e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



During a story about how cash-strapped police forces are issuing more tickets during the recession, an NPR newsreader this a.m. made a joke about cops asking drivers if they know how fast the deficit is growing. Which brings me to an important point: NPR is not funny (except for that "Wait Don't Tell Me" gameshow). Whenever NPR reporters try to be funny, they end up sounding like the "Delicious Dish" hosts (they of "Schwetty Balls" fame, who live on the edge by tossing a handful of walnuts into their scone recipes) on Saturday Night Live: vaguely erudite and very milktoast. Love you, WDET, but not so much with the funny.



Is it a case of laziness? Writer's block? The shock of having no papers to grade today? For thirty minutes I have been trying to begin the day's writing. My plan is to spend half my workday hammering away at an article, a piece I care about deeply, a piece I have been working on for some time. I have a very positive 'revise and resubmit' letter from a good journal, so why can't I get started? I have specific suggestions from reviewers, some messy notes toward revision, and motivation. Smokey's sleeping on my office futon. And I know that with 4-5 hours, I can, theoretically, do quite a bit. What do you do on days like this?


"Certificates" are the new Minors

Yesterday the Composition and Rhetoric faculty hosted an open house for students interested in our new Writing Certificate program. I wasn't sure how many people we would show up but, perhaps due to the presence of free food, we had a great turn-out. Mostly literature, psychology, and early childhood education majors--all of whom expressed a great deal of interest in pursuing the Certificate program in addition to their majors.

Mostly the event provided a chance to socialize, great in and of itself given that there aren't enough opportunities for meaningful faculty-student interaction outside of the classroom (service learning initiatives represent one such opportunity). I managed to talk to just about every student who showed up and was happy that "writing" meant something to each. The history major who writes fantasy fiction. The guy interested in teaching writing at the college level. The psychology student who has no interest in clinical work but wishes to do research. I like the "certificate" model, with its combination of flexible classroom work and practicum. If yesterday's open house was any indication, the model is also attractive to our students.


veggie burgers

For lunch I made a batch of veggie burgers. Ate a couple for lunch. Put the rest in the fridge. Is there a cheaper, healthier food? This is one of the best food preps I've stolen from Anna in ages...and I steal cooking ideas from her constantly. Here's what I put in today:

-1 can of black beans, drained well
-1 stalk of celery
-1 carrot
-1 onion
-a handful of mushrooms
-1 egg
-a cup of oats
-a cup of Italian seasoned brad crumbs
-kosher salt, pepper, cumin, and dried parsley

Blend in food processor, form patties, place on cookie sheet sprayed sprayed with pam, bake for 30 minutes at 400 degree. This made twelve burgers, no joke. No need for a bun. You've got your protein, grain, and vegetable all in one neat package. A little bit of good mustard is the only side dish you need.

You could add or substitute fresh parsley, wheat germ (I didn't have any at home, but this was delicious in Anna's version last week), dab of olive oil, garlic, lemon, eggplant, most any type of squash, garbanzos, walnuts, flaxseeds, peas, tofu, sea salt, broccoli, and about anything else you've got in the kitchen.



This image is making the rounds on facebook. No matter what our differences are regarding health care reform, can we all agree that this is a great representation of what writing and revision look like?


food revolution

I caught most of 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution' last night. The new "reality" show tries to project the ethos of a socially aware documentary, and even succeeds sometimes. Oliver goes to Huntington, West Virginia, to try to start a "grassroots" campaign to eat healthier foods. Oliver, a British celeb-chef, is obvisiously an outsider and the fact that he's brought along cameras from a major tv network in part negates the whole notion of "grassroots."

And yet he does aim for genuine capacity building among both families and institutions (much of the action centers on Oliver's work with staff at a local school cafeteria). The show offers an interesting representation of outsider-insider relationships as well as the priveleged and working classes. Oliver sometimes comes across as snarky, calling cafeteria staff members "lunch ladies," a term that makes them bristle. And the camera definitely focuses heavily on their ho-hum reaction to all the processed foods they serve, playing "clueless" looks for laughs and adding wacky music that underlines what they don't know about health.

But give the show points for acknowledging there's a broader context for why the meals they serve are both carb-intensive and processed (horrific looking pizza and chicken nuggets seem to be in heavy rotation on the menu). We encounter USDA guidelines that mandate multiple starches. Sadly, that broader context so far has mostly consisted of 'the government' and not the private interests that profit from screwed-up standards in all kinds of ways. No mention of the corn industry, big junk food companies that make dough from sugar and salt addictions, or the equally problematic diet biz that then swoops in and makes people feel shitty about themselves. I don't think the USDA spends as much advertising on ABC compared to Burger King and Slim Fast.

What of the amount of food that's wasted? I also credit Oliver for monitoring what kids throw away: their scoops of canned fruit and the two celery sticks that sometimes come with their meals. (related question: how come this district isn't recycling those plastic milk cartons?) Rightly, Oliver points out in his narration that these are tax dollars getting scraped into the garbage bins. For three decades, my dad brought home for his chickens and pigs all the food scraps from the elementary school where he taught. Are there no farmers in and around Huntington, West Virginia, who could use the slop?

I'm going to give the show a chance and keep an eye on the show's attitude toward workers, waste, and profiteers. This one could go either way.

employment opportunity: Service Learning Director at UM-Dearborn

We're hiring a full-time non-tenure-track academic to direct our growing service learning program. The lecturer will teach two classes in his/her "home" discipline and lead professional development initiatives around service learning at UM-Dearborn, which is a great place to work. It's an opportunity to help community-based teaching and learning become an integral part of a diverse campus. Email me with questions - billdeg at umd dot umich dot edu


Director, University of Michigan Dearborn Academic Service Learning Center

The director assumes leadership of the new UM-Dearborn Academic Service Learning Center (formerly the Civic Engagement Project) and reports directly to the provost. In addition to teaching two courses per academic year in his/her discipline, this Lecturer III will serve as the primary resource for service learning across the campus and administer academic programming around community-based teaching/learning. While this is a new position, civic engagement/academic service learning has been a formal component of the undergraduate experience for five years. With the hiring of a director, the scope and depth of these efforts will be broadened.

To apply, please send a letter of interest and your curriculum vitae to William DeGenaro, Search Committee Chair, Department of Language, Culture, and Communication, CASL, 4901 Evergreen Rd, Dearborn, Michigan 48128. Apply by: May 1, 2010.


Food Love

Yesterday we watched these videos with the Living Stones folks (see yesterday's post). Will Allen is a fascinating figure and has deservedly become a celebrity thanks to his work at Growing Power. He even won a MacArthur Genius Grant.

Here are Parts 2 and 3. Don't miss the segment on their worm bins!


community partners

Amal (the Vista who works in our service learning office) and I had a great meeting with a new community partner today. 'Living Stones Community' partners with Michigan Corrections to provide job training for recently released convicts, especially ex-cons in Washtenaw County where the number of colleges (particularly U of Michigan and Eastern Michigan) has led to much competition for jobs and, by extension, a higher recidivism rate. Folks re-entering society have fewer options there and often return to lives of crime. So Living Stones offers such individuals the chance to learn how to grow and market fresh foods. The organization is part of the urban farming movement which has picked up much steam in southeast Michigan. They want to work with our students; Amal and I are going to make it happen.

In a day pretty much devoted to the Civic Engagement Project (sorry English 327 students clamoring for your graded papers--you'll have to wait until next week), I also met with the Provost to finalize plans for the hiring of a dedicated service learning director. We have been lobbying for such a position for several years and it's finally going to happen. Director duties have been assumed by faculty members (most recently me) operating with course releases, Vista volunteers, nickles, dimes, and even some twine. Next year, that will not be the case. Stay tuned here and on facebook for information on this long-awaited job search.


working-class literature

Sherry Linkon** of Youngstown State's Center for Working-Class Studies has a thoughtful post about why studying working-class culture and literature matters. Linkon rightly suggests that "the working class is getting larger and more frustrated" and issues a call for renewed commitment to scholarship, especially in light of the economic conditions in our nation.

Blogs like the YSU Center's also serve as a place to *sustain* such scholarship and move academic discussions beyond realms like academic journals. The aforementioned piece links to my blog and a post I wrote while working on an article about my great-grandfather's poetry as an expression of working-class ambivalence and identification. I'm proud of that article, which is one of the better things I've written and likely helped me get tenure. But I'm frustrated that I had some good conversations with colleagues and received some nice emails upon its publication...and then moved on to the next project.

Academic communities need more resources and sites like the Center for Working-Class Studies' blog, where (academic) discussions can become broader and involve more individuals and last longer. Funny timing for Linkon's post. I'm giving an invited talk in Ann Arbor next month where I'll be talking about the research I did on my great-grandfather. And having recently looked at a series of lettrers and poems that my grandfather on the other side of the family wrote during WWII, I'm thinking about the possibility of more familial writing.

Coincidences like this remind me of the need to return to ideas that matter and find new and better ways of talking about those ideas. And ideas that matter start with things that mean something to us personally.

**Professor Linkon--speaking of the convergence of the personal and the academic--co-wrote a great book called Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown that models smart and engaging analysis of place. The church where I grew up (St. Anthony's, on the north side of Youngstown, which is likely closing this year) figures prominently in the book. Last week during Spring Break I was happy to see copies of Steeltown USA for sale at Jimmy's Bakery, a great Italian cafe and specialty store run by a family I grew up with at St. Anthony's.



I enjoyed watching the Academy Awards last night and thought "Precious" and "The Hurt Locker" deserved the awards they took home. Some of the images in "Precious" certainly verge on racist caricature, but the story and the very real characters therein are honest and disturbing. I only wish the actress who played Precious, Gabourey Sidibe, could have taken the best actress award. She was riveting, moreso than Sandra Bullock, who seems like a perfectly nice person who chooses poor or mediocre films. Meanwhile, I'm a big "Hurt Locker" fan so I was glad to see the suspense and compelling characterizations result in a best picture win.

Random thoughts after watching the show. Does James Cameron really take himself that seriously? Dude, you directed "Terminator 2" and "True Lies." Get over yourself. Smile a little.

I could say the same thing about George Clooney, inserting a reference to his role in latter-day "Facts of Life." Why was he glaring at the camera all night? Was that an act? If so, I don't get the joke.

Oprah said some beautiful things about Sidibe, but it seemed a little patronizing that every other best actor/best actress nominee was introduced by a co-star, while the only young, African-American nominee gets the "Cinderella story" treatment.

Did they really introduce Sarah Jessica Parker by calling her a "clothes horse"? Maybe the meanest joke of the night.

Nice tribute to John Hughes. Jon Cryer, Matthew Broderick, and most of the cast of "The Breakfast Club" turned out for a loving homage. Roger Ebert called this one of the most memorable Oscar moments in recent history, and I tend to agree. Nothing wrong with saluting the person responsible for at least a half dozen films that meant a lot to people. Even in a room full of too much self-importance, evidence that distinctions between high and low art are completely meaningless.