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observations

Periscope Gone to the dogs
Ad lib Skidmorites chat about creativity

 

periscope
Gone to the dogs

No creature on earth—not even a toddler—brings out a grownup’s “inner child” quite like a dog. Cats are fine and noble beasts, but they incline to a certain subtlety and refinement. It’s dogs, with their dopey devotion and slapstick antics, who really strum the heartstrings, and funny bones, of their owners. And seeing respectable adults disarmed in the throes of endearment
—charmed, surprised, tickled—is in itself sublimely endearing.

So for me the high density of dogs per capita was, and still is, a big selling point for both Saratoga Springs and Skidmore. I grew up with dogs (from Flossie the beagley pound puppy, to Gretchen the boxer, to Douglas the Scottish-born Scottie), but as an adult I never ran into many dog owners among my neighbors and colleagues. Until I came to Skidmore. Saratoga is the doggiest city I know. I see dogs all over the place: patrolling their backyards, window-shopping downtown, exploring the North Woods, and riding shotgun, jowls billowing majestically, half out of car windows.

Only a few Skidmore professors regularly bring their canine friends to work, but several make brief campus stops with them occasionally (see the portrait gallery on page 20). Like a tropical aquarium in a dental clinic or a baby visiting a nursing home, a pooch in the Palamountain hallway or out on Case Green brings a spark of life—simple, unceremonious, uncerebral joie de vivre—to the structured routine of classroom and office.

In fact, I’ve seen dogs elicit jaw-droppingly uncerebral behaviors from the most cerebral of people. My dad, a scholar of European theater from Shakespeare to Brecht, once got so transported in playing with a puppy that he applied a small plunger to his forehead and gamboled around the living room on all fours. When it was time to gather his books and go teach class, he discovered to his horror that the plunger was well and truly stuck. Eventually he and my mom pried it off, only to find a large scarlet welt had erupted in its place. With no time for ice or makeup, he raced off to campus and burst into class barely a minute late. Without pause for explanation or excuse, he stepped directly into Socratic mode, positing some erudite
commentary on The Cherry Orchard or some such.

That seamless, unself-conscious articulation between authoritative and silly, rational and ridiculous, is truly essential, I think, to a fully realized adult psyche. Sometimes grownups are hard pressed not to take themselves too seriously; but sharing life with a dog—childlike, instinctual, just a bit untamed—is a surefire antidote to staid decorum and solemnity. If the dog-to-faculty ratio is a fair measure, Skidmore is a veritable hotbed of humanism, sprightly thinking, and slobbery pant cuffs. —SR