Skip to main content

Why me?

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, short

Recently, I received a strange phone call from Communications. It went something like this.

We’re trying a new approach to marketing the College. We thought it would be good to do short videos with faculty, staff, and students. We’re creating a few to use as examples and your name came up as a good subject.

My first inclination was puzzlement. Why would they want me to serve as an example? I’m not particularly photogenic. And, while I love Grinnell, I’m not necessarily the most articulate promoter of the College. But I try to support the College, so I said yes.

Then came the phone interview with the producer. Some things went well. What do you think is special about a liberal arts education? I could answer that. Why are you at Grinnell? I could answer that. What do you do in your spare time? That was harder. I have difficulty understanding this strange concept known as spare time. But I gave my normal canned answer, which goes something like this.

I spend time with my family. I have three sons of whom I am very proud and a wonderful wife. We like to play board games together. We also like to discuss a variety of topics. I play board games at other times, too. This summer, I’m hosting a weekly game night to build community among the CS summer students. My wife says that I’m happiest when I’m making art; I prefer sculpture. And I read a lot.

But, well, it’s a canned answer. One of my three sons no longer lives near us, so I don’t play board games with him very often or discuss topics with him. We also don’t find many times to play games as a family. But those who live in town do have dinner together fairly regularly and do discuss or argue about a variety of things. And, while I love making art, I don’t have nearly enough opportunities to do so. I find that art making requires large amounts of time and sustained concentration. I have neither. Finally, while I love to read, I don’t have nearly as many opportunities as I’d like [1].

Then they said, We’d like to videotape you making art. There’s a problem there; I don’t have a work in progress. But, as I said, I do what I can. So on the day of the interview, I dug out one of my old projects, found a way into the wood shop, and had some fun with the power sander and a grinder. I’d rather do a more thorough piece.

When they asked about my non-academic pursuits in person, I added one other thing. I write an essay each day. That’s clearly where most of my not working time goes. However, I don’t think it would be very interesting to watch my type on my computer.

They also asked, Where do you like to hang out on campus when you’re not in class? They followed up with We’d like to take pictures of you somewhere that’s not your office. But, well, I hang out in my office when I’m not in class. I like my office. I like being able to see students when they walk by. I like being available to my students. Why would I want to be somewhere else?

After some brainstorming, I replied, Well, I do like to visit the gallery. But they’d already been working with someone else associated with the gallery. So I added, I sometimes hang out in the CS commons.

In the end, they did the interview in my office. They agreed with Crane Metamarketing that it has interesting texture. I even got to do the interview at my laptop, which means that the interview should include some of the stickers on my laptop [5]. I hope it does. We also talked a bit about the various conversation pieces that exist in my office.

I think I was articulate enough. The producer suggested I was. But I don’t think they’ll have very good pictures of me doing other things. And, well, it makes me feel a bit boring. My favorite place to work? My office. Favorite things to do? Spend time with family and work with students. Oh, and write. What kind of art am I making right now? None.

Oh well. I’m sure they’ll find some other folks to profile.

Postscript: Someone suggested that Communications asked me to be part of the video series so that I wouldn’t critique it. They needn’t have worried. I generally support marketing strategies that include the authentic voices of students, faculty, and staff. I’d just prefer that they use students. Or, well, anyone but me.

[1] Nonetheless, I was able to talk about the three books I read most recently. I said something like:

I’ve recently finished Homegoing, which is the College’s Common Read for this coming fall [2]. It’s clear that I need to reread it, but I’ve loaned it out to my summer students. Before that, I read Mindset. I started reading it to think about how it would affect my teaching, but it’s become something I want to talk to my family about [3]. The father of one of my students is a mystery writer. I’ve recently started reading his mysteries about an LA Detective and his dog [4].

[2] I went on to describe what our Common Read is. I did not discuss my concerns about how the Common Read is chosen.

[3] The Rebelsky family hopes to discuss it as the first entry in the Rebelsky Family Book Club or something like that. I believe The Name of the Wind will be the next entry in that club.

[4] Someday, I’d like to know the relationship between the published names of his books and the working titles. If I recall correctly, the working titles are things like the first year of my son’s Grinnell education and the garden in my backyard.

[5] The stickers currently include Diversity Includes Disability, Grinnell’s squirrel-logo I give [6], the GitHub Octocat Rainbow Pride Sticker [7],,, Hack GC [8], Teach Accessibility [9], a barely readable sticker, and a copyright symbol with Mickey Mouse ears and a list of updated copyright extensions for those ears.

[6] The words I give are immediately under the back end of the squirrel. So I always say While some people don’t give a rat’s ass, I give …

[7] Have they started making MicroOctocats?

[8] The HackGC sticker has an awesome logo that Communications banned. I wonder what Communications will do about that.

[9] Both Diversity includes Disability and Teach Accessibility come from AccessComputing.