As I was driving recently, I listened to an episode of NPR’s “This American Life.” The theme was “How I Got into College.” Unfortunately, this post isn’t going to focus on that wider issue (interesting in its own right!), but rather on a peculiar reflection on identity that was prompted by one young man’s story in the episode.
Among the assorted knick-knacks that line my office’s shelves—ranging from such relics as photos of friends and family or gifts I’ve accumulated over the years to a selection of tattered romance novels shelved long ago among my books by mischievous students—is a nicely matted and framed “fossil” of Knightia, a long extinct genus of small boney North American freshwater fish, dating to more than 35 million years ago (or what scientists know as the Eocene epoch), and which was recovered from the well-known (to fossil hunters, at least) Green River Formation in southwestern Wyoming.
I bought it one summer, heavy wooden frame and all, about ten years ago in a gift shop in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, at the same time that I purchased for my Department’s library a number of other so-called artifacts, such as the stereotypical dancing Shiva statue and the Thai-styled bust of Buddha, complete with its intricately carved curls. (What a disappointment when people learn I got these in Iowa City!) I never anticipated writing about my framed piece of sedimentary rock that, for whatever reason, has found a home among the Cs in my shelving taxonomy (yes, I shelve books by author’s surname, so?), though I have often used it in classes to illustrate a point or two about discourses on origins; I now realize that this rock might have some uses outside of the classroom. Continue reading