reading, thank you. Keep the feedback coming.

Though the readership has changed it, the blog has also evolved as I explore what kind of content I would like to create and keep circling back to the starting question:

"why am I doing this?"

After a month of blogging, I updated the header text, which provides some explanation and justification. In preparing one of the pivotal entries for the blog--Narcissism T-shirt #77--I changed the top header text yet again.

I have described the blog as "my life in geek." I have called it a journal, a self-inventory as well as an analysis of self and the origins of self, my self, me.

Are my experiences that different from your experiences? How does my self-inventory reflect your self-inventory? What would be your defining experiences?

I put a great deal of thought into what shirt should be featured for T-shirt #100. Many T-shirts have been considered; many subjects have been considered.

Ultimately, I arrived at the subject that would answer this question:

What is one of the most critical defining experiences of my life?

Answer: attending Kalamazoo College.

I attended Kalamazoo College from 1980-1985. Because I play Ultimate Frisbee, I continued to be a part of the life of the college ever since I graduated. For a few years, I was still a frequent campus visitor as I had many friends still living in the dorms through 1988 or so. For years, I played Ultimate with the Kalamazoo College students, and eventually, when my great friend Uncle Marc (Marc Zigterman) left town, I took over "teaching" the K ultimate class from about 1991 through 2009 with the help of such great K people as Jason Atkins, Daniel Lipson, and Lanny Potts among many others (for years I let the students run the show). So, Kalamazoo College has always been a part of my life.

But that's just Ultimate. How was Kalamazoo College a "defining experience"?

I would not be the person I am today if I had not attended and ultimately graduated from Kalamazoo College.

I do not believe that identity comes solely from experiences. I believe in how both nature and nurture contribute to identity, but I also believe that there is a spiritual aspect to identity that transcends both concepts of nature and nurture. Setting aside discussions of my innate, genetic identity as well as the spiritual side of my self, who I am in the core, if I am listing defining experiences (and I am not sure I am ready to make the actual list yet), one of the pivotal, seminal experiences of my life was earning my Bachelor's Degree at Kalamazoo College.

All the previous content serves as introduction for the following thesis: Because of the academic rigors, the people, the K-plan, and the place, Kalamazoo College forever changed who I am as a person and ranks as one of the most significant experiences of my life.

Kalamazoo College proved to be the most difficult academic experience of my life. Graduate school paled in comparison. And though, I have put in more work hours in a day on average since my days at Kalamazoo College, the academic rigors prepared me to achieve great things, provided me with a strong work ethic, and  set me forth on a path as a lifelong learner. Kalamazoo College fanned the flames of my ambition and passions like nothing else, nowhere else. I am not sure that I am ready to define these so-called "great things" I have achieved ("great" being a matter of personal perspective), but I do feel that Kalamazoo College cultivated my intellectual garden like nothing else in my life. Though there were periods of goofing off at K, there were also periods of intense work and long hours, experiences on which I draw every day as I plow through even more enormous mountains of work in my current life (as I have alluded to this last week during the time of Grading Robot Hell). And in addition to academics and work ethic, Kalamazoo College shaped my critical thinking faculties like nothing else; I have become a lifelong learner, always interested in learning new things, because of my time at K-College. Though I am always hot and cold on applying the label "intellectual" to myself, Kalamazoo College provides a breeding ground for intellectuals, myself among them. At the very least, K-College shaped my views of politics, religion, social causes, economics, and the arts. One of the greatest elements of these was Jungian Psychology, which I have studied and taught ever since my days learning about it at K, in a variety of capacities (right now in a mythology course).

I deviated from the K-Plan, which is a course of study including a career development experience, a study abroad opportunity, and a senior project in addition to the regular course work. At K, when a person does not follow the K-Plan, he or she is said to have "deviated" and is by the default use of the language, a "deviant." I skipped study abroad. Originally, I was struggling in the fast paced French course and balked at the number of hoops that K makes students jump through to go on what was then called foreign study and is now called study abroad. By nature, I am a devil's advocate type. I like to go a different way than the herd. I am always seeking an alternate route or arguing an alternate position simply for the fun of being different. So, it came to pass with K's study abroad program. My reaction is a good example of how K changed me. Eventually, I came to understand my nature as a rebel (though as rebels go I feel that I am tame in most respects and far less rebellious than I was in my younger days), and I realized why I was reacting to the study abroad program as I did, but by then, it was too late. Once I decided that I did want to go somewhere, there was not enough time, my grades were not good enough in the languages, and there was not enough money to take advantage of the study abroad program. I did go to New York City for a career development, though not during the quarter I should have gone according to the K-plan, but that is a story for another time.

Some of the most important people in my life came to be my friends because of Kalamazoo College. There are far too many to mention them all, and I hesitate to name any because I am afraid to offend someone by not mentioning her or him. So, if you are reading and are not mentioned, please forgive me. Time and space. It's all about time and space. It's also about saving certain stories for future installments (if you think I own just one K-College T-shirt, then you are missing the point of this entry), and of course, there are some stories that are private and I will probably not tell on the blog, despite its limited readership. I have already flirted with disaster by listing the celebrities I find attractive, so if I were to document the romantic relationships I had at K, I might surely dig myself a very deep hole in my current personal life.

In short, I met my best friends at Kalamazoo College, which include Tom Meyers, Elaine Klein, Jane Burchfield, Helene Dunbar (Baker), Mark Brager, Julie Peck, and Diana Cohen (Bury).  Through my association with Kalamazoo College, I have met many other amazing people with whom I did not actually attend Kalamazoo College, such as Bruce "Frisbee" Johnson, Stu Gulliver, the aforementioned Ultimate people, and many others (such as current super cool members of my KUDL team: Woody Tauke and Meredith Edwards). And then there's the professors, some of whom are my favorite people of all time and had an enormous impact in shaping the person I am today, such as Gail Griffin, with whom I am actually Facebook friends, and who, sadly, just retired.

And yet, aside from the academic rigor, the K-Plan, the people, and all the other elements of those three aspects of the Kalamazoo College experience, there is something about the place, something ineffable, though I will try to "eff" it with my wordy ability.  When I went up to K's campus with my step son Ivan on Friday the 28th (2013) to take all but one of the pictures featured here, I felt many things that are difficult to describe. The easy feelings are simple nostalgia, memories, the feeling of being home. But there's something else. There's a feeling that I might try to describe as spiritual. There's an energy, a vibe, that only exists on that campus and changes based on the time of day (or night) and weather. I had a glimpse of this feeling when I first discovered Kalamazoo College when I was trying to select a college.

My father suggested I look into it: "Why don't you consider Kalamazoo College?"

"Where is it?" I replied.

Obviously, it was in Kalamazoo somewhere. But where? I had no idea. I did not remember ever driving past it.

"That place out by your former partner's house?" By which, I meant Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

No, my father assured me that there was another school, one that I would find on Westmain Hill. He told me to follow Lovell from downtown Kalamazoo, and I would drive right to it. So, I took the young man I was supervising while his parents were away (we did not call it "babysitting" as he was no baby), and we drove up to Kalamazoo College on Lovell Street. We drove its campus (very short drive), we also walked around a bit, and I felt that feeling, that connection, that vibe, just a glimmer, just a smidgen, an iota, a quantum. But I was intrigued; I was inspired. I also tried to go back the way I came in the car, since I did not know my way around being a new driver at the time, back Lovell to downtown Kalamazoo, not realizing that Lovell was a one way street until young master Jon and I faced an on rush of coming traffic.

I don't know what it is, how to describe it, but there is something special about Kalamazoo College as a place as well as an idea.

How is that for an "essay" that is shorter than the introduction that preceded it? Such is the way of this blog.

Obviously, I am not done with this topic, but it's a good start. Stay tuned for more on identity and more shirts, especially more shirts featuring Kalamazoo College.

- chris tower - 1306.29 - 11:59