I'm going to start with a brief report on the less important things I've been doing over the past few months. (Interesting that the "less important" things include my job.) Winter Semester I taught a graduate course on "Shakespeare and Religion" and an undergraduate world literature class that included some of my favorites--King Lear, Tartuffe, Faust, The Brothers Karamazov, The Waste Land, and Things Fall Apart, among many others. Spring Term I taught an undergraduate Shakespeare class, with the help of an assistant (Amanda Erdmann), who did a wonderful job. Because I was still trudging away on my book, I greatly appreciated having a TA--not something I usually have for this course.
As English Department ombudsman, I get to deal with problems involving students and their teachers. I try to help the parties resolve things or at least (I hope) not make things worse.
Shakespeare Association of America meetings were in Dallas this year. I roomed with a former student, Vernon Dickson, who is now teaching in Florida. Among the highlights were seeing two foreign Shakespearean adaptations--an Indian film titled Maqbool, giving Macbeth a modern Bombay gangster twist, and a highly transformed version of Hamlet set in medieval China. I took part in a stimulating seminar on character criticism in Shakespeare. Since the seminar leaders are trying to get a book collection published, drawing on the seminar, I have the assignment of revising my paper by August 1. If you're interested, you can look at the paper in PDF or Word format by clicking on the highlighted words in this sentence.
One of the most memorable things about the past six or seven months has been taking part in the excitement of American politics. Margaret had been a fan of Barack Obama's for some time, after reading his autobiography, Dreams from My Father. I was leaning toward Bill Richardson, partly because of his audacious but well thought out ideas for dealing with Iraq, partly because of his experience, partly because he's quite funny--or at least the video clip introducing him was. But at some point in January, I became an Obama supporter as well. Tuesday evenings became especially memorable. I stayed at my office until time to go to devotional at the Missionary Training Center (speaking of which, Margaret and I have continued to enjoy our work there with the missionaries). Depending on the time zone of a given week's primary, I might have some idea who was winning before I left for the MTC. But usually I'd find out as I drove home around 9:15 or 9:30 at night. Then Margaret and I would watch the returns on TV. Mornings were fun with "Morning Joe"--an early morning talk show that focused on the political races. The Colbert Report help liven things up with spoofs. And Margaret often watched Countdown with Keith Olbermann, who gets a bit rough but who can be entertaining too.
We didn't entirely neglect the Republicans, but of course, they wound down much earlier. I know Mitt Romney and came to his defense with a couple of postings, including one on a rather disturbing site called "Pastors4Huckabee," where a pastor explained why true Christians should never vote for a Mormon. I preferred the Mitt Romney I knew when I was in graduate school in Massachusetts--even the one who saved the Olympics. The one who presented himself as a candidate from 2007 to early 2008 had become a bit too right wing and mean-spirited for my tastes. But I still find him likable--especially when he's not being political.
I got so excited about the primaries (the Democratic ones, anyway) that I ended up making phone calls to Texas and North Carolina, posting comments on various sites, contacting a superdelegate (Deb Kozikowski in Massachusetts), and even starting a new blog (Election 2008: My Views on Issues and Candidates). I'm the chair of my local precinct (we're talking about a handful of people involved within the precinct). I was a delegate to the Utah County convention (we have an incredibly good set of candidates in Utah County--I think they could even get elected if people get to know them). I thought I was a state convention delegate and went to the convention. But it turns out someone else had been elected (I had not been able to stay for the whole meeting where state delegates were selected). I had been confused by the fact that I was receiving e-mails from a bunch of people asking me to vote for them at the convention. I apparently got on an e-mail list of state delegates. Finding myself not on the list once I got to the convention in Salt Lake was disappointing of course. But I gathered up some free political items (bumper stickers, etc.) and ran into Rod Decker, a reporter whose sister Jeanne Griffiths is a friend of mine. I reminded him that I had met him at his sister's place in Virginia many years ago (almost 20, I think), and he remembered me. Even more, he remembered an essay I had written talking about my courtship and marriage. The guy has quite a memory.
Being political has been a challenge. Since I'm no longer in a stake presidency, I felt I could finally put a bumper sticker on my car. But I was hesitant about doing it because I knew some people at the MTC might be traumatized seeing an Obama sticker in the parking lot. I didn't get to choose whether to put on a bumper sticker, though--my 16-year-old son Misha decided to put it on for me ("I thought you wanted to put it on, Dad"). I invented a way (using cardboard and dental floss) to cover the sticker while at the MTC. But I've stopped doing that since Charlotte England told me not to worry--and to be a bit braver and more gutsy.
My mother was a Hillary Clinton fan--something my wife and I were definitely not. But as it became clear that Obama was going to take the nomination, my mother became reconciled. Of course, as the political season died down and she became seriously ill, politics became much less important to us.
One more recent event of interest: BYU's radio station--KBYU-FM--has a wonderful program started by Marcus Smith and titled "Thinking Aloud." Marcus invited Steve Walker (another English Department member) and me to converse with him about C. S. Lewis. The conversation was recorded on July 3 and broadcast on July 10--at the exact time of my mother's funeral. I think my mother would have been pleased, though I hope she was listening in on the funeral rather than the radio broadcast. It was rebroadcast at 8pm that night, and Margaret and I listened to see how it sounded. You can also listen online, anytime--to download the program as a "podcast" if you go here: http://www.byub.org/podcast/ (I haven't figured out quite how it works, though). Here's an easier link (thanks to one of my readers): http://byubmp3.byu.edu/fmarchive/thinkingaloud/ta080710.mp3 If you click on this one, you can listen directly.
In a day or two, I'll try to move on to some of the more important items of the past few months.