Music Monday: Reflections on the Genius of Dwight Yoakam

English: Dwight Yoakam

English: Dwight Yoakam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visiting Newark, New Jersey and participating in Philip Roth’s 80th birthday celebration has had a seismic effect on how I relate to his fiction.

Seeing the place from which all that great art erupted was an ecstatic experience, but one that also filled me with a sense of profound loss. Roth’s career has been in many ways a project of re-constructing lost Jewish Newark, his childhood home, and this, it occurs to me, is why I find it all so moving. Roth has done something with his tragi-comic art that I am unable to do in my serio-farcical life.

I feel as though I come from nowhere.

I was born in Cleveland to two wonderful parents who participated in a great migration north from Appalachia. About half my family remained and about half moved to the Northeast Ohio region. This migration was altogether called-for, as the coal mining industry that was the region’s economic base had become highly mechanized and work was difficult to come by. My parents moving to Ohio with a few of their brothers and sisters was a difficult decision, but a necessary one. I am to this day in awe of their bravery and thankful for the life they made possible for me.

Yet all of this comes with a cost, doesn’t it?

The roots of tradition, culture, and family were necessarily cut off from me and I was left to cobble my own identity together from Spider-Man comics, Sherlock Holmes stories, and Elvis Costello. All good things, but so specifically mine.

What I’ve always longed for was a place to bestow on me a collective cultural memory. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. This is certainly the root of my attraction to Roth’s fiction and probably the reason I’ve chosen the liberal arts as my career. It also probably explains a mania I have about getting my kids settled in a place as soon as possible. (Relax Anderson! Just let it happen…). I’m a bit of a “community” fetishist.

A quick shout out to the internet is due here: Thanks to the advent of Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect with much of my extended West Virginia family, and I hope to keep that connection active through family reunions in the future (if any of you are reading this, please lets get this done).

So what does all of this have to do with the great Dwight Yoakam?

Well, Yoakam is, in my opinion, a singular American Genius. His ability to absorb a huge variety of cultural influences and hone them into a sound that is authentically and unmistakably hillbilly is unparalleled. In addition, his songwriting, at its best, captures small details about life that communicates the vastness, wonder, joy, and pain of living.

I described above a cultural de-rooting that has been my legacy, and I fear that I cannot find words to due it justice. My description is, I’m sure, very trite. Yoakam’s song “Readin’, Writin’, and Route 23” is a far greater emotional document of the experience. Please enjoy and share!

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Hi-Five Friday, Philip Roth Edition

Comic face made by author, Philip Roth, while standing near Jewish center and Hebrew school he probably attended as a boy.  (Photo by Bob Peterson//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Ok, so this photo isn’t technically of a high-five, but hey! I met the man himself this week, so give me a break alright?

This incredible experience will be the subject of my next full post, but in the meantime, take a look at these articles and let me know what you think! Have a great weekend.

1). The New Yorker’s Re-Cap of Roth’s Birtday Bash.

I still can’t believe I was there. It feels like a dream.

2). Goodbye Newark, The Place Roth Never Left.

The New York Times’ account of the bash.

3). “Give Him Your Lips.”

From the fabulous website How to Be a Retronaught, an incredible visual collection of our society’s craziness. Must be seen to be believed. Oddly appropriate for the Roth edition, I think…

4). Article about Urban Hipsters (Con).

5). Article about Urban Hipsters (Pro).

Next up: My first-hand account of a historical moment: Roth’s 80th birthday!

Happy reading.

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Music Monday – Ian Dury Edition


Cover of

Cover of New Boots & Panties


I have no idea how this one came back to me, but Ian Dury gets my vote as the world’s coolest polio victim (my apologies to FDR).

Dury was a kind of elder statesman among the British Punks, having long paid his dues in the “pub rock” scene of the early to mid-70’s. He and his band, the Blockheads, put out a few spectacular, disco-tinged punk albums in the late 70’s, including my personal favorite, New Boots and Panties.

“Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” is an infectious, weird, dance-able punk song that bludgeons the listener with rhythm. Best line? “Hit me with your rhythm stick, it’s nice to be a lunatic! Hit me, hit me, hit me!!!”

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

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Tweaching Ethics


The Thinker, blown-up and under construction (photo courtesy of

This past week, I continued my classroom-Twitter-alchemy-experiments. It led to some interesting results, so I thought I’d share, since many of my readers have expressed interest in the process I began blogging about here.

Using the hashtag #EthicsInComp, my classes threw their conceptions of plagiarism and academic integrity into the Twittersphere and we used those responses to open our discussion.

As always, there were a range of responses, from descriptive (what plagiarism is) to general philosophies about personal character and integrity. As each response appeared on the screen in front of us (pictured above – thanks to one of my students for the photo!), we elaborated and had a fairly productive discussion. There was also the humorous moment when one student, unable to contribute anything original, simply re-tweeted his neighbor’s submission. We had a laugh about this, but I quickly noted that what the student had, in fact, done was to provide a direct quote (with citation!). A few light bulbs seemed to flash and I was satisfied.

In all, I’m still not sure that Twitter represents a revolution in learning as much as a novel way to capture students’ attention for a short time. If the Tweeting continues too long, I notice a slow, but persistent process of students being sucked into their handheld devices and out of my classroom – it’s a truly metaphysical moment.

If, however, I can transition quickly enough into an actual old-fashioned classroom activity, then Tweaching has been a great way to grasp their attention (and maybe make them think I’m cooler than I actually am). If any reader has advice about how they use Twitter or electronic media in the classroom, I’d love to hear about it.

Ethics and Learning

Twitter encourages brevity and that is its strength and weakness. My students conception of ethics fit well in the Twittersphere since it was largely slogan-driven. “Don’t cheat, because you’re only cheating yourself” etc…

One thing I have become convinced of is that we do not spend near enough time talking about the depths of academic integrity. Instead, we satisfy ourselves with razor thin notions of right and wrong. With almost no exceptions, my students told me that plagiarism is as simple as copying material from someone else without citing it. This is the beginning and the end of their thinking on the issue and I think it’s a problem.

From this perspective, plagiarism is simply an ethical decision that good people obviously know they will never make. This viewpoint is inadequate because plagiarism and academic integrity are much more complicated than that.

Building on the vocabulary of ethics and morality that our tweeting provided, I posed a few scenarios for my students that sparked a tremendous discussion – I was proud of them.

1). Say that you find out that you are writing about the same short story as your friend. Is it alright to discuss the story in order to learn more about it?

2). Suppose that you go to your instructor to talk about your ideas. Is what he or she says in that meeting OK for you to use in your paper?

3). What do you do if your friends know that you have a better grasp of the assignment than they do and they ask to see your paper, to get ideas about how they might tackle the assignment.

None of these scenarios adhere to the simplicity that the “don’t steal” school of academic integrity suggests. In reality, very good people make bad decisions in each of these situations, and that is in large part due to their complexity. There is of course nothing wrong with talking about a story with your friends outside of class. In fact, your teachers would love that. There is a line that can’t be crossed, however, and the problem is that the line is ill-defined.

The problem is exacerbated when the line is not only ill-defined, but ill-considered. When we reduce cheating and integrity to simple truisms, we set ourselves up for failure. Life is complex and simple rules do not prepare one for living it.

An ethical life is not lived by rules. It is lived in ambiguity. Avoiding that ambiguity invites disaster.

Please share this if you have the notion. A conversation about ethics wouldn’t hurt anyone right now.

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Hi-Five Friday, Ides of March Edition

byu high five

Hello again, sports fans.

Here’s your weekend reading.

1). “The Myth of the ‘Simple Reading of Scripture’” – TE Hanna.

An argument for challenging yourself as a reader. As an English teacher, I say yes.

2). “Danger of Secondhand Laptop Browsing” – Inside Higher Ed.

Very brief summary of a study that calls the technopia into question. Beware students. I’m coming for your laptops.

3). “Spider-Man Turns 50” – David Brothers

I’ve loved Spider-Man since I was a kid and this explains exactly why. A must read.

4). “The Delicate Architecture of Water Droplets” – Yohani Kamarudin

An incredibly beautiful photo essay that will take your breath away.

5). “Why Do People Use Nope Even Though No is Shorter?” – Marc Ettlinger

A fascinating explanation of our complex, beautiful minds. Do I believe this? Yup.

Please read, enjoy, and share your thoughts! 

Music Monday

3/11/13 – Marshall Crenshaw Edition


Marshall Crenshaw (album)

Marshall Crenshaw (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Today I’m trying out a new weekly feature – Music Mondays.

Scanning my mp3 player this morning, I stumbled across a lost classic that I hadn’t thought about in years. “Cynical Girl” by Marshall Crenshaw.

First off, Crenshaw was the post-punk new wave’s answer to Buddy Holly, not just due to his appearance, but mostly because of his amazing songwriting and pop sensibilities. This dude can write a catchy pop song.

This song is my personal favorite of his. It has a driving rhythm and a Holly-esque lead guitar, all organized around an infectiously bouncy bass line. In addition to its catchiness, the song’s lyrics capture an sweet, and hopeful angst that pretty much characterized my teenage years (heck, who am I kidding – I’m still that way). The song’s speaker is an anti-utopian utopianist. He idealizes a future love who is just as cynical as he is about the world, making his cynicism something hopeful and naïve. This is the stuff of a Shakespeare sonnet, I say.

Have a listen and don’t forget to dance!

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Hi-Five Friday


March 8, 2013

I’ve decided to try out a new weekly feature. A list of five examples of internet awesomeness that comes across my RSS feed each week. I got the idea from Derek Ouellette at Covenant of Love and decided to adapt it myself. If you have anything you think I should post, send it along! Enjoy!

In no particular order…

Flannery O’Connor, Faith, and a Wooden Leg” – Kathleen Nielson

Having just taught O’Connor to a group of neophytes (from Georgia no less!), I just had to keep it rolling.

Why I Write For Free” – Stephanie Lucianovic

The pleasure and pain of writing just to write. A must for any blogger out there.

The 30 Best Places to Be if You Love Books” – Tanner Ringerud

A detailed description of my next 30 vacation destinations!

Imagine Sisyphus Happy: How Camus Helps Fay Weldon Keep on Writing” – Joe Fassler

This is a short, yet powerful manifesto about why the writer’s struggles are worth it.

Mumford and Sons, God, and the New Sincerity” – Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

An excellent and thought-provoking analysis of people taking themselves seriously at last. I have some qualms with the author’s under-thinking the term “sincerity,” but found the piece provocative.

If you get the time to read any of these, please let me know what you think. The point is JUST READ!