59.0 Amazing Weekend, Personally and Professionally: I love this life, and I will fight to keep it.
The last five days have been exhausting, but they have been immensely instructive, personally and professionally. They reminded me why I love teaching, research, service and mentoring -- why I love this life!
Leave Duluth at 9am.
11am. Visit Grand Rapids Public Library, a monument to a community's commitment to literacy.
1pm: Visit with colleague Roy C. Booth in Bemidji, MN. Roy is a professional writer about whom I have written a grant, in hopes to bring him to campus to speak with students about a career in writing.
While there, eat glorious cheap Chinese and see Paul Bunyan.
To this point, the trip has served a very useful purpose. Kate (my wife) and I have long been interested in regional America -- in the kinds of culture and public art and literacy that develops in towns too small for the major "literacy marketers" (eg Borders) to have paid attention to. (Incidentally, Bemidji has a branch of a regional book chain, BookWorld (http://www.bookworldstores.com/), a fascinating regional alternative to the megachain.) And, as people, we love growing to know the flavor of the cities and regions in which we live. We have yet to taste the Northern Minnesota Pines & Plains very much until this trip.
Arrive Crookston, MN at 5pmish. Rest in hotel until performance of Starkle, Starkle Little Twink, a play by Basil Clark (http://www.basilclark.org/). The play is about the survival of Vietnam vets on their return and struggle to reintegrate. I conversed with one of those professional colleagues who captures your heart, even though you don't see each other often. I both admire Mark Huglen as a scholar and believe him to be a good friend. He pulled this production together and his efforts at grant-writing brought me to campus.
After the production, talk with Mark over beverages. I continue to learn from Mark about many, many things; in this conversation, we talked about life as a senior faculty member and life at UMC. Among the things that impressed me most about UMC is the spirit of collegiality. The director of the Writing Center came to a performance of a play pulled together by a Comm professor, directed by one of his staff (not student) tutors, with audio by an Ag Business faculty member and co-starring a Music faculty member (despite the lack of any singing!). That is collegiality across all fronts!
Wake at 9am. By 9:45, off to Crookston High School. Mark has arranged for a 90-student assembly of Juniors in Larry Barton's American Lit classes, arranged by Mark. The students and I discussed some excerpts from The Things They Carried and from Vietnamese poetry about the war. They were lively, energetic and critical thinkers. I was impressed. They are a credit to CHS and to Mr. Barton -- the first "normal" person I've met who knew that I was a rhetorician without my ever using the word.
1pm: Lecture on Clorox Bleach and their "Crisis Communication" plan for a course in Crisis Communication at UMC. For more details on their leaked plan see: http://www.sourcewatch.org/images/e/e4/Clorox.pdf Never have I seen a course that could be pure techne so thoroughly invested in the ethics of the professional practice. The students who take this class will be among the best employees a company could have, I think. (Mark taught this class; see http://www.umcrookston.edu/faculty/H/Mark_Huglen.htm)
2pm: Lecture and led discuission on Vietnamese poetry for a World Lit class. The class is 1/2 students from other countries (Korea and China, I think). All the students bring a critical eye to the class and function well as a community -- a real credit to their teacher, Rachel McCoppin (http://www.umcrookston.edu/faculty/H/Rachel_Habermehl.htm). They worked hard to grasp the texts, and Rachel even had kind things to say about my pedagogy.
By this point, I am running on adrenaline. I am feeling all the things that made me want to be a professor -- the teaching of a diverse body of students on a diversity of topics, the joy of conversation with students who are engaged. The sense that the full range of my brain is being used. I haven't felt this way, really, as a teacher in at least seven years. Ever since I graduated, I feel like I have been teaching "with one hand behind my back." And I was able to exercise a diversity of pedagogies -- I hope that the cooperating teachers were being straight with me when they said they thought it went well.
7pm. The Play starts. I am seated behind the chancellor of UMC. There are easily 200 people there, I think, and I must address all of them soon.
8:30pm: The panel discussion starts. I can't see a damn thing in the spotlights, while the house lights are dark. I am making eye contact with imaginary peopl, and I am spooked.
I introduce the panelists and make some remarks about the interdisciplinary cooperation of the playwright and Mark in their co-authored book Poetic Healing (see http://www.parlorpress.com/huglen.html) and the collaboration of the community to make the printed page come alive. Afterwards, conversations with students, faculty, staff and community over food. A Korean student, Hailey, in particular, impressed me with her critical thinking on the play. Mr. Barton also appeared and conversed with me in a way that I appreciate -- he offered a solid perspective on the literary quality and the teachability of the play. Wonderful.
10pm: My bags are packed; I begin the drive to Madison. Kate begins it, actually; at Detroit Lakes, we swap.
12am: Detroit Lakes. We swap driving.
4am: Pull over in a parking lot in Woodbury, MN. Nap until almost 5am.
8:30am: Arrive in Madison, WI. Change clothes. Attend DocAm, the Document Academy annual meeting of scholars in Information Studies and a variety of other fields. I will blog about the conference later.
10:30am: Deliver a paper on "Jonestown and the Problem of Documentation" -- this paper is drawn from a paper I started writing on my own. It has benefitted from my reading of Joshua Gunn's work and it has benefitted from its recently added co-author (who could not attend), Elizabeth Nelson. I love my colleagues immensely and recognize their importance in my work!
By this point, I am jamming on the knowledge-creation component of being a professor. Feedback that I got last year helped make the paper I delivered last year publishable (forthcoming in Archival Sciences), and this year, the feedback is just as tough-- maybe tougher, because Bernd Frohmann has proposed a reconfiguration of "document" as a key term. The conversation is good and stimulating
6pm: Conference is over for the day; I lunch with grad students in LIS, one of whom is becoming a rhetorician. I had nothing to do with it, but I was there when he wanted to toss the idea around, so I take all credit for it. This part of the day reminds me of how much I love advising, the mentoring part of being a professor.
9pm: Not having slept beyond the nap in Woodbury for more than 36 hours, I crash, hard.
10am: Back to DocAm. The papers are engaging.
Noon: Shopping at the UW book store, where many good books are for sale. Where else can you get Shaftesbury and Philip K. Dick, both, each for less than $5?
4pm: I am more tired than I think. A paper proposes that the Shannon model for communication/information is superior to some current models, if it is reconfigured slightly. After about 10 minutes, it becomes clear to me that (a) only two other people in the room may have read Shannon's Bell Labs paper and (b) the model is seriously discussed in information studies. Not historically discussed, the way it is in Comm & Comp, but engaged as a contemporary model. I am tired as hell, and in a fit of frustration, when the conversation has become a kind of free for all, I ask those sitting to my left, a little too loudly:
"Do LIS people still take the Shannon-Weaver model seriously?"
and, when they reply yes,
"What kind of retrograde discipline is this?"
Kate berates me, appropriately, later. I feel justified: there was much discussion of the uses of Shannon for talking about "semantic content" of information, and Shannon was indifferent to semantic content. And yet, I am sorry.
6pm: Conference over. Off to Half Price Books to buy comics.
8:30pm: Arrive in Milwaukee. See Mom, deposit Kate for her trip away.
Leave Milwaukee at 3am, alone, for Duluth.
Arrive Duluth 9:30, teach two writing classes, then deliver a presentation on the resources available in Duluth to discuss lynching and the symbolic violence of the noose. My co-presenter on this project was Carl Crawford, the dynamic director of intercultural student sservices at Lake Superior College. Carl is a gifted presenter and listener, and it is dynamite to be working with him again. (I've been doing work with the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Board for four years, now, community and education outreach on issues of diversity, history and literacy. The most significant fruits of that work can be found here: http://www.d.umn.edu/cehsp/civic-engagement/index.html, which links you to an hourlong local public radio broadcast on the project here: http://kuws.fm/Final%20Edition/Final%20Edition%20Feb.%208,%202008.mp3 and a three-minute story syndicated across all Wisconsin Public Radio Stations here: http://clipcast.wpr.org:8080/ramgen/wpr/news/news080307ms.rm .
This event rounds out the triumvirate of university life: the ability to connect concrete knowledge (in my case, about literacy and material rhetoric both) to issues of real concern to a community. Plus, I must admit, the CJMM folks are an energizing community. I leave them always feeling the whole of my life more intensely and genuinely.
I am exhausted, but it reminded why I love this life, and why I will fight to keep it.
Miracles of Human Language
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