Saturday, June 14, 2008

M*A*S*H - Father Mulcahy

I've watched a lot of M*A*S*H lately. Part of that is because I've been laid up with Influenza A - though, I must say that Tamiflu lives up to its billing (as does the flu shot). I haven't been nearly as sick as the last time I had the flu. But, that's all just backstory. While laid up on the couch, I've had the opportunity to watch my favorite all-time show, with the possible exception of Buffy. Actually, it depends on the day which of the two I prefer.

One of the episodes that has always been a powerful one for me is the episode where Father Mulcahy bucks all of the powers that be in declaring the mess tent to be a santuary. The synopsis goes something like this. The soldier has just gotten a letter from a friend back home congratulating him on the birth of his daughter. The blessed event took place three weeks previous, apparently. Now, the conflict here is this - the young G.I. has been in Korea for more than a year. You can do the math more quickly than Hawkeye and BJ could... At any rate, while the folks are in the weekly services, conducted by the Father, a lieutenant comes to arrest the kid for being AWOL. Mulcahy declares the mess tent a sanctuary, and even when the Chaplain-General overturns his ruling, he stays with it because he thinks it is what is right. Of course, the lieutenant tries to take the young G.I. and the threatened young man takes his rifle and levels it at Mulcahy, after firing off a couple of shots. Mulcahy defuses the situation and disarms the young man. Then, as the young man breaks down, Mulcahy comforts him and does all he can to get him the help that he needs.

That was rather a long excursus. But, here's the thing. Mulcahy is an impressive figure. He's not impressive because of his great skill as a preacher - he's comically inept and boring. Heck, during the service, Potter has clearly nodded off and in the few lines of the sermon that we hear, the audience is nearly put to sleep. Mulcahy doesn't normally stand out. Except, here's the thing. He may be the best example of the church and the faith that I've seen on TV. Sure, there are more "religiously" oriented shows than M*A*S*H. But, no character stronger than Mulcahy. Here's why.

Father Mulcahy doesn't do what is expedient. When the orphans need something, he's the one who procures it - even if it does involve Klinger and stolen bibles from a hotel in Seoul. More to the point, he is completely committed to being faithful - and, here, "faithful" does not mean "believing the right things." Mulcahy is faith in action - and, more to the point, he is goodness in action, he is justice in action. When confronted with Army regulations that seem to run completely counter to the good of the people in his care, he does not go along just because it would be expedient. He puts his own life, career, and reputation at risk to do the right thing. Further, the "right thing" is not some hard-line, dogmatic, and likely esoteric piece of text - it is rooted in profound empathy for the underdog, the oppressed, the hurting, the shafted. He does not suffer injustice to others, and endures considerable injustice to himself in the interim. Father Mulcahy is the opposite of the showy, substance-less religious windbag that has become the prevailing model for so much American Christendom. He is a man whose quiet faith and firm commitment makes a difference in the lives of people.

I am not at all convinced that there is much of a home for the Father Mulcahy's of the world in today's church. And, it probably needs more of them. Before I rant too much, let me point out that a couple of my very good friends are chaplains - one in the army, one in the navy, and one with the state police. They are all very solid men - and none of them will ever advance very far in the hierarchy because they are very solid men. That's the problem. Today's church puts a premium on glitz and showmanship and Elmer Gantry-like prosperity gospel drivel. Now the emphasis is on bigger churches, showier TV shows, and high production values in the PR. And, while we're on the subject, let's talk about two things Father Mulcahy exemplifies that the institutional church fails so miserably at - justice and compassion.

Today, the hierarchy of the church is much more concerned with political grandstanding than justice. If the church was truly motivated by the call to justice, it would be doing a lot less arguing about whether or not Bush is right about the war in Iraq and a lot more living out a call to love one's enemy and do good to those who persecute. An emphasis on justice would, I'm sure, have had a much more lasting effect the Middle East than the political grandstanding. For example, what would happen if, rather than propping up oppressive dictatorships that are politically expedient in the short term (the Shah in Iran, the Saudis royalty), we aided the people who are actually oppressed and meet their needs? What would happen if we had opposed the Taliban in 1995 when they began brutally repressing women rather than waiting until 2001? To have moral authority, one actually must act with justice - and justice is not supporting the powerful simply because it is politically expedient.

This ties in with the compassion move. When the young soldier took up the rifle and pointed it at Mulcahy, he was indignant. He pointed out that a faith of convenience was a poor faith indeed. Then, after disarming the young man, as he collapsed under the weight of what he had done, Mulcahy hugged him. He didn't play the "well, now you're gonna get what you deserve" card. He actually showed love for the guy. This was true compassion. When the church turns its concerns to zoning laws and parking lots for its megastructures and ignores the people, it isn't showing compassion. When hoity-toities turn up their noses at the poor and assume that economic distress is solely the fault of the economically impoverished, that's not compassion. When the church spends six and seven times more money on itself and its glitzy self-promotion than on actually meeting the needs of people, that's not compassion. Father Mulcahy, the church needs your example. Not that it's gonna listen or learn...

Chernobyl Spring

The kernel of this blog was originally written during the Spring of 2006. The other pieces have been added in the Spring of 2007 and 2008. It’s an ongoing reflection, after all… Yes, this is really about Spring and not summer, but consider it the product of reflection that can serve as a harbinger for the year that is to come...

I have a new phrase for academia. It happens every spring. Without fail. Like death and taxes and young men's fancies turning to thoughts of love, you can count on it. Let's call it "Chernobyl Spring."

Everybody handles the meltdown a little differently. Some take to baking and we are greatful that the product of this sort of stress response issues in banana bread and cupcakes and muffins and the like. Some lose themselves in various and sundry substances, licit and otherwise. Some become self-destructive. Some develop nervous ticks. Some witness their adhd and ocd natures run wildly out of control to the point that while going over a paper in their advisor's office, he/she will straighten the advisor's pens ans sort his markers by type and color. Some chase the party and drown themselves in avoidance. Some explode on friends and unleash barely controlled tirades. Some eat. And some shut down and hide. But every year, it happens - Chernobyl Spring - let the meltdowns begin.

In truth, most of these people have been me to one degree or another, though lately, it's been the ocd and deeply self-reflectiveness (issuing in not banana bread but procrastination) that have marked my own meltings. However, some have seen the full brunt of my wrath - not directed at them - but at situations and harassments and the like. But, I have had the position of observer for the last little bit, and, yeah, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, so April and early May brings apocalypse.

T. S. Eliot is famous for the line, "April is the cruellist month, breeding/ lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain." Not quite "April showers bring May flowers," is it? Here's the thing. He's right. Consider.

Every April, without fail, the budget at every university I have ever been around is found to be in crisis, necessitating draconian measures, lest we die. More relationships get devastated in April and early May as tempers fray, pressures build, worries mount, stress increases, deadlines loom, and doom hangs heavy in the air. And, for students and faculty alike, the pressure can cause oddness. The Fall doesn't seem to have this sort of effect. Maybe it's because the Thanksgiving break serves as a steam valve in a way that Spring Break, falling closer to the middle of the semester rather than the end, cannot be. Maybe it's because the Christmas break, even for those who do not celebrate it, just has an inescapable cheeriness. Also, the end of Fall does not really see so many life changes. True, there are lots of December graduations, and the interviews at APA and MLA and AAR can have an apocalyptic feel to them. But, in truth, they are only the furst set of interviews. There are still the early and middle Spring regional meetings where those not successful at the winter meetings in securing a job can still strike it big. Too, there is the Spring semester to look forward to and May seems a long way off in December. But, as the end of the semester draws nigh and the stack of papers mounts and the full effect of procrastination becomes clearer, April showers turn into torrential downpours of unrelenting stress.

I can still remember finishing my qualifying exams at OU in the Spring and then thinking, "You know, I still don't have time to breathe." Writing the dissertation over the course of an entire graduate program and giving myself until the August 15 months after I finished coursework to defend was one of the best presents I ever gave myself. But, I well remember the days spent staring at Buffy because I couldn't bring myself to face another blank computer screen.
Chernobyl Spring. It claims some every year. Today, I walked into my Ethics class and knew that 4 students would be missing for various reasons. In a class of 16, Koji and Robert were present. The three student presenters? I heard from one by email.

Chernobyl Spring. Letters of rec are out and each day, students come by and tell me that they still have not heard from graduate school or law school or job interview. Papers are due and not done. Friends fighting with each other, giving in to insecurities and imposter syndromes and inferiority complexes and lashing out or blaming or whatever.

I don't have any answers for Chernobyl Spring. If I did, I certainly would have made a lot more money than I have and endured a lot less heartache - self-imposed and otherwise - than I have. But, friends, let me say this. Several of you have heard me say that you can make it. This is just one of those things that you have to fight your way through and hope that the other side doesn't arrive with much devastation in your wake. So far, the worst effects of this Chernobyl Spring for me are too many pieces of wonderful banana bread consumed, some icing on my pants leg, watching a young colleague bouncing off the walls like a hummingbird on crack, and a hopeful moment when I realized that some of our young colleagues-in-training are actually going to make it through this one and press on to face the next. D.H. Lawrence and TOB couldn't drag you down.

It was an intriguing moment of clarity when I realized that "Chernobyl Spring" was the right term for academia's cruelest season - late April to early May.

Addition 1

I've gotten some very good feedback on my coining of the phrase "Chernobyl Spring." This blog isn't about that. Rather, it is a request for suggestions about two other features of this time of the year that need cool names. I come up with an interesting title about once every lifetime, so Chernobyl Spring is probably the best I'm gonna do. Let me describe the two phenomena and please, if you have a name for either, I will definitely give credit where it is due.

Phenomenon 1: This phenomenon can sometimes be mistaken for a Chernobyl Spring. However, it is different in important ways. Every semester, and it doesn't matter if it is a Fall, Spring, or Summer semester, there is a crash. It's not a meltdown, either stress and/or self induced (although it can contribute to one if not managed well). Rather, it is a hitting of the wall. Here's what it feels like - steadily over the last couple of weeks of the semester, the adrenaline builds. Work gets done, sleep is less necessary, and things come together. Then, finals are finished, graded, grades turned in and then, wham! Throat hurts, allergies run amok, and it feels like every bit of energy has been insta-sucked out of the body. The only remedy is sleep, and lots of it, and your body refuses to take "no" for an answer. Is it a malaise? It's definitely a wall impact. And, at least from my own experience, it happens every semester, and not just in the Spring. Thoughts...?

Phenomenon 2: Every single year, the drama comes out to play in the Spring. This is definitely a spring occurrence. You can just about set your calendar by it. The budget will be in a horrible mess, Chernobyl Springs being suffered by people will put lives in a mess, but that's not really the happening here. They may be symptoms, but it may be more sinister than that. Oftentimes, politicians (especially those in power) will release information late on Friday hoping to slip it by people without the regular news cycle getting its grubby little paws on it. Maybe it's just because the end of the Spring semester is so close to the end of the fiscal year? Maybe it's just how it works. But, it's not just a Henderson phenomenon. Emory wasn't too bad about it, but OU experienced it, Ok-State did/does, pretty much everywhere. And, it's not just higher ed. The public schools may be even worse - at least in higher ed, there is a nominal faculty presence to keep an eye on things (ineffective though it may be) during the summer. Not so, really, with the P-12 world. The last week of school is kinda like the Friday of a weekly news cycle - and the summer is a long, long weekend during which things can be forgotten. Thoughts?

This Spring’s Addition

It's that time of year when the hedge blooms, the allergies fly, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love, and the bodies of skunks begin to pile up alongside the road (their thoughts turned to love, too, just before they met their maker on the road).

What time of year is that? Well, here're the signs. If gas prices are going through the roof, if budgets are strained and budget makers are offering lame excuses that smell more than the skunks, if tax day has come and final exams are coming, if the order of the day is drama in the workplace, home, school (any and/or all), then just as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano and as surely as God made little green apples, you know it must be Chernobyl Spring.
The time of year when folks melt down, that's Chernobyl Spring. Irrationality is the marker, lasting radioactivity in job, scholarship, relationships is the aftermath. It's Chernobyl Spring again, friends. Try to dodge the fallout.

China 2008

There are times when it is appropriate to repeat oneself. This is one of those times. China is a place of amazing contradiction. There is state of the art technology and the average family income is something south of $2000 per year. There is gentleness, strength, and generosity of spirit and a cutthroat, deceptive, and aggressive set of business “ethics.” It is a nation with cities orders of magnitude larger than New York City and yet there is a smallness and something resembling an inferiority complex that drives the intensity. There is great attention to form, less to function. For example, in the late early Ming Dynasty, the Chinese Navy was among the greatest in the world. Within 20 years, it was reduced to a bare police force. There was first a move to be a world power; then a retrenching toward extreme isolationism. This back and forth continued until the Opium Wars in the 19th century.

I could go on and on about Chinese history, but rather I will do what I made the students do – list the three most impressive things that I saw on my journey. What’s amazing is that the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City (second on last year’s list) don’t make the top three. So, here we go – from three to one. However, let’s begin with the honorable mention – first, the sites that I want to see in future (apart from the top three, to which I would gladly return). The Memorial of Sun Yat-Sen. Sun Yat-Sen was born just as the War of Northern Aggression (aka, the American Civil War) was ending. Intriguingly enough, it would be Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and Yuan Shi-kai who would lead the overthrow of the Qin dynasty and depose the last emperor, Pu Yi, in 1911. The memorial to Sun Yat-Sen is in Guangzhou is Southeastern China. His is an amazing story and one I would love to explore further.

In Guangzhou, also, is the tomb of the Southern Kings. The tomb, rediscovered in 1983, dates to at least two hundred years BCE. The tomb is the final resting place of King Wu of the Southern Han dynasty. The king was buried in a suit of jade armor. The suit is comprised of thousands of squares of jade, sown together with silk thread. It weighs literally thousands of pounds. It’s quite an impressive sight.

So, in Guangzhou, there is an interesting juxtaposition on ancient and contemporary – the city was the ancient capital of part of China roughly contemporary to the rise of Julius Caesar and was the modern seat of the end of the Chinese dynastic period just under a hundred years ago. That the tomb of the King Wu went undiscovered for two millennia is absolutely breathtaking. With this discover along with one in the top three, we can begin to conclude that we know (and are learning) more about ancient Chinese history than any of our ancestors from that day to this. That’s rather a mindboggling thing to grasp.

The other honorable mention has to be the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven is the place where the Emperor would come each year to pray for good harvest. As China was nearly an entirely agrarian economy in the early 1400s, it could have been quite unfortunate for the Emperor should the harvests turn out poorly for more than a couple of years at a time. The complex is laid out in such a way that there is a single avenue that runs from the Forbidden City through the Temple of Heaven and Hall of Good Harvest to the Center of the World. The Forbidden City complex was constructed beginning around 1406 and was completed nearly three decades later. All of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty occupied the Forbidden City until 1911. It was the center of power and the center of Imperial religion, a mixture of Confucian, Buddhism, and ancient nature religions. As we discovered again this year, one must “walk with purpose” to get from the southern gate all the way to the northern gate of the complex.

When one enters the complex, one notes that the wall is square – this signifies earth and the world. It is a foundation upon which all the world is built. Thus, the center of the earth (a complex in three rings with a slightly raised place in the exact center signifying the center of the world) is close to the southern gate. Each of the three rings symbolizes a different ring of reality. The bottom ring is the underworld, the middle ring is the ring of earth, and the final ring is the ring of heaven. Passing through the center of the earth, the walls become a bit more rounded. One is moving from earth to heaven and the entirety of the architecture conveys that physical and metaphysical journey.

After a brief detour to the Pearl Market and a bite of lunch at a noodle shop – amazing food again this year (another blog will deal with the culinary delights) – we began our journey to Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden City.
Back to the Top Three list. The Honorable Mention list is complete – The Tomb of the Southern Kings; The Sun Yat-Sen Memorial and Museum; The Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. Any trip that included only those would be sufficient and breathtaking and enough to tell everybody back home that they need to see. However, they only make the HM list. On to the top.

May we have a drum roll, please? Okay, that’s unnecessary. Let’s start with number 3. Number 3 was number 1 last year. And, what’s even more impressive is that this year, the haze was gone – it was a beautiful, sunny day. We rode the cable car up to the top (I walked it last year and I figured that I didn’t get to see enough of the expanse of the Great Wall because it took so long to walk up and down). From the cable car to the toboggan slide down the wall (that was a blast, too), was about a mile and a half. We covered that mile and a half in a little over an hour – but, that’s quite impressive. In parts, it goes straight up and straight down; the stairs are uneven – some about two inches high and maybe six inches out followed by a step that’s about two feet high and 18 inches out followed by another short one, etc. But, the view is amazing. It is truly impossible to capture the scope with a two-dimensional photograph, but I’ve given it a whirl.

The Great Wall is an amazing failure and an equally amazing success. In all of the ways it was intended, militarily speaking, it failed. As you can see from the pictures, it is totally unassailable by contemporary 15th century (and maybe even modern) forces as it snakes through the mountains. Indeed, the Mutanyiu section never fell. Nor did the mountain passes at Badaling (the other major tourist site of the Wall just outside of Beijing). But, part of the reason they didn’t fall is that they didn’t come under assault. Would you try to climb thousands of feet to assault a well defended wall? Or would you bribe the guards in the valley and enter there? If you picked the latter, then perhaps there is a job in the armies of the north for you… The wall never succeeded in halting the invaders. Much like the Maginot Line, Hadrian’s Wall, the Berlin Wall, and every other major “we’re gonna keep them out by building a wall” wall in history, the Great Wall (or the Long Wall) failed miserably. However, the Long Wall did something most successfully that no other wall has done. It unified a nation of feudal kingdoms into a single nation and it continues to be one of the most unifying symbols of modern China. Even the latest Chinese national soccer team has the Great Wall stylized into their red and yellow jerseys. It is the single most identifiable feature of the nation. The history of the Great Wall is one of arrogance and pride (again the odd juxtapositions). It is both the longest cemetery in the world and the one structure most intimately tied to a nation’s identity imaginable. It’s construction was borne of the arrogance of power; it’s building is a symbol of national power, unity, and pride.

It is interesting, I suppose, that the Great Wall (last year’s number 1) is this year’s number 3. That’s because the top two are so breathtaking that it is hard to even begin to express their magnificence. Let’s go to #2.

Inside the outer limits of the quake zone in central China is the ancient city of Xi’an. In ancient times, the city was known as Chang’an and it was the capital of the first emperor of a unified China, and the beginning of the Qin dynasty. The Qin dynasty, initiated by the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, unified China in the third century BCE and began the most impressive funerary project perhaps ever. However, soon after Qin’s death (within a couple of months), the huge burial complex was raided and buried and for the most part, forgotten. In 1974, a farmer was digging a well and stumbled upon one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time. The terra cotta warrior army of Emperor Qin have captured the world’s imagination ever since. Xi’an went from a sleepy city in central China with vague memories of the emperor and the successive Tang Dynasty to one of the central tourist cities in the world.

The warriors are life size (and some life-size plus). There are literally thousands and the site is a life archaeological site. Tourists come in to see it from about 8 a.m. through 5 p.m., and then the archaeologists descend upon the site to continue unearthing and piecing back together the warriors. There are at least 500 pits, but only three have been excavated – and these, only partly. The main tomb has not been excavated, but reports have it that a fiber optic cable has been used to assess its state and found it pristine. Given that it is completely sealed (and has been for two millennia), the work of excavating it is extremely delicate – having been sealed for so long, the remains and relics would be most sensitive to the atmospheric makeup of today’s air. If you’ve seen the latest Indiana Jones movie, when he opens the conquistador’s wrappings, the conquistador is brilliantly preserved – and then nearly melts and crumbles before their eyes. Such would happen to the tomb of Qin Shi Huang upon its opening if the most stringent precautions are not taken. Thus, the work continues on the terra cotta warriors – and the tomb remains undisturbed.

Which brings me to Number 1. The trip this year went to Hong Kong. I was looking over the map and realized that we were not going to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lan Tau Island (where the Hong Kong airport is). I really wanted to. Thus, a small expedition – me, Mary, James, Michael, and Daphne – braved the Hong Kong subway (and, sidebar – I have ridden subways across the world and I must say, the Hong Kong subway is the quickest, most efficient, and simply best I’ve ever seen). After a 30 minute ride to the island, we found the cable car up to the Po Lin Monastery.

The cable car was, at points, nearly 800 meters above the bay. Yes, that’s the airport off to the left in the second picture. It’s amazing to watch the planes start to reduce their ascent and still be below you. At one point, we were watching the hawks circle – BELOW our car… Those afraid of heights would have a bit of difficulty – but it was completely worth it.

The Tian Tan Buddha is massive. That’s not even close to accurate. There’s one picture here for perspective – notice relative to the size of a person. And, of course, since the picture is taken from below, it makes the Buddha looks smaller than it is. Breathtaking.

The Po Lin Monastery, then a symbolic center of the world both lay in the gaze of the beatific Buddha. Honestly, I don’t really have words to describe this experience. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves (the picture of the Po Lin Monastery is taken from the feet of the Buddha with a zoom lens – so, too, is the center of the world).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Slayage 3 is complete

Well, Slayage 3 has come and gone. The jangled nerves are finally settling down a bit. The office may never be clean again (yes, I know it was never very clean to begin with, but when you put all of the remainders of things in it, it becomes nigh impassable). The sleep debt has begun to be repaid. There is still a bit of paperwork that lingers – books to be closed and bills to be paid and the like – but, I must say, I’m as proud of the people who helped pull this together as I have been of anyone in my life. Since I have had many reasons to be proud of folks in my life (quite fortunate in that), it’s saying quite a bit to put the buttons-bursting pride I have in the people who put this together at the very top.

Before I go on much further, let me say that this blog is more about the behind the scenes part of the conference and less about the conference itself. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to go to any of the papers, but I have heard magnificent things about them and the reviews have been outstanding. Several folks will be receiving emails from me in the next days asking for copies of the papers so that I may indulge my academic interests in the conference at my leisure. The one presentation that I got to hear in full was Nikki Stafford’s keynote at the banquet. Fortunately, she has already posted the text of it on her blog at She also has some very nice things to say about the conference and Arkadelphia and Henderson. I must say, we led with our strength. All of the keynoters were housed at the Captain Henderson House Bed and Breakfast. Like I told Matthew Pateman as he was departing, when you lead with that, either everything else pales in comparison, or, if you’re lucky, it sets everything in just the right context. Given that Clark County is dry, thus limiting the ability to imbibe a pint of Guinness at a local pub (we really must work on that), and given that it is the summer doldrums (first summer term had just started, but HSU and Arkadelphia are dead during the summer), things went pretty well. Nikki seemed to capture the feel of the place in only a couple of days – indeed, she captures much of the local sentiment – affection mixed with frustration and bemusement – quite well.

There has been quite a lot of interesting press about the conference. Out of the blue, CBS National Radio called me on the Friday morning of the conference and I got to do a 15 minute on-air interview with them. No sooner had I finished that then KUAR (the local NPR) station called. Within 15 minutes of that, the Arkansas Radio Network called. Several people have called, emailed, and/or written that they heard the interviews. I kinda hope that somewhere they are saved as I haven’t gotten to hear them. All of this, I suspect, was inspired by an AP Wire story that went out and was picked up everywhere. On, the coverage was called “ubiquitous.” That kinda made me smile. There have been some amusing misidentifications, as well. As my faithful reader(s) knows, there is an actor with the name “Kevin Durand.” The most amusing thing of the weekend was the befuddlement about how the Canadian actor could also be a philosophy professor at a small, liberal arts school in southwest Arkansas. The E!online message board was brought to my attention: The neat thing about the coverage is that it has focused on the academic side and the scholarly bona fides of the conference. There were some amazing discussions outside of the sessions and I look forward to perusing some of the papers.

All this is getting ahead of the story, though. That Slayage 3 came to Henderson at all is an amazing thing. I’d like to take all the credit, but that would be so very false. In 2004, I thought, “hmmmm, wouldn’t it be neat if we could do something like that at our place?” But, I really wasn’t sure whether the conference had legs or would survive after the demise of the twin shows that made up its engine – Buffy and Angel. Then, in 2006, when the conference was at Gordon College in Barnesville, Georgia, I thought to myself, “Self, Gordon is smaller than Henderson (in size, though roughly equivalent in student population). We could pull this off.” At the banquet, I talked with Rhonda and David about tossing our name in the hat. They said that seemed reasonable, but there was already a likely site for the 2008 conference (I don’t really know where that was and didn’t ask). About two months after the 2006 conference, I got an email asking if Henderson was still interested and whether we could do it. I jumped at it.

One of the things that I knew we’d need was a shuttle system from the airports and from the Caddo Valley hotels. And, I knew just who to recruit for oversight of that system – Brent Linsley. I’ve known Brent for years and two of his essays will be in the book, Radical Interpretations: Reading the Buffy Text. Within moments of mentioning the possibility to him, he said definitely yes and we were off. I remembered from the Gordon College experience that there would need to be someone who could be the point person for people to send in registrations and the like and that that person shouldn’t be me. Enter Kathryn Zawisza. Knowing how feeble my mind is and how desperately necessary efficient organization was going to be, I recruited another dear friend, Mary Leigh, to serve as my brain. She’s not the biggest Buffy fan in the world, but she’s brilliant at keeping people inspired, on track, and calm. Thanks to her, my brain did not explode.

After the central functions were handled, it was time to round up the best people I know and press them into service. This sometimes involved begging. At times there was pleading. But, Melanie Wilson, LeaAnn Alexander and Ashley Parker made the souvenir area run so smoothly that there was no need to even consider micromanaging them. I did micromanage the shuttles, but only a bit. Jeremey Beasley, James Leigh, Michael Bell, Ryan Dickson, and Stuart Bailey were brilliant. Without exception, they made things run smoothly (with great leadership, again, by Brent). As schedules shifted and morphed and we had to monitor and adjust, Mary kept a steady hand on the wheel while I raced about and did problem-solving with rooms, the A/V, the chairs, the food, and the like. Hayley Miller floated for us, but one of her contributions was simply amazing. She had already worked up the cover art for the book mentioned above, but she graciously allowed us to use it for the program. Speaking of artwork, the poster that David Stoddard worked up was easily the best poster of any of the Slayage Conferences. Easily the best. Tommy Cash and Erica Ash were a pair of late volunteers who did absolutely phenomenal work and were always up for anything we needed them to do.

It’s unclear where Slayage 4 is going to be. At least two universities have made mention that they are interested. Here’s my advice to them (I’ve given it directly, but I offer it here as well). Make damn sure that you have a large, capable, and dedicated team of people. You can do the conference with a team of 10-15 people that you can absolutely depend on. You can also do it with 100 folks who will flake on you. But, it’s better to have that dedicated cadre of people. We had that and because of that, Slayage 3 worked.

I should take a brief moment to mention the only downsides. I got one email (of Friday night – after the AP story had run like wildfire across the newspapers of the world from Germany, England, Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Taiwan). The email said something like this – the is proof positive that academia has too much time and tax payer money on its hands? (Yes, there was a question mark at the end of what was clearly a sarcastic statement – but, the sender of the email was a dimwit to begin with, so, as my grandmother once said, “there’s no medicine that can cure stupid.”) I got a call on Monday afternoon (waking me from my nap, incidentally) from the PR folks at Henderson. They had gotten a call from the newspaper in Chattanooga, Tennessee asking how many tax payer dollars had been used on the conference. As the answer to that question is a big, fat ZERO, it was kinda fun to nip that in the bud. But, geez, people. Get a life. Let me point out that Plato was fond of the theater. Indeed, part of my argument in “Canon Fodder” (yes, there’s only supposed to be two “n”s in “canon”) is an application of one of his arguments in the Phaedrus. Plato wasn’t fond of those who interpreted plays and the like without systematic and analytic thoroughness. However, the popular culture of the day was perfectly good grist for the academic mill. So, much as Plato used the work of Homer and Aristophanes, so we can use the work of Whedon and Plath and Baum to do much the same thing. The questions remain the same – what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a good human life? What is the nature of good and evil? The insights, however, can be striking. So, take heart those of you who are true scholars of popular culture, there is a good historical foundation for our activities laid out for us.

Enough of that soapbox. The Slayage folks – the folks I’ve met at earlier ones and who are some of the leading scholars in the field (David Lavery, Rhonda Wilcox, Stacey Abbott, Matthew Pateman, Lorna Jowett, Bronwen Calvert, Janet Halfyard – just to name a few) are kind, generous, and witty. Additionally, they are brilliant scholars. It was amazing to have so many truly gifted scholars on our campus. Mayhaps other conferences and scholars will come our way…

It was an amazingly hectic weekend – my nerves were frayed from the beginning and only began to knit themselves together sometime on Sunday. And, it wasn’t until the last of our merry band found their ways through security at the Little Rock airport on Monday, that it hit me – we pulled this thing off. Celebrations began with a latte. They have continued with basking in the glow of its completion. Here is my sincere and eternal thanks to all who made this conference such a rousing success.