Rush Rhees Library: University of Rochester

Yesterday I had occasion to return to my alma mater, the University of Rochester, for a presentation on the nature of memory consolidation and reconsolidation. The talk was fascinating, but not the focus of this post. I took advantage of the day to take some photos of the campus, which has changed a lot since I attended there. This facade, though, is just the same.

The Rush Rhees Library is the anchor for the main quadrangle at the University’s River campus and the academic heart of the school. This building was built in 1930, and although it has been expanded several times and is fully updated internally, this view hasn’t changed since then. The library is a wonderful example of how tradition and innovation are blended at the U of R.

What you can’t read in this photo are two inscriptions carved into the stone on either side of the doors, behind the stone urns.



As a shiny new freshman in the 1970s, I found those words deeply inspiring. They still move me today. They embody the spirit of education, writ large: remembering, understanding, and learning from the mistakes of the past, and using them to climb, slowly and sometimes painfully, into a better future. There is a clear-eyed and honest view of how many things we get wrong and how hard it will be to get it all right. There is also a determination that this journey is worth the effort. I also got a sense that I, one scholar just starting on this journey, could be a small part of this mighty task.

I credit my education at the University of Rochester with giving me a firm grounding in scholarly inquiry and setting me off on a life of learning and teaching. It awakened me to a life of the mind that I cherish.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Awakening

Nothing Lasts

In our back yard, just off the deck, is a large shrub or small tree that has the most beautiful flowers in the spring. I don’t know what it’s called (I am hopeless with plants – perhaps one of my readers can identify it?), but it’s lovely so I take a lot of photos of the glorious blossoms. Here’s one:The flowers last just a week or two, but even more short-lived are the buds they come from.They fascinate me. Not because they are there so briefly, but because they are so different from the flowers they will become. It’s hard to grab a photo of them in the short time they’re there, but I got one:

They are bright pink! Flamingo pink. Tropical sunset pink.

Where does that pink color go? Why is it there for the few days it take for the buds to become flowers? I don’t know, but I love it. I love that the plant invests in making that gorgeous color and then throws it away. I think of it as a flirty little secret it flashes to the world before setting down to its more traditional beauty. I feel privileged to share in that moment.

The world is a beautiful place, but beauty never lasts. We need to enjoy it wherever and whenever we find it.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Transient


In honor of Yom HaShoa, the Day of Remembrance in which we give honor to those who lost lives and family in the Holocaust, there were two things happening in the central atrium at my college. There was a gallery of photos of local Holocaust survivors along with their stories, and a group of Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala. They painstakingly dropped grains of brightly-colored sand in an intricate pattern that represents the positive energy of the Buddha gathered in that place. It takes several days to complete the mandala, and then it is ritually destroyed. The sand is gathered up and poured into a nearby river, allowing the positive energy to be released into the world as the river carries it to the boundless ocean.

I post this picture because it shows different kinds of focus. The focus of the monk is obvious, as he builds up a beautiful house for God grain by grain. Around the room, students stopped in their rush from class to class to focus for a moment on deeper stories of pain and perseverance. For one week in April, the atrium was a place of quiet remembrance, of sadness and hope for the future, of the deliberate invocation of peace.

May it be so.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Focus


The WordPress photo challenge this week is about sharing wishes with the world. Of all the things I wish for, here’s the one I’m putting out there: a wish for my country. May the divisions, the bitterness, the invective, and the hate be washed away in a commitment to do the hard work of finding common ground and moving toward a better nation for all of us. I see the same problems writ large on the world stage, and writ small in the places where I work, so this wish is not only for the US. Let us put people before party and others before self, and open our hands to those different from us.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Wish


Giving Thanks

The Wednesday Words this week aren’t mine, but come from a Native American blessing that is appropriate on this eve of the American holiday of Thanksgiving:

Give thanks for blessings yet unknown,
already on their way.

I am thankful for so much.

  • My wonderful family: The husband who cherishes me and our children and who speaks up for what is right and good. The son who faces his personal challenges every day at work and at home and just keeps going, and the people who have helped him reach his level of independence. The daughter who shares her music and art with the world, and who donates hours each month to volunteer service at a store supporting fair trade art works. The future son-in-law who brings our daughter joy and love.
  • My privileged place in the world: My husband and I have good jobs we love, bringing us satisfaction and two steady incomes. We life in a neighborhood, a region, a nation where we feel safe and where our essential humanity is supported. We are reminded every day that this is indeed a privilege, and that we are obligated to keep working until it is no longer a privilege, but the natural state for everyone.
  • My social network: Friends to gather with, critique partners to share feedback and boost each other in the work of writing, co-workers to commiserate and celebrate with, fellow musicians to sing and play with, the terrific people who follow this blog, and all the others who share a smile every day.

I could go on, but that’s enough from me today.

What are you most thankful for?

No Words

This is where I usually post my Wednesday Words, but today, after last night’s stunning election, I don’t have any words. Let me instead leave you with this image (created by Tim Brintoni after 9/11, but just as applicable today).

weeping-libertyOne more note: If you are suddenly feeling anxious and threatened, because you are a member of one of the many groups that just got pushed farther out on the margins, know that you still have allies, and we will not stop fighting for you.

Please feel free to share here your reactions to the US election and what it means for you and for our country. I feel I have to say, for the first time, that I may choose to delete or not approve comments on this blog if in my opinion they espouse hostility or aggression toward any person or group.

1969 #dedicateyournotrumpvote

I’ve avoided politics in this blog, because there is enough shouting already in the 2016 US presidential election. This one time, though, I have to have my say, inspired by the movement to dedicate your no-Trump vote.

I was in high school in 1969. I remember one day being struck by three amazing things that had all happened in that one year, and jotted in my diary that 1969 was the year of Mets, moon, and moratorium.

  • The New York Mets won the World Series. This was a big deal in my house, where my sister in particular was a big Mets fan, but it was legitimately a big deal in sports history. The Mets had never had a winning season before that year, and their opponents the Orioles were one of the best teams ever. This was a stunning upset.
  • Humans walked on the moon. This represented mankind’s first foray out of our own planet and a major achievement for the US, giving a boost to science and technology for decades afterward. My family stayed up late to watch the fuzzy video of Neil Armstrong bouncing down the ladder and hear him say those famous words.
  • Vietnam War moratorium. Protests against US involvement in the war in Vietnam had been building for a while, but in 1969 they came to a head with the call for a moratorium in October that year. As a high school kid I didn’t make the trip to Washington, DC for the march against the war, but I know people who did. I felt the thrill of seeing people like me stand up to be counted against what we saw as abuses of power in the establishment. I had my consciousness raised (to use the lingo of the time) about the moral obligation we all have to fight for what is right, looking beyond our own comfort and convenience toward making the world a better place.

The presidential election doesn’t have anything at all to do with the miracle of the Mets in 1969, but it does relate to the other two events that became big parts of how I see the world. For one thing, we would never have made it to the moon if we hadn’t developed respect for science and engineering. We seem to have lost some of that, with only one candidate in the race today (Clinton) willing to go on the record as making decisions based on science in areas like climate change and vaccinations. That’s just one of the many things I like about Clinton, and one of the many reasons I will vote for her. I actually mean that I will vote FOR her, not just against her opponent.

It is the third factor, the activism of the sixties, that drives me to actively vote AGAINST Donald Trump. In 1969 my world view crystallized around doing the right thing. Not just the right thing for me or my circle of friends and family and business partners. It means doing the right thing for the world. Stepping up to take care of the less fortunate. Fighting to make systems fair for everyone. Speaking truth to power, and taking the part of the powerless. This dedication to fighting the good fight didn’t die with 1969. There are millions of people today putting their own best interests on the back burner to offer a hand to someone who needs it. Hillary Clinton is one of them.

There are lots of things I don’t like about Donald Trump, but one that touches the core of my being is that he represents the corruption of power. If he rips off a bunch of people who worked for him to get a big tax benefit, he sees nothing wrong. In his head, it makes him smart, makes him a good businessman. To me, it makes him a lesser person. Those of us who are fortunate have an obligation to give back to those who are not. I want a leader who is dedicated to making America great for everyone, not going back to a time when America was great for the select few and everyone else just had to try to survive.

I dedicate my No-Trump Vote to all those who are fighting to make the world a better place for everyone. You know who you are, and I thank you.

To Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote, Click Here

Mom’s Glass Menagerie


My mother collected glass animals, the kind you could buy at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. She loved their elegant beauty, and we loved that it made it easy to think of gifts for her at birthdays and Christmas. My father made a set of shelves with nooks of various sizes for various creatures, walnut on the outside, flocked matte black inside, which hung on the wall in our living room as I was growing up. I was fascinated, not only by how they looked, but the smooth weight of them, and by the humor of an elegant glass snail or mouse. I’ve snapped a picture of a few of them here, but not all. There’s also a bear, a penguin, a whale — a whole menagerie indeed.

Mom died in 1975. My sister and I split up her collection between us, and I was lucky enough to get the set of shelves as well. I filled in the empty spaces with my own set of class paperweights, which have the same smooth weight but not the quirky personality of her glass animals. The shelves are a link with my mother that I get to look at every day.

Posted in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge: Nostalgia