Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,
The first class I ever taught took place in the first week of October, 1990. Before walking into the classroom, I had to find a quiet and remote place on campus to sit by myself and convince myself that I could do what must be done. An introvert in my early 20s, as I got up to head towards Everson Hall, I noticed that my legs were shaking.
A decade later, I prepared to do my first radio show on KDVS. Although I had an audio engineer to help me run the board of sliders and dials, and coordinate the intro and outro music, I was still nervous and unprepared, droning on and on as if the entire show could be an impromptu Scott Simon NPR monologue. The next day I ran into my Medieval Studies colleague Kevin Roddy and expressed concern about the quality of my “news and comment” show about the world of poetry (Gwendolyn Brooks had just passed away, so there was plenty to discuss). Kevin shared my concerns and helpfully offered that “it will get better.” At least I knew I had had one listener!
A few years later I hosted my first poetry reading before a crowd of 100 in the E Street Plaza. A few years after that, I released my first book of poetry, and promoted it on Sacramento TV during Valentine’s Day week. Soon thereafter I started hosting a pub quiz, and didn’t do a very good job, asking unfairly difficult questions about Donny and Marie and Billy Preston. Luckily, as with the first radio show, only friends were participating. Soon after that I gave my first series of teaching talks in Japan.
For each of these experiences, I was wholly unqualified, I stumbled awkwardly, and I was subsequently mortified. But the mortification lessened with each new involvement, and I taught myself not to be cowed by my inevitable fear and discomfort. Often in such situations I would recall a (now famous) Eleanor Roosevelt quotation that my wife Kate sent me, taken from the Roosevelt book You Learn by Living:
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” … You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
I’ve used these wise words in class, and some of my most talented and accomplished former students have sent them back to me, with evidence of their ongoing bravery and determination. When it comes to our various illustrations of bravery, such as public speaking, the rewards are always worth the risks.
This past Friday I had another wrestling match with imposter syndrome, though not for the reasons recounted above. Friday night I gave the first of four readings of a commissioned poem about active-duty servicemen and veterans re-acclimating to life in California after serving overseas. Attended by 100 or more people, the event at the Gallery 625 on Court Street in Woodland highlighted the artistic accomplishments of veterans, and featured a poem by the Poet Laureate of Davis.
As the son of a Quaker, I had never considered military service. But while talking to the many artists and musicians who had so sacrificed for their country, for the first time I felt pangs of regret over this choice. Talking with such noble volunteers, I felt insufficient, inadequate. Fortunately, the commissioned poem resonated with the audience, as did a few of the others I performed for those gathered. People shared kind remarks afterwards, I got to chat with current students and treasured friends, such as the first couple of public service and the arts, Lucas and Stacie Frerichs. I also made some new friends among local veterans’ groups and the hoi polloi of the Yolo County arts scene.
During and after my poems, I was still left wondering how I might speak for these men and women who have sacrificed so much at the same time that I was merely struggling through my bonus decade of schooling as I marched steadily towards earning a PhD. In the end, I realized that I cannot speak for these heroes, but only to them and with them, and with an open heart and imagination, hoping to expose and honor some of their concerns and their ongoing resolution to serve.
Having invested so much in researching the concerns of re-acclimating veterans, as I struggled with ways that I might approach that one commissioned poem, I ended up writing so many other poems that now I have enough for a small book, one that will be published before my next “Positive Reflections: From Combat to Community” event at the Davis Cemetery and Arboretum on March 13. I might even have copies to share at my March 7 birthday party, to which you will be invited. I plan to use proceeds from book sales to set up a “Creativity Prize” for veteran students at UC Davis, and thus continue to honor in my way those young people who have made sacrifices that I continue to respect and admire.
This paragraph contains the hints. Harry S Truman once said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Tonight’s Pub Quiz will include a few questions about America, but none about Harry Truman. Expect also questions about dramatic hunger, The Beatles, names in the news, art and art history, food and drink in Latin America, same-sex marriage, the future, author and humorist David Sedaris, populated areas, Republicans, US states, buff dudes on TV, outworn wickets, blockbuster films, unwelcome amnesia, unpleasant invitations, medical science, what football coaches and painters have in common, eponymous companies, internet culture, and Shakespeare. I haven’t written all the questions yet. Evidently some sporting event was going on yesterday, so I decided to finish the quiz on game day (our game, not Cam Newton’s).
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you tonight. Soon it will be warm enough to sit outside again, so feel free to grab your noisiest friends, and make plans to join us for the de Vere’s Irish Pub Pub Quiz!
Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
- Hollywood Gossip. Miley Cyrus reportedly has been re-engaged to what actor over the weekend?
- Pop Culture – Music. The stage name of the musician George Alan O’Dowd is an anagram of the phrase BOGEY OGRE. Name him.
- Sports. Was Rugby primarily named after an animal, a city, a person, or a school?
P.S. There will be a remembrance of Francisco X. Alarcón at Poetry Night at 7pm (new time) on February 18th. I hope you can attend.