Wednesday, October 16, 2013


On October 12th, 2013, I married the most amazing woman on planet Earth. Below you will find the vows I read during the ceremony.

Yuriko, the Republicans in Congress might be able to shut down the government, but they'll never be able to shut down my love for you.

The federal government might need to raise its debt ceiling in order to pay its bills, but I have no need to ask such favors from creditors in order to give you my love. My love for you operates with a stunning surplus. Investors should want to invest in our love. We could, perhaps, pay for this entire wedding by selling Brophy/Beaman love bonds.

Because our love inspires such faith, sometimes people say that we are meant to be together. When I hear this, although I appreciate the sentiment, I groan at the use of the passive voice. (There is nothing passive about my love for you.) If we are meant to be together, I wonder, by whom? God? I don't know what God intends—nor have I reached that level of hubris, yet, when one pretends to know.

But what I do know is that I mean to be with you, and you mean to be with me. We are meant to be together by us. Or to put it more simply, we mean to be together. Our love exists because of choice—because we choose, every day, to love one another.

Half of that equation makes perfect sense to me. Of course I choose to love you. The intersection of our paths has been the single most transformative event in my life. It has brought me a wealth of happiness and joy that I never thought would be possible for me. Choosing to love you every day is the easiest of decisions, because the rewards of saying “Yes” to loving you are limitless, and living without your love is simply unthinkable.

The other half of that equation strikes me as nothing short of a miracle. That every day, you, a beautiful, thoughtful, caring woman—who could give your love to anyone—that every day, you choose to give your love to a strange, undersized man like me, is truly miraculous. I vow to never take that daily miracle for granted. I vow to do everything I can to make sure you never regret your wildly improbable decision to love me. And I vow, with all my heart, simply to love you in every way I know how, and should those methods fall short, I will invent new ways to love you. This I promise you—a lifetime of love, nothing less.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

My First Half Marathon

This morning I ran the Bucks County Half Marathon in 2 hours, 6 minutes, and 43 seconds. It was my first half marathon; actually, it was my first race of any kind. I had been training for it since February, and at that point, I really didn't think I'd be able to do better than 2 and a half hours, if I would finish at all. I was running very slowly, and I had never run more than 7 miles. But I was able to do so well today because I am lucky to have some great people in my life.

My friend Liz, whom I went to college with, was the one who suggested doing a race. She ran her first half marathon last year, in Brooklyn, and her second earlier this year, in Los Angeles. When I told her I had been trying to get into running since last summer, she said we should do a race together at some point this year. The Bucks County race is about halfway between where we both live (she in Brooklyn, I in Reading), and the course looked beautiful (Tyler State Park--quite lovely).

My friends Tim and Michael, who have been running for years and years, gave me all sorts of advice over the past months about what gear to wear, how to avoid injury, how to build my endurance, and how to improve my pace. Tim's tip about some fancy socks (Feetures!) proved particularly useful, as I had been getting some annoying blisters on my toes. (Stealthily, Tim also snuck onto the course around mile 9 and ran the last 4 miles with me--he was great company.)

Here's a picture Tim took of me at some point during those final 4 miles:

(Please forgive my bad form, goofy headband, and mittens. I hope I wasn't landing heel first too often!)

Finally, Yuriko, the love of my life, sat around in the cold waiting for me to loop back around, just to cheer me on and congratulate me. She also got up at 6am on a Sunday for this. I can't imagine a less exciting sport to be a spectator of (oh wait: golf), so I deeply appreciate her love and support.

With such wonderful people in my life, running 13.1 miles feels just like a walk in the park.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Three Tales of Dreams Deferred

On Saturday, Yuriko and I went to see a production of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, at the Arden Theatre in Old City, Philadelphia. My viewing of the play just happened to coincide, thematically, with two texts that I am teaching this week. Today, my American Lit students and I will be finishing up our discussion of Chester Himes's 1945 novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go. In ENG 100, we will be looking at the introduction to Michelle Alexander's study of mass incarceration in contemporary America, The New Jim Crow.

The protagonist of If He Hollers, Bob Jones, is driven to the brink of madness by the day-to-day prejudice he encounters in 1940s Los Angeles. After being demoted for cursing out a white woman at work who called him a "n****r", he feels emasculated, and desperate to reassert his manhood in some way such that the white world must recognize it. While much of this desperation ends up expressing itself in fantasies of violence and sexual domination, Himes shows his reader that these destructive impulses are a result of Bob's thwarted ambition. He wanted to be somebody, and America told him "No" because of his race.

A Raisin in the Sun features a similar male lead (though not nearly as extreme), Walter Younger, who works as a chauffeur and lives in a crowded, roach-infested apartment with his wife, son, sister, and mother. He dreams of being a business owner and a better provider for his family, and his failure to do so makes him feel like a failure as a man. In a reckless move to try to realize his dream, he invests $6,000 of his family's money--half of which is supposed to go toward paying for medical school for his sister, who wants to be a doctor--with a "business partner" who turns out to be con-man. While this dream is lost, Walter manages to reclaim his manhood at the play's end, by standing up to a white man who wants to pressure him not to move into a white neighborhood in Chicago, and by acknowledging and supporting the professional ambition of his sister.

In The New Jim Crow (which I've taught and blogged about previously), Alexander argues that although the explicit racism highlighted in works such as Raisin and Hollers is no longer common or accepted in American society, there still exists a system of racialized social control: the system of mass incarceration. By labeling a vast subset of people of color--especially black men--as "criminals," our so-called "justice system" effectively enables profound legal discrimination, creating a permanent "under-caste" of individuals who are unable to find a place in mainstream society: people whose dreams are permanently deferred. What can we do to pull this system apart--before it explodes?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What I've Been Reading

(For ENG 100 students interested in my thoughts on Michael Pollan and Food Rules, see my blog post from last semester here.)

Last week, my ENG 112 classes finished reading and discussing Jean Kwok's debut novel, Girl in Tranlsation. Kwok is scheduled to visit DCCC next month, and I look forward to attending her reading.

There is a pivotal scene at the end of the novel (SPOILER ALERT), when Kimberly Chang, the protagonist, decides at the last moment not to go through with her plans to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. She makes this decision after viewing the fetus via an ultrasound:

I expected a clump of cells attached to the uterine wall. I kept my mind carefully blank but without warning, an image of the fetus sprang onto the screen and I gasped. I shifted so abruptly that I dislodged her wand. ... I was riveted by the monitor.
He was doing gymnastics. A small tadpole-like figure, he pushed himself from side to side, swam in that enormous space with complete joy. He was defiant and playful, I imagined he was laughing. In that moment, I started to love him...
As soon as I saw him, I had no choice... (Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation)
My students were rather divided about whether or not Kwok was trying to make a moral or political statement about abortion through this scene. For me, the passage brings to mind recent debates about legislation designed to bring about real moments just like this. When a bill mandating transvaginal ultrasounds was proposed, revised, and signed into law last year in Virginia, there was much public debate about the ethics of such a mandate. Proponents of the bill argued that it would help guarantee that each woman who went through with an abortion understood fully just what she was doing. Critics of the bill argued that it was invasive, unnecessary, and emotionally manipulative. A similar bill, known as the "Women's Right to Know Act," was debated in Pennsylvania last year, and Governor Corbett expressed support for it, though the law never passed.

In my American Literature course, we just finished The Great Gatsby, and much of the discussion, unsurprisingly, focused on just why Gatsby so obsessively loves Daisy, such that his whole life seems organized around the foolishly romantic dream of fulfilling his past desire for her. Yet, for me, I am more intrigued by Nick's love for Gatsby--whom he simultaneously disapproves of and adores. Gatsby becomes just as important of a romantic symbol for Nick as Daisy was for Gatsby. Why is Gatsby the only one who seems to genuinely unlock Nick's capacity for love, which is otherwise closed off by his deep cynicism about the modern world?

Who knows.

Today, I read a short story from an old college friend (Dorothy Albertini) that echoes some of Fitzgerald's themes in Gatsby. Check it out--she's one of my favorite writers.

Finally, Spring Break also enabled me to finish reading my FIRST (absurd, isn't it?) novel by Stephen King: 11/22/63. It was pretty amazing, I have to say. I love time travel stories, though there is always something unsatisfying about how writers try to wrestle with the philosophical and technical aspects of it. This novel was the same, but it satisfied me on the more important themes of history and love. 

On to new books! (Sort of but used...revisited with fresh eyes.) I'll be re-reading and teaching Sacha Scoblic's Unwasted as well as Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go over the next few weeks. Both are great--can't wait to dig back into them, and listen to what my students have to say.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What a Waste

This week, my ENG 231 students and I will be discussing the final chapters of The Great Gatsby, and rather coincidentally, I found myself traveling to modern-day "East Egg" (Port Washington, NY) yesterday, to see an art exhibit featuring my aunt's digitally manipulated photography. Although the exhibit was delightful--as was my brief chat with Anne (my aunt) and her husband, Jim--the driving required to get there and back was exhausting and tedious. I just don't have the patience for the degree of traffic and congestion out there. It really puts the Philly suburban traffic (which is also bad, but not nearly as bad) in perspective.

Moments like this make me stop and wonder at how we can be aware of the problems in our world--and deeply frustrated by them--at the same moment in which we are contributing to and reproducing those problems. There is ample public transportation in the greater New York metropolitan area, so there was no need, really, for me to fight that traffic. Yet because of people like me, who chose the "convenience" of their own car over a ride with "the masses," we all sat around in our little metal-boxes-on-wheels, moving nowhere slowly for most of the afternoon, all the while, our engines were idling, burning fossil fuels, and dumping more carbon into the air.

We are a wasteful people. This is not only a theme in The Great Gatsby, but also in the excerpt from Edward Humes's book, Garbology, which my ENG 100 students will be discussing tomorrow. (Click here for my previous blog post on this text.) Humes mentions some distressing facts: Americans, despite only comprising 5% of the world's population, produce 25% of the world's trash. We also produce some of the world's largest landfills, including Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, which is apparently visible from space. (Again, coincidentally, I drove by this landmark on my way back from Long Island and Brooklyn last night.)

For their next essay, my ENG 100 students are imagining that they are college students from another planet, sent to study American society and culture, and then report back on its strengths, flaws, and bizarre obsessions. Wastefulness in any of its forms would be an appropriate sub-topic for this interstellar research paper. We see it; we know it; we do it everyday. How did we become so consumed by our wasteful habits, and what will it take for us to begin to break them?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tales of Survival

My ENG 100 students and I are reading Jose Antonio Vargas's article, "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant," from 2011. I've taught this essay several times before, and I've also blogged about Vargas before. (If you're an ENG 100 student and curious, my previous posts on Vargas can be found here.) I just can't seem to get away from him, and this essay in particular. I find it both moving and convincing, not to mention masterfully crafted. Last semester I tried teaching his more recent essay from Time, "Not Legal Not Leaving," but this first "coming out" essay from 2011 is way better--it's a provocative and poignant re-configuring of the American Dream, deeply personal and political at the same time. Who knows--maybe this year Vargas and Dreamers will see immigration reform finally passed and signed into law. President Obama will be pushing it, and rumor has it that Republicans in the House of Representatives want to show Latino voters that they are not exclusively the party of white people. Maybe something will finally get done.

In my 3 sections of ENG 112, discussions will begin this week on Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation. I'm currently reading the book for the third time within 9 months. (I have to re-read each book every time I teach it, otherwise I feel like it's just not fresh enough in my mind for me to effectively mediate discussion.) Kwok and I recently became Facebook friends through a mutual acquaintance, andI'm looking forward to meeting her when she visits our main campus in Media, PA in April. Although I'm still not sure what to make of the ending of her novel, I really admire her talent and achievement. Like Vargas, she tells a tale based on her own experiences of immigration--doing what needs to be done to survive and make a life here in America (though hers is a fictionalized version).

Finally, in ENG 231, we are wrapping up our examination of Jack London's Call of the Wild--yet another tale of survival. I first read this book when I was in 6th grade, I think, but it speaks to me even more now that I'm a dog owner. (Baylor had a busy weekend, including a trip to the vet--he's fine--and the groomer.) Despite London's chauvinism and casual racism--very, very common among white American men of his time (see Teddy Roosevelt)--his work still, I believe, has a valuable point-of-view to offer, asking his readers to rethink their relationship with the non-human world. Looking forward to hearing what my tiny class of American literature scholars (8 students!) have to say about Buck and his path away from humanity and toward his "more authentic" self.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Is College for Everyone?

As a professor at a community college, I certainly believe that anyone who wants a college education deserves a shot at it. That being said, many students who show up in my classes are not ready for college, for a number of reasons. Some lack the academic preparation; some lack the maturity and self-discipline. Some are not self-motivated, but are only here to appease their parents. Others find they can't learn very well by sitting still in a classroom or in front of a computer. Many students simply can't find the time to get their work done because they are also working full-time, taking care of their kids, and meeting other commitments.

Now, many of these students who show up unprepared make crucial adjustments in their lives during their first few semesters that enable them to succeed. Some, however, do not, and I do not see them again. What happens to them? Are they social failures because they could not navigate their way through college?

This week my students are reading an excerpt from Tamara Draut's book Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead. Her basic argument is that the path to adulthood in American society is much more fraught with economic peril than it was a couple generations ago, and as a result, many of us take much longer to achieve the traditional markers of adulthood (career and financial stability, marriage, home-ownership, parenthood), if we ever achieve them at all.

While a college education is generally thought of as a key tool in meeting the challenges of our new economy, Draut shows how, in some ways, college can actually be part of the problem more than a solution. Because many professions require B.A. or graduate degrees "to get out of the entry-level track," more and more young people are realizing that college is usually necessary to make a decent living. But when they try to finance a college education, they are introduced to the "debt-for-diploma" system, as they take on staggering amounts of student loans. Draut claims that the average college graduate hitting the job market is carrying about $20,000 in student-loan debt, plus a couple thousand more in credit-card debt. (I believe the figure for average student-loan debt is closer to $26,000 now.)

The lucky ones will land a good job with their new degree in hand and be able, barely, to make their loan payments and also pay their other bills. But what about the ones who didn't make it to graduation? What about the ones who graduated, but can't find a job when so few employers are hiring? What kinds of jobs are actually being created in our economy? Draut cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics as she makes the following claim:
"The largest job growth, accounting for 58 percent of new jobs, will be those requiring only work-related training. These jobs are primarily in the low-wage retail and food sector, including such jobs as sales associates, food preparation, cashiers, and waitstaff."
This prompts me to ask the following questions: Is it right for us to push so many young people into college when most of the jobs being created don't require a degree? A degree may give you a chance to compete for a better job, but it doesn't guarantee you'll get that better job. Wouldn't it better for us to advocate for higher wages and benefits for people who work the low-wage jobs described above? Shouldn't a waitress, a cashier, or someone who works in the mall be able to earn a decent living--to have access to quality healthcare, childcare, and housing?

People who really want to go to college should absolutely have that chance--and it shouldn't require taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to accomplish it. But college shouldn't be a requirement for anyone who wants to make a living wage. This is why I think raising the minimum wage is just as important for us, as a society, as lowering the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brian Sims Comes to Downingtown

Last year, after the Pennsylvania primary elections, I heard a story on NPR about Brian Sims, who had just won the nomination for State Representative in his district. Because of the make-up of the district (heavily Democratic), it was pretty much a lock that he would also win the general election. Why was this race getting so much attention? Brian Sims was poised to become the first openly gay candidate elected to Pennsylvania's State Legislature.

As I heard more about Sims, I learned that he was a native of Downingtown (where I teach), and that he had been an impressive student-athlete who played football during both high school and college. I started to wonder if he would be interested in returning to his hometown to speak with the community college students here about his story. I contacted him a couple months ago, and he happily agreed. He will be speaking this Thursday at 11:00am in the cafeteria at Delaware County Community College's Downingtown Campus.

In my ENG 100 classes, I typically have my students read about contemporary social, political, economic, or environmental problems, and then write essays in which they take positions about what they think should be done about these problems. My students, in recent semesters, have shown a keen awareness of the problems in their communities and how these problems impact people's lives, but when it comes to generating ideas about how to change things, how to move towards solutions, they too easily give in to a kind of cynicism and defeatism. They feel powerless and overwhelmed by these problems, rather than motivated to make a difference.

My hope is that Brian Sims will show them that people who are not unlike them--people who are from where they are from--do grow up to change the world. Change is not easy, but as citizens, professionals, members of our communities, and even as consumers, we make decisions every day that influence how we all relate to one another.

To any of my ENG 100 students who might be reading this, here is a simple way in which you can begin. Brian Sims is currently pushing for new legislation that would help schools protect young people from the kind of bullying you read about in this week's reading assignment (It Gets Better). This legislation is called the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act. If you think such a law could help young LGBT kids--or any kids who face physical and emotional abuse at school--then find out who your representatives are in the State Legislature, and tell them to support this Act.

Also, don't forget to come see Representative Brian Sims' talk this Thursday:

  • Representative Brian Sims
  • Thursday, January 31st
  • 11:00am
  • Delaware County Community College's Downingtown Campus
  • 100 Bond Drive, Downingtown, PA
  • Free and Open to the Public

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My New Favorite Band

It's a new year and a new semester, and for the first time ever, the Spring Semester began on my birthday. Last Monday, I turned 33, and greeted many new students. My ENG 100 students, this week, will be discussing Kiese Laymon's essay, "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America," which I'm hoping will give us a good jumpstart to thinking critically about relevant issues (such as gun violence and racial injustice) as well as a good model for how to write provocatively and imaginatively about one's past. In ENG 112, my students are picking apart the lyrics from Brother Ali's record Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color. I'm interested to hear what they think of it--I've never taught it before. Finally, my ENG 231 students are diving into Huck Finn, which I always enjoy re-reading and talking about, despite (or perhaps because of) its many flaws and contradictions.

But what I really want to write about is my trip to Wilmington, Delaware last Thursday to see Lake Street Dive--my new favorite band--play at The World Cafe. My fiance, Yuriko, bought the tickets as a kind of birthday present (although she also bought me a bunch of Red Sox tickets too--amazing!--I'm so spoiled), and we made the long trip from Reading despite it being a school night and all. It was well worth it. We heard of the band because the bass player, Bridget Kearney, was also the bass player of another band we stumbled upon and liked in Delaware--Joy Kills Sorrow. But I have to say, as much as I like Joy Kills Sorrow, I think Lake Street Dive is even better. The lead singer has an amazing voice--textured, flexible, soulful--and great stage presence. The drummer brings a great energy to every song, while supplying good backing vocals. The guitar player effortlessly pulls off nice riffs and can also play a real jazzy trumpet. And the bass player is my favorite of favorites. She can pick and slap that big ole stand-up with virtuosity, improvising and soloing from time to time. She also writes many of the band's best songs.

Here's a good video of one of their original tracks:

And here's a video of a great Jackson Five cover which they recorded for a recent EP release: