Archive for July, 2015

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Travel brings out the best in me; thus, I am deserving of a camera crew, creative editing, fabulous make-up, and wardrobe.

I’m a great traveler, primarily because I am happy one, thanks to my techniques for terrific trips.

rockies

In the Rockies

Be impressed

My destinations vary greatly with respect to broad appeal, but every part of the world possesses treasures. Many places are not glamorous, but every corner of the world has something worth seeing.

Act normal

Find a grocery store, a neighborhood park, an independent book store, a coffee shop, a comfortable bar. Those are the places I spend most of my time in my own city, so why not do the same in Boston or Portland?

Talk to strangers

I travel alone as often as I do with others, so I am comfortable staring conversations with friendly-looking strangers, typically asking for recommendations, or often directions. My experience as a waitress and bartender makes me feel at home perched at the end of the bar near the service well, where I can enter into conversation or listen and learn. One memorable conversation was with a man at a gyro stand in Prague. He didn’t speak English and I don’t know Czech, but we shared horrible French skills and spoke for a while, just impressed we could understand each other at all.

Seek the unique

As globalization builds, the opportunity for experiences that can’t be replicated holds immense appeal. Local charm is why high-priced airfare is still a good buy.

torchklight

Parade for The Aquatennial in Minneapolis

My penchant for parades is just an extension of my desire to get to know a place by celebrating their local identity with them. Drink wine in Sonoma; watch orcas in Puget Sound; stroll the Promenade des Anglais in Nice; groove at The Continental Club in Austin; eat beignets at Café du Monde; drink in a beer garden in Munich.

Visit new places

orcas

Dock in the San Juan Islands, Washington

The world is vast, and as my friend, Tammy, recently pointed out, we can expect at best three new destinations each year, and maybe forty more years of active traveling, which means there are only 100 new places in life I might still get to see (unless I win the lottery). Better get going!

Get around

Navigating a new city via public transit, on foot, and, recently, by bicycle remains a rewarding challenge. There’s no better way to get a sense of a place than to wander, or even get lost. A trusty paper map is a good beginning, but a two-night stay in Vienna taught me to always consider a sense of scale.

Start early

My status as an “early riser” is firmly rooted in my family tree, so I don’t bother fighting it. On vacation, I wake up early and am frequently the first person anywhere. Last year while visiting Seattle, I got to Pike Place Market before many of the vendors. Bonus: shorter lines!

Pack light

I bring what I can carry. I find it easy to abide by the one-bag limit on the seriously going-to-charge-for-everything Spirit airlines. I wear dresses and add layers. I accessorize with scarves (of course!) which can make a similar outfit look different or used as a shirt or skirt. I stick to the two pairs of shoe rule. As my friend, Ivor’s sweet Irish mother used to say with regard to fashion, “Ah, sure, who’ll be looking at ya?”

native am

This gallery of handcrafted Native American art has existed in Santa Fe for 150 years. I will shop here.

Don’t waste time shopping

When I travel, I seek out things that are distinctive to the area; this means no strip malls. No malls whatsoever, if they can be avoided. My recent trip to Minneapolis did not include a stop at the Mall of America. Unique it may be, but I suspect it is just as soulless as any other mall I’ve ever visited. I am not a shopper. Unless it’s a local market with history and style along the lines of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I’ll pass.

Do it on the cheap

I may spend a bit more for special meals or once-in-a-lifetime excursions; however, I won’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on any one thing. A round-trip ferry to the Aran Islands is still only 25 Euro, so I cannot be convinced to get the $75 lamb entrée.

Bring it home

Life-charging travel adds spark to daily life. Anything that’s worth doing on vacation is worth making a part of daily life, too!

My travel-savvy I might stems from my deep and abiding love for this big, beautiful world, and my close friends assure me that my travel photos and planned excursions are all tailor-made for engaging TV.

Someone better tell Rick Steves to watch his back.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I love 21st century political satire. In our 24 hour news cycle world, I feel like John Oliver, Colbert, John Stewart, Larry Wilmore and the satirical news-org The Onion are sometimes the only outlets of political sanity.  Today’s satire onion_fb_placeholdercan capture reality much better than ‘real’ news.

And so, I just about died laughing the other day when The Onion ran a faux-commentary by Donald Trump titled, ‘Admit It: You People Want to See How Far This Goes, Don’t You?’ It was the laughter of recognition.  But, after a couple guffaws, I got to thinking.  As so often happens, The Onion glimpsed an enduring truth in the Trump-capade. Donald Trump is trying to become our first ‘Reality-Show President’.

As a child of the 1980’s, Donald Trump will always be a symbol of Reagan-era decadence to me. He epitomized the ‘Lifestyles of trumpnewsweekthe Rich and Famous’ world of yachts and private jets.  Of course, by the late 2000’s Trump renewed his fame with his reality TV hit, The Apprentice.  He was the perfect candidate for reality TV.  Larger than life, flamboyant and just a bit dangerous.  You never can tell what Trump will say, or who he will destroy. Heck, perhaps he may destroy himself while we all watch. Reality television has always been about this danger, even if it is quasi-scripted. It is like pro-wrestling.  A little real, a little fake, but for so many, addicitively entertaining.

Now Trump the political candidate is using Trump the reality TV star methods on the campaign trail. These methods constantly keep him in the news.  First, he stated that Mexico is sending drug-dealers and ‘rapists’ over the border on purpose. Then he snarked on John McCain’s military record. Most recently, he gave out Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number at a rally, and called Rick Perry and Scott Walker dumb.

After such well publicized, and well criticized gaffes, political candidates usually back down.  They apologize, and hope to move on from a slip of the tongue that caused uproar.  But, not Trump. That is not the way of reality of TV!  Trump has doubled down on all his controversial stances and statements. He will not apologize. Instead, he argues that he is simply telling the truth, and the media is attacking him for doing so.

150616161704-donald-trump-june-16-2015-exlarge-169The media doesn’t know how to respond to this. They point out Trump’s clownishness, and assume he will quickly fall from grace.  But, Trump is proving that he is no clown when it comes to understanding the American public. He understands he is a reality TV star, and reality TV is what people want. They want to see what Trump will do next; who will he insult?  Who will he attack? What ridiculous claim will he make?  Perhaps, he will self-destruct on live TV.  Grab the popcorn.

I don’t think Trump can win the national election with these methods…..at least not yet.  I think there are enough serious Americans out there who think politics must be more than an episode of Survivor.  Then again, more Americans have been known to vote for American Idol than for president. So, you never know.

Words, Words

Posted: July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

words

Librarians love reference books.

The acquisition of words is remarkable to behold. Lately, I have been in the happy company of one incredibly curious and eager new reader and learner. A few days back, he asked what “superstition” meant. I suggested we look it up, because he enjoys looking up words (is this a great kid, or what?) He read the definition aloud, after which I provided relevant examples to help him understand more fully. I taught him how superstitions include “knocking on wood” when hoping for a reprieve, and throwing salt over a left shoulder was thought to stave off evil spirits. His pragmatic father added the insight that “superstition” is nonsense, which is also true, and the word means much more. One word can encompass an awfully long lesson.

Flaubert famously searched for “le mot juste,” a heroic quest. What is at stake is not only what we know and experience but how we might communicate those myriad meanings.

The tension between abstract ideas and concrete specifics permeates the nature of words, communication, meaning, connection. The tremendous complexities of words and diction were a recent topic in NPR’s piece, “The Magic of Words.” The intangible quality of ideas when compared to the tangibility of specific examples I typically associate with the duality of experiences: intellectual (or cerebral) and visceral (or physiological), two facets of being, developed and augmented by and through words.

language-tree

Seems simple enough.

The instability of definition inherent in abstractions practically demands elaboration, clarification, qualification. I start here, encouraging a balance of abstract ideas and concrete example in my writing and writing classes, believing that the best writing creates equilibrium between these impulses. Conveniently, thesis statements and topic sentences tend to be populated by ideas, appropriate space for abstract words and concepts. Then the rest of the paragraph can be “fleshed out” with concrete, specific, tangible examples. I could stay in this territory for weeks, navigating the nuance of implication, the complexities of denotation and connotation. The private, local, regional, national, and global meanings; the notion of words as living things, evolving in content and purpose: awesome!

success

Follow me!

I ask my students to create a list of abstractions in order to practice constructing illustrative examples. Since college students yearn to succeed, the abstract idea “success” is a constant companion, one they attempt to embody with a college degree, a high-paying job, a fancy car, a big house. Success invades their days and nights, but will often remain as ethereal as most undiscovered dreams.

Experiences can resist definition. In such moments, I pause and think. As I struggle to describe, I arrive at these words: intense, overwhelming, amazing, all of which are insufficient.

Art can provide new names to call the matter of life. Poetry and song powerfully express love and longing, see Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence. The multitude universes alive in the eyes of love, only poetry or song can manage to convey.

As a teacher and student of all things literary, I am in the business of grappling with words. I marvel at their power and writhe in frustration at their inefficiencies, and my own.

All our words are as tangible as the light from the stars; still, I am a lover of words.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The British Romantic poet John Keats wasn’t pleased with science.  In his 1819 poem ‘Lamia’, Keats complained:

Do not all charms flyJohn_Keats_by_William_Hilton
At the mere touch of cold philosophy? (Science)
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line…

Yeah, I know.  Science has the bad habit of making the magical seem natural; the sublime seem mundane.  But, let’s not be reactionaries. Keats died 200 years ago. He made a definitive statement about science far too soon. If he had the scientific tools for looking at the natural world that we do today, he might have changed his tune.

Simply looking at the night-sky can be a magical experience.  But, when science let’s you know what is really out there, and how vast it actually is, your eyes can be put to shame.  Just have a look at this incredible 3 minute video. It shows that the heavens are even more sublime than your puny senses let on. (Warning: Even if you are not spiritual, you may feel a spark of the divine watching this.)

All those stars!  Planets around each star!  Those countless worlds!  And, are you ready for the the mind-blowing kicker. That video focuses upon one small segment of one galaxy. It is estimated that our universe holds 100 billion galaxies.

Sorry Keats.  Your words pale in comparison.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

One of the many benefits of a profession in education is time off in the summer. The others include the certainty that everyone needs what I can provide, and the product I deliver will perpetually increase in value.mandela

My school year concludes on July 9th. Now is the time to reflect on my year as an educator. Reflection is a central part of education, and I am happy to model a behavior I frequently urge my students to practice. Intellectual inventory can be conducted in countless ways, but I typically frame the discussion as “what’s working” and “what’s not working.” I try not to get too fancy with the daily stuff of life.

I’ll limit this reflection to the classroom. All the rest of professional life is just meetings and paperwork, both of which are necessary, but neither terribly fun. Side note: I am a proponent of the rare, trendy, and marvelous “walking meeting,” and will push for its further use next year.

I confess I’d have to look up my schedules for fall, winter, spring terms to determine exactly which classes I led in 2014-2015. I know I taught writing classes, and communications classes, and creativity classes, and literature classes, and humanities classes, and I suppose that is specific enough. In each of these courses, I was offered the opportunity to learn for and with and from my students.

As a teacher of a wide range of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, I regularly learn which texts work and which don’t. Students always enjoy reading Martin Luther King, Jr., finding his writing to be even more impressive than expected. The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton was so well received by my Creativity 230 class that I bought the book for my nephew Alexey; he starts college this fall at my alma mater, The Ohio State University. I find my students generally like poetry more than anticipated, this year’s favorites included “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden and “The Facebook Sonnet” by Sherman Alexie. My Dystopian literature classes proved Bradbury and Vonnegut’s appeal is timeless. And we all loved a twenty-first century short story treasure (with a ridiculously long title) that I found by Eugie Foster.

Readings that didn’t work are always a surprise because I believe I’ve chosen spectacular texts. My students could not get excited by Brave New World; too slow, they lamented. The creativity text Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson did little to engage my classes, his examples oftentimes distracting from the abstract ideas represented. I’ve already identified new books to try next year, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Creative Habit by Twlya Tharp.

Besides the texts, things under the heading of “what’s not working,” included a set of assignments that I considered reasonable, but were deemed overwhelming by students. Midstream, I made changes to better serve the intentions of the class. Over a decade of teaching provided prep work for the lesson I only recently accepted: the paramount importance of flexibility; I have learned to bend.

What worked included a student’s desire to know more. When many tired students were asking for a day off, or at least a “movie day,” one student rejected the idea, observing: “She’s not going to cancel class, so we might as well learn instead of just watching a movie.” At least someone was paying attention.

Ultimately, what matters involves groundwork for what happened in the classroom. A class worth being a part of is not an ordinary occurrence. Teachers struggle to concoct a winning mix of preparation, enthusiasm, knowledge, openness, and community. My primary efforts lie in creating circumstances in which all of the above flourish. Establishing a true sense of community among the students is of paramount importance. I forge community slowly, introducing new ways to meaningfully interact. I am sometimes struck by the sense that I am just throwing a perpetual intellectual cocktail party (sans cocktails), and any omission or inclusion can spoil the occasion.

What works is when students are truly present. I remind them that their presence starts with the act of waking up, putting on clothes, and coming to class (ideally with books and other learning materials, too).

group-of-people-walking-and-texting1This effort, I assure them, ought to be respected, rather than negated by texting throughout the class. Many, many of my students would rather text or do whatever it is they do on their “machines” than attend to what is happening in class. Such is the burden of their generation. I do not envy them.

ranger_14_circle_col

Ranger Trish?

What works is when students take ownership of their learning; then, I simply facilitate, answer simple questions, offer suggestions. Analogies illuminate every aspect of my teaching practice. One equates a teacher to a park ranger: both provide necessary information, note potential dangers, and point to a wide range of paths each individual might explore. I never tire of an awesome analogy.

Watching my students work together, talk, learn, grapple with meaning, that’s the stuff of a good day teaching, always and forever “what’s working.”

I am eager to have a term off, to read and write (as I encourage my students to do), to travel and explore, to rest and relax, to reconnect with who I am and who I long to be, to inspire myself so that in the autumn I will have energy to begin again.