Category Archives: Good Things 2 Good People


The Noble Gases

for Max Garland

No wonder I can never remember all eight—
there are only six. I have a placemat
with the periodic table of the elements on it—
I guess it’s time to get it out again.
The ones I never forget are neon
and radon—bar signs and killers in the basement.
I usually remember Superman’s Achille’s heel,
thus krypton, and if I think of Jason, I might
think of Argonauts and thus argon, but
usually I don’t. Almost never will
I think of helium, the most famous one,
the silly voice, the birthday balloon,
the one that can overfill your lungs
and kill you, leeching all your oxygen.

Working on part 2 and 3 of this poem–will post more soon.

What a pleasure it was to hear Max Garland read at the Aldo Leopold Center on an absolutely perfect Wisconsin summer night. I always enjoy his poems and he spoke so earnestly and well about the importance of art, of making it and supporting it, I found I had tears in my eyes a bunch of times.

Here’s a photo I took as I resisted the mingling part of the evening–I couldn’t bear to be inside on such a gorgeous night.

The Aldo Leopold Center outside Baraboo.

The Aldo Leopold Center outside Baraboo.

This poem came in response to his poem “Hydrogen,” which is available through the Western Kentucky University English Department website.


I have fond memories of WKU, where I once participated in a marathon poetry reading. We read forever there. We might still be reading there.


Jimmy Fallon: Happiness Engine

It’s not that I think the Age of Irony is over (if irony didn’t die on 9/11, it can’t die), but something strange is afoot–I’m enjoying comedy bits on TV that are funny…because they’re funny.

What a revelation David Letterman was in 1982–things were funny because they weren’t funny. I was drowsy every morning my junior and senior year in high school because I stayed up for Letterman, and the not-funny=funny spilled over so many places–my dorm’s fundraiser in the Fall of ’83 we had toast on a stick….

I barely ever stay up until 12:30 a.m. any more, and when I do, it’s because I’m grading papers (YES I HAVE A VERY EXCITING LIFE). I still love Letterman in the abstract, but I can’t even manage the 10:30-11:30 CST slot.

However, I have spring break in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to getting to stay up a little later, but sorry Dave–it’ll be the new Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that I’ll be watching live-ish before I go to bed (instead of on the computer the next day or the next week).

I’m so motivated to watch because the clips I’ve caught have not so much made me laugh out loud (or, as I’m hearing people SAY now, verbally, not type, “LOL”) as they have just MADE ME HAPPY.

The first clue I had that Mr. Fallon was onto something was the verbal hash tag war he had with Jonah Hill. My Mom & I had a conversation about this, in which I was able to explain hash tags to her by comparing them to Library of Congress subject headings (I’d previously explained subject headings to students by saying “they’re like hash tags that old white guys use”).

But here’s when I started to crush on the new Tonight Show pretty hard–Paul Rudd killing it in their lip sync battle.

I’ve watched this so many times. Just–thanks, guys. Wonderful. Just what I needed. Awesome. Every little moment of it. Really.

And here’s when I realized Jimmy Fallon is not just funny, not just really doing great as a new host–


Idina Menzel sang just fine in the Oscars* and I loved Frozen (happy it won), but this is my favorite version of “Let It Go.” The Roots Crew is so great, and they’re all so happy, and it’s so silly, and it’s just–I watch it again and again.

It just makes me happy.

When I lecture on humor, I point out that one of the categories of humor is delight, or childhood wonder–that humor doesn’t have to involve aggression or meanness or irony. It seems to be Jimmy Fallon is trafficking pretty heavy in delight.

I know he did a lot of these things on his other late-night gig, but I’m just now seeing people post them all over Facebook, and I know for a fact my Mom never watched him before he took over for Leno–so, wow.

Keep cranking it out, Mr. Happiness Engine. So happy to be happy out here where it’s still winter.

Proof I need a Happiness Engine–here’s what winter does to me without it:

The Furniture of Winter

Like layering rugs on top of your carpet,
Like your grandmother’s hutch
There is no room for,
Or the trundle bed you’re holding onto
For a friend who’s recently nomadic,
The furniture of winter piles up.

Each shovelful’s a stack of old news
Balanced on top of whole hallways of snow.

All paths are precarious.

The unruly sun shuffles everything by noon,
And then at night the moon freezes
Everything in place.

Like another Collyer brother, you lie
underneath, praying messy prayers
for help, deaf heaven sending down
only more of what you have too much of
already, more, and also too much, snow.

(I started writing it two weeks ago; sadly, we got four more inches of snow this morning, so it’s still relevant.)


Let’s not end there.

Let’s watch the lip sync one more time.

#awesome #thankyou #engineofhappiness

(Les Chatfield from Flickr)

(Les Chatfield from Flickr)

*Loved the Oscars. Probably my favorite ever, and Ellen actually reminded me of Dave a little–the pizza bit was funny because it wasn’t funny, or at least that was my take. Whereas the selfie bit was just delightful to watch.

Pedagogy Stew: June 2013

June’s a hot month for ceremonies—weddings and graduations all over the place.

I’m not so big on ceremonies.

When I got married, I eloped. I did attend my high school graduation and baccalaureate programs (skipping would never have occurred to me at the time), but I was thrilled to miss my own Bachelor’s Degree commencement at Southern Illinois University. My Mom was graduating the same day, and it would have taken major logistics to get to both ceremonies, so I said, “Let’s just all go to Mom’s!” We took a picture of me in her mortarboard.  Then for my M.A., and M.F.A., I just didn’t go.

But I tend to enjoy graduation at UW-Richland.

First, I like looking at the UW-Richland faculty and staff on graduation night, in all our robes and signifiers. “We clean up good,” as my Uncle Earle would have said. Also, we look just the tiniest bit like Hogwarts teachers on that night. (I call dibs on McGonagall.)

And then there is always at least one student who crosses the stage that makes the whole ceremony worthwhile.

After the 2012 ceremony, I asked one of our first-year students, Darryl, to do a pinky-swear with me that he’d be crossing the stage in 2013. 

I learned about pinky-swears from my son. They seem to be a mix of “let’s shake on it” and “cross my heart and hope to die.”  You hook pinky fingers and promise, and for my son, it’s nearly sacred. If he does one, I know he’s serious. This Bible verse comes to mind (from my favorite book of the Bible):  Ecclesiastes 5:5 “It is better not to make a vow, than to make one and not fulfill it.”

Darryl seemed to have the same attitude. He wouldn’t do a pinky swear with me last year.

But he did cross the stage this spring. You’d have noticed him if you’d been there (or if you stumbled across the video on cable access television). He’s hard to miss—tall, long dreadlocks, LARGE personality. I was so happy for him, personally, but even happier for other students following him. He is a leader, and more students will follow him, students who might not follow anyone else.

In last month’s “Pedagogy Stew,” I talked about how important it is for students to be able to tell their own stories to themselves. If they feel in control of their own narrative, they are more likely to tell stories about overcoming obstacles, rather than giving in.

There’s so much we don’t know when we look at a student. We don’t know where they are in their narrative arc. We don’t know what story they’re telling to themselves about the present moment, and whether “graduation” or “grade in this class” or “using spell check” shows up in the story at all.

I hope “education” is part of how their stories end happily. Or how their stories begin well. I promise I’ll keep working to make that happen. Pinky-swear.

 (This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)




Join the Robbie Alliance!

Since I am, by my genes and by long habit, a worst-case scenario thinker, I have spent a fair bit of my child’s life (beginning when he was still in my belly) worrying  about every little thing that could go wrong.

I am trying to do less of this, this refusal to enjoy what’s going well TOO much.

Brené Brown calls it “foreboding joy” and explains it this way: “We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated.”

At some point in my pregnancy, I stopped looking at the scary chapters in What to Expect. I was pregnant, after all, after finally accepting that I would not ever get pregnant, and I wanted to enjoy it.  And I did.

However, the revving up of the school year revs up a particular anxiety for me–how to help my son navigate a world that seems full of peas, peanuts,tree nuts, eggs, dairy products and sesame, all of which he is allergic to, in varying degrees.

All in all, it’ll be fine. I’m meeting with the school nurse tomorrow. I’m checking to make sure his epi pens are not expired. I may write a letter to parents of kids in his class. For me, this has to go in the category of Bad Things That Could Happen to my Kid Which I Need to Prepare for and Then Forget About.

I’m not blase about it, but it doesn’t fill my thoughts every day, so in the realm of Bad Things That Could Happen, it has way less suckitude than other things.  I need to stop reminding myself how scary he looked the one time he went into anaphylactic shock. I have to remember to take epi pens with us, and I have to read and re-read labels, but it isn’t constant vigilance.

My friends Beth and Mat, however much they are able to be joyful (and they are, actually, a VERY joyful family, way better at it than my own family), do have to practice constant vigilance because their son Robbie, the same age as my son, has Juvenile Diabetes. Here’s what Beth had to say about it today on Facebook:

I’ve been trying to limit my type 1 diabetes-related posts so that you all don’t get tired of hearing me talk about it. But know that T1D never gets tired of imposing itself on our lives. Every day we take it on and it affects everyone in the family, though obviously Robbie most of all. Just last night we had ice cream before bed and a bit later R’s blood sugar was super high. We went to sleep thinking that maybe the insulin was slow taking effect since we treated him afterwards. Then an hour or so later I woke up with a jolt and realized we’d never actually treated him. We gave him his insulin, but he continued to be high the rest of the night. I invite you to pick a day and pick a child (or yourself) and imagine having to account for every bite of food that enters the body. Imagine trying to calculate how exercise affects the blood sugar – running around a lot? Less than usual? Going swimming? Imagine calculating how excitement or nerves impacts the blood sugar level too. Imagine watching your child as he lives his life, always wondering in the back of your mind if he’s going low, risking a seizure or going high and risking all the scary long term complications. Every day is a new battle. We hang tough and the terrain grows familiar, but we pray for a cure daily. That’s why we support JDRF.

What a life motto: “we hang tough and the terrain grows familiar, but we pray for a cure daily.”

That’s so different from my worst-case-scenario worry-wart-ism. It’s almost its opposite. It’s dealing with reality and still figuring out how to enjoy ice cream when you can.

Look at their amazing boys–

Great kids! That's Robbie on the left, with the peace shirt.

Great kids! That’s Robbie on the left, with the peace shirt.

We don’t get to see this great family much any more, but in honor of how awesome they are, and what a great cause this is, I’ve contributed to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

You can contribute to, through the Robbie Alliance. I know we can’t all say yes to all the good causes we’d like to contribute to, but I hope you can help this organization, this family, and this really terrific kid.

And also, they have a terrific logo:



This post is partially a thank you and a perk from my Indiegogo campaign, which I called “a shout out on my blog.”

I like to think it would have occurred to me to promote this very good cause even if Beth hadn’t contributed to my fundraiser, but it didn’t occur to me last year, even when I made a contribution to the JDRF. I am so slow sometimes….

When Good Things Happen to Good People, #1

Here’s something that’s true: Ecclesiastes 9:11 “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the skilful; but time and chance happen to them all.”

Another true way of saying that true thing: there are lots of things that suck all over, all the time.

But here’s what’s also true:

Sometimes really great people have really great moments, and I’m totally in the mood to celebrate some of those.

[Biblically, we can move from Ecclesiastes, pretty much my favorite book in the Bible, to one of the epistles of the apostle Paul (I like to say it that way because about half the time, in my head, when I say it, it comes out the apostles of the epistle Paul). I have issues with Paul, sure. Or should I say, ISSUES. But he had his moments, such as Romans 12: 15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” We’ll get to the weeping some other time.]

Ryan Martin teaches & researches at UW-Green Bay. I’ve hung out with him some at events focused on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. He’s fun to watch on various social media outlets. And he’s a great blogger. Recently he got to have one of those moments academics dream of, a good meal with an important scholar.

[That’s one vision of Heaven, for academics, that I’m sure would feel like Hell to others, but wow–what if we could have good food and meaningful conversations with people we’ve read for years? Ah….]

I was so happy to read about Ryan’s meal with Dr. Albert Bandura (I recognized the name!) & very interested to read a “5 Things I Learned (or was reminded of) During My Dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura.”

Ryan says Bandura is “doing important work that changes the lives of people across the globe.”

You know what? Bandura isn’t the only one.

Cute pic, even with Ryan's zombie eyes. And hey! Billie Holiday was there, too!

Cute pic, even with Ryan’s zombie eyes. And hey! Billie Holiday was there, too!