Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Oh, the Humanities Edition

As usual, I’m in my office, and there are certainly worse places to be. I spent much of the afternoon working on a devotion for the college’s observation of Lent. I’ll share it in a week or so. Meanwhile…

***

Yesterday was one of Mondoville’s periodic open house events, where prospective students come to check things out, get campus tours, eat in the caf, and that sort of thing.

Part of that included an “academic fair,” with representatives of various departments stationed around the foyer of the admin building (or as I tend to call it, the Dark Tower), chatting up interested students and their folks and essentially trying to sell them on the college in general and our subjects in particular. While this doesn’t pose a challenge for such high-demand fields as nursing, business, criminal justice, and sports management, it’s a tougher sell for what I do. I shared my station with a colleague from our Spanish department and set out a bowl of trick-or-treat sized chocolates, along with books from my shelves covering our various fields (English [including our creative writing minor], history, philosophy/religion, and the aforementioned Spanish). We also had a sign-in sheet for kids who might be interested in humanities majors or minors.

[Side note: Yes, I had a copy of Broken Glass Waltzes on the table as part of the CW display. A kid from the admission office saw it and asked me if I had published it. “No,” I said. “Down & Out Books published it; I just wrote it,” and I told him it was available in the college library. End of Side Note.]

Having done these events before, I’m used to being about as popular as a door-to-door leprosy salesman. But this time was at least marginally different. For the first time in my experience doing these things, a kid on the attendee list had expressed an interest in an English major. I had received the list on Thursday, and when I saw this startling development, I e-mailed the young woman in question and told her to swing by and have a chat with me — “I’ll be the guy who looks like Santa Claus.”

She did in fact show up with her folks, and we talked about the major, along with the skills our majors develop and the places they go after they leave here. I spend a fair amount of time talking about the Spawn in these sessions — it’s nice having a recent grad who was accepted into two top-10 grad school programs, and as I tell the parents, Mondoville was good enough for my kid, so I can confidently say it’s good enough for yours. When the crowd would thin down, I’d go into sideshow barker mode, calling families over to have some candy and chat. “I’ve only licked one of them,” I’d say, and someone else probably already took it.” Meanwhile, my colleague from Spanish would remind them of the value and depth of our Spanish major and minors.

We got a few names on our sign-up sheet, and from there, we went to one of the classrooms for longer sessions with interested (or at least marginally interested) students. My new friend and her folks came by, as well as a few other folks from up closer to Charlotte. While most of them may have ambitions that don’t feature a humanities major (yet), I was in full, passionate Cardinal-Newman-on-triple-espresso mode, arguing for the value and joy in what we do, along with the particular benefits of our small college environment. At one point, I had cracked a joke about something, and Greg (the Spanish prof) said, “Yes, he’s like this all the time.” Which got us all a laugh.

[Side Note #2: I asked my star guest what other schools she was considering. She mentioned a couple. I told her they were both good, solid schools — which they are — and then I mentioned that one of the English profs at one of the other colleges had been a student of mine here at Newberry. Small world, huh? End of Side Note.]

After that, we had lunch and I spent the rest of the afternoon in my office, passing along contact info to my colleagues in our various fields and thanking families for the time they spent chatting with us. And suddenly it all caught up with me and I leaned back in my recliner, feeling my brain deflate.

You see, while there was nothing fake about anything I said, and I was genuine in my passion and enthusiasm, I had also spent several hours that day engaging in a sort of improv performance. I tend not to use notes when I lecture, and obviously I wasn’t using any yesterday. Instead, I was doing something along the lines of ex tempore sermonizing about the work I value so much that I’ve made it my career. I desperately wanted those kids (and their parents) to see why I love this stuff so much that I want to pass it to another generation, and how much I want them to share it with me. It’s the same mix of intensity and on-the-fly that I bring to my music, except that I’m better at thinking about this stuff than I am at playing drums. And while this was less physical than playing a 45-minute set, it was also longer in total, and once it was over, I was pretty much mentally drained.

So now it’s the next day. I don’t know if any of those kids will come here, or if any will engage with those of us in the Humanities department more than graduation necessitates. But I spent yesterday evangelizing for the liberal arts here in Mondoville. It was tiring — but it felt good, too.

***

This week I bought and read Children of the Streets, a collection of Harlan Ellison’s shorts and articles from the late 1950s and early 60s, all with the theme (or at least the subtext) of what we used to call juvenile delinquency. Evan Hunter had essentially kicked the door open with Blackboard Jungle, but Harlan happily walked through that opening, with quick-and-dirty tales of teens on a collision course with nowhere, with an underscore of zip-guns, clicking switchblades, and the occasional strains of rockabilly or jazz. Most notably, the book opens with his undercover “participatory journalism” from his run with a gang of JDs in Red Hook.

I had seen a number of these stories before, notably in Gentleman Junkie, and another story became the basis for one of Ellison’s few novels, Spider Kiss (a/k/a Rockabilly). The work is as manic and ferocious as one might expect from Ellison, with the added rawness of an early-career writer paying his rent at a penny a word. For some, that would make the book one only for completists. However, I appreciate the unpolished nature of these early stories in the same way I like the one-take frenzy of 60s-style garage rock. Even having some of these stories in other collections, I found Children a worthwhile way to spend twenty bucks and a Wednesday evening.

***

And speaking of garage rock, I’ll wrap this entry up wit a track from the psychedelic side of the garage. The United Travel Service were formed at Oregon State U in 1966, but were mostly on the Portland scene. They opened for a number of major bands, including the Doors, Vanilla Fudge, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead. As that list of headliners might suggest, UTS were of a more psychedelic stripe (or perhaps a moire pattern) than the typical stomp sound we associate with the Pacific Northwest in the mid-60s. This jangler is something of a favorite from their corpus, and now it’s your turn to hear it. From a 1967 single, this is “Wind and Stone.”

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

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