e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


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.