Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Personal’ Category


Last week I participated in a show addressing sexual violence called CockTales, written and produced by Whitney Mackman. The show was originally conceived as a counterpoint to the Vagina Monologues, with the spin being that participants read a collection of monologues and dialogues mostly written by men that address toxic masculinity and its role in the prevalence of sexual violence in our culture.

There were some concerns raised by some students that (1) this is a one-dimensional view of sexual assault, when the problem is bigger than male on female violence, and (2) that the readings would serve to normalize toxic behavior or, worse, glorify “reformed” perpetrators and thereby encourage problematic behavior by other men. The campus newspaper, The Tulane Hullabaloo, covered the controversy in article published here: CockTales tries to unpack toxic masculinity, raises concerns. Their coverage was very good, and I thank the writers for taking on this difficult story!  (One small note: the linked video was not actually a part of the show this year.)

In the interest of fully describing my decision to participate in CockTales, I would like to share the full set of questions and answers from my exchange with the Hullabaloo reporters. I would also like to post a video of the Ted Talk that was the basis for my reading at the event. I hope that this can be a part of many conversations that need to place on campus and that it serves to elevate this important issue in the minds of everyone in the Tulane community.


Hullabaloo: How did you get involved with this event?

Just luck mostly! Whitney teaches creative writing courses in Gibson Hall near my office and so we have run into each other many times. We have had some great, wide-ranging conversations. For CockTales, she needed someone to read a certain monologue and apparently thought of me.  I looked at the piece and thought it had a number of important ideas, so I was happy to join in.

How do you think CockTales can influence campus? In what ways do you hope CockTales will encourage discourse?

What I like about the piece I am reading, and the others I have seen so far, is that they are provocative and confrontational in addressing toxic masculinity while simultaneously being constructive in showing how we can all be a part of changing our culture for the better. And because many of the monologues are written by men, largely for men, I think it has the potential to spark important conversations in places where there has been too much silence.

I recently looked again at the results of the 2017-18 Campus Climate Survey: over 30% of women reported being victims of sexual assault; 96% of those perpetrators were men; and over 75% of the perpetrators were described as either “Romantic Partner” or “Former Romantic Partner.” We need to find as many ways as possible to reach out to young men to help them understand the urgency and the proximity of this problem. The language of CockTales is coarse at times, but it’s meant to resonate with young men in a way that I hope helps wake people up. Sexual violence is not an abstraction; it is happening within your social circles. And the change that is needed requires work from all of us.

Are there any specific themes the show highlights that resonate with you?

The role of language. In the monologue I am reading, the writer touches on how language plays such a crucial role in shifting the blame for violence from perpetrator to victim. It leads people to think that sexual violence is a women’s issue, when in fact, the issue is overwhelmingly the behavior of men.  I think people have a tendency to underestimate 1) the work that words can do to make people feeling marginalized and “othered” and 2) how much we inherit the use of certain phrases from people who deliberately constructed them to euphemize terrible actions and to protect people who hold power.  I think that changing the way we talk, and the way we permit others to talk around us, is a good first step that anyone can take as a “bystander.”

And now for something completely different …

Today I began my one month foray into Academic Advising.  Rather than picking up a summer teaching course, I decided to step out of the academic cocoon that is the math department to see what else is going on around the university.  It turns out there’s quite a bit.

Me, pretty much all day on my first day of advising.

Me, pretty much all day on my first day of advising.

UF’s Preview program has been recognized as the nation’s best academic advising program (I don’t know who gives out awards like that, but still I’d imagine it’s a pretty competitive field) and I’m proud to be a part of it this year.  Every incoming freshman is required to come to campus for a few days with their parents for a formal introduction to UF.  Along with a faculty advisor, they declare a major and we sit together to work through their first semester schedules.  We’re there in part to make sure their schedule include critical tracking courses and to smooth out certain academic hurdles, but it’s already clear that the main thing we faculty do is to reassure them that 1) yes, your schedule looks a lot different than what you did in high school, but 2) it’s supposed to!  Students tend to be reluctant to schedule classes that sound like fun. Some that came up on my first day were: “The Meat We Eat,” “Sports Media and Society” and “Marriage and Family.”

My advice to these incoming freshman (and to any undergraduates anywhere):  If you don’t have at least one class each semester that just involuntarily brings a smile to your face when you think about it … you’re not doing it right!

Nolapalooza, 2013

NOLApalooza celebrated on the Chelsea's chalkboard.

NOLApalooza celebrated on the Chelsea’s chalkboard.

Last night at Chelsea’s Cafe in Baton Rouge, the Barefoot Pedals Foundation hosted our second annual celebration of the life and legacy of a dear friend, Jeff Nola.  As before, the feature event was a fantastic show by Questionable at Best,  a band that Jeff formerly played with featuring fellow Barefoot Pedals board member Ben Tuminello.

The increasingly inaccurately named, Questionable at Best

The increasingly inaccurately named, Questionable at Best

I have to say, there are vanishingly few bands that will seamlessly cover The Meters, Peter Gabriel, Bill Withers, Hall and Oates and Justin Timberblake in the span of a few hours. For better or for worse, last night’s show also featured a guest appearance by yours truly.

Even if things get a little too heavy, we'll all float on ...

Even if things get a little too heavy, we’ll all float on …

Beyond his love for music, Jeff Nola was known for his commitment to working with young people, particularly through Mission Trips that took him to New Orleans, Arizona, Kentucky and even Mexico.  We have decided to honor this work by initiating a project of our own:  an annual youth conference based in Baton Rouge focused on social justice and mindful action.

We will share more details over the next few months, but please feel free to read through the following document that outlines our current thinking.  If you have any interest in getting involved, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  We’re very excited to get this collaborative off the ground.

Leadership Through Mindful Action

Click to access the current version of our guiding document.

Thinking of everyone back home

Well, Isaac seems to have picked the worst possible path that a Category 1 storm can take.  It came in just south of New Orleans, causing flooding of the Mississippi just south of the city, and then decided to just sit there.  Normally a tropical storm force winds might have somewhat limited damage, but 40 mph winds sustained over 48 hours (the current projection) is another things altogether.  Over 500,000 homes are without power and there’s talk of 20 inches of rain.  I actually remember that much rain falling when I lived there.  It was actually a tropical storm (Frances) that hit Texas, but was incredibly broad.  The city’s drainage system really isn’t equipped for that, but hopefully the upgrades to the system after 2005 will help mitigate the impact.

Lots of love to everyone back home.

(As always, the best way to get a feel for what people are thinking and feeling in New Orleans at times like this is to tune into WWL radio.)

Shameless self-promotion

Andrew and I were featured in the UF Research News blog today.  Some of the summary is a bit off, but still it’s fun to see:

University of Florida researchers improve on an old model for studying predator search patterns.”

Gainesville: Rainbow World shouts down Dove World

The night began as most do with a threat of rain combined with a searing sun.  Given the right angle, you can regularly find a brilliant rainbow.

Scurrying through the sprinkles, I made it to my favorite downtown food spot, Lunchbox, which specializes in Latin and Asian-style tacos. I’m partial to the fried flounder when available.

The highlight of most Friday evenings is a free concert in the Bo Diddley Plaza.  Armed with tacos and beer from Lunchbox, this is a throughly enjoyable way to appreciate Gainesville’s hippie-inclined local community. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

Friday nights also tend to bring out Gainesville’s most notorious resident, the pastor of the fringe church, Dove World Outreach Center, who sparked an international incident last year when he burned a copy of the Qur’an. The group is also known locally for their relentless anti-gay chants, most infamously featuring the epithet “No Homo Mayer,” and proclamations that most folk that are out about about downtown will eventually find their way to hell.

Tonight though, the Rainbow World shouted down the Dove World.

Tonight, the chants of the Dove Worlders were drowned by the persistent beat of Gainesville’s silent hippie majority and their bongo drums.

Little sis is a sponsored runner these days

Let it be known far and wide that my little sis is a Rock Star. If our family had an official crest, the motto would read something like her concluding quote:

“I set my goal, and I refused to back down.”

Claim Your Journey Featured Runner: Kristin ‘X’ McKinley


Some unsolicited advice on creativity

I recently came across this great quote from Ira Glass concerning the early stages of creative work.

[quote style=”boxed”]Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
— Ira Glass[/quote]

This really resonates with me.  I know I abandoned my fiction writing career in my early 20s for precisely this reason, and there’s no question that my mathematical career nearly suffered the same fate.  This time I hope that a bit of extra maturity combined with the tremendous support from my friends and mentors will see me through the early frustrations.