Tagged by Kathleen, I provide herewith five things you more than likely do not know about me:
- The banjo: When I was in fourth grade, some of my friends were taking guitar lessons. Others took piano. In order to distinguish myself, I decided to pursue mastery of the decidedly more difficult 5-string banjo. In fact, I learned how to play many bluegrass classics with more than a little expertise: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” and “Dueling Banjos” are among the pieces I could perform with blistering speed. I never learned anything about music theory or even about reading music, however, and now I can only remember how to play one thing. When my uncle died about twenty-five years ago (after I had forgotten most of what I had learned, unfortunately), he left me a beautiful banjo with a mother-of-pearl depiction of an elaborate vine crawling up the fretboard. I still have this instrument and hope one day to regain some of my bluegrass virtuosity.
- The trip to Vietnam : I didn’t blog this when it happened, but in late 2005 I took a two-week trip to Vietnam with my father, who travels there a few times a year to tend to various charitable endeavors he supports. It turns out that there are many veterans who do this sort of thing: building and stocking libraries, funding schools for the underprivileged, establishing and supporting medical clinics in underserved areas. We flew into Hanoi (the northern metropolis) and flew out of Saigon (the southern metropolis). Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in the world, and I was amazed at how diverse the countryside is from the mountainous northern border with China to the southern Mekong Delta. Also surprising was the presence of red dirt, which I had never seen anywhere but Georgia. Everything I ate was delicious, with the exception of the mantis shrimp. Those freaked me out. I could write an entire book about the things I saw, but I’ll finish this bullet point with two brief descriptions. One especially foggy morning in the mountains I had the opportunity to observe a Catholic mass in a late-19th-century church filled with Hmong people dressed in beautiful, traditional clothing. Late in the trip, I visited Saigon’s Notre Dame cathedral, where I was blown away by the amount of neon inside. In particular, I will never forget the statue of the Virgin Mary with “Ave Maria” emblazoned in large, glowing pink letters above her.
- The Belgian whorehouse: From 1979 until 1983, the first four years my father was working for NATO and we lived in Belgium, my family lived directly across the street from a whorehouse. It was not a subtle whorehouse. The two-story building was painted bright pink and featured lots of neon. Why my parents thought this was a good location for raising their adolescent children is beyond me. I suppose I could ask them.
- The undergraduate major: I started out at Georgia Tech majoring first in Aerospace Engineering and then in Mechanical Engineering. I made Dean’s List twice and was on academic probation twice. Halfway through my junior year I transferred to Georgia State to major first in Journalism and then in English. Technically, I was a Creative Writing major, though what I was interested in doing with my life was writing what is now referred to as Creative Non-Fiction. I imagined for myself a career writing long, interesting pieces on music, film, and culture for popular magazines (think New Yorker, not People). Instead, I wound up going on to graduate school and becoming a professor of literature. As a result of this path, I don’t have many literature classroom experiences of my own to call upon when I imagine what good teaching is, but I am a good teacher of writing.
- The President: As a wee lad I shook the late Gerald Ford’s hand while he was president of these United States.
And now, I tag Sparkletonian bloggers Brian, Denise, Emily, Justin, and Leah with the “5 things” meme. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to tell us five things about themselves we do not already know.