And that is that. Made it through Lent with my fasts mostly intact.  I must admit I stumbled a few times, once when there was some awesome bread left over in the kitchenette and once on Twitter when a kerfuffle went down with a couple of my favorite radio hosts.  As you might guess, I wasn’t particularly pleased with myself in either case, but overall, all areas were a good exercise.  Did it strengthen or inform my faith? Not that much I suppose, but that might be asking a lot of the absence of Twitter and Facebook.

What I’ve found surprising a week or so back to social media is how low my threshold has become for stuff I don’t particularly want to read, especially on Twitter. Rejoining Twitter and baseball coming back coincided quite nicely, but when I signed in and started reading through my time line, there was a huge bitchfest going on regarding the strike zone, led mostly by Joe Sheehan. I get it, good calls, accuracy, blah, blah, blah. It was the first game of the year, can’t we just enjoy baseball for baseball? At some point the constant critique just becomes more noise to filter out.  Which is what I did. I turned off my phone and just watched the game. No, I don’t think statistics have ruined the game, or Twitter is ruining the game. Nothing is ruining the game. Sometimes the over analysis is ruining the experience.  What’s more, I really agree with Nick Hornby when he wrote:

I don’t want my children growing up in a world where refereeing mistakes have been eliminated. Kids have already spent too much time being told by broadcasters that professional sport is deadly serious, that the teams and players are at war.  I grew up watching fat players and slow players whose first touch took it farther than I could kick it; I watched a lot of drunk players too…They’ve all gone now, and the game is, of course better for it, faster more athletic and more technically accomplished. But it really isn’t as funny and if we are denied the chance to see goals like the one Juan Mata didn’t score, it will be less funny still.

As far as Facebook goes, I’m pretty much where I was before Lent began. It’s nice to catch up with old friends and hear how family members are doing around the country.  Other than that, I don’t do much on Facebook. I don’t take quizzes, rarely click on links, or play any games.  I’ve seen the screeds from time to time of people getting pissed about being asked to play games. I’m not that committed to my Facebook feed.  I just scroll on through.

Like the last few Lents, the practice of season has had a lasting impact. It has altered my behavior in a positive way. After 40 days, I’m pretty sure I’ll be spending less time on social media going forward. Does it translate to more spiritual and religious behavior? probably not. I have found however, (this week not included) that I’m more productive, especially when it comes to writing. While not religious per se I do feel that when I’m writing, really getting to it every day or so, I’m acting in accordance with God’s will. Writing is what lights my soul, it’s what I would do (and in fact do!) for no money. I’m not sure if this message is what was intended from Lent, but it’s a good lesson all the same. Happy Easter everybody!


Lent Half Way Point: Laetare Sunday

Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam


We Catholics often get a bum rap about having a rigid religion, from inside and outside the membership.  If you want to project a stern religious environment, there are few stock characters as reliable as the strict nun.  Also, thanks to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, American Catholicism is often out of step with the rest of the world, including Pope Francis.  Catholicism is often associated with a cultural conservatism and rigidity that undermine some of the more interesting and human aspects of the Church.

Take Laetare Sunday, a most Roman Catholic notion.  Basically it is the half way point through lent and it is meant to be a time of celebration, or to use the Latin translation: Rejoice!  While Sundays during Lent are not part of the 40 days of observance, the intention of Laetare is to pretty much take it to that next level.  Think about that for a second.  In the middle of this period of fasting, penance, reflection and alms giving, we have set aside a day to not just ease up on our practices, which Sundays are for, but to, in fact, rejoice.  I don’t know about you, but rejoice has a pretty powerful connotation.  It’s more than just an extra donut on Sunday.  I don’t know if it goes all the way to a Carnival kind of level, but pretty close.  If I were to put a song to it, or a moment it would be something akin to that release of joy when the game winning hit is struck, or more long lasting when Phish have built up an amazing jam, and then releasing it at that right moment and the entire crowd cheers.  It is that euphoria of the moment, but then that joyous time after, that afterglow.

I’ll admit, mostly because of my wife giving me grief about it, I pretty much keep up with my Lenten practices on Sundays, the consequences of being a pastor’s kid I suppose.  What’s funny is that I haven’t really missed my social media outlets even on Sundays.  There have been a few times that I’ve had a quip or seen something I wanted to share, but the daily (in twitter’s case, constant) checking of sites has not been a missed chore.  As a matter of fact, this past Laetare Sunday, when I was rejoicing in an absolutely fabulous way by playing golf, I actually missed mass.  Not just missed it because I was golfing, but missed it as an experience.  With the kids in CCD, I tend to get to mass much more frequently and since the turn of the year, we’ve been going pretty regularly.  It’s gotten back to routine and during Lent I’ve been particularly enjoying it.  I don’t regret golfing, not by a long shot, but I wish I could have added to a joyful day by attending the celebration in church.  Something to remember come next year.


The Second Week of Lent:Transfiguration

One of the great things about Lent is the Gospels associated with the season.  We get the same stories, reaffirming Jesus’ journey to his death and key moments in the establishment of the faith of the apostles and by temporal extension, us.  This past Sunday was the story of the transfiguration of Jesus.  I’ve always found this story to be one of the more interesting passages of the gospel.  It is Jesus revealing himself to his followers ultimately showing them his true essence, that of the divine.  I especially like the description of  ” no fuller on earth can white them,” kind of the Mr. Sparkle of the 1st century.


I find myself dealing with this concept of transformation in recent weeks.  As I reflect more on Lent, write more about it, and at the same time write on other topics, I’m realizing that not only has writing been a constant in my life, it is something I am, a writer.  I think the big realization came when I was talking to my mom about something I wrote.  I was genuinely touched that my mom read something of mine and that she liked it.  I mentioned the podcast I do (The History of the United States! go take a listen!) and she just asked if I got paid anything.  The answer as most people with a blog or podcast know, is no I don’t get paid.  Mind, it wasn’t a judgmental kind of question, just a curious one, but it did lead to other thinking.  I seriously thought, “why do I do this?” I won’t say it’s a need or a complusion or even a love, but it is a joy.  I honestly don’t care if I get paid or not, I’ll still do it.

Having said that, I wouldn’t say no to a writing gig that pays.  What I’ve found with getting paid, however, is that the patron is apt to call the tune.  I don’t know, seriously, if I could do that.  I love to read, watch, listen to people talk about writing.  So many of them seem to be able to compartmentalize it, make it a job.  I don’t think I could.  At the risk of sounding very vain, I like to write what I write and not what someone wants me to write.  Especially at this point in my life.  I put the final period on the dissertation, that great opus of trying to impress three people, and I just don’t have the desire to go back to it, get more feedback from an editor and rehash it all again.  I just can’t see the creativity in that.  I suppose there isn’t a lot of creativity in writing reviews of Phish concerts and White Sox ballpark food, but it still is mine.

And isn’t that what a professional writer would do?  Give their big project some legs, make it work for them as well as work on new things.  I tell students all the time that editing is part of writing.  I was talking to friend the other day about the division between work and other stuff.  We share a diversity of interests, though different in their approach.  We work, we write and we podcast.  I asked if he would change the relationship between work and the other stuff.  Let’s face it, work takes up a lot of that time.  The other things are on the fringe.

In a way, I’m making a living on the fringe.  Yeah, I like my job and where I work, not things I take lightly.  But I won’t say it feeds my soul.  It isn’t where I feel inspired.  And that is where this idea of transformation comes into play.  I’ve been satisfied with this fringe existence, but I can feel dissatisfaction creeping in on me.  It’s only a glimpse, that dazzling white, but I can’t unsee it either.


A Week in and I’m Just Fine

A week into Lent 2015 and I’m feeling pretty good.  I won’t say that I don’t miss my social media outlets, but it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be.  As far as what has been the hardest platform to do without, I’d have to go with Twitter.  I really missed it during the Academy Awards.  Good, snarky comments are always fun during award shows.  When baseball is officially back, I will still have a week or two to go until Easter so that is going to be rough.


I don’t miss Facebook as much as I thought I would.  Though I do miss keeping tabs on some of my favorite folks, it really hasn’t felt like a void.  I can definitely see just turning it off during election season.  I do have a fun project in mind for Facebook after Easter.  I would like to see if there is a way to collect a series of updates and make them one blog or something or other.  But first I need to make the status updates.

The true killer has been the treats at work.  I’m happy to report that I haven’t broken as of yet, but it is hard.  Two days donuts were in the office and another day a student brought in homemade brownies.  I mean, COME ON! Am I made of stone!?! Thinking about that for a second, three out of five work days thus far during Lent there have been treats around.  No wonder I can’t lose any weight.  It is amazing too, how temptation has a way of finding us.

I have really been enjoying, however, the Lenten observance my employer has provided this year.  If you are looking for a quick, easy and very good way to get back to prayer and reflection, I encourage you to visit Igniting Our Values.  It shares each days gospel, reflections from Jesuits and lay people and also offers some multimedia bits as well to help and inspire reflection.  I’ve particularly enjoyed the music provided on the Spotify playlist, beajesuit.  Give it a lesson if you’re into that sort of thing.

A week in, and I’m feeling it.  I think at this point last year, everything had already gone to shit.  There is something about making a good start that helps me keep moving.  A spiritual and metaphysical kind of Newton’s Law.  Here’s to staying in spiritual motion.  Have a good week everyone.

A Real Lenten Challenge

Two years ago I wrote about my enjoyment of Lent, or perhaps better said the benefits of the practices of Lent.  All of that still holds true.  I still like to balance my practice between deepening spirituality, self-sacrifice and self-improvement.  Hopefully as the sacrificing and improving are going on, I’m also thinking about a greater connection to my faith.  It doesn’t always work.  I sometimes fall and give in to temptation and forget the whole thing.  Admittedly, and probably why I’m writing this now, I am genuinely nervous about what I plan to do this year.  It ranks right up there with giving up sugar and sports media.  Both were hard to do and only one has sorta kinda lasted (hint it isn’t the sugar.)


So what is it going to be? Two big things.  One was what I gave up on last year, treats at work.  Dear God, that was tough.  It is amazing how much food is on offer at the office.  I haven’t ever really put it to the test, but I bet I could do pretty well just scrounging around the kitchenettes on the various floors.  And I do mean well.  Many of the food choices that come my way are pretty high end and highly caloric.  Mostly post-catering grub but someone, myself included, bring in treats.

The second is a big challenge.  I’m going to give up social media.  Now, there are some parameters of what is and is not included.  The biggies (at least for me) are definitely out; no Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr all gone.  I don’t do much on other platforms, but still no Instagram, Pinterest, and anything else that comes to mind.  E-mail doesn’t count and nor does blogging.  Hey, my spiritual journey, my rules.  No, the only interaction, and no Catholic Sunday exception, will be to post blogs on the various platforms, nothing else; drop the links and get out of Dodge.

Believe it or not, the two are linked.  From two very different sources, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Dave Ramsey, both used the idiom, ” X is a good servant but is a cruel master.”  In both cases, I’ve found myself eating food and checking social media, more out of a compulsion or boredom than anything else.  It definitely wasn’t out of a need.  I obviously love food and social media, but I’ve been feeling more servant than master lately and that isn’t a good feeling.  Seriously, how much hummus does one person need? And how many checks on Twitter is too many in one day? I don’t know the answer to that one, but it felt like too many recently.

I’m doing some other stuff too; some physical stuff and the Jesuits are doing a cool Lenten practice, ironically enough, via e-mail and a website.  But neither of those brings the excitement or fear that the denial aspect of this year does.  I’ve got a feeling this won’t be the last blog about either of these practices.  I don’t know which withdrawal will be worse, but I’ll be sure to share.

I Can Do It. Maybe. Sometimes. Well, Not Everything

I’ve been doing some serious de-cluttering around Chez Kaufmak. Over the last couple of weekends I have cleaned my kids bedrooms with a ruthlessness that I didn’t think I possessed. Old toys, old clothes, strange random bits of paper are all history now. It isn’t stopping with the kids either. I’ve ben through my closet, my comic books, my books. The scythe was not to be denied.  All of this new space, this new clean house has also spilled over to my, what is it, exactly, creative life? writing life? Whatever. I realize that some cleaning needs to happen in this arena as well.


I’ve always felt like a bit of a dilettante when it comes to writing and other creative endeavors.  I like writing the blogs but I think about writing other things too.  The idea of screenplay has intrigued me for years as has a novel of some sort.  Of course I’m trained as an academic and I do like researching and writing in a strictly non-fiction sort of way.  And that is just the writing side of things.  I sometimes think of doing more stand-up comedy.  I’ve been enjoying the hell out of doing the podcast.  I would like to make improvements/tweaks to that to make it a better product.  The one major drawback to doing the podcast is that it reminds me how much I miss teaching.

Speaking of being an academic and working in higher education, the killer is that I like my job and I want to do more stuff with that too.  I went to a presentation the other day and the focus was on how to recruit and engage more students in doing research as undergraduates.  It was a great discussion, but very science heavy.  Getting students in a lab and directing them dovetails nicely with the natural sciences, but how do we get students outside of the hard sciences equally engaged?  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I went to a documentary screening about urban gardens in Detroit.  What else can we do to revitalize our cities? We can’t nor should we make all reaches of a city into a pasture.

Which of course leads to politics, especially local politics.  There are so many things, SO MANY THINGS just in Chicago to want to affect real change.  An elected school board, curbing gun violence, homelessness, preserving the lake shore are just a few of the items that make me want to get involved.

And then there is just fun stuff.  I would love to get back to playing guitar in some fashion.  I enjoy playing Magic and would like to get better at that too, or at least win a match or two during Friday Night Magic.

You get the point.  This is just the “me” stuff too, this isn’t even bringing in being a parent and a husband which are pretty awesome.  I wish I could be laser-focused on one particular thing, but that just isn’t me.  I wish I could just let some things go, not be nagged by the feeling of “What If?” or “Why Not?”  I just can’t get it out of my head sometimes, that I need to finish something I started.  That to work and try, to try and fail is not only ok, but rewarding in its own right. (Geez, I didn’t even get to physical fitness goals.) I think I have some priorities set, have put some ideas and such away after trial and error, or lack of desire.  If I could design a perfect day it would involve a good dose of writing(lord knows what though), some teaching and some kind of activism.  What do you think that is filed under?

The Moving Target and the North Star

Sorry, been a little busy lately.  Got a new job you see, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied with that as you might guess.  As I start to settle in, get used to the new office and new department, a time of introspection has started about career, life and personal goals.  If you’ve read this blog at all, you know a fair amount about me, what I’m passionate about, to what I aspire.  Taking a new job makes me think about where I am both personally and professionally and where those things intersect.


When I started blogging, way back in the heady days of MySpace, I was still working on the Ph. D and was a new(ish) father.  I thought of my career was on a certain trajectory, a traditional scholarly path; get the Ph. D, get a job, work toward tenure and there you go.  That path became more and more unrealistic for a number of reasons.  Yes the job market was, and is still, very bad.  Pick up the Chronicle of Higher Education and there will probably be at least one story about the dire straights of the academic profession, more than likely more than one story or column.  Talk to most academics/professors and it seems like the work in a gulag, not a university.  I dropped my share of CV’s prior to finishing the dissertation, in many cases I didn’t even receive a rejection letter.  I remember as I was going through the process, I had an opportunity to teach 3 courses a semester and one in J term for $10,000.  For about a thousand less, but no 2 hour commute(each way no less) and a tuition stipend, I got a dissertation fellowship and skipped the “opportunity.”

I eventually got a job in higher education, even before I finished the Ph. D, but it was on the administrative side of things.  As it turns out, teaching experience, if you actually like students, is a great prep for advising.  It was a lot like teaching, except without all of grading.  However, it lacked that overall exchange of knowledge that I truly enjoy.  I did get to share a lot of experience, but that is different, still satisfying, but not as exciting.  I think most of all when I teach, I love to tell a story, to share with students what excites me and still inspires and challenges me.  Advising had many other pluses, but it didn’t quite scratch that itch.

A couple of months ago, I moved on to the aforementioned new position.  It has new challenges, even a couple of opportunities to teach, all to the good.  I don’t have as much contact with students, but it is still a component.  What put the brakes on the writing, beyond the new job and acclimation, was an urge to reexamine why I do all of this.  Including a full-time job, a full-time family I write this blog, write another blog, try to do a podcast on a semi-regular basis* and slowly putting more and more work into bigger projects, I kind of hit upon the questions, “what is the point to all of this? why am I doing this at all?”

*After almost a month of trying to set up a new website to host the podcast, I finally got it working in the order I want.  If you’re interested in US history, like my dulcet tones and if I dare say, a dash of wit, go check it out at History of the United States.

It is probably no coincidence that this was happening around my 45th birthday.  I think that number is quite the generous bulls eye of mid-life. I think the number signifies the end of  a big chunk of life to be examined, 25-45.  And looking to the future, that next block 45-65 (the historic retirement age) is looming.  After hitting 45, it is amazing how fast 20 years can go and will go, probably even faster.  So, I’ve been looking back and looking forward.

What kind of got the dust off of this post was a friend who mentioned his desire to stay true to his artistic northern star.  I was left wondering, “what is that for me?”  Pretty much all of those things I listed, blogs, podcast and something to really sink my teeth into.  What makes it tough is that a full-time job is a pain in the ass when it comes to writing for free, no matter how fulfilling it can be.  As the Grateful Dead sang, “keep your day job until your night job pays.”  I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but I know I don’t want to quit.

A final piece of the puzzle that has come into focus, or better put, placed in the right spot were the dual feelings of inspiration and realization.  First, the inspiration: my friend Jennie just published a book and is a critically acclaimed graphic novel author.  I was sure she was doing the writing thing full-time at this point.  Nope, still has that day job.  Not to find comfort in her misery of a full-time job (for the record, Jennie is not miserable) but knowing she is still doing it filled me with hope that I can keep at old things and try new things.  That I can stick to my artistic north.

The realization came as I was reading a blog from a person who hasn’t been blogging much lately.  I posted a comment about the feeling that I know how she feels, that I just can’t seem to get it going anymore.  The realization was that I’m holding back.  When I started writing a blog, it was reflective, personal, but also timely.  It was what was on my mind and influencing me at that time.  I still have my set things to write about, Phish, the White Sox, general randomness but a part of my fourth step that I still see as a challenge was the phrase, “stand up and tell the truth.”  I don’t feel like I’ve been doing that lately.

Finally, in August, I threatened to start writing something on these pages of a fictional nature.  I even wrote the first installment, but it hasn’t left the draft box on the dashboard.  I’m not ready to tell you all what my big project is just yet, but it’s fictional too.  Basically I need practice writing outside of my comfort zone.  In a weird way, to get back to telling stories.  So, another list of goals, another writing schedule and another chance to keep writing.  Watch this space.