Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Walk, a Hard Rain, a Lecture...

Up in time for an early walk along the harbor before the rains came in. A cool morning of low clouds and gathering winds...

... but beautiful along the shore front nonetheless. Walking past the marina, we headed out along the breakwater, pausing only to watch the harbor patrol bring in a large boat for winching up out of the water...

... for inspection? For repair? We did not hang out for long enough to find out. Out along the breakwater, we admired a lingering egret… and a giant starfish, attached to a rock by the water line… and continued out to the end before turning back to return to the hotel, where we enjoyed a perfectly adequate “complimentary” Continental Breakfast—a cup of coffee, a toasted English muffin, a hard-boiled egg.

By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had started in earnest. Parts of the parking lot outside our room, indeed, were inches deep in water—a condition that existed too, we discovered, on the main streets of Santa Barbara. State Street, in places, was a river rushing down toward the ocean. Our progress was hampered by one of those tiny electric scooters for the handicapped proceeding at a snail's pace in the dead middle of the road--understandably, since the rise at the center made this the shallowest path. We did, though, find a parking place near where Ellie needed to go shopping, and I retreated to a local coffee shop with my notes to prepare for the afternoon's lecture--a preparation somewhat hampered by a very loud-voiced and opinionated neighbor at the next table, hectoring his companion about matters on which he was, according to himself, extremely well-informed.

I was rescued from this dire situation by Ellie in an hour or so. The rain had stopped, and we walked up to the Arts & Letters Cafe, across from the museum, where we had been told we could get a good lunch. Which proved to be the case, after an unpromising start that included the spillage of an entire glass of water by Ellie and a surprisingly long wait, despite the small numbers of lunchers, for attention. I had what was surely among the best hamburgers I have ever eaten. We paused in Arts & Letters gallery, after lunch, to admire the ceramic work of an artist with whose name we were unfamiliar, working much in the tradition of the Natzlers and Beatrice Wood.

From lunch, we emerged into... sunshine! And walked back to the car for the drive back to our hotel, and a brief rest before heading out to the university in god time, we hoped, to see our friend Ann Diener's show at the university's art museum. Parking, however, proved an unexpected challenge, as was the task of finding the location for my lecture and, from there, the way to the museum. We arrived, finally, a little breathless, in time to spend about ten minutes with the curator, who was gracious enough to open the gallery for us in off-hours. Ann's wall drawing is quite spectacular...

... a towering, exuberant display that includes a shower of collage elements along with the line drawing. A complex, restless work that excites the eye (here's a detail):

... and that required a lot more time than we were able to give it.

My talk was scheduled in one of those large university lecture halls with seats arranged, amphitheater-style, in rising tiers--a new circumstance for one used to talking in more intimate circumstances. A generous introduction by an old friend, Colin Gardner, now chair of the host department, a fellow Brit and Cantabrian (as we who graduated from Cambridge University are traditionally called...), and I launched into my musings about the culture in which we artists, writers, and creative people of all kinds find ourselves, and about the power of the mind of help us to persist in the work we're given to do...

Hard to gauge this large audience, and I was distracted by a young Asian man, dead center, who slept peacefully through the entire presentation. But by the end, I was happy to get a good number of questions and comments--a good sign that my audience has been listening and engaged. And the response from those who came up afterwards to buy a book was gratifying.

Later, with evening approaching fast, we headed back into the city to meet up with Colin and his wife, Louise... for wine and dinner at The Wine Cask. A memorable evening of lively talk, including an earful from Colin about the demands of a chairmanship in an educational system gone mad with the explosion of media and information systems--a nightmare I'm happy to have avoided, having withdrawn from academia now nearly twenty-five years ago. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be available, as an administrator, to students, faculty, and the administration at large via email and cell phone twenty-four hours a day. Let alone to fulfill those other academic requirements, to make a showing in one's own field of interest.


mandt said...

"in an educational system gone mad with the explosion of media and information systems--a nightmare." So true----one of the critiques at SCAD was that my lecturing style was too classical and not entertaining enough... :) and so like Genji we fade into the twilight "like the tattered edge of a passing cloud."

Nancy Youdelman said...

Hi Peter,
I had a chuckle when you mentioned the student asleep in the audience during your talk.

I teach a large lecture class (110 students) and have learned to not take it personally, students sometimes do fall asleep during class. Or worse, they are busy texting; have their laptops open, supposedly taking notes, but who knows since there is wireless internet on campus.

Also, I use lots of technology in my classes: laptop with digital projector, images are projected HUGE and it is miles beyond the old slide show. I also can project websites since I can go online, I show youtube videos and of course art dvds with my laptop. I truly love technology. It makes my job easier and more interesting for me and the students.

Most recently I began using i<clickers--it is a remote system that operates on radio waves for instant quizzes. The students buy a devise that looks like a tv remote and I have a "base" that hooks into my laptop as well as a downloaded program. During class they can "vote", take quizzes, etc. and receive instant answers. I make up questions (true or false, multiple choice) before class that I add into my digital presentation. During class, it is sort of like a quiz show--I give them time to "vote", then I can display a graph that shows instantly how the class answered--I can display a bar graph that shows the percentage of votes for each answer. The students get points for participating and for getting the right answer. After class I upload their points onto a website (called Blackboard) that keeps track of their grades. I don't use a "physical" gradebook at all for this course.

I love that I can show up for class with only a laptop and have everything I need. I no longer use notes.

So I have to say that I absolutely love the "explosion of media and information systems" and it is not a nightmare at all but something that makes my job more engaging for myself as well as the students.

TaraDharma said...

what an action-packed day! Glad you eventually received positive feedback in the form of book-buyers and inquisitive students.

Also, a wonderful juxtaposition between your academic observations on technology and Nancy''s a brave new world out there. Students may indeed require more and different stimuli than when we were students. Think of the techno world they have come of age in.