Sunday Evening Potpourri: I’m Around Here Somewhere Edition

Wow — almost a month, huh? Sorry about that. As I told the Spawn the other night, I’m writing thousands of words a week, but unfortunately they’re all for the online classes I’m teaching this term. But I haven’t forgotten about the blog, or about those of you who seem to enjoy it for whatever reason. So here we go…

***

I made a trip to the city of my birth a couple of weekends ago; the occasion wasn’t happy (the funeral of my uncle, which leaves my mom’s sister as the last survivor of that generation of my family), but it was valuable for me to see my aunt, my cousin and his family, and other friends and family. Among other things, the weekend provided an opportunity for some open discussion and at least a partial reconciliation with a family member from whom I’ve been somewhat estranged for a few years. As Martha Stewart says, that’s a good thing, and I hope it develops.

I also got to have a quick lunch with the Mad Dog in the parking lot of a Knoxville location of a favorite fast-food chain. The dining room was closed, so we sat in MD’s land yacht. While not a perfect example of social distancing, it really is a large vehicle, and it’s always good to see him. A couple of days later, I had lunch with my friend Carl — we’ve been friends now for nearly half a century. In both cases, it’s remarkable to me how easily we pick things up when we meet. Social media doesn’t hurt that, but I’m not talking about the goings-on as much as I am the rhythms and roles of our friendships and lives. Discontinuities vanish.

I stayed in Nashville a day longer than was absolutely necessary, which allowed me to return to the cemetery and the family plot, where my uncle is now placed as well. Under ordinary circumstances I try to get there a couple of times a year, but of course, the past year or so has been other-than-ordinary, so it had been a while since my last visit. I looked at the markers on the graves of my parents, grandparents, and my childhood best friend. My parents’ has yet to acquire the patinas that the others have, being 25 to 30 more years more recent than the others, but the years have darkened it at least a little.

I was a little tense as I drove back to Mondoville that Sunday; a winter storm was expected across Tennessee’s Highland Rim, its Cumberland Plateau and in the Smokies on Saturday night, and I had to drive through all three. But credit to the Tennessee and North Carolina Departments of Transportation — even when I saw 3-5 inches of snow along Interstate 40, the roads were clear, and only occasionally wet. Nice work, and a good conclusion to a trip I hadn’t wanted to make, necessary though I knew it would be.

***

In other news, it appears that the bill for the braces my parents couldn’t afford when I was a kid is coming due in its own way. Because my bite is (as the dental professionals say) jacked up, I have several broken lower teeth, which have yielded me several root canals in recent years. Upon my return from Nashville, I began to feel the familiar signs of another damned abscess, and consultations with my dentist and an endodontist indicate that it’s probably time to extract the two worst offenders. It’s not something I await eagerly, but I’ll be satisfied if we can put the fires out once and for all without my ending up looking like Walter Huston.

I don’t even know where I could find a mule named Sairy Jane at this point.

***

But the big news around here, and in the realm of Mondolit in particular, is the Spawn’s first professional fiction sale. Her story “Any Deadly Thing” appeared earlier this month at All Due Respect‘s online venue, and will appear on dead tree at the year’s end. Even if I weren’t brimming with paternal pride, I’d recommend the story — it’s damned good. Check it out.

Because I’m spending so much time writing “lectures” for my classes, I’m not reading as much as I’d like of late, but I’m currently enjoying Boswell’s Presumptuous Task, by Adam Sisman. My colleague and friend Tracy Power recommended it to me, and I think it’s going to be a nice addition to my ever-expanding library of Johnsoniana.

Speaking of writing, I’ve previously mentioned the historical and poetic works of Jeff Sypeck. He’s a super sharp guy, and as nice as he is talented. In any case, he has a new book out and I’d like to call it to your attention. I Have Started for Canaan is the history of the African-American town of Sugarland, MD, which was founded by emancipated slaves in Montgomery County, 20 miles from DC. Proceeds from the book will go toward the preservation of Sugarland’s church and the town’s historical material. If you want to know more about the book, check out what Jeff has to say here. (And Jeff? I’ll try to give you a holler next time I’m in Terpville.)

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t alert you to the latest offering in El Bee’s line of anthologies. Collectibles is a new, well, collection of stories on the titular topic, and it includes work from friends of mine including Thomas Pluck, S.A. Cosby, David Rachels, and the Man Hisself. If you want to check out some excerpts, go here. And God and the Pfizer Corporation willing, I’ll have some writerly info of my own to share before long — I’ve got to keep up with the Spawn, after all.

***

I hope that’s enough to bring you at least somewhat up to date, and I’ll do my best to up the frequency around here. In the meantime, have some music. I’ve been a fan of Alice Cooper since the mid-70s, in keeping with The First Law of Marketing: Eleven-year-old boys will buy anything with a monster on the package. While my teens overlapped with the Coop’s multi-year Lost Weekend, I really discovered the early work when I was an undergrad, and had a poster of Alice from Creem magazine in my office during my grad school days in Lexington. A few years ago, I took the Spawn to see Alice in Real City, making sure her first rock concert was going to be a show. (She still wears the concert T-shirt on occasion.)

As it happens, A.C. remains active, with a new album, Detroit Stories, coming out on Friday, 26 Feb. The album features the surviving original members of the Alice Cooper group, and includes guest appearances from a number of other area hard rockers, from groups like Grand Funk and the MC5. Alice also acknowledges other Detroit musos on the album, including the Motor City’s neo-psych purveyors, Outrageous Cherry. I was delighted to learn that Alice covers an Outrageous Cherry tune, and was even more thrilled when I saw this video. It’s a wonderful example of upbeat rock and disturbing lyrics, which puts it right in Cooper’s wheelhouse. Without further ado (because I’ve adone plenty), here’s “Our Love Will Change the World.”

See you soon(er)!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | 1 Comment

How Twigs Get Bent: The Prof Gets Regional

The husband of a colleague of mine is the publisher of Mondoville’s weekly newspaper. (It came out three times a week when I moved here, but we all know about the newspaper biz these days.) They came here from the upper Midwest and Plains. The editor of the paper (a former student of mine) has lived here all his life, and apparently there are occasional disconnects.

Image by Lindsay Letters

For example, the publisher posted on the Book of Faces last night, expressing some befuddlement about the term “meat-and-three,” both in regards to the meal and as a descriptor of the sort of restaurant that serves it. In the ensuing discussion (which strongly implied that the term is chiefly Southern, I mentioned that my favorite restaurant in Kentucky offers a meat-and-three on its menu (although I prefer another item, the Hot Brown.) This in turn led him to ask if Kentucky is Southern. I replied at length, and figured, why let it go to waste?

While the term “meat-and-three” is a regionalism (particularly when used as a descriptor for a restaurant), the concept itself isn’t particularly different from a “blue plate special.” As for the question about whether KY is southern, it varies, and is still in flux. I grew up in KY’s northernmost region — my house was 18 miles from downtown Cincinnati. In the cemetery behind my house, a Confederate soldier is buried; my high school mascot was (and remains) the Rebel. (Kentucky declared itself neutral during the Civil War, and supplied men and materiel to both sides, though it never actually left the Union.) A restaurant four miles from my home served a meat-and-three, and called it that.

However, by the time I moved there in the late 70s, that area (especially Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties — I grew up in Boone) had chiefly become a set of suburbs/bedroom communities for Cincinnati. In fact, the Cincinnati airport is in Boone County. If anything, it’s even more culturally Cincinnati now. The culture there is increasingly Midwestern, although most longtime residents insist on identifying as Kentuckian. Louisville (80 miles to the West, along the Ohio River), I would argue, is essentially a Midwestern city as well (That region is often called “Kentuckiana,” as it is across the river from IN as Northern KY is across the river from Cinti). There tends to be rivalry between Louisville and the rest of the state, and “Southernness” (as well as the more general urban/rural divide) is a factor in that.

On the other hand, 80 miles south of Cinti, Lexington (where I did half my undergrad and 5 years of grad school) is very much Southern in character and culture. It’s chiefly New South, but the character is dramatically different. This is also true of the rest of the Bluegrass and Bourbon regions. East of Lexington is Appalachia, and a good portion of the general population and culture are Appalachian diaspora as well. Once you get out of the Louisville area, the regions around Bowling Green (now essentially exurban Nashville) tend to be New South as well, though of the small town semirural variety. Waffle House, not IHOP.

Ultimately, I’d argue Kentucky is a border state between the South and Midwest, with the South dominating most of the state. It’s a diverse place, and I think that diversity is pretty cool. Likewise, quirks of dialect like “Meat-and-three” vs. “blue plate special” are bits of culture that one might dismiss as odd or inappropriate, or that one might embrace as sites of regional and cultural character that keep every place from becoming every other place. That’s probably more than you wanted to know about any of this, but that’s also part of Southern heritage — we’re proud of who we are, and interested in discussing how we got here.

Posted in Culture, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Put Down the Ball; Pick Up the Book

From today’s NYT “This Morning” newsletter:

[A]thletics are not the best route to a scholarship for most students, Ron [Lieber, finance columnist and author of the new book, The Price You Pay for College] writes. Academics are. “Each spring, I hear from otherwise well-informed parents of high school seniors who had no idea that this so-called merit aid existed, let alone how to predict where good grades might yield the lowest price or the best value,” Ron told me. “I wanted to make sure that families knew all about it, much sooner.”

A full article is here.

As it happens, Mondoville has built its own enrollment numbers largely through athletics — the majority of our students are members of one varsity squad or another. There are benefits to this, both for the college and the kids (who get to continue playing a sport they love), but there are also problems. When I meet my students, I often ask them why they chose to come here. A disheartening amount of the time, they respond “To play [name of sport.]” And while nearly all our coaches over the years have emphasized academics — something I selected for when I served on an athletic hiring committee — the kids will frequently tell me that their scholarship is ultimately contingent on the coach’s decision, and so the need of the sport will take precedence over things that we on the faculty may ask the kid to do.

I know that on quite a few occasions, I’ve told kids (generally male athletes, rather than women, who tend not to harbor dreams of playing beyond college), “Use the game; don’t let the game use you.” More than a few of them damage their bodies in the athletic pursuits that they see as paying their way through college, but then they’re too busy with the sport to take advantage of the college for which they’re paying.* (Remember, by the way, that Mondoville is an NCAA Division II school, the lowest level with athletic scholarships. Most of those scholarships are partial, many minuscule, but enough for a kid to say he’s here “on an athletic scholarship.” In my time here, four kids have made it to the NFL, and some basketball players have played for money overseas. We’re not a pro sports factory, is what I’m saying.)

How might things be different — both for the kids and for the schools — if the parents who are now pressing footballs and field hockey sticks into their kids’ hands in hope for the future were pushing grades instead? It might be nice to find out.

* In the interest of fairness, I can tell you that there are non-athletic kids who misallocate their passions as well. In particular, I’ve grown accustomed to the phenomenon of music majors or theater kids who are bright, interesting people, but who quit showing up for classes once an ensemble or production picks up. Kids are gonna kid. After all, one of the reasons it took me five years to get that two-year Masters was that I was trying to be a rock star. But I made it to class, even if I was gigging the night before.

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Tuesday Afternoon Potpourri: Paternal Pride Edition

I used a hand sanitizer at the supermarket a while ago, and now my hands smell faintly of band-aids. But that’s not important right now.

***

I’m pleased to report that the Spawn has made her professional bones. Her Appalachian crime story “Any Deadly Thing” will be appearing in All Due Respect‘s online magazine (a genuine paying market) in February, and will manifest in print form at year’s end with the publisher’s anthology. I’ve read it — it’ll be worth your while. I’ll make sure to point you in that direction when it comes out.

***

I made a run to Real City a few days ago, and picked up a copy of The Getaway Man, a 2003 novel by Andrew Vachss. The Mad Dog introduced me Vachss’s Burke series in the early 80s, not long after it had started. I read it through Down in the Zero, the seventh in the series. He’s done eleven since then, but I wandered off in other directions. Maybe I should get back to them.

Getaway Man is a standalone, and as the title suggests, it’s the story of a man with an obsession with driving, and with the moral code he develops in the reformatories and prisons along the way. With the possible exception of a couple of sex scenes, the book could have been written in 1963 as easily as 2003 (which is a compliment), and Vachss’s style remains terse without crossing the line into Ellroyesque gnomic telegraphese. I almost get a Paul Cain vibe from it at points. I have to admit that I caught a couple of the cards Vachss palms during the novel, but it was still an enjoyable read. Recommended for a quick afternoon.

***

Another couple of books I’m reading at the moment are more oriented to my life in the professoriate. They are How the University Works by Marc Bousquet, and The Adjunct Underclass by Herb Childress.

One of my favorite colleagues has announced his retirement this summer, and it reminds me that at this point, I’m closer to the end of my career than its beginning as well. I used to think I’d do this until I was 70, but Mrs. M has suggested that may not be necessary, and an eight- or ten-year timeframe might be a better one. At the same time, my department will be hiring for a tenure-track gig this semester, and I have students and former students asking about the profession as well.

If you’ve read “Alt-AC”, my story in LB’s Darkling Halls of Ivy, you’ll have a pretty good idea of my take on that idea. I’ve said elsewhere that I suspect that I’m among the last or nearly last generation of the professoriate. Bousquet’s and Childress’s books do a pretty good job of explaining why. Bousquet is a commie, but he offers a pretty sound explanation of the theory behind the decline in tenured positions and the rise in the administrative class in academe. Childress (whose book is much more recent) offers a more accessible look at the current scene and what it has cost both in educational and more general human terms. I may start lending it to my more promising students when they ask me about getting into this racket.

***

Well, I think that’ll tide us over for a bit, so I’ll close. The Vipers (not the Irish ones, the ones from NYC) were at the forefront of the ’80s garage/psych revival, and this track (along with their “Tears (Only Dry)”, both of which are included on the Children of Nuggets box set) shows us why. The triplets leading into the key change never cease to thrill me. From 1984, here’s “Cheated and Lied.”

See you soon!

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A View from the Desert

Four years ago today, I said the following:

In the end, they’re politicians. You’re more than a vote, more than a member of Team Red or Team Blue, more than a client of the state and more than a subject of some would-be ruler’s epideictic blather. None of those things determine your worth.

Don’t get fooled by either side, and may you have as little to do with any of them as possible.

My position remains unchanged. I voted against the previous occupant; I voted against the current occupant. Having said that…

I sincerely hope that we do our best to hold the new administration accountable, with the same level of skepticism we had for the old. I don’t care what the people in power are wearing, listening to, or watching on TV. They aren’t “cool” by any definition I could imagine sharing. Do not frame them as heroes; do not fawn on them as celebrities.

And I think supporters of the new administration should beware of the temptations to which some supporters of the last administration succumbed. I’ve watched people I respected go completely off the rails into conspiracy cults, and I hope they will find their way back to sanity, a view of reality that corresponds with things as they are, rather than one that suits the illusory gnosis to which they have subscribed.

We remember the famous scene in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. I’ll let St. Wiki review it:

Bolt depicts [Sir Richard] Rich as perjuring himself against More in order to become Attorney-General for Wales. [Thomas] More responds, “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?”. 

How much worse, to abandon one’s commitment to reason, common sense, and the republican process for a populist sideshow barker? At least Wales has beauty.

It’s useful, I think, to remember that sometimes, the enemy of my enemy is just some other asshole.

Of course, I also hope we remember that so many people are so invested in Team Red and Team Blue because we have allowed government into too much of our lives. And with that diminution of the private sphere, the region where civil society once existed, we have accepted the idea that winning an election empowers a majority to ride roughshod over the minority. At that point, what we have may be democracy, but it’s also mob rule, and we’ve had a spectacularly awful example of mobs in recent days.

So there’s a new administration. I intend to deal with it as I did its predecessor, and those before that. Insofar as I agree with their efforts, I will support them. Insofar as I disagree, I will oppose them. Either way, I don’t intend to be involved with them any more than I have to.

I’ll close with a couple of quotes that I think sum up my position pretty nicely. First, from the Psalmist:

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.. (Ps. 146:3, KJV.)

The other one comes from Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine:

What do you mean I don’t support the system? I go to court when I have to.

“This is the news.”

However you feel today, be well.

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Saturday Potpourri: A Pint Low Edition

I’m listening to the Green Pajamas this afternoon, wondering why I haven’t blogged of late. The answer is that I really haven’t had a great deal to say, but why should I let that stop me?

***

I’m back in the saddle academically, teaching a single Brit survey during our compressed online January term, a new development for the COVID era. Fortunately, I’ve been doing one-month courses (including online ones) in summer term for pretty much my entire career, so it’s not as grueling an adjustment for me as it is for many of my colleagues.

Or for some of the students. I had a kid drop the class earlier in the week. The student was making an A, but just didn’t think s/he could maintain the pace of reading and assignments. I gave my permission to drop, but it saddened me, and it always makes me wonder how to balance conveying the content I need to deliver with the fact that we all — students, faculty, and really, everyone — have lives and breaking points. I also wonder if doing the class in person might have made a difference.

I’ll be teaching all four of my Spring term classes online as well, but if the fates allow, I’ll be able to resume my customary perch at the front of the room by fall. That’ll be good — I miss it.

***

Mrs. M and I gave blood today; it had been a while for me, as I had donated a double unit of red cells last time and had to wait twice as long as usual to become eligible again. You know you do this on a regular basis when you recognize the phlebotomist and remember that he did a really good job last time. He did again.

Afterwards, the Mrs. and I went to witness the death throes of what used to be a standard part of my college days and after. Mondoville is losing its last video store. I started renting videos later than many of my peers — we couldn’t afford a VCR in the early days. Heck, we didn’t even have cable until I was in college. But in late undergrad and grad school, I spent more than my share of evenings looking at the racks of cassettes, and later, DVDs and Blu-Rays. Sic transit gloria Friday night, I guess.

Anyway, the store is liquidating its inventory, so I picked up a few flicks, as did Mrs. M. So I guess I’ll finally get round to seeing Peaky Blinders, and I now have a fresh edition of Texas Chainsaw Massacre for when I teach horror movies again. Three Amigos I got just because it never seems to be available when I want to see it.

Honestly, I don’t watch that much stuff anyway. I’ll watch a ball game if I have a rooting interest, and if I don’t have anything to do after dinner these days, I’ll watch episodes of The Lone Ranger on one of those niche networks that have become part of the streaming/satellite multiverse. But as my daughter has noted, I listen to the TV (particularly Sirius/XM) much more often than I watch it.

[Side note: Last night, I got to see the very first Lone Ranger episode from 1949, “Enter the Ranger.” The villain who led the ambush that slew all the other Rangers was Butch Cavendish, played by none other than Glenn Strange, best known for being the Frankenstein Monster when Karloff wasn’t (or when Karloff played the Doc, as in House of Frankenstein) and for tending bar on Gunsmoke. Pretty cool. End of side note.]

I understand the creative destruction that put paid to those video stores, and I recognize that ours stuck around chiefly because Mondoville is on the trailing edge of a lot of cultural change. Still, I learned a lot about movies — discovering entire categories such as “psychotronic” — by wandering around video stores (or video racks at record stores in college neighborhoods), and I’m not really sure the algorithms at the streaming service will serve me as well.

***

Speaking of movies, I did watch a couple of documentaries yesterday via Amazon Prime. One was a look at comedian Gilbert Gottfried, and the other, Can We Take A Joke?, included Gottfried as well. The latter was made in association with Reason magazine, and while I acknowledge that in my case it was preaching its message of free speech to the choir, I do think it’s a movie worth watching, and even one I’m thinking of showing students at some point. Check it out.

***

I think that’ll do for now, but here’s some music to tide us over until next time. The Green Pajamas were my top artist on Spotify last year, and Jeff Kelly (the PJs’ principal songwriter and vocalist) was at #2. The more I hear of their work, the more I connect with it, and I hope you will too. From their 2002 release Narcotic Kisses, this is “If He Should Go Away.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Music, Politics | 2 Comments

I’ve Never Been a Gatsby Fan…

… not least because I think it’s one of those books (like many other high school standards) that yields enough on first reading not to warrant subsequent ones. But every once in a while, it does resonate:

A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.

“What do you think?” he demanded impetuously.

“About what?’

He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.

“About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.

“The books?”

He nodded.

“Absolutely real – have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard.  Matter of face, they’re absolutely real. Pages and – Here! Lemme show you.”

Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the book-cases and returned with Volume One of the Stoddard Lectures.

“See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too – didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”

He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to the Mad Dog.

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Once More to Poetry Corner

I’ve mentioned my fondness for Gerard Manley Hopkins’s work in the past, that he’s a poet I once found almost incomprehensible, but whose work brings me pleasure and wisdom that grows with subsequent readings. He can be hard work to read, but he is worth the effort.

However, an article that ran today at the National Catholic Register brought me to a Hopkins poem that is both accessible and timely, both as a Christmas poem and a poem for a time in which we might wish “the past no more be seen”. So here is “Moonless Darkness.”

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.

Likewise, I’ll go ahead and add one of my very favorite Christmas songs, though like the celebration itself, it has come around before. Here, we have John Jacob Niles’s performance of the song “I Wonder As I Wander”, which he created in 1933 from a fragment he discovered in North Carolina. He sings in his trademark countertenor/falsetto, and it sounds like he’s accompanying himself on the Appalachian dulcimer.

Merry Christmas, and see you soon.

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Meanwhile, in a Town Where I Used to Live…

Mrs. M, the Spawn, and I lived in Muncie, IN for 5 years while I did my Ph.D. and taught as contract faculty for a year before we moved to Mondoville. We largely confined ourselves to the area around the university, because there wasn’t a lot we could afford to do to begin with, and once you got away from the university area/North side of town, there was a somewhat creepy mix of Rust Belt urban decay and meth-fueled redneckery. As an example, the three of us went to my favorite Chinese buffet on Homecoming weekend one year. A couple of tables away, a punchout erupted, followed by some unpleasant parting words from the punchee’s girlfriend to the puncher (who was leaving), which in turn was followed by the puncher pulling a gun and holding it on the punchee. After a moment, and one of the other diners advising the puncher-turned-gunman “Don’t be stupid, man,” the guy with the gun bolted out the door. . . and everyone returned to their meals. (You’d think we would have gotten a discount, but on the other hand, we weren’t billed for the floor show.)

As is the case with the other places where I’ve spent sizable chunks of time, I tend to check the Muncie newspaper from time to time. And it seems the place hasn’t changed much, which brings us to today’s headline:

MUNCIE MAN WINS SUIT AGAINST PARENTS WHO DESTROYED HIS PORN.

David Werkin, age 42, lived with his folks in Michigan for a while a couple of years back. Apparently, he left several boxes of porn and sex toys there when he came south to Muncie. He estimates the value of his stash at about 25 grand(!) and has catalogued these items in a series of about 40 e-mails to the authorities in his folks’ town. (The local cops in Michigan have declined to pursue charges.) In any event, Mr. Werkin won a summary judgement in U.S. District Court, and now his parents are on the hook to reimburse him.

I wonder if his lawyer shook his hand afterward. So this one goes out to David Werkin.

Don’t ever change, Muncie.

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Honorifics Redux

In the first year of this blog, I addressed the issue of titles like “Doctor” and “Professor.” My viewpoint is basically the same now as it was then, but since I have picked up at least a few readers (I hope) since then, I guess I can plow this furrow once again.

I don’t use my academic titles socially.* My use of Professor for this blog dates from the anonymity I originally had, and from the fact that I thought the combination of Professor and Mondo (a youthful nickname derived from my size) was funny. Heck, had it not been for the anonymity bit, I suppose I could have used my more common nickname and called the blog “Doctor Smitty.” But honestly, I see my Ph.D. as a union card, not a title of nobility. Likewise, while I’m glad to have made full prof, it’s a job title — not an estimate of my value. (In my creative work, I don’t use my titles in my byline. . . because I want people to want to read it.)

Even in the academic setting, I’m pretty laid back about the whole business.** I’ve had students call me Dr./Prof./Mr. Moore, and Dr./Prof./Mr. Warren. (Because both my given name and surname are common surnames, I don’t take offense.) I don’t care much for “Mr. Warren,” because I live in the South and that feels kind of antebellum, but I’m not going to get insulted about it.*** Finally, I make a point of telling my graduates that they can feel free to call me Warren. **** Some do — some don’t. But I don’t mind.

None of this is to say that I don’t respect education — it’s my career, after all, and it’s a career I love. But I guess I wasn’t brought up to think much of rank or station. While all four of my grandparents were bright people, only one was a high school graduate, and she was likely the one who accomplished the least, despite being the most concerned with social station. And anyone who has attended a faculty meeting knows better than to think that a doctorate confers wisdom. Furthermore, I’m only too aware that while I have certain strengths, there are vast realms of human activity in which I’m useless at best, a detriment at worst. As Harlan Ellison noted, “When your toilet backs up, you don’t call Dostoevsky.”

I suppose I come by this small-d democratic impulse naturally, whether from my Scots-Irish heritage or from my immediate family members. I’ve told the story of my mother meeting the mother of one of my high school bandmates. The other kid’s mother introduced herself as “[Name], Ph.D.” My mother immediately replied with “Madge Moore, M-o-m.” Later, when she retold the story, my dad’s best friend alluded to “the kind of person who hangs the degree in the bathroom, so you have to look at it.” That’s not someone I ever want to be.

For some reason, I’m reminded of a story the late Bret Bearup told me, about his time as an exec of the Denver Nuggets. During that era, one of the team’s role players was Earl Boykins, who spent about a decade in the NBA despite being only 5’5″ tall. Bret told me that like many of the other players on the Nuggets, Boykins bought a Cadillac Escalade. Unlike the other players, however, Boykins didn’t have his vehicle fitted with big, gaudy rims. When some of the others teased him about that, Boykins shrugged: “I already know I’m rich.”

I already know I’m reasonably bright.

* — An exception to this is when others use their credential when introducing themselves to me. If you greet me as “Dr. So-and-so” and you aren’t a medic, then I’ll darned sure whip out my letters too.

** — It’s worth noting that the most punctilious user of my academic titles was my brother’s defense attorney. Maybe that soured my taste for it.

*** — I did make an exception for the kid who addressed me as “Pimp.” I explained to him that the way of the transgressor could be harsh, and in fact we had some good classes together and I wrote him a reference letter when the time came. Education takes many forms.

**** — No, Spawn, this does not apply to you. You are still required to address me with my very favorite title: Dad.

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