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Meet Joyce


Joyce Greco


Year: Spring 2010
Hometown: Ocoee, Florida
Major: Master of Liberal Studies

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Joyce's E-Journal Archives:

August 10, 2010
May 12, 2010
February 9, 2010
December 21, 2009
September 9, 2009


Be Prepared

August 10, 2010

A prospective college student anticipating a larger mind.

Be Prepared

All the time I was participating in the MLS program, I was keeping one eye on the economy. Long before everything built on illusions of grandeur and consumer insatiability collapsed, I saw it coming. I was pessimistic about the future, but it was comforting to this pessimist to have a brilliant series of humanities courses to focus on at the time. I knew that would end one day as well. As it turned out, multiple avalanches occurred at once, seemingly, a conspiracy designed to block my new path. May brought an end to my ticket to intellectual feasting in the MLS program, and the summer of 2010 brought rising unemployment, the gulf oil travesty, and the rumbling of the worldwide house of economic cards. Now I am all dressed up in a brilliantly crafted master’s degree, and I have nowhere to go. Well, not exactly. Do you want to know what it feels like to be graduating from Rollins with an MLS in tough economic times? At first, it’s a little awkward.

My mind was in high gear. It learned to work efficiently between everyday interruptions, and it did not stop assimilating ideas and rewriting my thesis after they played “Pomp and Circumstance.” That is probably true in healthy economic times as well. The shock of graduation at the end of any research frenzy feels like a thump on the head. The sudden cessation throws you way off balance. Due to the elusive laws of physics (elusive to me), I can’t stand still with that machine cooling down on my head. Does that make unemployment any more palatable?

In rock-solid economic times, people tend to look at you sideways when you tell them you are working on a master’s degree in liberal studies. It sounds impractical, perhaps even self-indulgent. I have a childhood friend who became a rocket scientist. He trivializes the liberal studies courses he was forced to take before he could focus on what he really wanted to learn. Interestingly, he is running scared after the defense plant that employs him recently laid off 400 workers, and I’m full of anticipation. I have choices. I may not have a job, but I have choices.

As I negotiate the avalanche of complications, I discover unexpected career choices, and frankly, the process of looking for a job helps keep the gears of my MLS machine in working order. Job hunting involves endless research, writing, rewriting, nailing down the fine points of my argument with myself and others concerning where I belong in the work force. It requires that I face my work history, and it demands that I learn from it. Yes, the economic crisis makes finding the right job challenging. I may be weary at some times and frustrated at others, but I know I’m prepared, and I’m confident that I will eventually find or create my next niche in a timely manner.

Carving out niches is nothing new for me. What is new is Dr. Lancaster calling after graduation and inquiring about my job-seeking progress, making practical suggestions, and offering tangible assistance. To sweeten the journey, I’m working on an independent research project, because—I can. I have the skills and the passion to continue investigating a topic I consider valuable. Having completed the program, I am left with a feeling of accomplishment and preparedness. I am working—not at a job—but with pure potential. I have the skills, creativity, and persistence to climb out of the powder. Don’t wait for perfect circumstances to pursue the education you always wanted. Go for it.

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May 12, 2010

Odd: this past Saturday I graduated from the Hamilton Holt School’s MLS program. This is not the first time I graduated from an institution of higher learning, but it is the first time I did not feel an immediate urge to run as far away from campus as possible afterward. When I graduated from high school in 1972, I was barefoot, dancing, and at the end of the line of 800. My last name starts with the letter G; I was definitely out of order and in more ways than you might imagine. I never looked back at high school with fondness until Facebook reunited me with my high school friends. And now that I know where my old friends are I still don’t look back at high school with fondness, because our best memories were forged outside the classroom: at the beaches, in my parent’s kitchen, and in cars headed nowhere in particular. I started running immediately after graduation, and for the next five years, I loped in the strangest circles I could find, until I crashed into my wits end somewhere in the Midwest.

When I graduated with a BFA in 1981, I felt an immediate need to move to anywhere but where I was. It wasn’t the school I wanted to leave spinning in the dust, it was the sidewalks that rolled up at 5:00 and the roommates that sliced pizza with scissors, had never heard of bagels, and didn’t know there was a bridge or two between Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was a form of culture shock that never ended, like an electric chair that never quite terminates the suffering it inflicts upon you for your crimes against society. The waves of devastation have continued crashing into my sense of stability ever since. The problem is the Midwest can only be appreciated by those who were raised there. No one develops a taste for it. It’s something you grew up swallowing, like wine mixed with water. The purpose of ingesting this is one thing and one thing only: it allows you to feel like a grown up and puts you to sleep. Not that there is anything wrong with a good night’s sleep. Other people have reasons for loving the Midwest; obviously they escaped me.

Then there’s Rollins College with its diverse student body and profoundly human faculty. The MLS curriculum, which is able to support a variety of interests and life experiences, provides ample fresh air for the contracting mind. All this comfort and encouragement in the midst of the City of Winter Park, at the end of Park Avenue, why would anyone want to leave this place? Why would anyone want to stop learning from this faculty? Park Avenue restaurants notwithstanding, why would any student eat at any other cafeteria? It’s difficult to explain all the reasons why Rollins feels as large as the world and as small and comfortable as my own living room, why it feels like home and yet a great adventure, but I will make an educated attempt.

On Wednesday night at the farewell dinner for MLS graduates, I experienced once more the beauty and depth of human understanding of the MLS faculty: their kindness, support, and gentle guidance embodying intellectual movement, enthusiasm for life, and the limitless resources of curiosity, hope, and the Olin Library database. They spoke with understanding and generosity; I felt appreciated, prepared, and let’s not forget, well fed. Dr. Smither spoke briefly about each graduate, highlighting our entrance essays, recalling the details of our interviews with gentleness and humor, and sorting out the focus of our thesis projects with brevity and aplomb. He was himself entirely, a caring father figure who, having faith in us from the start, was now reveling in our success. Dr. Lancaster reminded us of who we were when we came, who we are still: the intellectually curious and insatiable. Her MLS motto “Must Learn Something” was typical of her combined strengths of humor, affection, and precision. As an instructor, she was always able to communicate with sensitivity and lucidity, qualities that will greatly benefit future MLS students who will look to her for guidance and understanding in her position as director of the MLS program.

On Wednesday, as on other occasions while a member of the Rollins community, I felt honored, appreciated, and understood. Now, it’s my turn. I would like to inspire a love of learning and desire to understand the human experience in others, and I don’t want to stray too far from home to do it. Yet, truth be told, home may be closer and more portable than I know. Before bed last night, I read two articles I intended to read during my last semester. They were set aside earlier because they were slightly off topic. Somewhere along the progression of big ideas encountered in the MLS program, my learning and living overlapped so that the two are now inseparable. I and my education are more alike, more particular and fitting toward each other. We are bound toward forward movement and mutually alive. It’s over, but it’s not finished. I worked very hard at the end, but I’m not feeling the need to bolt. How odd is that?

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Spring Break: A Non-Traditional Thesis

April 22, 2010

L-R: Ed Hoffman, Joe Greco, Maui, 1942.

Interpreting abandoned family photographs for the purpose of research can be a daunting process. These frail remnants of the past and the family members in them, who are now only present in our memories, often arouse the relentless sensation of mourning and nostalgia. The mysterious and complex nature of the human mind continually confronting such a significant loss makes objective fact-finding elusive, if not improbable. This has been my personal experience as I examined two parallel collections of photographs taken during World War II of the members of the 105th Field Artillery. The photographs chronicle the years before the invasion of Leyte, between 1940 and 1945. Both collections eventually belonged to my father.   

Working around mourning and nostalgia can be a surreal experience: Picture yourself walking down a vaguely familiar city street. It’s a busy place, where groups of young men pose for their friend with the camera. One of them is your father or grandfather. Their shifting postures reveal the self-conscious affectations of a unique makeshift culture occurring nearly seventy years ago, their emerging individuality, the onset of a working brotherhood, and their family-oriented culture is frozen in time. But the truth is snapshots are merely fragments of any total experience. There is room for imagination to take objective interpretation on a wild ride and run amok. The guys all appear fun-loving and approachable, but they are unavailable for comment, always hanging out on the other side of a busy street that is fraught with the potholes of my relentless imaginings. Above the boulevard of my imaginary construct are apartments occupied by time and silence, twin specters that continually pass from room to room, guarding the secrets of the past. The constant rumblings from the underground are the few stories my father reluctantly surrendered across the family table years ago. Sealing the mystery of their experience is the records fire in 1988, which destroyed all daily reports for the entire U.S. Army between 1940 and 1945.   

You have just read the first two paragraphs of the written portion of my “non-traditional” thesis project. I picked the topic and the method of expressing it. Master of Liberal Studies students are given a lot of freedom when the time comes to select their thesis topic and its form. My project is a small paper and a body of art. The larger part of the project is the art, a series of character studies of the men my father befriended during the war. They are created by studying the photos, as a collection and individually, in search of the affectations of character, brotherhood, and familial ties. It is an emotional process, but irresistible to the artist in me. Initially, I picked the project in order to benefit personally. I wanted to satisfy certain questions, and share the results with my family. In particular, I wanted to create an elaborate thank-you card for my mother for her support during the past four years. At times, my only motivation was her encouragement and my unwillingness to disappoint her.  

But now as the final stretch of the thesis process barrels into my past, I’m getting a little frantic because it has become so much more than personal. It has evolved into a valuable compilation of a forgotten group of men forced into service, giving emphasis to the character traits that grounded and supported a group of boys caught in the draft. It will be my focus long after graduation. And I’m not alone. All across America, children and grandchildren of WWII veterans are asking questions and trying to put the abandoned photographs in the attic back together, in the hopes of understanding what Grandpa or Dad did between the ages of 18 and 24. Instead of going to college and on spring break, they all went straight to Hell. They grew up under tremendous duress and fell too hard on the bombed-out beaches of Europe and the Philippines — not because they were drunk or hung over, but because they had no choice. It’s impossible to fathom the staggering number of casualties. Both the dead and the survivors were shattered. Their youth was already full of holes because of the harshness of the Great Depression and then by the grotesque reality of the Second World War and its monstrous misuse of modern technology; it’s no wonder they didn’t want to talk about it. 

My thesis is an opportunity to examine the evidence and articulate my understanding of my father’s experience — the good and the bad. It’s much more important than I first thought, and it’s probably going to kill me. So, when it’s your turn to establish your topic, my advice to you would be to take an imaginary bow and arrow, aim it at your heart, and picture yourself bleeding all over a thousand white pages, then discovering that there is no end to your own blood-and-guts love for the subject. That is the thing worth writing about.

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“The Heights of Macchu Picchu”

March 22, 2010

A self portrait from the Heartman Collection, 2003

A self portrait from the Heartman Collection, 2003

Reading Pablo Neruda  

I have spent the past three years writing in the margins of other people’s books — the ruthless, eternal words of others supplanting my own, time and again. I have been astonished before by their thoughts, but nothing has touched me as tenderly and personally as the words of Pablo Neruda. They became flesh and blood in my soul, or made soul of my flesh and blood; it’s irrelevant to me which phrase is truest. They spoke directly to the numbing reality of my stale, half-life. I was stunned, as if caught in the talons of a predatory bird and taken by the scruff into the meaning of Macchu Picchu. 

“Come up with me, American Love” was the title for section eight of The Heights of Macchu Picchu. Those words struck hard against my discordant, idle heartstrings. All that had been asleep in me began to tremble. Its casual, uninspired drumming arrested, my heart beat a familiar path into its cave. We all have a cave we hide our hearts in, don’t we? Somewhere there is a void inside of me that I tolerate, behind my solar plexus, I think; I can’t say exactly where. I can only guess this is where my heart habitually goes when it wants to distance itself. By now it’s a well-worn and comforting escape route marked by silence and missed opportunities. Perhaps I chase it down that road; I don’t really know. Then I read on, and was accosted by a strange form of salvation, a quiet storm, an invitation: “Kiss these secret stones with me.” Title and first line devoured, I absorb another hit from Neruda’s thunderbolt. I was in shambles, certain I would not survive this poem. 

Held fast by a surge of nameless emotions, I felt forces invade my hidden, empty place, fingers of light pointing out the exact location of my cowardly heart. Their accusations stirred a torrent of unexpected sensations. I felt suddenly, beautifully, and deeply human; fragile, terrified, sacred, even worth saving. My heart opened abruptly. Then all forms of love, real or imagined, temporal and eternal, experienced and hoped for, ran their courses in me; the complex, striving desires, the delirious, forsaken loves, all dancing with me amidst a clamor of unspoken words, unwritten pages upon pages crammed into unapproachable corners, unfurling like flowers in the dark. Neruda understood that I had vacated myself long ago. The suburban bed I sleep on between paying bills and buying groceries is a trap for the dreams I put to rest every morning as I go about the business of surviving, even as survival itself becomes the increasingly elusive, economically impossible dream. Running away from the lightning strike of Neruda’s words, I went blank and found myself standing in the kitchen, staring at my recyclable trash. Clutching them against my heart like precious children, I passed into the foyer; a corner of the kitchen winked at me and my inconsequential, immaculate life. I abandoned book and house.  

The recycle bin sits on the far side of the garage. There, I confronted the panoramic view falling away from the driveway toward the lake. It soothed my frightened spirit; my conscience softened down to its frayed edges. The bin is hidden as one might hide a bleak repository of sin; it crouches behind a large pencil cactus flourishing in the spent sand that receives regular infusions from the floor of my studio-garage, eleven years of paint fragments and paper scraps its only nourishment. The cavernous garbage bin issued by the city is also hidden in an enclosure made of the same stockade fence that extends to the edge of the property. They all point toward the soothing silver expanse of Starke Lake. I lingered there, arms free, defenseless against the sunlight and lake breezes. The recyclables clinked into place. 

A hawk hidden behind the fence suddenly leapt up. It couldn’t have been more than three feet away. Rising on massive wings, the ardent snap echoed through my yard. It grazed the fence, then cast a gusty shadow on me as it retreated into the sky. Gasping, transported, caught in the act of exorcizing myself of wakefulness, I sensed Neruda confronting me in the form of this hawk, forcing me to brace against his storm again. The bird’s cry pierced the sacred stir above me. In that moment, I remembered a recent dream about waking during the night to find that a window into the darkness had been left open. As the night air wafted through the house, it was filled with an intoxicating, welcome mystery. I left it agape and returned to my dreams.

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A Toast to Chaos

February 9, 2010
Landscape of Butterflies by Salvador Dali'

Landscape of Butterflies by Salvador Dali'

At 55, friends don’t just roll down the turnpike and knock on your door, cradling a New York cheesecake. Being enrolled in the MLS program, believe it or not, can tax even old friendships to the brink, because once the semester kicks in, I tend to be stingy with my time. I have just started my last semester, by the way, and it began virtually unscathed by the demigods that love to torment me. But I have a long-term and loving relationship with one in particular, Chaos, probably because it played a significant part in the forging of my adult identity. Without intermittent Chaos marking my life changes, my goals and accomplishments might go unrecognized altogether. The semester was commencing quietly, the untapped psychic energy needing an event, so I invited my daughter’s boyfriend’s family over for dinner. The two have been “friends” since they were 14 and 13, and now at 16 and 15, the relationship is causing minor tremors in both households. I thought it was time to establish communication and create a comfort level that might come in handy one way or another. Worst-case scenario, we make friends who fade away a few years after it’s over. Other worst-case scenario, we become family. Either way, it’s best to climb this treacherous stairway with friends. So I did my best to make a good impression.

I actually mopped the floors and policed the back yard. I put the smelly rugs in the laundry room. I thought about dusting but knew I’d resent that much effort and blame my guests for being too troublesome, so I decided a little dust made the place feel homier. I thought about cooking Italian, but chicken and potatoes were on sale. I considered take-out, but my wallet said a thin, flat no. On the way to the supermarket, I realized dinner for eight could and most likely would become dinner for 11. I called my oldest son and confirmed it, 11 for dinner. Naturally I rounded it up to 12. Make that an Italian 12, which translates into 18 in most households. Shopping for dinner went like clockwork. I was optimistic enough to take some “me” time in the hammock, picturing an easygoing Sunday dinner with new friends — which lasted about 20 seconds.

That’s when an old, dear friend and her son called. They were on my side of town, wanting to stop in. It sounded like a before-dinner visit, and I thought that if they overlapped a little, it might take some of the pressure off the budding friendships. I flagged them on to the field as I added flatbread to the menu in my mind, foolishly thinking my daughter would be available to help in the kitchen and that her sister would happily bake brownies. But I forgot that the brownie queen was at a birthday party and wouldn’t return home until about 30 minutes before dinner was supposed to be served. The cautious adult in my head that I never mind said, “The chicken will take up all the room in the oven, and because you are cooking for 18, it will take twice as long to cook. You also might want to check and see if there are any pans left for the brownies.” When the door opened, I understood that being on my end of town meant my friends were circling the block. The kitchen stepped up to pre-chaos (that’s about warp factor-one); I washed and breaded the chicken while they visited, and we enjoyed a glass of wine as per our long-standing tradition. Soon the chicken was in the oven and the salad prepared. Immediately, the new friends were seen surveying the street, trying to figure out where to park because the front yard already looked like a Wal-Mart parking lot on Christmas Eve. My dogs sniffed and slobbered while being held hostage inside the door until I threatened them with banishment; not the friends, the dogs. As my guests made their way deeper into the house escorted by the flea-bags of Baskerville, I convinced myself I was still reasonably in control. The cacophony of animal, adult, and teenage voices ricocheting throughout the kitchen and family room were comforting because they reminded me of Thanksgiving. And just like Thanksgiving, the oven began smoking as if on cue.

Apparently, the cookie pans were too shallow, which caused the chicken ooze to breach the rims; we marveled in unison as the air filled with a fowl essence. The entire company distracted, I turned on the wind-tunnel fan. The smoke quickly disappeared into the garage, along with three previously living things from the back yard, a bag of groceries and a twenty-dollar bill. The hum and flap of indistinguishable remnants added a much needed dimension to the giggling from the companions lingering nonchalantly over a game of billiards. Making my way through the now Daliesque milieu, I began telling jokes and producing flatbread from the toaster-oven. Privately I thanked God that the pretense of order had become impossible to maintain. Everyone laughing at nothing was my cue to feign dropping a pan full of chicken by knocking it into the shape-shifting oven and catching it before it hit the floor. We extolled the virtues of peanut butter and jelly crackers with White Zinfandel. Nobody really cared any more; good thing, because I was in charge.

I burnt the last flatbread to a tar-colored crisp as my two sons arrived with friend Nicole in tow. Rob, the elder, introduced himself by picking up the smoking flatbread and telling me to go long. We bantered about the possibility of shingling the roof with it after it stopped smoking. Soon the brownie queen returned with her head swirling from an afternoon spent designing and riding virtual roller coasters. She and Norma, my new friend, won a small skirmish with the brownie mix, which stubbornly maintained the consistency of plaster while they spackled it into pan corners. The rest of us cheered them on as we waited for the lagging oven to expel shake-n-bake chicken for 18. Finally, the buffet was on board.

We haphazardly took our places at the formal dining table I inherited from my aunt. The table absolutely reverberates with family history, having embedded within its molecular memory the anxiety and laughter of about 75 Thanksgivings and as many Christmases, half-a-dozen weddings, baby showers, graduations, and a few funerals. We all fit comfortably around it — except Nicole, who had to cook her own fish fillet and eat off a tea saucer. She is frequently seated at the last minute because she doesn’t consume anything with feet, and inevitably comes up short of something consequential like food, a chair, or a plate. While watching her make the saucer work as if it were the norm, I felt all those memories silently shifting under the tablecloth, making room for the next generation; then and there I counted myself blessed to be standing, embracing my place among the old guard. I raised a toast to my good friend Chaos, because Chaos is my friend, and it has kept me from living a life of half-truths and pretense, and I am a better person for it.

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A Series of Electronic Events

January 15, 2010
Happy Hunters

Happy Hunters

The only reason I joined Facebook in May of 2009 was that my MLS classmates suggested it. It was right before the Paris elective. We intended to use it to keep each other posted concerning the specifics of our travel plans, but I never did learn to navigate Facebook before I left. So Facebook waited out there in cyberspace as a derelict social-networking option into which I didn’t really care to invest my time. I didn’t put up a photo or look through the high-school list for long-lost friends. I didn’t even know that option was there. I did, however, go to Paris and return thinking about living somewhere else. I typically come down with gotta-move fever after I travel, even though I never actually go anywhere. I have had so few traveling experiences that it wasn’t unusual for me to return from a day at the beach with 20 to 30 real-estate fliers. I usually ended the day sunburned and alone, mumbling about property taxes and school districts after alienating my family with the constant threat of moving away from their friends. So there I was in my classic parent-moron mode, arguing with my kids after experiencing Paris — thanks to the MLS program, my first trip anywhere out of the country if you don’t count “Expo ‘67″ – trying to convince them we all needed to leave the country and live in Italy or London, anywhere but here. And they weren’t buying it. They sat there, the three 16-year-old Buddhas, throwing looks at each other like, “Mom’s out of her mind again,” and, really, I was. So I jumped up and down like a rabid spider monkey to demonstrate my serious intent, sound logic born of the infinite wisdom of experience, and cold, hard facts of life. It sounded something like this:

“For God’s sake, you’d rather live in the only place you’ve ever known in your short lives because you don’t want to leave your friends? What do your high-school friends have to do with real life? Are you serious? Look at me! Do you see any of my high school friends in this house? Where are my friends from high school? Are they under the sofa? Huh? How about in the kitchen cabinets? Oh! There they are, next to the Ronzoni! Oh, sorry, that’s a box of tea bags … and they looked so familiar! Well, guess what? I have no idea where my old friends are. I haven’t seen any of them since the year I graduated. We all went our separate ways within months of graduation, and that was that. That’s the way it is. Now get over it!”

Right about then there was a knock at the electronic door. Well, that’s not entirely true. First, this series of unrelated but necessary events unfolded: My daughter Genevieve was trying to match a ring-tone to one person in my cell phone, a former girlfriend of her older brother — someone we hadn’t spoken to in more than two years but whom we all remember fondly. My daughter thought she had matched the ex’s number with an appropriate ring-tone, when what she actually did was attach the phone number to the built-in alarm clock that I had set for 6 a.m. The next morning, when the ringer went off at dawn, it looked as if my son’s ex was calling me, and I thought there was noone on the other end because I had missed the call. Half asleep, I hit the call-back button. This isn’t very exciting, I know, but it gets better after you appreciate the fact that she lives in California. That was what concerned me; it was the middle of the night in L.A. Naturally, I left an incoherent message, because I was more or less sleep-talking. Of course, she thought something was wrong in Florida because I called her in the middle of the night mumbling incoherently. I’m old; I’m sure she thought I was having a stroke. Later that day, when we finally caught up with each other, we reminisced a bit, expressing our mutual regrets that we hadn’t spoken to or seen each other for so long. She was the one ex-girlfriend with whom I had the misfortune to bond, so the end of that romantic relationship really hurt. The fondness my triplets have for her also has a life of its own, which is why Genevieve gave her a special ring-tone in the first place. We both wished we could visit, but we knew that was faulty thinking. The conversation talked itself out. I left the call knowing with absolute certainty I’d never see her again unless I went to California, and I had absolutely no reason to do that, and she would not come here. She had absolutely no reason to do that. Wrong again, Quasi-Moto-Momma. About six weeks later she came to Florida on business. We all met on the coast, and after dinner, along with her friend Zach, we went turtle hunting. Up to our necks in turtles and the magic she naturally exudes, we posed so Zach could take a group picture, and she immediately posted it to my Facebook page. …Then there was a knock at the electronic door.

I could tell you what happened next concerning my high-school friends finding me on Facebook, but I’ll save that for another entry, because it “absolutely” deserves its own space. What I would like to point out, is that Rollins continually places opportunities before me that nudge me out of my comfort zone, like Facebook, international travel, and even E-Journalism. Also worth mentioning, whenever I speak or think in terms of absolutes, and I do continue to do this, I am the embodiment of stupidity. Embodying stupidity is a tough habit to break, and this problem of absolutism is worth examining. Professor emeritus Dr. Arnold Wettstein, way back in my very first seminar-elective insisted that there were few if any absolutes in life, and he believed that, absolutely. He was funny, and he was right. Every time I make up my mind that I know something absolutely, and insist it is black and white, hands-down indisputable, like the “fact” that noone ever hears from their high-school friends after 37 years, I am proved wrong in the most humiliating and public manner. My list of former absolutes is lengthy, and fodder for a multitude of mortifying stories, so they will keep for now. But, if you want to know about the magic ex and how she is getting along in life, check out this link. Click on Band, and watch the “War” video where you can see her (in blue) singing back-up for “The Big Joe Hurt Band.” This song was given the number-one single of the year award at the 2009 L.A. Music Awards. Way to go, Alana Chandrakanta (Light of the Moon) Lee. If you want to know how it feels to rediscover your coming-of-age friends after a 37-year disconnect, you might enjoy my next entry, “I am absolutely a Lucky Knucklehead.”

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The Heart of the Matter

December 21, 2009

johnny_carson_as_karnak_featureI have an image pasted into my mind. It’s Johnny Carson in a turban; his eyes are closed, and he’s holding an envelope to his forehead. When I was growing up, Carson was the quintessential late-night talk-show host, and from time to time he was also the Amazing Karnak, the giggling mystic capable of predicting the future and divining answers to unknowable questions through “hermetically sealed” envelopes. In my last journal entry, I predicted good things for the fall of 2009, because the fates sent me four orphaned squirrels instead of terminal illness, death, and car accidents. It was a nice thought, but apparently I am not the Amazing Karnak.

My thesis, as usual, was unclear. I made the same mistake I had made a hundred times in my academic papers; I released a sweeping generalization into the ether, and the teacher in the sky had a red-pen field-day. This was not a good semester. I wrote the worst academic papers of my life. I somehow regressed to treading word-water rather than navigating the clearly marked straits of academic writing. Perhaps the truths about my limited abilities have finally permeated the envelope. I’m closing in on my final semester of the MLS program painfully aware of one dreadful truth; I am not academically inclined. I believe I’m inclined toward another type of knowledge, the type of knowledge that rides bareback through life on inspiration, takes intuitive pot shots, and chases wild hares—especially those running late for tea parties.

On the first day of “The Human Experience,” Dr. Scott Rubarth required that all “plebes” create an epithet. An epithet is a name for the story we were becoming. It’s an ancient Greek tradition, and like every studious concept presented since the fall of 2006, it was new to me. Mine was born of a previously unidentified, mind-numbing modernity crisis. I was a functional zombie, suffering from  a condition coined by Thoreau as “quiet desperation.” My epithet came to me  in a mystical flash. Having only a vague idea of how many books I was referring to, I naively answered, Joyce whose heart lies hidden under many books. Whatever that was, its accuracy would amaze even the Amazing Karnak.

I can’t cite precisely when, but at some point along the continuum of shuffling back and forth through melancholy West Orlando, eating my way through night classes, and reading Plato instead of communing with my  residential  electronics, I was waylaid by an intellectual garage sale. There I was able to exchange some of my mind clutter for the occasionally incomplete, nevertheless thought-provoking ideas of others. I found a few mates for my mismatched ethos. My flimsy notions were sorted and abridged. I changed the color of my comfort zone, and I believe I am closing in on the exact location of my heart.

This was not accomplished by permitting strangers to pick through my inner inventory, or selling off any ideas worth keeping, but by reading slowly, and re-reading, listening to others, writing miserable scholarly papers, and failing to perfect academia. Like Karnak, I am holding the punch line to my forehead and giggling at seeing my not-so academic future.

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Of Humans and Aliens

September 9, 2009

Fall 2009 will undoubtedly prove itself the most memorable semester, because I am still trying to answer the question from a recent night’s class: How would you define being human to an alien? When I first heard it, my mind immediately meandered toward a seemingly unrelated but equally pressing question: Why is it that when my MLS semesters begin, the universe attacks me? My very first semester, for example, started precisely as my father’s health began an undeniable downward spiral. While reading myself into Homer’s Iliad, I was adjusting to the knowledge that dialysis was undeniably the beginning of the end for my 88-year-old father. I was already taking him everywhere he didn’t want to go: outpatient clinics, heart and kidney specialists, emergency rooms, and now dialysis three times a week. It added sorrow to stress and daunting labor to an inglorious process. I knew he was dying. He knew he was dying. Though it sounds somewhat cliché, death would have been easier: on him, on me, on all of us, and that was an unwelcome and terrible thing to know. Maybe I would tell the alien that: We are the ones who know we are dying.

The next semester, hours before commencement of the first class, my father died. I spent the weekend prior sitting with a text from the next core class in one hand, and his hand in my other. It was Day One, and I was already exhausted and devastated. Perhaps I could tell the alien that: We are the exhausted and devastated ones. The following semester, while waging war on grief, I was assigned to teach two new-to-me Humanities classes. While internalizing that text, which, according to the publisher, had earned the dubious honor of being the heaviest in the world, I was grinding through two very intense MLS classes. There were days when I didn’t know which book to read first, which class to attend, or whether to teach or to listen. Perhaps that is what I’d tell the alien: We are the ones who sometimes don’t know where we are, where we are going, or whether we are to teach or to listen.

On the night of Aug. 5, 2008, I was in a car accident. I spent the next three months, exactly the length of that semester, car hunting and submitting to physical therapy. By the beginning of the next semester, I began aging as if on fast forward. My hair was falling out, my weight nearly doubled, sleep became a mere memory. I thought about carrying a dustpan to class to collect hair and skin cells. I was literally falling apart. I couldn’t get an appointment with the specialist until May. I persisted, dragging my lifeless body and failing personality through the entire semester – and then some – before much-needed meds arrived to assist my newly diagnosed pre-diabetic decrepitude. That was one week before I left for Paris – a summer elective. For me, establishing a diabetic diet in Paris was a nonsustainable concept. I blundered through a long-awaited feast of history and art, and food and wine, as a living, breathing, sleep-deprived, nonsustainable, pre-diabetic. I know I can’t tell that to the alien.

Before classes began this semester, I found myself looking up at the sky, wondering what flavor fireball the universe was going to hurl into my life. It was 11 o’clock in the morning. I checked the time. In seven hours and 45 minutes my first class would begin. Everything was quiet. No one I knew needed end-of-life care. No one I loved died today. I was embracing unemployment, driving a new car, and enjoying a renewed adrenal function. Surprisingly, I had grown to prefer the pre-diabetic diet. I was thinking Zeus might be entertaining himself by torturing someone else, and began imagining what it would feel like to begin a semester without a freshly broken heart, car, or body. That’s when a piercing screech cracked the air, and a baby squirrel hit the ground about two feet from where I stood. Over the next 24 hours, two more awkward neophytes would fall from the sky.

grecoI know what you’re thinking. Some people would create a nonevent from a sack of blind squirrels with a blithe trot to the dumpster, or the flick of a wrist off a bridge, but not me. I did the research and hoped the nest was empty. It wasn’t. The fourth squirrel landed on a pillow my kids laid under the suspect tree as I drove to my Thursday class, the class where the all-consuming question was raised in the first place. We are the ones who leave pillows in hard places. Maybe that’s what I’ll tell the alien.

Compared to other semesters, which felt like 10 years of war on a foreign beach, this squirrely August is a moon-kissed morning, like the morning I waited for something to fall from the sky, the morning before Dr. Lancaster asked me the mother of all questions. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. No doubt, my hands are full until December, and I may never know exactly what to tell the alien, but this time life reigns, knowledge rules, and hope takes the podium.

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Read more about... Joyce:

It is difficult for me to introduce myself as I am in the midst of an identity crisis. I hope the facts, that I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sept. 27, 1954, to Harriett and Joe Greco, that I received my undergraduate degree from CCAD in Columbus, Ohio, and that I am now working on an MLS degree at the Rollins College Hamilton Holt School, will somehow assure you that I exist. Though none of this information helps me transcend my personal identity crisis, “I” am delighted to be a part of the Rollins E-Journalist Family.

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