Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Every time I go into or leave my office at school, I see this professor's door:

And every time I see this professor's door, I think of this scene from The Great Muppet Caper:

And every time I think of Animal being angry and shouting about missing the Rembrandt/Renoir exhibit I laugh to myself a little bit.

And after laughing to myself a little bit, I want to go look at some art rather than do my grading. 


Maybe if I can get things done this weekend, I can stop off in Chicago on my way out to New York to spend Thanksgiving with family. Yeah. That sounds nice. I'm gonna do that.


Except Chicago is in the wrong direction. hmmm. I'm gonna hafta think more about this.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Buried Alive

My 5th great grandparents Adam Welker (1771-1840) and Sarah Fletcher (1769-1840) are supposed to be buried in Henry County, Indiana. Guess who lives a little less than 2 hours from there? You guessed it. (I mean, if you guess it was me, Samuel James Dunn, then you did. If you guessed someone else, well, then, I'm sorry. I don't know what to tell you.) When I found out that I have ancestors buried here in Indiana, I decided that while I'm out this way finding their graves would be a valid use of my time. Since I'm already out and about checking out the final resting places of other deceased locals, it would be only right, after all.

While on the topic of checking out the local deceased, take a look at this awesome gravestone:

Why is it so crooked? How did it get so crooked? How has it gotten to be so crooked without falling over? I have no answers, and frankly don't want any. My imagined stories are probably way better than some lame explanation about ground water and whatever else probably caused it. 

Anyway, I've spent a little time looking for Adam and Nancy's graves, mostly only to come up empty-handed and little frustrated. But again, I haven't really spent all that much time looking. This evening, I decided to change that. For my own personal FHE I decided to renew the search, scouring the internets for the cemetery where they're buried in the hopes of someday (soonish) visiting it. So far I still haven't found what I'm looking for, but I have found that there are a whole slew of Welkers buried in the Chicago Corner Church Cemetery, and at least some of them seem to be at least mildly related to me. Maybe there will be clues on their grave stones that will lead me to the ones I'm looking for. And then they will lead me to some sort of treasure. (Where's Nicholas Cage when you need him?)

In addition to this moderate family success, I've also come across a lovely local news story from 1928 that seemed like it needed wider publication. So, I've decided to reproduce it here on yo mama llama for the enjoyment of all.

"Man Buried Alive In City Cemetery Workmen Disclose"

Evidence of Struggle by Captive in Earthly Prison Found When Casket is Unearthed

New Castle Times 1928

That a man was buried alive in a local cemetery is the weird and gruesome story told by a city employee here. This man who made the startling disclosure of a man believed dead, but still alive, has witnesses who saw evidence of the fact, while working in the old North 14th street cemetery, some time ago. The horrible affair occurred about the year of 1865, according to available records.

When the city employees were engaged in he work of removing some of the bodies, so that the drain from the wading pool could be built, they came to a casket badly decomposed, that attracted their attention because of its unusual length.

As they started to prepare it for removal to another resting place, they opened its shattered lid, and found to their horror that the skeleton was laying almost face down. People are never so buried--- not even back in 1865 and this set the men to thinking.

Further investigation showed that the man had apparently turned over to brace himself on his shoulders, apparently in an effort to lift the lid of the coffin. His skeleton was in such a position as to indicate that he had been in great strain and strengthened the belief that he had been buried alive and had apparently tried to release himself from this horrible prison.

The officials on looking up the records, found that the man whose name is withheld, for obvious reasons, had died during the yellow fever epidemic about the year 1865. Further investigation shows that none of his relatives or descendents [sic] is now living.

The story told by one who requested that his name not be used, was substantiated by several others, including the workmen engaged in digging the ditch.

The remains of the body were carefully removed to another burial place and nothing was ever said of the event for fear of unwanted publicity over the spread of yellow fever.

Moral of the story, at least from my perspective: Don't get yellow fever in 1865, people can't really tell if you're dead. Also, doing family history can be fun and interesting even if it is mostly unproductive.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Concerning Some Favorite Constellations

Usually I full on hate the fall daylight savings time switch, because it means it gets dark super early. Don't get me wrong, I love being able to sleep in a bit longer, but I'm not sure that extra hour of sleep makes up for it starting to get dark at 4:30 in the pm. That said, I found this evening that being dark by 6:30 had an added benefit that I'd forgotten about: the stars come out earlier.

So this evening when I left my apartment for my customary Sunday evening constitutional, I was able to channel my inner Whitman, wandering off by myself in the mystical moist night-air and from time to time looking up in perfect silence at the stars. (That poem is very important to me, and it played a very formative part in me deciding what I want to be when I grow up.) Anyway, as I was wandering the streets, I got to thinking about constellations and which ones are/have been my favorites over the years. So I decided to write those thinkings about here.

1. Orion. Specifically Orion's belt. This is the first constellation that I consciously remember. I vividly recall being a little kid standing at the kitchen screen door while waiting to leave the house for some reason or another. It was winter, I had my coat and hat and gloves on, and the plastic/glass of the screen  door was cold to my nose (and probably tongue). As I stood there waiting I remember looking out at the sky and seeing three stars in particular that demanded my attention. I was fascinated by them. Why were they all in a line like that? From then on whenever we went outside or drove anywhere and I remembered to look at the sky, I looked for those three stars. At some point I remember Dad telling me that they were a part of the bigger constellation Orion. When he told me that I felt super proud of myself for deciding that those three stars belonged together long before I knew that the rest of the world had also decided that they did. To add to the coolness of Orion, I also found out that one of the stars in Orion was called Beetlejuice. Like the movie that I probably wasn't allowed to watch but that I had watched anyway and thought was awesome. As the nerdy little Astronomy-loving kid that I was, I wanted to learn more about Orion, and when I found out that Beetlejuice and its constellation-mate Rigel were two of the brightest stars in the northern night sky (numbers 9 and 7 respectively), well, what more could a constellation ask for? Pop culture association, cool belt, little kid pride and brightest stars. And Orion was a hunter to boot. That sealed the deal. Favorite constellation.

2. Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia became my favorite a few years later, and I can thank my sister Melanie for that. Melanie was/had recently been in an astronomy class at BYU, and while we were in Emery one summer a few of us were outside looking up at the stars. Melanie pointed out the big W in the sky and said that it was called Cassiopeia. Melanie told the story of Cassiopeia and why she got to be in the sky, and while I frankly don't remember the whole story, one part of the story stuck with me really strongly. Cassiopeia's daughter was Andromeda. At this time Andromeda was my favorite galaxy (Yeah, I had a favorite galaxy. I'm telling you, I was a really nerdy little kid...you know what, let's face it, I'm still pretty nerdy). It was enough of a favorite for me that at this time in my life I wanted to grow up and get married and have a daughter just so I could name her Andromeda. There wasn't a more perfect name. If I'm being perfectly honest, I still think it's a beautiful name, and if/when I ever get married, and if/when we ever have kids, naming one of them Andromeda may or may not be a point of discussion with the wife. But that's beside the point. The point is that when I found out that Andromeda was Cassiopeia's daughter, I had a new favorite constellation.

3. Cygnus. Cygnus the swan, aka the Northern Cross became my favorite constellation thanks to Dad borrowing a couple of telescopes from the school district and taking them up to the mountains on a ward campout. I don't remember the specifics, but I know that somehow along the way I found out that Albireo, the star at the base of the cross also known as the Cub Scout Star, was a double star consisting of a yellow and blue star (hence the Cub Scout association). I'll never forget standing in that dewy mountain meadow looking up at the sky and only seeing one star, and then looking in the telescope and seeing two, and just having wave after wave of marvel and wonder wash over me. That star was actually two stars! And they were different colors! It was about the coolest thing that I had ever learned. Naturally any constellation associated with such awesomeness was going to be my favorite.

4. Sagittarius. Sagittarius became my favorite constellation during my junior year of high school. It wasn't associated with my discovering previously unknown information about the constellation; by this point I was pretty well on top of all that stuff. Instead it was a purely aesthetic thing, i.e. I liked how it looked. I realized this while laying out on the Riverton High School football field late one night with my astronomy teacher Mr. Hinton and a few other members of my class. We were taking turns pointing out the various constellations that we could see, and after a little while the recitation of the constellations got repetitive and boring. So I started ignoring everyone else, instead looking at and considering each constellation at my own speed. When I got to Sagittarius it struck me as hilarious that this constellation, a centaur, looked like a teapot. A teapot! Plus it was fun to say. It came around to my turn to point out the different constellations (someone had to elbow me because I was thoroughly distracted from what the rest of the class was doing), and when I got to Sagittarius I burst out laughing. When Mr. Hinton asked what was so funny, I tried to explain that it was funny that it looked like a teapot, but my explanation kinda fell flat to my own ears. To my surprise Mr. Hinton started to laugh and said that he'd always thought it was funny too. Mr. Hinton had long been my favorite teacher, so when he validated me and my sense of humor in that moment, I felt really good about myself. And that's all it took. New favorite. Who knows if he actually even thought it was funny, but he recognized that I was probably feeling vulnerable and he made me feel good. So not only did I have a new favorite constellation, but he solidified his place on my list of the best teachers in all the history of ever.

5. Pleiades. For a long time the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, had been on the short list of favorites. For as long as I have known about it (I'm pretty sure it's another one that Melanie introduced me to) I've always thought it was beautiful. I love that the tight cluster works together with the the varying levels of brightness of each star to give the constellation a sense of depth that other constellations lack. That said, it didn't become my favorite constellation until the night, almost exactly 11 years ago, when I decided I wouldn't couldn't make a career of studying astronomy. I had just walked out of the testing center at BYU having taken my 3rd or 4th physics test of the semester, and it had taken me nearly 5 hours to finish that test. While I was confident that I had done pretty well, I also knew that the struggles I was having with the subject matter weren't going away. On top of that, the level of effort I was expending just to be getting halfway decent grades in this entry level course wasn't going to be sustainable over a college degree, let alone a career. For a whole semester I had been trying to rationalize my struggles, saying that this was a weeder course and that they were trying to get the weak to drop out. I knew I wasn't going to be one of those sorry failures that couldn't hack it, so I had determined to ignore any and all thoughts to the contrary. But that 5 hour test proved to be too much, pushing me over the edge, and forcing me to admit to myself for the first time that the goal I had had since second grade of being an Astronomer when I grew up wasn't going to happen. Admitting it scared me. I had never given any thought to a backup plan. As I walked across campus back to my dorm, I looked up at the stars and there they were, those seven sisters, shining as brightly and beautifully as they ever had. At first their beauty only heightened my sadness. Up until this point I had wanted to make that beauty the center of my professional life, and now I was realizing that it wouldn't be possible. But as I continued walking and thinking and looking up at the stars, I also decided that therein was the problem: studying physics and calculus and the like was taking the beauty out of it for me. It was hiding the wonder and awe of the stars behind a curtain of numbers and Greek symbols and math. It was then that I was able to find a little comfort. I was still sad and I still felt lost and I was still a couple years away from finding a replacement field of study that I would find as fulfilling as I had hoped astronomy would be, but in that confusion there was the beauty of the Pleiades. And in that beauty there was some comfort.

Photo courtesy of Hubble
Tonight as I was strolling about town occasionally looking up at the stars and the constellations they form, my eyes naturally drifted to my favorites, those mentioned here (though Orion isn't out yet) and others. As I landed on the Pleiades and remembered our history together, I found that it continues to evoke in me a kind of nostalgic sadness. And I love that. So for that reason I've decided it maintains favorite status.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Richard G. Scott

This week Elder Richard G. Scott, a member of the quorum of the 12 apostles in the LDS church, passed away.  While I don't think that I would go so far as to say that any of the leaders of the church are my favorites, Elder Scott gave an address at BYU a little over 7 years ago that was very influential to me and was a big part of setting me on the path to where I am today.

The man himself.
In the spring of 2008 I was struggling to figure out my life. In January I had declared myself to be an English major, but I was struggling to figure out what that meant. At the time I was leaning towards going to law school (because that's pretty much the only practical thing to do with an English major, right?), and I had even gone to a couple of pre-law functions that the law school at BYU had put on. (And no, it wasn't only because of the free Cafe Rio provided at said events.) That said, I wasn't super comfortable with the idea. (I'd probably read a few too many Grisham novels...Three parenthetical remarks in one paragraph is probably too many. I'll try to cut back moving forward.) Anyway, I had felt good about studying English, but the decision frankly didn't make much sense to me. Luckily, I was in an "Introduction to the English Major" class that was supposed to help me figure it out. (Funny side note, I ended up failing that class. But's that's another story for another time. Okay, now I'm really done making asides.)

As a part of the class we all had to set up a time to meet with our respective faculty advisers, determined by last name, to discuss what exactly we were going to do with ourselves and our English degrees. So on March 18, 2008 at around 10:30, I walked up the four flights of stairs to Professor Keith Lawrence's office to have a chat. To be honest I was worried because I thought that I was supposed to already know what I wanted to do with my life and that he would think ill of me for not having it all figured out. So as I knocked on his door I determined that I would just own the law school thing. He invited me in, and we started chatting, and I told him that I was going to law school. I said it firmly. Confidently. I knew what was up. I wasn't one of those wishy-washy English majors that only studied English because they were too unoriginal to think of something else. No, I had a plan.

After making my declaration, he paused and seemed to sit there considering me for a time. An uncomfortable moment passed, and I wondered if I'd said something wrong. Did English professors hate law school and lawyers? Did I just offend my faculty advisor? After this pause that probably wasn't as long as I felt like it was, he asked, "Do you want to go to law school because you love law?" His question surprised me. I mean, does anyone love law? When I didn't respond immediately, he explained that if I did that was great. His son (or son-in-law, or nephew or some relation) was in law school/was a lawyer and that said family member loved it. It was a great profession. But he cautioned me that if I didn't love it, and I only saw it as a means of getting a financially viable job, then maybe I'd better look elsewhere.

As he was saying all this I felt like he was looking directly into my soul. When he finished I admitted to him that I didn't love law, and that I really had no idea what I wanted to do, but that I knew I wanted to study English. I began to feel very uneasy. I was back as square one and had no idea what to do. So he asked me what kinds of careers I had considered over the past few years. Immediately my mind raced to wanting to be a garbage man when I was a little kid, but instead I told him how it had been my plan ever since 2nd grade to be an astronomer, and up until right before my mission I had thought that I would go to graduate school and eventually be a professor of astronomy. (again, that's another story for another time.) So Professor Lawrence asked why not do the same thing, but with English.

It was an option that had never before entered my mind, but as he said it I felt the Spirit confirm in my heart that what he was saying was right for me and that I should do just that. The conversation continued from there, and I don't remember the specifics of much else that what was said, but I remember very clearly feeling the Spirit as we talked and I knew that grad school/professor-dom would be my goal. As I left Professor Lawrence's office I felt full of light and that I had solid direction for the first time in months. It was a wonderful feeling. At least it was for the minute or two that it lasted.

Unfortunately, as I walked back down the stairs and started thinking about that solid plan for the future, my worries began to grow. I mean, it had made sense to be a science professor because they had actual research to do. At the time I wasn't all that interested in the teaching side of things, but what else was there for an English fella. As an astronomer I would have looked through telescopes and done math problems solving things, and there was physics, but what did an English professor do? Read things? And then what? It just didn't make sense to me. I mean, while I was in Professor Lawrence's office I knew that had felt that still, small voice that Elijah had heard letting me know that God was on board with the idea of me pursuing this course of study, but as I do all too often, I was casting away my confidence, so to speak.

At this point you're probably asking, "This is all very fascinating, Sam, but you said you were gonna talk about Elder Scott and so far you haven't mentioned him at all. What's going on?" Well, just hold your horses; I'm getting there. On this particular day, again, March 18, 2008, Elder Scott was speaking at the weekly devotional on campus. I had planned my morning so that I could meet with Professor Lawrence and then go directly from his office to the Marriott Center to listen to Elder Scott. During that walk to the Marriott Center it seemed that with every step I took I was getting more and more worried about my future, about what I would do with a degree in English. So I started to pray. I prayed to know whether or not I should go to grad school and hopefully someday be an English professor. I prayed to know what God wanted me to do. I should note that I firmly believe that God allows and actively wants us to make decisions for ourselves and not wait to be told what to do, so perhaps most of all I prayed that I could feel that assurance again that I had felt in Professor Lawrence's office.

I walked into the Marriott Center and after a hymn and a prayer I listened as Elder Scott began to speak. As he spoke, my mind wasn't totally focused on what he was saying because I continued praying, as I'd been doing during the walk over, that I could know whether what I'd thought I was feeling earlier was real. However, at one point in his remarks he began to read from the Book of Mormon in Alma chapter 7. This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole book, so I began to press more especial attention. He specifically read Alma 7:23, which reads:

And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.

As Elder Scott read those words and began to explicate them, inviting the audience to view them as guide posts for establishing a secure foundation for life, the fears and worries and all of the doubt that I had been feeling were utterly washed away. In their stead there came a confidence, an assurance and peace which passed all understanding, one even stronger than that felt in Professor Lawrence's office. I knew that I didn't have all the answers to all of my questions, but I also knew that they would come in time, little by little, as I had patience with the Lord, tried to be humble, and did my best to keep His commandments.

As I look back now, my worries and doubts seem a silly and trivial thing to be worried about, but in that moment it couldn't have been more serious and vexing. And that's what is so comforting to me about the whole experience. No, it wasn't a big deal, especially when compared to the whole range of human suffering in the world, but it was a big deal to me. And in that moment I knew very clearly that God was aware of me. He knew me. He understood my fears and anxieties. Perhaps most of all I knew that He loved me. I knew that He had a plan for me. I didn't and don't necessarily know where the plan is headed, but I do know that as I try to do what Elder Scott was teaching in that address, I don't need to be concerned. Everything will work out.

Many times in the intervening years, I have reflected back to that day, to that moment, and remember that in the face of my fears, God spoke peace to my mind. From that I'm able to draw strength and comfort in the face of the unknown and the difficult.

And so, with the passing of Elder Scott, I think about how I'll miss his soul-piercing gaze and his kind and inspiring messages every conference, but I'll also retain close to my heart this experience wherein he was the conduit through which God spoke to me all those years ago.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Night Before 1st Day of School. Can't Sleep.

As the title might suggest, I can't sleep. I've been in bed staring at the ceiling, then the wall, then the fan, then the ceiling, then the lamp. then the empty bag of pumpkin seeds next to my lamp for the past 45 minutes and still nothing. Well not exactly nothing. See, the problem isn't that I'm not tired, it's that I can't sleep. It's not stress or nervousness or, well, allow me to explain.

The problem started last night when I fell asleep in my chair. What chair, you ask? Well, this chair:

Yes I just got out of bed to take this picture
Now usually when I fall asleep in this chair (which is often) it's not a big deal. I sleep. I wake up. No big deal. So I don't exactly know what happened last night, except that when I woke up after a couple hours asleep and ambled into my bedroom to sleep the rest of the night on my bed (yes on. not in) I could tell my neck and shoulder kinda hurt a little. I was too tired to really think much about it, so I fell asleep immediately, and that was that. But then when I woke up this morning I was in searing pain from my right shoulder and the right side of my neck. (In case you were wondering, yes I just had to do the whole look at your hands trick to remember right from left.) Any time I made any movement whatsoever the pain stabbed afresh. Well, I surmised that I'd gotten a crick in my neck from sleeping in the chair, which while it rarely happens, does so on occasion. I figured a quick soak in a nice warm tub before church would relax it right up and I could go about my business without any worries. So I ran a bath, and soaked for a few while reading C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory. (Great book. Well, so far at least.) But even after soaking there for a good half hour, it was still aching something fierce. Granted, it was now aching, having moved passed its stabbiness, but a near constant dull ache isn't much of an improvement. Now normally I'd give it another couple hours to soak (no, I'm not kidding), but I had places to be. So I got out of the tub, put on a shirt and tie, and figured I'd just make the best of it.

Driving turned out to be a challenge. It turns out that any time you want to turn, it's a good idea to check cross traffic. Checking cross traffic requires you to turn your head. Turning your head requires you to have a functional neck. I had no such thing. I could turn my head to the left just fine, but right? Well. No. So looking to the right required me to turn my whole body. (It's a good thing I do a lot of car dancing because I'm pretty sure it has made my hips and my whole core nice and limber which in turn made it that much easier to adjust to this new way of driving.) 

So this was how went about my day. Moving about as little as possible as I sat in on a lesson with the sister missionaries, attended the dedication of the Indianapolis Temple, fixed dinner, and generally went about my normal Sabbath Day activities. But all throughout the day the aching in my shoulder and neck never really went away. I'd massage it as best I could, knead it against the door frame, and do anything I could think to help the muscles relax, but nothing worked. It just kept hurting. 

After dealing with it all day, I decided that my best bet would be to just go to bed and let my body work itself out in my sleep. So here I am. In bed. The only problem is I can't sleep. I'll just start slipping off to sleep when I flinch or make a slight movement of some sort, and that searing pain will shoot through my arm and shoulder and neck and I'll wake right up. 

And here I was hoping to get up early and get a good fresh start on the semester. Robert Burns would probably have something to say about my situation. You know, something about mice and about men and laying plans that gang aft agley

Oh well. Maybe I'll try taking another bath.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Concerning Some of My Intellectual Heroes and Their Attendant Mustaches

Tomorrow I start prelims. I'm nervous. But excited. I think I'm ready? But can one ever really be ready? I dunno. But tomorrow I find out.

Anyway, when I started preparing for prelims a while back I knew that I was going to need a little extra help. So I decided to invoke the aid of three mustachioed intellectual heroes of mine. Hoping against hope that at least some of their genius came from their facial hairs, I decided grew out my mustache yet again. You know as a sort of appeal to their wisdom. So here 'tis:

Any perfectly objective analysis of this mustache couldn't help but recognize that this mustache is glorious and beautiful, easily outstripping any mustaches I've grown in the past. My only hope is that it will be enough to channel the brilliance of these three outstanding gentlemen:

Kenneth Burke:

John Dewey:

Vernon Dunn:

So here's hoping (and praying) that I do my mustachioed brethren (and father) justice over the next week or so.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A (Probably Not Perfect Though Mostly Faithful) Transcript of a Conversation I Had This Evening With An Older Gentleman


- A neighborhood street lined on both sides with older homes and tall trees whose branches hang over the road. We're not all that far from this home (which is for sale and which probably needs to be updated but which I love all the same):

- The sun's been down for a little while, but the sky is still dusky.
- The locusts are chirping loudly in the trees and there's the occasional flash of firefly in the bushes.

The Players:

- Me
- An older gentleman (we'll call him Terry) with a pure white hair and beard. He has just gotten out of a rusty old used-to-be-red pickup and is reaching for his toolbox in the truck bed.


Sam (walking by): Evening, sir.

Terry (surprised but visibly pleased at the greeting): Evening. Out for a walk?

Sam: Yep. Nice night for it. Been a long day?

Terry: *exhausted sigh* Sure was. Just now getting home. Gonna fix me a bite then catch some sleep 'cause I gotta get at it early tomorrow.

Sam: Really? How early is "early?"

Terry: Oh, I dunno. I'll probably get up 'round 5 and be on my way by 5:30.

Sam: And then you work till 9 or so? Wow. That's impressive.

Terry: *chuckling* Done it all my life. Gotta keep busy or the devil'll get 'ya.

Sam: *with a chuckle of my own* Ain't that the truth. Well I don't want to keep you. Have a good night, sir. Sleep well.

Terry (heading up his front walk): Ha. You too.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Favorite Books

Early this afternoon I stood in front of my bookshelves trying to decide what book I wanted to fall asleep to. I don't like to do schoolwork on Sundays, so I ignored my shelf full of rhetoric and composition related books and the prelim studying that they represent. In looking over my books I settled on rereading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

It's a book that I've read a handful of times, and I figured that since I was familiar with it I wouldn't feel bad falling asleep a few pages in. Plus, on the off-chance that I didn't fall asleep, it's a great book. As I reached for it, I saw that seated next door to it was one of my all-time favorite books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Pulling Guernsey, etc. off the shelf, I realized I haven't read Huck Finn since high school. I mean, I've read a few pages here and there, but I haven't read it cover-to-cover since my senior year in when I was studying for the AP literature test. (If I remember correctly it was a Saturday afternoon and I was in the tub.) I stood there with Guernsey in my hand thinking about how whenever I'm asked what my favorite books are, I invariably bring up Huck Finn but never Guernsey. (I love Guernsey, but I wouldn't put it on the favorites list.) That said, I've read Guernsey probably half a dozen times in the past 2-3 years and Huck Finn none time. This bothered me some, so I decided to look over my books and make two lists:

1. favorite books

2. most read 

Here's what I came up with, and I included in parentheses the number of times I've read each:

(quick caveat, I don't include holy writ in these kinds of lists. I may write another post explaining why some other time)

List 1:
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (3, though all pre-high school graduation)
  • My Name Is Asher Lev (2)
  • The Chosen (10-12)
  • Great Expectations (1.75 - i.e. once abridged, once unabridged)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (6-7)
  • The Western Garden Book (never finished)
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1)
  • Walden (never finished)
  • Stargirl (1)
  • The Screwtape Letters (1)
  • A Rhetoric of Motives (never finished)
  • Ender's Game (too many to count)
  • Silas Marner (1)
  • In the Time of the Butterflies (1)
  • Old Man and the Sea (1)
  • Paradise Lost (started 3 times, quit twice in disgust, finished the third time enthralled)

List 2:
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (6-8)
  • Princess Academy (4-5)
  • The Goose Girl (4-5)
  • Enchantment (6-7)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (6-7)
  • Harry Potter 1, 3, 7 (far too many to count, and that's even ignoring the literal dozens of times I read books 1-4 the late summer of the ruptured spleen)
  • Fablehaven (3)
  • Pride and Prejudice (3 cover-to-cover, dozens of  20-30 page "good parts" readings)
  • Ender's Game (too many to count)
  • The Chosen (10-12)
  • The Westing Game (10-15)

As I compiled these two lists, the disparity struck me. Especially the fact that I include 3 books that I've never even finished on the favorites list. You would think (or at least I would) that my favorite books would be the ones that I read most often. But with the exception of The Chosen, To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender's Game they aren't. But why?

My first thought is that my list of favorite books is just a demonstration of me being pretentious. In other words, I don't want to admit that Princess Academy is one of my favorite books when it's so far beneath the literary merits of Hemingway. I think there may be something to that, even if it's at least partially subconscious, but then again, I'm not sure I buy it as a complete explanation either. Stargirl makes the favorites list, after all, and I wouldn't say that, from an objective standpoint, its literary merits are any better or more respected than Princess Academy. So while there probably a bit of pretension here, I don't think that's all of it.

My second thought is that list 2 is full of books that I really like, but that are a bit easier to read. I think there's something to that. It would explain the preponderance of YA books on the list. Also, considering that my chosen line of work involves me reading quite a few moderately difficult texts (made difficult by the complexity of the content, the dryness of the prose, or, worst of all, both), so when I'm home and want to relax in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon, I don't want to have to think too hard. I think this is a sound explanation, but it doesn't feel quite complete. Mostly because I don't exclusively read easy-to-read books. If all I wanted was an escape, there would be more Agatha Christie and John Grisham novels. (I say "more" because there are a few) But I still read the more intellectually taxing stuff as well. For example, in the past couple months I've reread A Tale of Two Cities and Everything Is Illuminated. While neither of those is all that difficult, I wouldn't put them on the level of YA lit, nor would I call them escapist. Along these same lines, I'm currently working my way through Moby Dick, and given that I've been at it since January, there is some credence to the idea that I do avoid the difficult.

Looking back over my list of favorites I come to a third thought. The favorite books all impacted me very deeply emotionally. Reading them left an indelible mark the way I view the world, life, and humanity as a whole. With each and every one of them I can recount distinct experiences where I set the book down - either in the middle of reading or once I'd finished - and felt compelled reevaluate my life. Great Expectations gave me the striking example of Joe Gargery and made me want to be more kind, forgiving, and ultimately more loving of everybody. Old Man and the Sea gave me a fierce desire to work harder at my goals and find satisfaction in that hard work even if no one else noticed. Stargirl really shook me up and made me think more about authenticity and the performance of identity. In many ways I'm still grappling with the thoughts and emotions Stargirl and Leo awoke in me. In fact, in many if not all cases with these books, even though I haven't read many of them for years, I continue to ponder the paradigm-shifting experiences I've had with them. When I'm out on midnight wanders about town or just laying in the grass contemplating the stars I'll often think about the plants, learned about in the Western Garden Book, that I hope will fill future gardens, or I'll think about Silas Marner and the relative merits of money vs family in making one happy. However, in the case of many/most of these books, coming to these world-altering ideas required a heavy emotional investment. In the Time of the Butterflies I remember distinctly being a difficult but rewarding read. Often reading these books wasn't a pleasant experience, but that difficulty is a large part of what made it possible for me to come to these moments where I had to set the book down and really contemplate how I needed to change my understanding of life, the universe, and everything. I love and appreciate these books because they've shaped in large part my life up to this point which is why they're favorites.

So I guess what I've come to is I don't have to feel bad about not rereading over and over the books that I list as my favorites. In many cases they're favorites because of the impact they had on the way I view the world and my place in it, but perhaps their kairotic moment of deeply affecting my life has come and gone. That's not to say I won't ever revisit them. In fact with many of them I hope to in the near future. But in the mean time I'm going to go reread about an epistolary novel about post WWII Guernsey and it's charming residents.


It's now several hours later. I've just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society once again. It was just as lovely as I'd remembered. If you haven't read it, you should.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Not much has changed over the past 100 years...

“Each class is rigidly sure of the rightness of its own ends and hence not overscrupulous about the means of attaining them. One side proclaims the ultimacy of order—that of some old order which conduces to its own interest. The other side proclaims its rights to freedom, and identifies justice with its submerged claims. There is no common ground, no moral understanding, no agreed upon standard of appeal…Each appeals to its own standard of right, and each thinks the other the creature of personal desire, whim or obstinacy…Never before in history have there existed such numerous contacts and minglings. Never before have there been such occasions for conflict which are the more significant because each side feels that it is supported by moral principles…Intelligence which is the only possible messenger of reconciliation dwells in a far land of abstractions or comes after the event to record accomplished facts.”

-John Dewey, 1922
Human Nature and Conduct

Proof That the Mustache Is My Family Heritage

Here follows a brief sampling of the remarkable facial hairs found in my family tree. While there are many photos of my progenitors rocking some truly wonderful beards, neards, and other similarly glorious mouth foliages, I've decided to focus on the mustache. At least for now. (All images courtesy of familysearch.org)

Anders Andersson - 2nd Great-Grandfather

Christian Rhody Nielsen, Sr. - 2nd Great-Grandfather

Thomas James Dunn, Jr. (left) - 3rd Great-Uncle 
Harvey Alvaro Dunn, Sr. (right) -  2nd Great-Grandfather

James Robinson Parry - 3rd Great-Grandfather

Crandall Dunn (left) - 2nd Great-Uncle
Harvey Alvaro Dunn, Jr. (middle) - 2nd Great Uncle
James Thomas Dunn (right) - Great-Grandfather

James Wilburn Welker (left) - 3rd Great-Grandfather
Anna Pugh Welker (right) - 3rd Great-Grandmother - not mustachioed

Monday, April 27, 2015

Two Months of Postmodern Musics

So...life happened and I got real behind with the whole recounting of my postmodern music association project. Through it all I've been keeping track of the musics, I just haven't found the time to post them. (When I say I've been keeping track, I seem to have lost my record of one of the paperday weeks. alas.) I was going to create separate posts for each of the days, but then I thought, "meh." So here goes. One big ol' long post filled with two months worth of postmodern musical associations.

For those who've forgotten how this works, I list the song title and artist, and underneath, in italics, the word or phrase that was spoken in class that hit the play button in my head on that particular song.

Also, today I came into class with this song in my head:

So here's a picture of the Bangles to go along with it.

And off we go:

March 2, 2014

"In Time" - Robbie Robb
"The democracy protests in the streets..."

"Self-perpetuating Fun Loop" - Bass Clef
“It skews the number of panels dedicated to technical and professional writing, which becomes self-perpetuating…” 

"The Way You Look Tonight" - Frank Sinatra
“I’ll probably go again...someday.” 

March 9, 2015

"Jaded" - Aerosmith
"Maybe I'm just jaded now."

"A Change Is Gonna Come" - Sam Cooke
"Instilling this idea that change is possible."

"Money, Money, Money" - ABBA
"Is it money, or is it...?"

"Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" - Tracy Chapman
"My question of revolution was pointed."

"What a Girl Wants" - Christina Aguilera
"What audiences want, what consumers want, is..."

"Someday, Someway" - Marshall Crenshaw
"Being aware that is could change someday"

"Say" - John Mayer
"Unpack this and say what you mean."

"What Is Love" - Haddaway
"What is trust?"

April 6, 2015

"Hazy Shade of Winter" - The Bangles
“I think about their relationship to time”

"September" - Earth Wind and Fire
“Remember how I’ve…” 

"On my mind" - New Found Glory
“It’s just been on my mind.” 

"Come Out and Play" - The Offspring
“We’re already separate.”

"Moves Like Jagger" - Maroon 5
“The moves are clearly identifiable”

"Point of Know Return" - Kansas
“At the point of integration”

"Chicago, (adult contemporary easy listening version)" - Sufjan Stevens
“We’re just digging it up, in our minds”

 "So What" - Miles Davis
“Yeah, Yik Yak, so what?”

"I Heard a Rumor" - Bananarama
"Rumor Has It" - Adele
“How rumor functions the same way” 

"Take On Me" - A-Ha
“Part of the reason postmodernism can take on…” 

"Too Much Time On My Hands" - Styx
“We're wasting too much time.” 

April 13, 2015

"What's Up" - 4 Non Blondes
"What's going on?"

"They Don't Care About Us" - Michael Jackson
"We know you don't care about us."

"You're the Voice" - John Farnham
"Everyone can have a voice."

"Were You There?" - as played by Jon Schmidt
"Where you there?"

"Good Vibrations" - Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
"The vibrations aid digestion."

"Toxic" - Britney Spears
"...incredibly toxic to women."

"Super Mario Bros theme" - um...nintendo?
so...I don't actualy know where this one came from. I just have written "Mario Theme." My guess is it just popped into my head without any rhyme nor reason and I, being the faithful recorder of all the musics that pop into my head during class, had to write it down.

"Both Sides Now" - Joni Mitchell
"Both of these things existing."

"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" - Sound of Music
"How does one pin down the unconscious?" 

"Don't Know Much" - Aaron Neville & Linda Ronstadt
"I don't know anything."

"Be Here Now" - Mason Jennings
"This event. Here. Now."

"I've Got the Power" - Snap!
"What if I had the power..."

April 20, 2015

"Return to Innocence" - Enigma
“There’s a lot of return to spirituality”

"Particle Man" -They Might Be Giants
“When a frog’s in the water is he part of the water”

"Ice Ice Baby" – Vanilla Ice
“We would stop…existing”

"Sunrise, Sunset" - Fiddler on the Roof
“It makes for dramatic sunrises and sunsets.”

"Head Over Heels" – Tears for Fears
“That person’s a heel.”

"Hungry like the wolf" - Duran Duran
“One or several wolves.”

"It’s a Great Day to Be Alive" – Travis Tritt
“A lone wolf is so rare because a lone wolf cannot exist.”

April 27, 2015

"We’ve Only Just Begun" - Carpenters
“I feel like we haven’t even started”

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" - Rolling Stones
The word satisfaction was said many, many times

"Take My Breathe Away" - Berlin
"Catch my breath a little bit on that one"

"The Golden Age" - The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
"I have a friend going into new age stuff."

"We Used to Wait" - Arcade Fire
"I would wait."

"Hell" - Squirrel Nut Zippers
"She's talking about mediums and the afterlife."

"Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" - Journey
"What separates narrative poetry from fictional narrative?"

"Masquerade" - Phantom of the Opera
"At least it's not masquerading as..."

"I Need to Know" - Marc Anthony
"I think I need to know which bits of this project..."

"Octopus's Garden" - The Beatles
"Do you remember the children's show 'The Magic Garden'?" 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Sometimes I'll be having a pretty good day where I'm going along working just fine and being more productive than usual, when out of nowhere iTunes makes Whitney Houston start singing "I Will Always Love You." It doesn't totally stop me from working, but now I'm focusing more on listening to the music than I was before.

Then about three minutes in the song just kinda stops for a sec and it's like the world stops with it.

And even though I had been in a groove and in the zone and in that flow state that's so hard to get into, everything I'd been doing comes to a grinding halt.

Because I know what's coming.

And then the drum hits.

And then Whitney storms back in with, "And aaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyeeaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy will always love youuuuuuuuuuuu."

And I'm left wondering if there is a more perfect moment in all of music.

If there is, I can't think of it.