Rant moratorium?

I see them every now and then – furious complaints or snappy comebacks about student behavior, posted or shared by college professors on social media. Sometimes they’re pretty funny. Overall, though, they bring me down.

Here’s a thought: What if we abstained from posting nastygrams about our students, just for this semester?

Students have thrown some curveballs my way, but many have left me open-mouthed in amazement. I’m talking about students who revealed they were the first person in their family to set foot on a college campus; a student who wrote a gorgeous short story out of the blue, because something in the assignment touched him; students reading ahead in the assigned book because they got so into it.

If I succumb to the seduction of a social media rant, I degrade those stories. I feel only the anger of the injustice and the momentary boost from Facebook cheerleaders.

If you’re not convinced that a rant moratorium has merit, consider this: Acting like a cad isn’t just for students.

In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay presents a beautifully humble essay on her first year of teaching college students. She writes:

Sometimes, during class, I catch students staring at their cell phones beneath their desks like they’re in a cone of invisibility. It’s as funny as it is irritating.

…Sometimes, when students are doing group work, I sneak a look at my own phone like I am in a cone of invisibility. I am part of the problem.
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Election Year Tweet Thoughts: A sample assignment

Here’s an example of the Week 3 assignment for ENG 360. This one is an analysis of tweets from two DC City Council reps during the 2016 election year. 

To start off your own assignment, add an intro to the analysis you’re about to provide.

[^ I embedded this tweet. If you don’t know how to embed, you can screenshot and add a link to the original tweet ^]

In this tweet, Ward 4 city council rep Brandon Todd shares several images of himself with constituents in the first week of school. There are four images total, including one with a child and parent or guardian; two with just children; and one with what appears to be a teacher or school administrator.

I think Todd is keeping in mind the diversity of the ward he represents and, specifically, the audience that would be following him on Twitter. He selected a STEM-focused school, and made his layout balanced both visually and conceptually. [FURTHER ANALYSIS, USING THIS WEEK’S READING, WOULD GO HERE]


Here, rep Mary Cheh tweets in honor of National Dog Day. She shows one photo of a dog-owning constituent wearing a Mary Cheh T-shirt and other shot of just a pooch.

I think Che’s intended audience was the thousands of dog lovers and dog owners in DC. [INSERT MORE ANALYSIS HERE]

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Publication: Family Farm Camp in the Jewish Daily Forward


In a new article for the Jewish Daily Forward, I visit a family camp at the Pearlstone Center. Check it out:

Pearlstone Does Farm-to-Table Family Style


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Advice for allies

Attendees at Beyond the Hashtag event held on DC's U Street in July 2016. Photo by Rhea.

Attendees at Beyond the Hashtag, held on DC’s U Street in July 2016. Photo by Rhea.


How to be an ally when I see LGBTQ people killed in a mass shooting in Orlando? How to support the Black Lives Matter movement and the black community as black men and women are killed by police?

As a straight, white woman, I’ve grappled with the ally role. In the hopes of evolving as an ally, I sought advice. In this post, I want to share that with you. This post is about listening to and amplifying the ideas of people in the thick of it (because it’s not my place to try to articulate ideas). It’s also about what allies are saying to each other.

Many thanks to those who offered their advice and shared their experiences.

While this post focuses on how to be an ally to the LGBTQ community and the black community, I acknowledge and mourn for law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.


Readings to start

Personal comments

I recently asked my Facebook universe, “What is the best advice for allies of the LGBTQ community and black community? Feel free to share readings and your own thoughts.”

Bold below added for emphasis

Valeria wrote:

 The first that I can think of is for non-POC [people of color] members of the LGBTQ community to use their privilege in being vocal advocates for all the Trans women of color who have been murdered (and continue to be murdered!). Definitely supporting and advocating for policies that protect them.

You can find information on policies against violence from the National Center for Transgender Equality. This also addresses the intersectionality of being trans and a person of color. GLAAD addresses more subtle forms of violence with resources for allies and for journalists.


Also from Facebook

David wrote:

As a “person of privilege,” the thing that’s seemed most appreciated is asking communities what I can do, rather than assuming I know best.
Some answers, no asking necessary:

Especially for white women

A friend recently shared White Women’s Tears and the Men Who Love Them, by Robin DiAngelo. That concept led me to  White Women, Please Don’t Expect Me to Wipe Away Your Tears, by Stacey Patton. These pieces carried uncomfortable but but important messages for me.

From a friend of a friend on Facebook

A colleague and friend recommended I look at Sami Schalk’s posts, which included the one below.

Note: The author made this Facebook status public to share. I’ve removed the names of people mentioned in the status because I haven’t obtained permission from them. 

I want to take a moment to acknowledge white and non-black allies. Here are some things allies have done for me recently that are meaningful. I share these not so much to give these folks their anti-racist cookies but more to demonstrate ways that ally behavior can occur. Note that these are ally behaviors I have been direct witness to but equally important are the things white allies do among other white people with no people of color to witness their acts.

Today, after a traumatic day yesterday for national and personal reasons, [JW] sent me a simple text telling me they were thinking about me and love me. (This immediately made me cry)

Today, when I commented on posts by [LM] and [SG]asking them to edit so images of violence against black bodies would not appear in people’s news feeds, they each immediately responded simply and directly with: thank you for telling me. I’m sorry. I will change it. No qualifiers. No arguing. No self flagellation or self congratulations.

Today, after I posted several suggested reading links in the comments of one of my posts, [CO] reposted them all and gave me acknowledgement for gathering the information she shared.

Yesterday, after my first post about recent events, [LR] messaged me privately asking if she could share my words, with or without my name attached, so she could center black voices on this matter.

Earlier this year when I was getting a lot of online harassment, [JN]and [MK] monitored my Twitter account and blocked people for me until things quieted down so I didn’t have to read any more racist attacks against me.

Over a year ago (but it was a nice moment that sticks in my head), I was at a party where a white woman I didn’t know came up to me and first asked me if I sang gospel and then proceeded to touch my hair without permission. This occurred in front of three white friends and afterward, [MPB] said he never knows what to do in situations like that and asked what I would want white allies to do when that occurs. I said I personally just want someone to get me away from that offending individual as quickly as possible and continue to keep them away from me. I don’t need white allies to fight battles for me in front of me, but there are ways to deflect and protect that are hugely useful. (note this is my personal feelings on this, other POCs may want something different when racism occurs in front of them)

Allies, show your support, be willing to learn, apologize when you hurt someone (even accidentally), educate yourselves, ask the POCs around you what they need, acknowledge and center POC voices and labor. Every action matters. Every silence is not merely a missed opportunity, it is violence. Resist complacency even when you are scared. Even when you don’t know what to do. Even when you have made mistakes. Keep trying. It matters.

This is Rhea again. If you’re still reading, thank you. I hesitate to paraphrase or summarize these sources. A message I see over and over, though, is that hate and inequality manifest in microscopic and monumental ways. I also get the message that allies can help to chip away at these problems. I hope that’s true.


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What I’m Doing this Summer (or: How Not to Pitch an Agent)

angel/cherub statue reading a book on the grass - https://pixabay.com/en/the-statue-of-angel-art-boy-1398281/

Image by Diego Torres via Pixabay


Wondering what I’m doing this summer? Here’s the story behind one project.

It all started in April, when I took a crash course in pitching an agent. I had registered for Books Alive! 2016, presented by the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a local conference with workshops, speakers, a book fair, and book signings.  It also features the coveted Agent Speed Pitches.

My goal was to brush off a journalism fellowship proposal about Judaism and food, make a book proposal out of it, and convince an agent to love it in five minutes or less. Soon, I’d be on my way to a book deal.

It’s not hard to do what I did. Just follow the simple steps below.

How Not to Pitch an Agent

    1. With about six days to go before your book proposal must be ready, discover that six days is a preposterously inadequate amount of time to write a book proposal.*
    2. Write a good query letter. While working, sing a little song about how the kindly agent will adore your query, swoop in, and help you write that pesky proposal.
    3. Do not use a single sentence from your query letter. Instead, craft a pitch from it and use that pitch.
    4. Practice the pitch on nonfiction writers, novelists, and your cat. At least one out of three will give constructive feedback. Treat the other two to a rendition of that song about your guardian agent.
    5. At 6:45 am on the day of the pitch sessions, as the Uber waits downstairs, decide to print your query letter after all. Clutch the letter close throughout the morning.
    6. Use the pitch on agents — the ones assigned to you for speed-pitch sessions as well as the one who magically asks you about your book while you sit around the lunch table. That last one will listen intently until you must both stop for the keynote by Bob Woodward.
    7. Note the questions the agents ask and suggestions they make about structure. Note also how said questions and suggestions are not at all consistent.
    8. Note also how, though the agents are all wonderful people, not one extended a cloud-like wing to envelope you.
    9. Rejoice that several agents asked to see either a sample chapter or full book proposal.
    10. Realize this is better than a guardian agent. Also understand that you must produce a book proposal.
    11. Attempt to write a book proposal. Take more than six days to do it.
    12. Start now.

So there you have it. The Book Proposal (incorrect capitalization for Emphasis) is one of my projects. I look forward to posting updates.


*Why inadequate? Thanks to author friends Michael Chorost and Fran Hawthorne (plus online searching), I learned that a book proposal comprises some 50 to 60 pages of details. It covers the content, author, and market. Sample chapters also go in there. As you can imagine, a normal human can’t do this overnight. If you’re interested in more information, here’s a great guide from Zimmerman Literary.

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If X Were Your Y

If X were your Y

For your reading list

If you’re prone to binge reading, close this tab right now.

Think you can handle it? Here it comes: Check out the Toast’s If X Were Your Y. This section caught my eye with If LaVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma Were Your Dads by Nicole Chung and Karissa Chen. Then I read another piece. And another. You could say it’s my latest obsession.

The premise is as simple as one phrase: “If ___ were your ___.” Writers fill out that phrase, and then take it to its logical – and then far beyond logical – conclusions. With that Chung-Chen piece, the idea led to passages like:

If LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, when you were a kid, every time you had a question about anything (“How do you spell ‘loquacious’?” “Do sharks sleep with their eyes closed?”), LeVar Burton would tell you to take a look, it’s in a book. And when you complained about how annoying Dad was being, Yo-Yo Ma would play a slow, sad song on the cello, and they’d laugh at you (never unkindly) as you stomped away.

Logical enough. But did you know “if LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, your orchids would never die, no matter how much you overwatered them”? That one waves to logical as it passes, keeps going, and ends up three galaxies away. Another great one: If Justin Bieber Were My Terrible, Golden Son. Continue reading

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Writer mothers


Photo from Pexels.com, used under Creative Commons license CC0

Last year, I had a lesson in writing as a woman. I want to share it today, in a pre-Mother’s Day post.

The lesson started at a reading by Mary Gordon, an author I’d known in my childhood. To me, Mary was my friend’s mom. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how most people identify her: As a famous writer of novel and memoir, a professor of writing at a prestigious New York school.

When the Q and A commenced, I popped up to the mic and asked Ms. Gordon, essentially, how she did it all. How was she the parent who fed us dinner and a creative force to boot? How could she embody both mother and writer? Continue reading

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