Friday, April 8, 2011
Introduction: Allen Mendenhall
Per Troy Camplin’s request, and following Gabrielle Shiner’s lead, I’m hereby introducing myself. I’m Allen Mendenhall. I blog on this site. I was born in Atlanta and raised in Marietta, Georgia, home of the Big Chicken, Dobbins Air Force base, and Travis Tritt. My childhood was, I suspect, fairly normal, although comparing one’s childhood to other childhoods is inane: like comparing who’s uglier, Randy Johnson Lyle Lovett, or Steve Buscemi. I was raised in a conservative family. I have a brother and a sister—both younger. We didn’t own pets until I was in middle school. At that time, there was this very un-neutered cat named Henry who roamed the neighborhood, prancing about yards and depositing dead chipmunks and squirrels on various neighbors’ porches, and my brother and I would go to great lengths—leaving doors and windows cracked, placing cereal bowls on the back porch, and, eventually, sacrificing my sister’s mouse-like stuffed-animals—to get Henry inside the house, where we knew he would find himself, well, at home. Dad found out about these shenanigans and forbade the cat’s presence inside. “That cat’s got worms,” he kept saying. But as usual my brother and I found ways to subvert dad’s commands, and at some point Henry became part of the family. We officially adopted the cat, chiefly, I think, because we paid for his vaccinations, or rather dad paid for the vaccinations, and dad was loath to part with anything he’d paid for. I spent high school playing sports during the day and secretly reading Keats, Wordsworth, and Byron at night. I was a nerd who tried to pass as cool, but I wasn’t too good at passing, so I looked more like what we used to call “posers.” I’m not sure what the proper terminology for “posers” is these days. Anyway, by the time I got to college I had become too pessimistic for Romanticism. A dramatic break-up with my high school girlfriend, a move to a new state, the death of a grandfather—all these things and more transformed me into a different person. And the person I was becoming was in love with literature. Or obsessed with it. Sometimes even angry at it. Hell, I was jealous of the writers I enjoyed reading, and that jealousy motivated me to try my hand at poetry—something I wish, to this day, that I could do better. Indeed, if I could be anything in the world—anything at all—it would be a poet, but, alas, my efforts on that score have been tragically Faulknerian. I didn’t know what to do with myself after college, so I moved to Japan to teach English to Japanese students. I taught in a juku, or private school. My youngest students were three; my oldest were thirteen. I’ll never forget my time there. I wish I could, though, because whenever I think about Japan too hard or for too long, my throat wells up and I get tears in my eyes and the tugging, aching longing for the past becomes just too much for me. After my “stay” in Japan, I went to law school, where I learned to despise lawyers, act arrogant, and pretend expertise. The only thing that saved me from myself during this time was my decision to pursue a master’s degree in English. I went to law school during the day, and took literature courses at night. Did I mention I was in West Virginia? I don’t think so. Well, I was in West Virginia—Morgantown to be precise—and one day I came across something, I can’t remember what, exactly, but something really compelling. It was an article or a book or a website. Whatever it was, it was libertarian, and it struck my fancy. Before long, I was familiar with the Mises Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Institute for Humane Studies, and I was reading all the libertarian things I had time for—and even some I didn’t have time for. Right away I thought I understood libertarianism, thought I knew a lot more than everyone else, thought I was great and special, but over time I realized how little I knew, how dumb and impulsive I was, and I now try to remind myself every day that I have definite limitations and that I can never be complete or satisfied with my knowledge. I’ll always need more. And the more knowledge I’ve gained over the years, the more libertarian I’ve become. I’m relatively new to Austrian economics, but I find it striking and illuminating—and strikingly illuminating. I met my wife while studying in Brazil. Yes, she’s Brazilian, and we try to get back there as often as possible, but we’re not too good about that. I’m currently finishing the LL.M. in transnational law at Temple University—a degree that has taken me entirely too long to complete. I’m also a Ph.D. student in English at Auburn University. That makes me a non-practicing lawyer who teaches and researches and writes and wakes up with book and goes to bed with a book and who has far too many degrees for his own health or benefit. I’m a member of the Georgia bar, and next week I’m getting sworn into the D.C. bar. Oh, and I teach in a penitentiary on Thursdays. I should probably say more about that, but I won’t. I have a dog named Elvis, with whom I’m irrationally enamored. The dog, I mean. Not the human. Although I like the human Elvis too—that’s why I named the dog after him. I used to play golf, but I no longer have the skill or the time. Every now and then I like to stare at myself in the mirror until I think my reflection is someone else, an autonomous, rational being with his own agency and personality. I like dark beer and red wine. I like music but know nothing about it. I’m an ideas person. I enjoy thinking about thinking. The mind fascinates me. So does death and dying—but that’s neither here nor there. I’m an open person—too open, usually—and I have a tendency, despite myself, to feel strongly about things and people and ideas. In general, I think humans are a rotten lot—but I’m frequently taken aback by the profound generosity of others, by the human capacity to love, and by the probably universal impulse, again among humans, to want to make sense of life and existence. I’m a rambler and a mute, depending on time or circumstance. Most of all, I’m just a guy. Another person on this big earth. Another person who has come and will eventually go. I hope to make my short presence here as meaningful as possible.