Sunday was just hanging with the gang. Amy and the kids came back from visiting her family for a week while Dan experienced unusual opportunities for extended study, which he confessed was rather disconcerting after being conditioned to try to do a Ph.D. between diapers. Amy said she felt she'd have the energy to make it through staying up with everyone to ultimately watch the evening's premiere of the new half-season of Battlestar Galactica which has been moved to Sundays (which I don't think any of us like as much). For whatever reason, our conversation around the dinnertable (with a very satisfying chicken stir-fry Donna made) was perhaps the most sustained saucy and witty train of talk we've ever shared: impossible to reproduce in the journal in any convincing way, but probably the longest stretch of sheer funniness or good humour ever with the group. I held Dan and Amy's Owen, who is now about eight months old, on my lap before dinner while we were talking. The kid lights up a lot when we make eye contact, but the hysterical thing is that he then often arches his left eyebrow, which results in the most un-kid-like expression on his face that it just makes everyone bust out laughing.
Monday afternoon, once I was done with classes saw the final episode of my Europe Journal from the summer being transcribed at last. This was satisfying in just the sheer sense of finishing a large project, but was also symbolic of how much more time for writing I have this semester, which is great: I'm very excited about working on my dissertation at this point, especially after the way my teaching/lesson-planning last semester seemed to squeeze out any writing time. The evening with the Nicod sisters was one the best moments of the trip, although likely that's hard to convey exactly why in writing. I was slightly dismayed to see the huge response to the article I'd casually pasted in my journal the night before, in comparison to the silence regarding what I thought had been one of the gems of my trip, but I suppose that's the nature of the beast: the one is intrinsically personal even as a narrative, and the essay is intrinsically a public item provoking public debate. Still, not nearly so interesting to me: I was so delighted in going over that day and remembering it, but what can we say about one another's stories? "Cool story." And then the usually-entertaining turnabout of, "That reminds me of something that once happened to me...."
Monday evening was spent catching up with a student from last semester, one Jessica Corder, who wanted to talk about her current plans to move from majoring in the biomedical direction to the philosophical/theological one, or possibly even combining the two. She had been talking it over with her Mom during the break, back home in Italy (she's an American who's lived almost her whole life some 90 minutes north of Venice, and for whom America is both a native culture, and a foreign-study experience, which is fascinating in itself), and her Mom was classically parental in wondering about job prospects. But Jessica's got the gift for the reflective sciences, and that was obvious to me from very early on last semester. It is a humbling thing to associate with a student for whom you have been one of those teachers that has in one way or another done something that "changed their life." It is certainly possible that this might have inevitably happened with any philosophical or theological training on her part, and then there's the chance that perhaps it was just the way I happened to do it that caused the intellectual fireworks and chain reaction to begin. Either way, I was there for the event, and there's a sense of responsibility in talking to such a person that is almost overwhelming: it's all beyond your control already, but nevertheless, you know that in some way, you did this – your life mattered. Jess brought me back a bottle of what looks to be a very satisfying Chianti, too (and was very eager to get it out of her dorm room before she underwent any kind of spot-check). I know it's not a big deal for her back home, but being in a freshman dorm with such contraband could have been unpleasant for her: I appreciated the extra tiny bit of daring, but I feel bad I can't invite her over, too, to join in with whoever I end up opening the bottle with.
Tuesday afternoon had me following up with my regular doctor the results of the biopsy from last week, and what I could expect from the surgery, which will probably not happen until the end of the semester. It all seemed pretty low-key: a basal cell carcinoma being as Brady-Bunch a cancer as I could hope for, with the happy life lesson of learning to put on more sunscreen in the future. When the attending came in later and joined the resident in talking with me, she began to coach me in everything I could do in stopping by and calling the Dermatology department and in trying to get moved up their massively-crowded schedule. It felt all the world like my sister was coaching me on how to behave with my date at Prom, and it was hard work to not start laughing at her.... On the way home I finished Kristin Lavransdatter on the bus, and was hard-pressed to not make a scene of myself by starting to weep, I was so moved. More on that later.
Tuesday evening was spent over dinner, drinks, and dessert with Julie Riederer out at the Rock Bottom Brewery, where we got one of the windows with the best views of the downtown lit up over the frozen Milwaukee River. We hadn't seen one another since the start of the break, and so we got on with our usual manic pace, focusing particularly on some of the psychology, neurobiology and neuropsychology that she's starting to focus on this semester, along with the grad school plans she's got coming together. The rest was the usual hodge-podge: old stories, family, dating, teaching, books we were reading or had read and that we thought the other might like. I owe her a book or two after making a few wine-inspired "reading assignments" for her the other month; she was threatening to make me read the original Sex and the City but says she's coming up with better ideas, one of which I can't remember – maybe from last night's wine – and the other being The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. She's talked about that one quite a bit before, in the context of her work with autistic children, and that one is one I'd wanted to read "someday," anyway.
Wednesday afternoon featured Frannie and Kevin Fleming announcing the birth of Max Michael Fleming, which is unspeakably cool in getting a child named partially after me (and Michael McGlinn). All mother and baby reports are good, but I think the delivery started at 3:45am and went for about 12 hours, which is hair-raising.
The other thing that was totally cool was the for the second day in a row (and this was only the second day of real "discussion" in my classes) the students in my class talked all the time: everybody was raising their hands and contributing, to the point where I was having trouble finishing my lessons because I had so many people who wanted to contribute, and were doing it well enough that I was happy to give them the opportunity. Three stayed after today talking theology, philosophy and physics. Could it be that I have got 50 un-jaded freshmen who aren't frightened by unknown disciplines and new levels of conversation? Could I be that lucky? I'm holding my breath in sheer excitement and delight that it might be so....