Art on the Way to Physics at Michigan State Univ.

In case you’ve missed the million times I’ve worked this into conversation, my son, Finn, is entering the doctoral program in physics at Michigan State this fall. I’ve arrived just a few days after he’s moved here; he’s starting his research work with the Ice Cube neutrino detector now, so we’re camping near his summer sublet apartment to check out his new life with him.

And let me start by saying: Michigan State University is huge!

Tracy and I both went to a couple of big land-grant schools (U of Wisc. and Va. Tech), but Michigan State is bigger than both of them. Finn took us on a biking tour of part of the school, and we saw huge old buildings, a carillon, new sections connected with skywalks, parts of campus winding along the Red Cedar River, and the largest on-campus housing in the country.

We wanted to see the physics building where Finn will be spending so much of his waking (and maybe sleeping) time the next six years—that’s what he’s heading toward in the photo above. But with campus just now transitioning from Covid lockdown, only he can get into the building, and he can’t yet get into his office (he tried while we were FaceTiming him from outside, but no dice).

So we spent an afternoon biking around other parts of campus and being surprised by art. The above piece is labeled as an empty greenhouse, but the description reveals it’s a scale replica of a solitary confinement cell in some notorious prison (I forget). We tried getting in to get a feel for the space, but it’s locked. I imagine the point is that you can’t feel it from inside because the walls are clear. There’s something going on here I can’t wrap my head around, how we can see the smallness and cruelty from the outside but not from the inside.

This instillation we found when we ducked inside the student union during a rain shower. We wandered around the works of artist in residence, Luis Alvaro Sahagun Nuño. He incorporates pre-Colombian artifacts into his self-portraits; the artifacts were on display next to the pieces inspired by them. Colonization, spirituality, land and self: all displayed in just a few really powerful pieces. We gaped at them with our bike helmets in our hands.

Finn’s got to do a lot of moving-related chores, plus starting work (he was assigned his first project the day we biked), so now we’re giving him some space to do that while we get some stuff done around the Airstream. Later this week, I hope to help him find an apartment for the school year.

You know I’ve had my mind on him the whole time I’ve been on the road, and it’s such a relief to see him excited about his new city, his new school, and his new work.

Waterloo Recreation Area

Our campground is in a state recreation area about an hour south of East Lansing (I don’t know the difference between this and a state park, yet). As usual, it’s a madhouse over near the lake where all the families are camped: they’re playing volleyball and swimming and taking their boats out. We’re luckily camped farthest away from the lake you can get, which afforded us a first day of quiet. While we were visiting Finn, though, even our section of the campground filled up. People like to get outdoors and socialize up here!

Tiny House Update

Progress. I’m feeling less discouraged by how fiddly this one is once I see my results, which is odd because I make many more errors on this house than the last. But it takes a lot more concentration, both in deciphering the instructions and in building the tiny pieces, and that’s the reward.

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