Category Archives: US

Rituals and Routines

We are now about to begin the fourth week of the semester at Bluffton, and so routines are well underway. I remember once in probably grade five or six I was writing a composition in French about my Thanksgiving and I talked about celebrating with our family friends, several of whom have now passed away. Rituals change and traditions shift. But that doesn’t mean I want them to.

Some of my favourite rituals in fact occur during Christmas. For many years, we have had Christmas dinner with family but this year they decided to enjoy the sun so we celebrated with others. And then boxing day. We all know that this is the best part of Christmas. It involves ham, which is superior to turkey, and some of my most beloved family friends (and some others. You know who you are, reading this blog while working in international development). According to Victor Turner, a scholar of religion, rituals bring us into a liminal moment outside of ordinary time and space. He doesn’t discuss how distressing it is to deviate from them, how some new things like board games are fine, but other new things, like people not being there, are not. For example, this year we spread out getting together with these beloved people throughout the vacation, but I hope that we never deviate from this tradition again.

The school year also begins with rituals. I have some activities I do with my students each first day of school, and always make them do an activity before I hand out the syllabus. This ritual is somewhat routine for me, but sets the tone for the class. And as much as I love the rituals of Christmas, I need routines. I have a workout plan so that by the end of the semester I will get closer to my lifting goals (squat my bodyweight, deadlift double). I also plan out my semester in terms of how much writing I will do. I have a five-year plan, and semester goals, which I then break down into weekly goals. I also have a fill-in-the-blank schedule for how many hours I write each day and how they compare to my daily writing goals. These rituals help me develop a good routine. (Sidebar: it took me a very short time to do all this planning. This means I have officially kicked all remaining effects of my concussion in their sorry behind). This semester when I meet my writing, teaching or lifting goals I’m going to give myself gold stars.

Lifting Heavy Things

I moved to Ohio just over a year ago. If you are a dedicated blog reader you will have noticed that it has not been the year I expected, but it was the year I had. In the process of returning to what I hope will eventually be a complete restoration of health, I have tried many things. I use my lamp (normally for seasonal affective disorder) even in the summer, take fish oil, eat berries and leafy greens and strength train. Some of these might be superstitious. The fish oil comes from Aldi and although it smells like fish I am skeptical of its capabilities. Others really work. That would be strength training. 

By that I mean lifting heavy things. Before I left Toronto I started cross-fit, and even found a great gym when I moved to Ohio. Not as good as Auxiliary Crossfit in Toronto, but almost. It was pretty great (Crossfit Findlay). I would recommend crossfit to anyone – but only if there are good coaches – not the kind who encourage puking at the end of a workout (yep, went to one of those in Ohio). When the gym I had found here went to a model where I would have to go three times a week, I decided that I could just no longer swing it. I just don’t like driving that much. I tried others, and it just wasn’t working out. So I decided to use the nice gym on campus. If there were a private gym that was half as nice that I wouldn’t have to drive to, I would gladly become a member, but there isn’t, so, I make do.

Now that I don’t do cross-fit I don’t do as much high intensity training as I did before, but that is probably ok. Since I began re-teaching myself how to jog, that’s enough intensity for me. Other problems that come up by using the campus gym- the students select the music, so sometimes it’s country, and other times it’s questionably appropriate hip hop with anywhere from a few words to half the song bleeped out. Working out there also provides ample opportunities for hilarity when students dance-lift to songs they like (This has only happened once). Needless to say, I always have my podcasts as backup. It has about 20 squat racks, and I rarely have to use one that I don’t like. After asking students when no one was in the gym in a quiz that would test their time-telling skills in Spanish, I was also able to ascertain when a good time would be to go to the gym. So I go. It is probably the most empowering project I have ever begun AND it keeps away the awful headaches and chronic knee pain that is always around the corner in danger of returning. Since my job is normally only in my head (writing, prepping, grading), I think it’s important to do something that uses the other parts of myself. It also helps me be more aware of where I am and what I am doing in the classroom. Questions I now ask myself: Am I sitting too much in my office? Apparently it will kill me, so I should do less of that. 

I am a goal oriented person so I have some of those goals… but every time I reach a new max rep or weight I just look at some male student athlete warming up with more than my max and I remember that I do this because I want to. 

My Real Teaching Philosophy

School starts on Monday. There is a lot to be discouraged about. The country where I live has proven its true colours. It is not doing well on any front I care about. Cases in point: Ferguson. Blaming the victim for sexual assault. Interning children. Buzzwords of all kinds. All this influences how I interact with students and colleagues and people blaring country music from a truck while I am trying to jog while listening to a charming British lady telling me to keep going (This is the NHS Couch to 5k podcast.)

In spite of all this, I must wake up each day. Since I have a job, I must work. Since I am a conscientious person, I must do this work well.

Over the years I have developed a statement of teaching philosophy that can be distilled as the following: I teach Mexican literature and culture, and, more broadly, Hispanic literature, culture and Spanish language, so that my students can learn about another culture, learn what it is like to be a person who does not understand what is happening, to learn from one another in a community, that can then transform its context.

In reality this involves understanding students who are unfailingly polite, and yet, who I do not understand. They like sports and music (including the aforementioned country) and have, shall we say, misgivings about latino people and undocumented workers. So I explain that when the factories went to Mexico, and the rust belt, became, well, the rust belt, the Mexicans were not better off. And to try, somehow, to put my research about repression – when it overwhelmingly affect the bodies of already marginalized people – and the potential for transformation, into practice. 


Never Get a Concussion

The best way I can describe post-concussive syndrome, or lingering effects of a mild traumatic brain injury, 11 months later, is like a humid summer day in Ohio. The PCS is when you step outside into a wall of humidity and the rest of life is like an air conditioner. Except that this air conditioner could break at any time. Like when a restaurant is really crowded and people are having conversations three feet away. Or when a TV competes with human voices. Or when more than five hours have been spent in front a computer screen. Or more than four hours spent writing. In other words, never get a concussion.

The moral of this story is: if you get a concussion, do your utmost to ensure that there is a psychologist who is a friend of the family who can explain a concussion to you, and proven remedies or therapies for it, in one hour. [SAD lamp, fish oil, mild physical activity] And have that be a much more useful hour than the 45 minutes spent waiting during your final follow-up with the doctor of record, 45 minutes that completely convinced you that extremely expensive private insurance is no more efficient than the health care government insurance pays for. The bonus is that government-funded single payer healthcare makes no one bankrupt.

Ten Things I Never Knew about Ohio

I am woefully behind on my taco tour blogging. I have gone to at least three, if not four, new places for tacos, taken pictures, and not blogged about them. But today, I will deviate from my standard, and tell all of you some things I never expected about Ohio. I think that culture shock here has been unexpected, because in many ways, I expected it to be similar to home. It is the small things that making living here so nice, and so, so, so strange. Today, I share the strange. When I first moved here I wrote at least one list of good things about living here that still stand. There are more that I will add in the future.

1. Ice in drinks even in the dead of winter. Even in the Polar Vortex.

2. It is so humid because the land is basically a swamp. Seriously, this morning I went for a walk/jog and was dripping by the time I ran into a friend.

3. I would run into people everywhere I go, and when I do, it is acceptable to stop in the middle of the road, when I am walking and they are driving, to chat. This is less applicable to the entire state, and more applicable to the small town.

4. It is fairly racially homogeneous, especially in rural areas, particularly when compared to the rest of the US. This gives me ample opportunity to think about social class. The state that has the 8th largest GDP in the nation but is 33rd in GDP per capita. (

5. In the 19th century, Ohio had a war with Michigan. Over the city of Toledo.

6. Football is a thing. A religion, even.

7. The military is everywhere. I knew how I could sign up for armed service before I knew where I could get an Ohio driver’s license of register my car. This relates to the economic difficulties cited in # 4.

8. That POW flags exist, and are on display on the main streets of many small towns.

9. There is a pledge of allegiance to the cross. I have never heard it, just heard about it from my students. Thankfully never said in my place of work.

10. Mexican food is everywhere, but when geared towards Midwestern tastes, it is not as good as Mexican food geared towards my tastes. It’s also not chilango (Mexico City-an) food, so really, what’s the point?

El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán

I am now writing a book based in part on the dissertation I am no longer writing (thank goodness). The book refers to many of the same novels and short stories as primary texts. Yesterday I began revising the chapter that will now talk about the failing Mexican state after Tlatelolco and Vicente Leñero’s novel, El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán. The novel, The Gospel of Lucas (Luke) Gavilán,  brings the Gospel of Luke to mid 1970s Mexico. I like it so much I want to select it as the key text for the first year seminar I am teaching in the fall, except that it is no longer in print in English, so it is unlikely that twenty students could buy it from amazon. I think it would be perfect because it honors the biblical text, in many ways, so the often religious students would only be offended for half the novel. It would be challenging for them, because it would give them a perspective on the Bible they have likely never had before – that Jesus was a revolutionary, or at least, a rabble-rouser – and that he was never raised in body from the dead. The novel tells us that Jesus’ baptism happened when he heard John the Baptist preach, about how loving God could only be understood by handing oneself over to the cause of justice, and that this is at the heart of the Gospel message. I doubt any students would have such a radical mental shift, but so far that has not stopped me from evangelizing about “liberal” ideas. Any other texts I could use for the same end?

Taco Tour: LASA edition

A few weeks ago I was in Chicago for the Latin American Studies Association meeting. I organized a panel about the body in Church-State conflict in Mexico and presented a paper about blindness and Church-State conflict and convergence in the 1940s. It was a very enjoyable experience. Some friends even showed up for the panel’s 8 am start time, and other friends appeared at a much more decent hour after they had had some coffee and breakfast. I enjoyed going to other panels about Mexico, about religion and regret missing others. I do not regret organizing a taco tour.
Faithful readers of this blog may remember that I first went on a very small taco tour in January in Chicago, and then in March a colleague and I took a group of students to Chicago, and some of them (ok one of them) accompanied us on a taco tour. I jokingly concluded that post inviting others to a taco tour during LASA. Given the overwhelmingly positive response, I decided to actually do it.
One day, at a time I selected so as not to conflict with anyone’s panel, we went to Carnitas don Pedro, Reyes de Ocotlán (el lugar del bautizo taquero – the place of my taco baptism), and Nuevo León in Pilsen, Chicago. Nuevo León was a new location for the tour. I highly recommend it for vegetarians – because it is not exclusively a taquería – it has all kinds of delicious Mexican food. I couldn’t eat anything by the time we arrived. Fortunately, the bill was so low that I didn’t have my typical conflict between “Is food in a restaurant outside of Bluffton really that expensive?” and “I am sure I still owe you money, did I tip enough” that happens every time I am on a group bill or group taxi or group anything.

I had plans to conclude the tour at a pupusería, but we all were exhausted from eating too much meat so we did not make it that far. If you plan to go on a taco tour, I recommend eating only half a taco per place, walking at least 20 minutes between restaurants, or spreading the tour out over two days. The next time I am in Chicago I might just do that.