Context Clues

Bayou Conversation

What’s in an Acronym

I work at an HBCU. That acronym is not recognized by my spellchecker, nor was it in my vocabulary until I came to work here. It stands for “Historically Black College or University,” a term which requires even more unpacking.

In a nutshell, the story is this. Once upon a time in America, people of color had virtually no educational opportunities. Even after slavery was abolished, institutions of learning were for white people only, and remained so for generations, especially in the American South. And so eventually HBCUs were established, and over a hundred are still operating today.

Like me, most Americans don’t know about HBCUs, their role in our history, or their continued relevance. To understand this, you have to come to terms with certain painful aspects of our history, which seem to be subject to a peculiar and selective cultural amnesia. Sometimes we’d rather forget about slavery and its legacy. Or perhaps we’d like to pretend that’s all well behind us, old dead history of purely academic interest. Such a view relegates HBCUs to the status of relics, anachronisms, survivals of a bygone age. The truth is that while we’ve made progress we are still living that history, and racial disparities are still significant. HBCUs still have a role to play. I’ve been learning about all this, and more, on the job.

Book Club

I work in faculty development. It’s part of my job to think and grow together with the people who are actually in the classroom teaching.

One avenue to that end is our Fall Faculty Book Club, which has been running for several years now. This time around, we are reading How Black Colleges Empower Black Students, an anthology edited by Frank Hale Jr. The response has been phenomenal. We had so many faculty wanting to participate that we had to split into two groups.

As I read through the very first essay, “HBCUs in the Old South and the New South,” by Samuel DuBois Cook, I learned a lot. I did not know, for example, that HBCUs were at the forefront of the movement toward diversity and inclusion. Most modern educational institutions now embrace these values — or at least pay them lip service. But in the Old South, this was a radical commitment that went against the grain of the dominant culture, and there were consequences. I’ll cite just one instance: The state of Georgia cut off funding to Atlanta University because they had accepted some white students. Read that again if you have to. Atlanta University had been established as an HBCU, and the idea that white students would be attending classes and rubbing elbows with Black students was unacceptable to the establishment. The university administration held their ground and lost state funding. This was in 1885. The university survives to this day, in the form of Clark Atlanta, but it could not have been easy. This is a dramatic illustration of a general principle. HBCUs have always been inclusive and multiracial, long before the contemporary notion of diversity became popular.

Sacred Work

The religious themes in this essay were also striking. These are by no means incidental, as the very first HBCUs were private institutions founded by religious groups. As Dr. Cook notes at the outset,

It was neither accidental nor an experience of minor and fleeting importance and relevance that virtually all of the educational institutions founded to educate freedmen were church-related. Indeed, the church-relatedness of their origin was of overwhelming and enduring significance, meaning, and value. Involved were a theological worldview, formal commitment to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and a belief — however insufficient — that ex-slaves and their descendants were human persons endowed by God with intrinsic dignity, value, and worth and were equal in God’s sight.

Furthermore, Dr. Cook refers to the founding and operation of these institutions as “sacred work.” He writes of teaching as a “sacred commitment,” a “divine art and enterprise.” That language gave me pause.

I work at an institution which is not only “church-related” but which was founded by a saint, now canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. The cornerstone of the oldest building here, dedicated in 1932 and built with Indiana limestone, bears this inscription:

God’s greatest work on earth is man.
Man’s master art is the leading of man to God.

Teaching is surely one of those arts that can lead “man to God.” I’ll leave aside my reservations about theological doctrine for the moment, though they are many. As I read Dr. Cook’s essay, I realized that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to participate in this “sacred work.” One doesn’t even have to be Christian. One doesn’t even have to be a theist.

So, in a very real way, I might assert that my job is my religion. Or at least a part of it.

Discussion Group

As I mentioned, interest in this book was so high we had to split into two discussion groups, with my boss facilitating one while I took the other. We had our first meeting on Monday.

In aiming to foster a good discussion, I drew upon a key lesson from last year’s book club selection, The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc: Start with a story.

We began by going around the table, introducing ourselves, and telling a bit of our story. “Tell us how you got here,” I said. “Tell us the story of why you are here, both on this campus generally and in this particular room. Tell us how you came to be at this HBCU, and also why you wanted to be here reading this book about HBCUs.”

I began with my own story, in order to model the sort of openness I wanted to hear from the others. I won’t repeat that in detail here, as I’ve written about all this before: How my grandfather was a Klansman, how I went to high school with Klansmen. Despite growing up north of the Mason-Dixon line, I grew up in a virtually monocultural suburb where Black people were rarely seen. My point was that the very notion of an HBCU was completely off my radar. I never heard of such a thing until I was searching for a job back in ’99.

Though I’ve picked up some bits and pieces over the past twelve years, I never got a formal orientation to HBCUs, what they represent, and what it means to work at one. Furthermore, my department is responsible for orienting new faculty each year. So by reading this book, I’m hoping to deepen my understanding, to finally get that orientation, and learn how to orient others.

Around the Table

As we went around the table, a couple interesting things happened. First, people really did open up. The stories people told were heartfelt, candid, and emotional. Second, I experienced a sense of humility and honor and interconnection and respect that seemed quite profound — and I’m certain I was not alone in this. I felt some intangible essence reflected back to me from the face of each participant.

I was reminded that dialog can be a spiritual practice.

On my door to my office I have posted a copy of the Tree of Contemplative Practices. After the meeting was over, I consulted it.

Tree of Contemplative Practices

Sure enough, listed under relational practices one finds dialog, deep listening, and storytelling.

How does it work? Just off the cuff, my impression is that when you really open up to dialog you become part of something bigger than yourself. Sitting in that room, listening to my colleagues and co-workers, we became more than just ten individuals around a table. Some sense of shared purpose and identity began to emerge, however tenuous, however briefly. Most every spiritual path seems to acknowledge the idea of being a part of a larger whole.

We had that sense of expanded context doubly Monday, as we experienced a communion of sorts with one another, and also felt our sense of shared mission within the larger scope of history.

Context is everything.

Tangents & Foonotes: In the process of writing this I discovered the Spirituality & Practice website, which appears to be a great resource. For example, check out the section on listening as a spiritual practice, and make sure to use the listed links for related quotations, books, films, art and much, much more.

I am trying to keep these posts under a thousand words. Trying, and failing.

After the Tide

Rising Tide Sign

I’m actively looking for ways to integrate various aspects of my seemingly disparate interests. Having Rising Tide here on the campus of the university where I work was a major integrative accomplishment for me personally. I don’t mean that it was particularly onerous, because it wasn’t; but it was extremely gratifying. Of course I tend to think it’s also a major benefit to both the University and the conference itself. The participants get a great venue and the University gets a quality educational event. I love to see these things coming together.

That’s my windy way of saying that Rising Tide 6 was a screaming success, thanks to the work of countless volunteers over the last several months.

I was too busy to pay close attention to the actual programmatic content — but through the miracle of video technology and the yeomanlike efforts of Jason Berry, I’ll be able to catch up after the fact. And so can you.

Here’s the panel I helped put together for Rising Tide on “Social Media, Social Justice.”

Sadly Cherri Foytlin was stranded in Charlotte by Hurricane Irene so she does not appear, but thanks to Mary Joyce for filling in on short notice. Kimberly Joy Chandler moderates; other panelists are Jordan Flaherty, James Huck and Stephen Ostertag.

All the videos should be online by week’s end. By the way, over a thousand people tuned in to the webcast live. 1,249 to be exact. As Jason says, that’s “pretty damn good for the first outing and the little advertising we had for it.”

The event was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

There was a lot of great stuff on stage, but my favorite moment occurred in the hallway, when the police working the detail got into a friendly theological debate with one of our vendors, Grammy-winning soapmaker, William Terry.

A Necessary Failure?

Circle of Chairs

Over the past year or two I’ve become increasingly interested in the idea of contemplative pedagogy. This is the notion that we can foster a more thoughtful way of living and learning in our students and in ourselves by cultivating reflective and meditative practices in our teaching.

To this end, I’ve relished the opportunity to engage in a series of discussions on this topic with faculty, and I’ve challenged myself to incorporate contemplative practices into these sessions whenever appropriate.

Most recently I had the opportunity to lead a short discussion with participants in the Faculty Communities of Teaching Scholars. Our theme this year is “Promoting Critical Thinking and Self-Authorship in the First Two Years.” Contemplative practices seem like a perfect fit for developing self-authorship, and so once again I attempted to teach by example. As we were thinking so intensely about our students’ needs and capacities, I decided to conduct a loving-kindness meditation. Also known as Metta Bhavana, this is an ancient practice from the Buddhist tradition. I modified the typical practice to focus specifically on our students.

In some ways, I may have been overreaching. I am not a practicing Buddhist, and more to the point I had never done Metta Bhavana before. Nevertheless, I went forward with it. I even went so far as to rearrange our classroom into a configuration more conducive to the practice.

I was fairly pleased with the results. Certainly I did get some good feedback from the participants, with at least one person saying she repeated the practice later on her own time. That’s wonderful.

All the same, in some ways I consider the exercise at least a partial failure. The problem was not the practice itself, I think, so much as what followed. I was so intent on preparing for the Metta Bhavana itself that I did not attend to the context. I failed to make a strong connection between the meditative practice and the larger conversations that had been emerging in the classroom over the previous days. That left some participants wondering what to make of it all.

But if this was a failure, at least it was an educational and perhaps necessary one. I learned a valuable lesson. Several in fact. Always attend the context. Always make the connection. When trying something new, don’t neglect these important basics.

Cross-posted at CAT Food (for thought)

A Dozen Intertwining Years

Today Tomorrow I am celebrating a dozen years here at the University. That means we moved to New Orleans twelve years and a couple weeks ago. I can’t conceive of one without the other. A dozen years of work and life at this school in this city. As previously noted, I’ve now spent a quarter of my life here. I used to agonize about the prospect of a bifurcated life, but somewhere along the way I’ve come to blend my multiple personal and professional roles. My home life and work life and civic life are all sort of intertwined. My neighbors are my co-workers are my co-conspirators are my friends. Occasionally striking the right balance can be a challenge, but for the most part I like it. I feel like a whole person, and I’m glad to have found a place where that’s tolerated and occasionally even encouraged.

Here’s a photo I took when I started here, and another I took this weekend. I just noted they are remarkably similar, though I didn’t plan it.



Same as it ever was, the more things change, still crazy after all these years, et cetera.

Of all the moments I’ve enjoyed here at the University, one of the funniest was the Great Toilet Installation Fail of 2010 which I just posted to the FAIL Blog, per Maitri’s suggestion. Please vote it up.

May Madness

This used to be a mellow time of year for me. Mostly I work with faculty, and faculty tend to get very busy toward the end of the academic year. That means they have less time to work with me. But since 2009 that’s changed. There are two new factors that have made this a crazy time. We’ve started doing a week-long seminar that begins as soon as school ends. And then there are the honoree videos.

(The hike would be a third factor but we did it earlier than ever this year.)

The video project stems from when our new Vice-President of Academic Affairs instituted an teaching award. Each year, awards are given in three categories to junior and senior faculty, for a total of six awards. I was taken by surprise when I was asked to produce a video of each winner, to be shown at commencement. But when your boss’s boss’s boss asks you to do something, it’s generally a good idea to make him happy. So I’ve done my best at this task for three years now, though it’s just about the only video production I do at this job anymore.

This was an odd assignment, because the videos are extremely short — just 25 seconds each — and they have no audio. It’s just a little something to throw up on the screen while they announce each award.

I got my co-worker Jim, in Media Services, to help out. He did all the shooting. I set up the shoots, provided some direction, carried the tripod, and did all the editing.

We had to hustle to get them done because there’s a very narrow window of opportunity between when the winners are initially revealed and the commencement ceremony. It’s a lot of work and not much glory, but it’s mostly pleasant, and the short deadline means there’s a limit to the madness.

I just got the sixth video done yesterday, and then in the afternoon, I got a call: The script for this portion of commencement has been changed, shortened, and it no longer makes sense to show the videos. Instead, they decided to go with stills, which I exported from the videos.

No skin off my nose. Still, I’m a little bummed no one will see the results of our labor, so here with I present six short silent videos. I think they’re kind of cool, and in some small way they capture something of why I love working here.

You’ll note I didn’t shoot the video for that last one. We got that from Michael’s private archive. The University did not fly Jim and me out to the Middle East.

If they decide to stick with the still image format next year, I imagine they might ask the University photographer to take pictures of the honorees. If so, this may be the last time I’m involved. Which is fine with me. Our work in faculty development is inherently non-evaluative. We’ve worked for years to create a space on campus where faculty can explore issues around teaching without feeling judged. Being associated with these awards in any way has been slightly awkward. Perhaps this means next May will be less crazy for me.

Mostly Wasted

Waiting for the Electricity

Yesterday was a strange one. I busted my butt to get on campus in a timely fashion. (Persephone had a bad case of back-to-school blues — not a fun morning.) But when I got here I found the lights were flickering. We had partial power — half voltage or something like that. My boss said her printer was making weird noises of its own volition. I was able to boot up my computer and get online briefly, but I soon lost the connection and then we lost all power. The phone system was also having problems. I was supposed to shoot some video of a faculty member who’s won an award; I tried calling him but couldn’t get through. Of course the elevators were not working, so Jim and I went down four flights of stairs and over to the next building and back up three flights. I’d figured we’d have to postpone the shoot but it turns out the faculty member’s research area has emergency backup power. So we headed back down the stairs and over to a third building, and up four flights. Fortunately that elevator was working. We had to wear biohazard gear: masks and coveralls and gloves and footies and hairnets. The gear was uncomfortable and the whole experience was unsettling. It was an animal research facility. I’d vaguely known it existed, but I’d never been there before. I found myself ethically disturbed. I guess that’s the best way of putting it. But we shot the video. I spent the rest of the day waiting for the power to come back on. But when it did the net was still not available. There’s not much I can do offline. It was “Quiet Day,” the day between classes and finals, and for once Quiet Day was really quiet. I talked to one faculty member who came to campus just for a meeting, which had to be canceled because the convener couldn’t access her e-mail to retrieve the agenda. Finally I headed home, and I had to agree with a co-worker who said the day was “mostly wasted.” I was patting myself on the back for being one of the few people who actually got something done. But then today Jim pointed out that the video we shot is probably not viable because our subject is wearing a facemask. You can’t see who he is. The Administration may also have concerns about the location and subject matter; animal research is a touchy subject. We’ll have to shoot it again. So the day was pretty much a bust after all.


I took these minutes on my 39th birthday, which was the day the University re-opened after the flooding of the city. What a strange day. We’d seen our city on the brink of annihilation, and the future was very uncertain. We came into our conference room, sat around the table, looked at each other and wondered, “What now?” That was five year ago today. I’ve edited this a bit to obscure individual identities and remove any information that might be considered sensitive.
Continue reading Minutes

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish Balls

Yesterday we had our annual holiday open house here at the Center, and faculty came from all across campus to enjoy a variety of treats. I’d say it was pretty successful, in that we saw a number of faculty who haven’t darkened our door way for a good long while, which is the whole point this exercise in hospitality. Credit my boss who made the morning rounds inviting all the academic departments.

Fish Balls

Some people wondered how it was that a gentile like myself ended up bring gefilte fish to the party. The answer is a bit convoluted. We have to go back to our open house three years ago, when my brandy balls were upstaged by my boss’s husband’s bigger bourbon balls. Ever since then I’ve been plotting my revenge, trying to figure how I could bring the ultimate dish — balls that would admit no answer.

At our last staff meeting, it dawned on me that fish balls would make a pretty strong statement. I found a bunch of recipes, mostly for Asian-style dishes that are served hot. That would present logistical problems, besides which cold fish balls would be much more impressive. A net search on this phrase led me to recipes for gefilte fish, which are essentially chopped fish balls, typically served cold. I like pickled herring so I figured I might like gefilte. I believe they are more traditional at Passover, but none of my co-workers here at the Center are Jewish, so I figured they wouldn’t know any better. I consulted Liprap just to make sure that serving gefilte fish during Chanukah wouldn’t be considered offensive.

Liprap also advised me that I could buy commercially prepared gefilte fish at any local grocery. Awesome, that saved me the trouble of actually cooking it myself. Nevertheless I tried to pass it off as homemade. I printed out a recipe and put it on the table beside the gefilte — which I served in a nice ceramic dish. Alas, one of our guests asked me directly, “Did you make this yourself?” I’d pretty much fooled my co-workers up to that point, but I couldn’t tell a brazen lie, so my ruse was revealed.

For the first part of the day, my fish balls were mocked and reviled. My co-workers were in fact openly revolted by the very sight of the dish, to say nothing of the aroma. I actually felt sorry for the very first person who sampled the gefilte (Jason from Philosophy) as it was clear he was not enjoying it; I told him he didn’t have to finish it, and he was plainly relieved.

Then I had to try one myself. I pride myself on trying new things, but I must confess I found it challenging. I choked the whole thing down, however. They’re quite large. The horseradish definitely helped.

Not everyone was so squeamish. Late in the day, we had a run on the fish balls, with no fewer than four faculty of diverse backgrounds apparently relishing the dish. Two of these folks may or may not have been Jewish, but the other two definitely were not. A Japanese teacher raved about how much she liked them. Most intriguing to me was the Muslim historian who wolfed down a fish ball and then went back for seconds.

When our open house was over, I felt validated. The gefilte fish was a source of intrigue and humor all day long. I don’t think I will ever eat it again — at least I hope not — though I have to admit this recipe for salmon gefilte looks intriguing.

How will I top this? Next year, I’ll probably have to take Frank’s advice from 2007 and make spotted dick.

Thanks Qatar

Here at the University today we are celebrating the opening of the College of Pharmacy’s new Qatar Pavilion. This is a big deal. In addition to our president, the mayor will be saying a few words and the special guest is His Excellency Saad Bin Ibrahim al-Mahmoud, the Minister of Education & Higher Education for the State of Qatar.

Olivia and I beat the crowd by sneaking over there earlier this week and taking a peek, as well as a few pictures.


My favorite moment on our self-guided tour was when Olivia pulled back a curtain to reveal a mannequin lying on a table. She just about jumped out of her skin.


It’s called the Qatar Pavilion because the nation of Qatar donated $12.5 million toward its construction. That’s part of $100 million Qatar donated to various causes in the local area following Hurricane Katrina. This provides a good antidote to a couple of pernicious myths. The first myth is that the USA doesn’t receive foreign aid. Yes, we do. I recall after Katrina even poor nations like Jamaica and Bangladesh were helping us out. The second myth is, of course, the idea that Islam is at war with Christianity. I’d just like to point out that Qatar is a Muslim country and our school is Catholic. ‘Nuff said.

I hope to show my parents the new building when they come to visit. They were mighty impressed by our new University Center five or six years ago. It’s pretty cool to be at a place that is growing even in these tough times. The University has been in growth mode since before I came to work here. Enrollment took a hit after the floods of 2005, for sure, but we’re back to our pre-Katrina numbers now or getting close. This next fiscal year may be the toughest I’ve seen, but at least we’re not laying people off.

Of course, with growth come growing pains. Success presents new challenges. How can an institution such as ours aspire to the next level and still hold onto its soul? That question is on my mind as we read The Heart of Higher Education in our faculty book club.

And on a relevant note, the next construction project here is the building of a new chapel, which is already underway.



Blue & Red

I guess the official date is in April but I took my daughter to work yesterday. She was here about five hours, and we had a blast.

We always call her daycare “school.” Xy is a teacher and I work at a university, so we all go to school. Actually my girls are both on summer vacation now, but I still go to “Dada’s school” every day.

Xy had a teacher meeting yesterday so I decided it would be a good time to bring her on campus with me for a change of pace. We packed a lunch together: carrot, apple, and cheese sandwiches. I pushed her to campus in a stroller, and let me tell you it’s a harrowing experience. Not the most pedestrian-friendly part of town. Did you know the intersection of Palmetto and Carrollton is the busiest in Orleans Parish? But we arrived safely at last.

She got to meet a bunch of people — mostly librarians — and we practiced saying “good morning” in a nice clear voice instead of mumbling shyly. We read seven books from the children’s section. We rode the elevators and climbed the stairs. We ate our lunch in the “tonfrence room” and she decided that she doesn’t like horseradish sauce or Tabasco.

She spotted the John Scott sculpture from the window, which led to a very pleasant walking tour of the quad, plus she learned a new word: sculpture. We looked at a bunch of them.

But her favorite activity, without question, was drawing on the dry-erase board.

A Quarter of My Life

Sometime a few months ago this slipped past me: I’ve now spent a quarter of my life in the city of New Orleans, a quarter of my life working at the University. And it dawned on me that my experience of this city is very much bound up with my employment at this school. I’ve lived in three different houses and an apartment, in three different districts; Xy has taught at six different schools (soon to be seven); we’ve seen friends come and go, moved in various circles, taken care of nigh on a dozen cats, and brought forth progeny of our own — but the one constant has been working here. I recently joked that I’ve been in this same office over three decades. Silly but true: I started here in ’99, worked through the Aughts, and now it’s the Teens. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve thoroughly cleaned my office once over all this time. But all kidding aside, this has been a source of great stability in my life, and I am very glad to be here. I can’t imagine how different New Orleans might seem if my job situation was different.

I also missed my annual observance of my start date on the first of June, marking eleven years here at the University. Looking back in the archives I found this remark from 2004:

I’m trying to imagine where I’ll be five years from now. I’ll be 42. Bush will no longer be president. Other than that, little is certain. I imagine myself still living in New Orleans, still working at the University, still hanging with Xy, still producing ROX.

When you put it that way, life just doesn’t sound very exciting. But there are bound to be plenty of surprises too.

Granted, I really should have cited this last year when I was 42. But it’s not too late to observe that, indeed, there have been a few surprises along the way. Most notable among them was the failure in 2005 of the floodwalls on the outfall canals that drain water out of the city, allowing the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to flood my neighborhood and my home and a few hundred thousand others as well. We commonly refer to this phenomenon as “Katrina,” but that’s a sort of misleading shorthand.

I was going to mention my daughter as well, but she is not a “surprise,” technically. She was planned. But she is full of surprises. And I did not anticipate her when imagining my future six years ago.

PS: As an added bonus, here’s a picture I took of myself eleven years ago at my office.


This was taken on July 15, 1999, to be precise. I think this may be the first picture I ever took with a digital camera. It was an Apple QuickTake 200. I wonder whatever happened to it?

Ten Years of Issa Online

Dear Issa,

Of all the projects I’ve worked on in a decade of such work at the University, one of the very first remains one of the very best. I’m talking of course about the website, Haiku of Kobayashi Issa. Through this project I learned plenty about scripting search queries and managing Japanese character encoding. But more importantly I was introduced to haiku and to you, Issa. It has been a great honor to be involved with this project. When David translates his 10,000th haiku, perhaps it will be his turn to don the party clothes.

With much respect and affection,
Editor B

Then Came the Dark Days of April

Abril lluvioso (explored #2 April 20/2010) Abril lluvioso by Julián Lozano

This has always been a funny time of year for me. Between spring break and the end of the semester, faculty get more stressed than ever and tend to walk around campus enveloped in clouds of gloom. Because I don’t teach, I’m a bit removed from the pressures that build up at the end of the school year — but because I work with faculty, I absorb plenty of it vicariously. Yet I also know that just around the corner is the year’s biggest mood-swing. Once final grades are turned in, the sense of relaxation is palpable. That may be my favorite time of year. The run-up? Not so much. If I had any sense I’d take a nice long vacation right in the middle of April. Maybe next year.

Speaking of the cycle of the academic year, I picked up a new responsibility last year and I’m doing it again this year, so it appears to be a new part of my annual routine. The University has started giving awards to faculty for service, scholarship, and teaching. My task is to produce a few seconds of video of each winner to be shown when the awards are presented during the commencement ceremony. There’s a very narrow window of opportunity between when the honorees are announced and the production deadline. But that’s fine. I am hustling around campus with my co-worker Jim T. to capture video in classrooms, offices, and laboratories. Jim shoots the video, and I do the editing, but I also tag along to help carry equipment; occasionally I give some direction to the shooting, but Jim generally knows all the angles. It’s actually kind of fun, and it’s good practice for me. I realize I haven’t done any video production since this time last year.

Also I am considering staging a mini-Beltane/Head Shaving/Grilling/Tom Collins/May Day celebration on Saturday. Anyone wanna come over?


Abstract abstract of an abstract

A dream I had over the weekend:

It was back a couple years ago when we were in the process of hiring my boss. She’d just been offered the job here. In fact I think she’d accepted it, but hadn’t actually started yet.

Then she got an offer from Loyola. That doesn’t really make sense since she was already at Loyola at the time, but such is the logic of dreams. Somehow, even though she hadn’t started here, she had the opportunity to take me there with her, to Loyola, and not just me, but all my co-workers as well. I know, I know, it doesn’t make sense.

I considered it. I went to Loyola and walked around campus for a while. I had it in my mind that working there would require moving uptown, so I was considering moving as well.

Finally I went to my would-be boss, and I told her I couldn’t do it. I was too invested here at the University, and too invested in Mid-City.

I understand we dream every night, whether we remember them or not. I used to keep a journal of my dreams in the early 90s. It’s rare for me to remember any dreams these days. What I do remember tends to be fragmentary. This felt like a complete narrative, and it was very vivid, so quite rare for me anymore.

Dr. Francis and Me

Dr. Francis and Me

Here I am just hanging out with my favorite college president, Dr. Norman Francis.

Actually this photo was taken by Irving Johnson at a banquet where I was recognized for ten years of service here at the University.

I first realized Dr. Francis would be an inspirational figure to work for back in 1999, when I tuned into a national NPR story and he was quoted as an authority on the struggle for racial equality in America.

We don’t really interact much on campus, since he has much bigger fish to fry. I was honored to have my photo taken with him, and excited to receive it today. Definitely a keeper. Thanks Irving!

Honored to Be Here

Today I’m being heaped with honors for working here ten years. Of course I’ve got a thematic mix for this occasion.

(Though it should be noted this is a silly assemblage of tracks which have no cohesion other than their titles. I haven’t even heard most of this music. So, all disclaimers can and do apply.)

If I had a suit I’d have worn it. I put on my best pants — you know, for the kind they call “slacks” — and my best shirt. Unfortunately my bike’s in the shop, and it’s swelteringly humid here in New Orleans, so by the time I walked to work I was quite literally drenched. That’s not an exaggeration. My under clothes were soaking wet. Fortunately I keep a spare set of everything in my office.

I was able to get my shirt dried out in time for the convocation. I put on a cool vintage tie Xy bought me a year or so ago which has a burning oil lamp on it. I don’t think I’ve ever worn it before. The oil lamp signifies education, or illumination, or something, in my mind at least.

Yes, I’m proud to work at a university, because I believe in education. I believe in our mission. Hell, in this economy, I’m just glad to have a job, much less work that I enjoy. Pretty much every single day for the past ten years I’ve been amazed they pay me to do what I do. The other day I remarked to Xy that my job was the best thing we had going for us. Her reply: “It’s the only thing we have going for us.”

I headed over to the Barn, which is the campus nickname for the gymnasium. They pinned a boutonnière to my lapel and marched me in the procession. They have this ceremony every year on Founder’s Day, but this is the first time I’ve seen it up front. Of course, as a ten year employee I’m still on the lowest rung. They also recognized those who’ve been here 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years. I remember a while back there was a groundskeeper who made 50, if I recall correctly. I know I’m a sentimental old fool, but those kind of things always get me a little misty-eyed.

Humorous aside: They called my co-worker J—’s name for 30 years, and she wasn’t even in the building, nor was her name printed in the program. Yes, she started 30 years ago, but she had six years elsewhere and then came back. She gone round and round with HR about this, and she thought she’d gotten it straight and would be honored next year for 25. And I hope she will!

Recognizing employee anniversaries was only one part of the convocation. The choir sang, the band played, speeches were made. Seniors got their robes. Freshmen were awestruck, I’m sure, by the pomp, to say nothing of the circumstance. As an added bonus, they unveiled the winner of a logo contest for the University’s new Quality Enhancement Plan which is focused on reading. I’d completely forgotten about this, so it was a real treat for me because I’m the guy who suggested the contest in the first place. Too bad my design (“word is born” in the shape of a cross) didn’t win. I could have used that $500 gift certificate.

The singing of the Alma Mater always makes me feel weird. In four years of undergraduate plus two years of graduate study at Indiana University, I never once sung the school song, or heard the president speak, or really had any experiences that made me identify with the institution. And though I like the small, intimate, family feel of the University where I now work, where I now feel at home, still singing the school song seems a little too much like patriotism to me, a little too 1984 if you know what I mean. I’m kind of allergic to that stuff. I wonder how that happened.

Tonight I’m taking wife and daughter to a special banquet for honorees.