Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

I don't think I made any specific New Year's resolutions last year. I used to love having an end-of-year period of deep introspection and figuring out what lessons I needed to learn and what paths I needed to explore, but for the past two or three years I've had the sense that I'm going generally in the right direction and just need to keep chugging along. That's very satisfying in some ways, at least the feeling that there's nothing in my life right now that needs to be fixed, but I'm beginning to feel the need for some kind of spiritual challenge.

While I figure that out, though, it's a good time to look back for a moment. I have a surprisingly crappy memory, so I'm sure I'm forgetting some of the big things that have happened, but the highlights of this year include the following:
  • this was my first year of tenure, which was generally uneventful, but has given me an overall sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and relief
  • my book came out! That's a biggie. :)
  • I've made pretty good progress on the second book project. At the beginning of last year it was a very nebulous idea, and I was terrified of mentioning it to anyone. Over the course of the year I tracked down some good evidence in the archives, and had some wonderful and encouraging conversations with colleagues, and now I'm very excited about the whole thing.
  • I agreed (God help me) to host the yearly meeting of my principal academic organization in 2008. This isn't really an accomplishment yet, but several people talked to me about doing this, which means they must think I'm reasonably competent (or at least sufficiently gullible), and I'm kind of excited about that.
  • Several people in my department have made noises about how I'd be a good candidate for department chair.
  • I worked on my first Habitat for Humanity build! (and will do another this spring.)
  • Started taking yoga classes just about a year ago; that's been a great and satisfying success.
  • We made some nice improvements to the house this year, at least inside (outside is going to hell in a weedy overgrown handbasket) - new carpet and tile in the master bedroom & bath, a couple of new pieces of furniture, and lots of plans for next year...

Those are the big things; I guess the main theme is that this has been a really good year for my professional life. I haven't accomplished anything big (good or bad) personally or socially or spiritually; that's what I'd like to work on more for the coming year, though I'm not sure quite how to proceed. Mostly my goal is to make new friends: I like the people I work with, but I've felt a little starved for interesting conversation recently, and I realize that I've fallen into a lot of social ruts. (I even made the bar a far more interesting place in 2005 than I did in 2006; maybe I can liven that up a little too.) Time to stretch myself a little and shake things up.

What about you?

Have a lovely New Year's Eve, everyone; be safe, and I wish you all the best in friends, family, and good fortune for the new year!

Friday, December 22, 2006


Yesterday on “Charlie Rose” we saw the greatest interview with Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón, three innovative Mexican filmmakers who are also clearly good friends. Charlie was almost irrelevant to the discussion, as the three enthusiastically talked about themes and styles and stories in their work. What was interesting to note, in spite of the well-deserved fame each has achieved, was that they talked very little about their own work; each seemed more interested in describing and discussing the work of his friends. This made for an even richer discussion, I think, and of course it depended on the intimate knowledge each man had of his friends and their ideas, as well as a refreshing lack of ego.

At one point, towards the end, Charlie asked if they ever felt competitive, given their prominence and the fact that their films tend to be nominated for similar awards. This struck me as a rather unnecessary question, since the nature of the previous hour’s discussion had made it perfectly clear that the three were far more mutually supportive than anything, but then I decided that that itself was probably what Charlie was trying to highlight. They seemed a bit surprised by the question, but then responded that of course they weren’t competitive, and in fact they each at some point had withdrawn from various competitions in the interest of highlighting another’s work. What impressed me the most was Cuarón’s simple, honest comment: “When you can transform envy into admiration, that’s incredibly liberating.”

The LWI, who is Spanish, immediately remarked that that sort of attitude was far more common among Hispanics than among Anglo-Saxons. I suspect he’s right, and isn’t that sad? Certainly we collectively celebrate hard work and individual accomplishment, and that’s important, but it also lends itself to a zero-sum attitude, where my win is your loss – and that in turn cultivates one-upmanship and envy. I’ve noticed this working in other ways, in that Americans generally center conversations around their jobs and their accomplishments, while Spaniards will almost never discuss their work, because it doesn’t have that much to do with their identity. I’m making huge generalizations here, and I know there are any number of exceptions. But I was so taken with the way these three men talked to each other, and more importantly how genuinely they listened to each other, and I wish we could liberate ourselves to celebrate each other that way a little more often.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

are we there yet?

You know it's almost the end of the semester when...

...your Western Civ class is having an animated discussion of the Great Schism (when for a few decades in the late fourteenth century there were two popes claiming the papacy), and when you ask for possible solutions for this crisis, one student gleefully pipes up "They could joust for it!"

... and instead of chuckling politely and getting the discussion back on course to a discussion of the role of church councils, you give in to evil temptation and respond that a good game spinoff of that would be "Rock'em Sock'em Pontiffs..."

... and the whole class falls into helpless ridiculousness for the rest of the hour.