I'll spare you boilerplate annotations of my CV. In retrospect, I appear to be a fairly common type of American provincial. Grandparents born on family farms who moved to town, their children entered professions in the city (Des Moines, in this case), grandchildren flung elsewhere by academia. Mine must have been peasants immigrated from Ireland, Holland, and Germany that northwest Iowa Catholic life eventually melded. Only the Irish side maintained much cultural pride but I couldn't avoid a Teutonic surname that might mean a field of willows, misspelt, but sounds and looks like weeds in our telling. My folks aimed to counterbalance it by a diminutive-resistant single syllable. The unique combination betrays my typical background yet does make me easily searchable.
When I was a teenager I would come up with pithy quotes and scribble them down in notebooks like buried treasure. I'm not making this up.
If this were an application essay I would feel compelled to pretend that I always dreamt of becoming a professor who saves the world, and that your approval will contribute to this good purpose. In reality, when you're shy and studious academia finds you. I'm fortunate to have avoided the laboratory, although I spent several years alone in the darkroom listening to an ipod and sloshing liquids. In Boulder for college, Stan Brakhage's orbit unexpectedly introduced me to contemporary art and led to an MFA at UW–Milwaukee. (I've gotten over my 16mm purism and my shame enough to upload these films.) Then a poetry seminar with Lisa Samuels sparked an essay on Gertrude Stein that landed me at Yale. At that point a joint PhD program in Comparative Literature and Film Studies meant that I did not have to choose between French or American literature or film. I could do all three. I took an abstract theme, punctuation and modernism, for my dissertation (certainly there are other subjects that combine Franco-American Lit & cinema more naturally). I've continued to publish work in these areas and consider myself a comparatist.
Now their day has come and I don't have the aphorisms handy. That immortal teenage wisdom could be in my parents' basement, still waiting silently in some box—or, alas, lost forever.
I never had a native reason for learning French beyond being born in a city named after a river (re)named by French colonials. The prevalance of French in U.S. schools does not seem particular to old Louisiana, however. I have probably accumulated three or four years total in the hexagon. Not enough to convince them I'm French but some have guessed Austrian or Norwegian and given polite compliments. The same can't be said for my Spanish.
Sports are a pastime that I have taken more seriously as a writer than as an athlete. In fact, it was during writing breaks that the drama of the world cup ensnared me. The U.S. victory inspired some commentary and then to cover the pros playing footy in Houston. I had complacently followed men's sports for years, on and off, so it was past time to think of the women's game first. There are stories to tell and action to see.