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On the road agin

I’m doing a pair of speaking gigs early this week, first at Wright State University and then at Transylvania University.  Hmm.  It appears that I will have to grow back that ratty post-appendectomy beard before arriving at Transylvania.  The author/speaker photo Wright State is using is more recent—I had it taken this summer.  Here’s Nick’s response when he first saw it [in his Phil Hartman voice]: Hi!  I’m Michael Bérubé. You may remember me from such books as “Marginal Forces / Cultural Centers” and “Public Access.” You know, that was a Very Funny Thing that Nick said.  In fact, it made me spray seltzer all over the dinner table—and I didn’t even have a decent comeback.  So I choked him.

Anyway, having helped to lock down Colorado and New Mexico for the Glorious Islamic Socialist Revolution last week, I’m hoping to do likewise in southwestern Ohio.  The Kentucky part of the trip probably won’t help the top of the ticket, since Kentuckians seem to be exceptionally resistant to Islamic Socialism, but I’m hoping to help give Mitch McConnell a hard time.  This time I’m traveling solo, and Jamie is home with Janet (and going to school as he should be, the truant!).  I get back late Wednesday night.

I don’t usually travel this much, but I happen to be on sabbatical this fall.  It’s a “delayed” sabbatical, because I was eligible for one last fall, at the start of my seventh year at Penn State—but last fall, everything was thrown into disarray by that fateful X-ray.  When I’m not traveling (and sometimes even when I am!) I’m starting to think about getting into the beginning stages of how to conceptualize the preliminary outline of a book on narrative and cognitive disability.  But right now I’m just hanging out in the Detroit airport and wondering what to eat for dinner.

Lately I’ve been having all kinds of logistics anxiety.  This is weird.  The job of the visiting speaker is an exceptionally easy and pleasant one: all you have to do is to show up on time, be prepared, meet with the various people and groups who want to meet with you, and be a good listener and interlocutor.  Not all my campus visits have gone swimmingly; there have been times when I didn’t bring my A game and my B and C games were nowhere to be found.  But only on rare occasions are these gigs anxiety-inducing, because all the logistics are taken care of on the other end—by your hosts, who are doing enormous amounts of fine-detail work to make the visit happen.  When I was the director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, I had all kinds of logistics anxiety practically every week: sometimes I had anxiety dreams in which I was asked to introduce a speaker I’d never heard of, and found myself frantically trying to stall in order to look up the speaker on the Google so that I’d have some sense of what to say.  Or I would dream that the lecture hall I’d booked didn’t exist.  (There is some overlap here with my array of teaching anxiety dreams, of course.) And I can assure you that those anxieties were quite justified: Urbana-Champaign had a remarkably erratic taxi service (our local fleets were famous among IPRH staff for having failed to pick up one of our guests at the airport, and having deposited another at a random spot on campus in the rain), and I’ll never forget the year we had to scramble to find hotel rooms for conference guests because Illinois had moved “Mom’s Weekend” back a week, thus presenting us with a crush of visitors one ordinarily associates with home football games, or the year we had to juggle two Latino/a Studies conferences held on back-to-back weeks by warring factions in the field.  Fortunately for me, the associate director I hired at IPRH, Christine Catanzarite, was the most logistically competent person in the world—and still is, to gauge by the wonderful prep materials and itinerary she mailed me last spring when I spoke at IPRH’s 10th annual conference.  It was good to be the guest.

So two nights ago, I dreamed that I forgot to leave for this gig today, and left tomorrow by mistake.  For some reason, I had hired a shuttle van to drive me all the way to Dayton, and I left in such a rush that I completely forgot my itinerary.  So I didn’t have my contact numbers, and couldn’t let my hosts know that I would miss most of the day they’d planned for me.  But that was OK, because I’d also forgotten to bring my cell phone.  And a copy of my talk.  It was like an extended nightmare of VISITING SPEAKER FAIL.  This morning, I realized with some amusement, upon going over my itinerary, that this bizarre dream was just my busy little brain’s way of letting me know that I had forgotten to book a rental car to get me from Dayton to Lexington.  So these are not free-floating logistics anxieties, apparently. These are extremely well-grounded anxieties

One final anecdote on the logistics front.  When I spoke at the University of South Florida last month, I walked into my lecture hall a bit early to check it out.  This is a habit I picked up from my days as a struggling musician drummer; I always want to see the room and check its acoustics ahead of time.  Check, one two, check, one two.  But imagine my surprise and delight when I found that the large, steep amphitheater they’d reserved for my lecture was already full—fifteen minutes ahead of time, in a room that held three hundred!  Realizing that I would be speaking mostly to undergraduates, I quickly set about making all kinds of cuts and revisions to my talk.  And now imagine my chagrin when I learned that all these undergraduates had gathered not to hear me but to attend a review session for a biochemistry exam.  Apparently someone in biochemistry had double-booked the room. My heart immediately went out to my host, the indispensable Sherman Dorn, because this was precisely the kind of thing that made me lose sleep as IPRH director.  But thanks to some quick thinking and deft negotiating on the part of Sherman and his colleagues, a new room for the review session was found within minutes, and the students packed up for their new location with very little grumbling or confusion.

I wound up speaking to an entirely respectable crowd of eighty or ninety.  And I learned that there’s nothing quite like the feeling of watching two-hundred-something people get up and leave the room just before you’re scheduled to speak.  Thanks to Sherman, though, for saving the day—and for arranging a visit that was, for me, both delightful and instructive.

I’ll be back soon with a pop quiz.

Posted by on 10/26 at 06:37 PM
  1. Don’t forget to pack your sock cymbals.

    Posted by black dog buzzkill  on  10/26  at  08:46 PM
  2. I have learned to call it trip stress (TS).  I get so worked up about leaving that for two or three days before an extended tour i almost can’t function.  No matter how many lists i make and check, how early i prepare, how much i freak on the smallest possible item to forget--i can’t find solace until i actually leave my front door with all my bags.  But once i am out the door i am fine for however long i am away.  I don’t worry about flights, traffic delays, late show starts, missed infrastructure items, gig cancellations, any of that.  I never fret or even flinch while on tour. Even when i am ready to come home from whereever i have been i worry about silly things. 

    When i left on a full summer tour in 2007 (106 days on the road w/ rock-n-roll) i was ever so grateful i had taken a week off to try to get ready.  I literally spent two days sitting here doing nothing hoping i would remember whatever it was i was sure i would forget.  One would think that after 40 years of this, it would get easier??

    Posted by  on  10/26  at  09:47 PM
  3. My first time ever as an invited speaker was to address a small group at a certain university that shall remain nameless in Chapel Hill NC.  I gave my talk.  It went well.  Good Q&A.  Things wrapped up.  I was thinking how nicely everything went and then I noticed my host was no where to be found.  He was the only person I had actually met and been introduced to.  I kind of watched people leave until I was the only person left in the room.  Then I went outside and kind of stood outside the building wondering which direction my hotel was, since it appeared that I was expected to kind of walk back to the hotel.  Three straggling graduate students noticed me and I told them that my host had apparently abandoned me.  They were mortified, one said, “I took last week’s speaker to dinner and I still have the University’s credit card so we will take you out to dinner.” It turned out to be a delightful dinner with them.

    A week after I got home, I got a very apologetic note from my host who had screwed up the logistics.  He was going to his son’s birthday party and thought he had arranged for someone else to take me out to dinner but that person hadn’t gotten the message, etc. I explained that the graduate students covered for him quite nicely. 

    So even when the host screws up, things can work out.

    Posted by  on  10/26  at  11:16 PM
  4. (Warning:  U of Illinois inside joke)

    Ever dream you booked a talk on the third floor of Altgeld, only to find that it was a slanted landing four feet above the entrance?

    Captcha:  floor. I’m not making this up.

    Posted by Lance  on  10/26  at  11:39 PM
  5. Apparently the stubble converts you into a “social critic.” I always wondered how people got those gigs.

    Since you have nothing to lose in KY, I say it’s time to go rogue.

    Posted by  on  10/27  at  12:00 AM
  6. Great, Professor B.  We all (by which I mean me, which is the all of we that matters for these purposes) were just getting over your Pope-bashing and you have to go and bring it up again.  Next you’ll declare that Dickens is more enjoyable than Trollope, leaving me no choice but to harumph and tuck into The Warden. 

    If only you’d left it at making the point that we all have different tastes and some people like Oliphant and others like Stevenson and I’ve heard that some actually enjoy Conrad, though I don’t believe it.  The more variety there is in a curriculum, the greater the chance for students to discover something they enjoy so pthhhht to the Sillycurmudgeons, that’s my way of thinking about it.

    But noooo, nobody can go with that argument because it comes perilously close to revealing the real truth, which is that reading is fun and majoring in English is about as onerous an undertaking for bibliophiles as bartending school is for… well for most bibliophiles.  Which is a good thing, I suppose, because without some tortured rationale for how studying literature isn’t fun, it’s serious and provides its graduates with the reading, writing and analysis (often in that order) skills which are all so absolutely essential to customer service departments across the nation, let’s face it, quite a few more Eng. Lit. BA’s would have to fall back on their bartending skills than do now.

    So I suppose it’s essential to suppress arguments based on the intrinsic super-fun-ness of reading, writing and analyzing (especially in that order) and concentrate on some other important quality of an expanded canon, and I am willing to accept that people whose livelihoods depend on their livelihoods being dependable should do so.  Just please, please, please, lay off of Pope. 

    P.S. Wordsworth was faking it.

    Posted by  on  10/27  at  01:05 AM
  7. Oddly enough, no-one has ever wanted to hear what I have to say so this has never been a problem for me.

    Not oddly enough.

    Captcha: “certain.” Yep.

    Posted by  on  10/27  at  03:01 AM
  8. It wasn’t just Pope, jenniebee.  It was Pope and Dryden:  that was the fantasy-league tradeoff.  (Those of you who would like to find out just what the Sam Hill jenniebee is on about should click on the “that fateful X-ray” link, where, after I post Janet’s X-ray on the Internets, I get around to pointing out that the National Association of Surlycurmudgeons’ survey of ZOMG They Are Killing Shakespeare tries to make a big big deal over the fact that Pope and Dryden aren’t among the profession of literary study’s Top Five Best Evah Authors anymore.  From Rachel Donadio’s NYT essay on Teh Canon:

    In 1965, the authors most frequently assigned in English classes were Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope and T. S. Eliot, according to a survey by the National Association of Scholars, an organization committed to preserving “the Western intellectual heritage.” In 1998, they were Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austen, Milton, Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison.

    So yeah, OK, have your Pope.  He was a pretty witty guy, as it happens, and I’ve often quoted his line, “In human blogs, tho’ labour’d on with pain,/ A thousand comments scarce one purpose gain.” Would it be all right with you if Pope were merely the eighth or fourteenth most-frequently-assigned writer in English?

    And I love your third paragraph.  May I steal it and go around the country repeating it?  Thanks.

    black dog buzzkill:  dang, you went back and remembered that old “logistics” post?  Thanks!  Brings back some pleasant memories, that one.

    And Colin:  it is so time to go rogue.  In fact, I think I’ll put off that quiz for another day.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/27  at  07:50 AM
  9. BERUBE!

    Posted by  on  10/27  at  09:46 AM
  10. /emote:SallyFields

    Posted by  on  10/27  at  10:24 AM
  11. I didn’t know they named a University after Jeremiah Wright. Boy you learn something new every day.

    e.

    Posted by  on  10/27  at  02:41 PM
  12. I hear the Carpathian Mountains are lovely this time of year . . .

    Posted by  on  10/28  at  02:06 PM
  13. Ahh, academic failure nightmares. Mine were from the student perspective - years and years after I finished grad school, I started having the “it’s time for the final and I haven’t been to class in so long I can’t even remember where it meets” dream. It was very odd - I’d have this dream like 3 times a week. It was rather horrifying, in that I did my master’s at the Naval Postgraduate School, and I was going to be in some trouble with the Navy if I failed out (which I would have, as in the dream I was already on academic thin ice… although in real life I did fine). I ended up having the dream so many times that ultimately I started to be able to recognize it as a dream even while it was going on, and that sort of broke the spell - I never had it again. Very weird.

    Posted by  on  10/28  at  11:06 PM
  14. English BA here, which has led to a lucrative career as academic support staff in a couple of esteemed institutions.  I never did get the hang of the cocktail shaker.

    “Mom’s Weekend” brings to mind a hastily planned trip to a research facility at Cornell.  The trip coincided with homecoming weekend (apparently the lab had some results that couldn’t wait).  I ended up booking the postdocs in the only motel I could find that had vacancies.  It reeked of stale cigarette smoke and staler Indian food; ever after, the postdocs would beg not to be put up at Apoo’s place.

    Posted by Rugosa  on  11/02  at  01:16 PM
  15. "Praise the Lord, I finally found someone who knows what I’m experiencing. I say to myself that I am going to quit,and every time I get some money ,I,m right back broke again. I remember when I could buy anything I wanted but now I can’t keep enough gas in my car. God keeps blessing me in so many ways and I keep letting him down. I dom’t deserve His unconditional love. I have lost so much due to addiction. With the courage that you took by speaking out, I now know that in order for me to overcome this sin that I must confess of my sins publicly. Thank you for coming into my life today.
    Regards, Kasablanka
    how long do drugs stay in your system: amphetamines, vicodin

    Posted by pass a drug test  on  11/04  at  05:05 PM
  16. Wow.  Not only the most dangerous professor in America, but the most Pninian.

    Posted by  on  11/05  at  03:37 PM
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  18. I’m starting to think about getting into the beginning stages of how to conceptualize the preliminary outline of a book on narrative and cognitive disability.  But right now I’m just hanging out in the Detroit airport and wondering what to eat for dinner.

    Posted by Condominiums Mississauga  on  07/14  at  05:09 AM

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