Archive for June, 2012

That I May Ever Retain the Spirit of Youth

– Topher Endress

In our culture, it has become the norm for our favorite men to be the stereotypical man-child figure.  Think Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Stepbrothers or Bluto in Animal House – the guys who are physically grown, but emotionally (and sometimes intellectually) they stayed at age 14.  Far more than a single generation of guys are growing up and looking to these men, as often the life of the party, as role models.  Modern humor, fashion and even friendship have been influenced by these “men,” but how responsible is it to live out the rest of our lives as if we never grew out of our adolescent immaturity?  And how else can we retain the spirit of youth without acting like a man-child?

As Roland Maxwell (USC ’22) wrote into our creed, retaining the spirit of youth comes through continued relationships with our past.  Working with children this summer at a SeriousFun camp, I can tell you that being around 60 preteens will force that spirit out as well.  Being with these kids as they rediscover the world around them is a moving and transformational experience, and in these past few weeks, I believe the spirit of youth has been made much more clear to me.  Rather than stunting one’s growth, our creed is emphasizing just the opposite.

So many of the kids at a SeriousFun camp come with a small view of the world, having lived being held back by physical limitations and illnesses.  The goal of camp is to give them a week to reclaim what they deserve.  In the time they spend here, the fishing, swimming, archery, games and crafts really take a backseat to grander ideas like growing, independence and forgetting that they have a disease.  As a seasonal staff member, I feel incredibly blessed to get to watch the internal growth that some of these kids go through in just seven days.  What I am privileged to see is a microcosm of childhood development – the rediscovery of wonder and the magic of learning something for the first time.  Childhood is not about staying put; childhood is running around and being messy, finding joy in learning both about the world around you and the world inside of you.  There is a constant growth in kids and I cannot believe that Brother Maxwell intended for that to be ignored.

Reminiscing about college fun with my brothers will remind me of my time spent as an undergrad.  But pushing forward and taking in the world with fresh eyes and a hungry inner drive will always be the key to retaining the spirit of youth.  Men of Character have no need for reliving their adolescence – we should all be too busy searching for that next magic moment when we connect one more dot between ourselves and our world.  Let us live out our creed and go forth, eager to live and experience, quick to give into curiosity, on constant guard against slowing down and move ahead with life.  That is what children are meant to do.

Improve Your Handwriting

– Topher Endress

So far at camp, I have been given many things.  It started with a name tag, then a camp shirt, a walkie, and sweet bag to hold all my Head Leader swag (sunscreen and bug spray, mostly).  I’ve even been given training materials, manuals, a penguin-themed clipboard, gaming books and programming guides.  Looking outside the box, you could say that I’ve been given a chance to learn and a chance to practice leadership principles (plus a sweet role in the skits as Prince Charming).  And while it’s all great and helpful to be given these tools to help me play leader for these counselors, I think the most memorable thing I’ve been given so far this training week was a simple note from my supervisor.

I was going to lead a training session one night, and the supervisor wanted me to have all the necessary knowledge in front of me, so she wrote out a quick guide to give me.  There was nothing inspirational about it; nothing on it was worth framing or tattooing onto me forever. But still, that little note impressed me.  Instead of simply copying her existing notes (admittedly, more efficient), she chose to take some time and hand-write her suggestions and tips.

It may seem unimportant and not worth the effort, but your willingness to commit your values to even the little things in life is what separates the Men from the boys.  A hand-written note shows that you care; it shows that the recipient is worth the investment. After being here for less than a week, I’ve already begun to look for ways to encourage my leaders. We all need a push in life, whether we’re working to bring magic in the lives of sick kids or we’re just trying to pass Econ. Writing notes that show you care helps your brothers grow in confidence into the Men of Character that Phi Kappa Tau calls them to be. Maybe a text, facebook message or phone call would work, but if you want to impress upon someone that you really mean what you say, pick up a pen and start practicing your cursive.

I will be hand-writing notes to all of my leaders tonight. Who can you write some encouragement to? What will you say?

Knowing vs. Experiencing

– Topher Endress

So right far this summer, the camp Phi Tau count is: 3 Summer Staff, 1 Sweetheart Summer Staff (Becca, who gives the world’s best massages), 1 week-long volunteer, 2 day-long volunteers and 1 week-long Sweetheart volunteer. It is great to see so many guys (and the girls) out here living out what they profess to hold as important and supporting our philanthropy with their time. However, I do feel slightly awkward every time I meet a new brother – not because we aren’t each gregarious, but because I have not been clued in to things like the grip or answers to questions only full brothers would know. On the first day of training, a fellow Phi Tau asked me something that had a specific answer, which I of course did not have. Was it awkward? Yes. Uncomfortable? Yes. Demeaning, even? Yes.

I, as well as most of Lambda Colony, am a lowly associate. When I am put into a situation where I cannot connect to my brothers the way our fraternity intends us to, I am obviously and rightly put off. But while working with these men, I have come to realize that no secret knowledge will ever come close to the glue of experiencing daily life as a Phi Tau.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been through Ritual; once we got down to actually talking about who we were and what we were doing with our lives, our individual experiences illustrated a great point – being a Phi Tau is not based on a single event but is instead a daily walk as a Man of Character. The instant bond that could have been shared through common knowledge is nowhere near the level of intimacy that the bond of true brotherhood is. While throwing the grip would have been cool, it would really have had no impact on the relationship. Sure, I would have liked to properly respond to the question, but the immediacy of my connections to the other Phi Taus was enough to prove to me just how palpable to bond of brotherhood really is.

As we finish out our summer, let’s not fall into a trap of thinking we are not Phi Kappa Tau without the Ritual. Sure, it is important and an event to remember for the rest of our lives, but your experiences as a colony are in no way invalidated by lack of knowledge. Our experience puts us on par with any other chapter out there, so stay confident and proud of where you come from in the Phi Tau family.

Genius on Hold – a Review of the Latest Beach Boys Album

– Topher Endress

Most of you probably know that I am slightly obsessed with the Beach Boys.  They aren’t just my favorite band, they weren’t just my first concert (yes, a 7 year-old me asked for concert tickets for my birthday.  I was born more hipster than you), they are a way for me to connect to ideas too big to give words to.  And so, while I naturally have been listening to their newest album nonstop since it came out yesterday, I will admit that Brian Wilson was writing better music in the 60’s than he is today*.  Comparing the incommensurately (English majors – it isn’t a literary oxymoron if you use the contrast as hyperbole) great Pet Sounds, the surprisingly innovative Today! or even the unfortunately unheralded Sunflower to That’s Why God Made the Radio leaves the listener looking for a little more that isn’t quite there.  There are moments of brilliance that prove that Wilson still can write better than anyone else (arranging achingly beautiful harmonies and excellent wall-of-sound backings reminiscent of the sounds that brought songs like Help Me, Rhonda and I Get Around to number 1), several points of the album are cheesy and overly produced.  There are points that sound like Kokomo instead of Caroline, No, which is a travesty.

These ‘low’ moments point back to a time when Wilson was still a prisoner of his prolific drug addictions and had no involvement with America’s best selling band throughout the late 80’s and into the 90’s – a time when John Stamos of “Full House” fame was allowed to act as a member of the group, synthesized steel drums were the norm and melodies so cheesy Kenny G would refuse to play them were somehow made worse by gag-inducing lyrics.  This was a time when the other band members were allowed to write the music – but they really should have stuck just to singing.  And yet, for as bad as that time period was for the band, it isn’t the end of the world to hear some of it echoed on this new album.

At first, I wasn’t willing to give them a pass on the stylistic cheese, despite the fact that the youngest member is 69.  There are too many great high points to refute the thought that the Beach Boys simply couldn’t create incredible music anymore.  But the more I listened, the more I came to a realization that skewed my whole perspective.  Brian Wilson has had what may have been the best ten years of his life in the past decade.  From recovering physically and mentally enough not just to go on tour, but to make new music, to producing his 30+ year project (see below) in 2004, to reuniting with his bandmates after nasty legal battles, Wilson has enjoyed an incredible reversal of fortune (all while being lauded more so than ever in the music industry for his music and personality).  There doesn’t seem to be much of a chance that he hasn’t heard about how iconic he has become, or at least how revered his music is.  And yet, while Wilson was enjoying his new career with a new band, he came back to reunite with the same Beach Boys who had mocked his songwriting and embroiled him in legal battles.

Now, if that were me, I hope that I would decent enough to forgive and move forward.  But knowing that you are a musical genius and still allowing someone like Mike Love to write songs for your album?  I can’t imagine how hard it would be not to want to control everything that went into this; after all, the Wilson-led Beach Boys created songs like God Only Knows while the Love-led band made music so awful I refuse to acknowledge its existence (as does most of the world – it sold very poorly).  But still, this new album has Mike Love writing songs and some cheesy 1980’s synth anyway.  And I think I know why.

Music is important.  Music can make your day a little brighter, can enhance those feelings of nostalgia or can help you come to terms with breaking up with someone.  It can give you a reason to cry, or a reason to dance close to your girlfriend.  You can turn to it to give a voice to things that would otherwise go unsaid or unnoticed.  But music can never be a conversation.  Music cannot sit with you in a moment of grief.  Music cannot dance with you at a party.  I am confident that Brian Wilson could have written a masterpiece that stood the test of time (because he already has).  But Brian Wilson knows that music is always a servant and never the master.  This album is instead about being in community with his family – the Beach Boys ohana, if you will.  By letting the others take some reins, Brian is choosing to put relationships over music immortality.  And if a 70 year old man thinks that spending time with the people he loves is more important than returning to the highest level of his profession, I say there’s probably some wisdom in that.  This album’s greatness is in its acceptance of mediocrity for the sake of friends.

*I am counting SMiLE as being mostly written in 1967, despite its 2004 release date.  It remains the only album of this Millenium that I have heard that can compete with Pet Sounds for sheer musical genius.

Word Up

– Topher Endress

Wordle: Phi Kappa Tau speech

I really like Wordles. Not just because they are visually appealing, but because they can often point out some pretty important trends in our language. In high school English, you probably moved on from grammar into studies of tone and diction. Much like your teachers, I find the words we use and how we use them to be incredibly important.

Wordles take the words and phrases in a given set and increase the size based on frequency. In the above, I put in my senior speech and looked at what terms popped up. Taking out those small, common words (and, the, a, it, an, etc.), it looks like “love,” “Phi Kappa Tau,” “remember” and “Man of Character” are pretty predominant. I can also see words like “risk,” “creed” and “relationship” scattered throughout. Sure, this looks nice – but the cake Wordle is a lie. I had to manually add more words in and take others out so that the words I wanted emphasized would be more frequent, and I had to delete some words that didn’t seem to fit.

I get a chance to go through and edit the language in posts like these, but none of us will have that same opportunity in the midst of a conversation. What we say to others matters, and we need to start thinking about how we come across to people in different contexts. I know some of you are already thinking of Fall Rush, but far more important than what events you have are the conversations you have with recruits.

If you were to make a Wordle of your last few conversations, what would be emphasized? What are the words you use – are they building up your brothers, inspiring recruits or teaching your Little? Or, are your words trivial, mocking or hurtful? Think about how you sound to others, because even a Man of Character can be undermined by careless language.

A Housekeeping Note

– Topher Endress

I have been responsible for the bulk of the blog up to this point, and it therefore made sense to make it known when I was not the author of a post.  However, I’ve decided that while I will continue to write for as long as I’m allowed, there are several others who are capable of teaching and inspiring with their diatribes prose.  As such, I’m just going to put names at the top of each post to give credit to the authors and limit guest posts to non-Lambda members.  As this blog continues to grow (and as Lambda continues to grow), it will be an easier and more sensible way of designating blogs.

I fully expect that several of you reading have blog ideas.  I want you to start writing and submitting them – this is not my blog, this is our blog.  I will happily take any submissions and post them on here and Nick, as the new Chaplain, now has access to the site and can post as well.  I’m not stepping aside, I’m simply expecting others to step up as well.  From the other guest posts I’ve seen, it should be a step in the right direction.

Class of 1950

– Mr. James Douglas Camanse

As you all know I am now back at home on the beautiful island of Maui in the island state of Hawaii.  Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking, there goes Nalu again, throwing his awesome state into all of our faces.  Trust me though, there’s a point to it I promise.  Ohana, or family, in the Hawaiian culture is something that is highly valued.  Unlike the traditional meaning of “family,” it is much more encompassing than just those with which you share the same blood.  It includes many of your close friends throughout your island community.  That is because in our culture, we’ve always believed that it truly does take a community to raise a child.  Therefore, many of us are family.

Now, how does this tie into Phi Tau?  Well, from the moment that we were associated, though we will soon be initiated as ‘official’ brothers, we joined the nationwide Phi Tau family.  Our Phi Tau family was born 1906 in Ohio and is still growing today.  The community that raises us includes much more than just the elders and advisors that lie in West Lafayette; rather, everyone that volunteers with and works for nationals to create the programs that train us to be the leaders that we are today is part of our family.  Within our Phi Tau Ohana, we have our Lambda Ohana.  Our Lambda Ohana was born in 1920, and other than a little hiccup from 2006-2010, it too has started off strong and growing.

Above all though, for us, an Ohana that is much, much larger than our Phi Tau Ohana is our Purdue Ohana.  Yes, being a part of a fraternity could possibly be one of the greatest experiences of your life, but none of it would be possible without a university.  For us, that university is Purdue.  I am damn proud to call myself a Boilermaker.  As I was on the first leg of my journey home to the Sandwich Islands last evening – a Southwest Airlines direct service from Indianapolis to Las Vegas – the connection of my love for Purdue and the vastness of its Ohana finally hit me.  I sat in the first row, port side, aisle seat, and started talking with the guy who sat in the middle of myself and this elder man who took the window seat.

During the conversation we got to talking about where I went to school and it came out that I was attending Purdue.  The old man, soon after hearing that, interrupted our conversation saying, “Did I hear Purdue?”  I then said, “Yes, sir.”  He then extended his hand an said, “Civil engineering, class of 1950.”  I didn’t realize this till I was boarding my next flight, but his class is the class that donated the money for the CL50 lecture hall.  That’s was a tangent, but what I want you to take away from this is that remember that you are always part of an Ohana, and whether it is Phi Tau or Purdue,  know that you are cared for.  We are all behind you and rooting for you to succeed!  Hail Purdue!!