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Managing sadness, boredom, loneliness and depression as I heal from injury: Focusing on beauty, breath, and magic

When I’m down, one of the most useful exercises I’ve found is to look around me for something beautiful. Then I concentrate on that beauty, breathe into it, and ground myself.

The last 6 weeks have been hard. My favorite thing about myself is my optimism. I typically don’t let things get me down, at least not for long. My optimism and my ability to stay positive have been sorely taxed by my current predicament.

Because of the nature of my injuries, I am largely immobile. That means I’m alone much of the day while Andrew works and either on the couch or in bed. That also means I’m by myself. I can’t work on the computer long because the neon silver streaks and distortion in my eye cause blazing headaches and even blue blocker glasses don’t help. I have better luck with my phone but find correcting voice notes annoying and typing with one finger tedious.

I’ve been sad, lonely, depressed, and bored. I cry, a lot.

Then, out of the blue, chocolate covered strawberries, my favorite Starbucks drink, flowers, soap, lip mask and lip gloss, a lovely glass hummingbird, tea, chocolates, zatar seasoning, pita bread, and olive oil, or a DoorDash gift certificate arrive. My daughter, my son, a friend calls or texts at the perfect moment. Andrew takes a break to chat or just wrap me in his arms. I am reminded that I am loved, that I am connected.

Closer to home, a wheelchair has allowed me to go out and enjoy Korean BBQ with my daughter and lovely quick or quiet and relaxed dinners with my sweetie, as well as trips around grocery stores, Costco, and our local outdoor mall.

The slog isn’t over, but things are getting better. The surgeon estimates that the gas bubble in my eye will dissipate fully sometime within the next three weeks. That will stop the ongoing game of Pong in my eye that has constantly undermined my balance. It looks like in the spring I will probably need another surgery to remove scar tissue from my retina (which resulted from the first surgery and which is distorting and blurring my vision – think fun house mirror). I don’t know how much vision I’ll ultimately get back, but I am hopeful. I still don’t know what my knee will require to heal. I see a doctor in January. I hope this time in a brace with crutches will allow it to heal on its own. It is feeling better and I’m much more self reliant.

In one of his classes, Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley recommends ending every day by taking note of at least 3 moments of magic that happened during the day. This exercise and mindset help me balance and move forward.

These practices remind me that no matter what is happening in my life, I am always surrounded by beauty. There is always magic to be noticed and appreciated. There is much to be grateful for.

I have to admit that some days are easier than others. Some days it’s difficult to see the beauty, to find the magic, or to feel the gratitude. On those days, flowers, chocolate, the softness of my cat’s fur, a hug from Andrew, or a conversation with a friend or loved one help. Some days I just have to sleep on it and hope that the next day will be better.

Mom, Competitive Forensics, and a Saturday Surprise at Wright State University

I stood at the front of the room ready to start my speech. Then I paused. “No. No!”, I thought!  “Excuse me, may I have just a minute”, I asked the judges. “I’ll be right back”, I said, rushing from the room without waiting for an answer. I went out in the hall and found her. I grabbed her hand. “Come on”, I said. “Come now. I’m ready to start.” “I don’t want to make you nervous”, she said. “No. It’s OK. I want you to be there.” We hurried back into the room; I walked to the front, took a deep breathe, and started.

I don’t remember the actual question I was supposed to address, but the speech had something to do with Spain. It was my last extemporaneous speech* at my last regular season high school forensics competition, and my mother had driven from Urbana, Ohio to Wright State University in Dayton to surprise me. She wanted to hear me speak.

For four years she had watched me leave on Saturday mornings and some holidays to compete in forensics tournaments around the state and in neighboring states. This was the first time she had come to one of my tournaments. Parents rarely did. No one typically watched these rounds of competition, just the participants and the judges. This was the first opportunity she had to hear me speak. Because it was so unexpected, I was apprehensive at first. I was surprised she was there and honestly thrown a little bit off balance.

I had made the final round of girls extemporaneous speaking**. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to do my best with her in the room. I might be distracted, unable to concentrate. But as I stood up there to begin my speech, I knew this was an opportunity that wouldn’t come again. I knew I had to let my mother hear me speak. I wanted my mother to hear me speak.

As I began my speech, I smiled at my mom. Then confidently and with clarity I spoke for 5 to 7 minutes on whatever the question was about Spain. I knew my material. I knew the argument I wanted to make. The words flowed out of me easily. I was good. I was satisfied. My mother got to see a reasonable representation of what I had been doing all these Saturdays for all these years. I was so happy she was there.

I went on to win that tournament. My mom got to see that as well. I competed in Little and Big Districts and placed 2nd in the State that year, but in many ways, the most important speech I gave my entire high school career was the one on Spain in front of my mother.

* Extemporaneous speaking involved preparing a 5-7 minute speech with personal research in 30 minutes on a current events related topic, typically around public policy, global issues, or politics.

** There were separate categories for girls and boys in extemporaneous speaking at that time.

Lessons with Grandma #1: Hair washing, potato soup, and a visit to the ER

On Saturday mornings, when I didn’t have high school speech tournaments, I would ride my bike to Grandma’s house, wash her hair, set it in pin curls, dry, and style it. I loved this ritual. It was my time with Grandma and a chance to show her my love.

Her hair was gorgeous, pure white, fine, and soft as kitten fur. She kept it short, only a few inches long, but rolling thin strips into curls and securing each with two bobby pins took a while.  Once every strand was contained, she sat under her bonnet hair dryer; I would check every 10-15 minutes until it was dry. To check, I’d unpin a curl, unroll it to check for moisture, and re-roll it if it was damp. When her hair was dry, I would gently unpin each curl and run my fingers through it. Grandma didn’t have a lot of patience for my playing with her hair, but she did love the freedom of the pins being removed. When all the curls were loose, I would gently brush and style her hair. Sometimes she had me secure it with hairspray. Other times she just kept it free.

On one Saturday, I was moving a little slowly when Grandma called. Mom burst into my room and commanded “Get up. Grandma needs you. Take the car.” Half-awake I replied, “I’m coming. Just a few minutes. All I have to do this morning is wash Grandma’s hair. I’m just a little tired. Mom.” “She needs you now! There’s been an accident. She’s cut herself.” I leapt out of bed and threw clothes on as fast as I could. “Take the car”, mom demanded, throwing the keys to me. I drove the 6 blocks to Grandma’s house as fast as I could. The 3 minutes it took to get there were interminable. I parked along the side of the house, leapt the curb, ran up the steps, and burst through the door. I heard water running in the kitchen sink. “Grandma, I’m here.” When I entered the kitchen, there was blood from the table across the floor to the sink, a lot of blood. Grandma was holding her left hand under the faucet. What looked like an impossible amount of bright red blood flowing into the water stream from the deep gash between her thumb and index finger. “I was cutting a potato and the knife slipped. “Ok” I said. “Let’s wash it out with soap and I’ll get a towel.” “I feel woozy, Grandma said. She looked pale and as if she might faint. I gently washed her hand and quickly packed a clean washcloth against the wound, then wrapped her hand and wrist in a kitchen towel. “Ok. That looks deep. We need to go to the hospital. I think you need stitches. Do you think you can walk?”, I asked. “Yes” she replied weakly. We slowly walked through the house, my arms around her waist, her right arm around my shoulder, her injured hand against her chest. Slowly we moved across the living room, out the door, down the steps, across the street. The walk seemed to take so long, and blood was seeping through the hand towel. I gently helped Grandma into the passenger seat. “Lean back, close your eyes, and just rest”, I said as I sprinted around the car and jumped into the driver’s seat.

Grandma had never learned to drive and she was a skittish passenger (at least with me). I drove carefully to the hospital, less than 5 minutes away, (the beauty of living in such a small town), cooing and soothing Grandma as I drove. I pulled up to the entrance, told Grandma I would be right back, and dashed to the door. Two Sisters of Mercy in mid-calf white habits with short white veils that held their hair back from their foreheads were at the front desk. “Please help me. My Grandma cut her hand and it’s bleeding pretty badly.” One nun grabbed a wheelchair while the other grabbed the phone. We got Grandma out of the car and the nun rolled her straight to an operating room. They got Grandma onto a gurney and a doctor came in immediately. “You should leave, young lady”, he said. “Please let her stay”, Grandma said. “Come over here and hold my other hand”, she demanded firmly. I did. She had bled quite a bit on the drive and the towels were bloody. “Let’s see what we have here”, the doctor said as he unwrapped the towel and washcloth. “You wrapped this well”, he said. “See, it’s starting to clot off a bit, but this is deep and will need stitches. It doesn’t look like she cut anything major, so I’m going to clean this with antiseptic, give her a couple shots to numb the area, then put in several stitches.” Grandma lay with her eyes closed as the doctor flooded the wound with antiseptic. When he picked up what looked like an impossibly large needle, I noticed the room starting to get dark; the light on Grandma’s hand was impossibly bright. I noticed black spots in my peripheral vision. One on the nuns gently put her hands on my shoulders and directed me to a chair. I sat heavily, feeling dizzy. I heard a small crack and smelled a pungent aroma just under my nose. “Smelling salts”, she said quietly in my ear, “You looked a little dizzy. Just put your head down and breathe calmly. This happens. You managed the crisis, now your body is reacting to the shock. Just breathe.”

I didn’t pass out. Grandma got stitches and a white bandage around her hand and wrist with instructions for wound care and rest.

We drove home quietly, content that the crisis was over. I got Grandma into the house and into a chair in the living room, covered her with a blanket, called my mom to let her know what had happened, and cleaned the kitchen.

Grandma told me she had been planning to make potato soup, so I cut the onions and celery she had on the table, and the potatoes she had already peeled and placed in a bowl of water, careful not to cut toward my hand. I even made rivels (flour, eggs, and salt) to boil on top.

I learned a lot in that short morning. I learned I’m good in a crisis; I learned I’m not so good with blood, and maybe most valuable, I learned a healthy respect for vegetables, especially potatoes. I learned to use a cutting board to cut vegetables and never to hold a potato and cut toward my hand. I also learned that with Grandma’s guidance, I make a mean potato soup. We decided to wait to wash her hair until the next day.

My beautiful Grandma Dorothy Catherine Pence (Whalen)

On Fear, Hope, a Bracelet, and Gratitude

Sometimes those who love us see more clearly what we need than we do. Today I write about one of those times. Today I write about fear, hope, and a bracelet that signified both. Today I write about gratitude. This month is the 10-year anniversary of the freak dancing accident that resulted in breaking both of my wrists, triple fracturing my right and double fracturing my left. That accident was in many ways both a blessing and a curse. I learned so much about myself and those I love. I learned that people would be there for me if I needed them. I learned I was safe to be helpless. I learned how to deal with the most excruciating pain I could imagine. I learned to slow down, to be kind to myself, to accept care, to ask for help. I didn’t learn these lessons easily, but I learned them.

Throughout the holiday season, I was working my way through splints, then casts, then braces with increasing levels of physical therapy. For homework, I was playing in a bowl of rice multiple times a day to reduce skin sensitivity and promote flexibility. I was opening and closing wooden clothespins, learning to touch my fingertips to my thumbs, and trying to relearn how to do simple tasks for myself, like feeding myself, brushing my teeth, dressing myself.  

One day, my friend Miche Dreiling brought me a present. It was a small, square box. Inside was a delicate, red bracelet. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen. A bracelet! A bracelet? My skin was so sensitive I couldn’t imagine ever being able to wear a bracelet again. Even though this one was so delicate and small, it looked like a torture device to me. I know I looked at Miche confused. “Not for now”, she said. “For later… when you’re healed”. I closed the lid on the box and put the bracelet in a drawer in my hutch. I wondered if I would ever take it out. It became a symbol of fear and hope.

The day I decided I was ready to try to wear it finally came. I was apprehensive as my skin was still so sensitive, but it was time. Andrew helped me put it on. And though I could only wear it for a short time that day, I knew that sometime soon, I would be able to wear it for much longer periods. I knew that I would someday be able to wear all my treasured bracelets and rings whenever and for as long as I wished. That day wasn’t here yet, but it was coming. Today as I reflect 10 years later, I am wearing an iWatch, a wrap bracelet, and 5 rings on my hands. The moment I opened Miche’s gift, I doubted that this day would ever come. Now I don’t think about jewelry anymore. I wear it easily and without pain.  

In all honesty, what at first felt like the most insensitive gift I could imagine became a talisman of hope as I embraced my healing and the belief that I would regain full function and capacity. I am grateful that Miche brought me this talisman of hope. I doubted the wisdom of this gift. In retrospect, it was just the gift I needed. I cherish that bracelet as a reminder that in fear, there can also be hope.

On Solitude and Connection

I sit next to a lovely window on the last day of my writing retreat pondering the snow blowing sideways as the wind carries it drifting across the yard. Someone in the other side of the house where I’m staying strums a guitar slowly. It’s lovely. There were children in that side of the house this morning, running up and down stairs, laughing at times, voices serious at times. There was music, “Hello darkness, my old friend; I’ve come to talk with you again,” mellow and folksy, soothing. There were the sounds of cooking and a family, not a biological family, I don’t think, but a community of selected family sharing breakfast before they took off to do chores on the farm in the falling snow. I sat in my dining room, just on the far side of the shared kitchen door enjoying my solitude and also enjoying the sounds of their community. These disparate moments, their community, my solitude led me to reflect on the importance of connection and aloneness. Not loneliness, but the need I sometimes feel to be alone, to feel my own rhythms, to do things in my own time, not influenced by the rhythms and time of others. Their time together seemed so effortless, so comfortable. My seclusion felt the same.

I learned during my 3-month writing retreat in Florence, Italy, that my creativity is best fed with time away from not only those I love, but basically everyone. I did make two wonderful friends during that time, Emma, a sculptor, and Iris, a barista at the coffee shop I frequented, but our friendships were mostly bounded by Emma’s shop and Iris’s restaurant. When working on my time, my days developed a cadence, a pattern that they rarely have at home in my “normal” life. I rose whenever I awoke, usually around 8 am when construction started on the apartment building across the way. I drew for a while, journaled for a while, walked to a new area of the city, shopped for lunch, returned home, worked on projects until I was ready for dinner and then cooked for myself or chose a restaurant nearby. My evenings were free-form. I strolled the city looking for street art or listened to buskers. I took cooking, pasta making, or wine tasting classes. I often bought a gelato or a cappuccino (or both) before walking back home to read for a while before sleep. Sometimes I went to museums or art exhibits. Sometimes I took short trips outside the city on truffle hunting expeditions or olive oil and cheese tastings. But mostly, I spent my days strolling Florence and soaking in the inspiration it so freely provided. I discovered a taste for Negroni and aperitivo (gin and olives, two things I’d never had a taste for).                                                               

And I wrote. Thirty blog posts in three months. I outlined two books and drafted chapters for each. It was one of the most personally and professionally productive times of my life. Professional productivity is usually something else for me. I never have trouble meeting deadlines for academic presentations, journal articles, or book chapters, although my model typically involves finishing everything in the 11th hour. I’m not a procrastinator, per se, I just process for a long time, then write under pressure. My personal writing is different. Something, like the snow outside, triggers a memory, a thought, an idea, and I write.

Writing, for me, is part of this, but not the whole picture. I live life fully, with activity, passion, engagement, and energy. Often those things are driven by other people and events, often to a beat not my own. I work at the tempo demanded in the moment. I adapt. On writing retreats, I nurture my own pace. I find my own rhythm.

I guess my message is this. We all need connection and aloneness, time to engage outwardly and time to reflect inwardly, and time to create. On this snowy afternoon, I am content to sit by this window, let these words flow from my fingers, and simply be in the moment. Tomorrow I return to the rhythm of my family, of the reality of four people coordinating their lives together. I will miss this solitude. I will return gratefully to the hustle and bustle of my day-to-day life, until the pull for solitude draws me on to my next writing retreat.

On Horses, Cats, and an Old White Farmhouse

Photo by Bradshaw Speight on Unsplash

Tonight I lie in bed in an 1800s farm house listening to the low, deep hoot of a great horned owl, the insistent back and forth calls of coyotes in the distance, and the sound of sporadic cars driving past on the country road outside. The owl and the coyotes lull me while the road sounds take me back to memories from my childhood, to a time when I was probably 4 years old, to an old white farmhouse on a country road near Mechanicsburg, Ohio. My grandparents lived on this farm, gardened, raised horses, and always had wild cats living in the barn.

I remember the farmhouse, the front door that no one ever used, the door near the kitchen that everyone came and went through. I can’t remember now if they grew crops or not, but I clearly remember the horses. I was captivated by them. Captivated and a bit frightened. I was too young to be around them without adults present and much too small to ride them. Of course, I had ridden carnival ponies, chained to a merry-go-round that listlessly slogged around a circle, heads down, the squeals of delighted children on their backs filling the air. I didn’t feel sorry for those horses, not then, only excited to have a chance to ride them. My sorrow for them came later. But these horses were entirely different animals. They were huge, and beautiful, and strong. They ran in the fields, roamed in the pastures, grazing whenever and wherever they desired. They seemed so free.

Photo by Josephine Amalie Paysen on Unsplash

Once, I was allowed near one of the horses, a big blonde gelding, when it was outside being groomed by one of my aunts. It was special that I was allowed to stay near her and near the horse. My aunt instructed me to stay away from its back legs and to never approach a horse from behind so I wouldn’t risk being kicked. She told me I could lay my hand along its back. The horse was so big, my hand came only part way up its side. I couldn’t reach the top of its back, so I caressed down its left side. I could feel the strong inhale and exhale of its breath, I could feel its contented sighs and nickers at being brushed and groomed. Then my aunt picked up the horse’s right front foot to groom its hoof, and it shifted to the left, right onto my right foot. The pain took my breath away and I couldn’t make a sound. I had no words to tell her that the horse was standing on my foot. I froze, completely still. I couldn’t move. Waves of pain coursed through my foot. Fortunately, the horse quickly shifted its weight and lifted its foot off mine. I moved away, sat down on the driveway and cried, silent tears of relief, pain, humiliation because I knew I wouldn’t be allowed out there again when a horse was groomed if anyone found out what had happened. Fortunately, the only thing hurt was my pride.

After that, I largely kept my distance from the horses, watching them from the safety of the far side of the fence. I was told never to approach the horses, but if they came to me, that was fine. One afternoon I was leaning against the fence separating the yard from the pasture and one of the horses who was grazing in the field came toward me. I wasn’t afraid because sometimes we were allowed to give them a piece of carrot, their soft lips tickling my hand as they took the offering from my open palm. On this occasion, I didn’t have a carrot. I was just leaning on the fence, watching. The horse grazed its way over to the fence and then for no apparent reason kicked me between the rails. It kicked me hard, knocking me off my feet. Again, I was fortunate. Nothing was broken, but I had a beautiful bruise for a while. I didn’t tell anyone about that either.

Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash

To this day, I find horses to be both majestic and mystifying, beautiful and unpredictable. Fortunately, I had better luck with the wild barn cats, especially the kittens. I have always been a cat person. I love cats. One spring, a litter of three golden kittens was born in the barn. We weren’t allowed to play in the barn because there were so many dangerous tools and farm implements in there. But I did have permission to carefully look for the kittens. They were born near the front door of the barn, so if I was quiet and lucky, I might catch sight of one of them. I knew not to scare the momma because she would move them. I didn’t want that to happen. Calmly I would sit outside the barn door on the driveway hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the three. As they grew, they got more curious. I learned to tell them apart. One was playful and confident, interested in everything, curious. A second elegant and languid, slow moving, but aware in its movement. The third was timid and looked for the others to move first. I wanted them to want to come to me. I wanted to pet them, to hold them, to tame them. “Barn cats aren’t pets”, my Grandmother said. I secretly disagreed. My sister got to hold one first. The curious one came right up to her and she picked it up. She and I were both “animal whisperers”, but she was better at it. One time she actually walked up to a blue jay in our front yard and just picked it up. So, I wasn’t surprised when the curious kitten chose to come to her. I was jealous, though, and more determined than ever to entice one of the kittens to me. One day the elegant one strolled near me and laid down in the driveway near my ankle. I reached out carefully, not wanting to scare it away, and it let me touch it. I ran my fingers down the soft baby fur on its back. The kitten let me pet it for a moment, then got up, stretched, and strolled back into the barn. Yes! I was going to stay patient and someday the kitten might let me hold it. The next time we visited, the mother had moved them farther into the barn and we didn’t see them again. Still, in that one moment, the kitten had chosen to me. I felt special.

Tonight, as I lie in bed listening to the sound of cars on this country road, I am transported back to my childhood and I remember another old white farmhouse. We rarely spent the night there, but, when we did, I could hear the sound of occasional traffic on the road outside and the deep quiet of the country. It was so peaceful, the world passing by as I fell asleep. I think I will sleep well surrounded by those sounds tonight.

A Milk Cup, A Whistle, and Love

Grandma, Poppa, and the milk cup

When I was a baby, my first words were “bite butter” and my Poppa cheerfully obliged. When I was a toddler, I had a cup with a bird whistle on the handle that said “WHISTLE FOR MILK.” I loved that cup and blowing the whistle made me break out in peals of laughter. When I blew the whistle, my Grandma would scurry over to my highchair (I was only allowed to have the cup in my highchair.) and pour a little milk in my cup. Once I drank the small amount of milk she gave me, I’d blow the whistle again and she’d give me more. This went on until I’d had enough milk. Each round accompanied by my squeals of delight. Once I’d drunk my fill, I would stop blowing the whistle. Grandma would look at me expectantly and I’d shake my head. It became a game for us.

Clearly, my love of dairy started young. This story isn’t about that, though. This story is about love and the painstaking task of putting that cup back together again. Sometime, I don’t remember when, the cup was broken. I probably dropped it. I’m sure I was crushed. I likely cried as only a brokenhearted toddler can. 

Someone, I don’t know who, took the time to painstakingly glue the pieces back together, even the very small slivers. My Mother, who kept the cup for me for years, says she didn’t do it; she says my Grandmother would never have taken the time to do it, and that my Poppa didn’t do it. She has no idea who did. My guess is that my Mother is wrong. I think it probably was my Poppa or my Grandma. But, really, who it was doesn’t matter.

What matters is that today, that cup with its fault lines has pride of place on my desk. I look at it whenever I work. That cup, cracks and all, is as precious to me today as it was when I played the milk drinking game with my Grandma. It’s more precious because someone who loved me, because one would only take on this effort for someone they love, took the time and demonstrated the incredible patience necessary to glue the cup back together again. When I look at that cup, I know I was loved. Bonus, I can still blow the whistle, but now the milk is almond milk and I pour it myself.

A cherished holiday tradition and an invitation to share one of yours


Holidays are very important to me. They are a time for family, friends, community. For me, they are a time to reflect, for 2 solid months on the gifts I have been given in my life, the blessings, the joys, and a time to plan for what comes next. They are also a time for traditions, both new ones and those that connect us with generations past. I have a number of new and old ones that I have shared in my family. I thought through this post I would invite you to share your favorite holiday tradition as I share one of mine.

The story of the Christmas bowls:

In the early 1900s, when my Poppa, Lee Anthony Pence was a boy growing up in a small Indiana town, “exotic” fruits like oranges were a special treat because they grew either all the way west in California, or all the way south in Florida. Apples were plentiful in autumn and many families kept bushels of them in their root cellars to eat throughout the winter, while others were boiled with sugar into applesauce and canned to enjoy year round. Peanuts were also common, but pecans, almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts, were rarer. Candy was a special treat. Allowance was earned once a month, typically a nickel or a dime at a time and often tied to the accomplishment of chores.

A tradition in our family for four generations has been that on Christmas morning we awake to bowls under the tree, one for each person. The bowls contain an apple, an orange, some mixed nuts (they used to be in shells, but now I use unshelled ones), and candy. The traditional candy was colorful ribbon candy and sugared orange slices. Now I try to personalize candies to the preferences of each person for whom I (and my elves) prepare a bowl.

The surprise at the bottom of the bowl is a coin, to represent prosperity and good luck in the new year.

Sharing this tradition with my children and other family members helps me feel close to my past, to my Poppa, and creates a continuity across generations that I cherish. Do you have a cherished holiday tradition? If so, please share it in the comments below and keep this conversation going.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas! 🎁🌲❄️⛄️🎅


Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair leaves Wichita State University because of Kansas campus concealed carry law

I know the title of this post reads like a headline. That is intentional. I am claiming my voice; I am also speaking for those who have tried and not been heard, for those who are fearful to speak because of concerns over repercussions from doing so. I speak from the privileged position of a funded Distinguished Chair and tenured full professor. After 33 years of experience teaching at the college and university levels, I speak from my ability to retire.

I hoped this last year that the Kansas Legislature and Governor Brownback would come to their senses. That hope died this spring when the Kansas legislature refused to hear debate on the controversial law that will allow concealed carry on Kansas university, college, and community college campuses effective July 1, 2017. To make matters worse, no gun training, no background check, no gun handlers license is required. ANYONE over 18 can carry a gun into my classroom.

For 10 years, I have served as the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication and Professor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University. I have advanced the KHFs mission to “improve the health of all Kansans”.

After careful soul searching, I have come to the incredibly difficult decision that I cannot continue in this position. The day this law applies to WSU, I will retire from the university, from a job I love, and from a context where I believe I have made a positive contribution. I leave behind students that I love, colleagues I admire, and an administration that I have found to be very supportive.

The long and the short of it is this. I can not work in a climate in which students are fearful to claim their voices because the person next to them in my classroom may have both different views and a gun. I cannot work in an environment where I am fearful to challenge my students to reach their full potential because they may have guns. I find this law to be the antithesis of everything a civil society stands for. As a strategic communication scholar and teacher, I find this policy to be in opposition to the goals of higher education. I see my job as supporting the personal, relational, and character development of my students, as challenging them to be the best person, student, citizen they can be, as helping them to explore diverse perspectives and develop critical thinking skills. None of these goals can be achieved in a climate of fear and repression.

My full resignation letter is included below:


President John Bardo                                                                                                 1845 Fairmount St.                                                                                                     Wichita State University                                                                                 Wichita, KS 67260

Dear President Bardo,

I am grateful for the amazing opportunity I’ve had for the 10 years I’ve spent at Wichita State University. Serving as the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication / Professor, Elliott School of Communication has been an honor and a pleasure. I have found dedicated colleagues, an administration supportive of faculty innovation, and motivated and engaged students who have inspired me.

Sadly, after much soul searching, I have found it necessary to retire from the university effective July 1, 2017.

While I have found the support to engage in work that I believe has enriched students and communities, I find the climate in Kansas to be more and more regressive, repressive, and in opposition to the values of higher education including critical thinking, evidence based reasoning, global citizenship, and social responsibility.

I see this most clearly in the concealed carry policy that goes into effect July 1, which can’t help but dampen open, frank conversation, so necessary for promoting intellectual growth and an informed citizenry. Worse, this ill-advised policy puts the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff at risk.

Clear, open, critical discussion cannot take place in an environment of threat and fear. Knowing that people will now be free to conceal and carry guns in classrooms without training and without licenses can’t help but dampen the free exploration of ideas. In the current social and political climate, when civility and respect for diverse perspectives often seem to be in short supply, many people already feel marginalized and threatened. Guns on campus will make it that much more difficult for them to feel safe.

As someone who has experienced gun violence personally, I do not feel safe with guns in the classroom. I cannot do my best as a teacher, as an educator tasked with supporting students as they challenge and reflect critically on their personal beliefs, as they struggle with relationships and communication dynamics. I cannot guarantee my students that they will get the best from me. I cannot promise that I will encourage the growth that they are capable of in whatever directions they choose. I cannot tell them that they are safe to claim their voices, their truths, when someone next to them, who might have a different view, may also have a gun.

In 2007, I came to Wichita State because of the Kansas Health Foundation’s mission to “improve the health of all Kansans.” Their gift that funded my position was the largest Wichita State had received at that time. I have worked hard as a teacher and scholar to honor their commitment. In many ways, it has been easy. Their vision corresponds with my personal and professional commitments to make a positive contribution to communities and to promote health and wellness. In recognition of my success in meeting these objectives while at WSU, I have won numerous campus, community, state and discipline-based awards as a teacher, mentor, and scholar.

In 2007, Wichita State University, the Elliott School of Communication, and the Kansas Health Foundation honored me with this position. I have embraced that honor. However, this gun policy is indication of a political context that threatens the health of all Kansans. This is no longer a context I can support. This is no longer a context in which I can work. I regret that I have to make this decision.

With deepest gratitude,

Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch

Deborah S. Ballard-Reisch, PhD                                                                   Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication / Professor, Elliott School of Communication             Wichita State University                                                                                      Wichita, Kansas 67260

Cc:         Jeffrey Jarman, ESC Director / Ron Matson, Dean, Fairmount                     College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

On why I LOVE Daylight Saving Time!

Ok, so while I’m in Italy this year on a writing retreat and not teaching, “Fall Back Day” will not impact me as it usually does. However, I’m still happy that the European Union, like the U.S., and a total of 70 countries worldwide, practice Daylight Saving Time! Like many of you, I often feel like there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do. So often I wish for just one… more… hour… Once a year, I get that hour and I “feel” as if I have more TIME. I wake up earlier. I am productive longer. I feel like there is TIME to get things done. I even feel as if there is TIME left over at the end of the day to relax! That is why “Fall Back Day”, the glow of it which carries me for about 7-10 days beyond the actual day, is my favorite day of the year.

So, why Daylight Saving Time?

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. inventor and politician, first proposed Daylight Saving Time in 1784 and that Germany was the first country to implement it in 1916? It took a while to catch on. Also, Daylight Saving Time hasn’t always been an hour. Sometimes it’s been ½ hour or 2 hours

The original idea was to maximize the daylight hours and, among other things, reduce energy expenditures. Conserving energy in times of war has been the most common reason for the implementation of DST over the years. The general consensus in study findings seems to be that even though we get up in the dark in the fall, the extra energy used then is more than offset by the energy saved by having an extra hour of daylight in the evening. I can only speak to having more energy myself for 7-10 days and getting more done.

History of DST

On April 30, 1916, Germany and Austria became the first counties to use Daylight Saving Time to conserve fuel needed for electricity production. They advanced the clock one hour until the following October. Other countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, and Tasmania adopted the same policy. Great Britain, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia  followed later in 1916. In 1917, Australia and Newfoundland began saving daylight. The U.S. didn’t hop on the bandwagon until March 19, 1918 when “An Act to Preserve Daylight and Provide Standard Time for the United States” was enacted.

That first pass at DST lasted 7 months until Congress overroad President Woodrow Wilson’s veto to end it. During WWII, Daylight Saving Time reappeared, again as an energy conservation measure and it lasted in the U.S. from February 9, 1942 until September 30, 1945. From 1945-1966, U.S. states got to decide if they wanted to observe DST or not. On April 12, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson supported, and Congress approved, the “Uniform Time Act”. The only way around Daylight Saving Time then was for a state legislature to determine that an entire state would stay on Standard Time. In 1972, Congress allowed states with more than one time zone to decide independently for each time zone whether or not to follow DST or stay on Standard Time.

On January 4, 1974, during the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon signed into law the “Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973”. Congress amended the Act, and Standard Time returned on October 27, 1974. Daylight Saving Time resumed on February 23, 1975 and ended on October 26, 1975. In 1986, Congress decided that DST would begin at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and end at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.

Some areas in the U.S. don’t observe DST, specifically, Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The “Energy Policy Act of 2005” extended Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. beginning in 2007. Since 2007, DST begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.

In conclusion:

In the EU, DST begins at 1:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on the last Sunday of March and ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of October. That means that in Italy, I get my extra hour a week before you get yours in the U.S. I’m not totally clear on the implications of tha, but I’m hoping to figure out a way to get both “fall back” hours.

Anyway, that’s the scoop on Daylight Saving Time. The rumor that a bunch of Congressmen getting drunk in a bar decided to dupe the American public has no merit. Check back with me next spring. I’m likely to be a bit less exuberant then, when I have to give my hour back, than I am now when I get one for free. Ciao and enjoy that extra hour of sleep!