e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



My fourth adventure from The Global Kitchen took Nicole and I to Korea earlier tonight for a traditional rice bowl dish called bibimbap. We both appreciated the mild flavors--fresh ginger, garlic in moderation, sweetness from apple cider vinegar and a little bit of sugar--and the healthy combination of veggies and other good things that converged in the bibimbap (it's fun to say!). The Korean chili paste gave the meal serious heat and was brilliant with the egg and sprouts. Another keeper.

Bill's Grade: A-
Nicole's Grade: B+


Uruguayan Fava Bean Salad

The year we lived there, a lot of cafes and lunch counters in Beirut served salads that combined various kinds of beans (chickpeas, fava beans, whatever) with herbs, veggies, and other fresh things. So interesting to see this very Mediterranean-sounding salad in the "South America" chapter of Global Kitchen. Uruguyan Bean Salad combines fava beans with parsley, onions, tomatoes, and oregano but dresses the combination with olive oil and vinegar. In Lebanon, lemon juice instead of--or in addition to--the vinegar--would likely be used, and I confess I kind of missed the lemony bite in this otherwise tasty concoction. Still, this was easy to whip up in about ten minutes to take with us to a birthday party--a more interesting contribution than a green salad. A keeper--but next time I'm going to include some fresh lemon juice!

Bill's Grade: B-
Nicole's Grade: B+



Dish #2 from Global Kitchen: Pastitsio (from the "Eurasia" chapter), a Greek casserole with pasta, feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, ground lamb (I used very lean beef because Nicole's not big on lamb), and milk. This was fun to make: a simple cream sauce from skim milk with a little flour and butter and an equally simple tomato sauce from the meat and tomatoes. Divide pasta among the two sauces, layer, and bake. Like a lot of Greek dishes, unusual flavors mingle--this time cinnamon, garlic, and loads of fresh oregano. We hosted the Berkley Democrats' annual holiday potluck last night and this was a warm thing to serve at a December gathering, though I could imagine making this year-round.

Bill's Grade: A
Nicole's Grade: A+


Blueberry Cobbler

I've fallen for a new cookbook called Global Kitchen, probably because the pictures are so beautiful and the chapters--more or less based on the continents--so varied. My photos aren't going to be anywhere near as gorgeous, but I'm going to try to cook some of the dishes and post some thoughts. No idea how often I'll post. I have no intentions of working my way through the book in order (what fun would that be?).

The "Cooking Light" folks put together Global Kitchen and one thing I love about "CL" is the simplicity. Which leads me to tonight's blueberry cobbler ("North America"), made from not much more than berries, flour, sugar, butter, skim milk, and lemon zest. You could really taste the lemon in every sweet bite. Keeper.

Bill's Grade: B
Nicole's Grade: B+


h2o part two

Yesterday after work, a second consecutive swim. My first night I did twenty minutes. Last night, 30. I could really get used to the sensation which perhaps stems from swimming being something different (i.e., I haven't really done it for ten years), but for whatever reason swimming feels rewarding, like an accomplishment--especially increasing my time by ten minutes. I still can't imagine getting to a point of caring much about speed or form but I love the feeling of speeding up my heart rate and then keeping it elevated, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I like that swimming is hard. That's why it feels satisfying to complete thirty minutes.


free music

So I have hundreds of CDs, vinyl records, and cassettes in my office at home. I bought a lot of music in high school (late 80s, early 90s) when I "followed" particular bands--The Pixies, Smiths, et al--and was likely to use money I earned at Taco Bell to pick up anything they released. I also bought a lot of new music circa 2002-2005 or so, likely for a variety of reasons: I finally had a real job/source of income for the first time in my life after six years of grad school, I heard a lot of great new music on woxy (Oxford, Ohio's now-defunct indie rock station), and my students at Miami U tended to recommend stuff to me. So my CD collection is oddly weighted toward those years: The Gossip, Greenhornes, Libertines, Shins, Soledad Brothers, The Kills, Bloc Party...

Like, well, pretty much everybody, I buy very little new music. I bought i-Tunes versions of the soul singer Kelis' new album "Food," which I love big time; Detroit rapper Danny Brown's irreverent album "Old," which I like; and the new Mashrou'Leila, a Lebanese rock band, and that's pretty much it this year.

Other than that, it's free music. I have spotify on my computer in the Writing Program on campus and I have Nirvana, Morrissey, "dance" (Midnight Star, Morris Day, etc.), and "80s" (Split Enz, The Specials, Kool Moe Dee, Bananarama) playlists that get heavy rotation. I also have a couple entire records downloaded spotify playlists because I only have them on cassette and hence never listen to them (10,000 Maniacs, Porno for Pyros). Also, on the free music front: this great archive where you can find tens of thousands of music videos and concert clips. Amazing.

Fewer kids experience album art, I guess, but for those who get into the whole vinyl subculture. And I guess, personally, music is less communal, which has something to do with 1) not being 15 anymore, and 2) not teaching at Miami of Ohio anymore. And while free is nice for me, it's not so nice for artists. 2014, folks.


I usually work out 3-4 times per week on cardio machines. Thus far--knock on wood, inshallah, spit on the ground, stay away evil eye--I've avoided high blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar problems, the things that allegedly go hand-in-hand with being fat.

Yesterday, though, I swam laps. Ten years ago, when we lived in Ohio, I used to swim almost every morning at the Hamilton YMCA in our neighborhood. I had forgotten how swimming makes your whole body tired and refreshed all at once. Circa 2004 I used to swim for about 45-50 minutes (never kept track of number of laps because I know my speed, form, etc. weren't very good--my goal was always more about elevating my heart rate and maintaining that elevation anyway).

Yesterday I did 20 solid minutes. Going back this afternoon to hopefully do the same. I need a break from the treadmill. Err, literally and figuratively.


Tammy, Concern, Comfort

Nicole and I both enjoyed Tammy, a funny, sometimes uneven Melissa McCarthy vehicle that has largely received negative reviews. And not just the kind of negative reviews that comedies with swear words and physical comedy usually receive. Tammy has gotten sometimes angry reviews about the end of civilization and the lowest common denominator and how dare she? Of course those reviews are silly.

Often they're sexist too, as this sharp analysis points out. Andi Zeisler admits that the film is flawed and even that it has its share of easy fat jokes, but suggests the film has a radical streak too. Zeisler critiques the negative reviews that feign concern for McCarthy's lack of range (because she's been in multiple Hollywood movies playing over-the-top, outrageous, ne'er-do-wells) or, worse yet, suggest her type "functions better as a supporting player." It's one thing to criticize the movie's fat jokes, it's another thing in the age of eating disorders to wish publicly that McCarthy herself wouldn't draw attention to her own body.

Zeisler concludes: "She can be fat, they [these decorous critics] seem to be saying, but just maybe not, you know... act fat." Boom! These critics--the same ones who were appalled when Rex Reed called McCarthy a "hippo" last year--are pissed off because in Tammy McCarthy is the film's protagonist, not the sidekick. She never apologizes for being fat. There's no b-plot where she joins weight watchers (but there is a b-plot where a good-looking dude has a crush on her). She eats desserts on screen and makes jokes about sometimes eating too many of them.

Zeisler rightly calls the tone of these reviews "concern." Once in the campus rec center, I was approached while on a treadmill by a "nice" and "concerned" individual who shook his head and with much decorum said he thought it was great that I was "trying." Gee, thanks. I think I had walked 3.5 miles at that point, mostly at a pretty sharp incline. In a world where I've exercised my way out of a family history of high blood pressure (I've had perfect blood pressure my whole adult life), in what way was I trying and not succeeding? Look at the fat guy giving it a try even though he's, you know, fat. If only he wasn't fat, wow I wish we all looked alike. I'd be a lot more comfortable if we all looked alike.


Paint Valley Jamboree

For all the far-flung corners of the world I've visited--Armenia to Syria, Assisi to Paris--Bainbridge, Ohio, stands out as one of the most unique nooks I know. Bainbridge is home to the Paint Valley Jamboree, a Saturday night hootenanny of sorts. Each weekend, a string of local and regional songbirds, backed by a worldclass houseband, sing bluegrass, gospel, folk, Americana, and country favorites--some originals, mostly covers. The crowd couldn't be friendlier, the popcorn couldn't be cheaper, and the music is consistently outstanding. What stands out is that genre and style are largely beside the point. You might hear a gospel standard followed by a George Jones ballad, a song about drinking too much followed by a song about memories of Ma & Pa.

I paid my third visit to the jamboree this past weekend and had a great time. Tim Koehl, the new owner of the historic Paxton Theatre, has become a friend. Tim has plans to continue preserving the theatre (sadly, the jamboree closed for a short time before Tim acquired the site) and expanding the roster of entertainers too. I have every intention of making the trek down to Paint Valley more often. Haven't been disappointed yet.

Me and Nicole enjoying the show


sick sick sick

Ok, the allergies about which I've complained here and elsewhere: apparently not allergies.

Against my better judgment I went to the doctor who has decided I have bronchitis and prescribed zithro, plus some type of souped-up cough syrup with codeine. Thus I find myself bringing my lost weekend to a close. Lost weekend sounds vaguely fun but consisted of me sleeping on the couch, reading poetry, watching the Tigers (yay, a sweep) and Monuments Men (meh), and being jealous of Nicole who got to go make Armenian food without me last night. Inshallah I'm on the mend and back to the office tomorrow.

I rarely go to the doctor willingly (though I love both my family doctor and my neurologist!) for all kinds of reasons: don't like to be weighed, don't feel like I answer questions well, often feel like I get the "why are you here just deal with your mild cold like the rest of the world does!!" stink eye. And Friday's my doctor's day off, so I had to see Dr. Other Guy In Office ("Dr. Ogio" for short).

Things didn't start well. The nurse bellowed into the waiting room a word that sounded like "William" so I got up and followed her. She took my weight, height, and blood pressure, listened to my chest, and wrote down my symptoms, telling me to wait for Dr. Ogio. After a few minutes she came back into the exam room and stared me down. "Everything ok?" I ask. "When I said 'Williams,' you got up and followed me," she says with a sneer. I realize what's happened. "I thought you said 'William,' which is my first name. She turns around and slams the examination door.

I contemplate whether or not to leave. After a few minutes, she opens door and gives me clipboard with HIPA forms and no pen. She's got a very slender, elderly, African-American woman with her (Ms. Williams), whose chart now has her weighing at least 150 pounds more than she probably did upon her last visit.

This is why I hate going to the doctor. My awkward meter--already operating at capacity--seems to get ratcheted even higher.



Today's complaints: allergies, work stress, lots of stress-eating this summer.

Today's source of comfort:


I'm doing assessment work in my campus office today, thankful to be wearing shorts and converse all-stars (wearing whatever I want is always on heavy rotation when I count my many blessings), and this is playing for free on spotify (again, let's be thankful for the little things): one of my all-time favorites. Natalie Merchant's voice is the sound of optimism and goodness and the late '80s and this is the band's best. "Hey Jack Kerouac" made me want to read every book Kerouac wrote. Every topical song made giving a shit about the world seem cooler than acid-washed jeans. Plus, a duet with Michael Stipe.



Summer months can be tough for WPAs, I think, or maybe WPAs who tend to question their own abilities. Despite the report writing, placement exam reading, scheduling, etc, etc., the quiet moments breed doubt. Am I doing the right thing? I took on this position at the wrong right time: as the campus geared up for its first revision of its gen ed program ever AND as new public policy in Michigan was dictating how we assess and coordinate requirements for our transfer students (about 60% of our undergraduates here!). This has presented lots of challenges for us--opportunities to articulate what we do, to consider new possibilities, to think of the implications of change and the implications of the status quo. How will decisions impact students (and which ones)? Lecturers? My tenured and tenure-track colleagues? I have the sense this coming academic year will be the most challenging of my career, maybe one that along with my Fulbright year will be seminal in defining what my mid-career life looked like.


Pray For Us

I've returned to real life (Michigan) after a long weekend in Youngstown, Ohio, for St. Anthony's feast day. "Ethnic Catholics" love feast days and the rituals and foods they preserve. At St. Anthony's, Italians pin two-dollar bills to sashes hanging from the statue before Mass and then process around the Brier Hill neighborhood afterward carrying the statue, followed by an altar boy with incense, acolytes with candles, loads of Oblate nuns in white habits, and a marching band like the one from Vito Corleone's dad's funeral at the beginning of Godfather II. My grandpa never went to Mass but he used to walk down from his house off Belmont Avenue, down Brier Hill, to watch the procession. He knew it was time to leave when he heard the firecrackers that would go off during the exact moment of consecration.

Anyway, the procession to this day is still kind of a spectacle. It ends at a statue in front of the school where the priest leads the litany to St. Anthony. The priest says "St. Anthony" and everybody responds "pray for us" in a sing-song chant. Priest says "Finder of lost things" and everybody responds "pray for us" and he keeps going through a litany of, essentially nicknames for the Saint. I hadn't been to a Novena to St. Anthony or to his feast day Mass in decades and so I forgot about part of the litany that used to scare me when I was really little. The priest calls out "Terror of the Devil" (PRAY FOR US) and then "Horror of Hell" (PRAY FOR US). Used to creep me out. I think it was that chanted response. And I watched some inappropriate stuff when I was little that didn't phase me! That litany used to get to me though.

So, back to the church hall after the procession for cavatelli, brier hill pizza, sausage sandwiches, and pizza frit (essentially donuts). The church hall was also my elementary school cafeteria and a poster hangs on the wall that says "Jesus Loves Me When I Am Eating." That poster's new but the sentiment isn't. Come to think of it, that poster is one of the few things different. Ritual and food tie us to how things were when we were nerdy altar boys in the 1980s. And there were a whole lot of people at that feast being tied to the 1950s, or the 1940s, or an earlier decade. Some being tied to a village in a different country where they were born but haven't lived for a long long time. Some being tied to the taste of their grandma's fried dough (or the recollection of their grandpa skipping Mass every year but walking down for the procession and sausage). St. Anthony. Pray for us.


i'll have my usual

I like the quiet of the summer. The picture window in my office has an even greener view than usual and the hallways and nearby honors student lounge, the latter like a dorm room from September until April, have little traffic. The Writing Center down the hall is only open for a half day. Our program's two computer classrooms only offer a few sections of composition. It might get loud on days when faculty come in to read placement essays (every other Monday give or take) but other than that, it's the sound of my keyboard, maybe a spotify playlist.

(Inexplicably, I began to suffer migraines during a quiet May-June, in 2009. I had my worst relapse about a week ago. Maybe I like the peace but the peace doesn't like me.)

I mostly like the summer's imbalance too, how I never quite find a routine. I mostly work on campus on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and stay home to write on Tuesdays and Fridays, though that fluctuates as needed. I prioritize, do program/administrative things that must be done (placement, placement appeals, scheduling, decisions about classrooms and curriculum, communicate with the dean's office, monitor enrollments), set the agenda for the coming academic year (professional development sessions, speakers we plan to invite, curriculum revision in light of our new gen ed program), and then work on the studio program we hope to launch in 2015 to replace our soon-to-be-abolished "basic writing" program: compiling data, writing a fuller rationale, developing sample syllabi, figuring out what resources we'd need to pull it off as we hope.

And then the writing. Working on two book chapters, both collaboratively written, both with friends/colleagues in the Middle East. The privilege of tenure: not worrying about how promotion&tenure will judge collaboration. Working on some additional basic writing research that's connected directly to the administrative stuff we're doing in our program and that's the basis of both a presentation next month (WPA conference) and hopefully next year (4Cs conference). And a "basic writing" syllabus for the Fall that's also connected to that research and will perhaps be the last time the course is offered. Somehow it's all somewhat coherent--the syllabus connects to the research connects to the program administration. But it's all out of balance. I work randomly--I need a break from the writing and work on something else for a few days. Screw routines.

Much happening. Did I mention I like the quiet? And I like the paradox too: the peaceful surface. Underneath, lots and lots of stuff happening. The usual summer.


The English Beat

A couple weeks ago in Ann Arbor I picked up "What Is The English Beat" at a used vinyl place and have been giving it many spins. This is the coolest tune the English Beat (or as they were known in the U.K., The Beat) put out in their short lifespan:

I have a couple Pearl Jam bootlegs where they cover "Save It For Later," usually as a medley with "Betterman" and other good and catchy rock and roll songs. It's a cliche, but "Save It For Later" takes its beauty from its simple three chords (D-A-G) that even I can play.

Look at the English Beat in the video above. Goofy kids having fun. They're part of the first-generation of British, multiracial ska punk bands (like The Specials and Madness who are also great) but poppier. According to setlist.fm, they came to the U.S. in the early '80s when I was too young to go see them play and opened up for...get a load of this list...The Clash, The Pretenders, The Talking Heads, R.E.M., The Police, and David Bowie. They broke up and members morphed into General Public ("Tenderness") and Fine Young Cannibals ("She Drives Me Crazy") in the later part of the decade.

Fun? Yep. But The English Beat have some great political songs too. "Get a Job" and "Stand Down Margaret" and other much-needed rock and punk rock anthems about racist public policy in the U.K. and elsewhere. Bands like the Beat proudly integrated their own stages as white and black bandmates traded verses and traded genres too (punk, pop, reggae, soul). Check them out, peoples.


for the complaint box

What a chaotic week. A cold (or possibly a bout of allergies) slowed me down mid-week or so. All the usual, disgusting symptoms, made all the worse, perhaps, by the fact that I rarely get sick and hence don't have much tolerance for the sneezes et al. So after getting off to a productive start to the summer, I had two down days during which I mainlined trader joe tea and episodes of the tv version of "Fargo," which is a odd and bleak and really, really good. I had avoided the show because Fargo the film is one of my all-time favorites and, hey, why mess with it, right? Allison Tolman as the show's moral center Molly Solverson, the only smart cop in town (she's sort of a younger version of Marge Gunderson, from the Coen Bros. film), is so compelling and funny. Almost worth getting sick.

Here she is investigating a blood-splattered poster that says "Maybe you're right and they're wrong" because symbolism!

So I was back in good health yesterday and went to two greenhouses, Sacka's and Block's and got tomatoes, basil, and some flowers too, stopped for a visit at my sister's house, and came home and did some planting. Lovely day in and out of the sun, contradicting my claims about loving air conditioning so much more than nature. And then at night I got the worst migraine I've had in years. A pound your head into the concrete, pray for death migraine, that lasted half the night. Meds didn't help. Sitting up in the recliner didn't help. Darkness didn't help. I think I finally fell asleep around four or five this morning and woke up late, groggy, but with no headache (thank God), but really fearful that another will come on tonight. I can go get some more free Cambia at the neurologist's office tomorrow morning but he called in a prescription too, in case I need any today. Pretty sure insurance won't cover it (thus he just gives me free samples)--let's see how much this costs.

The closest thing to relief comes in the form of a cold wet cloth on my forehead. The worst migraines, in my experience, don't relent or respond to much of anything, but if the cloth is wet enough and cold enough it pulls something out of your head into the cloth. You can almost hear it moving from point a to point b.

I want tomorrow to be productive so I think today I'll veg out and try not to stress about what tonight holds. Going to grind up some homemade black bean burgers and watch Cleopatra. Here's to the healing power of a high-protein lunch and Liz Taylor.


Far From The Tree (you should read it!)

Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

With meandering chapters--part storytelling, part literature review--on dwarfism, deafness, down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, musical prodigies, transgender, and more, Solomon's book is a long and AMBITIOUS (understatement) look at children who possess some profound difference. Solomon includes hundreds and hundreds of short, journalistic narratives about families and how they cope and love and thrive, or not. Solomon concludes that "difficult love is no less a thing than easy love" but also tells the truth about tragedies. What unites all these sometimes wildly different chapters is the experience of "horizontal identity"--markers that are often not shared between parents and children and thus create a family dynamic of difference. But this isn't just a book about families, it's about how the entire culture wrestles with difference, materially and psychologically and all points between.

x-listed from my goodreads page



This one goes out to Detroit's Archbishop Vigneron who doesn't think I should "present myself" for communion, the folks at the Thomas More Law Center, and other religious supporters (many named here) of Michigan's hateful and homophobic attorney general Bill Schuette.


Andrew Solomon has written two great books that taught me a great deal about the wounded world in which we live and the wounded bodies we inhabit too. The Noonday Demon is "an atlas of depression" and Far From the Tree an epic collection of narrative and lit review about children and parents with "horizontal identities" from one another (including chapters about transgender children, autistic children, etc, etc--each chapter focuses on some type of significant difference and the familial experiences that result). He's an amazing writer, to be sure.

Nicole shared this TED talk to me in which Solomon sums up some key ideas from Far From the Tree but with a more personal bent, drawing on his own stories of being a bullied, gay kid growing up. Trauma is part of our narratives, he says. His point, I think, is that we all need to get busy "assigning meaning to those experiences." He calls this process "forging meaning" and it's a process wherein we don't assimilate to the bullshit world but rather establish go out and transform--by sharing joy, by changing what needs to be changed, and by being visibly different when that is who we are and that's what the world needs to see.


West Wing

I steal lines from The West Wing all the time: "It's like a meeting of the 'there but for the grace of God go I' club." And: "Education's the silver bullet." The DVDs of all seven seasons are definite comfort food for me. It's always been, for me anyway, a fantasy about the most earnest, literate, liberal workaholics you'll never meet.

Since becoming a writing program director I find myself quoting the show more and more (usually to myself). On the need to have professional development sessions that are purely intellectual and free of discussion of campus politics: "No palace intrigue" (echoing President Martin Sheen's desire to silence a political debate with the fist lady until they first exchange pleasantries). A few months ago on facebook I observed, "Directing a writing program is like that episode of West Wing where Martin Sheen tells the chief of staff 'I wake up energized in the morning but I never go to bed that way' and then they argue about who is holding whom back from being radical and then they totally have a bromance moment with each other and then sweeping music plays."

Of course the show could also be pretty sanctimonious at times. By literally stranding school children in the White House during a lockdown and having the characters take turns lecturing them, the post-9/11 episode pretty much made explicit what the show thought of its own mission, audience, and righteousness. And Nicole and I always make fun of the "Look at these women" conversation from Season 1, where three white guys marvel at the women (mostly their secretaries) working in the white house despite growing up in "a world that tells women to sit down and shut up."

Despite leaning a bit to heavy on Season 2, this list from today's AVCLUB is great. Ten representative episodes that show what a great drama was The West Wing. These ten episodes will have you quoting Martin Sheen, no doubt. Of course the show often mocked the notion of fandom, especially internet fandom, which puts an ironic spin on a list like this. Once the characters mocked a White House temp worker wearing a "Star Trek" lapel pin; Josh Lyman (who on various occasions during the show's run is harassed by online fans who are invariably portrayed as fools) patiently schools her: "Tell me if any of this sounds familiar to you: Let's list our favorite episodes...That's not being a fan. That's having a fetish." The West Wing-ers would disdain the AVCLUB.


Mad Men

Mad Men can devastate viewers. For all its accolades, the show really is a wonderfully written soap opera: all sex and secrets and pathos and marriages falling apart, more or less focused on good-looking people at a cool workplace. Characters give babies up for adoption, keep their sexual orientations secret, cheat on their spouses, connive, commit suicide, reveal shadow identities, and drink too much. It's General Hospital written by MFAs. Next Sunday Roger Sterling may hatch a plan to freeze all of New York City. In the last episode Dick Whitman may wake in an army barracks in Korea, circa 1952, having dreamt the whole thing.

But back to the devastation. Throughout the show's run, some of the greatest, soapiest scenes have been those that left viewers with personal and existential sadness. Sally Draper's mom says something shitty and cruel to her. Sally sees something her young eyes shouldn't see. Sal Romano loses his job to a homophobic world even though he's about the only legitimately nice guy in the whole agency. Devastation. Sal and Sally are fan favorites, but what about protagonists like Peggy? This past week Peggy--who regularly embodies the receiving end of '60s sexism--experienced the usual workplace disempowerment. She's asked to let the guys in the office present the ideas she took the lead on creating (they'll have the authority, Peggy's told, and she can interject with the emotion). Visibly bothered, Peggy is comforted by the co-worker who fathered a baby with her years prior on his office couch: "She's as good as any woman in this business."

But this week, something more. Agency at the agency. While Sinatra's "My Way" plays on the office radio, Peggy's mentor Don encourages her to rewrite the Burger Chef pitch as she sees fit, even though the client already likes the safe pitch the agency's already floated. Peggy decided to take a risk and write the better ad campaign, the one that's inside her. Then they go eat burgers. And it's beautiful. And it doesn't look like something you ever saw on General Hospital.


This Week

Quiet Sunday night in my basement office: Tigers on the radio beating the Red Sox 3-1 in the fourth inning, catching up on a few emails, going over the work that needs to get done this week. Tomorrow's a placement essay day on campus--that will be the bulk of the day but will probably rough up a Winter '15 schedule too. Tuesday and Friday will be writing days at home, likely divided between the paper I'm writing for the WPA Conference about the "transcultural" basic writing curriculum we're piloting, and the intro I'm working on for the chapter our "Beirut-Dearborn research team" is writing. Wednesday and Thursday are office days on campus--focused on working on the writing program's annual report and the proposal for our revised curriculum. But tonight, go Tigers!



Lu & Horner

During grad school at Arizona, Lu & Horner's Representing the 'Other': Basic Writers & The Teaching of Basic Writing made an impression. I can recall the book being taught in multiple seminars. It was a text we talked about in the hallways (ditto Crowley's Composition in the University...the "abolition" debate!). I have an enormous binder of study notes I used while prepping for comprehensive exams around 2000 or so and, going back, reading the pages devoted to Lu & Horner, I notice that I say little about mulitlingualism, though it's a central concern of Representing the 'Other.' My notes mostly focus on what Lu & Horner say about the history of the field (the always "newness" of the CUNY story), Min-Zhan Lu's sharp critique of 90s multiculturalism which she folds into a 'teaching essay' about style, and how basic writing could become a "border country" for the most productive, radical work in the field.

But I only have the sparest notes about what the two have to say about language use. At the time I was gearing up to write a dissertation about the history of first-year comp at two-year colleges, so their insights about marginalized narratives were of most interest to me, so that's part of it. But even the blurb on the back of the book (1999) emphasizes the book's implications for discussions of "mainstreaming" basic writers and developing "contact zone" pedagogies in writing programs. Not multilingualism.

I went back and re-read Representing the 'Other' last week and the book is still tremendously useful and tremendously forceful. And also a reminder of the scholarship that's been produced in the years since--especially everything that Lu and Horner themselves have written SINCE 1999, most of which builds in so many ways on Representing the 'Other.' Their more recent work is invariably more multidisciplinary--Horner's "Relocating Basic Writing," their collaborative "Logic of Listening to Global Englishes," Lu's "Metaphors Matter," and lots more too. All these draw on second-language writing, applied linguistics, etc, etc. And of course they deal with multilingualism even more explicitly than the work in Representing the 'Other,' stressing code-meshing and like concepts as both theoretical and teaching constructs. It's likely a lot more difficult to neglect this aspect of their analysis, now that language difference is (happily) in the foreground of their work. And the field. And our institutions.

Our writing program is in the midst of revising our curriculum, including a hard (and I hope creative) reboot of how we "do" basic writing in light of growing multilingual populations on campus. We piloted a code-meshing curriculum this past term and we're piloting more sections next Fall (details will be presented at the WPA conference in two months--stay tuned!). We're tentatively proposing a Studio Model for 2015. Exciting stuff. And it feels like what I've wanted to do for twenty years (teaching "basic writing" during the second semester of my master's program made me fall in love with the field). And so in addition to all the new things I've been reading--especially about Studio, but also Canagarajah, Matsuda, and others for insights on language and code--I'm going back and re-reading basic writing's greatest hits from graduate school and revisiting those yellowing notes from my comprehensive exams. I regret not taking a second language acquisition theory class and second-language writing pedagogy class while at Arizona. They had a great program but I guess I made the mistake of seeing a sharp dividing line between fields. Things are changing.


On Record

Today I had a workshop in Ann Arbor. So, naturally, I wandered over to Encore Records, a fine place to browse through stacks & stacks of old vinyl. Here's what I added to my collection:

Malcolm McLaren, Duck Rock (1983).

English Beat, What Is Beat? (1983).

Tim Finn, Escapade (1983).

     Bessie Smith, Any Woman's Blues (compilation from 1976)



My hometown college named a beloved former football coach its new president and virtually the entire community is celebrating. I got a master's in literature at Youngstown State during the '90s and have much love for how the University anchored Youngstown during its decades-long slide. YSU employed lots of local residents, provided cultural opportunities, maintained an open-admissions policy, and educated loads of first-generation college students and persons of color. Coach Jim Tressel, before he went on to massive success--and eventually was forced to step down for ethics and rules violations--at Ohio State--coached football at YSU and won championships, giving people in a sometimes sad city something to be proud of.

Now barred from coaching until 2017 because of those violations, Tressel's been named YSU President. People love him and because of that he can likely raise lots and lots of money. He won near-universal--hyperbolic--support from local politicians, op-ed writers, unions, and, community leaders. But here's the thing: he's not an academic. He doesn't have any experience with academic fields of study. He doesn't know how knowledge is constructed. He's got, I imagine, a Reader's Digest version of academic culture, and I'm not sure that's enough when making tough decisions about, for example, balancing STEM and professional school needs with liberal and humanistic needs (as YSU is currently trying to do). Anybody who made this point was dismissed by the Youngstown press as being elitist and their arguments were reduced ("some stuffy types critique Tressel for not having a PhD..."). I hope I'm wrong and that this lack of perspective doesn't stop Tressel from being a great president, because YSU has clearly declined in the twenty years since I was a student: declining enrollments, massive decrease in support from the state, increased reliance on adjunct labor, and they need great leadership.

But there's something more than Tressel's inexperience and lack of academic qualifications. Youngstown has a reputation for corruption. We've (I say "we" as someone born and raised in Youngstown but, admittedly, as someone who hasn't lived there in decades) been a punchline since I was a little boy there. The crooked politicians, the mobsters running everything from city hall to vending machines, Jim Traficant. Organized, institutional wrongdoing--Youngstown tends to accept these things as local quirks, as things that are funny. "Ha, that's Youngstown for you." It's hard not to see the embrace of Tressel and the absence of conversation about his rules violations at Ohio State as another example of Youngstown's *affinity* for all things crooked. The same community that elected Jim Traficant over and over again and laughed off (and took gifts from and gave communion to) people they knew were murderous mafiosos has now embraced another individual known for institutional wrongdoing. And once again the justification seems to be the same: cult of personality, good fellow, and potential to turn a buck ("great fundraiser").

I wrote this blog this morning. In the afternoon, Youngstown's mayor was indicted, along with the county auditor and city attorney. One commenter under this story wrote, "Perhaps the valley 'movers and shakers' can get him appointed as VP at YSU."


what is news?

At least the folks at TMZ are honest about who they are.

In a desperate ploy for ratings, Anderson Cooper interviewed the racist owner (soon to be ex-owner) of the L.A. Clippers and got him to say outrageous, racist things. Rubberneckers tuned in and watched him say outrageous, racist things. We got to speculate on his weird sex life. We got to hear him call out Magic Johnson for having HIV. (At least according to reports. I didn't actually see the spectacle.)

Just because you can get wealthy 18-35 people to watch doesn't mean it's "newsworthy." Jeez, exercise some judgment. A crazy racist guy saying crazy stuff isn't news. I'm not completely sure why it's even entertaining.

Remember when the Sex Pistols infamously went on the British version of The Today Show and the host egged them on to say something outrageous until they swore? That was a noteworthy Warholian moment but it wasn't a how-to moment in the history of broadcast journalism.


gay marriage trial in Michigan

Sadly, a coalition of Christian ministers continues to lobby against gay marriage in Michigan, appealing to the African-American community by framing the matter as a voter suppression issue. In 2004 voters struck down a marriage equality constitutional amendment. Now a lesbian couple's lawsuit against the state has finally come to trial in federal court in Detroit; they're suing for the right to adopt each other's kids in a case whose decision could affect the state's public policy regarding both adoption rights and gay marriage rights.

One of the interesting pieces of the puzzle has been the state's defense of its discriminatory policy. Here is a link to a brief the state's attorney general filed explaining that it's in the state's best interest to continue defining marriage as being between a man and a woman because the state has an interest in protecting procreation and the state has a prerogative to regulate sexual relations. Please keep in mind that the attorney general campaigned for office with support of the tea party based on "small government" ideology. And he thinks the state should be in the business of regulating sexual relationships. More alarming, perhaps, is the odd claim that the state benefits more from marriages that involve procreation.

My marriage has produced no children. My wife and I own a home, pay lots of taxes (happily) that support one of the best school districts in the state of Michigan, and don't have any kids that use the aforementioned resources. Isn't the state making out pretty good on the deal? I would make the argument that the state benefits quite a bit from my marriage--especially from that monetary perspective. This is just anecdotal, but if it weren't for my marriage, I probably wouldn't own a home--and definitely wouldn't own the home that I *do* own.



Settling back into any kind of routine after international travel is tough. Yesterday I cleaned my office which is a sure sign I didn't want to grade those papers. I mean it was the first time I cleaned my office since I became director of the writing program two years ago. Went through a good portion of a bottle of Fantastic. Recycled a lot of paper. Washed some coffee mugs that had gotten gross. The place is looking good if I do say so. Also got various projects organized, submitted a bunch of paperwork, started getting organized for 4Cs coming up in a few weeks, caught up on emails and facebook, and generally pulled my head out of Paris mode into Writing Program mode. Today: get those papers graded. Thank God it's Spring Break. Knock wood, my migraine meds have been doing their thing very, very effectively. I can imagine sanity and a routine in my near future. Let's see.


I look around my office on this frigid Michigan morning and see visual reminders of lovely Lebanon--the maps, paintings, and posters that cover my walls, the little tea set, the handbill from a lecture I gave at AUB. And two days back from France it's Lebanon at the heart of my memories of Paris too. At the Writing Research Across Borders (WRAB) Conference, our Beirut-Dearborn research team gave a symposium on the collaborative work our students have done--interviewing each other via skype and writing one another's literacy narratives--and we had a good time reconnecting in person: making plans for an article and our next teaching link-up next Fall, but also going out for paella in Paris and just spending time laughing. There's nothing like forgetting everything else for just a moment (or for just a week) and being thankful that people on the other side of the world came into my life.

It took forty years to get to Paris. I'm jealous of the easy and cheap metro and the comfortable "Winter" weather there. Sunday Mass at St. Sulpice with its enormous pipe organ, followed by a quiet espresso outside of church at a little cafe, was a highlight. So were the catacombs (Nicole wasn't a fan...so I guess thanks to my family for letting me watch inappropriate horror films as a little kid, thereby numbing me to how creepy a vast underground necropolis is!), the coffee, and the macaroons. French food? The baked goods are amazing but the "plates"...pretty good, but not as good as Thai, Indian, Middle-Eastern, and the like. I tried snails, that was a first, and a really frothy French omelette was also interesting. Paella (Spanish food in Paris--why not?) with the Beirut crew was the tastiest non-sweet food. Nicole and I walked and metroed like crazy and saw much of the city but we saved the Louvre for next time so that we have a good reason for there to be a next time.


Gina Patterson visited our Writing Center consultants on Friday to give a great workshop on LGBTQ issues and concerns and there's so much to say about the insights she shared. Let me, for now, just share two useful pics that have been on my mind. Thanks for sharing these Gina.

And another:


Catching up on Honors 220

A few weeks back I mentioned I had a section of honors rhetoric and writing 2, my first time teaching in our honors sequence. Technically proficient and accustomed to high performance at school, the students produce largely error-free prose (though a few need attention when it comes to the conventions of working with print sources). Semester-long student projects focus on the rhetorical analysis of any current debate happening in the public sphere and what students are struggling with is the difference between writing about what rhetors argue and writing about how rhetors argue. Our course text--the funny and engaging Words Like Loaded Pistols--is helping quite a bit and we're in the process of walking through various schemas and heuristics for critiquing an argument. It's fun, and we've managed to use the Richard Sherman "thug" conversation and an exchange in feminist zines about the ethos of selfies as examples we keep returning to as new tropes and terms become part of our collective repertoire. But we're also in that phase of the term where I've complicated things significantly but the complication hasn't yet benefitted student thinking and writing. I've found that there's a period where students adjust to new ways of thinking and writing, when concepts are still clicking, when they're still figuring out how to make this process their own...when the writing looks clunky. Luckily, I think I'm at the point where the students more or less trust me. And I just know that in a few weeks, as they become even more conversant about their respective areas of inquiry, as they become even more comfortable with course concepts (what is a commonplace and how does it circulate?), their writing will be at a higher level. Which is to say: I trust them too.


Kickin' the bucket

Last week the Metro Times published a fun list of 100 Things All Detroiters Should Do Before They Die. Some items were a bit predictable, like watching the Tigers at Comerica Park, but a few reminded me of places I've somehow never gone: Baker's Lounge (the famous, old lounge right down Livernois from my church), the Motown Museum, and a pizza place called Loui's in Hazel Park. What? A pizza place I've never visisted despite having lived here from 1992-1996 and 2005-2014?! Shock and shame.

Loui's, I quickly learned, was started by a French guy who worked at Buddy's for many years before going solo. It shows. The Buddy's part, not the French part. Like Buddy's, Loui's boasts deep-dish, square pies with a unique blend of tangy cheeses. Upon hearing about Loui's, Nicole agreed to pick up a large mushroom and green pepper on her way home from her office--she works on the east side so it was sorta kinda on her way--and I'd meet her at home after work. Predictably, I didn't get home from campus as early as I'd hoped and the pie was already cooling by the time I got home. That's on me.

It was very good anyway, almost indistinguishable from Buddy's (and I'm a big Buddy's fan). If anything, the sauce was sweeter, a better compliment to that unique mix of cheese that up until now I thought only Buddy's used. Nicole had sampled a slice while the pie was still hot--I would have been disappointed if she didn't--and she insists it's definitely got a leg up on Buddy's. She also reports that the 70s decor in the place is pretty terrific. So we're totally dining in next time (soon). Thanks, Metro Times. Next up: Baker's and the Motown Museum.


back on migraine meds

In 2009-2010, I was on generic depacote to treat severe migraines. The meds knocked out the migraines, for the most part, but also resulted in some substantial weight gain and my neurologist slowly weaned me off. I spent a few years with sporadic migraines. My time in Sharjah and even moreso Lebanon was largely migraine-free. I had a prescription painkiller that I took when one came on that was particularly severe but until a few months ago, it was nothing like the summer of 2009, a most miserable period of time, when I clearly recall wishing to bang my head against the sidewalk to take my mind off the incessant throbbing and pulsing in my temples and forehead.

A few months ago, the migraines grew more frequent and changed a bit, coming on more often in the middle of the night, strong enough to wake me up, strong enough that Nicole made an appointment at the neurologist and got the necessary referral from our family doc. I don't experience many other symptoms, like the light and noise sensitivity and nausea that many migraine-sufferers feel. I get occasional dizziness which seems largely disconnected from the headaches and continue to experience partial atrophy of my palate, which the doctors maintain has a neurological basis--likely the same anomaly causing the migraines--but not one they can pin down (no tumor, thank goodness).

Anyway, the neurologist decided the severity and frequency warrant a return to meds, this time generic topamax instead, which doesn't have the weight gain side effect. It's going to take about a month to ease up to full dosage but in the five days since I started I've had two migraines (about on par) though the more recent one was of much less severity. Probably too soon to be connected to the meds but I'll take it. I'm not crazy about the idea of being on drugs at my tender age, but the prospect of sleeping all night without a migraine, night after night, couldn't be more appealing.


typical me

Hey, running a writing program ain't all bad. You get to influence classroom practice, have loads of conversations about teaching, and use the noxious abbreviation "ad-min."

Today, a day with a budget meeting in the dean's office on my schedule, just happens to be the day I wear two different socks. I mean, who notices socks? Not a big deal. But I knew. The meeting went pretty well, nobody to my knowledge realized my error, but STILL. I'm such a wannbe perfectionist, it just never quite works out that way.



Three sublime songs to cure whatever you've got.



I'm teaching Honors Writing & Rhetoric II this term for the first time and having a great time, another reminder how thankful I am for this great life interacting with and challenging students. Students are looking at a timely debate of their choice throughout the term: the ACA's contraception mandate, the viability of Islamic feminism, internet neutrality, and the local LGBTQ activist community's stance toward straight allies are a few examples. I've tried to move the students away from the notion of writing about a "subject" and toward analyzing an ongoing "debate" happening right now in the public sphere.

Our emphasis is on rhetoric. We're reading Sam Leith's book Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama which is an accessible and sometimes funny stroll through classical rhetoric, tropes and terms, and thoughts on how rhetorics of various stripe circulate in the contemporary world. The sequence of assignments ask students to provide an overview of the kairotic moment (a kind of "state of the debate" piece), critique various instances of rhetoric culled from the debate they're analyzing (using various lenses--Aristotelian, one based on Lazere's "Rules for Polemicists," etc.), intervene in the debate by creating a piece of rhetoric of their own (a tumblr, an op-ed...the possibilities are endless), and eventually compile all they've done into a comprehensive report at the term's end.

I'm not sure I've ever sequenced assignments or foregrounded rhetoric in quite this deep (obsessive?) a fashion. Working with honors students is interesting because in my fifteen+ years teaching, I've gravitated toward the other end of the spectrum--"basic writing" classes and the like. I appreciate the chance to expand and try something different. The honors program and the writing program share an awesome administrative assistant, are next door to one another, and have always had a close relationship. I'm leaning toward teaching the first-semester honors course next Fall, and perhaps getting on a rotation of these two courses. Let's see how thing unfold...