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 revels in pointing out the ridiculous or ironic in her life. Walking the hallowed halls of some possible Ivy League school, she spies an unexpected scene. Two scientists (presumably)--one carrying out the work of science with a surgical instrument and the other scooping out the insides of a grapefruit with a spoon. It's hard to take that image seriously.
I teach at a university, in a department where, sometimes, far too many people take themselves far too seriously. While I think the pursuit of literature and writing is a serious and worthy endeavor, I also find the humorless affectation of some of my colleagues to be somewhat ridiculous. Dillard would agree.
As a small example, at the last department meeting, a very heated debate broke out over the issue of whether graduate and teaching assistants should be allowed to attend department meetings. I was not at the meeting, but one of my colleagues was. She said that, for fifteen minutes, voices were raised and tempers flared. It was as if they were arguing about giving the graduate students nuclear codes to launch missiles.
Again, I am in no way trying to diminish the work done by members of the English Department. They are a hard-working and dedicated group of individuals. However, the subjects discussed in English Department meetings are not state secrets. They are questions about curriculum and courses and administrative duties. In the nearly 20 years I have been teaching at the university, and in all the department meetings I have attended during that time, I can count on one hand how often sensitive, potentially confidential information was discussed.
I am a little tired of people with lancets who won't take a break from dissecting their fish to eat some grapefruit. Life is way too short to be so damn serious. And, if something is being said that may anger or upset a person or group of people, perhaps it simply shouldn't be uttered. As my mother taught me at a very young age, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all."
Saint Marty's solution to this dilemma: invite the graduate students to attend one department meeting. They will never want to go to another one ever again.