My Life in 46 Semesters

Issue 17 Launch Party

Issue 17 Launch Party

Last night was the launch party for Issue 17 of Superstition Review. It was also the last day of my 46th semester teaching at Arizona State University.

When I told my students that I have 14 semesters left they asked, “What happens then?!”

I answered, “I graduate.”

And what an education teaching has been. It has allowed me the immense pleasure of being more deeply immersed in my own field: contemporary literature and publishing. I have had so many wonderful colleagues, smart conversations, and lovely summers off.

But by far the most important lesson I take away is how satisfying it is to identify another person’s talents and encourage them to focus, practice, and excel. Working with Superstition Review is a unique opportunity because the magazine is their portfolio: a tangible item they can present and discuss in job interviews and graduate school applications, and that I can talk about at length when I act as a reference or write a letter of recommendation. Each of the students I mentor has endless layers of enthusiasm, creativity, intelligence, and skill. My great joy is focusing on something specific they do well that we can showcase during their short time working on the magazine. I act as coach, mentor, and encouraging friend.

I can’t say I made up this approach. In my 23 years teaching at ASU I have reported directly to five people: Keith Miller for 2 years, Duane Roen for 2 years, Maureen Daly Goggin for 2 years, Greg Glau for 6 years, Duane Roen again for 3 years, and Ian Moulton for 7 years. It’s rare in academia to have such consistency in leadership. Maybe it’s rare in business too.

But I am so grateful to these five people for helping me to grow as an educator and person. Each one of them gave me opportunity, courage, and encouragement. Special thanks to Duane Roen, who is so nice he hired me twice (and is also currently my Dean and my Provost)! He was also the person who said YES! when I had the idea of starting the magazine. His support and trust made all of this possible.

And huge thanks to my current Department Head Ian Moulton, who has given me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as a teacher and human, including the line: “Think of the work as practice not perfection.” For my Type A brain, this helped me flip a switch that made me more effective in the classroom and while walking around in the world. Ian also offered unwavering support to me when both of my parents died within 5 months of each other. He was gracious, generous, caring, and kind and I can’t imagine surviving that year without him.

I hope to pass on half the strength and help to my students that my mentors have passed on to me.

Here are my 46 semesters by the numbers:


Taught 206 classes at ASU.

Lived in 2 condominiums and 3 houses.

Won 1 book award for poetry.

Published 1 chapbook.

Taught over 5000 students.

Had 1 amazing partner, John Hetrick.

Lost both my parents and both John’s parents.

Won 2 teaching awards.

Traveled to 36 countries.

Received 1 letter from Michael Crow congratulating me on my poetry!

Published 89 poems in literary magazines.

Competed in 88 races from 5K to Half Ironman.

Made $951,583 in salary from ASU.

Made $64,385 as a writer.

Attended 13 AWP conferences.

Loved on 2 cats and 3 dogs.

Published over 700 artists and authors in Superstition Review.

Took over 25,000 photographs.


I am really looking forward to my next 7 years teaching. I’m thrilled about the possibilities, and I can’t wait to see where my students will lead me.

I’m also kind of exhausted. And I’m looking forward to a lovely summer off! I’ll be teaching Travel Writing for ASU Online, and I will spend a month at Djerassi working on my memoir. I’ll attend a family reunion in Minnesota and a friend reunion in Denver. You’ll also see me haunting the trails of South Mountain.

Day Three Western Colorado State University


IMG_0657.JPGToday was a special treat. I got to speak to an upper division creative nonfiction class, where I started with the presentation called “100 memoirs in 10 minutes,” a run-through of the 100 memoirs I have read in the past few years, ranging from Conroy’s Stop Time published in 1977 to Brian Turner’s My Life as a Foreign Country  published in 2014. The students were engaged, thoughtful, and so generous and kind.

Then I did a radio interview at the campus station, where Taylor asked me many questions about traveling and writing.

This has been such a wonderful day and I’m so thankful to Dr. Elizabyth Hiscox and the entire faculty at Western for inviting me to visit with the students. I feel truly enriched and inspired.

Day Two Western Colorado University

imageI had a wonderful time meeting with students in poetry courses and a class in Publishing yesterday. And the reading went great! There were over 70 people there and they had to bring in extra chairs. Then we had a lovely recption at Blackstock Bistro.

Contemporary Writers Series at Western State Colorado University

Contemporary Writers SeriesI’m putting the finishing touches on my presentations for this visit to Western State Colorado University next week, as part of their Contemporary Writers Series.

I’m thrilled with the program’s innovative and thorough approach to teaching creative writing, and I’m looking forward to meeting the students and faculty.

I’ll be speaking in four classes: Introduction to Creative Writing, Creative Writing: Poetry, Creative Writing: Nonfiction, and Literary Magazine Submission and Production.

I’ll also be giving a reading of my own poetry and prose at 7:30 pm Monday Feb 2, and a radio interview on Tuesday Feb 3.



The Grading Bunker

Last week my Roomie Miranda and I were in the kitchen pulling fruits and veggies from our weekly produce box. I stopped passing pears for a moment and asked her, “What’s 50 times 30?”

She’s smart, so she said, “1500. Why?”

“Holy!” I said, “I get 1500 pages of student writing next Tuesday at noon.” (I’m not sure why I didn’t do that math 4 months ago when I wrote my own assignments.) I started passing pears again and said, “Time to prepare The Grading Bunker.”

The Grading Bunker is not so much a place as it is a state of mind. Perhaps the hardest part about grading 1500 pages of student work is the tendency to seek out any excuse to stop. The toilet needs to be scrubbed? The dog wants out? Did the phone just ring? The car needs an oil change?

No. It can all wait. The students need me. They have worked hard and they deserve my undivided attention.

The Grading Bunker allows me to sit down, shut up, and grade until I’m finished. Surrounded by some fresh flowers, my favorite snacks, some fizzy water, and sometimes a snuggly cat or dog, I sign up for the long haul. I sit down in the chair. I grade, I grade, I grade.

This is where my experience as a runner comes in handy. Running is fun, sure. But who really LOVES to get up in the pitch black morning and do a hard run? And out on the course, I promise you I have every one of these thoughts: “I can’t do this. I won’t finish. My feet hurt. I want to stop. My knees are creaking. I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. I’m grumpy. I don’t feel like running anymore.”

But, a runner puts one foot in front of the other.

And that’s what I do in The Grading Bunker. Breathe. Focus. Compliment. Suggest. Evaluate. Enjoy. Cringe. Clap. Laugh out loud. Admire. Respect. Remind. Reinforce. Finish.

Recently a colleague asked me how I make time to exercise despite all the grading I need to do. I replied, “I only have 13 years left in my job, but I have 40 years left in my body.” That’s one reason I try to focus on fitness and nutrition first. Another reason is that exercising gives me discipline that carries over to my teaching. It’s amazing what you can do when you commit to something body and soul.

And so goes The Grading Bunker. Start it. Finish it. That’s what I just did.