Consolation for the Coming Dark

Call it what you want–global weirding,
climate change–it’s just flat-out wrong
to hit 80 degrees in mid-October, in Wisconsin,
mosquitoes swarming like it’s June.
Humid muck and sweat, it makes me long for snow,
reconciles me to the dimming of the light.

The third trimester has to be ungodly
uncomfortable, the backaches, the chafing,
the raw, red stretch marks. The pain
that’s coming seems at that point,
if not nothing, then at least something
bearable, something, anything, better
than lumbering around. Just get it out.

The love that died,
the job that changed,
the tree that lost its leaves.
Rusted muffler,
curdled milk,
worn out shoes.
The show that jumped the shark,
the friend who wouldn’t go home,
the skirt that fell out of style.
Insufficient postage
on the Star Wars stamp
you found in your desk.

What’s next and what’s enough and when
will all of this seem clear and would a funeral help?
To signal things are different now,
I know it’s different now,
the past is done, I know it’s done,
I’m ready to move on?
Tomorrow’s wonderful and awful
and so’s today and is tomorrow’s sunrise,
possibly orange and pink and lovely,
any kind of consolation for the coming dark?

I’ve been enjoying Rob Bell’s podcast lately. He had Peter Rollins on a couple times (always blows my mind) and then a great one on Seasons, which made me think maybe we should have a funeral at my workplace, for the way things used to be.

See, budget cuts have made this a very different place to work. In the classroom it’s much the same (wonderful as always, I tell people, and it’s true), but outside class–really different. We’re functioning, for the most part, doing our best, but it’s really, really different.

Then I decided, no, we shouldn’t have a funeral, because there are already enough people worried my sweet little campus will close.  I don’t think it will close, and having a funeral wouldn’t have meant that I was thinking it would close, but I could imagine someone seeing it that way.

Having a funeral would have meant I understand the past is gone.   Whatever was, isn’t now.  Having a funeral would have meant I could feel what I’m feeling, really give it full vent, and then move on.  Look around and see things with clearer eyes.

So, no funeral.  But I might write down a couple things I particularly miss, and light them on fire in my backyard, and tell them goodbye.  I might sing a little song.  I might read this out loud, from Ecclesiastes 3:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

And then just because the changes at work come from budget cuts of which I don’t approve, I might also read this one from Ecclesiastes 9:11:

“the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to those with understanding, nor yet favour to those with skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

And then I think I might feel better. Or maybe not.




Totally on top of things! Oh, except for

I’ve done something today that I have almost never done in almost 30 years of teaching. I finished grading a set of skill check assignments for my Creativity & Problem-Solving class, and the moment I finished them–BAM!  I am 100% caught up with grading.  There is nothing for me to grade, not even if I wanted to (which I almost never do, which is why this almost never happens).

Here’s how the rest of the day was supposed to go–I’d finish grading, work on my to do list for next week and do a Sunday meeting a day early, take a hot bath (it’s a nice, chilly October day here in Wisco), and then eat some supper and head to American Players Theatre to see Beckett’s Endgame, with some of my absolute favorite APT actors.

Except, when I bothered to actually look at my calendar, and then the actual ticket–it was a matinee. And of course the matinee had already begun.  I suppose I could’ve rushed out & gotten seated, but wow did I not want to do that in the very small, very intimate Touchstone Theater.

So, oh well.   The nice thing is that I got results yesterday from the battery of cognitive tests I took in September to get a baseline of my functioning.  My dad has Alzheimer’s, so I wanted to know what my baseline was, but I was also curious about various brain-farts and space-outs I had over the last couple of years.  The doctor I talked to yesterday said all of those could be attributed to being a middle-aged working mother who has a stressful job. He further said that almost all my test results were superior. Only one where I was on the low end of average.

Here’s the test I didn’t ace. It’s called Trail Making, and you have to draw a line from number to number, in order.  I remember not liking the test.  I remember feeling kind of dumb.  And bored. The visual part of it is part of what makes it make sense to me I was slower–I just don’t process things visually that well. But here’s a weird twist–the next test is harder because you have to do letters and numbers in order: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, etc., and I did better on that one, apparently. It doesn’t surprise me, really–more challenging = more interesting to me.

And yes, now that I’ve found it online, I want to try it again and see if I get a better score.

Still, overall–very glad of the timing of the consult with the psychiatrist yesterday, so  I can, with confidence, attribute today’s space-out to just spacing out. It’s not a sign of any kind of decline. It’s only the second time in all my years of going to APT that I forgot I had matinee tix.

So no reason to freak out. And also, I’m really, really blissed out about being caught up with my grading. This bliss will last until Monday when I get two sets of essays and another skill check assignment.

Good news and bad news.  Like the rose below.  I dug it up when they redid the  street in front of my house and I really thought I had totally killed it, but n0–there’s a scraggly bit of rose that’s alive. The bad news is how sad my garage looks.  And yet–I’m caught up with grading.


Foreground: mostly dead rose. One skinny living bit. And a sad garage.

Where is the Wisconsin Idea?


The Wisconsin Idea is pretty simple. It means that whatever wonderful stuff goes on in a UW classroom, or lab, or program—that wonderful stuff should be shared. It has to leave campus. Almost everyone who talks about the Wisconsin Idea quotes an early UW president, Charles Van Hise, who said “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the state.” (I misquote that in my head as the “beneficent arm” and I kind of picture a weird cartoon in my head of a giant arm reaching in through someone’s kitchen window.  Now that I think about it, not really what I’m going for here. Nevermind about the arm.)

The Wisconsin Idea is the basis for the UW Extension, and all kinds of community service, all over the state. It’s a huge part of what makes the UW and Wisconsin wonderful.

Sometimes people talk about “sifting and winnowing” as the Wisconsin Idea, but technically, that’s from a plaque from the Board of Regents, or at least some of them, in 1894, and I think it’s the UW System mission statement (or maybe just UW Madison?), and it’s a part of state law. (Changing that is what a certain so-and-so called a “drafting error,” but which is actually a totally different category of error.)

So that’s what it is.  I was wondering how cool it would be if we could talk to each other not so much about WHAT it is, but WHERE it is.

I asked for help from these youngsters, who found the Wisconsin Idea in Arena.


What I’m hoping is that more people will find the Wisconsin Idea, and make videos, and challenge other people to find it. People can use the hashtag #wefoundtheWisconsinIdea and tag me @MarnieDresser and post on Where is the Wisconsin Idea?.

The format I’m imagining for the videos is pretty short & simple:

We found the Wisconsin Idea in _____________.

(Explain how something from the UW helped some way, any way, OUTSIDE the UW.)

We challenge _______ and __________ and __________ to find the Wisconsin Idea!

(Merriment and confetti entirely appropriate.  Youngsters and community members and current students and former students most definitely appropriate.)

**I’m especially hoping 4-Hers will do videos because 1) 4H is awesome, 2)4H can be VERY creative, and  3)4H just simply IS the Wisconsin Idea.

Who’s the audience for this?  The people who make the videos–it’s a way for them to articulate for themselves what the Wisconsin Idea really does for them, right where they are.  Also for faculty and staff–there are a lot of negative messages out there about the work we do, and these should all be positive.

Beyond that, if there are people who don’t know what the idea is, or don’t understand why it’s important, well–these videos should make that clearer.

Will this spread like I want it to?  Will my one little raindrop be joined by others and turn into a rainshower? A downpour? A gullywasher?

Will other voices join my voice, or will it just be this one little voice? (Can’t help thinking of Barry Manilow.  Love that song, actually.  But I won’t post a video because the work he’s had done just makes me miss his 1970s nose.)

Maybe it’ll only ever be this one little video.  Even so–the Wisconsin Idea is out there. I know it is.  Want to help me show where?



Purgatory, Kentucky (done?)

It got to where I couldn’t see a way
ahead except for dying. So I went.
Or, so I came. Just where, I couldn’t say.
It’s odd. Some kind of grass, or cane, all bent
this way and that, slick at the root,
and spiky sharp half the time, black as coal,
but soft enough to lie down in, some spots.
I’d have slept more, but my dreams are full
of nasty animals and dead presidents.
I got attacked by a whole fleet of armadillos
in a river. An armada. Is that what you call it?
Abraham Lincoln himself chopping wood. “Hello
Mr. Penny Man,” I said. He spoke not a word.
But this ain’t Hell. Of that I am assured.

This ain’t hell. Of that I am assured.
Would there be moderately cold beer or
would they let me keep my truck if torture
was on the agenda for now and ever after?
You might say yes, but I think not. No way.
I will admit that I have odd dreams.
But nothing scary, really. Nothing mean.
Just weird. Like a really long nap in the middle of the day.
There’s not much else to do. I could reflect
on all my trials and tribulations, the error
of my ways, but where would be the profit in that?
The wicked queen’s mistake was looking in the mirror.
She couldn’t rest in her own head and let
the young ones be the ones to stew and fret.

The young ones are the ones who stew and fret,
yes, even here they do. I tell them to relax,
but I do recall what it was like, to be fraught
with longing for a certain someone’s kiss,
the way a particular set of hard calluses
could raise a wave of shivers on my skin,
then one touch later heat me up fast,
so hot for more, I would do anything….
There is no profit in that kind of thought.
The man whose hands I speak of is not here.
I’ve grown restless all the sudden, not
full of life, I wouldn’t say, just bored.
Turns out I dislike it, this world without end.
The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand everything I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

I got myself in gear and got in line
but wow, this line’s not moving. Not at all.
Then suddenly I’m hearing “Begin the Beguine”
a song I didn’t even know I knew. There’s a swell
of trumpets and what is that? An oboe? I don’t know.
And now a woman in a cape has stopped
by my truck. She’s a nun. So I guess it’s not a cape.
She says she’s a Beguine. Go with the flow
is what I’m thinking. There. We’re moving some.
The nun is in my truck. She sings along
to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” I only hum.
I never could remember all the words to a song.
And now we’re going slow again, so slow
we might be backing up. I just don’t know.

We might be backing up. I just don’t know
if I’m alive or dead, asleep, awake–
but then, my whole life (a hundred years ago)
has been like that, blurry on the day-to-day
and sharp, in focus, only now and then.
Is that depression? Or is it being dumb
about what matters? I kind of drift along
a lot. My favorite thing was being at home,
just doing nothing, which is why my house is a mess.
Or was a mess. I’m sure it’s still a mess.
I’m the only one who ever cleaned.
But if I’m dead, what’s home? That’s what I mean.
There’s really nothing left to do but pray.
It’s gotten to where I cannot see the way.


I began writing this crown of sonnets in April of 2013, as part of National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo.  I’m slow.  I would remember it every now and then and add a sonnet to it.

It’s a curious project–it began as a challenge sonnet when I was on my way to Manitowoc to do a reading.  I can’t remember all the parts of the challenge, though I think Abraham Lincoln was in it, and I definitely remember my friend Becky asking that I include Boyd Crowder’s hair.


This is Walton Goggins, who played Boyd Crowder on Justified. On the show, I think Boyd used more hair product. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I loved Justified so much, putting Boyd in the poem opened all sorts of possibilities. I immediately heard the voice of Mags Bennett, played by the amazing Margo Martindale (one of the best villains with one of the best story arcs in all of tv land, ever). That’s why it was Purgatory, Kentucky.

But as I wrote it, I was less and less sure of Mags’ voice in the poem, or the need to have her narrate, so I’ve revised a lot of that out of it.

It doesn’t have much to do with Kentucky at this point, so I’ll probably change the title. It could be Purgatory, Illinois.  The outhouse portion happened in Southern Illinois, which is itself sort of a blurry place, not entirely southern, not entirely midwestern…  I actually like the sound of Purgatory, Illinois.

In any case, I believe the draft is done, and that means that I’ve now written four crowns–“Mothering God” was the first, and then “Each Other’s Anodyne,” and then “Mobius Strip of a Man,” and then this one.  I’m now working on a heroic crown of sonnets about my back surgery at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (it’s not called that anymore).  I actually have this vague memory of writing another crown of sonnets, but surely I’d remember it clearly if I done it, right?

“Cawwy me, Awnold!”

A friend reminds me that Frankenstein came from a dream of Mary Shelley’s.

So what classic will this dream of mine beget?

With a plot based far too much on “Bullets Over Broadway,” I dreamed a story the other night in which a rich man made the production of a play possible in exchange for a walk-on role.

But of course, as rehearsals began, he lobbied for a larger role, which he assured everyone he could improvise.

“I’ve got a whole backstory for this guy!” he said. “His name’s Arnold!”  (It was an unnamed character.)

The directors thought they had him convinced he shouldn’t do anything like that, but of course, the first preview performance, the guy started improvising and everyone on stage was just horrified, except this one little old woman, who sidled up to him, launched herself into his arms, and shouted,

“Cawwy me, Awnold!”

At which point the rest of the cast figured out how to hustle him offstage and everything worked out fine.

And that, my friends, is the main difference between me and Mary Shelley.* She dreams a literary classic; I dream a story with a lisp.

*Well, that, and the whole Percy Bysshe thing.

My favorite part is that the little old woman  who saved the day invented a speech impediment on the spot, solely for the purposes of distracting him.

She was a clever little old woman.  Maybe I could write it up as a slightly longer story….

Some Recent Online Publications

Here are some winter publications I never quite got around to sharing much:


A story called “Down Off the Mountain” which appeared in Mulberry Fork Review, Issue 4, Volume 1. I’m on page 23.

A poem called “The Grievous Wrongheadedness of Comparing Grief” which appeared in The Quarterday Review, the February Imbolc issue.  I’m on page 45 there.



Just taking care of some writing business on a Saturday.



Once Again The Wire Explains My Life to Me


Yes, once again The Wire has helped me figure out my life. WHY WHY WHY have I seen an uptick in essays that have a gorgeous structure—intro/thesis, clear transitions, academic style, good introductions of sources, clear citations AND YET almost entirely random quotes that DO NOT MATCH the general statements that precede them?

I’m just guessing on account of teaching to the test.


Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.44.47 PM

The Wire Season 4, Episode 9, “Know Your Place”

In this episode of The Wire (NO SPOILERS! I’m only on Season 4 for chrissakes) Pryzbylewski is lamenting having to teach students to begin and end each answer in a formulaic way, and somehow KAZAAM! everything was clear to me.

I have clever students who are (as Ken Bain would point out) strategic enough to do what they need to do to get the grade they want, so they learn the format, and the tone, and YET:

It looks something like this (totally made up, not based on a particular student paper):

General statement: Even though girls are thought of as being cleaner and neater than boys, that’s not always true.

Quote used: “RQ1: How do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”

Or, even, “In a scholarly, peer-reviewed article called ‘Testing the Effects of Social Norms and Behavioral Privacy on Hand Washing: A Field Experiment,’ Lapinski et al. ask “how do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”‘(Lapinski et al. 341)*,

p.s. I’ve lost track of the whole single quote/double quote thing.

p.p.s. *I totally made up that page number

THE POINT IS, if you’re just skimming, the way I’m sure I would if I were an AP exam reader (and the way in which I’m sure actual AP readers don’t skim, right?), it sounds fine. But if you actually read for content, for substance, for MEANING, Jaysus, it don’t work at all. I mean, Jeebus.

Which reminds me of a Bible verse: 2 Timothy Chapter3, verses  (written, as we like to say, by the Apostle Paul to the lovely young Timothy):

“3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will [all kinds of stuff Paul is bothered by, some of which I am bothered by, some not so much] having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

A form of godliness, but denying its power. That so much applies to churches, and “godly” folks, but also language, to quote scripture: “The word of god is seldom, and  tremblingly partook.”

Did Paul get exhausted? This exhausts me. Have nothing to do with such  people.