I quit my job.

Today is my official last day at my current job, a position that has given me incredible experience, educational advancement, challenges for personal growth, and colleagues who have become my friends. And really good pay to boot! I went to college to be an English teacher, but after graduating I quickly realized I wasn’t ready for a high school classroom. (I would have been eaten alive, and I don’t mean by zombies.) So I went to college, part 2, to be a person who studies literature and puts off getting a real job a little longer. During my first year in grad school, I was a graduate student assistant, which those of you who have done anything similar know essentially means a hard-working, poorly-compensated instructor. (But we wouldn’t trade that experience for the world!) During that year, I realized that I enjoyed teaching college students–they were a little bit more mature and motivated than high school students, and I only had to see them 1-3 times per week, for about an hour at a time!

During my second year in grad school, though, I accepted a full-time staff position in the Graduate Writing Center. I took it because I was flattered to be offered it (by my thesis chair, to whom I owe both my career path for the past 10 years and my interest in Victorian literature) and because the pay and working conditions sounded better. I started as the instructor for a graduate-level basic writing course (I was teaching grad students before I had finished my master’s—talk about imposter syndrome!); two years later, I became the director of the Graduate Writing Center, and eventually I became the director of nearly all of our university’s tutoring services. I had never intended to go into writing center work (which is a field of its own, a vibrant and growing one), but I professionalized myself into the field: reading the major journals, attending conferences, getting involved in organizations, and learning to speak the writing center language. All along, though, I was still thinking of myself as a teacher, picking up courses even though my eventual faculty contract didn’t require me to teach (even though this made me crazy busy) and trying to stay current in the fields I would be teaching. When it came time to get my Ph.D., I didn’t go for a degree in writing center studies, nor even composition, but literature and criticism. The degree wasn’t practical for my job, but it was practical for the career in teaching that I still believed I would have.

As time went by, I received advancement opportunities, leadership experience, and pay increases for which I was (and still am) grateful. But trying to have both my administrative career and a teaching career on the side was making me crazy, and often it was my “real” job as the tutoring center director that suffered. I knew I should give something up, but while the classes were where my passion truly lay, the administrative work was where most of my pay and all of my benefits came from. And, let me be clear, I didn’t hate that work. It just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

So a couple of years ago, I started applying for jobs elsewhere–not just in other schools, but in other states, where I could hit “reboot” on my life, reassessing things that were cluttering up my schedule and my mental space–not just professionally, but personally. And just last month, I received a job offer that would allow me to do so, and I took it. For the first time in my academic career, I won’t be a director of anything; I’ll just be a plain professor (well, associate professor). And I’m very happy about that.

I’m not sure what this will mean for my plans to rebrand this as a Hufflepuff leadership blog, since I won’t be in a leadership position anymore except insofar that all teachers are leaders in a sense. I’m thinking about making it more of a (sometimes Hufflepuff) emotional intelligence blog, which is basically what it has been recently. I’d still like to use my fictional characters Patrick Weasley and Becky Weasley, and maybe even Sam Larson, who appeared last week. As always, I am open to your suggestions.

As Bilbo Baggins once said (in the movie The Hobbit; please don’t hate me for quoting it), “I’m going on an adventure!” I’m glad you, my readers, will be adventuring with me.


Several times on this blog, I’ve stated or hinted that I feel I have quite a bit in common with a hobbit.  (See, for example, I am not fast” and my comments on “Another schizophrenic post.”) Yesterday, I formulated my most thorough, yet succinct, statement of this resemblance to date.  I wrote it for a different venue, but I thought I’d share it here.  Enjoy.

If you want to understand me pretty well, you really just need to think of Bilbo Baggins. Like Bilbo, I love my house, and I’m quite proud of keeping it tidy and homey. I like my routine, my alone time, and my square meals. But if you show up at my door and ask me to go on an adventure–well, I might need a little prodding, and I might freak out about forgetting my pocket handkerchiefs, but once you get me on the road, you’ll find me a dependable traveling companion, and I might even pleasantly surprise you with my resourcefulness and (occasionally) courage.

Just as a clarification, I don’t have big ears or hairy feet.

There and back again

No, this is not a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, although I will take this opportunity to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, enough to see it twice.  Look, if the ambivalent hype has made you skittish about seeing it, just remember that you’ll be in the capable hands of Peter Jackson.  Has he ever let you down before (at least when it comes to Tolkien material)?  And if you start getting cold feet during the lengthy prologue, just stick it out a bit longer, and you’ll spend the rest of the movie in the charming company of the absolutely delightful Martin Freeman.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Actually, the title of this post is a reference to a post called “Returning” that I wrote nearly a year ago.  It was mostly about the themes of restoration and homecoming as they appear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I didn’t know it then, of course, but those themes in general, along with the story of the prodigal son, ended up being prominent in my mental and spiritual landscape throughout 2012.

For example, there was the David Crowder Band’s epic two-disc farewell album, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]).  In a year that saw the release of some great albums, this was one of my favorites, not only because I love a good requiem (Mozart’s is wonderful), but also because so many of the songs are on that theme of returning, which is one way of looking at the death of a saint.  In fact, one of the songs is called “A Return,” and it mainly consists of the repeated lyric “the son has come home/we’re rejoicing.”  I usually just call it “the prodigal son song.”

Then I read Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.  (FYI: I’ve read all of his novels now except for Barnaby Rudge, which I plan to read soon.  Perhaps a Dickens mega-review when I’m finished?)  Of the many memorable characters in that novel, the one who haunted me the longest after I finished reading was Charlie Hexam, a prodigal son who never returns.  Dickens characters usually get some sort of closure; they may come to a good end or a bad end, but the point is that they come to an end.  Charlie doesn’t.  After he formally renounces his family, he disappears into the bureaucratic machine of the Victorian educational system, and we never hear from him again.  It may be a minor plot line, but I read it as a frightening cautionary tale.

After I had been thinking about these themes for a while, I got the opportunity to teach a month of lessons in the 5th-6th grade girls’ Awana club I was volunteering in at the time.  One night, I decided to tell the story of the prodigal son and focus on the older son, who’s just as lost as his little pig-slopping brother.  Lo and behold, the issue of Christianity Today that I received that very day included a reflection on that very topic, and I was able to incorporate the author’s thoughts into my lesson.

These things may not seem like a big deal, but they provided something like mental background music for me all year.  I even wrote a little poem in October about the different types of prodigal sons.  It would be nice if I could provide examples of the way that this theme affected my life in visible ways, but I’m not sure if that happened.  Or maybe I won’t be able to see that it happened until I get some distance from 2012.

There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my mind because it has the word “returning” in it, but it also has four other major nouns. The verse is Isaiah 30:15, in which God, “the Holy One of Israel,” says to his people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  It’s too early to say, but maybe one of those other nouns will become my theme for 2013.  I know that rest and confidence, in particular, are things I want more of, and nobody’s keeping them from me but me.

This post has been more self-reflective (you might say navel-gazing) than I usually like to be on this blog.  So let’s make this a conversation–do you ever choose or discover a theme for a given period of time in your life?  I would love to hear some of them (and possibly borrow one from you).


Maybe because I’ve recently spent some time back home with my family, or maybe because it’s the new year, a time when evangelicals like myself tend to talk a lot about repenting, refocusing, and returning to God.  Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about prodigal son stories–not that I’m a prodigal in the exact sense of the word, or a son for that matter, but I can identify with the biblical pig-slop boy pretty well.  This morning in church we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and when we got to the line “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it” I wept a little bit (discreetly), and then I thought of a great blog post, based upon Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (Would you expect anything else from me?)

I started thinking about how fitting it is that in a book that culminates with a massive high school homecoming (all those Hogwarts alumni and truant students, some coming back to be true to their school, and some coming back to destroy it), we get all these beautiful stories of return and restoration.  Ron coming back to Harry and Hermione, led by a supernatural “tiny little ball of light.”  Snape coming back to Dumbledore, on his knees, with a broken spirit.  Percy coming back to be a Weasley again.  Harry coming back to King’s Cross, where it all began–first in that bright moment of clarity between life and death, and then at the end, bringing his children to board the train to a restored Hogwarts, telling his son that it’s ok to be a Slytherin because things have changed now; broken social structures have been mended. 

This has all probably been said before (by John Granger, no doubt), but it came to me like a discovery, and it’s a discovery I’d like to pursue.  If you think of any return and restoration stories in Deathly Hallows that I’ve missed, let me know.  And I’d love to hear about some of your other favorite homecomings in literature and film.  (I’ll go ahead and state one that seems really obvious to me: The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again.)

The Hobbit!

Anybody else excited?

Yes, we Hogwarts folks do enjoy Tolkien.  Why not?  After all, did you ever think about this: Merry and Pippin talk about this great kind of pipeweed called Longbottom Leaf.  Is that why Neville’s so good at herbology–because he had an ancestor who was an innovator in the the cultivation of hobbit narcotics?