Hi friends! How was Labor Day? Mine was utterly decadent in its total lack of major activity. I stuck close to home - power-cleaning and organizing, watching football (pleased to see a solid win by the Irish to start the season!), cooking up a storm, and trying to beat the Bay Area's absurd 110-degree heat in our complex's stunning pool. All in all, an excellent three days of relaxing before a manic autumn!
One of the best perks of my job with Stanford is that, as a staff member, I get to take classes at a heavily-reduced rate. I started just a week before summer session kicked off, and my bosses encouraged me to dive right in and use my allotted education funds. So I did! While there are a plethora of for-credit classes offered that will advance my career, improve my professional knowledge, and even move me along a slow but steady road to a graduate degree, I decided to be kind to myself in a season of major transition and chose my summer classes utterly for pleasure. While they won't get me anywhere near a degree in anything but being a professional dilettante, I had an utterly pleasurable experience learning for the mere fact that I love to learn.
I started my week with "Great Opera Performances" on Mondays. Taught by Speight Jenkins, former host of Live at the Met and the director emeritus of the Seattle Opera, the class explored in depth what makes an opera performance "great," from both a technical and emotive standpoint. Jenkins, at the age of 80, has been an opera lover and expert for decades, and brought the most incredible personal anecdotes and insights to every class. His personal friendships with titans of the opera world often left me with my jaw actually dropped, and learning about what performances/artists/stagings have succeeded or failed - and why - has completely re-framed how I look at the opera world.
On Tuesdays, I took "The Innovations of World-Class Museums," which was far and away my favorite class. Taught by a Harvard-educated curator of Stanford's expansive museum collections, the three-hour class started each week with a thematic discussion of a development or cultural shift that affected the world of museums, and shifted in the second half to discussing a specific museum adapting or responding to that change. Some favorite combos: the rise and influence of technology, coupled with the British Museum's collaboration with Google to make their collection available digitally; the "corporatization" of museums versus government support, framed against the Louvre's controversial partnership with the United Arab Emirates; and the ethics of cultural sensitivity, appropriation, and education, demonstrated through the shifting approach to Holocaust museums, as well as debates and legal tangles over artifact ownership the world over.
I could not get enough of this class, guys. Our professor was incredibly articulate and incisive in getting to the heart of controversial topics, and presented fact without allowing her opinion to pollute the discussion we had weekly. The accompanying course text, "Riches, Rivals and Radicals" by Marjorie Schwarzer, illuminated our focus areas even further and stretched my admittedly conventional view of what a museum should be to consider, instead, what a museum could be.
And finally, Wednesdays found me taking a virtual class for the first time in my life with History of Wine! As we've covered extensively here, I've turned into a hardcore wino since moving within day-trip distance of Napa/Sonoma Valleys, and this class added so much to my appreciation of wine. Focused on the origins of wine, through the present day "cult" and "corporation" of wine production and distribution, I gained a totally new vocabulary around wine. While I'm nowhere near "Somm" level knowledgeable, I have a much better context for wines across the world, and can use that context to appreciate wine so much more. Plus, the flexible online format was a total kick - one of my favorite places to "take class" was at the Stanford gym on the ellipticals for a couple hours!
I'm taking the fall semester off from classes due to our 8/31 year end, as well as a hectic stretch of travel and visitors that would make tests and papers hard to fit into an already busy schedule - but it's safe to say I've fallen entirely back in love with life as a student. I tweeted something in that vein in the thick of midterms:
Still mean that, every word, and am so grateful that Stanford is enabling me to foster a lifelong love of learning.