Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 17: Great University, Green and Puckered, a Cold Bath

Once I visited a great university and wandered, a stranger, into the subterranean halls of its famous biology department.  I saw a sign on a door:  ichthyology department.  The door was open a crack, and as I walked past I glanced in.  I saw just a flash.  There were two white-coated men seated opposite each other on high lab stools at a hard-surfaced table.  They bend over identical white enamel trays.  On one side, one man, with a lancet, was just cutting into an enormous preserved fish he'd taken from a jar.  On the other side, the other man, with a silver spoon, was eating a grapefruit.  I laughed all the way back to Virginia. 

Dillard is talking here about inspiration.  Tiny life moments that simply grab you in their beauty or sadness or ridiculousness.  At the great university, she happens upon a scene that is simply weird.  Dissection mixed with a mid-morning snack.  Dillard's funny bone is duly tickled.

Institutions of higher learning are rife with this kind of strangeness.  When I was an undergraduate, I was in the basement of the science building after a computer class.  It was lunchtime, and I was heading to the quad to grab a quick sandwich.  Walking down this long hallway, I happened to glance into a room where nursing classes were conducted.

Inside the room was a group of students and an instructor.  They were all leaning over a cadaver, its chest cavity splayed open.  The cadaver's skin was the color of a frog.  Light green and puckered.  Needless to say, I lost my appetite and didn't find it again for several hours.

Why do I share this story with you tonight?  To point out the strange culture of academic life.  I spent two-and-a-half hours in an English Department meeting this afternoon.  It was our first gathering of the semester, and there was much business to take care of.  People to recognize.  New faculty members.  New teaching assistants.  Then a lengthy discussion of proposed curriculum changes, most of it pointless and circular.  The meeting ended with a dire description of budgetary and enrollment woes.

By the time it was all over, I felt like I'd just attended a Donald Trump campaign rally.  Enrollment's in the toilet.  Illegal aliens are stealing all the tenured jobs.  Terrorists are invading the geology department.  The university is one class away from closing its doors forever.  Welcome back!  Have a good semester!

I am exaggerating.  To a degree.  It's the same story that was told last year, and the year before.  During the meeting, I suggested doing a fundraiser for the English Department.  A bake sale.  A dunk tank featuring the president of the university--one thousand dollars a crack to give him a cold bath.  Nobody went for the idea.

That was Saint Marty's afternoon.  Gloom.  Despair.  Hand-wringing.  A little laughter.  And graduate students.

Pretty much describes my afternoon

1 comment:

  1. I have been treated to a lot of rounds of yawnomatopoeia lately. Beginning to wonder if I just bore easily....