Sunday, July 31, 2016

ENGL 101 syllabizing...

31 July 2016: As July comes to an end (too soon!), I spent a large part of today working on the last of my four syllabi that I need to get ready for the new semester. As always, that's the ENGL 101 syllabus. Without fail, it requires the most time and work and thought. But I must say, working on it today--updating assignments, re-tooling essay prompts--got me excited for the semester and for this first-year class.

This magical town...

30 July 2016: At a potluck on Saturday night, I found myself surrounded mostly by people I hadn't met before. The dinner was hosted by a friend from work, Rachael, who is one of the most decent, loving people I've ever known. It's no surprise, then, that her friends are also wonderful. But I think there's even more to it than's this town, this lovely, strange, magical town. What a blessing to live here.

Friday, July 29, 2016

This face...

29 July 2016: She still won't let me hold her or even pet her (though I do get to boop her nose every once in a while), she coughs up hairballs that leave very tough stains on my carpet, and she rips furniture with real relish...but she's so very cute and coy. She watches me. She follows me around. She knows what she's doing. So this picture is today's good thing.

"I will gladly lend you my copy."

28 July 2016: Today's good thing, like yesterday's, finds part of its foundation in loss, this time in the death of a young soldier. But Humayun S.M. Khan's family, like Drew Leinonen's, is using the tragedy of his death to do something good: to take a stand for our nation's values. Mr. Khan's offer to lend Trump his copy of the constitution was just amazing. His entire speech filled me with sadness, awe, and pride. What a family.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Drew was love, embodied"

27 July 2016: A link in this story about Christopher "Drew" Leinonen's mother's speech tonight at the DNC led me to this lovely tribute to Drew, one of the victims of the Orlando massacre. Written by his childhood friend, Catherine McCarthy, the piece is a masterful testimony to this amazing young man. I remember seeing his mother on the news on Sunday morning, pleading for information about her son, not knowing yet that he was among the dead. Such a tragedy...still so unbelievably sad. But both his mother's speech tonight and his friend's tribute point not just to the good Drew did in his all-too-brief life, but to the good we can continue to do in his name and in the names of the other innocent people lost in Orlando. As his friend writes, quoting Drew, "If not me, who?"

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Ron Rash on Historical Fiction

26 July 2016: What can historical fiction achieve? That's a question at the heart of "The Facts of Historical Fiction," a short essay by Ron Rash, and a piece I spent some time thinking about today as I worked on an article about his work. In this essay, he discusses The World Made Straight, which in part explores the Shelton Laurel Massacre of 1863. He asks the big questions: What happened there? What made people shoot old men and young boys, men and boys they knew and lived with? And, on a larger scale, why do people commit such atrocities? Rash's piece is from 2006, but his questions are (sadly) timeless. And fiction, he asserts, can help us muddle our way through these questions.

As he moves towards the end of the piece, Rash writes about what he—as a writer—learned and didn't learn as he wrote his novel: "But if I failed to achieve understanding, I gained awareness. That may be the best that any work of historical fiction has to offer—not just to its author, but, more importantly, to its readers—a chance to grapple with the mysteries and complexities of the past, in hopes of seeing the present a little clearer."

I like this essay for many reasons, including how quintessentially Rash-ian (?) it is. It speaks to the specific and the universal, the local and the global. It points out what is gained, but also what is obscured or resists easy grasp. The last line, in fact, simply reads "It [the massacre] haunts me still."

Work Cited

Rash, Ron. "The Facts of Historical Fiction." Publishers Weekly, April 10, 2006. 78. Academic Search Complete. 25 July 2016. Web.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Problem with the Solution

25 July 2016: As the heat wave continues, I went out early today to get my walk in. I listened to the "The Problem with the Solution" episode of Invisibilia and found myself weeping at the end, when Lulu Miller's father regrets an early episode of anger towards his mentally-ill child. The larger point being made: perhaps the best way to treat certain mentally ill people is to stop trying to cure them. And this has fascinating implications for the role of loved ones in a mentally ill person's treatment. Obviously, the entire episode, which explores a different approach to treating mental illness, deserves a listen. It will stay on my mind for some time. Today is the second anniversary of my brother's death, so it hit quite close to home, but in a good way, I think.


24 July 2016: You know what's awesome? Attending a performance of Evita with four good friends, two of them already-passionate friends and two who had never seen the show before. This particular production, at the Olney Theater, did some really interesting things with staging, including a pretty spare cast (not a bad thing and this company was fantastic), some great acting choices (the actress who played Evita really acted as she sang), and some great choreography.


23 July 2016: Today's good thing is the delightful Ghostbusters film. I sat there the whole time with a goofy grin on my face. What a treat to see four hilarious women on the screen, especially Kate McKinnon, who steals every scene she's in.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Salve for the soul...

21 July 2016: I found myself so heartsick after last night's speech by the horrifying man running for president. It was hard to think about anything fall asleep. We have a long way to go between now and November, but today I am grateful for this post from the wonderful folks at, which rounds up all the best late-night shows' responses to this debacle.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

First love

21 July 2016: I got to spend some time today with my 12-year-old niece who is currently embroiled in her first "I like you/do you like me?/Yes, I do!" with a boy in her class. Today she showed me some online correspondence between them--a lot of hyperbole, bad grammar, and emoji. It's a little surreal (she's growing up!), a little scary (hope she doesn't get hurt), but also very sweet and cute. And I love that she feels like she can talk to me about it.

20th Century Blues

20 July 2016: Thanks to a faculty/staff appreciation event, I got to see 20th Century Blues, a really great play that's part of this year's Contemporary American Theater Festival, for free. The performances by the four main actresses were top-notch--and I was thrilled to recognize someone from my beloved One Life to Live. Beyond that, it's just a wonderful story about women and friendship. Excellent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Three poems...

19 July 2016: Three back-to-back excellent poems on the "Poem of the Day" podcast. They delighted me on my walk today. Give them a listen.

"On Leaving the Bachelorette Brunch" by Rachel Wetzsteon

"Let Me Count the Waves" by Sandra Beasley

"The Dogs at Live Oak" by Alicia Ostriker

Home to this crew

18 July 2016: I wasn't gone long, but--as always--it's lovely to come home to this crew. Not a great picture, but I think it looks like a mock-up for their first album cover. I am getting an indie-pop vibe.

Graduation party

17 July 2016: As I mentioned earlier, Kelsie's graduation party was on Sunday. Hard to believe she's heading off to college. She's a good kid and celebrating her achievement was definitely the day's good thing.

Chinese food...

16 July 2016: Saturday found me driving up to NY for my niece's graduation party on Sunday (more about that later). On Saturday night, we got Chinese food from this take-out place that's been in my hometown as long as I can remember. And the place basically looks just like I remember. And the food was as good as I remember. Lots of memories came back, most of them good ones.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Morning walk...

15 July 2016: Another hot one today, so I got my walk in early, spending over an hour down by the C&O Canal. It was pretty sticky already, but pleasant overall and a good way to start the day.

Pushing papers...

14 July 2016: Since late April, I have had this little bit of paperwork involving my role as Sigma Tau Delta advisor hanging over my head. Because taking care of it would involve lots of piddling little steps and take much more time than it deserved (including visits to multiple offices on campus), I kept putting it off. But this was silly since seeing it there, waiting to be done, caused me a bit of anxiety. On Thursday, I just did it. Got it done. And it feels pretty good!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Meeting Baby Isla

13 July 2016: Finally met this little one today. She's so tiny! And (so far) Krista sees okay with having her around.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A packed house

12 July 2016: Today I had the honor of being part of this discussion, a public forum entitled "A Global Perspective on Advocacy and Human Rights." To tell the truth, I was a bit nervous about it, but we had a packed house and an important (urgent) discussion. The men on stage with me are just awe-inspiring individuals and the audience was warm and receptive. I was particularly moved by Carlos Mejia's comment that he asked himself every day, "How can I show up, be present, and show my humanity?" So simple and profound. We all have a lot of work to do to take care of ourselves, but this event gave me hope.

Update: a news story about the event. Kind of (very) relieved that there aren't any sound bites from yours truly.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Extinct Hockey

11 July 2016: I am who I am. Here's another podcast-centered "good thing": the "Extinct Hockey" episode of Surprisingly Awesome.

One last butterfly

10 July 2016: One of my favorite things about the house we rented in Durham was the butterfly bushes all over which did their job better than any butterfly bushes I've ever seen. Right before my friends and I got in our cars and headed our separate ways, I snapped this last picture.

Fancy hats

9 July 2016: This house we rented in Durham was perfect: beautiful grounds (complete with walking trails and gardens), four bedrooms, a gorgeous sun-room, a hot tub, and just about anything else you could ask for. And some stuff that you wouldn't dream these hats.

Reunion Time!

8 July 2016: Friday's good thing is Cranium, a game I actually hadn't played in a couple of years. BUt I played it on Friday night, the first day of a reunion in Durham with four of my best friends from grad school. We all got to the house we rented around 4:00, settled in, went out to dinner, barely made it back before the skies opened with some fantastic storms, and spent the rest of the night playing Cranium and laughing until it hurt.


7 July 2016: Thursday was another frustrating day in a saga I haven't written about yet (and probably won't 'cause I just need to move on--the absolutely awful service I received from Best Buy after purchasing some appliances from them. The short version: they ruined Tuesday through Thursday with their incompetence, forcing me to spend hours on the phone and multiple days stuck home waiting for delayed deliveries and other appointments that never happened.

One bright spot in that day that helped me stay relatively sane: the Fun Home cast recording. I really dug into "Maps" on Thursday, thinking about its message of trying to get a sense of your narrative vs. the narratives you've been told.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Email from a student

6 July 2016: Today's good thing comes from an email from a former student. An art major, she took my core curriculum Survey of American Literature in her last semester (this past spring). I always say that this course is one of my favorites to teach because of the material and the students; they are rarely English majors, so my job is to get them excited about American literature, see that it matters, and see that they have something to say about it. And it usually works. This email provided some more validation. She also included an attachment--a quotation she came across that she thought I would like. She was right.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Isla Ainsley

5 July 2016: Look who made her appearance a bit early and quite quickly today:my new niece, Isla Ainsley (Erin's baby).

Monday, July 4, 2016

"All Will Be Well" (The Sequel)

4 July 2016: Sort of a weird, gloomy day here. As I was stewing in some sadness, this song came on Pandora. It's a song that I've called upon lots of time when I am feeling down, as evidenced by this post from nearly two years ago. And yeah, I felt a bit better when I heard it today, too.

Family selfies

3 July 2016: Spent some time with these folks, which is certainly a good thing.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Still Life with Apples"

2 July 2016: For our last morning in NYC, we stopped by MOMA, a place I hadn't been in a very long time--and certainly the last time I was there, I didn't appreciate its varied treasures. I want to pick one work to highlight here as the "good thing," and have gone through so many options even while writing this post, but I am going to go with C├ęzanne's "Still Life With Apples."

NYC: Day Two

1 July 2016: Lots of things to pick from here for today's "good thing": a visit the new Freedom Tower complete with an unbelievable elevator ride to the its sweeping panoramic views, some great meals, seeing a pretty great production of The Crucible, miraculously just barely avoiding both long lines and rain. I am going to pick a quieter moment: Tim and I sitting in Central Park and people watching. It's a cliche, but it's true: you know you are really good friends with someone when you can just sit there and be yourself and do nothing.

Fun Home

30 June 2016: [Some catching-up posts here as I was out of town...]

Thursday marked the beginning of my mini-vacation to NYC with Tim. We hopped the bus up to the city, arriving in time to check in to the hotel, change quickly, and grab some dinner (at a great place with a fantastic name: "Little Steamed Bun Ramen") before the highlight of our trip--the whole reason for the trip, in fact: seeing Fun Home.

Guys: Fun Home is amazing. I found myself seeing the original book in new ways, found myself laughing, thinking really deeply, and, yeah, crying. Just amazing. Below is Sydney Lucas's performance of the number that gets the most love (with good reason): "Ring of Keys." We didn't see Lucas (she has moved onto other roles), but the little girl we did see, Gabriella Pizzolo, was phenomenal.