Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Deep breaths

31 January 2017: "All we can do is keep breathing now..." --Ingrid Michaelson. I needed this song today and was glad when it came up on Pandora.

So much is going on...nationally (and internationally), at work, and at home. My poor little Wesley needs surgery for bladder stones (scheduled for a week from today), which I know is nothing in the great scheme of the universe, but man...please let him be okay, you know?

I can't focus on anything too long because I am either angry/anxious/sad/inspired to distraction by this shit with our country or stressed about something with work or just sad and worried about my little buddy. So yeah...all we can do is keep breathing now...

Monday, January 30, 2017

Eleanor & Park, again...

30 January 2017: "I am kind of glad he kicked him in the face." --a student in my Young Adult Lit class, as we discussed a key scene from Rainbow Rowell's terrific novel, Eleanor & Park. This comment--from a lovely, reasonable, non-violent student--was part of a lively discussion of violence, masculinity, bullying, and fathers and sons in the book. Good stuff, as can be expected with a book this compelling.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Proud of my home state...

29 January 2017: "As a New Yorker I am a Muslim. As a New Yorker, I am Jewish. As a New Yorker, I am black, gay, disabled, a woman seeking to control her health and choices. Because as a New Yorker, we are one community – the New York community comprised of all of the above." He's far from a perfect politician, but I loved hearing these words from Governor Cuomo today.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The first victory

28 January 2017: "[This is] the first legal defeat of the Trump administration" --Chris Hayes reporting from a federal court house in Brooklyn, explaining a stay granted to a refugee trying to enter the country.

I turned on MSNBC just not at precisely the right time, with tears coming down because I am so sick over what is being done to our country. I was sitting here feeling hopeless and helpless again, my heart breaking for refugees and all good and decent people who want to come to this country. So this victory over the administrations evil order, while it might be a small victory, provides just a bit of light.

But my God, where will it stop? I love this country so much it hurts sometimes. And it's been hurting so much lately.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Teaching Walden in West Virginia

27 January 2017: "I get it. That's what I left my home to get away from." --a student in my ENGL 204 class today, when talking about a passage in Walden which sometimes stumps first-time readers.

Thoreau writes, "I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in." After I share that passage with them, I ask my students, "What's so bad about inheriting land?" For lots of people, especially Americans, the idea that inheriting land can be a bad thing initially sound strange. And in this class we've already talked about the important role land ownership takes in early articulations of the messy, malleable, powerful, and lasting idea of the "American Dream."

Of course, it's not really (entirely) about the farm. It's about the lack of choice or deliberation or active embrace of agency. It's about just walking into the life someone else set out for you--that's what Thoreau is pushing back against. It's about imagining you can do something different. As he puts it in one of his most uplifting sentences, "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate himself by conscious endeavor." You can make your life different and better. (And no, "better" doesn't mean wealthier...)

That pushing back that Thoreau's doing is so important and I love love love it. It's a key part of his call for us to wake up and live with purpose and meaning and intention.

So my student's response--the one included above--excited me because, hey, he got it! But more than that, it excited me because it reminded me how what Thoreau outlines here can be so hard to live out, especially for people like some of my students, students from places where very few people break free, break out, or break away. People who, in order to live the lives they have imagined for themselves, have to make painful choice--leaving places that seem safe, leaving the people they know, and in lots of cases being seen as traitors--for wanting to do something different. It's so useful for me to remember this and to let that mindfulness cast light back on my reading of Walden.

I often find myself saying, "Easy said than done, Thoreau" when I read Walden, even though I know he's right about just about everything. But I think some of that acknowledgement of how hard it can be gets a bit muffled when I talk to these students about the text. The young man in my class today reminded me of the value of speaking as plainly and honestly as possible about what Thoreau's up to.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Democracy feels so good...

26 January 2017: "The Republicans have the power in Washington. They have the Senate. They have the House. They have the White House, so it is now up to us. We can whimper, we can whine or we can fight back. ... Are you ready to fight back?...The only way we can make democracy work again is when the people's voice is heard." --Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking to a crowd that included yours truly today, outside the Bavarian Inn, where 40 Democratic senators were meeting.

In addition to Warren, we heard fromheard Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris (I think? I am too short to know for sure!), Tammy Duckworth, and Amy Klobuchar speak. I shook hands with Cory Booker and Mark Warner. I did some shouting and clapping. I left feeling very patriotic, hopeful, and inspired. 

I was too short and too far back to get many good photos, but here are a few:

Senator Booker coming my way.  

That's my hand he's shaking. I told him to "fight for us." It was the most earnest and dorky thing I could think of, but he said he would. I said the same thing to Senator Warner. 

Bernie! (See him there?) Warren was right next to him, but alas, I am short and so is she, thus no pictures from me. She did come back out later in the day and I've seen pictures online of her hugging a bunch of my students. 

Some more soundbites from the speakers I heard. They are simply put, but I liked 'em:

Senator Duckworth: "We are patriots who love our country." Damn straight. I love her.

Senator Klobuchar (another big old soft spot for her!): "The most important thing you can do is speak your mind and fight back." Damn straight again. 

More on One Day at a Time

I have already posted about my love for the new One Day at a Time. Over the past few night, I've even started re-watching it, using it as my "TV comfort food" when the day's news wipes me out. (I can't even imagine the pain I'd be feeling from my always-clenched jaw if I didn't have my night-guard. Sigh.) Anyway, this piece from The Atlantic does a great job explaining just one reason the show is so appealing these days:

"And what are families—the people we have not chosen for ourselves, but to whom, nonetheless, we are bound—if not microcosms? Of nations, of cultures, of societies? One Day at a Time is a family sitcom that takes the widest possible interpretation of “family” itself: It understands its own family not just as a collection of parents and kids and friends, but also, seen in a certain light, as a metaphor for the rest of us. It is about the American family as much as it is about this particular American family. We will argue among ourselves—that, too, is what families do—but we will be at our best, the show suggests, when those arguments are constructive, and permissive, and above all guided by empathy. One Day at a Time is in that sense a sitcom that is also a civics lesson. Good faith, after all, won’t fix everything. But it’s a pretty good place to start."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Human Trafficking...

25 January 2017: "Love, respect, dignity, empowerment." --Catherine Oliver, an attorney and victim advocate who works with survivors, speaking today at Shepherd at a teach-in on human trafficking, explaining in four words how to help these men and women. Love leads to respect leads to dignity leads to empowerment. Oliver and the other panelists gave us all so much to think about and, more importantly, a drive to do more than just think. We (I) need to act.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

More from the marches...

24 January 2017: “I am my ancestors’ dream. They fought for me to be able to stand up here in the cold-ass snow in front of a bunch of white people wearing Uggs.” --Jessica Williams at the Women's March at Sundance. Read about her powerful speech here.

Monday, January 23, 2017


23 January 2017: "I can't keep quiet." --an a capella flash-mob at Saturday's march. Read about them here. Just when I thought I was done getting all teared-up thinking about Saturday...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"We came through."

22 January 2017: "You know, if you bend your back, people will ride your back. But if you stand up straight, people can’t ride your back. So that’s what we did. We just stood up straight and said, I am a man." --Taylor Rogers, an African-American sanitation worker on the 1968 strike in Memphis. Here him and his co-worker, Elmore Nickleberry, tell their story on this week's StoryCorps podcast.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Raise a glass to freedom / Something they can never take away..."

Pro-tip: enjoy social media coverage of so many amazing Americans (including many of your loved ones) marching today while listening to Hamilton. Your heart will swell with even more pride and hope and love. Side effects include lots of teary eyed moments, but that's okay.

Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?

21 January 2017: "We need a different word for reading on the internet...We really shouldn't call it reading. Slurping? Eye-slurping? I don't know." --the hilarious Justin McElroy on the latest episode of Sawbones. This is an idea whose time has come. (He was talking specifically about a nut-job who did a lot of "reading" on the internet before developing a silver cure-all. And, as Sawbones has taught us, "cure-alls cure nothing.")

Friday, January 20, 2017


20 January 2017: "In moonlight, black boys look blue." --Juan, to Little, in the magnificent Moonlight. It's an extraordinary film and exactly the kind of art we need at the dawn of the sad new reality that started today.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Amber Says 'What?'"

19 January 2017: "What?" --Amber Ruffin, in this amazing clip from Late Night with Seth Meyers. So funny and a good lesson in inflection.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Oh, Holden....

18 January 2017: "When he says things like that, I just want to hug him." --one of my students on Holden Caulfield, during today's class, our first day of discussing Catcher in the Rye. In my experience, students always have mixed reactions to Holden, which leads to good conversations, and today was no exception.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Another podcast...

17 January 2017: "Actors who are in a play and have depression but can function don't want the third act to come around. They don't want to leave there. They are in a setting they know...And they know everything's that going to happen there." --Dick Cavett, on "The Hilarious World of Depression" podcast. Here Cavett is telling a specific story about Judy Garland, who was reluctant to leave his studio after he interviewed her just before her death. It's just so sad. But the entire interview--in which he talks about his own depression, too--is riveting. And not just sad. It's funny and, in places, uplifting, too. Give it a listen.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hidden Figures

16 January 2017: "I held it up to the light." --Katherine Goble (later Johnson), in Hidden Figures. This is a heck of a film. Made me cry or at least tear up a bunch of times.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

One Day at a Time

15 January 2017: "I've got you." --Penelope to her daughter, Elena, at the end of the last episode of the reboot of One Day at a Time. This show was such an unexpected surprise: funny and moving, both old-fashioned and very timely. I found myself tearing up more than once while watching it, including during this lovely last scene.

"The Reversal"

14 January 2017: "Without the technology, I likely would have taken the morphine train to dirtnap town. But I long ago realized that the essence of my being, that which makes me a person, is my mind, not my body. So I could continue being just as potent as ever.. Honestly, I firmly believe I am even more powerful now than when I was healthy and moving. Like Professor Stephen Hawking famously said, my body is a prison but my mind is free." --Eric Valor, who has ALS, using an assistive speech device, at the end of the latest episode of the Reply All podcast.

Give the whole episode--which talks about a researcher's attempts to achieve break-throughs in ALS research--a listen.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

On "Bartleby"

"There are very few stories that, on re-reading after re-reading, seem to become impossibly more perfect, but Herman Melville’s eerie, aching story Bartleby, the Scrivener is one such. Like a parable without an obvious moral, it is defiance raised to the metaphysical."

Check out this interesting piece on a favorite, frustrating, endlessly rewarding short story.

Friday, January 13, 2017


13 January 2017: "Am I the snafu?" --one of my favorite* students, at the conclusion of our Sigma Tau Delta meeting today, wondering (humorously) if she was the one always messing things up.

Some background: Earlier in the meeting another favorite* student explained the origin of "snafu," an etymology that delighted her so much, she is using it all the time. She added, "It perfectly sums up my life."

These kids make me laugh. And today, they taught me an etymology lesson. So all in all, a positive meeting.

*This descriptor isn't a very helpful one, as so many of them are my favorites.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Another good-bye...

12 January 2017: “I just hope that the asterisk in history that is attached to my name when they talk about this presidency is that I can say I was part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things for this country. Remarkable things.” --Vice President Joe Biden, at a ceremony where he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sigh. Sob. So long, Joe.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lady of the Flies?

11 January 2017: "Did they just get along and not fight?" --a student in my Adolescent Literature class, asking another student what happens in a re-telling of Lord of the Flies with girls instead of boys. I loved this response for so many reasons, but mainly because A) it made me laugh, B) it's probably what would happen, and C) it was much better than my own (internal) cynical response, wondering if they got into cat fights and pulled each others' hair. These students...they teach me, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One last time...

10 January 2017: "For all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud title…Citizen." --President Obama, teaching us how to say goodbye. I can't believe how much I've grown to respect and love this president. I will miss him and his lovely family. And I love his optimism about the future and this rising generation. He's right: there are lots of great people in this nation, especially among the much-reviled millennials. We can do it. We can make things better.

Monday, January 9, 2017

First day...

9 January 2017: "My daddy used to take me fishing when we were supposed to be at church. He'd play The Doobie Brothers and say 'Hear that? That's all you need.'" --a student in my ENGL 204 class, in answer to a "getting to know you" question about songs/albums they loved when they were younger. This guy cracked me up; he's from deep in Georgia, a little bit older than the rest of the class, and certainly had a unique answer to the question.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Tiny repairs in reality"

8 January 2017: "It was like a little repair in the world, you know? But just a tiny little repair." --Shelia Heti, on the 10th episode of the Sleepover podcast, in which all the participants reflect on their experiences.

I blogged about this podcast less than a week ago, so this feels like a bit of a cheat for the daily post, but it's been a kind of quiet day in terms of being around other people. It's frigid outside, and though I did take a quick trip to the store this morning and later took a long (and COLD!) walk around my neighborhood, I haven't really had much aural interaction with the world.

Beyond that, though, I think Shelia does a great job summarizing what is so appealing about the Sleepover podcast and its overall mission: get people together to listen to and talk with each other and you can make these tiny but meaningful repairs to the world. I love that. We need more of that.

So long, Winter Break!

Last semester, while students in one of my classes were completing their final exam, I typed out a pretty ambitious goal list for the break. It included revising and resubmitting one article, starting to sketch out another, reading four books, and prepping for all my classes. This evening, I checked off the final item on that list and I gotta say, it feels good.

What felt best, though, was sending off those article revisions on Friday. And I kid you not, "Feeling Good" was playing on Pandora when I clicked "send." Perfect. 

Bonus reason to feel good: I found out today that another article has been accepted for publication. More chair-dancing commencing...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Book listening?

7 January 2017: "If you've only listened to an audiobook version of a book, do you say you've read it?" --my friend Josh, asking me this really interesting question this evening.

I loved talking about this with Josh and my friend (and his wife) Anna. It's such a cool topic to dive into. (My answer to the question: "Yes, but with an asterisk." Josh asked, "What's the asterisk?" I said, "Well, you say, 'I listened to it to audiobook'-you are up-front about it." But it also depends on what you mean by "read" and who is saying it, etc.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Opening convocation

6 January 2017: "Remember why we needed to develop those big brains. It's hard!" --my friend and colleague, Dr. Anne Murtaugh, from Psychology, delivering the keynote speech at our opening convocation today.

Anne was reminding the audience (new Shepherd students and lots of faculty/staff) that working together to make a better world is not easy, but it's work that's worth doing. She explained that scientists think humans developed such large brains in part to help us work better with each other--to be better at working with people who don't know and with whom we don't always agree. She also reminded us that "Diversity is a gift to us." Amen. It was a heck of a speech--timely, uplifting, challenging, and reassuring--and a great way to kick off the semester.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Weird kids...

5 January 2017: "Hey Melissa. Can you open the garage? I want to do something." --said by a kid in my neighborhood as he took a short break from hitting his forehead on his mailbox. Not too hard, but with a consistent beat.

I love weird little kids.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

She gets me...

4 January 2017:

"Did you feel like flipping the table?": One of my favorite lines from my lunch with my friend Hannah, who is perhaps my favorite audience for venting about something. She always makes me laugh and makes me feel validated in my silly complaints.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

La La Land

3 January 2017: I saw La La Land today and found it just lovely. Swoon-worthy in places, too. The simple lines from this little ditty that Ryan Gosling sings have been in my head since we left the theater, so they'll work just fine for today's entry:

"City of stars
Are you shining just for me?

City of stars
There's so much that I can't see

Who knows?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?"

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tai, math, and love

2 January 2017: “Love really is just brain stuff, but when you get the feeling of love, it can’t be expressed through science, but true love is just unexplainable. Math understands me and the girl doesn’t. Sometimes I can’t understand the math but I can never understand the girl.”  --Tai, 8 years old, math prodigy and guest on thewonderful Sleepover podcast. Little dude is deep.


Like I wrote yesterday, I needed to do some thinking (and last-minute consulting--thanks, Jane!) before deciding on my 2017 blog theme. I like the idea of continuing to push for a post per day, especially if I could somehow, I don't know, be a better person when it was all done? (Lofty goal!) I think it worked a bit last year. I don't feel like a worse person, at least. So I'll give it another go.

My theme for this year will be "listening"--every day I'll post about something interesting/surprising that I heard (or overheard) that day. It doesn't have to be the "best" or even necessarily good, though I do like focusing on the positive. And, until I get a couple of weeks of posts under my feet, I think I'll keep the category broad (including podcasts and music). But I do want to focus on words (not just sounds).

I like the idea of just listening more and being mindful of other people's words. I do that for a living (more or less), but most of those are the words of people I have never met--writers and such. This year is looking like it's going to be a rough one in some ways, so listening--really listening--can't hurt.

Here we go...

1 January 2017: I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about what I would post if I did end up going with "listening" as a theme. Unfortunately, by the time I started thinking about it, I couldn't remember the exact specifics of anything I had heard earlier that day. I spent a lovely and charming morning with Jane and her family, which included comfortable words of kindness and love, but--as happens so often with ordinary kindness and love--they dropped out of my head, leaving only the feeling and not the specific words.

Later that day, re-watching Call the Midwife for the millionth time, I heard one of my favorite bits of writing from that show, a pretty close encapsulation of what I want my blog to do, in part:

“Sometimes, there's a brightness and a richness in the moment. A ripeness that simply says, ‘Taste this’ and calls us to partake without fear or any thought of punishment. It is the fruit of our experience and, in its heart, it bares the seed of all our hopes. Take the joy, take all it gives. Life is sweet and it is ours. As is our right to love and relish every moment.”

I had heard it before, but so loved hearing it again. So we'll make that snippet of my beloved show the first "listening" entry of the year.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

366 good things...

31 December 2016: A year ago, I set out on this (relatively modest) goal of posting about "one good thing" per day. And--with this post--I've done it. Plus, there's a lovely circularity to the project as December 31's good thing also involved someone who figured large in January 1, 2016's post. So here it is: the last "one good thing" of 2016 was playing this game with Jane and her family as we waited for the new year to roll in.

I am not alone in seeing 2016 as a pretty rough year in a lot of ways. And I am really fumbling for some optimism to get 2017 off on the right foot, but this little project helped me in the ways I hoped it would, so I am glad to have done it.

Now I need to think if I can/will do another blogging goal for the year. I have a couple of ideas, but nothing concrete yet. I am going to sleep on it again and, if I decide on a daily thing, I will do some catch up posts.