I've been re-reading Patti Smith's Just Kids, a memoir about her early years in New York when she and Robert Mapplethorpe were growing into a sense of themselves as artists. The insecurity of that process strikes a chord with me-the idea of not being sure who you are or where you are headed. We don't always know where our choices will lead us--but that shouldn't lead us to entropy, should it?  The memoir reminds me that art often comes from doubt, that the artist wills herself into existence.

Life is so unpredictable. We are capable of transformation at any moment. I love this passage from a Mary Oliver poem, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Sometimes, we assign questions like that to the young. . . but I've been thinking about how--no matter what age we are--that question still applies. We still have choices about what we will do with the rest of our lives, no matter how many years remain.


Summer has not always been kind to me. I've sometimes worked too hard or experienced the depths of grief because of a loss. I've wasted the summer away sleeping or not doing much that was very meaningful. Long stretches of unstructured time make me nervous. I know that I'm not good at self-discipline and I feel guilt about not being productive. I have issues with summer.

However, something surprising happened this year: I was able to reconnect in a really deep way with my writing self. I was able to write through the insecurities I developed as I wrote my dissertation and I think . . . I hope . . . I've developed a new relationship with writing. I have two new projects that I want to work on--and much of that desire comes from completing a writing commitment successfully. I remembered something that I hadn't felt for awhile, that writing makes me feel alive and conscious of my cognitive and analytical abilities in ways that bring me deep satisfaction.

There's something about me that loves being on the periphery. Yes, I also love those times that I'm in front of a class helping students learn, and I love the occasions that someone notices "me" and wants to know me better. I'm social, I love people, I love having fun.

But I need a lot of alone time, too. I need to be able to be unnoticed, to have the space to observe (people, nature, the world) and reflect in an interrupted manner. Sometimes, I need to not think, to not be conscious of myself.

When I go to the gym, I feel like I go in disguise. I pull my hair back, wear my glasses and no make-up. I don't initiate conversations--I just want to focus on exercise, on making my body stronger, on feeling my heart beat and being present in my body (as a former yoga teacher used to say).

And sometimes when I'm in a group, I just need time to listen to conversations swirl around me. Sometimes, I need to not say anything.

Sometimes when I'm alone in public, I feel most social. I make small talk with store clerks, smile at strangers--but I don't really want to engage in long conversation.

Yeah, I love people and I love you. But sometimes, I just need time to myself. No, I need time for myself.


Yesterday, I told my therapist that I felt a vague dissatisfaction with my life right now, that I felt a little bored. This isn't something I've been feeling a long time--it was more a product of working hard for the last few weeks and suddenly having a three day weekend during which I'd still need to work. My "vague dissatisfaction" lasted all of a few hours, to be honest. Still, my comment led to a revealing discussion.

My therapist asked me what associations I have with the word "stability." My sincere and heartfelt answer? "Routine. Boredom." She and I have talked about how my family moved a lot when I was young, and yesterday she insightfully asked if my parents had treated these moves as sources of excitement and opportunity. I think they did--at least, I don't remember negative feelings about moving (until the move that occurred when I was 13 . . . tough age to move). My parents taught me to think of change as an adventure, a lesson that I deeply appreciate--at the same time, they provided me with stability during the process of making new lives in Utah, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and then Utah again.

As an adult, I have both sought and rejected stability. I have moved a lot. i have wilted when my life felt mundane. I've felt unwilling to call anywhere home, even long-time residences. I've fallen in love with men who weren't grown ups or who didn't love me back. I've beaten myself up for not having a sense of stability even while I made decisions that led to that feeling. I don't mean for this list to suggest that I regret all of this. I've loved exploring the world, I've gotten a lot out of my failed relationships--and the more negative experiences have led me to where I am right now, a place I quite like.

My therapist suggested that I look at stability in a new way . . . it's my stable life here that allows me to take off and travel, to explore the world and my psyche, to find rest even when I feel restless. She's right. Other jobs, other cities, other responsibilities might limit or constrain my curiosity. Here, I'm financially secure, I have a job that allows me to follow my passions, and I have amazing friends. The people I love here let me go . . . but they also embrace me when I return.

I'm still not crazy about routine . . . but I think I'm on board with developing more positive associations with stability.

I'm moving to an office down the hallway on Thursday, so I've been packing books and files over the last week. I've also been sorting through things, deciding which things aren't worth the move. I've filled boxes and boxes with recycling and books/journals to donate to our department's "orphan bookshelf." It's been good to purge many of the papers that have been piling up over the years, and I'm determined to do a better job of getting rid of things in the future.

As I've gone through piles and files, I've discovered some artifacts from my teaching past. Some of these artifacts have brought smiles to my face, particularly the notes that my 6th grade students wrote to me in 1990 when I was leaving public school teaching to return to graduate school. I loved these kids, went back to their middle school graduation two years later, and have frequently wondered what they're doing 20 years later. Hard to imagine that they are mature adults who are older than I was when I left their school.

But I've also encountered some detritus that has reminded me about my struggles as a teacher. One of my biggest failures as a teacher was my first semester as a tenure track professor in small town Texas. I knew that my department wasn't a good fit for me when I found the multiple choice test for a literature class someone had left behind in the copy room. I tried and tried to get my students to discuss and think for themselves, but they really just wanted someone to tell them what literature "meant," so they could regurgitate that interpretation on a test. That wasn't the way I taught literature, and I didn't understand the student population well enough to help them adapt to a different kind of classroom. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the majority of the students in my Southwestern women's literature class hated me and the class.

That class reminds me of what it's like to fail as a teacher, and it has reminded me how important it is to listen to our students and try to teach the students we have . . . not the ones we wish we had.

But thinking about that class also reminds me of all the people who have helped me grow as a teacher over the years. So, Rick Hansen, Ruth Jenkins, and all my colleagues who have shared their successes, brainstormed with me, and otherwise taught me about good teaching, thank you.

And may all you teachers have a great year!


By nature, I'm reflective, often to a fault. Today, I've been thinking about what I was doing a year ago, how much I've learned during 2009, and what 2010 will hold.

Last New Year's Eve, I had a party at my apartment in Oslo. I'd just been traveling in Portugal and Spain for two weeks, soaking in the sun and largely spending time alone. I was really glad that I would be able to see the New Year in with friends. It wasn't a large party, but it turned out to be meaningful for several of the people who attended (Susie, Ben, Stine, Cathrine, Hilde, and Yannike). Susie brought tarot cards and did a reading for all of us--I remember that we all felt like what she told us really fit what was happening in our lives. And over the last year, Susie and Ben became parents, Stine got a job teaching in Spain, and Hilde bought a place of her own. I'm not sure if ground breaking events happened to Cathrine and Yannike, but I hope their year was amazing. I think about how atypical that party was, how quiet, how thoughtful, how focused on understanding who we were and what life was all about--strange fare for a New Year's Eve party--but that party turned out to be a fitting beginning for 2009 . . . at least for me.

What has my year been like? My last six months in Norway were filled with adventure and affection for so many people, both those I met on school visits and the good friends who came to visit. I had some incredible experiences including dog sledding, celebrating the National Sami day, eating award winning food with friends in Sandefjord, teaching wonderful students in such places as Bergen and Trondheim, talking with dedicated and smart teachers every where I went, and enjoying my friends in Oslo. I traveled outside of Norway, as well, going to Paris, London, the Canary Islands, and Copenhagen. My year in Norway was stunning, both because of what I've listed above and also because of the time it gave me to get distance from every day life and rethink who I am and how I want to live my life.

During the last six months, I've been trying to make changes. For years, I had not taken good care of myself emotionally and I hadn't worked to get out of some destructive mindsets. I've been trying to break out of those bad habits in order to embrace life and live more fully. I succeed but I also fail sometimes. Sometimes I'm radiantly happy and sometimes I'm violently depressed. But through it all, I know that I'm changing and growing. I'm discovering new parts of my psyche--and I haven't allowed my return to "real life" to become a return to the status quo.

So . . . 2010. I hope that I can continue to overcome fears, try new things, be honest about my emotions and about who I am. I suppose that's my big resolution--to continue the self work that I've been engaged in this past year.


It's that time again, the beginning of the school year. When I was younger, I'd go school clothes shopping with my mom. When I was a middle school teacher, I'd decorate my room (since I had a new classroom each year I taught) with colorful bulletin boards and books. As an academic, the fresh beginning takes other forms. This year, I've been thinking about the energy that our new hires bring to our department. This year, our department has three new tenure track professors; all of them have different strengths and different styles, but I can see so much potential in each of them. I look forward to seeing how their presence will change our department, how we will learn from them and grow in new directions. I hope that the department will be a healthy and supportive home for them, just as it has been for me.

I've also been thinking about those whose responsibilities have taken them away from our department temporarily or permanently. I already miss Sam a lot--although I hope that she's happy with her new job. And I miss Toni, John, and Chris who are on sabbatical this year. I'm glad they have the opportunity to work on their research, but the department seems incomplete without them.

Classes start on Monday. My syllabi are copied and ready to go, but I still have prep to do. The end of the summer crept up on me this year. My mom's feeling a little better. I miss my grandfather. And J.'s in Ohio. This year's beginning is bittersweet.

My favorite recurring dream involves a house, usually mine, in which I find rooms (or, less frequently, closets) that I forgot were there. I wander around the house, surprised by the vaguely familiar but unanticipated extra space. Sometimes the rooms are accessible through a forgotten door, sometimes they are in a wing of the house that I've been too busy to access. Usually the rooms are large, roomy, expansive. But they are also filled with "stuff" that belonged to a previous owner of the house. In my dream, I'm excited to have extra space in my house . . . and I look forward to sifting through the detritus that I've inherited: furniture, clothes, books. Usually the decor is old fashioned and cluttered--so I eagerly anticipate not only recovering the space but renovating it.

I interpret this dream as being about undiscovered (or forgotten) personal qualities or interests just waiting to be developed. To me, it seems to be a dream about possibilities, the ways that I can use what's useful and throw out what isn't . . . the ways that I can change and become something new. I'm always really happy when I awake from this dream; it lingers for a number of hours and gives me a sense of well being.

As I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, I was struck by how all human beings seem to need ritual of some sort, so much so that many of us create rituals that we live by each day. With the word "ritual," I don't necessarily mean the religious rituals that may come to mind but the repetition of certain acts. Rituals seem to bring us comfort, whether they involve certain acts that we perform before we go to bed, for example, or things we must do before we leave the house. Rituals make us feel safe, they bring to us the sense of the familiar, even when they occur away from home.

So what are my rituals? I walk the same route almost every morning. That's not to say that the route never changes--in fact, I have changed it somewhat over the years--but it pretty much stays the same. My morning walk brings me a great deal of peace. It is a time when I can reflect on life, make plans for the day or the future, daydream, and/or just appreciate my surroundings. As I walk, I often mark the progress of home renovations, houses for sale, or gardening updates. It's a way of mapping myself into my surroundings.

As I think of other rituals I've created (reading the morning paper, checking email, thinking about my day before I go to sleep), I realize that they all make me feel connected to something other than just myself. Sometimes that connection is to something amorphous and undefined, yet, like my walks, they position me in a specific place, they help me understand where I am geographically, emotionally, intellectually.