Dear students, colleagues, family, and friends,

Despite the fact that I’m not teaching during the second summer session, I’m still busy! I have four major projects going on, and also have to get four online learning sites ready to run by the end of August. Not to mention meetings galore! Hence, a weekly blog for the rest of the summer – look for me on Fridays.

Enjoying a late cup of coffee, while reflecting on July 4:

I have seen a lot of posts on social media expressing discouragement at the current state of politics and our country’s culture. We are sad. We are disillusioned. We are highly conscious that America is not the “shining city on the hill” on the world’s landscape – yet our anger and disillusionment are connected to an ember of hope, of belief in what we should be.

I fear we are losing sight of the fact that this country was founded on an ideal – and even at the time of its founding, that ideal had never been met. Our forefathers had an idea of what a “perfect union” would look like, and they dared to write it down: a land of freedom and justice and equality. Keep in mind that these men were born British citizens, rooted in a culture of class structure, where the idea of being “created equal” was something new. And yes, it didn’t extend to people of color, or to women, then or now. But it was a beginning.

I hear a lot of people say they “hate politics,” but what they mean is that they hate our current state of political impasse and hate speech from both sides. Politics, in its purest form, is a process of people trying to figure out how to live with one another. Figuring this out requires a certain amount of good faith on all sides, an empathy, a willingness to listen, an openness to having one’s mind changed. That’s where we’re lacking, where we need work. Our communication has become toxic.

Why are classrooms important?

Here’s an example. On discussion days, I start by having my students “graffiti the board” with words, phrases, and ideas they’d like to offer up for conversation on the day’s topic. This serves several purposes: it gives us a starting point, it allows introverts to contribute in relative anonymity, and it allows students to steer the discussion in ways they find meaningful. I facilitate, and direct, and guide us into channels, but they have to figure it all out. I’m not the “sage on the stage” dispensing wisdom they write into their notebooks. We create knowledge together, with me as director of the production.

Let’s talk about a book:

First, a quick note: I’m changing the way I talk about books. For a while there I tried reviewing multiple books at a time, and talking about everything I’d read. Going forward, I plan to talk about fewer books, and only the most meaningful ones. I read a lot of fluff too, “beach books” and the like, but some of those aren’t worth talking about or recommending. This one is.

“Crying in H Mart” is a memoir, by the lead singer of the group Japanese Breakfast. If you’re looking for it in the bookstore, you’ll probably find it shelved in the music or entertainment sections, rather than non-fiction or biography (though I think this is a mistake, or it should be shelved in both places – some readers are going to have a hard time finding it). In the book, Michelle Zauner shares stories of her upbringing as a Korean-American (no, she’s not Japanese, despite the name of her band). She begins in the present day with a reflection of what it’s like to shop in H Mart, a grocery store that carries Korean foods, and how the smells and flavors remind her of her mother, and of her childhood.

My own mother passed away last year, and I share a lot of Michelle’s bittersweet feelings about moving forward in my life without her presence. It’s interesting, because I didn’t have any direct connections with any of Michelle’s memories, yet the experience of reading about them was meaningful. I would recommend this book to those dealing with grief, illness, and the challenges of living with the loss of a vital part of your support system. We are all stronger than we think, and in time, the memories are uplifting and remind us that we were, and are, loved.

How’s your self-care going? This week, my self-care looked like this:

  • Homemade potato salad. Big chunks of potato with mayo (the real stuff), honey mustard, and a dash of curry powder. None of that store-bought stuff in a tub that never tastes quite right. I like it the way I make it, even though it takes time!
  • Fresh strawberries, and corn on the cob. Delightful things that are just coming into season, and are at their most plentiful and least expensive this time of year.
  • Painted my toenails bright purple. Because sometimes you gotta.
  • Stopped and took a deep breath when I wanted to fly into a rage about something – because flying into rages doesn’t solve anything, and takes a toll on the spirit.
  • Called my dad every day (he’s in an assisted living center). These conversations usually consist of topics like whether he won at bingo, or if he liked Jeopardy the previous night, or if he’s planning to go for a walk today – but really, isn’t this the stuff life is made of?

What are you doing for self-care lately?

Sending warm tidings to you all,