14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 5, The Beatles were (still) Everything, even in the 2000s

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

Alright, now the gettin’s gettin’ good.

Or something like that. After the struggles of yesterday’s brainstorm to figure out what music from the middle/high school band days left the biggest impact, I’m back at you today with the pop/rock/funk, etc. that started to shape my earliest individual musical identity.

I mentioned yesterday that middle school was the time when I started to develop my own musical identity, and then focused particularly on my days as a trumpet player from 6th grade to high school graduation. But the second half of my early/individual musical identity formed—in large part thanks to being in the high school marching band, going on SO many long bus rides to football games and marching competitions—because of buying a bass guitar in 7th (ish?) grade and buying a SONY Discman to be able to listen to CDs like kids today constantly hooked into the bluetooth headphones streaming music from the ether, er…cloud. (It was quite possibly this model, still available for purchase on Amazon!)

And what was I listening to?

Well, a lot! But often, a lot of the same variety of stuff: Contemporary Christian Music (dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Caedmon’s Call, OC Supertones, Third Day, Mercy Me, Reliant K, Casting Crowns….you know, all the standards—music I still have in iTunes even today), “Progressive” Rock and Classic Rock (this was at my bandmates’ encouragement, since Whitehall was a prog rock garage band after all—Dream Theater, Coheed & Cambria, Liquid Tension Experiment, Rush, Queen, Boston, Eric Clapton, Guns N’ Roses, a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne), and other random stuff (like Parliament Funkadelic, the Moody Blues, a lot of crazy guitar and bass players like Buckethead… Ya know, just enough of the “scary stuff” to make the parents worry…😉)

But the group that made the longest lasting impression—with no offense to the artists above, many of whom I still listen to—has to the group that started it all: The Beatles. I had a poster of them in my bedroom for the longest time, and if I had to guess I’ve heard most if not all of their songs at one point or another, though I only own a handful of their albums.

While I grew up listening to the “oldies” station while riding with my parents as a kid (mainly Dad…I seem to recall he preferred the oldies station to WCMT most of the time in the beat up 1984 Dodge Ram), The Beatles stand out as worthy of a 14 Songs/14 Days post because of my love of and learning from Paul McCartney’s bass guitar playing (remember, this was right around the time I started learning to play…and boy did I want one of those Hofner violin basses), the sheer contagiousness of their music (my first album was 1, the album of all their No.1 Chart toppers in the US & UK), and the variation in their music as they matured as artists later in the ’60s (okay, yes, lots of drugs were involved in their process as we all know…)

So out of literally hundreds of songs, how does one choose the one or two top favorite songs that made a lasting impact? (Dang near impossible, I say!)

But I’ll start with the one that really started it for me—”Yellow Submarine,” which first came to my attention through going to Camp Mack Morris for Boy Scout Camp. I’m not sure which of the other guys it was that knew it and taught it to us (not really by choice, but just because he sang it all the time!) but I’m betting it was Peter. Of course, after learning this one at scout camp (complete with the extra vocals not sung like “Captain, Captain” and the yelled echos on the last verse, naturally!) I had to learn more about them, even though my parents didn’t have any of their albums. That’s probably another reason I say they figure in so heavily into my own personal musical identity—I’m sure my parents aren’t opposed to The Beatles!) but I/we didn’t listen to them on a regular basis until that Discman came my way…

The second choice, if I’m allowed one, is so tough. For multiple reasons, I want to go with “The Long and Winding Road” from Beatles 1 but I’m going to cheat and go with the entire second half of the album Abbey Road, called either “the B-side” (from the record, obviously) or “Abbey Road medley” because the songs all fit together seamlessly and are often included on Paul McCartney’s live tours as a single set. There was one particular live version of this from McCartney’s tours that I used to listen to nearly every day in my undergrad when times were tough… alone in my apartment or in the student newspaper office where I worked, I’d crank it up and sing along, of course, hoping that after the 15 or so minutes was up that things would be a little better. It helped tremendously through some tough stuff. So naturally, now I can no longer find that specific live performance any more! In this case, the deluxe album version will have to suffice (with slightly different song order and some fancier guitar/keyboard parts over the original album version!)

Time permitting (and really, where else do you have to be right now?) promise me you’ll take some time today and listen all the way through.

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 4, Middle & High School Band

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

I actually had a hard time thinking of what to pick for my self-imposed chronological trip through my personal musical memory lane today! I’ve been trying to think up what music from my middle school years made a lasting impact on me or shaped my life in some way, and I’m kinda coming up dry… (and can we all agree that middle school is the most awkward time for all humanity, and thus it’s okay that I’ve done a good job of blocking it out of my mind?!)

But I must prevail for you, o valiant few readers! And so I’ve come up with a couple of ideas.

Middle school was the time when I started to develop my own musical identity, somewhat separate from the musical influences of my family and church—and even my early schooling, come to think of it, because we did have music class and choir in K-5, but it was all largely in the same genre of music that’s developmentally appropriate for young children. But by middle school kids are wandering around trying to find their place in the awkward world and starting to branch out, and for me that took a couple of forms that would have lengthy impacts on my life: 1) I joined middle school band in 6th grade and started playing the trumpet (and became no small obsession from then until college…) and 2) at the encouragement of one of my best friends, I picked up the bass guitar sometime in either 7th or 8th grade, though I didn’t really become decent at it until high school. Perhaps I’ll delve more into the rock, funk, blues, and other music that shaped the bass guitar playing (and high school garage band days!) in tomorrow’s post?

But I’m not sure any one (or two) songs stand out from that period. Early band is all about learning the fundamentals of music and how to play your instrument, and nothing that came out of the 6th grade band book is going to qualify as “life changing!” (With my apologies to Mr. Tucker and Mr. Farmer…)

But beginning in 7th grade, due to either a shortage of competent high school band kids or maybe the directors’ seeing some future potential in me (or some combination thereof) I was selected to join the high school marching band, not unheard of for select 8th graders but a pretty rare thing at that time for a 7th grader! Suddenly I was thrust into the world of very old and very scary high schoolers [never mind the fact that they were mostly just angstier/horomonally challenged versions of middle schoolers—they were so big.] But I took a plunge and ended up, by the time high school was all said and done, one of the biggest band nerds in school: marching band for six years (so many that I lost track of which fieldshows went with which year…), high school jazz band from 8th grade on, 1st chair and trumpet section leader all four years of high school… Dang, I was such a nerd. (And really, what’s changed?)

So since I can’t settle on just one song from that period that greatly shaped my musical life, I’m giving you a couple different options for your listening pleasure tonight.

The first, in keeping with my incredible love of jazz during that time period (though ironically, this phased out as I’ve gotten older and shifted more and more toward classical music!), I give you one of the most challenging pieces we ever attempted to tackle in jazz band: Buddy Rich’s jazz standard Channel One Suite. It. Was. Tough. We asked Mr. Farmer (the jazz band director) if we could play it…probably every year. I think we pulled it off maybe twice during my time there, and I don’t have a recording of it from then. So enjoy this amazing (24 minute! ours wasn’t nearly so long…) version played live by the Buddy Rich Band.

The second option I’m going to leave with you as indicative of the entire trumpet-playing, marching band period is the one marching band field show I happen to know is on YouTube (because I had a recording of it from some video project in high school and I uploaded it to my own YouTube channel a while back!) Enjoy the 2003 Westview High School field show called Song of the South. For the record…I won’t feel bad if you don’t listen to the full versions of either of these! 😆😂

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 3, The Most Epic Mannheim Steamroller

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

Today’s song will bring to an end the posts about songs from my early childhood that had a profound impact on my life, as tomorrow I’ll start to transition to a little bit of the “in-between-times” (I’m thinking specifically of this as the middle/high school age range). But before we move into the “not-quite-a-child” and “nowhere-near-an-adult” times, let’s celebrate one more song that brought me (and my sister, and perhaps an entire generation of kiddos in the early 1990s!) unabashed joy…so much so that my family entertained our seemingly insane requests to tape it from the radio, local Martin radio station WCMT 101.3 FM.

That song, of course, would be the first hit off Mannheim Steamroller’s 1984 (!—how did we not learn about them, at least in Martin, until the early ’90s?!?!) 6x platinum album Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, “Deck the Halls.”

Just go ahead and let that YouTube video start rolling. I’ll wait.

I simply cannot adequately express the SHEER THRILL of hearing that song on the radio for the first time.

“You mean…Christmas songs… can sound fun? Funky? Synthesizers?!

Nevermind I had no idea what a synthesizer was at age, like, 5. That’s beside the point. I was in awe. We really did wait for it to come on the radio and then recorded it to cassette tape, like people did in the days when the Internet was still in its super infancy and if they didn’t sell things at Walmart or in a catalog, we likely didn’t know about it in Martin, TN. I still sometimes think that the end of this particular track is supposed to be followed by the radio interlude music (or maybe it was an ad or a station identification?) that came on right after “Deck the Halls” on our recorded cassette. Because, naturally, we just kept recording the radio station until the cassette ran out of tape! I still remember the song where it ended (and then we started anew on the “B” side of the tape)… good ol’ Johnny Mathis’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Before Pandora became a thing, I don’t think I’d ever heard the entire version of his song before… the tape side ended right around the 1:35 mark, during the brass interlude!

Eventually, of course, my family went on to purchase all (I think?) of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums as they were released, even switching at some point to CD! We listened to those albums in the car (see the Day 2 post for more on just how long those car rides were!) every Christmas season so much, I’m amazed they never broke. These albums stayed with us year after year, holiday drive after holiday drive, right up until I went to college and met Karen, who—also being the same age and having a musically responsible family—ALSO loved and owned ALL the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums (and her mom still has a lot of their non-Christmas, classical albums, which I never knew were a thing until Karen and I met!) It is now our tradition to start listening to the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums, in chronological order of their release, every year on our drive home from Thanksgiving, which is the appropriate time for Christmas music to begin (fight me on it…) This song just sticks with you—for life!

Oh, and in case you thought we were done here…. Oh…no, no. I JUST FOUND OUT TONIGHT while searching for a YouTube video of the audio (for ease of sharing the audio recording with you) that Mannheim Steamroller made music videos in the ’80s and it’s either the greatest thing I ever seen (well, okay at least since binge watching all of Stranger Things earlier this year—can you tell I’m on a bigtime ’80s kick right now?) or incredibly scary for small children. I’ll leave it up to you to decide!

TTFN! Can’t wait to see what craziness we find ourselves in tomorrow!

14 Songs in 14 Days: Day 2, Songs from the Car Rides

Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.

As I mentioned in my first post, in my quick brainstorm yesterday for this series, I came up with way more than 14 songs that have had a substantial impact on my life. In an effort to combine some of these (though I’m open to the idea of keeping this series going beyond “14 songs/days”), I started thinking about how I might organizing some songs based on the time periods in which they first had that impact or the major activities that were going on during those periods. Today’s two songs are a good example of that combination.

Those two songs, at first blush, wouldn’t seem to have much to do with each other or have much in common! The two are Larnelle Harris’s “I Miss My Time with You” and “Take Me in Your Arms” by the Doobie Brothers (though really, these two songs are taken from the respect albums From a Servant’s Heart (1986) and Best of the Doobies (1976). See what I mean?! Not a lot of similarities here, on the surface!

But I join these two songs (as representative of the full albums) together as having been some of favorites as a young kid because we listened to these albums (on cassette tape, naturally!) seemingly non-stop in the van while I was growing up…and my family drove places in that van a lot! I already mentioned in yesterday’s post that I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, a music minister’s kid, but what I didn’t mention is that the church where Dad worked was something like a 40- or 45-minute drive from our house, and we went, usually, three times a week from about the earliest memories I have (maybe Kindergarten-ish?) until about sixth grade! So that was a lot. Then you add on the many trips to see grandparents, who all lived around a two hours’ drive away (maternal and paternal grandparents in somewhat opposite directions, mind you!) and you start to see how I think back on my childhood as being shaped by music on cassettes and a lot of library books. It’s almost like I was destined to become a singing academic…

[Ironically enough—and I’ve remarked on this quite often in recent years—despite the fact that my a lot of my research interests falls under the subfield of Geography called “geographies of memory,” my own personal memory of a lot of my childhood is rather limited. Maybe I just haven’t put enough effort into trying to recall a lot of the details (there are only so many hours in the day, after all!), but so much of my early life seems to have faded into mist (if I may be permitted to sound a bit Tolkien-esque for a minute…)]

Anyway, to the music!

Larnelle Harris’s 1986 album, From a Servant’s Heart (entire album on YouTube can be found here), while a bit short at only 9 songs amounting to 41 minutes of music, is nonetheless a masterpiece of 1980s early Contemporary Christian Music, before it largely devolved (in my “now-opinion”) to the more praise-chorusy, guitar and drums-driven simplicity of the ’90s (though at the time when I lived through it, I was very much in love with dc Talk…it’s so funny how tastes can change!) From a Servant’s Heart has very high production value, incredibly soulful singing (perhaps why Dad owned it and another Harris album on Cassette, though which one I’ve forgotten…), and excellent orchestration. Coincidentally, it was not until I researched David Phelps for yesterday’s post (after finding his video of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”) that I learned that both Phelps and Harris were one-time tenors for the Gaither Vocal Band, AND it was not until today—when looking up more about this particular album—that I remembered Harris has a version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as the last track on the album. The particular song I chose as representative of the album and this time in my early life is “I Miss My Time with You,” which Harris also released as a highly successful single. If you’ve never heard it before (entirely possible, as I would imagine it’s a bit obscure among mainstream music listeners?), get the Kleenex ready. 😉

The second song/album, to help you recover from ol’ Larnelle up there, is completely different! So much so, in fact, that I’m not even sure if the album was bought by one of my parents or both of them together or what! (Their musical tastes, as evidenced by their wide-ranging LP and cassette collection I recall seeing growing up, were quite varied.) The Doobie Brothers, if you’re not familiar with them, are a five-decade-spanning American rock band (so where’ve you been if you don’t know them?), but also with folk, blues, and soul influences/sounds over the years. They are one of those groups whose music is so popular that you “probably would recognize some of their songs, even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on the name of the band.” I’m actually not that familiar with their wider discography, having only every really listened to the greatest hits album, The Best of the Doobie (the earliest of their greatest hits albums, since they’ve gone on to continued success since it’s release). But what makes this whole album memorable (and this one I now own) is the combination of ear worms, contagious enthusiasm and largely upbeat (nearly all the songs are on my running playlist), and the excellent examples of how an ostensibly “rock” band can still have incredible vocal harmonies! Oh, and in the music videos, the AMAZING hair/facial hair! 😂🤣

Enjoy this one on full blast, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow for (at least) one more round of the soundtrack of Dr. Matt’s childhood!

14 Songs in 14 Days Facebook Challenge: Day 1, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”

In the midst of our ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, I find myself drawing inward, and while I am still perusing social media somewhat regularly (namely, Facebook and Twitter), I find that most of what I see there falls into one of three categories: 1) the news (which is generally terrifying), 2)  inane drivel meant to occupy the mind for a few minutes before moving onto the next shiny thing, or 3) brilliant posts from kind, generous, lovely people doing things to make the world a better place in whatever way they know how to do and can. I’ll let you guess which of these three keeps me coming back for more… 😁

Anyway, more to the point—I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. After some brainstorming, I came up with, well, far more than 14 songs, so some may be combined into the same day based on the time period in which they were most meaningful to my life. I’m thinking it makes sense to organize this roughly chronologically, so I’m starting out with the first piece coming from my early childhood—”His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

There are only about half a million video recordings of this song to choose from out there on the Internet (at least according to a Google search!), and that’s not including audio-only versions! Clearly it’s a popular song, and if you’re reading this, chance are you’ve at least heard it before. If not (or if you need to hear it again), enjoy this recording of David Phelps (fittingly chosen, he’s a tenor of Gaither Vocal Band fame):

This song stands out as one of many that I recall hearing on a regular basis growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, as a music minister’s kid (hi Dad!) It was one that he sang at various points as a solo, though I can’t remember what the occasions would be. Eventually, it became one that my sister would sing as well. I’m not really sure why (problems with nerves in front of audiences, perhaps!), but I never did much in the way of solo singing until I was in high school. Thank goodness I got over that. Mostly… 😁

As hinted at above, there’s more to come in this blog series, so I’ll be back with you tomorrow! I guess 2020 will be the most active year of my blog in a loooooong time!

Annual Post: A visit to yesteryear

Since it appears, I only ever have time to write on my blog about once every year, I've decided to call this my "Annual Post." Who knows if that will stick around...

It’s been a crazy summer. A two-week choir tour with EMU to Germany, Austria, and Poland, followed by a stay over in Poland to visit Katowice and Auschwitz. Then after getting back to the US, after only a couple days turnaround, I taught our annual Historic Preservation field school course at Cranbrook Educational Community. (Both of these “main events” were absolutely wonderful, by the way). So that was pretty much my May.

Then came June, which started with my first time experiencing the College Board’s Advanced Placement Human Geography exam reading, aka “Nerd Camp” aka “simultaneously the best week and the worst week of your life.” I’d say it was better than my expectations, given that they were so low, but it’s a balance staying in a swanky downtown hotel and hanging out with friends every night in Cincinnati with utterly terrible convention center food and reading high schoolers’ best attempts to butcher your love of your chosen discipline or at least make you rethink your life. (Okay, there might have been some hope for humanity among the the most ridiculous misunderstandings about geography put into words, but it was sparse.) The rest of June was a mad scramble, trying to complete two projects with near-simultaneously deadlines: teaching an online section of GEOG 110 World Regions (first time online; moving the content over was more time consuming than I thought it might be) and finishing revisions on a journal article that might see the light of day by the end of 2019…maybe! (It’s actually based on a chapter from my dissertation, still not published after three years, four or five rounds of revisions, and now at its third journal. Academic publishing isn’t exactly pretty, folks!)

Anyway, since those two major hurdles have wrapped up in the past week, I’ve taken it a little easier yesterday evening and today to have a mental reset. There’s still a lot to be done as far as my academic “put off ’til summer” list, the “I finally have time to take care of myself and see doctors/dentist/optometrist” list, and my other summer hopes and dreams (like relax and read for fun? What’s that?)—and all of that is exacerbated by Karen’s success in landing travel gigs this summer, leaving me in charge of dog/house/and baby chick sitting.

In the process of letting myself live a little yesterday and today, while filing away some of the handwritten notes I’d scribbled about this latest round of article revisions, I rediscovered a classic gem of yesteryear: a “That’s so Matt Cook” professional development journal from my first year or so in grad school. I don’t remember writing much of this at all, and honestly, the first few months of grad school seem like another lifetime ago…Fall 2010! That’s nearly a decade! But the “wisdom” I was so hastily scribbling down back then…wow: 1) I was super naive, like, painfully so! 2) So much of the advice I jotted down then is still 100 percent relevant today and to academia in general. Below, I copy over some of the best reminders and sage bits of wisdom I found in this blast from the past. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! My editorial comments from me in the present are [in brackets.]

Professional Development Ideas I

A Journal-resembling MindDump

Matt Cook
Sept. 02, 2010

Sept. 2, 2010

So here I am a grad student in geography. Trying to figure out what the heck it means to be a geographer, after all this time I thought I knew what I was doing. Grappling with things like ontology, epistemology, and methodology. My three new friends. Plus, of course, the paradigms. It’s a pretty hectic time.
Today in GEOG 504 (Professor Show & Tell) Micheline van Riemsdijk offered up some tidbits of wisdom, and then followed the ‘beloved’ 599 [the dreaded Geographic Thought course] in which we also talk about a few key points of professional development wisdom. The first point from Dr. v.R. [back when I was still young and naive and hadn’t pick up from her email signatures that it was okay to call her Micheline…she had to tell me in person after a couple months!] is to journal daily. And so here you go. +1 for me. As she herself admitted, though, it is not always easy to stick to this ingenious method of tracking thoughts (brilliant or otherwise) and trends in professional development. [I still don’t usually do this unless I’m super stressed and need to visualize the way-too-many things I’ve said yes to doing…]
The second point came from a discussion between Dr. Rehder and Dr. v.R. and that is to focus on your individual research and write daily. [Also easier said than done…believe me, I’ve tried. And failed. More times than I can count.] Rehder [may he rest in peace] said his goal was 2 hours a day [what the….how does anyone except people at R1s have time for that??? Granted, UTK is an R1…]; v.R. suggested a more modest “at least 15 minutes.”
And I would tend to agree with this assessment/charge/necessity, though (again) it doesn’t always happen. [If only you knew back then what you know now…] However, my thesis work has largely been relegated to the weekends so far in grad school, so this must change. [Ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…ugh]
The third piece of advice came out of a question from 599: How do you keep up all the literature (primarily journal articles) in your field(s) of specialization? Dr. Josh Inwood [also back when I called him Dr.] recommended the strategy of reading one new article every day during the week. 5 per week x 15 weeks a semester = 75. 150 per year, 300 in the course of master’s degree. And then so forth throughout your entire career. So that, too, am I resolving to do. I think I will first set out a course of action of what to read, but then I plan to jump in. My final thought for this entry comes not from classes today, but from Jeff Rogers [my main human geography mentor, advisor, and department head at UT Martin]: always be thinking five years down the road and know what goals will get you there. So with that, I have some goals. Some short, some long. All relevant.

[And shed a little tear here, y’all, because I only checked one box while I was still thinking about and using this journal…but how far I’ve come since then!]

  Learn and fully grasp ontology, epistemology, methodology, and their various forms in Geography. Timeframe: soon. [I teach this now; good thing I checked this one off at least!]
__ Write/research daily on thesis work. [Daily didn’t really happen, but I finished it!]
__ Get ahead in at least 1 class. [Does this ever happen?! I still can’t do it, and I’m the teacher now!]
__ Earn Master’s Degree. Timeframe: 2 yrs [Yay! Retroactively checking that one off!]
__ Earn Ph.D. Timeframe: 5-6 years. [Even more yay! Not only did I finish—I did it in 4!]
__ Find funding opps + start applying, for fieldwork this summer Timeframe: 2-3 weeks [Done and done. That fieldwork for my thesis—a month in Berlin—was unbelievably influential and those memories have largely stuck with me.]

That’s enough for tonight. Again, I’m amazed at how relevant so much of this is to my life today and to academia in general. Part of me wishes that I’d followed through a bit better on some of these ideas…no idea where I’d be now (probably at an R1 complaining about the tenure process—ha!) but I think that now with the benefit of 9 years of added perspective, I can say that I did what needed to be done, kept my sanity/finished grad school without any mental health issues, and didn’t pick up too many new bad habits! 😉 Perhaps I’ll return to some other other entries in this slim little journal for future blog posts.

An Artistically Satisfying, Emotionally Refreshing Weekend


This week in my GEOG 333/577 class (a mixed-undergraduate and graduate seminar with two different course titles, but essentially “Geographic Thought” or “History and Philosophy in Geography”), our discussion centered on Feminist Geographies. While I’m not going to take the time now to spell out the many brilliant contributions to the field that are included in Feminist Geographies, I did take time at the end of the seminar to highlight one Feminist concept that is particularly important for students right now as we approach the highpoint of the semester: the idea of self-care.

Now, the interesting thing there is that some scholars would no doubt argue that self-care, while highly important and recommended by feminists, actually comes from health care and mental health, but whatever—I’m not here to argue semantics.

Anyway, the point is: after a rather dark and depressing turn in our class discussion about how we frequently arrive on difficult topics in my classes, such as how to fight racism and patriarchy, I could sense that we were collectively approaching a point of exhaustion. For one, the class meets from 7:20–10 pm, and for another, discussing difficult topics can really wear on people emotionally, particularly if they aren’t used to engaging with difficult topics on a regular basis. So I ended the class, essentially, by modeling for students (without directly mentioning it by name) the concept of self-care. I said, something to the effect of:

Go home, hug your kids or pets, do something you love, and get some sleep. And then wake up tomorrow ready to fight on.

I swear I was probably more eloquent in class! As you might expect, I felt that this really reverberated with the students, and I subsequently experienced what many of us in the education world call a real “teaching high” moment.

And then I came home and made the mistake of looking at Facebook. And what I saw made me angry. So angry, I couldn’t go to sleep for a long time. I woke up on Friday, still trying to mentally move on from what I read from Facebook. Somewhat angry. Then I went to a two-plus hour faculty meeting, which ended with several less-than-pleasant announcements. Which made me angry all over again.

And then I made a conscious effort to engage in self-care. It is amazing what that decision can do.

I went to EMU Choir rehearsal and prepared for a concert.

Karen and I drove to the Detroit Athletic Club for an amazing dinner and evening with friends as we performed for our church’s annual parish dinner.

On Saturday, I slept in, and perhaps to my future peril (but present delight!) I truly took the day off. Yes, I now have a few extra emails to reply to tomorrow morning and a recommendation letter to write because I didn’t work…

But I made time for tea (and a lot of it to substitute for coffee, lest I get a caffeine headache later!) I turned on the TV and found that with our limited number of stations, I could watch the UT-Alabama game (though there was no need to finish watching…) I got chores done. Ate some really good meals with Karen. Got ready for a concert, and then shared in sheer music-making artistry with my new EMU Choir family—a truly special group of people.

Then this morning, after I accidentally over-slept a bit more than I intended, we drove to Detroit, again: this time to church to celebrate Mariner’s 175th anniversary with some absolutely stunning music. (If you have never listened to Charles Hubert Perry’s I was glad when they said unto me, please go rectify that immediately.) Then, as if the weekend weren’t already amazing enough, Karen and I also had the opportunity to see the Michigan Opera Theatre’s matinée production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which was fantastic. (Thanks, Ted, for the tickets!)

To top it all off, we ate supper at Cracker Barrel! (Insert witty phrase here about “you can take a person out of the South…)

So what is the point of this overly long-winded post, which, as always, I suspect all of five people will read?

Take the time to engage in self-care. When you do, don’t forget to be thankful for the time and opportunity you have to engage in it.

And then wake up tomorrow ready to fight on.

First EMU semester in the books

As of 6 p.m. yesterday, I wrapped up my first semester as an assistant professor at Eastern. It took a whole day of grading GEOG 107 exams (with some distractions, as I was also in the process of moving offices up to the main floor of Strong Hall) but I got my grades in two days early. I call that a win.

Despite a few initial moments of fear (and loathing, frustration, surprise, adjustment, etc.) in the first month or two of teaching, my first semester was ultimately a very rewarding and overall positive. There was only one day I wanted to quit or at least pull my hair out—the time when I got back from a long weekend of fieldwork about six weeks into the semester to find my office desk covered with my entire collection of academic books that a mold remediation company was allegedly going to “be very good about keeping organized.” Yeah… that didn’t happen. Oh, and the mold remediation? Took about twice as long as predicted, and no one’s quite sure that it won’t happen again, except that our building is supposed to be renovated starting next summer, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. (And state legislature-willing, too.)

It’s taking some “getting-used-to” to adjust to the heavy teaching load here, and I’m not even at four courses per semester yet. It’s a balancing act to be sure, and my research and writing have certainly slowed.


The good news is that we have four months off in the summer…imagine how productive that could end up being!

But other than that, plus a day of trying to figure out what on Earth to do about staying positive after the election, the semester can decidedly go in the “Win” column. I like it here. I like my new colleagues, I love my students (well, most of them—but that’s no different from teaching at UT Knoxville!), I love our new-found singing opportunities and church, and I’m starting to love the area, too. I even think I can survive the winters, just with lots of driving patience, Kleenex, and hand lotion. Seriously—I thought my hands were falling apart in Knoxville during the winters… Oh, and possibly a bigger humidifier. We’re running that thing 24/7!

Anyway, as much as I have missed (and definitely continue to miss) Knoxville and all our friends there—and it’s just about the only place I can think of where a job could tempt me away—I think I will do well here. And that’s very reassuring. (But ask me about it again later when I’m closer to my tenure review!)

In the meantime, while you’re here, look around the site and let me know what’s missing. I always have the best ideas and plans for the website but never the time and energy to get around to it.

30 by 30—Updates left and right!

Twenty-nine years of age has come (happy belated birthday to me…), and some major life changes along with it! Most of you know that I’ve finished up my dissertation this semester at UT Knoxville and applied for, been offered, and accepted a job as an assistant professor in the Historic Preservation program in Eastern Michigan University’s Geography and Geology Department. That checks a few major boxes off of 30 by 30 list, and since I’ve had a spare couple of minutes to update my website, I thought I could spit out a quick update on the 30 by 30 list! (Speaking of, what do you think of the updates? New landing page for the front of the website, moved the blog posts to a separate page, updated research interests, CV, etc.)

So here’s the list as we stand now:

√ Chicago
√ Quebec
√ Charleston/Edisto Island
France and Belgium (Coming soon! In June!)
√ San Francisco

I never got around to blogging much about vacation on Edisto Island last summer or about fieldwork in the Charleston area twice this semester for the NSF-funded fieldwork on plantations, but suffice to say all of those trips were extremely rewarding and useful trips. San Fransisco for the 2016 AAG Conference was also a lot of fun and beneficial to my career—it’s the first one where I’ve gotten and accepted job offer! Plus my talk went well, I organized a photo exhibit, attended some great sessions, did some speciality group service stuff… Oh, and got to explore an incredibly city with Karen! Photos at some point…I promise!

√ Earn my PhD (graduation this coming Thursday!)
Seven publications (Five down, four in the works at various stages right now, plus one waiting in the wings to be written next!)
√ Land a job
Month-long photo challenge (maybe this summer?)
√ Purchase a professional, tailored suit (okay, it was not exactly tailored, but two matching suit separates that look great together is close enough in my book!)

√ Talk theology with a minister
√ Volunteer for a good cause
Read the entire Bible (got started on this last year, started to really slow down somewhere around Psalms or Proverbs…)
Study the Methodist Hymnal (This has been ongoing, but hopefully I’ll find time to finish this before they make a new one…)
Fast for 24 hours (And not just because of a colonoscopy, cholesterol, or other medical test!)

√ See another Broadway show — Godspell
√ Sing in another opera
Sing karaoke…but maybe just once
Go to a (non-classical) concert
Learn a new instrument or pickup an old one

(Honestly, of all the categories on my list… those last three music items might be the hardest to find the time/gumption to complete!)

Just for Fun
52 in 52 book challenge (Probably going to be difficult to make time for, too)
Hike Mt. LeConte (This summer! It’s got to happen before we move!)
Watch a dozen classic films
Watch a meteor shower
√ Baseball at Turner Field

A couple of substitutes if things don’t work out
Throw a huge 30th birthday party? (Not sure if this will really be worth it…)
Baseball at ___________________? (Seems like copycatting from above, but we will be moving to an entirely new area of the country soon…)

30 by 30—2015 Year End Update

434 days.
62 weeks.
37,497,600 seconds.

That’s how long I have before I hit 30 (and thus the amount of time I have to complete my 30 by 30 list!)

Even more scary is the fact that I have only 112 days to complete my dissertation if I want to graduate on time, which by the way IS part of the professional category of my 30 by 30. So where do I stand? Here’s where I was the last time I remembered to swing by my website:

√ Chicago
√ Quebec
Charleston/Edisto Island (this will be my next blog post, coming soon hopefully!)
France and Belgium
San Francisco

I can now check off Charleston/Edisto Island from the travel category, though I never blogged about it. Vacation 2015 was lovely, and quite possibly one of my all-time favorites. It’s a lot of fun to vacation with the niece and nephew (and their parents and Mimom and Grandaddy are pretty nice, too!) With that vacation, plus some serious family time this Christmas (both my side and Karen’s side, as I write this at Karen’s grandparents’ house!), I think I can safely check off another big (and certainly ongoing) item from the personal category: spend time with family. I’ve also been able to check off some items from the Musical, Spiritual, and Just for Fun categories this year. It’s been a great start to the list, and looking back in total, a year of great accomplishments.

Here’s where the list stands (again, not giving it away in full!) heading into 2016, with some comments:

√ Spend time with family

Earn my PhD
Seven publications (no really—I’ve already got five if you count the two book reviews, with three more dissertation chapters and a third book review under development!)
Land a job
Month-long photo challenge
Purchase a professional suit (perhaps a bit vain of me, but I’ve been waiting to lose some weight first…and hey, forthcoming job interviews are maybe not all wishful thinking and pipe dreams, right??)

√ Talk theology with a minister—Thanks, Rev. Matt Hampton!
√ Volunteer for a good cause (more on this if I ever get around to it, but suffice to say that volunteering at Church Street’s Soup Kitchen has been one of the most meaningful, amazing additions to my life this year!)

√ Chicago
√ Quebec
France and Belgium (forthcoming, summer 2016!)
√ Charleston/Edisto Island
San Francisco (forthcoming, March/April 2016!)

√ See another Broadway show — Godspell (I don’t care if it was staged in the Church Street Parish Hall, it was an amazing production!)
√ Sing in another opera—Knoxville Opera’s production of Boito’s Mefistofele (sure, I was just in the auxiliary heavenly chorus, but it was fun!)

Just for Fun
52 in 52 book challenge—this may never happen at my current reading rate!
Hike Mt. LeConte—seriously HAVE to do this in 2016
Watch a dozen classic films—now taking suggestions!
Watch a meteor shower?—or something else if the opportunity does not astronomically present itself…
√ Baseball at Turner Field—finally checked this stadium off of my MLB travel list, now up to a grand total of Busch Stadium II & III (STL), Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City), Nationals Park (D.C.), and Turner Field (ATL). So many more stadiums to visit…I’m looking at you next, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati!

TTFN! There’s life to be lived (and dissertation chapters to be written…!) Much love and best wishes to my readership (all, like, four of you) in 2016.

Geographic Musings