Sunday, December 31, 2017

A year of "listening"

31 December 2017: "I've decided to very actively embrace winter in Indiana...So the sky is the color of blank paper and it makes me want to die. But it also means that owls are easier to spot." --Susan, a Reply All listener.

P.J. and Alex, the Reply All hosts, first spoke with Susan a year ago, in their year-end show. She was going through a hard time then and was hoping that 2017 would be better. So for 2017's year-end show, they called her up to check in. The decision she describes above--to embrace what seems harsh and difficult and find beauty or purpose in it--really spoke to me.

You see, in addition to all the usual end-of-the-year brooding I always do, I've been thinking about this blog and the "listening" theme (which culminates with this post). Three-hundred-sixty-five posts about something interesting I heard each day. What did I learn? What did I gain? What purpose did it serve? I am still working out the answers to all of that--and trying to figure out what to do in 2018 as far as this blog goes. I have enjoyed the ritual of doing something every day, so I will keep that up the best I can.

But back to this post and Susan: I was listening to this episode while taking a freezing cold walk down by the river today. And in addition to thinking about everything above, I was thinking about how different everything looks down there this time of year versus spring or summer. Honestly, I don't like most of it, preferring green trees and such. But there was beauty to be found: a cardinal standing out among the bare branches, a bluebird against the dusting of snow we got yesterday, the drifts of ice on the water. So I was trying to see all of that--trying to see beauty even when there is lots going on internally and externally to bring me down.

And then I heard Susan, whose circumstances sound more challenging than mine (she's living in a cold trailer, for instance)--talk about embracing winter and looking for owls. Like a lot of the posts I've written this year, it was a moment where listening made me feel connected to someone, even someone I don't know and will never know.

Things are tough out there. It's been a rough year. But the "listening" theme made me slow down, look for insight and beauty from others, and remember that we are connected. For all of that, I am grateful.

Tonight I've got some of my favorite people in the world coming over. We'll ring in 2018 together and for that, I am very grateful, too.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


30 December 2017: "What is the value of having a jungle camo suit in the fucking sky?" --Tara Ariano on this week's Extra Hot Great, discussing the ridiculous Nightman. 

First real "snow day" of the year here (nothing too major--just enough to make a slightly anxious driver like myself stay home). Since the forecast was pretty spot-on, I had planned in advance to clean the bathrooms (yay...) and do some other "stuck in the house stuff." I had also saved this episode of Extra Hot Great to listen to while I toiled away. Tara's line legit made me do a spit-take as I took a sip of water. EHG is just so great, even when they are discussing shows I will never watch.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Keeping me humble...

29 December 2017:

Five year old niece: [cuddles up to me, grabs my hand] Tante Heidi?
Me: Yes?
Niece: I loooove.... [Very long pause. I prepare for a sweet moment...] ...this watch!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"They All Laughed"

28 December 2017:
"They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said, 'The world was round.'
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
When they said that man could fly.
They told Marconi
Wireless was a phony.
It's the same old cry.
They laughed at me wantin' you.
Said I was reaching for the moon.
But oh, you came through." --Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong, "They All Laughed"

I don't think I had heard this charming little song before, but on a cold, quiet, and kind of moody day, it made me smile.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Lodging: A Complaint"

27 December 2017: "You have some issues that...keep you from growing past this problem, which is what you need to do." --Judge Hodgman, on this episode of his podcast. It's pretty terrific and classic Judge John Hodgman: funny, complicated, and sweet.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Driving music...

26 December 2017:
"In my heart I've got it straight in my head.
I mean everything I think I just said.
If I never stop loving you,
Will you never start wanting me to?
Say you won't and that's what I'll do,
For forever with a heart so true.
If you'll start and end everyday
Forever never wanting me to go away,
All I'm ever gonna always do
Is never stop loving you." --David Kersh, "If I Never Stop Loving You"

Heard this one while driving back from NY today. Hadn't listened to it in a long time and found myself charmed by it again. It made the tail-end of a long drive a bit more pleasant.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 2017

25 December 2017: "The hands of the Almighty are so often to be found at the ends of our own arms." --Sister Monica Joan, on this year's Call the Midwife holiday special.

Another terrific holiday special capping off a pretty darn nice Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve

24 December 2017: "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'" --Luke 2:10

There is so much to love, analyze, and ponder about the Christmas Gospel, but this year, I found real comfort in the angel's assurance that the shepherds need not be afraid.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

"The Holiday Coping Mechanism Spectacular"

23 December 2017: "Sometimes I just make a list of people that I know would want me to get through the holidays. I don't even have to know them...but I know that Oprah would want me to get through the holidays." --Jen Kirkman, on this wonderfully helpful (and funny) episode of The Hilarious World of Depression.

What a gift this podcast has been this year, right down to me listening to it today on my drive up to NY. The realization was enough to make me make a donation to it right before writing this post.

Friday, December 22, 2017

"Try Me"

22 December 2017:

"Try me, try me.
Darlin' tell me
I need you.
Try me, try me,
And your love will always be true." --James Brown, "Try Me"

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"Christmas in the Car"

21 December 2017: "Oh, look, it came out in 22 minutes! Oh, it's a preemie just like Jesus." --Linda, about her Dutch Baby, in the "Christmas in the Car" episode of Bob's Burgers.

Trying to get into the spirit and this episode--one of my favorites--is helping a bit.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"The Botanist"

20 December 2017: "I wish we were, Phoebe. I'd like to know you." --Jane H. Bock, talking to Phoebe Judge, the host of Criminal, towards the end of an episode about Bock's work in forensic botany. Phoebe had just told Bock she would edit the podcast to sound like they were in the same room talking.

This evening, as I was taking my walk, I found myself thinking about about relationships of all kinds and just feeling twinges of melancholy, the kind that sometimes hit you during the holiday season and all of the end-of-the-year reflecting it brings with it. You know...those "another year is over and this is where/who/what I am?" thoughts. So this moment in the podcast stood out to me.

Their exchange wasn't related to the subject of the episode proper (which is fascinating on it's own--seriously: give it a listen). Moreover, it is also the kind of thing you never really hear on podcasts--a "behind the curtain" glimpse that the producers usually cut but this time chose to leave in. I immediately found myself wondering why.

Whatever their reasons, I am grateful for that brief exchange and what it represented: two people who don't know each other but who realize they admire each other and feel connected and fond of each other, facilitated through this weird medium. And I realized again why I love the medium so much--because I am a part of it, too. I don't know Phoebe or her guests and I probably never will. But there is just something so intimate and wonderful about listening to these shows and feeling like the people who make them are a new type of friend.

It didn't cure those melancholic twinges, but did alleviate them a bit. Good enough. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"All I Ever Wanted"

19 December 2017:

"Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
with you,
was all." --from "All I Ever Wanted," by Katie Ford

You can always find sigh-worthy gems at the Academy of American Poets page (with audio clips, too).

Monday, December 18, 2017

A welcome reminder...

18 December 2017: "Well, there could be more to it..." --my friend Carrie, responding to something judge-y I had said about some people we know. She didn't mean to chastise me or anything--she was just making a point. I am keeping the details vague here, of course, but wanted to post about it because it was a good reminder that I should pause sometimes before sharing something a bit nasty.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Last Jedi

17 December 2017: "That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love." --Rose, in The Last Jedi

Really dug this lovely message from the film. It is amazing that this film (and Rogue One and Coco, to just name a few) were basically done before the last election was decided. But each of them has, in different ways, provided such good advice for our resistance. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Wild Geese"

16 December 2017:

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things." --Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"

These words are particularly welcome today.

Friday, December 15, 2017


15 December 2017: “Well, she’s happy.” –Amy, at dinner tonight, talking about a former student who we bumped into earlier. She said this in response to my comment that she (the student) looked lovely. Since graduation, though this student hasn’t yet landed any kind of dream job, she has gotten engaged (to someone who seems wonderful) and just seems to be thriving. So yeah: it’s pretty clear that happiness can make you glow. So nice to see…

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"The Mother"

14 December 2017:
"Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind.
You're tethered to another and you're worried all the time.
You always knew the melody, but you never heard it right..." --Brandi Carlile, "The Mother"

Just spent over an hour on the phone with my sister talking about, among other things, how hard it is to be a mother. At least that was my take-away, as I listened with awed empathy of everything she does and feels for her kids.

Anyway, I had a tab open in my browser for this new track from Brandi Carlile, complete with a video of her singing it to her little girl. Turned out to be the perfect complement to that conversation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


13 December 2017: “My eyes just burning. Ain’t nobody crying.” --Nuris Bigelow, after voting for the first time. More stories like this one here. Still filled with giddy joy over last night's victory.

Fall 2017 Grading: DONE!

I can't remember the last time I finished grading this early in an exam week, but I ain't complaining! It helped that my ENGL 421 class didn't have a final exam. If they did, I would have been giving that exam on Friday.

It's been a very busy semester--so much going on with teaching, research, portfolio-assembling, and oodles of committee work. But it's done. (Mostly? Except a big old meeting next week...) (And break is super-short this year...)

Nevertheless, for now, commence chair-dancing!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

12 December 2017: "It's family game night." --Jake to Rosa, on this week's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as he and the whole squad show up at her apartment.

I think I have been extra emotional lately, but this line--and the entire ending scene of this episode--make me really tear up.  

Monday, December 11, 2017


11 December 2017: "I wanted to show you this gem I found." --a student in my ENGL 204 class, taking out a two-volume edition of The Marble Faun from the 1880s that he found at a used bookstore last weekend.

So much about this charmed me. The student is non-traditional, a computer-science major, a veteran, and if you were prone to stereotypes, not the kind of person you think would be roaming used book stores and buying copies of lesser-known Hawthorne novels. But I learned long ago that these kinds of students can be the most interesting and dynamic students in a class. They are almost always hard workers, too, with such insightful readings and a passion for important cultural conversations. And he was excited enough that he carried them to campus (on the day of his final exam!) to show them to me.

Beyond that, the books themselves were lovely and (most charming of all?) had a hand-written note inside volume one, from someone giving them to her cousins for Christmas well over 100 years ago. Kind of magical, I think.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Big Parade"

10 December 2017:
"Lovely girl won't you stay, won't you stay, stay with me.
All my life I was blind, I was blind, now I see." --The Lumineers, "Big Parade"

Saturday, December 9, 2017


9 December 2017:
"Remember me, each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I'm with you, the only way that I can be
Until you're in my arms again, remember me..." --"Remember Me," from Coco

I mean, I am just going to embrace that I am more and more of a movie-crier with each passing day. I welled up within the first five minutes of Coco, but really lost it when the spirits started crossing the flower petal bridges. So lovely and moving.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Okay, then...

8 December 2017: "No. I hate men." --a student in my ENGL 312 class joking (sort of) in response to my question about whether any of them were considering writing about masculinity in their final exam essays. It made me laugh out loud, as did a later student's comment that she is "happy to take on the patriarchy" in her essay.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Confidence building...

7 December 2017: "That's right: I said, 'We need to be whales.'" --Julia, one of my former students, reminiscing with Katie, another former student, about how she used to get them to feel confident in stressful situations.

Apparently, when Katie would get nervous, she would shake a bit and Julia called her a Pekingese. Instead, she said, be like a whale--just float and don't be afraid of anything.

I caught up with these two delightful young women at a dinner at another former student's house. Wonderful company, wonderful conversation. And I especially loved hearing about how they playfully supported each other through rough patches.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Finishing up "The Bible as Literature"

6 December 2017: "It's really telling that some of the images are fantastical like beasts and dragons and then you have a prostitute and a bride." --a student in my Bible as Literature class, responding to the apocalyptic imagery in Revelation. She also made the point that while it might have been harder for readers to imagine a dragon or a beast covered with eyes (two images in the book), the female images are much more accessible.

It was fascinating to realize that, after a semester of studying the Bible, in Revelation we find ourselves with two very classic representations of woman in the end: the pure bride and the corrupt whore. The is a very clever and complete system.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Nobel Adjacent...

5 December 2017: "Blows me away every time..." --my friend Jeff, who gave a presentation today on this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology. This quotation is him reflecting on some work he did with one of the scientists who won the big prize, adding "normal" genes back to flies and seeing the next generation go back to normal. (More complicated than I am making it seem here, I promise!) What I loved about this moment was how he paused a bit before he said it and his voice caught a bit when he did. I am grateful every time I get to see my friends in the sciences talk about their work, especially when their delight and awe shines through.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Teaching "Drown"

4 December 2017: "Drowning is don't have control over it, like the economic and cultural forces he feels." --a student in my ENGL 204 class, answering the question I always ask them about this Junot Diaz story: why is it called "Drown"?

Like the story we talked about on Friday, "Drown" is another piece I love, but one I came this close to dropping this semester. It's such a downer for a last piece and I am not sure I ever teach it well enough. But this, they hit it out of the park. The student quoted above put into words what I often struggle to articulate myself.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Welcome to Hell"

3 December 2017: "My dad gave me a pink gun so...there's a lot there." --Saoirse Ronan in this SNL digital short. It's funny but also depressing...

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lady Bird

2 December 2017: “Don’t you think they are the same thing? Love and attention?” --Sister Sarah Joan, in Lady Bird.

Man, this movie is terrific. And while there were many lines that really floored me, this is the one that I can't stop thinking about.

This time it worked?

1 December 2017: "It's like she knows she wants something, thinks it might be him, but then realizes it isn't, so she's still looking." --an ENGL 204 student responding to Jhumpa Lahiri's "Sexy."

I almost dropped this story when I was writing the syllabus for this semester. I love it, but sometimes it just doesn't work as well as I want it to in a 204 class, as I blogged about here at this point last semester. But yesterday was the best it's ever gone teaching that story. The students were so smart and sensitive about it. What a treat that discussion was.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


30 November 2017: "Once you stand up, it's hard to believe you ever didn't." --one of my very best students, a co-panelist with me today at a discussion of "Women in West Virginia," talking about her involvement with activism after the election.

Look, I can (and did) pontificate for way too long about what we need to do to make things right, but wow: these students give me such pride and so much hope. They got this.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Idiom humor...

29 November 2017: " it 'nip it in the bud' or 'nip it in the butt'?" --my friend Eva, a non-native English speaker, at lunch today.

And let me be clear: she is absolutely fluent in English--and German and Spanish--it's just the idioms that she asks about sometimes. We had some good laughs at her question, of course. And there are ways that "nip it in the butt" also makes sense.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sweet validation...

28 November 2017: "I do agree with you." --my friend, Liz, in a conversation tonight. She called me because I needed some advice and validation (on something kind of trivial, I'll admit). Sometimes that kind of validation, paired with a good old rant, is just what you need.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"No Name Woman"

27 November 2017: "It's like how sometimes we don't want to remember bad things we've done. The story makes them remember what they want to forget." --a student in my ENGL 204 class, talking about the "No Name Woman" section of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior.

I had asked the class (more than once), "Why does Kingston tell this story, even when her mother tells her not to?" Student answers usually include catharsis and (really important) ideas about telling a story as a way of understanding. This student's particular answer, though, was a sort of new one for me and made me think of monuments to painful or tragic moments/places. It added another dimension to the way I think about this piece.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"The Very Thought of You"

26 November 2017:

"The mere idea of you, the longing here for you
You'll never know how slow the moments go till I'm near to you
I see your face in every flower, your eyes in stars above
It's just the thought of you, the very thought of you, my love" --Nat King Cole, "The Very Thought of You"

Quiet, broody, wistful Sunday contemplations...

Saturday, November 25, 2017


"We all have marks on our face...This is the map that shows us where we've been and it's never, ever ugly." --Isabel, to Auggie, in Wonder

Saw this very sweet film today. It's a lot--really too good to be true, but it was nice to see people ultimately being kind to people on screen for two hours.

Friday, November 24, 2017

"One Flight Down"

24 November 2017:

"One flight down
There's a song on low
And your mind just picked up on the sound
Now you know that you're wrong
Because it drifts like smoke
And it's been there playing all along
Now you know" --Norah Jones, "One Flight Down"

Thanksgiving 2017

23 November 2017: "Give me a stack of 10,000 Bibles and I will swear it on them!" --my brother Christian, defending his dubious story about how Todd the Rabbit, who lived with us for years and years, came to be a part of the family. For the record, Christian swears a woman rang the doorbell and said, "There's a rabbit in your yard." Of course, he was working at a vet at the time, so the story is fishy...

Anyway, a nice holiday at my sister's house, especially when we found ourselves laughing about good times.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

"An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal"

22 November 2017:

Gene: “Which are the ladyparts?”
Tina: “The vagina and the heart.”

Last night as I settled into my visit home for Thanksgiving, I re-watched this classic episode of Bob's Burgers. And the lines above made me chortle. Ah, wise!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"That’s why I don’t want to stop talking..."

21 November 2017: "That’s why something more needs to happen from this. That’s why there needs to be a next step, for other people’s voices to be heard, people that don’t have a platform." --Katherine Kendall

This conversation between Slate's Julia Turner and three women who were harassed by Harvey Weinstein is just riveting. So worth listening to for so many reasons: the harrowing accounts of their run-ins with him, the effects that each encounter had on them (for years), the way they comfort and relate to each other (even just the gasps and sighs in the background as they listened to each other are moving), their ideas for moving forward.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

20 November 2017: "Grace O'Malley is my favorite!" --my niece, Krista, thanking me for getting her this book for her birthday.

She's a super-smart and kind of weird kid (my favorite kind!), so it makes me very happy to know she likes the book. My sister says she carries it around with her and that they burn through about three stories a night.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Art with friends...

19 November 2017: "Guys, we had a day!" --my good buddy, Hannah, towards the end of a very satisfying trip to DC.

Sylvia Plath at the National Portrait Gallery, Vermeer at the National Gallery of Art, and Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn. A fun day with these two lovely people!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Book of Mormon

18 November 2017:

"When you start to get confused
Because of thoughts in your head
Don't feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead
Turn it off, like a light switch
Just go click!" --"Turn it Off," from The Book of Mormon, which Jane and I saw today.

I mean, I know I am about 7 years late to this game, but wow, what a fun show: hilarious and weirdly moving. I could have picked many songs to quote, but this one really made me laugh, especially as we are heading into the holiday season and all kinds of "everything's okay" compulsions kick in!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Logos/The Word

17 November 2017: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." --John 1: 1-5.

We discussed this passage in my Bible as Literature class today and I found myself both moved and fascinated by it, particularly the concept of Logos.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Sleep on the Floor"

16 November 2017:
"Pack yourself a toothbrush dear
Pack yourself a favorite blouse
Take a withdrawal slip, take all of your savings out
Cause if we don't leave this town
We might never make it out
I was not born to drown, baby come on" --The Lumineers, "Sleep on the Floor"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Overheard in the hallway...

15 November 2017: "Well, let's get through it. We can do it." --a student in the hallway, giving a mini pep-talk to her peers about some assignment they were working on together.

These are stressful weeks in any semester--Thanksgiving break is almost upon us and everyone (students and teachers) is feeling the crunch of deadlines. In the midst of my own stressful morning, it made me smile to hear this student being so helpful, pragmatic, and positive. And it was an overheard lesson I needed to hear.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"The Joke"

14 November 2017:

"Let 'em laugh while they can
Let 'em spin, let 'em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I've seen how it ends
And the joke's on them." --Brandi Carlile, "The Joke"

Heard this brand-new song for the first time yesterday, but really got to think about the lyrics today. Just wonderful.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Potential advertising slogan?

13 November 2017: "Three servings of vegetables and a kick in the face!" --a student in my ENGL 312 class, in response to my surprise over the existence of a V8 Energy drink.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mike Schur, national treasure...

12 November 2017: "Wind chimes! I hear wind chimes! Everyone look away. I'm gonna watch but everyone else, look away." --Eleanor on the last episode of The Good Place until 2018. The joke makes no sense without seeing the episode, but it made me chuckle and was such an Eleanor thing to say.

I spent part of today catching up on the shows that have been stacking up on my DVR over these past few hectic weeks, including The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, both Mike Schur shows. This guy and his crew consistently deliver such gems that make life brighter.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"You Might Think"

11 November 2017:

"But I think that you're wild
When you flash that fragile smile

You might think it's foolish
What you put me through.
You might think you might think I'm crazy
All I want but all I want is you." --The Cars, "You Might Think"

Fun song for a fun day. Finished up the Philadelphia trip and headed home. Spent the evening playing Pandemic and hanging out with good people. Chilling with my cat crew now. No complaints.

Friday, November 10, 2017


10 November 2017: "While Supergirl can support and actively encourage her sister’s journey toward self-acceptance and same-sex romance, she herself must remain viably heterosexual in a genre that still demands that superheroines are not only capable, but also desirable." --an excerpt from a really interesting presentation I heard today. I have admitted to really enjoying this progressive, heart-on-its-sleeve, not-at-all-subtle show, but this analysis is so intriguing. So I am grateful for getting the chance to hear this presentation.

A good day in Philadelphia overall, with conferencing in the first part of the day and fun non-conference-y stuff in the second part of the day.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


9 November 2017: "...a limited role that places her in our expanded fridge..." --an excerpt from a presentation I heard today at the MAPACA conference. I hadn't heard of this trope before, but it is fascinating as was the paper about it.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Yup. It exists.

8 November 2017: "It should be 'Billy Bob's Bible Blog.'" --a student in my Bible as Literature class, after I used what I thought was a made-up reference to a non-academic source. ("You can't use 'Billy Bob's Bible Site,'" I said. Then, after the student suggested the obviously better silly name, I said to them all, "I bet it already exists."

And yeah: it does. (Google it--I don't want to link back to it...)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"A Kiss To Build a Dream On"

7 November 2017:

"And when I'm alone with my fancies, I'll be with you
Weaving romances, making believe they're true..." --Louis Armstrong, "A Kiss To Build a Dream On"

A rainy day here, not that I am complaining too much. Didn't get to get my walk in, but did get a lot of other work accomplished. In the midst of some of that work, this song came on and charmed me, as it always does.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Yeah..that's it...

6 November 2017: "The thing they don't tell you growing up about life is this: life--it's every single day."  --comedian Gary Gulman explaining why it can be so hard to get out of bed sometimes, on this episode of The Hilarious World of Depression. 

I listened to this episode this morning while getting ready and heard this particular segment as I walked through one of my favorite parts of campus, my filled with thoughts about how much there is I would like to fix in the world, both locally and globally. I've been sort of struggling to articulate just what Gulman says here (and listen to the clip--it is also funny when/how he says it) so I was moved and relieved to hear him say it so well. Life is just...a lot sometimes, isn't it?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Sit Me Baby One More Time"

5 November 2017: "We're stronger if we stick our crotches together." --Zeke, on tonight's episode of Bob's Burgers. Believe it or not, this line was kind of sweet. This show remains as charming as ever and such a welcome bit of levity every Sunday night.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Another conference in the books...

4 November 2017: "A woman of promise does the best at whatever she chooses to do." --the fantastic Lois Jarman, the keynote speaker at the regional conference our Sigma Tau Delta chapter hosted today. Lois was quoting one of her undergraduate teachers who set her straight after a young Lois confessed to feeling like she let her down by getting married and having a child instead of going right to law school. "I failed you," she had confessed to her teacher. "I was supposed to be a 'woman of promise!'" Her teacher's response? Fantastic!

This is the sixth time I have been the faculty sponsor for one of these conferences. Every time they are exhausting. But they also make you so darn proud of your students. Every one of the students involved this year is a woman. And they are all women of promise.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Next stop, the Gospel of Matthew...

3 November 2017: "It's been..a ride" --one of the students in my Bible as Literature class, responding to my question, "So what are you thinking as we finish up our discussion of the Hebrew Bible?" Her classmates laughed and nodded in agreement. (We are moving onto the New Testament next week.)

For me, teaching this course so far has been just fascinating, making me rethink so many aspects of this book that has been so formative to who I am. It's also been fascinating to see and hear students talk about their own experiences. I am eager to see how the last third of the class goes as we move into the New Testament.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Such Great Heights"

2 November 2017:

"And I have to speculate
That God himself did make us
Into corresponding shapes
Like puzzle pieces from the clay

And true it may seem like a stretch
But it's thoughts like this that catch
My troubled head when you're away
When I am missing you to death." --The Postal Service, "Such Great Heights"

A quiet if weirdly busy day today, but a good one. Lots of time for contemplatin' stuff and this song seemed to fit that mood. It was actually the Iron and Wine version I heard today (that really fit the mood!), so that's the one I'll link to below.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Take a breath...

1 November 2017: "But I don't want to go 40!" --one of my best and brightest students today, in response to my trying to tell her to go a bit easy on herself, take a breath, and rest. Just before the comment above, I told her, "You've been going 80 miles an hour since you got here [two years ago]. You've been superb. But now it's okay to go 40 for a bit."

Man, do I see a lot my overachieving, type-A self in this young lady. She just wants to be done and stop for a bit, but also can't bear to give less than 100%.

The entire conversation was a good reminder to keep an eye on my over-achieving students, too. Some risk running themselves ragged or not letting "good enough" be good enough. At another point in our conversation (about a paper she needs to write for my class), I said, "And you'll do a great job," thinking I was being helpful. (Students love to hear you believe in them, right?) Her response? "Don't say that!" What I saw was that expecting nothing but the best from her was only adding to her stress.

So we took some breaths and talked about how to get her on the road to feeling a bit better. There's more I need to do, but at least we got started...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Handle with Care"

31 October 2017:

"Been beat up and battered 'round
Been sent up, and I've been shot down
You're the best thing that I've ever found
Handle me with care

Reputations changeable
Situations tolerable
Baby, you're adorable
Handle me with care" --The Travelling Wilbury's, "Handle with Care"

The latest episode of Hit Parade, which I listened to today while I mowed the lawn, talked about this song a bit. It's one I've always loved.

Some Halloween pics...

Bing loves costumes. He kept this one on all day. 

TFW you are the only one dressed up but you don't care because you know you look good. 

With my friends Jeff and Carol (a man and his beer) at trivia tonight. 

Monday, October 30, 2017


30 October 2017: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” --Jonah 4: 2-3

We talked about the book of Jonah in the "Bible as Lit" class today and, as a student read them out loud, I found myself especially interested in these lines from near the book's conclusion. Here Jonah is angry that God has been merciful to the people of Ninevah. It's an astounding moment, a late-in-the-text revelation of just why Jonah (maybe) ran away at the start of the book.

On reflection, it's worth thinking about times I have felt this way--angry about good things happening to people who don't seem to deserve it. God's response--basically asking Jonah "who do you think you are?--is a nice reminder to be humble and grateful for anyone who receives grace. Lord knows I am more blessed than I deserve.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Unanticipated questions...

29 October 2017: "Have we talked yet about the smell in Dollar General?" Amy asked me this question today as we were driving back from grabbing dinner after working on a conference presentation. My response: "No, but let's!"

Saturday, October 28, 2017

"This Awful Side of Me"

28 October 2017: "We do not have adequate language to cover everything we need to say or do or talk about." --Sarah, the grandmother in this fantastic episode of Nancy

Friday, October 27, 2017

Snake stories...

27 October 2017: "See: this is why you don't go to a hobo tent." --a student in my 312 class, quoting her mother, who said this memorable line to her child after she went "exploring" in the woods by her house and accidentally put her hand on a snake. Said child ran back home screaming. And yes: apparently there was a "hobo tent" where they were exploring.

This was just one of the snake stories students felt compelled to share in the closing minutes of our class today, while we rushed through a discussion of "A narrow Fellow in the Grass."

People love sharing snake stories. Here's another gem: "Senior year, my teacher told us not to eat in the classroom or snakes would come out of the ceiling." WHAT???

Thursday, October 26, 2017


26 October 2017: "I want to grab people by the heart and soul and given them a good shake...Imagery is a really effective tool for doing this." --John Amos, from SkyTruth, speaking at the Humanities and the Environment Symposium.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A little Millay...

25 October 2017:

"Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would." --Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Love Is Not All" (Sonnet 30)

You can sort of see the ending of this poem coming from the start--you realize that it probably will turn its back on its title. The real tension (filled with a kind of anticipatory pleasure) is finding out how it will happen. And that line does it so effortlessly. (Makes me think of this song/post, too.)

Listen to a nice reading here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


24 October 2017: "Do you like my little lie?" --the narrator's father on this episode of Strangers. 

I started this episode this morning while getting ready and quickly found myself riveted. Though I kind of sensed the plot twist coming, I didn't see the real twist--the meditations on the father's character and on justice. It's definitely worth a listen.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Deconstruction, again...

23 October 2017: "It seems like an a-hole's way of doing criticism." --a student in my ENGL 301 class, talking about deconstruction. She's not entirely wrong.

It's worth remembering that at this point last semester, a student was sharing another precious insight into deconstruction.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


22 October 2017: "So don't you worry your pretty little mind. / People throw rocks at things that shine." --Taylor Swift, "Ours"

Other than generally wishing her well and being impressed by her success, I don't have strong feelings about Taylor Swift. But I've always loved this song and the lines above may be among the best she has ever written. (The video, featuring Matt Saracen, is sweet, too.)

Today was a good day that just made me happy, so this song, that achieves the same effect, work for today's post.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Real vs. feeling real...

21 October 2017:  “Is there a difference in the end in something being real and something feeling real? Not for me when I am inside it.” --John Green on The Hilarious World of Depression.

I know I post about this podcast a lot, but it so consistently features smart and moving insights on artists/creators and their struggles. I just love it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

American Vandal

20 October 2017: "Tank Top Todd can back me up." --one of the million lines from American Vandal that made me laugh out loud. What a treat this series is!

BabyCat agrees/is accurately represented.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The (Other) (First) Washington Monument

19 October 2017: "He'll lead a blind person into a beehive." --Amy talking about Vosco (the new Guiding Eyes puppy she is raising) today on our visit the the original Washington Monument in Middletown, Maryland.

I mean, right now, she isn't wrong about the little guy. He is a bundle of pure energy. And that comment made me chortle. It's so fun and interesting to see them interact and see him grow, learn, and change. I couldn't do half of what she does for him.

As for the monument, it's kind of cool. I can't believe it took me over ten years to actually go there. (Amy, too: she had never been there, though she moved to the area a year after me.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"A Rose for [Named Redacted]"

18 October 2017: "I think I have the sass." --a [male] student, comparing himself to Emily in Faulkner's famous story. He isn't wrong.

Once again, they make me laugh.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sliding x...

17 October 2017: "I've been watching videos about self-rescue with a sliding x." --my friend/former student, Katie, quoting her ex-boyfriend in a recent conversation they had.

They are still friendly and dealing with their recent decision to go their separate ways. They are both into climbing were each other's frequent climbing partners. Katie assures me that climbers would know what those terms in the quotation mean. But come on: separated climbing partners/members of couple, figuring out how to function alone, and something called a "sliding x"? It's almost too much. She says they both realized as soon as he said it what a gem it was. Another example of how poetry finds us, right?

Monday, October 16, 2017

When an "A" is more than an "A"

16 October 2017: "You don't know how long I've been trying to get an A on an English paper." --one of my hardest working students today, getting her midterm essay back and seeing she earned a 90 on it. The thing is, I do know how hard she's worked and how much this would mean to her. That's why I was so thrilled to write that grade on her essay.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Women's health event...

15 October 2017: "Back then, you starting getting one [a pap smear] the first time you looked at a guy." --the fabulous Anna Kent, who led this fantastic event sponsored by Women for Shepherd University today. She was talking about how policies and procedures have changed over the years as part of a larger discussion about what you should expect from your health care professional at any age. Anna was really wonderful--informed, reassuring, hilarious, and just perfect.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


14 October 2017:

"The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
         my home is where we make our meeting-place,
         and love whatever I shall touch and read
         within that face.

Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
         peace to look, life to listen and confess,
         freedom to find to find to find
         that nakedness." --Muriel Rukeyser, "Song ('The World is Full of Loss')"

Heard this poem on my walk tonight and listened to a couple of times. Quite lovely.

Midterm Grading: Done!

Submitted my last set of midterm grades at around 6:15 today.

Cue chair dancing, this time a 90s country hit that always makes me happy.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The best thing...

13 October 2017: "My brother's lizard pooped on my dad and he called the lizard an a-hole." --a student in my ENGL 312 class in response to the last "reading quiz" question I gave them today. The question was this: "What is the best thing that has happened this week?"

Look, these students are stressed and tired this week. It's midterm week, after all. So as I was writing their reading quiz, I felt like I should throw them this bone--a freebie of sorts that might make them smile a bit before we got down to business. I forced them to think about something--anything--that wasn't bad or stressful.

And I think it worked. Their answers were sweet, hilarious, and just fun. Everything from "I had pancakes for breakfast every morning" to "My friend called me when I was having a bad day at just the right moment" to "I took a nap yesterday." I shared all the answers with the class, too.

And the obvious bonus? I loved it, too.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Turn to Stone"

12 October 2017:

"I know that I am nothing new.
There's so much more than me and you.
But brother how we must atone
Before we turn to stone." --Ingrid Michaelson, "Turn to Stone"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When you go on a little rant...

11 October 2017: "So that's what nightmares are." --a student in my ENGL 312 class, responding to a mini-rant on went on about other students not following instructions. It made me laugh and also kind of listen to my own ridiculousness--often a good thing to do for some perspective.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Twin Beds in Rome"

"The Maples had talked and thought about separation so long, it seemed it would never come. For their conversations, increasingly ambivalent and ruthless, as accusation, retraction, blow, and caress alternated and canceled, had the final effect of knitting them ever tighter together in a painful, helpless, degrading intimacy...Bleeding, mangled, reverently laid in its tomb a dozen times, their marriage could not die. Burning to leave one another, they left, out of marital habit, together. They took a trip to Rome." --the opening paragraph from John Updike's "Twin Beds in Rome"

Four posts in a row from New Yorker fiction podcasts! I will have to find something different for tomorrow as I have burned through my stash, but man...this is a great story. A fantastic portrait of marriage.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"The Surrogate"

9 October 2017: “Which just goes to show that you mustn’t trust a scrupulous realism— that sometimes sloppy fantasy comes closer to the true state of things.” –Tessa Hadley’s “The Surrogate”

Three posts in a row on New Yorker fiction podcast stories. Since I tend to save these for when I have big blocks of uninterrupted time, this is a sure sign that I’ve been spending a lot of time in my own head-space. Perhaps that latter fact is why this particular story’s theme—a kind of exploration of fantasy—stood out to me. In the discussion of the story after she’s done reading it out loud, Curtis Sittenfeld says of the piece’s main character, “Her fantasies…hinge on being unrealized, which I think it not that unusual.” I like that thought a lot, too--or at least I like thinking about it.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

"The Frog Prince"

8 October 2017: "And they found a certain contentment, living more or less happily ever after, which is what now is when one's in it." --the closing lines of Robert Coover's "The Frog Prince"

What a strange little story this is. And what a strange twist and unexpectedly upbeat ending. (I think?) Listen to it here.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"In the Middle of the Fields"

7 October 2017: “‘You thought you could forget her,’ she said, ‘but see what she did to you when she got the chance.’” --the main character in Mary Lavin's "In the Middle of the Fields," almost at the very end of the piece.

Finally got around to listening to this story this evening, finishing it up on a drive I took just because. It's such a smart meditation on love, loss, and grief.

Friday, October 6, 2017

"Lose Your Way"

6 October 2017:

"I have no confidence
And I can't see why I should.
But I could do most anything for you,
And you know I would.
I try too hard
And then I give up way too easily.
I'm the runner-up inside of you
And you're the winner inside of me" --Sophie B. Hawkins, "Lose Your Way"

A good day but a kind of...sad night. Feeling these lyrics tonight.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Little cranes...

5 October 2017: "When you make a thousand, you get one wish." --my friend/former student, Katie, quoting a friend of hers who makes little origami cranes at work, hiding them in his desk. So far, he has (I think?) just over 130.

Katie shared this little story with me when we met for coffee this morning and it blew me away. She used it as an example of how she (a creative writer, specifically a poet) actively listens for these kinds of gems from other people. (Also kind of one of the points of this year's blog theme, right?) After she heard the story, she thought about it all night and then wrote about it the next morning. Then she sent the piece she wrote off to a literary magazine and it's being published. Amazing.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Queen of Sheba

4 October 2017: "She sounds like a hair flip and a half." --a student in my Bible as Literature class talking about the Queen of Sheba and her visit to Solomon. We all enjoyed this, as you might imagine. It's perfect and hilarious.

They make me laugh. I am always grateful for that.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"American Girl"

3 October 2017:

"Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn't help thinkin' that there
Was a little more to life
Somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to" --Tom Petty, "American Girl"

Some days the "listening" post for the day is just plainly obvious.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A bit of light on a dark day...

2 October 2017: "I have to be twice as Colombian as my friends in Colombia. I have to be twice as American as Americans...It's hard work." --a member of the panel discussion on Latinx student issues that I attended this evening.

Today has been so hard. Waking up to the news out of Las Vegas. Not being able to stop thinking about it and how dark things seem to be in our country right now. And Shannon's loss hangs over everything. It's a lot. Seems like too much at times.

But this panel discussion tonight, featuring one of my favorite departmental colleagues and three Latinx students (all four born in other countries and now thriving at Shepherd), was such a bright spot in this dark day. This isn't to say their comments were uniformly uplifting; they weren't. Because, boy, do we have work to do. But their mere presence there tonight and their willingness to share their experiences was uplifting.

The young lady who shared the quotation above really moved me. We sometimes forget--even the most open-minded among us--how hard these students have to work and all the directions from which they feel pulled. Hearing her words will (I hope) make me remember that and exercise even more compassion.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"I'll Be Seeing You"

1 October 2017:

"I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way" --Billie Holiday

After I got back home today, I laid down on the couch and sort of half drifted off. Bing and Wes were kind enough to join me. And this song came on...kind of a perfect song to half drift off to while thinking about the loss of a dear friend and remembering good memories.

Saying goodbye...

30 September 2017: "We are gathered here not because Shannon died, but because she lived." --the celebrant at Shannon's service yesterday. I found those words very comforting on what was a very difficult day. Also more comforting than I can put into words: spending the day with my dear friends Jane, Beth, Allison, and Kate.

Friday, September 29, 2017

"But the sun comes up and the world still spins..."

29 September 2017: "What was his name again? Buttleby?" --a student in my ENGL 312 class, trying to remember the name of Melville's famous scrivener. (It's Bartleby...)

This silly mistake made me lose it, dissolving into laughter. And that was wonderful.

Today was a tough day, but like every day that I get to teach, being in the classroom made things better. These students remind me that, like Thomas Jefferson sings in Hamilton, "the sun comes up and the world still spins."

Thursday, September 28, 2017


28 September 2017: "She could tell a great story..." --Jane today, on the phone with me, talking about our amazing, wonderful, irreplaceable friend, Shannon.

Shannon died last night. For me, the words to write about all of this aren't here yet. But on an otherwise sad and very hard day, those moments when we talked about her and the good times made me smile.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"You Got a Friend"

27 September 2017:

"If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door." --James Taylor (and really Carole King!), "You've Got a Friend"

This came while I was at Wednesday lunch group, thinking about Shannon. Made me stop mid-sentence.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Carry On"

26 September 2017:

"Cause we are
We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we're miles away
So we'll come
We will find our way home" --Fun, "Carry On"

Always loved this hopeful, vibrant song that sort of turns around and refutes all the darkness that is there at its opening. Needed it today.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"It's who you love..."

25 September 2017: "It's not about what you do. It's who you love." --Cat Grant on Supergirl explaining how you find happiness in life.

Look, it ain't a perfect or especially profound answer or explanation, but it's one that I am really appreciating tonight. It's been a long day. I've only been home for a bit and am decompressing after a hard day. Tonight I am thinking about the people I love--one person in particular, my dear friend Shannon, whose health has taken a very bad turn. I am tired and sad and words are failing me, but that's about all I've got for now.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Better Things

24 September 2017: "I don't, actually. Everybody always gets a little bit screwed. Even when I do my best, it ain't never enough." --Sam, on the Season 1 finale of Better Things, in answer to a friend asking how she "does it all."

It's hard for me to explain this show's appeal and what makes it so great. The characters (especially the kids) are so flawed and frustrating and annoying. Even Sam makes what seem like the worst decisions sometimes.

But they are all so real and you sense how much they do love each other, despite the ways they hurt each other. This same episode opens with Sam about to leave with her mom for an out-of-town trip to celebrate the mom's birthday. And, before they even leave the driveway, Sam stops the car and tells her mom that she just can't do it. She is done pretending that she wants to do these kinds of things with her mom; she loves her, but her mom is kind of toxic and bad for Sam. It's sad and empowering at the same time. She is almost certainly right to do what she does, but it hurts her mom and she feels shitty for doing it.

So I am sitting here today, taking a little break from my to-do list, to rewatch this episode, which has been on my DVR for a while. (And Better Things is back for Season 2--which is great.) I find myself so moved by this flawed woman, surrounded by flawed women, trying to do her best and knowing that she is getting some of it wrong and some of it right. And that it can't ever be enough.

And as I watch it, I am thinking both locally and nationally/globally, about the places in my own small life where I am never good enough and I hurt people even when I try to do my best. And about our completely messed up world and how women can make it better and how we can make it worse. And how it's never enough. And I am rambling. But this show--this moment--reminds me, of course, that I am not alone in feeling this way. And that (somehow?) makes things a bit better.

(Serious, slightly melancholy thoughts, I know. But it is Sunday...)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sounds that give you hope...

23 September 2017: "And I gotta say, you hear these recordings and you can't help but think, I think we're gonna be all right." --Jad, the host of Radiolab, talking about listening to people's reactions to August's eclipse.

Catching up on my podcasts this morning, I finally listened to this episode of Radiolab, which opens with listener-submitted audio of folks watching the eclipse. Just as I did on the day itself and its immediate aftermath, I found myself getting choked up just listening to these clips. They are so lovely, awe-struck, innocent, hopeful, and fun--people expressing pure and positive emotions together. What a gift this experience was, even for those of us who couldn't see the whole thing.

The whole episode is uplifting, including the re-run of this wonderful segment about Voyager I and II and the golden record on board. Give it a listen.

Friday, September 22, 2017

"The Amnesty"

22 September 2017: "I trust the world because I want to trust that it's good for her." --a student in my ENGL 301 class, talking about how she related to "The Amnesty," a lovely poem I taught today. The "her" the student was referencing is her little girl, so we were all pretty moved by her words.

This poem is sweet and amazing. Give it a read. One of the things I love about this poem is how the speaker just gives into love--the almost mad risk involved with loving someone so fully. I struggle sometimes to convey that to students, so hearing this student do it so memorably just pleased me so much.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Sorrow is Not My Name"

21 September 2017:

"there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah." --Ross Gay, "Sorrow is Not My Name"

Came across this poem today on a fantastic episode of "Poetry Off the Shelf." It's been a tough week for the country and the world: the hurricane, the earthquake, the insidious reemergence of efforts to kill the ACA. This poem, which reminds us of sweetness and joy, gives us a bit of strength to keep going.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Define that defense!

20 September 2017: "It's like when your roommate is working a really hard math problem and he can't do it, so he yells at you for being too loud." --a student in my ENGL 301 class today, providing an example of "displacement."

It can be so much fun to teach literary theory to these students, in part because they teach me new stuff and make me laugh at the same time. This student's example of this particular psychological defense (part of our discussion of psychoanalytic theory) is spot on--and way too specific to be purely imagined. Need more evidence? He was also ready with an example of "projection": "When your roommate doesn't do anything for the apartment and then makes that complaint about you." When we teased him about these examples, he said, "This chapter helped me work some stuff out." Ha!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Sinatra kind of day...

19 September 2017:

"Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
'Cause I only have eyes for you, dear
The moon may be high
But I can't see a thing in the sky
'Cause I only have eyes for you."

Tuesdays and Thursdays (days I don't teach) when I don't have meetings on campus have the potential to be tough or strange days for me, stuck mostly with only myself and trying to stay on task. I can also get too much in my own head and get kind of down or whatever. Today, though, has been a pretty good day: lots of productivity, nice weather, great news about Shannon (she's home from the hospital!), and just some other nice feelings.

So, in that spirit, I am kind of digging Frank's up-tempo version of this standard. The Flamingos' version is my sentimental favorite, but today I am feeling his love-struck optimism and joy over the swoony-ness of the other version. This one really loves that feeling of being so swept up in someone else, which I can get behind.

Monday, September 18, 2017

“From Prison Inmate to Lawyer & Scholar”

18 September 2017: "Every great re-entry story that I've seen involved a community." --Shon Hopwood, speaking at a Common Reading event today, talking about what helps released prisons find success after their incarceration.

This was a great lecture and discussion. My list of possible sound bites for today's post is a long one, but the comment posted above, which came up towards the end of the discussion, is standing out to me most as I reflect on what I heard. Communities (of all kinds) need to play a role in helping these people. In doing so, we are helping ourselves, too. Seems so simple...

Sunday, September 17, 2017


17 September 2017: "It's never enough." --"Him," in mother!

Saw this crazy film this evening and man...what a ride. I wish I could remember what he said right after that line, but it was something like "that's why we create." Very smart. Very crazy. What a movie.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Introverts and leadership...

16 September 2017: "You have to hold him accountable or there could be a fracture in the foundation of the group." --a student participating in the session Amy and I led at today's Student Leadership Conference at Shepherd.

We've done this presentation before a couple of times and we've got it more or less down pat. Our subject is "How Introverts Can Be Leaders." We start out with an unscientific quiz that helps students (unscientifically) figure out if they are introverts, extroverts, or somewhere in between. Then Amy leads them through some information about introverts, dispelling myths and explaining how introverts can be great leaders. Finally, we put them in groups and have them discuss certain hypothetical scenarios in which the groups they are part of have issues to work out where they need to put what they have just learned into action.

So, like I said, we've done it before and we've got it pretty down pat. But we haven't done in at least a year. A lot has changed since then in the world--even if we haven't updated our scenarios. Here's scenario #1, the one that the student above was responding to: "Jim, a member of your organization with extrovert characteristics, recently upset some members when he made an off-the-cuff racially-insensitive comment. Based on what you’ve heard from other members, most people don’t think Jim realized that he offended people—or that he is a bad guy. You agree. However, a few members of the group (who are also more introverted) seem to be pulling away from the organization in the aftermath of the comment. How would you work to address this issue?"

The student's response (a response echoed by his peers) stood out to me because the previous times we've done this presentation, students weren't so insistent on making Jim be accountable and apologize. They were more focused on how to facilitate some honest conversation and healing. This group talked about that too, but they also seem to have realized something important in the wake of Charlottesville: while we should be careful not to cut off people who make mistakes or make monsters out of them, we should insist on accountability, even if it makes us uncomfortable. To hear a room full of introverts insist on this--even in the context of a hypothetical situation--gave me some hope.

Of course, these are Shepherd students, and they do tend to rock...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reassuring, I think?

15 September 2017: "Oh no. It's too late. It's like a tattoo." --a student in my ENGL 301 class, reassuring me when I thought he was about to tell me he was changing his major and leaving English.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

You know it's true...

14 September 2017: Today’s listening post is this entire exchange from Extra Hot Great. 

Tara: “It’s called Tong Wars…”

[Sound of click, click, click]

Tara (to Dave): “Did you bring tongs in just to do that?”

Dave: “Whenever you grab a pair of tongs, you always have to click ‘em three times. It’s like a universal thing. Nobody said that, but it’s something everybody does.”

Sarah: “It’s true. You are not a crackpot.”

Oh EHG, never stop making me laugh out loud while I am agreeing so enthusiastically. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A laugh when I needed it...

13 September 2017: "I mean, it had to get old after awhile?" --a student in my Bible as Literature class, half-heartedly making the argument that Jacob (in Genesis) might have grown tired of his two wives and their two servants demanding to sleep with him all the time.

If you haven't read Genesis in a while, you should. Lots of crazy stuff happens, stuff that they don't focus too much in Sunday School. We've have fun talking about it in class and this student's comment today cracked me up.

I feel like I post all the time about how my students and how being in the classroom makes me happy even on the worst day. I am a bit like a broken record, I suppose. But it is just true. And today, while my mind was on my friend, this bit of laughter was especially appreciated.

By the way, now that she has made the news public, I can stop being sort of coded about it all: my dear friend Shannon has lung cancer. It's awful, terrible, shocking, devastating news. But she is strong and fighting. She's amazing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"River Waltz"

12 September 2017:

"All that I know to be true
Is the touch of your hand on my skin.
One look from you can so easily soothe
All this turmoil within.
As we dance cheek to cheek
With our feet so completely
Locked in a time all our own.
I stop to speak
But you gently keep me
Moving in time to the song.
And in a voice that is sloppy with gin
You say, 'let the world spin.'" --Cowboy Junkies, "River Waltz"

This has been one of my favorite songs for years now. I love it so much, I was a bit surprised to see that I hadn't blogged about it before. Maybe it's because I love it so much? I hold it and my love for it close to me, almost like a secret treasure, especially that swoon-inducing passage quoted above.

The thing is, though, I am not doing a great job holding it together today. I am really worried about my sick friend and just can't concentrate. Jane, who is always wonderful, just texted me that I should take a walk or listen to some music to distract myself a bit. Well, I've already taken a really long walk, but I figured I would give the music thing a try. So, for the second time this week, the "listening" post comes from the random beauty of the iPod in shuffle mode.

The lyrics here don't line up perfectly with my life today, but that "let the world spin" line, with its quiet confidence that things will be okay (even when they aren't) if you've got some folks to love, is doing a lot of heavy lifting for me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Another helpful student analogy

11 September 2017: "It's like a really tough fitness program. It weeds people out in the beginning." --a student in my ENGL 312 class on the opening chapter in Walden.

If you haven't read it in a while (or ever), it might surprise you to remember/learn that Walden opens not with deep reveries about nature, but with roughly 50 pages of economic advice, including monetary tallies. It is, for lots of people, a real barrier to entry. And I always ask students to think about why Thoreau does this. The answer my student gave above is a pretty smart one--only part of the answer, but an interesting part nonetheless.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"If There Was No You"

10 September 2017:

"Out on your way, the darkest night, the longest day,
I know what to say to make you laugh.
And nothing you could do
Could make me turn my back on you.
When you're looking for a fight, I'm your man.
When you need a friend, you got my hand." --Brandi Carlile, "If There Was No You"

Put the iPod on shuffle this evening as I went out for my walk, just kind of searching for a song that spoke to me. This little gem, which assures the listener that the singer is sweetly, happily, and completely devoted, works on lots of levels.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"The Age of the Algorithm"

9 September 2017: "These algorithms, they don't show up randomly. They show up when there's a really difficult conversation that people want to avoid." --Mathematician Cathy O’Neil on the latest episode of 99% Invisible.

This piece was so interesting, especially the point O'Neil is making above. Give it a listen.

Friday, September 8, 2017

"If I Needed You"

8 September 2017:

"Well the night's forlorn
And the morning's born
And the morning shines
With the lights of love
And you'll miss sunrise
If you close your eyes
And that would break
My heart in two" --Emmylou Harris, "If I Needed You," a duet with Don Williams

I heard the news earlier this evening about Don William's passing away and it automatically made me think of this song, which I've loved since I was a kid. It always makes me feel so peaceful, a welcome feeling today, even as we mourn William's death.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Mars vs. Mars"

7 September 2017: "Nothing. This time I just want you to know what I know." --Veronica to Abel Koontz, in response to his taunting question of what she wanted this time.

I alluded in my last post to having some stuff on my mind that I can't talk too much about (short version: a very good friend is very sick) and this afternoon I really found myself needing a distraction. So I am re-watching a batch of my favorite season one Veronica Mars episodes.

The scene I quoted from above--which comes at the end of "Mars vs. Mars," a great episode with Adam Scott playing a pervert (!)--is terrific because Veronica confronts Koontz for the first time since he threatened to turn her world upside down with his insinuation about her paternity. That confrontation ended with him basking in menacing triumph (he is so creepy) while she dissolved into tears. But here she reveals that she has the upper hand (thanks to her investigation) and it is glorious. I don't want to over-read the symbolism here, but I like the lesson.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

More wisdom from students...

6 September 2017: "Better $8 sushi than $3 sushi." --a student in my ENGL 312 class.

These have been some tough days, for reasons I can't be too specific about. But my students, once again, have so many ways of making me smile. The above example is just one. We were discussing Ben Franklin and his financial advice. I used the example of students who say they have no money and then buy $8 sushi in the student center. (A stupid example, by the way...) My student's A+ response made me laugh...a lot. Just one example of how they get me through some tough days.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Good advice...

5 September 2017: "You don't preach to the choir, but the choir needs to practice." --my friend/colleague Richie, at a Civility Response Team meeting today. Richie was quoting someone else, but I hadn't heard this clever line before and it got me thinking about how to best be a kind and engaged advocate for others.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Logan Lucky

4 September 2017: "They gonna know what we want them to know." --Jimmy to Clyde, in Logan Lucky. 

What a fun and smart movie this is! Soderbergh has a way of making movies about something "fun" (like a heist) stay fun while making larger comments about bigger questions of class. This one is no exception.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

One Mississippi

3 September 2017: "Hey, Bill: ever had tuberculosis?" --Tig to Bill, in the third episode of One Mississippi. 

Doing a re-watch of season one because A) nothing else is on, B) it's super-short (6 episodes), and C) season two drops next week. Just as during my first viewing, Tig's relationship with Bill, her stepfather, really stands out. He's such an interesting character: awkward, particular, and seemingly closed-off, but the show does a fine job creating these sweet and funny moments that show how he does care about Tig--and vice versa. And the writing does this without going too far or being saccharine.

Book Festival

2 September 2017: "I just hate seeing women give up on themselves, even when they aren't real." --Roxane Gay, at the Library of Congress Book Festival yesterday, discussing her frustration with women (both real and fictional) who give up too easily. And I am so with her on this one.

Folks: the Book Festival is a wonderful event--free and fantastic. And it was even better this year with four of my good friends.

Friday, September 1, 2017

"Foxtrot Fridays"

1 September 2017:

"Thank the stars there's a day
each week to tuck in

the grief, lift your pearls, and
stride brush stride

quick-quick with a
heel-ball-toe. Smooth

as Nat King Cole's
slow satin smile,

easy as taking
one day at a time:

one man and
one woman,

rib to rib,
with no heartbreak in sight–

just the sweep of Paradise
and the space of a song

to count all the wonders in it." --Rita Dove, "Foxtrot Fridays"

I heard this poem first thing this morning and it sort of gave me the feeling it would be a good day. She read it on a podcast episode of Ask Me Another (she was a delight!), but you can hear her reading it here, too.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

She is who she is...

31 August 2017: "That's probably just the way she is." --the veterinarian today, in response to me asking her if I should work to make Veronica more amenable to being petted or held.

It took me 20 minutes today to catch her and get her in the carrier. To be clear, I caught her at least five times; it was shoving her in the carrier that was the real problem. Tears and blood were shed (both mine). Once she was in the exam room, she tried to climb the wall twice, Spiderman-style, and got half-way up. It was a lot. But she calmed down enough eventually. She actually behaved better for her exam than Bing or Wes.

Long story short: I should just accept her as she is, which is fine with me. It was nice to hear it from an expert.

Here she is, post-visit, once again insisting on being seen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

They make me laugh...a lot...

30 August 2017: "Blah, blah, blah...the earth is a turtle." --an excerpt from one of English 204 student's effort to paraphrase the Iroquois creation story for her classmates. Her entire summary was actually pretty darn impressive given how...strange this text is (particularly the version we use).

Today was a long day--I left my house before 8:00 a.m. and it was nearly 9:00 p.m. when I got home--but it was a pretty good day. Part of the reason I can say that is because my students were--across the board--delightful today. They did their work, had smart things to say, and made me laugh. What more can I ask for?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


29 August 2017:
"We tell the story every year—
how we peered from the windows, shades drawn—
though nothing really happened,
the charred grass now green again." --Natasha Trethewey, "Incident"

Audio here, including Trethewey introducing her poem, sadly timely once again.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Day one...

28 August 2017: "Ha. It's so good to be back!" --a student in my ENGL 312 class.

You see, we were discussing Wheatley's "On Being Brought from Africa to America" and she realized how clever the poet is in her use of "Cain," evoking its homophone ("cane") and thereby subtly calling to mind the slave economy. Like so many readers (myself included, way back when), she missed it on the first read-through and delighted in realizing it.

That laugh and that comment: pure English major. She missed this stuff and is thrilled to be back at it.

Me, too.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"The Glowing Orbs"

27 August 2017: “But he was a man comfortable with mysteries. He was a believer deep down. And he’d write that his experience in space and the glowing fireflies affirmed that faith. No one could see what he saw, he was sure, and not believe in God, not believe in miracles.” –Nate DiMeo, in "The Glowing Orbs" episode of The Memory Palace. 

This one is a rerun, but I loved hearing it again, kind of perfect in the aftermath of the eclipse, which made me feel a kind of similar sentiment to what DiMeo describes above. I felt a similar kind of quiet wonder today, watching my little niece walk (a trick she's picked up since I last saw her a couple of weeks ago) and become less of a baby and more of a little person. The wonder she finds in in the world is mirrored by my own wonder in watching her do so. And all of it makes me profoundly grateful and moved by the amazing ways the divine appears all around us.

Now there is a great joke of sorts in this story (the explanation of the glowing orbs), but it doesn't lessen the power of the piece. If anything, it makes it more poignant.

Here's a longer version, introducing the episode and providing a Portuguese reading that is pretty awesome even if you don't speak Portuguese. (I sure don't!) Previous posts on The Memory Palace here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Grace and Frankie

26 August 2017: "You are going to make new memories. Better memories. And you can re-use the frames!" --Grace, to Frankie, in episode 2 of Grace and Frankie

I started watching this show after hearing my friend Hannah praise it again and again. So far, I like it and I am encouraged by the reviews that say it gets better and better. And, given its focus on female friendship, it's a cool "listening" post for the day of Jane's 40th birthday party. Speaking of...I better get going!

Friday, August 25, 2017


25 August 2017: "There are 7.2 million people on the earth. Seven percent will go to college...Spend your time here like you won the lottery." --Sonya Evanisko, from Shepherd's Department of Art and Contemporary Theater, giving the keynote to our new students at today's opening convocation. (I might have gotten her exact wording wrong--didn't have a pen on me to write it down.)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Feeling Good"

24 August 2017:

"It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good" --a Shepherd student/Ram Band member, singing at this evening's preview performance of the band's halftime show.

As I sat here tonight trying to think of what to post for today's "listening" entry, I realized that the song that has been running through my head for the past few hours was the best choice. In fact, today was a pretty darn decent day and I am feeling pretty good. And yeah, it's a new day, too, with the first big group meetings to kick off the new semester.

Convocation, a department meeting, and a new student meet-and-greet tomorrow. Here we go!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jean and Jane

23 August 2017: "In 1982, a forty-something sex kitten was still pretty radical. Ultimately, Jane's reinvention as a fitness guru was absolutely a victory of commerce, but there was an art to it and it was nothing if not political. She was sending women the message that by taking control of their bodies, by becoming physically strong, by taking thirty minutes a day for themselves, they could take control of their lives. This is a kind of feminism. It might not have looked the same as Jane's 1970's feminism, but because it wasn't on its surface offensive to men, it afforded her more power." --Karina Longworth, discussing Jane Fonda's career in the 1980s, in the last episode of this season of You Must Remember This

The You Must Remember This podcast is one of my favorites, teaching me so much about Hollywood's history. I knew nothing about Jean Seberg, half of the focus of this season. I thought I knew something about Jane Fonda, the other half of the season's focus, but boy, was there a lot I didn't know (or understand). The insight Longworth shares above, a minor point in a compelling and tragic season, really made me think--just one example of how great her show is. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MLB Player Nicknames

22 August 2017: "This is a great thing for baseball because baseball is whimsical." --Mike Pesca, on Hang Up and Listen. 

Unfortunately, this discussion of the best nicknames that will appear on player's jerseys this weekend was part of the Slate Plus segment, which means you can't listen if you aren't a Slate Plus member. But this silly little segment made me smile and laugh and remember how much I love about baseball. You can read the list that inspired the segment here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

"I'll Take My Chances"

21 August 2017:

“Now some people say that you shouldn't tempt fate
And for them I cannot disagree.
But I never learned nothing from playing it safe.
I say fate should not tempt me.” –Mary Chapin Carpenter, “I’ll Take My Chances”

This, the day of the eclipse, has been a hard one for me. I can’t really say why, partly because I don’t want to be specific, but also because I don’t think that specificity would really explain anything. Now there were lovely touches of light and goodness—watching the eclipse with a couple dear friends, a message from another friend just when I needed it—but man, I spent most of the day just feeling…not great.

By 7:30 or so, I needed to do something. So, as I have done so many times before, I hopped in the car. I took a drive to Martinsburg to run an errand that could have waited. But driving makes me feel better. So that helped a bit.

And on the drive back, I found myself following a solitary big cloud, much taller than it was wide, giving off an amazing light show. It was in front of me, just off to the left, the entire twenty minute drive. That helped a bit, too.

As I drove home, I switched off the podcast I was listening to, hoping to hear *that* song (whatever it was)—the one that would make me feel even better or give me some insight. I keep changing the station, but it never came on. I mean, “Highway to the Danger Zone” was about as close as we got to topic-appropriate, but that isn’t the exact tone I was going for. Ha. When I got home, I sat out back, watching that cloud move further away, and hit shuffle on the iPod. It took a lot of clicking, but then we got there.

I’ve always liked “I’ll Take My Chances,” especially those amazing lines that I quoted above, full of sass and boldness, but for me, they are more aspirational than the motto by which I live my life. I am not a big risk taker. Not a bold one. Not a feather-ruffler. Old Prufrock and I have always had that in common, opting not to disturb the universe. And I don’t think that’s going to change in any substantial way any time soon.

But maybe, every once in a while, I will try. I have a time or two, after all, and it’s been okay. So maybe I will try that a bit more. And it will be okay.

So yeah…”I’ll Take My Chances.” That helped.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

WISH Reception

20 August 2017: "One woman, one gift, can change so much." --a speaker today at the WISH reception where this year's grant winners received their awards. A completely inspiring event!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Graduation Day

19 August 2017: "This is the fastest I've walked in four years...I walk like I used to walk." --Robert, who along with his dog Kansas, is part of the Guiding Eyes graduating class of August 2017. Luther is in that class and Amy is up there watching him graduate. I couldn't go, but I am watching the live-stream. It's amazing.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"I cannot live with you"

18 August 2017:

"So We must meet apart –
You there – I – here –
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are – and Prayer –
And that White Sustenance –
Despair – " --Emily Dickinson, "I cannot live with you"

I saw a image just now that reminded me of the last lines of this Dickinson poem. And then I felt like listening to a reading of it and found the one linked below. Sometimes just hearing someone else read a poem can open up new appreciation (for me).

I teach this one in my ENGL 312 class and point out how it's longer than a typical Dickinson poem. But beyond that surface observation, it always captivates me. The lines "And life is over there -- / Behind the shelf" come to mind frequently, too. And the juxtapositions! They culminate in that devastating rhyming pairing: the sustenance that come from "prayer" and "despair," the latter imagined as white, calling to mind manna from heaven. Despair sustains, prayer sustains, but here, at least, that's all they do. Such a complex examination of a love that can't be and can't not be at the same time.