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 »

I am often diverted from my oatmeal breakfast watching squirrels make their way across the tops of the towering elms and maples that line my backyard.  There is drama as one gingerly edges toward the end of an impossibly thin twig of a branch of a limb, eyes the span of/… Read full post »

Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 2, 2010 10:51AM

Golf, The Amish, and The Catholic Sensibility

On a sunny Sunday morning several years back, before I gave up playing golf—before, that is, I fully realized that “golf” spelled backwards precisely names the applied masochism the game entails—three horse-drawn buggies containing three Amish families on their way to Sunday s… Read full post »

AUGUST 27, 2010 11:29AM

The Mickey Mouse Episode

At my house, the Mickey Mouse Episode has assumed iconic stature. 


To understand, you need to know two things about me.


First, I am reluctant, quite reluctant, to part with T-shirts.  I’d rather spend a week factoring polynomials than part with a T-shirt.  I’d/… Read full post »

Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 23, 2010 9:19AM

Battling Mom's Alzheimer's

My brother Dennis called to warn me.


Mom’s forgetfulness.  I had noticed it while visiting the previous summer.  He was calling to say that it was worse, that she had, in fact, been diagnosed with mid-stage Alzheimer’s Disease, that I shouldn’t be surprised if she ca/… Read full post »

AUGUST 16, 2010 10:11AM


I have long been attracted to lonely roads, the ones “less travelled by,” but I have not ventured down any.  The attraction is enough.  I have long been enticed by abandoned farm houses, but I have not entered any.  The enticement is enough.  I have long been beguiled/… Read full post »

AUGUST 9, 2010 11:30AM

Tracked and Profiled

My small southern Iowa hometown boasts a recreational train that stretches 2.2 miles from the east side of town to the freeway and, on the west side, 2.5 miles to Liberty Hall, a restored Victorian home and museum.  The east trail follows the long-abandoned CB&Q railroad track.  To ente/… Read full post »

AUGUST 2, 2010 10:42AM


Until quite recently, I did not know what I was, exactly.  I knew I was something, and I was assured that that something was special.  The culture told me, insistently, relentlessly, that I was unique, an irreducible genre of one.  Advertising proclaimed that it is Me O’Clock or/… Read full post »