getting settled into iowa city

Bob, Ros, and Mac

On the porch on the way home from dinner.

the last 4 weeks have been a time of monumental transition and emotion for me and for my family. in the past month, we packed all that we own into storage containers, moved out of our agoura hills condo, moved in with my mom just south of yosemite, experienced the birth of our son, maclaren, loaded all that we own into two moving vans, drove 1800 miles through the california, nevada, and arizona deserts, the utah canyons, over the colorado rockies, across the plains of nebraska, and through the rolling hills of western iowa. we closed on a home in iowa city, moved in, and unpacked. meanwhile, i attended the university of iowa’s new faculty orientation, set up my office (including moving a thousand volumes into my office – motivation enough for a renewed call for e-publishing), met my new colleagues, prepped my courses, learned all (read: some) of the new uiowa policies and procedures, and discovered most of the best places to grab a bite and a cold one. my wife decided to heed some of the doctor’s advice, so she waited precisely one week after maclaren’s birth to get in a car and drive cross-country with my mom and mac to join her father and me in iowa city. since her arrival, it has been an endless barrage of fixing up the yard, painting rooms, changing poopy (sp?) g-diapers, and setting up utilities (including internet at home, so expect a regular return to blogging.)

new state, new city, new time zone, new weather, new baby, new house, new job, new routine. i am thankful for my wife, roslyn, and her amazing ability to be a tireless mother and patient wife at the same time, and for our parents who provided us with support and drove us cross-country. (hint: get walkie-talkies for car caravans; they are invaluable when deciding to exit the freeway at a moment’s notice or when you need the truck at the rear to throw a block on rear-approaching traffic so you can pass the rig in front of you). i am also thankful for my friends, who throughout the entire transition encouraged and joked with me to make the transition bearable.

thank you especially to everyone who commented encouraging words on facebook and twitter while i was tweeting roslyn’s labor. i read those comments to her between breathing and counting, and it really did make all the difference. some made us laugh, which was welcomed relief, but most gave ros the extra motivation to keep going. never underestimate the power of a kind word uttered sincerely to someone in distress, even privately. it makes all the difference in the world.

my new colleagues at iowa are amazing. both departments (religious studies and classics) work together cohesively, share a common goal, and actually know what it is that i do (although ‘digital humanities’ still causes a few more of those colbert-esque raised eyebrows than does ‘second temple judaism’ or ‘archaeology’). they have each taken turns coming by my office and approaching me to chat at department picnics and parties. i look forward to years of production, growth, and fun at iowa. (btw, did i mention that my colleagues are good, fun scholars? it feels good to want to go to work and see my colleagues. it makes the overwhelming parts of a new job that much more bearable.)

iowa city is the best little hidden treasure in the midwest – the perfect combination of an intellectual center, social progress, and traditional emphasis on families and their well-being. i’m proud to be a hawkeye, and to live in the ‘people’s republic’ (as they affectionately are wont to call it) of iowa city, and i hope to contribute my part to the community. for now, i shall indulge in my favorite difference between iowa city and los angeles: i shall walk 5 short minutes (less than the time it used to take me to walk from the $10 per day parking spot allotted to me at ucla to my office) to the bus stop, and take the 10-minute bus ride to my office. my entire new 15 minute ‘commute’ involves no driving, no gas, no tension, and is 45 minutes less than my old, hour-long, one-way drive in los angeles. and to add insult to los angeles’ woeful public transportation injury, my bus pass is $10 per month, meaning i can get to work for a month for the same amount it costs to park (forget the cost of gas and lost time and stress, simply to park) at ucla for a day!

‘it’s not heaven, it’s iowa.’

ok. back to work.

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thought for the day: on the tension between experience and innovation

Old vs. Newi give tremendous respect and deference to individuals with experience and longevity in a particular discipline. those who do things for a long time are, on average, far better equipped and knowledgeable about a particular subject than those who are newcomers to a particular discipline. as a scholar, i respect experience and precedent.

that said, just because someone has been doing something or arguing the same thing for a very long time doesn’t make that person’s technique or theory correct. tradition is not truth, and ‘proof’ is never the last word, it is only the best word thus far.

i am always surprised to hear that classic line, ‘i’ve been doing this since before you were born.’ such a comment is the banter of the uneducated. claiming that experience trumps all new research is a desperate grasp at authority, and reeks of pride disguising insecurity.

the last time i heard the line ‘i’ve been doing this since before you were born’ was in my blue collar home town of fresno, ca, where two shop workers were arguing over the proper way to change the oil. it is not an effective line because it betrays the possibility that someone has been doing or thinking about something incorrectly for a long, long time.

if an established technique or theory is correct, it will easily withstand new and innovative approaches. if it is not, it will gradually erode and be replaced by the new theory or the more efficient technique. simply arguing that the way we’ve always done or understood something is better because those doing or thinking it have done so ‘since before you were born’ may be worthy of acknowledgment, but certainly does not make it the best.

have a nice day.

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