Saturday, October 27, 2012

Relatively spooky

I had a long weekend due to my college's two-day Fall Break this week. And I saved up all the Halloween prep accordingly. Including the jack o' lantern!


We asked the kids whether they wanted two jack o' lanterns, one for each of them, as we've done in the past (mostly because in the past we've gone to pumpkin patches and let them each pick out a pumpkin--not applicable this year since Noel was going to get the pumpkin at the supermarket). As we suspected, Archer said one was fine. After reassuring Cady Gray that this meant she was in complete charge of the sole jack o' lantern, we were good to go.


More than 200 seeds came out of this thing. CG regards the counting of seeds as an important part of the Halloween ritual.


CG's design was inspired by a pumpkin she saw somewhere with a math equation carved into it. She picked her favorite equation and added nerdy spectacles and a big happy mouth just for fun.


I drew the line at carving out "HAPPY," especially since it was so close to the top opening, but executed the rest of her design exactly as drafted. It came out great!


Let others have their jack o' lanterns that are "scary" and "traditional" and "coherent as a collection of elements." CG's design couldn't be more perfect for this family.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

As long as you both shall live

When you teach, you get close to some of your students, and some of your students get close to you, and within those two groups there is significant overlap. When you teach college students, some of your students meet each other and fall in love, and some of those students are those who are close to you and vice versa. And some of those students end up getting married.

And when you teach religion, and your first boss was a Lutheran minister who officiated over the weddings of many of his students, some of your getting-married students will ask you to be the minister at their weddings. And although you are not called to be clergy in any established church, in this age that is no impediment to becoming a person authorized by the state to perform weddings.

That is how I became internet-ordained several years ago when the first of my students asked me to preside at their ceremony. It's the greatest honor and tribute to have this service requested of you. I've never said no.

Today is the wedding day of F. John and Hannah. I was very close to F. John when he was a student in my program a few years back, and given that he kept signing up for my classes, I would imagine he feels the same. I was the adviser for his undergraduate thesis. He was my teaching assistant for a freshman seminar.

Hannah wasn't a member of my program. But we all considered her an honorary member. She showed up at all our public events. She hung out in the dorm. She knew all the professors by their first names.

So when I got a call this summer from F. John asking me to officiate at their wedding ceremony, I was doubly pleased. I knew it was a joint decision for this couple to choose me. That's pretty special.

The event is taking place outdoors on beautiful Mt. Nebo, on a crisp but not cold fall day, with brilliant sunshine filtering through the leaves and shining off the Arkansas River visible in the valley below. I drove up yesterday for the rehearsal. The road up the mountain is "steep and crooked" according to the signs, and that's an understatement. On the way down I counted ten hairpin switchbacks. I was nervous yesterday about whether the Subaru would have the power to make it to the top, but in second gear with the A/C off, I needn't have worried. Even so, I'm glad I don't have to drive that every day.

The wedding party is filled with my students. All the groomsmen are graduates from my program. The congregation will be dotted with alumni and faculty. It's not my day -- it's F. John and Hannah's day. But I couldn't be prouder to be standing up with them at their request, speaking the words, making it all legal. From their past I appear to inaugurate their future together.

F. John runs marathons and wrote his thesis on the concept of cool. Hannah is a talented artist who knows her way around a pair of knitting needles. It's like they are far more advanced versions of myself, split into two people. Surely it's fitting that I'll be the one to tell them today that God has joined them together.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It was mumbly-mumble years ago today

For the first several years of my professorial career here, I frequently was mistaken for a student. It didn't hurt that I never wore power suits or other markers of authority, I'm sure. But I also took those occasions as markers of a generally youthful appearance. I treasured them. I can't deny it.

That doesn't happen anymore, even though I wear suits just as infrequently as ever. Only from a distance or without their glasses could anyone fail to notice the stray gray hairs poking coarsely out of my head, or the worry lines that have creased my forehead. I've probably slowed down just a little, too.

But aside from the particular twinges and pains, and an increasing annoyance that manifests every time I am asked to stoop or bend in any say, I don't feel my age. I suppose I'd need a feelie-o-graph of some kind to be sure, some way to keep a record of how I actually felt as opposed to my vague memories that provide little standard for comparison. But whether it's the slowness of the process or just poor recollection, I can't say that I expected to perceive so little difference between 25 and 35, between 37 and 47.

Noel and I are in different boats. He writes about pop culture for a living. It used to be rock music almost exclusively, but he's transitioned out of that beat and into more general cultural criticism, television, and film -- areas where a sense of history is valued, and where the inherent youthful rebelliousness of rock is less likely to be leveled at him as a criticism. At 40 he began thinking about what the next stage of his writing life would be, anticipating that he couldn't keep his hand in the young man's game forever.

I am a college professor, and at least in terms of reputation and authority, age is an enhancement. One isn't really a professor until one meets the stereotype, which includes visible aging, at least halfway. I tend to think that keeping in touch with the generations one is teaching (through participating in their culture) is important, but I know that's not a universal opinion. Many college professors are happy to relinquish the effort to stay current with the world's fast-paced changes, and settle down in the slower timeframes of the discipline and the academy. (Well, in the humanities, anyway.)

When I think about the downsides of getting old, I don't think about my job. I think about my family. Will I be around long enough to see as much of my children's lives as I want to, and will I be healthy and vital enough to enjoy it and participate fully? Some people start thinking about retirement when they get to be my age, but aside from a little light financial planning, I resist having it on my to-do list. Instead, I think about whether I'll be able to keep teaching as long as I'd like, which is as long as they'll have me.  And then will Noel and I find meaningful ways to occupy our remaining years?

I probably should use this forty-seventh birthday to reflect on the past or make some resolutions for the future.  But I'm so enmeshed in the middle of so many things -- my children growing up, my career continuing to grow and expand, my research projects taking definitive shape, the books underway, the promotions around the corner. I can see a point up ahead, in a couple of years, when the book is done and the promotion is achieved, where I stop, look around, and decide how I want the rest of my teaching life to go, and where I want to spend it. I'm looking forward to that. But for now, I've got too much to do to feel old -- or even to wonder if I should.