Word of the day: Torpor


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Torpor (pronounced tore-pore):

 a state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy.
synonymns: inertia, listlessness, langour




It doesn’t get better – but YOU do


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Dear friends,

I understand the sentiment of the “It Gets Better” campaign, I really do.

Perhaps you’ve seen the public service announcements on television.  A variety of celebrities and public figures speak the line to the camera – “It gets better.”  The campaign is designed to encourage LGBTQ youth, and more broadly, kids who are being bullied.  The implication:  don’t despair, things will get better in time, if you hang in there, someday you’ll arrive at a place where all of this doesn’t matter.

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In our desire to comfort, we say things like “haters gonna hate,” or, “they’re just jealous,” or “karma will come back to bite them.”  But those platitudes do little to ease the pain of a young heart that’s hurting, the heart of a person who lacks the experience to see further down the road.  So let’s be honest about how things “get better.”

Let’s say, “I know this hurts.”  Let’s say, “These people are wrong, but they don’t see it.”  Let’s say, “Never think you’re alone, because I love you and I am always on your side.”  Let’s honor the pain and the sense of injustice, and let’s be cautious about offering platitudes that may dishonor someone’s anguish.  The first thing to say is “I love you and I am here for you.”

Things *will* get better, but not on their own.  Things get better when we get stronger, when we understand the world in a more nuanced way – and those things take time and maturity.  We have to grow through them, and into them.  The bullies may never change, but *we* can change, and we can guard against letting our hearts get hard.

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So yes, “it gets better,” but the slogan alone isn’t enough to comfort the young person who is feeling the sting of rejection right now, in this moment.  When you have a physical injury, people can say “it’ll get better,” and on an intellectual level, you may know they are right.  But for now, it’s hurting.  For now, you need treatment, comfort, relief from pain.  You can endure the challenges of healing when you have the relief and support to get you through.

I don’t mean to discount the work of the “It Gets Better” campaign (visit their website – it looks like they do great work).  Rather, I worry about people who throw this meme and slogan around as if it’s an answer to the problem.  In our efforts to help, let’s take care not to dishonor the difficulty someone is going through in this moment.

Let’s say, “I’m here.  I care.  You can count on me.”



My insomnia cure


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Dear friends,

Ah, insomnia.  Those nights when your mind keeps running on something (or everything, or ALL OF THE THINGS) and you can’t get any rest.

Sound familiar?


I have a meditation I use that helps me fall asleep on those nights when I just can’t shut off my mind.  Try it sometime, and let me know if it helps you.

I imagine I’m standing in a grassy meadow.  A short distance away, I can see a huge cloth on the ground, the size of a bedsheet.  One by one, I imagine my problems … I think about one problem, holding it in my hands in the form of an object.  Then I walk over to the cloth and throw it on.

I do the same with my next problem: Name it, think about it, imagine it as an object, then I walk over and throw it on the pile.

I do this over and over again, until I can’t think of any more issues for the moment.


Then I imagine the edges of the sheet/cloth start to gather up, like a giant drawstring bag – and with a “woosh,” my problems are swept up into the sky.  They’ve been removed from me, and for the moment, they are the concern of God (the higher power, the heavenly realm, add your favorite metaphor here).  I can’t have them back right now.

And now that my burdens have been lifted and swept away, I can sleep.

I encourage you to try this meditation and let me know if it works for you.

Sweet dreams and blessings,






Showing up


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Dear friends,

It’s a cliche, but like all cliches, it’s rooted in truth.  “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

In my line of work, we are constantly being asked to serve on committees, on task forces, in project groups.  A faculty member’s duties include teaching, research, and service, and it’s challenging to balance the three.  Teaching is a time-and-place sort of thing: you prep for class, you teach the class, you do the grading.  Research requires a degree of self-discipline, creating and adhering to a schedule of one’s own devising.

Then there’s the service.

Service obligations often get pushed to third place in the great trifecta (and, one could argue, rightly so, as service often “counts” the least in promotion and tenure decisions).  And all those meetings take precious hours from our already-tight schedules.  It’s tempting to say no, even with the prospect of free coffee and pastries in the morning.


When someone calls to recruit you for a committee, the pitch is always the same:  We NEED you.  You know so much about this issue.  You are so talented.  You’re so good with people.  You have expertise that nobody else does.

I try to say yes when I can.  I listen to people complain, people who didn’t come to the meetings and sit on the committees, and I sometimes bristle at their dismissive attitudes toward decisions that were time-consuming and carefully made.  No solution is ideal, but we are often invited to take part.  That’s the time to make our voices heard.

I am heartened by the rising activism I see among young people.  And I would say to all of us: if you’re fed up with living under the restrictions that others have imposed, make sure you are taking advantage of opportunities to be heard.  Many times we’re invited to the table, and find reasons not to show up.

Let’s renew our commitment to showing up as much as possible.





Controlling my rage


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Dear friends,

I’m usually able to keep my temper in check, but my personal danger zone is when I’m “hangry” (hungry + angry).  A few evenings ago, with a stressful week behind me and another one ahead, I behaved badly with a friend.  She expressed an opinion I disagreed with, and I went salty.


I wasn’t proud of myself.  And I did apologize.

In our culture, we’re encouraged to express ourselves, told that every thought and opinion is fair game for public airing.  Free speech, right?  But I’ve always believed that rights come with responsibilities – just because we *can* doesn’t mean we *should*.

Whyever not?  Why not just let it all hang out?

Because we care for one another.  Because we want to build relationships, not tear them down.  Because there are ways to disagree without expressing anger, without hurting or humiliating someone we care about.

Because I don’t want to be that person who loses my temper.  I want to cultivate patience and kindness, and stay aware that when someone disagrees with me, it doesn’t mean they’re my enemy.  If I want my friend to think my viewpoint is valuable, I can start by treating her with respect, even if I think she’s wrong.

I try to keep a handle on my rage because the short-term gratification of the outburst isn’t worth the long-term consequence of alienating someone who’s important to me.  And sometimes, I have to take a deep breath and remember that.




You who never arrived


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You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don’t even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of
the next moment. All the immense
images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt
landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and
unsuspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods–
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house– , and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,–
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and,
startled, gave back my too-sudden image.
Who knows? Perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening…

Rainer Maria Rilke