e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



I didn't accomplish the five things I put on my weekend to-do list, though I graded some of the papers I had hoped to finish. I find myself low on energy, especially on the weekends and evenings--time I used to use for marking student writing and working on my research. This might be due to the administrative work, which I think is taking more out of me than my previous day-to-day work life. Maybe it's partly age. I suspect depression, which I've been struggling with even more than usual lately, plays the biggest role of all.

On the bright side, I've been exercising most every day. In theory, exercise is supposed to increase one's energy and mood, but I've never understood the whole "don't you feel great?" cliche surrounding exercise and eating "right." Truth be told, I feel energized by eating to excess. But I like the idea of taking one problem at a time and committing to working toward something better. For me, that thing is exercise. I'm going to keep doing it virtually each day and let that be one thing I'm doing well. Blogging, which also gives me a sense of accomplishment (hey, I'm writing some words, good!), has felt solid as well.

The next steps are going to be eating less food consistently, spending more time on my research and writing, saying "no" once in a while, caring less about things I can't control, and finding that illusive sense of balance. I hate to put these things in list form, because that strategy went pretty much to shit over the weekend. One of my favorite teachers used to quote Beckett: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better."


So long, Lou, thanks for the tunes.

It's tempting to quote from one of The Velvet Underground's last great tunes, the one where Lou Reed sang about a little girl in NYC whose "life was saved by rock and roll." Lou died today and left behind weird, arty rock songs that made a lot of people's lives a little less alienating. His music with the V.U. in particular appealed to kids who felt like outsiders or wished they lived in New York, kids who wanted to be cooler than they were, and kids for whom books and records were more than just entertainment.

Like many in my generation, I got into the Velvet Underground because R.E.M. talked up their music in pretty much every interview they gave and even covered three V.U. songs on their b-sides compilation Dead Letter Office. In ninth grade, I bought Lou's new solo record New York while home from school on Christmas break, I think with Christmas money, and found the snapshots of crack-era NYC vivid and compelling, though I was a kid from Ohio going away to school at a seminary (a life far from "Dirty Blvd."). But it was the old V.U. records--all four of the studio albums they made with Lou--that made the most impact: punk rock before it existed, art rock before anyone called it that, music that was at once highbrow and filthy.

Thanks, Lou, for the great songs. The "hits" (well, not really) like "Sweet Jane," the personal favorites like "Jesus" and "What Goes On," oddities like "Sister Ray." Here's to a career that was never boring.



Slept later than I intended but still started the day at the wellness center. Last night, the good folks at the Women's Resource Center asked me to give a talk about writing scholarship applications, focusing on personal statements and application essays. This made for a long day on campus and more or less led to an extra thirty minutes of sleep this a.m., though any and all sleep-guilt's been washed away by time riding the exercise bike and running around the track.


"I will sing a new song"


I love teaching Patti Smith's amazing memoir. Today my students shared such disparate readings of Patti's representation of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

I'm constantly amazed at the ways students connect with Smith's story despite being part of a different generation, a different walk of life (many of the students are Muslim, the children of recent immigrants, with little affinity for leaving family to live the arts in NYC), and a different sensibility.

One of the first issues of College Composition and Communication I received in the mail--while still in my M.A. program--included an interchange between Geoffrey Sirc and Seth Kahn about the viability of a punk rock pedagogy. Sirc raised concerns about how he wouldn't want to feel "like Alan Bloom playing his students Mozart records." I confess to playing my students youtube videos of CBGBs in the interest of contextualizing Patti Smith.

Smith's book provides an occasion for interesting writing. I likely have greater affinity for Patti Smith than my students, but the students and I share an interest in storytelling, writing about identity, and using writing as a place to make sense of our complicated relationships to dominant culture, whatever that might mean.

Punk rock pedagogy? Nah, not really. Just reading, talking, and writing.



Afternoon walk on campus. As much as I miss the Middle East, I have to say that Michigan does October just right. 

I turned forty yesterday and look back with appreciation, pride, and optimism at leaving home young on a path of my own (age 14), finding love (age 19), marrying (age 25), getting a PhD (age 28), earning tenure (age 35), completing a Fulbright and finding a second love aka "Lebanon" (age 36-37). 

I've never solved some of my own biggest puzzles and problems; perhaps at the close of the next forty years I'll be able to say otherwise. My weight, my own mental health, my ability to juggle gracefully all the happy and challenging things in front of me...struggles, all of these.