A Man May Change

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

Marvin Bell, “A Man May Change” from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000

No Man Is An Island

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

John Donne

Looking forward to reengaging with the work of this blog soon. Between the semester work here at the university and the general election fog, I’ve been away. I plan to develop new posts and engage with the stories of friends again soon.

SuAnne Big Crow

This from the newsletter of Alan Jacobs today:

“In Ian Frazier’s book On the Rez — excerpted here — he tells a story about a Lakota Sioux girl named SuAnne Big Crow, who lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At age 14 she was already on her high school’s varsity basketball team, and when, in 1988, they played a game in Lead, South Dakota, they were faced with a profoundly hostile crowd, a gym full of people making mocking “Indian” noises. The Pine Ridge girls were frightened — but SuAnne was not frightened. She led her team out and made her way to center court, where to the astonishment of everyone she used her warmup jacket to perform, with great élan and perfect confidence, a traditional Sioux shawl dance.

It was, Frazier says, a form of counting coup — but not in any usual sense.

SuAnne’s coup strike was an offering, an invitation. It gave the hecklers the best interpretation, as if their silly, mocking chants were meant only in good will. It showed that their fake Indian songs were just that — fake — and that the real thing was better, as real things usually are. We Lakota have been dancing like this for centuries, the dance said; we’ve been doing the shawl dance since long before you came, before you got on the boat in Glasgow or Bremerhaven, before you stole this land, and we’re still doing it today. And isn’t it pretty, when you see how it’s supposed to be done? Because finally what SuAnne proposed was to invite us — us onlookers in the stands, namely the non-Lakota rest of this country — to dance too. She was in the Lead gym to play, and she invited us all to play. The symbol she used to include us was the warm-up jacket. Everyone in America has a warm-up jacket. I’ve got one, probably so do you, so did (no doubt) many of the fans at Lead. By using the warm-up jacket as a shawl in her impromptu shawl dance, she made Lakota relatives of us all.

SuAnne Big Crow died in an auto accident at age seventeen, on February 9, 1992. She’s still a legend for the Sioux people. They made a movie about her.

Courage and leadership can be both confrontational and generous at the same time. Leadership can cause you to realize that you might be wrong (that you might even be acting shamefully) while inviting you to see another way.

The News

I’ve had a number of conversations with friends recently about how I find and read news since I have no social media accounts (I don’t really count LinkedIn since I only use it to help former students who are trying to get jobs or promotions). I read lots of long form articles and essays from a variety of sources. From time to time, I plan to recommend these outlets here on What Work Is. But this is how I have approached news since I stopped getting it in my “news feed” on Facebook:

  1. Attempt to only look at news sites twice a day, in the morning and evening. *Once in a while I hear that there is some kind of breaking news and I’ll jump on to read.
  2. Avoid news agencies prone to sensationalism (clickbait titles, overlarge font for titles, overblown rhetoric, and so on).
  3. Find news sources that organize their articles, at least in part, based on categories of knowledge (National and International, Religious, Scientific, Cultural, Political, Entertainment, etc.).

I primarily read Reuters and NPR because they generally follow my guidelines (Plus NPR has Tiny Desk Concerts. I mean, come on.) I also read Knox Pages here in Mount Vernon, Ohio for my local news.

I want to be an informed citizen and a thoughtful, caring member of my community. Reading the news twice a day seems to allow me to be informed and give me the head space to consider what I’ve read or seen. I’ve come to view the inhuman pace of social media news feeds as harmful.

Sensationalism has been prevalent in U.S. news since the beginning. I want a news agency that will address me (as much as possible) in good faith. I don’t mind if the source has a particular bent. After all, we’re getting news from humans, not robots (or we should be, one more reason I don’t get my news from social media). I’m happy to decipher rhetoric as I read, I just don’t want a news source that obviously resorts to crazy headlines, bombastic rhetoric, and overt manipulation to keep me clicking. This is especially true if the information that they are giving me is something I want to be true. The temptation to check my mind at the door and be carried away by the tides of my wants is too great for me to fool around with.

Finally, the breakdown in categories of knowledge is deeply concerning to me. See my post on Content Collapse. The idea that everything is of equal weight and importance (Explosions in Lebanon, cat pictures, Black Lives Matter, and The Rock buying the XFL) is confusing and damaging to our communities. I once opened CNN.com and saw a headline proclaiming that John Mayer broke up with Jennifer Aniston by text message. Now I know that. It has somehow stuck in my head (I’m hoping that it mostly stays there because I use it as an object lesson but I’m afraid it is because the headline infected me). Why did I see it? Because it was one of the top headlines for that day, I assume. (Update: I had written “pure sensationalism” here, but I think it is banality instead)

My guidelines certainly wont work for everyone, but maybe this post will be helpful for some of you who are struggling with how to engage without being overwhelmed in the rising tide. Good luck to you.


I started this blog in January as a means to tell stories, share poems, and to recommend all manner of good things for your consideration. Long-term, I hope that it can be a vehicle for thinking about the many and varied things we love and care about, while making room for the fact that we may not all agree on what is worthy of our time and attention. You can see more of my original idea here in the post on why I named the blog What Work Is.

I started the blog before Covid-19 had worked its way around the world. The virus takes advantage of our interconnectedness, our love for being together. I started the blog before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, before we were thrust again into a confrontation with the fact that in spite of our interconnectedness and love for being together, we do not yet know how to live together without hurting one another.

I say we because, while many of us have learned the art of neighbor-love, “We the People” are not only individuals but also a part of the whole nation (the world really, but the United States and its problems is already too big a thing for my mind to grasp). I started the blog before these enormous and weighty events, but centuries after the conditions were established by which these specific events would be made possible. In February of 2020, my family was in Grand Rapids, MI attending a performance of Hamilton. It was a packed house. The historical, political, cultural and artistic implications of the performance speak both to the limits we imposed on the idea that “All men are created equal,” and also to the burgeoning global connections which would rapidly expand over the subsequent 240 or so years. Within a few short weeks of that performance we have been forced to reckon with what we set in motion. Incidentally, I can’t imagine sitting in a packed room at this point.   

I struggle with the fact that there is so much that I do not know. The more I study, the more I realize that my ideas came from somewhere outside myself. This is disconcerting because the origins of these ideas and principles are often at odds with my own notion of them. I find that I both agree and disagree with elements of my own ideology and am forced to reconsider and clarify what I think and why I think it. There is a deep complexity to these issues that is not made clearer by slogans or memes or tweets. However, if you do not participate in social media, you are more than likely to think/say something that is good but has been coopted by some group or another with which you disagree or even despise.

As an example, let’s look at two “slogans” which are now much in use: Black lives matter & All lives matter. As sentences, I agree wholeheartedly with both and would feel perfectly justified saying either to anyone I come in contact with. The complexity of these sentences is that they are not simply sentences.

“Black lives matter” is a sentence, a movement, and an organization. Black lives matter is a sentence, a movement, and an organization because the sentence “all lives matter” has not been fully embraced, to the specific detriment of Black lives in the United States. The knowledge that people reject the sentence and its meaning is repugnant to me as is the fact that so many of us are willing to overlook the horrific and chronic stories of our Black neighbors/citizens. However, things get murkier when an organization with the same name enters the picture. Can I be for the sentence and the movement without wholeheartedly supporting the organization? Does the organization stand for the same things as the movement? Mostly? Movements aren’t monolithic. It’s complicated.

“All lives matter” on the other hand is a sentence that has been coopted by a more nebulous and shadowy group who seemingly wish to diminish the notion that Black lives matter. My parents, who do not use any form of social media and have a very limited notion of coopted slogans, would for sure say that all lives matter and do so thinking of Black Americans who need support of their fellow citizens. I had to let them know not to say this sentence, or at least to say it with the knowledge that they may need to clarify what they mean. There is no specific “All Lives Matter” organization (that I know of and I’m not going to Google it today) to point to (with a website and and about page) which makes it more difficult to understand what I’m objecting to. White nationalism is certainly a part of this counter-movement and I can object to that, but there is another more complex group which will take some time to consider. What do they mean? I believe some of them mean, “I have no job” or “My son overdosed on heroin” or “There is no hope for us.” These people aren’t monolithic either.

I haven’t posted in a while due to the fact that I wasn’t sure how to say what I mean to say. I deleted Facebook in 2019 and started this blog for a number of reasons, but primarily because I don’t think such “platforms” are right for my mind. The pace of information is far greater than I can absorb and the tenor of the interactions is generally not like the tenor of interactions that I have with the same people in person. I want to think before I say something, even if others expect an immediate response. Certain things I’ve settled long ago and could say them on a moment’s notice (i.e. racism is evil), but other things are complex and/or new (see the two slogans above or what the science is telling us about the best responses to Covid-19) and require careful consideration.

I won’t be able to say all that I want to say in this post or even on my own. I’ll need this blog and my family and classroom and faculty meetings and friendships and community involvement and voting and engaging with people who disagree with me and so on and so forth. We’ll keep at it. Sometimes people require harsh rebuke (and a willingness to be rebuked). Sometimes situations require confrontation. We need careful thought to understand such times. I do know this, the world is big enough for the stories and suffering of all of the people and peoples in it. Your story and suffering do not negate mine and mine does not negate yours. When you speak, I would like to be quiet enough to hear and openhearted enough to realize that our hurts could unite us if we humbled ourselves enough to let them.