Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Juan

20 February 2018:

"Man's a phenomenon, one knows not what,
And wonderful beyond all wondrous measure;
'T is pity though, in this sublime world, that
Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure;
Few mortals know what end they would be at,
But whether glory, power, or love, or treasure,
The path is through perplexing ways, and when
The goal is gain'd, we die, you know—and then—

What then?—I do not know, no more do you—
And so good night.—Return we to our story..."--Byron, Don Juan, Canto One

I spent some serious time with Byron today in preparation for a class on Thursday. Don Juan, with its lively verses, hilarious wit, and surprising moments of beauty and the sublime was well-suited to today. Today, after all, was a oddly gorgeous day; temperatures soared over 80 degrees and a broken water main meant that school closed early. It felt like spring and looked like it, too, with everyone outside and (seemingly) happy. But none of it seemed quite right and it definitely didn't feel normal. 

I love the lines quoted above which are both serious and humorous. They tackle one of the big questions/struggles in life (why is stuff that feels so good so often really bad?) even as it undercuts itself as it moves to the next stanza. Perfect contemplations for a strange and beautiful day.

Monday, February 19, 2018


19 February 2018: "Forgiveness is so radical and so filthy, and it gets made out to be such a casual concept, when really it might be one of the deepest things that we do as humans — to forgive for real deep hurts."

This interview with Brandi Carlile is so great. Smart and challenging and compassionate and just honest. Terrific.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

These ladies...

18 February 2018:

Got to hang out with these ladies today. What more to say? It was wonderful.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Martha's Lady"

17 February 2018: "Life was beginning to hold moments of something like delight in the last few days." --Sarah Orne Jewett, "Martha's Lady"

I am teaching this lovely and bittersweet story once again on Monday. What a pleasure it has been to re-read it tonight and think about how much one person can change another person's life just by being who she is--and how long that transformative power can last.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther

16 February 2018: "I save my country." --one of my favorite lines from Black Panther. It's awesome and a nice way to end a very busy and stressful work week.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


15 February 2018:

One of my favorite excerpts of Ben Franklin’s Autobiography comes in his list of the thirteen qualities he listed as being important for moral perfection. After initially compiling a list of twelve, a friend suggests adding one more: humility. I love what Franklin doesn’t say here, leaving us to wonder if the friend’s advice was just a general idea that humility was important or if it was targeted to Franklin specifically. Franklin, after all, talks about his plan for moral perfection as it if is absolutely attainable. Not exactly a humble statement.

And then, in a deliciously rich bit of writing, he adds just four words after “Humility” in his list: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” Amazing. It is so perfect. Because, sure: if you want to be humble, imitate those two dudes. But to think you can imitate those two—that it’s that simple—and you can be humble? Well, isn’t that the opposite of humility?

This is a long way of getting around to what I am trying to write about for today’s post. Simply put, I got too big for my britches, wasn’t gracious, and said something I just shouldn’t have said—or more accurately, shouldn’t have said the way that I did. And I said it to someone I really care about. And I hate that quality when I let it out. I apologized (a lot), but I still feel bad. I know I’ll feel bad about it all night and probably when I wake up tomorrow morning, too. Sometimes I am reminded that I am not nearly as humble as I should be. These reminders are always painful but I am grateful when I can recognize how I can do better.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


14 February 2018:

This is a heck of a love poem, by Nikki Giovanni. Here's the opening:

"I love you
            because the Earth turns round the sun
            because the North wind blows north
            because the Pope is Catholic
                 and most Rabbis Jewish
            because the winters flow into springs
                 and the air clears after a storm
            because only my love for you
                 despite the charms of gravity
                 keeps me from falling off this Earth
                 into another dimension
I love you
            because it is the natural order of things"


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Galentine's Day 2018

13 February 2018: Celebrated Galentine's Day with two of my favorite people: Kathleen and Amy.

(This will have to substitute for a picture of us since by the time we remembered to do it, someone was practically sprinting to the car to avoid having her picture taken...)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"The Revolt of 'Mother'"

12 February 2018: "Nobility of character manifests itself at loop-holes when it is not provided with large doors." --Mary Wilkins Freeman, "The Revolt of 'Mother'"

We discussed this story (and Freeman's "A New England Nun") today in my ENGL 360 class. I love both stories and the students responded to them quite well. At the end of class, a student held up her highlighted copy of the piece and said, "This was my favorite line." It is one that hadn't stood out to me before, but I really this bit of Freeman's wit.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Longing to Belong"

11 February 2018:

"I'm falling harder than I've
Ever fell before
I'm falling fast while hoping
I'll land in your arms
'Cause all my time is spent here
Longing to belong
To you" --Eddie Vedder, "Longing to Belong"

Ukulele Songs has been on repeat on this rainy and quiet Sunday evening.


10 February 2018:

[Catch-up post]

Two of my favorite women got the celebrating they deserved yesterday. It was my sister Tara's birthday and it sounds like she did it pretty right: relaxing, taking it easy, getting pampered. In her honor, here's a ridiculous picture of us (with Erin) from 1989. I have no idea what's going on with my face, but my sisters look amazing.

Second my good pal Hannah celebrated her big 30 (a bit early) with a lovely dinner at Tim's house. This picture isn't great, but it's the only one I have. She is adorable and I am lucky to know her.

Friday, February 9, 2018

"Map to the Stars"

9 February 2018:

"Map to the Stars" is one of my favorite poems that I've come across in the last five years or so. From the second I heard it (on a Poetry magazine podcast), I was floored by it and I knew I wanted to teach it in my ENGL 301 class, specifically as we talked about Marxist literary theory. It just works so well. (Incidentally, I met the poet at the National Book Festival and told him that. He signed my book, writing "Here's to all the underlying politics in everything we do.")

We talked about the poem today in my two sections of 301 and the students continue to respond so well--and so intelligently to it. This is no easy feat as it is a tough poem, if not to understand, at least to talk about. But they did it. They have smart things to say about what the poem does with space, motion, symbolism, and above all, that sense of moving through a space, both absorbed in it yet trying to transcend it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"This sad and amazing journey..."

8 February 2018: This post's title comes from the words a young man I met today used to describe his life so far. He is a Dreamer (DACA) student who was separated from his parents at a very early age, a stand-out athlete, a strong student, and a community leader (who volunteers to feed the homeless and help battered women, among other activities). He is keenly interested in issues of social justice and diversity. And he's still in high school.

And he wants to come to Shepherd. How lucky are we?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Helpful reminder...

7 February 2018: Today was a weird day: the university probably should have closed all day or at least definitely for the morning. But it didn't. It did cancel all classes after 1:00, which only complicated matters more. (It's too long and boring to describe how/why.) On top of that, we are interviewing four candidates for our Provost position--all four coming this week. Since I am on the search committee, it's been...a lot.

Thus it was kind of wonderful to hear a helpful reminder from one of our candidates today talking about how lucky we are: "We get to learn something every day. Most people don't get to say that." Absolutely true.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Sense and Sensibility

6 February 2018: Another long day and here I am, still getting some work done past 11:00 p.m. For the past couple of hours, that work has involved finishing up re-reading Sense and Sensibility, the subject of my ENGL 311 class this week. To be honest, tonight's re-reading had been rough going. I am tired, a bit anxious about other work that needs to get done, and (as always these days) dismayed by the news. So it's been hard to put all of my focus on the adventures of Elinor and Marianne, which isn't very fair to Jane Austen.

All in all, I still think this is a kind of dark or at least very cynical novel for Austen, one that we ought to be careful not to over-romanticize. Yet even still, I did find myself charmed by this passage towards the end:

"...for though a very few hours spent in the hard labor of incessant talking will dispatch more subjects than can really be in common between any two rational creatures, yet with lovers it is different. Between them no subject is finished, no communication is even made, till it has been made at least twenty times over."

That the couple who lingers over the same conversation points is Elinor and Edward--who have been examples of sense and reason, not schmoopy (I am too tired to think of a better word) emotions--adds to the sweetness. Even these two nerds (I say with all affection) can get swept up in each other.

That's about the best I can do for something approaching profundity today, but now I can cross "blog" off my to-do list.