Friday, March 18, 2016

A Typical Day at a Small Midwestern Liberal Arts College in the Middle of Rural Nowhere

One day this week, here at little DePauw University in tiny Greencastle, Indiana, I attended not one, not two, not three, but FOUR talks (in addition to teaching a class on Harry Potter in my children's literature course and a class on climate change refugees in my ethics of immigration policy course).

11:30-12:30  Luncheon talk on narrative medicine with Dr. Owen Lewis, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. "Narrative medicine" makes use of writing about illness by physicians, patients, and family members to deepen understanding and promote healing. Lewis read aloud a piece of writing by one of his medical students about the day she "met" her cadaver; in the piece the writer notes the red nail polish on the fingernails of the woman whose corpse she is going to be dissecting and wonders about the circumstances that led her to apply it with such care.

4:00-4:45 Craft talk on songwriting by young singer/songwriter (and DePauw graduate) David McMillan of the indie band Fort Frances. Here is the best advice he ever received in his writing/performing career: "Your last album was great! Don't ever do anything like it again!"A stimulating call for constant creative self-invention.

7:00-8:00  Talk by Buzzfeed journalist Anne Helen Petersen: "Too Loud, Too Fat, Too Slutty: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman." This one was absolutely packed with students who wanted to hear a media analyst talk about the dominance of a new kind of female celebrity, a woman who defies (but sometimes also reinforces) cultural norms by being transgressively "too much" of something. I had never heard of any of the figures she was discussing - Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, the characters of a raunchy TV show called "Broad City" (where apparently Hillary Clinton is set to make an appearance!) - but it was fascinating to get this glimpse into pop culture.

8:00-9:30  Talk by theologian Candida Moss of Notre Dame on the topic of "Heavenly Bodies: Disability, Infertility, and Bodily Values in Early Christianity."The talk explored the early Christian church's attempt to understand resurrection of the body, which necessitated speculation about what resurrected bodies might be like. Presumably we wouldn't get our same, decrepit-at-death bodies back post-Resurrection, but some idealized form of our bodily selves. But idealized, how? Moss examined the ways in which the early church constructed a vision of idealized bodies that implicitly denigrated bodies that were black, female, or disabled.

Okay, this wasn't really a typical day for me here at DePauw. Even as someone who tries to go to just about everything that is intellectually and creatively rich and stimulating, I broke my own record for talks attended in one twelve-hour period. But it was an amazing day. Will I ever again hear talks about fingernail polish on a corpse, songwriting advice, celebrity gossip, and speculations about the nature of Christian resurrection, all in one day?

Most certainly, not.

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