The week ahead: Work, play, and reflections. October 14, 2019


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Hello friends,

I was sick most of last week, so I took a few days off.  This is hard for me.  Part of my puritan-work-ethic brain thinks it’s a character flaw to take a sick day, so I usually just power through, but this time, I was trying to be mindful about self-care.  I’m always preaching about it, so I decided to practice it for a change.  I don’t know if I got better any faster, but at least I didn’t give it to anyone else.

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Taking time off has put me way behind on work, so I’ll have to buckle down this week.  Monday and Tuesday are our only class days this week, then for the rest of the week we are on “fall break.”  Fall break is a contentious topic around here.  In order to have these three days off in October, we started three days before Labor Day, which is (a) confusing, and (b) gives faculty two “half weeks” to work around.  Three, if you count Thanksgiving week.  Thus, the fall schedule can be frustrating.

Currently watching:  Dancing with the Stars on Monday nights (bit of an odd cast this season, but that’s normal), Big Ten football on Saturdays (my beloved Spartans got shut out by Wisconsin last week, sadly), and binging (bingeing?) an Amazon Prime series called “The Man in the High Castle”.  It’s pretty amazing.  It’s a time travel / sci fi / fantasy set in the 1960’s in an America where the allies lost WWII.  So, America is under Nazi control – but is it really?  Or are we all being lied to?  Is it an alternative universe?  Might sound like a bizarre premise but it’s a pretty cool story, and visually beautiful.  Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick.

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Plus, you know, Rufus Sewell isn’t bad to look at.

Currently reading:  The “Shadow and Bone” series by Leigh Bardugo.  Supposed to be a “young adult” trilogy, but the themes are rather mature.  It’s high fantasy, but not of the castles and dragons variety – rather, it’s set in a Russia-like country with rough terrain and various factions and armies based in a complex magic system.  It’s cool, I’m fascinated.  I understand this is being made into a Netflix original series.  I’m on to the second book now, “Siege and Storm.”

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Currently listening on audiobook:  “Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  This is a retelling of the King Arthur legends from the women’s point of view.  I’ve read it several times in the past and it’s one of my favorite books.  I had some free Audible credits, so I thought I’d listen to it in the car.  Nice to reconnect with Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, and the Knights of the Round Table.

It’s a chunker of a book, so not a quick read.  The audiobook is 50 hours.  It’s also a miniseries (I have it on DVD).

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I also finished my re-read of “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George.  I adore this book.  It’s the story of a man named Jean Perdu who owns a bookstore on a river barge.  He calls himself a “literary apothecary” because he “prescribes” books to people based upon their emotional ailments (like homesickness, a broken heart, etc.).  But Jean has his own secret heartbreak he’s trying to heal, and through the course of the story, he comes to terms with his own past.

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I think I need to buy another bookcase.

Listened to the Democratic candidates’ town meeting on CNN last week, and gained a lot of insights about the various candidates I didn’t have before.  Interesting to see them interact in that setting, unscripted.  Refreshing too, to get away from all of the usual political blather and hear some new ideas about the future of our country.  My friends, we must not despair.  Our nation is going through a dark hour, but I have faith in our strength and in our goodness.  I have faith in you.

I feel the same way about my students.  I know so many people who complain about “kids these days” but truly, these young people are going to create a future in which we will all have to live.  Let’s do everything we can to equip them with the knowledge and ability to make good decisions, even when they’re difficult.  Don’t bring them down, lift them up.

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In the academic world (the space I inhabit), there’s a lot of talk these days about declining enrollments.  The pool of potential students is shrinking, as high school graduating classes are shrinking too, and young people are choosing other options rather than college.  A lot of academics are wringing their hands over tightening budgets, and worried about this shrinking pool of potential students.

I think this worry is based in two kinds of wrong thinking.

First:  it’s based in thinking of our pool of potential students as 18-year-olds.  The old model of “four years of college, from ages 18-22, in residence at a campus” is obsolete.  Many students work, and take classes part-time, or take time off between high school and college.  And many “older” people (over 22?) are going back to school, or going for the first time.  This population, formerly called “nontraditional students,” is now being called “contemporary learners.”

Second: it’s based in thinking of college as a literal space, rather than a flexible, permeable, digital one.  If we cling to the old model of brick-and-mortar classrooms, we’re sunk.  The university of the future will be an institution that operates efficiently in the online realm, and we must put our minds, hearts, and treasure there if we are going to survive.  It’s that simple, and that challenging.

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I’m currently writing an e-book, with embedded exercises, quizzes, and flashcards.  It should be fully up and running by the end of the year.  I’ll be testing it out with an online section this summer.

I’ll leave you with this:

Teaching is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had, and sometimes the most frustrating.  You can’t always tell if you’re making a difference, if you’re getting through to students, if they are internalizing concepts deeply enough to remember and apply them in their daily lives.  I know that exams and grades are the primary concern for many, but I hope some of what we teach ends up enriching their everyday experience.

We plant seeds, but we don’t always get to see the harvest.

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Every once in a while, though, I get a gift from a student that makes my day, puts a spring in my step, warms my heart by making it all worthwhile.  Those are gifts like “I remember what you taught me,” “I see that idea all around me,” “I got so much out of your class,” “Your teaching style really helped me learn.”

I got one of these little gifts today when I ran into a former student in the lunch line at the cafe in my building.  She still remembers Equity Theory, still thinks about it, still sees it all around her as she watches others interact.  This particular idea took root in her mind, and became a tool that helps her understand the world around her a little bit better.

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And that made my day.

I care about getting it right (or as close to right as I can).  I care if my students learn.  Grades are a measure of learning, but they’re not the whole story – one student might earn an “A” with very little effort, while another might struggle to achieve a “C,” yet find much more meaning in the course material.

For me, the payoff, the harvest, is in the learning.  After a great class discussion, I’m walking a foot off the ground.  When a student has an “aha” moment, I’ll grin from ear to ear for the rest of the day.  And I love it when they tell me, “that concept we talked about in class last week – I noticed people doing that today.”

That’s just the best thing ever.

Have a great week, and let me know how you’re doing.

Be well,



Leave the eyelash girl alone!


Dear friends,

Here’s what I’m pondering today:  I recently saw a post on social media where the writer was asking for advice on how to handle a situation at work.  The receptionist in her office (who is a coworker, not a subordinate), tends to wear heavy false eyelashes that look very “fake,” and in the eyes of the writer, are most unflattering.  The writer was asking, how do I tell her that she looks bad, without hurting her feelings too much?

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My advice was:  Don’t say anything.  It’s not your place to correct this woman.  She’s not hurting anyone.  The lashes make her feel pretty.  The end.

This situation has stayed with me.  We sometimes think we are correcting someone “for their own good” – but is it really “good?”  If someone feels confident wearing something, if it makes them feel important and beautiful, who am I to tell them they’re wrong?  I might not choose the bohemian shawls and beads a friend wears, or the odd eyeglasses a coworker has chosen, but those are their choices, so who am I to criticize?

I think we need to extend this to people who like to put their Christmas decorations up early, or fill their homes with knick-knacks, or wear nothing but green … who are they hurting?  If it makes them happy, that’s enough.  Put up your Santas in July, be your bad self.  Fill your world with joy, in whatever form it takes for you.

And leave the eyelash girl alone.




Anachronistic feminism


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Dear friends,

Welcome back to school / work / life after Labor Day.  Time to buckle down again!  I have lots of ideas (listed on my phone) that I want to blog about in the coming weeks.  Here’s what I’m thinking about at the moment.

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We’re quick to judge historical figures by today’s cultural standards.  Many of us struggle with the “founding fathers'” attitudes toward slavery, the role of women, and other aspects of social life – but we must remember, they were men of their time.  Similarly, we like to think of literary figures such as Lizzie Bennet or Jo March as early “feminists.”  While these characters pushed against the societal constraints imposed on women, they were still limited to operating within the social mores of the time.  We see early glimpses of feminism, but not feminism as we understand it today.

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It’s important to consider this idea of “person of their time” when reflecting on the behaviors and accomplishments of those who came before us, especially when they’re family members.  Let’s be especially careful not to blame our mothers and grandmothers for not “breaking out” of traditional roles, when they were living under social constraints that are hard for us to understand today.

If you’ve watched “Mad Men,” that was the era when I grew up.  Single women couldn’t apply for credit cards, and married women couldn’t apply without their husband’s permission.  Career choices were limited to roles like nurse, secretary, teacher – and you were expected to give up your job when you married.  A married man was shamed if his wife “had to” work.  It wasn’t that long ago.

We’ve made great strides, and there’s more work to do.  Let’s honor the challenges faced by those who came before us.  We stand on their shoulders when we enjoy our rights and privileges today.



Life update 8/26/19


Hello everyone,

Classes start Wednesday.  It’s Monday.  I have a boatload of stuff to accomplish in the next 48 hours – praying for calm and clarity.

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{{Brown-eyed Susans, the WMU flower (brown & gold) are blooming all over campus.}}

I’m working from home today, getting syllabi and lessons ready, organizing thoughts and papers and files.  I’m working around a snoozing kitty in my lap.  I’m working around laundry and housework.  I’m listening to an audiobook.
I’m thinking about my students, all the new people I’ll meet in a few days, and wondering what they’re doing.  I hope they’re excited for more than just the social aspects of college.  I imagine they think all their professors have been enjoying a “summer off,” rather than working hard to make their learning experience a good one.
I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything (even the anxiety).  This is where I belong, and the classroom is my sacred space.
Cheers –

Book recommendation: Year of Yes


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Dear friends,

I read this book some time ago, and just revisited it on audiobook:

Before we get to the book, I wanted to discuss how I listened to it – not on Audible, but on the Libby app.  If you have a public library card, you can download the Libby app to your phone or tablet, connect your library card, and borrow Kindle or audio versions of books for free.  I kept hearing about this app and it’s amazing – you should try it.  You can also reserve books if no copies are available, and get a notification when they are added to your electronic shelf.

About the book:  You may be familiar with Shonda Rhimes as the creator, writer, and showrunner of Gray’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder.  At one time all three of these shows were on television simultaneously (Thursday night was “Shondaland,” with the shows airing one after another).  How does one human being keep up that pace?

She describes it as laying track in front of an oncoming train, and I really like that metaphor.

It’s not about saying “yes” to every request that comes along, but rather, saying “yes” to the right things – the things that will contribute to your health and well-being.  This means saying “yes” to things that are hard.  It may mean saying “yes” to a breakup.  It may mean saying “yes” to working on your physical health, rather than saying “yes” to a pint of ice cream every night.  It’s not about saying “no,” necessarily, but rather about making positive choices.

Sometimes we say “yes” to a social event when we really don’t want to go, but it’s ok if in doing so, we’re saying “yes” to our careers or some other higher goal.  It’s not ok if we’re saying “yes” in order to please someone else.  It’s all about discernment and being clear about what we prioritize.

Going into a new school year, I found these ideas very helpful.  I recommend the audiobook as it’s read by Shonda.  If you are looking for some inspiration in getting your life sorted out, I think you will enjoy this book.



Focus on the negative


Dear friends,

If I gave you ninety-nine compliments, and one criticism, would you focus on the criticism?  Many of us would (I know I would).

I always hold off on reading my teaching evaluations each semester, because I know those negative comments will crush me, no matter how many positive comments I get.  You’d think they’d offset each other, but no.

So the next question is, why do we make the negative stuff bigger than it is?

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I think it boils down to two main reasons:

One:  As humans, we’re hard-wired this way.  We live in community with others, and the approval of the community is essential to our survival – at some base, animal level, we fear being abandoned by our tribe.  Negativity feels like attack, and triggers a mental and physical reaction.  We won’t overcome it unless we learn to recognize it and realize this is what’s happening.

And two:  Criticism can make us hearken back to childhood insecurities, and the child inside us reacts with hurt.  If we were told we weren’t good enough, or would never amount to anything, critics can take us back there and make us wonder if those things were really true after all.  Again, I think the key to breaking this cycle is to recognize when this is happening to us.

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Our tendency to notice the negative is part of the self-protective instinct, but many of us allow it to overtake us.  Let’s strive to notice it without feeling defeated, to realize we’re not going to succeed 100% of the time – and that’s okay.  Let’s remember there are 7.5 billion people on planet earth, and they’re not all going to like or appreciate us.

Let’s value ourselves enough to take criticism for what it’s worth, and not a penny more.




(Don’t) top this!


Dear friends,

Earlier today, I was listening to a young woman reflect on the feeling of turning 30 years old.  She spoke about the shock of reaching such a “milestone” birthday, and how it made her more aware of her limitations – how she wasn’t a young kid anymore, how her metabolism was slowing down, how she was starting to find wrinkles on her face.

I’ve heard 20 year olds say the same kinds of things.  And 50 year olds.  And those in their 90s.

When you hear these things, and you’re older than the person saying them, it’s so easy to think/say, “But you’re still just a kid!  You’re young!  You think it’s bad now, wait till you’re my age!”  I had those very thoughts this morning … but then I realized, that kind of response is not helpful at all.

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We all know people who try to “top” us when we complain.  Your toe hurts?  Their whole foot hurts.  You had surgery?  Theirs was bigger, and better, and worse.  You’re overtired?  They haven’t had a full night’s sleep since 1972 … etc.

We miss the point entirely.

The person who says “I’m turning 30, and feeling old” is reflecting on her mortality, and recognizing the ways in which her life is changing with time.  Surely that’s something we all can relate to.  Rather than saying “You just wait till you’re 50!” I can say, “These milestone birthdays can be hard, huh?  They really prompt us to reflect on the ways we are changing.”  We can find a place to relate, to come together.

When I’m in pain, you can tell me that your pain is “worse,” but that doesn’t accomplish anything.  These things aren’t a matter of degree, but of the common human experience.  Let’s recognize the humanity in one another, and acknowledge that life can be tough sometimes, for all of us.

May the rest of your life be the best of your life.





Be soft



Dear friends,

These are words I try to live by.  Sometimes I hear people say, “What if there’s no afterlife? No God? No reason for love, or optimism, or kindness?”  My answer would be, even if none of those things exist, I want to live my life as if they do.  To me, that’s the best and highest use of this one precious day.




“Be soft.
Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

Ian Thomas

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You don’t get to keep it



“We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.”

Pema Chodron


I love this as a metaphor for life, and for attachment.  Many of us get attached to “things” (me included).  I try to remind myself that we don’t *really* “own” anything in this world, we merely get to *use* things for a time.  We come into the world without possessions, and we leave the same way.  While we’re here, we get to use some material objects, but they aren’t a part of us in any real sense.  Or at least they shouldn’t be.  They’re just tools.

I try to remember this when I experience the loss of something (some thing) I’ve deemed important.  I try to remember that material objects have no inherent meaning, other than the meaning I’ve given them.  And I try to examine my attachments, and whether they truly serve my peace of mind.

We get to use things while we’re here.  Let’s use them for our good, and the good of others.



Self-love, self-care, self-nurture


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Dear friends,

I’ve been thinking about the host of cultural tropes surrounding “self-love.”  We’re told to “love yourself first” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are urged to “be our own best friend” and to “fall in love with the person in the mirror.”  All good advice, but there’s a problem: self-love doesn’t feel authentic, at least most of the time.

We are all too familiar with our own shortcomings.

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Much of our self-criticism is based in fear, and that fear is organic.  As animals, we’re wired up that way.  We can’t survive without the support and approval of the community around us, and so we fear the rejection that could result from exposing our flaws to the world.  We try to step outside ourselves and see ourselves as others do, and many times we don’t like what we/they see.

We judge ourselves so harshly sometimes.

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I try to remember that our culture has framed “love” as a romantic feeling, where we bubble over with warm affection.  But love isn’t always romantic, and self-love is seldom like that.  We must take romance out of the equation, and ask ourselves, how would I act lovingly toward another person?  Well … I would probably comfort them when they are feeling down, reassure them when they’ve made a mistake, fix them a meal when they’re hungry, put a blanket over them when they’re cold.

In other words, I would care for them.  I would nurture their well-being.

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That person in the mirror?  That’s who you’ve been given, to take care of for a lifetime.  And the better care you take, the more potential she will have to live a happy, wholesome, and giving life.

You don’t have to feel hearts-and-flowers love toward the person in the mirror to nurture her with adequate sleep, healthy eating, and moments of enjoyment.  Just as you’re not madly in love with your car when you fill it with gas or get an oil change, you won’t always be feeling a great sense of self-love when you schedule a dental appointment or take a shower.

I’ve heard it said that “you can’t love another till you love yourself,” but that’s such a loaded statement.  Self-care is the key.  You can’t give care to another unless you give care to yourself.  If you don’t fuel yourself, you’re no use to anyone, including the person in the mirror.

Be good to yourself today.