Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — July 2010

Ballet, baseball, and the bucket list

I can’t reveal many of the details at the moment, but a recent opportunity nearly saw us moving back to Alberta by the end of the summer. This experience led me to think about all the empty checkboxes on our family’s long list of things we’ve wanted to do and see since we moved to New England in 2003. The long summers of research and extra teaching combined with camps and activities for kids have made it difficult to do much more than a weekend of camping here and there over the last 7 or so years. But what would happen if we did have to leave soon? How many things would we regret never having done while we were here?

These thoughts were clearly in my mind on Thursday when I was reminded that my daughter had signed up for a field trip with her ballet school. She had a single ticket to go see the New York City Ballet in Saratoga Springs this weekend. We’d literally just walked in the door from three days of camping when I got the call from her ballet teacher wondering if E. still planned to attend the performance. In typical Paul Martin fashion, I saw this as a sign. I came up with an impractical, if not outlandish plan that would see my kids and I heading to Saratoga Springs, attending the performance together, staying overnight, and then driving an additional 90 minutes or so to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, my wife had to work today, so she stayed behind. I wish it weren’t a solo trip, but we both agreed that this was a great chance to do these things for the kids. So, I write to you now from an airport hotel in Albany, which was the cheapest and best place I could find on such short notice. The kids are long passed out and I’m stepping away from a late night work session to write this post which has been dying to get out of me all day. Tomorrow, we’re on to the Hall of Fame, but that’s less in my mind still than what I saw this afternoon.

I can honestly say that the part of the trip that comes closest to filling one of my own lifelong dreams was to see the NYC Ballet for the first time. Today was the final day of their annual residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and it was great to have the chance to join my daughter there, but also to bring my eight year-old son, who loved the performance nearly as much as my daughter and me.  Although I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the crowd at the otherwise lovely Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the performance exceeded my own high expectations. The company’s program today was mainly focused on some of the many Ballanchine works in their repertory, including the quite lovely Walpurgisnacht Ballet. The piece that was really stunning, however, that jolted the audience to their feet as soon as it was over, was Christopher Wheeldon‘s piece “After the Rain.” Set to some amazing music by Arvo Pärt, the piece featured a powerful and touching pas de deux with Wendy Whelan and her partner that brought the somewhat restless crowd to a complete standstill. The beauty and emotion of that pas de deux was unforgettable and left many people around me wiping tears from their eyes when it was over. It’s all too rare, sadly, that we can experience the power of art in as visceral a way as this.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about my experiences today in such detail. This seems more like a diary entry than anything else I’ve written before on this blog. Perhaps it’s because the last few weeks have taught me a lot about the importance of seizing the moment and of trying to take advantage of as many opportunities as one can. This nearly resulted in a huge life change a couple of weeks ago in Alberta. Rather than being as disappointed as I probably should be that I didn’t get the job, though, I can’t help but feeling empowered and recharged by experience of taking such a bold step and having it nearly work out for me.

My experience in Alberta taught me a lot about academia, too. Academia allows us to develop many great and interesting skills and then sets many restrictive parameters around what we are supposed to see as meaningful applications of that knowledge. It works to persuade us that our audience is and always should be the small number of fellow specialists in our field. If we attempt to reach wider audiences our work is met with suspicion that we are somehow less serious about our field than those who play by these rules. Academia has something utterly at stake in persuading us that it is the only place where we can truly apply all that we’ve learned. Having seen that my work and skills have value outside of academia, I no longer buy this. I’m increasingly persuaded that our education system is outmoded, completely out of touch, and thoroughly ineffective compared to what it could be if we started to pay more attention to these questions.

I guess I can now cross saying that out loud right off my list. There’s lots more to say, of course, but that will have to wait for a while.

July 18, 2010   No Comments