Tuesday, February 28, 2017


28 February 2017:

Really digging this poem by Mary Karr, which popped up on the Poem of the Day podcast. An excerpt:

"Eventually, I lurched out 
to kiss the wrong mouths, get stewed, 

and sulk around. Christ always stood 
to one side with a glass of water. 
I swatted the sap away. 

When my thirst got great enough to ask, 
a clear stream welled up inside, 
some jade wave buoyed me forward, 

and I found myself upright 
in the instant, with a garden 
inside my own ribs aflourish. 

There, the arbor leafs. 
The vines push out plump grapes. 
You are loved, someone said. Take that 

and eat it."

It's like she's a 21st-century George Herbert, which is a pretty amazing feat. (For comparison, check out Herbert's "Love (III)," one of my favorite poems about feeling unworthy in the face of grace.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Keep calling your representatives...

27 February 2017: "Twenty-one percent of our clinics are in under-served areas. You talk to our patients and they say, 'If you take away our clinic, we have nowhere else to go.'" --Emily Thompson, field organizer of Planned Parenthood West Virginia, speaking at this event today.

We can't move backwards. Keep fighting.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Her Name is Rose"

26 February 2017: Stopped in my tracks by this poem today, available on the Poem of the Day Podcast.

Here are the closing stanzas:

And I’m not sure, driving home 
later that night, still smelling the pallid citrus, 
whether it’s merely hallucination, the way 
her memory inhabits me; or if being 
in that same room, inhaling 
that same air, made some of her 
part of me. 

                  And whose veins 
are these, beginning to twitch?

Midterm Grading: DONE!

Conquered this stack of grading between Thursday and this morning. Commence chair-dancing.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday at the Movies

25 February 2017: "Get out!" --a key line from the movie of the same name. See it. It's amazing.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ambitious structuralists!

24 February 2017: "If we wanted to, could we write a response paper that talks about the different implications of 'index,' 'icon,' and 'symbol?'" --a student in my ENGL 301 class.

Today we talked about Structuralism, a fascinating if challenging theoretical lens. I found myself moving (perhaps too quickly) through certain concepts from semiotics, saying, "Well, no one in this class ever chooses to do much with this language of 'index,' 'icon,' and 'symbol.'" But later in our discussion, the student quoted above kind of challenged both herself and me, reminding me that I shouldn't assume anything about what they are willing to do and learn. I love it when they surprise me.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Better Together"

23 February 2017:

"Love is the answer.
At least for most of the questions in my heart.
Like: 'Why are we here?', 'And where do we go?,
'And how come it's so hard?'
It's not always easy,
And sometimes life can be deceiving
I'll tell you one thing:
It's always better when we're together." --Jack Johnson, "Better Together"

Sometimes I get the idea that the universe wants me to stop and think about my brother Ryan. I mean, I think about him all the time, but sometimes it just surprises me when things hit me out of the blue and I wonder what kind of conspiracy is going on.

Today was another abnormally warm and beautiful day. I found myself walking down by the river and as I got back to my car, I passed a group of college students (football players, if I was recognizing them correctly) heading down to the banks to do some fishing. I thought, for a microsecond, "The next time Ryan visits, I'd like to fish with him down here." And then...yeah...not going to happen. And just like every time it happens, it is crushing. (Reminds of this poem which I was just talking about yesterday with my students...further evidence of the conspiracy!)

Then I got home and got back to grading midterms. And this little Jack Johnson song comes on. Ryan loved Jack Johnson. Honestly, I could go either way, but I never change away from his songs because as silly as it sounds, it would be like switching away from my brother. Today I actually found myself listening to the lyrics of this one. And yeah...I get it universe. I get it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"In the Reign of Harad IV"

22 February 2017: "Things got weird." --one of my more reticent students sharing his response to Steven Millhauser's terrific story "In the Reign of Harad IV."

I love teaching this piece every semester in ENGL 301 as it unfolds itself so well for a New Critical or Reader Response interpretation (which is where we are at this point in the semester).  A piece that works for these two very different lenses is just a delight. But the real delight in this piece (for me) is the entire concept of a master artisan making increasingly tiny miniatures. We had a lot of fun talking about why we are drawn to intricate miniatures, which led to students telling me about "tiny food." I had no idea and now I am a bit obsessed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Good boy!

21 February 2017: "Well, he passed!" --the woman at the training center today after Luther's test. He ROCKED it and it was awesome.

"The River"

20 February 2017: "Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tides." --Garth Brooks, "The River."

I hadn't heard this song in a couple of years and it just sort of hit me right yesterday. I needed it.

Bittersweet Road Trip

19 February 2017: "Bye." --my friend Amy, saying a temporary farewell to Luther, the guide dog she's raised for the past year and a half. We took Luther back to New York on Sunday so he could begin his testing for training. On Sunday, we dropped him off at the facility. Seeing her say good-bye to him (even though she'd see him again on Tuesday) was really tough, but also beautiful. She's done such good work with him--such generous, noble, and giving work. And it will hurt her to leave him. This simple "bye" to him said so much.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Finding Sarah and Philip

18 February 2017: "She asked for the public's help. Am I not the public?" --a woman named Stephanie Dietrich, who took it upon herself to search and search for the bodies of two children whose mother had pleaded for help in locating them. You must listen to this episode of the wonderful Criminal podcast. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thinking about "Your Village"

17 February 2017: "I kind of thought it was about the illusion of separated suffering." --student in my ENGL 301 class, sharing an idea about Elana Bell's poem "Your Village" that kind of knocked my socks off. We were talking about how one could construct a New Critical or a Reader Response interpretation and I was stumbling through an extemporaneous "universal human theme" for the New Critical perspective. And then my student came up with this. Love it.

For the record, I've blogged about this poem before. I wish it weren't still so relevant, but simultaneously, I sure am glad it exists.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spaces between...

16 February 2017: "Is there any room between...'I don't owe you, like, the condescending "I respect your point of view"' and 'I'm still interested in trying to understand where you come from and think about how I might get you to think about this a little bit differently?'" --Emily Bazelon on this week's Slate Culture Gabfest.

This segment started off as an interesting discussion of SNL in the age of Trump, but then took a turn into a really cool discussion of how to talk with his supporters (if at all). I am not sure of the full answer I would give to Bazelon's question, but the answer has to be yes, right? How do we thread that needle?

Love those dynamic discussions!

15 February 2017: "Never mind. It's relevant." --a student in my ENGL 307 class. Our conversation of Monster was moving so quickly from exciting point to exciting point that by the time I got to her, she initially said her point was no longer relevant. So I said something on what I thought was a different topic...and then she said the quotation above. It made me laugh.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This darn song...

14 February 2017: Man, do I love this song...and this version of it is so very nice. Soothed my soul today when I needed it.

For Valentine's Day...

A poem I stumbled across today...

"Small Wire"

As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.

― Anne Sexton

Monday, February 13, 2017


13 February 2017: “I don’t want to look at the 125 emails in my inbox. But I get one of these books in the mail and it’s like a gift.” –Dr. David Modler, a professor in the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater at Shepherd, talking about Tet[R]ad, a collaborative art project he works on, at today’s Faculty Research Forum. Take a look at some digital versions of this art here and read more about the project here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What the Lord gave me...

12 February 2017: "You don't need to color it. Don't color it. I mean, you can tell people I did them if you want, but why spend the money?" --the very nice lady who cut my hair today, marveling over the natural highlights in my hair these days. (They call them highlights, I call them white streaks!) I always get a kick out stylists reactions to my hair because I say "thank you," but I didn't have a darn thing to do with it. Nevertheless, it's a tiny bit good for the self esteem!

Saturday lunch...

11 February 2017: "It makes it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning." --one of my former students/advisees, who is now a public school teacher, talking about the meaning she finds in her work. We met for lunch yesterday and hearing her say that made me very happy and hopeful.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Yay? Sorry?

10 February 2017: "You made me have a revelation!" --a student in my ENGL 307 class, in reference to something I said in class. I'll take it!

Thursday, February 9, 2017


9 February 2017:

"Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me as her body once did
All five horizons revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn..."
--Pearl Jam, "Black"

When my brother Ryan was in the army and about to head to Korea, we (Christian, Erin, my dad, and I) dropped him off at the airport. As we pulled out of the parking lot, this song came on the radio and Christian said, almost with an almost preternatural touch of elegy, that it made him sad because Ryan liked it. Anyway, since then, I always think of Ryan and that moment when I hear it. It came on today and I thought of him. Sad, but beautiful.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Small success...

8 February 2017: "I actually like him a lot better now." --one of my ENGL 204 students at the end of Day One of Whitman coverage. I work my tail off in that class, preaching the wonder of Walt. This class was a harder sell than most, but this little comment at the end of class gave me some hope.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


7 February 2017: "You can pick him up after 4:00." --the nice girl at the vet's office, calling to tell me when I could pick up Wesley. His surgery today went very well and he is home and safe and sound. He is not thrilled about the cone of shame, but otherwise, all is well.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Back on the radio...

I was back on EPIC Radio this morning, talking about Whitman. Not-at-all-surprising spoiler: I had so much fun. (Link to the first time I was on....)

Alternative definitions...

6 February 2017: "It's like NASCAR, but on feet." --a student in my ENGL 204 class, explaining why she finds baseball boring. I completely disagree, of course, but it made me laugh.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Another voice of reason...

5 February 2017: “We love the assumption that we treat each other well and that facts matter.” –Dahlia Lithwick, killing it in her opening comments on this week’s Amicus podcast, as she explains why she will refuse to treat this administration's views of the law "normally."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Above and Below

4 February 2017: "You have to roll a four or higher to get two lanterns." --my friend Josh trying to explain the rules of Above and Below to me this evening.

Learning a new game can be tough, especially when it's one as imaginative and involved as this one was, but--fitting in with this year's blog theme--careful listening (and a patient teacher!) led to a lot of enjoyment. It's a very cool game with so many possibilities. After spending most of the day grading, an evening of fun, games, Anna, and Josh was quite good for the soul!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Big old sigh of relief...

3 February 2017: "All of his blood work was normal." --my vet, giving me some great news about Wesley. He still has to get through his surgery for the bladder stones on Tuesday, but it is such a relief knowing that he doesn't have something else going on. I was literally giddy after getting that call.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"Frederick Douglass"

2 February 2017: Because he is one of my heroes, because I am teaching his _Narrative_ tomorrow in ENGL 204, and because he's in the news (thanks to a certain president who obviously didn't pay attention in class), I was delighted to come across this poem about Frederick Douglass, written by the fantastic Robert Hayden.

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful 
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   
this man, superb in love and logic, this man   
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone, 
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A good question...

1 February 2016: "Why was I there?!?" --a student in my ENGL 204 class, remembering when he was in third grade (!), and attended several plays based on Edgar Allan Poe stories.

It was hilarious to hear this now-young-adult talk about being scared by this decidedly inappropriate "edu-tainment." And he remembered vivid details: the sound of the heart-beat getting louder in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the sound of the monkey (who only appears once in the story, but whose appearance I always note) in "The Black Cat."

This also lead to a good (brief) conversation about realizing as an adult that you were exposed to some weirdly inappropriate things when you were a kid. For me, this was Little House on the Prairie, which had some pretty horrific episodes: Ma Ingalls about to cut her own leg off, Albert burning down the blind school (accidentally) which kill Mrs. Garvey and Mary's baby, the one with the mime... So weird!