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Sketch of female head with visitors approaching house in brain area

“It is because of visiting forces that we suffer”

Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher who helped introduced Buddhist practices to the U.S. in the 1970s, offers this lesson from the Buddha in her “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett: That was a very important image for me, out of the Buddha’s teaching, where he said the mind—your mind, my mind—is naturally radiant and pure. “The mind is shining.” “It is because of visiting forces that we suffer.” The visiting forces that cause us to suffer are not inherent or […]

The Political Afterlives of Poems

I It is difficultto get the news from poems                        yet men die miserably every day                                                for lackof what is found there. – William Carlos Williams, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (1955) It may be “difficult / to get the news from poems,” but you can get poems from the news. Just last month, a sonnet made headlines after the Trump administration announced a new policy refusing green cards to anyone who relies on government assistance. At a press conference, a reporter […]

Excerpt from Dr. Seuss cartoon of hills, a castle and arch, and balloons floating into sky

Oh the places they’ll build!

If you talk to almost any professor at Davidson, we’ll say that our students are the best part about working here. I’ve got to agree (though I’ve got some pretty inspiring colleagues, too). And while lots of folks like to bemoan the decline of Generation X, Y, or Z in the age of smart phones and social media, I’ve seen them do some remarkable work with their new-fangled gadgets. On or about December 2013, Davidson College unfolded “Davidson Domains,” an […]

Peace in Our Time!

This morning’s newspaper headlines the N. C. General Assembly’s last minute power grab to limit the already restricted powers of Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper. The Republicans are defending their actions, saying the Democrats “did it first” 20 and 40 years ago. Colin Campbell reports: “House Bill 17, which legislators approved Friday, would limit the number of state employees the governor can hire and fire to 425. The current limit is 1,500 and was increased from 400 around the time Republican […]

Make America Think Again

I haven’t posted on this blog in months. Now that Mom’s gone and Dad’s remarried, I get an occasional urge to write, but lack the urgency. …until this week, when the triumph of Trump convulsed me from low-grade anxiety to a fever pitch of terror and sadness. On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, I went to bed at 9:50 pm, unable to watch what already appeared inevitable. I tossed and turned in bed, my feet cramping. I tried to reassure myself that more than 50% of […]

Computerized Textual Analysis

Apologies for this rough post, but I don’t have much time before I have to catch my shuttle to the airport. I’m in Victoria at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, taking a course with David Hoover (NYU) called “Out of the Box Text Analysis.” All week, I’ve been trying to work through my own skepticism about whether: computerized analysis of literary texts merely confirms/denies what we already know; the results are interesting and valuable enough to justify the tedious work […]

A Family Fable

Anne Lamott’s birthday essay about “every single thing” she knows at the age of 61 has gone viral again. I was among the 86k people to like it on Facebook. What’s not to like about Lamott’s delightful blend of spiritual wisdom, dark humor, and love of humanity? Witness this from Lesson #1: Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of […]

Serendipity: “Sead” for Yourself

Long ago and far away in a land called Persia, there were three princes who spent their days traveling the world. As they roamed far and wide, thither and yon, across amethyst mountains, emerald valleys, and sapphire seas, the princes “were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass […]

What Poetry Doesn’t Tell You

Ok, this morning’s earlier post was the public story, but as you might of guessed, there’s a private story lurking behind it. Or more accurately, a story “Formerly Known as Private,” since I’m about to tell it. The public story was proper and tidy. This story is going to be messy, because I’ve just gotta get it down and then get on with grading all those papers. What set off the explosion of gloom I alluded to was simply a […]

Poetry Makes Something Happen

This morning, as I struggled to drag my mind out of a mire of missing my mother and regretting my own misfires in the classroom, I watched two videos by Davidson college alums that snapped me out of my solipsism and reminded me what poetry can do to change our perspectives and broaden our minds. (Go English majors!) Clint Smith (’10) is a poet and teacher who uses poetry to change the narratives we tell about kids and poverty in […]

Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

Today is the first anniversary of my mother’s death, and so it seems like an appropriate, necessary time for a valediction—a farewell address reflecting on how I’ve fared without her in the past year. The word “valediction” even contains her name, “Val,” making it seem meet and proper to do so. Less has changed than I expected—the anguished, desolate waste land I expected to be stranded in after her death never materialized. Instead, my grief has erupted in short bursts: […]

Grading with Love: an open letter to my first-year writers

I hate grading papers. This revulsion led me to innovate, so maybe misery is the real mother of invention. My thought process went like this: Papers: they hate writing them; we hate reading them. What’s wrong with this picture? So I tried to change the picture. I turned to WordPress, a platform whose beauty and flexibility I hoped would make students more excited about writing, so that I could be more excited about grading. It’s not a perfect fix, but […]

Home is So Sad

This summer we laid Mom to rest. A gentle euphemism—”laid to rest.” What I mean is that we buried her ashes. We did it twice, actually, because Mom wanted to be buried next to her beloved parents, Dad wants to have his ashes scattered at their beloved lake cottage, and they both wanted to be together forever. So we split the difference, and put half of Mom’s ashes in a cemetery in Malden, Massachussetts, and half in Highland Lake in […]

The Originality of Ideas and Other Scholarly Myths

I’ve been sitting with Andrew Rikard (Davidson class of 2017) in a classroom all morning. We’re attending ILiAds (Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship) at Hamilton College to work on our digital Mina Loy project. We’ve spent most of the week attending presentations, exchanging ideas with other teams, and tinkering with our website.  This morning, we sequestered ourselves in order to write. We wanted to reflect on the collaborative process and on the ways in which digital tools can transform […]

On MindFULLness

Experts argue that we don’t read online: we skim, scan, or surf. This is mostly true for me. I prefer a book to a webpage, especially if I want to get absorbed in what I’m reading. When I read online, I have a harder time staying focused. My sabbatical project is an attempt to design a digital environment that can sustain close and deep reading. I’ve found a few websites that give me hope that it’s possible. One of the […]

Eleanor Roosevelt and Shirley Temple

Memory Is Something If You Give It Away

Recently, I was knocked flat for a day by a stomach virus. I couldn’t do anything but lie in bed, which gave me a lot of time to miss Mom. In my half-asleep state, I imagined a conversation with her—the one I wish I’d had, before it was too late. It began with me asking, “How does it feel to have Alzheimer’s? How does it feel in your head?” Her answers were clear, but just like with a vivid dream, […]

Into the Wild, Precious Life

When your mother has just died, people come up to you with empathetic eyes and soft voices and ask, “How are you?” So genuine is the concern that I feel like I should burst into tears and confess that each day is a trial, that I feel as if I’m plodding through mud, dragging my sinking heart behind me like a heavy stone. Instead, I admit, I’m doing surprisingly well—so much so that I wonder if my heart has become a cold stone. Ads for the just-released movie Wild deliver a […]

Momento Mori, or Motherless Me

  “All hope abandon, ye who enter here,” because you are proceeding through the gates of shameless, narcissistic navel gazing. My mommy has died, leaving me motherless, which seems like good justification for ruminating, even if there’s little reward in it for you, my hapless reader. I spent the long weekend in Connecticut for Mom’s Memorial Service, which was lovely. I wish she could have been there to enjoy it! Friends and family gathered from as near as the choir […]