Banner year

It has been a while since I’ve last updated my blog. The 2018-2019 academic year has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. I prepped an entirely new community-based class (SPAN 308 “Spanish in the Community”); I planned, prepared, and executed a 3-week study abroad trip to Barcelona; I was invited to give a standalone presentation at Brigham Young University in March; I’ve coordinated with my colleagues in Dragoncillo to visit local elementary and middle schools in El Paso, Texas and share some insights into Spain’s Golden Age, including two shadow-puppet performances of two entremeses; I’ve held down the departmental fort as the sole Spanish professor during the spring semester (my colleague took a much deserved sabbatical); and I’ve generously been nominated as a finalist for four different awards at Buena Vista University.

First, I was delighted to hear that the BVU community selected me as a finalist to receive the George W. Wythe award. As the university’s highest honor for teaching, this prize is unique—a $30,000 cash stipend and a semester-long sabbatical for professional development or research. I am excited to find myself among four equally qualified and esteemed colleagues for this prestigious award.

Second, I was informed by the student body president that the undergraduates at BVU have selected me as a finalist to win the faculty member of the year award. Since this is a student-led effort, I am especially grateful to know that the students I teach hold such a high opinion of my professorial efforts inside and outside the classroom.

Third, BVU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion kindly shared with me that I am a finalist for the Faculty & Staff Diversity and Inclusion award. After carefully preparing my Spanish in the Community class in the fall with a deliberate focus on the needs of the Spanish-speaking individuals in Storm Lake, I am honored to receive this recognition.

Fourth, my dean nominated me for the New Century Faculty Development Award for Research. I visited Brigham Young University during BVU’s spring break and shared a presentation on two comedias that Albert Camus translated (Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz and Lope’s El caballero de Olmedo). I’ve always been drawn to Camus’s philosophy. When I discovered his interest in the comedia, I knew I had my next research topic. Between that presentation and the project I recently embarked on with Dragoncillo, I suppose my dean felt that either project deserved nomination for this award. I’m grateful for the support.

I’m not certain if I will receive any of these awards. I am tremendously grateful to be nominated in the first place and am excited to hear the results. In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Summer 2018

Last summer (2018), the American Association of Teachers of Spanish & Portuguese (AATSP) hosted their annual (and centenary) conference in Salamanca. I reached out to a pair of my dear friends and we decided to present a panel on female authority during Spain’s Golden Age. I described alumbradismo, a heretical offshoot of mysticism, and focused on a peculiar case that occurred in the convent of San Plácido (the original home of Velázquez’s Cristo crucificado) known as “el peregrino raro.” Gregorio Marañón spends quite a bit of time discussing it in one of his more substantial 1940 essays, “Don Juan.” Essentially, one of the co-founders of the convent, doña Teresa de Silva—who later became the convent’s abbess—, informed her superiors in 1628 that a type of demonic possession was affecting the nuns at her convent, causing them to enter into fits of “histerismo colectivo.” One instance affected her personally, wherein she felt compelled by “el peregrino raro” to shirk her duties as abbess and spend time in its company. After the Inquisition intervenes, it comes to light that a chronically misbehaving priest, Francisco García Calderón, is to blame for the heretical furor and condemned de vehementi for his misdeeds. My purpose in sharing the events at San Plácido was to underscore the vulnerable position females—particularly religious women—occupied during Golden Age Spain. I introduced the historical precedent that my colleagues rebuffed in their presentations with examples of powerful (and oftentimes fictious) women autonomously exercising authority during a time when such behavior was severely frowned upon.

My visit to Spain also included some traveling around the northwestern side of the Iberian Peninsula, including a brief stay in Portugal (Porto and Vila do Conde), a short jaunt in Santiago de Compostela, one more road trip through Portugal and back over to Spain, this time cutting eastward to Salamanca, and finally a visit to Madrid for a few days. Having never been to Portugal before, it was a special experience to finally see the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean. After growing up in California, the seashore felt like it was right where it should be. Santiago de Compostela holds a very special place in my heart, not only for its appeal as a pilgrim destination, but also due to its connection with Ramón del Valle-Inclán, the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Born in Pontevedra, a province just south of the Galician capital, he is one of the place’s most celebrated sons. I took a photograph next to the statue erected in the park where he would overlook the city’s beautiful cathedral. The rest of the trip is a bit of blur: my presentation in Salamanca was followed by an all-too-brief visit to Madrid.

Great mentor, great friend

Try to ignore the horse figurine behind my head. Here’s a picture of me with one of my all-time favorite mentors and a great friend, Dr. Dale Pratt. He and Dr. Valerie Hegstrom visited Southern California last week with Fernando López del Oso, an up-and-coming Spanish science fiction author. Fernando already has a premio minotauro under his belt for his 2009 El templo de la luna and his newest book, Yeti, does not disappoint. While it is always exciting to receive Spanish celebrities, the best part of the visit was seeing Dale and Valerie. Before describing why I admire them as much as I do, I suppose I should provide some of my background.

Back in 2004 (yes, forever ago), I was edging towards graduation as an undergraduate at BYU with a major in Clinical Laboratory Science and a minor in Spanish. The goal at the time was to become a pediatrician and, given that CLS majors did blood, urine, and fecal analysis, you can imagine that anyone holding that degree was pretty much guaranteed a job. After some years as a lab tech, I planned to make the jump to pediatrics.

A year before, in 2003, something pivotal happened: I went to see BYU’s Don Gil de las calzas verdes. The performance was incredible. I was captivated from the beginning when the actors rolled the massive–yet incredibly mobile–stage/cart to an open space beside the library, set up the simple yet meaningful props, and delivered a smashing interpretation of Tirso de Molina’s classic play. After thoroughly enjoying the performance, I determined that I had to participate somehow in the Spanish Golden Age Theater (SGAT) program the following year, regardless of the schedule problems it might present.

When the call for participants in 2004 rolled out, touting the performance of El muerto disimulado, I eagerly attended the first casting meeting. Upon realizing the demand that the play was going to have on my schedule, I rescinded my earlier conviction and became terribly conflicted: I wanted to participate, but could not commit myself to the time and effort required of all participants, especially given how much time I was already putting into my major. I decided that I would have to shelf the SGAT and move on towards becoming a physician. At the time, although difficult, it was the right decision.

Later that year, I went with my retinue of fellow CLS majors to visit a hospital, where the bulk of us would be hired, to observe a typical day of work in the lab. I was excited; it was a chance to catch a glimpse of what I would be dedicating the next few years of my life to. The experience I had at the hospital, however, was far from inspirational. If anything, it proved to be the determining factor that distanced me from Clinical Laboratory Science altogether. While there, I watched as each lab technician, bent over his/her microscope, carefully and silently analyzed their samples. Alone. All by themselves. Not communicating. I even asked some of them how much they interacted with their colleagues, many of which simply shook their heads and laughed. One (disgruntled) lab tech told me, “it’s me, the microscope, and someone’s s%!$.”  Suffice it to say that the visit wasn’t terribly appealing. For me, someone who has discovered that he needs sociability to survive, I had a small mid-of-a-mid life crisis and, after some significant deliberation and prayer, determined that CLS was not my future after all.

This left me at an academic standstill. I was one class (CHEM 352, for what it’s worth) away from completing the equivalent of a “pre-med minor” at BYU and couldn’t fathom taking the course. I knew that I did not want to become a physician. This was not an easy decision. I had been telling people since as long as I could remember that I was going to be a pediatrician. That was just the way that it was going to be. The hospital visit was, in a very real sense, a rude awakening, albeit one that, looking back now, I am very grateful to have had. To make a long story short, I decided to change my major from CLS to Humanities and, realizing that most Hum majors double-majored in another subject, I boosted my minor (Spanish) to a second major. From a CLS major, I went full-bore liberal arts.

While working on my Spanish minor, I took Spanish 339 (intro to Spanish literature) with Dr. Pratt. I remember enjoying the class immensely. It was a pleasure to prepare for and exciting to attend. The lessons were insightful and the books that we read were meaningful to me, a far cry from my chemistry or anatomy textbooks. While the latter texts contained interesting and valuable information, they simply did not resonate with me the same way that Jorge Manrique’s “Coplas por la muerte de su padre,” Ramón Sender’s Réquiem por un campesino español, or Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, mártir did. And Dr. Pratt did a marvelous job presenting the texts to a classroom full of literary novices. His voices (if you haven’t heard his don Quijote imitation, you are missing out), his enthusiasm, and his genuine love for literature made the class wonderful. I really feel like that class was foundational for what I’m doing today.

Shortly after dropping CLS, I realized that I would be able to participate in the SGAT program the following year. I sought out the individuals responsible for the program and realized, to my relief, that Dr. Pratt and Dr. Hegstrom were in charge. I scheduled a meeting with Dr. Hegstrom, with whom I was taking Span 441 (Survey Span Lit). This must have been right around the time that I was wandering a little aimlessly. I had just changed my major and really had little to no idea what I was doing, where I would be working, or how I would support a family. I asked Valerie, who patiently listened to me, all of those questions. Looking back, some of my inquiries were a little silly, but at the time they were genuine concerns I had: I asked her if I had what it takes to teach Spanish and if I could raise a family on a Spanish professor’s income. Her answer, which seemed a little unusual at the moment, was to open her door and knock on Dr. Turley’s. I didn’t know Dr. Turley at all at the time, so it was kind of weird. When he opened the door, Valerie asked him, “Jeff, are you able to take care of your family with your income as a Spanish professor?” I think he was a little taken back by the question, but after a little explanation and coaxing, helped me to understand that yes, even Spanish professors can have healthy, happy, and successful families. Odd as it may sound, that moment is unforgettable for me. In a sense, it helped me to understand that what I was doing was ok, that I would make it. At the same time, it helped forge a lasting relationship between Valerie and I that I hold very dear. From that point on, she became a mentor for me.

im000170.jpg

The following year, 2005, my schedule was primed and ready to participate in SGAT. The production, El caballero de Olmedo, was a very ambitious project. As one of Lope’s more popular plays, it had been reworked many times. BYU’s approach unconventionally smashed together a few characters, cut several scenes, and included some novel musical compositions (I never sang, adding to everyone’s relief). I was fortunately selected to play the part of Tello, the play’s gracioso. It was a role that I will never forget. I was learning to act on the fly. I had never done it before, but have always been fairly extroverted, so I didn’t find it too difficult to make a fool of myself (quite literally). That play brought me into touch with some of my dearest friends and colleagues, not the least of which were the two mentors that oversaw the project: Dale Pratt and Valerie Hegstrom.

While Dale and I already knew each other (I was in his 339 class, remember), the relationship was purely teacher-student; we didn’t hang out, eat lunch together, or do any of the things that we’d be happy to do together today. The play changed that relationship. It brought everyone together as a group of actors, scholars, and friends. We all sacrificed enormous amounts of time and effort to make the production as impressive as possible and, from those sacrifices, created lasting relationships.

I participated in SGAT for the next three years of my life (I graduated and started my MA at BYU in 2006), contributing to Las cortes de la muerteEl narciso en su opinión, and El retrato vivo, the works selected for 2006, 2007, and 2008, respectively. The program provided a needed focus and helped me devote my time and energy to something that I loved doing with people that I loved working with.

After 3 years of working together in SGAT, Dale and I got to know each other very well. We’ve found mutual hobbies (boardgaming being one of the more quirky ones), similar scholastic interests (I’m exploring Ramón del Valle-Inclán–a key member, like Unamuno, of Spain’s so-called generación del 98–‘s repertoire in my dissertation), and have even performed an incredible air-guitar version of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” together (you’ll have to ask Dale to see a copy of that. Or Vanessa. I think she has it somewhere…). All-in-all, both Dale and Valerie have been integral in me getting to where I’m currently at and will undoubtedly play a part in helping me to get to wherever I go in this profession. I appreciate their mentoring, am grateful for their help, and treasure their friendship. Seeing them last week was like a breath of fresh air, a reminder about why I entered this profession, and a great opportunity to be among friends.