Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Two Surprises

Today I had dinner downtown and bought myself a cookie at the Morning Glory Bakery. I returned to campus for a few hours and decided to leave the cookie in my car to have later. When I got in my car to go home I had completely forgotten about the cookie, and so it was a very exciting surprise.

When I arrived home, the kittens (who aren't really kittens any more -- they're big and grown up) weren't at the door to meet me. The reason is that they were playing with a dead or almost dead mouse. It took me a while to get them to relinquish the it. At this point I'm pretty sure the mouse was quite dead. There was quite a bit of blood on the kitchen floor. Ug. I feel bad for the mouse. I wonder if he was friends with the pack of mice that seem to be living in my office on campus.

Monday, September 14, 2009

For Rashmi

Below are remarks that I read earlier today at a memorial gathering for Rashmi Bhure, a 2009 graduate of COA who died last week. It was incredibly difficult and sad to write, and very hard to read aloud.

We gather today with heavy hearts to mourn the passing of Rashmi Bhure and also to remember and celebrate her life. I knew Rahsmi as her teacher and her academic advisor, and I am grateful to be able to share some memories and reflections in the company of others who knew her and cared for her.

Our thoughts today are with Rashmi's mother and her sister. Know that all of us at COA offer you our deepest sympathies. You are in our thoughts, our prayers, and our hearts.

I extend my condolences to students, both here in this room and spread out across the globe, who have been touched by Rashmi's life and feel the pain and loss of her death.

I also acknowledge four of my friends and colleagues who in recent months worked especially closely with Rashmi: Sarah Luke, Rae Barter, Lucy Creevey, and Todd Little-Siebold. I know these last few days have been challenging. Your care and guidance meant a great deal to Rashmi. It means a lot to me, too. You have my deep gratitude.

Rashmi was my advisee since her first days at COA. She began her studies here focusing on development and economics, feminism and gender studies. She took challenging classes and did well. Like many COA students, she arrived on campus with a vision for a better world, and was exploring paths to conceptualize and realize that world. Her professors praised her curiosity and sincerity, her thoughtful comments and interactions in class.

I got to know Rashmi directly as a student when she took my Calculus class in her second year. The material was not easy for her, but she challenged herself to understand. And she succeeded, and she left my class understanding Calculus. But Rashmi was on her way to learning that economics and calculus and policy were not her true passion. The type of change she was interested in could not be measured by a derivative. Her dreams and hopes were too big to be measured in dollars and utility functions.

A turning point for Rashmi was the Popular Psychology class she took with Rich Borden. I think she was surprised to find that the study of psychology resonated with her in a way that economics did not. She then planned a residency, the equivalent of three independent studies, for the subsequent fall. She chose to call this project "Approaches to Emotion in Ancient Indian and Western Psychology." Under the guidance of Rich Borden and Jen Munyer, Rashmi sought to understand and synthesize Eastern and Western approaches to emotion, the mind, and the self. Rashmi wrote that this residency was a transformative experience and helped her make sense of her COA education and her life. She found this work intellectually satisfying, stabilizing, and on more than one occasion expressed gratitude for the support she received from Rich and Jen and the opportunity to craft such a project.

Rashmi spent most of the next several terms in India, doing internships and a senior project with various self-help and microfinance organizations, and also with a youth media group. She completed her senior project, titled "The Microfinance movement: Studies in India," and this July was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree. I am so proud that she made it.

I will remember Rashmi as a kind and gentle young student. Rashmi was acutely aware that she straddled religious and cultural worlds. She patiently lived in this superposition—humble, curious, and delicate. Rashmi had remarkable grace, not only in her physical comportment but in the way she strove to make a path through a world that for her was too often difficult and frightening.

As teachers we are used to students coming in and out of our lives. It is part of the rhythm of our profession. But no teacher expects to say goodbye to a student in this way. I struggle to find words for my confusion and pain. I feel I have so much to say, and yet there is nothing that can be said. There is no category to which the emptiness belongs, no calculation that makes sense of it, no words that lessen the loss.

We cannot fully know the forces that breathe life and love into an otherwise still earth. But we do know that it is right to dedicate our time on earth to nourish those forces so that their light burns a little more brightly.

We cannot fully know the darkness that took Rashmi from us. But we can seek solace and warmth in friendship, fellowship, and community.

And we cannot possibly know Rashmi's pain during her last days or hours. But we know that beauty and love endures in even the darkest of times. We can hold each other a little closer, give thanks, and treasure each, deep breath.

Rashmi, we love you. We miss you. And we will remember you always.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Tomorrow I teach a class for the first time since March 13. It's been a long time away from the classroom for me. Will be good to get back. Physics I tomorrow and then Calculus III on Friday. Both classes I think will be pretty fun. I've taught them each before quite a few times so I think I know what to expect.

I went into town late afternoon to run a few errands. Parking was surpisingly difficult to find. At the supermarket it seemed like every other person was talking on her or his cell phone. One woman by the yogurt case sounded as if she was talking to a doctor. "It hurts when I turn to the left" I heard her repeat a couple of times as I walked past her. After the supermarket, while walking to the pharmacy I saw a mail carrier with a fairly gory depicion of a crucified Jesus tattooed on his calf.

Tonight Doreen and I went to the top of Cadillac to watch an unusually bright encounter with two human-made satellites: the international space station and the space shuttle. I thought it was pretty cool. They zipped by one after the other and were quite bright—about as bright as venus. The non-human-made stars were impressive, too.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

It all starts tomorrow

Tomorrow it all begins. At 10am I give a welcome-to-college, welcome-to-COA motivational speech thing to entering students. A few days of orientation and then classes on Thursday. Weeks of mayhem will ensue. In the next month I'll be writing two or maybe three grants. I'll be teaching two classes and working on the chaos textbook that I'm writing. I think it will be a crazy but productive term. I like deadlines and I even like some kinds of stress. I should have plenty.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I hope they don't find me and shoot me

I just got a call from the NRA. The woman explained that they were conducting a one-question opinion poll about the UN plans to ban guns in the U.S. She was about to play me a recorded statement by some NRA guy but I interrupted and asked the caller to explain what these UN plans were. She said that it was due to Mexico, which is a country that blames the US for their (Mexico's) drug problems. Apparently Mexico is chairing some commission or something.

I asked the caller what jurisdiction the UN had over the laws of a sovereign nation like the U.S. There was a pause. Then the caller said that the anti-gun secretary of state Hillary Clinton agreed to meet with Mexico. I commented that the secretary of state had nothing to do with lawmaking since she was part of the executive branch and that it was the legislative branch, Congress, that makes laws.

There was a long silence. The caller stammered a little. I added that this was simply a fact. Congress makes gun laws, not the secretary of state. At this point the caller thanked me for taking time to talk to her and ended the conversation.

The conversation was actually kind of fun. I was surprised at how easy it was to totally flummox the NRA caller. And I was a little disappointed that the called ended so quickly.

But at another level the call was pretty scary. The caller evoked a classic trio of conspiracies/paranoia: the UN is taking over; they-want-to-take-our-guns; Hillary Clinton. Yikes. At least there was no mention of black helicopters.

I wonder how I got on the NRA's list? I suspect they won't be calling back.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Not profound

I'm not sure I have much profound to say. Not just on this blog, but in general. I seem to have a lot of small to medium writing projects to do, none of which are particularly scintillating. I have two final reports to write for grants and a preliminary draft of a grant that will need some revision. I submitted a referee report on a bland paper today, so at least that's done. And I also need to re-submit an NSF grant. The proposal was rejected, but I think it should be possible to address most of the referee's concerns in the revised proposal. Annoyingly, I think it was only one referee who had any substantive objections.

Anyway, all these things are pretty straightforward. I don't really need to be deep. I think I know what needs to be done and I just need to do it. Unfortunately, I'm not particularly fast at this type of writing, although I'm getting faster. Somehow the weight of all this proposal and report writing, plus a slug of email that I'm very behind on, and needing to gear up for the term that starts in a week, has kinda pressed all the profundity out of me and I feel kinda weary.

This isn't necessarily a bad state of affairs. I do need to be profound for around half an hour Monday morning, when I'm supposed to give an inspirational welcome talk to entering students. I've done this before, so I think I can pull it off just fine, even if my overall mood is unprofound.

In any event, autumn approaches. The weather has been fantastic and the nights are just a little crisp. I thought I saw the faintest hint of fall color on the maple trees as I drove to campus this morning. But it might have been my imagination. Most of the new students are doing their outdoor orientation trips, returning students are trickling back, and I'm trying to finish up tons of things while also enjoying the last few unscheduled and unstructured blocks of time for a while.