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October 2010 Archives

October 7, 2010

The five stages of editing grief

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the edit.

Every writer learns how to do it: sit there and smile as your baby, your masterpiece, is revised within an inch of its life by unfeeling editors. Most pros develop a thick skin regarding editing early. But I came to the profession of writing late, and so was forced to adapt quickly to the, ah, rigorous editing of the staff of the University of Chicago Magazine. To all writers and would-be writers, and with apologies to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, I offer you my observations about how to get through this difficult interaction.

  1. Denial
    “What the...? This can’t be right, this is fine. There’s no need to change any of this. No, no, no.”

  2. Anger
    “I’m gonna go give my editor a piece of my mind. Doesn’t she see what I’m trying to do with this block quote? Who the hell does she think she is, anyway?”

  3. Bargaining
    “OK, look, I’ll shorten the part about the life cycle of the oak tree. But I’m not going to cut the bit about the guy’s mom. It’s a beautiful little story and really illuminates his personality.”

  4. Depression
    “God, I’m just an awful hack. I’m never going to make a living at this. I’ll probably never get another assignment again. All I’m good for is copy editing ads.”

  5. Acceptance
    “Ah, hell, just print it as is.”

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

October 8, 2010

UChicago Social

Scenes from the second alumni "Meet the Chef" night at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo

Due to popular demand, the University of Chicago Club of Chicago has set up a second night for a group outing to Frontera/Topolobampo. We hope the additional event will allow more alumni, parents, and friends to enjoy the widely acclaimed restaurants. We’ll dine in Frontera Grill’s Morales Room on a four-course, Topolobampo menu with wine pairings. We’ll learn about the cuisine and wine from sommelier Jill Gubesch and one or more of the restaurants’ famed chefs. Please note that Chef Rick Bayless’s attendance is not guaranteed.

James Orr

“OK, that’s a really bad angle,” says Beth Woods, AB’91. I’m trying to take photographs and interview alumni at the same time. The alumni are trying to get photographed and interviewed and enjoy their meal at the same time. It’s a little difficult.

I turn down the margarita I’m offered, so there’s no real reason why my first interview, with James Orr, U-High’61, SM’75, PhD’82, turns out like a vaudeville routine. I ask if he’s been to a fine-dining event like this before. “I think I have, but in my old age, I tend to forget which ones I’ve been to,” he says. How about other alumni events? “Occasionally I go to one of the financial discussions they have on Sundays, but that only depresses me.”

The table’s conversation turns to the appetizer. “There’s a very subtle pineapple flavor in the guacamole,” he says, and then I hear, “That depresses me.”

I’m confused. “That depresses you?”

Impresses me,” he says. “Impresses.”

I ask him what he had for lunch. “No lunch,” he says. “For breakfast I went to the W Hotel, where I had a brioche. I eat abysmally, but someone from Reed College took me out for breakfast.”

“You went to two alumni events in one day?”

“Yes. Usually I just eat oatmeal,” he says. “For lunch I get the calorie-controlled meal at my hospital.”

I’m confused again. “Wait—you live in a hospital?”

“Yes. They let me out during the day,” he says. “No, I’m a pathologist at Resurrection.”

“At Resurrection.” I’m finally keeping up. “OK.”

“That’s not the right answer,” he says. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Come again?’”

Floyd Elliot and Paula Froehle

Having survived that interview, I turn to Floyd Elliot, AM’84, MBA’91. He tells me he just quit doing a food blog, called GGG (Gourmet Gourmand Glutton). “The first post was, ‘Why I’m off fine dining,’” he says. “Basically, every fine dining restaurant that opened in the last two years sucked, with very few exceptions. They were overhyped and underperforming.”

He and partner Paula Froehle (“I’m not an alumnus,” she says apologetically) have been to Frontera “many, many times,” he says. “I like the idea of meeting the chef. I am definitely a chef groupie.”

But does he have a secret guilty pleasure? “I will admit that I do kind of like KFC,” he says. “That [expletive deleted]’s kinda awesome. But other than that, I’m a pretty orthodox foodie.”

“Very orthodox,” adds Froehle.

“Yes. I wear the prayer shawl.”


Rick Bayless is in Mexico, it turns out. Instead Richard James—one of two chefs Bayless took with him when he cooked at the White House—walks the foodies through the menu, while assistant sommelier Liz Martinez explains the wine pairings: Ceviche Yucateco (shrimp and calamari) with 2007 Brooks “Ara” Riesling; Sopa Azteca (chicken and avocado soup) with 2008 Mahi Sauvignon Blanc; Borrego en Mole Rojo (lamb in red mole sauce) with 2004 Francesc Sanchez-Bas “Montgarnatx” Priorat; and Crepas con Cajeta e Higos (crepes with goat milk caramel and figs) with 2004 Ernst Bretz “Bechtolsheimer Petersberg” Riesling Eiswein.

“This is my favorite restaurant in Chicago,” says Amy Gardner, JD’02, Dean of Students at the Law School and the event’s organizer. Because a second night was added, she and husband Keith Sbiral have enjoyed the same food and wines two nights in a row. It is also Gardner’s second fancy restaurant in a single day: for lunch she ate at Park 52 with another dean from the Law School.

Does she have any guilty pleasures? KFC possibly? “Ohhhhh noooo,” she says in disapproval, but then confesses a weakness for Dairy Queen, especially the peanut buster parfait. “We also like to eat at Superdawg,” she says. “That’s D-A-W-G.”


I attempt to take a picture of Gardner and Sbiral, from a bad angle that provokes Woods's critique and offer of assistance. Then it’s on to Woods, who’s come to the event with Elizabeth Johnson, AB’90. They were “peripheral friends” as undergrads, says Woods, and hadn’t seen each other for more than 20 years when they reconnected at a UChicago tasting event at Pastoral in February of 2009.

Since then they’ve tried to go to all alumni events held at nice restaurants. Do they ever cook at home? “I have sweaters in my oven,” says Woods. “Every part of my kitchen is used for clothes, except for one cabinet. I do have glassware, because I make a mean cocktail.”

Johnson is similarly estranged from her kitchen. When she lived in Washington, she told her cleaning lady not to bother with the burners. The cleaning lady pointed out, “They get dusty.”

Woods kindly offers to reshoot my incompetent photos. She turns the flash on, makes sure she’s angling down slightly rather than up, and, sure enough, her pictures look great. Sbiral reshoots my photo of Woods and Johnson—also an improvement.

I ask Woods if she has a guilty junk-food pleasure. “Anything with Easy Cheese,” she says. “Like cheese fries, nachos. Or bacon.”

Johnson laughs. “I was going to say bacon!”

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

All photos by Beth Woods except the final photo, which was taken by Keith Sbiral

October 13, 2010

Monte Carlo analysis

The results from the Magazine's parking-ticket contest are in.


I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the results of our parking-ticket contest, described in the July–Aug/10 University of Chicago Magazine. Well, wait no longer. After countless minutes of judging, I present to you the best of the U of C-inspired parking tickets our readers could come up with.

Third prize goes to John L. Gann Jr., AB’64:

“This demonstration of the long-term effects of oxidation on ferrous metal is brought to you by the Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago.”

I believe the car in question was the mid-70s Monte Carlo featured in the original article. I took pictures of several junk cars that ended up in our Flickr pool and were featured on UChiBLOGo, but this one was a doozy.

Second prize also goes to Mr. Gann:

“A defamation action filed by the Monte Carlo Chamber of Commerce seeks removal of the name from all visible parts of this vehicle.”

OK, he’s fixated on that Chevrolet. But in fairness, if you don't frequent this blog (and why wouldn't you?), then you might not have realized there were more cars to mock.

Finally, first prize goes to…yes, John L. Gann:

“Sic Transit Gloria Monte Carlo.”

While I’m pretty sure Monte Carlo is not an indeclinable place name in Latin, I admire the effort, as well as the dogged determination to make that car funny.

If you haven’t guessed, frequent Magazine correspondent Gann was the only person who wrote in with suggested parking tickets, thus sweeping the contest by default. For his effort, we’re sending him only the best prizes from our prize room/surplus storage area: a U of C lanyard that I think belonged to associate editor Jason Kelly, a USB lamp of dubious provenance, and a copy of John Boyer’s Volume IV of the history of the University, The University of Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. Thanks again to all of you—all one of you—who wrote in.

October 15, 2010


A few Follow Friday suggestions from the folks at @UChicagoMag

Today in incestuous Internet self-promotion, UChiBLOGo turns itself over to the Twitter feeders from @UChicagoMag for Follow Friday recommendations from around the University. It’s all very meta.

There is @UChicago itself, the News Office feed.

There are University departments, including @UChicagoLaw, @UChicagoArts, and @UChicagoPress.

There are professors like psychologist John Cacioppo (@J_Cacioppo) and behavioral economist Richard Thaler (@Nudgeblog) and freakonomist Steven Levitt (@freakonomics).

There are resources for science (@ScienceLife), education (@UChicagoUEI), and athletics (@ChicagoMaroons).

And there are many, many others, but this has already gone on for far too many characters. What are your favorite UChicago Twitter feeds?

Jason Kelly

October 18, 2010

Wedding bells

How one alum ended up with a very U of C wedding

When I first got engaged and started planning my wedding last year, my mother asked me what the theme of the wedding would be. Theme? I thought “getting married” was the theme. In my male naïveté, I hadn’t realized that the invitations, decorations, refreshments, and flowers all had to conform to some kind of theme. (I think we settled on “autumn,” but don’t quote me on that.) But now, looking back at my wedding day from the comfortable distance of a week, I realize it had another theme. Over time, and unintentionally, I built a University of Chicago—themed wedding.

Consider the location. Like many other alumni, I opted to get married in Bond Chapel. (With a capacity of 800 people, Rockefeller Chapel was far too big. I don’t even know 800 people, much less 800 people I want to invite to my wedding.) My fiancée—er, wife—got ready with her bridesmaids next door in Swift Hall. For the reception, we chose the Quadrangle Club, a convenient two blocks away.

By coincidence, the date we chose, October 9, happened to be homecoming weekend (and the Volunteer Caucus), though I doubt anyone went straight from the reception to the homecoming game against Denison University (or to the caucus). Don’t think we didn’t try to get October 10, for the coveted 10/10/10. But the chapel was all booked up for that day, presumably by other alums who have been planning their wedding since meeting their future spouse during O-Week.

I had initially wanted my parish priest to preside at the wedding, but he retired first. Instead, we pressed into service Father Patrick Lagges, chaplain at Calvert House, the Catholic center on campus. Incredibly enough, he managed to work a reference to the Maroons' 4-0 record against Notre Dame's football team into the opening prayer. How about our music? That was provided by Tom Weisflog, University organist. Our photographer? My friend Avi Schwab, AB’03, assisted by his wife, Laura Staley, AB’04—who happen to be resident heads at Vincent House in Burton-Judson.

As a matter of fact, all three of my groomsmen were fellow members of the Class of 2003. Numerous guests were also alums; I’ll spare you a tedious accounting of alumni attendance here, but I’ll be sure to cram it into the class notes. (I will mention my aunt, Gay Ummel, AB’73, mainly because she hadn’t been back in Hyde Park since her graduation day. Boy, was she surprised.)

And the blushing bride? Well, OK, Valerie is not an alumna of the U of C. But she does work for the University, as director of events for the Humanities Division. (You can wish her happiness in person on Humanities Day, October 23.)

Now, if we had been really going for a U of C theme, I suppose I could have celebrated my bachelor party in the Reg, or had the reception catered by Aramark, or begun a toast with “If you read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason…” But to be perfectly frank, I still think themes are best relegated to high-school proms and budget cruises. Speaking of which, I’ve already got our tickets for our honeymoon. I promised my new wife a romantic trip somewhere tropical, sandy, and decidedly un-Hyde Park-like.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

The ring bearer and flower girl find their niche in Bond Chapel.
Photo courtesy Lindsay Recchie.

October 20, 2010

While the cat’s away

Overheard in a creative-writing class.

Some conversations and comments caught during a graphic-novel writing class last Wednesday, while instructor Paul Hornschemeier ran late thanks to a lack of campus parking:

Student A: “Did you guys hear about the squirrel in Cobb?”
Student B: “What?”
Student A: “There was a squirrel in Cobb.”
Student B: “Is that the whole story?”

“That might be the worst reason to have an abortion I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s safe to assume that everyone on the Internet is 14, questioning their sexuality, and really angry at Jews.”

“I need to adopt a homeless person and feed them.”

“I worked at an Apple store for two years, and people ask some really dumb questions, including if computers work at night.”

“When the gas company came to fix [the leak in my apartment], they realized we hadn’t paid a gas bill. Ever.”

“[Cold showers] put hair on the chest.”
“I don’t need help.”

Ruth E. Kott, AM'07

Editor's note: You don't need a wiretap to read more random campus conversations. If you enjoyed this mini sampling of overheard silliness, you might also like the regularly updated conversation comments at the Facebook group "Overheard at UChicago."

October 22, 2010

Picture-perfect caucus weekend

An unusually warm October weekend turns one Volunteer Caucus attendee’s mind to the rhythm of seasons on the quads.

Octobers are always a busy time at the University. Parents’ weekend, Humanities Day, and an annual parcel of symposia and conferences compete for space on campus at its most scenic time. A single recent weekend, October 7-9, hosted the Homecoming picnic and football game (the Maroons defeated Denison, 36-7), the Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a meeting of the Alumni Board of Governors, and the annual Volunteer Caucus. Although I work at the University, I attended the caucus this year primarily as an alumnus, joining more than 200 volunteers from across the University and around the world to share and learn about the ways they support the institution with their time.

Between meeting Sarah McGill, the new director of the Alumni Schools Committee; hearing from Board of Trustees chair Andrew Alper, AB’80, MBA’81, and new vice president for Alumni Relations and Development Thomas J. Farrell; and learning about upcoming improvements to the Alumni and Friends web community, participants’ conversations kept returning to the unusually warm weather. This was no surprise to those of us who live in the city: Chicagoans have been commenting for months about what unusually good weather the city has enjoyed this year.

A relatively gentle winter, long and warm spring, and generally mild summer are now being followed by one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve experienced since first coming here to attend the College in 1996. Most years, of course, the city has no such luck. When William Rainey Harper was first developing his plan for the new University of Chicago, he invented the quarter system in part to take advantage of the region’s climate. Students and faculty were intended to choose which three quarters they would attend, with the expectation that the winter quarter—not summer—would be the least crowded on campus.

Although the quarter system continues to thrive at the University and at other institutions that have since adopted it, Harper’s scheme for avoiding Chicago winters didn’t last until opening day. Still, on particularly beautiful campus days my mind turns back to that aborted plan, and I consider what a different experience generations of students might have had if they had spent Aprils-to-Decembers, rather than Octobers-to-Junes, on the quads.

Of course, the largest University events are carefully planned to fall on the most beautiful days of the year. Alumni Weekend has been the first weekend in June for decades, and most years result in picture-perfect weekends that make it easy to romanticize what it was like to live and study at Chicago. But as much as those early-summer days can warm an undergraduate’s (or an alumnus’s) heart, they don’t compare to the cool, crisp days of autumnal colors creeping across the facades of Cobb and Swift halls as the ivy turns and begins to shed its leaves.

Kyle Gorden, AB’00

The 2010 Volunteer Caucus attendees; autumn colors on campus.
Photos courtesy Dan Dry and the University of Chicago News Office.

October 25, 2010

Freelance or bust

Writers and editors debate the pros and cons of going solo.

When 60-some freelance writers and editors put on business suits, leave their home offices, and get together to network, it’s only a matter of time before someone lays bare the truth about self-employment.

“It’s not all sunshine and flowers,” declared Kelli Christiansen, founder of bibliobibuli professional editorial services. The first of four speakers at last Friday’s Graham School Freelance Summit, she was joined by networking expert Lillian Bjorseth, managing editor of the American Journal of Sociology Susan Allan, and University of Chicago Press managing editor Anita Samen. All offered bits of wisdom on going freelance:

On Work

“You have to have a literary bent. Be a reader. A good copyeditor is someone who reads everything.”—Susan Allan

For online grammar resources, “use institutionally connected websites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab and the Library of Congress. … ‘Frank’s Grammar Site’ might not do as well.”—Susan Allan

As you work on a project, “keep the publisher informed, for good or for ill.”—Anita Samen

On Building Relationships

“It’s important to see the whites of someone’s eyes.”—Lillian Bjorseth

“Know what your clothing represents. … Black is the most powerful color, sometimes too powerful. … Navy blue means responsible.”—Lillian Bjorseth

“If you send an e-mail and don’t get a response back, keep trying.”—Anita Samen

On Uncle Sam

“Don’t forget about paying your quarterly taxes, or April is going to be a sorry month.”—Kelli Christiansen

On Working Solo

“Your friends and significant other need to know that by the end of the day you’re going to be a Chatty Cathy because you haven’t talked to anyone all day.”—Kelli Christiansen

Brooke E. O’Neill, AM’04

Photo courtesy Graham Holliday (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

October 27, 2010

I improvise, therefore I am

A shared quest to better understand improvisation—in art and life—joins two academics in an uncommon dialogue.

“Artists teach people how to live,” said the jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie. And those who improvise may be the best teachers of all, argue philosopher Arnold Davidson and music scholar George Lewis.

This fall, they are coteaching a graduate seminar that explores improvisation “in many different disciplines and aspects of collective and individual life,” says Davidson, a Chicago professor whose scholarship crosses the boundaries of philosophy, history, comparative literature, and religion. Lewis, U-High’69, is on loan from Columbia University, where he teaches American music and directs the Center for Jazz Studies. He is also a trombonist, composer, and computer-music pioneer.

On November 12, Lewis will lead an evening of music and conversation at Mandel Hall featuring Davidson, free-jazz pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians' Great Black Music Ensemble. Last week, the pair spoke on “Improvisation as a Way of Life” at a forum sponsored by the Franke Institute for the Humanities. The ideas—like free improvisation—weren’t always easy to follow, but they were catchy enough to get listeners thinking. Here are some excerpts.

Davidson: “In the history of 20th-century music, a great cultural contribution of the development of jazz is its demonstration that improvisation can assume all of the characteristics of a philosophical practice. Improvisation is not only an aesthetic practice but also an ethical and political exercise. All things considered, improvisation—for the person who plays and the person who listens—is a transformation of the world and of ourselves.”
Lewis: “In my view, improvisation is everywhere but it’s very hard to see, being fundamental to the existence and survival of every human formation from the individual to the community … Those of us who study improvisation seriously find ourselves at the center of things even as the myth of our marginality, our academic subalternity, if you will, is ever more anxiously repeated.”
Davidson: “The creation of new forms of social meaning often demands an exercise of seeing and thinking differently: an askesis of the self … [Improvisation is] part of the indefinite work of enlarging our spaces of freedom … Improvisation is the concrete form that freedom takes.”
Lewis: “The World Wide Web … has evolved into a dynamically and constantly changing society that’s the largest collective improvisation ever created: active in all time zones, 24 hours a day; as globalized as anything ever built on this planet … assimilating vast asymmetries of agendas—corporate, collective, individual—cultural viewpoints, infrastructure …”
Davidson: “When someone says to me, ‘I don’t like listening to free improvisation,’ I take that as a starting point … It takes some work, but there’s a pleasure that you will not get any other way.”
Lewis: “I don’t see pleasure as a goal. For me, improvisation is a space of learning and a space of opportunity. And what you learn may not be that pleasurable … The condition of improvisation can lead us in many different directions in our everyday lives … What I’m trying to get to is the larger question of how improvisation is a fundamental condition of being in the world, and in that sense, it goes well outside the aesthetic domain and the goal has actually something to do with living the life that you want to lead.”
Davidson: “With respect to everyday life, the main task is not to locate its improvisatory moments—which are typically numerous, even indeterminate—but to identify those dimensions of our life that are not usually subject to improvisation, but remain fixed and often invisible and provide the stabilized framework of constraints within which we improvise … No life should be the endless repetition of the same melody and we should sometimes attempt to experiment, without having to lean on any identifiable and so reassuring melody … What we should try to do is make our improvisations as broad and responsible, as forceful and intelligible, as our capacity for creative discomfort will allow. The space of liberty is up to us.”

Elizabeth Station

George Lewis (left) and Arnold Davidson, who spoke on philosophy, music, and more in a recent interview with Tableau, the Humanities Division magazine.Photo courtesy Tableau.

Math-Stat fire


Resident head and University staff member Avi Schwab, AB'03, took a number of pictures of the Math-Stat Building fire last night. See the whole tragedy here.

Thankfully, the building wasn't occupied, and there was only one minor injury (a firefighter was hit by falling debris). But this is still a major setback for the Physical Sciences Division, which was renovating the building as the new home of the mathematics and statistics departments and the Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

Photo courtesy Avi Schwab, AB'03.

October 29, 2010

City views

Professor Mario Small’s blog explores how organizations affect urban life.

The streets of some urban American neighborhoods are lined with amenities, including large grocery stores filled with fruits and vegetables: batches of ripe bananas, bushels of red tomatoes. But other, less affluent areas are “food deserts,” says sociology professor Mario Small, with high-quality produce sold nowhere in sight. He links to recent data on food deserts on his blog, Urban Orgs, which showcases research on urban organizations.

unanticipated-gains.jpgSmall, the author of Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life (Oxford University Press, 2009), cofounded Urban Orgs with Northwestern associate professor and fellow urban sociologist Celeste Watkins-Hayes in 2007. Their aim was to promote a neglected niche within urban studies. “For many years, much of the research on urban issues focused on one of two things,” he says: “either the behavior of individuals or on the neighborhood—which neighborhoods have violent crime, for example. But a few of us began doing research on organizations and realizing that a whole set of questions that were important to the urban condition and to the experience of cities was being ignored. Whether it’s the child-care center, the barber shop, or the nail salon, all of these organizations are an important part of living in the city.”

Small and Watkins-Hayes e-mailed colleagues and culled through journals, discovering that urban scholarship had become increasingly focused on organizations. On Urban Orgs, Small and Watkins-Hayes write unsigned posts profiling such work. Recent entries address research on the Harlem Children’s Zone, on how nightlife establishments mitigate the effects of social and spatial isolation, and on the battle between rural and urban areas for prison population census numbers.

Says Small: “We’re hoping to convince researchers and policy makers—people who care about urban issues—that there is something important and distinct to be to be learned by looking at organizations and organizational issues.”

Katherine Muhlenkamp


About October 2010

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in October 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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