Mighty Fine Adventure

I was in a fever yesterday. For weeks, I’d been learning about the eclipse that was to come speeding over South Carolina on the afternoon of August 17 and was all set to feel at one with the universe.

Two friends posted links to Annie Dillard’s marvelous essay about a solar eclipse she witnessed in Washington in 1979. Here’s one of the sensations I wanted to experience: “Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. There was no sound. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars.”

I also listened (twice) to an NPR TED talk by David Baron. Found in TED TALKS DAILY, the podcast is entitled “You owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse.” Baron describes himself as an umbraphile, an eclipse chaser, and after listening to the podcast, I thought If I had time and money and more years to live……At the very least, his words convinced me that I’d soon see Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus.

Yesterday I was excited, jumpy, too worked up to think straight. “How can you play golf this morning when the eclipse will be over Camden this afternoon?” I asked my husband.

“I’ll be back in plenty of time.”

“The partial starts early, you know.”

He glanced up from putting his clubs in the truck and said, “See you this afternoon.’

Clearly, he did not understand the meaning of cosmic bliss.

We decided to view the event from Old McCaskill’s Farm with friends and dozens and dozens (I’m not good with numbers—could have been hundreds) of other people, including some from out-of-state. Before we even parked the car, I felt the energizing effect of the place and time, and as we walked towards the buildings, animals, and people, my excitement grew.

Was I really going to see a solar corona, planets, and stars in the middle of the afternoon?

I slapped my glasses across my eyes and swallowed hard. A chunk of the sun was already missing. “I can’t handle this,” I said. “It’s too much.”

Accustomed to my occasional drama, he said, “Come on. Let’s find Billy and Lynn.”

After finding our friends, we spent the next hour or so walking around, talking, looking at pigs and goats, taking pictures, and drinking a lot of water. We ate Oreos too, the closest thing I could find to Moon Pies. I felt a breeze, gentle but definite. I saw a flock of birds high in the blue sky.

It was hot, so hot that when I guzzled water from my bottle, it drizzled down my chin, and I didn’t even care. We were in high spirits, gathered with others beneath a blue sky to experience something akin to Nirvana.

Throughout this time, we checked out the sun with our NASA approved glasses every minute or so. “It’s getting smaller,” was a phrase repeated all around us. “The sun’s almost gone,” came next.

And it was true. The sun was an orange sliver, and I held my breath. The cicadas went wild with their chirping, and the sky began to change. Was the darkening because of some beautiful white fluffy clouds that were now obscuring the sun, or was it because of the eclipse?

Those clouds. Surely they’d clear up in a couple of minutes. At least that’s what I overheard from all sides. And yes, I thought. Surely, they will. I’ve seen them come and go like that on the beach more times than I can remember.

I saw lights on what appeared to be an RV on the periphery of the parking lot, and when I turned back to the scene of the action, it was dusk. DH pointed out a star shining high above us towards the right. I whipped out my glasses again and turned back to the clouds overhead. I could see nothing-nada-zilch. And yet, there was a reverent hush across the field.

The sky beyond the fence was purple and crepuscular. Everything and everyone quiet, even the baby who had been so angrily intent on getting out of her stroller moments earlier. I pulled away from my group and swiftly walked to the fence to take a picture of the horizon beyond.

By the time I turned and walked the few steps back to them, the sky was regaining its vivid blueness. Clouds were still blocking the sun, and with dawning awareness, everyone realized we had missed the main event, the reason we had all gathered, the moment of complete totality, because of those clouds. Alas, we would see no solar corona this year.

Everything and everyone seemed to come alive again, to snap to full attention and awareness. I glimpsed a darling toddler with curly black hair running down the hill, her father doing his best to keep up with her. The goats were moving around, and the cicadas were quiet. So were the birds.

Reluctant to leave, we made small talk and trudged back up the hill, eventually making our way to the parking lot. Had it really been twilight twenty minutes earlier? My thinking was muddled.

I was disappointed not to have felt that promised connection to the universe. But it had been a fine adventure, a mighty fine adventure, completed by the sights of a happy tot running gleefully down a hill and a bright star high in the sky.

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Very Good

This morning our local writers’ group met at Books on Broad, a delightful independent bookstore and coffee shop, and as always I left the meeting motivated to finish some projects I’ve been working on. Before leaving the bookstore, I wandered around looking and touching and glimpsing inside of dozens of books, an activity that further fueled my intentions to do the work. 

Writing and reading on my mind, I stopped by the county library on the way home, and I checked out three books, none of which I have time to read right now. And yet. And yet…well, you know. I had to have them. I’m looking at Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott as I write this, and I know that somehow I’ll find the time to read this in the next couple of weeks.

I just opened Hallelujah and came across this sentence on page 89: “Being alive here on earth has always been a mixed grill at best, lovely, hard, and confusing.” Yes! I think Lamott’s book has just taken precedence over working on a family history I’ve been working on. And work is the operative word…not just for the history but for writing in general. Even choosing just the right word can be challenging.

Words, at least the English ones, come from twenty-six little letters, and those words can make a tremendous difference in how people interpret our meaning. Would you prefer to be skinny, thin, or slim? If you’re a policeman, would you rather be referred to as a cop, a law officer, the fuzz, or a pig? While the dictionary definitions are similar, the connotations of these words are quite different.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a sentence from a student’s discussion board post: I want to be brave and not perfect. And it’s true. I want to be bolder, braver. My daughter Carrie and I were recently discussing this, and I said something like, “Even God who IS perfect created the earth and then pronounced it “very good,” not perfect.

But then I went on a tear about the many translations the Bible has been through, about how many people copied from a copy that had been copied from another copy—more times than we know. And then I said, “To tell you the truth, I don’t really even know who wrote Genesis for sure.”

Who, after all, was alive to tell the tale?

My son-in-law, awake from his nap, walked into the kitchen just as I was asking the question and said it was Moses. While I knew that Moses is credited with writing the next four books of the Old Testament, I didn’t know he was the author of Genesis, too. Some people say God himself “wrote” the first chapter and that Adam, Noah, Terah, and others are responsible for other chapters and specific verses.

I’m sticking with my son-in-law’s statement.

Besides, does it matter? Well…yes, it does matter. If Moses received the words from God through revelation, were they in Hebrew? What is the Hebrew word for “very good?” I know only un poco and un peu about Spanish and French and practically nothing about Hebrew. I do know, however, that even in English there are subtle differences between words.

Quick story. Years ago, I overheard a conversation in which a diehard bachelor was describing a young woman he had begun dating. After a few moments of listening to his enthusiastic description of his latest heartthrob, a mutual friend said, “It sounds like you’re dating a nice girl for a change. I’m happy to hear it.”

He replied with a wink, “Oh, she’s nice all right.”

Nice is an easy, everyday word, and yet, everyone listening to the conversation knew the speakers had differing interpretations.

This rambling post does have a point. Do the best work you can and let it go. Even God, the Creator of heaven and earth, pronounced His handiwork as very good. After checking  Genesis 1: 31 in three different bibles (NAS, NIV, and KJV), I’m trusting the translation as very good.

Posted in books, Camden Writers, courage, family histories, reading, Uncategorized, words, writing, writing critiques, writing groups | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Voodoo vs. Hoodoo

The South Carolina Writers’ Association Board met for lunch a couple of weeks ago to go over old business and to discuss current and future events. I’m not the secretary and wasn’t taking notes, but I’m enthusiastic about the organization and want to share a few thoughts and memories.

To me the most exciting topics we discussed afternoon were (1) the Big Dream Conference in Pawleys Island, SC on October 27-29 and (2) the Petigru Review.

The Big Dream Conference promises to be inspiring, instructional, and exciting. Fun, too. Not only will attendees have an opportunity to learn more about the craft of writing, but they’ll also get to mix and mingle with other authors and to pitch their work to an agent. There are a total of eighteen (repeat, eighteen) classes to choose from, so there’s something for everyone. Check out the website at http://www.myscwa.org/2017-conference/ for more details.

From what I heard from the editors of The Petigru Review, a journal created as a forum to give members an opportunity to publish their best works, this year’s selection process is especially competitive. From the website, “Every journal has guest judges who pick only the most polished and promising pieces for publication. Only those works the judges deemed worthy of publication are published.” I might add that while most people who submit poetry, fiction, and nonfiction are members of SCWA, many are not. Membership is not a requirement.

A few Board members had to leave the meeting early to meet with a chapter in Columbia. Three of us stayed behind and had a delightful conversation. I jotted down a quote from a young enthusiastic member and have thought of it almost daily since then: “Every tradition has its blessings and its curses. Deal with the blessings only.” I agree for the most part. I try to concentrate on the blessings and give the curses short shrift.

I also learned the origins of voodoo and hoodoo and heard the expression, “The medium is the message” for the first time. Still pondering that one. The three of us shared ideas from our favorite books on writing* and reluctantly left Panera an hour later. As I drove home, I thought for the hundredth time how much being a part of a writing group has helped me. My local writer friends don’t always tell me what I want to hear, but they always tell me what I need to hear, and they have never steered me wrong.

If you’re a writer, consider joining the organization. There’s likely a chapter within thirty miles of where you live, and if not, well, maybe you could create one. Whether your writing consists of journaling, story telling, poetry, essays……whatever, there are people who could help you by critiquing your work, offering tips, and encouraging you. And you could do the same for them.

In the meantime, take a look at the conference page and consider joining us at the beach this fall!

  • *Ron Carlson Writes a Story, Ron Carlson
  • Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott
  • Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Posted in anthologies, books, books on writing, critique groups, generative writing groups, journal writing, Uncategorized, writing, writing projects, writing workshops | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Get the Moon Right

With the ocean’s roar in front of us and the chirping of cicadas behind us, my daughter and I sat in our beach chairs watching the strollers, shell collectors, and frolicking children. We noted an increased number of dogs on the beach and wondered about their possible discomfort. It was sweltering.

Weren’t the dogs hot? Surely, they were. Two big, brown dogs walked by, their leashes tightly held by a man. Although the canines were walking rather briskly, their long pink tongues were hanging out, and we could see that they were panting.

“You know those dogs have got to be hot as heck with all that hair,” Elizabeth said.

“I was just thinking the same thing. They look like Alaskan Huskies better equipped to handle an Iditarod race than a walk on a Southern beach.”

“Those are Huskies? They look more like German Shepherds to me.”

“I don’t know. All I know is that they aren’ t poodles or Chihuahuas. I’ll look it up in my dog book when I get home.”

“You have a dog book? Seriously?”

“Sure do. I bought it at Good Will after reading that writers should be as specific as possible.”

This morning, I remembered our conversation and tried to match the dogs with some photographs in the dog breed book.

I couldn’t decide. And in this case, it doesn’t really matter. I used the dogs as a way to introduce something I learned when reading Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life. When he was a high school student, Conroy and his English teacher visited South Carolina’s Poet Laureate, Archibald Rutledge, who suggested that Conroy make the close observation of nature part of his life’s work.

Mr. Rutledge encouraged the teen to learn the names of things and told him specifics would prove fruitful to the validity of a narrative. “A Cherokee rose, not just a rose. A swallowtail butterfly, not just a butterfly. That kind of thing,” he said. “Get the details right. Always the details.” Conroy, Pat. My Reading Life (p. 46). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A couple of weeks after reading of the exchange between Conroy and Rutledge, someone in my writing critique group wrote, “I’d like to know more about this White Ibis” on my submission. That was her tactful way of telling me I needed to be more specific. Readers need a visual. Big dog, butterfly, and white bird aren’t enough.

A quick Google search taught me more than I needed for my short article, and I described the White Ibis as a medium-sized bird with white plumage, a reddish-orange down-curved bill, and long legs. I also mentioned that among other things, small aquatic prey, such as insects and small fishes, are dietary staples. And that’s it. The nonfiction piece wasn’t about birds and their appearance, habitats, and diet but rather a visit to an aviary.

Earlier this week, I read Eudora Welty’s “Listening” and was reminded once again of the importance of getting the facts right. Welty writes of her interest in and knowledge of the moon, stars, sun, solar system, and constellations—everything in the “velvety black sky.” But she didn’t know the moon didn’t come up in the west until Herschel Brickell, a literary critic, told her she’d misplaced it in a story.

“Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky,” he said.

Curious after reading of Welty’s awakening, I wanted to know exactly about moonrise and moonset. It’s more scientific than I can comprehend, so I’m sticking to the simple explanation from May, 2009 edition of the Farmers’ Almanac.

“The Moon, more often than not, rises in the east and sets in the west; however, depending on the phase of the Moon and the time of the year, the rising might actually occur in the east-northeast or east-southeast, and the setting might take place in the west-northwest or west-southwest.”

“When the Moon is full, it rises close to due east and sets close to due west on those dates nearest the Vernal and Fall Equinoxes.”

Good to know.

Be specific. Draw a picture for the reader. And get the details right.


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Annie Moore

img_5282-1It’s been a while, maybe ten years, since I saw the above flag. Its ginormous size caught my eye, and as I walked by it, the flag began to change. The red, white, and blue stripes and stars morphed into dozens and dozens of black and white photographs. I didn’t know who the people were or where they came from, but I assumed they were either immigrants or their descendants who had emigrated from their homelands to seek refuge in the land of the free.

I’ve read that forty percent of Americans can trace their ancestry to at least one person who came through the immigration center at Ellis Island, the location of that amazing flag and its dozens of faces. On that spring morning, I had wondered away from my friends and was alone when I experienced the exhibit. I gulped. And then I began to examine each face, searching for someone with features like mine. Who am I? I wondered.

My search was in vain. Not one person looked like me.

The futile search haunted me, and the next time I went to Ellis Island, I hustled to the room where I’d seen the flag a few years prior. It was gone. Downcast, I went from hall to hall, room to room, until at last I spied the flag. Just the flag, no faces.

I stared at the familiar icon for a few minutes and then visited exhibits of photographs, audio, and video of people who arrived on the island to be processed before entering New York. Located in the New York Harbor between New York and New Jersey, Ellis Island welcomed millions of newly arrived immigrants through its doors for over sixty years. In fact, estimates are that close to 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors back to this processing center at the mouth of the Hudson River.

Lady Liberty stands proudly in the harbor, her right hand holding a torch aloft. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” she says. She stands in plain view from the windows of the Ellis Island processing center, and I’ve often wondered how many American newcomers saw and responded to her.

Quick story. Once at a writing conference, I heard a middle-aged writer tell of his Greek father’s arrival in America. Father and son were fishing on one of the piers in Myrtle Beach, and the teen, in an effort to better understand his father, asked, “Who was the most beautiful woman you ever saw?”

“The lady in the harbor,” he replied, his voice tremulous with emotion.

Born and raised in the United States, the boy was both taken aback and moved by his dad’s revelation.

But back to that forty percent mentioned above. I looked up the name of the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island. Turns out it was Annie Moore, a seventeen-year-old who arrived from Ireland with two younger brothers on the S.S. Nevada in 1892. Her parents were already living in New York. Sources indicate that Annie died at fifty and spent her life on New York’s Lower East Side. She gave birth to ten children, and this morning I’m thinking of her descendants.

The first line of my husband’s Ancestry.com DNA report: “Ireland 39%.” No, I’m not claiming lineage to Annie Moore, just reminding myself and all the rest of us, that unless you’re related to a Native American, your ancestors were immigrants too.

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What Are You Working On?

Critiquing behind us, someone at our writing group meeting asked what everyone was working on. I mentioned that I wrote a little something every day even if it was just jotting down a gratitude list or some observations on something I’d seen or overheard. Sometimes I might even make up some dialogue based on seeing people talk.

A couple of people said they always felt inspired after reading something. Me too. More often than not, however, there’s an interlude between the reading and the writing, mainly because real life intrudes. I get busy with painting, doing laundry, dining with friends, reading……..

Excuses behind me, here’s what I’ve been reading lately and a synopsis of my takeaways so far.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Recommended by a couple of people in my writing group, the book explains a lot about the 2016 election. Page after well-written page about life in Appalachia and the Rust Belt reveal an alternate universe right here in these United States. Vance describes neglect, hunger, drug abuse, poverty and a host of other issues that many folks would rather not acknowledge.

In one scene Vance describes eight pairs of eyes peeking from behind curtains at him and a cousin as they walked by. The eight pairs of eyes belonged to hungry children with “an unsettling combination of fear and longing.” Their thin, young, jobless father was on the front porch.

In another scene, the author discusses an episode of The West Wing in which the president considers possible solutions to problems in education: should he push school vouchers that would allow children to escape failing public schools or focus on fixing those same failing schools? Vance notes that the issues surrounding the struggle of poor kids in school pretty much always emphasize the schools themselves. But then he adds a quote from one of his former high school teacher. “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.” Sobering.

I ordered Mary Antin’s The Promised Land (free on Kindle) after hearing about it from Garrison Keillor. My world is expanding. Until I began the book, first published in 1912, I didn’t even know there were Jews living in that part of Russia. I’m learning a lot about life there, especially for Jews. From bullying to marriage traditions and food to festivals, I recognize that Judaism is not just a religion but also a lifestyle with a set of principles and beliefs that underscore every aspect of life.

Here’s a quote that saddens me. “The first time Vanka threw mud at me, I ran home and complained to my mother, who brushed off my dress and said , quite resignedly, ”How can I help you my poor child? Vanka is a Gentile. The Gentiles do as they like with us Jews.” Although I haven’t read that far yet, I know the author and her family emigrate from Russia and settle in America, and I’m looking forward to her observations and insights about her new land.

Dipping into The Hidden Life of Trees  has me considering whether to plant a tree next to a sad-looking crepe myrtle tree in our front yard. The author, Peter Wohlleben, says trees are connected and that they provide nutrients to each other through their root systems. “It never does anything,” my husband often says about the fragile, solitary tree. He wants to dig it up and replace it with something more green and stately, something that flowers colorfully in the spring and summer. I want to plant another tree close-by, one whose roots can mingle with the lone one.

I’ve realized once again that I read more nonfiction than fiction, and that’s my excuse for not being able to write fiction. One of these days, maybe I’ll surprise my critique group with an awesome story filled with authentic dialogue and a believable plot. But for now, it’s back to reading Hillbilly Elegy.

Posted in books, critique groups, nonfiction, readng, Uncategorized, writing, writing groups | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Name Change?

I enjoy blogging.

It gives me the opportunity to write about things I care about and share them with others. Plus, blogging puts me in touch with other like-minded people who may think similar things….or who can teach me a thing or two about topics I’m interested in. Some people blogging as a waste of time. I see it as good practice.

Today it’s time to make some changes, and I’m hoping that by writing about past and current blogs, I’ll gain insight on how to proceed.

Over the past dozen years, I’ve begun and maintained and discarded several blogs, each with a different purpose. It takes a lot of energy and time to compose, proof, and post a blog, and following the principles of reciprocity to read and respond to others’ blogs is a huge time eater.

At one time I had six blogs; now I have two.

The first was Mom’s Musings. It’s one of the two I still have today although I have become neglectful of late. When I created Mom’s Musings, that’s how I saw myself: a mom. Things have changed now, expanded. I’m now a grandmother and a retiree. I’ve kept the blog because it’s a catchall place where any and everything goes. Travel, religion, politics…it’s all there.

When I was still working full-time and looking for a way for my students to express themselves and perhaps earn a little extra credit, I began a blog titled PsychCentral. It worked well. I’d post once or twice a week, and in its heyday, I could always count on some responses. It was popular because of the topics and the extra credit. Students who were reticent about speaking up in class found a forum for their thoughts.

This blog, Gossip and Solitude, is supposed to be about all things writing: personal projects, writing woes, critique groups, writing tips, book reviews, and personal writing discoveries. The title came from a phrase in one of writer Nancy Peacock’s books in which she says writers need two things: gossip and solitude. Yes!

I enjoyed using the WordPress format and decided to start another blog, Beating a Path, about teaching in a community college. It included experiences in and out of the classroom and advice for students who wanted to succeed in college. That blog eventually became a self-published book, Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond.  Since many of the posts related to teaching, I’m now using some material in what I hope will be a fun and interesting book about teaching in a two-year college.

Soon after Crossing the Bridge was published, I developed a blog based on the book. It had minimal activity and quite frankly, was a lot of work. Many writers base blogs on writing projects and post updates hoping to engage would-be readers. Or at least, I think that’s their purpose. After a few months, I deleted Crossing the Bridge.

Several years ago, I used Blogspot to post Eve’s Sisters. A sister-in-law invited me to a Bible study about Queen Esther, and the course ignited an interest in learning more about the women of the Bible. Before that experience, I had naively thought of Ruth, Rachel, and Rebekah as paragons of virtue—if I thought of them at all. And Rahab and Tamar and Bathsheba were strangers to me.

I began learning more about the women of the Old and New Testaments and started a blog exploring how their stories bore many similarities to our stories today. It was fun. I was on fire. At some point, I realized I had enough material for a book, and my blog became Eve’s Sisters the book. I’ve deleted the blog and have been faithful to WordPress ever since.

Summative statement (at last): Blogging can be fun. It provides writing practice, puts you in contact with people with all sorts of interests, and can even provide material for a book. For me, I’m down to two blogs, one on reading and writing and the other on life. But now I need a new title besides Mom’s Musings. Help!

Posted in Biblical women, blogging, books, books on college success, books on teaching, college success, community college students, community college teaching, nancy peacock, reading, stories, teaching profession, Uncategorized, women in the Bible, writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I’m Doing, I’m Doing


Whenever someone asks my husband how he is, he often replies, “I’m doing, I’m doing.” By his tone of voice, I know that means, “I’m doing okay.” When someone asks me how I am, I usually say, “Fine.”

Neither of us is very specific.

Today a friend asked me how I was, and I immediately thought of something I’d read years ago. Although it was in some psych literature, it wasn’t scientific—but interesting. According to the writer, there are four basic emotions: glad, sad, mad, and scared.

There are layers of feelings within each of the four categories. I was feeling fine today, relatively upbeat and “glad.” Then I heard a friend laugh. And laugh again. And again. Before long, I found myself laughing along even though I was in another room. A person who’s sad could have the blues or be clinically depressed. A scared person could be a little anxious or downright terrified.

Back to the question from my friend. It prompted me to think of how those four emotions apply to me today. Tomorrow might be a totally different story. A lot can happen between now and then.

I’m glad to be part of a network of family and friends, one of them a two-year-old granddaughter who likes to have her toenails painted a bright pink color. She makes me laugh. Another granddaughter has a bearded lizard whom she loves so much that she brought him to Camden with her this weekend. I found his mealworms in the refrigerator this morning. Ksjf98emks (I just learned that’s a keysmash, a term used to express strong emotion). I’m glad that my children are all well and responsible and sane and kind. I’m glad to have had about a dozen high school friends over for lunch today. We had not one, but two, delicious desserts, and some people sampled both.

I’m sad for all the suffering in the world and for the hungry children. Even the Palmetto State has its share…and then some. Some sources say one in five children in South Carolina has hunger issues. I wish I knew for certain what these children were doing for lunch now that school’s out for the summer. And don’t even get me started on the refugees.

I’m mad at man’s inhumanity to man. I’m heartsick/helpless/angry about Otto Warmbier and his senseless death. What can be done to combat such evil? Anything?

I’m scared of the boogey man, of uncertainty, of the world my grandchildren will inherit. I shudder when I imagine Warmbier’s reaction to the news that he’s being forced to stay in North Korea while his friends are flying home. I’m upset (good all-purpose word) when I allow myself to think of his parents and the horror and pure unadulterated fear they undoubtedly experienced month after month.

Looking at the above list, I can say truthfully say, “I’m fine.” Sure, I feel sad and mad and scared, but it looks like glad heads the list for the evening. I could easily get on a soapbox and expound on social injustice, prejudice, judgmental attitudes, and a host of other issues. But not tonight. Tonight I’m counting my blessings and pondering what I can do to make more things right.

What about you? How are you? 

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Just-World Fallacy



This morning a Facebook post from June 4, 2011 popped up among my memories of that day and prompted this post.

Have you ever wondered why good things happen to bad people, especially when the cheating, no-account, lazy, shiftless liars appear to live charmed lives? I’m overstating the situation, but honestly, I do see good people suffer in especially painful ways, and I have to ask myself why.

A friend recommended You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney. “a compendium of information about self-delusion and the wonderful ways we all succumb to it.“ I’m enjoying the book and its reminders of the dozens of ways we delude ourselves in order to make sense of the world. Among others, we use the confirmation bias, self-handicapping, groupthink, and the self-serving bias (love this one). Rereading about these fallacies in thinking was like taking a refresher course.

But then I came to the just-world fallacy, the tendency to see the world as just and fair. It stopped me in my tracks.

People have a misconception, McRaney writes, that people who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it. Maybe they’re lazy bums. Or perhaps they made poor choices or are addicted to drugs, cheated on their income tax, or dropped out of school. The truth, like life, is more complicated than that.

Since we like to view the world as just and fair, we perceive the people with the trophies, the winners, as having worked hard. They buckled down in school, dressed for success at work, paid their tithing at church, helped little old ladies cross the street, and set goals with the best of them. While this is sometimes true, McRaney reminds his readers that it’s just as likely that the beneficiaries of good fortune did little to deserve it.

Sometimes good people who follow all the rules can’t seem to get a break no matter how hard they try. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a young woman whose goal was to become a pediatric nurse. She had served a stint in the Air Force before beginning the nursing program at Central Carolina. That summer Tricia was in one of my Human Growth and Development sections, and she made an immediate and lasting impression. Bright and spirited, she enjoyed sparring with her classmates over issues of child development. I sensed that a compassionate heart beat beneath that tough exterior.

I was right. We became Facebook friends after her graduation, and I learned of her desire to serve a medical mission in Haiti. She served several such missions and developed a love for the Haitian people.

On a somewhat regular basis, Tricia posted about her work in the medical field and her love for God. She’d often post a scripture and link it to something that had happened to her at work or within her family. She and her husband had a baby, and all was well.

About a year ago, I realized I hadn’t seen any recent posts on Facebook from her. I figured she’d probably just moved on. Or maybe she’d deleted her account. Then again, hmmm, perhaps she’d unfriended me. At some point, I put her name in the search bar.

Her cover photo was one of many taken at her Memorial Service in April, 2016.

How could it be that someone with such promise, someone on the cusp of her adult life as a wife, mother, and nurse, die?  There was no information about cause of death.

Months later,  I was cruising along I-95 when someone in the front seat asked, “Did you ever teach _______ _______?”

“Yes. But she died. Not sure why, but I’d be willing to bet her husband did it.”

Silence from the front seat. And then, “Yeah, that’s what happened. It was in the Sumter papers. Air Force, right?”

“Her husband was still in the Air Force, but I think he was stationed somewhere else. Virginia, maybe.”

My informant shared the particulars of Tricia’s murder, and I confirmed them for myself that same evening. Her death was untimely, gruesome. She left a bereft family behind, including a precious child. And this young woman was a winner who had a heart and mind and spirit superior to many. Her death is yet another reminder of the just-world fallacy.

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

Posted in books, cognitive psychology, just-world fallacy, college students, psychology, reading, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment



Anyone who’s read this blog on even a somewhat regular basis knows I’ve written a book about teaching community college students. Truthfully, the book is more of a project, a work-in-progess, since it’s still on my Mac awaiting edits. It needs some jazzing up, something to make it more enjoyable to read and a format that’s more inviting.

Last month I read Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Interesting, I thought.

Last week, I read it again, this time with a greater appreciation for Kleon’s creative approach to encouraging artists, writers, musicians, and creative people of all sorts. How does someone so young know how to put together such a plethora of information in a work that’s both engaging and instructive?

I’ll add motivational to the mix, too. Kleon’s inclusion of Craig Damauer’s quote brought a smile to my lips and a nudge to my muse:  “Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” I asked myself, So what if people don’t like your work? So what if they think they can do it better? Get it out there, Jayne.

I recently gave a friend a copy of William James’ Talks to Teachers on Psychology, and although the cover is colorful and trendy and not my friend’s style, the font is larger, and there are spaces between paragraphs. It’s basically all text with no frills, but the updated version is easier to read. Some people expect more these days. They don’t want just to learn…they want their books to be pretty too.

Have magazines with their slick photographs and engaging layouts spoiled us, thus upping our desire for something more than straight text? Or is it the digital age allowing everyone the freedom to express themselves without fear of censure that’s whetted our appetites for more than just “good” writing? Have mediums such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and various blogging sites encouraged people to thumb their noses at would-be critics?

Editing is hard, especially when there’s a lot of tweaking to be done. I want my book to hit somewhere between Steal Like An Artist and Talks to Teachers. I want it to be interesting and inviting, but I also want it to be educational and beneficial. As it is now, the manuscript is heavy on “Thou shalts” and light on illuminating stories and fun experiences.

Everything I know about teaching is what I learned after joining the profession. Observation, evaluations from supervisors and students, and discussions with colleagues went a long way in shaping my thinking, attitude, and performance. So did courses and seminars.

On my first day of class, I somehow found my voice and jumped into the business at hand. I called the roll, distributed the syllabus, and went over all six pages of notes scribbled on my yellow legal pad. Then I gave out some note cards and asked the students to answer three or four questions about themselves before leaving for the day. As the first person rose to turn in his note card, I noted that it was 10:20. All that work, all those notes, all that talking, and it was only 10:20!

I learned two things that morning: (1) I enjoyed the classroom magic, and (2) I had a lot to learn. I want my “project” to morph into an informative, fun book that introduces  would-be teachers to the magic of a classroom and offers beneficial advice about what to do once inside that classroom.

Students and teachers, do you have some advice for me to include? Or an amusing or enlightening story? 

Posted in books, books on teaching, community college teaching, competent teachers, Uncategorized, writing, writing projects | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment