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Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Will Eviscerate You in (Non) fiction

“I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity. ~ Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight's Tale” 
.....just saying, dream crushing troll, just saying.

I have been using social media for a long time: MySpace, when it was a thing, Facebook, from as far back as when a .edu email address was required to create an account, and blog that goes back a decade.

Most of my experiences on social media have been positive—partially because I am extremely careful of who I friend, and also because I don’t put up controversial posts just for the experience of watching the ensuing carnage as my former students, various clergy members, and friends from all over the political spectrum chew the matter to complete pulp.

But statistically, I suppose, it was bound to happen. You can only comment on so many friends' posts before somehow, a troll sidles in with an acidic variant of opinion/advice/commentary designed to make himself appear pretty big and badass, and everyone else small and stupid.

A dear friend of mine, a brilliant aspiring writer, posted an breathtaking bit of stream-of-conscious prose. It was beautiful and made me proud to know her. I commented publically on the work, noting that something in her style was reminiscent of the great beat writers. Because I, myself, was writing stream-of-conscious praise and encouragement, I made the unfortunate mistake of describing the beats as exhibiting “raw, unedited emotion.”

Out of nowhere, a troll sprang from the deep underbelly of the internet, discrediting my friend's work along with my analysis of it. He made it clear that he saw no beat influence in her work, and basically stripped me naked in front of the whole internet by producing a photo of a book describing all of the laborious edits of particular beat writer. He pointed out that this beat—Ginsberg—was “educated like a boss... and made an incredible amount of edits to his work,” using this as a foundation to discredit my friend’s work and to embarrass me. By this time, he’d looked at my public profile (which I am still trying to figure out how to edit down to barer bones than it is already) and found out that I was an adjunct, made some disparaging comments about my rank, and then ended with : “How can you educate others? Learn about literature before you steer impressionable minds.”He went solo on this rant—no one engaged—he just kept going until he burned himself out. 

Meanwhile, my husband did a full background check on this cat (wait? Am I slipping into beat-esque verbiage? I am evidently not qualified to know…) googling and the like, and discovered via Linked In that The Troll is seeking employ in the education field.  I was tempted, for a moment, to sign up for an account just to see if they do commenting at that forum because if there’s anything I can say or do to keep this jerk out of a classroom, then sign me up. But the thing is? You can start a cyber war with these kind of people. Clearly adept at turning up information to use as weaponry, they wage the sort of war in which a professional should not engage.

So instead, we’ll turn our attention to this gem my husband unearthed from the guy’s college newsletter:

Advice to underclassmen:

“Do not let the people close to you define who you are. Separate yourself from your family and friends , you are your own person - spend college defining yourself as an individual, you have no other time in life to be so detached from your roots."

Basically, his words of wisdom are: You do you! Don’t let anyone stop you! Don’t let people crush your soul.

And that, my friends, is what we will take from this ugly episode.

May my talented writer friend ignore every other thing this troll said and hang on to the above.

Don’t let this loser define who you are. Separate yourself from his poison, and the venom of his kind. Insulate yourself from harsh comments; learn to let them roll off your back like the sweat from your passion. Bulbous-headed big-shots like this guy aren’t confined to cyberbullying—they lurk in high school classrooms, university seminars, and MFA Workshops. Heck, I had one for a professor just last year. He tried to make me feel like I was nothing, but you know what? My lacerated skin’s growing back tougher and stronger.


So beat, troll—or, if you prefer, keep at it. Keep feeding us material. We’ll swallow it whole, break it down, and spew it out in prose that will strip you of your smug one-lines and leave you, mouth agape and fingers frozen—with no words to cover your naked shame.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Ode to Three O'Clock

It’s just after 3:00 which, according to Sartre, means it’s too early or too late for anything—a truism to which I’ve fervently held since the very first time I heard it.

It’s too late to have the house clean before my husband gets home, too late to have something nice simmering on the stove or in the crock pot. It’s too late to work out after class, like I thought I might. It’s too late to make much of a dent in my research today.

But on the other hand, its too early to do much about whatever dinner will be (order in? Go out? Forage through the fridge?) It’s also too early to kick back and settle in. Too early for pajama pants, or to pour a glass of wine. It’s too early for TV. It’s also too early for any of myriad potential evening game-changers to hit: spur of the moment invites, last minute decisions to shop, or dine, or watch something, somewhere.


It’s simply not time for anything…except maybe the one thing there never seems to be enough time for these days: writing. Oh, how I wish for 3:00 to happen a little more often, and to last a whole lot longer.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

An Open Letter to My Students

A lot of you know that up until Friday I worked for two universities: my alma mater, a state school, and a tiny private Bible college. In January, I will only be working at one of these institutions. What follows is an open letter to the students I’m leaving, as it is important to me that they know why I can’t be there for them in January.

Dear Students,

Now that you’ve turned in your finals and we’ve wrapped up all of our debates (Resolved; the installation of toilet paper is not a good argument paper topic) and played our last round of grammar trivia (did you spend all of your homework passes?) it’s time for me to share the news that this is the end. When you return from break, I won’t be there to complete in Comp II the work we began this semester in Comp I.  I won’t be there for the dozen of you who made it through my Basic English this fall, to help you find your voices and become strong academic writers.

What you didn’t know was that late this semester I was working my way through a process to leave the ranks of adjunct teaching to fill an imminent vacancy for a full time English professor. A real one-woman show. These were the days when you were asking me questions about why you didn’t have access to better research sources and why the course sequencing didn’t follow a logical path and I told you—barely able to mask the excitement in my voice—that things were beginning to change.

This was the time you saw me a bit more around campus and some of you ate with me in the dining hall or sat with me in the lounge and you told me how cool it was that I was “starting to hang out” with you. I thought it was cool, too. In fact, I was already mentally decorating the office where we were going to enjoy weekly coffee bars, tutoring sessions, and a revolving open door ethos of conversation and encouragement. It was an exciting time.

Then something went wrong.

I was told that one of the last steps in the hiring process was to read and support a recently drafted marriage and sexuality statement. And that’s how I became a happily married suburban mom who was denied employment over an issue of sexuality.

When a tiny Christian school determines that the time has come to issue a statement on such subject matter, they want to make sure the result has some muscle; that the verbiage was crafted by people who know black from white, and are adept at spotting the taint of grey when they see it.

These statements are typically thorough, with a tendency to read like a who’s who list of sexual deviance; a catalogue of possible ills. Words like “repugnant” are bandied about.

I read this particular statement with a sinking feeling that settled in the depths of my gut. I didn’t need to think it over because to my eyes the document—literally a black and white treatise—appeared as one big blob of grey.

They were expecting wholehearted endorsement, to stand with them in confidently labeling the entire catalog of variant human conditions as sin. But I couldn’t. See, every item listed represents the state of a struggling human; someone dealing with issues I do not know enough about to simply judge with a nod of assent.

So I gave the only true answer I could.

I said I didn’t know.

I said that in a world where genetics has changed to the tune of one in 100 births (about the same incidence as the birth of a redhead) resulting in some variation of gender difference beyond the male/female lines with which we’re comfortable –that I don’t know where the line is between “holy” and “unwholesome.”

I said I didn’t know if someone who was born female, looks female and feels female is doomed to a life of celibacy when a routine marriage blood test turns up a (surprise!) Y chromosome.

I said I don’t know exactly what God expects from someone who was born ‘clearly” female but sprouts testicles and a penis in adolescence.

I said that not only did I not know—I was OK with not knowing because God didn’t give me the job to know, but to love. I said that my job was to guide people closer to Christ so they could work the details out with him.

Everyone assumed I must have misunderstood. After all, no good Christian mom sending her own son through Bible College could really “not know” her stance on such a key issue. So they spent some time “exploring” the issues with me, and asked me to try again.

I said I still didn’t know.

And because I don’t know, I can’t be your teacher any more.

I can’t learn from your stories (because, statistically, even at this tiny, tiny school, some of you are dealing with issues from the Catalogue of Ills, alone, in pain, and desperate for a listening ear).

Because I don’t know enough about your specific deviation from the norm to label and judge it, we can’t sort it out together. I can’t bring you into my office and give you a cup of hot chocolate, and tell you that it’s going to be okay, that I know it will be because God made you and loves you just the way you are. I can’t tell you that even though I don’t know exactly what God wants for your future, I know that if you seek him first with all of your heart you will find your answers and whatever they are they will bring you joy.

I can’ t offer you this type of comfort and support because everyone is afraid.


Your school does not know how to handle these realities, so they are joining the stampede of Christian organizations pounding a path of retreat from issues that challenge our traditional understanding of sexuality and fortifying themselves behind walls of impenetrable statements.

But this very wall is the thing that makes me not afraid any more. I know that as more and more Christian institutions succumb to the pressure of issuing formal statements of stance, that it is unlikely that I will ever work in a Christian environment again. I reek now of compromise, of weakness. I represent The Thing everyone is running from.

Please don’t misunderstand: your school did nothing wrong in not hiring me. I support their freedom to hire or fire on the basis of anything they deem important: I vehemently support that right. What I am saying is that I find it very sad that this is the issue they have chosen adopt as a line-in-the-sand-you’re-with-us-or-against-us matter of policy.

I am sad for you, and I am sad for me, because we are all lesser for it.


And there’s nothing I can do but work outside the system, now, as a voice who now knows, first hand, the pain of being refused employment for something I just can’t change.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I'm a happily married suburban mom who lost her dream job over an issue of sexuality (an open letter to my students)

Now that you’ve turned in your finals and we’ve wrapped up all of our debates (Resolved: the installation of toilet paper is not a good argument paper topic) it’s time for me to share the news that this is the end. When you return from break, I won’t be to help you find your voices and become strong academic writers.

See, earlier this semester I was working my way through a process to leave the ranks of adjunct teaching to fill an immediate opening for a full time English professor.

This was the period when you saw me a bit more around campus and some of you ate with me in the dining hall or sat with me in the lounge and you told me how cool it was that I was “starting to hang out” with you. I thought it was cool, too. In fact, I was already mentally decorating the office where we were going to enjoy a revolving open door ethos of conversation and encouragement. It was an exciting time.

Then something went wrong.

I was told that one of the last steps in the hiring process was to support a recently drafted marriage and sexuality statement. And that’s how I became a happily married suburban mom who was denied employment over an issue of sexuality.

When a Christian institution decides that the time has come to issue a statement on such subject matter, they want to make sure the result has some muscle; that the verbiage was crafted by people who know black from white, and are adept at spotting the taint of grey when they see it.

These statements are typically thorough, with a tendency to read like a who’s who list of sexual deviance; a catalogue of possible ills. Words like “repugnant” are bandied about.

I read this particular statement with a sinking feeling that settled in the depths of my gut. I didn’t need to think it over because to my eyes the document—literally a black and white treatise—appeared as one big blob of grey.

They were expecting wholehearted endorsement, to stand with them in confidently labeling the entire catalog of variant human conditions as sin. But I couldn’t. See, every item listed represents the state of a struggling human; someone dealing with issues I do not know enough about to simply judge with a nod of assent.

So I gave the only true answer I could.

I said I didn’t know.

I said that in a world where genetics has changed to the tune of one in 100 births resulting in some variation of gender difference beyond the male/female lines with which we’re comfortable –that I don’t know where the line is between “holy” and “unwholesome.”

I said I didn’t know if someone who was born female, looks female and feels female is doomed to a life of celibacy when a routine marriage blood test turns up a (surprise!) Y chromosome.

I said I don’t know exactly what God expects from someone who was born ‘clearly” female but sprouts testicles and a penis in adolescence.

I said that not only did I not know—I was OK with not knowing because God didn’t give me the job to know, but to love. I said that my job was to guide people closer to Christ so they could work the details out with him.

Everyone assumed I must have misunderstood. After all, no good Christian mom sending her own son through Bible College could really “not know” her stance on such a key issue. So they spent some time “exploring” the issue with me, and asked me to try again.

I said I still didn’t know.

And because I don’t know, I can’t be your teacher any more.

I can’t learn from your stories (because, statistically, even at this tiny, tiny school, some of you are dealing with issues from the Catalogue of Ills, alone, in pain, and desperate for a listening ear).

Because I don’t know enough about your specific deviation from the norm to label and judge it, we can’t sort it out together. I can’t bring you into my office and give you a cup of hot chocolate, and tell you that it’s going to be okay, that I know it will be because God made you and loves you just the way you are. I can’t tell you that even though I don’t know exactly what God wants for your future, I know that if you seek him first with all of your heart you will find your answers and whatever they are they will bring you joy.

I can’ t offer you this type of comfort and support because everyone is afraid.

 Your school does not know how to handle these realities, so they are joining the stampede of Christian organizations pounding a path of retreat from issues that challenge our traditional understanding of sexuality and fortifying themselves behind walls of impenetrable statements.

But this very wall is the thing that makes me not afraid any more. I know that as more and more Christian institutions succumb to the pressure of issuing formal statements of stance, that it is unlikely that I will ever work in a Christian environment again. I reek now of compromise, of weakness. I represent The Thing everyone is running from.

Please don’t misunderstand: your school did nothing wrong in not hiring me. I support their freedom to hire or fire on the basis of anything they deem important: I vehemently support that right. What I am saying is that I find it very sad that this is the issue they have chosen adopt as a line-in-the-sand-you’re-with-us-or-against-us matter of policy.

I am sad for you, and I am sad for me, because we are all lesser for it.

And there’s nothing I can do but work outside the system, now, as a voice who now knows, first hand, the pain of being refused employment for something I just can’t change.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Without My Help

Mid-stretch on the gym floor, I was distracted by movement at the glass door. Wings fluttered. I might have heard a thud. Did a bird brush the glass on the way by?

Michelle, my trainer, sucked in her breath and let it out in an long “oooh…”

What did I miss?

“I hate to see things like that,” she said. “I’ll think about it all day.”

I turned and saw a small bird upside down on the pavement, his little chest heaving in what had to be its last breaths.

“I think he was being chased by the bigger bird,” Michelle said.

We stopped stretching and stood in silence as his chest went still.

We finished stretching in solemn silence.

I stood by the door, keeping an eye on her baby while she shut things down in the back. I tried to avert my gaze from the little upside-down body on the pavement.

Someone walked past the gym, making a wide berth around the accident scene. My eyes automatically followed.

“Michelle!” I screamed. “He’s up! The bird is up!”

“What?” Michelle stood next to me by the door. Our friend was upright, his eyes clamped closed, his long beak pointing straight ahead. A slight sag of his right wing afforded a glimpse of a patch of bright yellow feathers, that would normally not be visible unless he was in flight.

“Maybe I should take him to the emergency vet,” I suggested. My mind raced—I had a vague memory that the emergency vet had moved, or perhaps no longer accepted wildlife patients, and I’d left my phone at home. But what could I put him in? What if I hurt him more jostling him around the city in search of a vet that may or may not be in existence?

“Maybe it would be better to let nature take its course,” Michelle suggested. “God knows this sparrow has fallen.”

I nodded in agreement, pouring out the remaining contents of my water bottle on the pavement near the bird, in case he needed a drink.

I started home. What kind of a person leaves a bird to recover on the pavement outside the gym door?

I pulled in front of my house and grabbed my computer in one hand and phone in the other. I dialed the number that appeared on the screen.

“Do you still take wild animals? Birds, specifically?” Yes, the emergency vet still existed, and still accepted wild birds as patients.

I took a two minute shower and tossed on an assortment of clothes that later turned out to be to be a mostly white graphic T-shirt, inside out, over a canary yellow bra, which glowed brightly beneath the wet patches from my dripping, matted hair.

I grabbed what I could find—and old towel and a cardboard drink carrier, and headed back to the gym. It started to rain.

Please be alive, Please be alive.

I screeched into the parking lot and pulled up to the door. He was there! Upright!

I approached the bird. He was sitting peacefully, eyes open, alert. A good sign—he’d survive the car ride.

I took another step toward him and—woosh! He took wing, quickly becoming a small speck that disappeared into the tree tops.


I stood alone, in the rain in the gym parking lot, clutching a cardboard drink carrier and a towel, laughing at the heavens.

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