Monday, September 20, 2010

Serendipity 7. Start a Book During Alumni Weekend 2010

Sometimes people who've seen this blog ask me whether I plan to keep going with the New Things project after 2010. The answer is yes, with some modifications. The first is that, in accordance with the suggestion of my list co-originators, Leah and Siham, we're extending 2010 into 2011, and officially ending the year on the last weekend of February, 2011. That's the anniversary of our trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, when Siham and Leah launched their own lists. The second, much bigger change is this: instead of being 52 new things, next year will be 12-12-2. That means one new thing per month, 12 things from this year continued to next (rock climbing, skiing, ice skating and kayaking for sure -- eight more TBD) and two from the much more ambitious Life List. Most of the things on the Life List are really pretty hard -- like running a marathon and climbing Kilimanjaro, so I think two per year is probably reasonable. But as it turns out, I'm starting one of them early, and that is the subject of this post.

The first Life List project is Co-author a Book with Students and/or Alum. I've written one book by myself and done two others with co-authors or co-editors and the experience taught me that I much prefer the latter. But something I hate about working on books in general is that it's so time-consuming and takes me away from the thing I love the most about my job, which is actually spending time with students. So, I was thinking it would be an awesome thing to be able to do both at once, and it turns out that I can. I'm teaching a course for the first time this fall on the Millennium Development Goals (and anyone who isn't quite sure what those are can check out this web site: and couldn't find a text book. So, I had the thought that I'd love to write one with the students I've had over the years who are as interested in development issues as I am (and there are quite a few). I sent out a query and was overwhelmed by the level of interest, so we've decided to do it. The plan is to write a ten chapter book: introduction, conclusion and a chapter for each of the eight goals Each of the eight goal chapters will be written by three person student/alumni teams following a standardized template of content to cover. We'll have four country cases, also researched by student/alumni teams, that run through the book. And there will be a small editorial group that will help me with coordination and editing the book content.

Because we just had alumni weekend at Saint Mike's, we folded the first book planning meeting into the weekend's activities. Only about half the team could come -- some couldn't make it to the reunion, and some had work obligations. Kate ('11) and Annie ('13) had probably the best excuse. They're actually representing our Saint Mike's Student Global AIDS Campaign chapter in New York City attending events around the United Nations Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals as I write this -- how cool is that? But the group that was there brought all kinds of great energy and ideas to the table, and once we work through assigning the chapter teams, we'll be ready to get started.

Here are a few photos from the meeting, and from alumni weekend. In the group shot from the planning meeting are: Drisk ('09), Chris ('13), Samantha ('11), Claire ('11), Leah ('07), Alexsis ('11), Matt ('11), Nick ('10), Siham ('07) and Josh ('11). At the table are pictures of Nick, Drisk, Siham and Leah and of Josh, Matt and Alexsis, respectively. There's an unfortunately-dark picture of part of the editorial group -- Leah, Siham and Drisk, wherein Siham had stolen Drisk's world-famous tiger sweatshirt that is his guaranteed conversation-starter wherever he goes. And finally, there is a highly self-congratulatory picture of Leah, Siham and I sitting in everyone's favorite Saint Mike's spot -- the Word Garden (created through the inspired imaginations of my colleagues Mark and Valerie, and grounds crew director Alan). If you haven't been to Saint Mike's campus in the last year, you should take a trip just to hang out there for a few minutes and make your own little statement to the world, as we did.

This is a long post, and a pretty immodest one, but I don't think it's every day that twenty-something students and alum come to together to commit themselves to a year long totally volunteer project that will require a lot of work for which they will get no academic credit (beyond authorship, of course) or financial compensation. I think it says something pretty wonderful about Saint Mike's students and alum, and I am tremendously happy and proud to be working with all of them. We'll be having another formal meeting later in the year, which hopefully everyone, or close to everyone, will be able to attend and there will certainly be posts on the project, so stay tuned. And there are still a couple open slots on the project, so if there are students or alum that I missed the first time around who are interested, shoot me a message as soon as possible.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

45. Go to a Roller Derby

My summer housesitter, friend and former student Lauren now works for Safe Recovery, a program of our local social service agency, the Howard Center, that works with injection drug users. When she told me that the last match of the season for our local roller derby team, the Derby Dames, was also a fundraiser for Safe Recovery, I knew that seeing a roller derby definitely needed to go on the list of New Things. And as usual, my friend and colleague, Paul,was up for it, and this time we got two other friends, Karen, and my colleague Sue, to come along as well.

The only catch for me was that we were meeting up at 6 pm to go over to the match, and I spent the day rock climbing, and got back just a little before six. So, I had to go to the match in my grimy rock climbing clothes, but it wound up not mattering, because as I learned that night, at a roller derby match, anything goes. There were people in t-shirts, people in the highest shoes I've seen since KISS concerts in the 70s, and lots of black fishnet stockings -- and that went for the spectators, the refs and the derby players. My camera was also almost out of battery charge so only three photos for this post -- one of Paul, Sue, Karen and I as spectators; one of Lauren, who was responsible for us being there; and one of the Derby Dames and their opponents, the Montreal Sexpos, in action.

I think I'll need to go again to totally figure out how it all works. There's lots of hip and shoulder-checking, and the names of the positions (jammers, blockers and pivots) are pretty fun. My favorite part is when the lead jammer wants to stop a play she waves her wands up and down from the elbows, which is like no other sport signal I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the Derby Dame's last match of the season was ill-fated, and they got trounced by the Montreal Sexpos, 159 to 68. But it was great fun to watch, and I might have to go to a Tuesday night practice sometime and throw on a pair of roller skates and try it out myself. Anyone want to come with me?

52 Ways to Say I Love You

In Lakota from my friend and colleague, Jerry, who got these from his friend Linn.

hello = HAU

good bye = TO KSA AKE (There is no good-by in Lakota. This means some time soon or later or some day or we will see each other again)

I love you = I YO TAN CHI LA (I hold you in the highest regard)

Coming Attractions

Go to Quebec City and Take a Ride in a Hot Air Balloon. My very good friends and fellow list-keepers, Siham and Leah, are coming to Burlington for the weekend, and while they're here, we'll pick dates for these two upcoming New Things. The first is on all three of our lists, and the second is on mine and Siham's.

Ice skating and rock climbing. My new thing goal on ice skating went totally by the boards this summer, and it's time to get it back on track. I am going to start a regular weekly skating schedule at Leddy Park Rink on Fridays at 8:30 am and Sundays at 1 pm, beginning Friday, September 24. I also really want to get in a bit more rock climbing practice and am going to start going to Petra Climbing Wall on Thursday nights starting on the 23. If anyone wants to join me for either or both, let me know!

Saturday, October 16 (or maybe October 17). Last of the four seasons of Camel's Hump hikes. Katrinka, Brian and Tigist are coming all the way from Tacoma, Washington for Katrinka and Brian to do the hike with me, and during the weekend I'll take Tigist (who's turning three and celebrating that birthday here in Vermont) on her first hike (Mount Philo) and/or ice skating adventure.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Serendipity 6. Rock climbing outside (again)

Early on this project of New Things my sister Katrinka and her husband's stepmother, Kathy, made the great suggestion of having a special category of things-not-on-the list-but-which-happened-because-of-the-list. These are Serendipity Posts (the name was Kathy's idea). I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that I've enjoyed just about every New Thing I've tried, and want to do most of them again. But probably the biggest and best surprise has been rock climbing, which I never in a million years thought I'd like, let alone love, the first time I tried it on a wall with my friends Cliff, Nicole and Jai in Nepal.

In one sense it's funny that I like it so much, because I'm not very good at it. Based on my very limited experience, the best rock climbers are somehow able to combine ridiculous fitness levels, lean body structures, incredible flexibility and general fearlessness all in the same person. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I'd love to have some combination of those traits as well, so it seems like a good aspirational activity.

But it's actually more than that. I think rock climbing is a metaphor for life in all kinds of cool ways. In order to do it well, you have to concentrate on what's in front of you and put everyday obsessions away. Every step up is a victory, and most movements are one part effort and one part problem-solving. There are lots of bumps and bruises and scrapes along the way, but you can't let them stop you as you move on your path. And although, on the one hand, you have to rely on yourself and trust your own judgement at very scary moments, at the same time, I think that the person belaying below is a very spot-on representation of what friendship is about. The belayer is an actual physical anchor, stopping your fall if you slip, acting as the eyes in the back of your head when you can't see the next step above or below you, and almost as excited as you when you reach the top. My student/friend/instructor Josh commented that he thinks rock climbing is mostly mental, in the sense that it's about making a decision about you will do next and believing you can (I can't count the amount of times I was stuck and he told that now it was just time to trust my feet and move), and I think he's right. I also think the same is true of life.

Luckily for me, my life is full of past and present students and friends who are avid rock climbers and who have generously shared their experience and expertise with me. I'm particularly grateful to Amanda, Dan, Randall and especially Josh, who have facilitated a lot of my climbing inside and out. A couple weeks ago I took the plunge and bought my first rock climbing equipment -- climbing shoes and a harness-- and this past Saturday I got a chance to go out with the Saint Mike's Wilderness Program to try them out. We went to Lower West Bolton, an area I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, and spent pretty much the whole day there. All our leaders were fabulous, but it was particularly amazing to watch Frank, who set all the ropes for us that day. He moved so fast, and climbed so effortlessly he seemed like a human spider.

I've included three individual pictures of us climbing -- one of me, one of Maura and one of Lyle (who climbs impossibly fast) all on the same route. It's one called Dead Babies and unlike most of the others, its major feature is a giant crack that you need to use at certain points to leverage your hands and feet against at different points to push yourself up. (Maura happens to be a resident of the Ryan Hall floor of first-year women that I am visiting as part of the First Year Visitor's Program this year, and she and I have a master plan to get all her fellow residents up on a climbing wall before the semester's out.) There's also a picture of Frank, Josh and Alex, our great instructors and another of the rest of us (Lyle, Jason -- who is one of my students in American National Politics, Maura, me, Jay and Tom). I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Everyone should try rock climbing. It's not easy (at least I don't think it is), but like lots of challenging activities, it's full of rewards. I am going to start trying to go to Petra climbing gym on a weekly basis, so if anyone wants to try it sometime, shoot me a message. Everyone who's tried it with me so far has really enjoyed it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

44. Bike to Hero's Welcome

So, this one took a bit longer than I expected to post because last week I got very sick, and spent most of this week digging out from that. But I am pleased to report that I am on the mend, and that my to-do lists are getting whittled down. So here's a post from my last New Thing before the new school year started.

Just as students around the country were trying to wring the last moments of glorious opportunity to be outside in the sunshine at the end of August, so were their teachers. And nowhere is that more imperative than Vermont, where winter, once begun seems to go on without end. So it is fitting that my most recent New Thing -- the second of two during my last summer weekend -- should occur with my friend and fellow professor from nearby Champlain College, Gary. We did some biking together last summer, but never got beyond the town line between the towns of South Hero and Grand Isle on the Hero Islands north of Burlington. This time our goal was a deli/ice cream shop/boat rental called Hero's Welcome in the town of North Hero, and we got there, though we had a few wrinkles in the getting-home stretch.

For those of us who live in and around Burlington, one of the fleeting high points of the summer happens during the weekends of August, when the organization Local Motion operates a bike ferry to shuttle bikers across the 200 foot "cut" of water in the Colchester-South Hero Causeway (3 miles of glorious narrow land jutting into Lake Champlain). That's what we took advantage of that weekend, in order to go beyond the point we reached last summer (the town line that you see in the sign just beyond Gary's head). We pushed onward and hit our goal of Hero's Welcome in the town of North Hero.

Once there, unfortunately, disaster struck and Gary's front tire got a flat that refused to be patched, despite the kind efforts of Chris, who is pictured here and works in the equipment rental shop that is also part of Hero's Welcome. So, the real hero of the day turned out to be Mike, one of Gary's colleagues, who dropped everything and came up with the family minivan to cart Gary and I and our hapless bikes back to Burlington. (Here I made him pose with Gary in front of the minivan that was our rescue vehicle.) It was doubly a mission of mercy because Mike and his family are new to Vermont and so we were asking him to drive up to a place he'd never even heard of, but he was a great sport, and the day was saved. Despite the return complications, it was a great bike ride, and a glorious way to celebrate the last day before the work of the fall began.

52 Ways to Say I Love You Maltese.

Hello Bonjour
Goodbye addiju
I love you Inħobbok
May I have two beers, please? Mejju I għandhom żewġ birer, jekk jogħġbok?

Coming Attractions

Saturday night, September 11 Derby Dames! I have never been to a real, live roller derby, but that is about to change. My friend, former student and summer housesitter, Lauren, who works with injection drug users through the Howard Center here in Burlington, told me that the last match of the season, will be a fundraiser for her program. And my friend Paul, who is always up for something new, is going with me, and maybe our friend Sue. Anyone else want to see them mix it up?

Saturday, September 11. Not really a new thing, just a continuation of one of my favorite new things from this year -- rock climbing. Going out with the Saint Mike's Wilderness Program for a day climbing outside at Bolton on Saturday.

Saturday, October 16 (or maybe October 17). Last of the four seasons of Camel's Hump hikes. Katrinka, Brian and Tigist are coming all the way from Tacoma, Washington for Katrinka and Brian to do the hike with me, and during the weekend I'll take Tigist (who's turning three and celebrating that birthday here in Vermont) on her first hike (Mount Philo) and/or ice skating adventure.