Thursday, May 14, 2009

Filling Up My Kansas Summer

Well, yesterday was the last day of our annual semester wrap-up meetings (and thankfully, they weren't nearly as annoying as last year's were). Tomorrow, the university officially goes to half-days on Fridays. As for us, well, we finally got the garden planted last Thursday (a very wet and cool late spring slowed us in our tilling and preparations), and this morning I finally got the soaker hoses all set up. It seems to have had to fight its way against a crazy spring (snow in April!) that didn't want to let go, but I'd say that summer is finally here. (As far as I'm concerned, that is--let the calendar wait until June to make it official.)

For the first time in three years, we're not going to be spending a good chunk of the summer traveling all the way across the country, to visit Utah and Washington state and all my old--and my extended family's current--stomping grounds. We've traveled west too much; it's time for a break. So we're going to head east over the Memorial Day weekend, to rendezvous with Melissa's folks and siblings at a family gathering in Cincinnati (any last-minute recommendations?), and then after that we're mostly going to be right here, watching our girls and our garden grow, perhaps taking a couple of short jaunts here and there, and reading and writing and watching movies the rest of the time. Sounds pretty good to me.

Last year, I provided a list of big projects--some professional and some home-related--that I was going to focus on for the summer. What was our score card? Well, the tomatoes were a bumper crop, but the corn was a total loss; we're trying again this year, having learned a few things in the meantime. We did double the size of our herb garden, though the aforementioned late snow and cold rains killed off much that we planted there. As for out budget, well, we managed to get out credit card debt significantly down...but now it's climbing back up again. With my promotion this year to associate professor I have a decent raise coming my way, but we also have braces and glasses for the girls on the horizon. And reading-wise? Well, I got a lot down, but I never did make it through either Taylor's A Secular Age or Tolkien's The Children of Hurin. Someday, perhaps.

And this year? Well, I'm not going to lay out quite such a broad set of plans for filling up my summer days this time around. Not that some of the stuff on my plate isn't pretty wide-ranging and demanding; just that I'm going to try to keep it a little more focused, broken down into slightly more digestible chunks. Let's assume that the house and garden and budget will take care of themselves, and stick with academic, professional, personal, and family:

1) Along with my old advisor and friend, Steve Schneck, I apparently have a contract (I say "apparently" because Steve is the one who invited me on board; I haven't seen or signed anything myself) to co-author a book on the political theory of Fred Dallmayr, in my opinion one of a handful of truly brilliant contemporary theorists working in the phenomenological tradition, and, no coincidentally, Steve's old dissertation advisor (meaning he's my doktorvatervater, though I think I've used that joke before). Fred's always been generous to me, both personally and professionally, and I've learned a tremendous amount from his writings, particularly in regards to comparative philosophy and cross-cultural thinking. It's that part of his career that I'm going to be focusing on, producing two or three chapters, while Steve handles his more explicitly continental work. I already have a pile of his books and articles on my desk that I need to work through, and that pile will no doubt grow (assuming Interlibrary Loan does its job). But it's going to fun.

2) This past year I was finally talked into running the Model U.N. program for Friends University, something that I'd supposedly been hired to do along with my other responsibilities from the beginning, but which I'd always been able to put off. I wish I hadn't; it was one of the best classes I've ever run, and the Model U.N. conference was a blast--it was one of those sometimes rare moments in a life as a teacher when you can really watch students making use of ideas, concepts, and strategies that you've taught them, and plus we all just had a lot of fun. I'm already looking forward to next year...which means, I need to start working this summer about how I'm going to raise money for it, and how I'm going to recruit students for the program. A lot of this goes hand-in-hand with various changes to the political science program here that I've finally, at long last, been able to get through all the relevant committees. A pre-law track, an international relations track, greater alignment with the history/government teaching major; all of that is finally on the books. But of course, the work of curriculum reform never ends--just yesterday a colleague and I were discussing recent results in various capstone courses, and reflecting on the need to create some sort of library-research "boot camp" course, for freshmen and sophomores who have absolutely no idea how to do the basics of archive work, or source citation, or a dozen other things. Anyway, at least one class of mine is going to get completely reworked this summer, and maybe more.

3) As for my down time, well, everyone has got to read for fun, at least a little bit. And right now, I've been sucked into Terry Pratchet's Discworld, and I'm loving it. It began, as I mentioned before, with Pratchett's wonderful stories of Tiffany Aching, a young girl (though now a teenager) and a witch-in-training. They're smartly plotted, often laugh-out-loud funny, and surprisingly wise and tender, when the tale calls for it. (The last one actually had me sniffling a bit, at points.) I've finished The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, and am now working on Wintersmith; following several recommendations, I'm also about to start in on Small Gods. But what should I read next? I can always use more advice; the Discworld is so enormous, everyone seems to have a different idea about where to start, or go next.

4) If I can get enough recommendations, then I'll know what I'll be taking with me to read in the evenings at Girl's Camp this summer. Our church runs a camp for young women, ages 12 to 18, and they're always looking for male volunteers to go down and help out. I signed up back in March--with nothing but daughters, I figured I might as well embrace my destiny as soon as the sign-up sheets starting floating around. There's one fellow in this area who has been working summers at Girl's Camp for going on 30 years, and as I suppose I may very well be heading off to the same place for the next 15 summers or so--until Kristen, our youngest, leaves home--perhaps I could aim to become as much as a local institution as he is. I like the idea. Our girls are growing older, and while I'd like to think of myself as a decent father (we try to schedule one Saturday every month where one of the girls and I go off and do something, just us together), the truth is that most of their time, relationships, and conflicts, are with friends or schoolmates or with Melissa. Girls Camp would be one more small way in which I can put myself into their lives as they grow up, which is something I think I need to do. Katherine Dalton and Laura McKenna (or at least her commenters), in very different (or, maybe when you think about it, perhaps not so different) ways are talking about the same thing: how do we communicate with daughters and young women, how do we introduce them to and educate them in a world that so often communicates a message--a sexualized, commodified, materialist, misogynistic, self-centered message--that too often suggests to them that there is only one possible way of achieving maturity? Well, I don't have the answer to that; not in a grand sense. But I do think I can pull off a lot of little answers, to small crises and questions as they occur. But of course, to answer those cumulative little questions, you have to be there when they are asked. This summer, along with everything else, I want to start trying a little bit more to be there for my girls.


Camassia said...

On my road trip last year I went through Branson, Mo., and wound up at the Titanic Museum -- not sure why, since I was never into the Titanic phenom, but it was actually pretty neat. Also quite kid-friendly, despite the morbid subject matter.

And the Ozarks are as picturesque as they say, but I assume you already know that.

Stephen said...

But what should I read next? I can always use more advice; the Discworld is so enormous, everyone seems to have a different idea about where to start, or go next.Read Guards! Guards!, the first of the Watch books. Then keep going with the watch books, and at some point add in the "industrial revolution" books where they fit in publication order.

(But is there really that much disagreement? In the last thread, several people recommended the Watch books as the backbone, heart -- pick your organ -- of the series. They (We) are right. They are.