Lee Schatz


Last weekend was split between football, food, and bonding time with my father in celebration of UI Dad’s Weekend and working Ag Days, a celebration hosted by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences that welcomes stakeholders and ag-interested high school students across the state to campus for four days. The time I spent with my father was hands-down the highlight of the weekend, but coming in second was the opportunity I got as a communications intern to meet Lee Schatz.

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences alumnus Lee Schatz was one of the six Americans who took refuge in the Canadian embassy officers’ home after Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Sixty-six others were taken captive for 444 days while Schatz and the five American escapees stayed out of sight. They spent the majority of their time playing Scrabble while waiting for help, so much Scrabble that Schatz claimed to have memorized the backs of several Scrabble pieces.

“You can’t think of what might happen to you if you go international,” Schatz said.

Thanks to American-Canadian cooperation and an outlandish CIA operation involving a Hollywood movie scheme, the six were rescued from Tehran at the head of the Iranian hostage crisis. Their story is depicted in the Ben Affleck film Argo, which the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences showed last Thursday night in honor of Schatz’s return to campus and Ag Days 2015.

The panel following the film featured two hours’ worth of questions and answers between audience members and Schatz, some in relation to the film but most in relation to international agriculture and the specifics of Schatz’s career.

“International is not just foreign anymore. It’s not just out there,” Schatz said, gesturing to the fields surrounding the UI Soil Stewards’ Farm prior to the film Thursday, where I first introduced myself to him. “It’s urban, it’s green spaces. It’s Korea, under plastic.”

Schatz obtained an undergraduate business degree with an emphasis in economics in 1971 and a graduate degree in agricultural economics in 1974 from the University of Idaho. Since his rescue from Tehran, he has worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helped develop a program called e-Afghan Ag that gives agricultural and protocol information to soldiers helping Afghan farmers (““A guy at 2 o’clock in the morning with a shovel on his shoulder walking down a road might not be burying an IED. He has water for his plots for 24 hours, and he has to change the plots at two o’clock in the morning.”), and as a current employee of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Country and Regional Affairs Office will retire in October with 37 years of international service. The entirety of his career led him to work in over 35 countries and live in three: India, Iraq and Iran.

I am thrilled by the access journalism gives me to meet people like Schatz, who is clearly intelligent, personable, and has a seasoned sort of fire in him born of experience.

Schatz was able to answer questions about what he did and what he does with more comfort than he could my question about how it felt to be him, 36 years ago.

How it felt to be him in 1979, when he wandered the streets of Tehran for two weeks in need of refuge. When CIA Technical Operations Officer Tony Mendez handed him a fake Canadian passport and proposed he take on the identity of a movie crew member in hopes he could successfully smuggle him, and the rest, out of the country. What it felt like going through airport security, sitting in a SwissAir plane that wouldn’t budge due to mechanical problems, and the way it felt when the wheels finally broke from the pavement.

I never got a full answer. And that’s okay.

He talked a little about Tehran, and the risks he knew came with working internationally. He told me about the Scrabble games.

Halfway through, he locked eyes with me, knowing I wanted a more detailed answer. He kind of laughed, like he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.

He recommended going to the market, wherever country you’re in, and the night ended on that note.

I have a heart for people. I hunger for their stories. I am in love with words, and last weekend I was again reminded that these are the reasons I belong in this profession.


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I’ve stopped telling people they have time. I’ve stopped telling them things will get better. I’ve stopped telling myself the same thing.

I won’t be so arrogant to think I have another fifty years, another fifteen or another five. I won’t be so reckless to say that I don’t.

But I will confidently say things will change. They always do.

Time is the friend we treat poorly. If we’re not asking it to speed up, slow down, draw near or go away, we forget about it. We condemn it. We romanticize it. We misunderstand it. What we don’t do is get to know it, because we’re always trying to change it for what it is.


I seem to visit the ocean most often at the brittle end of fall, when it’s too cold to do anything more than look at the water. I remember that Whidbey Island was particularly washed of color. The sky was opaque and the sand pale beneath my boots. Weather-beaten logs laid like bones across the beach. My bare hand glowed a ghoulish white.

I crossed my arms over my chest. The beach was empty, save for me, my sister, and Emily. The silver bench nailed into the ground at the top of the hill was empty. And the foam of the water that lapped at the shoreline was methodical, rhythmic, expected. It churned back, heaved forth, churned back, heaved forth. And the one word I could think of to describe that scene, as the salty autumn breeze slung pieces of my hair to the west, was “tired.”

Tired. Tired, like my dad when he clocks out of the shop at five.

Tired, like that song on the radio.

Tired, like Time.

I can only imagine how tired Time must be.

Time is a hard worker. Like the ocean, it doesn’t stop. It isn’t allowed to stop.


Time is not money, and Time will tell, but only if we listen.

It’s always about Time when we have a good Time and a matter of Time before we have a hard Time, or a hell of a Time. Time wonders how it can be free when it can also be borrowed or stolen, wonders why we think it’s stealing from us when it’s just doing its job.

In the moments we want to hold onto that sunset or that hand a little longer, we avoid Time. We look it dead in the eyes and coldly ask it to go away. We tell Time we don’t need it. But then we confide in it when we need winter to change to spring so that we can stop quietly screaming.

Give me this, take this away, heal me. Too much free time results in trying enslave Time to our demands. Our love for Time is conditional.

We try to manipulate Time, believing that timing is everything. If we’re not in the right place at the right time all the time, nothing will happen just in time. And being in the wrong place at the wrong time leaves us shrugging, thinking, “next time,” because Time has a way of convincing us we’re young even when we’re not.

If Time is wise, then we must be naive, believing the comfort-laden lie that each of us have all the time in the world.

Truth is, our time could end any time. So in the meantime, we race against Time, reassuring ourselves we have time while at the same time pushing others away with the generic, “I don’t have time.” That we’ll try to find time, as if it isn’t stuck to our ankles like Peter Pan’s shadow. That we’ll make time, as if the invention of the clock made us mighty.

This causes Time to half-smile in amusement, finding us funny for thinking we’re so big-time. Finding it funny we think we can outrun it, speed it up, slow it down, make it, as if it isn’t already, permanently, itself.

Angry Like That


Photo credit: Kira Guyer

When we get mad, we break things. When God gets mad, he fixes things.

I want to be angry like that.

                                                        -Some guy two tables over in this coffee shop

All Right All Right There’s a Land


all right all right there’s a land
where forgetting where forgetting weighs
gently upon worlds unnamed
there the head we shush it the head is mute
and one knows but one knows nothing
the song of dead mouths dies
on the shore it made its voyage
there is nothing to mourn

my loneliness I know it oh well I know it badly
I have the time is what I tell myself I have time
but what time famished bone the time of the dog
of a sky incessantly paling my grain of sky
of the climbing ray ocellate trembling
of microns of years of darkness

you want me to go from A to B I cannot
I cannot come out I’m in a traceless land
yes yes it’s a fine thing you’ve got there a mighty fine thing
what is that ask me no more questions
spiral dust of instants what is this the same
the calm the love the hate the calm the calm

-Samuel Beckett, bon bon il est une pays

The Quiet Life

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, faking-glory

photograph retrieved from tumblr.com, faking-glory

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.

-1 Thessolonians 4:11

I never liked the sounds of living a “quiet life” until I learned what it meant.

Quiet life. It sounded to me like silence, a suppression of opinion, decoration, opposition. It looked like a barefooted young person sitting crisscross in the center of a rugless hardwood floor, with a mattress shoved under the window, a couple library books stacked on a stool of a nightstand, and a cup of water glistening on the windowsill. It sounded like restriction—the ability to have that piece of candy but refusing it because pleasure was an accessory. Recognized accomplishments seemed out of the question, because it sounded like the quiet life allowed the essential and nothing more. It seemed stripped down past the point of comfort, bearing the expectation that you look around that room, at your remaining belongings, at your lack of experience and believe, this is enough. It is enough to make unglamorous wages at a standardized job and go home to minimalism.

Saints and hippies and meditative beings practiced living quiet lives, and because I had a fascination with perfect peace, the concept of a living a quiet life became glorified while remaining secretly unappealing.

Why was it secretly unappealing? Because the inside of me was cluttered, and my messy, artistic environment reflected that. Because I liked Christmas gifts. Because I liked things. Because I had expensive taste. Because I liked to create—stories and drawings and clothing out of plastic grocery bags and an air hockey table made out of construction paper—and wanted those special, yet flimsy, materialistic things to mean something. Because I wanted a big wedding. Because I believed I was supposed to accomplish something great. Because I was a complex person that desired a full life.

And, I’ll be honest—I wanted to be recognized. I would have happily given the glory to God, yes; but I was also after proof of self-value, thinking it might lie in an accomplishment instead of Him.

In late elementary school, I was deeply curious as to what the purpose of an earthly life was if the things we made and did and said during that time had the potential to be destroyed or forgotten. There seemed something selfish about pleasure that came from earthly things and something pointless about the temporary—which, admittedly, seemed to apply to everything.

At twenty-one, I understand now that this earthly life is, in fact, important—and that my doubt had derived from trying to measure life by the temporary instead of the permanent. By what is remembered in catalogs and documentaries by generations to come instead of what is remembered by God Himself. By what can be destroyed, rather than that which cannot.

What I was getting wrong all along is that the quiet life is, in fact, about substance. The difference lies in where that substance is located: internally, or strictly externally? It has little to do with materialistic minimalism or excess. It had a lot more to do with spiritualistic simplicity.

It is said heaven can be experienced on earth. My childhood creations may have been flimsy, but what they brought—joy or laughter or insight—are everlasting spiritual entities. Pleasure born of pure intent and unique talent may produce objects of fleeting existence, but that which they bring within that time is not unimportant. And I realized that God’s creations—us—are temporary on an earthly level as well. Flimsy. Easily broken by the roll of truck, the shot of a gun, the heat of infection or a tick of time. But the eternal things which store up for ourselves here and what we experience in richness on earth is purposeful, and though temporary in a timely sense, perfectly permanent.

We use our gifts to create gifts. Gifts breed gifts, and because of this, the abundance of this life becomes obvious if we choose to recognize and experience them. God delights in our delight.

We were born for abundance. God loves giving. Sometimes His gifts are material, necessary for earthly life or simply to make it better. A gift is more about the way it makes us feel and smile and sing and the way we use it than the novel or possessive aspect. Sometimes His gifts are simple and direct in form: an opportunity, an inexplicable swell of joy, a friend who knocked on your door just in time.

Abundance might not always look like what we expect. In fact, it might like look a near-empty room, a low paycheck, a less-than-thrilling job, even an unmet desire. But I believe it’s 100% possible to live an outrageously obnoxious life regardless of how much or how little you have. I believe the same for the quiet life.

Living a quiet life doesn’t always equate to living in silence, beneath the surface, or under the radar. You can, believe it or not, be the president of the United States and choose a quiet life. It’s less about what you have and more about what you do with what you have. Less about what you’re known for and more about what you know to be true. It’s about living purely for intimate purposes than to please the masses, whether your life has an audience of twenty-two or twenty-two million.

The quiet life is now appealing to me. Why? Because it doesn’t mean I have to be quiet. It doesn’t mean I can’t strive to become a successful writer. It doesn’t mean I have to sell all my things and donate the money, ignore an RSVP to a high-end New Year’s party that requires a fancy dress, or clam up and stop posting my thoughts on this blog. It just means my motivations to do these things are driven with permanency in mind, instead of the temporary.

My life is arranged differently now. Even the way my environment looks has changed. Before moving to my new apartment, I got rid of things that don’t matter, as well as things that did matter but would be better off mattering to someone else instead. I’m practicing mindfulness. Everything is cleaner on the outside because I’m cleaner on the inside.

In An Instant


We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must….all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words, “I have something to tell you,” a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s paper ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

-Brian Doyle, Joyas Valardores

Ten Ways to Train Your Brain

I recently read a fascinating article in Time magazine titled “The Science of Bouncing Back,” where the author, Mandy Oaklander, explored the characteristic of resilience.

“Forget the old adage that you won’t know what you’re made of until you’re tested,” states the article. “The latest science shows that if you train your brain, how you act under pressure can, in large part, be up to you.”

Resilience is all about how a person reacts in the midst of stressful situations. Whether that be getting fired from a job, experiencing the loss of a loved one or serving in combat situations, stress comes in all shapes and sizes, as does one’s ability to deal with them.

Science shows that some people are more naturally equipped than others. Navy SEALs, for example, are a group the word “resilience” is often tied to, and for good reason.

“In a series of brain-imaging experiments on resilient Navy SEALs, [scientific director and president of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla Martin] Paulus showed the SEALs a color cue that signaled they were about to see an emotional picture,” Oaklander wrote. “Paulus saw that their brains anticipated the emotion more quickly than the average brain, letting them jump nimbly between different types of emotions.”

The top characteristics resilient people share include optimism, emotional control, mindfulness and positive response to failure, according to psychologists.

Essentially, big-picture strength is the result of small reactions. And though it’s true some are simply born better equipped to effectively handle discomfort, studies show that taking certain measures can quiet the brain’s fear receptors in favor of a more pliable, constructive connection.

“Just like working your biceps or your abs, say experts, training your brain can build up strength in the right places–and at the right times–too,” wrote Oaklander.

It’s all about the brain. The article states that the neural pathways that regulate fear are strengthened the more you use them, just like a muscle. Through mindful conditioning, however, different pathways are reinforced and strengthen instead, resulting in a “new response to stress.”

Oaklander wrote: “The most compelling new research about resilience focuses on mindfulness–an area in which most people would do well to improve, since people spend 47% of their days thinking about things other than what they’re actually doing, a 2010 Harvard study found.”

And, the power of the brain was illustrated in the experience of Vietnam POWs:

“[They told doctors] Southwick and Charney that with only two resources–free time and their minds–they were able to do remarkable things they couldn’t do before; one developed a knack for multiplying huge numbers in his head, while another built a house in his imagination (and then later, on solid ground).

‘It said to us that there’s enormous untapped capacity of the human brain,’ Charney says.”

TIME listed ten practices said to improve resilience, as listed below.


Expert Tips for Resilience:

1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.


When we map our beliefs, a truth solidifies inside us. This might be found in religious or spiritual practices or simply a personal moral code. Not only does identifying these beliefs lead to sorted priorities and easy decision-making, but it also develops a strength that defines us.

2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.


Often, explanations bring a strange sort of peace. If we are able to analyze the situation and identify the root of our state, we have something to learn from and move forward with. If explanations are slippery, elusive, then look back at recommendation #1: what are your beliefs? The explanation may lie in them.

3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.


I once had a friend say, “Think of everything else in your life that is stable.”

It’s the easiest thing in the world to focus on one broken thing and forget about the many other gifts that are still standing. But remembering the reality of the matter–that this will pass–lends a hand to the bigger, brighter picture.

4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.


We all have that person that comes to mind when we are feeling weak. For me, it’s my grandmother who passed away before I was born. She never played the victim, and she never allowed her condition to dictate who she was or how she treated others.

Figure out who that person is for you, and consult them if you are able. It’s likely they’ll have words of advice and support to share.

5. Don’t run from the things that scare you; face them.


The cliche most popularly delivered from parents to their children might deserve to be reemphasized.

Facing one’s fears challenges the neural pathways that result in fear, and usually, an instinctive aversion to whatever unpleasant experience that’s facing you. By tackling the issue head-on, you’re speeding up a difficult and inevitable process, while refining your confidence in knowing you did dealt with something scary, and can do it again.

6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.


Navy SEALs, the most experimentally-proven examples of resilience in modern times, are also surrounded by a close-knit community they like to call brothers. Throughout BUD/S, the intense training course that determines whether or not militants earn a spot in this brotherhood, teamwork and reliance on your partner is reiterated over and over again. Abandonment of your partner is unacceptable.

Strength is often misinterpretation as something an individual finds and utilizes on their own. But anyone who says they accomplished anything by themselves is lying.

Drop your pride and seek the support of others.

7. Learn new things as often as you can.


The more experienced and knowledgeable you are, the more confident and comfortable you will feel tackling new tasks and challenges.

Read. Talk to people who are younger and more lighthearted than you, peers who are going through similar things as you, elderly people who are more wise than you. Become an expert on something interesting. Learn how to shoot a gun. Find a new recipe to try. Accept an invitation to go dancing, even if you don’t know the steps.

Choosing your own challenges will better prepare you for the challenges you don’t choose.

8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.


Not only does exercise release endorphins that act like booster shots for your mood; it is also shown that strengthening the body is closely linked to a healthy, clear mind.

Those who see and feel results procured from forcing themselves through strenuous physical challenges tend to believe themselves capable of handling strenuous situations. And, because exercise registers as stress to the body and the body has learned to cope with that stress, the body and mind are better conditioned to deal with other antagonisms just as efficiently.

Taking care of your body is worth it. Find a way to move that you enjoy.

9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.


What’s the point? What’s done is done. If your past performance or behavior doesn’t agree with the standards you set for yourself, make present changes and/or amends and move forward.

10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong, and own it.


Tapping into what you already have and taking advantage of your unique gifts, talents, abilities, experiences and strengths is the most logical first step toward figuring out who you are and what you can accomplish. What might be easy for you may be difficult for someone else. Appreciate that. Harnessing your strengths and your weaknesses will help you understand yourself, and the deeper you understand yourself, the more sturdy and whole you will feel in the face of struggle.


Information and list from Time magazine’s “The Science of Bouncing Back” by Mandy Oaklander. 

Commentary following each bullet-point is mine.

Photographs retrieved from Tumblr blog titled vintage-image. Artist unknown.