Saturday, January 28, 2012

The ground running

It has been four weeks since I sat down to write a blog entry. It has been a busy, busy, busy entry to 2012. I have hit the ground running!

Four weeks ago I moved on to New York for that phase of my winter vacation, and I hit the ground running there. I got off the plane, zipped over to the subway, dropped off my bags on the upper west side, and immediately then went out for dinner with old Hackley friends. I hit the ground running! Throughout that week, I visited and schmoozed and ate and shivered and reveled. I got on a plane a week after I arrived, headed for Bangkok for a recruiting job fair for new teachers at KA. I got off the plane (after 23 hours of travel), took a limo (I actually just thought it was a taxi!) checked into the Sheraton, showered, and within an hour or so, I had the first interview of that week. I hit the ground running! After six days in Bangkok and many, many interviews (as well as some great street food in an alley at a place run by “Mama San,”) I got on a plane in the middle of the night, heading back to Amman. I landed at 10:15 and with the customs and baggage claim, rushed back to campus, took a quick shower, and made it for my 11:30 class. Yes, you get the theme of this blog entry, of the month of January, 2012 (and if you could see my fingers racing over the keys, even the speed at which I am blogging right now!) I hit the ground running!

Oh, there have been so many things I wanted to write about. I wanted to write a postcard from Bangkok, I wanted to muse about the death of Vaclac Havel, and I wanted to look back 150 years to what was going on in the Civil War in January, 1862, the first winter of the war. I wanted to write about the year ahead; I wanted to muse a little more about the year we left behind. But, so far, there have been no blog entries in 2012. There has been so much to report—the four days I got to spend with former student Abdullah in New York, visits with A-list friends Kate and Harrison, great interviews in Bangkok, the idiocy of Edihat airlines and how they charged me an unbelievable amount for a carry-on bag, the visit by my friend Christy to KA in Jordan again, how wonderful my classes have been going with my seniors and my art history students. I wanted to explain about this detailed, long work I am doing with a sub-committee on faculty evaluation and appraisal.

But no—none of those blog entries have materialized. I have—wait for it—hit the ground running and kept running this month.

I might have begun with a more peaceful look into the new year—something like this:The only safe thing to say about the future is that, borrowing from Mort Sahl, it lies ahead. After that, we are all on our own.

Or another thought I had was to provide you with a postcard of my week in New York, where serendipity is always my curator. I might have begun that entry like this: I look around the city and see intentional, and unintentional, works of art. I enjoy the becalmed rooms of galleries as well as the extensions of the art in the teeming metropolis. New York is simply the greatest “ready-made” art work in the world.

But instead, let me not just run run run for a couple of minutes. Let me slow the pacing of my typing down. Let me think about something other than the concatenations of my schedule. Let me be a little more playful. I need to read a little poetry, a little playful piece by Wallace Stevens, called, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream.”

Anyway, in my desire to slow down a little, I was reminded of the peculiar, bongo-playing, Nobel-laureate physicist named Richard Feynman. As a young faculty member at Cornell, Feynman was in the cafeteria when a student tossed a dinner plate into the air. As the plate spun, it also wobbled. Because of the university insignia stamped on the plate, Feynman could see that the spinning and wobbling motions were not quite in sync. He knew, hmmmm, that the two types of rotation must be related.

After an enormous amount of hard work, Feynman discovered the underlying mathematical ratio. He then proudly showed his calculations to the head of his department, who asked, “What’s the importance of that?” Feynman replied, “It doesn’t have any importance. I don’t care whether a thing has importance. Isn’t it fun?” It later turned out that these calculations became part of Feynman’s revolutionary work in nuclear physics.

Well, we all do a great deal of running. Perhaps each of us has hit the ground in 2012 running. But I wanted to remind us that we should also not forget to play. Why can’t our happiness, humanity and hope be tied up in the idea of intellectual inventiveness and curiosity? Many ideas across history are products of playfulness, imagination and risk taking.

I just wanted to take a pause in the running and remind us of the joys of play. Of risk taking and imaginative fun. Who knows what discoveries we might make in the year that lies ahead!