Monthly Archives: June 2014

Monday Motivator: Celebrate the World Cup (Yes, That Means You!)

Even though my mother is English, there is probably no one who knows less about  soccer (football) than I. When I watch a match, all I see is people running and kicking, and if a ball goes in the goal, it seems to be nothing more than sheer luck. 

Still, I love the World Cup. Why? Let the count the ways:

And although I know that once the World Cup is over, I will slink back into soccer ignorance, for the next few weeks, I will celebrate with the world and feel at one with all the other fans out there. And I’ll take to heart a lesson someone long ago tried to teach me: Never ignore a chance to celebrate!


What’s On Our Summer Reading List? Aggie Mendoza, English Professor

Here is one of my favourite novels. Cry the Beloved Country  by Alan Paton. I recommend it because it draws parallelisms to the social and racial injustices during and after slavery in America. It is a powerful novel which precedes apartheid and speaks about the heart break and sorrows experienced by  two fathers, one black and one white.

Learning Tips: You’re Going to Fail; You Might As Well Learn From The Experience

Today, the Lifehacks post had ten things to do to learn more quickly.  While all are good, the one that I like the most is to “view failure as feedback.”

People hate to fail. In fact, they will often get in heated arguments to prove that they didn’t actually fail. They were only prevented from succeeding by (pick one or more) their teachers, families, bosses, colleagues, the Man, society, or Fate. In fact, I’ve witnessed people (who may or may not be me) work three times harder to deny a failure than they would ever have to do to learn from it and improve themselves.

At this point, we should know that it’s okay to fail on the path to a goal. After all, self-help books point this out all the time as do successful people who are interviewed about how they made it big. It’s impossible to watch any sporting event without some inspiring tale of a team or player who managed to turn from failure to success. So why do so many of us still resist, kicking and screaming, the idea of failure?

Maybe because we confuse temporary failures with permanent ones. Maybe because there is still a belief among many that if you’re really talented, then it should all come easy. Maybe because failing at something feels pretty rotten.

So let’s state this one more time for emphasis: If you are alive, you’re going to fail at something. So stop looking at failure as the most horrible thing that can happen to you and instead as a type of feedback to make things better.

For example, let’s say that your professor just returned your research paper. There are red marks all over it, and on the last page, there is a giant F. (Now most of you probably have your papers returned  electronically through your course shells these days, but you get the picture.) You now have some choices:

Choice A: You angrily stuff your paper into your textbook and stalk out of the classroom. You tell your classmates, your significant other,  your parents, your colleagues, and your cat that your instructor has always had it out for you. You’re going to drop the course and get a professor who’s not quite so blind to your obvious talents next semester.

Choice B: You stare at the F and think, “Well, that’s finally out in the open. I am a total loser. I should immediately drop this course, drop out of school, and perhaps join the Foreign Legion where no one speaks English and can realize what a failure I am.”

Choice C: You look at the grade and think, “Well, this is certainly unpleasant.” Then you look over your instructor’s comments. And you realize that you have to agree with some of them: You weren’t clear on how to cite those online sources. You were in such a rush that you probably did copy that source word-for-word. And you did let Spell Check do all your proofreading, so there are some pretty egregious errors. You decide to set up an appointment with your professor to talk about how you can improve for the next assignment.

So what are the results of these choices?

Choice A: You have annoyed everyone you’ve seen that day (especially your cat) with your self pity, but you will have gotten enough sympathetic nods to feel justified in your anger. So you drop the course, and start again next semester at the very same place you are now and likely moving to the same conclusion.

Choice B: Finding that the Foreign Legion is harder to join than you imagined, you stay in the course, but because you have now convinced yourself that you are a failure, you think there’s no use in trying. And your grade continues to drop.

Choice C: You are not happy about this grade, but you realize you made some bad choices in managing your time and resources in writing the paper. You look over the comments and decide what actions you need to take to improve your grade. You talk to your instructor or see a tutor about things you can’t fix on your own. And you make sure you avoid these mistakes in the future. The result is that your writing does improve.

Sometimes a failure is simply a message that what we’re doing isn’t working, so it’s time to try a new method. It may be telling us that we are pursuing the wrong goal and need to make a correction. Or maybe we just took on too much too fast, and we need to slow down.

All of these messages are helpful to us, but we can’t hear them if we’re busy denying or internalizing our failures.





Monday Motivator: Be Prepared to Laugh

So I have “The Argyle Sweater” daily calendar. Some days the comic is hilarious. Some days, it’s dumb. And some days, I just give up on ever getting the joke. 

On the days that it’s hilarious, I share it with my colleagues. Colette always laughs; we have a similar sense of humor. Emily looks at it and then hands it back. She always gets it, but she rarely finds it as funny as I do. But my favorite reaction comes from Pam. When she sees me coming with that square piece of paper, she starts laughing. She laughs as she reads it. She laughs as she hands it back. And then, about the half the time, she says, “I don’t get it.” And then we both laugh again. And even if she doesn’t like the comic, we laugh later at how she laughed at something she didn’t even understand. It’s like one happy moment stretched out for a whole day.

We could borrow something from Pam’s playbook. Too many of us anticipate all the bad things, from real tragic events to minor irritations, that might happen to us on any given day. But such anticipation joins the joy out of the day. How much better to assume that you’re going to have things to laugh about! And then laugh.



What’s On Our Summer Reading List? The Jolly Librarian

ImageOkay, if I lived in Scotland, I would probably be arrested for following Kate Atkinson around and asking her to be my friend. I came to her as many Americans probably do, through her Jackson Brodie mysteries. And I then grabbed every book she has written.

I have owned Life after Life for several months, but put off reading it because when I start an Atkinson novel, other things fall by the wayside. But two weeks ago, there was a lull in my work schedule, so I took Life after Life off my to-read shelf.

Ursula Todd is born one snowy night in 1910 and immediately dies, the cord wrapped around her neck and the doctor unable to get there in time. Then she is born again, and this time lives. Ursula keeps dying and being reborn as herself with the faint notion that there are things that must be changed. In one life, she is raped by one of her brother’s school buddies. In another, she is married to a brute. She lives through WWII in both Germany and England in two of those lives (one married to a Nazi). Along the way, she dies from influenza, murder, suicide, and bombing. 

This may sound confusing, but Atkinson handles all the stories skillfully and almost cheerfully in some cases. One of the joys of reading any Atkinson novel is the witty thoughts characters have about what’s happening to them. 

This is a long book at 529 pages, and each page is wonderful!


Living Poets

“Now that Maya Angelou has died, my husband says that most people can’t name a living poet.” This from my colleague who has her finger on the pulse of popular culture.

“That can’t be true,” I replied. “I can name lots of living poets.”

“You’re not most people,” she said. And I don’t think she meant as a compliment.

I decided to test her theory, and I’m afraid she might be right. I didn’t put people on the spot. I simply quoted my friend’s husband in various groups. Some nodded. Some quickly walked away, afraid that I was going to start reciting poems. Even when people looked sad and commented on the state of American culture, I noticed that very few of them popped up with the name of a poet.

 I may be something of an anomaly. I read a poem each morning the way some people read devotionals. Each year, I sponsor poetry month and send out a poem to subscribers. So, yes, I like poetry. 

But I’m not some intellectual egghead. I listen to Snow Patrol. I watch Mad Men. I shop at Target. And I sometimes even click on gossip links on my Facebook page. I’m a normal person, and poetry is for normal people.

So, if  you haven’t been reading poetry, here are some poems to get you started:

Billy Collins: “Introduction to Poetry” For those of you who have bad memories of high school when you would come to class ready to discuss a poem only to realize that you apparently hadn’t understood it all and felt like a failure, this poem will remind you what poetry is really all about.

Mary Oliver: “The Journey” If this poem doesn’t inspire you, then you may not be capable of inspiration.

Dorianne Laux: “Mick Jagger (World Tour 2008)” In case you thought that poets never paid attention to popular culture.

This is just a small sample. My point is to simply make you aware of the variety of poets and poems that are out there. Poets are writing for regular people just like you and me. Let me assure you: it’s not that you don’t like poetry; you just haven’t found the right poets and poems yet. Once you do, you’ll never turn back.

If you want to investigate more poets and poems, here are some good resources:

The Writer’s Almanac shares a poem a day.

There are three volumes of Poem a Day. (I have all three volumes, all marked up with poems I want to return to again and again.)

Poetry 180 is a project developed by Billy Collins when he was poet laureate.


Happy reading, my friends!




Monday Motivator: Inoculate Against the Grumbles Contagion

You’ve probably heard of social contagion, the idea that behaviors can spread through groups “through imitation or conformity,” according to The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. Simply, it means that if we hang around with people who eat a lot, complain constantly, or perform good deeds, we are more likely to do the same thing. 

I suppose, in theory, positive and neutral behaviors should spread as quickly as negative ones. But, in my experience, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It takes very little time to turn a laughing cheerful group into a bunch of grumblers who feel that their lives are so horrible that people in war-torn countries are taking up collections for THEM. 

So the message for this week is two-fold. 

  1. When you’re in a good mood and find yourself surrounded by grumblers, run away as fast as you can.
  2. If you’re the grumbler in the midst of happy people, do the right thing, do the right thing. Stop talking. Or leave. Immediately.

Monday Motivator: Be a Better Person, Read a Book

If I were to invite any philosopher to dinner, it would probably be the Scottish Enlightenment scholar, David Hume. This is the way one of his biographers describe him:

The French learned to call him le bon David, but the epithet cannot be readily translated into one English word. To call Hume good would be misleading, for he was certainly no saint. In many ways, however, he was good: he was humane, charitable, pacific, tolerant, and encouraging of others, morally sincere and intellectually honest. He was always a loyal friend. He was, however, somewhat inclined to be jealous – jealous of his own reputation, jealous of the integrity of friendship, jealous of the prestige of his native country. Intellectually a citizen of the world, he was emotionally a Scot of Scots. He was, moreover, a worldly man who thoroughly enjoyed the good things of life – food and drink, wit, conversation, rational discourse.–E.C. Mossner The Life of David Hume, 2nd edition (Oxford, 1980)


Most of these qualities I would want in a dinner companion, but what makes me really like Hume is his thoughts on how to teach people to treat others better, to be, in other words, a more moral person. He did not, according to the Great Courses Lecturer, think they should turn to philosophy or theology. Instead, they should turn to literature, to read poetry and novels. 

I agree. Nothing takes you into the life of another person like a novel. It can change your viewpoint forever, even more than a movie because a book can take the time to develop a person’s character and explore his/her past. Books have let me vicariously experience and sympathize with slaves, kings, death-row inmates, adulterers, saints, servants, and gentility. I would not call myself a good person, but I am a better person from such explorations. 

Of course, in an ideal world, we’d all have friends and acquaintances among all different types of people. But for most of us, our worlds are made up of people who are pretty much like us. So a book is the next best thing.