Category: writing Page 1 of 17

The Conference

Of air-conditioned ballrooms, name tag lanyards, and drink tickets–and whether or not conference-going is worth it.


Let’s begin with the setting: an opening keynote session, held in a wide hotel ballroom, the kind created by throwing open the Godzilla-sized accordion dividers that normally parse one cavernous hall into smaller ones, filled with rows and rows of chairs, all on top of carpet patterned in inoffensive colors, all designed to hide stains and wear. A stage is set up at the front with a podium and colored LED lighting for effect, framed by two giant projection screens on either side.

There are about 500 of us, and most all of us fit into roughly one of a handful of categories: community college fundraisers or marketers, or board members, presidents or administrators with those responsibilities. We are there to learn the latest tricks of the trade, to hear stories of successful programs, to network. We are from all over the country, from big and small schools, rural, suburban, and urban, historic and new, and so forth.

Professional development of any strain has never particularly been my cup of tea. Maybe it’s my background as a teacher, but somehow the pedagogical styles of just about every training program I’ve completed reek of elementary school-aged tactics. Which is fine, of course, if you’re working with ten year-olds, but a bit demeaning otherwise.

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Cherry Groove

LIFE WITH KIDDOS

Another school year beckons.
But first, the beach.


We are in search of dolphins, dozens of us on this small boat bobbing in the ocean. Our eyes are searching across the deep, the ripples and waves a sequined glittering array of light and shadow, all of us desperate to see a protruding fin or the spray from a blowhole.

Four summers here, our little vacation spot in Cherry Grove, and still each trip we find new things to do. This year, we booked a sunset cruise on one of the dozen or so boats we’d spotted tooling about in the ocean earlier in the week. The entire enterprise seemed to abide a classic fisherman’s sensibility, rough about the edges, rules entirely absent. Which is to say, one could smoke on board, which a handful of folks did, or bring a backpack full of snacks and a personal cooler, which we did. There were no regulations, no tucked-in shirts, no safety talks, nothing much beyond the growl of the diesel engines.

There was cadenced, wizened commentary from the captain, though, broadcast over tinny loudspeakers as we trolled the surf in search of dolphins and delivered in a Chesapeake accent. We sat on benches along the sides of the boat. Plastic lawn chairs were arranged in the open decks in the center.

It took an hour or so of motoring up the Intracoastal Waterway to reach the Atlantic. (“We call this the Ditch,” the captain noted in his well-rehearsed monologue.) Creeping along the no-wake zones, we spotted a few restaurants perched along the waterfront, rolling carpets of vibrant grass, and rows of multi-million dollar vacations homes, replete with LED-lit boat docks, palm-lined palisades, glimmering pools, and tiled roofs meant to invoke places more inspiring than Ditch-side mansions. Everyone crowded to one side of the boat to snap pictures of Vanna White’s house as we idled past.

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Gaining Altitude

AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

Sometimes a better perspective involves increasing one’s elevation.


We landed in Denver in mid-afternoon, embarking upon only our third trip sans offspring, picking up a rental car and heading into the mountains. We’d picked Colorado because neither of us had ever been and because two of our favorite bands were playing a concert together at Red Rocks. We’d left without making any solid plans beyond hotel accommodations. It was my first time on an airplane in a year and a half.*

Whomever settled the city of Denver surely must have done so because it’s the last stretch of reasonable flat land before everything gives way to brown, stony mountains. Let’s stop here, I imagine they said. Seems good enough.

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