Wednesday, October 10, 2007


One of my favourite pastimes is making up words.

A little while back, I coined the word "earlate" which is what you are when you arrive early and then find something to do to kill some time, but kill too much and end up late. You were late, but you should get some credit for having been early in the first place. So you're earlate. I was very proud of that; I hope it catches on.

Here are a couple more of my recent neologisms:

Pressert: the sweet part of the meal you usually eat last but eaten before the main course. I sometimes indulge in pressert when I am too impatient to wait for the main course to come out of the oven.

Carbage: the mess of fast food containers, drink cans, and other junk that builds up in the back seat of a car. I make an effort to keep my carbage to a minimum but every time I look back there -- there it is.

Please use these words as often as you can, preferably in print and referring to this blog if at all possible. I would like to be in the OED someday. It's my OE-Destiny. Hey, there's another one.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Those of you who know me personally (are there strangers out there reading this? how on earth did you find it?), I have recently become single for the first time in a long time.

Now, relax, this is not going to be a long whine about how being single sucks and how I'm so lonely and how depressed I am about never finding someone again -- none of that applies to me. I'm doing just fine in my single life, thank you very much.

But being a single adult is not entirely what I expected it to be based on my TV and movie experiences.

For one thing, no one is trying to set me up. I was under the impression that people are always trying to set up single people with other people they know. I'm not sure I particularly want to be set up, but it is a bit unnerving to think that nobody has been sitting around and saying, "have I got a guy for you!"

Which brings me to the second thing that has surprised me about being single. Nobody cares. In the movies and TV, it's somehow the defining characteristic of any single person. It's like there's a ringing alarm bell going off the whole time. It's all anyone can talk about. But here I am going on with my life.

Different than it was, and different than I thought it would be.

Anybody free next Friday night?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


For a long time I have resented the term "academic" as applied to people in my profession because it seemed dangerously close to trivializing the work. People say, "it's all academic" to mean it doesn't really matter. I preferred the term "scholar" because it suggested the actual work of what someone like me does. Scholarship. Dignified. Important. Certainly not just academic.

But lately I've been more deeply involved in the administrative side of the university, and I have a better appreciation of all the various things that need to be done to keep this ship afloat. Moreover, I've found myself thinking more and more about the future of this place and how I might contribute to it.

And it occurs to me that being a professor is about more than one's own research and teaching and even more than what is blandly called "service" around here. To be a professor is to be a custodian of an ancient tradition. Often neglected, to be sure, often sullied by cupidity and small-mindedness no doubt, but somehow, through all the years there is still, miraculously, a place where people like me are paid good money to be high-minded idealists.

It irks me to have to keep track of receipts for printers and desks, and it wearies me to get terse emails from faculty who have been accidentally left off mailing lists or who have been assigned a course they don't want to teach. But through all that I manage to work slowly away on a book whose only effect when finished will be to help readers better understand a single play. I spend hours every week instructing a captive audience on how to better read poetry. If universities had never existed, the idea of spending millions of dollars on public money for such things would seem absurd to our pragmatic legislators. But here they are, and here I am. And a great many of my colleagues feel the same way.

In a small way we are like the great Plato himself who was taught by Socrates never to accept conventional wisdom but to question everything and to seek for virtue and truth, no matter how remote they may be. He called his school the Academy and people like me try to keep that spirit alive as best we can.

This is the academy. I am an academic.