Tuesday, February 5, 2013


In 2004, I had returned to school after quitting my job as a mechanic at Goodyear.  I started at Scottsdale Community College with some basic classes: Introduction to Business, Accounting 101, and Microeconomics.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a major or even a career, but I decided what every undecided undergraduate might do at a community college: pursue a business degree. Plus, that pleased my dad.  For the past ten years, my dad had told me to choose a trade ― carpentry, automotive, masonry, electrical ― and he facilitated many moments for me to engage with these trades. My family is working-class, and in more ways than simply occupation. But working-class work was readily available, through my dad’s friends or my relatives or the weekend projects my dad always had lined up.  In the summer of 1996, my dad planned to carpet and drywall the basement.  He wanted to have an area for me and my brother to play, as well as a place where he could set up a TV for when he felt the need to escape from my mom.  Thus, at fourteen years old, I assisted him in finishing the basement.  My brother was eleven years old, and for some reason was not included in the manual labor (although I remember having to help my dad at that age).  So, it was me and my dad. 

After we drywalled, carpeted, and trimmed the basement, in July 1996 Naperville and Aurora got 17 inches of rain.  The streets and backyards were three to four feet deep and basements flooded.  Our basement had eight feet of water.  I remember people canoeing through backyards, riding bikes in the street, and kids using sleds to float around.  I borrowed a friend’s sled and floated around watching the canoes.  My imagination drifted along with the canoes.  I thought about what I would do if I could just paddle along in a canoe. Yes, adventure to navigate the waters, but I was more interested in the time I would have to think.  Even at fourteen, I would yearn to simply think, primarily about purposes and what would be considered abstract ideas.  I can’t recall what exactly were my questions or inquires, but I remember thinking that I couldn’t talk about such things with my dad. My questions and inquires would have been conceived as too “ideal” or “impractical” by my dad. As I would come to understand years later, he wasn’t interested in philosophy, literature, or the arts. 

After pumping the eight feet of water out of our basement, my dad and I pulled the drywall and carpet and spent the next month redoing the basement. Redrywalling, recarpeting, retrimming.

After I graduated high school, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona and attended Universal Technical Institute for an associates in Automotive Technology.  In other words, an eleven-month program that would enable me to get a decent job as a mechanic.  After graduating, I got a job at Goodyear Tires, where I worked fifty-five hours a week on the clock for three years.  Four months of the year was engulfed with 110-115 temperatures. The shop didn’t have air-conditioners, only swamp coolers, so every summer I felt like my brain was frying for ten hours a day.

Eventually, I said I was done working on cars.  I don’t remember the incident or moment that made me quit Goodyear and go back to school, but I know it had something to do with not being able to have stimulating conversations with my co-workers.  Our shop was busy, so there was really never any downtime. Plus, my co-workers weren’t intellectuals (which I didn’t identify at the time, but years later).  I tried several times to talk about various philosophical topics (or really anything other than cars), but I always hit a brick wall.

After that first semester at SCC, I felt a need to explore other subjects. Introduction to Business, Accounting 101, and Microeconomics weren’t cutting it for me. I wanted the intellectual conversations I had tried to have at Goodyear.  The next semester I enrolled in Introduction to Philosophy, World Religions, Humanities Survey, and Ethics in Business.

It was in my Humanities Survey course that I was introduced to Descartes by my teacher Sandra Desjardins.  She lent me her copies of Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method.  I melted.  I was fascinated with Descartes approach to thinking. Considered the “father of modern philosophy,” he would often sit in front of his fireplace and think. Arguably, he was one of the first to question what is real.  In another post, I will explore in-depth Descartes argument, but what I want to underscore is that I was taken by Descartes.  I was affectively moved, epiphany-induced, avatar-activated.

I also decided I wasn’t going to major in Business. When I told my dad that, he, once again, asked what my plan was.  I said I didn’t know. He said I should go back to working on cars.  I said I wasn’t interested in such work.  So what are you going to major in?  Has to be something practical.  I mean, what is it you want to do?  I said I wanted to sit on a stool in an orange grove and think. You’re ridiculous. I want to simply think.  And eat oranges. Oranges were/are tasty for me, and nearly every morning I drank, and still do, a glass of orange juice, as well as at night.  Descartes got me to think about thinking.  The layers of thinking intrigued me.  Years later, my grandma would tell me “Phil, life is like an onion.  You just gotta peel back the layers one at a time.”  What my grandma left out of that advice is that “sometimes you weep.” Nevertheless, I consider thinking is onion-like: peeling back layers of thoughts. I would say also 75% of my meals have onions included, either caramelized or raw.

An orange grove.  In 2011, I moved to Gainesville, Florida to attend the University of Florida.  Florida, the home of oranges.  I don’t live in an orange grove and maybe a stool awaits in some grove I haven’t yet literally visited.  Had I wanted to be a philosopher?  Why did I go into an English program?  Retrospectively, I know I switched my track to Rhetoric and Composition from American Studies because the former connects tightly with philosophical thought and critical theory.  But I’m not as well-read as most of my peers in philosophy.  And yet, most of my friends back home used to call, and still call me Phil-osopher. But I’m no philosopher.  I just like to think.  Yet the more I think, the more I realize I’m not that great of a thinker. 

philo- "loving"   sophia- "knowledge, wisdom" 

In the last chapter in Avatar Emergency, Ulmer remarks, “That was my decision, to be a scholar.” Ulmer became what he was through his decision.  He is owning up to his decision, whether or not that decision rendered him to become what he had hoped. Have I owned up to my decisions?  To attend graduate school with not being as well-read as others?  Do I actually belong in graduate school?  I thought I had figured out my community, my family: academics.  Since I have cast out and alienated myself from my blood family, I look to developing a new family (academics). But my thinking isn't up to par with others in the program....so what the hell am I doing here?

More importantly for the seminar, what does all this have to do with my/our project?  What the hell did I just ramble on about?  Why does it matter and (how) does it connect to the Superfund site?  What exactly is my allegory of prudence?  The decision to go into teaching and academia?  To pursue a degree in the Humanities (against my dad’s wishes)?  What does Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method have to do with all of this? Descartes articulated firmly a mind and body binary (and most of modern philosophy for the next three hundred years or so perpetuated such a paradigm).  Maybe I need to run a CATTt on my individual experience. Contrast: Mind/body binary. Analogy: ???? Theory: Ulmer and embodiment.  Target: Become what you are. tale: traveling thoughts and affects.

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