Editor’s Pick
MAY 6, 2011 10:14AM

The Absent-Minded Professor

It would seem, judging by topic of the stories with which my wife Kathy regaled family and friends over the Easter holiday, that I have become a stereotype.  In particular, the absentminded professor.  While it is true that I am a professor, and while it is equally true that I have/… Read full post »

APRIL 29, 2011 9:35AM

Raking the Gardens

Last week, looking out the kitchen windows into the gardens in the backyard, I saw that what Edna St. Vincent Millay said about April is true: it had indeed come “like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”  But amid that exuberant fertility I also saw the clogging mass of dead le/… Read full post »

APRIL 17, 2011 9:41AM

The Missal

Rummaging through a box of memorabilia from my youth that my mother had collected and kept, I came upon the missal I used as a boy: the St. Joseph Daily Missal, the missal especially recommended for children and young adults.  I remembered being endlessly fascinated with the contents of the gilt/… Read full post »

APRIL 11, 2011 9:43AM

Perchance to Dream

 

Normally, I do not remember my dreams.  Last week, however, I dreamed a dream that has remained stiletto-sharp stenciled in my memory.  Now, I do not know if dreams represent displaced or distorted or symbolized wish gratification, as Freud said; or archetypal deposits in the human c… Read full post »

APRIL 3, 2011 10:55AM

The Language of Grief

Grief agitates us in a spin cycle of sharply opposed desires.  We yearn for the soothing presence of others, and we yearn for the detachment of islanded isolation.  We resent that the world is disinclined to stop, and we pray that, like an engine low on lubricant, it does not seize. Read full post »

MARCH 26, 2011 11:31AM

Scenes from the Mall

The Jordan Creek Town Center in Des Moines is the largest shopping mall—scratch that—the largest “retail park and lifestyle center” in Iowa and the fourth largest in the Midwest: two million square feet, 164 stores plus sundry kiosks, 20 movie screens, 25 restaurants and eater… Read full post »

 Note: A fellow Open Salon writer, Dom Macco, came up with an idea awhile back about a fictional character named “Carl” who has recently died. In the story, other fictional characters have been asked to prepare eulogies for Carl’s funeral, but each has little or no actual knowlRead full post »

FEBRUARY 28, 2011 11:31AM

The Haircut

 

“Our life is frittered away by detail. . . . Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!  I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”  Over the years, I’ve read those words of that styptic nineteenth-century scold, Henry David Thoreau, doze/… Read full post »

FEBRUARY 19, 2011 9:10AM

High School Hell

Hell is endlessly interpretable.  The gospel of Luke records Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Dives (rich man), in which the beggar Lazarus has the satisfaction of seeing from Heaven the rich man in the “place of torment” and pleading for a drop of water to “cool my tong/… Read full post »

FEBRUARY 5, 2011 10:26AM

Snow Drifts and Mind Drifts

 

I have left my Christmas lights up, especially the ones strung through the bushes that line my 90-foot driveway.  I say I am celebrating winter, but I am really resisting winter, for the streetlight’s beams do not illuminate the upper-part of the driveway, the part I see from the th… Read full post »

Near the beginning of Part 2 of his Autobiography, a work that studiously avoids intimate details, Benjamin Franklin relates an intimate detail about his marriage.  For some time, he tells us, his breakfast consisted of “Bread and Milk” which he ate “out of a two penny earthen/… Read full post »

JANUARY 21, 2011 10:14AM

Out on a Limb

Looking out the window of my stairway landing onto the backyard, I notice a dust of snow dislodged from the tall elm’s branch. A squirrel is inching its cautious way to the twig-like end of a branch of a limb, arriving finally at the gap of space separating it from the… Read full post »

JANUARY 15, 2011 10:46AM

Why Benjamin Franklin Is Cool

The founding fathers were mostly cool.  George Washington possessed discipline, discernment, and integrity, but seems aloof and was a bit too fond of fitted uniforms that displayed his muscular physique.  Thomas Jefferson had a brilliant mind, wrote the Declaration of Independence, advocate/… Read full post »

JANUARY 10, 2011 2:12PM

Language, Thought, and Politics

Many of the attempts to explain what motivated Jared Lee Loughner’s attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords have centered on language, specifically on the pernicious effect of the intemperately hostile rhetoric that has recently characterized the political scene.  Implic/… Read full post »

Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 6, 2011 11:02AM

Do We Reason? Do We Have Free Will? Does It Matter?

I’ve been reading lately a good bit of the social psychology and neuroscience literature devoted to human decision-making, especially as it applies to making moral judgments.  It has been a humbling experience but not, I think, a necessarily disheartening one.

 

By and large, these stu… Read full post »

JANUARY 1, 2011 10:58AM

For the New Year: The Art of the Insult

It’s a new year, and, at some point during it, inevitably, you’ll want to insult someone.  Hurling an insult feels so good; it’s such an explosion of catharsis, such a rapturous rupture of annoyingly ossified social discourse, such a tuft of crabgrass in the Zen garden of civil/… Read full post »

DECEMBER 29, 2010 9:41AM

Celebrating the Hardy Boys

I do not remember myself ever not reading.  I do remember, though, the first books I read with an intentionality budded by sheer breath-held interest, books that I requested as birthday and Christmas presents, books that I embraced and which embraced me back, books that bridled my imagination an/… Read full post »

Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 22, 2010 9:31AM

My MRI Experience

Yesterday morning I had an MRI, an experience that, were I a Calvinist, would have convinced me of that faith’s two fundamental propositions: that I had, in some way unknown to me but blindingly apparent to omniscient Providence, sinned grievously; and that no affliction is unaccompanied by the… Read full post »

DECEMBER 19, 2010 11:22AM

The Best Gifts

I am shockingly ungifted with the gift of giving gifts.  A backward glance at the history of my gift-giving reveals a mosaic of singular ineptitude, a frieze of nincompoopery, arrested moments of unrivalled duncitude.  If my gift-giving were a sonnet, it would have 13 lines; were it Romeo aRead full post »

DECEMBER 12, 2010 10:22AM

The Past Is Not Past

With some frequency lately, shards of bygone times and elsewhere places, unbidden and unannounced, have arrived at my mental doorway, edged their way into the foyer, and then, with a cheek kiss and shoulder clap, stride boldly into the living room.  They map the  coordinates, the longitude/… Read full post »

NOVEMBER 30, 2010 10:29AM

Student Lives

Reading student essays this semester, I was reminded of something I have always known but too often forget: students are not biographically invisible.  They are not simply, only, generically, students.

 

One of my students, a young man from Puerto Rico, described studying, during his freshma… Read full post »

NOVEMBER 23, 2010 10:22AM

A Change of Season

The squirrels have been unusually active in recent weeks, scampering down the elm and maple trunks, venturing out across the backyard to scrounge out and secure whatever edible nuggets they can find, then scampering up again and across the skywalk of limbs to stock the larder of their nests.  Th/… Read full post »

OCTOBER 18, 2010 1:58PM

My Friend's Suicide

In Edwin Arlington Robinson’s much-anthologized poem “Richard Cory,” the title character, a man blessed with wealth,  a man admired and respected, “ schooled in every grace,” and “always human when he talked,” goes home “one calm summer night&rdquo/… Read full post »

OCTOBER 8, 2010 12:14PM

Stop and Smell the Roses

In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was given a piece of advice in the form of a cliché.  Now, as a writing teacher I don’t just warn students to avoid clichés; I scorn them most unmercifully.  I execrate them, I inveigh against them: unlovely lumps of language,/… Read full post »

SEPTEMBER 18, 2010 1:43PM

I Am Not a Man of Fashion

Whenever someone compliments me on something I’m wearing on or carrying with me—a belt, a pair of shoes or pants or gloves, a shirt or sweater, a watch, my backpack, my wallet, even my cellphone—I am forced to make an embarrassing admission:  “Thanks, my wife Kathy bought/… Read full post »