Monday, November 23, 2009

The early leftovers edition

This weekend, we'll be enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers. I say: Why wait? I'm still enjoying leftovers from last Thursday, and I'm happy to share them with you now.

The aperitif:

I mightily appreciated all the comments about last week's dietary triumph and Trizophrenia book-release party. You'd think it couldn't get any better than that, although, wait a couple paragraphs. But Mollie gets special recognition for continuing the food theme (while being less gratuitous than I was when initiating it) with her "… you're like Sara Lee; nobody doesn't like Jef Mallett." Well done, Mollie. You, uh, take the cake.

The main course:
If there's anything more gratifying than having a night like I had at Thursday's book signing, it's knowing that a friend is having an even better night. It's hard to picture, but I think Brian Coppola pulled it off. And if there's anything better yet, it's knowing that you got to play a part in both.

Brian teaches organic chemistry at the University of Michigan. He does this very well, so well that the Carnegie Foundation named him Professor of the Year in the Doctoral and Research Universities division. Organic chemistry has a not entirely unearned reputation as the ultimate inflexible, unfun, black-and-white, endure-or-die crucible. Brian serves it spiked with imagination, wonder, thoughtfulness and even enjoyment. At the same time, he doesn't pander to his students. It's harder his way; it hurts. It needs to; there are no breakthroughs without suffering. Brian has long been adept at walking that line between inviting wonder and enforcing rigor - the Carnegie Foundation is hardly the first institution to recognize him for such - but his field is about explaining phenomena as much as creating it, and that part he struggled with. He found his solution - though I would claim catalyst at the very best - in a certain comic strip. He told me this directly, and he told the world, essentially, in his acceptance speech Thursday. You need to read it, and you can here. Assuming his lectures are anything like his remarks, I hope the awards committee for his division met on a nice day. Because I have to believe this year's decision was easy enough to adjourn early.

Bravo, Brian. I'm humbled.


Back at the Trizophrenia party at Schuler Books, while Chef Marc was treating my readers like royalty, he was treating my wife Patty like a goddess. He had brought a special and memorable treat he'd introduced her to when he was pastry chef at a Birmingham, Mich. restaurant called Toast: an impossibly rich version of the Hostess Ding Dong. Marc told us how rich, and I'm going to tell you. But I'm going to take a page out of Brian Coppola's notebook and use real-world, tangible data that's far more vivid than mere numbers:

Yesterday I went for a 12-mile run. Had I fueled solely by a single one of Marc's gourmet Ding Dongs, I'd have finished that run with three and a half miles worth of calories still in the tank.

That's rich. But no richer than my week. Which was, unlike the Ding Dong, cholesterol-free. Good thing, or I'd be back at square one on that game board.


La Professora said...

Congrats to your buddy, Prof. Brian Coppola -- I saw the short list for the award on the 13th, so I'm thankful that you've provided an update as to the winner. Glad the award went to someone with an excellent sense of humor.

I too love the Frazz strip from April this year -- I immediately printed it out and taped it to the frame containing the strip about Machiavelli. It helps me get through the semester.

I'm betting if you made that "Students are the Prodcut" strip into a poster, you'd make "bank" -- as my students say -- selling it just to instructors.

David said...

Hey, me too. I saw your post, went to the strip, printed it out. I then grabbed some quotes out of Brian's acceptance speech and printed them below it. It's now taped below my framed copy of a coveted Frazz original.
Make the poster. There will be one hanging in every teacher's lounge in the country.

Jeanie said...

The story about Brian brings a big smile to my face! Given that about the only science I've ever been good at is playing in the kitchen, I applaud the gift of anyone who can not only understand the stuff to begin with but actually teach people -- and have them love it, to boot! Bravo, Brian.

(And Marc rocks.) Happy belated Thanksgiving to you both!