Do you pick up your toys and go home?



Dear friends,

I belong to a number of social media groups, particularly on Facebook.  From time to time, things can get heated.  This week, two very active members have departed from one of these groups, and they left with a bang, not a whimper.  Both of these people chose to unleash their frustration and anger, then announce they were leaving.  They were quitting our sandbox, picking up their toys, and going home.  So there!

Their frustration was rooted in the fact that other members didn’t agree with their views.  Tensions were rising, no doubt due to the “disinhibition effect” – our tendency to act more freely when we can hide behind anonymity.  Add to that the irritation of being unable to change people’s minds on deeply personal issues, and you can have a recipe for disaster.

The moderator did her best to keep things civil, but in the end, these two individuals chose (separately, on different occasions and due to different issues) to pitch a fit and flounce out of the room.  Some members said “good riddance,” while others wished that fences could be mended.

When do you walk away from a contentious situation?  It’s a tough call, that requires balancing stress levels, effort, and the importance of the issue.  At some point, you might decide that the drama isn’t worth the aggravation, and that for your own sake, you must remove yourself from the situation.  That’s valid.  We’ve all done it.

It takes courage and fortitude to hang in there when you find yourself in the minority, to remain calm, to search for different ways to explain your opinion.  Sure, we’re more comfortable around “our own kind,” and it’s a lot more enjoyable to keep company with those who think as we do.  To stay is to be vulnerable, to open ourselves to attack.  That’s not fun.

But we just might learn something.

I’m not saying that anyone should stay in an abusive situation.  I’m referring to these online arguments where it’s so easy to walk away, to “hit and run,” to unfriend someone because we see the world differently.  While I might never see the world your way, I can developing my critical thinking skills, my tolerance level, and even arrive at a deeper clarity of my own beliefs by listening to what you have to say.

Let’s stay engaged, if we can.  Yes, we must look after our own stress levels, but taking a break isn’t the same thing as walking away completely.  We live in community with others – yes, even with “them.”

We’re divided, but I still have faith that diplomacy matters.





Journal prompt / thought prompt: You don’t get to keep it


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Today’s prompt: Reflect on the objects / belongings you’re attached to.  My reflection is below:

“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.

What are you attached to?

The curated life


Good morning friends,

I’ve become a bit weary of the word “curated.”  I’ve always thought of this word in terms of the “curated collection” of a museum – a set of carefully selected objects with some kind of a common theme – but lately, I’ve heard it used in a variety of contexts.  With the recent popularity of Marie Kondo and the decluttering movement, many bloggers are writing about “curating” their homes … their closets … their makeup … their books.

I’m all for decluttering, but “curating” sounds a bit highbrow here.

So I looked up the word, to make sure I was understanding it correctly.  Lo and behold, it can be used in a variety of ways, referring to a collection of things that has been carefully selected and brought together, usually for the purpose of display.

Around this time, I also heard a talk on selective memory; how we filter our memories, keep and discard them, reimagine them so they fit our life narratives the way we want them to.  Then I thought about blogs.

This is the third blog I’ve owned.  Each had its own purpose.  The first was about my experiences in graduate school, and the second was about my early career.  This one is a thinking place.

Bloggers are curators of life.  We select, and bring together for display, stories and memories and thoughts that represent who we are.  We leave stuff out, too.  We are building an online persona, an idealized version of ourselves (even when we write in anger or post about the crappy stuff).  Whatever it is, we chose it.

Here’s a curated memory:  I was five or six, it was Christmas Eve, and snowing lightly.  Our house was on a corner, and there was a street lamp outside.  We looked out the window and saw Santa Claus himself, standing under the street lamp, at nearly midnight on Christmas Eve.  I was told I needed to get to bed quickly, so he could bring my presents inside and place them around the tree.

As I grew up, I realized there would be a “practical explanation” for our street-corner Santa.  A person dressed up, going to a party, perhaps?  Waiting for a cab?  Posing for a picture?  Getting ready to walk in on a houseful of kids to surprise them?  It doesn’t matter.  When I recall this memory, I still feel the magic that filled my chest and took my breath away.  Santa was real, and he was here.

That’s a curated memory.

When I share bits and pieces of my life, it’s never the whole picture.  It’s a moment, a nugget, that I’ve selected and processed and stored for recall, and each time I recall it, it may be shaped a little differently.  That’s how life works.  Each time we revisit a story, we meet it as a different person than we were the last time, and we will see it anew.

You, in turn, will put these revealed “nuggets” together and form a picture of me that is accurate, insofar as it goes, but never complete.  That’s another way that life works.  It’s a constant and ongoing discovery that expands and contracts and changes with every moment.  And that’s the wonder of it all.

Wishing you a day filled with wonder, and the stuff of memories,


Journal prompt / thought prompt: Good advice!


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Today’s prompt for journaling and/or reflection:

What’s some good old-fashioned advice you’ve received?

Here are two of mine:

Mom: “If you cook the whole package of bacon, you’ll eat the whole package of bacon.”

Dad: “Don’t force it, you’ll break it.”

What are some of yours?

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.