Protest Poem 25 Feb 2011

I am (not)

I am not a union member
I am a taxpayer

I am not a public enemy
I am a professional educator

I am not a free-loader
I am a hard-working employee

I am not a moron
I am a person who teaches kids how to think critically as they emerge into adulthood

I am not a slacker
I am a person who works nights + weekends beyond the 40 hours a week I spend on campus for the low low bargain price of $44,500

I am not a “have”
I am a person who took on debt to the tune of $70,000 for the chance to become a professor

I am not a home-owner
I am a renter because I cannot afford a mortgage (see salary and debt above)

I am not a leech
I am a consumer in the Wisconsin economy who will have less money to spend because of this bill

I am not a supporter of this grotesque abrogation of workers’ rights
I am someone marching in Madison and chanting in the Rotunda

I am not a thug
I am an unarmed citizen of a democracy exercising my right to free speech and redress of grievances

I am not the problem
I am part of the solution if only You would listen

Madison Protest 12 March 2011

Madison Protest 12 March 2011

First published in 2011

Main Street Wisconsin
A place for poets to gather.

Poems About Wisconsin Protests,
February 18, 2011-September 11, 2011

published by Verse Wisconsin

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Almost no one reads my work. Should I care?

My friend Paul’s ruminations on academic publishing are worth a read.

John Paul Minda, PhD

I recently read an article that has been going around social media in which the authors argue that basically no one is reading academic journals. They argue that in order to be heard, and in order to shape policy, professors and academics should be writing Op-Eds.

The article, which I’ve linked to here,  should be read with a few caveats. First of all, the authors suggest that the average academic paper is read in total by about 10 people. They provide no evidence or information about how they arrived at that estimate. Second, they are writing from the standpoint of social science and political science. In other words, the results may not apply to other disciplines. That said, I believe there are many reasons to take their idea seriously.

There are too many articles published every year.

There are so many scientific and academic journals operating right now. For example, the popular…

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I’m done.

After grading student work for the past 13 days running:

The last revisions have been graded. 

The last literature essay exams have been graded.

The last creative writing portfolios have been read and assessed.

Final grades have been uploaded without incident, despite the balky behavior of our LMS.

I’m done.


Angel doesn’t dance, but I do. Exactly. Like. That.


When people ask/tell me: “If you don’t like your job/how you’re paid/ whatever, why don’t you just quit and go work in the private sector?” I am sometimes hard-pressed not to smack their smug faces.

I teach for the same reason people go into mission work: I was called.

I’m not a religious person–I have no affiliation and I’m outright suspicious of the orthodoxy I see in some Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Their way is the only way to live a good life, apparently; I just don’t happen to agree. I know many good Christians, Muslims, and Jews–people who live their lives with compassion, and practice kindnesses small and large. I just mistrust the motives of the people in charge of the churches/mosques/synagogues.

I’ve tried to follow the Buddha, but I don’t have patience. Yes, I know, I could learn patience. It just takes too much time.Though I keep thinking I will dig out my copy of Pema Chodron’s lovely book Start Where You Are and give it another go. I need to be more compassionate, with myself, if no one else.

Impact. A calling.

I felt called to be a professor. My undergraduate days were spent in the idyll that is Hiram College. I took classes in English and Philosophy (my two majors), and took other courses that sparked my interest.

One such class was in the spring of 1992, my junior year: a journalism class, taught by a professor who’d come to us by way of the University of Nairobi’s school of journalism. His name was Absalom Mutere. I signed up for the class for two reasons: I was contemplating a writing minor, and I wanted to take a class with an international scholar.

Professor Mutere was a fantastic teacher. Energetic, Socratic, engaged and engaging. We watched the aftermath of the Rodney King trial unfold in front of us and discussed the role the media seemed to be playing. Through it all, he remained objective, asking us probing questions and encouraging us to move beyond easy answers.

I took a second class with him in the fall, this one focused on media censorship. He helped us understand the consolidation policies of the media conglomerates and what it meant for journalism when corporate interests play a role in the reporting of news: reporting that is supposed to be objective, and often isn’t. We read the Project Censored Yearbook (“The News that Didn’t Make the News”) and had many discussions about the state of political coverage in the run-up to the 1992 Presidential election. I wrote a paper about our broken two-party system.

I feel fortunate to count myself as one of his favorite students. Due to my habit of procrastination, I was frequently sprinting across campus at 4:55 pm to hand in a paper due by 5:00 pm. Professor Mutere called me his “Eleventh-Hour Girl” for such tactics, but it was affectionate. He would invite students over to the college apartment he shared with his wife and two young daughters, and we would eat and talk. I got to meet other friends of his, including Lewis Odhiambo, who was at the time teaching at the University of Western Ontario–both he and Professor Mutere thought I would become a public intellectual (though I’m afraid they might be disappointed in me). The summer between my junior and senior years, I invited him to my parents’ house for dinner, and he accepted. They loved him. I loved him.

He coached Hiram’s club rugby team, and I remember watching him wheel around men 20 years younger like they were standing still. We just thought it was cool that the guy who helped found Kenya’s Mwamba RFC and had captained the Kenyan national team was helping out a bunch of mostly suburban white kids learn how to be better, more effective ruggers.

I had intermittent email contact with him over the years since I graduated in 1993. He had returned to Africa, and the internet had not yet caught up with my desire to reach out to him, to tell him what an impact he’d made on me. Then a search yielded that he was back in Kenya, back in Nairobi at the school of journalism. In 2007, Kenya was being shredded by ethnic violence, and I feared for the man I thought of as a mentor. I wrote to the address listed on the website.

He wrote back, and we traded stories of our lives. The last email I have from him is from early 2008. He was very happy to see Barack Obama in the running for President. He was worried about his country, but hopeful.

Thing settled down in Kenya, and my life got busier with the addition of a second child and the ramp-up of my [ultimately successful] bid for tenure.

This week, when I saw this video of young African men addressing Hollywood stereotypes, I immediately thought of Absalom. I ran a quick Google search.

The auto-filler said “absalom mutere is dead“. Once again, I sat in my office and cried.

He died in November 2010 in Zambia, and there is a hole in the world.


The professor I knew and the man that his Kenyan people knew–the man who agitated, at risk of his own life, for a free and democratic press for Kenya– is gone, and the impact he made can never be truly measured.

The pain in my heart is one way.

And I like to think that when I teach my students about argument through Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and through the film Food, Inc.that I am channeling the passion he awoke in me all those years ago to find ways to get the word out about the truth.

When I read student comments on the LMS about how utterly shocked they are at the industrialization and inhumane cruelty of our food system, and how they are planning to change the way they eat and what they buy–I am linked to Professor Mutere.

When one of them stops by my office to tell me that he lost 45 pounds in 4 months because he stopped eating fast food and drinking soda, I know why I teach.



Time, Time, Time

“See what’s become of me…”

Or if you prefer

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day…” (click the link to see the original video from 1973–you won’t be disappointed)

I love the ticking of the clock. Some people find it depressing (see Pink Floyd, above: “The sun is the same in a relative way/But you’re older/ Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death” as it were) but I have always loved listening to it tick. The switchover to the digital age has all but removed the sound of ticking from most people’s lives, but not mine. I’m looking forward to the day I inherit my mother’s c.1875 mantle clock (though not looking forward to the reason for such inheritance). It bongs its way hourly through the day and night–needing winding only once a week, on Sunday.

Speaking of time, and winding-up, I have been thinking a lot about time lately. Following Aeron Haynie’s call for a “Day of Action” on April 2, I have gone somewhat more than just a day in recording what I do. And it has been illuminating on several levels.

For the past several weeks, I have been keeping track in a day planner separated by day and hour, and I have discovered that despite (or because of?) my relatively flexible schedule, my average work week is 47 hours, and consists of 6 working days.Those working hours do not include the commute, which is 30 minutes each way, or 5 additional hours per week (though I really like the drive, because I love Wisconsin farm country).

I have been trying to take at least one full day off a week (often Sunday) because when I don’t, my 41-year old body starts to act up. When there is an uptick in the number of 10-hour-plus days, my back goes “out” (due to a degenerating disc in my lower back, which impinges on the sciatic nerve on the right side of my body). There is an uptick in the number of migraines I suffer (though I know that there are environmental factors involved as well, the fact that stress hormones trigger headaches is well-known and documented).

Then there is the fact that I have two children, ages almost-8 and almost-3 and a half. So when my work day bleeds into my home life (and it does–how can it not?), this is also a problem.  As I write this (while taking a break from grading on a Saturday morning), I can hear my children upstairs throwing a tizzy about something or other. Hubby will fix it. I shudder to think what would happen if Hubby wasn’t here.

This is what the taxpayers of Wisconsin get for their annual $45, 839 (before taxes and pension contributions out of that salary) on a typical day pulled from the last 3 weeks:

Tuesday, 4/17/12

7:45 am: Leave house

8:15 am: Drop Katy off at school

8:25 am: Arrive in office

8:25-8:55 am: Brief prep (made possible by 1 hour worked the previous evening) and email

9:10-10:15 am: ENG 102: Lecture/workshop on how to do an Annotated Bibliography for the research paper; Lecture/workshop on how to use NoodleTools (software program for creating bibliographies)

10:30-11:45 am: Same as above (second section of ENG 102)

11:45-11:55 pm: Scarf down a granola bar

12:00-1:00 pm: Tenure Retention and Promotion committee meeting (prep for which took an hour and a half the previous day)

1:00-2:45 pm: Office Hours: Accelerated/Blended coursework (I’m behind on developing my new course); Prep for poetry in ENG 203/204 (the stacked Creative Writing class I teach on Mon/Wed)

2:45-3:15 pm: Pick up Katy at school and head back to campus; she will have a snack and watch PBS Kids in the faculty lounge up the hallway while I work and feel guilty about it.

3:15-6:00 pm: Reading and prep for the following day’s classes (ENG 285 Literature of Nature and ENG 203/204 Creative Writing). Part of the prep is reading ENG 285 discussions posted on the course learning management system. Another part is finding my favorite Andre Breton poem “Free Union” and coming up with a list-poem assignment for my students to try.

6:30 pm: Arrive home and check non-work email for the first time all day, then get yelled at by Hubby for being on the computer.

So that’s a typical day, though sometimes I do pick Katy up from school and head home if I can bring my work home with me. When I’ve got a lot of copying to do, or work on the LMS, I have to go back to campus.

Notice that I did not mention all of the stuff I did not get to: ordering regalia for graduation; “Sexying up” my course description for the ENG 270 British Lit survey I’m teaching next fall (it’s on monsters and the fantastic in Brit Lit–starting with Beowulf and going through Dracula) to try to convince students to take a course where they actually have to read books, for heaven’s sake; grading the ENG 102 papers that came in the week before. Etc., etc, ad nauseam.

Also, nowhere in there did I have anything about Professional Development. That’s because I would need to clone myself if I were to work on my current project (an article on William Gibson/ a chapbook of nature poems/ the novel I started in January).

This is where I’m forming the basis of my argument that I hope to send to the Chancellor at some point in the near future: If we are to do “less with less,” as he opines, then PD needs to go, or be reduced to just “icing” on the “cake” that is teaching and service. We are a teaching institution, and many of my colleagues do PD related to the scholarship of teaching and learning. That’s fine and dandy, but not really my bag, and the pressure on my tenure-track colleagues to “publish or perish” is ridiculous. I have tenure, so I can let the PD slide if I have to (and I do), but this raises the question: Can you be a good (or dare I say “exceptional”?) teacher without PD? I think so. But many of my colleagues do not. And so they sacrifice personal time to do PD (that’s the only place in a given day that there’s any time “left over” that’s not dedicated to sleeping, eating, and personal care).

I will confess that I am somewhat in awe of my colleagues who work more than I do, if only because I would like the secret of remaining functional on next-to-no sleep. Less than 6 hours for me means that I am a retarded zombie for most of the next day. And I mean “retarded” in the traditional sense of impaired and /or delayed cognitive functioning. Not in the pejorative sense.

So I’m going to keep thinking about this, and I’d appreciate any comments you’d care to make below.

Break’s over. I have 6 more papers to go before I can quit for the day, leaving me the last 7 for tomorrow. But at least I have a boon companion in my slog:


The Waitress Came By with a Refill

My glass is now closer to full.

I found out last Friday that I’d been nominated for my campus’ “Students Choice for Teaching Excellence” Award.

This came as a nice surprise and a pleasant end to an otherwise unpleasant week. I was at my department meeting that day, so I promptly forgot about it until yesterday, when I happened to pass by the table where students were collecting votes. I saw the sheet with my fellow campus colleague-nominees and thought, “Wow, I’m in good company.”

Today, I found out that I didn’t win. Doesn’t matter. I got to read the nomination letters (there were 2).

Suffice to say, I once again sat in my office crying–but this time it was for a good reason. One letter said that I (and my classes) had been “life-changing.” The other said that I’d given him/her confidence to stand up for what s/he believes in.

These are the reasons I got into education. To make a difference, and to help people change their lives for the better.

I’m filing those letters away with the other cards and notes I’ve gotten over the last 16 years–not a ton, certainly, but enough. Enough to keep me going, and enough to keep me from going around the bend.

The clock has been rewound. Thank heaven.


Oh, and my youngest child is finally starting to use the big potty, so that’s another bright spot in my life. Cup runneth over, really.

Cog-nitive Dissonance 1

I am trying to recover from a particularly bad experience in class yesterday. Nobody yelled at me, nobody threatened me. Nobody did anything at all, really.

My students didn’t read. Only 2 of the 15 who showed up (out of 23 currently still registered) had done the reading assigned–part one of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. It’s a Literature of Nature class, and this is a tough subject. I get that.

I get it. Easter weekend–they were all busy.

I get it. No quizzes, no posts to the course website were required. No points available, so no one did the reading.

It was the last straw for the semester. Just before I left for class, I saw in my Facebook feed that The Chronicle of Higher Education released the 2012 Faculty Salary Report yesterday and found that along with all of my highly intelligent, motivated, exceptionally engaged colleagues, I am paid less than someone who is a non-tenure-track instructor at the flagship school in Madison.

As I stood at the front of my room after trying (and failing) to get a conversation going about the book, I realized that the silence was due to the fact that nobody knew what I was talking about. They couldn’t tell me what Kolbert’s premise was in Part I because they hadn’t read it.

I felt something give way inside–some cog slipped out of place, and the gears ground together before grinding to a halt.

I am ashamed to say that I cried. I managed to hold it together while I gathered up my book and notes and keys–but the ones in the front of the room could tell that my eyes were welling. I cried as I walked up the steps. I closed my door, sat in the dark, and cried like I’d just been dumped.

Normally, I am not a crier. Normally when this happens (and how sad is it that this happens often enough to feel ‘normal’?), I get mad, and I rant at them about being adults and taking responsibility for their own learning; I make them all sit and write for the entire class period (though I detest the idea of using writing as a form of punishment, but what else am I going to do?). Or I send them away to read and post to D2L.

This time, I just packed up and left. Sat in my office and cried. Made it through my other class (creative writing) because they needed me–we’re workshopping fiction this week–and left campus to pick up my daughter at school.

The gears are stuck–nothing is moving. Main force of will is the only thing keeping me moving at this point.

I suffer from depression. Have suffered from it since I was about 15. Luckily,  I have not been debilitated to the point where I cannot get out of bed–but days like yesterday and today make me wonder how close I am to ending up in a psych ward because I am just so damned tired of pushing this goddamned boulder up the hill.

I want so much just to give up. I’m tired. Spiritually, emotionally, physically exhausted. I want to quit. And I’ve never been a quitter. In the past, when I’ve left jobs, my former employers have not been able to find anyone willing to take on the amount of work I did (one place had to hire two people to do the work I’d been managing on my own).

I have to keep going, though. I need the job, so I will pull “The Myth of Sisyphus” off the shelf this afternoon, and I’m going to let Camus help me try to face the Absurd with my head up.

Bon nuit, mes amis.