My Doctor is Five

I will be the first to admit that this kid is a little obsessed right now with Doctor Who, but given all the possible things in this world a little boy could become obsessed about, I am okay with a hero who doesn't like guns or things military, who gives every creature in the universe a choice and a chance, who thinks that human beings are "brilliant." And, he could totally be the Doctor if they ever needed a five-year-old blonde version.

The thing is, this stuff (hair, screwdriver, etc.) is pretty much all his idea. Even the pose here was 100% his. He got all set up like this and marched off to church, gaining all kinds of attention, mostly from old ladies who wanted to gobble him up and lick the sweetness off their fingers.

More photos from the shoot at Facebook.

Zion National Park, Zhang Yimou-Style

For those of you who haven't been following my recent exploits, early summer is when I start doing my Partners in the Parks projects. Partners is a program I run with my colleague Matt Nickerson, the Southern Utah University honors director. The gist of it is this: we take college honors students to national parks for a week at a time. They hike, learn from professors and rangers about park management and resources, and really get a deep experience instead of a four hour drive through, which is common for most Americans. We're funded through a National Parks Service grant, and we get some pretty amazing access. This summer I'll be leading or advising projects in Zion National Park, Grand Canyon-Parashant (in the remote NW section of the Grand Canyon, and Denali National Park in Alaska. We'll also be exploring new possibilities for projects in Olympic National Park in Washington, Great Basin, King's Canyon, and Sequoia. We also have projects that I am not directly overseeing in Cape Hatteras and Manhattan (many are unaware of the many, many urban NPS sites).

For the last two days I've been hiking through an upper section of Zion National Park, called Kolob Canyons. This morning we awoke to snow. We knew it was coming, but we sort of hoped we'd be wrong about that. It made for a miserable slog: lots of mud and being cold, but it was spellbindingly beautiful.

I kept expecting to see Chinese warriors flying overhead with spears and flowing silk robes, engaging in silent battle between the sandstone ramparts and the mist.

Today was hard going, but it was very beautiful. It was a good day, all in all, because I had good gear, I was in pretty good shape, and I was at work.

Good Point from Jon Ogden

This snippet from an excellent argument on Mormon Artist.

We Mormons have the same expectations of Church members in almost all other professions. We expect, for instance, that dentists will favor dentistry over promoting religious orthodoxy while they are at work. To illustrate, we don’t expect dentists to give the missionary discussions to clients strapped, mouths agape, in the dentist chair. Nor do we expect accountants to slip copies of their testimonies in with their client’s tax returns. Dentists and accountants may be inspired in certain instances to share their beliefs, but we generally don’t expect such acts to be a mainstay of their professions. We shouldn’t expect it from artists either.

This saves me a blog post, really. What's more important, though, is why so many assume that artists should be doing more evangelical work than a dentist, because they do. My wife's Uncle Joe has been making this same argument about "uplifting work" for a long time.

Lists and Lists

It's the time of lists (end of a year, end of a decade). I spent a really interesting forty minutes or so today being interview by Lisa Carricaburu from the Salt Lake Tribune about the last decade in Utah, outlining the cultural shifts that have brought the state to the place it is right now. What place it that? Who knows, but it's definitely a different place now than many people are used to—what, the LDS church supports anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation? I've actually been getting kind of sick of the lists, in many cases because they are depressing, but especially when they are outlining all the great books I don't have the time to read because I am raising children and teaching English courses at a university.

(I do see the irony in this. Don't even start.)

But today I found a best books list that was really interesting. It's from the most excellent literary review website The Second Pass. They propose a list of the books people will likely be reading a hundred years from now.

Some of the books from the 2110 List that have really caught my fancy.

This list really put some new stuff in my face, and made me want to settle in and turn off the Battlestar Galactica and disappear into some pages. I think there are some good mentions of things well off the beaten path and some writers you might expect as well. Lydia Millet's comedy on the Manhattan Project seems like a pretty great next purchase for me.

Check it out. The 2110 Club List at The Second Pass.

They also have a DIY list here. Throw your hat into the ring, eh.

Crossbones Valentine

I found this little watercolor painting lying around in the house this weekend. While I was scanning it Ike came up and told me he painted it. Then Zoë appeared, crying that she had painted a heart and Ike ruined it with all the "Halloween stuff." "Crossbones Valentine" a collaborative piece by Zoë and Ike Petersen. Ike did not deny it but agreed, saying, "I put in the bones and the scary parts." Zoë harumphed and stomped off. I don't like to side with one kid or the other, but the Halloween parts are really the most amazing thing. It's pretty great blown up, too. We might print it and frame it.

Subject: The Outside

This might be the best student evaluation I've ever gotten. This student wasn't in my class this semester because he'd been incarcerated. He writes:

Dr. P,

Once again the simple minded folks at the Utah DOC have set me loose upon society. I want to express thanks for the great things your mentoring provided to me. I can and will write, perhaps even shit people will want to read. In spite of the fact you have previous knowledge of this, I want to say that you are a great mind, you have and will continue to inspire. There are great writers who are a little mental, or a lot. I count myself among them, the really disturbed and dysfunctional, unique futuristic writers. I know your [sic] probably thinking, "Get off my leg."

Thanks anyways. Warren (not his real name)

Well, good luck, Warren. Stay out of the pokey, and write something that counts. Do I really hope that all of my incarcerated students think about me on the inside? I guess that would be kind of awesome, sort of...

Good Ideas of AY 2008-2009

The end of the year the pundits round up major accomplishments and newsworthy ideas and such and use them to fill a few news cycles. It's time for person of the year, gadget of the year, story of the year. Instead of aggregating other ideas, I thought I'd go through my notebooks and generate a list of my ten best ideas of the last academic year. Why not? Who else is going to? I also thought that for teachers the calendar year isn't as important as the academic one, so here goes.

1. Library Economy vs. Bookstore Economy.

One of my good friends and colleagues, Matt Nickerson, is a librarian. Through my association with him, I have learned that library use has changed a lot over the last decade or so. A lot of that change seems to be due in part to computer use. In any case, one thing librarians want to achieve is getting books and students together.

This has led us to a number of discussions on the subject of how professors get students into libraries. I responded at one point by saying, "They don't. Teachers bring the books to students in the form of text books. Then once or twice a semester they send them off to the library to find support materials."

The big idea is this: what if the library was the primary text? What would happen in a class in which you said that on a certain day the discussion would be on the subject of "first person narration," use the library and be ready for discussion? I am also imagining all kinds of hybrid assignments where I assign one text and students need to add two more two the mix—their choice.

2. Using Cloud Computing On-line Applications in the classroom.

This is now a no-brainer. Google Docs is my number one choice for managing tons of documents. The searching means that the Google Docs account can really be one big bucket into which I throw these documents. No complex filing directory is necessary. It is kind of a blunt instrument, though. It's almost just an online text editor. I don't think Google Docs is a good composing tool, but it is great for sharing documents and collaborating on them as well.

Adobe's Buzzword, is really beautiful and actually easier on the eyes than most on-line apps. It outputs really nicely to a PDF, which I can have students integrate very nicely into a digital portfolio. I have tried Zoho tools, and they just don't seem to work quite right for me and from my perspective. I have tried to like them.

The use of online apps for collaboration makes the most immediate sense, but once I gained a little facility with the tools, I started to learn a little about how to hack the basic use for some interesting results.

My best discover is the use of what I'm calling the Standing Evaluation. Because I use narrative rather than quantitative evaluation in my courses, I need some way to communicate my responses and feedback to the students. I have discovered that if I instruct a student to share a google document with me, we can use that document as a platform for the evaluation. It's ongoing, so I get to see everything I've written for that semester, and whenever I add anything it's within a context of continuity. I can really chart growth. Students like it because they have a chance to respond, like with your credit report, it's just less difficult: they are free to respond to any comment. The best students do, and it's a real joy to have a conversation about their performance.

3. The Hobbit is a heist narrative.

I have been working on ideas about heist films for a while now, and it hit me over the head like a sack of money: The Hobbit is a heist, Gandalf's 14, if you will. More on this later. I have the seeds of a conference paper germinating at the moment. I does foil my initial heist paper thesis that the heist isn't a good genre for fiction but that it works best in film.

4. Putting an old lampshade iMac in the kitchen.

It's not the fastest, but man, that rotatable, tiltable screen is great for brining up a recipe or watching the Daily Show on Hulu when you're cleaning up.

5. Not getting a snow blower.

We're getting to the point that (a) I can be outside without worrying that the kids will kill themselves, and (b) Alisa's been helping, and it's kind of nice to be out there shoveling with her. It can be quite lovely, in facr. Not an issue, though, for another six months probably. I do have a leaf blower, which I pretty much can't do without.

This Chart is Saving My Life

It's pretty hard to say no to people. And I have needed a way to make sure that I can keep my projects in line. So, I decided to make a flow chart. At first I thought it was silly, but I like fiddling around in Illustrator, so I kept at it. I've now got people asking me for copies, and it's made me a lot clearer on my own priorities. Click on the image to see it big.

Decision Maker

I'm going to print up copies and hand them out like tracts. Props to Merlin Mann of 43 Folders for his work with the Qualified Yes.

Sticking it to the Man


I'm getting so sick and tired of going to websites where I have to be told that I'm going to need a stupid Bill Gates Microsoft poo-browser to get anything done. Finally the amazing people at Powell's Books have given the Microsoft sheep a little taste of their own medicine, and it's just brilliant.

Take a look that the lovely screen shot I took from their blog this morning. It made me smile and smile and smile and smile.

The Genius in Diapers

Tonight, my wife and her family were watching Napoleon Dynamite, and I was sitting apart writing syllabi. I was well into my ART 1010 assignments when Z, the 2.5 year-old, burst into my office and crawled up on the chair next to me and began singing a song.

It went a little something like this:

Jesus was born like America.
Jesus was born on a trip, on a trip, on a trip.
He was on a trip, on a trip, on a trip.

What else could I say but, "You're right. They were on a trip, far from home"?

Now, that first line, "Jesus was born like America," is absolutely like something Paul Simon would have written 20 years ago.


One of my students sent out an e-mail this morning to a few people with a list of things she was thankful for. Mostly this kind of thing would make me crazy, but she was so earnest (and normally a kind of cynical person) that I found it really kind of moving.

So after a lot of thought...could you please make it a CHEESE burger.

Sorry, I had to. So anyway, after a lot of thought, my answer is this: I am thankful that I have a place in this world. Seems like many do not.

I'm also thankful that Zoë likes Jerry Garcia and that she calls everything in the world that tastes good a "cookie."

I'm thankful that, despite its basic inefficiency (so far as biological operations are concerned), beauty still makes the world a better place.

I'm thankful I grew up in Portland.

I'm thankful for my wife, saying why is impossible.

I'm thankful that my mother took me out of school for the King Tut and Alexander Calder exhibits and that she let me be late to class once so we could sit in the car outside my high school for a full twenty minutes listening to the rest of a radio station's morning focus on Paul Simon's Graceland.

I'm thankful that I can say I've been a professional musician. (I'm thankful for that 100.00 tip I got from a drunk dude, even though he was surly the next week).

I'm thankful for students who say things like this in their presentations: "2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie you just have to be patient with." That girl is going places.