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For 2019 I Can Still Change


I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Mainly, it’s because I resist the sort of corporate business management notion that meaningful changes require measurable outcomes—that goals have to be quantifiable to be “real.”

I think that’s a valuable notion for an organization. But I reject it as an individual. In my opinion, all of me is too complex, too bound up with other parts, too connected to past and biology and knowledge and experience to be reducible to such math.

I am more, and less, than the sum of my parts. For example, I could set a goal to lose 20 pounds in 2019 (or, maybe more appropriately, 19 pounds), and such a goal would make sense since I can easily afford to lose that weight and more.

But, to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I just washed down my emotions with a full-calorie beer. Is there any possibility that my habits and tastes will change so much in 2019 that the leaner Joe within will emerge? Yes, yes, I know that in a larger sense the answer is “yes.” But, to be brutally honest, the answer is, honestly, probably not.

And why should that number define me?

Isn’t it more important that I strive to be kind in 2019? To read more new books? To enjoy the latest Tessa Violet or Lake Street Dive video no matter what my students in the Times newsroom think? To be a better husband, grandfather, professor, person?

Maybe lean Joe would be mean Joe, and if there is one thing I hold self-evident, it’s that the last thing this sad planet needs is a other Angry White Male.

So, if you’re into measurable New Year’s resolutions, more power to you. I’m not. Still, whatever, works for you is fine with me.

As for me, I want to experience less irrational anger in 2019. (Rational anger is another story—some measure of anger is simply a sign that you’re aware of the state of the world.) I want to experience more love in 2019, and I think the Beatles where right—the love you take is equal to the love you make.

And Lake Street Dive has it right, too. Their video is interesting, because Rachael Price is changed by others as she sings about how “I Can Change.”

I feel the same way. I can change, whether I bother to quantify the change in some measurable way. Yet at the same time, I can caught in a web of external forces that ensure, in fact, I will change, and if I don’t recognize and direct my own change, that may not always be a good thing.

I’m 60. I don’t look forward to 2019 as a young person would—my life is not always full of all of those possibilities. I will never be a professional musician or rodeo clown. One of my daughters made me proud in 2018 by running her first marathon—a feat that arthritic knees rule out for me.

But I can change. I should not focus on the possibilities that biology, fate and age close off to me—there are too many roads that still remain open. And the world is on its own path, and while I’ll try to do what I can to contribute to the good, to reduce the level of bad—mostly, I’m responsible for Joe.

My main New Year’s resolution? Sort of the serenity prayer. To change what I can and not be brought down by the rest.

Happy New Year, reader. May you not dwell in the new year in the shadow of hate. I hope you and yours find positive change in 2019, and I hope you can take heart in that possibility. We can’t control everything. Yet, we can change.

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The Party of Joe


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Yard signs seems on morning of Oct. 30 during my bike ride to work. Contrasting ideas at work here.

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The day before Halloween was both exhilarating and scary—a bit like Halloween, in a way. On Halloween, kids walk around in costumes to beg for treats. My wife and I dressed in business casual attire and went downtown hoping to get for some rhetorical hope.

I think we got it.

The news was that Joe Biden was coming to town. The former vice president was here for a campaign rally to boost Fred Hubbell, running for Iowa Governor, and Abby Finkenauer, running for Congress.

We had signed up online, as we were urged to do, but that didn’t seem to matter. When we got downtown, it took some time to find a parking spot, so as a mild, cool drizzle halfheartedly tried to start, we trudged a few blocks to wait in a line that stretched for over a block from the entrance to the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium on Mays Island.

The night was damp and cool, but not cold and wet. We sometimes put up umbrellas, but then folded them (a trick our President seems not have learned) because it just was not worth it.

We ended up in line with a couple of other college professors, our colleague at Mount Mercy Dr. Joy Ochs, and her science-teaching spouse at Kirkwood Community College, Dr. Fred Ochs.

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The long line that leads to Joe.

The wait wasn’t all that long, and we had some pleasant chats as we worked our way to the door. At one point, a Planned Parenthood volunteer handed me a sign. I didn’t really want to hold a sign, and regretted my knee-jerk reaction to take it.

We got close. I could see Fred Hubbell chatting just a few people in front of us, and got my camera out—and like a Halloween apparition, suddenly he was gone. Still, there was a state House candidate, Eric Gjerde, next to us, so I snapped his image.

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House candidate I will be voting for.

And then we were in the lobby. A uniformed guard was by the door. “You can’t take that in,” he said of my sign, and confiscated it, much to my relief. And then we were in the auditorium. I was surprised at how lax security was—if there was a metal detector, I didn’t detect it.

And we were crowded together. Honestly, we were not squeezed all that much, and the space was large, so it was not uncomfortable, but I was glad I had decided by good camera would be too bulky to hold. At times, moving to take an image with a phone or little camera was challenging enough.

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The crowd inside, and Dr. Joy Ochs.

After a half hour or so, warmup acts began. A state party official spoke. A man in a wheelchair who has appeared in videos supporting Fred Hubbell spoke. A pause. Then, a high school girl doing a fine job with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Next, Sen. Rita Hart, Democrat running for Lieutenant Governor, spoke. I was quite impressed—I had not heard her before. I kind of wish she was running for the top job, but maybe if Fred is elected, that’s the next step.

Next came Fred. He’s a good guy, gave a nice speech, which the crowd enthusiastically received, but to be honest, he’s not the best speaker in politics today. No matter, we liked Fred, and it showed.

And Fred introduced Abby. Rep. Finkenauer maybe sticks to her familiar message a bit too much, at least to my ears, but she is great to hear. She was excited, it showed, and the crowd loved her.

And she got to introduce Joe.

Joe, Joe, Joe. What a great guy. What a nice man. He spoke like warm honey, his distinct voice booming out and becoming animated. He got emotional at times, choking up when he spoke of how Iowans supported him as his son was battling cancer. He compared his early life to Abby’s.

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Joe!

And he took President Trump to task for irresponsible, incendiary rhetoric. It was nice that he himself was never insulting to any Republican, other than noting the President’s excessive language. Even then, his criticism was of what the man says, not of the man.

Unlike Trump, Biden can take a stand without belittling or insulting anybody.

“This is an election for the soul of American,” Biden said. Granted, that’s a pretty typical political line, but I feel that it’s true this time.

We can’t afford to be the ignorant, coarse country represented by the Donald.

I am feeling some trepidation going into the final week of the fall campaign. To me, the core of Trump’s support has been rock solid, despite or because of the ridiculous, hateful things he says. Trump has successfully painted media as “fake news,” and not because it is, but because it’s an easy excuse for the lazy of mind to hunker down in narrow ideological silos.

Well, Biden didn’t cure me, but he helped a lot. I feel a bit better now. I was in a crowd of like-minded souls, and it felt good.

I don’t know if a blue wave is coming, although I hope so. Trumpism is a national disgrace, the modern American nightmare. I hope my country wakes up and tosses off the yoke of xenophobia and nationalism.

I’m not sure it will. But it sure felt good to hear Joe, a nice counter balance to the latest bombastic tweets from the Twit-in-Chief.

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Inspirational Words for a Football Team


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Colorado author aaron abeyto speaks Sept. 27, 2018 to a packed Flatherty Community Room at MMU.

I enjoyed all of the snippets of writing read by author aaron abeyta Sept. 27 at Mount Mercy University.

An English professor at Adams State University in Colorado—and mayor of a small town, abeyta was also recently the local high school football coach. In that letter, he offered this working definition of being perfect:

“You are perfect because your imperfections have not derailed you,” he said.

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Student notes.

abeyta’s writing ranged from Satan in a bar fight to a calculus problem written as a love poem. As he changed genres and topics, abeyta’s voice would change and his pace would quicken or slow.

He said it’s because he is a conduit for poetry, and reads each poem in the voice of the person who inspired it.

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Explaining cover.

One of my favorites was a people about clichés—loaded, of course, with clichés.

Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy was packed for this event. The lighting was pretty dim, but I think I managed to get some images anyway. It was a great evening, and enlightening with many insights provided by the mayor of

abeyta, between readings, reflected a bit on the nature of writing. He noted that he usually revises a lot, and that writing involves being able to deal with rejection without getting discouraged.

“Poems are work, folks,” he observed. So are other forms of writing, a point I think this small-town Colorado mayor would probably agree with.

NOTE: In correcting this post the next day, I deliberately did not capitalize the author’s name. No disrespect intended–in many uses, it seems he prefers it not capitalized, which is why I decided to go with that unusual usage.

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Student listening.

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Lilies of Summer, May You Lift My Mood


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Lily in bloom today.

The flowers of summer arrived just in time. I noticed and photographed some lilies today in my gardens.

Now, I know that lilies have been blooming elsewhere in town already, and my own gardens tend to be a little behind, but somehow, on June 21, longest day of the year, it seemed like a good day for lilies to arrive.

Maybe they can lift my mood, a bit. It’s been a hard summer. Not that anything is wrong personally in my life, but I’ve grown increasingly distressed watching our democracy unravel. The border-child thing, which is not really over, was harsh and horrible, but it was just one more point of pain.

Bad ideas seems to be taking off all the time: Militarizing space. Fighting Canada and praising North Korea. Saying one thing one day and countermanding it the next. Claiming the media are the greatest enemies of the American people while also praising North Korean state TV for treating the ruthless dictator of that country well.

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OK, internet, what is this flower? The plant is thin and about 2-feet tall.

It’s not just the lunatic in the White House. Here in Iowa we have rain. And rain. Rain and more rain. We’ve gone from some dry, hot weeks to cool wet weather that almost feels more depressing. Who knows what will come next from Mother Nature or President Crazy.

Well, seasons and presidents change—shame on America and the electorate if there is not a blue wave this fall.

And in the meantime, at least there are lilies.

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And there is Milkweed.

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A Few Minutes After Grades Are In


And in the post-semester, I’ve-just-posted-grades posted point, I’ll admit, just for one self-indulgent minute, my mood about grades briefly matched a pop song from the 1980s:

I’m better now. Back to caring. Let another semester commence—in three months, or so.

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The Earth Has A Tickle in its Throat


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Dr. Drew Dellinger, poet and prose writer, speaks at Mount Mercy Oct. 26, 2017, as part of the Fall Faculty Series and Visiting Writer program.

The message of writer Dr. Drew Dellinger is relevant and important: We live on a fragile small rock moving through space, and maybe we should learn to act like it.

That is, we are of the Earth, rooted in the planet where we reside, formed from the same old stars were our carbon and other trace elements were compressed from hydrogen, made of that universal dust and lava and DNA—in short, as he said, “things aren’t even ‘things.’” That is, our temporary existence on this planet is rooted in the sacredness and magic that science helps us discern in life and objects all around us.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

And Earth is not happy. These are not good times for her carbon-based life forms which are all related to each other and all interconnected—not good because one of those life forms seems determined to deny its connection to the whole, and to behave in ways that threaten the habitability of our common home.

About 40 people attended Dellinger’s talk this evening at Mount Mercy University. During the speech, called “Planetize the Movement: Ecology, Justice, Cosmology, and Democracy,” Dellinger emphasized research he has done into Martin Luther King—according to Dellinger, King’s was an early voice talking about the connection between ecology and social justice.

Repeatedly, Dellinger said, King used language like: “All I’m saying is that all life is interconnected.” That unity between social justice and concern for the planet is what Dellinger said needs to be urgent now.

At the end of his speech, he read one of his poems. His voice caught for a minute—as he noted, people are not separate from the Earth, but of it, and in this case, Earth had a bit of a tickle in one of its throats. After a drink, a small living sliver of Earth continued.

“It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep. My great-great-grandchildren ask me in dreams … what did you do while the Earth was unravelling?”

“What did you do once you knew?”

Those sound like important words to ponder.

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Eating As a Silicon Valley Techie Eats


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My wife and I walking on the Golden Gate Bridge this spring break.

During spring break this year, my wife and I flew out to San Francisco to visit with our son and his wife.

They both work in technology out there—she designs human-machine interfaces for Samsung, he is a software engineer for WhatsAp, a division of Facebook.

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Daughter-in-law and son do an “ussie” during a visit to a San Francisco park with us.

One highlight of our visit was the half day we spent at the Facebook campus. With tens of thousands of high tech employees, the company’s site is a mini city. It has a main plaza with shops and restaurants, for example. You can get your hair cut, visit the dentist, drop off some dry cleaning and get your bicycle fixed (or buy a bicycle) without leaving the company grounds.

Jon explained that he thought it was just smart for the company to provide those kinds of services because tech employees are highly skilled, and the corporation benefits by providing services that keeps those people together and talking with each other.

The day we visited Facebook, we ate both breakfast and lunch there—and both meals were a surreal experience. You walk into a company cafeteria, grab a tray, and go through a food line—and then there is no cashier. You just proceed to a table to eat. Have as much as you want of whatever you want.

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It does rain in California, despite the song. Drizzly day when we visited Facebook.

Again, Jon noted that the food perk, while costly, enhances collaboration and boosts  morale.

Gosh, my wife and I said to each other during the visit. That seems like a neat idea. Maybe they could do that at Mount Mercy University. Then, we shared a laugh. We don’t work for a rich, high-tech company.

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At Facebook, they have a wall where you can post any comment you want for random passing people to see. Someone should invent an online equivalent …

Well, surprise, surprise—fast forward to this week, when we had the “opening day” all-employee assembly in the chapel. The President was speaking, and announced a new program at MMU.

On one designated day each week, employees can have lunch in the cafeteria. For free.

The day is Friday in September, and will change each month.

The idea is pretty simple. Students eat there all the time, and having faculty and staff share a meal encourages informal conversations, both among employees and between employees and students. We can break bread together and hash things out over hash.

They don’t offer free food daily, and don’t have the kind of variety and fancy eateries Facebook offers. What’s available is college cafeteria fare. Some may balk at that—it is institution food.

Me? Most days I brown bag it, but in the past on very busy days, such as when I’m staying late on campus for a newspaper production cycle, I have eaten in the cafeteria. And I love my cafeteria days, for several reasons:

  • I like the collaboration it fosters. I have ended up, unplanned, chatting with others about all kinds of topics related to MMU. A lot of plans for the Fall Faculty Series have been hatched over lunch in such informal encounters.
  • I think there is value in seeing my students and them seeing me in this context. If you encounter a person as a student in a class (or as a professor in the class) you have a particular kind of relationship. Seeing them in another place doing something entirely else sort of humanizes them. It makes them more of a familiar “person” rather than “student” or “professor.” In particular, there is something a bit interpersonal in being in proximity to another as they eat. You don’t eat with enemies, and the people that you regularly eat with become, in some minor way, a bit more family like.
  • I love cafeteria food. I know many students complain about the cafe food, and maybe with some reason, but in my experience the cafeteria offers a buffet of wondrous delights. Their cooks have a slightly heavy hand with spices—sometimes you scoop up some veggies and are thinking “bland” and you take a bite and suddenly you’re thinking “chilies.” But I am a spice boy. I’ll tell you want, what I really, really want—some pork or chicken or fish coated in whatever breading, served in a giant pan under a warming lamp prepared by the fine cooks at MMU. Maybe some of my MMU friends don’t agree—food opinions are like music opinions, they are personal and nobody need apologize for their preferences—but I am a fan of MMU cafeteria food. Go Mustangs! To the feed!

Anyway, I understand that the free food program is an experiment, and that it is offered only one day a week. I am also familiar with the old, reliable, wise saying TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). MMU will continue the program only as long as MMU sees some payoff, and if budgets get tight, so might our waistbands.

But for now, I can eat like a techie, at least once a week. I think it was a smart idea for MMU to introduce, and I hope it does what the powers-that-be hope it does so it can continue.

More networking and contacts between employees and students? A plus. Soft serve and salad bar? Count me in.

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