Modern Day Warrior Project

Commentary from Pat Lawlor’s social writing Project, Modern Day Warrior will also be posted on this page.

Post 10: Attempt at Etiquette Requires More Effort

Giving up meat, my iPhone, social media, and above all, alcohol proved to be relatively easy challenges. In all those situations I was giving something up.

But this month, I am actually taking something on, which is proving to be the most difficult of all tasks. I am failing miserably at etiquette month.

Not that I am eating lunch with mud-soaked boots propped up on the table or sleeping in class, but I am failing to correct behaviors that I have had for probably most of my life. I have not been able to keep my mouth shut when frustrated with things.

I have let my language slip (especially when on deadline in the Beacon newsroom), and I have been sarcastic. What I find difficult is to change the way I socialize with friends. Some of the common social bonds that friends have are laughing at the expense of one another, poking fun at trivial things about one another, and just generally bantering within the group.

The worst part is, the second something unsavory comes out of my mouth, I know that I am failing at etiquette. I know that when I rant about a frustration with someone or something that is annoying me, I am not practicing proper etiquette.

Also, when sitting down or speaking with someone, multi-tasking with my phone has been a problem. What is clear is that adding something to a lifestyle is significantly more difficult.

Taking away even cherished items or practices are relatively easy. It’s like locking something up and throwing away the key. But when you have to do just the opposite, the task becomes much more of a burden — something I should have recognized. Therefore, having placed my faith in the Modern Day Warrior project, I will extend my practice of etiquette until I feel that I have changed my lifestyle. As long as that may take, I will continue to remind myself what my obligations are.

Post 9: Mr. Manners

For those of you just jumping into this, this is my final month of the Modern Day Warrior project. It started off in September when I was a vegetarian for a month, then in October I gave up social media and my smart phone. The final “deprivation’ phase was not consuming alcohol for a month—a sobering and, well frankly sad month for a senior in college.

For the final phase of the project, I am taking something on. I am attempting to follow all rules and guidelines codified by the Emily Post Institute for etiquette.

Those of you who know me understand I can be very sarcastic, oftentimes cynical and sometimes judgmental—I guess you pick those traits up as a student journalist. To be fair, I consider myself polite most of the time. I address authority with respect, I hold doors, I am generally nice. But etiquette takes it a bit further, and I am learning just how to adapt it.

For starters I shouldn’t lie or be impolite, or say nasty things about others. (I already lied about three sentences ago, I am judgmental a lot of the time). A big part is just learning to bite my tongue in certain situations.

I am making a sincere effort to not look at my phone at meals, not slouch in my chair in classes, keep my elbows off the table, etc. But I find myself not able to adapt as easily. The phone I once gave up for a month is killing me. On Sunday I met my mother for breakfast, the whole time she had her phone out on the table, showing me things, texting. I laughed as I thought of the role reversal, and cringed when I could hear my phone buzzing on the wooden booth, wanting and needing to pick it up.

So starting next week, I won’t take my phone to classes; I will resist the urge to see who emailed me or texted me by keeping my phone in my room. I will watch my language, watch how I comment on things and try not to slouch in my 8 a.m. class.

I think by week four, I should really have the hang of this.

Post 8: Shhh Don’t Talk about Dependence

Many of us consider ourselves in control of our alcohol drinking. For the most part, we can handle it in moderation—so there’s that few times a semester that it gets out of control and our night is a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, we maintain the position that we are under control; we don’t have a drinking problem, we don’t have a dependence on alcohol.

Well, I argue there is a “secret” dependence on alcohol that many of us pretend does not exist. However for many of the alcohol drinking populous, whether you are a light, average, or heavy drinker, such a dependence does indeed exist. We look to alcohol after a long and stressful day of work, even if it is just a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. When we remove these subtle coping mechanisms how does it effect our emotional being? For many, without this end of the day release, we could be causing harm to our mental state, denying it a chance to vent.

Some would go as far to say they need alcohol to tolerate or be comfortable in social settings. If we turn to popular culture, Raj from the the show “The Big Bang Theory” can’t even speak to a woman until a lager lands on his lips.

Whether it falls on the dependence continuum or not, alcoholic beverages and the social settings are times that we cherish, and more often than not provide us with dialogue that is more apt to leave a lasting impression in our mind than say classroom conversation.

Think about this “healthy” dependence, but don’t discredit the negative effects of unsafe and irresponsible drinking.

Post 7: A Sobering Experience

Not drinking alcohol the last month of first semester of my senior year may seem a little crazy — well, it is. As far as drinking goes, those of us in college say that we do it regularly.

I am a non-discriminatory drinker. I enjoy beer, wine and hard alcohol pretty much equally. For beer, I go with the classic Budweiser; for wine I enjoy a chilled pinot grigio, and as far as liquor goes, Canadian Club with some ginger ale is my go-to beverage.

It is not so much not drinking alcohol that’s the painful part; it’s being around people who are drinking. It’s not that seeing friends drinking makes me want to drink and I can’t handle the pressure; rather, when people are drunk and you are not, things are a lot less funny and a lot more annoying. Drinkers are louder and more obnoxious when you are not drinking.

One thing drinking gives us in the social construct of college is confidence. After a few drinks our jokes become funnier, our claims truer and our statements bolder. This is, for some people, why they drink: social reasons. It is a reason to get together — the college environment’s water cooler. I have found it is harder to be as sociable if everyone is drinking and I am not. It is easier to bury my head in my iPhone, or sit on the computer.

It isn’t just college where people drink socially. People have been drinking alcohol for centuries. It’s an age-old tradition. We can make peace over a beer with a foe, we often meet our future wives or girlfriends (or husbands or boyfriends) at a bar, and having drinks with clients or colleagues can sometimes race us up the corporate ladder.

Sometimes it’s not for social reasons that we find ourselves with a glass in hand. Alcohol can be, for many of us, a stress reliever. After a long day, taking a seat on the couch with a drink can be a way to unwind or reflect on the day, remove ourselves from the fast paced lifestyle.

Another opportunity for drinking is dining. Depending on where I am and what I am eating, an alcoholic beverage goes very well with a meal. If I am wolfing down pizza or a burger a beer is the choice, but a glass of wine with a nice Italian dish can never go wrong.

Until Dec. 15, I’ll have to limit my beverage vices to coffee and tea. For those who know me, a cup of coffee is never out of my reach, so that won’t fare me too badly.

Post 6: Technology a Tool, Not a Toy

Not having my iPhone has made me understand why exactly we need such technology — all the time. The phone I operate on now barely does anything. Sure, it makes phone calls, the texting is a bit difficult, but I make do. But what does my phone not do that my iPhone does?

I can’t upload a breaking news story from the field, send tweets or Facebook alerts to readers to send them to an important news story on our website, or email from one of the many email accounts that I have. An essential part of the newspaper business today is integrated media.

The Beacon operates on four different platforms: print, website, Facebook and Twitter. When we have a breaking news story, like Hurricane Sandy reports or preparation alerts, we obviously cannot wait until the print edition to publish.

Integrating our message on various platforms allows us to reach more readers. If someone sees a tweet about Hurricane Sandy preparation, they can find a full story on our website. All of the platforms support each other. When one has a device that puts all of the platforms of an organization in the palm of his hand, there is nothing like it. When I have my iPhone I am obsessed with checking the amount of visitors on the The Beacon’s website every day. I like to see what search terms are bringing people to our site, and understanding what people want to read about. Those who know me best know that I can sometimes be annoyed with Facebook — I only got on it about a year ago.

I do like it for the most part, being able to keep in touch with people as well as having something I can go on when I need a guilty pleasure escape from whatever I am doing on. Sharing pictures and containing all those memories is an important feature as well.

When I gave up Twitter, I thought I would be so out of touch with the news. I get a lot of news and current events from the micro-blogs of Twitter. The brief messages tell me about as much content as I am often willing to read. So far, I have stayed pretty well informed about what’s going on — I have survived.

Next month, I will tackle the sum of all fears for any college senior — giving up alcohol. From Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, I will abstain from consuming any alcoholic beverages. I still plan to go out as normally and be social so I can understand what it is like for non-drinkers to be around that social scene. For the next few days — bring on the Canadian Club and Ginger Ale.

Post 5: Communication Breakdown

I am a week and a half into the second phase of the Modern Day Warrior project — depriving myself of my iPhone and social media. Social media includes my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, the three social media venues in which I participate; I have also locked up my Beacon-issued iPad, just to make sure I don’t get off too easy. Initially I thought the limited access to email was going to be tough. I get a slew of emails every day, and have four different accounts I check on my phone throughout the day.

People are used to me checking my email so frequently, because I reply quickly. That, however has not been so bad — in fact it is nice to be away from email for a little while. What is tough is the phone I have replaced my iPhone with. It is a Samsung flip phone that is basically counterintuitive.

Yes, I can still text during this month, but boy is it a pain. First, texting without a conversation thread is the worst — how am I supposed to remember what I said in the last text? I find myself going back to the outbox to check. Not to mention not having a keyboard. I have played around with the “Alpha” option (when you have to hit the five key three times to get an L), as well as the “T9 Word” option (when the keyboard attempts to decipher what you want to text by what keys you hit just once). But T9 has its fair share of problems — I mean who wants to type “zediog” instead of “wedding”?

Not being on Facebook or Twitter has not been that bad at all. I am sparing myself from seeing foolish webcam self-portraits that annoy me, Facebook statuses that make me cringe, and Tweets that kill my brain cells. I used to be kind of anti-social media. I just got a Facebook account about a year ago, a Twitter account a little before that. I made it awhile without both platforms, but I realized the importance they have when sending messages to large number of people, and how vital they are in the modern communication process in general.

I am learning to deal with the flip phone a little bit. I only have a small percentage of my contacts programmed into this phone, and I find that I am certainly not using my phone as much, mainly because of the hassle that comes with the flip phone. I did get pretty irritated when my mother, who has an iPhone, was sending me message after message recently … which is not so annoying on a smart phone, but when you have to exit the message composition window and see what the person said, that gets frustrating. But, these are all what the social media world has deemed “First World problems,” things that seem like major inconveniences to us – but in the global scheme of things are certainly not.

Post 4: A message from Jay Degioia, also a vegetarian this month. 

I have been able to stay vegetarian so far. Breakfast was very easy as I love pancakes, waffles, and pastries. Lunch was relatively easy as both Merrimack and Drexel Dining Centers had great vegetarian options and specials. The evening was the hardest part for me with all my traveling. I could get salads and pasta at most restaurants, and in the cities there are a lot of specialty shops and restaurants that specialize in vegetarian cuisine. I found a few that were enjoyable and tasty. Late night was also a challenge as the drive through didn’t provide a great selection of items I could eat (or felt like at the time). Overall I truly enjoyed the experience so far, have picked up my daily exercise routine, and more importantly have dropped 6 pounds since we started. I think the myth is that giving up meat is healthy. I still tried to avoid pizza, milkshakes, desserts, etc.

-Jay Degioia is the general manager of Merrimack Dining for Sodexo.

Post 3: Pizza is the greatest thing in the world

OK, so I have been eating a lot of pizza. Not even that I want to eat it a lot, but it’s always available. You can find it in the cafe at Merrimack, and there’s always a pizza shop around the corner. The Margherita pizza from Bertuccis to the Celeste frozen pizza, they always seem to do the trick.

I also eat a lot of chips. Mostly tortilla chips. For some reason I believe these are healthier for me. One roommate remarked: “oh you’re hungry, and you’re eating chips? What a surprise.”

To find more protein I picked up some beans from Whole Foods. My mother gave me a $50 gift card to Whole Foods; it doesn’t go very far there. I walked away with only two bags filled with organic beans, carrots, tortilla chips and some very tasty guacamole.

I want to use this post to highlight some of my favorite foods I have eaten this month. I have broken it down two categories: food I have made, and food made for me. To avoid upsetting anyone, I won’t rank the food made for me.

Food that I have made
-pasta with garlic and olive oil and cherry tomatoes.

-Monterey jack quesadilla with tomatoes an jalapeños, with guacamole and tortilla chips on the side.

Food made for me

-homemade macaroni and cheese with a ritz cracker topping, with possibly the best salad I have ever had on the side.

-butternut squash ravioli (from Sal’s Restaurant in Lawrence)

-caprese sandwich from Jacob Wirth’s in Boston.

Today I ordered an item for the next phase of the Modern Warrior Project: a used Samsung flip phone. Next month I will be giving up my iPhone, Facebook and Twitter. I ordered the phone in about seven seconds, off my iPhone–something that will not be possible next month.

Post 2: Denying the Flesh:

The first week is going better than expected; actually I haven’t noticed it all that much. While my carnivorous roommates often crack jokes about what kind of meats await them at lunch, I really haven’t missed meat — yet. I have surprised myself in the kitchen as well. The first day as a vegetarian I made pasta with garlic and olive oil with cherry tomatoes, a very good dish. I have made some decent veggie omelets, and a ton of grilled cheeses.

My weight has stayed the same, which pleases me, but I am now realizing I need to get more protein, so I have made an effort to eat more peanut butter and yogurt. I’m not the kind of person that can drink glasses of milk, but maybe I will have to start with that. At Sparky’s Place, one can easily find the new vegetarian station. It is in between the sandwich line and salad bar, opposite the soup station. (I am pleased Jay DeGioia, Merrimack Dining’s general manager, has also vowed to be vegetarian during the same time I have vowed to abstain.)

Why be a vegetarian? Let’s define what that is first. A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat. This includes chicken, beef, pork, fish, and any other flesh from an animal. Typically vegetarians allow themselves to eat eggs, cheese, and dairy products. A pescatarian is someone who abstains from eating the flesh of any animal with the exception of fish. Taking things further, vegans don’t eat anything that came from an animal.

Some extreme vegans refuse to wear leather belts or have leather wallets. People choose not to consume animals for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s health; they think consuming meat is not good for their bodies. There are environmentalists who believe the amount of water and resources used to raise beef could be better utilized, and for that reason, passively object to the consumption of meat.

And some see the consumption of animals as unethical, saying it is unfair to eat once-breathing and living animals, and others have a problem with the way animals are raised with hormones, put through filthy slaughterhouses, and brought to our plates. I have certainly gained a new perspective on what it is like for those who go meatless. It hasn’t been as difficult as I thought. If you are a vegetarian on campus, I want to hear from you!

Post 1: Less than a week away

Next Saturday I will start my four month writing project which I have dubbed ” The Modern Day Warrior.” I know–it’s a cheesy name, but I had to call it something, and if I can make it through this; I’ll consider myself a warrior.

So beginning on Saturday, September 15, I will become a vegetarian. I will consume no meat until October 15. Every week, I’ll post something on how my week has gone on this site, and all of my entries can be found on the top of the home page under the tab “Modern Day Warrior Project.” It can also be found in each edition of The Beacon.

I am thrilled at the support I have received from friends and members of the Merrimack Community. Jay Degioia, the general manager of Merrimack Dining has vowed to join me in my month without meat. Degioia and his Sodexo team will also highlight their vegetarian options at our dining hall, Sparky’s Place.

I will not only be writing about my journey through another lifestyle, but also what it means to be a vegetarian. World Vegetarian Day is October 1, right in the middle of my month long deprivation. I will attempt to understand why people choose a lifestyle without meat, and I will hopefully gain a new perspective. I am looking forward to this as both a writing project and an experiential learning project.

Thank for reading, I am looking forward to getting started!