My determination when I began writing an occasional column for this paper was to focus on what was at the top of my “short list” — that ever looming array of concerns, issues, happenings tickling the back of my brain.  Since candor is one of the characteristics I most admire, I have to acknowledge that I choose not to write about those “top of my concerns” issues this week.

Nevertheless, because I refuse to stray far from the original intent of these pieces, I’ll mention a couple items on my real short list but deliberately not dwell on any of them.  

A few weeks ago Wilbur, one of the three toy poodle litter mates born of my champion Callie, died; I try to ignore the fact that his two siblings are also showing signs of their age.  Two much admired and YOUNGER friends spent some time in hospitals as this last year ended — one with a life-threatening heart condition, the other with a tumor in her brain.  Both are doing better, but their situations weigh heavily on my mind and “short” list. Thirdly, I’ve been experiencing knee pain and occasionally have used a cane or walking stick. And, finally, a reminder of a possible reason for the cane, I celebrated another Capricorn birthday and realize I’m not just the “senior member of the Trinity University faculty” by a couple of years, but by several!

Admit it.  You feel spared from a potentially quite depressing column.

You are welcome.

Since I am pretty much a “glass half-full” person, my reactions to losses and fears rarely throw me into a “slough of despond.”  I don’t meditate. I turn to productive activity to avoid depression, whining and enervation.

Therefore, at the top of my short list is probably what’s also on yours: how to prepare for another beginning, a new semester in ways that can make a positive difference in my life and the lives of those with whom I interact.  

As many times as I have gotten ready for another term, I still get excited and respond happily to the challenge of creating syllabi, developing approaches to examining various texts, and assisting students in polishing their skills in reading insightfully and sharing their views confidently and convincingly.

When I become focused on these chores, I do not dwell on distressing concerns, but I look forward to being once again in a classroom guiding discussions of contemporary literature and finding much delight as my students improve their speaking and writing skills.

And, of course, I think often about that regular occurrence during the academic year — a re-examination (and, often, a defense of) the value of a liberal arts education, especially of choosing English as a major or minor.  No one wants to get me started on that topic because I will, without a doubt, soon begin to rant. Just let it suffice that being able to read and to write well, developing empathy and understanding of others different from ourselves, thinking critically and insightfully about texts all combine to help create truly educated, fair-minded individuals who can and will make a positive difference in this damaged world.

So, there you have it: my focus (and, I hope, also yours) is what I feel is  most appropriate and useful as a new year and academic semester begin: seizing the opportunities this university provides to continue to (in the words of John Hoyt) “Figure out what you care about and live a life that shows it.”  This is one of the best times and best places to conduct this exploration.  Don’t think of this as a resolution you can easily break; consider it a beneficial goal well worth pursuing.