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.