Notes from Stonesthrow

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In Awe April 24, 2011

Filed under: Education,Ursinus,Writing — Greg @ 11:48 am

On this gorgeous Easter Sunday, and completely hopped up on caffeine, I read through my advisee’s aesthetic statement for his Honors project. I entered into this project as a reader with feelings of considerable uselessness since I, as I constantly state, dislike poetry, and this was a creative writing project focusing on poetry. I was there though to give him some feedback on the theoretical underpinnings of his project. He was composing a sheaf of poems in a gay male American poetic tradition and was using some queer theory to inform his work. I may have helped; I think he thinks I helped, which is all that I may have asked for.

Oh, by the way, his name is Robert Whitehead. I say his name out loud because he will be known.

I read his poems several times over the past few weeks, and, as I said, I read his final draft of his aesthetic statement this morning. I don’t often come across brilliance, but I wanted to take this moment to just say that I literally wept in the face of this poet’s brilliance. His poetry is robust and tender. His poem on Narcissus makes one completely rethink that myth. His “Ars Poetica” declares his unarguable grasp of his voice and his medium. And, his poem to Tyler Clementi should be published immediately and hailed by all as a perfect paeon/remembrance.

I am so lucky to have known Robert. And, I am so lucky to have a job where I get to know so many brilliant individuals. This year alone, I have worked closely with Aakash Shah, our Rhodes scholar, for whom that award is so deserved and also inadequate for the brilliance of mind and expansiveness of spirit he possesses, as well as Ashley Green, a Fulbright recipient, whose modesty is frustratingly enormous for the caring and intelligence she exhibits to all, worldwide. There are so many more; it’s unfair that I won’t list them all.

To all of them, I just want to say that I am in awe and humbled by who you are. You make me proud and honored to have known you.


Commencement May 19, 2008

Filed under: Ursinus — Greg @ 10:32 am

There are a few things that academia gets right. One of them is titling graduation as ‘commencement’ (OED has that usage from 1387, so it’s not a recent usage and likely comes from Oxbridge) — it’s a way of sending off students with the idea that this is not an end, but a beginning. This year, due to some unforseen circumstances, I was in primo position on stage and with an important role: I handed all of the diplomas to the President to hand to the graduates. It was a little stressful, but it went off without a hitch.

This role also allowed me to meet our commencement speaker, James Fallows, afterward. I have enormous respect for Fallows, and I should really get a hold of his latest book, since he has now spoken so eloquently on two occasions here. His commencement address was good and explained his interesting connection to Ursinus. His father went to Ursinus during World War II as part of the V-12 college training program, which fast-tracked people into the Navy — in his case onto Harvard to become a Navy doctor. A few years ago, Ursinus awarded him a diploma. Fallows used his father as a springboard to talk about challenge, curiosity, and character — what Ursinus hopefully provided to them and what he hoped they would continue to confront, stoke, and develop throughout their lives.

This commencement was also special for me because it was the first one where students I had known for a full four years had graduated. As they walked across the stage, I saw students from my first semester, and it was exciting to see how much they had changed and what they had accomplished.

Also, every commencement makes me think back to my own very strange commencement at Pomona, where we had three commencement addressers, including Peter Drucker about whom my father gushed, and much drama as half the student body turned their back on a fellow classmate who was under suspicion for committing a crime. Oh, it was fun.


New Website April 15, 2008

Filed under: Technology,Ursinus — Greg @ 4:31 pm

No, not Stonesthrow, but Ursinus. I was on a committee to help develop it, but stopped really contributing after the basic design was approved. It’s much better than the previous version, and the graphics are largely good. It still has a ways to go before it’s fully fleshed out, but I’m pretty happy with it. Thoughts?


Yes! October 2, 2007

Filed under: Baseball,Music,Travel,Ursinus — Greg @ 9:53 pm

Briefly, the Phils won, and it was amazing. I mean, it’s no 1995 ALDS Game 4–that’d be impossible. This was, though, awfully, awfully good.

Anyway, there are pics up from that experience, as well as pix up from our Bermuda trip–check the link on the side.

The next week or so will be insane. Off to Washington and Jefferson College in W. PA. for work Monday and Tuesday, and then it’s choir stuff, as I prepare to sing “The Art Teacher” at our cabaret. Yay. But busy.


Clearing the Backlog: Satire June 5, 2007

Filed under: Teaching,Ursinus — Greg @ 10:10 pm

[My daily routine has become this: get up and do morning things; go to work and do, strangely enough, a fair amount of work; come home; sometimes make and then always eat dinner; watch increasingly bad tv; listen/watch Mariners on computer. Instead of doing the Vegas-researching/blog-rehashing/video poker playing I have been recently doing, I’m going to sit here with my glass of wine and start catching up on my blog posts. This here is my 6/5/07 resolution.]

Satire, I think, went well. I think, that is, that it accomplished what I wanted it to do, but perhaps not what the students wanted, but that’s OK too. This may perhaps be exemplified by what happened after Pride and Prejudice. Now, this novel was a tough choice in many ways. I taught it in the first iteration of this course, and it went fairly well. With this course, it didn’t go quite as well. I wasn’t sure why exactly. I mean, it’s old, and it’s big (and therefore requires time for non-majors–I had set aside three weeks), but it’s Austen. Moreover, with this teaching, I made even more explicit my reasons for teaching the book: to force them to articulate what their definition of satire is; to see if they believe that satire can function as a mode–as a thing you can do at turns and then turn away from–or if it just has to be a genre; to see if a novel can be a satire (or at least a novel of that size); to see if women can write satire.

So, the day after we finished the novel, we had some time to talk about the experience. People were really divided about the experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, but surprising to me, that division broke along gender lines: the girls loved it; the boys hated it. The boys complained that it was too long, that it wasn’t satire, that we spent too much time on it, that it was all about romance. At that point, I stopped, and literally said, “stop being a boy.” I couldn’t hack it anymore: [paraphrasing] I haven’t heard one peep from the women this entire semester about how Voltaire or Vonnegut wasn’t speaking to them, and now you’re going to tell me that you can’t relate to dating? to romance? to economic pressures? to bad parents? to annoying siblings? Seriously?”

Next time I teach satire, though, I probably won’t do Austen, sadly enough: too much of the class didn’t get it–didn’t take on the challenge of articulating their idea of satire and challenge me rationally. And, it does take too much time for a non-majors course (think of what else I can do in three weeks!). At the same time, I do feel like those people for whom reading this novel in this context was liberating–I feel like I might be shortchanging those future people from the same experience. Seeing a novel in a completely different light is exciting–and, it’s actually my job I think.

I don’t know. It was dispiriting, but maybe the satire course I was teaching wasn’t appropriate–maybe I misunderstood my audience. Hrmm.

Overall though, the class went well. There were some great final satires–the two best being how to do a bad PowerPoint and pharma ad parodies (including one for erectile dysfunction for nine-year-olds). I got good evaluations (though they found my assignments inscrutable, which, again, I can see, but that was sort of the point), so I guess they thought the class worked as well.

I was about to talk about a related but different topic, but I’ll save that for a separate post. O’s beating M’s by three, but M’s have two on and no out. Go M’s!


Policing or Protecting Thought May 3, 2007

Filed under: Politics,Soapbox,Television,The Gays,Uncategorized,Ursinus — Greg @ 10:15 pm

In an evening that will go down in history, Dave, Mike, and I talked endlessly about crap that happened at Ursinus regarding hate speech. In the simplest of re-enactments of said discussion, Dave was a proponent of a quasi-slippery slope argument (you can’t punish people for what they think, plus does it really matter? Also, re: speech, who cares what people say?), while Mike and I argued that hate speech could lead to hate-induced actions, and at the very least creates a hostile environment. I was far too close to this, with students feeling threatened and such, and wasn’t coherent, in many ways.

I’ve thought about that night a lot, and thought about both sides of the hate thought/speech issue, especially of late, what with what I mention below, but also with what the House passed today (with Barney calling out the votes) and what Bush has promised he’ll veto.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew Sullivan provides a tidy description of the two sides to this issue. I have to say that, when push comes to shove, I’m in the second coherent camp. I recognize the argument about free speech, a particularly relevant concern on a college campus dedicated to engaging with issues in an arena where all opinions can be expressed and then rationally engaged with. I also recognize that it is indeed impossible to see inside the souls of men, and that therefore hate crimes legislation is imperfect at best, Big Brother-like at worst. However, on count one, I don’t see how an eighteen-year-old can engage in thoughtful discourse after his friend’s door had names scrawled on it. And, I would hope that most hate crimes are judged by hard evidence–that is, what a person says or does that evinces hatred–and not guesses at inclination.

I don’t know. It’s not perfect, but I’m still convinced that language has power, good and evil:)

An aside: tonight’s Ugly Betty featured a plot where all of the secretaries (or, as Betty kept reminding people, “administrative professionals”) celebrated their day at “The Middle Ages,” a “Medieval Times” knock-off. As the fabulous Marc and Amanda enter the place, so too does the evil straight guy Nick (assistant to trans Alexis, of course). Nick says loudly, “this place is so gay”; without missing a beat, Marc says, “it so isn’t.” It’s another example of how this show is so smart about anti-gay behavior and words–defusing them with wit and support from others. Unfortunately, life isn’t scripted by fun writers and doesn’t have happy endings all the time.

I dunno.


Landmarks and Setbacks May 1, 2007

Filed under: Politics,Soapbox,Television,The Gays,Ursinus — Greg @ 8:12 am

A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago points out that ten years ago yesterday most of us sat down to watch “The Puppy Episode.” This would have been right around the time that I was coming into my own as a gay man–probably right around the time I had or was thinking of coming out to my family. As Ellen says, it seems like it was ten minutes ago, but certainly the media world has changed: two men in a reality show are allowed to be captioned as married, the word “queer” is featured in at least two television shows, and more.

And yet…

Sunday at Ursinus homophobic epithets were scrawled on a first-year student’s door who is an out gay male–and his door was urinated upon. Last night, the campus held a meeting about the incident and how to move forward (I couldn’t go as I was participating in Poem-a-Palooza, where I placed second in the Dead Poets competition with a rousing interpretations of W. H. Auden, natch): certainly a more timely response that in previous incidents. And a student I know well, Travis, posted this on his Facebook page:

Ever since I came to this campus, I have been afraid to walk out at night- it never stopped me, and it was never really on my mind whenever I went outside, but I have always had the fear that some douchebag would attack me.

He also talks about the breezy and common use of “fag” on campus–something I have not experienced much, but have certainly heard tons of the pejorative use of “gay”. So, Ellen admitted to the world ten years ago that yup, she is gay–more people have done that, but we still don’t have the kind of culture in which people can say that without being called names or threatened.