Wednesday, September 14, 2011

David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer: A "Director's Cut"

I have been spending some of my browsing time at the still-newish, still-figuring-it-all-out Grantland.  For those unfamiliar, Grantland is the brainchild of Bill Simmons to create a new space for long-form journalism on sports and popular culture, plus a healthy dose of Web 2.0-oriented materials (including a podcast network, blogs, and my personal favourite, a weekly feature called "The YouTube Hall of Fame").  Perhaps my single favourite initiative at Grantland, though, is the "Director's Cut," which is being edited by Michael MacCambridge.  Director's Cut offers a re-publishing of a widely-respected piece of sport journalism and then, like on a DVD-commentary, uses footnotes to allow the author to be interviewed (by MacCambridge) alongside the essay.  The first one of these, a 1980 feature by Tony Kornheiser for Inside Sports, was fascinating in no small part because the author has stopped writing (he does television and radio for ESPN) feeling he is out of words, that his literary gun has no more bullets in its chamber.  And when I say "fascinating," I also mean "terrifying" as the essay that is printed alongside the footnotes is full of wit, insight, respect for the subject (Nolan Ryan, then of the Houston Astros) and for the reader, and it all seems so effortless. And then "it" went away.

As good as the first instalment of this feature is, it is the current incarnation, a re-publishing of DFW's essay on Roger Federer (from 2006) that I would urge anyone reading this to go visit and read immediately.  (And then perhaps  read the Kornheiser instalment, too, if only for the chance to see the 1980 Houston Astros' uniforms one more time.  Shudder.)  Besides being deeply influenced and inspired by Foster Wallace, I think this particular essay is a master class for all storytellers, especially those of us who struggle with the challenge of conveying our sense of amazement, wonder, and excitement with our subjects to our readers without becoming hackney abusers of exclamation points, the word "amazing,"or, heaven forbid, emoticons.  (Good lord, re-reading that previous sentence makes me want to yell at some kids in the neighbourhood for being on my lawn and playing their music too loud.)  MacCambridge cannot interview DFW, of course, but he contextualizes the essay's making and publication with some fresh new information and perspective.  For DFW-junkies, that alone makes the Grantland feature a must-read.

Anyway, please go read that essay.  It is amazing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two Years of Rust

Because I have been fielding some questions from students and colleagues about my whereabouts and going-ons for the last couple of years, I thought a long-overdue blog post was warranted.  What follows is narcissistic, navel-gazing, and perhaps a candidate for #humblebrag.  Forewarned.  Better stuff will be coming in the weeks and months ahead as this blog gets a soft re-boot of sorts.

After teaching since I finished my PhD in 2002, the last two years provided a most welcome break from the grind.  Thanks to the generation that preceded me in the university, and provided vastly improved working conditions for academics,  I benefitted from not only a sabbatical in 2009-2010 but also a parental leave for 2010-2011.  I managed to stay rather active in those 2 years, especially with 2 new edited books (well, one brand new and one "new and improved" from the first edition),  some conference and public presentations, plus examining doctoral and M.A. theses, doctoral comprehensive examinations, and chairing an OGS committee (not in history -- for which all historians let out a big "WHEW") for the first time.

Closer to my academic home, I was also part of a new initiative called "DH@CWorks" (website forthcoming), or "Digital History at Carleton Workshop."  At the website, we shall be promoting a wide range of new research by students and faculty, done in the context of our courses, that are contributions to the burgeoning field of digital humanities and digital history.   Among the the things that I will be contributing is the development of a both an immersive interactive website and a mobile computing application related to the place memories of 20th-century childhoods in neighbourhoods around Carleton.  More details about this can be read about at the CCPH Tumblr page.

This fall, in addition to teaching a third-year course in Historical Representations I am also coming home to Canadian Social History.  I could not be more excited to teach the course which has best defined me as a teaching professor, and I will be teaching with the second edition of Home, Work, and Play for the first time.  The usual combination of nerves and excitement that accompany us on that first day are going to be on steroids for me.  I already feel bad for my students:  a hyper, excitable professor at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning is nothing less than terrifying.  Apologies, 2304ers.

I am also very excited about the crop of new graduate students coming to work with me this September, including 3 new public history M.A. students doing different-but-complementary research on the commemorative practices of the War of 1812.  Road trips next summer to the north shore of the St. Lawrence and the Niagara Peninsula are already planned.  It will be a spectacular nerd-fest for those of us there doing fieldwork.

If I write one more word about myself, I might vomit on my keyboard.  So that's it.  I am back, I am rusty, but I am also excited.

(As an apology for this post, here is something beautiful:

LA Light from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Michael Chabon on Being Where You're At

Along with David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen, I consider Michael Chabon absolutely essential reading.  While each is perhaps best known as a novelist or author of short fiction, it is their respective forays into literary nonfiction which I read and re-read consistently for inspiration.  (The novels and short stories are purely for my inner self which does not belong to anyone but there!)  Recently, Chabon was a guest blogger at Ta-Nhehisi Coates' blog over at the Atlantic and while his post on his rediscovery and renewed obsession with hip hop is a great read (who else would use Borges to explain why Wax Poetics is so seminal to postwar American culture?), his 10 January 2011 post made me both think and smile.  Here are the bits that spoke so loudly to me, but please read the whole post at the Atlantic site:

The real Telegraph Avenue runs straight as a steel cable, changing its nature more or less completely every ten blocks or so, from the medical-marijuana souks of Oaksterdam, past the former Lamp Post bar where Bobby Seale used to hang out (now called Interplay Center, where you can "unlock the wisdom of your body"), past Section 8 housing and the site of a founding settlement of the native Ohlone people at the corner of 51st Street, past the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library and Akwaba Braiding and a buttload of Ethiopian restaurants, ending in an august jangle at the gates of the Cal campus, and I guess that for a guy who likes hanging around the borderlands--between genres, cultures, musics, legacies, styles--the appeal of Telegraph lies in the way it reflects a local determination to find your path irrespective of boundary lines, picking up what you can, shaking off what you can, along the way. But can you claim a home in a nameless place, at the edge of a wandering border?

Or is your "hometown" only, ever, the place where you grew up? For me that would be Columbia, MD, from shortly after the late-'60s opening of that "planned community," in a vast stretch of former tobacco country south of Baltimore, through its idealistic heyday of the 1970s. I haven't been back in years, and at any rate could never hope to return to the Columbia where I grew up, still exuberantly dedicated to becoming the hometown envisioned by its founder, James Rouse--multiracial, multiethnic, ecumenical, economically diverse, green and heavily playgrounded and bicycle-friendly, fulfilling the promises of the American experiment one neocolonial tract house at a time. That Columbia, to the extent that it ever existed anywhere but (at least) in the imagination of one little white boy, has long since faded away.

Maybe your hometown is always an imaginary place: the home of your imagination. If so, then mine--at its best, at its most vivid--whether the vanishing rainbow of Columbia, or the shifting restless polycultural territory manifesting in the joint between Oakland and Berkeley, is a place a lot like this place right here, a place to which people come most of all, I think, because they want to live around people who are not like them, because that is the very thing they have most in common, because they are dedicated to the self-evident truth articulated in one of the founding documents of my hometown, that it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at.