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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?

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Charlie Bertsch
6 May 1968
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Sometimes I tell people that I was born in May '68 and it's been a downhill slide ever since. That tells you about my politics, where I've ended up, but not about where I came from.

I define myself also by the places I've lived. I spent my first eleven years at the end of a dirt road in rural eastern Pennsylvania -- Bucks County -- south of Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton. We lived in a former farmhouse, built around a half-timbered log cabin. We had an old red barn, a pond, 38 acres of land.

Then we moved to suburban Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. I spent the next seven years of my life being largely miserable at school. Summer wasn't much fun either, because our house lacked air conditioning or access to public transportation. When I was lucky, though, I rode into D.C. with my dad, on his way to work, and roamed the city eating paté sandwiches at Monsieur Croissant, walking around Dupont Circle, and visiting the free -- and air-conditioned! -- museums and historic sites of "our nation's capital."

After I graduated high school in 1986, I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student: a month in Hamburg, three months near Bremen, and the rest in Swabia, halfway between Stuttgart and Munich. I learned German. I learned to drink. I travelled a lot. I had a blast.

When I returned to the States, I started college at the University of California in Berkeley. I double-majored in English and German, then stayed on for graduate school without a break, getting my Ph.D. in English in 2000. Along the way, I came to love the San Francisco Bay Area more with each passing year -- though I always felt like I was on vacation -- processed my traumatic junior high and high school years, bought lots and lots of CDs, and had my two "real" romances. The second of these metamorphosed into a marriage on October 26, 1996 and into a marriage with children precisely two years later.

In February of 2000 I was offered a job at the University of Arizona in Tucson and moved there with my wife Kim and daughter Skylar. Since arriving in the desert I have had pneumonia twice, been very homesick for the Bay Area, come to appreciate clouds as never before, and become an afficionado of Tucson's decidely uncorporate popular music scene. As I write this, I'm in the process of "finishing my book" -- as the phrase goes -- for tenure and am simultaneously trying to reestablish order in my massive collection of personal papers.

I spend my free time listening to everything from indie rock to avant-garde electronica to opera; going to movies and discussing them with my film-obsessed wife; trying to keep up with my wonderful and wonderfully intense daughter; playing basketball when I can; and following the San Francisco Giants and Cal Bears.

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