Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Week 3 of my Coursera modern poetry course, and I’m trying to keep up.

The material is fascinating, and there is so much of it with “ModPo.”  The instructional core comes from videos of the professor and students engaging in close readings of the poems, sitting around a table in the Kelly Writers House on the UPenn campus.  The syllabus also provides analytical articles and recordings of the poets themselves reciting their poems.  And then there are quizzes and writing assignments.

Almost every day, my e-mail inbox has updates, directions, tips, and advice for me.  One day last week I couldn’t even keep up with the updates, a disconcerting feeling for someone not used to be a laggard student.  I felt better after seeing some forum threads about not being able to read all there is to read.  Someone wrote she couldn’t resist sneaking peaks at the forum posts on her cell phone at work because the discussions are so intriguing.

ModPo study groups are springing up in Australia, Ireland, the Philippines, Russia, Chile.  And meet-up options with other Courserians are as close as Burbank and Alhambra.  One in Pasadena surely is in the offing.  My colleague Eileen, who is engaging in this experiment with me in the Coursera World History course, wants to check out a meet-up just to see who else shows up.  I told her we sounded like junior high students before a dance: “I don’t want to go by myself, so will you go with me?  I’ll go if you go.”  

In the meantime, I’ve got plenty enough to do online, following along with the dissections of Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just to Say.”  A rather intimidating-looking unit on Gertrude Stein is just ahead; maybe it will help if I re-watch Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”  

Also in the meantime, it’s week 5 at USC – how could it be almost mid-term time when it’s still so hot? – and I’m trying to keep up there, too.  But that’s another story. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Spine-tingling.  Amazing.  And the favorite word of students: awesome.  These were the top three words I heard after the 747 bearing the space shuttle Endeavor passed above us on the USC campus.

Six of my colleagues and I took a break from our meeting yesterday to go out by the track field, standing in the shade to escape the 92° noon-day sun, hoping that we’d see something amid the buildings and trees.  We got lucky, as the pilot made not one, but two passes directly over us.  The first fly-over acknowledged the California Science Center, the Endeavor’s ultimate destination and retirement home immediately to the south of the campus, and the second began the flight path to LAX. 

As I watched the actual landing on TV, I remembered watching the first shuttle landing, the Columbia’s on April 14, 1981.  I was on a university campus then, too, I realized: standing with a crush of other students and faculty in a common area at Georgetown Law’s McDonough Hall.  As we loudly cheered the landing together, those of us present were bonded with a great sense of pride.

Listening to the comments of the others as we waited, it seems that for many, they wanted to watch this because it would their closest, and last, opportunity to see in person a shuttle in flight, although not on its own steam.  For me who grew up wanting to be an astronaut, it was more like paying respects to the passing funeral cortege, the Endeavor borne as if on a caisson, with two escort planes on either side, like honor guards.  It was saying goodbye to our manned space program.  As the shuttle fleet has been dismantled and parceled out across the country over the past several months, I have been quietly outraged that we would mothball the shuttle program without a successor program.  We might have put the first man on the moon, but now the Russians and perhaps others will carry on manned space flight. 

I was proud for everyone, including my dad, who has made our manned space program what it is.  I was sad for what it has become. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Today I signed up for a class with a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  The professor welcomed me by name, introduced me to his TAs, wanted to make sure I had his course syllabus, and told me what the first assignment is.  All this, 2,700 miles away from Philadelphia, with 30,000 classmates around the world.

When I assumed this associate dean position six years ago, I was told that “distance learning” would be part of my “decanal portfolio.”  That’s academe-speak for it’s my job to know a “MOOC” from an “LMS.”  I’ve taught myself a lot from the time when I didn’t know “asynchronous” from “synchronous” delivery. 

The hot button in online higher education right now is what’s going on with a company started by a couple of Stanford computer science professors called “Coursera.”  They’ve put together a consortium of universities, including Caltech, Princeton, Duke, and Stanford, of course, to offer Internet-based continuing ed (non-credit) courses for free. Coursera espouses a humanitarian mission to bring world-class education to the masses, but my DL colleagues and I think it’s really all about brand marketing.  So to see what the buzz is all about and to be able to speak to it first-hand, I become one of more than a million “Courserians” who already have signed for a Coursera course.

I scanned the offerings, up for learning something new and challenging, but the “Basics of Nanotechnology” didn’t look all that basic to me.   I reconsidered the topics; perhaps I should take something in which I had at least a little background so I could have some pedagogical frame of reference.  “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry” – now that I can handle to evaluate, and even enjoy. 

Day one, and I’m impressed and intrigued.  Immediately after registering, I got a series of e-mails telling me everything I could possibly need and want to know about how to maximize my learning experience.  I can even “meet-up” with other Courserians in different parts of LA and other cities across the country, if I want (I don’t, but just think about the social networking implications). 

So for the next ten weeks, I’m going to be studying 19th-century protomodernists to 21st-century conceptual poetics.  And, as one of my favorite professor colleagues often says, “Whee!  I get to read as part of my job!”

Excuse me now, but I’ve got some homework to do.  I should be going to bed, but my post-treatment resolve to get lots of sleep is dissolving with the temptation of  Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

This rumpled tee-shirt doesn’t look like much now.  It’s sat in the bottom of my dresser drawer for 32 years.  Although I haven’t worn it since 1980, I haven’t given it up; it’s my evidence of the thrill of a great moment in American politics.

That June I was here in LA working at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker (as the firm was then known), trying my second-year law school best to convert my summer associateship into an offer to join the firm the following year after graduation.   I answered my phone to hear the law firm operator addressing me (this being the days before direct dial).  “Miss Kamei,” she said (this being the days before “Ms.”), “the White House is on the line for you.”  To this day, I have hoped she was impressed that the White House was calling a lowly summer associate.

I knew it could only be one person: Les, a family friend, who was high up in the Carter administration, a real West Winger.  He’d taken me to lunch at the White House and I got to peak into many of the famous rooms.  I knew that the President had asked Les to chair that summer’s Democratic National Convention in New York City.  But I didn’t know how Les why he would be calling me, let alone how he tracked me down.  

“We have our ways,” he chuckled.  “When are you coming back to school?”  The second week of August, one week early, because of law journal.  “Perfect!” he said, “You can come to New York the week before.  I’m finding that my convention volunteers are high school kids of delegates or their socialite mothers, and I need people who I can dispatch and think on their feet.  So I’m calling in all the grad and law students I know.  Tell your Orange County Republican parents hello and that we’ll take good care of you, and tell your fancy-pants law firm that the White House needs you to leave a week early.  Come find me in Madison Square Garden when you arrive.”  There was a little bit more to the conversation, but that really was about it.  Paul Hastings did indeed give me my offer a week early, and off I went.

All I saw of the Big Apple for my first visit ever that week was the inside of Madison Square Garden, wearing this tee-shirt over a khaki skirt and some low-level convention credentials I might have saved somewhere.  Since I worked on the Hill my first year of law school, I wasn’t as dazzled at seeing famous politicians, but as a “Press Aide,” I was thrilled to see Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, and the other newscasters.  That convention was the last one which Walter Cronkite covered before he retired.  The closing shot of CBS was him looking over his shoulder waving at a bunch of us on the convention floor after all the balloons and confetti had fallen, holding up a sign that said, “We love you, Walter,” chanting, “Walter, Walter, Walter,” to get him to look.  My parents caught a glimpse of me on national TV then.

But politics being what it is, you can never account for when the unforgettable moments will happen which sear into social consciousness.   Carter might have captured that convention’s nomination, but Ted Kennedy captured its heart.  As he ended what is considered perhaps his most powerful address, he quoted from “Ulysses” by Lord Alfred Tennyson:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world.

Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

And then he closed, “The hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” 

Tears were streaming down the faces of just about everyone I could see, no matter whose sign they held.  I will never forget the sound as they all roared.  

I meant to watch some of the conventions last week and this week, but each night it seemed I ended up dealing with life instead: taking on the assignment of conducting the stake choir for this October’s stake conference, taking an 89-year-old friend some dinner, taking care of myself after the eighth round of Rituxan.  I'm feeling much better already, but the rumpleness of the tee-shirt seems to represent to me the divide of a life far removed from those four DNC press aide days.  How much more appropriate in my life now to remember Ted Kennedy's charge “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Almost every hospital visit has had its glitchs.  Admitting can’t find my doctor’s orders and I have to wait until her office gets a hold of her.  The printer in the blood lab has malfunctioned and I have to wait until they can print tube labels somewhere else.  A nurse got bad info that I had been directed to a different waiting area and couldn’t find me there.  After waiting for an hour in the usual place, I got up to “check.”  The possibilities for delay seem infinite.  Fortunately I’m used to the inefficient big bureaucracies of USC, and of hospitals in general, and figure it’s best to roll with the punches.  Also fortunately, my rides home roll with the punches – thank goodness my cell phone actually works inside the clinic – and everyone stays calm.  

So I don’t take for granted a day which goes smoothly, and I was grateful that today’s visit went like clock-work.   I took getting set up in record time as a favorable sign that my IgM number would be “good.”  As with musical performances, I’m not above some occasional superstition, icing on the cake of numerous and weighty prayers which I know are being offered on my behalf.  

And today’s number was about as good as it gets, statistical-range-wise.  Today’s number continued to fall right on the downward trend line, making the June number a bit of an aberration and alleviating my concern that perhaps the Rituxan had run its course.  Well, to be more precise, it delayed the possibility of that concern for another three months. 

This afternoon I’ve fought against going right to sleep.  When I have done that in the past, that has only added to my circadian clock confusion over the next couple of days.  Night is falling now, earlier and earlier; now I feel justified in caving in to the brain-fuzziness and body slo-mo. 
P.S. Some of this summer’s crop of heritage tomatoes.