Sunday, September 18, 2011

So, what are you reading, now that you are on the Dark Side?

Every quarter for the past some-odd many years, I’ve asked students to introduce themselves and tell the class what books that they are currently reading, or what they would recommend to a friend.

This fall quarter, for the first time in over 20 years, I don’t have a class to ask, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t talk a bit about what I’m currently reading, and what books I would recommend.

Currently on the nightstand are several books, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years’ of Solitude, which I started while serving jury duty at Seattle Municipal Court at the end of August. I’ll pick that one up again at some point. Also with active bookmarks are The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson’s history of finance, and What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell. Also started are Great Plains, by Ian Frazier, because I couldn’t find his latest, Travels in Siberia, on the most recent bookstore trek. The list, and my progress through it, reads like an incomplete grade and a reader suffering from distraction. While cleaning the basement, I’ve come across Richard Brautigan again, and periodically pick up Trout Fishing in America plus A Confederate General from Big Sur. Both are hilarious and include wonderful descriptions with a zen-like quality that is calming and refreshing, reminding me why I loved those books when I first read them over 40 years ago.

Finally, and another question that has been asked in these introductions in the past is, what are you listening to? Aquarium Drunkard steered me to the Smile Sessions, Brian Wilson’s long delayed and sidetracked response to the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. I’m finding Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black to be haunting and catchy, and am spending a good deal of time in the car listening to ’71 Dead, in anticipation of the Complete Europe ’72 vault being opened.

Some have mentioned that I’ve gone over to the Dark Side, and in fact, that phrase has come up frequently. Dark Side, implying that the faculty role is one of the positive, good-feeling, health, innocence, the way of the Tao, one of righteousness, virtue and Truth and Justice.

On the other hand, as George Burns said, “Too bad all the people who know how to run this country are busy running taxicabs or cutting hair.” Those who are managing college budgets, processes, reporting requirements, scheduling and providing feedback do not speak with one voice. They work in an environment characterized by ambiguity, compromise, and negotiation while attempting to balance conflicting goals and interests. Their dedication to the core mission of the organization, serving students well and helping them achieve their goals and opening the doors of opportunity, trying to do things right while trying to do the right thing, in the face of some severe constraints is admirable. They are decidedly human. Dark side? I don’t think so.

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