Outside of the Classroom
by Samantha Wagner | published Apr. 21st, 2017
Professors spend most of their time teaching in the classroom and it is common belief that their lives stop there. Well, it turns out that not only are RIT’s own professors shattering this popular belief, but they are doing some exciting and notable things in their free time. From writing a children’s book about a heroic goose to playing in an indie rock band, RIT’s professors have a lot more up their sleeves than just grading papers.
Gargle the Goose:
Professor Andrew Perry, who currently teaches writing seminar classes, has taken his own writing knowledge and put it into a side project of writing his own book. Being a writing professor, this idea may not seem out of the ordinary. However, the book he wrote and published is not one you would typically see on any academic shelf.
In December 2015, Perry not only wrote his own children’s book, but he self-published it too. The book is called Gargle the Goose, and it follows the heroic adventures of the title’s subject.
“I took the architype of the hero myth and applied it to a young Canadian goose,” said Perry when asked to describe the plot of the story. “It’s about his over-eagerness to take over his family’s migration, before he was ready to do it. He does a really bad job with it, and ends up getting lost down South.”
The main gist of the story is Gargle the Goose wandering around the south with another character he met along the way. Gargle and his newfound donkey friend have different setbacks throughout their journey as they try to get Gargle back home.
Perry continued, “They have adventures as he tries to find his way back to his confederation of gaggles and redeem himself in the eyes of his community.”
This is only a snapshot of the action-packed storyline that Gargle and company find themselves in the middle of. The story is full of child-friendly climatic moments that keep the reader engaged as they flip through the pages.
When asked how he came up with the idea for the story, Perry had the exact moment of inspiration pinned down in his mind.
“I was walking my dog with my wife ... in Black Creek Park in Chili. There’s a pond, and as we were walking the dog back to the truck, there was this group of geese that came in right over our heads and landed on the pond,” described Perry. "I watched them go over, and I thought to myself, 'How do they decide who flies at the front of the V?' This story was my attempt to answer that question."
Simply watching birds fly over his head, Perry was able to create an entire world in attempts to answer the simple question of which bird gets to lead the pack.
Since this story has been published, Perry has continued to be invested in the adventures of Gargle. He has created his own website, where not only can people order the book, but there is an event page of all things Gargle-related.
“There’s all kind of links. I put my calendar there, with Gargle-related events, I do readings around the area,” explained Perry.
While attendance numbers at those locations may differ depending on weather and location, Perry has always found an eager audience.
“I remember being read to as a kid, and reading to kids is something that I just love to do,” said Perry. “They’re totally into it. There’s a scary moment towards the end of book, so they’re on the edge of the seats all scared. [Kids are] the perfect audience.”
Keeping these kids in mind, Perry built the website for them in particular. Not only can they stay up to date on any of these upcoming readings, but the website is full of other fun and helpful links to keep the kids engaged.
“It’s called a middle-grade story. I would say the age range is probably 8–12 or 13, so the website is designed for people who are that age,” said Perry.
Some of these other links include a “Gargle Recommends” page, which allows kids to keep following the life of the goose even after the story has ended. There is also a glossary, which is filled with some of the more challenging words the kids may stumble upon while reading. There is even a fun feature that kids can click on and play the sound of Gargle making a goose honking noise.
"I love words, I love language, and I want kids to share that love of language," Perry explained.
The website, along with the story, is designed for the kids. “I love words, I love language, and I want kids to share in that love of language,” Perry explained.
Along with furthering the story for the readers, the self-created website continues to demonstrate Perry’s own passion for writing this children’s book. Although the type of writing Perry teaches is mainly academic, the creative writing process of this book has influenced the courses he teaches.
“I think it helped me see how challenging and rewarding at the same time that writing about something you really care about can be,” explained Perry.
This lesson is something he uses in the courses he teaches and the consulting that he does.
“In my classes, a big emphasis is on what I call ‘stake.’ A student has to have some sort of stake in what they are writing about. They have to care about what they are writing about in order for it to be meaningful,” he described.
Professor Phillip Shaw, the current Writing Commons Coordinator, has been at RIT since the fall of 2010. Besides doing a combination of writing consulting and teaching, he also spends his off the clock hours as the vocalist and guitarist for the band Secret Pizza.
“It’s straight-ahead indie rock — nosey guitars, fair amount of shouting,” described Shaw. “Our drummer Gianna sings very beautifully and I sing very not so beautifully, so we try to balance between the two of us.”
Secret Pizza came together during the summer of 2014. The story of their formation is a simple one, but nevertheless it has proven to be a good match, since it has been three years and the band is still going strong.
“I was playing with some people and other members of the band were playing with other people, and then an opportunity came where we all said, ‘Hey, who wants to come over to my garage on Saturday?’” explained Shaw. “Then we saw if there was any chemistry, and there was enough that we decided to keep going.”
After everyone involved talked it over, the now members of the band decided to go for it, and Secret Pizza was born. The name, being as unique and memorable as it is, comes with a story as well.
“The name is an inside joke that has to do with where pizza gets hidden at a particular bar that we go to,” explained Shaw. “For people in the know, there is a secret pizza somewhere.”
Ever since their formation the band has been playing local shows and even touring along the east coast.
“We've been on two tours,” said Shaw. “On the first tour ... we didn’t have many dates. We only went out for about a week.”
During the first tour, the band went to places such as Ohio, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn and Syracuse. On the second, the band was out longer and able to hitplaces even farther out on the map.
“The second tour, we were out for about two weeks,” said Shaw. “We did the East coast; the furthest south we got was Virginia and the furthest north was we got was Providence, R.I.”
When asked what it is like being on tour, Shaw gave his honest insight on his personal experiences. “You learn a lot about people when you travel with them. The more confined the space, the more you learn,” he recounted.
Close quarters and being surrounded by the same people for a long period of time is never easy. Nevertheless, Shaw said that his overall experiences were very positive.
“It’s fun though. It’s really cool to go to a totally new place and have something to do there. It lends context to a vacation, which is kind of interesting,” said Shaw.
With touring and playing shows in different cities, there are crazy and memorable stories bound to unfold. One story in particular has to do with, well, pizza.
“We’re in Philadelphia, we’ve just finished a show; we’re getting ready to drive from Philadelphia back to Rochester, which is about five hours, and it’s around one in the morning. We’re loading gear into the car, and a car goes screaming past and I hear a thump on the far side of the car,” he described. Continuing, he said, “I think Gianna (the drummer) has been hit by some crazy Philly person, so I go running around to the other side of the car expecting the worst. She is standing there, drenched with red slushie, and next to her stuck to the window of the car is a piece of pizza.”
As the band was loading up the van after a show, some on-goers decided to throw some unfinished pizza straight at them, leaving them with not only a mess on their car, but a story to tell.
“We don’t know who these people were. Just random Philly people saw her, decided to through away a perfectly good piece of pizza and slushie, just to ruin her evening,” said Shaw.
Despite the negative outcome of being drenched in slushie and having pizza residue stuck to the window, the band tells this story with laughter and a sense of humor.
“I like to think it was someone who didn’t see us, that it was random, because that’s better for our egos, but either is possible. I think we played okay that night. Certainly we’ve played worse other nights,” said Shaw.
Along with touring and having things thrown at them, the members have fun just being a part of the band.
“I think the most fun that we’ve had as a band has been probably practicing together and writing together. You know, yelling at one another, getting excited about what somebody else is doing,” expressed Shaw.
As stated before, the band does play quite a few local shows as well, throughout Rochester, Buffalo and even Syracuse.
“We try not to play more than one show a month. Some months though we’ll play two or three sometimes,” said Shaw. “[The] Bug Jar is our home; that’s where we play most often.”
In fact, there will soon be a show announced that will be taking place at the Bug Jar in mid-May. Secret Pizza will be playing. It is yet to be known if it is a
“It is the popular opinion that we just teach and then we go home and turn off,” said Shaw.
However, with writing and publishing children’s books and spending summers touring along the east coast, RIT’s own professors are showcasing a different image.