Blogosphere, meet Lewis.

Hey everyone! My apologies for the lengthy absence, I hope you guys weren’t too distraught. I’ve actually been pretty busy; I’m no longer in Peterborough, as I’ve started the Creative Book Publishing portion of my degree at Humber College. It’s intense, but I’m loving it—I really feel like I’ve started the “grown up” part of my life. That being said, I am going to miss a lot of poeple at Trent, especially Dr. Lewis MacLeod. If there was one prof I could stalk for a few days to learn about life, he would be my first choice. Read on to see why:

So what’s keeping you busy lately?

Reading, Writing, Teaching, Family life. It’s enough, but it’s the right kind of busy.

Describe your perfect day. Feel free to be creative, i.e. does Ryan Gosling show up at your front door?

No such thing, in any permanent sense. The most important factors vary, but the elements: summer day (inCapeBretonor elsewhere).  Read something.  Go to the beach with my wife and the kids.  Drink something.  Play/listen to music.  Talk a lot of garbage with people I like.  Then some “extra” element which makes the day perfect but can’t be anticipated until it comes.

You’re handed a free ticket to anywhere in the world. Where do you go, and why?

Two Answers:

1)Spain, probably Madrid; I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of that city, but if I did, I’d just go to Sevilleor Granadaor the beach.  The country has its problems, but “it speaks to my dreaming self,” as Penelope Fitzgerald puts it.

2) Almost anywhere I’ve never been.  I like big cities.  It’s unlikely to happen any time soon, but I think I’d probably like to go to Romania for the gypsy music.

What are the last three books that you read? Did you enjoy them?

Our Fathers by Andrew O’Hagan

This Sporting Life by David Storey (for a second time)

The Last House of Ulster, by Charles Foran

They’re all good.  All three involve questions to do with masculinity, class, religion, and social engineering in Northern industrial towns (Glasgow, Leeds,Belfast).  The links between housing/homes and the lives lived in and around them are foregrounded.  On the scale of lyricism, Storey’s got some kind of urban brutalist aesthetic, O’Hagan goes for something much more elegiac.  Foran is somewhere in between; clear-eyed, but not opposed to elegance.

Name your top three favourite films. Be honest 🙂

Standard cop out: “I can’t choose just three,” but my favourite “B” movies are :

Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks directing  Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper);  it’s also a pretty interesting depiction of academic life!

Bottlerocket (introducing Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson)

Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen, and Chazz Palminteri on fire…)

I also watch YouTube videos of Mitch Hedberg on a more regular basis than I imagine is standard.

Worst movie that everybody pretends is good?  The Godfather (parts one to whenever…)

What kind of music do you like? Do you have any favourite artists/groups?

I like organic sounds with some kind of propulsion and the suggestion of menace.  Synthesizers, auto-tune, etc., turn me off; the re-deployment of acoustic instruments to odd purposes interests me a lot. Big Picture: I think Tom Waits is a towering talent, and The Pogues’ If I Should Fall From Grace With God changed my life forever (recent Subaru commercial notwithstanding).  Smaller Picture:  Bry Webb’s new record, Provider, is tremendously good. Jolie Holland’s record from 2006, Springtime Can Kill You is amazing. I was listening to Gogol Bordello the other day and was reminded why I liked them in the first place (Coming in May toToronto…).  I think I’m probably on the verge of a deeper interest in Klezmer…

What do you think is the most valuable and/or unique aspect of the Public Texts program?

I think we’ve recognized that we don’t have the budget/staff to be all things to all people, so we try to “target” certain types of students (or maybe we’re trying to be the target), so they can pursue things here that wouldn’t fly in more generic graduate programs. I also think we’ve got some interesting people here, who interpret the notions of “publics” and “texts” in divergent ways, ways that produce the kind of “creative friction” from which good ideas and good arguments emerge.

Choose three words to summarize your own experiences as a graduate student.

Like the song says, “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

Any advice for those currently pursuing their own graduate degree?

Standard stuff.   Don’t come for the money or the glory, but if you like to explore ideas and pursue weird little avenues of inquiry that interest you, there’s nothing like it.  I think lots of jobs have “Eureka!” moments, but we get to have them at projects we’ve designed for ourselves. I think that stuff’s otherwise only available to high-level artists and high-level mathematicians.

More practically, in my experience, “I’m a perfectionist” is code for “I’m avoiding the hard part.”  Too often, graduate students get paralysed by the open-endedness of graduate courses/theses/projects, etc., and they fail to do the daily, incremental work that makes big projects possible.  If you’ve been admitted to grad school, somewhere along the line you probably grasped the necessity of getting things in on time, and you’ve probably come to terms with the conveyor-belt structure of undergraduate academic terms (Your mid-terms come in bunches; you deal with them in sequence, then you submit your term papers in sequence on April 2, 5, 9, 11–or whatever).  When the conveyor belt disappears and the deadline becomes, “sometime in the spring,” it’s a lot harder to tell if you’re on schedule or not.  So, set schedules; set limits, and work hard, but don’t waste energy wondering if your draft is “good enough.” An ontological problem (does my term paper even exist?) is way tougher to handle than a qualitative problem (is my term paper any good?).  It has to “be” before it can be good.  The sequence is important; first make it, then make it better.

And finally: if you could have any superpower, what would it be, and why?

I think I prefer the non-power heroes (Batman, Green Arrow, etc.). They’ve only got the standard skills, yet they still need to get things done.  The effort to make capacity out of incapacity is cooler to watch, closer to home, etc.

That said, I think a kind of limited time-travel within my own life (think Jacob Marley and Scrooge) would be an excellent gift.  For example, I’d like to requisition some of the time I wasted in my twenties so I could waste it now, when I’m really busy.  I’d also like to defer some of my projects (and some of my energy) to some future point when time is more plentiful and energy more scarce.

Lewis, in what I imagine is his natural habitat.

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

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