Monthly Archives: April 2010

Celebrate Poetry Month: Mary Oliver

First, I must make a confession. Although I have a degree in English, I am not a poet or a scholar of poetry. When I taught Introduction to Literature many  years ago, I was often as confused as my students about the poems and their meanings. And I am a person who likes meaning; I did after all, concentrate on the most earnest and meaning-laden group of writers of all times: the Victorians.

So Iwas more pleased the other day when a group of my  Facebook friends, much more poetic and learned in the subject than I, started praising Mary Oliver. I too love Oliver, although my devotion is of a fan not of a fellow wordsmith. My books of her  poetry are marked with sticky notes to remind me to return to the ones that speak to me. Two I’ve copied and they stay on my office wall to remind me to love (“In Praise of Craziness, of a Certain Kind”) and to be brave (“The Journey“).

This year, as a long winter ended and the semester came to a close with long-awaited balmy spring days, another of her poems resnonated with my colleagues and me:

Spring in the Classroom

Elbows on dry books, we dreamed
Past Miss Willow Bangs, and lessons, and windows,
To catch all day glimpses and guesses of the greening woodlot,
Its secrets and increases,
Its hidden nests and kind.
And what warmed in us was no book-learning,
But the old mud blood murmuring,
Loosening like petals from bone sleep.
So spring surrounded the classroom, and we suffered to be kept indoors,
Droned through lessons, carved when we could with jackknives
Our pulsing initials into the desks, and grew
Angry to be held so, without pity and beyond reason,
By Miss Willow Bangs, her eyes two stones behind glass,
Her legs thick, her heart
In love with pencils and arithmetic.

So it went — one gorgeous day lost after another
While we sat like captives and breathed the chalky air
And the leaves thickened and birds called
From the edge of the world — till it grew easy to hate,
To plot mutiny, even murder. Oh, we had her in chains,
We had her hanged and cold, in our longing to be gone!
And then one day, Miss Willow Bangs, we saw you
As we ran wild in our three o’clock escape
Past the abandoned swings; you were leaning
All furry and blooming against the old brick wall
In the Art Teacher’s arms.

It seems appropriate to end poetry month with praise to my poetic hero from a very humble fan.

NSCC Library is Now the John E. Mayfield Library

Yesterday, there was a dedication ceremony to name the NSCC Library the John E. Mayfield Library. John Mayfield has been one of NSCC’s biggest supporters throughout the years, donating funds that have allowed students the opportunity to attend college. He is also owner of a bookstore and recognizes the importance of books to not only our education but also to our total well-being. It was a match made in book-lovers heaven.

A few months ago, a campus committee consisting of faculty, students, and staff members met to discuss the naming of the library after Mr. Mayfield. The decision was made quickly and unanimously to bestow the honor. The library is very proud to be named after such a generous patron of Nashville State Community College.


The Library Losers: How Can Something so Sweet Be so Evil?

Let us consider the scone. It is a beautiful thing to behold. It has the qualities of both sweet and bread. It’s substantial enough to keep your appetite at bay, and the cinnamon scone is a sweet treat indeed. Sure, it’s not fancy like chocolate mousse or tiramisu, but its plain beauty calls out from the counter at Starbucks every time I go by. As a person born in England, the scone always reminds me of my homeland.

Yet, I discovered today that the scone has a darker side. Emily, who also enjoys  having a nice blueberry scone for breakfast, informed me of the awful truth: the blueberry scone has 460 calories, and my own darling, the cinnamon scone, contains 510!  How could such an innocent, sweet creation be so bad for us?

Since Emily’s scone was breakfast, she could conceivably make up for the calories during the day. But mine was a snack. So I went into this weigh-in knowing that the chances of losing weight after consuming four or five 500-calorie snacks for the week were not good. And sure enough, I gained a pound. I suppose I should be grateful that it wasn’t more.

Pam maintained this week. She was very proud of herself until she went to the library dedication ceremony where she consumed a cookie or two or seven. Still, she is up to 90 turkey gobbler prevention exercises (better known as tgps) each day.

Student worker Naomi did not come in today to be weighed. I believe she is hiding from me since she did her final speech (problem/solution) on the state of the library’s refrigerator.

And I, my friends, am mourning the loss of my daily companion, the scone. Like many intense loves, it was incredibly pleasurable but ultimately bad for me. Or as Snow Patrol likes to sing, “Just because I’m sorry doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy myself at the time.” Cinnamon scones, I enjoyed every moment we spent together, and I will miss you.

Life Lessons from the Library: Sometimes the Past Ain’t Pretty!

As we continue to clean out the library in preparation for the upcoming renovations, we are learning many things about ourselves as well. Some we knew: some of us are procrastinators, some of us would rather die than throw anything out, and some of us would throw out everything and start over if we could.

In the cleaning up process, we are also going through our personal files. And it’s there that we discover that sometimes the past is just better left in the past. Last night, I found a stack of 3.5 inch disks in the bottom of a file drawer. Now my gut told me to throw them out since the layer of dust indicated that I’d not needed them for years. Still, I was loathe to throw anything important, and obviously, I must have found them important to save them.

So, one by one, I put them in my computer and looked at them. Now, my first clue should have been many of them were saved in WordPerfect. Still, I opened them all. It wasn’t pretty. There were resumes that I hope I never sent, the beginnings of stories for a creative writing class that I hope I never actually finished and read out loud. There were some student evaluations. Sure,  some of the comments were glowing, but I was reminded that some students were completely “underwhelmed” with my teaching ability.

It’s easy to idealize the past, to remember things as being simpler and easier and more pleasant. But, occasionally, you get hit with the actual facts. It’s like remembering yourself all younger and pretty and then seeing a picture from that time. Yes, you were younger, but you also had a very strange haircut. Your clothes were weird. And those glasses didn’t do a thing for your face. And you realize the present isn’t really so bad after all.

Monday Motivator: How Much Will This Matter a Few Years (or Months) From Now?

Two things happened last that created this topic for me:

  • I happened to be going through my journal which I started in the summer of last year. One particular day in June, I was incredibly upset and hurt by the carelessness of a friend. I was so focused on my hurt feelings that I never mentioned what actually happened. As I read the entry again last week, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the pain had been about.
  • Cleaning out my file cabinet, I saw a program for a conference. Now, I don’t usually keep programs unless I presented, so I thought it was a mistake since I didn’t even remember going to this one. Perhaps someone gave it to me, and I accidentally put in the file. Still, I leafed through it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only did I attend, but I presented. I remember nothing about the event. But knowing how much public speaking makes me nervous, I’m pretty sure I spent time worrying and even feeling physically ill about the event.

Often, the immediacy of things make them seem more important than they are. One of the advantages of keeping a journal is that I can go back and see “traumatic” events in perspective and context. And more often than not, they don’t seem terribly important after all (especially those that deal with work dramas). The trick is to remind ourselves of this when we’re going through stresses.

So the next time, someone is mad at you, you’re nervous over a presentation, or some work controversy has you tied up in knots, just ask this question: Will this be important to me a year from now? And if the answer is no, then try to let it go.

Poetry Month: Billy Collins

Billy Collins, a former poet laureate, is one of the most popular “serious” poets writing today, often described as being “accessible,” a word not often used for modern poetry.

But keep in mind accessible does not necessarily mean easy or superficial. I always liked using his poems in my classes because students were not intimidated by them but quickly saw how much there was beneath the surface.

My own favorites include:


“Shoveling Snow with Buddha”

“Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes”

Read him; you’ll soon have favorites of your own.

“You’re My Librarian!”

One of our students stopped me in Target the other week. “You’re my librarian,” he exclaimed. I was thrilled by the identification, especially the “my.” It seems to me that if librarians and library workers do their jobs, that’s exactly how students should feel: that we are there for them.  We  are theirs.

I just had to interrupt this post. We have a student who finished everything  for his presentation except to put it in sheet protectors and have some sort of label on each page. He didn’t know the bookstore had already closed, so he came to the people he sees every night: us. We found him what he needed, and as I write this, one of my colleagues is helping him stick the labels on so that he can make to class on time for the presentation.

I’m sure some people might say we’re spoonfeeding. But I’m more than happy to live with that label. We’ve all messed up in big and little ways. And we bless the people who don’t spend time telling us what we’ve done wrong, but instead help us do what needs to be done.

If I’m asked what I want to be said about my time as dean of the library, it would be this: Students knew that they could come to the library, and the staff there would do their best to help them.

The Library Losers Confront Cheap Chocolate Bunnies,Traffic on Highway 70, TBR, and The New York Times

Life is not easy when you’re trying to lose weight. Temptation and bad news are everywhere. First, The New York Times told us what we all knew but still didn’t want to hear: Exercise by itself, was not going to help us lose weight. One expert was especially disheartening: “’In general, exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss,’ says Eric Ravussin, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and an expert on weight loss.”

Still, the article went on to say exercise was useful to maintain weight and for general health. So last weekend, Emily decided that she and her husband would walk the mile to Kroger instead of driving their car. The only problem: They live on Highway 70, a road known for its high-speeders and trash on the roadsides. By the time they made it back, Emily was having holes in her vision, the precursor to her very first migraine headache.

Student worker Naomi is still riding her bike, but she is also trying to get all her projects done and her library work hours completed. She is feeling the stress. And Pam faced a huge obstacle this week: Chocolate Easter bunnies on sale for half  price. She bought four.

And I went to TBR last week for a 2-day meeting. So that meant sitting. It was the first time in several weeks that I had not made my 10,000 steps a day goal. And both days, I stopped for fast food.

Still, when we weighed in today, our total was 579 pounds, which is 1.3 less than last week. Considering everything, it was a miracle.

So what have we learned from this week?

  • Walking on dangerous roads is not a good form of exercise.
  • TBR meetings should be avoided at all costs.
  • Chocolate bunnies at half price might as well be the Borg: Resistance is futile.
  • To exercise off a chocolate bunny, you would have to run to Knoxville in one go.

Until next week!

Life Lessons from the Library: One in, One Out.

To be honest, this is not a lesson learned from the library, but one that I learned from our library never throwing anything out. Last week, my friend  Ralph responded to my post, noting that he had a routine of throwing out one paper from his files for every paper that went in. A former boyfriend of mine did the same thing with books. I try also to do that with shoes and clothes; for every new item I buy, an old one has to leave my closet.

But like many people, I am hesitant to throw out papers, assuming that if they were important at one time, they must still be. So as I started going through my own files in my office this week, I came upon some startling discoveries:

  • a box full of index cards that I used to study for my doctoral qualifying exam ten years ago,
  • grade sheets from when I was still teaching full-time,
  • leave forms from past years, and
  • individual faculty survey responses from past semesters.

None of this stuff is any good any more, but I had not thrown anything away. So now I’m taking my friend Ralph’s advice. Each time, I add a piece of paper to a file, I’m going to try to make sure I throw something else out. Even if I don’t, I will at least checked the accuracy and currency of the papers I leave there. I’m also going to ask the staff to do the same thing with our library archives.

I’m going to establish order, one discarded piece of paper at a time.

There are websites that provide guidelines on how long to keep  financial records or other documents.

Monday Motivator: Once the Ball Leaves the Bat, It’s Out of Your Hands.

I was at a 10-year-old’s baseball game on Saturday. One boy, with bases loaded, and two outs, made a hit. The ball went flying into the outfield and the other team had to scramble to chase it. But one boy did, in fact, catch it, and our side was out with no runs. The little hitter came back to the dugout fighting back tears. This may be one of the hardest ages to watch play sports. They are old enough to get upset about not doing well, but not old enough to hide it behind the tough-guy exterior yet.

His coach gave him a slap on the shoulder. “What’s wrong, buddy? You hit a great ball. Once the ball leaves the bat, it’s out of your hands.”

Now I don’t know enough about baseball to say if that is true or not. But it sounds like some good basic advice for life. Once we’ve done our best, we need to be able to accept that there may be nothing else we can do.

I have many writer friends, and that is one job where you have to take this idea to heart. They spend a lot of time sending out queries or sample chapters and then waiting. And the majority of the time when they hear back, the news is not good. If they took each rejection personally, they would never write again. So when they send in a story or a query, they let it go for the time being and work on other stuff. They accept there is a period when the work is with a publisher and there is nothing else they can do to make it liked or accepted, and since worry doesn’t help the progress along, they work on something else.

It is a wise path to take, I think. We live in a culture that tells us that with hard work, we can be anything we want. And that is true to an extent. But there are always two parts to the equation: what we can do and what others will or won’t do in return. We can hit a good ball, but we can’t guarantee that someone won’t catch it. We can write a good story but can’t guarantee that the magazine editor will have enough space to publish it. We can be entertaining on a first date, but can’t control the fact that we remind our date of his ex-wife.

Once we accept that there will always be factors beyond our control, life actually becomes a little easier to manage. We no longer feel that we have to keep the entire world in play, that others play a part as well.

Until next week.