Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Left Right Black White"

This post's title coming from the title of the episode of Strangers that I listened to tonight while taking a walk. The monologue at the end came at the exact right moment for me as I returned from a visit home for Christmas. Voices like Lea Thau's make this world a better place. Check it out.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Go Rams!

Despite my complicated feelings about football, I am so proud of these guys. GO RAMS!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dancing queen

My quest to be a cool aunt receives some much-needed validation.

I certainly don't think I am good at playing Just Dance, but the kids seem to like it. 

Window crew

Moving from two cats to three cats changes things in ways that might seems subtle, but are quite real. I now feel like I have a pack or at least a crew. It's a bit strange. Anyway, here's my crew the other day, all watching birds outside the window. (Perfectly normal to have the window wide open in December, right?)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fall 2015 Grading: DONE!

I don't think I've done one of these "DONE!" posts in a while, but it feels good to do one today. As of about 2:00 today, I am done with my grading for this semester.

It's been a strange semester: in some ways, it flew by, in other ways, it feels like August was forever ago. In terms of workload, well, it was a lot for me. (Two classes on novels and two writing-intensive classes will do that...) The students (especially in the novel classes) were amazing. And, as always, every day I am in the classroom is a good day. For that, I continue to feel so blessed.

Still, it feels good to have the grading done. Onto Spring 2016! I started on my syllabi today...

Chair dancing song: B.B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, "The Bells of St. Mary's."

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Your Village"

Grateful to the Poetry Off the Shelf Podcast for introducing me to this poem. So perfect for these challenging times.

"Your Village"
Elana Bell

Once in a village that is burning
      because a village is always somewhere burning

And if you do not look because it is not your village
      it is still your village

In that village is a hollow child
      You drown when he looks at you with his black, black eyes

And if you do not cry because he is not your child
      he is still your child

All the animals that could run away have run away
      The trapped ones make an orchestra of their hunger

The houses are ruin      Nothing grows in the garden
      The grandfather’s grave is there      A small stone

under the shade of a charred oak      Who will brush off the dead
      leaves      Who will call his name for morning prayer

Where will they — the ones who slept in this house and ate from this dirt — ?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Viva la Revolution!

Life has been crazy busy and I've really neglected my blog. A lot has been going on (mostly good), so I ought to be doing a better job. So here's a silly return post...

Once a month, I write “Revolution” on my daily to-do list. Every time, it makes me laugh and I feel like a bad-ass. Of course, it is just a reminder to put the flea preventative called Revolution on the cats. Ha. 

Also, more to come on this little girl (named Veronica) who joined the family in early September.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

One year

Not much to say. It's been a year. Today has been sad, serious, quiet, and also kind of ordinary. It's a strange mixture, I suppose, but that's what this past year has been like--conflicting emotions playing out as you move through this thing called everyday life.

Since the concert on Wednesday, I've been thinking about Brandi Carlile's song, "That Year," a song she wrote about a friend's suicide. It's a terrific song--honest and moving, one of the few songs I can think in which the speaker really takes herself to task for her earlier, more judgmental self. I imagine if Ryan had died when I was 16, like Carlile was when her friend died, I would have had some of the same reactions. But I wasn't 16 when Ryan died. I was 37. Much less judgmental and self-righteous than I used to be (thank God). But one phrase from the song does ring true: "You should have taken a long break / Instead of a long drop from a high place." If only he could have heard this...

Here's one more line from "That Year" that ring true: "You're my friend again." The "again" in Carlile's story is a reference to her letting go of the distance that anger put between herself and her friend after he died. For me, though, the "again" implies a kind of marker that I am hoping comes with one year behind us. The sadness won't ever leave, but maybe now I can just focus more on the good stuff, the things that made him so amazing. The things that made him my brother and my friend. The things that make me feel good.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wolf Trap

Finally got around to seeing a show at Wolf Trap. Erin and I saw Brandi Carlile on Wednesday evening. It was a perfect night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My coworker

My coworker this afternoon. He is mostly in charge of moral support and cute distractions. Look at his little feet!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Tale for the Time Being

Currently working on a conference paper about this amazing book. Here's a passage that stands out to me today:

"...Dad would walk me to school and we'd talk about stuff. I don't remember what, and it didn't matter. The important thing was that we were being polite and not saying all the things that were making us unhappy, which was the only way we knew how to love each other" (47).

Crushingly simple and true.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tarzan, The Karate Kid, and Sappy Ballads

I've never seen Disney's Tarzan movie. Wikipedia tells me the movie came out in 1999. But it never really registered with me beyond some familiarity with Phil Collin's uptempo ballad, "You'll Be in My Heart." I do have this crystal clear memory of being on a flight once, years later, coming back from a conference, waiting to deplane, and hearing the song blaring from the headphones of a passenger behind me. And--because it takes forever for people to get off a plane--I could tell that whoever was listening had the song on repeat. I found that sweetly amusing, even more so when I saw who the listener was as he walked past me: a young man (maybe in his early 20s), tough-looking, the kind of guy you'd never expect to be listening to an already-old, never-that-popular, Phil Collins Disney ballad on repeat. Because I always like to imagine stories for the people I see at airports or on planes, at the time, I imagined he was smitten with some girl, and perhaps having just said goodbye to her before getting on the plane, he was listening to their song. I imagined her, young, pretty, crying at the terminal, maybe even listening to the same song as she drove home. I never forgot this silly memory, maybe because I so enjoyed the juxtaposition of the listener and his song.

When I was driving back to WV from Ryan's funeral, "You'll Be in My Heart" came on the radio. I instantly remembered that guy on the flight and smiled. When it got to that chorus, though, I started tearing up:

"'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more

You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You'll be here in my heart, always"

And then this verse:

"When destiny calls you
You must be strong
I may not be with you
But you've got to hold on
They'll see in time
I know
We'll show them together" 

Look, it's not Shakespeare, but it's simple and moving. And there I was, driving down I-81, a blubbery mess. It was, though, a good kind of sad. Cathartic. Since then, I've thought about this silly Phil Collins song from time to time, about how perfect it was for that moment, even if it's really only the chorus and that one verse that "fits" my situation. Looking at Youtube comments on the video, I see that the song reminds lots of people of those they lost. And I've thought about that young man from the airplane, now wondering if he was listening to that song on repeat not because of a girlfriend, but because he had just lost someone. I thought about him again tonight, as I found myself listening to the song more than once. And that got me thinking about yet another sappy song from a movie...

My brother was a real tough guy on the outside, even as a little kid. Hated any movie with a love story (or said he did). Rolled his eyes at schmaltzy stuff. But inside, he was a marshmallow. For instance, when it came out way back in 1986, he secretly loved this song, "The Glory of Love." He never admitted it to me, but we shared a bedroom wall and that summer, the summer my dad took me and a couple of friends to see The Karate Kid, Part 2 for my birthday (the movie that featured that song), I heard my brother play it again and again, a far cry from his usual rotation of what you'd expect from an 11-year-old boy. (Just like I never imagined that the young man on the plane would be the one listening to the Tarzan song.) I even remember seeing the cassette tape on which he had copied the song from the radio. (Remember when we used to do that?)

Even then, when I was just 9, I imagined stories, and in my mind, he was pining after some girl from church or school. We teased each other all the time, and I so easily could have teased him about this. But I never did. I never even told him I knew. I don't think I even told another soul about it until after he died. It always felt too intimate, like this piece of himself that he didn't want to show. And I think I must have liked knowing it, liked knowing this secret, liked imagining this part of him, so different from the version of him who frequently made my young life miserable with his teasing.

So yeah, years later, another sappy ballad that another guy had listened to on repeat kind of made sense to me. Ryan would have appreciated the connection, even if he never would have admitted it. He never would have said the words of that last verse of "You'll Be in My Heart" to me ("too cheesy," he would have said), at least not when he was "the old Ryan," but he would have felt them. Anyone who knew him and loved him knew that that guy was deep and full of feeling. He didn't always know what to do with all that emotion, though. He spent a lot of time feeling unworthy or misunderstood. I wish I could have told him more how wrong he was, how much I appreciated the depth of his feelings and his mind, even if those very fathoms are part of what haunted him so much. I did say it, but it never seemed to sink in. And by the end, when he was such a different person, I guess I stopped trying so hard beyond just telling him that we wanted him around, that we wanted him to fight and stay with us. Priorities change.

I'll never be able to hear either of those songs without thinking of my brother and his hidden depths. And despite the sadness I've felt writing this post, I think that's a good thing, because I've smiled, too.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


It's been so long since my last post. I could explain at length why, but it's enough to say that the winter into spring has been challenging, busy, and at times, quite tough. But spring always makes me think things have to be looking up. This little photo is another welcome sign.

It's the redbud tree I planted in my yard back when I moved in. Since then, it grew bigger and taller, but never flowered. Not even once. This year, finally, a few lovely buds have emerged. I think I know why: last July, when Ryan visited with my parents (the last time I saw him), he pruned the tree for me, along with the little maple out front. I remember that day so clearly: how hard he worked, how determined he was to get it right, how glad I was that he was there to help.

Spring is a season of renewal, of life coming back. My brother is gone from this life, but in so many small ways, he's still here with us.