2014: The Year of Barely Blogging

Ruby's Double Rainbow

I didn’t take this picture. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose snapped it on July 8 as we drove home from the animal hospital with our dying dog. We carried her to the car in the pouring rain. I held her in my arms in the back seat and sobbed uncontrollably as WFKG drove slowly through the storm. Ruby was still and quiet, as stoic in dying as I imagine she was during the three years she spent in a puppy mill. Oh, how we loved this sweet, strong, silent girl who came from nothing, gave so much, and was leaving us much too soon. As we drove into Takoma Park, the rain let up and the setting sun burst through the clouds, producing a magnificent double rainbow that demanded our attention, distraught though we were in that moment. WFKG pulled over. I jumped out of the car and started taking pictures. She stayed behind the wheel and got this shot through the front windshield. I love it for the drops of rain on the glass, as if the world were crying with us while affording us a consoling vision of unexpected beauty. Yeah, I’m a sucker for a good pathetic fallacy, but give me a break. My dog was about to cross the rainbow bridge, and suddenly there’s a double fricking rainbow in the sky! Who could resist?

A rainbow glimpsed through tears: I offer this up as my Photo of the Year because I reckon I’m not the only one struggling to find something nice to say about 2014 as it grinds — mercifully, inexorably — to an end. What’s to love about a year that brought us Ebola, Ferguson, and ISIS and took away Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Lauren Bacall (among many others)? How do you make sense of a year that brings legalized pot to Colorado, same-sex marriage to Utah, and a new Congress committed to repealing all of the 21st and most of the 20th century? You don’t, or, you know, at least I don’t. Or can’t.

2014 has been the year of barely blogging for me for a number of reasons. The short, dull, honest explanation is that I’ve been busy. I got legally married this year. Bought a guitar. Buried my mother. Started a big new job. Went to China. Worried a lot about the upward trend of my weight. I’m still in love with my new job, but I’m also still learning it and still wrestling with how blogging fits into it. As I assume new responsibilities and carve out new expertise, I feel a need to be cautious in relation to social media. My blogs have always been ambiguously connected to my professional and institutional identities. During this period of transition, that ambiguity feels a bit riskier than it has in the past. I’ve felt more comfortable blogging on personal topics, but I worry about alienating readers with concerns that might seem humdrum or, heaven forbid, dull. I’d rather die than bore you, darlings, so I’ve spent less time hanging out here and more time in the cozy confines of Facebook. (Along with my brilliant new colleague Alexis Lothian, who wrote early in the fall about how personal/professional changes shifted her online positioning.)

There’s more to it than that, though. I have a terrible confession to make. I’m not just spending less time writing blogs. I’m spending less time reading them as well. At some point in the middle of the semester, my Feedly feed got so full up that I closed the tab and just stopped checking. I guess I declared blog bankruptcy. The term infobesity has begun to resonate with me, and I don’t think it’s just because it hooks in with my concerns about my weight. It’s probably a bad metaphor for information overload, because it suggests that the problem arises from individual pathology or bad behavior rather than from a structural condition nearly impossible to avoid. Still, I’m recognizing that I feel weighted down by the news, information, and analysis that come at me every time I lock eyes on a screen — which is darn near every moment of my waking life. Often I click and click and read and read, and with every click I feel less clear about what I know, less able to compose and publish my thoughts. Some days I remind myself of Nicholas Branch, the CIA archivist in Don DeLillo’s Libra tasked with piecing together the secret history of the assassination of JFK. He spends fifteen years working in a room filled with books, documents, “theories and dreams,” studying everything because, “he is in too deep to be selective.” He takes copious notes but produces precious little in the way of “finished prose” because, “It is impossible to stop assembling data. The stuff keeps coming.” He feels disheartened, immobilized, haunted, but he persists, knowing “he can’t get out.”

How do we avoid the immobilization produced by information overload? Do we stick with the logic of infobesity and put ourselves on a strict information diet, knowing that diets, like new year’s resolutions, tend to fail? Or do we reject the metaphor and find a better one, one that might more effectively capture the structural conditions of what Jodi Dean terms communicative capitalism? I’m not prepared to shut this blog down as a way of demonstrating my virtuous commitment to info calorie consciousness. I’d rather find a way to revitalize it in 2015 by using it as a tool — a fine pair of flippers, perhaps — to help me and readers play delightfully in the sea of information rather than feel overwhelmed by it. Hate that metaphor, too? Then find me a better one, Madpeople. I eagerly await your suggestions.

Oh, and happy new year. Here is a picture of two adorable puppies looking like angels in a pool of morning light. Yes, they are mine. Their names are Mattie and Max. They are litter mates. And proof, perhaps, that a double dog dare is sometimes worth the risk. Double rainbow. Double dog dare. You see what I did there, don’t you?

Terriers in a pool of light

A Love Letter to My New Job

Or, A Labor Day Post Quite Different from Last Year’s

Labor Day reflections. Western Maryland 4-H Education Center. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 8/31/14.

Labor Day reflections. Western Maryland 4-H Education Center. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 8/31/14.

The summer of 2014 has been long and strange for me and horrifying for much of the world. I’m not sorry to see it end. Within a 17-day period in July, I started a new job, lost a beloved and relatively young (six and a half years old) dog, and lost my mother, who was not young and hadn’t been in good health for a long time, but still. And when I say that I lost them, I don’t mean I misplaced them. I mean that my dog and my mother died, within eight days of one another — while I was still trying to sort out the best places to park and pee in my new job. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it did suck.

I don’t want to blog about the dying, though. I hope you won’t mind. I’ve done plenty of sharing on Facebook, and maybe some day I’ll find a way to blog about the powerful ways in which these two deaths, so proximate to one another in time, are linked in my heart-mind. For now, I’d like to blog about the happy part of my long, strange summer, the part that went beautifully when so much else was so achingly out of joint — the start of the aforementioned new job.

Classes begin tomorrow at Queer the Turtle U, but I’ve just gone through one of the busiest weeks of the year in my new position as executive director of an academic residential community that is home to close to 2,000 academically talented freshmen and sophomores. This past Wednesday, we welcomed our new cohort of 977 freshmen to campus with a convocation ceremony that featured some first-rate a cappella singing, the university president, and yours truly in the role of inspirational speaker, though I have a hunch our young scholars will forever remember me as the Lady in the Awesome Red Jacket Who Inadvertently Made Them All Think About Sex at the Same Time. (Long story. Brief occupational lesson: Never forget that eighteen-year-olds are always this close to thinking about sex. Speak with caution. And laugh along with them when you push them over the edge.) On Thursday, we sent them all out at ten minutes past the butt crack of dawn to do service projects at thirty sites throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C., a logistical operation on par with the invasion of Normandy as far as I am concerned. On Friday, we worked quietly in our offices while caffeinating heavily and patting ourselves on the backs that not a single teenager had been maimed or killed on Service Day. Some of us stayed late to hang out at a burrito slam (is that a thing now?) being hosted by four of our programs. On Saturday, I pulled my sleeping bag out of mothballs, gave a quick kiss to the Person to Whom I Am Legally Married, and headed off to a 4-H camp (see photo above) in the part of Maryland that is really West Virginia to spend the weekend with students and faculty in another of our programs who prefer to do their getting acquainted in the company of snakes, mice, and salamanders. In this instance, tacos were slammed. (Long story. Brief occupational lesson: The new job involves lots of social eating. Someone is headed back to her Lifestyle Adjustment Program soon for a quick refresher course before the buttons on that red jacket start popping off.) I drove home this morning, exhausted, stiff as a board from two nights on a flimsy mattress in a rustic cabin, grinning like a fool. Labor Day? I chuckled to myself. In this case, I think we should call it Labor of Love Day.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Feel cynical or superior. Or click back to that Word document of the syllabus you’ve been working at in a desultory way for the better part of the weekend. Or stick around for a minute or two and listen to an academic talk about something other than fear and loathing of everything currently happening in higher education. Don’t worry. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that there is plenty to fear and loathe. That’s just not my focus here.

I’m an academic, and I am having fun at work. There. I said it. I know I’m still in the honeymoon phase of this new gig and that one day I’ll wake up and there will be reports to write instead of inspirational speeches and meetings that will make me wish I had food poisoning to get out of attending. I am also acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be in a big honking R-1 school chockablock with cool programs that need people to run them. Still, I don’t think my situation is all that unusual. Most schools have similar opportunities for mid-career course adjustments that can ease the dread so many faculty members feel this time of year. My advice to those for whom the dread is starting to feel unbearable? Look around you. Keep your ears open for opportunities. Put out feelers. Be open to possibilities that might seem unusual.  Unusual could easily turn out to be just right. That’s what happened in my case. I’d never been involved in a living-learning program. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to apply for my current position if I hadn’t been actively exploring what I might do once I stepped down from twelve years of running a small academic program. I was prepared to head back “home” to the English department full time and focus on getting promoted, but when this opportunity came up something told me I ought to pursue it. I was surprised by what my gut was telling me to do, but my gut has never steered me wrong. I listened to it. I’m glad I did. I love the energy and excitement of my new office as well as the commitment to working together to make great things happen for undergraduate students in their first two years.

I’m an academic, and I am having fun at work. Are you? If you aren’t, look around you. Maybe the best job you’ll ever have is right there on your own campus. Don’t just stand on the dock feeling surly or sad. Dive in — Summer may be over, but the water is still fine!

This post is dedicated to my dear pal Lisa, who lives on the water, recently became a dean, and is also in mad love with her new job. Lisa, my friend, you make me regret every No Dean Left Behind joke I ever made. If higher ed is in your capable hands, we might avoid the apocalypse after all.

Off the Wall: Reflections on the Old Year

Moby Dick (beach glass on glass) by the Madwoman's Father, Welman "Lindy" Lindemann.

Moby-Dick (beach glass on glass) by the Madwoman’s Father, Welman “Lindy” Lindemann.

I was reaching sleepily for the second or third sip of coffee this morning when a loud thud out on the porch interrupted my efforts to fortify myself for the last day of 2013. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose was a sip or three ahead of me, and so she joined me out on the porch to investigate the source of the noise. To my considerable consternation, we discovered that the family masterpiece of recycled art, Moby-Dick, had fallen from the wall on which it had hung, proudly and without incident, for nearly ten years. Careful inspection revealed no damage to the painstakingly assembled pieces of Lake Michigan beach glass that make up the jaunty white whale, but a sawtooth hanger on the back of the frame had given way, causing the fall. Whether the culprit is rusty nails or weakness in the decaying frame I cannot at the moment say. WFKG and I will figure it out, though, fix it up, and get the picture back on the wall where it belongs. That’s a good project for the approaching new year: small, doable, but satisfying.

Things fall. Things fall apart. That they should do so on the last day of a year that has seemed so damaged and damaging is convenient for a lazy writer in search of an easy metaphor but not surprising. Things happen. Shit happens. Timing is meaningful only to those who believe in patterns and portents. There are no coincidences. It all fits together. See? I told you everything is getting terrible.

I don’t believe in patterns and portents, but every picture tells a story. My father, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, was not an artist. He was a department-store accountant, a mild-mannered guy who kept his head down and smoked a lot of cigarettes to get through the days on his tedious job. He played the piano, beautifully and by ear, but his taste was more Broadway than Bach, middlebrow all the way. Moby-Dick was his only foray into visual art. He produced it in the early 1980s, because my mother ordered him to do something with the piles of beach glass he kept bringing in to their home on Lake Michigan. He would walk the beach for hours, head down, Baggie in hand, scanning the ground for the rare bits of lavender and red scattered among the truckloads of green and brown glass that seemed to gather at the water’s edge. He would come home and show off his findings, brimming with the excitement of all the world’s treasure hunters. My mother and I were partial to the striking pieces of cobalt blue that would turn up from time to time. We theorized, as the poet Amy Clampitt did, that such beauty could only have been produced by Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia bottles that somehow ended up on the beach and then got broken and polished by the water into delicate chunks of loveliness that would catch my father’s eye.

The glass piled up and up in the ever larger jars my mother would buy to contain them. I wasn’t there when some of the jars got emptied out and turned into Moby-Dick, but I’m sure it was a winter project, perhaps undertaken on one of the many New Year’s Eves my parents spent at the lake. Did they collaborate in its making? I doubt it. I see my father, hunched over the kitchen table, carefully considering the placement of each piece of green glass comprising the piece’s sparkling foundation, wrestling with where and how to place the boundary between water and sky. My mother comes in from time to time and leans over the table, chatty, trying to be helpful, asking why he’s put that odd pale patch between the green and the brown in the lower right and suggesting that the small tail is out of proportion with the massive body. Also: It’s a lake, Lindy. There are no whales here. He is too absorbed in the work to offer anything but a grumble by way of reply. Get me another cup of coffee, Patsy. This is going to take awhile. The moment when he glues the triangle of red into place as the whale’s delighted eye is, I am confident, one of the happiest of his life. A Midwestern Lily Briscoe, he had had his vision and executed it to the best of his abilities.

I don’t recall how or why I came to possess Moby-Dick by the mid-80s, but he graced a wall in the first home WFKG and I ever shared, a funky little cottage on Barnegat Bay that we took because it comported with our fantasy of where writers and scholars would live and was, somehow, affordable for a couple of non-trust funded grad students. Kitschy as he is, he is one of my most cherished objects, a constant, visible reminder of things I learned from and loved about my dad: whimsy, patience, discernment, a willingness to try something new. He taught me to trust silence and my own instincts. He taught me to love a soft yet genial smile. He taught me that a strategically placed spot of red might be just the thing to bring a composition together. (What did I learn from my mother? Find out here.)

All years are a mix of good and bad, hard and easy, delightful and disheartening. By the numbers, 2013 seems to have been a fairly awful year. For me it has been a year of challenge and uncertainty on the professional front (nothing you need to worry about, I assure you) and sadness and anxiety on some personal fronts, as the chatty woman referred to two paragraphs ago slips further and further into the twilight of dementia. Will 2014 be “better”? Oh, it’s pretty to think so, isn’t it, darling, and we cling to that hope as fiercely as Robert Redford clung to his pathetic little sailboat in that great big storm. I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Meantime, I practice that other skill I learned from my father of keeping my head down and carrying on, without the cigarettes. If there are battles raging in the blogosphere, I am avoiding them, because I don’t have the time, the energy, or the inclination to hurl myself into them right now. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, though it might mean I have begun to have doubts about whether these little first-amendment machines are worth having in our laps after all. Mostly, though, it just means I am tired and expending my limited energies where they are most needed.

Here’s one thing I do know for sure, though, so I’ll offer it up as an out with the old year/in with the new year observation: Kindness might not save the world, but unkindness will surely damage it. If you have a choice, choose kindness, not because it will magically resolve conflicts and turn hell into paradise but because it stands the best chance of not increasing the world’s or your own soul’s supply of misery. Simple, right?

And on that not entirely upbeat note, I bid you a fond farewell for 2013. My minimal hope for 2014 is that nothing will fall off the walls. Happy fricking new year, Madpeople at Your Laptops. I raise my glass to each and all.

champagne & flowers

Random Bullets of Post-Thanksgiving Mellowness

Still cooking . . . . Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 11/30/13

Still cooking . . . . Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 11/30/13

The carcass of the bird is on the stove (or was, last night, when I began this post), simmering down into a stock for a soup we’ll eat for a week, if we’re lucky. This soup, I think. The lemon sounds good to me, and the Middle Eastern spices will be a nice change of taste. The guests have gone. A fire crackles. I am tired but happy and, yes, grateful for all the things a person in my ridiculously comfortable position ought to be: love, leftovers, a house suited for both comings and goings, a little dog, a partner skilled in fire-building. These are not things I take for granted. Oh, and you, of course, despite my terrible neglect recently, I am, I swear, still grateful for you, my legions of loyal, lovely readers. Thank you for being here. I’d be truly Mad without you. Now, those random bullets I promised you.

  •  Movie Mavens: Go see All Is Lost, writer-director J. C. Chandor’s absorbing, nearly wordless tale of an aging white dude (Robert Redford) whose solo sailing adventure goes horribly awry. It is brilliant for all the narrative and cinematic cliches it manages to avoid. In that respect, it is a much better film than this season’s other Adrift in an Indifferent Universe epic, Gravity, which I also enjoyed despite the fact that it collapsed into ludicrousness and sentimentality at key points. (I’d stage a full-on smackdown between the two films, but, lucky for me, someone has already done that.) Chandor deserves a medal for believing that moviegoers in a moment as loud and chattering as ours would sit through a film with one character who stares mortality in the face for a hundred minutes and has next to nothing to say. Reward his faith. Go see All Is Lost and then come back here and debate the ending with us. And tell us if you think the wedding ring on Our Man’s right hand is as significant as the close readers in our group of moviegoers thought it was. I thought it meant Redford’s character was a widower, which might help to explain his longing for solitude in a world far from home. Also, though, read A. O. Scott’s wonderfully astute reading of the film as “a fable about the soul of man under global capitalism.” Yeah, I know it sounds like the abstract of a paper from last week’s American Studies Association convention, but it’s really smart.
  • Grammar Geeks: Go read this delightful account of the evolution of “because,” which now operates as a preposition in statements such as, Grammar nazis will grouse, but the rest of us will celebrate because USAGE! Language changes, and that isn’t always or necessarily bad. The speed and terseness of Internet communication have helped to produce new usages that are concise, clever, dense with irony and wit, and highly adaptable. Yes, I hate it when student papers sound as sloppy and informal as a late-night text message, but I love a cool maneuver that tightly yokes syntax, semantics, and zeitgeist into one neat little package. I could spend all day explaining this to you in great detail, but neither you nor I have time for that and you already know anyway because Interwebs!
  • Book Nerds, Obamaniacs, and Friends of Willa Cather: The president patronized an independent bookstore in Washington, DC in support of Small Business Saturday. Among the books he purchased was Willa Cather’s classic My AntoniaI would have pegged the prez as more of a Professor’s House guy myself, but it could be he’s feeling nostalgic for his childhood on the Kenyan prairie. Or something. I just hope it’s not a gift for one of his daughters. I’d hate to think all that tuition money he and Michelle are dropping on Sidwell would end up in a future of farm work, bad teeth, and prolific motherhood. And, you know, being the object of some middle-aged white dude’s nostalgic fantasy. Just sayin’. (No disrespect to farming or the conditions of rural American life in the late nineteenth century, of course. Antonia has just never been my favorite Cather novel. Call me for recommendations, Mr. President. I am ready to serve as your Secret Santa/Cather Scholar on Call. Or, you could just buy this book.)
  • Higher Ed Reformers: Read this and then shut the f_ck up about trying to reform higher ed. The opening lines made my heart sing: “The more I read and think about higher education, our shortcomings, our crises, our threats, and our supposed saviors, the more I come to believe that the best thing we could do in the name of reform is absolutely nothing. Down with the pursuit of ‘excellence!’ Enough with innovation! Leave some of the children behind! Say it with me! Let’s do nothing! I say this because I wonder what chasing the next shiniest thing has really been getting us.” Amen! (H/T The Reader Formerly Known as Dudley’s Human.)
  • Un-Smart Smart Phone Users: (By which I mean: me.) Help is out there. Here are “19 Mind-Blowing Tricks Every iPhone and iPad User Should Know.” Hey, it’s worth the click just to learn that pressing your space bar twice will magically produce a period, a space, and a capital letter on the next word you type. I saved 15 minutes of my holiday weekend by using this trick on pointless holiday texts to members of my beloved but far-flung family. Try it. Because tick-tock, tick-tock!

Oh, dear, speaking of time passing, I gotta go. It’s Sunday. It’s December. There’s soup to be made and feedback to be given and classes to plan and meetings to remember. So long, mellow. Hello, Madness! Hope you had a delightful holiday, darlings, and that the Madness is manageable in your neck of the woods. Just remember: Things could always be worse. You could be a guy in a boat in the middle of nowhere who manages to run into a shipping container full of tennis shoes. Because random! Because globalization! Because oops!

Our Man faces another fine mess in All Is Lost. Photo Credit: Daniel Daza © 2013 Roadside Attractions

Our Man faces another fine mess in All Is Lost. Photo Credit: Daniel Daza © 2013 Roadside Attractions

Object-Oriented Mom-ology

[Clever allusion in post title explained here. Kinda.]

Today is Mother’s Day, a day I mostly loathe, perhaps because I’m not fond of commercially generated displays of rank sentimentality and perhaps because I resent that childless lesbians don’t get a special day set aside to honor their unique contributions to civilization. I mean, seriously, people, does softball mean nothing to you?

what my mother gave meNonetheless: I was driving to campus the other day and caught a few minutes of a conversation on NPR’s Tell Me More about a new collection of essays edited by Elizabeth Benedict called What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. The conversation made the book sound far less rank than its title and cover might lead one to expect. The contributors are a diverse group of writerly women, including poet laureate Rita DoveNation columnist Katha Pollitt, and Genius grant-winning immigration activist Cecilia Muñoz. The essays clearly aren’t all saccharine and floral tributes to Saint Mom either. Some document fraught relationships with difficult women who weren’t always as present or functional as their daughters might have hoped or needed them to be, yet each writer came up with a particular gift from her mother that had, over the years, attained a special meaning and resonance: a wok, a quilt, a photograph, a necklace.

Not surprisingly, the story got me thinking. I did a mental inventory of things my mother has given me over the past half century or so of our relationship. On my right hand, I wear a small diamond ring I got for Christmas my senior year of high school. In my dining room, I have the lovely gray Wedgwood that was the special occasion china of my childhood and a set of ruby red goblets that graced every holiday dinner table. In my study, I have Brit lit anthologies filled with notes in her neat high school teacher’s hand. She gave them to me when I started graduate school. As I write these words, I gaze up at a gray and white china rabbit on a nearby shelf. It was her mother’s, and she passed it on to me after Grandma died. Photographs? I have boxes full, just waiting for me to fulfill her wish for a proper family history.

These are all beloved objects, things I love having in my daily life and world. I cherish them and, if they are intended to be used, I use them, regularly. They are gifts that matter, deeply, yet none of them seems quite the right vehicle for taking up Benedict’s challenge to her contributors to describe a gift that “magically, movingly reveals the story” of my mother and my relationship to her (xii). I thought again, harder, letting my mind wander into places it doesn’t often go, not because those places are especially painful or tragic but because they are remote. I thought less of objects than of moments, turning points in my life when my mother had made a difference. And just like that, I knew how to identify the gift that mattered most.

The Plane Ticket

It must have been over the semester break, also in my senior year of high school, but I’m fuzzy on the timing. Still, it was winter and I had time to take a trip, so that would make sense. That year was strange for me — intense, as senior years tend to be, but weird because I wasn’t living with my family. My father had gotten transferred to a new job in a town about an hour away from where I attended high school. My parents gave me the option of staying behind, boarding with a friend’s family during the week so that I could graduate with my peer group. I was editor of the yearbook. I had a (gay) boyfriend. I had seen how hard similarly badly timed moves had been on my older brother and sister, so I opted to become a commuter kid. It was a good decision, but the arrangement added to the tumult of what is always a topsy-turvy period in one’s life.

In the midst of all this upheaval, I was also of course trying to figure out where to go to college. With all the editing and writing I was doing, everyone — myself included — had been assuming I was headed toward journalism school, perhaps at Indiana University, where my parents had met in the early 1950s and from which the grandmother with the china rabbit had graduated in the late 1920s. The summer before senior year, though, I spent six weeks in France in a language-immersion program. When I stepped off the plane in early August, I had a difficult time speaking English to my parents — and all my old plans and assumptions had been upended. I had been to a ballet, seen the Mona Lisa, picnicked in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I had visited tiny towns on the Norman coast, where grateful citizens still recalled being liberated by American troops in World War II. I had learned to tell jokes and to dream in another language. I had learned to love vegetables! Suddenly, Bloomington just didn’t seem big or glamorous enough, and I wanted more from college than a vocational training program.

McGill scrapsAnd so it was that at some point in December of 1976 or January of 1977 I found myself alone in Montreal, Quebec, checking out McGill University. I had never been to Montreal before, and I had never even heard of McGill until one of my pals in the study abroad program mentioned she was thinking about going there. “Wow,” said my impetuous young mind, “an English-speaking university in a French-speaking city known for its elegance and sophistication. Allons-y!” So I went, and of course I fell instantly and hopelessly in love. I remember nothing of campus tours or meetings with officials, though I’m sure I must have met with someone. (Remember, though, the whole campus visit industrial complex was a lot less complex in ye olden times of the 1970s than it is nowadays.) The highlights of the trip that I do recall were taking myself out for a dinner of crepes and wine and getting caught in a snowstorm that resulted in my flight home being canceled. I was already at the airport. I called home collect — remember: no cellphones! — to get advice on what to do. My mother gave me a credit card number and told me to take a cab back to my hotel. Because people were nicer and more trusting in ye olden times of the 1970s, I was able to check back into the hotel with nothing but a number on a piece of paper. I had one more deliriously happy night in Montreal and made it home the next day, determined to enroll at McGill. Which I did, for two years — but that is another story.

Why do I consider that plane ticket to Montreal the most important gift my mother ever gave me? And why do I think of the gift as coming from her when I know that my father was fully involved in this process?  I suppose that particular ticket feels monumental because it was the first time I was sent out into the world on my own, to explore and evaluate a whole new set of possibilities and make my own judgment about them. When I came home and announced my decision, no one questioned it. No one said, “Oh, honey, why do you want to go so far away to school?” or “You know, they don’t even have a journalism program.” I made a decision, and it was respected and supported, every step of the way.

I credit my mother with the gift of the ticket because she was always the one who encouraged me to fly. I adored my father, but Mom pushed me to develop my skills and talents in ways that he didn’t. I realize there was a certain amount of vicarious living going on in her embrace of my big dreams, but I also think she recognized early on that I needed to chart my own course and that it was going to be quite different from hers. Not that my mother’s life was terribly thwarted or ground in the mill of the conventional. She had a husband and four children, yes, but she also had a demanding career, first in teaching and then in publishing. She set a high bar for accomplishment, and I’ve spent my life trying to get over it.

The finest gifts are always a reflection of both the giver and the recipient. They come out of deep desires and understandings; they meet deep, often inchoate, needs and open mind and heart to new ways of seeing, being, and thinking. With the gift of a plane ticket, my mother said to me, “Fly, my darling daughter. I know you can. I know you must. Fly away, and I will survive your absence. Fly back, and I will welcome you home. Fly, daughter, fly.”

Thank you, Mom. For the ticket to everything.

The Madwoman's Mother, hamming it up for the camera. South Haven, MI, c. 1993.

The Madwoman’s Mother, hamming it up for the camera. South Haven, MI, c. 1993.

Home-o-normativity: A New Year-ish Post

I was about to write that January is for burrowing in, hunkering down, and laying low, but then I checked and realized those were the exact words I used last January, which either suggests that I am right about January or that my powers of description are painfully limited. Or perhaps it means that university professors really do have the least stressful jobs on earth. No, wait, that idea has been thoroughly debunked. Torn to shreds. Subjected to the Onion comparison.

Still: January. I didn’t go to the MLA again. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose did, and she had a wonderful time, as she always does because she revels in the hobnobbing and the glad-handing and all the other compound words used to describe high levels of social interaction tied to the advancement of professional goals and interests. (See also back-slapping, party-hopping, and name-dropping.) I enjoy those activities, too. In smaller doses.

And so I stayed home to do my burrowing and my futzing and my rearranging of this and that. Last January I focused on denuding the front of the refrigerator, which had gotten covered by an impressive assortment of photos, magnets, bumper stickers, ticket stubs, and masterpieces of kid art. This year I tackled the pantry, which in our household serves to store a little bit of food and prodigious amounts of stuff that should probably be tossed or stored elsewhere. It took me a couple of days, but I successfully cleared the top of the little wine fridge (which is in the pantry), our favorite place for piling crap when company is coming and we don’t know what the hell else to do with it.

Another project I took on ended up consuming a lot more time than I had anticipated and in a couple of moments had this Madwoman on the brink of smashing her shiny new Laptop in a fit of frustration. As the household photographer and archivist, I had long wanted to go back to my very first Mac laptop, the comically large (17″) PowerBook G4, and retrieve hundreds of photos that had never been migrated to subsequent machines. I figured this would be a simple operation, especially when I cranked up the old aluminum mare alongside my sleek new MacBook Pro and noticed that the photos on the old machine showed up in the Source list under “Shared” in iPhoto on my new computer. I had more than a thousand images on the old computer, but about half of them had already been migrated. (When? How? Why? And why were the others left behind? Heck if I know!) I thought, well, I’ll just select the 500 or so I want to take, drag them into the new photo library, and run upstairs and tell WFKG what a fricking techno-wizard I am. Unfortunately, the maneuver was only half successful. The images migrated, but the order got messed up, as the date/time data on some of the images got scrambled in the transition. Suddenly, pictures from WFKG’s epic fiftieth birthday party were interspersed with photos of the Thanksgiving Festival of Terrapins, Texans, and Norwegians that we hosted in 2004, and that was just wrong, wrong, wrong. I undid the maneuver and tried it again, firmly believing that if at first you don’t succeed at something you should repeat the same flawed procedure until you are ready to slam your head up against the nearest brick wall.

apple supportNot surprisingly, my efforts failed. I might not have mentioned this, but WFKG and I do in fact live in a brick house, so the head-banging option was available. After a prolonged series of Interweb searches and several smug well-intentioned pronouncements from Facebook friends, most of which involved the word “Dropbox,” I finally did what I probably should have done in the first place: picked up the phone and called Apple support. I felt better about my tech-wizardry when I had to be passed up the line to a supervisor, who spent more than an hour working with me, including doing that creepy/amazing thing where you give some unseen dude access to your computer, before declaring that there was no way to unscramble the data, because the operating systems and the versions of iPhoto on the two computers were simply incompatible. All I could do was manually change the date/time information on the migrated images to get them back in the right order. Which I did. Because my German brain really does require that kind of thing.

Why am I telling you this? Because I worry that you, too, have a growing pile of old computers in your home and that they hold images, documents, and data that will be compromised or lost if you don’t tend to the tedious tasks of migrating, merging, and updating. I say this as a super-slacker when it comes to updates, but I am resolved, in a New Year-ish kind of way, to try to do better. Check back with me in a month to see if I’ve tackled the equally complex problem of how to consolidate iTunes libraries scattered across half a dozen computers and other devices. Hello, Eric? Me again. Could you help me figure out where I put the Brandenburg concertos and, um, that song I impulsively bought on iTunes after I heard it on Glee? What? No, I don’t remember the name of the group. Or the song. Or which episode it was. Eric? Are you there? Eric? Is this Apple support?

Don’t let your past get locked up in a machine that is no longer functional or accessible. That’s all I’m saying, darlings.

In other January news from the homefront, we had to have a tree brought down this week, an old maple in a remote corner of the ridiculously large back yard. Roxie loved that tree, which had a sort of saddle close enough to the ground that she could climb up into it and look out over the property as if to say, “I am lord and master of this joint. Back off, little squirrels.” And they did. The tree had been leaning precariously over a neighbor’s yard for quite some time and finally began to uproot itself after the devastations of the derecho and hurricane Sandy. It was sad to see it pulled down, piece by piece. I will miss its presence in our sky, but it left some lovely remnants, several of which the neighbor plans to keep in her yard. We made a table and chairs out of pieces of an oak we had to bring down not long after we moved into this house. We called it “Log-Henge” and enjoyed it for years, until eventually it crumbled into the soil, a perfect mulch for another corner of the garden. I told the neighbor that story on Tuesday. She smiled.

Cycle of life, dear readers, cycle of life. Indoors. Out of doors. This is our home. It deserves our loving attention. Peace out, and happy new year.

Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 1/8/13

Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 1/8/13

2012: The Year in Madness, Part Deux

This post brought to you by the Department of Arts and Entertainment, ™Madwoman Enterprises, LLC. For an idiosyncratic survey of the mostly political Madness of 2012, scroll down or click here.

This post will be even more idiosyncratic than the previous one was, shaped as it is by the peculiar tastes of a couple of cranky old broads who miss most of the good movies because they tend to get released during the college basketball season and keep forgetting to tune into the shows that all the cool kids are watching. Breaking Bad? Mad Men? Girls? Game of Thrones? Oh, for heaven’s sake, people, we’re already planning to catch up on The Wire when we’re settled into the nursing home. Add these to the list, and let’s move along to a few things we actually did see this year.

Mad TV: Dorothy helpfully reminded us in a comment on the previous post that one of the year’s best and Maddest moments in live TV was Karl Rove’s election-night meltdown on Fox News, as he spluttered that Fox and other networks should not be calling Ohio — and thus the election — for Obama. It was an epically entertaining moment and a comedown long overdue in our humble opinion. Karl Rove has been a boil on the backside of American politics for more than two decades. It was thrilling to watch the boil get publicly lanced. See it here. Oh, and for a deliciously conspiratorial take on the diabolical plot that might have fueled Rove’s meltdown, go here.

HomelandTVSeriesAs for non-live TV, we are at least cool enough to have been fanatically devoted to Homeland in its sophomore season, despite some of the improbable plot twists and allegations of overacting on the part of Claire Danes. (We reject those allegations, because, well, we look goofy when we cry, too. Don’t judge.) For us, what makes Homeland white-knuckle television is the radical ambiguity of both lead characters, the soldier/terrorist/double agent Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis) and the bipolar CIA analyst Carrie Mathison. In scene after scene, the evidence is split 50/50 on fundamental questions about each of them: Was Brody in on the attack on CIA headquarters, or was he a patsy, a pawn in Abu Nazir’s last brilliant plot? Does Carrie really love Brody, or is she playing him in hopes of getting useful information? Mandy Patinkin‘s Saul Berenson was also riveting this season, especially in the last couple of episodes, as he grappled with the corrupt machinations of his supervisor David Estes (David Harewood) and the possible loss of Carrie. Homeland explores, with greater nuance and insight, what’s become of the American soul in the wake of the attacks of 9/11/01. If you aren’t watching it, you should be.

Everything else we watch is cotton candy compared to Homeland. Shonda Rhimes’s Scandal is entertaining, but there’s concern on our couch that it’s already gone the way of Grey’s Anatomy halfway through its second season. I mean, srsly, kids, you’ve got a show centered around a presidential administration and you shoot the big guy in S2 — Where do you go from there? Does the guy live and become a doddering Reagan, leaning on a conniving First Lady, or do you sacrifice your credibility by having him miraculously awaken from his long winter’s nap from wounds that seemed Kennedy-esque in their gravity? Or do you let him die and worry later about what to do with all of Liv’s libidinal energy, not to mention all those pesky co-conspirators who helped get Bush Fitz into the White House? We shudder to imagine how this plot might resolve, but we’ll tune in January 10 when new episodes resume to see. CBS’s The Good Wife with the incomparable Julianna Margulies in the title role is less melodramatic but sometimes so polished that we forget who or what we are supposed to care about. Do you know what we mean? The actors are extraordinary and the writing impeccable, but, well, are Alicia and Peter really married, and will that demented/creepy husband of Kalinda’s please just go away?

NBC-Revolution-Promo-Preview-1x01-086Also: Nashville, starring Connie Britton. Watch it. Jill Dolan explains whyParks and Recreation, when we remember to tune in. Revolution, because I need guidance on how to survive power outages. (Bear in mind, though, that I’m alone on the couch for this show. WFKG won’t watch it anymore — The plots are too thin and the body count’s too high for her taste. I can’t explain what it is I keep hoping will happen here, dramatically or politically.)

Mad Flicks: Lincoln, you had us at “The Gettysburg Address,” even if that moment was totally fabricated. Forgive us, history pals. We love narrative, and this was some fine cinematic storytelling. And Daniel Day-Lewis should get an Oscar just for getting out of bed every morning. He is incredible, here as everywhere. Les Misérables was pretty swell, too, for entirely different reasons, most of which involved the extreme hummability of songs I cannot get out of my HEAD! Stacy Wolf lets us off the hook for loving a show with such atrocious gender politics — Go read that piece, and then get thee to the multiplex, citoyen. We saw The Master and kind of scratched our heads over it, but it’s on a bunch of other Best of 2012 lists, so what the heck. The pas-de-deux between Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman is pretty fricking compelling.

Mad Moments in Sports: In March, our beloved Lady Terps won the ACC championship in basketball but then went on to suffer a stunning 31-point loss to Notre Dame in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA tournament. (The adorable and ridiculously talented Brittney Griner and Baylor would go on to win the tournament, so we weren’t hugely disappointed by the fact of the Terps loss, only its scale.) In the summer Olympics, we thrilled to the classy, emphatic swan song of swimmer Michael Phelps and the fearless grace of gymnast Gabby Douglas. Though of course what we really loved about this Olympics was Queen Elizabeth’s star turn in the opening ceremonies and the McKayla Maroney is not impressed meme launched by a photograph of the gymnast’s disappointed expression on the medal stand when she won silver in the vault competition. The sports lowlight of 2012? That award goes to lying sack of performance-enhancing drugs Lance ArmstrongSports Illustrated has a great piece on the year’s biggest moments in sports. It’s here.

Mad Musical/Theatrical Interludes: We saw Madonna this year. Nothing else matters, though Kathleen Turner was fun to watch as Molly Ivins in Red Hot Patriot. Still: Madonna.

gubar debulked womanMad Reads: On the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2012 you will find a brave and beautiful book by one of the original Madwomen, Susan Gubar, whose chronicle of life with ovarian cancer, Memoir of a Debulked Woman, is making waves among those affected by the disease and those who treat it. Gubar was diagnosed more than four years ago with advanced ovarian cancer, which was treated with a surgery called “debulking,” which removed  her uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, appendix, and seven inches of her intestines. The surgery was followed by complications and many rounds of chemotherapy that Gubar undertook with mixed feelings, because she appreciated the gravity of her diagnosis and didn’t want to subject herself to treatments that had no real chance of succeeding. The book unflinchingly recounts the physical and emotional aspects of her ordeal. It is a harrowing story but one that ends up inspiring, even though its author consciously positions her story against the chirpy American fantasies of beating this thing that structure most cancer narratives and the pretty-in-pink movements of cancer survivors. Gubar is not a believer in miracles. She rejects false hope and refuses to traffic in euphemism, though she is careful not to deny hope to others. What’s inspiring about her story is precisely its emphasis on endurance and on the consolations of love, art, and literature. Memoir of a Debulked Woman is about navigating the final stages of life without illusion but with a quiet persistence that amounts to grace. I am not objective about Susan Gubar. She was my teacher and remains a friend. She has written a book that matters profoundly and is now blogging on living with cancer on the New York Times website. She is still, always, brilliantly teaching. (The New Yorker has a print interview with Gubar on the subject of the book, her illness, and the need for women to educate themselves about ovarian cancer. She talks through those issues — in her glorious, straight-out-of-Brooklyn voice — with NPR’s Neal Conan on Talk of the Nation.) Thank you, Susan, and happy new year to you and yours.

Most Madly Wonderful Photo of the Year: So, this is what marriage equality looks like:

Larry Duncan, 56, and Randy Shepherd, 48, from North Bend Washington, get their marriage license on the first day it was legal for same-sex couples to do so in Washington State, 12/6/12. Photo Credit: Meryl Schenker Photography. Via.

Larry Duncan, 56, and Randy Shepherd, 48, from North Bend, Washington, get their marriage license on the first day it was legal for same-sex couples to do so in Washington State, 12/6/12. Photo Credit: Meryl Schenker Photography. Via.

Oh, homonormativity, who knew you would be so . . . lumberjacky!

(For other notable photos of 2012, please see the Star-Ledger‘s haunting collection of photographs of Union Beach, NJ at night, after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and the New York Times 2012: The Year in Pictures.)

Happy new year, darlings. May 2013 fulfill all of your wildest dreams or, you know, not suck entirely. Peace out, and thanks, as always, for reading.

2012: The Year in Madness

Oh, thank god there wasn't a total blackout from December 23-25, 2012 due to "an alignment of the universe." If that had happened, I would have to kill a LOT of people.

Oh, thank god there wasn’t a total blackout from December 23-25, 2012 due to “an alignment of the universe.” If that had happened, I would have had to kill a LOT of people.

This blog was born halfway through 2012, but I’m happy to offer an idiosyncratic survey of the entire year in Madness, by way of my Laptop, which is currently ensconced in a sleepy little town on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Ruby and I, along with the Woman Formerly Known as Goose, are planning to ring in 2013 in low-key style.

Before we get to the survey, though, raise your hand if, like me, you feel slightly creeped out by the idea of a year that ends in thirteen. Shouldn’t we be feeling superstitious about this? Historians, please weigh in on whether years that end in thirteen tend to suck more than other years. My research assistant Wik E. Pedia suggests that 1913 was heavy on wars and revolutions, though I suppose we might be grateful for the invention of stainless steel, which occurred in August of that year. As for 1813, well, it turns out that the (obviously misnamed) War of 1812 was still being hotly contested, but Pride and Prejudice was published, so the year couldn’t have been entirely bad. Still, let the record show that I have reservations about the coming year, based strictly on a previously undiagnosed case of traiskaidekaphobia.

So: The Year in Madness.

Mad Words: Time magazine published a long list of words that should be banished in 2013 (among them are amazeballs and zombie apocalypse, with which I wholeheartedly agree, but where oh where is double down, a phrase that totes [also on Time‘s list, but I ain’t giving it up] annoys me as one of the poorest substitutions for thought I have ever encountered). Because I am a glass half full kind of gal, I offer in reply to Time a short list of expressions I shall always be grateful to dear old 2012 for producing:

Yes, thank you, Congressman Todd Akin and Commonwealth of Virginia, for finally putting the GOP’s maniacal determination to control women’s bodies in terms that galvanized attention and motivated large numbers of people to wake up and vote against extreme right-wing candidates. Which, I’m pretty sure, contributed to the next Mad item in my survey.

Madness Averted: On November 6, a majority of American voters sensibly chose not to let this guy add the White House to his long list of homes:

Mitt Romney at a gas station in La Jolla, CA. Via

Mitt Romney at a gas station in La Jolla, CA, 11/19/12. Via.

Need I say more?

Madness Goes Public: Call it the prequel to the item above, my favorite political moment of the year was definitely Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican national convention. I predicted that Romney would lose and that this moment would be “blamed for thwarting Romney’s momentum by crystalizing for voters the race and class resentments that are the heart and soul of today’s Republican party.” I think I was right. Thank you, Mr. Eastwood, you grumpy old man of the year.

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, 8/30/12

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, 8/30/12

Mad Feats: Let us not forget that 2012 was the year in which a dude hurtled 24 miles through space at speeds as fast as 834 mph on his way to setting records in altitude for a manned balloon flight and parachute jump and the greatest free fall velocity. Uh, wow. I bought a treadmill. Does that count?

Mad Surprises: Marriage equality wins on the ballot in not one, not two, but THREE states in the November election, including the great state of Turtle Country. Wow. Just wow. But don’t order those toaster ovens yet. WFKG and I have still not committed to getting married. Stay tuned.

Mad Satisfaction: Who are the two most popular politicians in the final NBC-Wall Street Journal poll of 2012? Why, Bill and Hillary Clinton, of course, and if you are surprised by that news, you haven’t been paying attention. Also, Nate Silver is smarter than you are, but it’s okay — He’s smarter than everybody. Deal with it.

Mad Losses: Death had a big year in 2012, as it generally does. We note with sorrow the number of sheroes who left the building this year and console ourselves by imagining that the afterlife, whatever it may be, has a number of glorious new contributors to its word/soundscape: Nora Ephron, Whitney Houston, Etta James, Jenni Rivera, Adrienne Rich, Donna Summer, Chavela Vargas. Also, Sally Ride, a lesbian who orbited the earth. Speaking of astronauts, Neil Armstrong, a man who walked on the moon, died this year, too. Finally, Larry Hagman was not a woman, an astronaut, a poet, or a singer, but we worry what will become of the spectacularly cheesy new remake of Dallas without him, and so we mourn his passing, too.

Madness in School: In June, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan abruptly resigned over a “philosophical difference of opinion” with the university’s governing board. The disagreement appeared to be over the pace of change happening at the academical village founded by Thomas Jefferson, particularly with regard to online education. Two weeks later Sullivan was reinstated after a tidal wave of protest and negative publicity both on campus and off. Two weeks after Sullivan’s reinstatement, UVA announced it was joining a group of 12 institutions planning “to open their courses to the world, free of charge, through an online platform created by the start-up company Coursera.”  And so the brave incrementalist so staunchly defended by the apostles of shared governance and the academic community of trust turns out to be just one of the herd, her voice blending into the soothing chorus of MOOC, MOOC, MOOC. What can that mean? Where will it lead? Heck if I know, kids. I hate what UVA’s board did in booting Sullivan and am tickled pink she got her job back. MOOC’s are the big story in higher ed this year, but I have to confess I am among the foot-draggers, the nay-sayers, and the worry-warts who fear that we may be putting the final nails in our own coffins by jumping on this particular bandwagon. Some days, I walk across my lovely campus and wonder, Which of us will be asked to turn off the lights in the last of these red brick buildings? Who will we be when the last of the turtles has lost its shell?

Madness in School, Part II: December 14: A guy, a rifle, and 26 corpses. (27 if you count the shooter’s mother, killed at the home they shared before the shootings at the school; 28 if you count the shooter’s fatal self-inflicted wound.) God, where will it end?

Lord, even an idiosyncratic year-end survey is exhausting! And at times depressing. I’ll stop here and try to do a follow-up post focused on the year in artsy-fartsiness, because that’s the kind of thing folks expect from an English prof spouting off on the Interwebz. Meantime, feel free to weigh in with your picks for the Maddest Moments of 2012. Tell me what I missed, Madpeople at your Laptops!


Contemplative Ruby, Christmas Eve, 2012. Photo Credit: The Madwoman

Contemplative Ruby, Christmas Eve, 2012. Photo Credit: The Madwoman

Happy Holidays from the Madwoman and all her furry and non-furry companions. Ms. Ruby is celebrating her second Christmas as part of our pack in Michigan with cousin Scooter and the two sisters of the Madwoman. Ruby found it hard to concentrate on Elf last night (see TV screen in background of photo), what with all those adorable, chewable Snoopy dogs hung by the chimney with care. She stared at them longingly, sure that Santa intended them for her. She was wrong, but who among us has not had to fight off some mild feeling of disappointment amidst all the joy of the holiday season?

Be well, my pretties, and full of joy and good food and warmth. Peace out.

What I Could Do

Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 12/16/12

Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 12/16/12

Dear Students,

You are not six and seven year olds, saucer-eyed, cherubic, believers in Santa Claus. And I am not a 27 year old over the moon with her first job. Or a principal who would dress up in goofy costumes to help students connect with the fun of learning. No. You are in your twenties, and I wear slacks and sensible shoes without worrying too much about whether that will help you wrap your minds around the ambiguities and instabilities of gender.

We will meet this afternoon for your final exam. It is the Monday after a mass killing in which twenty children lost their lives. It is eight days before Christmas. Early in our semester’s study of theories of literature and sexuality, we read a brief excerpt from Eve Sedgwick’s Tendencies, a chunk from the introduction usually referred to as “Christmas Effects.” In it, Sedgwick comes at the question, “What’s queer?” by examining the ideological force of heteronormativity. To help explain what she means, Sedgwick begins with a riff on “the depressing thing about the Christmas season” as a moment when all our institutions speak with one voice and seem to be saying the same thing. The languages of church, state, commerce, and media are all lined up in what she terms “the Christmas phalanx.” Among the examples Sedgwick cites to prove the tautological and coercively normalizing force of the holiday is this one:

[A]d-swollen magazines have oozing turkeys on the cover, while for the news industry every question turns into the Christmas question — Will hostages be free for Christmas? What did that flash flood or mass murder (umpty-ump people killed and maimed) do to those families’ Christmas?

You loved this piece when we read it earlier in the semester. Sedgwick’s playful yet probing analysis of the tyranny of Christmas helped you see the point that queer is a way of describing more ragged and less depressing moments/spaces when everything emphatically does not mean the same thing, when things don’t line up neatly and march in lock step. Queer, says Sedgwick, is “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.”

I asked you to review these few marvelous paragraphs in preparation for today’s final. I promised to bring holiday cookies to the exam, a double batch of my favorite cookies from my own Christmas-effected childhood. I stayed up late last night, making the cookies and not getting through all the papers I had hoped to have graded by this afternoon. As I delicately rolled the buttery dough into little balls and lined them up on my battered cookie sheets, I thought of you, and all the work we have done together this term in the unlocked classroom of a wide open building. I thought of the umpty-ump people killed and maimed and wondered, not for the first time, if I would be brave and selfless enough to take a bullet for you, my students.

I cannot answer that question. No one can, in the abstract, know the answer to that question. One can only hope that in a moment of crisis one would be decent. And clever. I am reading your papers, slowly and with care. I marvel at your effort. I see the kindness in your faces. Try not to lose that, ever. I made you cookies. It’s what I could do. Yes, Eve, it is a depressing season. Let’s have a cookie and ride it out together.

In peace,

Your Teacher

%d bloggers like this: