Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer is supposed to be a quiet time at a university, yes? Not at Draper! We're reading admissions files, finalizing new faculty hires, developing courses for the fall, and taking care of various other responsibilities that must happen between now and September. We're busier than ever, which means that the coming academic year may be one of the most dynamic and exciting we've had in a long time. More on that as the autumn term nears.

And there are also, always, other tasks. I'm working on my book with feverish intensity. Called Picking Up, it asks a simple question: What is it like to be a sanitation worker in the city of New York today? The answer is fascinating (which surprises many people; go figure!). It lets me tell stories about history, about work, about time, and about how challenging it is to draw a boundary around a subject (that is, garbage and its labors) that always resists containment.

To see if the writing makes sense, I've given a few talks in recent weeks. It's a good way to test-drive new ideas (does the audience think I'm crazy or wise? or something in between? How do I squeeze 300 years of history into a 45-minute presentation, anyway?) and meet people interested in the themes I'm playing with.

A talk I gave in early May, for instance, was in a venue new to me. The GEL Conference (GEL stands for Good Experience Live) collects thinkers, shakers, doers, inspirers (it should be a word) from various walks of life and asks each to speak on his or her expertise for no more than 20 minutes. I was honored to be included, and the event was a marvelous opportunity to learn from scholars, entrepreneurs, designers, artists, and educators whom I otherwise might never have met. There will be a link to a video eventually, but for now there are pictures of yours truly and all the other speakers on Flickr, here.

In early June I spoke at the New York Public Library, which is always a pleasure. I tried to jam a few centuries of history into less than an hour, in a discussion about the parallels between public health and trash management. It worked, sort of... The audience was attentive, patient, and asked many good questions, which helped me immensely.

Then last Saturday (June 20), I gave a talk at Freshkills Park on Staten Island (that's Freshkills at the top of this post; I took the picture last March). It truly is one of the most extraordinary geographies in the world. I've visited many times, though knew it better when it was an active landfill. I loved it then and love it now. If you ever have the chance to take one of the tours run by the Parks Department, don't hesitate. You will be dazzled and amazed...!