One of my good friends and colleague once said that education should be play. I agree. Given that we usually get one century on this planet (at most), why not have a good time doing what you do - be it professionally or personally? So here it is, me at my quirky best.
Scholarship should be wonderful, as in "filled with wonder" about the world around us. And scholars should take some time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. To that end, I give you a poetic rendition of an article I co-authored with Michael D. Thomas of Creighton University. Click the box below to be magically transported to a winter wonderland.
You can also get a gratis (open access) version of the full article here.
Rock concerts, cinematic films, theatrical plays, vaudeville shows, and magician acts all advertised their content with creative, eye-catching poster art. These advertisements have become pieces of artwork unto themselves.
So one day, and I'm not sure when, I thought to myself, "Why don't academics create posters for their books, articles, courses, and conference appearances?" Granted, many conferences and public lectures do have posters plastered in college building hallways, but those posters are very "informative" and pretty much suck (i.e., lack playful creativity). It was probably in 2018 when I started to design my own posters for conference presentations that I was giving, and shortly thereafter started doing it to promote my college classes and academic works. The latter I consider to be somewhat akin to album covers when rock music was cool (~ 1955 - 1977).
My inspiration comes from rock 'n roll concert posters from the 1950s-early 1970s, as well as science fiction/monster/horror films from the 1930s - 1960s. (I am a huge fan of that film genre, with a particular love of giant, radioactive lizards.) You will also see smatterings of old adventure magazines and comic book inspirations. Sometimes the theme of the artwork corresponds to the theme of the panel or paper, and other times it is very discordant. Folks have even said to me, "That is nice but I don't understand the theme." I will look carefully at the poster unto which they refer, rub my chin, and usually respond, "Hmmm... good point; I don't care."
I hope that this will catch on and that other academics will do the same. I'm sure that many are horrified by the "crass popularization" of our profession that all of this represents, but I do like to provide copies to those who appear on panels with me. Perhaps they throw them out or put them on dart boards, but at least it makes me happy to gift them to others.
And feel free to invite me to give a talk; I'd be happy to do that artwork.
What could be more academic and scholarly than carrying around a sock puppet and making observations about life, love, and lasagna? Lots of things. In fact, carrying around a puppet is one of the least scholarly and academic-y things one could do. And I've been told directly, "Don't walk around with a sock puppet because people won't take you seriously." Too late, so might as well carry on with the puppet.
The story of Puppet - the official name of my sock puppet - is an epic story of tragedy, beating the odds, and finding one's identity in a new spiritual calling. Actually, it is none of that. Puppet was initially brought into the Gill family in roughly 2000 or 2001. Pets.com, an upstart company trying to sell pet food via the Internet, failed miserably at selling pet food on the Internet, but made some of the best commercials to ever grace the small screen (including a very expensive Super Bowl ad). Flailing in their business model to sell kibble and cat toys, they decided to start selling their "spokespuppet." Being a sucker for all things odd, I quickly bought one and used it to entertain our young child.
But childhood is fleeting and Puppet slipped into oblivion (which is another name for the bottom of a toy chest). In the mid-2010s, I was involved in a project that took me to Washington DC at least twice a year, if not more. Whilst there, I noticed two things: (1) nobody talked to strangers in bars; (2) you could tell where people worked by the slight variations in the boring business attire they wore (often with a lapel pin); and (3) people loved to stand next to famous people and get their picture taken. At first, I would approach politicians and ask if they wanted to have a picture taken. Wanting votes, they said, "Yes!" I would then reply, "Great! Pull out your camera and and I will stand next to you." This would generate some nervous laughter wherein they asked if I wanted to take the picture with my camera, whereupon I said, "No. Why would I want that?" This actually happened about a half dozen times.
Failing at that stunt, I figured I would try to get my picture taken with as many people as I could with a puppet. At first, I ordered a frog hoping to do a poor man's Kermit, but the stupid thing came with its mouth sewed shut. Then I remembered Puppet. I pulled him out and started to take him all over the country, at first just taking pictures, and then making short videos with wholesome but comical observations on life. Puppet was a hit. People even started to invite me to events only if I brought Puppet. My little home town loved the videos I made in the town (except for the Denizens of Prudishness who correctly identified that it was childish to do this).
I don't bring Puppet everywhere I go, and when people often request me to do Puppet things for them, I tend to freeze up. All of my ideas come spontaneously. People have also urged me to monetize Puppet, but it's not about the money, man! It's about the irreverent discordancy.
In the end, Puppet has inspired one colleague to send me two additional puppets, and has prompted several young children of folks I know to put a puppet on their hands and have fun. Isn't that what it is all about? That, and eating ice cream (but not with fruit ... fruit-based frozen dairy products suck).
Here are a few pictures of Puppet out and about. No videos as I haven't figured how to upload them.