Showing posts from August, 2016

The level sands stretch far away

Nothing makes you feel your age like meeting the new people.  That's especially true this year when nearly 20 percent of the faculty at my institution will be new hires either replacing retirees or in a few cases "poached" former colleagues.  Each fall I look around at the opening faculty meeting and count the number of faces who were here when I began.  That number is now five.

For the past several years, too, I've volunteered to serve as a faculty mentor.  I like doing it and I usually like the new people.  Even so, meeting them each year is always a disquieting reminder of how quickly you will someday disappear.  A few years after retirement and you may as well never have existed. After four years, the students will have changed over completely and after a half dozen your name will become a few vaguely familiar syllables: "Professor Who?”  The critic E.P. Thompson once referred to this as “the enormous condescension of posterity."

Last spring I happene…

The Pirate and the Pile Cast

There used to be an outfit out of Minneapolis that ran ads looking for aspiring artists.  You would often see them in magazines like TV Guide, The Saturday Evening Post or sometimes on matchbook covers.  The ad copy asked if you liked to draw or doodle and if you wanted a high paying career in graphic design or fashion illustration.  All you had to do was redraw a sketch of a pirate (handily provided and easy to trace).  Then you mailed it in and awaited the art school's verdict on your talent.

Sometimes, too, the ads even provided step-by-step instructions on how to get started: make an oval, draw a cross to capture the eye-line and ridge of the nose and then...   Yes, and then step three.  There was always a big jump from step two to step three.  I could handle the oval and the cross, but the crisp, confident line quality (not to mention the deft shading and attention to detail) was beyond my 12-year old stick figure drawing ability.

I was thinking about the yawning gap between …

When the Weird Turned Pro

A colleague of mine and I occasionally have a conversation about the quality of the professors at our institution.  We generally agree that the overall quality has greatly improved over the past two decades.  At the same time, though, we seem to be a far less weird bunch.

Because there really used to be some legendary weirdness among our ranks: profs who had scandalous affairs with other faculty members' spouses, profs who were discovered living in their offices, or who droned  on and on about their eccentric obsessions (like returning to the gold standard).  Some just had strange tics.  One kept a hand always firmly gripped to a purse strap during lectures, and another had a secret crawlspace under his house that he used to hide from his ex-wife's attempts to have him served with a subpoena for back child support.

Sometimes I think back to the sheer weirdness of some of my former professors.  I had a linguistics prof, a British guy named Dobbs.  He skulked about the room lik…