final exam questions

It’s only after printing out all the exams that I think of all the questions I really should have included. Like the one about the Ferris wheel and what the scale reads while you’re traveling at the top of its rotation. Or, what’s the angle of an inclined plane that a red ball is rolling down? Or, how is your sister doing? I’ve been meaning to ask. What keeps you up at night? What Muppet character do you think best represents your true self? What are your real aspirations, besides passing this tiresome exam? And, most important, if you could play bass with any band, who would it be—assuming you could play bass? And would you even like to play bass, or would it be some other instrument? What are your most fanciful hopes and dreams, anyway?

Of course I should have asked these or so many other questions. But instead I’ve squandered the opportunity and have asked them to calculate how long a ball will be in the air.



I just deleted the paragraph I initially thought should lead into this. It was just blather holding off the inevitable. It’s best just to run headfirst and full speed into an image like this:

I found Karyn’s image, set twelve years ago in Canyonlands, as I was working through photos for other projects and presentations, and this one in particular kicked me in that soft spot right under the ribs. There we are, me trying to frame a photo and the girls there just as I know them and just as they are not. Vastness of horizon and deep cuts in Earth pair with the foreboding, encroaching ceiling. The Colorado River has patiently removed all the land beneath us, one grain at a time, having all the time in the world. We get to experience this outlook: here is the immensity of time and space, even as it etches away imperceptibly.

I just deleted the paragraph I initially thought should conclude this. All I have is just the image of the subtle, slow trawl of geological time and the whiplash blink of an eye, together in the same frame.

grading Jesus

I try not to pay attention to it,
but I can’t help seeing his Name
there at the top of the page when
I get to his exam in the stack.

He does Good Work, but here
he dropped a minus sign and
forgot to multiply by distance;
but I pause a moment to make sure
I’m correctly evaluating the mistake.

Because, really, who am I to judge?
I continually second-guess my marks
on any student’s paper, but here, now,
especially considering it’s Jesus?
“Blessed are the merciful,” I hear,

and I reconsider his test score
— and everyone else’s, too.
Who am I to judge?

open heart

For perfectly understandable reasons, the prospects of open heart surgery terrify her, even paralyze next steps and actions.

She says she’s afraid of the pain inherent in the recovery, the havoc this would have on her body, the unabledness that she’d experience for some months.

My suspicion is that it’s deeper than that. She’s kept everything so guarded, so buried, for so long that I imagine she’s worried about what else they might find: something that her closed self and thick walls have kept she didn’t want to reveal, maybe something she didn’t know herself.

Or maybe she doesn’t know what else an open chest might let in, as though it could be too much for her heart to bear.

senior housing

I heard today about a college campus where the university students were charged with the planning and design of a retirement village adjacent to their campus. The presenter quipped that this was a good way for the university to give their students a “cradle to grave” experience. We all laughed, a little, nervously.

For me, I started to wonder if this meant it could be possible that I could really spend my entire life on a campus, tied to the educational facility, full circle back to the “dorm life” of my youth, the place where we met. I wonder if you and I would get to share a room, if there would be parties on Friday nights, that first toke on a pipe passed around the circle of our wrinkled fingers and sagging skin.

And maybe as memory fades and the circuitry starts to short, if there will be a piano in the empty common area, if you will walk by while I play alone in the dark, if my fingers will still know where to walk when my mind doesn’t know exactly where the rest of me is. You’ll sit alongside, thick glasses to complement my hearing aids. The piano will be out of tune and the A below low C will be worn to the wood, but I’ll play the 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 waltz and imagine that we could dance if only my hips would let me. And that would be all; that would be enough.

on saying no

I just completed my evaluation for the past year, and it was acknowledged that I’m doing enough. Plenty, in fact. And in this instance, as with so many others, I was given reassurance and even encouragement that I can and should say “no” to requests for my time.

I’ve been working on it.

When Kid G texted me at 9:58 this morning with the single line, “Do you want to accompany me for my solo at school?” I immediately replied that I’d love to. I didn’t ask what the music was or even what key it was in; and I didn’t crack wise hoping that it’s a Billy Joel cover for clarinet.

I’ll work on saying “no” another time. For now, I need to practice a new piano piece.

reason to move

She said she’s moving before she can finish my class. To Montana, she said. Her dog on the leash, ready to jump in the car and make the trek, waited patiently, tongue slack and eyes as big as teacups, like in the Hans Christian Andersen story I vaguely remember. “I need to meet Jesus,” she explained. And then she tripped on this and continued: “For a second time, actually. It didn’t stick so well the first go ‘round.” And then, seconds later, she was out the door and on her way, leash in hand, salvation on the horizon.


Today, I accumulated students’ first drafts of original scientific research and prepared to send it all out for peer review. In the stack I found the best title ever:

Ooziness of Slime on an Inclined Plane

There are days when I question my purpose in life. Today, however, there is no question. I’ve pushed someone to define ooziness, on an inclined plane, even. And, they’ve justified it with data.

Maybe I’m making the world a better place after all. We all have our unique purpose.

exam fidgets

In each class there’s a wide variety. Head scratchers are prevalent. Nose twitchers and calculator tappers. Head shaking and involuntary sighs are embedded into the lecture hall landscape. There’s always one person with long hair who pull the strands forward, a left hand joining the right to stroke downward between fingers, as if to prime some thinking. There’s the typical eraser-end of pencil to the upper lip, or to the side of the cheek, or sometimes (my favorite) to the center of the forehead. Finger twiddling of a pencil is common. Sometimes you get an olympic level twirler of the writing instrument. Usually it’s just single rotations during an exam, but I’ve seen people go for the 720, even thirty-five minutes into the test. There’s the sideways glances, not really looking to get an answer from another, but simply some deeply ingrained survival mechanism at the height of stress, checking for predators ready to pounce.

presentation attenuation

“We would love for you to give your presentation to our group.”

I loved giving that presentation and I would love chance to present it again.

“We meet from 7:30 to 8:30. Just let us know what date works for you.”

Perfect. That’s a great time for me, and here’s a good day in March. I’ll work on the presentation for that hour.

Weeks later, after I check in to confirm the event that week: “We’ll help you get setup at 7:30. The group will start to arrive then.”

Okay. I can start after everyone gets settled.

“We’ll all be assembled by 7:45.”

Okay. I can start then.

“We’ll have some networking to do from 7:45 until about 8:00. You can plan to start at about 8:00. Or so.”


“We’ll go until 8:30. Just be sure to leave some time for questions.”