Sunday, March 30, 2014

A happy news story...

30 March 2014: Today was a weird day: quiet, cold, rainy, and even quite snowy at times. One could be forgiven for falling into a bit of gloom. After all, it's March 30 and this winter has been so cold, so long. And Sundays can be dreary all on their own.

But then you come across a story like this--the story of how a whole team of people saved a blind and deaf fourteen year-old dog from a sinkhole--and that gloominess drops away.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"How Being Ignored Helped A Woman Discover The Breast Cancer Gene"

29 March 2014: While running lots of errands this morning, I heard this story on the NPR "Story of the Day" podcast. In it, Mary-Claire King, a geneticist, talks about her work discovering the breast cancer gene. It's a terrific interview, full of cool scientific information and a kick-ass lesson/reminder for women. When asked about being a woman in a field where women have historically been ignored or dismissed, she explains: "When one is a child of affirmative action one needs to anticipate that people, particularly those who didn't benefit from affirmative action, won't take you seriously for a while. But there's a wonderful phrase from Simone de Beauvoir: For a woman to be taken as seriously as a man she must be three times as effective. Happily this is not difficult." Awesome.

Ann and Maria

28 March 2014: Yeah, so today's post is nearly identical to yesterday's, but it is what it is. Ha! I had dinner with some more former students, Ann and Maria, who are both actually graduating with Master's degrees and completing their student-teaching assignments in the public schools. Ann is already working in a (semi)-permanent placement. Maria would almost surely be about to get hired somewhere, but she's pregnant with her second baby and instead of going right to a full-time teaching job, will work at Shepherd, adjuncting in our department, for the baby's first year. Anyway, it's especially gratifying to catch up with these students, who are out in the world, making a difference in the always complicated world of public education.

Anthony and Cait

27 March 2014: A couple of times a year, I'll have dinner with Anthony and Cait, a couple of former students who graduated a few years ago. It's always fun to catch up with them and made the end of a long day a lot more enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


26 March 2014: Advising for the Fall 2014 semester started today. It's always a bit of a mixed bag...a major time suck, but also kind of fun. (And, I should say, much less of a burden in my department than in some others, where faculty might have 50 or more advisees each! I've only got 15 or so.) Anyway, I met with three advisees today, each at a different stage in her degree, and each appointment went really well. It's always satisfying to see students move through the program, even if it's also a bit bittersweet (they leave us when it's all done, after all...). I'm grateful for the chance to work with them in this other facet of my job as a teacher and grateful to have the time to spend with them.

"A lucky man in every way..."

25 March 2014: It might seem a bit strange to pick an obituary as the subject of this "year of thanks" post, but James Rebhorn's obituary--one that he wrote himself--is quite moving, lovely evidence of a life well-lived and a terrific model for us to follow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Back for a visit

24 March 2014: Today one of my favorite former students stopped by my office. She graduated last year and, despite my repeated pleas, did not manage to clone herself and have that clone re-enroll in all my classes. Yes, it was a stupid joke I kept making, but when you have a student that smart, that talented, that dedicated, you run out of actual feedback to give beyond just "do more of this awesomeness!"

So, she didn't clone herself, but she did get her younger sister to enroll in one of my classes, which has been awesome. Anyway, both of them stopped by this afternoon and it was just lovely to talk to these kind, smart, and impressive young women. Today was all kinds of busy and jam-packed, but that visit sure was nice.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lunch at Mellow Moods

23 March 2014: Today I got to have lunch with a former student who has really grown into a good friend. Even better, we met at Mellow Moods, which you really ought to visit if you find yourself in Shepherdstown. Both aspects--the friend and the restaurant (one more so than the other, obviously!)--remind me of how lucky I am to have built a life in this lovely little community.

Dinner and a show...

22 March 2014: I had an awesome evening yesterday. It started with a sort of impromptu potluck dinner at a friend's house before we went to see the Gay Men's Chorus of DC perform on campus. Amazing!

"To Build a Fire"

21 March 2014: It's strange...I'm not a great fan of this story by Jack London, but in ENGL 204, it's always a highlight of the semester. Students just love it and love talking about it. Friday's classes were especially strong--and fun. The two fifty minute classes flew by and got the day off to a great start.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Going Viral" and "The Environmental Ethics of Coal Mining"

20 March 2014: I know I've posted before about the terrific opportunities I get living and working in a college town. Last night was no exception. I attended two events sponsored by our Common Reading Program: first, a talk by Eric Waggoner, who wrote this post that went viral on the Elk River spill, and then a panel discussion on the ethics of coal mining. Both were terrific events, making it quite clear that WV needs to stop accepting the devastation that coal companies bring to the environment. I was even lucky enough to have dinner with Waggoner that night. A most excellent evening!


19 March 2014: I have a colleague who sometimes brings treats to our department meetings. She did so on Wednesday, coming in with a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Just a tiny gesture, but very sweet (pun intended). So here's a two-for-one: I was thankful for the little treat during a department meeting, but more so for my thoughtful colleague.

A bit of unexpected kindness

[Major catching-up posts...All of these (March 18-20) have been in my head--I just haven't had the time to post them!]

18 March 2014: I am going to be purposely vague here, in an attempt to protect student privacy. That will make for some clunky writing, but bear with me. I have a student this semester who is a lovely person, but has some social skills issues. [Let's just call him/her "C," which isn't his/her initials--I promise.] C's issues can be frustrating for everyone involved. In my less gracious moments, I sometimes find myself sometimes wavering between sympathy and exasperation--at least internally.

The other day, the class had been working in groups on a project, just the kind of thing that might really test both "C" and the rest of the class when it comes to these social challenges. So, a bit anxiously, I watched it play out. And it went fine. Just fine. But the awesome part was as the class ended. I was working with another student [we'll call him/her "D"] who had previously voiced some frustration with "C." As "C" was leaving the room, "D" turned around, reached out and gave "C" a friendly fist-bump. He/she even added,"See you next time!" "C" smiled and said thanks,

It was a small gesture, perhaps, and maybe I am making more of it than I should, but it really did touch me. College students these days get a lot of bad press, so to speak. They are self-focused, entitled, unprepared, etc. And certainly that's true for some of them, some of the time. But I am reminded again and again that they also can be kind and open and accepting, especially of their peers who have challenges. That gracious acceptance teaches me something about the kind of person I want to be.

Monday, March 17, 2014

12 years of Bing

17 March 2014: This handsome devil turned 12 today. He still seems quite youthful to me and he continues to be one of the coolest cats I've ever known. He celebrated with some Fancy Feast Appetizers and played with the brand-new laser pointer that arrived in the mail today.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Dear Little Daughter"

16 March 2014: It's been a while since I checked in on the "Letters of Note" blog. Today I saw the latest entry, a 1914 letter from W.E.B. DuBois to his daughter. In an independent study I'm doing with one of our graduate students this semester, we read some selections from DuBois. I'm always struck by his poignant, elegant writing, his clear sense of what needs to be done for African Americans to succeed. His advice to his little girl in this letter--to a 14 year-old across the sea, studying in England--is just lovely and sweet and kind of perfect. Give it a read. I am glad that I did.

"A long time ago, we used to be friends..."

15 March 2014: Here's a "year of thanks" post I could have predicted on January 1. I saw the Veronica Mars movie yesterday and it was awesome. Even better: I got to see it with Jane, the best bud a person could have. Excellent day!


14 March 2014: I am grateful to the Poetry Off the Shelf podcast for this great episode on Maxine W. Kumin, who died earlier this year. The poem below really speaks to me. (Click the title link for audio of Kumin introducing and reading the poem).

From a documentary on marsupials I learn
that a pillowcase makes a fine
substitute pouch for an orphaned kangaroo.

I am drawn to such dramas of animal rescue.
They are warm in the throat. I suffer, the critic proclaims,
from an overabundance of maternal genes.

Bring me your fallen fledgling, your bummer lamb,

lead the abused, the starvelings, into my barn.
Advise the hunted deer to leap into my corn.

And had there been a wild child—
filthy and fierce as a ferret, he is called
in one nineteenth-century account—

a wild child to love, it is safe to assume,
given my fireside inked with paw prints,
there would have been room.

Think of the language we two, same and not-same,
might have constructed from sign,
scratch, grimace, grunt, vowel:

Laughter our first noun, and our long verb, howl.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Carry On"

13 March 2014: This song has been in my head all day. Today I am thinking about how it's kind of Whitman-esque. Anyway, it's lifted my spirits and earns its spot as the thing I'm thankful for today. (Plus, how adorable is Nate Ruess?)



11 & 12 March 2014: I am cheating a bit here and making this a two-for-one post, but the two days--and what I am most thankful for--are really similar. I've had some stuff on my mind lately and, in general, I can get into darker moods when my normal schedule is thrown off (as it has been with Spring Break this week). So, I needed some happy distractions. Both Tuesday and Wednesday found me spending large parts of the day with friends (two different friends), just hanging out, talking, and watching movies. I realize that "distraction" isn't the right word here, because it implies that such time with my friends isn't valuable in and of itself, so maybe there's a better term out there. For now, though, I'll just say how grateful I am for friends who can be there when they don't even know how much I need them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

68 degrees!

10 March 2014: A week ago we had a snow day. Today the sun was out and the temperature got up to 68 degrees. That meant open windows, a walk through the neighborhood in only a light jacket, and happy cats sleeping in the warm rays.

Hector Black

9 March 2014: Yesterday, while tackling some spring cleaning, I heard Hector Black's amazing story on The Moth's podcast. Here's the short version: Black tells the story of forgiving the man who killed his daughter. But that summary does no justice to hearing his voice and his moving words. I found myself stopped in my tracks, amazed by this man's beautiful soul. I had heard parts of this story before, on the Radiolab podcast last fall, but it is still just as powerful. People like Hector Black remind of us the amazing potential for goodness and forgiveness in the world, and that's something for which to be quite grateful.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Eleven hours!

8 March 2014: Eleven hours! That's how long I slept last night. I am/was getting over a weird stomach virus (?) that left me feeling exhausted and a bit achy. I was in bed by 9:30 last night and slept like a stone until about 9:00 this morning. I feel a whole lot better and (bonus!) the sun is out and it's supposed to be nice and warm today. Lovely.

Late afternoon conference

7 March 2014: Yesterday was the last day before Spring Break so you can imagine that by late afternoon, campus was pretty empty. My office hours go until 5:00, but I didn't anticipate many/any drop-in students. Around 3:00, though, a student showed up. He wanted to talk about some papers he has that are due after break. This particular student is struggling quite a bit in my class, but I keep telling him that he's "almost there," right on the verge of getting it. I keep telling him not to get discouraged. I worry that it isn't sinking it.

Our conversation yesterday, though, showed me that he's willing to work and write and rewrite, that he hasn't gotten discouraged. And our conversation, about a story by Lydia Davis, was so much fun. We sat there, talking about how he could approach this super-short piece, starting to go down one road, then starting again. There were long pauses, while we both thought about the text, its technique, and how to express what it does.

Ultimately, the student still isn't "there" yet, but he's energized and enthused. And so I am. Not a bad way to greet Spring Break.

Coming around again...

6 March 2014: This poem came up again on the Poem of the Day podcast, just as I was pulling onto my street and then into my garage. It was instantly familiar to me and once again, felt like just what I needed to hear, just when I needed it. And sure enough, I had blogged about it before.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Unexpected mail...

5 March 2014: After a long day at work (not bad--just long!), I was so pleased to come home and find a card from my dear friend, Jane. It was silly, sweet, and completely unexpected--and just what I needed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Earth hugger

4 March 2014: Today, Erin emailed me this picture of Krista, a picture from our visit to a park a couple of weeks ago. The park has this cool solar system installation and the baby liked the mosaic-covered Earth the best, literally hugging it. This picture captures so much that makes me smile: a kid I love, a great memory, and the promise of spring (although the very next weekend, the temperature plunged and all that, but you get my point).

"I stop somewhere waiting for you"

3 March 2014: Yet another snow day. This time there was less snow than forecast, but it still bummed me out. So I appreciated the awesomeness that arrived in the mail: the poster for National Poetry Month (sponsored by the Academy of American Poets). Walt Whitman, a free poster...what's not to like?

Girl power!

2 March 2014: It's gotten to be a yearly tradition--attending Shepherd's annual production of The Vagina Monologues. This year, I met a friend for lunch beforehand. So it was a great afternoon. Every year, I leave uplifted and energized and proud of the performers. This year was no different.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pizza with friends...

1 March 2014: After attending a workshop at school this morning, I had lunch with two of my favorite co-workers: Tim and Jon. It's been a rough week (at times) and there is more snow on the horizon, meaning next week might get off to a rough start, too, so it was extra nice to just spend some time with cool people and relax a bit. Plus, the white veggie pizza at King's in Shepherdstown is pretty awesome.