On Tuesday, September 24, 2019 I gave the first public presentation of my Dr. Seuss style poem “The Ball and The Wall: A Tale of Tolerance,” to my Tolerance and Diversity class at the American University in the Emirates (AUE).

The poem shares the story of a grandfather who, while fishing with his grandson, uses an unexpected encounter to tackle a teachable moment concerning compassion for others in addition to accepting people with different perspectives.

In invite you to watch a slightly edited version below (via YouTube) of the original Facebook Live video I broadcast while performing the poem; you can watch the original recording here.

I was first inspired to write this poem during the last meeting of my History 4C class at UC Santa Barbara in March 1996. At the conclusion of the class, the professor, Harold Marcuse, PhD, invited his teaching assistants to share any closing remarks. My teaching assistant, Kimber M. Quinney, PhD, asked us all to imagine that a large ball was floating over the lecture hall in the Isla Vista Theater (where the lectures for our class took place).

Encouraging us to accept that people have different perspectives, she explained how one side saw that the ball was red and the other side of the class saw that the ball was blue. Moving forward she asked us to accept that a perception that was not the same as our wasn’t necessarily better or worse, but that it was just different, and that was perfectly acceptable.

That last lesson stuck with me and marinated in my mind until 2003 when I wrote the first draft of what would become “The Ball and The Wall.” It has undergone edits and updates since, and will likely continue to be refined, but overall the intent and the idea are intact. It is my plan to publish this as an illustrated children’s book — for adults.

I hope you enjoy this spoken word performance and welcome any ideas it might inspire!

A short article titled “Dear Students With Unprofessional E-Mail Handles: Your Professors Notice,” in the Wired Campus section of the Chronicle of Higher Education website calls attention to the importance of e-mail: not just what you say, but the account from which you send your message.


The article highlights an entertaining thread in the Chronicle of Higher Education Forum in which professors share both the often inappropriate and error-filled content of the messages and the peculiar address from which the messages are sent — one post elaborates on receiving an e-mail from an address titled “Shortysexy!”

This article caught my eye because I’ve experienced my share of odd e-mails from students. Mostly they are harmless oversights, but I have also  received some more “interesting” messages.

Once a student invited me to read his/her blog  (gender obscured to protect the innocent), telling me I would think it was funny. However, when I got there, I found several expletive-filled rants berating this person’s significant other for repeatedly cheating on him/her with someone my student proclaimed was a drug addict.

The posts were full of obscenities, uncomfortable personal details and description, on the injuries my student had and intended to inflict on his/her significant other. I was shocked and have since felt very awkward around this student.

Generally, I get what I call “ghost mail,” which is mail with no clear identification of who sent it, what school the sender attends or the class about which they are inquiring. Usually a “ghost mail” will include a message that reads something like “Mr. G : How come I didn’t get credit for that assignment from the other week?” — which of course does nothing to help that student receive points where they might be due.

Aside from forgetting some basic rules of written communication, I don’t think the senders of these “ghost messages” fully realize that, as an individual earning my income entirely as an adjunct instructor, I could potentially be teaching several classes in addition to theirs. Usually I am simultaneously juggling anywhere from four to eight on-line courses and two to four traditional classroom-based courses — so things can get a little confusing!

To minimize the occurrence of these misguided missives, I stress to my students the importance of not overlooking the obvious when sending an e-mail or even leaving a voicemail for someone. I tell them to always include their name and contact information while making sure to identify the school they attend and the course in which they are enrolled. Usually that helps, but I still get an errant e-mail now and then.

I also encourage students to think about what their e-mail address says about who they are — and to realize that on some level it communicates their “personal brand.” With e-mail commanding such a vital role in how we communicate with each other, having an immature or otherwise inappropriate e-mail can sometimes cause a problem — while a student is in school or, worse, when they are making the transition to a job in the “real world.”

I remember that e-mail was just starting to become more widely used during my undergraduate days at UC Santa Barbara (1992 to 1996). Back then the school automatically assigned e-mail address to students — with undergraduate accounts starting with a “u” and graduate accounts starting with a “g.”

Eventually the naming convention was standardized with some amalgamation of a student’s first and last name, but early-on you could request a specific name (though the “u” and the “g” were still used).

A friend of mine who has a sarcastic sense of humor requested the name “suck” so that his account was “usuck@…” Of course, this sounded funny when he gave his e-mail address to friends, but when a professor asked him for his e-mail address and he had to say what sounded like “you suck,” suddenly the joke was on him.

Likewise, during my tenure in human resources recruiting, I’ve seen some questionable e-mail addresses. I remember one address in particular: the applicant’s last name was “Kaul,” which by itself is just a typical-sounding surname.

However, this candidate wanted to be clever and, leveraging the phonetics of his/her last name used the e-mail address “kaul girl@…” – which is humorous when used with family and friends, but not as agreeable in a professional setting (well, aside from the “oldest profession” I suppose!).

So, what is the moral of this story? Simple: when it comes to e-mail, watch what you say and the address from which you say it!

Time flies!

On March 20, 1996 I completed my last undergraduate class at UC Santa Barbara. Notably, I finished a quarter early — thanks to a handful of advanced placement courses in high school (and by petitioning to have some classes count for several requirements — strategy!).

UC Santa Barbara: 1109 North Hall

My last class was English 40, English Literature 1800 to 1900, with Eloise Knapp Hay. Sadly, this was her last class as well: she passed away a few weeks later on April 30, 1996 of inoperable brain cancer.

None of us knew she was sick nor would we have believed it had she told us. Incidentally, the author of her obituaryFrank McConnell — another teacher I had at UCSB — died three years after her. In class we mainly studied the works of romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and William Blake — in whose honor I launched “William Blake: Cybersongs of Innocence.”

It was also the last class for another student: we completed our final exams at the same time and we lingered in the hallway just outside of the classroom. I had a large brownie and, perhaps in an act of poetic preparation, she had a small bottle of champagne.

browniesWe celebrated our achievement in a platonic way befitting the class. We shared the brownie and champagne while reminiscing about our undergraduate experiences and discussing our post-graduation plans. It was a bohemian way to finish our romantic poetry class and our undergraduate college experience.

This date is also bittersweet because, while it marks a positive milestone, it also signifies my first step towards a time in my life that was often wrought with challenges and obstacles.

Thankfully, as a result of ongoing introspection and guidance from friends and colleagues, I am now aligned with my purpose in life: educationI am grateful for the opportunities I have been presented by institutions at which I am now teaching, have taught, or one day will teach.  Each one gives me a unique perspective on teaching and allows me to work with exceptional students with bright futures.

Most importantly each one also allows me to continue learning. And so, despite my mixed feelings about the years after I graduated, I look forward to the coming years with hope and optimism.

So, I’ve got a brownie — who has the champagne?